Gravy for the brain

Gravy For The Brain Goes Global

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, International Leave a comment

Peter Dickson & Hugh Edwards ©paul strikwerda

When Hugh Edwards and Peter Dickson began creating a comprehensive resource for the voice-over community back in 2008, they had no idea that – some ten years later- their brain child would be all grown up, and ready to take on the world. Literally.

Based in the UK, Gravy for the Brain (GFTB) grew quickly, offering a mix of online courses, webinars, forums, live mentoring, voice-over tools, and social events. Based on a membership model, GFTB has helped over 41,000 people since its inception.

Right now you’ll find over 220 hours of content, practice scripts, a talent finder, a career planner, a rate guide, a resource library, and much more. It’s a one-stop shop to learn the ins and outs of the voice-over biz, available online at a monthly fee.

As their business grew and their knowledge base expanded, Hugh and Peter noticed that their customers weren’t only in the UK. Word of mouth spread quickly, and people began signing up in Australia, in the U.S. and in other parts of Europe. This became a bit of a challenge because most of the materials offered were based on British business practices that did not necessarily translate to other regions.

So, when the time came for another website update, the GFTB team gave themselves an ambitious goal: to make it accessible to all languages and cultures around the world by localizing every piece of content. This huge undertaking took a year and a half of planning, and fourteen people worked on it for thirteen months.

On January 8th, Gravy for the Brain V5 was launched, bringing faster website speed, an improved search function, an updated VO Career Planner, a brand new VO for beginners module, unique context specific tutorials, a podcast, and even an escrow service to tackle late payments.

Their latest and coolest tool is called V.O.I.D.  It stands for Voice Over Internet Database. This is a free, searchable global database of companies, service providers, casting agents, recording studios, VO tools, coaches, job sites, VO conferences, and more.

On top of that, Gravy for the Brain is building a network of independent GFTB sites for specific territories. The aim is to cover 25 languages in the next five years. Each site has localized courses, localized rate guides, and a team of local VO experts.

All these sites are linked, and share core functions. Members from any country can view content from any other country at no extra cost. So, if you’re in the States and you’re bidding on a French job, you can go to the French site and look at the rate sheet.

Each country and/or region has a territory controller. J. Michael Collins is the controller for the USA site. Sophia Cruz and Rona Fletcher are covering Latin America. That site will go live on March 18th. On May 29th, the French version is ready, with Stéphane Cornicard as controller. After that Sweden, Italy, Spain, Australia/New Zealand, and India will follow.

So, how much is all of this going to cost you? If you’re already a GFTB-member, this upgrade is free. If you’re thinking of signing up, the fee has stayed the same. For a limited time, GFTB is offering a special discount when you use the code GetGFTBNow. Here’s what you’d pay per month, without and with the discount:

There are no sign up fees or cancellation fees. If you’re a “try it before you buy it” kind of person, there are plenty of freebies on the website such as webinars, quick tips, and a mini VO course. A VO rate guide is also available for free, as well as blog posts, a reading speed calculator, a talent finder, and the Voice Over Internet Database.

When Hugh and Peter first launced their business, they wanted to offer a valuable resource designed to benefit the voiceover community, and raise the standard of the voiceover industry. This hasn’t changed. If anything, they have consistenly raised the bar adding more value every year.

One last thing.

I’m not getting paid to promote Gravy for the Brain. I just think that a GFTB membership is one of the best investments in your career you will ever  make.

You don’t believe me? Well, there’s only one way to find out…

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Divided We Stand

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Pay-to-Play, Promotion 36 Comments

free hugsIs 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. 

4. WoVO

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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