Before you contact an agent, if you are a student at the School of Voiceover, please read this article and then let us help you craft your email or plan your phone call or contact.
Most people 1️⃣ Assume several things that are wrong about what Agents do, 2️⃣ Ask for the wrong things, and 3️⃣ Only contact them when it’s too late. So in this post, I will cover three topics:
- Get rid of incorrect assumptions
- Set the right goal
- Have a contact plan
About demos: One top agent I know tells people who call NOT to do a demo. They offer alternatives. When you hear “you must do a demo” it’s not agents saying that, it’s the people who sell demos, or it’s the people who have had agents for years and don’t know a darn thing about what agents want from new talent in the current industry. We’ve helped tons of people get a top agent without any demo clips whatsoever. It’s not a good use of your money at first. Don’t do a demo unless you absolutely have to, and do it inexpensively at first.
Often before we work with someone, we ask if they have had contact with anyone in the industry, such as an agent, producer, or agency owner. If they have, we may ask them to share the exact details of their conversation. Usually that means they forward us a couple of emails. We might review a few dozen such emails every year.
In addition, we’ve talked and worked with most of the agents and owners at the top agencies in the Twin Cities over the years, either interviewing them in public, or being in the room with them when they coach. We survey people they have coached about them, and ask engineers who’ve worked with them about them. We are keep up on news from experts in, or keep in touch with the founders of, online marketplaces. We hire top-earning talent, producers, owners, agents and others (such as all the voice over coaches at the Guthrie), to come train new talent and answer questions about the industry.
In this way, plus by reading forums and posts by important people in the industry, we keep up with what is generally happening in the industry.
One of the areas there is very little useful information about is how to contact an agent. Advice is usually generic, and not from people who read a lot of how agents are responding to new talent currently. It helps to know what agents are saying publicly and privately if you want to advise others. A couple of times each year we hear about something a talent overheard an agent saying on the phone that also turns out to be useful, or hear from talent who are having what they consider good or bad experiences with agents or owners that rep them.
But frankly, simply putting ourselves “in their shoes” and thinking hard about the situation different people in the industry are facing generally produces advice that works the best. Empathy, is it in you? Just do it. Because they’re worth it. It’s the quicker picker upper. Can you hear me now?
Tip #1: Don’t Wait. Create a Conversation
Agents are most open to helping you when you are NOT trying to get something from them. So it’s also to your advantage to make contact very early when a conversation is possible. Then extend that positive contact into a followup contact.
Even more importantly, most voiceover training companies are NOT recommended by most agents. Wouldn’t you like to know that before contacting an agent?
So: do what agents want you do BEFORE you contact them for representation, and thank them for the guidance afterwards. This can be by calling, or looking for resources on the Agency website. If you didn’t contact them first, you can act “as if” because you may have asked around or somehow heard that “Agent X recommends training Z”. So thank them later with “I heard you recommended Z, and thank you, they were wonderful!”
If you are already in a training program, find out if any agents recommend it. If none do, you might want to ask one what you should do after taking the training that you only later realized no one recommends.
Tip #2: A Wrong Attitude Can’t Hide Behind A “Right” One
Agents have so many low-quality experiences with people that contact them, they are, first and foremost, suspicious that no matter how “nice” you seem, you have already made a lot of wrong assumptions about them.
You need to understand what THEY think they are doing, not what YOU think they are doing.
In English, idioms such as “put on your best face” or “put your best foot forward” can mean to make your best effort. But instead, people often behave in a fake, artificial and inauthentic way to try to seem “nice” and ingratiate themselves with someone—before they try to get something from them. Do this with an agent and you’re doomed. They live in a world that values authenticity, and being fake with them is NOT putting your best foot forward.
So: It’s NOT as simple as “doing the right thing”. You also have have to show them you’re not hiding the wrong attitude behind the “right” attitude.
Tip #3: Avoid These Fallacies
How can you make things enjoyable and easy for them? How do they see you? What makes them frustrated? What makes them suspicious? What do they want most of all?
Don’t worry! I’ll tell you that and more. But first, I’m going to tell you what to avoid. It might feel like I’m slamming the door on you. You might think “If what you’re saying is true, there doesn’t seem to be much that can be done”—not true. There are things that work great!
1️⃣ Getting an Agent is NOT Validation (You Didn’t Graduate from School to Work).
An old HR joke goes like this: When some people get a job, they stop looking for work. Meaning the validation of being hired causes them to lose motivation to make an effort. The version among agents is that when someone gets their first agent, they lose their talent.
Your attitude might be “If I’m good enough, an agent will rep me.” But what that attitude overlooks—and agents see right through—is that this is the “When I graduate, I’ll get a job.” attitude.
What’s wrong with that? Well, you’re not a loaf of bread, going around asking “Am I done yet?” Agents are used to people feeling so validated by getting represented that they get much worse as talent. I’ve seen it happen—and it’s horrible! People suddenly go from decent to fake in one phone call. I’m. Not. Exaggerating. You’re not “done” because you have an agent. You can’t stop working to improve (not necessarily taking training.)
We joke that it’s because people’s subconscious says “The industry has recognized my talent! Now when I open my mouth, gold falls out.” It’s why the School of Voiceover places so much emphasis on learning an acting process, so that you follow a series of customized efforts to help you perform at your best before every class, audition and performance.
Bottom line: agents fear your talent might drop dramatically as soon as they rep you if you misunderstand what is involved. The hard work and training is NOT behind you, it’s just getting started! For example, yes, agents send working talent to us for voice over training. One was already making six figures! And another started making six figures immediately after taking our training. Yet another got repped, and after two auditions was sent immediately to us for help. No, our training is not magical. This is just by way of saying the work doesn’t end once you get represented.
2️⃣ There are NO “Open” Positions
- It’s not a Job Interview;
- Don’t sell yourself;
- Don’t speak as if you are being “helpful” by providing information about yourself;
- Don’t “project” anything—especially not confidence! It’s seen as naive, tiresome, fake and often egotistical.
People often behave towards agents as if they are contacting an HR person about an open position. This is why agents often say they’re “full in your category”. All that means is “no”. It does NOT mean they are full in your category. A woman once asked what she could do because an agent had told her they were “full in her category”. I explained. The interesting part? They had just taken someone like her. A couple weeks later they took two more like her, and a month later, after she followed our advice, they took her! So, NO—saying they are “full” is just their way of getting rid of you. (And I knew this at least seven years before I heard an agent admit as much to a talent.)
When they can tell you’ve got an “applying for a position” mentality, they’ll tell you there are no openings. And then when they do rep you, they will sometimes say “Just so you know: we’re actually not taking any new talent right now” so that you will tell OTHER people there are no openings!
(2) Agents wish they could have “No Soliciting” tattooed on their forehead. Realize what a pain it is for them that behind every seemingly nice conversation is a sales pitch waiting to attack. And no, that doesn’t mean being more clever with your sales pitch. There IS another way—and it works! But the best reason not to sell is: There is a more effective approach.
(3) Similarly, it’s easy to think that if they will talk to you or read your email, that you should be “giving them the information they need”. In fact, don’t most agency websites specify what you should provide, and how?
Yes…but: You must avoid the attitude that you think they are requesting and reviewing your information, and that you are helping them do that. So don’t speak as if you are being “helpful” to their job by giving them info.
Interacting with you is NOT really their job. Mostly, new, unrepresented talent are just a pain to them. The majority of new voice talent at a good voiceover agency already had an agent. The don’t “need” you. They may have been with the same agency for print or on-camera, or recently started with that agency for on-camera. They may have been with another agency.
That said, the School of Voiceover is well over halfway to helping one hundred new talent get agents who didn’t have one before.
(4) “Projecting” confidence is seen as naive, tiresome, fake and often egotistical.
Agents often joke sarcastically about certain wannabe talent “They certainly gave me the impression it was a privilege to meet with them.”
If you understood what agents really like, you’d realize how much fake confidence turns them off. Remember, they live in a world that values authenticity, and being fake with them is NOT putting your best foot forward.
3️⃣ They’re Not Looking for Talented People.
…they’re looking for people that clients want to book that they don’t have enough of on their agency roster.
This business is about bookings first, reputation second, and talent third.
There are lots of lower-talent people making more money than higher-talent people in every industry. Randy Thomas explained it to me simply: The easiest way to get an agent is by saying “I’m doing so much voice over work, can you help me with the billing?” But yes, agents are VERY good at recognizing talent—they work with it all day.
4️⃣ They’re Not Talent Mentors or Feedback Givers.
Yes, Agents can help you, and will help you. But they must want to. If you treat them like “the help”, it’s not going to work out the way you wished. I know people with agents who bug them to the point of annoying them, and yet they make a good point: “Why shouldn’t I? The agent and I both want the best for me,” they say. My main argument against that kind of behavior is simply that if you seem annoying or annoyed, it’s not going to work out the way you wished.
As far as directly asking for feedback before getting repped, it needs to be done carefully. First step: Avoid errors 1-3, because agents believe you will mis-interpret anything they say (read on for more about getting feedback).
Most important, agents prefer to want to work with you. So many people they deal with they do NOT want to work with. They become pretty darn biased towards people they like.
Of the stories I could share, I know of two talent who were actually developed by an agent, who took the time to actually teach them voice over by bringing them in for auditions over time, and giving them tips. (Neither got work for quite awhile, because they were still learning at first.) And they are two of the most humble, straight-shooters that I know; The kind of people that just give off a brotherly/sisterly vibe to everyone…AND the agent needed more like them on their roster. I also know of two talent who were pretty quickly “encouraged” to leave the agency after getting represented. Both did. Both talented. But these were two of the most high-maintenance, nice-to-your face-but-for-their-own-purposes people I’ve met.
Tip #4: Have the Right Goal AND a Contact Plan
First of all, if everyone follows the same “success formula” it will stop working. This happens a LOT on online marketplaces. There, you’re not trying to get an agent to like you, you’re trying to get an algorithm to like you. And once enough people figure out what works quickest, the marketplace will see it as a “loophole” and stop it from working.
So, what is happening when you contact an agent? Who are you to them? What kind of results are possible?
I’ve used the same car mechanic for decades. He sometimes makes his own tools or modifies parts, and when we get competitive quotes, he is usually less because he has a different way of approaching the problem that is more cost-efficient. Some things he doesn’t work on, and he will refer us to someone he recommends. He “feels” like someone who is deeply engaged in his work, loves what he does, and loves learning.
And that is exactly what agents are looking for: Someone who is engaged by learning and working on their craft, because they love it.
That does NOT mean projecting fake humility. It will be seen as manipulative, or as if you have low self-esteem.
It’s counter-intuitive, but humbly positioning yourself as having work ethic and love of craft WITHOUT positioning, strategizing or pushing to get a yes from an agent is VERY appealing to them. Realize that almost everyone that contacts an Agent thinks or hopes that they are ready. No one is going to say no if the agent says yes!
You probably are getting the idea that it’s partly a mindset that you want the agent to believe you share. Avoiding common errors is a starting point.
Probably the most common pet peeve is (the old HR joke again) “people stop looking for work when they get a job”. I even heard an owner say one time “I only get 10% of the money—I’m not going to do 100% of the work”. While I strongly disagree with characterizing it that way, you should know that you must AVOID seeming like you’re one of those people who are just going to sit around and wait for the phone to ring after they get an agent.
1️⃣ Get Rid of Your Fallacies
You must make an effort to educate yourself here. (If you skipped to this section, go back and read from the top.) And get help if you can on what to say and how to say it before you contact an agent.
2️⃣ Set the Right Goal
You want an agent to (1) Believe that you seem like the right kind of person; (2) Be willing to share something helpful with you.
Realize that more comfortable they are with you, the more they will share, potentially even to the point of overtly helping you or even bringing you in!
For (1) seem like the right kind of person, having the right goal and using a contact plan is designed to make them want to like and help you.
3️⃣ Prepare Before Contacting
Especially before a second contact with an Agent, you should have completed some steps, such as following any suggestions they made on the first contact.
We suggest a series of steps before contacting an important agent. One step can be to first get a lesser agent first. However, some people prefer to start with the top agents and work backwards. I do NOT recommend that for most people, but it is sometimes appropriate, and rarely a fatal error. Another can be to have a website listing some clients you’ve worked with. There are ways to get easy clients online, but you’ll need at least an inexpensive home studio to begin.
4️⃣ Have a Contact Plan
Ideally, first make a positive connection and create and implied or stated agreement that you will follow up.
Remember when I said “Don’t wait until the last minute?” But you probably didn’t know that soon enough, did you? Don’t worry: It’s not too late.
Instead of thanking them for their earlier advice and then recontacting after training, you can say on your first contact “I heard you recommended so-and-so, and thank you, they were wonderful!”
(Again, if you are already in a training program, find out if any agents recommend it. If none do, you might want to ask one what you should do after taking the training that you only later realized no one recommends.)
Agents are most helpful with people who are NOT looking for an agent! That’s why sooner is better. There is no pressure from you—you’re not looking for an agent! You’re harmless! And you can bridge from that positive interaction later.
5️⃣ Analyze Each Contact: Develop a Followup Strategy
While I would like to share some real world examples of what worked, both agents and talent would be able to figure out who I am writing about.
So I am going to give ongoing examples from around the time I wrote this post to give you an idea of how to figure out “what thread to pull on” in coming up with a followup strategy.
One talent got a “no” from an agent, but then spoke to them later at a location they were giving a talk. The agent asked “Who did your demo?” and “How many takes did it take you to do the fourth clip on your demo?”
We heard about all this after the fact from the talent, who was still at a “no” stage with the agent. We pointed out two things: The agent knew and respected the person who had done their demo, and so if they were interested would likely talk to that engineer (they did talk frequently), and they were interested in take four because (our interpretation, but obvious) they could use a talent skilled in that style (it was a great take).
We suggested an optional followup: Practice/train in the style the agent liked, and update their demo with the same engineer after being sure that they could get the results in very few takes, and then recontact the agent, opening with something such as:
Thanks for the feedback, [Agent Name]! [Preferred Engineer] updated my attached demo in the style you suggested [etc].
This talent is currently working in this direction.
Another talent had an early contact with an agent, who suggested a specific training program and agreed to listen to their demo afterwards. We suggested they say:
“Thanks for offering to hear my demo! What was it that interested you in me initially? I’m working with the School of Voiceover as you suggested when we spoke by phone [timeframe]
Unfortunately, they contacted the agent before hearing our suggestion, did not remind them of their previous interest, and received a generic no with no additional feedback.
A third talent was with an agency for on-camera, but the agent felt they were too inexperienced to rep for voiceover.
Because of their training background, and since the agent brought up “experience”, I suggested they write:
Thanks [agent name]! I have experience working with one of the coaches at [competitive agency]—would you suggest I apply there instead?
I explained that it would probably not have much effect, but you must always followup, and try for more feedback, or to get your foot in the door a bit further (without seeming clueless or annoying).
The agent agreed to offer auditions to the talent.
I hope you can start to see that every situation offers potential for followup that can be tied specifically to the previous contact.