VORG #37 sept-oct-nov-dec 2002

We Don't Live in Kansas Anymore

Disembodied voices: That’s what we are. If you work in Voiceover, either as a voice artist, casting director, agent, producer or director, you belong to the ranks of those who are heard and rarely seen. Think about it; there are those of us who have done business together successfully for years and never met one-on-one. We recognice each other by voice print, not by physical characteristics. This is one job where not only does it not matter what you look like, you can literally “phone it in” if the situation dictates. And now, through the wizardry of modern technology we are becoming more ephemeral than ever before.

Okay, let’s rewind and see how this evolved. Though he probably didn’t realize it, the concept of voiceover dates back to L. Frank Baum when, at the beginning of the 20th century, he wrote the Wizard of Oz. You remember the carnival barker is transported to Oz in his hot air balloon and, upon his landing, is subsequently hailed as a wizard by the citizens of that fair city. In order to keep up appearances, the “wizard” uses early 20th century gadgetry to refashion himself as a disembodied (there’s that word again) head with an impressive amplified voice to support the illusion. “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!”

Now, take that concept and fast forward through the 20th century. Voiceover moved from fantasy to reality via the old Movie Tone newsreels and film promotion. As technology progressed developing first radio then tv, voices were needed to tout upcoming programs and commercial prod-ucts. The need for specific voice over talent begat the voice over agent who glibly sent actors all over town for auditions.This approach worked well for awhile but also resulted in a lot of running around for the talent and created harried, disgruntled casting directors who found themselves multi-tasking (long before the term was ever invented) as they tried to hold auditions with one ear while the other was glued to the phone re-scheduling half the actors they had originally called in for that day. Major hassle.

Then along came a prominent talent agent named Charles Stern, who thought “there must be a better way”. In an effort to make life easier for the casting director (thereby facilitating the more frequent use of his clients), he moved the voiceover audition into the agent’s office. Now all the casting director had to do was deliver the copy to the agent. The talent agencies then assumed the responsibility of scheduling the talent, recording the auditions, and delivering a tape, (or in later years a CD) of the auditions directly to the casting director. With the advent of the FAX machine, the front end time-line of this scenario was sped up appreciably. Madison Avenue could simply FAX copy to a west coast talent agency and expect to have the auditions delivered the next day by overnight courier. This, too, worked well for a time but also created a major expense for the agents in runners and overnight deliveries. Ouch!

Enter Jeff Hixon who thought, “there must be a better way.” At the end of the 20th Century he began to research the idea of using the World Wide Web to more readily facilitate the transfer of not only printed information, but “the actor’s actual voice” over the internet. Hixon saw the need for a “faster way to do it”, and set out to build “an appropriate bridge” between the ad agency and the talent agency. Voicebank.net was born.

Voicebank.net allows advertising agencies to privately post casting projects and audition talent over the internet. Once the advertising agency is registered with Voicebank.net, it can use the internet to deliver copy & story boards for a commercial or other project and invite agents to have their talent audition. Once “invited to the party”, the talent agencies record their talent’s auditions directly to their hard drive, then “log-on” and upload the auditions to the ad agency who, using Voicebank.net as the conduit, in turn, downloads the information and burns it directly to CD or emails selected auditions to the powers-that-be that make the final determination (clients included) as to who gets the gig. Privacy is guaranteed by a system of codes and passwords. “No information passes between the ad agency and the talent agency outside the box,” assures Hixon. And, so far, no one has had to leave the office. Some haven’t even had to leave home. Wow.

Talent agencies tend to update their house CDs on the average of once every 18 months. On the other hand, agencies registered with Voicebank.net not only have their house CDs audio available on-line at all times, they also have the ability to alter this information at their discretion. For example, new talent added to the roster, ongoing talent who have scored major campaigns, etc., can be readily added or altered at anytime by the talent agency. In short, nothing ever has to be out-of-date. But Hixon cautions, “Voicebank doesn’t replace good agenting.” It just makes it alot easier.

Then came Brian Liebler, an actor by trade, who landed a major commercial campaign and wanted to promote it. Of course his agent had just completed the re-vamp of their house CD so it was too late to include the new spot on his house minute. The only alternative left to Liebler was to re-edit his personal CD and send it out to the multiples of creative directors at ad agencies. Not only did this necessitate quantities of duplication, it also meant a lot of lickin’, stickin’ and stuffin’. “There must be a better way,” thought Liebler and IPRO Exchange was born.

Providing a conduit for the voice actor to the voice over industry at large, IPROExchange.com services advertising agencies, network and promo producers, casting directors and talent agencies alike. In an effort to make its service “user friendly” to its subscribers, IPRO Exchange has developed a system of cataloguing its registered actors by vocal type. “it’s a service unique to the industry,” says Lynne Thompson, IPRO’s head of marketing. An actor submits a demo, it’s evaluated by IPRO and “tagged according to vocal type.” It affords the listener an “accordion like” search of available matching vocal types. So if you’re a casting director looking
for a quirky voice for an animation job, you can hop on the IPROExchange.com website, and, with the click of a mouse, select from the list of vocal categories available, click “search” to start auditioning voices. You don’t even have to do this during office hours. Gee.

IPRO Exchange also allocates its talent subscribers five minutes of playback time to showcase themselves and can link to an actor’s indivicual website. Given the impetus behind its conception, it comes as no surprise that a “current work” category is also available. As thompson succinctly put it, IPRO Exchange gives the actor “the tools to self-market professionally” in addition to providing “an unobtrusive way to stay in front of people.”

While each organization came about from different perspectives, both IPRO Exchange and Voicebank.net are alike in that they provide similar services to ad agencies, talent agencies and casting directors. In addition, Voicebank.net offers the actor opportunities to market himself directly through a new service called Premium Pages. There the actor’s name is linked to their our portfolio which can accom-modate any combination of information including not only voiceover reference, but video, graphics, resume, and contact information. Though Voicebank is located in Los Angeles and IPRO Exchange is based in New York City, both function globally via the internet, so you, as the voice actor, casting director, talent agency or ad exec can avail yourself of needed information anytime, from any computer. It’s important to note that both services are open to represented and unrepresented talent alike. In fact, for those seeking representation, this can be a great way to find an agent.

We’ll close with an oh-so-typical Hollywood story. Once upon a time there was an agent who requested, via a personal recommendation, that an actress submit her CD. Delighted to have the interest, she did as requested. NORESOPNSE! She mailed a second package and dutifully made her follow-up phone calls. AGAIN, NO RESPONSE! She contacted her liason and they agreed the third time would surely be the charm. Months went by. Nada. In frustration, she registered with an internet service and lo and behold, guess who sent her an email requesting her CD? You got it. Does this story end happily ever after? Stay tuned - or on-line. We’ve come a long way from Oz.

- Laurel van der Linde