It's all about the vibes.
As a jobbing voice actor I have to be present across the voice-o-sphere AKA loads of online platforms like voice-a-doodle-doo.co.uk* where potential clients might happen to look to find me. This means filling in a multitude of forms to populate dozens of 'profiles' and writing biographies to fit into each word count requirement. Images must be particular sizes if you don't want your face to look like its been set up by Margery from the local church committee for the monthly newsletter (with apologies to anyone named Margery or anyone creating beautiful church committee newsletters but you know, I hope, what I mean). Point being, its very time consuming and - same as any other marketing decision - you have to weigh up the amount of time spent spreading your presence everywhere alongside the fact that you (I) will forget to keep every single one of these listings up to date, against the return you get in clicks / enquiries. As ever, I vacillate between trying to take every opportunity that pops up and cracking down on my roving eye to focus on a few sites which might align well with my specialisms or offer me a more reliable route to those illusive clients.
And then I wonder if it's all smoke and mirrors. I mean many of these places charge fees to participate - which is fine if you get that return although often there are hundreds of other voice actors all paying their fees and never getting a sniff of a job. If the site’s brand and reputation is good though, voice actors will keep paying and keep their fingers crossed.
Some of them require extensive testing of your home studio and for you to complete an entry examination - which I think is a good thing generally, the voice actors who get through these rigorous entry requirements have proven that they are professional and skilled so you’re joining a community of trusted and experienced freelancers and the site will be positioning itself as a purveyor of quality voice over services. Your host will inform their potential audiences about this important selling point and you would assume, wouldn't you, that this would result in a stream of enquiries from enthused clients, relieved to know they’re in safe hands and keen to work with these talented voice artists with proven track records and broadcast quality studios. And yet. The platforms I've joined that institute these quality measures have not delivered to me one, lonely enquiry. Of course that could be because no-one likes my voice. But given that I get enquiries via my website from organic search traffic, from platforms where I am simply listed in a fairly straightforward way and most often from recommendations from happy clients, I'm not sure that can be the whole story. And no enquiries means no work and no work means no gravy bones for Spike**.
Occasionally when I sigh and visit all of these platforms to see what gives, all I can come up with in terms of ‘why?’ is: ‘Maybe it's just the vibe?’ I know. Poor response really, but bare with me…
People generally don’t like being sold to. Especially online. Especially on social media. It's the authenticity thing, people are determined to go on their chosen social media platform and be ’social’ among other real people even though most businesses, freelancers, activists, politicians (I could go on…) have a social media strategy with KPIs at the end of it. But it's the rule. You can’t tell people you’re great, they have to just come to that conclusion on their own. Even on Linked In which is about business to business networking you won’t get any response if you say - hey buy my gadgets they're great! Its all - hey I’ve set up an entire project to benefit this niche charity and occasionally they use one of my gadgets, wink, wink.
You have to have the patience to sow seeds or you have to let others recommend you. Or set up projects for niche charities. And actually this is what the platforms that rely on their ‘quality’ USP expect will help with their authenticity too. Which us utterly reasonable. But doing that in a regimented way - same rule applies. Doesn't really work.
You have to be positive of course - recommending others is a good way to be positive and I’m all for it. I like to shout about others’ talents. Other than that though, you might have noticed I'm a bit on the darker side of life and like to dissect and think about stuff in a bit of cynical way, which - I hope - is really a facet of my sense of humour rather than pure unadulterated bitterness. No, really. Think of it as me trying to tease out the tangled knot of my own personality which is currently entwined within another knot of all the social media strategy workshops I've ever attended in my entire life. And, yes, every few months I get frustrated and yank the tangle so the knot gets tighter and more complex. Recently, writing in longer form, like this, seems to be slowly helping me loosen that tangle.
Which brings me back to the vibes. I’m testing this tangled web for vibes, slowly. Genuinely trying to discover how I can communicate (and - yes alright I'll admit it - entertain too. I can't stop trying to entertain) in this digital, virtual world in order to secure a role on some lovely projects. I’m losing the will to hustle among the others on social media and these many listings platforms but my less than sugar-coated quest for better communication and more clients is leading me somewhere interesting and the knot is getting a little smaller and less dense.
Because the listing platform things haven’t ever worked so well for me, I’ve thought often, can I give them up? Should I? Still not sure but what I have realised - through writing my e-news, my blog, even my little podcast and through working my way down my to-do list - is that there is a subset - or maybe its a separate group of organisations that perform some or all of the functions of these listings sites - that I will not give up. In fact you'll have to prise them from my cold dead hands. Trade member organisations - whose remit is not usually first and foremost to generate enquires for its members but from whom I generally get the best quality enquiries, make brilliant connections and secure the most creative and exciting projects. They’re the ones I’m most proud to be a part of. They exist either to support our industry niche or to provide a service in connecting creative talent with commissioning or producing companies / people. It's straightforward. Easy, simple. Not complicated and shouty. Like I said - vibes.
I may have mentioned I used to work in marketing. I may also have mentioned that I’m rubbish at it - hence me thinking and writing about vibes rather than enacting a well thought through marketing strategy and having too many clients to have time to write this. But I know a thing or two. And I know that as a freelancer, the holy grail is good word-of mouth. Its the best kind of stuff - the vibes for WOM are just beautiful. And it seems to me that trade member organisations provide a closer link to that authentic organic word of mouth, perhaps because they are member-led.
This whole vibe-meditation started because I decided to join PANA - the Professional Audiobook Narrators Association which was formed relatively recently by a group of narrators and producers from around the globe. I joined PANA because (you guessed it - word-of-mouth!) and because last year I joined The Audiobook Producers Association and I am proud to be part of such an active and supportive organisation. PANA brings me more of that and I hope that both of these organisations are richer for having me (and all their members) involved. I feel the same pride in my membership of Spotlight - the main connector for actors (including voice actors) and casting directors in the UK and in Equity*** - often called the 'actors union' but in fact it represents people working across the entertainment industry in many different roles. All of these organisations require members to demonstrate their skills, experience and professionalism when they join but when I got my Equity card - that was a moment. The best of vibes. Knowing you’re accepted among your professional peers and that you are usefully participating in the advancement of your industry - it builds confidence and helps you make friends. I think the confidence thing is the vibes by the way, this isn’t all flippant stuff you know I am a very serious person.
And on that note: I would advise any project producer contracting a voice actor - whether its an internal corporate project, commercial or a long-form creative narration, anything - check your chosen voice artist has professional credentials and if you're on the hunt for someone from scratch - you can always start by searching for people who are affiliated to these kinds of organisations.
There are also a number of established agencies of long standing good repute like DeVine Voices. Something else I’ve been doing this year is signing up with a few agencies and DeVine is like a ruby in the dust for finding VO's quality work and treating us fairly and professionally.
Next year, no doubt, I’ll continue to tug at my tangle and make mistakes and continue to post stuff on Linked In that people ignore. And maybe I’ll spend a little more time with my fellow-members in the trade and vibe-up the word-of-mouth.
Good vibes to all this festive season. See you in 2023.
* Don’t look for this it doesn’t exist. Had to check. I had to remove another website name I made up because it actually exists! Do I sign up? Mm...
** Spike the dog. Likes his bones.
*** Join a Union!