Just A Voice In The Crowd

Voice talent with their own sound studios (usually home-based) have the freedom and limitless possibilities of working with anyone in the world. As long as there’s a high-speed internet connection, anyone can pay you instantly, direct you via phone patch or ISDN, (or not — leave you to “do your thing”) and download your files no matter what part of the globe they occupy. 

Agents, too — who are a clearing-house for projects looking for voice talent — and who, at one time, were very territorial about only featuring talent from their own area, see the benefit in expanding their rosters to not only talent based locally to where the agency is located — they can broaden their talent base to performers far and wide and give their prospective clients a wider choice of voices. Voice talent in other cities can — in many cases — actually produce their auditions faster than locally based talent, who are at the mercy of recording studio schedules, and also have the added logistical challenges of allotting actual time out of their day to physically go to the audition, find parking, etc.

Sounds like a win-win, yes?

Clients have more choice, agents raise their profile by having access to voices based anywhere in the world, and the voice talent can be submitted for projects which — even fifteen years ago — would have been unavailable to them.

The problem lies in that wider base of selection. Throughout the years I have joined countless online voice talent agencies — the process is usually no more complicated than e-mailing your demo,  and before you know it, you’re up there with all the other talent in your gender/style division. Some agencies act like an ersatz EBay of voice talent, where talent are  in a bidding war to see who will do the job for the lowest price. Some agencies ask for an outlay of cash for your listing; others ask for an even  *larger* outlay of cash, promising that you’ll be in their “premium listings”; a more elite and narrower pool of talent who are singled out for higher-profile and juicier opportunities. <cough>.

And then the auditions come.

Reams and reams of them. If you had nothing else to do for the day, and you were registered with two or three of these online agencies, you could do nothing else with your entire day but audition — from sun-up to sun-down. “Great!” you’re thinking: “Auditions equal opportunities to get hired! More auditions is a *good* thing, right..?”

If you’re a voice talent in the formative years of your career and you need experience in auditioning or need more practice to find your “voice” (or you simply feel you could use more opportunity to experiment further in front of the mic) — I think spending your day auditioning is the best expenditure of your time there can be.

For those of us with established careers — and an already full roster of clients who need recordings every day — auditions are time-consuming, and even more so when you come to the hard realisation that even if you have paid to be a so-called “premium” member, you are one of literally thousands of people auditioning for the job.

Ad agencies use a service called Voicebank.net, where voice-over projects are posted, promoted, and generally made public. Agents pick up on these projects and enlist their talent roster to audition for them — which explains why all three of the agents who represent me now (and even a couple of former agents who still keep me on their e-mail lists) will send me audition notices for the same project.

The agent, of course, is going to send as many of their people up for the job as they can (hedges their bets that one of *their* people will be hired), and that — combined with a limitless number of agents across the world picking up on the same audition notice and sending *their* people out for the job….well, you get the idea. You are literally a voice in a crowd.  And no matter how stellar an audition you’re turning in — the client will never have a chance to listen to all the auditions which have been uploaded for that particular job. They won’t even have even the slightest opportunity to listen to all of the “cream of the crop” auditions — the very best of the best auditions hand-sorted by the agents. (And how do you get into the “cream of the crop” list? Muffin Basket? Beats me.) Being the first to submit your audition as soon as you get it is also no guarantee that you’ll be listened to (you have no idea how many other agents — in other time zones — have already picked up on the audition have already had their talent submit).

It’s a pointless, frustrating, and losing game, and what bothers me most:  it erodes the confidence of many voice talent. I, myself, marvelled in the dichotomy of the fact that I work constantly — in all aspects of voice-over — and (thank my blessings) never seem to be at a shortage for work. By all accounts, I do solid work, and I’m completely directable. I’m even at the point where I can be selective and pick and choose my projects — which is an enviable position to be in.

I can’t get *arrested* auditioning through an agency.

I reviewed my stats at one agency in which I was a “premium” member: in excess of 40 auditions submitted in a year — exactly *zero* times hired. I recently read a blog posting by a voice-over professional extolling the virtues of online agencies (he claimed to have amassed $800 K+  a year and a whopping 1:1 ratio of auditions versus jobs landed through one particular agency) — what he didn’t divulge is that he actually *owns* the agency. He submits only himself for the highest-profile/best-paying contracts. All “crumbs” which fall from the feeding frenzy get filtered down to his “premium” members, and the non-paying group (Lord help them) gets whatever miniscule crumbs are left from *that* feeding frenzy. What amazed me most were the comment postings after his article, made by voice talent who were frustrated to the core at not having that same success ratio; many were doubting their own talent and ability, and talking about throwing in the towel altogether.

My advice: throw in the towel. No — don’t quit voice-over; wean yourself off the agencies. This cycle of excitement at getting the audition notice for some very high-profile product; analyzing what approach they’re looking for; and delivering an audition that you hope will make all in the boardroom sit up and take notice — only to never hear about the project again or be updated on how your audition went over — and *now* — to ponder the idea that there’s a remote chance that your audition even made it in front of the client — I think your energies are better spent building up your own business. Cultivate your own clientele; do your own research into who produces what — whether it be ad agencies or sound studios — and make sure they know your work. We all fantasize about having an agent who actually “represents” us — who gets what an incredible talent your are, carefully cherry-picks projects specifically for you and submits you along with — maybe — half a dozen of your equally high-calibre peers for consideration.

Rather than presume that it must be you — that you submitted yet another terrible audition; that your gear must be sub-standard, that you have a quality which rubs the agent the wrong way, or that you just plain suck — realize that (obviously) more incredibly high-quality talent are passed over for a job than who actually gets hired, and that like me — despite having a full and rewarding voice-over career, you + agencies might equal a bad fit.

Take solace in knowing that many incredibly successful voice talent are in exactly the same boat — and that involvement with an agent should be considered to be an adjunct to your already well-thought out and executed marketing plan.

And no matter what: just keep doing that thing you do.

Next week: I’ll write about telephone prompts which I don’t necessarily regret saying — they’re just prompts which will come back to haunt me.


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