Career

Are you playing by the rules?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career 4 Comments

Agents are angels.

Well, most of them are.

Some agents work miracles.

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

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

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

As in any relationship, it is give and take. 

You give and they take.

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

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

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

RESPOND PROMPTLY

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

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

This brings us to rule number two:

BE ACCESSIBLE

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

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

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

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

Here’s the third rule:

BE SPECIFIC

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

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

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

Number four:

KNOW THE LINGO

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

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

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

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

The fifth rule:

BE CAREFUL

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

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

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

And here’s rule number six:

RESPECT CONFIDENTIALITY

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

STATING THE OBVIOUS?

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

YES they are, and increasingly so.

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

Be an angel. Treat them like gold.

When you look good, they look good.

And that’s what it’s all about!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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

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The four keys to winning clients over

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

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

I think about that a lot.

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

So, what are clients really looking for?

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

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Are You a Cliché?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Internet 25 Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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The Wheat and the Chaff

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, International, Promotion 62 Comments

SaVoA, the Society of Accredited Voice Over Artists has imploded.

Six members of the executive board resigned in April of 2012, citing irreconcilable differences between them and SaVoA’s founding father.

On hearing the news, I was stirred but certainly not shaken. To me, the real news was how the worldwide voice-over community responded. The overall reaction can be summarized in two words:

“So what?”

Of course a few inner circle members -sorry, make that “certificate holders”– reacted as expected by telling their version of the break-up. And yet again, thousands of voice actors answered silently in unison and said:

“Who cares?”

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

You see, in the five years of its existence, SaVoA managed to attract and accredit a whopping 170 people, and it never became the organization it set out to be. Instead, it was regarded by some as an old-boys network.

The idea was to bring together a group of voice artists who had proven to their peers that they could provide “vocally and technically proficient, broadcast-quality voice over services” and who would “conduct business in such a way that it enhances the profession as a whole.”

Apart from a few discounts on trainings and gear, accredited members received a SaVoA certificate and a seal that could be displayed on websites and business cards. Like the Good Housekeeping seal, it was meant to reassure prospective clients that they were about to hire an established, highly qualified voice talent.

Upon seeing the seal, most clients said:

“What the heck is that? Just because some unknown body has accredited you, doesn’t mean you’re a good fit for the job. Let me hear your demo. You’re a voice-over. Words speak louder than actions.”

Many colleagues responded the same way. Why would an experienced talent even need to be accredited? Paul Payton:

“My accreditation is 24 years in the VO business, 22 without a back-up job, working with great clients including many who bring me repeat business. If a certificate works for someone, great; for me, every check I cash is an accreditation. Color me grateful.”

Others like Todd Schick questioned SaVoA’s technical standards:

“How good are standards that can be easily faked? What good is legal gobbledygook to a consumer who hired a SaVoA talent, only to find out that they didn’t have a phone patch, the editing was horrible, the sound sucked because they had a -40dB noise floor… and couldn’t work after 5 pm EST because they had a day job?”

The SaVoA certificate still hangs on Danish voice talent Jacob Ekström‘s wall. Even though SaVoA as we know it is no more, he believes it’s useful to set standards.

“Certification in general is not a new thing, and in an industry like ours where clueless noobs armed with a $20 RadioShack microphone can build a website and/or sign up to a p2p-site and think they can compete with VO-veterans with $10.000 studios, it certainly could be an asset to voice seekers with limited time to listen through 500+ auditions or demos. But alas, not if they don’t know what it means, and I guess this is where SaVoA failed.”

“As a well-established talent you can always argue “Sheesh, why would I need this, a $75 badge on my website isn’t going to get me more gigs anyway!” – and that’s true. But for the remaining 90% of us, just maybe it could. Mind you, the original idea was NOT to build a “boys club” – it was to make the industry better, not only for our clients, but more importantly for ourselves.

Having a SaVoA badge on your website should be something everyone should want to strive for, not because it looks good, but because it means you’re serious and you want your clients to know. And yes, we all know you don’t need a $75 badge to actually be serious, but all the $20 microphone guys who clutter the p2p-sites do not, and, apparently, neither does the industry. And that’s why I feel it’s a damn shame SaVoA never made an impact.”

Audio producer, script writer and voice actor Matt Forrest has a different take on the viability of a professional organization for voice actors:

“Unless the standards or code are adopted by an organized group (like a union or SaVoA) and used – and promoted – for the benefit of its members, I’m not sure what good any of it would do. Being individual contractors, we all know how we want to treat our customers and our craft, but getting everyone to abide by them would be like trying to herd cats.”

Dan LenardDan Lenard is one of the former members of SaVoA’s executive board. He strongly believes the voice-over community has to have a SaVoA type of organization:

“We have common needs. We need to come together in an organized manner to harness this energy that has created this unique virtual community, and work together to deal with the unique marketing, legal and technical issues involved, along with the socially isolating nature of our trade.”

OUT OF THE ASHES

Together with other ex-SaVoA directors, Dan has been building a new and more transparent voice-over organization, modeled after a Trade Association. It was incorporated on April 25th 2012, and it was launched a day later. It’s called the World-Voices organization. Lenard explains:

“It’s an organization founded and funded by businesses that operate in a specific industry. An industry trade association participates in public relations activities such as advertising, education, and publishing, but its main focus is collaboration between businesses, or standardization. Many associations are non-profit organizations governed by bylaws and directed by officers who are also actual voting “members” of the association, not just certificate of Accreditation holders.

This is a model that makes sense for us, the independently based freelance voice artist, here and now. To have an individual competitive advantage we need to have agreed standards of business to strive for. Marketing wise, legally and because of the new territory of being able to produce quality audio at home, Accreditation of technical skills based on the reality of today’s digital marketplace, not outdated, obsolete broadcasting standards.”

Founding Executive Vice President, Dave Courvoisier says:

“Our founders are Dustin Ebaugh, Dan Lenard, Chris Mezzolesta, Robert Sciglimpaglia, Andy Bowyer, “Kat” Keesling, and myself. All are SaVoa ex-patriates. With certain obstacles out of our way, we’ve been able to organize, conceptualize, implement, and carry-out an amazing array of technical, foundational, and legal collaborations in just a matter of days.

The newly established World-Voices Organization will actively work to promote certified members to potential voice seekers through its website and in an aggressive marketing campaign. Materials explaining a proposed structure will be posted on our website.”

And what do I make of this?

If teachers, lawyers, roofers and even DJ’s see value in building a business organization with a code of conduct and professional standards, I see no reason why voice-overs should not follow in their footsteps.

I am in favor of defining criteria for excellence and ethical behavior. It’s important to create programs that will further our field and promote professionalism. Let’s show the outside world what being a voice-over pro entails!

We have a vibrant, supportive and growing community. It’s time to take ourselves and our line of work seriously. If we don’t, no one else will and we’ll forever be known as a bunch of bickering amateuristic blabbermouths.

We need and deserve this professional organization for ourselves, and to help the outside world separate the wheat from the chaff.

Now, to make sure that good people with good intentions will fail, you and I will only have to do one thing:

NOTHING

It’s very easy to stand on the sidelines and ridicule, criticize and discourage the efforts of a few. It takes no commitment whatsoever. It’s safe, it’s lame and it’s lazy.

I’d like you to consider this.

SaVoA did not fail to grow because the founder had no vision. The fact that SaVoA wasn’t thriving cannot be blamed on directors supposedly sitting on their behinds. Most of them worked their butts off!

The way I see it, SaVoA failed because part of the voice-over community paid lip service to the organization (VO’s are good at that), but never invested in it. The other part looked at it from a distance and said:

“Whatever”

Existing members did not succeed in making the organization relevant. Some of them adopted a wait-and-see attitude and vented their frustration that nothing was happening.

THE FUTURE

Many will look at World-Voices and ask themselves this question:

“What will I get out of it?”

Those who are primarily focused on themselves ask that question all the time. If that is going to be your approach, I predict that this new association of voice over professionals will die a quick death.

This is not going to be a ME-ME-ME organization. This is a WE-organization, working to benefit our entire community and beyond.

I challenge you to ask this question instead:

“What can I do to make World-Voices relevant, strong and successful?”

If you want to make it matter, you have to be involved.

Otherwise, another tree will soon fall in the forest without a sound.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
We have a new internet sensation: a 14 year-old kid who sounds like a movie trailer man. Could your ability to sound like someone else help or hurt your career? That’s the topic of my next blog post

 

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10 things clients don’t care about

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing 56 Comments

Let me preface this post by saying that I feel very lucky.

In the past 25 years I was able to develop a strong relationship with a number of clients. The longer we go back, the fewer words we have to waste on what each side is expecting from the other.

It’s almost like a marriage. And very much like a marriage, a lasting business relationship needs commitment from each partner. It can be love at first sight and it can also end in a divorce, due to unspoken expectations and unfulfilled desires.

Throughout the years I have heard colleagues complain about their clients:

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Finding your Value as a Voice-Over

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing 9 Comments

Etymology is the study of the origin of words. If you love language the way I do, you probably love looking into its history. Delving into the deeper meaning of the things that come out of our mouths is as revealing as it is rewarding.

Take the word competition.

To most people it is synonymous with rivalry or a fight to outdo another; a race that can only have one winner and lots of losers. It’s Darwin’s theory in a nutshell.

It wasn’t always understood like that.

The word competition comes from the latin verb…

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Winning an Audition. Losing the Job.

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Journalism & Media, Promotion, Social Media 13 Comments

She jokingly called her students “germ bags” and described school parents as “snobby” and “arrogant.”

On Facebook.

As a result, this Massachusetts math and science teacher lost her $92,636-a-year job.

A waitress at a pizza restaurant in uptown Charlotte was fired after making derogatory remarks about customers who’d made her work an hour past the end of her shift and only left a small tip.

On Twitter.

Comedian Gilbert Gottfried lost his job as the voice of the Aflac duck, after the insurance company found out he was tweeting “jokes” about the devastating tsunami in Japan.

Free speech is a wonderful thing, as long as you realize who’s listening. Big Brother is following you. He might even be a

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Are you afraid of raising your rates?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Money Matters 25 Comments

“Those who can’t build value, have nothing left but to compete on price.” Paul Strikwerda

At the end of December 2011, Alex Rodriguez had earned $39,000,000. That’s 33 million in salary and winnings from the New York Yankees, and 6 million in endorsements. Not bad for a year’s work.

Do you think he’s worth it?

In 2006, entertainment tycoon David Geffen sold Jackson Pollock’s painting No. 5, 1948 for 140 million dollars. Assuming you had that kind of spare change, would you spend it on a painting described by some as “stunning drip”?

Can you tell me why 15-year old actress Abigail Breslin reportedly made $65K for 5 hours of voice-over work for the animated film “Zambezia”? Yes, that’s $13,000 per hour!

Let’s be honest: what did these people really do?

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The Amateur Infestation

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Internet, Journalism & Media 65 Comments

They’re everywhere. Haven’t you noticed?

Take one good look. Let’s start with your online shopping.

Who’s responsible for most reviews on Amazon.com?

Experts? Consumer advocates? Independent test laboratories?

No. Amateurs!

Who just gave your favorite movie two stars on Netflix? The movie critic of the New York Times?

No. Amateurs!

What kind of people put the “reality” in reality TV?

Amateurs!

Where would talent shows like “American Idol,” “The X Factor” and “The Voice” be without…

Amateurs!

Credentials are so yesterday. Experience is optional. If it breathes and has half a brain, 

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Those Bloody Bottom Feeders

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Internet, Money Matters, Promotion 51 Comments

“It’s not the crook we fear in modern business; rather, it’s the honest guy who doesn’t know what he is doing.” Owen Young

The lines have been drawn.

The time to mince words is over.

Every day, our community seems to get more polarized around the issue of low rates. Listen to the buzz. Look at the chatter. Do you think this bubble is about to burst?

Some people are past being polite. They’re frustrated and angry. I like that. If you’re pissed off at something, it means you give a damn and you want things to change.

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