Personal

Paying The Piper

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, International, Journalism & Media, Pay-to-Play, Personal, Promotion 17 Comments

Chinatown, Philadelphia ©paul strikwerda

“May you live in interesting times.”

It’s a well-known Chinese curse, and for me, the past two weeks have been very interesting to say the least. I must indeed be cursed.

It all started with my outrageous blog post Divided We Stand. In it, I talked about a few topics the voice-over community doesn’t quite agree on: WoVO (World Voices Organization), the Union, our rates, and Voices dot com (VDC).

At the eleventh hour I decided to add The Voice Arts® Awards (VAA’s).

Out of all those topics, what do you think people picked up on? Fair rates? How the Union treats VO as an afterthought? How VDC is trying to monopolize our industry?

Nope!

Let’s put it into context.

The longest strike in SAG-AFTRA history had just ended with a less than ideal deal. VDC took over VoiceBank, and announced it was going after union jobs. VO rates are plummeting. And what were we getting fired up about?

A few shiny statuettes! And it’s all my fault!

If it were not for me and my wicked ways to get hits on my blog, we’d all be happily schmoozing at Lincoln Center (the location for the VAA’s), enjoying an abundance of excellent food AND an open bar at $200-something per person.

But no. This begrudging, predictable party pooper had to rain on everybody’s parade. What a bitter, bad sport he is! This Debbie Downer must hate all things that create community, and he’s probably out on some personal vendetta against the organizers.

Now, hold on one second…

TRUTH OR DARE

It’s obvious that my piece hit some raw nerves, but did I divulge things in my blog that were uncalled for and untrue?

Based on the many responses in the Voice Over Pros Facebook group as well as other comments, people proved my point. As a community we are divided about the VAA’s. Is that a terrible thing? Not at all. There is strength in diversity. It certainly makes life more interesting.

Here’s another fact I mentioned in my piece: you have to pay to participate in the VAA’s. Isn’t that true for many award shows, people asked. Absolutely. That -by the way- doesn’t mean such a show is inherently good, bad, or even relevant. Did I ever suggest that people had to pay to get nominated? Never! Is charging an entry fee the only way to preselect participants? Certainly not.

Are there other costs involved for those who end up being nominated? Of course, and if people believe these expenses are a solid investment in their career, they should go and have a great time (and I don’t mean that in a cynical way).

One of the colleagues I quoted said that the things that had sold him on the 2016 show did not materialize. The other colleague felt it was disingenuous to “honor the dubious distinction of buying temporary adulation and ‘stardom.’ “ Those were real quotes from real people.

What am I getting at? As a former journalist I know the importance of getting my facts straight. If you don’t like ‘em, challenge the facts, but there’s no reason to attack the person, and his/her perceived motives.

FALSE DICHOTOMY

Here’s what really bothers me. The VAA’s are portrayed as something utterly positive. Those who sing their praises are portrayed as the good guys in the industry. The people who don’t, are labeled as being negative. Those who dare to be critical are accused of badmouthing, and are unfriended and blocked from certain groups. Is that how we have dialogue in our community? Are we that insecure, that we can’t handle a bit of feedback?

And here’s another thing that’s not sitting well with me. Criticism of these awards is seen as criticism of those who enter and organize this event. Why the need to make things personal? Can’t we have our reservations about a game, and still like the players? Some have suggested that the people who question the merits of the VAA’s must be jealous or bitter. I can only speak for myself, but I’m neither bitter nor jealous. On the contrary.

CRITIQUE IS NO CRIME

No organization is perfect, and if it wishes to better itself, it can’t just be surrounded by cheerleaders. You need supporters, as much as you need contrarians. You need like-minded people on your team, as well as those who can point out imperfections. Otherwise you end up like those CEO’s on Undercover Boss who are only told what people think they want to hear, until they speak to their employees in disguise.

And speaking of disguise, I have received a number of emails from colleagues who say they agree with my analysis, but refuse to go on the record. The quotes I used in my piece were anonymous on purpose. Some are afraid to speak out, fearing it might have a negative impact on their career. It takes years to build a reputation, and seconds to tarnish it.

Heaven forbid you become known as someone who is opinionated, and who dares to challenge some of the heavy hitters in our industry. It’s better to stay under the radar, smile, and pretend all is well. He who pays the piper calls the tune.

No matter where you stand in this discussion, no one should feel intimidated, and fear for his or her career for speaking one’s mind.

FINDING COMMON GROUND

If you’ve been critical of my assessment, I want to thank you for engaging in a dialogue. I don’t think less of you because we’re not on the same page as far as this topic is concerned. Frankly, we have bigger fish to fry. I respect your choice to support and/or enter this competition, and I hope it was worth it. Perhaps we can agree on the following:

Different people define worth in different ways, based on their experiences, their expectations, and their priorities.

That’s why in the same thread one award-winning colleague says he can “unequivocally quantify the extra earnings directly attributable to relationships and bookings resultant from the VAA’s at well into the six figures and counting,” while another states:

“I have been a pro VO for 23 years and collected various awards over the years (that production companies entered into, not me) and they never, ever got me any gig. Not one. Never, ever, a client told me they casted me because I had an award. Ever.”

Is one right, and the other wrong, or can both exist at the same time? If you accept that last premise, you also have to accept that the value of a win varies per person. Isn’t that true for any award show? Of course it is. I never contested that. It’s especially true for a show very few people outside the voice-over bubble have heard about. It also means that as a promotional tool, the value of winning an award is uncertain. Is that me being derisive, or is that just the way it is?

Awards are by definition selective and exclusive. It’s never a level playing field.

Again, this is not a specific flaw of the VAA’s, but it’s a problem with most award shows. You don’t excuse or fix a problem by pointing out that others are struggling with the same things.

For instance, for years, the stunt people have lobbied for a special Academy Award. The powers that be, decided that those who often risk their lives (and sometimes lose it), are not Oscar-worthy, but those who compose a silly song may walk away with a statue. Is that fair and reasonable? You tell me!

HOLLOW HYPERBOLE

The voice-over announcing the 2017 VAA’s, said:

“Tonight, we honor the leading international talent in the voice-over industry. We recognize the greatest voice actors who impact our ears, our lives, our world.”

Really? 

If your publishing company, agent, distributor, radio station, or network wants to enter your work, you’re in luck, and you’re a contender to be among “the greatest.” If they’re not interested, or they don’t want to pay the entry fee, you won’t be considered, even though you might be mega-talented.

The VAA’s were created to provide international acknowledgement of the extraordinary skill and artistry that goes into voice-over acting. Apparently, it’s easier for some people to be acknowledged than others. One commentator remarked:

“I work every day on some cracking radio and the odd TV ad, but mostly, like today, I will go and voice 10 explainer videos for one of the UK’s largest supermarket chains. And you don’t get awards for that I’m afraid. You don’t even get a discount voucher for the shop.”

STRANGE CATEGORIES

And why is there a special VAA for podcasts and not for radio dramas? To me, radio dramas are about voice acting. The podcasts are about people talking about voice acting. And on that note, do the Oscars have an award for the best acting demo reel? Would the Country Music Awards ever award a demo tape sent in by an aspiring singer? Then why on earth are we recognizing demo reels at the VAA’s?

Some have argued that the cream will always rise to the top. I don’t agree. Turds tend to be pretty lightweight too. At any award show, only the people who enter and pay have a chance to be measured and rise. And if the competition in a particular category isn’t very strong, it’s easier for mediocrity to take top honors. In the land of the blind, the girl with one eye is queen.

Some have also suggested that the purpose of these VAA’s is not to boost one’s career, but to celebrate it. If that’s the case, why sell these awards as a marketing opportunity? Why not organize one big VO party for equals among equals? Skip the speeches, the celebs, and the shiny objects. Go straight to the dance floor and have fun under the disco ball!

NEW INSPIRATION

To make the VAA’s more beneficial to our community and beyond, we need a different model.

It’s one thing to point out weaknesses, but another to come up with concrete suggestions for improvement.

This might surprise you, but I’m not entirely against competitions. My wife’s piano and flute students take part in them. It gives them something to prepare for, and an opportunity to get valuable feedback from experts. This feedback is used to reinforce good habits, correct bad ones, and help kids grow as a musician. It’s always about the music, and not about the applause.

In Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley where I live, the Freddy© Awards are to high school musical theater what the Tony Awards® are to Broadway. Each show is rated by a number of evaluators, and every high school receives extensive feedback on all aspects of the production. This feedback is then used as a teaching tool in the drama departments.

In other words, even if you’re not nominated or a winner, you will be able to read your evaluation, and benefit from it. Wouldn’t it be great if the Voice Arts® Awards would do the same? Unfortunately, that’s not the case. This is how it’s done:

“In each category, each judge shall rate each entry on three indices. These indices vary by category and are listed below. For each index, judges enter a score from 1.0 to 10.0, where 1.0 is valued as “very poor quality” and 10.0 is valued as “perfection” in the personal standards of the judge.” 

What is there to learn if your performance is summarized in an abstract number?

NEW VOICES

Another model is the international opera competition Neue Stimmen (New Voices). I know about it because I voice the semi-final and final videos for this event.

After a lengthy preselection, all competitors take part in a week of open masterclasses where they work under the instruction of renowned artists to improve their vocal performance, musical expression, song interpretation, stage presence, and skills such as self-management, networking, and interview training. In other words: the actual competition is only a part of the program. It’s as much about coaching and career development. Even those who don’t win, walk away with an invaluable experience.

What about expenses and prizes?

For those entering the final round, Neue Stimmen reimburses travel expenses and board and lodging (up to a certain amount). The two winners receive a cash award of €15,000 each, and an opportunity to pursue a career as an opera singer. The second and third prize winners receive €10,000 and €5,000 respectively. To give you an idea, 1,430 contestants from 76 countries registered to take part in this year’s event. 39 talents qualified for the final round, and 16 female and male singers participated in the semifinals. Now, that’s how you get the best of the best!

I’m not suggesting we turn the VAA’s into an opera competition, but there’s a reason why out of many singing competitions, Neue Stimmen has produced most careers. I like the fact that there’s a focus on extensive feedback, artistic growth, performance, and career development. Oh, and no one has to pay for his or her prize.

DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVES

I hope we can agree that there are different ways of looking at the Voice Arts® Awards. To me, they were best summarized by two colleagues. One of them said:

“Human beings are very simple creatures. Most of them are impressed with shiny things and pay attention to those that have them. That isn’t just in voiceover, that’s in life in general. You can either decide to work with that principle, ignore it altogether or work against it.”

And another stated: 

“The real reward is the remuneration for your work. The recognition you ultimately need is from your clients who put food on your table and pay your mortgage who’ve never heard of these ceremonies and conferences. I get the impression that some people are too busy enjoying their pop-shield selfies and frantic tagging at events to ask themselves the honest questions.”

What can I say? 

We live in very interesting times.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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What The Heck Am I Doing Here?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Personal 19 Comments

The Bachmann Players. Click to enlarge

Is it okay if I’m a bit personal today?

You’ve probably read my blog before, but if this is your first time, you should know that I’m an expat. I was born, raised, and educated in the Netherlands. After a career in broadcasting, I moved to the United States at the end of 1999. To be honest, I never imagined that I would end up here.

As an anglophile, I could see myself living in the UK, and working for the BBC, which I did for a while. But had you suggested that I would move to the States at the age of 36 and start a new life, I would not have believed you. Now, in 2017, there are still times I can’t believe I live in this town in Pennsylvania called Easton. I have an American wife and an American daughter. I even became an American citizen.

THE HOME OF HISTORY

Easton, by the way, has an interesting history. It was one of the first three cities where the Declaration of Independence was read out loud for the very first time. Every year on Heritage Day, thousands of people flock to Centre Square to witness a reenactment of that declaration. I became part of an acting troupe called The Bachmann Players, dedicated to bringing colonial history back to life, mainly through theatrical productions in the historic Bachmann Publick House.

Easton also has the longest-running, continuously operating outdoor farmers’ market in the nation, now in its 265th season. As one of the announcers, my voice reaches most of downtown every other Saturday, as I continue a tradition that started in 1752. Organic produce, anyone?

Most days, I am very comfortable with my decision to leave Holland behind. I love my community, and they often give me the feeling that it’s mutual. On other days, I’m not so sure I made the right choice because I don’t know if I truly understand my fellow citizens.

WHERE AM I

I’m still trying to figure out the American psyche, if there is one. I live in a divided nation that calls itself a melting pot, but I don’t see a lot of melting going on. Being used to the Dutch multi-party parliamentary system where compromise and cooperation is the name of the game, I’m now absorbed by a world of Republicans and Democrats, where conflict and confrontation are the operative words.

Even though America likes to be known as “The Land of the Free,” and “The Defender of Democracy,” people in my neck of the woods don’t seem to give a damn. On one hand they enjoy parades with veterans, boy scouts, and Sousa marches, and they fly the flag every day of the week. In schools and council meetings, Americans faithfully recite the Pledge of Allegiance. But when it’s time to vote, most of them stay home. Some seem more motivated to get their morning cup of coffee, than make the short trip to the polling station. They’ll never miss a football game, but they think it’s okay to skip election day.

To give you an idea, turnout in my Borough in the 11/7 election was 16.88%. Out of 4,704 eligible voters, only 791 people voted. On social media some people called that “a great result.” I have to admit, it was an improvement over the May primaries where only 10.33% voted. Countywide, fewer than one out of four registered voters turned up. I’d say that’s pretty pathetic.

INSULAR MINDSET

People don’t seem to care about the things they take for granted. I’d love to take them on a no-expenses-paid trip to a number of totalitarian countries, to give them a sense of what life is like in a dictatorship. But according to the State Department, only 36% of Americans own a passport, and that makes things difficult.

This also means that 64% of Americans has never left the country. In 2012, the average American received about 12 days of vacation (but used only 10), so even if they’d feel inclined to travel, they wouldn’t get that far. In contrast, most Europeans receive between 25 and 30 days of vacation a year, and they use every single day. What does this mean? For one, I’m no longer surprised that most Americans aren’t able to find the Netherlands on the map, or any other exotic country for that matter. Just so you know, to certain Americans, Canada can seem pretty exotic.

WELL-ARMED

Another thing I fail to understand, is America’s love affair with guns. They call it the “gun culture,” as if the National Rifle Association is a cultural institution. To handle a weapon in Holland, you’re either part of law enforcement, or you’re in the military (and no one wants to be in the military anymore). In the United States, even the mentally ill can go to Walmart (thank you Donald), and get their hands on a firearm. They even come in pink for the girls.

Then we all act very surprised when a disturbed person shoots 20 children between 6 and 7 years old in Sandy Hook, another idiot kills twelve people in a movie theater in Aurora, yet another murders 58 in Vegas, and a Texas gunman kills 26 people attending a church service. No doubt they’re all part of the “well regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State,” mentioned in the Second Amendment. Please send your thoughts and prayers, people. That will do the trick.

DEVELOPED NATION

Of course I could ramble on about the American healthcare system. It’s the most expensive and least efficient in the world. The American diet and sedentary lifestyle has become one of the leading causes of death. I could talk about the failing education system with overcrowded, underfunded schools, and uninvolved parents, where teachers have to buy supplies for their students. I could mention America’s tendency to treat symptoms but never the cause, as demonstrated by the highest incarceration rate in the world. The U.S. represents about 4.4 percent of the world’s population, but it houses around 22 percent of the world’s prisoners.

I could go on and on and on, and you would be wondering when I’d make the transition to talking about my work as a voice-over. That’s not going to happen today. Today is personal.

“Well, if you don’t like it, why don’t you go home?” some friendly folks on Facebook suggested. “We don’t need you.”

WHY I STAY

Here’s the thing: my little town of Easton (the Borough of Wilson, to be more exact), is my home.

It’s also the home of Porter’s Pub, Black & Blue, and Two Rivers Brewing. You’ll run into Earl Accordionist on your way to Mercantile Home to see Ron and Ken. At The Quadrant they’ll make you an amazing Righteous omelet, and when you’re done, you go up one floor to buy a used book. You can see a Broadway show at the 90-year old State Theatre, and go to an open mic night at Connexions Gallery. It’s a town where Mayor Sal Panto and State Representative Bob Freeman know who you are, and where you can run into Larry Holmes, whose left jab is still the best in boxing history.

Easton is the two-river town where the Lehigh and Delaware rivers come together. It’s where thousands of bacon lovers meet, and where Crayola crayons were created. Easton is the place where New Yorkers go when they’re tired of living in New York, and where you can find one of the best chocolateurs on the planet, a jovial Belgian who goes by the name of JP. In a few weeks, we’ll light the 106 foot (32 m) Peace Candle, said to be the largest non-wax Christmas candle in the country.

So, whenever I get a bit cynical about this new nation of mine; this land of unlimited opportunities, crazy dreams, and stunning natural beauty, I think of where I landed.

I think of my beautiful wife and daughter.

I think of Easton.

I think of the fact that I can do what I love, and I love what I do.

And I’m elated to be alive.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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The Vital Voice-Over Skill We Never Talk About

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Personal 10 Comments

It’s no secret.

Voice-overs love to talk. Sometimes, they even get paid for it.

But there’s another skill that’s almost as important, yet we rarely speak about it.

It’s listening.

Do you hear me?

Here’s the weird thing. Early in life, we learn how to walk, talk, and color inside the lines. But did anyone ever teach you how to listen?

We’re instructed to sit still and shut up, or else…. One day, my Kindergarten teacher dragged me by my ear, and shoved me into a corner for incessant talking. To add insult to injury, she taped a huge Band-Aid over my mouth.

I’d love to run into her one day, and tell her how I make a living….

By the way, keeping one’s mouth shut is not the same as being a receptive, retentive listener. Listening is a lost art that begs to be rediscovered. Why? Because we’re so used to tuning things out, and for a very good reason.

TOO MUCH NOISE

I don’t know about you, but on any given day my brain finds it easier and easer to reach stimulus overload. That’s no surprise. Every minute of every waking hour we are bombarded with images, smells, sounds, and other sensations. They all cry out for attention like ravenous septuplets wanting to be breastfed, and it’s too much to handle.

If we’d give equal attention to all our sensory input, we’d go mad. Literally. So, our noggin needs to prioritize what it’s going to pay attention to, and for how long. The rest gets tuned out. While that’s a good thing, we do run into another problem.

As we are drowning in information, our attention span is getting shorter and shorter. In fact, I’m surprised that you’re still reading these words! What’s wrong with you?

You may have heard of this one notorious consumer study claiming that the human attention span has gone down from twelve seconds in 2000, to eight seconds today. In contrast, the average attention span of a goldfish is nine seconds!

I’m not surprised. Goldfish tend to be very good listeners. Although they are a bit slippery, they’d make great shrinks.

Joking aside, my point is that in order to be a good listener, we need to be able to focus on something or someone, and preferably for longer than eight seconds. Why is this particularly important to voice-overs? To begin with, it is vital to the success of our one-person, volatile business, to listen to our clients. We need to know what our clients need to hear from us to be satisfied with our work.

PAYING ATTENTION

One of my students was working on a project, and the client had asked her to give what he called “a decisive read.” “Say no more,” she said. “I know exactly what you’re after.”

A day later she delivered the audio, and guess what? The client was not happy. He called her up and said: “I asked you to sound decisive. I just listened to your recording, and you sound aggressive. I can’t use that.”

“I’m sorry, I really tried,” answered my student. “You asked for decisive, and this is what I thought you meant. How could I have known you wanted something different?”

“Well,” said the client, “you didn’t give me a chance to demonstrate. Before I was able to give you an example, you interrupted me, and said you knew what I was after. Make sure you really understand what the people you’re working with want. Don’t make assumptions. Just listen, and ask questions. Do you think you can do that?”

There was a long pause on the other end of the line.

Lesson learned.

FOCUS AND INTENT

So, the secret to being a good listener has to do with focus and intent. Give yourself permission to focus on someone for longer than eight seconds with the intent to understand (instead of the intent to reply). Be genuinely interested in the other person. Keep your ears open, and your mouth shut.

Resist the impulse to interrupt and fill in the blanks. Those blanks are YOUR blanks, and may have nothing to do with what your client is trying to tell you.

This may sound easy, but in this fast and crazy world filled with manufactured distractions, it’s hard for people to sit still and slow down the running commentary between their ears. That commentary is usually evaluating what we just did, or figuring out what we should do next. It is rarely in the moment.

For us to really listen, we need to be in the moment.

To me, the ability to be in the moment is an essential life skill. There are many ways to achieve this state of mind, and some are more esoteric than others. I like to close my eyes, and slow down my breathing. After watching a documentary about Spartacus-star Andy Whitfield, I added the following mantra to quiet my mind:

BE

HERE

NOW

As you are reading these words, give it a try.

Close your eyes.

Begin breathing more deeply and s l o w l y.

Say to yourself in a soothing voice:

BE

HERE

NOW

 

BE

HERE

NOW

 

Thanks for playing along! You may need to relearn what it’s like to be here now (I certainly did), and this could be a good start. Take a few minutes each day to center yourself, and practice being in the moment. It may take you a while, and that’s okay.

Be gentle. Be patient, and be quiet.

LET THE WORDS SPEAK

Now, there’s a second reason why as a voice-over you need to learn how to listen. This has nothing to do with the people around you, and everything with what’s in front of you: your script. No matter what it is, an eLearning module, a historic novel, or a commercial, this script is trying to tell you something. It has a message. It wants to be understood.

While part of your restless brain is still conditioned to skim the words, please take your time to take them in. Don’t tune out. Tune in! Find out how the information is organized, and how the ideas unfold in sentences, paragraphs, and chapters. Some scripts can be like jigsaw puzzles. They come to you in many pieces. The only way to put them together, is to have a clear understanding of the big picture.

As a listener, I can always tell whether or not a narrator knows what he or she is talking about. I can hear the difference between a rush job and a thoughtful recording. I know when a narrator is in love with him- or herself, or with the text. It all comes back to listening. There’s a reason why a well-known Turkish proverb goes something like this:

“If speaking is silver, then listening is gold.”

THE QUIET CONDUIT

Author and radio host Celeste Headlee wondered why people would rather talk than listen. She says that when we’re talking, we are in control. We are the center of attention. I think she’s right.

As a voice-over professional, I see myself as a conduit. It’s not about me. It’s about the message. And the only way to honor the words I am about to speak, is to let them speak to me first.

All I need to do, is be in the moment, and listen.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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You Too?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Journalism & Media, Personal, Social Media 12 Comments

Police line upThe “aholification” of society, otherwise known as the increase in the number of a-holes in the world.

That was what I was going to rant about this week.

You know, the people who just don’t seem to care about anyone but themselves. The people without manners. The loudmouths. The whiners. The bullies. The bullshitters. The people who treat the world as their trash can. The folks who cut you off as they weave toward the next stop light. The ones who always skip the line because they’re so important. The people who love to criticize but never contribute. The ones who believe the world owes them everything, and the rules don’t apply. I’m talking about the blamers, the willfully ignorant, and the folks who hide behind screens as they troll their way into social media with poisonous pens, racist ideas, and bad spelling.

HORRIBLE HARVEY

Then the Weinstein scandal broke, and I had to add a whole new group to my list: the pigs, the perverts, the abusers of power, the ones preying on vulnerable and impressionable people, the horny sickos in bathrobes, the catcallers, the womanizers, the humiliators, the guys who think a short skirt is an invitation, and the men who can’t keep their hands in their pockets. I’m talking about the Players, the creeps, the sexists, the intimidators, the ones who pretend not to understand the meaning of the word NO, and those who believe that money and power can buy decades of silence.

As a man, I am utterly horrified and shocked by all the #MeToo messages, and sickening stories of sexual harassment and abuse. Judging by my Facebook timeline, a-holes are everywhere! They hold respectable positions: teachers, doctors, therapists, members of the clergy, managers, casting directors. Some just have a bit more money and influence than others. Many of them are friends of the family, and helpful neighbors. The question is: would you recognize a sexual predator if you saw one?

FIND THE BAD GUY

Years of television typecasting has taught us how to spot a criminal, right? There’s the unibrow. The scarface. The ever-present five-o’clock shadow, clothes that don’t fit, and -in some cases- the British accent. Reality is very different. I bet you wouldn’t be able to pick a pervert from a police lineup. Fathers of five look too normal. I met one of them once, and I was utterly clueless. Here’s how it happened.

When I was seventeen, I got an opportunity to produce and present youth radio and television programs for a national broadcasting company. It was the chance of a lifetime, because all the teens that were chosen would be coached by industry veterans. Some of our coaches turned out to be minor celebrities with major attitudes, but my favorite teacher was a jolly guy in his sixties. Let’s call him Hans.

Grandfatherly Hans had been a producer of beloved children’s programs for years, and he knew everyone in the business. I learned a lot from him, and as we got closer, I asked him if he missed being involved in the day-to-day production of TV shows.

“I never really retired,” he told me. “I run a small production company out of my home, making low-budget movies. Come to think of it,” said Hans, “I wanted to ask you… would your girlfriend be interested in doing some acting?” At the time my girlfriend was in the same coaching program I was in, and apparently, she had caught his attention.

TAKING THE BAIT

When I told my girlfriend about the acting opportunity, she was flattered, and she thought it might be a good experience to work with a renowned producer. One quick screen test later she was learning her lines, and within a month she heard that the first shoot would be on a remote location. “How do I get there?” she asked, because she was too young to drive a car. “Don’t worry, I’ll take you,” said Hans. “It’s quite a drive, but I have a fast car.”

At this point you probably hear the sound of a million alarm bells going off, but this was years and years ago, and we were quite naive. Hans loved everybody, and everybody loved Hans. His professional reputation was stellar, and there was no reason to doubt that his intentions were less than honorable. He always told us that he “wanted to pay it forward,” and pass his knowledge and experience on to younger generations.

Little did my girlfriend know that she was on her way to a porn shoot.

What really happened during the drive I still don’t know, but after an hour of grooming, patting, and sweet talk, it became quite clear that the budget for this production wasn’t going to the costume department. My girlfriend was furious, and at a stoplight she started screaming her head off. Drivers in other cars took notice, and an embarrassed Hans offered to turn around. What a gentleman!

THE OFFICIAL DENIAL

When we told the head of the coaching program what had occurred, he said my girlfriend must have misread Hans’s intentions. It couldn’t possibly be true. After all, “nothing happened.” Those were his words. Later on, we learned that they were old pals looking out for each other. Sounds familiar?

If you’ve ever been in a similar situation, you know that there is no such thing as “nothing happened.” There’s the shame, the embarrassment, the violation of trust, the anger, the disbelief, the self-doubt, the cover-up, the nightmares, the bitter taste of betrayal.

Back then there were no hashtags, no social media, and no reporters interested in the story. Today is different! Thank goodness so many courageous women are speaking out against the a-holes who are now on notice. They will be named and shamed in public. Their reputations will be ruined. Their families will be torn apart. Their businesses will pay a hefty price.

If that’s what it takes to create a safe, respectful society, so be it.

It won’t happen overnight, but all the Weinsteins of the world should know this:

Karma has no deadline.

If you knowingly and shamelessly dig yourself into a hole, Karma will come and find you!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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The Agony Of Ignorance

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Personal 41 Comments

Rocking the mic?

Can you believe the stuff people put on t-shirts these days?

This morning, one of the guys who looks like he lives in the gym I go to, had this slogan printed all over his colossal chest:

“If it’s not hard, you’re not doing it right.”

What kind of message is that? It’s along the same lines as “No pain, no gain.”

Do people actually believe that stuff?

You see, I have the exact opposite experience. When I’m doing things right, everything seems to flow naturally, and nothing is hard or painful. Granted, it has taken some hard work to get to that point, but when I’m in the zone, things are surprisingly easy.

If you happen to share that experience, take it as a sign that in certain areas of your life you may have reached a level of what experts refer to as “unconscious competence.” You’re not even aware that you’ve become pretty good at what you’re doing. It feels like driving a car. In the beginning it was frustratingly complicated. Now, you don’t even have to think about it. 

“So what do you find hard in your business?” one of my workout buddies wanted to know, as we were doing our exercise routine. “You’re a voice-over, right?” 

He was not the one wearing that silly t-shirt, by the way. 

“At the risk of sounding brash,” I said, “it’s not so much the work I find hard, but the people I have to deal with every now and then. Particularly the people who think they’re the best thing since sliced bread. Maybe it’s my age, but there are at least three things I can’t stand:

Ignorance, pretentiousness, and a sense of entitlement. Especially if all these qualities reside within one person.”

“We must be working with the same people then,” laughed my friend, as he was programming his treadmill. “I’m a professional photographer, and you wouldn’t believe how many people think they can do what I do without having a clue.”

“That’s the trouble with ignorance,” I said. “People don’t know what they don’t know, but it doesn’t stop them, does it?”

“Agreed,” said my buddy, “but here’s what I don’t get. Everyone understands that playing the violin is not something you can learn overnight. However, every ambitious idiot with a camera believes he’s the next Annie Leibovitz. It ticks me off.”

I wanted to tell him that I saw the same thing in my line of work. Give a monkey a microphone, and he thinks he can be the next Tom Kenny. 

“Ignorance isn’t always bliss,” I said, as I increased the speed on my treadmill. “Usually, ignorance is a pain in the neck, and I find it very challenging to teach ignorant people who think they know it all. I mean, if they supposedly know what they are doing, why do they want me to be their coach? It doesn’t make any sense.”

“I have no problem with beginners who come to me, and who are aware that they have a lot to learn,” said my photographer-friend. “Everything you teach them is new and exciting. I admire kids with an open mind. They remind me of the time I got started. That’s why I love being a mentor.”

He wiped the sweat from his forehead, and said: “Is it just me, or are today’s kids a bit full of themselves?”

“Quite possibly,” I responded. “Parents are quick to praise, and hesitate to criticize, so as not to damage the delicate self-esteem of their offspring. I’m all for raising confident kids, as long as they know their strengths and their limitations. In my class they’d never get a trophy, just for showing up.”

I took a sip of water, and continued:

“Now, there’s another type of ignorance I’m allergic to.”

“What might that be?” asked my friend, as he was walking uphill on the exercise equipment. 

“It’s the lazy type of ignorance. You know… quasi-ignorant people who are looking for a big, fat, silver platter. I just got an email from someone who asked to pick my brain about casting sites and voice-over rates. I politely suggested she do a Google search first. 

“What was her response?” asked my friend.

“Oh, I never heard back from her,” I said. “But on Facebook she told all her fans that I was the most unhelpful person in the voice-over community. To be honest, she didn’t use the word “person,” but the term she used starts with a “p” and it rhymes with chick. 

“Some people think I’m rather obnoxious,” said my buddy, “just because I refuse to give them the answers they are fishing for. Of course I want to help, but I tell my kids: ‘You won’t learn anything as long as I spoon-feed it to you. The things you discover yourself tend to stick much better.’

I want my students to make an effort. I want them to fail, and I want them to overcome the biggest challenges. Otherwise they’ll attach no value to what they have learned, and they’ll have no respect for the business. 

There’s no gratification in arriving on the top of a mountain in a helicopter. But when you start at the bottom and climb your way up, the journey itself becomes meaningful. And when you’ve finally reached that peak, you feel on top of the world!”

“Are you sure you’re a photographer?” I asked. “That’s a darn good metaphor you just used. I might steal that one for my blog.”

“You go right ahead,” he said. “I used to do a bit of mountain climbing when I was younger. I have the pictures to prove it. And a few scars. But what about you? Are you a climber?”

“Oh no, I’m from The Netherlands,” I answered. “There are no mountains in our tiny Kingdom below sea level. Holland is as flat as a pancake.”

“In that case, I have the perfect exercise for you,” said my buddy, as he pointed to the StairMaster.

“I believe this baby has your name on it,” he smiled. “Come on! This thing is the perfect way to get nowhere fast. Try it.”

Reluctantly, I climbed onto the steps, and started my ascend into nothingness. 

“I hope it’s not a metaphor for my career,” I said, gasping for air. “This is really hard!”

“Well, you know what they say…” said the photographer with a big grin.

“If it’s hard, it means you must be doing it right!”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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photo credit: 50 of 52 via photopin (license)

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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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The Weight Of The World

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Personal 5 Comments

photo credit: © Paul Strikwerda

Last week, I did a webinar on blogging for members of The VoiceOver Network.

One of the things host Rachael Naylor wanted to know, was how I got from zero to over thirty-eight thousand subscribers.

Although I did not survey each and every reader of this blog, I do receive a lot of feedback from my “fans.” This gives me some indication as to why they return to my musings, week after week.

The one comment that comes back again and again, is that -even though this is a voice-over blog- people like that I write about more than microphones, making money, and the secret to winning auditions.

Ultimately, I see my work as a means to an end, and sometimes I feel more like writing about “the end,” than about the means to getting there. To illustrate the point, I ended my webinar by reading my blog post The Weight of the World, which -in light of the recent terrorist attacks- turned out to be terribly relevant.

After my appearance on the VoiceOver Hour, some of the students in the U.K. asked me if I could republish that particular blog post, because it really resonated with them. It had only been a few days since a suicide bomber had blown himself and twenty-two others up, during an Ariana Grande concert.

Last Saturday, terrorists struck again on London Bridge, killing eight people.

So, with great sadness and a heavy heart, here is The Weight of the World:

 

Paris. Kabul. Manchester. London.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Over time, I came to a frightening realization:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let me leave you with what I think.

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

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

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

In Paris. In Kabul. In Manchester. In London.

Everywhere.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Why I Want You To Fail

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Personal 6 Comments

cellist“Failure” is one of the dirtiest words in the dictionary.

In a culture where the notion of “being successful” is forced upon us from an early age, failure is hardly an option. Winners never fail, and who doesn’t want to be a winner?

Helicopter parents pressure their offspring to always be the best, and go for the A plus and extra credits. Their over-scheduled kids are expected to be brilliant at whatever it is they do, from horseback riding to playing the violin, to selling the most girl scout cookies ever.

If children don’t come home with a trophy, a badge, or high honors, what’s the point? What will you put on Facebook? “Sarah did okay in math?” “Brian got a B minus in biology?” “Sandy can’t keep up with the rest of her class?”

Heaven forbid! How would that reflect on you as a parent?

Out of this thinking comes the idea that we have to make it easy for our kids to succeed. We want to build them up, and make them feel good about themselves. How do we do that? By giving them high praise for mediocre accomplishments.

“She took two bites of oatmeal today, isn’t that amazing?”

“He brushed his teeth all by himself. I am so proud of him!”

“The soccer coach gave him a prize, just for showing up every week.”

When you set the bar really low, it becomes almost impossible to fail, but what you’re really doing is reinforcing behavior that is below average. It might give some kids a false sense of confidence and entitlement, which could carry over into adulthood.  

LIFE LESSONS

When I was a teenager, my French professor always gave us easy tests. Even the slowest of students would do well, and on paper it looked like this teacher was a genius. But during our school trip to Paris, no one was able to put more than two words of French together, and we got hopelessly lost in the subway.

At that point we realized that this great teacher wasn’t so great after all. The biggest shock came later that year however, during final exams. Compared to most other students in the country, we did miserably, even though our grades had been fabulous.

A cellist I know had accepted a new, young student who was rather full of himself. When he got to meet the parents, he understood why. Mom and Dad thought that their Daniel was destined to be the next Yo-Yo Ma or Mstislav Rostropovich. “Well, we’ll see about that,” said the cellist. Let’s begin our first lesson, and afterward I’ll tell you what I think.”

It turned out that the kid wasn’t very good, even though he played an expensive instrument. “It’s not the instrument. It’s how you play it,” said the cellist to the parents, but they wouldn’t listen, and neither would their son.

So, what did his new teacher do? He signed Daniel up for a regional competition. Even though the boy had several months to prepare, he thought he could wing it. His parents (who knew very little about music) were convinced he was doing really well. Filled with great expectations they took him to the competition.

BEING TESTED

You probably know what’s coming. Compared to other students, Daniel didn’t impress the judges that much, and he got low marks. When his parents found out, they were furious.

“You set our Daniel up for failure,” they said. “The boy is in tears. What kind of teacher are you?”

“Let me tell you something,” said the cellist. “Your son might think he failed. In my opinion he just didn’t get the result you were expecting, which, given his skills and attitude, was rather unrealistic to begin with. This is not an easy instrument to master. So far, you have been comparing your son to himself. This competition was an opportunity to compare him to other kids in his age group.”

He went on: “Parents and other family members are supposed to be supportive. There’s nothing wrong with that. But the people who are closest to us, aren’t necessarily the most knowledgeable or experienced. Most of them don’t know what they’re listening and looking for. So, if you want honest feedback, you need two things. Number one: make sure the test is tough enough. Number two: the evaluators have to be experts.”

THE RELEVANCE

Now, if you’re new to voice-overs and you’re reading this blog, you might be wondering why I am talking about learning French or a musical instrument. You’re trying to break into the business thinking you stand a good chance of making it. People have told you that you have a great voice, and why wouldn’t McDonalds hire you to sell fries? You’re auditioning left and right, but so far there’ve been no takers. What does that tell you?

First of all, if making money as a voice-over would be easy, anybody would do it, and the rates would be even lower. Something that comes easy, isn’t worth much. Secondly, do you even know if you’re good at this? Let me rephrase that: Is what you have to offer ultra competitive in a market that is pretty much saturated? How do you know? Are you able to recognize your limitations?

HEARING MYSELF

A few days ago I listened to some of the auditions I recorded in 2010. At that time I honestly thought I sounded pretty great, and I didn’t understand why clients wouldn’t hire me. Knowing what I know now, there is no way I would have hired myself back then.

After a year of trying, I was ready to call my efforts to become a VO Pro an epic fail. Yet, as you know, one of the reasons I write this blog is because I’m still in business. How did that happen?

It turned out that this year of trying was a big test. It tested my preparedness, my resolve, my talent, my nerves, and my ability to learn and grow from feedback. I needed at least a year of “failure” to work on my weaknesses, as well as on my strengths.

I also learned to reframe that word “failure.” I started looking at my situation in terms of results. Just because I wasn’t getting the results I had hoped for, didn’t mean I had failed, or that I was a failure. I began to ask myself questions like:

– What results did I get?

– What part of it was something I could  influence, and what part was beyond my control? 

– What did I learn from it that was positive and practical?

– What would I need to do to improve?

– Who could help me make those improvements? 

– How was this process helping me become the professional I want to be?

And finally, just as it can take many years to learn a foreign language or master an instrument, I knew that it would take me a while to get good at doing voice-overs, and running a freelance business. Every “failure” could bring me one step closer to success, as long as I used it as a chance to learn something new.

If you happen to be in the middle of that process, and things aren’t going so well, please remember what one of my teachers once told me:

“No matter where you are in life, never stop learning.

Quite often, the best students get the hardest test!”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Feeding Your Soul

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Personal, Promotion 22 Comments
Columcille Megalyth Park

Photo credit ©Paul Strikwerda

A few weeks ago, I gave you my “formula” for being less busy, and more productive:

Focus on what you’re good at. Outsource the rest.

People who run a successful business hire people who are smarter and more talented than they are, to take care of certain aspects of that business. These experts are able to do things better and quicker, leaving you with more time to focus on your strengths. That’s where the money is!

This philosophy has served me very well, and yet it’s only part of the picture. Today I am going to reveal something to you I haven’t told anyone else. At first, it will sound like a contradiction in terms, but I assure you it is not. It is something essential that took me many, many years to learn, and quite frankly, I don’t think I’ve mastered it yet.

Because it is seemingly contradictory, it confused me to the core, and at first I fought it tooth and nail. But once I discovered the benefits of this strange strategy, I came to embrace it.

TRYING TOO HARD

It all began some ten years ago. I was trying very hard to build my business, working 60 to 70 hour weeks. The idea was that the more I would put into it, the more I would get out of it. That’s only fair, right? It’s the same perverse philosophy that’s behind the torture that is cold calling. The more numbers you dial, the greater the chance of success. That’s what they say, whoever “they” are.

Well, this might be working for some people, but it wasn’t working for me. All that knocking on doors and auditioning for anything under the sun left me exhausted, and disenchanted. Bottom line: I had run into the law of diminishing returns. The more I tried, the less I accomplished.

Have you ever been in a situation like that?

People around me said: “You’re working too hard. Take break. You can’t force success.”

Did I listen? No!

Every time I took a breather, I felt tremendously guilty because I could have and should have been using that time on something useful and productive.

DREAM ON

This voice-over business was supposed to be my dream job. Dream jobs don’t feel like work, and they give you energy, don’t they? It’s the ultimate freedom from the 9 to 5 rat race so many people get caught up in. It was my chance to prove to the world that I could be my own boss, living life on my own terms and turf.

If all of that were true, why didn’t it feel that way? Why was I waking up exhausted before the day had even begun? Why had I become an irritable, self-absorbed, sad sack of a husband who could only converse about finding new ways to get new clients?

“Oh, the first three years are always the hardest,” I told myself and my friends. “Eventually, it is going to get better, and it will all be worth it!” (insert fake smile)

But things didn’t get better, and I didn’t know how to turn it around…. until the day I walked into my local bookstore, and picked up a random paperback from the self-help section. The next thing I did was such a cliché: I closed my eyes, opened a page, and looked at the first thing that caught my eye. It was a quotation:

You can’t give what you don’t have.

I don’t remember the title of the book or who wrote it, but it felt like I had received a message from the universe that could not be ignored. If my business was a flower bed, I had been watering and watering it, until the can was empty, and could not be refilled. No water: no growth. It was crystal clear.

So, what was I to do? Give up? Sit on the couch and watch TV all day long? Play video games?

I looked at the next few lines in the book, and the author had clearly anticipated my question. This was her advice:

“Replenish yourself. Do something that feeds your soul. Something that has nothing to do with work.”

STEPPING OUT OF IT

I’ve always been a lover of the outdoors. That was one of the things that attracted me to America. Endless forests. Majestic mountain ranges. Roaring rivers. Hidden trails.

The day after my revelation I put on my hiking boots, and I disappeared into the woods. For hours. There and then I realized how much I had missed my conversation with nature. I had missed the fresh smell of pine trees, the sweet sound of bird song, and the quiet rustling of the leaves. Not once did I think about my flailing business.

As I was trying to capture what I was experiencing, I thought of something else that was missing in my life: writing!

From the moment my mother taught me how to write, I was always scribbling words on pieces of paper. As a teenager, I would never leave home without a small notebook. In the last few years, however, I had been too busy reading scripts other people had written, and I felt I didn’t have time to put my pen to paper.

When I came back from my walk, it was as if a load had lifted from my shoulders. I could breathe again, and I went to the attic to find my favorite journal which was still half empty, (or half full, depending on how you look at it). Without even thinking, words started flowing from an invisible source within me, as if someone had opened a faucet filled with feelings and ideas.

Then it dawned upon me. What if I were to use my passion for writing, and start a blog for my business? It was something so obvious that I had never thought of it before. It’s like suddenly seeing something that is right in front of you!

And that is how this blog was born.

BOOSTING BUSINESS

In all the years that I’ve been doing voice-overs, nothing has been more vital to the promotion of my business as this blog. Colleagues read it. Clients read it. You are reading it right now.

Here’s the irony and the contradiction: the idea came to me as I was doing my very best not to focus on my business. I was relaxed. I was in the moment. I was feeding my soul.

All of us get stuck from time to time. We get worked up. We feel frustrated. We might even lose faith.

The question is: What should we do about it?

Take my advice. Let it go, and find what feeds your soul. For some this might be through yoga, music, or meditation. Some people paint, or work in the garden. Others start jogging, or get on a bike. There is no right or wrong. Whatever floats your boat.

In a society that is obsessed with work, and where people pride themselves on how many hours they put in, this is a radical shift. To me, it did not feel normal. I had to work hard on not working so hard.

But the moments I chose to feed my soul, turned out to be the most fulfilling and eye-opening moments of my life. They proved to be the answer to the question:

“What for?”

Ultimately, our work is just a means to an end, but to what end?

FINDING MEANING

As I was hiking on that wooded trail, experiencing the serenity of solitude, and the beauty of creation, I realized:

“This is what it’s all about.”

I don’t mean withdrawing from the world, but rediscovering an essential part of that world that is so easily lost. The part that’s more about being, than about doing

Look at it this way: there’s always going to be something in your inbox. You’ll always find a reason to do more work to please more people. But you can’t give what you don’t have. If you don’t step away from your business from time to time, it will take everything you have, and then some.

Candles that are burned out, can’t spread any light.

Please make time to create moments that matter. These moments will give you the energy to carry on, and the inspiration to evolve, personally and professionally.

The other day, my wife and I went to Columcille Megalith Park, in Bangor, Pennsylvania. It’s a park rooted in Celtic spirituality, and inspired by the Isle of Iona off the coast of Scotland.

If you’re not in a position to leave your computer right now to go on a hike, take a few minutes to absorb the pictures I took, and listen to the music.

Then get back to what you were doing.

I can almost assure you that you won’t feel the same!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Learning A Dying Language

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Personal 4 Comments

Erin McGuirk, the author, Christopher Black & Chief Chuck Gentlemoon DeMund

To say that voice-overs are spoiled by technology is an overstatement, but one thing is certain. 

In less than ten years our business has transformed itself tremendously. 

Quality recording equipment is as affordable as it has ever been. We audition for projects from all over the world from the comfort of a home studio. 

We no longer have to mail our demo tapes to producers and agents. We can email thousands of contacts with the click of a mouse, and reach new target groups on Facebook for a few dollars.

Things have definitely changed. 

Back in my radio days, if I didn’t know the pronunciation of a name or a word in a foreign language, I would call an embassy. Now I go to Forvo, and other online resources.

But what if you get a script like this?

“Kewelamewemalhelameneyo ntakiyemena, shek yukwe luwehemo ntala kiskhokwehena teli nkaski tentehwenen, ntala alaihena teli mpatahwilsinen moni.”

First of all, can you guess what language this is? 

It is the dying language of the Lenape or Delaware Indians. Their territory included New Jersey, eastern Pennsylvania, southeastern New York State, northern Delaware, and a small section of southeastern Connecticut. 

The quote above is from a play written by Christopher Black, called Easton 1752: Founding of a Frontier Village. It’s performed by The Bachmann Players, a group of amateur historians and actors, based in Easton, Pennsylvania (where I live). We’re named after the Bachmann Publick House, one of the oldest buildings in town, where the plays are performed. 

In this production I’m playing the role of Conrad Weiser, a Pennsylvania Dutch pioneer, interpreter, and diplomat between the Pennsylvania Colony and Native Americans.

In the play I am translating for a Lenape woman portrayed by Erin McGuirk, so most of my lines are in English, but I do speak a little bit of Lenape. In order to sound as authentic as possible, we couldn’t just call an embassy to get the right pronunciation. There is an online Lenape Talking Dictionary, but it is limited, so we decided to get the help of an expert: Chief Chuck Gentlemoon DeMund.

In order to give us a “feel” for the language, he began with a few basics:


After that, we started working on our lines.

On the way back from the Lenape Cultural Center, I realized that my life has taken some unpredictable twists and turns. 

When I came to the Unites States from the Netherlands at the end of 1999, I brought two suitcases filled with memories, hopes, and dreams.

Little did I know that one day, I would sit next to an Indian Chief, learning a few words of a fascinating language that is almost extinct. And in June, I’ll put on a colonial costume, and recreate the history of my new home town in front of a live audience. 

With all the technology at our fingertips, there is still no substitute for human interaction.

So, if you ever get sick of the solitude of your voice-over booth, get involved in local theatre, take some improv classes, join a choir, or improve your public speaking skills.

It will transform you outside of your vocal booth, and (miraculously), inside your studio as well.

Wanishi!*

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice 

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*Wanishi means “thank you” in Lenape.

Performances at the Bachmann House in Easton, PA, are on Friday June 2nd • Saturday June 10th (SOLD OUT) • 7:00 PM $55 Includes 3 course colonial style meal and beverages.

Sunday June 18th, 2:00 PM matinee followed by talk back with the Players. $25 Includes light refreshments.

Reservations must be made at least 10 days prior to each performance. CALL 610-253-1222 for reservations.

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