Filed under: P2P Voice Over
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
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
I seem to be the only one as concerned about this issue as I am right now, but I don’t think that makes it any less important. If you’ve been reading my posts this week, I’ve been getting pretty vocal about some hard-hitting discussions in the voice over world. Today is no different, but it’s a discussion that I’m either opening myself, or re-opening since the last time somebody got pissed off at the system and quit using Voice123, altogether.
Of the two P2P sites I use to book voice over work, Voice123 has always been my #2. I never liked the idea of its SmartCast system, which decides on behalf of the voice over actor which projects he/she can or can’t audition for. I greatly prefer the open approach of Voices.com: let the community think for themselves. Recently, though, I’ve become increasingly agitated with the SmartCast system, as it’s slowly been increasing the number of projects it neglects to invite me to audition for.
SmartCast is Voice123′s catchy marketing term for an automated system that selects voice over actors to audition for individual projects based on several different factors. Some are basic, like the criteria of their profile (language, age, gender), but others are a little more abstract, such as your feedback history from previous auditions, and what the client’s personal taste is for your voice or voices like you based on the feedback they’ve given on previous projects. How an automated system can compare likenesses between two voices, I have no idea. This system invites VO’s to audition, starting with what it believes to be the most likely candidates and working its way down, until the project has reached its target number of submissions, which is something the client sets when posting the project.
However, the “likely candidate” part of that sentence isn’t entirely true. Because SmartCast lowers your priority on the invite lists of all projects if you’ve been auditioning more than the average VO. That’s right. You’re punished if you use the service you pay a subscription to too much. Now, before I get all bent out of shape over this, I have to say that I understand the objective of this limitation. Voice123 doesn’t want its market to be oversaturated with auditions from people who aren’t right for the projects they’re auditioning for. So, by holding over our heads the knowledge that if we audition too much, we’ll miss out on future opportunities, the system forces us to be extra selective with our submissions, which means we’ll only submit to things we’ve got a real shot at booking.
But the problem with this in my mind is that there is no definition for “too much” auditioning. The formula’s limit on this is based on your total audition count over a certain time period in comparison with the global average. That’s a number that’s constantly changing, so it’s hard to tell when you’ve crossed the line.
Furthermore, the automated system, SmartCast, doesn’t exactly limit you with a maximum number of auditions, anyway. It invites you to audition to certain projects, and then you’re allowed to decide to audition or not audition to any of the projects it invites you to. When it decides you’ve been auditioning “too much” lately, it doesn’t simply prohibit you from auditioning for more projects. Instead, it starts inviting you to audition less. At the end of every day, subscribers to Voice123 receive an email letting them know what projects were posted that day, and which of those projects matched their profiles. There’s a column in the list of projects matching your profile that indicates whether or not SmartCast has invited you to submit to that project or not. If you’ve been auditioning too much for SmartCast’s tastes, you’ll start to see more of the words “Not yet” in that column.
That’s the big problem I have with the system. VO’s are limited in how many auditions they can submit, but they don’t get to choose what auditions they submit to. It’s like having an agent who deliberately doesn’t pass on audition notices to you completely at random. And, keep in mind, SmartCast doesn’t have any idea whether or not you’re actually booking work, so your success rate doesn’t necessarily mean anything to it, especially if the clients you’re booking don’t leave you with positive feedback.
I personally believe that the voice over community is intelligent enough to make its own decisions. We don’t need a computer to decide those things for us. And, let’s face it, the number of projects a person might be right for is completely relative. Every voice is different, every project is different, and some people have more specific niches than others. I audition for projects pertaining to animation, video games, apps, radio commercials, web videos, phone systems, and more, in all five of the English dialects available on the site. I work from home as a voice over actor full-time, and I’m self-represented. Naturally, I’m going to be auditioning for more than the average Voice123 user.
But, I’ve proposed the idea of abolishing the current “Smart” Cast system on the Voice123 forums, and been met with absolutely no support. So, I’ve now proposed a compromise. Instead of getting rid of SmartCast, let’s revise its method of imposing limitations on paying VO subscribers. Let all VO’s see and choose to submit or not submit to any project matching his or her profile. But assign a hard number to each person that is their daily/weekly/monthly limit. This number can change based on the amount of projects being posted and the amount of auditions the VO is submitting compared to others, just like the current system uses those factors to determine whether or not the VO is invited to submit now. Essentially, the system would be exactly the same, but it would give VO’s the chance to decide which projects they’re right for based on the whole list.
If you’re a Voice123 member like myself, I encourage you to give this issue some thought. Once you know where you stand, weigh in on the forum topic I started on Friday. Something tells me nothing’s ever going to change if I’m the only one complaining about it.
February 14, 2012
If you read my post from yesterday, or are someone active in the voice over community, you’ve already heard of the site VoiceBunny. VoiceBunny comes from the mind of Alex Torrenegra, creator, co-founder, and CEO of Voice123, one of two leading pay-to-play voice over booking websites. VoiceBunny changes the model made standard by the likes of Voice123 and Voices.com, in which voice over actors pay a subscription fee for the opportunity to audition for projects posted on the site by clients looking to hire voice over. Instead, VoiceBunny charges no up-front money to the voice over actors, and they offer clients the chance to cast a project much more quickly and cheaply. Clients submit a project to VoiceBunny, either through a form or through its API that streamlines the process for frequent flyers, deposits the funds they’re paying for the job, and VoiceBunny immediately sends out a notice to all the registered VO’s whose profiles match the criteria. As soon as the first VO to get to it submits a take at the script, the project is closed to all other submissions. VoiceBunny staff reviews the recording, and as long as it passes their QA, they send the file on to the client and send the client’s money (minus 10% plus a service fee) to the voice over actor. No retakes, no client feedback on the casting process, and no dialog between client and VO. That’s it. Transaction over.
So, VoiceBunny does not cast projects through auditions. It casts them through a race. They have plans to implement additional options for the casting process, but for now, that’s all they’ve got. In the future, they’ll offer an option for clients to accept submissions from X number of VOs and pick their favorite to use and pay. So, that method is a race in which ten people finish, and then the client just picks which of the ten finishers is the winner. Again, not an audition process, because the submission you send in is the one they use. No re-takes, no dialog. You get paid as soon as they decide to use your submission, and your business relationship with that client begins and ends in all of about five minutes. Finally, they’ll eventually offer clients the chance to browse profiles of registered actors and pick one to hire, but that service is already available through Voices.com, Voice123, and ten or twenty less reputable websites, so there’s really no advantage to VoiceBunny there.
So, clearly, clients who use VoiceBunny are not going to be very picky. A client who isn’t very picky probably doesn’t have a lot of money budgeted for their voice over. By design, the site caters to clients looking to pay for less than what quality voice over is worth. Hopefully, if they’re not paying quality prices, they won’t get quality work, but that will be determined by the voice over actors who choose to use the system. Based on the research I’ve done, I don’t have a lot of hope.
I signed up for VoiceBunny after receiving an invitation to join the beta a few months ago. It’s free, so why not? Since that time, I’ve received all of two casting notices from them, both of which were well below my personal minimum. I assumed I wasn’t receiving anything because the site was still in beta and it didn’t have a whole lot of usage on the client side yet. But a few days ago, VoiceBunny made a public launch announcement. Wondering how they could’ve possibly gained any useful information from their beta test with so little usage, I tried an experiment.
Admittedly, the site is still in its “beta” phase, and it’s brand new in the eyes of clients and voice over actors alike, so there’s plenty of room for it to develop beyond my study’s results. But it’s now in public beta, meaning it’s available to anyone who chooses to use it on either the client or VO side of things. When a VO registers for VoiceBunny, they configure their profile with their gender and age range, as well as the amount of time it takes them to complete projects of varying lengths and the minimum amount of money they’re willing to do that work for. Since I received, essentially, no results from my profile during the private beta phase, I temporarily lowered my minimum rates to, basically, $1, and reviewed the section labeled “Previous projects that match your rates and profile.”
In the 35 days preceding my experiment, 77 projects were posted to the Bunny, ranging from 3 to 1689 words in length, and from $5 to a whopping $133. Of all 77 projects, 3 were willing to pay $100 or more. The average rate offered on all of these projects was $36.30. For those of you reading who are not professional voice over actors, I’ll spell that out for you in plain English: The rates currently offered on VoiceBunny are beyond insulting.
However, the truly disturbing discovery I made came later. I dug a little deeper and discovered a “suggested pricing estimator” for clients to determine how much to pay for the work. The client types in a script, and the system calculates the average rate offered by all currently registered VO’s for a project of that script’s length (word count). When I copied and pasted a script of 413 words from one of Voices.com’s job postings (a job offering a budget of $250-$500), the suggested price VoiceBunny’s estimator gave me was $116.83. When I deleted some of the script and put in a word count of 214, the price was $85.73. 108 words yielded $62.15. So, assuming that estimator really is calculating based on the average rates of the site’s registered VO’s, the clients aren’t necessarily bottom-feeding because they’re cheap. They could be bottom-feeding because the voices on the site are completely devaluing themselves and the entire industry by trying to undercut their competition.
It is possible, in theory, that quality voice over actors with integrity could register for the site and enter more realistic rates and hopefully bring about equilibrium on the VoiceBunny market. But based on the discussions going on all over the web within the voice over community, none of the reputable VO’s have any interest in using VoiceBunny at all. Not only are the rates currently offered there completely insulting, but the system completely eliminates all possibility of an ongoing business relationship. A huge part of being a successful work-from-home voice over actor, really being a successful practitioner of any business, is the ability to keep your customers coming back for more. VoiceBunny, by design, does not allow voice over actors to instill any of their clients with a sense of loyalty. VoiceBunny casts the client’s project for them by taking the first person to walk in the digital door, and the client can’t even write that person a thank-you note. There is no interaction between the actor and the client whatsoever.
That is where the VoiceBunny system inherently fails. Even if the rates were to change as its userbase grows, by prohibiting the potential for ongoing relationships, prohibiting even basic communication between voice and voice-ee, VoiceBunny is an insult to the voice over industry. I would like to completely erase my VoiceBunny account based on principle, but there doesn’t seem to be a way to do that; once you’re registered, you can’t un-register. Instead, I will do my part to improve the site’s assessment of the value of voice over work by setting my profile’s rates accordingly. And I will never be auditioning for a VoiceBunny project as long as its business model remains the same. I suggest any self-respecting and/or industry respecting voice over actor who had the misfortune of registering for this site and happens to have stumbled upon this message do the same. Any of you who were holding off on registering until the verdict was in, I think you know what your answer is.
Say no to bunnies.
UPDATE: Due to the amount of traffic this blog post seems to be receiving, I’ve removed links to the VoiceBunny website. If they’re there, the Bunny’s search ranking is improved, and I don’t want to help him in any way. If you’re curious, you’ll have to find your way to the VoiceBunny website yourself (it’s not very hard if you know the name).
February 13, 2012
When I became a full-time voice over actor about two, two and a half years ago, I was able to do so mostly because of the services offered by Voices.com and Voice123. When I was introduced to those two sites, I thought they were both fantastic; a dream come true. They enabled aspiring voice over actors like myself to find work doing what they love, right from the beginning of their careers. Gone were the days of waiting tables while you did student films for little more than a sack lunch until eventually convincing an agent to sign you and finally booking your first big gig. Instead, I was able to book my own work, fill my resume with credits, and make a modest living while I was at it (until eventually convincing an agent to sign me and finally booking my first big gig, but that part hasn’t happened yet).
However, I recently read something unsettling in regards to these websites that has slightly shaken my faith. Late the other night, while bolstering my LinkedIn profile, I joined a few voice over-related groups. I came upon a discussion about a new site from the creator of Voice123 called VoiceBunny (which will be the subject of my next big post). One of the big contributors to this discussion was a man by the name of Bob Bergen.
Bob Bergen is a modern day legend in the world of voice over, particularly in animation. His opinion is one I’m naturally inclined to give some weight to. In this discussion, Mr. Bergen asserted that the very existence of “pay-to-play” voice over websites like Voices.com and Voice123 (sites you pay a subscription to for the use of their services) is a detriment to the industry as a whole. Clients are able to pay voice actors less money by circumventing the unions, and the resulting fewer union jobs causes less work for union actors, and agencies and casting directors to be less likely to take a chance on newcomers. He believes that if those two websites were to close up shop tomorrow, the voice over industry would be better for it. Union actors would have more jobs to choose from, and non-union actors would be more likely to sign with union agencies and break into the unions.
His argument got me thinking. Bob Bergen’s career started during the “golden age” of voice over with an agent who was willing to take a chance on a fresh faced… err, voiced… kid with absolutely no credits on his resume. In contrast, still in the early stages of my career, I book enough work all on my own to support myself exclusively on voice over, have a resume that’d take four pages to print in full, and I can’t even get an agent to talk to me. Maybe the floodgates opened by Voices.com and Voice123 weren’t entirely a good thing.
Yet, this prompts the question: if taking lower paid non-union work is a bad thing, but I currently have no means of getting the higher paid union work, how am I supposed to feed myself? Like it or not, the P2P voice over sites are here to stay. If I stop using them, they’ll be just fine with their thousands of other clients, and I’ll be the one to suffer. It’s also worth noting that Bob Bergen is not only a member, but a board member for both SAG and AFTRA (soon to be some Frankensteinian SAGTRA or whatever they’ll end up calling themselves after the merger), so his opinion is a bit biased.
My friend and coach, Cheryllynn Carter, had these words of wisdom for me on the subject: “My beef with the union and vo is that by their apathy they created the current vo situation. Now that it is way too late for them to be involved they want the power back. The only way for them to do that is by guilting actors like you…the ones with talent and lots of potential into not working so that they can take the easy road and say non union actors suck. So they get a union shill to write an article or blog. Fight the power my friend.”
Ultimately, I have to do what’s in my best personal interest, and I have to believe that means getting paid to do what I love. Does that hurt the industry as a whole? Maybe. I don’t think so, though. And the blame doesn’t lay exclusively on me. I have standards. I won’t work for less than a certain rate on any project, no matter how small, and I charge substantially more than my personal minimum more often than not. Yes, these rates undercut union minimums a bit, but that’s because they have to in order for me to remain competitive. Because the industry is changing just as swiftly as technology is. The unions didn’t change with it, and now they’re trying to catch up. Until they do, I firmly believe that only good things can come from using the tools available to voice over actors to book work within their field of expertise.
UPDATE: Bob Bergen took the time to respond to an overly lengthy email from me and offered a lot of truly invaluable advice based on his wisdom and experience. While I still disagree with his sentiment that working non-union prevents aspiring actors from furthering their careers, I have to acknowledge that he gave me a LOT of useful insight. As a result, I’ve given my website another minor makeover, and I’m altering my marketing strategies in a way that should prove to be very effective. Thanks, Bob!
February 12, 2012