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A talent agent, or booking agent, is a person who finds jobs for actors, authors, Film directors, musicians, models, producers, Professional athletes, Writers and other people in various entertainment businesses. Agents make their money by taking a percentage of the money that their client is paid. There are different regulations that govern different types of agents that are established by artist's unions and the legal jurisdiction in which the agent operates. There are also professional organizations that license talent agencies.

The top talent agencies

The "big four" or "top five" entertainment talent agencies dominate their industry. The big five have hundreds of agents globally, and offer representation in multiple areas (acting, below the line talent, IP rights holders, film, directing, television, publishing, commercials, sports, digital media, literary, music, theater, endorsements, corporate consulting, public speaking, producers, screen writers, voice-overs, video games,visual arts and design and intellectual property). Emerging technology companies and corporate brands in a variety of practice areas including film, television, music, digital media, intellectual property, computer and video games, commercials, voice-overs, endorsements, branding & licensing, corporate consulting and entertainment marketing.

Acting and modeling agents

Actors may be interested in working theatrically (stage, film or television) as well as in commercial. Some agents will handle all types of acting work while others may specialize in a particular area. There are agents who represent television, voice-overs, or just film and television. Typically, the larger the agency, the more specialized the agents.

An agent has two sets of clients: the "talent" (actors, models, voice-over artists, etc) and the "buyer". The buyer can be a casting director, advertising agency, production company, photographer, or direct client if the client has an "in-house" production staff. Agents promote talent to the buyers, submitting talent that have the appropriate age, race, sex, look, talent, etc. that the buyer is seeking for his/her project. Usually, an agent submits the actor's head shot or the model's composite card or portfolio to the buyer. After the buyer has made choices, the agent then arranges an audition (or for models, a "go-see" or open call). After the buyer has met the talent, the buyer will contact the agent if any of the talent will be hired. The agent will coordinate the details of wardrobe, directions, etc as well as negotiate the contract or pay.

Note that the agent's job is to get the talent auditions; the talent is the only one who can get the job. For their work, agents take a 10 to 20% commission of the gross, depending if the job is union (such as SAG-AFTRA) or not. Union jobs are paid per negotiated guidelines, but sometimes in non-union jobs the pay is delayed.

A well established agent will have a number of contacts. Also, agents have access to Breakdown Services. Breakdown Services allows them to see many roles that casting directors are seeking, often on a national level. These are not available to the general public.

Well-known current and former talent agents include Ari Emanuel, Lew Wasserman, Johnny Hyde, Sue Mengers, Freddie Fields, David Begelman, and Irving "Swifty" Lazar.

Top Modeling agencies

In order to qualify as a top modeling agency, there are certain criteria:

1. The agency must be located in a top fashion capital for the simple reason that the most lucrative and prestigious modeling assignments are there. These cities include: New York, Milan, Paris, London, Tokyo, Sydney, Rome, Los Angeles, Prague, Toronto, São Paulo and Barcelona.

2. The agency is well-known and respected in the fashion industry and has a good reputation, insofar, as monitoring agencies or governing bodies in their respective country, like the Better Business Bureau in the US and the association of fashion designers and the group handling the city's fashion week.

3. The agency has directly provided a model with a lucrative assignment for a top fashion design house (for example Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana, Calvin Klein, Prada, Valentino and Giorgio Armani among others).

Some of the top modeling agencies in the world are:

It should be noted that aside from "fashion" modeling, many agencies specialize in commercial advertising that do not require high fashion models. This can be located in any region where print ads are produced. They often fill calls for product packaging, catalogues, textbooks, billboards, etc which require a more "real person" look or even a "character" look. Chicago, for example, has a large need for these types of models although little call for high fashion models.

Boutique modeling agencies

Boutique modeling agencies are modeling agencies with all the requirements of a top agency, but with setbacks, such as a smaller board(number of working models signed) and number of agents it has to represent the model. Some boutique agencies include:

Music agents

In the music world, booking agents are different from talent managers. Booking agents are the people that actually book shows for the artists they represent. They make all of the arrangements with the promoters of the shows. The booking agent presents the promoter or producer of the concert with a performance agreement, which stipulates the artist’s requirements. Items may include lighting, sound,meals, hotel accommodations, and transportation. For concert buyers, they work to find the right artist that will fit in the need and available budget.

Many of the major booking agencies refuse to represent clients who are not already signed to a major record label and have national distribution of their music. Because of this, artists on independent record labels often seek representation with an independent booking agency.

Bars and nightclubs that specialize in presenting live music on a regular basis often employ an individual to assemble the schedule of events. These people are the venue’s buyers, and should not be confused with the booking agent, who presents their roster of available acts to the buyer. Booking agents may also have contacts known as free-lance promoters. These are individuals that agree to produce a concert by locating a venue, providing a sound system and assembling a staff. Producing a show in this manner, at a location that is rented out for a single evening, is called “four-walling,” as it entails renting a venue and receiving no additional services or technical equipment other than the space itself. This has often been the only available option for underground musicians lacking enough popular appeal to gain access to more conventional performance venues (see: Punk rock), but is also used among the genre of raves and various DJ-related events.

The cost factor of having a booking agent has to be weighed against what they can do for clients and buyers alike. Some agents represent several different types of artists, while others represent artists in one main area/genre.

Cruise ship industry

Booking agents are also used for the cruise ship industry where several different categories of entertainers are needed. These can include individual musicians to be part of the ship's orchestra, small bands and ensembles as well as variety entertainers such as singers, instrumentalists, magicians, comedians and acrobats. Artists looking to work on cruise ships will sign an employment contract with the cruise line and a separate commission contract with the booking agent.

Scam agents

Unfortunately, some people in the entertainment industry try to take advantage of newcomers. New talent is advised to research and find established agencies. No reputable agency charges for representation, but the agent may recommend steps that will cost money, especially when talent is starting out. An agency may suggest new photos or training, and may have good contacts for new talent. An advantage of having an agent is that agents will help choose the best photographers or shots to make into headshots, etc. When signing with an agency who also offer photography and workshops, talent is advised to see proof of past bookings, such as client lists and current models tearsheets from booked work. If an agency covers upfront costs, it is reimbursed for all expenses after the talent begins work.

Music managers

A music manager (or band manager) handles many career issues for bands and singers and, on occasion, even DJs. A music manager is hired by a musician or band to help with determining decisions related to career moves, bookings, promotions, business deals, recording contracts, etc. The role of music managers is extensive and may include similar duties to that of a press agent, promoter, booking agent, business manager (who are usually certified public accountants), tour managers, and sometimes even a personal assistant. Responsibilities of a business manager are often divided among many who manage various aspects of a musical career. With an unsigned act, music managers have to assume multiple roles: booking agent, graphic designer, publicist, promoter, and accountant.. As an artist's career develops, responsibilities grow. A music manager becomes important to managing the many different pieces that make up a career in music. The manager can assist singers, songwriters, and instrumentalists in molding a career, finding music producers, and developing relationships with record companies, publishers, agents, and the music-loving public. The duties of an active music manager will focus on a developing a reputation for the musician(s) and building a fan base, which may include mastering and launching a demo CD, developing and releasing press kits, planning promotional activities, and booking shows. A music manager will gain access to a recording studio, photographers, and promotions. He or she will see that CD labels, posters, and promotional materials appropriately represent the band or artist, and that press kits are released in a timely manner to appropriate media. Launching a CD with complementary venues and dates is also a music manager’s responsibility.

Difference between agents and managers

  • Agents have the authority to make deals for their clients. Managers usually can only informally establish connections with producers and studios, but do not have the ability to negotiate the contracts.
  • Managers work more in a supportive role, giving advice for career moves.

See also

Entertainment unions


  1. "Though suits are still the standard at the Big Five agencies (C.A.A., William Morris, I.C.M., U.T.A. and Endeavor)" Laporte, Nicole. " Let's Dress It Down, Ari." New York Observer, 25 September 2005.
  2. "Skirmishes among [Hollywood]'s top five agencies are escalating." Horn, John. " Summer battle royale for agents." Los Angeles Times, 3 July 2008.
  3. When Does My Band Need A Manager? July 16, 2003

  • Passman, Donald S. All You Need To Know About the Music Business: 6th Edition
  • Kerr, Judy, Acting Is Everything: An Actor's Guidebook for a Successful Career in Los Angeles
  • Callen, K. The Los Angeles Agent Book

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