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Never, Ever, Pay A Voice Over Agent
To Find You Work - And Other Rules

June 19, 2014

By Rob Marley
Voice Actor

To most VO artists, being represented by an agent is a benchmark - a type of status symbol that lends a sense of credibility / legitimacy to your career.

But as a professional, you need to be aware that there are countless people out there who really have no business calling themselves agents, and that they are more than happy to take your money and run.

Recently, someone on one of the VO forums I subscribe to mentioned that he'd just signed with an agent. I was about to congratulate him - but then I noticed his description of the contract terms:
  • Annual fee of $179 plus sales tax  
  • 15% commission for union work,
  • 20% commission for non-union work 
  • I'm able to cancel the contract within 30 days of written notice.
  • I'm still able to seek out work on my own that I don't owe them commission for, but not sign with another talent agency while working for them. 
  • For a period of one year after contract termination, I may not sign with another talent agency. If I do sign with another talent agency, I still owe them their commission on top of the new talent agency's commission for that year period.  
  • For a period of one year after contract termination, I may not seek or accept employment, directly or indirectly, with any employer I've worked with through this talent agency. If I do sign with an employer such as this, I still owe them their commission on top of the new employer's commission for that year period.

First off, the first rule for anyone looking for an agent is: NEVER pay an agent to find you work. Never, never, never, never, never. Really, not ever!  

An agent is paid in commission. When you book a paying job, the agent takes a percentage of your total earnings in exchange for them finding you the work.

In the United States, the SAG/AFTRA union states that the maximum amount an agent can charge for a fee is 10%. The VO person quoted above is located in Canada and their rules allow 15%  - so this isn't too crazy, but to take 20% commission ON TOP OF the $180 yearly fee is a bit much.

And by "a bit," I really mean freaking insane.


Second, I have never heard of an agent demanding an exclusivity contract.

I know several voice artists who have multiple agents. Bill Dewees - a top VO artist and a guy I admire greatly has 14 agents. FOURTEEN!

Third: Not allowed to sign with another agency for one year after terminating the contract. WHAT? If the up-front fee wasn't a big enough red flag, this one is a fireworks show that spells out "SCAM" in the sky. 

If I terminate a contract with an agent, then the terms of that contract are null and void. They don't get to hold you financially liable after the contract is terminated. Let's see how well that one holds up in court.


Most new voice artists think that once they get an agent, the rest is smooth sailing. As if an agent is some kind of magical Leprechaun - and once you've finally managed to secure one, they'll give up their pot of gold and you can sit back and watch the dollars fly out of your computer.

Boy, wouldn't it be great if it was that easy?

The reality is that having an agent should be considered one aspect of a carefully mapped out strategy for success. It's part of a marketing plan that should include having a professionally-produced demo FIRST, before you even consider getting an agent.

Having an agent is a means to an end; Nothing more. Whenever there is an industry filled with people pursuing a dream, there will be others doing everything they can to take advantage of that. 

It's your responsibility do the research to make sure that you are getting Ari Gold, and not Jack S**t.
A Los Angeles native, Rob Marley is an accomplished voice talent, producer and writer, now living in the hill country of Austin TX.


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Comments (4)
Betye Zoller
6/22/2014 at 3:11 PM
Wonderful article, Rob. And I am in Dallas and you're in that gorgeous Austin Hill Country. Hope we meet sometime. I run the University Park Voiceover Meetup Group in Dallas which meets second Thursday night each month and would LOVE you as my guest and speaker some month. We would plan date in advance, of course.

I have six agents in various parts of the US. Always keep your agents as far geographically apart as you can. And the rule is: Whomever invites you to audition FIRST is the agent you go with for that job to audition or to actually do the job. OF course I agree to NEVER PAY an agent money EXCEPT as a commission on a booking OR to be on their webpage or to have a page in their headbook. Those things cost money and it is only fair to pay your share. It should be a reasonable fee, however, usually under $150 at most.

Good to read you here! All best.
Bettye Zoller. PS my webinar for John Florian on "VOICE SPEECH IMPROVEMENT and ACCENT MINIMIZATION is night of July 22.
Dustin Ebaugh
6/21/2014 at 10:23 PM
GREAT article! As I told someone who asked me this question on Facebook, an "agent" who asks you to pay a yearly fee is not an agent, he's a pimp.
Rachel Fulginiti
6/19/2014 at 4:07 PM
Great article for newbies! Amen!! I've had people ask me about this before - I'm saving this article for them!
Rob Sciglimpaglia
6/19/2014 at 12:44 PM
Thank you for this article. I HIGHLY recommend that before anyone signs any agreement, be it an agency agreement, managerial agreement, or otherwise, that they have it looked over by a competent entertainment attorney! Any attorney worth their salt would be able to point out all of those red flags in an instant, and either get them changed, or if the "agent" is not willing to negotiate, point out that biggest red flag of them all!
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