A few days after the Marc Davis VO panel, I found myself back in Los Angeles for VOX on the Rocks, a social networking event for voiceover. VOX on the Rocks is organized by Bob Bergen, a talented voice actor, and one of my mentors and coaches. I’ve been to a couple of not-great VO mixers but when Bob sent this out, I knew this one would be different:
“I have a few ground rules. Please don’t bring a stack of demos! This is a social gathering as well as networking. That said, no one wants to be ambushed by needy and desperate actors! The first rule to good networking is the person you are networking to has no idea you are networking!”
I love clearly spelled out expectations!! Thank you, Bob! I didn’t know who I would meet at this social gathering, but I was looking forward to getting a better feel for the Los Angeles voiceover market. My goal is to be in LA within 2-3 years so I’m doing my research now. I showed up right when the mixer started at 6:00 o’clock, worried I would break some LA rule of etiquette about being fashionably late, but I didn’t want to miss a minute of this mixer!
I saw Bob Bergen right away and he greeted me warmly. That’s one of the things I love about Bob: his warm, open, friendly, inclusive personality. He is just a great guy. After only a couple of minutes of chatting, who should come in but Tara Platt and Yuri Lowenthal! I had had the chance to hear Yuri speak at the Marc Davis panel and now I get to hobnob with him over pomegranate martinis?? Wow! I found myself in the enviable position of standing between Bob, Tara and Yuri and observing their banter (while trying desperately to add relevant, intelligent comments from time to time without sounding like a complete idiot.) Like Bob, both Tara (“terra” not “tawra”) and Yuri are approachable, down-to-earth people. It was such a pleasure to chat with them. They talked about some of the people they knew in the biz and Bob gave them some recommendations for people they should contact and get to know and even though I’m not yet up to the level of experience that the three of them share, I still felt comfortable contributing to the conversation, almost as a peer. Almost. I’ll keep working at it. 🙂
Quite a few minutes passed and I began to feel I was monopolizing three of the most prominent people in the room so when an opportunity arose to gracefully break away, I sought out some of the other attendees. Many there were voice actors like me who had aspirations to work in animation. Many were students of Bob’s or potential students. As we talked and got to know one another, I learned many things. One of the more surprising things I learned was how they are getting agents these days. Maybe I’m old-fashioned but I’m used to getting agents by submitting and meeting face-to-face, first with local agents, then spreading out to other regions. Quite a few people in the room, though they lived in LA, found agents online in other states and had never met them! They received auditions through email, recorded in their home studios and submitted online. It’s not a bad way to go, but as we discussed, you have to do your homework about the potential agent. More than one person had a horror story about bad representation or even getting ripped off by an agent.
We compared experiences with the pay-to-play sites. Again, maybe I’m old-fashioned but I tend to stay away from these sites. Until the P2Ps standardize their rates and try to stay closer to union rates (even for non-union jobs) I don’t feel it’s a good investment. (There is an excellent article by Jennifer Vaughn posted on Voice Over Xtra in which she compares her income and ROI on Voices.com vs. Voice123.) In fact, at the risk of being controversial, I’ll go further and say that I feel these online “marketplaces” devalue the voiceover market by offering jobs at well below market value. (Full disclosure: I’m a member of Voices.com so I see the jobs that come in and the budgets that are set by the clients. While not all jobs are under-bid, I see many that are well below market value.) As voice actors, if we value what we do and value the services we offer, we need to command a price that reflects that valuable service. Especially in today’s economy, too many actors are so hungry for work that they’ll work for any price and that serves no one (not even the client because I suspect in those cases they’re getting an inferior product). It hurts all of us in the long run. Have some standards. If you want to work for a pittance, then go get a “Joe job”, don’t accept less than what you deserve for a voiceover job that requires talent and skill. I realize not every non-union job can command union rates, but I believe that union rates are a good jumping off point for budget negotiations. And ultimately, it comes down to we actors. We have to set the standard and negotiate fair rates. If we work for less than market value, we’re just shooting ourselves in the foot, as individuals and as a community.
::stepping off my soapbox::
That’s my opinion. Many of the actors at VOX on the Rocks had other opinions and they’re all valid. We’re each coming from different viewpoints. I enjoyed learning about all of them. While I was chatting with a group of actors I was so pleasantly surprised to see a good friend from the past, Mocean Melvin. Mocean and I worked together at KNRQ radio and we haven’t seen each other in 10 years. Mocean credits me with helping him get his start in radio and voiceover but with his talent, he would have found his way here one way or another. Mocean has far surpassed me in success and fame and I am so proud that he considers me an influence in his career. He is a good friend and a talented actor. It was so nice to catch up with him!
At one point while working the room, I almost took out some poor server’s tray with my arm (he was in my blind spot!), much to the amusement of the table behind me. Luckily they laughed with me, not at me (I think) and invited me to sit down. Turns out they all work with Bill Holmes The Voiceover Doctor. We spent some time chatting about voiceover and scene study. Nice group of people! We talked for a while before I decided to mingle some more and moved to another table. Much to my surprise, I found myself sitting next to Gregg Berger! You may remember Gregg from my earlier post about my day in a Garfield recording session. Gregg didn’t remember me, but he graciously chatted and I enjoyed seeing him again.
Gregg was also talking with Joyce Castellanos, currently an agent at AVO Talent, who used to give excellent workshops about voiceover for Promos. Joyce and I are friends on Facebook but we’ve never met in person so it was a pleasure to put a face to her name. The more we talked, the more it was just a pleasure. What a nice woman!! I really enjoyed talking with her and spent most of the last hour of the mixer gabbing with her and her boyfriend Gene Cordes, who has taken over her Promo workshops. Gene is one of those men who looks a little rough around the edges but the more I talked with him, the more I wanted to put him in my pocket and keep him with me always. Not only is he knowledgeable about the promo aspect of voiceover, he is just a warm, pleasant person. I think I gave him a hug at the end of the night because I felt such a nice connection to him. Our group was joined by MJ Lallo, a voice over artist, director, producer and composer with over 24 years experience, and another Facebook friend whom I had never met. We were a merry group and we shut down the restaurant. Bob Bergen actually had to kick us out! 🙂
I am so glad I went to VOX on the Rocks. Past mixers I’ve attended have been filled with egos and people desperate in their self-promotion. I didn’t feel that at this event at all. Instead, I met a lot of people like me, working hard to make it in a very demanding, competitive field. I met actors who are ahead of me in terms of experience and success and I was able to speak to them and get to know them a little better. I met knowledgeable instructors in the field who will be resources for learning in the future. I felt proud to be part of a supportive community of actors who cared about helping each other as much as furthering their own careers. And while voiceover was a popular topic of conversation, a lot of it was just getting to know each other. None of it felt like schmoozing.
Bob, kudos to you for bringing together such a diverse group of people in such a relaxed and enjoyable environment. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention our lovely hostess Lisa Long and her beautiful restaurant Firenze. (Seriously, you gotta try their Pomegranate Martinis!) Bob hopes to turn VOX on the Rocks into a monthly, networking event. While I can’t come down on a monthly basis, I will definitely be participating often. It was just plain fun!