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Ethics In The Voice Over Industry:
Coaches, Demos, Agents & Online Casting
March 30, 2017

The VO Atlanta 2017 conference featured a panel on ethics in the voice over industry - a very timely topic for today's world. Panelist Paul Strikwerda follows up with more thoughts in this two-part series. Part 1 discussed job decisions and pricing, and today, Part 2 explores ethics for coaches, demo producers, agents, and online casting ...

By Paul Strikwerda

Voice Actor

What are some best practices you would like to see voice over coaches and demo producers follow?

Number one: Don’t guarantee your students any work. ROI is not a given.

There are very few shortcuts to success. Coaches and producers should stress that this is a subjective, unfair business. Get-rich-quick does not exist.

They should educate their students about going rates and professional standards.

And, coaches and demo producers should carefully select whom they want to work with. They should not continue to take money from students that have no talent, or who show little improvement, just because they’re paying customers. In my opinion, that’s unethical.


What expectations should talent reasonably have of talent agents and agencies?

An agent or agencies should offer opportunities that play to the strength of a particular talent. They should do the leg work, so the talent can focus on the job.

Agents or agencies should also negotiate a decent rate.

What else?
  • A good agent knows you better than you know yourself. A good agent sees potential, and hears things you yourself do not hear.
  • A good agent helps you grow, and goes to bat for you.
  • A great agent has a unique "in" into the market - something other agents may not have.
I want an agent to be brutally honest with me, and to shield me from bad clients.


What is a reasonable commission for an agent, or other casting organization to take? Anywhere between 10 and 20 percent.

But beware these red flags when seeking agency representation:
  • Agents charging a fee for representation: "I’ll represent you if you pay me 250 bucks!” Agents that send you job auditions that every other agent sends out. That’s lazy.
  • Agents that are never available, and who never give you feedback.

What level of transparency should we expect from online casting sites, and what does that look like?

A lot has been said about one of the biggest online casting sites operating out of Canada.

Last year, that site, Voices dot com (VDC) had a clear and controversial presence at VO Atlanta. Yet this year, the conference organizers determined that VDC was no longer welcome at the table, because it "does not have the best interest of voice talent at heart.”

The importance of that decision should not be underestimated, and the announcement was greeted with great applause.

As you may know, I have exposed VDC’s business practices in the past, and part of their problem has to do with a lack of transparency.

When asked why VDC would not be entirely open about the way they do business, I quoted psychologist Dr. Phil McGraw, who once said:
"People who have nothing to hide, hide nothing.”
An online casting site must be open about their business practices. Otherwise, it will lose the trust of its members. It has to be clear about the way auditions are offered, and to whom. Is everybody getting a fair chance, or is there a secret system limiting talent, lining the pockets of the people in charge?

A Pay-to-Play (online casting service) has to be open about how much a client is paying, how much the talent is getting, and how much is taken in by the casting site.

That site should listen to feedback from its members, answer questions honestly and without spin, and refrain from double or triple dipping.


Next, is it reasonable for sites to charge both a membership fee and a commission?

Ideally, I believe a commission should cover all services provided by the online casting site. That way, the site has an incentive to deliver, and to make sure the talent gets paid a fair fee.

Commission rewards positive action. The more a talent makes, the more the casting site makes.

Now, by using the commission model, an online casting site might start acting like an agent, and in the U.S. that’s not allowed. Remember though, that in most countries in the world there are no voice over agents, so this is not as big of an issue as it may seem to some.


During the panel discussion in Atlanta I noticed something I hadn’t noticed before: the ethical aspect of our business is not something we tweet about, or talk about on Facebook.

Ethical issues are hard to put into 140 characters, or in a short status update. They often are complex, deeply personal, and seldom black or white.

Some people don’t give ethics much thought. If the money is good, they’ll take the job. Others feel that just because they’re the voice of a campaign, it doesn’t mean they have to agree with that campaign. They see themselves as voice actors, and actors merely play a role.

That in and of itself, is a position based on a personal belief. 

One thing I know for sure, and from experience: once you decide where to draw the ethical line, you will be tested.

Let’s say you don’t like the way animals are treated by the agricultural-industrial complex. The moment you decide not to promote anything having to do with animal abuse, you will get a request to do a commercial for a fast food company.

It’s the irony of life!
Paul Strikwerda is a 26-year veteran of the voice over industry whose Nethervoice service features German and Dutch voice overs, translation and evaluation services. Born in Holland, he has worked for Dutch national and international radio, the BBC and American Public Radio. Although 90% of his work is in English, Strikwerda also records in Dutch, German and French. Clients include Novartis, Johnson & Johnson, and the Discovery Channel. And he is author of the new book, Making MONEY In Your PJs: Freelancing for voice-overs and other solopreneurs, and publishes an informative and entertaining blog, Double Dutch.

Double Dutch Blog:

Making MONEY In Your PJs:

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Comments (3)
David Bateson
4/3/2017 at 2:53 AM
Nice article, if I may say so. Couldn't make it to Atlanta this year. Ethics is a tricky one, but I literally laughed out load when you mentioned near the end of Part 2 that the moment you draw an ethical "line on the sand", that you will almost immediately be tested. It's not easy sometimes. But on the other hand, it's VERY easy. In my opinion, it's never just about the money.

By the way, I didn't know that about VDC not been welcome at VOAtlanta this year. Good news. You know, we really can make a change for the better if we stand together against P2P sites that truly damage our industry and do not have our interests at the forefront. If you have nothing to hide...

All the best,
David Bateson
Luis Garcia
4/1/2017 at 7:32 PM
Wait... doesn't a private company, like VDC, have the right to practice business and charge and pay out fees as they wish? Just as you or I have the right to choose who to do business with and how much to charge for services?

What exactly is the motive behind trying to discredit the site? If I don't like the way a company does business, I simply won't patronize them, not slander them. This reads like a bad Yelp review from an unsatisfied restaurant customer. Even with great food, there'll be someone that can't be pleased.
Jim Conlan
3/30/2017 at 10:49 AM
Very helpful and concise observations. One thing I question, though, is the commentary on the agent's role. In my experience there's a difference between an agent and a manager. An agent isn't generally responsible for marketing individual talent, but rather for marketing the agency. Talent should never get the idea that the agent will be out there beating the bushes for them. Of course, if a client asks whom to cast, the agent will make the best recommendations. I wonder if this is a regional distinction.
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