“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” from Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking-Glass”
One sunny day, a fishmonger put up the following sign:
TODAY: FRESH FISH
One of his first customers said to him: “What’s this sign I see? You only have fresh fish today?”
“Of course not,” said the fishmonger. “I have fresh fish every day. You’ve been coming here for the past eight years. You know that.”
“Then why did you write: Today: Fresh Fish? That’s confusing,” said the customer.
So the fishmonger erased the word TODAY.
An hour later another customer questioned him about the sign:
“Why does it say ‘Fresh Fish’? Isn’t your fish always fresh? Or have you been selling me unfresh fish all these years?”
“Of course not,” answered the fishmonger a bit annoyed. “Each day I go to the harbor at the crack of dawn and buy my fish straight from the men who caught it. It can’t get any fresher than that.”
“Then why did you write: Fresh Fish? That’s confusing,” said the customer.
So the fishmonger erased the word FRESH. “I don’t get these people,” he mumbled. “Wasn’t it obvious what I was trying to say?”
Our life is filled with unspoken assumptions. The obvious does not need to be stated, does it? If we hold that to be true, we’re forgetting one thing:
What’s obvious to one person might not be obvious to another person.
Language in and of itself is vague, inadequate and ambiguous, and therefore up for interpretation. If you have any doubts about that, talk to theologians or lawyers. In both cases you often need divine intervention to get them to agree on anything, even if they speak the same language.
Polish-American scientist and philosopher Alfred Korzybski (1879–1950) is the developer of what he called “General Semantics.” Simply put, this refers to the study of how you and I react to our environment or an event, and how we derive meaning from it.
Korzybski coined the phrase “The map is not the territory,” meaning that a word is not what it defines (the territory), but merely a symbolic representation of it (the map). That’s why we don’t get wet from the word water.
Here’s the problem: if we don’t know what the territory looks like, how on earth can we know what the map refers to?
Take Nike’s famous trademark “Just do it.”
Without knowing anything about it, would you have any idea what these three words stand for? For instance: what is “it”? And if we don’t know what “it” is, how are we supposed to know how to “do” “it”? It could mean a million things, and we’re supposed to “just” do them? Forget it!
Let’s move away from fishy advertising and “just do” a little experiment. Take this simple sentence:
“We only have a small budget.”
That’s plain English, isn’t it? But what does it really mean? Do we have enough information to know what the writer intended it to mean?
If you say “yes” to the question, please tell me what you think it means and what you are basing it on. If you say “no,” tell me what is missing.
I have a feeling that you’ve seen this sentence before. I will also go as far as to imagine that every day, freelancers like you and me allow these six words to influence the bids they put in, to win a project. Am I right?
In order to truly know what the client means by “We only have a small budget,” a lot of blanks need to be filled in. First of all: who is “we”? Is it a client? And if so, who is this client? Donald Trump? I bet you anything that what “the Donald,” considers to be small, will forever redefine your meaning of the word!
My voiceover agent sometimes sends me five hundred-dollar jobs and apologizes for the “small budget.” To some, five hundred dollars might be a huge step up from the hundred-dollar jobs they’ve been auditioning for, just to break into the business. But considering the fact that this client is a key retailer and that the job involves all major markets and a six-year buyout, five hundred bucks is very low pay.
It’s all relative, relatively speaking.
By giving you these examples, what did I just do?
I provided you with some context.
The meaning of words is not only determined by what you find in the dictionary. It is defined by the setting and circumstances in which they are used. In fact, dictionary editors define the meaning of words by studying the context in which they appear. They even come up with sentences in which a word is used to illustrate its meaning.
But let’s assume that little or no context is provided. What do we usually do to attempt to understand the words we read or hear?
We start making things up. Believe it or not, there’s a mindreader in all of us! To me, this is where things get really interesting. On what exactly do we base our uninformed guesses?
I remember the first time I drove on an American highway and saw a sign that said RAMP. I must confess that I had no idea what it meant (for first-time readers: I’m originally from The Netherlands).
In an attempt to understand its meaning, my mind started making associations based on my personal frame of reference. In Dutch, the word RAMP means DISASTER! Till this very day, I get uncomfortable whenever I see that sign.
Without a clear context and without the ability to ask any questions, we generally base our understanding on speculation, which in turn is based on our subjective experience. In other words: the way you interpret “we only have a small budget,” will tell us a lot about you and next to nothing about the person who wrote it. This gets us into trouble all the time.
As a service provider it is not supposed to be about us. It’s about what the client wants to see and needs to hear. But clients typically hand out maps and leave it to us to second-guess what their territory is supposed to look or sound like.
They’ll tell you:
“I don’t know how to describe to you what I want, but I know it when I hear it. As long as you try to sound warm but professional…. If you know what I mean.”
No I don’t know what you mean. How could I? We have never met. Sometimes I don’t even understand my wife, and I think that I know her better than most people.
Now, do you still wonder why you didn’t land that ‘warm and professional’ gig?
Could it be, because you were led by your own assumptions? Did you forget to ask critical questions, or were you unable or not allowed to contact the client and get some context?
Beginners often wonder: “If only I could get some feedback after the fact. That would give me some idea as to why my audition was rejected.”
I think it would be much more helpful to get some perspective before the fact; some sense of direction. Dump the vague and ambiguous verbiage. If you don’t tell us what you want, how are we supposed to give it to you? I know that words are inadequate ways of describing an experience, but can you at least try a little harder?
While you do that, let’s go back to the story.
TODAY: FRESH FISH
After erasing the first two words, the fishmonger stared at the sign that now read “FISH.”
That should do it, he thought.
No one can argue with that.
He was ready to go inside when a boy walked up to him. He had a ten-dollar bill in his hand.
“Sir, sir…” the boy said, “Can I ask you a question?”
“Of course,” said the fishmonger. “What can I help you with, young man?”
The boy looked at him with big, hopeful eyes.
“Sir, I just saw your sign and I was wondering: do you sell goldfish?”
The fishmonger made a gesture of utter exasperation.
People are completely clueless, he thought.
Then he took a damp sponge and erased the word FISH.
After much use, even the sharpest knives get dull. Paul Strikwerda
Can a voice-over pro ever take time off?
Do you have to be available 24/7?
Is it okay to shut down your business for a few weeks of Rest and Relaxation?
Will your Facebook fans unfriend you?
Will your Twitter followers desert you?
Will your voice-overworked agent ever talk to you again?
Let me answer these questions with a question:
What won’t happen if you don’t do it?
I am a big believer in a balanced lifestyle. As a European living in the States (the number 1 “no vacation nation”), I see a lot of people around me who are absolutely addicted to their jobs. Modern technology has made it easier than ever to stay connected and become a burned-out, boss-pleasing slave laborer.
Have we forgotten our history?
On January 31st, 1865, The U.S. House of Representatives passed the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, abolishing slavery in the United States. It read:
“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude… shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
I guess the keyword is involuntary servitude.
We are free people, living in a free country who have earned the right to free themselves of any free time. Instead, we have chosen “voluntary servitude.”
Now, that’s what I call progress in a society built upon the principles of “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness!”
But let’s put the cynicism and sarcasm aside for a moment. If you’re pursuing happiness as a full-time freelancer, you are in charge of your own destiny. You set your own hours. You determine your own rates. You’re the only one who can call it a day and shout from the roof tops:
Give me a break!
You’re self-employed. You embody your service. Literally. If you don’t take care of yourself, no one else will. If you don’t guard your boundaries carefully, good people with the best of intentions will step on them and leave you depleted.
TRAPPED & TIRED
A few weeks ago, I was asked to do a presentation in front of hundreds of people. Prior to that, there was a reception and -of course- you can’t have a reception without background music. It’s a known fact that most musicians aren’t capable of staying in the background. No matter the crowd, they have to be LOUD.
I knew that if I were to schmooze prior to my presentation, I would have no voice left, even though my vocal cords are well-trained.
As they say: “If you schmooze, you lose.”
Besides, the next day I was going to New York for a recording session and my voice had to be in top-shape in order to sell well.
So, I was left with a choice. Either slip something into the drinks of the band that would have them running to the restroom in a matter of minutes… or hide myself from the crowd until it was time to go on stage.
The first option was obviously more entertaining, but I ended up hiding in the basement. Unfortunately, an overzealous janitor came down, turned off the lights and kicked the door shut, leaving me trapped.
This is where cell phones can save the day. I called the organizer of the event:
“Hi, it’s Paul.”
“Paul, where are you? We’ve looked all over for you!”
“I am trapped in the basement. It is dark in here. Rats are nibbling on my feet. Please rescue me!”
That day, instead of being a voice-over, I became a voice-under.
I think you get my point.
In order to give your all, you sometimes have to get away from it all. But avoid being locked up.
Now, in an ideal world you would just pack your bags and go where no one can reach you. But what to do when you’re waiting for that all-important callback or that once-in-a-lifetime chance to audition for something you can’t afford to refuse?
In that case, you need to take some gear on the road and improvise. Rather than spending a few hours going over all the options, I suggest you read Harlan Hogan and Jeffrey Fischer’s classic Voice Actor’s Guide to Recording at Home and on the Road. It’s jam-packed with practical information and I highly recommend it to anyone remotely interested in a voice-over career.
Here’s what I take along on my travels:
a CEntrance MicPort Pro
A MicPort Pro is a nifty mini audio interface/preamplifier that plugs directly into your microphone. On the other side there’s a USB cable that plugs into your computer. In other words: this device can turn any microphone into a USB mic. It has phantom power, a headphone jack and two knobs for setting the record level and the headphone volume.
So… after all that subtle product placement, let’s get back to the original question:
Can you take off for a period of time without ruining your career?
Here’s an experiment you should do at home:
Fill up your watering can to the brim and start watering your plants. Keep on watering and watering and watering… until there’s no more water left.
I don’t have to tell you that -in order for those plants to grow- you need to water them regularly. An empty watering can is useless. The moral of the story:
You can’t give what you don’t have.
Now, why is that so easy to understand when it comes to our plants, and why are we surprised that “We the People,” are so stressed, so drained and left without an ounce of creativity?
Take my advice and get lost! Recharge your batteries. Discover that you have significant others in your life who’d love to get to know you. It can’t be all work and no play… Your job is just a means to an end.
TAKING TIME OFF
Be sure to let your voice casting sites and agents know that you’ll be gone for a particular period of time. If you must, bring your gear, but promise yourself that you will only do what is absolutely essential. Otherwise, you’ll get sucked into obsessive email checking, incessant instant messaging and frantic Facebooking.
Only use your cell phone when you’re stuck in a basement and someone’s thrown away the key.
When you come back from your well-deserved vacation, notice how refreshed, alert and full of energy you are.
People can see it in your face. They hear it in your voice.
On August 1, 2007, serial entrepreneur and Boston-based tax accountant Lewis Weinstein quietly launched the beta version of ReferralKey, an on-line referral management system.
Some called it “LinkedIn on steroids.” Others feel it’s just another version of the traditional inbound marketing strategy.
How does it work?
Once you create a ReferralKey online profile showcasing your amazing accomplishments, you can invite others to join your network and start exchanging leads. Does the following viral email look familiar?
Are you taking on new clients?
If you’re taking on new clients, I’d like to include you in my private referral network to send you business leads through Referral Key. Please accept my invitation below. Thanks!
Person’s Name Name of Their Company City, State
It seemed like a good idea at the time, but there was one problem. It didn’t take off. Weinstein told the Boston Globe that professionals using the site felt it just wasn’t helping them generate enough new business. Weinstein: “The common response was, ‘I thought you were gonna send me referrals.”
A wait-and-see approach never works and Weinstein discovered that something essential was missing from his system; something that drives all human behavior: an incentive.
TAKING THE BAIT
You see, the average ReferalKey member wasn’t just going to refer a colleague or a friend on the basis of his or her merits or the existing relationship. Before they were willing to make a recommendation, they needed one question answered:
Cash, Omaha Steaks, L.L.Bean or Callaway Golf gift cards.
ReferralKey was relaunched in April 2010, based on the following principle:
“Grow your business by offering rewards to other people who send you successful referrals.”
This winning idea turned boring, unresponsive professionals into bounty hunters, ready to stake their claim and claim their steak. I just received an email from a colleague offering me 10% of whatever she will make, if she lands a job based on my referral.
RefferalKey even lets you track referrals to “ensure your relationships are reciprocal.” Yes, my friend, if you rub my back, I’ll rub yours and just so you know, I do keep score!
Do you like it so far? If you’re having any doubts, you’re not alone.
Chris Reimer is Vice President of Social Media at brand developer Falk Harrison. He writes in his blog:
“The first time I got an email with the subject line “Are you taking on new clients?” Holy crap, I was excited! You bet I’m taking clients! (what a hook). Ten seconds later, I felt the shame of spam, deflated, and just a little pissed. After receiving 100 of these emails? No one likes spam.”
Kathryn Delany is a web designer and Search Engine Optimization and Marketing Specialist. She writes:
“I have been sucked into the vortex of the Referral Key saga. I usually am very cautious about these emails. However, the initial invitation came from a long trusted colleague so I signed up. Sadly I followed the instructions on importing my LinkedIn Contacts, little suspecting that this site hijacks the list before you can choose who you would like to invite to your circle. As it ‘imports’ your contacts it automatically sends out the invitation to everyone on it!”
Chris Reimer concludes:
“Stop joining services that blast out marketing messages Uzi-style as ReferralKey.com does. The bad taste you are leaving in people’s mouths is not worth it.”
A MORAL MAZE
Apart from receiving downright annoying emails, I have a more moral objection. There is a good reason why professionals like lawyers, realtors, accountants and therapists have adopted codes of conduct, specifically prohibiting them from taking payment for referrals. It is considered to be unethical.
Look at the definition of bribery:
“An act implying money or gift given that alters the behavior of the recipient”
RefferalKey says it is based on “trusted relationships,” but if you’re meeting a need with greed, what does that really say about your definition of “trust” and “relationship”?
Do you really think you can buy my opinion and influence my behavior by offering me a bounty? Is that how you think I operate? I almost feel insulted!
YOUR TRUE MOTIVES
If I were motivated by money, I probably wouldn’t even be in the voice-over business. Take it from me: You will never do your best work for the love of money. You do your best work when you hold yourself up to standards no one else can or will match. Your best work is always a labor of love and never the result of greed.
Here’s my bottom line: a referral needs to be earned, not bought.
I owe a huge part of my business success to referrals, and I am frequently asked to recommend colleagues. For those recommendations I get paid big time.
Before I tell you what I receive in return, you should know that I take my referrals very seriously. The fact that I will recommended a certain person, reveals as much about me as it does about the person in question.
One can usually judge someone by the company he or she keeps. When you pass the name of a colleague on to someone else, you put your reputation on the line. So, how do you go about it?
When you’re thinking of recommending someone, ask yourself the following question:
How do I know that someone else is good at their work?
Here are your options:
See – I need visual evidence (e.g. I need to watch them do their work)
Hear – I need to hear them (e.g. listen to their demo)
Read – I need to read about them (e.g. a review, a report, a website)
Do – I have to work with them to get a feel for how good they are
In certain circles, the answer to the question “How do I know that someone else is good at their work?” is called a “Convincer Strategy,” and most people come up with more than one answer.
The next question is:
How often does a person have to demonstrate that they’re good at what they do, before I am convinced?
A number of times – e.g. Three or four times
Automatic – I always give someone the benefit of the doubt
Consistent – I’m never really convinced
Period of time – It usually takes e.g. a week, a month… before I can tell if someone’s really good
The last thing you need to be aware of is your frame of reference:
Internal – No matter what anyone says about her, only I can tell whether or not she’s any good
External – A source I trust recommended her, and that’s good enough for me
It’s very common for people to have an internal frame of reference with an external check, or the other way around. If your frame of reference is completely internal, no one will ever be able to convince you of anything. If it’s completely external, your opinion will be totally dependent on what others have to say.
Whether we realize it or not, all of us have different ways of convincing ourselves. If my frame of reference is pretty much internal and a person needs to consistently demonstrate to me that he’s any good by working one-on-one with me, systems like RefferalKey are useless.
It will only work for people with a more external frame of reference who are convinced by reading about someone, and based on that, give the person the benefit of the doubt. How big of a group is that?
Should you decide to give RefferalKey a try, ask yourself how well you know the contacts you’re about to invite and how well they know you. In other words: what is the quality and the depth of the referrals this system generates? Is it worth the risk of pissing people off with automated impersonal email messages?
Referring people can be very rewarding. It’s an essential part of being in business and staying in business, as long as you do it for the right reasons. If you landed a gig as a result of my recommendation, I demand that you pay me back by doing the best job you could possibly do. As one of my teachers used to say:
“If you look good, I look good, so you better make me look good!”
Secondly, don’t send me any money or vouchers for Omaha Steaks. You booked the job because you’re the best and you deserve it. I don’t take any credit (or cash) for that.
Take your 10% and give it to a worthy cause. Pay it forward.
“Not everything is what it seems to be,” said the King as he looked into the Court Jester’s mirror.”
Have you ever wondered what’s going on behind the closed doors of a casting agency?
What’s it like to be part of a nerve-wracking cattle call?
Would the casting director be one of those failed actors who has turned his bitterness for the business into a lifelong mission to humiliate terrified talent?
Would the waiting area be filled with intimidating, cutthroat competitors, exchanging stories of horror and faded glory? Or is all of that just a caricature, perpetuated in Hollywood movies about the trials and tribulations of aspiring actors?
Well, you’re about to find out!
Being the famous blogger I am, I was recently granted unprecedented permission to record one of my auditions for the enjoyment and continued enlightenment of my readers. Nothing’s more fun than learning from other people’s most embarrassing moments, right?
So, for once you get to be a fly on the wall, as I enter a casting agency at an undisclosed location near New York.
For those of you who’d like to read along, you’ll see that I provided a copy of the script.
“Do not anticipate trouble, or worry about what may never happen. Keep in the sunlight.” – Benjamin Franklin
WARNING: do not read the following sentence.
Yes, this one!
Why did you read it when I asked you not to?
Don’t even think of reading the next line either.
Are you blind? You just did it again. What’s up with you?
Why is it so hard to follow simple instructions?
You’re a grown-up, aren’t you?
Kids are different. You go to the store and make them swear upon their teddy bear’s life not to touch anything. And what do they do? As soon as they get a chance, they start picking up stuff left and right. You tell them not to cross the road and before you know it, they run to the other side of the street. But that’s youthful spontaneity, isn’t it?
What about you? When you tell yourself not to do something, do you do it? Or rather: not do it?
Then why is it so hard not to hear that stupid tune that has totally taken over your brain?
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.
10-plus money-saving tips for the frugal freelancer!
My mother must have had a Master’s Degree in Money Management.
As a child, I hated it. At the supermarket checkout there was always some whiny kid in front of me, pointing at the strategically placed sweets.
“Mommy, I want a lollipop!” cried the boy.
The little brat was already digging into an open bag of greasy potato chips that had yet to be paid for.
“Mom, I want it now!”
As his mother was loading boxes of sugar-coated cereal onto the conveyor belt, the 3-year old monster turned up the volume to show the world who was in charge.
“Mom, give me that lollipop! You said I could have a lollipop!! I WANT IT!”
And sure enough, after thirty seconds of relentless begging, the little Prince’s wish was granted.
His mother turned to my Mom and said apologetically:
“What can you do? He’s just so adorable, isn’t he?”
“Why don’t you give him an apple?” my Mom suggested.
“Oh no, that wouldn’t work,” said the monster’s Mom. “I’ve tried that once. It was a disaster. “Connor isn’t really into fruit. He might be allergic.”
“Well,” said my Mom, “he seems to like strawberries” as she pointed to the lollipop sticking out of Connor’s mouth. But she had spoken too early.
“I hate this lollipop,” yelled the boy. “Give me a cherry one!”
As the appropriately named Dum Dum landed on the floor, I had only one wish: I wanted to trade my Mom in for Connor’s mother. My Mother never bought me any lollipops, or that colored cereal with a surprise toy in the box. And if I happened to be hungry, she gave me a carrot or a celery stick. Disgusting!
A few years later, we ran into Connor again at Toyland. Not much had changed, apart from the fact that he had put on a few pounds. He was the first six-year old with a double chin I’d ever seen.
“Mom, I want that race car!” he yelled.
Connor and I were both drooling over the same shiny Matchbox® model. It was a piece of perfection.
“Mom, I want it now!”
Connor’s presence somehow gave me the courage to ask my mother if she’d buy me the car.
“How much money have you saved so far?” asked my Mom.
This year I had started earning an allowance by doing small chores around the house.
“Fifty cents,” I replied.
“And how much is this car?”
“You get 20 cents per week, so if you really want this car, why don’t you save up for it?”
“Mom, I knew you would say that!”
“Of course,” said my Mom. “Now, let’s get your sister a birthday present.”
At the checkout, Connor had already taken his brand new car out of the box and was ready to destroy it.
His mother turned around and said:
“What can you do? He’s just so adorable, isn’t he?”
The other day, I had a meeting with my accountant. He specializes in small businesses.
“Let me ask you a question,” he said when I came in.
“What’s the difference between a successful and a not so successful freelancer? If you had to boil it down to one thing, what would it be?”
“Well,” I said, “I can think of a few things. How about talent… connections… creativity?”
“Wrong,” said my accountant. “What do Jerry Lee Lewis, Tammy Wynette, Mickey Rooney and Lorraine Bracco have in common?”
“Brian,” I said, “You tell me. You’re the expert.”
He continued: “We’re talking about talented, well-connected and creative people. And at one point in their career, all of them had to file for bankruptcy.
Here’s my point, Paul: The difference between a successful and a not so successful freelancer lies in these two words: MoneyManagement. And where does money management start?
“Well, Brian, isn’t that where you come in?”
“Wrong again. Money management starts between your ears! It’s about the difference between instant gratification and impulse control. Didn’t your mother teach you that? You see, there’s no secret formula to financial stability:
Spend less than you earn
Pay off your debt
Invest, save and share
“That’s a great philosophy, Brian” I replied. “But you know as well as I do that it doesn’t work like that in the real world. The kids that have never heard the word “no” became adults driven by a sense of entitlement.
We might moan and groan about the economy, but all we really want is a big fat turkey for Thanksgiving and a big flat screen TV on Black Friday. People demand the latest and the greatest, if only to keep up with the Joneses.
If life gets hard, put it on a card.
After all: You’re worth it. That’s what this country is all about: prescription drug addiction, emotional eating and retail therapy.”
“It feels good to vent, doesn’t it?” said Brian. “So, what’s your answer to the I consume, therefore I am mindset? Should we call off Black Friday and fire Santa?”
“How about moderation?” I said. “How about redefining what makes us happy? Happiness cannot be found in the ever-increasing accumulation of stuff. Isn’t life supposed to be about who you are and what you have to give; not about how much you have and can keep for yourself?
My Mom kept a tight rein on the budget, and at times I was jealous of some of my classmates who could literally be a kid in the candy store. She didn’t always give me what I wanted, but I always got what I needed. Thanks to her, I became a frugal freelancer. She taught me one of the most important lessons:
A rich life has nothing to do with an expensive lifestyle.
We never went to Disney World®. We hiked on nature trails instead, and for years I told the world I wanted to be a forester, protecting plants and animals. We rarely went out to dinner. Instead, my mother taught me how to make delicious, nutritious meals from scratch. Our kitchen never had a microwave in it, and somehow, we survived.
At the time I thought it was so unfair: all the kids in the neighborhood had a VCR. Meanwhile, it took years before we got our first color TV. But my best childhood memories are of the whole family sitting around the table playing board games. I paused for a moment…
Be honest, Brian: Am I getting old?”
“Definitely,” my accountant said with a smile. “But as your financial advisor, I like the way you’re thinking. Now, tell me again: what was that website you were talking about the other day?”
“It’s called Freecycle.org. Freecycle is a worldwide network of people who are giving and getting stuff for free in their towns. Not junk, but good stuff that would otherwise end up in landfills. A year ago, our stove decided it was time to retire and Freecycle came to the rescue.
Someone in the neighborhood was remodeling the kitchen and her practically new stove didn’t fit anymore. She put it on Freecycle and I picked it up. It didn’t cost me a penny. And if there’s stuff we have no use for, we put it on Freecycle too.
“Didn’t your TV set give up, last year?” asked Brian.
“You’re right, and guess how much I paid to replace it? Fourteen dollars and ninety-five cents. I found a TV at a local Goodwill store. The folks who dropped it off were going for one of these LCD-things. There’s nothing wrong with that old television. It’s just a bit… ginormous and you need five men to lift it. But the story gets even better…
Last month we cut the cable. I was getting tired of being forced to pay for all those networks we never watch. Cable companies are like a restaurant charging you for everything on the menu when you’re only eating a few items. Cutting cable alone saves us over $1300 a year. Now I can put that money into my new recording space.”
“Aren’t those prefab boxes expensive?” Brian wanted to know.
“You bet they are,” I said. “That’s why one of my friends is going to help me build a booth in the basement. And if we ever were to sell our home, the new owners will have the soundproof media room they always wanted.
Spending money is just too easy. Saving money is a sport.
I spent hours and hours researching the web for the best materials and the best deals. I asked my social media friends for advice and I got quite an education. And at the end of the day, I believe that building something with my own bare hands is much more rewarding. I can also make sure that the materials I use are environmentally friendly.
I do the same thing when I am shopping for gear. Before buying brand new, I check out Sweetwater’s Trading Post, Craigslist and eBay first. A friend of mine just got a beautiful Blue Robbie preamp; retail price: $799. He picked it up for $500. It was barely a year old and the former owner had taken care of it as if it were his baby. My friend’s voice-over clients couldn’t hear the difference between brand new and “previously loved.” He recently bought a Mac Mini. Refurbished, same story.”
“Off course it’s not all about money,” said Brian. “My new-age therapist says that money is just an exchange of energy. She tells me I should move more. I spend my days behind a desk, staring at a screen. At the end of the day I just want to go home, be a slouch on the couch and… stare at a screen.”
“Do you know what you and I should do, Brian?” I said.
“I think both of us should become independently healthy.”
“Care for some carrots?” joked Brian.
“You’re funny! That’s what my Mom used to say.”
“Speaking of your Mom… how’s she doing?”
“She passed away on April 11, 2008.”
I took a deep breath.
“My Mother really knew how to stretch a guilder. When she died, most of her belongings went to families in need and she made it very clear that she didn’t want to be buried. She donated her organs and the rest of her body to science.
My Mom died on a Friday.
It was one of the darkest days of my life.
Not a day goes by, without me thinking of her, and wishing I could call that day off.”
Now, before we get all teary-eyed and sentimental, let’s end with something practical. Here’s my shortlist of tips for the Frugal Freelancer my mother would definitely approve of:
1. THINK of the WHY before you buy. Separate the needs from the wants. Ask questions such as:
Is this something I simply would like to have, or do I absolutely need it NOW?
What would happen if I don’t buy it?
Can I afford it?
Sleep on it (especially when buying mattresses). Build in a minimum waiting period for bigger purchases
2. DO YOUR HOMEWORK and use the internet for research and for finding deals
If we blame the economy for all of our freelance failures, perhaps it’s only fair that we should credit the economy for all of our successes. After all: we’re hopelessly helpless.
It’s the economy, stupid!
In 2000, Cleanthi Peters sued Universal Studios for $15,000. Cleanthi claimed to have suffered “extreme fear, mental anguish, and emotional distress” after visiting Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights haunted house. She said it was too scary.
My European friend Philippe is eager to bring these type of examples up whenever he tells me that Americans live in a country of finger-pointers. I agree.
If we get lung cancer from smoking, we blame the tobacco industry. If we slip on a wet surface, it is the cleaning lady’s fault. If we burn our lips on a cup of fresh WaWa-Java, we sue the company that forgot to print a warning.
Heaven forbid we should take some credit for our own actions. Why should we? Blaming someone else could bring in big bucks!
So, what’s next?
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.
When Claire Dodin was about seven years old, her mother built a theater in the attic of their apartment. Claire and her sister started putting on plays for her friends. Claire:
“It was such a happy time, and I decided I’d just have to play for the rest of my life!”
Fast-forward a few years, and you’ll find that Claire is as much at home in front of a camera as she is behind a mic. Born and raised in France, this actress, model, singer and voice-over talent moved to the UK before she made Los Angeles her home.
Bi-lingual, multi-talented and exceptionally professional, Claire has done well for herself. Her story is one of dedication, discipline and of following your dreams.
PS Let’s pretend that I’m a client and your agent had 30 seconds to describe Claire Dodin to me. How would your agent “sell” you?
CD I guess he would say that I’m versatile; I can handle pretty much anything, and can do several character voices including children’s voices. He’d probably tell you that I’ve voiced several jobs for Disney and the X-Box 360, and that I usually don’t need a lot of takes to please the clients. That’s why everyone wants to work with me again.
PS Percentagewise, how much of your career is taken up by voice-over work?
CD In the acting business things are always changing and moving. There can be months when all I do is voice-overs, and months when I’m shooting film after film and I don’t have much time for voice-overs. This always makes me sad because I have to pass on really fun jobs. There simply isn’t enough time to do everything. I have to turn down so much work, mainly due to lack of availability.
I would say that on average, voice-overs represent about 70% of my income and maybe 30% of my time. It always makes me laugh that it costs more to get only my voice, than to have me on camera!
Having said that, it can happen that a week goes by and there’s nothing, not one job offer. Then I start thinking that it’s all over and that I will never work again! It’s the nature of being self-employed. Nothing is ever set in stone. No one is ever entirely safe. You’re fashionable one week; the week after you’re not.
That’s why it’s so important that we value ourselves and feel an inner sense of security, and not let our job define who we are. Otherwise it becomes impossible to handle the stress. Luckily, a job always seems to come along when I need it.
PS Speaking of voice-over projects, what are you most proud of and why?
CD There are quite a few jobs I’m very proud of like the French-speaking FisherPrice cuddly bear who says things like “I love you, hug me…” Just thinking about it makes me smile. It’s the cutest thing ever! Or being on the Statue of Liberty tour in New York and being in the gardens of Versailles in Paris. I just love that my voice is over there! Next I want to be at the Taj Mahal! 😉
But the job I’m the most proud of right now is my Zombiepodcast in which I’m a series regular. It’s called “We’re Alive” and I play Riley. The scripts are fabulous and the production quality is amazing. It’s an honor to be part of it.
We have reached over 600,000 downloads with the first season! We’ve won the Gold Ogle Award 2010, the Communicator Award 2010 and we were a finalist for the Parsec Award 2010. The episode submitted for these, is one that is centered around my character, which makes me even happier! The second season has begun, and it’s free to listen to, so catch up with the episodes now!
PS Let’s talk about accent. Some people believe that -in order to make it as a foreign actor in another country- you need to get rid of your accent. Others believe your accent is what sets you apart. Where do you stand?
CD Well, I am not able to put on a convincing British or American accent, so I don’t even try. I believe clients would go for native speakers anyway, so it really doesn’t matter. When I get hired for an English job, they want my accent, because it sets me apart from everyone else. Sometimes they want a stronger French accent, which I can tone up or down. Sometimes, they just want a very clear English accent with a hint of French.
Accents are great, as long as the diction is excellent and people can understand it. That’s where many foreign voices fail: they are not clear enough. I only started booking work in English regularly, after years of working at speaking more clearly. It’s not as easy as it sounds.
PS Does another accent come naturally to you, or do you have to work with a coach to get it right?
CD I do work with a coach for accent reduction when a part requires it, but it is never for voice acting, always for on-camera. In the voice-over world, if they want a British voice, they’ll hire a British voice. Nowadays, it’s so easy to get a native speaker.
Accents do not come naturally to me. It’s very difficult if you were not immersed in foreign sounds as a child. In France, all TV programs and most films are dubbed. I pretty much never heard English sounds before moving to England. It’s different in other countries like Sweden or The Netherlands. That’s why the Swedes and the Dutch are usually much better at accents than French people.
PS Do Europeans have an advantage over Americans when it comes to foreign languages and accents?
CD Being European in America is certainly an advantage because there are fewer of us, and Americans love European accents. If you are an American in America, there are hundreds of other people who sound exactly like you, so it’s harder.
This is where personality is incredibly important, because in reality, there is only one of each of us. And we hear so much that we need to sound like this or this… In truth, what will make you book the job is YOU, your quirkiness, your own little things that most people are trying to get rid of. Keep them (but use the correct techniques)!
Being French in a foreign country has absolutely made my career. I was working as an on-camera actress in the UK, and people found me because they needed a French voice and couldn’t get one.
That’s how I landed my first jobs. Then I thought that maybe I should get an agent, so I sent samples of the jobs I had done. I didn’t have a demo at the time, and pretty much all the agents wanted to sign me and I started booking national jobs straight away. I think I recorded my first demo a couple of years later. I was very lucky. To this day, jobs still come to me. I don’t have to work very hard at getting them. I am in a very fortunate position. There isn’t much competition.
PS You have lived and worked in the UK and now you’re in LA. These days, we’re all connected via the Internet. Does location matter anymore?
CD Unfortunately, location still matters a lot. I’m hoping that clients will get used to ISDN, but today, most major clients want to meet up with the voices at the studio. This means that by moving to LA, I’ve lost most of the work I was getting in London. When I go back there for a week, suddenly I’ve got bookings every day in London studios. They haven’t forgotten me, but they want me there in person.
It’s the same in France, I know several people who would hire me regularly, but they want me in the studio in Paris. I imagine that it is the same for Los Angeles and New York.
Of course there are many jobs we can do remotely, but they rarely are high end. I once did a six months national radio campaign for the UK, and the client was happy to do it via ISDN for each recording. This was an exception, and I think it was because it was for radio. In the UK, most radio ads are recorded via ISDN. But for TV, you have to be in the room with them. I did record the Versailles job at my LA studio though, so sometimes it can happen if they really want you.
PS How do you get work, these days?
CD The reality of the business is that most voice-over talents audition every day. I’m in a very different position. The vast majority of the work I do, comes from direct offers via my agents, or directly from existing clients or new clients through referral/reputation.
It may sound strange to American voice talents, but I did not audition for any of the national commercials I did, video games, TV documentaries, high-profile jobs… That’s the way they do it in Europe: we get hired based on our demo or based on a recommendation from our agent or producers/sound engineers. I did however audition for the Fisher Price toys I voiced, but they paid me for the audition and then hired me. I also auditioned for the Versailles job, but they had specifically asked for me.
I think that the system works differently in America. Even established talents have to audition. That being said, I have many American clients that don’t ask me to audition either. I’m glad it works this way because I usually don’t have time to audition. When happen to I have spare time, I will record some open auditions, but this rarely leads to work (funny, no?). That’s the problem with open auditions: they don’t want You; they want A voice, and usually the cheapest one.
PS Do clients, agents, producers and directors have different expectations based on where they’re located? Do you approach an audition differently based on the country and culture?
CD Actually, everyone wants the best product at the best price as fast as possible pretty much everywhere. What may be different is the style of the voice-overs. For example, I find that promos and documentaries on US TV tend to have a “sensational” factor. In the UK they tend to be more casual/matter of fact. In France there’s also a distinctive sound for news or documentaries. The voice talent simply needs to adapt to the style of the country, but also to the medium and the client. Each job is different, which is part of the fun. For an audition, I try to find out as much as I can about the client and the target audience. That way, I can make a best guess as to what style is appropriate for the script.
PS This is a highly competitive business. Apart from talent and experience, what do you think is absolutely essential, in order to have an international voice-over career?
CDObviously, to have an international voice career it is essential to speak English, so you can communicate with clients anywhere (pretty much everyone will speak some English). Apart from that, you just need the same qualities that will make you a successful national talent, as well as a good marketing plan so people abroad know who you are.
The internet is an excellent medium, but it’s not essential. I know voice talents who have booked major international campaigns through their local agent. By local, I mean: one of the top agents in one of the top cities. It still seems difficult to book high-profile work without one of these agents, and you can usually only sign with one of them if you live in one of the major cities. That would be Los Angeles or New York for America; London for the UK and Paris for France.
Of course there are rare exceptions. There are a few very successful voice talents who do not live in the major cities, but they used to live there at one point. They moved away, and kept their agents and clients thanks to an ISDN-line. I only know of one person who has always lived far away and who is hugely successful.
This will hopefully change in the future, as home studios are becoming as good as studios in the big cities. I think it will still take a while before major clients accept not meeting a voice talent in person. This is why Don LaFontaine had a limo, so he could quickly go from studio to studio to record several jobs a day. It would have been so much easier to have him in one studio and the other studios would connect via ISDN, but it didn’t work that way and he had to drive from place to place.
I wish things were different, but nowadays, the best jobs are still recorded in major studios in major cities.
PS What’s most overlooked by up and coming international talent?
CD Something that foreign voices often overlook is to have an English version of their website. I was once looking for an Italian voice, and all I could find were websites in Italian, which I don’t speak. Had they had an English version, I would have contacted them. But I couldn’t work out if they had a home studio etcetera.
Also, they should indicate their location on the website. I was looking to book voices to come to a London studio, and I didn’t know where they lived. I nearly booked a voice once; I was ready to pay for a ticket to Paris, when he told me he lived in a small town in France and it wasn’t possible to get to where he needed to be, fast enough.
Another voice that I thought was in London, turned out to have moved to Paris. So, keep the info on your website up to date. Location is a big one, not just for outside studio bookings, but so we know your time zone in case we want an ISDN booking or we need you for a rush job.
PS What do you tell people who think that voice-over work is easy money, and that basically anyone with a good voice could do this?
CD Ah, ah! It’s a tough question, I could probably write a book about it! Voice-over acting is an art and the voice is the tool. You might have a fabulous canvas, great paints and a brush, but how easy is it to paint something that will sell for a few hundreds or thousands of dollars and be exhibited in a museum? Hmmm… But if you work hard, learn skills and have talent, maybe you’ll make a living as a painter. Same thing for voice-overs. And a few gifted ones will make it to the top.
PS What technology can you not live without, and how has it helped you book clients?
CD The only technology I really need, is my computer for my emails and my phone so I can take bookings. That’s all. But, with my home studio I can record more jobs and make a better living. Some voice talents earn a lot more than I do, and don’t have one, so it’s not essential. However, other voice talents only work from home.
PS You work for clients on different continents in different time zones. On one hand you need to be accessible but on the other hand you can’t be available 24/7. How do you handle that?
CD Ah, ah! Another tough one! I don’t handle it; it’s a bit of a problem. I get called in the middle of the night (when I forget to switch the phone off), I wake up at 5am for an ISDN session and I sometimes record till midnight! I need to be better at saying “no” to clients and regulate my hours. But I’m weak when people are nice and need a favor. I try to schedule ISDN sessions with Europe starting at 8am, LA time. That’s the end of the day for them. It usually works.
PS How much did you map out your career? Did you follow a strict plan or is it more spontaneous, “go with the flow”?
CDAt first I just went with the flow: voice-overs came to me not once, not twice but many times. This is when I realized that I should pursue it. Somehow, people knew I had a gift for it, even before I knew it. Then I started buying equipment to record from home. When my agent asked me to, I upgraded my equipment. When clients asked me to, I got the ISDN. I guess I always go with the flow. I don’t force things, they just happen when they need to, but I’ve got my ears open and I’m listening to the signs that tell me in which direction I need to go to.
That said, when I do something, I don’t do it halfheartedly. When I made the decision to work from my home studio, I practiced a lot to learn how to use the equipment. I listened to other voices and took advice from many people. I took classes etcetera. It took me a long time before I was able to make a quality recording.
When I upgraded to ISDN, I asked an engineer to come and install it for me, and install my sound booth so the sound would be good enough. I also bought a Neumann microphone. What’s the point of connecting to another studio if your own sound isn’t as good? So basically, every time the decision to go to the next step was made following the flow, but once the decision was made it was thought out and I followed a careful plan.
Being disciplined is absolutely essential if you work from home. It’s too easy to do something else if you don’t have a boss checking up on you, making sure that you are putting the hours in. You have to do it for yourself and be very organized. For me, one of the hardest things is to keep track of the jobs recorded, the invoices sent, the invoices paid/unpaid etc… I find the admin part the hardest.
When I get really busy, I forget to reply to emails that aren’t essential, like companies asking me to fill out forms and send demos for future jobs. Sometimes I struggle to find the time to send invoices. That’s not a good thing. Staying on top of the paperwork is not easy. I’m dreaming of the day I’ll be able to employ an assistant to do these things for me!
PS What’s the best advice anyone has ever given you in this business, and how has it helped you?
CD The best advice I was ever given, as far as performance is concerned, was:
“It’s not about you. It’s about the person you are talking to”.
This changed everything. I stopped watching and listening to myself. I stopped getting nervous and I became so much better.
The best business advice I was ever given, was to set up a website. I had no idea how important it was, until I did it, and it boosted my career immensely.
Can ten minutes make a ten thousand dollar difference?
Not so long ago, a colleague introduced me to a client in need of a narrator. His institute was searching for a European voice and for someone who could read an audio book full of names and quotes in German, French, Dutch and other languages. That happens to be my specialty, and I was pretty confident that I could take on the task.
A day later I received an email. The client had listened to my online demos and found my sound to be ‘too commercial’ for this academic endeavor. In other words: Goodbye, Vielen Dank and bonne chance.
Some people might leave it at that and move on to the next best thing. Not me. My response to this client was a short and simple
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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