What is a Music Talent Developer?

What is a Music Talent Developer?
by Sue Basko, esq.

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In California, a Talent Developer is a licensed Talent Agent who in addition to the agent duty of procuring employment for the talent, also counsels or directs artists in the development of their professional careers. The California Labor Code Sec. 1700.4 states: "Talent Agents may, in addition, counsel or direct artists in the development of their professional careers."

In California, a music manager might also be considered a Talent Developer, although a music manager is not allowed to procure employment for the Talent. The California Talent Agency Law has a very limited exception that allows a music manager to seek a recording contract for a musician or band. That exception is very limited and does not include the right to seek other music work for the talent, such as songwriting or concerts, etc.

Look at the notion of "Talent Development" from the point of view of the Talent Developer. What is the idea? The idea is that the Talent Developer will spot a person with great potential when they are just starting out and have little income. The Talent Developer works with the talent to build them up, help them get gigs, build and grow to something bigger. The payoff for the Talent Developer is when then the talent starts to make big money and the Talent Developer takes a percentage.

WHO is in a position to do this? ONLY a licensed Talent Agent with a long-term contract. A music manager is not in such a position, because the music manager cannot, by law, find gigs, book shows, etc. A music manager who does so can be brought up on Labor Board charges and may have the contract voided or severed and be forced to repay wages and fees. Of course, a music manager can develop talent, but once the talent has developed and found an agent, the music manager can seem mighty superfluous to the talent. The hoped-for payoff may not be forthcoming or may be very short-lived.

There could be the notion (in California, where this exception exists in the Talent Agent law) that a music talent developer is a music manager who tries to get the big payoff by getting a recording contract for a band/ musician. However, recording contracts are few and far between and with most of them, the only sure money is whatever is in the upfront money, or advance. Today, advances for new artists are not all that much, and small record labels may have minimal or no advance. Therefore, working for years to develop a musical artist with the idea of the big payoff coming from taking a percentage of a recording contract is basically hocus pocus. I think you could make more per hour as a Starbuck's barista. Therefore, if one is serious about developing talent, and wishes to be securely protected, being a licensed Talent Agent is the way to go.

In California, there is a newly rewritten law about any talent services that charge fees, such as for photos, website participation, videos, workshops, classes, etc. These people are forbidden from offering to find employment for the talent or from stating that they could do this. This law aims to cut down on the scams such as the modeling scams, acting school scams, child singer scams, music production scams, etc., that charge a fee for a service and claim they will assist the person in getting auditions or getting employment as a model, actor, musician, etc. Therefore, such people cannot be considered Talent Developers.

In Illinois, the laws are rather similar. However, in Illinois, there is no provision that allows a music manager to try to get a recording contract for a client. In Illinois, if you want to be a Talent Developer, the only real way to do so legally is by being a licensed Talent Agent. Otherwise, the contracts are likely to be void as being in violation of law.

WHY are the laws so specific and so strict? Because many musicians have been ripped off by people calling themselves managers, agents, talent developers, bookers, etc. Therefore, if a person wants to do the work of a talent agent, they are required to be licensed and to follow the laws.

There are definitely some very good unlicensed people who have found their way to booking bands and being paid a percentage by the band. They are basically unlicensed talent agents, good people but in violation of the law. I know of such people in California and Illinois. The ones I am thinking of are solid and honest, they build opportunities for the talent, and pay fairly. I think they should just cover their bases and get licensed.