Journalism & Media

The Cult of Kumbaya

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Journalism & Media, Pay-to-Play, Promotion, Social Media 22 Comments

Screen Shot 2016-04-20 at 7.59.01 PMNot long ago, Adam Aron, the CEO of America’s biggest movie theater chain, had a brilliant idea. 

To attract a younger audience, he wanted to make his AMC theaters smartphone-friendly. If it were up to him, texting would be allowed, and he told Variety why:

“You can’t tell a 22-year-old to turn off their cellphone. That’s not how they live their life.”

Not everyone agreed. His remarks were immediately followed by a widespread backlash on social media. People complained left and right. Days later Aron responded:

“We have heard loud and clear that this is a concept our audience does not want. With your advice in hand, there will be NO TEXTING ALLOWED in any of the auditoriums at AMC Theatres. Not today, not tomorrow and not in the foreseeable future.”

I think Adam Aron is a smart guy. He had a bad idea. People protested. He listened, and he changed his mind. Good for him. Good for us. Unless you’re a millennial. 

CULTURE OF COMPLAINING

This story was just playing out as I was reading a short article by “Voice Whisperer™” Marice Tobias called “The Culture of Complaint: A black hole for Voice Talent and…the rest of us.”

Tobias sets the tone in the first two paragraphs:

“Thanks to social media, attack television and brigades of haters running rampant across all platforms, complaining and criticizing has become the discourse du jour for this moment in time. It generates a lot of piling on and follow-up posts.

Problem is, running a continuous negative commentary is not only tedious and alienating, it can also cost you work and income while wearing the rest of us out!”

“Check your negativity at the door,” Tobias recommends. Clients don’t care for it. You only have so much energy. Use it to be in a more empowering, positive state of mind. 

DON’T BITE THE HAND

Part of me totally agrees with Tobias. We do seem to live in a culture of confrontation. Just look at social media or at the current political process. Civility, respect, and intelligent discourse are rare commodities. Facebook threads can easily escalate into shouting matches. Anonymous trolls push people’s buttons. The coarseness and narrow-mindedness of some exchanges is nauseating. 

The voice-over business is a people-business. Nobody wants to work with a jerk. Voice-overs are hired to read copy. Not to criticize it. The more positive interactions we have with our clients, the more likely it is that they will call us again. 

But that’s not all. 

The other part of me strongly believes that there’s a role for criticism. Constructive criticism, that is. Complaining for the sake of complaining is a waste of time and energy, but sometimes people have legitimate grievances and concerns. They’re not being negative. They just want things to change for the better. 

ROSE-COLORED GLASSES

As a blogger I can relate to that. I see the world through a colored lens, and not all I see is perfect and positive. 

One of the worrying things I have observed is what I call “The Cult of Kumbaya.” It’s a tendency to approach the tough business of voice-overs with naïve optimism, believing that most players act out of altruism and integrity. 

It is constantly fed by commercial propaganda, trying to paint a pretty picture of an unforgiving industry:

“Work from home in your spare time,” says the website. “We need audio book narrators now!”

“Become a member,” the Pay-to-Plays say. “Upload your demos, and start making money with your voice today!” 

“Let me be your mentor,” the voice coach boasts. “Give me a few sessions, and I will teach you the tricks of the trade.” 

LA-LA LAND

Then there are voice actors who will tell you that everything is hunky-dory. Whenever I criticize voice casting sites on this blog, they tell me that these companies have “revolutionized the business, and have generated thousands of jobs.” 

When I call out colleagues who are willing to work for next to nothing, I am told to mind my own business because it is a free market. It will all even out in the end. 

When I express doubts about certain awards shows or expensive industry conferences, colleagues get angry because I should be supportive of my own tribe and embrace new initiatives. 

Here’s the problem with this type of uncritical thinking: it’s either/or.

Criticizing someone or something is equated with being negative and unsupportive. The unspoken assumption being that supportive, positive people don’t complain or criticize. They don’t foul their own nest. 

Forgive me, but that’s utter hogwash. 

Every coach knows that they will have to critique a performance in order to support a student. Every journalist has to expose injustice to bring about a more just society. Every parent has to correct their child’s behavior, so s/he will grow up to become a decent human being. 

Secondly, no matter how good something or someone is, there’s always room for improvement. But we can’t improve without quality feedback.

SIMILAR OR DIFFERENT

Now, this world is basically filled with two kinds of people. One part of the population sorts for similarities. The other for differences. You need both on your team. 

Let’s say you have a bucket of pebbles that are painted blue. The person sorting for similarities will say:

“Look, all those pebbles are the same color!”

The person sorting for differences will say:

“Every pebble has a different shape and size.”

Both approaches are correct and perfectly fine. We need people in this world who spot patterns, and who can see the big picture. We need people to tell us when things are right. 

We also need people who can spot exceptions, and who can focus on details that are different. We need people who can tell us when things are wrong.

FACE THE FEEDBACK

I can handle critics. I can even deal with complainers, because they will tell me that texting in a movie theater is a bad idea. I’d rather hear the honest truth than foolish flatter.

The people I have a hard time with are the whiners. The contrarians. The know-it-alls. Their negativity can be draining. 

So, whenever I encounter criticism, I ask myself a few questions before I react. 

1. How does this relate to me?

If it’s not important, why get all worked up?

2. Who or what is the source?

Do I trust the source? Is the source influential and reliable? Why start a discussion with someone who clearly doesn’t know what he/she is talking about?

3. What is the context?

Nothing is ever said in isolation. To understand where someone’s coming from, we usually need more information than a tweet or quick comment can give us.

4. Is this a real issue or a cheap personal attack?

Some commentators just have a chip own their shoulder. Unfortunately, it’s not a chocolate chip. 

5. What is the complaint or criticism an example of?

That’s a good way to move away from specific examples and elevate the discussion to a higher level.

6. Does the complainer offer a solution?

If that’s the case, you know they’re not just in it to moan and groan.

7. What can I learn from this that is useful and positive?

Even if the criticism seems over the top and unjustified, there might be a lesson to be learned. 

ANCIENT WISDOM

So… are complaints and negative comments a “Black hole for Voice Talent… and the rest of us”?

It depends.

A great critique is never a burden or an attack. It is an opportunity to learn and grow. It is a gift. And speaking of gifts…

One of Buddha’s followers once approached him, and asked:

“Master, do you see that nasty man over there? He is always badmouthing me. I feel horrible. Please do something about it. Make him stop.”

Buddha looked at his student, and said:

“If someone gives you a gift, and you decide not to accept it,

to whom does the gift belong?”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!

photo credit: Caro pointing finger via photopin (license)

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The Weight Of The World

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Journalism & Media, Personal 22 Comments

AtlasParis. Ankara. Istanbul. Brussels.

On some days this beautiful planet is so full of hatred and hardship that I feel guilty writing about such trivial things as “work.”

It sure is fun to blog about freelancing, marketing, and microphone technique, but I have to ask: “To what avail?”

Does it lead to a deeper understanding of the human psyche?

Does it tell us why young, radicalized men stuff their luggage with glass and nails, before they blow themselves and innocent others to bits and pieces?

Does it explain why so many people still believe that violence is the only way forward to further a cause?

As a blogger, shouldn’t I be writing about those issues, instead of talking about home studios, auditions, and online casting companies? 

Whenever I ask myself these questions, I have to remind myself of where I came from.

Before leaving the Netherlands, I worked as one of those stone-faced newscasters informing the world of yet another tragedy. On air, I asked countless experts about the roots of evil, and I grilled politicians about their ideas on how to fix a broken world.

Day after day I reported on endless suffering and strife, and I was part of the sensationalist “if it doesn’t bleed, it doesn’t lead” gang, that determines what is newsworthy and what isn’t. On sunnier days I would be searching for that snippet of positive news we could end our program with, to remind the listeners that not all people are perverts, rapists, or suicidal religious radicals. 

Don’t get me wrong: I loved the excitement and the adrenaline of the newsroom. It gave me a steady income, a certain status, and a sense of purpose. A democracy can only function when people are able to make smart decisions based on hard facts, and I was in the business of providing those facts. My radio station also gave me a unique opportunity to hold the feet of the famous to the fire.

Yet, one day, it all fell apart when I noticed myself caring less and less about the horror stories I was covering. In the beginning I would blame my lack of response on the need to “stay professional,” meaning detached from the raw emotions that are part and parcel of every human tragedy. I was supposed to stay as neutral as our network professed to be, and not get emotionally involved. But it came at a price. 

I gradually developed a tendency to disassociate myself from all kinds of feelings. Positive and negative. That invisible screen I was using to shield myself from sadness in the newsroom, had become like a second skin. It protected me, and it numbed me at the same time.

Over time, I came to a frightening realization:

I had lost one of the very few things that separates humans from animals: the ability to empathize.

I’d seen this happen to veteran journalists who were trying to cope with the crazy demands of their job. Some became chain smokers, heavy drinkers, and lifelong cynics. Others filed for divorce. It was not a road I wanted to travel.

One day, after covering yet another disaster, I just knew I had reached my limit. Years of reporting had done nothing to change the world. If anything, the world had gotten worse. All I wanted was to get out of broadcasting, and do something useful with my life. Something exhilarating. Something inspiring. Something uplifting.

When I finally left the poisonous bubble that was the newsroom, it took me a while to adjust to a new reality. A reality that wasn’t nearly as violent as I had thought it would be. Slowly but surely I discovered a world filled with kindness and good people. It was as if someone had opened the dark blinds that had been filtering the light from the windows for such a long time.

I came to realize that the news I had covered for all those years focused on the exceptions; on the grotesque and the extraordinary. The thousands of planes that land safely every day will never be on CNN. It’s the plane that crashes that ends up making headlines. And if you add all those headlines up, it’s easy to get the impression that this world is rotten to the core. But it’s a deliberate distortion of reality, contrived to kick up the ratings. 

Reality is so much better and less sensational than the networks want you to believe. For most of us it is reassuringly unspectacular and ordinary. It revolves around friends, family…. and work. Ultimately, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to blog about work, even when evil forces are trying to fill this world with fear.

The question remains: how do we respond to those who want to scare us by causing panic, pain, and suffering?

How do we deal with the fact that -to quote Harold Kushner- bad stuff happens to good people?

All of us have to come to terms with this in our own time and in our own way. Life and death are mysterious teachers.

Let me leave you with what I think.

The only way we can learn to live with darkness, is to focus on the light, and to become a reflection of that light.

Whether we realize it or not, all of us were born with the ability to shine. 

Once we start taking that to heart, perhaps we can begin making this place a better world.

In Paris. In Ankara. In Istanbul. In Brussels.

Everywhere.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet.  

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A Controversial Year

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Journalism & Media 28 Comments

DSC07271I don’t know about you, but 2015 is a year I will not easily forget.

For one, I saw the number of subscribers to this blog grow to over 36 thousand. That’s insane!

It didn’t happen by accident. How did I do it? Well, if you read this article, you will get a good sense of my strategy. 

Few things are more gratifying than knowing that you chose to take a few minutes each week to spend them in my company. Not only that, you have shared my stories with your friends and colleagues. You’ve discussed them online and offline, and you’ve reached out to me when one of my posts struck a chord. Thank you so much!

Now, we all lead busy lives, and I realize that throughout the year you might have missed a blog post here or there. That’s why -at the end of the year- I want to highlight a few stories that you may not have seen, or that have faded from your memory.

If anything, this past year has been very emotional for me. There were times that I didn’t feel like going into my studio to record, and when I did, it was challenging to say the least. I wrote about it in Feeling Like A Fake

There were a few “firsts” in 2015. I believe I was the first voice-over who openly wrote about sex. If you’re curious about what I had to say, read The Confident Skills of a Sex God. I think I also was the first and perhaps the only VO who celebrated World Voice Day by writing two contributions.

The first post entitled Your Voice Your Life, was about vocal health. If you care about your instrument, it is a must-read! The second was The Window to the Soul, and it’s about a new area of research: emotional analytics. It’s all based on the notion that what we say is not as important as how we say it.

Like last year, I continued to rub many readers the wrong way. In fact, posts in which I vent my frustration usually end up being the most popular.

In March I became the most hated man among podcasters, when I published The Problem with Podcasting. After receiving some very nasty and mostly anonymous comments, I was forced to change my comment policy. Here’s a summary:

I no longer accept anonymous comments, or comments by people using a fictitious online identity. I want people to own up to what they’re saying, and not hide behind a made up character. Comments that are rude and disrespectful will be deleted immediately. You’ll find more about this in Poisonous Pens.

Another blog post that elicited some angry responses was 5 Reasons Why You Should Never Become A Voice Over. It was unfortunate that the angriest commentators forgot to read the last line. Skimming the text is not the same as reading it. In The Agony of Ignorance, I reveal some other traits I cannot stand.

People often get upset because I tend to say things that are perceived as being harsh and confrontational. One of those posts was The Message Very Few Want To Hear. Between you and me: I never ask my readers to agree with me, and I’m not intent on winning a popularity contest. I must admit: sugarcoating is not my strength.

One of the main goals in writing this blog, is to enhance professionalism in my line of work. In The Secret to Sustained Success, I discuss short-term versus long-term thinking, and the effect it can have on a career. In To Discount Or Not To Discount, I share what Famous Dave’s delicious pickles tell us about pricing strategy.

Are Clients Walking All Over You deals with the importance of setting professional boundaries, and in Sending The Wrong Signals I reveal one of the worst things you can do in customer service, and how you can turn it around.

Many more experienced readers want to know how they can get to the proverbial “next level.” If that speaks to you, please read 4 Ways to Get From Good to Great. You might also want to know The One Thing Every Client Is Listening For. Don’t get ahead of yourself, though, because Perfectionism Is A Trap!

And then there’s my biggest story of 2015. All my posts about Voices.com went viral this year, and the first one was Voices.com is Slapping Members in the Face, followed by Voices.com: Unethical and Greedy. Number three is called The Ciccarelli Circus.

To me, one of the biggest trends of 2015 was the fact that people were finally fed up with a pay-to-play system that didn’t give them a fair shot at landing jobs, and with a company that seemed to be double and triple dipping while cheapening the marketplace with low rates. Read Calling It As I See It, for other trends.

But if there was one piece that summed up my state of mind in 2015, it has to be Giving Up. It’s a new philosophy that I will continue to live by in 2016.

What I won’t give up, is this blog. As long as there’s still music inside of me, I will keep on singing with my Nethervoice.

May the new year bring you health, happiness, inspiration, satisfaction, and continued success!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS In case you hadn’t noticed, the text in blue is a hyperlink, taking you to the actual blog post. 

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Freelancing Isn’t Free

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Journalism & Media, Money Matters, Social Media 11 Comments

Screen Shot 2015-11-18 at 4.02.09 PMIsolation.

It’s a common feeling among freelancers.

Voice-overs (like me) especially, may feel separated from the rest of the world because they often work in small, dark spaces, talking to… themselves.

It’s easy to feel lost and lonely without a professional support system, and without colleagues to have water cooler conversations with. 

But if you ever feel small and insignificant as a voice-over, you’re making a mistake.

You haven’t looked at the big picture yet.

The fact is: you are one of many independent professionals.

THE NEW NORMAL

These days, freelancers account for one-third of the U.S. workforce. That’s nearly 54 million Americans, and this number is expected to grow to 50 percent by 2020. 

Evolving technology and changing business needs have made it easier to take part in what some call the “Gig-Based Economy.” This economy is driven by people who don’t rely on a single employer to make a living. Many of them do not freelance out of economic necessity, but out of choice. 

We all know the advantages of freelancing: freedom, flexibility, variety, and the joy of being our own boss. But there are serious downsides to running your own business. Let’s name a few.

Freelancers are running all the risks that used to be carried by employers, but without a safety net. They have no benefits. There’s no paid sick leave, no company health care or retirement plan. Forget about job security. 

Try getting a personal loan or a mortgage without a steady job. Try putting money away for a rainy day if you don’t know how much will be coming in each month. Can you afford to go on vacation? What if one of your biggest clients needs you, and you’re not available? 

Then there’s this…

Many freelancers say they spend as much as fifty percent of their time looking for work, and thirty to forty percent doing the work. This means they’re systematically underemployed.

MANY DOGS AND FEW BONES

An increase in freelancers also means that more people with the same skill set are fighting for a limited number of jobs. Companies love it because they’ll be able to get a great deal. And if they can’t hire the right person at the right price locally, they might just find what they’re looking for in a country where wages are cheaper and people are more desperate. 

Your nearest competitor is only one mouse click away, and she might be living on the other side of the globe where a five dollars per hour pay will go a long way. 

Because freelancers aren’t organized, they are economically vulnerable and unprotected. Richard Greenwald of Brooklyn College is the author of the forthcoming book The Death of 9–5He told PBS’ Paul Solman:

“If you’re working a nine-to-five job, and you don’t get paid, you can go to the Department of Labor, file a complaint and there’s a process for that. If you’re an independent contractor, and you don’t get paid, you have to go to small claims court, because it’s usually a small amount of money, which means you have to take time off of work, you have to sue, you have to represent yourself. One of the big complaints from freelancers is that there are huge delays in getting paid, and there are many clients who just don’t pay them. Our system is not set up to provide any security for them.”

One organization that wants to change that, is the Brooklyn-based Freelancers Union. In fact, November 19th was their Day Of Action to end nonpayment. Before I get to that, let me tell you a bit about this organization.

A NEW UNION?

The name Freelance Union is kind of a misnomer, because it’s more of an association promoting the interests of independent workers than a trade union. Membership is free, and will make you eligible to receive discounts on services like Freshbooks, Squarespace, Geico and other companies. 

The Freelancers Union offers tools like a Contract Creator; the Union gives advice on money and taxes, and you can even get Health, Dental, Term Life, Disability and Liability Insurance through the Union. 

If you’d like to start networking with other freelancers but don’t know how, try “Hives.” It’s an online community where people connect and support each other, and find fellow-freelancers to work with on their next project. 

Some of the best articles on what it’s like to survive and thrive in the Gig Economy, come from Freelancers Union contributors.  Reading those blogs may open your eyes to the fact that we have so much in common with other independent contractors. One of those things is getting paid, and it’s a huge problem.

A COMMON CAUSE

Almost 8 out of 10 freelancers struggle with nonpayment. The average freelancer loses over $6,000 in wages every year due to late and nonpayment. If you haven’t been stiffed yet, count yourself lucky!

Starting November 19th, the Freelancers Union began making some noise with a nationwide campaign aimed at putting an end to nonpayment through legislation that will strengthen protections for freelancers. The goal is to get freelancers paid on time and in full. So, if you happen to stumble across the hash tag #FreelanceIsntFree, you now know what that’s about.

Of course nothing significant will happen if people with the best of intentions sit still. If you’re interested in adding your voice, consider joining the Freelancers Union, and download their free Freelancing Isn’t Free Toolkit. 

If you happen to believe that Washington won’t listen to people like you and me, think again.

A report entitled Freelancing In America 2015, found that 86% of freelancers surveyed, are likely to vote in 2016. Sixty-two percent say they would be more likely to vote for a candidate that supported their interests as a freelancer. Overall, 63 percent of freelancers think the nation needs to start talking about empowering the freelance segment of the workforce. Freelancers are a significant political constituency, and politicians will have to start listening!

And let me end with some other good news from the report.

WE ARE THE FUTURE

More than half of freelance jobs are now found online, making it easier for most people to become a freelancer. The study also showed that the majority of freelancers who quit full-time jobs, now earn more money. Of those who earn more, 78 percent said that they made more money freelancing within a year or less of starting their business (source).

So, if you ever feel isolated, small and insignificant, it is time to change your perspective. Freelancers are driving the new economy, and they are a force to be reckoned with. Sara Horowitz, Freelancers Union Founder and Executive Director, had this to say:

“Freelancers are pioneering a new approach to work and life – one that prioritizes family, friends and life experiences over the 9-5 rat race. This study shows that the flexibility and opportunity associated with freelancing is increasingly appealing and that is why we’ve seen such dramatic growth in the number of people choosing to freelance.”

Now let’s make sure we get paid in full and on time, every time!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!

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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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Are You Suffering From Mike Fright?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Journalism & Media, Social Media 5 Comments

Candid MicrophoneWhile listening to one of my favorite podcasts, Radiolab, I discovered an interesting fact.

Before legendary producer Allen Funt created Candid Camera, he experimented with a different show based on the same premise.

It was called The Candid Microphone, and it first aired on June 28th, 1947 on ABC Radio. Funt came up with the idea while producing radio shows for the armed forces at Camp Gruber.

One of the shows he worked on was called “The Gripe Booth.” Funt asked soldiers to come into his studio and talk about things that bothered them. Here’s what he found out.

During the pre-interview, most of his guests were at ease and happy to talk. But as soon as the red light went on (indicating that the recording had started), the soldiers became extremely nervous and tongue-tied. This phenomenon is called Mike Fright, and it doesn’t make for good radio.

Luckily, Funt found a way around it. He disconnected the red light, and started recording his guests secretly. He pretended to do a practice interview during which most soldiers were… themselves. And when it was time to do the real thing, he told them he already had what he needed. It was a great gimmick to get spontaneous reactions.

Funt knew he was onto something, and when the war was over, he pitched the idea to ABC, and The Candid Microphone was born.

FEAR THE MICROPHONE

It might not surprise you to hear that Mike Fright is a very common condition. Just as some people become very self-conscious as soon as they spot a camera, you’ll find that folks who are normally very eloquent, will freeze up when you put a microphone in front of their mouth.

It’s tough to be natural in an unnatural situation, even for professional communicators.

I’ve worked in radio since I was seventeen years old, and in that time I have seen veteran-broadcasters hyperventilate, and wipe the sweat of their foreheads before they were about to go on air. The live broadcasts were the worst, because there are no retakes when you go live.

Even though I believe the public doesn’t really mind that much when people mess up on air (who doesn’t like bloopers?), I’ve seen colleagues who were utterly devastated after they misspoke. I’ve often wondered why they would beat themselves up over something that’s entirely human, and here’s what I came up with:

Many of us want to be perceived as being perfect in public.

That’s why we select the best selfie, and use photo editing software before we post it on social media. We treat the world to the highlights of our life, and we don’t expose our darker side. We love sharing our successes, and we carefully hide our failures.

PRIVACY PROTECTION

I completely understand that, by the way. “The world” doesn’t need to know everything about us. We have to protect our privacy and our reputation. The way to do that, is to control and manipulate the message.

Cameras and microphones scare us because they create a situation we can’t predict or control (unless we call the shots). They have the power to expose the private, and make it public. That’s part of the success of a show like Candid Camera. People who don’t know they’re being filmed are much more fun to watch.

Audiences all over the world prefer spontaneous over studied. We want raw emotions instead of rehearsed responses (see last week’s post about authenticity). But there’s something we conveniently forget: in the media, there is no “reality.” At best (or at its worst -depending on your viewpoint), it is “enhanced reality.”

Allen Funt found out pretty quickly that reality in and of itself was pretty boring. That’s why he ended up putting normal people in abnormal situations to see how they would react. I’m sure it wasn’t all comedy gold, and much of the footage ended up on the editing floor.

THE VOICE-OVER STUDIO

In a way, our recording booth is part of the “enhanced reality.” It is an artificial setting that can be quite intimidating, especially to newcomers. Some of my students have admitted that they too are sometimes suffering from Mike Fright, especially during live recordings. Their perfectionism might be part of the problem. They want to do so well that they tense up, and become like the self-conscious soldiers in “The Gripe Booth.”

One of the techniques I use to relax my students, is taken straight out of Allen Funt’s book. As we prepare for the session, we go over the script a couple of times and have fun with it. Unadulterated fun.

What my students don’t know, is that everything is being recorded. In their perception, there is no microphone, there is no right or wrong, and there’s nothing to be afraid of. They’re “just” talking to me, and there is no pressure to perform.

That’s when the magic happens, because people start sounding like themselves. They’re by no means perfect, but perfection is never the goal. Perfection is a perverse illusion, anyway. 

WINNING AUDITIONS

Now, don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I don’t want people to do their best. I just don’t want them to overdo it. 

One of the reasons why some people aren’t winning auditions is because they sound over rehearsed. They focus too much on the microphone, and they forget to have fun. I will often ask them to position the mike above their head, practically out of sight. That way, it doesn’t distract. It’s one of those small changes that can make a big difference.

Sometimes I go bit further.

A few weeks ago, I asked one of my students to print out a life-size picture of a human ear, and tape it to her microphone.

“Why should I do that?” she asked puzzled.

“To remind you that you’re always talking to a person,” I said. “Not to a mike. It might look a bit eerie, but you’ll get used to it. I promise.”

Soon after my request she said her Mike Fright was practically gone, and when I listened to one of her auditions, she sounded so much better!

To celebrate the achievement, I proposed to take a picture of her in the booth. “It has to be spontaneous,” I said. “So, I’m not going to tell you when I’m taking it.”

Even though she knew it was coming, my snapshot took her by surprise.

“Smile,” I joked.

“You’re on Candid Camera!”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be Sweet. Please Retweet.

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The ONE Thing Every Client Is Listening For

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Journalism & Media 24 Comments

Senator Bernie SandersFor once the pundits and the public agree.

Donald Trump has it, and so does Bernie Sanders.

But Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton definitely do not.

What am I talking about?

I’m talking about what separates the pretenders from the real deal. It could determine the outcome of the presidential election, as well as the future of your career.

It is what clients are listening for when they make the decision to hire you or not. It’s something you cannot buy, and it’s almost impossible to fake.

What is it?

Authenticity.

Some dictionaries define it as “being true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character.”

Authenticity is often linked to being truthful and sincere. Presidential candidates need to convey to the electorate that they genuinely care, no matter where they stand on the political spectrum.

If politicians pick positions just to score points, or if they flip-flop in the hopes of becoming more electable, people get extremely suspicious. Commentators say it’s one of Hillary Clinton’s stumbling blocks on the road to the White House. Some voters feel that she is distant, calculated, and disingenuous.

Sanders and Trump, on the other hand, are seen as principled, passionate, and authentic.

WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH

Authenticity also has to do with how well you hold up under external pressure. Some people prefer to conform to certain trends in society to live a more comfortable life. Others stand up for what they believe in, and fight for the truths they hold dear.

When I became a vegetarian in my mid teens, friends and classmates never wasted an opportunity to make fun of me. While I was asked to defend my choice over and over again, the meat eaters at the table never had to explain themselves. I still get comments from those who love beef and bacon about wearing leather shoes, and why that’s supposedly inconsistent with a vegetarian lifestyle.

Going against the grain is never easy, but at some point all of us need to answer this question:

Do I want to live a life of conviction, or a life of compromise?

The question is deceptively simple, but the answer is not. It depends on the context, and on one’s personality. In certain areas it is easier to give in and be flexible. But in other areas you and I are morally obliged to draw a line so we can stay true to ourselves.

SMOKE SCREENS

For instance, one of my voice-over colleagues was asked to do a cigarette commercial. The money was very good, and he could certainly use it to pay off some of his mounting credit card debt. Yet, as a staunch non-smoker, he had serious reservations about promoting an unhealthy product.

Colleagues told him not to worry. “Just because you’re lending them your voice doesn’t mean you are endorsing their brand,” they said. “Work is work. What you choose to do privately has nothing to do with it. Most people won’t even know that it’s your voice in the commercial.”

“But,” answered my colleague, “how could I possibly persuade others to buy tobacco products I so much despise? It would be one big lie.”

“Oh, come on,” said one of his closest friends. “You’re an actor. Actors lie. That’s what they do. And the best liars become millionaires and win Oscars. That is how the game is played.”

In the end my colleague decided not to take the job because it would feel hypocritical, as he put it, to help sell a product he hated, and that had killed his father and grandfather. But the story doesn’t end there.

Two days later he got an offer for an on-camera job. A new client wanted him to appear in a short video for a chain of health food stores.

“Any conflicts?” he asked.

“Well,” said the producer, “because the video is promoting a healthy lifestyle, they want to make sure that the actors they hire are not associated with campaigns endorsing alcohol and tobacco products. Are we good on that?”

“You bet,” said my colleague with a smile. “You bet!”

FINDING REPRESENTATION

There is another way in which the word “authentic” is often used in our business. One of my voice-over students wanted to know what she had to do in order to get an agent. What would a typical agent be looking and listening for?

“Definitively someone with an authentic sound,” I said.

“But what does that mean?” she asked. “How do I know I sound authentic?”

“Well,” I responded, “You’ve probably noticed that many people who are thinking of becoming a voice-over, believe they stand a chance because they’re good at impersonations. Others come to me doing an impression of what they think a voice actor should sound like. It’s usually a version of a stereotypical movie trailer voice. That’s not what agents want to hear. They’re not interested in a cliché.

Agents want to hear the real, unvarnished YOU. It’s the YOU only you can bring to the table.”

“But how do they know it’s me?” my student wanted to know. “They don’t know me.”

“Trust me, they know,” I said. “They know because when you’re authentic, you sound believable and honest. You’re not pretending to be someone else.

Most people try too hard to sound good. They overact. They over articulate. They fix the mix a million times until they sound unnatural. You now what I mean, don’t you?

Of course you need to be easily understood in order to do this job. Your plosives can’t pop, and you have to tame your sibilance. But that’s technique. Just as in music, a technically perfect performance can fail to move people because there’s no personality behind it. No heart. A true artist uses technique to support the creation of something magical and vulnerable. Something real.”

A SIMPLE REVELATION

“That’s easier said than done,” responded my student. “Where do I even begin? Since I started these coaching sessions I’ve become so self-conscious. I find it hard to read a script and not evaluate myself as I’m reading it. It’s very unhelpful, and I feel like a fake.”

“Wow,” I said. “If only you could hear yourself right now. That was phenomenal.”

“What do you mean?” my student asked.

“This is the YOU I have been wanting to hear for quite a while now. This is the YOU I had hoped would come out.”

“But I wasn’t acting,” she said. “I was just talking to you.”

“Exactly,” I said. “You hit the nail on the head. You were not acting.

You’ve been trying way too hard for way too long. Relax! Take a deep breath. Soften the muscles in your face and in your neck. Smile for Pete’s sake. You’re taking this way too seriously.”

She looked at me as if I’d said something inappropriate. Then I continued:

“I want you to stop the internal dialogue, so you can focus on the external dialogue. Can you do that for a minute or two?”

She nodded.

“Let’s take a look at the first few lines of the script we’ve been working on, and TALK to me. Pretend it’s just you and me having a conversation.”

THE REAL YOU

After a while my student stopped and said: ”I don’t think this is working. I feel like I’m just phoning it in without making any effort. I don’t think I sound good at all.”

“How you think you sound, and how you actually sound, are two different things,” I said. “You can’t hear yourself the way I’m hearing you. That’s the problem. Shall I play the audio back to you?”

When she listened to herself for a moment, her mouth fell open. Literally.

“This DOES sound like me,” she admitted. “I had no idea… This is pretty amazing!”

“Allow me to let you in on a little secret,” I said.

“Great (voice) acting has nothing to do with acting. It has more to do with being. If you want to do this type of work and do it well, you’ve got to be comfortable with yourself. If you’re not, people are going to pick up on that, just as they can tell when a politician is blowing smoke.”

“Oh, let’s not talk about politics,” said my student. “My authentic self doesn’t want to hear about that.”

“Fine by me,” I said. “I vote to continue this session at another time.”

“I’m not going to debate that,” my student replied.

“See you next week!”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet.

photo credit: Bernie Sanders via photopin (license)

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A Friend Vanishes. Now what?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Journalism & Media 18 Comments

Police officersAbout a week ago, my good friend Mark left his home early in the morning to go to work.

There was nothing unusual about that, except for one thing.

He never arrived.

That day, Mark did not come home either, and he did not respond to increasingly desperate text and voice messages from his wife Maggie.

Mark disappeared without a trace.

As you can imagine, Maggie was at her wit’s end when she asked my wife and me to help look for her husband. But where to begin? Whom to call? And what would we tell their 11-year old daughter?

The police were notified. A missing persons report was filed. Hospitals were called. Again and again. It felt like we were part of some television drama. Except, this wasn’t scripted, and we weren’t acting out scenes. This was raw and real, and our friend was probably in danger.

Once we realized that Mark wasn’t coming back any time soon, we used social media to alert as many friends, colleagues, and family members as possible. The day after Mark disappeared, police forces in several states, church groups, girl scouts, teachers, and the news media were searching for our friend.

As the hours went by, we hoped for the best, and feared the worst. The hardest part was not knowing what was going on, and when and how it would end. 

Looking back at this time, I learned a few things I want share with you.

EVERYTHING CHANGES

For one, the definition of what’s important in life completely changes when one of your best friends goes missing. All of a sudden, the little things that seemed so annoying, aren’t worth fussing about anymore. 

As we were working around the clock to potentially save Mark’s life, I was also struck by the fact that so many people are pursuing things that are utterly trivial. It is the luxury of the careless and carefree. Until the day Mark left, I took that luxury very much for granted. 

Third, responses to Mark’s disappearance fell into two categories. One group of people told us they were “hoping and praying.” The other group asked us: “What can we do to help?” Both responses we much needed, and much appreciated!

Following that, I discovered something else. Getting help is not always easy, but if you need it, you have to ask for it. Shamelessly. Of course Mark’s wife felt uncomfortable having to share her husband’s disappearance with the world. But as soon as we started reaching out, people we didn’t even know existed began organizing search parties.

Friends of friends just happened to know police officers in the area where one of Mark’s phones was located. One person was friends with a producer for Dateline NBC. Perhaps we could take the story national! People also started making meals for us, so we could focus on our search. After all, time was ticking.

LOOKING IN THE WRONG PLACES

I also learned that it was very easy to waste precious time taking the right action in the wrong direction. Here’s one example. 

By pinging one of Mark’s cell phones, it was possible to locate the tower origin of the last signal his phone received. This turned out to be a rather bad neighborhood of a town in New Jersey. That’s where the police hoped to find Mark and his car. When nothing turned up, we got extremely worried.

Later on we learned that Mark was nowhere near that town, but that somebody had probably stolen one of his phones, and had taken it to that location.

With almost no leads, and no signs of life, imagine our response every time the home phone rang. At times, the uncertainty was unbearable. But throughout this ordeal we kept on believing that our friend would eventually be found, and be reunited with his family. Pessimism was another luxury we couldn’t afford.

AN UNEXPECTED CALL

Mark disappeared on a Wednesday morning. Friday night his wife came back from picking up their daughter, when she noticed that someone had left a message on her phone from an unknown number. When she listened to it, she shrieked. It was Mark. He asked to be picked up at a shopping mall in the area. He was exhausted but alive.

An hour later, Mark was home again, hugging his wife and daughter.

What prompted him to disappear for a few days, only Mark knows. There were a few problems in his life that he didn’t know how to solve, and he needed time to clear his mind and sort things out. He now knows that what he did was an act of desperation, and that he needs professional help (which he is already getting). 

Once he was back, he also realized that no matter how bad things seemed, and how lonely he may have felt, he was never alone. He was surrounded by people ready to lend a helping hand. 

At this point you may wonder why I am sharing Mark’s story on a blog about freelancing and voice-overs.

THE BIGGER PICTURE

My first reason is personal. Because I love what I do so much, I have a tendency to be obsessed with my work. I spend long hours in a small studio recording in solitude, and when I’m done, I write about it on these pages. Sometimes I even think that what I do has some significance.

Surely, it is a lot of fun, and it pays a few bills, but in the grand scheme of things it’s just a means to an end. All the battles I’ve been fighting on this blog about rates, reputation, and professionalism… those battles could wait until a friend was found.

Professionally speaking, Mark’s story demonstrates that it’s easy to waste time and energy taking action in the wrong direction, hoping and praying for something that is never going to be. I think of the many people who have been talked into a voice-over career who just don’t have what it takes (apart from a credit card). They throw money at online casting sites, and spend hours and hours auditioning for jobs they’ll never get.

No matter how hard you work and how much you invest, you’re not going to find what you’re searching for, if you’re looking in the wrong places.

CONNECTIONS

And finally, I have to talk about the importance of a support system. Whether we realize it or not, all of us are connected in many unexpected ways. Even when things seem dark and hopeless, there are people you may not even know, who care and who can help. Whether you have a problem with your business or it’s something personal… all you need to do is reach out, and ask.

There is a reason why we’re not on this planet by ourselves. Of course that’s both a blessing and a curse.

A journalist once asked a famous theologian why G-d would allow so much evil to happen.

The theologian answered:

“G-d is not in the evil action. G-d is in the loving response.”

Well, the response to Mark’s disappearance was heartwarming, and it gave us hope and the strength to continue our search. But it did more than that.

Somewhere on his lonely journey, Mark felt that something was pulling him back home. He couldn’t quite put his finger on it, but he knew that he had to return, and that everything would be okay.

Eventually.

You see, what happens to us is something we can’t always control.

The one thing we have control over, is how we respond.

If you were one of “our” responders, I want you to know that you have made a difference, and Mark, his family, and his friends will be eternally grateful for what you did.

You’ve made this place a better world!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet.

photo credit: gay celebration dolores park — dyke rally, pre pink saturday party : sfpd, police officers, dolores park, san francisco (2013) via photopin (license)

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Voices.com: Unethical and Greedy?

by Paul Strikwerda in Journalism & Media, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play 138 Comments

Mad as hellOn October 15, 2014, Susan Truppe, the Canadian Member of Parliament for London North Centre, visited the offices of Voices.com for a second time. She did not come empty-handed.

That day she announced that “Voices” would be receiving $900,000 from the government “to go global by expanding its project management division and translating its products into additional languages.” (source)

She had some nice things to say to the owners of Voices:

“Taking a business idea and turning it into something that does well in commercial markets is something we need to see happen more and more in Canada. The founders of Voices.com have done this extremely well and I congratulate you, David and Stephanie Ciccarelli. (…) You have grown your business into a marketplace valued by radio and television stations, advertising agencies and Fortune 500 companies.”

Notice which category was missing?

Voice actors!

EXPANSION

$900,000 may seem a lot of money, but it’s not nearly enough if you have big plans.

In April 2015 it became clear that Voices had secured $2 million from BDC Capital, and according to Voices CEO David Ciccarelli, his company has raised $5 million so far, all of it debt financing. Talking to the Financial Post, Ciccarelli added that he estimates his company to make $15 million in gross revenue over the next 12 months, and that Voices will exceed $100 million in annual revenue within three years.

In June, Voices announced that it would open up shop in New York City. According to the website TechVibes, 85% of Voices.com’s customers are located in the US, and a majority of the company’s 125,000 voice talent are located there.

Did you know that voices.com had a database of 125.000 members?

Again according to TechVibes, the Canadian company is experiencing 400% year-over-year growth, and it expects its workforce to reach up to 200 employees by the end of 2016.

SUCCESS STORY

From a business perspective, Voices is a success story Canada can be proud of. By all accounts, the two owners are intelligent, hard-working people, who want their company to be the leading voice casting service on the planet.

There’s nothing wrong with being ambitious, but what an increasing number of members are concerned about, is how those ambitions are being realized. They know that without voice talent, the company would have nothing to offer. One might as well remove the word “voices” from Voices.com.

However, the very people who are at the center of the company’s growth, feel they’re being treated like second and third-rate citizens. The massive response to last week’s blog post, attests to that. The story has been viewed more than ten thousand eight hundred times, and if you haven’t seen it, stop what you’re doing, and read Voices.com Is Slapping Regular Members In The Face.

In the days after this article was published, we learned a lot more about the business practices of Voices.com, thanks to many colleagues who decided they’ve had enough. Here are some themes that emerged from hundreds of comments:

1. Voices.com is driving VO-rates down.

While the price of membership goes up and up, voice-over rates are going down and down. That should come as no surprise. Voices tells clients on their “About-page” that by using their services they can expect a “50% savings on voice talent and audio production and administrative costs.”

Big corporations and institutions that used to pay talent a decent rate, can now book a voice at a bargain. Good for them. Bad for us. Once clients are used to lower prices, why would they ever want to pay a penny more?

2. Voices.com may take more money than you make.

Let’s assume a client pays Voices $650 for their services. That doesn’t mean the talent will see or get $650 for a voice-over narration. Colleagues tell me that Voices will often show the job as paying much less, from which a 10% escrow fee will be deducted as part of their SurePay™ system that every member is forced to use.

This is not some random example. This actually happened to voice-over Andrew Randall. The client was already a contact of his, and told him how much they had paid Voices to get the job done. Andrew writes:

“The rate Voices.com originally posted on this job was $440. Deducting their 10% escrow fee, that would have left me $396. That means Voices.com was intending to keep $254 of the client’s voice-over talent budget of $650, or a staggering 39%.”

This particular job was handled by Voices’ Professional Services team. This division will cast the job on the client’s behalf, and more and more projects are handled this way. It seems fair that a client pays a bit extra for this service, but close to 40%? That’s a huge cut of which the voice talent will never see a dime.

A ticked off Andrew responds:

“Union agents are only legally allowed to take 10% of a talent’s fee, and even non-union agents never take more than 20%, and usually 10 to 15%. I wonder how much money I have lost over the years from previous jobs for which I was unaware that Voices.com was taking such a huge cut of my fee. I may seek legal advice to see if I have a case to request those exorbitant fees back.”

But there’s more.

One disgruntled Platinum member told me she booked a job through Voices for $400, not knowing who the client was because Voices didn’t list it. And since Voices explicitly forbids talent to contact clients directly, she couldn’t ask.

Once she got the script, she found out that it was for a MAJOR global brand. The video she ended up narrating has over 3 million hits and counting. She said she has a feeling that Voices charged the client a much higher fee, and pocketed the difference.

A fellow-voice-over agreed, and said:

“They do take $ and hide what the client is actually paying. Another talent mentioned earlier today that they had a friend who booked a job at $1500 (outside of the pay-to-plays) and Voices posted that same job as paying $250. I’ve heard several different accounts of this happening from different sources now.”

This practice doesn’t only insult talent. It also angers those who use Voices to hire talent. A producer just commented:

“I had a recent job where my offer was $250/voice, and the talent told me that they were told by Voices that the job was only $120. This pisses me off because it makes me look like a cheap bastard and some good talent probably passed on auditioning since they saw the job as too low budget for them but in reality, it wasn’t.”

3. Voices controls how much you can “play,” based on what you pay.

As a regular Premium member, you will never see all the jobs that are in the Voices.com system. That’s how it is set up.

As I reported last week, a select group of 100 Platinum and Platinum Unlimited members who pay $2500 or $5000 respectively, are invited to more public job postings, and will get more private invitations than any of the other 124,900 members. Not because they’re more talented or more experienced, but because they paid Voices to give them preferential treatment. They’ll also receive VIP customer service.

One voice talent responded:

“What about everyone else who cannot afford $2500 for a membership, let alone $5000? They are basically making those talents audition into the void and completely waste their time. It’s not about TALENT anymore with this system- it favors those who will put in the money. As someone who grew up very poor, this makes me incredibly sad- and truly outraged.”

Someone else added:

“If I could afford the $2500, I wouldn’t need Voices.com”

Of course Voices.com cannot guarantee any member at any level that they’ll ever get selected for any posted project. They may control the flow of auditions, but they can’t tell the client whom to hire. 

Since my story broke, I have heard from a number of Platinum members, all of whom have been in the business for many, many years. One of them was voice talent and coach Deb Munro. She commented:

“I received more private auditions and made my initial investment back, but not much more than that either. I am floored that they are offering another tier [The Platinum Unlimited membership, PS]. This will be the demise of the site in my opinion, once more exposed.”

Here’s another point most commentators seem to agree on:

4. Auditioning on Voices.com is pretty much a waste of time and money.

Just listen to what three experienced voice-overs had to say:

“I auditioned like crazy, got one gig. 95% of my auditions were never even listened to. I finally would only audition if it was a 90% or better match, and less than 25 people had already auditioned, still nothing. I don’t know what the secret code is, but I couldn’t crack it, and I get plenty of other work.”

“The count of my auditions at Voices.com is in the high hundreds, and I’ve landed a total of two jobs – both from the same employer. I’ve received quite a few “likes” on my work, but a large number of my auditions go unheard and many more projects get closed without any further action. Spend more for better treatment and more visibility? Can Voices.com guarantee I’ll earn my investment back? On both counts, I think not.”

“Wow! I swore off P2P years ago. I thought it was not for me. This new Platinum Unlimited membership level brings it to a whole new level of wasted effort! I know there are some talents who have landed spectacular clients and/ or ongoing gigs. But that seems to be a rarity.”

Can it get any worse? Well, here’s another conclusion many colleagues seem to share:

5. The business practices of Voices.com are unethical. The company exploits naïve beginners, and doesn’t care about voice talent.

Here’s a small selection of comments on that topic:

“Monetize all the things” seems to be the new business model. Even inventing things to monetize. Yeah, one year was enough.”

“I would come back with open arms if they stopped the bidding wars, stopped undercutting their talent, and started representing their talent honorably. They have essentially taken over the job of a talent agent, and are NOT treating their talent according to the principles true talent agencies do. In the process, they are putting real talent agencies at risk – the real workers who fight for the talent. It has to stop.”

“I hate the way they run the company now. They used to pretend to care about members. Now they don’t even pretend to care. They just show utter contempt. David and Stephanie can run their company how they like. I will no longer support it or recommend it to other actors.”

“The arrogance and abusiveness of this company is astounding.”

Voice talent Todd Schick does’t mince words on his website:

“Some people are devoid of ethics and morals; they simply can’t see the benefit – monetarily or otherwise – to treat others in a fair, ethical manner.
Indeed, I’ve heard personally from former employees at Voices.com who have been threatened….now in fear of coming forward. Those that work there are rumoured to have been told to toe the line or be fired. Further still, talent who make noise about this issue are blacklisted (…).”

WHAT WILL HAPPEN NEXT?

You have read the critique. The question is: will it make a difference? Many colleagues are cynical:

“Paul rightly calls them on their tactics, but Voices.com knows VO-land is disorganized and that there will always be newbies willing to under-bid on a job to get a foothold in this job field. For every one subscriber who quits the P2P in disgust, three more step up with dollars in hand.”

“They’re making money hand over fist. That’s all they care about. They’ll ignore this until it dies down, and then continue to think of new ways to fill their coffers.”

I have blogged about Voices.com before, and whenever I do, it always seems to hit a raw nerve. People share these stories on social media, and comment like crazy. But this time, one thing was definitely different, and I’ll tell you what it is.

Normally, I would always get a few commentators who would come to Voices.com’s defense. They’d tell me how much they love the site, how much money they had made, and that business was booming thanks to this Canadian company. Some said I should stop being so mean to Stephanie and David.

This time around…. nothing.

What I heard instead was this:

“I’m done.”

“I called customer service, and cancelled my membership. I should have done it a long time ago.”

Time after time after time.

And you know what else? In the midst of all this bad publicity, the company isn’t even attempting to do any form of damage control. They’re not denying anything that has been said or written.

At their headquarters in London, Ontario, it has been quiet.

Disturbingly quiet.

Voices.com seems to have lost its voice.

Oh well…

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!

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Casting Pearls Before Swine

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Internet, Journalism & Media, Promotion, Social Media 27 Comments

handing out adviceTo an ignorant outsider, the voice-over community I belong to may seem cutthroat.

Yet, if there’s one thing that makes it stand out among other freelance groups it is this:

Voice-overs love to share.

People with no or very little experience can expect a warm welcome, and a helping hand when they join an online VO-community.

Do you need advice on a microphone? You’ve got it!

Are you wondering how to soundproof your booth? We’ve got you covered!

I could easily spend all day answering questions from people I don’t know on Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social media. However, those days are pretty much over. Why?

Because it is a thankless task that eats up time, and doesn’t build my business.

Perhaps I better explain myself.

LURING LURKERS

Here’s what I know about internet culture. Most online communities consist of lurkers. You know, the people who observe, and very rarely participate. These folks like to take, but never give. They want to play the game, but they never show their cards. Have they earned the right to pick my brain? I think not.

It also consists of lazy people who never learn; people who want you to do their homework. Sorry, but I’m not going to enable an attitude of entitlement. 

Can you imagine a teacher spoon-feeding her kids by giving them all the answers on a silver platter? I thought the purpose of education was to make children resourceful and independent. 

I’ve also noticed another trend: many members of online voice-over communities are simply not serious. How do I know? Just look at the basic questions people ask. If they had half a brain and a genuine interest in the subject matter, they would have figured it out for themselves. But no, they apparently need a pro to hold their hand. Poor babies!

“But Paul,” some people respond… “Don’t be so harsh. You were once a newbie. You had to start somewhere, didn’t you?”

Of course I did, but here’s the thing. When I embarked upon a career in radio, I had more questions than answers. I made it my mission to find as many answers on my own, before asking for help. I didn’t want to embarrass myself in front of a pro. I wanted them to know that I had done my homework.

So VO-newbies, if you want to earn my respect, do your research!

INVESTING IN THE FUTURE

Thinking back to my start in radio, here’s what comes to mind: I was serious, I was committed, and I was willing to make an investment.

You see, that’s another thing that’s missing these days. This is the age of the free ride. Why pay for a song if you can download it at no cost? Why pay for Netflix if you can watch a pirated movie online? Why pay for expert advice if the experts are giving it away?

If we don’t value what we have to offer, we can’t expect others to find it valuable either. Those who are willing to make an investment, are usually invested in the process. Those who are not, have other priorities. 

“But Paul,” some people commented, “wouldn’t it be good for your business if people got to know you as someone who knows his stuff? You might even get some coaching clients out of it!”

Let me tell you something. In all the years that I have chimed in on Facebook or Google+, no one ever contacted me for coaching because they liked my answer to their question. Nine out of ten times I didn’t even receive a “thank you,” or other sign of acknowledgement. That’s why I call it a thankless task. People simply get what they need, and move on.

Well, that’s not entirely true. Some did ask about coaching, but as soon as I told them my rate ($125 per session), they said they were just “exploring options.” It is the epitome of not committing. 

Now, there’s another reason why I won’t be handing out free advice to every Tom, Dick, or Harry. I’ll explain by quoting a question I recently received from Mandy:

Paul, I read your article about your most embarrassing moment in your voice over career. You said that you used to use voices.com, but were only able to book a handful of jobs before leaving the site. I’m a voice actor as well and have been primarily using voices.com to find work. Now you said that you don’t really like the pay to play model and prefer to get work elsewhere. So my question is: what do you recommend for someone like me who is still new to voice acting? Are pay to play sites the only way for me to go being so new? I don’t have a demo or an agent so I don’t have people contacting me about jobs either. What options do I have? I haven’t really gotten much success with voices.com either, and voice acting is not my main source of income. I would very much like to learn and get better at voice acting too. Any knowledge or insight you can share would be great, thank you.

HERE’S MY ANSWER

Hello Mandy:

First off: thank you so much for reading my blog. I really appreciate that!

There are many ways in which I could respond to your comments and questions, but I have to say this first:

Without demos, industry contacts, experience, or an online presence, it’s virtually impossible to build a voice-over career, especially on the side, and especially in 2017.

I haven’t heard your work, so I can’t even tell whether or not you’re uniquely talented. This makes it really hard to give you advice. 

Some of my coaching colleagues might even question whether or not you’re serious about voice acting. They’re definitively not going to give you any recommendations on a silver platter. Their time and expertise are worth something.

I will say this, though.

The only way to get better in this field, is by taking trainings, and/or by working with a coach. Very much like driving a car, you can’t pick voice acting up from a book. You can’t teach it to yourself either, because you’re limited by your lack of knowledge. 

Overall I’d say that it is unwise to put yourself out there when you aren’t ready. No one opens a restaurant without knowing how to cook, right? 

The voice-over world has too many home cooks who all believe they’re the next best thing since sliced bread, and they don’t stand a chance against professional chefs. 

So, please don’t put the cart before the horse and expect to get work. Put in your time, make the necessary investments, learn the ropes, and build a solid home studio. Then we can talk about attracting clients.

Does that make sense?

This probably wasn’t what Mandy expected to hear, because she never responded. 

When it comes to a VO-career, there are too many people with their heads in the iCloud, and all of them believe they could be the next Don LaFontaine. Someone’s got to tell them that that’s never going to happen. Otherwise they’ll fall for all the propaganda from demo mills, unscrupulous VO-coaches, and greedy online casting sites.

UNDERSTAND FIRST

I do want to point out one more thing I tried to convey in my answer to Mandy: it’s rather pretentious to give advice to people you know very little about. You wouldn’t want a doctor to write you a prescription without having fully examined you, right? Yet, with the best of intentions, colleagues dish out advice left and right without knowing whom they are talking to. Stephen Covey was correct when he coined the phrase:

Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood.

I see a lot of people trying to be understood, without really understanding what the issue is. Do you know what I mean?

One last thing.

If all of the above is true, -and I believe it is… why am I still blogging? Isn’t that handing out unsolicited advice to people I don’t even know?

I suppose it is, but you know what? I pick the topics. I usually ask the questions, and I come up with answers. And most of the time, I feel very much appreciated.

Before I started blogging, very few people had even heard of this Flying Dutchman and his voice-over business. Now I am one of the go-to people when companies ask for someone with a European accent. Clients come to me when they need a native Dutch speaker. In other words: this blog has helped me build my business.

If people seek me out for my expertise, they have to come to my site, and not to someone else’s online platform. The amount of traffic this blog generates is worth more than any online ad campaign could give me. And the many friends I have made along the way… that’s simply priceless!

The way I see it, everybody wins, and that is why I will keep on sharing on my turf and on my terms. 

And yes: you’re welcome!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be Sweet. Please Retweet!

photo credit: Pondering Bob’s advice via photopin (license)

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