Know Your Competition On P2P Casting Sites
- How 'Good' Must You Be To Book Jobs?
June 20, 2014
By J. Michael Collins
One of the most challenging aspects of the business for both new and established voice talent alike is to understand who it is you are going up against for a given job, and the level you need to be at to have a chance to book.
In the past, we would walk into a centrally located studio to read for a potential job, and the only factor that entered into the competition equation was the talent level of the other people in the room. The signal chain and production would be the same for everyone, for better or worse.
With the revolution in online casting over the past decade, this element has become more mysterious, as even top national talent are now regularly recording auditions from their home studios for their agents to submit to the client.
If you are reading for your agent, you can be fairly sure that the vast majority of talent you are competing against will have top-end signal chains in well-constructed studios that are capable of producing audio that is ready for air.
Naturally, you will be expected to have the same, and if you are already doing agency work, then you probably have your ducks in a row technically.
COMPETING ON P2P
Where the competition question becomes more interesting is in the sprawling pay-to-play marketplace that has become so prominent in the industry over the past 10 years.
While I have a stable of reliable talent whom I call upon for projects I cast for my clients, I frequently cast from the major online casting services when I need a specific sound, or when I need a larger number of voices for a training narration or some such.
The quality of auditions varies widely.
There has often been a skewed perspective among some that the talent pool online is of a lower caliber than what you find through traditional agents and talent management companies.
This has also led to the perception among many aspiring talent that they can cut corners when it comes to the quality of their sound and training, assuming that a low level of competition will allow them to compete with minimal effort or expenditure.
This is a big mistake.
MUST PRODUCE QUALITY AUDIO
Indeed, there are quite a large number of untrained, amateur, and technically challenged VOs clamoring after work on the online casting sites.
I am particularly difficult to please when I'm casting, but around 80% of the auditions I hear are generally discarded within 10 seconds or less of pressing play because of poor audio or a lack of ability/training.
These folks think they can slide by with a USB mic and a laptop, and audio full of breaths and mouth noise and echo - or that they can compete for paying work despite zero experience or zero training.
They are wrong.
KNOW YOUR COMPETITION!
The reason they are wrong is because they don't know their competition. They don't understand that while they may be reading against a large quantity of non-competitive talent, they are also up against a few dozen industry-leading voices who can deliver world-beating audio in their sleep.
For instance, take a look at the top 25 on Voices.com on any given day, and have a listen to their work. These are top level, national-caliber talent with decked-out studios, perfect acoustics, and reads that will give you goosebumps they are so good.
Everything they submit to a voice seeker sounds like a final cut. Thereís no echo, no noticeable mouth noise, no hum from their computer screens, no clipping, and definitely no dogs barking in the yard! Their audio sounds like what you hear on TV, radio, and the Internet every day, because theirs are the voices you are hearing.
Even for a $250 job, the competition will often be at this level. If you want to be a professional, you will have to be competitive with other professionals.
HOW TO COMPETE?
What does this mean?
First, donít panic. With the right training, quality equipment, (it doesnít have to cost a fortune, but you need to know what you are doing,) understanding of the technical side of audio, and confidence, you can compete.
It is essential, however, that you follow certain fundamental steps.
1. FOR VO NEWCOMERS ...
If you are brand new to the business, get an established coach or working pro to work through some copy with you for at least an hour, and give you some genuine feedback on whether you have the basic skills necessary to develop into a booking VO.
An average quarterback can be coached up, but if you canít throw the football, itís better to be told the bad news before you invest thousands in a futile pursuit.
If you pass the first hurdle, then you and your coach should develop a plan that will leave you ready to actively pursue opportunities when your VO education is complete. This should include building a quality personal studio, and making at least a couple of top notch demos.
Your coach should also walk you through setting up your gear until you are both satisfied with the quality of your audio. I canít emphasize how important this is in todayís casting environment. It doesnít matter how spectacular your delivery is if the listener has hit stop after five seconds because your sound isnít professional!
2. FOR ESTABLISHED TALENT ...
For already active talent, the occasional hour with your coach can make a huge difference in keeping your reads fresh, but again, listen to the audio you are producing, and ask yourself if it is as good as what the top booking talents are sending in.
If you have any doubt, find a solution!
This can be technical training if you arenít a proficient engineer or editor, or a simple upgrade in gear. Every talent should at a minimum have a proper XLR mic and a quality preamp to warm up your sound, as well as the knowledge to utilize your DAW (digital audio workstation) to its highest potential.
This doesnít have to cost a fortune.
For instance, a RODE NT1-A into a Focusrite ISA One may not be top-end gear, but in the right hands it can sound highly professional, at around $600 all-in.
ASK FOR HELP
If you arenít confident in any of these things, seek ways to improve, and donít be afraid to ask questions of the pros.
The VO community may well be the most singularly giving group of individuals in any business. Yes, most of us will charge you if you need an hour of our time, but most of us will also be happy to answer the stray question here or there without sending a bill. So seek out knowledge!
MORE THAN 'GOOD ENOUGH'
Ultimately, you need to be sure of the product you are trying to sell, and you need to be a perfectionist.
The people booking all the work never hear an artifact in their audio and say, "Well, they probably wonít notice that.Ē They DO notice it, and so do the people booking the talents who book all the work!
Donít let, "good enough,Ē become your standard.
To book with the best, you have to hold yourself to the same criteria they do.
'WHAT AM I DOING WRONG?'
One of the most frustrating things I encounter, both as a coach and as someone who sympathizes with talent who are struggling, is when I get an e-mail from someone that says, "Iíve submitted 250 auditions on the P2P sites and havenít booked anything. What am I doing wrong?Ē
Most of the time, these are people who have had some coaching, made a demo or two, and often have a good deal of talent.
I usually ask to hear a few recent submissions from them, and almost without fail the audio quality is substandard, even if the reads are solid.
For all of the hand wringing out there about online casting, the reality is that a quality talent with strong audio is ALMOST CERTAIN to book SOMETHING if they submit 250 reads.
QUALITY COUNTS AT P2P
Remember, it really is only around 20% of the P2P talent pool who are competitive for essentially everything they take the time to read for. If you are in that group, the odds are in your favor.
Too many people, however, believe that because the job might be a $300 local :15 or internal narration, the competition is less fierce. Donít fall into that trap.
If you want to book regularly, every audition you do needs to have shortlist potential. There are no throwaways in a business where the average pro books around 5% of their auditions.
Every shot has to count, because only one in twenty might be the right fit for the person casting, no matter how good you and your audio are.
The talent pool in our industry is not as deep as we are often scared into believing, but it is stronger than we sometimes assume. To compete with the best, never compromise. They donít.
ABOUT J. MICHAEL
With almost 20 years as a professional voice over artist, J Michael Collins has worked with some of the biggest companies, brands, sports leagues, and organizations on the planet. In addition to his work in the classic, agency-based world of VO, he has established himself as one of the leading authorities and top-grossing talents in the online marketplace, and has become recognized as an industry leading talent coach, as well.
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