Filed under: Opinions
UPDATE: A new post on VOX Daily at Voices.com indicates they’ve revised their new policy because of the outcry of VOs like myself and those in the comments section below. They’ve always been good at listening, and I’m extremely happy that my fellow VOs were willing to make the noise we needed to. Thanks to David and Stephanie Ciccarelli and the whole Voices.com team for always keeping our best interests at heart. — 08/03/2012, 12:19PM PDT
Voices.com has been a major part of my voice over business ever since I started my career. It’s been my favorite pay-to-play site because of its hands-off approach that allows its users to make decisions for themselves on what’s best for their career, without imposing a lot of restrictions and policies that have a tendency to get in the way (Footnote: Voice123 recently removed the “you-audition-too-much” restriction part of SmartCast’s algorithm, making the system a lot easier to swallow than it was at the time of my writing that article). However, after years of using the site the way that works best for me, my delicate ecosystem has been shaken. I received a message on my first audition proposal of the day telling me I couldn’t submit until I removed my contact information from the cover letter.
Not wanting to let something like this get in the way of my productivity for the day, I finished my auditions sans-email address and phone number, then did a little digging to see where this message came from. I found this page on the Voices.com FAQ, last updated today (July 31, 2012). Essentially, this page indicates that Voices.com will be enforcing what I call a “No Contact Policy” more effectively than they have in the past (apparently it’s always been in their Terms of Service) in an effort to keep more business on the site. They say they’re doing this to “improve their service” and “provide greater value to their customers” (voice over actors), but really, they’re doing it for the money.
I’ll save my reasoning for why the ability to share contact information is essential for the letter attached at the bottom of the article, but if you’re feeling like you need it now, you can remind yourself of my arguments against VoiceBunny and come back to finish this read a little later. For those who don’t know, Voices.com offers a service it calls “SurePay,” which allows clients to deposit funds into an escrow account as soon as a voice over actor accepts their job offer. The VO then records and uploads the job to the site, and once the client signs off on the finished files, the funds are released from escrow and sent to the VO–minus a 10% service charge that goes to Voices.com. SurePay is a great security blanket for both clients and voices alike. Nobody has to worry about getting stiffed because an impartial third-party is handling the money. It also provides an easy way to transfer files to clients. It’s a service I’ve used many times, and I greatly appreciate its existence.
However, in the past, using SurePay has been an option for my clients and I. Sometimes, we’ll elect to work outside of the SurePay system, because we need a little more flexibility (or, I’ll be honest, because I want to keep that 10%). We come to terms via email conversation, and conduct our business on our own–without the aid of the impartial third-party. Other times, we use the service. I’ve had clients who never even asked to use SurePay. I’ve had clients who thought about it and choose not to. I’ve had clients who thought about not using it and choose to do so instead. I’ve had clients who used SurePay the first time we worked together and then worked directly with me on the next job. And I have clients who use SurePay every single time they have a new line of dialog for an ongoing project. I love having that flexibility in my business plan.
But Voices.com has decided, essentially because they’re getting a little money hungry, to take that flexibility away. SurePay is basically becoming a requirement. And I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who doesn’t like the change. So, to express my distaste on the matter, I sent the message included below to Voices.com this afternoon. If you’re a Voices.com member and you share my opinion, I strongly suggest you do the same. If enough of us make a stink about it, maybe, just maybe, we can convince them to change their minds.
To Whom It May Concern:
I’m not sure where to lodge this complaint, so I guess I’ll do it here. Today, I received a message I’d never seen before telling me it was against the terms of service to include my contact information in an audition proposal. Upon reviewing the FAQ, I found an article that’s been added today regarding new measures being taken to enforce this policy in an effort to increase job completion on the site.
I have been including my contact information in all of my auditions for years, on this site and others. I strongly believe it is imperative to have open lines of communication with my clients and not be forced to direct conversations through a middle-man. Being prohibited from divulging my contact information to clients on the site has the potential to significantly hinder my personal business. I can no longer showcase my capabilities with my personal website, which is and will always be a far greater asset than any profile on any marketplace featuring thousands of voices who are my competition.
Furthermore, by prohibiting me from sharing my email address with clients, I’m given no opportunity to collect their contact information. When a contact emails me regarding a potential job opportunity, I save their address so that I can send mailers to them in the future reminding them of our existing relationship and encouraging repeat business. Their contact information being made available once they’ve expressed an interest in hiring me is invaluable.
And what about clients who require an ISDN or phone patch connection during the recording session? We’ve got to be able to share phone numbers in order to complete the work. Being able to share contact information with clients is absolutely vital to the success of a voice over actor’s business.
The desire to encourage job completion on the site is one I certainly understand: Voices.com makes money from each transaction, so why wouldn’t you want that to happen as much as possible? But this is the only explanation for prohibiting us from sharing our contact information: money. You’re not helping your users out at all. Bringing clients back to post more jobs on the site (which a significant portion already do on their own) in order to book the same voice over actor they booked last time does nothing to improve the market for that actor’s competition. It acts only as a hindrance to the end-user, even though it may drive up your profits by a small margin.
Were the voice over actors who utilize this site doing so completely free of charge, forcing us to complete every job through the SurePay system would make absolute sense. But we’re not. We pay a substantial subscription fee just to have the chance to audition for these jobs. And having SurePay there as an option is FANTASTIC! It guarantees we get paid by the client, provides us with an easy way to deliver the files, it’s great. But I beg you, allow us to choose whether we want to use it or not. You’re still making plenty of money from those of us who do choose to use it, and from our subscription fees, and we’re not going anywhere just because we’re able to talk to our clients freely.
You guys have been my #1 choice for booking work for three years. I’ve been contacted three times regarding a Platinum membership, and I’ve very seriously considered getting it. But enforcing a policy like this will very swiftly drop you to the bottom of my list, and may very well lead to the cancellation of my membership altogether. Please. Don’t do this.
July 31, 2012
No matter what line of work you’re in, at some point somebody’s going to ask you to do something you’re not comfortable doing. This is no different for the world of voice over. Especially when you’re talking about audiobooks.
Some people in the entertainment business ascribe to the belief system that you’ve got to take any work you can possibly get. I am not one of those people. I’ve turned down a few jobs in the past. Most of them for financial reasons: if they can’t pay me what I believe the job is worth, I won’t do it. That’s a pretty easy line of thinking to understand. But what happens when you’re offered a job that pays well, yet compromises your moral standings?
Perhaps you’re a political activist asked to voice a radio spot for a candidate you don’t support. As a rule, I avoid any political related work like the plague unless it supports one of the few causes I feel strongly about. But if I were offered a ten thousand dollar contract for a national spot in favor of a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, would I take it? If you don’t believe in the equality of LGBT citizens, that’s obviously a no-brainer. But if you do, like I do, you might have a tougher time. $10,000? That’s a lot of zeros. Would I take it?
I wouldn’t even think twice. You’ve got to have standards for yourself, or you lose a little of your humanity. A decision like the example I just created would be pretty easy for me to make, no matter how much money they offered me. The decision I had to make this week was a little harder than that, though, and it didn’t have anything to do with money.
Two weeks ago, I submitted an audition for a romance novel on ACX. I was somewhat skeptical to do so; the genre was “Romance,” the description said there would be explicit content. But, in my defense, nothing in the audition piece was too risque for me. I’m not exactly a prude; I can handle a little sexuality, especially if it’s in good taste and supports a good story. So, I decided to send in the audition and see where it led.
A few days ago, I was offered the job. Acknowledging my skepticism, I asked if I could read the book before I accepted the offer. The client complied, sent me the novel, and I promptly read it as quickly as I could so as not to keep them waiting. The decision was a difficult one. The book wasn’t pornographic by any means. The story focused on the romance between the characters, and the first sex scene didn’t even happen until about half way in. But the explicit content that was there was enough to make me a little uneasy. It got pretty descriptive, and I could tell I wasn’t going to be entirely comfortable when reading the book into a microphone knowing others would one day hear it.
I waffled over the dilemma for a couple of days while I was reading the book. I asked my friends, my roommates, my girlfriend, even my mother what they thought I should do. I even took the question to one of my LinkedIn discussion groups. Not a single person said “take the job” or “don’t take the job.” Basically, the answer I got from everyone was, “Do you want to do it?” So in the end, I decided that if I wasn’t 100% comfortable reading the book to myself, I wouldn’t be the right fit for the job. I respectfully declined the offer, in spite of the fact that I knew it was a well paying job that would likely lead to similar well paying jobs.
Am I saying I don’t think voice over actors should be willing to narrate explicit content? Not at all. If you’re comfortable with the kind of work I was offered this week, by all means, take it. What I am saying is that you have to know your own personal boundaries. Acknowledge that not every opportunity is right for you, even if it might be right for somebody else. Plenty of people can be successful and happy doing work that I, personally, would not be happy doing. And cudos to them for doing so! But it’s not my cup of tea.
So, my advice for other voice over actors for the day is know when to say no. If you’re in this business for the money, you need to pick a different business. The money we make isn’t good enough to be the reason you do it, and you’re not going to be any good at it if all you’re after is a paycheck. Find whatever standards you have and stick to them. Never sell yourself short. And no matter what you do, be happy with what you’re doing.
July 21, 2012
By the time this post goes live, I’ll be somewhere in the Caribbean, soaking up sunshine, para sailing, snorkeling, and eating more food than my stomach can hold. I know you’re jealous… And you should be. Anyway, to hold down the fort here on the blog while I’m gone, I’ve scheduled this post in advance. Today’s topic is something some voice over actors may not realize is as necessary as it is to succeed in this 21st century world: web presence.
If you want to be a voice over actor, having a website is absolutely vital. Without one, no one will take you seriously. Your website is like a digital business card you can hand out to all your potential clients, agents, and casting directors, and they will look at it. Of course, they’re likely not going to spend much time looking at it, which is why you need to make sure the most important information on your website is accessible quickly, and presented in a visually interesting and professional manner. Take a look at my website as an example. You’ll notice that the home page is where I keep my reels. There’s an “About Me” on the page, too, but it’s below my reels, because it’s secondary. In fact, its primary purpose is to help my search ranking just by being on the page. The reels are front and center whenever someone comes to visit my site, so it only takes one click for them to hear what they need to hear from me.
You also want to make sure your website is functional on every platform imaginable. A laptop computer with built-in speakers is likely the most technologically advanced piece of hardware your site’s visitors will be using. So, for starters, make sure your reels sound good on tiny, crappy speakers, as well as the headphones or speakers you use in your home studio. For a while, I was using a Flash-based audio player for my reels and other work samples on this website. The site had a visit from Bob Bergen‘s iPad, though, which isn’t Flash compatible (silly Apple), and he informed me of this mistake. Until that point, I’m not sure if I even knew my players were Flash-based. Do your research on that stuff. I’ve since found a plugin that is presented by default in HTML5 with Flash, but automatically detects browser incompatibilities and switches to Silverlight when necessary. For your reference, it’s called MediaElement.js.
When it comes to the design of the site, you might have lots of clever ideas for how to make it stand out, but stick to the rule of less is more. If I have to sit through a ten second intro animation before I get to the useful information, you’ve already lost me. If there’s not some kind of clearly labeled navigation that’s easily visible telling me how to go from your reels to your resume, et cetera, I’m gone. You can, and should, show something of your personality through the design (provided it doesn’t conflict with any particular aspect of your voice’s work potential), but don’t do so at the expense of ease of use.
I would advise against putting a photograph of yourself on your website. If a casting director knows what you look like, especially before they know what your voice sounds like, they’ll have a preconceived notion of what you will and won’t be right for. This is especially damning if your physical appearance doesn’t match your voice. If you sound like James Earl Jones, but you look like Justin Bieber, you obviously don’t want people casting you based on your appearance. If you’re also a stage/screen actor as well as voice over, you might be thinking, “I can’t go without my headshots!” You’re right, but you don’t want them anywhere near your voice over stuff. Give your website a simple landing page that links to an On Camera section and a Voice Over section that are completely separate from each other. That’ll be the first thing visitors see, which means it adds a click to the step-by-step process of getting to what they’re looking for, but nobody who’s interested in casting you for voice over will ever visit the On Camera section of your site, which means they’re not going to get any ideas based on how you look.
Am I telling you to learn how to design a website all on your own? Not necessarily, no. It certainly does help if you know how and have access to make small changes from time to time. I’d say it’s pretty crucial that you at least be able to update your resume and reels on your own. But if the idea of putting together a website seems beyond you, don’t be so sure. This site is built on WordPress, and it’s astoundingly easy to put together. Once you purchase a domain name and hosting space from somewhere like Name.com, BlueHost, or GoDaddy, you should be able to install WordPress through their admin panel with two or three clicks of the mouse, completely free of charge. Then log into the WordPress admin panel on your website, find a theme you like, install it, and customize, all without ever needing to learn anything about HTML code. Of course, for higher levels of customization, a little bit of code editing is going to be necessary, but it’s feasible to make a pretty solid website without it.
If all that still sounds like it’s too much for you, find a professional that can get the job done cheaply. But be very specific with your instructions. If you give them free reign to design something they think looks nice, unless you’ve managed to find a web developer with lots of experience in the voice over industry, the site they design will likely not be the site you need. If you’ve already got a website, but you want some feedback or specific pointers on how to make it better, you can always drop me a line.
You’ll want to do anything you can think of to boost your search ranking. The term for this is Search Engine Optimization, or SEO. Bury terms like “voice over,” “commercial,” and “animation” all over your website. Repeat them as often as possible. Oh, and don’t forget your name. People who search for “Kyle McCarley” find this website before they find anything else. You can also boost your search ranking results by linking to your website from other places. For example, my Voices.com, Voice123, Voiceregistry, Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ pages all link back to this website. There are probably fifty more places you can find links to my site somewhere on the ‘net, as well. That makes your website appear more important to Google, and that means it shows up higher than other sites in search results.
Aside from your personal website, you need to be on all the social networks. Networking has always been key to the success of anyone in any niche of the entertainment industry, and social networking is part of that now. Twitter and Facebook are no-brainers. Literally everyone and their moms use Facebook, and Twitter’s not far behind. Google+ is slowly coming up, and though it doesn’t have the user-base of its competitors, more exposure never hurt anybody. LinkedIn is another one that can be really useful. In addition to boosting your search rankings, providing you with a place to find contact information for casting directors, and getting yourself listed in what’s basically a phonebook of professionals in all industries (including voice over), there are several groups on LinkedIn for voice over actors to discuss different topics and share advice. In fact, there are more than there need to be, but the top three I’d recommend are Character Voice Actors, Voice Over Professionals, and Audiobook Voices Network.
If you’re finding that keeping up with all those social networks is too difficult, here’s a little tip that helps with that. There are a few websites out there that try to combine posting and feeds from all the major social networks. HootSuite is really good, but it unfortunately doesn’t offer Google+ support for everyone (at least not yet), probably because Google has yet to release a full API. It also has a limit of five social networks for free users. If you want access to more than that, you’ll have to pay them a $10 per month fee. The alternative I’ve been using is a free plugin for Google Chrome, iPhone, and iPad (Firefox and Internet Explorer versions currently in development) called Streamified. In the Chrome version, Streamified integrates itself into your Google+ page, allowing you to access your Google+, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Instagram, Pinterest, and Google Reader feeds, and post to almost all of the above networks all at the same time. If you follow any of my social networks, this is why you’ll see the same exact message being posted to my Twitter and Facebook page at the same time. The only downside to services like these is that you can’t tag others quite as easily. But, since Facebook is currently rolling out the option to edit your posts (before someone comments on them, at least), that’s getting a little easier.
Whew! That’s it for now. This post ended up being pretty lengthy, but hopefully, someone finds the information contained within to be useful. If not… well, don’t blame me. You’re the one who read it.
July 2, 2012
If you’ve recently started using Voices.com, you may not be aware yet of a useful feedback feature you can find on the Answered tab of your Jobs page. This tab is a list of all the jobs you’ve ever submitted an audition to. This list shows you most of the same information you’ll see for the jobs you haven’t yet auditioned to (the Title, the deadline, the budget, etc), but there’s also a nameless column wedged in between the Job# and Title columns. In this column, you’ll see one of three things for each Job. A green check mark like this , a thumbs up icon like this , or an empty space. If you see empty space, that means your audition hasn’t been listened to yet. If you see this , your audition has been listened to. If you see this , your audition has been “liked.”
Ideally, when you open up the Answered tab, you want to see a lot of thumbs. Thumbs don’t mean you’ll get the job, but it does mean you’re doing things right. People like your auditions, which means you’re on the right track whether you’re booking things or not. Keep up the good work, and eventually, it will pay off. If you’re seeing a lot of green check marks, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doing anything wrong, either. Not all clients know and/or care to use the “like” feature, so not getting a thumb on an audition doesn’t necessarily mean they didn’t like you. You may notice that some of the jobs you get hired for weren’t “liked.” Green check marks are usually good news. If you’re in a lasting funk where all you see are green check marks and no thumbs, and you’re not booking any work, then maybe it’s time to think about changing something about your audition technique. But the check mark itself is not a bad thing, so don’t feel bad about a lack of thumbs.
The empty space, however, is bad news. If that empty space stays empty on an audition for a few days after you’ve submitted, it’s probably going to stay empty for good. Likewise, if the empty space is on an audition that says anything other than “Open” under Job Status, it’s definitely going to stay empty. If a lot of your auditions are being met with empty space, your auditions are not getting listened to. You will never book a job if your audition doesn’t get listened to. What can you do to fix this? The simple answer is to submit your auditions sooner. No client is going to wade through hundreds of auditions, and one of the disadvantages of pay-to-play websites like Voices.com is that there is a lot of competition for every posting. Most of that competition will respond to a job posting within the first eight hours. If you’re not submitting within the first eight hours of a job posting, it’s quite likely that everyone else has either already submitted or has decided against doing so before you get there. If you’re the last one to come to the dinner table, there’s not going to be much food left.
How do you submit sooner? First, keep in mind that public jobs on Voices.com are all activated by somebody in their London, Ontario office, whose hours are 8am to 8pm EST, Monday through Friday. If you’re only auditioning on the weekends, you will never be auditioning for a project within the first eight hours. If you live on the west coast and sleep in until noon, some of those projects have been posted for seven hours by the time you get out of bed. So, if your auditions aren’t getting listened to, you might think about changing your schedule.
Another thing to think about is that there are tons of jobs being posted throughout the day that fit your profile, and you won’t actually be a good fit for all of them. If you’re trying to audition for everything that comes your way, you’re auditioning too much, which could be why some of your auditions don’t get listened to: you spent too much time worrying about other jobs. Make sure you consider all the criteria available on each individual job’s page. What’s the age range? What’s the budget and the word count, and does that budget make sense for the amount of work you’ll be putting into the project? How long ago was the project posted? How many others have already submitted? I’ll tell you right now, I’ll automatically dismiss a job if the answer to that last question is more than 80, and it’s very unlikely I’ll audition for anything with more than 50 responses already. And finally, ask yourself a simple question after you’ve finished reading the job description and you’ve taken a look at the script: “Would I hire me for this project?” If the answer to that question is no, skip it and go on to the next one. DO NOT audition for anything “just for practice.” There will be plenty of audition opportunities that have the potential to lead to actual work to get tangible practice on, and by auditioning for projects that don’t have that potential, you’re wasting your own time. Worse than that, you’re wasting the client’s time, and might be putting a bad taste in their mouth for future projects they’ll be casting. Don’t audition for a job you know you’re not going to book.
If you’re selective and prompt with your auditions, you won’t get lost in the shuffle, and you’ll start seeing a lot less empty space and a lot more green check marks. Apply this to all your audition outlets, too; not just Voices.com. They’re good habits to have, whether you can tell if your auditions are being heard or not.
June 26, 2012
The Disney cruise is only a week away now, and I can hardly wait. Part of that is because I can’t really audition for work I won’t be home to do, so this whole week is pretty much nothing but waiting. So, to keep my mind off of things, here’s a topic that’s been beaten to death on voice over message boards all over the web since before I even got started in this business: watermarking.
Working in voice over via the internet can be a bit risky. For that matter, working in any industry via the internet, shopping on the internet, or hell, being on the internet at all, can be a bit risky. A lot of people who use the internet are shady characters. Knowing that, you want to make sure you’re protected. You’re a smart, tech-savvy voice over actor. You know that when you send an audition to a potential client, even if there’s not a download button on the website you’re sending it through, there are ways for that client to simply take your audition and use it–without paying you for your services.
So what can you do to protect yourself? Sure, you can send auditions in a lossy format such as MP3, but plenty of reputable clients can’t tell the difference between that and a raw WAV file. Hell, I can’t really hear the difference myself. And anybody cheap enough to steal your voice over probably isn’t too concerned about audio quality. So, that’s probably not the answer.
One method of audition theft prevention that the pay-to-play sites advocated for a long while is watermarking. Watermarking involves adding a barely audible beep track behind your audition. If you plan on using this method, it’s generally a good idea to warn the listener ahead of time so they don’t sit there wondering why you didn’t turn your alarm clock off before recording. The phrase I use at the beginning of a watermarked audition is, “This audition demo has been watermarked to protect the actor’s intellectual property,” but you might be able to come up with a better way of phrasing it.
Watermarking has recently been dismissed, for the most part, by the major pay-to-play sites, though, because it has a tendency to put-off potential clients. Some of them think “this person doesn’t trust me, so why would I hire them?” Yes, you have every right not to trust a person you’ve never met who has the ability to steal your work for free, but you have to admit, watermarking isn’t exactly subtle. So it’s not entirely unreasonable for a potential client to be offended by it.
Another option might be to add your own music or sound effects into the piece. This can be risky for other reasons, though, so maybe that’s not your best bet. I’ve seen Voice123 recommend using a slate as a form of theft protection, but that seems pretty silly to me. They claim that lots of clients don’t know how to do any cutting of audio, and while that may be true, a simple Google search can teach any technophobe how to do it with one of a hundred different software packages, some of which cost absolutely nothing to download. Obviously, the legitimate clients who don’t know how to do this aren’t going to, but the legitimate ones aren’t the ones you’re trying to protect yourself from. Slating your name at the beginning of an audition is common sense to me; that’s part of how they know who you are when they listen to it. But it’s not going to do anything to protect you from theft.
So what do you do? Simply trust people? Trust strangers on the internet? You can. Most of the time, you’d probably be right to do so. Obviously, there’s no reason not to trust past clients. But, if you’re not satisfied with “most of the time,” there might be a better answer to your theft prevention concerns. The most unobtrusive method of theft prevention is selective copy reading. A potential client only needs to hear about 5 to 10 seconds of you before they make their decision, so it’s not going to hurt your chances at all if you cut out a sentence or two from a 30 second spot. Longer copy is even easier to cut down for the audition, because you know they need all of it for the finished product, and they don’t to decide whether or not they want to hire you. If you’ve got an audition you feel you really need to include everything for, you can always change a product name or a phone number. This is slightly less subtle, but it’s not as much of a slap in the face as a watermark.
Is watermarking always a bad idea? Not at all. I still do it from time to time, if I don’t see another option. I’d recommend using it only as a last resort, though, because it does have the potential to leave a bad taste in some mouths.
Before you bother with any theft prevention, or auditions at all, for that matter, you’ve got to have a good eye for who’s a reputable client and who’s not. That’ll keep you from wasting your time. If they require no slates or watermarks in your audition, that might be a red flag, though there are legitimate reasons for such stipulations. Spelling and grammar errors can be a bad sign, but it’s also possible they’re just based internationally. Excessively low budgets are a reason not to audition all by themselves, with or without the risk of theft. If they provide the full script for a lengthy piece, that’s usually a sign of a lack of professionalism. But if they give you a product, company, or brand name you can research, that’s probably the best way to judge a client you’re not sure about. Find their website and see if it looks professional. If it does, they’re probably on the level. If not, skip that audition and move on to the next one. Above all, trust your instincts, and you’ll generally be okay. It’s worked out for me so far, anyway.
June 22, 2012