Secrets of an Agent Man: The Urge to Purge

Sometimes I feel like PN Agency is the equivalent of Hotel California – you can check out anytime you like but you can never leave. Percentage-wise, we actually do not have that many talents who have left the roster. There are a few who went union or moved out the city/country. There were a few who got too busy with other aspects of their lives/careers. And yes, in a few instances, we’ve had to let people go because they missed sessions or were generally unprofessional. But, on the whole, once people get on the roster, they generally seem to stay there.

Of course, on any roster, you have a spectrum of voices – in terms of ability and how much work they get. Talent is obviously a big factor in your earning potential but other factors come into play as well. Is a person generally available? We have some creative voices who have very busy schedules outside the voice over world. We still keep them on board because they are good at what they do but they just don’t get that much work because we can only submit them for things that fit that tight schedule. Now, if you’re only available every 3rd Wednesday, you’re probably not going to stay on the roster unless you have some incredible vocal skill that no one else has.

On that note, there are niche voices who have their place on our roster but they have to get used to the idea of the work being quality over quantity. The woman who sounds like a 12 year-old girl is valuable, as is the older “European sounding” gentleman but neither can expect a plethora of casting calls in any given year.

But what about the voices who simply do not get much work? It’s not a question of talent per se because we would not have brought them on board in the first place if we didn’t think they had talent. But sometimes it just doesn’t work – and not because of anything you can put your finger on like a disagreeable personality or an opiate addiction. As an agent, I’ve had a number of experiences with talents where I’ve asked myself – why can’t I get her more work? It doesn’t cost the agency any money to keep a talent on the roster but there’s obviously not much point in someone taking up a roster space if he/she is not booking gigs. And that’s the toughest moment as an agent. How long do you stick with a talent?

There are no easy answers to this. I know some agents who do an annual purge: parting ways with 8-10 talents who just aren’t getting gigs. Others just wait for talents to leave or seemingly don’t mind having a large roster with a mix of people who book all the time and those who only book every lunar eclipse. I have never done a purge – but I’ve sure thought about it (rubs his hands with a devilish smile).

I’m curious to open this up to other agents? Do you do periodic purges of the roster? If so, all at once, or a couple of talents here or there? Is there a set time frame you give talents in terms of evaluating how they are doing on the roster?

And I’m also curious about the talent’s perspective: how long do you give an agent before you move on? What reasons would make you decide to move on besides just not getting enough auditions/work?

Feel free to answer in the comments section but I’m also going to throw this out on social media and see what people have to say.

UPDATE: Voice Over Xtra turned this blog post into a piece on their site. There have been a number of interesting comments at the bottom of the post. Have a look:

To keep up with the furious pace of the Voice Over industry and get a side order of radio tidbits as well, follow Voice Over Canada on Twitter:


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The Rating is the Hardest Part

I was interested to read this piece on the Voice Over Herald website that advises voice talents to post a rate card on their web page:

I definitely have an opinion on this but the preface to this is the strategy of a talent agent may be different than an individual voice talent. That said, here are my thoughts:

As an agent, I work on commission. I work for talent who expect me to negotiate, based on a number of factors that can include the usage of what’s being recorded (broadcast or non-broadcast; if broadcast, is it national or regional or local etc.), the length of the audio (if a narration), whether it will be on the web (and if so, where), the length of the session, whether this an ongoing job etc. But the main point is – they expect me to negotiate. A rate card locks you into a narrow set of rates before having all of the above information. It also limits your freedom to work with a wide spectrum of budgets and circumstances.

I certainly agree with the columnist that one shouldn’t charge more to one client than another for the exact same thing. But I disagree about posting the rate card. Perhaps there are some clients who would listen to a voice on a site and like it enough to want to know the price but then leave the site in a huff because there are no prices, but aren’t they few and far between? If someone likes a voice, I think they will take some minimum steps to potentially engage the talent – like dropping them a line to discuss rates.

And I think it far more likely that a rate card might “scare” some people off. The writer worries about those clients leaving the site because they can’t find rate info but how will he know about all the potential clients who have “only” $400 for that radio spot and the rate card says $500. So, they look at the rates and walk away, not knowing that there is room for negotiation. I think the pool of clients potentially walking away because the price doesn’t work for them is larger than the group who would leave the site because there is no pricing.

Or what if it’s a cool project or a charity where you might consider doing the job for a lesser rate. How are they going to know that from looking at a rate card on the site that states everything in black and white?

And most importantly, as I say above, you take yourself out of the negotiation process by already giving your price, given that there are so many variables when it comes to costing out voice jobs. This is a form of acting and the entertainment & broadcast industry has dictated for decades that the way pricing is done with acting & performance is different than a standard transaction at the grocery store. So my advice is: you have chosen to play in that arena so play!

Have a ballpark rate card that you keep internally which allows you to be consistent from client to client but don’t lock yourself into rates by posting it on-line. Try your best to quote on a project by project basis, once you have all the information about a potential job.

You might also want to read my post on Top 10 Tips to doing a Successful Voice Over Deal here:

To keep up with the furious pace of the Voice Over industry and get a side order of radio tidbits as well, follow Voice Over Canada on Twitter:


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Erin Davis

Erin Davis is a Toronto radio legend. She has been #1 in the market for a long time now and I was excited to meet with her and her husband/manager a few weeks ago about joining PN Agency. She came on board the voice roster shortly after that and we were just getting going with auditions and sessions when tragedy struck their family earlier this week. Erin’s daughter Lauren – herself a radio star, in Ottawa – did not wake up on Monday morning. She leaves behind her husband and a 7-month old son.

I have no words to comfort them and just can’t imagine what they’re going through right now. Everyone in the Toronto radio and voice over community is saddened by the news. I leave it to Erin to speak for herself:


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I Am What I Play Canadian Premiere

My documentary about rock radio disc jockeys premieres Friday, May 8th as the opening film of the Canadian Music Week film festival. The screening takes place at 7:00 pm at The Royal Cinema on College Street.

Radio fans will get a chance to see the great David Marsden on-screen. Marsden is a Toronto radio legend who, among other great achievements in an illustrious radio career, was the architect of one of the first modern rock stations in North America, CFNY, now known as The Edge 102.1. The film also profiles radio greats Charles Laquidara (Boston), Meg Griffin (New York) and Pat O’Day (Seattle).

This is my first feature-length film. Tickets on sale here:

More information about the film on our website:

And on our Facebook page:


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It’s Not Enough To Have A Nice Voice

Here’s an extended Globe and Mail piece about the voice industry. It’s a good overview of the business which is always nice to see in a major Canadian newspaper. Clearly, the one thing missing though is some quotes from a non-union agent!

To keep up with the furious pace of the Voice Over industry and get a side order of radio tidbits as well, Follow Voice Over Canada on Twitter:


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Goodnight Mr. Berns

As a voice agent, it’s one thing for a talent to leave the agency, it’s another for a talent to leave the world entirely. Fortunately, I haven’t experienced this too often but on Sunday, we lost a great one with the sudden death of Don Berns.

Don was already part of the talent roster when I bought PN Agency in 2002. He was, in one way, a certain type of voice you hear all the time in the industry: the deep voiced, seasoned radio pro, or as I like to call them, an ORG (old radio guy). I have written before about how much I like representing ORG’s here but Don had something extra: he was at heart, an actor. Not just a strong voice but a true performer. Just the perfect combination of artist and actor and broadcaster, all served with a healthy side order of ham. He landed a large percentage of voice gigs that were anywhere near his wheelhouse: years of national commercials for True Value hardware, the imaging voice of The Sports Network (TSN) and the Bell Express Vu movie channel, hundreds of radio spots and corporate narrations. But for every more traditional voice job he did, like the narrator of the true crime series Cold Blood, he would be cast in a more nuanced role like the James, Brother of Jesus documentary. And of course, the gig that brought him and the agency the most acclaim was the voice of the Global Television network, which had him recording at the Global studios on a daily basis for several years.

As you can imagine, being a talent agent means dealing with a wide spectrum of personalities and egos. Don was all personality and no ego. Gracious, humble but larger than life – a pleasure to represent. In over a decade of working together, I can’t recall an argument about anything or a harsh word between us, perhaps with the exception of the time Don left an expletive-filled 3 minute rant on my voice mail about a parking ticket he’d received at the end of voice session that had run way overtime. And even there, the anger was directed at the client, not me.

It’s impossible to develop a friendship with every talent who passes through the agency door but there was always a true bond with Don. We shared an approach of not taking life too seriously, a love of radio/broadcasting, a sympatico view on most political issues (most notably American politics, given we were both American citizens) and I like to think a similar approach to our work and dealing with people in our profession: that you could be professional but playful, firm but kind and most of all, self-promote without arrogance!

Don invited me to lunch a couple of years ago and broke the news that he was leaving the agency. It wasn’t me, it was him. Or something like that. He had carved out a nice later-in-life acting career, both on-camera and in the theater, and he felt it was time to rejoin ACTRA and purse more acting roles. His new agent would represent him in all areas, including voice. He expressed some sadness at leaving the agency which was clearly a reflection of the friendship more than just the professional relationship. As you often do, we said we’d stay in touch and in his case, it wasn’t that hard. Don had several email mail lists for his various interests and pursuits: political, comedic and industry. He was a constant presence on Facebook and with his wide spectrum of friends and colleagues tagging him in various photos and performances, his name was in my in box and his face on my computer screen on a fairly consistent basis. This is in addition to in-person reunions: a mutual friend’s birthday party in March, a Toronto film fest party event in September etc.

I have been touched by the tremendous outpouring of affection for Don on Facebook and various corners of the web this week. It’s really no wonder. He was a radio legend in the U.S. (see here) and Canada (here), a pioneer of the electronic music and rave scene here in Toronto (here), and as mentioned, his career touched almost every area of the industry, from theater to improv to television and film.

For years, we had a running joke about how he could never attend the PN Agency Xmas party because I always seemed to schedule it on the same night as a family event he always attended. In fact, of the 10 or 11 agency parties held during Don’s time on the roster, I can only recall him attending 1 time. This past December, though, I extended an invite to him. This time, he was actually able to make it and he had a blast re-connecting with former voice over and radio colleagues. This was the only time I can remember inviting a former roster member. At the end of the night, he gave me a warm hug and expressed a genuine gratitude for still being considered “a part of the family”. If it had to be the last time I saw him, I’m glad that was the moment.

RIP Mr. Berns. You were truly an original creation.


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