As VO blog writers go, I’m not particularly prolific. Verbose, perhaps. Long-winded? Maybe. Stentorian? I like fancy words. But, I have the bad habit of not posting stuff unless I have something useful to say, which Anna will tell you is a vanishingly infrequent occurrence.
That said, gather round, for this shall be the first of two final blogs for the year, and before I go into my almost certain to be dramatically wrong New Year’s prediction blog in a couple of weeks, I figured we could start with some things to ponder to orient your voiceover business for success and growth in 2024.
Let’s start by acknowledging that 2023 was probably the most challenging year for most voice actors since the Great Recession, which is the last time I can remember even established VO’s reporting reduced growth and even lower income. Yes, the pandemic hit some segments of the industry hard, but many voice actors situated in the right genre segments had their biggest years in 2020 and 2021, with growth continuing in 2022. 2023, however, was a banner year for few. I’m fortunate to still be up on my 2022 numbers, but more marginally than I’d like. 10% annual growth is my minimum acceptable benchmark, and I won’t hit that this year. I’m closer than I expected after a robust October & November, and there does seem to have been a general uptick in business for many talent over the fall, but 2023 was a bit of a stinker for most, with many talent reporting declining income versus 2022.
Why? Guess what…..the answer is NOT AI. Despite the considerable Chicken Little panic, I know very few VOs who lost jobs to AI voices in 2023, and many, (including myself,) who saw clients experiment with them for a few months and come running back to human when they realized that the need for extra labor in making AI output remotely effective, coupled with inferior quality, was a time-waster and money loser. I raised rates on these buyers, and if you experienced something similar I hope you did, too.
2023 was a wet blanket for some fairly obvious reasons. The WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes had knock-on effects on parts of the industry even unrelated to the work being struck, including non-union work. Couple that with reduced ad spend in general, particular in the OTT space, ( https://mediaradar.com/blog/ott-ad-spend-is-in-a-slump/ ) where over $200 million less was spent in 2023 on ads than in 2022, and you have a setup for a bear market. Moreover, if you work in the non-broadcast narration space, the message from corporate buyers was clear……belt tightening was the order of the day in 2023, largely due to the expectation of a recession coupled with the effects of inflation. Simply put, the squeeze was on in 2023, and voice actors felt it in their bottom lines.
So, what will 2024 bring? Experts are predicting a considerable rebound in ad spend. https://shorturl.at/gKRUX Moreover, spending on political ads in the USA election cycle is expected to exceed $15B….yes, fifteen BILLION dollars….meaning those voice actors playing in that arena are in for a strong run. Recession looks less and less likely, and inflation, though not disappearing, is slowing, meaning corporate belt-tightening may slow as well. Many established VO’s and agents/managers I know reported noticeable upticks in general business volume starting right around the first of October, and remaining strong as we approach the holidays. My year-on-year growth was 3% on October 1st and is sitting at 6% now, so there definitely seems to be momentum.
The question is, what can you do to make sure you maximize the opportunities that will come our way in 2024?
EVALUATE YOUR VO ASSETS and PORTFOLIO
Where are you earning? Focus on shoring up relationships in the genres where you are experiencing consistent success, both by providing extra-attentive service to existing clients, and looking to expand your access to at bats in these areas through new relationships and representation in markets where you are not currently covered. Where applicable, up your marketing efforts to focus on the sectors that the market is telling you that you excel at.
Where are you not earning? Consider the areas of VO where you are not consistently booking, and why. Do you need more training? Better demos to gain access? Or is the market simply telling you that certain segments are not your forte? Connect with your coaches, agents, managers, and peers, and if you feel the answer is the latter of these, perhaps focus more on core competencies and reduce time and investment spent on areas that are not panning out.
What do you offer that is attractive to buyers and potential representation? How fresh is your skill set? Remember that delivery trends and “the hot sound” in certain genres often change rapidly. Retail commercial at the national level is undergoing shifts at the moment that are both deeply subtle yet equally substantial, with definitions of “conversational” or “authentic” that were accepted even a year ago possibly feeling stale today. Certain sounds, vibes, styles, and demographic trends are also informing who is booking what. Are you and the people you train with up to date on these latest shifts?
Looking for representation? What are you bringing to the table. Can you show recent quality wins that let an agent or manager know you are booking in the current marketplace? Is your demo game tight and multi-faceted, or do you have dated content/read styles on your reels and only one or two genres with pro reels? Have you taken time to lay the relationship groundwork that might get you a yes over someone else when all else is equal? Are you putting yourself in front of them? Reading for them when the opportunity arises? Getting referrals from people they trust?
ARE YOU DIVERSIFIED?
If I sound like an investment adviser, it’s because VO is a lot like investing…..if you put all your eggs in one basket, they’re likely to all get cracked at some point.
Here are six things you need to be thinking about:
1.) Evaluate your representation situation. Make a plan for gaining the agency rep and/or management that is best suited to your assets and portfolio as described above.
2.) If you play in the commercial world in particular, and other broadcast genres, there are about ten thousand production companies across the USA for you to market to, and even more internationally. Your demos should be finding your way to as many of them as possible each day.
3.) Do you pay to play? If so, are you doing it smartly? For most people the sites have become so saturated that you have to be both exceptional in performance and willing to pay for a more expensive membership (on Voice123 at least) to get traction. The P2P’s were billed for years as a place for VOs to start out and get experience while learning on the job, but the cold truth is that it’s a lot harder to break through on these platforms than it used to be, and if you’re not super competitive and wiling to pay for real access, your chances are limited.
4.) SEO is the new P2P. Huh? Twenty years ago young buyers thought casting through websites was cool and new. Today they think it’s lame to give 20% to a gig economy platform that may be shaving even more off the top that they aren’t aware of. Where are they looking for talent? Search. Does your site rank highly in search when someone types in something generic like female commercial voice actor with a young fresh sound? If not, find experts like the folks at voiceactorwebsites.com to help you.
5.) If you play in explainer video narration, e-learning, corporate/industrial narration, medical narration, political commercials….are you marketing to potential buyers every day? If not, why? This industry isn’t as complicated as it seems. Don’t suck. Understand the tech. And get ears on your voice. Do these three things over and over and you’ll build a business. But if people aren’t hearing you, they aren’t hiring you.
6.) Come out and play. Meetups, conferences, charity galas, whatever…..make friends in the industry. Not only do we actually hire each other a lot more than people discuss, but we also uplift, support, and refer each other all the time. You don’t build a circle of friends to use them, but your circle of friends WILL bring you opportunities. It’s what friends do.
So, are you doing a mix of all of these things? Or are your huevos exposed to single-basket risk? No one likes exposed huevos.
ARE YOU PLAYING IN GROWTH SECTORS?
Let’s be real. Some parts of the business are healthier than others.
Movie trailers are slowly fading away as a VO artform. Game trailers are increasing, with a more equal mix of male and female voices.
Imaging and Affiliate work is becoming more and more susceptible to cost cutting and interference from AI.
Explainers are growing a little stale, and E-Learning is still a great place to play but maybe isn’t exploding like it was 5 years ago and at the start of the pandemic.
On the other hand, Corporate Narration and Commercials are steady, Political ads are going nuts, In-Show Narration, Promo, and Animation are as sexy as ever, and Gaming work is going through the roof in terms of volume.
Are you positioned for growth sectors, or clinging to areas that are fading? If the latter, do you have a plan to pivot?
I’m optimistic for 2024. The strikes are over, at least for now. Commercial spend is coming back. Political season is rocking and rolling. Recession seems less likely so corporate spend may loosen. AI has so thoroughly spooked a great deal of the general public that it is facing substantial headwinds in the form of simple resistance, potential legislation, and risk aversion on the part of corporations that worry about exposure to liability. And the fact is that it’s still mostly in the uncanny valley. That doesn’t mean we should bury our heads in the sand, but we also need not run around like decapitated poultry.
VO in 2024 has the potential to rebound strongly. Are you ready?