What's In A Name . . . ?
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 - and I find it a really worrying trend. 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.
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 professional - 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 its 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, its 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 nor 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.
Of course, 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 us, then there is something very wrong.
It's your choice of course - and I know many people sign up for this without thinking beyond the possibility of earning some money as a voiceover - but for me it's not an option, and I can't help wondering whether this rule applies to everyone listed on such an online agency. Do any even moderately well-known voices on there have to chose a different name too? I wonder.
Re-inventing yourself from time to time leads to a fulfilling and continuing working life. It's easy for actors and voice actors - and I guess for artists of all kinds - to get stuck in a rut and just repeat and rehash whatever has brought you success, to play safe and to concentrate on whatever brings in the pennies. But experimenting in new areas of work, changing your perspective or finding new outlets for your abilities, is something I have found to be rewarding emotionally and professionally and also to be lucrative. You change - your skills develop - and if you have the ability to be flexible, to accept and build, to continue developing new threads and honing your craft, you realise that all of the skills you have picked up along the way help you to stay relevant and employable - even in a young industry such as audiobooks.
My first visit to the theatre was a Christmas treat in 1954. The play was 'Toad Of Toad Hall' (designed by Voytek I know now) at the old Nottingham Playhouse in Goldsmith Street - with Michael Hordern playing Toad. It was magical. I left the theatre on a cloud and announced to my astonished parents 'that is what I am going to do when I grow up!', and really, I never wavered from that ambition - and I still haven't. Every job I have ever had of any meaning has been connected to that one desire. To be an actor, to interpret language and emotion, to bring words to life.
It wasn't an easy journey to begin with. My father was of the impression that being an 'actress' was akin to walking the streets! He insisted that I went to secretarial college before drama school - and though I hated every moment of it, the touch typing has come in very handy! Fortunately, I won a scholarship to Guildhall, and got a grant as well, so with the financial burden out of the way, and the unwavering support of my half-sister and my mother, he was eventually persuaded that I was actually going to drama school, not into some den of iniquity! So - at the age of eighteen I headed for London and the start of the greatest adventure of my life.
At about the same time, my oldest friend, whom I first met at primary school at the age of seven was also embarking on a career in the theatre. She had a similar passion and though our journeys were different, our careers ran a parallel path - these paths crossing surprisingly often during a friendship spanning more than sixty years. We did drama classes together as children, were in numerous plays together, did public speaking and poetry exams. We both went to a summer school at Rose Bruford college when we were fourteen - and we were both bitten by the acting bug. I went to college, she joined the local repertory theatre as an student acting ASM, then after I graduated from Guildhall, we both ended up in the same repertory company at Nottingham Playhouse for several seasons. When she was pregnant, I stepped into her role in Stuart Burge's production of 'Sons and Lovers' for the BBC, when I was pregnant, she was my maternity cover at Central television - and when I returned from maternity leave, she and I worked together at Central for several years. We both had young families by this time, so when Central stopped in vision live continuity, our options were a little limited - going back to treading the boards wasn't really viable for either of us, but we both found a way to use our skills in different ways and we stayed in touch, meeting when we could. I went into television production, she retrained as a drama teacher (some years later, I directed a student production at the school where she was head of drama). Latterly she travelled the world as a LAMDA examiner - I got into audiobooks and voiceover - and so it continues.
We have re-invented ourselves yet again. Both returning to our roots!
The day after my birthday - we went to our monthly 'Speakeasy' voice and accent class at our local theatre. We are years older than the vast majority of participants, two silver haired women with a few creaking joints - both of us once again jobbing actors - quoting passages from Shakespeare to each other (from memory I may add) loving what we do, supporting each other and enjoying ourselves while continuing to explore and discover. My pal Evadne Fisher and I, developing our skills, honing and practising our craft - and acknowledging that re-inventing yourself every now and then is a really good idea - and that we are both very lucky!
Photo Credit: Paul Haynes
I've gleaned quite a lot of knowledge over the years, knowledge that might be of interest to others, especially authors, actors and voice actors. Because I read so much, for pleasure and professionally, I also occasionally write reviews of what I read - so they're here too.
My opinions are mine and my views are my own!