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Whether your sights are set on a small, local agency or a top international one, it’s every model’s dream to land a modeling contract. After all, signing on the dotted line means your modeling career is officially real!
But as exciting as they are, modeling contracts can be very intimidating, especially if you’re new to the business. To ease your nerves and help you through the process, here are a few basic things you need to know about modeling contracts:
Every modeling agency has its own unique contract so it’s impossible to know exactly what to expect. Some are 2 pages long and some are 6, and the content is always tailored to a particular agency’s needs. This, combined with the fact that modeling contracts are legally binding documents usually with confidentiality clauses, makes them all the more mysterious. (That’s why it’s nearly impossible to find a real modeling contract online, especially one from a big-name agency like Elite or IMG Models).
That said, the general terms and conditions of modeling contracts can be quite similar. After getting the basics out of the way, such as the name of the agency, the agency’s address, and your name, the contract then goes on to state the specific terms. You’ll probably be presented with details on things like:
- The type of contract: Whether it’s an exclusive, non-exclusive, mother agency, one-time only, or another type of contract.
- The model/agency relationship: Modeling agencies act as personal managers, not employment agencies. They can’t guarantee work, but they can guide all aspects of the model’s career, from the best job opportunities and photographers to publicity and public relations.
- Compensation: How much the model and agency will earn per booking.
- Behavior: The model must agree to conduct him or herself in a respectable manner, to not harm the agency’s reputation in any way, and to comply with all terms of the agreement.
- Self-employment: A gentle reminder that models are contractors, not employees, and are therefore responsible for paying their own taxes (income and otherwise).
- The length of the contract: How long the terms of the contract are binding, as well as details on automatic contract renewals and termination procedures.
Should You Hire a Lawyer?
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. Plus, you can learn a lot about an agency by gauging their reaction to your request for more time. If they pressure you to sign right away instead of letting you take a few days to review the contract and show it to a lawyer, that should raise some red flags.
That said, lawyers are expensive and not everyone can afford to get professional legal counsel. If that’s the case, read the contract carefully, learn as much as you can about modeling contracts, talk to former/current models, or industry professionals such as the agents at ModelScouts.com, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. A reputable agency will always be more than happy to clarify the things you don’t understand.
How Long Do Modeling Contracts Last?
That depends on the type of contract, but usually, it’s anywhere from one to three years. It’s also important to note that contracts don’t magically end on their expiry date. Usually, they automatically renew unless you provide the agency with the proper termination notice (usually 30 – 60 days written notice).
Different Types of Modeling Contracts
As discussed in Part 1 of this article, modeling contracts aren’t one-size-fits-all. Every agency is unique in the way they do things and each one will have its own rules, regulations, and guidelines. The more contracts you sign, the more you’ll get to know their similarities and differences, but until you reach that point you’re bound to feel a bit lost.
It might help to know that there are generally four primary types of modeling contracts in the industry: Mother Agency Contracts, Non-Exclusive Contracts, Exclusive Contracts, and One-Time Only Contracts.
Here’s how they break down.
Mother Agency Contracts
A mother agency (or mother agent) is the one you first begin working with. They’re the one who helps you learn the industry, helps you build up your portfolio, and gives you the guidance you need to succeed as a model. Therefore, a mother agency contract will most likely be the first one you’ll ever sign.
Mother agencies are often smaller, local modeling agencies. To help their models book more lucrative and important jobs, the mother agency will often promote its models to other agencies in larger markets such as New York, Paris, Milan and Tokyo.
Being in a larger market means you’ll have the chance to book modeling jobs with major publications like Vogue, Elle, and W, and work with major clients like Gucci, Prada and Abercrombie & Fitch.
Your mother agency will receive a commission, generally between 5% to 10% from the commissions the larger agency already deducts. Since the mother agency is getting a percentage of what the larger agency is deducting anyway, it will not cost you more to have both a mother agency and larger agency representing you. Having said that, there are some markets, particularly in Asia, in which the mother agency commission is taken over and above the larger agency commission.
With mother agency contracts, it’s important to note how long the contract is binding. Some contracts only last a year or two, while others can last the duration of your entire career.
A non-exclusive contract gives models the power to sign with as many agencies as they want and possibly to find their own non-agency side jobs. This is more common for commercial models rather than the high fashion or editorial models. You might not get as many opportunities and as much guidance with an non-exclusive agency as you would with an exclusive one, but this type of contract does offer models a lot of freedom. If the modeling agency finds you work, they get paid a commission. And if you find work on your own, you owe them nothing.
When you sign an exclusive contract with a modeling agency, you can only be represented by that agency for the duration of the contract. Sometimes there are exceptions—the term “exclusive” may be limited by time, geography or type of modeling—but if you’re working with a top agency like Ford or Wilhelmina Models, then it means you can’t sign with anyone else without the express permission of them or your mother agent.
This type of contract gives a lot of power to the modeling agency, so if you’re considering signing an exclusive contract it’s extra important to make sure you’re working with a reputable modeling agency that has your best interests at heart.
One-Time Only Contracts
This type of contract is only good for a single booking. As soon as the project is complete, the contract 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, etc. are clearly explained in the contract. It is always advisable to work with an agency that can help you with this sort of contract rather than signing one on your own.
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