Types of Modeling Agency Contracts

I wanted to do this post as a follow up post to last week's Modeling Contract Basics to help you better understand what type of contracts you may encounter on our search for an agency. Contrary to popular assumption and to the surprise of many new models, modeling contracts aren’t one-size-fits-all. Every agency has a unique way of running their business, and each one will have its own way of handling the contract process. If you've gone to more than one agency visit, at some point you’re bound to feel a bit lost whether you've been in the modeling business for a while or are just starting out. They all may offer different types of contracts and have different stipulations depending on what kind of contract they present to you.

In general, there are four primary types of modeling contracts: mother agency contracts, nonexclusive contracts, exclusive contracts, and one-time-only contracts. The exact specifications in each contract will vary slightly from agency to agency, but the core items will be the same for each different type.

1. Mother Agency Contracts: For many models, a mother agency is the one you first begin working with. They help you learn the industry, build your portfolio, and give you guidance on how to navigate the industry and be a successful. This may be the first contract you ever sign, and also one of the most confusing to understand.

Mother agencies are often in smaller markets and local to where the model is living. Once the new faces have gotten their feet wet by working locally, the agency will often promote models to other agencies in larger markets such as New York, Los Angeles, and Miami, or even to overseas markets like Paris, Milan, and Tokyo.

Like all agencies, mother agencies run off commission (about 10% – 20%) not only on the jobs they get their models directly, but also on the jobs their models get from their other agencies. Think of this basically as a “finder’s fee” for placing you with the other agency that is also booking jobs with you.

Typically, models get 20% deducted from their check for each job they book, and the agencies split it 50/50. So, your mother agency will get 10% and the agent that booked you for the job will also get 10%. However, this is where knowing exactly what your contract says is very important! The rates deducted from your check by your mother agent may be in addition to whatever the secondary agency charges (typically 20%), meaning you could be losing up to 30%-40% of your paycheck per booking.

While regular commission rates are usually added on top of the rate a model will be getting paid for a booking, mother agency commissions are often taken directly from the model's paycheck.

With mother agency contracts, it’s also important to note how long the contract is binding. Some contracts only last a year or two, but others can last the duration of your entire career. You also don’t have to sign a mother agency contract at all. You can have different agencies in different cities, and whoever books the job for you is the one that gets the commission from your earnings. This is how I am currently managing my career, and I find it much easier to do it this way so I don’t have to keep track of the negotiations between my agents.

2. Nonexclusive Contracts: A nonexclusive contract gives models the power to sign with as many agencies as they want (usually 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 rules & restrictions though, so again make sure you read the contract thoroughly so you don’t unintentionally violate any of the stipulations.

3. Exclusive Contracts: 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 even more 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.

4. One-Time-Only Contracts: This type of contract is only good for a single booking. As soon as the project is complete, your contract with the agency ends. Be sure that all the details—such as the amount you'll be paid, how your photos are going to be used, how long they'll be used, restrictions for working with competing companies and/or agencies after the booking, and the commission taken by the agency are all clearly explained in the contract. I know some models utilize this method when they want to be able to work with big clients but either don’t want to fully sign with an agency, or the agency doesn’t want to fully sign with them.

Whichever route you choose, make sure you are comfortable with your decision and it’s a right fit for you and what you want to achieve in your career. Always be sure to do your research and read every line of the contract carefully. You want to make sure that you are signing with a reputable agency that has representing you to the best of their ability as their top priority!


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