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How Vocal Coach Elissa Weinzimmer Lost Her Voice and Found Herself

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Personal 14 Comments
Elissa Weinzimmer, vocal coach

Elissa Weinzimmer

Okay. I’m going to do the decent thing, and not start with how a simple sex toy could benefit your (voice) acting career.

That would be a cheesy way to pique your interest, and I’m not going there.

Besides, it’s just a small part of a much bigger story, and it has been covered before

Don’t worry. I’ll get to it eventually, but you have to be patient.

Instead, I’d like your mind to go somewhere else…

Imagine for a moment that you’re young, and your voice is your life. 

You love it so much that you want to make a living using that voice.

You take every opportunity to speak, sing and perform in public.

You dream of a career on stage, and you work very hard to make it a reality. 

And then, all of a sudden, you lose the one thing you trust and rely on most.

How would you feel?

This is not some sort of hypothetical scenario. This actually happened to vocal coach Elissa Weinzimmer. She told me her story, and today I’m going to share it with you. Here’s Elissa, recounting the events that took place some eight years ago.

“Simply put, I lost my voice in 2007. It was due to a combination of factors… I was really pushing to belt a solo in my a cappella group (USC Reverse Osmosis), and I was also drinking almost every day because I was trying to enjoy my remaining months in college (!). The drinking part was quite out of character, so it only lasted about a month before my body reacted. One morning I woke up, and felt like I had shards of glass in my throat. It hurt to swallow and speak. Later on that day, I spat up blood.

I rushed myself to the Ear, Nose and Throat specialist that week to have my vocal cords scoped, and I was told I had severe onset of acid reflux, and had experienced vocal “trauma” from overuse. I was put on vocal rest for a month… I had to walk around with a little notepad to communicate my thoughts. After that, I was sent to speech therapy. The whole experience was a major turning point for me. I stopped performing. I even stopped singing much in the car or the shower, places where I usually rocked out. Recently, I’ve started to call the seven years after losing my voice my silent years.”

When your voice is such a part of your identity, what did it do to you psychologically, when you could no longer rely on it?

“It was really emotional, of course. My confidence took a hit because I felt like I couldn’t rely on my voice. When I talk about it in yogi terms, I say that I spent years shutting down my fifth chakra, the center of energy in my throat. The fifth chakra is all about creativity and expression, so I felt stifled. Opening back up to my expressiveness has been a challenging but joyful process.”

How did losing your voice change a possible career path you had set out for yourself at that time? 

“Well, I’d spent most of my life believing that I was going to pursue a career in acting – that I was going to sing on Broadway. Interestingly enough though, a few months before I lost my voice I directed my first full length show, the musical Cabaret. So I was already intrigued and exhilarated by the idea of pursuing a career in directing. When I couldn’t rely on my voice anymore, it was a no-brainer that I would focus my efforts on directing instead. The idea to teach voice didn’t arise until a year or so later.”

Some people look at unfortunate events as blessings in disguise. Was losing your voice such a blessing, and in what way?

“Eight years later, I absolutely believe that it was a blessing. My story fits the archetype of the person who enters a healing or helping profession because of their own challenges. Losing my voice redirected my course in life, and I deeply love what I do now. So, in some ways I’m very grateful to have gone through the experience.”

What surprising things did you discover in the process of getting your voice back, and how has that changed you as a person, and as a professional?

“By the time I was ready to start reclaiming my voice I was already teaching voice to others quite a lot. It became clear to me that it was time to start walking the walk rather than just talking the talk. After all, it’s one thing to tell people to express themselves fully, and it’s entirely something else to be a model of that. I have to admit, a lot of my motivation for performing again was selfish – I needed to do it for me. Yet in pursuing my passion and my truth, I hope I offer a model that encourages other people to do the same in their own way. I believe the world will get really exciting when a critical mass of people start pursuing their true passions and desires, and I feel very strongly about being part of that movement.”

You have used a few methods to restore your voice, to strengthen your vocal folds, and to deal with vocal fatigue. One is called Fitzmaurice Voicework®. In a nutshell, what did you learn from using this technique that was new to you?

“It wasn’t what I expected. I encountered Fitzmaurice Voicework® in my theatre voice class when I was a senior at the University of Southern California. After I lost my voice I began to study the technique more deeply. Fitzmaurice is a beautiful and unique full body approach to making sound, but the exercises weren’t the thing that provided the biggest change for me. The huge change came from encountering a mindset shift inherent in that work: that instead of needing to have the best voice or a perfect voice, I could focus on having my voice.

I showed up at Fitzmaurice lessons wanting to get better and fix my voice. Of course that makes sense, I had spent my whole life up to that point trying to be a good singer and trying to make a good sound. But I learned that improving the voice is a paradox, because in order to get “better,” we have to uncover what’s already there. It’s not about adding stuff, it’s about peeling the extra junk away. In this new way of thinking I could let go of judging myself as good or bad/right or wrong, and I could instead ask myself: “What might this way of making sound be good for?” or “What might this way of breathing be right for?”

This paradigm shift changed everything for me. Once it sunk in, I was immediately committed to the idea of becoming a voice teacher, and sharing this way of thinking with others.”

You say the whole body is involved in creating sound. Many voice-overs lead very sedentary lives. They lock themselves up in a small, soundproof box, and sit all day, reading long scripts. What advice do you have for them?

“An ongoing struggle that I’ve had in my own vocal practice is to actually do my warm ups and take good care of myself. I will be the first to admit that that’s challenging! I have often felt like I’m not doing enough, and when I start working without warming up I feel guilty. However I’m lucky to be curious – fascinated in fact – with how the voice works and the connection between the voice and the body. At this point I’ve spent years experiencing and teaching warm ups and exercises. In the process I have come to believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that having a vocal practice works. Doing vocal warm ups and keeping ourselves in shape makes a difference.

So, for those of us who are really committed to using our voices as an instrument, I suggest this:

Get curious about how your voice works. We would never hop on a motorcycle without first learning how it works, so why would we ever presume to use our voice every day if we don’t understand it? Pick up a book and read. Joanna Cazden’s “Everyday Voice Care” is a great place to start. Create accountability and support. Sign up for a class. Go to yoga or the gym regularly. Create a practice.

Professor David Ley

Professor David Ley (left)

In 2012 you moved to Edmonton, Canada, to earn an MFA in Theatre Voice Pedagogy at the University of Alberta. That’s where you met one of your mentors, professor David Ley. One of the things he has developed is called the “Vibrant Voice Technique.” Tell me about it, and in particular how this technique could be beneficial to voice actors.

“Vibrant Voice Technique is based on this outside-the-box idea that David had to use a vibrator for your voice. He had a client suffering from extreme vocal fatigue. She’d been to the Ear Nose and Throat doctor, and she’d been scoped, but there was no damage. That being said, she was having ongoing difficulty making sound due to muscle tension. She had trouble giving herself a manual throat massage to release the tension, so David thought to himself… “Hmm, what’s small and vibrates?” The subsequent lightbulb moment led to a trip to the “love shop” to purchase a pocket-sized vibrator, and sure enough it worked!

Essentially, with Vibrant Voice Technique we use external vibration to reduce muscular tension, and enhance resonance. The technique can be incredibly beneficial to voice actors because it makes vocal exercises quick, easy, and highly effective. You don’t have to have a long regimen of exercises that you feel guilty about not doing. Quite honestly, Vibrant Voice is a shortcut to staying in vocal shape. So for voice actors who deal with issues of duration and overuse it can be extremely helpful.”

You’ve taught this technique to stage actors, on-camera actors, and professional singers. What’s the response when they found out they’re about to use a sex toy?

“There’s this very funny moment that happens when I say to someone: “I teach people to use a vibrator for their voice.” Almost always it goes like this: a blank stare, followed by a slow smile, then a vigorous nod. Sure the idea is surprising, but it makes sense to most people as soon as they think about it! Obviously many media outlets have capitalized on the sex toy angle because it’s sensational. Yet we continue to teach and do what we’re doing because the technique really works.”

Right now you’re recommending a “sensual personal massager” made by a Swedish company, but you’re developing a custom-made voice vibrator, aren’t you? What’s the word on that?

“Yes, we are in the process of developing our own vibrator. Unfortunately, I can’t say too much about that at the moment. However, if anyone reading this is interested in getting involved with the fundraising or research process, they are welcome to email us! You can find our contact info at Vibrant Voice Technique.

Apart from being the managing director of Vibrant Voice Technique, you run your own business called “Voice Body Connection.” What do you offer, and who are your clients?

“Voice Body Connection is based in New York City where I live. The business is all about helping people tune into the connection between their voice and body (as the name suggests). My mission is to help performers and public speakers communicate with more confidence and ease. I work in many ways: I coach clients privately in person, and over the internet. I teach actors at a studio in New York called Anthony Meindl’s Actors Workshop. I also teach an online Speak With Confidence class for public speakers. I’d love to develop a class for voice-over actors too!

In whatever format I’m teaching, the work starts with examining and shifting our mindset about how we communicate, and progresses to techniques and practices to create sound with more expression and less effort.”

I’m particularly intrigued by something you offer called Yoga for the Voice.

“I think there are many voice teachers now who are playing with combining vocal exercises and yoga. In a lot of ways the practices are complementary. So, I certainly can’t claim to have invented Yoga for the Voice. However I love exploring the interplay of how we might make sound while we do yoga, or how we might carry yoga concepts into voice work. It’s an exciting area of exploration for me, and I think for my students too!”

You also prep people for auditions. What are some of the common mistakes you help people correct?

“Well, I think the greatest challenge for a performer is that we’re usually given a script, and that maps out our impulses for us. It is so easy, when we’re being told what our impulses should be, to plan and make logical decisions about how we’ll perform. However the real goal is to allow impulses to bubble up creatively from our right brain, the same way impromptu speech pours out of us. So, the biggest thing I find I spend my time doing when I’m coaching people for auditions or performance, is helping them find a way to marry their own impulses with the impulses that have been provided in the script.”

Quite a few voice actors suffer from vocal fatigue. They got into the business because they loved to read out loud, and because they could do “funny voices.” Not everyone has had professional voice training. What advice do you have for an audio book narrator who records five hours a day, or for a voice actor who has to scream his head off while recording video games or cartoons?

“So, you’ve just brought up two issues: the duration issue (length of time doing the work) and the use issue (are we using healthy practices?). In either case, I highly recommend a warm up and a cool down.

Now, we’re doing the warm up not just to go through the motions. We’re doing it because it’s an opportunity to let our voice know: “This is how I’d like you to behave as I move through my work.” It sets us up for success. After you’ve done a warm up you can do whatever you want within reason – you can scream, cry, and make crazy sounds.

At the end of your session, you want to reset by doing a cool down. You’ve done a lot of work and potentially used extreme effort, so you want to come back down to a more healthy, neutral resting place. The primary reason actors get into trouble with fatigue is because they carry their overuse or misuse into the rest of their day or into the bar that night. So the biggest piece of advice I can offer is: Warm up and cool down! Even thirty seconds of humming will do.

Elissa Weinzimmer, performing "Home."

Elissa, performing her show “Home.”

And finally, back to you. Helping all these performers, don’t you feel the pull of the stage? Will you be coaching in the background, or is there a chance we could see you perform in public again?

“The answer to both is yes! I love coaching. I love helping facilitate people’s art. However, now that I’ve broken the seal, so to speak, I’m back, and I’m going to continue performing!

What do you mean?

I recently sang a cabaret show for my 30th birthday! It was an incredible experience. The theme of the show was “Home.” I’ve been moving around a lot over the last couple years, so it’s about finding home wherever I am. But it’s also about coming home to my voice. You can read about my three performances on a special website I just created.

I don’t know what my next project will be, but I’m very much open to the possibility and opportunity to perform again.”

SPECIAL OFFER

Elissa has developed an online training on how the voice works, and she offers online voice coaching. She also teaches one-on-one sessions in Vibrant Voice Technique via Zoom (online), or in-person in New York City. Check out her website for details.

She’s kindly offering readers of this blog 10% off of any of her sessions when you mention Nethervoice. If you’re unsure how to properly use your voice, or if you’re suffering from vocal fatigue, one or more sessions could very well save your career. 

Thank you, Elissa!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Are Clients Walking All Over You?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Money Matters, Personal 36 Comments

Angry manAs a freelancer, I’ve had to learn many lessons.

Some of these lessons came easy. Others were excruciating.

Out of all the things I picked up along the way, these two were perhaps the hardest:

1. How to deal with conflict.

2. How to stand up for myself.

I grew up in a very protective environment, and was taught never to raise my voice. The main philosophy in our house was this:

Most people have good intentions. If you treat them with kindness and understanding, they will treat you in a similar way.

So, when my best friend asked if he could borrow some money, I immediately gave it to him. I think I was eight years old at that time, and I had earned a few bucks by helping out around the house. “You’ll get it back tomorrow,” he said, and I totally believed him.

Of course he never returned a penny, and I couldn’t figure out why. Was it something I had said? Was it something I had done? You see, that was one of my patterns. Whenever something negative would happen to me, I started questioning myself.

This made it harder for me to confront my friend and ask for my money. Part of me didn’t want to risk losing him as my best buddy. Part of me was just too scared to challenge him. “Don’t cause conflicts,” said that little voice in the back of my head that sounded very much like my mother. “People might not like you when you start arguing with them.”

A LOSING STRATEGY

I have to tell you right now: this approach didn’t work for me as a child, and it didn’t work for me as an adult. It left me with no backbone, and it made me vulnerable. Yet, when I started my own business, I did everything I could to avoid conflict by becoming a people-pleaser.

If you’re offering a professional service like I do, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. You want your clients to be happy, and their wish is your command, but there are limits. I found it very hard to say “No,” even when clients made unreasonable demands.

“Could you cancel all your plans and come to our studio for an audition tomorrow? Let’s make it nine o’ clock.”

The next day I cursed rush hour traffic on my way to New York for a cattle call in some obscure basement. I would spend half a day on the highway, and a small fortune in parking fees to audition for a $250 job. It was madness.

“Since you’re a Dutch native speaker, could you check the translation of the script we sent you, just to make sure everything is the way it’s supposed to be?”

Unable to refuse, I would spend the next two hours proofing and correcting a horrible script that had been translated by stupid software. All of this for a cheap client who never said “please,” or “thank you,” and who expected me to do this at the drop of a hat, and for free.

“If I don’t do it, I might lose the job,” I told myself in those days.

Five minutes later, the phone would ring. It was one of my late-paying clients.

“Paul, we’re having some cashflow problems. Is it okay if we pay you in about… six weeks?”

“I’d rather get paid in six weeks than not being paid at all,” I said to myself, and I told the client not to worry. I was going to be the easiest freelancer they would ever work with!

MR. DOORMAT

Looking back, I had all sorts of people walk over me, and I found it increasingly difficult to put on a professional smile, and be okay with being treated like a dirty disposable doormat. Even though I began to resent being disrespected, there were three things I forgot.

1. Ultimately, my ultra-accommodating behavior gave me something I wanted: a way to avoid conflict. I would be seen as the amiable hired helper who always went above and beyond. Who wouldn’t want to work with me?

2. I wasn’t a powerless victim of those who took advantage of me. I was an active participant in the process by allowing people to walk all over me.

3. By behaving the way I did, I created certain expectations. I taught my clients how to treat me.

At the time, I didn’t see it that way. I saw myself as the always accommodating Mr. Nice Guy, smiling on the outside, but suffering in silence on the inside. It was only a matter of time before the last drop landed in the bucket.

PUSHING MY BUTTONS

I had finished recording a technical script for a high-maintenance, unorganized client who always needed everything yesterday. Even though I was swamped, I managed to meet his deadline. Two days later I was getting ready to go to a wedding, when he called me with some drastic changes to the script.

“Don’t blame me,” he said. “I don’t control the people I work for.”

He basically expected me to drop everything and help him out, and here’s the worst part: he wanted me to do it at no charge.

Already in my tuxedo, my frustration finally reached a boiling point, and I snapped at this man with an indignation that had been building up for years. I’ll tell you: when I was done, I felt so relieved!

My client, on the other hand, was speechless. Once he composed himself, he just said a few words:

“I wouldn’t want you to miss that wedding. We’ll go over everything tomorrow, and I’ll make sure you get paid for your time.”

Just like that!

I was stunned.

I looked in the mirror and thought:

“So, that’s what happens when you put your foot down!”

I later apologized to the client for losing my temper, and I thanked him for teaching me a valuable lesson.

BOUNDARIES

This all happened quite some time ago. Eventually, I came to realize that I had to set some professional boundaries. Now, if you’re going through the same things I experienced, you might wonder:

How do you know where these boundaries are? They’re pretty much invisible.

It’s simple, really. You know where your boundaries are by the amount of BS you’re willing to put up with in your life.

As long as you’re okay, no lines are crossed. But if someone or something makes you angry or upset, it’s probably a sign that your boundaries have been violated. You’re likely to find out during some kind of crisis. That’s when you discover who you are, and what’s important to you.

Over the years I have developed very strong boundaries when it comes to rates, professional standards, and the terms and conditions under which I am willing to work with a client or a student.

I no longer drive to New York if a job pays less than $500. My agents know that, and they understand. Most of them will ask a producer if it’s okay for me to send an MP3 audition, instead of making me go to a cattle call. Usually, that’s no problem either.

If clients want me to translate or proof a script, they’ll have to pay me to do it, and payment is expected within 30 days after the invoice is received. I’m happy to record changes to the script after the initial, approved text was recorded, but not for free. 

NEW RESPECT

Did I lose a couple of clients because I refused to put up with their BS? Of course I did, but I was glad to get rid of them. Now here’s the kicker…

Because I was putting my foot down (ever so gently, of course), people started to respect me more.

As my self-confidence increased, their confidence in me increased as well. To my surprise I discovered that being clear about my boundaries lead to less conflict. 

My rate was no longer seen as expensive, but as a sign of professionalism. These days, many clients are willing to do a lot to accommodate me, instead of the other way around.

All in all I’d say that standing up for myself has made me feel better about myself in general, and it has brought more clients to my business.

However, there’s one thing that keeps on bugging me.

Not long ago, the childhood friend I told you about in the beginning, found me on Facebook, and now he wants to connect. It’s been more than forty years since we last spoke, and I’m curious to find out how he is doing. However, I’m reluctant to honor his request.

After all, the guy still owes me money!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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photo credit: la colérica e inmediata respuesta gestual via photopin (license)

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The Secret To Free Upgrades

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Personal 8 Comments

smiling old manIt’s my ultimate dream…

To board a transatlantic flight, and get a complementary upgrade to first class.

Or to pay for a simple hotel room, and being handed the key to the penthouse suite. At no additional charge.

I love a good deal. Especially when I’m not paying for it!

And how about getting last-minute tickets to that sold-out play or musical? Wouldn’t it be great to run into someone who’s willing to sell you the best seats in the house at half-price because he can’t make it?

“Alright, that will never happen,” you respond, and I don’t blame you. 

Most airlines have instituted a zero-upgrade policy. Hotels will make you pay if you wish to stay in a nicer room, and that loud, sweaty guy in front of you will snag those cheap Broadway tickets for a show he doesn’t even like. 

Some things are just too good to be true, and they will never happen to you.

And yet, one of my friends seems to have the magic touch when it comes to upgrades. He’s in his seventies, and the other night he went to dinner and got a free dessert. Recently, he took a cruise to the Caribbean, and landed a spacious room with a view, even though he’d only paid for a small cabin.

He’s always getting deals and discounts, and I don’t know how he does it. Is he just lucky, or is he reaping the rewards of having been an amazing person in a past life?

Let’s forget reincarnation for a moment, and find out why my friend -let’s call him Ben- receives these complementary upgrades and discounts. I have a feeling it has to do with his mental make-up. His personality.

First of all, he’s the epitome of optimism. In Ben’s world, nothing is impossible. Ben doesn’t see obstacles. He spots opportunities. 

Secondly, he’s one of the most positive, altruistic souls I know. Ben is always complimenting people left and right because he sees the good in everyone.

And compliments make people fly.

Ben’s also a good listener. He’s the kind of person you’d tell the story of your life to, because Ben is genuinely interested, he doesn’t interrupt, and he doesn’t judge.

Ben doesn’t like to talk about himself. He wants to hear how you are doing. Ben doesn’t have a hidden agenda, or some intricate spiel. He happens to like people, and people like him.

And most importantly, he doesn’t care if you’re a captain of industry, or a burger flipper at the local greasy spoon. He will give you the same, warm Ben treatment, because that’s what you deserve.

You couldn’t find a nicer guy, even if you tried.

“But what about this saying Nice people finish last?” you may ask. “Isn’t there some truth to that? People walk all over doormats. They always have, and they always will.” 

I disagree. Nice people can be assertive. Sweet people can have a spine. A very sweet spine! Nice people do finish first.

Ben once told me:

“Most folks are willing to go the extra mile for you, but not if you’re a jerk. If you go all ballistic on a poor call center assistant, you know you’re going to be put on hold for a very long time. If you’re patronizing to a waiter, it may take a little longer for your food to arrive.

Being kind doesn’t cost a thing, but don’t expect any favors if you’re being disrespectful and rude.

Now, I know that’s not an earth shattering message, and yet I wish this world would choose kindness over conflict.”

Being a nice guy is not the only reason why my friend Ben enjoys his occasional perks and upgrades. When I asked him about it, he shared a very simple secret with me that has made all the difference. In fact, it is so simple and straightforward that most people don’t even think about it.

“My mother was a very wise woman,” said Ben. “And this is what she told me when I was five years old:

You’ll never get what you don’t ask for.

Here’s an example.

One of my grandsons is a freelancer. The other day he was complaining about a rate a client had offered him. It was on the low side, but he took the job anyway, because he needed the money.

Did you ask for more? I said.

“No,” he answered. “I didn’t want them to go to someone else. Besides, they said they had a limited budget.”

A month later he ran into a colleague who happened to work on a similar project for the same company. And get this: They were paying this man twice the amount he was making! 

My grandson became really angry. He called his project manager and yelled: “Why are you paying this guy two times what I’m making while we’re practically doing the same job? That’s not fair, is it?”

“Calm down, said the project manager. “It doesn’t have anything to do with fair, and I’ll tell you why. With us, you negotiate your own rate. That’s how we do it. Your colleague gave us a number, and we agreed. It’s as simple as that. You could have done the same thing. All you had to do was ask.”

I’ll give you another example, said Ben.

My neighbor’s wife -a very nice lady- was moaning and groaning that her husband wasn’t romantic anymore. “We used to go out all the time, and we had so much fun,” she sighed. “These days he just sits on the couch, and watches TV.”

Have you asked him to take you out on a date, lately? I said.

“Of course not,” she replied. “It has to come from him. It has to be spontaneous. My husband is anything but spontaneous.”

“That’s what I mean,” said Ben. “She doesn’t understand the concept. If she wants things to chance, she’s got to take action. 

You’ll never get what you don’t ask for.

Frankly, it’s the only reason I got that marvelous room on my last cruise. When I got on board, I started talking to the purser. He was an older guy, like me. It turns out, we went to the same high school, but we were five years apart. We even had the same favorite teachers, and we hated the same ones too! Then he asked me what room I was in, and I told him. He said it was very close to the engine. That’s probably why it was so cheap.

Then I looked at him, and said: “I don’t suppose there’s anything you could do about that, is there?”

He glanced at his chart for a moment, and said: “Let me see what I can do.”

Next thing I know I was out on my very own balcony, smelling the fresh, salty air. The engine room was far away. One night I was even invited to dine at the captain’s table. When you’re my age, it doesn’t get any better than that!”

He took a deep breath.

“You know,” said Ben with a smile. “People think these things only happen in books or in movies, and that’s not true. They do happen in real life, as long as you believe they are possible. You’ve got to believe.

Sometimes all it takes is a smile, a little kindness, and an innocent question.

Tell me: Is that too much to ask?”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

photo credit: the old man and the sea : santa barbara (2006) via photopin (license)

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Causing A Ruckus. Again.

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Internet, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play, Personal, Promotion 45 Comments

Sweet watchdog.Oh dear, I think I stepped on some very sensitive toes, last week.

And I’m not at all sorry.

If you weren’t part of the now 8,500 strong group that has read last week’s story, click here to catch up on what you missed. It will take you to:

5 Reasons Why You Should Never Become A Voice-Over.

Some of the folks who read it, kindly called me:

“Disheartening and rude.”

“Snarky, mean-spirited, and quite arrogant.”

“Negative, pompous and absolute.”

Another commentator wrote:

“Seems like a severe case of sour grapes and he/she really needs to seek out a career change…”

People know me so well, don’t they? They haven’t got the faintest idea whether I’m a man or a woman, but they sure know my deepest motivations, and darkest desires.

Listen up people. There are psychics among us, and they know exactly what drives us!

If you’ve read all the comments, you know there were other opinions:

“A little reality check is always a good thing. And, as Paul pointed out at the end, if you’re a fool and passionate about it, then you’ll love every lonely, frustrating, fabulous minute of it!”

“As one of the doe-eyed hopefuls making these same mistakes and assumptions, I respect his perspective.”

“Knowing these truths and being aware of the harsh realities of the business is what helped me survive and get work.”

IT COULD BE WORSE

Should you belong to the group that believes I was impudent and impertinent, you must read a blog post entitled:

Five Reasons You Won’t Make It As A Writer,” by John Hartness.

Here’s how it starts:

“I’ve decided to just embrace my role as the Simon Cowell of the writing world. I’m honestly tired of being nice and supportive to everyone who comes up to me with a half-baked idea or worse, a half-baked product, and asks what I think. Because they don’t want to know what I think. They want to hear how awesome they are. And most of the time they aren’t awesome. Most of the time I’d be better off trimming my toenails than reading their godawful attempts at a book or story, because at least that can get exciting if I trim a little too closely. So here goes – unexpurgated Hartness on why you’re not going to make it as a writer.”

And that’s only the beginning…

If, after reading that tirade you still believe I’m the rudest man in the voice-over universe, your skin is way too thin. That’s a serious problem, because -just as the life of a writer- the life of an average voice talent revolves around rejection. And if you’re not rejected enough, you’re not auditioning enough.

Now, is this me being negative and bitter again?

Hell no!

I’m not saying anything new. I’m merely stating a fact, and if you can’t handle that, you are being bitter. Not me.

RULES AND EXCEPTIONS

Here’s what most of my critics pointed out (and I paraphrase here):

While there is some truth to Paul’s five points, there are exceptions to his rules. Quite a few people are making a good living as a voice-over. Some are doing very useful work. It is possible to be social and productive as a VO.

To that I say: Big whoop!

I know a few actors who aren’t waiting tables in NYC or LA, but what does that prove?

Of course I’m generalizing. Anyone who has been in this industry for longer than a year recognizes that. But that doesn’t mean there’s no validity to my point of view. Here’s a quick recap:

– This world needs less talk, and more action.

– VO rates have been steadily eroding.

– Being a voice-over can be unhealthy, and lonely.

– Finding the work often takes more time than doing the work.

– It may take years before you make some serious money.

WHAT’S MY OBJECTIVE

Let’s be honest. Are these really the statements of some disenchanted, fearful soul, meant to scare newcomers off his lawn? Or am I simply restating a few arguments countless colleagues have made for many, many years?

If you have a problem with these conclusions, why shoot the messenger? Why not write to that online casting site you paid good money to, and ask them to raise the minimum rate, and to do some decent quality control? You’re an esteemed member. Shouldn’t you have a say in these matters?

And to commentator Scott Spaulding I’d like to say this:

You claim that there is money in voice-overs, and that’s fine. Your profile on Elance/Odesk tells me that your minimum hourly rate is $38. You voiced an animated infographic for $82! And you’re telling me that you’re “not working for beer money?”

Are you serious?

You wrote:

“(…) just because you work as a voice talent, doesn’t mean you don’t have any interaction with anyone. You can still pick up the phone and call a client directly to try to build a relationship that way. As well as cold-calling potential clients and try to build a report with someone other than through email.”

Yeah, let’s cold call a client to break the social isolation, and build a relationship. I’m sure that’ll go over really well. We all know how much people love to get a cold call. I haven’t had one in a while, and I really miss it.

WHO’S HYPOCRITICAL

I do have to commend you for your honesty, Scott. You said:

“I did find your comment about the voice conference speakers a little bit hypocritical though. You make a snarky remark about the VoiceVIP’s talking about themselves and plugging their own books at these conferences… when you’re doing the same thing on this blog! You have a link to your book on this page that says “Buy the book!” They’re using the conferences to help advertise and sell their book and you use this blog to help advertise and sell your book. You even plugged your book in one of your replies to someone who posted a comment.”

Are you saying that I shouldn’t promote my own work on my own website? What school of business did you go to? You’re on my turf, and the number one goal of this site is to generate an income. How is that hypocritical? You have samples of your work on your website, don’t you? 

There’a big difference between landing on my site, and going to a VO conference. The 5,000+ people who visit my site every month pay zero dollars. What do they get for that? Over 120 blog posts that many visitors find informative, entertaining, and thought-provoking. Unlike some VO-conferences, I’m not asking people to pay a hefty fee for my privilege to plug my products.

BEING PRODUCTIVE

Scott, I totally disagree with you on your definition of “productive.” You said:

“Whatever you’re doing that is helping build your VO business IS being productive. Whether it’s looking up places to contact, working on a new demo, emailing potential clients, looking up new marketing ideas… it’s all part of working towards your goal of getting business!”

Being busy does not equal being productive. 

In any business, input leads to output. Input can be anything used to produce a product or a service (such as writing newsletters and emails, producing demos, making calls). Productivity is measured by the result of those actions. It’s the output that matters.

When you’re delivering services at a more rapid rate than before, you’re being more productive. Not when you’re making more calls, or when you’re doing market research.

MY MOTIVATION

As an envelope-pushing, pot-stirring blogger I accept the fact that people will criticize and ridicule me. Different opinions and dialogue are welcome, as long as we can have a civilized discussion. 

I also realize that not everyone gets my tongue-in-cheek style. People tend to take the written word more literally, and snarcasm is not for everyone.

I never ask my readers to agree with anything I’m suggesting, but here’s the thing. I don’t provoke for the sake of provocation. The aim of last week’s piece was to provide a counterweight to all the propaganda from companies that are still trying to sell the same old story to a new, naive audience. If anything, I had expected a firm response from those companies. Instead, some colleagues accused me of dissuading newbies to join my club.

“If you don’t have anything positive to say, then perhaps you shouldn’t say it,” is their advice.

Sorry, but that’s not how I was raised.

If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you know I do more than complain and campaign. And when I spot things in my industry that seem unfair or downright wrong, I speak up. I don’t care if that makes a few people uncomfortable. As long as things are comfortable, nothing will change.

So, allow me to be that self-appointed watchdog. I may step on a few toes here and there, but my bark is worse than my bite.

You see… I told you so:

This industry is going to the dogs!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet. 

photo credit: Miss Olive via photopin (license)

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The Easiest Way To Shoot Yourself In The Foot

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Personal 20 Comments

Pointing fingersBeing judged.

For some people, it is the worst feeling in the world.

Not only that, it can be totally paralyzing.

We all have friends or family members who are really good at something they do. Perhaps they play an instrument, or they write funny little poems. But as soon as you ask them to play or read something in public, they come up with all kinds of excuses:

“I don’t think I’m ready.”

“I’m not that special.”

“What if I mess up?”

“What will people think of me?”

Here’s what’s so remarkable about these statements. They’re all based on self-doubt; on the assumption that things will go badly, and on the idea that the audience consists of critics.

This fearful attitude reminds me of children who refuse to eat something they’ve never eaten before. They always expect the worst. When asked why they’re not willing to try this new food, they all say:

“I’m not sure I’m going to like it.”

Perhaps that’s where this unadventurous, negative attitude starts. With whiny kids and overprotective parents.

THE ICE CREAM STORY

One of my young nieces is a very picky eater who only eats things she’s familiar with: mac and cheese and chicken nuggets. One day I took her to the ice cream parlor for dessert. Her eyes lit up when she saw the sixty plus flavors in the freezer window.

“I want ice cream, Uncle Paul,” she said. “I think I’ll have two scoops.”

I looked at her, knowing this would be the perfect learning opportunity.

“Are you going to treat me?” I asked playfully. “What a nice surprise!”

“No silly,” she laughed. “I don’t have any money. I’m just a kid. But I do want ice cream.”

“Well,” I said, “I don’t think I heard a question. Is that how your mother raised you?”

“No,” she answered sheepishly. I could tell she was a bit surprised that she didn’t get her way immediately.

A few seconds later she tried:

“Can I have some ice cream, Uncle Paul?”

This wasn’t the time to talk about the difference between “can and “may,” so I said:

“That’s much better, but I think I’m still missing the magic word. Do you want to ask me again?”

My niece was getting a bit frustrated, but her desire for ice cream was greater, so she said:

“Can I have some ice cream, PLEASE?”

“That’s more like it,” I said. “Now, let me ask YOU a question: Have you ever had ice cream from this place before?”

“No,” she answered.

“Oh dear,” I said. “In that case I don’t think you’re going to like it.”

“Why is that?” she said surprised.

“At lunch, when I asked you to eat your broccoli, you refused, because you said you never had it before. You didn’t think you would like it. So, how do you know you are going to like this ice cream?”

I could see that my niece’s wheels were turning for a moment or two, and while staring at the many colorful flavors, she let out a big sigh.

Then she looked up at me and said:

“Uncle Paul, I guess I’ll just have to try.”

“That’s great,” I responded, and we walked inside. I knew the owner of the store, and as I pointed to my niece, I said:

“This young lady would like to have some broccoli ice cream please.”

The owner winked, and he gave her a big scoop of pistachio gelato.

My niece took one big lick, and said she loved it.

“See, had you not tried it, you would have been missing out,” I said. “I’m proud of you!”

After a while I explained to her that this wasn’t really broccoli ice cream, but I don’t think she cared one way or the other.

The next day, I got a phone call. It was her mother, and she had a question.

“I don’t know what you did, Paul, but my daughter just asked for broccoli. How do you prepare that?”

BACK TO YOU

Here’s the point I want to make.

All of us are born with an amazing tool: our imagination. It allows us to create all kinds of scenarios, some of them more uplifting than others. Sometimes we form opinions about food we’ve never tasted. Other times we imagine what it would be like to perform in front of an audience.

What many people don’t realize is that we choose what we want to focus on, and what it means to us. We’re in the driver’s seat.

Are we going to tell ourselves:

“This new vegetable is probably not going to be very tasty,”

or

“This green leafy thing could be surprisingly delicious?”

When asked to step onto a stage, are we afraid that we’re going to embarrass ourselves, or do we see ourselves entertaining a delighted crowd?

No matter what we choose, we are programming ourselves for a certain outcome, based on a hallucination. That’s all it is. And parents pass these hallucinations onto their children.

I just heard a mother say to her son: “You’re probably not going to like these Brussels sprouts, but I want you to try at least one.”

What a setup! No wonder the boy didn’t want to take a bite. 

The biggest disappointments are usually well-prepared.

ALTERING ASSUMPTIONS

I work in a competitive industry where many are invited, and very few are chosen. Every day I send voice-over auditions into the world that will be evaluated by total strangers. If they’re kind, they’ll give me between five and ten seconds to make my mark. Most jobs will go to other people, and I’ll never know why. 

As a coach, it is my job to prepare my students for this highly subjective and uncertain process. Before they hit “record,” I want them to have the right mindset. So, this is what I tell them:

“People will form opinions no matter what, but it’s not the judgment of others that may or may not hold you back. It is your own judgment that may help or hurt you.

After all, you don’t really know what others are thinking. You have no idea how you’ll be perceived. It’s a waste of energy to be concerned about things you can’t control. 

There are four things you can influence:

* your attitude,

* the way you cultivate your talent,

your level of preparedness, and

* your performance.

Always put your best foot forward. Record that demo, and send it on its way.

After that, there’s only one thing you can do:

Let it go!

Enjoy the feeling that you put yourself out there; that you gave yourself a chance. And if that puts you in a good mood, perhaps you deserve a small but cool reward.

How about a scoop of ice cream?

Broccoli-flavored, of course!

Paul Strikwerda

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!

photo credit: Rosario speaks via photopin (license)

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Perfectionism Is A Trap

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Journalism & Media, Personal 29 Comments

Drummer“Practice makes perfect.”

It’s one of my least favorite sayings in the English language. Yet, last year, this expression topped a poll of words of wisdom Britons picked up in childhood, and continue to use well into their older years.

It did better than “the grass is always greener on the other side,” and “good things come to those who wait.”

Why do I dislike “practice makes perfect” so much?

First of all, as is true for most clichés, it is a broad generalization. Secondly, perfection is a very loaded notion. Some people believe we should reserve that qualification to describe the divine. 

“Practice makes perfect” assumes that those who work hard will be rewarded. If only that were the case! Life isn’t fair, and hard work doesn’t necessarily lead to success. The millions of Americans who are working their butts off for minimum wage can attest to that.

And finally, I don’t believe we are created equal. Not everyone was born to win Wimbledon, or write a best-selling novel, no matter how hard and how often they may try.

But let’s start at the beginning by looking at the notion of practice.

GOOD INTENTIONS. BAD ADVICE.

People who tell you “practice makes perfect,” are usually trying to be encouraging, but they rarely define what they mean by “practice.” Of course the general idea is that the more one does something, the better one gets at it. As if repetition alone will lead to positive results.

Practicing can be very helpful, but it won’t make you a gold medal winner, or a world-famous musician. There’s one thing that consistent rehearsal will do, though. 

Practice tends to make permanent, but is that always beneficial?

If you practice the wrong things over and over again, you’ll only become better at what you’re not good at. It’s hard to unlearn bad habits.

If you really want to master something, you have to have a natural talent; you have to develop that talent from an early age, and you need what Swedish psychologist K. Anders Ericsson calls “deliberate practice.”

Deliberate practice is a type of practice that’s rich on feedback, aimed at correcting mistakes. Ericsson says it’s the only factor that explains differences in performance in sports, arts, sciences, and intellectual games. Deliberate practice is not something you can do just by yourself. You need precise guidance, evaluation, and accountability.

MORE THAN REPETITION

Guillermo Campitelli is a lecturer at Edith Cowan University. He investigates individual differences in performance, judgements and decisions.

Campitelli has been involved in a study that re-analyzed previous research in the fields of chess and music, including data from Ericsson’s original deliberate practice study.

Campitelli’s research in chess expertise has shown that there is a huge variability in the numbers of hours of individual practice required to become a national master. One player he studied achieved that level after 800 hours (or 2 years). Another did it after 24,000 hours (or 26 years). A significant number of players dedicated more than 10,000 hours of individual practice, and never achieved that level.

His re-analysis showed that, on average, practice only accounts for 30% of the skill differences in music, and 34% of skill differences in chess. Campitelli concluded that deliberate practice is important, but other factors should be taken into account as well. Factors, such as our working memory capacity.

Our working memory capacity or executive functioning, is the ability to store and process information at the same time. Some of us are better at it than others, depending on the gene pool we came from.

People with high levels of working memory, outperformed those with lower working memory capacity in tasks such as piano sight reading, even when the latter group had extensive experience and knowledge of the task (source).

THE FLAW OF FLAWLESS

Practice isn’t all it’s cooked up to be, so let’s now turn to the notion of perfection. I think striving for perfection puts unnecessary pressure on people to achieve something that isn’t necessarily humanly possible, or even desirable.

One way to achieve perfection is to avoid errors. What could possibly be wrong with that? Well, avoiding errors can lead to people sticking to what they already know by playing it safe. That’s boring, and it stifles growth and creativity. Those who are trying to avoid something are usually motivated by fear, which can take away the pleasure of accomplishment. 

If we really wish to make progress, we need to push ourselves out of our comfort zone, take risks, and accept that we will make mistakes along the way, from which we will (hopefully) learn. To me, steady progress is a better and more enjoyable outcome than perfection.

There’s one last reason why perfection isn’t such a great goal.

LISTEN TO THE BEAT

In a lot of popular music, live drummers are being replaced by drum machines. These machines don’t make any mistakes. They’ll give you a consistent, perfect beat every single time. That’s something professional drummers cannot do.

Professional drummers aren’t robots. Even when playing to a super steady metronomic beat, they tend to fluctuate slightly. According to researcher Holger Henning, these variations are typically small, perhaps 10 to 20 milliseconds. Yet, listeners can tell the difference. Not only that, research has shown that these human variations are more pleasing to the ear.

Many electronic music programs now have “randomizing” functions to help producers add imperfections back into the music to give it a more human feel. However, they cannot produce the same rhythmic variety that people subconsciously recognize and prefer. There’s is no improvisation, spontaneity, or heart and soul in software. 

Musician Jojo Mayer says in his mini-documentary Between Zero and One:

“Digital computers are binary machines, which means they compute tasks making decisions between zero and one — yes or no. When we play music and generate it in real-time, when we improvise, that decision-making process gets condensed to a degree where it surpasses our capability to make conscious decisions anymore. When that happens, I am entering that zone beyond zero and one, beyond yes and no, which is a space that machines cannot access yet. That’s the human experience — right between zero and one.”

To put it differently: It’s the imperfections, that make a performance perfect.”

Think about that, if you’re a perfectionist.

Keep it in mind, the next time you wonder if voice actors will ever be completely replaced by text-to-speech software.

Take it from me: It will never happen!

Deliberate practice helps you prepare and perform better, but it doesn’t make you perfect.

And that’s perfectly fine with me.

Paul Strikwerda

PS Be sweet. Pleased retweet.

photo credit: Drummer with the cut outs at Oswestry Music Live 2008 via photopin (license)

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Old School, Old Fool?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Personal 33 Comments

Kids listening to story tellerThe country I live in is built for the young.

The population however, is aging rapidly. 

It’s a huge problem, and a tremendous opportunity.

In as little as 15 years, the U.S. is expected to be home to 73 million people over the age of 65. That’s about 33 million more than today. 

The Baby boomers born between 1946 and 1964 are now between 51 and 69 years old. According to a 2011 Associated Press and LifeGoesStrong.com survey, 42% of those who are still working, are delaying retirement. 25% claim they will never retire.    

Behind these rather boring numbers are real people. They may be friends or members of your family. Or you may belong to that group yourself. If that’s the case, you could be part of the first generation that grew up with television. You know, the people who still remember Gilligan’s Island, and where they were the day John F. Kennedy was killed. 

MEMORY LANE

I’m not of that generation, but I remember my parents waking me up in the middle of the night to watch Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walk on the moon. I remember the end of the Vietnam war, the oil embargo, and the Berlin Wall coming down. I remember getting my first personal computer, a cordless phone, and an Internet connection.

I don’t feel like a dinosaur yet, but that’s only a matter of time. Imagine me in 1982. I was eighteen, and I presented my first show on national radio in the Netherlands. Since then I spent most of my days with a microphone eight inches from my nose. 

Every time people refer to me as a voice-over veteran I cringe in disbelief. Please don’t tell me I am that old! And every time I land a job I say to myself: “Thank goodness I’m still relevant!” It’s pathetic, and I know it. 

If Annie Lennox can rock the mic at the Grammys at age 60, I have no excuse or reason to feel sorry for myself. But how will I feel ten years from now, or twenty? Will I be one of the 42% that delays retirement… indefinitely? Will there still be a younger generation willing and able to pay for their elders? Will I still be relevant?

THE AGING VOICE ACTOR

When I look at my older voice-over colleagues, I wonder what it’s like to be them. How do they handle the pressure of being a professional in a fast-paced industry where technology is changing the name of the game? A game taken over by like youngsters who are like totally into virtual reality and stuff… like that.

One of my friends -let’s call her Lizzy- turned sixty-six this year. After she retired as headmistress at a private school, she just couldn’t sit still. People always said that she had a powerful, resonant voice, and she loved reading to children. So, when one of her teachers mentioned voice acting, she perked up. 

Thankfully, Lizzy had saved some money, and she hired a great voice-over coach. After twelve long months she converted a small guest room into a home studio, and even got herself a real Neumann microphone! A thousand dollars or so later, she had a demo she could pass around. With plenty of time on her hands, Lizzy was ready to break into the business!

Soon she discovered that having time, money, and a distinctive voice does not make a career. Finding work was hard, especially because Lizzy had never liked using a computer. “I don’t need a website,” she said. “That’s for the kids. I’ll do things the old-fashioned way. And forget about Facebook. I’m not going to waste my time chit-chatting about nothing.”

Her son convinced her to get a laptop, and helped her sign up for an online casting service. Once Lizzy became familiar with the inner workings of this service, she made a discovery that left her depressed for days.

BEING SIDETRACKED

“All the jobs on this site are for perky 20 to 40 year olds,” Lizzy said. “If you ever need an example of ageism, this is it. No one wants to hire an old headmistress. What am I supposed to do?”

But a week later her spirits were up. A client in Sweden needed a grandma for a number of English children’s stories, and he said Lizzy’s voice was perfect. “Can we set up a Skype session so I can give you some guidance?” he asked. Lizzy froze. She had heard of Skype, but had no idea what it was or how to use it.

“And,” said the producer, “once I have given you some pointers, I take it you can record the rest of the script without my help. We do expect you to deliver clean, edited audio that is ready to use. That’s not a problem, is it?”

“No, no, of course not,” mumbled Lizzy.

“Well, I’ll email you the script, and eh… can you send me the audio in let’s say.… four days? And shall we do our Skype session two days from now? Is ten o’clock your time okay?”

When Lizzy put the phone down she panicked because she realized she was not even close to being ready. What had she gotten herself into? That evening her son installed Skype on her computer, and showed her how to use it. He even took a morning off work, so he could be there when Sweden called.

MESSING UP BIG TIME

Once the connection was made and Lizzy started reading the script, everything was fine. Sven the producer seemed happy with her narration, and within the hour, Lizzy had recorded four three-minute stories. She even remembered how to edit the audio the way her coach had shown her. Things were looking up!

The next day she received a call from the client. He loved her storytelling, but he said they couldn’t use the audio. “Why not?” Lizzy wanted to know.

“Because of all the mouth noises,” Sven said. “I thought you would send me clean audio. That was our agreement.” 

“Let me see what I can do,” said Lizzy, and she went back to her studio. She must have listened to her stories four or five times, but she didn’t hear what the client was talking about. What on earth was going on?

She asked her son to come over and have a listen. After a few minutes he looked at her and said: “Mom, are you sure you didn’t hear all those clicks and smacks? They’re all over the place.”

“Not really,” answered Lizzy.

“Well, that explains why you have been talking louder lately. I think you should see an audiologist. Get your ears checked. And when’s the last time you’ve been to the dentist? I have a feeling you may need new dentures.”

“Ah, the joys of old age,” said Lizzy. “The joys of old age.”

A REVELATION

Two months and two hearing aids later, Lizzy missed being at school. A year ago, people still knew who she was. When she spoke, they listened to her. They even did what she told them to do. She missed being social.

In the world of voice acting, no one knew who she was, and no one cared. People were not polite. They expected her to drop whatever she was doing to record a demo. They never told her why she didn’t book a job she’d auditioned for. Whatever happened to patience and good manners?

When she called her coach, he wasn’t very supportive.

“Lizzy, clients don’t owe you an explanation,” he said. “We’ve talked about that. You may not have that young, hip voice everyone is looking for these days, but there are still jobs out there. It takes time to build up a network and a reputation. You’ve got to work at it. Every. Single. Day.”

He paused for a moment and said: “Lizzy are you listening?”

He continued:

“A client doesn’t work on your schedule. You work on his or hers. And if you want people to find you, you need to have an online presence. You need to be comfortable with technology. I know you don’t like computers, but clients don’t care about what you like or don’t like. If you want to play the game, you have to live by their rules, no matter how old or how young you are.”

Spring was in the air. Outside, kids were playing tag. They were obviously having a good time. “There’s nothing like the sound of children laughing,” Lizzy thought. It always made her happy.

“Now, Lizzy, dear, can I ask you a question?” said her coach.

“Go ahead,” said a distracted Lizzy.

“What is it that you really want? Why did you want to become a voice-over?”

The answer immediately popped into Lizzy’s mind.

“Because I love telling stories!”

“Then why don’t you go out and do that!” her coach said. “There’s no need to stay home and stare at a screen all day long, hoping to get the perfect part. If you have stories to tell, start telling them!”

FINDING A PURPOSE

Two weeks later, Lizzy invited me to come down to the library. Ten four-year olds sat in a semicircle around her. I’d never seen a group of kids being so attentive. And when Lizzy started telling her stories, you could hear a pin drop. The toddlers were mesmerized.

“Lizzy, they absolutely loved you!” I said after the kids were gone. “You were fantastic! Now, are we still on for tomorrow?”

“What’s tomorrow?” asked Lizzy.

“Tomorrow’s Friday.”

“In that case, I can’t make it,” she said. I’m going to the hospital.”

“Oh no, is something wrong?” I wanted to know.

“I’m fine,” said Lizzy. “I’m going to the children’s ward to tell some more stories.”

“But what about your voice-over career?” I asked. “Weren’t you going to set up a website, and do some more auditions?”

“Oh forget that,” Lizzy responded. “There are so many places where I can make myself useful. This world needs more volunteers than voice actors, and I need to be around people. When I looked into the eyes of those children this morning, there was a connection. I felt I was doing something meaningful. I bet that’s not something you can find on Facebook.”

“Oh Lizzy,” I said, “when I’m your age, can I be you?”

“No way,” she answered. “I’m already taken!”

When we walked out of the library, she gave me a big hug and asked jokingly:

“Do you want to buy a microphone? It’s a Newman. It didn’t do me any good.”

“Hang on to it my friend,” I said. “Sweden might be calling back soon. Over there they know how to take care of senior citizens. They treat them with the respect they deserve.”

“Oh, stop it,” said Lizzy. I’m not ready for retirement.

I may be old school, but I am no old fool!”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

Be sweet. Please retweet.

photo credit: Kids and Library! via photopin (license)

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Poisonous Pens

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Internet, Journalism & Media, Personal, Social Media 33 Comments

Intimidation“When you step into a boxing ring, expect a few punches.”

That’s how I would paraphrase a well-known Dutch proverb.

I had to remind myself of that saying quite a few times last week, after publishing a critical blog post on podcasting.

Last time I checked, over 2,500 people read it, and many felt the urge to respond. Here’s what some of the fans had to say:

“I LIKED the article specifically because it addressed many of my pet peeves (long intros, crappy audio, self-aggrandizing hosts).”

“Your story basically said: “Try harder, and don’t put out sh*t.” To which I wholeheartedly agree.”

“This article is SPOT ON. And the industry is suffering because most podcasters are not paying attention to opinions like the one expressed there.”

“I’m going to print this out and remind myself to read it once a week for a month. FANTASTIC! I couldn’t agree more!”

But not everyone was as pleased with what I had written:

“The central point of this article is pretty ridiculous, and contains a very “get-off-my-lawn” sentiment that I believe is incredibly harmful to the industry of podcasting.”

“I think people need to step off of their high horses.”

“Wow this is insulting. Was this written by a radio dj threatened by podcasts?”

“The author, hilariously enough, made his article about himself by injecting snide attempts at humor.”

“New podcasters don’t deserve to be mocked or shunned.”

These reactions were pretty innocent, compared to what a few others shared with me after I had published my story.

UNLEASH THE BULLIES

Some angry, resentful readers told me to “stick it where the sun don’t shine.” They accused me of being an arrogant son of a gun, who should just go and “F” himself. One person suggested that I go back to the Netherlands, if I didn’t like what I heard over here (as if podcasts stop at the border…).

I’ve gotten some nasty comments before, even from my own voice-over community, but this podcasting piece seemed to have hit a raw nerve.

One thing separated the more graphic commentators from the rest. The vitriolic ones responded anonymously. Quite a few used an online identity like fartface5 or bigwillywonderman.

That’s not surprising.

Last year, assistant professor Arthur Santana of the University of Houston found that 53.3 percent of anonymous online comments included language that was vulgar, racist, profane or hateful. Only 28.7 percent of non-anonymous comments were found to be uncivil. 

This is often attributed to the online disinhibition effect. It’s the idea that people’s inhibitions drop when their identity is hidden, and their actions have no visible consequences.

INVISIBLE ENEMIES

In the days before the Internet, when someone spoke in public, the audience would be able to see who was talking, and they could hold that person accountable, right there and then. In the virtual world we live in that’s not always possible.

Some people believe that because they’re invisible online, they are safe, and they can say whatever they want. There are no authority figures to stop them. Free speech is free speech, right? Besides, they weren’t even serious. It was just a joke. The online world isn’t “real life.”

Well, tell that to the victims of cyberbullying, and their friends and families! I think they have a different story for you. Personally, I’ve never believed the children’s rhyme:

“Sticks and stones will break my bones
But words will never harm me.”

Words can have a profound effect on someone, in a very positive, and in a very negative way. I know people who haven’t spoken to one another for twenty years because of words that were exchanged. I know people who are comforted and uplifted by words of love and encouragement.

Words can heal, and words can hurt.

Words can be wonderful, and they can be used as weapons.

There are these sick individuals who find joy in publicly humiliating others in a most vicious and obscene way, using no more than 140 characters.

SCHILLING’S WAR

Perhaps you’ve read about retired baseball great Curt Schilling. After his daughter Gabby became the target of relentless Twitter trolls, he decided to go after them, and expose their identities. Within an hour and a half, Schilling found nine of them.

One troll was a student at Brookdale Community College in central New Jersey. He was suspended from school. Another turned out to be a vice president of the Theta Xi fraternity at Montclair State University in northern New Jersey. He lost his part-time job selling tickets for the Yankees.

The message was clear: Nobody should have to put up with trolls and other cyberbullies. There are serious consequences for this type of behavior. Just because we cherish and celebrate free speech in this country, doesn’t mean that anything goes. 

ZERO TOLERANCE

What was said to me after last week’s blog post wasn’t nearly as vulgar as what Gabby Schilling had to endure, but I was thoroughly disgusted. I am not going to expose the culprits, but I am going to do something else. 

From now on I will no longer accept anonymous comments, or comments by people using a fictitious online identity.  

On this blog I want people to own up to what they’re saying, and not hide behind a made up character. Comments that are rude and disrespectful will be deleted immediately.

This is my platform, and I will act as moderator.

I welcome a spirited, civil debate on this site, and if you would like to take part, I encourage you to create a Gravatar. A Gravatar is an image that follows you from site to site appearing beside your name when you do things like comment or post on a blog. A Gravatar lets us know who you are.

Click here to create your personal Gravatar

One last thing.

Trolls intend to provoke, and they want to see which buttons they can push. They live for the fear they instill and for the outrage they create.

We have seen that their insults can lead to injury and worse if we let them get to us.

Luckily, we are not like Pavlov’s dogs, and we don’t have to fall for their dirty games. 

Like Schilling, I have zero tolerance for trolls.

As far as I’m concerned, they can take their poisonous pens, and stick ’em where the sun don’t shine!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Dare to share if you care!

photo credit: Determination via photopin (license)

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The Confident Skills of a Sex God

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Personal 20 Comments

DSC00347Dear Prudence:

I am a bit of a prude, and that’s a problem. You see, I work as a voice actor, and recently I was asked to narrate a script that turned out to be very erotic. There were certain words in the story I just couldn’t pronounce. It was too embarrassing. The trouble is: I already committed to the project. What am I to do?

That voice actor could have been me, not so long ago. Do you want to hear the story?

Well, a client from an Eastern-European country approached me, because he was looking for someone with a hypnotic voice. Since I’m also a certified trainer of hypnotherapy, I thought this was right up my alley.

The client explained that I would be recording a 5-session audio program that could trance-form a shy wallflower of a man into a confident guy who had no trouble approaching women.

Before I tell you more, there’s something you should know.

THIS IS ME

Many, many years ago, I was that man: rather nerdy, and terrified of the opposite sex. Every time I liked a girl, I got this burning feeling of “move away closer.” It was a strange mix of being fascinated and frightened at the same time. I never dared to take the first step, paralyzed by an intense fear of rejection.

Of course I blamed my parents. They weren’t very touchy-feely people, and they rarely showed their affection in public. When my dad tried to explain the principles of procreation, he did it in a way only a Dutch Reformed minister could illuminate the miracle of life: in technical terms. He might as well have read me the manual of motorcycle maintenance.

Even though Dutch society is often seen as liberal and open, I grew up with the notion that nudity was naughty, and that sex revolved around dirty deeds taking place behind closed bedroom doors. I should stay away from it as long as possible. And that’s exactly what I did. At age 20, the sex life of a missionary might have been more exciting than mine.

We all know that repression leads to rebellion, and eventually the hidden hedonist in me won over from the conflicted Calvinist. These days everybody knows me as the uber-confident, outrageously charismatic chick magnet I am; the guy who turned down the lead in Fifty Shades Of Grey. I beat myself up over it, and it was quite enjoyable.

But seriously, I’m a big believer in the benefits of hypnosis, and I really want to improve the life of my fellow-man. So, when the offer of narrating a self-help program came to me, I said to myself: “Why not?”

THE POWER OF SUGGESTION

If you’re at all familiar with hypnosis, you know that it’s based on the power of suggestion. A simple phrase like “Imagine being in a beautiful place where you can totally relax,” will elicit a certain state in certain people. It’s nothing mysterious. Words have the power to evoke images, sounds, and feelings. Why else would so many people be hooked on audio books?

Most hypnotic scripts begin something like this:

“Sit in a comfortable chair or just lie on a couch or a bed with your hands resting in your lap or by your side. When you are ready, begin.

Draw in three slow deep breaths… and another … still another. Each time you inhale, focus on filling your lungs with clean fresh air. As you exhale feel all the tension leave your lungs and your entire body. You feel so good. Perfectly relaxed.”

Once the listener reaches a deeper state of relaxation, the idea is to bypass all critical thinking, which increases the openness to, and acceptance of more direct suggestions. And so the self-help script I was working on continued….

“You can achieve anything when you use your own power of mind. You will find yourself sleeping better. When it’s time to sleep, you’ll dream pleasant guiding dreams about becoming the guy with all the girls around him, and it’s a great dream that you enjoy having regularly. This dream further empowers you to be the Sex God you truly desire to be. That’s because you are now the guy that all the girls love. You possess the qualities that women look for and want to have a sexual relationship with.”

At this point I could see where this was going, and the prude in me started to protest, but the script went on:

“As of this moment, you can successfully flirt a woman into a ‘more’ situation, and then provide the best nights’ entertainment, and an amazing night or weekend of shagging, and she will always beg for more.”

I beg your pardon?

I had to stop the recording, and wondered: “Am I really saying this? I would never use the word shagging. It’s vulgar. Do I really want to go on?

“10… going deeper, deeper and deeper…
9… more and more relaxed…
8… deeper and deeper, than before…”

The temperature in my sound booth began to rise, and I took my sweater off. It felt like there wasn’t enough air in the small space. What on earth had I gotten myself into?

“7… deeper still…”

After taking a deep breath, my inner voice started reading the words in front of me:

“Imagine that you are with a lover, in a hot tub, and you are still making love and feeling her pleasure because you are very sensitive, caring… slow when she needs slow, fast when she needs fast, deep when she needs deep, just stimulating the first 1” of the entrance near the G-spot, and sometimes throbbing and contracting to bring her greater pleasure, and you KNOW that being a gentle and caring lover is more important, and by practicing what you are doing with care and gentle warmth you enhance your own sexual talents, enhance your penis’ awareness of how to make love, and she can feel it and it thrills her.”

Here’s where I completely lost it. This wasn’t a hypnotic self-help induction. This was pure, unadulterated porn, and my awareness of it didn’t need to be enhanced. It made me utterly uncomfortable, and I had to ask myself one question:

“Do I want to be known as the Ron Jeremy of voice-overs?”

Of course not!

MIND OVER BODY

To make matters worse, my mind decided to convey this message to my muscles, and my lips responded appropriately by refusing to say the p-word. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t pronounce it.

It was as if I had regressed. That sometimes occurs when people are under hypnosis. My prude, Protestant self was penalizing me for what I was doing. I’ve had this happen once before, when I had to read a short story filled with brutal, gratuitous violence. It was too graphic. I just couldn’t do it.

The problem with this job was that I was working on session five. I had recorded the previous four, and the illustrious Uncle Roy Yokelson had already added hypnotic music, and mixed and mastered the audio. The finish line was in sight. I’d also signed a contract, and it would be silly of me to back down because of a stupid two-syllable word.

TAKING A BREAK

I decided to leave my studio and walk around the block. Once I had cooled down a bit, I zoomed in on the heart of the matter: I was taking this way too personally.

These weren’t my words. This wasn’t my script. I was just an unidentified voice, whispering in someone’s horny ear.

“Get yourself out of the way,” I said. “Be a man, and do the job you were hired to do. You’re a voice actor. You get paid because you’re good at pretending. Now, get in front of that microphone, and finish what you started!”

These were almost self-hypnotic suggestions, and they did the trick. I was only a few pages away from completing this project, when I spoke the following words:

“Your subconscious now hears these special suggestions deeply and profoundly: I am sure and confident about myself. I know what a woman wants and I have the skills to deliver it. So, hold that image of successfully flirting with her in your mind. No Fear – No Intimidation. You walk tall and proud, shoulders back with total and complete self-confidence and purposely walk up to this woman who is everything you have always wanted and here she is in body and soul. You visualize being her lover, and her going absolutely wild with you and for you.

Your own mind reaffirms: I am a wild sexual tiger, hear me roar.”

LATER THAT DAY

A few minutes after I was done recording, my wonderful, gorgeous wife came home.

“How was your day, honey?” she asked.

“Fine,” I said with a smile. “Totally fine.”

She stared at me for a moment.

“What’s that look in your eyes,” she wanted to know. “Is there something on your mind?”

“Sweetie, you look absolutely amazing,” I said. “Let’s go upstairs.”

“Right now?” she asked.

“Right now!” I roared.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!

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My Dutch Digital Detox

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

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

I tend to agree. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I don’t even like football…

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

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

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

Or am I kidding myself? 

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

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

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

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

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

We had wonderful dinners, instead of watching cooking shows.

We explored interesting sites, instead of websites.

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

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

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

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

And this is barely the beginning. 

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

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

Because of YOU!

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

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

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

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

Thank you so much for caring!

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

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

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!

photo credit: solomonborxes via photopin cc

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