Connie Terwilliger – ISDN Voice Talent

March 2, 2010

Fast! Good! Cheap?

Filed under: Auditioning, Marketing, Musings, Negotiating — connieterwilliger @ 4:38 pm

You know this adage – Fast, Good, Cheap – Pick any Two? Technological advances are putting this saying to the test – with people wanting (and many times getting) all three. The principal of the “Long Tail” – originally used to describe a retailing concept of selling a large number of unique items in relatively small quantities – is another factor in the evolution of this axiom. Apply the long tail to voiceovers and it means creating lots and lots of product that will be seen or heard by fewer and fewer people. Think about the growing number of niche television, radio, YouTube channels. Fewer eyeball and ears? Maybe. Maybe not – considering the population of the world.

So how is this affecting Fast, Good, Cheap?


When it comes to the voiceover business, particularly at the first stage – voiceover auditions – Fast reigns supreme. With online casting (either through agents or Pay to Play sites), you are expected to get your auditions in as soon as humanly possible. If you work a day job and are trying to pursue VO work on the side, this means that in some cases, the auditions are closed before you even have a chance to sort through them.

You can’t let your email collect during the day and only chose to check it now and then. The BlackBerry and iPhone are part of your tools these days. Agents and clients simply expect that you will be available and be able to respond. You need to be Fast.


But along with Fast, your audition must be Good. You need to know how to lay down a couple of good takes with contrasting reads in the shortest amount of time so that you can deliver it Fast. And the simple fact is that you need to do this in a vacuum – this is the reality of today’s online casting. Actually – creating the final product these days is also frequently self-directed, so learning how to create Good reads that are “right” for the job is paramount. You have to wear all the hats – writer, producer, director and talent. Listen to all of those voices in your head and get a Good audition out Fast.

This may be hard to do for the seasoned (read older) talent used to directed auditions in studios with other actual living breathing people around. It may be hard for the newer talent who may not know exactly where they fit and what auditions they should be doing. Both scenarios will result in auditions that are not quite “Good” enough.


Unfortunately, with the reality of online casting and delivery of final product combined with the depressed economy and the trend toward niche marketing, there are more and more jobs demanding all three – Fast, Good and Cheap.

The end clients are “selling” less of more. Which means one of two things – they need to charge more for their product, or they need to spend less on everything else. As media gets more and more splintered, with fewer eyeballs and ears seeing or hearing the end product, it is going to be harder and harder to maintain rates. Eyeballs and shelf-life are two ways that rates have traditionally been negotiated. Volume and frequency of work are other ways to caress a budget or bid. But when it comes to shelf-life, even if a spot or a project is supposed to be for a limited audience and short-lived, consider that once something is posted online, it can live forever.

There will always be higher visibility projects or projects with longer shelf-life, or more distribution channels, so for the cream of the crop, there will still be mortgage money coming in. But working Cheap, or working for less than established norms, is becoming more and more common.

There are talented voiceover folk (experienced and newbies) who meet the Fast part by being one of the first few auditions; who meet the Good part by knowing how to find the “right” read; and who also meet the Cheap part by accepting a sub-par rate.

The tricky part in all of this is that we are in the middle of a huge change in the way we all do business, so what was once a sub-par rate may end up as accepted. While it has become easier to produce multimedia Fast, producing Good media is still an art form. Which is why it shouldn’t be done on the Cheap.



  1. Connie, you’ve picked one of my favorite topics: rates! I just stepped away from a discussion about “Odesk”-type of rates on the Working Voice-Actor LinkedIn Group. I encountered a number of voice-talents who were actually justifying $20 rates for a voice-over gig. The argument being that these bargain basement fees are the result of capitalism. “Socialism/Communism” doesn’t work,” wrote one respondent.

    Perhaps it’s because I’m originally from Europe, but I am used to colleagues arguing in favor of fair rates which allow people to pay their bills, support their families and their communities and even save some for a rainy day. That’s why I want to see reasonable minimum rates, and because of that, some participants called me a proponent of price fixing. I guess that’s worse than working for a symbolic fee and not being able to make ends meet.

    Of course this issue is not unique to this industry. My wife, a flutist, is constantly competing with other flute teachers in her neck of the woods, who offer lessons at a third of what she’s is charging. It turns out that these cheap rate teachers either have no idea of what the going rate is, or they don’t have to make a living as a teacher. They are supported by their partner, and what they make from teaching is just gravy. I have a feeling that it’s the same in our voice-over community.

    The cost of living is going up and our rates are going down. Going for the quick buck is also the result of a way if thinking that focuses on the individual and not on the community. I call this type of thinking a “ME attitude” versus a “WE attitude”. “As long as MY needs are met, I’m okay. I am not responsible for the rest…” seems to be the modus operandi.

    “$20 is a tankful of gas for me and, these days, a tankful of gas is a lot in my world,” wrote someone. I want to know what type of car this person is driving and where I can fill up my tank for twenty bucks!

    I also feel that the rise of Pay-to-Plays has more than a little to do with the erosion of rates. Perhaps it’s me, but doesn’t it strike you as odd that almost every project on is in the $100-$250 budget range, regardless of the nature of the job? Movie trailers, TV commercials, audio books…. going once, going twice…. SOLD to the lowest bidder! What happened to full buy-outs and retainers? What happened to the folks who stood up for the talent they represent, demanding a fair fee?

    Thankfully, I have also heard other stories. I read about a voice-seeker the other day, who said that we would never ever hire a talent at $200 per hour. “If it’s that cheap, it can’t be good,” he said. Instead, he always went to an agent and always hired Union talent. “I might be paying more,” he said, “but ultimately, quality pays for itself.”

    That’s the thing some people don’t get. If you add tremendous value, you deserve to be compensated accordingly. If you start accepting bargain basement rates, you tell the world that you believe that that’s acceptable. In China, $20 might be a nice chunk of money. But life’s a lot cheaper over there.

    In the United States, millions can’t afford health insurance and need to work two jobs in order to get by. Even people with health insurance end up going bankrupt because not everything is covered. I guess that’s capitalism too. It’s the high price of CHEAP. It’s going down FAST, and it ain’t GOOD!

    Comment by Paul Strikwerda — March 3, 2010 @ 6:17 pm

  2. Interesting thoughts, Connie, but it sounds pretty bleak.

    Getting balled up in the fast, good or cheap syndrome seems risky business to me. There must be a better way.

    Comment by steve hammill — March 3, 2010 @ 9:58 pm

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