The Never Ending Necessity of Voiceover Agents

Explaining why the necessity of voiceover agents still remains after all the Businesswoman Using Cellular Phone Outdoorschanges in the last 10 years

In the last 10 years, the voiceover industry has undergone amazing changes. Casting websites grew, often basing their main point of difference on the fact that “voice talent can now be their own business, and therefore, they do not need agents anymore”. However, in the last 10 years voiceover agents still exist, and will continue to exist even when the lines of “who is doing what” becomes a bit blurry. It boils down to this one simple, solitary reason:

In the life-cycle of any business, or business owner, at some point they go through the following:

1. They want to make more money and spend less
2. They start to question, “Who really does what?”
3. They start to wonder, “Am I taking care of others more than myself?”

Each time these questions come up the voice talent will need an agent, not just to “get paid better”, but to have someone on their side who can fight for them or represent them.

Work with people who care about your struggle
The ultimate struggle with being a “DIY-voice actor” is not managing “time”. The real struggle is managing “energy” to put up with the never-ending battle to maintain a career. A tired person may not properly represent him or herself and the old saying becomes relevant, “He/she who represents him/herself has a fool for a client.” There are voice talent with extremely great business skills, but the fact remains when you speak for yourself, you will always leave out some important detail because we are quicker to remember what should be said when someone speaks for us.

Therefore, at some point to grow in a career an agent becomes necessary to have that person speak for you and knows your struggle.

The following statement holds true for any industry: When a business owner begins to believe it is time to make more and spend less, the agent becomes necessary to properly confront the greed of a business owner, or leverage if there is in fact an attempt to be greedy. This statement holds true for actors, producers, sports etc. What also holds true is the statement that this behavior is not a “personal attack”. Often at times, when a voice actor is asked to work for lesser amounts of money they view it as an attack on their industry, when the business owner was looking out for him or herself, certainly a behavior to which voice actors can relate. What agents offer is the ability for the voice actor to do what they love most, voice acting, without getting distracted by business owner behaviors that can become somewhat unruly, often appearing to be personal attacks.

The Real Reason People Try to Underpay Voice Actors
It really is quite simple: They often mistakenly get viewed, by businesses and many times newcomers looking for new income, as people who are “just getting paid to talk”. It is viewed as a task that requires no effort, and therefore it is expendable. If it were that simple everyone would do it. There are websites that profit by selling the belief that anyone can do it, but those websites may be filled with people, who find out there is real work involved in getting voiceover work, and suddenly end their love affair with the business.

It is not “just getting paid to talk”. It is marketing, buying equipment, setting up, following up, and following through with a business plan. In fact, when an industry becomes saturated with good marketers there is an increased demand on value of product aka. The Real Deal aka. Those who have been hired for voiceover work consistently in the most-viewed or most-listened to markets. Right now, television viewing still reigns supreme.

Voice actors also deal with the trivial thoughts of business owners, who may think such things as, “I don’t see why voice actors should get paid well for talking, when my [insert blue collar job] gets paid less.” Trivial arguments and numbers that count hits, not misses, are often the weapons of business owners trying to spend less. It does not change the fact that a voice actor needs to be paid well to have a voiceover career.

Dealing with the Real Deal
When you get to a certain level in a voiceover career, the producers who hire voice actors begin to change in behavior. They know already that you have to pay to get the very best. They know from experience what happens to a creative project when you cut corners. They hold themselves to a higher standard. However still, in the back of everyone’s mind exists the thought, “How can I save money or ?”. Especially on larger jobs, with larger amounts of money, an agent should be involved to ask important questions and protect the well-being of a voice talent’s career. The ability to step out of one’s creative skin and step into a business skin, while remembering what the creative skin needs, is almost impossible. There are some who can do it, but only a rare few.

In the past 10 years, alternative methods of getting work popped up often built on slinging mud for certain lower-scale agent behavior, or stating such things as “We will help you get started because they won’t”. The Internet, to date, has been built on rebelling against certain business practices of the 20th century, and it is easy to see why that statement is attractive to those without agents. But when your career gets to that level, when you feel “SO WANTED” and doing the voiceover work makes you “SO EXHAUSTED”, but businesses still try to get you to work for less, it may be time to get an agent.

Your voiceover career should be based on “maintaining a business”. There will be times that you go at it alone, and you should for the practice, but an agent in the mix of your career will always be a necessity for as long as business owners look to save money.

11 thoughts on “The Never Ending Necessity of Voiceover Agents

  1. At the risk of making some folks a little peeved, I think I would have to disagree with the points asserted here. Yes, agents can still be relevant, and can be helpful to talent in certain instances, (mostly to well established talent in the larger markets) but they are not necessary for success in the VO world.

    An agent will usually have a large stable of talent that they represent. An actor can not rely on a talent agent to personally market for them, or hand them work. I think this is the fantasy that many entering the ranks of the voiceover world wrongly believe to be true. “All I need is an agent, then the work will come rolling in!” Not true. Agencies will act as a funnel for certain jobs, but generally, it’s still a matter of auditioning and booking the job. It’s a numbers game, and the competition is fierce – especially in the agency ranks. The odds of booking work in the talent agency pool (with multiple agencies in competition with each other as well!) are a lot slimmer than if talent is working independently with clients, who are contacting you personally (through your OWN marketing efforts) to hire your services. But of course, this requires a lot of self-marketing on the part of the talent, so for some, that can be a daunting task.

    Yes, agents market their agencies and the various talent they represent, but there, you are just one of MANY actors. Unless you are bringing in huge accounts, or have a terrific standing as a promo, animation, or VO series regular, you are only valuable to your agent when you book a job. It behooves them to have a wide array of talent, so that they can try and meet the needs of clients coming to them. It doesn’t behoove the talent so much, to be one in the stable, who has a small chance of booking work. Unless you have a great relationship with your agent, you’re just a name and VO type to them, until they notify you that you’ve booked a job. Personally, I have multiple agents, in various markets across the country, and audition all the time through blanket emails that are sent to everyone (or maybe chosen ones) in their agency, with a small modicum of success. Not the agents’ fault, just the nature of the beast. If I relied solely on agencies for my income, I certainly would work a lot less, and feel as though I had very little control over my destiny as an actor. As an VO entrepreneur, and owner of my own business, I can take charge of my career and be responsible for my successes as well as my shortcomings.

    And yes, if you are an actor who is lucky enough to book a large advertising campaign, or a series, or similar, then an agent (and your union) can be helpful in protecting your rights, setting a decent pay structure and also offer residuals for continued usage. But these kinds of situations are few and far between, even for the seasoned professional working VO actor. Most actors are “jobbers” just going from one to the next. So to base the importance of agency representation on these principles, is sectioning out a very tiny portion of the entire VO acting market, and not taking into consideration the plight of the every day working (or not so much working) professional actor, who’s just trying to earn a living wage, or if lucky, make a good living at his/her vocation.

    In today’s online world, any professional VO actor will have at the very least, a personal website, and some semblance of a marketing presence. Some are better at this end of the business than others, and it does take a long time to build a reputation, SEO, database of clients, and an arsenal of practical tools, to consider oneself as a real competitor in the market. And the savvy business owner, looking to hire quality voice talent at a reasonable (not rock bottom) rate, will save himself a lot of hassle by taking some time to surf the web only to find a plethora of talent to choose from.

    I often think of how hard it must be for a client to sift through dozens if not hundreds of VO auditions to choose ONE voice. That’s what happens when they go to an agency, (or even a Pay to Play site). Or they let their ad agency whittle the choices down to a smaller figure. But, let’s face it, there are many voices out there that can do the job; so wouldn’t it be easier to go and find someone who’s demonstrated what they can do by the examples on their site, YouTube demos, and other sources, (and even ask for a custom demo, if desired) than to go through days or weeks of listening to auditions of the same copy, over and over??

    Top talent, who have had agency representation, and experience in the professional VO world, can still quote standard or OVER standard rates to these clients, and everyone will still feel like they’re getting a good deal. Quality talent can still command a decent or better than decent rate, as the savvy buyers of that talent realize that higher quality and experience is worth paying for.

    I think that agents can be another valuable tool in the set for VO actors, but certainly not the only, or the best one.

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  2. Thank you Realtime Casting for generating this dialog!! I don’t agree with everything in the blog post about when it’s right to work with an agent, but I like some points and I’ll cover that below. I like some of what Debbie has said, too. And Debbie – I hope what you say shouldn’t peeve anyone even if they disagree with you, which also goes for Realtime. I think varying opinions come from different experiences, so sharing that is ultimately helpful for all who end up reading this. I hope people take my remarks as just that, coming from my personal experience and meant to share my perspective.

    First, get an agent because you’re tired? Totally disagree with that. I think you find an agent when you’re ready to compete in the market that the agent represents. And, ready to bring on new opportunities, for both you and the agent. It’s a mutual benefit. An agent does support you, to the degree they can amidst their own workload. They are a partner, and in most cases (not all) only a sideline partner in terms of overall work volume for you as a VO talent. You are your biggest supporter. If you are wearing yourself out running a VO business, you’ve got other questions to ask yourself besides ‘should I get an agent’.

    I LOVE the description of why people who hire voice talent might be underpaying. “Paid to talk”. This misconception is truly out there. We are not only “talking” but bringing talent and experience to the mic. In fact, those of us thriving in this new digital age of VO are not only “marketing, buying equipment, setting up, following up, and following through with a business plan.” I will add big missing element – TALENT!! We are TALENTED voice actors who have learned how to satisfy the needs of producers / clients who want a voice that represents them, their product, etc.

    Finally, to the point of if you are so overbusy that you are tired with VO work, and clients ask you to do it for low pay… To quote from the article/blog, “But when your career gets to that level, when you feel “SO WANTED” and doing the voiceover work makes you “SO EXHAUSTED”, but businesses still try to get you to work for less, it may be time to get an agent.” You need to reconsider some clients. An agent maybe can get involved if you ask for their support. But your VO business model may need some tweaking… And you are your own CEO. And CFO!! ❤♡❤

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    • Thank you Rebecca and Debbie!

      Some thoughts after your generous responses 😀 Thank you so much for sharing!

      Do you think an agent would be helpful when a voice talent must finally decide what work they must say “No” to, in order to advance in a career? Of course, it is easy to say ‘no’ to certain work, but what if one must choose between two great jobs? Even with all the online work available, TV voiceover work is still the best and hardest to come by, especially if one auditions solely online and never works with an agent. (btw…I think when I said “tired” I was referring to the moments when someone must make tough business decisions and how an agent can help through such moments)

      One point Realtime Casting wants to make:
      We would NEVER scoff at anybody’s voiceover work or ability to get work, either by themselves, on websites, or through agents. We do get concerned when certain websites would like to have people believe working with agents is shot at the lives of DIY voice talent. Not at ALL! We also believe certain websites over the last decade have demonized agents because, well, it served them and they were trying to grow. As a result, over the years online discussions of agents became online taboo, as if to say “you are either for agents by working offline OR against agents by using websites”. It’s a shame because it led some great voice talent to hide their online activity. They had two separate business lives out of fear of conflict.

      We do see agents are as a necessity to get the most coveted voiceover work, and if not, there still is an entirely different market that exists for voice actors to make an alternative voiceover living when that coveted work is not available. It’s not fair for anyone to ask a voice actor to choose (and they do not which is why exclusivity makes no sense, also why a talent may get multiple agents contacting them for the same voiceover job that appeared on one voiceover website).

      The possible “conflict of interest” has been marketed well by websites with the “be your own business…who needs them anyway” slogans. That’s a shame because today’s voice talent are self-reliant and more resourceful than ever before, usually 10 times more tech savvy and possessing a greater sense of online business, too, leveraging the playing field. Those who have been working online for the last 10 years will definitely have a hand in shaping the voiceover industry over the next 10-20 years because of it. They may just influence the business practice of voice talent ushering agents into working online because that’s where they want to be found.

      Only time will tell. 🙂

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      • Thanks for the clarifications… I support all of those comments. And I do remember when there was a ‘for or against’ regarding agents and working online… and dual personalities some folks had – literally.

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      • Just to clarify after reading Debbie’s second round of comments, I want to clarify my own comment. I don’t support every single point in the RTC clarification, but I thought I understood in general what you were writing about and I appreciated the positive points you made about today’s voice talents in your final paragraph.

        Here are more of my thoughts…

        Yes, an agent can be helpful if you have two jobs and somehow you have a conflict to resolve. But justly Debbie asks, how frequently does that happen to how many VO talents? The answer to that is a statistical game depending upon specific parameters, but I say it’s very infrequent. Nonetheless, an agent would be helpful… but it’s not a major consideration from that perspective because of the limited probability.

        I don’t really understand what you mean by “DIY” voice talent but I suppose you are meaning those folks without Agents. That sounds strange. We are Small Business Owners, as much as DIY’ers. Being with or without an Agent doesn’t change that.

        I don’t know of any websites demonizing agents at all… But I do remember days in the 2009-2011 period where in some private communications, some talent confessed to having agents and being in the Union, and looking for additional work online with P2Ps via an ‘under cover’ profile, so that they could earn more outside of the union. Remembering more about this period, it was much more reasoned by these talents they used different names online to get more work. I was all stemming from the changing business model with the internet. Less so, issues about Agents.

        I do see lots of arguments on blogs in and FB and LI groups about whether or not it is fair for Agents to charge talents an annual fee for website presence. I disagree with Debbie on this one because I think it’s part of their business operations and should be taken into consideration as a business expense. That’s my general standing on the issue, but I might still pay the fee if it’s an overall reasonable risk for my business and an expense I can write off in tax deductions.

        When I look at the RTC business model, you let talent subscribe to your service if and only if they are represented by an Agent… The Agents don’t pay you for your casting services, the talent does. Correct? But if some client wants to hire a talent listed at RTC, you connect them to the Agent, rather than the talent. Correct?

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  3. Hello, Real Time Casting. Since you are a person writing as an entity, (I have no idea who you are, male or female, gen X or gen y, or what your experience level in the VO business is, or on what side – talent, agent, support, etc. – so I feel a bit at a disadvantage) and honestly, I really am not able to make much sense out of the points you are making.

    Why would a talent have to say “no” to work in order to advance in their career? You mean, say “no” to low paying work? What constitutes low paying work? When you’re a VO entrepreneur, you have great weeks, and lean weeks, so you learn early on that until you have established yourself firmly, it’s beneficial to try and say “yes” to any job that comes your way. It cultivates clients, who will remember you when they have a better paying request in future.

    When you ask about an agent being valuable in helping to choose between jobs…what are you really asking here? Do you mean if there is a conflict of interest with 2 competing companies who both want to hire talent for their commercial spots? What specific choice between 2 great jobs are you referring to? It’s fairly rare to have to “choose” between jobs, or “say no” to something because there is a conflict with another advertiser that you’re already representing.

    If you mean that an actor would have to choose between working solely with an agent, or solely on their own (I have never heard, nor would I ever use “DIY” in reference to a VO professional) then I don’t see the choice. An actor can do both. I do. An agent brings you certain work which you may or may not have access to without them. And there are additional casting director and talent roster sites (not P2P) that may also send you auditions. And there is no exclusivity…you can do it all! I look at my agents as just additional clients. An additional source of opportunity. If you book something through them, then they take their percentage. If you are your own business, spending your own marketing dollars and time, hiring professionals to assist you in your website creation, branding, marketing, etc. then the work that comes to you directly is YOUR work, and is not privy to an agency cut.

    Now, there are some levels of VO talent in the industry who are working in the larger markets, and may get all or a huge majority of their work through their high powered agent. Not every talent agent wields the same power, so you can’t compare William Morris or similar in Los Angeles, with a smaller agency in a small market – working mostly through the Breakdown services or local providers. So if this is the case, and you are a VO pro working almost entirely through your agent, then that is a different story, and I would venture that the league you are in and the reputation and clout that agency has helped you to attain, deserves a bit of the cut if someone contacts you directly. Then it would be appropriate to refer them to your agent. That’s when your agent can speak for you, and make the deal, so you don’t have to talk price.

    When you speak of websites “demonizing agents” or that talent is “hiding their online activity” – I have no idea what you’re referring to. What websites are you speaking of? Here’s what you wrote: “It’s a shame because it led some great voice talent to hide their online activity. They had two separate business lives out of fear of conflict.” I find it rather insulting to have the label “online activity” refer to any voiceover work obtained by an actor without the assistance of an agent. This is a career! It’s not something actors are trying to do secretly, or need to be afraid of “being found out!” There’s nothing clandestine about it. Nearly all VO work today is done online, even through agencies, so I don’t understand the reference here.

    You write: “The possible “conflict of interest” has been marketed well by websites with the “be your own business…who needs them anyway” slogans.”

    Again, please cite some examples here, so we have some idea where you are getting this information. I belong to a couple of the larger P2P sites (Voices.com and Voice123) and I have never seen any demonizing slogans such as this. Perhaps there are other really low ball websites to which you’re referring (Fiver, or similar) and since I don’t do business with them, maybe this reference has ceased to reach my online radar. Sources, please.

    The end to your latest post: “They (those working online?) may just influence the business practice of voice talent ushering agents into working online because that’s where they want to be found.”

    Again, not really sure what you’re saying here. All agencies work online already. They have websites. Talent can even pay agencies a website listing fee to be listed in their roster online. This practice has even been sneered at by some talent, since agents are supposed to take only a percentage of the work they provide their clients and ask for no up-front fees. So is asking for a $50 – $100 or more annual fee to have a demo/photo/bio listed on their website appropriate? For, me, YES, I think it’s appropriate. It costs money to have an online presence and stay relevant. Generally, agents, like talent, are specialists in their field, and spend their valuable time courting clients, not figuring out HTML. They wisely pay someone else to do that.

    I will concede that the top ad agencies and high end producers will still go the agency route a good percentage of the time, especially in the larger markets (LA, NY, Chicago)… Partly from tradition (the way it’s always been done) partly from loyalty, partly from the service and talent they get. Yes, if you’re a top talent, you should have a top agent. But times are changing. Things are always changing, and at a faster rate than most of us can even keep up with.

    But personally, having come from the Los Angeles market, in the days before the internet even existed, when you had to drive to your agent’s office to audition in their booth, and when you booked a job, you drove to a studio and met with an ad agency producer, and the copy writer and the client (and maybe even had a margarita!) to record the spot, instead of going into your walk-in closet, I understand how much easier (in a way) it is today. I now live in Michigan. I work from my home…online. I don’t have to drive anywhere, unless it’s to take my kids to play rehearsal or basketball practice. And I continue to have multiple agents in different markets, maintain my own personal website presence and social networking strategy, audition on the P2Ps when there is something worthwhile, and find no conflict of interest. I do it ALL….Online. So there you have it.

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    • Hi Rebecca & Debbie,

      We will try to reply to this as thorough as possible. 😀

      Debbie –
      We are a small outfit with more than 60 years of traditional market experience and 10 years online experience. You can read about us here: http://realtimecasting.com/about_us/

      It’s a combination of both new and old industry helping each other out. We do have a physical location in NYC at a studio called Lotas Productions. If you are ever in NYC, please let us know you wish to stop by. Jim Kennelly, GM of Realtime Casting, is one of the friendliest guys in the biz. 🙂

      It’s hard to fully describe the many reasons why a voice talent would have to say “no” to voice work. One specific reason that comes to mind is if a talent is “the voice” of some product, but to accept a new better paying job, they have to choose one of the other. Ideally, it would be great to be able to do every job that comes along, but businesses have schedules and there are only so many hours in a week.

      The term “DIY” refers to “do-it-yourself”, and in no way is that a derogatory statement. It’s something talent should be proud of.

      “Demonizing of agents” did occur in forms of marketing done by P2P sites, whether it was obvious or not. The sites proudly claimed to disrupt the industry to give talents a fighting chance because agents treated them unfairly or were greedy in business practices. Siting examples would be easily done by Googling the term “disrupting the voiceover industry”. There’s a whole decade of results to look thru and evidence can be found of this in some of the P2P owner’s very own marketing.

      When it comes to this blog and what we state, there is never any hinting or double-meanings to what we say. We say what we say based on experience, and we say that because there’s no way to answer, “What are you really saying?”.

      Rebecca-

      We cover your questions in a blog done earlier this month: https://realtimecastingblog.com/2014/05/21/answering-voice-talent-questions-for-realtime-casting/

      To quickly answer:
      – Talent subscribe to our service.

      – Talent do NOT need an agent to join. They can use Lotas Prod. (read more about this in the blog)

      – If the talent wants to be represented by their own agent thru the site, the agent has to sign up.

      – The Agents don’t use the website for casting services. Producers do.

      – If a producer wants to hire a talent listed on Realtime, they connect with the talent through the Agent.

      We also see arguments popping up about agents charging fees. Whenever there is a change in the technology that people use to communicate or play demos with, this debate always comes up.

      Voice talent would simply serve themselves by knowing EXACTLY why the fee is being charged, what it gets them, and make sure the business practice is legal in his/her state.

      Every business needs a website in today’s world and a really good one with tech support is not cheap.

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      • Hello again Team Realtime!

        Thanks for responding to my response. I appreciate you staying in the discussion.

        I would love to respond more completely, but feel as though I just need to bow out quickly.

        I do understand what DIY stands for ( I watch HGTV and the DIY network like any other good homemaker out there) but my issue with the term in conjunction with voiceover talent is that it makes it sound as though they are skirting the professional channels by NOT using an agent. My connotation of the term is one of someone who is not necessarily a professional in the field, but learns enough to do a few things. For instance, DIY in painting a room in your house, or changing the oil in your car, or even selling a home without the assistance of a broker. But to classify a professional VO actor as “DIY” cheapens their brand, and makes it sound as if their ability is second rate. That is where I take issue with the term and connection.

        In terms of saying “no” to work….most VO professionals would be so lucky to be able to have choices in which they need to say “no”. Most working VO professionals, even WITH agents, are looking to broaden their horizons, and find ways to bring in more work. I have a very busy roster of work and clients, and I rarely say “no”. I will say, “I can’t get that to you until next week” and if the client needs it pronto, then I’ll either shift my schedule to accommodate, or ask them to catch me the next time. So the example you give of competing brands ( one that I previously stated,) makes sense in terms of commercial work, but usually not in other forms of VO niches, and there are MANY of those (i.e. narration, IVR, web videos, industrial work, etc.) Perhaps not all of the niches are represented well by agents, and can be scooped up well by talent working directly with clients.

        I understand that you’re legitimizing what you do, and that makes sense. I just think the points you have used to support your argument are not very strong.

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  4. Debbie, I like the way you think. My thoughts are along the same lines. I never say no to my clients. I had to once, when I had an exclusive for a product category and someone else in that category came along through an agent, but one no in 10 years is not a trend. Thanks for all the thought you have put into your replies.

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    • thanks for reading and commenting Dustin. I appreciate it. Don’t know why I got hooked on this topic, but just felt strongly about making an alternate viewpoint.

      Like

  5. Pingback: Top Voiceover Articles of the Week – June 24 | 1Mic2Voices.com

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