Are Voice Actors Undervalued?




  Are Voice Actors Undervalued?

By Rudy Gaskins and Joan Baker
August 27th, 2021 – SOVAS

Are Voice Actors Undervalued?

If you’re wondering what value voiceover holds, you don’t have to look far for an answer. Consider that voiceover fulfills many requirements that are vital to global communications. The value of voiceover is unmistakable. It’s not only for the successful functioning of commerce, marketing, entertainment, and the arts but for emergency-related industries where life and death are at stake. But is the pay received by voice actors commensurate with the obvious value of service provided? The answer is: sometimes.

SAG-AFTRA has been the guiding light for managing the highly complex network of rates, contracts, labor laws, pensions, and welfare. Under their purview, voice actors are paid an agreed-upon rate. But non-union work is at least as prevalent as union work, and this is where rates and fairness fall apart. Also, some emerging voiceover talent is willing to drastically undercut their rates as a way to break in. Though this diminishes the value for all involved, there is no policing of this activity, and the best arguments for adhering to union standards continue to fall on deaf ears.

Voiceover, as a communication tool, and voice acting as a means for realizing the most effective use of this tool can be viewed together as a single, powerful aspect of human communication. Indeed, one’s mind cannot hold the ubiquitous need for recorded language across the vastness of the media universe.

If you were to take voiceover out of the equation, the world would practically come to a stop. Cars would literally come to a stop because drivers are more dependent than ever on GPS to get to their destinations. Children would lose the learning aspect of talking toys, learning games, animated cartoons, and video games, and manufacturers would lament the loss of a multi-billion-dollar educational toy industry. Advertisers would depend on consumers to read their TV commercials and radio could say goodbye. Even academia would suffer as the loss of e-learning curricula would hurl it back into a pre-radio era.

We could go on. In fact, we encourage you to consider other ways that your life and the world is impacted by the use of recorded speech as a singularly defining feature of the 20th and 21st century. Voiceover permeates our lives like the air we breathe. And, like air, we don’t think about it until it’s in short supply.

Clearly, voiceover and voiceover acting is of inestimable value. However, as much as we depend on the immeasurable value of voiceover for global communications, the flood of people joining the ranks of professional voice acting makes the field more competitive than ever. It’s a simple matter of supply and demand. The more people you have competing for the same job, the more non-union employers can exploit those hungry to build their resumés, undercutting the power of union voice artists to earn a living wage. Unions have the power to set terms, but people have the power to circumvent the terms. It’s a sobering reality in an already highly competitive field, and so far the power of SAG-AFTRA is waning.

Producers of multi-million-dollar productions and products bypass the unions and toss out crumbs for the voice actor, even though the final product cannot be completed without them. And like pigeons in the park, when the crumbs hit the ground, a flock of hungry voice actors descends upon the pittance. You can find voice actors advertising to perform a 30-second script for five bucks! Unfortunately, this is not an aberration. The pay-to-play job sites regularly post low-rate jobs, and authors strike deals with narrators to record entire books on the promise that they’ll get paid if the book sells. Fiverr and Craigslist have further diluted the industry by providing easy access for anyone (trained or not) to entice market share away for slave wages.

Far be it from us to tell anyone how to make a living, but we believe all of us in the voice acting business will benefit by educating ourselves about how the paradigm is structured and how we can push it toward a workable means for gainful employment while finding ways to keep the doors open for newcomers to find employment. Again, the problem comes into play when you have unenlightened voice actors who rationalize the acceptance of unfair, humiliating salaries. They say, “Someone else will do it if I don’t.” They say, “I’m still training, and working cheap as a way to practice until I’m ready for the big time.” Of course, their so-called practice is chipping away at the very dream they seek to realize. They say, “This is more of a hobby for me. I don’t care about the money.” Can you imagine if quacks infiltrated the medical industry, convincing the public that they can save on medical care?

The devaluation of the work starts with the individual voice actor. If the actors are willing to take less, they’ll get less. SAG-AFTRA has fought and continues to fight for fair labor practices, including standards for salaries. SAG-AFTRA’s fight reverberates so powerfully that even nonunion actors benefit from their long, hard-fought battles.

Once upon a time, being union was enough. Buyers knew the difference between the abilities of union talent and nonunion talent. It was obvious to even the layperson. But while, generally speaking, union talent continues to be the best-trained talent you can find, these same high-quality union voice actors are now the teachers and coaches who train the nonunion newcomers. As a result, there is a substantial influx of highly trained, nonunion voice actors filling the hiring pool. This blunts the union’s advantage, causing the supply to outstrip the demand, leaving more actors scrambling for less pay. But union actors are mostly a financially challenged community. They often make more money coaching than they do booking gigs. Are union actors destroying themselves by training troops to fuel the power of the nonunion ranks?

We don’t have a soapbox speech that will have everyone march to a single drum on the value of the work. Paying one’s rent and feeding one’s children has always won out over platitudes of worker solidarity. What we do believe is that cultivating a loving, well-meaning, and intelligent conversation about how each of us can begin to push back against the demise of our livelihoods, will lead to evolutionary changes that will eventually bring about a positive result. We can teach value, integrity, and ethics as part of our industry’s culture. You don’t have to castigate your colleagues for not going your way but you can continue to share the vision of something with greater possibility. Gainful employment, in a fulfilling job, is a promising and realistic goal for voice actors.

Are voice actors undervalued? Supply and demand point to an undeniable diminishment of good-paying, quality jobs. The natural laws of survival will have us live on smaller and smaller scraps, while the talented tenth captures the lion’s share. But there is a surprise inherent in the answer to the question. The surprise is that it could be that we ourselves put the least value on what we do. The good news is that it is we who have the power to change course. ♦♦♦





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