Modeling Agency Contracts

Whether your sights are set on a small local agency or a top international one (or both!), getting signed by a modeling agency is usually step one to every model’s career. As exciting as this step may be, signing that dotted line can be very intimidating and confusing, especially if you’re new to the business. Below I help iron out the basic things you need to know when signing an agency contract.

Photo by Cameron Story

Every modeling agency has its own contract unique to how they choose to operate their business, so there’s not a one size fits all explanation. Some are just a few pages long and others a small book, and the content is always tailored to a particular agency’s requirements. This, combined with the fact that modeling contracts are legally binding documents makes signing one even more stressful.

Although every individual agency has its own quirks, the general terms and conditions of modeling contracts can be quite similar as the industry has an overall standard that they follow. When entering into a contract with a modeling agency and reviewing your terms of agreement, there are several different types of contracts they may offer, however, the most common are exclusive and non-exclusive.

When you sign an exclusive contract with a modeling agency, you can only be represented by that agency for the duration of the contract. Each agency is different, however, and the term “exclusive” may be limited by time, geography, or type of modeling (ex: commercial or editorial). This means that you still may be able to have other agencies, but you have to make sure you’re following the rules laid out in your contract and may not be able to sign with anyone else without their clearance.

This type of contract gives a lot of power to the agency, so if you’re considering an exclusive contract, it’s very important to make sure you’re working with a reputable modeling agency that has your best interests as a priority. It’s also a good idea to sign a short-term contract with them so that if you feel like they aren’t upholding their end of the deal, you aren’t stuck.

A nonexclusive contract gives models the power to sign with as many agencies as they want (usually still has distance restrictions though), and sometimes even allows models to find their own work on the side. The way the commission fee would work is that if the agency finds you work then they get paid commission (usually 20%, sometimes more since you’re not exclusive), and if you find work on your own- you owe them nothing.

You might not get as many opportunities or as much guidance with a nonexclusive agency as you would with an exclusive one since most agencies prioritize exclusive models, but this type of contract does offer models a lot of freedom. This is a very popular option for models that like to do a lot of freelance or creative work since the agency won’t have much control over how you choose to represent yourself. There still may be specific stipulations though, so again make sure you read the contract thoroughly so you don’t unintentionally violate any of the stipulations.

Besides just exclusive or non-exclusive contracts, you may be offered a contract with the stipulation that the agency is also your “Mother Agent”. Your Mother Agent is usually (but not always) the first agency you sign with, and they work closely with you to build you as a model with the goal of getting you signed in other markets. Once you’re signed in other markets, they will continue to work with your new agencies and will also get a commission from your bookings through them. For more detail about Mother Agents, check out this post!

Regardless of which type of contract is offered, the most important thing to note is that there should NEVER be any fee associated with getting signed to an agency. If any agency tells you that there are upfront fees involved to be offered a contract, that is a huge red flag and that agency is one that you should not be doing business with.

Some agencies will only offer an exclusive contract while others give the model the choice to choose which type of contract they wish to enter into. In either case, upfront payment should never be part of the deal.

Although every individual agency has its own quirks, the general terms and conditions of modeling contracts can be quite similar as the industry has an overall standard that they follow. All contracts should cover the details on the below topics:

  • Type of contract: Whether it’s an exclusive, non-exclusive, mother agency, one-time only, or another type of contract, it should be clearly outlined as to what type of contract you are signing.

  • Length of contract & other restrictions: How long the terms of the contract are binding, as well as details on automatic contract renewals and termination procedures. Other restrictions may be things like if you’re allowed to sign with other agencies or not, and if that restriction is limited by time or geography.

  • Commission: Agencies take anywhere from 10-20% of your earnings depending on the booking. If they take more than 20% that could be a potential red flag, and would be something I would negotiate to be lower if I was set on signing with that agency. Payment Timeline: Contracts typically state that checks take 60-90 days to be received from the date of the booking.

  • Web Fees: Some agencies, not all, charge models a yearly fee to be on their website. This is usually not a large fee and is taken out of the first booking paycheck you receive that year instead of being an out-of-pocket expense. Independent Contractor Status & Taxes: Models are considered independent contractors and not employees of the agency. Taxes are not taken from your checks in most cases, and it is up to the model to file accordingly during tax season.

  • Ending your Contract: The length of your contract with an agency often depends on the type of contract you sign with them. Usually, it’s anywhere from one to three years. It’s also important to note that contracts don’t magically end once the expiration date is up. Most contracts state that they will automatically renew unless you provide the agency with the proper termination notice (which should also be detailed), or the agency releases you from your contract. If you wish to get out of the contract before it expires, sometimes a simple conversation with your agent is all that is needed, but in some instances the agency will (and can) refuse to release you. This is why it’s important to fully understand what you are signing and know what the consequences are should you want to terminate your contract early.

It’s always a good idea to consult a lawyer before entering into a modeling contract (or any contract, for that matter), especially if it’s your first one. That way, you can be 100% sure of what you’re agreeing to and any legal questions you may have can be correctly answered. The agency that’s presenting you with a contract should fully support your request to have time for a lawyer to review. If they pressure you to sign right away instead of letting you take a few days to research & think about your decision, that should raise some major red flags.

That said, lawyers are expensive and not everyone can afford to get professional legal counsel. If that’s the case, be sure to read the contract carefully and learn as much as you can about modeling contracts. I always recommend talking to former/current models of that agency and ask them about their experiences. Most of the time models are more than happy to give their honest opinions. I have had models reach out to me about my agencies on numerous occasions and I always very candid with my answers. Also, don’t be afraid to ask questions, a reputable agency will always be more than happy to clarify the things you don’t understand or want more details about.

Hope this overview on modeling contracts gives you a better idea of things to look for before signing on the dotted line! As always, do your research and take your time before jumping into such a big career decision.



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