Secure Your VO Floatation Device: Are You Sponge Worthy?

Yellow-SpongeThe big VO talent sponge, in which we cling is saturated to the point of being unable to absorb any more. Capacity has hit a limit and any moment now we’ll hear a great big soggy SQUISH!!!

Just thought I’d toss that out there. It’s my opinion.

Welcoming All Comers

Folks out of work are hoping a swing at a voice-over career will get them by. Parents home with kids are looking for some easy-grab money. Even retirees are giving it a go. And why shouldn’t they? They’ve read it’s easy, there’s work for everybody and working in pajamas is super cool!

Polly Anna Would Love Us!

As a group of clear-speaking, well-intending professionals, we put a positive face on and pretend everything is fine and there is room for all. Heck, I welcome any talented individual who has it together enough to jump in the sponge. I wish them well and will provide any advice when asked.

The Low-Ballers

There is this ever-present thing with low-ballers. These folks will do anything on the cheap. That’s outrageous you scream, but they simply don’t care, I reply.

The sad truth is that the low-baller mentality is this bread’s suicide pill. They are in business for a few magical months, and after a time, will most likely decide it’s not so magical and the money amounts to just enough to buy a thimbleful of used breakfast cereal.

So they leave. Only to be replaced by the next wave of Kitchen-Table-Studio-VO-Newbies from the Low-Baller Academy. It never stops!

To use a phrase coined by Elaine from the TV show Seinfeld, they are not “sponge-worthy.”

Can’t Get No Satisfaction

I’ve read a number of blog posts from established talent who are feeling the impact of the impending squish. They are finding gigs elusive and are auditioning more and landing fewer jobs.

The letters and messages I’ve received personally and read in a variety of online forums, indicate that instant gratification is at an unattainable level. “How do I get jobs today?” “I wan’t to make good money.” “How come I haven’t landed one job in over a year?” “How come nobody is contacting me?” I don’t have the exact answers for any of them. Do I utter encouragement to keep going? <heavy sigh> …yeah.

I wonder, are we doing our biz a disservice by being so openly optimistic? Shouldn’t we instead be writing and talking about the direction voice-over has taken in precise, laser focused words that everybody can understand?

But WAIT, There’s More!

Voice-over support seems to be in the business for it’s own sake. An increasing number of options for education are popping up. Personal coaching, Online group classes, virtual meet-ups, studio workshops, and a growing number of conferences. Go. Buy. Enjoy. All are tax deductible!

Yeah, they’re all write-offs. When tax time comes around they end up being line item deductions. However, there has to be income to make the expense a tax deduction.


Pay-to-Play sites continue to pop up, offering the chance to audition with 100s of hopeful, (and UN-vetted) new talent. The competition is fierce for these lower paying jobs. It appears to be a race to the bottom for the new voice-over talent coming online to participate. Are they forcing the rates of all gigs down? Could they be creating a VO bubble?

A Possible Direction

On the (not-so) far-fetched side, since the ‘natural’ or ‘conversational’ delivery is the direction more producers ask talent to go, how soon will it be before voice-over is handled in-house by the clients. They sound natural and oh so conversationally convincing, right?

Almost Done…

When a sponge releases water, it’s indiscriminate about which molecules get pushed out.

Are you ready for the squish? What will it take to survive? Will you remain in the talent sponge or be wrung out and looking for someone to buy your gear? Is there anybody safe from the squish?

Your comments are always welcome.

© 2015 J. Christopher Dunn

14 thoughts on “Secure Your VO Floatation Device: Are You Sponge Worthy?

  1. Arlene Tannis July 21, 2015 / 10:06 am

    As with any other business, what it all boils down to is the voice talent has to find their own way. If you only want to audition for commercials, hoping to hit that big payoff, you’ll be waiting a long time with no income. If you think it’s gonna come easy (especially if you get a few “fivers” at the beginning) you’re fooling yourself. Like any other business, success takes time, knowledge, talent and the willingness to market yourself and diversify.
    Be willing to market to e-learning companies, production studios, telephone on-hold clients, individual clients LOCALLY, explainer video producers and more. If audio books are your thing, don’t limit yourself to that alone. Build your business upon how flexible you can be in what you offer. I did an e-learning script last week, and this week I have two commercials and am waiting on an explainer video script.
    There’s plenty of jobs out there if you are a serious voice talent business person. I don’t really look at other voice talent as competing with me…because they don’t have my voice and I don’t have theirs. I wish success for everyone, but realize that not everyone is in it for the long haul, and that’s what voice over is…. a long-term project if you want to be “absorbed” by a variety of clients.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. J. Christopher Dunn July 21, 2015 / 10:42 am

    Hi Arlene-

    I appreciate you stopping by and leaving your thoughts.

    I agree that the genre or niche focused approach is limiting and for some can be VERY limiting. Being flexible is a sure way to survive but to what end? Could one be too flexible, especially when it comes to rates and trying to make a living.

    What is success and is a person’s version of it enough to keep them sponge-worthy?

    I’m serious about VO and have months that are kick-a** amazing followed by a month of crickets and tumbleweeds. My level of seriousness doesn’t change from one month to another and like success, what is serious to another voice-over talent may not be what I define as serious. I do understand what you’re saying, however.

    If I am auditioning, I am competing. I am competing with other VO talent for work. When I’m shortlisted or asked for a second audition, I am being compared to other folks who auditioned. When an agent sends out audition sides for a gig to 10 people, those 10 are in competition to interpret the words, understand the context and deliver to the best of their performance ability.

    When I can’t deliver the goods, I don’t deserve being selected. There can only be one winner. And, I can do everything right and still not land the gig.

    I enjoy VO and it appears you do as well. Good for us! Perhaps we’ll avoid the dreaded wringing of the sponge.


    • Arlene Tannis July 21, 2015 / 12:42 pm

      Well, I’m not totally diverse…. I don’t do long form/audio books at all. I generally do commercials and narrations as well as e-learning. And, I’m not a “superstar” voice over talent… I have some regular clients, but I’m constantly trying to go after new clients and make connections. I do make a living but I don’t have a butler/maid! I’m more of a working class voice over person! I enjoy it and the people in it are wonderful and generous. I’ve learned a lot from many of the working pro VO people.

      Liked by 1 person

      • J. Christopher Dunn July 21, 2015 / 1:25 pm

        I’m more of a working class voice over person!

        I like that, a lot!


  3. Dave Courvoisier July 21, 2015 / 12:36 pm


    Well stated sir!

    We’re a welcoming bunch, this VO community, but it DOES behoove us to tell the truth, and not sugar-coat it. I’m being pretty hard on the first call…sharing resources….and telling them to call back after they’ve read ’em. If they call back, then I figure they’re half-serious.


    Dave Courvoisier

    Liked by 1 person

    • J. Christopher Dunn July 21, 2015 / 1:22 pm

      Hey Dave- Thanks for checking out my post. You are doing it right (IMHO) and should be followed by others in our community. The stories we seldom hear/read about voice-over are those of actual or potential failure. It’s not a positive thing to omit them, it’s damaging. There’s nothing wrong with being authentic.


  4. DebbieGrattanVoiceovers July 21, 2015 / 1:04 pm

    So with you here on this one Christopher! My husband and I were just talking about this earlier today. The ranks of the VO world are increasing, (and are proliferated by oodles of classes and podcasts, and forums and books which tell everyone how to “do it!”) and even with more work available (and that’s questionable) will it only be a matter of time before a price quote is the ONLY deciding factor to booking the work?
    I’m with the dying breed of VO actors, who used to juggle work coming to me, and just fielded inquiries and offers without even having to audition much of the time. Times have certainly changed. As you say, the sponge is saturated. It’s enough to make me wonder whether it’s time to make some major changes in how I get and keep business, or just start “coaching” like everyone else.

    Liked by 1 person

    • J. Christopher Dunn July 21, 2015 / 1:49 pm

      Hi Debbie! Glad to have you checking out my blog.

      When I’m contacted to provide a quote without an audition, I know my demo has done it’s job and has triggered the process. Every time I submit a quote, I feel like I’m doing it blindly. I have a rate card and follow it when I’m not provided with a budget. More times recently, I’ve received the reply my rate is high and other talent being considered are substantially less. Ugh!!! I’ve watched bookings dissolve before my very eyes.

      During a face to face conversation with a producer, I was told that he’d love to use my voice more often but couldn’t justify what I charge when compared to what he pays through the P2P sites.

      Is there more work? I haven’t seen anything to support it beyond what I think are anecdotal remarks. I would appreciate the facts. Maybe there are more low-pay gigs.


      • DebbieGrattanVoiceovers July 21, 2015 / 2:19 pm

        Quoting blindly is often the way I feel as well. While I’ve got my standard rates, I know they are higher than most in the marketplace these days. Many factors are driving prices down these days. Producers are savvy. The internet is available to make every job available to nearly every talent (of course, depending on how much the voice seeker wants to search) and they know that it’s a buyer’s market. While talent, experience and quality used to trump the lowest price, the playing field continues to level. As competition increases, even the most experienced are forced to lower their prices to gain any work at all. And that just drives pricing down as a whole. It’s a pretty vicious cycle. I’ve been writing about this phenomenon for quite some time, in the camp that seeks to discourage new talent from entering. If it’s hard for an established talent to earn their nut, then how much harder must it be for someone fresh out of a workshop? Then again, perhaps they’re only treating it as a hobby or second income, so dabbling with a meager annual income is pay for play. It’s another story when it’s the sole source of a family’s livelihood. Life in the fast lane…

        Liked by 1 person

      • J. Christopher Dunn July 21, 2015 / 2:57 pm

        It will be the working (read middle) class voice-over folks (thanks for the term, Arlene Tannis!) who will feel the squish the most. Those talent at the top are probably very secure. They’ve built a reputation and casting directors know who they are. This includes voice actors as well as actors who do voice-over. The bottom end is protected from the squish because of lack of investment and willingness to work for rates that aren’t life supportive.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. DebbieGrattanVoiceovers July 21, 2015 / 3:33 pm

    And yet, we’re always just one audition away from PAYDAY. A few weeks ago, I looked at the list of the top $ ranking VO actors (all in animation) and for many, it was due to one show: The Simpsons. Prior to their audition and subsequent casting in that show, which took off to cult status, some were just working class VO like the rest of us. That kind of success in animation, of course, is an extreme fluke, but I think that kind of status is what some newcomers think is waiting for them.

    For me, I’d be happy to continue with my current clients and a steady flow of new work in very non-glamorous narration, elearning, regional TV & radio, IVR, and the like. But auditioning for every job – even from clients that have used my services for years – is making it seem a lot harder to maintain even that standard.

    Liked by 1 person

    • J. Christopher Dunn July 22, 2015 / 10:48 am

      The Simpsons is an anomaly. I think it’s healthy to aspire to an anomaly keeping in mind that results may differ and fall short of the anomaly.

      You’re right, people see (hear) a voice actor and think that’s what they want to do without thinking through the process or understand the hard work that’s needed to book something like that. the Simpsons actors did not just one day climb out of bed and decide they were gong to work on a mega-hit animation series. They had a life before there huge success.

      I remember when I saw Top Gun back in the mid-80s I left the move theater wanting to be a pilot. I went as far as paying a visit to the Air Force recruiter. The recruiter did not tell me there was room for everyone and there were lots of jets to fly. He was very realistic about my prospects. I walked a way deflated but after some thought knew that I was romanticizing the prospect of being a pilot based on my entertainment experience of Top Gun. It was complete fantasy. The voice -over -actor community could be more realistic, like the Air Force recruiter.

      I have goals I work toward and understand it’s a process. Like you, I’d be happy to be busy with pedestrian VO bookings. I’ve had some huge gigs that were very sweet and know I’m capable of repeating them. I also understand there are other VO who are competing for the same.


      • DebbieGrattanVoiceovers July 22, 2015 / 11:01 am

        Love your Top Gun analogy and I think it’s very applicable to the VO world and acting in general. There are success stories, but many more instances of people with great aspirations that are never met. Whenever I do get an inquiry from someone who wants to break into VO, I have standard information that I send, and I paint a very realistic (read, discouraging) picture. If I was thinking about it today, coming in with nothing but hope, I’d throw in the towel very fast. But I forget what it’s like to be 20, and have aspirations, and that undaunted enthusiasm. Life and real world experience does tend to toughen us up and in many cases, make us more cynical that our younger selves used to be. Still, at any age, it’s hard, and I don’t sugar coat it for anyone who inquires.

        Liked by 1 person

      • J. Christopher Dunn July 22, 2015 / 2:28 pm

        I’m an advocate of providing a complete story and not just the rainbows and unicorns. It’s sounds like you are doing the same. Thank YOU! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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