Is the Sky Falling, Or Did Voices Just Acquire Voicebank?

The sky isn’t falling just yet, Chicken Lil’.

I’m referring, of course, to Voices.com acquiring Voicebank.net.

If you’re new to voiceover, or not current with how we generally procure work as voice talent, Voices.com (VDC) is one of the more popular “pay-to-play” (P2P) sites that evolved over the past decade, offering mostly non-union voiceover opportunities, allowing many freelance voice talent to work steady as independent contractors. While Voicebank.net, on the other hand, gained traction as the primary online platform professional producers, talent agents and talent have relied on to facilitate voiceover production since the year 2000, which pre-dated it’s on-camera counterparts, ActorsAccess.com and CastingNetworks.com by almost 5 years.

This acquisition was met largely with a great deal of animosity and hysteria from both union and non-union voiceover talent, alike. VDC has made no secret of wanting to completely eliminate professional producers, casting directors and talent agents by replacing them with their site. Naturally, talent agents from across the country, who have been listed with and relied on Voicebank for nearly 20 years now as their primary source for securing all manner of voiceover auditions (but mostly union projects), consider P2P sites uniquely responsible for driving voice talent rates to sub-basement levels in recent years.

“There goes the neighborhood!” One agent wrote this week in a mass email to their talent roster following the announcement from Voicebank’s now-former CEO, Jeff Hixon.

In response to this “acquisition from the enemy”, as one agent wrote, scores of talent and talent agencies alike have actively removed their listings from Voicebank upon receiving the news, and many more claim will follow suit.

For the record, I do wish Jeff Hixon the very best. He built a site that was a game changer by being on the forefront of e-commerce in our industry, and the first one through the wall, as the saying goes, is the bloodiest. Maintaining a massive, and now-antiquated, online platform to accommodate further expansion could never be done without extremely deep pockets.

Certainly all things must eventually change. It’s the nature of any industry, technology and progress, and it’s rarely comfortable or convenient. Especially when it appears to be change to a less desirable, less reliable, less trustworthy source who only see you as a number, or worse, as obsolete.

The deeply diminishing voiceover rates over the past few years isn’t the only bone of contention the established voiceover community has with Voices.com. Scandal has followed this ambitious London, Ontario-based company since 2014 when literally hundreds of the non-union voice talent, who paid a ‘Premium Membership’ of approximately $395 a year to be listed on the site, became increasingly vocal, claiming and documenting VDC kept a majority of funds meant for the voice talent on scores of projects. In most of these cases, the talent were only paid $300 to $450, when the rate allocated by the producer was often 10 times that amount or more, which meant Voices kept better than $3000 to $4500 above and beyond the annual membership fee on thousands of projects that utilized their site as a broker. Many talent discovered these on-going infractions after being offered the same audition from their talent agents which determined the amount of pay per job to be significantly higher than what Voices had listed them to be.

One respected talent agency wrote, “Unfortunately (Voicebank was) recently acquired by Voices.com, a company that has repeatedly proven itself to be predatory towards talent and dishonest with clients.  Their business model consists of taking huge cuts from both and, as such, is pretty much the antithesis of how we strive to operate.  There is no way we could in good conscience continue to support them financially or otherwise have our clients treated unfairly by the new ownership while they try to work with us and our roster through their interface.”

As a rule, I avoid accusing anyone of malicious intent without due cause, or taking part in defacing another’s reputation based solely on hearsay. It’s been more than two years since these allegations have been leveled against Voices credibility and reputation, and while I don’t have any personal experience beyond a couple of claims from a handful of my own coaching clients, I have heard numerous unsolicited accusations, some claiming to have occurred as recently as two months ago that follow the same derogatory assertions.

The most vocal source to have personal experience and comment on Voices shortcomings has been voiceover blogger, Paul Strikwerda, otherwise known as nethervoice.com.

So with all that backstory, I’ve been percolating on this topic for a couple weeks now, especially after receiving an unprecedented, rather precocious e-mail directly from Voices, addressed to their site’s list of “coaches”, announcing their $18M capital investment from Morgan Stanley. Not that Actors’ SOUND ADVICE has ever been listed as coaches or demo producers on their site. In fact, Voices consistently ignored and thwarted our every attempt to list our services on their site. In fact, we gave up even trying more than 2 years ago after they begrudgingly recorded a rather unctuous podcast with us. (Which you can find and listen to here.)

Frankly, receiving an email from anyone telling me they landed an $18 million dollar investment seemed rather bizarre to me. So, I took their unprecedented correspondence in the spirit I believe it was sent, which was, “Gloat, gloat. Gloat, gloat, gloat, gloat.”

I turned to my trusty cohort and colleague, Jeff Finney, and deduced what I felt was obvious: Voices was planning to purchase the ailing Voicebank, of course. What else would they do with that kind of money?

In the meantime, there had already been an on-going discussion in full swing among talent agents, casting, and many trusted industry colleagues from across the country as to how low this specific entity managed to manipulate talent rates to sub basement levels—surpassed, in it’s race to the bottom only by Fiverr.com with the assistance and persistence of one or two extremely shortsighted, irresponsible (albeit busy) “coaches”, in spite of themselves.

Its high drama (and finance, apparently) when talent are hoodwinked into thinking there’s more competition than work.

The truth be told, it’s the other way around. There’s been a dramatic increase in the demand for truly professional voiceover and production; far more than talent might ever consider especially after being brainwashed into believing the opposite. Granted rates aren’t where they should be in far too many instances, and quite a few traditionally union projects have gone non-union, and not because their company is ailing, but because they put some intern in charge of securing a voice for their brand. This individual Googled the term ‘voiceover’ and came up with someone who promised to do everything for nothing.

The fact is professional talent must stand up for themselves, and each other.

The uptick in demand for quality content is universal, which can be witnessed by the 600% increase over the past year in content created for YouTube, Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, the thousands of cable stations, streaming and various Network options. To add to this demand is the more than 900% boom in corporate industrial work over the last two years alone according to Reuters, Pew Research and The Wall Street Journal. And for the record, Corporate Industrials are NOT “explainer videos”, and demo rates are not “sizzles”. These projects are Industrials! Whether they’re union or not!

Clients will pay a proper rate if they’re offered a realistic estimate from the start. Estimates professional producers and talent agents define daily, so you, as a professional talent can stay in your lane and not get your hands dirty but simply walk in and do your job without splitting your focus into pulverized fragments. Life’s tough enough.

It’s important to understand that these fabricated terms, such as “explainers”, “sizzles” and “in house usage only” are all code for, “We don’t want to pay you.” Corporate clients came up with them because they know even less about production than the average voiceover newcomer today! Why the heck would you follow the corporate client? If you’re producing, you’re required to LEAD them. But that’s another issue entirely, I only mention it because this issue came about since the onset of P2Ps, and why it took me as long as it did to warm up to even recommending you attempt to secure work from them. They’re a double-edged sword: on one hand, they offer opportunities, on the other, they have ultimately degraded the work and what you’re worth, whole cloth.

Again, VDC believes the world would be a better place without professional casting, production or talent agents. Not that they are willing to pay you to accommodate for all the additional expertise and work your doing. Quite the opposite.

The issue of talent de-valuing themselves, and by default, the industry itself, stems, in part, from the notion that we need the work more than the client needs us, which is simultaneously an inaccurate and a ridiculously insecure perception. So insecure, in fact, that WoVO (WorldVoices.com) has now recorded 2 full years of round table discussions on rates, which may have only served to further confuse the issue, rather than clarify. Nevertheless, its been a valiant effort on their part just the same, the point is the question remains unanswered.

This only proves further why voice talent should remain simply as voice talent in as many professional instances as possible, otherwise they run the risk of diminishing the quality of the overall production, while degrading us all to the lowest common denominator. This is by far the greatest argument why seasoned talent agents, casting directors and professional producers are as vital to our industry, our livelihoods and our collective bottom line.

Talent is that unique human element that honestly can’t be replaced by a machine, regardless of some cockamamie notion offered up as a threat to you and your small business as a professional voice talent. The fact that you bring a point of view, creative options, imagination, thought, a turn of a phrase, and your own unique personality to the table with each voicing is what makes you valuable as a talent. It’s what truly defines each of us individually as professionals, regardless of experience level. We’re paid to have a pulse.

Talent agents will continue to use whatever online platform is preferred most by producers, as long as they continue to offer paying gigs and support a convenient work flow. And clients will ultimately pay you what YOU feel you’re worth. That counts for something. Maybe everything.

Which also explains the hysteria. I challenge the notion that it was betrayal you may have felt when you first heard Voices bought Voicebank. I believe it was fear of the unknown. And I get it. It’s kinda tough to jump ship, if you’re jumping out of a rat’s nest and into the deep, dark abyss. But, it doesn’t necessarily mean Voicebank.net will remain in its current state either. $18M can buy an awful lot of upgrades. Question is: who’s at the helm?

I wouldn’t be surprised if Voice123.com and Bodalgo.com were purchased next, and the entire brand is somehow converted into one giant, master Monopoly board game.

Let’s face it: change is inevitable. How well we weather it speaks volumes to our character and tenacity, two things that carry us far in life, unless we find them lacking. The truth is, until we have a workable platform to conduct business with, we’ll have to muddle through. Production continues. They haven’t stopped producing, or having a demand for voiceover talent. Being in the right place at the right time just got trickier, though, that’s for sure.

So, no, the sky isn’t falling, but the floor did drop a few stories, that’s for sure. More to come. Consider it a ride. This too shall pass.

 

Copyright © 2017 by Kate McClanaghan, All Rights Reserved.