Quo Vadis? Future trends in the voice over industry

5 min read

Ever since 2004, when Voice123 established itself as the first online voice-casting platform, debates on the future of the voice over industry have raged around the world. It’s certainly equally assertable that the subsequent proliferation of similar sites proves that online voice-casting is the new normal and ignoring it — as either client or voice-actor — is at your own peril.

Browsing social media platforms and online discussion groups reveals a staggering level of conflicting (and often tempestuous) engagement. There also seems to be something of a generational gap between opponents and proponents; younger clients, as well as younger actors, are quick to embrace the current state of affairs and are happy to hop on the freight train into the future. The older and established crowd seem to be more inclined to cry foul, claiming that the industry is heading for annihilation as a means of making a sustainable living as a professional. From an income perspective, they claim, online voice-casting is little more than the cheapening of what was once a highly-respected craft; it has simply resulted in a race for the bottom, both in terms of money and the quality of recorded output.

By its very nature, of course, acting requires considerable emotional investment and, as a rule, actors are passionate people. One is apt to wonder whether a rational debate is actually possible.

It has to be possible, claims Rolf Veldman, CEO of Voice123. Despite the fallout, change is inevitable and must be seen as a positive development. For one thing, the industry is being forced to become more transparent. Clients, and especially actors, are being forced out of their comfort zones.”

“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,” says Rolf. “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 overwhelming support the platform received from the word go was a clear indicator that there were a lot of actors who felt the same way. Remember that back in the day, your reach as an actor — or client, for that matter — was geographically limited. Nowadays, the world is your playground. 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, a creative director who recently retired from an agency with a substantial international footprint, reckons what’s needed is a restoration of balance. “Personally?” He shrugs. “I think voice-actors used to be too complacent and full of themselves. They used to control the industry and call the shots. 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.”

“There’s no longer just one ‘right voice’; as a client, you can choose from 20 different ‘right voices’. What’s wrong with that? Actors are being forced to up their game and become more competitive all-rounders. My advice to them? If you can’t stand the heat, 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. I think the solution is probably somewhere in the middle.”

“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 has had to be 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. I’d say there’s no doubt the future is online. We’ll all have to get used to it 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 that I just wasn’t good enough. 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 good and market yourself well.”

“One has 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.”

John Adkins from a successful video production outfit in Ohio agrees. “I think the future is going to be much more fluid and collaborative, where the voice talent works 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 see it.’ He pauses, thinking. “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 be able to see edits, make suggestions, and upload their recordings to be used immediately. 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? Personally, I don’t see real voices being replaced by bots anytime soon. 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’ footprints.”

“Future trends in the VO industry?” London casting agent of some 25 years standing, Tanya Crighton, winces. “I’m not ready to admit I’m in need of 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. 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. I can’t afford top-dollar voice-actors but I need decent down-to-earth voices to market my products. While online casting platforms may be 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. At least as a small business, I can now not only contract worthwhile voice talent, I have a wonderfully wide selection of actors to choose from.”

“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, cutting the distance between them and their audience. We consistently need a much wider range of truly professional voices at affordable prices. Voice123 gives me access to such a range.”

“We like to see ourselves as a facilitator,” nods Voice123’s Rolf Veldman. “We bring parties together wherever they may be in the world. We foster relationships between clients and voice-actors. 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.”