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Learn the Basics of the Job

Get to Know the Industry

A talent agent is responsible for finding jobs or gigs for people in the entertainment industry. As a talent agent, you can expect to receive notices from casting directors and other managers in the entertainment industry looking for people for upcoming productions. Upon receiving an inquiry, you will run the gig requirements by your client to determine his or her level of interest. If your client appears interested, you need to quickly gather his or her resume, at least one high-quality headshot photograph, and video footage of previous performances if the show calls for it, and forward it all to the talent scout. It’s essential to act quickly, so your client doesn’t lose out to someone who submitted their credentials faster.

If the scouting manager requests an audition, it’s up to you to check your client’s schedule and make an appointment for one. Once the talent scout has confirmed the audition, you will provide your client with a sheet of specifications to get ready for the tryout. The sheet typically contains the date and time of the audition, the venue, and sections of the script, music or other type of performance the agency wants your client to perform. You will likely coach your client to prepare for the audition as well.

Should your client land the gig, part of your duties include negotiating his or her contract with the production company. This covers his or her compensation and benefits, work expectations, dates the contract covers, and other essential details. You receive commission based on the contract you negotiated with the agency seeking talent. This is typically at least 10 percent of the contract value. Some states cap talent agent compensation at 25 percent. Talent agents must pass state licensing where they do business and follow any regulations imposed by the state.

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Increase Your Knowledge of the Industry

Experience & Specialization Are Keys to Success

People who are most successful at this career enter it having a strong interest in the entertainment industry. You may have acted in plays in high school, been a stage manager for a band, or worked on the public relations team for a local author. The venue isn’t as important as an understanding and appreciation of the lifestyle. However, you probably want to settle on a specialty area once you do become a talent agent, such as musicians or authors. This allows you to build your credibility quickly and will attract clients who are looking for agents with proven results.  For instance, you may have an interest in music, so you will want to listen to as much popular music as possible to understand the field and have the knowledge and background to fairly manage musicians. Or, you may love the movies, and want to represent actors. It would be best then, to familiarize yourself with popular actors and actresses who are big draws at the box office.  But, while you may like another field altogether, in order to succeed as a talent agent, you will need to identify clients who are popular and have wide appeal. 

Talent agents must demonstrate strong skills in public relations, marketing, human resources, professional communication, and negotiation. Although no specific college degree exists to become a talent agent, most agencies hiring for this position require the minimum of a bachelor degree from an accredited college or university. Therefore, it would be wise to consider enrolling in a degree program focusing on these important business skills. Your major or minor concentration could include:

  • Marketing
  • Communications
  • Public Relations
  • Global Business Management
  • Master of Business Administration in Entertainment Management
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Corporate Finance
  • Juris Doctor if you plan to work exclusively with legal issues

    Please note that some of these degree options are at the master degree level. No matter which educational program you choose, it’s important to learn about state and federal laws related to the entertainment industry. This is especially true if you plan to represent clients under age 18.

    It’s also vitally important to secure a role as an intern in an established talent agency, so you have legitimate credentials when it comes time for your first job interview. You shouldn’t expect to work with clients as an intern, but you will gain valuable knowledge into how a talent agency operates on a day-to-day basis. Your duties could include scheduling meetings, managing calendars, updating databases, making phone calls to obtain additional information for your superiors, and much more that falls into the category of administrative detail.

    Day-to-day, talent agents develop contacts with organizations or individuals and determine strategies to ensure their client’s success. They stay informed about industry trends, collect fees and commissions, arrange meetings and confer with clients to determine the best course of action for their careers. Talent agents also conduct interviews with potential clients, negotiate with managers, union officials, promoters, and others regarding a client’s contractual obligations, manage financial affairs for clients, book hotels and travel arrangements, and hire coaches or trainers to advise clients about exercise and workout techniques to ensure they are prepared for a performance or part.

    In order to be successful and build a client base, talent agents must also acquire or possess a number of skills vital to the job. These skills and abilities include a take-charge temperament, tenacious persuasion and negotiation skills, active listening and time management skills. Talent agents must have complex problem-solving skills and understand the relative costs and benefits of each job, as well as have strong decision-making skills to access each performance to ensure it is in the best interest of their clients.  They must have integrity, be independent, yet cooperative. Have careful attention to details, persistence, initiative, and the ability to accept criticism, but deal calmly in high-stress situations.

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    Build Your Network

    Developing Connections in the Industry Is Essential

    During and after your internship, take advantage of any opportunity to network within the industry. Let people know you’re willing to work a part-time position when your internship ends, even if it’s more administrative work. It might not be where you want to end up but think of it as a rung on the steps of a ladder to your eventual career goal. It’s common for talent agency interns to accept a position as a receptionist or personal assistant to gain practical experience.

    The ideal place to get your first break is the agency where you completed your internship. Keep your eyes open for part-time positions that can give you the experience you need to move up to a position as a talent agent. If the agency has no openings, don’t be shy about asking for a written recommendation as well as seek permission for a potential future employer to call. The most important thing you can do for your future career is to be proactive in seeking more challenging opportunities and letting people you associate with in the industry know of your career plans.

    To build strong connections, look for networking groups online and in your local community. Not only does this give you access to people at the same career stage, it can be a great place to hear about job openings you would have never known about otherwise. If you know an experienced talent agent whom you especially admire, consider asking him or her to be your mentor. Most people feel honored by the request, but don’t take it personally if the person doesn’t have the time to invest right now. You can always check with someone else.

    Be certain to document anything you do that helps someone in the entertainment industry land a gig. It will probably be behind the scenes, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important. Start a digital or printed portfolio that shows how your contributions made a difference and that you willingly took on increasing responsibility without expectation of personal reward. Everyone must start somewhere, and the fact that you took the initiative to document your career path can only work in your favor.

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    Additional Resources for Talent Agent

    Association of Talent Agents
    Talent Managers Association

    Get to Know Our Experts

    Kristi Lin Finch

  • Title:
    Talent Agent
  • Company:
    The Sam Blaze Agency
  • Where:
    Atlanta, GA
  • Experience:
    15 years in the industry
  • 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

  • Title:
    CEO
  • Company:
    In Touch Entertainment
  • Where:
    New York, NY
  • Experience:
    20 years in the industry
  • 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.comUs Music Jobs or even on Craigslist.

    Ben Oduro

  • Title:
    Booker
  • Company:
    International Talent Agency, LLC
  • Where:
    New York, NY
  • Experience:
    8 years in the industry
  • 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.

    Talent Agent Infographic