Agents: Partners or Saviors?

closeup of handshakeAs a creative coach, there’s one question that early-career clients never fail to ask: “Don’t I need an agent or manager to succeed?” I know why they ask. The agent is seen as the Holy Grail for an artist … the White Knight, who has come along to do all the heavy lifting in the artist’s career.   But it’s simply not true. (Artists who have had agents in the past can surely agree).

I always tell my clients that while an agent or a manager may be useful in the long run, most are inundated with requests, have limited time and are very selective about who they take on. Most agents will only create a true partnership with motivated and resourceful clients who actively promote their own work and bring strategic relationships to the party.

It’s a hard pill to swallow. Being an artist isn’t easy, and most artists don’t want to be involved in the business end of things because that takes away from the creative end, which is where they shine.

I explain to my clients that there are three steps to finding and working with an agent.

1. Be The Best Artist You Can Be: There’s that old saying that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.  The same is true for agents.  When the artist is ready, the agent will appear.  Always try to improve your art.  Take classes.  Read technical books.  If you’re a theater or film artist, go see shows and movies to be aware of what’s happening in the industry.  If you’re a novelist or poet, go to readings.  If you’re a painter or sculptor, go to openings.  Join a community of your peers.  Learn from and share with your community.  People like to work with people they know — in person or by reputation — and agents are people too!

2. Know Why You Are An Artist: All the hob-knobbing and skill building in the world won’t help you land an agent, if you don’t have a purpose to your art. Each of your creations, performances, or publications should reflect who you are as an artist.  What is your voice?  If you don’t have a strong voice, you won’t be able to get an agent … and you’re not ready to have one. Keep your eyes on your work, instead of looking over your shoulder to see what everyone else is doing.  Create work that is authentically your aesthetic.  Don’t try to chase the marketplace.  Innovate instead!

3. Recognize Your Agent as Your Partner, Not Your Savior: When you do land an agent, don’t hand over the health and wealth of your creative career to your agent! Work together with your agent to make a plan to advance your career. Agents are great negotiators,  are wonderful advocates for your work, and are great for helping you get past the gatekeepers. But your agent isn’t alone in the struggle. You can’t depend on anyone to make your career for you.

It’s the Wild Wild West for 21st century artists.  There are loads of opportunities out there even if you don’t have an agent.  Start a new project and produce something.  Get out there and connect with movers and shakers in your industry.    Now is the time to be the entrepreneur of your creative career!


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