Competitions Are Not My Thing, And Yet They Are

A Tale of Kat and Dog, A Holland Cool MovieCompetitions and Awards.

If you’ve been following this blog for a few years, you know I feel rather ambivalent about those things.

When I expressed my opinion about the Voice Arts™ Awards a few years ago, people took it personally. In the aftermath of the article, I received some very nasty emails, and quite a few colleagues unfriended me.

All of us survived the turmoil, and it appears the Voice Arts™ Awards are here to stay. Once again, colleagues will pay a non-refundable entry fee of up to $150 per entry to nominate themselves ($199 if you’re a company) in different categories.

Just so you know, all submissions become the property of SOVAS™, “to be used at its discretion, for the production of the ceremony.” SOVAS™ is the Society of Voice Arts and Sciences™.

If a category attracts fewer than four entries, “the organizer reserves the right to withdraw that category from the competition.” The participating entrant “will receive a credit towards future entry fees. No cash refund will be given.”

PAYING FOR YOUR PRIZE

If you’re thinking of entering any type of competition, you need to consider at least three things:

– Is the entry fee proportionate to the prize?

– Is the cost of entering worth the odds? 

– Does the prize give a credit worth having? 

Let’s start with the numbers. Winners of a Voice Arts™ Award can order an Award Certificate for $43, an Award Plaque Certificate for $160, and an Award statue for $346 (amounts include a handling fee, but there’s no mention of shipping costs).

Let’s say you’re competing with two entries, and you win. If you go for the statues, you’ll spend almost $1,000 ($150 + $150 + $346 + $346), plus food, lodging, and transportation. You may even lose some money because you’re not available to work while going to the ceremony. 

Ask yourself: Is that money well-spent, or would it be better for your business to use these funds to have someone design a new website? You could also spend it on coaching, on demo production, or on a marketing campaign. Would that ultimately give you a better return on investment?

IN THE SPOTLIGHT

To be fair, organizing these awards takes time and costs money. Sponsors can only cover so much. Yet, I don’t think a voice actor’s wealth should be an arbiter of talent. Why, then, must it function as a barrier? Why not lower the entry fees, and offer prizes people don’t have to pay for themselves, such as gear, representation, and coaching sessions?

I don’t think a voice actor’s wealth should be an arbiter of talent. Why, then, must it function as a barrier?

Now, the organizers hope to convince you that there’s more to winning than a walnut wood plaque, or a shiny statue. Your extraordinary talent will be publicly recognized in a business that’s built on invisible voices. 

The question is: Do we really need a competition to get recognition?

Some people who know our industry really well, feel we do. It’s not enough to be outstanding. You need to stand out. And if there’s no podium, why not create one? Whether you like competitions or not, it’s a given that winning a prestigious prize has never hurt a career. Others say that real stars don’t need a spotlight to shine. 

Here’s what I would like to know: will short-term recognition have a long-lasting effect? Could it increase someone’s market value? And who’s paying attention? Are we just throwing a party for ourselves, or will these awards generate publicity outside of what I call the babble bubble?

I’m not going to answer these questions for you, by the way. It’s your money, and I won’t tell you how to spend it. What I will tell you is this:

I’M A WINNER!

Much to my surprise, two projects I voiced were recently nominated for an award. Full disclosure: I didn’t submit myself, and I did not pay an entry fee. The only plaque I get, will be removed by a dental hygienist. 

A documentary I was part of, received the Audience Choice Award at the French Télé-Loisirs Web Program Festival in March. It’s a project for the European Space Agency, in which I play the role of an astronaut, documenting his life aboard a space station. Be sure to click on the English flag to hear my version: http://cnes-xch.lesitevideo.net/enmicropesanteur/

Then this message appeared on my Facebook timeline:

A Webby Award is an award for excellence on the Internet, presented annually by The International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences (IADAS). That’s a judging body composed of over two thousand industry experts and innovators. The New York Times called the awards “The Internet’s highest honor.”

Two winners are selected in each category, one by IADAS members, and one by the public who cast their votes during Webby People’s Voice voting. Last year, the Webby Awards received over 13,000 entries from more than 65 countries.

The nominated video I’m featured in is called A Tale of Kat and Dog, A Holland Cool Movie. Thanks to the Edge Studio, I was cast to be the voice of a rather charming dog who takes the viewer on a whirlwind tour of Amsterdam, while chasing after a ball. There’s also a bit of romance in the air!

This 17-minute movie presented by the Holland Marketing Alliance, is up against companies like Squarespace, BMW, Samsung, and Nike. In May we’ll find out if the experts picked it as the winner, but the public has until Thursday, April 20th to vote online. If you’d like to take part in that process, click on this link.

Of course I’d be thrilled if you would show your support for The Tale of Kat and Dog, but don’t do it because you know me. Take a look at the five entries, and vote for the one you believe to be the best.

THE FINAL WORD

Meanwhile, I have a couple of auditions waiting for me. Those auditions are really mini-competitions we take part in every day. And who knows… one of them might lead to a project that turns out to be a prize-winning entry. But that can never be the goal. Just a nice bonus. 

I’ve said it before: I’m in this business for the music. Not for the applause, although I have to admit that every once in a while it is nice to hear: “Job well done!”

Will winning a Webby change my mind about competitions?

Will it catapult my modest career into the voice-over stratosphere? 

This is the only answer I can honestly give you:

“My jury is still out on that one!”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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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."

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, International, Internet, Journalism & Media, Promotion

14 Responses to Competitions Are Not My Thing, And Yet They Are

  1. Kent Ingram

    Great blog, Paul! I was one of your defenders, when you posted the original blog, and you received all that vitriol. I’m still ambivalent about these self-congratulatory slaps-on-the-back and how they want to duplicate the effect of the Academy Award on acting talent. Maybe they’re legitimate, who knows? At any rate, I won’t have to be too concerned about being considered for any of this kind of thing, but I admire your work and how you are now being recognized in many more venues! Rock on, Paul!

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    I always appreciate your comments, Kent. In fact, I believe you’re the number one commentator on this blog, and you deserve recognition as such!

    [Reply]

  2. Lee Ann Howlett

    Good luck winning that Webby, Paul!

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Thank you, Lee Ann. There are two chances to win. The expert jury votes, and the public votes as well.

    [Reply]

  3. Dave Courvoisier

    Paul,

    The regional TV Emmys I’ve won sit on my bookshelf. The word “EMMY” is well recognized and carries a certain cache’. I mention the awards in bios and promotional materials. But as with SOVAS, I had to nominate myself, provide the news video excerpts, and pay for the CHANCE at an Emmy statue (non-refundable). AND — as you point out — I’m only competing against the others who had the time/money to also enter themselves. I doubt it’s ever garnered me any work.

    I’ve never given nearly as much credence to the Emmy as I have to awards I’ve gotten from organizations in the community where I live and work. The people in those orgs took it upon themselves to choose me, and pick me out for an award of which I had no knowledge prior to the announcement. One example is from a national organization of social service case workers who saw fit to pat me on the back for my work with the Wed’s Child program over the years. What I’m trying to say is that it means so much more when you don’t have to toot your own horn, but are honored because the preponderance of your work becomes so evident that people just want to say Thank You!

    Yes it feels good to win awards, regardless of their genesis. Which brings me to wonder what the SOVAS organizers feel THEY are winning in this awards event. It certainly takes a lot of time/effort/money and aspirin to produce the show every year. You don’t suppose they gain visibility/marketing edge/credibility and celebrity by putting themselves in the middle of it, do you?

    Dave Courvoisier

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    One of my students recently asked me: “Isn’t winning something like an Audie, or a Voice Arts™ Award going to open certain doors? That would be fair, wouldn’t it? I mean, winning a prize makes people more in-demand, right?”

    “It’s a definite maybe.” I said. “Let me explain.

    Even though audio books have become increasingly popular, most people still think of a German car when they hear the word Audie. Secondly, I’m not sure clients will hire you on the spot because you won some gold-plated statuette they’ve never heard of. Accolades may be well-deserved, but they’re only worth their weight if they mean something to people outside the cheering in-crowd.

    Even Oscar winners need to audition again and again, unless a part is especially written for them. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It keeps people sharp and humble.”

    Dave, I totally agree with you that getting unsolicited recognition from the community is worth its weight in gold.

    Your last and rhetorical question is an intriguing one. Rudy Gaskins and Joan Baker are also the creators of That’s Voiceover, a series of entertaining, educational events bringing voice-over pros, voice seekers, and those interested in VO together. Gaskins’ branding agency Push Creative is very much involved in That’s Voiceover. Joan Baker is co-founder and Senior Vice President of Push Creative, and she handles public relations for the company.

    A day after the very first Voice Arts™ Awards, there was a That’s Voiceover event. Among the speakers were Voice Arts Awards winners Joe Cipriano, Scott Brick, Chuck Duran and Stacey Aswad, and jurors Ceding Fox, Sondra James, Trosh Scanlon, Frank Rodriguez and Dave Fennoy. Steve Ulrich, the executive director of SOVAS™ was also one of the presenters. That’s no coincidence, because if you go to the SOVAS™ website, you’ll see pictures of the That’s Voiceover event.

    It’s a small world, isn’t it?

    Joan and Rudy seem to have a huge fan club in voice-over land, and these fans absolutely hated it when I wrote my first two stories about these awards. SOVAS™ board member Rudy Gaskins commented on my story in a Facebook group. One of my voice-over colleagues whom I shall name X, had shared how disappointed he/she was in the way I had blogged about the awards. This is part of Mr. Gaskin’s response:

    “X, you are a work of art and indeed a phoenix rising above the morass of resentful sentiments that swarm like angry hornets around the hive of one self-aggrandizing monarch who would proclaim himself the all-knowing purveyor of what is worthy of appreciation to the rest of us. (…) Fortunately, the male hornets are few and they have only one real role—mating with the queen. Males die soon after their sexual task is complete, so one can only imagine the frustration of the impotent male who neither mates nor dies but must suffer under the weight of his own crushing spite. (…)

    The intention of the article to which you refer was to hurt, not inform. Brush it off. With success and recognition comes the unfortunate trail of parasites who, lacking the erudition to create anything truly inspired, seek their sustenance from sucking the life blood of others. Burn them off and keep moving forward, my friend. Blogging is a curious proposition whereby any person, (known or unknown) can declare themselves worthy of attention and begin to gradually pick up unsuspecting followers by skimming the surface of a topic. Obviously, some bloggers are incredibly special, genius in fact, but there are many seeking to prop themselves up to sell bologna as 100% real beef. In fact, one of the cheapest marketing ploys of the past 10 years has been: 1) Start a blog 2) -Self-publish a book. 3) Proclaim to be an expert. 4) Sell merchandise.

    As for the dying hornet to whose blog is referred to herein, we are, all of us, witnessing the depths and insidiousness of envy. It is a most vicious, volatile and relentless mindset that knows no bounds. And yet, assuming the blogger actually produces tangible work as a voice actor, producer, director, etc., he is welcome to submit his samples to the Voice Arts Awards and benefit from the extraordinary jurors who lend their highly vetted and respected expertise to determining the best of the best. Of course, to insure the integrity of the judging process, some jurors may be required to abstain from judging entries where a conflict of interest may be discerned.”

    [Reply]

    Jem Matzan Reply:

    Joan and Rudy *do* have an unusual following among the people who attend their events. It’s creepy. If you don’t know them personally, then it’s a little weird being at That’s Voiceover! or the SOVAS Voice Arts Awards (which seem to mostly be awarded to celebrities who don’t even attend the ceremony). It made me feel like a “mark” in terms of scams. And then at these events, they sell their book(s), push their services and those of their allies, put themselves front-and-center above everyone, including the people who are nominated for awards, and fight those who ask why they didn’t get what they paid for as conference attendees or award nominees. In my opinion, the entire SOVAS operation is a waste of time and money.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    I just don’t understand why it has to be this either/or situation: either you’re with Joan and Rudy (and adore everything they do), or you’re seen as being against them. Don’t people understand that a.) critique isn’t always personal, and b.) feedback is a gift?

  4. Bob Hurley

    As I recall, winning a Telly Award in 2016, it cost $125 to enter ($135 today) and I received an engraved statue and certificate at no charge. Additional statues were $275. Additional certificates were $5. That’s right, $5. The fees charged by SOVAS seem to be a bit eye-opening. My only question is, “Are you kidding me?”

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    I’m not kidding you, Bob The prices are listed on this webpage: http://sovas.org/award-statue/ You’ll also see that James Earl Jones and William Shattner won Voice Arts® Icon Awards in 2014 and 2015 respectively. I highly doubt that they had to pay for their statuettes. If you’re struggling in this industry, people make you pay. If you’re tremendously successful, you get paid just to show up.

    [Reply]

    Bob Hurley Reply:

    Absolutely, Paul. The only thing they paid for was their clothing. They are the bright shiny things the awards need to garner attention and instant authentication in a “… place where (nobody) knows your name.” (Apologies for the “Cheers” reference)

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Having watched a few red carpet interviews, I get the impression that many stars are clothed by fashion designers, and get accessories from famous jewelers. Some of them even get to keep what they are wearing! On top of that, they receive extravagant gift bags worth thousands and thousands of dollars.

    To me, these lavish shows are nothing but highly staged marketing events where artistic integrity is sacrificed in favor of purchased publicity.

  5. Keith Michaels

    Paul, I don’t consider the Voice Arts Awards as a competition. It may have that image because it is an awards program and somebody wins and somebody loses, but my experience at the 2016 awards show proved otherwise. The people that were in attendance were all very nice, very supportive of each other, and never hesitated to applaud the competition when names were announced. I felt a strong bond in the room between a group of people that share special talents and a love for what they do. Speaking to many attendees, I didn’t get a sense of fake good wishes. There was no whispering voices or gossip about why “so and so”shouldn’t win. No negative vibes at all. It was all good. “Competitive” was the last word on my list of words that could describe the night.

    You will say that the only opinion that matters on your work or worth is the client’s. I say, to be judged by people who have had great success in our industry and have stature, is worth much more. In an industry that is all about subjectivity, the Voice Arts Awards throws all that out the window, and judges you based on a set of technical and creative criteria. Being nominated tells you you’re on the right track. That you can hang with the best. When I saw my name along side the four other nominees, I was overwhelmed. These were big names. My first reaction was that I had no business being on that list. Just to be on that list was award enough. That nomination gave me so much confidence. It told me I was doing the right things. It allowed me to see my future differently.

    I won three new clients based on the nomination alone. I also took on a new casting client who specifically mentioned the award for “Best Movie Trailer Voice Over.” A category I submitted a very talented voice actor for, who was just minding her own business in her own little corner of the World when I asked her to audition for me. Now, after winning, she is more determined then ever to step up her game and move on to the next level. That is why the Voice Arts Awards works.

    You can spend thousands of dollars on a coach, on training seminars, and voice over books. But to spend a few hundred dollars to be judged by your peers in this type of setting is the ultimate form of positive feedback. To be nominated only serves to give you that much needed confidence boost that allows you to push harder to get to the next level in your career. In addition, the experience of it all is something you will treasure for the rest of your life.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Hi Keith, thanks for chiming in! It’s really good to hear your perspective on these awards, especially because you’ve been on the “inside.” After all I’ve written, I don’t think I’ll ever be invited to the party, and that’s okay with me.

    I don’t doubt for a second that everybody was on their best behavior during the gala. Hollywood hotshots know to smile when the biggest award of their career goes to… a colleague. I’m sure voice actors have watched and learned from those examples.

    Of course it is an honor to be nominated for an award (I’m proud of that myself), AND it would totally suck if -after coming so close- someone else would walk away with the highest honor. People don’t nominate themselves (and pay a significant sum), in the hopes of coming in fifth place.

    In all I have written about these awards, I have never suggested that the people in attendance were nasty, negative, and unsupportive gossips. If anything, I think voice actors tend to be less pretentious because most of what they do takes place behind the scenes, far away from paparazzi and adulating fans.

    I see the value of being evaluated by “people who have had great success in our industry and have stature.” That’s why even the best in the business need the feedback from a qualified coach. Here’s the thing. The VAA do not give a prize to the best performance in a specific category. They only nominate and award those who paid to be evaluated.

    The sheer cost of taking part in these awards is steep, and it limits the number of entries. Any competition is as strong as its field of competitors. The better the contestants, the more prestigious the prize. This is true in the world of sports, music, and in voice-overs. It really means something if out of a group of hundreds of strong runners, you win the marathon. If you have to beat three mediocre runners to get onto the podium, that doesn’t really say much, does it?

    Mind you, I’m just pointing out the principle. I am not saying or implying anything about anyone in particular. The points I’m making have to do with the competition itself, and are no critique of or reflection on individual participants. 

    If the VAA wants to attract and represent a large cross-section of the voice-over community, they need to lower the entry fees and skip the statue. Offer cash prizes and/or coaching/promotion packages to the winners instead. Give those who entered extensive feedback, allowing them to learn and grow from the experience.

    Increased recognition for what voice actors do is a noble idea, but it can never be an aim in and of itself. What purpose should it ultimately serve? How exactly is it going to transform our industry for the better?

    If you’d like to strengthen professional standards, why not join the World Voices Organization? If you’d like to make more money, you should sign up for a sales training. If you’d like to increase your skills, a scholarship would be more welcome than a statuette you have to pay for yourself.

    It is true: an Oscar-winning movie tends to do better at the box office. I doubt that the masses will run to their favorite audio book store, to purchase something narrated by the winner of a Voice Arts™ Award.

    Why do I have doubts? Because for an award to have an impact, people need to know about it, care about it, and attach value to it. It needs to reach the folks outside of our cozy babble bubble.

    I’m glad you’ve noticed a positive effect from being nominated, and I hope that being associated with a Webby Award will do some good for me too. But as I said in my blog post: my jury is still out on that!

    [Reply]

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