Pay-to-Play

What Pay-to-Plays don’t want you to know

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play 19 Comments

Imagine an international marketplace where buyers meet suppliers.

This business environment offers the broadest and most colorful selection of products from all over the globe. A fast and furious bidding process determines which supplier will sell to which buyer at what price.

Can you guess the name of this marketplace? Could it be eBay? Voices.com? Voice123, perhaps?

TEAMWORK

Let me tell you what’s unique about this particular auction environment.

Read the rest of this story in my new book. Click on the cover to access the website and get a sneak peek. Use the buttons to buy the book.

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Should amateurs be ousted from voice-over sites?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Internet, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play 19 Comments

Which orchestra was voted the best symphony orchestra in the world?

Eminent music critics asked themselves that same question at the end of 2008. They narrowed the list down to twenty. A year later, the renowned British music magazine “the Gramophone” published the results.

The famous Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra ended up in second place, but who came first? The New York Philharmonic? The Wiener Philharmoniker? The Chicago Symphony?

AN EARFUL

I just spent a few hours on-line listening to YOU… my colleagues, my competition, my inspiration. It was both frightening and enlightening. As I was clicking away part of my day, I was amazed by a number of things, going from Pay-to-Play to Pay-to-Play. This is what I found:

1. Anyone can sign up for a voice-over site these days, on three conditions:

a. you have to have a voice
b. you have to have a credit card
c. you have to have a computer and a microphone

2. Fifty percent of the advertised ‘talent’ can’t interpret a simple script;

3. The same people don’t seem to know the first thing about recording either;

4. Amateurs who put themselves out there as voice-over pros, have a lot of guts, coupled with a deadly mix of unrealistic expectations, a lack of experience and the funds to invest in a pipe dream;

5. As I wrote in another article, foreign voices are often not as advertised. We still have Flemish speakers posing as Dutch talents, German speakers who are really from Austria, and Australians pretending to be Americans. Whatever happened to quality control?

6. Don LaFontaine is still very much alive, but he goes by many different names these days. Or is just every other American male voice-over talent riding on his coattails as they are trying to emulate the master?

PAYING THE PRICE

I must say that I don’t envy the voice-seekers who have to sift through over one hundred auditions to find the perfect voice for their low- or no-budget project.

Then again: they asked for it, so we shouldn’t feel too sorry for them. It’s the price you pay when you’re asking every Tom, Dick or Harry to tape a custom demo for that cheap frying pan you’re trying to sell on late-night cable television. You often get what you pay for… frying pan, voice-over talent, it doesn’t make a difference.

What do I make of all this, you may ask? Well, here’s what I think.

Having a microphone, a MasterCard, a laptop and a fantasy doesn’t mean one should be allowed to join a professional site, no questions asked. We have websites for amateur dog breeders, amateur sports people, amateur musicians… why not design a site dedicated to amateur voice-over artists? I bet you’ll make a lot of money in the Odesk-market segment. It could be a kind of Bargain-Bodalgo.

Don’t get me wrong. Hobbies are wonderful things. My neighbor takes great pictures, but he wouldn’t dare to advertise himself as a professional photographer, nor should he. National Geographic would immediately show him the door.

A friend of mine is not a bad trumpet player, but if he were to audition for a real job in the music industry, he would never make the first cut (and he knows it). Apparently, those stringent standards don’t seem to be in place in certain segments of the voice-over industry. Why not?

THE PROBLEM BEHIND THE PROBLEM

As long as some sites make most of their money through subscriptions, more members means more money. It’s a business model, not a charity. It’s a model that essentially values quantity over quality. The only way to go, is to grow.

Let’s be honest. The voice-over market is pretty much saturated at this moment. You don’t need a degree in economics to realize that a greater supply in a weakened market can only mean one thing: tumbling prices.

The best way to speed this process up, is to have suppliers engage in a furious bidding war. Darwin would have named it: “Survival of the Cheapest”. Isn’t that exactly what is happening? And if you don’t believe me, why is it so hard to buy products that are not “made in China”? Before we know it, all of us will be replaced by IVONA speech synthesis technology. It’s almost as good as the real thing and I bet it’s a lot cheaper.

NO CURE NO P(L)AY

If it were up to me, I’d rather have a performance-based No Cure No Pay-system in place. Out with the premium, platinum and titanium memberships. From now on, voice-over sites should get paid when I get paid. And the only way I get paid, is when voice-over sites do their job and connect me to reputable voice-seekers that are ready to pay reasonable rates.

Perhaps that will make the Pay-to-Play’s more accountable and selective in terms of whom they’re willing to represent. Perhaps that’s the way to separate the wheat from the chaff. Let the dabblers do their thing. As long as they stay in their own league and stop messing with my market.

PROFESSIONAL STANDARDS

Secondly, I’d like to see these websites publish and uphold certain professional standards. Accreditation comes from the word ‘credo’, which means “I believe“. Although related, ‘credo’ is not the same as ‘credit’.

Our belief in someone’s talent should be based on professional principles, instead of on the spending limit on their credit card. So, let me ask you this:

1.In your experience, are you aware of any professional standards that are promoted and actively upheld by Pay-to-Play sites?

2. If the answer is “yes”, are you happy with these standards, and are they well-advertised and implemented?

3. If the answer to the 1st question is “no”, do you think that voice-over sites should adopt, publish, promote and maintain certain standards?

4. Should talents be denied membership, if they don’t meet certain basic criteria of professionalism?

5. Would it make sense to create a special category for amateur voice actors, or even a dedicated website? Or do dilettantes have no business being in our business?

6. What’s the best and most fair way to compensate P2P’s for their services? A subscription fee? A percentage of  what you’re making for a particular job?  A combination of both?

AND THE WINNER IS…

One question remains.  For that, we return to the quest for the best symphony orchestra in the world. The votes have been counted. The sealed envelope is opened as the audience collectively holds their breath. And the winner is….

The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra from Amsterdam

Why? Because their standards are higher. After a grueling audition process, the Concertgebouw only hires the cream of the crop; well-trained people playing the very best instruments. No amateur fiddlers. The Gramophone’s editor James Inverne, put it this way:

“It is hardly possible any more to recognize particular orchestras by their individual sound. I think that with some orchestras, and the Berlin Philharmonic amongst them, that’s a bit of a worry. Whereas with the Concertgebouw you always know it’s the Concertgebouw. And I think that’s what has given them the edge amongst our critics.

Maybe it’s occasionally very slightly rougher than what the Berliner Philharmonic can produce, but it doesn’t matter, because they’re like a great actor bringing their own charisma and their own personality to every work, and always giving you the sense of the spirit of the work.”

Now, that’s what I call music to my ears! I’ll gladly pay to hear them play any day!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

My next blog is a little more lighthearted, and I’ve invited Steve Martin, Peter Cook and Cyril Ritchard to add some  fun to the pirate party!

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A Tempest in a Teapot?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Internet, Pay-to-Play 5 Comments

Ontario’s London Free Press called them “voice-over matchmakers”.

Back in 2003, David and Stephanie Ciccarelli created Voices.com out of their condo. At the time this blog was published in 2009, they had eight full-time staff and four computer developers on contract. David estimated about $11 million of business goes through the site annually.

If you’ve ever used their services, you know that Voices.com makes money from your subscription fees and from an optional 10% SurePay escrow fee on top of whatever the talent’s fee is, paid by the voice-seeker. According to the site:

“this Escrow fee is kept by Voices.com to cover the charges that we incur from holding the deposit for a period of time in a secure third party account”.

Stephanie Ciccarelli summarized my unease regarding audition submissions as follows:

“You’ve noted that many people are concerned to see that some of the past jobs they’ve auditioned for months ago have not yet progressed to awarding a talent, leaving them to wonder if a client is merely window-shopping or kicking tires, possibly also wondering if auditioning online is a waste of time.”

“According to a snapshot of statistics from the last four months (April 2009 through July 2009) tracking the completion rate of jobs posted at Voices.com, we can confirm that at any given stage, half of the open jobs are still being reviewed by their client and the other half are completed (that means a talent has been chosen), with over 2/3 of those completed jobs being verified and processed via SurePay.

Although this information is reassuring, we are aware that there is still room to improve and to grow.”

Stephanie cites a number of reasons as to why it appears that many voice-seekers on her site never seem to select a candidate. Allow me to paraphrase:

  1. Some clients, regardless of their deadlines for finding talent, may not have a pressing need to have their voice over recorded instantly. In other words: they file away the auditions until they are ready to hire. Sometimes this could take many months, but eventually, someone gets the job.
  2. Some clients use sites like voices.com, to find talent and they prefer to work with them off-site, leaving their job in an “Open” status (see the story of the Taylor family in my last blog). This explains why there are fewer “completed” jobs than there truly are.
  3. Some voice talents and/or voice seekers don’t want to use the SurePay system. If that’s the case, the job won’t be registered as completed.

VOICE-SEEKERS’ PERSPECTIVE

So far we’ve heard the story from the perspective of a voice talent and from representatives of several pay-to-play sites. Be sure to check out Voice123 Steven Lowell’s comments on my previous blog. What do voice-seekers make of all this?

A former casting director for a nationally known ad agency gave me permission to share his (or her) thoughts as long as he/she would remain anonymous.

“Agencies will do a lot of casting for projects they “hope” will become a client. They will hold auditions and actors will hold their breath (after creatives fawn all over them), expect a hold or booking….alas: no call! Of course it happens that another is booked, but it does also happen that no one is booked as the agency did not get the account or budget was cut.

It also happens that an audition is used as a demo in pitch for the account and the performer never knows about it. Top brass may not even know this practice is going on at his or her agency. The Head of production is calling the shots without others in chain of command knowing anything about you (performer) being screwed. You may have been instrumental in getting an account. When time came to cast for account, you may be forgotten for a more high profile talent.

I protested this practice (to the shock of the production chief), but it was an uphill battle to have any effect on this practice I did make some headway. In short: we don’t have many options in regard to this practice. Many agencies or agents don’t participate in this practice, but it does happen.”

ISSUE RESOLVED?

There you have it. Were these answers satisfying to you? Were my initial concerns justified or were they a tempest in a teapot? Do you feel that the major pay-to-play sites offer enough accountability and transparency? Even though they’re not our personal agents, we are paying them to provide a service, so we should have some say in how our money is spent. What suggestions do you have regarding this issue?

Please keep in mind that I am looking for constructive ideas. It’s always easy to blame someone or something else for our own lack of success. However, there are so many things we can do to increase our chances of being spotted and hired. We should never completely rely on these sites to bring in all the work.

As you have noticed, sites like voice123, voplanet and voices.com seem to be listening to us, and they don’t shy away from controversial topics. They are following up with job seekers, and they too have to work with ad agencies that are only using their service to test the waters.

And finally: as every matchmaker knows, no matter how carefully you select two interested parties, not every match ends in matrimony!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Since this article was published, many things have changed. I advise my readers to stay away from voices dot com because of highly unethical business practices.

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Are your auditions sucked into a black hole?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Internet, Pay-to-Play 10 Comments

John was a realtor.

The past couple of years had been the toughest ever.

Plenty of prospects; very few buyers. John had to work twice as hard and twice as long to woo aspiring home owners.

One day, his boss called him into the office and by the look on his face, he was not a happy camper. “John,” he said, “Do you have any idea how many leads you lost in the past three months?” “Well, maybe a few here and there,” said John. “I don’t really keep track.”

“What?” answered his boss angrily, “Are you telling me that you’ve spent hours researching homes and showing your clients house after house, and you have no clue how many sales opportunities you missed? Are you serious? How about the Taylors? They seemed ready to buy and they bailed out at the last moment. What went wrong?”

“Oh, I remember them” said John. “They backed out because they said the escrow fee was too high.” “That might be true” said his boss, “but do you want to know what really happened? After you had put in all your time and found them the perfect house, they walked out of our office and contacted the sellers directly. Two days later, the property was sold.”

JUST AN ANALOGY?

Of course I made this entire story up, and yet this scenario happens in voiceoverland each and every day. If you’ve taken a good look at your audition submissions of the past couple of months, doesn’t it seem like a majority has disappeared into a gigantic black hole?

As I mentioned in my first blog about this topic: most of my submissions didn’t result in an actual booking, not because the job was awarded to another talent, but because the voice-shopper never became a buyer. How did I know? Because months after the deadline for a project had past, still no talent had been selected for the job.

It turns out that I’m not alone. Many of you have vented your frustration and are demanding an explanation. That’s why I brought the matter up with three pay-to-play sites. I specifically asked them about their “conversion rate.” That’s the term marketing professionals use when a prospective consumer takes the intended action. I particularly wanted to know the percentage of voice-seekers who had become voice-buyers.

THE INDUSTRY RESPONDS

Mike Gomez works for www.voice123.com. His initial response was:

“We have around 4,000 active Premium subscribers on the site and these are the stats we keep regarding hirings:

50% – book at least 1 a month

30% – book between 1 & 5 a month

20% – book more than 5 a month”

That didn’t tell me anything about the percentage of job offers that actually lead to bookings. So, I tried again and Mike sent me the following reply:

“(…) those are the numbers we have, since we don’t control who gets hired, why and when but only seekers do, we currently have no accurate way to account for this.  Although we do know most jobs are granted on the site because we see talents are renewing constantly since our sales have been growing constantly through the months and the only way talents have money to renew is if they get work.”

Let’s do the math here. 4000 Premium subscribers times $299.00 (the voice123 annual subscription fee). That’s one million, one hundred ninety six thousand dollars. Yet, they have no “accurate way to account for who gets hired.”

There’s no doubt in my mind that voice123 has earned its spot in the market place. But the fact that people continue to renew their membership doesn’t tell me a whole lot about the effectiveness of the service voice123 provides. One does not measure the success of a temp agency by the number of job seekers in the database, but by the number of real jobs these people find through the agency.

WHAT VOPLANET ARE YOU FROM?

Donna Summers is the president of VoiceCasting and partner at www.voplanet.com. This is what she told me about her companies’ conversion rate:

“Because we deal with large production companies and ad agencies for the most part, virtually all the auditions we do are for actual jobs.  It is rare that an ad agency would take the time, effort and money it takes to put together an ad campaign, hire a copyrighter to write the script, get as far as voicing it and then completely dump it.

If one of our talents gets the job, we are of course, thrilled.  If the client books elsewhere, we do call and thank the client for the opportunity and ask who booked the job.  In answering your question, Paul, I would have to say that 100% with a little margin for error would be the number of auditions that actually become jobs.”

VERIFICATION

As a former journalist, I have to add that there is no independent way of verifying these statements, especially because both companies don’t seem to have a conversion monitoring mechanism in place. There actually is software to keep track of these things. QVC uses it and so does Amazon.com. In fact, most e-commerce site tracks their transactions at least on a daily basis.

So, how would you evaluate whether or not your investment in a particular pay-to-play site is worthwhile? Without a clear conversion rate, you can only base your decision on:

  • Previous personal experience
  • Anecdotal evidence
  • Testimonials & recommendations
  • The reputation of the company
  • Trust and gut feeling
  • The size of your wallet

 

SLICING THE BREAD

The Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza once said:

“Life is like bread – no matter how thin you slice it, there are always two sides.

In my next installment, you can read the response of the www.voices.com team, as well as the revelations of an “Ad man.”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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