Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Winning the War.....Victory Requires Supporting Honest Casting Sites

Type "hire voiceover" into Google. Go ahead, I dare you. What do you see?

Here's what I saw when I did just that a few moments ago, in order of listing from top to bottom, (excluding sub-pages of sites listed here.):

Schoolofmotion.com (with an article describing Voices.com as for clients with 'Daddy Warbucks' budgets.)
Launchparty.org (with an article suggesting Fiverr, Voices.com, and Voice Realm.)

Page one of Google. Paid and organic. If, like 95% of the people hiring voice actors today, you know nothing about our industry, this is what you will first find when doing an internet search. Results can vary as searches get more specific, with individual talent sites often populating the organic parts of page one, but when it comes to the most-searched term in our business, there is nary a talent site, agency, casting director or union to be found. 100% online casting platforms or sites leading to them.

Let that sink in for a moment.

Let's be honest with ourselves. Very few individual talent or agencies have the resources to devote to competing for SEO space with these sites, which are likely spending 5-6-figures per month on AdWords and other SEO tricks. SAG/AFTRA has the resources, but lacks the inclination, (though maybe five years from now when the exact same thing is happening to everything but the highest-profile on-camera jobs, they will.) Therefore, the status quo is unlikely to change. Unless and until the union or a similar labor-minded major player gets in the game with millions in funding, casting sites will grow larger and larger as they aggregate more and more of the vast non-union voiceover market, (with one, of course, trying to break into the union side as well.)

That's why it is disturbing how many people within our industry continue to paint all sites with the same brush, categorically rejecting the concept of online casting sites with paid memberships. While we all dearly wish we could go back in time and let everything pass through our agents in a fully relationship-based industry, technology has changed the game. That doesn't  mean that a prominent place for traditional casting and self-marketed work doesn't exist, (SAG/AFTRA will continue to control the very best work for a variety of reasons, and one can build a great business by doing their own marketing,) but simply that the majority of voiceover work will almost certainly go through online casting platforms for the foreseeable future. The results speak for themselves, and no amount of wishing will make it otherwise. Unless a buyer has a preexisting knowledge of our industry's traditional work channels, like any other good or service out there they will almost certainly begin by searching for it on the internet. This is not behavior we can control.

The good news, however, is that the behavior of online casting sites and their parent companies or investors IS something we can control, and it is already happening.

It may not seem like it given the general mood of the labor side of our business, but we are winning the war.

Voices.com's takeover and absorption of Voicebank, (after the predictable lies that such an absorption would not happen,) stirred the industry to action. Alliances of agents have formed, new and well-funded alternatives to Voicebank are launching, existing casting sites are modifying their behavior to adapt to talent demands, and well-funded new players are exploring the marketplace. In their typical ham-fisted fashion, Voices.com's mendacity is leading to the exact opposite of their desired outcome of industry domination.

The quality of jobs on their platform continues to diminish, and the quantity is not increasing the way one might expect with all of their efforts. The agents they list from the acquisition are a fraction of those who were there before. Their overtures to the union have been largely rejected, and have created massive pushback among prominent union members. Top talent continue leaving the site and many more continue removing their profiles. When Googling Voices.com negative reviews populate the first two pages of organic results, leading any company doing their due diligence to think twice. Voice actors are not a dime-a-dozen. We are not ride-share drivers easily replaced and subjugated. We are powerful because we are the product these sites offer, and there are only so many of us who can do this job well.

Beyond Voices.com, Fiverr.com has become so toxic among the respectable elements in the voiceover talent/agent/producer community that talent who work through the platform risk being actively blackballed. Very few recognizable talent use the site as a result.

The community of voice actors, agents, casting directors, and others stakeholders has the power to change behavior if and when we fight back. BUT, we must contest the field of battle if we are to succeed.

To paint all of the pay to play sites with the same brush is to refuse to fight. When we lump Voice123.com and bodalgo.com in with likes of the exploiters, when these sites act strictly as matchmakers, we surrender the battlefield to the whims of those who would take mind-numbing commissions and attack our way of life.

Yes, Voice123 is related to Voicebunny, which is a low-budget high-commission platform, but they are distinctly different business models attracting distinctly different talent and buyers in most cases, and Voicebunny is transparent about the shockingly high commission they take. Moreover, the parent company, Torre, actively keeps the sites separate and avoids poaching jobs from 123 for use on Bunny. I'm not a fan of the Voicebunny model, but as long as Voice123 is maintained as a matchmaker-only professional-level site, it is something to be supported. Frankly, if the management at Voices.com had demonstrated the foresight to separate their rapacious Professional Services division from the core site when they first had the idea, they would likely not be in the credibility sinkhole that they find themselves in today.

Ultimately, organizations like SAG/AFTRA and WoVO are right to lend their help to agents, casting directors, and traditional industry players, but if they want to truly join and win the fight they must found and fund their own entries into the classic online casting space, or partner with the existing players who operate ethically and transparently. A union aligned with bodalgo.com or Voice123, or Voice Casting Hub, or Cast Voices/A360 (which is entering the on-camera space as well,) or all of them would be a death blow to the ambitions of those who would use the industry for their own ends. Failure to do so is to ignore the reality of shifting consumer behavior when it comes to hiring voice actors and to concede the massive online casting marketplace to the bad guys.

As talent we must continue to offer feedback to our agents, the union/s, industry guilds and other stakeholders about how important their involvement is not just in restoring the traditional world of casting, but in mounting that list of search results when someone wants to "hire voiceover."

The world is waking up to the threat posed by certain pay-to-play and discount casting sites, and talent are moving the needle of site conduct like never before. Supporting our agents, SAG/AFTRA, and other brick and mortar players is essential....but we must also take the battle to the front lines, and ensure that online casting is run for the profit and benefit of everyone, and not a greedy few. There is no fighting against technology and consumer choice. We storm the beaches today, or tomorrow the enemy will be even more entrenched. It's our choice.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Predictions for 2018

Who doesn't love an old fashioned New Year's predictions article, right?

Here are my thoughts on what we have to look forward to in the voiceover industry in the coming year.

1.) Having an abundance of audition and work pipelines will become more important than ever. If you don't have at least five regular sources of potential work, you don't have enough. What is your 2018 strategy regarding agents, production company rosters, online casting, networking, SEO, and more? Make sure that your stream of opportunities is diversified. In our shifting industry it is folly to put all of our eggs in one basket.

2.) The online casting marketplace will be in greater flux than ever. Two sites remain legitimate sources of legitimate work. Two others require a lot of nose holding to get to the legitimate work, and new players are popping up faster than ever before, a few of whom may have a chance of sticking. The Voices/Voicebank acquisition has set off a well-funded rush to create alternatives, and has spurred existing competitors to up their game. Look for a stream of big news in 2018, most of which will be positive for the talent community. 

3.) Commercial rates will remain under pressure due to greater access to talent and, more importantly, declining ROI from traditional advertising. This trend will continue, while non-broadcast narration and eLearning will hold steady or get stronger pay-wise as there is more demand than supply in this side of the business. Are you just chasing unicorn jobs, or are you building your business with less glamorous but more consistent work?

4.) VO Atlanta 2018 will be an unforgettable celebration of our industry as over 600 voice actors occupy an entire hotel. May God have mercy upon the staff!

5.) Minority voices will continue their ascent. Talent whom ten years ago would have been considered niche VOs are now booking daily and making big bank. This trend will only accelerate as buyers clamor for diverse voices to reflect shifting consumer demographics.

6.) A distinct three-tiered marketplace will more fully emerge in 2018, consisting of LA/NY-based union work at the highest end, a large and thriving quality non-Union marketplace upholding market rates and using the copious resources available to learn to negotiate for things like residuals and limited licenses on their own terms, and finally the ever-growing cut-rate marketplace typified by sites like Fiverr. As much as we often get animated over the latter of these, I predict we will see a settling of tensions in the New Year as it becomes clear that each market is composed of distinct buyers and talent, and that while some crossover exists, it is only at the margins. The WalMart, Macy's, Louis Vuitton analogies are somewhat trite, but not entirely without merit. 

7.) Political VO will continue to experience an unprecedented boom in our current 24/7/365 election cycle. I've never seen an off-year as busy as 2017, and wherever you stand on the current Oval Office occupant, his presence will drive political VO business through the roof during the 2018 mid-terms. If you aren't active in this genre, it is worth a serious look!

8.) Acrimony in the industry will diminish as panic over the way our industry is evolving calms and we each become more readily able to discern how to turn change to the advantage of our businesses. We will still call out predatory coaches and demo mills, and be ever vigilant with regard to the companies and platforms that wish to profit from us, but I believe that in 2018 we will look back on 2017 as a year that proved that when forces set out to exploit us, we rise up and meet the challenge, no matter how well-funded their attempts may be. In an industry where the product walks, talks, (a lot,) and is limited in quantity and quality, we control our own destiny, and we remain united in our desire to lift all of our ships together on a rising tide of success and prosperity.

9.) Oh, and the Patriots will beat the Saints in another Super Bowl thriller, 35-34, 

Happy New Year, everyone!

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Talent Profiles: Bob Glavin

Today I sit down with the extremely talented Bob Glavin, he of multiple 2017 Voice Arts Awards nominations. Bob is one of the more interesting people you will ever meet, with an eclectic background as a performer, and a burgeoning career as a voice actor. Here we discuss his journey in the voiceover world.


You've got a big-league background as a DJ, isn't that right?


*laughs* Big-league? I don’t know about that. I did some radio work. And I have been fortunate to DJ (work) in some of the Best and Biggest clubs around the country. I had Great times for many years! Learned a lot about mixing re-mixing and speaking performing in front of live audiences. Memories to last a lifetime!


How did you get interested in voice acting?


 I’ve always been interested in Voice-Acting since I was very young. I would listen to old time radio dramas like War of the Worlds, The Shadow and when was a teenager I think CBS radio had a radio drama like that and more shows but with conventional today stars or at the time. I used to record and transcribe Promos from TV that Ernie Anderson, Don LaFontaine and Joe Cipriano would voice. Oh, Casey Kasem too! So I read a few books. My first was Take it from the Top by Alice Whitfield, the second was There’s Money Where Your Voice Is by Elaine Clark. After I read that book I said I’m going to make a demo tape. Now at the time demos were on tape. So I took a 6 week VO class in NYC. Now this was the early 90’s so it was much different from today a few commercials and a couple of promos on same demo tape. *laughs* I remember it now!

Anyway, after the class you get a produced demo tape and the opportunity for a major NYC agent listening to it. So I did it.
Also had the opportunity for my demo tape to be heard and critiqued by a number of professionals in the VO industry at the time at a panel put together by Backstage magazine which included another VO idol of mine Thurl Ravenscroft (voiced many commercials the voice of Tony the Tiger, Narrator of “You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.”) The whole panel really liked it! You couldn’t say who you were though. It was just for critique. My demo tape was picked! Mr. Ravenscroft said “He should be working!” I remember one lady said actually I know who it was but I’m not saying “There is some regionalism though” but the panel all chimed in and said “that’s an easy fix!”
After the event I walked out and there he was getting in his limo. I had to tell him it was my demo tape. So I said “Mr. Ravenscroft that was my demo tape you just heard and critiqued. He said “Was it you young man”? I said “yes sir can you give me any advice about the voice-over business”? He said “Don’t stop learning, listen and follow your dream. You’ll be Great!” I really wanted to continue my voice-over career now!

Back to the agent she he listened to it and she really loved what I did.  She pulled me aside and said to me “I think you should move to NYC!” She kept in contact with me through a few weeks and sent me on a couple of auditions. Booked a couple of things. And I wanted to move to NYC like she suggested but didn’t because I was very much in love and getting married and my fiancĂ© was starting a career in television news as a television news editor and aspired to be a professional singer. So I chose to stay in New England and support her career while I DJ’d and remixed at nightclubs, because I was making good consistent money! And I said to myself and her, "Oh I’ll get back to my voice-over career in a few years." Probably when she transfers to a station or network in NYC. Well, years past and things changed. We got divorced for reasons I won’t go into. But it was amicable. Hmmm maybe that’s not the right word *laughs* Oh you know what I mean!
Why NYC? Because of Randy Thomas! You can quote me. I’ve been listening and following this woman's career for I don’t know 30 years or more! Her voice and delivery is simply perfect! I always knew that somehow our roads would connect!
Make no mistake NYC is fast! I’ve been on auditions all over the city! It takes time to get there so you have to leave very early because of the subway system, trust me! A couple of times my agent here sent me on auditions and I left my condo early enough and there were subway problems so I was literally two minutes late for my appointment and they wouldn't take me!
What genres of voice acting do you have a passion for?
I have a deep passion for Promo, Trailers, Radio Imaging, TV Affiliate oh and Live Announce. 
I know it’s my destiny! Many VO coaches actors I respect including yourself tell me I have got the talent for it. However, I know Promo always changes and I look forward and change with what read is popular or booking. So I continue to study and work with the best VO coaches. 
What's your dream VO job?
My dream job would be a few actually. The voice, or announcer of a network, TV stations, Radio stations promos or the voice of major TV show, game show, a lot of trailers. Live announce too!
Knowing what you do now about getting into the business, is there anything you would have done differently?


Oh yes there is. I wouldn’t have gotten married and would’ve I moved to NYC or LA sooner! So for anyone reading this and is in or close to a relationship similar to mine. Please listen to my advice. Do for yourself first! No matter what! Don’t let anything or anyone get in your way! Follow your passion! Follow your dream! Also, I don’t think that I would’ve done my demos quickly. Meaning one genre right after the other. I would’ve spaced them out a bit. It’s all about the voice acting isn’t it? 
Yes, it is!

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Only Human: How to Use Service Recovery Effectively When You Let a Client Down

When things are going well, it's easy to start thinking you are a superhero, capable of handling Herculean tasks without breaking a sweat. Saying yes to every client request becomes second nature, until you have your day scheduled down to five minute blocks trying to maximize and monetize every second. It can be a rush, and greatly satisfying when hard work comes to fruition, but sometimes we ask too much of ourselves.

Recently, during my EURO VO Retreat in Barcelona, I had one of those moments where I overestimated my ability to handle everything at once, and it almost cost me a fantastic client.

With our beautiful Studiobricks booth set up at the villa, and having the occasional hour or two between presenting and hosting duties, I decided booking some client sessions wouldn't be a bad idea. The first couple went off without a hitch, but on Tuesday night I woke up restless at 2AM, knowing that I was well behind on email, administrative tasks, and other minutiae that probably could have waited. I tried falling back to sleep, but after thirty minutes abandoned the effort and went to the living room to work on my laptop. I figured I would work for an hour and then be able to crawl back in bed until 6; Fortunately, our son Tom had been sleeping well, so this sounded like a reasonable plan. Instead, I worked until sunrise, getting into marketing and demo editing after the emails. Before I knew it, breakfast-time rolled around and it was time to put my host hat on. Okay, I thought, I can do one night with no sleep. No problem.

I had scheduled a 90-minute live-directed session with a major new client for that afternoon. I presented on conversational reads in the morning and my energy was fine, but by lunchtime I was starting to fade. Nevertheless, the show must go on, so at the designated hour I set my laptop, 416, and travel preamp up in the booth, and opened a session awaiting the client. Connectivity at the villa was not the best, so the client was already a little irritated by the occasional mis-connects and drop outs. But, the session went well. We got through about a dozen scripts in a little over an hour, and everything seemed good to go. I had a quick listen to the raw file through the computer speakers, and not sensing anything amiss, (I'd done this a thousand times, right,) I endured the slow upload to Dropbox and fired that bad boy off.

Then the panicked email came. Something was wrong with the audio. I sounded off-mic and tinny. Impossible, I thought....I was on a 416 with a decent pre in a quality booth, and I like to think I know my way around a mic. Just to be sure, I grabbed my all-star audio engineer A.J. McKay to have a quick listen with me and tell me I wasn't nuts. Problem was....I screwed up. Rushing from hosting duties into the booth, on two hours of sleep, I had failed to do one simple but crucial thing.....change the input on my laptop from the computer mic to the preamp. The client had over an hour of audio recorded on the very high-end, industry-standard voiceover mic which Sony builds into every new Vaio. OMFG.

Not only that, I had training to do that afternoon and a dinner to host later. There was no fixing this until the next day. The client was understandably livid, having hired not just my voice but my credentials and experience as well. It was easily the biggest VO Fail I've had in the past decade, and I was about to lose the account.

I fell on my sword, dropped the bravado, and explained what had happened and why they would have to wait. I fully expected them to toss me out like a radioactive potato. But, I sincerely apologized, and I offered to comp them 100% of the work that would be done throughout the week, until I returned to my studio, regardless of whether they kept me on or not. This was several thousand dollars worth of spots. I also offered them schedule priority for the week I returned, and told them I would clear any times they needed since they were now behind on delivery.

When I stay at a hotel, and their laundry service ruins one of my shirts, I expect them not just to pay for the shirt but to make a gesture of apology as well. A smart hotel will do something that has a quantifiable value, like send up one of those $30 bottles of Champagne that they charge $100 for through room service, or offer a free dinner. It makes you forget their mistake, and builds trust through a show of good faith. You suddenly like them again, and not because they just threw money at the problem, but because they demonstrated contrition by taking something out of their own pocket that they didn't have to.

Smart companies engage in service recovery that delights the customer. Everyone screws up once in awhile. It's how you handle it that determines whether it ends the relationship, or gives you a chance to build new trust. In your VO business, when you fail, when you try to be super-human and realize you aren't, and when your clients suffer because of it, fix the problem, and then show them your sincerity by doing something they won't soon forget. You might just save the relationship.

Anyway, I've gotta run. I have another dozen spots to do for that client in just a few minutes.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Talent Profiles: Jodi Krangle

I recently had the privilege of working with the absolutely brilliant Jodi Krangle at my Las Vegas Conversational VO workshop, which led to our collaboration on two spectacular new FIRST CLASS DEMOS. (http://voiceoversandvocals.com/) Jodi is one of the most gifted talent I've had the chance to direct.....I joke that she made me feel like a potted plant most of the time, just nodding my head in agreement with her flawless reads. In this interview, we get to know Jodi a bit more, and find out about her journey in voiceover.


How did you get into the voiceover business?


 I've been a singer all my life (http://www.jodikranglemusic.com) so being in front of a microphone - both with recording or live performance - is something I already loved doing.  Way way back, before the Internet, I remember seeing a newspaper ad that mentioned voiceovers and how you could just "take this course" and then "go on to great things" (I'm paraphrasing).  I took their "course" (I use the word loosely), at a downtown Toronto warehouse-like classroom with a bunch of other folks and then they handed me a cassette tape they'd recorded as I tried things out, that made me sound just like everyone else in the class (I remember it being SUPER bland!).  And then they wanted something like $2000 to continue on with the course work and end up with a demo.  I didn't have that kind of money so it fell by the wayside. I had no idea what kind of scam I'd narrowly avoided.  

In 1995-96, I volunteered my time to the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) reading books on to tape because I thought it would be fun.  And at that time, it really *was* tape - reel to reel.  I found the operation of the equipment to be almost more interesting than the voicing.  That was my first hint that I probably wouldn't end up voicing audio books. ;)   

I ended up working in web design, and then Internet marketing for clients around the world up until 2007.  I woke up one morning and just couldn't do it anymore (WOW was I bored! And by then, Google was basically the only search engine in town).  It was time for a change.  I searched on the Internet for more information, found Julie Williams' voice over message board, volunteered some more on Librivox.org ... and things progressed pretty quickly from there.  I was still an entrepreneur working from home.  It was my focus that changed.  And a lot of the things I'd learned about the Internet up to that point - and about running my own business - helped to get me where I needed to be in my voice over career.


You're based in Canada, right? How does the market there differ from the US


It's really not that different, other than the fact that there's a smaller market here.  And Canadian content laws (to keep the 9 billion pound elephant on our doorstep from taking over our media. ;) ).  Since I'm just outside of Toronto, that's my "home" market.  And it's a lot like NYC or L.A. in that you really need to go into the studio when you get a gig here.  The client wants to be there.  I've been in some fantastic studios, met some amazing audio engineers and worked for some really fun and prestigious clients here.  But honestly, since the majority of my work these days is with people who *aren't* local to me, I spend more and more time in my "padded room" (i.e., professional home studio). 


What was your most memorable job as a voice actor?

I tend to get a lot of work as a "straight man" to counter the funny happenings on screen.  In one instance, I was the end announcer on a spot where a woman decides to take pole dancing lessons to "break out of the ordinary".  It was for Ontario Turkey.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C4mbxYkVMFE  (There's a slightly understated kind of tongue in cheek humor here in Canada that I have always admired.) That was one super fun session.   

Here's another commercial where I once again ended up in that role: https://vimeo.com/62899763 (for Goo Gone Oven Cleaner).   

I don't know that I have *one* most memorable one.  But I've done everything from voicing an instructional video for a conception aid, to the voice of a fairy queen in an animated cartoon, to a singing ladybug (reminiscent of Billie Holiday) for an iPad app.  Every one of them has been memorable in some way. I'm sure in another 10 years, I'll have some more interesting stories to tell!  It's different every day - which is what I love about doing this.


The landscape of the industry continues to shift. What are you doing to prepare for the future?

I'm researching and contacting potential clients directly, reaching out to them personally.  Agencies often have a set roster that are their "go to" people and my goal is to be on a lot of different rosters, all over the US, Canada and Europe.  Each company has access to different types of projects and I love the diversity.  I'm also focusing on adding content to my website to help with SEO and I participate in Facebook, LinkedIn & Twitter.  And along with that, I'm a member of both Voice123 and Bodalgo.  I don't audition often on either of them, but when I do, it's for projects I know I have a good chance of landing.  And my ratio is pretty darned good.  There's a lot to do - so I take it one step at a time.  That way, it doesn't become overwhelming.  


What advice would you give anyone just starting out?

Coaching is so very important.  It's a constant - not just to keep track of trends, but to keep track of *yourself*.  (I still get coaching and will continue to do so until I leave this business - which won't be for a LONG time.)  The thing that makes you unique in your delivery of the words you speak, is something that can be hard to tap into when you're a beginner behind a microphone, in a completely manufactured environment (and occasionally in front of a crowd!).  First, you need to overcome that manufactured environment and trust your own imagination.  And then you need the techniques that will make all of it sound natural.  

Maybe I'm deconstructing this too deeply, but ultimately, it's about delivering a script with *your own* authentic voice.  A coach will help you find it.  And your "voice" may change over time.   But you can bet - even if a client can't quite put it into words - they can hear your authenticity (or lack thereof).   Hone the craft and you'll never regret it - even if a particular coach's instructions don't resonate with you in the end.  In that case, keep searching.  

Oh - and if any coach tells you he/she can teach you how to do this over a weekend and will get you a demo when you're done - for the bargain price of only x amount of dollars (which is generally astronomical) run away REALLY fast.  There's no easy fix or fast track here.  If you're serious about this, the rewards can be wonderful - but it takes time, money and dedication.  Sustainable careers don't start without investments - of at least *some* kind.

Have a look at the World Voices Organization -  https://world-voices.org/ - an industry association specifically for voice actors, where you can find resources, advocacy and support.  They have an excellent mentoring program that can help too.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Voices.com Wants to be the Facebook of Voiceover; Here's Why They Might Become MySpace Instead

Like a hornet's nest that has been smacked unexpectedly by a baseball bat intent on disrupting its tranquility, the voiceover community has been in an uproar over the past two weeks since news of Voices.com's acqusition of Voicebank.net was announced to the world. The combination of two large job aggregators which operate in different spheres of the marketplace seemed portentous of doom and domination at first, in line with the publicly stated policies of Voices.com leadership, (the domination part, at least.) The shock to the talent community was, and still is, palpable.

Nevertheless, as with all things, time affords perspective. While the news is still fairly fresh, the nest remains intact, if dented, and the collective buzz is starting to settle into a determination to protect and preserve....and, perhaps, to swarm.

Voices.com has openly stated that they want to take over the world of voiceover, becoming the reflexive choice for buyers both union and non-union alike to source their talent. The acquisition of Voicebank.net gives them an entree into the realm of union VO, ostensibly moving them closer to their stated goal. They promise that nothing will change with the way Voicebank operates. If this is the case, the addition of their resources, backed by Morgan Stanley, could serve simply to grow Voicebank and increase opportunities across the board. In a vacuum, this would be a good thing.

That said, when I hear their promises not to start adding new and various fees to the agents and other consumers using Voicebank, I'm reminded of the old fable about the scorpion who asked an alligator for a ride across the river. "Sure," the alligator said, "but you have to promise not to sting me, for if you do we shall both surely die." "I promise," said the scorpion. Halfway across the river, the alligator felt a searing pain in his back. The scorpion had stung him. "Why did you sting me?!," the alligator asked. "Now we will both die." All the scorpion could say in reply was, "It's my nature."

Voices.com has demonstrated over and over that their only abiding purpose is profit. Despite numerous promises and overtures over the years, they have systematically eschewed the value of good will in order to squeeze every possible cent from talent and buyers alike. You can make an argument that this makes sense if their sole purpose is to drive the value of the company higher and sell to a larger interest, or launch an IPO where the balance sheet is the only thing investors care about, but few companies thrive without at least some measure of good will between themselves and those they work with or employ. A visit to any VO industry forum will reflect the overwhelming negativity of talent opinion about the company....a negativity which I'm given to understand has left Voicebank's leadership stunned and saddened at the guilt by association that has attached to a brand that was once embraced by talent and agents. Furthermore, a glance at Voices.com's review page on Glassdoor.com offers a chilling insight into the company culture. The vast majority of reviews speak of a soul-sucking profit-at-all-costs atmosphere leading to disillusionment. This is not the foundation of a healthy company.

Moreover, while the leadership would like to believe that voice actors are as easily replaceable as Uber drivers, this is belied by the fact that the greater portion of the work on the site is being consistently booked by a couple hundred talent. This realization is surely one of the drivers of the acquisition of Voicebank; As the available labor pool becomes more cognizant of the company's actions, it will become more disillusioned. Acquiring Voicebank, while looking like a masterstroke on the surface, may also be an act of preservation, hoping to firmly lock-in a larger pool of quality talent to the Voices.com mothership to hedge against the prospect of having a big shiny platform that has been abandoned by those who can do the work well.

Ultimately, though, Voices faces the danger of irrelevancy. If that's a little hard to swallow while they are staggering around throwing millions of dollars in various directions, I understand.....but think about it.

*Voice123.com charges roughly the same for a membership as Voices.com, and offers a similar quantity of work and a higher quality of work in most cases when compared with Voices.com. Voices.com enforces a 20% commission masquerading as 'escrow' against talent, (you can quibble over whether the talent eats this or the buyer pays it, but it comes from the overall budget regardless.) Voice123.com charges no commission to talent or buyers, (though a strictly optional and legitimate escrow system would be welcomed by some.) Bodalgo.com also follows the latter model, and while there is less buyer traffic on Bodalgo, the rates are screened by site ownership and the quality of the jobs on offer is almost universally high.

*Voices.com offers buyers the ability to have their jobs 'managed' by an account manager from the site, (people who, despite being good and well-meaning folks in my experience, have no industry background,) who then curates the talent presented to the buyer, and does everything in their power to prevent the talent from having contact with the buyer. For this service they retain 40-50% of the client's overall budget according to a recent interview with their CEO. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IfLy654-h2k&app=desktop) Meanwhile, long-established agencies charge about half this amount to perform the same function, fielding a roster of talent selected strictly on merit, with no regard to how low they are willing to bid for a job.

Given these facts, it is hard to see what value Voices.com offers to buyers when compared with rivals Voice123.com and Bodalgo.com, and when compared with traditional talent agents and casting directors who have years of industry experience. Why would a buyer spend 20% more to use Voices.com than they would spend to use Voice123.com or Bodalgo.com? Why would they pay a Voices.com 'manager' double what an agent would charge? Especially when the same pool of talent are generally available on the other sites and on those agency rosters? It just doesn't make sense. Voices.com adds no value to the process on the buyer side, and as this becomes clearer to those who hire from the site, it's hard to see why they would keep their business there.

Those of you who know me know that I supported Voices.com for many years. I still believe that the concept of online casting will be the driving force in our marketplace for years to come, whether that is in the form of current players, new initiatives incorporating agents, casting directors, and the union, or some other shape that we haven't seen yet. I once very sincerely believed that Voices.com could be that platform, and that all boats could rise together under a tide driven by the ease of use of the site, and the broad reach of their SEO. Indeed, there's no reason that even now Voices.com could not make necessary overtures and concessions to the talent community and traditional casting community in order to integrate everyone into their vision of prosperity. Perhaps the leadership of Morgan Stanley Expansion Capital can overcome the instincts driving the corporate culture in London, Ontario, and recognize that establishing rapport with the people who drive their business will be good for all involved. I fear, however, that the rapacious lust for money that has permeated this company may ultimately prove too entrenched. After all, it's their nature.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Bidding on Online Casting Sites: How to Maximize Your Pay

It's one of the more controversial aspects of online casting platforms: Bidding. Many industry professionals believe that talent bidding against each other drives rates down, and surely in some cases it does. It would be nice to say, "I won't work on a job that requires a bid," but taking such a stand means losing out on a lot of potentially high-quality work, and ignores the fact that almost every other freelance industry has moved to a model where contractors bid against each other for jobs. I'm not here to pass judgement on whether it is a good thing or a bad thing, but ignoring economic realities and buyer preferences has helped lead us to a world where corporations working against our interests are trying to control more and more of the marketplace. Even the good sites acting strictly as matchmakers, (Voice123, Bodalgo,) allow clients to post jobs with a budget range or a budget to be defined. It's up to us to submit a professional bid, and hopefully this article will help you maximize your earnings.

With this in mind, let's look at three common types of buyer on online casting platforms, and some scenarios that might help you submit a bid that will win the job. Surprisingly, this doesn't mean going low in most cases.

Please note that the following scenarios assume the usage and length of content is fair for the range provided.

Scenario 1.) The Budget-Minded Buyer

Budget Listed: $250-$500

Let's face it, while some buyers falsely cry poor, many are producing low-impression-count jobs that don't justify a high budget for voiceover. I always think of the hypothetical example of Joe's Pizza in Piscataway, New Jersey. Joe's got a store in Jersey, and maybe one in Connecticut too. Joe has posted his local radio commercial job on an online site himself, not through a production company or ad agency. You're dealing directly with Joe. The spot will run for 13 weeks, and Joe's total cost between production, ad buy, etc.... is about $15,000. Maybe less. Joe thinks $500 sounds like a lot to spend on a voiceover for something with his total budget, and he's probably right, though he's open to going that high for a voice he falls in love with. Ultimately, though, Joe would be comfortable around $300, which is 2% of the total production cost.

Now, think about this: How much does McDonald's spend on an average commercial, start to finish including ad buy? A million dollars? Two? If you were getting 2% of that pie you would probably be pretty happy, right? 2% of Joe's overall spend isn't a lot of money, but it's probably fair for a limited run in local markets. Joe's looking for a $300 bid, and you might consider accommodating him here.

Signs of a Budget-Minded Buyer:

*Posts the job directly, not through a production company or ad agency.

*Posts as an individual; Joe Smith versus Medical Holdings, Inc.

*Language and direction in the post are colloquial, not corporate-sounding.

*Seems to have limited knowledge of industry terminology, and how things work.

Advice: Use your judgement, and don't compromise your standards. Some Budget-Minded Buyers may be too budget-minded to justify a bid in the first place. That said, assuming the entirety of the range is fair for the work posted, this is one case where bidding on the lower end of the range is likely to yield better results, though you should still avoid going to the low number or below, as even a Budget-Minded Buyer is prone to being turned off by what looks like desperation.

Where would I bid? $350 for a 13-week run. Maybe some reasonable accommodations for re-buys.

Scenario 2.) The Garden-Variety Production Company

Budget Listed: $500-$800

Probably 50% of jobs on online casting sites are posted by production companies, and sometimes ad agencies. You can often recognize them by use of an adjective followed by an animal as their company name: Glittery Dinosaur, Impetuous Monkey, Jazzy Gopher, and so on. Okay, sometimes the names are more conventional, but I digress.

Production companies come in all shapes and sizes, but let's assume this one is your garden-variety, middle-of-the-road production house in a big city, posting a job for a web ad for a medium-sized regional brand to be used for one year.

Our Garden-Variety Production Company is on a fairly defined budget that is part of the overall bid they submitted, (yes, production houses often have to submit bids, too,) to the end client. They have allocated up to $1,000 for voiceover, but aren't telling you that. They'd love to find Johnny Goldenthroat or Jill Perfectpipes for five hundred bucks, but having sifted through the mounds of garbage auditions online a few times before, they understand that the 10-20% of talent who are usually competitive tend to charge a little more, (though they've gotten lucky once or twice.) So, they've set their budget between $500-$800, figuring they will end up at the high end of that range, and hoping their ideal voice doesn't come in over their number, though reserving a little cushion in case he or she does.

Now, in my personal experience casting from online sites, most jobs come down to about five talent who really fit the spec well and have executed a competitive audition. Production companies are like Macy's buyers. They like the big brand names, but probably aren't going to spring for a Ralph Lauren suit unless it is on sale. At the same time, if they see something in the discount underwear bin, even if it's Victoria's Secret, they are likely to pass. If they have five decent reads to choose from, the person bidding $500 and the person bidding $1200 are both probably out.

This scenario is the paradigm for the classic online casting bidding advice of aiming for the high end of the middle.

Signs of a Garden-Variety Production Company:

*The word "Productions" in the name of the client.

*The word "Agency" in the name of the client, (this likely means ad agency, not talent agent, who don't generally put their jobs online.)

*Another company name with a 'creative' feel.

*Broad budget ranges.

Where would I bid? $725 for one year license, 110% optional re-buy.

Scenario 3.) The Deep-Pocketed Corporation

Budget Listed: $500-$1,500

In the final scenario, we find the Holy Grail of online casting clients: The Deep-Pocketed Corporation who has posted their job directly to an online site. These companies are my bread and butter online, and probably comprise about 30% of the work available on these platforms.

The Deep-Pocketed Corporation typically posts their job directly because they realized they needed a voiceover for their internal presentation, training video, lengthy e-Learning project, or B2B sales video, and somebody in the responsible department said, "Well, there's gotta be a site for that, right?" Let's hope they chose the right one, but regardless Linda in HR or whomever may be casting still thinks of VO as glamorous, TV, radio, HOLLYWOOD! This is a Fortune-500 company, or close, and all they care about is getting the best voice. They have a budget in mind, but it is the back end of a six figure appropriation for the project, and they aren't married to it....in fact, the large range indicates that they don't really know what this stuff costs. Oh, and they need it yesterday.

The individual responsible for choosing the voice for this Deep-Pocketed Corporation is often a senior manager or junior executive...sometimes even higher on the food chain. They are quality-minded in everything they do; The kind of person who sees a Gucci bag that they kind of like, hears the price, and then wants it even more because it seems so EXCLUSIVE. And, oh yeah, how cool is it that they get to play Simon Cowell for an hour and choose who gets to the final show!

My friends.....these are the clients you want.

Signs of a Deep-Pocketed Corporation:

*Company name is something serious and soiphisticated.

*If it's an individual, their name is followed by a title, or letters of academic qualification.

*On certain sites the company name has been hidden by request.

*NDA required.

*Very precise in delineation of terms for submission and payment.

Where would I bid? $1,800 for one year license, 110% re-buy.

As you can see from these examples, bidding doesn't have to mean lowballing. Most clients will respect a confident bidder more than a passive one, and a lot more than a desperate one. As a buyer, I've personally passed on talent who were competitive when their bids were suspiciously low....thinking, "What am I missing?"

I wish we lived in a world where every client had a set budget and this didn't require so much thinking, but until we do, polish up your poker game, understand who else is at the table, and play your cards well. You might just end up with a big stack of chips!