Old School, Old Fool?

Kids listening to story tellerThe country I live in is built for the young.

The population however, is aging rapidly. 

It’s a huge problem, and a tremendous opportunity.

In as little as 15 years, the U.S. is expected to be home to 73 million people over the age of 65. That’s about 33 million more than today. 

The Baby boomers born between 1946 and 1964 are now between 51 and 69 years old. According to a 2011 Associated Press and LifeGoesStrong.com survey, 42% of those who are still working, are delaying retirement. 25% claim they will never retire.    

Behind these rather boring numbers are real people. They may be friends or members of your family. Or you may belong to that group yourself. If that’s the case, you could be part of the first generation that grew up with television. You know, the people who still remember Gilligan’s Island, and where they were the day John F. Kennedy was killed. 

MEMORY LANE

I’m not of that generation, but I remember my parents waking me up in the middle of the night to watch Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walk on the moon. I remember the end of the Vietnam war, the oil embargo, and the Berlin Wall coming down. I remember getting my first personal computer, a cordless phone, and an Internet connection.

I don’t feel like a dinosaur yet, but that’s only a matter of time. Imagine me in 1982. I was eighteen, and I presented my first show on national radio in the Netherlands. Since then I spent most of my days with a microphone eight inches from my nose. 

Every time people refer to me as a voice-over veteran I cringe in disbelief. Please don’t tell me I am that old! And every time I land a job I say to myself: “Thank goodness I’m still relevant!” It’s pathetic, and I know it. 

If Annie Lennox can rock the mic at the Grammys at age 60, I have no excuse or reason to feel sorry for myself. But how will I feel ten years from now, or twenty? Will I be one of the 42% that delays retirement… indefinitely? Will there still be a younger generation willing and able to pay for their elders? Will I still be relevant?

THE AGING VOICE ACTOR

When I look at my older voice-over colleagues, I wonder what it’s like to be them. How do they handle the pressure of being a professional in a fast-paced industry where technology is changing the name of the game? A game taken over by like youngsters who are like totally into virtual reality and stuff… like that.

One of my friends -let’s call her Lizzy- turned sixty-six this year. After she retired as headmistress at a private school, she just couldn’t sit still. People always said that she had a powerful, resonant voice, and she loved reading to children. So, when one of her teachers mentioned voice acting, she perked up. 

Thankfully, Lizzy had saved some money, and she hired a great voice-over coach. After twelve long months she converted a small guest room into a home studio, and even got herself a real Neumann microphone! A thousand dollars or so later, she had a demo she could pass around. With plenty of time on her hands, Lizzy was ready to break into the business!

Soon she discovered that having time, money, and a distinctive voice does not make a career. Finding work was hard, especially because Lizzy had never liked using a computer. “I don’t need a website,” she said. “That’s for the kids. I’ll do things the old-fashioned way. And forget about Facebook. I’m not going to waste my time chit-chatting about nothing.”

Her son convinced her to get a laptop, and helped her sign up for an online casting service. Once Lizzy became familiar with the inner workings of this service, she made a discovery that left her depressed for days.

BEING SIDETRACKED

“All the jobs on this site are for perky 20 to 40 year olds,” Lizzy said. “If you ever need an example of ageism, this is it. No one wants to hire an old headmistress. What am I supposed to do?”

But a week later her spirits were up. A client in Sweden needed a grandma for a number of English children’s stories, and he said Lizzy’s voice was perfect. “Can we set up a Skype session so I can give you some guidance?” he asked. Lizzy froze. She had heard of Skype, but had no idea what it was or how to use it.

“And,” said the producer, “once I have given you some pointers, I take it you can record the rest of the script without my help. We do expect you to deliver clean, edited audio that is ready to use. That’s not a problem, is it?”

“No, no, of course not,” mumbled Lizzy.

“Well, I’ll email you the script, and eh… can you send me the audio in let’s say.… four days? And shall we do our Skype session two days from now? Is ten o’clock your time okay?”

When Lizzy put the phone down she panicked because she realized she was not even close to being ready. What had she gotten herself into? That evening her son installed Skype on her computer, and showed her how to use it. He even took a morning off work, so he could be there when Sweden called.

MESSING UP BIG TIME

Once the connection was made and Lizzy started reading the script, everything was fine. Sven the producer seemed happy with her narration, and within the hour, Lizzy had recorded four three-minute stories. She even remembered how to edit the audio the way her coach had shown her. Things were looking up!

The next day she received a call from the client. He loved her storytelling, but he said they couldn’t use the audio. “Why not?” Lizzy wanted to know.

“Because of all the mouth noises,” Sven said. “I thought you would send me clean audio. That was our agreement.” 

“Let me see what I can do,” said Lizzy, and she went back to her studio. She must have listened to her stories four or five times, but she didn’t hear what the client was talking about. What on earth was going on?

She asked her son to come over and have a listen. After a few minutes he looked at her and said: “Mom, are you sure you didn’t hear all those clicks and smacks? They’re all over the place.”

“Not really,” answered Lizzy.

“Well, that explains why you have been talking louder lately. I think you should see an audiologist. Get your ears checked. And when’s the last time you’ve been to the dentist? I have a feeling you may need new dentures.”

“Ah, the joys of old age,” said Lizzy. “The joys of old age.”

A REVELATION

Two months and two hearing aids later, Lizzy missed being at school. A year ago, people still knew who she was. When she spoke, they listened to her. They even did what she told them to do. She missed being social.

In the world of voice acting, no one knew who she was, and no one cared. People were not polite. They expected her to drop whatever she was doing to record a demo. They never told her why she didn’t book a job she’d auditioned for. Whatever happened to patience and good manners?

When she called her coach, he wasn’t very supportive.

“Lizzy, clients don’t owe you an explanation,” he said. “We’ve talked about that. You may not have that young, hip voice everyone is looking for these days, but there are still jobs out there. It takes time to build up a network and a reputation. You’ve got to work at it. Every. Single. Day.”

He paused for a moment and said: “Lizzy are you listening?”

He continued:

“A client doesn’t work on your schedule. You work on his or hers. And if you want people to find you, you need to have an online presence. You need to be comfortable with technology. I know you don’t like computers, but clients don’t care about what you like or don’t like. If you want to play the game, you have to live by their rules, no matter how old or how young you are.”

Spring was in the air. Outside, kids were playing tag. They were obviously having a good time. “There’s nothing like the sound of children laughing,” Lizzy thought. It always made her happy.

“Now, Lizzy, dear, can I ask you a question?” said her coach.

“Go ahead,” said a distracted Lizzy.

“What is it that you really want? Why did you want to become a voice-over?”

The answer immediately popped into Lizzy’s mind.

“Because I love telling stories!”

“Then why don’t you go out and do that!” her coach said. “There’s no need to stay home and stare at a screen all day long, hoping to get the perfect part. If you have stories to tell, start telling them!”

FINDING A PURPOSE

Two weeks later, Lizzy invited me to come down to the library. Ten four-year olds sat in a semicircle around her. I’d never seen a group of kids being so attentive. And when Lizzy started telling her stories, you could hear a pin drop. The toddlers were mesmerized.

“Lizzy, they absolutely loved you!” I said after the kids were gone. “You were fantastic! Now, are we still on for tomorrow?”

“What’s tomorrow?” asked Lizzy.

“Tomorrow’s Friday.”

“In that case, I can’t make it,” she said. I’m going to the hospital.”

“Oh no, is something wrong?” I wanted to know.

“I’m fine,” said Lizzy. “I’m going to the children’s ward to tell some more stories.”

“But what about your voice-over career?” I asked. “Weren’t you going to set up a website, and do some more auditions?”

“Oh forget that,” Lizzy responded. “There are so many places where I can make myself useful. This world needs more volunteers than voice actors, and I need to be around people. When I looked into the eyes of those children this morning, there was a connection. I felt I was doing something meaningful. I bet that’s not something you can find on Facebook.”

“Oh Lizzy,” I said, “when I’m your age, can I be you?”

“No way,” she answered. “I’m already taken!”

When we walked out of the library, she gave me a big hug and asked jokingly:

“Do you want to buy a microphone? It’s a Newman. It didn’t do me any good.”

“Hang on to it my friend,” I said. “Sweden might be calling back soon. Over there they know how to take care of senior citizens. They treat them with the respect they deserve.”

“Oh, stop it,” said Lizzy. I’m not ready for retirement.

I may be old school, but I am no old fool!”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

Be sweet. Please retweet.

photo credit: Kids and Library! via photopin (license)

About the author

Paul Strikwerda

is a Dutch-English voice-over pro, coach, and writer. His blog is one of the most widely read and influential blogs in the industry. Paul is also the author of "Making Money In Your PJs, Freelancing for voice-overs and other solopreneurs." goo.gl/ihVpMc

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Personal

33 Responses to Old School, Old Fool?

  1. Pau

    As one commenter said, the lady wasn’t ready for the realities of te buiness. That said, you wrote the story brilliantly – like a novel. (Your next career?)

    I don’t feel older until I am confronted with the numerical fact. I’m also grateful to be blessed with a voice a bit younger than my body age. I’m lucky to have a lot of repeat business, and to be able to record at home – but I don’t tweet, do Instagram or whatever else this year’s digital trend is. Eventually, that will catch up to me, but by then, my band’s second album (coming soon) will have made me a rock star and a 50-year overnight sensation. (Hey, I can dream, can’t I?)

    The point of the above rant: be here now. Not only is “here” good, but it’s the only thing I’ve got that’s guaranteed.

    And now I’m out the door for an ongoing gig at a studio – show up, read, have fun, say so long and get paid. What’s not to like?!?!?

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Hi Pau, thank you so much for your comments, and good luck with your album. Late bloomers usually know what they’re doing, and they’re better prepared. Lizzy didn’t know that her hearing was so bad, until she handed in her first recording. Unfortunately, her coach hadn’t picked up on it during their sessions.

    As far as my writing is concerned, I did publish a non-fiction book about voice-overs and freelancing last May. I would like to write a novel, but I just don’t know what about. And that’s a slight problem.

    [Reply]

  2. Paul Garner

    As I creep up on 60 I’m starting to work more on taking care of my voice and finding appropriate projects as my voice changes a bit more. I love technology (a geek from way back) so I don’t have any trouble with those changes in the industry.
    Thanks for another great discussion, Paul!

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    You’re welcome, Paul. And to the younger colleagues: Start taking care of your voice and your hearing NOW!

    [Reply]

    Paul Garner Reply:

    Amen to that, brother!

    [Reply]

  3. Jerry Reed

    Paul:
    Nice story. At 67, I share a lot of the same issues. Lizzy found that her heart wasn’t in voiceover. But the good thing is, she found something that give her enjoyment and purpose. In my situation, I had done voiceover for most of my adult life as a sideline or part time gig. So it never was the lifeblood of the family. Then when I was told that the department I had worked at for nearly eleven years was being phased out, I decided to make voiceover my retirement business.

    It has taken nearly three years to get that business to a point where it’s looking like a business instead of a money pit. But, that’s to be expected and is earlier than many predict for a young business. I am fortunate that I was at retirement age and was able to look at my Social Security investment as a something to sustain me during that business ramp up. The voiceover business is now my focus. It’s something I look forward to every day. Sure it’s hard work, especially the marketing part. But, that work is what keeps me going in my senior years.

    There are several things I tell myself ever day:

    1. Do not try to compete for those jobs where a younger voice is required.
    2. There’s work for the senior voice talent. But,it just takes a little more skill and effort in finding those opportunities.
    3. Don’t forget to ask for a referral as that’s what will sustain your business.

    In my case, voiceover gives me a purpose every day. Sure I have other interests that I treat as diversions and everyone has to have some recreational diversions. Mine are wildlife photography and baking breads. So when I’m not doing auditions or marketing my voiceover business, you’ll find me toting a camera along a nature trail or in the kitchen creating artisan breads.

    Life is good.

    Jerry

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Thanks for adding your perspective to Lizzy’s story, Jerry. I know quite a few older colleagues who are enjoying life as much as you do, and they’re in the voice-over business. There is still work out there, and you’re right: it’s a matter of auditioning for the right roles.

    [Reply]

  4. Sally Blake ( Voice On Fire )

    Good Morning Paul.
    I so look forward to your weekly thought provoking blogs.
    So many of my friends and acquaintances have expressed a desire to “get into voice over ” not realizing all that is involved. I quickly list the minimum details:)
    Throughout my voice over career I have tried to promote the joys of volunteering. When you start out volunteering you think to yourself, “I want to help people” and shortly realize that the volunteering gives YOU so very much.
    When I watched the Sound of Music special I thought to myself how hard it must of been for Julie Andrews to lose her voice and later in the show was inspired by “her story” relating to that hardship.
    Thank you Paul. Have a wonderful weekend !
    PS Thank you for the kind compliment last week on my avatar:)

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    You ARE on fire, Sally! I’m sure you’ve become good at telling your friends and acquaintances what being a VO involves. We all know it’s much more than reading into a microphone.

    I’m a volunteer at our local Farmers’ Market. As of May, you can find me in Centre Square as one of the announcers, drumming up business for local vendors. My time spent at the market usually gives me more pleasure and satisfaction than any of the voice-over work I do. I love being a VO, so this says a lot!

    [Reply]

  5. Howard Ellison

    What a positive piece, and what wise responses. I’m two decades on from you, Paul, but I think this wonderful, crazy, biz is a great way to slow the clock. Playing roles keeps mind and body flexible. Having started late anyway, six years ago, there is no sense of the dynamo dying – though I’m careful with precious time!

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Howard, you are yet another example of someone who was able to enter this business a bit later in the game of life. I’m so glad you did. Not only are you good at what you do, you are a tremendously supportive colleague. You have embraced social media, and your insights have inspired many of us, including myself.

    [Reply]

    Howard Reply:

    Paul – Thank you, what a very kind comment. Your wisdom has put fuel in the tank all along. Howard.

    [Reply]

  6. Helen Lloyd

    Oh Paul … This really resonates with me …

    Ten years ago, I took the decision then not to be left behind, so made the decision to set up a home studio so I could continue to work remotely and independently.

    For me it was all about keeping pace with the technology and knowing where my voice would fit best. I think one of the problems with our business is that everyone expects to be good at everything. Not all actors can sing, not everyone is good with Shakespeare – so why would every voice actor be equally at home doing commercial reads. I know it is lucrative, but sometimes it is more important to know your niche and play to your strengths certainly as far as longevity is concerned.

    As a ‘veteran’ (how I hate that word) now closer to seventy than sixty and having survived almost fifty years ‘in the business’ without too many days ‘waitressing’, the kind of work I am offered has totally changed.

    Fortunately I am computer and technology literate and am probably a secret geek I suspect, so that side of things holds no terrors for me, but as far as VO work is concerned, I no longer even consider doing commercials – though I have done a couple for an age related charity – but I don’t chase them and any that do pop in are a bonus. But leaving commercials out of the equation saves me all the stress and any necessity I might have felt to participate in the P2P cattlemarket – so a real bonus in my book.

    Alongside VO work for Corporate and elearning projects, the real joy for me is returning to Audiobook narration. I recorded my first audiobook more than thirty years ago – there was then long gap when I did other VO work, but Audiobooks are now the major thing I do – OK the rate per minute is much lower than voicing commercials but the job satisfaction more than compensates.

    One thing I would add is that I work very hard to keep my voice in good order … daily voice and breathing exercises, tongue twisters – and though I am perhaps a tone deeper than I used to be, thankfully these geriatric pipes (and all other working parts) are still in good order!

    Now if I could just remember where I put my reading specs . . . . !

    [Reply]

    Howard Ellison Reply:

    Hello Helen. Your revelation absolutely amazes me. And I guess I am among the hoards of colleagues who love your A-Z of voiceover essentials. Wisdom is a life-won gift to be shared.

    [Reply]

    Helen Lloyd Reply:

    Thank you for your kind words Howard. A – Z will be returning shortly … I’ve been taking a break while the website is undergoing an overhaul, but hope to be sharing more thoughts and tips before too long.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Having the right specs makes any job easier!

    Thank you for adding another layer to this story: the emphasis on practice. It doesn’t make perfect because perfect doesn’t exist. It is part of being a pro. Our voice is our instrument, and as such, we need to take care of it. As a mater of fact, we need to take care of our entire body in this business. We all know that sitting is the new smoking, and audio book narrators are chain-sitters!

    I do get your point about commercials and audio books. Commercials pay the bills much more quickly, but audio books last much longer!

    [Reply]

  7. Kent Ingram

    Loved it, Paul! I’ll be 64 in July and I can do a 40-year-old or an 80-year-old voice. I admit I’m totally un-hip and un-cool! What’s more, I don’t care! I promised a close friend, shortly before he died (he was only 52) that I wouldn’t give up, get discouraged or quit this business, no matter how old I got. I’m sticking to it!

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    I’m so glad you’ve kept that promise, Kent. You’re really good at what you do, and you have a terrific range. Hip and cool are like flavors of the day. Quality and character are timeless!

    [Reply]

    Kent Ingram Reply:

    Many thanks, Paul, for those kind words! Your articles are probably another thing that’s kept me from getting down and discouraged, at times.

    [Reply]

  8. Connie Terwilliger

    66? 66 is old? Stop the madness. Your friend rushed into something without understanding the business part of the business. Glad she found an outlet for her energy, but I don’t really see any ageism in this particular story. Sure I see a lot more auditions for younger sounding voices, but there is plenty of work for voices of all ages.

    It can be challenging at times to work with people who have never experienced life pre-computers, pre-online casting, etc. But that isn’t really ageism, it is just a fact of life. Technology changes. You adopt, adapt and grow. Or you don’t.

    The world doesn’t know what to do with all of us aging dynamos.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    I agree with you: 66 isn’t old at all. Betty White is still pretty hip, and she’s what… ninety-three?

    [Reply]

  9. Angel Burch

    Wow! This resonated with me too, When I was young I had a certain genre of voice I did all the time! Then I took a few years off, and when I came back to it a couple of years ago, not only had the industry changed dramatically, but my voice did too! I still struggle sometimes with ’embracing’ those little quirks in my voice that weren’t there before, but I have also discovered whole new genre’s I am good at as I get older. That and I have never used email so much in my entire life! LOL. Great article Paul – looks like someone else is a good story teller.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Happy birthday, Angel! What you say is so true. Getting into a different age bracket allows us to explore new roles. To me, life gets more interesting all the time. For one, I have more stories to tell!

    [Reply]

  10. Rick Lance Studio

    Yep, I certainly have noticed more 20-30 something auditions coming around on the P2Ps and agents requests.
    I’ve been deleting a lot more too these days… from knowing I couldn’t play the part, not relating to the copy, or from just being more particular and stubborn each year I continue my career. One thing about P2Ps, they do highlight what the current trends are.

    I just hope I don’t wind up one day in the future standing on the street corner with metal cup in hand, telling old stories to passersby.

    Btw, Paul… nicely done!

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Thanks, Rick. I don’t see you standing outside with that cup in hand. You have cornered the market on Americana, and you do it so well. It never gets old, and neither do you!

    [Reply]

  11. Rowell Gormon

    …sure it stings a little, knowing how much of the work is calling for 20 and 30-somethings. I even had a studio friend good-naturedly apologize for that recently.

    But it’s not much different than my radio days, when I knew I was never going to have that “super DJ” voice. I concentrated on what I COULD do, and that hasn’t turned out so bad.

    I’ve taken on as much of the technology as I can, and have cultivated friends who speak “tech” for help when I get in over my head, so I can concentrate on the performance.

    All I can do is aim my efforts toward projects that need what I can do, and let the rest go. At some point, I may have to give up, but I’ll never Retire.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    I love your approach Rowell. Quality never goes out of style!

    [Reply]

  12. Randye Kaye

    Paul, this story illustrates so much about really accepting the business as it now is, embracing where you are in life, and making choices based on the reality of what you want ( not always so easy to discover), and what it takes to be seen as a VO Pro. Brava to Lizzy for learning what it takes, and also for the courage to say “no, thanks, this isn’t for me after all.”
    And yes the Julie Andrews story was inspiring!
    Thanks for another great post, Paul.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Sometimes we have to try new things in order to discover that they’re not for us. I’ve had that experience with chocolate-mint ice cream. It tastes like toothpaste on a Hershey bar.

    Lizzy made the right decision, and she’s never been happier!

    [Reply]

  13. jennifer m dixon

    As I am a late bloomer in this industry also I identify a lot with what you have describe Paul. As a result of being accepted by two local talent agency for voice over representation I have also had great fun doing quite a few on camera commercials and roles in films!!! I like to say it is now time for the ‘Gray – haired brigade’ !!! We are not dead yet!!!

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    I’ve heard that there are at least fifty shades of gray! For some, age is a verdict. For others it’s just a number. Enjoy what you’re doing, Jennifer. When can we see you on the silver screen or on TV?

    [Reply]

  14. Debbie Grattan

    Loved this! I just watched the 50 year anniversary special for The Sound of Music on ABC last night, and Julie Andrews talked about how, after losing her gift of singing, found another way to use her voice, through writing children’s books with her daughter. She said she felt like a weight was lifted, after a long depression over what she thought was lost. Sometimes, it takes longer to find the real purpose behind what we want and how we spend our time. It sounds like a happy ending for your friend.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    I can’t imagine what Julie Andrews must have gone through when she lost her singing voice. Some seem to think that Lady GaGa is her successor, but that’s nonsense. I didn’t care for the Sound of Music performance she gave at the Oscars. It was unexpected, but that’s all there was to it. Christina Bianco does an awesome Julie Andrews impression, by the way.

    Anyway, finding meaning and purpose in life is so important at any age. Being there for the youngest generation is surely one of the most gratifying and meaningful things one can do.

    [Reply]

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