Professional Voiceover Talent: Scared of Newcomers?

Voiceover Talent Aim for SuccessIt’s becoming a common refrain in all sorts of creative endeavors: some established, experienced talent are complaining about the vast numbers of newcomers to their field. I’ve heard it from web designers, graphic designers, copy writers, and yes, voiceover talent.

In a recent blog post titled True Professionals Don’t Fear Amateurs, entrepreneur, marketer and author Seth Godin wrote something that resonates deeply within the world of professional voiceover talent:

Gifted college professors don’t fear online courses. Talented web designers don’t fear cloud services. Bring them on! When you need something worth paying for, they say, we’ll be here. And what we’ll sell you will be worth more than we charge you.  – Seth Godin

He didn’t specifically mention voiceover talent in the post, but he might as well have. In recent years, I’ve heard scores of fellow talent complain about the influx of so-called wannabes. They’ll bitterly say, “These days, anyone with a laptop and a USB microphone thinks they can call themselves professional talent.” (The technical barriers to building your own studio and recording broadcast quality sound have been lowered significantly in recent years.)

The professionals, though, those with real talent, used the technological shift to move up the food chain. It was easy to encourage amateurs to go ahead and explore and experiment… professionals bring more than just good tools to their work as professionals.  –  Seth Godin

 

Or they’ll whine, “All they have to do is pay a few hundred dollars to join one of the online voice-casting sites, and they can compete for jobs that I used to book.” (There are now a few sites boasting thousands of paying members who essentially bid for the job of voicing your next project.)

While many of these statements seem reasonable, correlation does not equal causation.

Just because someone builds a home recording studio, it doesn’t mean that they’re instantly qualified to voice national commercials or network television promos. Heck, I could fill my garage with some of the best woodworking tools available, and I’d still never be able to properly build even the most basic bookcase.

And just because someone ponies up the cash to join one of the online voice-casting sites – often called “Pay-to-Play” sites or P2Ps – they don’t magically become your competition. Auditioning for gigs and being good enough to actually book those gigs are two very different things. (Oh, and if the jobs that you used to book are now being posted on the P2P sites, congratulations! It’s time to start ramping up your own marketing and providing your services to clients who want to hire “you,” and not the ones who want to hire “someone with a voice.” There’s a huge difference.)

And if you need any motivation to up your game, consider how Seth ended his post:

If you’re upset that the hoi polloi are busy doing what you used to do, get better instead of getting angry.  – Seth Godin

 

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42 Responses to “Professional Voiceover Talent: Scared of Newcomers?”

  1. […] here based on the very cogent words of Seth Godin. I’m glad I didn’t though, because Doug Turkel has written what I would have, only much […]

  2. Tom Dheere says:

    Hey Doug, I think you were quoting me! And yeah, it is annoying that everyone thinks they can do this for a living without proper training, equipment, or a strong work ethic. But it doesn’t bother me anymore. There will always be new people trying to get into the business and that’s fine. There’s plenty of work to go around and I’m fortunate enough to get my share!

    • Doug says:

      Tom, I’m not surprised to hear that the newcomers don’t bother you any more. Someone doesn’t get to your level without realizing that there’s not much real “competition” in voiceover. If I want Tom Dheere to voice my stuff, there’s only one guy I can hire, right?

      Continued success!

  3. Gerald says:

    One of the challenges I’ve seen as someone that facilitates resources within the voiceover community, is that the ‘professionals’ do a very poor job of engaging those that are trying/wanting to get into the field. What I mean by that it might do more good for the industry for the professionals to actively guide and mentor those wanting to get into the field instead of ignore them.

    As an example, I ventured into the photography business a number of years back and was fortunate to meet a professional in the field that gave me valuable guidance about respecting the industry, not being a bottom feeder, and the need to invest in education and building a long-term business. He understood I could go out, buy a very nice camera/lenses, and call myself a pro. Instead of ignoring me, he engaged me and helped set me on the path of being a professional photographer.

    I have people come to my group, VoiceoverCity, and want to start in voiceover. Instead of sending them home to figure it out, I try to pair them with highly qualified professionals in the field along with some entry-level training so they understand what the field is about, what’s needed to be successful, and what their next step might be. They appreciate this. Some continue on while others decide it’s more than they thought and move on to other things.

    The bigger question isn’t one of how the industry will change, but who will guide and direct the change. As it stands, it seems that most professionals would rather allow the P2P sites set the tone as long as they are sitting comfortable…….for now.

    Get Engaged!

    • Dave Wallace says:

      Hey Gerald,

      I think I wrote my post at the same time as yours, so I didn’t get to read it before I posted, but I also talked about one of the things you talked about: how (some) existing professionals do little to engage newcomers and help them. I always try to give newcomers as much info as I possibly can. The way I see it, with that info, one of two things will happen: they will either quit their voice-over pursuits once they realize the total amount of work that needs to be done, or the info will empower them to start doing voice-over and stop running around without direction, guidance, or a clue on how to get started…either way, this helps the VO industry as a whole.

      Thanks for bringing this up!

    • Doug says:

      Gerald, the work you’re doing at VoiceoverCity is admirable, and I applaud your efforts! Clearly, it’s this kind of introduction to the world of voiceovers (an honest, realistic look) that gives newcomers the best chance of success.

      Luckily, I can say that I know a large number of established talent who do engage those who want to get into the field, and who regularly offer insights and information to those who ask. We were all beginners at one time, and we should all be grateful for the help and opportunities we were given early in our careers.

      Keep rockin’ VoiceoverCity!

      • Gerald says:

        Thanks for the feedback, Doug. I can tell you first hand that most people I come in contact with have little to no clue what it takes to make it in voiceover. There is a lot to learn and even more to develop through training and experience. In my group, we talk very little about demos and agents as those are things that come with time. Sadly, most people seem to have been conditioned to think that those are the first things they need to get.

        As I learn from the ‘professionals’ I try to pass that along to the members of VoiceoverCity. Hopefully, by doing so, they can avoid some of the pitfalls of getting their careers off the ground and allow me more moments like I had yesterday when I got a message telling me about a ‘first paid job’. That’s exciting.

        I’m moving towards developing a though process that says (3-P)—-> Learn the PROFESSION, Develop the PERFORMANCE, and Connect with the PEOPLE.

  4. Dave Wallace says:

    Great article, Doug!

    “Newbie” is a relative term. I’ve been doing VO for 5 years, but I’m sure those who have been doing it for 20 may consider me a newbie. That said, I did notice many, many senior voice-over talents complaining about the influx of newbies who don’t know how how much work is involved with running a VO business. Their concerns are not entirely unwarranted, I think, because I myself have noticed that many newcomers are more attracted to the “dream” of a voice-over career rather than the reality. From what I’ve observed, though, there are two major culprits in this regard, neither of whom are the newcomers themselves:

    1) “Demo factories”…as in, companies or individuals who will produce a demo for someone regardless of whether or not they’re ready for one. They fill people with, as Paul Strikwerda put it, “too many unrealistic expectations and too-good-to-be-true promises.”

    2) Established voice-over talents. I’ve seen many complaints without offering a solution, and that always kinda bugged me. For example, several years ago, I remember reading the blog post of one senior voice-over talent who was complaining that so many newcomers had no clue how to edit audio. I didn’t know how to edit audio at the time either, so I sent that talent an email asking where I could learn. Their answer? “To be honest, I’m stumped.” Complaining without offering an alternative has rarely helped.

    (And whenever somebody approaches me with that question now, I point them to Voice-Over Xtra’s webinars on audio editing programs, which teach audio editing in the specific context of voice-over).

    That said, Doug, while this is slightly problematic in that are even some clients don’t know any better that there are better voice-over talents who provide better services, I think senior voice-over talents are over-stating the so-called “danger” of newcomers. I mean, I invested a ton of time, energy, and money into my home studio alone…so I know that even if my audition sucks, I can at least take comfort that my audio quality alone is going to be significantly better than the newbie who just bought a USB mic and started to record in their garage. You’re absolutely right, we have no reason to be afraid of that. Concerned? Maybe. But afraid? Nah.

    • Doug says:

      Wow, Dave, thanks for your response! I agree that the term “newbie” is relative, but the way I see it, it has less to do with how long someone’s been doing voiceovers, and more to do with their approach to the business. There’s a certain sense of entitlement some newcomers display. And while they might not realize it, I think that that kind of attitude makes people less willing to offer them a hand up when they need it most. Humility, along with an eagerness to learn, sacrifice and grow can go a long way.

      And I totally agree with what said about “demo factories.” I think the same can be said about some voiceover “coaches” who use tons of superlatives in their marketing materials, making newcomers think that success is “EASY and GUARANTEED!” A few lines down, they’ll offer to teach those newcomers “everything they need to know” in one weekend seminar for “only” $4,000, or some equally ridiculous price. Such “coaches” might only be in it for their own financial gain, but they do the entire industry a huge disservice by making people think that success is quick and easy.

      For years, I’ve offered pages of honest, helpful information and suggested resources to anyone who asks (and I get requests by email multiple times each week.) At the end of the letter, I always invite people to contact me if they have any questions, or would like to know more. I can literally count on one hand, the number of people who have either thanked me, or have asked for additional information. That doesn’t offend me at all, it just tells me that lots of people think that doing voiceover work might be a fun way to make some extra cash, until they realize what’s actually involved.

  5. John Hutchinson says:

    Well said Doug! In the words of John Cleese…. “Adopt, adapt and improve”.

  6. Debbie Irwin says:

    Every business has its wannabes and coulda-beens. Back when I was a stockbroker in the Go-Go 80’s, there was also a mad rush to join the field because of the perception that there was ‘easy money to be made’. All you needed was a phone, a desk and the ability to smile ‘n dial to find clients.

    The reality is that nothing comes easy…. even after studying long and hard to pass a number of SEC regulatory exams, the hard work of improving one’s skills, building a business, servicing and maintaining clients meant that the attrition rate was very high. (You know, the ol’ wheat and chaff metaphor.)
    The same can be said of our business.

    There’s a lot of competition in every field, but for those who are committed to the long haul,
    there’s plenty of work to be had as well. And if you’re doing what you love, who cares if others are doing it as well? It’s not a zero sum game. And once upon a time we were all newbies.

    Thanks for the post, Doug, and Bob for directing me to it!
    Happy New Year.

    • Doug says:

      Hi Debbie! I’m so glad you stopped by to comment. And I think you’re spot on when you say:

      “There’s a lot of competition in every field, but for those who are committed to the long haul, there’s plenty of work to be had as well.”

  7. Terry Daniel says:

    Great article, Doug! Some people get obsessed with newcomers and competition. It’s a waste of your hardworking energy. Focus on your own business and what you would like to accomplish. There will always be a ton of competition in every creative field and you can choose to worry and let newcomers rule your thought process or you can choose to focus on YOU and your business and that is what I do every day.

  8. Zurek says:

    Great article, Doug!

  9. Paul Quinn says:

    So true. Not to say that newcomers (we were all newcomers at one point) can’t establish themselves as fulltime working voice actors. Just like any other highly specialized field, it requires time, training, energy, money, and repeated failures before you can begin to support yourself. The vast majority who “dabble” in VO, or expect instant success (after all, it’s only “talking”, right? ) will eventually meet with reality and weed themselves out of the process…it is as it should be…natural selection at it’s best. Malcolm Gladwell said that for the people who rise to the top in a particular field, it takes about 10,000 focused hours, which equates to about 10 years.

    • Doug says:

      Of course you’re right, Paul…some of today’s newcomers absolutely will become successful, professional voiceover talent. Chances are, it’ll be the ones who understand, as you say, that “it requires time, training, energy, money, and repeated failures before you can begin to support yourself.”

  10. Hey Doug – Great comments in this article. Amazing how we can find parallels across industries, right? So true. I think this is very comprehensive and fair… Adaptation is also a key element for survival!!

    There is one thing I see in many of the conversations you referred to when there are complaints about newbies etc…. It’s the idea of ‘making lots of money easily in VO’… perhaps that’s a concept that is unique to VO. It’s somewhat akin to the tale of the actor who makes it “overnight” but if you dig a little, you learn that it took 10 years to make it overnight! It didn’t help that Chris Rock said you could VO one line and get paid $1mil. HE can, avg joe cannot! (reference: http://www.examiner.com/article/chris-rock-at-the-oscars-2012-chris-on-blacks-and-animation-quotes)

    Anyway, I think this is a great article you wrote, with appropriate quotes. Maybe you’ll address this issue in future articles?

    • Doug says:

      Hi Rebecca, and thanks for the kind words! Yup, the parallels are everywhere, and other industries deal with issues very similar to ours. Much like the the voiceover industry has a wide range of views on the Pay-to-Play sites, graphic designers all have their own opinions about sites like 99Designs and LogoContest, which also pit talent against one another to win the business of prospective clients.

      My opinion is that sites like these have the potential to accelerate the race to the bottom by commoditizing creative endeavors like voiceovers and graphic design. I understand that many others feel differently (please, let’s not turn this into a P2P argument, people) and my favorite way to stay above the fray is to simply avoid it.

  11. Steven Mane says:

    Hi, Doug.
    Just for the record, the complaining goes both ways. Whereas experienced talent might fear newbies coming into the field, the ones that are trying to break in complain that there is too much of a clique going on. They want to break in and join the ranks of Rob Paulsen and Tara Strong, but feel that they’re being overlooked for the same people over and over again. The funny thing is that both aforementioned talents are the ones who give off the aura of “I want to help you break in”, and when it doesn’t happen, the newbies complain. So the whole war (and yes, it’s a war) comes down to two ideals: The pros saying “newbies should stay out” and the newbies saying “you have a responsibility to help us break in”. It’s all screwed up on both ends.

    • Doug says:

      Hi Steven, and thanks for your comments. I can’t honestly say that I’ve heard established talent complain that “newbies should stay out,” only that they’re concerned about the huge numbers of newbies trying to break in. Newbies are a fact of life, and are vital to progress. At the very least, they should inspire pros to do better work.

      Every pro was once a newbie, asking the same ignorant (in a good way) questions. It’s just that now, thanks to the Internet, it’s not only easier to ask those questions, it’s also easier for everyone else to see you ask those questions. My feeling is that it’s the newcomers who show a sense of entitlement, who are the ones giving newbies a bad name.

  12. dave says:

    Good read Doug. You nailed it. Regardless of who you are, you can’t sit back on your laurels. And if there’s not new people coming in, regardless of the numbers, the industry stands still. And our consumer won’t have the diversity they want and really is needed. But you do get what you pay for. Like any any service provider we’re trying to get the most we can for the least amount of work and the employer is trying to get the most work for the least amount of pay. Someone said this to me once. You are as valuable as what someone else is willing to pay. If your good and practice your craft jobs will come to you. Competition it’s what keeps us on our toes.

    • Doug says:

      Thanks, Dave! I agree with a lot of what you’ve said here, but my view on the somewhat adversarial “get the most we can for the least amount of work” concept is a bit different. I prefer to do as much as I can to help my clients solve their problems, and deliver their projects on time. Over time, I’ve found that having my clients’ best interests at heart is the key to a long-term, respectful and satisfying relationship.

  13. What a superb analysis and correlation to the voiceover world. Well said, Doug!

  14. Great article Doug. As someone who has received a lot of great advice and tips from people like yourself, I don’t worry about newcomers. I’m certainly not at your level yet, but I have done fairly well. I don’t mind passing on what I’ve learned to newcomers who ask. The reality is, many people aren’t willing to put in the time, effort, training and hard work it takes to get anywhere in voiceovers, so to me, the hundreds of people you may be competing against on a P2P site aren’t really much competition anyway. And if that’s the only place you are trying to get work then you might have reason to be worried.

    Thanks for always sharing your great insight!

    All the best,
    Paul

    • Doug says:

      Thanks for the kind words, Paul, and for adding your thoughts to this thread. Some of the reasons you’ve been successful are obvious in what you’ve written above:

      – You’ve sought out (and more importantly, applied) advice from fellow talent
      – You’re not worried about newcomers, but inspired by them
      – You realize that time, training and hard work are required, and you’re willing to do it
      – You’ve got a healthy attitude about your competition
      – You’re willing to share what you know with others

      Continued success!

  15. WOW! I loved reading all the posts here! Great blog Doug! All this discussion got me thinking about newcomers and one of my biggest pet peeves: Established VOs speaking in a demeaning way about “newbies.” Of course I’m speaking in general here, but so many times, I think we forget we were all newbies once. Where would I be if someone with more experience didn’t have the patience or take the time to help me avoid looking like an idiot? How many “stupid” questions did I ask? Did I ever do something really dorky when first starting? You bet I did–more than I care to admit, and I’m eternally grateful for those who have helped and continue to assist me along my journey. Yes, there are people out there with ridiculous expectations who aren’t willing to put in the time or the work and want it all handed to them on a platter. That said, I feel quite strongly that not only should we have no fear of newcomers, we should lend a hand those who show promise and commitment as well as do what we can to help bring them into the fold with as few stumbles as possible. By helping them, we are helping our industry as a whole.

    • Doug says:

      What a fabulous perspective you have, Kelley! Of course we all did dorky things when we were “newbies.” Some of us still do. ; )

      And your inclination to lend a hand to those on their way up is spot on. Often, they have more to teach us than we know. Makes me think of the Kenyan proverb:

      He who does not know one thing, knows another.

  16. […] I liked this post from Doug Turkel today on established voice talent getting jammed up about newcomers. […]

  17. lancedebock says:

    What can I say that hasn’t already been said? Excellent article Doug!

  18. Ron Whittemore says:

    Good stuff Doug…always appreciate your thoughts! Best to you!!

  19. Hello Doug, and many thanks for this column–your thoughts on the topic are spot on. Reminds me of when a professional athlete will talk about the right way to “go about your business” each day to ready yourself and compete. Truly, those with real confidence in themselves and their abilities know how to do this, and not to waste creative time and energy about what the other guy is doing. Ours can be a most solitary endeavor, and I find it truly refreshing and renewing to come across like-minded, sensible and thoughtful posts like yours. Again, Many Thanks!

  20. Carl says:

    Some great insight here Doug, glad I found your blog. In Australia it’s very similar (though somewhat on a smaller scale). Not a lot of opportunities to get your feet wet without “knowing” someone in the first place. And then there’s a range of sites offering very cheap reads and paying talent way to little which at least one of the major radio networks is very happy to play hardball on rates… tough for new talent to get past the low paying jobs without getting burnt out.
    We try to address that with the site I founded – we took on some great talent and turned pay rates on its head – aiming to give talent the lion’s share for their talent. They love the respect their afforded and seem to support the goal… hope we can do something positive to re address the value divide down under.

  21. Lisa Rice says:

    Great article, Doug.
    Sometimes I still feel like a newbie and I’ve been voicing projects since I was eighteen which was just a few years ago. ; ) 😉

    What I mean is that there’s a continuous learning curve with technology, voice over direction and proper protocol expected in running a freelance business.

    I had a conversation with a man who recently conducted a series of interviews to fill a few minimum wage jobs. He was astounded at both the quantity and quality of job applicants. Many suddenly found themselves without a job because they failed to either tweak their abilities to adapt to an ever-changing job market or plan ahead for it.

    One worked for a book binding company going out of business. Blame the Kindle.
    Another was looking for a second part time job as the hotel he works for has scaled back hours. I suppose the economy is the culprit there.

    Anyway, I’d rather spend my time improving my voiceover skills, looking for more efficient ways to run my business, cultivating the relationships with those I currently collaborate with, seeking out new customers and peeking over the horizon to see how I might be more relevant than grumble about “the vast numbers of newcomers.”

  22. Lance Blair says:

    Great post and great comments. Also, a few of these newbies are actually really, really good and bring fresh energy and new ideas to voice over. There can be (not always!) just as much to learn from these talents that have ‘it’ and hit the ground running as from a seasoned pro. I have never felt the need to charge less because of talent pool dilution, and somehow, I work more and more each year. We all see this in our careers, yes? The only time I go ‘cheap’ is when I work with people in countries with bad economies, and this usually plays out into being rewarding long-term professional relationships. Quality people want to work with quality people, and they’ll make the budget work to ensure that.

  23. […] Professional Voiceover Talent: Scared Of Newcomers? […]

  24. scottwburns says:

    Have to agree…this is a great article. Basically, we were ALL newbies at some point. Granted it feels the field is saturated, but the cream always rises to the top. I love sharing what I’ve learned with others…and am reminded of the phrase, “If you want to keep something…give it away.”

  25. Monk says:

    Aren’t we always learning every day SOMETHING new? I would never claim to “know it all” and I’m always up for learning more. I get the same question that everyone else gets, “how can I get into doing voice overs?” and I’m more than willing to share what I know and point them in the direction of people that know more. If I don’t know, I’ll find out! (I avoid “Male answer syndrome” that way)

    I have a day job on a college campus, each semester I introduce people the vocal booth and get them to understand the basics of working a microphone. My hope is that someday they’ll be wildly successful and remember they need a voice/guy/shape just like me, they’ll call and hire me. I market to everyone, you never know.

    My good friend and mentor Dan Region says that the way to make it in this business is through perseverance, keep learning, keep practicing, and don’t be a jerk. People only have to work with a jerk once. It’s like learning to play guitar, it’s the hours you put into it that makes you a guitarist. Teaching something, ups yer game. And I could stand to learn more and more. Bring it.

  26. I haven’t read all of the above comments and I’m sorry if I replicate any. Just a few thoughts on “the invasion of the amateur”! I’ve been and actor/voice artist for over 50 years. Combining stage, TV, film and radio [at one time member of the BBC Radio Drama Company]. The reason I’m fortunate in getting lots of V/O work from my “home studio” is I have that priceless commodity, experience. This cannot be bought or learned. You can’t go on a course. I surf different sites to listen to what is being produced and paid for and, sometimes, astounded at the lack of quality that’s being accepted by clients, this in deference to one comment about the “barrier being lowered’. Fear not fellow talent. For every hundred “wannabees” who clamber on to the rocky raft of V/O competition, eighty nine and a half will be swept off and have to swim back to the shores of mediocrity. No need to gird your loins ready for an ‘onslaught’. Seems like us ‘pros’ are all doing something right. To all those who repeatedly say, “I’d love to get in to voice overs”. Don’t keep talking about it. Just DO it!!

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