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Business of VO: Agent 2020

with Liz Atherton

VO Boss host Anne Ganguzza and special guest host, Liz Atherton, turn up the volume together in this podcast discussing the world of agenting. From phone throwing, to sleepless nights, to P2Ps, and life after the August 2017 VO tsunami (when VoiceBank changed hands to, the changes on the VO landscape have had a powerful effect on talent and agents. Liz Atherton, with her 20+ years in the industry as an agent, and now casting software developer, and CampVO director, provides thought-provoking insight into the agent side of the business.


Quick Concepts from Today’s Episode:

  1. VO talent – you are an entrepreneur!

  2. All-in or nothing – a recipe for success but not without risk.

  3. The tsunami that hit the VO and On-Camera world is still affecting your career.

  4. Software – launching in the Spring

  5. VO Boss podcast strives to be honest and real.

  6. Voice, Technical, Network – everyone must step up to the bar.

  7. Sidenote:  Tri-booth – brainchild or George Whittam and Rick Wasserman, is awesome –

  8. they even included a coffee cup holder!

  9. Your VO PSA:  We know you love coffee – be sure to follow-up with lots of water.

  10. An agent is your best advocate, filter and shield, not to mention your gateway to better auditions.

  11. Without agents, where are the protections for rates, contracts, etc?

  12. Casting Directors like working with agents – auditions are vetted and screened.

  13. Agents work their butts off – show them the love!

  14. 2.5 years ago there were 220 VO-only agencies;  this has likely dropped by half.

  15. Appreciate your agent – they work for you 24/7!

  16. Let’s talk about what differentiates the agencies.

  17. NEVER talk about auditions – NEVER!

  18. Respect the agent – understand they have a job to do – help them and you are helping yourself.

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Referenced in this Episode

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  2. Recorded in my amazing Tri Booth

  3. Recorded on ipDTL

  4. Awesome podcast editing by: Carl Bahner

Full Episode Transcript

>> It’s time to take your business to the next level, the BOSS level! These are the premier business owner strategies and successes being utilized by the industry’s top talent today. Rock your business like a BOSS, a VO BOSS. Now let’s welcome your host Anne Ganguzza.

Anne: Welcome everybody to the VO BOSS podcast. I’m your host, Anne Ganguzza, along with my extra special, amazing, special guest cohost, the Queen Bee herself, Liz Atherton. Yay!

Liz: Woo!

Anne: Liz, tech entrepreneur and founder of TAG Talent and CastVoices, I am so beyond excited to have you cohost with me to kickstart this 2020 year of awesome things that are going to happen for all the VO BOSSes. So thank you so much.

Liz: I am so glad to be here. My goodness. What a thrill it was. I was glad you called. I was like sure, let’s try this puppy out. And so thank you. [laughs] I’m just going to warn you, I’m not a voiceover talent, so I am in awe as you speak. And what you’re going to hear is my Texas accent, because there’s not a dern thing I can do about it, so there we go.

Anne: But that’s what is so endearing.

[both laugh]

Anne: Those who know and love you, yes, those who know and love you, it is right on brand for the Queen Bee herself.

Liz: [laughs] Isn’t that the truth?

Anne: [laughs] I will tell you, when I was looking for cohosts to work with me, for the year of 2020, and I really feel like you, you fit the bill as a strong female entrepreneur, and I was so happy when you said yes, you wanted to cohost. For the listeners out there that may or may not – I can’t believe they don’t know you, but for those that don’t know Liz, tell us a little bit about yourself and your entrepreneurship in this voiceover industry.

Liz: Well let me start off with, every entrepreneur is on the spectrum somewhere because we’re crazy.

You know, I don’t think any of us that are entrepreneurs would disagree. We are all in or nothing. But I started The Atherton Group, which we call TAG Talent Agency, gosh, about 25, 26 years ago, and I was at the helm until last year. And I left TAG. Actually the voiceover was taken over by Jimmy Coble and the on camera was taken over by Jorge Elizondo and Tony Wasson. And they’re now running their ship there, but I ran it for about 25 years. And then midway along there, I think I was the first or the second talent agency in the world to have a website. And so when I started TAG, I had – I worked in high tech before that. I was a project manager for a Fortune 10 company. And started TAG and we started a website. That was kind of cool to be one of the first ones out there. But behind the scenes, I really wanted it to run very efficiently and productively. And we built this really nice machine that has now turned into CastVoices. We had things in there that we could do submission tools and reviews and things like that. So about 2.5 years ago when the tsunami hid the voiceover world –

Anne: [laughs]

Liz: I know, right?

Anne: Which one?

Liz: I know. Well, there you go. It was interesting because it didn’t just his voiceover world. It also hit the on camera world, and not a lot of the voiceover talent I know cross over into both worlds. But I had started my talent agency as an on-camera talent agency first, and voiceover came along later. For those that don’t know, behind the scenes, to get into voiceover work, there are software platforms out there that are gateways between the talent and producers. Both of those kind of got hit. We had this little software we were running when we were running TAG, and we decided to start CastVoices. That was about 2.5 years ago and now I can actually say we are going to be rolling that puppy out in the spring. As an entrepreneur, I had TAG for 25 years, and then CastVoices now is – it’s been around several years, but it’s now official. And then I also put on my crazy hat and decided to roll out a camp, the crazy director –

Anne: Camp director.

Liz: – of camp VO. A camp director, right, of Camp Crazy.

Anne: I am super excited for that one. I’ll be seeing you in May for sure.

Liz: I can’t wait. I mean, aside from the work to get it done, literally everybody that’s endearing to me is part of the program. I just can’t wait. I just think we’re gonna have the best time in the world and get a lot of learning and all that kind of good stuff. But I kind of got off topic there. Back to the entrepreneur stuff.

Anne: [laughs] But that’s an entrepreneurial vision that you had, right, to start a VO camp, something super different in this industry, which is also really cool. I like that. I think it’s important.

Liz: I’m real excited about it.

Anne: I think it’s important as an entrepreneur to have those really different, innovative ideas out there. That’s what makes you stand out. That’s what really, I think, speaks to the entrepreneurial spirit.

Liz: Look at you. Isn’t that the pot calling the kettle black? I mean, how many businesses do you have, my dear?

Anne: I have a few. [laughs]

Liz: Yeah, and I watch you in awe. I literally – look at all of the stuff you have going. And you do it, and you always have this fantastic attitude. I don’t see how you do because behind the scenes, I sometimes pull my hair out, and that’s a literal statement.

Anne: I’m right there with you. I’m right there with you. [laughs] Well I think, you know, we always try to strive to just be honest and real in the VO BOSS podcast, so yeah, I will admit to pulling my hair out multiple times. [laughs]

Liz: Well, and for any VO that is listening, they had to have done that too, because honestly you’re a voiceover talent, you are an entrepreneur. Unless you’re sitting in somebody’s roster, and all you do is go to work every day, record, and leave, which I don’t know anybody who does that – well maybe some, and they’re dern lucky, you have got to figure out a way. One, you have to have a voice. And then you got to learn the technical, and then you got to learn how to network in the technical, and I think that was the big thing that hit the voiceover world which really made everybody step up to the bar a couple of years ago, is that our natural avenues for finding work changed, and suddenly everybody was not part of a machine that, you know, brought stuff to their inbox. And they had to go out there and find work. That’s where everybody, they’re starting to find their footing now, but I don’t think it’s all settled, in my humble opinion. I think we’re gonna still have things to do there, which I’m glad.

Anne: Yeah. Absolutely. So actually I wanted to get into a couple of different topics with you because you have such experience obviously being an agent. And I think that that’s super valuable information, but I did want to sidetrack, just a little bit, because that happens.

Liz: Please do.

Anne: I just want everybody to know that I’m coming to you from the tri-both, yes, the brainchild of George Whittam and Rick Wasserman. And I have to say that I’m so pleased with this booth, not only with how it sounds, but honestly I was just looking for a place to put my coffee, and they literally have thought of every detail. There’s actually a coffee cup holder –

Liz: No way.

Anne: – right here. Attached – Yes, attached to the booth. I was like, oh yeah, that’s right. Coffee is very important to me, Just saying. I know I’m a voice talent, but remember, I’ll be good and I’ll follow it up with lots of water. That was my off-tangent remark, but I’d love to get back to, you’re so experienced being an agent, and agents have just, through the years, the job role I think has changed tremendously, and I think it’s important – let’s start off 2020 – let’s talk a little bit about what you believe the agent’s role is going to be a 2020 and how it compares to what it was years ago or leading up to now.

Liz: So interestingly enough, I was on LinkedIn this morning, and a person posted about agent, shmagent, who needs an agent? And I’m like, you know, in all fairness to them, they posted with a picture with someone with notoriety, and they weren’t a member of a union or had an agent, and yet they were getting work. That’s great. In the past agents were a gateway, or a filter. A casting director has a project, they don’t want to open it up to 400,000 VO talent. They want to open it up to 10 agents or five agents who represent talent. They expect the agents to read the specs and only submit people that fit those specs and fit the sound, and they expect the agents to make sure the sound is doing what it’s supposed to. So an agent might listen to, I don’t know, 120 auditions in a day, pick and choose and whatnot. And then the casting director then gets vetted auditions. And they don’t have to go out there and listen to 400,000. They can listen to a number from each of the agents. What has happened is that, again, back with the tsunami, a lot of people started seeking out their own work, which is well and good, except now that you don’t have this – I keep using the word filter, but you don’t have this person in front, the agent, making sure the rights are fair, making sure the working conditions are fair, making sure all of that other kind of stuff is fair, and also to the casting side, making sure that they’re not getting inundated with tons of work. You narrow that field down. But the role of the agent is especially –

Anne: Is that your agent phone buzzing right now that I hear?

Liz: I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I’m sorry.

Anne: Always busy.

Liz: I got lots going on. [laughs] I know, I’m sorry. I know there’s probably a way to turn it so it doesn’t vibrate, but I’m sorry, Anne, I’m going to throw it. [laughs]

Anne: You are going to throw it? I’m going to throw you out the booth?

Liz: I did, I threw it across the room! Whee! [laughs] What has happened is that with the pay to play software, and people going out through LinkedIn and other marketing venues and CRMs and ABCDEFGs finding their own work, the role of the agent has diminished, in my opinion. But I think that that’s just like anything. I think that’s cyclical and I think the agent will come back. I know there’s a trend in some of the ad agencies and whatnot to just put people on the roster. That’s like the old 60’s and 70’s jingle business, when people would just keep jingle singers in the studio. You’d walk in in the morning, sing all day long, and leave for the day. And that’s well and good, but that means also those people are on staff, on salary.

Anne: Right, right.

Liz: I know I’m kind of all over the place, but what I think is happening right now is we’re in this sea of flux. You do have some agents that are still doing very well, and God bless them because they’re working their buns off, but so many people have, I don’t know, that ditch the agent, on both sides, producers and talent. And yes, an agent gets a commission and all that kind of other stuff, but a good agent works their buns off.

Anne: Oh sure. They’re doing work for you.

Liz: They’re doing big work for you, and they’re filtering for you, and they’re helping, they’re pitching for you. Like I got asked to help on a project just couple of days ago. I’m not an agent, so I sent it out to just a handful of people. I said, look, I’m sending this out to you, don’t expect anything in return. I’m just trying to help a friend. Just being back in it for just that little bit of time was very eye-opening, because like if those people – and these are all professionals – had submitted directly to the casting director, out of the few people that I worked with, only two of them actually followed the directions to the T.

Anne: Isn’t that like the age-old story?

Liz: Yes!

Anne: The age-old complaint of people who, yeah, submit auditions that they haven’t followed the instructions. Let me back up just a minute and ask you, OK, so some of the agents’ role. Now for me, I have agents, but the majority of work I do is nonunion and a lot of it’s narration work, e-learning and corporate narration. Let me ask you a question, because I believe the whole, the whole market is shifting. I think the way media is consumed is changing. And so you know, I’ve read something from Gary Vaynerchuk the other day, who you know, he’s like my marketing god. He was talking about the shift in how people consume media, and that if you’re not looking forward to being on platforms where the younger people are on and how things are being consumed, which is not necessarily broadcast networks much anymore. It’s all streaming and Netflix and digital media. What – do you think that it would serve the agents to maybe take a bigger look at other types of content that they can help voice talent with? For example, corporate work. I’m big into corporate work and I truly believe companies of today, YouTube and Vimeo, that’s their advertising medium. That’s their broadcast TV. Is it possible, or do you think it’s worth it, that agents would look into kind of securing that type of work? I would be happy to pay an agent a commission to negotiate on my behalf because there’s some great corporate work out there that can pay a lot of money.

Liz: There’s some great corporate work out there. The problem with agents is that they probably – they get contacted. Yes, they’ll go seek out work as well, but they get contacted. Let’s just say you did get an opportunity, and you needed somebody to help you with a contract. I’ve had that question come to me individually a lot. People are like, what you think about this? And I just help them, right? Sure, let me help you. As for agents going out and trying to secure an avenue to just YouTube work or any of that kind of work, I don’t know that that would work. That’s more like the ad agency’s role.

Anne: Right, right. And not agent necessarily.

Liz: Not necessarily agent. Now a savvy agent might do that. I know I’ve seen some agents that just do trailers. But we agents, we hose. We go for everything. That sounds so bad.

[both laugh]

Anne: So wait, then let me ask you a question. How do you secure the clients that come to you? That’s the question. Do you go out and market yourself? And so when you market your services, what types of voiceover are you servicing? Is it, you know, commercial, is it just commercial?

Liz: When I was an agent, I was boutique, so we did it all. We did on-camera as well as voiceover. Within the voiceover realm, anything and everything that we could find, we would go after. Our sweet spot was commercial.

Anne: Because there’s royalties and residuals, right? I mean the gift that keeps giving.

Liz: Listen, even if there wasn’t, we worked in union and nonunion.

Anne: Got it.

Liz: So that’s why we loved the old Voice Bank, because everybody tended to use Voice Bank as the platform for the legitimate paying jobs. I’m not saying there are not legitimate paying jobs on some of the other platforms. When it came to Voice Bank, the rates were typically good. It was somebody you knew. I mean, we were talking about this last night at dinner. On any given day we might send out between three and ten big auditions a day. I mean, that’s huge. And when that whole tsunami stopped, that went away. I do think there’s opportunity for – I hope it’s me –

Anne: I was going to say, is this now your mission with CastVoices?

Liz: That’s my mission with CastVoices. We’re building a sense of community. I mean, we’re transparent, we don’t take fees from the actors, it’s a subscription service, fees from projects, we don’t charge producers to publish, blah blah blah blah blah. I mean, there’s a lot of things that are coming our way. But our goal is to build a sense of community so that if the producer wants people to be able to reach them, they can. Or if you want to be able to talk to a talent, you can. We want to be able to help you build your rosters. We want to be out there. But we want mostly for the community to know that this is a place you can go and get good talent that are vetted, that know that they’re doing. But in the old way, kind of like where we can encourage agents to send out the work or the talent can come and get the work themselves, but ours is an invitation kind of thing. You don’t have to pay, to be on CastVoices to get invited. But I digress. Back to the question. Back to the role of agents. I think they, let’s see, 2.5 years ago there were at least 220 voiceover agencies that just worked in voiceover. I would bet you if that number were calculated now, it’s probably dropped I would bet even by half. Maybe not, but even a half. A lot of them are going away, because you just can’t make a living. People are getting work on their own. The work that’s coming through that people are asking you to help on, even if it’s a $1200 job, right? $1200 job, you work on that job for three for four days as an agent.

Anne: Absolutely. And 10%, 20% of that, you know. Yeah. I get that.

Liz: $120 or $180 is not going to make a living for you. Especially if you have staff, – 

Anne: Volume work or big work.

Liz: Volume work or big work. I mean, I was extraordinarily fortunate with TAG. We had some really big projects that we booked, that are still the gift that keeps on gifting, thank you, thank you. But we also had the on-camera side of the house to help offset when – I mean, voiceover carried me for years, and then the tsunami hit, and on-camera carried me, and then I was just like, my heart was in the software development side of things, so I jumped over there. The role of the agent, I don’t know if people really appreciate that an agent never goes to bed or sleeps. Their phone is on 24/7. You don’t want to miss the call. You want to miss it, and it might be for this $500 job, and you’re gonna make $50, maybe $75, and you’re done. It’s because – I think people forget too, Anne the agent actually works for the people. The people don’t work for the agent.

Anne: Right, right.

Liz: And if we’re not doing our job for you, then we don’t deserve the work. It’s a tough road and it just never stops. It’s just nonstop, and heck, you can be submitting on, I don’t know, 10 projects in a week and not book one of them, but yet your week is gone, 40 hours plus, and you’re done.

Anne: Right, and you’ve made no profit.

Liz: Exactly.

Anne: Yeah, yeah. And I think that’s something that voice talent, they don’t think about that. You know, I don’t think they really look into what the agent does on a day-to-day basis and how hard they work. How do they make a living? What’s their profit? And I think that more of us really need to understand that, which is why I’m so glad that you’re here talking about it. I think they need to understand that and appreciate that, and really utilize your, you know, utilize the talent agent’s skill set for what they’re best for and work as a team.

Liz: Even taking another step back, you’re a voiceover, and you have how many agents? You don’t have to answer me, but –

Anne: I have 11.

Liz: I was about to say 10.

Anne: I have 11, Yep.

Liz: And Anne, how many times do you get the same audition?

Anne: Quite a bit.

Liz: Quite a bit. So what’s happening now, I would tell you that your Agent A roster looks like, a whole lot like Agent B roster, which is a whole lot like Agent C roster. So where’s the differentiation? So now you’re a talent, and you’ve got 11 different agents, and you get the audition from nine of them, and I bet you that has happened, or seven. So where do the agents differentiate? They differentiate with regional work. Right? It’s usually national work that you’ll get, or they’re large region, like the southwest, that you’ll get from everybody, right, but you won’t get the Chicago car dealership from everybody. Now you’ve got that agent sitting in Chicago trying to pick up every local gig there is. Well, what do local gigs pay? You’re lucky if they pay $500. I mean, you are, because it’s going to be a 13-week spot on radio, or it’s going to be a 13-week spot on TV.

Anne: Right.

Liz: It’s just a small spot, and it’s regional if it’s in a city. So now you’ve got an agent trying to hustle to pick up 10 or 15 of those a month so that they can make – let’s just say they pay $500 apiece. Times 10, that’s $5000. That agent is gonna make $500 off of all that. Maybe if they’re lucky, $750.

Anne: For a month’s work. [laughs]

Liz: Yes.

Anne: So why do it, Liz? That’s what I want to know.

Liz: I running software now, Anne.

Anne: So aoftware is going to help you be more efficient in terms of – explain that?

Liz: Why did I do it for so long? I love the talent. I love the challenge. I love the opportunity. You know, how fun it’s to say, you know, I represented a Siri. That’s a whole lot of joy in that. You do it because it’s just what you do. Yes, you can set your own hours as an agent, but you do it for the people until the people become unpleasant and then they’re like, no. [laughs]

Anne: “Until the people become unpleasant!” I’ve never been unpleasant to my agent ever. Just saying. [laughs]

Liz: Well, you’re a rarity.

Anne: Or do you mean the client is being – [laughs]

Liz: Both, both. I can tell you stories upon stories upon, I mean, I can. We had a girl one time. She got hired as the voice of a product. I want to be careful I don’t get any of us in trouble. They needed her to be authentic from a country. So I’m just going to pick England. It wasn’t England, but they needed her to be specifically authentically England. And this was a client that the agency, we had worked with a lot, which was nice because the agency would have a project – not talent agency, ad agency – would have a product come through and reach out to us because we had this fantastic roster. They could find who they wanted through us. They called, they hired this young lady. This young lady talked in the accent of England and her normal accent –

Anne: Oops.

Liz: – both with the client – no, no, no, and the client knew this.

Anne: Oh, ok.

Liz: Went to session, everything was beautiful. 11 days in, the client calls back and says, “well, they’re not authentic English.” And I’m like, “well, we know that. We showed you that. And they weren’t authentic English. We told you, you talked with her.” “Well, we’ve think you duped us and we’re never going to work with you again.”

Anne: Oh really? Interesting.

Liz: Oh, that happens a lot. The big one – sorry, I’m digressing here, but a real pet peeve is you don’t talk about your auditions ever, ever. Did I say ever?

Anne: Never.

Liz: People do.

Anne: Yeah.

Liz: And people –

Anne: Why?

Liz: We would even put it on – I think that there’s a thing on social media where somebody needs to be the carrier of the, you know, torch.

Anne: I hear that.

Liz: And you’re like, why?

I got a casting director called me 2:00 in the morning – this was a huge project – letting me know my talent was having a social media frenzy over the rate, and that she finally figured out who it was. Of course we dropped the talent.

Anne: Lesson learned, hopefully.

Liz: And we lost that casting director for two years. Never would work with us. You know, the talent are out getting their ra-ra, and their likes, and their chats, and all that, and you’re like, “yes, you just cost an agent probably $20,000 in revenue over the next two years, and you don’t care.” And not only that, why in the world would you want to talk about a project, let somebody else go find out about it and submit on it? Seriously? You’re competitive enough. Anyway, I wish I could be more positive about it.

Anne: Good stuff.

[both laugh]

Anne: Good stuff. I think we might have to do another episode on – well, of course because this is your jam.

Liz: It is my jam. I just want people to respect agents.

Anne: I get that. So guys, peeps out there… peeps, listen to the authority. Listen to the authority. VO BOSSes, just respect your agent, understand we’ve all got a job to do. You know, I’m really, I’m hopeful for the agent landscape in the coming years, although you know, as you mentioned, there’s a lot of people that are going away. But I like to think that cream rises to the top.

Liz: I do think cream rises to the top. I know we’re kind of winding this one down, but just in general, the producers are not going to want to talk to 4000. They’re going to want to talk to five or ten.

Anne: Agreed.

Liz: So let’s support the five or ten.

Anne: Exactly. People don’t want to be overwhelmed. What a great conversation, Liz. I can’t wait ‘til we have our next podcast so we can talk more.

Liz: Woohoo! [laughs]

Anne: We can talk more! ‘d like to give a huge shout-out to my sponsor, IpDTL. You too can connect with amazing people like Liz and your colleagues and your clients using IpDTL. Find out more at Ok guys, have a great week, and we’ll see you next week. Bye!

Liz: Take care, everybody.

>> Join us next week for another edition of VO BOSS with your host, Anne Ganguzza, and take your business to the next level. Sign up for our mailing list at and receive exclusive content, industry revolutionizing tips and strategies, and new ways to rock your business like a BOSS. Redistribution with permission. Coast-to-coast connectivity via IpDTL.