Deb’s Interview with Senior Casting Agent Michelle O’Connor of The Voice Realm
I recently had the privilege to do an interview with Michelle O’Connor – Senior Casting Agent at The Voice Realm. A seemingly new Online Voice Casting Site that have joined the ranks of the Pay 2 Play scene…. and they’ve gotten off to a great start as the site is becoming very popular in the Americas. I tried to get right to the point and ask the questions I thought you would want to know, and Michelle was very generous to answer them all. Here is how the interview went:
VO Chef Deb: How old is Voice Realm? Where are you based?
Michelle: The Voice Realm is almost three years old. In that short period of time it has risen above hundreds of other startup site to become one of the top voice casting sites in the world. The company is based in NYC with support staff located in LA, Europe, Australia, South America and Asia.
VO Chef Deb: With all the Pay 2 Plays out there, what makes Voice Realm Different?
Michelle: Wow there are so many, where do I start. The main difference is that we don’t allow voice talent to bid against one another in a reverse auction. No matter what anyone says, if two voices sound alike and one puts in a bid for the job at a few hundred dollars less, to produce the same sound, then the client is going to go for the cheaper rate. The only exception is if a voice is unique and EXACTLY what the client is looking for, then they command a higher fee. But I would say this would not apply to 90% or more of jobs cast. Especially when it comes to non-union jobs.
The site has a set rate card, meaning all voice talent record for the same rate. Also there is a submission and vetting process, so anyone with a credit card isn’t able to come along and sign up and next minute auditioning alongside professionals.
Our talent aren’t restricted to what they can and cannot audition for. Imagine paying $400 for a subscription and you only receive a sample of what the websites ‘computer algorithm’ thinks you should or should not apply for. Or even penalizing talent who audition too much!
We only list the most professional talent to service clients and have no hesitation in removing talent who do not meet our clients expectations, which includes meeting deadlines, being professional to work with, and offer superior sound quality.
VO Chef Deb: What is the membership fee? What are the commission Fees?
Michelle: Our yearly listing fee is only $99. Compared to other sites that charge in excess of $400. We also take 15% commission on each job booked. We found talent prefer this smaller yearly fee and paying commission only when they book, than a hefty upfront fee.
VO Chef Deb: Voice Realm now charges a membership fee plus commissions. How did you determine to charge both a small membership plus commissions?
Michelle: When we launched we had all talent at 20% commission. The problem was that because most voice actors now try and list themselves on as many websites as possible, and we were just another, we spent the majority of our time chasing up talent for deadlines for auditions AND jobs. It was a waste of our time, when we could have been focusing on assisting clients and bringing new jobs to the site. Essentially charging a small $99 listing fee and dropping the commission to 15% weeded out the talent that just saw us as ‘another’ site to place their demos on. The talent who were professional, could see what we were trying to do, bring professionalism to online casting and stop bidding wars, are now seeing the benefits. We have a handful of talent who are easily making over 20k through our site after commissions.
VO Chef Deb: Will talent have to worry about too much competition as Voice Realm’s popularity continues?
Michelle: As the site continues to grow, so does our roster of talent. We actually have run into quite a few occasions where we didn’t have the language or sound that the client required. Also we have around 1,000 talent presently, but you need to remember, that needs to be broken down into male/female, language, age range, demo categories, etc. Then you’ve always got a number of talent that won’t apply for castings because they don’t feel that they are right for the script, or some are away on vacation or unavailable. When you’re talking a global casting site where clients from all around the world hire, 1000 voice actors is really not that many.
VO Chef Deb: What do you want talent to know about Voice Realm?
Michelle: We try and keep both the voice talent and the client happy. Our support staff are available 24/7 365 offering assistance. We do many things differently than other sites do, and many of the things we do are of a non-traditional nature. Of course we understand at first some talent don’t ‘get it’ and argue that things should be done a certain way. But when we see it from where we stand, seeing both client and voice perspectives, we try and balance things and have a rhyme and a reason for everything we do.
VO Chef Deb: What does it take to put a site like this together? Help the talent understand what costs cover.
Michelle: Great question. Because some voice talent believe that it costs next to nothing to put a site together and then everything should be free. This is a business. This is run exactly like any bricks and mortar business with support staff, marketing staff, agent’s assistants, web developers, business development etc. All these people are professional and some of the best in the business. There are website server and maintenance fees, development fees, advertising spend, phone and administrative fees. It all costs money.
Some talents argue and say “well traditional agents take only a commission so why are you double dipping?” They make comments like that without thinking them through. This is online work and non-union. Traditional agents are making thousands of dollars on commissions for many jobs. Ours are at the other end of the spectrum. There’s many times where we have spent more money to bring a client to the site than we’ve made in the commission! This is to try and help get this client booking the voice regularly. Voice wins, we win, and client wins.
Also the fees and commissions mean that it’s less work for the voice in regards to invoicing clients, chasing up money, negotiating rates etc. Voice talent have nothing but praise on how simple the process is.
VO Chef Deb: Is Voice realm considered a talent management site or an agency?
Michelle: We call ourselves an online voice casting service. We help clients find the exact voice they are looking for, connect the two and make it as seamless as possible for both sides.
VO Chef Deb: Voice Realm works hard at having clients book directly off the demo correct?
Michelle: Because our site only lists top quality voice talent, clients can listen through our demos knowing that anyone they book is going to be a pro. Let me give you a real life example from another site. You can go there, search for Scottish male voices, and be shown search results full of Americans, British, Australian and a few Scottish thrown in. Imagine being a client and having to deal with that!
We push clients to Private Audition talent they like after they’ve had a browse through the roster. On other sites, talent may feel as they see ‘more jobs’ because they receive more mass ‘cattle calls’, but the fact is clients need to do those mass castings to sort the good from the bad!
VO Chef Deb: What can a talent do to stay top on your search lists/talent rosters?
Michelle: We actually don’t have any options for talent to appear higher in any search results. Everything is 100% random so it is a totally fair playing field. As we also only list professional voice talents who have been screened, all our voice actors are rated 5 stars by default.
Why would you want to be part of a website that allows clients to leave negative comments on low ratings? We all know that you’re going to get a difficult client once in a while who expects more than they paid for, so why should they then be allowed to destroy a voices profile by giving them a low rating?
VO Chef Deb: Do the clients get the auditions on a first come first serve basis?
Michelle: No they do not. So you could be the last person to audition for a role and be the first person to show to the client. It’s our top-secret algorithm (joke) which enables better casting for clients and talent don’t need to be the rush to be the first to audition when they see an email come through.
VO Chef Deb: Why do you have it so that talent cannot put their full names into their responses?
Michelle: Because we make money through commission. Some talents have said that we should trust our voice actors and that they will always put future jobs through the site. In a perfect world yes, but we all know it’s not a perfect world. And we have caught talent soliciting clients who posted casting on our site, or they hired the voice and then the voice contacted them externally for future jobs, we found out and removed them from the website.
Why? Is it fair that we spend on average $35 to bring a client to the website, for them to hire a voice, we make $0 on that booking and then the client not book with us again and deal externally with the voice?
It makes absolutely no business sense for us if a client comes to our site, auditions our voice actors, likes ‘Pat Astaire’s’ demo and then Google’s ‘Pat Astaire voice over’, finds his website and contacts him direct.
VO Chef Deb: What do you want talent to focus on in their response to clients?
Michelle: We have found that what talent write in the comments has almost no effect on the clients selection. Clients decided within 5 seconds if they will continue listening to the audition demo. They don’t care if you’ve recorded for Coca-Cola or Walmart. They generally work in advertising and media and deal with big brands all day. They are looking for a sound that matches their script. They are looking for quality sound in the recording.
VO Chef Deb: What factors went in to determining rates?
Michelle: We looked at a number of online rate cards, we looked at other countries rate cards, we spoke to talent, we spoke to clients and came up with rates that were affordable to clients and still pleased talent. We know that our rates are not the highest. But as I mentioned above the process is so streamlined that it’s easy for the voice actor. So most are happy to accept the rates for this reason.
Also it’s worth nothing that a number of our rates have raised in the past year. We are working to bring rates up. But it is difficult with so much competition online now. Especially with these $5 sites. We try and educate clients on why rates are what they are. You would be shocked how many uneducated buyers are blown away when they see a 60 second recording is going to cost them over $100. We then try and educate them why it is a smart idea to invest the money now rather than deal with problems trying to save $50 and receive an inferior recording.
Thank you so much Michelle for your time and input. I’m sure this will help a lot of talent who are contemplating joining your site as well as clarify things with those that are already playing on The Voice Realm.
I have been on the site for over a year now. I’m not able to audition as often as I’d like but I’ve booked a few jobs here and there, and I think the team is great. www.TheVoiceRealm.com if you want to check it out yourself.
I’ve learned a few things today and I was very grateful for the opportunity to ask these questions and get some clarification for us all. Some great points made for sure!
Until next time everyone
All my best
VO Chef Deb
My Voice, Mixed Your Way!