I produced records in the 90s and I had a recording studio. Often voice over talent would ask me to record their projects and from this I developed an interest in voice over. So I asked an actor acquaintance I knew how to being this career. “oh, that’s impossible to get into!” she said. “I tried it and couldn’t get an agent blah, blah, blah…”
In spite of this advice I put together a demo and began directly marketing my skills to ad agencies and video production houses. “they’ll just throw your demo away… blah, blah…” Soon I was narrating all the videos for Princess Cruises. From this experience I landed an agent.
“Hey!, I got an agent”, I said enthusiastically to my acquaintance…
“Who?” I mentioned the name. “Well, there are agents and there are agents…blah…” I soon booked spots for Apple Computer and Chicago Tribune through the agent.
Next I was accepted by one of the top agents in L.A. I booked a series of spots for a Midwest restaurant chain. A union gig, so I joined SAG. I met my friend while jogging one day and told her the good news. *Silence*
Not All Voice Over Advice Is Good Advice
So what’s the point I’m making?
As you advance in your voice over journey you’re going to meet many people who will give you advice. Most are sincere and well-wishing.
But some are greedy, self-serving, self-interested, pompous, arrogant, jealous, envious, mis-informed or… just plain wrong. And for all the wrong reasons they are eager to throw their wet blanket on your optimistic endeavors.
Whew! I’m glad I got that off my chest!
I’ve never understood this negativity. I’ve heard successful voice talent-who tell you that you’ll never succeed. Talent who work with exceptional coaches-who say coaches are scoundrels. Folks who decry “Pay-toPlay” voice over casting-who are still listed and auditioning on voices.com and voice123.com. And talent who rail about the erosion of voice over rates-who I know work $100 voice over jobs.
Let’s look at some of these naysayers’ targets and discover a more reasonable critique.
Pay to Play Sites Are Greedy Abusers of the Voice Over Community
OK… maybe. But they are also the best place for beginning and intermediate talent to develop their skills while they find work. They function in the voice over world like the minor leagues in baseball.
To book jobs in voice over you need to:
- understand and fulfil the specifications of the job description
- record your audition to broadcast quality standards
- self-direct your performance to assure it is competitive
- master your audio and convert it to an MP3
- and upload the file
You need these same skills to respond to an agent, a casting agent or a direct inquiry from a client. But you don’t want to fail at these tasks on that big stage. You don’t want to strike out at Yankee Stadium.
No, you want to practice your VO curveball skills in Waukegan. Or Schenectady. Or Deer Lick. Because you can burn a lot of bridges if you try learning this craft while being repped by a top agent.
So earn-while-you-learn the required skills on a pay-to-play site in a non-critical environment. Then step up to the majors.
The Rates For Voice Over Jobs Are Being Eroded By the Glut of New Talent
Rates in voice over can vary wildly. You can do a 0:30 second spot for $5 on fiverr.com or for $20,000 as a national union spot.
Here’s the deal. As a client, you get what you pay for. And as a talent, what you earn is largely based on your skill and good marketing. It is a merit-based business.
So an ad agency is going to pay as little as necessary to achieve the quality of results they need to please their client. They are looking for return on investment. So, lower talent cost and more leads from the advertising = higher return on investment.
As a talent, if your read is so effective that the ad produces better results, you are worth more to the client and you can demand a higher rate. It’s that simple.
If some “newbie” is taking work away from you, trust me, it’s probably because they’re better than you, not because they underbid you by $50. And they will soon realize the marketability of their skills quickly and raise their price to market rates.
Get good, stay sharp, then raise your rates.
Coaches Are Thieves, Demo Producers Are Shysters, Etc.
I’ve been a coach and a demo producer in Los Angeles for over 20 years. and you don’t survive in L.A. that long unless you provide top-notch service. But…
The glut of voice over talent has also produced and glut of voice over coaches and demo producers. And each of them has a hidden agenda.
So if you ask a coach why you’re not reaching the level of success you desire, they might recommend- uh, coaching! And if you play your existing demo for a demo producer, they might strongly suggest that you need a new demo.
How do you identify the coach or demo producer that will help you advance your career?
The answer is in the details.
So compare: “you need coaching” to “your variety is good and you voice is clear but you sound a little announcy and your voice acting can be improved”
Or “you need a new demo” to “the second, third and fifth spot are fine, the first spot is not your strongest, the sixth spot sounds forced and is not your style and it’s not going to book any auditions. Oh and the fourth spot sounds out of date. When did you have this produced?”
You wouldn’t go to an auto repair shop and believe a mechanic who says “your car needs to be fixed”. So get a report on the specifics that need to be improved and how (and how long and how much it will take) to improve them.
So Use Your Common Sense When Asking and Receiving Advice
First of all, ignore the naysayers. There are thousands of voice talents succeeding at many levels in this business. If you feel you have the talent and drive, go for it.
Do what’s right for you, right now. Sure, you should only do national, union commercials. Or movie trailers. Or Disney animation. But that just isn’t going to happen at first. So if pay-to-play works for you, advances your skills and earns you a fair rate, then why not use that system to gain experience and credits?
Find out which specific voice over services you need and why you need them. And how explicitly are they going to advance your chances for success. Will a new fishing rod and the knowledge of a new knot help you catch fish? Probably not. But how about knowledge of some hot spots on a certain lake and the right lure? More likely. Don’t be afraid to say “what’s in it for me?”. Then use their services.
Finally, always improve. This is a merit-based business. If you are good at voice over and self-promotion you will advance. Trust the good advice. Be open to a positive critique. There are many wonderful, talented, giving people who can and will help you on your journey. Find them. And trust them. And, if it makes sense to your situation, take their advice.