Platinum membership

Voices.com: Unethical and Greedy?

by Paul Strikwerda in Journalism & Media, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play 130 Comments

Mad as hellOn October 15, 2014, Susan Truppe, the Canadian Member of Parliament for London North Centre, visited the offices of Voices.com for a second time. She did not come empty-handed.

That day she announced that “Voices” would be receiving $900,000 from the government “to go global by expanding its project management division and translating its products into additional languages.” (source)

She had some nice things to say to the owners of Voices:

“Taking a business idea and turning it into something that does well in commercial markets is something we need to see happen more and more in Canada. The founders of Voices.com have done this extremely well and I congratulate you, David and Stephanie Ciccarelli. (…) You have grown your business into a marketplace valued by radio and television stations, advertising agencies and Fortune 500 companies.”

Notice which category was missing?

Voice actors!

EXPANSION

$900,000 may seem a lot of money, but it’s not nearly enough if you have big plans.

In April 2015 it became clear that Voices had secured $2 million from BDC Capital, and according to Voices CEO David Ciccarelli, his company has raised $5 million so far, all of it debt financing. Talking to the Financial Post, Ciccarelli added that he estimates his company to make $15 million in gross revenue over the next 12 months, and that Voices will exceed $100 million in annual revenue within three years.

In June, Voices announced that it would open up shop in New York City. According to the website TechVibes, 85% of Voices.com’s customers are located in the US, and a majority of the company’s 125,000 voice talent are located there.

Did you know that voices.com had a database of 125.000 members?

Again according to TechVibes, the Canadian company is experiencing 400% year-over-year growth, and it expects its workforce to reach up to 200 employees by the end of 2016.

SUCCESS STORY

From a business perspective, Voices is a success story Canada can be proud of. By all accounts, the two owners are intelligent, hard-working people, who want their company to be the leading voice casting service on the planet.

There’s nothing wrong with being ambitious, but what an increasing number of members are concerned about, is how those ambitions are being realized. They know that without voice talent, the company would have nothing to offer. One might as well remove the word “voices” from Voices.com.

However, the very people who are at the center of the company’s growth, feel they’re being treated like second and third-rate citizens. The massive response to last week’s blog post, attests to that. The story has been viewed more than ten thousand eight hundred times, and if you haven’t seen it, stop what you’re doing, and read Voices.com Is Slapping Regular Members In The Face.

In the days after this article was published, we learned a lot more about the business practices of Voices.com, thanks to many colleagues who decided they’ve had enough. Here are some themes that emerged from hundreds of comments:

1. Voices.com is driving VO-rates down.

While the price of membership goes up and up, voice-over rates are going down and down. That should come as no surprise. Voices tells clients on their “About-page” that by using their services they can expect a “50% savings on voice talent and audio production and administrative costs.”

Big corporations and institutions that used to pay talent a decent rate, can now book a voice at a bargain. Good for them. Bad for us. Once clients are used to lower prices, why would they ever want to pay a penny more?

2. Voices.com may take more money than you make.

Let’s assume a client pays Voices $650 for their services. That doesn’t mean the talent will see or get $650 for a voice-over narration. Colleagues tell me that Voices will often show the job as paying much less, from which a 10% escrow fee will be deducted as part of their SurePay™ system that every member is forced to use.

This is not some random example. This actually happened to voice-over Andrew Randall. The client was already a contact of his, and told him how much they had paid Voices to get the job done. Andrew writes:

“The rate Voices.com originally posted on this job was $440. Deducting their 10% escrow fee, that would have left me $396. That means Voices.com was intending to keep $254 of the client’s voice-over talent budget of $650, or a staggering 39%.”

This particular job was handled by Voices’ Professional Services team. This division will cast the job on the client’s behalf, and more and more projects are handled this way. It seems fair that a client pays a bit extra for this service, but close to 40%? That’s a huge cut of which the voice talent will never see a dime.

A ticked off Andrew responds:

“Union agents are only legally allowed to take 10% of a talent’s fee, and even non-union agents never take more than 20%, and usually 10 to 15%. I wonder how much money I have lost over the years from previous jobs for which I was unaware that Voices.com was taking such a huge cut of my fee. I may seek legal advice to see if I have a case to request those exorbitant fees back.”

But there’s more.

One disgruntled Platinum member told me she booked a job through Voices for $400, not knowing who the client was because Voices didn’t list it. And since Voices explicitly forbids talent to contact clients directly, she couldn’t ask.

Once she got the script, she found out that it was for a MAJOR global brand. The video she ended up narrating has over 3 million hits and counting. She said she has a feeling that Voices charged the client a much higher fee, and pocketed the difference.

A fellow-voice-over agreed, and said:

“They do take $ and hide what the client is actually paying. Another talent mentioned earlier today that they had a friend who booked a job at $1500 (outside of the pay-to-plays) and Voices posted that same job as paying $250. I’ve heard several different accounts of this happening from different sources now.”

This practice doesn’t only insult talent. It also angers those who use Voices to hire talent. A producer just commented:

“I had a recent job where my offer was $250/voice, and the talent told me that they were told by Voices that the job was only $120. This pisses me off because it makes me look like a cheap bastard and some good talent probably passed on auditioning since they saw the job as too low budget for them but in reality, it wasn’t.”

3. Voices controls how much you can “play,” based on what you pay.

As a regular Premium member, you will never see all the jobs that are in the Voices.com system. That’s how it is set up.

As I reported last week, a select group of 100 Platinum and Platinum Unlimited members who pay $2500 or $5000 respectively, are invited to more public job postings, and will get more private invitations than any of the other 124,900 members. Not because they’re more talented or more experienced, but because they paid Voices to give them preferential treatment. They’ll also receive VIP customer service.

One voice talent responded:

“What about everyone else who cannot afford $2500 for a membership, let alone $5000? They are basically making those talents audition into the void and completely waste their time. It’s not about TALENT anymore with this system- it favors those who will put in the money. As someone who grew up very poor, this makes me incredibly sad- and truly outraged.”

Someone else added:

“If I could afford the $2500, I wouldn’t need Voices.com”

Of course Voices.com cannot guarantee any member at any level that they’ll ever get selected for any posted project. They may control the flow of auditions, but they can’t tell the client whom to hire. 

Since my story broke, I have heard from a number of Platinum members, all of whom have been in the business for many, many years. One of them was voice talent and coach Deb Munro. She commented:

“I received more private auditions and made my initial investment back, but not much more than that either. I am floored that they are offering another tier [The Platinum Unlimited membership, PS]. This will be the demise of the site in my opinion, once more exposed.”

Here’s another point most commentators seem to agree on:

4. Auditioning on Voices.com is pretty much a waste of time and money.

Just listen to what three experienced voice-overs had to say:

“I auditioned like crazy, got one gig. 95% of my auditions were never even listened to. I finally would only audition if it was a 90% or better match, and less than 25 people had already auditioned, still nothing. I don’t know what the secret code is, but I couldn’t crack it, and I get plenty of other work.”

“The count of my auditions at Voices.com is in the high hundreds, and I’ve landed a total of two jobs – both from the same employer. I’ve received quite a few “likes” on my work, but a large number of my auditions go unheard and many more projects get closed without any further action. Spend more for better treatment and more visibility? Can Voices.com guarantee I’ll earn my investment back? On both counts, I think not.”

“Wow! I swore off P2P years ago. I thought it was not for me. This new Platinum Unlimited membership level brings it to a whole new level of wasted effort! I know there are some talents who have landed spectacular clients and/ or ongoing gigs. But that seems to be a rarity.”

Can it get any worse? Well, here’s another conclusion many colleagues seem to share:

5. The business practices of Voices.com are unethical. The company exploits naïve beginners, and doesn’t care about voice talent.

Here’s a small selection of comments on that topic:

“Monetize all the things” seems to be the new business model. Even inventing things to monetize. Yeah, one year was enough.”

“I would come back with open arms if they stopped the bidding wars, stopped undercutting their talent, and started representing their talent honorably. They have essentially taken over the job of a talent agent, and are NOT treating their talent according to the principles true talent agencies do. In the process, they are putting real talent agencies at risk – the real workers who fight for the talent. It has to stop.”

“I hate the way they run the company now. They used to pretend to care about members. Now they don’t even pretend to care. They just show utter contempt. David and Stephanie can run their company how they like. I will no longer support it or recommend it to other actors.”

“The arrogance and abusiveness of this company is astounding.”

Voice talent Todd Schick does’t mince words on his website:

“Some people are devoid of ethics and morals; they simply can’t see the benefit – monetarily or otherwise – to treat others in a fair, ethical manner.
Indeed, I’ve heard personally from former employees at Voices.com who have been threatened….now in fear of coming forward. Those that work there are rumoured to have been told to toe the line or be fired. Further still, talent who make noise about this issue are blacklisted (…).”

WHAT WILL HAPPEN NEXT?

You have read the critique. The question is: will it make a difference? Many colleagues are cynical:

“Paul rightly calls them on their tactics, but Voices.com knows VO-land is disorganized and that there will always be newbies willing to under-bid on a job to get a foothold in this job field. For every one subscriber who quits the P2P in disgust, three more step up with dollars in hand.”

“They’re making money hand over fist. That’s all they care about. They’ll ignore this until it dies down, and then continue to think of new ways to fill their coffers.”

I have blogged about Voices.com before, and whenever I do, it always seems to hit a raw nerve. People share these stories on social media, and comment like crazy. But this time, one thing was definitely different, and I’ll tell you what it is.

Normally, I would always get a few commentators who would come to Voices.com’s defense. They’d tell me how much they love the site, how much money they had made, and that business was booming thanks to this Canadian company. Some said I should stop being so mean to Stephanie and David.

This time around…. nothing.

What I heard instead was this:

“I’m done.”

“I called customer service, and cancelled my membership. I should have done it a long time ago.”

Time after time after time.

And you know what else? In the midst of all this bad publicity, the company isn’t even attempting to do any form of damage control. They’re not denying anything that has been said or written.

At their headquarters in London, Ontario, it has been quiet.

Disturbingly quiet.

Voices.com seems to have lost its voice.

Oh well…

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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