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“I’m being offered $200 to narrate a 120-thousand word audio book. Do you think that’s a fair rate?”
“A client wants me to record a movie trailer for $150. Should I do it?”
Not a day goes by without someone asking these types of questions on Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+.
Sometimes I stick my neck out and I respond to these questions, especially when I get sentimental and remember the early days of my career.
I was young and unafraid and incredibly ignorant. Back then there was no Internet. Picking brains became my specialty.
On other days I’m not so sappy, as I remember the kind words of my business coach:
“If you’re a Pro, you know what you’re worth. If you’re not, go do your own homework! You won’t learn a thing if I hand you everything on a silver platter.”
He was right.
These days, getting info has never been easier. Search Google for voiceover rates. You’ll get about 5,600,000 results in 0.52 seconds. How’s that for starters?
Bringing up rates usually spells trouble. Talent likes them to go up. Clients love paying less. Where to begin?
The Freemarketeers will tell you to leave everything up to the unregulated forces of supply and demand. After all, it worked well for subprime mortgages, didn’t it? The Interventionists fear a free fall for all. They want rates to be regulated.
Unfortunately, it’s not that black-and-white. Voice-Over rates reflect many variables, and unless you belong to a union or you have an agent, it can be tough to put a price on your pipes.
Enter a parade of Pay-to-Plays. You pay for the privilege of being offered the opportunity to audition and bid for projects, together with thousands of other privileged colleagues. Here’s the catch.
As a member, you often have to subject yourself to an agreed price range per project deemed reasonable by that site. Whether or not you choose to accept that range depends on your personal Price Floor.
A Price Floor is a point below which a product or service should not be sold, or else you’d incur a loss. I bet you anything that most people reading these words right now, have no clue what their price floor actually is.
Be honest. Do you?
A EUROPEAN PERSPECTIVE
If you’ve read my work before, you know that I have written about U.S.-based voice casting sites and their perceived influence on dwindling voice-over rates.
On January 8th, 2008, a new player entered the market: Bodalgo. Based in Germany, Bodalgo is the brain child of a man who once had a very boring job as the deputy editor of Penthouse: Armin Hierstetter.
Armin’s no dummy.
He studied the existing P2P’s carefully, as he set out to take the good and improve the bad to create something beautiful. Unlike similar sites, Bodalgo is available in German, Spanish, Italian and English (American and British).
Now, if you think that you can buy your way into Bodalgo, you are wrong. No matter the credit limit on your Visa Card, if you sound like crap, you can’t join the club.
Bodalgo caters to clients from all over the world, but because it’s based in Bavaria, it’s a gateway to the European voice-over market. This brings me back to rates. How does Bodalgo compare to its American counterparts?
I (PS) decided to check in with the boss: Armin Hierstetter (AH). Here’s a transcript of the interview.
PS I just saw a project posted on your site in the 100-250 USD range. It made me think: Is Bodalgo going in the direction of its American counterparts, or did I miss something? Has $100 always been the minimum?
AH In USD the minimum range starts at 100 dollars (the Euro has a 50 to 150 minimum range as – for example – a local radio spot in Germany is usually 50 to 55 Euro).
If jobs are posted that are budgeted too low (intentionally or not), Bodalgo contacts the voice-seeker suggesting what we believe is a fair rate. Sometimes the voice-seeker sees our point and is willing to raise the budget, sometimes not. If the voice-seeker does not agree on increasing the budget, the job simply does not get posted. Period.
Of course, we hear many times:
“What? You want me to pay 250 USD for a job that is done in five minutes? You must be insane, you [censored]”
Well, depending on my mood, I sometimes try to explain why voiceovers cost what they cost (knowing that with these types of folks it really does not help at all in most cases), or I simply press the delete button and go on with whatever I am doing.
PS Bodalgo’s been in business for a few years now. What’s your overall take on how voice-over rates are established and where they are going?
AH There are many factors when it comes to rates. Here are few of them (this is by no means meant to be a complete list):
- Uniqueness (most important if you ask me)
- Recording skills
I see a link between equipment becoming more powerful yet more affordable, and declining voice-over rates. Let me share three trends with you:
1. The costs for your own studio are coming down, so you can make this beneficial for your clients as well;
2. Because many talents build their own studios, there is much more competition which also leads to lower prices. That’s how the market works.
PS Sorry to interrupt, but clients are saving money due to the increase in home studios. They no longer need to pay for studio time, an audio engineer/editor and a director.
It is my impression that these savings are simply pocketed and not passed on to the voice talent. In the end, we end up doing more for less. Shouldn’t this give us some leverage to raise our rates?
AH I fully understand that voice-seekers already save a lot of money because they’re used to getting the finished audio from the talent without paying for a studio.
I want to be honest with you. I really think that’s one of the biggest mistakes talents have made for a very long time: They did not charge properly for the studio work, only for the rate as a talent. It will be VERY difficult to change this to an approach where talent charges their normal rate plus editing costs;
3. More and more people of the type “My friends all tell me I should host a radio show,” buy a Shure SM58 microphone and think that their laptop recording is God’s gift to the audio world. Untrained amateurs seem to flood the market.
What’s worse, there are many voice-seekers out there that listen to crap demos thinking they are actually good, because they don’t have a proper recording at hand to compare.
But one thing is for sure: Bodalgo will never start to accept amateurs. Yes, there are a few talents with Bodalgo that have just slipped through the net that might not have passed if I had been pickier the day I activated their accounts. Still, the level of Bodalgo’s talent is much, much, much higher than with any other Pay2Play site that we’ve come across.
PS What’s your advice on how to best play the game? Everybody loves to win an audition, but not at any rate. Do you expect voice-over rates to go up any time soon?
AH If you ask me, the reasons why rates should go up are purely to be seen in costs of living. If those prices would be stable, I’d say it’s fair to assume that our rates would stay stable as well.
With financial markets facing the issues they face at the moment, including all the effects like higher inflation, increased costs for energy, food, rent etcetera, I think that we’ll see rates rising over the next years to cover the rising living expenses.
PS Inflation correction keeps rates at the same level. Talent won’t be making more just because the number on a check is higher. If we wish to increase the amount of money coming in, we need to compensate for the rise in the cost of living, and add e.g. 10% to whatever we’re charging.
AH Well, U.S.-based talent benefits from the weak dollar when paid in Euros by Euro-Zone clients. The opposite is true for Euro-Zone-Talent paid in USD. U.S. clients will not accept higher USD prices just because of exchange rates. It’s really just bad luck for us Euro-Talents.
So, to cut a long story short: Yes, I see higher rates over the next years. But this is only because everything else will go up in price as well.
PS So, how can we best prepare for the tough years that are ahead of us?
AH 1. If you have not done so already, invest in your own studio.
2. Buy the good stuff (like Neumann or Brauner for mics, for example) as it will serve you well many, many years. Personally, I would no longer waste money on analog equipment. I would solely buy digital stuff (like the TLM 103 D from Neumann).
PS Quality equipment is essential, but owning a state of the art camera does not make one a top-notch photographer.
AH I do appreciate that a cool mic does not make a great voice talent, but this is not where I am coming from at all. I am just a firm believer that successful talent simply needs both: A well-trained voice and great equipment to deliver high-quality audio. There are too many Samsung USB mics out there in my opinion.
I know, of course, that those top shelf brands are pricey. But when you look at what you (and your client) get for the money – it turns out to be an excellent investment.
3. LEARN HOW TO RECORD PROPERLY!!! It’s really, really, really (I mean it) horrible to hear how bad, bad, bad many of the auditions are recorded (hiss, bad miking, bad levelling, bad everything). Use proper headphones to proof-listen your recordings and be super critical about the work you deliver. [Armin insisted this should be printed in bold]
PS Can Bodalgo keep both voice-seekers and voice talent equally happy, or is that impossible?
AH That’s easy: Our main goal is to attract more and more voice-seekers that post sanely budgeted jobs. We want to provide them with the easiest solution available to find high-quality talent without paying any commission. That way, both sides will win.
PS Herzlichen Dank, Armin.
Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
You’d think that voice-over pros always have something to talk about, but what happens when someone’s not feeding them any lines?
Would they still have something interesting to say, or would they be less vocal without a mic and a script?
Well, judging by the many voice-over blogs you can find online, we can’t seem to shut up.
And if we cannot talk, we must type.
Take me, for instance. You know I can’t stop yammering, and I am sure I’m not alone. Why is that? Is there really that much to blabber and blog about?
Yes, there isn’t!
I’ve come to the conclusion that VO-Pros and cows have one thing in common: they are ruminants. Most ruminants have four stomachs.
The first stomach chamber (the “rumen”) is the chamber in which large amounts of food are stored and softened. Once it is processed, it is regurgitated and chewed and digested again in different chambers.
At the end there’s only one thing left: bullsh*t.
What I just described is the recycling of supposedly “hot voice-over topics” you and I like to ruminate about. Every year, the same issues and trends resurface, and they are milked and milked until there’s nothing left but utter claptrap.
Here is my shortlist of some of the most boring issues in our business:
- PC or Mac?
- Are Pay-to-Plays worth the money?
- ISDN: must or rust?
- Do real pros only use ProTools?
- Headphones or no headphones?
- Do you perform better while sitting, standing up or laying down?
- Could a headshot help or hurt your voice-over career?
- My mic is better than your mic.
- Union or Non-Union?
- Should I slate or watermark my demo?
- Social Media: indispensable tools or magnificent distraction?
- What did Stephanie Ciccarelli have for lunch?
- How to succeed in voice-overs without really trying.
- What would Don LaFontaine do?
- Remedies for dry mouth and sore throat.
- Harlan Hogan’s next big Porta-something.
- Do egg cartons really help soundproof a room?
- Joan Baker in a bikini.
- Are celebrities stealing our business?
- Is it “voice-over” or “voiceover”?
- Why isn’t there an Oscar or an Emmy for Best Narrator?
- Why Ted Williams?
- What the heck is “neutral English”?
- How many “followers” and “friends” does one need in order to be deemed relevant?
- Don’t talk to me about reasonable rates. It’s just beer money.
- When does self-promotion become spamming?
I will be the first one to admit that I have sinned by writing about some of these topics myself. That’s why I solemnly vow to not behave like a cow. For my own sanity and yours, I will seek out greener pastures and find more exciting things to write about, and I challenge you to do the same.
Rumination might be good for our bovine friends, but “obsessive or abnormal reflection upon an idea or deliberation over a choice” may lead to depression in humans, says Yale University psychologist Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, PhD. Rumination may also weaken thinking and problem-solving, and drive away critical social support.
In other words, by chewing over the stories of the past, we might actually un-enlighten and isolate ourselves. That must be the last thing any serious blogger would hope to achieve.
Ruminating is not illuminating.
Now, chew on that for a while!
Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
PS Be sweet. Please retweet!
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.”
In his analysis of the report, colleague Peter O’Connel comments:
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.
Their members did.
Dear voice-over shopper:
Thank you so much for getting in touch! Before we get down to business, may I ask you a question?
Would you ever bid on a project without knowing the specifics?
Let’s assume you’re in the construction industry. A prospect sends you an email asking:
“How much for a building? Give me your best price!”
Could you honestly answer that question? Of course not. Yet, I receive emails every day, asking:
“How much for a voice-over? Give me your best price!”
… as if we’re talking about the cost of a Big Mac or a quart of milk. Even that differs depending on where you live.
If you were a builder who was asked to come up with an accurate estimate, you’d minimally need to know what purpose the construction would serve (commercial or residential); you’d have to know where it will be located, how big it needs to be, when it needs to be finished etcetera, etcetera.
Voice-over professionals are no different. They’re independent contractors. They need to know what purpose their recording will serve, in what market it will play, how long the script is and how soon you need it (among other things).
Without specifics, any bid is based on pure guesswork and not on the particulars of your project.
“Then why” -you might ask- “are so many of your colleagues willing to plug in just about any number -no questions asked?”
I’ll answer that question with a question.
Would you trust a builder who’d name a price knowing hardly any details of the project? Or would you consider that to be… unprofessional?
The voice-over industry is populated by seasoned pros, hopeful hobbyists and anything in between. With today’s technology, it’s so easy to plug a mic into a computer and hang up a sign saying:
“Voice for Hire. Will work for the experience.”
There are no requirements, no regulations and no standards.
What would happen if the construction industry would operate that way?
Some might argue that that’s an unfair comparison. When builders don’t follow regulations, people could get hurt. No one’s ever going to get harmed by an unprofessional voice-over artist, right?
Think again, and let’s zoom in on Medical Narrations. What would happen if the name of a medication would be mispronounced or if the narrator messes up the dosage? What would happen if a procedure would be read in such a way that it could be misconstrued?
These are extreme examples. I agree. How about something less serious: Audio Tours.
Imagine hundreds of tourists getting stranded on a hot summer’s day because the narrator had instructed them to go left instead of right. Among the group members are elderly people, pregnant women and folks with various medical conditions.
That’s not just a ‘small oversight on the part of an inexperienced narrator’.
That’s a lawsuit in the making!
THE REAL DEAL
Professionals do their homework. When a voice talent gets back to you with specific questions, that person is not trying to be a pain in the neck. It’s a sign of professionalism. It means that you’re not getting the cookie cutter treatment. It’s an indication that this person takes his or her job and your project seriously. Please remember:
Amateurs passively plug in guesstimates. Pros ask questions and give informed quotes.
There’s a reason why the word pro is part of ‘pro-active.’
Think of it this way: your voice-over project is a destination. If your end-client does not provide you with a clear description, how can you be sure that you’ll ever get there? Without the right information, you’re setting yourself up for failure, as well as the talent you’re hoping to hire.
Let’s assume the end-client asks for fruit and you come back with the juiciest orange ever to hang from a tree. It could have been a lucky guess. But what if your client says:
“Oh come on… I didn’t want a boring orange. I had an orange yesterday. You should have brought me an apple. A green apple. From Holland.”
THE BLAME GAME
Now, it’s easy to point the finger and blame your unspecific client. But blame is lame and disempowering. The ball was in your court. What did you do with it?
Not only are you now wasting your own time; you’ve just posted a vague project on a casting site and hundreds of voice-over talents are wasting their time recording a custom demo that’s nothing more than a shot in the dark.
Some of you might respond: “That’s just too bad. It’s part of the industry. It’s always been like that and it will never change. You win some. You lose some. And if you don’t like it, go do something else.”
That might be true, but does it really have to be that way? It’s the twenty-first century. Are we still running the industry based on these inefficient, expensive, last century old-school ideas?
IT ALL ADDS UP
Please consider this: how long will it take you to weed through all these shot-in-the-dark submissions? You might end up picking a very affordable talent, but -thinking of your hourly rate- how much did all that weeding just cost you and your company? Don’t you have better things to do than listen to auditions that totally miss the mark?
If you expect talent to be on target, give them a fair chance to hit the bull’s-eye.
Tell them what you’ll be listening for in as much detail as possible. If not for the sake of the voice talent, do it for your own sake. You’ll get much better results in less time.
Here are a few other tips. Don’t worry, they won’t cost you anything!
• Language. Don’t just put “Spanish” if you really need a speaker from Chile. Otherwise you’ll get accents from wherever Spanish is spoken. (more on accents in this article)
• Age. When you need a young and energetic sound and you’re not clueing us in, don’t be surprised to receive demos from mellow middle-aged matriarchs and serious sounding seniors (as well as from blogging voice-overs who love alliteration).
• Budget. You say that you want to hire an experienced voice talent. Do you really think you’ll get one for a hundred bucks? Try this experiment: go to a jewelry store and shop for a 24 carat diamond. When you’ve picked out a nice rock, tell them you wish to get it at the price of a cubic zirconia. Let me know how that worked out for you.
I assume that you take pride in your work, just as we take pride in ours. Don’t devalue what we do. Believe me: it’s not as easy as it sounds.
• Expertise. If you don’t want to pay a pro, why don’t you ask Sam in Receiving to record that power point presentation you’re about to give to potential investors. It’s only the future of your company that’s at stake.
Cindy the secretary has a nice voice too. Perhaps she’s willing to do that phone greeting that will be heard by thousands of customers every day. It’s not our job to determine how you want your company image to be perceived by the rest of the world.
• Editing. If you expect a talent to deliver clean, edited audio, don’t assume that someone will throw that in for free. First of all, editing is a special skill and not every talent has mastered that skill.
Secondly, it takes an experienced editor at least twice as long to clean up the audio as the time needed to record it. People deserve to be compensated for their time and expertise. Aren’t you?
• Payment. Don’t be surprised if we ask you to pay 50% upfront and the remainder upon receiving the recording. Some colleagues won’t record a word without getting paid in full first. You see, we haven’t established a relationship yet, and most of us have been burned in the past. Did that band you hired for the office party require money upfront? Did the hotel ask you for a deposit at the time you reserved that conference room?
Don’t take it personally. We run a voice-over business; not a collection agency. We give you our word (literally) that we’ll deliver the goods. In fact: we will WOW you! Please PayPal your down payment so we can get the ball rolling.
If you happened to detect a slight sarcastic undertone in my writing, please know that I’m aware of that. It’s a bad habit and I’m working on it. Just not today.
Secondly: not all voice-seekers are created equal, and it’s not right to put all of you into the same category. You’ve got to make a living too and make your boss happy by hiring the best talent at a reasonable price.
I’m confident that we can meet in the middle, and I’m committed to making your product or service shine as if it were my own. You and I are in the same boat:
Happy customers are our best credentials.
Testimonials from satisfied clients are stories that can never be accurately reflected in the most detailed of rate sheets.
Quality will always be remembered long after the bill has been paid.
Now… let’s talk some business, shall we?!
Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
PS Voice seekers are not the only ones trying to get more out of you for less. My next article is about Internet Casting Services taking it to the extreme.
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
- Success stories
- 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?
Paul Strikwerda ©2010 nethervoice
It appears that the Newspapers for the Blind website is down or no longer available. The Newspapers for the Blind Facebook page has last been updated on March 21, 2010.
On his LinkedIn Profile, Mr. May still lists himself as the “Editor & Founder of NewspapersForTheBlind.ORG
*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?
In my experience, there’s always a story behind a story. And believe me, in this case there is.
But that’s for another time and another day.
Click here for the follow-up.
Paul Strikwerda ©2010 nethervoice
It appears that the Newspapers for the Blind website is down or no longer available. The Newspapers for the Blind Facebook page has last been updated on March 21, 2010.
On his LinkedIn Profile, Mr. May still lists himself as the “Editor & Founder of NewspapersForTheBlind.ORG
Taji recently relaunched his Voice Emporium, and on this site you will find thought-provoking articles, but also a very valuable Voice-over Directory of 231 casting websites and a Scam Alert for the Voice-over industry.
Taji is a man on a mission. A mission to create a monster. He writes:
“Let’s (for the sake of argument) say that you and I are partnering together on a business venture. We are going to build the perfect Voice Over Casting Site.
It’ll be a Pay-To-Play site… and it will be an amalgamation of the best parts of all the voice over casting websites that are on the market these days… so it’s a Frankenstein’s monster (remember Frankie was the doctor… his creation was the monster) consisting of the best from Voices.com, Voice123.com, VOplanet.com & Bodalgo.com.
What would it be like? What would it have?”
Of course I couldn’t resist the temptation. These are some of the elements my ideal Pay-to-Pay site would have:
- Organizational structure: a cooperative. The site is owned and partially run by its members. Every member pays a relatively small membership fee to cover operational and promotional costs.
- Decisions. Members have a huge say in how the site is run and who is running it. Every year, they receive a detailed account of the state of the cooperative. Members vote on major decisions and they monitor (and can vote on) the performance of the site manager. One person, one vote.
- Earnings: the site takes 10% of the earnings of each job. This money will pay for staff salaries. What’s left after deduction of operational costs, salaries and overhead, will flow right back to the members at the end of each year.
- Rates. The site and its members promote and practice fair trade: every project posted has a minimum budget based on industry averages (to be adjusted every year). That means that the minimum budget for an audio book will be higher than the minimum fee for a one page narration. No project shall be less than $250 and underbidding is unacceptable.
- Accountability. Every single project posted will be accounted for. Members will know when the job was awarded and for how much. Voice-seekers who find talent on this site, must book the talent through the site. Demos will no longer disappear into a black hole.
- Standards. In order to be eligible for membership, each prospective member has to agree to uphold and promote certain standards of ethical business practice and professional conduct.
- Quality. Before being accepted, members are screened to ensure that they meet minimum professional criteria in terms of vocal and technical delivery. Throughout the year, auditions are monitored to ensure that quality is maintained. The reputation of the site rests on quality; not on rock-bottom rates.
- Openness. Voice-seekers are expected to do business openly and honestly. They cannot hide their identity. This allows the voice-talent to conduct his/her own investigation into any and all claims made by prospective voice-seekers, agents and/or clients.
- Specificity. Without a clear map, it’s hard to reach a destination: voice-seekers must clearly and specifically define what type of voice-talent they are hoping to hire. They must clearly outline the terms of the contract, listing and limiting the use of the end-product.
- Auditions are open to any member; as long as this member fits the criteria for a particular project (see 8). This is left to the discretion of the talent.
- Payment. Talent will be paid 50% of the agreed rate after a contract is signed, and the remainder upon delivery of the audio file(s).
- Joint venture. Overall, this cooperative is characterized by quality, cooperation, transparency and accountability. It’s a place where professional talent is working with each other and for each other, rather than against each other.
Well, those are my two cents. I think Taji’s right. This ideal Voice-over casting site is probably going to be an intelligent version of Frankenstein’s monster; a patchwork of positive elements from existing Pay-to-Plays, combined with some brand new features. Is it a pipe dream? Not really. Revisit my article “What Pay-to-Plays don’t want you to know” . You’ll find out that this cooperative model is used to run one of Holland’s most successful multi-billion dollar businesses.
TALES FROM THE CRYPT
One thing’s for sure. This imaginary Voice-over casting site is going to be radically different from the current Dracula-model, where competing voice talents are sucking the life blood out of each other by low balling, undercutting and underbidding on bargain basement projects posted by cheap, anonymous voice-seekers.
Read my lips: eventually, only voice-over virgins will fall for this scheme, and this model will implode when it’s held up to the light, just like the illustrious Count from Transylvania.
If you’d like to join vampire-slayer Taji on his quest for the best Voice-over casting site, wake up out of your slumber; bring your cloves of garlic and have your say today!
Don’t be scared.
He’s not going to bite…
Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
Is there a hidden link between price and perception?
Do we get what we are paying for?
Are we more satisfied when we’ve paid top dollar?
On January 14th, 2008, a team a of scientists from the California Institute of Technology and Stanford University, published a paper called:
“Marketing actions can modulate neural representations of experienced pleasantness.”
It was the result of research I would have loved to be part of. The hypothesis was that…
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.
“Attention Voice-Mart shoppers… in aisle seven you’ll find a fresh selection of promising audio book narrators, ready to read your epic three hundred-page novel for only $499.99. But hurry! Only today, they’ll throw in free editing. That’s right, a $299.99 value could be yours, absolutely FREE.”
The shrill sound of my phone woke me up out of a bad dream. So much for power naps!
Ever since I had helped my friend Fernanda with her website, she regularly calls me because she wants to pick my brain about the voice-over business. Her enthusiasm is contagious, and sometimes I feel almost guilty to be the one who has to bring her down to earth again.
The thing is, Fernanda is incredibly talented. I could listen to her voice for hours, and as it turns out, I’m not the only one. Not only is she blessed with amazing vocal cords; Fernanda has the uncanny ability to take you on a journey to a place where time and space no longer exist.
Her unique talent is only matched by her naiveté about the less artistic aspects of our work; minor details such as contracts, rates, self-promotion… you know, the boring stuff. In other words: she’s the ideal candidate to be taken for a ride. The other day it almost happened again…