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1,850 Laid Off At Clear Channel, Layoffs in Broadcast and Beyond To Trigger Boom in Voice Over Market?

By Stephanie Ciccarelli

February 6, 2009

Comments (11)

On The Air MicrophoneThe economic downturn has changed the priorities and makeup of many companies, including some in the broadcast media industry, causing thousands of people to lose their jobs, many of which are now turning to voice over as a career alternative.

I was curious to see who among those already doing voice over part-time are now finding themselves full-time due to the loss of their positions...

From what I've heard, read and been told, it sounds like there is going to be a wave of people hoping to make voice acting their primary source of income.

Hear from many people affected by this and add your voice to the mix. Anonymous comments in good taste will be approved on this article.

Layoffs Running Rampant

This inspiration to write this article came to me after reading about a broadcaster, Keith Ashton, who had worked for Clear Channel Communications, serving the broadcast radio industry for 58 of his 79 years. The layoff came to him as a major shock and I could only imagine what it must have felt like for someone who has dedicated that much of their life to a job to suddenly find a box of their belongings on their desk when coming in to work.

Clear Channel, for those who don't know, laid off 1,850 people last month across the US. Keith Ashton was just one of those people.

I've also heard that there were layoffs at Metro Networks/Westwood One, cutting hundreds of people before Clear Channel did, and cuts at CBS radio, Cumulus, Emmis, NPR, Entercom, SBS, Sirius/XM and most recently Bloomberg who cut 100 jobs, apparently a first ever for Bloomberg.

Anonymity

For this article, I gave people the opportunity to be anonymous sources due to the sensitivity of what's going on and agreements that they have had to sign for confidentiality.

One source reports that a bunch of their friends and former co-workers were laid-off in San Diego, CA. Supposedly, San Diego was one of the hardest hit markets.

I had the opportunity to correspond with a number of people who were once part-time in VO but have since needed to pursue voice over work full-time.

Here are some of their stories:

"Microsoft laid off 1400 people in one day about 2 weeks ago. I'd been an employee for 10 years. It's amazing how fast that can disappear in the blink of an eye. I am pursuing VO full time (until or if I find another day job), but health benefits are crazy expensive and I'm just not getting enough work right now. But we'll see how things go."

~~

"Ah, what a time it has become! I know the first step I'm going to take in this adventure will be to finally seek representation instead of freelancing. Freelancing has not made enough money to do anything, much less pay the bills. And freebies run amok. Fortunately, I'm skilled in a couple of other areas of work and being the multi-tasking character that I am, I am now working 4 part-time jobs. This doesn't include voiceovers. Since I have to work nights, however, theater work is on-hold at this time. It's depressing. I hope others are getting the work they seek."

~~

Is voice over the answer for people who have been let go, particularly if they have transferable skills as presenters, hosts or on-air talent?

A veteran voice over talent shared the following with me:

"People looking to make a career change and have VO passion, it's great that they make the effort. BUT it's a long term climb - very low initial returns; people seeking immediate payout (starting) will be disappointed."

Interview With Laid Off Part-Time Voice Artist, Now Full-Time in VO

Earlier this morning, I interviewed a part-time voice over artist who has now found themselves in a similar position to one of my other sources above, losing their job in a different industry and now pursuing voice over full-time until they can find another day job.

VOX: Were you one of the people laid off or are you preparing in case you're next?

VO ARTIST: There is a lot of business-ese around what my company calls it, but, yes, I was let go on Tuesday.

VOX: Where did you work? If you don't want to say where, what industry and role did you play at the company?

VO ARTIST: I was a Project Analyst at an investment firm and dealt solely with configuring 3rd party health care systems.

VOX: What are the reasons (aside from finance) for the layoffs? Is this about cutting positions that are no longer needed or is it about something else?

VO ARTIST: The reasons given to us for the layoff was "Economic Downturn" and the "fragile state" of the economy. Our positions weren't eliminated though. I worked at the company campus in New Hampshire and all of our jobs are moving to New Mexico. Not to get too much into the boring details, but the tax breaks for the company ended here and the cost of living in the North East is a lot higher than the Mid-West. Plus, the company was offered more tax breaks to create new jobs at the new campus in New Mexico.

VOX: What is going through your mind right now as you mull over this decision? How difficult do you anticipate it will be to go from part-time to full-time in VO? What kind of changes would you / will you need to make?

VO ARTIST: The layoffs were anticipated, but definitely unexpected this soon, so I was able mentally to get into the proper frame of mind before they occurred. Always being more artistic, but ending up in a procedural analytical role for an investment firm, I was never too happy and now being given the chance to purpose a more creative career is a cathartic experience. The biggest change for me will just be that I will have more time to audition and to learn and better my craft. Well, that is until the savings runs out.

VOX: Given that this could become a full-time job for you as a career voice over artist, do you feel that further instruction or research is necessary to make that leap successfully? This doesn't have to be just what you intend to do but what you believe others in similar situations may or should be considering to make voice over work for them.

VO ARTIST: Since this is a career that I sought to be a full-time thing for me since as long as I can remember, I come to realize that learning, growing and instruction are a never-ending thing. Even before the layoff I was always trying to learn more, but it does kind of feel good to know that I won't be studying in between work and other daily tasks. I'll actually have the time to enjoy the learning process and take it all in.

VOX: Have you heard talk of becoming a voice over pro from other people facing this reality? Are they wearing rose colored glasses or are they aware of what the business really entails? Also, what makes VO attractive to people being laid off, or is any job, regardless of what it is, attractive at present and VO is simply one avenue that could generate an income?

VO ARTIST: I have not personally heard too much about the recently laid-off (I call them laidee's) now trying a full-time career in VO, but I can definitely see the draw. I'm sure most people see it as a career with seemingly little risk. You buy some gear and can try it out of your own home. They think that it's just talking and they don't understand all the work that needs to go into it. For the top people the pay is good, but for most they will need of streams of income and I don't think most people are willing to make multiple commitments. Most will try and then after 6 months or so, when they are not seeing that immediate return on their investment, will move on and try and get another job. I've only been in the business for a little over a year now and know how extraordinarily tough that it already is. With an influx of people merely trying it out, I worried about the over-saturation of the market and just making it more difficult for those like myself how are still in the process of establishing a name and a brand. Or even giving the newcomers a bad reputation with all the unprofessional voices of the "laidee's"

Any Comments?

Anonymous comments will be accepted on this post for those who wish to share their thoughts in a non-threatening environment. Keep comments family friendly and they will be approved.

Best wishes,

Stephanie

©iStockphoto.com/Valerie Loiseleux

Related Topics: economic downturn, economy, industry, layoffs, Microsoft, radio, Siri, voice acting, voice artists, voice overs


Comments


    Stephanie, I read your article and thought I'd offer my perspective. As you know, with a tough economy and layoffs come some cold hard realizations. People by the thousands are discovering that there aren't as many great "real jobs" out there. In the voice business there are two kinds of jobs. 1. What we do - talk for a living and 2. The "real jobs" (sitting in a cubicle all day...driving to work, hating the job, being treated like a tool...), yet walking away with a paycheck every two weeks, benefits and medical.

    What we do may look like the greatest gig in the world...but it takes years to get established, create a network, market yourself, beg agents, audition and audition and audition in hopes of getting a job. It's not that easy.

    The best quote in the article was this:

    "People looking to make a career change and have VO passion, it's great that they make the effort. BUT it's a long term climb - very low initial returns; people seeking immediate payout (starting) will be disappointed."

    Being a voice talent takes endless dedication, a thick skin to handle the daily, or hourly rejections and a real deep love and devotion for the industry - it's not just a job...it's a way of life. So for all those out there making the jump into the talent pool - make sure you have what it takes in your heart, or you just might drown.

    Peace

    Posted by:

      I agree with the last commenter. I have been doing sessions professionally since the early 90's but including VO in the last 5 years or so. I switched to running my business in 4 of the last 5 years and it has gone well and steadily grown, but the reality is, if you let go of your other income flows you will initially take a significant pay-cut if you are not in the A call with top agents and booking national spots consistently. Even with a decent booking record with my agents I have noticed a remarkable downturn in job opportunities via the VO search engine as well as auditions coming in since November 08, (worse since Jan 09), and with diminishing budgets. Now more than ever we have to have great representation which can only be acquired with Pro Demo's, defined signatures on those demos, and being really good at our craft, voice ACTING.

      Also I think being open to a second income stream for someone just embarking on a career in VO is vital at this juncture.

      Even more critical however, is being realistic and honest with yourself whether you possess the talent needed for a career in voice acting, so you can really contribute and compete in the enormous pool.

      Posted by:

        I think Ed hit the nail right! As a fellow 20 year voice guy (man I'm getting old), I loose jobs everyday, every audition I do is an opportunity, my interview, and with the amount of competition in the market today I make sure it is the BEST it can be! Each opportunity I don't get, for whatever reason, is a lost job in my book. And it can be tough when you audition on a daily basis and sometimes go on a stretch with nothing but rejection. As The Big Gun said, make sure you have what it takes in your heart, or you just might drown.

        Posted by:

          First off, to all of you that have been recently laid off. "I feel your pain!" Having started my career in radio I've certainly run into more than one case of having my gig suddenly disappear. If you are thinking of joining the ranks of the voice over pros. Welcome! Its a great full time career or a great part time passion. Like Ed, Patty and John said, it does take lots of work and patience to get rolling. If you want to go at it full time start working 6-8 hours a day today. Years ago when I started I spent at least half my day working on marketing. The other half waiting for calls...then doing more marketing, practicing and working on demos. Thankfully, now great sites like Voices.com (my favorite) do a lot of marketing for us. Although, to be honest, although these services are very valuable I get just a small percentage of new work from them now, most of my work comes from past clients (many from Voices.com) and from direct marketing and relationships.

          Now to be realistic. The influx of laid off voices will be a "Boom" for voice over services. However it will be a market "glut" of talent to compete against for voice actors. There will be many more people auditioning for jobs and surely they will bring fresh styles and skills. At the same time there is a drop in advertising. Now here's the good news. I'm encountering lots of clients who are trying to save money by cutting back on their traditional huge advertising agencies. They are dealing directly with talent. Many are looking for copywriting too. Businesses are looking for whatever edge they can to stay in business. If the voice over talent can address that need we can continue to grow. In some cases we may need to re-think our rates. In others re-thing the services we offer. And above all treat your clients right and check back with them from time to time to see if they need your services. You'll be surprised how many re-curring jobs you'll get that way.

          Good luck to everyone and let's keep on having fun!

          Posted by:

            It seems to me that, as well as layoffs in all industries that are necessary, companies are using the downturn as an excuse to dump the old and less productive. The news has given many companies an excuse to re-shuffle or out-source jobs too.
            My husband who works in the industry did not get a christmas bonus this year - which was entirely the fault of the wall street rich who set such a bad example, and was not based on the performance of his company who really had not been damaged in 2008.
            It can be a mean world - but there's always room for another chapter in one's life.

            Posted by:
            • kara noble
            • February 7, 2009 12:31 PM

              Sometimes the people who have been with a company the longest and are the highest paid employees are the first to go. Why keep someone who has been at a company for 20 years making $60,000 when the company can hire 3 people just out of college and work them to death for $20,000 each? So much for company loyalty. The four TV network affiliates in my market have all seen 20% cuts in staff across the board, and some really, really good people are gone. But I take issue with former media types who think they can just jump into the vo biz and expect to make some sort of a living. I've been at this for 30 years, but only the past 8 as a full-time vo artist, and it's STILL hard. And now some clients are pitting us against each other by posting jobs on as many vo sites as they can find--some with a fixed budget, some with a "to be defined" and others asking for a "per hour" price. But it's all for the same job!!!! I recently went to one of the sites to see how much competition I had. I typed in my gender and my "voice age"--and 3762 talents popped up--wow. I have no idea how many of those are full-time vo artists, but if it's even 25%, that's a huge amount of competition. Oh, and I also found out that I audition 325% more than the "average" of talents on the site, so that means I don't get nearly as many leads as others...so I am cutting off my nose to spite my face, evidently, and should only be auditioning for one job a month, even though I'm paying the premium price. It's a very hard living, even for those who are successful....

              Posted by:
              • Anonymous
              • February 7, 2009 1:20 PM

                I think, like everywhere, there's an 80/20 rule at work in the freelance VO market, meaning the busiest 20% of the talent land 80% of the gigs, and it takes time to develop your contacts enough to be in that top 20%. A sudden influx of talent with underdeveloped contacts will probably not severely impact established talent, but will certainly make life tough for that other 80%.

                It will be very difficult for anyone freshly laid off from radio to build a meaningful income stream in time to beat next month's mortgage payment, especially in a marketplace where many of the better-paying jobs are looking for an "unradio" sound. The real flood will probably come at the low-end, fixed-rate, commission-based "spot mills" where there's lots of volume work at low rates available.

                I don't believe radio companies will outsource commercial reads to our marketplace, even in cities where they've cut all local staff. I'd expect them to set up some sort of centralized sweat shop to have commercials cranked out for remote local markets with no in-house announcing staff remaining.

                Recessions are interesting creatures. I now make the majority of my living in the aerospace sector, and those companies have been hit hard. However, in being forced by the downturn to justify every media dollar they spend, many are pulling budget out of costly print ads in trade publications, realizing they could be getting more bang-for-buck in new media. I find that's actually firming up my base. I'm tracking ahead of 2008 so far this year, by double-digit percentage, and expect that growth to continue.

                Posted by:

                  Wondering what agents are recommended for voice talent, as trying to drum up business on your own can be time consuming and without the right connections like driving without the lights on in the dark!

                  Thanks,

                  Stephanie DeGraw

                  Posted by:
                  • Stephanie DeGraw
                  • February 7, 2009 6:22 PM

                    It all depends on your circumstances. For a VO who lives in the most expensive part of the country, the loss of a steady part-time job is a huge blow. You need more than $100k p/year to live in NY - anything less won't pay your bills. When only between 1/3 - 1/2 of that income comes from VO it's not easy to double or triple that instantly. If others are helping with the bills you then you have the luxury of exploring full time vo but if it's just you, you can't expect to replace that lost income in a few short weeks or even months. Above all you have to be realistic about your own particular situation, take a good hard look at your finances and realize that if going full-time doesn't work for you in a few months it's not going to be easy to just get another job quickly in this economy. You need to plan for that.

                    Posted by:
                    • NYC Voice Actor
                    • February 7, 2009 6:27 PM

                      Layoffs, downsizing and cutbacks are a constant in the radio industry. Most radio performers are fearful of losing their jobs even when the economy is good. Veterans in the radio industry have a thick skin, they are adaptable and they know how to deal with the fluctuations of an industry that is constantly looking to save money and reduce man-power.

                      Many radio folks who are casualties of the current radio lay-offs are taking much needed time off. I just spoke to a PD who's been laying on a beach in Hawaii for the last two weeks! As he put it - "it's time to get back to the real world." Doing so will means focusing on the freelance skills that his radio experience has afforded him. Writing, production, sales, marketing, promotions and yes, VO are all opportunities that radio folks will be pursing with gusto.

                      VO talent shouldn't really be fearful of this potential market influx however. Radio performers have a different background and set of skills. Most are not trained actors but rather announcers. Often times radio people have a long road ahead before they are able to market their voice to clients looking for professional VO talent. They are not beginners by any stretch, but they are not exactly voiceover experts either.

                      Gabrielle Nistico - Director of Operations
                      VoiceHunter.com

                      Posted by:

                        Thank you for all of the comments received thus far. I appreciate hearing all of the different perspectives and words of encouragement.

                        I'd like to address some comments made by Anonymous:

                        To clarify (as the service anonymous used was not named), Voices.com doesn't give you the metrics that anonymous is referring to when measuring how much you have auditioned as compared to others nor are search results as obvious (stating a number immediately following a search query). Another online service does this but we don't at Voices.com.

                        If you have something to add or would like to join the conversation, the floor is yours!

                        Best wishes,

                        Stephanie

                        Posted by:

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