Dee Bradley Baker's "All to Know About Going Pro in V.O."

Avoid the “Talent Mill”

An aspiring voice actor recently conveyed to me an interest in finding an agency that promised to “find them work” while offering in-house actor “training.”

Beware the “talent agency” that purports to both “train” and “solicit work” for their actor clients.

This is a business that typically sells a series or package of on-going classes to its collection of aspiring innocents while dangling the potential of employment opportunity as bait. Not booking? Buy more classes. Repeat.

An actor should realize that this business model suffers from a split focus, profiting mostly by charging their stable of actors for in-house classes. Profits earned from a percentage of any jobs their actors may book through them brings in much less.

In fact, such an agency isn’t really incentivized to find the actors opportunity for work. Their bread and butter is selling classes.

At first, this all-in-one set up may seem a good idea. But it isn’t (well, not for the actor). Agenting and training serve the actor better if separated.

As I say elsewhere on this site, I’m not a fan of any all-in-one operation where actors are asked to pay a lot of money up front with the enticing but vague promise of later employment. Companies that charge anyone with the cash for a package of classes/training + demo production are one version of this for voice actors. It’s another kind of talent mill that preys on dreams, with the parasite in effect billing its host up front.

The myth peddled here is that anyone can pay to get quick training and a demo and they’re “good to go,” and you’re off on your career. Not booking? Just pay for more of our classes. Any reader of my site will know that class training, even if good training, is only part of what a commercial actor needs to find their traction.

Now, a good agent recommending a well-liked/ proven class or teacher that has helped their clients is a good thing. But an “agent” who charges their clients for their own in-house (probably mediocre at best) classes feels to me like a racket, a “talent mill,” if you will.

And by the way, you shouldn’t be paying an agent just to represent you either.

There are various versions of this “give me money first and then I’ll train you and/or find you work” scheme. Unscrupulous managers or “talent companies” do this. The dangled promise is: Pay them the big bucks and they’ll train you, advise you, take your money to print your promo materials, maybe get you an audition or two and possibly (if you’ve paid enough into their program) even arrange for you to attend a big, exciting pay-to-be-seen “talent showcase.” Such pay-to-audition “showcases” are extra sweet if the actor’s so-called “agent/manager” is paid by their client as well as by the “showcase” operation. Unfortunately, too many with stars in their eyes don’t know any better but to throw away their money on this.

And always read the fine print in terms of what they own of your work and time and what you owe them.

A legit agent doesn’t “find you work.” They tee up auditions and you book the work. A legit agent only earns money when you do. In effect, they work with you and for you. Not the other way around.

A non-union agent gets 15% of your buy-out session (no residuals). A union agent (there is an agents’ union for agents, the ATA) gets 10% on top of or from their client’s session fee plus often from the residuals, which they well deserve. That’s legit.

And a good agent can offer an actor good business advice or recommendations of resources for further training and development. They may provide valid creative feedback as well. But an agent’s job is to shake the trees for auditions, negotiate and schedule your auditions and work and make sure you’re paid. That’s about it.

An “agent” who “trains” their actors or requires money upfront is a conflict of interest you’d be wise to steer clear of.

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© Dee Bradley Baker 2023

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