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!