Boy howdy did the voiceover landscape change since I got started! Voicebank was swallowed whole by Voices.com, curated audio became all the rage, more and more (and more and more) P2P sites cropped up, and it seems like everyone and their brother wants to get in on the action. I recently started cutting proto demos with a couple of friends getting into the field, when the question on my mind all day every day popped up: "Where do you find work?"
Before I get into today's blog, I just want you to go listen to Charlie Adler's demo. Not that this has anything to do with what I'm about to write. It's just incredible, inspiring, and makes me want to
mess myself while crying in a corner practice even harder to be a better voice actor.
Needless to say, a lot has changed in the voice over industry in the last ten or so years. The same tools and technologies that make work easier to find than ever are the same tools that make that work cheaper to produce. Recording equipment gets smaller, more affordable, and easier to use every day. Pay to play sites open the doors to pretty much anyone with cash to burn, both on the "client" and "talent" side. However, I don't want this to be another blog about how Voice123 and the Blue Yeti are signals of the end of the good old days; there's enough of that out there, and I don't necessarily agree with it anyway. Good work is still out there, still pays well, and still requires savvy and talent to seek out and perform.
It's important to figure out what you're worth, how low you're willing to go, and how much of your time can be spent on a sliding scale. Therapists have sliding scales, even the really, really amazing ones, so why shouldn't VO actors? For the right client, I'm willing to bend my price. Up until recently, that list included pretty much anyone who haggled with me. I'm done with that. I have too many clients that don't pay enough to be worth my time anymore, and now I either have to renegotiate my rate with them or drop them. And believe me, it's very hard for me to turn down work.
Your rate card is going to be difficult to determine at first, but once you have it, stick to it. This means your rate on Voices is the same rate as on your site, too. Most agents' work comes with a budget attached, so this doesn't really apply so much to that, as long as your agent isn't bringing you work for peanuts, which in my experience almost never happens.
Obviously when you first start out, you want to get as much work as you can to beef up your resume and get your name out there, but you have to be aware that once a client gets used to paying you a certain amount, asking for more later down the road can be hazardous. Setting your rates early on and sticking to them will ensure that you don't fall into the trap of taking any job at any price. That's not what professionals do. Take a good long look at what you're able to do, look up the union rate sheets, and alter them accordingly. It shows that you know what you're worth. The clients that balk at a reasonable rate and try to shake you down usually aren't worth keeping anyway.
I did a fair amount of research into to Pay2Play type sites available out there and Voices.com consistently came out on top. There is quite a lot of trepidation about the P2P model in general, and I can totally understand why. The idea of paying for leads, basically for the privilege of contacting clients, can feel a little unfair at first glance. However, I've come around on my thinking of the model and decided that it is worth the money.
Over the last three weeks, I've adjusted my approach significantly. When my account first activated, I spent hours auditioning, cutting each one together and sending them off one at a time. About ten hours later, I had auditioned for about fifteen different jobs. A couple days in I decided to filter by deadlines, take the ones that were ending that day, and record/edit all the auditions in one go and then send out the auditions. At this point I'd already drafted a cover letter template that I have barely altered since. This cut down the amount of time I spent auditioning dramatically.
After doing some more research, I changed my approach. I turned email alerts back on and auditioned for jobs as soon as they came out. This has definitely improved my 'listen' and 'like' rate. I'm now sitting at 93 jobs answered, 91 demo listens, 10 likes, and four jobs complete with a fifth one in process. While the money is still firmly in part-time territory, this means I'd earned enough in one month to pay for a yearlong subscription, which includes increased visibility on the site. I also have enough fodder to start cutting together demos specifically geared toward different types of jobs (internet, video games, business, etc). Once I have all of those in place, that should improve to book gigs without having to produce a custom demo for each job.
Worth the price of admission? Well, that's up to you.
While I was pessimistic about the chances of Voices.com working out originally, it has proven itself to be a great tool for finding VO gigs. I've been fortunate enough to garner the attention of a few clients within my wheelhouse, which, turns out, is video games. I've already had repeat clients, which is pretty mindblowing considering I've been at this a little longer than three weeks. If you're able to put the time in and quickly produce quality demos, Voices.com can absolutely work for you. Just know that it takes a flexible schedule (it is essential that you respond to jobs as quickly as possible, because they fill up fast) and a fair amount of work making auditions. The good news is, after making all those auditions, you can turn around and improve your hard marketing system whether they get you the job or not.
I never thought I could start my VO career with this much momentum. While Voices.com hasn't been my only source for work (aiming for 35 different, consistent sources by next winter), it's certainly been the biggest. It certainly seems like there's room for growth with this model and I am looking forward to a fruitful year with Voices.com.
On Monday, I finally took Voices.com's inaugural ten dollar offer for their premium lite membership, which affords me the opportunity to bid on gigs and send custom demos to clients. I've done a lot of talking to myself in my padded room since then.
In the last three and a half days, I've created 40 custom demos for different types of projects. Some of them are characters for video games, some from motivational or promotional online videos, a ton from commercials that want that somewhat raspy, vocal fry heavy sullenness that's so popular in car commercials and Apple ads these days. I probably won't get any work from these. Now, since I've literally just started building my career as a voiceover artist, I'm trying not to take issue with how much time I'm putting into these custom demos. The way I figure, I need the experience, and it gives me ample opportunity to nail down what I'm really good at and what I need to improve on (i.e. everything).
I take issue with the pay to play model. While it strives to operate as an open market forum where talent and client have equal opportunity to meet and find mutual benefit in one another, it assumes that I, the talent, am willing to extend not only my time to produce a unique demo for every single client, but am also unsure of whether I'm even dealing with a real person. Voices.com seems to be the most widely respected company in this type of business, but I've still heard horror stories of clients taking demos wholesale and using them in their commercials without paying for them, or phishing scams designed only to bilk email addresses from talent.
There's also an oddly translucent quality to the process. Voices.com wants you to know how many people have submitted a proposal (which can include a custom demo, stock demo, or nothing, but these statistics are not displayed), and where you are in line, as it were. There's a ranking system based on your profile that will place in line depending on what percentage you "fit" the project. So if you're a teenage girl submitting for a Tom Waits impersonator, you aren't likely to be high up on the list. However, it's been my experience so far that there are so many people using Voices that even though I'm a 95% match, I'm still in the bottom 5% of the line, because the other 105 people are also 95% matches. This may have to do with the ranking system dependence on a small handful of qualities to discern this percentage. This system could definitely use a little more sophistication before it becomes truly useful.
Next, you get an icon next to your proposal if a client has listened to your demo (uh, yes, please do that; I took the time to record a demo just for you, the least you could do is listen to it), and if they 'like' it. I'm assuming the like function acts as a sort of bookmarking system for the client, and a nice little pat on the head for me. I've gotten three likes out of my 40 demos so far (out of 14 listens), so....yeah. I don't know what I'm supposed to take away from that.
If nothing else, I will have spent ten dollars to practice a good deal on unique scripts that I didn't have to bother writing, I'll have tons of fodder for new demos for my website, and I'll learn not to check this damned board every ten minutes to validate my sense of self worth. I promised myself that if I didn't book enough work to cover a year's subscription then I wouldn't bother renewing the subscription, as I feel my time would be better spent chasing down more tangible leads that, insanely enough, don't require me to pay for the privilege to maybe talk to an actual human being. I'll keep this blog updated with how things turn out.