It's one of my bedrock principles to never speak out on a subject from a perspective of sanctimony or self-righteousness. No one's hands are entirely clean where the often dueling forces of profit and integrity intersect. All of our houses have corners where there is more glass than concrete, and in an exchange of stones no one would emerge unscathed.
Recently, however, it seems as though the numbers of wholly unqualified aspiring talent being sold expensive services designed to play upon their dreams and prey upon their wallets is reaching an all time high. Within the voiceover community, discussions of exploitative coaching practices, demo-mills churning out hundreds of cookie-cutter reels guaranteed to be dead on arrival, and middlemen looking to monetize every step of the casting process are proliferating as never before. Far more often than in the past I find myself replying to a request to listen to a demo or evaluate a series of auditions with words that, however diplomatically constructed, are likely to shatter a dream.
This March, at VO Atlanta, I will have the privilege of hosting and moderating the final featured panel discussion of the conference, which will be an exploration of Ethics in Voiceover, and what responsibilities talent, coaches, demo producers, and those who earn their living through casting have to one another. The assembled panelists are some of the brightest lights of integrity and honorable conduct in our industry, and I am looking forward to a deep and thoughtful discussion.
Between then and now, I would like to offer a simple thought on what message should be shared with anyone looking to get started in voiceover: Seek out good faith.
What do I mean by that?
Every individual or organization offering coaching, demo production, or casting services to talent for a fee has made a mistake somewhere along the way. We've all taken on someone we shouldn't have, as a result of being in a hurry, a mis-evaluation of talent, or a failure to do due-diligence. Casting sites sometimes permit jobs to cross their platforms that they shouldn't, with marginal budgets for major work that devalues our craft. In most cases, however, these are the exception to a rule of working both in the interest of profit and in the interest of seeing the person paying for whatever service is offered achieve a return on their investment. Most of us are acting in good faith, even if we don't get it right 100% of the time.
If you are considering investing in becoming a voice actor, or you are advising someone who is, I implore you to engage in a diligent evaluation of the motives of those with whom you do business. Do research....the internet never forgets. The people or companies you will ultimately invest your money with are certainly trying to make a profit from you. We all are. That is the nature of business. Ask yourself, however, whether that is their only motive. Does your coach, demo producer, or training organization have an easily-verifiable list of positive references who can demonstrate success after their training? Can they refer you to people they have refused to work with based on a low likelihood they would see a return on their investment? Does the casting site you are about to join think about the good of the greater industry, and how they can help you compete? Or do they undermine the talent they claim to serve, offering them up as scab labor when fellow talent are striking for better working conditions, and seeing talent and buyers alike only as profit centers?
Think long and hard about these questions before parting with your money, my friends. If you don't, it's likely you will never see those funds again.