Vox Daily The Official Voices.com Blog

Voice Acting in Today's Industry : Are you Ready for it?

By Stephanie Ciccarelli

June 4, 2008

Comments (16)

Cowboy riding horse at dawn

The age of the agency is crumbling and the rise of the marketplace has begun.

In our present day the reality of freelance work comes with new and exciting opportunities. Those who are part of this paradigm shift will reap what they sow.

What will you be harvesting?


Wild, Wild West

The moniker "Wild West" has been applied quite liberally over the past year to the voice over industry as immense growing pains continue to expand the girth of the industry and refine the definition of what it means to be a successful voice actor and how success as a freelance professional is to be achieved.

Although attainable, success depends greatly upon how voice actors adapt to the changes presented in the industry, both technology and business wise.

The old ways are passing and those who are not on the bandwagon need to realize that attitudes of former eras are also becoming a hindrance to survival in today's voice acting profession.


Case Study

Meet Gloria (fake name but a very real situation), an agency represented voice actor and member of both SAG and AFTRA, who hasn't procured work online through the voice over marketplace in well over a year.

Gloria is becoming discouraged and has no idea why no one is hiring her via her own efforts.

There are two fundamental reasons why Gloria isn't getting work through her auditions, those reasons being:

1. Gloria is of the mindset that she is entitled to work because of her caliber of talent
2. Gloria doesn't know how to run her business online and faces basic business challenges

Does that sound like anyone you know?


What Can Gloria Do?

For all the Glorias out there (or for those of you who aspire to join the ranks of professional voice actors) you can overcome these obstacles by reading and listening to everything about the industry that you can get your hands on, taking advantage of free resources and connecting with a voice acting teacher or business coach.

Freelance work is independent work. If someone can't work independently and market themselves effectively perhaps the freelance voice acting profession is not for them.


Back To Gloria and Her Problems

Gloria not only has trouble getting work on her own, she also isn't having much luck with her agent, notwithstanding her talent.

Does it make sense for Gloria to continue on this way or does she need to make some changes?


Survival Depends Greatly on How People Adapt to Change

How many people out there are in this predicament?

Will those people make it in the new reality of voice acting without their agents?

I say will they make it without their agents because the harsh reality for many of these agencies is that they are fighting tooth and nail with their own clients to acquire work that they are bidding more for than their own roster of talent is willing to do from their home studios.

Most of a union franchised agent's time these days is spent saying "no" to leads that are below scale and hustling for their clients by trying to convince people to pay a premium for their agency services on top of the standard union fees when the voice over is all the client really wants.

This isn't just affecting small agencies.

The big boys and girls are feeling it too, and more and more of them are seriously considering the possibility, nay reality, of representing non-union talent in addition to their union talent to make ends meet.


What Does This Mean for Agency Repped Talent?

As we've heard before and have understood for decades, it's in the best interest of an agent to get work for clients who they know stand a better chance of getting the gig, because that's how they make their money.

If we were to connect the dots and put the pieces of the puzzle together, it becomes obvious that fewer talent will be represented (or at least promoted) by agents, and those who are will be among the minority and are probably the people who are most in demand already.

Should you not be getting any work from your agent now it's time to start looking at alternatives that you can control.


The Writing is on the Wall

There's issues. This industry is facing big issues.

Issues with union vs non-union. Issues with union vs. financial core. Issues with union vs union, even.

Sadder still, there are talent who are afraid to take work that they need to survive because they feel threatened by either their union or their agent.

This was even the case four years ago. I know because I had a phone conversation with a talent who had just landed a national radio commercial gig for a behemoth US company through their agent. That person was worried about potential backlash and lost opportunities from their agent should they get work at our site and not give them a commission for work that the agent didn't even get them.

Talk about intimidation! That boggled my mind four years ago and it makes less sense now than it did then.

The new reality is that many people who have representation need to find work on their own because dollars don't stretch as far as they used to and there are bills to pay.


Where Do We Go From Here?

If you feel like you need a change make a clear decision about how you want to succeed in the voice over industry.

There are many options nowadays as you have likely noticed, including for those who are qualified, teaching and consulting. Some people are going into other streams such as demo production, for example.

The last position you want to find yourself in is one that will become obsolete.

Some agents have admitted that they are among a dying breed. A number of agents are also using their foresight and listing their talent at Voices.com to generate more leads and opportunities for their clients to contribute to their bottom line.

When's the last time somebody became a voice over agent? True, there are some newer agencies out there, but most of those people took experiences they had working for other agents and decided to give it a go on their own with their acquired knowledge.

There are also former agents who are now making a living consulting and teaching. They have insider knowledge that you can't find anywhere else and are able to give a unique twist and education to their students.

These people, for whatever reason, decided that they needed to change paths and are leveraging their years of agency expertise and applying it to other areas of the industry.


Freelance Voice Acting Is Ripe with Opportunity

One thing about freelance voice over is that it's liberating and that there is no shortage of work for those who look for it. Another thing all must remember is that voice acting is a business and needs to be treated that way.

Our audience at VOX Daily is predominantly made up of voice actors so this change in the wind is to your benefit.

Those who are dedicated and have the talent and skill will make it. As always, the cream rises to the top, and those who find this profession isn't right for them will weed themselves out.


What Do You think about the Changes Going on in the Voice Over Industry?

Please add your thoughts below to join in the conversation.

Best wishes,

Stephanie

©iStockphoto.com/John Pitcher

Related Topics: AFTRA, agents, Financial Core, how to, industry, Non-Union, radio, union, unions, voice acting, voice overs, voice talent, voice-overs, voiceovers


Comments


    Stephanie,

    Some pretty bold ideas that seem to be some true and some not.

    I can relate to "Gloria". Having been in the business in the "old days", leaving and then coming back to find everything 'inside out' and 'upside down' was a heck of a learning curve.

    I hear of people out there "making a living" (a VERY relative term") at VO by being freelance. Good for them but I am not one of them. Again, "A living" is relative.
    My booking rate (especially for my experience level) even on Voices.com is low (to put it mildly) and has left me VERY disillusioned with the state of the industry and my place in it.

    I honestly don't know where people find the time to do all the marketing it takes to pull this off AND pay the bills.

    I know the Agents are scrambling to get and keep the business they need because of the HUGE expansion of available talent, so it should come as no surprise that their reaction to that (especially in NY, LA, etc), is going to mean they will guard their customers like a ravenous, rabid wolf. Those customers are not likely to venture away from that talent and a system that "works" for them.

    IE Don LaFontaine will always be employed.

    I think that it also means that Don and all the big boys n girls are also going to "hang on for dear life" too.

    Everything that happens outside those "machines-(LA, NY, etc)" may be income but not a good "living".

    A down side I have experienced in the freelance arena, is that even when you provide a client with an excellent product and service to match, there is very little loyalty. Sure, I've had some return customers but it's the exception rather than the norm.

    Will the unions go away?...maybe but I don't think so.
    Will Agents go away? there may be fewer but doubtful.
    Will I go away? TBD

    Posted by:

      Hi DC,

      Thank you for commenting and I appreciate hearing your thoughts.

      You're absolutely correct; the major players will stay in business as they are. There's no question. Things at that level of the business operate very differently and those in privileged positions have reason to protect what they have.

      It's also true that this business was different before. Now there are more (or less) barriers to entry depending on how you look at it. Those with the talent, technical skill and drive as well as a good head for business will prosper as freelancers. Those people can be agency repped, union members or non-union talent who have passion and are dedicated to the craft enough to persevere. What wasn't mentioned is that the auditioning process is not the only way to get work through the voice over marketplace. Many talent have a knack for landing jobs through auditions whereas the majority are contacted directly because the client discovered their profile first and then decided to contact them via their Voices.com website to hire them.

      People who are fortunate to have good agency representation are very lucky. That being said, having just one agent is nearly unheard now unless that agent gets their clients a lot of work. I've heard of talent with agents all across the country and some who even have international representation. Some have agents on both coasts and some have agents who represent them for specific kinds of voice acting. A great number of people are listed with multiple agents to have more irons in the fire, if you will.

      I think that's also how some people see the voice over marketplace. It's just another iron in the fire to market yourself with, but nowadays, it is a necessary iron to have in the fire.

      We're continuously reaching out to agents to help them with servicing their talent and several have taken us up on the invitation as was referred to in the article to acquire more opportunities for their talent. We know that agents play an important role and that there will always be a need for agents, whether it's because there are talent who rely on them or because they have clients who prefer to work through an agency.

      Does anyone else want to add to the discussion?

      Best,

      Stephanie


      Posted by:

        Your post was right on the money! I am a SAG/AFTRA voice talent and have been for 15 years or so. I can honestly say that the voice over industry was a different animal even 10 years ago. The "big" ad agencies with the "big time" work that paid the national rates and residuals were more apt to go through the talent agents to find their "voice" person. Make no mistake, I got on that band wagon and made some serious money. Today, I have 9 talent agents throughout the country. I have gotten maybe 3 jobs directly from them in the past 6 months, if that. I have an agent in L.A. who got me an audition as the voice of a luxury brand that shall remain nameless, as apparently I am still in the running. It's the first time I talked to her in a year. So, all that being said, my opinion is:

        1. Do we need talent agents? Yes and no. Most of the large ad agencies, with the big work still rely on the agents and casting agents to find voice talent. And no. The internet is easier and instantaneous when needing to find talent.

        2. The unions do we still need them? If you're working in a major market and you land a national gig. You'll say something like this... Wow! Look at these residual checks! I love SAG and AFTRA they are my best friends... oh and wait I made enough to get medical insurance too!!! Hurray the unions. But, if you make your living in a smaller market the unions really offer no benefit except to make you unaccessible to the everyday gotta pay the rent, consistent work.

        3. The times they are a changing. Indeed. Those that will find success in today's voice over business will learn to adapt and take control of their own destiny. The saying is doing the voice over is the easy part. Finding the voice work is the hard part!

        Amen to that. Those are my thoughts.

        Ed Victor

        Posted by:

          Hi Stephanie,

          What a great topic. Every time I am lucky enough to work with a union talent (when they need another voice), I ask them about the union. I haven't had one yet that tells me, "Oh, yes, you should join." It's been the opposite. Now maybe they don't want the competition, or maybe they are being very honest. It's tough to only take union jobs when they are so scarce, especially if you don't live in a major metropolis. One talent was in both SAG and AFTRA and had 3 agents, and still was scrambling to find enough work!

          So.... after 30 years in this business and 20 years as a freelance voice talent, I can safely say... have a backup plan. In 1988, ninety percent of my freelance work used to be writing, and 10% was voiceovers. After 20 years, 100% of my work is voice, and I've dropped the writing completely. Stay on top of what's going on, be flexible, be adaptable, and don't spend a ton of money on a studio until you're sure it's going to pay off!

          Posted by:
          • Robin Rowan
          • June 5, 2008 10:47 AM

            I've been observing this 'Wild West' phenom for a few years, always trying to stay afloat and informed. I am an agency represented non Union talent. I am going to be blunt and say something unpopular. It seems to me that one thing that would help us all is to: STOP ENCOURAGING ALL THIS NEW TALENT TO JUMP INTO THE MARKET!

            Everywhere I turn there's encouragement for the newbie to make your demo! set up your studio! join this or that website!

            When are we going to tell the truth about how the VO industry has never been more challenging?

            Posted by:
            • anon
            • June 5, 2008 11:18 AM

              Hey there, Stephanie - as a voice actor who just acquired my first local (reps AZ & NM) agent, this is interesting to read. I've been securing work on my own, in Colorado for the last 6 years prior to moving here to AZ, and was hoping an agent would increase my opportunities to work, especially as I've found it more challenging to acquire work since moving to the Phoenix area.

              Since I've only been signed with my agent about a month and she's had some technical issues getting me up on her site (switching web companies) I still have no real idea of what kind of benefit an agent will be. But the more I read and learn about the industry (I've really only started studying / reading this year after being somewhat lazy and not really pursuing it full force), I'm definitely quickly learning I'll need to make the investment to build a home studio once I can afford it financially, and I'm now thinking that is probably going to do more for my career long-term than an agent likely will. It's certainly an interesting time to be ramping up (trying to at least!) my VO career, with what seems to be so many changes happening.

              Any advice you have to offer for my particular situation would be appreciated, but I wanted to thank you for putting out such daily info for all of us to learn from. Resources such as Voices.com are so vital for helping us learn and improve as actors and business owners.

              Thanks for all that you do!

              CJ Adams

              Posted by:

                Hi "anon",

                I am often the first person that an interested newbie talent will speak to here in the Voices.com offices. Yes, we do encourage those interested to sign up for Voices.com and download the "Getting Started in Voice Overs" guide. But how do you think they got here in the first place? Usually, they have taken the time to use a search engine and find us. Very often they have been encouraged already by family, friends, co-workers, or even people on the street to look into the voiceover industry. We even receive calls from newbies who have never visited Voices.com - they were merely handed our phone number.

                If you've even spoken to us in the office, you know that we are not a high-pressure sales environment. We are offering guidance to those who are interested. In addition, I tell callers every day that the voice over industry is a competitive one and that they need training beyond what we provide.

                How would you have gotten started as a voice actor if not for someone who offered you some encouragement?

                Best,
                Erica

                Posted by:

                  I anticipated your reply and that's why I'm 'Anon', whimpy though it may seem.
                  I am not launching an attack on the business practices at Voices.com. My post is referring to much more than the workings of Voices.com, which has my full respect as an innovator and educator in Internet VO. Please just consider the point I am making in the general context of the current voiceover market.

                  Newbies frequently contact me to ask for start-up advice I always reply with sensitivity. AND I refer them to Voices.com because you provide a good overall view of business. I am not discouraging, but try to say, hey, stop and take a look at all the competition. If you have the drive to compete, you will become a working voice talent. You will not get rich quick. You will most likely be reading training manuals instead of getting a principal role in the next Pixar animation.

                  I have found that newcomers are often influenced by the enthusiasms of people who will take their money to teach a class or produce a demo, and leave them with false expectations about entry-level success. This is often because these experts have no idea about the business end of this field, especially outside of major market cities.

                  Here's a sad example: I was recording at one of my favorite studios recently, and the owner was showing me a stack of new voiceover demos he had just recieved from graduates of an applauded VO class. When I asked him what he did with them, he pointed at the trash bin. He would not have done that 5 years ago, but today he is flooded with brand new VO demos.

                  I hope you can see my point, that the wide-spread encouragement of new talent to "Get Started, it's Easy!" is not helping new talent, old talent, or the agents. The industry is in flux, it is saturated with talent, it gets more competitive by the hour, and newcomers deserve to know that.

                  I appreciated Stephanie opening up this discussion by stating how, when we're honest, most of us voice talents are working hard just to be able to work.

                  Posted by:
                  • anon
                  • June 5, 2008 2:42 PM

                    Wow. I came across this blog just as I was wondering whether or not it was possible to be successful without an agent or union. I started out in VO doing favors for friends and companies I worked with in another industry. More than 10 years have passed - so has the marketplace, along with technological advances and the needs of talent seekers.

                    To Anon, with the greatest respect: I once had a teacher who taught us to never be afraid to share what you know. There will always be someone better, faster, or stronger. Your statements sound like they are grounded in frustration and maybe even a little bit of fear. I have found endless sources of encouragement and support from the VO community, partly because some aspect of the way business is done now is new to some of us. However, in all things, get an understanding. This business is constantly evolving - the talent and needs continue to evolve, and as we grow as a community, others will come along and provide new innovations, technologies, and standards. Challenging the seasoned to reach new levels creates opportunities for newbies that you may no longer accept. I say all this to say that our community needs you to continue the evolution, not stop it. The seasoned have valuable information and resources about the business that may seem obsolete, but are actually essential albeit less obvious. I am very sorry if you don't realize how valuable you are or could be to our VO world.

                    The flip side to it is that this is a business - one that does not suit everyone. Some are not equipped to go it alone, others need help or new strategies. The competition is real. The challenges are real. The industry has changed. Believe it or not, this blog has picked me up out of frustration because for every Anon, there is a ME that will keep pushing, continue reaching back instead of looking back, and will be there to step up when others will not. I am encouraged.

                    Posted by:

                      Hi Stephanie,

                      The industy is definitely changing. The internet has changed everything. We are truly in a global marketplace now. But that doesn't mean there's no room for agents.

                      If agents are willing to adapt to the changes in the industry, they can survive. But I predict that agents who continue to operate as local agents, rather than national or global ones, they won't survive.

                      Posted by:

                        All I can offer here from my perspective, so as not to repeat what's already been stated; in general, anyone in the industry (especially start-ups in these challenging economic times) is that only time will tell who the strongest are, as they will remain standing.

                        The prevailing economic climate and its impact, and overall industry paradigm is unfolding before our eyes. It is a wild ride.

                        It is a fine line we straddle for success as a voice artist, balancing our art with solid business sense, requiring sometimes simultaneous left and right-brained activity. Sure, just about anybody can talk, and undoubtedly many will be told they have a great voice, and there is a low barrier to entry. Seems like everyone and their brother can teach, too. Parlaying all this "stuff" into a long successful career is another matter.

                        Like any business cycle, some will acheive or sustain success, go out of business, or simply give up and move on to work that WILL pay their bills.

                        Posted by:

                          Ok, this will be my first posting and it comes with only a few (2) years of experience. So this is how I see it:

                          The VO industry is a service industry just like Accountancy or Law. In those industries, firms have specialized departments - tax, audit, accounting, real estate, etc... like audiobooks, commercials, promo's, corporate, etc.

                          When economic times are tough, we see 2 things happen - Bankruptcy and Consolidation. Bankruptcy is self evident but Consolidation is when firms will look to purchase other firms. BUT, they make a choice based on their market - either purchase other firms that specialize in areas they themselves are not strong in - for example the tax department of another firm; or they purchase a firm with the same discipline to take advantage of economies of scale and become bigger and better than the rest.

                          In other words, we, as self employed businesses, need to know our markets. Who are our target customers? What can we offer to our customers in those markets? What is the current demand in those markets? Do we want to be the best corporate voice out there or can we survive as a specialized audiobook talent or will we better off as a "jack of all trades"? Yes, I realize, it sounds like a marketing lecture but that isn't my intention. I believe that there is enough work out there for everyone who single-mindedly goes out and gets it and that means putting in the time, effort and research to answer those questions above.

                          Education

                          Some years ago, after many tournament wins and millions of dollars in prize money, the legendary Tiger Woods went back to his trainers and re-learned his swing. Why? Because he saw where his industry was going and he saw his own flaws and he realized to continue to compete at his level or better he would have to re-educate himself and adapt to his new environment.

                          Yes, our industry is highly competitive, and as in every industry you need to hustle - that's the same in every industry in the world.

                          If you love what you do, you learn the rules of the game like the back of your hand, you're ready to adapt to industry changes, you're very flexible with your time, you take a moment to think about your next move, you keep educating yourself and you go and get what you want and deserve.

                          James Clamp (the very optimistic Brit)

                          Posted by:

                            Hi Stephanie,

                            A very interesting and informative piece. You are my source for the truth in this business and I thank you very much for all you do.

                            Chet Kelley

                            Posted by:
                            • Chet Kelley
                            • June 7, 2008 1:36 PM

                              Great subject Stephanie. Sobering… but issues that need to be thought about and discussed NOW.

                              Thanks,

                              Scott DeGrave

                              Posted by:
                              • Scott DeGrave
                              • June 7, 2008 1:37 PM

                                Hey Stephanie,

                                I liked the 'writing is on the wall' reference :-)

                                Daniel

                                Posted by:
                                • Daniel Schwab
                                • June 7, 2008 1:38 PM

                                  Hi Stephanie.... and everyone who added to the posting,

                                  If there is one thing that I am taking away from this conversation is that if you are new and trying to find your way... you will always find one guy saying "this is the way to do it" and another guy saying "that is the way to do it." My point is, we find our own way in life. I say do your homework, ask advice a lot, keep yourself focused on your goals and keep yourself active in the VO community. As for the "newbie" label... we were all "newbies" once. I still am in many ways. Also too... whenever we try something new in our industry, we are once again "newbies" in one aspect. Just my two cents.

                                  The not at all anonymous,
                                  Tom Conklin

                                  Posted by:

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