Ever since 2004, when Voice123 established itself as the first online voice-casting platform, debates on the future of voice acting and the voice over industry as a whole, have raged around the world. It’s equally assertable that the proliferation of similar sites since then proves that online voice-casting is the way forward, and ignoring it — as either client or voice-actor — is at your own peril.
Browsing social media platforms and online discussion groups reveals conflicting engagement. There’s also a generational gap between opponents and proponents. Younger clients, as well as younger actors, are quick to embrace online casting. Older and more established professionals are crying foul. The industry is heading for annihilation, they insist. From an earnings perspective, online voice-casting is little more than the cheapening of what was once a highly-respected craft. Online casting has simply resulted in a race for the bottom, both in terms of income and the quality of recorded output, they claim.
Of course, acting requires a lot of emotional investment and actors are passionate people. One is apt to wonder whether a truly rational debate is possible.
Yes, it’s possible, claims Rolf Veldman, CEO of Voice123. “Despite the fallout, change is inevitable and it is, therefore, a positive development. For one thing, the industry is getting forced to become more transparent. Clients — and especially actors — leave their comfort zones behind. So how is that a bad thing?”
“Consequently, versatility is now a key to survival; the more adaptable or flexible you are and the more diverse your capabilities, the greater your chances of success. It’s no longer enough to be a voice-artist; you need to be a voice-actor with an entrepreneurial mindset.”
Change is essential
“Change is essential,” Rolf maintains. “People forget that Voice123 was born of necessity; it was co-founded by a voice-actress who had walked into a wall of manipulative exploitation by middlemen. The noteworthy support the platform received from the word go was a clear indication that there were a lot of actors who felt the same way as she did.”
“Remember that back in the day, your reach as an actor — or client, for that matter — was geographically limited. In contrast nowadays, the world is your oyster. I firmly believe if we hadn’t been the first platform of its kind, someone else would have established one maybe a year or two later.”
Clive Norris is a creative director who recently retired from an agency with a substantial international footprint. He reckons what’s needed is a restoration of balance. “Personally?” He shrugs. “I think voice-actors were too complacent and full of themselves. They controlled the industry and called the shots any way they liked. I’m glad that’s no longer the case. The Internet and the casting platforms have brought about an increase in the pool of talent available and heightened competition between actors.”
“There’s no longer just one ‘right voice’; as a client, you can choose from 20 different ‘right voices’. Actors are being forced to up their game and become all-rounders. My advice to them? If you can’t stand the heat, probably best you get out of the kitchen!”
“History teaches one that tides swell and recede,” observes Rolf. “Sure, the industry used to favor voice-actors and these days, it favors clients more, maybe. I definitely think the solution is somewhere in the middle.”
Change is inevitable
“Life hasn’t just changed for voice-actors,” South African casting agent Wendy Carmichael adds. ”The interwebs have impacted the way every single one of my clients operates. In some cases, their whole approach to advertising got rebuilt from scratch. They’re no longer touching broadcast television and they’ve scaled down on radio advertising.”
“Everything happens online, and I do mean everything. Shame — some of my clients even went bust because they just couldn’t make the transition or keep up. We’ll all have to get used to the fact that all roads lead online and adapt accordingly. In the long run, progress is good and resistance is futile.”
“One has to be level-headed and try to remove emotions from the equation,” argues UK advertising executive, Raph Levinson. “I used to be a full-time voice-actor but I had to admit to myself due to a sharp increase in competition, I just wasn’t good enough to land gigs anymore. I pivoted and started a new career — even if it’s still within the greater industry. But because I have so much appreciation for the plight of voice actors, I try to be fair, honest, and upfront in my dealings with everyone involved. Times have changed. Budgets have decreased. Competition is fierce. These days, you’ve got to be better than good and market yourself exceptionally well.”
“It’s important to realize we’re all in this together; the ‘Net is a great equalizer — and then you’re dealing with a surge in artificial intelligence, too. Not that I see that having any real impact on the livelihood of voice-actors for a good while yet. The jury’s still out on that one.”
A collaborative future?
John Adkins from a successful video production outfit in Ohio agrees. “The future is going to be much more fluid and collaborative. The voice talent will work more closely with the creative team to add to the final product in a creative way. It’s no more a matter of: ‘Hey give us a read with this kind of tone, we’ll create the video, and you’ll never get to see it.’”
“Video has new platforms for edits/revisions/team collaboration that allow people from all over the world to work on a single project, and upload changes and creativity quickly. This is going to allow voice talent to be a true part of the creative process, without having to be in a studio with an ad agency sitting behind the glass requesting re-reads. They’ll see the edits, make suggestions, and upload their recordings for immediate use. Some people I know already work like this. It makes for a better final product. So, as far as I am concerned: Hello, the future!”
“Artificial intelligence? No,” notes Michal Grünblatter, a commercial studio owner and voice talent scout in Cologne, Germany.
“Voices need infinite nuance; how do you synthesize that? Real voices won’t get replaced by bots anytime soon, I don’t think. What I am finding, however, is what I like to call internationalism. “
“Make no mistake, it’s happening all over. Maybe it’s because of the current power-play in global politics, or just our ever-increasing interconnectedness as human beings.”
“I have hundreds of voice-actors on my books from around the world and I’m getting more and more requests from clients who don’t want British or general American accents anymore. They want international English accents: people who sound neither UK nor US, but rather like citizens of the world who would be comfortable anywhere and can sell products to people everywhere because of it. My clients feel they’ll reach effortlessly across borders that way and expand their companies’ influence.”
The New Age
“Future trends in the VO industry?” London casting agent of some 25 years standing, Tanya Crighton, winces. “I’m not ready to admit I need a career change but to be honest, I believe it’s heading that way. The golden age of casting agents, just like the golden age of voice actors is over, in my humble opinion. Let me be clear, though: I’m referring to run-of-the-mill, bread-and-butter voice casting.”
“Friends of mine in New York and Los Angeles are telling me the same thing: online casting platforms have eaten away a huge chunk of our income and will obviously increasingly do so. Voice casting gigs for video games are still very strong, however. I don’t think the producers and directors have enough time on their hands, so I, for one, am still receiving solid work from game companies. Budgets are shrinking, of course, but that’s the state of the global economy, isn’t it?”
“In terms of budgets and earning potential, everyone involved in the industry has to make adjustments going forward,” Colin Mackie, who runs a small online business from his home in Milwaukee, suggests. “Money’s a lot tighter. While online casting platforms are making prices more affordable for people like me, they’re also increasing what you can earn as a voice-actor because of scope and scalability. So you’ve got to work a little harder than you did in the old days to make what you used to. I don’t think that’s bad; on the contrary; expand your skill set as a voice actor. Finally, as a result of all these changes, I can now contract worthwhile voice talent as a small business.”
“Above all, tastes are not the same anymore,” Barbara Vidili from an agency in Switzerland affirms. “For example, natural voices are trending today and I’m sure they’ll keep on trending into the future. We look for voice artists capable of acting like people in real life.”
“Brands are trying to bond with customers because they want to cut the distance between them and their audience,” Barbara says. “I need a much wider range of truly professional voices at affordable prices and I need such a range consistently. Voice123 is my company’s go-to platform because it not only gives me access to such a range, but its support team is always very helpful too.”
“We like to see ourselves as a facilitator,” nods Voice123’s Rolf Veldman. “We bring parties together wherever they are in the world. We foster relationships between clients and voice-actors, and we’re very proud of that functionality. We also place great emphasis on honesty and transparency.”
“Whether you’re a client or an actor, with us you know what’s involved and where you stand. I honestly believe the future of the voice over industry lies in collaboration and the building and nurturing of long-term relationships between all the parties involved — and that’s great.”