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

Getting an Agent

AGENT SEARCH: WHAT DOES AN AGENT WANT? THE SAME AS YOU!

If you were interviewing prospective business partners what would you be looking for?

Well, you probably want someone who has good experience, comes well recommended, someone that seems a good person to deal with on a day to day basis, is smart, someone who inspires confidence and seems to be going places. You’d want someone who comes off as dependable, able and ready to bring in money for you both. Not needy, not unprofessional, unprepared, or flakey. You’d want a partner who obviously has their act together and who anyone would say you’d be crazy not to sign. That’s what an agent wants in an actor. And that’s what you want in an agent.

When you begin your search for an agent, you may feel at a disadvantage– even powerless. Don’t sell yourself short! The real power is ultimately the talent–YOU– and you should not sign with the first agent who says “yes” unless you feel good about their business, temperament, connections, and enthusiasm for you. They ultimately work for you, so choose wisely. If they don’t impress you or give you a good feeling, don’t be afraid to say “no thanks” and look elsewhere.

Remember an agency’s voice-over, commercial and theatrical departments may well be completely separate entities. Signing with one department doesn’t necessarily imply signing with all departments within an agency. You are targeting a specific department with your interview, but may be asked to interview with their other departments (or not).

Your new agency may elect to “hip pocket you,” which means they don’t sign you to a contract, but send you out on a trial basis. You are not obligated to be exclusive to them under this arrangement. If you start booking, they will want to sign you. When you “sign” with an agent it means they work trying to get you auditions and you only audition through them within the area defined in the contract for the duration of the contract. It’s possible to have separate agents for the same kind of work both in New York and in Los Angeles, since they generally don’t compete. But you can’t sign with two agents in the Los Angeles area for voice overs.

You can sign with an agency for a year or a few years. Often, the first contract is for a year’s exclusivity and if things go well, the next contract will be for a few years. I would advise shorter period for an agency you are new with, say, a year.

All residuals that come your way from gigs you worked while you were signed with a particular agency will come through that agency in perpetuity, whether you are still signed with them or not. They helped you get the work so they get their 10% cut. Forever. So, if you sing with one agent and eventually move on to another, but still get the residuals from the first agent, you must keep your accounting straight and honest and get the old agency their fair share (not matter the terms you left them). Failure to do this can lead to legal action. This dynamic can get even trickier and riskier with a manager you may have left but who feel the right to a claim on work you may have done since leaving that may have in some way been facilitated by the old manager. 

 

ATTRACT AN AGENT’S INTEREST BY PUTTING YOUR WORK OUT THERE. 

I’m not a fan of relying solely on “cold calling” or endless “cold send outs” of your promotional materials trying to get an agent or manager or casting director interested in you. These impersonal generic mass-mailed send outs mostly go in the trash, though it can get some action. (How many flyers from new restaurants do you throw away in a week? How about those flyers you find stuck in your windshield wipers at the mall? Do you ever find those effective?) I find it’s more effective to put your work out there and use that as the bait to attract the fish, so to speak.

Get in a play or showcase, a student film, an improv troupe, make your own web series or movie, etc. Put your incredible creative abilities out there and you will get a response– eventually. You become what you do and what you make. Also, you might ask a fellow performer you are studying with in a voice class to recommend you to their agent, if it feels right. If you knock them out with your ability, their recommendation could get you an interview with their agent.

HERE’S WHAT YOU SHOULD IDEALLY HAVE READY BEFORE YOU INTERVIEW PROSPECTIVE AGENTS:

1. Evidence that you are working at your career and are serious about pursuing this:  A professional looking resumé, some recognizable learning experience (classes, workshops, teachers), performing experience, maybe some local performances an agent could go check out. They need to see evidence that you are the real deal and worth their time and investment of attention.

2. Well-placed referrals. The right recommendation is probably more crucial than having a good resumé, demo or website.  Favorable word from casting directors or acting teachers (whose classes you’ve taken) carry especial weight. Anyone who could hire you might also be of help:  a show runner, a casting director or producer. Any of these who know you and like your work and is willing to recommend you with a call or an email is gold.

It would also be great to have a recommendation from any clients (fellow actors) signed at the prospective agency you are interviewing at (if they know your work). I don’t mean just asking an acquaintance or friend to “walk your stuff in” and get them to pressure their agent to meet with you as a favor. Nobody’s doing anyone any favors here! Your referrer(s) needs to be someone who can vouch for your talent and is willing to put their credibility on the line because they believe you are that good.  Remember: a recommendation puts your credibility on the line. A smart person never spends this thoughtlessly nor asks this of another.

3. A life. An actor should have things you love and are passionate about in addition to acting. This feeds your acting and your confidence. Relationships, hobbies, skills, travel, areas of expertise that are unique to you that you work at because you love it. 

4. Work a prospective agent could go see you in locally. This could be an improv show, a play, one-woman-show, a class showcase, a student film showing, etc.  You need to be an active, working artist putting your work out there, connecting up with those who are successfully going for it.

5. A competitive demo. See my Demo page for specifics. An openness to rework, refine or redo, if needed. Almost as important as good recommendations.

6. A professional promotional website. See my “Your Website” page.

7. An idea of what you want to be doing in five or ten years. Where do you want this career of yours to go? The clearer your picture you have of your future, the quicker the trip! Your agent will want to see you have vision for where this leads. Why are you doing this? What’s your story that brought you here? What is your plan? Who are your heroes? Share this and find out how the agent can help you get where you want to go.

But also let them know what you bring to the table for them. It’s a two way street and they should feel as lucky to have you as you feel to have them. Flip it and find this out about them as well!

8. Insightful questions to ask them: For example: How do you see me fitting in with your stable of talent? How many of “me” do you already have? How many voice over clients do you represent? (and how many would be my competition here?) What casting directors do you have a relationship with? What is this agency’s history? How often can I expect to read or be sent out? What are your expectations of a new client? Who records auditions? How do auditions work at their agency? Do they have an ISDN setup? How many of their clients email in audition Mp3’s instead of coming in to read?

Finally, show them you’ve done your homework. Research the agency as much as possible and ask about their history, agents and general operation.

6 Responses »

  1. I just graduated with a Bachelors of Music Business with an emphasis in voice. I have been in multiple operas, and have toured in Germany with an opera company. Would these be good things to put on a resume, or would they not be relevant? I have an opera resume, but no voiceover work yet. Would this be a good thing to have until I get more VO experience? Thank you so much for having this website! I am a HUGE fan of your work.

    • While having singing training can be a great asset to a voice actor and an occasionally useful skill, voice actors are only occasionally asked to sing. Singing skill on a resume’ might catch an agent’s eye, but resume’s are of limited use in this realm. Live performing experience and acting skill, the ability to improv, are much more useful in getting representation and work as a voice actor. Commercial session singers are their own insulated world and I don’t know much about getting involved with it, though I would guess that mostly skews more to a pop vibe. My understanding is that they sort of contract themselves out, not through agents.

  2. Do you have any tips on how to tell if an Agency is scamming you? What are some obvious pointers that would indicate that? Your website is incredible, thank you!

    • Quite simply: Watch the money. Know how much you should be paid going in to a session. Note the amount of money stated on the contract (get a copy or snap a photo) and how much you are actually paid after it is processed by your agent.

      You can also try and track the airing of your spot and work with the union to possibly track and watch for session and any residual payments, which are often posted for union members online as they come in.

      It’s possible for an unscrupulous agent to secretly arrange a kickback in addition to your payment (this happened to me with my non-union agent, way back when). This could violate your contract terms. Make sure you carefully read your agency agreement when you initially sign with your agent and check its terms with your union or an entertainment lawyer before signing.

      Non-union agents probably tend to be less scrupulous about treating your fairly (they’ve less oversight). They have fewer rules to follow, since no union is involved. Still, a “legit” union agent may need your oversight as well.

  3. I have a strong character demo but have been advised by my vocal coach, a producer, and other VO actors to have a good commercial demo as well before contacting an agency. The reasoning is that many agencies want to have both and book lots of commercial work.

    Is this usually the case that I should have both? Even if my goal is to be a character VO actor, does this make sense to do before trying to contact an agency?

    • When you say you have a “character” demo, I’ll take that to mean you have an animation demo. A commercial demo could also skew “character” (broader acting, more comedic) as well, though there is typically some more “normal” elements to a commercial demo, as much commercial work isn’t that broad.

      There is much more commercial voice work than animation, in general. If “character” is your strong suit (as opposed to more straight-ahead or “normal” voice acting) it’s not a bad idea to have both a commercial and animation demo, as you wouldn’t use an animation demo to get commercial work or a commercial demo to get animation work. Most union animation work originates from a handful of Los Angeles voice agencies, as I understand it. Outside of that, it’s mostly commercials, maybe other kinds of announcing and promos as well.

      I would expect most voice acting work for an agency to be commercial, even if it’s one of the few go-to places for animation voice talent. You are indeed more valuable to an agency if you have a decent commercial demo ready to go, in addition to an animation demo. If you don’t have one now you should probably make one ASAP after you sign. This is especially true if it’s not an agency known for facilitating animation work.

      I was signed by my voice agent originally with only a sub-par animation demo, BUT that was with a good recommendation from a working voice acting client of theirs who I’d taken a class with and a strong recommendation from the working animation casting director who taught the class. Plus I had a good interview. This never would have happened without the recommendations. They were taking a chance with me, even then as my one demo was not competitive.

      They must see money when signing you for it to be worth their time and effort they will have to invest. Remember an agent needs a specialized demo to sell you, otherwise, you won’t get that kind of audition or work. You can’t expect to get commercial auditions by having your agent just talk you up or refer buyers to your animation demo. If they have only an animation demo and they get few animation auditions, you won’t get much work and there’s little reason to sign you. Remember, they make their money from 10% of what you book for them. If they see chump change, there’s no reason to sign you. (Of course, if they do get lots of animation auditions and you have a killer animation demo, it may be worth it for them).

      I made a commercial demo as soon as I was signed and I worked a fair amount of commercial VO work as I established myself over a number of years in animation (I did promo VOs a bit and on-camera commercial work as well). Now, later in my career, I choose to do commercial work only occasionally. Earlier on, I didn’t have the luxury of that choice.

      Animation is a more specialized realm of voice acting and it takes a while to begin booking it, even if you are right for it, since you are competing against established, dependable, well-liked talent that will often work for scale (union minimum). Commercials are plentiful, and even with a larger pool of competition, it’s probably a quicker path to getting a VO paycheck, even if it’s not your final goal (it wasn’t mine either, but all work is good).

      If you approach an agency with a competitive animation AND commercial demo, I’d say it’s much easier “yes” for them and more voice work sooner for you. Play it how you want, but I’d say when starting out, it’s a good idea to get a competitive commercial demo ASAP, one way or the other.

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© Dee Bradley Baker 2016
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