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'Blue Collar' Voice Talent Vs. 'White Collar'?
Divisive Attitudes Surface After Awards Show

November 24, 2014

By Tom Dheere
Voice Actor

I’m ambivalent about awards shows. I watch the Oscars every year and sometimes the Film Independent Spirit Awards, but that’s about it.

Just about every genre of music, acting and sports has them, and that’s fine if you’re into that. It’s important to celebrate your industry and recognize excellence.

From a television point of view, awards shows are one of the few real-time events left, so the more the better from a viewership and ad-buy point of view. Personally, I don’t care what they’re wearing or who came with who, or any of that stuff, but they are fun to watch, ay?

I mention this because recently the voice over industry had an awards show of its own: the Voice Arts Awards, sponsored by the Society of Voice Arts and Sciences (SOVAS).

There are other voice over-related awards shows out there - The Audies, for audiobooks, for example. Yet the VAA is new. It’s a non-profit event that works in conjunction with the That’s Voiceover Career Expo.

Others have blogged about the VAA, and I’m not here to discuss the pros or cons of those posts. I want to talk about the "class warfare” that ensued as a result. It’s apparent the issue is quite divisive. Comments to the blogs were civil for the most part, and lucid arguments were made on both sides. T


What I found fascinating was the nature of the two camps, which I'll refer to as "blue-collar” voice talent and "white-collar” voice talent. BTW, this is a sweeping generalization and there are notable exceptions on both sides.

"Blue-collar” voice talents are part-time or full-time, primarily non-union, and have neither high-end agents nor regularly book national commercials. In recent blog comments, these voice talent tended to be anti-VAA.

"White-collar” voice talents are full-time, in the union, have high-end agents, book nationally recognized VO work, and might coach, produce demos, or sell books and  products catering to the voice over industry. These types of voice talent tended to be pro-VAA.

I also noted that a number of the "white-collar” voice talents who participated in the discussion were involved in the VAA program, and made an effort to clarify the nature of the event and create more transparency.


Yet there seems to be a level of exasperation inherent. Why? It depends on who you ask.

Some of the BC’s may think an event like the Voice Arts Awards is an exercise in cronyism and newbie trolling, so that the WC’s can sell their stuff to aspiring voice talents.

Some of the WC’s may think the BC’s are jealous and resentful of their success and notoriety, when actually, they’re just trying to share their wisdom and make a living.

Does it sound like I’m on the fence and trying not to piss anyone off? Well, you’re right. I may wind up pissing off everyone, but hey, what can you do.


The conflict, while fascinating, makes me a bit sad.

I know and respect people on both sides and frankly, I’m torn.

I’ve been blue-collarish, but being blessed with success and exposure over the past few years, I’m acquiring a tinge of white. I guess I’m ... I don’t know ... cyan-collar?  


This experience reminds me of two important things:

1. Good voice talents are good listeners. Most of the people involved in the discourse took the time to read the posts carefully, reply thoughtfully, and disagree respectfully. I mean, we read and interpret copy all day, right? So it makes sense that this is a skill that many successful voice talents possess.

2. The voice over industry is a small, small world. To be a successful, a voice talent should be a supportive and respectful member of the community. Voice talents have a long memory. They remember who contributes thoughtfully and respectfully, and who doesn’t.

Aspiring voice talents would do well to remember that.
Tom Dheere is an 18-year veteran of the voice over industry who has narrated thousands of projects for clients in over a dozen countries. He is also a voice over business consultant, a coach at Edge Studio,
was marketing consultant for the Voice Over Virtual online conference, and is writing and producing a comic book.


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Comments (11)
Pete Simmons
11/26/2014 at 1:58 PM
Further more, some of the Voice Awards categories only have two nominations... presumably nobody else fancied stumping up the fees. So it's not exactly a wide-reaching pool of talent to choose from. It seems if you have the money to submit an entry then you have a 20-50% chance of winning. I love the idea of an industry awards scheme but there needs to be a change in the model otherwise only those who can afford to submit themselves for consideration for nomination can be included. I prefer the idea of the awards judges sourcing the nominations themselves from the huge breadth of talent easily searchable online.
Pete Simmons
11/26/2014 at 11:45 AM
I'm still not quite sure you get my point. So, why not choose a voice artist for nomination... then ask them to pay? I would imagine very few would be entirely excited to accept this. Therefore, it is the artists going to the award company to ask to be considered for nomination. Why not get some sponsors rather than having the entrants pay to be considered? It kinda stinks a teensy bit. I don't expect you to back down.
11/25/2014 at 7:11 PM
Having been employed by one of the International branches of Emmys for a couple of decades, I’ve now retired.

First hand, the awards shows like the Emmys, Oscars and Tony Awards are member-based international organizations with a fee to become a member. When you have tens of thousands of members, each affiliate chapter can decide if they want to waive the process fee of applicants submitting their work to be reviewed or not. There are also other benefits to becoming a member besides a waived fee.

Non-members will absolutely pay a fee to submit work into any international or national awards competitions, whether you’re an individual or corporation, or have multiple submissions, whether individual or a corporation.
Even members with multiple submissions will pay a fee for the process of submitting.

Respect the business and process of the organizations that do this work. They also pay their rent, mortgage bills etc..

I have nothing but praise for SOVAS. They’ve created an enriched standard to live into and benefit by.

A recipient of an award doesn’t pay for it - the organization pays for the cost that occurs, and for the labor that goes into the production of making the award. Submitters have to pay for the processing and/or sometimes the underwriting cost that occurs in the process of a win.

Try looking up Emmys scams in Google. Conspiracy theories/schemes run rampant.

The example below comes from the Emmys:

1. Commercial entry fees: There is a flat $250 fee for all commercial entries.

2. Individual achievement entry fees:
The fee for individual entries is $200.
For small teams (2-4 entrants), the fee is $400.
For medium teams (5-8 entrants), the fee is $500.
For large teams (9-10 entrants), the fee is $600.
Teams of 11 or more pay a flat fee of $60 per person

3. Program entry fees:
The fee for a program entry with a single producer is $400.
For small teams (2-4 entrants), the fee is $600.
For medium teams (5-8 entrants), the fee is $700.
For large teams (9 or more entrants), the fee is $800.
Pete Simmons
11/25/2014 at 7:48 AM
Rudy, one does not pay a fee to be considered for an Oscar/Emmy. Your awards scheme relies on voice artists paying to be put in a category against a few others. This is not the same as you plucking them out of your own talent search... you're simply reviewing those who've paid multiple hundreds of dollars to be put in front of your team.

This has nothing to do with class and the article is a bit sourceless in that department. It's more a case of trying to find value in an award that's been paid for as opposed to being chosen solely for skills and talent. Don't get me wrong, a voice award scheme is a great idea, I just wish it wasn't a pay-to-be-considered model. I know plenty of potential sponsors for this event which would free up that side of things.
11/25/2014 at 1:27 AM

We all strive to attain gainful employment in our lives, whether it’s just to cover our daily expenses or to own several mansions and a golf course. The idea of gainful employment is a basic quality of life that most everyone can agree is good and desirable. Of course, agreeing upon a definition of gainful employment inevitably leads to a centuries-old debate that always ends up in the murky waters of the haves and the have-nots. This debate is as old as dirt and it can be inserted into any aspect of life, whether it’s employment, love, recreation, possessions, health care or even parenting. Show me a scenario where human beings interact and I’ll show you a 4th grader who can point out the differences between the haves and the have-nots; the sick versus the healthy, the ugly versus the beautiful, the strivers versus the mediocre.

Alas, writers need catchy headlines to get people interested in what they write, even if the headline is unrelated to the content. It’s called selling controversy or shock appeal, or just catching a ride on whatever is popular at the time. I won’t say this headline is totally unrelated to the Voice Arts™ Awards but only because the writer works so damn hard to try to force a fit. I give him a C- for effort.

The first order of business, as it relates to the Voice Arts™ Awards is whether you want to participate. The rest doesn’t matter unless you want to participate. The most powerful point to be made about participating in the Voice Arts™ Awards is that it’s a personal choice. You choose it because you see something in it for yourself and perhaps for the larger community. Those who participate are not required to become evangelists for others to do the same. Yet, a handful of antagonistic scoffers, who choose not to participate, feel driven to convince others to slog through one negative diatribe after the next. If you don’t like baseball, don’t go to baseball games. If you don’t like awards competitions, don’t compete. If you’re afraid that Voice Arts™ winners will have a better advantage in the marketplace, then get your head around how to better market yourself.

And know this: There is no significant business or field of endeavor that does not offer recognition for excellence as a means for fostering the same. Obviously, it costs money to do that. That’s why Voice Arts™ offers assistance to some who are experiencing financial hardship. In addition, we support charitable causes like the Alzheimer’s Association and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Few people reject genuine recognition for giving their best effort, so all that’s left are those who pay, those who need help to pay and those who think someone else should pay for them.

Also, I want to try to clear up this notion that by entering the Voice Arts™ Awards you are nominating yourself. That’s not how the Voice Arts™ Awards work. By submitting your work, you have gained the right to have your work reviewed and scored by seasoned experts who have been in the trenches for years. It is only through the scoring process that some work will rise to the status of nominee. Again, just as with the Emmys and Oscars, the jurors determine nominees by scoring. You cannot nominate yourself.

Finally, I want point out that one of the most disingenuous descriptions I’ve heard from detractors is the term “pay to play.” There are many legitimate “pay to play” aspects of life, including voice acting, and they are quite natural and good and they are the only mechanisms for making business work. It’s no different than investing in stock or audio equipment for a home studio. When you take VO classes, attend conferences, purchase home studio equipment and spend time seeking out and performing auditions you are paying to play. You are paying for the chance that your investment will pay off. You have no guarantee for the time and money spent to succeed but you can guarantee a zero result if you do not get on the field and play. “Pay to play” has become a smear for what used to be called doing business. When someone pays you to do a voiceover, they are counting on your performance to achieve a result in the marketplace. They lose time and money if your performance doesn’t deliver and may have to hire another actor to get the job done, spending even more money. So every voice actor is a pay to play business model because that’s just how business works and it’s the most efficient way yet devised. So don’t let the very spirit of democracy and the way of American life be sullied by those who would paint “pay to play” the color of evil and then smear it on anything that doesn’t fit their personal politics or pocketbooks.

Class warfare has not been waiting for the Voice Arts™ Awards to reveal its existence. Political and social issues have always been here. If you want to go into politics or journalism or community service, you will find more than ample opportunity to debate such issues. If you want to be a great voice actor, focus on the development of your performance skills, networking, marketing and understanding the players behind the jobs. Here are your choices: You can spin your wheels figuring out some obtuse notion about dividing people by color labels or you can get busy getting work where the color is green.

steve hammill
11/25/2014 at 12:56 AM
The founders of the awards program poisoned the well themselves and have their collective noses out of joint for being called on it. However, it is naive to think there will ever be an awards program that is completely "pure." It has been this way for as long as I can remember.

Dave Wallace
11/24/2014 at 1:21 PM
Hi Tom!

I don't disagree with the idea of BC and WC. However, I do respectfully disagree with the association of BC voice actors being non-union and WC actors being union. I know of plenty of BC actors who completely fit the description you gave of WC. If it were me, I would categorize WC voice actors as actors who are comfortably into six and seven figures, as well actors who are primarily famous for their film acting efforts that just happen to do voice acting projects every once in a while (think Pixar movies).

I am a union actor, and personally, I consider myself a BC voice actor. Without naming a specific amount, I make a healthy living, but I wouldn't consider myself rich, either (then again, at 27 years old, it's not as though I'm in a rush to retire...although the retirement and pension plan that the union has in place is definitely going to help with that when I am!). The union is, in my opinion, a perfectly viable option for BC voice actors. In my personal case, my earnings significantly increased once I joined the union--and for a while, I didn't even have agency representation. I'm not rich, but I'm not living in fear of bills, either.

There seems to be a misconception that union work means high-paying, and non-union work means low-paying. The idea behind scale--the minimum amount that a union actor has to be paid--is to charge rates that are fair and livable, not price actors out of the market (for that matter, scale is only the minimum...if a client offers you more, you're absolutely allowed to take more). For example, a couple years ago I did a radio commercial that aired in one medium-sized city for a few weeks. The final rate came out to somewhere between $250-350 (it's been a while since I did that gig, so I don't remember the exact amount). By contrast, there was a non-union gig posted on a P2P site last year, which was a non-broadcast narration job with a fee of $2,500. It was posted as a non-union job, and this rate is way, way, way over union scale for non-broadcast narration. I managed to get that gig anyway by converting it to a union gig....

.....Which brings me to a somewhat significant issue that I (respectfully) have with my union.

I am very pro-union, at least in the case of SAG-AFTRA. However, nothing is beyond improvement. And one of the shortcomings of my union, in my opinion, is that my union has not done the best job at helping its actors learn about the process of converting non-union work to union work (which is a big chunk of my business, and something that I had to learn about on my own). Not too long ago, I saw a VO coach offering a class on how actors can create signatories for union work...nothing wrong with that coach offering that as a class, as that's valuable info. However, that coach was selling that class at a price, when in my opinion, my union should be holding that class for free. Furthermore, in my opinion, the union could be doing a little bit more to clarify what constitutes "non-union" work. There is plenty of work that is non-jurisdictional, and has no union affiliation whatsoever--radio imaging is an example of this. Once again, though, I had to learn that on my own.

In not doing these two things, they have helped to create this misconception of the challenges and benefits involved with being a union actor. Which is why I feel it's important for actors who are in the union, like myself, to reach out to those who are interested in joining the union and tell them about the things they can do to successfully operate a union voice acting business. As time moves on, I also intend to be a little more vocal to my union about how I wish they would do that as well.

For that matter, if there are any non-union voice actors reading this who are thinking about joining the union, feel free to reach out to me if you want to know more about the process of converting non-union work to union work (I'm not selling anything, I'll gladly give this info out for free). I can be reached at

Thanks for starting this discussion, Tom!
Paul Payton
11/24/2014 at 11:25 AM
Tom, I agree with the commenters, especially Pete Simmons. For the reasons he cites I neither like nor participate in pay-to-play awards - or websites. I find it parallel to today's poisoned politics: you get the best government you can afford to buy. It may work for others, but that is just my opinion and my chosen course of action.

I think a relevant related subject is the difference between Consumer Reports and Consumers' Digest magazines. The former accepts no advertising, buys the products it tests and reviews them impartially. The latter is ad-driven and reviews its sponsors' products. Which one would you trust? The Voice Arts Awards strike me as an example of the "Digest" approach.

(Full disclosure: in the past, I have paid for access to agents in some of the New York "seminars" since it was a way to get noticed. I felt I was getting what I paid for. However, my attendance was infrequent and not recent.)

If one wants or needs paid recognition, fine. For me, a stiff entry fee and buying your original award which has been given by a panel of judges, many of whom would have to recuse themselves if this was a legal proceeding, doesn't confer legitimacy. No client ever hired me because a program I narrated won an award. (I might feel different about an Oscar or an Emmy, of course!)

I also don't think the blue collar/white collar division is quite appropriate, although I certainly understand what is driving your definitions. Like you, I have straddled both sides of that categorization over my long career and am comfortable there.

True story: some years ago, I was telling a high-end talent manager of my desire to be signed with a union-only major agent. She said, "Why would you want to do that?" "For those really big national gigs," I replied. She asked, "What are you making a year?" I told her - a healthy if not mammoth sum. "Look,” she countered, "I know dozens of men 'who sound just like you' who are signed and were making a quarter-million a year five years ago who are now making $50,000 and wondering what went wrong. Simply, the market changed. If you're making what you're making doing what you're doing, why would you want to give 10 or 15% of it away to make less?" Thanks to her, ever since, I've been relying on my own networking, some great referrals, true friends I've made in the business (like you, Tom) and some wonderful free-lance agents to keep me going. It's still working.

If my clients and producers enter and win contests with productions using my voice, I'm glad to celebrate it in my mailers and e-mail blasts and on my website, shining full credit on them; I'm simply one of the tools they used to build with. (Did I just call myself a tool?!?) Personally, I choose not to enter awards competitions; my best "award" is being rehired by my client or referred to someone else I can make happy with my work.

Thanks for the opportunity to add my opinion, Tom. I think the resolution of this issue is simply to do what works without hurting others and to be supportive of the good people in our industry. As long as I try to do that, I can wake up each morning and move forward without having to anxiously look over my shoulder.
11/24/2014 at 9:50 AM
Well Tom, very interesting observation. I personally don't believe in BC vs. WC. Never heard of this until now. Most voice talent are out there just trying to get a gig, and maybe get continuing work with a client, based on the talents niche. Those Hollywood actors that get national commercial work are no better than the rest of us, but are in demand because our society is set up with Hollywood celebrities!! This is an "opinion only" business, and fickle to boot. Those who are in the Union and represented by big important agents, well good for them. I prefer to market myself as non-union. No union dues for me!! :)
Pete Simmons
11/24/2014 at 8:57 AM
There's nothing wrong with a voiceover awards scheme, however, one you need to pay to be nominated for stinks. It's not a genuine awards ceremony... it's a place for people who can afford to pay to be checked out, which is a shame. If there was another way to monetize the operation it'd be great! I don't think it has anything to do with different classes of voice talent, it's just about what qualifies for a real and valuable award.
Keith Michaels
11/24/2014 at 8:48 AM
Thanks for the article Tom. I like the "blue collar" "white collar" comparison because I have always felt (within the last 5 years or so) that our industry is increasingly becoming divided. But I don't think either is good or bad. There will always be top echelon voice talent and there will always be the work horses.

I consider myself to be a blue collar voice talent. Sometimes I venture over into the white collar territory. I find it interesting though, that you put union affiliation into the white collar category, only because in our history unions have always been associated with blue collar. It has always been the white collar side that has fought with the union side. But in our industry, it's the opposite. And today, the blue collar voice talent strive to get into the union, while the white collar voice talent strive to work around the union to get work because there isn't enough union work to go around.

It would be interesting to know out of all of the Voice Arts Award winners, how many were union or non union. Does winning a Voice Arts Award automatically put you into the white collar column?
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