The State of the (non) Union: Ethnic voice casting

I launched Ethnic Voice Talent almost 15 years ago and it has been interesting to see the evolution of foreign language usage in commercials and other audio and video productions.

Back when we started, we already had a solid French Canadian voice roster as many commercials and productions in Canada also have a French language version for the Quebec market. This is similar to the US and Spanish language versions. In fact, because of that, we first developed a small Spanish roster which eventually led to the decision to launch EVT.

I’ve seen the languages requested change over the last decade or so.
The classic European languages like Italian, Portuguese, and to a lesser extent German, are less in demand- replaced by East Asian languages: Hindi, Punjabi, Mandarin and Cantonese. Most of the Spanish requests are for the US and Latin American market, not Spain. Same with Brazilian Portuguese – instead of the dialect spoken in Portugal. Requests for Tamil, Tagalog, Farsi and Arabic are only increasing.

The other major change is the request for authentic accents. 15 years ago, most accent requests were comedic in nature. Casting directors would ask which voice actors could put on an accent. Now, this is considered almost universally unacceptable. In certain cases – for example, Hindi – it can be considered offensive for an English person to try to put on an accent, especially when there are so many talented Hindi voices. Authenticity is the name of the game now. Most castings will not accept anyone putting on an accent, even if it’s British or Australian.

The nature of projects requiring an accent has changed as well. Many of the projects when we started EVT were comedic in nature and mainly commercials. Now, clients want authentic accents across the spectrum of projects. There might be an e-learning Project with several voices for…say a medical company. Maybe a doctor is talking to different patients and we often get requests that a few of the patients have authentic accents to make it seem like real life. Or a series of on-line spots for a Bank where the voices requested are several different ethnicities to reflect the diversity of the bank’s clients.

In fact, I’ve said to several ethnic talents that this may be the future of ethnic casting: Depending on the language, some foreign language talents may find themselves getting more work in *accented English*, than they do in their native tongue.

Late last year,Mike Sholars a journalist for This Magazine interviewed me for a piece on ethnic Casting in the gaming industry. His article ended up touching on ethnic Casting in other aspects of the voice industry as well. You can read the entire piece here: https://this.org/2017/11/24/how-voice-casting-for-video-games-has-made-the-canadian-industry-more-homogenous-than-ever/

But it got me thinking about the future of ethnic voice casting…

We have rosters in 3 cities: Toronto, Montreal & New York. We only represent talents in those cities because our agency is about getting to know the talents personally and finding them work in their respective cities. It still remains to be seen what languages and accents will be requested in the next few years. And what talent will be available to meet those requests. It’s changing, trust me. But my gut feel is the number of languages requested may decrease but the demand for certain key languages may increase.

Stay tuned!

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How Fast Can I Sign You?

An actual email I received last week:

“I am currently looking for a voice agent rep. I do not have any previous professional experience, but I am very talented with numerous accents and voice dialects. I would love to meet with you so that you could assess my voice yourself. I can send you a quick voice recording, but unfortunately it will not be studio quality (as I only have my laptop as a means of recording). Looking forward to hearing back from you!”

So, no experience…and presumably no training, no voice demo AND whatever audio sample could be recorded will NOT be good quality.

Where do I sign?

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VO Atlanta

I just attended my first VO Atlanta conference and had a blast!

For the 6th year in a row, 600+ people from all areas of the voice over industry gathered at a big hotel in Atlanta to network, exchange ideas, banter, scheme and of course, raise a glass or three. I had never attended in the past because I had heard it was mainly voice talents and coaches but the guest list has now expanded to include casting directors, producers, managers and yes, talent agents. In fact, I wrote to the organizers suggesting I could do a talk about the relationship between talents and agents. Thankfully, they said yes.

I loved the conference to bits. The energy of the attendees. The perfect mix of business and pleasure (in my view). The mix of some people I already know, others I had corresponded with over the years but never met, and all the new people who were so approachable. The pacing of the conference was perfect for my speed: lots of events going on but sufficient opportunity for downtime as well. And the hotel bar of course!

The 3 conference days are divided between 1-hour talks given by various industry professionals, panels, intensive workshops that involve 10-12 talents and a coach, and other opportunities for voice industry types to work on their skills. For example, I agreed to be part of what I can only call Voice Over speed dating. Individual talents had 5 minutes to do a private read just for me and I would critique it. I met and heard 24 talents in 2 hours! This is not an audition for representation but rather just a quick chance for talents of various levels of experience to get some immediate feedback on their reads. I had sort of been dreading it to be truthful. The idea of it sounded exhausting but I really enjoyed it in the end. The energy of the participants was infectious and the diversity kept things interesting. Diversity of ages, of ethnicity, of experience – even location. One minute, it was a tall African-American man from Alabama, the next a soft-spoken single Mom from Phoenix. Then a British guy who had been in the business since he was 15. All of them trying to either break into the biz or get just a little bit better at what they do.

The conference offers plenty of time for socializing – from the opening night welcome reception to daily buffet lunches for all attendees, to the inevitable meet-ups at the hotel bar each night. The last night concluded with a 70’s themed disco party. I was amazed at the number of people who not only knew this themed event was happening but actually dressed up for the occasion. I did not but I liberally sampled beverages including some tasty tequila and hit the dance floor more than once.

I was pleased to do my talk, Secrets of An Agent Man (some of the posts on this very blog formed the basis of my presentation) as well as moderate a discussion panel of other agents. I dropped in on a few presentations from my fellow speaking colleagues and also a panel discussion on the state of casting. There was the usual complaining about declining rates but I don’t think that simple narrative captures the complexity of what’s going on in our business. People are watching/listening to many more platforms than they used to but in smaller numbers per platform. The natural result of smaller audiences is rates/budgets go down somewhat BUT because there are so many platforms and ways to reach people now, the *amount* of jobs have gone up.

I will no doubt have more to say on this topic in a coming blog post.

Long story short: I highly recommend VO Atlanta, whatever stage you happen to be in your career. It’s always great to meet like-minded people in the industry and there is a such an energy and enthusiasm at this conference. Everyone is either a talent or a coach or casting director so it’s a room full of outgoing people. No shy wallflowers here.

After the conference wrapped on Sunday around lunch, everyone was saying their goodbyes and I actually felt a little sadness like summer camp was coming to a close. But the great thing is – I plan to do it all again next year. Hope to see you there!

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Classic video: Voice Actor is asked to speak like a lion

Very funny video about what it’s like in the voice booth when clients give absurd directions.

Enjoy!

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Voices.com buys Voicebank

The voice over industry is all aflutter as on-line casting company Voices.com has purchased Voicebank, another casting site that provides casting opportunities to talent agencies. Many in the industry are worried about one dominant player potentially controlling so much casting. I am taking more of a wait and see approach.

VoiceOverXtra reached out to me for my thoughts which I am re-printing below:

Two things off the top:

1. PN Agency is exclusively non-union, so I can only speak to that side of things, not how things work on the union end.

2. So that everyone is clear, Voicebank currently charges a monthly membership fee to talent agencies and in return, we receive voice castings.

I met with someone from Voices(dot)com earlier this year and they pitched me the idea of competing with Voicebank by having castings on the site that would only be open to agencies.

The person I met with said they have clients who want to cast through their site but prefer to only deal with agencies, not individual talents. The inference being that they feel they will get higher quality auditions if they know these are talents represented by agents.

So, they were exploring the idea of offering that service to agents on the Voices site. I guess in the end they decided rather than compete, it was easier just to buy the damn thing.

So having had this meeting, my assumption is that Voices will continue to offer the same basic service to agents as Voicebank.

I have heard people say they are worried Voices will try to bypass agents, but I don’t understand that. If they don’t continue to provide talent agencies audition opportunities for worthwhile jobs, we will simply cancel our memberships and they lose all that revenue.

Now, I guess they may try to talk these Voicebank clients into casting on the regular Voices platform rather than through the Voicebank talent agency side, but I’m not sure how successful they would be, given these clients who express a desire to go through agencies.

And again, we would just cancel our memberships if we are not getting regular auditions.

We will have to see how it all plays out. I kind of expect it to be business as usual in the short term.

I should also note that currently, Voicebank is a fairly small part of our revenue. We’ve concluded it’s worth being on the site and getting access to some of those projects, but truthfully, it doesn’t make or break anything for us.

To be clear, I am well aware of the opinion many in the industry have about how Voices chooses to conduct business in a general sense, but for the purposes of this discussion, I am focusing just on the Voicebank acquisition and how it may or may not affect agencies.

Here is the link to the entire VoiceOverXtra piece which includes comments from other industry players:
https://www.voiceoverxtra.com/article.htm?id=I7J1QVL8

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5 things to leave off your voice demo

I receive and listen to a lot of demos. I think the quality of demos and the voices behind them seems to improve every year. That said, there are still some things I’m hearing on demos that really shouldn’t be there. Allow me to present…

THE TOP 5 THINGS YOU SHOULD LEAVE OFF YOUR VOICE DEMO

1. Anything you CAN’T replicate quickly in a real recording session. If it takes you an hour and a half to work up to doing a Barry White type read, leave it off of the demo. If that super fast read about the department store took many takes and many edits and in real life, you would stumble through such a script every five seconds, perhaps it isn’t your strength and it should be on the demo cutting room floor.

2. The bad accents. Having run Ethnic Voice Talent for over a decade now, I can credibly tell you that virtually no client is looking for someone to put on an accent anymore. There are plenty of foreign language talents who also record in English and can deliver an authentic accent for whatever project requires it. So to the white guys who think their Indian accent is alternately hilarious and bang on, stop it now. Get it off the demo.

3. Anything that mentions a specific year. That spot on your demo advertising “the new 2005 Nissan” is a sure fire way to make a client question whether you have voiced anything in the last 10 years or whether your voice still sounds the same. Plus, for those of us too lazy to update our demos every year, if you get rid of anything with a date, it gives your demo many more years of shelf life!

4. Any commercial that has another talent’s voice on it for longer than yours. Dialogue spots are great but only if your voice is the main one in the dialogue. Clients have short attention spans and busy schedules. They don’t want to hear someone else’s voice dominating your demo. Also, watch out for spots where it isn’t obvious which voice is yours. I have gotten a number of demos over the years that have a dialogue between, say, two women who sound sort of the same and are about the same age. Don’t make it a guessing game as to which voice is yours.

5. Your radio air check. Naturally, thousands of people on-air in radio also do freelance voice work but we want to hear commercials and narration, not two minutes from your morning show. If you are the voice of the radio station, by all means include a clip of an imaging promo but otherwise, what happens in the voice over world is different than an on-air DJ shift or newscast.

I will keep an eye on the comments section and tweet out other suggestions on the topic of what should be left off a voice demo. Will also take this discussion up on Twitter so…

To keep up with the furious pace of the Voice Over industry and get a side order of radio tidbits as well, Follow Voice Over Canada on Twitter: https://twitter.com/voiceovercanada

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