Back in another time and place – almost another world – most VO work was union. You went to a studio to work. They were expensive to set up and to run. Internet? What’s that?

Then everything changed.

The cost of recording equipment dropped and people were able to record from home, if they were able to set up a quiet place. Still no real internet in the early 90’s so you recorded onto a zip disk and dropped it into FEDEX.

Then the internet changed everything. More and more people began to record remotely and now the world was within reach, to and from your own home. Digital became a thing and more and more work was created for new industries. It was no longer just TV, cable, radio and in-house videos. It was all of those and more, throughout the world. And more and more of this new work was for new industries that didn’t have a history of working with unions. Many didn’t even know it applied, so most of this work was created non-union.

And that’s a problem for many voiceover talent today. Are you non-union and aspire to high profile union work, but can’t afford to give up your, often very healthy, business of non-union work once you join? Or are you a union VO seeing fewer union opportunities out there and wishing you could get some of this new work without resigning your membership and declaring Financial Core, or working off the card?

You hear that once you join the union there is no work that isn’t union work that one can do. That you have to give it all up. That’s just not true. It’s an oversimplification of Global Rule One that leads you to believe that everything that’s not union is out of reach – but that’s a myth. And it’s keeping full union members from tapping into some of the work that’s out there, that CAN be done. Not by declaring Fi-Core and downgrading yourself to fee-paying non-member, and not by working off the card. You remain a full SAG-AFTRA member with all benefits that come with membership, while being able to access some of the non-union work that’s out there, without being in violation of Global Rule One. There’s a good amount of work out there you can do while being a full member. You just have to know what it is and how to do it.

Melissa Exelberth has been a member of the union for more than 20 years and has served on the AFTRA NY Local Board and Broadcast Steering Committee and currently serves on the SAG-AFTRA National Voiceover Performers Committee. She knows where the union and non-union worlds intersect and can help you figure out the work you can do that’s not union, how to do it and how to make it work for you.

Melissa Exelberth

Disclaimer: While a member of the union’s VO committee advice and opinions are her own.