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Do I need an Artist’s Agent?

Maria's Photos to May 2009 390The most common money-related mistake artists make is a reluctance to invest in their own careers.”  Carol Michels

A commonly asked question I get from visual artists is:  “Will you represent me?”  Or, “How do I find an agent to represent me?”

My short answer is this:  A good agent can get you deals that you never would have gotten on your own.  And that’s worth the commission they will charge you.

However:  Consider representing yourself, first, because it’s very hard to find someone GOOD to represent your work.   You may be better off representing yourself until you can find an excellent agent, or afford to pay someone to manage your business.

My long answer is this:  Here’s how it typically works with agents:  A good representative will be responsible to help you get sales, put the sale together, deal with the contracts (in some cases), and do the follow up, make sure payments are made, and sometimes help with marketing your name and art.

Agents Pay:  Agents keep anywhere from 25% – 50% (depending on your deal with them).   However, to get a sale, it could take the agent up to 100 hours of prospecting and phone calling and footwork.  So, many agents will charge money up front (anywhere from $1,000 – $5,000 per month) so that they are not working for free, in the event that your art does not sell.  In this case, unless the agent is super-connected, you may be better off paying a salary to a manager.

Warning:  Agents that charge up front can be a risk.  Be sure to get references and confirm that they are connected to possible clients and they are experienced and straight up.  Otherwise, you could be throwing your money away.  There are some great agents out there, but there are some hustlers, too.  Do your “vetting” before giving your money away!

My personal experience as an artist’s agent has been humbling, as I learned, after about 3 years, that I couldn’t make a good living representing other artists without monies up front (and most artists aren’t willing to pay up front).

I started out representing Drew Brophy almost 10 years ago.  Since then, Drew has become known as the top licensed surf artist in history, he has over 30 licensees that pay him to use his art on their products, and he is well respected in the art world.  Now, being Drew’s wife and CEO of our company, Son of the Sea, we retain 100% of his earnings (and then we both get paid out of that).

We were so successful with Drew, that when other artists started asking me to represent them, I said, “why not”?  So about 6 years ago I started representing other artists, charging only 30% of the earnings from what I sold.  This didn’t work out as a good deal for me, as I’ll explain below.

Right now, I’m not taking on any new artists, and I’m cutting back on the work I do for the current artists that I work with.

And here’s why:  I don’t like working for free!  Now, don’t get me wrong, I do make money off of SOME of the artists I work with, when I get them a deal that’s over $10,000.  However, most deals are $1,000 or so, which means I get $300 or so, which means after all the hours that I put in to put it together, I’ve earned about $15.00 an hour.  Not good pay for a professional.  So now I’m focusing entirely on Drew Brophy, where my company keeps 100% rather than 30%.

My advice to any artist looking for representation: First put in the time and represent yourself.  Get better educated on sales, on how galleries work, on the business of art.  Read good blogs and websites for artists, like www.artbizcoach.com, and don’t be afraid to spend money on art consultants, which is actually a lot cheaper than paying an agent or manager.

Consultants charge by the hour.  They are great to use for specific questions or problems, as well as to help you plan your marketing and sales strategies.  For the Fine Art World, I highly recommend finding a consultant that knows galleries, museums, and most aspects of the business of art.  

For Licensing, I recommend myself.  I’m an expert on putting license deals together.  Consultants typically charge anywhere from $150 on up per hour, and are usually worth every penny  –  you’ll save yourself years of research using consultants.

So go on, represent yourself! You can, just take baby steps and keep learning by reading books and blogs and articles and using consultants.  Once you get to the point where you can afford a manager, hire one.

I want you to be successful!  Please, let me know what you think of this topic.

Thanks for reading – Maria Brophy

This article was reprinted from a previous post on www.drewbrophy.com

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