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Agents: How Do They Help You?
Make Life Easier - Maybe Richer!
By Bettye Zoller
Voice Actor
& Coach
Questions always arise about the role of agents in voice-over work – especially from new talent, who seem to be in a hurry to get one.
So - what do agents do? And do you really need them?
Agents in the "real world" (as opposed to the pay-to-play sites where you get auditions and maybe jobs without an agent as middleperson) have three main functions, as I see it after 30 years in this in this business.

First, an agent negotiates money and does a contract on a job, be it union or non-union.
Usually, the agent can get a VO talent (or an actor in any medium, for that matter, or a dancer or singer or clown or whatever) more money than if the job were simply booked for what the client or producer said he or she would pay.
It's called "negotiating."
And since agents earn a percentage of what a talent makes for doing a job, the agent, of course, wants to see the job pay as much as possible. That makes the commission is bigger.
By the way, many times, the agent’s commission is paid by the client (not by you.)

Second, an agent can expose a VO talent to new people, new producers, and new companies.
Some voice talents also do on-camera or print modeling or music, and an agent sometimes crosses genres to book the talent in several employment areas of the business.
For example, suppose a producer calls an agent needing "a cowboy voice, rough and rugged 'old west' kind of guy."
The agent lets the producer hear five guys with that sound.
Now, that producer knows five VO talents that he or she would not have known otherwise. And, the producer will keep those voices in the "VO demo file."
It behooves all talents to get their demo into the hands of as many producers and advertising agency creatives as possible.
If you have not yet done this in your geographical area, you're missing out.
Don't know who the casting directors are in your area?
  • Enroll in a seminar to find out.
  • Google it.
  • Ask fellow actors for help.
  • Visit an AFTRA or SAG union office, if one is nearby, for a list a casting directors.

Thirdly, the agent’s bookkeeping department keeps watch over a talent's residual payments and other monetary matters.
They check back on jobs done to see if more money is owed a talent, and call producers and advertising agency bookkeeping departments to see if a spot has:
  • gone into additional media buy markets,
  • been used on cable as well as on network TV,
  • made its way to the Internet, and so on.
The agent gets a commission on all monies, and that's why agents will keep watch and get you your money - so they get their money, too!

My stories about monies collected for me by my agents are many - far too many to relate them all. 
But one example is when a TV voice-over I did became a point-of-purchase announcement in a national drugstore chain. I got paid again, this time for the use of my VO being played in the ceiling speakers in hundreds of stores.

Another example is when a spot I did for a producer became a blanket network spot running on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno and on several soaps, including Days of Our Lives.
Originally, the spot had been aired as a "regional" running on TV in about six states.
Now, as a national, it paid many thousands more.

Oh yes, all voice talents need agents!
I suggest having at least three agents in various geographical areas, one of these being in the area where you live.
I also like having a couple of European agents in today's marketplace.
If you are “recording capable,” agents in geographical locations far and wide will listen to your demo and might even sign to represent you - but ONLY if:
  • your demo is a good one, and
  • yours is a sound they need in their stable of talents at that time.
If an agent says “no,” check back perhaps six to 12 months later. A “no” is not forever. It just means “not now.”

These agents work in "the real world." There is no conflict between them and the Internet casting sites.
As I teach in my workshops, if you only "play" the online sites for auditions and the hope of an occasional job, you're missing out.
That's not a career - that's a hobby.
Professional voice talents have agents booking them – but pro VOs also market themselves to potential clients.
They play the Internet sites for extra opportunities.

Agents who are bonded and franchised in their state are the best choice, as they are bonded to handle other people's money (yours!).
Ask to see the agent’s credentials, which should be displayed in their office.
Note: An agent might not be franchised by the unions or licensed at this time, but may honestly achieve those goals in the near future. Check back.
Visit their web site prior to approaching an agent for representation. For instance, learn:
  • Do they mainly represent models or children or music acts?
  • Are there no (or only a few) voice-over talents represented?
Your agent should be an expert at booking voice-overs, not just films or children, or music or models.

In your city or region, socialize with actor-types who already know the "agent scene."
Ask for opinions about various agents, keeping in mind, of course, that experiences differ, and that others might not parallel yours.
It's like asking about a teacher in your college, “Is he or she good?” That's too general a question. Good at what?
Maybe that talent has not worked much, but perhaps it’s the talent's fault, by having no publicity tools or poor ones, no self-marketing attempts, and so on.
Take opinions with a 'grain of salt' and then do your own sleuthing.

After you secure agent representation by one or more people, turn to those people for help.
For instance, when someone asks you to voice a job, whenever possible, talk to your agent about that request and get input. Usually, your agent will phone the voice seeker and negotiate a better price and get a piece of paper on the job.

And remember, you need not belong to a union to work a union job.

If a union producer or agency (a voice seeker) wants to use a non-union voice talent, the voice seeker may be able to do so.
First, the producer/agency must sign an "OPO" - a one-day letter of limited agreement. This form is available from the two unions.
Then, if all parties agree, the non-union performer may work the same as a union performer. The non-union performer would receive the same union wages that a union member would receive, and even be paid residual payments should the project be entitled to those.
Best of all, the non-union performer would then enjoy all the benefits of union members, such as hazard pay, work day structures, on-time meal breaks, pension welfare contributions from the employer, and more.

Bottom line: If the person who hires is a union producer or firm, the talent will be considered "union" once the OPO is negotiated and a contract is signed for that job.

Finally, make sure each agent knows you are "recording capable" and can audition and do voice jobs from your home studio.
We can work worldwide now without ever leaving home! That is why agents in a few key cities are important to a career.
For example, an agent in Miami or California can be very, very important to a voice talent in the Midwest, or one living on a ranch in Canada.
Good luck! Don't be discouraged by a few "no’s" from agents. There is always a perfect match - just like dating and marriage.
Bettye Zoller is one of the nation's best-known voice, speech, acting, and voice-over coaches, and is a winner of ADDY, Clio, Golden Radio and Audie Awards. She holds post graduate degrees (masters, doctoral) from three universities, has served on many university faculties over the past 30 years, and currently is the Feagin Artist Guest Professor at Tulsa University. She presents workshops sponsored by Women in Film and Television, AFTRA, SAG, and her own company, She is a professional audio engineer and producer, and a Simon & Schuster audiobook author and reader. Her VoicesVoices recording studio and training facility is in Dallas, but she also teaches by invitation worldwide.


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