It is a REALLY small voiceover world!

Quick blog by Steven Lowell of Realtime Casting giving numbers on the voiceover industry and what makes it a REALLY small world

realtime casting voiceoverThe thing people usually ask me when I write blogs like this is, “Oh really? How do you know?”. It is very difficult to answer this question in full. Mainly, I state, “I just know. I did the work to find out and will continue to work at it.” I started 20 years ago and even back then it was a small industry. It just took longer to meet the people you looked up to, unlike today. Since 2007, I have made website casting my career.

I actually thought 7 years ago that “EVERYONE” was trying to get the jobs I have had at past websites. I felt/still feel extremely fortunate. But I had assumed incorrectly. Still, I learned a great deal about business, life, and people, and do not regret my incorrect assumption for a second.

Yet, when you dig deeper beyond trends and “what people say”, there is a whole new world to think about….and its REALLY small.

I learned numbers like what I share below. Numbers do not tell the entire story. You will often see businesses state, “This is a 300 million dollar industry!” Keep that number in mind.

More dry numbers…online

  • The average life of a startup talent online who decides to quit voiceovers is 2-3 years
  • There are currently about 150,000 profiles online for more than 300 casting sites (not taking into account duplicates, of which there are many and many unknown aliases)
  • Out of this 150,000, only approx. 13,000 are actively participating in the voiceover industry on a daily basis
  • Approx. another 17,000 voice talent treat the voiceover industry as a hobby or something to do for fun (I will touch on this later)
  • Out of all the numbers above, only 6000-10,000 talent world-wide can work in some form of “recording the voice for money”
  • Approx. only 3000-4000 of the above can work full-time in voiceovers (all kinds)
  • 84% of the world’s media is created in North America
  • There are more than 160,000 actors in SAG-AFTRA
  • Only 6% – 10% of the work that appears as union online for freelance sites without agent representation is union
  • People are exposed to an average of 240 ads per 2 hours of web browsing, daily. These ads require voice actors.
  • However, 74% of the US population still relies on the good ole’ TV to tell them what to purchase, while online trust is a dismal 32%.
  • With 13,000 daily active talent for 300+ websites, you may be competing with the same 43 people everyday.

Demographics for online casting

  • The most common age demographic is 45-54 years of age
  • The least common age demographic is 18-24 years of age
  • The gender split online hovers around 45% men/55% women
  • The most abundant workforce in the United States is currently, “Working mothers from home”.

Remember that number?

Remember that $300,000,000 industry? If everyone of the 13,000 voice actors decided, for some reason, to equally split the money each one would be guaranteed $23,076 USD.

That is why the industry is competitive and that is why voice talent can be some of the most fierce capitalists in the world. I only realized that we all had that in us, after a 3-year stint on Wall St. I truly see the above age demographic has to do with the high cost of starting up as a voice talent from home. Those who knew the industry offline are doing most of the work online, too.

The gender split is interesting because online casting offers more jobs for 45-55 male voice actors, but there are more female voice actors than men.  It is very hard to fight data displaying “what people seem to want”. Businesses will usually roll along with statistics claiming it is “customer service”, but it is really tap dancing around age and gender discrimination when a business  uses data as a reason not to hire a person.

For example, 65% of website community managers are young women between 25-32 years of age. I was/still perform as a unique community manager as a male, aged 41 years old. Given the above demographics, I may be “statistically correct” for my industry.

I hate numbers.

What the f*** does all this mean?
There are not many voice talent in the industry, for the amount of work being offered. What you get paid depends on your choices that shape the industry.

This means that the industry has not changed as much as common trends worry about. It is good to worry because it leads to action, but the concern should never become toxic. In truth, rates are a bit under attack online due to the early methods of getting businesses to use websites. However, these businesses mainly worked online and equally had very little money to work with.

  • Typically, 79% of tech startups die after 20 months (close to the same rate as an online voice talent startup)

Ultimately, there is a finite number of people who can work full-time in voiceovers, or simply make enough to hang around, while there is an infinite amount of voiceover work stretched between your “Craiglist guy messing around” all the way up to your “television ad”.

So who are you spending your days getting work with?

LA said NO WAY to the Internet. Why and why it will change?
I asked this of a producer recently, who anonymously stated:

“[The LA market] is turned off by on line casting. Since LA is a huge market with a plethora of excellent talent, I find that most producers would rather go straight to the agents and casting facilities they already know and trust here in town. In my humble opinion, there’s really no value added for producers in LA to use an online casting service. I’ve noticed that there’s a perception of online casting as being for only non-union actors or strictly “amateurs.” It’s a tough perception to change for producers here in Los Angeles.”

Now, you may read that and it gets your blood boiling, or not at all, but you cannot be miffed by how people feel. It happens for a reason. All text aside, this very much sounds like to me:

“Why should I go online to contact someone, if they live and work a few miles away?”

What will stop global acceptance of the voiceover casting industry online will be localization, personal relationships, and the fact that (just like a Broadway show), dialogue scripts must remain a dialogue. All those who like talking to people, rejoice.

I also know non-union websites originally marketed by disrupting the agent market. With family in Los Angeles belonging to SAG AFTRA, as well as experiences in customer service emails over 7 years, I always sensed when I talked to people in LA about what I do, they did not see the point or value in it. In fact, today when I think of the question, “Who gets online non-union voiceover work?”, I feel compelled to answer, “Great voice actors in NV, GA, TX, and Canada”. It’s a judgement based on tens of thousands of emails received. When I meet professionals from certain markets they often have never heard of online casting because they saw no need to pay attention to it. From experience, and with no exact number, I always saw union work largely staying in New York and California.

I see this is going to change because larger media outlets are slow to adapt to new technology. Twitter existed for many years before TV shows marketed with hashtags. Skype existed for 6 years before news outlets used it to do interviews. It takes time because they are waiting to see, and have the money to wait, if something should be adapted to mainstream. If online casting is not “the thing” now, some sort of event may take place to change that, or it may just be a matter of time.

Regarding hobbyists
If you are a voice actor working online, you have got to be able to spot a hobbyist website. As a child, my mom bought me a tape recorder and mic with one of the first VCR’s that allowed audio dubbing through the VCR. It was expensive and they were my toys to play around with and torture family members to the point of insanity. People experiment with technology, as do larger companies. The website or hobbyist is not the problem; the intentions are the problem.

You have got to see when a person is just “playing around” or “actually working as a voice actor”. One of my first paying voiceover jobs ONLINE was in 2005 when a guy asked me to do funny voices for his website videogame ad. I got the job on Craigslist. I wasn’t taking it seriously at the time because I had a job on Wall Street.

There are websites out there who cater to this market of people messing around with equipment. To worry about them is a waste of energy.

In conclusion
The next time you come across a series of blogs where people are screaming about industry rates, remember that “what you are paid” usually is a result of “the tribe you are working with”.

The reality is that, today now more than ever, we are aware of what everyone is doing. Many years ago, finding a support group of talent to help you in your career took years. Now, you can get on the radar in less than 6 months. This happens everyday for someone new. If you want to be paid well, candidly speaking, hangout with people who pay well or know how to be paid well.

And you would be surprised how easy it is to remember people, if you give yourself 7 – 10 years of committed time working with the same 13,000 people. I have heard nearly 2,000,000 auditions (no kidding) in the last 20 years by that same 13,000 people, meaning I may have heard a person audition 153 times.

It’s hard to forget a voice or a name that you have seen 153 times.

 

8 thoughts on “It is a REALLY small voiceover world!

  1. Steven: Why is age more important than sound? When I was 12 years old, I sounded like I do
    now, voice quality wise. Yes, my voice is very deep and resonant, but I can read/act with the
    rest of ’em. I do auditions often in which they specifically search by age. No one was able to
    identify my age when I was 17 and young in the business, and they can’t determine my age now. ‘Tain’t fair! I’ve also done auditions that were so specific they pointed right to me, but
    when I’d hear the read they chose, it was nothing like what they said they were looking for…it
    was the opposite!

    Jack Parnell

    Like

    • Interesting feedback Jack.

      If you look again, I never once stated:

      “age was more important than sound”.

      All I did was objectively mention industry data from demographics research. Myself, I am 41 yrs old and spent my life doing college voices. I know many like me.

      Your experience serves as evidence as to why you have to really know the people in the industry and what they are doing to explain the data. Not the opposite of using data to explain people.

      If I blogged about “what people wanted more than others”. Trust me…you would know it! 😀

      Like

  2. Really interesting read. The rates issue comes up a lot these days. Especially in online forums where people have the opportunity to carefully craft their responses and post relatively remotely with passion! Things can indeed become toxic. Ultimately it is a personal decision what you charge and you can only take responsibility for your own business, in relation to the industry and where it is going or coming from.
    Nic
    http://www.nicolaredman.com

    Like

  3. This is a truly informative and inspiring read! Thanks for doing the research to post it. The business is not a piece of cake when starting out. But no business is. Putting time and research and yourself out there is the key to getting the jobs. If you’ve got the resources (such as these forums, among many other things) one can overcome perceived and real obstacles. -misfran

    Like

  4. Very interesting numbers. I can tell you’ve given this some thought. Any stats on old geezers who were once in broadcasting and now doing a few VOs, who’d like to do them full-time?

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  5. Loved your blog about VO numbers.

    First time I have seen a semi objective approach.

    I sense another factor related to the pool of seekers of this work. I spent the last 50 plus years in broadcasting, radio/TV, as talent, programming and general management and consulting.

    Radio in the last 15 years has experienced a dramatic decline in use of live talent because of ownership consolidation needs to reduce expense on properties with ridiculous debt. This combined with new technology has put tens of thousands of voice talent effectively permanently out of work or reduced to part time voice tracking or looking for free lance as an alternative.

    Many of these voices are not actors. However, a good number were production directors with high skill levels in recording, mixing, processing and editing.

    It appears to me that the playing field is destined to become more and more crowded with average or better performers who will work for what works out too minimum wage when all the audition and client service time is added.

    Short version: Downward rate pressure is a trend.

    My new agent in Nashville, where I retired after enough hobby work to earn an AFTRA pension, gets me on camera auditions despite my advanced age but not longer accepts or works with voice talent because of limited and declining demand.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Jim,
      there is evidence to your comment. Back in 2008 I specifically remember Clear Channel laying off thousands of workers. This very quickly led to a spike in registrations for a website I was working at. Registered maybe 800 to a thousand people. Not all of them of course became members, but they did look at it as an option immediately after their layoff, or worth investigating, of course this situation does not revolve around the entire voiceover industry but it does represent a part of it that has been disrupted by websites, whether it be casting or the voices going out for work on their own.

      Like

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