One of the most frustrating elements of the business today is how opaque the audition process is for voice-over agents, managers and performers. Everyday, I will have someone ask me in some way, shape or form… “how I am doing?” In reality, I know the talent is “competitive” based on two decades of experience. Beyond that, I know very little because there are virtually no market signals except when someone is hired.
Casting Directors Provided Clues
Before home studios, the business was a bit more transparent. When casting directors controlled the majority of the commercial process, we knew that if someone routinely auditioned among a spectrum of casting directors, they were likely going to work. How much he/she would work was a debate, but casting afforded us an opportunity to at least gauge a talent’s “popularity” within the market. We also had the opportunity to ask the casting directors how talent was perceived, and a good casting director could even shift our perceptions of a performers skill with constructive critiques.
The Real Decision Makers
Where casting directors usually lacked access was the actual decision process within an advertising agency. Unless the agency had an internal casting office whereby the casting directors were included in the process, usually a free-lance casting director would make recommendations of their “selects” and then ship a tape, cd or mp3’s of their casting session to the creative(s) who hired them. After that, the process was a mystery because every agency culture was different and the actual decision maker(s) varied depending on the products, personalities and politics inherent among the creatives.
Modern Casting and the Internet
When Voicebank was introduced in the early 2000’s, the idea of creative feedback evaporated. By 2005, Voicebank was fully integrated into a voice agent’s day-to-day workflow and, whereby a casting director would cull an entire cities talent into a group of 50 performers (and often less), Voicebank afforded agents the opportunity to submit dozens by themselves. Multiply dozens by the number of agents submitting on a given project, and in a five-year span, a typical voice-over audition multiplied into often hundreds of performers. That change in the number of submissions meant that even if the agent had a great relationship with the producer who was working on a project, asking for feedback on an individual performer was pointless as the likelihood of remembering a “voice” enough to provide an opinion was overwhelmingly slim.
How Do Performers Cope?
I think of voice-over performers today like an Olympic athlete in an individual sport. The voice-over studio is like a gym, track or playing field and while a performer may occasionally work out with others, they are usually alone and only motivated by their intestinal fortitude and ambition. Coaches can help, but coaches will only push talent so far. It is up to the performer to keep scaling new walls and hurdling various obstacles.
Can it be frustrating? Of course, but there is a reason why an athlete gravitates to a sport or a performer seeks out voice-overs… they love what they do and the only real feedback they need is knowing they are competing in the profession they chose.