Pay-to-Play

It’s Time To Choose

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play, Personal 8 Comments

Back in the Netherlands (where I was born), the fathers of my two best friends both worked in the same chemical plant.

I was eight or nine years old, so I wasn’t sure what the plant was producing. We did notice nasty clouds of yellow smoke coming from the chimney day and night. The stream behind the main building was smelly and bereft of life. My parents always warned me not to play there. 

Then, a local journalist, suspicious of what was going on, went undercover for a year, and with the help of an environmental group, he discovered that this plant was dumping dangerous chemicals left and right to save money. That money, by the way, went straight into the coffers of the two brothers who owned the plant.

The news of the pollution shocked and surprised the community, but it turned out that many employees knew all along what was going on. They said management had told them the dumping was necessary to keep the plant competitive, and that mother nature could handle it. 

How did the fathers of my friends respond? Very differently! One said that what this plant was doing was despicable, and he could no longer work for a factory that poisoned the environment for the sake of profit. So, he quit.

The other wasn’t happy about the pollution either, but said he needed to make a living. His family depended on his job, and he couldn’t afford to give it up. “Don’t make me feel guilty for staying,” he used to say to critics. “Do you want my family to starve? There’s no pride in poverty!”

While the father who quit went on to start his own business, the one who stayed died within a year. Doctors said his cancer was probably linked to the chemicals he had been dumping on a daily basis. 

A UNIVERSAL EXPERIENCE

This story of choices and the consequences of those choices is by no means unique. All over the world, at any hour of the day, good people do great work in bad organizations. They know the organization is bad, and yet they stay. Why? Because it pays the bills, and they have no other job lined up.

You see, the father who left the chemical plant had a small side business going on in his spare time. He had developed a line of biodegradable cleaning agents, and with the help of an investor he was able to launch his own brand which eventually became a household name. 

I was reminded of this saga after reading some of the responses to my last blog post entitled A Deal With The Devil, about voices dot com acquiring Voicebank. In it, I think I’m pretty clear:

It is time to choose sides.

Either, you’re part of the solution, or you’re part of the problem. As long as you keep investing in a company that does not have your best interest at heart, you keep that company in business. So, if you want voices dot com to stop poisoning the voice-over well while it is grabbing a larger share of the market, you have to act, and you have to act now. It’s in your own interest, and in the interest of your community. That is, if you feel part of that community.

Perhaps there’s the rub. 

To me the word collegial means “relating to, or involving shared responsibility, as among a group of colleagues.” It means standing up for common interests, and having each other’s backs. It refers to a friendly spirit of cooperation. As far as I’m concerned, we have a common goal:

To deliver the best service, to increase our standards, and to ensure that we’re getting paid a fair and decent rate.

BROTHER AGAINST BROTHER

Clients love to have us fight among ourselves, especially about what we charge. They’re trying to drive a wedge between those who sell their talent for less, and those who refuse to devalue what we have to offer. It’s up to us to play that game or not.

No matter where we stand, all VO Pros are small business owners, and it’s a no-brainer that the higher our rates, the more we make. The more we make, the more we can share and grow. So, it’s in our best interest to do whatever we can as a group and as individuals to educate clients and newcomers, and charge a decent rate for decent work so you and I can make a good living.

People have asked me to explain what I mean by a “decent rate,” and “making a good living.” That’s a good question.

My definition of a making good living is going to sound rather technical. It’s to make enough money to cover a family’s needs, to achieve financial independence while maintaining housing and food security, and have enough resources for health care, child care, education, transportation, savings, taxes, charitable giving, vacations, investments, and provisions for retirement or home purchases that build wealth, and ensure long-term financial security. A decent rate is a rate that allows you to realize these goals. 

Is that something you’re interested in? 

MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS

You may believe it’s none of my business what you or other people charge, or to which Pay to Play you want to belong, but I believe it is everybody’s business, because we don’t operate in a vacuum. We’re all connected, whether we realize it or not. The movement of the markets is the result of many, many individual decisions. 

Some readers thought it was incredibly rude of me to suggest that someone who’s okay with doing low-budget jobs, finds another line of work. Well, I think it is rude to resort to predatory pricing to undercut the competition by cheapening the value of our services. People who are willing to work for less than minimum wage or in some cases for free just to get exposure, should seriously consider another career before going broke trying to break into the business. 

“But Paul, I can’t afford to leave voices dot com. I have to eat. My family has to eat.” 

Well, I’ve been freelancing for most of my life, and I’ve discovered that it doesn’t have to be either/or: either we starve asking for a decent rate, or we eat while charging a rate that’s not so great. It’s a false dilemma. It’s also bad business as a freelancer to make yourself dependent on one or two sources of income. You’re supposed to be an independent contractor!

Every time someone gets hired for a reasonable rate, they prove that clients are willing to pay good money for good work. It’s a matter of identifying one’s strengths, and targeting clients looking for someone with those strengths. If you’re not doing so well financially speaking, you might be looking and booking in the wrong places. But if you’re good at what you do, you compete on much more than price. You compete on added value!

Remember what I tell my clients?

My added value is always higher than my rate.

YOU DESERVE MORE

There’s no pride in settling for less than you deserve. If you feel you’re not getting paid what you’re worth, hire a coach to help you improve and grow your business. That’s where you should spend your money. Don’t spend it on a hefty membership fee that gives you the privilege of auditioning for low-paying jobs that may go out to hundreds if not thousands of other “privileged” members. 

Now, let’s be honest. If you feel that voices dot com rates are as fair as their business practices, I want you to explain why it would be beneficial to a freelancer to leave money on the table, and why it’s okay to play a part in the overall decline of voice-over rates. Explain to me why it is fine for a non transparent company like voices dot com to turn voice actors into a commodity, and keep most of the money for managing a job (whatever that means), and handling your payment. I dare you!

The people who decided to stay with “Voices,” have told me they are aware of what’s going on, and they don’t necessarily approve. If that’s the case, I challenge you to get a spine, raise your voice, and contact the CEO, David Ciccarelli. Tell him exactly how you feel, and give him a chance to respond. Companies can change course under pressure, and Ciccarelli knows that without voices, there is no voices dot com. Let’s see if the company you still trust, is trustworthy, and open to feedback.

Here’s what I’m wondering, though: Do you have the guts to speak your mind, or will you continue to whine about people who you think are trying to make you feel guilty (thereby making them the problem, and not voices dot com)?

BACK TO HOLLAND

Meanwhile, the chemical plant in the Netherlands I was talking about denied the allegations, and tried to discredit the journalist who had exposed their practices. The government launched an independent investigation, and did indeed find that the chemical company had been poisoning the environment for years, putting an entire community at risk.

The company was ordered to pay a huge fine, clean up the polluted property, and change their production process. The brothers who owned the plant said they could not afford to do that, and when the government forced them to, they declared bankruptcy. Hundreds of people lost their jobs. 

Rumor has it that the two brothers moved to Switzerland, where they live a life of luxury.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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A Deal With The Devil

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play 29 Comments

Thanks a lot VoiceBank. You just made a deal with the devil.

Yes, you desperately needed a facelift, and you needed more money to up your services. Your auditions had turned into cattle calls. But we trusted you. Our agents trusted you. And now you’ve betrayed us in the worst way by jumping into bed with the Ciccarelli’s

Selling VoiceBank wasn’t really “selling.” It was selling out.

Don’t tell me you didn’t know what you were doing. You knew about their business model, screwing talent at every corner, cheapening our noble profession. But you were horny for money, and you took whatever you could get. And thanks to the kind folks at Morgan Stanley Expansion Capital, I’m sure you got a pretty sum. 

By taking the cash, you have shown your true nature, VoiceBank. Likes attract. You even admitted it in the press release:

“From early meetings,” said VoiceBank CEO Jeff Hixon, “it was clear to me that our companies had much in common, including a similar vision for the future.”

And what might that future be?

* Strengthening an unethical, greedy middle man who charges a hefty membership fee (which will probably increase), and takes a 40 – 50% “management fee”?

* Bypassing agents who negotiate fair terms & fees for the talent they represent? Putting them out of business, perhaps?

* Turning more and more union jobs into non-union jobs?

* Speeding up the race to the bottom?

* Turning unique voice talent into a commodity?

Hixon continued:

“(…) this relationship with Voices.com will be an invaluable benefit for both Voicebank.net and our customers.”

One category is clearly missing in this statement, and it is telling. Hixon forgot to mention voice talent. You know, the people who put the “voices” in VoiceBank and voices dot com (VDC). These voices are outraged, stunned, and disgusted. They also know that one can do a lot with 18 million dollars of Morgan Stanley money, but one cannot buy quality or integrity. 

As a result of this acquisition, a hungry, hopeful mob of cheap, amateur talent will be released to clients and casting directors. Let’s see how much time a busy voice booker is willing to spend, listening to a never-ending stream of VDC crap auditions. Casting directors have already been bypassing VoiceBank, counting on agents to find the right voices. That’s not going to change now that the Canadians are in charge. 

AGENCIES

Let’s see how many agents will cut their ties with VoiceBank, and double their efforts to make the most of their network of connections. Here’s the thing: the value of VoiceBank lies in the agencies and their roster. Take away the agencies, and you take away the value of the acquisition. The exodus has already begun. 

In fact, nine agencies have just formed the VO AGENT ALLIANCE, pledging Fairness, Integrity, Confidentiality, Professionalism and Diligence. The VO Agent Alliance is actively expanding, and ready to speak with other agencies willing to stand up for our industry. The nine agencies are In Both Ears, Go Voices, Voice Talent Productions, Play Talent, Umberger Agency, DeSanti Talents Agency, Rockstar Entertainment, The Actors Group, and ta-da! Voiceworks.

UNION RESPONSE

Let’s find out what SAG-AFTRA’s response will be. Perhaps this is their chance to show the voice acting community that -at last- it is taken seriously. Their reaction came on August 23rd, and it was lame and late:

“This new consolidation is of interest to SAG-AFTRA considering it could potentially impact members in the future. We will be in regular conversation on the subject with members, talent agents and casting directors, along with VDC and Voicebank. If you have any questions, please email adsgounion@sagaftra.org.”

AND YOU

What can you as voice-over do? Talk to your agent(s), and express your concerns and your support. Tell them you don’t want to have anything to do with the new and deteriorated VoiceBank. Ask them to pull out, and move on. If you subscribe to the weekly workouts, call to cancel, and tell VoiceBank why. Donate the money you save to WoVo and GVAA.

If you still have a profile on voices dot com (whether it’s free or not), ask to be removed immediately. If you seek a solution, you can’t be part of the problem. As long as you keep investing in a company that does not have your best interest at heart, you keep that company in business. It’s that simple.

The bottom line is this:

Voices dot com may now own VoiceBank.net, but it does not own you or me.

As voice talent, we cannot control companies, clients, or colleagues. We can only control ourselves. I left VDC a long time ago, and I survived. I have never landed a job through VoiceBank, and I’m still here. I have quite a few amazing agents, but if I had to rely on them to make a living, I’d be out on the street.

At the end of the day, I am my best agent. No one will do more to further my career than the guy who stares back at me in the mirror. I know I don’t control the winds of change, but I know how to adjust my sales. And no, that’s not a typo.

Out in my neighborhood I just walked passed a majestic sunflower. It had taken months to grow from a small seed into a radiant explosion of yellow. But today, something had changed. 

The giant flower became top-heavy; too full of itself, and now it is bending its small neck toward the ground.

It became a victim of its own weight.

In a day or two, it will all be over.  

You can bank on that!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Who’s Afraid Of Decent Rates?

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

AfraidNewsflash!

The great rate debate is still going strong.

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

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

What’s going on?

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

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

TURNING A PROFIT

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

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

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

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

The photographer responds:

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

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

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

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

ONGOING ADDED VALUE

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

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

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

THE TROUBLE WITH COLLEAGUES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WE NEED EACH OTHER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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

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The Cost of Having a Conscience: the Ethics of Voice-Over

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Pay-to-Play, Personal, Social Media 24 Comments

The author at VO Atlanta

There is no doubt about it:

The fifth edition of VO Atlanta was spec-ta-cu-lar!

Over 550 voice-overs, coaches, service providers, and VO VIPS gathered for three never-ending days, and had a blast.

The quest for actionable knowledge was palpable. The desire to raise our reputation, our standards, and our rates was on everybody’s mind. The energy was electric!

If you ever doubt that ours is a sharing and caring community, come to next year’s conference, and feel the love of an amazingly talented, supportive, and crazy group of people who are short on ego, and big on brother- and sisterhood. You’ll never feel isolated again, and you will leave tired but incredibly inspired.

I had the good fortune of sharing the stage with Bev Standing, Dave Courvoisier, Cliff Zellman, Rob Sciglimpaglia, and moderator J. Michael Collins for a panel discussion on Voice-Overs and Ethics. Because so many of you weren’t able to be there, and the topic is so important, I want to recap some of my thoughts on the issue. Let’s begin with my take on ethics.

MORALS, MONEY, and ME

In short, ethics are moral principles that shape our lives; beliefs about what’s right and what’s wrong. These beliefs guide our decisions, and help us make choices based on what we think is important and good for us, and for society. Every day we make ethical decisions: at the grocery store, when we decide which charity to donate to, and which party and politician to vote for.

Even though the ethics panel largely focused on rates and business practices, ethics goes further than fees and codes of conduct. In my case, personal ethics impact pretty much every business decision I make. My moral compass makes me ask questions such as:

– Do I really want to work with this client?
– Is this a product or service, political party, or philosophy I want to be associated with?
– Is my business all about money, or can and should it be an instrument for social change?

During the panel discussion, moderator J. Michael Collins asked a number of thought-provoking questions, and here’s number one:

Do talent have an obligation to consider the impact of their pricing on the greater industry?

No one lives on an island. Whether we realize it or not, we’re all connected. Perhaps I see it that way because I come from a very small country. In the Netherlands, the Dutch can’t easily escape the consequences of their actions. The behavior of one company or one person even, can affect society as a whole. 

In the labor market, voice-overs belong to a rapidly growing group of independent contractors. I’ve always thought that this label was wrong. I prefer to call us interdependent contractors. We’re all linked by common causes, and individual actions influence those causes. What do I mean?

For one, all of us are training clients how to treat us.

Every time we quote a job, we’re giving out a signal to the industry: “This is what a job is worth. This is what I’m worth.” If we’re telling clients they can get more for less, we’ve just helped set a standard, and made our job a bit cheaper. Of course you may not see it that way, because it’s part of human nature to downplay the impact individuals have on their environment.

Millions of individual shoppers, for instance, neglect the fact that their plastic bags are responsible for the killing of marine life on a scale that’s unimaginable. But -as a wise man once said- if you believe that individuals have no influence on the system as a whole, you’ve never spent the night with a flea in your bed.

Here’s Michael’s next question:

Do talent have a responsibility to avoid doing business with sites or companies who promote poor pay standards?

As far as I’m concerned, there are many reasons to avoid working with certain companies. Perhaps they’re big polluters. Perhaps they use child labor. Perhaps they are run by a corrupt family. You’ve got to do your homework to find out. By working with those companies and sites, we keep them in business, thus enabling their practices.

Here’s the thing. I’m not going to tell you why and where you should draw the line. If you’re okay voicing a promotional video for a company that makes cluster bombs, that’s your choice. If you’re fine voicing a commercial for a fast food giant, go ahead -as long as you take some time to think about the ethical implications of what you’re doing.

In our line of work, a job is rarely “just” a job.

I will not lend my voice to video games that glorify gratuitous violence. As a vegetarian, I refuse to promote animal products, and as a non-smoker, I will never sing the praises of a tobacco product. For that, I am willing to pay a price. Sometimes it is a hefty price, because throughout my career I’ve had to say “No” to quite a few projects that would have paid the bills for many months.

My voice may be for hire, but my morals are not for sale.

So, do I think we have a responsibility to not do business with companies that rip us off? Absolutely! We’re either part of the problem, or we’re part of the solution.

What are some best practices you would like to see coaches and demo producers follow?

Number one: Don’t guarantee your students any work. ROI is not a given. There are very few shortcuts to success. Coaches and producers should stress that this is a subjective, unfair business. Get rich quick does not exist. They should educate their students about going rates, and professional standards.

Coaches and producers should carefully select whom they want to work with. They should not continue to take money from students that have no talent, or show little improvement, just because they’re paying customers. In my opinion, that’s unethical.

What expectations should talent reasonably have of talent agents and agencies?

An agent or agencies should offer opportunities that play to the strength of a particular talent. They should do the leg work, so the talent can focus on the job. Agents or agencies should also negotiate a decent rate. What else?

A good agent knows you better than you know yourself. A good agent sees potential, and hears things you yourself do not hear. A good agent helps you grow, and goes to bat for you.

A great agent has a unique in, into the market; something other agents may not have. I want an agent to be brutally honest with me, and to shield me from bad clients.

What is a reasonable commission for an agent, or other casting organization to take?

Anywhere between ten and twenty percent.

What are some red flags to watch out for when seeking agency representation?

Agents charging a fee for representation: “I’ll represent you if you pay me 250 bucks!”

Another red flag points at agents that send out jobs every other agent sends out. That’s lazy. Also keep an eye out for agents that are never available, and never give you any feedback.

What level of transparency should we expect from online casting sites, and what does that look like?

A lot has been said about one of the biggest online casting sites operating out of Canada. Last year, Voices dot com (VDC) had a clear and controversial presence at VO Atlanta. This year, the conference organizers determined that VDC was no longer welcome at the table, because it “does not have the best interest of voice talent at heart.” The importance of that decision should not be underestimated, and the announcement was greeted with great applause.

As you may know, I have exposed VDC’s dubious business practices in the past, and part of their problem has to do with a lack of transparency. When asked why VDC would not be entirely open about the way they do business, I quoted psychologist Dr. Phil McGraw, who once said:

“People who have nothing to hide, hide nothing.”

An online casting site must be open about their business practices. Otherwise, it will lose the trust of its members. It has to be clear about the way auditions are offered, and to whom. Is everybody getting a fair chance, or is there a secret system limiting talent, lining the pockets of the people in charge?

A Pay to Play has to be open about how much a client is paying, how much the talent is getting, and how much is taken in by the casting site. That site should listen to feedback from its members, answer questions honestly and without spin, and refrain from double or triple dipping.

Is it reasonable for sites to charge both a membership fee and a commission?

Ideally, I believe a commission should cover all services provided by the online casting site. That way the site has an incentive to deliver, and make sure the talent gets paid a fair fee. Commission rewards positive action. The more a talent makes, the more the casting site makes.

Now, by using the commission model, an online casting site might start acting like an agent, and in the U.S. that’s not allowed. Remember though, that in most countries in the world there are no voice-over agents, so this is not as big of an issue as it may seem to some.

THE UNSPOKEN SIDE OF BUSINESS

During the panel discussion in Atlanta I noticed something I hadn’t noticed before: the ethical aspect of our business is not something we tweet about, or talk about on Facebook. Ethical issues are hard to put into 140 characters, or in a short status update. They often are complex, deeply personal, and seldom black or white.

Some people don’t give ethics much thought. If the money is good, they’ll take the job. Others feel that just because they’re the voice of a campaign, it doesn’t mean they have to agree with that campaign. They see themselves as voice actors, and actors merely play a role. That in and of itself, is a position based on a personal belief. 

One thing I know for sure, and from experience.

Once you decide where you draw the ethical line, you will be tested. Let’s say you don’t like the way animals are treated by the agricultural-industrial complex. The moment you decide not to promote anything having to do with animal abuse, you will get a request to do a commercial for a fast food company.

It’s the irony of life!

WILL YOU JOIN ME?

During VO Atlanta, many colleagues had a breakthrough moment, or even multiple Aha moments. Just look at your social media stream. People can’t stop posting about it. Something in them has changed as a result of this conference. A spark has been ignited, colleagues have become friends, and people no longer feel isolated.

Take my advice, and join that silly gang in 2018 (March 1-4). If you preregister now by clicking on this link, you’ll lock in the very best price. This offer is available until the end of the month.

I hope to see you there, and perhaps we’ll get another chance to talk about ethics!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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PPS The inimitable Peter O’Connell has penned a response to this post. Click here to read it. 

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A Historic Year

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Internet, Journalism & Media, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play 3 Comments

For many reasons, 2016 was a year for the history books.

Where shall I begin? 

Let’s start with the economy, stupid! The on-demand gig economy, to be exact.

If as a self-employed person you ever feel isolated, remember this: You are not alone!

A GROWING NUMBER

The freelance workforce in the U.S.grew from 53.7 to 55 million people this year, now representing 35% of workers. In 2020, this number is expected to go up to a whopping 50%. In other words: you are part of the new normal. That’s a good thing, and a bad thing. 

Right now, freelancers contribute an estimated $1 trillion annually in freelance earnings to the U.S. economy. Unfortunately, flex workers don’t enjoy the same benefits and protections as non-freelancers. Employers have turned regular, full-time jobs, into part-time, freelance jobs. That way they don’t have to contribute to health care, pension plans, and other benefits.

Because the freelance workforce is mostly unorganized and unprotected, it’s easy for employers to do whatever they want. According to the Freelancers Union, over 70% of their members have been cheated out of payments that they’ve earned, and are stiffed an average of $6,390 every year.

On that topic there is some good news that made 2016 a historic year. It’s something that has been mostly overlooked in voice-over circles, perhaps because it’s relevant to the 1.3 million freelancers in New York City. However, this news could eventually be the beginning of change in the rest of the country. 

FREELANCE ISN’T FREE

In October, the NYC Council unanimously passed a bill helping freelancers get paid on time and in full. On November 16th, Mayor de Blasio signed it into law, and it’s called the “Freelance Isn’t Free Act.” NYC is the first city in the nation to provide protections against non-payment for freelancers and independent contractors. 

Here’s how it works:

  • The law, which will apply to contracts of $800 and up, requires any company that hires a freelance worker to execute a simple written contract (it could be as simple as an e-mail), describing the work to be completed, the rate and method of payment, the date when payment is due, and basic contact information for both parties.  

  • Payment in full is required within 30 days of the completion of services or of the payment due date under the contract, whichever is later. Companies who fail to pay would face penalties, including double damages, attorney’s fees, and civil penalties.

  • Under the law, companies would be prohibited from retaliation against freelancers who seek to exercise their rights under this bill.

According to council member Brad Lander who worked closely with the Freelancers Union to write this bill…

“The NYC Department of Consumer Affairs will act as a navigator for freelancers facing nonpayment. DCA will provide model written contracts in multiple languages, accept complaints from freelancers, issue a “Notice of Complaint” to hiring parties that don’t pay, and make it easier for an aggrieved freelancer to bring charges to court”

He continues:

“Just 5% of freelancers take delinquent clients to court, in large part due to the very high cost of hiring an attorney, and the unlikelihood for that lawyer to take the case “on spec.” Those freelancers that do bring deadbeat clients to court are often subject to retaliation – an especially big problem for freelancers that work through agencies, or on an ongoing retainer.”

“By passing this law, NYC is helping to address a big gap in state and federal laws for protecting workers. The Freelance Isn’t Free Act can serve as a model for cities across the country to take action to protect the growing number of “gig economy” workers.”

And that’s precisely what I hope will happen. This law needs to become the norm in our nation so freelancers like you and me are protected from non-paying clients.

THE STRIKE GOES ON

The last thing that made 2016 a historic year is this: unionized voice actors appearing in video games went on strike against 11 employers. The sticking points are twofold: working conditions and the compensation method. I could easily devote an entire blog post to dig deeper into the issues, but instead I encourage you to click on this link to get a better idea of what’s going on.

This is the first time I feel SAG-AFTRA is taking voice actors seriously. For years, the unions have treated us as second and third-rate citizens. Now that certain video games make even more money than some Hollywood blockbusters, we finally matter. However, video game voice actors make up a small percentage of all unionized voice talent, and I want SAG-AFTRA to care just as much about the compensation and working conditions of other members.

Whatever the outcome of the strike may be, the agreement reached will send a signal to the entire industry, and will impact both union and non-union talent. Why is that? Well, technology is changing rapidly. More people watch content online, and the internet knows no borders. Traditional media markets that were used to determine rates are rapidly disappearing, and our pay needs to be up to par with this changing landscape.

CROSSING THE LINE

The strike is also testing our solidarity as a professional group. Will newcomers take advantage of the situation, and cross the (virtual) picket line? You may find it shocking that some colleagues will act as scabs, but to me this is an indicator of another trend: the deliberate weakening of the position of voice-overs from within. Every day a symbolic picket line is crossed by voice-overs that are taking jobs for less because…

“Some money is better than no money”

“I’m just getting my feet wet”

“It’s only a hobby.”

“The client said she couldn’t afford to pay more.”

“I’m an idiot and I only care about myself.”

I hope 2017 will be the year in which union and non-union voice actors will take a stand, just like their video game voicing colleagues. I’m not suggesting we go on strike, but we can refuse to work for clients that don’t take our craft seriously. In fact, we don’t take our craft seriously every time we allow a client to take advantage of us, financially or otherwise.

There are 55 million independent workers in the U.S., and our numbers are rapidly growing.

But if we don’t act now to protect our livelihood, voice-overs won’t be part of the increase.

And we only have ourselves to blame. 

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet.

photo credit: Shrieking Tree Anti-Torture Vigil – Week 18 via photopin (license)

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Voice-Overs: the Untold, Unsexy Story

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Pay-to-Play 20 Comments

Standing at the gates of hellSomething strange is going on.

Whenever I try to warn people about the intricacies and pitfalls of the voice-over business, I get two types of reactions.

More experienced colleagues thank me for painting a realistic picture of a complicated industry.

Beginners criticize me for spitefully dashing their dreams.

To some, I am a hero for speaking my mind. To others I’m a villain who wants to curb his competition. There seems to be no middle ground. Just look at the reactions to my YouTube videoThe Troublesome Truth About A Voice-Over Career.” Even though I made it a few years ago, I still stand behind every word of it. One of the commentators said:

“Why would anyone seek out this negative party pooper? Don’t just offer the problems, offer the solutions, or at least direct people to where they can find the solutions. That might be on your website, but most people will never go there as all you’ve done with this post is attempt to suck the life out of their dreams.”

Another one said: 

“Why is this guy such a douche bag? Haha. This is a video about a VO actor that sadly didn’t “catch the big break” and made a rant video.”

Here’s a third response:

“Tough love. I appreciate it. Thank you for this, but it has me more determined than ever!”

And one more:

“A very honest and accurate summary of the voiceover business. As I tell folks, my job is not doing voiceovers. My job is finding voiceover clients.”

THE POWER OF PREJUDICE

Positive or not so positive, every response teaches us something about confirmation bias. It’s this very human flaw that makes us see what we want to see, hear what we want to hear, and believe what we want to believe. It’s a way of filtering information that confirms our preconceptions. Quite often, it makes people immune to facts.

Advertisers create entire campaigns to play into people’s biases by offering simple solutions to complicated problems. Here’s a familiar example from a new website, using the persistent myth (bias) that every ignorant fool with vocal folds has a good chance of becoming a professional voice-over!

screen-shot-2016-10-24-at-8-57-13-am

Yes folks: anyone with a camera can make money as a photographer. Anyone with a hammer can become a carpenter, and anyone with a piano can be a concert pianist. You just have to believe in yourself, and sign up for whatever training program they’re trying to sell you. Clients worldwide are waiting for you!

CUTTING THE CRAP

Well, let’s do a reality check, shall we? If you believe I have a hidden agenda and can’t be trusted, perhaps you’re willing to listen to an accomplished colleague of mine. He’s a writer, producer, and voice talent. A while ago he responded to one of my blog posts entitled What Clients Hate The Most.” His story is a tale I have heard many times since I started writing this blog.

It is honest. It is raw. It is painful.

Minutes after he posted his remarks, he asked me to delete them because of possible repercussions. Sharing setbacks could be bad for business, he said. I think he has a point. 

Most of us do our best to look successful in the eyes of colleagues and clients. That’s why we share our latest and greatest accomplishments with our peeps. Colleagues refer colleagues with an impressive track record. Clients want to hire winners, not whiners. 

So, I shelved his message for months, but in some way it continued to haunt me. Here was a story from the trenches that deserved to be heard. I’m not saying it is representative of what every single voice talent goes through, but it tells a story you have to hear. This week he gave me permission to share it with you.

RICK’S RESPONSE

Hi Paul:

I’ve written and produced for thirty years. One of my pieces is used by Dan O’Day in one of his courses, specifically the use of music in a commercial. I am quite good at nuance and communicating just what the client wants in the way he wants it. I have top-shelf recording gear with a couple of the world’s finest mics and preamps, and my stuff sounds very, very good.

I’m a good editor with an instinct for timing, layering, choosing the right music when required, and knowing where to put it. My demo is as good as anything you’ll hear. I’m a nice person with good people skills, and an ability to empathize.

I was mentored by a writer who did “Where’s the Beef,” and “Sometimes You Feel Like a Nut.” He told me 25 years ago, after working with him for many months, that I had reached a level where I should be making $75K. This was in 1981. I have read the books, gone to the seminars and webinars, written and produced 2000 commercials plus audio and video pieces for corporations and government agencies.

This year I will perhaps make $30K, only because I’m now on social security, and have a couple of new clients. All my clients are local. The average amount they spend per month on advertising is $700-$1000. I have sent out very well-designed and well-written post cards. I made hundreds of phone calls. My average income 15-20 years ago was $20-25K. For the last five it’s $15-18K.

I used to believe that if I learned my craft, had natural ability, never stopped learning, and worked diligently in making contacts and handling them well, I would succeed. I no longer believe that. 

I have lost clients to people who don’t write any better than radio stations, and don’t know how to schedule for effectiveness. 

I went with the two large pay-to-plays, and after 200 auditions and getting one inquiry that didn’t go, and after seeing people make it who sound like every dj you ever heard, I believe that success comes only when you (luckily) land that One Big VO gig or (luckily) get that One Big Client, and it all flows from there. 

For the people I know, that’s how it happened for all of them. I’m sure for many it’s different, but I haven’t seen or talked to anyone like that. I know there are more than enough people out there whom I could greatly help, whose messages are off-point and blandly produced, and who believe a commercial should “sound like a commercial” because that’s mostly what they hear.  They’re tossing their money in the street and don’t know it, and don’t know they don’t know. But I’ve never been able to find them. 

It’s an understatement to say I’m crushed. I know several talented people who just can’t make it, who will probably never make it. I am one of them, apparently. It’s a horror, Paul. I mean that quite seriously.

I am 66, sound like I’m 40, am still firing on all 8, and am writing and editing better than ever. But after three decades of not making enough to keep my family above the poverty line, I feel I am condemned to having small clients forever: Moms and Pops who, God bless them, believe they know more about advertising than I do, because people think “anybody can do advertising” and “all you need to do is get your name out there” and advertising is an afterthought; something they can give to Mikey the office assistant. You know what I mean. My few clients think I’m a genius, and I’m always naturally ‘up’ when talking with them or talking to a possible new client.

Because I love doing this, I have offered my services free to several organizations including charities. I have yet to get one callback.

VO guys and people who write and produce, have told me they spun their wheels for five years before getting the break that opened the Horn of Plenty to them, and they complain about “all that time” it took before it happened.

Really? Try starting in 1981 and still be nowhere.

Dante posted a sign outside the Gates of Hades saying “Abandon hope, you who enter here.”

Well, I know how that feels.

Rick*

THE TAKEAWAY

So, here’s a guy who is a triple threat. He was trained by the best. He has tons of experience, and he owns the right equipment. Yet, he’s struggling. I don’t know enough about Rick’s situation to tell you where and why things went wrong, and how they can be improved. I do know that Rick is not alone.

If sharing Rick’s story makes me a party pooper, or a douche bag, so be it. Frankly, I don’t care what you think, because throughout history people have always blamed the messenger. The question is:

What do YOU take away from Rick’s story?

Does it upset you? Does it make you more persistent to pursue your dreams? What does it tell you about breaking into voice-overs? 

I’ve had some time to think about Rick’s story, and here are my two cents.

If there’s a lesson in his narrative, it is this: The advertising/voice-over industry is not fair. In fact, life itself isn’t fair.

Studying hard, working hard, having the right chops, and owning the right equipment does not guarantee anything. Putting out nice brochures or postcards entitles you to… nothing. Being a nice guy doesn’t mean you’ll make enough to pay the bills.  

Uncertainty is the name of the game. There is no promise of work. There’s just potential, talent, and subjective selection. 

This is not a message many want to hear. It is a message most Pay-to-Plays, training companies, and demo mills want to suppress because it’s not sexy, and it doesn’t sell.

YOUR TURN

Now, Rick was brave enough to stick his neck out, and I would like him to walk away with something positive. That’s where you come in!

Ideally, I’d love it if you would use the comment section to answer some or all of the following questions:

• Is Rick’s experience unique, or do you recognize what he is going through?

• If you’ve been in a similar situation, what have you done to get out of it?

• What needs to happen in our industry to make it more likely that people like Rick can make a decent living?

The floor is yours.

Your input is much appreciated!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be Sweet. Please retweet!

*As you can imagine, Rick is not his real name. 

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Stop Bashing Voices.com!

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play 32 Comments

The history of the world is littered with intelligent people doing stupid things. 

Some of those people have interesting excuses:

“I continue to suck on this carcinogenic stick, even though it could kill me. It’s just so relaxing.”

“I won’t stop sexting, even if it ruins my marriage and my political career. I can’t live without the excitement.”

“My employer treats me like dirt, but I’ll stick it out because I have great benefits.”

The people who are saying these things are smart and have been around the block a few times. Yet, they choose to continue to behave in weird ways, almost as if they have no choice.

I had to think of these people after I heard of yet another chapter in the ongoing saga of Voices dot com (VDC), sticking it to voice talent. Under the heading Did Voices.com Just Take a 92.5% Commission?,  colleague Marc Scott reported that VDC had the audacity to post a $4000 job for a measly $300. How do we know? The VDC audition script for this national TV spot happened to be identical to a script that had already gone out to several agencies. 

Busted!

In its defense, “Voices” claimed the project they posted was cast in a different way, with multiple roles instead of one. Scott spoke to people who had received the original casting, and they disagreed. In their understanding, the client was offering $4000 per role. Not $300. 

In an email response to Scott, VDC went a step further in explaining the $3700 difference. Get this. They said their quote wasn’t even based on the client’s budget, but on their own rate sheet.

Well, no matter how you spin the story, offering three hundred bucks for a national TV spot is beyond pathetic, if not outright insulting. But that seems to be the way VDC treats the people who put the voice in “Voices.” 

If all of this comes as a shock to you, you’re either new to the voice-over business, or you have been ignoring the facts. It’s been a year since my two posts Voices.com Is Slapping Regular Members In The Face, and Voices.com: Unethical and Greedy? were published. These stories have been read thousands of times (20,337 & 21,547 respectively). Since then (and well before that), colleagues as well as VDC employees have been venting left and right.

This week we got the alarming news that VDC is acquiring VoiceBank. On Wednesday, I called it A Deal With The Devil.

In light of all this, here’s the question many VDC members are asking themselves:

“Should I cancel my membership?”

Here are some typical answers:

“I feel betrayed. However, they are a good source of income for me, and I can’t really afford to dump them out of hand.” 

“I hate what they’re doing, but sixty percent of my income comes from VDC. I’m not going to quit and lose all that money.”

“I guess I could leave VDC, but where would I go to find all those VO jobs?”

And that brings me back to the opening of this blog post: intelligent people doing stupid things. In this case, many are complaining about VDC, but they renew their free or paid membership anyway. Year after year. I find that hard to justify. 

As long as you keep investing in a company that does not have your best interest at heart, you keep that company in business. It’s that simple.

We know how VDC operates. We know that those who criticize VDC’s business practices are ignored and kicked out, but listen to this. If -after all that has been revealed- you still choose to collaborate with this Canadian company, you are an enabler who has no right to complain. 

Frankly, your outrage means nothing to me. It’s just lip service (and we all know that voice-overs specialize in lip service). It’s easy to protest if you don’t have to pay a price.

It doesn’t stop there, though.

People tend to reveal what’s important to them in the choices they make. So, if you choose to stay with “Voices” because you’re afraid to lose the income, you choose money over morals. It shows that your conscience is for sale. To me it also indicates that you don’t really seem to care about the long-term effect low rates are having on the industry. As long as you get paid your $200 for that ten-minute industrial, all is well. Money is money, right?

To those who fear they’ll have no career without “Voices,” I want to say this:

There is life after Voices dot com!

As a freelancer it’s bad business to make yourself dependent on one or two sources of income. “Voices” is not the only game in town. You have many options, and as a professional you should explore all avenues. Here’s the good news.

There are clients who are willing to pay $4000 for your voice. Why settle for $300? Why should a voice casting site that’s already making tons of money off memberships and escrow fees (that just went from 10 to 20%!), pocket the difference?

If you think you’re entitled to a fair share, and you feel you’re not getting it at Voices dot com (or at any other casting service for that matter), you have to do something about it. For your sake, and for the sake of your community. But let me be straight. 

You can’t have it both ways. You can’t moan about the middle man, and support him at the same time. You can’t complain about the quality of the water, and pour yourself a glass. 

If you want to be part of the solution, you can’t be part of the problem. 

Unfortunately, words alone are not going to bring about change.

Bad things happen when good people do nothing. 

But as long as you’re unwilling to take action, stop bashing Voices dot com!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet.

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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 Turning Point

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Pay-to-Play, Personal 23 Comments

Voice-Over and blogger Paul StrikwerdaPotentially, this could be my shortest blog post ever.

It’s the story of how I got from doing okay, to doing quite alright, professionally speaking. 

Almost every week I get emails from readers, asking me to reveal the big secret to my so-called success. 

Why “so-called success”?

Well, everything is perception, and perception is everything. 

Before I tell you about this secret, you should probably know a bit more about me. 

As a freelancer, I work in a highly competitive and increasingly crowded field: I’m a voice-over. I talk for a living. The other day I recorded an audio tour of a gorgeous area in the North of France. Today I’m pretending to be a medical doctor, telling physicians about the side effects of a new cancer drug. It’s a fun job with many pros and cons. 

As a player in the new gig economy I have a lot of freedom, no benefits, and very little protection. Weeks of underemployment are usually followed by a crazy busy period where I’m scrambling to finish every project I was hired to do on schedule. It’s feast or famine. 

A voice actor’s income can vary tremendously. Some twenty-second commercials bring in thousands of dollars, particularly if you’re an A-list celebrity, which I’m not. An hour of e-Learning or audio book narration may generate a few hundred bucks (before expenses and taxes). Most clients come and go. Very few stick around.

Although my work is not physically demanding, sitting still in a small, dark studio behind a microphone for hours and hours, isn’t exactly healthy. It’s also easy to feel socially isolated because my colleagues are all sitting in small, dark studios in different parts of the world. And I’ll be honest: at times the stress of being out of a job as soon as a project ends, can get to you. Work fluctuates, but bills keep coming. 

Even though I think I’m experienced and highly qualified, most of my days are dominated by the search for new clients, and by auditions. Every audition is a crapshoot. Like most of my colleagues, I try to read between the lines of vague specs and scripts, attempting to second-guess what the invisible client is hoping to hear. And most days I’m wrong, and someone else ends up getting the gig. 

Now, in spite of this sad story, I love what I do for a living, and I don’t think there’s anything else I’d rather do, career-wise. I’m not a good candidate for a 9 to 5 job. I can’t stand bosses who have risen to the level of their incompetence. I’ve had too many of them. I wouldn’t want to waste hours a day being stuck in rush hour traffic, just to make some corporation happy. I rejoice in the fact that I don’t have to go to endless staff meetings or mandated office parties. Been there. Done that. 

My accountant is also pleased because every year I make more money than the year before. There’s still no Lamborghini parked in my driveway, but I can live with that. And every time I book a new job, I realize that there are probably hundreds of hopefuls who are trying to figure out why the client picked that silly Dutch American with the European accent over them. 

I know… It baffles me too!

Taking all of that into account, how did I get from doing okay to doing quite alright?

Do I use a special microphone that turns my vocal folds into the Voice of G-d?

Are eager talent agents fighting to add me to their roster?

Am I friends with the movers and shakers of the voice-over industry?

I have to disappoint you. It has very little to do with all of the above. 

Sure, I use first-rate recording equipment. I have a number of great agents and a nice network of connections. But the thing that has made a real difference in my career is not something you can buy, and it has nothing to do with other people. So, what is it? 

It is a strong belief in the Law of Cause and Effect. The mechanism of action and reaction. Specifically, my preference to rather be at the cause-side of the equation, than at the effect. It boils down to this:

I see myself as the prime instigator of change in my life. Change through choice. 

I choose to be proactive (at cause) instead of reactive (at the effect). It’s the difference between sitting in the driver’s seat, and being a passenger. I like to hold the wheel and set the course. 

People who share this belief are go-getters. They take the initiative. They take responsibility. 

People who prefer to be passengers are usually more passive. They tend to be finger pointers and complainers, who often see themselves as victims. They’ll sue McDonald’s for making them fat, or for serving coffee that’s too hot.

Here’s a question you can ask to determine where someone stands: 

“Do you like to let things happen, or make them happen?”

Of course I know we’re not omnipotent, and that certain things are beyond our grasp and control. My attitude only applies to the things I feel I can actually influence, and the person I can influence the easiest is… me. 

I control what I put in my body, I control the size of my portions, and I decide how much I exercise. I don’t blame the fast food industry for my expanding waistline. To bring it back to my profession: I don’t blame online casting sites when my voice-over career isn’t where I want it to be. Instead I ask myself what I can do to increase my skill level, to promote my services, and to attract more clients. 

Being “at cause” means being accountable for taking or not taking the necessary steps to achieve a specific goal. 

That’s why as a voice-over coach I never guarantee results. I tell my students:

“As your mentor I don’t have magical powers that will result in you booking jobs. I will give you tools, but it is up to you to use those tools effectively and appropriately. You are responsible for your own results.”

On a superficial level my proactive philosophy may seem a no-brainer, but it’s not. It is a lot easier to blame and complain than to take fate into your own hands. 

Being “at cause” means sticking your neck out. Taking risks. Doing the hard work. Making tough decisions. Going against the grain. 

It’s not an easy way out. Quite often, it’s an uneasy way in. 

The moment I decided to take charge of my career and be “at cause,” was a turning point in my life. The effects of that decision have brought me to where I am today. From being a spectator, to being an instigator. From doing okay, to doing quite alright.

And you know what?

You can apply this principle in any area, whether personal or professional. 

Now, if you’re still with me, you have noticed that this wasn’t the shortest blog post ever, and I apologize. 

I guess I could have condensed my message into three words:

Just 

Be

Cause.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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The Message Very Few Want To Hear

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Pay-to-Play 30 Comments

DisappointmentWhat if…

What if you advertise yourself as a pro, but you’re still learning on the job;

What if you wonder why you’re not booking, but you’re too cheap to hire a coach;

What if you’re too lazy to look things up, and count on your community to bail you out;

What if you think you can break into the business on a shoestring budget;

What if you’re convinced you can crush the competition by undercutting rates;

What if you feel that no one has your back, but you refuse to join WoVo;

What if “What’s in it for me?” is your motto, and you don’t care about your colleagues;

What if you expect to make money, but you don’t know how to run a business;

What if your Pay-to-Play acts unethically, yet you don’t raise your voice;

What if your client pays dirt, but you bend over backwards anyway;

What if you are totally exhausted, but you never take a break;

What if you love to complain, but you never contribute;

What if you don’t believe in yourself, yet you hope others will…

Well, I’m really sorry, but I cannot help you. You have to help yourself, and up your game if you want to become a pro.

Pros know what to do. That’s what they’re getting paid for;

Pros never stop learning. Even the best work with a coach;

Pros are proactive, and do their own homework;

Pros invest in quality, and are willing to pay for it;

Pros know what they’re worth, and charge accordingly;

Pros stick together, and belong to the World-Voices Organization;

Pros look at the bigger picture, and care about community;

Pros are business savvy, and price for profit;

Pros speak up when they’re treated with little respect;

Pros work with clients who recognize their value;

Pros take care of themselves, knowing they can’t give what they don’t have;

Pros aren’t whiners; they are winners;

Pros are poised, and self-assured.

Pros realize that talent entitles them to nothing. It challenges them to do everything. 

And above all, Pros know that success is the result of many small, intelligent steps, taken in the right direction.

Success can’t be rushed. It can’t be bought. It can’t be forced or faked.

It has to be learned.

It has to be earned. 

Every. Single. Day.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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photo credit: Disappointed via photopin (license)

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