CONTROVERSY! FIRE AND BRIMSTONE! TAR & FEATHER HIM!
Disclaimer: I already know this is going to be a long and most certainly controversial blog for those who have been involved in the voiceover industry. Breathe easy. I’ll say some things you’ll like; I’ll say something that will make you want to throw a microphone at me. (Please throw 416’s or Neumanns only, as I can turn around and sell them to pay for my hospital stay. Thanks!) Either way, please know that I am not endorsing any one approach; I’m simply talking about what has worked for me as a voiceover businessman. I’m fully cognizant that I’m putting myself out there on the chopping block, and going out on a limb. So be it. Here goes…
THE REST WAS HISTORY
Voiceovers. It’s not what it used to be. Is it worse, or is it better?
As J. Michael Collins stated in a recent webinar with Jon Florian on VoiceoverXtra, lower rates and fighting harder for good pay is “the new normal.” The question here is what will you and I do to adapt and overcome? The market has changed.
Many years ago, when puppies were the oldest animals, you’d get a call from your agent, hop in the car, drive to a recording studio, record in front of producers and technicians and end clients (maybe), and then return home and pray and wait. Then, when you’re awarded the job, you hop in the car, drive to a recording studio, record in front of producers and technicians and end clients (maybe), and then return home and pray and wait…for a paycheck.
Now, with the advent of the Internet, home studios are springing up all over the globe, in closets and custom builds alike. They can run anywhere from a clothes closet to a pipe-and-drape setup to a WhisperRoom or StudioBricks studio. And they truly allow flexibility in recording and auditioning.
It used to be a situation where you could cock your eyebrow, give your head a little George-Clooney-shake swagger, and say “Call my agent.” Now, the question looms on the horizon, especially in the state of Washington as it pertains to the National Right-to-Work foundation, are agents even necessary? As VO Agent Alliance states:
According to the National Right-To-Work Legal Defense Foundation (nrtw.org), “a Right-to-Work law secures the right of employees to decide for themselves whether or not to join or financially support a union.” Each state has its own statutes regarding this issue and should be researched online or at your library or through contacting SAG-AFTRA directly. Right-to-Work states include states include: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Wyoming. The remaining states are considered “closed shops.” Nearly half the country falls under Right-to-Work, which more or less renders the unions, in our case SAG-AFTRA, somewhat useless.
So where does that leave us, represented and non-represented alike?
TIME TO BEAT THE STREETS
What does all of this mean for the hardworking agent-dependent voiceover artist? Ultimately, it means that they need to look for more work on their own.
Voiceover agents used to be the gateway to voiceover work. “You want voiceover work? Gotta get an agent.” Not so anymore. Lo contrario: if you want work, you’re going to have to find it yourself. The name of the main game now is: develop a love for marketing.
Marketing is something that’s always been natural for me. I’m a campaigner, and I love seeing a good thing prosper. Sure, I get butterflies in my stomach just during and after I send that “submit” button on my Zoho campaign, I hope to see positive results, and don’t want to intrude into people’s lives. But I have bellies to fill, mouths to feed, and bills to pay. And reaching out to prospective clients is all part of the job, and all in a day’s work. Self-imposed and self-motivated marketing really enables me to connect with people I otherwise might never have. It’s truly rewarding to receive a “Sure, send me your demo reel” back over email. It’s even more rewarding to receive an audition notice or a casting offer on the coattails of any marketing campaigns I send out.
I love marketing. I truly do. There’s nothing more satisfying than turning over a rock and finding a bunch of gleeful new clients waving at me, splitting at the ears from a giant grin. (That’s how it always happens, right?) But marketing isn’t the end-all-be-all. It is actually 80 to 90% of what I do every day, yes: always on the hunt, looking for the next client to pounce (gently) on. But it isn’t the easiest thing to do, and not everyone feels confident enough in it. For that, there’s a middle ground between direct marketing and agents: the P2P’s.
HUH? P2P? IS THAT A NEW RAP ARTIST?
Let’s do a bit of defining, for those joining us late.
P2P’s, aka “Pay to Play’s”, are websites that represent online voiceover marketplaces that came about around 2010. These are sites devoted to facilitating business between the voice talent, and the client, who in this case we’ll call the voice seeker.
The most notable P2P’s are:
- Voices.com, (herein known as VDC to mitigate some of the coming “sting”)
- Bodalgo.com, and
- And now, CastVoices, as of March 2020 - very excited about this one!
I add ACX into this mix because they are something of a P2P, but ultimately you pay nothing to join; you must have a Tax ID number at the very least. They are nevertheless an online voiceover marketplace. There are more, but I’ll mention them later, and not so kindly.
A voice seeker will join one of these P2P’s, and they will post a casting notice. They may actually post it on multiple P2P’s hoping to cast a wider net. They’ll ultimately choose only one voice from wherever they cast their net. The voiceover marketplace usually exacts a commission or percentage, in the neighborhood of 20%, and in some cases a managed job fee (I’ll get to that later), and assesses that on top of the project budget.
The voice talent who has a paid membership on any of these P2P’s is allowed to receive audition notices numbering anywhere from a few a day to a few dozen a day, depending on their profile specifications and the parameters they setup governing how many audition notices they actually want to receive. They audition, and if they are chosen by the voice seeker to fulfill that role, an agreement is setup through the P2P’s interface – or independent of it, as is the case of a few of them – and the work begins.
Once the work is finished, on many P2P sites, the voice seeker releases payment once files are received, and both the voice seeker and the voice talent are done. On sites that facilitate independent communication, agreements and contracts between voice seeker and voice talent (for example Voice123, VOPlanet and Bodalgo, and ACX to some extent), a direct invoice can be sent from the voice talent to the voice seeker. The voice talent is paid, and the job is done.
Now, here’s where it gets tricky, and every voice talent who’s been around longer than 3 years, especially in 2017, will start to feel the salt in their wounds. For that, I apologize.
ALONG CAME A SPIDER
If you've never heard the story, let us gather our sustenance and drinks, quell the mirth, and sit by the fire...and I shall regale you with a tale of old. There used to be an organization called Voice Bank. They started in 1998 and were pretty much the leader in terms of online connection points for voiceover artists and voice casting agents, both for startup talent as well as famous actors. They had lots of contributors and community members spanning video production companies, ad agencies, etc.. In August of 2017 VDC bought the rights to VoiceBank, and that’s where things went south for many folks. Tom Dheere also has an excellent article on this, as does J. Michael Collins. It truly frightened Miss Muffett away...and a lot of her cohorts
VoiceBank was an online connection point, a community really, facilitating voice talent to connect with agents, to receive reviews on their work, critiques of their demos, connecting them to agents, demo producers, etc.. It really was a great community. But in the ensuing year, as VDC started presenting audition opportunities to talent, something smelled funny. They were called on the carpet, and in fact, exposed, for skimming profits, as well as for exorbitant "managed job fees". What I mean by that is that they would post a national TV commercial that would rightfully charge a video production company, say, $5000 for the voiceover, and then post the job on VDC for $200. Their hope was undoubtedly that a newbie would see that and go, “Wow, $200?!?! That’s awesome!” What the newbie didn’t know, to their peril, and to the collective frustration of the entire established voiceover community, was that that TV commercial should be paying them $5000. Information truly is power. Todd Schick wrote an excellent blog on them, exposing the whole alleged fraud. Additionally, according to their own site, "The Project Management Fee starts at $300, and increases with project complexity."
It’s 4 years later, and VDC is still arguably the top player in the online voiceover marketplace. But in the words of our favorite green Jedi puppet, “No…there is another.” Other P2P’s have sprung up to unseat them, others have been around and would like nothing more than to see them die a fiery death. Their CEO, David Ciccarelli, has remained somewhat elusive and won’t comment or show broad support for the voiceover community. In fact, they’ve recently partnered with an agency named VocalID, and some speculation exists that this partnership is in an effort to harvest all the voice samples submitted through their portal, to generate synthetic voices: a truly creepy and nefarious notion, and not outside of the realm of possibilities.
However, all that being said, my job in this is not to write an exposé, to rehash an all-too-familiar scandal, or to drag through the mud. My goal in this blog is to present vision and to promote possibilities.
What if, in the voiceover community, we took a step back, took a deep breath, and fully realized that VDC, like anything on the internet, and - yea verily -like the Internet itself, was a tool to be used wisely? It’s not going away. So what if instead of attacking those who are a part of it – we affirmed and built up, and encouraged? There is still a fair amount of vitriol directed at those still active on VDC, and such vitriol often recirculates, like sludge, amongst the various Facebook voiceover groups. Oil must keep rising to the top, I guess. Some comments are even cutthroat. On top of that, some agents won’t even consider you if you’re active on VDC. I don't share the same vitriol. The only vitriol I feel is towards sites like Fiverr, JustSaySpots, The Voice Realm, Cheapvoiceovers, etc..
The P2P’s – including VDC – are not going away. Some see them as the perfect opportunity to make a living doing voiceovers. Others see them as the bane of the entire industry. What I see, is opportunity. Opportunity to, once a job is finalized for a client, convert said client to a direct client that I take off of said P2P. I have done this times innumerable, and I’ve made many, many thousands of dollars over several repeat jobs from clients who initially booked me through, mainly, VDC. I use this P2P as a funnel. As a tool for direct client harvesting. Adapt and overcome.
Let’s set two things straight. There are a few sites on the web today that facilitate voiceover work, and I strongly dissuade anyone from using them. They include Fiverr, The Voice Realm, VoiceBunny, VoiceJungle, UpWork, Freelancer, JustSaySpots, and the like. Especially The Voice Realm. Cheapvoiceovers.com are a subset of The Voice Realm, but as they have other such trashy sites, I won’t mention all of them, I’ll just mention the main bad boy here. Boy they’re a nasty, juvenile, disorganized bunch. They’re in the UK, and perhaps something is lost in translation by the time it makes it ways through the Interwebs to me, but yeeshk. Dropped them like a hot potato after too long. And JustSaySpots and Fiverr (the F-word in the voiceover industry) are atrocious. They are responsible for the largest erosion of the industry payscale. Sites like these, that are demeaning to the voiceover talents they represent, and that promote bargain-basement pricing, are to be avoided at all costs.
So, the question then is: with all the scandal that VDC has allegedly been involved in, why continue with them? Why feed the beast? Why be part of something that is so apparently harmful to the voiceover industry? Where I personally failed was in providing VDC an interview in 2018 that they used for promotional purposes. I wish my eyes were a bit more open then, and obviously, time changes opinions. I'm no exception. I will continue to use them and audition and produce through them, but I don't feel the same about them that I did when I first began.
One word, and I’ll repeat it again: tool. Again, VDC is a tool. Any tool, on or off the Internet, and just like the Internet itself needs to be used wisely. I can use a tool and not thereby endorse it. I can use a hammer to pound a nail in the wall. I may miss the nail and bludgeon my thumb. I hate that hammer for a while, and I'll have a lasting resentment of it, but I'll probably still use it, because it gets the job done for me. That doesn't mean I will slap an "I-heart-hammers" bumper sticker on my car.
But let me make myself very clear again, for the sake of having it in print. However scandalous their reputation may be, let me make myself very clear again. This is not an endorsement of VDC or any other P2P. I’ve seen lowball rates across virtually all of the P2P’s, and while the majority of jobs I see pay at or near the industry pay scale, there are still a few atrocious ones that make you scoff. I think one of VDC’s only saving graces (albeit a seesaw of enabling underbidding and overbidding, and Voice123 is in the same boat) is that it allows you to state your own price for a project, in line with rates found at the GVAA Rate Guide, Gravy for The Brain’s rate guide, and the newest player in the game, a true fighter for fair rates, Voiceovers.com. These rate guides are critical, and instrumental, in helping me, and you, to figure out what you should be making on any given project for which you’re provided broadcast specs and usage details. One of the main pluses for VOPlanet is that, in its auditioning process, you’re not allowed to bid lower than the stated budget; but you are allowed to bid higher: a defining attribute of an organization insistent on fair wages for voice talent.
If it says it’s an Explainer Video, and the budget is $100 to $250, you should be bidding $300, since that’s around what Explainer Videos pay. A good producer on the casting end of that job listing will recognize that you’re experienced and bidding according to what you should be paid, and they’ll cast you. They may see desperation, novice level, and lack of team player qualities in one who underbids. Or they may not. Is it a crapshoot? Sometimes. Is there balance? Yes. Allow me to explain further.
The exists a choice that we have to make when facing the prospect of impending unemployment and starvation. I've made a choice to diversify and provide for my family. Pursuant to that choice, you can stand over there and be mad on principle, and I’ll be over here making money. Sound good? You can use VDC, as I do, as a tool – and just bid according to the rate guides we’ve been provided, in order to secure for yourself the rate(s) you deserve for the project(s) you are awarded. Granted, this will require you to bid higher than some projects’ budgets in order to be paid your fair wage. Consequently, you may lose out on said project, which I'm sure has happened to me hundreds of times. I am in this to make money and to be a financial success. I’ve also seen the scales balanced nicely. In some projects, I’ve made concessions and been paid a bit under. And some projects I’ve been paid quite a bit over what the rate guides say I should make. Balance. I would also rather be tilling fresh soil there, taking jobs for fair wages, rather than some clucking spring chicken pecking my job out from underneath me with a $100 bid.
Whether you like the P2P’s or not, they are also all run by businessmen who want to make a profit too. It's Capitalism, pure and simple. It is deeply, deeply unfortunate that in the name of capitalism the management of some of VDC’s projects, direct on down from the CEO, have allegedly proven to be shady and unethical. But we don’t have to let the politics of the online voiceover marketplace phenomenon jade us. Yes, there are politics at play, just like there are anywhere else. But we can govern our emotions and figure out what approach is best for ourselves, not condemning someone else for an approach that works best for them (it’s this last part that I’ll cover last).
One I'm really excited about is longtime casting agent and tech entrepreneur Liz Atherton's CastVoices - an online marketplace and casting community that will facilitate and perhaps overhaul online casting, and in so doing, restore some of the feel of VoiceBank that was lost in 2017.
But first, back to quoting.
QUOTING WITH INTEGRITY
Lest VDC dominates this entire blog, suffice it to say that across all spectrums, in every place, whether it’s Voices, Voiceovers, VoiceRealm, Voice123, Bodalgo, VOPlanet, ACX, Upwork, Freelancer, Fiverr, JustSaySpots, SpeedySpots, Craigslist, VOQuent, CastingCallClub, VoiceJungle, and the dreaded VoiceBunny with their ever-fluctuating quality-assurance standards, you’ll find a sliding scale of posted rates. Where clients pull their budgets out of sometimes is beyond me.
Let the rate guides proposed earlier be your guide. Once again, the P2P’s aren’t going anywhere. They’ve proven themselves to be an effective link between talent and seekers. How you handle them as a voice talent businessperson is going to determine your success or failure in the voiceover industry. You can keep in step with those who will help you navigate the estimating field, with solid rates.
Sites like Bodalgo.com, VOPlanet.com and as of this writing, the newest player, Voiceovers.com, are determined to fight for fair wages. They are committed to ensuring that voice talent receive the pay that they should, and are not scammed. They’ve seen the upheaval caused by the acquisition of VoiceBank, and the proliferation of home studios brought about by the internet revolution. They’re determined to be a catalyst for preservation of fair voiceover pay, and they are ethical, honest game changers who desire equity. They join agencies like In Both Ears who genuinely fight for fair voiceover rates. For that, God bless them. I hate it as much as you do when a client expects to pay X when they should be paying Y. I much prefer Y. It's a much nicer letter.
A STEADY STREAM
How you handle these P2P’s – any of them – is up to you. But ultimately, they are all trying to do the same thing: connect voice seekers with voice talent.
I have made so much money through the P2P’s. As a voiceover businessman, I cannot discount their importance to me. Some have ended poorly, but needed to end. For example, I fired The Voice Realm even after having made over $14,000 from them, because I couldn’t tolerate their juvenile behavior, their smutty advertising, their disorganization and condescension. It’s the same thing Marc Scott did. In fact, I even recently discovered a Google ad with my name associated with it, pointing to them, even after I had left them:
Cheeky, VoiceRealm. Bad show. They are underhanded and unethical, piggybacking on my SEO and search terms, like a remora to a shark. (I threatened to bite them legally: we'll see soon if they've complied.) Additionally, many of their clients were frustrating to work with. But overall, using each one of these P2P’s has been a massive benefit to my bottom line, and for at least VDC, the fact that I can convert clients to direct clients afterwards has been of immeasurable value. Had some of my repeat clients never found me through VDC to begin with, I would not have made so many multiple thousands of dollars by providing them service subsequent to, and independent of, VDC.
Also - if you work the system, and if you audition frequently and treat each audition as a paid job, the memberships totally pay for themselves. It is astonishing to me to think that I initially balked at VDC’s $399 (now $499) annual membership fee. You can pay that off with a single job, and then some. My income from VDC alone is closing in on one hundred thousand dollars in just over two years, and all I’ve paid in membership fees is $1197. A sound investment.
The P2P’s provide lots of audition opportunities for us non-union folk, due to the ease of project posting for the client. However I do understand that for some voice talent, auditioning so much can seem like drudgery. I tend to look at it differently and put a positive spin on it. I take the total amount I’ve made in voiceovers, and divide it by the total amount of auditions I’ve done. Doing so averages out to $8 per audition. I perceive it literally like I’m being paid $8 each time I step into that studio to perform an audition. Would you try out for a role if they were paying you $8? I also go into every audition saying to myself “I intend to get these jobs.” It’s an willful intention; not a blind hope.
I can really truly appreciate what many entrepreneurs have said, and that’s “don’t put all your eggs into one basket.” I don’t rely solely on the P2P’s; I rely on direct marketing, repeat business, searching, networking, conversations, and more. The more diverse you can make your income streams, the more adaptable you’ll be, and the longer you’ll remain in business. I am certainly not an expert in this; there are people like Collins who truly pay attention to their numbers and are not a voiceover businessman, but rather a CEO.
GOT VITRIOL? STOW IT.
And now we come to it. Lastly: don’t eviscerate someone for using a different voiceover business model than you. We rise and fall on our own merits. If you see someone continuing to rise, applaud them: they’re obviously killing it! If you can't summon the nerve, are you suspicious of them for sidestepping your system, or some other perceived standard for business success? Or is it jealousy? Are we really a community? Or do we just say we are but we’re really a bunch of backstabbing gossips and hellions? There are more veterans and seasoned professionals on VDC alone than everyone might think. I have been told that there are even industry veterans on Fiverr under pseudonyms, for obvious reasons. Do I hunt them down to expose them? No. I don't care enough to. A witch hunt is not my calling nor right.
The sheepish mention of being on VDC for fear of verbal abuse needs to end, and here's why: when I first joined a local voiceover meetup, I was eviscerated within minutes of arriving, by the leader and others, for mentioning that I was on VDC. To receive such a salient greeting and to know that that subject was hovering in the air for the duration of my very first Meetup there, left me with a sour mouth and an upset tummy. I tried to return to their group a few times, but just felt uncomfortable at the very notion. Consequently, I started my own Meetup with the goal of being more affirming, and I formed the GVAN on Facebook with the same intent.
What happened to me in that Meetup is not an isolated incident. I have seen boiling froth spewn at countless voice talent on and offline who have mentioned that they were part of this site or that site. The mob mentality is alive and well, and I fully expect blowback from this blog yet again. When I see any of this behavior, if I’m connected to such a person online, or if they’re in a group I’m involved with, I'll make a practice of distancing myself from them, because I find them toxic. It’s especially toxic if they’re a voiceover veteran, and they’re directing their vitriol at a newbie, who needs to be informed, not inundated; affirmed, not attacked; lead, not lashed; educated, not eviscerated. I love Tom Dheere’s recent Blog on this. I’ve unfriended some people because their natural inclination is to tear down out of their own misgiving, rather than graciously assume the best of people.
Are we a community? Don’t all of us have the very same goal of putting bread on our table for us and our loved ones? One of the most mature approaches I’ve seen is by Collins, who, even having sued VDC for continuing to promote themselves using an endorsement video that includes him from many years ago (he’s since withdrawn his endorsement), he’s respectful about it. He’s eloquent. He’s articulate. He’s a diplomatic statesman about it. And with the fallout from Voice123’s “upgrades” and CEO Rolf Veldman’s demonstrated apathy (or scorn?) for fair project rates and usage, Collins has been a diplomatic, stately liaison there as well. He treats other voice talent with respect. There are many, unfortunately, who are not: they are far too consumed with just being residually and perpetually resentful – and their tendency is to dump.
Don’t call those who are on VDC or Fiverr or what have you, “sleeping with the enemy”, or sellouts, or turncoats. The terms are derogatory and do nothing to redirect and educate. If we want to collectively stem the tide, let’s have real, frank discussions with those people who invite us to have such conversations with them. In other words, let’s wait until they’ve asked for our precious opinion. Don’t sit behind your computer and judge me, or others, for being on VDC. This isn’t a UK miner strike, and I’m no scab. I want the same things you want: fair pay and ethics and transparency. Don’t hurl accusations at another voiceover artist for being on The Voice Realm (I won't, even though the organization sucks). Don’t form cliques and talk about others behind their back for being on Fiverr. Otherwise, you’re just barging in on foreign soil and are no better than a crusader. It doesn’t make your approach right because you think their approach is wrong. There are reasons why they’re on there, and neither you nor I know their story. Most likely, that person just simply needs to eat. You can withhold scorn now and educate about higher-priced, more delicious food later. Regardless of our own personal opinions about a particular P2P, don’t harass the person using it. They are trying out tools to their own benefit, to provide for themselves and their family.
Now here comes the hard part. Many of you reading this are priming your harrummph. From the moment I mentioned VDC, you started readying your guns, and now you're locked and loaded. You’re sitting back and sighing and clicking your tongue in disapproval, and all kinds of names for me are being bandied about in your brain, for even halfway suggesting that we use P2P's, especially VDC. Let me ask you: will you label me a serial purveyor of bad advice because of this? Or will you trust that I want fair wages too, that I’m doing the best I can, and that you have hidden colleagues to your left and right on VDC as well who are equally trying to provide for themselves? We’re not a cancer. We’re just doing our best. Could it be that I want the same as you, to convert P2P clients to direct clients? Will you extend me the benefit of the doubt? Let's use some Proverbs 15:1 here.
Time to build each other up and stand together and call ourselves a community. The agents are dwindling but still fighting for us. The P2P’s are providing never before seen avenues to connecting with clients directly and in easy to use interfaces. There is so much work out there, and we’re all trying to ethically snag a piece of the pie for ourselves. We all need to eat. This is not a clarion call for kumbaya - but wouldn’t it be nice if we could have a great feast at the same great table together, laughing and drinking together like hobbits.
THAT'S MY FINAL ANSWER, REGIS
If there’s one site that I have stratospheric hopes for, it’s Voiceovers.com. Matt Dubois and his team have diligently sought to not only carve out a piece of the market for themselves to build a successful business, they have done it on the premise that they long to bring a sea change to the rates situation for voiceover artists. And they are doing so.
Their D-CypherVO rate calculator is an impressive, intuitive tool that helps both seekers and talent expect, and quote, accurately. They are an ethical, forward-thinking, listening, and most importantly, transparent organization that keeps their community informed, but more importantly, listens: something that VDC apparently didn’t do, and something that Voice123 has seemingly stopped doing as much.
If I was going to throw anyone’s name in the ring as the P2P that I would endorse, it would be Matt’s. I see big things on the horizon for Voiceovers.com, and it’s been a pleasant experience thus far watching it grow and start to succeed as a contender in this great busy online marketplace world we call the P2P’s.
There. Are we still friends? Or will I be persona non grata?
*ducks to avoid flying 416’s*
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