Have you had enough of wasting your time on auditions, bids and proposals that never lead to anything?
Perhaps it is time to make frustration your friend. Be sure to add a strong dose of disgust to the mix. According to success strategist Jim Rohn, disgust is one of the four emotions that can lead to life change. Rohn:
“The person who feels disgusted has reached a point of no return. He or she is ready to throw down the gauntlet at life and say, “I’ve had it!”
Once your frustration has reached a boiling point, it is time to make up your mind. Are you throwing in the towel, or are you going to take massive action and turn your business around? If you pick the last option, the next question is: HOW?
Read the rest of this story in my new book. Click on the cover to access the website and get a sneak peek. Use the buttons to buy the book.
The voice-over market is a buyer’s market. Voice-talents are exposed; voice-seekers are protected. As voice-over pros, we want to work. We need to work. Sometimes we’re so happy to be picked out of a pile of 100+ auditions; it’s tempting to say “YES” when we finally get a break. But would we have done so, had we known the facts?
The World Wide Web has put me in touch with the wonderful, the wacky and the weird. Anyone can pretend to be anything on the Net. That nice guy you met online might very well be the next “Craigslist Killer”. Or he could be Prince Charming! How can you be sure?
THE VOICE-OVER AS P.I.
I have a question for you: do you think you should have to play Sherlock Holmes if you audition for a job on a site like voices.com? Aren’t you paying the staff to do their homework to make sure you’re not connected to some creep?
If you’re a member of voice123, you might have seen the following disclaimer:
Legal note: Although Voice123 tries to establish the legitimacy of all voice seekers, you are responsible for conducting your own investigation into any and all claims made by prospective voice seekers, agents and/or clients. You assume all liability for use of any information you find through Voice123, LLC, or any of its publications.
Good luck, especially if the voice seeker is purposely hiding his or her identity! As we have seen in the case of the founder of Newspapers for the Blind, the voice123 team responded after members had complained about the way they had been treated. Make no mistake about it: at the end of the day, “You are responsible for conducting your own investigation.”
Here’s the good news: the Internet is not only a place for con-men and convicts. With so much information in the public domain, we might as well use it as a tool in our fight against the frauds, the fakes and the phonies. My story of Newspapers for the Blind is the perfect example. Before I get into that, I have an admission to make.
A GOOD CAUSE
When I was young, idealistic and hopelessly naive, I honestly believed that people involved in philanthropy must be good people. It never occurred to me to do a background check on a charity. What can I say? Even Steven Spielberg thought that Bernie Madoff was a nice guy…
After my story about Will May, some of you wondered: Is his organization a real charity?
On its website, Newspapers for the Blind (NFBT) says it’s a 501C-3 Corporation. This is a type of incorporation that is used to set up a charitable corporation, founded with the intention of providing a service to the community, rather than making a profit.
Incorporating a company makes it a legal entity, responsible for its actions in the community. This is important, because it removes a great deal of the responsibility from the person who is starting the company.
One source puts it this way: “If you start a 501(c)3 company, you want the legal liability for possible damages to be the responsibility of the 501(c)3 corporation so that your personal possessions are safe from creditors.”
So, how do you separate the chaff from the wheat? The IRS web site has a search engine that makes finding a registered charity a piece of cake. The Better Business Bureaus* have a similar function on their website. In both databases, Newspapers for the Blind does not come up as a registered charity, and I have asked the IRS and the BBB to look into this. I also checked the Maryland Charities Database (the state where NFTB is based). Again: nothing came up.
But there’s a catch: Elisabeth Leamy, the ABC News Consumer Correspondent warns:
“ (…) even if the IRS really has granted non-profit 501C-3 status to a group, that’s no indication of quality. The IRS doesn’t have the time or staff to really scrutinize those who apply for charity status. I once investigated a company that earned 501C-3 status. The IRS overlooked the fact that the founder was a convicted felon who kept most of the group’s money for himself and didn’t even register with the state as required by law.”
In her article “How to Identify a Fake Charity”, Jamie K. Wilson recommends we carefully examine a charity’s website and look for the following signs:
A board of directors numbering at least six people, with their credentials or regular job titles and place of employment listed
A permanent street address in the United States or your own country
A 501(c)3 statement
An outline of this charity’s goals
Downloadable financial statements that detail where money has been expended in the past
Accurate statistics with verifiable and legitimate sources
Good writing, spelling, and grammar
“Any charitable website lacking two or more of these traits is suspect. That does not mean the charity is fake. On the contrary, it might be very new and very legitimate, but without a track record. However, fake charities generally lack at least two of the above items.”
Steven Lowell of voice123 had this to say about Will May, the founder and editor of NFTB:
“Truth is… if he is rough to deal with, and pays, that is one thing. You get your money and never work with the person again. But to pose as a charitable organization, then not pay, and pull the routine that the people who delivered work must be the problem, when he in fact hired them… It is not a better business practice, and to some extent, illegal. I am not up to date on laws governing posing as false charity, but he did promise payment, and never came through.”
WHO IS WILL MAY?
Again, using what is in the public domain, what can we learn about the founder and editor of Newspapers for the Blind? Let’s first see what Will May told us about himself on his 2010 LinkedIn profile:
Interests: I like to sail boats and fly aeroplanes
Groups and Associations: Chief Medical Examiner of the Lesbian Fighter Pilots Association
In 2013, his interests are still the same, but his Groups and Associations comment was no longer there. His LinkedIn Summary consists of the following quote:
“I like to make money, so I can be ‘A river to my people.’ ~Auda”
May still lists himself as the owner of Nevis LLC. A Nevis Limited Liability Company is based in the Caribbean tax-haven of Nevis. For $1495 USD, you too could become the proud owner of a Nevis LLC. It has a few benefits:
Nevis does not impose corporate tax, income tax, withholding tax, stamp tax, asset tax, exchange controls or other fees or taxes on assets or income originating outside of Nevis.
The owners and managers are not registered anywhere, which provides for complete secrecy.
A Nevis LLC allows you to shield your assets from lawsuits, agencies, and financial creditors.
Owners can manage the company without becoming liable for company financial obligations or legal liabilities.
THE LAST TYCOON
Voice-over colleague Juliette Gray worked for Will May and never received a penny. She confirmed what I had suspected when I questioned where the money for Newspapers for the Blind was coming from. Juliette wrote:
“One long conversation I had with him he told me that he had put a lot of money himself into it and he was a retired real estate tycoon from NYC.”
This is confirmed by the information May listed in his 2010 LinkedIn profile under “experience”:
“Chairman of Wm. B May & Company- Real Estate from 1982 – 2006”
This is not your average local realtor. The William B. May Company once was the nation’s oldest real estate brokerage firm, and it has been in the hands of one family for four generations. The website of the New York Real Estate Institute states:
“William B. May’s impeccable reputation has been built on a singular philosophy of integrity, trust, full accountability and integrated service. To this day, we pride ourselves on unwavering ethics, steadfast client loyalty, and competitive endurance.”
In a December 2000 newsletter, the company boasts:
“With age comes wisdom. The development of 57th Street at the heart of New York City was what first put William B. May on the map in the late 1860’s. At that time, we sold property to the Carnegies, the Fricks and the Vanderbilts.”
Today, the company is no more. Only the brand William B. May has survived. The business concept is owned by Broker Services Holding, LLC and it is operated as a franchise.
On his LinkedIn page, Will May concurs that the company as it had existed, ceased operations in 2006, after -as he put it- “a tumultuous take-over fight”.
A BLAST FROM THE PAST
Gabriel Sherman is contributing editor at New York Magazine and a special correspondent for the New Republic. Prior to 2006, he was the media reporter at the New York Observer. In April of ’05, he witnessed the demise of the venerable family firm.
When I read his article “William T. May Sues Agency On Century 21 Ads”, a few things fell into place. This is how it begins:
“William Talcott May is the co-chairman of the storied real-estate brokerage founded by his great grandfather in 1866 and inheritor of the New York real-estate dynasty that bears his father’s name, William B. May.
But when the 44-year-old eccentric bounded into City Bakery on West 18th Street on a recent Thursday morning, wearing a fire-truck-red Scottish kilt and a navy-blue wool sweater, his broad, leonine cheekbones streaked with charcoal-hued face paint, he looked more Braveheart than businessman.”
If you don’t have time to read the entire article, here are some of the ‘highlights’:
Mr. May studied economics at Duke University. He dropped out in 1982 after two and half years. At Duke, Mr. May was a member of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity, played rugby and co-founded the school’s polo club with 40 ponies he said his cousin won in a craps game in South America.
After leaving Duke, Billy May -as he was known- returned to New York and worked in William B. May’s brokerage business while managing some of his own buildings. On the job he was stabbed and shot by tenants.
As he was flying his private plane on 9/11/’01, he witnessed the entire disaster from 10,000 feet above New York Harbor. He told Gabriel Sherman: “I was on the radio to McGuire Air Force base in 20 seconds saying there had been a terrorist attack.”
In December of 2001, the FBI and police arrested Mr. May for leaving six fake bombs at the New Castle County Airport in an attempt to highlight lax security.
Between trial and sentencing, he served 31 days in solitary confinement. Mr. May received a felony conviction and four years probation for the incident.
Mr. May’s attorney at the time, Penelope Marshall, said in reports that Mr. May was not medicated for his bipolar disorder.
Sherman ends his report from 2005 as follows:
“Mr. May, who says he has already spent $1 million of his own money to stanch the attacks on his family’s business, said he will not surrender until his family wins its name back. “I’m like a one-man pack of wild dogs when I get angry,” he said.”
You don’t have to be a psychologist to realize that past behavior can -to a certain extent- predict future behavior. In the case of William Talcott May, knowing about his background made me understand where his Mr. Nice and Mr. Nasty type of behavior was coming from. I just hope that he doesn’t unleash his ‘one-man pack of wild dogs’ on me. I’m more of a cat person.
As I said before: I think that Newspapers for the Blind offers a terrific service. I sincerely hope that it will survive Will May’s erratic actions. Eventually, his karma will catch up with him.
As for our friends at the voice-over casting sites (sometimes known as Pay-to-Plays)… we realize that you don’t have the time or the resources to conduct extensive investigations. However, it would be very helpful if you would publish information on those individuals who have pulled a fast one, and share it with your members and with other voice-over casting sites. That way, scammers who are exposed on one site, won’t be able to set up shop at another site.
Instead, you have left it up to our trusted colleague Mahmoud Taji, to come up with a Scam-Alert for our industry. As much as I applaud his hard work, this should not have been left to the efforts of one blogging voice-over talent in Egypt.
As voice-seekers, we pay you in order to take advantage of your internet voice-casting service. We don’t want to be taken advantage of, because you choose to protect your voice-seekers from our phone calls.
Come to think of it… isn’t that how we used to do business? We simply picked up the phone and introduced ourselves to a prospective client. What would Sherlock Holmes call that?
*The BBB Wise Giving Alliance has developed Standards for Charity Accountability to “assist donors in making sound giving decisions and to foster public confidence in charitable organizations. The standards seek to encourage fair and honest solicitation practices, to promote ethical conduct by charitable organizations and to advance support of philanthropy.”
Posting jobs under false names, not paying invoices and Jekyll and Hyde-treatment of voice-over talent… these appear to be the trademarks of William May.
Mr. May is the founder and editor of Newspapers For The Blind Organization,Inc, a web–based service, offering a daily selection of newspaper articles for the vision impaired, read by voice-over pros. The site was quietly launched during the last quarter of 2009 (and should not be confused with NFB-Newsline®).
The idea behind Newspapers for the Blind (NFTB) is not new but certainly noble. The other two people involved, Dr. Edward E. Boas Jr. and Noelle Mills Adler, have impressive credentials. Dr. Boas is a Professor of Computer Science, Data Processing and Electronics at Cecil College in North East Maryland. Ms. Mills Adler is a past president of the Ladies Christian Union of New York City (now known as the LCU Foundation).
But it’s the voice-over professionals known as “newspapercasters” who are at the heart of NFTB. Newspapersfortheblind.org raves:
“Our three dozen readers, culled from 3000 auditions, bring the precise vocal skills to reach and meet our unique audience.”
At the beginning of September 2010, I became a member of this “elite team,” after auditioning for the following job posted on voice123:
Newspapers for Blind
This is a daily long term commitment to read a newspaper article into an MP3 for webcasting and free-phone service to the blind and hearing-impaired.
The files would want to be recorded from roughly midnight to 6AM US Eastern Time, so, geography may be important to readers.
The pacing of the delivery is painfully S-L-O-W, and the voice resonance is highly critical for the hearing-impaired. Tenors and sopranos need not bother; it won’t work for the hearing-impaired. Professor Henry Higgins diction is important; bite the words.
Voice-seekers name: confidential
Company name: hidden
I was absolutely thrilled to have made the cut. Regular gigs are hard to come by in this industry, but there was another reason why I was so excited. Some jobs we do for the money; others because it is the right thing to do. This was the best of both worlds!
THE AMAZING MR MAY
On top of that, the founder/editor seemed to possess an incredible drive and contagious enthusiasm to make things happen. His initial emails were personable, funny and encouraging. After I started reading leads from The Independent and The Times, he commented:
“My Cat; BraveHeart, loves your voice. She always perks up when I play your readings. You have a fan.”
One day, I shared with him that I wasn’t feeling too well. He responded:
“Paul, hope you shake the cold…..just don’t shake this perfect voice, W”
This was clearly a man with a heart! One thing bothered me a little, though. Whenever I asked May if he intended to formalize the relationship and how payment would be handled, it took him months to come up with something that came close to a straight answer.
A month or so into the job, I had yet to be paid. Then I noticed that May had placed another job posting on voice123. Why would he be looking for new recruits? When I asked him about it, he answered:
“Please don’t worry about not enough readings for NFTB. Stick with me; I have to keep a Chinese Wall between the not-for-profit and other activities. There will be plenty of other activities to follow.”
He was right. Not only would I be recording and editing at least two articles a day, Will asked me and four other colleagues to record public service announcements for NFTB (a 501C-3 Corporation). I was tickled when he told me:
“Out of the 5, they chose your Public Service Message on 970 AM, New York.”
By that time I was on a roll. The only thing that was missing was a regular paycheck and eventually, that became an ordeal. I had to send out countless reminders, only to hear that my “address was lost” or that someone would be looking into it.
GIVE ME A BREAK
On November 15th, May surprised me with the following message:
“Lets let your money catch up with your readings; take a break.”
“(…) As you know, I am very supportive of your charity, and I don’t understand why I should take a break. (…) If you do not have the money to pay me, you should have said so from the beginning. As a professional, I made my commitment based on your commitment. Financially, I plan ahead and make future projections based on assurances that have been made by my clients. Knowing that payment would not be forthcoming or would be seriously delayed, would have given me the opportunity to reconsider my commitment to NFTB, and possibly spend my time and energy generating income in other ways. (…)”
“I had interpreted your last mail as unhappy. I was simply saying lets let the accounting, our weakest link, catch up with you. We have enough money, just not enough accounting bobbins.”
But on November 20th, I received the following email:
“Don’t count on any more readings in your planning; nothing to do with you. We’ll catch up the accounting, and probably just wind things up. May try to limp along at half or one-third normal see what happens.
Also, frankly, not enough users to merit all of the work; I’m working 18-20 hour days to throw 8-10 k out the window each week…what for.
I think we made sliced bread, when the world wants baguette.”
The truth is that it was business as usual at Newspapers for the Blind. They didn’t miss a beat, and never have. I was sidetracked for no apparent reason, while waiting for my checks. And I was not alone:
Voice-over colleague Juliette Gray picks up the story:
“I was hired in November. They required reading articles (in my case from the London newspapers). These articles were long and the editing took ages. Then the person in charge decided because these people were also partially deaf that I needed to change my sound system. I did this willingly because I thought I had a steady job.
At quite a bit of expense I was ready to start working again and it was then he turned out to be a complete nightmare. We exchanged numerous e-mails, phone conversations, etc. and then he did a 180 degree turn – sort of like a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Became impossible to communicate with and finally did get nasty in his final e-mail. Needless to say I never got paid.”
VOICE123 JUMPS IN
At that time, Steven Lowell was the “community manager” for voice123. This is what he said when I asked him about NFTB and Will May::
“When I first saw the job posted a while back, I was very excited because in NYC, I got some early voice over practice in the 90’s doing charity by reading books to the blind at a local church. It was something a coach recommended I do for practice.
The job made me think, ‘Wow! Good to see something like this again! Yet, what followed was an unpleasant experience of several talents with decades of experience, complaining to me that he was harsh and unfriendly to work with.
When reaching out to Mr. May to present that there have been problems, merely as a way to communicate feedback, his reply to me was, ‘Who complained? I don’t have the time to coach every talent to perfection….’
Before hearing my side of the story, voice123 heard from Juliette and 2 other voice-over professionals; one from the US, and one from the UK. As I was researching this article, I got in touch with other newspapercasters. Without exception, they asked me not to reveal their names, because they’re still hoping to get paid and they want to keep their job. But all of them told similar tales about Mr. May, and I wondered if voice123 had taken any action.
As a rule, voice123 only investigates non-payment matters that are 60-days old. Steven Lowell: “This is because we do not get involved, and most payment disputes are resolved quite easily with a reminder email from me.”
Having examined concrete proof from email correspondence as to what had happened, voice123 banned Will May from the site. Unfortunately, that was not the end of the matter. Lowell:
“Mr. May posted the initial jobs under his own name. Once removed from the site, he began to use different names. During verification efforts by our staff, it was discovered who was posting the job. The staff at Voice123 has not changed in 2 years, and we have become very aware of ‘who is who’, and as such, have been able to catch people easily trying to repost after being banned.”
Juliette Gray is still waiting for her paycheck, and she’s not the only one. I was lucky. Even though Mr. May still owes me a substantial amount of money, I did get paid for approximately two-thirds of my work.
For months, I asked May to pay the remainder of the balance, but he was MIA. When my knocks on his door became louder, he finally sent a very unfriendly email, accusing me of “futzing the dates” on my invoices. He wrote:
“I am in no great rush to go through hours of checking to deal with whatever might be outstanding to you. Checking truth versus falsehood is a nuisance.”
“The invoices were sent on November 9th of last year, so you have had over two months to figure things out. I resent your remark that I “started futzing the dates”. My invoices accurately and faithfully reflect the work I have done for your organization at your request, and that’s the work I deserve to be paid for.”
I think that Newspapers for the Blind offers a terrific service. The newspapercasters are dedicated and talented readers who can be proud to support their families by bringing the news to the blind and vision-impaired, day in day out.
The website has an impressive list of reputable institutions labeled as “dedicated listeners”. There is no doubt in my mind that the energetic editor has moved mountains to realize this project. Based on my email exchanges with him, Will May works night and day to keep the service up and running. I don’t know for sure, but I suspect that he has invested a substantial amount of his own money into this worthy undertaking.
I also believe that people are not their behavior. From time to time, all of us do things that we are not proud of, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t know any better. Just because we do something crazy, doesn’t mean that we are crazy.
Having said that, it is not okay to treat people the Will May-way, and voice123 was right to ban him from the site. Other sites have been alerted to make sure he doesn’t pull the same stuff. Furthermore: May needs to pay his talents. Without them, there would be no Newspapers for the Blind.
For now, I am left with one question: why would someone who is clearly invested in and dedicated to such a noble cause, turn from Mr. Nice into Mr. Nasty?
If you’re a quitter, don’t waste your time reading this article.
If you don’t want to grow your business, move on to another blog.
If you’re afraid to face the facts, by all means: keep your head buried in the sand.
And if you think you know better… good for you. Now, PROVE IT!
“Harsh words to start off the New Year, Mr. Strikwerda,” my inner voice whispered. “For a moment, you sounded like that annoying English chef from ‘Hell’s Kitchen’. Why be so confrontational? The new year has barely started. Why not write a nice poetic piece about splendid resolutions, good intentions, high hopes, big dreams and snowflakes? That should go down well at the start of the New Year. Cut your readers some slack!”
CREATURES OF HABIT
A 2007 survey of over 3,000 people conducted by psychologist Richard Wiseman led to one conclusion: 88% of all resolutions end in failure. Why?
People are stubbornly set in their old ways
People lack willpower and self-control
In my experience, good intentions are just as effective as wishful thinking, and are as lame as the word ‘try’.
Hopes and dreams usually get stranded on a beach named “One day….” And if we are to believe behavioral psychologists, most of us will do more to avoid pain than to experience pleasure. In other words: you and I will put more effort into running away from the things we don’t want, than in moving toward the things we desire. Provided we even know what we want.
When asked, most people can tell you exactly what they don’t want: “I want to stop smoking. I don’t want to be overweight.” We tell our kids: “Don’t touch that!” And what’s the first thing they do?
Making changes can be a painful process. If you’ve ever watched the show “Kitchen Nightmares,” you know exactly what I mean. Even if you’re not a fan of reality TV, and even if you can’t stand Gordon Ramsay (the foul-mouthed British chef who turns failing restaurants around), I’d like you to consider the following: is there something you and I could learn from this show and apply to our own business?
Let’s be honest: for many of us, last year hasn’t been the best year on record. I know that some of you are seriously thinking of giving up. Others are still wondering what went wrong. But even if the past year wasn’t too bad, you want your business to grow and do even better, don’t you? So, if quitting is not an option, how can you overcome your challenges, and make this year the best one ever?
Problems are never solved at the level they were created, and that’s why I find it very helpful to look outside of my own field. Success does leave clues, and you don’t need to be a CSI-specialist to find them. That’s why I’d like to take you inside ‘Kitchen Nightmares,’, and identify some of the ingredients of failure and success that may very well help us turn our businesses around.
STRATEGY FOR CHANGE
From a therapeutic point of view, Gordon Ramsay’s show follows a classic approach for bringing about change. There are three stages in this strategy:
1. PRESENT STATE (a.k.a. problem state) 2. RESOURCES 3. OUTCOME STATE (a.k.a. resolution state)
“Kitchen Nightmares” starts off by showing us why and how a restaurant is failing (present state). Then, top-chef Ramsay comes to the rescue, offering his experience and expertise (resources). Following his advice, changes are put into place and the restaurant has a successful re-launch (outcome state). A few months later, Ramsay returns to the scene of the crime to find out how the restaurant is doing.
Okay, let’s rewind. If you’ve watched “Kitchen Nightmares” a couple of times, you must have noticed a common theme:
Businesses don’t fail. People fail.
People are the biggest asset and the biggest obstacle. If you wish to turn a business around, you must turn the people around. Now, why is that easier said than done? Here are a few clues.
Once upon a time, all owners had a dream: to run a restaurant. Lack of culinary skills and the absence of business acumen did not stop them. Years later, their beloved business is one bill away from bankruptcy. Strangers can smell the smoke from a distance, but the owner pretends that there’s no fire. Denial is one of the biggest stumbling blocks on the road to transformation. Why make changes if you don’t believe something’s wrong? Ask anyone who’s ever been in therapy.
In the next scene, Gordon Ramsay enters the restaurant. He usually orders the signature dish. Fans of the show already know the food is going to look terrible and will taste even worse. As Ramsay tries to describe his disgusting dining experience, some of his words have to be bleeped out. Leaving most of the meal on the plate, he storms into the kitchen where the chef/owner is obliviously bragging about the menu.
“Bloody Bleep! That’s probably the worst *** I’ve ever tasted,” says Ramsay. “Are you out of your mind? You could have killed me with that raw fish. How dare you serve that load of ***?”
Instead of taking this as a wake-up call, most chefs are as shocked as they are in denial. They get the food back, but can’t take the feedback. Instead, most respond by putting up a wall of DEFENSIVENESS and BLAME. They’ll say things like:
“I’ve never heard anyone complain about the fish. It’s bought in. All I do is heat it up. Besides, who do you think you are to criticize me? The ‘great’ Gordon Ramsay? Give me a break!”
As tempers flare, the camera captures close-ups of tired sous-chefs, worn-down waitstaff and desperate significant others. The same words are written on their faces: “We’ve tried to tell him many times, but he just won’t listen. He always knows best.”
Let’s leave the show for a minute or two, and talk about your business.
At one point in your life you had a dream. What happened to it? I’m sure you’ve invested a lot in professional demos; you use the right gear; you did tons of auditions; you have an online presence and we can find your innermost thoughts on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. But did it get you anywhere? Have you made any money lately? Did you break even? Do you even know how much you’d need to make in order to do that? Or do you happen to run a non-profit the IRS considers to be a hobby?
Listen, this is not rocket science. If you feel lost, the first thing you need to do is admit it. Don’t be like the typical guy who drives around in circles because he won’t concede that he has no idea where he is. Instead, you have to determine where you are and how you got there. Only then can you start thinking of where you want to be and what path to follow. Better still: step out of your box and ask for directions! Preferably, ask someone who knows the area; listen carefully and make notes.
When asking an expert, I suggest you get down to specifics. Sure, you want things to be ‘better’ but compared to what? Do you want to make more money? Who doesn’t?
Most motivational speakers would give you a nickel and tell you: “See, you just made more money!” You probably want to make more than you’re making right now, but how are you going to determine that, if you don’t know how much you need to earn? You have to be as detailed as you can. Vague ideas lead to vague results. The only people ever to make money off vague ideas were impressionist painters. But by the time their paintings were worth millions, they were long gone.
MORE TO COME
This was just the first course. In the next installment, we’ll continue our Kitchen Nightmare, and I will tell you about creating a wholesome crisis, as well as the devastating effect of ‘premature closure’. And no…. this has nothing to do with shutting your business down too early.
“What kind of sign is that?” asked my friend Kees, who was on a visit from Holland. “Active bottoms… If I take 50 percent off my active bottom, I won’t be able to sit straight.”
“You’re right,” I replied. “But the world would be a quieter place!” Kees laughed. “By the way, I think TJ Maxx really means sweat pants.” “Really?” said Kees. People wear pants in a sauna?” “Well, you can take half off,” I said. This conversation was going downhill fast.
“Only in America,” said Kees. “Only in America.”
“Alright, my friend. Let’s go to the store next door,” I said as I was heading over to the parking lot. Kees didn’t understand. “Wait a minute….. That store is no more than twenty steps away. Where do you think you’re going?”
I quickly hid my car keys and remembered that I had responded exactly the same way when I first came to the States. “No wonder you gained some weight, man! You’ve gotten lazy. Getting any exercise lately?” “Lots,” I said. “That Wii thing is absolutely amazing. It’s unreal.” “You’re right about that,” Kees mumbled.
We entered the bookstore. “Is that coffee I smell?” asked my Dutch friend. “Coffee, in a bookstore?” “You’re right,” Kees. “But it gets even better. You can pick a couple of magazines, buy a calorie infused mocha-java shake with lava cake, grab a chair and trash whatever you’re reading. And when you’re done, you just leave your mess on the table.”
“No way,” said Kees. “Don’t you have to pay for that copy of ‘Good Housekeeping’ and the ‘Parenting Magazine’?” “Are you kidding me, Kees? Of course not. People even leave their kids here while they go visit the rest of the Mall. In fact, I just heard one of those hockey moms tell her daughter: ‘Here’s twenty bucks. Now get lost.’ Yes, Kees,” I smiled, “This country is big on family values. No child left behind.”
An elderly gentleman walked up to us in the music department. “Can I help you find something?,” he asked for the two hundred and forty fourth time that day. “Well,” said Kees, “If you tell me what you are looking for, perhaps I can find it for you. That way, you sir, can take a seat and rest your legs a little.”
“Oh no, I can’t do that,” said the man nervously. “I work here.” “He must be in his late sixties,” whispered Kees in my ear.”Don’t people retire?”
Meanwhile, I looked around. Something was missing. “What happened to all your classical CD’s?,” I asked the music seller. “The only things I see are bargain DVD’s.”
“We have a few CD’s left,” said the clerk, pointing apologetically at two or three rows of ‘Music for the Millions’. “I used to be a music professor,” he sighed.”My wife and I loved coming here. There was Bach, Beethoven, Brahms and Bartok. Look at it now.
We have Andrea Boccelli and that Dutch fiddler, Andre Rieu. People don’t know what they’re missing. I just had a customer ask for the theme of ‘The Lone Ranger’. I said to her: ‘I can order the William Tell overture for you.’ ‘No’, she said. ‘I want ‘The Lone Ranger’. Didn’t you hear me the first time?'”
“Let me see if I understand you correctly,” I said to the seller. “You have to order a CD of popular overtures, but you can sell me the unrated set of ‘Saw’ on brilliant Blue Ray?”
“That’s right,” answered the clerk. “Teenagers love it. Saw, Hostel 1, 2 and 3 and that Twilight stuff. And it’s not exactly cheap either.”
Two high school kids walked in, drinks in hand. “Hey Pops,” shouted one of them. “Any good deals on Black Friday?”
“What’s Black Friday? Something African-American?,” Kees wanted to know. He was puzzled because there’s no such thing in Holland. “It’s the day after Thanksgiving,” I explained. “The busiest shopping day of the year. People get up at the crack of dawn. They wait in line in front of their local Wal-Mart, and when the doors finally open, they crush the doorman to death so they can be the first one to walk away with a flat screen TV. That’s all. No White Christmas without a Black Friday. Only in America. The land of the killer deal.”
“You’ve become quite the cynic, after you became a citizen,” observed Kees. “And stop sorting those CD’s”. “I can’t help myself,” I said. “I used to work here a few years ago. It’s the curse of retail. But let me tell you something. Most people who work at this chain have two things in common. They’re overqualified and underpaid.”
“So, why do they do it? It can’t be fun to stand on your feet for eight hours selling rap, rock and horror when you’re nearly seventy,” Kees asked. “Benefits, my friend. Benefits,” I replied. “This country suffers from a major preexisting condition. There’s no such thing as universal health care over here. Not yet. But on a more positive note: we just discovered that there’s definitely water on the moon!”
We walked out empty-handed. “And you know what?,” I continued, “More than a third of what they call the ‘working poor’ have jobs in retail. When I used to work here, most of my colleagues had a second job to make ends meet.
The average department store “associate” only makes about 18 thousand dollars per year. So, single moms were counting on their parents to take care of the kids, while they worked another shift at the International House of Fruitcakes. And the next day, they would do it all over again. Not exactly the American dream, is it?
They used to say: if you work hard enough, you can achieve anything. Well, these people are doing just that and they’re going absolutely nowhere.”
“Let’s change the subject,” said Kees. “This stuff is depressing. What do people like to do for fun over here? Do they ever take a break?”
“I hate generalizations,” I said, “but some say that most Europeans work to live and that most Americans live to work.
My neighbors still don’t believe that I used to take at least four weeks off during the summer.” “So what does the average American like to do or see while on vacation?” asked Kees. “The Grand Canyon? The National Mall? MoMA?”
“Funny you should ask,” I replied. “I just finished reading a book by Ellen Ruppel Shell. She’s a professor of journalism at Boston University. It’s called CHEAP, and according to her research, America’s number-one tourist destination is… the factory outlet.
Not only are factory outlets the fastest-growing segment of the retail industry, but also of the travel industry. But as you can tell, even ordinary shopping centers are immensely popular. I read in the New York Times that the Mall of America in Minneapolis attracts more visitors per year than Disney World, Graceland and the Grand Canyon combined.”
“I thought you guys were in a recession,” said Kees. He continued, “I must admit one thing though…. Things like clothes are dirt cheap over here. I mean… take those active bottoms. Perhaps we should go back and get a pair.”
I had to interrupt, “Believe it or not Kees, I am convinced that there’s a link between the price of those sweat pants, the sweat shops where they were made, and the recession we’re in. This whole bargain basement outlet culture is one of the reasons why people aren’t earning wages that would enable them to keep their heads above water without maxing out their credit cards.
Speaking of credit cards… before we go home, I need to hit one more store today. My wife needs a new bra for her car and we’re not going to find it at Victoria’s Secret.”
Kees’ mouth fell open. “A bra. For a car? You must be joking!” “Haven’t you ever heard of a Car Bra?” I asked. “It protects the paint on the front of your car from things like bugs, flying rocks, and suicidal retail associates.”
“It will look so good on your resume” “This might lead to regular work” “We’re a start-up business” “It’s such a small project” “This is an Indie film” “It will only take a few minutes” “You’re new and we want to give you a chance” “Even if you don’t get the job, it’s still great practice” “You’d be perfect for this… I wish we could afford you”
If you’ve been an active job-seeking member of the voice-over community for… about two weeks, I’m pretty sure these ‘teasers’ have been thrown out at you a few times. They’re getting old quickly, don’t you think? Or are you still falling for them? Be honest!
These days, clients are getting even more efficient by leaving these phrases out. Now it’s just:
“Manhattan-based attorney’s office in need of a male voice for their website. Budget $100.”
Are you kidding me? These attorneys won’t even pick up the phone for 100 bucks. So, why do they expect us to work for a hand-out? Is it perhaps because many of us call ourselves voice-over ARTISTS?
MISCONCEPTION ONE: Artists don’t work. They just enjoy their hobby.
My wife, a professional flutist, had just finished an exhausting wedding gig: a ninety minute Mass followed by a two-hour cocktail party. All in all she had had two breaks: one to rush from the church to the banquet hall, and a ten minute bathroom break during the reception.
When she came back to get a refreshment, some guests looked at her as if she was stealing from the buffet. One of them even walked up to her and whispered: “Aren’t you supposed to be playing?”
At the end of the engagement, the mother of the groom walked her out and said it had been “lovely”. She sighed: “I used to play the flute. It must be wonderful…. being able to play music all day long.”
When my wife discretely asked for the paycheck that should have been handed to her at the beginning of the day, the groom’s mother looked shocked. She said: “Are you telling me you’re actually getting paid for this?”
Some people just don’t get it, do they? Whether we’re musicians, writers, web designers or voice-over artists, the opportunity to do the things we’re passionate about, should be enough, don’t you think? Well, why don’t we ask Alex Rodriguez about that? Perhaps he’d be satisfied with getting the keys to the Big Apple and a fat World Series ring.
MISCONCEPTION TWO:All you need in this profession is a computer, a microphone and an Internet connection, and you’re in voice-over business. Small investment. Huge ROI(and you can even do it in your PJ’s!).
Well, well…haven’t we heard that one before? If it were that easy, tell me who is paying for your:
hours spent finding work
invoices that never get paid
… and all other joys that come with running your own business?
Remember, all of the above (and more) has to come out of that job that you almost accepted for $100. Do you even know how much money you need to make in a year, just to break even? How about in a month? How much per week… per day? That’s just to cover costs. How about making a profit? How about saving a little for a rainy day or for college?
If all of this is a little overwhelming and intimidating, let me reassure you. This does not have to be your life! If you don’t have the drive now, do not waste any more time. If you’re not prepared to run your career as a for-profit business, you still have plenty of options… to name a few:
1. Stop posing as a pro and leave the market place to those who are willing to be professional. Stay an amateur instead. No pressure. 2. Get a ‘regular’ job with benefits
However, should you decide to become a professional solopreneur, start acting like one! Don’t do anything else before you take the next step: figure out what your basic minimum hourly rate must be, based on cost, billable hours, and the profit you’re comfortable with.
RUNNING THE NUMBERS
Of course it would be a little presumptuous to tell you what to do. Some people just don’t want to spoil their hopes and dreams by facing reality. These are the folks that purchased a house they can’t afford because they thought they could swing it. And now they’re paying for it.
Some people are more comfortable playing the victim or playing the blame-game. Others use excuses such as: “I was never any good with numbers”.
Sorry, but I’m not buying it!
If you’re not a numbers person, ask a friend to help you out; find a mentor, hire a pro… There are business coaches out there who’d love to have your voice on their AVR in exchange for their advice. It’s often better to have an impartial opinion from someone who is not in love with your dream. Have a business lunch with them, and bring your calculator and a note pad.
Third, make a small investment and get “The Money Book for Freelancers, Part-Timers, and the Self-Employed“ by Joseph D’Agnese and Denise Kiernan. This was the first book about money matters that I actually enjoyed reading. It felt like I was getting advice from friends who knew exactly what situation I was in. Joe and Denise offer very practical, down-to-earth strategies in a language anyone can understand, and they’re actually very funny too!
So…. next time a voice-seeker holds up one of those carrots I started this article with, imagine yourself walking into a restaurant and telling the waiter:
“I can’t really pay you full-price, but if your food is any good, I’ll be sure to spread the word.”
Please let me know how that worked out for you.
And if that did not go over so well, try going into Home Depot, hoping to get 75% off that professional pneumatic drill.
“And why would we do that?” asks the manager.
And then you utter the magic words:
“Well, it’s only for a small project….”
And finally, would you be willing to do me one last favor, please?
Once you’ve figured out your desired and minimum hourly rate, look at that $100 voice-over project again, that you were just considering. You know, the one that “will give you great exposure”.
“Attention Voice-Mart shoppers… in aisle seven you’ll find a fresh selection of promising audio book narrators, ready to read your epic three hundred-page novel for only $499.99. But hurry! Only today, they’ll throw in free editing. That’s right, a $299.99 value could be yours, absolutely FREE.”
The shrill sound of my phone woke me up out of a bad dream. So much for power naps!
Ever since I had helped my friend Fernanda with her website, she regularly calls me because she wants to pick my brain about the voice-over business. Her enthusiasm is contagious, and sometimes I feel almost guilty to be the one who has to bring her down to earth again.
The thing is, Fernanda is incredibly talented. I could listen to her voice for hours, and as it turns out, I’m not the only one. Not only is she blessed with amazing vocal cords; Fernanda has the uncanny ability to take you on a journey to a place where time and space no longer exist.
Her unique talent is only matched by her naiveté about the less artistic aspects of our work; minor details such as contracts, rates, self-promotion… you know, the boring stuff. In other words: she’s the ideal candidate to be taken for a ride. The other day it almost happened again…
Read the rest of this story in my new book. Click on the cover to access the website and get a sneak peek. Use the buttons to buy the book.
Imagine an international marketplace where buyers meet suppliers.
This business environment offers the broadest and most colorful selection of products from all over the globe. A fast and furious bidding process determines which supplier will sell to which buyer at what price.
Can you guess the name of this marketplace? Could it be eBay? Voices.com? Voice123, perhaps?
Let me tell you what’s unique about this particular auction environment.
Read the rest of this story in my new book. Click on the cover to access the website and get a sneak peek. Use the buttons to buy the book.
Which orchestra was voted the best symphony orchestra in the world?
Eminent music critics asked themselves that same question at the end of 2008. They narrowed the list down to twenty. A year later, the renowned British music magazine “the Gramophone” published the results.
The famous Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra ended up in second place, but who came first? The New York Philharmonic? The Wiener Philharmoniker? The Chicago Symphony?
I just spent a few hours on-line listening to YOU… my colleagues, my competition, my inspiration. It was both frightening and enlightening. As I was clicking away part of my day, I was amazed by a number of things, going from Pay-to-Play to Pay-to-Play. This is what I found:
1. Anyone can sign up for a voice-over site these days, on three conditions:
a. you have to have a voice b. you have to have a credit card c. you have to have a computer and a microphone
2. Fifty percent of the advertised ‘talent’ can’t interpret a simple script;
3. The same people don’t seem to know the first thing about recording either;
4. Amateurs who put themselves out there as voice-over pros, have a lot of guts, coupled with a deadly mix of unrealistic expectations, a lack of experience and the funds to invest in a pipe dream;
5. As I wrote in another article, foreign voices are often not as advertised. We still have Flemish speakers posing as Dutch talents, German speakers who are really from Austria, and Australians pretending to be Americans. Whatever happened to quality control?
6. Don LaFontaine is still very much alive, but he goes by many different names these days. Or is just every other American male voice-over talent riding on his coattails as they are trying to emulate the master?
PAYING THE PRICE
I must say that I don’t envy the voice-seekers who have to sift through over one hundred auditions to find the perfect voice for their low- or no-budget project.
Then again: they asked for it, so we shouldn’t feel too sorry for them. It’s the price you pay when you’re asking every Tom, Dick or Harry to tape a custom demo for that cheap frying pan you’re trying to sell on late-night cable television. You often get what you pay for… frying pan, voice-over talent, it doesn’t make a difference.
What do I make of all this, you may ask? Well, here’s what I think.
Having a microphone, a MasterCard, a laptop and a fantasy doesn’t mean one should be allowed to join a professional site, no questions asked. We have websites for amateur dog breeders, amateur sports people, amateur musicians… why not design a site dedicated to amateur voice-over artists? I bet you’ll make a lot of money in the Odesk-market segment. It could be a kind of Bargain-Bodalgo.
Don’t get me wrong. Hobbies are wonderful things. My neighbor takes great pictures, but he wouldn’t dare to advertise himself as a professional photographer, nor should he. National Geographic would immediately show him the door.
A friend of mine is not a bad trumpet player, but if he were to audition for a real job in the music industry, he would never make the first cut (and he knows it). Apparently, those stringent standards don’t seem to be in place in certain segments of the voice-over industry. Why not?
THE PROBLEM BEHIND THE PROBLEM
As long as some sites make most of their money through subscriptions, more members means more money. It’s a business model, not a charity. It’s a model that essentially values quantity over quality. The only way to go, is to grow.
Let’s be honest. The voice-over market is pretty much saturated at this moment. You don’t need a degree in economics to realize that a greater supply in a weakened market can only mean one thing: tumbling prices.
The best way to speed this process up, is to have suppliers engage in a furious bidding war. Darwin would have named it: “Survival of the Cheapest”. Isn’t that exactly what is happening? And if you don’t believe me, why is it so hard to buy products that are not “made in China”? Before we know it, all of us will be replaced by IVONA speech synthesis technology. It’s almost as good as the real thing and I bet it’s a lot cheaper.
NO CURE NO P(L)AY
If it were up to me, I’d rather have a performance-based No Cure No Pay-system in place. Out with the premium, platinum and titanium memberships. From now on, voice-over sites should get paid when I get paid. And the only way I get paid, is when voice-over sites do their job and connect me to reputable voice-seekers that are ready to pay reasonable rates.
Perhaps that will make the Pay-to-Play’s more accountable and selective in terms of whom they’re willing to represent. Perhaps that’s the way to separate the wheat from the chaff. Let the dabblers do their thing. As long as they stay in their own league and stop messing with my market.
Secondly, I’d like to see these websites publish and uphold certain professional standards. Accreditation comes from the word ‘credo’, which means “I believe“. Although related, ‘credo’ is not the same as ‘credit’.
Our belief in someone’s talent should be based on professional principles, instead of on the spending limit on their credit card. So, let me ask you this:
1.In your experience, are you aware of any professional standards that are promoted and actively upheld by Pay-to-Play sites?
2. If the answer is “yes”, are you happy with these standards, and are they well-advertised and implemented?
3.If the answer to the 1st question is “no”, do you think that voice-over sites should adopt, publish, promote and maintain certain standards?
4. Should talents be denied membership, if they don’t meet certain basic criteria of professionalism?
5. Would it make sense to create a special category for amateur voice actors, or even a dedicated website? Or do dilettantes have no business being in our business?
6.What’s the best and most fair way to compensate P2P’s for their services? A subscription fee? A percentage of what you’re making for a particular job? A combination of both?
AND THE WINNER IS…
One question remains. For that, we return to the quest for the best symphony orchestra in the world. The votes have been counted. The sealed envelope is opened as the audience collectively holds their breath. And the winner is….
The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra from Amsterdam
Why? Because their standards are higher. After a grueling audition process, the Concertgebouw only hires the cream of the crop; well-trained people playing the very best instruments. No amateur fiddlers. The Gramophone’s editor James Inverne, put it this way:
“It is hardly possible any more to recognize particular orchestras by their individual sound. I think that with some orchestras, and the Berlin Philharmonic amongst them, that’s a bit of a worry. Whereas with the Concertgebouw you always know it’s the Concertgebouw. And I think that’s what has given them the edge amongst our critics.
Maybe it’s occasionally very slightly rougher than what the Berliner Philharmonic can produce, but it doesn’t matter, because they’re like a great actor bringing their own charisma and their own personality to every work, and always giving you the sense of the spirit of the work.”
Now, that’s what I call music to my ears! I’ll gladly pay to hear them play any day!
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