Career

Should We Shoot The Messenger?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Journalism & Media, Personal 22 Comments

Hillary and DonaldA painful, and often embarrassing war of words is finally over.

America has voted. The people have spoken. 

We have a president-elect, and his name is Donald J. Trump. 

Some of us are elated.

Some of us are scared. 

Some of us are asking ourselves: “How the heck did this happen?”

Now, before you think this is yet another analysis of the election, let me stop you. This is primarily a blog about people’s voices and their meaning, and that’s why you and I need to talk. 

How so? 

Because some of us were foot soldiers in this war of words. Soldiers of fortune. 

I’m referring to the voice actors who used their talent to spread the message of a particular party. Masterful manipulators, hand-picked and hired to move hearts and minds. 

That’s not some dark, political point of view. It’s the ultimate purpose of our profession. Clients hire voice actors when they have something to sell, someone to entertain, something to teach, or something to preach. 

If we do our jobs well, we lift dead words off the page, and bring them to life in the most impactful way possible. Sometimes that way is a seductive whisper. Sometimes it is a battle cry about making a nation great again, or stronger together. As long as that cry is believable, people are buying it in droves. 

It’s all about influence. 

A masterful audio book narrator can create wonderful worlds and characters that become an intimate part of the listener’s experience. Well-delivered catch phrases from commercials become engrained in our culture. 

As the French say: “It’s the tone that makes the music,” and in my mind, it’s the voice-over who sets the tone, whether it’s someone like Sir David Attenborough, Gilbert Godfrey, or Morgan Freeman.   

Who can forget the way Ed McMahon delivered his “Here’s Johnny,” for almost thirty years? Who doesn’t remember Don LaFontaine’s booming “In a world…”  or Don Pardo announcing Saturday Night Live? 

As you’re reading these words, you probably heard their voices inside your head, and hearing these voices put you in a certain state of mind, if only for a moment. 

Don’t worry. That’s perfectly normal. 

Voice-overs infuse scripts with meaning and emotion. A talented voice actor can “play” the words, the way a musician turns notes into music, and music into art. 

Now, at this point I can hear some of you say: 

“Slow down a little. What’s the big deal? Words are just words! You can’t get wet from the word water. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.”

Well, you’re wrong.

Words are powerful weapons. Depending on who delivers them, and how they are delivered, words can act as a placebo, or as a poison.  

The word Kristallnacht isn’t “just” a word. Kristallnacht opens up a burning world of meaning; a world of anti-Semitism and intolerance that lead to the killing of six million innocent people. 

Words are loaded. They can be used to divide, to incite, to help, and to heal. Words drive teenagers to suicide, and words inspire religious fanatics to murder and maim. 

Words are never “just” words. 

Now, subscribing to the idea that words have power, has implications for all of us, and especially for professional communicators.

Whether you’re a copywriter, a speech writer, a politician, or a voice-over, as a paid manipulator of language, you have the responsibility to ask yourself: 

“To what aim am I doing my job?”

“What are the potential consequences?” 

“Would this project I’m involved in make me proud?”

Under what circumstances would I refuse to work on something?”

“Is this job an opportunity to make money, to make a difference, or both?” 

Some of my fellow voice-overs answer those questions in a very pragmatic way. They tell me:

“Don’t shoot the messenger. I’m only an actor. I’ll say whatever they pay me to say.” 

To be perfectly honest with you: I struggle with that attitude. Especially when it’s about causes I strongly believe in, I find it hard to separate personal from professional ethics. For instance, as a lifelong vegetarian, I would never butcher my beliefs to promote the consumption of meat, no matter how much they’d pay me.

At the same time, I’m not going to make the mistake of confusing an actor with his or her character. If someone portrays a member of the KKK in a movie, I know it doesn’t mean he supports the KKK. Perhaps that actor wanted to play this role to warn the world about the dangers of the Klan. 

So, to help myself deal with some professional, moral dilemmas, I find it useful to make a distinction between fiction, and fantasy. As a voice actor I give myself permission to play a despicable person if it’s non-fiction (and with certain limitations). But I would never record a promo video for the KKK. 

And what about political ads? Would I be willing to help a political party influence the voters?

It depends.

Although many political ads sound too good to be true, I put them in the category of non-fiction. They’re a tool in a battle to influence the masses. They’re instruments of propaganda. Based on my personal morals, and knowing what I know about the power of words, I would never lend my voice to a message I don’t believe in, regardless of the paycheck. 

My voice is for hire, but my integrity is not for sale.

I understand that you may draw the line differently, because your values and beliefs are different from mine. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t discuss ethics in our profession. Our voice is a powerful instrument of influence, that can be used for many purposes, good, or bad. 

One last thing.

Let’s not confuse doing a great job with doing what is right. 

It is very much possible to do great work for a terrible cause. Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph des Willens, is a cinematic masterpiece of propaganda about the 1934 Nazi Party Congress in Nuremberg. Her documentary Olympia about the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, was groundbreaking.

Sometimes it’s not the work itself that’s being criticized. It’s the purpose it serves, that matters.

With that being said, it’s time to adjust to a new reality. 

Our election is over.

To many observers, this wasn’t an election about issues. This was an election about emotions; about who was best at selling a message to the masses. 

A painful, and often embarrassing war of words has finally come to an end.

Or is it just beginning?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!


Secrets From Successful Voice-Overs

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing 8 Comments

Road to SuccessLast week, I shared the story of Rick, a voice actor and producer with over 30 years of experience. In spite of his talent and time in the business, Rick isn’t doing so well. What’s even worse: he has pretty much given up hope that things will change for the better.

His story struck a chord. Colleagues reacted privately and publicly, telling me that the voice-over Boulevard of Broken Dreams is a crowded place. Is it possible to get stuck there? Of course it is, but with the right mindset, skill set, and marketing strategy, your chances at success will improve dramatically.

I asked my commentators what kind of advice they had for Rick. Here’s what they had to say.

1. DON’T DWELL ON THE PAST

“The bottom line is this: get rid of all the negativity in your life, believe in yourself, and thank the powers that be for all the good fortune in your life. Yesterday is gone, tomorrow doesn’t exist, so that leaves today! Working on today is what I do very well!”

Shane Morris

“Be in the right mindset. We can often be our own worst enemy with what we unconsciously BELIEVE to be “true,” and can sabotage our own best efforts, because deep down, we really think we don’t deserve success, or some other faulty belief that we keep living out and finding evidence to support.”

Debbie Grattan

2. CHOOSE HAPPINESS OVER MONEY

“After working as a Part-time VO for 20 years, I only just went full time 3 years ago, and I am in the midst of my best year ever. I am tracking to make 30K this year. Still only a third of what I used to make as a multimedia developer. But I am much happier.

I realize I may not ever hit the “Big-Time,” but it doesn’t deter me from continuing in this industry because I am happy. I know the pitfalls, and in my opinion, they are less stressful and more rewarding than any company I worked for all my life. It’s not all peaches and cream. It’s perspective, and I appreciate honesty above all. Less surprises that way.”

John N. Gully

3. FIND YOUR NICHE

“If you can find a mid-sized market where you can be the “only” at something, I think you can have a real shot. I entered a mid-sized market when there was no one else who sounded like me. This mattered because there were tons of women with deep, sexy voices in the Philly market.

I was a recent college grad with a high-pitched, very young sounding voice. I even had engineers say to me “We finally have someone to call to play a high school or college student!” At that time, there was a lot of character parts in radio VO, and I played the daughter, the valley girl (that was a “thing” at the time), the high school or college student, etc. I wasn’t the best voice talent, but I did have acting skills and I was essentially the “only.”

Jeannie Stith

4. BE CLOSE & BE READY

“People will tell you that because of the internet, Source-Connect, ISDN, etc. you can do this from “wherever.” Don’t believe it. I mean, you can…sort of… but with limited success. I have had the success I’ve had because I can be at studios in Burbank/Los Angeles/Hollywood at the drop of a hat. It’s not because I’m better than anyone else – I’m sure I’m not.

I have a dear friend in Des Moines who works at a car dealership. He has an amazing home studio with everything you could ever need or want, and he’s a lot better than I am. He would beat me at every read. But, I book 200% more work than he does because of WHERE he is, and because opportunities come when he’s working his other job. I get auditions that need to be done in the next 4 hours and so does he. You can’t do those if you’re working another job. I get work, not because I beat guys on the read, but because I beat them to the punch.

Treat VO like a part-time job or a sideline, and that’s all it will ever be.”

Jon Armond

5. BE OPEN & EXPAND YOUR HORIZONS

“Stay up with the times. Just because you’ve been doing something for 30 years, if you’re working from an old paradigm, then perhaps you need to expand into a new way of thinking… not only with copywriting, but vocal delivery, music mix, and message.

Diversify. Don’t only focus on commercial work. How about being open to niches in narration, explainers, phone messaging, audio books, video games? The VO world has expanded so much from 30 years ago, with niches opening up that didn’t even exist before.”

6. OUTSOURCE

“Hire other professionals to help you in areas where you’re not an expert (website building, branding, marketing, SEO, social media management, blog writing, etc.) and also coaches, to keep fresh in your vocal delivery. Hire demo producers to cut new and cutting edge demos – they seem to constantly need to be refreshed.

Get copies of your work to upload onto many different playlists on YouTube, and then keyword those to attract potential clients. These are just a few practices that can make a big difference. Outsource, where you can, and this includes housekeeping, yard maintenance, etc.”

Debbie Grattan

I want to thank my colleagues for chiming in with these words of wisdom. They illustrate the final point I’d like to make:

7. DON’T REINVENT THE WHEEL: LEARN FROM THE BEST

As they say: “Experience is the slowest teacher,” particularly bad experience. Cut your learning curve by working with pros who are where you want to be. That way, you don’t have to make the mistakes they had to make.

Remember that even the best athletes work with coaches on a regular basis. The success of a single player is a team effort.

Surround yourself with people who support your goals, and who have the expertise to get you there.

Be patient. Be persistent. Be a Pro. 

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be Sweet. Please retweet!

photo credit: ota_photos Road to Success via photopin (license)


Voice-Overs: the Untold, Unsexy Story

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Pay-to-Play 18 Comments

Standing at the gates of hellSomething strange is going on.

Whenever I try to warn people about the intricacies and pitfalls of the voice-over business, I get two types of reactions.

More experienced colleagues thank me for painting a realistic picture of a complicated industry.

Beginners criticize me for spitefully dashing their dreams.

To some, I am a hero for speaking my mind. To others I’m a villain who wants to curb his competition. There seems to be no middle ground. Just look at the reactions to my YouTube videoThe Troublesome Truth About A Voice-Over Career.” Even though I made it a few years ago, I still stand behind every word of it. One of the commentators said:

“Why would anyone seek out this negative party pooper? Don’t just offer the problems, offer the solutions, or at least direct people to where they can find the solutions. That might be on your website, but most people will never go there as all you’ve done with this post is attempt to suck the life out of their dreams.”

Another one said: 

“Why is this guy such a douche bag? Haha. This is a video about a VO actor that sadly didn’t “catch the big break” and made a rant video.”

Here’s a third response:

“Tough love. I appreciate it. Thank you for this, but it has me more determined than ever!”

And one more:

“A very honest and accurate summary of the voiceover business. As I tell folks, my job is not doing voiceovers. My job is finding voiceover clients.”

THE POWER OF PREJUDICE

Positive or not so positive, every response teaches us something about confirmation bias. It’s this very human flaw that makes us see what we want to see, hear what we want to hear, and believe what we want to believe. It’s a way of filtering information that confirms our preconceptions. Quite often, it makes people immune to facts.

Advertisers create entire campaigns to play into people’s biases by offering simple solutions to complicated problems. Here’s a familiar example from a new website, using the persistent myth (bias) that every ignorant fool with vocal folds has a good chance of becoming a professional voice-over!

screen-shot-2016-10-24-at-8-57-13-am

Yes folks: anyone with a camera can make money as a photographer. Anyone with a hammer can become a carpenter, and anyone with a piano can be a concert pianist. You just have to believe in yourself, and sign up for whatever training program they’re trying to sell you. Clients worldwide are waiting for you!

CUTTING THE CRAP

Well, let’s do a reality check, shall we? If you believe I have a hidden agenda and can’t be trusted, perhaps you’re willing to listen to an accomplished colleague of mine. He’s a writer, producer, and voice talent. A while ago he responded to one of my blog posts entitled What Clients Hate The Most.” His story is a tale I have heard many times since I started writing this blog.

It is honest. It is raw. It is painful.

Minutes after he posted his remarks, he asked me to delete them because of possible repercussions. Sharing setbacks could be bad for business, he said. I think he has a point. 

Most of us do our best to look successful in the eyes of colleagues and clients. That’s why we share our latest and greatest accomplishments with our peeps. Colleagues refer colleagues with an impressive track record. Clients want to hire winners, not whiners. 

So, I shelved his message for months, but in some way it continued to haunt me. Here was a story from the trenches that deserved to be heard. I’m not saying it is representative of what every single voice talent goes through, but it tells a story you have to hear. This week he gave me permission to share it with you.

RICK’S RESPONSE

Hi Paul:

I’ve written and produced for thirty years. One of my pieces is used by Dan O’Day in one of his courses, specifically the use of music in a commercial. I am quite good at nuance and communicating just what the client wants in the way he wants it. I have top-shelf recording gear with a couple of the world’s finest mics and preamps, and my stuff sounds very, very good.

I’m a good editor with an instinct for timing, layering, choosing the right music when required, and knowing where to put it. My demo is as good as anything you’ll hear. I’m a nice person with good people skills, and an ability to empathize.

I was mentored by a writer who did “Where’s the Beef,” and “Sometimes You Feel Like a Nut.” He told me 25 years ago, after working with him for many months, that I had reached a level where I should be making $75K. This was in 1981. I have read the books, gone to the seminars and webinars, written and produced 2000 commercials plus audio and video pieces for corporations and government agencies.

This year I will perhaps make $30K, only because I’m now on social security, and have a couple of new clients. All my clients are local. The average amount they spend per month on advertising is $700-$1000. I have sent out very well-designed and well-written post cards. I made hundreds of phone calls. My average income 15-20 years ago was $20-25K. For the last five it’s $15-18K.

I used to believe that if I learned my craft, had natural ability, never stopped learning, and worked diligently in making contacts and handling them well, I would succeed. I no longer believe that. 

I have lost clients to people who don’t write any better than radio stations, and don’t know how to schedule for effectiveness. 

I went with the two large pay-to-plays, and after 200 auditions and getting one inquiry that didn’t go, and after seeing people make it who sound like every dj you ever heard, I believe that success comes only when you (luckily) land that One Big VO gig or (luckily) get that One Big Client, and it all flows from there. 

For the people I know, that’s how it happened for all of them. I’m sure for many it’s different, but I haven’t seen or talked to anyone like that. I know there are more than enough people out there whom I could greatly help, whose messages are off-point and blandly produced, and who believe a commercial should “sound like a commercial” because that’s mostly what they hear.  They’re tossing their money in the street and don’t know it, and don’t know they don’t know. But I’ve never been able to find them. 

It’s an understatement to say I’m crushed. I know several talented people who just can’t make it, who will probably never make it. I am one of them, apparently. It’s a horror, Paul. I mean that quite seriously.

I am 66, sound like I’m 40, am still firing on all 8, and am writing and editing better than ever. But after three decades of not making enough to keep my family above the poverty line, I feel I am condemned to having small clients forever: Moms and Pops who, God bless them, believe they know more about advertising than I do, because people think “anybody can do advertising” and “all you need to do is get your name out there” and advertising is an afterthought; something they can give to Mikey the office assistant. You know what I mean. My few clients think I’m a genius, and I’m always naturally ‘up’ when talking with them or talking to a possible new client.

Because I love doing this, I have offered my services free to several organizations including charities. I have yet to get one callback.

VO guys and people who write and produce, have told me they spun their wheels for five years before getting the break that opened the Horn of Plenty to them, and they complain about “all that time” it took before it happened.

Really? Try starting in 1981 and still be nowhere.

Dante posted a sign outside the Gates of Hades saying “Abandon hope, you who enter here.”

Well, I know how that feels.

Rick*

THE TAKEAWAY

So, here’s a guy who is a triple threat. He was trained by the best. He has tons of experience, and he owns the right equipment. Yet, he’s struggling. I don’t know enough about Rick’s situation to tell you where and why things went wrong, and how they can be improved. I do know that Rick is not alone.

If sharing Rick’s story makes me a party pooper, or a douche bag, so be it. Frankly, I don’t care what you think, because throughout history people have always blamed the messenger. The question is:

What do YOU take away from Rick’s story?

Does it upset you? Does it make you more persistent to pursue your dreams? What does it tell you about breaking into voice-overs? 

I’ve had some time to think about Rick’s story, and here are my two cents.

If there’s a lesson in his narrative, it is this: The advertising/voice-over industry is not fair. In fact, life itself isn’t fair.

Studying hard, working hard, having the right chops, and owning the right equipment does not guarantee anything. Putting out nice brochures or postcards entitles you to… nothing. Being a nice guy doesn’t mean you’ll make enough to pay the bills.  

Uncertainty is the name of the game. There is no promise of work. There’s just potential, talent, and subjective selection. 

This is not a message many want to hear. It is a message most Pay-to-Plays, training companies, and demo mills want to suppress because it’s not sexy, and it doesn’t sell.

YOUR TURN

Now, Rick was brave enough to stick his neck out, and I would like him to walk away with something positive. That’s where you come in!

Ideally, I’d love it if you would use the comment section to answer some or all of the following questions:

• Is Rick’s experience unique, or do you recognize what he is going through?

• If you’ve been in a similar situation, what have you done to get out of it?

• What needs to happen in our industry to make it more likely that people like Rick can make a decent living?

The floor is yours.

Your input is much appreciated!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be Sweet. Please retweet!

*As you can imagine, Rick is not his real name. 


My Most Personal Post

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing 45 Comments

In deep thoughtAs a blogger, I often write about various aspects that play an important role in the way we lead our life, and the way we run our business. Think of things like our health, our state of mind, and the stuff we use to make a living.

Today’s topic is something I approach with trepidation. For one, it’s very delicate and personal. Secondly, some commentators believe it has no place in a discussion about work.

I respectfully disagree.

EVERYDAY ETHICS

For me, spirituality has a clear role in how I conduct myself, and how I conduct business. It permeates everything I do, and it often guides me as to what not to do. It’s a moral compass.

Notice that I do not use the word faith in this context. I avoid it religiously. To me, spirituality is less divisive of a term. It’s more elusive and inclusive.

Whereas faith and religion are often associated with dogmatic, hierarchical institutions, spirituality is first and foremost a subjective individual experience. I cannot and will not define it for you. What I can do, is tell you what it means to me.

When I use the word spirituality, I am referring to a connection to something greater than myself. This can be a physical as well as a metaphysical connection. Spirituality tells me that there’s more to life than the naked eye can observe, and more than science can explain. 

Spirituality helps me answer some very basic but essential (business-related) questions:

  • Why do I do what I do?
  • Why is that important?
  • What am I (ultimately) trying to accomplish?
  • For what (higher) purpose?
  • What will it allow me to do?
  • How does that affect those around me, and the planet? 


Spirituality is linked to motivation and mission. It can provide us with a motive -a reason- that explains and drives why we do what we do. But it’s not as simple and superficial as that. Ultimately, it’s about living a life of meaning and purpose. It’s uniquely personal and universal at the same time. 

INTERCONNECTION

To me, leading a spiritual life acknowledges the fact that we don’t live on an island. Whether we realize it or not, we’re all part of a larger whole. We’re all connected. Our individual choices and actions have the potential to influence other individuals. Right now, and in the future. It’s impossible to know to what extent one simple decision can change the course of many lives, but action-reaction is a dominant force of transformation. 

Not everyone sees it that way, or acts that way. Too often, nations, corporations, and individuals act as if there’s no tomorrow, and their behavior has no consequences. We fight one another over faith, scarce resources, and land; we poison the planet to make shareholders happy, and we focus on ourselves because we believe we are at the center of our universe. The here and now is all that matters.

We ignore the bigger picture because we refuse to look further than our own backyard. We choose to focus on what divides us, instead of on our common interests. And in doing so, we lose a vital sense of (global) community and interconnectedness. We may even lose part of our humanity.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

CONSEQUENCES

Being mindful of the consequences of our thoughts and actions, makes for a consequential life.

The Iroquois called it Seven Generation thinking. That’s the idea that decisions should be considered for their impact on the seventh generation to come. This focus on sustainability is philosophical and practical at the same time. It is based on a profound respect for this magnificent speck of stardust in the midst of an infinite universe we get to borrow during our lifetime.

That’s my kind of spirituality!

You may have noticed that I am trying to stay as down to earth as possible when it comes to spirituality. Rather than praying for some magical, mystical experience, I choose to also interpret spirituality as doing things in a certain spirit. That’s where the word inspire comes from. Spiritual people lead inspired lives, and strive to inspire others.

So, in what spirit do I choose to conduct business?

MY PERSONAL APPROACH

Well, I believe I’ve been given (and have developed) certain gifts for which I am eternally grateful. What better way to celebrate those gifts than to share them with the world? That’s one of the reasons I use my voice and my pen for a living.

Here are some other spiritual principles that guide me every day:

• I want to be of service, and use my talents to the very best of my ability.

I want to treat clients and colleagues with class, kindness, and respect.

I want to do business in an honest, open, and accountable way.

I want to charge rates that are fair, not only for my benefit, but for the benefit of my entire professional community.

I want my business to be as environmentally friendly as possible.

I am totally committed to keep on learning and growing, and –

I want to assist and inspire others to do the same.

I won’t take on projects that go against my beliefs, e.g. games that glorify gratuitous violence and turn horrifying aggression into so-called entertainment.

I want to make this place a better world.

THE ANSWER WITHIN

Freelancing is not for the faint of heart. At one point in our professional lives we’re all going to be tested. Perhaps we’ll hit a long dry spell. Perhaps we’ll receive some horrible feedback. Maybe we will start doubting ourselves, or we’ll feel professionally isolated and alone. 

Especially during those times, we have to rely on our WHY. If the answer to the question “Why do I do what I do?” isn’t convincing enough, it will be very tempting to give in and give up.

But if, on the other hand, our inner fire is burning with purpose, we’re poised to get back on track, and stumbling blocks can turn into stepping stones. Challenges become learning experiences and opportunities to grow and give.

I believe it is human to crave connection and look for meaning. Otherwise, why are we even here? Why do we even bother?

And should our lives be part of some divine design, I think a life well-lived may very well be measured by the number of meaningful connections we managed to make during our time on earth. Professionally and personally.

If that isn’t spiritual, I don’t know what is!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be Sweet. Please retweet!


Why Navel-Gazing Is Bad For Business

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing 9 Comments

photographerI love being part of my sweet, supportive, and unpretentious voice-over community. It’s one of the many perks of the job.

When one of us lands the gig of a lifetime, all of us rejoice.

When one of us is down in the dumps, many of us reach out.

When one of us spots a scammer, we spread the news and warn our colleagues.

Most voice-overs I know, are sharing and caring people. We like hanging out with members of our invisible community, whether it’s in person, or online. While we may disagree on certain issues, we tend to have “warm exchanges,” instead of heated debates.

Spending time with our peeps is good fun, and often educational, but there’s a slight risk involved. The more time we spend inside our rosy VO-bubble, the greater our tendency to look inward. 

That inner focus may lead us to believe that the challenges we’re dealing with are unique to our profession. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is estimated that over one third of the U.S. workforce consists of freelancers. That’s over 54 million people, and those people have a lot in common!

So, when I am searching for answers and inspiration, I like to look outside of my small circle. Take freelance photographers, for instance. You may think that there are quite a few colorful characters among voice actors, and you’re right. But have you ever watched photographers on YouTube? Oh dear!

A DIFFERENT LENS

But let’s be serious for a moment.

Like voice-overs, many photographers operate as a one-person band. Like us, they tend to have studios. Just as the microphone is our professional ear that zooms in on sounds, the camera is the all-seeing eye that registers images.

Both voice-overs and photographers edit in “post,” using software. And if you think VO’s go crazy for the greatest gear, you should spend some time reading reviews of the latest lenses, filters, and other accessories!

If you still believe that any comparison between VO’s and photographers is a bit contrived, listen to David Shaw. He writes:

“More gear won’t make you a better photographer. Don’t get me wrong, I love camera gear. New bodies, lenses, and accessories are fun and exciting, but they won’t magically make you better at photography. To be a better photographer you need to learn how to find images. The gear can help you capture them, but the finding part is up to you.

Whenever I’m thinking of buying a new piece of gear, I ask myself, “Is my current gear holding me back?” Sometimes the answer is yes. (…) More often though, the answer to whether my gear is holding me back is no. The actual reason I want a new piece of gear is that it is shiny. I may lust over new camera stuff, but if that gear won’t improve my photography in a very tangible way, I don’t buy it. Remember that good photography comes from your heart and your mind, not your wallet.”

YOU’RE GETTING MARRIED

Whenever I try to explain the value of my work as a voice-over pro to a potential client, or even to a lowballing colleague, I often use the metaphor of a photographer. Since everyone carries a camera (disguised as a phone), and we all take snapshots, most people can relate to that.

I’ll often tell a hesitant client:

“Imagine it’s your wedding day. One of the best and most important days of your life. Who is going to take the pictures you will one day share with your grandchildren? Uncle Arthur with his silly smart phone? Cousin Fred with his point-and-shoot, and unsteady hand? Or will you look for the cheapest hack on Craigslist? You’ll save a lot of money, and you will regret it every single day.”

And all of a sudden, people who know very little about hiring a voice-over, get it.

IT IS A GIFT

Now, another thing photographers and voice-overs have in common is this: people tend to underestimate what it takes to get to a certain level. An amateur can take pictures all day long, and doesn’t have to live up to a standard. He or she can learn on the job. Pros, on the other hand, are expected to know what they’re doing. It takes hard work to make something look effortless.

Once again, here’s David Shaw:

“A few times, I’ve been told by people looking at one of my images, “You have such a gift.” I know they are being kind, that they are offering a compliment, but I can’t help feeling insulted. I want to say, “It’s not a gift! I worked my ass off to make that image! That shot is the result of years of effort, of early mornings, and hours of travel, of study and practice, tens of thousands of failed and deleted shots, and thousands of dollars in equipment. Nothing about that image was given to me, I earned it.” Of course, I don’t say that. Instead, I smile as though they’ve just said the nicest thing, and say thanks. (…) So no, photography is not a knack – it’s work.”

That’s precisely why professional rates are based on experience, and not on time spent. What’s true in photography is true in voice-overs. Talent cannot be bought. It has to be cultivated. Patiently. It requires discipline. It requires commitment. It may take years before you see a decent return on investment. David Shaw agrees:

“With the exception of the very top people in the industry, we pros aren’t millionaires, or anywhere close. Out of our meagre incomes have to come our mortgage, food, computers, software fees, travel, and yes, camera equipment. When I made the transition to full-time freelancer, that new reality hit me like a falling piano. Science fiction writer John Scalzi once wrote that you shouldn’t consider leaving your day job until you are making TWICE your normal income with your writing (or in this case photography). It’s good advice.”

LOOKING BEYOND

So, if you’re searching for answers, inspiration, and a common cause, look outside of your familiar circles. Extend and expand your network, and reach out to fellow-freelancers. Find script writers, copywriters, cinematographers, graphic designers, art directors, authors, artists, photographers, et cetera. Learn from their struggles. Immerse yourself in new ideas. Stand with them, be stronger, and be ready to be surprised.

This the really exciting part:

One new connection will often lead to another, and another, and another.

A photographer I had been in contact with, was getting into video production. She wanted to produce virtual house tours for realtors, and she needed someone to do the voice-over narration. Guess who she turned to?

Had I stayed in my sweet, supportive, and navel-gazing community, she probably wouldn’t have found me. What she needed, was a personal connection. 

Here’s what you have to understand.

These things don’t just happen. You have to be the one who reaches out. Today.

Do you get the picture?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!

photo credit: ** RCB ** pictures the hard way via photopin (license)


Forget Regret!

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Personal 15 Comments

Big Hair“Non, je ne regrette rien,” Edith Piaf famously sang.

“No, there’s nothing I regret.”

If there ever were a top ten of useless, disempowering emotions, regret would be at the top of my list.

What’s the last thing you’ve regretted, lately?

Not jumping at an opportunity? Not buying a piece of equipment while it was on sale? Not making up with your partner? Not following up with a potential client?

Regret almost always starts with a question, and ends with a perhaps:

“If only… then maybe….”

“If only I had kept my big mouth shut, then maybe…”

“If only I had studied more, then maybe…”

“If only I had left the house earlier, maybe…”

Questions like that are the mental equivalent of Chinese water torture. They can haunt people until the day they die.

TURNING THE CLOCK BACK

A mother who lost her only son during the war in Iraq still believes she should have done more to talk him out of a military career.

A father believes that if only he’d shown a bit more affection, his daughter wouldn’t have become addicted to drugs.

A colleague is still upset about an important audition she lost two weeks ago. She’s sure she didn’t get the job because she couldn’t keep her nerves under control.

Here are the facts.

The producer and director thought my “nervous” colleague came across as confident. They agreed she is a very talented actress. She just didn’t have the right looks for the part.

The girl with the drug addiction thinks the world of her father. She’s in rehab, and takes full responsibility for her own actions.

Nothing could have convinced the soldier-son not to enlist. He felt a strong inner urge to serve and protect his country, and he died saving the lives of his brothers-in-arms.

HARSH JUDGEMENT

Regret is problematic, because it’s based on a harsh evaluation of the past, using the knowledge and notions we have now.

One of my friends was showing me her high school pictures, and she constantly commented on how “stupid” she looked in those “dumb clothes” her mother made her wear. She hated her glasses, and called her sixties haircut “horrendous.” Browsing through her yearbooks, pretty much every girl looked like her: big hair, weird clothes, and yes… huge frames. At that time, this was perfectly normal, even fashionable.

It’s unfair and irrational to explain or judge the past using today’s standards.

There’s another reason why we should not use what we know today, to look at yesteryear.

Present knowledge is unhelpful because it’s limited, and colored by personal ideas of how we think this world works or should work. Present knowledge doesn’t change the past one bit. It just changes our perspective.

My actress-friend was sure that her nerves caused her to lose the audition. She couldn’t be more wrong, and yet she kept on beating herself up about it day after day. It was a terrible waste of time and energy over something she couldn’t do anything about anyway: her looks.

THE PAST IS NO MORE

Regret makes you a prisoner of the past, and of your own imagination. 

The past is a given. It’s dead. What has happened, happened, and cannot be undone (the word “regret” comes from the French “regretter,” and originally meant “lamenting over the dead”).

What’s really underneath the notion of regret, is a hidden desire to control. In a universe of infinite possibilities, we secretly want the world to go one way. Our way. This manifests itself through simplistic “if this… then that”-thinking.

“If you work long and hard enough, then you’ll be successful.”

“If you treat people with respect, then they will treat you with respect too.”

“If you lead a healthy lifestyle, then you’ll live a long life.”

That would only be fair, wouldn’t it?

We all know that life isn’t fair. It just is. Bad things happen to good people, and the other way around.

The mother whose son went to war, wished she’d been able to make him change his mind. She blamed herself for failing to do that, and it made her miserable. At an unconscious level, she even felt responsible for his death, and she couldn’t shake the feeling.

I would tell her the following.

If you want to get over regret, you have to learn to accept one thing:

It’s hard enough to control oneself, let alone someone else.

People have free will, and make choices based on their ideas. Not yours.

In order to give up regret, you have to acknowledge that you’re very rarely in complete control. Without total control, you can’t be held 100% responsible for everything that happens as a result of what you did or didn’t do. Cause and effect are complicated things. 

To some, that notion is freeing. To others it is frightening.

The other “thing” we can’t control (and it’s a biggie) is the future. We can prepare for it, but we can’t bend it to our will.

Life is never a simple game of “if this”…. “then that…” The future is wide open, and filled with endless probabilities and possibilities. Literally anything can happen. It’s impossible to plan for millions of scenarios, and even the best plans fail.

MAKING CHOICES

We can only make decisions based on the information we have access to at a given point in time. The trouble is: we rarely have enough information. The info we do have might be twisted, incomplete, or downright inaccurate.

Had we known better, we’d done better, but we didn’t, so we couldn’t. 

Our actions are also directed by the resources we have available at the moment of decision. By resources I mean things like our level of intelligence, education, maturity, experience, skill set, our attitude, and what we’re physically capable of. On some days we’re more resourceful than on other days.

Whether you like it or not, life is an ongoing series of judgment calls, where a split second can mean the difference between a positive outcome, and a not so positive outcome. Quite often, these judgement calls aren’t even based on logic. We might act out of anger, frustration, guilt, or love. Some days we’re Mr. Spock. Other days we act like Captain Kirk. 

Ultimately, life itself is highly illogical, unpredictable, and random in the way it unfolds.

OFF THE HOOK

Does this mean we’re totally off the hook, and that we’re absolved of any responsibility?

I wouldn’t go that far.

We must stand behind our decisions, and accept that we are human, fallible, and that we’re never alone. Sometimes things work out the way they were planned, and quite often they do not. On occasion we get more than we bargained for, or less than we expected. 

What I am saying is that we should cut ourselves some slack. Instead of beating ourselves up over something we had little or no influence over, we should look deeper.

Sometimes, we have to go through certain experiences that don’t go as planned, so we know better next time. That’s the definition of experience. Instead of regretting what didn’t go our way, we could ask ourselves:

“What has this experience taught me that is positive?”

“What can I do differently next time, to bring about a more desired outcome?”

Once you start doing that, you stop dwelling on the past. You stop playing the blame game, so you can focus on the future.

It also helps to realize that not everything happens for a reason, or for your reasons. And at times, very good things can come out of very bad things. It may just take a while before we’re permitted to see the whole picture. 

So, the next time you feel sad or sorry about something you did or didn’t do, please be kind to yourself. Take a deep breath, and move forward. 

Always do the best you can. Some days, your best will be better than other days. That’s okay, as long as you stay in the game.

I promise you won’t regret it!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

P.S Be sweet. Please retweet!

photo . credit: drdad via photopin cc


Stop Bashing Voices.com!

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play 30 Comments

ProtestThe history of the world is littered with intelligent people doing stupid things. 

Some of those people have interesting excuses:

“I continue to suck on this carcinogenic stick, even though it could kill me. It’s just so relaxing.”

“I won’t stop sexting, even if it ruins my marriage and my political career. I can’t live without the excitement.”

“My employer treats me like dirt, but I’ll stick it out because I have great benefits.”

The people who are saying these things are smart and have been around the block a few times. Yet, they choose to continue to behave in weird ways, almost as if they have no choice.

I had to think of these people after I heard of yet another chapter in the ongoing saga of Voices dot com (VDC), sticking it to voice talent. Under the heading Did Voices.com Just Take a 92.5% Commission?,  colleague Marc Scott reported that VDC had the audacity to post a $4000 job for a measly $300. How do we know? The VDC audition script for this national TV spot happened to be identical to a script that had already gone out to several agencies. 

Busted!

In its defense, “Voices” claimed the project they posted was cast in a different way, with multiple roles instead of one. Scott spoke to people who had received the original casting, and they disagreed. In their understanding, the client was offering $4000 per role. Not $300. 

In an email response to Scott, VDC went a step further in explaining the $3700 difference. Get this. They said their quote wasn’t even based on the client’s budget, but on their own rate sheet.

Well, no matter how you spin the story, offering three hundred bucks for a national TV spot is beyond pathetic, if not outright insulting. But that seems to be the way VDC treats the people who put the voice in “Voices.” 

If all of this comes as a shock to you, you’re either new to the voice-over business, or you have been ignoring the facts. It’s been a year since my two posts Voices.com Is Slapping Regular Members In The Face, and Voices.com: Unethical and Greedy? were published. These stories have been read thousands of times (20,337 & 21,547 respectively). Since then (and well before that), colleagues as well as VDC employees have been venting left and right.

In light of all this, here’s the question many VDC members are asking themselves:

“Should I cancel my membership?”

Here are some typical answers:

“I feel betrayed. However, they are a good source of income for me, and I can’t really afford to dump them out of hand.” 

“I hate what they’re doing, but sixty percent of my income comes from VDC. I’m not going to quit and lose all that money.”

“I guess I could leave VDC, but where would I go to find all those VO jobs?”

And that brings me back to the opening of this blog post: intelligent people doing stupid things. In this case, many are complaining about VDC, but they renew their membership anyway. Year after year. I find that hard to justify. 

As long as you keep investing in a company that does not have your best interest at heart, you keep that company in business. It’s that simple.

We know how VDC operates. We know that those who criticize VDC’s business practices are ignored and kicked out, but listen to this. If -after all that has been revealed- you still choose to collaborate with this Canadian company, you are an enabler who has no right to complain. 

Frankly, your outrage means nothing to me. It’s just lip service (and we all know that voice-overs specialize in lip service). It’s easy to protest if you don’t have to pay a price.

It doesn’t stop there, though.

People tend to reveal what’s important to them in the choices they make. So, if you choose to stay with “Voices” because you’re afraid to lose the income, you choose money over morals. It shows that your conscience is for sale. To me it also indicates that you don’t really seem to care about the long-term effect low rates are having on the industry. As long as you get paid your $200 for that ten-minute industrial, all is well. Money is money, right?

To those who fear they’ll have no career without “Voices,” I want to say this:

There is life after Voices dot com!

As a freelancer it’s bad business to make yourself dependent on one or two sources of income. “Voices” is not the only game in town. You have many options, and as a professional you should explore all avenues. Here’s the good news.

There are clients who are willing to pay $4000 for your voice. Why settle for $300? Why should a voice casting site that’s already making tons of money off memberships and escrow fees (that just went from 10 to 20%!), pocket the difference?

If you think you’re entitled to a fair share, and you feel you’re not getting it at Voices dot com (or at any other casting service for that matter), you have to do something about it. For your sake, and for the sake of your community. But let me be straight. 

You can’t have it both ways. You can’t moan about the middle man, and support him at the same time. You can’t complain about the quality of the water, and pour yourself a glass. 

If you want to be part of the solution, you can’t be part of the problem. 

Unfortunately, words alone are not going to bring about change.

Bad things happen when good people do nothing. 

But as long as you’re unwilling to take action, stop bashing Voices dot com!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet.

photo credit: Demonstration/Parade/Performance/Public Hearing – Hamburg 28.05.2016 beyond welcome: another planning is possible right to the city – never mind the papers – schwabinggrad ballett via photopin (license)


The Devil Is In The Delivery

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career 19 Comments
Voice actor James Arnold Taylor

James Arnold Taylor

There’s no doubt about it.

The repugnant R-word is one of the most dreaded words in the business, if not in life.

We all have a deep desire to be accepted, to belong, to be loved, and to be recognized.

Many people aim to please, hoping for a warm reception, only to receive a cold shoulder.

Rejection can be a terrible thing, especially when you have no clue why you’re being rejected.

Yet, if you want to become a (voice) actor, you must accept the fact that most jobs you audition for, you will never get. No reasons given.

That’s not unkind or unfair. It just is.

“But…” say my students, “rejection would be so much easier to take, if only the client or the casting director would tell me why I didn’t make the cut. It would allow me to correct my mistakes, and grow from the experience.”

At that point I usually take a deep breath and tell them:

“That casting director or client does not owe you an explanation. He or she is not your mentor. If you need feedback, hire a coach. If you need validation, ask your fans. And if you can’t get over the fact that you weren’t selected, perhaps you should pick another profession.”

This is not a business for the thin-skinned, or for those who thrive on rational explications. Quite often, casting decisions are based on budgets, gut feelings, past experience and, -dare I say it- nepotism. This business is as subjective as it gets (just as this blog is, by the way).

Although we’ll never be able to penetrate the voice-seeker’s psyche, I do know why some of you were never hired.

Narrowing it down to voice casting, here are a few obvious reasons:

  1. You did not follow simple audition instructions. 
  2. You were unable to deliver professional quality audio.
  3. Your voice wasn’t right for the project.
  4. Your rate was too high or too low.
  5. You weren’t able to convincingly deliver the lines.

In my book Making Money In Your PJs, freelancing for voice-overs and other solopreneurs, I’ve written extensively about most reasons, and how to overcome them. Because this blog post is part of a series on delivery and performance, let’s focus on number five.

THE DEVIL IS IN THE DELIVERY

In previous articles I’ve already stressed the importance of clear, clean, convincing, and consistent delivery. Today I want to discuss whether or not your vocal performance is context and content appropriate. It’s one of the secrets to winning more auditions.

By context I mean the situation in which something happens; the setting of an event that allows you to understand what is going on.

If your delivery does not support the context of the script, it will contradict the content.

Let me give you a few examples.

If the context is e-Learning, and your delivery is too casual, you’ll lack credibility, and learners will be more likely to disregard what you’re supposed to teach them. If you’re auditioning to narrate a rich historic novel and your tone is all business, your demo will be history before you know it. 

One of my students had hoped to narrate her favorite adult mystery novel, and she spent hours on her audition. When the author told her she’d completely missed the mark, my student was peeved and puzzled, but when I listened to her audition, there was no mystery. She sounded like she was reading to a group of children. Her delivery wasn’t context and content appropriate.

And what about commercials?

Most advertisers have figured out that their target market doesn’t want to be sold. Their market wants to be told, preferably by someone the listener can relate to. That’s why many scripts require a natural, conversational read. If you, however, submit an announcer-read, there’s a mismatch between the conversational nature of the copy and your delivery. It’s a sure way to lose an audition.

These examples speak for themselves, and you may wonder why voice-overs might make these basic mistakes. I’ll tell you.

  • Some people don’t take the time to do their homework.
  • Some people don’t realize how they come across.
  • Some people don’t know how to use their voice properly.
  • Some people have no sense of their strengths and limitations.
  • Some people have an inflated sense of their strengths and limitations.
  • Some people are afraid to let loose and experiment.
  • Some people have little or no acting skills/experience.


UNFLATTERING IMITATION

This also brings me back to what we discussed last week in The Big Secret To Audio Book Success. In this article I mentioned one of the classic beginner mistakes:

  • Some people believe that in order to make it as an audio book narrator or in animation and video games, they have to be good at doing impressions.


James Arnold Taylor nailed it when he said: 

“It seems most people believe voice-over acting is simply talking into a microphone and doing funny voices. Nothing can be farther from the truth. In voice-over all you have to convey every type of emotion is your voice. Making faces or using your hands and body to express yourself is great, but nobody gets to see that in voice-over.

Acting is the most crucial skill, and there is a large divide between acting and mimicking. Just because you can imitate others doesn’t mean you can just go out and do what they do. You must know how to make what you’re reading in a script sound as though it is free flowing from you.

You also have to be able to read things “cold,” meaning having never seen them before. Most voice acting is done with a script you’ve received a few minutes before the recording session begins. You have to be extremely flexible with your emotions and your attitude. It is a very demanding profession yet very rewarding if you’re dedicated to it.”

I can’t tell you how often I’ve had to listen to demos of voice actors who were trying to sound like… other voice actors, regardless of the content or the context of the copy. Mark my words:

Let the script speak to you first, before you open your mouth!

Then you decide on tone, tempo, volume, pitch, and perhaps accent. 

Forget impersonations, no matter how good you may think you are. Casting directors don’t want more of the same, unless they need a voice match for an existing character. Most of them are looking and listening for three things: authenticity, originality, and versatility. You have to come up with unique voices that are appropriate in the context of a particular production. 

Now, allow me to make one or two more points before I bring this to a close.

WHO BEARS THE BLAME

There is another reason why some (voice) actors won’t make it past the audition, regardless of their talent. I blame it on lack of information. Without a map, it’s hard to get to one’s destination. Without a backstory, it is tough to create a character, and to strike the right tone.

These days, clients are giving less and less info about the projects they need a voice for. This is particularly true for those clients using online casting services. 

How helpful is a description like this:

Male, English, neutral, Mid-Atlantic.”

It is as if clients expect us to read their minds.

Sorry, but most voice-overs aren’t psychic. That’s a prediction I can confidently make.

Unless and until we get a better sense of how clients would like us to sound, it’s hard to give them what they’re hoping to hear. That’s why it is so important to ask clients to clarify the context. Unfortunately, that’s not always allowed or possible.

Let me tell you another casting secret that makes your job as voice-over even harder.

Some clients have no idea what they want, until they hear the perfect voice. Then, everything falls into place. All you can do for an audition, is to be your best self, and to have fun with the copy. 

One last thing.

If you’re new to this field and you’ve recently been rejected, please remember this:

Just because you’ve failed to land that job, doesn’t mean you’re a failure.

There are many variables in the casting process you have no influence over. You can only control the things that you can change. 

My student who didn’t get to narrate her favorite mystery novel, was hired to record an amazing children’s book. It opened the door to opportunities she hadn’t even considered, and she told me yesterday:

“I’ve learned to never dwell on the jobs I didn’t get. It’s pointless. Instead, I focus on the things I can do today to become even better at what I do, and I have never felt happier!”

How’s that for a storybook ending?!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

photo credit: gordontarpley via photopin cc

PS You didn’t think this article only applied to voice-overs, did you?

PPS You may have noticed that my blog has reached a milestone recently. I now have over 37,000 subscribers! If you’re one of them, I want to thank you for coming back again and again to read my musings. It means the world to me!


The Big Secret To Audio Book Success

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career 29 Comments

Jim Dale in "Barnum."Heroes and role models.

We all have people we admire because they inspire.

One of my heroes happens to be a dancer, singer-songwriter, comedian, stage and screen actor, as well as a first-rate audio book narrator.

Like me, he is a naturalized U.S. citizen. One of the songs he wrote the lyrics to, was nominated for an Oscar. He received five Tony Award nominations, and won one for Barnum. He also has two Grammy’s.

In July of 2014, aged 78, he finished a twelve week one-man show about his career at the Laura Pels Theater in New York called “Just Jim Dale.”

I’m sure you know Jim Dale as the narrator of the Harry Potter series in the U.S. (Stephen Fry narrated the UK version). For his voice work Dale received ten Audie Awards, and twenty-three Audio File Earphone Awards.

Dale previously held the record for creating and recording 134 different characters portrayed in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. The new record holder is Roy Dotrice -aged 91- with 224 voices for A Game of Thrones.

This is what the AudioFile magazine wrote about Dale:

“When J.K. Rowling has Hagrid boom, Dumbledore hum, and Aunt Marge belch, listeners can hear exactly what that sounds like, thanks to Jim Dale’s spellbinding narration. He gives voice to every wizard, muggle, house elf, goblin, giant, and hundreds of other characters who pass through Hogwarts, Hogsmeade, Diagon Alley, and the other magical environs of the Harry Potter series. He is a major part of why these fantastical volumes are among the top-selling audiobooks of all time.”

THE BIG SECRET

This begs the question: Is there a secret to Jim Dale’s mastery? Fortunately, he gave us the answer. Dale said:

“Good acting is consistency of performance.”

The ability to deliver the same quality over a period of time is one of those things that separates the professional from the pretender, whether it is in sports, music, the culinary arts or in (voice) acting.

If you want your performance to be credible, you have to be consistent.

This may seem obvious, but as in many things in life, it is easier said than done. Imagine having to come up with 134 different character voices, knowing that many of them will return in a series of seven books.

In a motion picture, these characters are portrayed by different actors. The audio book narrator is on his or her own, and has to create and recreate these characters accurately over a period of time. It’s a daunting task, and quite a responsibility.

In an article on authentic listening, Junko Yokota and Miriam Martinez said the following:

“The audiobook narrator plays a role similar to that of a translator of a book from one language to another. A good translator can make a big difference in the reading experience through word choice and passage interpretation; likewise, the audiobook narrator helps mediate the story for the listener by selecting what tone to take, what types of voices to give to characters, what to emphasize, and how to engage the listener.”

There’s a big difference between reading into a microphone, and telling a story. Great narrators like Jim Dale are storytellers who take you on a journey you never want to end. And by the way, this doesn’t only apply to audio books. Sometimes, a twenty-second script for a commercial is a short story in and of itself.

BEGINNER MISTAKES

These days, some voice-over coaches are trying to drum up business by telling prospective students that audio books and video games are booming. They are right. We’re living in the golden age of the spoken book, and successful video games make way more money than Oscar-winning movies.

Hordes of hopefuls sign up for voice-over classes because they believe they have the pipes casting directors are waiting for. Many of these beginners are making two big mistakes:

  1. They believe that in order to make it as an audio book narrator or in animation and video games, they have to be good at doing impressions.
  2. They think that being able to sing one song, makes them ready to perform an entire opera.

In the Documentary I Know That Voice, voice actor James Arnold Taylor had this to say:

“It’s not about ‘I can do Christopher Walken, I can do Johnny Depp, I can do Michael J. Fox.’ That’s great, but can you do ANYTHING as them? Can you stay in that voice for hours; scream in that voice for four hours?”

In other words: consistency is key. Consistency and stamina.

ARE YOU REALLY READY?

Like Jim Dale, you have to have the ability to stay in character, and then switch character and get back to the first character, while introducing a third. And you do this for hours at a time in a space smaller than a prison cell. Dale is usually in the studio from 10:30 am until 5:30 pm, recording twenty pages an hour for two weeks to record one book (source). This requires serious training, serious preparation, and serious self-care.

If you’re new to the business and want to break into audio books, I dare you to record for even one hour straight, and find out how your voice feels at the end. Does it still sound the same? Could you continue for another hour, or are you exhausted; do your vocal folds feel raw, and do you need a few hours to recover? If so, you’re not ready to meet that 3-week deadline for this 700-page novel you just agreed to narrate at $100 per finished hour (a ridiculously low rate by the way).

THE VOICE BUILDER

Gary Cantona, the voice builder

Gary Catona

There’s a reason why some VO-pros like James Arnold Taylor study with Gary Catona. Catona calls himself the “voice builder,” and he has worked with Andrea Bocelli, Usher, Shakira, Shirley MacLaine, Tony Bennett, and many others. He approaches voice building as a sport, and encourages his students to train the voice like an athlete trains his muscles. 

You can read about his method in his book “A Revolution in Singing.” Gary also developed an iPhone/iPad Voice Building App ($4.99) with over twenty voice building sessions, exercises, and video demonstrations for singing and speaking voices.

A few years ago he did a talk at Google, and if you’re interested in his work and his philosophy, you can watch it on YouTube when you click this link. At 26:34 Catona answers a question from a voice-over artist in the audience. 

BUT THERE’S MORE..

Being consistent as a (voice) actor means more than being able to do marathon recording sessions, and staying in character(s). Pacing is important too. If you’re reading your lines too fast, the listener has no idea of what’s being said. If you’re too slow, the listeners’ mind will start to wander.

It also means being able to deliver audio files of consistent professional quality. People like Jim Dale go to a studio and work with an audio engineer, and perhaps a director. Most narrators do not have that luxury. They run a business out of a walk-in closet, hoping the dog next door won’t start to bark. They self-direct, self-record, and they edit every minute of every file. One hour of finished audio can take many hours to complete.

Dale realizes how much work goes into the production of an audio book. When Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire came out, he told reporter Rochelle O’Gorman:

“The magic of the Harry Potter books is really in the hands of the editors and engineers. They take all the mistakes that I make – and I make thousands of them – and edit them out, and splice the tape reading into such a beautifully seamless production. They’re the geniuses; they’re the ones that we should applaud because nobody knows how much work they have to do.”

Credit where credit is due, but at the same time, Dale gave those engineers something magical to work with:

Constant, consistent brilliance.

And that’s why he is one of my heroes!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS When this story was first published, I received the following message from Jim Dale:

“So many thanks for the words you have written about me, truly embarrassing. I also wish to congratulate you on all your work in the narrating world, very impressive. I have also traveled through your website, really amazing. My thanks again for writing about me and my sincere best wishes in whatever you choose to become involved in next. Jim”

PS This is part 5 in my series on performance and script delivery. You can read part 1 by clicking on this link, and part 2 by clicking on this link. Click here for part 3. If you’d like to read part 4, please click here.


What Clients Hate The Most

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing 19 Comments

SurpriseOkay, this may sound like a pop quiz, but are you a go-with-the-flow person, or do you like to plan everything out?

Do you like surprises, or do you prefer to know what will happen next?

How well do you handle uncertainty, and last-minute changes?

Personally, I think life would be unexciting without the unexpected. I like not knowing what I will get for my birthday. I love to give a chef free rein, as he creates a special dish for me. I purposefully seek out new ideas and uncharted avenues. It keeps the brain cells bouncing around in playful anticipation.

But forget personal preferences for a moment. Let’s talk about the lifeblood of your business: your clients.

If there’s one thing clients all over the world consistently hate, it’s not knowing what to expect.

That’s understandable.

In an uncertain and stressful world, clients want reliability, dependability, and predictability. If your work is inconsistent, you can’t be trusted to deliver a product or service a client can count on.

I’ve been going to the same restaurant for years, and the food was always outstanding. Always. Until a few months ago. The menu had changed. The wait staff wasn’t the same, and the open kitchen had disappeared. That evening, I had one of the worst meals ever, and now I hesitate to go back.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

So, let’s talk about inconsistency for a moment.

Since I’m continuing my series on script delivery, you may be inclined to connect (in)consistency to your (voice) acting performance. We’ll get to that later, because we have a bigger picture to discuss.

If there’s one thing I’d like you to take away from this post, it is this:

Consistent delivery is about much more than the way you read your lines.

As a solopreneur, you’re judged by the way you deliver a total package. This starts with first impressions:

  • What does your website look like?
  • How do your demos sound?
  • What kind of equipment do you use?
  • How do you present yourself in person, via email, in social media, and over the phone?


If done right, all of these elements should send one consistent and congruent message:

Professional At Work

In a time where anyone can hang out a shingle and pretend to be a pro, it is easy to spot the inconsistencies that turn clients off. Do you want examples? Be my guest!

MIXED MESSAGES

On her website, one freelancer boasted about “years of experience.” Then I looked at her client list of… seven companies total. None of them were names you would recognize.

Another colleague thought that adding that amateur Polaroid snapshot to his website would really impress visitors. I hope his ideal clients are into Margaritaville, because that’s the logo I spotted in the picture’s background. 

Can it get any worse? Of course.

A few years ago I went to a recording session in Manhattan. The first thing I heard when I came in, was the sound of crying kids. One of the other talents had brought her two toddlers to the studio. The high-end client who had flown in for the session, was not amused.

One voice actor described himself on his website as detail-oriented. In the next paragraph I found not one but two spelling errors.

Sending mixed messages like that, undermines credibility. It kills trust.

DECEPTIVE DEMO

Here’s another inconsistency clients talk about all the time. They hire a voice-over based on a kick-ass demo. The talent gets the script and records the audio. But when the client receives the recording, it sounds nothing like the voice on the demo tracks.

You can guess how this came about. The super slick demo was overproduced, and later doctored by a talented audio engineer. When it was time to do the real work, the voice talent went back to her boomy closet booth where she self-directed.

“I’m not going to pay for that,” said the angry producer. “This girl charges top-dollar for something I can’t use!”

That’s another inconsistency. In this case, the quality of the product did not match the price.

Here’s one more pet peeve of mine.

A talented voice actor offered a quick turnaround time. It took him over a week before he got back to me. Mind you, during that period he was all over Facebook. I’ll have to think a very long time before I ever recommend him.

NEW AND OLD

Now, before you tell me that this blog post is one of those “nice reminders for beginners,” you should know that I find these types of inconsistencies across the board. In fact, fresh talent seems a lot more willing to please, because they still have to make a name for themselves.

Some veteran voice actors, on the other hand, have become complacent. They believe that their reputation should speak for itself. Although a nice portfolio doesn’t hurt, many clients don’t want to know what you have done for others in the past. All they need to know is this:

“What can you do for me, today?”

Here’s the bottom line. If you advertise yourself as a pro, you have to present yourself as a pro on ALL levels.

There’s a reason why a fashion designer doesn’t dress like a slob. It is obvious why a fitness trainer is usually in good shape. It’s part of a consistent message. A message a client is more likely to remember and respond to.

And what about consistency when it comes to the delivery of your script?

Let’s continue that conversation next week, when I’ll also look at the big secret to audio book success!

How’s that for a surprising teaser?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS This is part 4 in my series on performance and script delivery. You can read part 1 by clicking on this link, and part 2 by clicking on this link. Click here for part 3.

PPS Be sweet. Please retweet!

photo credit: dawolf- via photopin cc


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