Rudy Gaskins and Joan Baker created the Society of Voice Arts and Sciences (SOVAS) to support working voice actors. The organization’s 8th annual Voice Arts Awards will be held Sunday, December 19th. We spoke to Rudy Gaskins about how SOVAS is planning to expand its podcasting category.
PBJ: Tell us about the awards.
Rudy Gaskins: The Voice Arts® Awards began eight years ago as a program conceived under SOVAS (Society of Voice Arts and Sciences), which is a 501(c)3 nonprofit. Our purpose is to elevate and celebrate the extraordinary work being done by voice actors and voice personalities in all forms of media; animation, TV and radio commercials, audiobooks, video games, podcasts, and many other genres. Our primary focus has always been the everyday voice actors who do the lion’s share of the world’s voiceover work, but we also recognize celebrities, and have been honored to have our award won and received by talents like James Earl Jones, Ken Burns, Rosario Dawson, Keith David, Lily Tomlin, Michael (Let’s get ready to rumble.) Buffer, Mark Hamill, Henry Louis Gates Jr., and others.
The presence of these luminaries at the award show establishes a promise of excellence for all of us, and creates a lot of fun and excitement as we all dress up, hit the red carpet, and witness the presentation of the beautiful gold statues to the winners. Mind you, we have multiple categories in English, Spanish, Arabic, and Portuguese, as well as two international categories that accept 12 different languages.
The award program is not all we do, however. As a nonprofit organization we provide free seminars year-round, as well as a highly regarded newsletter that reaches 27 thousand readers. We also provide several academic scholarships, and financial relief for voice actors in need. We have sponsors, but that alone is not enough to also produce an annual event called That’s Voiceover!™ Career Expo. The name practically say it all. It’s the longest running voiceover conference in the world and mission is to create pathways for voice actors to attain gainful employment.
PBJ: What’s new for podcasting this year?
Rudy Gaskins: The Voice Arts Awards has always had a single podcast category as a catch-all for all podcast topics. That’s available right now. What’s new is that come 2022 we’re expanding the award program to include a variety of podcast genres with 20 categories. The choice to expand was inspired by the sheer breadth and quality of podcasts being produced.
There’s something very special and unique about the emergence of podcasting, and that is that they give voices to people who had no access to an affordable, self-owened, self-produced outlet for reaching the masses . Podcasters don’t have to be trained speakers or polished actors. The power is in their authenticity as voices of the people. They are often unencumbered by sponsors, etc., so they can express the freely. Podcasts can be, and often are, the voice of everyday individuals who believe they have something worth sharing and they want to connect. That’s the evolution of radio and it’s beautiful.
Podcasts, of course, represent a tsunami of people and topics, including those created by media behemoths, but the striking thing is that the everyday people and esoteric ideas still shine through, get noticed, and bring value to people’s lives. It’s an amazing phenomenon. The challenge is that the number topics rival the Library of Congress, and too few great podcasts get the notoriety they deserve. Podcasters struggle to get noticed, to get productive feedback, and to monetize their efforts. SOVAS hears them. We recognize them as part of the voice tribe, and we want to recognize and promote their excellence. We see over and over how winning a prestigious award built on integrity, expertise, peer review, and transparency can give a nominee or winner the attention they need to cut through and grow their audience. Sponsors take note too, giving podcasters more muscle when seeking meaningful financial support. SOVAS was compelled to do our part, and we’re doing it in two phases: First, this year, the 2021 Voice Arts® Awards is opened to all genres of podcasts, and will select the best 5 all-around podcast of the year. Second, starting in 2022, we will add 20 additional categories: entertainment, politics, social causes, music, science, business, finance, comedy, children, career, heath & wellness, religion, and others. “Best All-around” will continue to accept all genres.
PBJ: What are the requirements/experience a podcaster needs to have in order to submit?
Rudy Gaskins: The specific criteria for entry can be found on the website under “Rules and Fees.” All the info and detail is there, but what I can tell you is that it’s open to anyone who feels they are putting out an excellent product that they want to be recognized. The only prerequisite is that the work be published or distributed for public consumption within the stated eligibility period which is found in the rules.
We choose not to manufacture a litmus test beyond proof of public distribution within the eligibility period. Podcasting talent (producer and/or host), as is the case with a music talent, is determined by whether your product moves an audience. It doesn’t matter if you’re a young band practicing in your parents’ garage, or if you have a major company behind you. It’s all between your product and the judges. For every podcaster who submits their work, we’ll have a team of judges review and score it. Each entry will be judged by three groups of judges as follows:
Expert Audio Producers
Everyday Podcast Listeners
PBJ: What are you looking for from podcasters?
Rudy Gaskins: Clearly, we are looking for podcasters to participate in the program and to share the opportunity to participate with their fellow podcasters. As it has been with voice actors, casting directors, writers, and producers who have entered work over the years, podcasters will benefit, first and foremost, from the personal satisfaction of being validated for their hard work, expertise, and creativity. Secondly, we know they’ll benefit from being able to market themselves as nominees and/or winners. Some entrants expressed that they almost didn’t enter because they feared not winning. For them, the act of entering was a breakthrough in supporting their own interests. What I take away from that is that whether you win isn’t necessarily as meaningful as putting one’s self on the playing field. Getting back to you original questions, what we’re looking for from podcasters is their faith in the amazing platform we’ve built over the past eight years, and to embrace us as we are embracing them. Together we can elevate the profile of the contribution podcasters are making to media communications at all levels.
PBJ: How are you getting the word out to podcasters to get involved?
Rudy Gaskins: Well, thanks to your interest, this chance to share what we’re about is a deeply appreciated opportunity to speak directly to podcasters, and I don’t take it lightly. We’re also making announcements on the major social media platforms, investing time in interviews with various outlets, and continuing to build general awareness of SOVAS among media professionals.
PBJ: How many entries from podcasters are you hoping for?
Rudy Gaskins: Realistically speaking, and given that this is the first time we’re making a direct appeal to the broader podcasting community, we hope to see 200 entries. That would be up from 32 last year and only 8 in our inaugural year back in 2014. 2022 is when I expect a breakthrough participation because of the many new categories. Of course, I’m optimistic.