Don’t ever think it won’t happen to you.
I guarantee you it will, and when it does, it will leave a bitter taste in your mouth.
A few years ago, a colleague of mine got a disturbing phone call. It was an old friend from high school:
“I didn’t know you were in the voice-over business,” he said. “I was listening to our latest radio promo at work, and I said to myself: I know that voice. And it finally dawned on me. It was you! Great job, man. You’re really good at what you do.”
“Where exactly do you work?” my colleague asked, quite puzzled. It turned out to be some unknown up-and-coming ad agency. “That’s strange… it doesn’t ring a bell for me, and I practically have a photographic memory for every job I’ve ever done,” my colleague said. A day later, when going through a list of past auditions, he found the answer.
About a month ago, he had sent in a demo for an ad campaign to one of the online voice-over casting sites, and never heard anything back. Until now. Under normal circumstances people might say: You win some, you lose some. Isn’t that part of this business? That may be true, but a client can’t just use an audition recording without paying for it. And my colleague allowed it to happen.
Everybody knows not to walk around with your wallet sticking out of your purse. It’s an open invitation to pickpockets. But when it comes to our demos, some of us are doing just that. Perhaps I should repeat the advice my biology teacher once gave us, while covering a certain subject: Use protection!
You have two options to prevent shady producers from running off with your audio file: watermarking and -my personal favorite- messing things up.
You’ve probably seen watermarks on pictures, rendering them practically unusable. The same can be done for audio files. Some recording software has this effect built in. Your demo will either have some weird buzz in the background or some noise under part of your read. You can also buy separate watermarking software or produce the sound effects yourself.
Imagine smashing up a couple of plates while recording your demo for that Greek restaurant commercial… Of course this can become quite distracting, and if I were you, I would want clients to pay attention to the brilliance of my performance, and not to some nasty tone or the sound of breaking china.
This brings me to option two, which is even more creative. I usually change a few things in the copy, such as an address or a phone number to make it unusable. I recently recorded an IVR-demo (Interactive Voice Response), and I purposely changed the numbers a little bit:
“For sales, press five hundred and sixty-six, for customer service, press one.
I believe I also said:
“If you don’t know your party’s extension, please dial it now”.
For some of you that might be stretching it. Alternatively, you can choose to leave out a word here and there, but whichever method you prefer, be sure to let the voice-seeker know that you did this on purpose. Otherwise he might think that you recently escaped from a clinic for frustrated voice-actors.
TAKE IT TO COURT
Eventually, my colleague called the ad agency that ran away with his demo. Much to his surprise, they immediately admitted using his audition.
“We played it so the team could hear the type of voice we were NOT looking for,” they said. “We assure you that this was for internal purposes only.”
Some ad agencies take the art of spinning to a whole new level! Whatever the reason, using material you did not pay for is still theft.
Eventually, my colleague called a lawyer to find out if he had a case.
Here’s the good news: The lawyer was up for it. The bad news: His retainer was more than what my voice-over colleague had made in six months.
Sometimes it’s better to count your losses and smash-up a couple of plates.