Promotion

Overdoing and Underachieving

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Gear, Promotion, Social Media, Studio 13 Comments

Vegas stripAh, the American Dream.

If you work hard enough….

If you always put your best foot forward….

Then there’s a path from rags to riches for everybody.

Isn’t that the core of the message?

When I moved from Europe to the States, I noticed what pursuing this illusive dream can lead to.

An obsession with work!

Look around you. Fewer people are doing more and more work. Productivity is up in this “work hard – play hard” society. That’s what makes economists optimistic. Unfortunately, in the U.S. it seems to be all work and hardly any play.

In this no-vacation nation that claims to be big on family values, many kids are now raised by their grandparents because Mom and Dad need full-time jobs to stay afloat. And what if you don’t have any grandparents who live around the corner, or they need to be taken care of themselves?

A friend of mine has one child in day care and the other goes to early and late stay because his wife works as well. He did the math and discovered that most of his wife’s salary goes to childcare.

“Does that make any sense?“ he asked. “We want to spend more time with our children. Instead, we work more and see them less. And for what? Just to pay the babysitter, the daycare center and the elementary school? Is having the extra income really worth it?”

He just ran into the Law of Diminishing Returns which asserts that after a certain point, further investment or effort does not increase the expected return. In fact, it can even lower it.

Does this seem counterintuitive to you?

Read the rest of this story in my new eBook. Click on the cover to access the website and get a sneak peek. Use the buttons to buy the book.

Making Money In Your PJs cover

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Bring in the Natives!

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Internet, Promotion 6 Comments

women in Volendam dressOkay, I had promised myself not to do it.

At least, not for a while.

Yet, I find myself doing it again.

And the thing is: I don’t feel so bad about it.

Today, I’ll talk about voices.com.

Again.

Rest assured. I’m not going to rehash my leaving-voices.com-litany. You’ve seen it. At the LinkedIn Voice Over Professionals group they’re still beating that dead horse. Click here if you’d like to join the fuss and the fun.

Since I left the Canadians, business has never been better, but that’s not what I wanted to talk to you about. I really want to talk about a few of my favorite topics: language, marketing, standards and blogging.

BLOGGING BOOSTS BUSINESS

You see, what the folks at “voices” understood from day one, is that free content is one of the best ways to attract visitors to your website. A good blog has people stay for a while and it makes them come back again and again. Voice123 has a blog as well; the Edge Studio is stepping up its blogging efforts and recently, Bodalgo joined the club.

Can you keep up with all the content? I certainly can’t! Thank goodness Derek Chappell reads them all and he posts the best blogs of the week on his own blog. 

Vox Daily is the official blog of voices.com. Over the years it has grown into a huge database of informative articles about every aspect of the industry. Most of the content is original. Sometimes the stories come from other sources.

I applaud the writers of Vox Daily for keeping this thing going with such creativity and consistency. As you know, I only blog once a week and frankly, that’s all I can handle.

As a native of the Netherlands, I was drawn to a recent Vox Daily article by Stephanie Ciccarelli, called “What is a Native Speaker?” In it, Ciccarelli outlines the advantages of hiring a native speaker. She cites a conversation with Spanish voice talent Simone Fojgiel who told her that

“70% of the projects she receives from her clients that were translated from English into Spanish, required revisions. Some even needed complete overhauls due to poor translation work.”

Stephanie concludes:

“Before we start pointing fingers at translators in general, we need to take a deep breath and consider why some translations may be poor, inaccurate or altogether baffling. My dear friends, it all comes to down to whether or not the translator is a native speaker of the language they’re translating in.”

I’m a native Dutch speaker and I recognize Simone’s observations. However, I don’t believe non-native speakers bare the full blame for poorly translated scripts. In my experience, bad translations are often the direct result of:

  1. carelessness or ignorance on the part of cheap clients;
  2. amateur-translators using translation software;
  3. lack of standards, quality control and overall professionalism.

The question is: what to do about it?

GOING DUTCH

Sometimes I talk myself into believing that one of my missions is to educate the ignorant. Allow me to illustrate.

A few months ago, I received an invitation to voice a Dutch language course for beginners. The budget was low and the sample script was filled with language that might have been in vogue some seventy years ago. Today, no Dutchman would ever use these outdated expressions. My guess is that the producers of the course had adapted an old guide after the copyright had expired. Perhaps they were unaware of the archaic language because they didn’t speak Dutch.

Rather than refusing the job out of hand, I auditioned for it, just to have an opportunity to get in touch with the client. I told them that the language in the guide was old-fashioned and that it would mislead people into believing they were learning Dutch as it is spoken today. I gave them several examples to illustrate my point. I also suggested that I could help them bring this language course into the 21st century.

Did I get a thank you note or even an acknowledgement that my comments were received?

Of course not.

I’m only a native speaker who was trying to offer some added value. Why on earth would they listen to me?

HELPING CLIENTS IMPROVE

According to Ciccarelli, Simone Fojgel has…

“made it her mission to protect, preserve and propel the brand image of her English clients as they step out boldly in effort to communicate to Spanish-speaking audiences.”

Not only does Simone review, prep and (re)write copy for her clients, she directs voice talent “to guarantee their performance is just right for the target audience.”

In that respect, Simone and I are on the same page. Both of us reach out to clients and offer to better their products. But after my experience with that Dutch language course, I asked myself:

Is it the job of a native voice talent to save a client’s reputation and turn a trash translation into a treasure?

I’m not so sure anymore, and I’ll explain why.

SAVING THE DAY?

1. First and foremost: You can provide people with information but you can’t be sure they’ll actually understand. And even if they do, it doesn’t mean that they will act upon it. Why should I waste my time talking to a client who doesn’t even want to listen? Let them produce that old-fashioned language course without my help. Perhaps they need to learn things the hard way. 

2. In order to be open to a solution, the client has to admit that there’s a problem in the first place. Here’s the thing. Clients don’t always see a problem. All they see is an added expense you call a solution.

3. A bad translation is only a symptom of a greater underlying cause. Clients are often more interested in treating symptoms.

I believe in fixing a problem at the root level. If a faucet is leaking, you don’t hire someone to mop up the floor thinking that this will solve everything. You call a pro to replace the washers, the o-ring or the seals. Unfortunately, not all clients think that way. They’d rather pay for cheap labor instead of hiring a more expensive pro. The worst scripts usually come from clients with bargain basement budgets. Not exactly my target market.

4. Is it worth my time?

Before I became a full-time voice-over, I worked as a professional translator and I hated it. I used to spend 14-hour days ruining my back in front of a computer screen translating boring market research, user manuals and legal documents. As a voice-over, I can make in thirty minutes what would take me a week of translation work. You do the math.

5. Leave it to the experts.

Being a native speaker doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re a great translator. Just as people underestimate what it takes to be a voice-over, people have no idea how hard it is to become an accredited translator. Even though I’m an academically trained linguist, I am happy to pass translation projects on to the natives who do this for a living.

Now, does all of this mean that I’ll never offer to correct a weak translation or tweak a text no matter what?

If the client is open to suggestions and is willing to spend some extra money on additional services, I’m game. As a voice-over, it is in my best interest to be associated with a stellar production. If it wins me some bonus points with a customer, better still!

So, at times, being a native speaker does translate into more business, but obviously not from the folks who were looking for a voice for that outdated Dutch language course. I believe the program is in the making as we speak. Unchanged.

And where did I find that job, by the way?

On voices.com.

Right before I ended my membership. 

Oops…

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

photo credit: screenpunk via photopin cc

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Do Voice Actors Suffer From An Inferiority Complex?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Journalism & Media, Promotion 20 Comments

Euphoric.

That’s the mood the voice-over community has been in, lately.

The reason?

It’s the release of Lake Bell’s motion picture In A World.

If you are a voice talent and you haven’t heard about this fun-filled father-and-daughter comedy, you must be living under a rock and a hard place.

This movie got so much publicity inside my professional bubble that I didn’t even want to blog about it.

The anticipation for In A World had been building for months. When it finally came out, the citizens of voiceoverland went a little crazy.

If you’re a true member of our VO family, you probably did one of three things:

  1. You posted or reposted the In A World trailer on your social media outlets dozens of times;
  2. You read reviews and listened to or watched several interviews with Miss Bell and her cast of other characters;
  3. You frantically tried to get tickets from the box office of some small artsy theater where In A World was playing, hours away from your home.

If that’s what you did, let me ask you this:

Why all the hoopla for a movie that so far has grossed a humble $321,614 in the two weeks since its release; a movie that is number 30 on the box office charts, right behind this summer’s mega-flop “The Lone Ranger” and the equally disappointing “R.I.P.D.”?

You might think that In A World deserves to be seen by millions, but apparently, distributor Roadside Attractions wasn’t confident enough to go for a wide release. Are they hoping for a sleeper hit on Netflix?

To me it’s rather obvious why the attention-craving voice-over community has embraced Lake Bell’s movie.

This comedy is about US.

Finally!

We, the masters of the spoken word, the unseen and unsung heroes of gazillions of trailers, audio books, commercials and e-Learning modules, are at last being recognized for who we are and what we do.

After decades of neglect and ridicule, voice-overs have come out of their walk-in closets, ready to be embraced for their vocal magnificence.

Thanks to Miss Bell, the voice-over world finally has a voice. Better still: It’s a FEMALE voice!

We feel validated and vindicated and tell ourselves:

“People find us interesting. Look, they even made a movie about us and talk about it in the media. That must mean we’re important!”

I hate to burst your bubble, but that’s an illusion. 

In a few days, the promotional circus surrounding this picture will fade away, and not even Joan Baker will be able to elevate our status in a world that doesn’t really care. Very soon we’ll get back to where we were before: invisible, under appreciated, and chronically underpaid.

Let me tell you why voice-over people are relatively irrelevant.

1. Voice actors run an auditory business in an increasingly visual world.

A study published on August 19th in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, describes that people who were asked to identify the winners of major piano competitions tend to do better when they purely rely on visual – rather than auditory – cues. 

Seeing, not hearing, is believing.

This confirms the age-old adage that a picture paints a thousand words. Images will always overpower what we play or say, no matter how meaningful the music or the script. Visual impact is everything.

That’s why movie stars are among the best paid people on the planet and voice actors are not. Keep in mind that it took a motion picture with on-screen actors and not some radio play or podcast to highlight the world VO’s live in.

2. Most on-screen actors easily transition into voice-overs.

Have you ever seen a full-time voice actor land a major role in a motion picture? I haven’t. Most of them can’t act and have to hire a coach to learn how to sound natural. The actors we know from the stage, the movies or television on the other hand, love doing voice-over work on the side, and most of them are very good at it.

When big brands need solid exposure, they turn to well-known names to get their message across. While voice actors often have to scramble for a decent rate, their on-camera colleagues can command top-dollar for that six-word catch phrase at the end of a commercial.

3. In A World is not a movie about voice-overs.

Ron Howard didn’t shoot “Backdraft” as a documentary about firefighters. The TV series ER wasn’t made to promote the medical profession. The fire station and the hospital were both backdrops that allowed human drama to unfold.

In A World takes us into recording studios to tell us about the rivalry between a father and a daughter who both happen to audition for the same job.

At heart, it is a light summer movie about relationships, and the voice-over setting is nothing but a clever prop, allowing the actors to showcase their skills and versatility. Nothing less and nothing more.

4. But doesn’t this movie have a powerful message about inequality in the VO-workplace?

It’s true. Lake Bell’s character tries to break into the male-dominated world of movie trailers. However, I don’t think the predominant purpose of In A World was to further some feminist agenda. It’s a comedy. Not a Gloria Steinem manifesto.

The male-female dichotomy at the center of In A World is a ploy that serves a plot. It creates conflict that needs to be resolved.

It’s an old theme in a new setting:

Will the underdog succeed against overwhelming odds? Watch the movie and find out!

Most movies aren’t made to move minds. Audiences across the globe like to escape and be entertained. They hate being lectured about social injustice. And let’s be honest: film studios are not some kind of philanthropic institution ready to promote an important cause. I can summarize their business model in four words:

Minimize risks. Maximize profits.

5. Will Lake Bell manage to break the gender barrier?

The short answer is NO.

I don’t think Bell will impact movie trailers the way Mary Tyler Moore changed television. Using a female voice for a movie trailer would require a revolution. Not a Sundance comedy.

Usually, Hollywood doesn’t like to try something that hasn’t been done before. Playing it safe is the name of the game. That’s why the same actors and actresses, screenwriters, directors and composers are hired again and again.

The fact that female voices aren’t chosen to promote blockbusters has nothing to do with sexism. It has everything to do with movie moguls testing every aspect of a motion picture to see if it will appeal to an audience of average Americans. Words are weighed and endings are altered based on feedback from the all-important focus groups. 

Without being derogatory, it’s fair to say that Joe Six-pack is the most important movie ticket buying demographic. If a focus group of Joe’s agrees that a booming male voice has more gravitas, that’s what studios will choose. Forget feminism or equal opportunities.

Thus, the cliché continues.

One last thing.

6. The rest of the world isn’t nearly as interested in our profession as we are.

If we do our job right, the listeners will pay more attention to the message than to the messenger. We serve the script and make it shine.

Unlike on-screen actors, we stay out of the limelight. We don’t appear in tabloids or on talk shows. Our private lives are blissfully boring. There is no glamour in voice-overs. For a majority of celebrity-watchers, voice-overs are positively uninteresting.

So be it.  

In our small and isolated world, Lake Bell’s movie might be a big deal; a victory for voice-overs, even. The rest of the planet falls for blockbusters about zombie invasions, promiscuous vampires and kids playing Hunger Games -all of them promoted by Don Lafontaine sound-alikes.  

Just because we don’t necessarily get recognized for our work, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take professional pride in what we do. We might not make millions of dollars and live in huge mansions, but there’s no reason to feel inferior. 

In real life, a lot of great things happen under the radar. Those things can be far more profound than anything the gossip shows will ever report on. 

Think about those who have dedicated themselves to helping others. Ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Most of them will never be acknowledged or honored, and they’re fine with that. 

These people are in it for the music. 

Not for the applause.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet! 

PPS “Hello Lonesome” is the voice-over movie you have never heard of. Click here for my story about this movie.

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And the winners are…

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Gear, Promotion 11 Comments

VoiceZam voice-over audio playerLast week I blogged about VoiceZam, the interactive voice-over audio player designed by Bob Merkel. Click here if you missed this story.

As of today, this blog post has reached almost 900 people. Those who left a comment were eligible to win a one-year subscription to the Premium Service and Zamtistics™. 

Apart from the Grand Prize, five runner-ups will receive two months free. The good news doesn’t stop there. After I’ve announced the winners, I’ll tell you about a special offer Bob Merkel wants to extend to the readers of this blog. 

THE WINNERS

Debby Barnes, voice-overOur first runner-up is Debby Barnes. She popped into the world singing, did a fair bit of acting for quite a while, spent twelve years interpreting American Sign Language to spoken English, transitioned into a Contemporary Christian Music Singer/Songwriter, then jumped into the voiceover talent pool. 

Debby says she’s very diligent about staying current and marketable, and she’s always investing and reinvesting in top-quality voice-over education, voice-over coaching, and better studio gear. 

Stephen Lyons, voice-overThe next winner is from the UK and his name is Stephen Lyons. If you put all the words he has voiced in his career end to end, they would stretch around the world several times.

In 32 years Stephen voiced well in excess of 75,000 Radio Commercial voice-overs and many thousands of TV Commercials and Corporate Narrations. Stephen did a lot of the voice-overs for “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter” at the Universal Orlando Resort in Florida.

Natalie Cooper, voice-overNatalie Cooper is the third winner of a 2-month subscription to VoiceZam. Like Stephen, Natalie is British and unlike Stephen, she’s one of the Voxy Ladies, a boutique of professional female voice actors.

Natalie has been voicing for more than a decade, working from her studio in the heart of the rolling English countryside. When not juggling her 3 small children (her eldest is a working voice-over too) and playing with new dog, Ludo, Natalie entertains herself by baking cakes, drinking tea, and studying for a Radio Production MA. 

Scott Pollak, voice-overScott Pollak is the fourth winner. Scott is a professional voice-over talent based in Atlanta, Georgia. Scott had many years of live theater and radio experience behind his belt, before he became a full-time voice talent in 2004. 

He provided voice-overs for the World Boxing hall of Fame; you can hear him in movie theater advertisements and he has done voice work for the Mt. Rushmore Memorial.

Adam Verner, voice-overThe last person to win a 2-month subscription to VoiceZam is Adam Verner. He also came to voice-overs from a stage background. Adam holds a Bachelor’s in Theatre from Bradley University and a Master of Fine Arts from the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University. 

He recently gave a reading for Blackstone/AudioGo at the American Library Association annual conference in Chicago.

GRAND PRIZE

All winners were randomly chosen from 82 entries. Thank you so much for letting me (and Bob Merkel) know what you think of the VoiceZam audio player. Bob is already incorporating your feedback. 

The person receiving a one-year subscription is another Voxy Lady: Rebecca Davis!

Rebecca Davis, voice actorRebecca began acting professionally at the age of 6 in New York. She spent much of her childhood and school years on stages throughout the Tri-State area. Chances are if you ever saw Annie during that time, she was probably in it.

When she’s not voicing projects, at auditions or on the stage, Rebecca is volunteering. She currently works as a mentor with The Young Storytellers Foundation, developing literacy, self-expression and self-esteem in elementary school students through the art of storytelling.

Debby, Stephen, Natalie, Scott, Adam and Rebecca, please get in touch with Bob Merkel. Send him a quick email to claim your prize at bob.merkel@voicezam.com.

 

Congratulations to all the winners and many thanks to Bob Merkel!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Win a One-Year VoiceZam VO Demo Player Subscription

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Promotion 83 Comments

stopwatch

We live in an impatient world, filled with distractions.

Our plates are getting fuller. Attention spans are getting shorter. Decisions are made faster.

The other day, I was using my “old” computer on a slow internet connection, and I was ready to throw a brick at it because it took forever to load a simple web page. Only a few years ago, I felt lucky to have such an amazing connection.

Technology has turned us into spoiled brats. We demand immediate access and real-time interactivity. We want direct control and hate to waste any time waiting. The voice-over world is affected by it, too.

If you don’t respond to that audition right away, you might as well forget it because every Tom, Dick or Harry is rushing to that online cattle call. Wait two minutes and there are 30 people ahead of you. How did that happen?

CATERING TO THE CLIENT

Like most people on the planet, our clients live by the law of least effort. They want to get a quick sense of our sound and say Yea or Nay. They don’t want to beg you to send them a demo or spend hours listening to an endless mix of sweetened soundbites.

Software Engineer Bob Merkel used to be a producer at an advertising agency. Part of his job was to find voice talent to match their scripts. He spent hours weeding through talent. Listening to their demos was like having to read an entire magazine. All Bob really wanted, was to flip through all the articles to see which one he was interested in.

That’s when he started dreaming of an audio player that would allow him to fast forward within a demo. At that time, it didn’t exist.

In early 2002 he started writing the first system application for his idea. In September of ’08 he was granted a patent, and the VoiceZam Voice-Over Demo Player was born. It’s a player that offers more than a way to put audio on a website. Here’s colleague Chris Mezzolesta:

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that this is not an independent review. It’s a promo and Chris is trying to sell a service, just like most of us VO’s do each and every day. So I decided to check in with a few industry experts and find out what they think of Merkel’s brainchild.

Cliff Zellman is the mastermind behind Done By Six Productions. You can read about him in my story “Factory Demos: Fatal First Impressions.” Zellman:

As a casting director for RadioVision in Dallas Texas I am always open to hearing new voices and fresh deliveries. On a potential hire’s website, I appreciate the speed and ease of use the VoiceZam player provides. When I see a VoiceZam player, I know I am dealing with a professional, as I believe Bob Merkel (great guy) vets each user before issuing them a player. The quality of the player is excellent and the load time is non-existent. It’s that fast.

One of the benefits of using a VoiceZam player is the availability to hear many selections from a voice talent within one application with an easy to navigate menu system. Sometime I will hire someone not for what I am currently seeking, but rather a voice or character I can use in the future.

VOICE-OVERS WEIGH IN

Voice Talent Tom Test started using the player in early 2013.

I am very versatile, which is a “problem” with a traditional linear-playing demo.  The talent seeker might find exactly the read they need on my 7th clip out of a dozen, but might not stick around long enough to get to it out of impatience. VoiceZam (VZ) makes it so easy to skip from track to track, it is MUCH more time-efficient for the listener AND as a result gives me a better shot at showing off the entire range of my reads.

I demonstrated it to one of my top agents here in Chicago, and he was very impressed. He’d love to have VZ on the agency’s website.

Voice-Over Anthony Gettig has been using VZ for almost a year:

My clients really dig it. Being a data driven guy, I am tickled with VoiceZam! The analytics (Zamtistics™) let me see who listened to my demo and from what Internet connection. I can usually deduce from that where they are from. VoiceZam lets you create a “ZamLink,” which is a specially crafted URL that you can copy and paste into an email or image link. When the person receiving the message clicks on that link, it shows up the Zamtistics. I see this and can then follow up with the prospect.

Early adopter Dave Courvoisier has a link to the VZ player in his email signature and has embedded it in his blog. Courvoisier:

As you know, I have a ready interest in new trends, techniques, gizmos, apps, and software development. I found Merkel’s product to have a high degree of sophistication, innovative design features, and a no-frills web site that supported the product.  I eventually had the opportunity to talk to Bob a lot about the genesis of VoiceZam, and realized it grew out of his considerable experience with voice talent, agencies, advertising, and the corporate business world.  I became convinced that he had developed a truly new “take” on the linear model of playing demos. My experience is that the product is genuine, robust, configurable, and meets its PR promises.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY

Not everyone is as enthusiastic. Recently, Courvoisier blogged about VoiceZam, and one of his readers commented:

If only you buy this one more product, your voice business will be a success. No. VoiceZam is a solution without a problem.

Cliff Zellman brings up another point:

The only drawback I see as an end-user is the absence of a pause button. Very often during audition playbacks, I like to pause the audio and discuss, then continuing from there, only to pause and discuss again. Once the VoiceZam player has this feature, a simple pause button, it will be the player of choice for VO talent seekers. I really hope to see it added soon.

Joe J. Thomas commented:

I’m really hoping that whoever listens to my demo the first time listens all the way through. After all, it’s only :60-:90 – If I can’t hold their attention that long, I’m in the wrong biz!

Joe also mentioned pricing. Many audio players are free. Even though VoiceZam just slashed its fees in half, premium service is $8.95 a month. If you want statistics, add $4.95. That’s more than most people pay for hosting an entire site. Tom Test also made a really good point:

VoiceZam is not magic. It won’t do much good if the talent doesn’t do any sort of marketing to drive people to their site.

So, is the VoiceZam player a luxury or a necessity to keep up with the times? Has the voice-over world been waiting for this solution? Bob Merkel:

The question, “Is this really something they’ve been waiting for?” is interesting. My answer is “Absolutely!” because I see the value it brings to all parties. The closest analogy I can use is when the iPod was introduced in the early 2000s. It would be have been difficult for a music enthusiast to answer the question “Is the iPod something you’ve been waiting for?” After the normal music playback method of stereos and CD driven boom boxes, it took a lot of time for people to understand the new paradigm of digital songs you could hold in your hand. But once they got it, the way music was presented, changed forever.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS The blue text in this blog indicates a hyperlink. For more info, go to www.voicezam.com

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photo credit: purplemattfish via photopin cc

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Factory Demos: Fatal First Impressions

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Promotion, Studio 15 Comments

You know what they say about first impressions and second chances.

As a voice-over, a demo is often your only chance to make that first impression. It’s your business card, resume, portfolio and audition all compressed into one 60-90 second package.

A great demo is the result of the combined expertise of those behind the mic and behind the glass. If done right, it condenses years of experience into a minute or more of magic.

A professional demo does not come cheap, but not having one could be an expensive mistake.

There’s one thing it should not be:

Mediocre.

If that’s a given, then why are so many demos completely underwhelming and unmemorable?

Audio and production professional Cliff Zellman thinks he knows the answer. He has been hiring talent for over 35 years, and receives between 12 to 15 demos a week. He’s heard everything. From the best of the best to the worst of the worst.

As the Voice-Over industry began to change, Cliff noticed what he calls a detrimental shift in the way VO demos are created. A shift, he says, that does not play well for the VO Artist.

DISTURBING TRENDS

Emmy Award Winner Zellman, who has a degree in Audio Engineering, is referring to a few things. 

First of all, he receives demos that have been slammed together after a “talent” has taken some entry-level voice-over class. You’ve probably seen the ads for those trainings. They always end with the words “demo included.” These demos are usually stitched together from old scripts and they’re overproduced to mask someone’s level of incompetence and inexperience. 

Then there are demos that will tell you more about the single-mindedness of the director, than about the versatility of the voice talent. Zellman told me he often wonders:

“Whose demo is this really, the VO artist’s or the director’s? There’s no variety. The copy is uninspired and the music is outdated.”

Demos from a third category may sound terrific, but Zellman says:

“I have been disappointed more times than I care to remember because the talent could not reproduce the level of competency I heard or that I require. And they give me no indication of what their audio will actually sound like.”  

In other words, each line of the demo was spoon-fed by the director and recorded and sweetened in a million-dollar studio. It’s false advertising, because the talent can not deliver the same quality in a home studio setting.

Cliff has a name for all these demos. He calls them “Store-Bought,” and warns they are a big risk to buyers.

Cliff Zellman

A NEW CONCEPT

Having listened to way too many of them, Zellman started asking questions:

“When a talent leaves the booth after three or four grueling hours of a store-bought demo session, did they do their best? Were they relaxed? Were they intimidated? Is one session really ample time to allow the talent to shine?

And when they leave the studio, what do they have, really? An audio file. No real world education, no new knowledge of microphone selections, what works best for them in their environment with their voice. They are not receiving the collective years of experience and success of multiple directors… Just one person’s ability or inability.”

And out of his frustration, an idea was born:

• What if he could get the best directors and voice-over coaches in the nation under one umbrella?

• What if one voice talent could pick six of these coaches and work with them via Skype for six one-hour sessions in his or her home studio, using six different microphones?

• What if the result of these sessions would be professionally edited and mixed by an award-winning master digital music editor to create one outstanding 60-second demo?

This is precisely the concept behind Zellman’s latest endeavor: Done By Six Productions. (click on the name to visit the website) 

He calls it “The Industry’s first Online, Menu-based Voice Over Demo Production Company.” 

EXCLUSIVITY

I have to warn you. It will take more than a dream and a credit card to get access to Zellman’s roster of experts. He explains:

“There is a vetting committee of four or five industry professionals. If someone is NOT ready, we will be happy to suggest a coach that can help with their gaps.  When the coach says they are ready, we re-evaluate. We are a team created to actually HELP the voice talent succeed… not a factory.

This is also why Done By Six REQUIRES a talent to have a professional website, an approved home studio, knowledge of delivery methods and previous VO experience. We exist to elevate, not to hold hands.”

CONFUSION

At this time, talent can choose from a list of 39 seasoned professionals who cover all areas of the voice-over industry. People like Marc Cashman, Roy Yokelson, M.J. Lallo, Peter O’Connell, Dan Friedman, Randye Kaye, Doug Turkel, Amy Snively, and even the writer of this blog.

When I first heard about the concept, I thought:

Six directors for a 60-second demo. Isn’t that overkill? Aren’t six different coaches going to give conflicting advice, thus confusing the talent? Zellman:

“ABSOLUTELY NOT. It is a “real world” experience. When one goes to college, they don’t have the same professor for four years. Six directors will produce 60 seconds each. Each 60 seconds can be used as a full spot demo as well. 360 seconds will pretty much ensure that there is quality sections within each read.

Remember, we are NOT working with newbies. A talent is already used to working with different directors. Otherwise, why would someone attend a seminar with Pat Fraley, then Marc Cashman, then Myself, then Peter O’Connell et cetera. Conflicting advice opens doors! If everyone would bet on the same horse, the race would be boring.”

OWNERSHIP

When talking to Zellman, I mentioned that one of my colleagues had recorded a demo he wasn’t happy with. The pacing was off and the music was dreadful. He asked the producer for the dry audio so he could go somewhere else for a remix. Even though he had paid for his demo, the producer refused to give him the building blocks. And so I wondered: if a demo is produced by Done By Six Productions, who owns the audio? Cliff Zellman:

“The talent owns it! All dry files are already in the possession of the talent on their computer. I think any demo producer that doesn’t “gladly” give all dry audio to the talent is a paranoid fool and a charlatan. I am not looking to “lock-in” someone. I WANT them to spread their wings! Let them grow. Let them edit… let them punch-in!

I especially do not want the responsibility of being the ONLY one to help a talent. That’s ridiculous and I know demo coaches that feel very differently. I totally disagree. This is THEIR future, not mine. I am here to help, not control.

As far as music, I sublicensee it to the talent for this specific project. If a director has music in mind, cool. If not, all music used will be mixed into the production. If a talent wants to get creative in a few months, change up things on their own, I say YES!  They are one step closer to mastering this profession. Again, we are to HELP, not control.”

PS What happens if the voice talent isn’t happy with the end-result?

CZ “As long as they are in possession of the mics, every director I have spoken with agrees to an additional session of up to 15 minutes (or within reason).  Some may stick to 15 minutes sharp, others may be more liberal. If things get out of hand, I will step in, take responsibility and make sure the talent gets what they need. If I receive multiple complaints/concerns with a director, I remove them from the roster. Simple as that.”

Speaking of microphones, each talent receives a flight case with six of the industry’s most popular microphones: the Neumann TLM 103, the Sennheiser MKH-416, the AKG Perception 220, the CAD E100S, the Audio Technica T2020 and the Harlan Hogan MXL VO: 1-A.

This is the perfect opportunity to test these microphones in your own studio. It also ensures that each segment of your demo will sound differently. Shipping and insurance is part of the price of the package.

VOICEZAM

But there’s more. Included in the demo-package is a free 2-month subscription with VoiceZam.

VoiceZam is a new way of showcasing voice-over demos that gives clients and agents an opportunity to skip through the individual tracks of each demo. The user can also track who’s been listening to their demos. Cliff Zellman:

“I LOVE VoiceZam. My time is VERY valuable. I appreciate the speed, playback quality and ease of operation. I have had lengthy conversations with Bob Merkel (the man being VoiceZam), even to the point of offering him ideas and strategies at no consultation fee.

VoiceZam shows a professional attitude and a certain amount of savvy. I know if I go to a talent’s site and I see a VoiceZam player, there is a very good chance I am dealing with a solid pro.”

By the way, the VoiceZam image is just a picture. If you want to get a feel for how VoiceZam works, go to Bob Souer’s site and try it out. 

PS Why just focus on demos? You have a great line-up of coaches. Why don’t you offer more coaching services?

CZ “In time. Many new start-ups fail by trying to do too much too soon. Every Done By Six director is a potential coach. I know each of them personally and professionally. I know their strengths and weaknesses. Between the members of the vetting committee, we can steer the talent in the right direction. One of the benefits of being a Done By Six Director is the possibility of being selected as a coach. Once a coach is suggested by Done By Six, it is between the coach and the talent… for now.”

TASTE TEST

Go to any supermarket and you’ll find shelves filled with factory-baked breads. They may be packaged a bit differently, but you know that most of them are low on nutrition and they all taste the same.

I usually buy my bread at the local Farmers’ Market from an artisanal bakery. They have a huge variety made from different grains, nuts and herbs. The ingredients are high-quality and the bread is baked with love. I can taste the artistry and dedication that went into the making of the bread. It’s a taste that lingers on.

If voice-overs are your bread and butter, what type of taste test are you serving your clients?

Are you feeding them stale, factory-baked bland bread with margarine, or fresh, wholesome, hand-made bread, topped with real butter?

If you only had one chance to make a first impression, what would you rather serve?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS: Be sweet. Please retweet!

photo credit: Barbara.K via photopin cc, photo credit: Phil and Pam via photopin cc

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How it all began

by Paul Strikwerda in Career, Promotion 4 Comments

As a blogger and rather visible voice-over person, there are three questions I get asked a lot.

  1. – How did you get started in the voice-over business?
  2. – What challenges did you encounter in your career and how did you overcome them?
  3. – What advice do you have for beginners?

Well, I could write a book about that, but  a while ago, colleague Peter Kinney O’Connell asked me those same things in his “5 Questions” series. Let’s start with Peter’s first question.

1. The beginning: When did you know you wanted to be a voice-over talent; how did your career begin (please include what year it started) and then when did your passion for voice-over develop into something professional?

When I was six years old, my parents gave me a Philips cassette recorder. It didn’t take long before I discovered how to capture the sound of my own voice. That’s when it all began. In 1969.

I can still see myself sitting on the front porch with a copy of “King Arthur and the Black Knight.” It would become my very first audio book. Actually, it was more of a radio drama. Around me were all sorts of self-made instruments I used for sound effects. Every character had a different voice. Every voice had a different character.

The tape I made that day was used over and over again, and eventually it broke. What didn’t break was my love for painting pictures with sound.

Eleven years later I auditioned for my first job in Hilversum, the heart of Dutch broadcasting. A public network was recruiting a group of promising teens to start producing radio and television programs. Veterans would coach them in all aspects of the business. I just knew I had to be part of that program.

In the years that followed, that program became part of me. I produced and presented documentaries, talk shows, music specials and radio plays. The microphone became my best friend. It was the beginning of a career in broadcasting that would take me to a number of national networks, the BBC and Radio Netherlands International.

In 1999 I made a bold decision: I would leave Holland and start a new life in the New World. In a matter of months I was represented by Mike Lemon Casting in Philadelphia. My European accent seemed to be a welcome addition to their talent pool. It took me a number of years to build a client base that would sustain a full-time voice-over career, but eventually I became the Chief Artistic Officer of a company I named Nethervoice.

2. What is the one thing you know now that you wish someone had told you when you first started out in voice-over?

If someone had warned me that this job could easily turn into an obsession, I still would have applied for it. It’s true though, but it might also have to do with my personality. When I’m passionate about something, I want to immerse myself in every aspect of it, and learn to do it well.

I realized early on that it takes more than a good voice to make a good living in this field. Success needs to be carefully planned. It’s like a flower bed that has to be protected, watered and fertilized regularly (more about that in Jonathan Tilley’s “Voice Over Garden“).

Because I have a home studio, I’m always at work. It seems ideal (and it really is), but for someone with an obsession it can be dangerous. It’s tempting to become a boring recording recluse who lives and breathes voice-overs. And you know me… When I don’t read and record, I write about it in my blog.

Life Coaches always advocate finding a balance between work and play. But what if your work is your play? At some point in the day, the headphones have to come off and we must leave our soundproof studio. Without sunlight, there’s no growth. Our job is just a means to and end.

3. What do you see as the biggest professional or personal obstacle you face that impacts your voice-over business and how are you working to overcome it?

I wasn’t born to toot my own horn. The Calvinistic Dutch preach modesty and frown upon anything that may be perceived as vanity. Why? Because human talents are seen as a gift from God, so we shouldn’t take too much credit for our accomplishments. Many centuries have passed since the spirit of Calvin touched the Netherlands, yet, some of his principles are still present in our DNA, the Dutch National Attitude.

Looking back, I really believe that this mindset kept me from promoting myself properly. But there was something else. Coming from the relatively safe world of broadcasting, I never needed to market myself. I was hired by a network to do a number of jobs, and I left it to the PR people to sing my praises.

After I’d left Holland, I had to learn that it was okay to be proud of what I had achieved and use those achievements to attract business. To this day, I try to do this in a veiled way, by offering advice and entertainment in my blog. That’s where clients and colleagues get to know me as someone with a certain level of experience and pizzazz. Well, that’s the idea…

4. What personal trait or professional tool has helped you succeed the most in your career so far?

One thing that has helped me tremendously is a toolbox called Neuro-Linguistic Psychology. It’s a mix of positive attitudes, beliefs and strategies to help people design and live the life they’ve always dreamt of.

At the basis of NLP is the process of modeling. I’m not talking about the catwalk in Milan, but about the study of exceptional people: business tycoons, sports icons, therapists, artists et cetera.

The idea is that these people -in order to achieve something extraordinary- have set themselves up for success. They have carefully (and often unconsciously) conditioned themselves to accomplish amazing things. The question is: How did they do that?

NLP tries to break it down into bits and pieces: the ingredients of a recipe. Once the recipe is uncovered, it can be taught to almost anyone. The finest and fastest way to mastering something is to start teaching it. That’s why I eventually became an internationally certified trainer of NLP, and that’s the reason I started coaching voice talent.

5. In your development as a voice over performer, who has been the one particular individual or what has been the one piece of performance advice (maybe a key performance trick, etc.) that you felt has had the most impact on your actual voice over performance and why?

Find something that defines you but that does not limit you.

In other words: you want to box yourself in, to emphasize what sets you apart, but you want that box to be big enough to attract a wide audience. If you try to be everything to everyone, you end up being nothing to no one.

In my case, I describe myself as a European Voice. Not British. Not American. Not even Dutch, even though that’s my native language. I tell my clients that I specialize in intelligent international narration. For that reason I get to do multilingual projects and jobs that require someone with a more global, neutral English accent. 

WANT MORE ME?

Recently, my old Radio Netherlands colleague Constantino De Miguel interviewed me about the voice-over business on Voice Over Plaza. If you want to take notes, get pen and paper ready!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Creating a Wave

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Internet, Promotion 27 Comments

You and I, we walk a fine line when it comes to drumming up business.

Here’s the situation.

Clients won’t hire us unless they know we exist.

Colleagues won’t recommend us if they have no idea what we’re capable of.

Agents might think we’re yesterday’s news if we don’t prove ourselves every once in a while.

The remedy to anonymity is self-promotion. However, we all know people who are constantly promoting themselves. They hijack threads on Facebook to toot their own horn. They pop up in LinkedIn groups to talk about themselves. They spam your inbox with “newsletters” that glorify their latest accomplishments.

They must believe they’re very interesting.

If you’re one of those people, I have this to say to you:

Read the rest of this story in my new book. Click on the cover to access the website and get a sneak peek. Use the buttons to buy the book.

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Playing Hard to Get

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Promotion 7 Comments

It’s time for an apology.

Yes, I’m truly sorry, but I can explain.

If you are one of the people who asked me to be your voice-over coach, chances are that I turned you down. Not that I don’t enjoy coaching. I’ve been coaching professionally for the past twenty years.

In my broadcasting days, I used to prepare people to meet the press in my role of media coach. Later on, I became what people now call a “Life Coach,” helping clients overcome obstacles and reach goals. I also taught two-week certification trainings centered around personal growth and development, and I loved every minute of it.

Even though my FAQ page (the page no one ever reads) will tell you that I still offer voice-over coaching services, I’m not shouting it from the rooftops.

WHY I KEEP COACHING QUIET

First of all, my clients are keeping me pretty busy, so I don’t have much time to be a coach. Secondly,

Read the rest of this story in my new book. Click on the cover to access the website and get a sneak peek. Use the buttons to buy the book.

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Spending a year with me

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Gear, Internet, Journalism & Media, Money Matters, Promotion, Social Media, Studio 15 Comments

2012 is a year I will remember for many reasons, but the main reason is this: 

Your generosity.

Did you know that readers of this blog donated $2,500 to the National MS Society this year? Thanks to your contributions, our Walk MS team raised a total of $6,504!

When I told you that my friend Patrice Devincentis had lost her Sonic Surgery recording studio in Hurricane Sandy, you stepped up to the plate big time.

Donations to Sonic Surgery

Donations to Sonic Surgery

Right now, part of my basement is taken over by audio equipment that was donated to Patrice, mostly by friends in the voice-over community.

Just when she thought her career was over, your help gave her hope and a chance to start rebuilding a studio and a career. 

As soon as her recording space is ready, I will deliver all the gear on your behalf, but that’s not all.

When you go to the Sonic Surgery GoFundMe page, you’ll see that together we’ve raised over $2,600 for Patrice. We still have a long way to go before we’ll reach our $10,000 goal, but it’s a great start.

SPREADING THE NEWS 

As readers, you’ve also been generous with your blog comments (all 2,658 of them), retweets, Facebook “likes” and all the other ways in which you helped my stories reach a wider audience. Thank you so much for that! It works and here’s the proof.

A story like the introduction of Studiobricks (a new type of vocal booth), has reached almost two thousand readers. Mike Bratton’s interview and review of the Studiobricks ONE cabin, has been seen over fifteen hundred times. But there were more reviews this year. 

In collaboration with recordinghacks.com, I put the Microtech Gefell M 930 Ts microphone to the test; the amazingly affordable and brilliant CAD E100S mic, as well as a shock mount for the 21st century, the Rycote InVision™ system.

I presented seven reasons to hate home studios, and most recently, I had a chance to review Jonathan Tilley’s new eBook “Voice Over Garden.” 

THE NEW NETHERVOICE

Let’s remember that 2012 was also the year my website got a major facelift. It gave me a chance to write about why your website stinks, how analyzing web traffic can help you craft content, and how you can use social media to spread your message (as long as you don’t step into the filter bubble). 

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you know that I love writing about the business of being in business. Having a great voice doesn’t mean that you’ll automatically have a great voice-over career. You have to be a savvy entrepreneur as well. 

When you open up shop, you’re all of a sudden the head of the advertising, marketing, sales and the customer service department. Are you sure you can handle that? Some customers can be a royal pain in the tuches, but you have to attract them first.

Over time you’ll notice that there are at least 10 things clients don’t care about, and that there are many things your clients won’t tell you that you absolutely need to know before you hit the record button. This year, I finally revealed my personal marketing strategy and the four keys to winning clients over.

Now, all these ideas didn’t appear to me in a dream. It has taken me quite a few years of running a freelance business to come up with certain vital concepts. Trial and error are the slowest teachers, and I had to learn many of my lessons the hard way. I still remember the day I almost made a $10,000 mistake.

Nethervoice studio

Nethervoice studio

STUDIO STORIES

On an average day I spend at least eight hours in my vocal booth/office, and of course I blogged about life behind the mic. I gave you the grand tour of my studio in two installments. 

First you got to see how I have outfitted my voice-over booth, followed by a review of the equipment I use to make my clients happy.

I also wrote about certain aspects of (voice) acting. In “Are You a Cliché” I dealt with the downside of doing impersonations. “Why you suck and what to do about it” is all about breathing and how to get rid of those nasty clicks and other mouth noises that can ruin a recording. “Are you playing by the rules” tells you what it takes to maintain a good relationship with your agent. 

MONEY MATTERS

In 2011, 44% of independent workers had trouble getting paid for their work. 3 out of 4 freelancers are paid late or not at all at least once in their careers. That’s why the New York-based Freelancers Union ran a campaign called “Get Paid, not played.”

I tend to write a lot about value and remuneration. Just click on the “Money Matters” category over on the right hand side of this blog and you’ll see what I mean. When my website got a make-over, I decided to publicly post my voice-over rates. Not everyone believed this was a wise move, so I wrote a story exploring the pros and cons of being open about fees. 

One relatively new way to fund your business, is to use crowdsourcing. I asked audio book publisher Karen Wolfer to share her experience with Kickstarter. Another money-related topic that came up this year was this: Should you work for free for charity? On paper “giving back” sounds like the right thing to do, but is it always the case? As with any of the stories mentioned above, click on the blue link to read the full article. 

TAKING CARE OF YOURSELF

Let’s move from wealth to health. I shall remember 2012 for one other reason. Never before have I written so much about fitness and well-being. In “Be kind. Unwind” I wrote about the importance of taking a break, being in the moment and leading a balanced life.  

After meeting the globetrotting host of The Amazing Race Phil Keoghan, I discovered four principles to live in the spirit of NOW (No Opportunity Wasted). In August it was time for me personally to cut the crap and rid myself of excuses that had me trapped in an unhealthy, sedentary lifestyle.

MAKE A DIFFERENCE 

All in all, 2012 has been a great year. We’ve had to weather some powerful storms, but the year was also packed with positive change. 

It always amazes me how relatively small changes can have a huge impact. Imagine someone throwing a pebble into a pond. See how the ripple effect moves through the water in ever-widening circles. That’s the effect one individual act of generosity can have.

It happens when people who care, share what they have to give without expecting anything in return. It can be time, it can be money or -as in Patrice’s case- even audio equipment. 

I am grateful and appreciative that you have chosen to take a few minutes out of your day, to see what I have to say. Many of you came back, week after week. Hopefully, you’ve found my stories and ideas helpful and worth sharing. If that’s been the case, I have news for you: 

I’m not done yet!

In fact, I’m ready to push more envelopes, stir more pots and be more outspoken in 2013. 

Do you think you can handle that? 

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet.

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