The Most Embarrassing Moment of my Voice-Over Career

Crazy MinionThis week I decided to do something different.

Instead of telling you a story, or giving you some kind of Top Ten, I will answer three seemingly simple questions I get asked a lot.

I’ll start off with some career advice, then I’ll talk about gear, and I will finish with my most embarrassing moment in this business.

Why not save the best for last?

As a voice-over coach, I work with experienced people and absolute beginners. This is what many want to know:

How do I become a top-earning voice talent?

This is actually easy to answer:

By not becoming a full-time voice actor.

Just look at the evidence. I’m sure you’ve seen a few lists of the best paid voice-overs. Trey Parker and Matt Stone are usually on those lists. They are the creators of South Park, and they wrote The Book of Mormon musical. Matt and Trey are screenwriters, producers. directors…. and they do voices for the cartoons they created.

Seth MacFarlane, Harry Shearer, and Hank Azaria are also on that list. All three are multi-talented multimillionaires. Hank is a stage actor, director and comedian. Seth created Family Guy and co-created American Dad. He’s a writer, a producer, actor, and singer. Shearer hosts his own weekly radio show, and stars in many movies.

On July 10th, 2015, Minions hit American movie theaters. The voices of these cute yellow fellows don’t come from a professional voice actor, but from French animator Pierre-Louis Padang Coffi. In the Despicable Me movies, fellow director Chris Renaud voiced a few minions too. 

So, if your goal is to make a ton of money doing voice-overs, the sure-fire road to success does not lead to the VO studio, but to a film set, a Broadway stage, or to a comedy club. There are exceptions, but the people for whom voice acting is just something they do on the side (among many other things), tend to be the highest earners.

My advice: Get famous doing something else first, and before you know it, the voice-over offers will start pouring in!

What Equipment do you recommend for the voice-over studio?

First off, even the best gear sounds crappy in a bad environment. I strongly urge you to spend most of your money on creating a semi-soundproof and acoustically treated recording space before you blow it all on a Neumann mic.

When it comes to selecting equipment, I find that a lot of people go for familiar brand names without looking any further, and they spend way too much money.

When in 2012 I introduced the voice-over community to one of my favorite microphones, many colleagues said: “Conneaut Audio Devices, what kind of brand name is that?” Yet, I still believe that their E100S model is one of the best values for money. Click here to find out why. 

It is probably time for me to change the headline of this review, because the CAD E100S (retailing for about $350) has earned quite a reputation. Whenever someone asks for microphone advice, you’ll always find a happy CAD convert chiming in on social media, and for very good reasons.

Now, it takes a good preamp to make a microphone shine. Audient might not be the first brand you think of when it comes to voice-over gear. Yet, this British company is known throughout the recording industry for their pristine preamps. If you’re looking for a pre with top-of-the-line AD/DA converters, a monitor controller, and lots of connectivity, the iD22 ($599) is an excellent choice. I use it in my voice-over studio, and you can click here to read my review.

Audient iD14

click to enlarge

A few months ago, the iD22 got a little brother: the iD14. It’s a compact, robust, portable plug and play solution. At $299, this stylish all-metal powerhouse is hard to beat in the studio and on the road.

What was the most embarrassing moment of your voice-over career?

Let me preframe my answer by saying that I firmly believe that people make decisions based on the information that is available at the deciding moment. This information is always insufficient, and it is colored by many factors such as our emotions. Looking back, some of the decisions you and I have made may seem silly or stupid now, but had we known better, we would have made better choices.

Here’s one decision I later came to regret.

Back in 2009 I was launching my voice-over career in the United States, and I signed up for voices.com. That turned out to be a pretty good move, because straight away I started booking a handful of lucrative jobs.

A few months later, Voices held a contest called “The Ultimate Success Story,” asking their members to write a few words about how well they did using the online voice casting service. The grand prize was a $500 gift certificate to pro audio retailer Sweetwater.

I think you can guess what happened next: my glowing testimonial turned out to be the top pick. Last time I checked, it is still used for promotional purposes.

Why was winning the grand prize so embarrassing?

Well, right after claiming my reward, my luck on Voices ran out, and after a few years I started to dislike the whole Pay-to-Play model. As I wrote in my book Making Money In Your PJs:

“In 2013 I had a five-star rating, 5445 listens on voices.com (more than any other Dutch talent), and I landed a total of… (are you ready?) TEN jobs, earning me a whopping $2,740.89. God only knows how many auditions I have had to submit before being selected.

This can only mean one of two things. Either, I stink at playing the Pay-to-Play game, or I’m a talentless, misguided soul who should be doing something useful with his life.”

That year I left voices.com, and I never looked back. I no longer believe that a site like Voices benefits my career or my community. As I wrote in my article Leaving Voices.com:

“Today, I’d rather work for agents who have an incentive to send me quality leads with decent rates. There are no upfront fees. When I get paid, they get paid. When they negotiate a better deal, they make more money too. That’s only fair. I only pay when I actually get to play.”

Every now and then I still run into people who have read my prize-winning endorsement. They also know of my overall disenchantment with online casting mills. And when they bring up my old testimonial, I get very uncomfortable.

It is the unfortunate price I pay for my Sweetwater shopping spree!

But don’t feel sorry for me.

I may not make as much as Trey, Matt, Hank or Harry, but I’m doing quite alright. 

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be Sweet. Please retweet.

photo credit: Happy Meal Minion Toys 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, Gear, Pay-to-Play, Personal, Studio

8 Responses to The Most Embarrassing Moment of my Voice-Over Career

  1. Jess

    Hi Paul!
    I’ve actually been considering joining voices for awhile now and was finally about to do it and a little voice in my head said, “Just make sure, see if there are any reviews on it.” And I am extremely happy I did, I read your other two posts regarding them and it breaks my heart they would treat the talent supporting their company so horrible. I am trying to get started in this field, and work is really hard to find on your own. So being a “naive beginner” I thought it was a good idea, thank you so much from saving me from that financial sinking ship! But I do have a question, what type of agencies are good? Or what are the very first steps to get into the business? Do I buy equipment first, or do I find an agency and clients have you go in for the audition? Any helpful advice is greatly apprecuated. Thanks again for these articles.
    -Jess

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Hi Jess, thank you so much for finding my blog, and for commenting on it. You came up with some really good questions that are easy to ask and not so easy to answer. For every freelancer, finding work is the real job, and there are many ways to go about it. There are no silver platters or magic formulas, though.

    The first step is to be able to offer a stellar, unique, and consistent product clients have a need for, no matter what business you’re in. It’s no use offering your services when you’re not ready to take on the ever-increasing competition. Secondly, you need to have a clear way for clients to find you. That means investing lots of money in promotion. You also need to build a network of colleagues who can support you, and who can give you referrals.

    Lastly, you have to set up a pipeline of job offers coming your way. Don’t ever depend on one single source. I could write a book about each of theses steps, and I’ve written about them extensively on these pages, and in my book.

    You wrote: “Work is really hard to find on my own.”

    It’s supposed to be that way. If it were easy, everybody would be making tons of money without lifting a finger.

    Enjoy the journey!

    [Reply]

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  4. Kent Ingram

    Home Run, Paul! This blog has got me thinking about my future. I’ve heard a number of pros and cons regarding Pay-to-Play and I admit, I do use a couple of them. I don’t get hired for much of them, admittedly, primarily because of my deeper voice register and, unfortunately, I don’t sound “young”, anymore. I’m not going to become a sob-sister because of that, however. My involvement as a voice actor and sound engineer with the comedy podcasts has opened up a number of talents and abilities that I didn’t know existed. As a semi-engineer, the skills I’ve learned (and continue to learn) have opened new vistas for me. Will all of that translate into a nice income? I don’t know. But, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Different people determine ROI in different ways. The problem with many VO’s is that they never figure out how much time and money they’re spending, running after small jobs for little pay. That’s because they don’t run their “business” as a business, but as a hobby. As long as people don’t get out of that amateur frame of mind, they’ll never get the success they dream of.

    [Reply]

    Donna Anderson Reply:

    Hi Paul, I SO appreciate your message here regarding the “pay to play” model. Since completing all levels of VO classes with MJ Lallo at her Burbank, CA studio, I joined “voicebank.net” for the weekly workouts. I absolutely want an agent to promote my deep and rich voice perfect for cosmetic, luxury car and healthcare commercials as well as narration. Big thanks for your words of wisdom! – Donna Anderson

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    You’re very welcome, Donna. Over the years I have written a lot about the Pay-to-Play model, and some of that you’ll find in my book “Making Money In Your PJs, freelancing for voice actors and other solopreneurs.”

    You seem to have no problem promoting your pipes, and I wish you the best of luck!

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