Voice-Over’s Seven Deadly Sins

I never knew this, but if you ask a bartender for The Seven Deadly Sins, he’ll give you a shot comprised of equal parts of the seven cheapest liquors available at the bar.

It’s like hiring a team of third-rate voice-overs from a lowball website to narrate a piece of pulp fiction. It’s guaranteed to turn your stomach. 

If you’re an old-school Catholic, The Seven Deadly Sins have a very different meaning. Dating back to the 4th century AD, it’s a classification of capital vices, also known as cardinal sins. They are: Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Wrath, Envy, and Pride.

In one way or another, these sins are as old as mankind, and you’ll see manifestations of them in our professional community. So, let’s talk about them for a moment, starting with…

Lust

Originally, lust was equated to desire, as in the desire for fame, power or money. If that’s what you’re secretly after, I strongly advise you to choose a different career path. With a few exceptions, voice actors are the unknown, unseen, unsung heroes of video games, documentaries, audio books, and more. We’re not in the picture. Literally.

If you’ve been around the block for a few years you might disagree, because you happen to know lots of voice-overs. To the rest of the world this is totally irrelevant. Just stop a stranger in the street. Ask her to name one voice actor. Just one, and watch what happens. If you’re lucky she’ll call out the name of an A-list Hollywood celebrity, but that’s it. 

Big names make the big bucks, and you’ll see their names on billboards all over the world. The average VO Pro will forever be the anonymous disembodied voice, running from gig to gig, as unremarkable as can be.

There is a bright side. One of the best perks of this job is that we can keep our privacy!

Gluttony

This is a delicate one, because I know I’ll probably step on a few sensitive toes here. If we’d have a room full of on-screen actors and voice-overs, how would one tell the two apart? It’s easy. The voice-overs are more likely to be overweight.

I’ve written about this before, but weight gain is often the result of a sedentary life spent in a small space behind a microphone. Combine lack of movement with the overeating of unhealthy foods, and you have a recipe for disaster. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be an occupational hazard. Lifestyle and diet are based on choices, and choices can be changed. Consider this:

You’ll never be satisfied until you know what you’re truly hungry for.

Greed

If you believe that voice acting is a shortcut to making lots of money in a short amount of time, think again. To an outsider, being paid $250 for a 60-second narration might seem good money. What people don’t realize is that there’s a big difference between what voice-overs make and what they actually get to keep.

Some colleagues are lucky to have a steady stream of well-paying projects. Many others know that these two hundred and fifty dollars also have to pay for the time in between gigs. It also pays for all the expenses that come with being self-employed, for the rent, for utilities, and for all the other bills that never stop coming.

There’s one more thing I want to say about greed, and it has to do with the quality of our service:

People will never do their best work if money is their main motivator.

Sloth

I have seen quite a few people fail at VO, not because they’re untalented, but because they’re downright lazy. Technology has made it so easy to sign up for a voice casting site, and watch the auditions come in. And when  -after a month or two- the booking rate is still zero, guess who gets the blame?

Laziness is also about expecting others to give you the answers on a silver platter, and milking their network to get ahead. It’s a failure to do all the hard, boring, and unglamorous work that comes with running your own business. It’s about taking things for granted, and not being grateful.

Those who have made the move from a corporate job to being self-employed, know that you often have to work twice as hard and twice as long. When you’re the boss, you run all the risk, there are no paid benefits, and results are never guaranteed. Isn’t that fun?

Wrath

In the eyes of some, the multifarious VO-community is made up of a very helpful and altruistic group of people. However, if you’ve spent some time online, you know that we’re not all saints and angels. There are some very bitter, frustrated, and angry individuals who are trolling various groups. 

They will gladly put a newbie in his or her place. These people always know better, and if you don’t bow to their eternal wisdom and status, they will publicly slap you on the wrist. But wrath takes on other forms as well. 

People get angry when they feel ripped off, either by cheapskate clients or by lowballing colleagues. They get upset when an (in their opinion) mediocre talent “steals” a job they’re not worthy of. Angry people tend to take things very personally, and that’s tricky in an industry where rejection is commonplace. Anger is often the basis for the next deadly sin:

Envy

I wish all of us could be happy for one another all the time. But some people aren’t wired that way. Another person’s success becomes a source for their misery. I remember losing a friend after I landed a job both of us were in the running for. I had no idea why he suddenly disappeared from my life. Years later he told me his jealousy got the better of him. 

Some psychologists believe that there are two kinds of envy: benign envy and malicious envy. Benign envy can be a driving force, motivating people to achieve something great. Malicious envy doesn’t only destroy relationships, it’s self-destructive as well.

The idea that we are always in competition with one another, and that the world is divided into winners and losers, can lead to envy. I always encourage my students to cultivate the lost art of admiration. Rather than being jealous of someone’s accomplishments, ask yourself:

“What has this person done to get to where he/she is now, and what can I learn from him or her?”

Pride

I think there’s nothing wrong with taking pride in what you do, and being proud of what you’ve accomplished. Pride turns poisonous as soon as you start believing that you’re better than others, or when you can’t appreciate other people’s achievements.

Pride often manifests itself as arrogance. The sad thing is that arrogance stunts growth and it creates distance. It’s tough to teach someone who thinks he knows better. Arrogant people tend to have little patience for those who are (supposedly) not at their level. They’re great at making other people feel inadequate and inferior.

Someone once said: “Pride leads to contempt; gratitude leads to compassion.”

Redemption

Let’s remember that as voice-overs, we’re in the service industry. Our success relies on the extent to which we understand the needs of our clients, and our ability to meet those needs. Professional pride can give us the confidence needed to get the job done. But we can’t allow pride to feed our ego, causing us to focus on ourselves, instead of on our customers. 

We can only grow as professionals once we realize that we don’t have to have all the answers, and we don’t have to be perfect. We need to stay open, appreciative, show some humility, and be eternally grateful for the talents we were born with.

Are you following me?

Good, and if -for some reason- you don’t agree with me, there’s only one thing I can do.

I’ll drag you to the nearest pub, and make you drink The Seven Deadly Sins.

That will teach you.

Cheers!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet.

photo credit: Nate and Megan 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, Personal

25 Responses to Voice-Over’s Seven Deadly Sins

  1. Larry Wayne

    No matter your level of experience, these are great qualities we all should question ourselves about. Thanks for the reminders, Paul You are one of the few who seem to get it right every time you write. I appreciate the gifts you’ve been given!

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    The best thing about a gift is to share it with the rest of the world. I’m so glad I can share it with people like you, Larry.

    [Reply]

  2. Pingback: Voiceover Sins according Paul | San Diego City College Acting for Radio / Voiceover

  3. Steve Krumlauf

    Good stuff as always, Paul! A definite keeper in my library of good stuff. Much of it reads like the apostle Paul’s epistles. It addresses one of my pet peeves, the way a VO career is marketed too often these days, as though it’s the quickest way to make six figures a year. Not! Much of your piece also reminded me of Scripture’s warning, “What shall it profit a man (or woman) if he (or she) gains the whole world but loses his (or her) own soul? What shall a man (or woman) give in exchange for his (or her) soul?” Or as Paul told Timothy, “the love of money is the root of all evil.” Preach it, brother!

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Amen, Brother Steve. Amen!

    [Reply]

  4. Natalia Aleynikova

    I’ll start practising the lost art of admiration right now: the post is wonderful! It’s always a pleasure to read your blog, Paul, so thank you for another great piece.
    By the way I think that the same can be told about many other categories of self-employed professionals. I have two professions – translator and voice talent, and all your sins are relevant for both these spheres.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Hi Natalia, I do my best to make my articles relevant to all kinds of freelancers, and it seems I have succeeded with this one. I used to do a lot of translations, until voice-over requests took over. It’s a nice additional service to offer to clients who like a one-stop shop.

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  5. Patricia Corkum

    Thanks Paul! I confess – I am SO HUMAN; all the points above make me grimace. Indeed – guilty of all:)! At the same time I smile with the hope that LOTS AND LOTS of hard work, generously sprinkled with humility will keep me on the right track for the future, which starts today! Kind regards, Patricia

    [Reply]

  6. Irene

    Dear Mr. Paul Strikwerda,

    I recently joined Voices.com and I have learned various attributes about myself…I am super diffident and put myself down most times. I am my own stumbling block and have to learn to appreciate my talents, I have to be satisfied with my auditions and not focus on perfection but more on the appreciation of my talents. I have learned that until I enjoy my efforts those who listen won’t enjoy hearing my work. As of yesteryear, I was my own 7 Deadly Sins. Thanks to reflection and introspection, I am appreciative of my own work and grateful to the Universe that I have come thus far!

    Thanks for your good advice, My goal now is to enjoy the moment and forget about self-criticism.

    Irene

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    As voice-overs we can be our own worst enemies. However, a healthy dose of self-criticism is essential in this field of work. Thanks to the rise in home studios, many of us will rarely see the inside of a professional recording facility. That means we won’t get the benefit of a director and sound engineer giving us feedback on our performance. These days, we are asked to self-direct, self-engineer, and self-improve. It’s almost impossible to rise above our own level of (in)competency, especially because we’re too familiar with our sound to notice our flaws and mannerisms. This leaves many in a loop of mediocrity. So, appreciate where you are at this moment in time, and realize that there’s always more to learn!

    [Reply]

  7. Martin Victor

    Great points, Paul. I agree with everything in this post. I loved reflecting on all that was written here, and it’s all true. As far as keeping our privacy is concerned, that may only be true to a certain extent. I’m also a musician/ songwriter so that comes into play for me. But overall, a nice read, and highly recommended. Keep up the good work.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Thank you so much, Martin. I cherish my anonymity, and I hope it will stay under the rader for many years to come.

    [Reply]

  8. Howard Ellison

    In place of malicious envy: “The lost art of admiration”. That’s nice, Paul. And not lost yet: witness the responses you attract, even when you’re challenging the status quo – and probably because you do.

    [Reply]

  9. Chuck Davis

    Good one, as always, my friend.
    I love the reality checks you deliver, so consistently.

    [Reply]

  10. Kent Ingram

    Paul, how do you do it? Here’s another blog article that’s hard-hitting without hitting below the belt! In my experience, I’ve probably dealt with most, if not all, of those “deadly sins” of VO work. My mindset about why I was in the biz, in the first place, had to change and, thanks to you, it did. But, I still have a question: what do you do when you get mixed messages from people in the biz? I’ll give you an example: a VO talent, you and I have talked about previously, asked for some of my mp3 files, to critique my noise floor, noise reduction and my overall VO delivery. He said my straight, conversational sample was “flat, emotionless”. However, a different, well-known, VO talent told me, when listening to a different sample (same genre), told me I needed to tone it down and stop sounding “announcery”. Do you see my dilemma? These were two professionals who had no irons in my fire and, I believe, were honestly trying to help me. How would you handle such mixed messages?

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    How do I do it? I go to the gym five days a week, and to beat the boredom of the treadmill, I think of things to write about. It usually works out.

    Now to your question. This business is really subjective, and “beauty” is in the ear of the beholder, especially when it comes to script interpretation. Different coaches could agree on the technical aspects of your recording, such as microphone technique, boom in the room, and noise floor. They could even agree on tonal quality, and on your diction. But what sounds flat to one person, might sound neutral to another. These are just inadequate labels.

    Think about it. There are so many interpretations of the famous “To Be or not to Be” soliloquy. Which one do we like better? Which one is best? It’s the version that resonates most with the listener. Thus, it says as much about the listener, as it does about the actor.

    The real question is this: What kind of read does your client need, and how close are you to meeting that need? Your client might have hired you because he wants an announcer. Another client might ask for a flat read, because the images your voice will be used with, are graphic, and need not to be overshadowed by an overly dramatic voice-over.

    [Reply]

    Kent Ingram Reply:

    Great advice, thanks. I was looking for consistency but, as you said, it’s in the ear of the listener. The important thing is, I have enough experience to know how to record projects. While I listen to constructive criticism and advice, I still have to rely on my experience, ultimately. The mixed messages are like static on the TV. Sometimes, you have to just change the channel.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    I think it’s good to realize that there is not “one” perfect take on a script. There are many. As a voice-over it is good to be flexible and give different reads of the same text. You never know which one a client is going to like best.

    Kent Ingram Reply:

    Right on! Can’t top any of that.

  11. John Kuehne

    Another amazing article. Perfectly delivered.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Thanks, John. That’s much appreciated!

    [Reply]

  12. Paul Payton

    Yet another winner, Paul. By you reckoning, I’d consider myself to be 99% sin-free. However, the photo of “Megan” at the top made me pause for a moment, but my wife and I have a deal: we can “read all the advertising” we want; we just don’t “buy the product”!

    You keep writing; I’ll keep reading – and usually agreeing!

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    That’s a smart strategy to stay out of trouble, Paul.

    [Reply]

  13. Ted Mcaleer

    So many great quotes there…Very interesting analogizes.
    I’m happily pretty free from sin in the Nethervoice bible.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    It’s nice to be on the same page, isn’t it?!

    [Reply]

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