Do you need a Voiceover Agent?
Back in the day, all I dreamt about was getting to New York and getting a high profile agent to make all my VO dreams come true. Then I figured all the work would just come flowing in and I would have officially made it. Worrying would cease about money or paying my rent, and everyone would smile and congratulate me as I worked in various studios across the city, as a successful voiceover actress. Those were my nightly dreams, and I would visualize it daily.
To make it happen, I spent years before my big city move, honing my craft with local clients and trying to make any connection that could lead me to an agent meeting. After finally meeting a few at a convention in Los Angeles, I got enough confidence to work up some creative mailers to then grab their attention when they got back to New York. It resulted in 3 interviews with 3 different agencies and 1 label of being called a psycho from a 4th agency for calling so often. (I kid you not, and yeah they weren’t interested)
So now with 3 agents willing to meet, I immediately booked my flight to NYC with stars in my eyes! Having only been to Manhattan on one occasion, I had no clue how to dress or what shoes to wear. My only work experience so far was as a retail store manager and an assistant business manager for a radio station where office attire was required. So I packed a business skirt, turtleneck, and some high heels. Yeah, high heels for walking in NYC. Bad move. But I figured I would impress with my professionalism. Little did I know, that this industry has nothing to do with how you dress, only how you sound.
My result? Two of my 3 interviews resulted in “Call us after you’ve become a big fish in a smaller market like Atlanta.” But 1 of my meetings hit the mark with an agency willing to take a chance. My move to New York was now solidified, and I left Florida behind in 1997.
After arriving and getting my night job to support myself, the auditions were frequent, smattered with some bookings, but it wasn’t enough for me to live off of alone. And my intimidation to the whole agent-talent relationship grew, so I was uncomfortable having any type of business chat with them about my lack of auditions. I felt at the time that it wasn’t a balanced relationship and that I owed them. They were the sole creators of my career, and it took a life-changing event for me to finally take my career into my own hands, 8 years later and get the confidence to go out and get bookings on my own.
Back then, agents were the only way to get access to the Union auditions or the larger clients. And if you had an agent, you were considered the crème de la crème. From that standpoint, I was proud that I made it that far, but once the Internet took over and the online casting sites popped up, the landscape changed. And now agents are taking on a different role where they are working hard to stay relevant.
So now that things have changed, should you get an agent? Or should you focus only on your own bookings?
If you’re just starting out, focusing on getting your first agent usually isn’t the best idea at this stage. An agent can only evaluate you on your demos and hopefully a decent client list, and if you’re just starting out, chances are your client list is small or non-existent, and your talent is not at a highly competitive level yet. Yet!
But of course, if you have an “In” or an agent has already expressed interest in you, then by all means, send a demo! Send in whatever is requested cause you never know who may hear you, who may decide that you’ve got the potential to book jobs and make money for the agency.
But agents are not the end all. You can effectively create a great book of business with some sales know-how and smart relationship management on your own, so you don’t need an agent. But if your talent grows alongside your ambitions, then an agent is something you may want to consider.
What’s so great about having an agent?
A good agent is a gateway to many of the more lucrative jobs in our business. An agent develops relationships with various agencies, networks, and production, so when a client is looking for talent, they will count on the agent to send over only their “best” actors for their project. An agent helps a client narrow down the talent pool, so they don’t have to search online resources, P2P’s or make a lot of calls. And for more prominent clients with larger budgets, having access to a higher quality talent pool is required so production can move quickly and end with a quality finished product.
Also, and most importantly, an agent negotiates for you. They are the ones that fight for us to get paid what we are truly worth. They protect our interests in case a client ever decided to take advantage and use our voices without our consent, or without additional compensation. Agents track usage of our voices and the subsequent payments. In essence, their commission fee takes care of the job search, the rate negotiation, the billing and collections, and the contract development if needed. They work hard for their money, and without them, there is no way I would have made as much money as I have over my career.
Now, some high-powered agents require complete control over your whole book of clients, even the ones that you may have acquired yourself. So you have to be okay with giving up that part of your business, but if the agent can open the doors you’re dreaming of, it may be worth that expense. But these days, agents are aware of the growth of non-union jobs, so many are comfortable with more of an exclusive market type of relationship, where you can have several agents in multiple markets if you choose.
An agent is a great accomplishment, and only hard work on your own talent will catch their ear. Some agents get hundreds of demos a day. So my advice is to work on the craft itself of voiceover, discover your strengths as a talent, then start to build that client base before pursuing an agent. You want to have something to offer them to be taken seriously, and only your hard work and commitment will cut it.