Agents Under Cover

I spotted a question on social media the other day that got me thinking. A professional voiceover was applying to be featured on an online casting site and was being asked to use a different name from the name she is known by professionally – to basically go undercover!

I know this is common practice on many Pay-to-Play sites, but it seems to be gaining popularity with the growing number of online casting sites labelling themselves as an ‘Agency’ and thus offering representation to voice actors and VO folk.

This worries me … but why am I concerned?

You – a voice actor, a voiceover, the talent – call yourself what you will – want to have your profile and voice reels included on an on-line casting site, that is are advertising itself as ‘An Agency’ and opening its books to voice artists looking for representation.  All fine so far – but they’re asking their represented artists to use a different name from the one they are known by. This rings alarm bells. I don’t get it – why would a voice agent ask a voiceover to be listed under a different name from the one they’re known by and recognised by in the industry? And more importantly, why would a voice actor agree to it? Your name is your calling card, your business name. the name that valued clients know you by. Why would you be willing to hide it?

Some audiobook narrators do have a nom-de-voix that they use for certain genres – but such pseudonyms have their own persona – their own website, twitter account and social and on-line profiles;  this isn’t quite the same thing. The name on your website, your business cards, you social media profile, is your name, your professional persona. It matters that there is consistency as your portfolio grows and you become more recognised.  

We are all working in a vastly overcrowded profession, so to make our voices stand out from the crowd, our voices combined with our names and our reputation are what get us every enquiry, every job and every repeat job. We’re a package – and if you have an agent, then they should, in my opinion, market you under that persona. To force an actor to use another name is surely counter-productive. 

I know the argument is that having a nom de vox on an online casting site means that potential clients can’t search for you directly and book you direct, thereby cutting out the middle man; but surely it’s about trust.

As voiceover and impressionist Darren Altman says: 

“One word, trust. Personally I think it shows a distinct lack of trust on behalf of the voice over artist and insinuates that we will take on a repeat client and bypass the source from whence it came. That’s not my style.  I will ALWAYS refer back to the source if it came back from an agency. Personally I’m not a fan of a pseudonym at all.”

Surely a true agent works in your best interests. They actively seek work on your behalf, have a great network of contacts and are known as professional and trustworthy. They negotiate on your behalf and you pay them commission on your earnings, this is how they gain their reputation as an agent. Surely it’s in your interest as an artist, to refer any direct enquiries to them, they take all the pressure of negotiation and invoicing off your shoulders, and as this is how they earn their money, it’s in their interest to negotiate the best possible rate on your behalf. Any other way of working seems to me to do nothing to enhance the reputation and credibility of either the artist or the agent. After all, in an agency has even a moderately recognisable name on their books – they want everyone to know that the artist has chosen to be with them, not their competition.

If you get a great gig then you have the right to claim that work as your own, to use a clip (with permission of course) on your website – you earn bragging rights, but if that work appears to have been recorded by Felicity Flybynight, then you can’t add that work or that client to your portfolio – without giving the name away which totally defeats the object – so in effect, you’re giving away the right to claim that work as yours.

If the middleman, whether it be a Pay-to-Play site or an online casting site purporting to be ‘an agency’,  is charging the end client huge fees for booking a voiceover, then there is something very wrong.