How and Why Voice Actors Should Take Control of Their Voice Over Industry

Explaining why voice actors have control over their industry and how to take control of it

voice over

There was a time when voice actors had to watch what they said in front of other people because “they did not want word to get around they are difficult to work with and lose jobs because of it”. This applied at a time when voice actors truly had little to no control over the voice over industry. Then casting sites changed things like a big reset button leaving many to wonder if the industry was starting to dissolve.

Why did voice actors lose control so fast?

1. Imbalance of power: Too many were starting out feeling like they never had a chance in the world, as they were expected to follow some preconceived dogma of the 20th century. The Internet was already dismantling other industries, and those who made websites looked like “champions of good against evil”.

2. Forgotten definition of purpose: Those who believed they were held back by traditions in an industry, even if they did get into voice overs because of the “movie trailer guy”, never knew why they had to work to get things like agents and union memberships. All they saw were people saying, “No”, or people who could not get along for reasons that extended years back. Voice actors wondered why they should work so hard to get an agent or be in a union. They had forgotten their definition of purpose, even if now a decade after some trusted casting sites aim to lower prices, they are realizing, “Wait, maybe it is better to have union benefits and better paying work through agents”. Things would never have gotten to this point, if their purposes had never been forgotten.

3. Dysfunctional teams are easier to defeat: It is easy to say that something is “dysfunctional” in a world (no pun intended) driven by data. You can see numbers on what is working and that can be deflating. The data also allows for persuasive arguments, which often involves “counting all the hits and not the misses”. What must never be forgotten is that people are not born to always get along; especially competitive voice actors. What must never be forgotten is what happens when someone takes advantage of their divided unity. It is incredibly easy to stay in charge of people who are always fighting in-house. (Need I post a link to Lincoln’s “House divided” speech?) The same still holds true today.

The unions that survive the longest are those who have weathered change with compromise, while still teaching the world, “You need this union to do the job more than anyone else.” When a team is fighting within itself and that dysfunctional behavior becomes common knowledge, it quickly becomes something that can be used to explain “why they should not exist”. There is no doubt that in 2004, casting sites took off like they did because a large group of people felt like they were playing for a dysfunctional team. Even if they still stayed loyal to the team in private, they could not help but notice what others were doing and try it themselves. It is very sad when people feel so unwilling to work with others that choose to trust computer software services created by less than 10 people.

How voice actors can take control of their voice over industry again

1. Sticking together through difficult times: This one takes a bit of courage, understanding, and filtering out of nonsensical arguments. The voice actor who hates what you say on Facebook, finds you to be rude, or even competes with your voice so heavily that no one can tell you apart; this voice actor may still have the same vested interests in the voice over industry as you, and therefore you should be on the same team. Surely you cannot stand the sight of him/her, but you need that person anyway because him/her works hard towards:

a. Better pay rates
b. Benefits for house and home
c. Financial security

Accept that people will have different opinions than you and focus on what is best for the needs of the team. There is beauty in diversity, if you give it a chance, and that patience for diversity is a requirement for working online.

2. Ignoring those who do not look out for your best interests: Are you using a casting website? Do you know what the owners of the business believe in? Do they put forth policies that help you or hurt you? If you are into voice overs to scratch something off your bucket list, do you know how much you could be getting paid? If you are a career voice actor, do you want to be paid the equivalent of doing rock band gigs at the local bar? Working hard takes energy. Do not put your energy into a casting website that does not look out for you. Do not put yourself in harm’s way with a high-risk/low-reward relationship with a website that never listens to what you really want: More better paying work with less competition. If the website does not have your best interests at heart, why patronize them as an individual, then give them web exposure by complaining about them?

3. Courage to do what you know is right: There is not much to say on this one. If I came up to you on a street and said, “Hi, would you like to do voice overs, and be paid so little for it that you had to work 70-80 hours a week with no guarantee of benefits as you get older?”, what would you say to me? Chances are you would either think I am insane. If you are just starting, with no ties to family or friends, you may take me up on the offer just long enough to eventually resent me. Deep down, you always knew what was “right”, and my offer was “just wrong”.

The courage to do what is right is a collection of everything in this blog: Stick together, work with those who look out for you, ignore those who do not, and remember that despite all differences, we are still in a voice over industry together. Do not let anyone make you forget that with promises of perceived value or perceived illusions of volume of work.

The most dangerous thing about data is that it can be used to both tell the truth and lie at the exact same time. The courage to do what is right means knowing the difference and acting on it.

4. Penetrate the .edu level. Be a mentor! : Yes, if you are one of the best in the industry, you need to start sharing how you got there and what you did in the process. Unfortunately, there are lots of young talent getting into voice acting who believe they deserve to be paid less, now and in the future, because recording from home can be considered “easy”. Those who are in school, and learning how to be an actor, need advice on how to guide their career on a healthy path. They will find out quickly no one pays back student loans on $10 gigs. It is physically impossible.

They also need to know the pitfalls of working with casting websites who do not look out for their well-being. For them…these may be great places to start, but if they want to be paid for the work that attracted them to voice overs to begin with, they need to be guided by a helping, successful hand.

5. Do not be critical of change or what others want changed: The best way to influence positive changes is to be involved with people who roll with changes. Standing your ground is not the same thing as progressive thinking. The best way to influence positive change is to apply those positive aspects of the industry, today, in methods of casting to be used in the future.

Any thoughts on this? Please comment and let us know!

6 thoughts on “How and Why Voice Actors Should Take Control of Their Voice Over Industry

  1. Brilliant! Common sense among other things. I know a lot of low ballers who might be sent scurrying away from the light of this post, but I practically wanted to read this shouting from the rooftops to counter the tidal wave of poorly thought out justifications and excuses to gut the industry from within that many new people coming in the business are expressing. Seemingly everywhere. We do mentor in our market. We do get involved in promoting sustainable creative careers and educating whenever we can. It’s very refreshing to NOT feel like a voice in the wilderness of the current chaos in the industry.

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  2. Terrific. I love the passion and confidence in the tone of this post: very inspiring! It’s a message that everyone in voice-over, whether they are union or currently non-union need to hear. I started out as a field audio engineer. While I was transitioning to being a full-time voice over talent I knew how much each member of the crew was being paid on the national spots for which I was working as an engineer. The PAs doing the vital but lower skill menial work at the time (in Atlanta) were getting $250. How could the person doing the voice over for that same commercial possibly take less than $1000? And yet voice over people do, because they don’t understand the value of work in the production chain. Voice Over is crucial. If the VO is mediocre it throws all of the hard work everyone else does on the project in the gutter.

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  3. Plenty of thoughts: This piece is obviously intended to take a shot at the other casting sites that support the producers and not the talent. It’s true they have wreaked havoc on this business and helped decimate many careers. Voice actors joined the ranks of other creatives like graphic designers, recording engineers, photographers and musicians. On one hand; hundreds of thousands will have a chance to brag at cocktail parties they they’re in “voiceovers”, on the other hand, legitimate professionals with years of experience and mad skills are no longer able to make a living. Businesses change. Adapt or die they say. But what if “adapt” means to take less for the same work, dump your union protections, risk overexposure, forget a pension or healthcare? Is that adapting or is that something else?

    There are many other factors at play here, not just the other p2p sites.

    The technology that allows me to record and send my auditions to agents around the country also allowed all the ad agencies in my town to bypass all the local talent and go straight to the bigger markets in LA, NY and Chicago. That technology also decimated the recording studios and post houses. Not advocating turning the clock back but I used to be able to make a fine living on about 30 auditions per month almost all from my local area. They were spread across almost all of the union contracts. Now there are only background jobs available here. Everything else is brought up from LA. Now I have to have 5 agents in different cities and feed them more than 100 auditions per month. That takes time. A lot of time. And with so many underpriced competitors in the market, you can’t begin to make enough to make it work any more.

    Voiceover work became extremely popular. What had once been the domain of a small group of very talented people became an ocean awash in newbs who delight in referring to themselves as “voice artists” while they post everything they do on social media.

    Celebrity culture knocked out the top earners. I would love to see the percentage of super bowl ads this year that were celebrity driven. Nearly all of them. So the celebs captured all the money at the top of the food chain while hoardes of newbies flooded the shallow end. The portion left to those journeymen talent in the middle evaporated.

    The union lost its grip on the work while it was mired in internecine struggles with the other union. We were essentially paying dues to one union that they would use to fight with the other union. Meanwhile Rome was burnt to a crisp as the newly minted “voice artists” swept in willing to do the same work for nearly nothing not under a union contract. The union seems too cumbersome even in it’s merged state to have any effect on this phenomenon so far. It’s been difficult to get leadership to see that it’s the locals outside LA and NY where the largest and most dangerous erosion is taking place. What’s needed there is visionary leadership. It’s a very tough thing to do and I do applaud the efforts of the current leadership.

    How do we “take control” as this article suggests? Well, uniting together in common cause seems logical but that’s what SAG AFTRA does and they are making no discernible headway. Ironically from a purely political standpoint, most voice actors I know are very much left leaning….except when it comes to putting their money where their mouth is and joining the union. I’ll call that lipstick liberalism.

    We could actively discourage more people from getting into voiceover work with a massive campaign of blog posts that simply showed them the numbers. How many people that spend say $5000 on classes and demos ever get that money back? Very few. How many who spend a fraction of that? Even fewer.

    The question in my mind: Is voice, over? For many of us, it is.

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    • I was disheartened by Tom’s response but have this to say: When unions or professional associations are born, they’re usually born out of common cause. A group of people decide that conditions need to be more balanced and more of a win-win.

      This leadership, if it’s not evident, comes/*must* come, from within the group. In our case, that’s the professional voice artists. We have the most at stake. Why would we “relinquish” or abandon the leadership so necessary in the industry to “just” one group, no matter how formidable their resources, or their stature.

      There can be no argument that unions as they exist are in a period of transition as industries have matured. They can no longer advocate strictly from an “adversarial” position. They are large. Decisions must be arrived at by difficult-to-reach consensus. It’s laborious. To those of us who have become used to dealing with our own individual businesses and the lightning quick pace of choices that must be made, it can seem like a prehistoric way to run a business.

      You’re right in expressing that conditions have changed. That doesn’t mean that the view of the terms of work in our industry espoused by the unions shouldn’t be relayed in an educational fashion at every turn – by the community of actors.

      We owe it to ourselves, to the ones who have come before, and *especially* to those who are arriving to inform them of the hard won lessons of the past decades. They are more relevant now with the level of industry consolidation than they were even when the terms were arrived at years ago.

      There ARE valid reasons for the rates for a national TV spot vs a local one. Valid justifications for higher fees for use in multiple media. Valid, substantive arguments for higher fees, or at least differentiated fees for online content that is public facing, rather than just internal use.

      No one has to be a member of a union to pass this information on. It serves the newbie, as well as experienced actors well, to know they have a starting point in the negotiation process that is based on something other than what the other performer was willing to “bend over” for.

      The more people who have this information, the more individual performers can turn down work that results in unsustainable careers. That’s also part of leadership. Saying “no” to work offered at unfair rates.

      Is voice over? Only for those who have abandoned the community and those efforts to share information and educate themselves and their peers.

      For the rest of us who are thriving despite the noise of the discussion on blogs and social media by continuing to develop our craft, evolving best practices in our business and who simply “keep on keeping on”, every day it’s as we say in Canada: “game ON!”.

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  4. Pingback: 10 Top Voiceover Blog PostsThis Week - March 15, 2014 | Derek Chappell's Voiceover Blog

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