TALENT LISTING SITES AND AGENT REPRESENTATION
Stefan Kinell, a voice actor in Sweden, recently wrote to inquire about the legitimacy of voiceover sites that require a membership fee in order to have access to leads for potential voiceover work. This month's article will discuss the various types of talent listing websites and how they differ from legitimate talent agents.
I've found three distinctly different categories for talent listing websites.
The first category of websites that offer free listings for voiceover talent. These sites are little more than on-line directories of voice talent. Some allow a demo to be posted on their site, while others simply include a link to a demo posted on the talent's website or only provide for a link to an active website. Although the owners of these talent-directory sites may claim to promote their sites to producers and talent buyers, the likelihood is that they really don't put a lot of effort into it. It takes a lot of time to promote and market a website, not to mention the other expenses for promoting a website through direct mail, Internet, and telephone marketing. Although a voice talent may receive- if any - leads or jobs by being listed on these sites, it is still worth being listed. Each listing on a talent directory site will eventually be cataloged by the various search engines and will show up in an Internet search for your name. Being listed on a directory site may not get you work, but it can help build credibility and name recognition for you as a voice talent as visitors begin to find you listed on numerous sites. Some of the many free listing sites include: www.starsnsites.com, www.voiceoverdirectory.com, www.radiolinks.net, www.ultimatevoicedirectory.com, and www.voicemodels.com.
This brings us to the second category of talent directory website - one which is supported by a fee paid by member voice actors. The stated purpose of these websites is to provide a talent resource for the owner's client base and anyone else who visits the site. As an incentive for visitors to book the site's talent, there is never a charge for visitors to audition talent demos or submit audition queries. The membership fee charged by these websites is designed to cover a variety of site maintenance and marketing costs. Legitimate sites of this type are very clear to explain that they do not represent the talent listed on their site as an agent, and that all financial dealings for a booking are between the client and the talent with no commission going to the site. These sites provide a valuable service in that they provide their clients access to voiceover talent, and they provide their members access to auditions and opportunities that would otherwise be unavailable. The owners of these sites claim they promote their sites in many different ways, and since they are being paid by their members, they would be foolish to not take every opportunity to market their site. Some of these sites even go to the extent of producing an annual compilation CD of their member's demos which is sent out to producers and talent buyers around the world. Even if it were possible, it would cost at least several times the usually reasonable membership fee for a voice talent to get access to the auditions and leads offered by most membership sites. Some of the many membership talent listing sites are: www.voicelancer.com, www.voiceoverselect.com, www.voices.com, www.voice123.com, www.voicefinder.biz, www.voiceregistry.com, www.voicebook.com (closed membership), and www.voiceactors.com,
The third category of talent directory site is one that walks a fine line of possibly operating illegally. These sites operate much the same as other member sites in that they charge a fee for voice talent to be listed, but they will also route bookings through their site and take a commission on the talent fee. This effectively places the website operators in the area of working as an agent for their members. In the United States it is illegal for a talent agent to take a commission for work obtained for talent they represent and charge a fee for their services of representing the talent. A legitimate talent agent earns their money by taking a commission based on work they have obtained for talent they represent. In some cases, a talent agent may work as a producer, and can earn additional income by producing an event or project, but these fees are usually charged to their clients. Charging a fee of any sort for talent to gain access to potential work or auditions is illegal in the US if the promoter represents themselves as an agent with the intention of promoting the talent and then taking a commission on any work obtained. This is a common Scam in the acting community and appears to exist on a few voiceover listing sites. The key to the legitimacy of either a website or agent is how they handle the money, and if they promote themselves as an "agent" representing the talent.
There is actually a fourth category which actually consists of legitimate talent agent websites that contain listings and demos of talent represented by the agent. These sites operate legally by clearly stating that they are a talent agency that earns its income by taking a commission of work obtained for their talent pool. They are very selective on the talent they represent and do not charge any fees for representation. www.voicebank.net is one of the largest agent sites, and is supported by member talent agents who can list their talent within the site.
When considering whether or not to list on a talent-directory site, it is important to understand the site's policies and operating procedures. If the site wants to charge a fee AND take a commission, my recommendation is to look and list elsewhere. On the other hand, if you are just starting out in voiceover, it can be very helpful to be listed in as many places as possible. Before joining a member site and paying their fee, I suggest contacting some of the talent listed on the site. Ask what sort of leads come through the site, how many per day, and what sort of fees are being paid for different types of projects. One thing I've found is that many of the leads that come through some of the member sites are from first-time producers who don't know what they are doing, or are from clients who are shopping on price and not performance quality. The type and quality of work leads seems to depend on the marketing plan for the website.
Regardless of whether you choose to list on a free or membership talent directory site, or if you have a talent agent representing you, it is important to keep in mind that this is show-business and it can take many, many auditions before landing that first paid voiceover job. It is also important to know what your time and talent are worth. If you notice that the majority of leads coming in are clearly looking for the lowest price, or are for a type of work that you don't want to do, then it may be advisable to cancel your membership when it comes up for renewal. On the other hand, all those leads that come in to your computer are a great opportunity to hone your skills and become a more versatile and professional voice talent.
Depending on your current level of experience, existing client base, your goals for expanding your voiceover work, and the direction you want to move in, you may determine that joining a member-based directory talent site will either be just what you're looking for, or that it doesn't fit in with your plans at all. Your other option is to seek representation by legitimate talent agents in multiple markets who will represent you on a commission basis. And, of course, you can do both (you just can't have more than one agent representing you in the same market.) As with most other aspects of running your business as a voice actor, these are decisions only you can make.
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