I'm going to keep this short, but not at all sweet! Who should you pay to make it in show biz? You should expect to pay any professional whose products or services help you break into the industry if that person will NOT otherwise directly financially profit from your income.
YOU NEED START-UP FUNDS. Whatever area of entertainment you're driven to thrive in, do yourself an important favor before you begin – or continue – that pursuit. Stop for at least 1-3 months and work as many jobs as you can to raise real seed money. You're shooting for $ 1000 – unless you're moving to New York or Los Angeles, in which case, you're shooting for $ 5,000 (don't come to LA and not have a downpayment for a car). Believe me, it will change your experience when you can pay for what you need rather than wait for people to do you favors. And a favor is what someone is doing for you if you have no experience or contacts to help them out with in return!
Okay, let's start with the models. As you get started, you SHOULD PAY photographers, make-up artists, hair stylists and fashion stylists for your test shoots. You don't have to, of course; there are many rising photogs and set artists who are looking for models for their book. But if you are just starting out, you don't want to work exclusively with other newbies. A paid professional with a solid portfolio and good references gives you not just more experience (and when it comes to lighting, that counts), but more contacts s / he can turn you on to. You SHOULD NOT PAY any agent or talent scouts upfront. The scouts get paid by the agency if you're signed, and the agency takes 20% of what you earn. That's all they get – it's enough!
Next up, actors. Follow everything I wrote for the models (except your agents only get 10% of your earnings). Now add that you SHOULD PAY acting coaches, dialect trainers and other instructors. May I add that that includes casting directors who hold casting seminars? If they are teaching you something you don't know and giving you a front row audition for their critical services, why wouldn't you pay them for that? They aren't going to profit directly from your income! You won't be mad about it if you've saved up the cash to pay for training at the beginning of your career.
Singers and songwriters, you're next. Read everything for the models and the actors (except the casting directors). Now you're going to add that you SHOULD PAY for studio time, an engineer, possibly a producer and a vocalist for you non-singing songwriters to get your demo CD made (with mp3 files if you can't convert tracks at home) . In this modern day of Cakewalk and ProTools, you should be able to find a very talented arranger with a home studio to lay your tracks down with you, and many of them need vocalists for their cuts, so do your homework and partner up. But when it's time for a demo, you want a professional environment, and not all composer / arrangers are producers. A real audio booth, a mixer who really gets the boards and knows how to make the vocals shine and a producer who has a trained ear for your genre (and for pitch!) … that's invaluable. Pay for it! That money isn't just buying you experience, it's buying you a guaranteed session (free connections love to flake) and, once again, industry contacts if you show them you're as good as you believe you are. You SHOULD NOT PAY for people to shop your deal; they are going to get a management commission for that, usually 15% of your overall deal.
Writers and producers, you're the lucky ones because you're behind the scenes. You SHOULD PAY for professional memberships and seminars to learn your trade – and because contacts are the only way you'll get a job! You also need some good coffee, lunch and giftie money because you SHOULD PAY to treat professionals who share their expertise with you. Thank people! A Starbucks card does wonders. You SHOULD NOT PAY anyone to shop your projects. They get a piece of your sales pie.
For everybody in the biz, the most important person you SHOULD PAY … is an experienced entertainment attorney. Now we're talking $ 150-500 / hour. But the money s / he will save you by reviewing and negotiating your deals … priceless. Don't you dare sign even the simplest contract without a lawyer looking over it. A real one. Not your ex-boyfriend, the divorce attorney. Or your best friend's mom who went to law school. An attorney who has done many, many, many of the same deals that you are about to sign is the only one you're going to work with, okay? Why wouldn't you protect yourself with the most informed, well-connected professional you can find?
Well, it turns out that wasn't even short, but it's important information! Trust me on this: you won't mind paying people if you're actually approaching your career as a business, not a DREAM. Do you see the difference? If you were opening a bakery, you wouldn't be looking for people to work for you in exchange for exposure to customers, or bartering for ovens, or expecting to get a license from the County for free! And you sure wouldn't sign a 5-year, $ 3 million lease without a contracts attorney looking it over. It's only in the entertainment industry that people throw their good sense to the wind and let pride and entitlement and panic take over. It's show BUSINESS. Accept it, embrace it, and watch your experience in this game change once you do.