Hello. I would like to know the ways of working with an agency legally. How can I work with them and make sure I am not ripped off? How do I know if they are actual and legitimate and not con artists?

Answer by Brandon Blake, Entertainment Lawyer:

Many of my clients have talent agents and talent managers, and each can be indispensable for helping to advance a career in film, television and music. So knowing how to check out a prospective agent or manager is valuable knowledge that can save a lot of time in the long run.

First off, it is important to know that there is a difference between agents and managers. Many states, including California and New York, have statutes to regulate talent agencies, including the maximum commission rate a licensed talent agent can take, as well as requirements that the talent agent post a bond and maintain a license with the state.

Talent managers, on the other hand, are not directly regulated by the state, and therefore can charge a higher commission and are not as limited in the type of business arrangements that can be entered into with clients. There are also business managers that might be primarily involved with the management of successful client’s businesses, including maintaining investment portfolios, maximizing profits from libraries of properties, and making sure royalties are paid and accounted for by distributors and publishers.

In many states talent managers are prohibited from directly “soliciting employment” for clients. That does not mean a talent manager cannot help find work for a client, but it does mean that either the client will be asked to also have a licensed talent agent, or otherwise the offers for employment must be handled as introductions to projects and producers. For this reason, talent managers generally are more involved in long-term career building, rather than day-to-day submission for roles or writing jobs.

Deciding on the type of representation that is best to work with really depends upon where you are in your career. Many young writers and actors will opt for a talent manager, because, first, there are more of them and talent managers are sometimes more willing to take a risk on young talent, and second, the talent manager might spend more time with a new client than an agent.

If you have an established career with some solid experience, a talent agency might be able to push your career to the next level. Talent agents generally need to see existing, commissionable work before signing, since talent agents in most states are prohibited from taking part directly in film, television, and music projects with clients. Generally, the larger the talent agency, the bigger the projects the agent can find for a client, but beware of getting on the bottom of the list of a big agency, as you might get very few calls if bigger clients are keeping your agent busy.

Finally, every client would like to be in the position to also have a business manager, to help oversee a library of properties and maintain the revenue stream coming in from royalties and residuals. However, many business managers have a monthly maintenance fee, and for many younger artists that minimum might be larger than the total revenue coming in each month. So make sure you ask about fees and minimums upfront.

When it comes to verifying that someone is a licensed talent agent in California, that is relatively straightforward. The State of California maintains this website that can be searched for licensed talent agents:

In the State of New York, search the following database: Other states also maintain databases of licensed talent agencies.

Remember that no such databases exist for talent managers or business managers, because no special license is required in most states.

Before signing a representation contract with a talent agent or talent manager, you should have the contract reviewed by an entertainment law firm like ours. The best way to make sure that you are going to be fairly represented, and are signing a good deal, is to have the agreement reviewed, and since we work with many talent agencies and management companies, we can also provide our own feedback about the reputation of the agency.

As with any entertainment matter, please do not make a decision about complex matters without consulting an experienced entertainment lawyer first. I have been representing feature film projects, television series, and recording artists for more than 16 years. Please feel free to contact my office about a quote.

- By Brandon Blake, Entertainment Lawyer