THE TRUTH ABOUT AGENTS!
by Dan O'Day
(from CAREER CONTROL: Radio
Job-Hunting, Interviewing & Contracts)
About once a week I get a call from some
disc jockey or program director who is looking for a new position
and is considering using an agent or a job placement company.
Both agents and job placement firms can be helpful; the overwhelming
majority of them, for most jocks & PDs, are not.
Let's talk about agents first. When someone
seeks my opinion about a particular agent, the first thing I ask
is, "Does the agent charge the talent a fee?" If the
answer is "Yes," my advice is not to affiliate with
that agent. And if the agent collects a fee both from the talent
and from the company that hires the talent, my advice is, "DEFINITELY
avoid that agent."
Collecting fees from both ends is an obvious
conflict of interest. An agent can't serve two masters. Either
his loyalty goes to the radio station, or it goes to the talent.
Let's say the agent puts you and one of
his client stations together. The station is interested in hiring
you. A key element of your agent's duties is to negotiate on your
But how can he? He's negotiating a contract
between two parties, both of whom are paying him! While the talent
may have paid him a fee up-front, the radio station won't pay
him anything until and unless they sign someone he has brought
to their attention.
And I'm not even very keen on agents who
charge only the talent. True, that avoids the conflict of interest
issue. But with very few exceptions, agents do not do what most
disc jockeys think they do: Agents do NOT create careers. They
do not magically transform a $200 a week jock in Poughkeepsie
into a $200,000 a year jock in Philadelphia.
I know a lot of disc jockeys. And I can't
think of ONE top jock whose big break came through an agent. If
you're good - and if you learn how and make the effort to promote
yourself in the industry - people will become aware of you.
I'm sure you've heard that tired old accusation:
"In radio, it's not what you know, it's who you know."
The idea is the only way to get into a major market is to have
a buddy get you in. Think back to the first person who told you
that. I'll bet a thousand bucks to a dime that person does NOT
work in a major market.
Real talent has a way of bursting through...of
not only reaching a major market but staying there. And there
are few major market program directors who don't react to a great
aircheck - no matter where it comes from.
And that is the big secret that the agents
won't tell you: Even the best agents primarily are good for negotiating
contracts - NOT for finding jobs. The worst agents aren't good
If you decide to sign with an agent, I
suggest you sign an agreement whereby she gets paid only a percentage
of the deal she negotiates. This is NOT in addition to other fees
and expenses - such as duplicating tapes, mailing costs, and phone
calls. That's part of the agent's overhead, and that's what her
commission is for.
So if someone offers to represent you and
says he'll need $500 to cover the cost of circulating your tape,
I suggest you say, "No, thank you."
If the agent charges a fee for representing
you, her motives automatically are suspect. Is she representing
you because she thinks she can land you a good gig...or because
even if she doesn't do you a damn bit of good, you're adding money
to her bank account?
I know, I know: The agent you talked to
assured you he turns down most prospective clients and is offering
to represent you solely because he can tell what a great, undiscovered
talent you are.
I hate to be the one to tell you this,
but they say that to EVERYBODY! (And if you're wondering if I'm
onto something here or if I'm just blowing smoke, ask yourself:
If I'm wrong, then how do I know that's what the agent said to
Of all the disc jockeys I've talked to
who have spoken to agents, not ONE has reported an agent who said,
"Sorry, I just don't think I can help your career."
That should tell you something.
I recommend having nothing further to do
with an agent if:
He tells you over the phone that he "knows"
he can get you a great job - even though he hasn't yet heard your
She drops all kinds of big names and famous
call letters...but uses oddly vague terms to describe her relationship
to them. Things like, "I'm involved in that. I had something
to do with so-and-so getting that job..."
He refuses to send you a written description
of his services and fees.
She refuses to provide any references
of jocks and/or stations that have worked with her. Sure, some
clients - perhaps most - will wish to remain anonymous. But surely
a successful agent will have some satisfied clients who are glad
to recommend the agent's services.
He talks in grandiose terms but suddenly
becomes tight-lipped when pressed for details. For example, I
know a PD who responded to one job placement company's ad. To
his surprise, after several minutes of conversation the guy he
called suddenly said, "Now I know why your name's so familiar.
I just placed a program director in Atlanta, and we were talking
about good young programmers and he mentioned your name!"
Wow! What an ego boost, huh? The PD naturally
asked who had spoken so highly of him...only to be told, "Oh,
I can't reveal that. Our client list is confidential."
Uh-huh. How many times do you suppose that
guy has used that line on would-be clients?
By the way, I might as well take this opportunity
to burst another hype-filled balloon: Those job-placement companies
whose highly trained staffs will tirelessly work to land you your
next job usually are one-person offices. The larger ones are one
person with a part-time secretary. Usually it's just a guy with
a telephone and an ad in the trades.
What do most of the job-placement companies
and even the so-called agents do for you? They add your aircheck
to a tape containing a dozen or more other airchecks, and they
"circulate it" - that is, they send it around to program
directors and consultants, hoping that one of them listens and
happens to like one of the jocks on the tape. Actors call this
a "cattle call." The odds of succeeding are not in your
VERY FEW DISC JOCKEYS NEED AGENTS.
When an agent does a disc jockey good,
it's usually by negotiating the jock's contract...NOT by finding
If you've already achieved a certain stature
in the industry - you don't have to be a household word, but you've
got impressive ratings in a good-sized market - a good agent might
be able to do you some good.
But agents do NOT make careers. If you're
sitting in a small market, underpaid, unknown and unloved, DON'T
look to an agent to change your life for you. You'll find people
eager to convince you that they can do just that...but they'll
be sure to ask for some financial grease to get the wheels rolling