In the December issue of Magic Magazine Jim Sisti has a new column called 'Real World Methods'. 99% of his advice is fantastic. But there is one point I have to disagree with.
"The agent will mark up your fee when quoting the client, that's how they make money. In some cases the agent will be up front about how much the mark up will be. In other cases however, they will treat that as privileged information. The bottom line here is that if the agent doesn't volunteer this information, as long as you're getting the money you want, you're better off not knowing."
I'm sure the situation in America is not that much different to anywhere else in the world, but here in Australia agents will add anything from 10% to 30% on top of your fee as their commission. Anything in that range is considered "acceptable" by most professional speaker's bureaus and entertainment agencies.
(As a side note, many performers will ask the agent to take their commission out of the performer's fee and not put it on top. This means that if the client approaches the artist directly to get a quote after they get one from the agent, the quote will be the same, not 10-30% lower, and this sort of arrangement keeps the agent very happy because they don't look like rip-off artists to the client).
Anyway, Jim's theory is that if you price your show at $500 and an agent sells it for you, as long as you get your $500 you should be happy. So, if the agent decides to charge the client $1000... this is fine in Jim's book and you're better off not knowing.
In my opinion, if a client pays $1000, they have a different expectation of a show they pay $500 for.
If I was getting $500, but the client was paying $1000, my aim is to make the client happy so I'd feel obliged to give a much better show! I need to know how much the client is paying so that I can fulfil their expectations.
Not only that, what if they come to me further down the track and approach me directly? Will they be shocked to find that they paid way too much last time? Will they believe it was the agent ripping them off, or will they think it was me? Either way, one of us is going to look bad.
Last week I did a show where the client booked one act at $3000, but he got another gig and sent a replacement artist who usually works for a couple of hundred dollars. The artist was happy because he was paid a little more than normal, the first act was happy because he got almost his entire fee for not showing up PLUS he got his full fee for the other gig he did, but was the client happy? No. They never wanted to book a magician again. They assumed the quality of the act they got matched the fee they paid and they felt magicians were simply not worth what they charged.
There are one or two agents in Australia adopting the "larger percentage" approach. They find out the client's budget ($1000) then approach the cheapest act they can find ($200) and pay that artist what they want... everyone's happy!
Other agencies act as "event organisers" and will take a large budget ($10,000) and book a number of cheaper acts ($2000) and keep the rest as an "organising fee". Whether you agree with this approach or not, at least this doesn't result in the client having a specific price expectation of each act.
In my opinion, if an agency won't tell you how much the client is paying for your services, don't work for them. Trust is very important in the relationship between the artist and the agent. They trust you to hand out their cards and to refer all future work back through them, and in turn you should be able to trust that they are selling you at a reasonable fee.
What do you think?