Manager: Debbie Cope, Cope Management, Voice Talent, Los Angeles

Originally posted 2006

Debbie Cope, founder and managing director of Cope Management saw a better way to help film and television producers connect quickly with the voice talent they need to express their creative.

Cope’s innovative use of the latest digital technology makes it easier than ever for producers to hear, audition, and record the right voice, right now, Helping producers solve their creative challenges makes a win for everyone.

Debbie operates her digital command center from a facility next door to her home in suburban Los Angeles. Her stable of voice talent telecommutes worldwide.

Interviewed by Matthew Rose

Backstage - Casting You Can Trust

What does a manager do exactly? How is a manager different from an agent and why does an actor need one?
The manager focuses on a small, select group of talents and they assess each other’s talent’s attributes so that they can guide them towards the area or areas of their expertise. That could mean getting into the right voiceover coach, making a demo that is competitive with the top talents in the market place, taking several workshops to stretch the talents abilities, etc. As a management firm, we market our talents by using several different formats, which make the buyer aware of the talents’ skills and abilities. Not all talents need a manager, but all talents should have an agent.

Cope Management has only sixteen voiceover artists on its roster. Why did you choose to represent such a small number of clients?
I found that when I was an agent, I was only really able to focus on 15-20 talents on a daily basis. When I came up with the idea of the first voiceover management company in the nation, I knew this was the way to really help expand a talent’s career. I could focus on what they did best and connect them with the proper producers or vendors. I also really like the idea of getting to know my talent on a personal basis and the more talents you have the harder that can be.

There’s a perception that after signing with an agent or manager, the actor can sit back and wait for the phone to ring. What are the actors’ responsibilities when working with a manager?
Keep working on your craft. Take all the classes you can, including animation and acting classes. When you become a pro, get into a voiceover workout group or form one yourself. Listen to the promos, commercials, and trailers that are out there and be aware of vocal styles and as they begin to change, you’ll need to be growing and changing right along with it.

Most of your clients are men. But, many women long for a VO career. Why do you think it is so hard for women to succeed in the VO world? Do you see it getting any easier?
I would love to see it get easier for women to work in this business. But, in my 28 years of experience in this business, it’s been like a rollercoaster for women. There are times when there’s been plenty of work, and other times when there’s hasn’t been much. It has gotten better in terms of the amount of work available, but you’d better be at the top of your game. I do handle a handful of women and we get them work on a regular basis. These are the women who we feel are totally versatile and can satisfy our vendor’s needs. At this time, women aren’t on our site, but that could change.

You listen to sooooo many VO demos and have sat thru countless auditions. What are the biggest blunders made by new voiceover actors? What makes for a great audition?
The first big mistake made by a voice over artist is putting together a demo that does not sound real. What I mean by this is, the spots that are on the demo do not sound like actual spots that they have done, nor are they up to date. So many times we receive a demo prior to the talent really being ready for the market place, Thus, their demos sound pushed and not true to who they are and what their abilities are. Don’t make a demo the first six to eight months of being in workshops, wait until you really know that you’re good and you’ve studied with several different teachers who agree. Only then should you be making a demo because you will not really be “putting your best foot forward” should you make one before you are ready.

Regarding the audition process, I believe that the talent always needs to keep in mind that the audition is the job; you almost always don’t get a second chance to audition. If you’re auditioning at your agent’s office or a casting company, it is your responsibility to make sure you arrive early enough so that you have time to prepare and be ready prior to going into the booth. Always be ready to record when you are called. There are no excuses not to be.

Many of your clients work in the animation world. It seems like such a small, closed off end of the industry. What makes a successful animation artist?
There are so many very talented animation voice over talents in the market today, and yes it is somewhat of a closed off industry. If you want to be in the game, I suggest you take as many animation workshops as you can. Many of the teachers also direct or cast for animation. And, over the years, I have seen many new, incredible talents enjoy successful and prosperous careers in animation. Several of these talents also now do commercials, which was a new branch opened up to them by the animation world. A good animation talent needs to be able to create several voices at a moments notice and be able to take specific direction when the director wants something different than what you just gave. Animation sessions move along very swiftly so you need to be on your toes.

So, if I am interested in getting into voiceovers, what are the steps I need to take? What skills and tools will I need to succeed?
I cannot emphasize enough that you would need to take as many voiceover workshops as you can. If you’re interested in commercials, promos, trailer, or animation I’d suggest picking a few spots each week and transcribing the copy and practicing as much as you can. Record yourself, listen, critique. Have others do the same. Practice, practice, practice. If this is something you really want to do, know that it’s going to take a few years, maybe several years. It’s just like anything else that you really want. You need to be educated, passionate, and determined to succeed.

Let’s say I don’t live in New York or L.A. What are my chances for a successful VO career?
When I first started Cope Management, I traveled all over the country meeting with creative directors at advertising agencies. In each big city, I found a voiceover community existed and many were making a successful living. Today’s technology has made it possible for a talented voiceover artist to work anywhere. Promos, trailers, and everything else can now be conducted via ISDN or phone patch, thus making it possible to be anywhere and still be a successful VO artist. Even animation, which is usually done in a group situation, has changed because of ISDN. In fact, because of all the new technology available, we have 2 successful voiceover artists that not in either New York or L.A.

Some people think they need a “booming announcer voice” to make it. But, what if they don’t have it? What is the market for people who do “characters” or who have a really unique voice?
I highly suggest that if you’re only comfortable or capable of doing character voices, then you really shouldn’t spend your time or money pursuing voiceover. Real voices are being used in all venues of voiceover, animation, promo, commercial, trailer, show narration, and non-broadcast. You cannot simply be for a specific market, since versatility is the key in this business.

It is also not so much about the voice quality, but about the read and the interpretation of copy, which again makes it important that a talent be versatile and knowledgeable about their craft.

The heavier big voices are often used on trailers and some promos but not usually in commercials. Animation employs all types of voices and the talent needs to be very versatile. They need to be able to sound real and in a moment’s notice come up with three different possible voices for a specific character.

If you’re thinking about putting together a demo to pursue an agent to take you on, I highly suggest you stay clear of using any character voices. The agent is more interested in your natural voiceprint, your read and interpretation of the copy.

How realistic is it for someone to think they can make their living solely from voiceovers?
When a dear friend, who had also been a successful actor at one time, asked me this question, I told him to keep his day job. He asked me for how long and I said: “Oh, possibly seven years.” It happened quicker than that, but that was then and that was him. Now, we have a lot of people aware of voiceover and the money that can be potentially made, so the competition is tougher than ever. You really need to be a the top of your game to compete in today’s voiceover market place.

I never want to discourage anyone from following their dreams. So, if you think you have the ability to work on your craft for a few years, then get an agent that is passionate about your talent, then go for it…but, don’t quit your day job.

You say: “It should be all about connecting producers quickly and wisely to the right talent who can produce the right kind of impact their creative requires.” The entertainment business is changing everyday. Internet. Podcasting. Satellite radio. How have these advances in mass media affected your job? What do all these changes mean for VO actors?
I think the media changes are going to mean less money for the talent unless our unions get together with the producers and work something out financially that covers all new media. Until then, since there is no set rate (money wise) for all these new media outlets, talents are losing out on potential money to be made.

It has affected our jobs here at Cope Management dramatically as we now have even more avenues to connect our talents with which means more research, more calls daily, and more work in general on our part. The new venues will most likely have less money because of several of the new media avenues have not been proven as viable and effective ways to bring in money yet. But, I still feel the talent, union, and producers should working on rates that can become substantial in time.

Spanish radio and TV is booming. There is a definite cultural shift in the country. A lot of young people are growing up in “two language” households. What can you tell us about the growing need for bilingual education?
We don’t have a bilingual talent on our site, but we do have two Spanish speaking talents that we get work for on a regular basis. It’s obviously going to be big. Telemundo has really shown us that.

A lot of parents want their kids in this end of the business. What opportunities are there for children and teens in voiceovers?
I’m not up on the current use of children in VO, but I was a casting director for kids’ projects at The Voicecaster. I hand picked the kids that would do ADR for McDonald’s commercials, animation, and commercials in general. At that time, there was big money in kids doing VO. I assume it’s even more so today. I do hear a lot more real kids and teen voices in commercial and animation than ten years ago. It was then ,and still is, a great business for kids.

Tons of celebrities are doing voiceovers now. You cannot turn on the radio or TV without hearing a star plugging something. Julia Roberts. George Clooney. Kelsey Grammer. Some VO artists feel these stars have enough money and do not need to be moving in on their territory. What are your thoughts about this trend?
This trend started over 25 years ago when I was a voiceover casting director for commercials and animation. This isn’t anything new. It’s just that more stars are doing it now and through the media we’re more aware of it. We used to keep it hushed, since it wasn’t something the talent or the agent wanted everyone to know. The advertising agencies and their clients that have big budgets want to use the voice of the celebrities to add prestige to their product. I do understand why a celebrity wouldn’t turn down tons of money for maybe an hours worth of work. I believe the general public really doesn’t recognize the voice of most celebrities without reading or hearing about it from some P.R. campaign. It does affect the regular voiceover talents’ income, that is said without a doubt.

In regard to the comment about celebrities moving into the VO community, well… voiceover is a wonderful business and anytime something is this good, you’re going to find that people in general are going to want to share in the benefits. We can’t stop the celebrities or anyone from wanting to be part of the voiceover business. You’re telling stories, painting pictures with your voice, making words come alive and no one cares what you look like or how old you are. What creative person wouldn’t want to be a part of this?

What did you think of this interview? Leave a comment…

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