If you’ve been in the VO industry for the past ten, fifteen, twenty years, you will have noticed massive changes. I’ve noticed changes just in the past five years! Jobs used to pay more. There were more campaigns and long-term contracts. There were less voice actors and hardly anyone had a home studio. If you did have one, you had a serious advantage. And if it sounded good, even doubly or triply so!
It’s not dissimilar to the music industry, which went through huge shifts (and bottomed out) about ten years ago. Budgets are shrinking and clients are expecting much more, for far less. With the prevalence of home studios, the playing field has vastly expanded and while there are many more opportunities for voice actors, there is much more competition than ever before. Couple this with the fact that stars now think it’s cool to do voiceover and the reality of a union that hasn’t been willing or able to adapt quickly enough with the times, and the future can seem a little bleak, for those of us who make our living in this way. Don’t get me wrong. I think talented voice actors with a great work ethic and a savvy business sense will always have work, I truly do. I believe if you market yourself, cultivate your clients and keep them around, you’re probably fine. But I still think it’s important to have your eyes open. And I’m interested in doing much more than just surviving.
The more I ponder this situation, the more I am convinced that the answer, or at least a “safety valve”, if you will, for those of us who are still interested in maintaining an awesome living doing this thing we love, boils down to two things:
Alternate streams of income (diversifying) and content creation.
Diversifying: I remember first hearing about this concept with regards to investing. The philosophy was: you don’t want to put all your eggs in one basket – what if that basket drops? And it makes sense because I am actually talking about investing…in yourself. I believe it’s more important than ever these days to have multiple streams of income, not just one. This means diversifying yourself within genres of performance. I have a lot of friends, for instance, who only do one type of VO. I’m encouraging them to expand their skill sets and explore other potential income streams. The more streams you have flowing, the less you feel it when one or two of them dry up. I’m actually toying with the idea of dipping my toe back in the on-camera world for this very reason, if not theatrically, at least commercially. More coals in the fire, so to speak.
This not only goes for diversifying within genres in performance, but also expanding my earning potential outside of that realm entirely. I just might finally be doing that yoga teacher training that I’ve always been interested in! Not that I’m not doing great in the industry; my business is actually thriving! My income has continued to climb over the past four years and I’m doing better than ever. But it’s good to be prepared and to be (at least!) one step ahead; it’s good to be AWAKE. There will always be lean times and the beauty about our profession is that there really is time to do other things*. (*Unless you’re you make your living solely as an audiobook narrator, in which case, no, you do not have time to do other things….but you need to make time, friends!). Pick your own brain. What other things have you been wanting to do but haven’t pulled the trigger on yet? Take stock of all the things you love doing and find a way to monetize them if possible!
Content Creation: With the birth of new media, there are tons of opportunities springing up every day: new channels, new networks, new shows, new opportunities…One major thing we artists have to our advantage is our creativity. They need content. We need jobs. There are a million actors out there who want jobs. They don’t need more actors, they need content. I believe if we have something more to offer and build it ourselves, “they” will come knocking. Self-promotion has never been easier; it’s one of the truly empowering things for an artist about social media. The name of the game, however, is discipline; are you willing to contribute regularly to something you can grow? Whatever it may be. A blog, a podcast, an animated series…what makes your heart sing?
There’s no longer one path, or a set of prescribed set of steps you can take to become successful (Well, I’m not sure there ever was one, but…) The people I see really breaking out of the pack and flourishing are “doing” themselves. They’re not doing what everyone else is doing. They are taking a passion or something they’re knowledgeable about (hopefully it’s both) and using that as a vehicle to catapult themselves. Consider my friend Tess Masters. A fellow actor and VO, she also had an incredible love and expertise in the field of vegan food. She started with a website and was diligent, building it steadily over three or four years, and now she’s touring the world with her new best selling cookbook. It’s one of the best selling cookbooks on Amazon! My friend Liz Loza, another talented VO, has a passion for fantasy football. Three or four years ago she christened herself “Fantasy Football Girl”, and now she’s successfully leveraging what she created and her career is blossoming in a totally unique way, that is perfect for her…because it is her!
I’m enthusiastically trying to think out of the box here. I believe in leading with equal parts passion and intelligence. Prepare and make way for the magic. Because I’m interested in being a thriving artist, not a starving one. I gave that up in my twenties. Over rated.