So You Want to do VO? - Part 8: "Pay to Play" voiceover sites

In last week's article, I mentioned using the "dollar-a-holler" freelance sites for new voice artists to find work.

This week, we look at the next possible rung on the ladder of your voiceover career.

Pay to play?

One step up from the freelance voiceover sites are the so-called "pay-to-play" sites. These sites charge a monthly (or yearly) membership fee, and usually contain higher-profile, bigger budget clients looking for voice artists. But while rates are significantly better than what can usually be found on sites like freelancer.com, this type of voiceover site comes with some serious drawbacks.

If you've been in the VO business for longer than a week, you'll no-doubt be familiar with the on-going argument around P2P sites. It runs something like this:

"Pay to play sites are a cancer on the voiceover industry. ARGH!"

vs

"'Meh. I've made good money and many long-term contacts
with clients who found me on P2P."

Both sides of the argument have their valid points. The argument against P2P is that this type of business model somehow reduces the respectability of the art and craft of a voice artist and it drives the price down. To put it simply, Pay to play sites devalue a voice artist both literally and figuratively.

On the other hand, technology is a driving force in the direction of the modern VO business. The client's convenience of getting near-instant gratification at rock bottom prices pushes this forward. And voice artists know they can make money if they figure out what the client wants and can deliver it better than their competition.

Tip: Adapt or die
My opinion is to embrace modern technological improvements wherever and whenever they happen. Learn about the various ways content can be created, processed and distributed and don't be afraid to adapt to a new technology. For example, expensive ISDN connections are going the way of the 8-track. What's going to replace it? Studying the pioneers and learn about the geek side of the business will help you to be a stronger professional.

When it comes to pay-to-play sites, this may sound wishy-washy, but I feel "it is what it is." The idea was created, the customers (the voice seekers) love it, and as much as voice artists grumble about it, some people do make money from it. Like it or not, pay-to-play is a business model that works.

But it's not working in your best interests.

Some of the major pay-to-play sites right now:

Voices.com
Voice123.com
Bodalgo.com
TheVoiceRealm.com

But before you pay to become a member of one (or all) of theses sites, There are a variety of pros and cons that you should be aware of:

  • First, there are thousands of people on the sites, all with extremely varied levels of skill and proficiency in voiceover, all clamoring for work. With the exception of The Voice Realm, who vets your qualifications and skills, there's no criteria for being a member of the P2P sites. Anyone with a credit card and a means to record audio can call themselves a "voice artist" and compete for work. So you can have top-shelf industry VO professionals who've spent decades perfecting their craft, right next to a college kid with no skills at all... and they're auditioning for the same job.
  • These sites are built and operated with the customer in mind. In other words: NOT YOU. People looking to hire a voice talent can post their jobs for free, while the voice artists have to pay hundreds of dollars per year to be a member. 
  • Because of the amount of people on these sites, auditions fill up fast. REALLY fast. The more the job pays, the faster the auditions are submitted. Most jobs posted will get around 100 different voice artists auditioning, and that's usually within the first few hours of the job being posted. Now, if I were an advertiser looking to hire a voice talent, I am probably not going to listen to 100 auditions. That means that for a voice artist to even be heard by the client, they need to submit their audition as soon as the job is posted. 
But here's the catch: some P2P sites have systems in place to try to keep things more balanced. Voices.com, for example, has a thing they call "voice match" which tries to match the tone and style of the voice artist's voice to the tone and style that the particular client is looking for. How close you are to a match is displayed on a percentage scale on the job listings. This matching system then presents the most closely-matched voiceover talent to the client first. Which means that even if you're the first to submit your audition, if you're only a 70% match, your audition will be placed behind everyone who is a closer match for what the client is looking for.

Of course, this is only true if the client waits for a large number of auditions to be submitted before listening to them. If they start listening to the auditions as they start rolling in, they very well could pick a voice from the selection already presented, regardless of how close of a match you may be.

The trick (if there is one) with something like this is to be both fast and highly matched. In other words, make sure you rank as high as possible in the percentages for the job, and submit the audition as quickly as possible after the job is posted.

In an effort to be "fair" Voice123 actually limits the amount of jobs you can audition for. I am told it's for some kind of reason, but for the life of me, I don't understand it: You pay almost $400 a year for the privilege of auditioning for work, and they're going to limit your ability to do even that?

The other thing to consider is that because of the large number of voice artists on these sites, the ratio of auditions to winning jobs is pretty extreme. Most talent say their ratio is around 50 to 1. That means that you MIGHT land one job every 50 auditions. Sometimes that ratio can be lower, sometimes it can be higher. It all depends on your skills and whatever the client is looking for.

Despite all that, it IS possible to make money with pay-to-play. I joined voices.com in September and since that time, The work I've received has paid for my membersip fee several times over.  But it takes a considerable amount of effort in auditioning consistently every day.

I will say that for some weird reason, auditioning can become pretty addicting. Something about the way the jobs get posted and the stream of job opportunities flooding your in-box creates a sense of urgency that makes you want to do "just one more audition" which turns into several, and before you know it, you've spent most of the day auditioning.

If you're considering joining one of the P2P's, keep one thing in mind: They are not now, nor should they ever be the be-all, end all of your voiceover career. Don't make them your sole source of income. They should be treated as one point of a multi-faceted approach to your business. There are other (and better) ways to get work in voiceover. Seek them out and exploit them as well.

Never forget that when you're on a pay-to-play site, you're one voice in a room full of thousands. You generate income to a business model that treats you like a commodity. You are a dollar sign to the owners; nothing more. But in exchange for this servitude, you might make enough money to pay a few bills. Or maybe you get remembered by a previous client who then books your for bigger and better jobs outside of the P2P site. This is what all voice talent secretly hope for. It doesn't always happen, but it could. It's like winning the lottery.

So with visions of dollar signs dancing in your head, you hunker back down and accept being treated like livestock. If pay-to-play sites are the road you have chosen to take for your budding voice over career, buck it up and accept the flaws. Just remember:

This is a cattle call: learn to moo. 



In the next and final chapter of this tutorial for new voice artists, I will reveal the secret to being successful. This is the thing that most new voice over artists never think about and the thing that veteran voice over actors know will keep the money rolling it. It is the KEY principal to the business. If you follow this secret correctly, it will launch your career, allow you to quit your day job and work full time doing voiceover. Some of my peers may not like me mentioning it, but I'm going to anyway. It is the single-most important and most profitable trick to being a voiceover artist, and I will reveal it to you for free.

OK, I know that tease sounded like some kind of twisted infomercial, but trust me on this. Next week's article contains the key to success.

Stay tuned.



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About Rob Marley - 
A Los Angeles native, Rob is an accomplished voice talent, producer and writer, now living in the hill country of Austin Texas. For more information, visit his website at MarleyAudio.com