The Great Desperation

Dear friends,

In the midst of the devastating Corona crisis, it is time to have a party!

Let’s all go to Casa Ciccarelli in Canada, hang up some garlands, bring out our silly hats, and throw some confetti because…

Voices dot com has reached One Billion Registered Users!

Apologies…. make that One Million users*.

The news sounds just as pathetic as the McDonald’s sign saying “billions and billions served.” It still means they’re selling indigestion and obesity on a plastic plate. Just on a grander scale.

According to VDC, the top 5 countries with the most users are… (drumroll please):

The USA, Canada, India, the United Kingdom, and the Philippines.

Call me cynical, but could this meteoric rise in numbers have anything to do with the effects of the current pandemic? You know, the sheer number of people out of a job. The poor impressionables who are suddenly forced to work from home and have no idea what to do with themselves?

“Oh wait, when all else fails, I could always become… a voice over! Let’s find that Snowball microphone that is gathering dust.”

Is VDC cashing in on a global crisis?

Or is that a dark thought coming from a notorious VDC critic? Let’s ask David Ciccarelli, CEO and co-founder of Voices.com. He said the following in a press release:

These times are challenging and Voices.com is a solution for many of our customers in their time of need,”  (…) Aspiring voice talent have been registering in record numbers, and, not surprisingly, professional voice talent who have invested in remote recording studio technologies are benefiting from the increase in demand.”

Do you want to know what I think?

VDC is one of the least transparent voice over service providers on the planet, and is one of the best at putting itself at the top of search engines. I take whatever they tout with a huge grain of Himalayan salt. This includes any numbers they provide because they cannot be independently verified.

Secondly, have you noticed a sudden “increase in demand” for voice overs?

THE COLLAPSING MARKET

Has your local car dealership called for a commercial lately? Or Holiday Hair?

How about the tourism and hospitality industry?

Did you get a call to do any airline adverts, or promote any theme parks or live events recently?

I didn’t think so.

Businesses and service providers can’t advertise themselves out of a pandemic-induced recession. What we need at this time is tests and vaccines and people staying away from people. Not more ads for things we can’t afford because that Trump-signed $1200 check doesn’t really cut it.

The media and entertainment industry is being hit hard, and with it, the (voice) actors. The production of motion pictures and TV shows has come to a standstill. Theaters and cinemas are closed. Meanwhile companies like Netflix are signing up subscribers by the millions, stealing viewers from network television that runs on advertising.

Huge sports events like the Olympics have been postponed or cancelled. Did you know that NBC had already booked more than $1 billion in national advertising commitments for the Games in Tokyo?

You may say that analysts have not detected a drop in ad spending during the first quarter of 2020, and you would be right. That’s because most advertisers made reservations for that ad time last summer during the so-called upfront market, when the bulk of TV commercial time is sold.

This means that the real sh*t hasn’t even hit the fan yet.

CANADA TO THE RESCUE?

But thank goodness we have voices dot com. They’re always there for us, fighting hard to keep the dream of aspiring voice actors alive with wonderful projects thousands will audition for (and never get), a dollar- a-holler.

I mean, it makes complete sense that if you want to start a new career, you don’t invest in any training, you get crap recording equipment you use in an untreated space, and you expect to stand out among hundreds of thousands of other users doing the same thing on the same platform! Aren’t you a smart cookie!

And, should you be one of those lucky companies that hasn’t slashed the marketing and advertising budget yet, wouldn’t you just love to have to weed through hundreds and hundreds of substandard online auditions, hoping to find one low-bidding amateur needle in an amateur haystack?

SPOKEN BOOKS

But Paul, what about audio books? Audio books are in the midsts of a boom. Deloitte predicted that the global market will grow by 25 per cent in 2020 to $3.5 billion (USD). That’s where the amazing opportunities are!

Well, you may have a point, but let’s look at who narrates the spoken books that actually make money. Publishers aren’t born yesterday. They know who to hire.

According to the BBC, Penguin released  thirty of their classics in audiobook format, narrated by well-known names including Andrew Scott reading The Dubliners and Natalie Dormer voicing A Room of One’s Own.

Meanwhile, Audible has had Rosamund Pike reading Pride and Prejudice and Thandie Newton narrating Jane Eyre. A huge seller for them has been Stephen Fry’s 72-hour-long reading of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Collection.

So, if you happen to be an audio book publisher, who would you rather hire? Benedict Cumberbatch, or some unknown voice over person with a free profile on VDC? Since most stage and on-screen actors are twiddling their thumbs at the moment, you might be able to get an A-lister for cheap.

By the way, if you’re new to voice overs, please realize that narrating audio books is one of the most challenging things you could ever do in this business. Your beginner voice won’t have the stamina to read for hours on end,  and you won’t have the acting chops to portray the many different characters in the novel you want to audition for. You have no clue how to self-direct, and your cheap microphone records every loud breath, sharp S, mouth click, and popping plosive, as well as a generous amount of self-noise. And did I tell you about the endless editing?

DISTANCE LEARNING

Then there’s eLearning. For some reason medical narration seems to be very much in-demand at the moment. Yippie! Let me  give you a taste of what that entails. Here’s a snippet from a script I got to voice for a pharmaceutical giant, recently:

“Physicians look for complications of cirrhosis including presence of peripheral edema, splenomegaly, ascites, and encephalopathy. Physicians also look for rare complications such as cyanosis (due to hepatopulmonary syndrome) or evidence of pulmonary hypertension (portopulmonary hypertension).”

And this is by no means the most challenging medical script I ever had to narrate. As one of the new VDC recruits, do you think you’re totally ready for this type of project? I know that’s what VDC wants you to believe. If you have a voice, a pulse, and a credit card, they’re happy to welcome you to the club!

I agree that times are tough, and when people are desperate, they become an easy target for those offering them what seems to be an easy way out. You may call those who pray on desperate people opportunists, givers of false hope, con artists even.

I hate to break it to you, but you don’t become a best-selling author overnight, you don’t make a fortune selling stock photos shot with your iPhone, or become a millionaire doing make-up tutorials on YouTube. I’ve tried two out of three, and I still don’t have that red Maserati in my driveway. Frankly, I don’t know any voice actor who has. 

BURSTING A BUBBLE

I’m not telling you this because you don’t deserve to dream. I’m telling you this because I don’t want you to get your hopes up and be taken advantage of. I’m also telling you this because I want you to be well-prepared when you do decide to go for it. Who am I to stop you?

As in any profession, you can’t buy yourself a career in voice overs. You’ve got to earn it first, before reaping the rewards. Those rewards, by the way, are going down as professional voices are becoming more of a commodity due to the increased number of people signing up for services like VDC. It’s a buyers market.

Jobs that used to pay $2500 are now going for $250 or less, because people who don’t know any better believe it’s good money. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, right? At the end of the day, talking into a microphone is better and safer than slaving in some Amazon warehouse just so Jeff Bezos can buy another mansion.

But before you fork over $399 for a premium membership, or $2,999 for a platinum membership (so you can get priority ranking in the Voices.com directory search results), think about what one of my colleagues just said after I posted the following picture on Instagram:

He told me:

“I am sinking as is. Why turn over $400 a year, PAYING to get rejected?”

Perhaps you think the owners of VDC deserve to be congratulated on their success. They were once the toast of the town. Now they’re no longer welcome at voice over conferences because of their well-documented unethical business practices.

You can choose to be a part of those practices and enable their growth if you like. After all, you can do great work for a bad business.

Or you can save yourself some money, and invest it in building your own freelance business with integrity.

It doesn’t even have to be a voice over business.

It’s your life.

It’s your party.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

* According to VDC it has 1 million business and voice actor registered users.

 

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About the author

Paul Strikwerda

is a Dutch-English voice-over pro, coach, and writer. His blog is one of the most widely read and influential blogs in the industry. Paul is also the author of "Making Money In Your PJs, Freelancing for voice-overs and other solopreneurs."

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Freelancing, International, Internet, Pay-to-Play

12 Responses to The Great Desperation

  1. Steven Lowell

    Hey Paul!

    Long time no speak. Although it has been 4 years since I worked for a casting service or voiceover website, I have been working in a business where I do one main thing:

    – Help people get work –

    I still watch and keep up with the voiceover industry. Now, what VDC is doing is really not new. Back in 2008 & 2009, voice casting websites like VDC and V123 got a huge boost due to Clear Channel layoffs leaving many radio types looking for new work.

    So, essentially, they are reacting to the market trend. People out of work are looking for work and VDC is responding.

    While this may seem unethical, it is more of a survival move. Even if VDC gets a boost in sales, where will they be a year from now when these people looking for a new income source realize they made a mistake because of that little issue of hiring freezes. Even the business I am in now, I had to take a break and lay myself off. Why? Hiring freezes: The other market trend. I cant help people get work if no one is hiring. You have to be making money to pay people. (VDC included)

    Finally, I have heard that people in voiceovers have been making money mainly through public service announcements quickly thrown together through using old footage. But again, it is one type of work. And how many people are going after it now?

    This whole thing is going to leave lots of companies and people reorganizing, innovating, or fighting to stay alive, so for now, I just watch and pay attention.

    Everyone on here that started working from home years ago is certainly in a better place than those just figuring it out.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    There are many things that I find unethical about VDC, one being taking people’s money convincing them they stand a chance having a career as a VO without any upfront assessment of talent. It’s taking advantage of people’s desperation and naiveté. VDC is a predatory company, and I haven’t got a grain of sympathy for the people running this business.

    [Reply]

  2. Bonnie

    Thank you for this!! I started out on that site several yrs ago. I did hundreds upon hundreds of auditions, and never got a job. After a year and a half, I got smart and quit! Right after that, the jobs from reputable sources started coming in!!
    It takes training, time, hard work and tenacity to become a VO artist! It’s not a “get rich quick” gig!

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Absolutely, Bonnie. I won’t tell “I told you so,” but I could!

    [Reply]

  3. Paul Payton

    “Glomerulonephritis”? No problem! I used to read package inserts for a major pharma company. I break down the big words and make it work. Still, I recall a doctor who was present at one of the sessions who said: “I just call it [acronym or initials]. I can’t pronounce the full names.” OK, I can – but I don’t know when to prescribe it!

    All of that proves the point you make, Paul: it’s better when the professionals do it, people who know their field. For example, for whatever one’s next medical crisis is, are you going to call a physician or a politician?!? (We’re seeing how well the latter is working out…!)

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    I know whom to call, and it’s not going to be a politician!

    [Reply]

  4. Tim Bick

    Absolutely, And as usual they are lying about the numbers. Just checked on their site by browsing each age category, and there they claim a total of 163,000 voice actors. But even that isn’t the truth, since their count is actually of every demo posted on people’s profiles, so divide that number by, oooh I don’t know, ten? Or perhaps more. 16,000 voiceovers then. Not a million, or even within a million miles of a million.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    It’s all smoke, mirrors, and a lot of hot air.

    [Reply]

  5. Debby Barnes

    BAM! ZAP! POW! POP! Spot-on “Batman”. Your truths packs a punch.

    [Reply]

  6. Joshua Alexander

    Great observations as usual, Mr. Paul! Although I think I have the medical script beat. Here’s what I just auditioned – and NOT on VDC (phew!) just FYI:

    “Renal toxicity, including potentially fatal glomerulonephritis, has been observed after administration of some antisense oligonucleotides. SPINRAZA is present in and excreted by the kidney. In the sham-controlled studies for patients with infantile-onset and later-onset SMA, 71 of 123 SPINRAZA-treated patients (58%) had elevated urine protein, compared to 22 of 65 sham-controlled patients (34%).”

    YOWZAH! It took me five minutes just to get glomerulonephritis right!

    [Reply]

  7. Catherine Campion

    ¡Amén!

    [Reply]

  8. Boet Schouwink

    Okay, so I figured…HA! I can do that medical with my eyes closed!! ….Not.

    Here’s the good read (I hope):
    https://www.dropbox.com/s/5uh5578fiiq8st0/PAUL%20S-Impossible%20Medical-The%20Good.mp3?dl=0

    And what I had to cut out to get there:
    https://www.dropbox.com/s/4p2xj718ymezjob/PAUL%20S-Impossible%20Medical-The%20Bad.mp3?dl=0

    [Reply]

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