The Voice Arts™ Awards. The New Pay to Play?

The Voice Arts™ AwardCompetitions.

I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with competitions.

I enjoy watching a great soccer game or a tennis match. I’m a fan of the Olympics. The rules of the game are known. There’s a clear finish line. Whoever scores the most points or clocks the fastest time, wins.

When it comes to artistic competitions, things are not so defined. I remember going to an exhibition of prize-winning painters. All artists had entered portraits. The first prize went to a painting that was almost abstract. The second prize (and audience favorite) was a portrait that was Dali-like in its photorealism. Apples and oranges were more alike than these two entries. So, why did the abstract painting win? Because the jury said so.

DARE TO COMPARE

At the heart of every competition is the obscure art of comparing. This motion picture is better than the other. This photo stands out from the rest. This actor outperformed his colleagues. This poem is so much denser than the other poem. The question remains: Based on what, and according to whom?

Most judges of competitions will certainly be looking and listening for technical excellence. But what sets a winner apart from a loser is more than flawless technique. It has to do with artistic mastery; with having an authentic creative voice. 

Great art, whether it be music, dance, or any other medium, merely uses technique to give us something splendid that may very well break all the rules. It may even set a new standard. Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” is a great example. Some musicians thought it could not be played. It caused a scandal when it was first performed. Now it’s considered to be one of the masterpieces of modern music.

JURY DUTY

At the time of creation, great innovative art defies definition, and it is often anti-establishment. Here’s the problem: jurors of competitions are usually distinguished members of the establishment. It is their job to use semi-objective criteria, and apply them to very subjective artistic statements. Good luck with that!

Here’s another thing I don’t like about competitions: they turn colleagues into competitors, and divide them into winners and losers. My ideal world is a world where people cooperate, instead of compete; a world in which doing your very best is more important than being the best.

Don’t get me wrong, I admire people at the top of their game, but I prefer the artist who selflessly and tirelessly works under the radar to the attention-seeking loudmouth looking for acknowledgment and recognition.

I admire people who are in it for the music. Not for the applause.

A NEW AWARD

All of this was going through my mind when the unknown Society Of Voice Arts And Sciences™ (SOVAS™) announced the establishment of the Voice Arts™ Awards. In its own words, this is an open competition honoring and acknowledging:

“voice actors, creative directors, copywriters, casting directors, talent agents, directors, producers, audio engineers, account executives, equipment manufacturers, podcasters, bloggers and others who create and sustain the highest levels of achievement within the voiceover industry.”

The following quote from their website reads like a mission statement:

“The purpose of the Voice Arts™ Awards is to provide international acknowledgement of the extraordinary skill and artistry that goes into the voiceover acting and the associated roles and to hold up a best-in-class standard of achievement to which the voiceover industry can continually aspire.”

That’s quite a mouthful, but voice actors should be able to handle that comfortably.

If you have a few hours to spare, I invite you to browse through seventy(!) pages of awards category descriptions. Each page lists about three to four different awards, such as “NATIONAL TV INTERSTITIAL ELEMENT – FEMALE” and “AUDIO BOOK NARRATION – CHILDREN INFANT TO 5 – MALE.”

Even though it’s mentioned in the “About section” of the Awards, I could not find a category for equipment manufacturers or bloggers. I guess I’m out of luck!

PAY TO PLAY

The competition is open to individuals, companies, and students, as long as the entry is in English, and has first appeared in public between January 1, 2013 and June 15, 2014 (click here for details). The price of a single entry for a company/non-SOVAS™ member is $310. If you’re an independent artist, you pay $210 per entry (there is an early bird discount, but the time for that has passed). SOVAS™ members may enter at a reduced rate.

SOVAS™ membership ranges from $125 per year (Basic Package) to a $5,000 Platinum Package. Five grand may seem a lot, but for that you’ll get a Voice Arts™ Awards statuette named and presented in your honor, and a Special Education Scholarship offered in your name (among other perks).

On a side note, the cost of the competition does not end there. Many competitions require that the nominees/winners attend the awards ceremony. I’d consider the cost of travel, meals, accommodations, and of work lost because you’re attending the event, as part of the expenses. 

Some of the Awards will be presented during a Gala on November 9th, at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York. Early Bird tickets go for $225 each. The Sumner M. Redstone Theater seats 267. Let’s assume SOVAS™ sells 175 tickets. That alone should bring in almost forty thousand dollars.

Participants had until August 31st 2014 to send in their entries. Entry fees are non-refundable once the entries have been submitted. SOVAS™ rules state:

“In the event that any individual category attracts fewer than 4 entries the organizer reserves the right to withdraw that category from the competition. In this event, the participating companies will receive a credit towards future entry fees. No cash refund will be given.”

and…

“All submissions become the property of SOVAS™ to be used at their discretion, for the production of the ceremony and other uses.”

WHAT’S IN IT FOR YOU?

Even though I have my doubts about artistic competitions in general, I’m trying to keep an open mind about the Voice Arts™ Awards. Before I would even consider entering any kind of competition, I’d ask a few questions:

  1. Is the organization running the competition reputable?
  2. What’s the intention of the competition?
  3. Does it have the potential and credibility to raise the professional bar?
  4. Are the criteria by which people are judged fair and clear?
  5. Are the judges respectable, and are they known experts in their field?
  6. Does every entry receive a professional evaluation?
  7. Is the entry fee proportionate to the prize?
  8. Does the prize give a credit worth having?

The problem with the Voice Arts™ Awards is that for many questions it’s too early to tell, because this is the inaugural year. It’s never been done before, and I believe it’s too easy to pass judgement without giving them a fair chance. There’s a lot we don’t know, so let’s see what we do know.

FINDING ANSWERS

To start with question number one, SOVAS™ is run by five-time Emmy winner Steve Ulrich who is also the executive director of the Sports and Daytime Emmy Awards®. Producer Rudy Gaskins and his wife -voice-over celeb Joan Baker- are both on the board, as is the former head of the Promax/BDA awards program, Stephen McCarthy. Those people have a lot to lose, should these new awards turn out to be a flop. I think they’re smart enough not to let that happen.

Would the voice-over industry benefit from this competition? Would it make the invisibles of so many audio-visual productions visible? Would our profession finally get the respect many feel it deserves?

Do we really need a competition to get recognition?

Some people who know the industry really well, feel we do. It’s not enough to be outstanding. You need to stand out. And if there’s no podium, why not create one? Whether you like competitions or not, it’s a given that winning a prestigious prize has never hurt a career. The question is, will short-term recognition have a long-lasting effect? Could it increase your market value? And who’s paying attention? Are we just throwing a party for ourselves, or will these awards generate publicity outside of the small voice-over bubble?

A MATTER OF MONEY 

Let’s talk about the entry fees. Anyone will recognize that organizing these awards takes time and costs money. That money has to come from somewhere. Yet, I don’t think a voice actor’s wealth should be an arbiter of talent. Why, then, must it function as a barrier? Is it legitimate or exploitative? Is it to weed the amateurs out? Here’s the ultimate question:

Is the cost of entering worth the odds?

If you’re a winner, it probably is. But as in any competition, many are invited, and few are chosen. Established artistic competitions often have cash prizes, and may offer scholarships. What does the winner of a Voice Arts™ Award get? No money, but a golden statuette, a title, and a temporary platform. Is that enough?

In Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley where I live, the Freddy© Awards are to high school musical theater what the Tony Awards® are to Broadway. Each show is rated by a number of evaluators, and every high school receives extensive feedback on all aspects of the production. This feedback is then used as a teaching tool at the drama departments.

In other words, even if you’re not nominated or a winner, you will be able to read your evaluation, and benefit from it. Wouldn’t it be great if the Voice Arts™ Awards would do the same? Unfortunately, that’s not the case. This is how it’s done:

“In each category, each judge shall rate each entry on three indices. These indices vary by category and are listed below. For each index, judges enter a score from 1.0 to 10.0, where 1.0 is valued as “very poor quality” and 10.0 is valued as “perfection” in the personal standards of the judge.” 

CRITICAL VOICES

Answering critics in VoiceOverXtra, Rudy Gaskins is very pragmatic about the entry fee. He encourages voice-overs to look at it from a business point of view. Being nominated for, and/or winning an award is smart marketing, he says. Every business should have a marketing budget. That’s where the entry fee should come from.

He has a point, but aren’t there other ways to market your business that are less risky, and that may have a bigger and more concrete pay-off? You could build a better website. You could invest in a newsletter. You could hire a graphic designer to come up with a logo.

COMMUNITY SERVICE

Gaskins also argues that these awards are a way to build community. He writes:

“Awards are a meeting place. They’re a focal point that draws the attention of those most interested and involved in your industry or profession. They’re an opportunity to engage your professional community in discussions of topics and controversies, in reviewing standards or discovering trends. Awards tend to involve leaders and experts. Awards are the place to learn, to network and to enhance professionalism.”

The sceptic in me highly doubts that these awards will have that effect. As I said earlier, by nature, competitions are pitting people and productions against one another. Slick award shows like the Emmys and Oscars are nothing but highly staged marketing events where artistic integrity is sacrificed in favor of purchased publicity. Stars show up pretending to have a good time, knowing that they’re contractually obligated to plug their latest project. Thank goodness for the gift bags!

Is that really what the voice-over world needs? Would that give our profession the much desired gravitas? Would increased respect lead to higher rates and higher standards? Would an average client be more inclined to hire an award-winning voice actor, or would he perhaps think that he probably can’t afford such a high-profile professional?

SHOW SOME RESPECT

Gaskins also believes these awards are good for our confidence and self-respect: 

“When you enter an award, you are saying to yourself and your constituents that you believe in what you do. Get on the playing field and let the chips fall where they may. People respect those who stand up to be counted. The other choice is to go unnoticed.”

I don’t think it’s that black-and-white: either enter the competition, or go unnoticed. As a professional voice actor I enter competitions every day. I call it “auditioning.” Secondly, happy clients are my credentials, and my readers and students are my accolades. I don’t need a jury to tell me how well I’m doing, or to make me feel good about myself.

Still, what the Society Of Voice Arts And Sciences™ is doing takes guts, and I’m willing to give this initiative the benefit of the doubt. On paper, the Voice Arts™ Awards certainly have potential, but the value of this prize has yet to prove itself. 

Ultimately, being a successful voice-over is not about winning or losing.

It’s about how well you play the game.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be Sweet. Please retweet!

PPS Click here for a list of all the 2014 Voice Arts™ Award nominees.

About the author

Paul Strikwerda

is a multilingual voice-over professional, coach and writer. His blog has been voted one of the most influential voice-over blogs in the industry. He's an expert contributor to Internet Voice Coach, the Edge Studio, the International Freelancers Academy and recordinghacks.com.

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Journalism & Media, Promotion

16 Responses to The Voice Arts™ Awards. The New Pay to Play?

  1. Pingback: Michael Roud Photography FIND YOUR VOICE

  2. Paul Strikwerda

    On Monday August 25th, the deadline to enter was extended to August 31 for work that was created to be available between January 1, 2013 and June 15, 2014.

    According to VoiceOverXtra, The gala will also feature a commemorative tribute to Robin Williams and a presentation of the Voice Arts™ Icon Award for Lifetime Achievement to actor/voice talent icon James Earl Jones.

    As I pointed out earlier, even though these awards were created to celebrate, elevate and benefit the work of professional voice actors, Robin Williams and James Earl Jones primarily made their mark as on-camera actors. If SOVAS™ really wishes to make a strong statement in favor of the unseen, anonymous voice actor, why not honor one or two of the many brilliant voice-overs who do their work off-screen?

  3. Paul Strikwerda

    Almost a week after I published this article, 90% of the those who responded via various social media, remain skeptical of the awards. The way I see it, there is a lot of work to do for the Society Of Voice Arts And Sciences™. One of the questions that has yet to be answered, has to do with the nature, purpose and management of this organization. Rudy Gaskins is the CEO/president, and his wife Joan Baker is the Executive Producer. According to the SOVAS™ website, it’s purpose is:

    “to connect job seekers to the consummate sources of training, education, mentoring and employment opportunities required to create and sustain a successful career in the voiceover industry.”

    How does SOVAS™ do this?

    By getting members to attend the annual “That’s Voiceover” Career Expo, created by… Rudy Gaskins and Joan Baker. SOVAS™ also provides scholarships to “financially underprivileged individuals” who wish to attend… “Thats Voiceover.”

    I’d say that there are numerous ways in which aspiring voice artists can learn about the business, and network with colleagues and potential clients. Our industry is filled with great resources. To only point people to events created by Gaskins and Baker, seems -on the surface- rather self-serving. I could do the same thing: create a “Voice Actors Guild In North America,” for the promotion of professionalism in the VO-industry, and offer people a discount… on my own book and coaching sessions.

    By the way, SOVAS™ is a non-profit, but don’t be fooled by that label. Non-profit doesn’t mean that the people involved don’t make any money. In 2010, John Seffrin, CEO of the non-profit American Cancer Society, made a base salary of $587,477 on top of nearly $1.5 million in deferred compensation.

    Let me add that I do not know Gaskins and Baker personally. Both of them are accomplished individuals in their field, and they are a (VO) power couple with clout and charisma. Time will tell if their initiative will take off, and if it will be taken seriously by colleagues, and those outside of the VO-bubble.

  4. Leah Frederick

    Paul – I always admire your judicious viewpoint. Like you, I am on-the-fence about this. However, I’m going to have to quote you to my VO students on this one: “As a professional voice actor I enter competitions every day. I call it “auditioning.” You hit the nail on the head. Well done!

  5. Randy Thomas

    I love Bob Bergen and his commitment to the world of voice over. He is wonderful representative of the voice over industry at the Television Academy.
    I have a lot of respect for Joan and Rudy. On behalf of us independent contractors, who live to breathe life into the words on a page, we hope your awards are everything you are hoping them to be. Break a lip!

  6. Paul Strikwerda

    Hi Kent, you’re not the only colleague who has responded in a less than positive way to these new awards. My initial reaction in VoiceOverXtra wasn’t so positive either, and I’m still on the fence.

    Here’s some info I couldn’t fit into my story. It’s list of the jurors: Dave Fennoy, Janet Wilcox, Lee Minard, Lisa Lane Farmer, Michele Cobb, Nancy Wolfson, Paul Reuben, Scott Brick, Sondra James, Stephen Maccarthy, Trish Scanlon, Vanessa Gilbert, and Zenobia Conkerite.

    As you can tell, this is a quality line-up of people who are all putting their reputation on the line for this endeavor. Will it be enough to convince te greatest skeptics of the value of this competition? I’m afraid not.

  7. Kent Ingram

    Paul, I can’t help but feel this kind of thing stinks to high heaven of phoniness, pretentiousness and shameless self-congratulations. If I’m being unfair, I’ll apologize. I’m sure there are some who would accuse me of being jealous, because I’m not a local LA or NYC talent and will have a greater chance of Publishers Clearing House coming to my door than being considered for ANY award. So be it. I can’t change anyone’s opinion, just go on about my business of producing high quality auditions and projects and making a bit of money on them. Great article, again, Paul!

  8. Paul Strikwerda

    Thank you all for adding your comments to my story.

    Rob, I think you are mistaking the Society Of Voice Arts And Sciences™ (SOVAS™) for SaVoa – the Society of Accredited Voice Over Artists which is now defunct. I did not state that the SOVAS™ fee structure is -as you say- “ridiculous.” It’s a very new organization, and I don’t know if the benefits of membership justify the fee. Some may find membership valuable. Others may find it a waste of money. For me it is too early to tell.

    I have great respect for Bob Bergen’s talent, and for all he has done (and is doing) for our industry. I just don’t share his enthusiasm for award shows, but you’ve read my blog post, so you already know that.

    One of the things that worries me, is the fact that these new awards are supposed to celebrate, elevate and benefit the work of professional voice actors. But, the very first Voice Arts™ Icon Award goes to James Earl Jones, a man who made his mark on the entertainment industry primarily as an on-screen, on-stage actor. Why not select a worthy recipient from our own circles, especially if you wish to make a strong statement?

    I agree that things could be and should be done to make the Voice Arts™ Awards more accessible (read “affordable”) to all VO-talent. I’d also like to see cash prizes and scholarships, in addition to giving out titles and a statuettes. That way, the investment many be worth the gamble.

    In response to this piece, some award-winning colleagues have stepped forward to talk about the effect winning an award has had on their career. They agree on one thing: it is very limited. A Voice Arts™ statuette may be an attractive paper weight and conversation piece, but getting a cash prize or a scholarship could do much more to promote and propel one’s voice-over career.

    Lastly, as a blogger without ties to any vested interests or “famous” people in my industry, I am inclined to question or doubt accepted opinions on many topics. However, I never offer criticism for the sake of being contrary, and I avoid personal attacks. My opinion of these awards is just one of many, and I hope that the organization will take away whatever they may find relevant and useful.

  9. rob e

    Great article, Paul.

    very level headed.

    I am wary of anything SOVA related after their weird debacle and battle in trying to form the original voiceover club, um, – “Society”.

    And i agree, the fee structure is ridiculous.

    Comparing these nascent awards to the emmys, or even the hated and transparently ridiculous golden globes is a stretch, being that the TALENT never had to (EVER!) pony up cash to be nominated NOR to nominate someone.

    This should have been sponsored and with the amount of business the Microphone industry alone gets from VO artists, i find it hard to believe that they could not secure Samson, etc to help defer costs and give it actual prestige.

    Instead, in NYC, it is being ignored as an amateur backslap as a result.

  10. Marlene Bertrand

    I wholeheartedly agree with your point of view regarding the entry rules for this competition. I believe the enormous fee is likely to automatically rule out a lot of good talent. Sure, all are invited, but all cannot afford to attend. I know the money has to come from somewhere. Could the competition be sponsored through advertisers rather than collecting entry fees from entrants? If so, I believe a low to no entry fee has the potential of leveling the playing field and open the competition to a larger pool of talent.

  11. Debbie Grattan

    As usual Paul, a very insightful article here, mentioning many of the things I’ve been thinking about this particular awards show. As suggested, at least for now, I do have many other places to put my marketing dollars and time to work, that I feel will have a better ROI for me. But I will remain open, and be interested to see how everything pans out for this venture.

  12. Joe Van Riper

    I think the Voice Arts™ Awards could be a good thing for our community if it can find a way to level the playing field with an option for free entries.

    Yes, I know, somebody’s got to pay for the expenses of an awards program. But making it a gamble worth hundreds of dollars only ensures that a brilliant new, rising talent with a potentially winning product will be able to afford a crack at it.

    Therefore, the awards will not go to the best of our ranks, but to those who can afford to lose. That takes a bit of the shine off the award’s prestige.

  13. Debbie Grattan

    You are always so insightful and thorough in your blog posts Paul. Again, a very interesting read here, and you put into print a lot of the same things I’ve been thinking concerning this new VO awards competition. I guess we’ll all see how it goes this inaugural year. As suggested, I have lots of other ways to spend my marketing time and money, that I feel will provide better ROI than competing for a Voiceover award. But I will try to remain open to change and new ideas.

  14. Ted Mcaleer

    I think that you’ve hit on all the points fairly. One could argue many of the points, but again as you say, it’s the first year. Another point is the leadership/management and again, I believe they are smart enough not to fail. Bob makes a lot of good points too. For my part, I hope it is a success- My particular customer base has shown interest as well. Hopefully there will be a category for best adaptation of a foreign video to English, or something along those lines. I think it’s a good thing and wish Rudy and all much success!

  15. Ed Waldorph

    As usual, Paul, a level headed, reasoned editorial. Despite my life experiences to the contrary I have always believed in the generic goodness of people’ motivations. I have no reason to suspect otherwise here.

    Bob also makes some salient points and like you, his credentials are impeccable. We all might feel a lot better if he were on this board, too.

    My final criteria when entering new territory with no history or bonafides is: “What have I got to lose?”

    The answer seems obvious to me, but it is most certainly an individual one.

  16. Bob Bergen

    I’m a huge fan of award shows. And, I’m on the board of governors at The Television Academy. I am beyond thrilled someone had the vision to create a vo awards. Keep in mind gang, that in history with every award show there was skepticism. Any time anything new pops up people raise eyebrows.

    I honestly think Voice Arts is a good thing. That said, I wish Voice Arts would do what the Television Academy does. Members of the Television Academy may submit Emmy considerations for free. Now, this is the first year of Voice Arts. I’m sure that Emmys and Oscars have ironed out the kinks since they began. Let Voice Arts do the same thing!!

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