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!

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Talent Profiles: Juliette Gray

Juliette Gray is the very definition of class, both as a person and a voice. Recently, I had the privilege of producing a new suite of demos for this class act, and she was a true joy to work with. You can hear her here: http://www.juliettegrayvoiceover.com/

Today, Juliette shares her thoughts on the business with all of you.


How did you first get into voice acting?  


I had been working for the movie studios in Los Angeles for 15 plus years and although there were times when I really enjoyed it – there were many times that I felt like a prisoner between 9-6 – sometimes later. I had to leave my identity at the door so when the opportunity came to take a lay off I took it.  After a few months of collecting unemployment, the thought of going back into another office environment started to make me feel physically ill.  Then one day I was in an athletic footwear store (which is an almost never for me) and the person who helped me was British and he told me that he was studying voice over.  I didn’t know what that was but he gave me some information and once I went to the first class I felt a level of enthusiasm that I don’t remember having before.


As a British talent based in Los Angeles, what has been your experience of the American VO marketplace, and how does it compare to the industry in the UK? 


I really don't know much about the U.K. Market, as I never worked in the U.K. as a VO.  From my research I think things are quite a bit different locally although a lot of U.K. talent are crossing the pond to see what we are up to here and how they can get into our market. 

I will say that I have worked for more clients in continental Europe than in England.   That could be because they already have so many British people.  But if I make that assumption then it doesn’t say much about me having a unique style and brand. Its just that I have to work harder at marketing for people over there to find out I exist (therefore I am!) – sorry Descartes.  

I think there is also some disparity being in a time zone where we are not at work at the same time during business hours and the fact that in London at least a lot of the clients like the talent to physically come in.

The good thing over there is a lot of jobs are filled just from demos and not so much from auditioning. As I just completed a Transatlantic reel I plan to market that to England which may be of more interest to them than “just another British demo.”


What do you miss about England?


Not the weather! Although when the sun does come out you feel you have really earned it compared to Los Angeles where you feel sometimes that you wish it would rain.   

I miss the energy of London and having real walking streets where you can window shop and watch people in cafes.  It has a more NYC feeling than L.A. and that makes you feel more a part of humanity which is a good thing.   

Also the quantity and quality of the culture, art, music, theatre, fashion, food is so fantastic in England.  Yes there is suburbia – but so many of the neighborhoods have been gentrified in parts of town that used to be awful and its great that there is more to London than the west end now.  It gives people a wider perspective on what a good life can offer.

The great thing about England is the proximity to the rest of Europe and being able to take short weekend breaks to other countries and other cultures.


What has been your most rewarding VO job?

I love the jobs where I actually go to an outside studio to record and where there is a director and it seems more like a collaboration.  I also love working that way because the technical part is with the engineer and I can concentrate 100% on my craft. 

Working for the U.N. news service on projects concerning the refugee crisis, third world problems like no clean water, and lack of medication, especially for children resonate with me.  I did this job several times a week for a year until they lost their funding and it brought about a visceral awareness of the things that are inequitable on our planet and has made me more pro active in feeling we in the west should be less selfish.


If you had to start over in voiceover, is there anything you would do differently?


I would have done more self marketing. Looking for my ideal client rather than depending on agents and auditions.

It also would depend on when I would have started because the business has changed even during the 7 years I have been involved.  There comes a time with any pursuit where you have to adjust to new paradigms.  I think I have done that.  I still could be better at the tech side of things and I think if I had been I may have gotten further earlier on.

Unfortunately there is not enough coaching in this area.  But if you need it there are people out there who can help.  I used to spend way too much time on jobs that didn’t warrant it because of my poor editing skills.  That has improved but if I continue to get long jobs I will either hire an editor or satisfy myself that I am good enough to do it myself. Because now I realize my time is money.  I didn’t think of it that way in the beginning.

What advice do you have for talent just starting out? 
Firstly, be honest with yourself about whether you are cut out to do this work.  Do you have some innate talent.  If you are not sure, explore coaching and find a coach that is willing to be honest with you rather than just take your money. 
I was told by one of the top coaches quite soon after I started that it really takes 10 years to reach a decent place on the ladder.  So if you really want to do this you have to have patience. 
Your success is partly people getting to know who you are, and building a liking and trust in you. 
Do your due diligence.  Don't put the cart before the horse.  Figure out what your brand is and what you can offer that is different so you stand out.  
Then…… you will take incremental steps with some detours on the way.  It can be expensive so don’t complain because its an expensive career, but no different than a four year college degree, just a different way of learning that requires more of you to make sure you are approaching things for your individual needs.  Its up to you where you spend your VO dollars – a quality sound home studio is a must and coaching is necessary on an ongoing basis. So is keeping up with the trends because styles change.  Watch different news shows to see what the latest technology is and listen to the commercials for products in your demographic.
Most of all you have to believe in yourself to be able to handle the periods where things are slow and use that time productively for marketing and research. 
If you have to work a day job until you start building your VO career figure out a way to be able to fit things in during working hours.  Maybe explain to your boss that there might be an occasion when you have to disappear for a short time to do an audition, etc. and that you will make the time up.  But don’t get resentful about your job as you still have to be there, and that negativity can show up in your reads. 
Most of all, enjoy the journey and the people in the industry.  You won’t find another area of work like this – so make the most of it. 

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Talent Profiles: Rain Gwinn

Recently, I had the pleasure of chatting with talented voice actress Rain Gwinn about her journey in voiceover. We met at VO Atlanta where Rain took part in my X-Session, and subsequently worked together on her new E-Learning demo, which can be found here: http://www.raingwinn.com/

Today, rain offers a few thoughts about her time in the industry.


Does your medical background give you any advantage in VO?


Having a medical background helps with medical narration of course but even in other less obvious ways. Attention to detail, hours on my feet and endurance.


What is your dream voiceover job?


My dream VO job? Wow, it may sound trite but being able to do this work is a dream! I'm so lucky to be able to do something that I love. My long term goal is to do documentaries and audiobooks. I will get there but I'm enjoying learning and growing as a voice actor along the way.


What genres of VO are your favorites?


I love long form, such as audiobooks and eLearning. Anything related to medicine feels familiar and 'homey.' Commercials are fun and exciting!


What advice would you give to new talent?


Patience and perseverance are key because it won't happen overnight.....but achieving any goal is going to take hard work. There's so much more involved than having a great voice, that's just the start! Find a great coach who is willing to invest in you and your career. Do your research! I I started voice acting at 14, I was a disc jockey and did commercials and live events. I had the coolest job in high school and college! But before I got back into this work, I spent hours and hours doing research, getting caught back up. This field can change rapidly so keep up!

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Direction Notes: How to Effectively add Energy to Reads

It's one of the most intangible pieces of direction we get as voice actors: "energy."

What does it mean? Where does it come from....and how do we know if we have correctly judged the buyer's meaning? More importantly, how do we inject energy into the reads that demand it?

When I see the word 'energy' offered as a direction point, it tells me that the buyer is looking for someone who is engaged with the copy. One of the great challenges we face as voice actors is connecting with copy that is often boring or full of promotional hype. Even the most conversational and authentic commercials usually end up with some sort of pitch along the way. It's what we do, and even the best actors among us can struggle to stay motivated when we are faced with price points and hyped up adjectives.

A frequent mistake that I see talent make is equating volume with energy. I've directed many sessions where I have asked for more energy, only to wind up being shouted at. NO ONE LIKES SHOUTING! Be careful not to misinterpret a request for more energy as a request for loudness. They are not the same thing. Moreover, that fancy mic that you and your audio guru of choice have perfectly dialed in is going to pick you up just fine....there's no need to get aggressive. The mic is not impressed.

Other talent will take direction for more energy and try to get there with inflection, usually raising certain words in order to create a more energetic feel. In occasional small doses this can be effective, but more often than not it results in a sing-songy delivery that becomes predictable and monotonous. It can even get a bit announcery if words are stretched in the process.

What's the right way to do energy? Two elements that will help make your reads more authentically energetic are pacing, and most importantly, smile. Pacing requires care, because if it becomes too fast it just sounds rushed, but if you are being directed to be more energetic, try kicking the pace up ten or fifteen percent. Then, if appropriate given the content, add some genuine smile. Be careful not to go overboard and become saccharine, but well-judged smile will add real energy to your delivery as your body loosens up and you start to have more fun. Physicality always adds energy to reads, and smiling is just another element of a physical delivery.

Looking to add energy? Add smile and a little tempo, and don't use volume or inflection as crutches, and you'll be on the right track.

Happy voicing!