By Stephanie Ciccarelli
February 6, 2009
The 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.
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.
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."
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"
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