Each voiceover demo CD was painstakingly burned on my MacBook Pro and carefully labeled with my collage of Buenos Aires’ Recoleta rooftops at dusk using an at-home labeling kit purchased from Office Depot. I lovingly placed each of the 50 disks in a slim jewel case, inserted a calling card, stuffed each one into a post-consumer recycled newsprint envelope (to prove how green I was despite the 1,000 years the enclosed CD would take to disintegrate) and pasted on a mailing label, “Attn: New Talent”. For the top 10 Chicago agencies, I even went so far as to include a cream-colored notecard, hopefully handwritten in cursive, no less. To the 25 or so agencies who would accept digital submissions, I emailed my demo.
After years of classes, private coaching, countless hours of practice and a few thousand dollars invested, all I could do was sit back and impatiently wait for the offers to roll in. Only, they didn’t. In fact, I didn’t hear a single word beyond “Return to Sender” for an entire month. Finally, a call from one of the digital submissions, Acme Talent. They had a “puppy mill” reputation, but hey, I was thrilled that someone, anyone, had called.
To the initial interview, Ms. Acme instructed I bring 20 voiceover demos and a headshot, not to the West Town address on the website, but rather, to a temporary location in Humboldt Park. Upon arrival, I was thrown off a bit because I had come, not to a professional building, but to a residence. Did I write down the wrong address? Were masked men waiting to beat me up and rob me? Despite my doubts, my desire for a voiceover agent was even greater, so I rang the bell. After several moments my fear dissolved when a sweet grandma-like voice answered, “Acme Talent” and buzzed me in. I should have left when I had the chance.
I entered into a small sitting area with an old green leather couch and a mustard-yellow wall full of more headshots than I cared to count. The room opened to a kitchen blocked by a knee-high safety gate from the long hallway beyond. The musty stench of urine filled the air and its sources could be heard barking somewhere in a closed-up back room. I was greeted by an elderly gentlemen in a bathrobe as he shuffled into the kitchen. He poured himself a cup of coffee and invited me to take a seat and wait until I was called. I sat and began studying the abundance of below-average headshots on the wall. The dogs continued to bark and I waited to be called. Called to what, I could only imagine.
After nearly 30 minutes of fighting the urge to simply stand up and leave, an elderly woman came into view. In the same grandma voice from the intercom, she informed me that the agency owner, her daughter, was sick she would be meeting with me instead. Past the doggie gate and into a small bedroom-office in the back of the house we went. Upon review of my demo and headshot, she asked me to read an excerpt from (the tragically relevant) Death of a Salesman aloud, which was recorded on hand held tape recorder. “We will represent you.”, she said and proceeded to reveal the fee schedule. It involved several hundred for demo and headshot reproduction, fees to have my demo, resume and headshot posted on the website and fees for the company to recoup marketing costs. I thanked her for her time, said I would inform her of my decision soon and took my leave.
Now, at this point logic would dictate that this is not a legitimate talent agency. Everything I had read advised against paying someone for representation. Not to mention the other obvious issues with the place. But then, when has a starving artist, living “You, Me and Dupree-style” in the spare room of his married friends’ place, ever been logical? I wanted an agent, damn-it! So, later that week I called the owner to discuss the fees associated with representation. I told Mrs. Acme that I would handle my own headshot and demo reproduction and that, while I desired a web presence with them, I did not have the budget to pay for it. “No problem”, she said,”we’ll post your profile and take the fees from your first job.” What did I have to lose?
In all, I must have sent a dozen follow-up emails containing my demo and resume to the web designer’s Yahoo address. Not a single response. The only response that came from Mrs. Acme was, “The web designer’s mom is in the hospital… indefinitely.” It was obvious that without my money in hand, there was no motivation to add me to their site. I finally gave up when I called two month’s later to find the number disconnected and website down. Maybe Mrs. Acme decided to open a doggie daycare funded by would-be talent’s broken dreams?
Feeling hopeless after the first agent experience and with no word from any other agency, I decide to take a break from my “big break” into voiceover work and go down to Costa Rica for awhile. After a month of giving kayak and snorkeling tours at a hotel in Papagayo, I was refreshed. It was time to give it another go. Inspired by an expat travel-writer I met, I tried a different tactic – freelancing.
Today the Acme Talent ordeal is but a distant memory and I generate a steady income from voiceover work. Oh, and remember those 50 demos I sent out? It seems that at least one agency liked it and kept it for almost a year before there was an opening in the roster. My agent now sends me out on regular auditions. There are no fees unless I book, no handheld recorders, no bathrobes. There is, however, a farting dog. We like him well enough though.
Dedicated and many thanks to J&A.