Using P2P to Cast Voiceovers
This year I jumped on to the other side of the voiceover audition black hole. I was asked to cast a few projects. I always wondered, where do all those custom demos even go? Does anyone actually read a cover note? I once contemplated adding the coordinates to buried bitcoin at the end of every mp3, just to see how long people actually listen to an audition. So, it’s time to talk all things, Casting Voiceovers.
I will normally steer clear of voice casting as it’s time consuming. Also there are lots of excellent casting directors out there who have made this craft their life’s work. If called upon, I simply have a list of ‘go to’ voiceover talent that I normally recommend. These are friends who I have worked with and trust to do an amazing job.
So why did I even get involved with voice casting in the first place? Well, this year I have been back out on tour with a show. This time travelling around the UK, Ireland and the Far East . I was still getting enquiries for jobs but wasn’t able to help with all of them. Luckily lots of clients were happy to wait till I was home on a Sunday/Monday. Or book me a studio at the city I was in. But for those where that didn’t work and I didn’t already know somebody suitable, I offered some clients the opportunity for me to cast the project with a new talent. I saw it as an opportunity not only to keep the relationship with them but to look a bit more in depth at the ways in which voiceovers are looking for work.
Because voiceover work can be quite a solitary pursuit, I have always wondered how everyone else worked. From custom auditions, to cover letters, to websites. How were people standing out from the crowd? So with the help of a few ‘pay to play’ voiceover sites (Mandy, Backstage, Voices.com, Voice123) I set about casting voiceover artists.
Casting Voiceover Statistics
As well as obviously finding the right candidate, I was keen to find out the following information;
- PLATFORM How easy was the back end of the website to navigate? What tools were available to the company hiring the voice?
- APPLICATIONS How many applications were received for each job posting?
- FITTED CRITERIA Did the applicant fit the criteria of the job posting?
- CUSTOM SELF TAPE Did they record the custom self tape in a professional studio environment?
- SHORTLISTED How many of those who auditioned actually read/fitted the brief, responded appropriately and gave a performance good enough to forward to the client?
- Av.PRICE QUOTED What price were the voice artists quoting on average? And what percentage of what I considered an industry appropriate rate were they quoting?
Now I know some of you are already wondering why did I use these sites, well the truth is…. I don’t know. They were simply chosen as an example of the way some people audition. I also decided to use social media which is sometimes the way that I am approached and has a slightly different reach. I have to be honest, I used this process on smaller internal jobs. A couple of bigger jobs that came in went straight to agency contacts who sent me great demos without any fuss. So, what did I find out?
The Mandy Network
The first website that I posted a job opportunity on was Mandy, formally known as Voices Pro. Mandy was founded in the UK so is considered by some as a great site for finding local UK talent. It is claimed that the Mandy network has over 3,000,000 members.
- The end client for this project had very specific words that they wanted emphasised and had added underlined words to the script. Luckily this platform lets you use different formatting options on the job posting. (This wasn’t the case for some of the other casting sites)
- Job posting took 5 minutes to complete and was approved within 15 minutes of submission.
- The platform is a little clunky when posting a job. Particularly in its layout.
- The media player seemed slower to load to me (and I tried a couple of browsers). This may not seem a big deal but when you are loading nearly 200 demos it soon slows down your day.
- The website recommends the Gravy for the Brain rate guide when inputting your job details.
- You can ‘feature’ your job (so more people see the posting) for £69.99 + vat. (I didn’t)
- To be classed as a paid job you must be paying at least £75. Otherwise your posting will go in to the ‘opportunities’ section.
- You can ask the candidate to audition on the Mandy platform or redirect them to your own website, whichever you prefer.
- You can organise your applications by date, A-Z, or agent. Then once you have reviewed them you can move them to a ‘yes’ ‘no’ or ‘maybe’ file.
- If you have an incomplete voiceover profile you will not show up to the client.
- The client can only see the first three lines of your cover letter. So make sure anything you want them to see is in those first three lines as they are unlikely to expand each cover letter.
- I might be showing my age, but I wasn’t a fan of emojis in cover letters. Sad face.
- A professional headshot is a good addition to your job application. I don’t mean you should have a photo of you with headphones on behind a mic. Just a nice, clean, professional photo and not a dodgy photo of you on your holibobs with a piña colada. (actual story)
The Mandy Network provided the most amount of applications. The main concern that I had was that the platform didn’t require the applicants to specifically mention their quote for the job. So many didn’t mention it. I therefore had to assume that they were happy with my proposed fee. I decided to check what those that I had shortlisted were quoting for the job. Most were around 50% of my proposed fee. Which in this case was £100 – £125 for a small £250 internal job.
The voiceover the client decided to use was by far the most expensive. Proving that the lowest bidder isn’t the most enticing. This actor was also the only person to want confirmation that the script would not be used in a public or commercial setting.
It’s worth noting that out of all the casting sites, Mandy provided a broader range of diversity from the applicants. Other platforms seemed to have a larger representation of white, middle and upper class performers, with a London or RP accent. Mandy offered lots of excellent regional accents and actors from different backgrounds. The site is also a job board for actors for film, tv and theatre as well as singers, dancers and musicians. So it could be possible that is why it has a wider talent pool to choose from.
It’s nice to see that Mandy makes clear ‘appropriate pay’ to those posting the jobs. They also make it clear that the recordings remain the property of those auditioning and must not be made publicly available without consent.
This is an easy platform to navigate for job posters and seekers alike. Judging by the responses I got to my job posting, most of the talent is from the USA.
On this specific job, the end client had asked for the auditions to be slated. On this site more than any other, the voiceovers were not reading the brief. Most didn’t slate their auditions. Lots didn’t record a custom demo of the script provided. It didn’t end there… people told me about a documentary they had directed whilst in high school; one gentleman told me his neck size; somebody was very proud of playing Lord Montague in an amateur production. All of these things I found to be red flags. If the applicant couldn’t even read the brief and offer a personalised response, were they going to be a nightmare to work with?
Also, below, is a genuine cover letter I received.
- Clever, intuitive platform to navigate.
- You can invite other voiceovers outside of the platform to audition.
- You can see the applicants details and contact them directly.
- If you press play next to the applicants name it will play whatever demo they attached first. This was often not their custom demo.
- One applicant attached 24 demos of anything they had ever performed. None of it relevant to the application.
- The site did crash a couple of times when reviewing applications and the media player was very temperamental.
- There are a number of payment options. I’ll add them below.
- Keep your audition purely professional. I was amazed to find application photos of people at political rallies or promoting their own ideologies. Of course you are free to be who you want to be. But don’t risk alienating someone who may have a different opinion to yours.
- Most voiceovers applied with one take. Those that did offer more than one version didn’t show enough variation.
- If you are not auditioning in a professional studio environment make it very clear you will be in one if you are booked for the job. Lots of peoples demos had a really high noise floor.
- The simplest applications were the easiest to engage with.
- Don’t have 4 seconds of silence before your demo starts. People will simply move on.
Backstage provided the smallest amount of applicants that I could forward to the client. This was mainly because most of the people applying were from USA or Australia, which obviously didn’t fulfil the brief. So I had lots of people doing their native accent or really trying to do a British accent. Most of which would make Dick Van Dykes toes curl.
It really felt like little to no time was taken with peoples applications and they were applying to everything available with exactly the same cover letter and information. Because people hadn’t read the brief, many were not applying with custom quotes for the job. The client was in a hurry so decided to choose a shortlisted actor not that was necessarily better but because they were the one who had responded with all the relevant information and stated they could record that day and had a 2 hour turnaround.
Similarly to Backstage, Voice123 has a lot of Americans and Australians trying to do an English accent. You may find this an advantage if you are an English VO as you will certainly stand out.
The biggest nuisance on this job was that the client was so specific about the voiceover sounding natural, ‘boy/girl next door’. This is a real trend and something I hear more that anything else from clients. However many of the candidates really struggled. A DJ sound was all too prevalent, with monotonous strange emphasis and way too much power. When I first started out I used to read scripts in to a phone held to my ear, pretending I was calling a friend. If at any point it felt like I was ‘performing’, I would start over. It soon makes you analyse the text and how you present it.
This script also made clear that they wanted a ‘Smiley and Upbeat’ read. it was amazing the amount of straight corporate reads. You could hear those that were actually physically smiling.
- Great platform for posting voiceovers and even better for reviewing applications. Not overly complicated and focussed on the information you would want for casting.
- You can choose how many demos you would like to receive.
- Voice123 has its own algorithm on how it sends your job to the talent. It isn’t just a free for all. However because the site is based on an algorithm, some candidates will start their cover letter with, ‘‘PLEASE like my audition, It’s helpful to my V123 Career. Thank You’.
- The custom script wouldn’t let you highlight or bold words. I couldn’t separate in to paragraphs either.
- You can chose your own deadline.
- When you set your budget you can specify ‘fixed’, ‘up to’, ‘looking for a quote’ or ‘zero budget’. Just as a side note, if you are specifying ‘zero budget’ just get a mate to do it or do it yourself. That’s clearly how important the job is.
- One annoying thing with the site is that when you click on an actors profile, to find out more for example, when you then go back to the submissions list it takes you back to the very first page of submissions, so you lose where you were. This can be avoided by right click> open link in new tab.
- Lots of clients were specifying that their quoted price was a ‘placeholder’ until they received more information. I would recommend this if the client has not specified all the information you need on usage.
- When you post your fee, you can click to say if it is negotiable or not.
- A benefit of this site over some of the others is that you can speak directly to the client.
- You apply in the currency of the job seeker. So be sure to double check.
- Don’t add music or sound fx as I will just assume it is masking a terrible recording environment.
- It shows the clients name in the job posting. So why not send a personalised response in your cover letter. It shows you are attentive. Better still do a bit or googling to research the company and what they have produced before. It might give you a valuable insight.
- Lots of the talent had a message response time of less than one hour and could complete the recording in under 24 hours which is great as the clients often want to move fast.
It’s worth mentioning here, AI. When you submit a job posting on Voice123 you can specify if you would like to hear AI options. The company have put together a guide here. My client was adamant that she did not want that, so we left that unchecked. However, that didn’t stop talent (or production houses with fake accounts) submitting demos using their own AI software. No cover letter mentioned that they were providing an AI recording. Whilst there are developments in the world of AI, It’s still very clear when it’s not a human recording.
As a voiceover I was slightly concerned when my job posting was instantly approved and posted. There is no net in which to catch and filter out all the exploitative job seekers. I’m hoping there are retrospective checks and a complaints policy for the VO’s, but some due diligence would have been nice to see.
Never missing a trick, voices.com also offers a premium package for the clients. Voices Plus. For an annual subscription of $299 the site offers you a service that will ‘get your project done faster and with more flexibility’. Your posting will be featured and you can download responses to share with the team.
- I posted this job on Voices.com in the evening and by the time I woke up I had 50 applications ready to go.
- The platform is well laid out and lets you easily and conveniently review each applicant.
- Proposals were in American Dollars.
- When you play the next demo it cuts off the one currently playing. Really helpful and not what happens on v123 you have to stop one to play another. Which really slows things down.
- You can review the proposals in a number of ways. By default it is ‘best match’. You can also sort by reviews or rating. Most people had 5 stars. One person had 1462 reviews, most had 30 or less.
- A couple of applicants paraphrased the script in places. Giving them the benefit of the doubt I assume that this was so I couldn’t just use the recording without paying them. They would have been better leaving a line out, or changing the product name, as this just made me question their ability to read.
- The voiceovers profile image is small when reviewing applications so make sure it fills the whole frame and isn’t just you in a landscape somewhere. Some people had logos, pictures with their dogs, pictures of dogs, full length photos, photos behind a mic. I just want to see you.
- The website will show the client if you are currently online which might be useful if they have a tight deadline. It might be helpful to log in to the platform each day, even when you aren’t using it.
- There was a huge variation in volume of the custom demos. Make sure you are recording at a good level or normalise if you have to.
It really doesn’t take much to stand out on these p2p platforms. Just read the brief and adapt your response. Once again it was disappointing to hear endless demos of DJ voices when what I wanted was friendly, conversational reads. There was lots of stressing of unnecessary words and weird intonations.
This script also had a technical term which I would normally add a phonetic spelling in brackets. On this occasion I didn’t and there were lots of mispronunciations. It would have taken a two minute google search for the VO to check how to say the word. It shows they didn’t know what they were talking about. I understand that people don’t want to spend a long time on auditions, especially when the ratio with actually being booked can be quite small. But so many people sounded like they were reading it for the first time. It was like when a news presenter reads off of an auto cue and they don’t quite know where a sentence is going so they stress too many of the words. Use these auditions as an opportunity to practice and try things. Even if you aren’t booking every job, you will be learning and developing along the way.
So what do I know now?
As with most of the p2p’s I used there were people auditioning who were by no means professional voiceovers. The applications and their profiles lacked any real knowledge of the industry. Sad to see that these platforms would allow these people to register. Surely, it could be argued it is all about the money for them? As you can see on my other blogs, there are other sites that vet their talent far more closely.
I have found casting voiceovers, hugely informative, but will it change the way I audition for work in the future? Knowing what other talent are offering and having a greater understanding of who I am competing against is useful information. As is knowing my own worth and what my strengths are. According to polls, 90% of UK actors are out of work at any one time. I’m guessing that is probably even higher for all those claiming to be voiceovers. It seems that whenever I tell someone what I do they have either dabbled in voiceover or have always wanted to do it. Whilst that can be disconcerting, take comfort in knowing that if you are constantly training and educating yourself; providing a custom demo that shows variation; listening and responding specifically to the brief; recording in a suitable studio environment; Corresponding with clients in an efficient and professional manner, then you will rise to the top.