VO Secrets from the Dark (Production) Side

This one is primarily for my fellow voiceover artists who might wonder what really goes on in the mysterious world of a commercial production agency. Because my last position before taking the plunge to do VO full-time was working in a bustling boutique ad agency, I offer these random insights and observations in hopes of helping to demystify what happens on the other side of the glass.

Small agencies sometimes have the best gigs.

Before I was hired to keep the books for this wonderful little agency, I thought the best work for talent had to come through the big shiny offices. Little did I know that some agencies work in niche areas, that can offer tremendously lucrative work for Talent lucky enough to be cast in their projects. In the case of the company I worked for it was national cable and broadcast infomercials. After seven years of cutting sweet residual checks to on camera and VO Talent, I can say that some of the best work out there flies relatively under-the-radar.

The union/non-union Talent choice is often made by the client, not the production company.

Third party union signatories make it possible for agencies to hire either union or non-union Talent, as dictated by the project. The client can decide which to use for a variety of reasons I won’t get into here. The agency facilitates that choice.

Casting is hard.

Not everyone on the production side enjoys the casting process, but they accept it as a necessary evil. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, one thing the online casting (P2P) services have given producers is an additional layer of anonymity between themselves and potential Talent. Yes, sadly this can lead to the summer intern doing the initial screening of the auditions. To the great credit of the company I worked for, they always limited auditions to a number they could reasonably consider.

Unsolicited contact from Talent is hit or miss.

Postcards and mail blasts were often round filed before they reached the production department. Thank you cards (not postcards) received after projects were completed were passed on, opened and read without fail.

Clients have been known to “go rogue” in using spots.

I believe most agencies are honest and try very hard to honor usage agreements. Clients sometimes don’t realize that even non-union Talent use is rarely bought in perpetuity. Years down the road a Talent may hear their spot and be forced to contact the agency in pursuit of payment. Sometimes the agency may no longer even be working with that client. It’s a pain for everyone, but the agency will go after your money. Please believe them when they tell you that they didn’t know the spot had aired.

Loyalty and patience are rewarded.

This one may get some pushback from my fellow VO Talent, but here goes: for all of the tremendous upside of working with small agencies, there can be times when patience is required, particularly in the area of the timing of payment. Cash flow in small agencies can be much more volatile than with larger companies, and the agency often does not get final payment from the client until a final version of a spot is delivered. Never in my time at this agency did a Talent or vendor go unpaid, or even have to wait nearly as long as I have waited on some bigger agency payments, but some Talent found it necessary to start hounding us for payments a day or two after the session. They were never used again. Something to consider in deciding if working with a small agency is for you.

That’s it for now. There may be a follow-up if I think of anything else I learned “in the trenches.” As always, feel free to contact me if you have any questions or comments.