Calling It As I See It

Paul StrikwerdaIn this blog I often take a critical look at the industry I’m a part of.

Some colleagues have told me that -from a marketing perspective- this is a stupid thing to do. 

Particularly in America, there is this culture of forced optimism, and fostering a positive image is seen as one of the keys to continued success.

In an environment where public perception can be instrumental in the making of a career, it’s important to come across as likable and easy-going. That’s why many voice-overs keep their money-making mouths shut about controversial issues. It’s not that they don’t have opinions. They just fear that if they would share those opinions with the rest of the world, it might tarnish their reputation as the “Good Girl” or as “Mr. Nice Guy.”

It’s common knowledge that you don’t burn bridges, or bite the hand that feeds you. That hand might come back to slap you in the face. Let me give you one example of how something small that is seen as “negative,” can ruin a relationship.

WHERE’S MY MONEY?

A talent from Germany emailed me about an American agent. Three months ago she had completed a job for this guy, and she was wondering when the check would arrive. Because I live and work in the States, she asked me if it was normal to have to wait that long to get paid, and what she could do about it. I told her to take it up with the agent, which she did. The agent promised to look into it.

A month later, my colleague (who, by the way, is one of the sweetest people on the planet), wrote another polite email about the payment, and the answer she received was something like this:

“Please don’t bother me about it. I’m still waiting for the client to pay me. When I get paid, you get paid. That’s how it works.”

My colleague didn’t like the tone of that message. In her mind, her agent had to earn his commission, not only by submitting her auditions, but by making sure she was getting paid within a reasonable period of time. So, after two more weeks had passed, she wrote another friendly reminder. The response:

“Stop pestering me. This is what happens with Non-Union work in the U.S. Everyone but you seems to understand that.”

Well, another month went by and still no check. You can predict what happened next. My colleague contacted the agent again, and he exploded. When the money finally arrived, the agent wrote angrily:

“This will be the last check you’ll ever receive from me. Goodbye.”

KEEPING MY BIG MOUTH OPEN

You may think that this is an extreme example, but it isn’t. Before I got a backbone, some clients treated me like a servant, with an attitude of “Remember: there are many voices we can choose from. You should be grateful that you even have work in this economy. If you don’t play by our rules, you don’t get to play at all.”

Maybe it’s because I’m European, but I’ve been taught to speak up in the face of disrespect and injustice, regardless of the consequences. I will never point fingers at someone or something just to push the envelope. That’s what bullies do. But when I see emperors wearing next to nothing, or I see certain companies engaging in unethical practices, I call them out… and deal with the consequences.

There’s no need to feel sorry for me, but I know that being outspoken may have increased my notoriety, and I’m sure it cost me a few jobs and speaking engagements. After all, who wants to hire a troublemaker? Why have someone known for stirring the pot, speak at a voice-over conference? It’s important to keep the sponsors happy!

“Thanks for writing what many are thinking but don’t dare to share in public,” is a comment I often get from those who send me an email. It’s ironic. People who talk for a living, are afraid to raise their voice. 

Luckily, I did notice a remarkable shift this year. Here’s what made 2015 different from previous years:

Voice-Overs have started to speak up!

At last.

POSITIVE DEVELOPMENTS

Unionized video game voice actors threatened to go on strike if no understanding could be reached with big players such as Disney, Activision, and Warner Bros. Voice-overs want residuals or bonuses for blockbuster games that sell more than 2 million units. They also want limits on the number of consecutive hours they are expected to scream while dying a thousand horrible video game deaths.

2015 was also the year in which we saw a mass exodus from voices.com. People were finally fed up with a pay-to-play system that didn’t give them a fair shot at landing jobs, and with a company that seemed to be double and triple dipping while cheapening the marketplace with low rates.

At the same time, membership in the World Voices Organization (WoVo) grew to over 600 members, and their voice casting marketplace, voiceover.biz, positioned itself as a serious alternative for finding premium, vetted voice talent.

Together with global meetup group VO Peeps, WoVo hosted a series of roundtable discussions about rates. In the past, Non-Union rates had always been a tough issue to talk about publicly. This year, the elephant in the room was being discussed more than ever, and the awareness is growing that our fees need to be fair, and based on added value.

So, what do I make of all this?

It tells me that our profession is gradually getting away from its subservient yoke. We, who are used to treating our clients with respect, believe that respect is a two-way street. We also realize that it is pointless to fight our battles as individuals. We need to come together as a group, and find ways to impact the playing field, as well as increase our level of professionalism.

I will continue to do my part as a blogger, and ruffle feathers that need to be ruffled. I’ll no doubt step on some sensitive toes, and rub a few people the wrong way. Why? Because important players deserve to be challenged. False claims must be exposed. Newcomers need to be warned and educated.

My hope for 2016 is that you will join me in taking a good look at where we stand as voice-overs, and what we want to accomplish. Things won’t change if you keep quiet.

Don’t stand on the sidelines, and let others deal with the hot potatoes. Speak up! Participate. Be an engaged member of this community. 

It’s absolutely critical.

Happy Holidays!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!

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, Money Matters

40 Responses to Calling It As I See It

  1. Paul Payton

    I had to chuckle, then grimace, at the agent story. My experience ended differently. (It was a while ago, so I’ll paraphrase – but the situation is true.) I called, wrote and confronted this person*; eventually, on my third trip to their office, they said, “The client just went out of business. I don’t have your money.” I replied, somewhat shocked, “The job is over three months old – they were still in business long enough for you to get my money. That’s your job.” Their reply: “That’s how this business is. Get used to it.” I managed to say something like, “Look, I have agents to avoid these problems, not to have them” – before I slammed the door for good. According to several people, I was not the first (nor would I be the last) to be treated this. Name upon request, but not in writing; somehow, this agency is still in business, and although I refuse to do business with them again, why further muddy the already-polluted water?

    (*By the way, I’m using “they” and “their” to afford them better protection than they gave me.)

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    I have a feeling I know which agency you’re talking about, but my lips are sealed. Why do certain people think they can away with that? Try not paying for your food after a nice dinner out, and see what happens…

    [Reply]

  2. Pingback: A Controversial Year | Nethervoice

  3. Marlon Braccia

    A decade ago, I wrote a monthly column on yoga entitled Ask Yogi Marlon. Because my attitude is generally positive, so was my column, but after one particular edition was already published the editor in chief protested to my very opinionated guidelines in the article, Finding a Teacher. She protested over a lunch meeting that she wanted my column to be full of levity between what were already foo-foo editorial features. I responded if that is what she wanted, she “had the wrong girl.” I needed to be truthful 100% of the time and if that meant being critical occasionally, it was what made me a reliable source of info for aspiring yoga practitioners. As a result the magazine no longer had room for my column. Ironically, I got more positive feedback for my candor on that single article than any other Q&A I’ve written. So being the beacon of honest discussion threatens some, but ultimately gains more trust and more respect than glossing over the truth with a false veneer. It will cost you a job here are there though and so be it.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Thanks for chiming in, Marlon. The nice thing about having a blog is that it’s something I control one hundred percent. There’s no editor-in-chief making up guidelines. The feedback I receive comes straight from my readers.

    Someone once said: “I’d rather be hated for who I am, than loved for who I am not.” I don’t think I’m hated, but I don’t mind if people disagree with me. After all, this blog is just a reflection of my subjective opinion.

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  4. Chuck Davis

    Thank you Paul, for sticking your neck out and saying things that needed to be said for working, non-union VO’s everywhere. It was great seeing you at Uncle Roys this fall. Looking forward to more of the same in 2016. I always look forward to your writing and thoughts.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    I’m so glad to hear that, Chuck. I’m sure the new year will give me plenty of things to write about. May it be a good one for all of us!

    [Reply]

  5. Rick Lance

    Well, Paul, this seems to be the place to wish you and your family a very Merry Holiday Season. And to thank you for doing what you do so well. So goes another great year of your words and thoughts. I know you’ll keep rockin’ next next year!

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Thanks for your good wishes, Rick. May the New Year be filled with positive opportunities, laughter, and prosperity. For those of you who haven’t checked out Rick’s blog, here’s the link: http://ricklancevoiceactingnews.blogspot.com

    [Reply]

    Rick Lance Reply:

    Yes… “positive opportunities” … and every thing else just falls into place! Thanks for the blog plug, Paul!

    *Now, if I could only figure out how to get rid of that old photo of me that keeps popping up when I post..

    [Reply]

  6. Ed Phillips

    Paul,

    I enjoy receiving and reading your blog each week and I read “Making Money In Your PJs” this past year. I am going to recommend it to my brother-in-law who has been thinking about getting into voice over work.

    Have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Thanks for recommending my book, Ed, and thank you for being a regular reader of this blog. It’s because of people like you, that I continue to publish new posts. May the New Year bring peace and prosperity to us all!

    [Reply]

  7. Steven

    Good stuff Paul.keep Fighting the good fight…

    Because 2015 was just scratching the surface

    I respect and understand what you say.

    I am often troubled by the behavior in the United States how fear of mob rule proactively causes people to take no action.

    If people realized that it is okay to defend yourself and call people out on their behavior, face to face, there would be a lot less problems

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    I hope people realize that taking no action has consequences too. Congratulations on your new job!

    [Reply]

    Kent Ingram Reply:

    Thanks to you, Paul, I’ll definitely look for different, hopefully better, methods of procuring clients and VO jobs. The revolving door of P2P’s wore me out, among other events that happened to me. When I’m able to do so, I intend to find the right way to get this done the right way.

    [Reply]

    Kent Ingram Reply:

    Steven, I count you and Paul as two of the few people who have helped me understand this business, as well as encouraged me to keep on forging ahead with it. I’m extremely grateful for Paul lifting the veil from my eyes about the P2P’s and their low return on investment, as well as their shoddy (or shady) business practices.

    [Reply]

  8. Mike Reagan

    Paul I not only love what you say, but how you say it. You are not only a gifted VO talent, but a gifted author as well. I thank you for your insight and talents.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    You are very welcome, Mike. I enjoy speaking and writing very much, and I’m so lucky that I can even make a living doing what I love.

    [Reply]

  9. Rowell Gormon

    Hail the Champion. I’m reminded of a story told by Young Master Philip Banks, who had finally had enough of an abusive director during a session. Finally Banks said (and I hope this I’m quoting him right) “Excuse me. I owe you an apology.” [Director] “Huh? What for?” [Banks] “Well, at some point early in this session, I must have said or done something which gave you the idea you had permission to talk to me in that manner.” And with that, he turned off his mic and ISDN.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Great story, and I can hear Philip say those very words.

    Merry Christmas, Rowell!

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  10. Helen Lloyd

    Thank you for your courage, integrity and European perspective. As a Brit I am constantly surprised by how different attitudes to work and employment are in the US. Alongside all the positives of our industry in the US (the willingness to share information, the support, the genuine feeling of companionship, the tireless efforts of everyone at WoVO and folk like you, who constantly share insights via your blog) there is such insecurity and even fear. I am amazed at what levels of exploitation our American colleagues will tolerate without complaint. Truly, though we share a common language (well almost) there is world of difference in attitude in the world of work.

    Here’s hoping that 2016 will be a fantastic year for all of us no matter where we come from.

    Helen.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    The American mentality is indeed very different, and it took me a long time to get used to it. Peter nailed it when he observed that Americans don’t have as much job security. Many people with regular jobs have an “at will” contract, meaning that they can be fired any day without reason. The more conservative side of society distrusts unions, and some employers will go a long way to prevent their workforce from unionizing. In this climate people are indeed afraid to speak up. Fortunately, things are changing, and the silent majority is starting to be more vocal.

    I want to wish you a wonderful and prosperous New Year, Helen!

    [Reply]

    Kent Ingram Reply:

    Paul, I was a union member (Communications Workers) for 30 years. The distrust between management and non-management started years ago, with abuses on both sides of the fence. I witnessed some of those. Young people nowadays have less of a union mentality because they equate, in part, the shady history of the Jimmy Hoffa-led Teamsters Union, which had been infiltrated by the Mafia. I believe that’s what a lot of people have in mind, when they think of a labor union. It’s not fair, of course.

    [Reply]

  11. Jonathan Jones

    Amen for this post Paul! I agree with you 100%. I personally learned to grow my backbone quickly when I started, as I just have no time for clients that think they can hold the belittling attitude that my “manager’s I USED to work for” (for example a grocery store) had. No matter where I work, or who I’ve worked for, I DO NOT tolerate those folks that have that, “I am above all of you, so you all will listen and do as I say” attitude from some clients. Thinking that they can just walk on me. And I’ve had it happen at least 3 different times over the course of 3 years. How embarrassing it is when the client figures out that I’ve made somewhat of a name for myself by all the work I have done, and pay me quickly after I’ve tweeted, facebooked, and youtubed a video of their comments and/or antics for the world to see. The money arrives and their tails quickly tuck between the legs, and thank goodness I never have to deal with them again. Thankfully, these kinds of occurrences are super rare! But it just stinks that there ARE those types of individuals stinking up the work pit.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    It’s tough to be self-employed and be a doormat. People will walk all over you.

    I just heard an interview with Jennifer Lawrence who found out that Sony Pictures was paying her male co-stars much more than she was getting. She didn’t negotiate because she wanted to be seen as the “the nice girl” on the set.

    While it is true that no one wants to work with a jerk, we need to be firm and fair. It’s something I had to learn the hard way!

    [Reply]

    Jonathan Jones Reply:

    And that’s the biggest thing! RESPECT. I’m a nice guy. And I absolutely HATE being firm with folks, but I don’t like being used or taken for granted. It’s just a pet peeve that my father pushed into me during my high school years because back then I WAS a push-over, and now, because of him.. it’s just not in my system anymore. The way I see it, these clients come to us, asking us for our talent and service on a WHIM, most of the time needing our work within the hour or couple of hours even. THE LEAST they could do is pay us back with the same urgency that they brought to us in the first place. I’m a patient guy, and I generally allow time to pass (most of my clients pay IMMEDIATELY), but when they have not paid close up toward the 30 day mark.. my patience is all but lost on them. The Mr. Nice Guy that I was is no longer there and Mr. Mean Business Guy takes the field. One thing that is insulting to me, is when folks take my friendly demeanor and *quick turn-around* nature as a ‘this guy’s desperate to work’ or ‘he’s nice, so I can slip one over on him’ or ‘he’s nice, I don’t have to pay right away’. Well.. that’s a quick way to meet Mr. Meanie Pants.

    Be Cool I say… treat me as you want to be treated, and you’ll always have the good side of me.

    [Reply]

  12. Natasha Marchewka

    Always astute, your perspective resonates with me! Being direct is vital; disrespectful is just that. I’m a big fan of telling it like it is. Great job on blog, as usual!

    [Reply]

  13. Sally Blake ( Voice On Fire )

    Good Morning Paul,
    First of all I would like to thank you for your tireless and dedicated work this year on your blog. It can’t be easy thinking of content EVERY week and you do it with grace, skill, knowledge and humor. I read it as continual education and always thought provoking. A very special Holiday season to you and your family!!
    It HAS been a good year for voice over growth. I remember learning in a class many years ago that it is normal for 90% of people to avoid conflict. I thought to myself that is so true. And then in Sociology I learned that all of us will also go along with whatever everyone else is saying and doing. Instinctively it is hard to speak against the majority. Hopefully as voice over artists continue to band together it will get easier to stand up against unfair practices. It is so wonderful to see this growth !!!!
    Warm Regards to all 🙂

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Here’s my response to your sociological observations:

    If you want to be heard, don’t be part of the herd.”

    I realize that people will do more to avoid pain, than to experience pleasure. Yet, when the truth becomes very painful and people start to speak out, they will find out that their frustrations are shared by many.

    Merry Christmas, Sally!

    [Reply]

  14. Rob Marley

    Thanks Paul,

    I’ve also had my share of less-than-timely payments from clients. One marked me down on voices’ arbitrary star scale because I had the nerve to ask after 45 days if we could close the job and I could receive payment.

    I can understand delays. I can empathize with the client when he is also waiting on payment. But dont think for one second that I am not going to voice a concern when its warranted. I like to live my life from the code that Dalton used in the movie “Road House”: be nice, until its time to not be nice.

    Its been a good year for me with a lot of introspection as to what I am doing and how I do it. Your blog posts are a weekly motivational boost for my career. I appreciate your opinion and insight and may you have a fantastic new year!

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Unless I’m dealing with an old and trusted client, I rarely buy the “You’ll get paid when I get paid” excuse. Imagine going to the baker or the hairdresser with that attitude. Retail wouldn’t put up with it, so why should freelancers? I remind clients that they are the ones that hired me. They have to manage the end-client, and make sure they get paid on time so they can pay me on time. It’s ridiculous to be punished for asking for your money after 45 days. Did voices.com do something about your markdown?

    Thank you so much for being one of my regular readers and commentators. Without people like you, my blog would make the sound of one hand clapping. Happy Holidays!

    [Reply]

  15. Peter Bishop

    Paul, as another European resident in the US, I have often wondered about the attitude in the workplace… specifically that between employer and employee. I’ve been here nearly twenty years now, and my conclusion (admittedly simplistic) is that workers in the US are brought up on the concept that you are never more than two weeks away from severance and that the employer holds all the power. This manifests itself in the fear of taking appropriate sick time and even a reluctance to take allocated vacation (“If I leave for two weeks, they’ll learn to live without me!”) This attitude shifts the balance away from a symbiotic partnership into a, “You should be grateful you have a job.” mentality. This is not as prevalent in Europe (and this is not the place for an examination of the reasons).

    Empowering the workforce is something that World Voices believes in. “Know your worth” is one of the pillars of the organization. A lot of this can be accomplished by education… or even simply by providing a community where people can unite and have a common purpose. We have a long way to go… but we are now well over 600 members, soon to be 1,000. The community is finding its voice.

    We are not alone. We are Legion!

    [Reply]

    Rick Lance Reply:

    I agree, Peter! I’ve had this notion… and have been told… that, overall, talent in Europe and those working with American talent show a greater respect than is often the case here in the states. I’ve seen it many times. And I can think of many reasons for this. Its a bit complex but… standing our ground as professional talent is the only thing that will advance change in this country.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Well over 600 members… that’s awesome Peter! WoVo is growing by leaps and bounds, and that makes me so happy. I might actually make it to the 3rd WoVoCon. It’s April 15-17, 2016 in Las Vegas at The Tropicana.

    Right now it feels like the Tropicana here in Easton, with the outside temperature at 70 degrees!

    What you’ve said about Europe is so true. That’s one of the reasons why every American should see Michael Moore’s latest film: “Where to invade next.”

    [Reply]

  16. Mike Harrison

    We MUST speak out when it’s appropriate. Two brief examples some may find helpful:

    For the better part of my life, I shared one of my Dad’s unfortunate traits; he didn’t speak up for himself as often as he could’ve/should’ve. As a result, both he and I found ourselves taken advantage of to varying degrees. However I discovered, later in my rebellious teen years, that my threshold was considerably lower than his.

    Within a year or two of getting my license, I was pulled over and ticketed in a radar “trap” for driving 40 mph in a 25 mph zone. I was guilty, but in court I fought the ticket and won on principle. The officer had “hidden” his car with the radar gun in a private driveway and was simultaneously blocking the sidewalk. Those are two parking infractions. The judge agreed.

    In my second radio job as Production Director (age 23), I one day discovered the morning DJ – who was the also the General Manager – had produced and was airing, during his shift only, commercials for several retail businesses that were not station clients. It became obvious that he was trading commercial time for personal gain (home furnishings). This is an illegal act which is cause for a station losing its license which, subsequently, would result in all the employees finding themselves suddenly unemployed. With evidence in the form of a recording of his show and the station log for the same time period, I confronted him and told him that if he didn’t tell the owners what he was doing, he could count on me to do so. By the end of the week, he was gone.

    There have since been other situations where I opted to speak out rather than remain silent. And I’m glad I did each time. Speaking very broadly, corruption (which includes taking advantage of others) is like a fungus that keeps growing if not addressed. If something is found to be wrong and we choose to say and do nothing, the issue not only persists, but those responsible become arrogant, thinking, “No one would dare challenge me” and the problem gets worse as they grow more cocky.

    When we know in our hearts that something isn’t right; especially when it begins to challenge our personal esteem, we owe it to ourselves and, in many cases our colleagues, to speak out and defend our position. No one else is going to do that for us.

    Give yourself the gift of self-respect. Happy respective holidays to all. And thank you, Paul.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Those are some formidable examples, Mike. Speaking up is easy when there’s no risk involved, and/or when you’re in a position of power. It’s more challenging when you actually have something to lose, or when you’re the underdog.

    I’m looking forward to a year where more people will raise their voice, even if it might cost them in the short run. Wishing you a wonderful holiday season!

    [Reply]

  17. Mark Owen Middlestadt

    Paul, As the saying goes, “you can only kick a dog for so long before it’s bite back!”
    Thanks for being a big part of the catalyst for change! It only takes one person to have the courage to stand up for what’s right, but it’s with the support of others to join in collectively to bring about real change that’s good for all!
    As Ted says, your blog did not become one of the most read and followed by not having important things to say!
    I look forward to many more years of your well written blog. Keep shaking the proverbial tree Paul. I stand with you!
    Merry Christmas and have a fabulous New Year!

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Merry Christmas and a happy New Year to you and Malen. I promise to keep on ruffling some feathers in 2016!

    [Reply]

  18. Ted Mcaleer

    Is it any wonder you are the most widely read and respected blogger in the industry?
    Thanks for looking out for me and all of us in the industry and having the courage of calling things like you see them.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    That’s quite a compliment, Ted, and it is much appreciated. The Vo-community is a giving community, and I am thrilled to be a part of it. It doesn’t really matter whether we’re in Spain, in Holland or in Pennsylvania. We are connected in so many ways, and I’m grateful for your friendship and support.

    [Reply]

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