Love them or hate them, traditional online casting platforms like Voices.com and Voice123.com have been an enormous part of the voiceover industry landscape for over fifteen years now. They fundamentally changed many of the rules of our industry, and opened the business to talented professional-quality voices in parts of the country and the world that previously had little or no access to voiceover work.
In the process, they also became lightning rods of controversy, blamed by many for everything from eroding rates and standards to commoditizing talent, to damaging the traditional brick and mortar voiceover space and the livelihoods of talent agents and union actors.
This article isn’t going to rehash the P2P wars of the past nearly two decades.
What I will examine, however, is how the nature of the most dominant platforms has now changed so fundamentally as to herald the beginning of a new era in voiceover casting…..one where individual voice actors are more empowered than ever before.
First, the bad news: The days of making a full-time living from online casting platforms alone are functionally over for voice actors just entering the field, and even for many veterans.
In the early days of the platforms there were a couple dozen elite talent who immediately mastered the functionality of the sites and quickly grew to dominate them. This small group of heavy bookers rapidly generated six figure returns from the sites, and through their example, (and in some cases, teaching,) hundreds more voice actors were soon comfortably earning well into five figures and beyond from Voices.com and Voice123.com alone, with a side dish of other platforms in many instances.
Jobs were abundant, competition was less intense than the sites’ claims of talent numbers would suggest, and the fruit hung low.
Voices.com for many years featured a top ten list on their front page showing the most successful talent over a 7-day period. This list was usually populated by the same ten or twenty VOs, with a few new power players emerging each year, but not much real change. Presumably the same cohort were the heavy hitters on Voice123.com as well.
This status-quo persisted for the better part of a decade, with more than a few talent earning into seven figures through these platforms during that time. Around 2016, however, things began to change.
First Voices.com, and then Voice123.com, began making changes to their algorithms and pricing structures that reflected marketplaces that were no longer growing at the same rate in terms of job numbers as they had during their first decade, despite a continuing influx of new voice actors, many well-trained, champing at the bit to attack any and every job posted to the platforms. The sites started to realize they had a problem. Membership was growing faster than new buyer volume. More voiceover artists were chasing proportionally fewer jobs.
Why was job growth slowing? The answer involves a confluence of events that ultimately will prove to have saved the industry from what at one time seemed like an inevitable future where a single casting hegemon would reduce voice actors to a faceless product subject to corporate whims.
First, YOU happened. During the 2010’s a chorus of voice actors who had found success through their own marketing efforts began teaching their secrets at conferences and through online courses. Jonathan Tilley, Marc Scott, Tom Dheere, Tracy Lindley, Anne Ganguzza, Yours Truly, and numerous others shared how to find jobs on your own, most often in realms not covered by talent agents like E-Learning, Explainer Video Narration, Corporate and Industrial Narration, Medical Narration, Telephony, and others.
Guess what? You listened!
Over the past ten years more and more talent have built strong and consistent income through direct marketing, taking responsibility for the success of their own careers. This has undoubtedly been responsible in part for the reduced growth of traffic on traditional casting sites.
And, you listened when Joe Davis & Karin Barth talked about the power of SEO, and when Celia Siegel and others showed you how to brand yourselves effectively to drive sales directly through your websites. More work is being hired through direct talent search than ever before, and more functional search driven by tools like ChatGPT will likely only increase this traffic, inspired in no small part by a modern generation of buyers determined not to pay rent to casting platforms.
Moreover, as unfavorable as these platforms have been for talent agents and managers, those who represent us have done a far better job of adapting to and even thriving in a changed landscape than they have been given credit for. Ten years ago the very best jobs, the highest-end broadcast genre work, almost always went through agents and managers. Today they still do. Relationships still matter, and there is no one better at building strong relationships with voice buyers than those whose job it is to represent us. They deserve a great deal of credit for holding the line.
Now, how about something a little more controversial?
Most professional voice actors see Fiverr.com as a blight on the industry. But what if there’s an upside to a micro-budget platform backed by billions of corporate dollars entering the casting space?
Many who have strong stables of quality clients don’t see Fiverr or similar platforms as a threat. They see them as the dollar store or what the car industry calls “zero lots.” A place for bargain shoppers to buy a generally lower-end product, and a place where occasionally one of those bargain shoppers will get a great deal from a voice actor who hasn’t realized that their ability could command much higher rates. Yes, there is a legitimate argument that platforms like Fiverr are highly destructive to the perceived value of our craft in general, but many in our industry disagree about the actual impact on high-end professionals. After all, does the Mercedes with 20,000 miles for $35,000 on the zero lot really threaten Mercedes certified pre-owned operation, where the same car with the same mileage might be $45,000? The zero lot doesn’t give you any extras or guarantees. Mercedes certified pre-owned ensures you are given white glove treatment and a vehicle you can rely on. Same car. Different types of buyers. The bargain hunter would never walk into the Mercedes dealership. The certified pre-owned buyer would be aghast at a shabby office that didn’t serve an espresso with a smile and offer a plush couch to close the deal on with an attentive salesperson offering peace of mind that any short-term repairs or defects will be covered by the dealership.
I’m not advocating one position or the other, but here’s something that’s not up for debate. Fiverr has sucked enormous wind out of the sails of Voices.com and Voice123 by investing millions of dollars to harvest their lower-end buyer traffic. And they’ve been immensely successful. While becoming problematic in their own right, they have helped reduce the likelihood that one mega-platform will emerge to the detriment of the industry as a whole.
Talent finding their own jobs through marketing and SEO. Agents and managers kicking ass as they always have. Low-budget platforms siphoning traffic.
What are the legacy sites to do?
Well, they’re doing the only thing they can do, albeit differently depending on the platform in question.
First, both sites have begun accepting the same kind of low budget jobs as Fiverr. Whereas Voices.com and Voice123.com previously held at least basic minimum project rates, both platforms now, (in one capacity or another,) allow jobs with any budget, even five dollar gigs. This has helped them hold the line against further imbalance between members and buyers, and to date does not seem to have impacted the overall quality of jobs on either platform, other than to add many new low-quality jobs without reducing the number of better ones.
More importantly, however, both sites are aggressively implementing algorithms that seem to have the effect of reducing access to most voice actors.
Voice123 has done this by creating a plethora of membership tiers that require lower-tier members to be extraordinarily careful about which jobs they choose to audition for. Indeed, anyone paying under $2,200 per year is now effectively blocked from auditioning in the volume necessary to sustain daily or weekly bookings. Strong talent in the highest two tiers are still able to earn five and even six figures through the platform, but even these voice actors are subject to the whims of an algorithm that punishes taking risks with regard to the jobs one auditions for. That said, Voice123 deserves credit for choosing to offer top bookers the ability to access the quantity of jobs needed to at least try to sustain their historical earnings on the site. Moreover, at least for now, Voice123 continues to limit the instances where it plays middleman and takes a cut of the voice actor’s pay.
Voices.com has gone the other way by sunsetting its Platinum tier and creating a new system that rewards voice actors who consistently engage with and book through the site. Meanwhile, anecdotal reports indicate that members who were used to seeing dozens of audition opportunities per day on Voices’ $499 Premium tier are now seeing fewer than they have in the past, in some cases considerably fewer. It’s only speculation, but it’s hard to imagine that, much like Voice123, Voices.com isn’t experimenting with new ways to spread access to more members competing for proportionally fewer jobs.
Now, to be clear, many voice actors still earn handsomely from these two sites. Indeed many still earn into six figures, and in perhaps a dozen or two cases WELL into six figures. They have stayed abreast of changes, understand how to manipulate their profiles and, (to the best of their knowledge,) the algorithms, and have years of experience applying best practices in their audition process, as well as elite skills to land the job with their performance. And yes, occasionally the talented newcomer, especially on Voice123’s higher tiers, can still find immediate results.
The bottom line, however, is that if you can afford just $395, $600, or $888 on Voice123, and $499 on Voices.com, it is now very unlikely that you can access the number of auditions necessary to build a full-time income on these platforms alone. Even when we add industry-favorite bodalgo.com and others into the mix, the volume just isn’t there. Remember, elite talent on casting sites have historically reported booking 7-10% of their auditions. Most full time pros book 3-5%. Talented newcomers often one in a hundred. The average job across these platforms pays $500. If you can only access 10-20 auditions per day, and run the risk of having those numbers reduced if you aren’t being liked/favorited enough….well, you do the math. The days of strong new talent banging out 50-80 auditions per day on casting sites are over, and they aren’t coming back.
And yet, I present this to you in the form of good news. Voices.com and Voice123.com aren’t going away. They, and others like them, will continue to be a tool available to those who wish to use them, (and I’m not getting into the morality of individual sites in this article….that conversation is a quick search away,) but the good news in all of this is that the era of these platforms actively disrupting our industry is over.
We are now in the era of talent empowerment. Supported by our agents and managers, our own hustle and web presence, and whatever other tools and platforms we choose to use to augment our income. The difference is that now, we make the decisions, and if one source of work doesn’t align with your process or values, there’s another one waiting for you that will.
Some people see this as the Wild West. For better or for worse, a lot of money was made in the Wild West by those who embraced control of their own destiny.
As a voice actor in the 2020’s, the future belongs to you.