How to Become a Talent Agent

So the first question many people have is what do talent agents actually do? These are the professionals behind actors, athletes, singers, and others in the performance industry, who run the business side of things. While there are, of course, say actors, who book their own auditions and try to find opportunities on their own, most have an agent to help them out.

Talent agents need to be great at marketing and communications. They should be ready to multi-task, negotiate and network, while also understanding the entertainment industry. They find talent they see potential in and then match them up with opportunities, auditions, and key people in the industry. Then they follow up on closing the contracts for their clients and make commission when this happens.

Here are some fun facts about the talent agency industry.

WHAT THE EXPERTS ARE SAYING

Kristi Lin Finch

Talent Agent

Quick Look Bio

  • Name:
  • Location:
  • Years in the Industry:
  • Company:
  • Twitter:

Understanding My Career Path

  • I first became intrigued by models and actors by watching them on television and in movies. Quite naturally, I wanted to become those people. I pursued modeling and made a long career of it. I also did a bit of acting.
  • When I started a family, my son had the modeling looks with the acting talent, so I became my son’s talent manager.
  • As a talent manager, I was on the other side of the talent/agency relationship. I was no longer the talent; I was the person responsible for helping talent succeed. I loved it! I quickly decided that I wanted to be closer to the action and engage in contract negotiations. I decided to start my own agency and become an agent.
  • I spent well over a year researching and following compliance requirements to act as an agent.
  • I began contacting clients and seeking talent to build my database. My talent has worked in print, runway, television and movies.
  • I hired scouts and managers to help me find talent for many of our bookings.
  • I decided to specialize in representing fashion models under the age of 25 and child actors under 18.
  • I have become a consultant to many aspiring models and actors. I teach a FREE modeling and acting class in Atlanta and have written a book for aspiring models, The Modeling Quick Guide: How to Get Started Quickly and Easily, available at Barnes & Noble, Amazon and most book stores.

Recommended Organizations

Advice

On whether or not she recommends a formal education
Although an undergraduate degree is not necessary, I would encourage a talent agent to pursue education in business, law, marketing, or advertising. Sales experience can be very helpful as well. In some states a talent agent license is required. Many top talent agents engage in contract creation and negotiations.

Desire to help others succeed
Many agents must understand that they represent talent, but they need to build great client relationships as well in order to keep their talent working with those clients. We want both the client and talent to become successful.

Be persistent or hire people who are
Many talent agents set up and wait for the phone to ring. We prefer to persistently market our talent to potential clients. In the case of talent, many agencies have open calls. We utilize scouts and educate agents on how to connect with talent who are ready to start or switch agencies. We are persistent.

Be organized or hire an assistant who is
The most difficult part of an agency is organizing clients and talent. There are many working parts to booking a model or casting an actor. Between the first look and the actual hire, you must be organized in order to know what is taking place at every moment during the entire process. A talent agency is paid a commission after the talent is hired, so it’s beneficial to make sure all of the moving parts are smooth in order to begin the invoicing and account receivables process.

Advice on getting your foot in the door
Intern, volunteer or work as a scout or an assistant at a talent agency to learn what is required to assist talent and clients. You can also begin learning about the business of fashion and entertainment by becoming a talent manager.

Charles Carlini

In Touch Entertainment

Quick Look Bio

  • Name:
  • Location:
  • Years in the Industry:
  • Company:
  • Twitter:
  • Charles Carlini
  • New York, NY
  • 20
  • In Touch Entertainment
  • @intouchtweets

Understanding My Career Path

  • Oddly enough, I began my career in the restaurant industry. However, as much as I enjoyed the restaurant experience, it wasn’t my passion. I really wanted to be a musician and attended Berklee College of Music to help me forge that dream.
  • While managing restaurants, I began booking bands on the side at a downtown Manhattan jazz spot called the Zinc Bar because my girlfriend at the time owned the place.
  • This gave me a real opportunity to gain valuable hands-on experience. I learned how to budget for shows, promote them, and also stage them – something I doubt can be learned from a book or college course.
  • Eventually, I promoted my first concert – a tribute to jazz guitar giant Tal Farlow – it was very successful and caught the attention of impresario George Wein (founder of the Newport Jazz Festival) who asked me to produce shows with him as a partner, thus beginning a 15-year association with the JVC Jazz Festival.
  • After Wein retired, I rebranded the company to offer a suite of services to our artists with booking as the main focus.

Recommended Organizations

  • National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS)—the governing body of the Grammys. It’s composed of musicians, producers, recording engineers, and other recording professionals. Aside from some excellent perks, becoming a member will allow you to network with these members from around the world and expand your sphere of influence.
  • The Association of Performing Arts Presenters (APAP) is a national service, advocacy and professional organization for presenters of the performing arts. Their annual conference held in New York City each year is a must-go event for any talent agent or talent buyer. Not to be missed!
  • Pollstar Live is an annual concert industry consortium. It has become the premier gathering of concert industry professionals.

Advice

On whether or not he recommends a formal education
Most of my peers never attended college to learn the positions (managers, booking agents, concert promoters, etc.) that they occupy today. One reason is that these jobs or careers weren’t offered as courses in any college I knew of back then. They were chiefly on-the-job-training careers. You either learned how to do them by finding a mentor to teach you the ropes or by flying from the seat of your pants.

Nowadays, these jobs are taught at many colleges around the country. So for those looking to break into the profession, I highly recommend taking courses. It will cut the learning curve substantially and help minimize costly mistakes down the road. Having said this, this should not replace on-the-job training.

Be patient
Rome wasn’t built in a day. When you make pitches to talent buyers on behalf of your artists and don’t get an immediate response, don’t take it personally. No response may not necessarily mean that they aren’t interested; it just may mean that they aren’t yet ready to make a decision.

Be persistent
Your success is in the follow-up. I can’t tell you how many agents I know that quit after their initial pitch. If they don’t get an immediate or any response at all, they throw their hands up in despair and cry defeat. In order to be successful in this business, you have to have thick skin and not take it personally. As the saying goes, some will, some won’t, so what – who’s next?

Be cordial
Always be nice to the people you meet in this business even if you don’t like them. The music industry is small despite what one might think. And so you never know who you’ll meet on the way up or down the musical ladder.

Advice on getting your foot in the door
I would first volunteer as an intern at a music firm to get my feet wet. There is no better way to break into the business than by being in the trenches at a reputable music company that has a good pulse on the music industry. You can find many internship opportunities posted on your school’s career counseling board or on sites like internships.com, Us Music Jobs or even on Craigslist.

Ben Oduro

International Talent Agency, LLC

Quick Look Bio

  • Name:
  • Location:
  • Years in the Industry:
  • Company:
  • Twitter:
  • Ben Oduro
  • New York, NY
  • 8
  • International Talent Agency, LLC
  • @BookerBen

Understanding My Career Path

  • I received my start when I was a model and actor. I was always auditioning and would send castings that I knew about to other people who were also pursuing the same industry.
  • During my time as a talent I signed to the same agency I currently work for. I decided to intern for the agency because I wanted to see what goes on behind the scenes so I could have a better perspective and approach.
  • My internship lasted six months, and the agency hired me as an assistant. I later started my position helping the other agents with anything and everything they needed help with.
  • In six months that position was upgraded to agent.
  • In another six months I was promoted to head agent of the LA Division.
  • Sometime later, my boss created the Canadian Division and wanted me to be in charge of that division.
  • One day during a brainstorming session, I brought it to the attention of my boss that we should start a Celebrity Division. That brought a whole new division to the company that I became in charge of as well.

Recommended Organizations

  • Association of Talent Agents – their website features ways for you to obtain job opportunities and internships to become an agent or gain experience.
  • SAG/AFTRA – a good chunk of the work in the industry is under SAG/AFTRA. There is no way to get around them if you are trying to get your clients legit work. Some casting directors will not even see talent that are not in the union. It’s a great way to be well informed about their practices and procedures.

Advice

On whether or not he recommends a formal education
I recommend formal education to a certain extent. I think the best degrees to obtain if trying to pursue this field are theater, performing arts, business, and/or a marketing degree. I always say on-the-floor experience is best. In the end, as long as you are a quick learner, aggressive, don’t mind sending emails all day, making calls to clients, have a good eye for talent, and good negotiating skills, then you should be fine.

Study the industry
Learn who casting directors are. Learn who models are. Learn who the people you will be interacting with in this industry are. When you have personal relationships with clients it also makes things easier for you to get talent into the audition room because the casting directors trust you and your judgment.

Join entertainment groups
Places like Meetup.com are a great place to meet and network with people in the industry. You can immerse yourself in areas of the entertainment industry to grow your vast knowledge and also make some great connects for the future.

Learn Photoshop and Photography
It’s not imperative to learn these things, but it definitely helps and also makes you more valuable to your employer especially if you’re starting out as an intern. Photos are always in need of retouching, and retouching costs money. Having someone in-house helps and cuts costs.

Advice on getting your foot in the door
I would tell someone trying to become a talent agent to apply for an internship. Agencies are always looking for people for internships, and if the agency likes you they can possibly bring you on full-time. You have to show them that you are hungry, aggressive, get work done, bring innovative ideas, are persistent, and consistent. Every job you do as an intern for the agency should feel like the best thing you’ve ever done in your life, even if it is just going to get coffee.

What Kind of Education Do I Need to Become a Talent Agent?


There is no specific path that talent agents need to take to have a successful career. Many are self-taught; a lot begin as talent themselves and transition into agent positions. Others come from business and marketing backgrounds, while some could be scientists or engineers. There is no set rule. No matter what your educational background is, you will, however, need to learn and understand the industry, network extensively, and be business-savvy in order to make the right decisions for yourself and your clients.

For this reason, many talent agents come from a business background, which teaches them how to manage the financial aspects and promote their clients, while they also learn to be great communicators. Such degrees as business administration, marketing, communications and public relations, are all great starting points for someone who would like to become a talent agent. From there, it is a question of whether you have an eye for the right type of talent, good negotiation skills and an ability to easily make connections with the right people.

WHAT IF I DO WANT A DEGREE TO BECOME A TALENT AGENT?

Here are some of the top schools in the US for business programs.

  • University of Pennsylvania
    The Wharton School of Business at UPenn offers 20 concentrations to its undergraduate students, which include marketing, communications, strategic management, as well as an individualized study track. Students can choose to further pursue an MBA or master’s level studies. Tuition for undergrads averages at $49,536 per year.
  • University of California – Berkeley
    Offering a degree in Business Administration, the HAAS School of Business provides undergraduate students with fundamentals of business and management, as well as opportunities to pursue international exchanges, global management concentration studies and a variety of minors. Students from other disciplines may also take a summer certificate introducing them to business. MBA, master’s level, executive, and doctorate level studies are also available. Tuition averages at $48,747 per year.
  • Indiana University
    With two campuses in Indiana and Bloomington, the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University offers a variety of majors to undergraduate students, including Marketing, Professional Sales, and Entrepreneurship and Corporate Innovation. Students may also pursue business minors, MBA and master’s level studies. Tuition here is an average of $10,388 for Indiana residents and $33,240 for non-residents.
  • Duke University
    The Fuqua School of Business at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, offers a variety of MBAs, including international, executive and part-time studies. They also offer management and executive programs. First year students pay $58,000 tuition.
  • Northwestern University
    Located in Evanston, Illinois, the Kellogg School of Management at the Northwestern University offers certificate programs for undergraduate level students, a number of MBAs, as well as Master’s level studies in management. The MBA costs average between $65,000 and $88,000 per year.

GETTING MY FOOT IN THE DOOR

Most talent agents start out as interns. There is a lot of leg work that needs to be done within a talent agency. Making calls, managing calendars and databases, organizing and scheduling meetings, going out to run errands – this is often done by interns, who are at the same time, learning the ropes. Many agencies will hire their interns after their initial contract for assistant positions, and then it is up to you to grow into a talent agent role.

Considering the industry, it is also extremely important to network. An agency might hire you because of your contacts; meanwhile, you might meet talent you would like to manage, as well as others in the industry, who can lead to jobs, auditions, bookings, tips, and at the end of the day, commissions. To succeed, always have a professional and relevant to your industry appearance, be on top of the latest related news, and have your digital image up to date as well.