Is the voice over agency world riddled with unethical practices?
You might think so after reading the pledges for fairness, transparency, integrity and more, made by members of the VO Agent Allianceat the new trade group's website.
But Alliance President Erik Sheppard says their target is the voice over industry as a whole.
"It's a problem in the voice over world in general," says Sheppard, owner of the Voice Talent Productions agency.
"With the lower and lower rates and fewer union jobs, agents are starting to panic and are doing what talent have been doing - accepting jobs they would not have taken in the past because they have to put something out," he says.
"But it's self-defeating behavior that just creates a new environment and culture where voice seekers are expecting more for less," adds Sheppard.
"I believe most agents strive to operate fairly, out of respect for their talent and craft, but other business models for finding talent are pretty much solely based on unethical behavior."
WHY AN ALLIANCE?
Formation of the Alliance was announced on August 23. And no, it was not created foremost as a counter-punch to the announced purchase on August 9 of Voicebankby Voices(dot)com.
That deal was a trigger to hurry up, notes Sheppard (pictured). But the founding agents were discussing the Alliance earlier.
Traditionally, voice over agents are not ones to bond.
Yet as described on the group's website, they gathered as a response "to industry pressures from outside forces and online casting sites, which have had a negative impact on talent, their representatives and most importantly, those hiring voiceover talent."
Sheppard lists specific concerns:
"Declining rates, the exodus of clients from union projects, the expansion of usage and multiple version/lift requests from clients with no additional compensation, and generally unethical practices becoming the norm," he says.
"Some of these issues have been bubbling for a while, but the recent downturn has been so rapid that we felt something had to be done.
"All agents - union and non-union - and the talent they represent are under serious threat right now, and we believe we have a better chance of righting the ship if we work together," he says.
The Alliance's "to-do list is outrageously long," Sheppard adds, also noting that members are in constant contact with each other about upcoming projects.
On the Alliance's Board of Directors and co-founders with Sheppard are Stacey Stahl (In Both Ears), secretary; and Carol Rathe (Go Voices), treasurer.
At the time of the August 23 announcement, the founding agency members were: In Both Ears, Go Voices Talent Agency, Voice Talent Productions, Play Talent,Umberger Agency, Desanti Talents Agency, Rockstar Entertainment, The Actors Group, and ta-da! voiceworks.
SOME APPLICANTS REJECTED ...
The Alliance's website says the group is "actively expanding and ready to speak with other agents willing to stand up for our industry."
Yet some applicants are already being rejected.
"Agents who we know do not adhere to our standards are having their membership applications rejected as we speak," Sheppard says. "We are not interested in members who are with us in name only. You have to walk the walk, even if it hurts a bit for now."
The door is not entirely closed to rejected applicants, though.
"We would love the opportunity to educate them about the damage their practices are doing to us all - and hopefully they will see things as we do and join in earnest," Sheppard explains. "The door is open for anyone willing to put in the work and stick their neck out for talent."
WHAT'S UNETHICAL BEHAVIOR?
In the eyes of the new Alliance, what would brand a voice over agent or agency as behaving unethically?
That would be an agent/agency that is not upfront about fees they receive from client and talent, Sheppard says.
And "anyone skimming fees off the top is basically operating illegally," he says.
He also trashes lowball fees.
"Anyone - an agent or a manager or a casting entity - who is putting out lowball garbage jobs is hurting the industry for us all," he argues.
FREE AUDITION SUBMISSIONS
An interesting feature at the VO Agent Alliance's website is the opportunity for voice seekers to submit auditions to member agents.
Is this an fledgling competitor to Voicebank?
Sheppard soft pedals that notion.
"We have no interface in place," he says of the audition option. "It's only a form where (voice seeker) clients can reach us as individual agents at once."
Yet Sheppard clearly draws a distinction between Alliance members and Voicebank.
The audition option is "a way to send an email to agents they know are operating in a fair and transparent manner," he says. "There are a ton of folks working on the 'new' Voicebank. We are not one of them."
FIGHT FOR LIVELIHOOD
Sheppard sees the course of the voice over industry now as "self-defeating" and "rapidly leading to unsustainability."
Voice talent who have been in the business for decades are hurting and leaving, he says.
"If we don't clean up our act as a whole and work to fight negative influences and practices in our industry, we'll all be in the same boat.
"In many ways, it's a fight for our very livelihoods."
For more about the VO Agent Alliance, visit www.VOAgentAlliance.com.
John Florian is the founder/publisher of VoiceOverXtra, the voice over industry's award-winning online news, education and resource center, offering thousands of resource links, how-to articles, calendar of industry events, industry directory, webinar training and more. A former magazine editorial director/publisher, John is also a voice talent who merged those two career passions to create VoiceOverXtra in 2007.
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