Ostrich or Coyote?

by | Sep 20, 2016 | Ruminations, VO Business | 7 comments

head-in-sandCultural observers would have you believe this country represents two irretrievable, polarized positions.  Red or Blue.  Yin or Yang.  Conservative or Liberal.  Of course, it’s not that easy…nor so clearly defined.

The analysis rarely moves beyond this myopia.  Which is a shame.  Obviously there is a wide and deep spectrum of positions. But only the loudest advocates for the most extreme views get the coverage.  You can blame that on a popular media infatuated with sensationalism.

If you’re at all plugged-into the development of an emerging mindset in our our Voice-Over community, you could easily see an analogy over the issue of rates.

On the one side, there’s the ostrich…an animal jokingly referred to as having its head in the sand, refusing to see all that’s going on around him, and maybe preferring not to.  On the other side, the cunning Coyote…agile in changing surroundings, adept in the  midst of a developing environment.

Which are you when it comes to the issue of VO compensation?  Stubbornly refusing to see the changing times?…or quick to adapt to a new digital world?

Well, you don’t have to be either.  Remember you are a freelancer who owns your own business, and you can choose where you belong in the animal kingdom.  Maybe you’re a shark…a virus…a horse…or a dachshund.

I’m not going to go too far with this analogy…most such comparisons fail at some point. 

So should voice-actors decide whether to accept what appears to be “creative” (agile?) rates from numerous freelance jobber sites, or hold out for legacy-level premium pay?  There are passionate arguments for both, and they’ve been articulated again and again in the online forums.  Obviously, there’s a spectrum in THIS debate too.  You don’t have to be an Ostrich or a Coyote.

And then, there’s the argument that says you don’t belong anywhere in that realm; there is yet another perspective. Los Angeles-based Voice Actor Christian Lanz had one of the most erudite observations about this whole conundrum that I’ve yet seen.  He’s given me permission to post it here verbatim:

Sites like Fiverr are what we get when we allow the propagation of the erroneous and rather absurd notion that everyone is entitled to a professional VO career.

I’d love to play professional tennis, but I’m not remotely good enough. My options therefore are to train until I am, or to seek an alternate career path more in tune with my own particular talents and abilities.   What I don’t do is beg people to watch me play mediocre tennis for five bucks.

Voiceover (or any other profession) should be no different.

Chew on that one for a while…whether your head’s in the sand, or you’re part of the coyote pack.




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  1. JIM SArtor

    I think the comments about Fiverr are an example of the ostrich. The vast majority of clients who use Fiverr are NOT the clients who will pay the going rate for VO work.They are usually small businesses or other freelancers trying to get started.

    I used Fiverr to get my business logo created, it cost $35 and I am satisfied for now. There is no way I can afford to pay professional rates to create a logo.

    Yes, I am fairly new to the business and consider the work I get from Fiverr as secondary to the other work I get, but also a place I can “train” to get better. Also, threre are VO talents making six-figure incomes on Fiverr and, no, they don’t charge just $5.

    IMHO, take your nose out of the air or your head out of the sand and lighten up on negative comments about Fiverr. The people there are NO threat to your business or income, the demographics are totally different.

    On a final note, if you really want to consider where the danger comes from, it comes from people and companies that thrive on selling high-priced training to anyone and everyone who signs up. The promise is always, “There is more business than we can handle, we need more VO talent’. This brings in a ton of people, most of whom drop out after a couple months, but others who bid low on the P2P sites which may lower the fees overall.

    • CourVO

      Hey Jim,

      Thanks for taking the time to read and reply. My nose is not in the air…it’s on the ground seeing where the future is, and it may well be with online casting sites such as Fiverr. I’m also part of a community that largely (not all) disapproves of the direction things are heading, and are trying to influence the vector. It’s the same community that I’ve depended on for help, referrals, encouragement and support….a community that reminds me I don’t work in a vacuum, and when I accept work for a pittance, I’m hurting my friends and colleagues. This is the way I’m oriented. I am not an island.

      Also, the high-priced training you cite as a danger comes from the very people who are pushing Fiverr in an online coaching program that decidedly does NOT cost five dollars. Yes, there are too many so-called “experts” peddling know-how they don’t have, at a price that is way beyond the pale. This is why WoVO peddles education and awareness for the asking…no cost. I’m not sure there’s any ultimate answer to all this beyond newcomers doing their research and asking questions. Unscrupulous “coaches” are taking advantage of misguided hopefuls with stars in their eyes, and not enough sense to do their homework first.

      Again, I appreciate your perspective and your response.

      Dave Courvoisier

    • ed waldorph

      Jim, Dqave is not the problem here. Don’t shoot the messenger. He’s in the right shooting gallery, we just have to adjust his aim a little and get him and his crew to pick better targets.

      • CourVO

        Thanks, Ed…

        It’s not “my” crew… we represent darn near 800 members who largely have this same feeling about Fiverr. They run us. We don’t run them.

        If the majority of WoVO members tell us they love Fiverr, and all it represents… then we’ll hove to. But I’d have to consider whether, then, I’d want to be a member, I guess.

        LOVE the dialogue…thanks, as always, for contributing!

        Dave C

  2. ed waldorph

    I read that, too, Dave. Like your Ostrich and Coyote metaphor it’s cute but doesn’t really offer a solution. It’s difficult to create a game strategy without understanding the rules and the playing field.

    The objective in any game is to win, so we first have to agree on what is winning. For most of us in the game of voiceover, winning is having a long term career that supports us and our families—just like any other job. Forgetting for the moment that the parameters for that differ almost with each family, goalposts often move and economies and economics change over the years, we can still find an agreeable range.

    Voiceover, like any trade or profession, requires three things to become proficient: education and training, practice and some would argue, talent. In our Capitalist society all this costs money and with the exception of apprenticeships and scholarships, one is not paid while one is learning. Every culture in the world has accepted norms for how one survives during this period—many times quite specific to the end career.

    Christian has set us an example of sports, so let’s go with that. But first let’s not forget that we are comparing this to a VO career. Let’s also look at the standards the community has long accepted; and let’s not overlook the fact that everything evolves. Times change and we can all agree we are in a period of change so great that experts are calling it disruptive. (It’s nothing new, really. In other periods words like Epochal, Life-Changing and Historic were bandied about in fits of hyperbole.)

    So, Community Standards; how do they apply here? There are several that are often trundled out to be thrown around the necks of aspiring artists like a dead albatross. Usually these are divided into social and economic mores. We can generally give the social rubricks short shrift. It’s generally a labored effort to create a social caste system; Miscreants are branded with Scarlet Letters and an atmosphere of guilt by association is created.

    That’s never gone over well in modern society as we saw in early Hollywood where it was fine to hang out at a lunch counter and look pretty but stay off the boulevard. However there were plenty of soon to be starlettes, and stars, who were on call to the studio heads and pretty much anyone not of the cast caste.

    So really, trying to make that sale is just embarrassing yourself.

    Which brings us to economics. This theory goes that hiring yourself out at anything less than standard rates (whatever they are) is detrimental to the community as a whole because it lowers rates for everybody. For anyone who uinderstands economies and markets this is just absurd on its face.

    We’re not going to revisit the snooze fest that was Economics 101; just admit that if you don’t understand that markets and economies are different, that markets and economies are stratified and that ne’er the twain shall meet, you are sore qualified to foist an opinion on the subject.

    Let’s get back to Christian’s stumbling tennis performance, but untwist the tortured bit of analagy to more closely resemble the Fiverr paradigm. (Admitting here I am completely boggled by those who seem to actually relate this to the subject.) I’m also going to interject another profession that’s a little closer to voice acting: stage acting—since we can draw actuall parallel references.

    I love that Christian begs the question immediately in his premise that “…everyone is entitled to a professional VO career.” Accurately labeling it as erroneous and absurd, but ignoring that few, if any, really think that. throwing in the politically charged buzzword “entitled” was cute.

    His second premise is that because he is a stumble-bum on the court he shouldn’t even try (a la the current defeatist pop psychology that one shouldn’t pursue a career just because it is a passion.)

    Finally he claims he would never denigrate himself by trying to earn money through bad performance (completely ignoring the fact that we all have done that in our careers) and throwing the emotional bomb of “begging” in to boot.

    So let’s address them, one, two, three. Number one is a fallacy. Number two is defeatist foolishness. So that leaves number three: Profiting (or at least offsetting expenditures) through poor performance. Christian says he would never, ever do that (but I’ll wager he, like all of us, has.)

    And this is the crux of the argument. Indeed it is one of the only two real debatable conditions—the other being that all low rates adversely effect all rates for all performers. I ask, in all seriousness, why not?

    Using Christian’s own example, lets say he was quickly going into debt paying coaches, buying equipment, renting tennis courts and still trying to pay his living expenses. Somebody comes to him and says, “I saw you on the court. You’re really bad. I know folks who would pay to watch you play. I also think you have promise. I know folks who would pay to watch you become a star. I can get ten bucks a head for tickets. I’ll give you eight, less taxes and fees.”

    Are you telling me, Christian, that you would turn that down? Are you, orr others, seriously telling me that because you’re selling tickets for $10 that the Williams sisters are going to have to cut their rates? Really?

    So pretty soon you are raking in enough cash to pay for the courts and equipment and you are doing no more work than you did before. It’s like free money! So then a guy comes up to you and says, “I was amazed when I saw all these people paying good money to watch you stumble around the court. I want to sign you to a Pay-TV contract. I’m going to put you online and charge $5 to let folks watch around the world. I’ll pay you $4, less taxes and fees.”

    Four dollars! But I get eight dollars from ticket sales. You’re going to destroy the market. Nobody is going to pay $10 when they can watch me on TV for $5.

    Really? You really think that. First of all, years of Pay-Per-View have proved that idea totally wrong. There are still folks that will pony up more hard cash to watch in person. Plus you are not going to have to work any harder to make more money.

    So, Christian, thinking of changing careers?

    Finally, lets take an example from another branch of the acting community. For years, aspiring stage and screen actors have supported themselves by schlepping food and drink orders and parking cars to pay for lessons and eke out a living. It was seen as a rite of passage, even noble

    But then came off-broadway and off-off-broadway and touring companies and 99-seat theaters. Somehow the theater as an institution is still alive and commanding multiple hundreds of dollars for a ticket.

    The same thing holds true for Fiverr. There will always be a cut rate marketplace. There will always be cheap buyers. this will never be your professional market nor will these ever be your buyers. The biggest threats to our professional world as solo-preneurs are the major P2Ps and their artificially low rate cards and low-ball auction bidding.

    So let’s all unwad the undies. Fiver is not the problem, yet, but it might be a solution.

    • CourVO

      Holy Cow Ed….when did you figure I’d get the time to read this? Well, it’s not going to be today. But I promise I will get back to you.

      Thanks for taking the time to read and respond.

      Dave Courvoisier

      • ed waldorph

        Ha! and you thought you had a lightweight column. You inspire thought, Dave.


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