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Rumors And Fake News Got You Down?
Take 5 Voice Over Career Reality Checks
May 9, 2017

By Dan Hurst
Voice Actor

No doubt you've heard or read the woe and gnashing of teeth over the way certain things are going on within the voice over business.

I've heard it all:
  • We're all going to be replaced by robots.
  • You just can't make money like you used to.
  • Everyone who has a USB mic and a laptop thinks they're a voice talent.
  • And on and on.  
And the rumors! Oh the rumors! 
  • Have you heard that Hollywood is going to blackball every voice talent that doesn't sign their political statement?
  • Or that the IRS, or maybe the Labor Department, is going to require a surcharge on all voice over work done by non-citizens?
  • Or that audition requests coming out of India are being used in toys and games?
It's pretty easy to jump on the wail wagons. Especially if your business is flat or struggling.

But the fact of the matter is that many people in voice overs are doing well. So, what's the deal?


Let me share these Reality Checks for you to consider.  

1. Other voice talents are not my competition.

Clients who don't hire me are my competition.

Have you ever watched a grazing herd of cattle? Or watched a school of fish feeding? Ever notice that they don't fight each other?

Sure, they may hustle or position themselves for food, but they don't waste time and energy keeping others from getting food. They have one focus – feed.

There is a false concept in this business. Other voice talents don't cause you to lose work. Clients who don't hire you cause you to lose work.

So you have a greater responsibility to work your clients – figure out what they want, meet their needs, keep them happy – than you do worrying about what other voice talents are doing.  

In fact, this is one of a few businesses where helping each other pays off. I suspect most voice talents reading this have helped other voice talents with a recommendation or a referral. That works! We're better off together.

2. Low-ball voice talents attract low-ball clients.

Good. Let them.  

Think of it this way: You know those used car lots that sell junkers, albeit clean ones? Those kind of used car salesmen make their living off of people who don't want, or can't afford new cars. And of their customers, there are always those who hope they can get a good deal with no credit … and sometimes no job.

Low-ball voice talents are like those questionable used car sales people. They attract clients with no credit and sometimes no job.

But those used car salesmen don't really hurt new car dealers. And new car dealers that have their own used car departments have learned to provide benefits that the street corner used car lots can't. Things like certified inspections with healthy warranties. Free oil changes for a year or more. Free car washes. And on and on.

Car dealers don't have a union. They figured it out on their own and started helping each other succeed.

My point is that as voice talents, if we wait around for the union to solve our rate issues, we'll be waiting a long time. Voice over work is the bastard stepchild of our union. That's just the way it is, and it probably won't change any time soon. Don't expect the union to do anything for us unless other screen and TV actors who do voice overs demand it. 

We're better off finding ways to position ourselves and provide better benefits and value to our clients, along with better performance and business.  

3. The vast majority of part time voice talents need P2P.  

Wait! What? Actually, the theory of P2P (subscription-based online casting, or Pay-to-Play) is valid and useful.

The problem, as so many of us realize, is the ethics and business models of some of these sites. Some of them are clearly gouging their members, even outright lying to them.

But remember, P2P sites are not agents. They are not brokers. They don't get you work. They are simply clearing houses – dating sites for voice talents and businesses. And as most dating sites (I speak from presumption here), some are full of trolls and fakes and liars on both sides of the equation.

And consider that the larger the P2P site, the greater the chances to be taken advantage of by the potential client and the P2P site.

But the bottom line is that if you don't have a large roster of clients built up, or you aren't known in the business circles of your interests, you need help to establish your business. And good P2P sites can help you do that.

I don't use P2Ps to get jobs. Seriously. I use them to build my client base.

Every audition is a connection with a potential client. It's a way to make an impression; a way to start a relationship. That is exactly why I will not waste my time on P2P sites that don't let me connect with the client. I've paid them their annual fee to be a member, but they don't own me. Nor do they own my clients, even if that client came through their service!

If the P2P site had gotten me the job, that would be different, but I'm the one that built the connection and the relationship. So if the P2P site refuses to help me, or even let me build those relationships, they can take a flying leap as far as I'm concerned.  

4. Decide if you're an amateur or a professional.

Both are legitimate, viable categories. Both seek to develop their craft. Both have dreams and aspirations. Both have goals and plans.  

But one is a hobby and one is a business, whether it be part time or full time. And none are a threat to the other. In fact, we need each other.  

A few years ago I was traveling down South. As I drove through a suburb or Atlanta, a local dinner theatre marquee was advertising Arsenic and Old Lace. A few blocks later, as I passed the local high school, the marquee outside the school was promoting the school play, Arsenic and Old Lace. I'll bet neither production interfered with the other one iota.

The late, great Dick Brown, a professional actor and a great box office draw in Kansas City theatre devoted much of his time teaching at the university level and helping amateur actors develop their craft. I heard him say one time that he found as much satisfaction in the classroom as he did on the stage.  

If Dick Solowicz, a professional film and stage actor and voice talent, had not taken me under his wing when I was a jobless young man with a wife and three children, I would probably have never made it in the VO world. His patience, encouragement and advocacy for me were invaluable in my start.

What I'm saying is that professionals and amateurs don't live in two different, mutually exclusive worlds. Amateurs need professionals to share their experience and insight. Professionals need amateurs to ground and focus us on what's real and works, and what's a waste of time and energy.

We both can help each other develop our craft.  

The greatest gift I can give to my chosen voice over craft is not a performance, but to share my experience with actors who seek the opportunity. That will have a far greater impact.

5. You ain't good at everything.  

In fact, you may not be good at much, but you can be great in some things!

Grandpa Hurst was a wise man. He raised his family during the Depression on a little farm in Southeast Missouri. He was a carpenter by trade, but when he saw the Depression developing he bought a little farm where he could raise enough food to feed his family and keep them safe.

Years later, when I was boy, it was a thrill to visit him. I got to drive his tractor, and fish his pond, and sleep in a feather bed, and eat grandma's cooking, and hunt squirrels, and hike the forest, and make things.

Grandpa had his little carpenter shop set up in the barn, and he would let me use his tools to build things like bird houses and wall racks. I would get so frustrated with the woodworking because as hard as I tried, everything I made looked like I had measured once and cut twice. During one of my episodic rants, Grandpa said,
"Son, you ain't good at everything. Choose what you're good at and be the best."  
Far too many voice talents make the mistake of just taking whatever work they can get, but they never specialize or become the best at what they're good at. Part of that may be that they don't know what they are good at. Or maybe they think they're good at everything. But they ain't.

I've said this before a couple of times in my articles, but it merits saying again:
Good might get you into the room, and better might get you to the table. But clients hire the best. Because they can.  

Here's a little secret to succeed in this wonderful voice over business: Find your niche and set the standard. That doesn't mean that you'll make the most money or be the icon in the industry. It means that you set the standard in your niche.

If you're thinking the voice over business is not for you, maybe you're right. But maybe you're wrong. Maybe it's not the voice over business that's the problem.

Maybe you just need a reality check. Maybe it's time to reassess who you are, what you expect, what you're good at, what you need to do, and what your next steps should be.

Good luck, my friend. You're gonna need it. The latest rumor I heard is that the FTC is going to require all voice talents to be unpaid spokesmen.
Dan (Daniel Eduardo) Hurst is an experienced bilingual (English and Spanish) voice talent operating out of the Kansas City area. His business extends internationally, with clients including Maserati, Boehringer Ingelheim, British Petroleum, Kimberly-Clark, McDonald's, Volkswagen, Telemundo International, Shell, Hallmark, TransCanada, and many more, along with his national work for numerous infomercials, ESPN, MLB, and the Golf Channel, among others. When he's not working, he spends time cheering for losing sports teams, getting kicked off of golf courses, and cursing his boat motor. 



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Comments (8)
David Bateson
5/16/2017 at 5:48 AM
Wow. Thanks for that refreshing and honest head's up about what is really important in our business.

All the best,

David Bateson
Debby Barnes
5/12/2017 at 12:23 PM
You just aimed a wise "arrow" of reality our way and it hit the VOC "bullseye", DH! Cheers.
Ron Whittemore
5/12/2017 at 8:07 AM
Always good, Dan! Thanks for sharing such wisdom.

Best to you!
Jacqueline Napier
5/12/2017 at 12:39 AM
Thank you, Dan. Your words ring true and are good points to keep me focused. I appreciate the encouragement.
Susan Haight
5/11/2017 at 1:20 PM
Love your article and point of view, Dan. Thanks for the Reality Check reminder!
Scott Larson
5/9/2017 at 2:21 PM
Great piece, Dan, thanks for the eye-opener! As a voice talent I've done audiobooks, a million commercials and still haven't FOUND my niche'. Still searching for it.
Thanks for the advice,
5/9/2017 at 10:39 AM
Great article, Dan and for me very timely. Yes, one can't be all things to all people and one must figure out what path to take and stick to it. Thank you for the "Reality Check" !
Amy Weis
5/9/2017 at 9:53 AM
Wow, Dan! What an excellent article. Your perspective is so refreshing, and everyone from newbie to established talent can benefit from taking a look at things this way.

Amy Weis
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