One of the first unfamiliar terms you will encounter when embarking on a voice over career is P2P, which stands for Pay to Play. Coming in a huge variety of forms, these are organisations who provide you with access to potential work, posting auditions and allowing you to create a profile from which employers can listen to your demos and contact you directly. P2P is in many ways the gateway drug for home voiceovers. Registering your details on numerous sites (thus increasing your online ‘presence’) is a much less daunting process (emotionally if not financially) than directly calling potential clients and making a pitch over the phone. As soon as you’ve uploaded your various demos, it’s often a case of waiting for auditions to land in your inbox and responding appropriately. Usually, this will be in the form of a custom audition – recording a few lines (but often much more) of a script and submitting it to the client – and then waiting to see if you’ve been successful.
Various companys have conceived their own interpretations of the P2P template. Two of the largest and most established, Voices.com and Voice123 allow you to create a profile for free, but you will need to subscribe for $40-50 per month to be able to respond to auditions. By creating such an ostensibly open market, the question then arises how potentially vast numbers of submissions are relayed to the client. This is where most P2P’s such as these dangle incentives, promising better ‘search result’ rankings if talents commit to a year rather than monthly subscription. Some P2P’s present themselves as ‘agencies’ and will only list you after screening your submission (eg. The Voice Realm), but the majority don't or pay lip service to assessing customers willing to pay. Most will charge a commission for any work you obtain through their site in addition to a weekly/monthly/annual subscription.
I was introduced to this previously undiscovered country of online work through the Voiceover Kickstart course, and once you’ve had a look at a few sites you can see how it has helped to explode the voiceover market as the demand for VO content blossoms. In theory, these sites have helped to explode the 'closed shop', or at least the budget section of it. But you can only judge how good a site is by trying them out, and with an annual subscription to a handful of sites likely to cost you hundreds if not thousands of pounds before you’ve even recorded an audition, it’s difficult to know which might be best.
Unlike the UK’s professional acting directory Spotlight, there is no one site that you need to be part of simply to ‘be on the map’. Voices.com and Voice123 are probably the largest brands in the market, and you can expect between 5-10 audition invites per day if you subscribe to either of those. In comparison, a site like Bodalgo or The VoiceRealm may only offer the same number over the course of a week.
But quantity doesn’t guarantee quality. If you google P2P, you will soon come up with a vast amount of country advice about what different VO talents would say are the better P2P’s. Having navigated the P2P field on and off for about 18 months, I have had two annual subscriptions (to Voice123 and The Voice Realm) and a spate of fitful monthly subscriptions to Bodalogo whenever I’ve had the time to audition.
I found the sheer quantity of auditions coming through Voice123 initially very comforting after deciding to try one of the 'big' brands and investing in an annual subscription. The work varies widely in subject and rate, from the super-budget to the occasional major commercial project, but when just starting up on a part-time basis, I soon found this rapidly growing bunch of emails making me audition blind.
When starting out and just looking for a variety of scripts to practise on, I was initially very grateful for the quantity of material. But in terms of actually booking work, turnover time (from an audition’s posting to you submitting a custom audition) is vital – if you’re not within the first twenty to thirty responses, quite often your work won’t even be listened to at all. And so, as someone only habitually able to record when starting out because of the effort required to get my home studio up and running, my response soon became “Can I respond fast enough?” rather than “Is this job suitable to me”. Quite often I found myself scrolling through lists of potential auditions, muttering to myself that I was probably too late for most of them and hardly bothering at all. This isn’t a huge issue with the format of the website per se, but more a reflection on how that format can influence how you perceive the market and your place in it. These sites require TIME.
Voice123 uses a system called Smartcast to distribute its casting calls accordingly, but the system definitely has bugs as I often received casting calls for jobs I was in no way pretending to be suitable for. It also allows clients to rate your submissions, which might work if there was some form of standard process in place, but quite often my work would be rated (both positively and negatively) without even being listened to, quite possibly because the client didn’t fully understand the site. Rather than delving into the the detail here, I would instead recommend reading Todd Schick’s rather thorough (if damning) analysis of the site - I don’t necessarily agree with all his points, but there’s a lot of food for thought.
My year on Voice123 when still very much a part-time VO soon hit its own slightly flawed, spasmodic rhythm – not auditioning for most of the week and then trying to record as many auditions as I could over one or two days. This approach worked to a limited degree as well: I made my subscription fee back and ultimately a Very marginal profit for my first year, but I don’t know that it necessarily cultivated the most healthy approach to auditions. I would recommend checking out Jennifer Vaughn's comparison of the site with Voices.com as they are both pretty comparable.
For me, the best investment was The Voice Realm. Costing under £100 for the entire year and requiring your demos to be vetted before approval, it made me feel less like a small fish in a giant pond, and throughout my time on it I have had between 3-7 suitable auditions come to me per week. Though generally on the cheaper rate (jobs ranging from £100-500), The VoiceRealm doesn’t operate the 'first subbed first seen', application process as many others, instead randomising submissions to a casting call but using an algorithm to moderately favour those talents who have booked and had good feedback from previous jobs. I bagged my first ever home studio job through the site, so obviously my attitude to the company is tainted by affectionate bias, but they have well maintained customer support and a good clean interface. I made my subscription back and more by that first job, and bagged about a dozen jobs over a year to turn a decent profit of almost £2000 in my first year. But other VO’s I know have never been booked once, so take my recommendation (if you haven’t already) with a pinch of salt.
So, what to take from my own experience of P2P sites? I suppose the crucial point is that you will only get your money's worth if you have the time to invest in them. Success is going to vary a lot from person to person, but as a numbers game, you are unlikely to reap great rewards if you're only able to commit to VO part-time. Though an access to scripts can definitely be useful for a beginner, it's only going to help if your actual technique is in a good place to start - otherwise you may be compounding issues with your technique which are only going to take longer to unpick further down the road. I certainly found the sites useful in testing my range and also to practise my editing skills, but there are free alternative ways of doing that if you look hard enough. I would strongly recommend prioritising some form of training with an established VO tutor over commiting to an annual subscription when just starting out, and can personally vouch for Gary Terzza's tuition which offers feedback on anything you send him for a year as a one such option. Once in a position to commit a decent chunk of time to P2P's on a consistent basis, then I believe they may well be a useful addition to have, but I'd definitely maintain they shouldn't be your only source of leads.