HOW VOICE ACTORS BENEFIT FROM THINKING LIKE PRODUCERS AND TALENT AGENTS
There are two employment hot spots for the voice actor. One is the “buyer” – often identified as the producer, director, account manager, publisher, or business owner. They provide the jobs, choose the voices, and pays the bills. The other hot spot is comprised of talent agents, casting directors, talent managers, and online casting websites. Let’s call this second group the “facilitators.” They are the brokers between the talent and the buyer. Of course, online casting sites are do-it-yourself mechanisms which lack the personal relationships associated with human brokers.
These two groups (buyers and facilitators) can be combined under one umbrella that covers the voice actor’s employment universe. Though the buyer is at the top of the food chain, it’s equally important to understand the facilitators role. First, many seasoned buyers insist that the voice actor come through a known, credentialed facilitator. These are the people the buyers call when they need a voice. It saves the buyer an enormous amount of time and money – sometimes nothing more than a phone call or an email. Agents can be a big help for mom & pop shops, and small business entrepreneurs as well, but these smaller buyers are generally less familiar with how to find agents and don’t understand how agents facilitate the process. As result, small business and solo entrepreneurs often succumb to the heavy lifting of do-it-yourself casting websites. Secondly, talent agents and managers handle the administration of the projects (rates, payments and logistics), leaving the voice actor free to focus on the creative. Ideally, the talent can have a free and unencumbered relationship with the buyer – one that’s based on creativity and performance. This kind of relationship can quickly go sour when the talent has to call the buyer about a late payment. The smart way to go is to let your agent or manager handle such matters. Of course, there are scenarios where anything goes, but we’re focusing mainly on high quality jobs with respectable salaries, long-term prospects, residuals, etc.
The buyer may be the actual advertiser or a producer working on behalf of the advertiser. Either way, the advertiser is the the ultimate source, and their needs govern the work of those who come into contact with the voice talent. These people are usually the directors, producers, writers, and account executives who contribute to the recording session with the voice talent. What’s important for the voice actor to recognize is that the people for whom they audition and with whom they work, are focused on how to best accommodate the needs of the advertiser. They are not acting in a vacuum, though it may appear that way in many instances.
The voice actor needn’t be concerned with all these moving parts when recording a project, but a general awareness of the process breeds respect and appreciation for the team of which the voice actor is now a part. The buyer is usually working on several time-sensitive projects on any given day, each requiring different voice types, different writers, music composers, graphic artists, on-camera actors, set designers, budgets, clients, etc. The buyer is the ultimate problem solver at the center of a complex marketing process. The problem that matters most to the buyer is the one that has to be solved today.
Developing your appreciation for the worlds of the buyer and the talent agent is useful because it informs the way you interact with these folks as you seek to sell your services. When voice actors send demo reels to the buyer, for example, they’re assuming the buyer operates like an agent (or facilitator), taking the time to curate and categorize voices for later use. But buyers don’t do this. They call agents for this purpose. It’s the agent and other facilitators who think in terms of maintaining a relevant stable of quality voices actors from which to choose when the buyer calls. Facilitators are the experts when it comes to categorizing voice types. It’s their job to know the capabilities, personalities and availability of the talent.
Buyers divide into two camps: product type and production quality. On the product side, you have the actual projects, like TV and radio commercials, audiobooks, video games, toys, radio imaging and so on. On the quality side, you have various degrees of expertise and budgetary support. Some buyers are highly-trained, experienced marketers overseeing global brands, while at the other end of the spectrum could be a first-time business owner wants to direct the voice talent that the ad agency insisted he hire instead of doing it himself. Or it could be a self-published author trying to find someone to record a book for a potential royalty share. Whatever the buyer’s level of expertise, it is incumbent upon the voice actor to figure out the buyer’s language and accommodate the scneario in every way possible. It is not for the talent to judge and/or complain about how things woulda, coulda, shoulda, If he asks for a read with “more yellow”, you had better take an educated guess and deliver something the director can respond to. Do’t be foolish and ask, “What do yo mean by more yellow?”
The piont here is that not all buyers operate from the same playbook and the voice actor has to be aware of this and ready to be of service. Also, with this knowledge, the voice actor can appropriately tailor his or her job searching tactics, not to mention on-the-job decorum. Make the effort to put yourself in the shoes of the buyer. Your success when approaching a seasoned advertising executive versus a talent agent or casting director is in understanding hw each does his or her job.
If the voice actor develops a brand strategy that successfully appeals to seasoned ad executives, it will also impress the the facilitators. The all important voiceover demo reel is a case in point. However, when making direct contact with the buyer, the voice actor benefits by adjusting brand messaging connect personally with how each individual operates. If the buyer works exclusively through agents, for example, respect this etiquette. Don’t be the one actor who figures you’ll cut though, precisely because you ignore the rules. It’s obnoxious, disrespectful and dismissive. It’s everything buyers detest about voice actors.
The buyer manages both the creative and the administrative process. Though you may have only a single contact with the company for whom you work, your contact probably collaborates with several people working on a given project. On the other hand, the voice actor and agent split the creative and admin duties. The voice actor focuses on performance and the agent handles auditions, bookings, scheduling, managing conflicts, and collecting payments. Because voice actors are in direct contact with the buyer during the recording session, they also play a critical role in cultivating a positive business rapport. It’s not just the actor on the line. The agents reputation is also at stake. Simple things like being punctual, attentive, friendly, agreeable, and flexible can mean the difference between a single job and repeat business. A voice actor with a rotten attitude doesn’t just hurt his own chances. He could jeopardize the agent’s standing with the client, hence losing jobs for other actors represented by the talent agent.
The top buyers (supported by top ad agencies, etc.) are professional marketers. They are highly acquainted with award winning design and branding. This is their profession. What the average voice actor calls branding is what these people tossed out in their freshman year in college. If you want to stand out as a top quality professional, don’t go the do-it-yourself route. Get professional help. Anything less is an insult to the very people you’re trying to reach. Don’t take their skill for granted. They know their jobs at least as well as you know voice acting. After all, they conceive, write, produce and market the project for which you compete to perform. They are the ones on the hook for the success of the project. Again, go out of your way to understand and appreciate what they do. Start by marketing yourself with great respect for the professional traditions of best-in-class branding and graphic design. Stop creating logos with the same, stale, outdated microphone from the 50s, where the microphone doubles as the ‘O’ in VO. Don’t assume you’re good at branding just because you think it’s fun or you can’t afford to hire a professional. Remember, when a buyer chooses you as the voice actor, it reflects on their expertise. If the buyer goes to a web site that screams amateur, they are not inspired to listen. And certainly, your agent doesn’t want to send his clients to an amateurish web site. Knowing how buyers and facilitators think is the best way to earn their respect and trust towards a lasting relationship.
Joan Baker and Rudy Gaskins are the co-founders of the Society of Voice Arts and Sciences (SOVAS), THE charitable organization that oversees That’s Voiceover!™ Career Expo and the Voice Arts® Awards. Joan is a voice actor, teacher, and author of Secrets of Voiceover Success. Gaskins is an Emmy Award-winning and chairman of SOVAS. Follow them on Twitter @JoanTheVoice , @RGaskins1. Follow SOVAS on Instagram and Facebook.