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Business of VO: Agents, Managers, and Casting Directors… Oh My!

There are a lot of players in the Yellow-Brick road that is the voiceover industry. And there’s a lot of confusion surrounding ‘who does what?’ Today’s episode breaks down these different voiceover entities and takes a look at what they do and how it relates to you as a talent. Stop now and take a listen if you want to avoid getting lost in Hollywood or Holyrood. (It’s an actual town…in Kansas.)



Takeaways

Quick Concepts from Today’s Episode:

  1. VOBoss breaks down the roles of voiceover talent agents, talent managers and casting directors as well as studios who cast for talent.

  2. Please note that state to state laws may vary a bit in the definitions and regulations of these jobs.

  3. Talent agents are state regulated and there is typically a cap on what they are able to charge for facilitating a job. This is usually between 10 and 20%.

  4. Agents are a go-between talent and clientele.

  5. Agent represent a roster of talent of varying size and are obligated to try to secure a job (via a booking) for someone on their roster of talent.

  6. Most agents are registered with a state’s labor department as they are geographically tied to a state or region of operation.

  7. Online only companies that claim agent status may or may not be legally operating in that way.

  8. Online casting ‘agents’ operate in their own way. They don’t have to follow the traditional governing rules of being an agent.

  9. A manager represents an individual talent and advises and consults on your entire career.

  10. They earn a percentage of your total earnings for all sources.

  11. Managers maintain relationships with agents and work closely with them.

  12. They often aid in goal setting and marketing.

  13. In most states anyone can be a manager.

  14. Managers typically manage a small and exclusive group.

  15. A managed job is different from management. Many companies in voiceover now manage individual jobs.

  16. Casting companies are used to find the best talent from all rosters and from any location.

  17. They exist to keep casting fair so that no one company can completely dominate with their talent.

  18. Casting companies can and sometimes will skim money from both parties without divulging numbers to either.

  19. Studios operate in a gray zone – studio fees being cut have resulted in studios needing to casting talent in order to stay open.

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Referenced in this Episode

Direct links to things we brought up ++

  1. Recorded on ipDTL

  2. Learn more about Agent guidelines from the New York State Department of Labor

  3. Learn more about Agent guidelines from the State of California Labor and Workforce Development Agency

Full Episode Transcript

>> Today’s voiceover talent is more than just a pretty voice.

>> Pretty voice.

>> Pretty voice.

>> Pretty voice.

>> Today’s voiceover talent has to be a BOSS.

>> BOSS.

>> A BOSS.

>> A BOSS.

>> Join us each week for business owner strategies and success with your hosts Anne Ganguzza and Gabrielle Nistico, along with some of the strongest voices in our industry.

>> Rock your business.

>> Rock your business.

>> Rock your business.

>> Like a BOSS.

>> Like a BOSS.

>> Rock your business like a BOSS.

>> Rock your business like a BOSS.

>> A VO BOSS.

>> A VO BOSS.

>> A VO BOSS.

Anne: Hey everyone, welcome to the VO BOSS podcast. I’m your host, Anne Ganguzza, along with my boss bestie, Gabrielle Nistico. Hey Gabby, how are you? 

Gabby: Hey, Anne, I’m fine. How ‘bout you? 

Anne: Gabby, I got questions.

Gabby: We always have questions, my Lord.

Anne: I got questions. There has been just a ton of activity out there on the socials. And I thought it would be good for us to discuss — 

Gabby: Who does what? 

[both laugh]

Anne: Yeah, I thought it would be good to discuss today what really is the difference between casting directors, agents, managers, and production studios. What are their roles and who does what and how do they apply to us and how do we, you know, get in front of each of them, and what are their differences? 

Gabby: Well, this is a long discussion, yeah.

Anne: [laughs]

Gabby: I think it’s also important to note that while we can talk about this in general senses, state to state, some of the laws can vary. Please know that, guys. Don’t act like what we’re saying is 100% set in stone or anything.

Anne: So I think maybe the first thing, because this has been prevalent on the socials in the last few weeks, the difference between a talent agent and a talent manager or a manager, I think we should start there. What are the differences between a talent agent and a manager, Gabby? 

Gabby: Ok, so an agent is regulated by state law. And usually there is a cap on what they’re allowed to charge for the facilitating of a job, and it’s typically between 10% and 20% at a maximum. Talent agents are there to act as a go-between in the negotiation process between talent and clientele. The agent or agency represents a group of talent, and when a job opportunity presents itself, it’s that agent’s obligation to do everything that they can to try to cast someone on their roster for that position. They cannot cast people outside of that of that roster. They have to stay within that group.

Anne: So interesting, so Gabby, so then does every agency, they have to be registered with the state and be directed by the state? Is that true? 

Gabby: Well, this is where we get into these lovely gray zones that the Internet has created. If we go old-school, yes. Technically they’re registered with their state labor department, and they’re a legal entity.

Anne: Yeah.

Gabby: Now today, I don’t know that all companies who claim they’re an agent are in fact legally operating that way, but they should be. And of course the notable well-known, well-established agencies certainly are.

Anne: The agency acts legally as a mediary, right, between the talent and the client and — 

Gabby: Correct. And they can only charge it —

Anne: — charges — 

Gabby: — from one party or the another.

Anne: A specific commission between 10% and 20%. How are — actually I’m going to complicate this more. What are casting — online casting agencies considered. Are they agents? 

Gabby: [laughs]They’re not. [laughs] Online casting operates in its own playing field with its own rules. They can effectively do whatever they want. 

Anne: Its own wild West. 

Gabby: Correct.

Anne: Well that, that’s the scary part, right? 

Gabby: Yes, it is.

Anne: It’s the wild west of entrepreneurship.

Gabby: There is one other component of a traditional talent agency. They’re geographically tied. So there is a territory or geography that they represent.

Anne: Yes, yes, correct, and when you sign a contract with an agent, typically you’re signing the contract for that specific region, although as of late, I’ve not really had any contracts. 

Gabby: Well again, the rules are getting more and more lax. More and more companies are working with talent under nonexclusive agreements or without contractual agreements. But many still do. You want to be mindful of that. Typically you’re going to enter into some kind of a geographic commitment with that company that any and all work that originates in that city, state, region will go through that particular agent.

Anne: Question. If you’re not on an agency roster, can you still receive auditions from an agency technically? 

Gabby: Again, this is where things get a little bendy. Can you? I guess if the agent is really desperate to book something, to cast something, and they need to look outside their roster, can they sort of send up a flare and ask people to make a recommendation or bring in some of their friends, sure.

Anne: And then if that were to book the job, then would they then be on the roster of the talent agency? 

Gabby: Possibly or it might just be a singular occurrence. 

Anne: Ok, but I thought some of the rules and regulations of the agencies were that you had to be on the roster. Is that correct? 

Gabby: It’s traditional versus new school.

Anne: So then maybe some laws have been relaxed on — 

Gabby: I don’t think the laws themselves have been relaxed. I just think the way companies are doing business is relaxed. That’s all.

Anne: Interesting. 

Gabby: They’re bending the rules a bit.

Anne: Bending the rules seems to apply across all of these [laughs] entities, casting directors, managers, agents, studios. So alright then, that’s the agent. Let’s talk about managers, Gabby. My, my old school [laughs] idea of a manager was they were not an agent. They were there to advise you in all aspects of your career, and you pay them a fee, typically 10% to 20%, right, of your income, to have that ability or to have that kind of management where they look out for you and I guess direct you to talent agencies and direct you to the jobs, but they don’t actually bring in jobs.

Gabby: Correct. Managers, in their traditional role, assist you in meeting goals, strengthening and developing relationships with talent agents and venture into new areas of your business. They can even help with things like your financials, with investing, they can help with taxes, with you know, all of the administrative and financial management of your company. However in a lot of states, they’re not legally allowed to generate work, to facilitate work, to negotiate work. All of that would be a conflict of interest.

Anne: Interesting, so can I just say I’m a manager? [laughs] Can I just deem myself a manager? Do I have laws that are governing my — 

Gabby: Sadly.

Anne: You know, I’m an entrepreneur, right? Can I just say, I’m gonna — Gabby, I’m going to manage you. Let me manage you, and you pay me money.

Gabby: I think in certain states, namely New York and California where the entertainment industries are obviously very prevalent and entrenched, those states have labor laws in effect that restrict and regulate what someone, who calls themselves a manager, can and can’t do, because if they didn’t, then there would be a whole lot of people getting taken advantage of and potentially being ripped off.

Anne: Yeah.

Gabby: In other states, such a law may or may not exist. And then yes, therefore anybody who calls themselves a coach or a consultant or a manager, those terms are almost interchangeable.

Anne: Right, well because I’m a coach online, and I didn’t have to — I’m an established business.

Gabby: We consult on people’s businesses. I think all coaches at some point consult with somebody on their voiceover business in a way that’s similar to what a manager does. 

Anne: Correct. Got it. So managers have a little more leeway. So then if somebody is — because there’s a few known managers in the voiceover industry, right, there’s a few known that have been operating for years, and so traditionally I think the idea was to have a very exclusive roster.

Gabby: Yes. In that it was having a very exclusive, very active, very busy, moneymaking roster because – 

Anne: Well yeah, because you wouldn’t be on the roster if you couldn’t make them money. I mean, that’s their business, right? 

Gabby: They’re taking 10% of everything you bring in from all sources.

Anne: Yeah, so they want to have good talent on their rosters that’s going to be able to bring them money. 

Gabby: Yeah, management has always been considered in the entertainment world an elite level thing anyway. To have a manager, you really got to be making the bucks.

Anne: Let me ask you a question. Is that the same as, let’s say, pay to plays that do management services or act as managers, right? There’s a very blurred line there, right? There are pay to play, which is the wild West of, is there, gosh, is there any laws regulating them? So yeah, I want to get back to the question about the blurred lines of let’s say online casting sites who act as managers, and are there any laws governing them? 

Gabby: See, I don’t think that there are. I think in a lot of states, legally, to use that term manager is incorrect. I don’t think that’s what they’re really doing. I think they offer — 

Anne: Management services.

Gabby: Here’s the gray. Right? They offer what’re called managed jobs. 

Anne: So it’s not a management company. They’re managed jobs.

Gabby: Right. It’s a case-by-case individual basis where in actuality what they’re doing in that moment is simply acting as a casting director.

Anne: Or agent. [laughs]

Gabby: Either. Right. Correct.

Anne: What if they’re seeking work, right? That’s the question. If they’re going out and seeking clients, right, and then presenting them to talent on their roster, quote unquote, right, are they not acting as an agent —

Gabby: That’s an agent.

Anne: — if they’re indeed taking a portion of that money or charging for the service? See, it’s so confusing, right, because there is a membership fee. [laughs]

Gabby: And again, this is where people, you know — we’ve gone beyond what used to be called double dipping. We’re in triple dipping potentially.

Anne: Yeah.

Gabby: It’s a little bit crazy.

Anne: So yeah, going back to the wild west of online casting sites, who are having management jobs but yet seeking work, right, so they’re acting like an agent, right, and then, yeah. How is that even — and especially depending on what state they’re in, if they’re not even in the United States, right, where is their home base? Are they governed by laws of their home base, of where the company is registered? 

Gabby: I don’t know. That’s above my pay grade. I don’t know. [laughs]

Anne: Mm-hmm.

Gabby: But I mean, rightfully, talent are starting to question these things and look into it, and wanting to know more about where, and what, and how the inner workings of a job are for the sake of transparency, so that they know they’re not being taken advantage of or losing money.

Anne: Exactly.

Gabby: Which then of course brings us to casting directors.

Anne: Yes, let’s talk about casting directors. I think maybe a smaller segment of what I know to be out there in the industry or they’ve been around the longest.

Gabby: I don’t know. I don’t know the origin. I don’t know the origin story or history of casting companies. They’re another party, a third-party that’s hired by an independent company. So usually this is where you get into movies or cartoons, TV shows, big-budget things. They’re brought in to find the best talent for the job across all different agency rosters. And so they have the ability to do what others do not, which is cross rosters. They can go and seek out talent from all over.

Anne: The talent doesn’t even have to be on a roster. The talent can be anyone, correct?

Gabby: They’re not, there is no roster. I think the thing with casting directors is really they were created probably just for fairness. It was so no one agent could dominate the scene. And in a lot of geographies and a lot of areas, there are casting directors who are almost the kingpin. They really — like here in Charlotte, we have a company that no local production, nothing on camera, on film, nothing gets done that doesn’t go through this one company.

Anne: I know there’s companies in L.A., the same thing applies.

Gabby: Yeah.

Anne: I have access to a multitude of talent and clients and have great relationships. Now is there any money that’s made outside of the company that’s hiring the casting director? Is it a flat fee they’re hiring or they’re paying the casting director to cast for them? The money is not being paid by the talent at all.

Gabby: It depends, it depends on the contract. It depends on the talent’s status of union versus nonunion. Right? There’s again a lot of gray here. If we’re talking about a unionized casting, no. The casting fee is paid by the company, and the talent loses nothing to them. If we’re talking about nonunion, all bets are off. They can make up the rules as they go. I’ve seen casting companies take from both ends. I actually left a company that did that.

Anne: Now — oh interesting. Really, talk about that experience. [laughs] A casting company, right, not a talent agency, but a casting company? 

Gabby: A casting company that I was involved in for many years.

Anne: So legally on paper they were a casting company, they were not a talent agency, correct? 

Gabby: Correct. And this allows them to operate, you know, again, in this kind of middle zone without having to have any labor laws to, you know, have to honor and no state laws to honor. Yeah, they did this. These kinds of practices, God, it just made me sick. It gets to a point where when you see it – 

Anne: What kind of practices, Gabby?  [laughs]

Gabby: It’s – 

Anne: Are you willing to divulge that information? 

Gabby: I mean, a little bit, yeah. So double dipping is just, it’s greedy. It iss what it is. It’s a way to maximize the earnings on a job by taking a percentage from both the talent and the client. Now if it’s – 

Anne: That’s entrepreneurship, they’re going to say.

Gabby: Yeah, I mean look, if it’s 10% and 10% —

Anne: Yeah.

Gabby: I don’t necessarily see a problem with that. I think that’s still in line. I think it’s still in parameters. It’s fair, it’s acceptable. But what happens with casting companies sometimes is because they’re that go-between, they’re not disclosing the final numbers to either party.

Anne: So nobody knows. Right? Nobody knows what the final numbers are.

Gabby: Correct, and as a result, that casting company can really skim a large percentage of the job in either direction for themselves. And so yeah, when I started to see things like that, I was like, I’m out. Can’t do this.

Anne: Oh you know, and that’s interesting, Gabby, because that’s one of the issues that I know a lot of people are having with casting companies, online casting companies. If you don’t know what is the original budget for the job, and that way you’re not seeing how much is going to the managed… person, or you know, the talent or the management company. So I think that’s a whole — that’s what sparked a whole revolution on transparency in this voiceover industry.

Gabby: Yeah, and I mean again, rightfully so. The business owner in me, the entrepreneur in me says there’s something within reason. Like I even have a contract now with one of my agents who also again, nonunion agents, the lines are kind of blurry, they take a casting fee from the client, and then they also take a percentage from me as the talent. But I feel that those fees are within reason. So I’m happy to honor that contract and work with them. But when it’s not being disclosed how much the percentages are across the board, and people are making up the rules as they go, it can get kind of gross.

Anne: And especially too with the latest practice of not a lot of agents, my recent agents, am I signing contracts. Maybe it’s an email where they’ll say 10%, or if they even say that. To be honest with you, I think sometimes voice talent are so excited about getting signed with an agent, that they’re just not reading anything or even demanding a contract, right? “Here, yes, yes, yes, I just want to be on your roster.”

Gabby: And therein lies one of the ways in which companies are kind of getting away with this, because you can be on a roster, but not officially represented if a contract is not signed.

Anne: Exactly.

Gabby: They can still put you up on their website and promote you.

Anne: Yeah, and that’s, yeah, that’s where that gray area is. Now, question for you, so that’s casting directors, right? Casting companies. Now what’s the difference between casting companies and production studios, because I get hired by production studios, all the time? And I never know what the job pays. I just get, “will you accept,” or “here’s what we’re paying for the job.” So I don’t know the bottom line.

Gabby: No one ever does.

Anne: I never questioned it, Gabby. So if the price seemed fair to me, I was like “ok, seems great,” if it was in line with my rates. So I never know.

Gabby: Remember, again, back in the day, everyone across the board paid studio fees. That’s how a studio made their money. Because home studios were not the norm.

Anne: Right.

Gabby: So – 

Anne: Good point.

Gabby:  — studios really didn’t have anything to do with the talent fees or didn’t take a percentage or a cut because that’s again not how they made their money. In recent years because of all of the competition, online casting, home studios, studios, professional studios have had to in many cases be forced to start to cast talent and keep a roster of their own.

Anne: Exactly.

Gabby: So as a result, many of them are crossing lines all over the place. Some of them are acting as casting people. Now here’s where it gets kind of crazy, and I’ve seen this in a number of instances, and this one always kind of bugs me a little. There are some studios who have registered themselves as agents. Which again brings up this oddity of, are they, you know, are people potentially double or triple dipping somewhere? Because if you’re getting a studio fee because you’re renting the studio space, and you’re getting the casting fee, and you’re getting a fee from the talent, it’s like holy cow, guys. [laughs]

Anne: Yeah, so this brings me to yet another point or observation that once home studios started to become the norm, right, back in the day, it used to be like, don’t forget, it costs you money for that studio or to maintain that studio, and are you including those fees, or is that something that’s outdated now, Gabby? 

Gabby: I just don’t think that’s even how it went. I think from – 

Anne: Yeah, I think we all forgot about the home studio. We were like, “hire us because we’re cheaper. We have our own studio.”

Gabby: That’s it. That’s precisely what it was, from day one. It was a tactic to shut studios out and to be perceived as less money. And so that’s – 

Anne: Undercutting. See, we undercut our production studios.

Gabby: We did, we did. And as a result of undercutting those studios, that’s why so many of them have now had to involve themselves in the casting process to recoup those funds.

Anne: Well yeah, I mean, they’ve got to stay alive. And so – 

Gabby: Many studios have shut the doors obviously as a result, many, many studios.

Anne: Wow, that’s a tangled web, Gabby, of casting directors, agents, managers.

Gabby: For shizzle.

Anne: [laughs] Fo shizzle. 

[both laugh]

Anne: Super complicated. So as bosses, what can we do to, I don’t know, to stay safe, to be aware, educate ourselves for sure? 

Gabby: I think this is it. It’s knowing who does what, where, how, and why, and knowing when, if someone is claiming to do one thing, being able to go, “ehh I don’t think that’s really necessarily what this person is doing.” And then using your business knowledge to still be able to say, ok, is the practice sound or the terms something I think is acceptable? 

Anne: Remember we had the episode where we were talking about how to protect your brand, and I had somebody who had a close domain name to the VO Peeps? They had put up a site saying they were going to take 10%, you know, of all of the jobs that came through and that were, you know, that were given to talent.

Gabby: As like a pay to play? 

Anne: — I was just like outraged.

Gabby: Or – 

Anne: No. It was just a site, and they would get jobs, and anything that was cast through that site, they would receive a 10% commission on that because you know, they hosted the site and got the job opportunities.

Gabby: OK.

Anne: And this was an independent person. It’s not unlike — when online casting happened, they seemed like legit companies, right, in the beginning, nobody raised, you know, an eyebrow in the beginning, because it was providing opportunity. Yet lately if one person, right, says “I’m going to charge you 10% if you get the job through this site,” then it became an uproar. And pretty much people shut the site down. And people said “double dipping, double dipping, that’s not right. You’re acting as a, you know, you’re not a manager, agent” or whatever it was. And so it’s just interesting to me how we’ve evolved over the years in terms of distribution of monies. I know I’ve done casting, myself. For me to cast for a client, you know, I’ve always been upfront with the talent if I were going to say, look, I’m going to get a flat fee of so much for casting this. I don’t know, Gabby, I’m sure you’ve cast as well.

Gabby: When I got out of casting, I pretty much got out of casting.

Anne: Because you were disappointed.

Gabby: That was part of it. But if the need arises, I mean, sure, but yeah, it’s the same thing, I’ll just do a flat, standard fee.

Anne: Is there a standard? Is there something that you feel is fair? I mean…?

Gabby: 10% to 20%. 10% if it’s union, 20% if it’s nonunion.

Anne: That seems fair, that seems fair. So wow. A lot of stuff to digest, Gabby.

Gabby: With the new technology, these titles or these things make a big difference, but knowing and understanding the expectation of the relationship is what’s really important for us. How can you understand what that relationship is going to be and what it is that that service the pays for – 

Anne: Agreed.

Gabby: — if you don’t have this defined? That’s all.

Anne: Speaking of relationships, we have a great relationship with our sponsor and our good friend Kevin from ipDTL, who allows us to connect with each other and with you all like a boss. If you want to find out more, you can go to ipdtl.com.

Gabby: And you know, we have a great class on negotiations that kind of picks up this conversation and I think takes it to that next level of how to educate yourself and be well informed about these processes, so you can go to voboss.com and check that out.

Anne: Yes. And guys, don’t forget our BOSS Blast, which allows you to direct-market your services to your clients.

Gabby: Exactly.

Anne: All right. Have a great week guys, and we’ll see you next week.

Gabby: Bye.

Anne: Bye.

Announcer: Join us next week for another edition of VO BOSS with your hosts Anne Ganguzza and Gabby Nistico.