“If you think you’ve got the ‘Zoolander’ look, check out this step-by-step guide to becoming a model.”
So you think you might have what it takes to succeed as a male model? You have the drive, you have the talent, and your whole life you have been told that you are ridiculously good looking. The only thing is, you are not quite sure how to go about it.
So what to do? The modeling world has changed a lot over the past decade. While the traditional avenues to find modeling jobs still exist, social media has leveled the playing field. Aspiring male models who work it online have a big head start over those who are just sending agents photos of their headshots. This is not to say that having a strong modeling portfolio isn’t important — it very much is.
Rasheed Alli, founder and managing partner of DAS Model Management, an agency based out of Miami Beach, breaks down what agencies look for.
“The first step to becoming a male model is assuming the confidence and self-assurance in knowing you have what it takes to be in the spotlight. Models today not only have to develop their own image, but have an expressive personality that shines in front of the camera as well. Being able to carry yourself with confidence and a certain belief in oneself is what the agencies and corporate brands are looking for. Having a strong portfolio of photography will always help when being able to get a foot in the door with any agency, so this is always a worthwhile investment. Establishing your own personal ‘look’ and style, no matter how off-the-wall it might be, can often catch the eye of the bookers. Social media has never been more important in today’s modeling world. Having an online personality with a significant and loyal band of captive followers can only add value for a client in the eyes of an agency.”
And what are the physical requirements to be a model? While there are no hard and fast rules, agencies want you to be between 5’11 and 6’2 tall; you should wear a size 40 regular jacket, or at least be pretty close to that. While you want to be in excellent shape, don’t be too muscular, as clothing does not drape well on men with larger muscles in the arms and thighs. Of course your teeth should be white and flawless, and your skin should be clear.
The traditional way to get work is still to find a reputable agent. “Reputable” is the key word here. Do your homework. Don’t take a chance on someone just starting out who does not have an established roster of clients. Ask questions, find out what they can really do for you, and what they have done for others. In the old days, getting an agent was a must. This is not entirely true anymore, but if you want to get work and get a decent paycheck, an agent is the way to go. They also often have information on jobs that you won’t know about without them.
But some people get work without an agent. How? Because they rock it on social media. One of those people is model James, who says “Today’s model needs to be very entrepreneurial. You need to be the CEO of your own personal brand. Brands don’t just want a handsome face. They want someone with a strong social media platform. My own social media showcases my life not just as a model, but as an entrepreneur living in New York City and traveling the world. Modeling was not something that I actively pursued. I was actually one of these guys that was discovered through Instagram. I was posting photos from my trips and my life in New York City and an agency reached out. I ended up signing with them.”
If you do get an agent, they will take a cut of your income, which varies from 10 to 33 percent. Of course the point is that for that percentage they will find you more bookings, and also advise you on how to move forward in your career. There are literally hundreds of agencies out there, ranging from the very top, to smaller boutique agencies that are just starting out. Some of the top agencies are Ford, IMG and DNA.
You are going to want to provide the agency with a portfolio. This is basically a an assortment of photographs, which of course will include a headshot and full body shot; it also is a good idea to put in a video that shows off your runway walk. Use a professional to take photos for your portfolio — don’t ask your buddy who has a nice camera. Photo shoots are not just for your portfolio; they are for you to practice your look and get more comfortable in front of the camera.
On occasion, agencies will have open calls. This means exactly what it sounds like. A bunch of people show up on a specific date, and an agency will look at them for a few seconds and decide if the person has what it takes.
There also are modeling conventions, which are meeting grounds for agencies, scouts, casting directors and models, and typically happen in large cities where everyone can gather conveniently. The positive is that a model can get a lot of exposure when attending conventions. The negative is that models can only get into these one of two ways: they either pay five to ten thousand dollars to attend, or have to go through a top modeling agency. Some of the most exclusive modeling conventions are run through the IMTA.
There also are a variety of model scouting companies that can be helpful, provided you pick the right one. Basically you pay the scouting company to try and put you in touch with the top agencies. Once again, do your homework. Don’t just pay some random guy with a bad website — get some details on successes he has had.
One thing that all agency insiders agree on is that you need to be aggressive. Don’t just sit around waiting for things to happen. Even if you are just trying to be scouted through Instagram, then work hard at having the best page you possibly can.
And while you are at it, keep bugging people. Just as important though, is finding the right people to bug. Rasheed Alli of Das Model Management says, “Getting that all-important first appointment with the people that matter can often be the first hurdle. Research who the key decision makers are within an agency and connect with them on LinkedIn or Instagram for example, while using this as a method to keep yourself relevant and memorable. Networking with people in the industry, as well as with existing models, is an excellent way of making in-roads.”
It also doesn’t hurt to establish a unique look. Figure out what type of look you feel that you have and reach out to agencies and brands that you think your look works for. CJ Johnson, a male model and influencer, who also runs the modeling agency Januel+Johnson, says that, “If you want to become a successful model, then you need to be aggressive and reach out to brands you want to work with. In the age of social media it will help if you include your social following and links in your portfolio and really aim for a specific niche.”
Modeling schools can also help. They can give you an edge against your competition by giving you a better idea of what the job entails and what is expected of you on set, teach you how to walk the runway, and pose for a photographer, and can also give you some industry connections.
There are many types of models. Fashion models are usually the highest paid, although it is also the most difficult area of modeling to succeed in. This work is to promote clothing, and can range from runway work to catalog.
There are other types of modeling of course. You could always be a fitness model, although be prepared to work for it. Fitness model Vince Del Monte estimates he has has put in well over 4,000 hours to firm up his body. It probably would be easier to just be incredibly good looking. And don’t forget hand modeling. To succeed at this game, you pretty much need to do everything else that a regular model has to do, but hey, while the pay might be lower and there is not as much glamor, the career of a hand model tends to last longer.
Speaking of money and the shelf life for male models: while guys make way less money than women, their careers tend to last much longer, as the double standard in our society still means there will be a lot of modeling work for the guy that can pull off the whole “successful executive” look.
The income gap in modeling is extreme though. Most new and promising male models earn around $30,000-40,000 per year. That means most models starting out make way less than that. Top earners make around $1.5 million, while the highest earning females make over $40 million.
And if you are serious about modeling for a living, you are going to have to move to a major market like New York City, Los Angeles, or Miami — although you could get catalog or flyer work in a secondary market like Seattle or Chicago.
Oh, and plan on working another job, at least for a while. While a few make a large profit as models, most have to work another job to make ends meet.
Model search: Similar to an open call, a model search is held by agencies who travel to small towns looking for model gold. However, because they had to travel to your location, model searches usually require a small processing fee, something along the lines of $25 U.S.. You might be rejected, but you’ll get to meet industry professionals.
Modeling convention: This option is perfect for someone who wants to improve his chances. Comparable to the model search, the convention has representatives from a number of different modeling agencies, which makes it easier for you to kill several birds with one stone. However, you must have some serious money, because it can cost you between $400 and $4000 to attend such an event.
Scouting company: A more or less economical method of putting yourself on the marketplace is to use a scouting company. For between $60 and $150, you submit your profile to them online and they’ll forward your information to major agencies. Reputable scouting services include www.modelscouts.com and www.minxmodels.com.
On your own: Never underestimate your own marketing ability. You can call agencies and ask them when their next open call is. If one isn’t scheduled, ask if you can drop by their offices anyway. By calling many agencies, you might find one willing to evaluate you.
To get ahead, you need exposure. Never cease trying to appear in local newspaper ads, television shows, magazines, and fashion shows. Eventually, you might catch the eyes of the right people.
After all this work, there might very well be an agency interested in signing you. Before you sign, however, have an attorney go over the contract to make sure that you’re not getting a raw deal.
Ask about the unions you have to join and if you’re allowed to take modeling jobs on the side. You could also meet with an accountant to see about tracking all the money you earn, if you deem it necessary. Modeling is a lucrative business and you don’t want anyone taking advantage of you.
Once signed, the agency will make sure to build your portfolio, or the series of pictures you take along when going to modeling interviews — also called go-sees.
You don’t need a portfolio until you get signed, so don’t waste money. The agency will also print composite cards for you; those are a series of pictures printed on a single sheet — a business card of sorts.
There are a whole lot of scams to watch out for…
Don’t get scammed
There are a lot of con men who will try to take advantage of wide-eyed hopefuls. The first thing you have to remember is that when people ask you for money, they’re trying to scam you.
Of course, we’ve explored situations above where you had to pay, but as long as trustworthy agencies like Ford, Boss or Elite are behind such requests, there shouldn’t be a problem.
Here are some situations that should rouse your suspicions:
There are some photographers who will try to sell you a portfolio for thousands of dollars. Since most advertisers get their models from agencies, you don’t need a portfolio because the agency that signs you will do it for you — for free. Additionally, you don’t need professional pictures when approaching agencies.
These are agencies that don’t have many clients, have not been in operation for long, and are terrible at getting you work. What makes such agencies a rip-off is that they’ll ask you for registration and portfolio fees. No upright agency operates this way.
There are no certified schools for modelling. However, there are people who say that they’ve gained experience from such establishments. If you have money to waste, you can always give these schools a try, but you won’t learn anything that you couldn’t pick up from a book or the Internet.
Con artists make a living by stroking your ego. There are people who will tell you they are managers and that they can get you work in exchange for shady methods of payment. Be wary of strangers who approach you claiming that you could be a model. More often than not, they’re full of it. Walk away.
Living the life
If you’re serious about modeling for a living, consider moving to New York City, the modelling capital of the U.S.. From there, you’ll meet the right people who may get you work all over the world. Nevertheless, if you live in a secondary market like Houston, Chicago or Seattle, you might still find work there doing catalogs, TV commercials or flyers.
Keep your day job. Modeling can be profitable for a select few, but most models need another job to make ends meet. Also, don’t spend everything you make because modeling isn’t a career that’ll carry you through to retirement. You need to plan your finances carefully so that you still have money left after you retire from the business.
Finally, prepare yourself for an exhausting life. You will often find yourself in airports, traveling from one assignment to another. You’ll spend a great deal of your time at appointments with advertisers and you’ll be required to smile for hours on end and change clothes during interminable photo shoots. On the upside, you’ll get invited to the best parties and meet some of the hottest women in the world.
Strike a pose
Like any other job, modeling has its advantages and inconveniences. If you’re ready to live with both, jump in and have fun.
Just remember what Ben Stiller said in Zoolander : “A male model’s life is a precious, precious commodity. Just because we have chiseled abs and stunning features, it doesn’t mean that we too can’t not die in a freak gasoline fight accident.”