An agent is a salesperson who sells artistic talent. Music agents act as the representatives for musical performers such as musicians, singers, orchestras, bands, and other musical groups, promoting their talent and managing legal contractual business. Music scouts search for musical talent at clubs, concert halls, and other music venues.
Music Agent and Scout Career History
As the music industry developed into a powerful force in America in the last half of the 20th century, resourceful business-minded people became agents when they realized that there was money to be made by controlling access to musical talent. They became middlemen between musical artists and the recording industry and owners of musical venues, charging commissions for use of their clients.
Currently, commissions range between 10 and 20 percent of the money a musical act earns for a performance. In more recent years, agents have negotiated revolutionary deals for their musical stars, making more money for agencies and musicians alike. In addition, today’s music agents handle most, if not all, aspects of a musician’s career, from commercial endorsements to financial investments.
Music Agent and Scout Job Description
Music agents act as representatives for all types of musicians. They look for clients who have potential for success and then work aggressively to promote their clients to owners of concert halls, clubs, theaters, musical festivals, and other venues where musicians perform. Agents work closely with clients to find assignments that will best achieve their clients’ career goals. Some music agents specialize in one musical genre such as rap, classical, or rock.
Music agents find clients in several ways. Those employed by an agency might be assigned a client by the agency, based on experience or a compatible personality. Some agents also work as talent scouts and actively search for new clients, whom they then bring to an agency. Or the clients themselves might approach agents who have good reputations and request their representation. Music agents listen to recordings of the band or singer’s music, visit clubs and other music venue to observe talent firsthand, attend musical showcases, and conduct live auditions to determine what musical acts they would like to represent. All agents consider a client’s potential for a long career—it is important to find performers who will grow, develop their skills, and eventually create a continuing demand for their talents.
When an agent agrees to represent a client, they both sign a contract that specifies the extent of representation, the time period, payment, and other legal considerations.
When agents look for jobs for their clients, they do not necessarily try to find as many assignments as possible. Agents try to carefully choose assignments that will further their clients’ careers. For example, an agent might represent a musician who wants to graduate from smaller musical clubs to large outdoor venues such as stadiums. The agent looks for opportunities to place their artists in these settings, perhaps by having them perform as an opening act for a stadium tour for a major headliner such as the Rolling Stones, Britney Spears, or Shania Twain. If their artists are positively received by the audience and concert promoter, they may be asked to headline a stadium tour at a later date.
Agents also work closely with the potential employers of their clients. They keep in touch with music venue owners, recording industry executives, and other industry professionals to see if any of their clients can meet their needs.
When agents see a possible match between employer and client, they speak to both and quickly organize meetings, interviews, or auditions so that employers can meet potential hires and evaluate their musical ability. Agents must be persistent and aggressive on behalf of their clients. They spend time on the phone with employers, convincing them of their clients’ talents and persuading them to hire clients. There may be one or several interviews, and the agent may coach clients through this process to make sure clients understand what the employer is looking for and adapt their performances accordingly. When a client achieves success and is in great demand, the agent receives calls and other types of work requests and passes along only those that are appropriate to the interests and goals of his or her client.
When an employer agrees to hire a client, the agent helps negotiate a contract that outlines salary, benefits, promotional appearances, and other fees, rights, and obligations. Agents have to look out for the best interests of their clients and at the same time satisfy employers in order to establish continuing, long-lasting relationships.
Agents often develop lifelong working relationships with their clients. They act as business associates, advisers, advocates, mentors, teachers, guardians, and confidantes. Because of the complicated nature of these relationships, they can be volatile, so a successful relationship requires trust and respect on both sides, which can only be earned through experience and time. Agents who represent high-profile talent comprise only a small percentage of agency work. Most agents represent lesser-known or locally known talent.
Music Agent and Scout Career Requirements
You should take courses in business, mathematics, and accounting to prepare for the management aspects of an agent’s job. Take English and speech courses to develop good communication skills because an agent must be gifted at negotiation. Music classes of all types will help you become familiar with musical styles.
There are no formal requirements for becoming an agent, but a bachelor’s degree is strongly recommended. Advanced degrees in law and business are becoming increasingly prevalent; law and business training are useful because agents are responsible for writing contracts according to legal regulations. However, in some cases an agent may obtain this training on the job. Agents come from a variety of backgrounds; some have worked as musicians and then shifted into agent careers because they enjoyed working in the industry. Agents who have law or business degrees have an advantage when it comes to advancing their careers or opening a new agency.
Certification or Licensing
Many states require music agents to be licensed. Contact officials in the state in which you are interested in working for specific requirements.
Music agents need to be willing to work hard and aggressively pursue opportunities for clients. You should be detail-oriented and have a good head for business; contract work requires meticulous attention to detail. You need a great deal of self-motivation and ambition to develop good contacts. You should be comfortable talking with all kinds of people and be able to develop relationships easily. It helps to be a good general conversationalist in addition to being knowledgeable about music.
Exploring Music Agent and Scout Career
Learn as much as you can about the music industry. Read publications agents read, such as Billboard (http://www.billboard.com/) and Variety (http://variety.com/). Listen to current musical acts to get a sense of the established and up-and-coming talents in the music industry.
If you live in Los Angeles, New York, or Nashville, you may be able to volunteer or intern at an agency to find out more about the career. If you live outside these cities, check the Yellow Pages, or search the Web, for listings of local agencies. Most major cities have agents who represent local musicians. If you contact them, they may be willing to offer you some insight into the nature of talent management in general.
The largest music agencies are located in Los Angeles, New York City, and Nashville where the music industry is centered. There are music agencies in most large cities, however, and independent agents are established throughout the country.
The best way to enter this field is to seek an internship with an agency. If you live in or can spend a summer in Los Angeles, New York, or Nashville, you have an advantage in terms of numbers of opportunities. Libraries and bookstores will have resources for locating talent agencies. By searching the Web, you can find many free listings of reputable agents. The Yellow Pages will yield a list of local talent agencies. Compile a list of agencies that offer internship opportunities. Some internships will be paid and others may provide college course credit, but most importantly, they will provide you with experience and contacts in the industry. An intern who works hard and knows something about the music business stands a good chance of securing an entry-level position at an agency. At the top agencies, this will be a position in the mail room, where almost everyone starts. In smaller agencies, it may be an assistant position. Eventually persistence, hard work, and cultivated connections will lead to a job as an agent.
Once you have a job as an assistant, you will be allowed to work closely with a music agent to learn the ropes. You may be able to read contracts and listen in on phone calls and meetings. You will begin to take on some of your own clients as you gain experience. Agents who wish to advance must work aggressively on behalf of their clients as well as seek out quality talent to bring into an agency. Successful agents command more lucrative salaries and may choose to open their own agencies. Some agents find that their work is a good stepping stone toward a different career in the music industry, such as a talent buyer for a music club or an artist and repertoire worker in the recording industry.
Earnings for agents vary greatly, depending on the success of the agent and his or her clients. An agency receives 10 to 20 percent of a client’s fee for a project. An agent is then paid a commission by the agency as well as a base salary. The U.S. Department of Labor reports that agents and business managers of artists, performers, and athletes earned median salaries of $55,140 in 2004. The lowest paid 10 percent earned less than $25,420, and the highest paid 10 percent $145,600 or more annually. However, music agents employed by top agencies earn much higher salaries.
Experienced agents employed by agencies will receive health and retirement benefits, bonuses, and paid travel and accommodations. Agents who are self-employed must provide their own health insurance and other benefits.
Work in a talent agency can be lively and exciting. Music agents find it rewarding to watch a client attain success with their help. This work can seem very glamorous, allowing music agents to rub elbows with the rich and famous and make contacts with the most powerful people in the music industry. Most agents, however, represent less-famous musicians.
Agents’ work requires a great deal of stamina and determination in the face of setbacks. The work can be extremely stressful, even in small agencies. It often demands long hours, including evenings and weekends. To stay successful, agents at the top of the industry must constantly network. They spend a great deal of time on the telephone, with both clients and others in the industry, and attending industry functions.
Music Agent and Scout Career Outlook
Employment in the music and entertainment field is expected to grow rapidly in response to the demand for entertainment from a growing population. However, the number of musicians also continues to grow, creating fierce competition for all jobs in this industry. This competition will drive the need for more music agents and scouts to find talented individuals and place them in the best jobs. This is a very difficult career to break into, and most successful music agents spend years building their experience and client list in smaller markets before they enjoy a modicum of success.