WARNING: LONG CONTROVERSIAL CALL-YOU-ON-THE-CARPET BLOG FOLLOWS! GRAB YER POPCORN AND PREPARE TO HAVE YOUR FEET HELD TO THE FLAMES!
Here Comes The Suit, Doodle-Doo-Doo
This one is not funny. I usually aim for them to be funny. This one is not funny. And here is why.
Daughter of an Advertising Executive. Many hours in studios critiquing commercials with her dad. A long tenure in CBC Studios as a production assistant in Radio Drama. Training at VoiceWorx, Second City, Pirate Radio, Impatient Theatre, and The Toronto Academy of Acting. Schooling under Pat Fraley, Joan Baker, MaryLynn Wisner, Cristina Milizia, Tracey Hoyt, Everett Oliver, J. Michael Collins, Susan Hart, Kim Hurdon, and Jessie Thomson. National liaison for Gravy for the Brain. She has been the voice of Kraft, Revlon, Olay, Kellogg, and many more.
I am talking about Bev Standing.
I had the chance to interview Bev on June 6th, 2020 for my YouTube channel. Bev is a fine specimen of a human: very gracious and focused. She is a tested warrior, and I mention this last attribute because she needs it right now.
In December 2020, a storm was brewing, and Bev was at the center of it, along with TikTok. Here is the summary from a recent article:
Years ago, the Institute of Acoustics in Scotland hired her to do voice work on Chinese translations. The institute received electronic data files of her voice. In November 2020 she discovered that TikTok was using the voice files for its computer-generated female voice, according to the complaint, including “foul and offensive language.” She never gave TikTok permission, she says, and was never compensated for the use of her voice. She charges TikTok with copyright infringement, unfair competition, false endorsement, and deceptive business practices. TikTok has traded on the goodwill she has amassed in her career, the complaint states, and has deprived her of the ability to control her reputation. She is asking the court to order TikTok to stop using her voice and to dispose of the electronic voice files. She is demanding up to $150,000 in damages for every copyright infringement.
And here is an additional link to the story.
Why do I mention this lawsuit and prominently feature my colleague Bev?
I mention her in this blog (which is a chapter in my forthcoming book) because she is the complete opposite of something else:
The Fine Print
It is time to tow the line, fellow voice talent. More so than ever before. The continued erosion of the industry pay-scale is harming all of us to the point of near-irreparability. Low-ballers abound. Clients present contracts with "unlimited use in perpetuity throughout the known universe in all forms of media with unlimited cut-downs", and naïve, ecstatic tenderfeet swallow these contracts without question: hook, line and sinker.
Sites like Fiverr, VoiceJungle, The Voice Realm, Speedy Spots, Just Say Spots and Planet Charley - none of which I will link to - capitalize on naïveté, and offer patently offensive ripoff bargain-basement pricing for national spots that they profit off of. Arguably, they are making the full amount, and paying us a pittance. Oh to be a fly on the wall while they are doing their books. Planet Charley, in particular, has posted talent fees that make me vomit.
I cannot count the number of times where I have traversed this particular course as detailed below:
- Receive casting notice
- Observe terms and stated usage
- Submit my audition and my bid commensurate with stated usage
- Receive confirmation that client wants to book me
- Gather information from client to create contract
- Generate contract with clauses that reflect usage stated in the casting notice
- Send to client
- Receive word back from client that either:
- The usage on my contract needs to be adjusted to reflect "unlimited in perpetuity", or
- I am required to sign their contract which states some poppycock hootenanny such as the following: “Artist acknowledges that client and their respective affiliated entities shall have the complete and unencumbered right, throughout the world in perpetuity, and in all languages, to distribute, record, reproduce, broadcast, transmit, license, sublicense, publish, sell, distribute, perform and use for any purpose, in any manner and by any means and formats and in all media, all or any results of Artist’s services hereunder including any associated cutdowns or new versions, and to market, promote, exhibit and otherwise exploit all rights in and to the Recordings in perpetuity solely for Company’s use, with no further obligation or compensation to Artist." In other words, they want to pay me a specific limited amount for an unspecific and unlimited usage. In the words of Dana Carvey doing former President George Bush Sr, "Nah gah dah." Also this one.
- I inform the client that the casting notice stated very specific usage, therefore, I quoted a price commensurate with that specific usage, and were I to grant (by signing their contract) their requested usage, my price would have been much, much higher
- We dicker back and forth
- Client finally informs me that unless I can sign their contract or modify my own to agree to their expected usage, they cannot use me.
- I bid them a fond farewell.
- I sleep better.
This has happened several times in my career. It is a freaking crying shame, a freaking irritation, and a freaking waste of my freaking time.
Let me tell you why.
Tow The Line
"UNMISS Troops Hold Tug of War Contest Ahead of UN Day" by United Nations Photo is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
There are individuals among us who call themselves voice talent - and are nothing of the kind. They will take any and every job that comes their way, in complete desperation, offering up what they call “quality services” to receive a few coffee bucks in exchange, simultaneously licking the fingers of their captors. They do not care to read the fine print or truly understand what agreeing to such terms (as I showed an example of above) would do to them or our industry. These people are the cause of the rate erosion. They are DH's: and I do not mean Designated Hitters. They are Destructive Hobbyists: they do not care about their fellow man. They are in this entirely for themselves, and in the name of “it all adds up” and "I'll take what I can get", they lap up everything that comes down the pipe: regardless of morality, ethics, or team-spirit; to say nothing of the extent to which their voiceovers may be used improperly.
Like a dog, they are undiscerning, indiscriminate, and need to be collared.
In short, they are sellouts.
Doubtless this blog is going to ruffle some feathers, and the "live and let live" refrain will sound angrily. Nonetheless, I urge you, on behalf of [nearly] the entire ethical voiceover community out there, to tow the line. Know your worth.
Develop a spine. Stand up for your rights and your rates! Do not sell out! I fully realize that some clients can be hard-nosed and run you through a garlic press in order to get you to comply. I realize that $500 might be a hefty paycheck for a job. But it is not – and in fact is an insult – if the real wages for that job are $10,000. Can $500 go far? Sure. Can $10,000 go much further and ensure that you can sleep at night knowing that you towed the line?
I once lost a job for $2400 because of a similar situation. Basically, the client wanted to use my voice, unpaid, over and over again, with no residuals or royalties...or respect. It just simply does not work that way. Am I upset that I lost out on $2400? Sure. Am I upset, however, that this client wasted my time? Yes. Do not dangle rotten carrots in front of me: I know they are rotten, and I am not blind.
It is so very important to have a contract in place. Will it cost you some jobs in cases where their feet are held to the fire? Most definitely. But again we come down to it: you deserve to be paid market rates and you deserve to be paid for wherever and however long your voice is used. If a client has chosen you, that means they like you. If it is a high-dollar contract, even better. But both of those do not mean that you should throw the usage factor out the window. Yes, I could have used $2400. But I would honestly much rather have a client who appreciates the value of my voice, and is not prepared to take me for granted and steal from me, unpoliced. That is what is most important to me. That is what having a contract in place is all about. That is what having self-respect is all about.
In truth, I do not know how some "voice talent" sleep at night. Bev sleeps at night. She is doubtless sleeping better knowing that she is fighting for fair pay with her lawsuit. I sleep better knowing that other voice talent like her are out there doing what they are doing to ensure that we are all getting what we are worth.
If you are in contract negotiations with a direct client, and feel you are being forced to relinquish all rights to your voiceover, do not cave. I have also had experiences where I stood my ground, and I reached Step 12 above…at which point the client came back and they caved. They relented. They took off their poker face, buckled under the pressure and decided to pay me what I am worth.
The fight is worth it. Please, I beg you: know your worth, and tow the line.
As voiceovers become further commoditized, our service value goes down, and the further our blessed occupation gets pushed onto the cheap shelf right next to destructive services like Speechelo, Descript, Vocal ID and other wretched AI voice synthesis producers. We deserve better than that. We are better than that.
I am going to quote what Chris Mezzolesta said in his May 10th 2021 joint interview with fellow voice talent on Voquent. This article is about Fiverr, but his thoughts are spot on:
I can’t imagine why anyone would want to align themselves with something that will telegraph either cheap or amateur, thus tagging themselves and their ‘brand’ with these attributes.
99% of my “competition” on Fiverr will be selling voice-over services for the price of a hamburger or maybe a #6 combo. Those hiring do so based on price and not quality. Most seem unaware of what a professional benchmark or standard even is. My years of experience in the business and investment into my skills and my pro home recording studio are incompatible with charging $20-$40 —or whatever— for a TV commercial. Even those who might read this comment and think, “Oh, this dinosaur doesn’t get it at all, I charge $125 with the add ons!“. Which is still far below what the work is worth (based upon both SAG-AFTRA rates and surveys like the GVAA Rate Guide). Just because there is a new or disruptive way to do something does not mean it is better. And the anecdotal “But it works for me! It’s none of your business how I do my business!” is also invalid. These are side-hustles, paid hobbies, not legitimate businesses if they harm others in the meantime, and that is what is happening. A voice-over recording has rights inherent in it that only convey to another party with the creator’s permission (the talent). The Internet generation of voice talent has primarily not worked the legacy style of a union-only talent agency, physically go to a studio to record, etc. The mechanics of the trade are lost in the otherwise ease of Paypal & online casting and the rise of the ‘digital branding agency’ and the fall of the traditional ‘advertising creative director’. Beyond the obvious and frequent abuse of these rights by taking a local radio spot and transforming it into a national TV spot. There is now also ambiguity around web usage, e.g. paid vs non-paid media and its relation to broadcast rates. A talent can leave tens of thousands on the table just by booking through an online casting site that has snuck an automatic transfer of rights into their TOC. Whilst this is patently unethical, it is also harmful to talents – these rights are all we have, particularly in the non-union world. Protecting these rights is crucial. Saying NO to situations like a release of all rights, usage in perpetuity, or one fee for multiple “cuts, lifts, edits, revisions, etc.” is difficult for the individual talent. We need talent agents and casting directors to step up and help protect our interests by pushing back when auditions are circulated. Lately, I’ve seen an increasing amount of capitulation by my agents, whom I love dearly, to the clients demanding these terms. We need them to be the first ones to say NO before auditions get to us so that we can better decide on the viability of an audition’s terms. The client will only receive a voice-over at a fair rate for the amount of usage requested and the number of actual spots requested. We want to work WITH clients NOT against, but as equal partners at a fair rate for our work. Then, of course, there is a conflict of interest. It is a talent’s business to know about conflicts and their ramifications so that voicing a campaign for one product does not put them out of the running for any other products in that category. Offering a buyout in perpetuity means you can never work for the brand’s competitors that have your voice in their campaign for the length of time they run it. The fast path to the low-end VO business omits this and probably about every other crucial piece of information needed to run a good voice-over business. When the craft of voice-over is lowered in status to just another ‘gig’ on a ‘platform’, essentially becoming “McVoices”, it hurts the industry as a whole.
Don’t be a sellout. Be like Chris.
The Problem, or the Solution?
I am not one for stern rebukes. We will never say “shame on you” to either of our sons, for any reason whatsoever. Guilt is about what you did; shame is about who you are. So I do not want to pronounce that over anyone. But I will say that a stern rebuke is in order for those who continue to undermine the industry and do damage to these established market rates by selling out and undercutting everyone else. There is one particular spring chicken voice actor out there that I detest; I won't name him by name but he is blogging absolute toxic untruths and promoting the sellout agenda., whilst flying the flag of Voices.com in the process.
Bev could simply just throw her hands up and say "oh well, don't care." She could officially not care. But she does care, and she should care. When a Goliath like TikTok steals a David's voice like hers, it is time to use the slingshot and take him down.
We are all faced with a choice to make in our voiceover pursuits. Well, to be frank, not “a” choice per se, but with many choices. In fact, it is the exact same choice, over and over again, repeated throughout the day, and the week, and the month, and the year…with every single audition we submit. Do we profess to care about preserving our industry and our fellow voice talents, only to lowball and underbid on P2P sites? Do we breathe fidelity and team-spirit out of one side of our mouth, whilst out of the other side of our mouth pledging to do whatever it takes –even compromise– to put bread on our own table?
Do we have spine, or are we sellouts? Will be part of the problem, or the solution?
Believe me, I get it. We all want to make money and provide. I am reminded of the scene in The Abyss, where Ed Harris’ character “Bud”, is trying to stand up to the powers that be floating up there on the surface, while his deep-sea oil rig is having unfair demands placed on them. The corporate powers on the surface of the ocean are “requesting” for them to go retrieve and disarm a nuclear missile from a sunken submarine. The crew is all for it, but Bud declines, at which point one of the crew says, “This is a paycheck, man!” However, Bud vehemently states that “When it comes to the safety of these people, there’s me and then there’s God, understand?” He is adamantly opposed to the mission that they are being enlisted in due to its inherent dangers. But the crew protests because, it is a paying job.
I am also reminded of the crew of the NSEA Protector in Galaxy Quest, when discouraged by the behavior of their castmate, Jason Nesbitt (Tim Allen). They refused to take another job playing the same old stale “Star Trek” characters, but upon sitting in silence in a van together, they all have the same epiphany: we actually need this job. They end up caving and accepting.
Both situations come at a cost. For the first, it came at the cost of safety. For the second, it came at the cost of their standards. Both parties wanted the job though, no matter what it took. I understand that! I really do. However, the more you cow-tow to the continuing erosion that is our collective pay scale:
- the less professional you become
- the more selfish you reveal yourself to be, and
- the more you harm all of us by resorting to the gig economy mindset.
Your voice is not worth just a gig; your voice is worth gold.
For my own career, there have been weeks of plenty, and there have been weeks of want. There have been feasts, and there have been bare cupboards for Mother Hubbard. I completely get the desperation that faces us in accepting jobs no matter the usage or what they will do with it. I get it! But I will tell you this: there have been times that I have rejected a high-paying job because of the inherent ensuing usage violations, and almost immediately on the coattails of that I was awarded other jobs that did honor me and my worth.
Audentes Fortuna adiuvat. May fortune favor the “foolish.”
Tow that line, and see what goodwill comes back around to you in so doing. These rates were established for a market standard, and you are entitled to them, no matter the length of your tenure in voiceovers. Do not ever think that inexperience...or desire to just have something on your resume...or length of tenure...or equipment quality...or who you coached with, void your merit of market rates. None of these factors do. As I have said before, the rates are the rates are the rates. Do not ever accept less unless you make that call for a good cause, with a clear conscience. And do not let anyone run away with your voice. Have a contract in place that ensures that your voice...your product...you...are protected.
We are all counting on us to tow the line.
Do not be a sellout. Be like Bev. If you would like to read more from a trusted blogger on this subject, check out Paul Strikwerda's recent blog that has incredibly noteworthy information that is applicable to you as a voice talent!
Good on ya, Bev. Hope you win.
Final Bullet Points:
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Seattle Voice Actor & Voiceover Artist for hire