This “direction” goes beyond any disappointments that the recession by itself might bring.
It has led to the bleeding out of the professional performing arts unions, to the point where these somewhat bitter rivals have adopted to merge. This merger was by overwhelming decree of their membership, who has been finding themselves making less and less and having to work harder and harder. This new union, still seems to be made up of the same representation (and thinking) that created the long commercials strike of 2001, which led to millions of production dollars being syphoned off the U.S. into Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and well, just about anywhere that isn’t the U.S.
Given the great coverage the press gives to anything even remotely connected to voice over, it’s no wonder that you can’t walk 5 blocks from home without tripping over somebody who “claims” to be a voice over actor. From the enormous coverage and subsequent deluge of work and money for Mr. Homeless Guy, Ted Williams to the moronic worldwide statements by Chris Rock, “This isn’t work. Stripping wood is work …and then they pay me a million dollars, <to do voices>”, it seems that everybody wants their mythical piece of the billion dollar voice over pie.
No amount of rationalization it seems is going to stave off the onslaught of individuals who attempt to get into voice over. And just like the welfare recipient who tosses their precious few dollars at weekly lottery numbers, so are most of these people being sold a bill of goods that’s only slightly better than the odds of winning a decent lottery payoff.
Yes, many will argue that they’re managing to pay bills and buy food, but when you look at the effort and time they put into it, you can’t believe they are either happy or even actually making minimum wage for all the time, expense and aggravation they are putting in.
Sadly the biggest problem is that many of the trusted partners for actors seem to be anything but trusted.
Currently, there’s a huge movement that wants to blame online casting sites for many of the current problems in voice over. If that’s so, then we could also probably blame the automobile industry for hurting the railroads. But, there is an online casting service that seems to be praised by talent agents and actors; an online casting service that actually doesn’t even purport to be an online casting service. A service where one of their spokespeople recently badmouthed online casting services to me and several other voice actors, referring to the other sites as “pay to play”, in a derogatory fashion and defending their business model, which sells services to talent agents and actors on a subscription basis and funnels numerous scripts for purposes of auditioning. (Gee that kind of sounds like “Pay to Play” to me)
Who are they? They call themselves Voicebank, although they have other names, like Voiceregistry, etc.
So, let’s compare these Knights In Shining White Armor to a particularly maligned online casting service, Voice 123:
Voicebank has been doing a great job of getting major advertising agencies and even minor ad agencies to send them voice over audition scripts, which in turn are funneled out to the various talent agents who pay a fee to Voicebank to be part of their service. You can see who these agents are by going to www.Voicebank.net
In turn; the agents send these scripts to some of their actors. Actually, in most cases, the agents will send the scripts to as many of the actors they represent as possible. (The more auditions for the agency, the greater the chance of getting one of them booked) Some actors who are represented in 5 or 6 or 10 markets may actually wind up getting the same audition script sent to them by 4 or 5 or more of their agents. These scripts aren’t always for top of the line jobs either. As of late, there tends to be a considerable number of scripts for smaller local work, which even when covered by a SAG/ AFTRA agreement, may pay well less than $1,000. In other cases, the scripts are non-union and may be for as little as a $350 job.
So, now if you have 5 agents representing you and you get sent the same script sent to you by all 5 agents and it’s for a $500 job, you have several conundrums. The first is which agent do you read for. Most will say either your primary agent, the agent in the largest market or the agent that sent it to you first. But as someone who has worked with ad agencies and other clients in the casting and hiring process, it’s doubtful that any ad agency will even listen to auditions from more than 3 or 4 talent agents tops. So, the bigger question isn’t about you now competing against the rosters of 30 or 40 talent agencies, but “What are the odds that your audition will even ever be heard?”
I’d have to say that if you’ve risen to the ranks of being a working and represented talent and now are seeing a growing number of your auditions being filtered through Voicebank, whereby you are competing against 30 – 60 talent agencies for each audition, perhaps each agency having 40 or more talent reading, you’re going to see a very real decrease in what you book and ergo, what you make.
And realize that Voicebank is aggressively pitching this service to every hirer of talent in the country. They also have support from their member talent agencies and the union(s), as well as many actors.
So let me ask you how an audition through Voicebank that pits you against a potential talent pool of 2,500 other actors for a $500 voice gig is a good thing. Could you explain to me how this is any better than reading against 30 or so actors on Voice 123 for a $500 job? Or how it might be even a percentage as good as trying to develop your own advocates to help hire you.
Individuals complain because the transparency of Voice 123 allows them to see if their audition has been heard or not, but somehow they have difficulty doing the math. Look people, I know that an ad agency will rarely listen to more than 100 auditions tops for anything, and rarely will they ever listen to nearly that many. But even assuming that the ad agency does listen to 100 auditions, and there are 50 talent agents who respond to the casting, you are still only one out of 2,000 auditions. That means that there’s about a 5% chance your audition will ever be heard. Of course, that’s not quite accurate. If you’re a well-known voice actor, the client will make efforts to pick your name out of the list. Depending upon who your agent is, they may have a better chance of having their auditions listened to by one or more particular ad agencies. But this also means that others may rarely, if ever, have any of their auditions opened.
To me, my livelihood, my business, Voicebank is the worst of all possible intruders. Because it doesn’t matter how good your audition is, if the client never gets to hear it. It also means that I have to make a conscious choice every time I get multiple requests to audition by several agents for the same project.
Sadly, the v.o. folks who comprise most of the rosters of New York, L.A. and Chicago talent agencies, tend to be closed books. Old-timers in particular were taught to never discuss their work. But I can tell you that behind closed doors, often under the influence of a bit of “medicinal whisky”, voice talent who have been top bookers for years, grossing well over $100,000, are seeing booking ratios diminish considerably, and income drops that are quite scary. At best, most of these actors when pushed against a wall will tell you that their wells may be somewhat deep, but are also quite narrow. Just take a look at top v.o. names in your markets who are suddenly teaching acting, or are shifting their attention to other forms of work.
I’m not sure what the solution or counter to Voicebank is, but it certainly shouldn’t be giving them some sort of award or prize.
Let’s stop pretending that we can tell the good guys from the bad guys by whether they wear a white or black hat. That type of thinking died with Gunsmoke. Voice Over is a multi-billion dollar business.