Journey to the Center of VO
Updated: May 29, 2022
This week I’d like to reflect a little on my entry into this industry during the pandemic, and what that meant for me in terms of any and all *deep inhale* pay-to-play websites.
First, a little background; after spending a majority of my grade school education training as an actress, I decided to start to focus my investments, time, and training specifically toward voice-over during the pandemic. This decision came in the midst of adjusting to a brand new career in lighting design and, shortly afterward, moving and acclimating to a brand new city (solo)! When could have possibly been a better time to start my own business?
I’ll rewind a little bit back to a very hyper and still Twilight-obsessed Aria. Voice-over made its way into my vocabulary when I was a sophomore in high school. I was introduced by a talented, life-changing figure in my life, Diane Wagner, whose book will enthrall you and whose Instagram you should absolutely follow @diangewagnerauthor.
From that introduction, I embarked on a ten-year-long U-turn, and, shortly after a thorough re-read and re-watch of the entire Twilight Saga (I’m sensing a trend here), arrived at destination Professional Voice Over Artist.
I took a few pit stops during the re-route and dabbled in some promotional work for my local church during college. I later dove full force my senior year by taking the hidden gem of Syracuse University courses, “The Art of the Voice Over,” taught by the experienced and gifted Tina Perkins of Perkolator Productions. This kicked off my literacy in the VO world (I promise, I’ll get to pay-to-plays) and sparked my relationship with producer, actress, director, audio extraordinaire, and best friend, Lizzie Goldsmith.
From these experiences, I walked away with solid foundational knowledge of all things VO, and shortly go on to punch through the entertainment industry crater as a young professional.
A few weeks in, I was scratching my head at the advent of the online Facebook VO community. I was amazed at the diversity and range of talent in addition to the topics discussed, of which, the most heated typically centered around pay-to-plays. In fact, these discussions have become so taboo, that the sheer mention of pay-to-plays can get you banished from the Facebook-verse.
It’s impossible for the VO industry to agree on the role of this new digital marketplace; many established talent have expressed severe distrust and dislike of these services for several reasons. For example, the very concept of “pay-to-play” is commonly berated since to some perspectives, it opens the industry floodgates to the layman who’s been told they have “a great voice, and should get into voice over - it’s easy!”
Another hot debate surrounds escrow service; a few websites charge an arm and a leg, (and your right eyeball for good measure) in exchange for being the “middle man.” Other companies may not offer this service, and it’s the Wild Wild West of contract and fee negotiations.
As a beginner, I found myself mousing to the Fivers of the world, becoming immediately overwhelmed with the vast and endless offerings of services from talent, not to mention the (horribly) low rates.
What’s disheartening is that there is competition for these low-paying jobs; dozens of talent will persist to compete for the sake of portfolio material and to have a piece of the pie in the numbers game.
I admit; as a beginner with not a whole lot of work to display, it’s tempting! As I looked at those kinds of jobs and passed them over, I found myself biting my nails, anxiously wondering if I was missing an opportunity or an important relationship. Many experienced talent, however, will make the argument that the low-paying jobs are offered by the kind of clients you really don’t want to work with in the long run, which has been a sound piece of advice I’ve clung to.
*If you too are a fellow beginner, I’m taking this intermittent sentence to direct you to the GVAA Rate Guide, as I have been directed, for a rock-solid reference on what to charge your clients.*
I later explored sites like Voice123, Voices, and Bodalgo, which seemed like a step up, but immediately felt lost looking at the extremely established talent raking in repeat clients and private invite top-shelf auditions.
Months later, I strived to have a healthy blend of irons in the fire, including agent-provided auditions, direct email marketing, social media outreach, and tapped into connections within my own network. I eventually bit the bullet and stoked the flame with one premium pay-to-play subscription.
I’ll be real; the experience so far has been ~interesting.~ It’s tough as new talent to hop on these kinds of websites without your first paying gigs, and subsequently, reliable testimonials. Without these elements, you’re basically riding on your demo (which should be professionally produced) and a prayer.
You have the opportunity to stand out in your overall professionalism, training, demo, bio, and proposals, but from my experience, it takes time, patience, and a lot of losses to study and understand the technique that yields best results. There are also countless strategies to develop with regard to timing, frequency, and selection within the audition phase.
I found that I like to audition as soon as possible (before the talent pool fills to over 60, 70, 80, 90 plus auditions). I made it a goal to prioritize jobs I strongly suited the specification for. I submitted as much I could without passing up quality and overwhelming my vocal cords, not to mention my brain!
Eventually, I started making the shortlist for a couple of nice jobs! While I may have felt overjoyed at the moment, the feeling of being shortlisted for a job that’s never marked as “complete,” or, where there’s no other contact with the client, can be a tad deflating. I’ve easily been catapulted into bouts of anxiety over time management and the fear of pigeon-holing myself. As a result, I started to monitor how I segmented my time between auditioning for pay-to-play listings, other opportunities outside of pay-to-plays, marketing, networking, and oh yeah, my other full-time job.
If you’ve made it this far through the wallowing, congratulations!
So, what are some of the benefits of using a pay-to-play?
For me, the accessibility and momentum. I loved being able to dive in and start auditioning when my pro commercial demo was ready to go. I was happy to make the investment, and I’ve capitalized on the opportunity to seriously up my audition and proposal game by the sheer amount of practice and number of available auditions. I was also able to observe other talent, how they operate on these types of platforms, and where most of the clients flock too.
The moral of the story (for me, at least) became to not overwhelm myself with signing up for every single P2P website. There are multitudes of other marketing strategies to obtain auditions and jobs, no matter how high paying and plentiful the listings may be via these platforms.
I used the opportunities on my chosen P2P as methods to strengthen my audition quality and technique, as well as to experience a growing virtual marketplace that will continue to influence each new generation of VOAs. Much like the presence of AI in our industry - oh yeah, I did just open that can of worms at the end of this blog - P2P is here to stay. In my opinion, it’s up to talent to strategize and shape our businesses to best adapt to this constantly shifting industry.
That’s all for this round folks, catch ya next week! Go get ‘em out there!