Conversational, Real, No Voice Over Types Please
The question continues to bug voice talents like myself in major markets all over the country.
Why am I not getting opportunities to audition in front of casting directors?
It could be any number or reasons:
The growing online market.
You didn’t take direction well last time.
You were late several times or missed the audition completely.
You're not with that popular agency in town but a smaller tier agency at the bottom of a casting director’s list.
One of the less obvious reasons may actually surprise you. You’re not an “actor”….in the conventional sense of course.
You’re a voice over type.
The word is out.
Us “voice over types” seem to be clogging the major markets with predictable deliveries and a limited palette of talents. We still can’t sound like real people. We’re becoming a cliché. And it must be because we don’t have much stage experience.
But, how can that be?
Once Upon A Time..
....At an audition in a great big city
A few months ago in the recording booth at a casting office, I did in fact see the very words "No Voice Over Types" written in the specs. Without jumping to any conclusions, I reviewed it, did my job, and walked out. Yet to have somewhat less than favorable connotations associated with being a VO talent, got me over-thinking again. Are we becoming a mockery of ourselves? Either way, it was a first I’ll admit and this demanded further investigation.
So, what exactly IS a voice over type?
Well, it could be another way of saying they don’t want an announcer. No surprises there. But why couldn’t they have just said that?
It led me to make a few observations that could be part of a growing and much larger issue taking place, based on my experiences thus far.
Some of us do not take direction well
Market over-saturation means greater selectivity
Industry folks such as Casting Directors and Agents are getting frustrated with the amount of people who don’t know what they’re doing.
We’re in a business of trends, one that is constantly evolving and talents need to be more on their toes and must be quick to adapt to change.
But what does that mean for a person who calls him or herself a “VO Talent” or “Voice Over Artist”? Is it hurting our chances of getting more work/exposure? It is a niche business to many people outside the industry, but to the actual insiders, are we becoming the laughing stock of our own community?
The less optimistic short answer: Possible…but most likely doubtful. I do think it’s wise to have an open mind though and examine the realities.
Maybe the industry is trying to tell some of us we’re boring or don’t stand out enough. Or maybe it’s the fear of what constitutes being a VO talent in today’s day and age (if there ever was a fear): that highly proactive, zealous marketer, a solo-preneur, if you will, who “runs a business” despite the industry titans and veterans thinking that by doing so, we’re stepping on toes, disrupting the hierarchy that is already in place. In short, taking their jobs and giving the impression that we’re too green. You often hear that reaching out directly to ad agencies in large markets is a bad idea. Don’t pitch your voice to a program director at a network. That’s what your agent is for. “You’re burning bridges. You voice over types, you’re giving this industry a bad rap!” as some would say.
As a working voice talent on the East Coast (ok, New York), to the aspiring newbie or the indignant veteran, let me be frank by saying this place is a whole different beast, without starting another coastal stigma war. How can you not be on your toes? The city is brimming with opportunities that you can’t NOT take advantage of them. Granted, I don’t know the day-to-day working environment of Los Angeles well. I’ve visited a few times over the years and once it was work-related. Los Angeles is widely known as the epicenter of Animation while New York steers more towards the greater Commercial market. But that’s beside the point. Either way, they are both places into which you cannot walk blindly.
In the city that never sleeps, fierce competition pervades every orifice of this city. People who call themselves voice over artists by profession aren’t the only people at auditions. You started in radio? You do lots of regional car campaigns? You’ve got a state-of-the-art home studio with expensive whisper room and high tech gear to boot? Here’s a guy who went to a first rate drama school and is now the signature voice of a major financial institution. Oh, and this gal? She does nightly improv at this bar in the East Village and she just got signed by so-and-so. She has no idea what an Avalon Pre is. Yeah, it still happens. Be prepared to see someone who might not have any voice over credits to their name when you walk into the waiting room.
There are handfuls of talented working actors in this city, many of whom are close friends. These fine folks lend their diverse talents to a plethora of theater (Broadway, Off, and Off-Off), On-Camera (Film and Commercial), Improv and Sketch comedy and many sub-genres of Voice Over like Video Games and Audiobooks. Oh yeah, New York still likes to be the city that stands out on top in the end proudly proclaiming…We Pick em! Zeal, baby!
From having worked on both sides of the creative process over the past decade (once in casting myself) I’ve come to the realization that it’s not that New York casting professionals despise “voice over artists.” They want more than anything for whoever is in that booth, VO type or Broadway Star, to book the job. I’ve always been of the impression that talent is picked from a rather diverse pool and casting directors want to be faithful to and honor that pool. They are going to look for voice talent at Broadway and Off- Broadway shows, Improv showcases, Stand-Up, in Starbucks (wait, no, that’s the agent). It’s their job. After all, the more variety, the better, right? And yet at the end of the day it’s about the right voice, who delivers the brand, regardless of the amount of training and experience. If you nail it, you nail it.
Casting Directors Going Strong
Without a shred of doubt, casting is still an integral part of the entertainment industry workforce and remain the gatekeepers to a myriad of opportunities in the commercial arena, many of which you don’t see when you’re just a voice over type or not with a well-respected agency. They don’t have or boast their “Over 5,000 voices and counting” slogan to attract more subscription fees. The online market place is prevalent and abuzz, and may be a threat to the hard-working CD, however from the ground, New York still plays by the agency game—it has to. Over-saturation in this business has caused greater selectivity in recent years. The more people calling themselves voice talents, the less casting directors are likely to go that route. Again, they want variety but from a trusted source so they have to be mindful. At the same time though, what makes an on-camera commercial or stage talent more qualified for VO work than actual voice over talents? For example, a little over year ago I took a class with a cool casting director. Most of the people in it were beginners and a few had a good amount of experience but a reel was referenced, she kept showing one particular talent agency roster every time.
There’s that stinking hierarchy again.
Then two months ago at an audition reading for a character-driven piece (not animation) - the casting director, who wasn’t familiar with my work, asked me what my acting experience was. Really? I had been familiar with this material before. I did a read and then “Thank you! What was your name again?” I’m sure they didn’t like my take because I didn’t show the range of someone who plays characters for a living does. I haven’t “acted” since junior year of college. Bottom line: Not to worry. They simply prefer that you have some acting background. If they don’t know you or can’t remember the last time you auditioned for them, they may ask you questions a production company or a P2P site will not, or doesn’t have the time to ask.
Being prepared is the name of the game. While I don’t always agree with it, there is and always has been a certain stigma associated with New York and it’s an inevitable part of working here. That only stage and film actors do voice over persuasively. That of the hundreds of qualified career voice talents who work hard every single day, pounding the pavement, as far as the people on the other side of the glass are concerned, they all came from radio, all sound the same and desperately need an expensive coach to get them to convey a real person being cast. It may be a struggle for talents to get out of the announcer skin, but it doesn’t mean they aren’t qualified.
It’s simply not true. What does this mean for a NY talent that doesn’t act on stage or in front of camera? That they have to dabble in more areas to get greater exposure in one? Perhaps for certain aspects of this business, when creating a character it applies. But this growing reality just means that some of us will have to work harder. Life is a roller coaster and I’m up for the journey.
But for the record: us voice over types are just as good.
We are professionals and we will prevail.