Into The Unknowns

Did Rumsfeld know what it was like to be a voice over artist?

Exactly ten years ago to the day, much-pilloried US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld uttered his most famous words.  You know the ones I mean.  The ones about “known knowns” and “unknown unknowns”.  At the time, it seemed gibberish, but actually there was a nugget of truth in there – particularly about “known unknowns”.  Anybody would think he was closely acquainted with the voice over world…….

There are so many unknowns when it comes to getting voice over work – at least, that’s my experience so far – that it should come with a health warning for those of a nervous disposition.  Before taking the plunge, I’d worked on a contract or freelance basis, so I was used to a level of uncertainty.  Which is just as well. 

If I’d moved straight from corporate life to being a voice over artist, it could have been something of a shock.  While the job market has changed in recent years, the convention still exists of getting a job description when applying for a role.  And, while receiving silence in lieu of a reply isn’t as unusual as it used to be, some form of response is still likely.  If you get to the interview stage, and you’re using an agency, they can often give you an idea of how many other applicants you’re up against, as well as some feedback at the end of the process.

All of which seems a dim and distant memory.  At the moment, I’m using about six websites to get bookings: it sounds a lot, but it should up my chances of landing work.  After all, I’ve yet to find the same job on more than one site. They all work differently but the basic idea is much the same: to give you a showcase to get work.

The whole process is full of known unknowns, to use Rumsfeldspeak.  You do your audition, you submit it via the website – and then you wait.  Sometimes, in theory, you could wait for ever.  On some sites, you only hear anything if you get the booking: otherwise, silence.  On others you can track the progress of the job, but only know if you’ve got it when you’re emailed with an offer: otherwise silence.   And I should say I do appreciate that the equation No Reply = No Booking is regarded as the acceptable norm.

It’s like working in a vacuum, whichever site you’re using.  On one site that gives you something approximating feedback – but very much at the client’s discretion – you can see how many others have auditioned for the job.  And, again depending on the client, you can also see where you were ranked among the other applicants and whether you reached the final selection process.

But it’s those unknowns again!  You don’t know who you’re up against when you’re auditioning: in some cases, you don’t know how many either.  And if you’ve applied on the site giving feedback, you might receive a ranking, but you don’t know what the standard was.  Being ranked, say, 30th out of 40 sounds really grim – but if they were 40 really top notch auditions, then 30 isn’t so bad.  But you never know …..

Nor do you know why you didn’t get a particular booking.  Even the site with the ranking system doesn’t go this far.  In fairness to the clients, if they did this they’d spend all their time giving feedback and never get their jobs done, but it is still rather sterile from our perspective.

The audition itself can be one large guessing game too.  There are clients who give you a good script and everything else you need to decide how to pitch your audition.  On the flip side there are the minimalist ones that tell you hardly anything about what you’re auditioning for.  Sometimes there’s not even a dummy script, so you’re flying blind and have to turn detective to glean as much as you can from the crumbs you’ve been given.

Do I sound like I’m whingeing?  I don’t intend to.  This is simply the reality as I’m finding it at the moment and, as I’ve said, I’m used to some uncertainty. This just takes it one step further.  It’s also a word to the wise for those who are considering going into voice over work or think it’s a highly-paid doddle.  It’s neither.

I do seem to be turning a corner, though.  My first piece of work arrived a few days ago and I landed my second last night.  It’s another student project, so unpaid (again!), this time a film interpretation of a poem, with yours truly reading the text.  Hopefully my third one will have some money attached to it.

It takes time to set up a new business, especially in the current climate, so I’m being patient, determined and learning a heck of a lot along the way, none of which will be wasted.  With a mail-out of my voice reel planned for a month’s time, together with the launch of my website, I’m hoping that will create some interest – but, again, I know it won’t happen overnight.

In the meantime, I can live with those known unknowns – after all, they’re better than unknown unknowns! – because I know that if I can make this work now, it’ll work at any time!

1 Response to “Into The Unknowns”


  1. 1 Andy Neill February 13, 2012 at 7:39 pm

    Hi there!
    You have really good writing skills and maybe should find some time to put them to work for you as well as looking for the next VO gig!
    Andy Neill
    Fortaleza, Brazil


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