Voiceover Artists Choose Sides in War of Political Ads
The potential for lucrative paydays draws talent to the work, but alliances with Democrats or Republicans must be carefully chosen.
Turns out there is a positive takeaway from the explosion of negative political campaigns. Just ask voiceover artists.
Many say that starting with the 2004 presidential election, they've found more work voicing television, radio and Internet ads touting one candidate or another. And with President Obama and GOP rival Mitt Romney already having raised about $300 million for the current campaign (plus millions more pouring in from loosely regulated super PACs), there likely will be more ads than ever before that require narrators and other voice talent during the next six months.
"It could be very lucrative in a very short period of time," says Paul Pape, a career voiceover artist who in 2011 began recording spots for the Democratic National Committee that focused on Obama's American Jobs Act. "I never really pursued it, but with Obama it came on in a big way."
Top talent can earn more than $100,000 during an election cycle. Some say politics now accounts for more than 50 percent of their business. The SAG-AFTRA scale rate for voiceover work is $445 per television ad, $263 for radio and $592 for Internet, though factors such as how long a spot will air and where it will be deployed can make the effort more lucrative.
And voiceover artists say that because political advertisements are often tweaked for specific jurisdictions (think: battleground states) they sometimes churn out several ads in a single recording session. Longtime voiceover artist Leif Anders, who in recent years has taken on political work, estimates that he has recorded more than 100 of these spots.
"It's a great resource for extra work," says Vanessa Gilbert, president of TGMD Talent Agency, who represents Pape, Anders and other veteran voiceover artists such as Pat Duke and George DelHoyo, both of whom have also segued into political work.
However, it isn't just about money. Many say they would never voice an ad that supported a candidate or espoused a political message in which they didn't believe. Anders, for example, identifies himself as an independent, has primarily worked for Democrats and has never done a Republican ad. "There are things that I hear that just make my skin crawl," says Anders, who voiced ads for the Obama campaign in 2008.
And once a voiceover artist works for one major political party, he or she is unlikely to get a call from the other. Duke says his Washington, D.C.-based manager told him during the lead-up to the current election cycle that "nobody can be switch-hitting anymore. They don't want to hear your voice in a Republican ad."
But Dave Sebastian Williams, who has done voiceovers for Republicans such as John McCain (he voiced some of the "Maverick" TV spots) and Newt Gingrich, says some of his colleagues "go both ways" but might not want to be outed. "Each job is a job," he says. "And actors have to survive."