Nail ’em to the wall!

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play 2 Comments

Laurel & HardyHumor and humiliation.

It’s a weird combination and yet, it’s the basis of every slapstick.

Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Laurel and Hardy, they all made us laugh because they made someone else cry. It’s that cake-in-your face humor, the poke in the eye joke and the dignitary forced to parade around town in his underpants that never seems to get old.

Embarrassing people is funny business. Especially if we embarrass those who were born without a funny bone. Sometimes it can be an effective deterrent too.


If you’ve been following recent revelations on the limited success of Pay-to-Play sites, and the question that started it all What happens to our demos?,” you must have noticed that this storm still hasn’t subsided. Stephanie Ciccarelli even wrote a two page “Clarification on the Status of Job Postings” on Vox Daily.

At the same time, has made changes to their SurePay system to prevent abuse from customers, specifically credit card fraud. And as you know, that’s not the only kind of abuse that’s going on in our industry.

On the LinkedIn Working Voice Actor Group, a colleague wrote about a lead she got from a P2P site. The voice-seeker said they wanted to hire her, but instead they used her scratch track and turned it into a commercial. The next day they had it airing all over the country. The talent never got paid and she only found out about it after friends alerted her when they heard her voice on the radio.

This is what I would like to know:

  • Apart from the bad guys, who should be held responsible? The talent, because she didn’t watermark her scratch track or charge the voice-seeker for stealing a demo?
  • Is the Pay-to-Play site to blame because they were responsible for the lead?
  • Would this have happened had this been a union job?
  • Would this have happened had the talent used an agent?
  • What can be done to make sure other voice-talents don’t fall into the same trap?



Of course trusting, law-abiding citizens like you and me are getting ripped off each and every day. I sometimes do double duty as a translator, and I got burned once or twice by a client writing out a bad check. I ran to the nearest Better Business Bureau and filed a complaint, but all they could do was lower the rating of the translation agency.

Hall of FameHowever, as a member of (a P2P-style site), I have a not so secret weapon at my disposal. It’s called:

The Hall of Fame and Shame.

This is a members-only area, filled with feedback about unreliable agencies, dirty rotten scoundrels, reputable translators and anything in between. Before I take on a new job, I always enter this Hall to see what I can find. It’s by no means foolproof because not every agency is rated, but I backed out of a job a few times because I discovered that I had been contacted by a bad apple. The thing is: con artists are notorious repeat offenders, and as soon as they are found out, they move on to another unsuspecting victim.

It’s important to note that this Hall is for people on the demand as well as the supply side. Some translators are less talented than others. Some let a computer program do all the work while they are having all the fun. Some miss their deadlines and ‘mysteriously disappear’ from the radar screen. All of that is exposed. Apart from the bad and the ugly, there’s also lots of good stuff going on in the Hall. People sing the praises of interpreters and agencies alike. In that way, the Hall serves as both a carrot and a stick.


Wouldn’t it be great if we had such an early warning system in place in our industry? You can find hints of it on certain sites, but as far as I can tell, there’s no database that’s filled with red flags and smiley faces. There’s no blacklist of known crooks that have stolen our demos, taken our money or conveniently forgot to pay us. Translatorscafé knows who they are. How about

Or are these sites just a funnel instead of a filter? Is this simply beyond their control? Should we just pay them a yearly fee and trust that nothing bad will ever happen? And when it does, are we condemned to fight the thugs on our own? Donna -voplanet- Summers wrote to the working voice actor group:

“(…) you guys chose not to use agents when you joined the P2P’s. You wanted to do it all yourselves, including negotiating, booking, and monitoring your auditions and jobs. P2P’S get you the auditions and you still complain! Save that big 10% you pay an agent to deal with these issues for you. And now you expect someone to jump in and save you from the big bad ad agents? You can’t have it both ways, Talent.”

Is she right? Are we paying the price for not being willing to pay an agent? How about those of us who can’t get one? Agents are highly selective, especially in this economy. And are agents immune to scams? Let’s ask the victims of Bernie Madoff! Steven Spielberg, Jeff Katzenberg and Elie Wiesel all fell for his scheme. I’m pretty sure that all of them had good advisors.

My point is this: we can’t always prevent bad things from happening. Part of this world is still a nasty and dark place. But it’s what we do after the fact that matters. Let’s put something in place that can serve as a deterrent and as a reference. Our weapon: a “Hall of Fame and Shame.” Our punishment: semi-public humiliation!


Dunk TankOne final thought.

Every year my street has a much anticipated block party. In fact, it’s one of the oldest in the nation that is still going strong. This year’s highlight was not the moon bounce or the Chinese auction. Any idea what was?

You guessed it: it was the dunk tank.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS I wrote this post in 2009 and there’s still no voice-over equivalent of the Hall of Fame and Shame. 

A Tempest in a Teapot?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Internet, Pay-to-Play 5 Comments

Ontario’s London Free Press called them “voice-over matchmakers”.

Back in 2003, David and Stephanie Ciccarelli created out of their condo. At the time this blog was published in 2009, they had eight full-time staff and four computer developers on contract. David estimated about $11 million of business goes through the site annually.

If you’ve ever used their services, you know that makes money from your subscription fees and from an optional 10% SurePay escrow fee on top of whatever the talent’s fee is, paid by the voice-seeker. According to the site:

“this Escrow fee is kept by to cover the charges that we incur from holding the deposit for a period of time in a secure third party account”.

Stephanie Ciccarelli summarized my unease regarding audition submissions as follows:

“You’ve noted that many people are concerned to see that some of the past jobs they’ve auditioned for months ago have not yet progressed to awarding a talent, leaving them to wonder if a client is merely window-shopping or kicking tires, possibly also wondering if auditioning online is a waste of time.”

“According to a snapshot of statistics from the last four months (April 2009 through July 2009) tracking the completion rate of jobs posted at, we can confirm that at any given stage, half of the open jobs are still being reviewed by their client and the other half are completed (that means a talent has been chosen), with over 2/3 of those completed jobs being verified and processed via SurePay.

Although this information is reassuring, we are aware that there is still room to improve and to grow.”

stephanieciccarelliStephanie cites a number of reasons as to why it appears that many voice-seekers on her site never seem to select a candidate. Allow me to paraphrase:

  1. Some clients, regardless of their deadlines for finding talent, may not have a pressing need to have their voice over recorded instantly. In other words: they file away the auditions until they are ready to hire. Sometimes this could take many months, but eventually, someone gets the job.
  2. Some clients use sites like, to find talent and they prefer to work with them off-site, leaving their job in an “Open” status (see the story of the Taylor family in my last blog). This explains why there are fewer “completed” jobs than there truly are.
  3. Some voice talents and/or voice seekers don’t want to use the SurePay system. If that’s the case, the job won’t be registered as completed.


So far we’ve heard the story from the perspective of a voice talent and from representatives of several pay-to-play sites. Be sure to check out Voice123 Steven Lowell’s comments on my previous blog. What do voice-seekers make of all this?

A former casting director for a nationally known ad agency gave me permission to share his (or her) thoughts as long as he/she would remain anonymous.

“Agencies will do a lot of casting for projects they “hope” will become a client. They will hold auditions and actors will hold their breath (after creatives fawn all over them), expect a hold or booking….alas: no call! Of course it happens that another is booked, but it does also happen that no one is booked as the agency did not get the account or budget was cut.

It also happens that an audition is used as a demo in pitch for the account and the performer never knows about it. Top brass may not even know this practice is going on at his or her agency. The Head of production is calling the shots without others in chain of command knowing anything about you (performer) being screwed. You may have been instrumental in getting an account. When time came to cast for account, you may be forgotten for a more high profile talent.

I protested this practice (to the shock of the production chief), but it was an uphill battle to have any effect on this practice I did make some headway. In short: we don’t have many options in regard to this practice. Many agencies or agents don’t participate in this practice, but it does happen.”


There you have it. Were these answers satisfying to you? Were my initial concerns justified or were they a tempest in a teapot? Do you feel that the major pay-to-play sites offer enough accountability and transparency? Even though they’re not our personal agents, we are paying them to provide a service, so we should have some say in how our money is spent. What suggestions do you have regarding this issue?

Please keep in mind that I am looking for constructive ideas. It’s always easy to blame someone or something else for our own lack of success. However, there are so many things we can do to increase our chances of being spotted and hired. We should never completely rely on these sites to bring in all the work.

As you have noticed, sites like voice123, voplanet and are listening to us, and they don’t shy away from controversial topics. They are following up with job seekers, and they too have to work with ad agencies that are only using their service to test the waters.

And finally: as every matchmaker knows, no matter how carefully you select two interested parties, not every match ends in matrimony!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

Don’t miss the next installment: “Why no one’s coming to your site“.

Are your auditions sucked into a black hole?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Internet, Pay-to-Play 10 Comments

Houses for SaleJohn was a realtor.

The past couple of years had been the toughest ever.

Plenty of prospects; very few buyers. John had to work twice as hard and twice as long to woo aspiring home owners.

One day, his boss called him into the office and by the look on his face, he was not a happy camper. “John,” he said, “Do you have any idea how many leads you lost in the past three months?” “Well, maybe a few here and there,” said John. “I don’t really keep track.”

“What?” answered his boss angrily, “Are you telling me that you’ve spent hours researching homes and showing your clients house after house, and you have no clue how many sales opportunities you missed? Are you serious? How about the Taylors? They seemed ready to buy and they bailed out at the last moment. What went wrong?”

“Oh, I remember them” said John. “They backed out because they said the escrow fee was too high.” “That might be true” said his boss, “but do you want to know what really happened? After you had put in all your time and found them the perfect house, they walked out of our office and contacted the sellers directly. Two days later, the property was sold.”


Of course I made this entire story up, and yet this scenario happens in voiceoverland each and every day. If you’ve taken a good look at your audition submissions of the past couple of months, doesn’t it seem like a majority has disappeared into a gigantic black hole?

As I mentioned in my first blog about this topic: most of my submissions didn’t result in an actual booking, not because the job was awarded to another talent, but because the voice-shopper never became a buyer. How did I know? Because months after the deadline for a project had past, still no talent had been selected for the job.

It turns out that I’m not alone. Many of you have vented your frustration and are demanding an explanation. That’s why I brought the matter up with three pay-to-play sites. I specifically asked them about their “conversion rate.” That’s the term marketing professionals use when a prospective consumer takes the intended action. I particularly wanted to know the percentage of voice-seekers who had become voice-buyers.


Mike Gomez works for His initial response was:

“We have around 4,000 active Premium subscribers on the site and these are the stats we keep regarding hirings:

50% – book at least 1 a month

30% – book between 1 & 5 a month

20% – book more than 5 a month”

That didn’t tell me anything about the percentage of job offers that actually lead to bookings. So, I tried again and Mike sent me the following reply:

“(…) those are the numbers we have, since we don’t control who gets hired, why and when but only seekers do, we currently have no accurate way to account for this.  Although we do know most jobs are granted on the site because we see talents are renewing constantly since our sales have been growing constantly through the months and the only way talents have money to renew is if they get work.”

Let’s do the math here. 4000 Premium subscribers times $299.00 (the voice123 annual subscription fee). That’s one million, one hundred ninety six thousand dollars. Yet, they have no “accurate way to account for who gets hired.”

There’s no doubt in my mind that voice123 has earned its spot in the market place. But the fact that people continue to renew their membership doesn’t tell me a whole lot about the effectiveness of the service voice123 provides. One does not measure the success of a temp agency by the number of job seekers in the database, but by the number of real jobs these people find through the agency.


Donna Summers is the president of VoiceCasting and partner at This is what she told me about her companies’ conversion rate:

“Because we deal with large production companies and ad agencies for the most part, virtually all the auditions we do are for actual jobs.  It is rare that an ad agency would take the time, effort and money it takes to put together an ad campaign, hire a copyrighter to write the script, get as far as voicing it and then completely dump it.

If one of our talents gets the job, we are of course, thrilled.  If the client books elsewhere, we do call and thank the client for the opportunity and ask who booked the job.  In answering your question, Paul, I would have to say that 100% with a little margin for error would be the number of auditions that actually become jobs.”


As a former journalist, I have to add that there is no independent way of verifying these statements, especially because both companies don’t seem to have a conversion monitoring mechanism in place. There actually is software to keep track of these things. QVC uses it and so does In fact, most e-commerce site tracks their transactions at least on a daily basis.

So, how would you evaluate whether or not your investment in a particular pay-to-play site is worthwhile? Without a clear conversion rate, you can only base your decision on:

  • Previous personal experience
  • Anecdotal evidence
  • Testimonials & recommendations
  • The reputation of the company
  • Trust and gut feeling
  • The size of your wallet



The Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza once said: “Life is like bread – no matter how thin you slice it, there are always two sides.

In my next installment, you can read the response of the team, as well as the revelations of an “Ad man.”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice