Your Career: When It's Time to Switch Agents

October 31, 2014

Starting over requires ample business and etiquette savvy. 



When Bobby Amamizu began his career with a major agency in his early teens, he was a talented tap dancer whose first job was working for Michael Rooney on Fiona Apple’s “Paper Bag” music video. But many of his non-tap opportunities to follow came through personal referrals or directly from choreographers. “At my agency, I was branded as a tap dancer,” says Amamizu, now 25. “That was hard—especially since the focus there was mostly on contemporary and hip-hop jobs.”


This June, after attempting to revive his relationship with the agency for several years, Amamizu made the switch to L.A.-based The Movement Talent Agency upon meeting with president Jim Keith after an audition. “Jim seemed very interested in me, and excited to help bring me to the next level,” he shares.


Whether you aspire to dance on the concert stage, movie screen or in music videos, an agent can help direct your career, act as your advocate and handle the business end of things, leaving you free to do what you do best: dance. But how do you know when it’s time to switch agents—and how can you make the move without burning bridges?


Is My Agency The Right Fit?

According to Go 2 Talent Agency president Terry Lindholm, the first year of representation can play a critical role in assessing an agent-client relationship. Dancers should pay close attention to the agency dynamic and the jobs and auditions they’re landing—while being proactive and holding up their own end of responsibility by taking master classes, keeping headshots up-to-date and networking.


Agency size may also determine the amount of personal attention each dancer receives. “Bigger agencies often need to concentrate on top bookers to keep their doors open,” says Keith, “so new dancers may want to go somewhere smaller in the beginning, where agents can be more hands-on.”


All dancers should consider how well they align with the agency’s identity and other talent. “Do your research,” Amamizu advises. He points out that some agencies are hip-hop heavy, while some are known for being more technical, and others tend to have a mix. “It’s not about ‘bad’ or ‘good’—it’s what’s right for you.”


What’s The Proper Protocol For Switching?

“I personally believe you shouldn’t leave until your contract expires,” says Keith. If a dancer breaks contract while employed on a long-term job (such as a concert tour), he or she may still owe commission to the former agent, and in some cases, end up paying double or split commission. In select instances, an agency may opt not to release a dancer from the contract, leaving him or her in limbo.


Most initial contract terms last one year, after which clients and agents can usually renew for up to seven additional years. (Lindholm typically signs clients to a three-year contract after the first year.) For those who quickly sense that they have made the wrong choice, there is also a four-month “out” clause allowing newly signed dancers to terminate the contract under certain circumstances.


How Do I Break The News?

As scary as the prospect might be, both Keith and Lindholm recommend meeting face-to-face with your current agent before making any decisions. “I prefer that dancers voice their honest opinions,” says Lindholm. “We’ll try to work with them to find a solution—even if that does mean parting ways.”


Lindholm suggests keeping a paper trail so that there are tangible records of all exit communication. “Whether you communicate by phone or in person, follow up via e-mail so you have something in writing,” he advises.


Will your reputation be tarnished as an “agent-hopper”? Probably not, unless you’ve been with three or four agencies in the last three years, says Keith. However, following correct procedure allows you to stay on good terms with your former representation and focus on what really matters: the future.



Blazing a New Trail

When a dancer signs with a new agent, it often means starting over in more ways than one. Jim Keith, president of The Movement Talent Agency, highly suggests notifying people whom you’ve worked with in the past about your new affiliation—or asking your new agency to do that outreach for you. “Casting directors and choreographers may be used to calling you at a specific agency and not want to hunt you down, so if you don’t spark that conversation, you may lose out on jobs,” cautions Keith.