I’m Not Your Agent, but I’d Be Happy to Take Your Money
A couple of weeks ago I read (and immediately shared) an article called Anatomy of a Voiceover Scam. It’s a great read about how a classic overpayment scam is making the rounds through the voiceover community, taking advantage of VO hopefuls.
But the article wasn’t about what I had immediately assumed it was when I read the title. I’ve been stewing ever since. You see, I had assumed that the article was going to take on the pay-to-play voiceover markets that charge talent for the opportunity to audition for VO gigs.
If you’re not familiar with the controversy, I’ll summarize. Voices.com has a professional services option for voice seekers where – for an additional fee – they will act as the intermediary between the client and actor. The reason this is controversial is that Voices doesn’t make it transparent what the client is paying versus how much the talent is getting paid. Essentially, they are free to take as much margin from both the talent and client as they deem appropriate. Read this article for a more in-depth discussion of the issue.
As a member of Voices.com, I’m paying for my membership so that I can audition for jobs posted on the site. I have no guarantee that my audition will be heard amongst the many talent competing for each listing, so Voices also offers membership upgrades for premium placement amongst talent listings. So on top of what they charge talent, they can also take an undisclosed portion of what clients are paying for the work for themselves?
Perhaps this isn’t a scam. Perhaps it even falls within the boundaries of ethical. But it’s certainly not cool.
The traditional talent agency arrangement has agents taking a substantial portion of an actor’s booking in exchange for finding them work. The virtue is that the agent gets paid when the actor gets paid. Both parties’ interests are aligned as the agent has incentive to find the talent work. Agents work hard to get their actors into auditions because nobody gets paid for auditions. At least, they’re not supposed to.
Wherever there are hopeful talent, you can be sure there’s a scam nearby.
While it’s not legal to charge actors to audition, recently there’s been a rise of “paid workshops” where actors take a class that results in auditioning for a director. The talent pay for the class rather than the audition, but the result is effectively the same. Talent get ripped off for the opportunity to find work.
The sad part about pay-to-play voiceover sites is that they are limiting what could be a very good business if they would simply get out of the way. The most successful platforms are the ones that connect buyers and sellers and eliminate the friction of doing business. Über does a brisk business connecting drivers and passengers in a highly transparent marketplace. While Uber makes a portion of the fares collected, they have kept the margin low enough to encourage the marketplace to grow.
Now consider what would happen if Über charged each potential driver $500 to apply to the platform, plus an additional $1,500 per year if you want to be shown as a preferred driver against the rest of the competition. Such a practice would have created a drag on the growth of the system in the first place, preventing über from becoming the juggernaut it is today.
Voiceover marketplaces would do well to learn from Über’s example. There is opportunity to disrupt the leading sites by making it free (or nearly free) to audition and only taking a reasonable cut of booked work. The first site to create an equitable and transparent marketplace will attract the best talent and the best clients.
What are your thoughts? Do you subscribe to a pay-to-play voiceover marketplace? Has it been worth the money? Leave your thoughts in the comments.