J. Michael Collins

The One Voice Awards: More of the Same, or Setting a New Standard?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, International, Promotion 12 Comments
Peter Dickson & Hugh Edwards

Peter Dickson & Hugh Edwards

Oh no, not another voice-over award!

That was my initial reaction when I heard about the British One Voice Awards, coming to you at the end of April, courtesy of the people behind Gravy For The Brain Ltd.

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know I’m rather ambivalent about artistic contests promising people a chance at winning some shiny object to brag about, and charging them for it. Could this be any different? Besides, I thought there already was a British award for voice-overs.

For the past twenty years, the U.K. has had the VOX Awards, celebrating “the best creative audio talent in the media and broadcast industries across 10 categories.” Circa 2013, the organization behind these awards was VOX National EventsLast November, VNE was acquired by Bubble Communications, a global PR, marketing, and events agency.

MORE OF THE SAME?

So, how do the One Voice Awards (OVA’s) try to set themselves apart from VOX, and other VO award shows, such as the Voice Arts™ Awards? First of all, the OVA’s are the culmination of the One Voice Conference in London that brings together VO artists industry-wide for four days of workshops, talks, networking, and lots of practice. 

Inspired by the setup of voice conferences in the U.S., creators Hugh Edwards and Peter Dickson have said they want to set a new standard for what a U.K. voice acting event should be.

Secondly, these awards are not open to any employees or relatives of the One Voice Conference team, or Gravy For The Brain Ltd. None of them can be nominated, nor win one of their own awards.

The OVA’s team writes:

“The One Voice Awards have integrity. Our doors are not open for corruption as the awards are independently judged by an extensive panel of industry leaders, anonymously.

The One Voice Awards doesn’t take advantage of nor monetise voice artists, therefore, the awards actually mean something. They’re free to enter. We do not believe in triple-charging you (submission fee, attendance fee & award fee) for winning an award that you deserved to win.

We are celebrating excellence wherever it lies across our incredible community. The One Voice Awards isn’t just about giving yet another award to big names, or those who can afford to put themselves in the running to win industry awards.”

BUILDING A BETTER MODEL

Reading these words, I felt gratified, because it seems Edwards and Dickson are addressing some of the very things I have pointed out regarding the Voice Arts™ Awards. When I asked Edwards about it, he had this to say:

“Not only do I subscribe to your blog, but also to your point of view. I think that they are the same viewpoints because we both believe in fairness to people. I also realise that we have an uphill battle to climb with perceptions of awards in general though. Some awards organisations manage it, some do not. My opinion of the whole thing is that integrity is absolutely key. I think that it’s very difficult to dissociate the monetisation and profiteering that happens with other awards that go on, with the benefits that awards can bring to people.”

Over fifteen hundred hopefuls entered the One Voice Awards, and a panel of judges narrowed this down to ninety-six finalists across thirty-one categories. Some VO’s were shortlisted in more than one category.

Hugh Edwards: “There is a reason why in some cases there are only three shortlisted nominations and in some seven in this year’s OVA’s: There were only three in that category that came up to a certain standard (and we are not profiteering to just let people buy table spaces to make up numbers), and in the other case of seven, some were tied in their excellence and there was nothing between them – and in this case we are not going to take away that achievement from someone by arbitrarily selecting one out of three to be removed from the list because it’s important for those voice artists to be recognised for their achievement.”

CHEAPENING THE INDUSTRY?

Some people in the VO business are afraid that because anyone can submit audio samples, and anyone can come to your conference, this opens the floodgates to amateurs who will cheapen the industry. What do you think?

Hugh Edwards: “I completely understand those concerns, and I’ll address them both individually. Firstly to the point of anyone being able to submit themselves to the awards, and even before that, the idea of self-submission which has been raised to me before too. I think many people think that the larger awards bodies, such as BAFTA, the Oscars, the Emmy’s and so on, look to the industry and choose the films/projects that should be submitted themselves, but this is not the case. Even with those huge awards, it’s the production companies who produced the films who submit their films for consideration to the awards, exactly in the same way that the One Voice Awards do – there is no shame in this, and clearly, we do not have some kind of ‘magic eye’ that can see across the talent of anyone who voices in the UK!

Then, with regards who can submit audio clips, it’s quite clear that having the awards open to everyone is the only fair way to do this – and if this were not the case, who would police who is a ‘non-amateur’ voiceover artist? Who would determine the requirements set to determine who is ‘professional’? BAFTA, for example, does not restrict anyone who creates a game from that game being submitted for consideration in the game awards, before proving that they have already developed 5 successful titles – no, the only criteria is that the work is excellent, and that’s the only way it can fairly be run.

If you take that one step further, with over fifteen hundred submissions, yes we did receive some work that was not up to current professional standards expected in the industry today, but this work quickly fell to the bottom of the pile, and the cream of the crop rose to the top, as you would expect it should.

So, the only negative consequence to opening the submission doors to everyone, is that it means more work for us to listen and judge everything, but it means only positives for the voice community, as the final shortlisted nominations are genuinely the best of the best, and far from being ‘amateur’. Remember: we believe in being fair to everyone involved, and no one should be restricted from entering.”

THE EVALUATION PROCESS

There’s no information online about selection criteria or judges, so I asked Edwards about the judging process.

Edwards: “To have belief in the validity of the judging process, you need to be able to see inside that process. We have started the dissemination of this to the public and will be unveiling it fully at the awards. However, we have built our system from the ground up (actually based on how I cast voice talent, interestingly!) and it has the following criteria:

– All submissions are listened to;
– All submissions are anonymised (so that judges are not swayed by ‘friendship’ voting);
– The identity of the judges is secret (to protect any ‘corruption’ attempts);
– None of the judges are aware of who any of the other judges are (to protect ‘collusion’ voting);
– None of the judges can see any of the other judges scores (to prevent any ‘historical’ voting).

The idea is to protect the integrity of the awards so that it is uncorruptable.”

Hugh Edwards

Hugh Edwards

CONFLICT OF INTEREST

What has been done to prevent potential conflict of interest?

Edwards: “Our system is a software-based one, and we can see exactly who has voted for what, and when. There is one judge who is a voice artist, who entered into, and was shortlisted for one category, and through mutual agreement she abstained from voting in that category, and we have proof of that. All other judges were entirely independent.”

When judging artistic contests, there are objective and subjective criteria. Sound quality for instance can be objectively established, but script interpretation can be a matter of individual taste. How do the OVA’s deal with subjective judging?

Edwards: “The way to fix this (as we have) is to provide a top-level spread of senior judges from across a broad range of industry, as well as including some senior level voice artists – the hirers and the do’ers. Our judges are experts in their field, made up of: five senior-level Voice Artists, a senior-level Voice Director, a senior ADR Director/Mixer for film and TV, the CEO of a Voiceover Agency, a Head of a Network Radio company, two Heads of Creative from advertising agencies, two senior Studio Engineers and two Heads of Creative from television companies.”

A PRIZE FOR BLOOPERS?

Some of the OVA’s categories are pretty straightforward: male and female voice-over artist of the year, best character performance in animation, best audio books performance in fiction and non-fiction. There’s also an award for best demo reel performance, and for best outtake of the year. I think that awarding a prize to the best demo reel is like having an award for the best headshot, or demo tape of an aspiring rock band. And do the best bloopers really deserve a prize?

Hugh Edwards: “The demo reel category is actually as much for the demo creators as it is the voice artists. They deserve that recognition as well. There are some great demo producers out there, but there are also so many sharks doing shit work in the demo industry that we wanted to show excellence in this area. I think that category is valid to be honest – it’s an area of the industry that is widely seen, widely charged-for and widely used so it shouldn’t be restricted. The bloopers one you may have a point on, but it is there to provide comic relief throughout the awards ceremony and lighten the proceedings to help make it an enjoyable experience. I will re-evaluate it once this year’s OVA’s are done.”

THE CYNICS AND THE SKEPTICS

I’ve been in touch with a number of UK colleagues, and I got the impression that not every talent is going crazy over these awards. Some have suggested that you’re taking advantage of newbies. Some of the more experienced voice actors don’t want to come to the conference because they fear they’ll be perceived as amateurs. 

Edwards: “I’m pretty shocked by this suggestion, as it is in our company ethos to do the exact opposite. I can only presume that whoever asked this has not actually seen inside (I’m presuming they mean) Gravy For The Brain (GFTB). Look at other training companies in the UK and the USA and you will see average prices for day-training courses between £200-£300 – that’s for one topic, one subject, one coach. Multiply that up by the number of courses you would need to get up to a professional level (e.g., a beginners course, an advanced course, some professional mentoring sessions, for example then, an audiobook course, a course on how to setup and run a studio and edit, a course on voicing commercials, a course on getting your business, marketing and branding right etc), and you’re well into the thousands of pounds.

At GFTB we charge £39 a month (often discounted to £29) for literally everything you will ever need, with no signup fee, no cancellation fee, and no minimum term. So if you’re a ‘newbie’ and you want to be with GFTB for 3 months, at which point you could have taken 16 courses, watched 35 hour-long webinars, received the 12 live mentoring sessions we would have run in that time, used our CRM, had your home studio checked out, and much more….that would have cost you £117 – which is less than half the price of most single-day-long courses out there. 

I would go as far as to say we are one of the only voiceover training institutions in the world that is not taking advantage of the new talent in the industry.”

Thanks for that mini-commercial. Now, what about the second point?

Edwards: “With regards to the questioner’s concern that “experienced talent may not want to come to the One Voice Conference because of a fear they will be perceived as amateurs“, we should take a look at the biggest voiceover conference in the world: VO Atlanta. I was at the (excellent) conference this year and last year, and was in the room when the organiser asked the delegates to hold up their hands if they were a beginner; it was about a quarter of the room in each case. I’ve seen our attendee list for One Voice (where we’re just under 2/3rds of the tickets sold, with 5 weeks to go), and based on the attendees I know personally, I would estimate that this ratio is about the same. About a quarter of the attendees are beginners, and the rest are not.

One of the things I love so much about the US conferences, big or small, is that there is a feeling that everyone in the voiceover community is in the community together. Just look at WoVO (World Voices Organization) in the States: What they are not doing is complaining about all the ‘newbies flooding the industry’, instead, they are using their experience and knowledge about the industry to help the industry as a whole, including the beginners. 

What’s frustrating about this comment is that in a few small pockets of the UK community, there is a feeling from some of the more senior artists of negativity against the newcomers to the industry. I find it frustrating because they were newcomers too once, and someone helped and trained them at some point. They have had their careers, and they are probably still doing well from it. I’m not sure if it’s fear of change on their behalf, a fear that the industry is being too far diluted, a fear that their incomes will be taken from them. But change to the industry has already happened, and will always happen. It’s going to change further, and surely the best way to deal with this is to embrace that change and move with it.

The newcomers to the industry are the voices of tomorrow’s industry, and we all co-exist together. We will always support the newcomers as much as we support the intermediates and the advanced VO professionals, but you most definitely should not be perceived as being an amateur for attending a voice conference that celebrates everything about excellence in the industry. 

I mean, we have the woman who voices the Oscars and the Superbowl there for goodness sakes – the two biggest VO gigs in the world – does that sound like amateur hour to anyone!!!?? It certainly doesn’t to me!”

One Voice AwardsTHE VALUE OF THE PRIZE

And finally, is winning a One Voice Award really a credit worth having?

Edwards: “Let’s take the Oscars as an example. Obviously, the winner of Best Picture at the Oscars has huge benefits to the sales and marketing of that particular film, and also to the studio as a whole, and it also benefits the other people who have worked on that picture. Importantly though, being shortlisted for the nominations is also incredibly important to those productions/studios/staff, and you will often see them use the fact that they are nominated (but didn’t win) in their marketing and PR. The same is true for voice artists.

Yes, the winners of the awards will be able to put that on their marketing and PR, but the nominees can as well. It’s not just about people liking shiny things, it’s a line drawn in the sand to say that this voice artist stands out above their peers for excellence in their category, and that reflects then throughout their career.

In the end it’s all about integrity. Once the industry becomes aware of how we are doing things to protect the integrity and why we are doing it, I suspect that its value will grow and grow. Our plans for the OVA’s and actually the entire conference extend beyond three years even as of now, so we are committed to this for the long term.”

The One Voice Conference is held between 26 and 29 April, and the Awards gala is on the 28th, hosted by Peter Dickson (click here for a full schedule). Joe Cipriano is the keynote speaker. Randy Thomas, J. Michael Collins, Peter Bishop, Marc Graue, Graeme Spicer, Jon Briggs, Trish Bertram, Anne Ganguzza, Armin Hierstetter, and Brian Bowles are among the presenters.

Are you going?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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The Cost of Having a Conscience: the Ethics of Voice-Over

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Pay-to-Play, Personal, Social Media 24 Comments

The author at VO Atlanta

There is no doubt about it:

The fifth edition of VO Atlanta was spec-ta-cu-lar!

Over 550 voice-overs, coaches, service providers, and VO VIPS gathered for three never-ending days, and had a blast.

The quest for actionable knowledge was palpable. The desire to raise our reputation, our standards, and our rates was on everybody’s mind. The energy was electric!

If you ever doubt that ours is a sharing and caring community, come to next year’s conference, and feel the love of an amazingly talented, supportive, and crazy group of people who are short on ego, and big on brother- and sisterhood. You’ll never feel isolated again, and you will leave tired but incredibly inspired.

I had the good fortune of sharing the stage with Bev Standing, Dave Courvoisier, Cliff Zellman, Rob Sciglimpaglia, and moderator J. Michael Collins for a panel discussion on Voice-Overs and Ethics. Because so many of you weren’t able to be there, and the topic is so important, I want to recap some of my thoughts on the issue. Let’s begin with my take on ethics.

MORALS, MONEY, and ME

In short, ethics are moral principles that shape our lives; beliefs about what’s right and what’s wrong. These beliefs guide our decisions, and help us make choices based on what we think is important and good for us, and for society. Every day we make ethical decisions: at the grocery store, when we decide which charity to donate to, and which party and politician to vote for.

Even though the ethics panel largely focused on rates and business practices, ethics goes further than fees and codes of conduct. In my case, personal ethics impact pretty much every business decision I make. My moral compass makes me ask questions such as:

– Do I really want to work with this client?
– Is this a product or service, political party, or philosophy I want to be associated with?
– Is my business all about money, or can and should it be an instrument for social change?

During the panel discussion, moderator J. Michael Collins asked a number of thought-provoking questions, and here’s number one:

Do talent have an obligation to consider the impact of their pricing on the greater industry?

No one lives on an island. Whether we realize it or not, we’re all connected. Perhaps I see it that way because I come from a very small country. In the Netherlands, the Dutch can’t easily escape the consequences of their actions. The behavior of one company or one person even, can affect society as a whole. 

In the labor market, voice-overs belong to a rapidly growing group of independent contractors. I’ve always thought that this label was wrong. I prefer to call us interdependent contractors. We’re all linked by common causes, and individual actions influence those causes. What do I mean?

For one, all of us are training clients how to treat us.

Every time we quote a job, we’re giving out a signal to the industry: “This is what a job is worth. This is what I’m worth.” If we’re telling clients they can get more for less, we’ve just helped set a standard, and made our job a bit cheaper. Of course you may not see it that way, because it’s part of human nature to downplay the impact individuals have on their environment.

Millions of individual shoppers, for instance, neglect the fact that their plastic bags are responsible for the killing of marine life on a scale that’s unimaginable. But -as a wise man once said- if you believe that individuals have no influence on the system as a whole, you’ve never spent the night with a flea in your bed.

Here’s Michael’s next question:

Do talent have a responsibility to avoid doing business with sites or companies who promote poor pay standards?

As far as I’m concerned, there are many reasons to avoid working with certain companies. Perhaps they’re big polluters. Perhaps they use child labor. Perhaps they are run by a corrupt family. You’ve got to do your homework to find out. By working with those companies and sites, we keep them in business, thus enabling their practices.

Here’s the thing. I’m not going to tell you why and where you should draw the line. If you’re okay voicing a promotional video for a company that makes cluster bombs, that’s your choice. If you’re fine voicing a commercial for a fast food giant, go ahead -as long as you take some time to think about the ethical implications of what you’re doing.

In our line of work, a job is rarely “just” a job.

I will not lend my voice to video games that glorify gratuitous violence. As a vegetarian, I refuse to promote animal products, and as a non-smoker, I will never sing the praises of a tobacco product. For that, I am willing to pay a price. Sometimes it is a hefty price, because throughout my career I’ve had to say “No” to quite a few projects that would have paid the bills for many months.

My voice may be for hire, but my morals are not for sale.

So, do I think we have a responsibility to not do business with companies that rip us off? Absolutely! We’re either part of the problem, or we’re part of the solution.

What are some best practices you would like to see coaches and demo producers follow?

Number one: Don’t guarantee your students any work. ROI is not a given. There are very few shortcuts to success. Coaches and producers should stress that this is a subjective, unfair business. Get rich quick does not exist. They should educate their students about going rates, and professional standards.

Coaches and producers should carefully select whom they want to work with. They should not continue to take money from students that have no talent, or show little improvement, just because they’re paying customers. In my opinion, that’s unethical.

What expectations should talent reasonably have of talent agents and agencies?

An agent or agencies should offer opportunities that play to the strength of a particular talent. They should do the leg work, so the talent can focus on the job. Agents or agencies should also negotiate a decent rate. What else?

A good agent knows you better than you know yourself. A good agent sees potential, and hears things you yourself do not hear. A good agent helps you grow, and goes to bat for you.

A great agent has a unique in, into the market; something other agents may not have. I want an agent to be brutally honest with me, and to shield me from bad clients.

What is a reasonable commission for an agent, or other casting organization to take?

Anywhere between ten and twenty percent.

What are some red flags to watch out for when seeking agency representation?

Agents charging a fee for representation: “I’ll represent you if you pay me 250 bucks!”

Another red flag points at agents that send out jobs every other agent sends out. That’s lazy. Also keep an eye out for agents that are never available, and never give you any feedback.

What level of transparency should we expect from online casting sites, and what does that look like?

A lot has been said about one of the biggest online casting sites operating out of Canada. Last year, Voices dot com (VDC) had a clear and controversial presence at VO Atlanta. This year, the conference organizers determined that VDC was no longer welcome at the table, because it “does not have the best interest of voice talent at heart.” The importance of that decision should not be underestimated, and the announcement was greeted with great applause.

As you may know, I have exposed VDC’s dubious business practices in the past, and part of their problem has to do with a lack of transparency. When asked why VDC would not be entirely open about the way they do business, I quoted psychologist Dr. Phil McGraw, who once said:

“People who have nothing to hide, hide nothing.”

An online casting site must be open about their business practices. Otherwise, it will lose the trust of its members. It has to be clear about the way auditions are offered, and to whom. Is everybody getting a fair chance, or is there a secret system limiting talent, lining the pockets of the people in charge?

A Pay to Play has to be open about how much a client is paying, how much the talent is getting, and how much is taken in by the casting site. That site should listen to feedback from its members, answer questions honestly and without spin, and refrain from double or triple dipping.

Is it reasonable for sites to charge both a membership fee and a commission?

Ideally, I believe a commission should cover all services provided by the online casting site. That way the site has an incentive to deliver, and make sure the talent gets paid a fair fee. Commission rewards positive action. The more a talent makes, the more the casting site makes.

Now, by using the commission model, an online casting site might start acting like an agent, and in the U.S. that’s not allowed. Remember though, that in most countries in the world there are no voice-over agents, so this is not as big of an issue as it may seem to some.

THE UNSPOKEN SIDE OF BUSINESS

During the panel discussion in Atlanta I noticed something I hadn’t noticed before: the ethical aspect of our business is not something we tweet about, or talk about on Facebook. Ethical issues are hard to put into 140 characters, or in a short status update. They often are complex, deeply personal, and seldom black or white.

Some people don’t give ethics much thought. If the money is good, they’ll take the job. Others feel that just because they’re the voice of a campaign, it doesn’t mean they have to agree with that campaign. They see themselves as voice actors, and actors merely play a role. That in and of itself, is a position based on a personal belief. 

One thing I know for sure, and from experience.

Once you decide where you draw the ethical line, you will be tested. Let’s say you don’t like the way animals are treated by the agricultural-industrial complex. The moment you decide not to promote anything having to do with animal abuse, you will get a request to do a commercial for a fast food company.

It’s the irony of life!

WILL YOU JOIN ME?

During VO Atlanta, many colleagues had a breakthrough moment, or even multiple Aha moments. Just look at your social media stream. People can’t stop posting about it. Something in them has changed as a result of this conference. A spark has been ignited, colleagues have become friends, and people no longer feel isolated.

Take my advice, and join that silly gang in 2018 (March 1-4). If you preregister now by clicking on this link, you’ll lock in the very best price. This offer is available until the end of the month.

I hope to see you there, and perhaps we’ll get another chance to talk about ethics!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet: subscribe and retweet!

PPS The inimitable Peter O’Connell has penned a response to this post. Click here to read it. 

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Meet Me In Atlanta

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, International, Promotion 10 Comments

https://www.womensmarch.comLast week, thousands of people went to an inauguration, and millions marched for women’s rights.

There is strength in numbers, and power in groups of people. 

Even though I can see the point of bonding together for a common cause, I have an admission to make:

I hate being in the middle of a huge crowd.

Crowds are noisy and smelly. Somehow I always end up next to a loudmouth man-child who hasn’t used deodorant since puberty, or a Southern Belle who just bathed herself in Curve Crush By Liz Claiborne. For the lucky uninitiated: that’s a perfume I utterly detest. 

Crowds infringe upon my sacred personal space, and they test my patience more than I can bear. They move according to the slowest common denominator, and they rarely go to where I want or need to be.  

My nightmare scenario is being stuck indoors when a fire breaks out, and everyone is running for the nearest exit as they’re screaming their heads off. Of course only one exit is open, and the mob trapped inside starts trampling one another to escape the deadly fumes. Just thinking about it makes me nauseous. 

BEING ANTI-SOCIAL

Does all of this mean that I suffer from social anxiety, or that I’m anti-social? I don’t think so. My fear might have to do with a natural need to be safe. I prefer having meaningful conversations in quiet corners, rather than losing my voice yelling over the masses to reach a friend. 

In the past I have described myself as a “reluctant extrovert,” and I still feel that way. I’d rather spend three hours with someone one-on-one, than fifteen minutes in a large group. I feel lost in a crowd, and I don’t want to be lost. 

Why am I even bothering you with this pitiful confession? It’s because I’ve used my unease with crowds as one of the reasons to stay away from voice-over conferences bringing together hundreds of colleagues from different countries and continents. Today I am happy to tell you that this is about to change.

MAKING AN APPEARANCE

Over the years, literally hundreds of readers have asked the same question: “Where and when can I meet you?”

Those of you attending VO Atlanta from March 9th -12th, will finally have a chance to run into me, as well as over 550 colleagues from 35 states and 15 countries who have come to enjoy over 150+ hours of top-notch programming. It’s the largest annual voice-over event for our community.

This year’s keynote speaker is Bill Farmer, and some of the other speakers are Dave Fennoy, Elaine Clark, Celia Siegel, Joe Cipriano, Johnny Heller, Jonathan Tilley, Lori Alan, Scott Brick, Anne Ganguzza, and David Rosenthal.

There are sessions about audio books, business and marketing, gaming and animation, narration and eLearning, performance and improvisation, and promo & imaging. There are also workshops (labeled as X-sessions), as well as a Spanish, and a youth program. You can see the full program on the conference website.

ETHICS PANEL

On Saturday, March 11th at 7:30 pm, I’ll be on a panel led by J. Michael Collins, discussing Ethics for Voice Actors and Demo Producers. Speakers are Rob Sciglimpaglia and Cliff Zellman, and the other panelists are Dave Courvoisier and Bev Standing. If you’re a subscriber to this blog, you know that I have written extensively about some of the moral guidelines voice talent and clients should live by, and I can’t wait to hear what others have to say.

Now, I didn’t want to come to Atlanta just to be on a panel, so you’ll be able to track me down from day one. The welcome reception starts Thursday 3/9 at 5:00 pm, and I really look forward to meeting you in person! I have only one request:

Gentlemen: please use deodorant, and ladies: leave your bottle of Curve Crush at home, and we’ll survive the crowds together. 

See you in Atlanta!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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