The Union’s VO Problem (or not…)


The Union’s VO Problem (or not…)

There’s been a lot of talk in the voice over community about where the industry is headed. Unions, Pay-to-Play sites, Casting.

To be fair, the industry is changing. But that’s to be expected. There are many questions this raises…

How will the change affect us? What can we do about it? Should I even be concerned?

In this post, I will give my thoughts on three different perspectives on the changing voice over landscape. Read on below:

Perspective 1: Voice Talent
The voice talent’s perspective may be the most complicated. There are a wide range of genres, markets, and opportunities for work. Opinions vary on benefits of union membership, the role of pay-to-play sites, how to market (or not), etc. Each person’s situation is different, and because of that, it’s hard to present a unified perspective.

This also gets to the heart of a related issue: As a group, we can’t get what we want unless we can agree on what exactly that is. Some would appear to be easy. Fair pay. Safe work environment. Professionalism on all sides.

But even on the agreed items, there is no clear consensus. What does “fair pay” mean to each person? In each market? Are some willing to do work others would consider unsafe or unprofessional?

Because of all of these factors, it may be more beneficial to look at perspectives outside our own.

After all, we are selling something. It may be better to focus on what the market wants, and how we can best deliver it to them.

Perspective 2: The Union
For The Union (Sag/Aftra in the USA), the view is much broader than for any individual.

I am grateful for the benefits and standards that the union offers. And I’m grateful that we have some union folks as advocates for us all, but it seems like they are fighting an uphill battle on many issues.

Voice Acting is only a small part of what the union’s business is about. And even then, the lion’s share of their focus will understandably be on the largest prizes. These are often big budget features and high power talent. For the average working Joe, this often means not being heard at all.

Think about it: if given the choice to focus on one $10,000,000 project or ten-thousand $1,000 projects, which would you choose?

This isn’t an excuse, but it is a reason. There’s only so much time in a day. In order to keep up, the union has to stay relevant in the bigger game.

We do benefit indirectly from this. There are always roles in the big projects for the average working Joe. But we’ve got to be honest with ourselves: If you’re not famous, the union is less focused on your concerns.

It is about business, after all. As is voice acting.

Perspective 3: The Client
Although individual clients may vary, there are many common things they all want.

A voice that matches their ideas for the product or service. Professional behavior. A good price.

In some cases, they may know exactly what they want and how much they’re willing to pay. Others may require a bit more work on our part. Customer service has to include discovering the customer’s needs and fulfilling them to the best of our ability.

All customer’s time is valuable. They don’t want it wasted with idle chatter or by having to track you down for the job.

Hiring union talent may be important to some. To others, it may represent a hassle. Knowing the difference is crucial to landing the job, and getting continuing work.

Overall, customers want the whole process to be as easy as possible. It’s up to us to find out what that means for each one.

So… What Can I Do?

  • Be professional.
  • Deliver a solid product.
  • Quote fair rates for the work, and stick to them.
  • Focus on the client’s needs.
  • Take direction well.
  • Be friendly and easy to work with.
  • Work with other voice actors on the larger issues. Together, we are stronger.

Other Perspectives
Below is a recent town hall event sponsored by the VO Agent Alliance, Global Voice Acting Academy, and WOVO.

Lots of great stuff discussed, and great groups to follow if you’d like to work together to make a difference. #VoiceStrong



All content written and voiced by Joe J Thomas online at:



6 thoughts on “The Union’s VO Problem (or not…)

  1. Joe- Thanks for your post that succinctly sums up a large group of people’s perception of what’s happening to the VO biz. The following are my own thoughts.

    It’s more about how the market’s expectations have been shaped by P2P and freelance service sites and less about what the market wants. For all intents and purposes, the market shops for the best value possible (don’t we all?).

    That doesn’t necessarily mean the best talent or the lowest rate. However, since the social pipeline is stuffed with concern about rates and almost nothing about actual talent, the sensitivity of change is focused on money.

    When a talent seeker is shopping for the sound they want for a project and shortlist three that will do the job nicely, do you imagine they’ll pick the one with the highest standard rate or the talent that seems like a bargain? Especially, when the bargain meets the criteria in the “So… What Can I do?” section of your post easily.

    I know there’s this thing called perceived value based on amount spent but when it comes down to it, and I’m standing at the grocery store to buy a gallon of regional brand milk for my family at $4 or $2.50 for store brand, I’m going with the cheaper store brand. Both are milk; both taste like milk; both pour like milk; looking at the nutrition table, they’re identical.

    There were 500 people who attend the Town Hall and I’m going to guess that most were on board to fight a good cause to stop the VO biz from imploding (further). The choir was there. Missing were the people who needed to hear the message. The people identified as the reason for the suckiness in VO.

    The genie is out of the bottle. Pandora’s box is wide open with the lid nowhere to be found. There are a lot of people who would like VO as their full-time gig, while other’s are satisfied to have VO has a side hustle. Perhaps the side hustle folks, in most cases, have another job and don’t depend on VO work to pay bills. It’s something they do for fun. An expensive hobby. But, they do it well enough to get bookings. There may be a level of VO folks who work way below the GVAA suggested rates and are embarrassed to ask for more. They have no understanding of their worth.

    How do you propose to get the message out to people who need to hear it? They are not looking for the message. Probably have no clue about GVAA or WoVO, and are quite content with their own success. Should they care that their approach is damaging the livelihood of others and disrupting the landscape of the business of voiceovers? First, they have to know what to care about.

    When there is not a barrier to entry into a thing and there’s no regulation of the thing, there will be (rate) inconsistencies and (value) perception distortion in the market from one person to another.


  2. Well written, especially point #2. A v/o specific union, or at the very least, a v/o trade group that is able to offer group benefits to it’s members (ie – health insurance) is long overdue. SAG-AFTRA is good in many ways, but v/o is a non-priority for them.

    • Good idea, Josh. Not sure the best way to go about it, but some of the existing groups may be able to come up with a viable plan.

  3. The biggest driver of low paid non-union work is the union itself, IMO. It’s a labor union. It dosn’t act like one. Labor unions try to get everyone in the union in order to insure pay standards. It’s called organizing. It is the first priority for any labor union. It’s the principle and perhaps only goal. SAG does reverse organizing. They keep people out with strange requirements and an egregious initiation fee. Hence the growth of non union labor where people are alone and subject to the whims of predatory capitalism. Sag is not a functioning labor union. It’s a club for the 1%. Actors need a real union.

    • Hi Stuart. Yeah, I can see that. They’re actually a “Guild”. If they were a real union, they’d help find members work as well. It’s why most of the country isn’t interested in joining, or flat out doesn’t need the union at all.

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