Time to End the Schism in Voiceovers Caused by Technology

Recent blogs pointed at a White Collar-Blue Collar Class Warfare in the voiceover industry after the Voice Arts Awards. Steven Lowell of Realtime Casting shares his perspective on what is really happening.

schism

My perspective is unique because my mother was in a teacher’s union, and my dad and step-mother worked in NYC’s financial district. It cannot get anymore “blue and white collar” than watching a mom make lesson plans, and picking out my golf clubs at the country club with my dad.

I was a pain at the country club, too, because I always had a problem with people “serving me”. If I needed to carry my bag, I did it. If I saw litter, I picked it up. I was often told, “Let them do that. That’s what they’re paid for.”  I just thought that was weird. If I can do it, I will do it.

I am happy it all happened for the life-lessons it taught me. It gave me perspectives on life that have forever helped me.

Voice Talent Blue Collar? White Collar? No…
Back in 2004, the voiceover industry changed greatly when three specific things happened:

1. SAG-AFTRA merger was not approved

2. LOTS of voice talent were bothered and wanted to work for themselves and now the opportunity seemed attractive.

3. Two casting websites opened for business with a brand new plan and they started bringing in “jobs” of some sort.

The timing along with the amount of voice talent looking for new options was perfect. Voice talent now had something they never had before. They had a choice to say:

“I will do it myself. Thanks.”

But there was more to this equation: Agents and casting directors did not like what these new websites were doing, which had many voice talent doing either one of three things:

1. Commit to an agent or a group of casting sites

2. Completely step out from using the Internet to get work

But most of all, and this is why the White/Blue Collar discussion should end quickly…

3. Lead two careers whereby one is for online sites and the other is committing to agents

You Can Go Your Own Way
The fact is: The Internet is not going away and using it to find people or work does not make a person “less professional” or “more professional”.

More so, a website offering voiceover jobs does NOT a casting site make. Casting websites involve technology and in whatever way they choose, act as an automated casting directors for the auditioning process. Some jobs obviously cannot be cast online, or at least final production cannot be done remotely, and as a result these websites offer little to no value in certain markets. It is possible for “location” to trump the need for a website. Jobs cast through a website may involve the usage of emails after a quote is received through a contact form, but in no way does that make it a “casting site”.

There are those who can make a living working from home, and those who make a living in a major market. To give either one a classification can easily be viewed by an outside party, usually one hiring, that someone has either stepped into the casting site world online or chosen to stay out of it. However….

“You don’t know my struggle”
Let’s put things in perspective: In the last 100 years, things such as “unions” have often been associated with “blue collar jobs”, and necessary in markets such as New York City or Los Angeles, where bureaucratic business decision-making may lead to corruption ultimately affecting “how much a worker is paid”. Read more on the history of unions in the US

Perhaps the struggle unions have in an online market where the entire country can be connected is how the United States is almost 50% “Right to Work”. I get asked everyday by talent, “Should I join a union”. My common responses, “When did you start? Where do you live? Why do you think it is a good idea?”. When alternative options to joining seem attractive, the ultimate decision is that of the talent. Yet, calling a voice talent “white collar” for working union jobs, working in NY or LA, then giving most of that good union-earned money back to the government for taxes…is an oxymoron. Being “white collar” means you use a minimum amount of physical exertion to get paid well. “Blue collar” workers tend to do manual labor.

But when you look at the struggle and profession of voice talent: It is all blue collar work because you can go from “hired all the time” to “unemployed for long periods of time” almost overnight. I will explain shortly, but it is all hard work and working online has turned out to be just as hard as working offline. The difference being, of course, “how much your money gets you”.

Personally speaking…
If you can make NY/LA union rates while living in a small US town, buying a house for the same amount of money that rents you a bathroom in NYC, you are white collar to me.

I have always had my own classification of voice talent because I was taught by many people years ago, whom I then turned around and helped work online. In the conversations we have and listening to their beliefs on how they think it should work, I see voice talent as either:

  • Onliners
  • Offliners

or…

  • Home studios
  • Studio babies (Do not feel insulted. I call myself that because I honestly never liked recording from home.)

or…

  • Progressives
  • Traditionalists

The differences here being:

  • One has built their career solely working online and that is all they know
  • The other started before casting sites, offline, and either have no interest in working online or they want to work online, but not if it gets in the way of upsetting their own traditional money-making process or network

There has clearly been a schism in the industry caused by “The Internet”, with the fingers pointing all at casting websites.

But this schism must not continue and for these important reasons

1. Websites easily fish-bowl professionals from years past; watching what they say and always pointing out the lack of knowledge for working online, often using their own words against them as evidence: “You don’t understand today’s industry.”

2. There are many smart voice talent working online and they should not be viewed as “lesser talent”, especially given in 5 years they will have built a network that took some traditional, professional talent more than a decade to build.

3. The more in-fighting and anger exists in a small vibrant community online, the less likely people will want to work with the people in this community because of “online reputation”. They will become a footnote in the voiceover industry. I have already dealt with experiences marketing casting sites where amazing clients told me who and why they do not work with both online and offline talent.

Most importantly…The Internet is “The Great Equalizer”

If you discovered life on Mars, and then built a website to show proof, but you were overly proud of it…it would damage your credibility or the ability for people to believe you.

If you think you can stomp around the Internet telling people how white/blue collar you are…you will breed contempt. It is scary to find out how the Internet is really “mob rule usually influenced by clever marketing to stir the crowd”.

In such environments, voice talent would do better to remember where they came from and be humble about it, all in the name of “crowd psychology management”.

Lastly…Voice Arts Awards
I thought it was a positive effort for the purposes of networking, industry exposure, and career growth. Our staff had attended and simply had to say, “It was classy and well-run”. You can say the hard work involved was “blue collar”, but perhaps all the attention received had to do with the “white collar” style acknowledgement? It’s not a bad thing for people to celebrate their inner circle and do so very well.

In addition, many of the “Onliners” I knew were represented in the same venue as many “Offliners” I met when I first started, including some casting directors I spent years trying to get into their offices. Perhaps that is the greatest reason why the schism must end: The network you seek eventually becomes the network you work with for a lifetime, and in my case, end up helping to work in a new technology-driven world.

In case you were wondering, I first heard of this debate in a recording studio, not while checking my email. I find that important to bring up for some reason.

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