How Many Agents Have You Broken Up With?

Everyday I get a flurry of emails from the agents of performing artists letting me know when the performers are available cross the course of the next year or two.  Often I notice that artists with whom I am familiar have moved under the representation of a different agent.

After my post yesterday about the evolving career prospects for non-profit executive directors, I idly wondered if anyone studied the reasons why artists change representation.

I know there is the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project (SNAAP) study which looks at the employment experiences of graduates of arts degree programs. However, I don’t think it really examines interactions with agents.

Of course, the larger issue is that not every practicing artist graduated from a degree program and wouldn’t be included in the survey.

The two major reasons artists and agents part company are either the artist doesn’t feel the agent is able to represent them well due to lack of initiative or contacts, or the agent doesn’t feel they can provide the artist with the support they need.

From conversations I have had with agents, I know that latter case can often include essentially firing the artist as a client due to feedback the agent receives about their personality or lack of organization. There are some agents who have painstakingly tried to instill good personal and business practices in their clients to no avail.

The idea that artists need to be cognizant of at least some aspects of the business side of their practice, if not take an entrepreneurial approach, has been bandied about to some degree for at least a couple decades now.

I think it would be helpful for all those involve if there was a clear picture of what leads to an artist and agent parting ways and that can be prevented or make the relationship more constructive.

A study may find that artists are choosing the wrong agent for them or vice versa and suggest steps that lead to a more enduring relationship. It may find that artists need better coaching and training at certain milestones in their career.

Agents can be a good resource for artists because they know a great deal about the employment environment and provide advice customized to the individual. (versus general advice on websites/books).

On the other hand, because agents are in competition with each other, there isn’t a lot of incentive for them to collaborate on a uniform process. (Though many certainly have worked together to establish strong standards of behavior for the industry.)

To a certain degree, this study would be about how to increase employment opportunities for artists. There have been many studies about why audiences aren’t attending performances and how to fix that. There aren’t really any studies I can think of that look at why artists aren’t being hired and how to fix that.

Its not entirely a direct result of lack of audiences because there are some performers who are getting more offers than they can accept and they aren’t all super marquee names.

My suspicion is that just as there are studies saying foundations need to change their funding philosophies to reflect the realities faced by non-profit organizations, such a study would reveal a need for presenters, casting agents, gallery directors etc., to change their approaches as well.

One of the things I would be curious to know is the comparative rates of turn over in artist-agent relationships for stage actors, screen actors, visual artists, instrumental soloists, dance companies, music ensembles, etc. I would bet there is a wide variety in the range with the standard for some being a matter of a couple years whereas others being measured in decades.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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