A New York Minute with ACM Talent Manager, Marc Guss, On the State of Voice Acting
By Rudy Gaskins, 15th September, 2019 – Society of Voice Arts and Sciences
RUDY: What are your thoughts on the state of the voiceover industry?
MARC: The industry is very much in flux and going through its biggest transformation ever. With so much change in place, it’s the most exciting time for everyone involved. It doesn’t seem to be stabilizing anytime soon but that’s okay. Buckle up and get ready for all the new action because there are so many more changes ahead of us.
What are some of the more significant changes you see coming?
MARC: More talent agencies will be working on non-union projects. Especially the ones who for many years resisted the most.
Are there any areas that give you pause?
MARC: There are so many people out there who think that because they have a nice voice, they can make money in voiceover. It takes so much more than a sound. It requires training and dedication to hone the craft and develop your talent. The market is flooded with people who want to break into voiceover. Eliminating the gatekeeper is one thing, but now, there is no gate.
What do you mean by eliminating the gatekeeper?
MARC: Big agencies used to be the gatekeepers. They determined who would become voiceover stars, as they were the ones representing the talent and procuring the gigs. If you were talent, you had to have an agency booking you. You really couldn’t advocate for yourself directly with the buyer, at least not in the way talent can today. Now, talent can pursue auditions themselves. They can operate as entrepreneurs on their own behalf. That’s what I mean by we’ve eliminated the gatekeeper. The challenge is that when we did that, we also eliminated the gate, and anyone, literally anyone, if they have a good voice or if they think that they do, can put themselves out there. The market has become flooded. So no gatekeepers, no gate. It makes what we do at ACM even more valuable.
Interview Continues below…
RUDY: In my view things are evolving so fast that one can no longer identify an industry norm. Do you agree and why?
MARC: I agree completely. The industry norm doesn’t exist anymore. It used to be that talent relied exclusively on agents to generate work for them. That model is changing and the trend is for talent becoming more entrepreneurial; many of whom have opted to hang their own shingles while also integrating agent representation into their day to day. Whether it’s direct marketing or online casting (pay to play) sites, talent now have many options to obtain voiceover work on their own. Some of these platforms allow for beginners to get a start. And, for talent who may not be able to find an agent or manager, they may find some work to build on in their quest to pursue the highest form of representation.
You earned a great reputation as an agent, talent manager and businessman. Give us a sense of your journey to your current role at ACM.
MARC: Before HBO’s Entourage, before the mainstream had any understanding of talent agencies, in fact, since I was in since middle school I knew I wanted to be a talent agent. It’s one of the reasons I went to law school, not because I thought I needed a law degree to have an entertainment career, but because I knew it would give me an edge and set me apart.
How has being a lawyer set you apart?
MARC: I understand the nuances of negotiation in a way that someone without a legal background probably doesn’t. I’m also not afraid to take a strong position in certain situations because I know how far I can push something to benefit a client financially or otherwise. Having a degree in law has been and continues to be invaluable.
Interview Continues below…
RUDY: What had managing talent taught you about yourself?
MARC: To be more patient. The daily pace at our company is faster than I’ve ever experienced but it also requires vigilance and to constantly be communicating and strategizing with talent.
Share a bit more about the patience aspect.
MARC: I have to be compassionate and listen when a client has concerns about their career. I’m a very no-nonsense, cut straight to the point, let’s get this done and move on kind of guy. I need to keep in mind always that my clients are relying on me for their livelihoods. I can be more aggressive with buyers, but with talent, sometimes they need reassurance and nurturing. I have to dig deep sometimes but it’s worth it because the relationships I have with my clients are meaningful. To me, that’s everything.
What would be some key metrics that move you to represent any given talent?
MARC: For starters, that they are uniquely talented and have proven themselves to be successful in at least a few voiceover genres.
Can that proof show up through just training and stellar demo reels, or do you require that the talent have a professional track record of earning power?
MARC: We are incredibly selective in signing talent at ACM. Everyone has to be enthusiastically on board. First of all, a talent’s demo should be professionally produced. Secondly, the first few seconds of that demo will get my attention or it will just turn me off. If I feel the excitement, then I’ll continue listening. Included with their demo submission, talent must detail their active work. Not work that they’ve done over the span of their career, but rather current, existing work. If that is impressive as well then we might be on our way to signing a new client!
When taking on new talent is it fair to consider that younger talent typically leave more room for being developed for the long term?
MARC: I think all talent have equal room for development. It’s like working out in a gym. You have many different kinds of equipment to use to address the areas in which you want to improve or change. It’s really up to those who are inspired to do the work.
Obviously, not every client/manager relationship is going to work out. What are some of the considerations that both sides do well to consider before signing.
MARC: In a way, it’s like dating or courting someone. Often, both people know, just based on an initial conversation, if they’ll click or not. It’s a combination of gut instincts and recognizing the obvious that arises from conversation. It’s also about expectations and communicating honestly about what each person is counting on from the other. Going in, both people must have a clear understanding. If you can’t get there, if it’s a struggle before you’ve even begun, then that’s usually a red flag that it’s not a good fit for either of you. On the other hand, if there’s an energy and ease to the conversation, and both people are realistic and willing to work hard, then for me, that’s a great start.
Imagine for a moment that you are a talented voice actor in search of great representation. What would you want to know about ACM before signing with them?
MARC: I wouldn’t ask “How many people do you have in my category that are like me?” That’s a bad question that displays an insecurity. I would have to be confident that I’m unique and competitive, whether it’s competing with a smaller roster or in any mass auditioning situation. I would research how many representatives are going to be working on my behalf. If it’s only one or two agents in the department, that would be somewhat of a red flag to me. As an entrepreneur with my own home studio, I would anticipate that it’s just impossible to get an adequate number of opportunities with a super small staff representing me.
What has been one of the toughest hurdles in your professional life, and how did it impact your path?
MARC: When William Morris merged with Endeavor, it was a moment of truth for me. I could either stay there and not venture beyond my comfort zone, or go out on my own as an entrepreneur and carve my own destiny. I chose the latter and it was the best decision I ever made. Starting your own company is NOT for everybody. It will invigorate you and it will break you down. It can also be the most rewarding gift you can ever give yourself. Luckily, over a decade later, it worked out pretty well.
Describe an experience where becoming an entrepreneur “broke you down and how you manged through it?
When I decided to go out on my own, at first, I didn’t focus exclusively on voiceover. I started a management company that worked with diverse talent and properties. It was a combination of unscripted TV, radio, special events and more. I cast a wide net and it was too wide. The majority of my incoming business remained in voiceover. I fully returned to my voiceover roots because I discovered it wasn’t only what I did best, but it was my specialty. It’s what I was known for. It’s what I loved best, and when you do what you love, success often follows. The funny thing is, I don’t regret that brief departure from my core expertise, because I developed some friendships that have enriched both my career and life.
How is ACM different from other companies that represent talent, and in what ways do you see it evolving?
MARC: There is a misconception that voiceover managers are just like theatrical managers. Theatrical managers are less active on the booking side and more career strategizers. Most of them also commission 10% of all areas (including VO) whether they actively work in that area or not. Unlike most theatrical managers, voiceover managers were always pitching and booking talent. I personally observed this management model for years. It was mostly limited to movie trailer opportunities and a bit of promo work. To us, that didn’t seem to be enough to justify the traditional management business model (which is commissioning a talent’s entire existing career). At ACM, we assembled an unprecedented group of veteran agents turned “managers” to surround a much smaller group of premium talent. We‘ve been aggressively providing full service in practically all areas of voiceover, across the country and worldwide.
So “smaller is better – sort of like the Jerry McGuire model?
MARC: We are fortunate to have a different business model than the talent agencies. We have a much smaller roster, many more opportunities and we are proud to be the “core” and the “architects” of our clients’ careers. Deliberately, 2019 was a year of major investment at ACM. The goal was to transform an already successful representation business into the most diverse, high level voiceover representation company in the industry. Then, of course, there was a significant change in industry practices. In order to catch up to the overwhelming casting demands, many of the higher end talent agencies, who had shunned non-union work in the past, began embracing it. In addition, the online platforms were buzzing about, drawing market share away from agencies. We responded to these changes like only voiceover business veterans can, by applying a laser focused strategy on creating a top high level representation destination, and by adding the most experienced former agents turned managers. Some say we turned the agency model upside down and put the entire industry on notice. I don’t know about all that, but it’s gratifying when clients tell us that they’re receiving double, triple, or quadruple the number of opportunities than they’ve received from other representation they’ve had. Everyone at ACM is extremely proud of that.
How do you view your purpose in life?
MARC: I grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y. It wasn’t the international hipster mecca that exists today. It was the down and dirty, old school neighborhood that shaped me. I’m first generation. My family came here from Eastern Europe and built a small business together in the form of a leather store in Brighton Beach. It was a seven-days-a-week operation. Although we had a house, my school bus would drop me off at the store. I ate there, did my homework there and practically lived there. I didn’t go to sleepaway camp and our typical annual vacation was a 2-week upstate getaway to the Catskills with my whole family, including my grandparents. I learned so much from my mom, who had no formal education, watching her sell and work her magic with customers. There’s no doubt that I inherited her business sense. I dreamed of one day making it in the big city, just one borough over. My purpose in life is to live the true entrepreneurial American dream and to help others do the same with their careers.
How has social media impacted your business?
MARC: I made a commitment to devote considerable time and effort to social media. I try make my social media platforms daily destinations for advice, facts and showcasing ACM’s talent. I don’t believe in inundating people with content either. I believe in consistency and providing actionable takeaways that people can apply to their day to day careers. My dog also gets some play.
Social media started for me approximately 4 years ago on Twitter, and from there my following has expanded to Instagram and Facebook. I wasn’t social media savvy, and not particularly tech savvy, but being business savvy is what counts and there’s no way that you can be successful these days without integrating social media into your day to day. The key to success on social media platforms is being informative, entertaining and genuinely engaging.
The only social platform on which I don’t engage with talent is LinkedIn. For me, LinkedIn is reserved for voiceover buyers only. Although it’s a different audience, it’s another crucial element of my day to day because it feeds our core business.
To learn more about Marc Guss, head on over to amctalent.com . Plus follow, like, and love him on Social Media everywhere:
Rudy Gaskins is the Co-founder, Chairman & CEO of Society of Voice Arts and Sciences, voice acting coach and brand strategist. He is a Backstage Magazine columnist and Emmy® Award winning TV producer with long experience as a sound and music editor for features films, and a director of documentary films for PBS. IMDBLinkedIn
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