This week, I’m fortunate to have Marc Guss check in for our inaugural edition of Preston’s Questions. To say that Marc has “been around the block” would be an understatement. For decades, Marc’s name has been synonymous with voiceover talent representation. His journey has seen stops at SEM&M, Abrams Artists and CESD. His last stop as an agent had him wearing VP stipes at William Morris Endeavor, where he not only represented pro VO talent, but a host of celebrities as well.
A while back, Marc (along with his co-founder, Phil Sutfin) struck out to construct the powerhouse bi-coastal talent management firm, ACM Talent. Since that time, they have built a team that includes other VO representation pro’s, such as Andrew Atkin, Robyn Starr, Jeffrey Umberger and Melanie Thomas. There’s no doubting Marc’s pedigree. Given that most professional VO talent look to “representation” as a key ingredient in their marketing recipe, I wanted to go to one of the key players…someone who is tenaciously riding the wave and pioneering “what’s next”, for some proper insight. Enjoy!
- MP: Thanks for taking part in our inaugural edition of “Preston’s Questions”. You must feel very special to have been subjected to this inquiry! First things first…after all of the years you’ve been doing this, do you still enjoy it as much as you did when back when you were just learning the ropes? How has your outlook on representation evolved since then?
MG: Thank you for the honor of being your inaugural guest. Yes, I had to learn the ropes. It took a lot of determination, strategy and hustle. My dream was to be a talent agent at the biggest talent agency. The evolution of digital and social media has shifted the entire industry into a new era of entertainment. It’s a completely different world now not only in terms of content, but also talent representation. I love what I do more now than ever because I have more opportunity to be entrepreneurial and creative than ever before.
- MP: There are a lot of people that hear “manager” and aren’t really clear how it differs from being an agent. Please, clearly define, once and for all, how exactly does a manager differ from an agent as it relates to your company?
MG: Very relevant question. Voiceover management existed way before ACM was even a thought. The VO management/client relationship is one of a joint partnership. VO managers commission a client’s existing business at 10% in addition to new work that managers secure for their clients. VO managers have always and continue to secure work for their talent. (Note-Many LA and NY theatrical managers are commissioning their clients’ voiceover work even though they don’t have any work or relationships in the voiceover industry.) VO Management companies have much fewer clients than a VO talent agency roster, (as is the case with ACM), the ratio of manager to client should be extremely in the client’s favor. Prior to ACM, the focal point of VO management companies has primarily focused on movie trailers and some promo/narration work, all also adhering to the VO management business model of commissioning 10% of all existing voiceover business. With ACM’s diverse collective experience and expertise, we felt that talent should be offered much more to warrant the model. And that’s exactly what we accomplished. We designed our company to surround our clients the most high end and diverse opportunities in the entire industry.We offer daily opportunities in Commercials, Promos, Narration, Trailers, ADR, Politicals, Radio Imaging, Concerts, Corporate, Digital, Social, Elearning and much more. Although procuring auditions are at the core at ACM, we provide our clients with deep career dives that include the entire management group. We also provide individual career consultations and actively encourage that regular interaction. Each one of us at ACM is also marketing each day to expand our buyer base. We also do not rely on any online casting platforms for activity, but rather, we challenge ourselves each day to seek out fresh new and unique opportunities for our clients.
There’s no VO agency or management company in the industry that has more experienced high level veteran representation that surround their talent than at ACM. We are 6+ managers (with other project managers and directors of specific areas) who either oversaw and/or were integral parts of prestigious voiceover agencies/departments. Even at the largest agencies that we were at, we were all limited to resources and manpower to offer our clients. So with this model, and a much smaller roster of clients to service, we all dreamed of this type of scenario of ultimate teamwork and made it a reality. We believe that the management model offers more flexibility and opportunity for talent to succeed.
- MP: OK, now we fully understand how the recipe differs between agents and managers, it would be great to know where you see things going. Do you see the manager’s role remaining the same, or do you foresee an evolution in voiceover talent representation.
MG: I see the VO agency model on both sides of the agent and talent as somewhat antiquated, especially with so many other viable options available for securing work. I foresee more voiceover agents turning to management as well agents consolidating and merging with others and as a result, offering more for their collective clients.
- MP: Since you have been both an agent and a manager, we can get a two for one here. When do you feel a talent is ready for an agent…and when are they ready for a manager? Is it reasonable for a talent to approach a manager without first having an agent
MG: It’s just not that way anymore. You don’t need to have an agent first to approach a manager for possible representation and vice versa. These days, a talent has to be as readily trained for either type of representation.
- MP: Something tells me you have listened to more demos than the average human. So, you’re uniquely qualified to answer this. First, how do you define what a demo is…it’s essential function? Second, what would you recommend to a talent seeking out a demo producer. Last…please give us your top three dos and top three don’ts when it comes to demos.
MG: With our large social media footprint and word of mouth, we receive a great deal of demos each day. We embrace all of it and are careful to review all submissions. The primary function of a demo is a showcase for representation, and for the VO entrepreneur, it acts as a great tool to present their type of work to prospective new buyers.These days, it seems as though there are as many coaches and demo producers out there as there are talent! With that said, as the cream always rises to the top with talent, the same can be said about producers. Always strive for the best. Do your research! Ask around, especially the talent who are the top pros and have high end representation. That way, you’ll quickly discover who’s who.
-Make sure you have a great commercial demo. It’s your most important demo, That’s your “headshot”.
-Place your best spot first. It’s also super important that the demo portrays exactly who you; where a multifaceted demo may often confuse the listener.
-Unless it’s a very specific genre of VO, makes sure it sounds as “National” and as real as possible
-Don’t make a homemade demo. Leave that to the experts who know high end production and the latest industry trends.
-Don’t have a demo that exceeds one minute.
-Don’t have your demo buried somewhere in your website. Make it easily accessible. Especially when submitting for representation via email, your demo should be presented as an MP3 attachment.
- MP: Change is something that intimidates many, but I’ve found that the ones that adapt the best are the ones that have the best careers. In terms of the evolution of the “read”, what do you think drives the trends and the changes in the buyer’s needs and expectations. How would you suggest a talent learn to adapt to new trends, so as to meet the needs of the evolving market?
MG: You’re absolutely correct. The entire entertainment industry has and continues to face change. Most of it is a result of the advent of technology and the voiceover industry is no different. It continues to evolve day to day. Online casting platforms/PTP’s, union agencies accepting non-union work, etc. are just some indicators of the radical change in our industry. Talent need to adapt and not resist what’s happening.. They need to be at the ready for any type of read that they’re presented, to have updated top notch (not homemade) demos, work with the industry’s most respected coaches and continue to seek out industry mentors who can offer them their own valuable perspective.
- MP: These days, it’s pretty much required that talent have their own recording setup. When it comes to recording capabilities and “quality”, what suggestions do you have for talent that want to put together their own recording setup? Good and bad…what have you heard from buyers regarding the quality of talent submitted audio.
MG: Being a successful VO talent these days not only means that you have to be super trained and talented as a talent, it also means that you have to be trained to be your own producer and engineer. Before you go out there and offer your services to any buyers, you must be experienced and know the intricacies of what’s expected of you for actual session work. You must have a great read, a high quality home studio setup and know how to seamlessly record and deliver the materials to the buyer. Respectable producers and creatives don’t have time for amateur hour. That’s why I continue to be steadfast about encouraging VO artists to invest the time and training into this craft before putting themselves out there. Effective preparation can take months, even a few years, but it’s worth it in the end.
- MP: What are your thoughts on talent utilizing social media to garner work? Do you feel some platforms are more effective than others when it comes to VO talent brand building?
MG: The VO industry is one of the few areas in entertainment that allows you to be an entrepreneur. LinkedIn is by far the number one place to engage buyers for work. I know this for a fact not only because talent have been super successful with LinkedIn marketing, but as a company, we are marketing every day and the results have been astronomical. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter continue to be more of community engagement for business advice and peer to peer support.As far as my own social media activity, I speak about industry happenings and issues all the time. I’ve engaged starting on Twitter 4 years ago. I’m proud to be ranked #1 voice acting manager or agent influencer worldwide and #4 worldwide in the whole category. What I care about most is providing meaningful, actionable advice that has the potential to make a difference for those who are serious about a career in VO. Occasionally, on my social media platforms, I’m very pointed and direct, as I don’t believe in sugar coating important information. I’m guided by two things: truth and empowerment. Most of the time, my candor inspires healthy dialogue; others times, it may strike a nerve. That’s okay. There will always be naysayers who thrive on negativity. The key is not to let them silence your truth.
- MP: Once a talent lands the right agent, what is next? What responsibilities do you feel the talent has in talent/representation relationship?
MG: Landing an agent doesn’t guarantee a talent anything. There are small regional agencies around the country who represent hundreds upon hundreds of talent and are run by one or 2 agents. While talent may feel that initial boost of confidence when signed by an agent, the proof is in the industry experience and contacts that the agent has, the day to day opportunities presented to their clients. Are these agents relying on online casting sites for their auditions or do they actually have the capacity to go out there and find unique opportunities for their clients? I know for a fact that this is the biggest challenge presented to an agency of any size. Just like the talent, if an agency doesn’t have a very specific business plan, the financial resources necessary to promote clients and themselves as well as a staff of agents and ample support staff, it’s going to be an uphill battle to satisfy their talent’s ambitions.
- MP: You’ve seen the trajectory of numerous careers…some successful, and others that never really got off the ground. Please share your thoughts on the key(s) to a sustainably prosperous career as a voiceover talent. What is that special ingredient that makes it happen for those that thrive in our industry?
MG: At my previous agency, year after year, I saw so many clients in the television department go out to LA for pilot season with no favorable results. I witnessed similar routines in the motion picture department, literary, music, theatre and virtually every department. That’s the nature of the entertainment business. It’s not a given that with all the effort you put in that you will succeed. But if you have the talent, the relentless discipline, and understand how to recognize and leverage opportunity, you have a real shot at stardom, whatever field of the business you aspire to.
- MP: Is there something about your personal upbringing that you’d like to share with us?
MG: I come from a family of survivors. The fact that I even have this life and am able to participate in this interview is a miracle. My mom is a Holocaust survivor. As a very young child, she lost her parents, and most of her siblings. In order to survive she convinced a family to take her in. She lost her identity by having to live under an assumed name for many years, and through an intense search, her family in New York found her and finally brought her here.My parents started a small successful retail business in Brooklyn. As a kid, I was actively involved in their store. I loved it, helping my mom and dad come up with marketing ideas. It’s always been in my DNA. I can’t help but think, imagine if back when I was in high school, coming up with promotional concepts for my parents to help build their store, if social media existed then, what I could have done for them. Witnessing how hard they worked drove me to get through law school and it’s one of the things that continues to drive me today.
Bonus Lightning Round!
- Yankees or Mets? Yankees. But what about the Jets and the Knicks? I’m an insufferable fan.
- Katz’s deli: Salami or Roast Beef sandwich? Neither. How about a Beyond Burger! Better for the environment and we’re not harming animals.
- If you weren’t an agent, what would be your gig? An NFL QB.
- Broadway show, or live music at a small chill venue? B.
- Favorite 80’s/90’s band (and song)? Oh man..Journey- Don’t stop Believin’ and George Michael- Faith.
- Your culinary guilty pleasure? Pizza! I’m from Brooklyn- Hello?
- One talent you would give anything to have? I wish I had the voice to sing on a pro level. But that’s ok. As Steven Wright says, ”You can’t have everything, where would you put it”?
- What would your coworkers say is your most annoying habit? Habit or habits?? Just kidding. Or not. Probably constantly barraging them with new ideas and strategies. I get excited and can’t keep it to myself.
- What superpower would you love to have? To be immune to illness.
- You’re at your favorite restaurant, and you’re sitting at a table with four chairs. Living or not, who would be your top three dream dinner companions? JFK, Don Rickles, and my Dad.
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