State of the Non-Union

Given that I’m a wildly successful voice talent agent – and by wildly, I mean I am able to make the occasional mortage payment and cover my regular dental check-ups – people often ask for my opinion of where the voice-over industry is headed.  Okay, not that often…but after 10 minutes of careful deliberation, I’m ready to offer some opinions. 

First off, I may be biased but I think the industry is trending non-union.  Now just because I run a non-union shop does not mean I am anti-union but I think for voice work, the union model is outdated.  Producers on tight timelines don’t want to have to fill out 3 different contracts and deal with complicated rate structures when they’ve simply got to get a radio spot produced and on the air by Wednesday. 

And I think there is a perception by some in the union world that those of us doing non-union work are giving our services away.  I’ve actually found that in many cases, our rates are competitive, if not higher than union rates but of course we usually have a buyout rather than residuals.  Now, on occasion that can be frustrating when a client plays the hell out of a TV spot for what seems like a decade but a lot of the time, commercials only run for a short time so residuals become a moot issue.  In general, there is just more flexibility budget-wise in the non-union world and we are set up to respond to booking requests at a speed that matches the fast-paced world in which we live.  

Yes, there are some home studio folks voicing spots for $50 but there are bottles of wine that sell for $6 too.  I think you know what I’m saying. 

Some have predicted that the advent of the home studio and now pay for play sites like voices.com and Voice 123 may spell an end to the agency model of voice representation.   After initially hyperventilating at the success of these sites, I recognize that there are many different types of clients. 

I know a producer who listened to over 700 auditions to cast a voice for a series of web commercials.  Aside from all the cocktail parties he must have missed, the problem with this approach is it…hmmm…how shall I put this?…takes too much damn time!  A busy producer may not have time to listen to 7 auditions, let alone 70.   Those are the producers I love, as the owner of an agency.  We are a solution for them.  Everything is organized.  We know the talent.  We attempt to and often succeed in making the producer’s job easier so he/she can deal with other important aspects of the project like editing, reworking the budget or locating a decent sushi restaurant near the recording the studio. 

On the other end of the scale, I know another producer who on each and every project asks me to only audition 4 people.  He doesn’t want his client to have too many choices or it will take forever to complete the project.  I get the feeling he has read this:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Paradox_of_Choice:_Why_More_Is_Less

My point in all this is just like any other area of life – the range of producer styles and personalities runs the gamut which means there will continue to be work for both agencies like mine and pay to play sites.  On that note though, I do have some other thoughts about what to expect in the world of voice-overs in the next 5 years.   In fact, I’ve come up with a list of 10, without pre-determining that I was making a Top 10 list.   Now, you may feel that some or all of these are already happening which means you won’t give me much credit for being prescient.  Hey, I never said I was Kreskin!

1)I think pay to play sites will have to move to a business model that is more commission based.  It is not sustainable to just make money off membership fees.

2)The recording studio will never die as long as there are good take-out/delivery places nearby.  Producers need a place to take their clients and justify their existences.

3)Budgets are shrinking.  Not necessarily at the top end but in the middle. This doesn’t mean that voice talents will make less as much as it means producers will turn to suppliers (talents) who can make their jobs easier. There will be more overworked producers as they’ll be doing the job of 2 or 3 people so those who can potentially help them with one or more aspect of the production process will win the day.

4)Clients will always pay for quality.  This is the part of the biz that won’t change and one I quite enjoy.

5)Like any profession, the pretenders eventually fade away or are weeded out.  We are experiencing a peak in people pursuing voice work.  But most people still don’t know it’s even a career option.  Shhhhh…

6)People who can spot talent and present said talent in a coherent way will be more valuable.

7)It will continue to be a bit like the wild west in terms of pricing but see #4.

8)Demand for foreign language voice-overs will explode.  This is good news for anyone that just happens to have some involvement with an ethnic voice talent agency:  www.ethnicvoicetalent.com

9)Acting will become even more a key to securing voice work.  It will be less important to take “broadcasting courses” and more important to take improv and acting classes.

10)More people connected to the voice over industry will write web articles and blog pieces about what to expect in the voice over industry.

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One Response to “State of the Non-Union”

  1. Stephanie Ciccarelli Says:
    November 7th, 2010 at 11:22 pm

    Hi Roger,

    Great article! I’m glad that you are sharing your perspective and thoughts on this particular topic. Your first point is something we are already doing at Voices.com. We have a safe payment service called SurePay that guarantees satisfaction in addition to other services we offer. You’ve hit the nail on the head about sustainability. I hear you!

    Thanks for the post!

    Best wishes,

    Stephanie Ciccarelli
    Co-founder of Voices.com

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