Pay: Voice Actor / Attorney Fumes At
Online Casting Company's Contract
By Rob Sciglimpaglia Jr.
Voice Actor & Attorney
May 3, 2010
You were just hired to be the voice for a 30-sec national TV commercial for a new soft drink.
This commercial will air all over the country, for YEARS! You are ecstatic!
You are contacted by the company producing this spot, and told you have two hours to turn the script around. You record the commercial and send in the file.
Whew, finally they are satisfied.
PAY DAY ...?
Now, here comes pay day on the first of the month, and what are you paid for that spot that is airing on TV at that very moment?
A whopping $55. That’s right, $55!
Oh, but WAIT A MINUTE, it’s not really $55, because you owe a 50% commission to the company that sent you the gig.
You read that right. I didn’t add an extra zero. I didn’t say five percent. I said FIFTY!
The above scenario is NOT a nightmare! Not something of my imagination, nor one that I dreamed up.
This is a real life scenario from a new company - which I will not name publicly at this point - that is “producing” voice-overs.
The above scenario raises the immediate issue in my mind as to how a respectable voice talent could agree to work for such a low rate.
And it also makes me scratch my head as to why a talent would do so, and run the risk that they are conflicted from doing a voice-over for a competitor's product while the spot for which they were paid $27.50 is running.
Just think about getting called in for a career-breaking audition for a national SAG commercial opportunity from Coca-Cola that will pay thousands of dollars in residuals.
And when the auditioner asks, “Do you have any soft drink commercials running?” you answer that indeed you do - the one for which you were paid a measly $27.50.
STUDY THE CONTRACT
This nightmare gets worse. In fact, it puts the “Nightmare on Elm Street” sequel to shame!
I carefully reviewed the rates and contract that is posted on the web site for this company, and it is straight out of the dark ages concerning protection of the rights of the working voice-over artist.
I liken it to a SWEAT SHOP for voice talent.
Here are some of the highlights, or more aptly, lowlights.
First, the rates. Mind you, these rates are flat and do not take into account USAGE. So, the rates are the same if you record a commercial that will run in a two-person local market, or nationally.
The contract states: “Rates are based on a single purchase with 3 re-reads if necessary.”
TO BE ELIGIBLE ...
The prerequisites to applying to be in this company’s roster include ...
So, they can pay you the above little fees IF they want to, less the 50% commission, of course.
So, obviously, delivering the file, with up to three re-reads, is not enough “reasonable substantiation” that you actually completed the work.
I am going to try this one next time I go to a restaurant and am “dissatisfied” with my meal.
I SUE MYSELF?
I personally LOVE this next provision:
So let me get this straight. On top of the company taking half of my $55 for my national voice-over job, I am also agreeing to pay for their attorneys to defend the company in court should something negative happen that causes the company to get sued!
Well, that seems fair to me!
The more likely scenario is that the company will ask me to do a “celebrity impersonation” or a “product endorsement” which will get ME sued, and then, OOOPS, I agreed to indemnify THEM, and not the OTHER WAY around, so guess I’m on my own for my $27.50 job.
NO CLIENT CONTACT
But wait, it gets way better:
So, even when I am done not being compensated properly by this company, I am still tied to them for 12 months because I can’t do any direct work for any of those clients who used me as “their voice.”
THIS IS PROFESSIONAL?
Do the clients hiring this company know that the voice they used to build their brand can be gone at the snap of a finger?
Is this really the “service” we wish to provide to our clients?
Better yet, is this the company’s definition of being “a professional"?
THERE'S MORE ...
But we’re just getting started here:
So, if you miss the deadline of getting your file back, even if it is only by one second, you:
INTERPRETATION, PLEASE ...
Of course, there’s more:
So, if you get stiffed by this company, even though you agree not to compete with them in the territory where they do business (the entire continent of North America), you will have to hop on a plane and get to Nassau County, NY to collect on your $27.50.
Or if you missed your deadline by a second, and that caused the company to be sued by the client for missing a deadline, guess who is going to be on the hook for that?
A hint: it is not the company!
WHAT A BREACH
It gets SOOO much better:
Are you kidding me? So, not only can this company sue you in Nassau County, NY if they think you breached the contract, but they can also slap an INJUNCTION against you as well, requiring you to perform under the contract, or preventing you from competing against this company.
IT'S A WRAP ...
We’re getting to the finale here:
OK, so we not only will work for ridiculously low rates, we will violate the good ole capitalistic notion of competition and make sure that no other companies pop up and undercut these rates.
And here is the punch line: Compensation.
OK, so now, here we go. You will be paid only 50% of your work, and if the company gets stiffed by a client - i.e., bad debt - you won’t get paid either.
And you also agree to do free advertising voice-overs for this company, which is taking 50% of your pay!
How many voice talent would allow a 50% commission demanded by a talent agent?
There is about only one good thing I found in this contract: it can be terminated by either party with 24 hours notice to the other party.
I would recommend the talent who are signed up with this place to exercise this option immediately.
And I must say I was quite surprised when I perused the roster for this company to see how many well known, “big name” talent who have agreed to all of those above terms.
They must not have actually read them. Or else how could they agree to these things?
There is much debate about whether or not one should become a union talent, or whether unions are still necessary.
But one thing is for certain: unions exist to protect the talent from the abuses noted above.
Granted, unions may have swung the pendulum too much in favor of the Talent.
But a contract like the above illustrates why unions came to be in the first place. And it illustrates how the pendulum is starting to swing completely in the other direction.
IS THIS THE FUTURE?
We are at a critical time, in the very early development of our industry.
Let’s face it, the home studio has only been around for a few years, so this industry really is very young.
If we can’t police ourselves and figure out what is good for our own profession, and ultimately our own livelihoods, then I am afraid that Companies and Contracts like the above will become the norm in the non-union world, as we're flooded every day with “newbies” who will work for these rates - or even for FREE!
I ask you: is this the beginning - or the beginning of the end - of the voice-over profession?
ABOUT ROB ...
Rob Sciglimpaglia Jr. is an attorney with the firm of Kerin & Canty, Norwalk, CT. He is also a voice-over artist, on-camera actor, and owner of All in One Voice – a company specializing in voice-over instruction, demos and business services.
Internet Movie Database: http://imdb.com/name/nm2215197
This contract reads like one from the 1920's, before Employees held the sinister Robber-Barons at bay with pitchforks and scatterguns.
Another byproduct of a dying economic model when the workforce is so desperate for survival that companies like the one in this article can extort labor for next to nothing and with no guarantees and zero worker protections.
There was an interesting incident related to this company on one of my voiceover forums, where the company was being discussed in a thread, and twice there came posts that enthusiastically endorsed the company - each post from a user none of us recognized, who had only just that minute registered on that forum!
Just wanted to point out that contracts at other pay-to-play sites and even some all-in-one studio production houses are surprisingly similar to that of VoiceJockeys.
Whether it's the incredibly insultingly low rates of Studio Center and Ear Works, to the lack of protection and talent rights at Voice123 and Voices.com, I wonder who bears responsibility in educating and informing voice talent about these less than ethical responses, so each can make an educated decision.
This post is a great start.
Thank you again.
I'd also encourage all voice talent to close out their accounts on the pay-to-play sites. There's always going to be someone willing to do a spot for $25. Let's just make sure it's not anyone with even a semblance of talent.
Great job! Way to break it all down. I am sure many of the talent that signed with this company were not fully aware of all the fine print and its ramifications. As hard as it is to believe, there definitely is a market for this type of service, however I hope you are able to negotiate something that is fair both sides.
I know so many actors that would agree to almost anything in order to get on camera. But this is a classic example of just too much. I always say, "Lincoln Freed the Slaves." I won't accept slave labor terms.
These will be issues that will need to be tested over time, and I believe it will only take a few of these hits before companies with this business model realize they are not charging the proper rates to generate profits.
Everyone believes that if they charge less they will get more. Short term this may happen, but in the long term, people need to realise that we are not in a volume business.
The degree of desparation in some people is such that they will do anything to get something, and at the low end of the market producers will merely try to establish how low some people will go.
Do Voiceoverists need saving from an agency such as the one mentioned above? Not really, most need saving from themselves.
Big thanks to John Florian, too, for this article. Perhaps this is the beginning of a grass roots movement towards higher ethics and/or standards.
Obviously a great topic was hit upon here, and needs further exploration within the community.
"As for Rob's detailed analysis of our current agreement - we would like to thank him (actually, we can't believe he has so much free time)"
Hmm ... they almost managed to come off as reasonable, but even in public trying to ape thanks and contrition, they couldn't manage to avoid getting in some digs.
Given what seem to be ridiculously unreasonable terms of the contract, it was entirely reasonable for people to skip VJs altogether and blog about it rather than solicit VJs.com for changes to their contract.
When somebody starts from what appears to be a deliberately crafted position of unreason, then I'd say there is no reason to assume that company will change its ways in any material way. It will be interesting to see what the new contract will be. Ironically, the current contract is actually better than what seems to be the original version, posted here and dated 2009:
http://www.contactacontractor.com/VJ/JockeySignUp.htm (it was up yesterday when it showed up on Google, but is down as of today).
Among the required services were, er, anything they say:
....3. Any other services enumerated by the Company.
That has been eliminated from the current contract, the one that this blog entry reviewed. So, VJs is capable of removing at least some awful terms from their contract. So I look forward to checking back next week to see what, if any, material changes are made to the contract.
BTW, If VJs are so above board, as they claim, why don't they use their actual names rather than hiding behind the corporate veil? I mean, the mailing address for VJs.com, Inc. is an apartment in Long Beach, NY, so it isn't like this is some sort of corporate juggernaut. Put a face to those claims that they "are not crooks or a business platform of "evil-doers," then folks might be more inclined to believe them (er, or not).
It is a great way to find when someone has taken your web link and used it for another website or a ringtone for a cell phone.
As for this website ... telling someone online they 'have to do something' breeds instant rebellion, so this will be an after thought by the end of the summer.
Just remember working online, you do it yourself, so read everything and stay street smart!
ps- The budgets...disgusting.
We are not crooks or a business platform of "evil-doers." In fact, we are quite the opposite. We are actually looking forward to working with ALL of you in reshaping our industry in alignment with the changing times. By coupling your feedback with our marketing ability, we can work together to create a mutually beneficial service for cleints.
We are happy to take your constructive comments and align the goals of our site with those goals of our users.
Thank you for your investigation and description of this outrageous company. Last week I received an email invitation to join them. I read a portion of the talent "agreement" and promptly deleted the invite.
I certainly pray this is not going to be a trend set in our profession. Times are tough for most voice talent in today's economy. And, with the popularity of home studios today it seems that every Tom, Dick, Harry and Sally have entered the V.O. profession, making competition even more fierce.
I am amazed at the increase in low quality commercial advertising on both radio and television these days. God help us.
Our Pricing - Yes, the prices we charge consumers is low. So low, that it may not be worth it for some of you. We understand that, and can appreciate it. We hope to bridge that gap by providing our voice-over artists with an abundance of work throughout the month.
Our Agreement - We have taken the feedback of those who actually reached out to us directly (and not via a blog), and are taking the neccessary steps to change our agreement to proctect us as well as our talent pool. The new agreement will be rolled out before the end of the week.
As far as the inferrence of Jocks being listed without their permission - that is totally not true whatsoever. We maintain a database of IP addresses, Date Time stamps, tax forms, etc.
Again, we understand the concern from the voice-over community and we are looking forward to working together to make intelligent changes that the industry talent calls for from time to time.
Please understand that there IS a market out there of clients that can not afford the high rates charged by some voice-over talent, and for them is the reason that we exist.
No one is forced to join our site, and we would hope that voice artists would welcome the extra work in their downtime.
As for Rob's detailed analysis of our current agreement - we would like to thank him (actually, we can't believe he has so much free time). Rob has opened our eyes and opened up dialogue throughtout the industry that will allow us to work closer with all of you and create an environment where we can work together on improving niche products like those offered on our site.
Your analysis of this company's contract is superb! Thank you for exposing the truth and sharing it with fellow voice actors. Your legal expertise is much appreciated!
Thanks for exposing the b******s.
But, now that you mention it, this does seem rather ludicrous and does sound a bit predatory and smacks of desperate people taking desperate measures. But on the other hand you don’t pay UNLESS YOU’RE PAID! Nothing is going out of pocket unless something’s going IN your pocket. No chunk ‘o change up front, no monthly drip to feed the need. Okay, so maybe I’m an addict.
At the time, I had just deleted HUNDREDS of previous auditions from the major PAY for PLAY sites’ archive files and was not relishing the fact that in 16 months, the only jobs I had gotten were obtained by the sweat of my brow and through my own emails, efforts, and gumption. Nothing - not one gig - after well over a year with the big three. FULL TIME.
Does this make me a BAD Voice Over artist? Incompetent? Dull-witted? Or have I just been going about it the wrong way?
Right now I have gone back to square one and I am taking the VO biz seminars from Harlan Hogan and Dan O’Day to discover where I may have misstepped and to discern what I may have missed along the way. I am also studying all about the Social Media and learning how to weave that magic web into a flying carpet that will take me to the stars (or at least to the Land of Paying Gigs.)
I can only assume that in my cleaning-disk funk that I may had grown a little bit weary, little bit put out, and, okay, a little desperate. Well, these odious options were additional alternatives and seemed plausible and like good ideas at the time.
FINE! So if I pick myself up, dust myself off, flee the paddock and get myself expunged from this race for the brass microphone and take myself off the auction block, can I redeem myself, and will I still have the ability to be perceived as a VO Professional? Will my impetuousness be forgiven if I Voice Forward and agree to sin no more?
If you’re interested, I’ll keep you posted on my new and improved hopey-changey thing. I’m on ALL the sites. www.MarcusWeemsVoiceOvers.Com
As I'm lifting my lower jaw from the floor in utter astonishment at this "contract," I'm left wondering how ANY SERIOUS, PROFESSIONAL voice artist with ANY self dignity could give this "contract" more than a cursory, 10 second read before hitting DELETE.
We as professional voice artists must STOP treating ourselves as commodities (i.e., just another tube of toothpaste) and START respecting and treating ourselves as the PROFESSIONALS that we are. We deserve better.
We must educate those who are entering this industry that undercutting is only undermining our craft - AND our livelihoods. We MUST STOP UNDERSELLING OURSELVES! This is a craft. And we are NOT COMMODITIES! Best of luck to all of you. Thanks again, Rob.
JUSTIN HIBBARD - JustTheVoice Imaging & Productions - Los Angeles
Rob, for that alone, there must be some some sort of action that can be taken for those talent, right?
I think this site was found out so quickly due to an email they sent out to recruit talent. I've received a few of these emails and several colleagues have, as well. But you're right - t's NOT the first of its kind. In fact, it's almost an exact replica of a site that has been around for a few years, it's just been under the radar so far and (only) takes a 35% commission but charges almost the exact rates this new site does so the talent gets paid a LITTLE more. Pfft.
There's also one company out there that is paying $10 per :30, and has been cranking out 200 spots a DAY with a roster of only 20 or so talent. Some of the talents on these sites are making THOUSANDS a month.
How do I know this? I was (briefly) one of them. Early in my career, that extra grand or so a month was keeping me alive. But I quickly understood the clientele for those sites: When they don't want to pay professional rates, they're not professionals themselves. Terrible copywriting, untimed copywriting - meant revisions revisions, revisions. Lesson learned.
"Talent" that don't have the drive to make themselves better stay in places like this and are happy for the volume. It's sad but it is out there. We really just have to ignore them. I really am not worried as long as the rates reflect the talent, which they apparently do here.
Albert said it: "I don't know anyone on the site" ... and we probably never will.
This is an excellent lesson in actually reading the contract. Know what you are getting into.
Voice Actors: like any other business person, if you're not into the details, then hire the professional who can advise you. And please, stay away from that place, I am. I Googled them, too, and it comes right up.
Thank you for investing so much time, as you've done previously, for the good of the VO community. It seems that the agency in question is known to some of the readers. I'm not suggesting you endanger yourself, but there must be some way for the rest of us to identify this repulsive agency so we may, each in our own way, add to their negative publicity ... and screw them.
On the upside, any sensible talent who reads this will be out of their agreement within 24 hours.
At least one would hope.
I don't know anyone who is listed on the site, but I sent a link to this article to everyone I know in the business.
I couldn't get past the 50% commission to even read the contract. And evidently, looking at the name of the site, voice artists are the horses and the site is the jockey, riding the talent into the ground.
THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU! AND Thanks to VoiceOverXtra for publishing this.
We have been thrashing this site on the boards last week and addressing all the things you have brought to light ,but to have your expertise is MUCH appreciated!
We all know this site is not the only one of it's kind, but the more of them we can send packing, the better.
That's a serious question. Does anyone think there a way that we as voice actors can create a kind of legitimacy gang to keep these kinds of things at bay?
I'm always happy to share info I find on any aspect of our work with my fellow voice actors, but is there a way we can get more pro-active? I know Mahmoud Taji has the list of scams going and I suggest everyone keep that in their view. Is this something SAVOA might be interested in championing? Or is this something that SAVOA does that I'm not even aware of? And that's the point. We need to educate ourselves, keep each other informed and do what we can to maintain some integrity in these new markets.
It's not just that everyone is losing money on the deal. It's bigger than that. There's a sense that our art and craft is just losing the prestige and respect it deserves. And that is heartbreaking and somewhat frightening. I think of the immeasurable talent out there and it just really makes me sick that the public perception is funneling into these kinds of models.
I'm not sure why Rob doesn't wish to name the site. Legal reasons? Decorum? Either way, the site is easy to find, just Google a sentence of the contract in quotes and it will come right up.
And I just want to reiterate my amazement at the, IMO, unconscionable breadth of the no-compete clause. Not only can't you solicit any of "the Company's" clients or **potential** clients (anybody who buys or may buy voice-overs) for voice-over work, you can't solicit those companies for **any** reason, directly or indirectly. The clause is not limited to voice-over work!!!!!
Though IANAL I think this contract is even worse than you noted. The 12-month no-compete clause doesn't just mean you can't contact clients whose accounts you worked on:
"The Voice Personality agrees that during the term of this Agreement and for a period of 12 months after the termination of the Agreement, he or she will not directly or indirectly solicit the clients, customers or ******prospective****** clients or customers of the Company in any form or
It means you can't can't work for **anybody** doing voice-overs, since they are all possible "prospective" clients of "the Company."