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

Agents

WHAT IS AN AGENT?

An agent is a specialized business partner who essentially works for you to tee up opportunity (auditions) and works with you as you navigate your career (within limits). Ideally, your agent will have good relations with those who cast the kinds of projects you want to work on (not all agents get all the calls). 

Your agent’s reputation and “style” directly affect your career, they are often your interface to those that hire and pay you, so it’s a good idea to be selective and not just sign with the first who wants to work with you. With a good agent, you’ll probably get more quality auditions because they are smart, have a professional take on things and are good for clients to work with. A poor agent won’t get the audition calls, or less desirable ones or will have a manner that interferes with getting auditions and work. Plus their business “style” won’t reflect well on you.

Some novice actors think of an agent as the key to getting work, but an agent doesn’t dispense work. Ultimately, a professional actor needs an agent to get up to the plate to swing away at opportunity. An agent facilitates opportunity that you must take advantage of.

What does an agent do?

Let’s say, a new project comes up. A casting director or studio then calls up a few trusted agencies to schedule auditions. (Not all actors at an agency get to audition for a project, as the casting people might request “your ten best” from an agency, or some limit like that). Agents select and submit clients (actors) they judge to be appropriate candidates from their stable of actors to auditions. If they submit good auditions, the casting source will continue to use that agency as a talent source, so your agency has a stake in your audition as well! An agency will thus submit actors who they think have a shot. Hopefully, your agent will judge you among that group.

What else do agents do?

They also coordinate schedules of their clients (navigating around work, auditions and outside commitments you may have). They negotiate terms of your employment, defend your work situation, address any concerns with the gig, help you strategize your career (within limits) and account for and sometimes hunt down money that is owed you (also a job for your union, if it comes to that). They advise you with a keen business sense, if you have a good one. If you are the “good cop” on the job, they get to be the “bad cop” when problems arrise. Agents also oversee auditions at their agency, prepping copy, holding “in house” auditions, directing these auditions and sending them out. They also account for money that comes in and cut you a check after taking their cut of the action.

That’s a lot of work!

Why do I need or even want an agent?

Well, you can try to do all this other leg-work yourself, I suppose. But most clients don’t deal one-on-one with talent they want to contract. It’s too cumbersome and time consuming. It’s much easier to work through a trusted agent who has access to a large pool of reliable talent, shortening the time and energy of the selection process of hiring the right talent. One call and a studio has fifty potential auditions, that the agent can help them screen for. 

You thus want to be with a good agent with a good pool of talent so that the auditions come to you, rather than you having to hunt down every single opportunity yourself. Plus, with an agent, you have someone to negotiate and protect you when work comes your way. If you work union animation work, you need an agent to coordinate all the auditions and gigs that will one day hopefully flow your way.

This is why you need an agent– at least, when you and your talent are ready for that.

What does an agency earn for all this work?

Often nothing. They only get paid if you book a gig. If none of their clients book the gig, they get nothing for their time and work setting up, recording and submitting auditions. All of this has overhead of office space lease, office staff, etc. An agent makes 10% of your session fee (usually above the session fee, sometimes out of the session fee) and also often 10% of any residuals from reuse of your work (when a cartoon airs on television, for instance). They don’t see any extra money from video game work you may do (you don’t either) or from ADR work (only you do, which is why most agents don’t deal with arranging “loop troupe” ADR voice work). Remember, voice actors often only make “union scale,” which is effectively a pro actor’s “minimum wage.” An agent only makes a fraction of that amount, so they earn their living by volume. They need a lot of clients who book a fair amount or a few who book a lot to keep their office running!

An agent is someone who works with you and for you– but also for a number of other actor/clients as well.  In a way, the other clients may be your competition, but their quality is what brings clients back to your agency looking for the right voice for their project. You’re good with a little competition, right?

What about a manager?

A manager is not something I’ve personally ever chosen to make a part of my career, so I can’t speak to its benefits. A manager typically takes a much more active role in guiding and publicizing their actor/client than an agent does. A manager is less a “dispatcher/negotiator” and more a “strategizing career Svengali,” if you will. This feels more of an “on-camera” kind of thing, but maybe that’s just me. I’m not aware of any voice actors who have a manager. A manager is another 10-15% haircut off your session fee/residuals in addition to your agent’s 10% cut and dear old Uncle Sam (who may take as much as half of any and everything!). I’m not sure a voice actor needs this. Usually the money isn’t “crazy” enough to interest a manager, anyway.

Beware: Not all agents or managers are scrupulous or to be trusted. Talent agencies or even managers (usually non-union) will sometimes strongly recommend in-house “acting classes” to their clients (you) or even expensive trips to talent agent/manager/casting director “conventions.” This typically consists of the talent and parents paying for the agent/manager’s travel expenses to escort them to a gathering of “super agents” or “gate keepers” (or some such set up), the talent will be seen, snapped up and you are off to the races (so the story goes). These are excellent ways for agents and managers to extract money from their unsuspecting clients and their naive parents with little or no benefit to their client, other than sustaining an exciting fantasy acting career narrative. This may be the main way an “agency” makes their money in some cases. Another variation (also mostly in the non-union realm) is a “pay to audition” set up. There are lots of online voice over variations of this. I see these as essentially predatory scams. There may be exceptions, but I generally advise against buying into any of this.

Click to go to “Getting an Agent”

Click to go to “Working with Your Agent”

19 Responses »

  1. How do I find known vocal talent?

    I’m guessing I’d have to get in contact with their agents, but how do I find someone’s agent? If I wanted to hire an established talent, how do I find their agents? I’d love to know what type of rates to expect to pay… Is there a way to find [this out] before talking to an agent to avoid wasting their time?

    • Many “known” talent have their own website with links to their representation. They used to publish this kind of info in expensive guides you could buy each year, but I think it’s all online now– IMDB pro, for instance, I think has that kind of info, but you must subscribe to it, I think (I don’t, because I don’t need the info).

      You can also just call up their union (SAG-AFTRA) and say you are a producer who wants to potentially hire [actor X] and that you want to contact their representation. The union should also be able to bring you up to speed on how do it “legit” by going through a signatory, so the union and thus the actors are happy. There are requirements and regulations that a union requires of an employer before they can hire a union actor. If you ask SAG-AFTRA about this, they should be able to lay it out for you. These you will need in place (or at least in the works and fulfilled before the gig) for any union actor or their representation to consider your project.

      There is nothing wrong with calling up an agent or manager, describing your project and asking the terms for the talent. You can describe your project, the budget, how it will air, where and when it will record, what you are shooting for with your production and see what the agent or manager says. You may just want to pay union scale for a recorded read through that will be edited down into a presentational animatic with intent to pitch it to Studios X and Y, for instance.

      Some actors may not be open to a “ground floor” operation like this, but some might give it a try. There are “A team” voice actors who are open to working with creative upstarts or small pilots to get on the ground floor of a project that may go somewhere or that seems like a lot of fun or that has their other buddies working on it already.

      Of course, agents and managers prefer projects that appear more robust that seems a good long-term bet, but you never know. An odd little presentation put together by brilliant creatives who have a track record and want to make something fresh on their own can start the Next Big Thing (The Simpsons or South Park, for example– ever see their “pilots?” Not big projects that you’d think would go anywhere).

      You are only wasting someone’s time with an inquiry if you aren’t seriously going to do this or if you don’t know what you want or you haven’t thought through how you are actually going to make your project happen. Then you are wasting everyone’s time including your own. If you are taking a serious run at making something and it is happening, make the call and see who is interested. If they need different terms, perhaps consider sweetening the deal or changing how you are pitching it.

  2. I understand the importance of an agent but how would one, initially, go about distributing demos etc. and acquiring audition opportunities without one?

    • I can’t remember making money in V.O. without an agent, so I’ve no idea here. When I was good enough for an agent to be interested I got one. Before that, I was “paying my dues” by performing for fun and usually for free.

      If you mean to distribute your demo or promo materials directly to clients, I’ve also never tried that, either. I assume that would require a good knowledge of the businesses who hire talent directly. Nobody I’ve ever worked for does that. Can’t help you here.

      A few voice actors are able to coordinate and negotiate contract terms and oversee the paperwork themselves, but I’ve never had interest in doing that– I just want to act and create and get paid to do that. I let my agent take care of what are to me boring (but important and necessary) business details.

      An agent usually doesn’t actively market you or guide your career in the way a manager does. A manager would take a bigger cut of your pay to publicize and guide your career– though I’ve never chosen to use a manager, either.

      Aside from that, all my ideas about getting an agent are on my site.

  3. [Is it] possible to get agents in cities [other than where I reside] to help land […] Voice Acting jobs? Or do I have to move to these cities to get a chance at an agent who would help me?

    • The voice agents I’ve know don’t work remotely, unless you are already “famous” or already established in their market. If you want to work video games, TV animation or movies or whatever, I’d recommend researching shows or games you like, see where those voice actors live, who their representation is, then when you are ready (and not before), move there to establish yourself in that market.

  4. Okay but how do I get in contact with an agent?

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