VoiceOverXtra Interview / Part 1
Rick Gordon: Commercial Voices.com
& Explosive Growth of E-Learning
By John Florian
©2009 VoiceOverXtra LLC
Jan. 13, 2009
Broadcasting to voice-overs is a familiar career path to many. Rick Gordon sure knows that route.
Yet a search for work when his broadcast days ended led to an additional venture – one that occupies most of his time today.
In addition to performing voice-overs, Rick operates Commercial Voices.com, an online voice-over casting service nearing its ninth birthday – which is a ripe old age for that business. And last year, he and voice actor buddy Harlan Hogan founded E-LearningVoices.com, an online casting service that specializes in – you guessed it, supplying talent for e-Learning voice-over projects.
Speaking of “learning,” Rick has much to share from his career – so much, in fact, that this Q&A is presented in two parts:
• Part 1 (below): Rick’s career, Commercial Voices.com, E-LearningVoices.com, and what’s behind the explosive growth in e-Learning projects
• Part 2: Rick’s advice for voice actors on how to please clients to hang onto them and get referrals. He also advises setting terms up front, especially for long-term e-Learning projects.
Let’s begin …
Rick, you’ve been voicing a long time.
Oh, gee, I’m an old guy, John – 35 years.
And you started in broadcasting?
Yeah, that’s right, I started as a DJ at a radio station. I built a radio station in Canada, then sold it and ever since the radio industry went sideways, about 10 years ago – where they have one announcer doing the same work for nine radio stations – thousands of guys like myself were out of work.
But anyways, it was a fun ride.
And then you created Commercial Voices.com. When was that?
2000. I already had a site called Voices International.com, which is now in “park”. It evolved into Commercial Voices.com. I still retain the name of course, and may do something with it down the road, maybe not.
I set up E-LearningVoices.com recently with my partner Harlan Hogan.
And you’re still doing voice-overs yourself, right?
Right. Well, that’s why my online casting business even happened, because I needed work.
In 2000 I was searching the Internet for available domains with a buddy of mine and we were clicking on this and that, and came up with the name, Commercial Voices.com, so I just grabbed it. I just registered it, you know. I figured, let’s see if I can get people to join with me on this thing, learn the ropes and get it going.
Another one that I bought and still retain is The Great GoldRush.com. I don’t know what I am going to do with that, but maybe something in the future.
Yet another one was, and this is the funny part, we found Butter is Better.com and I said to my buddy, “Would you like that?”
And he said, “Well, what would I do with it?”
And I said, “Well, obviously it’s a great slogan and the dairy industry is going to be bouncing on that and you could put up some recipes for chocolate cakes or something, using a lot of butter in it.”
Three or four days later that domain name was gone. Yeah, Butter is Better.com. That’s true.
So that’s when Commercial Voices.com came into play.
Back to today – what percent of your time is spent in voice acting compared to your web site businesses?
Well, as you know, the VO business is fairly quick, as long as there are no script problems. I would say that I spend about 25% of my time behind the mic and the remainder on VO web business.
And gradually, Commercial Voices.com has taken up more of your time.
Oh, yes, absolutely. There is amazing talent out there. For instance, Harlan Hogan was one of the first guys to join with me in 2000, and of course, he’s been a great attraction to many other people, feeling that if it’s good enough for Harlan Hogan, it’s good enough for me.
Your service operates differently than some of the other online casting sites. For one, you are not always the middle person handling payments.
That’s right. For Gold members, we host their information and audio samples, and then voice-seeking clients contact these voice talents directly.
But Platinum members can participate in casting calls – as well as receive their own personal web page with audio samples and bio.
For a casting call, I charge the client 15% over and above what the voice-over talent charges. I never charge the voice-over talent any residual, any kickback, any fee, any percentage, or that kind of thing.
So, for instance, if the voice-over talent says that they will do this project for $650, I add 15% onto the $650 and make sure that the client is happy and everything is done properly. I pay the voice-over talent directly after completion and sign off of the project because I can do this faster than the clients.
There is also a new category – Unilingual – for members who speak other than English.
For casting call projects, you pay the voice-over talent and then your voice seeker client later pays you?
That’s right. That’s right. So I have to make sure that the clients are legit, up front, and that they are right there for me. Otherwise I lose the whole thing – but knock on wood, everything has worked out well.
How many voice seeker clients do you have?
Oh my God, I’ve never taken a number of them. It’s probably over 100 that have been with me for eight years or more. There are quite a few.
You’re based in Ottawa, Canada. Where are your voice-seeking clients based?
All over North America. Outside the country as well. Some in the UK.
What’s a typical fee your voice actors might earn?
It’s very seldom under $250. I don’t encourage or participate in $50 commercials and $100 narrations. If a client says I need someone to do a commercial for $50, I tell him to click on a name and ask him or her if they will do it.
But I will not do a casting call for under $600 on Commercial Voices.com. It’s just not worth it
Do you get many union jobs?
Many of them are union jobs, many of our members are union.
Now tell us about E-LearningVoices.com. How is that site going?
It was launched last summer, and took us over a year to build. We went professional all the way, right from the get-go. Harlan Hogan is a 50-50 partner in this venture and it’s going quite well.
We have a pretty substantial operating budget because we charge quite a bit for the membership. All voice talent members have been personally invited to join. We do not recruit from the voice-over industry at large.
We have a board that listens to auditions of people who want to join, and we are doing our best to keep the talent from having duplicate tones.
This, of course, has been negative news for many applicants who sought us out, and for that we are sorry. But surprisingly enough they all agree with our principle and policy.
And the operation of it …
… Is similar to Commercial Voices.com, where the person wanting a voice talent would contact the talent directly, except for the casting calls when they would contact me.
Why the special focus on e-Learning?
E-Learning is a $50 billion industry! It is worldwide and getting bigger and bigger and bigger.
It’s the cheapest and most effective way for businesses to educate and teach people. It has become a priority in tests before hiring employees, and later in training employees.
Globally, e-Learning is quite a bit bigger in India and in Africa. One of the reasons is that many villages and groups of people can’t be contacted easily.
So, for instance, if they want to teach children how to spell or how to do mathematics, they can put an e-Learning course on a DVD and send it out with a screen and computer that is crank-powered, and teach an entire village that way.
There are millions and millions who need to know about school, mathematics, writing and all that. Personal hygiene, how to dig a well, how to catch a fish, how to tame some things, how to make something. There are millions of topics, things to be taught.
In Africa, what languages would these be in?
Yeah, well that’s where there is a problem. But the governments are putting hundreds of millions of dollars into this because obviously they have to, right? They have to educate their people.
Have you experienced any concern given the economic situation worldwide about e-Learning? Is anybody cutting back?
No, it’s the reverse of that. They are increasing e-Learning because it is a more effective, efficient and cost-efficient way of doing it.
Think about the gamut of topics that can be taught with e-Learning. The business pays for the production of the project, they duplicate it on CD, and then sends it out to the various offices, branches, whatever.
It makes a whole lot of common sense. Saves a whole lot of money, a lot of hassle, a lot of time.
Are you looking for more members for e-Learning right now?
No, we are capping e-Learning at 50 members. We’ve had to say no to quite a few people who sought us out but we want to be unique, we don’t want to have duplicate tones, we want to have the most talented people on the roster.
There are tons of talented VO people out there and thankfully they understand our principle and policy and all have agreed. Everyone is in for a two year run on E-LV.
Rick Gordon may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org; 613-257-7425 (within North America), or 0016132577425 (outside North America). The web address is http://commercialvoices.com/join.php. And for a special offer, visit http://commercialvoices.com/Jan_09_sale.php.
See Part 2 of this interview: Advice for voice actors about pleasing clients and setting terms up front.