A Manager’s Deposit of Trouble
By Brian Taylor Goldstein, Esq. Dear Law and Disorder: We are a small classical music presenter. Several months ago, I booked an artist for a performance this fall. Recently, I received a phone call from the artist’s manager asking for a deposit. Usually, we don’t pay deposits, although, sometimes we will if it’s an artist or manager with whom we have never worked before. However, we’ve worked with this manager before and she’s never asked for a deposit before. When I asked her about it, she said that she (the manager) was having a slow summer and that she needed the money to give her some cash flow to “tide her over” until the fall. She threatened to cancel if I didn’t agree. Is this legal? As a general rule, I’m a big fan of deposits. They provide artists with some “leverage” in the event of a cancellation and they provide presenters with some assurance that an artist has, in fact, been “booked.” However, once all key terms have been negotiated and agreed upon, whether or not a written booking agreement has been signed, then a manager cannot retroactively “require” a deposit. The requirement of a deposit is a key term which needs to be discussed, negotiated, and agreed upon at the outset of discussions. If the artist were to cancel because you refused to pay a deposit you never agreed to pay in the first place, then the artist would be in breach of the booking agreement. But that’s not really the problem here. The problem is that the manager volunteered that she was asking for the deposit not for the benefit of the artist, but for the benefit of the manager herself. It would be different if the manager wanted the deposit to reserve airline tickets or advance costs to cover the artist’s out-of-pocket expenses. However, according to you, that’s not what the manager said. She said she wanted it to “tide her over” for the manager’s own cash flow purposes. Based on that statement, and her subsequent threat to cancel if you refused to pay the deposit, the manager’s actions are not only unethical and unprofessional, in my opinion, but, more importantly, highly illegal. Managers and agents are legally bound to act only on behalf of and in the best interest of their client (the artist) and not on behalf of themselves or anyone else. In legal terms, these obligations are called “fiduciary duties.” Managers and agents can take no actions which are not authorized by the artist and most certainly cannot treat the artist’s money as if it were their own—including asking for and using deposits to float themselves loans to cover their own cash flow needs. This is why, among other reasons, managers and agents are supposed to keep their own, personal operating accounts separate from their client’s (artist’s) accounts. This should not be confused with legitimate situations where managers and agents sometimes ask presenters to split an engagement fee into two payments and pay a commission fee directly to the manager or agent and the balance to the artist. While I find this to be an ill-advised and awkward business practice, it’s neither illegal nor unethical. While I suppose its entirely possible that, in this case, the manager was acting with her artist’s knowledge and authority, I seriously doubt it. This means that the manager was acting out of her own self-interest and not in the best interest of her artist, is in breach of her fiduciary duties, is no longer acting in her legal capacity as a representative of the artist, and, in the event of a cancellation, would be personally liable for the return of the deposit and any damages. Given the manager’s self-admitted cash flow problems, that’s probably a risk you don’t want to take. I’d like to think that the manager is acting out of a genuine confusion over the duties agents and managers owe to their artists. Sadly, this issue continues to confuse even experienced managers and agents who believe that their artists work for them and not the other way around. Regardless, in terms of red flags, this one is ten feet tall and on fire. Run away! __________________________________________________________________ For additional information and resources on this and other legal and business issues for the performing arts, visit ggartslaw.com To ask your own question, write to firstname.lastname@example.org. All questions on any topic related to legal and business issues will be welcome. However, please post only general questions or hypotheticals. 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Tags: agent, artist, booking agreement, breach, Brian Taylor, cancellation, commission fee, damages, fiduciary duties, Goldstein, Liable, manager, money, payment, presenter, risk