Manager vs. Agent
Many times people have asked me, “Kamal, what’s the difference between a manager and an agent?” Yes, I know that sounds like the set-up to a bad joke, but anyone who wants to be in the entertainment business should definitely take the time to learn the difference. Please be aware that everything that follows applies to California law unless otherwise noted.
One main difference between a manager and agent is that an agent has to be licensed by the state and a manager does not. This is why so many artists are managed by an uncle, brother, or best friend (think of the character “E” from HBO’s hit show “Entourage”). If you want to become a manager, just find an artist willing to hire you and, congratulations, you are a manager. If you want to become an agent, you’ll need to meet certain requirements and go through an application process with the state.
California law defines a “talent agent” as “a person or corporation who engages in the occupation of procuring, offering, promising, or attempting to procure employment or engagements for an artist or artists.”
“Artists” is defined as “actors and actresses rendering services on the legitimate stage and in the production of motion pictures, radio artists, musical artists, musical organizations, directors of legitimate stage, motion picture and radio productions, musical directors, writers, cinematographers, composers, lyricists, arrangers, models, and other artists and persons rendering professional services in the motion picture, theatrical, radio, television and other entertainment enterprises.”
What does all that legal mumbo jumbo mean? Basically, it means that an agent is the only person who can seek out employment opportunities for artists. The practical result is that in the music business an agent’s job is to book tours and appearances, and in the motion picture business an agent’s job is to get their clients roles in movies. (One exception to the rule is that a manager may look for and negotiate record contracts on behalf of music clients). So, now we know an agent’s job is to hunt down gigs. But, what does a manager do? Short answer: they do whatever it takes to make sure the client is happy and that his or her career stays on track.
Rubber Meets The Road
Here’s a real world example: I managed bands for a few years and part of my job was coordinating with agents to make sure tours happened as planned. An agent would book a tour (which involves negotiating and securing dates with concert promoters across the country), then I would step in and make sure the tour was properly executed. My duties as manager included making sure the band had a working tour bus, that all travel plans were made, that they had all necessary musical equipment, that their merchandise arrived on time, etc. Usually if anything goes wrong on a tour, 99 times out of 100 a band will yell at the manager and not the agent, because it’s the manager’s job to make sure things run smoothly.
In the motion picture business, managers will oftentimes “package” their clients–for example, a manager may represent a particular director and particular actor and pair them up for a project that can be shopped to movie studios. As a result, in the past several years many managers have also become movie producers and it’s not uncommon to come across management firms that also operate as production companies. Does this packaging of clients fall within the realm of “talent agent?” It’s a blurry line, but it seems to be the industry’s general direction over the past few years.
In terms of compensation, an agent is usually paid 10% of the artist’s income, and a manager is paid 15%. Sometimes a more established manager may receive a higher commission (Elvis Presley’s manager allegedly took 50% of his income!), but if a manager wants a rate higher than 15%, you should do your research and make sure he or she is worth the money. Also (please make special note of this), reputable managers and agents will NEVER ask for any up-front money from their clients. Legitimate managers and agents work strictly on commission. Period.
Another common question is: how do I get an agent or manager to represent me? The old joke in the entertainment industry is you’ll probably get an agent and a manager when you don’t need them. (This joke is very accurate, by the way). Many times, an actor or musician will need to achieve some degree of success on their own before reputable agents and managers will even consider working with them. If agents and managers start sniffing around, you know your career is headed in the right direction.
Building a reliable, hard-working team can contribute greatly to your success as an artist. The right manager and the right agent can keep your career on track and help you reach your full potential. Therefore, it’s very important to choose each one carefully. Hopefully this article has shed some light on the key differences between them and what you should look for.
Note: Kamal Moo is a California licensed attorney. The information contained in this article is not individualized legal advice. Reading this article does not create an attorney-client privilege. You should consult with an attorney if you need legal advice.
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