Career

Life’s Unfair. Get Used To It.

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career 14 Comments
Father and son at the sea shore

My Dad and Me

Jake was a model employee. He’d been with the same company for 45 years, and never missed a day. At his retirement party, he received a farewell gift: a trip for two to Aruba. It was something Jake and his wife had always dreamt of.

A week later, they were on their way to the airport. While going through security, Jake suddenly collapsed, and died of a heart attack.

Jenny was a model athlete: tall, muscular, and motivated. From the age of fifteen she’d won practically every triathlon she took part in. At her Olympic qualifier she crushed the national competition. Two more weeks, and she would be on her way to represent her country.

Friends threw her a farewell pool party. That night, Jenny slipped over an ice cube, and landed on the edge of the pool. With a broken tibia, she could kiss her Olympic dreams goodbye. She never reached her old level again.

Folkert, my father, was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Last year, one of his doctors told him he was in the final stages, and advised him to get his affairs in order. While I was visiting, we got a second opinion which was much more optimistic.

My father began a breakthrough treatment to which he responded remarkably well. Instead of a few months, he was given a number of years. Then he started experiencing new symptoms, completely unrelated to his cancer. On September 30th, he was diagnosed with ALS.

DO YOU HAVE THE ANSWER

What do you make of these stories? How do you respond? What can you possibly say to Folkert, Jenny, and to Jake’s wife?

Is there a satisfactory answer to the question why bad things happen to good people?

Some have tried to come up with something, as if knowing the answer would somehow soften the blow. It doesn’t work that way. In fact, I get very uncomfortable when people attempt to make a wrong right. On what authority are they speaking? What do they know that I don’t?

Please don’t tell me that “everything happens for a reason,” or that it’s “for the better.” Don’t tell me there is a G-d who orchestrates cruel things out of love for his unruly children. Don’t tell me that Jake, Jenny, and Folkert deserved their fate because of some colossal cosmic conspiracy we call karma.

It doesn’t help.

It only hurts.

Yet, in the back of most people’s minds is the belief that we reap what we sow. We get what we deserve. It’s at the heart of the American Dream. If you study, apply yourself, and work hard, you can go from foster care to self-made millionaire. That’s only fair, isn’t it? If you are a good person, good things will happen to you. Good boys get rewarded. Bad boys get punished.

But what about all those bad boys who end up on top? The higher you climb up the corporate ladder, the more selfish, cutthroat executives you’ll encounter. They didn’t get there by playing nice. In certain circles, success knows no mercy. It’s either eat or be eaten. Sharks in fancy suits walk all over gentle Mr. Goody two-shoes, the docile doormat.

WHAT ABOUT YOUR CAREER

A few days ago I had a serious conversation with one of my voice-over students. In the last twelve months, she had invested a nice chunk of change in her studio. She bought a great new mic, a lovely preamp, and even a new computer.

I believe in her, and more importantly, she believes in herself.

When we started our session, she sounded peeved.

“Paul,” she said, “Over the past couple of years I have worked my butt off. You know that. I promised myself to give this voice-over thing a good shot. When I listen back to some of my early recordings, I can tell that I have grown. And when I listen to what else is out there, I know I have something to offer. You said so yourself. But get this…

The other day I told one of my voice-over friends that I was going to audition for that commercial we talked about. I really poured everything you’ve taught me into that audition, and I sounded pretty good, if I say so myself. Guess who got the job? My friend! The one who has zero personality and zero experience. She even let me listen to her audition, and it was mediocre at best.

Be honest with me, Paul. Did I just waste years of my life? Should I sell my equipment? What good did all of that training do if I get beaten by a newbie? It’s so frustrating, and it makes me mad! How long do I have to wait for my big break?”

THE MYTH OF OVERNIGHT SUCCESS

When I heard her question, I had to think of actress Jenna Fischer. You probably know her as Pam from the American version of The Office. She always wanted to be an actor, and she eventually moved to Hollywood to pursue her dream. She fully expected to be working in movies within a year of coming to LA. It didn’t happen that way.

Jenna worked as a temp, she took acting and improv classes, and she borrowed money to make ends meet. At one point she had to wear a pair of shoes with a hole in them because she couldn’t afford anything else. It took her more than six long years before she finally got “discovered.”

Jenna Fischer is a perfect example of the adage that it can take years to become an overnight success. She knows from experience that the (voice) acting business is without guarantees, no matter how talented and motivated you are. When asked about it, she had this to say:

“This business is not fair. It is not like other businesses where if you show up, and work above and beyond everyone’s expectations, you are pretty much guaranteed to move up the ladder. I don’t know why it works out for some and not for others. And when you move here (Hollywood, P.S.) you have no idea which camp you are going to fall into.”

JUST BE FAIR

“Fair” is an interesting concept. Most dictionaries define it as “in accordance with the rules.” Most rules civil societies live by, are practical, logical, and even reasonable. They’re an example of cause-effect thinking: If A, then B. Without rules, life would be chaotic. 

Most of us have unwritten rules that guide our hopes and expectations. To name a few: “If I train hard, and do my very best, I will be successful.” Or “If I live a healthy life, I will live a long life.”

Here’s the problem: those rules aren’t always reasonable, and they are rarely absolute. They only seem that way. What makes sense, and what seems right from our limited perspective, doesn’t necessarily happen. Kind, innocent people die young. Selfish bastards live to be a hundred. No explanation given. 

Secondly: Most people don’t play by our rules. They might not even be aware of them. Perhaps they’re playing a different game altogether, and we don’t even see it. Many decisions that affect us, have nothing to do with us. 

Third: Life isn’t logical. It’s not a matter of “If A, then B.” Usually, it’s: “If A, then D or Z.” People are emotional beings, and what they do isn’t cold and calculated. We forget. We make mistakes. We act impulsively, and break all the rules.

Last but not least: Even though we often think we are, we’re never one hundred percent in control. If we’re physically and mentally healthy, we can control our actions to a great extent, but we cannot control the outcome. Life consists of too many variables. Even perfectionists have to admit that…. at some point.  

NOW WHAT?

So, where does this leave us?

Are we hopeless and helpless leaves in the winds of chance? Should we stop trying to accomplish things, simply because the outcome is uncertain, and likely to be unfair?

I’ll tell you what I think we should do.

We should begin by skipping the question “Why.” “Why me, why this, why now?”

Asking “Why” is asking for a logical, reasonable explanation which you won’t always get. I hate to break it to you, but your rules, conscious or unconscious, don’t apply all the time. 

My student did everything she could to win that audition. There was nothing she could have done to change the preference of the client.

Jenny missed the Olympics because she accidentally stepped on that ice cube. It wasn’t part of some devious celestial plan.

Jake had earned that dream vacation, but he died at the airport because his heart stopped working. Period.

My father did nothing to deserve ALS. There wasn’t anything he could have done to prevent it from affecting him. The question “fair or not fair” isn’t going to change his condition. He has to learn to live with ALS, and he’ll eventually die with it. 

One last thing, if I may.

Most people tend to contemplate the issue of fairness when they believe they’ve been wronged, tricked, or were denied something they felt entitled to. That’s when they will ask the question “Why?”

When things go really well, and life smiles upon us, we hardly ever ask the question “Why me, why this, why now?”

We take our good fortune for granted.

Think about it.

Is that really fair?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Acting Out In Public

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career 20 Comments

Paul Strikwerda as Thomas PaineJokes about actors.

I bet you know a few…

Q: How many actors does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Just one. He stands there, and waits for the world to revolve around him.

Q: How do you get an actor off of your front porch?
A: Pay him for the pizza.

Q: What’s the difference between an actor and a pizza?
A: A pizza can feed a family of four.

Ouch!

That’s why many worried parents will jump for joy when their son or daughter announces:

“I have decided not to pursue an acting career. I think I’ll get a real job instead.”

In a world where ninety percent of actors are out of work ninety percent of the time, this seems like a wise decision. What do you think?

THE GLASS HOUSE

I’ve never really thought about becoming a stage or screen actor, although I’ve always been okay in front of an audience. It had to do with my upbringing.

As the son of a minister, I was used to having the spotlight on my family and myself. We didn’t have a crystal cathedral, but we certainly lived in a glass house. It was more or less expected of me to take part in Sunday School productions which my mother directed. I didn’t mind. Another Christmas. Another Nativity play.

When music became a big part of my life, I never shied away from solos, and in my student years I often starred in cabarets for which I’d written the skits, the music, and the lyrics.

At seventeen I was hand-picked to produce and present a youth radio program on a well-known Dutch network, which launched my career in broadcasting. All of a sudden, I had a new audience. Little did I know that it would take thirty-four years before I’d finally appear in a real play on a historic stage.

Now, before you think that I joined the Royal Shakespeare Company, I should put things into perspective.

BACK TO THE PAST

A few months ago, I was asked to join a local group in Easton Pennsylvania called the “Bachmann Players.” They’re named after the Bachmann Publick House in my home town. The 1753 House is Easton’s only surviving 18th century tavern, and oldest standing building.

The building was once the home to Northampton’s Court, and people such as Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, General John Sullivan, William Ellery, and William Whipple (signers of the Declaration of Independence) were guests at the Bachmann.

The Bachmann Players is a group of Easton based amateur historians and actors. Mining Easton’s rich colonial history, they use letters, diaries, and other source materials to recreate the people and events of the 1700’s so that they can be experienced by a modern audience.

The Players are under the artistic guidance of Christopher Black, a veteran stage actor who spent over a decade as a member of the former Jean Cocteau Classical Repertory in New York. 

COMMON SENSE

For their latest production, An Evening with John Adams, Black needed someone to play the pompous Englishman Thomas Paine, a man who didn’t always see eye to eye with Adams. For some reason, Black had to think of modest me…

Knowing how humble and unpretentious I am, I’m sure you can understand that I could not say no to this small role. Anything that gets me out of my lonely recording booth, and that’s in some way beneficial to my voice-over career, is game for me. In fact, I believe many voice-overs have become way too comfortable in their isolated home studios. If you’re one of them, I challenge you to get out of your protective bubble, and find a stage.

Before you audition for your local community theater, I want to warn you. The step from voice acting to performing in front of a live audience is not as small as you may think. Here are a few obvious hurdles:

1. Learning lines

As voice actors, we are spoiled rotten. We never have to learn any lines. We’re masters at reading scripts in a way that sounds spontaneous and natural. When we’re done, we toss them away, and move on to the next thing. 

To me, it was shocking to find out how bad I had become at memorization. The only memory I rely on these days, is the RAM in my computer, and the chip in my smart phone. I’ll be honest with you. It took me three weeks to learn three lousy pages of copy. And at the dress rehearsal I managed to forget an entire paragraph. I was mortified.

2. Blocking

It’s a term used to describe how you move and where you move during a play or on a movie set. Being the lazy voice-over I am, I’m used to sitting behind the mic all day long. The only blocking I ever did was blocking my thoughts about auditions that didn’t work out. On stage, I had to make sure I remembered my lines, and I had to keep track of the “choreography” of the play. In the beginning, my brain only allowed me to do one or the other.

3. Taking directions

Most of my voice-over sessions are self-directed. I choose the tone, the tempo, and the timbre. Sometimes a client surprises me with some vague instructions. The only feedback I usually receive is a “thank you,” “well done,” and a check. At various times during the rehearsal of the play the director had to rein me in because I spoke too fast. I had to redo scene after scene, incorporating instructions about diction, movement, and facial expressions.

To me, getting all this feedback was a gift. As a coach, I’m usually the one giving feedback. However, I know quite a few voice-over colleagues who don’t have an easy time receiving instructions. They don’t like being scrutinized and criticized. That’s the way they see it. It makes them nervous; they become defensive, and they feel the need to justify themselves. 

4. Interaction

Acting is interacting. As a voice-over, there’s usually no need to interact. We’re loners. We have to be comfortable with our own company. The stage is very different. We’re not delivering our lines into a microphone or to an engineer hiding behind a thick wall of glass. On stage we have entire conversations with other people who look us in the eye. They respond to us and we respond to them. When they mess up their lines or get lost, we improvise until we get back on track. 

Voice actors like to talk. Stage and screen actors like to listen.

5. Audience

The audience is also part of this process. The audience responds. Sometimes with silence. Sometimes with laughter. Sometimes by being distracted. You can feel their energy. You can hear their whispers and their sighs. It’s instant, unfiltered feedback. Their criticism can crush you. Their applause is exhilarating. Their smiles will warm your heart. It’s something you’ll never experience if you stay enclosed by the carpeted double walls of your voice-over studio.

One actor put it this way:

“I never achieve ‘performance level’ in rehearsals, which is upsetting to directors until they see me on stage. The audience puts the final polish on the performance. They are really a large part of the whole theatrical happening.”

6. Transitory

The beauty of a live performance lies in the fact that it is ephemeral. It happens in the moment, and once the words are spoken, they only live on in memory. It’s magical, and it is merciless.

In contrast to voice- or screen acting, the stage doesn’t tolerate any retakes. If you mess up your lines, that’s too bad. There are no “take one” and “take two’s.” In that respect, stage acting is more like doing live radio. And there’s something else that’s different.

After the very last performance of a play, everything dissolves. Actors move on. The sets and costumes are stored, and the props are returned. The voice actors’ output is less fleeting.

Years from now, people will still listen to that audio book you recorded. They will still watch that documentary for which you were the narrator. That video your client put up on YouTube will still be there, ten years from now. Like photos, your fragile recorded moments in time may last forever.

7. Showing emotions publicly

If I were to make one generalization it is this. Voice actors tend to be introverted. They may come across as shy and reserved. Stage and screen actors are often extroverted. Their personalities can easily fill up a room and then some.

One actor once said to me:

“The hardest part about acting is letting yourself go, and exposing raw emotions in front of people you don’t know.”

Showing your feelings is even harder when you have performance anxiety, and when you’re not very comfortable around people. If that happens to be you, and you want to open up a little, joining an amateur theater group can be very therapeutic. You see, you don’t have to be yourself while acting. You’re only playing a role. It’s a good rehearsal for real life situations. 

My director kept on saying:

“Remember, this is called a PLAY for a reason. That means you get to play and have FUN!”

MORE RESPECT

Getting ready for An Evening with John Adams wasn’t a masterclass in method acting. We’re talking about amateur dinner theater in a historic setting. It’s hard to judge my own performance, but I think my Thomas Paine was more of a stereotype, instead of a real person. I’m certainly not ready for Tennessee Williams or Tom Stoppard.

This experience did give me much more respect for the people we see on stage, in the movies, and on television. 

I think that one of the reasons people assume acting is easy, is that good actors make it appear easy. It’s the same mistake people make about voice acting. We all know there’s more to it. Much more. And yet, if we do it right, no one will ever notice.

Back in my booth, I miss the camaraderie of the Bachmann Players. I miss having to put on silly colonial clothes to get into character. And I miss the electric energy of a live performance followed by a cast party. A party where we tell each other jokes…

Q. What’s the difference between an actor and a mutual fund?

A. Mutual funds eventually mature and make money.

Q. Did you hear about the actor who fell through the floor?

A. He was just going through a stage.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Defining the IT-Factor

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career 19 Comments
A married man: George Clooney

A random married man

It’s not for sale, and yet it is one of the most sought after things in the world.

Movie stars have it. Some captains of industry exude it. Politicians who have lost it, are likely to lose the election.

What am I talking about?

Charisma!

Originally, the word charisma meant “grace” or “talent from G-d.” Later on it became the “gift of leadership, power of authority, or charm that can inspire, influence, and motivate others.”

Some believe charisma is elusive and exclusive. Either we’re blessed with it from birth, or we were born to be bland.

Others like Olivia Fox Cabane, are convinced it can be taught. Olivia is an executive “charisma coach,” and author of The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism

Cabane thinks charisma is the result of a set of specific behaviors, and not an innate or natural quality. She bases her opinion on behavioral psychology.

No matter where you stand, I think we can all agree that charismatic people have certain things in common that make them attractive to others. I’ll go one step further and claim that charisma is often an essential ingredient to success.

CHARISMA DEMYSTIFIED

In my world – the world of voice acting solopreneurs – charisma is a huge part of what attracts casting directors and other clients to certain talent. It’s the “IT-factor” that is so hard to define, but that everybody is talking about.

Charisma is like a bright light shining through a crystal. All of a sudden you can see a rainbow of colors, each color being a different attribute. To illustrate what I mean, I have broken charisma down into a number of qualities most inspirational people are known for. These people are…

1. Confident, but not cocky

Charismatic people know their stuff inside out, but they never try to impress. If anything, they want to be impressed. Some of the most influential, intelligent people I have met, are also the most humble people. They don’t seek approval from others. They’re completely comfortable with who they are.

Charismatic (voice) actors know what they’re doing. You can see it in their posture, and you can hear it in their performance. They’re open to feedback and willing to experiment. They don’t need outside adulation to feel good about themselves.

2. Focused on others, and not on self

Charismatic people have a gift to make others feel special. When you talk to them, you have their full attention. They are totally present. One question they often ask is: “If there’s one thing I could do for you, what would it be?”

Charismatic (voice) actors make their clients feel special, and they focus on bringing the script to life. When in session, they are totally in the moment. They’re service-oriented, ready to go the extra mile.

3. Eloquent storytellers

Charismatic people are usually great public speakers, and intriguing to watch. Face, voice, and gestures reveal the same message (see my story on congruence). They are enthusiastic, and their energy is contagious instead of draining.

Charismatic (voice) actors are great storytellers. Once they start, you can’t stop listening to them. They are expressive, and they use their voice like a musical instrument. They have the power to move you. When voicing games and cartoons, they’re definitely animated!

4. Interested and interesting

Charismatic people ask the best questions because they’re always open to learning something new. Their ongoing curiosity has made them interesting as well as wise.

Charismatic (voice) actors are active listeners. Their ears are always open, ready to pick up a new accent, and to discover a new character. Before they hit “record,” they need to know all about the content, the context, the characters and – of course – the client.

5. Authentic and engaging

You can say a lot about charismatic people, but you can’t accuse them of being fake. Self-assured and emotionally intelligent, they despise posturing. Even though they may be introverted in private, they are outgoing in public. They don’t mind being the center of attention, because it serves a greater purpose. It often comes with the job.

Charismatic (voice) actors are no copycats. They are originals. They may be good at doing certain impressions, but they are hired because of their unique timbre and talent. They are great networkers, because they’re not afraid to put themselves out there. They know that those who are too shy to ask, will never get what they want.

6. Optimistic and purposeful

Great leaders often embody optimism in testing times. They are persuasive and proactive; they seek solutions and overcome obstacles in unexpected ways. They smile a lot, and come across as assertive, yet warm. Without exception, they are driven to do exceptional things.

As a solopreneur operating in a saturated, uncertain market, you won’t survive without a positive mindset and a solid plan. You’re on a mission, and you won’t allow a negative mood to sabotage your success. You come in prepared, and you are confident that you’re exactly where you are meant to be. And when it is time to go, you make sure to leave on a good note because last impressions last.

CAN IT BE LEARNED?

I realize this recipe for charisma has many ingredients. Remember this. It’s not a technique. It is an attitude. Just like love, it can’t be forced and it shouldn’t be faked. If anything, charisma is the result of many unconscious processes that were developed over time.

I do believe that all of us are capable of these behaviors. As you may recall, I’m a reluctant extrovert. I really had to force myself to be more outgoing, and show my emotions. You should see me now. I even became a happy hugger! If I can do it, you can certainly do it. 

So, if you feel you’d like to give this charisma-thing a try, don’t attempt to display all these behaviors at once. Begin by becoming an active listener. Maintain eye contact, and make it about the other person. Don’t interrupt when someone is speaking to you. To quote Stephen Covey: “Understand before being understood.”

Find out what you can do to make others feel comfortable. Break the ice with a little humor. Discover how compliments give people wings. Stop complaining, and stop wanting to please everybody. Don’t make excuses, and don’t take yourself too seriously. Take responsibility for your own life, and please keep your ego in check.

READY FOR CHANGE

Charisma is not reserved to Hollywood royalty, or to tycoons or political power brokers. It can’t be bottled and it can’t be bought. You don’t even need an expensive coach to teach you to become more likable and appreciative. Deep down I already know you are charismatic. You just need to show it a bit more.

I guarantee you that when you start taking small steps in the right direction, you will notice a distinct difference. A difference in the way you feel about yourself, and in the way people respond to you.

Of all the things we have discussed about script delivery and performance in the past few weeks, this may very well have the greatest impact.

That’s why I want you to ask yourself:

“What can I do today, to become more charismatic?”

and DO IT…. gracefully and lovingly.

After all, you are tremendously talented.

Use your gifts warmly and wisely, and you will receive much in return!

That I can promise you.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be Sweet. Please retweet!

PPS This is part 7 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 and click here for part 4. You can read part 5 if you click here, and click here for part 6.

photo credit: pierrotsomepeople via photopin cc

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The Voice Arts™ Awards. The New Pay to Play?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Journalism & Media, Promotion 31 Comments

Competitions.

I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with competitions.

I enjoy watching a great soccer game or a tennis match. I’m a fan of the Olympics. The rules of the game are known. There’s a clear finish line. Whoever scores the most points or clocks the fastest time, wins.

When it comes to artistic competitions, things are not so defined. I remember going to an exhibition of prize-winning painters. All artists had entered portraits. The first prize went to a painting that was almost abstract. The second prize (and audience favorite) was a portrait that was Dali-like in its photorealism. Apples and oranges were more alike than these two entries. So, why did the abstract painting win? Because the jury said so.

DARE TO COMPARE

At the heart of every competition is the obscure art of comparing. This motion picture is better than the other. This photo stands out from the rest. This actor outperformed his colleagues. This poem is so much denser than the other poem. The question remains: Based on what, and according to whom?

Most judges of competitions will certainly be looking and listening for technical excellence. But what sets a winner apart from a loser is more than flawless technique. It has to do with artistic mastery; with having an authentic creative voice. 

Great art, whether it be music, dance, or any other medium, merely uses technique to give us something splendid that may very well break all the rules. It may even set a new standard. Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” is a great example. Some musicians thought it could not be played. It caused a scandal when it was first performed. Now it’s considered to be one of the masterpieces of modern music.

JURY DUTY

At the time of creation, great innovative art defies definition, and it is often anti-establishment. Here’s the problem: jurors of competitions are usually distinguished members of the establishment. It is their job to use semi-objective criteria, and apply them to very subjective artistic statements. Good luck with that!

Here’s another thing I don’t like about competitions: they turn colleagues into competitors, and divide them into winners and losers. My ideal world is a world where people cooperate instead of compete; a world in which doing your very best is more important than being the best.

Don’t get me wrong, I admire people at the top of their game, but I prefer the artist who selflessly and tirelessly works under the radar to the attention-seeking loudmouth looking for acknowledgment and recognition.

I admire people who are in it for the music. Not for the applause.

A NEW AWARD

All of this was going through my mind when the unknown Society Of Voice Arts And Sciences™ (SOVAS™) announced the establishment of the Voice Arts™ Awards. In its own words, this is an open competition honoring and acknowledging:

“voice actors, creative directors, copywriters, casting directors, talent agents, directors, producers, audio engineers, account executives, equipment manufacturers, podcasters, bloggers and others who create and sustain the highest levels of achievement within the voiceover industry.”

The following quote from their website reads like a mission statement:

“The purpose of the Voice Arts™ Awards is to provide international acknowledgement of the extraordinary skill and artistry that goes into the voiceover acting and the associated roles and to hold up a best-in-class standard of achievement to which the voiceover industry can continually aspire.”

That’s quite a mouthful, but voice actors should be able to handle that comfortably.

If you have a few hours to spare, I invite you to browse through seventy(!) pages of awards category descriptions. Each page lists about three to four different awards, such as “NATIONAL TV INTERSTITIAL ELEMENT – FEMALE” and “AUDIO BOOK NARRATION – CHILDREN INFANT TO 5 – MALE.”

Even though it’s mentioned in the “About section” of the Awards, I could not find a category for equipment manufacturers or bloggers. I guess I’m out of luck!

PAY TO PLAY

The competition is open to individuals, companies, and students, as long as the entry is in English, and has first appeared in public between January 1, 2013 and June 15, 2014 (click here for details). The price of a single entry for a company/non-SOVAS™ member is $310. If you’re an independent artist, you pay $210 per entry (there is an early bird discount, but the time for that has passed). SOVAS™ members may enter at a reduced rate.

SOVAS™ membership ranges from $125 per year (Basic Package) to a $5,000 Platinum Package. Five grand may seem a lot, but for that you’ll get a Voice Arts™ Awards statuette named and presented in your honor, and a Special Education Scholarship offered in your name (among other perks).

On a side note, the cost of the competition does not end there. Many competitions require that the nominees/winners attend the awards ceremony. I’d consider the cost of travel, meals, accommodations, and of work lost because you’re attending the event, as part of the expenses. A few of this year’s winners flew in from the United Kingdom.

Some of the Awards were presented during a Gala on November 9th, at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York. Early Bird tickets go for $225 each. The Sumner M. Redstone Theater seats 267. Let’s assume SOVAS™ sells 175 tickets. That alone should bring in almost forty thousand dollars.

Participants had until August 31st 2014 to send in their entries. Entry fees were non-refundable once the entries have been submitted. SOVAS™ rules state:

“In the event that any individual category attracts fewer than 4 entries the organizer reserves the right to withdraw that category from the competition. In this event, the participating companies will receive a credit towards future entry fees. No cash refund will be given.”

and…

“All submissions become the property of SOVAS™ to be used at their discretion, for the production of the ceremony and other uses.”

WHAT’S IN IT FOR YOU?

Even though I have my doubts about artistic competitions in general, I’m trying to keep an open mind about the Voice Arts™ Awards. Before I would even consider entering any kind of competition, I’d ask a few questions:

  1. Is the organization running the competition reputable?
  2. What’s the intention of the competition?
  3. Does it have the potential and credibility to raise the professional bar?
  4. Are the criteria by which people are judged fair and clear?
  5. Are the judges respectable, and are they known experts in their field?
  6. Does every entry receive a professional evaluation?
  7. Is the entry fee proportionate to the prize?
  8. Does the prize give a credit worth having?

The problem with the Voice Arts™ Awards is that for many questions it’s too early to tell, because this is the inaugural year. It’s never been done before, and I believe it’s too easy to pass judgement without giving them a fair chance. There’s a lot we don’t know, so let’s see what we do know.

FINDING ANSWERS

To start with question number one, SOVAS™ is run by five-time Emmy winner Steve Ulrich who is also the executive director of the Sports and Daytime Emmy Awards®. Producer Rudy Gaskins and his wife -voice-over celeb Joan Baker– are both on the board, as is the former head of the Promax/BDA awards program, Stephen McCarthy. Those people have a lot to lose, should these new awards turn out to be a flop. I think they’re smart enough not to let that happen.

Would the voice-over industry benefit from this competition? Would it make the invisibles of so many audio-visual productions visible? Would our profession finally get the respect many feel it deserves?

Do we really need a competition to get recognition?

Some people who know the industry really well, feel we do. It’s not enough to be outstanding. You need to stand out. And if there’s no podium, why not create one? Whether you like competitions or not, it’s a given that winning a prestigious prize has never hurt a career. The question is, will short-term recognition have a long-lasting effect? Could it increase your market value? And who’s paying attention? Are we just throwing a party for ourselves, or will these awards generate publicity outside of the small voice-over bubble?

A MATTER OF MONEY 

Let’s talk about the entry fees. Anyone will recognize that organizing these awards takes time and costs money. That money has to come from somewhere. Yet, I don’t think a voice actor’s wealth should be an arbiter of talent. Why, then, must it function as a barrier? Is it legitimate or exploitative? Is it to weed the amateurs out? Here’s the ultimate question:

Is the cost of entering worth the odds?

If you’re a winner, it probably is. But as in any competition, many are invited, and few are chosen. Established artistic competitions often have cash prizes, and may offer scholarships. What does the winner of a Voice Arts™ Award get? No money, but a golden statuette (which you have to pay for yourself), a title, and a temporary platform. Is that enough?

In Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley where I live, the Freddy© Awards are to high school musical theater what the Tony Awards® are to Broadway. Each show is rated by a number of evaluators, and every high school receives extensive feedback on all aspects of the production. This feedback is then used as a teaching tool at the drama departments.

In other words, even if you’re not nominated or a winner, you will be able to read your evaluation, and benefit from it. Wouldn’t it be great if the Voice Arts™ Awards would do the same? Unfortunately, that’s not the case. This is how it’s done:

“In each category, each judge shall rate each entry on three indices. These indices vary by category and are listed below. For each index, judges enter a score from 1.0 to 10.0, where 1.0 is valued as “very poor quality” and 10.0 is valued as “perfection” in the personal standards of the judge.” 

CRITICAL VOICES

Answering critics in VoiceOverXtra, Rudy Gaskins is very pragmatic about the entry fee. He encourages voice-overs to look at it from a business point of view. Being nominated for, and/or winning an award is smart marketing, he says. Every business should have a marketing budget. That’s where the entry fee should come from.

He has a point, but aren’t there other ways to market your business that are less risky, and that may have a bigger and more concrete pay-off? You could build a better website. You could invest in a newsletter. You could hire a graphic designer to come up with a logo.

COMMUNITY SERVICE

Gaskins also argues that these awards are a way to build community. He writes:

“Awards are a meeting place. They’re a focal point that draws the attention of those most interested and involved in your industry or profession. They’re an opportunity to engage your professional community in discussions of topics and controversies, in reviewing standards or discovering trends. Awards tend to involve leaders and experts. Awards are the place to learn, to network and to enhance professionalism.”

The sceptic in me highly doubts that these awards will have that effect. As I said earlier, by nature, competitions are pitting people and productions against one another. Slick award shows like the Emmys and Oscars are nothing but highly staged marketing events where artistic integrity is sacrificed in favor of purchased publicity. Stars show up pretending to have a good time, knowing that they’re contractually obligated to plug their latest project. Thank goodness for the gift bags!

Is that really what the voice-over world needs? Would that give our profession the much desired gravitas? Would increased respect lead to higher rates and higher standards? Would an average client be more inclined to hire an award-winning voice actor, or would he perhaps think that he probably can’t afford such a high-profile professional?

SHOW SOME RESPECT

Gaskins also believes these awards are good for our confidence and self-respect: 

“When you enter an award, you are saying to yourself and your constituents that you believe in what you do. Get on the playing field and let the chips fall where they may. People respect those who stand up to be counted. The other choice is to go unnoticed.”

I don’t think it’s that black-and-white: either enter the competition, or go unnoticed. As a professional voice actor I enter competitions every day. I call it “auditioning.” Secondly, happy clients are my credentials, and my readers and students are my accolades. I don’t need a jury to tell me how well I’m doing, or to make me feel good about myself.

Still, what the Society Of Voice Arts And Sciences™ is doing takes guts, and I’m willing to give this initiative the benefit of the doubt. On paper, the Voice Arts™ Awards certainly have potential, but the value of this prize has yet to prove itself. 

Ultimately, being a successful voice-over is not about winning or losing.

It’s about how well you play the game.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Read my follow-up story everyone is talking about. It’s called “Paying For Your Prize.”

UPDATE

It appears that those in charge of the awards took some of my 2014 feedback to heart. 

The 2017 early bird VAA entry fee for companies who are member of SOVAS™ was $129, and the regular fee was $150 per entry. For non-members it was $150 and $175. Independent artists who are member of SOVAS™ paid $99 and $119. Non-members paid $119 to $129 per entry. In 2014 (the inaugural year) the price of a single entry for a company/non-SOVAS™ member was $310. Independent artists paid $210 per entry.

In 2015, the SOVAS™ J. Michael Collins Academic Scholarship was created to “educate and encourage emerging talent.”

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10 Simple Ways to Surprise Your Clients

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Promotion 16 Comments

Surprise!“Clients don’t like surprises,” said one of my business mentors.

“In an unpredictable world, they need to know that they can depend on you. If you can live up to their expectations, you’re building a long-term relationship.”

Wise words from a wise man, and yet I only partially agree with him.

In order to live up to your client’s expectations, you first need to know what they are.

Many clients forget to tell you, and many freelancers don’t bother to ask. They just assume they know, and get burned in the end.

Thanks to the marvels of the internet, there’s often little or no direct contact between a client and a freelancer. You know how it goes. We respond to vague job postings with a vague budget, and simply hope for the best.

If we happen to land the job, we get straight to work so we can meet the deadline. But what to do when we’re not sure what to do?

Some freelancers will turn to their colleagues, and ask them for an uninformed opinion:

“Please help. Should I pronounce this strange name in this way or that way?”

“Do I read all the footnotes or shall I leave them out?”

“What kind of tone or accent would be best for this book?”

Sorry people, but you’re barking up the wrong tree! It doesn’t matter what your Facebook friends think you should do. Your client doesn’t care what you think either.

Go to the source and ask!

The only way to consistently satisfy your customers, is to meet and exceed their expectations. You’ve got to offer exceptional value that justifies your rate. That’s how you build your business.

Now to the first part of my mentor’s advice. The part about surprises.

I happen to think that clients are human, and humans like surprises. That is, as long as they are pleasant.

The first way to surprise your client has everything to do with what we just talked about:

1. Communicate

Unless it’s cut-and-dried, don’t just accept the job and get to work. Get in touch, and stay connected. Show some interest in the project you’re hired to do. Ask questions. Get details. Give updates. You’re not some speech-imitating computer program. You’re a real person, so show your client you care. 

You’d be surprised how much goodwill you create when you communicate. Time spent getting to know your client’s preferences will save you time in the end.

So, let me ask you this. If you could work with someone who is open, flexible, and communicative, or with someone who isn’t, who would you choose?

2. Appreciate

Even the most selfless individuals have an inner need for validation. We all want to know that what we do or have done, matters.

One way to surprise your clients, is to let them know how appreciative you are that they’ve entrusted their project to you. Find something specific you can compliment a client on. Perhaps they’ve provided you with a pronunciation guide. Perhaps you’re excited about the product you’re promoting. Maybe you fell in love with the story you’re about to read.

Your client cannot read your mind. They can’t see your excitement. You’ve got to tell them!

In a society where we usually point out what’s wrong, it is time for some positive reinforcement. Compliments don’t cost a dime, and they give people wings!

3. Involve

A percentage of my clients has never worked with a voice-over before, or they’ve had a bad experience. By telling them about how you work, you are putting their minds at ease. You are managing their expectations. An informed client has learned what he or she is paying you for, and is less likely to complain about an invoice.

Some clients have no idea to what extent they can be involved. I always let them know they can listen in, and direct me during the recording session. Believe it or not, some customers still act surprised when they find out how much input they can have. The more involved they are, the greater the chance that they’ll be happy with the end product.

4. Reward

On the topic of positive reinforcement, I like to reward returning- and extra generous customers by occasionally throwing in freebies. One of my long-term translation clients recently asked me to translate two or three words. Even though I minimally charge $30 regardless of the length of the text, I told them it was on the house.

Never nickel-and-dime a client with a big budget. 

Another return-client sent me a Dutch script that was translated from English. Even though they’re not paying me to proofread it, I always do. As usual, I found a few mistakes, and I suggested some changes. Free of charge. Mind you, I’m not operating a pro bono translation service. I just use my fine-toothed comb to make sure the end result won’t embarrass my client (and the person who’s reading the text).

Also think of rewarding clients who pay within ten days after invoice. Offer a percentage off the bill as an incentive. Reward clients by absorbing the fee for money transfer. Give them 20% off the next project just to say thank you for being loyal customers. It’s an investment in the relationship.

5. Add value

All of us have many talents, but clients won’t make use of them unless they know what we’re capable of. A female colleague recently surprised a client by telling him she also sang in a jazz band. The next day she was hired to record ten jingles.

Another colleague has extensive on-camera experience. After finishing a voice-over job, she told the producer she had to go to a photo shoot. That afternoon he looked at her online portfolio, and booked her for a TV commercial.

A VO-friend of mine can do many voices. One day he was recording a rather serious e-Learning script. During a break he started reading the text in some of his silly voices. The producer was standing outside, and thought some new actors had entered the studio. When he saw it was my friend, he was impressed. Two weeks later, my friend started his career in cartoons.

Some of my clients are actually surprised to learn that Dutch is my mother tongue, and that I can handle translations too. Every once in a while I translate a script, and record the same project in different languages.

6. Refer

No matter how talented you are, you’re not always a good fit. Surprise a client by recommending a few colleagues who could get the job done. You’ve just saved your client a ton of time, and you’re likely to make a colleague happy.

If you don’t know anyone, refer your client to your agent who does.

7. Beat the deadline

As long as quality doesn’t suffer, delight your client by sending in your work early. This will make the person you’re working with look good. And if that person looks good, you look good. Everybody wins.

8. Speak your client’s language

I mean this literally and figuratively. It’s important that you can explain what you’re doing in terms your clients can understand. Too often, I hear people use jargon, and they don’t even have a clue they’re using it.

Clients won’t always admit that they have no idea what you’re talking about. Look your client in the eye, and/or listen carefully. Are they still with you? Do they have questions? Don’t expect them to sign off on something they don’t yet understand.

If you’re dealing with a foreign client, find out how to say “thank you very much” in their language, or a simple word like “goodbye.” It doesn’t take much effort, and it’s always appreciated. Show your client that you’re not one of those people who expects the rest of the world to speak English. And -getting back to number 2- let your client know how much you appreciate the fact that they’re communicating with you in English.

9. Send a card or make a call

It’s so easy and convenient to send someone a quick email. But never underestimate the power of the personal touch.

Rather than sending a quick, obligatory thank you note, why not make a call? Why not send a card? Some colleagues have designed special cards for that purpose that includes info on how they can be reached.

I once came to a studio to record a voice-over, and I saw my own card on my producer’s cork board. I had sent that card over a year ago!

“Do these small gestures really matter?” you may ask.

The only actions that have no impact, are the ones you don’t take. 

10. Stay in touch

I know quite a few colleagues who go from job to job. Once the script has been recorded, and the invoice has been paid, they forget about it. They also forget about the client who hired them. Big mistake.

You don’t need an introduction to a client you’ve once worked with. As long as they were happy with your work, there’s an increased chance that they will hire you again. That is, if you manage to stay on their radar screen.

I’m not asking you to cyberstalk customers, or to bombard them with bi-weekly newsletters they never signed up for. Find an appropriate and relevant moment to connect. The key is to keep it personal, and to keep it short.

One of the producers I’ve worked with just won an award. I called her, and congratulated on her win. Her first words:

“Paul, what a nice surprise!”

One last but very important thing.

All these different ways to surprise your clients can backfire when used as manipulative tricks.

Whatever you decide to do, it has to be genuine. It has to be sincere. Don’t even try to fake it, because you will fail.

Your intention will determine your results.

That, my friends, should come as no surprise!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be Sweet. Please Retweet!

photo credit: Jesse Draper via photopin cc

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One Girl. Many Voices. Perdita Lawton.

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Book, Career, Freelancing, Journalism & Media 4 Comments
Perdita Lawton with "Making Money In Your PJs, Freelancing for Voice-Overs and other Solopreneurs," by Paul Strikwerda

Perdita Lawton

To celebrate the release of Making Money In Your PJs, freelancing for voice-overs and other solopreneurs, I organized a  “Who-wants-to pick-Paul’s-brains contest.”

Today, I’m excited to introduce one of the winners. Her name is Perdita Lawton from the UK. She’s been a professional (voice) actor since June 2006. The photo she sent me immediately stood out, and I had to know the story behind the picture. Perdita:

“The picture was taken on my first scuba diving holiday in Malta. One of the dives was near the set of the 1980’s film Popeye starring Robin Williams. It was taken during a surface interval (to allow residual nitrogen to be absorbed). I thought it was a perfect setting, and time to read your book while taking a picture.”

When and how did you know that you wanted to become a (voice) actor? Who inspired you?

“I guess it was in training at drama school that I realised it was an equal option to theatre, television and film acting. My tutors often told me my vocal work was very strong, and a tutor and mentor Pal Aron (a professional actor) told me to get a demo done as it’s another string to an actors bow. Pal was an inspiration as well as the late Daws Butler, Nancy Cartwright, and Michael Winslow (Larvelle Jones in Police Academy). As a child I watched that series in awe of Michael’s talent!”

A lot of VO artists have a radio background. What’s yours? What kind of training did you have?

“My radio background was limited. I did a few weeks of work experience when I was 15 at a hospital radio station, and then a local radio station respectively. I really loved radio work but focused more on stage acting as I’d got the bug. I went to University where I studied English and Drama, and then I went to drama school. Vocal training involved accent, and general voice classes where you focus on breathing, pitch, tone, resonance, and projection for the stage.”

Do you have a niche, and if so, how would you describe it?

“I think a niche of mine is definitely character and animation voices, I especially enjoy doing eccentric and comedic characters. My range gets wider the more I practice and it seems to be scoring jobs in that market.”

What came first for you: voice acting or on-camera/stage acting?

“Professional stage and screen acting came first, then voice acting came due to circumstances. My late father invested money in some amazing equipment for me so I could set up my own studio in the house, while caring for him as I couldn’t commit to work away from home.”

Do you think on-camera/stage actors have a tendency to underestimate voice-over work? If so, why do you think that is?

“I think most drama schools teach vocal work, so for a lot of actors, the training is already there, and they appreciate how hard it is to convey a message and character just through the medium of voice without a physical form. They do however underestimate us being a ‘one man band’ as described in your book. They certainly underestimate the cost, marketing, business skills and technical knowledge required for a professional home set up (without paying a professional).”

How do you land jobs in this very competitive industry?

“I started getting jobs on a Pay-to-Play site. This got me a body of work built up which lead to an agent, and now I’ve got returning clients as well as new ones from the Pay-to-Play site. I’m also recently scoring some big auditions from my agent.”

Perdita Lawton headshotWhat project or projects are you most proud of and why?

“I’m actually very proud of what I did Tuesday. It’s the biggest step on the ladder so far. It’s an award-winning Polish animation that’s being dubbed into English, and I’ve voiced the lead female role along with a few smaller roles.

I spent the day with a great audio engineer directing me, and we had great fun doing so, the ‘Auntie Hen’ character I play is hilarious as are the storylines. Animation voice acting is similar to pantomime. You have to go as large as possible, and I really like that.”

What has been your greatest obstacle/challenge in your career, and how did you overcome it?

“My greatest obstacle was getting work initially. It’s the catch 22, that I’m sure many have experienced. Without experience you aren’t offered work which prevents you from getting experience. I overcame it by getting local experience voicing newspapers, and magazines for the blind. I also make my own clips when I have time, and post them on SoundCloud, social media and my website. It allows me to be creative, whilst keeping my tools sharp, and lets people see I’m active. The dating.com girls are probably my creative highlight.”

How do you approach your auditions, and how do you deal with not being selected?

“I approach auditions making sure I’ve done everything in my control to get the job: I’ve warmed up, stayed away from dairy products, and done my research on the production/company/writer or whatever may be useful to know. Failing to prepare is preparing to fail. I also never take rejection personally. What is for you will not pass by you, and just because you weren’t right for one voice over job doesn’t mean you won’t be right for another. The world is subjective, and it would be a boring place if we all liked the same thing!”

Tell me about your ambition. What would you really love to do, professionally speaking, and how are you working toward that goal?

“My voice acting ambition is to be England’s answer to Nancy Cartwright. I’m working towards that by getting my cartoon video seen by as many people as possible. It’s already attracted clients as well as making people laugh which is awesome.”

And lastly, back to Making Money In Your PJs. What has been your biggest take-away? Why should colleagues read it?

“There are several take-aways. It was so good, I re-read it to answer these questions to the best of my ability!

My primary light switch moment was about asking for a testimonial at the same time as agreeing to the job. I’ve been chasing after testimonials for ages with no joy. As soon as I’d read that chapter I had a job come through, and I put it in my terms of agreement, and they were happy to oblige.

Also customizing each and every demo, and not playing safe with demos too, knowing my worth and value, how to chase clients that haven’t paid and asking for a raise. I may get the Freelance Creed printed to keep in my studio.

Colleagues should read this because it’s seasoned advice from a professional, mixed with an amazingly positive attitude, and with tips that really work!”

Many thanks, Perdita!

You can follow Perdita on Twitter @LittleMissVO, and on her website at www.perditalawton.com.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be Sweet. Please retweet!

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Call Me Materialistic

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Gear, Studio 9 Comments

Broken Piggy Bank“It’s only stuff, and stuff can be replaced.”

That’s what my mother said when I accidentally broke a piece of pottery that had belonged to her mother’s mother. I was five at the time.

It was a sweet thing to say, but I now know that not all things are “just things.” Some objects can never be replaced, and their sentimental value greatly exceeds their monetary value.

In this third installment of my Mind Your Own Business-series, I want to talk about the material aspect of our job. I’ve already addressed the physical and mental aspect. Next week, I’ll talk about the spiritual side of setting up shop.

PRO or PRETENDER

As much as I’d like to tell people that success is not defined by a number in a bank account, the primary purpose of any for-profit business is to make money and grow the bottom line. If that’s not happening, the IRS will happily inform you that you’re a hobbyist.

There are many hobbyists in my line of work: voice-overs. Many of them are posing as pros. How can you tell? They sound insecure or insincere. Proper enunciation is a problem. They work for bargain basement rates, and the quality of their recordings can be captured in one word: Crap.

My philosophy is simple. If you want a professional career, you need professional gear. You need tools that work with you and not against you.

Contrary to what some may want you to believe, a shoestring budget is not going to get you anywhere in this competitive climate. I’m not saying that top-of-the-line equipment will get you gigs, guaranteed. Combined with talent and experience, it will increase the likelihood of you landing jobs.

The knowledge that you own the right tools increases client confidence (and your confidence too). It makes you more marketable because it shows that you are serious.

KEEPING THINGS QUIET

Having a dedicated, soundproofed and acoustically treated recording space is almost a must, these days. Not only will it increase the quality of your audio, it will increase your productivity by leaps and bounds.

If I had a choice between buying an expensive microphone, or a recording booth such as a Studiobricks cabin, I’d choose the latter in a heartbeat. Even the best Neumann mic will make you sound like an amateur if you record in an echo chamber or next to a busy highway. A reasonably priced mic such as the sE Electronics X1, is going to sound much better if used in an appropriate space.

Not having a dedicated recording room, can be disastrous for your career.

One of my colleagues has pipes of gold. When his marriage broke down, he not only lost his home. He lost his home studio. Now he’s renting a small apartment in a busy neighborhood. Kids are crying. Cars are honking. People are yelling. Recording in a walk-in closet doesn’t cut it. Clients demand broadcast quality audio, and he can’t give it to them. He is desperate, and hasn’t booked a decent job in months.

SONIC SURGERY

You may remember the story of Patrice Devincentis. Patrice owns and operates Sonic Surgery, an audio production studio in Union Beach, N.J. Here she records, edits, mixes, and masters, working with musicians and voice-over talent. On October 29th, 2012, Hurricane Sandy completely destroyed the studio she had built in her garage. Most of her recording gear and musical instruments were lost.

Thanks to generous donations from readers of this blog, Patrice received some equipment to make a fresh start, but there was one big problem. Her entire home and studio needed to be elevated, and very little could be done until the property was deemed safe. This marked the beginning of a long and exhausting battle with authorities over inspections, permissions, and grants. 

Only last month, Patrice was finally taken off the waiting list; all the paperwork was completed and the elevation of her home is one step closer. Two years after the disaster, contractors may eventually come in, and begin their uplifting work. That is, if everything goes according to plan. Somehow, it never does.

ARE YOU PREPARED

Can you imagine being barely able to work for two years, due to some random force of nature, and a whole lot of New Jersey red tape? And don’t think it won’t happen to you. Superstorms don’t care where they hit or whose lives they ruin. 

If you believe that lighting won’t strike twice, read Mike Harrison’s story in VoiceOverXtra. He thought his computer and ISDN were safe, until the loudest crash of thunder he’d ever heard almost stopped his heart and his gear. And then it happened again!

I thought I was pretty well protected in my Pennsylvania basement booth, until water came into my studio. After close inspection, the culprit turned out to be a leaking 18-year-old hot water heater. Thankfully, it happened while I was working. Had I not been at home, I might have had serious damage to the tools I need to make a living.

Stories like these illustrate that a positive mindset and good health can only take you so far. All of us are vulnerable. Trouble happens when you least expect it. Hoping for the best is not enough. You have to prepare for the worst. So, let me ask you this:

Did you?

Is your equipment safe, and sufficiently insured?

Do you have a backup system in case of an emergency?

Have you invested enough to take on the competition?

It may only be “stuff,” but without it, all you have is a pipe dream. 

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet

photo credit: Joe Shlabotnik via photopin cc

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The Stuff Between Your Ears

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing 19 Comments

brainBefore I get to part two of my mini-series “Mind Your Own Business,” I want to give a shout-out to all my Faffcon friends.

They really embraced the main message of last week’s blog post, which was all about health. Inspired by my words on weight loss, some Faffers began challenging each other. A number of them have vowed to lose thirty pounds by Faffcon 7, which starts on September 18th. That’s tremendous!

Incidentally, this voice-over unconference will be held in Tuscon, AZ, and it’s sold out. I’m pretty sure that the risks of a sedentary lifestyle and ways to deal with that, will be the topic of at least one breakout session.

FOUR ASPECTS

Last week I mentioned four aspects that play a vital part in the way we live our lives, and the way we run our business. These aspects are Physical, Mental, Material and Spiritual.

Today I’d like to talk about what goes on between our ears. You can be in great physical health, and have extraordinary talent, but fail as a freelancer. I think it takes a special type of personality to run your own business. The best equipment is of no use if you don’t have the right mindset.

Allow me to share a number of attributes that I believe to be the trademark of any successful solopreneur. If you want to make it on your own, you have to be…

CREATIVE

I don’t necessarily mean “artistic” when I say “creative.” I’m thinking more in terms of the ability to create opportunities. Being your own boss means coming up with a concept for your business, and turning that idea into reality. No one will tell you what to do or how to do it. As the Chief Creative Officer, you have to take responsibility for every part of the process. It’s a daunting, never-ending task, and the outcome is by no means guaranteed. That’s why successful solopreneurs have to be…

OPTIMISTIC

Go to any bank for a loan, tell them you’re self-employed and wait for the reaction. I bet you’ll see some raised eyebrows. Freelancers are considered to be unstable which is often mistaken for being unreliable. If you don’t have a hopeful and positive outlook, you’re going to have a tough time dealing with rejection and uncertainty. Without optimism, it’s easy to give in to recession depression, and eventually hang up your hat. You’ve got to believe that your business has a future, and that clients will come. Even if other people don’t see potential, you have to have vision. You also have to be…

NURTURING

A business is like a flower bed. If you don’t give it the proper care and attention, it has no potential for growth. You cannot approach it as a hobby because it will bankrupt you. You’ve got to be “All in, all the time.” People who are transitioning from a corporate nine-to-five job are often not ready for that. Because a business can easily eat up all your time, it’s important that you nurture yourself too. You are the goose with the golden eggs. You can only take good care of business if you take good care of yourself. One way of doing that, is by being…

FLEXIBLE

The final measure of fitness is flexibility. It’s the ability to move muscles and joints through a whole range of motions. Psychologically speaking, the most flexible person will have the most choices and will be able to achieve more. Huge corporations find it almost impossible to change course. Flexible freelancers adapt, change and can bend without breaking. They also have to keep on…

INVESTING

Next week I’ll be talking about the material aspect every business has to deal with. Your product will only be as good as the tools you use to make it. You are one of those tools. That’s why it is essential to keep on investing in yourself. Sign up for trainings. Participate in meetup groups. Read the latest literature. Invest in building a supportive social network. A successful solopreneur never stops investing. He or she is also…

DISCIPLINED

The freedom of owning your own business can easily become a trap. With no one to hold you accountable, it is very tempting to spend a lot of time doing the things you like whenever you want. Those who run a successful business often start the day by doing the things they don’t like but that need to be done anyway. They delegate things they’re not good at, and that take up too much time. Being disciplined also applies to the way you manage your money. Successful solopreneurs have a strong work ethic and they…

EXCEL

In a saturated market, one of the best strategies for success is to excel in what you do. However, it is not enough to be good at what you do. You have to express yourself in ways in which you are heard. You’ve got to master marketing to reach customers and colleagues. They’ll be more open to your message if you have a clear…

NICHE

Find a specific area that defines you, but that does not limit you. Your niche is the raison d’être for your business (the reason your business exists). It’s the focus of your attention. If you’re not clear what your focus should be, you’re like a ship, drifting at sea. Clients will have a hard time differentiating what you have to offer from your competitors. You’ll have a hard time selling it to them (and to yourself). In essence, you need…

CONTROL

As a solopreneur, you control the course of your business. You control your professional standards, your services, your rates, the hours you’re willing to work, the flow of money, and the way you communicate. Are you ready for that responsibility? Not only that, is it something you would embrace and enjoy? All of this points to the last attribute I’d like to bring up. It’s having an…

ENTREPRENEUR MENTALITY

Some have described it as the “ability to see something in nothing.” It’s the urge to take matters into your own hands and to take calculated risks. It’s about being proactive, passionate, patient, and persistent. Entrepreneurs have to overcome obstacles, absorb losses, and gradually grow their business. If you don’t treat it like a true business, it will never be one.

And finally, all of these attributes will make very little difference if you lack one specific mental quality.

Take the first letter of each attribute, and you’ll know exactly what I mean!

What mindset has been instrumental in your success as a freelancer?

What has been your greatest challenge, and how did you overcome it?

Pass on the knowledge, and allow us to learn from your experience!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet.

PPS The Making Money In Your PJs Contest has been extended to Wednesday, June 18th!

photo credit: LukePDQ via photopin cc

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Mind Your Own Business

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career 35 Comments

Honey, I don't think he can make you look like George Clooney, and he sure as heck can't make me look like Lady GaGa. I'm outa here...Have you been to the business section of your Barnes & Noble recently? I just came back from my local store and this is what I noticed:

The number of self-help books for small business owners is simply staggering!

Every day a new title seems to hit the market, promising to revolutionize the way we sell ourselves and our services.

Ben Horowitz wrote The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers. Eric Ries is the author of The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses. Shawn Anchor is the man behind The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work.

How many of those types of books are on your shelves?

How many have you actually read?

How much of the wisdom presented on these pages do you still remember and apply?

When I had to answer these questions, I was shocked and slightly embarrassed. There are plenty of business books in my office that have been gathering dust since the day I bought them. Books I thought I couldn’t live without.

Looking back, one small book would probably have been sufficient. It would focus on four aspects all of us have to deal with on a daily basis. These aspects play a vital part in the way we lead our life, and the way we run our business. They are:

Physical

Mental

Material and

Spiritual

In the next four weeks, I’ll be writing about these aspects in more detail in a series I call “Mind Your Own Business.”

Before I start, I’d like to remind you that this blog is a reflection of my personal opinion. It is not my goal to convince you of anything, but I’d love to hear what you have to say and start a dialogue.

With that out of the way, let’s begin!

The Physical aspect I want to talk about first, refers to our body and our health. It’s about the “house” we live in, and the way we treat it. In that context I am about to say something you may not want to hear, but I’m going to say it anyway.

When I look at pictures of voice-over gatherings, I am alarmed by the number of overweight colleagues in our community. It’s not just our group of professionals, of course. Between 1980 and 2000, U.S. obesity rates have doubled among adults and children, and tripled among adolescents. Today, more than two-thirds of U.S. adults are overweight or obese.

As voice actors we talk a lot about clients, rates, audio equipment, and the projects we’re involved in. That’s all good, but I think the time has come to address the physical aspect of our job as well.

Gaining weight may be an occupational hazard for voice-overs, because many of us sit behind a mic all day, and choose to get very little exercise. And when we’re done working, we move to the couch and watch television. I’m speaking from experience here.

Some experts have said that sitting is the new smoking. It’s just as harmful to our health. Long periods of inactivity raise the risk of developing diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and obesity. If this is news to you, you have been living under a rock or you are in denial. 

If you’re an emotional eater like myself, and your food and beverage choices aren’t exactly healthy, it’s easy to gain a few extra pounds… year after year after year. I love to eat, and unfortunately I have reached an age where it doesn’t take much to gain weight, and it’s a lot harder to get rid of it.

Slowly but surely, I’ve come to the point where eating comfort food is making me uncomfortable. Clothes that used to fit me, no longer do. For the first time in my life, I started taking medication to bring my cholesterol level down. My bicycle-riding friends in the Netherlands joked that they could tell I live in the United States. It hurt, but they were right. 

I’ve been there before, and you may remember me blogging about it. Today I am recommitting myself to taking better care of my body. There’s so much I want to accomplish, and I want the energy back to be able to make it happen. I created this situation, and I can change it. 

That’s me, but what about you?

Are you seeing the results of a sedentary lifestyle? How is it impacting your work?

Do you think health is something our community should be talking about, or is it taboo?

Would it be beneficial to address ways to lead a healthy lifestyle at voice-over conferences and other other gatherings?

What have you done to get your health and ideal weight back, and what did this mean for your business?

Please share your experiences in the comment section below.

Even though I have often expressed strong opinions in this blog, know that my desire to discuss this topic does not come from a place of judgment or blame. We have a very supportive and understanding community, and I think we can help one another by caring and by sharing.

Thank you! 

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!

photo credit: Ed Yourdon via photopin cc

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The EWABS Interview

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Book, Career, Freelancing, Gear, Internet, Journalism & Media, Promotion, Social Media, Studio 2 Comments

Paul Strikwerda, author of "Making Money In Your PJs."East-West Audio Body Shop or EWABS, is a weekly interactive online talk show modeled after NPR’s popular “Car Talk.”

Hosted by Dan Lenard on the East Coast and George Whittam on the West, the duo answers questions about home studios, and they give tech tips on gear, soundproofing, best recording practices, and more.

Every week they also interview guests from celebrity voice actors to agents. During the show the chat room is open where colleagues comment on the topics of the day, and pose questions to the featured experts.

Every Monday evening (6PT/9EST) EWABS goes live, and you can find an archive of 144 previous programs on YouTube.

This Monday I had a chance to sit down with Dan and George, and talk about my new book, my personal background, the state of the voice-over industry, and my voice-over studio. I also read part of my story “The Most Obnoxious Man in Voice-Overs.”

The segment starts at 30:10.

Enjoy the show!

CONTEST

To celebrate the release of my new book, I invite you to enter a picture of yourself reading a copy of “Making Money In Your PJs.” You can use the paperback edition or a digital version, as long as the cover of the book is visible in the picture.

I’ll leave it up to you to make sure your photo stands out, as long as you are using the real book, or your eReader with an upload of the book. Only one entry per person, please.

You can either post your picture on the Making Money In Your PJs-Facebook page (www.facebook.com/moneyinyourpjs), or you can tweet it to @MoneyInYourPJs. If you really feel inspired, post it on both platforms.

IMPORTANT: By sending me your picture, I will assume that you give me permission to share it with my social networks, and that it’s okay with you to post it on this blog as well. You will remain the proud owner of the photo.

You have until Wednesday, June 18th at 1:00 PM EST, to enter your photo. The three winners will be revealed on Thursday, June 19th.

PRIZES

The third prize -a signed paperback of the book- will go to someone who already owns the digital version.

If you’re the winner of the second prize, I will interview you for this blog, and your story will reach 11,000+ subscribers, as well as many other readers.

The first prize is a 45-minute Skype session with me, where you can literally ask me anything about voice-overs, freelancing and self-publishing.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

Be Sweet. Please retweet!

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