The voice-over industry has dramatically changed during the previous decade. The unions, guilds, and associations that try to help voice talents have failed to keep up with the changes, not just in new media, but also in their knowledge and acceptance of new markets and technologies. Is it time for a new union of voice artists?
First, some background:
- “An association of people for mutual aid or the pursuit of a common goal.”
- “The earliest types of guild were formed as confraternities of workers [...] An important result of the guild framework was the emergence of universities at Bologna, Paris, and Oxford around the year 1200; they originated as guilds of students as at Bologna, or of masters as at Paris.”
Many countries have one or more guilds for actors, each of them with their own history behind their need for being created. Whether it was for on-camera, theater, voice over, or broadcast, there was a process in place that suited the ecosystem of casting directors, office buildings, production studios, agencies, breakdown services, managers etc. Union contracts assisted in providing the small group of individuals attempting this career with higher wages and benefits. There were defined standards, places to audition and perform, things you always do, and things you never say.
So what happened to these seemingly-simple glory days? Are they gone, and should we all run for the hills in panic? No.
On-camera and on-stage acting has not changed significantly. The process is almost the same today as it was decades ago. Voice acting, however, is very different today. Most voice talent have a home studio, the work of agents and casting directors has been automated by the likes of Voice123, SmartCast, and VoiceBunny, and (whether they admit it or not) agents and casting directors use these services themselves. As a result, productivity levels have skyrocketed. A successful voice talent gets a new job every week. Today, a successful voice talent can get a new job online every hour, record it in minutes, and get paid in advance. It is what businesses have wanted for years, and what they demand today.
Unfortunately, most acting unions have failed to respond to the needs and demands of current media, clinging to a crumbling structure that served a twentieth-century technology environment. Their contracts are outdated, and technology moves much faster than their decision-making process, leaving voice actors scared and frustrated with those on the pulse of change, who have the background and experience to make significant positive changes. Given that the core of their members are on-camera and on-stage actors, they have not given enough attention to voice talents. Their pricing and payment contracts/methods are just too slow, making them obsolete and unrealistic.
Trade unions are successful, if they can convince buyers that the best professionals in the trade can only be hired by accepting union rules. The Internet has made it easier for buyers to find great voice talent without having to go through the cumbersome process of the unions. These associations must understand and adapt their methods to technology and innovation, in order to remain competitive. In fact, many are unaware that in 2007, Voice123 did become union-compatible and these associations chose to not communicate with us. With no understanding of what we do, one union contacted several members of Voice123 last year to “warn them” about improper site usage. It became evident to voice talent at that time, that unions are very far behind today’s wiser and tech-savvy voice talent market. We have gone as far as offering these associations/unions/guilds our technology for free. Their response has been painfully slow at best, and negative at worst. The objective of a union, guild, or association is to obtain higher pay, better working conditions, and increase the number of employees an employer will hire. By shying away from technology and trying to maintain a union model that is outdated, these groups appear to be hiding the sun behind their hands.
Isn’t it time for a new union or guild of voice artists? Other countries have associations focused exclusively on radio artists (Asociacion Colombiana de Locutores, Sociedad Argentina de Locutores, etc.) The US has the National Association of Broadcasters, but it encompasses all of broadcasting and is heavily focused on newscasters. Although this may be a step in the right direction, such associations will need to encompass much more than radio, TV, and news, which is only a tiny fraction of the voice over industry. Change is nothing new to anyone. AFTRA was once known as AFRA, before television was invented, and now, there is a new frontier of work.
It is obvious that change is in demand, and you need not look further than all of the voice talent out there, who work their hardest to influence positive changes, whether it be our own staff efforts with Voice the Dream, webinars on how to get work, Voice Artists United, World-Voices, and VoiceBunny Guild. If you analyze what each of them do, and their missions, you can see they all share the same common thread, but with different faces, titles, and interpretations of “how it should be done”. However, history has shown divided parties that become inflexible will only break.
I’d love to know your thoughts and ideas. Please post them below. Other members of the community will appreciate it.