Articles

Are you playing by the rules?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career 4 Comments

Agents are angels.

Well, most of them are.

Some agents work miracles.

They open doors that were previously closed. They negotiate fees you could only dream of. They do the legwork so you can concentrate on your craft. And sometimes, they have to lay down the law.

Since 1990, agents Beth Allen and Linda Stopfer have been at the helm of The Take One Company. They have a nose for great talent, and that’s why they’re representing the author of this blog.

Of course Beth and Linda want their talent to be successful, but some of the folks they represent don’t make it easy. In fact, gifted (voice) actors are blowing their chances by ignoring the basics of a healthy agent-talent relationship.

As in any relationship, it is give and take. 

You give and they take.

Correction. That was a joke. I didn’t really mean that. As far as I’m concerned, my agents are worth every penny and I do my very best to make their life a little easier by playing by their book.

If you want to play the game, you better learn the rules before you enter the field. 

So, what’s rule number one for dealing with your agent? According to The Take One Team, it is: 

RESPOND PROMPTLY

Take One: “Producers and Casting Directors who are perpetually in a time crunch often contact us after hours with bookings, avails and auditions. It’s no longer an anomaly that our work day starts very early and ends very late. Therefore, it’s imperative that you check your devices and if you haven’t traded up to a smart phone, do it now.

We have very detailed info that you are required to confirm in writing, usually during business hours. If you have questions regarding job stats, please inquire BEFORE auditioning as it is assumed your attendance confirms acceptance unless the terms are changed. And about those terms, we always endeavor to get the very best deal available because we make money only when you do!”

This brings us to rule number two:

BE ACCESSIBLE

Never leave only one number where an agent can reach you. Always give them a backup number.

Take One: “Cell phone signals are not always reliable. Some days, your carriers go off-line with technical email glitches which are very frustrating when we need you. One other thing about cell phones: if you are situated in a place (audition/recording booth, etc.) where the ring tone is inappropriate, keep your phone on vibrate.

One client almost lost out on an audition for a $15K job because he went to the movies and turned off his phone. Also, please delete messages from your voice mail when you no longer need them. It’s frustrating when we need you pronto, and your voice mail tells us it’s full and not accepting any more messages and we can’t reach you.

Please return our phone calls and/or emails within the hour. To make it easy, please enter your agent’s numbers into your cell phone so it’s handy. Email them when you are not available or out of town.”

Here’s the third rule:

BE SPECIFIC

Don’t assume you are the only person your agent is working with. Usually, they’re balancing quite a few plates in the air at the same time. 

Take One: “We have many schedules to keep track of, and you only have yours, so be specific when contacting your agent about “that audition” or “that booking.” Refer to them by product name, date/time, etc. And it’s become apparent that some of you don’t travel with your day planners.

Lately, when we ask about your availability, a few are not sure and can’t confirm until they go home and look at them. Those of you need to take a copy with you when you leave the house. Again, there’s a growing insistence from the industry to confirm avails and bookings quickly, or they move on to the next person of their list. Why lose a job over something so simple?”

Number four:

KNOW THE LINGO

Take One noticed that some terminology can be confusing. I asked them to give some examples:

Availability” (a.k.a “avail”) to record a job, means just that. It doesn’t mean you are automatically booked. Being placed “on hold” or “on avail” means you are reserving that time for that particular job.

Being placed “on first refusal” is an even stronger reservation of your time. It actually means that you agree NOT to book a different job during that time without first consulting your agent. It then becomes his or her responsibility to contact the casting director or producer, giving them the option to book or release you FIRST, before any one else. They then must book you or REFUSE to book you. Only then are you free to accept the other booking.

This availability also impacts your “other career” or survival job. After confirming, you can’t turn around and tell your agent that you’re no longer available because you have scheduled a massage/PT/exercise or business meeting. Casting directors and producers usually go ballistic when this occurs. Disregarding the established protocols usually results in serious repercussions.”

The fifth rule:

BE CAREFUL

Take One: “Please bring to all bookings the information that your agent has provided you with about payment and terms, and make sure that it matches the information on the contract should there be one for you to sign. If there are any discrepancies, DON’T SIGN IT. Once you’ve signed it, should it be incorrect, it is almost impossible to get it changed after the fact. There are three ways to handle the situation:

  • call your agent immediately
  • take it with you  
  • tell the producer to send it to your agent

Make sure you always have the check sent to your agent first, not you, so your agent can verify the correct amount. Once you’ve cashed it, you’ve acknowledged your agreement to accept that payment as correct. “

And here’s rule number six:

RESPECT CONFIDENTIALITY

Take One: “Whenever you are given a script and asked to record an audition, given a script to record at an audition, or given a script to record at a booking, this material is never to be shared with anyone due to confidentiality, especially if it’s a new product. More often now, talent are required to sign an NDA form (non disclosure agreement). This requires you to not reveal the contents of scripts.” More on confidentiality in my story “Winning an audition. Losing the job.

STATING THE OBVIOUS?

Not every casting agency has the same policies and preferences. Nevertheless, some of you might be wondering: Why does Take One have to spell everything out? Isn’t this just plain old common sense? Are the people they represent and who call themselves professional really that oblivious?

YES they are, and increasingly so.

So, before you go on with your day, think about some simple things you can do to strengthen your connection with your agent, or even with the client you are currently working with. These relationships are the cornerstones of your business and the foundation of your success.

Be an angel. Treat them like gold.

When you look good, they look good.

And that’s what it’s all about!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

In the following article, I get personal and take you to my moment of truth, after I took a good look in the mirror.

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Thinking Outside the Box: Studiobricks

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Studio 7 Comments

Every once in a while, a product comes along that could become a game changer in the industry. This is the story of one such product. Before I tell you what it is, you should know that my voice is for hire, but my opinion is not. 

Guillermo Jungbauer

Born of a Dutch father and a Spanish mother, Guillermo Jungbauer worked as a plant manager in the automotive industry. In his spare time he played the saxophone, but he was always worried that his music might disturb the neighbors.

He had used several prefab isolation booths to keep the decibel level down, but when it was time to move into a new apartment in Barcelona, Guillermo wanted something more stylish and more portable. Something that looked like design furniture, but it would have to be as easy to put together as the things you buy from IKEA.

There was one problem: such a booth did not exist.

In Europe, there were at least fifteen different manufacturers, and none of them offered what Guillermo was looking for. So, he decided to develop it himself.

THE SOUND BOOTH REIMAGINED

Jungbauer imagined a beautiful looking booth, made of building blocks that would fit together seamlessly without using any screws. 

On paper it was a great idea, but sound engineers and industrial designers told him it was impossible, especially because he wanted the booth to have double walls and a door. Time and again he was told: “It can’t be done.”

This was in 2007.

It took Guillermo two more years to perfect a concept he named the Studiobricks cabin system, a self-assembly acoustic booth unlike anything you’ve ever seen.

These are the building blocks or bricks:

Here is the finished product:

Guillermo’s first customers were woodwind and brass players who -just like Jungbauer- needed an isolated space to be able to practice at home. Soon, he received inquiries from pianists, string players and drummers. Then recording studios and post-production facilities got wind of it.

By the end of 2011, 170 units were sold all over Europe, in Asia, India and Australia. In 2012, Studio Bricks sales topped 250 units.

STUDIOBRICKS COME TO THE STATES

Depeche Mode singer Dave Gahan built a 12′ x 8′ Studiobricks recording space, right into a residential apartment in New York.

Gahan’s engineer/producer Kurt Uenala told the online magazine SonicScoop:

“They’re modules (Soundbricks, PS) that are really Legos – they snap into each other, but they’re made of sandwich wood and rubber,” he notes. “It’s been here since September, and it really works sonically and in terms of providing acoustic isolation. It reins in the sound not just of the vocals being recorded, but also of productions and mixes – we have to be able to turn it up.

I’ve got to admit that first and foremost I fell for the look – it’s beautiful. This is a very beautiful apartment, and whatever we do has to look good. That was maybe more my prerequisite, because I thought it would be really sad to put a carpeted wooden room in here.” (click here for the full story and pictures)

Studiobricks offers standard solutions, but a lot of cabins are made to order. Jungbauer:

“Once the customer places an order, we create a Serial Number and PDF with the cabin. We ask for exact measurements of the room (height!), we want to know where the wire tunnel has to be drilled, where the door and window have to go, the color of the booth, et cetera. For professional studios we can also print digital photos and logos on the bricks in order to create a unique look (see picture below).

click image to enlarge

Computer Numerical Controlled machinery (CNC), ensures that each lightweight element fits precisely without gluing, screwing, sawing or sealing. A small Studiobricks booth can be assembled by one person within an hour, no building skills required. All the blocks are numbered and installation instructions come in many languages.

We are available on Skype to assist with the assembly process. So far, only one customer in Mumbai India asked for Skype assistance, and after 2 hours the whole studio was ready.”

I asked Jungbauer if an existing model can be expanded by adding more bricks. He said:

“Yes, we already have customers who bought a vocal booth and now want to connect it to a control room. To change one brick with a window brick is no problem, and if you change the frame construction you can add bricks in 1ft steps.”

ADDING ACOUSTIC PANELS

If you are familiar with isolation booths, you know that these spaces need to be treated with dampening materials. Otherwise the sound waves will just bounce off the walls the way they do in your bathroom. Studiobricks booths are no exception, and that’s why they come with panels made by a rapidly growing company from Portugal: Vicoustic.

Vicoustic might not be very well-known in North America, but they have installed soundproofing solutions in Russia, Australia, Austria, Switzerland, Singapore, The Netherlands and in many other countries.

Studiobricks cabins come with adjustable Vicoustic Wavewood acoustic panels.

Another problem small studios have is ventilation. Studiobricks offers a CE certified Studio Ventilation Kit at $430 that delivers an almost silent flow of air (see picture). It can be controlled wirelessly and placed inside or outside the booth. Other ventilation systems can be connected to the booth as well.

A VOICE-OVER SOLUTION

Because of increasing demand from the voice-over market, Studiobricks has released their latest product, the Studiobricks ONE, a 4′ by 3′ booth, retailing at $3,500 (depending on the exchange rate of the weakening Euro).

Add an estimated $1,000 for packaging and transportation (prices depend on your location), an optional ventilation system, and you’ll end up paying about $4,888 + taxes. That’s still cheaper than a 3.5′ x 3.5′ double-walled Enhanced WhisperRoom™ ($5,870 -shipping not included).

THE EXPERT WEIGHS IN

On the East West Audio Body Shop program, the must-see show about home studios, George Whittam said about Studiobricks cabins:

“It looks like they are built at a very high degree of precision and care, and from an esthetic standpoint, they definitely kick the butts of anything I have seen. These things apparently perform really well. I was looking at the specs, and even their standard model seems to outperform the WhisperRoom and the VocalBooth, until you get into the highest levels of both of those products, which gets really expensive.

It’s pretty darn impressive for something that’s prefabricated. I have never seen anything quite like it before. If they can get that thing over here to the states at a reasonable cost, it’s going to be a major competition for the likes of WhisperRoom™, VocalBooth.com™ and Gretch-Ken.”

There are more than 20 showrooms worldwide where you can find a Studiobricks cabin (see their website for details) and the plan is to have some on display in New York and LA at some point in time. Now get ready for this:

SPECIAL OFFER

Studiobricks CEO Guillermo Jungbauer has a special offer for one U.S. reader of this blog:

The FIRST person in the USA to order the new Studiobricks ONE cabin will receive a 30% discount on the cabin itself, if he/she mentions this article. Please note: this discount does not apply to packing and shipping costs, the ventilation unit or other accessories.

Bear in mind that this is a new product and that production of the Studiobricks ONE will be in full gear starting September. 

Once your cabin has been assembled, I will post pictures of your studio on this blog, as well as audio samples. 

The question is, who will be the first voice talent in the U.S. with a brand new booth from Studiobricks? We’re about to find out soon because I’m not going to keep it quiet!

AND THE WINNER IS…

Mike Bratton has just installed his new booth, and you can click here to find out what he has to say. My interview includes audio samples.

As far as I know, there is no company that imports Studiobricks booths into the U.S. Those who have a cabin, have imported it themselves. However, Classe A, Inc. in Montreal, can help you get a Studiobricks booth, and they have a model in their store. Here’s the link to their website:http://www.classea.com/Classe_A/Studiobricks_EN.html

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

Many thanks to David Weiss, founder & editor of SonicScoop for allowing me to use a quote from the article about Dave Gahan’s studio.

In my next story, Casting agents Beth Allen and Linda Stopfer open up about unprofessional behavior that causes talent to lose jobs and damages their reputation with clients.

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Why I Spy On You

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Journalism & Media, Promotion, Social Media 17 Comments

Anyone can write a blog.

Some people are very good at it.

Others can’t even come up with an interesting tweet.

Does it matter?

If you’re on a podium and there’s no audience, what’s the point?

I count my lucky stars because I have an audience and it has grown ever since I started blogging. It’s not entirely due to luck though, because I do my very best to make your visit as enjoyable and memorable as possible. 

Before I tell you about the visible and often invisible ways in which I do that, I’d like to share four goals with you that are always at the back of my mind when I blog:

1. write compelling content
2. engage my readers
3. increase my reach and readership
4. become rich and famous

As you can see, one thing leads to the other. Quality content stimulates readers to like, repost, retweet and comment. This increases my reach and grows my readership. And if I play my cards right, the world will fall in love with me and make me a wealthy man.

Yeah. Right.

Seriously, in order to accomplish all these goals there’s one thing I need to do:

I have to stop thinking about myself.

There’s only one person that really matters.

Yes, it’s YOU!

What  I want to write about is not that important. It matters what you want to read. Even though I’m not a psychic, I have a pretty good idea what you are interested in. Just look at the list of Popular Posts in the upper right-hand corner. Not only does it provide some social proof; we can learn something from this list. 

WHAT’S POPULAR 

Based on the headlines, only 4 out of 10 articles have to do with my profession: providing voice-overs with a European sound. I often use a voice actor’s lens as a springboard to write about things that concern all kinds of freelancers. My list of popular posts proves that this is a good way to increase my reach beyond the small voice-over community.

There’s something else I monitor closely on my blog, and that’s the level of engagement. Some posts get more comments, retweets and likes than others. Look at this list:

This definitely confirms a trend because most comments have little to do with voice-over related topics. They are about freelancing, running a business, social media, marketing and money.

Not only do I know what my readers are interested in, I can tell you that most of them live in the United States, followed by Great Britain, Canada and The Netherlands.  What I particularly like is that I have a nice mix of returning readers and people who stop by for the very first time. It’s great to have loyal fans and I love to welcome new friends!

I can also tell you how most people find me. Here are the results from the last few weeks:

And where do most referrals come from?


These stats are very useful, not only because they help me understand my readers better. They tell me how effective my blog promotion is, and where there’s room for improvement.

Looking at the statistics, I also learned that an increasing number of people are reading this on a portable device (mostly iPhones). Based on that, I totally redesigned my website to make it mobile responsive (see: The New Nethervoice). That alone has dramatically influenced my bounce rate.

Bounce rate is usually defined as:

The percentage of visitors who see just one page on your website and the percentage of website visitors who stay on the site for a small amount of time (usually five seconds or less). 

It might look great on paper to have thousands of people come to your website, but if they’re gone in a few seconds, what good does that do? Currently, the bounce rate for nethervoice.com is 1.98%. For mobile users, my bounce rate is even lower: 0.34%. Get this: my old site had an average bounce rate of 40-60 percent!

Looking at the most recent numbers, I can tell you that people spend about 3 minutes and 47 seconds on my site (mobile users: 4:21). That’s pretty good, considering the fact that the average visit to a website lasts less than a minute and often no more than 10-20 seconds!

Where do I find all these factoids? I find them on Google Analytics and with the help of a number of WordPress plugins such as the Site Stats on Jetpack and SlimStat. Keep in mind that we’ve barely scratched the surface when it comes to web traffic analysis. I can drill down on individual web pages and blog posts and get a fairly good idea of what my visitors are up to. I even know what some of them do when they leave…

SHARING THE LOVE

Readers often share my content by copying and pasting it to emails and social media. How do I know? I use a nifty tool called Tynt to monitor what content anonymously leaves this site. Go ahead, copy and paste something from this page and see what happens!

Each time someone pastes content from my site, Tynt automatically adds a url-link back to the source. When that link is clicked, the user is directed to this blog and can see the original article. This increases traffic to my site. 

Tynt is one more way to measure traffic and engagement. Like other analytics tools, Tynt tells me which keywords were used to bring visitors to my site and which content prompted people to take action. Thanks to Tynt I now know that most people use email and Facebook to share my stories.

The nice thing is: with all these tools at my disposal, I have a way to measure results; not just for this blog but for my entire site.

STAY WITH ME 

As you just saw, most visitors spend almost four minutes on this site and something tells me this might have to do with the content. But there are other things I do to try to keep you from leaving. One simple way is to instruct WordPress how to handle outbound links. 

An outbound link is a word, phrase or image that you can click on, that will take you to a new website. As you can see, if a word or a phrase appears in blue on my blog, it’s an outbound link or an internal link.

 Here’s how I created the link above in WordPress:

If I don’t check the box Open a link in new window/tab, the reader will leave my website once the link is clicked, and may never come back. By ticking that box, the outbound link opens in a new window while leaving my page open, and the reader can return to it whenever he or she done. 

You’ve probably also noticed that I often refer to earlier articles in this blog. Whenever I do, I make sure to create an internal link to those stories. Not only is this a service to readers who want to find out more about a certain topic, it tends to increase the time people spend on my site. And by the way, I don’t only do this for my blog. My entire site is filled with internal links.

From an SEO (Search Engine Optimization) standpoint, internal links are invaluable. They become the threads holding the spiderweb together that is nethervoice.com. Search engine robots (sometimes called spiders), use these links to find content for indexing. A web marketing specialist from Japan put it as follows:

If one webpage links to another, it can be thought of as a vote for the linked webpage. Therefore, the more credibility a webpage has that links to another, the better it is for the linked webpage. 

There’s one other thing I like to do to keep you here just a bit longer. At the end of most blog posts, you’ll find a link to the next article. 

Readers have told me that they stumbled upon one of my stories by accident, and then just kept on flipping the virtual pages from link to link. Every click is a YES from a visitor; a mini-endorsement increasing the site’s credibility.

Perceived credibility is one of the factors influencing the page rank of a website. Contributing to that credibility is social behavior. The more people link, like, pin, repost, and retweet a page, the more relevant search engines believe it is.

Don’t assume that your visitors will take action, though. You have to make it easy for them to share content. That’s why you find share and like buttons at the top and bottom of my stories. Secondly, it helps to ask people to take action:

Be sweet. Please retweet!

Those four words have increased the number of retweets by sixty percent!

Now, there’s a reason why I put that request at the end of a blog post, just as I added the phrase:

“If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!

When people are finished reading a story, they’ve had an experience, and hopefully, it’s been a good one. Ideally, I want my readers to say:

“I want more of where that came from!”

or

“My friends need to read this.”

At that point they’re most likely to take action.

One of those actions can be to subscribe to this blog or to leave a comment.

HAVE YOUR SAY

If you’re a frequent visitor, you may have noticed that my blog roll is gone. In its place you’ll find the last five comments posted on this blog. There are a few reasons I made that decision.

Most importantly, very few people ever clicked on the links in the blog roll. That’s another thing Google Analytics told me. Secondly, not everybody on my blog roll was an active blogger and I didn’t feel like checking these blogs for fresh content every week. 

Why link to recent comments instead? Well, I want to encourage and reward reader participation. My most active friends and fans deserve to be featured more prominently. Having a blog just isn’t enough anymore to appear on this page. 

Once you post a comment, you’ll notice something else that’s new. I’m not going to tell you what it is. You’ll have to find out for yourself. 

SOCIAL MEDIA INTEGRATION

The last thing you might have seen is the Find us and like us on Facebook box I added a few weeks ago. You don’t have to leave this site to like me on Facebook, and you can see the faces of other “likers” as well. It will only display those “likers” that are already in your Facebook network. This creates a sense of community, and people are more likely to click “like” if they see the faces of friends. 

What I really hope is that you will click that button because you enjoy spending some time on this blog and you want to connect with me. This blog is published once a week. I update my Facebook page almost every day. It’s another place where we can be among friends and fellow-professionals and share useful information and ideas.

THE REAL SPY

As I have demonstrated, I’ve been keeping a close eye on you. Yes, I spied! But while I was writing this article, it did occur to me that the tables have turned. By sharing some of my hidden statistics with you, you were able to spy on me!

The truth is: I have no secrets. When it comes to blogging, I am an open book. In fact, that book is for sale. It’s called “Boosting Your Business with a Blog” and you can buy the unlimited PDF version right here on this website.

In it, I talk about creating compelling content, I teach you how to make your blog easy to read and I show you how to build an audience.

Please help me reach my fourth goal and buy this book today. It will be an enriching experience for both of us!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

Be sweet. Please retweet.

It looks stunning. It outperforms all known models. It can be assembled by hand in under an hour, yet this vocal booth costs less than other brands. What is it? Click here to find out. 

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The Secret Ingredients In My Social Media Sauce

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Internet, Promotion, Social Media 21 Comments

Last week I talked about the importance of tailoring your proposal or demo to the needs of the client.

This week I’m taking it one step further. I will show you how you can apply the principle of personalization and customization to your social media presence.

In a moment, I’ll share some cool new tools you can use to spread the news about your business more efficiently and effectively. The end result: more fans for your Facebook page. A better search engine ranking. More hits for your website. Increased business.

Interested?

MISTER SOCIAL

If you’ve been following me for a while, you know I spend a lot of online time “socializing.” I blog, I tweet, I pin, I comment and I participate in discussions for at least an hour a day, if not more.

Now, level with me for a moment because I want your honest opinion.

Am I wasting my time on a magnificent distraction or could this be beneficial for my business?

While you think about that, I’ll tell you how I see it.

Social Media are tools. Tools aren’t inherently good or bad. It depends on how they are used, by whom, to what end and what the ultimate return on investment is.

Professionally speaking, I don’t go online to play games, to save souls or to share what I’m making for dinner. Social Media are part of my “undercover” marketing strategy. If you’ve read my recent article on undercover marketing, you know what I mean by that:

Any activity that helps you find clients and helps clients find you

Here’s my golden rule: You want to spend most of your marketing time and money where your market is. In my case, that’s online.

If you’re in the same boat, it’s wise to:

  • have many ways to be found and drive traffic to your website
  • share and promote compelling content and services
  • create opportunities for clients to get to know you and interact with you

WHY JOIN THE MASSES?

At this point you might say: “I already have a website. Why should I join Google+, Pinterest and Twitter? I have enough on my plate.”

First off, counting on your website to bring in business is a very passive approach. You’re asking the world to come to you and the world is lazy and doesn’t know where to find you. If you don’t make any noise, no one will hear you.

Secondly, most websites aren’t very social. They offer static content and very little opportunity for interaction (more about sites in: Why Your Website Stinks). Search engines hate that, and so do your clients and fans.

Places like Facebook and LinkedIn on the other hand, are buzzing with activity and offer amazing opportunities to proactively build a network, strike up a conversation and -eventually- take people to your store. 

Remember: the purpose of this strategy is not to sell anything. You’re just building relationships. Facebook friends might become clients. Clients become fans. And eventually, your fans will do some of the marketing for you.

Here’s what I really like about Social Media: most of these platforms are (still) FREE! All you need to invest is a bit of time, energy and creativity. The returns could be tremendous.

There’s just one caveat. It’s easy to personalize your own website. It’s a bit more challenging to give generic sites such as Twitter and Facebook a personal and professional touch. In order to do that, let’s take one step back.

DESIGN YOUR IMAGE

First you have to create an overall look for your business in general and your website in particular; something that’s instantaneously recognizable. In my case it’s the color scheme of orange and dark gray, as well as the picture of me with the orange tulips. 

Then you consistently use your look across multiple platforms. 

Nethervoice Gravatar

 

One way of doing that is by creating a Gravatar. That’s short for Globally Recognized Avatar. A Gravatar is an image that follows you from site to site. It appears beside your name when you do things like comment on a blog.

Using a Gravatar reinforces your image, it creates a connection with the reader and it increases your credibility.

Content spammers usually don’t use Gravatars, so, having one identifies you as a genuine, trustworthy contributor. Besides, it makes you look much more personable.

Or would you rather have a Mystery Man picture next to your comment?  

So, how do you create a Gravatar? Click on this link and follow the instructions. It’s quick and it’s easy.

TWITTER

Whenever you go online, this image of me and my orange tulips will pop up. Once people make it to my website (the ultimate goal) they get a feeling of familiarity because they’ve seen it before.

Let’s look at my Twitter profile:

There are two other things I did to customize this profile. I added a hyperlink to my 160 character bio. It leads to one of my demos. Now, my over 2200 Twitter followers can hear what I sound like, and all it takes is one click.

Here’s the second part. Normally, the full link to that demo would look like this:

http://soundcloud.com/paul-strikwerda/paul_strikwerda-international

It wouldn’t fit into my bio, but luckily SoundCloud can give you an abbreviated version that looks like this: http://snd.sc/KyX8oJ. You could also use a service like tiny url or bit.ly to shorten your links. Before you do that, there’s something you should know.

Internet users have become increasingly suspicious of these shortlinks because you can’t really tell where they originate from. With so much harmful and useless crap floating around in cyberspace, people are more inclined to click on links they can identify and trust. 

So, how did I create a shortlink to one of my SoundCloud files that incorporates the url of my website and looks like this?

http://www.nethervoice.com/5oy3

I used a WordPress plugin called Pretty Link. Once installed, it will appear on your dashboard and allow you to generate shortlinks for all kinds of online content. This is what the window of the Pretty Link admin area looks like. It’s pretty self-explanatory. 

SOUNDCLOUD & PINTEREST

As you can see, I am visually and virtually connecting some of the content sharing sites people can find me on: Twitter, SoundCloud and Nethervoice. That way, they can cross-pollinate. It’s all about the sum of the parts.

If you’re not terribly familiar with SoundCloud, it’s kind of a YouTube for audio recordings.

All the embedded demos on this site are stored in SoundCloud. As you can see, the audio tracks are depicted as waveforms and listeners can easily download, distribute and comment. 

You can also use SoundCloud to upload demos to your Facebook page by creating a BandPage. You don’t have to have a band to do that.

It gets even better. Recently, SoundCloud introduced a new feature that makes it possible to “pin” your audio to your Pinterest boards.

Pinterest is one of the fastest growing content sharing sites, allowing you to create and manage image collections. Each collection has it own pinboard and here’s a screenshot of a few my boards:

When you click on a particular board, all the images on that board are displayed. Individual images can be “re-pinned,” liked on Facebook, emailed, embedded and shared on Twitter. But here’s the real magic: once you click on a particular photo, it becomes a link and you are taken to the site the photo is taken from. You can promote blog content by pinning it, YouTube videos as well as your SoundCloud demos. 

Why is all of this relevant? Pinterest is popular and is said to drive more traffic to websites than Twitter.

HubSpot recently published “How to use Pinterest for Business” which will tell you everything you need to know about this exploding content sharing service.

So, are you ready to become a social butterfly, or do you still have reservations?

What have you done to spice up your social media profiles and increase your reach? Share your tips below and be sure to add a link to your website.

I have lots more tricks up my sleeve, and next time I’ll take you behind the scenes of this blog!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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My $10,000 mistake

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Freelancing, Money Matters, Promotion 32 Comments

I was in a rush. I wasn’t thinking.

And it almost cost me ten thousand dollars.

The lesson I learned that day has been one of the cornerstones of my success as a voice talent. Before I share that lesson with you, let me ask you this:

Have you heard of the Calimero complex?

It is named after an Italian/Japanese cartoon character named Calimero, and many freelancers seem to suffer from it.

Calimero is the only black chick in a family of yellow chickens, and he still wears half of his eggshell on his head. It is as if he never really made it out of the nest.

Calimero is the archetypical underdog. He often gets in trouble and believes the whole world is out to get him. When the show reaches a dramatic climax, Calimero usually utters the following catch phrase:

Read the rest of this story in my new book. Click on the cover to access the website and get a sneak peek. Use the buttons to buy the book.

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The four keys to winning clients over

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Money Matters 20 Comments

Do you sometimes wonder why certain clients hire you and others don’t?

I think about that a lot.

Rather than making assumptions, I often ask them why they picked me over a colleague. That’s useful information to have, because it helps me fine-tune the way I run my freelance business and how I position myself in the marketplace.

So, what are clients really looking for?

Even though you and I are likely to have very different clients with very different needs, there are three factors that always play a role in every purchase decision. You might be selling a service or a product. It doesn’t matter. All buyers are influenced by the same three things:

Read the rest of this story in my new book. Click on the cover to access the website and get a sneak peek. Use the buttons to buy the book.

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Want more clients? Go undercover!

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Freelancing, Internet, Promotion 24 Comments

“Marketing is a sound. Those who hear the sound you make and resonate with it will follow.”    Bill Sanders, project management and process consultant at Roebling Strauss

Clients don’t grow on trees. We all know that.

We can’t expect them to find us if they don’t know we exist. In order for them to discover our needle in the online haystack, we have to make noise. Lots of noise. But what kind?

Some say the answer lies in Massive Marketing.

The truth is, most voice talents are pretty good at doing someone else’s marketing. That’s what they get paid for. But when it comes to tooting their own horn, a lot of them are as clueless as a hamster in outer space.

If marketing is not your forte, you’re not alone.

Recently, the online magazine VoiceOverXtra polled its readers and asked the following question:

Read the rest of this story in my new book. Click on the cover to access the website and get a sneak peek. Use the buttons to buy the book.

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The New Nethervoice

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Internet, Promotion, Social Media 88 Comments

the old layout

Surprise!

No more brown, blue and green.

Gone are the windmills in the background.

Good old Double Dutch had to make way for the new Nethervoice. It might take some time to get used to, but believe me: it was inevitable. Let me tell you why.

If you have your own domain, do you know how many visitors come to your website in a day or a week; how they found your site; what they were looking at during their visit and for how long they stayed before going somewhere else?

If you don’t, you are in trouble. It’s like owning a store and having no idea how many customers come in and what they’re interested in. You cannot manage what you don’t measure.

As I was going over the Google Analytics stats for nethervoice.com, I had an epiphany. It turned out that in the last six months over 50% of my visitors had used a mobile device to access my website.

With millions and millions of tablets and smart phones sold, that was not exactly a revelation. My epiphany came when I realized that my site was never designed with mobile devices in mind.

DRIVING BUSINESS AWAY

Nethervoice.com looked okay on a 20″ monitor, but on an iPhone it was dreadful. Important information was cut off, buttons had disappeared and it was very user-unfriendly. No wonder my bounce rate was way too high.

Unknowingly and unintentionally, I was driving most of my visitors (= potential clients) away!

Now, do you know what your site looks like on an iPad or an Android?

Would you like to know?

Why don’t you visit this site right now and type your url into the test field. You can select “width only” or “device sizes” to find out what others see when they look at your website using a mobile device. If you’re on a desktop, make sure you enlarge the screen all the way to the right to reveal the iPad Landscape setting.  

In my case the conclusion was crystal-clear: I would have to build a new site from the ground up. These were my criteria:

  • It had to be mobile responsive to allow my site to automatically change layouts according to the visitor’s screen size, whether on a desktop, smartphone or tablet
  • I wanted to maintain it myself
  • It had to have a sleek, professional look
  • It had to represent who I am and what I stand for
  • I wanted to open an online store and make my demos downloadable

 

My content management system (CMS) of choice would be WordPress. Because my old Double Dutch blog was WordPress-based, I already knew how easy it was to create pages with little or no knowledge of html code. If you’ve never worked with WordPress, here’s what you should know.

The look and functionality of a WordPress site is determined by a template called a theme. Right now there are thousands of themes available, but not all of them are mobile responsive. Most themes can be customized to your suit your needs and reflect your style.

Some templates are specifically designed for bloggers, photographers, restaurants, bands et cetera. Many themes are free, but premium themes cost anywhere between $35 and $100.

The theme you’re looking at right now is called ProMotion. Try changing the screen size manually and see what happens. You’ll notice that the layout changes but that the content remains visible.

EASY DOES IT

The functionality of a theme can be enhanced by plugins and widgets. For instance, the Subscribe box in the upper right-hand corner of this blog and the list of Popular Posts are both plugins. Once installed, they can simply be dragged and dropped to the sidebar as a widget. No programming experience necessary. Because this is open source software, you can choose from a database of more than 18,000 plugins!

The WordPress platform itself, as well as the themes and plugins, are regularly updated. When an update becomes available, it can usually be installed by clicking a button. It’s that easy. If you’ve ever worked with a more traditional CMS, this is like going from a stick shift to an automatic. And since I’m not a computer geek, I prefer automatic.

ENTER THE EXPERT

I do know my limitations, and to make sure the transition would be smooth, I asked Joe Davis to give me a hand. Joe knows WordPress inside out, and he recently helped Dan Lenard, the Home Studio Master, with his new site. It was particularly important to me that my entire archive of blog posts would migrate seamlessly. 

Before my new site went “live,” Joe uploaded the theme to his server and put the main building blocks in place. That way I could see what the site would look like as we worked on the individual pages. It’s almost like writing a book: you go through several drafts before coming out with a finished product.

I asked Joe about the biggest hurdle he had to overcome in this migration project. This is what he said:

When working with someone like you Paul, who has such a good understanding of what a website can do and brings out that functionality with plugins, it can be a challenge to make sure they all play nice with each other. The more plugins you have, the greater the risk of a conflict between some of them.

You work a lot with the WordPress content management system. What are the advantages of WordPress as opposed to the more traditional CMS systems?

This may come as a surprise to some of your readers but although WordPress started out as a blogging system, it has turned into the world’s most popular CMS. WordPress is a very fast, easy to use, robust framework to build a site in. With the enormous list of plugins available you can add almost any functionality you are looking for. The way themes are handled by WordPress also provides lots of flexibility for the creative folks among us.

With WordPress, web design seems to have become a lot simpler. But not everything is as easy as it seems. What are some of the things you recommend people get help with?

It depends on what the goal of the website is, but generally I would say the areas that people need the most help with are theme/layout design if they are creating a new design and Search Engine Optimization (SEO). On site SEO can be the difference between a great website that nobody sees and a great website that needs a new welcome mat because so many people have stopped by.

What basic mistakes do you see when you visit websites?

Everyone wants their website to be attractive but it is also important to remember why people are on your site. They are looking for something and that should be as painless an experience as possible. Many times I see websites that have huge beautiful headers with lots of pretty graphics. The problem is users have to scroll in order to see the content and must do so on every page. To add that extra step in order to get to the meat and potatoes, on a platform like the Internet where people decide if they are going to stay or leave within seconds, is not a gamble I’m willing to take. Other common mistakes include poor usability, content disorganization and lack of SEO.

Your main job has to do with SEO. Any tips for the uninitiated to improve their SEO?

There is so much you can do, but you will be ahead of most if you remember these life basics that apply just as much online.

If you are interesting, people will come talk to you! Content, content, content! If you don’t have good content, the search engines won’t give you much attention and humans won’t either.

Speak their language! What does someone do with a magazine they pick up that is in another language? Usually nothing because they can’t understand it (or maybe just look at the pretty pictures) but either way the text is lost. Often people will put important keywords that they want to rank well for… in an image. This is a big mistake. Be very careful what you put in graphics. Search engines can’t read anything that’s in an image and will ignore it.

You are associated with who you pal around with! Relevant inbound links are critical. Regarding linking up: Pretend you are looking for a date. Make sure that person is from nice folks with similar interests. If you are a voice actor don’t have your buddy with the real estate company link to you unless the page he links from has content directly related to your field. A link from an audio production house will have a much better result.

Where can people best reach you?

Well, let’s practice a little SEO here. Please visit us for more information about Voice Over Websites and Marketing. See what we did there? We created a relevant inbound link with relevant anchor text to a special page I created solely devoted to voice over that opens in a new window. And you linked to a relevant page which is good for your site. Everyone wins!

Meanwhile, why don’t you do some site-seeing and let me know what you think of the New Nethervoice. Your feedback is much anticipated and appreciated!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

We could all use more clients, but where to find them? Next up, I’ll  offers you a counterintuitive strategy: stay under the radar!

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Raising money for your business

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Freelancing, Internet, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play, Promotion, Social Media 2 Comments

So, you have this amazing idea for a new service, a movie, a video game or a CD. Your plans are in place. Your team is ready. What’s the one thing you need to make it happen?

Money!

One way to get your hands on a chunk of startup cash is to pitch your idea to investors. A few years ago, Priscilla Groves and James Kennedy did just that. They went on the TV show Dragon’s Den, to raise cash for their budding business called “Piehole,” an online voice casting service.

Did they get the money they asked for? Find out for yourself:

Audio book publisher Karen Wolfer had a different idea. She used crowdfunding to pay for the spoken version of “Safe Harbor,” by Radclyffe. You can find her project on Kickstarter.com.

Since launching in April 2009, Kickstarter has successfully funded more than 20 thousand projects backed by 1.8 million people who raised over 200 million dollars.

The idea is simple. Once your project is approved, you post it on the site and you list how much you’d like to raise within a certain time frame. Visitors to the site can pledge a dollar amount and in return they receive a reward.

If the project succeeds in reaching its funding goal, all backers’ credit cards are charged when time expires. If the project falls short, no one is charged.

SUCCESS STORIES

Winning projects don’t get to keep all the money raised. 3-5% goes to Amazon Payments for processing the donations and 5% goes to Kickstarter.

Video game developer Double Fine Productions surprised everybody in 2012. They were shooting for a 400 thousand dollar investment. Within 24 hours they had received over 1 million. An hour before it closed, the project had reached the 3 million dollar level.

Entrepreneur Eric Migicovsky outdid them. He created Pebble, a futuristic watch that syncs with Android or iPhone apps. Migicovsky raised over 10 million dollars!

Compared to them, Karen Wolfer was asking for a modest $4,700. Why did she decide to raise funds using Kickstarter? Karen Wolfer:

“With Kickstarter, the money is collected before the recording project is started. Fees can be paid for narrators, sound engineers and materials up front. And by involving fans of the story or of the narrator, it becomes a form of pre-advertising for the finished book. Social media is utilized in a big way, so buzz is created from the first stage of an audio book’s life.”

You need a minimum $4,700 for this project to get the green light. Is this your entire production budget, and if not, what does it cover?

“Yes, this is my entire production budget. It will cover travel expenses for the actresses (Diane Gaidry) we signed to do the book, her fees, the sound engineer fees, and a new pre-amp we need.”

How do you reach potential backers?

“Social media: Facebook, Twitter, emails. Lots of them!”

Your company, Dog Ear Audio specializes in lesbian literature. What has been the response, so far?

“Pretty darn good! There is a passionate fan base for these stories, and Dog Ear Audio is the only audio publisher serving this niche market. The biggest surprise so far is the dollar amounts being pledged. We’ve had more pledges over the $100 amount, than we’ve had of the expected $5 and $10 amounts. The biggest pledge was a whopping $500 from folks in the Australian Outback! That floored me. But it also showed me there is a hunger for these books.

All the money is coming from fans of the author our narrator, and of course, we also have fans of Dog Ear Audio’s other titles. They have been very loyal customers. We’ve had pledges from the aforementioned Outback of Australia, the UK, and all over the US. I wrote to my brother about donating, but have not heard back from him. If he doesn’t help, boy, is he in trouble.” 😉

What will happen if you don’t reach your goal on June 1st. Will “Safe Harbor” still be recorded?

“Lol…I won’t let that happen now that we are so close. There are still lots of people to meet and share our project with. It’s all a matter of finding those ‘friends’ and groups that this story would appeal to. It is very much like any sales campaign, only the sales work is done first. You get paid first, and then you create the product.

The great thing is, there are still sales to be made after the book is published through the normal sales pathways. But to further answer your question, yes, I would still record “Safe Harbor” because I believe in this project so much, and I know the fan base is there.”

Based on your experience with Kickstarter, will you be using it again?

“Absolutely. The site is so beautifully organized. It is easy to create your project, all the answers are there to help you with the process, and I love the energy the creators of Kickstarter put into all their communications. Someone has put a lot of thought into the entire process.

A huge side benefit to launching a project this way, is that you can measure the likely success rate of your book, or any project, before you invest considerable time and money into that work. I have seen some projects receive no money, so maybe that idea needs to be revamped or even abandoned. But the person now knows that there may not be a market for that idea without having invested a lot of their own money.

Or, it may be that person needs to hone up on their social media skills. That can make or break a project, too. And as you see with Kickstarter, if a project does not receive full funding, no money is collected from donors. It is safe for anyone pledging.

I understand that it helps if a person donates to other projects before they launch their own. It is a form of ‘payback karma’; you help me, I help you, not only in donations, but in advertising of a project. I have ‘liked’ other projects that are similar to mine, and they have done the same to me, so the social networking is wonderful. Sooooo, if anyone needs a place to start, I would greatly appreciate any help from this voice-over community toward our goal.

One last detail. We are donating a percentage of any monies collected to the Safe Harbor Prison Dog rescue in Lansing KS. There are more details on this on our Kickstarter page. Again, it is in the spirit of paying it forward, and sharing the abundance that is out there.”

RISKS & RETURNS

Karen reached her goal three weeks before the deadline plus and extra $1,000. It doesn’t always work out that way. In 2011, 46% of the projects posted on Kickstarter were successful. In 2010 the success rate was 43%.

Let’s assume a project reaches its minimum limit. Who will hold the fundraiser accountable to live up to his or her promises? Kickstarter writes:

“It is the responsibility of the project creator to fulfill the promises of their project. Kickstarter reviews projects to ensure they do not violate the Project Guidelines, however Kickstarter does not investigate a creator’s ability to complete their project. (…) At the end of the day, use your internet street smarts.

Pledges to Kickstarter projects are generally not tax-deductible and if you live outside of the United States, the site will tell you that you might “experience a problem trying to pledge.”

Then there’s the fact that the success of a Kickstarter campaign heavily depends on word of mouth. It’s the number of backers that determines what gets funded and not necessarily the quality of what’s being offered. It’s a popularity contest.

If we would leave it to public opinion, the paintings of Thomas Kinkade would now be in the Museum of Modern Art. Indie artists looking for funding might think twice about seeking support for their work on Kickstarter.

Last but not least, funding Kickstarter projects is not an investment. You might get a T-shirt out of it, or some public recognition from an author, but that’s it.

What if Eric Migicovsky’s Pebble watch becomes a huge hit? We know that Kickstarter and Amazon together take about ten percent of his 10 million dollars raised.

If you have pledged $99, all you get is a watch. Okay, it’s a very cool watch, but still…

Would you back or post a project on Kickstarter?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Are You a Cliché?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Internet 25 Comments

His name is Jake Foushee and he’s an online voice-over sensation. Over one million people have watched his movie trailer man impersonation on YouTube.

If you haven’t seen the video, you might wonder: What’s the big deal?

Well, even though he sounds like he’s in his fifties, Mr. Foushee was actually fourteen years old at the time he shot the video. It’s creepy. Fortunately for Jake, we like creepy. Regular Joes rarely make the headlines, but we all love the bizarre and the eccentric, don’t we?

Next to the bearded lady we now have a 14-year old who sounds a bit like Don LaFontaine. It doesn’t get any better than that.

Ellen DeGeneres had him on her show and like a docile puppy,

Read the rest of this story in my new book. Click on the cover to access the website and get a sneak peek. Use the buttons to buy the book.

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