The Ups and Downs of Too Many Voiceover Choices

Discussing today's buyer marketplace for narrators in voiceovers in anticipation of Realscreen Conference Let’s say you just finished a 10 part nature series called “The Real Basketball Wives of North Dakota and it goes to air in a month on the Nature Channel”. You have in mind a Peter Coyote/Morgan Freeman/Siquorney Weaver type except you only a have a budget up to $2000 an episode and they are not working at that rate.

You have a bunch of choices these days. You have your editor who did the scratch and sounds pretty good. You have the Internet crew of voice over talent. There was even an agent you knew several years ago who was helpful, but you can’t remember her name. What do you do? This is your baby that you have spent years crafting your series second by second and this is the culminating step.

In anticipation of Real Screen Conference next week I’m going to breakdown the process down and give you the pros and cons of each choice.

In-House: Im going to get this out of the way first.

I know it happens but my first question is why? Why would you ever consider it unless you are Morgan Spurlock or Al Roker? Now I’m sure there are a bunch of talented producers, editors and production assistants out there and some might even be former or even current actors, but you are looking for something special.

You wouldn’t hire a moonlighting DP to shoot your video/film or someone in a band to compose your soundtrack so why would consider someone with little or no experience to be the heart and soul of your work? The goal is to get someone great and that’s totally within your grasp.

Online Casting Sites

If you are unfamiliar with these sites, they are business models where voice talent pay to audition for freelance voice over work. They go by the nickname “Pay-to-Play”. All websites are different and have varying levels of talent. That is where you should immediately take heed. Anyone with a credit card can sign up, so for every very good to great talent, you will get 4 to 5 marginal if not worse talent. Talent also tends to be outside the metro areas of NY, LA and Chicago so you will get very few narrators with broad national experience.   The advantage of these sites is their ease of use. They are generally very easy to use and you will get the opportunity to have narrators read and audition your actual script.

You also can do everything on your computer so if you don’t have the time to discuss the project or are already working on your next project, you can simply begin the process and start listening to auditions as they come. P2P sites also offer dozens upon dozens of talent and this can be a blessing or a curse depending on your tolerance for sifting through narrators. Finally, P2P sites tend to be fairly inexpensive as well. Obviously, this can be a big advantage if you have already blown your budget to get that shot of the sunset over Fargo but, keep in mind, you will generally get what you pay.

Agents/Managers

There are minor differences between Voice-Over agents and Managers and to keep things simple we won’t make distinctions here. I’m also going to be biased (as I’m a manager) whether I intend to or not but here goes. The agents I’m referring to are based in NY, LA and to a degree Chicago and generally represent union voice performers from the world of Broadway, Film and Television.

The issue of union/non-union is a red flag that many companies are concerned but here’s a secret:

If your show airs on any cable network (and 95% of them do), you can hire union talent. The unions have little or no jurisdiction over cable television which means union talent is allowed to work without running afoul of their unions so you are clear to hire any union talent you can afford.   Unlike P2P sites, agents have smaller rosters of talent (hundreds versus thousands) and, like P2P sites, will also audition your scripts. The difference between a P2P and agent in the audition process is an agent will actually “cast” your voice within their talent pool based on your description and the agent’s years of experience. In the end, you will receive 25 or so auditions of narrators and can decide from their culled list versus the more extensive P2P lists.

If the process is that simple, why dont all productions use agents to cast their talent?

The answer is usually money, but there are two other common reasons as well. The first is there are definitely some agents who don’t understand the needs of productions companies. They are so used to dealing with the same advertising agents or networks that they don’t realize their demeanor and questioning is oft-putting to the producers.

Forgive me if this has been your experience but I promise there are many more helpful agents than seemingly arrogant ones.

The other is simply inexperience. They have never dealt with agents and only know the big Hollywood agents who they assume don’t care about their products. In fact, there are plenty of agents (even some from the big Hollywood agencies) who are willing to help. A little research, a quick Google search and you will soon be on your way.

Not only will you resource but likely a future ally on your next pieces in the future.

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