I wasn’t always a full-time voiceover talent. I am first and foremost a video producer and writer – and wore those hats during the first 20+ years of my career. After finding myself working at a television station in the mid-70’s as a graphic artist (art degree), I moved into production and decided that this was perhaps an industry where I could find a career. So I went to graduate school and learned more about it.

It being the 70’s (by now the late 70’s) and being that I am a woman with a Masters Degree, I was hired immediately at a TV station as a director. That didn’t last long. I decided that I really didn’t want to be a news director, I wanted to produce and write. But I found myself in a tiny booth as a live booth announcer for the station – part-time. This was because I did some radio in college and then some booth announcing while getting my masters – but this was NOT what I wanted to do. It was merely my security blanket job while I focused on my Producing and Writing.

Of course, because I didn’t sound like a typical “announcer,” the door kept opening and people kept handing me commercial copy. This led to an agent, Nanci Washburn at Artist Management (still with her today here in San Diego and Orange County). But even though I was starting to become pretty well known in my market as a voice talent, my “real” job was as a producer and writer.

So, while I have always done some “talent” work since those college radio days in the early 70’s, most of the time I was working for local production companies, and didn’t have to worry about how the money was flowing. In fact, I didn’t worry about the money at all. I worked. I invoiced. I got paid.

As time went by, I did a little project management under my own company and started to see how important it was to “worry” about the money. As a business person, it was my responsibility to treat my business as a business. People worked for me. They invoiced me. I paid them.

There was never any question about this part of being in business. Eventually, I decided that I really wasn’t cut out to be the top dog in the food chain of production, so I transitioned away from producing and decided that being “talent” wasn’t so bad after all.

Well, except for the part about getting paid!

What happened to the idea of a business being responsible to their subcontractors!?

Perhaps it is due to the slow-down in the economy – perhaps is it simply a change in business mindset (oh, I hope not) – but more and more, I am hearing about (and seeing it personally) contractors waiting until they get paid by their client before paying their sub-contractors.

Most of the time the bills will get paid, but many times with long delays and many reminder calls and emails. Sometimes the bill never gets paid. For most of us who have been in business for a long time without having issues getting paid, it leaves us wondering if this is a new business model being adopted by young business people due to the tough economy, or a temporary disturbance in the force.

We are in business. From the beginning of the process to the end of the process, let’s treat it as such. I think people get fooled these days by the ease of hanging out a sign and going into “business.” They don’t seem to understand what it means to be “in business.” I don’t know about you, but I get a lot of calls, email and snail mail with offers of business loans – lines of credit. Helping to meet payroll in tough times is part of what these lines of credit are supposed to do.

So, what is a sub-contractor to do!? In the voiceover community, the debate rages. Ask the client to pay upfront. Ask for half upfront. Don’t deliver final tracks unless the invoice is paid. Invoice and wait for payment. More and more companies seem to be working this wait until the check comes in way. And I am sure that it comes from needing to bring in more business in order to keep the doors open. The Internet is a blessing and a curse.

If you work as a director, shooter, editor, LD, grip, craft service, makeup, etc., you have a little bit more leverage when it comes to holding a producer/production company accountable for payment. Word of mouth while networking with other production face-to-face people helps prevent working for companies that don’t pay until they get paid. There are times when everyone is working on faith on a project, but the payment issues are out front.

As voice talent, working remotely for clients you may never have met, it is harder to vet the client. It is easier to get lulled into thinking that everything will be OK. That you will send the invoice and it will get paid. And the vast majority of the time, you will get paid. Most people want to do the right thing.

So, what happened? Why are we seeing an increase in the “you’ll get paid when I get paid” mindset? Is it simply economics? Or is it a shift in the way business is being done? Is it the ease of starting a “business?” Is it really the “Internet?”

I’m confused and curious.