1 - Not all agents are bad
One of the common complaints I hear from acts, not just magicians, is about "lousy agents" who try to rip them off.
Yes, it's true. There are a lot of rip-off agents just as they are a lot of rip-off acts. Agents who pay you $1,000 and charge the client $2,000. One magician I know did a show in Taiwan for $10,000 complete with dancers, illusions etc and, at the end, the client was happy... but he did mention he didn't think the show was worth the $20,000 he was paying for it. Who looks bad? The act!
If you ever discover an agent is overcharging for you, get them to take you off their books immediately as it will really hurt your reputation, not theirs.
Most agents take anywhere from 10%-30%. Some put it on top of your fee, others take it out of your fee. I prefer the agent to take their commission out of my fee because that way, if the client calls me direct for a quote, they get the same price.
To me this is good business. Yes, I earn less than working through an agent who puts their commission on top of me fee, but by doing it this way it encourages the agent to use me more because it makes them look good. Think about it. A client calls an agent and is quoted $1000 for your act, they call you and get quoted $1000. All seems above board. On the other hand, they call the agent and get quoted $1200, then call you and get quoted $1000... the agent looks bad.
To me, paying the agent's commission is a small price to pay to keep the agent happy, and encourage them to give me more work.
(One alternative to this is to have your set price of $1000, and offer your act to agents at $800 + $200 commission. This can work, but can be tricky because many agents charge different percentage commissions).
Be aware of the agents who take double or triple commissions (often because there is also an event-manager or a referrer who recommended you to the client and also wants to get a commission as well). Deal only with agents who are totally upfront about what the client is paying for you (the Gross Fee) and what the agent is paying you (the Nett Fee).
This can sometimes be tricky to figure out when the agent is also the event manager, and may be taking an "organisers fee" on top of their commission. However, in that case the client is usually aware that it's a separate charge to your fee and can decide if it was worth it.
The fee issue is very easy to work out. An honest agent will have no issue with you talking money with the client. Ifthe client refuses to give you a contact phone number for the client, that's usually a warning sign that things may not be 100% above board.
2 - Agents don't get upset if you don't hand out their business cards
Often, agents will send you a wad of their business cards to hand out at the gig. Unfortunately, these cards are often cheaply produced and usually have absolutely no information about you on them... unless you write your name on them and then they look even cheaper.
The reason the agents give you these cards is they don't want you to hand out your own cards.
They feel that, because they got you this gig, they have a right to a commission on any work generated from it.
Agree or disagree, that's just the way it is.
But do you really have to hand out their cruddy cards? No. The aim is to direct any future enquiries back through the agent, and Jeff Hobson has a suggestion that is fantastic on some many levels.
When someone asks you for a card, ask them for theirs.
If they don't have one, have a pen and paper ready and write down their name, phone number and nature of their enquiry, then tell them you'll have so-and-so call them first thing in the morning.
This makes you look professional, as though you have people working for you, and it's much better than simply giving out a card and hoping the person will call you sometime in the near future.
From the agent's point of view, you call them the day after the gig with a few leads for them to call that could immediately give them fresh commissions! You prove you're honest, in demand, and working for them!
3 - Agents actually want to get you the gig
This can be hard to believe sometimes but remember, if you don't get the gig, they don't get paid.
Many magicians feel the agents really aren't promoting their act well enough to the clients, and that's why they think they're not really trying, but often you are just one of several acts they are proposing to the client, so if any of their acts get the gig they get paid. So how do you get them to push yours more than the other acts?
The easiest way is to provide the agent with a simple, one paragraph blurb they can read or email to the client (with a great pic) that will make the client fall in love with your show.
Some acts however, have resorted to more desparate measures to get agents to push their act ahead of the rest. Some offer higher commissions (ie: up to 60%), some offer bonus Myer Shopping Vouchers to the rep as an under-the-table bonus in addition to their commission. One even invites them up to the Gold Coast to stay at his house for holidays! These are generally considered poor form in the industry, while others say it's simply good business.
Other acts will wait until the end of the year and send the agents who got them the most of their work expensive Christmas hampers filled with champagne and chocolates as their way of saying thank you.
The bottom line is, if you deliver excellent shows every time (and most agents send their clients assessment sheets after the show) then the client will recommend you more frequently.
An act that bribes the agent to recommend them, but then fails to deliver can cost the agent their client... and an agent would rather lose anact than a client.
4 - The Agents don't work for you
That's right, they work for their client. It's the client who pays the bills, not the act. As frustrating as many clients can be, as irritating and as ridiculous as their demands are, at the end of the day what the client says goes.
How many times has an agent called you and asked you to put a date on hold then you've never heard a word from them again? You have to phone them and ask them if the gig is going ahead or not... and usually it's not.
On the other hand, I know clients who've called an agent just to enquire about an act, and then been inundated by phone calls from the agent trying to clinch the sale.
Get used to it.
5 - Agents don't care about your act
If I was in the business of selling shoes, I'd want to learn everything I could about the product I was selling so that I could answer any question my customers had.
In fact, we've done a lot of shows at conferences where particular manufacturers have 2-3 day seminars educating their sales teams about all the ins and outs of a particular product.
You try getting an agent to come see your act.
They won't even watch the $20,000 promo DVD you've sent them.
Even an emailed link to a YouTube clip is out of the question.
And yet they are the people who are supposed to sell your act to their clients.
Sue-Anne and I have even scheduled meetings with Speaker's Bureaus where we've gone in and made presentations to the staff, given them promo materials and done magic live for them. (Admittedly, many Bureaus have a very fast staff turnaround as they often work solely on commissions)
The only reason MOST agents will sell your act to a client, is because the client requested it (or something very similar to it).
You can send out so much material telling an agent you do stage AND close up, you can even call them and chat about it or visit them and do it for them on their desk, but if they've only ever sold you as a stage act... that's probably all they'll ever sell you as. Last week an agent called me asking me if I do close-up and they were genuinely surprised when I told them (for the 46th time) that I did.
Another agent called saying the client wanted a magician and a comedian, and the agent was wondering if I might be able to add a little comedy into my act.
You can just imagine the myriad of lost opportunities that go by simply because agents don't listen... they don't care about your act.
How do you get them to care? (Take a look at the '24 Years of Living Next Door to Ellis' DVD for a very sneaky tip!)
If you do find an agent who has seen your act AND likes it, they will be your very best ally and ultimate sales tool. Nurture them, spend time with them, be gentle with them.
With 'Magic Unlimited' we only represent about 30 acts, but we know each of the performers as friends, we know their acts, their strengths and their weaknesses and which performers work best with each other. We are able to advise our clients in a very practical way as to how to best use our artists to make their event successful.
Another agent I was speaking to yesterday said she represents 1,500 acts.
Yes, you can be listed with every agent in the book, but with agents it's quality not quantity that counts.
Find a handful of good agents and keep in touch with them on a regular basis. Establish a two-way relationship with them and you'll both benefit greatly.
Otherwise, you can always sit by the phone hoping it rings.