Is the voice-over world one big love fest?
If you go to pretty much any VO-conference, you may get that impression. There’s a lot of hugging and endearing cheering going on. People speak of “my voice-over family,” and will introduce you to their “Sister from another Mister.” It’s all hunky-dory on cloud nine. Why is that?
Is it because voice-overs tend to be part of an inherently “nice” and unpretentious group of people who avoid conflict at all cost, or is it because all the “nasty” people stay away from these social gatherings? Perhaps the bad apples congregate at conventions we know nothing about, sponsored by voices dot double U dee (wd stands for world domination).
But seriously, not all is well in voice-over land, and you know it. As in any community, there is camaraderie and controversy. Not to stir the pot in any way, but there still are a couple of hot-button issues we shouldn’t sweep under the carpet. Let me name a few.
1. Rates: publish them, or keep the client guessing?
Out of all the topics, the greatest shift in thinking happened on this one. In 2012 I made the case for colleagues to publish their rates on their website. Why? Because in the twenty-first century, people want to know how much things cost. That’s the way they are wired.
The nay-sayers argued that listing prices would hurt negotiations. It would scare away customers, and we’d make it easier for the competition to put in lower bids. Besides, there was no consensus as to what was considered to be a standard rate.
Fast forward five years. The Global Voice Acting Academy’s Rate Guide has taken our community by storm, and is widely used as a point of reference. It’s been sent to some Pay-to-Plays, and the latest version was edited so it could be presented to clients. More recently, UK-based Gravy For The Brain published a guide to voice-over rates typically charged by voice artists in the United Kingdom.
In short: voice-over rates are no longer a big mystery. More and more colleagues are publishing how much they charge. Still, a fair number of colleagues feel we don’t do our industry a favor by being open about our prices, and thus the discussion continues.
2. Rates: how much or how little to charge
Critics of rate guides almost always use the same argument: “Who are you to tell me what I should charge? Mind your own business!” Oddly enough, it’s usually people on the lower end of the scale who seem to be defensive, and I have trouble understanding why they respond that way. If you’re running a for-profit business, isn’t it helpful to know what the going rates might be?
Secondly, these rate guides are called guides for a reason. No one will force you to charge a decent fee for decent work. If you feel your voice-over isn’t worth more than a fistful of dollars, welcome to the Wild West where the deaf lead the blind.
But let’s put all of that aside. Why shouldn’t we have a rate debate? Why can’t we issue guidelines? Almost every professional organization on the planet deals with compensation. That’s just one of the things professionals talk about. Only amateurs don’t have to concern themselves with what they charge. And that’s perhaps the crux of the matter.
The never-ending influx of amateurs has weakened the position of professionals. That’s why pros are taking a stand, and say:
“You may want to work at any rate, but it is immoral and unwise to do so. If you don’t value what you have to offer, you cannot expect others to value it either.”
3. Union membership
This is another hot topic in the voice-over world. Some prominent voice-overs feel the answer to all our troubles is to join SAG-AFTRA (or if you live outside of the U.S., to join another union). We’d all be paid a fair amount, we’d get health insurance, and we’d be in a much better position to negotiate with the big players. United we stand!
The problem is that many voice-overs feel that SAG-AFTRA has been treating them as unwanted stepchildren, once removed. Compared to on-screen actors, we’re the invisible small potatoes. Who cares if we ruin our vocal folds, dying a thousand screaming deaths for some silly video game? We don’t deserve extra compensation for that, do we? (please insert sarcasm)
After the longest strike in SAG-AFTRA history, there’s a tentative deal on the table that includes a promise that companies will work with the union to “examine the issue” for the next three years.
Things like that make me scream, but I have to be careful!
In a recent article, the Washington Post concluded: “In a $24.5 billion U.S. video game market that has turned some voice actors into celebrities, they still aren’t treated with the same respect as actors in television and in movies.”
Did you know that video games don’t pay residuals, and a union-proposed bonus structure for voice-overs didn’t make it into the tentative contract?
On top of that, a lot of union jobs are now turned into non-union, and SAG-AFTRA has done little or nothing to stop that trend. Oh, and did you get the news that a certain Canadian voice casting site has introduced a platform for talent agencies to access SAG-AFTRA jobs? They’re also going after ACTRA and other performance unions around the globe. Did the union(s) speak out about that, yet?
All I heard was crickets, so let’s turn to another topic.
The World Voices Organization (WoVO) was incorporated on April 25th 2012, and it was launched a day later. WoVO is a non-profit international industry trade organization. Its mission is:
“to inform and educate members of the voice-over community and other business professionals about best practices, standards for ethical conduct, and professional expertise as it relates to the voiceover industry.”
WoVO is run by voice-over talent for voiceover talent, and I am one of its members.
Why do I list WoVO as one of the hot-button topics in voice-over land? Because there must be thousands and thousands of voice-overs in the world, and only about eight hundred or so are WoVO members. If WoVO-membership would be a no-brainer, this number would be much higher. Apparently, it’s up for debate.
If you are reading this blog, and you are not a member, what are you waiting for?
5. Voices dot wd
In one way I’ve got to give it to the leadership of this greedy, unethical company: David C. has always been clear about his ambitions. He wants to be THE middleman in voiceoverland, taking a big fat cut from every party involved in every transaction on his site. This year, Morgan Stanley Expansion Capital gave him eighteen million reasons to demonstrate he can deliver.
The pressure is on!
David’s strategy is straightforward: gain the biggest share in the voice-over market by creating a streamlined system that’s simple enough for stupid people to use. The next step is turning his VO-services into a commodity by encouraging the lowest bidders to sell to the cheapest clients.
How do you get voice-overs to buy into this scheme?
1. Appeal to the laziest hopefuls by promising to deliver lots of leads via email.
2. Have them pay an annual membership fee for the privilege of bidding on jobs they’re likely to never land; a privilege shared with over 200,000 other voice actors in 139 countries.
3. Make it easy to sign on the dotted line. No talent needed. Just a credit card.
Why is this still dividing the voice-over community, you wonder? There are two hundred thousand reasons why. Without them, there would be no voices dot wd.
BONUS: The Voice Arts® Awards
On Sunday, November 5th, people were flocking to New York to attend The Voice Arts® Awards Gala, known to some as the “Joan & Rudy show.”
There are voice actors who believe our profession needs these awards to provide international acknowledgement of the extraordinary skill and artistry that goes into voice-over acting. Others like me, question the value of these awards.
In case you didn’t know: the Voice Arts® Awards do not give a prize to the best performance in a specific category. They only nominate and award those who paid a significant amount of money to be evaluated. In other words: you pay to play. So, a phenomenal voice talent might never win an award because he doesn’t want to spend his money on some competition.
By the way, the costs don’t end there. As a nominee, you’d have to travel to the awards, pay for a hotel and meals, pay for a ticket for your partner, and if you win, you also have to fork over $350 for your trophy. Is that worth it? And get this. Even though all VO’s pay to enter the competition, only VIP’s get to walk the red carpet, and last year there wasn’t enough time in the show for everyone to accept their award on stage. One of last year’s nominees told me:
“I was sold on going to this show and spending about $2000 because I’d have my name and work announced (marketing!), and I would have my moment like all the other nominees (fun!). And I was robbed of both. Those were the two reasons for going to the VAA.”
Another colleague wrote:
“There are no stars in VO. We both know it’s not glamorous. A big party is fun when we’re all together. But to get together to honor the dubious distinction of buying temporary adulation and ‘stardom,’ seems to me to be so disingenuous.”
So, is the voice-over world one big love fest? Of course not!
You may not agree with half of what I just wrote, and that’s fine with me. As long as we keep on talking. Every time I make a contribution to this blog, I want it to be the beginning of a conversation. Never the end.
What you are reading here is just my opinion,
and my opinion is always up for debate!
Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
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Steve Krumlauf says
Another home run with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth of the seventh game of the World Series, Paul! As always, well thought out, well executed, always compelling, always insightful, always newsworthy. Your take on VAA alone was worth the cost of admission! Who knew even VO awards are pay-to-play???
Paul Strikwerda says
Hi Steve, I love the baseball analogy, even though I still don’t quite understand the game and all the statistics.
To pick another sport: at The 2017 Best FIFA Football Awards, Dutch player Lieke Martens won Best FIFA Women’s Player. Dutch coach Sarina Wiegman won Best FIFA Women’s Coach. Both did not enter themselves in the competition, and paid no fee to take part in the process. Martens and Wiegman were not at the Awards Gala because they had more important things to do: prepare for a World Cup qualifier.
Keith Michaels says
Seriously Paul. I don’t understand why, after you have heard from so many, that you continue to peddle misinformation about the Voice Arts Awards. Yes, if you want to be reviewed and considered for an award, you must pay an entry fee, just like all of the other award shows. You don’t pay EXTRA to be nominated or to win. Nobody is greased to give preferential treatment. Nobody knows who is judging what categories. And do you expect the awards show to pay for your hotel and meals? And the trophies? Even the Oscars charges you for a trophy, as does the Cleo Awards, who by the way, requires almost $700 to enter the contest. Stop making it sound like this is a money grab. You are basically telling me I was stupid for investing my money into this wonderful experience, which really irritates me. Yes, I agree that there are things about the awards show that need to be changed for the better, but all in all, this is a wonderful opportunity for voice talent to be recognized by the likes of Joe Cipriano, Dave Fennoy and Cederic Fox to name a few. Get over it. Move on to the big issues.
Paul Strikwerda says
Hi Keith, where did I suggest that people need to pay extra to be nominated or to win? Here’s what I wrote:
As you probably know, I’ve written about these awards before, and never did I suggest that people pay extra for a nomination or a win. People do need to realize what costs are involved to determine if the potential benefits of taking part in this event outweigh the expenses. When the awards were first organized, I warned of a potential conflict of interest because some of the judges had professional ties to the contestants. I hope that issue has been resolved, but I’m not sure.
I’m not telling you that you were stupid for investing money in what you call a “wonderful experience.” You decide how you want to spend your money. If you think it was worth it, that’s all that matters. I have heard from a number of colleagues who did not have a positive experience, and some of them feel that they wasted their money. In hindsight, they wished they’d spent their money on a website upgrade, or on voice-over coaching. Both award experiences can exist at the same time. One isn’t more valid than the other.
You mention a number of VO celebs who are involved in these awards. Some of my personal voice-over friends are up for nominations. Good people can be involved in something that has flaws. That is no reason to ignore these flaws, and “move on to the big issues.” If there’s feedback from the field, it is up to the organization to use that feedback to learn from it, and make the next year even better.
And finally, if you’re looking for “big issues,” there are 340 blog posts on my website, and you’ll see that I definitely take time to address these issues (in this blog post, even!).
Jem Matzan says
Dave Fennoy et al are special VIPs at the Voice Arts Awards. They have their own red carpet, their own section of seating away from the pay-to-play attendees. That alone should tell you a lot about the Voice Arts Awards.
Not enough? Alright, look at the categories and how much time each is given for the intro and acceptance speech. Look at the categories that are designated “second class” with no intro and no speech — winners just stand up in the “customer” section of the crowd if their name is announced. (If you pay someone for something, you’re their customer). Then take a look at who Rudy and Joan’s friends, business partners, and most importantly students are. If you buy their book, pay to attend their conference, pay for their coaching/teaching, pay for a submission in their awards show, and/or become a sponsor or advertiser for them… are you more likely to win an award? My opinion, as someone who attended last year, is “yes.” I think the Voice Arts Awards serves one purpose: to attract more paying customers.
Paul Strikwerda says
Other people have also suggested that theses awards may be rigged, but until one or more judges present us with proof, this allegation is unsubstantiated.
It is my impression that Joan and Rudy are surrounded by a network of devotees who seem to eat up everything that’s been served to them. Those who dare to criticize the awards are publicly chastised and labeled as being “negative.”
What really worries me is that some of my more critical readers feel intimidated by this group of devotees. Even though they have strong feelings about these awards (based on personal experience), they will not speak up in fear of retaliation. Those who do speak up have asked to remain anonymous. I find that very unfortunate, to say the least.
In the end, these awards are not everyone’s cup of tea, and that should be okay. People have a right to point out what can be done to make these awards better. That should be okay too.
Jem Matzan says
They’ve established a sort of personality cult. Joan and Rudy are most well-known for being the stars of their own events and shows. I talked to several attendees of the That’s Voiceover conference and the Voice Arts Awards, and I got the impression that some people believe that if they buy their way into the good graces of Joan and Rudy, that they can be famous/successful/accepted/valid.
I was afraid that I might lose work for criticizing their show/organization and their behavior online and in person, but with another year of my career having passed since then, I’m not concerned about it anymore. They can’t get me work, they can’t prevent me from getting work, and their opinions mean nothing to me because they have never done anything in terms of acting or production that has ever impressed me. Over the past three years I’ve done very little VO outside of audiobooks anyway, and the authors and publishers I work with don’t care what Joan and Rudy or their vindictive friends have to say.
Paul Payton says
As always, Paul, another post well worth reading – thank you.
My take: I don’t “do” awards – never have. Well, not quite never, but when I “competed” a couple of times early in my career, I saw the comment sheets, usually split down the middle between “great” and “awful” with nothing in between, proving the adage that taste is subjective. (And somehow, I kept getting hired.)
However, if I turn out to be the voice of an award-winner, I am delighted to promote its producer, the end client, and mention my affiliation with it in any self-promotion I do. As I have said throughout my many years in this business, my best trophies are unseen but deeply felt: being called to work again with the same producer, and/or getting a positive referral to a new client. (I have chosen not to work in the pay-to-play realm, so one-on-one contact is very important to me. I know that P2P works well for others; more power to them.)
Regarding rates, it’s good to have the Global Voice Academy listing to which you linked, and reassuring that I tend to be in alignment with it most of the time. That said, when it comes to non-union work, I often hear, “This is what we have in the budget; are you in?” If it’s reasonable, the answer is usually yes, sometimes accompanied by a bit of negotiation. (And sometimes the offer is over what I was thinking of asking.) However, there’s a price point below which it isn’t worth firing up the studio.
Finally, about competition, a “love fest” atmosphere vs. a cutthroat attitude: I default to the motto of Kicking Mule Records: “It’s easy to be easy when you’re easy” – another way of saying that sugar works better than vinegar, at least for me. Perhaps I’ve left a couple of bucks on the table because I have not been as assertive/aggressive as others, but I sleep well at night. Besides, if people are working, it means the industry is alive and I have places that I too can go to work.
Just my opinion; take what you need and leave the rest. And again and as always, Paul, thank you for your thoughtful take.
PS: If you’re curious: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kicking_Mule_Records
Paul Strikwerda says
I’m with you, Paul. Happy clients are our best credentials. I bet most of them have never heard of the Voice Arts® Awards, and they too sleep well at night. They hire us anyway, in spite of the fact that we didn’t receive one of those gold-plated statuettes. I agree that we should make it as easy for our clients to do business with us. Life can be complicated, and we’re there to uncomplicate it just a little bit.
J. Christopher Dunn says
Barrier to entry – 0
People Available to flip on a mic – Everybody on the planet
• Startup costs are low.
• Formal education not required.
• Demonstration of ability or professional expertise not required.
• Licensing isn’t a thing (Yes, we’re supposed to have a business license, but how many people practicing VO have one?)
I’ve never attended a VO-convention, but I understand they’re overrun with newbies. What if VO gatherings enforced a bar for attending? Experience could be a requirement. Say, x-number of bookings during the prior year. Meeting the bar might raise the number of professionals who show up and the level of content/education/walk-away-advice would increase by default.
WoVO has a barrier for entry to the Professional level. That is a good thing. Not all 800+ members are at the Pro tier. Perhaps this barrier is what keeps overall numbers down. Or the WoVO story is not clear enough to grok by VO folks and the benefits of membership are missed. I appreciate WoVO’s effort, and I am a member.
It seems that everybody knows somebody who is trying to break the VO nut. Changes during the last decade have made it super easy to show up for work. Anybody with a connection to the interweb and a mic can start up a VO shop and offer services. If there were significant barriers in place, this wouldn’t be happening. Or, a reverse of the old cliche: If it weren’t so easy, everybody wouldn’t be doing it.
Economically it’s a talent seeker’s market. When there is a flood of something, the law of supply and demand naturally kicks in. This drives the price down and surviving means either being able to figure out a way to distinguish yourself from the pack or lowering rates and working more for the same amount of money.
Charles Darwin nailed it when he said: “It is not the strongest species that survive, not the most intelligent, but the most responsive to change.”
Paul Strikwerda says
A great summary of what’s going on in our business, Christopher. The market is saturated. It’s relatively easy to get started, but it’s so hard to survive!
Jem Matzan says
I haven’t joined World Voices because they don’t appear to recognize audiobooks as legitimate VO work. If they did, maybe I would join. I quit the Audio Publishers Association last week for various reasons, chief among them: “it’s a complete waste of money.”
VO conferences aren’t so much overwhelmed by new people as they are overwhelmed by people selling things to new people: books, training, certification, mentoring, coaching, etc.
Paul Strikwerda says
I’m not on the board of WoVO, but I can’t imagine that they wouldn’t recognize audio books as legitimate voice-over work. Perhaps someone from WoVo can respond.
I’ve been to one Faffcon, and it’s a conference for voice-overs by voice-overs. There was no selling going on whatsoever. All participants do raise a lot of money for a good cause each conference.
At VO Atlanta 2016 , all the vendors/exhibitors/sponsors were in a separate space. I do think it’s fair that sponsors get the opportunity to interact with participants in exchange for their contributions. Of all the individual presentations I have been to, none of the speakers were selling services. As a result of the exposure, they might have gotten coaching clients or sold a few extra books. There was no hard selling involved.
Dave Courvoisier says
To be very clear, WoVO recognizes professional audiobook narrators as a valuable sector of the voice-acting community.
Where we draw line: we don’t consider Royalty-Share work as meeting our criteria for being a professional member. That still leaves a lot of room for an audiobook narrator to join the WoVO pro ranks.
This was a decision arrived at following CONSIDERABLE debate. A few WoVO associates have hoped to be “graduated” to pro status with ONLY Royalty-Share work as proof of their status. Most all of them understood when we explained that wasn’t enough.
That’s a far cry from your claim that WoVO does not recognize audiobooks as legitimate voice-over work.
I hope this helps explain.
Jem Matzan says
I’ve produced audiobooks for bestselling and award-winning authors — on royalty share. Many of them make more money than I would have charged as a flat rate. I don’t understand why WoVO believes that this professional-quality work “doesn’t count” merely because of the method of payment. What reason do you have to believe that hordes of terrible VOs will invade your membership like plague-ridden refugees? And even if they did, why is that such a problem? Aren’t the noobs the ones that most need professional guidance?
Paul Payton says
J. Christopher wrote:
“I’ve never attended a VO-convention, but I understand they’re overrun with newbies. What if VO gatherings enforced a bar for attending? Experience could be a requirement. Say, x-number of bookings during the prior year. Meeting the bar might raise the number of professionals who show up and the level of content/education/walk-away-advice would increase by default.”
There is/was – Faffcon, a limited series of 10 VO “unconferences” where attendees were vetted for experience and professionalism. Nine are done, there’s one to go, but it will apparently be open only to previous attendees. There may yet be another similar event (or series of events), but this was where the magic was/is for me: sharing friendship, technique, technology and support. From everything I’m reading (and from what I’ve experienced), Faffcon is unique, and I’m grateful to be a part of that successful VO community.
J. Christopher Dunn says
Paul Payton wrote:
“There is/was – Faffcon, a limited series of 10 VO “unconferences” where attendees were vetted for experience and professionalism.”
Bingo. There should be more like Faffcon. Geared to the professional and not created to raise numbers and send everybody home with a giant juice box and a gold plastic trophy for showing up.
Melissa Exelberth says
Paul, your info on the Voice Arts Awards is out-dated. It costs $125 to enter as a non-member. Not what I would consider a “significant amount”. That’s half what it costs to enter the local NY Emmys as a non-member ($250) (less than half for primetime) and half what it costs to enter the Audies. The first year they did these they were overpriced but they’ve been brought into line with comparable shows and are much less than other more established shows. Most awards shows have an entry fee. Telly Awards cost $135. Clio entries start at $525, Cannes Lion at 515 Euro, Cannes Dolphins (for corporate film/video) are 290 Euro. I could go on, but you get the point.
And I don’t understand this sentence.
“In case you didn’t know: the Voice Arts® Awards do not give a prize to the best performance in a specific category. They only nominate and award those who paid a significant amount of money to be evaluated. In other words: you pay to play. So, a phenomenal voice talent might never win an award because he doesn’t want to spend his money on some competition.”
There are about 5 or 6 nominees in each category, and yes of course there are categories. As for paying “to be evaluated”, I’m not sure what you mean. You pay an entry fee and a nominating committee goes through all the entries and chooses the ones to be nominated. Just like other awards – including the SAG awards ($100 per entry, $1200 for cast/ensemble). No organization is going to watch every single movie in the world, listen to every song in the world, or every voiceover on the planet. That would be just as burdensome as listening to auditions from every one of VDC’s 200,000 talent. You HAVE to short list – so you have to enter to be considered. I’ve never heard of an awards show where no one entered yet all were considered.
I’ve been nominated and won awards with other organizations. And there’s always been an entry fee. Either the talent enters themselves and pays the fee or the company involved with the production or for whom you worked will pay the fee – such as the 4 years I was nominated for a NY Air Award when I worked on-air. The company I worked for entered any and all of us who wished to enter. And they paid the fee. There are costs to running awards. It sounds like you have an issue with awards in general. Which is fine. Some people like them. Others don’t. But you may be working off of out-dated info as regards the entry fees for the VAA.
Paul Strikwerda says
Hi Melissa, part of my assessment of these awards is based on feedback from those who took part in past events (as recently as 2016). I think we can agree that everything in life is relative. To some $125 may be peanuts. To others it is indeed a significant amount, especially in light of the ROI. And as I pointed out, the costs don’t end there.
I would not compare these awards to events like the Emmys or Clios. Those are on a much grander scale, and have a much longer history. If you’d stop people in the streets of Levittown, and ask them about the Emmy Awards, they’d know what you’re talking about. They’d recognize the names of many nominees. You may even find people who are huge fans of these nominees. Winning an Emmy will make an actor more marketable, and it has tremendous promotional value for the production s/he is involved in.
A better comparison would be the The Audies. They’ve been around since 1996, and yet, when you talk about the Audies, most people will associate it with a German car brand. Invisible actors like voice-overs, are just not that interesting to the masses.
The Voice Arts® Awards are new and unknown. The only people who seem to know and care about them live in the voice-over bubble. The big question is: Does the prize give a credit worth having? If the rest of the world doesn’t know about it, and doesn’t care, aren’t we just applauding ourselves?
By “paying to be evaluated” I mean just that. If you wish to be considered by the judges, you pay money to enter. You pay to play. Entry fees, by the way, are non-refundable, and all submissions become the property of SOVAS™.
As I pointed out in an earlier article, this does mean that money is an arbiter of talent, because those who don’t want to pay, won’t be considered. It’s the Achilles heel of almost every award show. They don’t crown the best of the best. They pick a winner in a narrow field, a.k.a the “best in show.” Can you imagine sports competitions being run like that?
You are absolutely right, I’m not a huge fan of award shows. To some I’m a big party pooper because I ask questions. I’m not impressed by big names and big egos. I don’t divide the world into winners and losers. My ideal world is a world where people cooperate instead of compete; a world in which doing your very best is more important than being the best.
Don’t get me wrong, I admire people at the top of their game, but I prefer the artist who selflessly and tirelessly works under the radar to the attention-seeking loudmouth looking for acknowledgment and recognition.
I admire people who are in it for the music. Not for the applause.
PS The 2017 early bird VAA entry fee for companies who are member of SOVAS™ was $129, and the regular fee was $150 per entry. For non-members it was $150 and $175. Independent artists who are member of SOVAS™ paid $99 and $119. Non-members paid $119 to $129 per entry. In 2014 (the inaugural year) the price of a single entry for a company/non-SOVAS™ member was $310. Independent artists paid $210 per entry.
Hugh Edwards says
Thanks for the GFTB mention Paul. I agree in that the more we keep talking, the better the industry will become.
I also believe that free choice is a must, and that as long as people are educated they can make any choice they choose – the more we educate, the more we all win!
Paul Strikwerda says
Hear, hear, Hugh!
Bob Bergen says
The Voice Arts Awards are not perfect. Neither are The Grammys, Tony’s, Oscars, Emmys, etc. But honoring and recognizing talent and peers, I love.
I’ve been involved at The Television Academy for over 20 years in some capacity. I’ve served on the board of governors, chaired committees, produced award shows. After each Emmy show we gather to evaluate what worked and what needs improving. Voice Arts does the same thing, and they have grown and grown.
It took The Emmys years to get respect. They were considered a joke for the first several years by the film industry. It took a good 5 years for anyone outside of LA to even participate or recognize them as legit. The Voice Arts are in their infancy. Allow them to grow.
The Annie Awards started as a barbecue in June Foray’s backyard. She wanted to honor animation. Years later, they are now the Oscars of animation. It started slow and needed time to grow. And for many years folks were as negative and cynical as many have been with Voice Arts. The difference is social media, which spreads opinions virally. And people type things they would never say to one’s face.
Voice Arts policy to pay to enter is the way all award shows work. All those expenses mentioned in this blog are the same for Oscars, Tony’s, etc. You pay an entry fee. There are exceptions. Members of The TV Academy get 2 free Primetime submissions a year. But non members pay. Daytime makes members pay, but they are run by a different organization than Primetime. I’ve had 2 Emmy nominations. Yes, there were a ton of extra expenses. Car service, tuxes, publicist, all that goes with it. Business expenses that get written off. And, expenses worth paying.
Does a nomination or win change your life and career? Maybe. Some who collected Oscars never worked again. Some who won a new artist Grammy became huge successes. Will a Voice Art build your career? It’s too young an honor to know that. But the event celebrates our craft and our peers. To many, including myself, that alone has value.
I know the finances of producing an award show. Joan and Rudy are not getting rich producing this. Hardly. You begin working on the next year the day after this year’s show. It is a monumental task.
The cool thing is, ya don’t have to go. You don’t have to enter. I’ve never entered. My personal feeling is, I want this to celebrate the next generation of vo. I’ve got 30 plus years, with recognition with The Emmys and The Annie’s. This year I’m presenting The Icon Award to Lily Tomlin at Voice Arts. She is beyond thrilled to be a part of this. She’s done extensive vo work, and has Emmys for her vo work. She did a lot of research on Voice Arts before accepting this honor. Trust me, she doesn’t say yes every time someone wants to honor her. And she’s said no to much more established organizations. As huge as her career is, she’s pretty darn humble. Hell, a few years ago she took my cartoon vo class, looking to improve her animation vo skills. Wouldn’t you have liked to have been amongst that group of students when fellow student Lily Tomlin walked in the first night??
There are many celebs who don’t like award shows. They refuse to participate. It’s not for them. But they don’t take to social media to blast negativity to their fellow peers who do like and participate. They have more respect. If they can be gracious and classy about this, why can’t the vo community do the same??
Paul Strikwerda says
We’ve never met, but those who know me can tell you that I’m not one of those people that “type things they would never say to one’s face.” You and others may hold me accountable for every word I publish. On paper, and in person.
This is what is going on in our community: people talk a lot, but are afraid to put their opinion on record the way I do, fearing it may hurt their career. I’d rather discuss issues in the open, than talk about things behind people’s backs.
Even though I will never win “Mr. Congeniality,” most readers I meet say they have respect for the way I handle certain hot topics. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard colleagues say:
That doesn’t make what I say true or more valid, but it indicates that I have a connection with part of our community. It’s also a reason why this blog has almost 39K subscribers.
Now, here’s what I would like people to understand: being critical is not the same as being disrespectful. One can disagree without being disagreeable. Being critical is also different from launching a personal attack.
When I have doubts about certain things in our field, I let my readers know where these doubts are coming from. I’m never contrary for the sake of being contrary. As a former journalist, I present my case based on personal experience and research. At other times it is based on sources I cannot reveal. So, even though this blog reflects my opinion, at least it’s an informed opinion.
What is my purpose in writing about these awards, you may ask. Is it to “blast negativity to my fellow peers who do like and participate”? Again: I never want to be negative for the sake of being negative. I want to bring about positive change. If I see things in my community that could be and should be improved, I might blog about it.
How does that work out?
You may remember my first couple of stories about the Voice Arts Awards, back in 2014. At that time, the price of a single entry for a company/non-SOVAS™ member was $310. Independent artists would pay $210 per entry. I wrote:
Well, it appears that my feedback was listened to. The 2017 early bird VAA entry fee for companies who are member of SOVAS™ was $129, and the regular fee was $150 per entry. For non-members it was $150 and $175. Independent artists who are member of SOVAS™ paid $99 and $119. Non-members paid $119 to $129 per entry.
Back in 2014 I also asked the following question:
Well, In 2015, the SOVAS™ J. Michael Collins Academic Scholarship was created to “educate and encourage emerging talent.”
I’m not claiming that these changes were the immediate result of my writing, but at the time my blogs about the awards were read by thousands of people, so they might have had some influence.
In your comment you brought up other awards shows, such as the Oscars, Grammys and Emmys. To me, these shows have become highly staged marketing events where artistic integrity is sacrificed in favor of purchased publicity. Stars show up pretending to have a good time, knowing that they’re contractually obligated to plug their latest project. And, let’s not forget the gift baskets!
Television audiences are only watching to see their favorite stars on the red carpet, to see the big production numbers, and to hear the obligatory teary-eyed acceptance speeches. I don’t think the voice-over world should emulate that, and I don’t think we need to do that.
It is true: an Oscar-winning movie will do much better at the box office. I doubt that the masses will run to their favorite audio book store, to purchase the winner of a Voice Arts™ Award.
Why do I have doubts? Because for an award to have an impact, people need to know about it, care about it, and attach value to it. It needs to reach the folks outside of our cozy babble bubble. That has yet to happen. Perhaps I’m expecting too much from a young organization, but I think it’s fair to judge them by their own mission statement.
Bob Bergen says
Paul, I wasn’t referring to you.
Eric Simendinger says
Interesting blog article. In particular, the comments of VO being the black sheep of SAG/AFTRA. Its nearly impossible for the union to regulate VO work in today’s digital marketplace. Unlike Television or Radio, there are almost an infinite amount of places that voice actors can work non-union and many union talent do these jobs on the side. I can understand why the Union would shun VO in some respect. They have very little control over the usage of audio.It’s impossible to follow up on every web video and every training video to be sure usage terms are being followed.
Amanda Rose Smith says
All awards shows are pay to play. its how theyre funded. oscars, tonys, emmys, grammys, all of them.
Bob Bergen says
Hi Dave. Curious why royalty sharing doesn’t qualify as professional for audio books. I ask as someone who doesn’t do em, and never will. But am someone who advocates profit sharing. B
Chris Mezzolesta says
Trying to reply to Bob below but the link won’t work – Hi Bob, the most clear-cut analogy we drew in this case would be a comparison to any work done on spec. There was a video put round a year or so ago by an ad firm in Toronto that really hit home the idea of ‘don’t do work on spec’ across many industries, they had an actor go into various businesses and offer to pay them IF he liked the final product after the work was done (I’ll pay you after you build this house if I like it…..I’ll pay you after this pizza if I like it etc…) Just as the union has a demo rate for talent voicing ad agency client pitches, the type of work is at least paid. With royalty-share without a stipend (my understanding, as I don’t do audiobooks either) it is a purely promissory arrangement, the talent will get paid their % IF a copy of the recording sells. Thus, until the a-book sells, the talent has basically worked on spec and has not earned anything. Nothing has been earned and no monetary metric can be assessed as to a rate. Then should a book sell, say, 3 copies, the talent has worked who knows how many hours for…I don’t know, 30-50 bucks? Then at what point does it become equivalent to what would generally be considered a professional rate? It is not a qualitative judgment on each talent, not at all, but a quantitative one on the subcategory of work. But in general, professional audiobook narration is most definitely an integral part of our membership.
There are some work venues that in the interest of the health of the freelance VO industry we do not consider for pro-level membership because in our estimation they are the dragging-down factors within our sector of the business, I’d hope you would agree that the “dollar a holler” guys and “spot grinder” houses, while they may make themselves a decent buck, do so at the expense at the rest of us, thus we do not accept work done in those situations for Pro-level membership. Understanding that there are different POVs on all this, this is the one from our corner, and this is where we’ve arrived at our standards at this time, but they are all in the spirit of keeping the industry healthy (or at least alive) for everyone. I hope this answered your question ok….
Bob Bergen says
Thanks for clarifying, Chris. I don’t do audio books, so I didn’t know what royalty share meant in this industry. I thought it meant what it does with other vo genres, where you are paid for the job, plus also get subsequent profit sharing. Didn’t realize in this case the actor works with the HOPES of a royalty share….if I’m reading this correctly, in lieu of a session fee. If that’s the case, I agree with you all. So does your organization support audio books that do not practice this???
Chris Mezzolesta says
Absolutely! In every other situation there is a payment to talent for services rendered that is in the neighborhood of what would be considered a “pro” rate for that type of work (we don’t have an official benchmark but I always first tell anyone who asks me, to check the union rate sheets first, then any others thereafter if there’s any ambiguity). Standard publishing houses, individual authors, Audible producers, ACX with guaranteed stipend that falls within guidelines, sure!
The big unknown starts to happen when folks start doing strict royalty share on ACX – again, my limited understanding of the model is that there is no upfront payment of any kind on a strict RS deal, and it could perhaps vary from author to author so we could be spending all our time evaluating deals such as this. So again, it is strictly a promissory deal, for all the tens or dozens of hours they’ll put in, talent is only paid IF a book sells, and then in dribs and drabs as a book might sell a copy or 3 over the months or so; just as Widget Joe can build widgets and fill his shelves at home full of them, but if they haven’t sold at all, is he really truly in business? Tricky stuff, but we’ve had to draw a line. Those talent are always welcome as Associate members if strict RS with no or “insufficient for Pro status” earnings is all they have at this point, as they certainly have been practicing the craft, which is not to be overlooked!
WoVO is an inclusionary organization by design, we accept all who apply as long as they agree to run their businesses in alignment with our Best Practices (which for talent, are basically along the lines of Run your business ethically and Don’t lowball 🙂 among a few others). We have not turned anyone away yet!
Jem Matzan says
I produce audiobooks, both as a pay-for-production rate and royalty share agreements. For royalty share, you can estimate sales by looking at ebook (Kindle, chiefly) sales. If the ebook is selling well, the audiobook will sell well too. If the print book sells really well, that means nothing as far as I can tell. Print readers tend not to spend on audiobooks like ebook readers do.
To calculate the expected return, translate the overall Amazon Best Sellers Rank for the ebook edition into a monthly sales approximation (there are a couple of sites that do this with reasonable accuracy). Divide that number by 10 (my estimate in terms of ebook:audiobook sales ratio). Multiply that number by 2 (average payout per sale for most royalty share projects). That’s about what it will earn per month. The figures will change (get lower) over time, but I haven’t figured out a good formula for that yet. If you want to be optimistic, take that monthly income estimate and multiply it by 84 (it’s a 7-year contract). If that number ends up being around what you would charge to produce the book for a flat rate, then it’s worth doing.
I understand people defending awards shows as many do charge, on the other hand I’m so very tired of this pervasive attitude in VO that “if it makes you feel good, it was worthwhile.” There are thousands of aspiring VAs in thousands of dollars of debt with no progress to be seen for their investment. I find it very difficult considering how many of my peers have this attitude. It’s not that you shouldn’t spend money, but that you should be wise about your choices. People treat such measured thought as being cynical and stepping on their dreams. Speaking lovingly about the SOVAs doesn’t elevate anyone’s career nor does speaking negatively harm it. This is an ACTING field, SOVAs are not included or implied here at all, but we have to remember that there still are predatory businesses out there who make millions on hopes and dreams. It’s not a bad thing to be measured and thoughtful about where you spend your money. Sometimes it feels like a pyramid scheme.
Paul Strikwerda says
Thanks for your comment, Debbie. The following is in response to so many who have added their opinion in the past week or so.
As some commentators have noted, I am not a big fan of award shows. Period. I’ve cited most of my reasons in the very first story I ever wrote about the VAA. For the most part (and this is just my opinion), these shows are hyped up events meant to generate publicity under the guise of a competition, where jury members are asked to choose between apples and oranges. I’m not easily impressed by all the hoopla, the tuxedos, and glitzy gowns. I don’t care for the tearful thank-you speeches where G-d is invoked, and “Oh, it’s such a privilege to be among so many distinguished people.” Need I go on?
If this IS your kind of thing, fine. If that’s how you want to spend your money, I’m not going to stop you. Just don’t expect me to share your enthusiasm, and don’t fault me for having an opinion that is different from yours. I’m not here to be a party pooper. I have no grudge against anyone involved in these awards, and my dislike says nothing about the people who entered, the people who lost, or the people who won.
I have nothing against bringing a community together. On the contrary. I salute those who contribute to that community, and you may even see this blog as my weekly personal contribution. I just have no need for validation or recognition on a stage. I don’t need my time in the spotlight. I don’t have an urge to beat my colleagues at their game, and walk away with something shiny. I’m quite happy in my dimly-lit studio, giving my clients the very best I have to offer. And as you have seen, I’m quite capable of generating some publicity without winning anything.
Bob Bergen says
Kinda changing the subject a bit, but Debbie touched upon this.
Never did I think about a return on my investment when I was studying vo, starting out with my first agent, or even today. Making money at vo is a byproduct of the internet. Which is also why you see a lot of “get rich quick” vo promotions.
I studied vo for 4 years from the best in the business. No one ever discussed how to make money at it. I’ve been teaching animation vo for 30 years, and never discuss making money at it. Classes teach craft. In the 2 years I studied acting at a conservatory no one ever talked about making money as an actor. This was considered a huge red flag and very unprofessional.
Even today making money at this doesn’t enter my mind. The fact that I do is a fortunate byproduct. And as (knock wood) successful as I am, I know that first and foremost, I’m an actor with zero guarantees. This means that I’m a few opportunities away from needing a survival job. This is something I knew going in.
I also never expected my Emmy nominations to bring more work. They are beneficial for my career. But no one is going to hire me over someone else in vo because I have Emmy nominations. But they’ve gotten me in the auditionand (or) meetings that I know I would not have been able to with out them.
And, no matter what the award is, an evening being honored by your peers is a pretty cool thing. It may not make or break your career. But it will make your day!
Bob I have tremendous respect for you, you’re one of my favorite teachers and VAs but I have the same dilemma talking to other veteran VAs. They don’t seem to know what the landscape looks like for the aspiring now. There have always been people eager and willing to exploit actors but I see people in tremendous debt more than ever before. I’m an actor so I came in with that same mindset of enrichment with what I love not a financial promise, but I don’t see that with the people who come in exclusively with VA dreams. I agree you should enjoy a good party, celebration of our art and I agree, I don’t think people should expect financial returns on investment but some of these don’t even include educational returns. They as legally as possible imply financial returns, career advancement and people are spending incredible amount of money on events advertised as very necessary to advance their careers. Now, I’ve never seen that marketing from you or my favorite teachers, but it is commonplace and far less scrutinized by the community than I’ve seen then in “on screen” acting.
I don’t deny anyone a party, but I think a lot of successful VAs aren’t seeing how aspiring VAs are being fleeced at a rate unseen before and no one seems to encourage people to quite simply, be thoughtful about how they spend their money. As if it’s sacrilegious to say such a thing.
Bob Bergen says
Caveat Emptor. None of this is new. There were many a get rich quick asshole when I took my first vo class in 1978. Some fell for it, some didn’t. The difference today is the internet. It reaches far more than those of yesteryear. But there is still a percentage of smart folks out there, just as there will always be those that fall for the charlitans.
But the internet is also the blessing that I didn’t have in 1978. Everyone had the ability to reach out to an go pro to vet anyone advertising a class. I didn’t have that. Yes, I knew who worked. Because I was smart abs savvy. Today, all one needs to do is a 30 minute google search to find the top actors, agents, producers, and casting directors, to ask whom to study with and trust. Very few, if any, will not give of their time.
But most out there don’t have the smarts to do this. They never did. Very few succeed in the Arts. Very few have the “it” factor. It’s always been that way. But the internet reaches everyone. The majority do not have the it factor. Those that do don’t fall for the BS. The cream floats to the top. Always has, always will.