Sunday, December 20, 2015

A Season to be Thankful

Christmas is always a magic time for me. The memories of the season never fail to conjure warmth, peace, and the love of family and friends. It is a time to reflect on a year gone by, and to dream of the blessings of the year to come. It is also an opportunity to reflect upon all of the things and people you are grateful for, and to let them know how you feel.

My list is too large to enumerate in in its entirety, and no accounting can ever cover all of those who have contributed to a rewarding and fulfilling 2015. Here, at least, is a partial attempt.

The Voiceover Community

To all of you, my colleagues and friends, thank you for being the kind, supporting, and genuinely decent people you are. I cannot think of another profession where those who compete with one another for work are so genuinely supportive of one another. It never fails to take my breath away when I see how helpful, warm-hearted, and deeply good voiceover people are. It is a privilege to belong to this community, and I am grateful to all of you.

Those Who Make My Job Easier

Jenn Henry, Michelle Falzon, Steve Black, Tony Mack, I'm looking at you. Thank you for being there when I need you, always reliable, and always delivering quality.....I'm honored to have you as colleagues and friends.

My Coaching and Demo Clients

I wish I had more time to coach. I love teaching this business to new talent, and working with established pros to increase their bookings. To all of you who have put your trust in my coaching and demo production services in the last year, you mean so much more to me than you can possibly know. I eat, sleep, and breathe your success, and I feel every up and down in your career as acutely as I feel my own. You break up days spent in the solitude of the studio, and your progress always re-ignites my passion for the business. Many of you have become good friends, and fierce competitors. It sounds contrary to common sense, but few things bring me more joy than seeing you book a job that I've also auditioned for. Thank you all for your brilliance, diligence, and your incredible talent. You are each one a blessing.

The Conference Organizers

Gerald Griffith, James Minter, Randy Thomas, and all the others out there.......what a service you are providing to our community. In 2015 I had the privilege and pleasure of presenting at VO Atlanta, The Midwest Voiceover Conference, and The VO Mastery Event. These gatherings, and the others out there like them, offer so very much to new and seasoned talent alike. I have personally watched people build careers from the information learned and contacts made at these events. Moreover, the chance to commune with people who live and breathe the lives we all share allows us to build friendships and professional relationships that will be with us throughout our careers. I'm looking forward to doing it all again in 2016, and adding WoVO Con to my list next April! To those of you who make these events happen, your hard work does not go unnoticed, and you have my deepest appreciation for all you contribute.

The Society of Voice Arts and Sciences

This young organization, of which I am proudly a member, has brought style, flash, and substance to the voiceover industry in a manner the industry has never enjoyed before. Under the capable leadership of Rudy Gaskins and Joan Baker, SOVAS has created the Voice Arts Awards; an unprecedented celebration of the hard work we all do every day. It was a joy to attend this year's gala in Hollywood, featuring industry leaders from every side of the business, along with luminaries like William Shatner and Malcolm Jamal-Warner. The chance to spend time with so many of my most talented colleagues was a wonderful gift, and the excitement of everyone who won brought home what a value this event is to our business.

The World Voices Organization

This year saw WoVO begin to come into its own with growing membership numbers and more involvement in the greater community. As a non-union talent, I believe we need an organization to stand up for the value of the hard work we do, and to educate new and experienced talent alike about how to preserve our worth. I'm a proud WoVO member, and look forward to watching the group continue to expand its presence under the strong guidance of its President, Dave Courvoisier.

My Agents

To those who represent me, thank you for another year of your hard work, and our shared returns. Thank you also for the work that you do to preserve rates and standards within our industry, in spite of unprecedented pressure. Nothing gets the adrenaline pumping like an agency audition, and each one of you is instrumental in my success.

Online Casting Sites

Despite the continuing controversy in this segment of the business, there is no disputing its ever growing relevance to how we do our jobs. This year saw the big two continue to present well over a hundred opportunities daily to their membership bases between public jobs, private jobs, different genders, and different languages. There is simply nowhere else where talent can go to access such an abundance of work, and while commercial rates continue to be generally less than desirable, this year saw in stark relief what I have been long predicting: The increase of quality narration jobs across online casting platforms, often at rates well higher than union scale. We also saw quality smaller sites begin to stake out a larger footprint for the first time, offering more and more options to the talent base. I'm thankful for these sites, and I'm grateful for the people who work for them and support their members.

My Clients

To all of my clients......thank you for putting your faith in my ability to bring your scripts to life. You put the food on my table, and allow me to live a life that still feels like a dream sometimes. I am honored to have your business.

My Wife, Anna

Perhaps not VO related, (yet,) but without you, I would be nothing. Thank you for your love, your support, and your tolerance. You are my whole world.

Merry Christmas, everyone, and a very Happy New Year to all. Thank you for all the blessings.

-J. Michael

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Joy of Coaching 2: More Profiles of Fantastic Talent

Let's take a look at some more incredible artists I have been privileged to work with as a coach and/or demo producer recently. What a pleasure it has been getting to know these superlative performers!

KATHERINE CRUMRINE  kathvoices.com

Kath has a remarkably pleasant voice that lends itself to both classic, polished reads, and the upbeat, conversational style that is trending in today's VO world. Unfailingly articulate, and with the attention to detail of a master, Kath brings equal parts sunshine and authority to whatever she lends her voice to. Kath's pride in her work is demonstrated in every single read, whether for top national brands or the mom and pop down the street; Everyone gets the same 150% effort when working with Kath. For competence and quality, Kath is hard to beat, which is why she is already among the top booking talent in the online casting marketplace.

C.J. MERRITT  cjmerritt.com

From the moment C.J. first read for me I knew I was in for a treat as a coach. One of the blessings of greatness in the voiceover industry is a natural ear for delivery, and the capacity to break down and interpret a script almost instantaneously. C.J. possesses both of these gifts, and he utilizes them expertly to offer reads that are always suited for the material. C.J.'s sweet spot is as the guy next door, but don't let his natural charm fool you, he has the capacity to bring intensity and gravitas when the material calls for it, leaving the listener with goosebumps. For a modern delivery that defines the current VO scene, C.J. is your man.

DANA RIZZO  danarizzo.com

Equal parts sophistication and smile, Dana is right at home telling you about the latest promotion, narrating a cheerful nature documentary, or bringing an amusing explainer video to life with her abundant energy. Dana's background in public speaking has made her a natural as a voice actor, and her devotion to perfection, (even when that means being perfectly casual in a read,) is an asset for any client. Check out Dana's website to hire her for your next project!

KEITH HARRIS  keithharris.net/voice-over

Keith is one of the fastest-rising talent in the business today, and it's no wonder that he has already amassed an impressive client list. With a prestigious career as an opera performer among his many credentials, Keith's inherent talent as an actor shines through in every read. Equal parts youthful vibrancy and earnest intellectualism, Keith's reads slice through the clutter and put the client's story front and center. Current and fresh, Keith offers an incisive sound that makes the listener pay attention, while exuding warmth and trust. The sky is the limit for Keith....have a look at his website and add him to your next project while you can still afford him!

ALEXANA RYER voices.com/people/alexryer

Alexana's competence as a narrator is second to none. During our time working together, she consistently amazed me with her ability to navigate the most complex technical language and medical terminology with the self-assurance of a teaching professor at a major doctoral university. Alexana's voice is warm and reassuring, letting the listener know that they are in safe hands, and imbuing every element of the client's message with credibility. As a commercial actress, Alexana can shine and sparkle with the best, seamlessly transitioning from happy and light to authoritative and even hard sell. If you want it done right, the first time, consider Alexana for your next project.

SARAH GARDNER  sarahgardnertalent.com

Sarah is the kind of talent who makes you smile every time you hear her voice. With a natural instinct for delivery that few can rival, Sarah's polished, professional voice is an exceptional fit for any genre. While she can dial up classic professional reads with the very best of them, Sarah also has a remarkable capacity to pivot on a dime to a more informal and relatable sound that fits perfectly into a market gravitating towards millenials. Often a one-take-wonder, Sarah is a serious pro who would add value to any project. Hear her now by visiting her website!

Monday, September 14, 2015

Online Casting Unlimited & Platinum Tiers: An Insider's Perspective

Love them or hate them, online casting sites are a fact of life in today’s voiceover marketplace. People from all walks of the business will continue to disagree over what they represent for our community. That said, with all the recent discussion surrounding the top tier memberships on online casting sites, I thought it would be appropriate to explore these levels from the perspective of an insider, and offer some thoughts on when and whether one should consider making such a large investment.

As a point of reference, I was a Platinum member on Voices.com for about 5 years until upgrading to Unlimited on September 1st, 2015. I have been a Platinum member on Voice123.com for about three years now.

There are currently three high-end membership levels available. On Voices.com, the Platinum and Unlimited memberships, and on Voice123.com the Platinum membership.

Let’s look at Voices.com first.

Since February 2014, all paying subscribers to Voices.com, (Premium lite, Premium, and Platinum,) have been subject to a system called VoiceMatch Invitations. This system was created to try to limit the number of auditions submitted to each job, as they were routinely exceeding 200.  What it does, in essence, is restrict all subscribers to seeing 20-30 out of the 40-50 public auditions posted daily that would match a well-filled-out male or female profile. The distribution of the auditions is entirely at random. There is no advantage to being Platinum within this system. You play by the same rules as everyone else. Your submissions are not seen earlier or ranked higher. I cast from Voices.com through a separate account and through client accounts, and I know this to be the case both from the talent perspective and that of the casting director. If I submit the 50th audition as a Platinum, I will likely be somewhere on page 2 or 3 depending on my VoiceMatch score.

The advantage Platinum talents do receive is strictly in search results. When a voice buyer searches for talent on Voices.com, they can do so by searching demo categories or keywords, with filters for gender, age, etc… In all of these search results, Platinum members are displayed first, (with the order among Platinum members determined on a random, rotating basis.) They are followed by Premium yearly members, Premium Lite members, and non-paying Guest accounts, in that order, (and also with the order among each tier randomized on a rotating basis.) As such, Platinum talent can generally expect to receive more private invitations resulting from appearing early in the search results, as well as direct bookings from the contact information on their profile page. Contrary to speculation, all paying members of Voices.com are allowed to post their contact information on their profiles.

Voices.com offers Platinum talent a variety of marketing bells and whistles, including annual press releases, and these can be valuable to very new talent trying to build name recognition. As a practical matter, however, the only functional advantage of Platinum over the Premium tiers is the extra visibility in search. If you have killer demos visible in most or all of the major categories, this can result in ROI.

Platinum costs $2,500/year as of this writing.

The new Unlimited tier, which went live on September 1st, carries all of the benefits of Platinum, with one further feature: It eliminates the VoiceMatch Invitations algorithm for subscribers, allowing Unlimited talent to see all of the public jobs posted to the site that match their profile. In others words, instead of seeing 20-30 auditions per day, Unlimited members will see 40-50, (and more….in my first two weeks as an Unlimited member, I have routinely seen as many as 60 jobs per day.)

To be clear, neither Platinum nor Unlimited offer any kind of advantage on a job-for-job basis. Even Premium Lite members see the auditions at the same time as the Platinum and Unlimited tiers, and the order in which auditions appear to the voice buyer is still determined by VoiceMatch score. So, a Premium Lite member with a 100% VoiceMatch submitting at the same time as an Unlimited member with a 95% VoiceMatch will still be listed higher in the voice buyer’s inbox than the Unlimited member. 

Unlimited strictly provides access to more public auditions. It is still up to the Unlimited member to follow the standard best practices for success on Voices.com if they want to be competitive, as no advantage is given.

These tiers are not a means to bypass other qualifications. Rather, they are a lot like buying a front-of-the-line pass at Disney World. You get the same experience, just with a bit more of a personal touch and a few access advantages……but you still must be this tall to ride this ride!

Unlimited is a $2,500 supplement to the Platinum tier.

Voice123.com offers a single high-end tier, called Platinum.

Voice123.com Premium paying members are subject to a system called SmartCast, which is designed to limit the number of auditions voice buyers see by discouraging talent from auditioning for projects that are not an ideal fit for their skills, and from auditioning too frequently altogether.
SmartCast considers two factors when deciding if and when a subscriber receives an audition:

1.) The frequency with which the talent submits auditions. If you are submitting more than 5 auditions per day, or your percentage of auditions and proposals submitted compared to similar talent exceeds 200%, you may begin to see fewer and fewer auditions from Voice123, as SmartCast will determine you are taking too big a piece of the pie, and other talent should have the chance to submit before you.

        2.) Your pricing choices. SmartCast will determine whether you prefer lower or higher budget jobs based on your bidding history, and you will be more likely to receive those types of projects early in the audition distribution process.

Voice123.com’s Platinum tier has one feature: It turns off SmartCast, allowing you to see all auditions that match your profile the moment they are posted. Because SmartCast is actively designed to limit the number of auditions that talent submit, this provides a distinct advantage for Platinum talent in that they can audition without fear of consequences, and are therefore far more likely to be in the first few submissions for any job they choose to audition for. For quality talent, this leads to substantial ROI.

Voice 123.com Platinum costs just under $5,000/year as of this writing.

A few more things to consider…….

All of these tiers are designed for professional-level talent who are capable of being competitive on all or most of the auditions they submit. I have personally experienced strong return on investment from Voices.com Platinum and Voice123.com Platinum, and am now starting to see ROI from Voices.com Unlimited, which I expect will pay for the premium over Platinum within a month.

Not everyone will see the same results. What’s the old phrase? Your miles may vary?

Let’s be very clear…..these sites are a meritocracy regardless of how much money you throw at them. 

Yes, the Platinum tier on Voice123.com does offer a booking advantage, but a dilettante dropping $5K on a membership on either of these sites is likely to be very disappointed with the results. You must have the skill set, knowledge of tactical best practices for each site, and the ability to audition frequently and produce professional audio in order to see any return from these high-end memberships.

To that end, I always advise my VO students to consider two metrics when determining if this level of investment in an online casting site is likely to pay off, and you can apply these metrics as well.

1.) Do you routinely book at least a job per week from the site in question, having done so over a substantial, (say 6 months,) sample period?

      2.) Does the cost of the membership represent less than what you make from the site in question in an average three month period?

If the answer to either of those questions is no, then your chances of seeing ROI from these tiers is likely limited, and you would be better advised to invest that money in the continuing development of your skills and studio. If the answer is yes to one or both, then these tiers might be a good fit for you.

As the debate over online casting continues to rage, it is more important than ever that those interested in participating in these marketplaces stay armed with the facts. It is unlikely that everyone in the VO community will ever be of one mind about what these sites mean to our industry, and I’m not interested in rehashing a debate where minds are unlikely to be changed. For now, better to keep the information flowing freely, so that all involved can make informed choices.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Getting Started in VO: An Alternative Path

If you are a new talent, you may find yourself struggling to break into the business for any number of reasons. Many aspiring voice actors have the talent and desire to make it in this industry, but are held back by a lack of funds which prevents them from getting the coaching and training they need. Professionally produced demos, (an essential item for any talent who wishes to be competitive,) can often seem out of reach financially. Websites, online casting memberships or union dues, gear and acoustical treatment can all seem far too expensive to someone who is not yet earning at the level of a pro VO. Furthermore, the often career-defining element of building a brand, networking, and making connections who can help you book can be mystifying at the start of a career.

For motivated talent who need an entry into the business, and a little income that can both help pay the bills and cover the cost of beginning a VO career, there exists an option that is becoming more and more common with the advent of social media and the interconnected nature of the business today: Offering support services to established talent.

Talent with longstanding and successful careers don't get there entirely on their own. Long-form narrators would suffer tremendous profit loss if they edited their own audio. If you are in the studio all day between client work and auditions, what time does that leave for marketing and brand building? Even fielding all the emails a working talent receives in a day can be a challenge. If that talent is a coach and demo producer, like some of us are, that volume can easily double. I've had this conversation with many well-known pros, and we all agree on one thing: Our business would grow a lot faster if we could simply clone ourselves!

Fortunately, we don't have to. Today, dozens of aspiring talent have put their knowledge of editing, production, communication, marketing/branding, and the industry in general to good use by offering these services to working pros. These support services certainly don't pay like VO work does, but they offer an entry into the marketplace for talent that may not yet have found their foothold. They earn some money, build contacts and relationships, find themselves on casting lists, and learn by doing. Ultimately, they can apply the knowledge they gain and the hands they shake, (literally or virtually,) to the advancement of their own VO careers, and transition to full time voiceover work with a wealth of experience and insider tips that many aspiring talent would happily pay for.

If you are at a point in your pursuit of VO where things aren't moving as quickly as you hoped, spend some time on social media, (especially in the VO groups on Facebook and LinkedIn,) and see if you have skills that other talent may find useful. You will be amazed at the doors that can open for you.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Talent Profiles: The Joy of Coaching

One of my great pleasures as a voice over professional is having the opportunity to coach and train other extraordinary voices. Whether they are working pros looking to polish certain delivery styles, or new entrants to this exciting business, helping these talents develop their skills, and book work, is one of the most rewarding parts of my job.

Here's a look at some exceptional people I have had the pleasure of working with recently. I hope you will keep them in mind for your next project!

AMY WEIS  amyweis.com

Amy is the original one-take wonder. Her capacity for understanding the content of a script and getting quickly into a well-conceived character is remarkable. Her voice is centered in a wise and professional space, but can easily range from young and bubbly to sexy and sophisticated. With a facility for both commercial work and various narration genres, Amy will bring life to any script.

SAMUEL FLEMING ivoicetoday.com

Samuel's voice defines youthful and fresh. With a style that puts you instantly at ease, while simultaneously capturing your attention, Samuel is able to channel an under-30 sound that resonates with young people from all walks of life. If you are looking for a current and energetic vibe, try Samuel Fleming for your next piece.

KIM HANDYSIDES  kimhandysides.com

Kim is classical quality personified. With a voice as highly tuned and finely polished as they come, she'll surprise you with her ability to transition from familiar tones to a modern conversational style on a dime. Kim owns every script she sees, leaving nothing on the table as she fully invests in making the words seem almost tangible. For guaranteed quality, Kim is hard to beat.

MIKE SCHURKO  voices.com/people/MikeSchurkoVO

Mike is a rising star in the world of VO, with an incredibly bright future. Combining a delivery that is hip, modern, and believable, Mike adds a touch of earnestness and gravitas to selected reads that allow him to compete in almost any genre. One minute, he's telling you about the cool features of the latest smartphone, and the next he is walking you through a tragic scene from World War II, each executed with effortless grace. When your project calls for both class and authenticity, Mike is your guy.

RENA LOVEMAN  voices.com/people/Rena_Loveman

Rena's vocal quality is one of the most unique and marketable I have heard in many years. At her core, she exudes a smoky ferocity that adds intensity and authority to narration pieces, while creating a captivating sensuality for commercials. Highly adaptable to content, Rena can also shift comfortably into a more relatable style that allows her to connect closely with the listener. With a natural ear for delivering a script, and incredible self-direction abilities, Rena is a formidable talent worthy of consideration for any booking.

ROBERT FLEMING  http://teatimevo.com

Robert's voice is extremely current, with an 18-35 year old sound that makes younger audiences pay attention. While he naturally moves through conversational scripts with casual precision, he also has a formality that lends itself well to denser material. Robert has a particular talent for medical narration, able to deliver words with innumerable syllables with the expert confidence of a surgeon. For a young sound that is capable of playful banter and natural authority alike, Robert is an easy call.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

What Can the Voiceover Business Learn from Politics? More Than You Might Think!

There is a lot of money in political campaigns. At the national level, this can amount to many hundreds of millions of dollars for a single candidate. Some is well spent, while much is wasted in pursuit of vainglorious ambitions that exceed public buy-in.

Embedded within the political process, however, are a low-profile group of individuals whose presence on a campaign can often make or break the candidate's chance for success. These people often have vague titles like, "media adviser," "consultant," or, "strategist." Ultimately, they are a highly-skilled group of fixers who can make the most mundane aspirant look electric, and the most scandal-ridden seem virtuous.

These operatives who add tremendous value to a political campaign have one thing in common: While they may draw a fixed salary over the length of the race, they make their real money based directly on the added value they provide, as measured by the media buy of the campaign. The better job they do, the more contributions a candidate receives, and the more money the campaign has to spend on advertising.......a small but significant percentage of which goes into their pocket.

There has been fiery debate recently about broadcast and new media rate structures in the voiceover business. A perception exists that rates are being pushed lower by talent influx and changing technology. Discussions both civil and acrimonious have generally boiled down to a broad consensus that buyouts are bad, and residual pricing based on usage is good.

Is it possible, however, that we may be missing the point altogether? Is there a fairer and more accurate means of determining appropriate broadcast and new media rate structures that accounts precisely for the value our services have added to a project? Can a $150 TV buyout on an online casting site actually be more fair than a national spot at double union scale with residuals?

This author believes the answer is yes to all three questions.

Consider this: The cost of a 13 week national broadcast run for a major brand commercial can run into the millions of dollars. With TV, maybe some cut downs for radio, and Internet pre-roll/social media ads, let's say a major McBurger joint might spend $2M on the ad buy alone.

Union scale for such an ad might amount to around $4K for the various media for a single cycle. This represents one fifth of one percent of the total ad buy into the pocket of the single individual chosen by the company to give voice to their message.

Does that seem fair?

During a recent coaching session with a talent I am mentoring, we had a browse through job postings on a particular online casting platform. We encountered a TV ad for a nursing organization to run for one month in a single market of maybe 50,000 people in upstate New York. Pay? $150. Now, both of us initially reacted the same way: $150 for TV? That's laughable!

Then a little light bulb went on.

What might this particular group be spending to air this project? Maybe.....maybe.....$2500? That might be a high estimate considering the market, but let's go with it. TV only, 4 week buy, small local market, $2500. So, at $150 all-in, the talent receives fully six percent of the media buy.

If the talent working for the McBurger company were to receive the same, their pay for the gig would be $120,000 for a single cycle.

Which one seems more fair now?

It is entirely possible that the debate over rates, online casting, union versus non-union, etc... has completely missed the point. While blanket buyouts are clearly exploitative, especially for large brands, the cycle and usage structures the industry has long relied upon are only a degree less abusive. We are still signing away tremendous added value for a pittance of what we actually contribute to the success of the campaign. Perhaps there is a third way.

Broadcast and new media jobs should be considered in context, not based on holy-writ numbers negotiated in back rooms or dreamed up by entrepreneurs, the majority of which tend to be exceedingly favorable to the buyer.

This third way paradigm applies particularly well to new media like internet pre-roll, YouTube ads, and social media advertising. Tracking usage and impressions is cumbersome if it is possible at all. Tracking the media buy is much more accessible, and a far better barometer of the value we are adding.  A medium to large social media ad campaign might cost $50,000 for instance. While the six percent figure presented in the small market spot example is probably a bit ambitious, one could argue that a minimum session fee plus three percent of the total ad buy would be a fair rate for any broadcast or new media run.

For our social media campaign, that might mean $250+$1,500 for usage. For McBurger, a flat $60,000....and for our nurses in Utica? That $150 suddenly looks a bit more reasonable.

These days, it's not often that we look to politics for good ideas. The great rate debate will not abate any more than poor alliteration. Nevertheless, perhaps this third way offers promise to bring order to the chaos.

Monday, June 1, 2015

The Early Bird Gets the Worm

Find out why early submission is essential in my new article on voiceovertimes.com.


Sunday, March 15, 2015

Imagine No Commercials......It's Easy if You Try

When is the last time you intentionally watched a commercial while viewing a television program?

If you are like most people, you were watching that program on a DVR, where you can fast forward through the commercials, or on a streaming service like Netflix where they don't exist in the first place. Voice talent may purposefully watch commercials as a market research function, but we are distinctly unique in this pursuit. For the majority of content users, advertising is an unwelcome intrusion, avoided at almost any cost.

This is particularly true of the millennial generation, which has consistently rejected all forms of traditional advertising. Most 18-30 year olds have little affinity for traditional television, preferring to steam most of their content. Services that have little or no commercial presence are particularly popular. Watching the boob tube has become a function of disappearing demographic segments that no longer drive commerce.

A recent Washington Post article, (see link below,) cited alarming rates of decline in traditional TV viewership. Similarly, there continues to be a shift away from terrestrial radio to the far less commercial-saturated satellite format. Moreover, statistics have shown that even internet pre-roll advertising on sites like YouTube is impacted by shifting expectations among target demographics. "Skip this ad," options are selected as soon as they are available, and many people simply abandon the selected content if they are forced to watch a commercial against their will. Furthermore, even if they do stick around, the advertiser runs the risk of having created a negative association instead of a positive one, and poisoning the very customer they intended to capture.

Remember, younger generations won't be young forever. In ten years, some millennials will be entering their forties, and their children's attitudes will be shaped by their own.

What does this mean for the voiceover industry?

Let's envision the commercial VO marketplace in 2025. Media will be more interactive, with 3D and its successors becoming more prominent. Content marketing will evolve to capture not just the attention but the engagement of a generation that is unwilling to experience passive advertising. Movie trailers will no longer use voice, instead becoming immersive experiences with the audience selecting content via instant feedback inputs. Broadcast television will have evolved into an almost entirely streaming medium, where advertisers will learn to hawk their wares in more subtle and interactive ways. Vignettes with stars and episodic content will have replaced the classic commercial spot, and any VO present in the content will be narrative and storytelling in nature.

Radio will only be a few steps behind, with cars embedding satellite radio and its offspring almost universally as costs decline. With the vehicle market shifting towards driverless cars in the next 10-20 years, radio itself may begin to see the end of its usefulness, as passengers can engage in video and communications content during their trip without endangering their safety.

Thus, as the voicoever industry remains transfixed today by the holy grail of national campaigns with heavy residuals, we may be entering into a period of rapid transition to a VO world where commercial work essentially no longer exists.

Terrifying yes, but it doesn't mean the end for us.

As commercial VO begins its inevitable decline, we can take solace in the sectors of our industry that are growing rapidly; E-Learning, internal corporate narration, internet video narration and explainers, animation, video games, and audiobooks.

These segments have seen exponential growth in the past few years, and the evolution of media suggests that the growth will continue unabated for the foreseeable future. As impressions and consumer buy-in to these segments grow, we have the opportunity to begin reimagining rate structures for new media that will allow the transition away from commercial work to be less intimidating.

This should be a particular point of emphasis in the video game and internet video spaces, as these areas are already overtaking broadcast commercials in terms of audience. As this new media rises, talent, and those who represent us both among agencies, unions, and guilds like World Voices should begin  insisting that pay climbs in a manner commensurate with viewership, as the added value of the VO in these media achieves the same critical mass as it currently has in broadcast work.

The industry is changing, as it always has. As talent, we must prepare for what is next, lest we find ourselves overtaken by it.

Are you ready?


Sunday, February 22, 2015

Why Online Casting Sites Are The Future Of Voiceover, But Low Rates Don't Have To Be

In the past ten years, the online casting marketplaces for voice talent have exploded. Between Voices.com, Voice123.com, bodalgo.com, and others, there are 300-500 jobs being cast daily through online sites, via public and private channels. This number easily equals, (and probably exceeds,) all of the agency jobs being cast through more traditional means on a given day.

With this exponential growth have come the teething pains that accompany any game-changing paradigm shift within an industry. The fear of change has been, and remains, quite palpable. Hyperbole is mixed with legitimate concerns about the business model, including rates, competition, ethics, and the direction in which the people behind the online casting sites wish to see the industry go.

Naturally, this kind of uncertainly leads to personal divisions among talent, and occasional sniping. Many of the loudest voices of antagonism can be found with surprising ease on the front pages of sites trumpeting cheap voice talent, and with hundred dollar a holler rate cards hiding in plain sight. None of us are saints in this regard, however it is quite clear that wherever there is vitriol, hypocrisy will not be far behind.

Alas, I stand guilty. Infrequently, but too often, I have found myself tempted by the easy money of a low budget job that will only take a few minutes of my time. I offer no defense; It is sheer greed. Typically, once the job is completed and I have been paid, I find myself feeling a lot like I feel after eating fast food; Guilty, and a little sick to my stomach.

Every time I accept substandard pay.....every time ANYONE accepts substandard pay....it harms all of us, and it sends the message to the online casting sites, and clients at large, that if they press hard enough, we will buckle.

The allure of quick and easy money is not only damaging to our industry, it is also entirely unnecessary. We have been led, falsely, to believe that the business is inundated with talent,  and that if we don't take whatever is offered, someone else equally qualified will.

Well, maybe someone else will indeed accept the bargain basement rate, but I suspect they won't be as qualified as you think.

It is a pernicious myth that the supply side of the voiceover business is saturated. It is true that tens of thousands of people nationally and globally are positioning themselves as voice talent. It is equally true, however, that the number of these people who are truly talented, well-trained, technically savvy, and possessed of business intelligence is very marginal. I would be shocked if more than five thousand people in the USA are earning a full time living as voice talent. Even that number may be high. A quick listen to the auditions on an average online job will show around 80% of submissions to be non-viable for reasons either technical or ability-based. Even the vast majority of talent with agency representation do not make a living in voicoever.

What this means is that we, my fellow talent, are in control. We just don't know it.

I have said many times, and will say many times again, that there is far more work out there than there is quality talent to do it. In other words, we have pricing power, and it is up to us to exercise it. The time to do so is now.

Here are two thoughts that will terrify a lot of people.

1.) The online casting sites aren't going away. They will only continue to grow and become more profitable, wielding proportionally more influence in our industry, and over how we do business.

2.) The online casting model, by which I mean the concept of an easy-to-use portal for those who need voices to find voices, is the future of this business. That doesn't mean that it necessarily has to follow the same structure as it does today, or that it will even be the same companies at the forefront, (though it  may well be,) but it means that the idea of aggregating jobs through clearinghouse sites is the way this and every other freelance business is going, and we had better get used to it.

That means that it is incumbent upon us, as those who hold the trump card of supply, to shape the future of how we are presented to those with demand. It is also our responsibility to watch our own backs, because no one else is going to do it for us. The people in charge of the online casting sites are not bad people. I know many of them personally, and I can tell you that they are good-hearted, genuine people who love their families and kids just like we do. Nevertheless, they are business owners, and they would be remiss in their duty to their employees and investors if they did not maximize profits to the best of their ability. If you expect companies to place anything above profit, I invite you now to return from the 1950s and rejoin us in the real world.

This means that we must shape the future of the system from within, not by assailing it from the sidelines. Far better to be the man, (or woman,) in the arena.

It means that we must make clear to the powers that be that the brightest future, from which they can generate maximum profit, is not a high volume/low cost model that degrades quality and leads to burnout, but a world with fair rates and motivated talent.

How do we do this? First and foremost, we draw a line in the sand on pricing. We collectively and publicly agree to never charge a per project price below a certain level. I have my number in mind, and we should begin a conversation on a figure that represents the minimum value of our talent and skill.

I believe that only through collective refusal to work for less will we be able to effectively establish a permanent fair pricing model. If clients have no choice, they will pay.

Let there be no doubt that any business with the budget to secure airtime or produce an internet video or casual app game is fully capable of compensating the talent who will add final value to the product in a manner that reflects the profit they will derive. Companies pleading poverty are pleading falsely.

Whatever has happened in the past, let us declare a new day in our industry, and refuse to work for anything less than a minimum number that reflects our training, our investment, and the quality of our work. I believe we can achieve a consensus on a figure, and I will be the first to publicly pledge to abide by it. I encourage and challenge my fellow talent to do the same.

In addition to the professional minimum, we should work together with organizations like WorldVoices to develop standard non-union minimums for different types of work, and we should educate our peers when they are not adhered to. The message of talent pricing power should be shouted from every rooftop.

We should also utilize the online casting sites thoughtfully, and be aware that there are ways to maximize our profitability through them, and protect the value of our work.

There are many myths being propagated about the terms and policies of the online sites. Allow me to address some of the more harmful ones.

Rights and Usage:

There is a common belief that it is the policy of the major sites that every project must be surrendered in perpetuity in all media to the client. This is not necessarily true.

Voice123 states clearly that you are agreeing to a final price for the work based on the terms posted by the client. This means that if they list that the project is for national  TV broadcast, you are surrendering lifetime rights in that medium. However, the language is clear in that you are only surrendering the work for the indicated usage. If it were optioned for radio, internet, or other usage, you would be well within your rights to bill for additional compensation. Obviously, it is up to you to monitor this, which is tricky, but the language is not as broad as people think. Furthermore, you are perfectly able to add clauses in your proposal limiting rights, and can add language indicating that accepting your proposal binds the client to those terms.

This last point is even more relevant to Voices.com. The sixth point in their terms of service states that all projects are full buyout unless otherwise agreed in writing. I recently had a student of mine encounter an issue with a client who used those terms to hold him to a very low fee for national broadcast rights. I contacted Voices.com about the matter, and they agreed that while the boilerplate TOS language is the default rights agreement, we are welcome to add language in our proposals that supersedes the standard terms.

Therefore, despite common belief, on both of the major sites we retain ultimate control of our product.

There also exists the often repeated canard that Voices.com does not allow you to contact the client directly, and that SurePay is an evil mechanism to keep you from ever getting at the golden goose of repeat direct business. This is wrong in two ways.

First, while Voices.com does not allow you to include your contact information in your proposal, based on talent feedback to that policy they explicitly agreed to allow us to post our contact information on our profile pages. I have been hired directly from my page outside of the system hundreds of times, as have many of the other leading talent on the site.

Furthermore, once you book a job on Voices.com, you are given the client's contact information under the "Payments" tab, and they are given yours. I have been personally told from people at the highest level of the company that their policy is strictly that any job posted to Voices.com should be completed through SurePay, but that we are more than welcome to contact the client directly after the job has been booked and work with them outside the site on other projects. Contrast this with the policy of some of the secondary and freelance sites, and it looks downright benevolent. Heck, even agents don't let you take full fare from your client after giving them ten percent of the fist job.

So long as this policy doesn't change, Voices.com is showing a very balanced approach to preserving their financial interest, (which is their job,) and being reasonable with those who generate their profits. Moreover, Voices.com has taken the lead in at least setting some sort of minimum, with no work running through the site for under $100 gross. While we need to move this number upwards for the sake of our collective prosperity, Voices should be credited for at least holding this line.

Let me be clear; The online casting sites are not on your side. They are not against you either. They are not good or evil, wrong or right. They are simply marketplaces where we trade our wares, and like any vendor at any marketplace, we pay the rent so that we can make a profit.
In this industry, there will always be hands in our pockets.

Our duty is to make sure our hands are deeper in theirs.