Last week, I discovered a really talented voice-over agent had decided to leave the business. He loved the work and had made sacrifices to stay in the industry, but he just could not compromise any further. His salary was still stuck in 2009 and he was watching non-union work and PTP sites swallowing up a large percentage of his business. It was too much to bear.
I was not going to argue with him. I knew 95% of his voice-over experience was in commercials, and he had built his reputation there. I also knew his strong suit was developing talent, which has been so marginalized by the desperate need to capitalize on every short-term opportunity.
DID ANYTHING REALLY CHANGE?
I didn’t start out in commercials, which remains the backbone of the voice business since the inception of the industry. Instead, I began in promos (and very secondarily narrations), where I was forced to be more entrepreneurial and improvisational to build my business. Even when I was successfully running a commercial department, I recognized the day-to-day foundation of that business was still based on a Mad Men era model.
In fact, while discussing Mad Men with a younger colleague, I made a comment that if he had to step back in time to 1965, he would be able to do the same job he does today. All he needed to do was figure out a 50 year old telephone system, a rolodex and carbon paper. Now, we may have PC’s, email and the Internet, but talent agencies as a rule have stuck to their 50 year old guns and created digital facsimiles of analog methods and called it innovation.
INNOVATION AND NEW FRONTIERS
There have been only two predominant types of voice-over agency innovation and both have only evolved in the last 10-20 years.
- Digital disrupters that combine agency models with casting such as the PTP sites and Voicebank.
- Voice Agencies pursuing other categories of work beyond advertising, of which the majority have been in entertainment.
When it comes to the “digital disrupters,” the agencies have been competing head to head with PTP’s, and while they dismissed PTP’s as low rent work, they ignored that their business was more scalable and inclusive.
As for new work, talent agencies have only invested in pursuing or planning for new opportunities when the commercial money was flowing. There was never really a plan on how to adapt and evolve if the business changed.
ADAPT OR DIE
Realistically, and the former agent will admit this, he never imagined the business changing to this degree and he is not the sort to develop an area from scratch. He has, in fact, accepted that he is unable to adapt and is more willing to walk away than cause himself anymore discomfort.
I look at some of the agencies and wonder if they would be willing to do the same. Most of these agencies do not need commercial departments to remain viable and the one’s who do have principals who should be relatively comfortable if they decided to pull the plug.
Now, don’t assume this is what I am personally advocating. My point is if the talent agencies and managers do not want to continue evolving then they need to decide if participating in the business is still worthwhile to them.