Signing with an exclusive and reputable voice over agency is an undeniable moniker of success for any performing artist.
“It has been extraordinarily hard to get representation in Los Angeles, even to get an agency to listen to my demo reel is nearly impossible, but I shall continue to strive and work on my craft and hope to find that agent that is willing to take a chance with me.”
So when a talent agency comes calling, take a moment to congratulate yourself!
Your hard work and extraordinary efforts have gained you a high level of credibility. Being recognised in this way is something to feel very proud of, but do you need an agent to take your career to the next level?
Here at Voquent, we work with thousands of voice actors and this reveals patterns. Surprisingly, one of the most common is voice actors who’ve confessed their relationship with their exclusive agent has grown to become sour and frustrated.
What’s going on?
In this article, we take a look at the pros and cons of getting exclusive agent representation as a voice actor. By exclusive agency – we mean an agency that doesn’t want your profile listed on any other voice over related website. Every deal goes through them.
Whether you’re struggling to choose an agent from a variety of offers (lucky you!) or are deciding whether to represent yourself. It’s a critical decision for your career.
Let’s take a look at all the main factors to help you make the best decision for you.
The past to the present
The prestige and heritage of some exclusive talent agencies is something many actors understandably aspire to associate with. Combined with the fact some agents play a vital role in the Film and TV industries, all contributes to the myth that a voice over actor has arrived at the pinnacle of their career when they receive an offer of exclusive representation.
Signing with an exclusive and reputable voice over agency is held up as a moniker of success and whilst there’s no denying it can open the doors to new opportunities it’s important to be aware of some of the most common myths and misconceptions that surround the concept of what exclusive Talent Agents offer. Especially if you’re seeking voice over work as an important portion of your income.
Up until the turn of the century, the vast majority of professional voice over work was commissioned through exclusive Talent Agencies.
Marty Lawrence on Twitter said:
“I had an amazing talent agent in the 90’s who booked me for a litany of TV spots and infomercials but voice work I got pretty much on my own and still do.”
Now with the global adoption of the internet there has been a transformational effect on the audio-visual industry as a whole.
There are literally thousands of voice over agencies all around the world.
Easy access to studio quality recording equipment has enabled hundreds of thousands of aspiring and professional voice over actors alike, to offer their services to a global customer base. Professional recordings are often completed by talent in home studios and project deliveries made via high-speed download.
The rise in technology and explosion of talent available online has led to a downward trend in rates. With many experienced voice actors sharing with us privately they often get offered the same rates they worked to over 20 years ago. That’s market forces at work.
For this reason, the prestigious grandeur and mystique of Talent Agencies has been somewhat diminished. Getting signed for exclusive representation no longer represents the holy grail it once did because it no longer guarantees anything.
“I would say you really don’t need an agent if you already hustle enough but agents do help with getting the big national gigs. Some people sit around and wait until their agents send them auditions instead of doing the work. Those people don’t last long in this biz. Do the work, get some jobs and then seek representation.”
An agent is just another tool in the toolbox of getting gigs in the voiceover industry. In this day and age, I believe you have to be an octopus in our great industry. Ok, that was an odd mix of metaphors. Lol
— Jon Ciano Voice Actor (@jonciano) May 24, 2019
Make no mistake, if you sign up with a Talent Agency, it no longer guarantees it will lead to any meaningful opportunities. You still have to put the graft in yourself.
Exclusive talent agencies that offer voice over artists specifically, rely almost entirely on their representation of known talent.
If you’re already sought-after then of course an agent wants to represent you.
You’re a guaranteed income stream.
The cold reality? Many agents fail to maintain a relevant market presence themselves and can’t offer consistent work for the voice artists already on their roster. To counteract this, many talent agencies are adding increasing volumes of voice actors on a non-exclusive basis. All in the hope of doing more business.
This is all sounding rather negative, but there are a lot of positives to getting represented as Ian Russell on Instagram says:
“I’m based in the US where it’s common to have multiple agents (I have 6) I certainly do not rely on them for work but as others have said, they give you access to work not likely to be posted elsewhere. But competition for those jobs is fierce too like just about every other posted project. About 80% of my work comes from self generated and existing clients BUT the work I do through my agents tends to be higher quality. I don’t really have much presence in the UK agent market (I’m starting to review that at the moment following my nominations at the One Voice Awards this year) I agree that it’s best to seek representation once you have a portfolio of work. Agents will be more interested in you if you can prove that you can compete. You provide no value to your agent’s business if you do not book. I have one agent who is super supportive, very complimentary to my auditions but I’ve yet to book for them. I feel guilty about that. They deserve to be rewarded for promoting my talent to their clients.”
Nicky Mondellini on Twitter agrees:
Agents are very valuable for voice talent, they are expert negotiators and can get talent higher profile projects to audition for. But it’s important to also look for our own leads.
— Nicky Mondellini (@nicky3ch_nicky) May 24, 2019
So the really important thing here is what’s in the detail of the agreement?
If you’re free to get work anywhere for anyone, an agent is potentially another revenue stream for you. However if an agent wants you to be exclusive to them, you should first ask these questions:
- How much are they are going to spend promoting you? Campaigning and marketing your name, solidifying your reputation, investing in your abilities etc.
- What minimum annual financial commitment is the agency willing to meet? This is oft overlooked but if they aren’t getting you opportunities you should be able to release yourself from the agreement.
- Will the Agency provide a full sales and accountancy service? Freeing you to dedicate the majority of your time to your craft without the burden of negotiating deals or producing your own invoices.
- What guarantees will the agency make in relation to the size of their talent roster? The more actors they represent, the less work there may be to go around!
- How will the agency charge you to customers? Sure, they’ll promise you only the best paying jobs but they may push your rate to an unrealistic or uncompetitive market rate. A rate customers are not prepared to pay. You may find yourself qualifying out on price more often, consequentially forcing you to pursue other avenues or going back to seeking your own deals direct.
Questions like these should not go unaddressed.
A relationship of this nature needs to work both ways. You’re about to give away years of hard work establishing your skills and reputation, so how are they going to reciprocate?
Get it in writing
If an Agency insists that you focus on the “spirit of the agreement” and is not prepared to address your concerns in black and white, walk away.
Don’t sign away your reputation and your rights to any agent that is not prepared to make a quantifiable commitment to you. Before making any commitments thoroughly check the contract. The contract negotiation may be the most important you ever make in your career and it’s well worth getting professional independent advice if you’re not comfortable doing this yourself.
In principle, exclusive agencies seek bankable artists.
They typically maintain small rosters of voices whom they consider the most reputable, talented and versatile – and not necessarily in that order. If you are already successful on a self-employed basis, the key question remains whether it is in fact the agency who will benefit more from the work that you were already going to get.
ALSO READ: 101 Voice Over Websites
Who are exclusive agents really good for?
Primarily, it’s celebrities or artists who do not require voice over work to sustain their livelihoods e.g. an established actor who is happy to book occasional audio recording work at the right price or an award winning journalist who also happens to be a pretty awesome documentary narrator.
Do it yourself?
If you’re more or less a full-time voice over actor, you may be able to obtain the greatest financial rewards by simply working for yourself.
@andread2347 echoes this sentiment:
“I’ve been in the business for more than 25 years on a part-time basis and have never had an agent. I’ve tried to get one a few times but nothing panned out so I just keep moving forward on my own. I think it would be nice to have representation, particularly to get national jobs and for the purpose of negotiations. But I’ll continue to rep myself and keep learning how to grow in that area.”
There are plenty of ways to pull in work:
- Get a simple website up with some professionally recorded material and start contacting casting directors, content creators and media marketeers. Gather a list of emails and start introducing yourself. How many do you need? Realistically, you’ll need to send between 50 to 100 emails before the responses start coming back. Keep your eyes on the prize and be prepared to send at least 50-100 emails per day until the enquiries start coming in.
- Non-Exclusive Agencies and Studio Production companies. There are hundreds of websites that will be happy to list and market your performing capabilities at no cost. Offering you work opportunities that you would otherwise not have obtained directly. We at Voquent are a good example of this and a search on the web will reveal hundreds more studios and agencies worldwide. You have everything to gain and literally nothing to lose by making yourself visible to as many different companies as possible. If you find a studio production company or client that is consistently offering less than fair rates, keep in mind that you don’t have to accept work at any rate. You are in control.
- P2P (Pay-2-Play) sites. Many voices use P2P sites to get voice work or as a backup option during quiet periods.
- But there is a cost. Normally there is a paid membership before you can get access to the available jobs. Not an attractive option if you are likely to have long periods of time where you’re not available for voice over work.
- The P2P sites typically operate on a “Posting-Board” basis, inviting high volumes (often hundreds) of voice talent to record custom auditions in the hope of being shortlisted or selected for a job. A good audition success rate is about 1 in 30 auditions per job won. These sites will keep you very busy auditioning every day!
- It’s the equivalent of a dutch auction; a race to the bottom style bidding war. The high level of competition can force voices to offer lower rates to secure the work.
- It’s all in the terms and conditions. Read them VERY carefully. Some of the P2P sites require you to give away ALL of your usage rights and the representative fee due to you. So for example, if a client chooses to extend a TV commercial that was originally paid for a 3 month broadcast period to 2 years, many of the P2P sites are known to secure and keep the entirety of the additional revenue to themselves. The legalities of this differ on a per-country basis but it’s ethically deplorable and highly exploitative. If this is what the site requires, run a mile and don’t look back.
Clearly P2P sites offers a compelling value proposition to prospective clients. They offer a good choice of talent and competitive prices but they are frequently criticised by voice acting communities and acting unions for encouraging a downward trend in voice actor rates.
So how do P2P sites still operate in the face of this strong criticism? They spend BIG on marketing to create a prolific online presence which is attractive to business customers. Voices understandably don’t want to miss out on the opportunities.
Voquent do not advocate the use of P2P sites in any way but we would also be doing a disservice to our global community by not acknowledging their unmistakable presence in the voice over industry. Like it or not, P2P sites serve a purpose when voice actors choose to use them.
Do I need an agent for voice over work to be successful?
We’ll let voice talent Joshua Alexander have the final word on this:
No, you don’t. It’s nice to be able to say “Yeah, I have an agent” – it’s a confidence booster and a sort of claim to fame. But I don’t get much work from my agents. Nevertheless, I COULD – and I could potentially get a high paying union job, or exposure, so I do want them.
— Joshua Alexander Voice Actor (@seattlevoiceguy) May 23, 2019
Each and every day there are tens of thousands of voice actors from all around the world who are proving they can represent themselves better than any agent.
The fact is, either you work for yourself and you KNOW the level of effort you’re putting into perfecting your own talent and promoting yourself. Or you have to trust an agent to do this work on your behalf.
Unless customers are already banging on your door to book you, it’s very unlikely that an agent will do more for you than you can do on your own.
Getting an exclusive agent can be an excellent career choice if you’re a successful voice actor looking to cut down on dealing with client communication and/or focus on more lucrative deals but it is a partnership. You’re giving the agent this work to do and the commission they’re making on each deal has to be sufficient to keep them in business.
Signing with an exclusive Talent Agent will continue to represent an intriguing aspiration for many performing artists. Afterall, having an agent to do all the ‘business stuff’, whilst you focus on being an artist is the dream situation for many.
Whatever you decide, it’s important to be realistic. 99.9% of performing artists do not become overnight sensations or household names without first dedicating years to their craft. Choosing an agent that helps not hinders you on your journey is the key.
- It’s marathon, not a sprint!
- What looks easy, rarely is.