Career

Bring in the Natives!

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Internet, Promotion 6 Comments

women in Volendam dressOkay, I had promised myself not to do it.

At least, not for a while.

Yet, I find myself doing it again.

And the thing is: I don’t feel so bad about it.

Today, I’ll talk about voices.com.

Again.

Rest assured. I’m not going to rehash my leaving-voices.com-litany. You’ve seen it. At the LinkedIn Voice Over Professionals group they’re still beating that dead horse. Click here if you’d like to join the fuss and the fun.

Since I left the Canadians, business has never been better, but that’s not what I wanted to talk to you about. I really want to talk about a few of my favorite topics: language, marketing, standards and blogging.

BLOGGING BOOSTS BUSINESS

You see, what the folks at “voices” understood from day one, is that free content is one of the best ways to attract visitors to your website. A good blog has people stay for a while and it makes them come back again and again. Voice123 has a blog as well; the Edge Studio is stepping up its blogging efforts and recently, Bodalgo joined the club.

Can you keep up with all the content? I certainly can’t! Thank goodness Derek Chappell reads them all and he posts the best blogs of the week on his own blog. 

Vox Daily is the official blog of voices.com. Over the years it has grown into a huge database of informative articles about every aspect of the industry. Most of the content is original. Sometimes the stories come from other sources.

I applaud the writers of Vox Daily for keeping this thing going with such creativity and consistency. As you know, I only blog once a week and frankly, that’s all I can handle.

As a native of the Netherlands, I was drawn to a recent Vox Daily article by Stephanie Ciccarelli, called “What is a Native Speaker?” In it, Ciccarelli outlines the advantages of hiring a native speaker. She cites a conversation with Spanish voice talent Simone Fojgiel who told her that

“70% of the projects she receives from her clients that were translated from English into Spanish, required revisions. Some even needed complete overhauls due to poor translation work.”

Stephanie concludes:

“Before we start pointing fingers at translators in general, we need to take a deep breath and consider why some translations may be poor, inaccurate or altogether baffling. My dear friends, it all comes to down to whether or not the translator is a native speaker of the language they’re translating in.”

I’m a native Dutch speaker and I recognize Simone’s observations. However, I don’t believe non-native speakers bare the full blame for poorly translated scripts. In my experience, bad translations are often the direct result of:

  1. carelessness or ignorance on the part of cheap clients;
  2. amateur-translators using translation software;
  3. lack of standards, quality control and overall professionalism.

The question is: what to do about it?

GOING DUTCH

Sometimes I talk myself into believing that one of my missions is to educate the ignorant. Allow me to illustrate.

A few months ago, I received an invitation to voice a Dutch language course for beginners. The budget was low and the sample script was filled with language that might have been in vogue some seventy years ago. Today, no Dutchman would ever use these outdated expressions. My guess is that the producers of the course had adapted an old guide after the copyright had expired. Perhaps they were unaware of the archaic language because they didn’t speak Dutch.

Rather than refusing the job out of hand, I auditioned for it, just to have an opportunity to get in touch with the client. I told them that the language in the guide was old-fashioned and that it would mislead people into believing they were learning Dutch as it is spoken today. I gave them several examples to illustrate my point. I also suggested that I could help them bring this language course into the 21st century.

Did I get a thank you note or even an acknowledgement that my comments were received?

Of course not.

I’m only a native speaker who was trying to offer some added value. Why on earth would they listen to me?

HELPING CLIENTS IMPROVE

According to Ciccarelli, Simone Fojgel has…

“made it her mission to protect, preserve and propel the brand image of her English clients as they step out boldly in effort to communicate to Spanish-speaking audiences.”

Not only does Simone review, prep and (re)write copy for her clients, she directs voice talent “to guarantee their performance is just right for the target audience.”

In that respect, Simone and I are on the same page. Both of us reach out to clients and offer to better their products. But after my experience with that Dutch language course, I asked myself:

Is it the job of a native voice talent to save a client’s reputation and turn a trash translation into a treasure?

I’m not so sure anymore, and I’ll explain why.

SAVING THE DAY?

1. First and foremost: You can provide people with information but you can’t be sure they’ll actually understand. And even if they do, it doesn’t mean that they will act upon it. Why should I waste my time talking to a client who doesn’t even want to listen? Let them produce that old-fashioned language course without my help. Perhaps they need to learn things the hard way. 

2. In order to be open to a solution, the client has to admit that there’s a problem in the first place. Here’s the thing. Clients don’t always see a problem. All they see is an added expense you call a solution.

3. A bad translation is only a symptom of a greater underlying cause. Clients are often more interested in treating symptoms.

I believe in fixing a problem at the root level. If a faucet is leaking, you don’t hire someone to mop up the floor thinking that this will solve everything. You call a pro to replace the washers, the o-ring or the seals. Unfortunately, not all clients think that way. They’d rather pay for cheap labor instead of hiring a more expensive pro. The worst scripts usually come from clients with bargain basement budgets. Not exactly my target market.

4. Is it worth my time?

Before I became a full-time voice-over, I worked as a professional translator and I hated it. I used to spend 14-hour days ruining my back in front of a computer screen translating boring market research, user manuals and legal documents. As a voice-over, I can make in thirty minutes what would take me a week of translation work. You do the math.

5. Leave it to the experts.

Being a native speaker doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re a great translator. Just as people underestimate what it takes to be a voice-over, people have no idea how hard it is to become an accredited translator. Even though I’m an academically trained linguist, I am happy to pass translation projects on to the natives who do this for a living.

Now, does all of this mean that I’ll never offer to correct a weak translation or tweak a text no matter what?

If the client is open to suggestions and is willing to spend some extra money on additional services, I’m game. As a voice-over, it is in my best interest to be associated with a stellar production. If it wins me some bonus points with a customer, better still!

So, at times, being a native speaker does translate into more business, but obviously not from the folks who were looking for a voice for that outdated Dutch language course. I believe the program is in the making as we speak. Unchanged.

And where did I find that job, by the way?

On voices.com.

Right before I ended my membership. 

Oops…

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

photo credit: screenpunk via photopin cc

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Wanted: Colleagues with Cojones

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing 9 Comments

It's better to be a lion for a day than a sheep for all your lifeColleagues, where is your courage?

Sometimes I feel like I’m dealing with a bunch of wimps.

Wimps who cave in without a fight and who compromise their integrity for money.

Last week I wrote about a recent European Directive to combat late-paying clients. New, stringent rules have changed the game in favor of small and mid-size companies. No longer are we at the mercy of businesses and government institutions that made us wait forever to get our money.

Now, any Europe-based entrepreneur can charge interest if a bill isn’t paid on time (usually within 30 days), and add at least €40 (about 54 USD) to cover the cost of debt collection, should it come to that. There’s no legal obligation to send a late-paying client a reminder. It is expected that an invoice gets paid when it is due.

If this were to happen in the U.S. where I live and work, I would jump for joy. Every year, thousands of businesses go bankrupt. Not because their product or service stinks, but because they’re waiting to get paid. This new Euro-legislation aims to make that a thing of the past. Isn’t that a cause for celebration?

Apparently not.

WORST-CASE SCENARIO

Some colleagues greeted the new rules with fear, disbelief and skepticism. One freelancer wrote to me:

“Those regulations are nice in theory, but I wouldn’t dare go after one of my biggest clients. It usually takes them 100+ days to pay me and I hate that. So, why do I put up with it? Because if I were to get tough on them, they’d hire someone else in a heartbeat.”

I asked him:

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

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Behind the Facade

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career 12 Comments

woman wearing a mask“Leave your ego at the door.”

That’s one of the first commandments of Faffcon, the North-American voice-over unconference organized by Amy Snively and friends.

In a world filled with helpful, humble and caring colleagues, why would such a warning even be necessary, you might ask?

I’ll tell you why.

Because no matter where you go, you’ll always find a contingent of pompous, pretentious, big-headed individuals, ready to put you in your place. Even in voice-over circles.

These people will never come to you. They want you to come to them. They love to talk and hate to listen. They’ll interrupt you to change the subject because they’re easily bored. Dropping names is one of their favorite games. They’re eager to criticize and hard-pressed to praise. They specialize in being condescending and cocky because they’ve figured it all out. For them, there’s nothing more to learn.

You’ll find them at universities, hospitals, conservatories, in politics, in business and in places of worship. You’ll find them on Facebook, LinkedIn, on Twitter and in the blogosphere. No matter where you look, you’ll probably spot an emperor wearing very few clothes.

INFLATED EGOS

When I was seventeen, I first entered the world of broadcasting. It’s a world that seems to attract inflated egos and awful attitudes. Fame can turn reasonable men and women into narcissistic fools. Just because their smooth voices were heard on the radio or their plastic faces were on TV, some of them became utterly unbearable.

I’ve never been impressed with self-proclaimed authorities. I have to thank my upbringing for that. As a minister, my Dad was supposed to be one of those authorities. To me, he was just my Dad who put his teeth in a glass on the nightstand before he went to bed. One of his best friends ran a multi-million dollar corporation. I only knew him as uncle Joe who liked to break wind after a good meal. Nothing like a flatulent captain of industry to put things in perspective.

“Money doesn’t buy you manners,” my mother used to say. And she said something else that always stuck with me:

“If you’re full of yourself, there’s little room for others.”

I guess that’s why people say it’s lonely at the top.

Then, one day, I got to meet one of those people at the top. Not only that. I was asked to work with her. Together, we would present a radio program that already had a huge following.

MY BIG BREAK

A nationwide audience adored her, but colleagues called her the “Ice Princess” due to her standoffish demeanor. People warned me that she would likely give me the cold shoulder. After all, I was young, ambitious and very inexperienced. To the network, I was cheap labor who -one day- might replace this expensive, icy icon.

“Now, in order to work with her,” one of the executives told me, “you have to do as you are told. Never question her decisions. Always act interested -even when you’re not- and treat her like royalty. She is the star of the show and you are the sidekick. Remember your place. Then and only then you will stand a chance. Good luck. You’ll need it!”

I still remember the first day I went to work. Friends and family thought it was a dream come true. They were right. It was a tremendous opportunity. It could be the official launch of my career. Yet, part of me was very apprehensive.

On the way to the studio I forced myself to think of uncle Joe and his digestive system. He particularly enjoyed leaving silent surprises in crowded elevators. It worked, because I immediately felt less anxious.

When I entered the hallway, a familiar voice was telling a producer off, while smoking a cigarette. It was her!

“Oh boy,” I said to myself. “Here we go.”

Then the strangest thing happened.

SEEING A GHOST

While the argument with the producer was heating up, my soon-to-be mentor spotted me. As soon as she did, all color disappeared from her face. Undaunted, I began to introduce myself the way I had practiced many times in the mirror. After my first few words she interrupted me and then she disappeared into the studio, slamming the heavy door shut.

Five long minutes later she reemerged with a tissue in hand. Her eyes were red and teary.

“I can’t do this right now,” she said to me. “I really can’t. You have to go now.”

Was this some kind of bizarre test, I wondered? Should I leave or should I stay? Then I remembered the words from the network executive:

“Do as you are told. Never question her decisions.”

That afternoon the phone rang. It was the producer of the radio show.

“Paul,” he said, “I owe you an explanation. It was the weirdest thing. I have known this woman for many, many years, and not once have I seen her like that. She’s usually as tough as nails and distant, but when she saw you, she became overwhelmed with emotion.”

“What happened?” I asked. “Did I do something wrong?”

“I’ll tell you what she told me,” said the producer. “She said you looked like her son.”

“Well, is that a bad thing? I asked.

“She loved her son more than anything in the world,” said the producer, “but there’s something you should know. Ten years ago he was killed by a drunk driver. He was seventeen. Your age. She showed me one of his pictures and the resemblance is striking.”

I was stunned.

A SECOND CHANCE

“Now, here’s the good news,” he said. “She wants you to come back next week.”

“Are you sure that’s such a great idea?” I asked. “How are we going to work together if I all I do is open up a wound?”

The producer thought about it for a moment and said: “I think this might actually be good for her. She wants this. Let’s just see how it goes.”

A week later I came back to the studio and I introduced myself again. This time, she held it together. It was the beginning of something I will never forget. The person some people called the “Ice Princess,” turned out to be one of the warmest and most wonderful people I’d ever met. She took me under her wing, and the many things I learned from her I still use today.

One time after work, we got to talk about her son. She said:

“The day my son died, part of me died, and I became bitter and angry at the world. People who didn’t know me must have thought that I was a self-involved, stuck-up b*tch because I didn’t let anyone in. There still are people who believe I’m rather pretentious and cold. I know I can come across that way. I now realize that this is a mask I wear to protect myself. I need to be strong in order to survive. Ten years after my son’s death there’s still a huge hole in my heart.”

Although I knew I could never replace the son she had lost, I slowly realized that my presence might have a positive effect on her. Other people started noticing it as well.

TRANSFORMATION

Two years later, the network executive who had teamed me up with her, wanted to see me in his office. 

“Ah, there’s the man who made the Ice Princess melt,” he said when I came in. “I knew it would work.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Well, haven’t you seen the changes in the star of our show?” answered the executive. 

“Ever since you began working with her, she gradually opened up and has become more of the person I used to know. She started smiling again. The transformation is pretty amazing, don’t you think? I want to thank you for that.” 

“I don’t think I did much,” I said. “I mainly listened and tried to be there. But I’m curious. How did you know it would work? For one, did you have any idea I looked like her son?” 

“Of course,” the executive responded. “How could I not?

I’m her husband!”

COVERING UP THE PAIN

This wondrous world of ours is filled with all sorts of people. We all have stories to tell. Stories of courage, stories of despair, of jubilation and of grief. Those stories have shaped us into who we are and determine how we respond. We know the chapters that make up our lives intimately. But those who do not know us, often judge us by the cover and not by the book.

I still don’t feel drawn to pretentious people, but over time I’ve learned to get along. For most of them, their attitude is a mask, supposedly protecting them from pain and insecurity. Deep down, they long for recognition, companionship and validation. That’s my theory. And if you take the time to find out what really goes on behind that mask, you may find someone who’s vulnerable, alone and afraid.

Someone with a story.

And then there are people who are just like my uncle Joe.

Eccentric, and full of hot air. 

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
photo credit: pareeerica via photopin cc

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Do Voice Actors Suffer From An Inferiority Complex?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Journalism & Media, Promotion 20 Comments

Euphoric.

That’s the mood the voice-over community has been in, lately.

The reason?

It’s the release of Lake Bell’s motion picture In A World.

If you are a voice talent and you haven’t heard about this fun-filled father-and-daughter comedy, you must be living under a rock and a hard place.

This movie got so much publicity inside my professional bubble that I didn’t even want to blog about it.

The anticipation for In A World had been building for months. When it finally came out, the citizens of voiceoverland went a little crazy.

If you’re a true member of our VO family, you probably did one of three things:

  1. You posted or reposted the In A World trailer on your social media outlets dozens of times;
  2. You read reviews and listened to or watched several interviews with Miss Bell and her cast of other characters;
  3. You frantically tried to get tickets from the box office of some small artsy theater where In A World was playing, hours away from your home.

If that’s what you did, let me ask you this:

Why all the hoopla for a movie that so far has grossed a humble $321,614 in the two weeks since its release; a movie that is number 30 on the box office charts, right behind this summer’s mega-flop “The Lone Ranger” and the equally disappointing “R.I.P.D.”?

You might think that In A World deserves to be seen by millions, but apparently, distributor Roadside Attractions wasn’t confident enough to go for a wide release. Are they hoping for a sleeper hit on Netflix?

To me it’s rather obvious why the attention-craving voice-over community has embraced Lake Bell’s movie.

This comedy is about US.

Finally!

We, the masters of the spoken word, the unseen and unsung heroes of gazillions of trailers, audio books, commercials and e-Learning modules, are at last being recognized for who we are and what we do.

After decades of neglect and ridicule, voice-overs have come out of their walk-in closets, ready to be embraced for their vocal magnificence.

Thanks to Miss Bell, the voice-over world finally has a voice. Better still: It’s a FEMALE voice!

We feel validated and vindicated and tell ourselves:

“People find us interesting. Look, they even made a movie about us and talk about it in the media. That must mean we’re important!”

I hate to burst your bubble, but that’s an illusion. 

In a few days, the promotional circus surrounding this picture will fade away, and not even Joan Baker will be able to elevate our status in a world that doesn’t really care. Very soon we’ll get back to where we were before: invisible, under appreciated, and chronically underpaid.

Let me tell you why voice-over people are relatively irrelevant.

1. Voice actors run an auditory business in an increasingly visual world.

A study published on August 19th in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, describes that people who were asked to identify the winners of major piano competitions tend to do better when they purely rely on visual – rather than auditory – cues. 

Seeing, not hearing, is believing.

This confirms the age-old adage that a picture paints a thousand words. Images will always overpower what we play or say, no matter how meaningful the music or the script. Visual impact is everything.

That’s why movie stars are among the best paid people on the planet and voice actors are not. Keep in mind that it took a motion picture with on-screen actors and not some radio play or podcast to highlight the world VO’s live in.

2. Most on-screen actors easily transition into voice-overs.

Have you ever seen a full-time voice actor land a major role in a motion picture? I haven’t. Most of them can’t act and have to hire a coach to learn how to sound natural. The actors we know from the stage, the movies or television on the other hand, love doing voice-over work on the side, and most of them are very good at it.

When big brands need solid exposure, they turn to well-known names to get their message across. While voice actors often have to scramble for a decent rate, their on-camera colleagues can command top-dollar for that six-word catch phrase at the end of a commercial.

3. In A World is not a movie about voice-overs.

Ron Howard didn’t shoot “Backdraft” as a documentary about firefighters. The TV series ER wasn’t made to promote the medical profession. The fire station and the hospital were both backdrops that allowed human drama to unfold.

In A World takes us into recording studios to tell us about the rivalry between a father and a daughter who both happen to audition for the same job.

At heart, it is a light summer movie about relationships, and the voice-over setting is nothing but a clever prop, allowing the actors to showcase their skills and versatility. Nothing less and nothing more.

4. But doesn’t this movie have a powerful message about inequality in the VO-workplace?

It’s true. Lake Bell’s character tries to break into the male-dominated world of movie trailers. However, I don’t think the predominant purpose of In A World was to further some feminist agenda. It’s a comedy. Not a Gloria Steinem manifesto.

The male-female dichotomy at the center of In A World is a ploy that serves a plot. It creates conflict that needs to be resolved.

It’s an old theme in a new setting:

Will the underdog succeed against overwhelming odds? Watch the movie and find out!

Most movies aren’t made to move minds. Audiences across the globe like to escape and be entertained. They hate being lectured about social injustice. And let’s be honest: film studios are not some kind of philanthropic institution ready to promote an important cause. I can summarize their business model in four words:

Minimize risks. Maximize profits.

5. Will Lake Bell manage to break the gender barrier?

The short answer is NO.

I don’t think Bell will impact movie trailers the way Mary Tyler Moore changed television. Using a female voice for a movie trailer would require a revolution. Not a Sundance comedy.

Usually, Hollywood doesn’t like to try something that hasn’t been done before. Playing it safe is the name of the game. That’s why the same actors and actresses, screenwriters, directors and composers are hired again and again.

The fact that female voices aren’t chosen to promote blockbusters has nothing to do with sexism. It has everything to do with movie moguls testing every aspect of a motion picture to see if it will appeal to an audience of average Americans. Words are weighed and endings are altered based on feedback from the all-important focus groups. 

Without being derogatory, it’s fair to say that Joe Six-pack is the most important movie ticket buying demographic. If a focus group of Joe’s agrees that a booming male voice has more gravitas, that’s what studios will choose. Forget feminism or equal opportunities.

Thus, the cliché continues.

One last thing.

6. The rest of the world isn’t nearly as interested in our profession as we are.

If we do our job right, the listeners will pay more attention to the message than to the messenger. We serve the script and make it shine.

Unlike on-screen actors, we stay out of the limelight. We don’t appear in tabloids or on talk shows. Our private lives are blissfully boring. There is no glamour in voice-overs. For a majority of celebrity-watchers, voice-overs are positively uninteresting.

So be it.  

In our small and isolated world, Lake Bell’s movie might be a big deal; a victory for voice-overs, even. The rest of the planet falls for blockbusters about zombie invasions, promiscuous vampires and kids playing Hunger Games -all of them promoted by Don Lafontaine sound-alikes.  

Just because we don’t necessarily get recognized for our work, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take professional pride in what we do. We might not make millions of dollars and live in huge mansions, but there’s no reason to feel inferior. 

In real life, a lot of great things happen under the radar. Those things can be far more profound than anything the gossip shows will ever report on. 

Think about those who have dedicated themselves to helping others. Ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Most of them will never be acknowledged or honored, and they’re fine with that. 

These people are in it for the music. 

Not for the applause.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet! 

PPS “Hello Lonesome” is the voice-over movie you have never heard of. Click here for my story about this movie.

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Good enough is never good enough

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Internet, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play 22 Comments

Dear voice casting agencies,

You are being deceived!

People pretending to be professionals have infiltrated your talent pool. People who can barely swim. It’s happening on your watch and you probably have no idea what the heck is going on.

Why?

Because you don’t know or you don’t care.

You’re too busy trying to make a buck in this competitive market, and you have no time or money for decent quality control. Or you are aware that you’re accepting and advertising third-rate “talent,” but this is simply a reflection of your standards.

AVERAGE HAS BECOME ACCEPTABLE

Let’s talk about those standards for a moment.

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

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Failure is Always an Option

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Money Matters 10 Comments

A few years ago, entrepreneur and New York Times contributor Jay Goltz asked owners of failed small businesses what had gone wrong.

Guess what?

Most of them didn’t really have a clue.

To a certain extent that’s not surprising. Had they known what the problem was, they might have been able to fix it.

Some owners were in denial. Instead of acknowledging their own responsibility, they blamed the economy, the current administration, the bank or an idiot partner. Never themselves.

In many cases, Goltz noted that (ex) customers had a much better understanding of what went wrong. The owner still had his stubborn head in the sand.

Over the years, I’ve counseled quite a few struggling voice-overs who were ready to give up. Without exception they were sweet, well-intentioned and hard-working people. Some of them were even talented. And like the folks Goltz interviewed, they were wondering why their new career was going down the drain.

TAKE LARRY

Larry called himself a victim of the recession.

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

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There’s No Crying In Voice-Overs

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Social Media 16 Comments

Every once in a while, we make a fool of ourselves.

Thanks to the powers of social media, we can now do it publicly.

Those who have hurt and humiliated themselves, vent their frustration on Facebook and start fishing for some sympathy:

“Life is so unfair! Look what happened to me. Client X did this. Colleague Y said that. My agent doesn’t love me anymore… Woe is me!”

Yes, you’re a miserable son of a gun. Let’s have a pity party and invite some friends. Shared suffering is double the fun, but don’t expect me to join in.

I don’t want to borrow your sorrow and smooth it over with a platitude and a positive attitude because

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

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Am I too old for this?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Journalism & Media 25 Comments

Staying youngWhen I first came to the United States in the early nineties, I noticed something weird.

An average American would not have thought about it twice, but as a European it really struck me.

People in this country seemed to have a problem with age and aging.

What was my first clue?

Compared to my native Netherlands, many “older” people in the States (women and men) were coloring their hair. 

When my Dutch grandma went to a salon, she might have asked the stylist to add a touch of silver to her gray. That was as far as she would go. But on the West Coast where I was training at that time, pensioners had no problem going platinum blonde or pitch-black. 

Many of them dressed in hip track suits and were wearing white sneakers. Mind you, I’d never seen my grandfather in anything else than a three-piece suit and Oxfords. My grandparents would never dare wear anything athletic in public. Sneakers were for the gym, not for the streets.

Being in California, I couldn’t help but notice all the “plastic people.” On TV I’d see actors and anchors who clearly had had work done to stay marketable. Commercials were populated by people in their twenties and thirties or by those who desperately tried to look like they were in their twenties and thirties.

Was there something wrong with the older generation, I wondered. Why couldn’t or why wouldn’t people look their age? 

THE YOUTHFUL FOUNTAIN

We’re now living in a new millennium and it’s not just the aging population that wants to maintain their youthful, flawless looks.

The American Society of Plastic Surgeons estimated in 2009 that Botox was injected into Americans ages 13 to 19 nearly 12,000 times, including some teenagers who got multiple doses. According to the New York Times, doctors were injecting teenagers for a variety of perceived imperfections, from a too-gummy smile to a too-square jaw.

When teen girls were asked about why they chose to get the injections, they said they wanted to prevent wrinkles or “appear fresh” in front of the camera. (source)

Meanwhile, the anti-aging industry has gone global. The sale of lotions, potions, supplements and other products is expected to top $291 billion in a few years. (source) Most of these products need promotion, and in a way, voice-overs are benefiting from this trend.

MIXED FEELINGS

As much as I’d like to believe that looks don’t matter, that talent is timeless and that age is a feeling and not a number, I must admit that turning fifty this week was a mixed blessing. It’s a blessing because personally and professionally, I’ve never been happier. 

I don’t sweat the small things anymore. Things I used to take personally I stopped caring about. I’m no longer intimidated by pompous people (of which there are many in my industry), and I don’t have to work for a jerk who does not respect me. Experience has taught me to ride the tide of dry spells and getting more work than I can handle. 

The need for approval and recognition is fading fast. What’s left is a focus on building true connections and delivering consistent quality. Giving is now more important than taking, but I know my experience is worth something, and I’m not afraid to charge accordingly. 

MY FEARS

On the other hand, I worry about staying current. Society and especially technology is changing at such a fast pace. Will I be able to keep up with it? Do I want to? 

Part of me cringes when I’m being introduced as a “veteran voice actor.” It’s an honorary title, but to me it sounds painfully close to “old and almost irrelevant fart.” I don’t want to be that person talking about the good old days when we did our editing by cutting tape with a razor blade and the world was listening to vinyl. 

I’m afraid that producers might think that “seasoned” means expensive and “experienced” equals inflexible. And what if they see that headshot with my graying head of hair? I think my voice still sounds young, but will clients continue to consider me for more youthful, energetic roles? 

Even though I feel relatively fit, I don’t have the stamina of a twenty-year old, and I cannot pull off all-nighters. My eyesight is deteriorating and I need to have my hearing tested. And let’s not mention the inevitable colonoscopy which I’ve been putting off for ages.

Fifty is so much more than a number.

It’s a verdict.

BEING REAL

Surprised? 

I had wanted to write about this for quite some time now, but I kept it to myself because I didn’t think it would fit the way my public persona is generally perceived. People tend to think I’m an optimistic, resourceful go-getter, and not some sad sack with a good life who’s complaining about getting older.

Well, some things cannot be rinsed away with a bottle of “Just For Men.” I know it is perfectly possible to be stuck between the pros and cons of a certain situation. There is no light without darkness. But why bring it up in a blog? Isn’t that an exercise in narcissism? 

One: There’s strength in honesty. Denial doesn’t solve anything. Acknowledging our fears is the beginning of overcoming them. 

Two: There’s strength in sharing. I know I’m not alone in thinking about how my age might affect my career. Even people in their thirties and forties are dealing with it.

Three: I’d like to hear your perspective. Because voice actors are invisible, looks and age really shouldn’t matter. Peter Thomas (89) and June Foray (95) are still working. Yet, have you experienced ageism in our industry? Is being older an asset or an impediment?

While you ponder these important questions, this old man is going to put on a pair of white socks and sandals as he gets ready for his hair appointment.

Who knows… he might even ask the stylist to add some color!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

photo credit: marlambie via photopin cc

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Win a One-Year VoiceZam VO Demo Player Subscription

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Promotion 83 Comments

stopwatch

We live in an impatient world, filled with distractions.

Our plates are getting fuller. Attention spans are getting shorter. Decisions are made faster.

The other day, I was using my “old” computer on a slow internet connection, and I was ready to throw a brick at it because it took forever to load a simple web page. Only a few years ago, I felt lucky to have such an amazing connection.

Technology has turned us into spoiled brats. We demand immediate access and real-time interactivity. We want direct control and hate to waste any time waiting. The voice-over world is affected by it, too.

If you don’t respond to that audition right away, you might as well forget it because every Tom, Dick or Harry is rushing to that online cattle call. Wait two minutes and there are 30 people ahead of you. How did that happen?

CATERING TO THE CLIENT

Like most people on the planet, our clients live by the law of least effort. They want to get a quick sense of our sound and say Yea or Nay. They don’t want to beg you to send them a demo or spend hours listening to an endless mix of sweetened soundbites.

Software Engineer Bob Merkel used to be a producer at an advertising agency. Part of his job was to find voice talent to match their scripts. He spent hours weeding through talent. Listening to their demos was like having to read an entire magazine. All Bob really wanted, was to flip through all the articles to see which one he was interested in.

That’s when he started dreaming of an audio player that would allow him to fast forward within a demo. At that time, it didn’t exist.

In early 2002 he started writing the first system application for his idea. In September of ’08 he was granted a patent, and the VoiceZam Voice-Over Demo Player was born. It’s a player that offers more than a way to put audio on a website. Here’s colleague Chris Mezzolesta:

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that this is not an independent review. It’s a promo and Chris is trying to sell a service, just like most of us VO’s do each and every day. So I decided to check in with a few industry experts and find out what they think of Merkel’s brainchild.

Cliff Zellman is the mastermind behind Done By Six Productions. You can read about him in my story “Factory Demos: Fatal First Impressions.” Zellman:

As a casting director for RadioVision in Dallas Texas I am always open to hearing new voices and fresh deliveries. On a potential hire’s website, I appreciate the speed and ease of use the VoiceZam player provides. When I see a VoiceZam player, I know I am dealing with a professional, as I believe Bob Merkel (great guy) vets each user before issuing them a player. The quality of the player is excellent and the load time is non-existent. It’s that fast.

One of the benefits of using a VoiceZam player is the availability to hear many selections from a voice talent within one application with an easy to navigate menu system. Sometime I will hire someone not for what I am currently seeking, but rather a voice or character I can use in the future.

VOICE-OVERS WEIGH IN

Voice Talent Tom Test started using the player in early 2013.

I am very versatile, which is a “problem” with a traditional linear-playing demo.  The talent seeker might find exactly the read they need on my 7th clip out of a dozen, but might not stick around long enough to get to it out of impatience. VoiceZam (VZ) makes it so easy to skip from track to track, it is MUCH more time-efficient for the listener AND as a result gives me a better shot at showing off the entire range of my reads.

I demonstrated it to one of my top agents here in Chicago, and he was very impressed. He’d love to have VZ on the agency’s website.

Voice-Over Anthony Gettig has been using VZ for almost a year:

My clients really dig it. Being a data driven guy, I am tickled with VoiceZam! The analytics (Zamtistics™) let me see who listened to my demo and from what Internet connection. I can usually deduce from that where they are from. VoiceZam lets you create a “ZamLink,” which is a specially crafted URL that you can copy and paste into an email or image link. When the person receiving the message clicks on that link, it shows up the Zamtistics. I see this and can then follow up with the prospect.

Early adopter Dave Courvoisier has a link to the VZ player in his email signature and has embedded it in his blog. Courvoisier:

As you know, I have a ready interest in new trends, techniques, gizmos, apps, and software development. I found Merkel’s product to have a high degree of sophistication, innovative design features, and a no-frills web site that supported the product.  I eventually had the opportunity to talk to Bob a lot about the genesis of VoiceZam, and realized it grew out of his considerable experience with voice talent, agencies, advertising, and the corporate business world.  I became convinced that he had developed a truly new “take” on the linear model of playing demos. My experience is that the product is genuine, robust, configurable, and meets its PR promises.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY

Not everyone is as enthusiastic. Recently, Courvoisier blogged about VoiceZam, and one of his readers commented:

If only you buy this one more product, your voice business will be a success. No. VoiceZam is a solution without a problem.

Cliff Zellman brings up another point:

The only drawback I see as an end-user is the absence of a pause button. Very often during audition playbacks, I like to pause the audio and discuss, then continuing from there, only to pause and discuss again. Once the VoiceZam player has this feature, a simple pause button, it will be the player of choice for VO talent seekers. I really hope to see it added soon.

Joe J. Thomas commented:

I’m really hoping that whoever listens to my demo the first time listens all the way through. After all, it’s only :60-:90 – If I can’t hold their attention that long, I’m in the wrong biz!

Joe also mentioned pricing. Many audio players are free. Even though VoiceZam just slashed its fees in half, premium service is $8.95 a month. If you want statistics, add $4.95. That’s more than most people pay for hosting an entire site. Tom Test also made a really good point:

VoiceZam is not magic. It won’t do much good if the talent doesn’t do any sort of marketing to drive people to their site.

So, is the VoiceZam player a luxury or a necessity to keep up with the times? Has the voice-over world been waiting for this solution? Bob Merkel:

The question, “Is this really something they’ve been waiting for?” is interesting. My answer is “Absolutely!” because I see the value it brings to all parties. The closest analogy I can use is when the iPod was introduced in the early 2000s. It would be have been difficult for a music enthusiast to answer the question “Is the iPod something you’ve been waiting for?” After the normal music playback method of stereos and CD driven boom boxes, it took a lot of time for people to understand the new paradigm of digital songs you could hold in your hand. But once they got it, the way music was presented, changed forever.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS The blue text in this blog indicates a hyperlink. For more info, go to www.voicezam.com

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Overcoming Self-Sabotage

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career 14 Comments

There are a million ways to start a successful business and there are at least two millions ways to mess it up. The worst of those two millions ways is when you become your own opponent.

Most people don’t do it on purpose. They want to succeed. Desperately. They invest in their business. Financially and emotionally. They work long hours to build their dream. And -miracle of miracles- after a while things start going well.

Clients are happy. Cash is coming in. The future is looking brighter every day. And then this inner voice starts nagging you:

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

Making Money In Your PJs cover

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