• Rob Marley

It's Time to Burn The Ships

In 1519, the Spanish Conquistador Hernán Cortés commanded an armada of 11 ships and 500 soldiers to conquer the Aztec empire in the name of Spain.

When he landed on the beaches of the Yucatan, Cortés motivated his men by removing any other option: he ordered the ships to be burned. To the men, there was no other choice: It was all or nothing; victory or death.

Two years later, Cortés captured the Aztec emperor and seized control of the capital city.

Why do I mention this grossly-simplified aspect of history? Because its' significance rings true to me at this very moment in my voiceover career.

Over the past few weeks, voice artist Paul Strikwerda has penned some hard hitting words about voiceover pay-to-play marketplace voices-dot-com and their business practices. Paul brought to light a few “features” being implemented that create two new membership levels to the Voices site that offer huge advantages over the basic membership... for a huge price.

I've previously talked about the pros and cons of the Pay-to-play voiceover marketplaces and while I know that complaining about P2Ps has become cliche, I think continuing to discuss this offers insight into how voice artists feel about this fairly new development in the industry - and that insight might possibly prevent someone from being taken advantage of.

So to sum it up: if you’re one of the schlubs who’s ONLY forking out $400 a year to audition for jobs, you’re being deliberately limited in the number of jobs you see, and will be bumped to the bottom of the list by members that pay thousands of dollars more. Voices talks about "empowering you and your voice in this world of opportunities" but by creating these two new classes of membership, they've devalued the benefits of being a regular member.

How successful you are depends significantly on how much you're willing to pay for the privelige. It's called "pay to play" for a reason.

You have to keep in mind that businesses like voices-dot-com are in it to make money. Period. The creators of this particular site have no background in voiceover. They are business people who saw a way to capitalize on a growing industry - In this case anyone with a microphone and a credit card that wants to call themselves a voice artist - and they have been very, VERY successful at taking advantage of that.

And "take advantage" are the key words there. In addition to inserting a middle-man into the equation, not being allowed to speak with the client directly, and them taking a commission on any job you DO win on top of the yearly fee you pay just to be able to audition in the first place, they are now saying that if you want access to all the jobs offered, it's going to cost you five grand a year.

I have spent a considerable amount of time in my studio this past year doing nothing but auditioning on Voices. In the past 12 months that I've been a "premium" member, I've submitted well over 1,000 auditions. I have landed enough jobs to pay back the initial investment in becoming a member of the site several times over, but here's the thing: you also have to factor in the amount of time spent auditioning. To me, that makes the whole P2P process just not worth it.

And now I'm left wondering: If I had spent as much time being pro-active and contacting production companies and advertising agencies on my own, instead of just auditioning for jobs I didnt get, I wonder how much more profitable my voiceover business would have been this year.

Well now I'm going to find out; I’ve scuttled my voices-dot-com ship.

I cancelled my membership and will spend my time pursuing clients directly. It’s high time I do my own legwork. It's time to say goodbye to a business that treats me literally like a third-class citizen and instead work for myself to shape my own reality.

If you're just starting out in voiceover, its easy to see the appeal of P2Ps. Use the auditions as a way to practice script delivery, cold reading, and working on improving your mic chain and work flow. And maybe -just maybe - if you're fast, tweak your profile the right way, and can audition enough times, you'll land a paying job or two that you can use to improve your gear or increase your experience. But don't be fooled into thinking that this is the only way the voiceover industry works. If you decide to go the pay-to-play route, you are giving up control. Control of your business, your time and your future success.

Is it easier to pay hundreds of dollars to have some multi-million-dollar company do the legwork of finding and billing the client for you? Sure. Is it nerve wracking to cold-call complete strangers and try to convince them that you are a voice artist worth using for their next project? Absolutely.

Sure it’s easy to get anxious about stuff like that, but here's the main piece of advice I can offer: nothing diminishes anxiety faster than action.

For me, there’s no turning back.

Its all or nothing.

It's time to burn the ships.


About Rob Marley - A Los Angeles native, Rob is an accomplished voice talent, producer and writer, now living in the Hill Country of Austin Texas.