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Voice-Over Newbies: You Have Been Warned!

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Gear, International, Internet, Money Matters, Studio 24 Comments

Today I’m going to jump right into the topic of this blog.

No teasers. 

No anecdotes.

No mysterious introductions.

Right now I want to take a few minutes to talk about the pitfalls of a voice-over career. Now matter how many times you’ve dreamed about becoming the next Tom Kenny or Nancy Cartwright, you should never jump into the ocean if you don’t know how to swim. Too many hopefuls are drowning, and I don’t want you to be one of them. 

Here’s what you need to know.

NUMBER ONE

Most people tend to underestimate what it takes to become a full-time, for-profit voice-over. Why is that? Because the job of a true pro is to make it sound easy, spontaneous, and seamless. The best actors distinguish themselves by their ability to fool everyone into thinking that they’re not acting. Just because it sounds easy or looks easy, doesn’t mean it IS easy. 

So, pitfall number one is underestimating the difficulty of having to be natural in an unnatural situation. It requires a special ability to sound authentic even if you don’t believe a word of what you’re saying, as well as the skill to sound sincere, conversational, and real, as someone else is putting weird words into your mouth. To be honest: most people can’t do it.

NUMBER TWO

Pitfall number two is the technical aspect of this business. The number one reason most auditions get rejected is bad audio. You may have the perfect pipes for the job, but if you’re talking into a cheap microphone with a lot of self-noise, you lack basic microphone technique, and your recording space is not isolated and acoustically treated, you’re wasting your time. 

That expensive demo you just recorded in this great recording studio is worth nothing if you have no way of producing clean and professional audio recorded in your home. 

NUMBER THREE

Let’s boil it down to one word: professionalism. It’s easy to do this as a hobby, but as soon as you advertise yourself as a voice-over professional, things get serious. That label creates expectations, and rightly so. Clients hate it when they need to hold your hand. That’s not what they’re paying you for. 

As a pro you have to know how to run a freelance business with you being the CEO, the CFO, the head of marketing, advertising, and sales. You run the bookkeeping department, and you’re the audio engineer, as well as the featured talent. Plus, if you’re online, you’re running a global business!

Too many beginners are trying to figure things out on the fly, without any preparation or training. Why on earth would they do that? It’s asking for trouble. 

NUMBER FOUR

The next pitfall is a big one: money. You’ve got to spend money to make money, but you didn’t need me to tell you that.

While it is possible to get started as a VO with a simple recording set-up, please remember that you’re competing with people who have been doing this for years. These are people with a soundproof studio, a really nice microphone and preamp, and a website that attracts clients. It all adds up. On top of that, you have to stay afloat financially, while you are building your business. Your bank wants you to continue to pay your mortgage, and you do want to keep your health insurance, don’t you?

Secondly, while the cost of living goes up every year, voice-over rates have been going down at a dramatic degree. If you want to do this for a living, you can’t rely on doing the odd job here and there, unless you have a partner who can help you out, financially. You need to make sure that you have a consistent flow of projects coming your way, and that’s easier said than done – even for voice-overs. My advice: have a cash cushion that will help you stay afloat for… a few years.

Lastly, too many newbies quote or accept a job, even when they have no idea what to charge. Can you imagine a baker or a florist running her store that way? Clients love getting a bargain, but do you really want to contribute to the problem of sliding rates?

NUMBER FIVE

This is another big one: time. We live in an impatient world. Very few people experience overnight success. You can’t buy your way into a voice-over career. It needs to be earned. Slowly. The people who are at the top of their game are not the people that just started doing voice-overs. Most of them have been at it for years. 

VO is not a get rich quick – I can do this part-time scheme. The only people who can do this on the side are A-list actors who don’t depend on VO for a living. Ironically, they are the ones collecting all the awards.

Again, most people underestimate how long it may take before their voice can be the main source of revenue. For many, it will never happen. That’s not me being mean. That’s me warning you based on decades of experience, and on input from people like you. 

NUMBER SIX

Next on the list is increased competition. In case you hadn’t noticed, you’re not the only one who thinks he can do a mean Morgan Freeman impression, or talk like a movie trailer man. We have plenty of those folks in our ranks, and the role of Morgan Freeman is already taken by… Morgan Freeman. 

If you don’t have a specialty or a niche, it’s going to be tough to make your mark because you’re basically redundant. Technology has made it a lot cheaper an easier to get started. You don’t need to be close to a studio to do your work. That means that every frustrated teacher, every burned-out retail clerk, and every unemployed actor (which happens to be the majority) is now your competition.

But wait, there’s more. Much more!

NUMBER SEVEN

If you want to hear a number other things you should look out for, I invite you to listen to Jamie Muffett’s VO School Podcast

You’ll find it on SoundCloud, iTunes, Google Play, and a few other platforms. Jamie is producing and hosting this podcast in collaboration with Backstage Magazine

In the latest episode, agent Erik Sheppard and I talk candidly about the many schemes you shouldn’t fall for when starting in this business. 

Please join us, and don’t tell me I didn’t warn you!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Who’s Afraid Of Decent Rates?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Freelancing, International, Internet, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play 34 Comments

AfraidNewsflash!

The great rate debate is still going strong.

I’ve been writing about the erosion of voice-over rates for years, and every day, clients and colleagues are arguing privately and publicly about the value of our voices.

One thing is certain: that value keeps going down. Talk is getting cheaper and cheaper.

What’s going on?

Let’s begin with our clients. It’s so easy to blame clients for this downward trend, because they’re the ones paying us. However, I think it’s time to cut them some slack. So many of them are small players in a big, international market. Because that market is unregulated, and there are no universal prices, they have a hard time figuring out how much they can expect to pay for our services. That’s not really their fault.

A majority of voice-overs do not list their rates, hoping clients will contact them and ask for a quote. Those quotes may differ greatly because we need to take so many variables into account, and frankly, many of us don’t always know what to charge. Go to a VO Facebook group on any given day, and you’ll find someone asking for advice on price.

TURNING A PROFIT

Because I run my own business, I completely understand that my clients want to keep their costs low, and their revenue up. If you can get great service at a great price, why pay a penny more? I also understand that there’s a link between what you pay and what you get, no matter what industry you’re in. It’s foolish to expect top quality at a bargain-basement price, unless you’re benefitting from a liquidation sale.

These days, everyone’s online, and that complicates matters. It may seem that we’re all operating on a level playing field (the world wide web), which is not the case. It is anything but level, but try explaining that to an imaginary photographer in Latvia, who needs a few English voices for a website he’s launching. He’s offering $20 for 5 minutes of VO, which he believes is perfectly reasonable because he’s hired local talent at that price. He wants to know:

Why should I pay $250 for a 5-minute voice-over, if Olga in Riga is willing to do it for $20?

I told him: “Your job posting tells me that you’re looking for voice-overs with an authentic British accent. If Olga can pull that off, why not hire her? The reason you’re posting your job overseas is that ’20-dollar Olga’ has no idea what she’s doing. Her accent is clearly from Latvia, and not from London. And because it’s cold in the Baltics, she’s probably using a Snowball microphone, guaranteed to give that crap amateur sound the Fiverr crowd is so proud of. You pay for professionalism, or lack thereof.”

The photographer responds:

I understand that it might be hard for me to find a native British voice-over in my neck of the woods, but that still doesn’t explain the huge difference in rates. $250 for five minutes? I think people are just greedy.

I said: “Location makes a big difference. Let me give you an example. Why does a Big Mac cost $7.80 in Norway, and only $1.62 in India? Why doesn’t McDonalds charge the same price for the same product, regardless of the location? Because the price of a Big Mac is a reflection of its local production and delivery cost, the cost of advertising, and what the local market will bear.

The cost of living is much higher in Norway, and consequently, people make more. According to the CIA, the 2016 per capita income in Norway was $69,300 and in India it was $6,700. If I were a Norwegian voice-over artist and I would charge Indian prices, I wouldn’t be able to make a living. That has nothing to do with greed.

As a freelancer, you have to price for profit wherever you’re located, because that’s where you’re buying your Big Mac. It’s where you pay your bills, and your taxes. That’s why a UK talent charges more than someone in Latvia, or in India.

ONGOING ADDED VALUE

And let’s remember that a voice-over is not some hamburger you order at the drive-through. Every Big Mac should pretty much taste the same, no matter where you order it. It’s generic. Once it has been consumed, it has served its purpose.

Every voice is unique, and every voice-over artist brings special talents and experience to the table. Once recorded, that commercial, trailer, or eLearning course can be played again and again, adding value every time someone’s listening. That’s worth something. 

Last but not least, just because you’re paying $250, doesn’t mean the voice-over always gets $250. Some online casting companies like Canada-based voices dot com, pocket a considerable amount without telling you or the talent. If you want to talk about greed, talk about that!”

THE TROUBLE WITH COLLEAGUES

The Latvian photographer still doesn’t understand why he can’t hire a UK talent for $20. However, in my experience it’s much easier to talk sense into some clients, than to reason with certain colleagues (and I use the term colleagues loosely, because they’re acting anything but collegial). Most of my clients know how to run a for-profit business, but so many ‘colleagues’ seem to be clueless. They don’t know the difference between “selling,” and “selling out.”

Every time the issue of reasonable rates comes up, there are always voices saying:

“Who are you to tell me what I should charge? It’s a free country, and I can charge whatever I want!”

Yes, and I can sell my Subaru Outback any time for $300, but does that make any sense whatsoever? Why should I settle for a handout if the market value of my car is at least $3,000? How stupid do I have to be to practically give my car away to the lowest bidder?

By the way, this whole free country argument is a load of bull, used by imbeciles to defend all kinds of idiotic practices. Here’s the thing:

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you must, or that it’s wise. 

“But who cares if I sell my voice for five bucks? Mind your own business! I’m not telling you what to charge. My bottom line doesn’t affect yours.”

Is that really so? What would happen if half of all car owners would decide to sell their vehicles way below value? Tell me that has zero impact on the used car market!

If what’s happening at the bottom of the VO-market does not affect the rest, why aren’t voice-over fees at least keeping up with the rate of inflation? Why are rates across the board in a steady decline?

WE NEED EACH OTHER

In the grand scheme of things you may feel insignificant, and believe that your choices only influence your bottom line. But hundreds of these individual choices send a message, and thousands create a trend clever clients have picked up on. 

To put it differently: if you really believe that one, individual decision has no impact on the overall outcome, then there’s no reason to live in a democracy. You might as well move to North-Korea. But since you’re still here, and (I hope) you vote, you must believe that you can make a difference.

Your choice of what to charge makes a difference. It impacts our professional community, and the families that depend on it. 

You can either cheapen our profession and our community, or enrich it. You can build it up, or tear it down.

You can price like a predator, or like a professional. 

Or are you afraid to charge a decent rate? Are you afraid the client will reject you?

Are you not convinced that what you have to offer can command a fair price?

If that’s the case, here’s a suggestion: perhaps you should find another job.

A certain Pay to Play call center in Canada might be hiring very soon.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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PPS Below you’ll find links to some of the other articles I’ve written about rates and pricing

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Competitions Are Not My Thing, And Yet They Are

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, International, Internet, Journalism & Media, Promotion 14 Comments

A Tale of Kat and Dog, A Holland Cool MovieCompetitions and Awards.

If you’ve been following this blog for a few years, you know I feel rather ambivalent about those things.

When I expressed my opinion about the Voice Arts™ Awards a few years ago, people took it personally. In the aftermath of the article, I received some very nasty emails, and quite a few colleagues unfriended me.

All of us survived the turmoil, and it appears the Voice Arts™ Awards are here to stay. Once again, colleagues will pay a non-refundable entry fee of up to $150 per entry to nominate themselves ($199 if you’re a company) in different categories.

Just so you know, all submissions become the property of SOVAS™, “to be used at its discretion, for the production of the ceremony.” SOVAS™ is the Society of Voice Arts and Sciences™.

If a category attracts fewer than four entries, “the organizer reserves the right to withdraw that category from the competition.” The participating entrant “will receive a credit towards future entry fees. No cash refund will be given.”

PAYING FOR YOUR PRIZE

If you’re thinking of entering any type of competition, you need to consider at least three things:

– Is the entry fee proportionate to the prize?

– Is the cost of entering worth the odds? 

– Does the prize give a credit worth having? 

Let’s start with the numbers. Winners of a Voice Arts™ Award can order an Award Certificate for $43, an Award Plaque Certificate for $160, and an Award statue for $346 (amounts include a handling fee, but there’s no mention of shipping costs).

Let’s say you’re competing with two entries, and you win. If you go for the statues, you’ll spend almost $1,000 ($150 + $150 + $346 + $346), plus food, lodging, and transportation. You may even lose some money because you’re not available to work while going to the ceremony. 

Ask yourself: Is that money well-spent, or would it be better for your business to use these funds to have someone design a new website? You could also spend it on coaching, on demo production, or on a marketing campaign. Would that ultimately give you a better return on investment?

IN THE SPOTLIGHT

To be fair, organizing these awards takes time and costs money. Sponsors can only cover so much. Yet, I don’t think a voice actor’s wealth should be an arbiter of talent. Why, then, must it function as a barrier? Why not lower the entry fees, and offer prizes people don’t have to pay for themselves, such as gear, representation, and coaching sessions?

I don’t think a voice actor’s wealth should be an arbiter of talent. Why, then, must it function as a barrier?

Now, the organizers hope to convince you that there’s more to winning than a walnut wood plaque, or a shiny statue. Your extraordinary talent will be publicly recognized in a business that’s built on invisible voices. 

The question is: Do we really need a competition to get recognition?

Some people who know our industry really well, feel we do. It’s not enough to be outstanding. You need to stand out. And if there’s no podium, why not create one? Whether you like competitions or not, it’s a given that winning a prestigious prize has never hurt a career. Others say that real stars don’t need a spotlight to shine. 

Here’s what I would like to know: will short-term recognition have a long-lasting effect? Could it increase someone’s market value? And who’s paying attention? Are we just throwing a party for ourselves, or will these awards generate publicity outside of what I call the babble bubble?

I’m not going to answer these questions for you, by the way. It’s your money, and I won’t tell you how to spend it. What I will tell you is this:

I’M A WINNER!

Much to my surprise, two projects I voiced were recently nominated for an award. Full disclosure: I didn’t submit myself, and I did not pay an entry fee. The only plaque I get, will be removed by a dental hygienist. 

A documentary I was part of, received the Audience Choice Award at the French Télé-Loisirs Web Program Festival in March. It’s a project for the European Space Agency, in which I play the role of an astronaut, documenting his life aboard a space station. Be sure to click on the English flag to hear my version: http://cnes-xch.lesitevideo.net/enmicropesanteur/

Then this message appeared on my Facebook timeline:

A Webby Award is an award for excellence on the Internet, presented annually by The International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences (IADAS). That’s a judging body composed of over two thousand industry experts and innovators. The New York Times called the awards “The Internet’s highest honor.”

Two winners are selected in each category, one by IADAS members, and one by the public who cast their votes during Webby People’s Voice voting. Last year, the Webby Awards received over 13,000 entries from more than 65 countries.

The nominated video I’m featured in is called A Tale of Kat and Dog, A Holland Cool Movie. Thanks to the Edge Studio, I was cast to be the voice of a rather charming dog who takes the viewer on a whirlwind tour of Amsterdam, while chasing after a ball. There’s also a bit of romance in the air!

This 17-minute movie presented by the Holland Marketing Alliance, is up against companies like Squarespace, BMW, Samsung, and Nike. In May we’ll find out if the experts picked it as the winner, but the public has until Thursday, April 20th to vote online. If you’d like to take part in that process, click on this link.

Of course I’d be thrilled if you would show your support for The Tale of Kat and Dog, but don’t do it because you know me. Take a look at the five entries, and vote for the one you believe to be the best.

THE FINAL WORD

Meanwhile, I have a couple of auditions waiting for me. Those auditions are really mini-competitions we take part in every day. And who knows… one of them might lead to a project that turns out to be a prize-winning entry. But that can never be the goal. Just a nice bonus. 

I’ve said it before: I’m in this business for the music. Not for the applause, although I have to admit that every once in a while it is nice to hear: “Job well done!”

Will winning a Webby change my mind about competitions?

Will it catapult my modest career into the voice-over stratosphere? 

This is the only answer I can honestly give you:

“My jury is still out on that one!”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Meet Me In Atlanta

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, International, Promotion 10 Comments

https://www.womensmarch.comLast week, thousands of people went to an inauguration, and millions marched for women’s rights.

There is strength in numbers, and power in groups of people. 

Even though I can see the point of bonding together for a common cause, I have an admission to make:

I hate being in the middle of a huge crowd.

Crowds are noisy and smelly. Somehow I always end up next to a loudmouth man-child who hasn’t used deodorant since puberty, or a Southern Belle who just bathed herself in Curve Crush By Liz Claiborne. For the lucky uninitiated: that’s a perfume I utterly detest. 

Crowds infringe upon my sacred personal space, and they test my patience more than I can bear. They move according to the slowest common denominator, and they rarely go to where I want or need to be.  

My nightmare scenario is being stuck indoors when a fire breaks out, and everyone is running for the nearest exit as they’re screaming their heads off. Of course only one exit is open, and the mob trapped inside starts trampling one another to escape the deadly fumes. Just thinking about it makes me nauseous. 

BEING ANTI-SOCIAL

Does all of this mean that I suffer from social anxiety, or that I’m anti-social? I don’t think so. My fear might have to do with a natural need to be safe. I prefer having meaningful conversations in quiet corners, rather than losing my voice yelling over the masses to reach a friend. 

In the past I have described myself as a “reluctant extrovert,” and I still feel that way. I’d rather spend three hours with someone one-on-one, than fifteen minutes in a large group. I feel lost in a crowd, and I don’t want to be lost. 

Why am I even bothering you with this pitiful confession? It’s because I’ve used my unease with crowds as one of the reasons to stay away from voice-over conferences bringing together hundreds of colleagues from different countries and continents. Today I am happy to tell you that this is about to change.

MAKING AN APPEARANCE

Over the years, literally hundreds of readers have asked the same question: “Where and when can I meet you?”

Those of you attending VO Atlanta from March 9th -12th, will finally have a chance to run into me, as well as over 550 colleagues from 35 states and 15 countries who have come to enjoy over 150+ hours of top-notch programming. It’s the largest annual voice-over event for our community.

This year’s keynote speaker is Bill Farmer, and some of the other speakers are Dave Fennoy, Elaine Clark, Celia Siegel, Joe Cipriano, Johnny Heller, Jonathan Tilley, Lori Alan, Scott Brick, Anne Ganguzza, and David Rosenthal.

There are sessions about audio books, business and marketing, gaming and animation, narration and eLearning, performance and improvisation, and promo & imaging. There are also workshops (labeled as X-sessions), as well as a Spanish, and a youth program. You can see the full program on the conference website.

ETHICS PANEL

On Saturday, March 11th at 7:30 pm, I’ll be on a panel led by J. Michael Collins, discussing Ethics for Voice Actors and Demo Producers. Speakers are Rob Sciglimpaglia and Cliff Zellman, and the other panelists are Dave Courvoisier and Bev Standing. If you’re a subscriber to this blog, you know that I have written extensively about some of the moral guidelines voice talent and clients should live by, and I can’t wait to hear what others have to say.

Now, I didn’t want to come to Atlanta just to be on a panel, so you’ll be able to track me down from day one. The welcome reception starts Thursday 3/9 at 5:00 pm, and I really look forward to meeting you in person! I have only one request:

Gentlemen: please use deodorant, and ladies: leave your bottle of Curve Crush at home, and we’ll survive the crowds together. 

See you in Atlanta!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Here’s What You’ve Missed

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, International, Internet, Journalism & Media, Money Matters, Personal, Promotion Leave a comment
Paul Strikwerda

The author

Happy New Year!

Today I want to start by thanking you for reading my blog. There’s so much content to choose from these days, and I am so glad you landed on this page.

Perhaps this is your first time, so: “Welcome!” Perhaps you’ve been here before. In that case I welcome you back with open arms.

One of the joys of being a blogger is the opportunity to connect with so many people from all over the world. This year I’ll be aiming for 40 thousand subscribers, which is unheard of in my particular niche: voice-overs. Then again, this blog is not just for professional speakers. It’s for all kinds of creative freelancers who struggle with things like finding work, dealing with difficult clients, and getting paid a decent amount.

If these topics interest you, I hope you’ll take a minute or so to subscribe. That way you’ll always know when I’ve written a new post. Just enter your email address in the upper right-hand corner. It will never be sold or used in any other commercial context. I promise!

WHAT DID YOU MISS

Now, we all lead pretty busy lives, and I completely understand that you might have missed a few stories from last year (especially if you’re new to this blog). That’s why I’m starting 2017 by giving you a quick overview of some of the topics I have covered (or uncovered). The headlines in blue are all hyperlinks, by the way. 

One of the things I write about frequently, is the road to success. Does luck play a part in it? Do you have to be at the right place at the right time? Read about it in “The Magnet, the Colander, and the Clay.” In “Secrets From Successful Voice-Overs” I share more top tips with you.

I’ve been freelancing for my entire professional life. Being a solopreneur is often fantastic, and sometimes frustrating. Do you want to know what my pet peeves are? Click here to find out. We might have a few in common!

One of the recurring themes of this blog is me taking a critical look at the field I work in: voice-overs. In “Voice-Over’s Seven Deadly Sins” I explore manifestations of things like Lust, Gluttony, and Greed among voice actors. Not every colleague always appreciates what I have to say. In fact, some think I’m quite the curmudgeon. Read “Call Me Oscar” to find out if that’s really true. 

Another topic I like to write about is how to deal with setbacks. No path to success is ever smooth, and in “Turning Resistance Into results” I take you to my gym for a few unexpected tips. In “The Mistake You Don’t Want To Make” I discuss a list of things freelancers do to sabotage their success, and I tell you about the one thing you must do, to make it in this business.

GETTING PERSONAL

Beginning voice-overs often have to overcome a lack of confidence before they are comfortable selling their services. My story “Do Nice People Always Finish Last?” deals with that issue.

During the course of a year great things happen, and things that are absolutely horrible. When tragedy strikes, I don’t always feel like writing about microphones, challenging clients, or impossible scripts. I feel a need to get personal with my readers, and posts like “The Weight Of The World” elicit lots of responses. 

Not every reader knows that I was born, raised, and educated in the Netherlands. So, what’s it like for a Dutchman to live and work in the United States? You can read all about it in “Those Silly Americans.”

Because I bring a different and more European perspective to the table, some of my readers say that I usually “tell it like it is.” This attitude is appreciated by many, and criticized by some. In “The Cult of Kumbaya” I’ll tell you how I deal with my critics, and with criticism in general. “How I Handle Negative Comments” is another take on how I respond to feedback that is less than positive. If you’re in a business where rejection is the name of the game, I think you’re going to find these stories helpful.

Another theme I like to return to has to do with treating your business like a business. If you don’t do that, you’ll never have the success you’re hoping to have. “Are You In Bed With A Bad Client” tells you what to do when a client is taking you for a ride. In “Is Your Client Driving You Crazy” I write about the clients I gladly gave the sack.

IT’S ALL ABOUT COMMUNICATION

As voice actors we spend a lot of time in one place: our studio. Did you know it could be dangerous to do that? Just read “How Dangerous Is Your Voice-Over Studio” and you’ll find out about the hidden dangers in your recording space, and what you can do about it. 

Since I’m in the communication business, it won’t surprise you that I love blogging about communication. “Filling In The Blanks” deals with a strange habit many of us have that could cost us clients, as well as personal friends. “Don’t Ever Do This To A Client” is a warning about how not to conduct business, ever.

What I love about being a blogger is the interaction with my readers. Many of them respond in the comment section. Others send me emails. The question I get asked a lot is this: “Looking back, and knowing what you know now… what would you have done differently, and why?” Click here to read my answer.

One of the unexpected discoveries I made in the past few years is that this blog is also read by copywriters, freelance photographers, web designers, as well as producers, and potential clients. For them I wrote “How To Hire The Right Voice-Over.” Even if you provide VO-services yourself, you might want to check this one out to get a sense of what clients are really looking and listening for.

If you’ve been following me for a few years, you know I’m no big fan of the Pay-to-Play model. Now, here’s a fun fact. If I want to guarantee myself at least a thousand hits in one day, all I need to do is write about one of those Pay-to-Plays: Voices dot com. “Stop Bashing Voices.com” is a story for those who don’t like what “Voices” is doing, and yet renew their membership year after year.

SELLING YOURSELF

Marketing your services is one of the most important skills you must possess to have a flourishing freelance business. At times you need to educate clients new to voice-overs about the benefits of hiring a professional voice. One way to do that, is to contrast what you have to offer with examples of what I call “voice-overs gone wrong.” If you want to have a laugh and some heart-felt advice, click on “What Were They Thinking?

Another question some people ask me is where I find the inspiration to write a new blog every week. To be honest with you, I often look outside of my own professional bubble. Click here to find out why, and what we can learn from fellow-freelancers who are active in another field.

Many blogs in the blogosphere are highly topical. Writing about current events is fun, but here’s the problem: the content gets outdated rather quickly. I do blog about things that are in the news, but I do my very best to make something that is timely more timeless. A good example is my story about the presidential election in the U.S., and the question of ethics and morality in voice-overs. It’s called “Should We Shoot The Messenger?” It certainly got people talking.

Another example is my blog about Black Friday. Yes, Black Friday is the “hook,” but in reality this is a blog about why people buy, and how you -as a frugal freelancer- should spend your money. “The Most Important Question Of The Year” is another story about the business of being in business. If you want to get to the bottom line, please read it.

MOVING ON

There you have it. That’s my overview. What were your favorite stories?

Looking at the new year, here are 5 things you should stop doing in 2017, and in 2018, 2019, et cetera.

One thing I hope you’ll continue to do, is come back to this blog every once in a while, -better still- every Thursday. Leave some feedback for me. Let me know what you’d like me to write about. Share your experiences in the comment section.

If you enjoy my musings and think they’re helpful, share them with your friends and colleagues on social media. That always makes my day.

And remember: Subscribe to stay in the loop, and get the latest scoop.

Here’s to another fabulous year!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Those Silly Americans

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, International, Personal, Promotion 12 Comments

The authorHere’s a question I get asked a lot:

“What’s it like to be a Dutch voice-over, living and working in the United States?”

Who wants to know?

Mostly European colleagues, who either think I’m totally nuts, or who secretly want to do what I did and move to this land of milk, honey, and doughnuts. Some of them have strange ideas about what my life on this side of the pond is like.

I sometimes have to explain to them that “No, I don’t live in a McMansion; there’s no giant gas guzzler parked in my garage, and I can’t call a Hollywood studio and put in a good word for you.” In fact, this American life I am leading is pretty ordinary and rather unspectacular.

I don’t know what my existence would have been like had I stayed in Holland, but in my experience, setting up shop in the States has as many advantages as disadvantages. My colleague Jamie Muffet just wrote a great piece on that very topic for Backstage, and he had me thinking. 

In this day and age where all of us are part of a huge global network, does it really matter where we do our job? It’s just as easy for me to plug into a studio in Amsterdam, as it is to reach a recording facility in New York or Johannesburg. Even agents who used to insist I make a personal appearance, don’t mind if I send them an mp3 audition. Times have changed.

Although technology has made it easy to have an international presence, there’s something I must admit. It took me a good number of years to find my way here in Pennsylvania, and at times I still struggle to make sense of my surroundings and the culture I live in. Personally, and professionally. For instance, I had a hard time trying to figure out how to position myself as a voice for hire.

CONFUSION

From a marketing perspective, it is important that clients have a clear concept of who I am, and what I bring to the table as a talent. When I first came here, people were mainly confused, and I don’t blame them. I spoke with a distinct British accent (the one I was taught in school), and most Americans thought I was from the UK. It was both a good and a bad thing.

It was good because casting directors who didn’t know any better, often hired me to play the part of a stuffy English professor. I even did a voice-over promoting a Beatles jukebox musical on Broadway. I tell you: it was fun being a fake!

There was a downside to having this posh accent. I felt that people were judging me all the time. They either thought I was highly intelligent, or a pompous ass. Of course neither is true. I can’t say it helped me define my professional identity as a native Dutch speaker. Then there was something else I stumbled upon.

IGNORANCE

Even though the United States is supposed to be this big melting pot, I’ve learned that Americans struggle with languages and accents. Many of them have never left the country, and they are rarely exposed to different tongues and twangs, the way Europeans are. Thanks to a brilliant educational system, their sense of geography tends to be off too.

A few weeks ago an agent asked me to audition for a documentary, and she was convinced my accent would be perfect. “You’re Dutch. You should nail this one,” she said. The minute I got the script I saw it was about an old ship… from Denmark. “Well, Dutch and Danish are pretty much the same, aren’t they?” the agent stated.

Not really. And Copenhagen is not the capital of the Netherlands.

Another thing I’ve had to explain over and over again, is the difference between Dutch and Flemish. Flemish is a kind of Dutch, spoken in a specific part of Belgium. It’s as different from Dutch as British English is from American English. That means you shouldn’t hire a Dutchman to voice a commercial meant for viewers in Belgium. But most people in the States don’t know that.

I used to get very annoyed with these ignorant Americans, but having lived here for over ten years, I’ve come to realize that many of them don’t know what they don’t know. Instead of holding it against them, I do my best to educate casting directors and agents, without sounding like a European know-it-all. And quite often they are very grateful for my advice.

Here’s another thing I learned the hard way.

SELF-PROMOTION

Coming from a Calvinistic country where any form of self-aggrandizement is frowned upon, I found out that in America modesty isn’t always an asset. In fact, people like talking about themselves. A lot. If you don’t toot your own horn, who will?

I had to learn to be comfortable with my accomplishments, and speak and write about them openly. In Holland I would have been accused of bragging. Here people say: “Don’t be shy. It’s okay. You have every reason to be proud.”

When talking to a potential client or an interested agent in the U.S., I make sure to sell myself as best as I can. When I’m dealing with someone in Europe, I like to tone it down considerably.

Another thing I realized was that Americans tend to be quite informal. Before you know it, you’re on a first-name basis talking about your family with someone you barely know. It doesn’t necessarily mean that people who come across as friendly, want to be your friend. Give it a few weeks, and they might not even remember your name. Don’t take it personally. 

Things are gradually shifting in Europe, but unless a new client signs his or her emails with a first name, I err on the side of caution, and I’m much more formal.

FEELING LIKE A KING

So, what’s it like to be a Dutch voice-over in the United States? 

In the Netherlands we have a saying: “In the land of the blind, the guy with one eye is king.” As one of the very few native Dutch voice-overs in North-America, that’s often how I feel. I’m a small orange fish in a huge pond. In all the years I have lived here, my English accent has changed considerably. It’s no longer British, and it’s not entirely American either. As I explained to Jamie Muffet: 

“Demand for a Dutch narrator isn’t exactly overwhelming, and thanks to the Internet, my competition in Holland is only one click away. My real niche is in ‘neutral English’ voiceovers, meaning my accent is neither British nor American. It’s more of a European twang, and businesses wanting to increase their global appeal hire me because of my international sound.”

If that’s not shameless self-promotion, I don’t know what is…

On occasion I go back to the Netherlands to see friends and family. I walk around in this tiny country, and I comment on how everything is so close, and how small things are. It’s guaranteed to make my Dutch friends laugh out loud.

“Oh, Paul,” they say…

“stop being such a silly American!”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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The Ciccarelli Circus

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, International, Internet, Journalism & Media, Pay-to-Play 19 Comments

So, here’s the deal.

We all know that the CEO of Voices.com David Ciccarelli is on a charm offensive. He tried to do damage control by talking to fellow-Canadian Graeme Spicer of the Edge Studio. I don’t think that worked out so well.

The promised recording of the contentious interview was never released because (supposedly) the video version did not survive due to “technical problems.” Then Edge Studio and Mr. Spicer announced:

“We had every intention of releasing the recording of the event as originally stated. Unfortunately we are not in a position to post it at this time. I hope you understand our position, and that you will continue to support Edge Studio as we strive to advocate on behalf of voice actors.”

Some spoke of a falling out between “Edge” and “Voices.” Others suggested that possible legal action prevented Edge Studio from releasing the interview. Meanwhile, a SoundCloud copy of the interview has surfaced, and it is making the rounds on various VO Facebook groups.

Ciccarelli also did a webinar slash infomercial with Bill DeWees, in which DeWees solidified his reputation as Mr. Nice Guy. Some described the webinar as a “snooze fest”. Soon, the CEO of “Voices” will be on the Voice Over Cafe with Terry Daniel and company. I wonder: When will Ciccarelli be hosting Saturday Night Live?

But seriously, here’s the real question:

My blog post Voices.com: Unethical and Greedy? was published on September 3rd. Two months later Ciccarelli finally decides to tell us his side of the story. David, what were you waiting for? A Voice Arts™ Award for best Pay-to-Play?

VOICE TALENT HAS HAD ENOUGH

My guess is that he had hoped the turmoil would simply subside like it has always done. But he was wrong. This time, the voice-over community reacted like a ferocious pit bull. It just wouldn’t let go.

More and more people came forward with Voices dot com horror stories, and asked questions about the Ciccarelli way of doing business. Even voice-seeking clients started complaining, and experienced voice talent began to leave the site in droves.

Newsflash: Those with unpaid Voices-profiles are now asking to be removed from the site. Ouch! Something’s clearly wrong when people don’t even want your free service anymore. One of those talents is Mike Cooper. He told Voices dot com:

 “I see jobs for good money being intercepted by staff, with large percentages being creamed off the top – often without the client’s knowledge – and siphoned into the pockets of a company which I believe has become overly greedy. There is little or no transparency, and I no longer feel I want to be a part of that model.”

Connie Terwilliger was one of the original contributors to the Voiceover Experts podcasts on “Voices” back in 2007. This is what she asked Voices dot com to do:

“Please remove my two Voiceover Experts Podcasts from your library. I do not wish that my name be associated with Voices.com until such time that you recognize that your current business practices are simply not serving the professional voiceover community, nor helping the production community understand the value of the voiceover talent.

Frankly, you are acting as an “agent” and a casting director. Then you should act like one. Go ahead and charge a commission (the escrow fee) and even charge to coordinate large jobs (as long as you don’t undercut the rate to the talent in order to do so). 

However, since you are functioning as an agent, you should NOT be charging the talent a fee to be on the site.”

Connie’s podcasts have yet to be removed.

MONEY TALKS

Ciccarelli finally broke his silence, but don’t think for one minute that his recent interviews and articles were meant for you. The CEO of “Voices” needed to please two types of people: bankers and politicians.

Voices.com borrowed money, and received grants from the Canadian government to grow the business into a multinational. Lenders had to be reassured that everything was A-OK in London, Ontario. Politicians needed to know that their grant money was in the hands of a capable company, especially after the political landscape changed dramatically in October.

Susan Truppe, the conservative Canadian MP for London North Centre who handed “Voices” $900,000 in 2014, was badly beaten by a liberal candidate in the last election. Her successor, political scientist Peter Fragiskatos, might not be so generous. He actually wants small businesses to use crowdfunding to raise money and grow. Unfortunately, the crowd that is willing to fund “Voices” through membership fees seems to be shrinking day by day.

LOST LOVE

In anticipation of Ciccarelli’s appearances, colleagues have asked what I make of his campaign. To tell you the truth: it leaves me cold. My feelings for “Voices” are the same as my feelings for an ex-girlfriend. We had a good time for a while, but it’s over. We split up for a reason, and it’s pointless to try and change the other person when the relationship is dead. It’s hard enough when you’re together. 

Relationships that work have this in common: they are based on trust, and they meet the needs of both partners. Right now, it’s your turn to decide the following:

  1. Do I (still) trust Voices dot com, and
  2. Could a business relationship be mutually beneficial? 

I cannot answer those questions for you. What I can do, is give you information and opinion. In the past five years I have often blogged about Voices dot com, and I have written about them in my book. I think I’ve given “Voices” enough of my time, and part of me believes I could have spent that time in a more productive way. However, I must admit that it is thoroughly gratifying to see that more and more people are getting sick and tired of being milked by a greedy company that made double and triple dipping the new norm in online casting.

AMPLE AMBITION

A while ago, the website Success Harbor asked David Ciccarelli: “Where do you see “Voices” in the next 5 years, what is your ultimate goal?” This is part of his reply: 

“It comes down to this: we really do want to dominate the industry. Meaning, be that kind of dominant player for good but the one that everyone thinks voice-overs is synonymous with, like oh yeah, I go to voices.com for that. So that means speaking to every potential customer that’s out there, having every single voice talent that practices the art and craft of voice acting, they should be on the platform as well. It’s having that omnipresence is really what we’re aiming for.”

Right now, Ciccarelli is finding out that not everyone in the industry wants to help him achieve world domination.

In a time of increased global competition, the strength of a service is determined by the quality of what’s being offered. Voices dot com has to remember that the company is only as strong and valuable as the talent it has on tap. Without acrobats, contortionists, lion tamers, and clowns, a circus is just a tent. 

Ciccarelli will need to do a lot of juggling to convince people to pay in order to play under his roof. 

He’s certainly not going to charm his way back into my business. 

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!

PPS Thanks to the inimitable Terry Daniel for the title suggestion.

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The Window To The Soul

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, International, Internet, Journalism & Media 6 Comments

Young mother & babyThe person who coined the phrase:

“Eyes are the window to the soul”

was wrong.

If anything can offer us a unique insight into someone’s soul, it is the human voice. The voice tells us something about someone’s mood, someone’s mind, and someone’s history.

Sometimes it’s subtle. Sometimes it cries out to you.

The voice is an example of how mind and body are clearly connected. Our tone and texture changes when we’re in love, when we’re angry, when we’re feeling insecure, and when we’re sick.

The way someone speaks can tell us where he or she is from, how (and where) someone was educated, and it reveals something about someone’s (desired) social status.

By listening to someone’s voice, experts can diagnose certain health problems. A croaky voice may indicate acid reflux. A head cold voice can point to chronic sinusitis. A hoarse voice could be a sign of laryngeal cancer.

But there’s more.

We can change the meaning of words, simply by changing our tonality.  When our body language, the words we speak, and our tone of voice don’t match, we won’t be taken seriously. 

People can hear we’re not sincere. In fact, sincerity is so hard to hard fake that only pros can pull it off.

EMOTIONAL IMPACT

You and I have been touched by certain voices. For better, or for worse. Can you think of a few?

As kids, we’ve all experienced that when our mom or dad called us with that special tone of voice, we knew we were in trouble.

Certain teachers had the uncanny ability to terrify us, because of what they said, and how they said it. So much so, that years later, we can still recall their voices, and get an instantaneous physical reaction.

Someone’s voice can also induce a very positive mood.

Perhaps it’s just me, but I could never fall in love with someone who has a horrible voice. When our beloved whispers our name in that very special way, our heart melts, and we’re almost hypnotized. 

When a charismatic public speaker rallies the troops, we feel energized and inspired.

That first word from a child we brought into the world, is something we’ll always remember.

Our sensitivity to tonality comes from the time we were infants, when we learned to attribute feelings to certain words through the way they were spoken. 

UNIQUE OR UNIVERSAL

Now, there’s one thing I’ve always wondered. With so many cultures, languages, and dialects in the world, are certain vocal inflections universal, or limited to one geographic area? More importantly, do they mean the same thing?

Take the tonality of love, for instance. Is that something we have in common with every person on this planet? Does “angry” sound the same, wherever we go?

Yuval Mor and Yoram Levanon spent eighteen years researching more than sixty-thousand test subjects speaking twenty-six different languages. What they found was surprising: language and culture make little difference in what they call “emotion analysis.”

Emotional Analytics is a new scientific field that focuses on identifying and analyzing the full spectrum of human emotions and personality. Yuval and Yoram’s company Beyond Verbal, has developed a way to decode vocal intonations into their underlying emotions in real-time.

It’s all based on the notion that what we say is not as important as how we say it.

THERE’S AN APP FOR THAT

In 2013, Beyond Verbal launched a free app called Moodies to extract, decode, and interpret human emotions from voice samples that are as short as twenty seconds. The app claims to give information on the speaker’s mood, his or her attitude, and on someone’s personality.

Here’s how it works.

The software examines how we speak, and listens for specific patterns. It analyzes things like pitch, tempo, pauses, and the volume of the voice. It then compares these patterns to a database of research. The ongoing analysis on the screen, is presented in clusters as the subject speaks. 

To see this in action, here’s a short clip from an interview with whistleblower Edward Snowdon. Be sure to select HD in the YouTube settings before you start watching.

Beyond Verbal has an interesting YouTube channel with voice analysis of people like Steve Jobs, Jeb Bush, and Winston Churchill. 

It’s important to note that analyzing emotions is very different from detecting lies. That is something the software cannot do.

Currently, the program can recognize about four hundred different emotions. The makers say it’s about eighty percent accurate.

PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS

If Beyond Verbal’s method is correct, we now have a way to find out what people really feel, in spite of what they’re saying. That information could be useful in at least three areas:

1. Person to person interaction.

Beyond Verbal software is already used in call centers. It helps market researchers to find out how people genuinely feel about products, promotions, and… politicians. Researchers can get past the socially acceptable answers, and go with the emotional response.

Voice analysis is also used in job interviews and sales meetings. It can answer questions like: “Is the client truly receptive to our offer, or merely being polite? Is this applicant really confident, or is he putting on a show?”

It turns out that it’s easier to fool people than to mislead computers. 

2. Allowing machines to understand us better, and improve interaction.

At the moment, virtual assistants such as Siri and S Voice base their response on what we say, and not on how we say it. If they could read our mood, this could influence their answers. Beyond Verbal has already made their platform available to other developers to make the devices of the future more intuitive.

Let’s say we’d use voice control for a service like Netflix. Based on our intonation, Netflix could recommend movies that would fit the mood we’re in. iTunes could work the same way. Some video game controllers already respond to subtle pressure and body heat. What if they could hear our fear, and change the progress of the game accordingly?

What if voice analysis software in a car could pick up if a driver was under the influence of alcohol, or suffering from road rage? Based on that, it could start making adjustments, and e.g. slow the vehicle down.

3. Self-improvement; getting a better understanding of ourselves.

This is particularly interesting to me as a professional communicator. Quite often, there’s a disconnect between how we think we come across, and how our communication is perceived. Let’s say you have a piece of copy that needs to be read in a friendly, but convincing way. How do you know you hit the nail on the head? Do you call your coach, a friend or a colleague?

Moodies app

click to enlarge

I took my iPhone, opened up the Moodies app, pressed the mic button, and started reading the script. After about fifteen seconds, I got my feedback in three layers (see picture on the left). The app keeps refreshing, so you can see if your adjustments have the desired effect.

When you’re done, and you concur with the analysis, you can click “Agree,” helping the software to be more accurate in the future.

I have to admit, before I tried Moodies I was very sceptical. I mean, can a machine really detect emotions? It’s hard enough for us, humans. But when I started using it, I was surprised by the results. Whether I was speaking Dutch (my first language), or English, it was quite accurate.

Moodies didn’t tell me what I wanted to hear, like horoscopes do. It told me what I needed to hear. Based on that, I changed my tonality to match the specs of the script. Getting this type of instantaneous feedback was refreshing!

LOOKING AHEAD

Beyond Verbal was launched in May 2013, with a 3.8 million dollar investment, and has about twenty employees. 

Examiner.com named Moodies the best iPhone app of 2014, and Forbes listed it as one of the five innovative marketing solutions that can help a business grow.

This Tel Aviv-based company is definitively onto something, and it seems they’ve only scratched the surface. 

Even though I believe a computer can never penetrate the depths of the human soul, it can certainly open a window to our emotions.

Today, it seems that one of the best ways to unlock that window, actually speaks for itself.

Our voice.

Paul Strikwerda

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photo credit: Mother via photopin (license)

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My Dutch Digital Detox

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, International, Internet, Journalism & Media, Personal, Social Media 13 Comments

Screen Shot 2015-01-29 at 12.04.38 AMIt is often said that the internet is a cold and superficial place.

I tend to agree. 

Even though we can connect with practically anyone, anywhere at any time, it doesn’t make us less lonely or more engaged.

If anything, the online universe is a distant world in which reality is observed instead of experienced. A world that I find increasingly trivial, and uninspiring.

It is a shallow hideout for the self-absorbed, the self-promotors, and for those dying to be distracted.

Do you want to see Jennifer Aniston test the incredible vibrating bra? Her video went viral, and has almost 17 million hits. 

Do you want to watch Teddy Bear the porcupine predict the winner of the Super Bowl? Be my guest!

And speaking of that Bowl, Kim Kardashian West’s T-Mobile commercial is already an internet sensation, well before the big game has started.

Some say that this is utterly insignificant, but I urge you to pay attention to what the masses are watching. It tells us something about people’s priorities: football and bouncing bosoms!

And I don’t even like football…

For many years, I have been downplaying the effect the world wide web has on my life, but it has become this huge black hole that doesn’t like to be ignored. I couldn’t do my job without it, but that doesn’t mean I like it. 

Even though I spent many years in a newsroom, I find it harder and harder to separate online fact from opinion, information from propaganda, and sincerity from sales. Part of that has to do with the sheer volume of slick and seductive online messages I am bombarded with on any given day. I cannot properly process it anymore. My brain goes in overload, and when that happens, it loses its critical focus.

Thankfully, I still control what I allow myself to be exposed to, and for how long. Nobody tells me how many hours a day I should spend on social media. No one forces me to watch silly videos on YouTube. I can still lead a happy, balanced life without the wonders of WiFi.

Or am I kidding myself? 

As you may know, I just spent eleven days abroad. The high-speed internet connection we thought we would have in our apartment, wasn’t there. So, every day we went to the nearest Hotspot to get access to the online world. Its epicenter turned out to be in the freezer section of a nearby supermarket.

Every morning, my wife and I sat down with our devices, surrounded by ice cream, pizzas, TV dinners, frozen vegetables, and frantic shoppers.

I’ll tell you one thing. Putting a Hotspot in one of the coldest places forces a person to use his time efficiently, and effectively. You should try it!

I surprised myself by how little effort it took to dump all the fluff, and get down to business. And once our online business was done, there was a whole day left to live life offline.

We walked. We talked. We connected with people in person.

We had wonderful dinners, instead of watching cooking shows.

We explored interesting sites, instead of websites.

We survived over a week without internet trolls trying to sell us stuff, and feeding us fluff.

Yes, at times being offline was mighty inconvenient, but boy did I love this digital detox! I could get so much done in very little time, and I didn’t have to stare at a screen all day long. Why did I only do this while I was out of the country?

Back home I began to limit all the electronic time suckers that used to drain the energy out of my days. I unsubscribed from automatic updates, boring groups, newsletters, and blogs I never had the time to read anyway.

I deleted half of my Facebook contacts, only to keep close friends, family members, and the people in and around the town I live in. For those interested in my voice-over work, there’s always the Nethervoice page.

And this is barely the beginning. 

Liberating myself from all the impersonal online crap and clutter feels phenomenal! As I said in my very first line: “the internet is a cold and superficial place.” If you’re hoping to find true companionship, collegiality, and connection, you better look elsewhere.

That’s obviously an overgeneralization, and life simply isn’t that simple. How do I know that?

Because of YOU!

Even though we never met in person, or we may know each other only professionally, you were there for me when I recently wrote about the death of my father.

Shortly after that, I received hundreds of messages from all over the world. Some of you even sent cards and flowers. Your comforting words gave me strength, and touched me and my family deeply. Your thoughtfulness, your prayers, and your support traveled with us to the Netherlands, right to my father’s funeral. 

When the moment came to deliver the eulogy, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do it. I had imagined myself doing it, but this was different. This was the final farewell.

Right before it was my time to speak, I thought of all the things that you had written. This really moved me. As something lifted me out of my seat, I suddenly felt calm and determined. I walked towards the lectern, took a deep breath, and started to speak.

Thank you so much for caring!

Thank you for showing me that the medium we use to connect, is just a tool. Like any other tool, its use and impact depends on the integrity, the emotions, and intelligence (or lack thereof) of the people using it.

May we all use it wisely, creatively, sparingly, and caringly.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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photo credit: solomonborxes via photopin cc

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