nethervoice

Everything is perception. Perception is everything.

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career 9 Comments

mirror, mirrorSome people believe that auditioning is nothing but a numbers game.

Let me tell you a story.

Two groups of kids were playing outside. Someone had written a big number 6 on the street, and a fight had broken out because of it.

One group claimed that the number was actually a 9. The other group insisted it was a 6. Before the debate got totally out of hand, a little girl shouted:

“You’re all wrong. Can’t you see it’s just a circle with a line?”

The kids decided that she was right and they went on to do some cloud spotting. But as they were lying in the grass, another fight broke out.

“That cloud looks just like a giant elf,” said one of them.

“No way,” said another kid. “It’s a fairy. Anyone can see that!”

SOME PERSPECTIVE

How on earth is it possible to come to very different conclusions, based on the same input? Well, the simple answer is that most of us tend to select information based on what resonates with our model of the world. The rest is conveniently filtered out. In other words:

We see what we want to see, and we hear what we want to hear.

A young psychologist decided to test this principle. During a road trip to promote his first book, he had breakfast in a different diner every morning. And every morning he ordered “scramberred eggs.” Not once did a waitress ask: “Excuse me sir, what did you just say?” He always got a plate of scrambled eggs, because that’s what the waitress believed he said.

As a trained journalist I happen to be a professional skeptic. I was taught to always check my sources, and in the absence of empirical evidence, do my own fact-finding. So, when I read the “scramberred eggs” anecdote, I decided to put it to the test, but with a slight twist.

NAPKIN COLE

One of my favorite sound engineers was a huge fan of a crooner known for songs like “Stardust,” “Mona Lisa,” and “When I Fall in Love.” During a break I innocently asked:

“Hey Mike, did you know that they just discovered an unknown recording by Napkin Cole?”

He said: “Really? Where did you hear that?”

For the next half hour, all we talked about was Napkin Cole. I must have pronounced the name at least 40 times that way, and not once did Mike raise an eyebrow. It was unforgettable… Next week I will ask him about his favorite female jazz singer: Elephant Gerald.

Having strong preconceptions is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, taking things for granted means that we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. It’s the principle of generalization upon which all learning is based. On the other hand, it closes us off to valuable new information. Worst of all, it seems to happen beyond our control.

For us voice-over pros this can be frightening. Whenever we record a demo, we’re basing our approach on our take on the text. We put that info through our filters and come up with a unique interpretation of the script. That part we can control. But once this demo reaches the ears of the client, everything depends on what unknown filters are operating in his or her brain. Sometimes, the effect can be unexpected and surprising.

MY BIG BREAK

A few years ago, I auditioned for an amazing job. It was one of those once in a lifetime opportunities, and I just knew that it was going to be my big break. Needless to say, I pulled out all the stops to make sure my demo was spot-on. Only after I was completely satisfied that I had absolutely nailed it, did I send my demo on its way.

An hour later I received a generic rejection. It was a huge slap in the face, and I felt like a complete failure. I listened to my demo over and over again, and I couldn’t figure out what had gone so horribly wrong.

A year later I finally got the answer.

By chance I ran into a colleague of the voice-seeker who had so cruelly crushed my dreams. He recognized my voice, and we started talking about that fateful project I had auditioned for.

I said to him: “I have to ask… I know I would have been perfect for this project. Tell me: Why didn’t I get the job?”

He paused for a moment and replied:

“I know exactly why.

You sounded too much like the producer’s ex-boyfriend.”

When I heard those words, two very conflicting emotions boiled up to the surface. I was both livid and relieved. My angry ego shouted: How could this woman have been so unprofessional?

At the same time I was glad to know that there was nothing I could have done to change her mind.

Ancient wisdom tells us that the world we see is a mirror of who we are.

Everything is perception.

Perception is everything.

It is written in the clouds.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet.


How To Hire The Right Voice Over

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles 8 Comments

man with microphoneMike’s corporate video looked like a million bucks.

The camerawork was first-rate. The captions were loud and clear. The whole package was a winner.

As long as the sound remained muted.

Why?

Because the voice-over brought everything down.

“Where did you find this guy?” I asked. “He sounds like he has no idea what he is saying. There are certain words I cannot understand, and there’s a weird echo that is very distracting.”

“That’s our Dave,” said Mike with a proud smile. “Dave works in Delivery, and everybody kept on telling me that he has a nice voice. I thought I’d give him a break. Why search for outside talent when the answer is under our own roof?”

“Because this is a professional production,” I answered. “Whoever is going to see this, doesn’t care that Dave is your delivery guy. His voice is now associated with your company. If people are perceiving him as unprofessional (and they will), what will they think of your business?”

“But I saved a ton of money,” tried Mike. “I gave Dave fifty bucks, and he was happy with that.”

“No Mike,” I said. “You just lost a ton of money by working with an amateur. Think of a voice as your auditory logo. What does it tell potential customers about the kind of company you are? Dave’s delivery is undermining your message. He just doesn’t sound trustworthy, and that is damaging your corporate image.”

There was an awkward silence as I heard a few pennies drop.

“So, if Dave’s not doing it for you, how do I find the right voice?” asked Mike. “There are thousands of people online who all pretend to be voice-over pros. How do I separate the wheat from the chaff, and how long is that going to take?”

”It all starts with you, Mike,” I said. “You have to…

1. Know what you want.

Let me ask you a question: How will you find your way to a specific destination if you don’t know where it is and what it looks like? The same is true in voice-over land. Ask yourself:

“If my product or company had a voice, what would it sound like?”

Is it male or female? Would it be a young, hip voice, or the voice of wisdom and experience? Would it be a booming voice, a gravelly voice, a sultry voice, or a motivating voice? Does this voice speak with a particular accent or intonation? Does it sound like someone I know from radio, TV, or from the movies?

Also ask yourself:

What audience am I trying to reach?

Is it an educated audience? If so, what’s their level of education? Do they fall in a particular age group? Is it an international audience, or are they local?

Once you have a voice profile, put it in the audition information you want the talent to see. If you don’t do that, every Tom, Dick, or Harriet will submit an MP3, and you’ll have the hardest time sorting through hundreds of entries.

Tip: Know what you want, but keep an open mind (and ear). Sometimes you think you have the right idea until you see or hear something that is even better!

2. Does the talent sound authentic and trustworthy?

This is crucial.

People are seldom fooled by a fake. Once they perceive that a voice-over lacks sincerity and natural authority, they lose trust. People who lose trust won’t be sold on your message or your product. Take Dave the delivery guy. He does not sound like he believes in what he is saying. At times he is unintelligible.”

“Are you sure?” asked Mike, “’cause I didn’t hear it.”

“Mike, you wrote the script, so you know what Dave’s supposed to say. That’s why you didn’t pick up on it.

The number one test for any professional communicator is not tone of voice but intelligibility.

Here’s the next question you should ask yourself when you listen to a demo:

3. Is the audio of professional quality?

Imagine shooting a fifteen thousand dollar video with a third-rate camera. You would never do that, would you? So, why would you accept audio that was recorded with sub-standard equipment, recorded on the kitchen table?

Professional audio sounds clean, clear, and without flutter echoes or ambient noise. Trust me. If you can hear the neighbor’s weed whacker or pickup truck in the background, move on to the next talent.

You also have to listen for microphone technique. Amateur audio may have pops… plosives that cause a nasty burst of air that’s picked up by the mic and your ears. You’ll also hear all kinds of mouth noises such as lip smacks, and very audible, distracting breaths.

Here’s an important tip: A voice talent may sound fantastic on the demo they sent you. Remember that those demos are usually heavily doctored in a professional studio. Unless the talent records your script in that same studio with the same equipment and engineer, they’ll never be able to replicate it in their home studio.

Always ask for a custom demo, recorded with the same set-up that will be used for your project.

On to the next question:

4. Did the talent respond in a professional way?

Did s/he get back to you in a timely fashion? Did you get a standard answer, or did the talent put some thought into his/her response? Was the email grammatically correct? Were there spelling errors? Was the tone of the message respectful?

Did you get a sense that the voice-over tried to understand your specific needs? Did the voice talent come across as desperate, or as confident?

Was the voice-over clear about the cost? Remember: you pay for professionalism. Cheap rates often expose inexperienced or amateur talent.”

Mike took a deep breath, and said:

“Those tips are great, but that still doesn’t answer one of my questions.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Well, there are thousands of people online who all pretend to be voice-over pros. I have no time to listen to hundreds of auditions from a voice casting site. I’ve done that in the past, and a lot of what I got was crap. You’ve got to help me here!”

“You could go two ways,” I said. “I could either give you the names of a few reputable agents, or I could send you to a trusted pool of online talent. If you describe what you’re looking for to any of my agents, they’ll select a few voice actors for you that could all do the job. Guaranteed. You may pay a bit more, but you’ll save a lot of time, and you avoid having to listen to a tragic lineup of wannabes.

The website I want to direct you to is http://www.voiceover.biz. It’s a non-profit voice casting site that’s run by the World Voices Organization. On it you will only find vetted members of this professional, international voice-over association.

No amateurs. No wannabes. No delivery guys.

You will only find the cream of the crop.

It’s as simple as that.

And that’s how you hire the right voice-over!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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If Only I had Known

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Personal 16 Comments

Crystal Ball“Looking back, and knowing what you know now… what would you have done differently, and why?”

This question (and many of its variations), is really popular among those interviewing the rich and famous. It’s meant to elicit golden nuggets of priceless information, acquired over a long and illustrious career. It’s an old trick, and it still works.

As an interviewer I’ve probably used it dozens of times, and I could only get away with my lack of originality by editing myself out. I usually kept the answer until the end of the conversation. After a short musical interlude, the celebrity I was speaking with would “spontaneously” get philosophical, and come up with this profound life lesson that resonated long after the interview was over.

Mission accomplished!

Last week, the tables were turned when a young colleague asked me same question: “Looking back, and knowing what you know now… what would you have done differently, and why?”

At that moment one realizes that it’s much easier to ask than to answer, but I knew pretty quickly what I was going to say. It brought me back to the beginning of my American career, some sixteen years ago. Here’s what I came up with:

“I wish I would have listened to my heart, instead of to my mind, when I thought of becoming a voice-over.”

I realize that this is not an eye-opening, Zen-like insight, but I know I’m not the only one struggling with the battle between warm feelings and cold logic. 

At that time my analytical, practical mind came up with all these brilliant rationalizations as to why a VO-career would never work for me. This was at the beginning of a new millennium, and I had just arrived in the United States.

I had very little money, no contacts in the industry, and I didn’t know where to begin. How would I promote myself in a country with over 300 million people? Who would hire this nobody from Holland with his funny accent?

I felt overwhelmed, unprepared, and insecure.

Of course there was no Facebook or LinkedIn group where aspiring voice-overs could ask questions. There were no books about the business, and the concept of home studios did not exist. It was much easier to find a job waiting tables, and as someone who needed to make money, that’s exactly what I did.

My first job was at The Fish House in Lambertville, NJ, and even though I was a vegetarian, I knew how to sell sardines, swordfish, and Chilean sea bass. Because I didn’t know anybody, the so-called celebs who frequented this restaurant didn’t impress me.

One day, a colleague took me aside and said: “Do you know who you just served?”

I had no idea.

“The coach of the Eagles!” he replied enthusiastically. “You know… THE EAGLES!!”

I looked at him with a straight face, and said: “What Eagles?”

In hindsight I think coach Andy Reid appreciated that I treated him like a regular customer. He even laughed at one of my wine jokes. His wife Tammy wanted to know why the Jersey Chard she was drinking had such a distinctive yellow glow. I told her the vineyard was next to a nuclear power plant.

Fortunately she though it was funny. 

Meanwhile, I didn’t know that I had just taken the first step in becoming a real actor: I was waiting tables!

The restaurant was also where people began commenting on my voice, my accent, and my ability to speak several languages. To me it was kind of a party trick to help my tip jar, but kind customers asked: “No offense, but why are you a waiter? You should really do something with that voice of yours!”

Encouraged, I signed up for an open casting call at Mike Lemon Casting in Philadelphia. My heart told me that’s where I should go, but my mind was skeptical. Once again it came up with a million reasons as to why I wouldn’t make the cut. All those reasons made perfect sense, but they were all wrong. 

That day, voice casting director Joanne Joella signed me on the spot, and my American adventure in voice-overs officially began.

Well, not quite.

Even though I was booking some decent jobs here and there, my mind told me this wasn’t going to last, and that I really needed a serious position doing serious work. I was doing well on tips as a waiter, but recommending Jersey wine and pan-seared scallops did not make a career.

That’s how I ended up in a call center, surveying European hard- and software specialists by telephone. Of course these overworked, stressed out professionals had nothing better to do than talk to me, and they all loved telling me about their satisfaction with the latest network servers.

NOT.

This job had two amazing perks. One: Because we called businesses in Germany and in the Netherlands, I lived on European time, getting up at 2:00 AM, making my first call at 3:00 AM (9:00 AM in Amsterdam and Munich). Two: I had to use a script from which I was not allowed to deviate.

That was my second step in becoming a real actor: I got to use scripts!

A year or two into that pathetic call center job, something wonderful happened. All the interviewers were mercifully replaced by an automated voice response system that was much better at taking verbal abuse from German software specialists who were sick of revealing their satisfaction with product X on a scale of zero to ten, zero meaning completely dissatisfied, and ten meaning completely satisfied.

It was time for me to move up the ladder!

Did I listen to my heart this time, and would I be pursuing a full-time voice-over career?

No, my friends. My mind talked me into accepting a job as a customer service trainer at Wachovia Bank. As we all know, banks are a secure place to work. Some of them even offer benefits.

Yea for me!

Luckily, I knew nothing about the financial industry or balancing books, and I suffer from dyscalculia. That’s like being dyslexic but with numbers instead of words. It’s particularly useful when you have to stare at bank accounts all day long, and figure out why this infuriated client got slammed with five overdraft fees after buying a burger with money he didn’t have.

Here’s what I loved about this job. Since I was the lead trainer, I was in front of a class of sleepy, unmotivated students all day long. 

Looking back, Wachovia was my third step in becoming a real actor: I got to perform in front of a live audience!

By the way, if you can’t remember the name Wachovia, that’s perfectly understandable. Wachovia was eventually overrun by the Wells Fargo wagon, and they brought in their own training team to cultivate a new corporate culture.

Good for them. Great for me!

After three pointless, mind numbing, soul crushing, dream dashing jobs, I finally got the message:

“Follow Your Heart, you idiot! Become a full-time voice talent, and conquer the world.”

And that’s exactly what I did.

I strongly believe that living is learning, and that every job helped prepare me for the future I created for myself. Yet, when I look back at all those years of doing things for money while my heart wasn’t in it… When I think of how miserable I used to be, and how happy I am now… I often wonder:

If only I had known…

If only I would have taken the risk, and had followed my dreams from the get-go. Where would I be now?

Would I be a household name? Would obnoxious fans ask for my autograph at crazy comicons and conventions? Would agents fight to represent me? Would I be rich and famous?

Well, if that were me, I’m pretty sure that one day, a young reporter would knock on my door. After an in-depth, hour-long interview, he would pause and get ready for that very last killer-question:

“Looking back, and knowing what you know now… what would you have done differently, and why?”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!

photo credit: you probably don’t wanna know via photopin (license)


How Not To Be Like Jeremy Clarkson

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Journalism & Media, Social Media 26 Comments

Top Gear presenters Jeremy Clarkson and James May with Tony Harrison's Lancia Beta Coupe Stanford Hall 2008 Last Sunday, the BBC premiered the 23rd season of Top Gear with a new team of presenters. The program drew disappointing ratings in the UK and abroad. This had a lot to do with the absence of star presenter Jeremy Clarkson, who was forced to leave the show. More about that later.

Because Clarkson was such a dominating presence on Top Gear, he might have thought that the program wouldn’t stand a chance without him. Perhaps the critics and viewers proved him right. After all, there’s only one Jeremy Clarkson. This had me wondering…

Do you ever think you’re indispensable?

Do you believe your clients, your readers, or your viewers can’t live without you?

Unfortunately, the reality for most independent contractors is that they can be tossed out any time. The price of freelance freedom is often paid in uncertainty and stress.

In theory, this uncertainty should at least be partially compensated by a higher paycheck. But you know as well as I do that we have to fight for decent rates. 

Small fish in a big ocean don’t have a lot of leverage in the labor market, unless they operate as a school. But what about the big fish? How far are they allowed to go?

INFLATED EGOS

Some people, especially in the entertainment industry, seem to think they are untouchable, and they behave accordingly.

Like spoiled children.

Over the years they have gathered a loyal following, and have amassed a considerable fortune. Whenever they enter a room, people ooh and aah, and ask for autographs and selfies.

When these celebs say something that isn’t even remotely funny, people laugh hysterically. Some are suddenly seen as “thought leaders,” “trend setters,” or as the sexiest men/women alive.

Photographers will pray or pay for a pose and a smile. Companies fight for the opportunity to stuff backstage gift bags, hoping for a tweet of acknowledgment or better still: a product endorsement.

And so, the people who have everything they could possibly wish for, get even more without paying a dime. Those who aren’t as fortunate, can only hope, dream, and drool.

But fame is fickle, and recognition can be a double-edged sword.

The higher you climb, the lower you can fall. But if your cushion is elastic enough, you may be able to bounce back. Comfortably.

TOP GEAR

On March 25th, 2015, the BBC fired Jeremy Clarkson, one of the presenters of Top Gear. Top Gear is one of the most successful programs in the history of the Beeb, bringing in millions of pounds every year. The car show is one of the biggest factual TV shows in the world with an estimated audience of 350 million in 200 countries. People who don’t even care for cars (myself included) watch Top Gear religiously.

Clarkson’s sacking was self-induced. He was fired for physically and verbally attacking one of the producers because no hot food was provided after a day’s filming. Prior to that, he had been given a final warning because of earlier controversies. “This time,” said the BBC, “a line was crossed.” Clarkson was dismissed, in spite of the million+ people who had signed an online petition to reinstate him.

Yes, we’re all unique, but no one is irreplaceable, or above the law.

As Tony Hall, the BBC’s Director-General, said: “There cannot be one rule for one and one rule for another dictated by either rank, or public relations and commercial considerations.”

The question is: Who will have the last laugh?

Clarkson’s contract was up for renewal anyway, and as soon as he left, other networks in Great Britain started fighting over who could offer the man the most lucrative deal. In the end, Amazon Video won out. Like the Terminator, Clarkson (and fellow-presenters Richard Hammond & James May) will be back, making more money than ever.

THE TAKEAWAY

As much as I deplore what Clarkson did, I wondered if we could learn anything from what happened. Like Clarkson, you and I work with producers and directors all the time. Some of them are very nice people. Others are not. Some make unreasonable demands, crazy requests, and give you a hard time when asked if the check is finally in the mail.

There are some big egos in our business, and I’ve seen colleagues suck up to the people with power, and kick those who are lower on the ladder. Here’s something that happened to me while I was working at a radio station.

One day, a fellow-presenter lashed out at an assistant because he had given her a glass of water with what looked like a hair in it. The woman exploded, and left the assistant heavily hyperventilating in the hallway. But when the director of the station paid us a surprise visit right after the incident, my angry colleague was suddenly all smiles.

After we had taped our show, I took a good look at the infamous glass of water. A curly, red hair was indeed floating on the surface.

My explosive colleague happened to have curly, red hair.

SEVEN SIGNS

Most people I’ve worked with seem to have it together. Perhaps this is because invisible voices have a low profile. We don’t have millions of fans, or millions of dollars. 

Those I admire in my industry have certain things in common. They often thrive against the odds. They are loved by colleagues and clients alike. And if you wish to follow in their footsteps, I have a few recommendations for you.

My first suggestion is simple: Treat everyone around you with respect; not only the people in power. Even if some co-workers do their very best to push your buttons, you’re not a robot. You can’t control their behavior, but you can choose your response.

Secondly: Celebrate your achievements, and remember where you came from. You are where you are because people who probably didn’t know you, believed in you, and were kind to you.

You made tons of mistakes. We all do, but were they met with punishment or patience? And even if your teachers weren’t always tolerant, don’t use that as an excuse to give others the same treatment you so hated.

Third: Don’t ever take success for granted. It entitles you to nothing. It has to be earned, and treasured. Over and over again. And what good does it do you, if you make the people around you miserable? They’ll feed you what you want to hear, while spitting out the truth behind your back.

Fourth: Don’t mistake fame for importance, and money for value. Who gives a damn how many followers you have on social media, and how much you have stashed away in your Swiss bank account. Why should we even care about your credentials? All these things do not make you a good person.

You should take your work and your fans seriously, but please take yourself with a few grains of salt.

Fifth: If you end up -willingly or unwillingly- being a role model, know that it comes with responsibilities. You are in a privileged position to influence a great number of people who look up to you. Are you going to use that position, or abuse it?

Sixth: Don’t ever ask: “What’s in it for me?” The better question is: “What can I do today to improve the lives of others without getting anything in return?” It’s the result that matters. Not the reward.

Seven: Be humble, and be grateful. Every single day.

Success is hard to sustain. One moment you’re the flavor of the month. The next you’re yesterday’s news. Clients may seem ungrateful, but that doesn’t mean you should be. 

Appreciate what you have right now, and realize that you couldn’t have done it without the help of others. No matter how hard you’ve worked for it, and how much you think you deserve it, feel confident without being cocky. Big egos don’t make amigos.

One last thought.

No one is irreplaceable, but at least for one project, one gig, or for one show, you were chosen. That means something. 

If you’re lucky, you can make it last.

If it doesn’t, enjoy the ride, but hopefully not in a Jeremy Clarkson sort of way.

Paul Strikwerda ©Nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!

photo credit: Jeremy Clarkson and James May Top Gear presenters with my Lancia Beta Coupe Stanford Hall 2008 IMG_6342 via photopin (license)


Don’t Ever Do This To A Client

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Personal 9 Comments

mooningSometimes I think I’m in the wrong business.

Has that ever happened to you? 

Especially during a dry spell, I start looking around, and I see people with a different skill set and a different level of education making tons of money.

All the time.

How fair is that?

Take Tom, for instance. Tom runs a small construction company. A few years ago, Tom and his team did a great job renovating part of our house. His business was still young, and he went above and beyond to make our home more modern. Tom was everything an average contractor isn’t. He was polite, communicative, affordable, he showed up on time, and he delivered on his promises. 

After weeks and weeks of hard work in the scorching July sun, the job was done. Before Tom gave us the keys to our brand new front door, his crew did something surprising. They carefully cleaned up the mess they had made during the renovation. Even our front and back yards received a make-over. How about that!

Needless to say, we sang Tom’s praises to anyone in need of a contractor, and it worked. For the next few months I saw Tom’s truck everywhere, and his business was booming.

He deserved every bit of success, and I was happy for him and his family. If only I could emulate his accomplishments… But, I was in the wrong business. Tom built walls, replaced windows, and renovated kitchens. It was tangible, visible work. All I did was talk for a living. 

Fast forward a couple of years.

Recently we were ready for the second phase of home improvement, and in our mind only one guy had proven himself worthy of the job. So, I called Tom again, and asked him to come over to take a look at what needed to be done.

I didn’t hear back from him for weeks. He did not respond to my messages, and I was worried that he might have left our Borough. However, his truck was parked next to his house, and he was still in business. When he finally answered his phone there was no explanation or apology. He almost sounded like I was inconveniencing him. I didn’t like that.

It took a few more weeks before Tom finally came over, and luckily he brought his old, cheery self. He assessed the work that we wanted done, and promised to give us an estimate within a matter of days. You can probably guess what happened next -or rather- what didn’t happen.

I lost count of how many times I called his business to remind him that we needed that estimate. I tried to sound upbeat and hopeful as I “talked” to Tom after the beep, but some of my messages might have revealed my increased frustration. Weeks and weeks passed, and Tom never returned any of my calls. It was as if I didn’t exist. 

I wondered what would happen if I would run my business like that. It would probably be “game over” in no time. You know what it’s like when an agent sends you a voice-over job that is making the rounds everywhere. You know what you need to do when you’ve spotted the perfect opportunity on a voice casting site. You’ve got to record that audition straight away, or else your voice will be lost in a whirlpool of other talent.

That’s one thing I imagine Tom doesn’t have to worry about. There are only a handful of reputable contractors in my area. Apparently Tom’s so busy, he doesn’t need more work. He can afford to ignore me.

And that’s where Tom and I differ.

At times I am pretty swamped, and job offers keep coming in. When it rains, it usually pours. But no matter how busy I am, I always get back to every client in a matter of hours. Some of them want me to start as soon as possible, and that’s not always an option. In that case I refer them to a reputable colleague. But quite often things are not as urgent as they seem, and I can fit the client in at a later point during the week.

To me this is not an earth-shattering approach, but I might be wrong. Just today, two clients thanked me for quickly getting back to them, as if it was something unusual. Isn’t that weird? I tend to think that the way I conduct business is the way everyone does it. I put in long hours. Others put in long hours. I have high standards. Others have high standards. But here’s what I have noticed.

Some colleagues just don’t seem to care as much, or they stopped caring, for whatever reason. And that’s the thing clients hate the most. They don’t want to be treated as a routine client with a routine job. They don’t want to be ignored or taken for granted. 

Clients are just like real people. People want to be acknowledged. Respected. Appreciated. They want to be treated as if they’re the only client in the world at that moment in time. And if you can give them that feeling, you do more than just a job. You are in the business of building long-lasting relationships.

So Tom… if you are reading this blog, I don’t know what happened to you since you started your company, but I don’t like it one bit. No matter how good you are at what you do, I will no longer recommend you. I will not hire you. I will find someone else to do the job.

Perhaps I will finally hear from you after you have read this, and you’ll give me some kind of lame excuse like: “I’ve been too busy, but it’s just business. Nothing personal.”

Well, you’re wrong about that.

It is always personal.

As a contractor, you come into people’s homes and invade their privacy. You tear up their walls, and you demolish their bathrooms. You fix what’s broken, and you make people feel safe under their own roof again.

I’m a contractor too. A so-called independent contractor. My voice gets in between people’s ears. Sometimes I tell them what to do or what to buy. Other times I read them a good book. It’s safe to say that we have a rather intimate relationship.

I will never take that relationship for granted, not just because it is the lifeblood of my business. I honor that relationship because it is the right thing to do. It’s how I was raised.

Let me end by saying this:

I vow to never let my success prevent me from treating my clients with professionalism, respect, and gratitude.

Even if all I do is talk for a living, I do my very best to walk my talk.

I’ve been doing this for over three decades.

Clients keep on coming, and I thoroughly enjoy what I am doing.

So… perhaps I’m in the right business after all!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet.


Filling In The Blanks

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Personal 14 Comments

bartender“It’s too risky, too challenging, too expensive, and you’ll be very lonely”.

That’s what people told me when I announced that I was going to become self-employed. This was many, many moons ago.

I’m sure these folks meant well, but what struck me most was the fact that these self-appointed business coaches were all working in some nine to five job, making money for someone else. They had no clue what it would be like, to be one’s own boss. The idea alone probably terrified them. I say “probably” because I’m not sure.

What happened in these conversations was something that is universally human, and universally flawed: people projecting their own life experiences, values, beliefs, fears, and attitudes onto the life of someone else. Not hindered with practical experience or specific knowledge, they’ll tell you:

“I know precisely what you mean. I know exactly how you feel. I totally get it.”

The question is: Is that really true?

UNDERSTANDING AND BEING UNDERSTOOD

When you hear a seemingly innocent phrase such as “I know how you must be feeling right now,” let me tell you what is actually going on. With a few simple words, your friend, colleague, or family member has become a mind reader, and has managed to shift the conversation away from you and onto them. Hence the prominent use of the pronoun “I.”

They have taken what you wanted to talk about, and used it as an opportunity to refocus the conversation. Perhaps not on purpose, but they did it nevertheless. 

By saying “I know exactly what you mean,” people are also comparing their personal situation to your unique circumstances, as if these two are equal. That is hardly ever the case. Even when situations seem very similar, they rarely are, and people respond to them in their own way. That’s what makes us so interesting, and at times unpredictable.

When people say things like “I know exactly how you feel,” most of us don’t make a big deal about it, unless it concerns something very personal, and there’s a need to be understood. Let me give you an example.

WALKING IN SOMEONE’S SHOES

You may know that my wife has multiple sclerosis. It’s a nasty disease which manifests itself in different ways on different days. One of the most common symptoms is fatigue. Fatigue is different from being tired. It is often described as an acute lack of energy; an unusual and utterly overwhelming whole-body tiredness not relieved by sleep, which prevents a person from functioning normally.

So, when my wife told one of her friends that she was exhausted, and the friend (who doesn’t have MS) responded by saying “I know exactly how you feel,” my wife said:

“Actually, I’m glad you don’t. I would not want to wish this on anybody.”

I remember going to an event where friends and family members were educated about multiple sclerosis. To give me a sense of what it might feel like to experience MS symptoms, a facilitator put weights on my legs which affected my sense of balance.

Blurred vision is another MS symptom, so they had me wear strange goggles that made the world around me look distorted. I could not read a simple text they asked me to read. Then I had to wear thick gloves, and I was instructed to unbutton my shirt, which was totally impossible.

I still remember the frustrating feeling of helplessness as I was wearing this weird outfit. The things I had come to rely upon: my sense of balance, my eyesight, and my sense of touch, were seriously affected. I needed the help of other people to get around and get things done, and I hated losing my independence. For a moment.

Luckily, after a while I could take all these gadgets off, but I tell you: I never looked at my wife in the same way. Never again would I tell her: “I know exactly how you feel.” Even after my limited MS symptom simulation I can’t say I know what it’s like to have an incurable chronic disease. And I hope I’ll never find out.

PERCEPTION AND PROJECTION

Now, this may be an extreme example, but extremes can make things clear. As a human being it is hard not to compare and project. We constantly have to make sense of the world around us, and we use our own experiences as a frame of reference. Based on that I have a few questions for you:

• How often are you aware that your perception is based on projection? 

• How often do you really know what a client means or a what friend feels?

• What would happen if you’d stop filling in the blanks based on your model of the world?

It doesn’t matter if you’re in a personal or in a professional relationship. If you are using your own experience to interpret the world, you are severely limiting yourself, and you’re not doing the other person justice. You’re not even focused on the other person because you’re too busy working things out in your own head.

Or as they say in the East: “You cannot pour tea into a cup that is already full.”

A LEARNING EXPERIENCE

When I give a voice-over student a script and ask him or her to read it as if they were hired to be the narrator, I can predict what is going to happen. The student just starts reading the text. A few paragraphs later I ask them:

“How did you know to read it the way you did? How did you choose the tone, the tempo, the volume, and the accent?”

And most of the time they tell me: “I thought it would sound good this way. That’s all.”

Then I ask:

“Is this what the client wanted?”

“I have no idea,” the student answers. “It’s just a guess. How was I supposed to know?”

“Well, did you ask?” is my response.

And then the coin drops.

You can’t give a client what s/he wants to hear, if you have no clue what it is. You might think you have some idea, but that perception is based on your projection. It’s like asking a bartender to fix you a drink, and he just starts mixing something. Unless you asked to be surprised, you might not like what you are getting, let alone pay for it.

“Am I making any sense?” I asked my student.

“Absolutely,” she said. And then she added:

“Believe me… I know exactly what you mean.”

“Believe me,” I answered.

“You absolutely don’t.”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!

photo credit: via photopin (license)


How Dangerous Is Your Voice-Over Studio?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Gear, Studio 27 Comments

Ear painVoice-over people are really weird.

Every day they spend a long time sitting in a small, soundproof room, staring at a screen, and talking to themselves.

If they’re good at what they do, they pretend to communicate with an illusive but unresponsive listener.  

Then they spend an eternity listening to themselves as they edit and sweeten the audio.

After hours and hours of sitting on their behinds, these voice-overs emerge out of the darkness, longing for fresh air and an adult beverage.

The next day they do it all over again, because it’s such a glamorous job!

Don’t get me wrong: I enjoy this sequestered lifestyle tremendously, but it took me a few years before I got comfortable in my studio. In order to truly feel at home, happy, and safe in my claustrophobic recording cave, I had to add some items and make some adjustments to make life a lot healthier.

Tip: as is always the case, the text in blue is a link to an article or a product I recommend (links open in a new tab). And yes, as stated under “Disclosure” on the right-hand side of this blog, product links will take you to an online retailer. 

EYE PROTECTION

Let’s talk about CVS. No, I don’t mean the American chain of pharmacies. I’m talking about Computer Vision Syndrome (sometimes called DES: Digital Eye Strain). It’s the strain on the eyes that happens when you use a computer or digital device for prolonged periods of time. Common symptoms are eye fatigue, headaches, blurred vision, red, dry, or burning eyes, and even neck and shoulder pain. 

According to the Vision Council (the optical trade association) if you spend two or more hours in front of a digital screen, you’re likely to experience one or more symptoms of CVS. The blue light emitted from these screens seems to play a big role. Blue light or high-energy visible light, is a particularly intense light wave emitted in the 380-500nm range.

The question is: What can you do to protect your eyes from CVS?

One: Make sure the lighting in your studio is comfortable on the eyes. One way to do that is by using bias lighting (backlighting of a television or computer monitor). 

I’ve placed a simple Himalayan Rock Salt Lamp behind my computer monitor. Not only does it emit a nice warm glow, some people believe a salt lamp generates negative ions neutralizing (bad) positive ions coming from electronic devices.

Noticing the benefits of bias lighting in my studio, I went ahead and attached a strip of LED lights to the back of our television. Not only did the contrast ratio of the HDTV improve, my eye fatigue was practically nonexistent after a night of Netflix.

Two: Another way to prevent eye strain is to reduce glare. It helps to use indirect or reflective studio lighting. Some people attach a blue light blocking screen protector to their computer monitor. I always wear tinted computer glasses with a special lens coating to reduce glare.

Three: Blink more often, and take frequent breaks. Taking five-minute “mini-breaks” throughout the work day actually makes people more productive. During your computer breaks, stand up, move about and stretch your arms, legs, back, neck and shoulders to reduce tension and muscle fatigue.

PREVENTING RSI

Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) is a potentially disabling illness caused by prolonged repetitive hand movements, such as those involved in computer use. If you’ve just edited your latest audio book, you know what I’m talking about. Symptoms include intermittent shooting pains in the hands, wrists, forearms, and back.

Taking regular breaks is one way to prevent RSI. It helps to sit up straight, and to use a good chair. Don’t be a cheapskate when you buy one. You’ll be using it for many hours a day. For voice-overs it’s important to make sure the chair is quiet. Too many office chairs make squeaky noises that will make a guest appearance on your recordings.

The seat pan of the chair should be adjusted to tilt slightly forward to encourage a good posture when seated. Your forearms should be approximately horizontal when working, with your shoulders and upper arms relaxed. The seat height should be adjusted accordingly. I’ve also added a lumbar support pillow for extra comfort.

Many people develop RSI in their mouse hand. I use a gel wrist pad to keep my right wrist in a better position while using the mouse. I’ve also invested in an elbow rest (here’s another model) which has helped me tremendously.

It does make a difference what kind of mouse you use. I recommend choosing an ergonomic mouse with a track ball. It’s much easier to quickly move the cursor around, and there’s less strain on the hand. Some colleagues have switched to a track pad and are glad they did. 

By the way, did I tell you that I use two mice when editing my audio with Twisted Wave? The left-hand mouse moves the cursor on the screen, and the right-hand mouse highlights areas and makes the cuts. I used to use the Contour ShuttlePro V.2 for my left hand. It’s a neat, mouse-like controller with programmable buttons. However, using two mice and keyboard shortcuts works just as well for me.

BE KIND TO YOUR EARS

I absolutely adore my fluffy Beyerdynamic DT 880 studio headphones. They’re so comfortable, I don’t even notice that I’m wearing them… for hours in a row. And that’s not a good thing. When I do precision editing, I tend to turn the volume up to hear all the sonic details, and that can be risky.

Here’s the troubling thing: hearing loss is pretty sneaky. It’s usually something that happens gradually. How do you even notice your hearing isn’t as good as it used to be? Well, we have an app for that. Several to be precise. 

For Apple users there’s UHear and the Mimi Hearing Test. For Android users there’s the Hearing Test or the app Test Your Hearing (among other things). Click here to take an online hearing test. 

How can hearing loss be prevented?

For starters, I began using my Eris E5 studio monitors more and more. They usually provide enough clarity and detail for me to edit my audio. I also turned the smart phone volume down to a safer level (go to your settings and drop the volume limit to about 70%).

When I work out in the gym I prefer wearing earbuds. I have replaced the regular tips with memory foam tips that keep the earphones much better in place. They also block out the noise more effectively. That way I don’t have to turn my podcasts up so much. 

When I go to the movies, concerts, or shows, I always bring my Made in Holland Alpine Hearing Protection Earplugs. They’re on my key chain, so I don’t have to remember to take them with me.

Now, there are more things in your studio that are potentially dangerous. For instance, some people don’t respond well to the gases emitted by acoustic foam. Some get headaches or have trouble breathing. Switching to panels made of natural materials is one obvious solution. I could also have talked about vocal health in this overview of studio hazards. However, I’ve already covered that in my interview with vocal coach Elissa Weinzimmer

Let me leave you with one last thought.

TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF

The issues I described in this post aren’t exactly sexy. In the voice-over community we’d much rather talk about gear, or about declining standards and rates. The thing is: most colleagues don’t even realize they are putting their health at risk when they are entering their home studio and office.

Computer Vision Syndrome, Repetitive Strain Injury, and hearing loss are slow processes that -when ignored- can cause permanent damage. They’re not unique to the voice-over world. Adults spend 8+ hours staring at screens every day. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), RSI affects some 1.8 million workers per year. Hearing loss among teens is about 30 percent higher than in the eighties and nineties.

The good news is that all of these problems can be prevented. So, the next time you’re looking to invest in your studio, perhaps you don’t need that new microphone or preamp. Perhaps you should get yourself a good chair, a nice pair of computer glasses, a salt lamp, and new monitors.

Take my advice and don’t wait until it’s too late. If you’re having any of the symptoms I’ve described, or you’re experiencing other problems, go and see your doctor. After all, this is just a blog and I’m not a medical professional.

If you have any other tips that have made your time in the studio less risky and more comfortable, please share them in the comment section below, and share this blog post with your friends and colleagues.

Thank you!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet.Please retweet!


Is Your Client Driving You Crazy?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing 2 Comments
David Ogilvy

David Ogilvy

After last week’s story about bad clients, one reader wanted to know:

“Have you ever fired a client, and why? I have one customer who is driving me nuts, but I can’t afford to lose his business.”

First of all, that’s a horrible position to be in. Many freelancers choose to run their own business because they don’t want to depend on someone or something else. Having big spenders as clients may seem fantastic, but if you’re not careful, you end up being in their pocket, and they start pulling all the shots. 

David Ogilvy, the famous advertising guru, took great care in selecting his clients. That concept alone was revolutionary. If you’re a service provider, don’t clients choose you? Isn’t that how the game is played? Not in Ogilvy’s world. 

Ogilvy and his partner would turn down about sixty clients every year, and this was one of their rules:

“Never work for a client so big you can’t afford to lose them.”

They once turned down Ford because the iconic motor company would represent half of their total billing. 

So, to get back to my reader’s question: be selective in whom you want to work with, even if you’re just starting out. Don’t put all your eggs in one or two baskets. It makes you overly dependent, and very vulnerable. If that one big client pulls out, you’re toast. 

Have I ever fired a client? I sure have, and I’m happy I did. It wasn’t all about money. In fact, in many cases money had little to do with it. 

Here are a few clients I gladly gave the sack:

THE DICTATOR

Here’s the client who thinks he owns you twenty-four seven. He always knows best; he’s overly demanding, disrespectful, and never satisfied. These people are impossible to please. The more you try, the less you succeed.

Working for dictators made me hate myself and my job. I did everything I could to avoid contact with them because it was emotionally draining. No money in the world could make up for how lousy I felt working for these bullies. 

THE VIOLATOR

Some clients act as if the rules don’t apply to them. Even with a written agreement in place, they try to bend and break it as fast as they can: “Sorry, we can’t pay you within thirty days. We’ll cut a check as soon as the end-client pays us.” 

“Did the agreement say that we have to pay you even if we don’t use your recording? Well, that’s just too bad. We have switched gears, and don’t need your voice-over anymore.”

When you continue working for a client who is not paying your bill, you are sending the message that you are not worth the fee you charge. 

THE  CHEAPSKATE 

Stay away from clients with great ideas and no budget, and the ones that try to nickel-and-dime you from the get-go. I once fired a long-time client of mine that was locked into old rates. When I increased my fees across the board, she insisted I make an exception “for old times sake.” 

While it may seem like a “nice” gesture, deals like that hold your business back. Time spent on these small-budget clients prevents you from spending that time working for a client who respects your rate. Ogilvy was right when he said:

“Only work for clients who want you to make a profit.” 

THE UNETHICAL

When thinking of your clients, ask yourself these two questions:

“Do they sell a product or service I can be proud of?”

“Will I be able to do my very best work?”

Whether you’re a copywriter, a graphic designer, or a voice-over, you will be professionally associated with a product or service you helped promote. Your reputation is always on the line.

An advertising agency I had worked with in the past, asked me to voice a commercial for one of the world’s worst weed killers. I politely declined, and they understood. My voice is for hire, but my integrity is not for sale. 

It’s up to you where you draw the line, but I would never want to be involved in something illegal, or help sell something I’m morally against. 

THE UNPROFESSIONAL

Some clients are completely unorganized and in over their heads. One day they want one thing. The next day all has changed. It’s something you find out once you start working with them. As a freelancer, you’re used to juggling many plates, but you’re not getting paid to help your clients juggle theirs. 

Sometimes clients become overly friendly. They start calling at night with some lame excuse. It turns out: they just want to talk about a personal issue, or they start gossiping about a colleague they’ve worked with. Before you know it, they’ll be asking you favors because of the perceived friendship. 

Take my word: keep things clean, and have clear boundaries. It’s painful to have to fire these clients, because you know they’ll start gossiping about you to the next professional they cling to. But if you give in because you want to be nice, they’ll suck up your time and tire you out.

THE HIDDEN MESSAGE

All the clients I just described have a few things in common: They keep you from growing your business. They drag you away from your goals. They also appear on your path as your teachers.

People who don’t respect you, are giving you a chance to learn to respect yourself.

People who distract you, are showing you the importance of being focused.

People who don’t pay you, are testing what you think of the value of your work.

People who are trying to manipulate your feelings, are helping you grow a pair. 

Now, if you are bound by a contract I’m not suggesting you break your word and fire these clients. Rather than cutting them loose, you’ve got to cut your losses, fulfill your obligation, and learn from the situation.

But should these clients contact you again for a project, respectfully decline their offer. All they would do is take the fun out of your job. And as Ogilvy said:

“Where people aren’t having any fun, they seldom produce good work.”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet.


Are You in Bed with a Bad Client?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career 8 Comments

I’m not going to waste any time introducing today’s topic.

Here’s what I want you to do.

Read the statements below, and tell me if any of them sound familiar.

“I’ll put in a good word for you.”

“I will keep you in mind.”

“Next time we will definitely call you.”

“One of the best auditions of the day. Unfortunately…”

“I loved your take on the script, but the client had final say.”

“Don’t worry if you don’t get the job. It’s still great practice, isn’t it?”

“I wish we could pay you more but my hands are tied.”

“This may very well lead to more work.”

“You were this close to nailing it.”

“You’re so experienced. This will only take you ten minutes.”

“I will pay you as soon as I receive the files.”

“We don’t need a contract. We do this all the time.”

“If we decide to use it, you will get paid.”

“We have someone who is willing to do it at half your rate.”

“We’re a charity. Can you do this for free?”

“It’s such great exposure!”

“We ended up not using your work. Sorry.”

“Nice try, but it’s not what we wanted.”

“We got somebody internal to do it instead.”

“Apologies for not getting back to you earlier. We had to cancel the project.”

“We decided to go a different route with another talent.”

“We had to change the script drastically. You wouldn’t mind recording a new version for us, would you?”

“Trust us. Everything is going to be fine.”

Whether you’re a voice-over, a graphic designer, or a copywriter, I’m 99% sure that at some point in your freelance career some client from hell fed you a few of these lines. Combined with a certain tonality and body language, they all spell the same two-letter expletive:

B S

You just know that when people say “I will keep you in mind,” you will never hear from them again. Ever. The person who said “I wish we could pay you more,” is laughing all the way to the bank because he just saved his boss a boatload of money by hiring a wimp. And when someone says “Trust us. Everything is going to be fine,” he or she is waving a big fat red flag in your face.

Tell me you’re not surprised. Please.

You see, while playing in the sandbox at kindergarten, you should have learned your lesson: not every kid is playing nice. And when these kids grow up, they’re even worse. Why? Because experience has taught them that they can get away with almost anything, and get rich while doing it (no, I’m not talking about the presidential race here).

These clients have two things in common. They were born with a silver tongue, and they’re masters at spotting and exploiting weakness.

Are you desperate to work? Your email will give you away. 

Are you too eager to please? Your voice will tell it all.

Are you just getting your feet wet? Your cheap rate speaks volumes.

Desperate doormat novices are easily manipulated. They’ll work just for the exposure. They’ll record a rewritten script for zero dollars. They’ll send the audio files, trusting that payment won’t be a problem.

Until they get burned, or they get smart.

One of my young colleagues just came to me with a sob story:

“I was so happy and proud that I booked my first big gig, and the client seemed so nice. He said he loved my voice, and he had total faith in me. I worked really hard to deliver the project on time, and I think I did a pretty good job.

Before I got started I asked the client: ‘Should we sign anything to make it official?’ I remember his exact words. He said: ‘Don’t you trust me? We do this all the time. There’s no need for a contract.’ When he said that, I felt kind of guilty. Why would I doubt him? He gave me a great opportunity, and I should be thankful.”

“When did this happen?” I asked.

“Six months ago,” my colleague answered.

“And did you get paid?”

“No,” said my colleague. “Once I had sent the audio files, the client disappeared. It’s a long story, but when I finally spoke to someone at the company he was working for, they said he got fired. No one knew anything about the project I had worked on. They said they didn’t owe me anything.”

Part of me wanted to feel sorry for my colleague, but the other part wanted to tell her:

“I know this totally sucks, but it’s not the client’s responsibility to teach you how to be a professional. You may feel that this guy took advantage of you, and he did. However, you allowed it to happen. You enabled that client to treat you poorly. 

This is no longer a hobby for you. You’re in business now, and you have to protect your business. The best way to do that, is to prevent problems from the outset. Don’t assume that everything will be alright, and that all people have the best and purest intentions. Clients run businesses too, and if they want to be successful, they must do two things:

  1. Minimize expenses
  2. Maximize profits

To them, you’re an expense. It’s not their fault if you don’t stand up for yourself and negotiate a decent fee. They’re not to blame if you’re okay with working without a contract. 

On one hand you are vulnerable. On the other hand you also have power. You have something the clients needs and wants. 

If anything, remember this:

A client cannot make you do anything you’re uncomfortable with. If you don’t like it, you renegotiate, or you walk away.

Before you do any work, both sides need to be clear about their expectations. Ideally, those expectations should be turned into a written agreement. Without such an agreement, you’ll have a hard time making a claim in court, should it come to that.

Before you sign on the dotted line, you have to fully understand what you are agreeing to. If you don’t, ask an expert to explain it to you.

One of the things you must be clear about, is payment. Let the client know that the work you have done is yours, until he pays for it. In other words: the right to use your work transfers upon full payment. Of course you need to define usage too. In case of voice-overs, are you talking about a full buyout, or is there a renewal fee?

Please understand that asking for a contract does not make you difficult to work with. A solid contract benefits both parties. Parties that are about to start an intimate relationship. A relationship that requires protection.”

Mike Monteiro from design firm Mule put it this way:

“Starting work without a contract, is like putting on a condom after taking a home pregnancy test. It is not going to help you at that point. You have lost any leverage you had.”

In summary: clients can make strange bedfellows.

Make sure you don’t end up feeling used. 

Watch the warning signs.

Listen to the language.

And don’t fall for all the two-letter expletives!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!

photo credit: CRASH via photopin (license)


The Cult of Kumbaya

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Journalism & Media, Pay-to-Play, Promotion, Social Media 21 Comments

Screen Shot 2016-04-20 at 7.59.01 PMNot long ago, Adam Aron, the CEO of America’s biggest movie theater chain, had a brilliant idea. 

To attract a younger audience, he wanted to make his AMC theaters smartphone-friendly. If it were up to him, texting would be allowed, and he told Variety why:

“You can’t tell a 22-year-old to turn off their cellphone. That’s not how they live their life.”

Not everyone agreed. His remarks were immediately followed by a widespread backlash on social media. People complained left and right. Days later Aron responded:

“We have heard loud and clear that this is a concept our audience does not want. With your advice in hand, there will be NO TEXTING ALLOWED in any of the auditoriums at AMC Theatres. Not today, not tomorrow and not in the foreseeable future.”

I think Adam Aron is a smart guy. He had a bad idea. People protested. He listened, and he changed his mind. Good for him. Good for us. Unless you’re a millennial. 

CULTURE OF COMPLAINING

This story was just playing out as I was reading a short article by “Voice Whisperer™” Marice Tobias called “The Culture of Complaint: A black hole for Voice Talent and…the rest of us.

Tobias sets the tone in the first two paragraphs:

“Thanks to social media, attack television and brigades of haters running rampant across all platforms, complaining and criticizing has become the discourse du jour for this moment in time. It generates a lot of piling on and follow-up posts.

Problem is, running a continuous negative commentary is not only tedious and alienating, it can also cost you work and income while wearing the rest of us out!”

“Check your negativity at the door,” Tobias recommends. Clients don’t care for it. You only have so much energy. Use it to be in a more empowering, positive state of mind. 

DON’T BITE THE HAND

Part of me totally agrees with Tobias. We do seem to live in a culture of confrontation. Just look at social media or at the current political process. Civility, respect, and intelligent discourse are rare commodities. Facebook threads can easily escalate into shouting matches. Anonymous trolls push people’s buttons. The coarseness and narrow-mindedness of some exchanges is nauseating. 

The voice-over business is a people-business. Nobody wants to work with a jerk. Voice-overs are hired to read copy. Not to criticize it. The more positive interactions we have with our clients, the more likely it is that they will call us again. 

But that’s not all. 

The other part of me strongly believes that there’s a role for criticism. Constructive criticism, that is. Complaining for the sake of complaining is a waste of time and energy, but sometimes people have legitimate grievances and concerns. They’re not being negative. They just want things to change for the better. 

ROSE-COLORED GLASSES

As a blogger I can relate to that. I see the world through a colored lens, and not all I see is perfect and positive. 

One of the worrying things I have observed is what I call “The Cult of Kumbaya.” It’s a tendency to approach the tough business of voice-overs with naïve optimism, believing that most players act out of altruism and integrity. 

It is constantly fed by commercial propaganda, trying to paint a pretty picture of an unforgiving industry:

“Work from home in your spare time,” says the website. “We need audio book narrators now!”

“Become a member,” the Pay-to-Plays say. “Upload your demos, and start making money with your voice today!” 

“Let me be your mentor,” the voice coach boasts. “Give me a few sessions, and I will teach you the tricks of the trade.” 

LA-LA LAND

Then there are voice actors who will tell you that everything is hunky-dory. Whenever I criticize voice casting sites on this blog, they tell me that these companies have “revolutionized the business, and have generated thousands of jobs.” 

When I call out colleagues who are willing to work for next to nothing, I am told to mind my own business because it is a free market. It will all even out in the end. 

When I express doubts about certain awards shows or expensive industry conferences, colleagues get angry because I should be supportive of my own tribe and embrace new initiatives. 

Here’s the problem with this type of uncritical thinking: it’s either/or.

Criticizing someone or something is equated with being negative and unsupportive. The unspoken assumption being that supportive, positive people don’t complain or criticize. They don’t foul their own nest. 

Forgive me, but that’s utter hogwash. 

Every coach knows that they will have to critique a performance in order to support a student. Every journalist has to expose injustice to bring about a more just society. Every parent has to correct their child’s behavior, so s/he will grow up to become a decent human being. 

Secondly, no matter how good something or someone is, there’s always room for improvement. But we can’t improve without quality feedback.

SIMILAR OR DIFFERENT

Now, this world is basically filled with two kinds of people. One part of the population sorts for similarities. The other for differences. You need both on your team. 

Let’s say you have a bucket of pebbles that are painted blue. The person sorting for similarities will say:

“Look, all those pebbles are the same color!”

The person sorting for differences will say:

“Every pebble has a different shape and size.”

Both approaches are correct and perfectly fine. We need people in this world who spot patterns, and who can see the big picture. We need people to tell us when things are right. 

We also need people who can spot exceptions, and who can focus on details that are different. We need people who can tell us when things are wrong.

FACE THE FEEDBACK

I can handle critics. I can even deal with complainers, because they will tell me that texting in a movie theater is a bad idea. I’d rather hear the honest truth than foolish flatter.

The people I have a hard time with are the whiners. The contrarians. The know-it-alls. Their negativity can be draining. 

So, whenever I encounter criticism, I ask myself a few questions before I react. 

1. How does this relate to me?

If it’s not important, why get all worked up?

2. Who or what is the source?

Do I trust the source? Is the source influential and reliable? Why start a discussion with someone who clearly doesn’t know what he/she is talking about?

3. What is the context?

Nothing is ever said in isolation. To understand where someone’s coming from, we usually need more information than a tweet or quick comment can give us.

4. Is this a real issue or a cheap personal attack?

Some commentators just have a chip own their shoulder. Unfortunately, it’s not a chocolate chip. 

5. What is the complaint or criticism an example of?

That’s a good way to move away from specific examples and elevate the discussion to a higher level.

6. Does the complainer offer a solution?

If that’s the case, you know they’re not just in it to moan and groan.

7. What can I learn from this that is useful and positive?

Even if the criticism seems over the top and unjustified, there might be a lesson to be learned. 

ANCIENT WISDOM

So… are complaints and negative comments a “Black hole for Voice Talent… and the rest of us”?

It depends.

A great critique is never a burden or an attack. It is an opportunity to learn and grow. It is a gift. And speaking of gifts…

One of Buddha’s followers once approached him, and asked:

“Master, do you see that nasty man over there? He is always badmouthing me. I feel horrible. Please do something about it. Make him stop.”

Buddha looked at his student, and said:

“If someone gives you a gift, and you decide not to accept it,

to whom does the gift belong?”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!

photo credit: Caro pointing finger via photopin (license)


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