Are You In Voice-Over Career Level One, Two
Or Three? Advice For Where You Are NOW ...
November 12, 2019
By Dan Hurst
I'm pretty fed up with the voice-over business.
No, not doing voice-overs. I love that! And I adore my VO clients!
But some periphery businesses that attach themselves to this industry have gone Bell Curve batshit crazy.
The vast majority of businesses in this industry are high class, dependable, necessary companies that operate with integrity and in the best interests of voice talents and their clients.
However, there are a few on the ends of the Bell Curve that are a drag and an embarrassment to the honor and wholeness of this business that the vast majority of us love so much.
I suppose I could say the same about voice talents.
We're all discovering who they are, and who they are not. This business has gotten large enough that it's time we begin to understand its immensity and how we all fit in - or if we do.
CATEGORIZING VO CAREER LEVELS
The nearest business we can compare ourselves to is stage and screen acting. We are, after all, voice actors. In fact, many of us crossover into both disciplines. And the businesses that serve us are similar to the businesses that serve the physical actors.
With that in mind, it's time we begin to understand how the immensity of our community breaks down. It does actually break down pretty much the way the theatre and screen actors industry separates.
I see our industry of voice talents as being divided into three groups. While there are exceptions to every category, I think this helps explain the state of our business.
1. AMATEUR / HOBBIEST
First (and foremost), there is the amateur or hobbiest level. It is where we all started.
I can remember in my early radio days when I was expected to voice a spot at no charge for a radio client. I did it because it was my job. And I remember the thrill of a client telling me that the spot I voiced was getting great results.
That was enough for me. At the time.
By far (I'm guessing here. I don't have the numbers, but it makes sense), the largest group of voice talents is the spectrum of talents who are doing this for free or minimal charge.
If that is you, God bless you! It's incredible fun, isn't it?
And I have a word of advice for you: Ignore the malcontents who trash you for doing something you love! Those who accuse you of diluting the marketplace and driving down rates are misinformed and misguided.
I started out like you (as most, if not all of us did), and I never took work away from Don LaFontaine. And he never accused me of driving down rates.
This level of the business has some really good talents. And if you are happy to work for the rates offered at this level, no one has the right to belittle you.
Trust me, you are not driving down rates. Clients drive down rates. And there are plenty of clients who are happy to work with voice talents in this category.
BEWARE OF CHARLATANS
But be aware, if you are in this category, there are business charlatans out there seeking to take your money with the elusive carrot of exposing you to all kinds of clients who want to pay you for your talent.
Just as there are "agents" and "casting websites" and P-2-P sites that serve hobbiest and amateur theatre or TV commercial actors, there are similar businesses doing the same for voice talents.
And it's been my experience that voice talents who depend on these "companies" stay in this category. Which is fine if you are happy to stay at this level. More power to you!
2. ASPIRING VOICE ACTORS
The second category of voice talents is what I call Aspiring Voice Actors. This is the second largest group of voice talents (again, I'm guessing here).
These are the folks who are hoping to transition to the third category. They have figured out that they need coaching and mentoring. They are starting to focus on specific genres of VO.
But they are not yet making a living doing voice work.
The danger in this group is that some of these talents want their dream so badly that they start to cut corners.
But spending time in this category, doing the right things, developing your craft, and developing good habits and getting rid of bad ones are the very things you need to focus on - along with building your client list.
Some of you will make it out of this category into the next.
But I suspect that most of you will not. Especially if you are not willing to pay the price of time and focus, and investing in your craft.
AVOID LOW-RATE CLIENTS
The rate question is a big issue for this group. You spent enough time in the first category to know that you are worth more than those rates, but you struggle finding those better rates.
Let me remind you that it is clients that drive down rates.
If you don't want to work for those low rates any more, you need to find new clients. Quit fishing for clients who are working in the first category.
This is where coaches and mentors will help you refocus on how - and where - you need search for those new clients.
Listen, I understand this conflict. I deal with it every day. As a matter of fact, I had a client respond to me this week and ask me if my rates had changed, because the last job I did for them was for considerably lower. I went back and looked at my records. Yes, I had done a job for them for a lower rate 7 YEARS AGO!!!
NEED AGENTS YET?
One of the big failures of this group is the belief that you need an agent. NOW.
And there are plenty of people who call themselves agents who will list you on their roster, but that's about all they can do. And you will struggle and stumble, wondering why nothing is happening for you.
But get this: No agent worth their salt is going to take on a voice talent who is not marketable to their clients!
The truth is, you probably don't need an agent now. You need a good coach. And you need more time.
3. WORKING VOICE TALENTS
The third category of voice talents is what I call Working Voice Talents.
This group is made up of two subgroups:
These are the folks who discover they need talent agencies and management teams to help them keep their business under control.
They understand the symbiotic and synergistic relationship of a talent and a support team (agents, managers, publicists, coaches, etc.) at this level.
EVALUATE YOUR TEAM
Back to my comments at the start of this article: As a voice talent, take the time and assess your support team. Some of them don't deserve to be even on the fringes of this business. But some are to be embraced and valued.
Is your support team primarily focused on voice talents in the first category? Then you can't really expect them to take you to the next category.
Is your support team primarily serving the voice talents of the second category? There are a lot of great support companies in this category. And you can trust many of them to help you develop your career and dreams.
Relish the journey, but remember that you are responsible for your destiny – no one else.
And if you are in the third category, you already know how difficult it is to get to this level, and how valuable your support team is.
Take time to think this through. And the next time someone takes a shot at a talent who is not in their category, recognize it for what it is.
There is enough room in this business for most of us (with a few exceptions to which I have already alluded). But we're all operating at different levels – in different categories that are defined by experience, intent, workload, training and economy.
Be your best.
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, CNN and Fox Sports, 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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