On February 11, 2011, VOICES.COM released new numbers testifying to the success of the company.
There’s every reason to congratulate the owners, David and Stephanie Ciccarelli. They proudly announced “$39,290,580 in Total Earnings by Voice Talent at Voices.com.”
Some commentators concluded that the data in the report are a summary of this company’s past year in business, but Stephanie Ciccarelli states:
“These numbers are based upon the last several years of data we’ve collected at the site.”
What does she mean by that?
Voices.com has been in business since 2003, starting as “Interactive Voices”. In September 2006, Interactive Voices became voices.com.
The new report speaks of:
“155,915 All-time number of jobs awarded to voice talent.”
In 2011, voices.com stated on their About-page that they are “creating 6911 job opportunities on average, each and every month.” My calculator tells me that this adds up to an average of 82,932 jobs per year.
How did voices.com arrive at 155,915? The verbiage “All-time number of jobs” suggests that they started counting from the very first day of business. Was that in 2003 or as of September 2006? Let’s do the numbers:
155,915 : 7 years = an average of 22,273 jobs per year (2003-2010)
155,915 : 3 years = an average of 51,971 jobs per year (2007-2010)
And what about $39,290,580 in total earnings? Is that also “based upon the last several years of data”?
It’s impossible to put these numbers into proper perspective if we don’t know what time period we’re talking about. That’s exactly the problem I have with most of the numbers coming from voices.com. I’m not saying that they are pulled out of a hat, but they lack clarity and context and they don’t always stand up to simple scrutiny.
The same can be said about their “Annual Report on the Voice Over Industry.” It is not compiled by an established, independent market research firm, but by the CEO of voices.com, David Ciccarelli.
As long as we cannot independently verify the numbers, or get a clear sense of the time period during which these data were collected, I choose to look at these reports as marketing tools, more than anything else.
Stephanie Ciccarell broke down the $39,290,580 in Total Earnings by Voice Talent at voices.com.
“On average” -she writes- “a voice talent made $252.97 per job” using their service.
I haven’t been keeping track of the voices.com numbers over time, but it would be interesting to see whether or not the average payment per job went up or down since 2003, and if so, by how much.
Stephanie Ciccarelli concludes:
“10,000+ people have earned a respectable income from doing voice overs with Voices.com serving as a key part of their marketing strategy.”
Once again, the numbers are vague and note that the term “respectable income” is not defined.
Here’s one scenario:
Let’s assume a talent lands one job per week on voices.com at $252.97. That would bring in $13,154.44 per year.
The talent decides to use the voices.com SurePay escrow system, at a 10% fee per job, costing him $1315.44. This brings the gross income down to $11.839.00. Subtract 10% for expenses and we’re left with: $10,649.10. Subtract from that amount $1504 in self-employment taxes and we arrive at a grand total of $9,149.10.
Would you call that a “respectable” income?
The 2011 Federal Poverty Guidelines of The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services puts the income level at $10,890 for a one person household.
Of course this is a theoretical example. Some voices.com jobs pay a lot more and some pay a lot less. No professional voice-over talent should entirely depend on one source to generate leads and make a living. At the same time, not everyone will land one gig a week using voices.com. Stephanie did write:
“10,000+ people have earned a respectable income from doing voice overs with Voices.com.”
Taking the Voices.com figure ($252.97), as a P2P industry average – that figure, I believe, doesn’t reflect what the voice over customer market “dictates”.
I believe it reflects what the voice over customer market “can get away with” with the help of the pay to play (P2P) business model.
ADDING IT ALL UP
There’s no doubt about it: voices.com has become one of the market leaders in online voice casting. That role comes with responsibilities. Market leaders have the clout to be trend setters and “power pricers”.
Voices.com has become more than a neutral playing field where supply meets demand. It has developed into a game changer that can write the rules of engagement by dictating the terms and conditions.
One of those conditions is “a minimum project posting requirement for any job posted publicly and this amount is $100.” By the way, this doesn’t mean that a voice seeker can’t go any lower than that. Voices.com states:
“If your budget is lower than $100 then you may post a job privately using the Request Quote function within our search engine or you may email talent directly with your project details and budget.”
Critics feel that the Pay to Play business model is in part to blame for the steady decline in voice-over rates and professional standards. Peter O’Connell:
I don’t believe or financially support any service in which voice talent “pays to play” i.e. pays a subscription to receive auditions. I believe such services lower the rate expectations of potential clients because so many voice talents who swim in the pay to play pool low ball their rates out of what I feel is a kind of sad desperation for revenue of any kind.
The pay to play model negatively impacts the voice over business and its practitioners, in my opinion.
It has been suggested that if voices.com is really interested in their members making a “respectable income,” they should start by raising that $100 minimum rate immediately.
Secondly, as of 2015, voices.com claims it has a global network of over 125,000 members. I used to be one of them. I think the members should expect and demand a lot more transparency and accountability when it comes to numbers.
As voices.com so aptly pointed out: they did not make $39,290,580 in total earnings.
As I’m writing this story, it is January 6th, 2011.
If you happen to read this story four or five years from now, will you still remember Ted Williams?
And if you do, will you be thinking of that great hitter from the golden age of baseball or of the homeless man with the golden pipes with the same name?
Only a week ago, some of us were watching retrospectives of the year that was. To me, those programs are a wake-up call because they always remind me of how little I remember of the year’s most notable events and newsworthy personalities.
Here today. Gone tomorrow.
Ted’s remarkable story had me thinking. It brought up questions about the unfair randomness of reporting; about self-serving charity and even about the foundations of faith.
THE VIRAL VIDEO
What would have happened if that videographer for the Columbus Dispatch who shot the video that went viral, had done what thousands and thousands of drivers did for years: ignore that unkept panhandler begging for some change, or have him do a trick for a dollar without a video camera ready?
Would Mr. “Goldenvoice” be the internet sensation he is today? Of course not. He’d still be roaming the streets, together with over 3 million other homeless people in this Land of Plenty.
By nature, news focuses on the extraordinary and the exceptional. It is selective, it is simplistic and often sensational. Increasingly, news media emphasize non-news items such as stories about the irrelevant lives of celebrities. Objective, in-depth reporting has been replaced by shallow, subjective entertainment.
More importantly, the medium started to dictate the message: if we can capture it on camera, it’s news. No cameras, no news! What we don’t see does not exist. A few days ago, tossed-by-the-road Ted Williams did not exist.
There’s another reason why Mr. William’s story captured the hearts of many news editors. As we all know, most news is bad news, and to offset that daily dose of misery, newsrooms comb the wires for the perfect feel-good story with a fairytale ending. Well, last Monday was their lucky day.
“Talented helpless homeless man finds redemption on the highway.
We’ll be right back after these words from our sponsors.”
TWO SIDES OF THE COIN
Please understand that I am very happy for Ted. I was one of the first people to watch his video and I immediately joined the Facebook group “Help Get Ted Williams a Voiceover Job.” I did what I could to alert my voice-over community, and I wrote to the new Oprah Winfrey Network suggesting that they should hire Mr. Williams.
At the same time, I felt ashamed that I live in one of the richest nations on earth where people’s fate may depend on random encounters with reporters and networks, rather than on solid support from a caring society.
Yes, it’s great that a deserving family receives a million dollar Extreme Home Makeover. Yes, it’s nice that an undercover boss donates five grand to a working minimum wage earning mother so she can give her daughter the medication she needs. But it’s time to get real.
Let’s remember that these so-called “reality shows” provide tear-jerking, rating boosting entertainment that single a few lucky individuals out, often ignoring the underlying issues that have lead to these people’s problems. Let’s see if we can relieve some symptoms instead of dealing with the cause. As long as the numbers from the Nielsen rating agency are up, our sponsors will be satisfied!
There is a not so fine line between offering alleviation and engaging in exploitation. Today we’ll eat you up. Tomorrow we will spit you out.
The righteous religious have their own theory. Instead of random acts of reporters, they detect Divine Intervention. Ted Williams prayed to God and God answered by sending him Doral Chenoweth III from the Columbus Dispatch. “This time around I have a God of understanding in my life,” Williams told the Today Show.
I am not a theologian, but I consider myself to be a spiritual person. Here’s what I struggle with. Millions of God’s children are without a home today. In the United States, families make up 40% of the homeless population. In fact, it’s the fastest growing segment.
No matter where these people come from or who they are, I strongly believe that each individual living on the streets and off the streets is born with a God-given talent. I also believe that each and every one deserves a break and a shot at success.
I don’t believe in a God who would single some people out for redemption and some for a life of suffering. I believe in a benevolent God; not in a sadist. I also believe that God has given us hands that can either help or hurt and a conscience to do what is right. The choice is ours.
Baseball star Ted Williams once said: “God gets you to the plate, but once you’re there, you’re on your own.”
As soon as the Goldenvoice video went viral and Ted Williams was scheduled to appear on the radio, lucrative voice-over offers started rolling in. The part of me that was rooting for Ted was absolutely thrilled. Another part of me was stunned.
In these challenging economic times, some voice-over colleagues with as much talent as Mr. Williams are forced to sell their equipment and find other employment. Even for people with a proven voice-over track record it’s harder and harder to get the attention of major players. On certain voice casting sites, producers are generously offering up to $250 for a TV commercial.
Meanwhile, Ted landed a $10.000 contract from the Ohio Credit Union and was hired by Kraft and MSNBC, and he was groomed by the Cleveland Cavaliers… AOL NEWS even spoke of “a thousand job offers.”
Most of us in the industry do not begrudge Ted’s sudden success. However, some of us are looking at these generous companies saying: “Where were you when we knocked on your door?”
I’ll go even further than that and ask these companies:
When was the last time you helped the homeless? Why are you just now jumping on the bandwagon? Are you really motivated by altruism or are you hoping to get something out of giving something? In other words: was your gift a selfless act or rather self-serving? And if you were giving in order to gain, was it really a gift?
Maimonides was a 12th century Jewish scholar. He wrote a code of law based on the Rabbinic oral tradition. He organized different levels of charity into a list from the least to the most honorable. Here they are:
Giving less that you should, but giving it cheerfully.
Giving after being asked
Giving before being asked
Giving when you do not know the recipient’s identity, but the recipient knows your identity
Giving when you know the recipient’s identity, but the recipient doesn’t know your identity
Giving when neither party knows the other’s identity
Enabling the recipient to become self-reliant
Hopefully, a year or even six months from now, Ted Williams will be completely self-reliant.
Hopefully, we’ll all still know him as the man who gave the homeless a voice.
Thanks to the internet, any business is now a global business. Getting through to non-native English speakers can be a serious challenge. But just because your client knows a few English words, doesn’t mean he understands everything you’re saying.Here’s how not to get lost in translation.
“I have a good one,” I said to my friend from France.
“Why do gun-carrying Americans usually wear short-sleeved shirts?”
“No idea,” he answered. “You tell me.”
“Because they believe in the right to bear arms.”
“Sorry, but I don’t get it,” said Philippe. “Explain.”
“Well,” I said, “I can try, but I don’t think it would make the Second Amendment any funnier.”
“Oh, was it supposed to be funny?”
“Well, Philippe, some people think that puns are bad by definition.”
“What’s a pun?” Philippe wanted to know.
Have you ever had a conversation like that? All along you…
Read the rest of this story in my new book. Click here for the paperback version, and click here for a Kindle download.
Click on the cover to access the website and get a sneak peek.
No, I’m not going to tell you what it is just yet.
Let me begin by asking you a simple question:
Do words have power?
When you think of it, aren’t they just letters, arranged in a certain order? Or are there words in our language that are so potent, that they have the potential to transform our life and our livelihood?
Now, before you think that I’ve gone all philosophical instead of practical, just STOP for a moment and think about it.
In the past few days I’ve asked some of my friends about words they feel have had (and still have) a profound impact on their professional lives. Here are some of the words they came up with:
As for me, the one word that has been my guiding light in the past 25 years as a freelancer, is neither grand nor deep. Yet, I believe it to be one of the most powerful words in our vocabulary. Without it, my career certainly wouldn’t be where it is today. It consists of two letters.
Read the rest of this story in my new book. Click on the cover to access the website and get a sneak peek. Use the buttons to buy the book.
Daniel Stern is known for his roles in films like “Hannah and her Sisters,” “City Slickers” and the first two “Home Alone” films. He’s also the narrator for the “The Wonder Years” and the voice of Dilbert in the animated TV series.
One day, Daniel got a script for a voice-over audition, and his mouth practically dropped to the floor when he read the specs:
“Must sound like Daniel Stern”
He’s thinking: “Piece of cake. This one’s in the bag!”
So, Stern goes to his booth; records a demo; sends it in…
…and doesn’t get the part!
Has that ever happened to you? Probably not, because your name is not Daniel Stern. However, we’re all too familiar with the story of that brilliant audition we did, that disappeared into nothingness and left us wondering:
“What just happened? I knew I nailed it. Why didn’t I get the part? Was it something I said?”
There are two ways of dealing with this sad smack in the face:
1. Tell yourself: “Those ignorant producers don’t know talent even when it’s staring them in the face. By not selecting me, they have proven themselves unworthy of my God-given artistic gifts to this world. It’s their loss; not mine. Now, if you will excuse me, I’m late for my pedicure.”
or you could
2. Ask yourself: “What did I miss? Was there anything I could have done or should have done, to turn this audition from ‘good’ into ‘great’?”
Let’s be honest. All of us get stuck in a rut from time to time. Without prior warning, we lose our “magic touch,” our “MoVo”. That Money Voice that used to sell so well ain’t doin’ it no more. Does that mean your career is over? Of course not. It just means that it’s time to take a step back and get a second opinion.
You see, most of us aren’t as good as Baron von Munchausen, who reportedly pulled himself up from the swamp by his own hair. Sometimes, we need someone who’s not going to tell us what we want to hear, but what we need to hear.
We need a Dr. Phil who listens to people playing the same old tapes inside of their heads over and over again, and who will “tell-it-like-it-is”.
Or perhaps we want to go with someone with more hair, more flair and with more experience in the voice-over industry. Someone like David Rosenthal.
David is not only a top voice-over talent, actor and director with over 25 years of experience; he’s also a sought-after voice coach and teacher. A few days ago, I had a chance to talk to him about his craft, his approach as a coach and about his latest endeavor: Internet Voice Coach.
ALL WORK, NO PLAY
Rosenthal: “I tell all my students that auditioning has to be one of the most enjoyable parts of their day. If you are worried about getting that job or needing to sound a particular way, then it will never happen, because then you’re judging yourself; you’re in your ‘work-mode.’ The whole point is that people who truly know how to take life in the most optimistic and playful way, are priming themselves for being wonderful voice actors.
I feel that a lot of people getting into voice-overs have forgotten how to play as adults. All the actors in this industry that have created and sustained careers for 25, 30, 35 years, have done so, because they know how to play. They know how to roll with it; to be creative and imaginative and they’re never too hard on themselves.
This is another great secret: when you’re playing, nobody can judge you. You are free. You can’t judge play. It’s creative, in-the-moment stuff. It is attractive. It’s what keeps clients coming back to us as voice-over professionals, because we know how to bring that sense of play to life for their products. They know it’s magic.”
BIRTH OF AN IDEA
Rosenthal received his BA in Theatre, Anthropology, and English Lit. from Sarah Lawrence College. He studied acting in NYC at Herbert Bergoff Studios and in San Francisco with Richard Seyd. He is a regular voiceover talent for Sony, Nintendo, Sega and for commercial radio, with over 600 voice-over credits to his name. David teaches Spokesperson trainings, the Art of Voice Acting and he is a staff member of the Kids-On–Camera Acting School in the Bay area. He continues:
“Students would come up to me after class and say: ‘Dave, if there was any way that you could bottle this up -not just the lessons but the way you in which you teach them- and put it on the internet or on a DVD, I would buy it in a second.’ That stuck in my head. So I decided to take this particular philosophy that I have about this industry and our art, and present it to as many people as possible, in an extremely informative manner.”
ON-LINE VOICE COACHING
Rosenthal kept his word. In 2010, he launched a brand new website called Internet Voice Coach (IVC). It’s an extensive on-line resource as well as a community that brings industry experts, trainers, students and voice-over veterans together. Rosenthal:
“The primary focus of the site is on PLAY. People often come to me saying: ‘Everyone tells me I have a real nice voice,’ and I tell them: That’s really wonderful but, when you talk about essential prerequisites for making it in this industry, a really nice voice is not one of them. It’s a great asset, but that, by itself, won’t cut it.
So, I started thinking of creating a website around the philosophy of play, but also having all the tools that are necessary to help people who are just getting started, as well as more specialized advice and tips for seasoned pros.
For instance, we have interviews with casting directors and we’re asking them: What are you looking for? Why did you hire me for this last job? What’s going on in the industry right now that people need to be aware of? What are some common mistakes that you hear in auditions?”
“When you go on the site, you don’t just see a bunch of people talking about the industry. You can watch me as I prepare for an audition, literally playing in front of you, messing up my face and my voice, joking around.”
Here’s David on keeping a voice consistent with a character:
Internet Voice Coach offers more than videos, how-to articles and interviews. Rosenthal:
“We have an incredible aspect to our site. It is something I do not believe any other site has out there in the voice-over world and that is: ongoing personal feedback.
When you become a yearly member, you will get 20 opportunities a year to send in a voice-over demo for an audition or practice files that you’re working on. You can send them as an MP3, and you’ll receive an MP3 from us, loaded with feedback.
The advantage to that over one-on-one phone coaching is that it’s very focused and it doesn’t cost $130. I’m trying to be conscious of people’s pocket books, and at the same time give them a tremendous opportunity to learn and grow (membership is $199 per year PS).
We also have monthly webinars. That means we’re live on video, and members can log in and join in. After we talk about a particular subject for about 45 minutes, we take questions.”
IVC is David’s brainchild, but he teamed up with voice-over actor and coach Jason Klofstad, who just happens to be the voice of Apple computer. His other partner is Mary Windishar, a broadcast producer for over 20 years (Oprah Winfrey Show); a voice and on-camera talent for over 15 years and a prominent spokesperson for women in the field of voice-overs.
Then there’s a whole list of regular contributors such as Elaine Clark, author of “There’s Money Where Your Mouth Is”.
“The site is purposely called Internet Voice Coach and not Voice-Over Coach. It has modules on public speaking (featuring expert-in-residence Brian Collins) and articles on vocal health, overcoming rejection, marketing and much more.
Ultimately, IVC is a resource that isn’t just for learning the craft, but for staying on top of your craft. Had I had this site 25 years ago, I really would have been able to kick-start my career a lot faster. Why reinvent the wheel if you can learn from the best in the business?”
One of those people is actor Daniel Stern who was recently interviewed for the site.
He didn’t get the part, even though it his name written all over it.
I couldn’t help but wonder who eventually landed that gig.
The voice-over market is a buyer’s market. Voice-talents are exposed; voice-seekers are protected. As voice-over pros, we want to work. We need to work. Sometimes we’re so happy to be picked out of a pile of 100+ auditions; it’s tempting to say “YES” when we finally get a break. But would we have done so, had we known the facts?
The World Wide Web has put me in touch with the wonderful, the wacky and the weird. Anyone can pretend to be anything on the Net. That nice guy you met online might very well be the next “Craigslist Killer”. Or he could be Prince Charming! How can you be sure?
THE VOICE-OVER AS P.I.
I have a question for you: do you think you should have to play Sherlock Holmes if you audition for a job on a site like voices.com? Aren’t you paying the staff to do their homework to make sure you’re not connected to some creep?
If you’re a member of voice123, you might have seen the following disclaimer:
Legal note: Although Voice123 tries to establish the legitimacy of all voice seekers, you are responsible for conducting your own investigation into any and all claims made by prospective voice seekers, agents and/or clients. You assume all liability for use of any information you find through Voice123, LLC, or any of its publications.
Good luck, especially if the voice seeker is purposely hiding his or her identity! As we have seen in the case of the founder of Newspapers for the Blind, the voice123 team responded after members had complained about the way they had been treated. Make no mistake about it: at the end of the day, “You are responsible for conducting your own investigation.”
Here’s the good news: the Internet is not only a place for con-men and convicts. With so much information in the public domain, we might as well use it as a tool in our fight against the frauds, the fakes and the phonies. My story of Newspapers for the Blind is the perfect example. Before I get into that, I have an admission to make.
A GOOD CAUSE
When I was young, idealistic and hopelessly naive, I honestly believed that people involved in philanthropy must be good people. It never occurred to me to do a background check on a charity. What can I say? Even Steven Spielberg thought that Bernie Madoff was a nice guy…
After my story about Will May, some of you wondered: Is his organization a real charity?
On its website, Newspapers for the Blind (NFBT) says it’s a 501C-3 Corporation. This is a type of incorporation that is used to set up a charitable corporation, founded with the intention of providing a service to the community, rather than making a profit.
Incorporating a company makes it a legal entity, responsible for its actions in the community. This is important, because it removes a great deal of the responsibility from the person who is starting the company.
One source puts it this way: “If you start a 501(c)3 company, you want the legal liability for possible damages to be the responsibility of the 501(c)3 corporation so that your personal possessions are safe from creditors.”
So, how do you separate the chaff from the wheat? The IRS web site has a search engine that makes finding a registered charity a piece of cake. The Better Business Bureaus* have a similar function on their website. In both databases, Newspapers for the Blind does not come up as a registered charity, and I have asked the IRS and the BBB to look into this. I also checked the Maryland Charities Database (the state where NFTB is based). Again: nothing came up.
But there’s a catch: Elisabeth Leamy, the ABC News Consumer Correspondent warns:
“ (…) even if the IRS really has granted non-profit 501C-3 status to a group, that’s no indication of quality. The IRS doesn’t have the time or staff to really scrutinize those who apply for charity status. I once investigated a company that earned 501C-3 status. The IRS overlooked the fact that the founder was a convicted felon who kept most of the group’s money for himself and didn’t even register with the state as required by law.”
In her article “How to Identify a Fake Charity”, Jamie K. Wilson recommends we carefully examine a charity’s website and look for the following signs:
A board of directors numbering at least six people, with their credentials or regular job titles and place of employment listed
A permanent street address in the United States or your own country
A 501(c)3 statement
An outline of this charity’s goals
Downloadable financial statements that detail where money has been expended in the past
Accurate statistics with verifiable and legitimate sources
Good writing, spelling, and grammar
“Any charitable website lacking two or more of these traits is suspect. That does not mean the charity is fake. On the contrary, it might be very new and very legitimate, but without a track record. However, fake charities generally lack at least two of the above items.”
Steven Lowell of voice123 had this to say about Will May, the founder and editor of NFTB:
“Truth is… if he is rough to deal with, and pays, that is one thing. You get your money and never work with the person again. But to pose as a charitable organization, then not pay, and pull the routine that the people who delivered work must be the problem, when he in fact hired them… It is not a better business practice, and to some extent, illegal. I am not up to date on laws governing posing as false charity, but he did promise payment, and never came through.”
WHO IS WILL MAY?
Again, using what is in the public domain, what can we learn about the founder and editor of Newspapers for the Blind? Let’s first see what Will May told us about himself on his 2010 LinkedIn profile:
Interests: I like to sail boats and fly aeroplanes
Groups and Associations: Chief Medical Examiner of the Lesbian Fighter Pilots Association
In 2013, his interests are still the same, but his Groups and Associations comment was no longer there. His LinkedIn Summary consists of the following quote:
“I like to make money, so I can be ‘A river to my people.’ ~Auda”
May still lists himself as the owner of Nevis LLC. A Nevis Limited Liability Company is based in the Caribbean tax-haven of Nevis. For $1495 USD, you too could become the proud owner of a Nevis LLC. It has a few benefits:
Nevis does not impose corporate tax, income tax, withholding tax, stamp tax, asset tax, exchange controls or other fees or taxes on assets or income originating outside of Nevis.
The owners and managers are not registered anywhere, which provides for complete secrecy.
A Nevis LLC allows you to shield your assets from lawsuits, agencies, and financial creditors.
Owners can manage the company without becoming liable for company financial obligations or legal liabilities.
THE LAST TYCOON
Voice-over colleague Juliette Gray worked for Will May and never received a penny. She confirmed what I had suspected when I questioned where the money for Newspapers for the Blind was coming from. Juliette wrote:
“One long conversation I had with him he told me that he had put a lot of money himself into it and he was a retired real estate tycoon from NYC.”
This is confirmed by the information May listed in his 2010 LinkedIn profile under “experience”:
“Chairman of Wm. B May & Company- Real Estate from 1982 – 2006”
This is not your average local realtor. The William B. May Company once was the nation’s oldest real estate brokerage firm, and it has been in the hands of one family for four generations. The website of the New York Real Estate Institute states:
“William B. May’s impeccable reputation has been built on a singular philosophy of integrity, trust, full accountability and integrated service. To this day, we pride ourselves on unwavering ethics, steadfast client loyalty, and competitive endurance.”
In a December 2000 newsletter, the company boasts:
“With age comes wisdom. The development of 57th Street at the heart of New York City was what first put William B. May on the map in the late 1860’s. At that time, we sold property to the Carnegies, the Fricks and the Vanderbilts.”
Today, the company is no more. Only the brand William B. May has survived. The business concept is owned by Broker Services Holding, LLC and it is operated as a franchise.
On his LinkedIn page, Will May concurs that the company as it had existed, ceased operations in 2006, after -as he put it- “a tumultuous take-over fight”.
A BLAST FROM THE PAST
Gabriel Sherman is contributing editor at New York Magazine and a special correspondent for the New Republic. Prior to 2006, he was the media reporter at the New York Observer. In April of ’05, he witnessed the demise of the venerable family firm.
When I read his article “William T. May Sues Agency On Century 21 Ads”, a few things fell into place. This is how it begins:
“William Talcott May is the co-chairman of the storied real-estate brokerage founded by his great grandfather in 1866 and inheritor of the New York real-estate dynasty that bears his father’s name, William B. May.
But when the 44-year-old eccentric bounded into City Bakery on West 18th Street on a recent Thursday morning, wearing a fire-truck-red Scottish kilt and a navy-blue wool sweater, his broad, leonine cheekbones streaked with charcoal-hued face paint, he looked more Braveheart than businessman.”
If you don’t have time to read the entire article, here are some of the ‘highlights’:
Mr. May studied economics at Duke University. He dropped out in 1982 after two and half years. At Duke, Mr. May was a member of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity, played rugby and co-founded the school’s polo club with 40 ponies he said his cousin won in a craps game in South America.
After leaving Duke, Billy May -as he was known- returned to New York and worked in William B. May’s brokerage business while managing some of his own buildings. On the job he was stabbed and shot by tenants.
As he was flying his private plane on 9/11/’01, he witnessed the entire disaster from 10,000 feet above New York Harbor. He told Gabriel Sherman: “I was on the radio to McGuire Air Force base in 20 seconds saying there had been a terrorist attack.”
In December of 2001, the FBI and police arrested Mr. May for leaving six fake bombs at the New Castle County Airport in an attempt to highlight lax security.
Between trial and sentencing, he served 31 days in solitary confinement. Mr. May received a felony conviction and four years probation for the incident.
Mr. May’s attorney at the time, Penelope Marshall, said in reports that Mr. May was not medicated for his bipolar disorder.
Sherman ends his report from 2005 as follows:
“Mr. May, who says he has already spent $1 million of his own money to stanch the attacks on his family’s business, said he will not surrender until his family wins its name back. “I’m like a one-man pack of wild dogs when I get angry,” he said.”
You don’t have to be a psychologist to realize that past behavior can -to a certain extent- predict future behavior. In the case of William Talcott May, knowing about his background made me understand where his Mr. Nice and Mr. Nasty type of behavior was coming from. I just hope that he doesn’t unleash his ‘one-man pack of wild dogs’ on me. I’m more of a cat person.
As I said before: I think that Newspapers for the Blind offers a terrific service. I sincerely hope that it will survive Will May’s erratic actions. Eventually, his karma will catch up with him.
As for our friends at the voice-over casting sites (sometimes known as Pay-to-Plays)… we realize that you don’t have the time or the resources to conduct extensive investigations. However, it would be very helpful if you would publish information on those individuals who have pulled a fast one, and share it with your members and with other voice-over casting sites. That way, scammers who are exposed on one site, won’t be able to set up shop at another site.
Instead, you have left it up to our trusted colleague Mahmoud Taji, to come up with a Scam-Alert for our industry. As much as I applaud his hard work, this should not have been left to the efforts of one blogging voice-over talent in Egypt.
As voice-seekers, we pay you in order to take advantage of your internet voice-casting service. We don’t want to be taken advantage of, because you choose to protect your voice-seekers from our phone calls.
Come to think of it… isn’t that how we used to do business? We simply picked up the phone and introduced ourselves to a prospective client. What would Sherlock Holmes call that?
*The BBB Wise Giving Alliance has developed Standards for Charity Accountability to “assist donors in making sound giving decisions and to foster public confidence in charitable organizations. The standards seek to encourage fair and honest solicitation practices, to promote ethical conduct by charitable organizations and to advance support of philanthropy.”
Posting jobs under false names, not paying invoices and Jekyll and Hyde-treatment of voice-over talent… these appear to be the trademarks of William May.
Mr. May is the founder and editor of Newspapers For The Blind Organization,Inc, a web–based service, offering a daily selection of newspaper articles for the vision impaired, read by voice-over pros. The site was quietly launched during the last quarter of 2009 (and should not be confused with NFB-Newsline®).
The idea behind Newspapers for the Blind (NFTB) is not new but certainly noble. The other two people involved, Dr. Edward E. Boas Jr. and Noelle Mills Adler, have impressive credentials. Dr. Boas is a Professor of Computer Science, Data Processing and Electronics at Cecil College in North East Maryland. Ms. Mills Adler is a past president of the Ladies Christian Union of New York City (now known as the LCU Foundation).
But it’s the voice-over professionals known as “newspapercasters” who are at the heart of NFTB. Newspapersfortheblind.org raves:
“Our three dozen readers, culled from 3000 auditions, bring the precise vocal skills to reach and meet our unique audience.”
At the beginning of September 2010, I became a member of this “elite team,” after auditioning for the following job posted on voice123:
Newspapers for Blind This is a daily long term commitment to read a newspaper article into an MP3 for webcasting and free-phone service to the blind and hearing-impaired.
The files would want to be recorded from roughly midnight to 6AM US Eastern Time, so, geography may be important to readers.
The pacing of the delivery is painfully S-L-O-W, and the voice resonance is highly critical for the hearing-impaired. Tenors and sopranos need not bother; it won’t work for the hearing-impaired. Professor Henry Higgins diction is important; bite the words.
Voice-seekers name: confidential Company name: hidden
I was absolutely thrilled to have made the cut. Regular gigs are hard to come by in this industry, but there was another reason why I was so excited. Some jobs we do for the money; others because it is the right thing to do. This was the best of both worlds!
THE AMAZING MR MAY
On top of that, the founder/editor seemed to possess an incredible drive and contagious enthusiasm to make things happen. His initial emails were personable, funny and encouraging. After I started reading leads from The Independent and The Times, he commented:
“My Cat; BraveHeart, loves your voice. She always perks up when I play your readings. You have a fan.”
One day, I shared with him that I wasn’t feeling too well. He responded:
“Paul, hope you shake the cold…..just don’t shake this perfect voice, W”
This was clearly a man with a heart! One thing bothered me a little, though. Whenever I asked May if he intended to formalize the relationship and how payment would be handled, it took him months to come up with something that came close to a straight answer.
A month or so into the job, I had yet to be paid. Then I noticed that May had placed another job posting on voice123. Why would he be looking for new recruits? When I asked him about it, he answered:
“Please don’t worry about not enough readings for NFTB. Stick with me; I have to keep a Chinese Wall between the not-for-profit and other activities. There will be plenty of other activities to follow.”
He was right. Not only would I be recording and editing at least two articles a day, Will asked me and four other colleagues to record public service announcements for NFTB (a 501C-3 Corporation). I was tickled when he told me:
“Out of the 5, they chose your Public Service Message on 970 AM, New York.”
By that time I was on a roll. The only thing that was missing was a regular paycheck and eventually, that became an ordeal. I had to send out countless reminders, only to hear that my “address was lost” or that someone would be looking into it.
GIVE ME A BREAK
On November 15th, May surprised me with the following message:
“Lets let your money catch up with your readings; take a break.”
“(…) As you know, I am very supportive of your charity, and I don’t understand why I should take a break. (…) If you do not have the money to pay me, you should have said so from the beginning. As a professional, I made my commitment based on your commitment. Financially, I plan ahead and make future projections based on assurances that have been made by my clients. Knowing that payment would not be forthcoming or would be seriously delayed, would have given me the opportunity to reconsider my commitment to NFTB, and possibly spend my time and energy generating income in other ways. (…)”
“I had interpreted your last mail as unhappy. I was simply saying lets let the accounting, our weakest link, catch up with you. We have enough money, just not enough accounting bobbins.”
But on November 20th, I received the following email:
“Don’t count on any more readings in your planning; nothing to do with you. We’ll catch up the accounting, and probably just wind things up. May try to limp along at half or one-third normal see what happens.
Also, frankly, not enough users to merit all of the work; I’m working 18-20 hour days to throw 8-10 k out the window each week…what for.
I think we made sliced bread, when the world wants baguette.”
The truth is that it was business as usual at Newspapers for the Blind. They didn’t miss a beat, and never have. I was sidetracked for no apparent reason, while waiting for my checks. And I was not alone:
Voice-over colleague Juliette Gray picks up the story:
“I was hired in November. They required reading articles (in my case from the London newspapers). These articles were long and the editing took ages. Then the person in charge decided because these people were also partially deaf that I needed to change my sound system. I did this willingly because I thought I had a steady job.
At quite a bit of expense I was ready to start working again and it was then he turned out to be a complete nightmare. We exchanged numerous e-mails, phone conversations, etc. and then he did a 180 degree turn – sort of like a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Became impossible to communicate with and finally did get nasty in his final e-mail. Needless to say I never got paid.”
VOICE123 JUMPS IN
At that time, Steven Lowell was the “community manager” for voice123. This is what he said when I asked him about NFTB and Will May::
“When I first saw the job posted a while back, I was very excited because in NYC, I got some early voice over practice in the 90’s doing charity by reading books to the blind at a local church. It was something a coach recommended I do for practice.
The job made me think, ‘Wow! Good to see something like this again! Yet, what followed was an unpleasant experience of several talents with decades of experience, complaining to me that he was harsh and unfriendly to work with.
When reaching out to Mr. May to present that there have been problems, merely as a way to communicate feedback, his reply to me was, ‘Who complained? I don’t have the time to coach every talent to perfection….’
Before hearing my side of the story, voice123 heard from Juliette and 2 other voice-over professionals; one from the US, and one from the UK. As I was researching this article, I got in touch with other newspapercasters. Without exception, they asked me not to reveal their names, because they’re still hoping to get paid and they want to keep their job. But all of them told similar tales about Mr. May, and I wondered if voice123 had taken any action.
As a rule, voice123 only investigates non-payment matters that are 60-days old. Steven Lowell: “This is because we do not get involved, and most payment disputes are resolved quite easily with a reminder email from me.”
Having examined concrete proof from email correspondence as to what had happened, voice123 banned Will May from the site. Unfortunately, that was not the end of the matter. Lowell:
“Mr. May posted the initial jobs under his own name. Once removed from the site, he began to use different names. During verification efforts by our staff, it was discovered who was posting the job. The staff at Voice123 has not changed in 2 years, and we have become very aware of ‘who is who’, and as such, have been able to catch people easily trying to repost after being banned.”
Juliette Gray is still waiting for her paycheck, and she’s not the only one. I was lucky. Even though Mr. May still owes me a substantial amount of money, I did get paid for approximately two-thirds of my work.
For months, I asked May to pay the remainder of the balance, but he was MIA. When my knocks on his door became louder, he finally sent a very unfriendly email, accusing me of “futzing the dates” on my invoices. He wrote:
“I am in no great rush to go through hours of checking to deal with whatever might be outstanding to you. Checking truth versus falsehood is a nuisance.”
“The invoices were sent on November 9th of last year, so you have had over two months to figure things out. I resent your remark that I “started futzing the dates”. My invoices accurately and faithfully reflect the work I have done for your organization at your request, and that’s the work I deserve to be paid for.”
I think that Newspapers for the Blind offers a terrific service. The newspapercasters are dedicated and talented readers who can be proud to support their families by bringing the news to the blind and vision-impaired, day in day out.
The website has an impressive list of reputable institutions labeled as “dedicated listeners”. There is no doubt in my mind that the energetic editor has moved mountains to realize this project. Based on my email exchanges with him, Will May works night and day to keep the service up and running. I don’t know for sure, but I suspect that he has invested a substantial amount of his own money into this worthy undertaking.
I also believe that people are not their behavior. From time to time, all of us do things that we are not proud of, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t know any better. Just because we do something crazy, doesn’t mean that we are crazy.
Having said that, it is not okay to treat people the Will May-way, and voice123 was right to ban him from the site. Other sites have been alerted to make sure he doesn’t pull the same stuff. Furthermore: May needs to pay his talents. Without them, there would be no Newspapers for the Blind.
For now, I am left with one question: why would someone who is clearly invested in and dedicated to such a noble cause, turn from Mr. Nice into Mr. Nasty?
Which orchestra was voted the best symphony orchestra in the world?
Eminent music critics asked themselves that same question at the end of 2008. They narrowed the list down to twenty. A year later, the renowned British music magazine “the Gramophone” published the results.
The famous Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra ended up in second place, but who came first? The New York Philharmonic? The Wiener Philharmoniker? The Chicago Symphony?
I just spent a few hours on-line listening to YOU… my colleagues, my competition, my inspiration. It was both frightening and enlightening. As I was clicking away part of my day, I was amazed by a number of things, going from Pay-to-Play to Pay-to-Play. This is what I found:
1. Anyone can sign up for a voice-over site these days, on three conditions:
a. you have to have a voice b. you have to have a credit card c. you have to have a computer and a microphone
2. Fifty percent of the advertised ‘talent’ can’t interpret a simple script;
3. The same people don’t seem to know the first thing about recording either;
4. Amateurs who put themselves out there as voice-over pros, have a lot of guts, coupled with a deadly mix of unrealistic expectations, a lack of experience and the funds to invest in a pipe dream;
5. As I wrote in another article, foreign voices are often not as advertised. We still have Flemish speakers posing as Dutch talents, German speakers who are really from Austria, and Australians pretending to be Americans. Whatever happened to quality control?
6. Don LaFontaine is still very much alive, but he goes by many different names these days. Or is just every other American male voice-over talent riding on his coattails as they are trying to emulate the master?
PAYING THE PRICE
I must say that I don’t envy the voice-seekers who have to sift through over one hundred auditions to find the perfect voice for their low- or no-budget project.
Then again: they asked for it, so we shouldn’t feel too sorry for them. It’s the price you pay when you’re asking every Tom, Dick or Harry to tape a custom demo for that cheap frying pan you’re trying to sell on late-night cable television. You often get what you pay for… frying pan, voice-over talent, it doesn’t make a difference.
What do I make of all this, you may ask? Well, here’s what I think.
Having a microphone, a MasterCard, a laptop and a fantasy doesn’t mean one should be allowed to join a professional site, no questions asked. We have websites for amateur dog breeders, amateur sports people, amateur musicians… why not design a site dedicated to amateur voice-over artists? I bet you’ll make a lot of money in the Odesk-market segment. It could be a kind of Bargain-Bodalgo.
Don’t get me wrong. Hobbies are wonderful things. My neighbor takes great pictures, but he wouldn’t dare to advertise himself as a professional photographer, nor should he. National Geographic would immediately show him the door.
A friend of mine is not a bad trumpet player, but if he were to audition for a real job in the music industry, he would never make the first cut (and he knows it). Apparently, those stringent standards don’t seem to be in place in certain segments of the voice-over industry. Why not?
THE PROBLEM BEHIND THE PROBLEM
As long as some sites make most of their money through subscriptions, more members means more money. It’s a business model, not a charity. It’s a model that essentially values quantity over quality. The only way to go, is to grow.
Let’s be honest. The voice-over market is pretty much saturated at this moment. You don’t need a degree in economics to realize that a greater supply in a weakened market can only mean one thing: tumbling prices.
The best way to speed this process up, is to have suppliers engage in a furious bidding war. Darwin would have named it: “Survival of the Cheapest”. Isn’t that exactly what is happening? And if you don’t believe me, why is it so hard to buy products that are not “made in China”? Before we know it, all of us will be replaced by IVONA speech synthesis technology. It’s almost as good as the real thing and I bet it’s a lot cheaper.
NO CURE NO P(L)AY
If it were up to me, I’d rather have a performance-based No Cure No Pay-system in place. Out with the premium, platinum and titanium memberships. From now on, voice-over sites should get paid when I get paid. And the only way I get paid, is when voice-over sites do their job and connect me to reputable voice-seekers that are ready to pay reasonable rates.
Perhaps that will make the Pay-to-Play’s more accountable and selective in terms of whom they’re willing to represent. Perhaps that’s the way to separate the wheat from the chaff. Let the dabblers do their thing. As long as they stay in their own league and stop messing with my market.
Secondly, I’d like to see these websites publish and uphold certain professional standards. Accreditation comes from the word ‘credo’, which means “I believe“. Although related, ‘credo’ is not the same as ‘credit’.
Our belief in someone’s talent should be based on professional principles, instead of on the spending limit on their credit card. So, let me ask you this:
1.In your experience, are you aware of any professional standards that are promoted and actively upheld by Pay-to-Play sites?
2. If the answer is “yes”, are you happy with these standards, and are they well-advertised and implemented?
3.If the answer to the 1st question is “no”, do you think that voice-over sites should adopt, publish, promote and maintain certain standards?
4. Should talents be denied membership, if they don’t meet certain basic criteria of professionalism?
5. Would it make sense to create a special category for amateur voice actors, or even a dedicated website? Or do dilettantes have no business being in our business?
6.What’s the best and most fair way to compensate P2P’s for their services? A subscription fee? A percentage of what you’re making for a particular job? A combination of both?
AND THE WINNER IS…
One question remains. For that, we return to the quest for the best symphony orchestra in the world. The votes have been counted. The sealed envelope is opened as the audience collectively holds their breath. And the winner is….
The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra from Amsterdam
Why? Because their standards are higher. After a grueling audition process, the Concertgebouw only hires the cream of the crop; well-trained people playing the very best instruments. No amateur fiddlers. The Gramophone’s editor James Inverne, put it this way:
“It is hardly possible any more to recognize particular orchestras by their individual sound. I think that with some orchestras, and the Berlin Philharmonic amongst them, that’s a bit of a worry. Whereas with the Concertgebouw you always know it’s the Concertgebouw. And I think that’s what has given them the edge amongst our critics.
Maybe it’s occasionally very slightly rougher than what the Berliner Philharmonic can produce, but it doesn’t matter, because they’re like a great actor bringing their own charisma and their own personality to every work, and always giving you the sense of the spirit of the work.”
Now, that’s what I call music to my ears! I’ll gladly pay to hear them play any day!
On June 8th of 2009, something occurred that had never happened before in the history of mankind.
Hyères, the oldest and most southerly resort on the French Riviera, was the scene of an attempt to break the world record in Static Apnea. That’s the discipline in which a freediver holds his or her breath for as long as possible.
The old record of 10:12, set in 2008, was held by Tom Sietas of Germany.
The challenger, Frenchman Stéphan Mifsud, was determined to destroy it. Some called him a hero. Others thought he was a suicidal lunatic. Few believed that he could do it.
AIDA is the International Association for the Development of Freediving. Their website offers a lot of in-depth information about various disciplines, such as “free immersion,” “constant weight” and “dynamic with fins.” However, it does not answer one fundamental question:
Read the rest of this story in my new book. Click on the cover to access the website and get a sneak peek. Use the buttons to buy the book.
Bella the Hamster has one. Famous dead people do too.
I have even seen sites in loving memory of unfamous dead hamsters! Some of those websites get more visitors in a day, than you hope to have in a year.
Here’s my question:
If you have a business website and you’re not getting any traffic, what’s the point? You might as well give the money you’re sending to your Internet Service Provider to a worthy cause, such as the Don LaFontaine Voice-Over Lab.
If, on the other hand, you want to use your online presence to your advantage, you better roll up your sleeves and get to work! Unless you’re too busy auditioning for that $200 narration of a 300 page audio book.
is a digital marketing agency with specific expertise in social media and 12 offices worldwide. In 2008, Nilhan Jayasinghe, their VP, wrote a paper entitled; “Optimizing for users, not search engines. Building a sustainable brand in a connected world”. He says:
“As search engines become more sophisticated, they will increasingly incorporate user data to validate their results. The numbers of people visiting a site; the time that users spend on a site; the depth of their engagement; whether they return over a period of time; how many people add it to their social bookmarking tools such as Digg; all will potentially be taken into account.”
If you’ve read my last blog, you already know that the new Google is going in that direction. And where Google goes, others follow. In my opinion, there are at least two things you must do to take advantage of this development. These are the things that will drive people to your website; keep them there and make them come back:
1. Start writing for people, not for search engines: offer fresh & relevant content. 2. Stop “telling & selling”. Instead, engage your visitors and begin a dialogue.
Here are a few ways to do it:
1. Offer FREE STUFF. Paradoxically, some companies are making lots of money by giving things away for free. It’s called the “freemium model” whereby some content is offered at no charge, while premium content is not. Seattle-based Big Fish Games distributes more online games than anyone else, at about 1 million a day. You can try almost any Big Fish game for free, but there are add-ons that players have to pay for.
A few months ago, our colleague Peter O’Connell made his e-book “The Voice Over Entrance Exam” available at no charge. I’m pretty sure that this brought new visitors to his website. It did something else too: it established him as an expert. Here’s a third bonus: free resources get links. Isn’t that what I just did?
2.Contests & Awards are another way to drive people to your site. Videovoicebank.net organized a contest, and voice-overs were invited to share their professional horror stories. Not only did the Videovoicebank-team manage to engage their community; for days, visitors could enter their email address and vote for their favorite story. I wonder what they’ll do with those email addresses…
3. Provide a resource that will benefit your target-group and (of course) offer it for free. Veteran VO-artist Mahmoud Taji compiled a voice-over directory of casting websites for “the benefit of established and up-and-coming voice over talent who want to secure more voice over work through the Internet.” He asked everyone in the industry to help out, and this is just another example of how to get people involved. So far, Taji has a list of 239 sites, and you might add a few to the directory.
4.Quizzes and Games on your site are a fun way to make people come back and spend more time with you. British talent Emma Clarke is the voice you’ll hear for a majority of the London Underground lines. Her website is terrific and it has games, spoof audios and even an online “Emma flip book”. One of my favorites is a fridge magnet game where you can move the words around to make your own sentences and phrases – and have Emma speak them for you.
5. Actress Amy Walker (above) became an overnight sensation when her YouTube video21Accentswent “viral.” “These days, it’s not unusual to see a search engine like Google pull up a YouTube video in its top 10 results,” says Linda Girard, co-founder of online marketing consulting firm Pure Visibility in Ann Arbor, Michigan. “The best way to maximize this trend is by uploading your video to various sites and attach good, searchable terms to the clips in order to get those high rankings.” (source)
6. Then there’s the old trick of offering limited Deals & Discounts. Bristol-based voice-over talent Alison Pitman once offered a promotion of 25% discount on all message on hold voice-over recordings. Particularly if you’re also offering individual coaching and voice-over classes, never miss an opportunity to throw in an early bird special or a web coupon. Irresistible offers turn browsers into buyers.
7. Develop an ongoing relationship with your visitors (colleagues and clients). Answer their emails. Follow up with them. Ask them for feedback. Use social networking sites to connect. Take an active part in your community, online and offline. Send email newsletters using a service like Constant Contact or Aweber. It’s all about building your brand and positive reinforcement.
8. Blogging benefits business. Internet marketing company Hubspot surveyed over 1500 small businesses. They found that those with blogs attracted:
55% more traffic
97% more inbound links
434% more indexed pages
Blogs are a very effective way to create valuable content; to connect, to interact and to build relationships based on trust. Nilhan Jayasinghe put it this way:
“The closer that Google and others get to reading real interaction, the better they will become at separating the sites that look relevant from the sites that are relevant. Inevitably, it will become ever more difficult to fake the quality of a web page.
Given that this is the case, by far the best way to rank highly for a given term is to offer what the search engines are getting progressively better at finding – content that is genuinely useful to those people searching for that term.”
How to come up with quality content is going to be the topic of my next installment! In the meantime, how did you manage to increase your web traffic? What worked for you and why? What was a waste of time and money?
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