“Income seldom exceeds personal development.”
The voiceover ecosystem has seen exponential growth in numbers. However, it hasn’t seen a commensurate level of commitment to craft as it once did. Some pay-to-play sites have sold the idea of how “easy” it is to jump into the game. Some training “programs” and less than ethical snake oil selling types have truly muddied the waters of what training is all about. This has done little more than confuse newer talent as to what is possible, as well as the realities of the industry. There is an investment that must be made to be taken seriously and to consistently book. Among these investments are your time, talent and heart. Oh, and there’s also proper training, demo production, marketing and studio setup.
The webbernets are packed full of folks talking about their income, as well as those pitching too good to be true stories about their “success” on pay-to-pay platforms. They may boast that they have little to no training and advocate for self-produced demos. Somewhere along the line, there was a fallacy put out there that your investment could be minimal for you to then turn around and make some serious coin. While many might have their opinions on what fostered this farce, I posit that it has to do with three things.
First, the reduction in cost of a recording setup has made some feel that access to quality gear creates access to work. Second, the (perceived) access to effective marketing and casting resources has made some feel that they have found their golden onramp to acquiring opportunities. Lastly, the floodgates of bad advice/guidance masquerading as “coaching”, “training” and “demo production” have increasingly added confusion to the VO paradigm. Some purveyors of said “advice” mean well (they don’t know any better), where others are more egregious in their pursuits (they are not invested in your success…only $$$).
Let’s examine a bit further, as well as take a quick trip in our DeLorean to contemplate the “then and now”…and how professional talent set themselves up for success. This is a time well before the vast overgrowth of snake oil fertilized fallacies of “shortcuts” and easy money. What kind of investments and contemplations were essential in moving one in the direction of their goals? What has changed…and what remains the same? Let’s take a look.
Once upon a time, to get a proper recording rig set up, you would be looking in the $10,000 range (and that’s on the low end). Now, that number has dropped substantially. Also, with a proper initial setup, the cost to upgrade has been dramatically reduced, as the quality and features of prosumer gear is such that “professional” upgrades aren’t as necessary as they once were. This is great! However, keep in mind that a gear alone does not qualify one as a “professional voiceover talent”. I love cooking, but Amazon dropping a box of high-end chef’s knives on my doorstep does not qualify me to go head-to-head with Bobby Flay.
Next, after quality training and a proper demo (I’m assuming you have both under your belt), we come to the true big ticket item…a necessary variable that has seen an exponential evolution over the last twenty or so years. Of course, I’m speaking of…marketing! Those newer to VO have no idea about the tectonic shift in marketing that’s changed the game, but their ability to enter the industry has directly benefitted from it. Back in the day, in a land before high speed internet, serious talent would invest thousands of dollars a year on marketing. This was independent of costs related to training, demo production, ISDN, consumables for clients (e.g. tape, CD’s, etc.) You might be thinking…”really?” Yes…really!
Let’s say you wanted to properly and effectively market yourself as a voiceover talent. You would need to send your demo to as many potential buyers as possible. This means that you would have to pay for the media upon which you would place your demo. There would be art/design and printing costs involved in packaging, mailing labels, cassette box J-cards (shout out to the old timers), CD inserts, screen printing of CD’s, bubble mailers, and postage (just to name a few expenses). Hey, at least you got to be on a first name basis with the folks at the post office.
At a minimum, each package (e.g. CD, cover letter, business card, packaging and postage) would run about $7. I can’t speak for other talent, but it’s wasn’t at all uncommon for serious talent to have sent out at least ten packages a week. So, at a minimum, we’re talking a little south of $4,000 a year. That doesn’t include the occasional prospect that called and said “we need your demo tomorrow!” You then got to know the folks at FedEx…and your per-package cost just went up about $20.
You might be thinking “well, didn’t you used to rely on agents much more back in the day, so you don’t need to send as many packages?” Well, yes and no. Every few months, your agent would likely reach out and ask you to re-stock them with your demos, so they could then send them off to potential clients. So, off to the post office you would go with a box of twenty CD’s. Multiply this over multiple agents around the country. So, let’s conservatively say that many of us dropped, at a minimum, $5,000 a year to tell the world about our pearly tones and Jedi skills with the spoken word.
Then, along came the internet (the high speed variety), with the ability to park demos on colorful websites and delivery of auditions and bookings via upload/email. Poof…all of those costs associated with printing, postage and consumables just disappeared. I mean, that doesn’t even account for the amount of time (time = money, ya’ know) that you would save in burning CD’s, packaging, driving to the post office and standing in line. Cool…huh? It was pretty awesome to see such a large annual expense just disappear. So, that must mean that you can now jump into VO for little or no money and swim in the pool with the big boys, right? Well, hang tight there, sparky.
What do you think all of us did when we saved all of that money? Did we just pocket it as additional profit? If you were to ask some of the guys and gals that remember those days, I bet most looked at the savings as an opportunity to re-invest that money in different pursuits. Maybe they got a killer website designed, more demos produced by top producers, jumped into training with great coaches, upgraded their studios with better gear, etc. Yes, maybe there were a few shekels kicked back into the bottom line, but the money…the investment…that was just shifted to another line on the old IRS Schedule C. There were, and are, always ways to invest in one’s self.
Many new talent are simply not functionally aware of the nature of the industry and craft. This has nothing to do with organic talent or the sound of your voice. When you look at those that earn a living in voiceover, they recognize that this is a vocation…a craft worthy of investment of the best that they have to offer. For those of us that remember the “old days”, we had to quickly learn the value of defining one’s “brand” and doing everything we could to separate ourselves from the pack and to get noticed. That hasn’t changed.
Are you trying to seriously jump into VO? Or, are you trying to elevate your current business of just booking here and there, and convert it to your only source of income? OK, then please keep something in mind. Your time, talent and heart are essential. Yet, for those that want to move the needle, the investment in training, quality demos and creative branding and marketing are more important now than they’ve ever been. The waters are more populated and the ecosystem of casting and questionable “training” (as opposed to established/reputable resources) have confused many of the newly initiated. You must learn the craft and business…as well as strategically build your skillset and brand. The logistics of marketing might have changed, but the investment remains.
OK, so let’s celebrate that we’re now in a golden era…one free of the expense and wasted time related to CD burning, printing, packaging and long lines at the post office (oh, and papercuts…there were a lot of those back then!) You can now allocate your funds to activities that more effectively and efficiently move the needle. Your access to potential buyers has expanded exponentially…and the sky is the limit to those that commit to this craft and to their success.
So, with all that being said, what will you do now? Will you go rummage up a video on YouTube that will tell you how you can make six figures with virtually no investment? (FYI…no reputable pro talks about their income. That’s a tactic of someone trying to sell you something. Also, assuming that those fiscal braggarts are “successful” is, at best…a stretch.) Are you going to embrace a random social media post from someone advocating against training and professional demo production? Are you going to seek out “advice” that merely reinforces your goal to spend little to no money? Or, are you going to take a page from every successful voiceover talent and business person’s playbook and…invest in yourself?
The world is filled with people who invest five and six figures into a college educations. Obviously, their hope is to earn a living with that education. If you are approaching voiceover as a means of earning a living…or at least a nice amount of income, then how can you realistically expect to get to where you want without proper training or an effective marketing plan? You are going up against a large tribe of talent that are already living, eating and breathing that goal each and every day. They are relentless in their dedication to getting better each day, commit to building relationships and consistently show up as professionals that deliver the goods. What they are doing is not out of reach for those that make the decision to do what it takes (and stick to it)…and rock a great attitude! Please understand that you are, and will always be, the CEO of “YOU, Inc.” So, there’s no better time than the present to act like it. Do that, and I, along with everyone else that has invested our hearts into this vocation, will be cheering you on.
Now…go dream, believe in what you have to offer, make a plan and then invest in the greatest asset that you will ever have…YOU!