Are You a PROFESSIONAL Voice Actor?

by | Mar 2, 2017 | Ruminations | 3 comments

Maybe you don’t even care if you rise to the moniker of “professional” as long as the paychecks keep coming.  The cynic in me says career professionals are a vanishing breed or just achieve that echelon through sheer chutzpah and persistence .   But I could be totally wrong.

So, of the many definitions of “professional”, the following come closest to home:

  •   characterized by or conforming to the technical or ethical standards of a profession
  •   participating for gain or livelihood in an activity or field of endeavor often engaged in by amateur
  •   having a particular profession as a permanent career (a professional soldier)
  •   engaged in by persons receiving financial return 9professional football)

Any of that seem to hit the mark for you?

In an online conversation with a seasoned voice-actor with oodles of credits (someone well respected by me and practically everyone else), I discovered that this person defines “professional VO” as someone who was a SAG-AFTRA member.  Period.

This person respects that non-union voice actors can be accomplished and in-the-money.  But professional?  Nope.  Gotta be union. 

This person’s definition is likely wrapped up in residuals, pensions, health insurance, all the trappings of a secure career.  Perhaps the validation of being in a talent union with all the history, gravity, and conceptual ideology of workers’ rights is the threshold of professional authentication for this voice-actor.

I respect this person’s position, and didn’t argue.  But it could be equally contended that plenty of SAG-AFTRA voice-actors have nowhere NEAR the career or talent of some non-union voice-actors.   Does paying some dues, and having the membership card still make them professional in the classic sense?  Just because they’re members of a union?  That doesn’t rise to the level of “professional” to me.

The person I’m referring too is willing to admit the union has problems; that it’s driven away some talent; that the non-union VO community is growing in strength.  It’s an interesting take on the definition of “professional” that I hadn’t heard before.  I could see the allure of that explanation.

But let’s go back to that first bulleted definition above:  “characterized by or conforming to the technical or ethical standards of a profession”.  I like this one better… but it, too, is fraught with problems.  However, it’s the definition closest to the ideals that we espouse in WoVO.

The WoVO board has long debated the part about talent standards.  We have documents of “best practices” for producers, talent, and coaches, but standards or certification is a slippery slope.  In the absence of an accepted accreditation process agreed upon by some certifying body, there can be no standard.  Any attempt to evaluate talent inevitably arrives at a subjective judging process.  That’s the slippery part. It must be a quantitative, not qualitative test, and when it comes to talent, the closest we come a test is something like a panel of judges at the Olympics.

Technical standards is a different ball of wax, though, and WoVO does offer a studio approval based on objective measures of accepted audio criteria.

And all these mental gymnastics leads us where, Dave?


You work hard.  You pay your dues.  You have passion and immersion in your chosen career.  In time, your success leads you to believe you’re a professional. You’ve earned  it.  School of hard-knocks and all.  You deserve to call yourself professional.

I’ve never taken a journalism course in my life.  Journalists don’t have accreditation either.  Does 35+ years as a TV news broadcaster make me a journalist?  I’d like to think so.  Does the fact that I’m not a SAG-AFTRA broadcaster take away from my professional journalist status?  No.

Boy.  That all got a lot more cerebral than you probably deserved.  But hey, I’m a professional.




CourVO Newsletter

If you found this article helpful, you’ll love my latest book!

Dave Courvoisier releases a new edition of his popular book More Than Just a Voice, The REAL Secret to Voiceover Success. This new book has all new content, a full six years in the making!


  1. Dan Bolivar

    I totally agree with you. As a personal example, I don’t care for unions AT ALL. I don’t like being told when I can work or that I need to not work because some union leader let something crawl up his microphone.

    I charge professionally on the par with most any other top-dog.
    I take into consideration my own experience, my own talent, my own capabilities and problem-solving capacity and I charge accordingly. Which coincidentally matches (if not exceeds ‘official’ guild fees).
    I’m not interested in what any union or guild has to say, they don’t put the food on my table or pay my bills. And frankly, I doubt that I would be working any more than I am now if I were in the union. Additionally Hollywood and everything it represents is far from my interests as a professional.

    Regarding the actual word… “professional” is ANYONE who does their job properly, charges without undercutting his peers, and puts food on the table.” PERIOD.

    Great Article by the way…

  2. Howard Ellison

    What a thoughtful piece, Dave, sure does hit the spot. Here’s my dimesworth: a mark of the pro, while not a definition, is one who views that ‘next actor please’ or the spiked copy not as a personal rejection but as a learning opportunity.

  3. Bryan Kopta

    As a professional VA and longtime union member, I’m puzzled by the argument that imprimatur of ‘Professional’ can only be ordained upon entry to SAG. The vast majority of VO work is non-union, and much of it (e-learning, internal training, B2B, Audiobooks) falls outside of the union purview. If someone limited themselves to SAG jobs exclusively, I don’t know how they could make a living.

    I’ve booked union work through Voice123, but 98% of SAG auditions come through agencies (and the highest paying ones come from top 10 agencies). But for the run-of-the-mill sub-$10,000 audition on Voicebank, there are 122 SAG-franchised agencies that are theoretically submitting. So that probably puts the over under at 1,000 auditions for any of these projects. And how many of those actually get heard? Maybe 200. Although, I would guess it’s less.

    I have 8 agents, and get 5-7 union audition a week. That’s a paltry sum, compared the other 120 auditions that I do in a given week. I would love to know how someone other than a celebrity or a Dave Fennoy makes a living with strictly union work. Meanwhile, Bill DeWees makes around $300K a year, without a single union gig.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

My Second book is available now!

Dave Courvoisier releases a new edition of his popular book More Than Just a Voice, The REAL Secret to Voiceover Success. This new book has all new content, a full six years in the making!

Share This