Why I NEVER want to subscribe to Voice123 again... but still may have to

I have just finished my first (and hopefully last) Premium subscription to Voice123. At the cost of $395, what this generally entailed me to is for the past year I would get auditions from their "Smart Cast" system and would be more likely to get more private auditions than non-paying members. Literally weeks into my subscription however, I had my doubts about whether the site was right for me and soon after that I knew in my heart that after my year was up I would not want to go through it all again. Wondering why? Read on...

My time on Voice123 can be broken into two chapters – a long one and a short one: the first eleven months and the final month respectively. So I'll start with chapter one first. For a start, I never really got many emails about jobs to audition for. After years of study, several trips to the USA including the most recent one in which I had my demos professionally made, I was excited at the prospect of finally getting into the game and auditioning. I was disappointed by how few emails I got. I don't think I ever got more than 10 in a week from Voice123. You have to understand, this isn't me saying, "I did no more than 10 auditions a week from this site", I am talking about just the emails telling me about potential jobs I could possibly be right to audition for. I would then have to still see if I fit the specs and was right for the job and then choose whether to audition or not. The single most auditions from the site that I submitted in a single week was 5.

The site frequently warns you to only audition if you think you are right for the job and not to audition for everything, as this can ironically lead to them sending you fewer auditions. However, when I joined the site, I was not sure of how often they would be sending me auditions. When I got my first audition after a day of signing up, even though I didn't feel particularly right for it, it also wasn't particularly unsuited to me either, plus it was for a lot of money, so I went for it.

Funnily enough, my audition got a 4 out of 4 star rating and I was awarded the job. To cut a long story short however, it turned out I wasn't especially right for it and the requirements of the job changed after I was given it. So I no longer fitted what was needed and thus it was decided mutually that they should get somebody else. I don't blame the client, they didn't blame me, it was a very pleasant parting of ways and I was even compensated financially for the work I had done. So what looked like a great start for Voice123 turned sour soon after. I didn't get another gig on there for quite a while after that.

When registering, Voice123 had a very rigorous series of questions to understand what kind of voice actor you are: to get a grasp of your age, accent, types of VO you do and don't do, your equipment setup and much, much more. This is allows their "Smart Cast" system to do its thing, robotically sending audition invitations to talent by matching the key words in a job to your profile. I was impressed by this thorough setup and filtering system in its attempts to get me paired up with the right auditions. I felt that though I may get fewer auditions, when I do get them, they'll be really great for me and I'll stand a very good chance of winning the job.

Originally I signed up to receive emails from Voice123 telling me about a summary of the jobs that were available on the site: ones I was invited to and ones I wasn't invited to. Even though I still couldn't audition for the ones I wasn't invited to, the idea is I could check whether I needed to tweak my profile to make sure I was included on more auditions I wanted or excluded from ones I wasn't right for but kept getting told about.

I didn't find this function as useful or as practical as it may initially sound but I was still interested about the type of work that Voice123 recruits for, what companies and brands use it and so on. One day, a few weeks in, I was looking through jobs I wasn't invited to and I saw a job with this in its title:

"UK RP British Accent 25yo male "

I was flabbergasted! This was and still is a great single sentence summary of me. I quickly thought, "Ah, I bet they need the voice actor to go to a studio that's miles away from me or to have an ISDN line or something like that." I clicked on the job, looked at it carefully and saw that I was absolutely perfect for it, there was no reason for me to be excluded from this job... and yet I was. Well... I actually was 24 years and 46 weeks old (my 25th birthday being 6 weeks away). I just couldn't believe it, I wondered what more I could possibly put on my profile after all of those pedantic specifications. A not so smart cast indeed. Needless to say I turned off those emails not long afterwards. Luckily, this story had a very happy ending, the next day the exact same job was posted on Voices.com (on there it said 20-25 year old so there really was no reason to be excluded), I auditioned for it and got it: it was my first job on Voices.com (within 2 weeks of registering there) and was a UK commercial for Smirnoff on Spotify. Yay!

Somewhat astonishingly, I haven't even gotten to the thing that bothers me most, what I believe to be Voice123's biggest fault: its ratings system.

Though I hope to make this blog merely my opinion, about my personal experience and not talk about my beliefs as though they are fact, please forgive me if I start to go off-track when I start talking about the ratings system on Voice123.

As I briefly mentioned, it is a 4 star system – the fact it is not a 5 star system immediately strikes me as odd – where an employer has the option to rate each individual audition. All of your ratings are then bundled into an average "ranked score". Your individual ratings and your ranked score are private, known only to you. This system can be used by the employer as a filter to decide who is best and for the voice actor it can be used as feedback and be a nice little ego boost too if it's a good score. If this is all it was, I would be fine with that... but it's not.

See, the ratings system actually affects HOW MANY auditions voice actors will get. If your average ranking score is higher than the average of all the average ranking scores, then you will be more likely to get more auditions and if it is lower, you will more likely to get fewer auditions. Again, this sounds like there is a sensible logic to it, doesn't it? Well...

The problem is, not everyone in charge of hiring on Voice123 is a seasoned director, producer, casting director etc. They can be college students, independent business owners or Dave from marketing who's been tasked with finding a voice for a new internal human resources video – people who may not know what they are after or know what a good voice is, they really may not care about having to find one or they may even be just looking for the cheapest one potentially. I understand that some people may not know where to get professional voice actors or can't afford producers or whatever, that's fine, no problem. I also have no quarrel with these people having an opinion on what they think of the voices they hear or choosing one they think is best for their project, there's nothing wrong with that either. My issue is that the opinion of such people shouldn't influence how many auditions a voice actor gets.

I am wary of the Internet and am aware of the dangers of it, I am very aware that with the anonymity it creates, a troll mentality can also be created even in the most normal of people. Even on the Voice123 rating system, I noticed a clear troll mentality. By this I mean, a bizarrely large amount of people were given a very low rating on a number of jobs.

Though ratings are private, on the jobs you audition for you can actually read a bit into what ratings were given out to everyone else on the whole, not just yours. In written form, the explanation of how one can do this is boring and abstract – so I'll just say you are told your score, how many others got the same score as you and how high amongst all the ratings you were placed (you are placed top of all the people with the same score as you) – and from this information you can identify some of the other scores given.

I found frequently that when I was given a low rating, a very large amount of others were as well. I am not trying to pretend that I am some perfect voice actor who always should be given 4 out of 4 stars. I know that I may do better in some auditions than in others and I also know that sometimes I may just not be the kind of thing they are looking for. But I think if you look at some of these genuine examples from my auditions, you will understand and see for yourself the kind of troll mentality I am talking about:

10 out of 23 people given 1 star (43.48%)

13 out of 32 people given 1 star (31.25%)

23 out of 34 people given 1 star (67.65%)

19 out of 50 people given 1 star (38%)

16 out of 35 people given 1 star (45.71%)

45 out of 66 people given 2 stars (68.18%)

7 out of 16 people given a 1 star (43.75%)

6 out of 14 people given a 1 star (42.86%)

Think of the last 10 restaurants you went to, dinners you ate, movies or TV shows you watched, books you read, video games you played, websites you visited or anything else that you feel you could evaluate with a 4 star rating. Maybe I'm just easy to please or a bit generous but I like to think that that mostly people would give 3 stars and then 2 stars, there would be a few 4 stars given out and only for the truly terrible would a 1 star be given. I think I would only give a restaurant a 1 star if there was a rat in my soup... and it would have to be a poorly seasoned one at that. Can you imagine giving 30-70% of things in the world a 1 out of 4? That's stating that for every 10 things in the world, between 3 and 7 of them cannot possibly be worse. It seems ridiculous to me.

However, there were some jobs that looked to have been more sensibly rated or they may have been ranked with more care. On one job where I got 2 stars, only 9 out of 45 people were given this rating. Now, maybe 30 people were given 1 star but I don't know that, so for that job, I did have to question whether I didn't do a great job and/or if I wasn't really suited for it. On another job, 5 people auditioned, three people including me got 3 stars,  one person got 4 stars and the final guy probably got a 2 star (though he may have gotten a 1 star). A bunch of jobs had all the ratings as 4 stars and 3 stars. In a final example, one person got a 4 star rating, four people got a 3 star rating and the other five people got either 1 star or 2 star ratings. Half the people were given a score in the top half of ratings and half in the lower half of ratings. So the crazy ratings didn't happen all the time but they did happen a lot.

In fairness to Voice123, with regards to their rating system they state on their website things such as for 3 stars " At times, voice seekers will use this instead of 4 stars, while they make up their mind on who they want to hire", also " A 2 star ranking is neither great nor is it bad. It is an average rank" and that a 1 star rating "means you are not likely to be hired for that particular project. While this ranking may not be great to get, it doesn't necessarily mean you did horrible. It could just mean that you are not a good fit for what the client has in mind. Getting a few of these rankings is nothing to be too concerned about" and employers are probably told about the system this way. Talent are also assured the average ranking factors in the potential tough ratings from clients, though I found with my first few ratings that the actual mean average of my ratings and my ranking score were exactly the same (unfortunately now I am unable to see if that is still true or not). So their reassurances do take some of the wackiness and sting out of the ratings. I just personally feel it goes against what you intuitively would believe about a 4 star system (the bottom two scores are bad and the top two scores are good) and that with a 5 star system, you don't really need any explaining or fudging around with intuition. Plus, this doesn't alter the types of people giving the ratings and it doesn't change that the ranking system affects the number of auditions you get.

Often the personal messages and private invitations you get via the site are actually generic. Your name is not included in the message, no details are actually specific to you, it's just a copied and pasted letter, sent to as many people who in at least some small way fit their criteria. Often I felt such messages were just fishing for whoever is cheapest.

One day I was privately auditioned for a job by a production company that work on the opening titles for a TV show that I love, so they were definitely very professional. What got me even more excited is that not only did they write my name in the message (I told you I was easy to please) but they also referred to a specific part of my demo that I should try to replicate in the audition, as it would be a good fit for the project, so they really did reach out to me in a personal way. I did my best to create the same kind of vibe and thought I did a good job. A few days later I noticed my average rating had gone down and it was because of a rating from this job.

In addition to getting a sense of how people are rated, you can also see how many people were invited privately and how many via the "Smart Cast". This client had asked 8 people including myself privately to audition and they also received some auditions via the "Smart Cast" system (I can't remember how many but it's not relevant). I looked at the job and saw that I had 1 star... but that 7 other people were also given this rating and that I was 1st out of 8. I imagine you have drawn the same conclusions as me: the 8 people who were rated were probably all of the privately invited people; they were probably also chosen quite specifically, their demos had been listened to as mine had been and they were probably even told how to do the audition based off their demo as I had been instructed to do so... yet we were all given a 1 out of 4 stars. Surely at least 1 of the 8 people were better than a 1 star? This negative mentality even existed in a highly professional company.

My final story about the ratings: a job came in asking for the voice of a cartoon dog. The character was a "refined British sailor", "a scholar", "a bit of a know-it-all but not prideful" and who is "kind and willing to teach". I thought this sounded brilliant, I felt so much of it sounded like me. I clicked on a picture of the character with my fingers crossed... and I could clearly imagine my voice coming out of this dog (a feeling I don't often have). I thought I was a really great fit for this character and I thought my audition was very good and reflected that. A few days later, I noticed my average ranking had lowered and I had been given 2 stars. I was crushed. I really thought that not only would I get a good rating for this but that I would get the job too. I don't get my hopes up like that often, I know how the game of acting works, but this one felt so right... I felt as strongly about this as I did the 25 year old UK RP British Male. How could I be so wrong?

A week or so later, I had a message from the client who posted the job. She said my audition was really great and that she would like to hire me for the gig. I was thrilled... but also confused. When writing to her I didn't mention how low ratings can affect how many auditions I get but after thanking her, I did include a phrase akin to, "Since I got 2 out of 4 stars I thought you didn't like my audition and I was out of the running, so this was a wonderful surprise." She told me that they do the stars a little differently and that they actually loved my read (I noticed afterwards that myself and only one other person were given ratings despite a number more auditioning and that we were each given 2 stars). She was always very pleasant and lovely to work with and I had great fun doing the job. The fact that she had her own way of casting people was totally fine, nothing wrong with being a bit different and you have to do whatever works for you in this world, so I hold nothing against her. Yet because a 2 star at the time lowered my average and because my average affects how many auditions I get, somehow a job type that was really suited to me, that I was told I did a great job on and was actually awarded... ultimately would have led to me being less likely to receive auditions. That's just crazy.

Anyway, that's enough about the ratings, so I won't bring them up again and I'll move onto the other, smaller observations I had about the site. A minor problem I felt is that on the site it's hard to know just how much you get yourself out there, how many people are listening to your demos or how often people are checking out your profile or even whether they listen to your audition. Plus not many of my auditions were given any rating (crumbs, I just mentioned the ratings again). However, I did recently Google myself and I noticed my Voice123 profile appeared very high in the search results, so they must do good work to make you and your voice more findable.

Also to give credit to Voice123, I did get a large number of private messages and invitations, so on the site I must have been fairly findable too, even though one time when I searched for a British English accented, young adult Male I found listed ahead of me an American chap I knew who if I'm not mistaken was over twice my age. Yet as I have already said, a large number of these messages were impersonal, mass-produced and felt like they were just fishing for cheap talent to use. The messages didn't seem to be stored on the site either, so if I wanted to keep my messages I definitely had to keep the emails, as that was my only copy. Once again, you can read into certain things and often I could see a client who had not posted (m)any jobs and yet they also had sent out dozens or even hundreds of private messages. It's likely this was a big case of "copy, paste, send and repeat".

I also was a tad disappointed at just how poor the English was in a large number of these letters, on some job postings or even from Voice123 themselves. Although there are many foreign clients who use the site for whom English may not be a first language, the issue overall seemed more frequent than I felt it should have been and it wasn't exclusive to foreign clients. I know that we all makes mistakes and things slip through the cracks, I will have hit the space bar twice or made a typo somewhere in all of this, Voice123 earlier stated "did horrible" instead of "did horribly" but there were big, glaring errors often. Voice123 once asked me "Where you awarded this job?" and their final "renew your subscription now" reminder email lacked apostrophes. Are jobs and letters not proof-read by the site before posting? I was led to believe when joining that Voice123 were overall a bit more professional and that their jobs would be as well, but I didn't really get that feeling because of this.

Another small concern of mine is that Voice123 are merely an intermediary who initially pair up a client to a talent. Once a job is awarded everything is pretty much done outside of the site and because of this I felt there was less of a guarantee of payment. I had one job where it took 6 months for me to get paid. This was down to a tiny oversight on their part, there was no hostility or resistance and I'm sure if anything really bad ever happens, Voice123 are on your side very quickly but it was still a niggle I had in the back of my mind.

A definite positive for Voice123, especially compared to its rival Voices.com, was that there was noticeably less price quoting for jobs. On most jobs I saw on the site, a client would post what they are willing to pay and it would be a single figure. I don't like the idea of a bidding war; an actor may not get a job because he's not right for it or may not get it because he's hard to work with but he should never be excluded from a job because he "isn't cheap enough". I was very glad for the most part there weren't many range quotes used.

Speaking of the money, I was led to believe Voice123 had better paying jobs compared to its rivals too. To an extent, this seemed as though it was true. I definitely did see some high paying gigs on there and a lot of smaller gigs that had a good price. I even on two occasions noticed jobs that were on Voice123 and on Voices.com and each time Voice123 had a higher quote (though one time where Voice123 had a smaller quote). But I felt even if they paid more money, they didn't pay particularly much more, still didn't match union rates well and there were a large number of jobs with really low pay or even none.

The auditions also had a limit to how many people could submit auditions for that job. This would vary from job to job and be set from the start. It sounds fair enough, a person may not want to sit down and listen to more than 50 people. The problem is this leads to people having to submit right away in order to have a chance. You can't take a walk and mull the script over. If you're not near your equipment at the time or live in a time zone where you're sleeping at the time of the job posting, tough luck, it can cost you. One time when I got the email informing me of a new job, over 30 people had already submitted for it. Late auditions are penalised and affect how many auditions you get in future, so I never sent any late. A timed deadline and an option for the client to close off auditions once they feel there are enough submitted auditions would seem preferable.

I briefly touched upon my disappointment of not getting many audition messages and then how few of those auditions were ones I was then right to submit for. I had paid a higher registration fee (compared to rival sites), was asked all of those questions and even had a ranking in the top third of Voice123 users and yet not only did I not get many jobs but they were not particularly more suited to me either. I found that so many jobs were just "after a voice". As opposed to wanting "a Male aged 30-40, British accent, deeper voiced but still guy next door..." many different accents were listed, many different age groups were listed, they didn't really know who or what they wanted. I know the whole point of an audition is that the client doesn't know exactly what they want but often the net would be cast so wide, it was kind of ludicrous. Even when they did know what they wanted and it wasn't me, I still often heard about it.

I'm aware in the previous paragraph I brought up rankings again, so let me touch upon them a final time and then I'll be done. I felt these unspecific jobs could be the ones responsible for the troll ratings and my dwindling ranking score, so I took Voice123's advice to only audition if you feel right for it very much to heart and reduced my audition output. I noticed after this my ranking started to improve but I was then getting fewer emails. At this point, I didn't know what to do: if I auditioned for most of the things I got, I would get more of those low ratings and thus receive fewer auditions but by not auditioning much in the first place I would then get fewer auditions it seemed. I like a challenge so long as there is a way to win the game. But I just couldn't see a way to win this, I got really in my head about it and from that point, I kind of stopped caring. I said to myself, "Just keep trying your best, that's all you can do".

There definitely was a mistake I made with the site and this is what leads me into that (much, much smaller) second chapter about the final month. During my first eleven months the only auditions I received were for British English (my natural language/accent) ones. However, I can do a believable American accent and despite the American market being much more competitive, I would like to do auditions for a few of those too if I fit the criteria. For a few auditions I had been able to throw in a few accents and I even did a privately invited job with an American accent. Anyway, I can't remember what happened when I joined but British English is the only language I had marked upon registration. I don't know whether I was only allowed one at first or whether I overlooked it at the time or the site changed to allow more language options. I suspect I thought it was more of a user interface question (how I want my words spelled), as opposed to a question about my ability to do accents (there is a section for accents in their questions). Whatever way you look at it, there was error on my part. So with a bit more than a month left on my annual pass, I discovered I was able to add American English to my languages. It still wasn't super obvious on the settings but it was there and I felt silly. I thought it would make an interesting experiment to see how much of an effect this would have on the number of auditions I get and the relevance of the auditions I had.

Right away, I started to get more emails about potential auditions and after the first weekday the records for "most emails in a week" and "most auditions submitted in a week" were broken. It kind of reset everything, as I think the "Smart Cast" system had to get used to what kind of things I needed to submit for and what I was good at it, so it threw A LOT my way. I, in turn, auditioned for a lot more stuff than I probably normally would have done in response. Afterwards both the "Smart Cast" system and myself mellowed a bit. But questions still remained whether anything would come from these auditions and what other impact there would be as a result of this change.

For a start, getting more auditions does not change how the ratings system works and it also does not fix the troll mentality. Remember, the American market is also more competitive and that need to get your audition in quickly. I found a number of times the quota on a job had been filled by the time I looked at it and not always because of timezones. That need to rush was more evident in the final month. I was still getting messages for many, many auditions that were not relevant to me and two of the ones I submitted for on my first day had typos.

Did the language/accent change amount to anything? Well, I had started to average about 5 or 6 auditions a week, which was previously my maximum, so even if I had to wade through a lot of garbage to get there, that was cool. With my restricted auditioning methods, my ranking went up into the top quarter of users and I even got a $100 job directly as a result of that change. However, that was it. Scaling that up to a whole year, does an extra $100 a month (and that's an estimate on something that is hardly a guarantee in the first place) make it worth it all?

 A lot of veteran voice actors will tell you that you should never pay to audition and of course, they are absolutely right. In fairness to these pay-to-play websites, if they are giving you so many auditions that you are paying only a few cents for each audition, then you are almost auditioning for free. After 11 months I did roughly 75 auditions. That's $5.27 per audition. Hardly close to free. But after the full 12 months I had done roughly 110 auditions, which is $3.59 per audition. If I scaled up that final month to estimate what year of that would have been like, you get $0.97 per audition. A noticeable improvement but not really what I would call close to free. What is very, very good about Voice123 though, is that at least when you get a job, what you quote for is what you get, Voice123 only take money from voice actors via their subscriptions supposedly and don't have a notorious reputation for skimming off the top like Voices.com do, so that's very nice.

My overall experience with Voice123 was a less than positive one. If nothing changes, I don't want to sign up ever again. However, the final auditions I submitted in my finals days could still amount to something. If I was awarded another job thanks to my USA language change, I may have to reconsider things. A time will also come where I will need absolutely as many opportunities coming in as possible... and when that time comes, I may have no choice but to sign up once more.

So to conclude, I want to reiterate this was just my personal experience and is merely my personal opinion. The site may favour certain types of voice actors better than others, I felt there were definitely more opportunities for American voice actors than British ones... or at least for people who can do an American accent. Maybe that's just it, maybe for Beau Bridgland, Voice123 is not a good fit but for someone else, it's everything they need. I'm not saying Voice123 is a universally terrible website and that nobody should be signing up to it. It clearly varies person-to-person. There definitely were things about the site that I liked and I am incredibly grateful to them for giving this kid in a town in the middle of nowhere in England some gigs and some fun auditions. I even made several times my registration fee back. I just felt that outside of that, I didn't really get my money's worth. It wasn't worth the hassle and frustration. There is more to life than money. There are classes and networking events that cost less than a Voice123 subscription, yet I could get work resulting from those and have a ton more fun as well. Attend several of them for the same price as a Voice123 subscription and you are all sorted. I did not enjoy my Voice123 experience and I hope that I do not have to sign up again. If there is anyone who is considering joining the site or not been on it for long, I just want to make sure those people (or even Voice123 veterans) know what they could be getting into.

Posted on October 29, 2015 and filed under Voice Acting.