Okay, so I was a bit hesitant to write this post because it’s something I’m still somewhat shy about - but obviously there is interest in the topic because I have been asked over and over by people to share my modeling story with them. My story itself isn’t filled with twists and turns, excitement, and crazy stories. But it does offer a unique perspective on what it’s like to make modeling a side income, a sort of niche job that many people don’t ever try.
Don’t think of this as a “weird flex, but ok” type of story - 95% of models have a tough time making any sort of money. This is a personal finance blog so I’ll get in depth with the money side of things later, but chances are you won’t make much money from it. It’s a lot less glamorous than one might think. But there are some amazing opportunities and people you meet through the industry!
I got my start modeling in 2012 when I submitted my photo for UCLA’s BearWear catalog casting. I remember seeing an advertisement for it in the bookstore, and I was intrigued.
“I wonder if they ever take Asian guys” was my first thought. You know, cause especially back then Asian men were even more rare in that whole scene. It’s gotten a lot better over the past six years!
I figured I’ll just try submitting my photo for the heck of it. I dropped off my information sheet and picture, and next thing you know I was at their callback interview session! Essentially, we just spoke with them for a few minutes and they had us take some photos with a mannequin (I guess to see if we could interact well with it). My friend went before me, and she rested her elbow on the mannequin’s shoulder. Of course, I did the same thing since I didn’t know what else to do.
I got it! It was exciting being in front of the camera -- at this point I had been a photographer for about five years so it was a real change of scenery. We were paid $10/hour (OMG) and got to keep some of the clothes. I think I made about $150 dollars over a week of shooting.
I’ll zip through the next stages - but essentially, since I live in Los Angeles, I had friends who work as actors. They encouraged me to go submit myself to agencies and get representation. So I did just that - researched some of the better agencies in LA and figured out how to get my pictures in front of them. Some of them accept emails, some of them you need to go in personally. I remember once I visited an agency that didn’t even see me because I was too short.
Eventually, I signed with BMG Models, and they began to send me out on auditions. I booked my first Walmart commercial - I remember the excitement when I got the phone call. It was crazy! That job paid $1500 which was a ton of money as a college student. I kept going on more and more auditions (which I hated) and booking more shoots. I eventually changed agencies to Osbrink, which was definitely a step up. I got some really cool shoots through them - It was a cool phase of my life.
Now, I don’t have a “real” agent represent me - instead I book my work directly or through an app called Newbook. I highly recommend trying to get on this platform if you are in the Los Angeles or New York area. I’m currently shooting a 2 day gig through them, and it pays $1600 (not bad).
Now, modeling has provided income for me, but I value the networking and meeting people significantly more. The type of modeling I do is commercial and print, which is more “normal” looking people than the fashion types. I can not be more certain when I say that the people I have met in modeling have been SO nice, fun, and accepting of others. I stay in touch with many of them, and multiple opportunities have come up through these contacts. I encourage anyone who wants to model, to network and make good use of the down time that all shoots have.
Alright, so like I said before, this is a personal finance blog. So let’s look at modeling as a potential income source.
The per hour pay is high, but the hard part is getting enough billable hours where you’re making significant income. Most of my shoots will pay $100-250/hour, which in itself is awesome. When I was a college student, it was even better. Why work at school library for $10/hour when you can model for 10-25x that, right?
Each year, I’ll make about $10k doing various modeling jobs. It’s very sporadic and sparse, but definitely keeps me entertained.
If you’re with a traditional agency, they will generally take 20% of your paychecks as a commission. If you book your own shoots, you don’t need to pay that 20% to your agent, even though technically you’re supposed to. They won’t know 🙂
In order to have modeling as a side job, you need to have a proper portfolio of pictures. This may or may not cost money to do - what I recommend is finding some photographers who are looking to build their portfolios, and do a trade for print shoot with them. This is free!
In addition to having a portfolio, you’ll need to have an open schedule. This is the one that gets most people, because I’ve spoken to many 9-5ers who are curious about modeling, but the only problem is that they can’t attend castings during the day. Unless you have an extremely good look, or amazing agent that gets you direct bookings (no audition needed), then sadly you’ll need to attend castings.
It might take you 20 castings to book one shoot. Or you might book 1 of every 3 castings. It will range widely. That is the number one killer for this side income - you’ll spend many hours auditioning for jobs you won’t get paid for. That effectively reduces your hourly wage a ton!
I stopped going on auditions because of the time commitment - now most of my bookings are direct, or I’ll attend a casting every once in a while.
You’ll get to experience some cool things with modeling - amazing sets, trailers, food, and products.
For a Verizon shoot, I remember them booking out an entire boxing gym. We got to exercise the entire day and it was a lot of fun.
I’ve seen a good amount of unreleased products. That’s always exciting!
I got to have my own character in a EA Sports video game. That was the hardest shoot of my life because we had to do tons of facial movements that they were tracking.
I’ve been paid to travel for shoots today - those are always fun and a good bonding experience with the other models.
And like I mentioned before, I’ve met a ton of very down-to-earth individuals who have pursued modeling either as full time or part time gigs. You can expand your network to include people you never would have had the chance to meet otherwise.
If you are up for the challenge, modeling is an awesome time. I like to have a wide range of hobbies and work lined up, so that is why modeling is so exciting for me. It’s just so different that the other things I do, and I enjoy being different.
If you’re considering modeling as a part-time career, email me. I have a lot more stuff to share!
Hi, I'm Charlie
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