This is not a be-all-end-all reference on commissions, but should serve a good guideline, perhaps illuminating lots of questions I’ve been receiving lately from my voice over colleagues.
“Is this commission structure unusual? Is it even legal?”
Union agents are legally able to commission 10% of your agreed upon talent rate. It’s especially nice when your agent gets you “Plus 10,” which means that they have the client pay an extra 10% on your wages so that the commission doesn’t come out of your pocket. Agents are permitted to commission residuals for union commercial jobs in perpetuity. If you are working a theatrical job, you are only required to commission your agent on residuals if the client has paid the “Plus 10.” Check the SAG website for further details and clarification. Our union contracts are complicated, and they do change depending on the latest round of negotiations.
Non-union agents exert a little more variety in how they can commission you. The going rate is somewhere around 15%-20%, or an amalgamation of the two: Less 15%, Less 20%, Plus 15%, Plus 20%, and even Plus 20%-Less 15% & Plus 20%-Less 20% (the norm for print modeling).
Still with me?
Sometimes a non-union agent will only commission your talent rate (“Less 15%” or “Less 20%”). For example, if you make $1000, the agency charges you 15%, keeping $150 and cutting you a check for $850.
Sometimes, a non-union agency charges the client “Plus 20%,” which means they add an additional 20% onto the talent rate. If your talent rate is $1000, the agent charges the client $1200. Then the agent keeps the extra $200 and gives you the $1000. The same applies for “Plus 15%”.
Legally, non-union agents are allowed to commission your $1000 talent rate at an additional 15%-20% (which is still within California usury limits). This scenario is called “Plus 20%-Less 15%.” Let’s review: Your talent rate is $1000, the agent charges the client $1200 (“Plus 20”), and you NET $850 (“Less 15”). This is a perfectly legal, commonplace commission structure.
Every job is different, so be clear with your agent about what you are going to CLEAR or NET from the job so that you don’t have any surprises. And dare I say it, read thoroughly any contract you sign before you sign it. If there are any questions, have a dialogue with the agent before you sign anything.