9: Do You Need A Talent Agent?
There is no right answer to this question that works for everyone. A talent agent is almost always a good thing to have if you don’t like negotiating for rates and if you’re not already pretty well connected with the agencies and production companies in your area.
And an agent is almost a necessity in markets that are very strong on unions. For example, it would be really tough to make it in cities like NY, LA, Chicago and Cleveland. Companies in these markets are used to dealing with agents and paying their rates.
But many markets are not that way. It’s human nature to always be on the hunt for “a deal”. Not only that, margins are tight…and a media production entity has to remain competitive in order to survive and thrive in their markets. In medium and small markets, many producers are very comfortable contracting and negotiating with the talent directly.
Talent agencies can almost always negotiate a better rate than the talent themselves will get on their own, but they also take a cut of the action…commonly 10-20%. But that’s hardly a lot of money for someone to help do the things for you that you hate to do or are not good at yourself.
Should You Join The Union?
Much like the issue of talent agents, the decision about joining a union is very individual (although less so in the larger markets…where you’ll miss out on the opportunity to work for larger clients unless you belong).
Unions provide some protection for the talent by giving you a set of predefined rates for work performed. Also, you are protected for work that ends up being used long-term by tracking residuals…allowing you to continue to get paid for work done long ago…which can be very nice. Finally, the union has a very nice health and retirement plan, which can be very expensive for a talent to come up with on their own.
The downside? In most markets, union workers work less than non-union workers. Your flexibility to work within a client’s existing budget is very limited (which results in some union VO artists working “under the table” to get more work).
It’s definitely a trade-off either way. You’ll want to talk to other VO talent in your market, and to talk to the SAG/AFTRA chapter near you.