The Marriage between Voiceover Casting and Social Media – Friend or Foe?

From the mid 80’s through the beginning of Y2K, Voiceover talent had the rush of running from casting office-to agent-back to casting office again. I lived in the thick of it in New York City and I enjoyed navigating from the Bronx to the Battery and crisscrossing in between. It reminded me of lacing a shoelace on a big grid. As talent we were to arrive in human form to the audition, study our copy for the first time, and go into a room with a Casting Director who would offer up subtle tweaks of direction that made our delivery even more engaging to their advertising clients. This was also a time of great social interaction in the voice community. We saw our work friends, caught up on each other’s lives, and often shared a cab to our next gig.

Gone are the days of social and human interaction, only to be replaced by bunny slippers, computers, internet casting sites, and Guitar Center padded closets.  And of this, I am torn.

In 1998, the voiceover world radically changed its standard of casting forever. Enter Voicebank.net, a master-crafted system that would put Voice Over Casting on-line, eventually linking more than 1600 Talent Agents, Ad Agencies, studios, independent producers and Casting Directors from around the world, to any and all voiceover talent who subscribed. I recall sitting with the brains behind the business at a luncheon and giving him a piece of my mind. He was very interested to hear. ‘You’ve just gone and created tons competition for me. I’ve worked tirelessly on marketing myself and now you’re putting scripts into the hands of thousands of other people who would have never been heard for this!!!’ I went on and on like a strong-willed child with toy on the brain. He listened intently. He was kind. I had just re-confirmed his exact intentions with this new system. I was angry, and although he stayed very poised, I’m sure he was dancing a little jig on the way back to his car followed by Mwahhhh haaaaaa haaaaa! I went home, tail between my legs, called up Voicebank.net and joined that very same day. I was disappointed, but certainly not dumb. I had just succumbed to the almighty marriage between technology and convenience, known as the first social media site for voiceover talent in history.

As much as I was steadfast on perpetuating my disdain for this new way of receiving and delivering audition copy, I quietly began loving it. At least, when I was still at the forefront of the change. My feelings today have petered out a bit.

Friend – Convenience

The realization of not having to leave my home to send in an audition was like a new miner panning his first piece of gold. I could stay in my skivvies, record from home, edit my audition and send it to the supreme hub. It was fast, no long drives to the Westside (now in LA), and I could work on it for as long as I wanted. No more long waits at my agent’s office. This was the life and it was my little covert operation.

Foe – Convenience

However, locking myself in my home studio often became isolating. I sometimes enjoyed getting dressed up and out of sweats. I missed going in and seeing my friends. I missed the booth director busting my chops and working me in an entirely different direction. And of course, there was always additional copy pouring into the agency during the afternoon that I was missing. This is still true today. It is so easy to sit at home and record, most of us do, but there is something to be said when there is a real human being directing.

Friend – Broadening The Reach

So, if 1600 users of voice talent now had access to me, I certainly had access to them. As fast as another company would sign on to voicebank.net, I would get their information and make an introduction with my virtual demo in mp3 format. They loved the fact I was a trained and working talent from a big market. Hollywood still had appeal. Now, they could do their voice casting and session recording without bringing anyone into their studio. They would simply send copy via email, we would both flip on our once sophisticated Codec ISDN voice communication transponders and record the session live. This was the greatest thing ever to happen to my career and I built a strong voice over business on expanding my geographical horizons.

Foe – Broadening The Reach

Although slightly ahead of the game, it only took a New York minute for the other voiceover die-hards to spring up. But the process was slow. Oddly enough, most were not so inclined to expand outside of their own markets. This was due largely in part to union membership, and to the expense associated with putting in home studios with ISDN lines. But those who were voice casting loved this idea of getting as many auditions as they could from talent from across the land. They had their choice of agencies to send to, some checked “All”. And soon every agent across the USA was sending in their top 50 talents to read on projects. One prospective radio commercial, 350 plus returned auditions, and now fewer chances to book jobs. This still holds true.

Friend – Opening Up The Flood Gates

With the onslaught of social media, the idea of packing up your bag and heading to Hollywood Land has become more and more obsolete. Voicebank.net has proven its voice casting success, and new social media sites pop up on a minute-by minute basis. Dare I call them copycats? Some, yes, but others have their own whippersnapper systems in place. Social media sites like Voice 123 and Voices.com are brilliant enterprises that allow most anyone to sign up for a nominal fee, call themselves voice talent, and submit for auditions. The owners are getting pretty rich as more and more people who are told they have good voices decide that by filling out a form on line, they now are entitled to call themselves Professional Voiceover Talent. These sites often bury this criticism by pushing their knowledge and expertise through on-line seminars and podcasts.

Foe Foe Foe – Opening Up The Flood Gates

This deserves a 3-shot Foe! And sorry, but even though you think you have the right to join any social media site there is, you don’t have the right to call yourselves Professional Voice Over Talent until you earn it. We have trained for years at The American Academy of Dramatic Arts, we took voice over class after class, have gotten in front of casting directors, been turned down by agents, been let go from agencies, have been on countless in-person auditions, are dedicated to constantly perfecting our craft and updating our demos. We have spent exorbitant amounts of money on building beautiful studios with floating floors and we’ve taken more classes. We market ourselves and we work. You sign up for a service whose rule is to pay to play and the professionals are being suffocated by your schlocky auditions. Not to mention, because you really want to win the audition, you are willing to lower your price to $25. And anyone who likes a bargain is going to shop for the least amount. Quality talent, who have done the work and paid their dues, are being squeezed out by bottom feeders.  Mad, no. With all due respect, I’m pissed off. I’ve watched my friends and my community break apart because of this inundation and it will never sit well. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve redone projects for companies because they made the mistake in taking the cheapest priced talent who could not deliver the goods.

The fact is, social media has become a household chore – wash dishes, check email for auditions, feed the dogs, check Facebook. I get it. I couldn’t live without it. I’ve accepted the change. I love the ease of receiving auditions and jobs via email and sending my clients back quality recordings at warp speed. I love that I have had long-term relationships with people I’ve never seen. The Internet has been a miracle at helping people make connections. The speed and convenience have been nothing short of amazing. But, it should never be used or abused to disregard the rules of a trade or art in an attempt to make profit. When this happens, as it has, it cheapens the voice over business, closes the doors of the great voice casting offices, and dims the light on real and deserving talent.

Jessica Gee-George is a veteran voice over talent throughout the United States. She resides in Los Angeles with her VO husband Grant George and their 2 kids. For more information, log onto www.GrabThatVOice.com

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  • http://www.rebeccaforstadt.com Rebecca Forstadt

    Great article Jessica. I feel the same. It’s so confusing anymore on how to market yourself. I hate the idea of pay to play and there are even people on Fiverr doing VO’s for $5. There are advantages, sure to being able to work from home and not spend endless hours in traffic, however the interaction between “actor” and casting director (in person) is often the key to landing the job. It’s great to expand your reach but it also makes you a much smaller fish in an enormous pond.

  • http://www.randyekaye.com/ Randye Kaye

    Hi Jessica. We’ve never met in person, but we are kindred spirits (except I’m on the East Coast). You have summed up the pros and cons beautifully. Thanks!

  • http://www.ricklancestudio.com Rick Lance Studio

    Yes, you’ve summed it up quite well, Jessica. I’m also from the old school. So I understand the THEN and NOW of it all. Frankly, I don’t get into the online tiffs about P2P sites, low ballers, bad talent, bad audio, etc. I just spend my time forging ahead on my own merits as a solid talent, taking it all in stride…but I’m doing well and growing. That’s all any of us dedicated to the VO biz can do.