“One Take “on the economy and the voiceover industry

by | Voiceover

If you  already belong to Voiceovers/Yahoo  Groups, you’ve undoubtedly seen the following  recent post by Ed Helvey, “The Virginia Sound Man”. Register at [email protected] , to see what folks are talking about. This list is for people who work with their voice for voiceovers, narrations, commercials, industrial films and jingle singing.

There is some interesting and thought-provoking insight into the state of the economy and how it may , or is already impact, voiceover actors. The topic was about Game Rates, and I am re-posting this with Ed’s permission.  You may want to visit Ed’s Blog, too.

“I know that my views are not always what everyone wants to hear and
therefore are not necessarily popular, but I’m older then a significant
number of people in this group and I’m a pragmatist. There are
significant changes occurring in our society, I’d go as far as to say,
“life-changing” changes. What has been is very likely not going to be
the future. A newly coined term that I heard used the other day is
“Digital Natives” which refers to people born after 1980 – which
includes all the current high school kids, college kids and 20
somethings. These folks are selling out of the TV/Cable/Commercial Radio
and even satellite radio media in favor of Internet TV, Internet Radio
(and not necessarily the commercial and public radio stations on the
Internet) and audio/video podcasts, YouTube (and similar services),
Veoh, Hulu and other on demand TV services. DRM is battling to preserve
rights and, I fear, intellectual property rights as we’ve known them in
the past are going to change dramatically.

The very technology that has provided most of us with the ability to cut
the umbilical with recording studios and commuting to them to do VO work
and given us the freedom to work from home – anywhere in the world with
Internet connectivity, is also the same technology that is changing the
fee structures that took us years and years to build up to. Sure, there
were lots of expensive ads in the Super Bowl last night and there will
always be a number of “deep pockets” corporations who can still and may
still afford to pay big bucks for production and air-time. But, I think
that number is going to diminish. Just as the traditional Mecca’s of the
recording industry and the glorious Temples of Sound are going the way
of the dinosaurs, so, I’m afraid, is what we’ve worked for years to
build up on. We, as a niche work society, are not going to weather the
changes in the economy that are not only inevitable, but actually
happening right now.

Yesterday they predicted the demise of about 3800 automobile
dealerships. Now, I, personally, have never done an auto dealership spot
– never cared to, never looked for it. But, I know that a significant
part of the income of the VO industry earns (in some cases) maybe all or
a good part of their income from those dealers that will cease to exist.
But, it’s just not car dealers, it’s also Circuit City, Linens & Things
and lots of other businesses – large and small that are disappearing.
It’s nothing we did wrong – and worse, yet, there’s nothing we can do
about it. It’s the dynamics of economics. So, the less clients left in
existence – and who (except for Exxon Mobil and WalMart – maybe) may
continue to stay in existence will not be because they keep making the
large expenditures in personnel, facilities, benefit packages, and
marketing/advertisi ng/training – but, because they have found ways to
CUT these costs at the expense of hundreds of thousands or perhaps
millions of displaced workers, closed stores, warehouses, factories,
etc. and much, much tighter and highly controlled
marketing/advertisi ng/training expenditures – and that will ultimately
affect the VO industry.

We have more schools that you can shake a stick at that are turning out
graduate or certified recording engineers for jobs that don’t exist in
studios that are closing. We are finding more and more people
discovering that they may be able to make a living in the VO industry –
so we have community colleges, acting schools, VO courses, workshops,
etc. training more and more people to compete in a world where there may
shortly be a significant lessening of work – especially the kind of good
paying work that we all feel we are worth. Will all of us whither and
perish? No, like in all things, a few will flourish, they’ll not only
survive, they’ll thrive. But, I believe those who will survive and
thrive, though they may not outwardly proclaim it to the public or their
peers, will do so by exercising a new degree of flexibility. They may
end up working harder and more gigs for lesser dollars per gig. Or they
may be in a financial position where they can still be a bit more choosy
and continue to exist comfortably and weather out the economic “storm,”
which I, personally, believe is going to last a lot longer then a lot of
people expect. We think that gaming is going to continue to expand –
maybe and maybe not. When people have to make decisions between food,
housing, fuel to commute (if they have a job), clothes, medicine and
buying computer games. Some, will buy the games at the cost of other
discomfort – most, I think will put that at the bottom of the priority
list. Mattel, a traditionally profitable toy manufacturer, just
announced a 46% drop in profits. Bookstores, obviously auto dealers,
movie theaters, the music industry, etc. are all experiencing the same
thing. Libraries are growing in popularity again. We have to look at how
we figure into this picture. Dave E, you asked how come fees for game
producers aren’t up to TV/radio spot rates. I don’t have a crystal ball,
but I’d say that AFTRA is going to be battling a very difficult battle
in keeping those rates up there as work in those sectors gets cut back.
We can’t keep getting more when everyone else is getting less. That’s
exactly why the economy is in the sewer right now. We are part of the
economy as a whole, like it or not? Maybe we’re all a little
near-sighted and are only looking at the here and now. But, the future
is always becoming the here and now and if we don’t look to the future,
we’re not going to be prepared for when it is upon us.

Gloom and doom? No! Just an economic adjustment that has been building
for quite a while and is going to cause some discomfort – and, probably,
for some – a lot of pain. This entire situation was created by unbridled
greed – and while I cannot and will not point a finger, since I know
that three fingers are pointing back at me when I do, certain industries
just took this greed thing too far and many of us followed that path
figuring if they can get it, we should be due our share – a fair and
reasonable assumption. But, as the house of cards collapses, we are
among those cards and we’re going to experience some of that discomfort
and maybe some pain. If we accept this, prepare for it, become flexible
in our thinking and businesses, there is good reason to believe that
most of us (professionals, that is) will survive and, possibly even
thrive. If we don’t accept it and believe that while Rome is burning all
around us, we’ll stand unscathed – we’re going to be in for some serious
consequences. Again, our deliverer, digital technology, may also be our
master. The “Digital Natives” are getting restless and may attack us at
anytime. As in the Bible, I believe the handwriting is on the wall.”
Ed Helvey
The Virginia Sound Man


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