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Voice Talent Todd Schick, Professional Voice Talent, voicing an article on Voice123

What's the deal with pay-to-play (P2P) websites like

Voice123 and Voices.com?

Decades before the Internet's inception, VO Talent Agencies reviewed the quality of their "talent" before placing them on their roster. The reason was simple: If their agency didn't have quality talent that could deliver each and everytime, their clients would go somewhere else and their business would ultimately fail. It's no different than interviewing someone for a job before you hire them.

Imagine if you will, conducting an interview with a perspective candidate for employ at your company. When you ask them why they think they deserve the job, they respond:

"Well.......I have a credit card! Isn' that great?!"

Got a credit card? You're listed. The staff at Voice123 (and voices.com) don't seem to care if your specialty is voice work or stained glass....regardless of your talent, skill or studio (audio) quality - demo or no demo, you can get posted with your credit card on Voice123 and compete with pros like myself for voiceover work. In reference to the aforementioned (as politically correct as I can be), here's an example (Hint: Listen to the voice demo).

What You Can Expect in Revenues

I've been on Voice123 since June 21, 2003 as a Premium Member (I pay for the privilege to answer leads). Over 6 years my Voice123 audition folder accumulated 1258 files or custom auditions.

So....here's a 6 year breakdown:

1258 Auditions resulted in 18 gigs totalling $6,129.00 in revenue (including return V123 clients)....over 6 years. Before we break down the numbers, let's minus the cost for the Premium Membership for Voice123 for 6 years @ $295.00 per year or $1770.00, bringing down total revenue to $4359.00

Based on an average of 5 minutes per submission, that equals roughly 105 hours of labor. Let's add another 36 hours to total labor to account for the time to record, deliver and administrate those 18 gigs.....bringing our total hours worked to 141.

$4,359.00 divided by 141 hours = $30.91 per hour.

Not exactly Fame and Fortune, is it? Remember, this is an average over 6 years.......I went months and months between gigs, so it's not like I had any kind of reliable, steady income.

So, what's it good for?

The only truly useful purpose I can determine of Voice123 is, it can act as an on-line learning tool for those who really want to learn the craft of voice acting. You get a huge variety of sample scripts to practice with and get some insight into the workings of the "on-line" business of voiceovers. I've sent many a student to Voice123 for this reason, not to compete for work....but to practice. You can do this without paying for a membership, but beware the "try us 2 months for free offer."

As for the talent listed there (and Voices.com), I can tell you that 95% of the talent are anything but professional, mostly ex-broadcasters, rookies and wannabes. There are very few pros; I know this, because I've spent an exhaustive amount of time researching Voice123.

I tell ya, it's a dog's breakfast of talent responses to a posting - talent, service, price and marketing methodology. I'm not impressed at all. Like the rest of the Internet, you have to sift through a lot of garbage to find what you're looking for. Then, there's the price issue. Every rate structure imaginable. There are people who will work for $10.00 and others $1000.00 for the same job.

Yes, you find the odd decent talent. Of the 200+ responses to a single post there's normally about 2 or 3 who I would consider competition in talent, service, studio and price.

It's my feeling that Voice123 has done serious damage to a once (smaller) thriving industry.....by simply taking people's money who have no business competing for the work; much less are able to provide quality audio and service.

V123 and Voices.com have given all these people a sense of entitlement they don't deserve and in doing so, have made a mess of the whole industry by bringing in competition that didn't even make it to training camp.

This is why we have hundreds and hundreds of people going to voiceover conferences where there's a pile of coaches waiting to take their money. People can't figure out why they can't quit their day jobs....because all these coaches have told them that the industry is "lucrative." 

"Yes! You can make $30.00 an hour....!"  

It's painfully obvious to me that Voice123 went after quantity not quality from the get-go. That being said, don't expect to make a dime with Voice123, (much less get the money back for your membership)......but do plan to answer many, many leads and get little or nothing in return. If you're a pro, well.....you know the story with Voice123 and you probably use it as a tool to sniff out leads and add to your existing client base.

What about the website itself?

They use a system called "Smartcast" that is anything but smart. Based on some really stupid calculations, it distributes leads to the Voice123 membership. How stupid? Here's an example.

When I calculate my stats, the system compares me to every single North American English VO talent in the membership....including females. I always sit around the 10% range of auditions submitted vs. invitations. In other words, if I was invited to audition 400 times, I would only answer about 40 of those invitations.

What does Voice123 tell me? Their system states that I have auditioned 300% more than the rest of all the North American English VO talent - including females. Why is that? Well, I do VO full time; 80% of the Voice123 membership have day-jobs and by the time they get home, the lead is closed.

Of course, Voice123 wants you to "be picky" about the leads you audition for. I'm at 10%. That's pretty picky if you ask me. However.....somehow...I manage to audition 300% more than anyone else. Go figure.

Then we have the "ranking system" where, yes......you are ranked by Voice123 clients or "voice seekers" on your audition and overall submission. That's right! You too can be ranked by the front desk secretary who is looking for someone to voice their on-hold system, who has never hired a VO talent in her life.....or perhaps the producer who listens to 20 auditions, hates everything and decides to give all 50 auditions the lowest score - without listening to the rest of them.

This....is how Voice123 "ranks" your ability.

As for the rest of the stuff there, well, they've removed their "Voice-over Savvy" forum; once a place where talent would share information. Most in the industry believe they shut down the forum because there was negative commentary (translation: the truth) about Voice123 being posted. They couldn't stand the heat, so they closed the kitchen. This, pissed a lot of people off.

Still to this day, they heavily censor their Premium Forums to the point where it's almost like being behind the once sturdy Berlin Wall. Anything even remotely controversial is immediately pounced on and edited, outright deleted or the person posting banned from the forum. Many have been outright banned from the entire site, their website and membership revoked. Go ahead, give it a try. Post the question:

"Why does Voice123 take money from people who claim to be voice talent when they clearly have no talent at all?"

Closing forums, censoring posts, taking money from people who have no business calling themselves a voice talent (selling dreams), spewing inane propaganda left and right......will tell you pretty much everything you need to know about Voice123. Their actions speak far louder than their so-called "talent" roster.

If you're rookie or wannabe, don't waste your money. If you're a pro or semi-pro, it might be worthwhile to try it out, but don't expect fame and fortune. Outside of that, Voice123 is a useful learning tool for students of the craft.

Voices.com

Voice Talent Todd Schick, Professional Voice Talent, voicing an article on Voices.com.

Where Voice123 was the first of the P2P sites to appear, Voices.com was the second major player and now appears to have surpassed Voice123 to become the preferred choice for the discerning voice talent - rookie, semi-pro or pro.

Why? Well for one, they tend to treat their membership with a modicum respect....or at least it appears that way.

For two, they're well ahead of Voice123 in respect to marketing, improving their site functionality and customer service offerings. It doesn't take much effort; Voice123 has earned itself a pretty bad reputation with talent over the years by treating them like dirt.

Don't be mistaken though; there are similarities between the two. Voices.com is still a P2P site which means that they will take your money whether you have talent for VO or not. After all, it's a "business" being run by people who have little or no knowledge of what it means to be a home-based voice talent.

Secondly, Voices.com uses a software method of targeting a voice; the same ridiculous concept applied by Voice123. I say "ridiculous" because using software to choose a voice is like asking a computer to be philisophical.

Moving forward....

I'm listed on Voices.com, renewing a very old subscription in January of 2013.

I had a few reasons to renew; I was requested by (CEO) David Ciccarelli to update an old review of their site I wrote about 10 years ago and I felt that I couldn't review it properly without road-testing the new model. Secondly, I found that I had more time to spend answering leads; my primary reason for eschewing P2P memberships in general.

They tell me I was actually the first talent to ever land a gig on Voices.com, then called Interactive Voices.....go figure.

10 years have gone by and I have to be honest, not much seems to have changed at Voices.com at first glance. Most of the leads remain low budget. Colors, the cheesy graphics and logo remain the same.

It appears they've tweaked the site quite a bit, but the fundamental stuff when the site launched about 10 years ago remains unchanged....it looks to me that the apparent "10,000" hours recently spent updating the site was tantamount to a fresh coat of paint.

It looks like there's more Resources content up for sale or for review...but really, it's all introductory stuff....and pretty poorly composed at that. I could go on for pages here pointing out all the superfluous fluff. If you want to see what I mean, have a look at the scripts they offer and read...well, anything. You'll have a good chuckle....

That said, one cannot ignore the fact that Voices.com is very, very good at making it "look" like they're the experts at finding a voice and really, that's all that matters to the unsuspecting client looking for a voice talent to hire. The reality is, any one who has the most basic knowledge of the VO industry can figure out that Voices.com is run by people who manage a website and nothing more.

What's up with the demo categories...?

A glaring example of the aforementioned ignorance of the industry can be found over at the talent demo upload section.

The demo categories are outright wrong, the description choices even worse......it all seems like somebody took an educated "guess" at how to describe a voice and offered up a list of inane adjectives.

Obviously, they give this same list of adjectives for the client to pick out when they're describing the voice they want to target or hire. Subsequently, uploading a voice demo brings to mind a craps table in Vegas, single-malt scotch in hand ......wondering if the house has loaded the dice.

The sad part of this whole thing is....it appears to me that these people didn't even "try" to get it right. I'll explain as best I can.

Since the beginning of time, voice demos have been categorized by format of voice-over IE: Commercials, Narration, On-Hold, etc. It would appear the folks at Voices.com are not of this planet, because they give us categories like "Radio" and "Television" - which I'm sorry to say is just plain wrong.

When one is listening to an "audio" demo, one cannot tell the difference between a Television and Radio commercial. "Radio" and "Television" denote broadcast usage and therefore, determine the rate for a voiceover. They are never used as terms to categorize a voice talent's demo reel.

This, from Chapter 1 of Voiceover 101.

Stupid humans.

The "idea" of using adjectives to describe a vocal style is admirable and has sterling qualities indeed. However, it's inherently flawed in that there's not enough adjectives in the dictionary to describe anyone's voice when you factor in one, dynamic element, the proverbial Achilles heel that is.......a Human Being.

Because humans are so subjective in respect to interpreting anything, voice actors have long been categorized by vocal age. The more "age range" a voice talent can offer up, the more marketable they are. This same approach also simplifies the selection process.

"I'm looking for a male voice who sounds about 18...." Easy.

So, since the beginning of time.....and still to this day, voice demos are produced to show a talent's vocal "age range."

For instance, my vocal range is 18 - 45. That means, I can sound like I'm 18, or I can sound like a Dad who's about 45.....depending of course, on the opinion, perspective, mood, attitude, sense of humor, gender etc. of the Human Being that is listening to my voice demo.

So, I go to the Voices.com website and proceed to upload my demo. I start with my Commercial demo (Yes! It has BOTH Radio and Television commercials on it! How novel!) which features that lovely age range of mine, 18-45 male and everything in-between.

What am I given by Voices.com to describe the vocal "age range" of this demo?

Well, there's five choices. Child, Teen, Young Adult, Middle Aged or Senior. I can only pick ONE....where in all honesty, I really need to input the middle three choices.

Voices.com's answer to this?

"Stupid Humans! Make more demos! We have changed the way demos are to be produced! You must comply! Disregard every thing you have learned and follow the white line to the loading area. The White Zone is for loading and unloading only....if you have to load, or unload - go to the White Zone."

It is what it is.....and I can see how it can work for a rookie or one-trick-pony; those that have limited vocal range - which sadly, represents the bulk of members on any given P2P site. It kinda works, because they're forcing the hand of both the talent and the client to conform to their methodology.

On the other hand, something's gotta give somewhere; I saw a lead just today where a Voices.com client sarcastically commented:

"I need the voice to sound like Spock, but that adjective wasn't given as a choice..."

Thank you, Mr. Client for driving that ice-pick into our forehead.

How about those leads...?

The leads that show up on the site are both plentiful and varied. I would say that 80% of them fall under the $100-$250 range. Consider that they boast a world-wide membership of 25,000+ talent, so when you go to post that custom audition, you're taking part in the world's largest voice-over cattle-call.

I don't know about you, but I like the odds in Vegas.

On the subject of leads, I should mention a recent & significant change to how talent can respond to a lead. No longer are talent allowed the option to submit a generic demo in lieu of a custom audition.

Having personally invented the concept of the custom audition using the internet back in 1998 (which V123 and Voices.com decided to...er...."adopt"), I can understand why Voices.com decided to make this change, albeit 10 years too late. Many times I would read on leads:

"Generic demos will not be considered, only custom auditions." and "Please no announcers..."

This, told me two things:

1) Many talent on the site were either lazy or were responding to a lead from their "day job"; unable to record custom audio from their cubicle or cash register....and,

2) A large percentage of the membership are current or ex-broadcasters.

Let's answer one of those leads......

OK. A lead has come in and it looks like I'm a "100% Match." I have no idea what this means, but I'm assuming that by taking a spin of the Roulette Wheel of Adjectives (RWA) the client's marble has landed on one of ten adjectives I'm "allowed" to use when uploading my demo. Bonus. Looks like the client's budget range is.....surprise, surprise.....$100-$250.

Responding to a lead is easy and Voices.com has done an admirable job of keeping things nice and simple. I can select any number of my "Template" responses (ones that I have previously composed) from a drop down menu.

OK.....I'll select the one labeled "Standard."

What's this? A pop-up window telling me that I can't put in any contact information. I'm "violating the Terms of Agreement!" Heaven forbid! Mon dieu! What have I done?! Hmmm.....must be that old template I used 10 years ago that had my phone numer and e-mail address in it. I thought it was a nice professional touch at the time, but obviously....something has changed and the Terms Of Agreement Police (TOAP) may have been dispatched.

Uh-oh.

After looking for 10 minutes for the template section, I give up and type in my response, sans any contact information. No pop-up window. Well, hopefully the TOAP won't be knocking on my door.

Next....I input my fee for services. What's this? The client is paying 10% more than my fee? This is new.

Apparently, it's something called "Escrow." Looks more like a commission to me. Interesting. Maybe this has something to do with my contact information? Oh well. It doesn't matter...the client is paying the fee, so I don't care....

Or......maybe not. I mean, I may want to lower my rate to make it affordable and work within the client's budget....(not to mention all those hacks and wannabes undercutting my rate.....the scoundrels).

Oh Dear. What's a poor boy to do?

Well.....the job is pretty big and $250 won't come close to my rate of $350 for this gig....I'll place my bet at $225 and hope the client is willing to spend the max budget for a professional. This is an experiment after all......

But.....what's up with that Escrow fee and the contact information?

Ice-pick in the forehead....

OH! That's right...I remember! A few years ago, that "escrow" thing was optional! It would appear that it's now mandatory. Which means Voices.com did listen to me 12 years ago when they called me up, looking for advice.

I told them (I think it was Stephanie Ciccarelli - a female for sure) a membership-based model was flawed! After all, their only revenue stream would be from annual membership fees; IE: selling dreams. They'd end up with a roster full of hacks and wannabes.....and who wants that?

I said...in a nutshell:

"Nope. Commission is the way to go, guys! Screen your talent for quality and service and take a commission. Easy. Off you go. Good luck!"

History reveals that they didn't listen to the sage advice from the guy who would be the first talent to land a job off their website. The same fella who - in 1998 - had already invented the home-based VO talent business model, the custom audition, the quote format, all that good stuff which was used and abused by P2P sites.

I digress. No....they (Interactive Voices at the time) stubbornly forged ahead -with the same ignorance of industry fundamentals that thrives today - collecting only membership fees....until.....that's right. They discovered that the membership fee business model would only take them so far and they'd have to figure out another way to generate revenue from a roster full of people they had sold a dream to.

Then, suddenly.....Voices.com figured out a way to save face with a brand new invention of their own.....a new word for "commission".......!

Escrow...er....."commission."

Fear not, human - you don't need an escrow service to collect fees for voice-over services. Indeed, if I had to pay 10% to someone everytime I sent out an invoice and then wait two weeks to get paid....I'd not only be broke, I'd be a broke idiot.

The concept is as old as time itself - Fear.

Talent side, Voices.com leverages Fear in the membership that there's a potential for profit loss by a client defaulting on payment. To clients, they present escrow as a type of guarantee; funds are not released until the client is satisfied with the product. Either way, Voices.com looks like the hero by donning a cape and blasting Fear with their Escrow Flame Thrower (EFT).

Basking in the glow of Security, Fear in a heap of ashes on the floor, everybody thinks 10% is a reasonable price to pay to be rescued from Fear and Voices.com reaps the profits.

They started off making escrow optional - how it should be. Now, it's mandatory. I'll take a wild guess and say that the idea worked.....but not well enough....not enough takers. So, Voices.com decided that they'll take 10% of the action right off the top. Kinda like back in the 60's when the mob was running the casinos in Vegas.

I'm sure you saw the movie......

So, every time a talent answers a lead, contacting the client is a no-no until Voices.com gets their deposit from said client, for fear that Voices.com will lose that all-important commission....er....Escrow....fee.....thing. So, they have all these pop-up window warnings about violation of the Terms of Agreement if there's a digit or "@" symbol detected by the Voices.com Contact Police (VCP).

I can certainly understand the reasoning behind this policy, but question it's usefulness.

Everybody knows if someone wants to rip you off, they'll find a way to do it. By refusing talent First Contact with the client, Voices.com is just complicating the whole process and creating an environment of subversion, among other things.

If a client wants to avoid the escrow fee, all they have to do is use Voices.com to find the talent they want, Google the name and contact the talent directly. Alternatively, if a talent wants to contact the client directly, all the information to do so is provided, regardless of how much this behaviour is discouraged.

Consider that people are, generally speaking, honest. Oh, there's a few out there who are unscrupulous....but really, the majority are honest professionals. In being fearful of such a small, seemingly insignificant profit loss, it's my opinion that Voices.com has made an error in judgement by not allowing people to directly contact each other to conduct business, regardless of what point in time that contact is made.

By all means....take 10%! Everybody needs to make a living. It's all good. However, don't chastise a talent for including their e-mail address in a signature line. That sort of protectionist attitude can only cause problems in the future....not to mention it's very untrustworthy behaviour of Voices.com and therefore, disrespectful.

Hmmmm......perhaps it's Voices.com that is fearful...? Well....no human is immune from that.

The Road Test

Over 6 months, I received 4022 leads. I answered 615 of those leads (roughly 24%). 376 jobs were awarded to other talent, 79 have not been reviewed this date and 160 remain in limbo, the leads marked "Closed" awaiting the client to make up their mind....whatever.

Take a wild guess at where those non-awarded leads will wind up. I'm thinkin' a Dead End in the Nevada desert.

"Awarded" jobs were not calculated above as those jobs are routed to a whole other section of the website. I was awarded 19 jobs in total, generating a net (post-escrow) revenue of $5,339.54.

Breaking down the numbers further (based on 5 minutes per submission) 615 auditions took up 51.25 hours of my time and then an additional 19 hours work to facilitate the paid work. $5,339.54 divided by 70.25 hours = $76.00 per hour (roughly).

Most would say that making $76.00 an hour is a great wage. But, let's put that into perspective. First, nothing here is consistent - I could get 5 jobs one month and nothing the next. I'm on track to make about $11,000 per annum - flipping burgers at McDonald's pays more than that. Arguably, $5,339.54 doesn't reflect taxes and overhead.....we're looking more like $3,000......($40.00 an hour).

The revenue from Voices.com is a drop in the bucket compared to what I pull down on my own annually. However, that's how the business works......a lot of "drops" in the bucket make for a full bucket over a long period of time.

Don't forget though.....I'm a PRO...and that was 615 custom auditions, all professionally produced, the lead professionally answered and the rate fair - no undercutting or over-bidding.

Summary

In my opinion - coming from the person who invented the home-based VO talent business model - Voices.com and other P2P sites have grossly complicated something that was once quite simple.

Who wants (or has the time) to listen to 150 auditions, most of which are average at best? Why should talent have to wait two weeks to be paid via PayPal so Voices.com can take their 10% commission? I can do my own collections via PayPal, thank you very much. What's the deal with using an adjective like "kooky" to describe a voice? How convoluted is that?

By increasing the numbers right across the board - clients and talent - everybody suffers......except Voices.com. Clients have to listen to tons of boring (I think the Voices.com adjective would be....."sucky") auditions and talent have to chain themselves to their sound booth for fear of being audition number 188 and not being heard at all.

However, the P2P model is yet another tool with which voice talent can develop their business and skill set. Lots of auditioning makes for good practice and the exposure to a large and varied client base can't hurt.

The trick to making a living at VO is multiple revenue streams. Voices.com may be one of them, your agent another, posting on the sites in the Netherlands, Germany or France in the English Talent category.....blah, blah, blah. I personally have about 150 different places where there's the "potential" to generate revenue and cumulatively, this translates to me making a living at VO.

I'm not going tell you that you'll have large canvas bags of cash couriered to your front door by being a member of Voices.com. However, of all the P2P sites out there, they appear to do the best job of making it look like they're the spot to find voice talent. They market, advertise, get great rankings and subsequently, leads.

I am left to wonder how well they'd do if they really knew what the voice-over industry was all about....and lose the smoke-and-mirror garbage that has been stinking up the site for more than a decade.

If you want to gamble with your money on P2P - in my opinion - Voices.com would be the site to place your bet. I mean...you can't argue with those search engine rankings and the choice to bid on the cheapo gigs is yours to make.

However, bear in mind that you really have to jump on those leads! If you don't respond to that lead right away......answers will rise to 150 in a half hour.....the chances of that audition you submitted being heard dwindles - literally - by the second.

Rookie? Wannabe? Consider that day-job getting in the way. Pretty hard to answer a lead when you're in a meeting at the office or working the cash register. And when you get home, how pumped are you going to be answering a lead that 150 others have already answered hours ago?

Again.....19 jobs out of 615 auditions - those are the numbers.

In the end, Voices.com does a good job of getting you the opportunity to audition.....and the rest is much like gambling at the craps table in Vegas. You place your bet, roll the dice, win some, lose a lot....and ultimately the house will end up putting a fountain in the foyer.

If you have any questions about Voices.com or this article, feel free to contact me. I promise...I won't call the VCP ;-)!

Thanks for reading!

Kind Regards,

Todd Schick

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