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BEWARE OF SCAMS

Classified Ad: Talent Agent Seeks New Voiceover Talent

Jeffrey Lowe sent in this question about how to follow-up on an ad he saw for a talent agency looking for new voice-over talent.

First of all, my apologies for not writing you in quite some time; I still subscribe to the newsletter, and I still take it to heart every time it pops into my Inbox. There's a talent agency that just ran anin the local newspaper for voice talent, so I figure I might as well jump right in, right? However, considering this is going to be my first attempt into the forray of voice acting, or heck, even working with an agency, I'm obviously naive about this. What is expected when it comes to an agency for a voice actor?

I heard a headshot would be necessary, but that seems rather pointless in the long run; the joke"You have a face perfect for radio" comes to mind. I also heard a cover letter would be great, but once again, being new to the field, a cover letter isn't much that I've heard about.

Any information about these items would be great, and thank you for your time.
Jeffrey Lowe

My Comments: It's pretty rare that a talent agency will actually advertise to attract new talent for representation. Most talent agencies, even in small markets, have a full roster of talent. I've seen similar ads that have turned out to be scams out for your money. Just last year, I was instrumental in helping shut down an acting scam here in San Diego. Now, the ad you mentioned may be completely legitimate, but I would suggest caution and keeping your eyes wide open should you decide to contact them.

Here are a few things to watch for that are red flags for a scam:

  1. The agency wants to charge you a fee to represent you - a legitimate talent agency earns their money from a commission based on the work they get for the talent they represent. If you need to pay a fee for representation, it's a scam. Even if you are required to pay a "membership fee," or "marketing fee," the agency is probably not telling you everything. If the agency wants to charge you to be on their website, or have your demo on their house CD, they may be attempting to offset their costs by charging you a fee. The expenses incurred for marketing of their represented talent are a normal business expense and shouldn't be passed on to the talent whom they are representing.
     
  2. The agency insists that new head shots be taken by their "in-house" photographer. If you already have head shots, those should be acceptable, and if not, you should be able to choose your photographer. If you are seeking representation for voice-over only, a headshot should not be necessary. The primary tool you will need is a high-quality, well-produced voice-over demo.
     
  3. The agency insists that you take classes from instructors they recommend. This ploy for taking your money is similar to the "in-house" photographer.
     
  4. The agency insists that you produce a new VO demo through a studio they "work with." Another variation of the same scheme.
     
  5. The agency offers workshops or classes that will result in a finished demo. Watch out for this one! Chances are that the classes will be expensive, and the "demo" you get will be considerably less than marketable. The job of a talent agency is to market, promote and represent talent for the purpose of getting work for those they represent. Nothing more! If a talent agency appears to have a "side business," chances are that the side business is the real business, and the talent agency is just a front.
     
  6. The agency holds an "audition" for new representation (this part could be legit). After the audition, you are told that only a small percentage are called back. When you get the call back you are hit with the news of fees and charges if you want to be represented by them.

Before signing with any agent, it's a good idea to contact your local Better Business Bureau. You are also perfectly within your rights to ask the agency for the names of local production companies or businesses for whom they have provided talent. When (or if) you get the names, call those people to verify the legitimacy of the agency.

It's important to realize that in order to make their payroll, a talent agency needs to represent and book the best talent and negotiate the highest fee possible. Therefore, most talent agencies won't be interested in representing you until your level of skill, expertise, and performing history are at a place where you don't need representation. This is the main reason why I would be very suspicious of any so-called talent agency soliciting new talent with a classified ad in the newspaper. The advantage of being represented by a legitimate agent is that you can focus more of your time on performing than on marketing yourself. Notice I didn't say "all of your time performing." Even if you have an agent, you'll still need to promote and market yourself, especially as a voice-actor.

Here's the basic procedure for approaching a legitimate talent agency when seeking representation.

  1. Phone the talent agency to ask if they are accepting demos or new voice-over talent for representation. You'll get either a "yes" or a "no" answer. If "no", ask when might be a good time to check back, and make a note of it. If "yes", ask what format they prefer (CD, cassette, MP3) and the name, position and address to whom your demo should be sent. Some agents will ask that you enclose a SASE so they can reply to you.
     
  2. Prepare a brief cover letter to be sent with your demo. No more than 3 short paragraphs. Make your letter professional, concise and to the point. (There are some examples in my book "The Art of Voice Acting".) Send your demo package as soon as possible after your phone conversation.
     
  3. Wait about 4 or 5 days after mailing your demo, and call the agency as a follow-up to confirm that they received your demo package. Thank them and hang up. Do NOT ask if they have listened to your demo. The purpose of your call is simply to make sure your demo arrived safely.
     
  4. Wait! This time you could be waiting for up to 6 months - or possibly longer. Reviewing your demo is not on the agency's high priority list. Most agents will let new demos collect and devote a few hours on a single day for review and consideration. But that day may be weeks or month's away.
  5. If the agency is interested in representing you, they will call you. Legitimate talent agents are extremely busy, so don't call them.
     
  6. Once you sign with an agent, your relationship changes. The agent works for you (not the other way around), so you can work out with them how often you should check in.
     
  7. Regardless of whether or not you get representation, your marketing plan should include some sort of regular mailing to keep you local agents and production companies up to date on your activities and new work. If you have a website (highly recommended), make sure you have a current demo on-line as a high-quality MP3 file that can be played on-line or downloaded.

In today's world of voice-over, it is not absolutely necessary to have an agent. On the other hand, if you are very good, you may actually be able to get agent representation in several markets (only one agent in a market, though). Most agents will want exclusivity, meaning that they will want their commission on any work you do, whether or not it came through the agency. This is a negotiable point, but one you should be aware of. I know of many voice-actors who have an agent agreement that states the agent only receives a commission on work booked by the agency. If the talent books their own work, they do not owe any commission to their agent.

Being represented by an agent creates a certainlevel of credibility and reflects on your professionalism. A legitimate agent will be working in your best interest, but beware of the so-called talent agents who are only out for your money

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