The Swan Song for Talent Agents?
Does the modern voiceover industry still need talent agents?
Back in the good old days (meaning before the internet) the way voice talent were hired was entirely different. The voiceover business used to be part of the old-school "Mad Men" style of advertising. A typical workflow for a radio or TV commercial might look something like this:
An advertising exec would create an idea that would be argued about and refined until it's exactly the way the agency wants it. They would work with a script writer to hammer out every detail and tweak every word until it's perfect. Then, they would contact a production company to bring the project to life. The production company would then contact a talent agency to hire the voice for the spot. The agent would handle all the details: negotiate the pay, select the talent, ensure the client pays and handle all the bookkeeping. For their efforts, they collect a 10% commission.
However with the growth of technology and the creation of virtual "voiceover casting marketplaces," the voiceover industry has undergone a paradigm shift in the way that business is conducted. Production companies can now log in to a website, post some details about the job, and get a long list of potential voices to choose from without any need for an agent to help with the process.
A noted VO artist mentioned they has 15 agents, but maybe 5% of their total income comes from them. The rest comes from their own hard work, marketing and networking their business.
Is there any relevance left for the talent agent?
The answer is: yes.
Agents tend to want to work with the absolute best voice talent they can find. Which means that the voice talent being submitted for the job are going to be of a potentially higher caliber voice. This can save crucial time from a production companies' point of view, by weeding out the obvious voice talent that are not right for the job.
On a pay-to-play site, anyone with a microphone and the ability to pay the yearly membership fee can call themselves a voice artist. And they have. HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of individuals - some professional voice artists, some complete amateurs - fight for the jobs on a daily basis.
To put it bluntly: An agent separates the wanna-be's from the pros.
Also, talent agents tend to work with production companies and advertising agencies that are producing larger, big-budget commercial spots that might have a national or even global reach. You're not going to get a Superbowl gig from a Pay to Play site. At least not yet. Should you get a voice agent?
In all honesty, I know many individuals that have a very successful career in voiceover without a single agent. It all depends on the kind of work you want to do. For some types of work, the agent is a good resource. For other types, it may be the ONLY resource. And for still others, it's not needed at all. However, whether an agent decides to work with you at all depends on your level of skill, technical quality and how unique your voice may be. How good can you read the copy? How well can you deliver the message the way the client wants it? How genuine can you be with your delivery? How good does your recording environment sound? Even then, the agency may not take you on since they may have a voice just like yours already on their roster. Or ten voices.
If you do decide to get an agent, you need to understand that they are not the be-all, end-all for your career. They should be thought of as just one aspect of a carefully considered and mapped out strategy for success. An agent is a tooth on the gear of the machine that makes you money. It's not the entire machine. The importance and relevance of talent agents have diminished somewhat with the introduction of the P2P business model. However, they are not completely out of the picture and still offer benefits that you can't find on your own. For that reason, the agent retains a finger hold of relevance in the voiceover industry at least a little while longer.
About Rob Marley - A Los Angeles native, Rob is an accomplished voice talent, producer, writer and VO coach, now living in the Hill Country of Austin Texas.