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Summer Thoughts on Pay to Play & Catch 22s

20 Aug

I haven’t been blogging much this summer. Like most people, I’d much rather enjoy the summer weather in ways that don’t involve looking at a screen! Now that we’ve been in triple-digit temperatures for a while, it’s a good time to catch up and take advantage of the AC!

Pay to Play on Voices.com: The Saga Continues

I’ve continued my subscription to Voices.com, a pay to play service which continues to amaze and annoy me (see my previous post about Voices.com here: https://algranatiw.wordpress.com/2012/05/24/p2p-voices-com-part-4-in-a-series/). The percent of job listings that never become a completed project astounds me! I understand if an agent listens to 200 custom auditions and still fails to find *that* voice, the ONE that will speak for their special, unique message or product—but is that really the norm and not the exception?

Also confusing is when my own custom auditions are marked as “liked” by a client (noted by a cutesy thumbs-up sign), but the job is never completed!  By *any* VO talent! Perhaps the agent “likes” several auditions, and ultimately settles on someone other than me. Yes, that would suck! But I have yet to see that happen.

And of course, my complaint about pay to play sites from the beginning: There are so many custom auditions I submit that are never reviewed—even when they are submitted early and within the client’s budget. Of course, if I submit the 50th audition, I know that the job might be awarded to one of the 49 people who submitted something before me. But SO many listings on Voices.com do not become completed *and* they have not listened to my audition. What does this mean? Was the “client” really looking to hire anyone in the first place?

I have two theories.

  1. The majority of voiceover jobs on Voices.com take place outside of the Voices.com service. In other words, agents listen to auditions and find talent on the site, but once they want to hire someone and get things moving, they do not use the Voices.com system. Instead, agents make arrangements to work with and pay the talent directly (e.g., PayPal, invoice, etc.) to lower costs by removing the 10% Voices.com fee. This would explain why so many job listings close on Voices.com, but the projects never moved to completed status.

In fact, two VO actors have told me confidentially that they have done this. I could never do this, because I would be too paranoid about not getting paid by someone I had never worked with before! On the other hand, I’ve never been offered to work outside the Voices.com system.

  1. Because agents or potential clients can list jobs for free on Voices.com (and any p2p site), there is no barrier to entry. Anyone could register and create a phony job listing on a p2p just for the hell of it, even with the Voices.com staff review prior to posting. A more serious prospective client could list the same job on multiple sites at once in order to cast as wide a net as possible. While Voices.com in particular presents itself as an all-in-one solution (recruit, work, pay), perhaps very few agents are interested in committing to a single VO source. As I posted previously, there is also the possibility that VO job listings on any p2p site are fake, and are posted only to boost sales of VO talent subscriptions.

This past month, I’ve been attempting to circumvent these issues by only submitting auditions to potential clients who have used the Voices.com payment system already and have received favorable feedback from VO talent. This has very much limited the amount of jobs I’ve been auditioning for, but I do think it will prevent a lot of wasted time.

The Catch 22

Another voiceover issue I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is the nature of recording from home. When I began studying voiceover, it was in a studio in Burbank with a small handful of other newbies and a fun instructor. I really enjoyed the studio vibe as well as the work itself. Now that I’ve been doing auditions and booking jobs all from my home studio, the reality has set in: It’s a very different experience.  Given the choice, I think I would prefer auditioning and working from a professional studio across town than from my home. When I record from home, both reading and audio mixing are my responsibility—and for pretty low rates compared to union employees who only read. Unfortunately, this seems to be the only way to get non-union work.  I would need to build up my non-union portfolio a lot more before ever hoping to join the union and get an agent– who would then send me on in-person auditions. Which I’m sure I would nail. 😉

 

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10 Things VO Agents Have to Say To You

27 Jun

One of the panels I attended at VOICE2012 in Anaheim, California was called, “How to Book a Top Agent.” Since I don’t have an agent and currently focus on getting non-union jobs, I thought it would be a good introduction to the topic. Thus far, I had heard many pros and cons about having an agent. I sat front and center, taking copious notes. These are my top 10 take-aways.

  1.  “Celebrities are doing animation for scale.” If you’re going to submit your demo to an agent to request submission, send an MP3 via email and make sure it’s a commercial demo, no wacky voices, etc. Animation work is much harder to get.
  2. “And I know you how…?” It’s good practice to let an agent know if you have an acquaintance in common (preferably one of their favorite clients or a celebrity who recommended you contact that agent). It makes the agent more likely to listen to your demo.
  3. “If you’re not booking non-union work, it’s a problem.” Before approaching an agent for representation, you should already have a lot of non-union VO work under your belt as evidence that you are bankable. Of course, any agent would love a new client who is also booking union work that can transfer over to the agent’s account.
  4. “I don’t care about your TV work.” Your voiceover resume should only include your voiceover work or work very closely related. The skills required for on-camera work are too far removed from the skills required for successful VO acting to matter to an agent. If you have both, your VO resume should differ from your stage/TV acting resume.
  5. “An improv class on your resume is more valuable/impressive than a VO class.” Agents feel that having improv training shows the talent understands timing and thinking on their feet. This is especially helpful for the auditions they send talent to, because…
  6. “You need to be able to do a cold read very well.” Unlike home auditions that allow VO actors multiple takes and time to practice, talent sent by agents to auditions get the copy “handed to them as they walk into the studio,” and generally get one take to get it right.  
  7. “Work with the best coaches.” Agents want talent who are already trained and ready to successfully book jobs. They want you to invest in working with the best two or three coaches in town, not waste your time with multiple, cheap, mediocre coaches (of which there are many).
  8. “The best demos tell a story.” Commercial demo copy should not focus on price points or sales pitches as much as good story telling by the talent. Most commercial demos should be no longer than 60-90 seconds (longer if you’re focusing on audio books). The best stuff should always be up front– don’t assume anyone will listen all the way through.
  9. “We’re always looking for fresh talent.” If an agent turns you down and gives you a reason not related to your lack of talent (e.g., “I already have two VO actresses who sound just like you,”) it is okay to follow up again in 6-8 months. If you don’t hear back from an agent, then they are just not interested.
  10. “The ‘realistic voice’ currently popular with VO casting directors is fake.” So is every VO voice booked. Successful talent are able to recreate the voice of the moment, be it sales-heavy or fake-reality.

BONUS #1

Audience Question: Who is your favorite VO talent right now?

Agent #1 Answer: The actor who books the most work. My kid needs braces.

Agent #2 Answer: The actor I make the most money off of.

Agent #3 Answer: The actor I make the most money off of.

Agent #4 Answer: Morgan Freeman

 

BONUS COMMENT #2

Audience Question: Do you think there is any benefit to having a female agent if you are a female talent?

Panel Facilitator (female, not an agent) Answer: “I would not work with a female agent because ‘the claws really come out.’” [WTF??]

Agent #1 (male) Answer: No, no difference.

Agent #2 (male) Answer: No, no difference.

Agent #3 (male) Answer: No, no difference.

Agent #4 (male) Answer: No, no difference.

 

So, what do you think? Agree with any of these musings? Think agents are greedy, nasty beings or professional guides who will help you expand your career? Comment below! 🙂

P2P: Voices.com, part 4 in a series

24 May

If you are non-union voiceover talent looking for work online, you are likely familiar with the P2P (“pay to play”) websites that offer access to job listings for a fee. Being somewhat new to the VO industry, I decided to try several different P2P sites before committing to one or the other (or several) for the long haul. In my previous posts, I wrote about my experience on Elance.com (https://algranatiw.wordpress.com/2012/04/24/p2p-vo-work-on-generic-freelancer-websites-part-2-in-a-series-2/) 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 Voices.com.

Getting Started

The membership for voiceover talent on Voices.com is $299/year or $39.95/month. In comparison, Voice123 has a similar annual fee ($295) but no monthly option. Clients list their jobs for free. New members have the opportunity to try Voices.com for one month at the discounted rate of $9.95, which is the route I took.

As I mentioned in my previous P2P posts, signing up and creating one’s online voiceover profile is a fairly standard procedure on each of these sites: head shot, demos, text descriptions, check boxes, contact info, done! Because Voices.com manages the payment process (see below), talent also need to provide PayPal account info.

When I first signed up with Voices.com for free (non-paying members can post their profiles and demos, but can’t audition for anything, same as Voice123), I was contacted about the $9.95 introductory offer via email. I arranged to have my cheapie test month postponed until I returned from vacation, and had an inbox full of audition invites when I returned home.

You WILL Get Invitations to Audition. Lots!

Voices.com 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. This will sound familiar if you are a paying member of Voice123.

The difference between Voices.com and Voice123, and it’s a BIG difference, is that Voices.com does not limit the number of auditions to which members are invited. Voice123, as previous discussed and often criticized across the web, “punishes” its members for auditioning too frequently by sending them less audition invitations. Voices.com does not do this. The site invites its paying members to audition for any jobs that match their profile at least 80% (I only received one invite that matched only 80%, the remainder were 85% or higher). This is a huge advantage Voices.com has over Voice123.

I received invitations to audition on Voices.com frequently during my test, often a dozen or so every 2 or 3 days.  Approximately 97% of all the invitations I received did indeed match the information in my profile. The 3% that were not appropriate for me appeared to be the fault of the client or Voices.com staff that checked the wrong box regarding which gender was desired. In one instance, I had already recorded my audition before noticing that the client wanted a voice “similar to Alec Baldwin.” That was my bad for not reading the description and extra information more carefully.

Service & Process

The Voices.com process is different from Voice123 in several ways. In addition to not limiting invitations, Voices.com semi-shepherds the process of connecting client with talent and oversees payment. Voices.com is also transparent about the status of jobs it lists on its site and allows clients to provide some limited audition feedback.

The Voices.com website indicates if a submitted audition has been listened to with a green check mark next to the job listing. The site will also show a “thumbs up” icon if the client “liked” what he or she heard (which Voices.com compares to the “like” function on Facebook). This is less helpful than the various ratings provided by Voice123 –when clients opt to use them– that indicate how likely a client is to hire each talent. But any feedback is welcome feedback. As someone still new to VO, and as I mentioned in a previous post, it’s helpful to look at feedback in the aggregate in order to identify patterns. For example, the types of jobs for which I most often received “thumbs up” ratings are the two areas I have been focusing on in my search for voiceover work.

Clients post a job to Voices.com in the usual manner, with a project fee (often a range) and closing date. Voices.com does not allow project fees of less than $100, but does not prevent clients from asking for massive amounts of work for those hundred dollars. VO talent include a proposed project fee with their audition and proposal, to which an “escrow fee” of 10% is added and passed on to the client. This fee is collected by Voices.com upon job completion. In other words, Voices.com does not collect this fee unless the project runs through to completion. Unlike Voice123, which functions solely as a match-making service between client and talent, Voices.com has a financial stake in both the match-making and project aspects of their business. The actual work of exchanging files and other communication between client and talent happens outside of the Voices.com site.

Voices.com’s vested interest in project completion is evident in how they share with members what I’ll call “job status labels.” A job status is always presented alongside each job listing for which a member has been invited to audition:

OPEN- Accepting auditions

CLOSED- No more auditions being accepted.

FINALIZING- Client has selected a talent, is in negotiations, etc.

WORKING- Talent and client have agreed to terms and are working on project.

COMPLETED – Job is complete; money has been released by the client to pay the talent.

I found this to be incredibly helpful, if not fascinating. Unlike Voice123, talent using Voices.com are able to track if the job they didn’t get (yet?) was awarded to someone else or just hasn’t been awarded yet at all. Based on my experience, job listings on Voices.com are often open only for a few days (not a few hours like Voice123, and not two weeks like Elance), but rarely changed from the CLOSED status quickly.

In fact, as of May 23rd, I have 14 jobs for which I auditioned that closed in April for that are still in CLOSED status. Of these, only three of my auditions have been listened to. And those are just the jobs I auditioned for! Add to that all the jobs I was invited to in April but declined and all the other jobs in April that didn’t match my profile, and that’s a LOT of projects on Voices.com going nowhere.

Ashley Davidson, the Social Media Manager from Voices.com, assured me that, “Voices.com staff follows up with all jobs that have been posted on the website, regardless of status.” I have to wonder just how long they wait to make contact with clients who never hire someone. I can’t imagine why Voices.com would want to write-off their potential 10% profit of so many incomplete jobs. This makes me wonder, as I did in my review of Voice123, if some of the job listings are Voices.com and maybe P2P sites in general are not genuine and only serve the purpose of drumming up the business of paying members.

Ashley also shared with me that Voices.com “has a global network of over 25,000 voice actors” and creates “6,911 job opportunities on average each month.” Based on my experience with the site, I am still left wondering how many of those “job opportunities” actually come to fruition, and after how much time? Even if each of those monthly 6,911 jobs were booked and completed by a different Voices.com member each month, that still leaves 18,089 members paying a subscription fee but not booking any work that month. It was not clear from Ashley’s email what percent of the 25,000 membership is nonpaying “members” who have a needle’s chance in a haystack of being “discovered” and offered work without an invitation to audition, though I would double down on the likelihood that 99% of the 6,911 jobs that DO get completed are awarded to paying Voices.com members.

By the way, the page layout of job listings on Voices.com is very easy to use.  Members can sort by close dates, by the job, or by project fee. With so many invitations to audition, being able to sort and prioritize each recording session was very useful. (When I was testing Voice123 I emailed them the recommendation to sort job listings by close date to no avail.) If Voices.com added a feature to also sort by the heard/liked icons, that would be very cool. Nothing like a bunch of “thumbs up” icons en masse to brighten your day!

Feeding, but not quite a Frenzy

During my 30 day trial of Voice123, I found that audition invitations were limited and often maxed-out within the hour. Jobs on Voices.com do not have limits on the number of auditions, so it is up to the talent to decide if he or she really wants to audition for a job that already has 80 or more proposals. Like all sites, auditions sometimes close early on Voices.com—a huge bummer to see the CLOSED status has changed to WORKING before you even had a chance!—but this does not happen so often as to be discouraging.

Also similar to other sites, sometimes jobs are awarded to others before your audition is ever reviewed. One approach is to be an early bird about submitting one’s audition. This doesn’t always work, though, because many clients will wait until the close date and listen to all auditions at once, in who knows what order. Another approach is to bid low if a budget range is provided. I tried both.

So, How Did I Do on Voices.com?

Time for numbers!

My test period on Voices.com was 46 days instead of the 30 days I tested Voice123, and for two reasons:

  1. I realized there was a lengthy lag between the job close date and when clients actually begin work on their project.
  2. Voices.com has a monthly fee option that allowed me to expand my test without signing up for an entire year.

I.E., My test on Voices.com was approximately 50% longer than my test on Voice123. If you are a math nerd like me and really want to compare apples to apples, multiply the below Voices.com stats by 50% and then compare them to the stats in my Voice123 post. 

Here are my approximate stats for 46 days on Voices.com.

Auditions invited to: 291

This is an average of 6.34 invitations to audition per day, which was my Voice123 weekly average, if I were lucky that week. As previously stated, all but one invitation I received was at least an 85% match to my profile. A few weeks into my test I revised my Voices.com profile a bit, but this had no obvious effect on the number of invites I received.

Voices.com does not tell members which auditions they are*not* invited to (Voice123 does this), which is fine with me. There was plenty of work to consider!

The quality of these jobs were generally good or very good, with a few “Huh?!?” gigs thrown in here and there. Yes, I said this exact same thing about the jobs on Voice123. Voices.com has a statement after each listing confirming that someone on staff has personally been in touch with the client and has approved the job for posting, though it’s not clear what the standard is for approval.

Auditions submitted: 56

With no fear of being retaliated against for “over-auditioning,” I was selective but aggressive in my audition submissions on Voices. Auditions include a cover note, proposal fee, and one audio track—you can’t submit both your reel and your custom audition. 56 out of 291 is a submission rate of 19.2%. This is actually lower than my submission rate on Voice123, which was 23.4%. In other words, just because I was given more opportunity to audition does not mean I became less selective about which jobs to pursue.

Auditions listened to: 25 out of 56 (44.6%)

As I mentioned, I eventually realized that clients using Voices.com are slower to review auditions and start projects than those on Voice123. Of the 31 auditions not heard, all are for jobs still marked as CLOSED, which probably means no auditions for that job have been listened to yet.

With new batches of invites coming in every few days, I conducted a few experiments to see if I could manipulate the system to my advantage and increase the likelihood of my audition being opened.

Batch #1: Fast and Furious. I recorded and submitted auditions for this batch as soon as I was notified of the job.

Batch #2: Cheap Cheap Like a Birdie. I never bid below the listed project fee, but whenever a budget range was provided, I bid the lowest amount. Even though I knew this could result in my doing a very large job for a very tiny paycheck, I was willing to make this sacrifice in the name of research. I hope you appreciate my sacrifices!

Batch #3: The Demo Ditch. Being low on mojo (see https://algranatiw.wordpress.com/2012/05/16/where-did-you-go-mojo/) and feeling a bit discouraged about submitting so many auditions on Voices.com with little to show for it, I responded to a batch of invites with my demo reel instead of a custom audition. Of course, I didn’t do this for listings that specifically said, “Send us a custom demo or we won’t consider you.”

So which approach do you think worked?

(Drumroll, please…)

Fast and Furious did not work. There was no increase in the percent of auditions listened to when my auditions were among the first few submitted. This confirms for me that the Feeding Frenzy model of Voice123 is not something that needs to be accepted as a way of life for non-union VO talent.

I can’t say if the Demo Ditch worked or not, as it was the last approached I tested. As of day 46, 45.5% of the demo ditch “auditions” were listened to, almost the exact same rate of review as the custom demos I had been submitting. My cover note made it clear that it was my demo reel, not a custom recording, I was submitting for review. This result makes me wonder if I have been needlessly wasting my time on custom auditions when really they have not been necessary.  

First prize goes to CHEAP CHEAP LIKE A LITTLE BIRDIE! I submitted eight auditions in one sitting for which I bid at the lowest end of the client’s project range. All eight were reviewed within 24 hours.

This clear interest in acquiring the cheapest talent possible contradicts the last statement made in the Voices.com document, “12 Trends for 2012,” which was emailed to members by Kayla Moore on May 19th. This document states:

Rates Hold Firm… Something we’ve noticed is that clients are not always going with talent who quotes the least… in fact, most clients opt to hire in the middle of a range or closer to the top!

I’m not sure how this can be true when auditions that accompany proposal fees in the mid-range or at the high end of the clients range have a lower listen-to rate than those submitted at the lowest rate. If the client doesn’t listen to your audition, the chance of them hiring you seems pretty low, dontcha think?

One of the eight clients contacted me, asking for a second take in a different tone, because she felt my voice was a great match for the project (and that project is still in CLOSED status, so nothing has happened since then).

A second of the eight clients contacted me after hearing my storybook demo requesting a custom recording of just a single line. I submitted the recording and was awarded the job when the posting status switched to CLOSED. In the interest of research, I completed a 400+ word project for just $100. You’re welcome, Internet.

Jobs booked (so far): 1

I enjoyed doing the job I booked on Voices.com, despite the project fee what we can all agree was mighty small. I recorded text for a children’s story book, plus recorded a long list of individual words for use in the interactive parts of an eBook. The client knew what he wanted and was fun to work with. Once we agreed to terms, the client and I communicated via email and I sent file via the Internet. When the project was complete, I received payment directly from Voices.com.

With so many of the jobs I auditioned for still OPEN or CLOSED but not yet in progress (55 as of this writing, with enough “thumbs up” icons to keep me hopeful), I wonder if I could continue to book more work on Voices.com even if I don’t send another audition during my remaining 15 days or so left on the site.

Now What?

Like Voice123, I have mixed feelings about my experience on Voices.com. As I mentioned, my number one question to be answered in doing this research remains focused on the membership fee and the value of that membership to the VO talent. Is paying $299/year to be a member on Voices.com worth it?

The hurry-up-and-wait nature of Voices.com in particular has me stumped. I suggested in my post about Voice123 that their lack of fiscal interest in completed VO projects could lead to abuse of their system for the sole purpose of driving membership fees. Voices.com does have a financial stake in project completion (in addition to membership fees), but does not seem to close the loop on projects that are posted on their site and never complete. I wonder if clients and talent “meet” on the Voices.com site but work outside of it to avoid that pesky 10% “escrow fee”?  Does Voices.com attract a different kind client than Voice123? Do clients go to Voice123 when in a hurry, (or worse, to Voicebunny.com, a sister company of Voice123 reviewed by A.T. Chandler here: http://chandlervoice.wordpress.com/2012/05/11/a-review-of-voicebunny-com-beta-testing-their-beta-test/) and Voices.com when they’re still brainstorming ideas and less likely to actually pull the trigger?

I was only a little surprised that my cheap Voices.com proposals were all listened to so quickly, and eventually landed me a job (and hopefully that second one—at least that job was for a non-profit organization!). Having hired plenty of contractors in my time, I get it. Why not start with the bids that are the most affordable?  All things being equal, clients like to save money. Who doesn’t?

This has bigger implications for the voiceover industry: Non-union voiceover fees continue to fall steeply and quickly. The prices on Voices.com and Voice123 are similar, and those on Elance (which serves a larger, global market) are even lower. Given the choice, I don’t imagine that small agencies and companies would hire union actors when the non-union work is of the same quality but perhaps 20% the cost of union talent.

Both Voices.com and Voice123 emphasize that their service helps voiceover talent create relationships with clients that will lead to more work. I don’t buy into this, I’m sorry. Unless someone hires you, sending them audition after audition is not the beginning of a relationship; it’s stalking. I could send my resume to the same Human Resources director at IBM every week, for every position I think I am qualified for, but that does not constitute a relationship with that person.

Back to my original question: Is paying $299 a year worth it, for either Voice123 or Voices.com?

From my current vantage point, I think a year-long study would be needed to really answer that question. Voices.com provides many more opportunities to audition, but Voice123 may provide more audition opportunities that are likely to actually lead to a paying gig.

Perhaps I’ve been approaching this all wrong. Maybe I need to do a ton of work for free (should be easy enough to find work without paying any membership fees!), and then pursue union membership and an agent based on a robust portfolio. Or, perhaps I should just start my own voiceover job listing service, because that’s clearly where the money is to be found in this business.

Wouldn’t you like to give me $300/year to send you voiceover job listings?

I’ll just need your credit card information and your email address…

🙂 Wendy

 

References:

Elance website

Voices.com website

Voice123 website

Email exchange with Ashley Davidson of Voices.com, May 2, 2012

“12 Trends for 2012” presentation from Kayla Moore of Voices.com, received May 19, 2012.

 

Follow me on Twitter @AlgranatiW

Website & demos at www.wendyalgranati.com

Where did you go, mojo?

16 May

I know, I know. I’m pretty far behind in my blogging and haven’t tweeted much lately. My article about Thirty Days on Voices.com is still in my head and not yet on paper or screen. Worse yet, I haven’t been doing many voiceover auditions! Something has happened to my mojo. Where did it go? I can’t find it!

I know this is just sometimes the natural ebb-and-flow of things: Very excited, less excited, mellow, downright lethargic, engaged, and back to very excited. The pattern itself is predictable, even though its timing is not. In other words, how long will this lethargy last? I have no idea. But it blows.

I sent myself an email with the subject line, “GET OFF YOUR ASS YOU STUPID LAZY FUCK!” but to no avail. I tried binging on beer and nachos. I tried purging via group meditation.  I tried talking it out with friends and I tried writing things down. I just cannot get myself in gear! Nothing is working.

Voiceover ain’t no desk job. I can’t just sit at my desk and surf the Internet all day. I need to BRING IT or go home. I just can’t muster the energy to bring it this week. Or the last couple of weeks. The days are starting to blend into one another. My mic stand is getting dusty, I can feel it.

Circumstances, while I don’t blame them, are also not exactly helping me out. Working at home is always subject to chain saws, leaf blowers, and helicopters. I don’t care if your home studio is sealed up like Fort Knox, some stuff is LOUD. Loud and unscheduled, which means it can happen at any moment. Any moment that I attempt to record, in fact, is when those things start up. It is making me a little insane. More than a little.

I don’t mind sharing that I’ve also had a couple of minor setbacks lately. One of my niches is doing “explainer videos” for apps, new websites, etc. I have that young-adult-hipster voice when I’m not recording kids’ storybooks, my other strong suit. I’ve done several gigs at a pretty low rate for the purpose of building my portfolio, with an agreement that I will get a copy of the final product or video to include on my website. Unfortunately, the last few recordings I did may never see the light of day. In fact, I know one will definitely not see the light of day, because the client told me so. In that case, all I’m left with is a scratch/beta animation video that they asked I not share publically. And my paycheck. Whoopee doo.

And just to drag you down a bit further, can I also express, as I have previously on this blog, how frustrating it is to not have your audition listened to? If someone doesn’t like my voice, or doesn’t feel I’m the right fit for a particular job, I can accept that. But if I get my audition in on time, I really wish someone would listen to it! Of course, I know there are no guarantees that any audition is listened to, and yes, I know that if the client finds a match before they get around to listening to my audition, they have no reason to continue. BUT IT’S SO DAMNED FRUSTRATING!

What else can I say? I’m in a slump. But I’ll try again tonight to record some auditions if I don’t fall asleep first (sleepiness seems to be a symptom of the lethargy). At worst, attending VOICE2012 next month should be a great shot in the arm, even though that’s a while month away. I don’t think I can be in a slump for a whole month!

Follow me on Twitter (when I have the mojo to start tweeting again) @AlgranatiW

Website & demos (Only one video right now! Sigh.) at www.wendyalgranati.com

A Brief Word about Non-Union Voiceover Rates

2 May

There is no shortage of blog posts, LinkedIn group discussions, or online articles about what voiceover artists should be paid for their non-union work. There are some who will work for any rate they can get, and there are some who have a set fee schedule by which they live and die. I have had the experience of turning down jobs because the rate offered was too low, and I have had my auditions not lead to paying gigs because my requested rate was too high. Two sides of the same coin.

There is no right answer, no magical voiceover rate, which is why this blog entry is destined to be brief. Both Voice123.com and Voices.com offer “suggested rates” (http://support.voice123.com/article/How_Much_Are_Talents_and_Voice_Producers_Charging_for_Non-Union_Voice_Over_Work_Delivered_Online.html and http://www.voices.com/rates). I find both of these pages helpful, though ironically, not representative of the majority of job listings on either of those sites.

As mentioned previously, one thing I liked about Elance.com is that artists can see the low, high, and average proposal bids of auditions already sent for each job listing. It gives some context to the general categorization of “pays under $500” or “$1000-$2500” or what have you. Elance also lets clients reject bids based on fee alone, giving voiceover talent the option to revise their bid lower (if they feel that is a reasonable action).

As I also mentioned previously, Elance voiceover jobs seemed to pay lower than other P2P sites’ jobs. Though I don’t want to give away any juicy details about my next entry (“30 Days on Voices.com”), I wonder if rates on *all* the P2P sites are lower than what I thought. After all, most listings on Voice123 and Voices offer a rate range, and artists are able to propose whatever amount they choose. In other words, perhaps Elance does NOT pay less than the other sites, but is just more transparent about what jobs are paying. Something to chew on.

And speaking of Elance, I did not get any VO gigs on that site last month. This coming month, I am trying something new: Before sending my audition and proposal for each Elance job, I viewed the average proposed fee already submitted and used that number on my proposal. If the average proposal fee for recording a 10,000 word eBook was $645, that’s what I submitted as my bid. While this may lead to some trouble (i.e., I’ll have to make good on my word and do a few jobs that way underpay), it will be worth it to satisfy my curiosity… and to report my findings back to you.

I also did an experiment like this on Voices.com, but you’ll have to wait until next week to hear about it.

Cheers, and thanks for reading!

Wendy

Follow me on Twitter @AlgranatiW

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

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

Fact Finding: Voice123

29 Apr

Just finished the draft of my next article on P2P sites, which is Voice123. Prior to posting (which I plan to do Monday afternoon), I hope Voice123 responds to the email I just sent requesting they answer the questions below, so I can replace some of my hypothetical musings with facts straight from the horse’s mouth. Of course, I understand that some of this information may not be for sharing with the public. I’d like to know if that applies as well.

1. Do voice coaches receive a “kickback” when their students enroll as paying members? What is the rate or percent they receive?

2. How many voice actors are currently listed on Voice123? Male / Female?

3. How many auditions or what percent of invitations to submit that are responded to triggers SmartCast to label talent as “not selective enough”?

4. How many auditions or what percent of invitations to submit that are responded to triggers SmartCast to label talent as “not active enough”?

5. How many artists are invited to audition in relation to the # of auditions sought (multiple of # desired)? For example, if a client asks Voice123 to use SmartCast to find 50 auditions, how many subscribers receive an invitation?

6. Do you track jobs in any way after auditions have been sent? Does Voice123 have any data on how many jobs listed on their site are actually completed and paid for?

 

Remember, you can follow me on Twitter @AlgranatiW

View my website and listen to demos at http://www.wendyalgranati.com/

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