When it comes to voiceover and its value, you don’t have to look far for an answer. Voiceover fulfills the requirements of a global communication network the world depends on. The value of voiceover (pre-recorded speech) is unequivocal. This is true on the most basic level of communicating information, not just for marketing, entertainment, and recreational use, but in emergency related industries where life and death are at stake. We’re not just talking about robotic voices like SIRI.
When you incorporate “acting,” as in voiceover acting, you integrating a level of skill and technique that enhances the communication, makes it clearer, more meaningful, more effective in achieving its goal. No one would argue with the importance of effective communication or the pursuit thereof. Effectiveness is the value voice actors bring to the table.
Voiceover as a communication tool, and voice acting as a means for realizing the most effective use of this tool, can be viewed together as a single, powerful aspect of human communication. Indeed, one’s mind cannot hold the ubiquitous need for recorded language across the vastness of the media universe.
If you were to take voiceover out of the equation, the world would practically come to a stop. Cars would literally come to a stop because drivers are more dependent than ever on GPS to get to their destinations. Children would be dumbfounded by voiceless animated cartoons and video games. Parents and educators would lament the loss of a multi-billion dollar industry in educational toys that talk. Advertisers would depend on consumers to read their TV commercials and radio could say goodbye. Even academia would suffer as the loss of e-learning curricula would hurl it back in time.
We could go on. In fact, we encourage you to consider other ways that your life and the world is impacted by the use of recorded speech as a singularly defining feature of the 21st century. Voiceover permeates our lives like the air we breathe. And, like air, we don’t think about it until it’s in short supply.
Clearly, voiceover and voiceover acting is of inestimable value.
As much as we depend on the inestimable value of voiceover for global communications, the flood of people joining the ranks of professional voice acting is diluting the monetary gains across the board. It’s a simple matter of supply and demand. The more people you have competing for the same job, the less monetary value the work carries. It’s a sobering reality in an already highly competitive field.
Producers of multi-million dollar products will toss out crumbs for the voice actor, even though the final product cannot be completed without it. And like pigeons in the park, when the crumbs hit the ground, a flock of hungry voice actors is waiting to descend upon the pittance. You can find voice actors advertising to perform a 30-second script for five bucks! Unfortunately, this is not an aberration. The pay-to-play job sites regularly post jobs as low as $25. Book authors strike deals with narrators to record entire books on the promise that they’ll get paid if the book sells.
Far be it from us to tell anyone how to make a living, but we believe all voice actors will benefit by educating themselves about how the voiceover industry works and how they can have a role in making it work better. The problem comes into play when you have unenlightened voice actors who rationalize the acceptance of unfair, humiliating salaries. They say, “Someone else will do it if I don’t.” They say, “I’m still training and this is good practice.” They say, “This is more of a hobby for me. I don’t care about the money.” Can you imagine if quacks infiltrated the larger medical industry, convincing the public that they can save on medical care? Those who lowball pricing have to be shown that they’re pointing a gun at their own foot?
The devaluation of the work starts with the individual voice actor. If the actors are willing to take less, they’ll get less. SAG-AFTRA has fought and continues to fight for fair labor practices, including standards for salaries. SAG-AFTRA’s fight reverberates so powerfully that even nonunion actors benefit from their long, hard-fought battles.
Even a novice can hear the difference between highly trained and untrained. Union talent continues to be the best trained and most consistently stellar talent you can find. But in today’s industry, the high-quality union talent are now the teachers and coaches who train the newcomers. As a result, there is a substantial influx of highly trained, nonunion voice actors into the hiring pool and this blunts the union’s advantage, causing the supply to outstrip the demand, leaving more actors scrambling for less pay.
We don’t believe there’s a soap box speech that will have everyone march to a single drum on the value of the work. Paying one’s rent and feeding one’s children has always won out over platitudes of worker solidarity. What we do believe is that cultivating a loving, well-meaning, and intelligent conversation about how each of us can begin to push back, will lead to positive evolutionary changes that will eventually bring about a positive result. We can teach value, integrity, and ethics as part of our industry’s culture. You don’t have to castigate your colleagues for not going your way but you can continue to share the vision of something with greater possibility. Gainful employment, in a fulfilling job, is a promising and a realistic goal for voice actors.