Freelance Voice Over, Around the World
“Freelance” has always been part of the gig in the world of voice over, much like any other artistic discipline. When you start voice acting full-time, you know exactly what you’re signing up for: a career with great peaks & valleys, moving from job to job [often multiple times in a day] and sending out far more submissions for voice work [i.e., auditions] than actual jobs booked. It is a numbers game, after all — the more people you reach, the more likely you are to find and book potential jobs.
But where in the past, this kind of freelance life was largely contained to Los Angeles and New York [and, to a lesser extent, Chicago], thanks to the internet, you can run a successful V/O business from just about anywhere you want [hello, Ian in Minneapolis and Maria in Buffalo!] — and in many cases, non-traditional locales are actually better, since the gig pays the same no matter where you book it. Might as well live in a place where your dollar goes further, then, right?
[Un]surprisingly, this same trend has permeated across the generational Millennial landscape.
Millennials: Taking Their Work Home, And On Vacation, Since 2008
Voice over talent are absolutely not alone in seeking out the locales that’ll give the most bang for their freelance buck. And, for the record, neither are Millennials in the voice over world: baby boomer and Gen-X voice actors are spread far and wide, rural and urban. It simply doesn’t make sense to build your business in a place with screamingly high rent, when the immediate tools you need to work include high-speed internet and quality, sound-proof space.
But one of the surprise benefits that gets overlooked in our Great Millennial Migrations is how good this can be for the local economy: in essence, Millennials who embrace being digital nomads are able to show up wherever they want [however temporary they may be] and contribute local, commercial dollars.
Think about it: let’s say a Millennial voice over talent, formerly in New York, decides to leave the city and set up shop in Vermont. With them, they’re bringing their full business — which, for the sake of argument, we’ll say is roughly a $60,000 per year voice over business. Out of that, they’re going to have a decent percentage now going to the state of Vermont and whatever locality in business taxes… and that’s still saying nothing for the money they’ll spend locally working at coffee shops, dining out; basically, living their lives. Millennials who embrace digital nomadism bring their own economies with them, and for struggling small and mid-sized cities, that’s a really great thing.
Especially if you’re in a rust belt city that’s trying to revitalize. There’s a reason those old, abandoned warehouses are turning into galleries, breweries and shared workspaces: they’re significantly better for the economy than abandoned warehouses.
Millennial, 21st Century Voice Over: Not All Genres Are Created Equal
Obviously, the digital nomad lifestyle has its cons, too — some specific to the voice over industry, but others much stronger across the entire Millennial generation.
For voice over in particular, the perception is changing somewhat — as we get better, internet-specific tools like SourceConnect, iPDTL and Zoom, and deliver broadcast quality audio from home studios that rivals full production studios — but it hasn’t quite caught up, especially in the more traditional voice over genres. If you voice lots Explainers, eLearning, audiobooks, and regional and local commercials, chances are you’ve built your voice over career outside one of the three big hubs. But, if you regularly voice for anything related to network television — voicing national commercials, promos, live in-show narration and cartoons/animation — you either almost have to be in one of New York, L.A. or Chicago, or had to have built your business and contacts there before running away to your bunker in Montana.
Obviously, this says nothing for the race-to-the-bottom in voice over rates that’s come with the internet and the accessibility of auditions via pay-to-play sites, but that’s for another blog.
Go Where the Work Is, Young Millennial
But, that touches on how this affects Millennials as a whole: as traditional entry-level and middle-class jobs disappear, increasingly, Millennials rely on their wits and skills to piece together a freelance living wherever they can find it.
Unless you’re independently wealthy [already a misnomer for just about anyone in their 20s], you simply don’t have the ability to follow up four years of college with an internship… let alone finding the 3-5 years of “relevant experience” to gain most entry-level positions that promise some kind of stability and the promise of benefits. It’s not hard to see why it’s easier to turn to readily available project-based contract work… even if it means stark trade-offs in taxes, retirement, health benefits, and stability.
Like our generations before us, as we start “adulting,” we’re going to go where the work is. And, more often than not, that means finding contract work online… and looking for where we can stretch our dollars farther.
On one hand, as voice actors, it’s nice to have some company: for voice actors as a whole, even if and when you join a union, you’ll get access to benefits like health insurance, but you’re still pretty much on your own when it comes to retirement [let alone finding more work]. But for our generation at large, when you want to reach us, you’ll have to do it online… which means, we’ll probably be working in some capacity, hitting the digital pavement to find our next gig.