a recent review of the voice over business

David Ciccarelli from Voices.com sent along to me a summary of his company’s past year in business, including how many voice over jobs were awarded, average payments, highest payments and total voice over earnings for voice talent who secured business all through Voices.com.

A couple of disclaimers here: I consider David and his wife Stephanie to be my friends and that both are highly ethical in their company’s operations. I trust what they say to be true and I think they run an above board operation. I have said in the past that if I subscribed to any pay to play (P2P) service, I would immediately subscribe to Voices.com based on their credibility alone. I respect the owners and their company.

I am not a paying member of Voices.com. I do have a free profile page. There is another service in the P2P industry where I had a free listing but I had it removed because I believed that group’s credibility to be so suspect that I didn’t want my name or brand associated with them in any manner. And there are other companies in this category whose reputation also precedes them and also not in a good way.

In short, the “pay to play” voice over business model does not work for me. I don’t believe or financially support any service in which voice talent “pays to play” i.e. pays a subscription to receive auditions. I believe such services lower the rate expectations of potential clients because so many voice talents who swim in the pay to play pool low ball their rates out of what I feel is a kind of sad desperation for revenue of any kind.

The pay to play model negatively impacts the voice over business and its practitioners, in my opinion.

While each individual has the right to run their business has they see fit (even or especially in desperate times), that low balling adversely affects my business and is degrading to my industry. I choose to play elsewhere.

The results of the Voices.com survey are:

• $39,290,580 in Total Earnings by Voice Talent at Voices.com

• 155,915 Voice Over Jobs – This figure represents the total number of public, private and direct message job opportunities that have been awarded to voice talent at Voices.com.

• The Highest Paying Voice Over Job awarded via Voices.com that the company is aware of was $37,000

• $252.97 Average Payment for a Voice Over Job (among all possible VO job categories): David noted that projects posted at Voices.com range between $100 and $500, thus resulting in average payments of $252.97.

This last figure illustrates my point better than anything else I might say regarding how ALL pay to play services lower the rate expectations of potential clients. I also have a sense that at other services, that average fee might even be lower.

Taking the Voices.com figure ($252.97) though, as a P2P industry average – that figure, I believe, doesn’t reflect what the voice over customer market “dictates”.

I believe it reflects what the voice over customer market “can get away with” with the help of the pay to play (P2P) business model.

There is no filter of voice over quality or talent abilities within the P2P model – legally I don’t think there can be and as a business model I don’t know why the P2P owners would want there to be. Anyone can sign up, pay the subscription fee and audition with P2P companies. It’s assumed that if someone has no talent, that fact will be reflected in their audition submissions and therefore the talentless won’t get the work (survival of the fittest).

But the nasty truth is, regardless of any supposed audition filter or cut off limit a P2P service may ascribe to, the sheer volume of auditions combined with lower average quality of the combined auditioners (note: they ARE talented and highly compensated voice talents in the P2P mix…somewhere…I guess) means that all the power is in the client’s hands…they can smell the desperation in the auditioning herd and they capitalize on it…to the determent of the voice over industry as a whole.

Think about not just the local or regional radio commercials…but the 10-20 minute narrations, e-learning projects, sales and marketing videos. These long form pieces are a vital part of the industry. Take a minute to do some average calculations on what those fees should be in addition to the local and regional spots.

Then add national commercials, TV promos, radio imaging fees, bigger message on hold projects.

By my calculations, $252.97 is well below what I would expect an overall average fee to be. And for those who would say that’s on par with “my” fee structure or that “I’d” be lucky to get that for a fee, I guess I’d ask you to take a long hard look at your business model. And even dare to say – self worth as a voice over talent.

To mis-quote the old hair commercial, I’d say, “You’re ‘not’ worth it. You’re worth more.”

And for those who’d say it’s none of my damn business – I’d say on that count, you’re probably right. We all have to choose our own paths and mine may not be right for you.

20 Responses to “a recent review of the voice over business”

  1. The fact that Voices.com makes $39,290,580 in Total Earnings by Voice Talents alone is staggering! Really mind boggling!!! And I’m one of them! I’m also wondering what Voice123.com makes on voice talents too. These sites have not paid off for me yet but a few other P2P slits have. Actually cheaper ones! I think P2P sites are a good way for voice talents to get a small start, like I have with them. But down the road, you’ll realize you don’t need P2P sites to make it in this business.

  2. Frank, they (voices.com) didn’t ear $39,290,580, the VO talent did. Vocies makes about $300/year per talent and the Surepay fees.

  3. All of which reiterates the point that P2Ps, or Facebook, or offline marketing, or….. are just one tool in the toolbag. You can’t build a house with only a hammer.

  4. @Rick: I agree with your point. I hosted a Voice Over Workshop yesterday in my studio with a voice talent and that was a key point I made – every voice talents needs to use a VARIETY of marketing channels not a couple. And for some people, as noted in the statistics, obviously P2P works for them. Thanks for your comment.

    @Greg: Thanks for the clarification and that an important point which I may have assumed most voice over talent already knew. And you know what happens when I make an assumption….

    @ Frank: Beyond Greg’s clarification, I’m interested in your point that people don’t need P2P sites. I’d always kinda hoped P2P would find a niche for beginning voice talents (which as we know is a growth market) and then people would evolve in their careers out of that model. This way, everybody could be happy – P2P sites have as much right to compete in the free market as anybody. Nor are the P2P sites setting the rates – the clients are.

    But these P2P sites (with some exceptions) still attract the lower paying gigs and worse attract companies who would normally offer higher paying opportunities but now know they can low ball them because they know there are voice talents who will take anything they can get on P2P sites. Those voice talents are not limited to P2P sites but their desperate habit sure seems well fed there.

    And I know I am a bit of a lone wolf on this position because the numbers are right there for anyone to see…lots of voice talents seem to be looking at the here and now and not the big picture.

    Thanks to ALL of you for your comments. Even if you disagree with me – I’m honored that you would hear me out. I think that kind of discussion is valuable and I hope all the readers here do too.

    Best always,
    – Peter

  5. Excellent observations, Peter. I couldn’t agree more with your overall take on the report and the P2P business model. Here’s what worries me:

    Note that Stephanie Ciccarelli wrote that “These numbers are based upon the last several years of data we’ve collected at the site.” That does not make it summary of this company’s past year in business.

    Voices.com has been in business since 2003, starting as “Interactive Voices”. In 2006, Interactive Voices became Voices.com.

    The report lists: “155,915 All-time number of jobs awarded to voice talent.”

    Voices.com says on their About-page that they are “creating 6911 job opportunities on average, each and every month.” That comes to an average of 82,932 jobs per year.

    So, how did voices.com arrive at the higher number of 155,915? The verbiage “All-time number of jobs” suggests that they started counting from the first day of business. Was that in 2003 or as of September 2006?

    It’s hard to put these numbers into perspective if we don’t know what time period they are based on. That’s exactly the problem I have with most of the numbers coming from voices.com.

    Their “Annual Report on the Voice Over Industry” is not compiled by a reputable market research firm, but by the CEO of voices.com, David Ciccarelli.

    As long as we cannot independently verify the numbers or get a clear sense of the time period during which these data were collected, I look at these reports as a marketing tool to promote voices.com.

  6. We’ve got a couple of issue to tackle here, and both are quite tackle-able.

    First, the idea of “paying to play” flies directly in the face of what a legitimate agency is. There are tons of fly by night “agencies” who prey on young doe-eyed actors, promising to “make them a star”…”just pay $600.00 for us to take your pics and represent you”. Of course, that’s where it ends.

    Legit agencies earn their keep from a percentage of the actual work booked through them. Generally 10% for an agent, 15% for a manager, 20% for a modelling agency. That’s it. No fees.

    IN emulating the practice of scam artists., P2P sites immediately cast doubt on their above-boardness.

    The fix? Simply drop the membership fee and take a percentage of the bookings. As this would attract more working professionals to come on board, quality of the service will go up, and clients will be happier with the results.

    The second issue is how these services are pulling down the mean rate card of what V/O work costs. Yes, this is a problem, as the falling rate card transcends to the real “pro” world. (Producer: Why should I should budget 1200.00 for a V/O when I can get speedy spots to do it for 35.00?) Well, the answer is beyond the scope of this– but yes, Mr/Mrs.Producer: there are reasons).

    By dropping the industry rates, the P2P’s are also shooting themselves in the foot by lowering their commissions.

    The fix? Currently Voices.com has a min. rate of 100.00. Simply raise the min rate to something more “proper”, and everybody wins. Plus, it’s a move that would make up for eliminating membership fees.

  7. Peter, Thank you for taking point on this issue, and peeling the onion so completely. Paul’s questions are, as always, in the pursuit of absolute clarity for clarity sake. I will be interested to hear “the rest of the story” as this evolves.

  8. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Lee Uber, Dorothy Conway. Dorothy Conway said: RT @audioconnell voxmarketising – the audio'connell Voice Over Talent blog and podcast http://bit.ly/eTZnMS A Recent Review of the VO Biz […]

  9. Dave Double-Deck former mid morning host on K-WHiP 110.5 FM has been a voice talent for 20 years. Dave has worked with Fortune 500 companies and has done spots for a number of them. As one of the most sought after voices in Wisconsin and now the world potential clients need to use him as their one stop voice talent shop.

    Does the above sound familiar? If we subjected Dave to the same degree of public scrutiny as the Voices.com “Entire world market report would we find more questions than answers? Would he be proved to be so full of …it that we could prove he was just another nobody trying to make a dime? Highly likely!

    People selling TO voiceoverists will stop talking complete and utter b*ll*cks when we as voiceoverists do the same.

  10. You have a point there Philip.

    Somewhere. 😉

    Best always,
    – Peter

  11. Hi Matt,

    I agree with part of your comment and think differently on another.

    Minimums are vital for respectable fees and any P2P site needs to hold true to something closer union minimums than not.

    No I am not suggesting we establish union type rates but as you point out, $100 fees for almost anything VO related is ridiculously low. Going higher on minimum rates – however they are established – would be wise for the voice talent. But P2P companies serve at the behest of the talent seeker, not the voice talent.

    I disagree with your point on tying to together P2P with scam artists. There are some P2P agencies who I think are trying to run legitimate business – because I disagree with their model does not mean I think they are scam artists. I would not, for example, lump Voices.com in as scam artists in any way yet their business is P2P. They are a fairly transparent company and should be lauded as such.

    Are there other business in P2P who might be suspect? Yup – same as in any industry.

    I greatly appreciate the discussion. Thank you!

    Best always,
    – Peter

  12. Paul,

    I think if I look back a year or so ago, I might have made the same observation in a blog post somewhere on here but your point is well taken.

    Of course when results from such a “report” come from within – there is a sense there is less objectivity in the report. This is a marketing tool for their company and I would think they’d acknowledge that. I’m also not sure if I’d fault them on the marketing angle. But objective this report is not. Did you really expect it to be? Is it even fair to expect that? I’m not sure I know the answer which is why I ask the question.

    I’m not very objective in my marketing. I have a particular point of view (which, for those of you playing at home, is: ‘I’m great, hire me‘).

    While I am critical of why Voices.com is at an average cost of @$250 per job and how the P2P structure in this industry has helped sink that fee down to such a level, I am kind of amazed that the number was published. It’s not a respectable number by almost any measure, as I pointed out, but I take it as a good sign that it was published and (in my opinion) not inflated. It leaves their company and their business model open to criticism BUT in the same breath I offer kudos for having the b-, er, guts to publish it .

    Great thoughts, thanks Paul.

    Best always,
    – Peter

  13. I don’t believe the Emperor is wearing any new clothes, Peter. Yet, there are plenty of people praising the parade.

    Part of voices.com’s success can be attributed to smart marketing, especially after rebranding themselves in 2006.

    There’s overt and covert marketing. An example of covert marketing is a company providing seemingly “objective” numbers to the public under the guise of transparency.

    In a way, numbers are like the Bible. One can always find a few verses to support whichever point one wishes to make. That has nothing to do with the distribution of objective information, an open business model or having any guts. Ultimately, it’s carefully crafted propaganda. It’s an infomercial.

    When commenting on the average voice-over rates that voices.com makes available, I noted that there is a difference between “suggested” and “suggestive” rates. One might look at these rate cards as “objective” information on how much one can make as a voice talent. Based on that, potential members might decide to join the site. After all, one can make a “respectable income”.

    In reality, they’ve just entered a world of low-ballers. Did you notice that voices.com proudly presented their highest paying job and conveniently forgot to tell us about the other extreme?

    I think we’re on the same page, Peter. As you said in response to Matt

    “Going higher on minimum rates – however they are established – would be wise for the voice talent. But P2P companies serve at the behest of the talent seeker, not the voice talent.”

  14. Hi Peter,

    Thanks for posting a thought-provoking article.

    The problem with P2P statistics is that they don’t take into account the personal interaction/payments etc., that take place between talent & voice-seeker. For example, I don’t use the “SurePay” system on Voices.com and always invoice my clients who find me there via Paypal or via emailed invoice. So my payments from clients don’t show up on their system and subsequently would not be included in the “stats.”

    Also, I have clients from P2P sites that I earn significant income from every year (some for years now) so I think that online casting sites are a valuable and credible addition to a voice actor’s marketing strategy. These clients began as private leads from the online casting sites. It is my experience that Voices.com is one of the best in the industry. Highly professional. Highly credible.

    I also believe that no one is responsible for my income, and my rates, and the success of my voice-over business, but me. Our success is based upon (among other things) our skill level, our marketing strategy and skills, and probably most importantly, how we position ourselves in the market. Are we a Walmart VO or a Neiman Marcus VO? There will ALWAYS be customers for both. No amount of people shopping at Walmart will ever drive Neiman Marcus out of business. They are two completely different customer bases.

    I don’t believe that a plethora of VO’s offering their services for $25.00 will ever affect my bottom line. I alone, affect my bottom line. And to look at it from a broader perspective: That’s the beauty of being an entrepreneur. There is no salary cap and there are no layoffs. If a client chooses to use a lower-priced talent or goes elsewhere, there are a hundred other avenues we can pursue the very next day. We would just need to get busy and create a new strategy. We are responsible for everything that happens within our business. No one else.

    Great article Peter! I love to hear thoughts on the industry as a whole. And personally, I can’t recommend Voices.com highly enough! My ROI with them has been absolutely tremendous.

    – Maxine Dunn
    P.S. Just because a talent seeker quotes a $200 budget on an audition doesn’t mean you can’t reply to the audition with a $500 fee quote, and let them know that “you’d love to work with them if they’re at all flexible on their budget.” And yes, sometimes they’ll want you enough to raise their budget, and you’ve just got yourself a valuable new client. Who values you. I’ve responded to lower-than-I-would-work-for auditions with my regular rates when I could see that the job would be a really good fit, and had clients agree to my higher rates because they want to work with me. I only do this with projects that I can see would be a perfect match, and realize that their budget expectations were perhaps misguided.

    P.S.S. Sorry, I type about 95 words a minute so it’s hard to keep my comments brief! :~)

  15. I read the entire thread and maybe it is because I read it last, but Maxine killed it.

    I am newly inspired.

    That is all.

  16. Yes, I agree. Maxine, you displayed a truth, and I agree with you. But let’s put it all to a test. Let’s let the folks out there know how we really feel. I’ve been in the VO business for 30 years. I’m a signature voice for TNT LA, and The Cartoon Network here in Atlanta. My creds and my demos speak for themselves. BUT JUST FOR THE RECORD! I would like to know this: “What P2P sight does everyone really prefer? What P2P sight does everyone REALLY LIKE AND TRUST? What P2P sight stands out as a true winner for voice over talent? There are many sights out there these days: Bodalgo, Voice123, Voices.com, The Voice Realm, and many more coming up through the ranks. Geez, It’s like agents popping up all over the place! (lol!) It would be great to have one of us create a rating system over the next few months from say…one to ten…and everybody chip in with their take on it all…then we might have a good idea as to what sight you want to pay to play with! Oh Geez, I just shot myself in the foot! This type of grading would also be available to the P2P sights as well! And they could construe it to their advantage! BAD IDEA! Sorry…I’m now going to crawl back into my “cubby hole” voice over booth and think of something different! (lol!) All my best, Dave!

  17. I am new to the voice over business. I have been bogged with trying to find updated reviews for 2014, on which voice over company I should choose. If I have to pay to join a VO company, so I can make serious money, I want to make sure I am not wasting my time with the wrong company. I do not want to do business with a company that is truly NOT interested in marketing my talent.

    I am researching voplanet.com, which used to be voice planet.com, and voices.com. I have seen many good reviews on this blog about voices.com. Anyone have any good advice?

  18. I currently have a membership at voices.com. I have a friend in the publishing industry who wanted a book done, and I wanted to get selected to a job so i could get an actual rating–only achievable by getting a job. Simple.
    So, I figure, put up a job for 100 bucks, get paid 90$, and pay 10 bucks for a good review.

    I bid 100, my friend sent me a private audition invite. He got response from 40 other auditions, but not mine–it was too low.

    Voices.com told my friend the minimum the job would be $250-$300. They were going to keep the remaining 150-200 dollars.

    Do business with Voices.com at your own risk.

  19. Thanks for sharing the story Stan.

    Sorry you had a bad experience with Voices.com.

    If it makes you feel any better, from what I’m reading on the web and from people I’ve been talking with who’ve worked on Voices.com projects, yours is not a unique story.

    Best always,

  20. […] his analysis of the report, colleague Peter O’Connel […]