Q: Do I have to register as an agent?
I discovered a lady who was a promising amateur singer and invested thousands of pounds turning her into a star. I have booked her into several venues and have discovered this makes me, in effect, her agent. Does this mean I have to be registered in any way? If not, is there anything else I need to do to keep things above board?
A: You do not need to be 'registered' in order to carry on business as a theatrical agent. There was a licensing system administered by local authorities but it was abolished in 1994 and replaced by a power vested in industrial tribunals to prohibit any individual, on certain specified grounds of impropriety, from carrying on the business of an employment agency.
Happily also, the statutory prohibition against an employment agent charging the person seeking work a fee for finding employment does not apply to certain specified occupations in the entertainment industry which expressly include singers among others, so you are all right on that score. 'Employment agent' includes theatrical agent for present purposes.
I assume you are not working for love but are charging or intend to charge for your agency services. In that event, you ought to have an agreement with your client which will give you exclusivity to represent her during a specified term, or until terminated by a specified period of notice.
This should address any commission entitlement arising, after termination of the agency, out of contracts negotiated or introductions made during the period of the agency. This last point is an area which often gives rise to dispute when a client of a theatrical agent decides to change agents or to represent himself.
There are statutory regulations of which you should be aware relating to the conduct of business by theatrical and other employment agencies. These regulations require, for example, that client monies be kept in a separate account and that payment of any money received by the agent for a client be made to the client (less agreed commission) within ten days of receipt, and as to maintenance of records and so forth.
You should obtain a copy of these regulations and study them in order to ensure that you do not transgress. Their full title is the Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Business Regulations 1976 (S1.1976/715). A copy is obtainable from HM Stationery Office.
It is also desirable that you should join one of the theatrical agents' trade associations set up to represent the interests Of their members. There are a number of these such as the Agents' Association (Great Britain), the National Entertainment Agents Council, and the Personal Managers Association. Any of these organisations should be able to help you in relation to matters of general interest to theatrical agents, professional standards, specimen contract forms, regulatory requirements and appropriate commission rates.
When making bookings on behalf of your client, you should always take care, first, to ensure that you keep within the scope of your authority from your client (which may be general or contain specific limitations to be observed), and secondly that you make it clear to any third party with whom you are contracting that you are doing so on behalf of your named client.
This is important to ensure that you do not incur personal liability for doing what your client has engaged you to do as her agent. Always check the terms in the small print of the contracts you negotiate on your client's behalf. Even if you are powerless to change them, you need to be aware of what obligations they involve, and to draw your client's attention to anything she needs to know in order to ensure compliance.
In fact, the safest course is always to send your client a copy of the relevant contract in advance of signature, and indeed, where practicable, get it signed by her rather than by you as her agent. Make sure she knows when and where she is due to perform, and is aware of the serious consequences for both of you (in terms of reputation apart from anything else) of failure to turn up.
Try to remember that the relationship between you and your client is based on mutual trust. It is usually when the element of trust and confidence breaks down that problems begin to arise.
These are the things you need to do in order, as you put it, "to keep things above board", and jolly good luck to you!
First published September 1996