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Voice Over Pay And Training ...
Changing Times or Shifting Times?
 
By Ken Maxon
Voice Actor
 
Times are changing. No one can argue that.
 
More and more people are entering the VO biz on a daily basis, and some are taking the lower paying jobs.
 
Does it hurt the business? It's a good question without a clear answer.
 
The truth is, those jobs have always been there. They just weren't being posted on the Internet for all to see years ago.
 
OLD RADIO DAYS
 
I remember years ago - not that long ago in truth, it was only about 2002 - while working at a radio station that the lady who owned the station raved about doing a phone tree job for $75.
 
She was happy as a clam and it wasn't the first company she had done it for in the area.
 
The truth is, she needed the money to keep the station on the air and food on the table.
 
It was a small town. She had an AM/FM combo, the AM was a classic country format that got about $10 per spot, the FM was a modern rock station that couldn't get advertisers to save it's soul in that community.
 
The listeners loved the format, the advertisers hated that “devil music.”
 
STILL IN BUSINESS
 
Fast forward to today.
 
The station is owned by someone else who moved the studio to a neighboring town (not the transmitter or city of license that I'm aware of), and after a few format changes and the luck of a competing station changing formats, they have finally returned to rock format and are at least holding their own.
 
Yes, I got off track a bit, but I had to finish the side story.
 
The point I'm making is that many of the jobs were just farmed out locally to radio personalities.
 
YESTERDAY AND TODAY
 
The “announcer style” of the 70's was gone a long time ago. Back then, they were able to do these small jobs and add a few dollars to a low paycheck and survive.
 
Today, announcers are real people talking about their life experiences on the air. 
 
And home studios have surpassed the quality of many small market radio production studios in terms of background noise, and in some cases, even equipment in general.
 
Enter the Internet, and now these jobs have more options for voices.
 
MAKING IT TODAY
 
As is always said in any field, it's not what you know, but who you know.
 
If you aren't working at all, you don't know anyone. There are two ways to overcome this, perhaps more, but two main ones.
 
One is to spend thousands of dollars on training on location.
 
Let's face it, the economy is down. Many people, even those who are working, don't have any spare cash laying around that they can invest that way.
 
They don't know which classes and which people can actually teach them the skills needed and help them build the contacts.
 
It takes time and research to see who really knows.
 
DOING WHAT'S POSSIBLE
 
So what do they do in the interim? They take door number two.
 
They take the skills they have, get whatever training they can afford, and take the jobs they can.
 
It allows them first to make some money to pay for the essentials they had to purchase to get started, and put away a few dollars to start getting that coveted training.
 
HASN'T REALLY CHANGED
 
Again, the business hasn't really changed over the years.
 
I doubt anyone can say they knew it all before they took their first VO job.
 
The difference is perceived in the minds of some people, though. 
 
Perhaps they've forgotten what it was like back then when they were struggling to get a client base. Perhaps they just got jaded over the years as the Internet got involved and now it's “perceived” to be easier to get into the biz.
 
IT'S NOT EASIER
 
But it's not easier to get in.
 
Perhaps it's easier to get a few jobs, but these people are still putting in their dues, they are just paying their dues differently.
 
They are building their credentials on a smaller scale and earning a few dollars here and there instead of spending countless hours standing in line waiting to to do an audition.
 
They'll audition from home instead of driving hours a day to get from one place to another, or moving to LA, Chicago or NYC.
 
UNDERSTAND THE FRUSTRATION
 
I can see where it's frustrating to some who have been around for years and had to take that route, living in a small apartment and struggling to get by working a job they didn't like that paid peanuts while they built a contact list and developed their craft.
 
The trouble is, the new crop does the same thing.
 
They work a job they don't like, get paid peanuts, make time in their already hectic schedule to get training and do audition after audition.
 
They just have the luxury of being able to have their home “comfort zone.”
 
It's the only thing that has really changed.
 
SEE SIMILARITIES
 
I'm sure many people took lower-paying below-scale jobs as they were coming up the ranks, whether they admit it publicly or not.
 
I see no real change in what's happening today, but more of a perceived change.
 
The newcomers have worked their way up through the ranks of the business world. And now they have a preconceived notion based on their  experience that they get paid low when they start, and work their way up to the better paying jobs, without the benefit of union scale protecting them.
 
In many cases, the starting pay they are getting in this business is better than what they make during the day.
 
UNDERSTAND IT
 
Calling them names and intimidating them seems to me to be the wrong way to handle it.
 
Rather, it shows a lack of professionalism and tarnishes the bully's name more than it does the person on the receiving end.
 
The new guys are only doing what was done for years under the radar where it wasn't noticed.
 
Now it's out in the open and easier to track, that's all.
 
They will charge more as they go, just like everyone who came before them.
 
So the question is: are times really changing, or are we just perceiving them to be changing?
 
ABOUT KEN ...
 
Ken Maxon has been a professional broadcaster, newscaster, production director and operations manager and voice over artist since 1988, hosted an 80's retro show, a morning talk show, and afternoon drive classic country show, as well as several other formats and shifts. He has been the voice of several dozen books, several thousand self-help and motivational articles, viral videos and e-learning courses. He's a proud father of a teenage daughter who thinks his job is “really cool” and her name reflects his view on life - “Hope.” He's also a published poet and short story author. And he resides in the middle of a cow field in the middle of nowhere with about a dozen cats that call him “meow.”
 
 
 
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Comments (14)
Ken
10/29/2010 at 6:31 PM
I am truly humbled by the response to this article. It has been constructive and helpful and I don't think anyone that participated felt like they didn't belong, both the well established and the less established, as well as anyone in between.

There have been some good tips, some great advice, and I like to think it was a learning experience with a positive outcome. I can't take credit for that outcome, that credit should go to all who have participated. I thank you all!
BP Smyth, Narrator
10/29/2010 at 6:11 PM
Very good points, Paul. Your last two paragraphs especially. They say it all regarding our dealings with so called "bottom feeders."

We all have a responsibility to ourselves, and the family situations we are monetarily supporting.
Paul Strikwerda
10/29/2010 at 4:08 PM
The VoiceOver Insider magazine published the results of a survey last year. Here are some of the numbers:

Almost 40% of professional voice-overs makes less than $25,000 per year, even after having been in the business for 10-25 years. Over one quarter of those surveyed make less than $10,000 per year.

I must say that I am always amazed at the number of colleagues who swear they can tell me how much their clients can afford. Really???

Making Assumptions is number 2 on my list of classic mistakes people make when quoting a price:

Poor client! She said she was operating on “a small budget,” so if you really want that gig, make sure you put in a lowball offer or give a discount.

NOT SO FAST! What might be a “small budget” to some might be a large chunk of money to others.

How can you be so sure whether or not a customer you don’t even know can or cannot afford you or your service?

Did you just read the tea leaves? Did that little voice in your head tell you so? The “limited budget excuse” is the oldest trick in the book of cheapskates.

It's a given that some clients can afford more than others, but unless you have access to their books, you have no idea how much or how little they can afford. Besides, that's their problem.

If you're running a for-profit business, you have to figure out how much you need to make in a year, a month, a week and even per day in order to keep your head above water. That should be your starting point and not what your client supposedly can or cannot afford.

And finally: always negotiate based on added value and not on price! Come from a place of confidence and not from a place of fear.
Caroline Corser
10/29/2010 at 3:59 PM
Thanks so much, Ken, for that common-sense article about the changing times.

I'm one of those beginners who might be willing to take lower pay for some gigs just to get the experience and to get known in the field. Being a retired educator, I also know that we all have our own learning curve, and that we will all reach our own goal in our own time. People in this VO business tell us that there is plenty of work out there, and I believe that.

I know that whatever jobs I take will not take work from anyone else, whatever price I'm willing to accept. Thanks for your insight.
jennifer m dixon
10/29/2010 at 1:59 PM
"PLUS CA CHANGE PLUS C'EST LA MEME CHOSE"
As the French say, "The more things change the more they stay the same!!

Well said, Ken! There is always going to be someone out there who genuinely can only pay small amounts and then there are those who will take advantage. We all have to learn how to deal with these situations in our own way and live with the decisions we make.

Being tough is important sometimes, but it is also important to be compassionate. Not only to others but to one's self, too. The Internet/technology doesn't change that - at least, if you don't let it.
Martin Drayton
10/29/2010 at 12:40 PM
Excellent piece, Ken, very thought-provoking!

I was involved many years ago (pre-Internet) in the Industry, and in a different country. As someone starting out again, I can definitely see the temptation to accept low paid jobs as opposed to getting no work at all. It's tough for someone to have the guts to turn down a smaller amount now, rather than look at the big picture, when their kids need feeding. There is no easy answer.

Job posters are taking advantage of it, you only have to look at sites like E***** to see that!

You are right, those jobs were always there, but the visibility that they now have due to the Internet gives a different impression and allows more people the chance to 'bottom feed' as they are alerted to their existence.

Martin Drayton
www.voiceofprinciple.com
Liz Nichols
10/29/2010 at 11:36 AM
Thank you...nice article...I'm tired of "the walk of shame" for taking work that's offered.

Jim Conlan
10/29/2010 at 10:20 AM
What would be especially helpful is a survey of what working talent are getting for various types of projects - especially the major ones: commercials, narration, corporate, e-learning. Is anyone able to conduct such a survey?
BP Smyth, Narrator
10/29/2010 at 9:39 AM
Excellent article, Ken. Thanks for the great perspective. Those who make it in this business are those who persist, regardless of any changing times or shifts.
Ken
10/29/2010 at 9:32 AM
Paul,

The only point I'm trying to make is that the low pay jobs have always been around and probably always will be. It's the nature of any business in any economy.

The article you refer to is a very well written article. People tend to place the blame somewhere else. Look at the news. So and So is brought up on charges for robbing a convenience store, but the defense is it was his great uncle's fault for not showing compassion when he was a child, or something else.

Taking responsibility is part of growing up. The only thing that has changed is the perception. True, there are places to find the jobs easier, which gives people a place to at least get their foot in the door differently, but that's not so much a drastic change as it is evolution.

Mark Twain - Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.
Bob Jordan
10/29/2010 at 9:28 AM
Great article, Ken ! Having started in radio back in 1977 at an AM/FM combo, I know exactly what you're talking about ! Our rates were $5 a holler! Remember a sales rep coming in after resigning a client and telling you to "Just freshen up their copy."

Writing and recording thousands of pieces of copy was on-the-job training. These words hung on a sign in the sales room: A = A (Attitude equals Altitude) and P = R (Perception is Reality).

Continued Success !

Bob Jordan
www.thevoicebobjordan.com

Steven
10/29/2010 at 9:09 AM
Nice article.

In my time at Voice123, I have come to realize that technology is changing the 'HOW' of the business, but the creative voice artist is forever in demand.

The business is more in the hands of the voice over talent than ever before. That power can be quite scary.
Paul Strikwerda
10/29/2010 at 7:36 AM
Everything's perception ... and perception's everything. Other than that, I'm not so sure what Ken's message is.

The economy is in a crisis ... we all know that. However, my plumber hasn't lowered his rates; my daughter's teacher got a nice raise, and people are still getting Latte's at Starbucks. If you wish to see a real crisis, go to Zimbabwe or Haiti.

A company like Apple is handling the economic challenges rather well. Apple competes on quality and never on price. Perhaps there's a lesson to be learned ...

As I write in my blog, "It's the stupid economy:"

"Experts keep on telling us that people need to start spending again, in order to drag this economy out of a slump. If we wish to do our part as loyal, contributing citizens, we should start making more money, so we can pump that cash back into our neighborhoods, our businesses and into our nation."

Or does that sound too intimidating?

As Nelson Mandela once said:

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?"

Five Dolla
10/28/2010 at 3:00 PM
Excellent article and perspective.
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