The Voiceover Industry
An Ugly History of Selling Dreams

Since the advent of motion pictures and the dawn of Hollywood, unscrupulous business people have tried to cash in on the dreams and insecurities of talent.

The voiceover industry is eerily similar.

The “online” business of voiceovers (today known as the “voiceover industry”) is not very old; it really started to take off around 2003.

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In 1998, there was no on-line voiceover industry. I stood alone on the internet as the only “on-line” service provider for voiceover. There were only about 30 people showing up under the search term “voiceover” on Yahoo!, the popular search engine of the day. 

There was barely enough sites in the search results for “voiceover” to fill two pages.

Most of the voice talent were radio people, almost all male….and not a single one save for myself were offering recording services. So, for the next few years I developed, improved and constantly and tweaked the business model of “a home studio based VO talent delivering audio over the internet.”

Since the service was new and I invented it, I was handed the mandate to educate everyone – both clients and talent – on what the business was all about.

After sending out the first 100 or so e-mails, I decided to post content on my website on the subject. One, so I wouldn’t have to send out so many e-mails. Two, to bolster my company’s reputation and three, to maintain my top-level search engine status.

It didn’t matter what search term you used, if it had “voiceover” in it, you found Todd Schick Productions…..or “Voice over IP”, a developing technology at the time.

In a short period of time, my website grew from a few pages to 20, then 40, then 80…..and at one point exceeded 100 pages of relevant content on everything “voiceover.”

If you wanted info on voiceover, my website was the only one that freely shared information. Everyone else held their cards close to their chest; god forbid they might give up a “secret” of how they make money or get a client.

All along, I assumed that sharing information on the subject was never going to hurt me, because of one simple fact. Voiceover is a rare, unique skill. Few can do it well. One can have all the information in the world on voiceover, but if they don’t have the talent, they won’t succeed, much less become competition.

I was both right and wrong.

P2P Voiceover Sites

Your Voiceover “Dream” Career For Sale

In 2003, the P2P (Pay to Play) voiceover website Voice123 launched and with it, the beginnings of the voiceover industry.

I quickly discovered that pretty much all my intellectual property on the business was plagiarized. It had to be. I was only one offering any information regarding the “online” business of VO. That, and I was at the top of search results for keywords associated with voiceover.

They started by offering free memberships. 6 months later, the hammer came down and everyone hooked on that monkey had to pay to get their fix of voiceover leads. Suddenly, instead of dealing with 150 or so voice talent for competition, I was dealing with thousands – virtually overnight.

Of course, one cannot “buy” voiceover talent like they would a subscription to a website.

I was correct in this assumption and as history revealed, Voice123 served as a springboard for my business. Clients looking for “quality” voiceover on these websites were ultimately disappointed. So, they’d run a search for “professional voice talent” and find me.

Then, there was business from companies who spent piles of money hiring garbage talent off P2P sites, needing to re-record their projects.

Ironically, the crap Voice123 was serving up, filled my plate with all the clients who wanted quality voiceover talent, without the sound of a dog barking or a toilet flushing in the background of the recording.

In short – I got all the quality leads, simply by letting my premium search engine rankings work their magic.

A Cesspool of Voice Talent Mediocrity

In selling subscriptions to anyone – talent or no talent – Voice123 created the proverbial cesspool of mediocrity. Still to this day, their roster of talent is….let’s just say sub-standard and leave it at that.

Here’s a classic example of the kind of awful talent found on P2P sites.

To make things worse, all these people who paid for a subscription (and weren’t making any money) suddenly found themselves in need of “training.”

This led to the creation of a whole other LOB, which was voice coaching, demo production and other services related to the “voiceover industry” – nothing more than a collection of people who were sold the dream of becoming a voice talent.

Suddenly, websites were popping up everywhere offering voice coaching, voiceover demo production services, whatever.

I recall one day while perusing a forum, some guy calling himself the “Home Studio Master.” I think his qualification at the time was selling life insurance after leaving his job as a social studies teacher. More on that later.

What happened after all these scam artists came onto the scene? Well….again – almost overnight – I started getting e-mail after e-mail after e-mail from people looking for advice.

Apparently, they spent “thousands of dollars on coaching and a demo”, but can’t seem to get any work. You should have heard the garbage that was being put out there. One day, I got a note from a guy (to this day a colleague) who wrote me after reading an article I composed on demo mills.

This guy confessed that to make ends meet, he worked as a producer for one of these voiceover demo huts. For $50, he was sent cold voiceover and paid to produce a voiceover demo.

It was all crap, nobody had any talent. He told me that his job was basically putting lipstick on a pig…..and he produced hundreds of demos.

This company was charging people thousands of dollars to get a demo produced and sold the “dream” that they had talent. Nobody had a clue it was being “professionally produced” by buddy in his basement for $50.

Things just got worse as the years went by. 

In 2007, all these snake oil salesmen decided that a conference would be a good idea, so they could ply their tawdry wares to the masses. Take a wild guess where.

That’s right! Las Vegas.

You can read Ye Olde review of VOICE2007 and all the others here.

Voices.com – The Epitome of Smoke and Mirrors

What would become the second major player in the VO P2P arena, Voices.com showed up circa 2005, claiming they were not going to be “another Voice123.”

Sadly, this was the first of many statements that support their “Smoke and Mirrors” marketing mandate.

The only difference between the two sites was the logo. I was the first talent to land a gig on Voices.com. I think I got 6 phone calls that day from them, all in a panic as to whether or not I was going to deliver audio to their very first client.

They didn’t have a clue then and nothing but smoke and mirrors prevail on the site today.

Voices.com figured out how to capitalize on the ignorance of both talent and clients visiting the website, by making it “look” like they are the authority on everything voiceover. In reality, they’re merely a telemarketing company who shamelessly cover up one blunder after another with yet another PR band-aid.

I was banned from their site long ago after they tried to rip me off and I called them on it. In talking to David Ciccarelli, I felt like I was back in grade school, dealing with a bully at recess.

Today, Voices.com – via the telephone and e-mail – hard-sell every client foolish enough to fill out their quote form. They are well known to tell a client the project budget is say, $1,000. They post the voiceover job to their voice talent membership saying it pays maybe, $165.00 (seems to be a favorite number).

Guess who gets lion’s share of the budget?

It’s all Smoke and Mirrors. I’m surprised Voices.com hasn’t been slapped with a class action lawsuit.

Here are several articles in support of the aforementioned:

World-Voices.org and a call for P2P Transparency. Andrew Randall’s personal post on how Voices.com tried to scam him. Marc Scott’s post on Voices.com and the subject of Transparency. Paul Strikwerda’s post on how Voices.com is greedy and unethical.

The Voiceover Industry – Buyers Beware

In reality nothing has changed for the better since 2003.

Today, clients using P2P sites have no idea what they’re getting with respect to talent. In the case of Voices.com, a client who uses their service has no idea who is getting paid what.

About a year ago, both of these websites started selling their leads to the highest bidder. That meant that, yes – talent or no talent – they now charge people as much as $5,000 for a subscription for “all access” to client job postings.

Which begs the question: Where did that leave all those people who paid for “basic” subscriptions?

Thousands of them – the very people who served to get these same P2P sites off the ground – are now being forced to sit at the back of the bus, while the “premium” subscribers have a look at that job first.

And of those people who paid $5,000, how many are talented or otherwise worthy of having that kind of access to all the leads? Nobody knows and seemingly, nobody cares.

In fact, voice talent don’t really know what they’re getting in exchange for that $5,000 investment. I know this for a fact. I gave Voices.com $2500 for the same membership a few years ago. It’s doubled in price now. Yes, I got lots of leads, but from what I could tell, they were no different than the leads being distributed to talent paying $400 a year.

So, when you read on these websites that there’s “thousands of voice talent” think again. Oh yeah, there’s thousands……but of those, only a few paid the $5,000 to answer it first (maybe). And the others? Well, like I said….smoke and mirrors.

At Voices.com, nobody knows what’s going on behind the scenes – talent or clients. For proof of that, all you have to do is listen to the CEO of Voices.com – David Ciccarelli – squirm, dance, tip-toe and scramble to answer questions about Voices.com’s questionable business practices here. Hint: It gets interesting around the :30 minute mark.

The Voiceover Industry – Yesterday and Today

So in summary, we have websites whose sole purpose was to “sell dreams” to thousands and thousands of people wanting to make a living as a voice talent.

By doing so, they created a whole other industry of businesses trying to cash in on the insecurities of those whose dream did not become a reality.

Then, when P2P sites realized that the subscription-based model they started out with wasn’t generating growth, they started ripping off clients ignorant of what the service costs.

Finally, Voices.com and Voice123 discovered that the bulk of the people they had sold a dream to had no talent. So, they roundly dismissed them, by selling those “serious” about doing voiceover $5,000 annual memberships.

They toss all the basic subscription talent leftover scraps – if they’re lucky.

In the case of Voice123, they came up with another company (you can read the Voice Bunny review here), where they have turned all these bottom-feeding talent into slaves, who have to “race” to win the lowest paying VO gig on the planet.

I think VB takes roughly a 40% commission on every job.

The only “non-profit” organization in support of integrity for the voiceover industry is World-Voice.org, (WoVo) whose annual conference this year, is being sponsored by – in my opinion – one of the worst demo-mills on the planet. This company will charge thousands of dollars to train people and produce a demo whether you have talent or not.

How do I know this? Oh…..just years and years and years of e-mails from people who sent me their demo, wondering why they couldn’t get any work at doing VO.

But today, you can actually add a coaching session to your shopping cart! 

“Wheeee….!”

WoVo’s “Vice President of Technical Standards” is the home studio guy I mentioned earlier. On his website, he bookends numerous PayPal buttons with the WorldVoices logo, obviously a lame attempt to bolster his credibility.

And the icing on the cake? A “specimen cup” to put your audio into for examination at the bottom of the page. Nice.

That, is your “non-profit” organization in support of the voiceover industry….and nobody seems to care.  Just a bunch of people selling dreams (translation “voice coaching”). “Experts” who ask you to put your audio in a specimen cup. All for an organization who releases about 3 documents a year that say nothing and do even less.

Apparently, this is the acceptable kind of integrity we can expect from WoVo and the voiceover industry moving forward.

And that, Dear Reader – is the history of the “voiceover industry” and how it stands today.

So, you want to be a voice talent, huh?

Good luck with that.

Voiceover Industry A Brief Ugly History

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