The Ciccarelli Circus

Screen Shot 2015-11-04 at 9.24.24 PMSo, here’s the deal.

We all know that the CEO of Voices.com David Ciccarelli is on a charm offensive. He tried to do damage control by talking to fellow-Canadian Graeme Spicer of the Edge Studio. I don’t think that worked out so well.

The promised recording of the contentious interview was never released because (supposedly) the video version did not survive due to “technical problems.” Then Edge Studio and Mr. Spicer announced:

“We had every intention of releasing the recording of the event as originally stated. Unfortunately we are not in a position to post it at this time. I hope you understand our position, and that you will continue to support Edge Studio as we strive to advocate on behalf of voice actors.”

Some spoke of a falling out between “Edge” and “Voices.” Others suggested that possible legal action prevented Edge Studio from releasing the interview. Meanwhile, a SoundCloud copy of the interview has surfaced, and it is making the rounds on various VO Facebook groups.

Ciccarelli also did a webinar slash infomercial with Bill DeWees, in which DeWees solidified his reputation as Mr. Nice Guy. Some described the webinar as a “snooze fest”. Soon, the CEO of “Voices” will be on the Voice Over Cafe with Terry Daniel and company. I wonder: When will Ciccarelli be hosting Saturday Night Live?

But seriously, here’s the real question:

My blog post Voices.com: Unethical and Greedy? was published on September 3rd. Two months later Ciccarelli finally decides to tell us his side of the story. David, what were you waiting for? A Voice Arts™ Award for best Pay-to-Play?

VOICE TALENT HAS HAD ENOUGH

My guess is that he had hoped the turmoil would simply subside like it has always done. But he was wrong. This time, the voice-over community reacted like a ferocious pit bull. It just wouldn’t let go.

More and more people came forward with Voices dot com horror stories, and asked questions about the Ciccarelli way of doing business. Even voice-seeking clients started complaining, and experienced voice talent began to leave the site in droves.

Newsflash: Those with unpaid Voices-profiles are now asking to be removed from the site. Ouch! Something’s clearly wrong when people don’t even want your free service anymore. One of those talents is Mike Cooper. He told Voices dot com:

 “I see jobs for good money being intercepted by staff, with large percentages being creamed off the top – often without the client’s knowledge – and siphoned into the pockets of a company which I believe has become overly greedy. There is little or no transparency, and I no longer feel I want to be a part of that model.”

Connie Terwilliger was one of the original contributors to the Voiceover Experts podcasts on “Voices” back in 2007. This is what she asked Voices dot com to do:

“Please remove my two Voiceover Experts Podcasts from your library. I do not wish that my name be associated with Voices.com until such time that you recognize that your current business practices are simply not serving the professional voiceover community, nor helping the production community understand the value of the voiceover talent.

Frankly, you are acting as an “agent” and a casting director. Then you should act like one. Go ahead and charge a commission (the escrow fee) and even charge to coordinate large jobs (as long as you don’t undercut the rate to the talent in order to do so). 

However, since you are functioning as an agent, you should NOT be charging the talent a fee to be on the site.”

Connie’s podcasts have yet to be removed.

MONEY TALKS

Ciccarelli finally broke his silence, but don’t think for one minute that his recent interviews and articles were meant for you. The CEO of “Voices” needed to please two types of people: bankers and politicians.

Voices.com borrowed money, and received grants from the Canadian government to grow the business into a multinational. Lenders had to be reassured that everything was A-OK in London, Ontario. Politicians needed to know that their grant money was in the hands of a capable company, especially after the political landscape changed dramatically in October.

Susan Truppe, the conservative Canadian MP for London North Centre who handed “Voices” $900,000 in 2014, was badly beaten by a liberal candidate in the last election. Her successor, political scientist Peter Fragiskatos, might not be so generous. He actually wants small businesses to use crowdfunding to raise money and grow. Unfortunately, the crowd that is willing to fund “Voices” through membership fees seems to be shrinking day by day.

LOST LOVE

In anticipation of Ciccarelli’s appearances, colleagues have asked what I make of his campaign. To tell you the truth: it leaves me cold. My feelings for “Voices” are the same as my feelings for an ex-girlfriend. We had a good time for a while, but it’s over. We split up for a reason, and it’s pointless to try and change the other person when the relationship is dead. It’s hard enough when you’re together. 

Relationships that work have this in common: they are based on trust, and they meet the needs of both partners. Right now, it’s your turn to decide the following:

  1. Do I (still) trust Voices dot com, and
  2. Could a business relationship be mutually beneficial? 

I cannot answer those questions for you. What I can do, is give you information and opinion. In the past five years I have often blogged about Voices dot com, and I have written about them in my book. I think I’ve given “Voices” enough of my time, and part of me believes I could have spent that time in a more productive way. However, I must admit that it is thoroughly gratifying to see that more and more people are getting sick and tired of being milked by a greedy company that made double and triple dipping the new norm in online casting.

AMPLE AMBITION

A while ago, the website Success Harbor asked David Ciccarelli: “Where do you see “Voices” in the next 5 years, what is your ultimate goal?” This is part of his reply: 

“It comes down to this: we really do want to dominate the industry. Meaning, be that kind of dominant player for good but the one that everyone thinks voice-overs is synonymous with, like oh yeah, I go to voices.com for that. So that means speaking to every potential customer that’s out there, having every single voice talent that practices the art and craft of voice acting, they should be on the platform as well. It’s having that omnipresence is really what we’re aiming for.”

Right now, Ciccarelli is finding out that not everyone in the industry wants to help him achieve world domination.

In a time of increased global competition, the strength of a service is determined by the quality of what’s being offered. Voices dot com has to remember that the company is only as strong and valuable as the talent it has on tap. Without acrobats, contortionists, lion tamers, and clowns, a circus is just a tent. 

Ciccarelli will need to do a lot of juggling to convince people to pay in order to play under his roof. 

He’s certainly not going to charm his way back into my business. 

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!

PPS Thanks to the inimitable Terry Daniel for the title suggestion.

About the author

Paul Strikwerda

is a Dutch-English voice-over pro, coach, and writer. His blog is one of the most widely read and influential blogs in the industry. Paul is also the author of "Making Money In Your PJs, Freelancing for voice-overs and other solopreneurs." goo.gl/ihVpMc

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, International, Internet, Journalism & Media, Pay-to-Play

19 Responses to The Ciccarelli Circus

  1. Keith Michaels

    When Voices announced that they were starting the managed services department in 2012, I believe I along with 1 or 2 others voiced our extreme concerns about it in Ed Victor’s Linkedin group that has since been discontinued. We dissected the issues and the potential for deception in countless discussions. But nobody listened at the time. So it took 3 years to get people to wake up to what is happening. To answer the question “At what point does it become over-the-top to continue focusing on Voices.com? My response is, as long as needed. There is an old saying in sales. “Afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.” When it comes to wrong-doing, you do whatever it takes, as long as it takes, to change it.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Here’s the rub. I have received a number of private comments from colleagues who said to me: “I agree with everything you have written. The problem is: I can’t afford to leave voices.com. It would cost me too much.” And that’s precisely why services like “Voices” continue to stay in business. Because of good people working in a bad system.

    By the way, whatever happened after Mr. Ciccarelli talked to Graeme Spicer? Apart from the underground recording of the interview going viral, did anything change in London, Ontario? Of course not. It’s business as usual. In a few years the Ciccarelli’s will sell the business, and move on.

    [Reply]

    Keith Michaels Reply:

    I’m listening to the interview as I write this and I can’t believe this site has not folded already. What a great interview. But the money talks.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    It’s pretty incredible, isn’t it? And if it had been up to Ciccarelli, this interview would never have been made public.

  2. Pingback: A Controversial Year | Nethervoice

  3. Dave Wallace

    Well Paul, if I may, I have a question for you. I’m undecided on this question myself, which is why I’d like to hear your thoughts (and the thoughts of anyone else who might want to chip in).

    At what point does it become over-the-top to continue focusing on Voices.com?

    Like I said, I’m pretty undecided on this question myself. On the one hand, I’ve never had anything on Voices.com other than a free profile (which I have since taken down, as I no longer want to be associated with them even if it’s free). Exceedingly rare though it is, I have occasionally been reached out to by a client who happened to find my profiles on P2P sites via random searches. In addition, because I’m a union actor, I only take union work or non-union work with rates high enough for the work to be converted to union work. With the latter, it’s very important that I get paid what the client says they’ll pay, and the idea of Voices.com dipping into that payment via an escrow service left me too uncertain to feel comfortable paying for a premium profile.

    And mind you, that was *before* all this BS with the “Professional Services Division” came to light.

    So, Voices.com was never a big part of my business model. The only reason I care about this controversy at all is because I’m worried about newcomers being suckered in by it, especially with all the press releases that Voices.com has been putting out. So my only reason for continually nay-saying them is purely for the sake of helping newcomers. If I can help prevent somebody from getting ripped off, why wouldn’t I, right?

    On the other hand…I’ve got other stuff to do. *We’ve* got other stuff to do. Not to state the obvious, but we don’t earn money by bashing Voices.com, we earn money by doing voice-overs. In addition, I’ve heard plenty of stories about how casting directors and clients avoid working with actors because of how “dramatic” they appear to be on social media. I think we’ve all been in a situation where people state a generally agreeable opinion, only to get more passionate…then more passionate…then even more passionate….until eventually, we find ourselves saying, “Dude, we get it, give it a rest.”

    So with that in mind, perhaps the VO community can start a discussion on this…what do you believe to be an appropriate amount of criticism for Voices.com in this case, and what do you consider to be over-the-top? At what point are we focusing on this controversy too much?

    [Reply]

    Philip Banks Reply:

    Most people are experts at inventing things to do in order to avoid doing what they should be doing. On this particular subject it is like a dog chasing a parked car.

    Best advice for anyone in our business or wanting to get into our business is to steer clear of the particular site mentioned in the blog. Not a personal reference to anyone associated with the site. Just sound business advice.

    There is money to be made by being on that site but one should accept the terms and conditions as long as they are proven to be lawful.

    If anyone really wants a cause I’ll tell you privately the one I support and it has nothing to do with voice over work.

    Paul’s blog gives valuable information, he is not VO superhero “Neumann – The Masked Avenger”.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    In the past I have sometimes felt like the Lone Ranger, but certainly not like a VO superhero. I do believe there’s more to this issue than a dog chasing a parked car. Otherwise I wouldn’t have written about it time and again. I’m actually glad that voice-overs are beginning to speak up about bad business practices. This is not just about voices dot com. This is about unmasking bad business practices, and about independent contractors getting a spine!

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Hi Dave, I completely understand where you’re coming from. That’s why I expressed in my piece that I’ve perhaps spent too much time on this topic. But like you, I’m concerned about the newbies, as well as about the state of our industry as a whole. Market leaders like “Voices,” are trend setters. If what they do becomes acceptable, others will follow. We’ve got to draw a line in the sand and say: “No more!”

    Also, what most of us in the know don’t realize, is that a silent majority of people has no idea what is going on. Time and again I saw comments in social media such as “Can someone please tell me what this all about?” That means we have to educate those who don’t follow the latest developments that closely.

    In addition, companies like “Voices” release a ton of marketing material month after month. They’ve been featured in prominent national publications, and it will take a lot of time, effort and energy, to counter the positive impression they have been creating for themselves.

    As long as the criticism is based on facts instead of on rumors, I don’t think we need to pick and choose what to critique and what to ignore. Members and clients deserve to get the whole picture to form an opinion. And frankly, we need controversy to wake people up to what’s going on. Otherwise, the story will die down in a matter of weeks, and after that, it’s business as usual for all involved.

    [Reply]

  4. Bill Brewer

    Paul, You are my Hero! I quit Voices.com many moons ago. What a rip off. The new version looks even worse to me.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Thank you, Bill. I’m not out to destroy any Canadian jobs, by the way. I just want voice talent to get a fair chance and a fair share.

    [Reply]

  5. Philip Banks

    Listening to someone interview a man who thinks charisma is the 25th of December is not high on my “things to do list”. To be fair it is up there with be attacked by a duck and get stuck in an elevator with an Elvis impersonator.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    With 250K users, I wouldn’t underestimate the impact voices dot com has on our industry. Market leaders are trend setters, and that’s why what’s being discussed is more than an elevator speech.

    [Reply]

    Mike Harrison Reply:

    With 250K users… each paying $300 annually… I wouldn’t underestimate the impact voices dot com has had on the ringmaster’s pocketbook.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    125K of those users are voice talent. The other half are voice seekers. In my experience, the only way to convince a company to change course, is to hit them where they are most vulnerable. You’re right on the money, Mike!

  6. Ted Mcaleer

    Great blog, I think it stands to reason that if you use P2P as a resource and not the only game in town, there’s little to lose, just quit. I have always developed my own relationship with customers which works out well for me.
    I wonder if we will ever hear the interview with Grame… I’ll bet not unless it were leaked. Too bad

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Not all P2P’s are created equal, and not all of them have Mr. Ciccarelli as their CEO. The Edge Studio has said that they would release a statement about the “lost” Graeme Spicer interview. That statement must have been lost too, because I haven’t seen it.

    [Reply]

    Nancy Wolfson Reply:

    While audio lacks the facial expressions and body language that made for a more complete (and as many have said, completely unsavory) audio/video experience of the Interviewee (I did not see the orig. broadcast), we who eval audio with either a granular or even nodding scrutiny can… well… hear between the lines. The “leaked” interview: https://soundcloud.com/clarke-w-191482132

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Many thanks for the link, Nancy. Some colleagues believe that “Voices” was trying to suppress the interview with Graeme Spicer. I was reminded of the words spoken by Dr. Phil:

    “Those who have nothing to hide, hide nothing.”

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