Indochine's Top Shelf

What Do Urban Models Really Get Paid?

Tonight I got a really good question from “clacey9” who writes: “Hi, I was recently reading Buffie the Body's autobiography and she said that she didn’t get paid when she was first in KING magazine and magazines don’t pay models when they are in their magazine. I was wondering if this is true and if not how much does an urban model generally get paid? And also what are some good rates for me to begin my career: Hosting, videos, magazines and etc?”

There’s definitely truth to what Buffie said. In general, urban magazines don’t pay much, if at all. But this is not unusual in the modeling world in general. The editorial rate of most magazines is pretty low ($100 to $200) because being featured in the magazine alone is like a huge advertisement for the model and leads to bigger paydays. What’s interesting in the world of urban modeling however - and some would argue it’s not unique to this genre - is that the urban mags often try to skip out on paying the model altogether. Bria and I have had to chase down payments from just about every magazine she was in. This can get pretty unpleasant and a lot girls just give up, for fear of antagonizing the magazine’s staff and killing their chance of ever appearing in it again. This is where having an agent or manager can help, because they can track down a model’s money relentlessly without the model ever getting her hands dirty.

What Urban Models Really Make Might Surprise You


First, it’s important to realize that the Golden Age of Urban Modeling is over. It happened about five years ago and a number of factors coincided to end it. In 2005, a top urban model might make $5,000 to host a party, $5,000 a month on her website, and $1,500 to be the lead in a music video. Nowadays a model is lucky if she gets $1,000 to host a party, brings in $1,000 a month on her membership-based website, or makes $500 to be a lead in a music video. Even at its peak, urban modeling was never really intended to be the sole source of a woman’s income, but more so to supplement it. That’s because the work is too sporadic to count on for consistent income.

So on paper, urban modeling looks like a pretty bad proposition from a financial perspective. But there are a number of “fringe benefits” that can’t be monetarily quantified and make it more palatable. (That’s the subject for a different blog post.) Also, once you become well known, sometimes you’ll get a little bonus. A job that comes along and seemingly makes it all worthwhile. In 2008, Bria was in an Xbox game entitled “Don King Presents: Prizefighter.” Bria played herself as a reward to players that boxed their way to a certain level. I personally attended the recording session at Smashbox Studios here in Los Angeles when Bria taped this. She made $1,700 and earned enough credit to join SAG for four hours of work, which consisted of her reading a few lines of dialogue and taking some photos so that a CGI version of her could be created. (There are actresses out there struggling who don’t have enough credits to enter SAG.) That was one of those “cherry on top” jobs that happens every so often for urban models who are consistent performers.

Listed below are some general ranges of what a fairly successful urban model like Bria Myles can make from certain endeavors:

Party Hosting:
$0 - $1000
(A lot of models host parties for free to get exposure. Few make more than a $1,000 for an appearance)

Music Video:
Lead ($300 - $500); Featured ($150 - $300)

Magazine Feature:
$100 - $200 (the BlackMen SSX issues are rumored to pay up to $4,000, but those are far and few between these days)

Membership Based Website:
$500 - $1,000 per month

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The Art of Posing

Last month I had a model write in asking about posing. She writes: "I was wondering when you have time, do you think you could create a post on what type of poses a model is required to have to enhance the chances of getting bookings?" This is a good question, but a tricky one because as a photographer, I'm not doing the posing. Still, I’m looking at it and often directing it, and I know a good pose from a stinker. Posing is also a challenging question to address because, on some level, it’s instinctive and unique to every individual. It's hard to come up with a set of rules that everyone should abide by to get good results. With that said, I'm going to take a shot at it anyway. I think the factors listed below should be taken into account by any model who's taking this seriously as a craft.

Try This At Home Kids! Really!

Before you go out and shoot, if you have new ideas for poses in your head (especially sexy ones), you should try them out at home in front of the mirror or a video camera first. Don't wait until you get on set to try some avante garde new pose you came up with for the first time. You'll be wasting the photographer's time with your practice. Check out the pose in the mirror or on video to help you assess whether it looks goofy or works before you go out there. Which leads to our next topic...

Practice Makes Perfect

To be a good model, you have to be a master of expressions. You need to know just how to raise an eyebrow or pout the lips to get the desired results. Your body and face are your tools of trade, and you need to have complete control over them. Vogue-ing in the mirror may seem vain, but it's your job! And the more you do it, the more you'll be able to call up the desired pose or expression on command, which will result in better shots and greater efficiency. There's nothing worse than a model who is constantly asking to check the LED monitor to see if what she did worked. She should know this. If you need to get another opinion about a pose while practicing at home, make sure it's someone who's objective and not some guy who'll just be happy you're making sexy poses for him. Winking

Assess Your Target Audience

This one's pretty obvious, but the poses that will work for BlackMen magazine probably wouldn't work in Allure magazine. If you're hired for a job, you need to figure out what is expected from you on the day of the shoot so you know what to do on set.

Learn to Pose For Your Body

Everybody has a weak spot - some area they'd just as soon not get caught on film. It's your job as a model to learn how to work around your weak spot while still providing a wide range of posing choices to the photographer. It's not enough to say, like Johnny Drama on a hilarious episode of "Entourage," that the photographer just can't shoot your right side. You need to learn how to work that weak spot to your advantage.
This is especially salient in the urban genre where women may have larger backsides, cellulite, etc. I have been on several shoots with models with large backsides that weren’t sure how to pose from the back or what to do with all their “assets.” You can’t go to an urban model shoot and be shy about being thick; it just doesn’t work. So learn how to bring out that inner Sasha Fierce no matter how curvy you are.

There's Nothing Wrong With Imitation - Watch the Greats

Sad to say, not everyone has an innate sense of grace and fluidity of movement and expression, just like not everyone can naturally dance. For some, it takes more practice and training than others. If you want to be a model, you need to watch the former greats like Cindy Crawford and Naomi Campbell to see what they did. You're not looking to imitate exactly here, but more so adopt a style that may work for you. I'd recommend watching some of those old Sports Illustrated Swimsuit making-of DVDs. I particularly liked the ones from the late 90s.
In terms of urban models, Melyssa Ford is my favorite because she mastered the art of being titillating without being vulgar, which is a very fine line to walk. Melyssa did a lot with her face, and practically patented her rapturous, slightly parted lips expression.


Those are my tips on posing. I hope they help.

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A Little More on the Model Release

I recently had a model ask me a very good question via email on this site, which was “When is it okay to sign a model release for a TFP shoot?” She also had some questions about provisions in the release.

Recall that a model release gives the photographer the right to commercially exploit your images. In a TFP shoot, the premise is that no one is getting paid -- everyone is doing the job in exchange for the final product. The prints or images. By getting you to sign a model release, the photographer is kind of cheating on this deal, because it allows him to make money from your photos. (There are countless websites that will pay money for a set of photos of an attractive model in lingerie or swimwear. These days, most photo shoots involve at least one look in swimwear. You get the picture.)

But the real question is whether there’s anything ethically questionable about the photographer asking for the release on a TFP shoot. The short answer is, “no.” Whether or not you should sign it depends on your relative bargaining power compared to the photographer. If you’re an unknown model and the photographer is well known and very good, it might be worth it for you to sign the release to get a chance to work with them. Just be sure to ask them what they intend to use the photos for. You may even want to demand that your photos not be used in association with anything that you would consider offensive or defamatory, including ads related to alcohol, tobacco, infectious disease, medications and drug use, sex and sexual orientation.

On the other hand, if you’re pretty much in the same place as the photographer careerwise and neither of you is doing the other a favor by working together, why should the photographer gain the unfair advantage of having the right to sell your photos? At the very least, it’s open to negotiation.

Without getting into the specifics of her other questions, suffice it to say, model releases often contain confusing language and legal jargon (i.e., “for the use of your image for all time and in any medium now known or hereinafter devised…” ) , but a lot of it is standard fare and should not cause undue concern. For instance, the following phrases should not cause alarm if you see them:


These are standard terms in any model release worthy of being signed. To see a standard model release Click Here

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Keep Your Photos Clean & Naturalistic

Stylized photos may look good at the time, but they also date faster. Urban modeling magazines lean toward heavily styled shoots - lots of bracelets and accessories, trendy shoes and clothing. In my opinion, a lot of urban model shoots are overly stylized. If you want to stand out from the crowd and get pictures that will look great years after you've retired, go for clean, naturalistic photos.

Cute Model


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