P2P: Voice123, part 3 in a series

30 Apr

If you are non-union voiceover talent looking for work online, you are likely familiar with the P2P (“pay to play”) space. Being somewhat new to the VO industry, I have decided to try several sites for one month each before committing to one or the other (or several) for the long haul. In my previous post, I wrote about my experience on Elance.com. What follows is what I experienced during 30 days on Voice123.com.

Popularity

Voice123 was recommended to me by my voice coach, and was the site that seemed to be the first choice of voice talent with whom I casually chatted. My voice coach offered his students one month free on the Voice123 site, so of course, there seemed nothing to lose. As part of their affiliate program, voice coaches receive $30 for every student who signs up for a paid subscription for Voice123. (I have no problem with that.)

The normal price of membership for voiceover talent on Voice123 is $295/year. Clients list their ads for free.

How Voice123 is Different

As I mentioned in my previous P2P post about finding work on Elance, signing up and creating one’s profile for voiceover gigs online is a fairly standard procedure on each of these sites: head shot, demos, text descriptions, check boxes, contact info, done! Then, I waited.

Unlike other VO and freelance sites, Voice123 does not let users peruse and audition for just any job listing. Voiceover talent must be invited to audition for specific gigs, either directly by a client, or by the site’s automated casting system. While it is *possible* for a client to:

1) Scroll through and listen to the thousands of other actors on the site (“about 4,100” as of April 2012);

2) Identify YOU as the voice they have been looking for; and then

3) Contact you directly to submit an audition,

…The chance of this happening is statistically tiny. During my 30 day trial, I was never contacted by a potential client directly, and I only sent auditions for which I received invitations from Voice123.

Automatic Casting

Voice123’s automated casting system (“SmartCast”) is presented as a benefit to both voiceover talent and clients. Invitations to submit an audition are automatically sent only to a limited number of talent who are identified as being matched to a particular job, thus saving the client from listening to hundreds of unsuitable auditions. The talent’s time and effort is “saved” by preventing auditions for jobs which Voice123’s system deems an undesirable match.

The automatic casting system on Voice1­­23 ­not only limits audition invites based on relevancy of profile criteria (gender, voice characteristics, etc.) and number of auditions requested by the client, but considers a whole other host of variables. The considerations of the SmartCast algorithm can be found here [http://thevoiceoverguide.com/chapter-6-voice123/voice123-works/] on Steven Lowell’s blog about Voice123.

This did not greatly affect how I used my 30 day trail. I tried to make my profile accurate and audition for appropriate jobs for my voice, which I would do on any P2P site. However, I certainly did notice Voice123’s warning about over-auditioning every time I was ready to submit an audition. This warning is expressed in more concise terms on the Voice123 FAQ page here  [http://support.voice123.com/article/Answers_From_Community_Manager_for_Most_Common_FAQs.html]. It states: “This means that due to the amount you have auditioned, you may at times go without being invited for a day or even as long as a week.”

The amount that equals “too much” auditioning is not defined (on the FAQ, nor by direct request), and is likely absorbed into the SmartCast algorithm with a lot of other variables. I was only able to determine what this meant for *my* Voice123 profile by trial and error.

I found that every time I auditioned, it seemed to stall the arrival of more invites. Any time I ignored invites, it made the number and frequency of the next batch of invites increase. I confirmed with other VO talents via LinkedIn voiceover groups that this was a common experience. In fact, it is a common complaint about Voice123, as voiceover artists feel the SmartCast system “punishes” members for auditioning for the very jobs to which the system matches and invites them.

Job Fees

I did indeed receive invitations to audition on Voice123, and I did receive invitations to audition for work that seemed appropriate to the information I put in my profile. In that sense, the automatic casting system worked.

One oddity was that I set up my Voice123 filter to *not* send me “low budget” jobs, but often saw very low paying gigs mixed in with my invites. I discussed this with Voice123 staff, who told me that the “low budget” label was something chosen or opted-into by the client. So, if a client didn’t think offering $500 for a 50,000 word audiobook was “low budget,” the job could make its way into your mailbox if you requested jobs that pay a minimum of $500.

I brought this issue to my peers on LinkedIn. Many suggested that only auditioning for high-paying jobs would result in getting more (or only) high-paying auditions invites. This is also supported by the information provided by Voice123. I tried this approach, but did not see these results during my 30 day trial; perhaps this would have been the case long-term. I would certainly keep this in mind if I were to become a paying member.

The Feeding Frenzy

According to the Voice123 FAQ, limiting the number of auditions and who is invited to audition for each job is supposed to help the client find an appropriate talent more easily.  According to Steven Lowell’s blog, it’s also supposed to “protect professional voice talent from having to deal with the dreaded ‘early bird gets the worm’ syndrome…” I did not find this to be the case. In fact, I found the opposite to be true.

During my 30 day trial, most invitations I received were for clients seeking 50-75 auditions, with the full range being 20 to 100 auditions desired for a single job. Steven Lowell confirmed these numbers: “What many forget is how Voice123 works from the voice seeker side. No one selects 50. It’s the default.”

[Just because one leaves a default setting in place does not logically conclude that action to mean one did not make a choice. I’m pretty sure I remember “no decision” being very much a “decision” in my business school decision node charts. I think many philosophers and Windows users would have my back on this. But I digress.]

It was obvious to me during my trial run that Voice123 does not send invitations to only 20 voiceover artists when there are 20 auditions desired. A typical experience was this: I receive an invitation to audition for a rather low-paying job, only to find that it is closed within the hour because the 70 auditions sought had already been received. This seemed to happen quite often, and got me wondering just how many people I was competing against to get my audition submitted to a Voice123 client. Just how many artists are sent invitations for each job? I have no idea, and did not get an answer to this question.

When resources are scarce, consumers will place a higher value on them and whip themselves into a frenzy to acquire them, and that’s what happens on Voice123. If 50 (75? 200?) voiceover artists receive an email inviting them to audition for a commercial that is only accepting 30 auditions, how will those people respond? Will they be especially selective and thoughtful about their decision to audition, as Voice123 advises? Will they spend extra time to practice and perfect their delivery of the material? Or, will they spit out their breakfast mid-chew, run half-undressed into their home studio, and scurry to email an audition before everyone else?

I’m certainly not saying that auditions submitted on Voice123 are a collection of hurried, lousy cow poop, or that it is impossible to do great voiceover work off-the-cuff and under the gun. I am simply suggesting that for a site to push so hard for its members to be especially thoughtful about which jobs they audition for, the environment created by the Voice123 model does not support or encourage that kind of thoughtful behavior.

Another example: A post on LinkedIn complains about Voice123 audition invitations being sent between midnight and 5am. If there were no pressure to respond to an invitation right at the moment of receipt, I don’t think this would be an issue! You can read the post and Voice123’s response here [http://www.linkedin.com/groups/I-am-wondering-why-so-2236955.S.110809317?qid=75ff6eea-7ebb-4fee-9add-e68902dccee8&trk=group_most_recent_rich-0-b-ttl&goback=%2Egmr_2236955.] The feeding frenzy environment, combined with the limited audition invitations, are the two biggest gripes voiceover artists seem to have with Voice123.

Back to my own experience. The Voice123 feeding frenzy environment limited the jobs I auditioned for…perhaps as much as SmartCast. If I saw or received an invitation to audition at 10am and knew I would not be able to record until noon, I usually ignored it, because I knew the feeding frenzy would get to it first. This probably led to my auditioning for Voice123 jobs I was only 90% or even 85% interested in, because I felt I had missed the 100% matches while wasting valuable time participating in unimportant, time-suck activities–like taking a shower or chewing my food before swallowing.

Audition Feedback

When you submit an audition on Voice123, you receive notification when it is listened to by the client, who also has the option to indicate if they are likely to hire you or not. This isn’t “feedback” on your performance, per say, as the client is not telling you anything about the quality of your audition. However, it is very helpful to look at your auditions in aggregate to see what kinds of jobs you are more or less likely to be hired for. For someone new to VO work, it can help you find your niche or opportunities for improvement. This is also common on other P2P VO sites.

Voice123 also lets you see when an audition has not been listened to at all. Like most P2P sites, there are a variety of clients with a variety of needs looking for voice talent. Some need a voice right away and listen to auditions as they come in, closing the job if they find “The One” before the deadline. Others are in less of a rush, and will take their time before listening to auditions—days, weeks, or even a month may go by before your audition is heard.

And some auditions will never be heard. Inevitably, this will be your best and favorite audition, the one you felt you NAILED, the one you really, really thought you would get. This MP3 will sit in a black hole, never to be heard from again. I hate when this happens. This is not unique to Voice123, of course. It’s just the downside of knowing if your audition was listened to or not when you don’t get hired.

Financial Stakes

Voice123 is unlike other P2P sites in that it does not manage the relationship between the talent and the client, nor does it take a percentage of the project fee. Voice123 matches talent and client, but leaves them to work out their own terms and agreements, including payment. This can be a great financial advantage for talent who do not want to have an additional fee deducted from their payment for a completed job, and for those VO artists who are savvy enough to define their own terms, draft their own contracts, and know if a potential client is / is not trustworthy. Unfortunately, this model decreases Voice123’s interest in the success or completion of any jobs listed on their website. As long as talent continue to pay annual subscription fees, Voice123 is in the black, even if very few jobs are ever completed.

[Hypothetically, if Voice123 were a P2P site whose job listings were 90% fake, they would still be profitable and no one would be the wiser. The10% real jobs would make users believe that the other 90% were also real. It would be the equivalent of running a dating website with a large number of fake profiles to boost paid memberships: Lots of pretty ladies appear on the dating site, but only one out of every 10 or 100 responds to your winks, pokes, and other virtual double-entendres. The *one* response you get is what keeps you paying for your membership. I am not accusing Voice123 of hosting fake listings. I’m simply stating that, as a business model, they could easily do this and still remain profitable, especially if the recipients of the 10% real jobs were especially vocal on blogs, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.]

Other P2P sites, in contrast, get a percentage of the voiceover project fee in some form or another, and are at least marginally involved with the payment process. These sites don’t get paid if the voiceover artist doesn’t get paid, which means it is in their interest to make sure projects go to completion and all parties are happy.

Booking Rates

These are the most recent stats that Steven Lowell provided about the booking rate of Voice123 members, which are also in the previous post:

“We do surveys with talent every month. As it stands now: 10-13% of premium subscribers are able to use Voice123 only for their voiceover work. SmartCast is a software for helping people build relationships. About 35% of people who pay cannot book at least one voice over job in a month. 50% book about 2 – 3 jobs a month. 65% book at least 1 a month.”

My biggest take-away from that statement?

35% of paid subscribers do not book at least one voiceover job per month on Voice123.

[Hold on to your hat, this may be better than other P2P sites. In the LinkedIn group “Working Voice Actor Group,” a survey that asks, “For those of you who utilize the various auditioning websites, (P2P’s) how many jobs have you landed in the past 30 days?” As of April 29th, 48% of the responses were “zero”. See for yourself here: http://www.linkedin.com/groups/those-you-who-utilize-various-137057.S.110265884?qid=26223a63-726e-4220-b0de-48d3944f6769&trk=group_most_recent_rich-0-b-ttl&goback=%2Egmr_137057]

Perhaps most paid members on Voice123 book one job every other month? Maybe that one job pays five figures instead of three or four? That level of detail was not offered, but I would love to know, wouldn’t you? After all, one of the reasons I am doing this P2P comparison study is to determine the potential value of each site’s membership fees.

Nevertheless, here’s some quick math with the data I was given. I like math.

4,100 paid members x 35% = 1,435 paid members who do not book at least 1 job/month on Voice123

1,435 x $295 annual membership fee =$423,325 in gross annual revenue for Voice123 from members with less than one job booked per month

No judgment. These are just numbers.

Voice123’s business model is certainly interesting to consider, but I’m more interested in my own potential profitability using Voice123 to find voiceover work.

So, How Did I Do on Voice123?

Again with the numbers! Here are my approximate stats for 30 days on Voice123.

Auditions invited to: 47

As previously stated, the invitations I received seemed to match my profile. On the other hand, the many auditions I was *not* invited to (which Voice123 tells you about in your notification email) seemed to be even more suited to my profile and routinely paid more than what I was being invited to audition for, as previously mentioned.

The quality of these jobs were generally good or very good, with a few “Huh?!?” gigs thrown in here and there. “Huh?!?” could mean copy written by people not literate in English, a product or job so ridiculous I would never want my voice associated with it, or listings that just made me wonder if I was being Punk’d. However, these were few and far between, nowhere near the number of crazy listings to be found on Elance, which I described in my previous post as the Wild West.

Auditions submitted: 11

In the interest of full disclosure, let’s say at least two of these were long shots that I went for because I felt like I had missed out on auditioning for “better” jobs that filled their quota for auditions amazingly fast (as previously mentioned). If you’re wondering, 11 auditions out of 47 invitations to audition is a submission rate of 23.4% for one month.

Auditions listened to: 9

From what I recall, only one or two of my auditions were listened to with a few days of submission (I wasn’t taking notes when I started, sorry for the guesstimating). I was surprised to look back at my stats while writing this article a month later to see that so many (81.8%) had eventually been listened to. Like all P2P sites, Voice123 has not control over clients listening to all, or any, auditions,

Auditions marked with “feedback”: 3

One “maybe,” one “not likely,” and one “finalist.” The “not likely” audition was ranked a pathetic 15th out of 42, and the “maybe” audition was also ranked 15th out of 40. The latter had poorly written copy that I thought I could make work (I was wrong); on the former, I was surprised to receive such a low ranking. This is nothing to be proud of, but I’m just telling it like it is! (Don’t worry, I have much better stats on other P2P sites, I don’t suck!)

In both cases, I wish I could know more about my rating: Bid too high? Too serious or silly in the delivery?  I’ll never know, of course. This is true of most P2P sites, though Elance does allow clients to decline proposals based on pricing, so talent have the option to rebid at a lower rate if they wish.

The “finalist” was the one gig I booked on Voice123. The job was to narrate an animated video explaining a new iPad app, which is slowly becoming my niche. Once we discussed the client’s needs (file format, turnaround time, etc.), I suggested terms that we all agreed to, including number of revisions (if needed), rights to the recording, payment benchmarks and procedures, and their commitment to getting me the final product for inclusion in my portfolio.

The project went very smoothly and was lots of fun, with only one edit needed after my first take. As of this writing, the video is still in post-production, but will be added to my website and portfolio once complete. I also received a great recommendation from the client that I’ve added to my website and various P2P profiles. Success!

I have no idea what happened to the other 10 projects I auditioned for. Regardless of what any audition is rated, Voice123 does not track and cannot tell members if the project was put on hold, completed, etc.  On other P2P sites—the ones that get paid when projects are done– this information is front and center. You can see if someone else is chosen for a job you auditioned for, if nobody was selected, and/or if the job hasn’t been completed (yet). On some sites, you can even see who got the job if not you, and then do some recon work by looking at that person’s profile to figure out why they landed the gig over you.

Now What?

VO professionals with much more experience than me who were kind enough to share their thoughts seem to be in consensus about Voice123: They like it, they try to play the automated system to their advantage, but it is not a sole source of work for anyone I heard from. The quality of clients and jobs is high, but the limitations of SmartCast are frustrating for many. Some voiceover artists feel they do not need an automated system telling them what jobs they are best suited for; Others do not like feeling they are discouraged from auditioning as much or as often as they would like.

I have mixed feelings about my experience on Voice123. As I mentioned, my number one question doing this research remains focused on the membership fee and the value of that membership to the VO talent. Is paying $295/year to be a member on Voice123 worth it? I don’t feel I answered that question in my 30 day trial.

Booking rates are only one variable in this equation. Knowing the average project fee for a Voice123 job would be helpful. Being able to drill down further (e.g., % of female VOs with my characteristics who book monthly jobs) would be pretty awesome to know, but alas, not likely to be revealed. That’s probably true of any P2P site.

I purposely began my trial with Voice123 before trolling the Internet for user reviews, blog comments, etc., because I did not want my experience to be clouded by the opinion of others beyond the early endorsements that encouraged me to give it a try. It was only once I perceived problems with Voice123 that I reached out to Voice123 staff and VO peers on LinkedIn and Twitter. If I had done this first, perhaps I would have only responded to higher-paying audition invitations to improve the types of job listings I received….but then wouldn’t I have auditioned more often, and then received less invitations? I just don’t see how to avoid this Catch 22 of the SmartCast system.

While there are many websites based on helping people make professional connections, I do have reservations about paying money for a site that does not offer anything more than that connection. Voice123 does not help manage jobs or make sure you get paid for voiceover work anymore than Twitter guarantees people will follow you and your two cents tweeted daily. The difference, of course, is that Twitter is free, and generates revenue from sources other than its membership base.

Monster.com is a free website for job hunting, because companies pay to place their job listings. TheLadders.com, in contrast, is a paid subscription service for those looking for executive positions that pay six figures. Job hunters pay a membership fee, but for a very specific, easy to define value: Positions that pay at least $100k. Voice123 charges members seeking voiceover work, but to what value? Are their listings any better than those on other P2P sites?

Logic and free market theory would have us believe there is indeed value to be had as a paid member on Voice123, otherwise, everyone would cancel their membership and put their money elsewhere. [I do wonder what the renewal and cancelation rates are for Voice123…?] On one hand, the market has spoken, and $295/year is what the market will bear. On the other hand, fear of scarcity can make humans behave irrationally when it comes to making economic decisions. Just how scarce are non-union voiceover jobs?

Knowing that only 65% of Voice123 members book monthly gigs, I wonder why a trial of one month is offered at all. Perhaps a trial of two or three months would have been more convincing. That would give the new user like myself more time to adjust to the SmartCast system (I’m sorry, but reading about it is not as effective a learning tool as being subject to it!), more time to book a gig, and then more likely to subscribe as a paying member.

Ha! Listen to me, giving Voice123 business advice. I have a feeling they are doing just fine without me.

🙂 Wendy

NEXT TIME: 30 days on Voices.com

References:

Elance.com website

LinkedIn.com website

Lowell, Steven. Submission for blog comment dated April 29, 2012

Voice123.com website

Voice123. Calls with staff during March 2012

Follow me on Twitter @AlgranatiW

Website & demos at http://www.wendyalgranati.com

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2 Responses to “P2P: Voice123, part 3 in a series”

  1. Marc Scott May 1, 2012 at 11:00 pm #

    I’ve been on Voice123 for a few years now. While I haven’t made enough to use it as my sole source of income, I have had a lot of success. I’ve also developed relationships with many great repeat clients.

    Like you, my biggest frustration is with SmartCast. I find it very annoying to get an email outlining all the projects that matched my profile each day to see that I was only invited to maybe 30% of them. It’s also very frustrating when you get an invitation after 20 or 30 or 70 people have already auditioned. All invitations aren’t sent at the same time.

    Outside of that, if you audition wisely, you can definitely make some money.

    I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts on Voices.com. I’ll keep my experiences there to myself until I read your piece. 🙂

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. P2P: Voices.com, part 4 in a series « algranatiw - May 24, 2012

    […] and Voice123 (https://algranatiw.wordpress.com/2012/04/30/p2p-voice123-part-3-in-a-series/). What follows is an account of my test drive of […]

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