Well, here we are in the dead space between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Since not may people are paying attention this is probably a good time to talk about something pretty controversial: Pay to Play (P2P) casting sites! Fun, right? (and maybe a little sneaky too).
Where do I find work?
If you are relatively new to the voice over world you may be wondering: How do I find work? A great question to be sure! What was the point of buying all that gear and getting all the great training and coaching if you now aren’t working because you just don’t know where to find the work? Odds are you don’t yet have a big-name talent agent out of NYC and LA, and unless your family owns a production studio or are already knee deep in the entertainment industry you are probably looking around at a pretty barren landscape of work right now. Don’t fret, this scenario is pretty common for almost everyone just getting started.
But you don’t have to be just getting started to find yourself staring blankly at your DAW wondering how in the word you are ever going to find someone to hire you. Even if you’ve been at this for a good long time there are going to be “down times” where it seems you just don’t have any prospects.
Competition, OH MY!
This is a very competitive line of work (even though the vast majority of voice artists are not so competitive in that they are willing to help you achieve success – it’s a bit of a dichotomy really). What I mean is that while there are certainly 10’s of thousands of voice over jobs available each day, there are 100’s of thousands of voice actors all trying to book them. Your voice and capability must be competitive in the market or you are probably going to need a “day job” to put food on the table. On top of having skills to compete in the market, you really need to be able to successfully market yourself.
There are some long-time industry experts who will tell you that the only way to really find consistent work in voice over is to direct market yourself to clients. And while I agree that this is the BEST way to get good, consistent, work, it is not the only way.
You Gotta use everything you have…
In the voice over industry you need to have many arrows in your quiver, or you are going to struggle for a very long time. Directly marketing yourself and signing with an agent are two of the bigger sources of work, but there are plenty more. Networking, advertising, having a professional website are just a few of the ways to get your name (and voice) out there.
There are actually innumerable ways to find work in this industry. Yes, you can work to land yourself a talent agent, and I definitely recommend doing that, but casting agents want talent that has proven themselves able to book work, since they don’t get paid unless you get paid, and if you don’t already have SOME sort of portfolio of paid work to show them, your chances are not good. Honestly almost ALL of the best strategies to find work are going to require you to already HAVE a body of work completed, along with professionally produced demo reels, in order to land those elusive gigs. It’s the age old “Chicken and egg” conundrum. The one place you really don’t need to have examples of work you have already completed is online casting sites.
Now, to be sure online casting sites, or Pay to Play AKA P2P sites are not the place you are going to find work that will sustain you long term in the industry. You are not likely (or as likely) to find the high paying national television commercials you really want there, and as a matter of fact you are not very likely to find work that is paying “standard” rates as established by the unions or as advertised at the Global Voice Artist Academy (GVAA). But you are likely to find SOME work there, and there are both good and bad casting sites.
What makes one site good and another bad?
Well, there are a couple defining features. The first and most obvious one is good casting sites vet their talent. Now, like the saying “All dogs are animals, but not all animals are dogs” I could say All casting sites that vet talent are good, but not all good sites vet talent. But if you have to apply with an audition to be accepted on a casting sites roster, you can feel pretty confident they are a good site. A couple sites that come to mind are voiceovers.com and Bodalgo. These two sites provide an audition script and review your submissions to be sure not only that you have the performance chops, but also can provide good quality audio. There are more sites that vet talent, but these two are the ones that come to mind. Both of these sites also work hard to ensure their clients are offering competitive rates to their voice actors.
Speaking of rates, this in itself is another defining feature for a good casting site. It can be a little difficult to ferret out, but if, for example, you see the same gig offered on multiple sites at different rates, then the ones with the lower rates are somewhat suspect. One big problem with some sites are the rates the charge clients for posting versus the rates they offer talent. If you notice the same job posted to multiple sites and one (or more) are offering the talent much lower rates, what may be happening is the client is offering, say, $500 for the work and the site is offering $100. In this instance the site is keeping (skimming) $400 for that work in addition to whatever they are charging producers for being able to list the job on their site.
Hey, they gotta eat too!
Now I don’t begrudge the fees charged by these sites for producers and talent to be able to use the site. I mean, we are ALL in this to try and earn a living, and it does cost something to host and maintain a website. On top of that they need to pay employees AND take home a profit to fee their families. The fee for participation is not the issue; it is that the fees are not transparent, so the voice talent cannot determine if the client is offering a much higher rate than what the site shows as the payment to the talent for the job. Honestly, MOST sites are not this transparent. The only site I am aware of that reveals both the client budget and voice actor payment is voices.com who reveals to the voice actor the budget and how much of that budget is fee for the site. They MAY also be charging the client a fee for the privilege of posting the job for auditions, but I can’t find that information.
Watch out for Bargain Basement sites…
There are also some “bargain basement” casting sites like Fiverr that are well known for low rates. I get it that some people just don’t have a large budget for voice work, but Fiverr (and others) are pretty well known as the “Dollar General” of professional services. And like Dollar General, the majority of talent on this particular site are relatively untrained and have a poor recording space. Most of the time you get what you pay for, so I recommend you steer clear of sites like Fiverr as a voice talent.
For the sites that are reputable, you are going to have to pay a monthly or annual fee to be allowed to audition for work. Fees vary by site, so make sure you understand the fee structure before signing up. Sites like voice123 offer a tiered membership plan, where the more you pay the more often and earlier you see available jobs. As you can guess, the more you pay for a membership the more likely you are to see and be able to audition for the more lucrative jobs. And the fewer people you will be competing against for that work. You have to decide which tier is right for you, but make sure you are able to at LEAST break even at the end of the year. Of course, breaking even is not the goal: You want to be earning far more with a site than it costs to be a member. Keep that in mind!
Maybe they are, maybe they aren’t…
Now, there are some very experienced and well known (or at least known) voice actors that will tell you that using a P2P site is a waste of time and money. And if you are a well-established voice actor with an agent (or three) and some clients that call on you to do voice over work for them, then that is probably true. However, if you are a relatively new, not yet established, voice actor trying to “break in” to the industry, I say the P2P sites have their utility. Before my established colleagues lambaste me for saying this, hear me out.
Be a collector….
If a voice over artist is using these sites properly, as opposed to letting them use you, they can be beneficial. On top of potentially earning a little money to keep your business moving, these sites are handy for a couple things, not the least of which is building a portfolio. One of the best marketing tools a voice artist has in his or her quiver is examples of work already completed. Not just the raw unproduced audio, but a fully finished video or audio segment that has had music and sound effects added. If you are booking gigs through a P2P site, you should ALWAYS be asking for the finished product that you can add to your website as an example for potential clients to listen to. Building a portfolio takes time, but the more finished work you can show, the more likely a client who likes your voice is to hire you.
The next thing these sites are useful for is collecting testimonials. A good client review, just like a review on Amazon, helps give prospective clients confidence that if they hire you their job will be completed professionally and on time. If you are a person who, like me, scours reviews for online purchases then you understand. When you book a gig on a P2P site, along with the finished product ALWAYS ask for a brief testimonial about your work. This can also be added to your website for prospective clients to read.
Your mileage may vary…
Be cautioned though, not all clients on P2P sites will provide the finished work or a testimonial. This is the nature of the beast, of course. However, if you have completed a job and they don’t provide the finished product, you can sometimes find the work on their website or YouTube, so when you have some time look there. Without permission, the best you can do is link to their content, but if you find it, ask for permission to display it on your site, then download it and add it as your content. If you don’t have a professional website, you should definitely consider getting one!
By far, the most useful way to use P2P sites is in finding and securing direct clients. The majority of clients posting available work on these sites are agencies and production houses trying to find fresh talent. Many (if not most) agencies and production houses maintain a roster of talent they use, and your number one goal with these sites should be to establish yourself with them and to be added to their rosters. To be sure, you will need to maintain these relationships, and be able to respond when they call on you, but establishing and maintaining relationships with these clients will pay big dividends down the road.
I mean, what’s REALLY wrong with P2P?
One of the biggest complaints I hear about P2P sites are the low rates most jobs bring. And I can’t dispute that the vast majority of the work I see posted to most of these sites is well below industry standard. A direct consequence of this is that it drives the industry standard down and impacts voice actors across the board. I’m not sure I’ve seen empirical evidence of that, but it sure does make a lot of sense. Please keep this in mind when you are deciding whether or not to work at a reduced rate.
If you choose to work for these reduced rates in the hopes of establishing a long-term working relationship with these clients, then I caution you that it is going to be very difficult to later command higher rates if you do become a regular voice talent for them. Only you can decide what your time and talent is worth, but I urge you to review and understand the standard rates published at SAG-AFTRA and GVAA. I suggest you stay away from the low paying listings altogether, and whenever the listing is looking for a rate “quoted by actor”, then bid ethically in alignment with these established rates. That means if the posted budget is $500 but the established rate is $5000, you bid $5000. And yeah, that also means if the job lists a budget of $5000 and the rates indicate an appropriate fee of $500, you bid $500.
Does that mean you may lose work because your rates are too high? Sometimes, yes. Will they likely find someone who is willing to work for the lower rate? Maybe. But if they REALLY like the work you did on the audition, then they may just hire you at the higher than budget amount. You need to let your conscience be your guide here.
Only YOU can decide what’s best for you!
At the end of the day, YOU have to manage your own business and make decisions on where you’ll find work rates that suit YOU. No one else can tell you how to chase your dreams, and online casting sites are just one way to find work, find clients and build a portfolio. Remember that, even if this is a hobby, it is also a business. You’ll need to use everything at your disposal to build your business, and maybe someday, even if it IS “just” a hobby for you, it can become a full time endeavor.