nethervoice

A Means to an End

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career 10 Comments

Screen Shot 2014-12-04 at 8.51.19 AMI am one of the lucky people.

My wife and my daughter are amazing. My family and friends are fantastic. The town I live in is the best. My health is fine.

Materially speaking, I have everything I could ever hope for, and more.

Compared to millions of people on this planet, I have already hit the jackpot, simply because I live where I live. 

I am lucky because I love my job.

Even though I work with some pretty challenging clients, I never resented the day I decided to pursue a voice-over career. I can’t imagine a job that’s more interesting, diverse and gratifying. I always tell people: “You know me, I love to talk. Now I even get paid to do it!”

Every script opens a world of words, and it’s up to me to bring that world to life. Week after week I get a chance to play silly characters, to teach people new things, and to take them on trips to foreign lands and ancient artwork. Sometimes I even ask them to buy things.

Most of this I can do in my own time, on my own terms and in my own studio.

No more horrible bosses. No more punch clocks. No more office politics.

Instead, I have the most supportive and talented colleagues I’ve ever had. My readers surprise me with wonderful and insightful comments. This blog is more popular than ever, and my book is widely read and discussed.

However, what I do is only a fraction of who I am. People who know me through my work and interactions on social media, only see a small part of me, just as I only see a small part of them. Based on these fractions of information, we form opinions and we take action. Sometimes we are surprised when people don’t seem to conform to the image we have of them.

In this fast-paced world it isn’t easy to get to know the ones we interact with on a deeper level. Every day, people ask me: “How are you?” but no one ever expects an answer. After a 30-second chat they tell me: “I’ve got to run, but it was sooo great meeting you!”

Half the time people are too busy with what they do, or they pretend to be busy typing updates on their smartphones. 

Tell me, when was the last time you took a moment or two, to ask and answer this question:

“Why am I doing what I’m doing?”

The answer isn’t simple, but let me give you a clue. If you wish to have a fulfilling career, your response can never be “to make money” or “to pay the bills.”

No matter how much you love your work and the financial reward that it brings, it’s just a means to an end. It may be meaningful, but it always serves a higher purpose.

Here’s the hard part: no one can tell you what that higher purpose is. It’s up to you to find out.

I can tell you what I have discovered, although I doubt you will fully understand. That, by the way, has nothing to do with intelligence. I’ll explain. 

First of all, “understanding” refers to a logical, rational process. My most profound answers have nothing to do with that.

Secondly, I would need words to convey something important to you, and some of the most essential experiences in life are beyond words. Words can only describe an experience. They cannot replace it. The word food can’t feed you.

Third, just like you, I am a unique collection of memories, thoughts and emotions, allowing me to filter my experiences in a way no one else can. In order to get where I’m coming from, you’d have to feed the information through your filters, just like you’re doing right now. By doing so, you’re making it your own, instead of mine.

Lastly, my answers won’t be the same on any given day. Very much like every other living being, you and I are constantly evolving. Every second of our lives, cells are dying and cells are growing. It is impossible not to change. So, yesterday’s answer may not be tomorrow’s truth.

Having said that, here’s the most important thing I’ve learned.

The question “Why am I doing what I’m doing,” may not be the best question to ask. It forces us to focus on ourselves. It’s typical for the world we live in today. As long as our individual needs are met, everything will be okay, right? That’s how we think as a nation, and that’s how many people think on a personal level. You watch the news, don’t you? You read the papers. You know what’s going on. 

So, what if it wasn’t all about us?

What if the fulfillment we hope to find has everything to do with others?

What if it were more a matter of giving instead of getting?

To me, the ultimate meaning of what we do can be measured in the way we manage to touch the lives of others.

My most meaningful moments are when I look into my wife’s eyes, or when I hear my daughter laugh. It’s when I receive an email from a reader who tells me my last blog post really spoke to her.

I experience “what it’s all about,” when I hug the ones I love. We don’t have to say a word, and yet we say everything that can be said in silence.

In those moments, I feel like the luckiest person in the world.

Because it’s not so much about doing.

It’s about being. 

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet


How Not To Impersonate A Saint

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles 11 Comments

Intocht van Sinterklaas in Schiedam 2009Becoming a professional is very much like growing up.

At some point we all have to lose our carefree, childlike naiveté.

Old beliefs about the trustworthiness of people disappear. Ideas we’ve cherished for too long, vanish as quickly as melting snow.

The tooth fairy is a lie, parents aren’t perfect, and reindeer don’t fly.

In The Netherlands, every child grows up believing in St. Nicholas, or Sinterklaas as the Dutch call him. In November this legendary bishop leaves Spain on a steamboat loaded with gifts.

His triumphant arrival in Holland is broadcast live on national television. Just like his rotund brother Santa Claus, Sinterklaas will go from town to town, to meet as many overexcited children as he can.

The “Sint” (a Dutch version of “Saint”), always brings a big book, in which he keeps track of the behavior of every child. In the olden days, nice children would be rewarded. The naughty ones would be punished by one of his helpers.

In the weeks leading up to Saint Nicholas’ Eve, kids are expected to be on their best behavior. They put their shoes next to the chimney (or radiator), and leave some treats for Sinterklaas’ horse. Children also sing traditional songs before they go to bed. The next morning, they’ll usually find some sweets or a small present in their shoes.

On the evening of December 5th, the Dutch celebrate their version of boxing day. It is still the main gift-giving day in The Netherlands, and retail wouldn’t be the same without it.

In my family, most presents would be accompanied by a rhyme, making innocent fun of the receiver. Sometimes a poem would contain a clue as to where the present was hidden. Some gifts would be disguised in all kinds of creative ways, and the recipient had to guess what he or she was getting.

As a kid, I never doubted the existence of Sinterklaas. After all, he came to my school and he visited my house, year after year. Even when I started having some logistical questions about the distribution of so many presents to so many homes on one single night, I kept the faith. Like every other kid, I was afraid that the minute I’d start believing Saint Nicholas was bogus, I wouldn’t get any presents anymore.

All was well, until that dismal day Sinterklaas came to my Elementary school.

I must have been seven or eight years old. All classes gathered in the gym, which doubled as an auditorium. I can still smell the pungent aroma of sweat and tears this dreary hall was notorious for. We kids were arranged according to our grades, and as we were waiting for the Sint’s arrival, a bespectacled young teacher started playing songs on an out of tune piano. Soon we all joined in.

After about ten minutes we’d come to the end of our repertoire, but Sinterklaas and his helpers were nowhere to be seen. It didn’t take long before docile kids turned into a restless mob of minors. The principal who’d been on the lookout, rushed back to calm the crowds.

“Kids,” he barked, “if you’re not going to be quiet and show some respect, Sinterklaas will be skipping this school. Now, is that what you want?”

“NO!” we answered in unison.

“So, are you going to be quiet?” he asked.

“YES!” we shouted at the top of our lungs. “We want Sinterklaas! We want Sinterklaas!” the whole room chanted.

At that very moment, a rusty, beat up compact car arrived at the gates. This couldn’t be the old man, could it? He was supposed to arrive on a magnificent white horse. Not in a Morris Marina. A few boys in sixth grade stood up to catch a glimpse of the bearded shadow that came out of the car. A single helper in black face called Zwarte Piet (or Black Pete) accompanied the tall man.

“It’s him,” the boys cried. “He’s coming! He’s coming!” 

“Children, children,” shouted the principal. “Remember our agreement. If you can’t be quiet, I will ask Sinterklaas to leave, and you can all go back to your classroom. Now, let us sing a song to welcome our distinguished guest.”

To many children, Sinterklaas was as close to a living legend as one could get. On one hand they would fear him, because he knew exactly what they’d been up to in the past year. On the other, they’d revere him because he was old, wise and dignified. His warm, deep voice and saintly demeanor was enough to turn the biggest chatterbox in the room into a shy and silent mouse.

As my heart pounded with expectation, the doors of the auditorium swung open, and in came Sinterklaas, wearing his traditional red cape and a rather faded mitre. He was holding a long gold-colored crosier. He waved at the children as his helper handed out traditional treats called “pepernoten.”

The second I saw the Sint, I knew there was something familiar about him. Of course I’d seen Sinterklaas before, but that wasn’t it. This was different. First of all, he was wearing thick rimmed glasses. No Sinterklaas I’d ever seen wore glasses.

Secondly, for a man who was supposed to be in his eighties or nineties, he walked remarkably fast and energetic. There was also something very wrong with his white beard. It looked like it had been quickly attached to his face with cheap tape. It seemed to have a life of its own, because the thing barely stayed in place.

As the Sint sat down on a makeshift throne, I noticed something else: his brown shoes. I could have sworn I’d seen those shoes before. But that could just be a coincidence, couldn’t it? Then the principal started talking. He asked Sinterklaas about his trip to Holland, and about his plans for the day.

That’s when it happened.

Instead of that deep, grandfatherly voice every child had grown up with, “our” Sinterklaas had a relatively high-pitched, young voice. To tell you the truth: He didn’t sound like Sinterklaas at all. Not even like a bad imposter.

I was utterly confused, and I wasn’t the only one. Something wasn’t right, but I still wanted to hang on to my conviction that this man was real. I tried to see in him what I wanted to see. Meanwhile, the girl next to me started crying, and said she needed to go the bathroom.

Then one of the bigger boys in sixth grade whispered something astonishing:

“Jongens, dit is Sinterklaas niet. Het is de dominee!”

“People, this isn’t Sinterklaas. It’s our minister!”

The rumor spread like wildfire through the gym. Soon enough, kids in each row repeated the same phrase:

“It’s the minister. It’s the minister,” until it reached a very uncomfortable looking principal.

I must say he handled it gracefully. He told us Saint Nicholas wasn’t feeling so well, and that he had to cut his visit short. The “old” bishop left as fast as he had come, without much ceremony. Later on, one of my friends claimed he’d found a fake beard in the bushes.

When I came home that afternoon, the first thing I noticed was a pair of brown shoes on the doormat. I walked up to the study where my dad was working on Sunday’s sermon. He was wearing his usual thick rimmed glasses.

He looked up from his books.

“I’m not much of an actor, am I?” he asked rhetorically. “I’m really sorry.”

He waited a few seconds, and gestured: “Why don’t you come a little closer?”

“You know,” he said, “this morning I got a phone call from your school. The guy who was supposed to be Sinterklaas had fallen off his horse and couldn’t make it. Your principal practically begged me to fill in. I just couldn’t disappoint him.”

I didn’t exactly know how to respond to that. At that age I did not get the irony of a Protestant minister pretending to be Catholic saint. Then my dad continued.

“Paul, today I learned a valuable lesson.”

“What lesson is that?” I asked.

“I learned that just because you can, doesn’t mean you must.

Remember that,” said my father. “I knew I wouldn’t be any good, and yet I forced myself to go through with it. What was I thinking?”

He stood up from his desk and gave me a big hug.

“Papa,” I said with a trembling voice, “may I ask you something?”

“Always,” he said. “What is it?”

“Does this mean I won’t be getting any presents this year?”

“Of course you will,” my dad responded. “The whole school is well aware that I was just pretending to be Sinterklaas, but you know what? The real guy is still out there. Trust me.”

I so wanted to believe my father, but I couldn’t. Not anymore.

That day, my childhood (and the childhood of seven hundred other kids), had lost a bit of its magic, simply because my father couldn’t say no.

Forty-four years later I look at an inbox filled with auditions; opportunities other people think I should embrace. But when I look at them, I know I don’t want to be the guy with the fake beard and the brown shoes, arriving in a Morris Marina. And I think of my fathers words:

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you must.

My dad ain’t no saint, but his words of wisdom are a gift I will treasure for the rest of my life.

In a few days I will leave for The Netherlands and knock on my father’s door. We both know that it’s going to be one of the last times we will see each other.

I once again will become the boy I used to be, and I’m sure we’ll talk about the day my dad impersonated a Spanish bishop.

We will laugh.

We will cry.

And we will say goodbye.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet.

photo credit: Sander van der Wel, Netherlands


Paul’s Great Giveaway

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Book, Freelancing, Journalism & Media, Pay-to-Play, Promotion 15 Comments

DSC00914The other day, one of my colleagues asked me an interesting question.

“Paul,” he said, “Why don’t you speak at voice-over conferences? I mean, we have a number of these events throughout the year, and you’re never on the program. Don’t you feel that you’re being ignored?”

“Not really,” I said. “You seem to think they should invite me. Why is that?” 

“Well, for one, you’ve published a pretty unconventional voice-over book this year. They always invite authors to these events. Secondly, your blog has thirty thousand subscribers. I don’t think anyone in our small industry has as many followers. Doesn’t that mean anything?

But more importantly, many see you as one of the thought leaders of our community. Weren’t you the guy who kind of discovered Studiobricks and the CAD E100S microphone? These days, most colleagues have either heard about them or got one. I think that’s pretty amazing.”

“That may be true,” I said, “but that doesn’t make me (keynote) speaker material. You’d be surprised how many people still believe that I live and work in the Netherlands! They’re not going to fly a Dutchman in to speak at a conference in the States. Even though I’ve been here since 1999 and I’m a U.S. citizen, the myth persists that I reside in Holland with one of my fingers stuck in a dyke.

Secondly, some of these conferences are organized and frequented by people I have managed to piss off in the past. I don’t think voices.com or any other Pay to Play will ever ask me to say a few words, or even write a guest post for one of their online publications. They’re probably too afraid I will say something that is less than flattering. And you know what? They’re right!

I don’t play the game that everything is hunky-dory in voiceoverland. I consider myself to be a positive person, yet, when I feel my colleagues are being taken advantage of, I can’t help but raise my voice. That’s how I was brought up.

Having a minister for a father has taught me that so-called authority figures are ordinary people like you and me. They fail from time to time. They love the limelight. They enjoy being looked up to. And many of them can’t handle criticism very well. They take it way too personally. But there’s more.

Throughout the years I have blogged about increasing voice-over rates, and raising professional standards. I’ve talked about coming together as a professional group, and about ways to counter the erosion of quality and the influx of cheap, ignorant amateurism. Some have seen that as an attack on the free market. Others believe I enjoy belittling beginners. You know better than that.

The way I see it, many conferences want to create an atmosphere of We’re one happy family. Look how wonderful it is to be in voice-overs! Imagine this silly Dutch guy walking in on his wooden shoes, creating controversy. Why doesn’t he go back to Europe where he belongs?”

My colleague chuckled. I continued:

“Here’s the thing. On one hand, we have a very supportive community. If you need a new pop filter, tons of people will tell you which one to get. But if you wish to create a strong, non-profit, member-driven international association of voice actors such as the world voices organization, most colleagues look the other way. What are they afraid of? A little bit of solidarity? Socialism? You tell me!

World Voices is trying to do what I have been doing in my blog for years: Empower and educate people; give them tools to stand out from the crowd. I guess empowerment and critical thinking isn’t that popular anymore. But I digress, don’t I?”

“You could say that,” said my colleague. “I was just wondering why you don’t speak at voice-over conferences. I really think you could shake things up a little.”

I paused for a moment. Then I said: “A prominent voice actor opened up to me recently, and confessed:

‘I considered inviting you to my event, but I was afraid you’d be too critical.’

That surprised me a little. Is that really how people perceive me? 

When I look back at all the stories I have written, most of them were about the business of being in business. I’ve written about selling, marketing, and about communicating with clients and colleagues. I just finished a six-part series on improving voice-over performance. None of that stuff I would label as controversial.

Even if I’ve been critical in some of my writings, why would that be a bad thing? Are we that insecure? As they say: Feedback is the breakfast of champions. It helps us learn and grow. Getting a kick in the pants may hurt little, but any coach knows it’s sometimes necessary for a student to make progress.”

My colleague nodded approvingly. I leaned forward, and whispered: “Do you want to know the real reason why I don’t speak at conferences?”

“Absolutely,” he answered. “I’ve been waiting for that.”

“It’s actually very simple,” I said with a smile. “I’m too shy and too modest.”

“Get out of here,” he responded.

“You? Shy and modest? You must be joking!”

“Guilty as charged,” I said. “However, with thirty thousand blog subscribers and counting, I do feel I have built up quite an audience. It’s my way of public speaking. And I’m not even charging for it. My blog is a platform I’m very proud of, and thankful for. And that’s why I want to give something back to my community.

Here’s the plan, Stan.

I’m going to ask my readers to nominate someone who -in their opinion- could really benefit from my book Making Money In Your PJs. It could be someone who’s struggling at the moment. It could be a beginner. It could be someone with talent but without any business acumen. Perhaps it’s someone who needs a little encouragement.

To keep it confidential, I want my readers to use the contact form on this website to send me the name and the email address of the person they’re nominating. No one else needs to know about it. (Please don’t nominate yourself. This is about giving, and not about getting.)

To celebrate reaching thirty thousand subscribers (and almost 1,000 Facebook fans), I will send at least thirty nominees a PDF copy of my book. Remember, that’s the edition with ten bonus chapters. The person receiving the book will not learn the identity of the person who nominated him or her. It’s like a secret Santa thing.”

So, if you’re reading these words and you have someone in mind, please let me know before December 1st. I’ll make sure they get a complimentary copy (I will not use the email addresses for promotional purposes).

And should you consider having me speak at your conference, rest assured that my bark is bigger than my bite.

As long as you don’t call me Shirley, these two lips from Holland promise to be on their best behavior.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Within a week I received over 50 nominations! It is no longer possible to enter a name. Everyone will receive a PDF copy before December 7th. Thank you!


When The Manure Hits The Fan

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Journalism & Media, Promotion 22 Comments

This is not a Voice Arts™ Award“This all may smell rotten to a European sensibility, but may we just stipulate that the Voice Arts™ Awards are not the Pulitzer Prize.”

“My personal take on it is if it’s important to you, participate. If it isn’t, ignore it. At first the whole thing just irritated me. I saw it as rather self-aggrandizing. Now I just don’t care.”

“I think the idea behind the awards was an excellent one and those involved at the top probably the best people to launch this endeavor. But it’s clear that, while a great deal is to be commended, some parts of the execution were a little creaky and need looking at.”

“I like the anonymity my job offers. I can go to a movie in peace, eat a restaurant in peace and not deal with stalkers. I quit theatrical work a long time ago because the wonderful world of VO and it’s people suited me better. I don’t see a point to a media event for awards in VO, unless it’s at a trade conference, presided over by our peers, and accessible to all VO pros, not just a few. This is the wrong business to get into if you want fame and fortune, and I like it that way.”

“This type of discussion is needed for the awards to have any chance of actually meaning something in the future. If we’re all “rah-rah for VO!!!”, and overlook the flaws in our own backyard, nobody else will respect us, or our craft. I’d rather have no award than one with so many obvious red flags in the process.”

“I’m reminded of naysayers early in mine and everybody else’s career who had nothing but negative things to say about anybody doing anything new or different. They are the people to avoid.”

“I don’t think one who criticizes or questions a promotion or event should be labeled a “naysayer.” Just like politics and everything else in life, people are going to have a variety of opinions and THAT is what keeps things interesting! When you’re as visible as Joan and Rudy are and you market something aggressively, you are always going to get a plethora of different opinions.”

“This so-called “expert” absolutely launched a personal attack upon all those who have taken a positive interest in the Voice Arts™ Awards, including its creators. And any idiot who doesn’t see that has his big fat empty head stuck in the sand. And now this character is pretending to be pleased with the reaction to his public editorial, as if he did it for the good of humanity. He is spewing his personal venom while hiding behind the mask of open debate.”

“It seems like a fairly small segment of the VO community stroking their own egos. If you pay your money, you get to be part of the club and get a little trophy that you can use to sell yourself when you start coaching and writing books.”

“I wonder how it must feel to have been awarded Saturday night only to have respected members of the community laugh in your face. To have people you admire nullify a very exciting night.”

“The Voice Arts™ Awards awards are good for voice-over, regardless, and should be encouraged as goals and standards that are possible.”

“You seem to be unusually fixated on trying to destroy something simply because it’s not your idea — because it outshines your banal rhetoric. Well, guess what? You’re maniacal envy is obvious to all, even the few pathetic cynics who might seem to come to your defense. Truth be told, you’re full of spite and envy. You’re blinded by ego and self-delusion. You are a sad man, full of rage and jealousy, and YOU KNOW IT. Honestly, you are completely irrelevant to the voiceover community and the only card you have left to play is to rail against that which is relevant.”

“This is a plain attack on all business people working hard and creating superior quality of a platform. It’s painful to see such ignorance displayed as opinion. I wouldn’t follow this man if the world was crashing around me.”

“That blog was not aiming to encourage discussion about the Awards, it wasn’t objective enough to even pass remotely close to that being it’s aim. I haven’t responded to the author because quite simply, I have better things to do and am not interested in being involved in a conversation that is negative from the off.”

“Don’t look for fair or perfection when it comes to honoring excellence. In the history of show business, it’s never been either and it never will. And a nomination/win doesn’t have to enhance your career. But it is a hellova lotta fun!!!!”

SPIRITED DEBATE

These are just a few of the hundreds of comments that came in, after last week’s story about the Voice Arts™ Awards (VAA). As I am typing these words, it has been read over 2,500 times. The follow-up entitled Party Pooper Unleashes Sh*tstorm, has so far attracted about 1,500 readers.

Colleague and VO business expert Tom Dheere suggested this discussion was perhaps an example of a Voice-Over Class Warfare between “blue-collar” voice talent and “white-collar” voice talent. Tom explains:

“Blue-collar” voice talents are part-time or full-time, primarily non-union, and have neither high-end agents nor regularly book national commercials. These types of voice talent tended to be anti-VAA.

White-collar” voice talents are full-time, in the union, have high-end agents, book nationally recognized VO work, and either coach, produce demos, or sell books & products catering to the voiceover industry, and either coach, produce demos, or sell books & products catering to the voiceover industry. These types of voice talent tended to be pro-VAA.”

Class warfare or not, I want to thank everyone for chiming in. We might not always be on the same page, but a spirited debate is a sign of an engaged community. 

As you know, blogs like mine are filled with opinion pieces. My articles are not an exercise in objective journalism. What surprised me though, is how certain people reacted to certain facts. Some said I hadn’t done my homework; that my research was all wrong. 

Well, it won’t surprise you that I disagree. This blog is widely read and talked about in the VO-community. It’s important to note that the information I presented was never challenged by anyone from the organization of these awards. 

Here’s what I believe to be undisputed:

Fact: I have no personal or professional ties to anyone within the organization of the Voice Arts™ Awards, or with any member of the jury. I am Facebook friends with some of them, but most of them I have never met or corresponded with.

Fact: At the moment, not every voice-over believes winning a Voice Arts™ Award is a credit worth having.

Fact: The number of entries was not disclosed, but it is safe to say that the pickings were slim this inaugural year.

Fact: The entry fees were substantial, and often non-refundable.

Fact: Some of the judges and members of the SOVAS™ board had personal and professional ties with nominees and contestants, posing a risk of a conflict of interest that could damage the integrity of the competition.

Fact: The VAA regulations as they are published, are not clear on how a potential conflict of interest should be handled.

Fact: Winners had to pay for their own statuette, unless the organization that had entered their submission picked up the tab.

Fact: The organization of the awards has yet to respond to anything that may be perceived as less than positive, whether on this blog or on other social media. 

CORRECTION

I just learned that SOVAS™ board member Rudy Gaskins did comment on my story, so I stand corrected. One of my voice-over colleagues whom I shall name X, had shared on Facebook how disappointed he/she was in the way I had blogged about the awards. This is part of Mr. Gaskin’s response:

“X, you are a work of art and indeed a phoenix rising above the morass of resentful sentiments that swarm like angry hornets around the hive of one self-aggrandizing monarch who would proclaim himself the all-knowing purveyor of what is worthy of appreciation to the rest of us. (…) Fortunately, the male hornets are few and they have only one real role—mating with the queen. Males die soon after their sexual task is complete, so one can only imagine the frustration of the impotent male who neither mates nor dies but must suffer under the weight of his own crushing spite. (…) 

The intention of the article to which you refer was to hurt, not inform. Brush it off. With success and recognition comes the unfortunate trail of parasites who, lacking the erudition to create anything truly inspired, seek their sustenance from sucking the life blood of others. Burn them off and keep moving forward, my friend. Blogging is a curious proposition whereby any person, (known or unknown) can declare themselves worthy of attention and begin to gradually pick up unsuspecting followers by skimming the surface of a topic. Obviously, some bloggers are incredibly special, genius in fact, but there are many seeking to prop themselves up to sell bologna as 100% real beef. In fact, one of the cheapest marketing ploys of the past 10 years has been: 1) Start a blog 2) -Self-publish a book. 3) Proclaim to be an expert. 4) Sell merchandise.

As for the dying hornet to whose blog is referred to herein, we are, all of us, witnessing the depths and insidiousness of envy. It is a most vicious, volatile and relentless mindset that knows no bounds. And yet, assuming the blogger actually produces tangible work as a voice actor, producer, director, etc., he is welcome to submit his samples to the Voice Arts Awards and benefit from the extraordinary jurors who lend their highly vetted and respected expertise to determining the best of the best. Of course, to insure the integrity of the judging process, some jurors may be required to abstain from judging entries where a conflict of interest may be discerned.”

COURT JESTER

In Medieval times court jesters held privileges which were not given to many other persons at court. For one, they had freedom of speech. You’ll often see them depicted holding a mirror, to symbolize what many of them did.

While they were cracking jokes, they held up a mirror to the powers that be. Their mockery was a way to ridicule or denigrate a ruler, and to show the world that the emperor was wearing very little clothes. Today we have people like John Stewart, Steven Colbert, Bill Maher, and John Oliver doing the same thing to an audience of millions.

Some of my critics believe it was foolish of me to -as they said- “ridicule and denigrate” the Voice Arts™ Awards, the jurors, the organizers, and even the nominees and winners. What was I after? 

Let’s look at the meaning of these words. To ridicule means to make fun of someone or something in a cruel or harsh way. To denigrate means to attack the reputation of, or to deny the importance or validity of.

So, what about my motivation? Did I really have a dark, sinister urge to belittle this event, and those associated with it? Am I a jealous, ignorant, angry hornet, hoping to increase my readership by spewing lies?

WHY I BLOG

In general, I write about things that interest me personally, and about topics that I feel are relevant to my readers. As I said last week:

“The only reason I’ve published a new blog post every week for the past four years, is not because I want people to agree with me, or to even like me. It is because I believe I have something to say that could be of interest and value to fellow-freelancers and voice-overs.”

These awards are indeed something new, and I wanted to examine the pros and cons of having a paid competition. That’s how I came to write my very first piece. Once the gala was over, I thought these awards deserved a deeper assessment, and that’s how I came to write a follow-up story.

You’ve probably noticed that most of the points I made in these articles had to do with the running of the competition. Many of the questions I asked were also in the minds of other colleagues. I just happened to be the one who wrote down what many others were thinking. 

It’s impossible to be objective about one’s own writing, but I can say that in none of the blog posts I have written about these awards, have I made fun of anyone or anything. Period. Perhaps my writing style is entertaining, but that’s one of the reasons people seem to enjoy my stories. I take it as a compliment. 

Did I attack the reputation of, or denied the importance or validity of, these awards? 

That’s hard to do, because these awards have no reputation. How could they? They’re brand new! I did question the importance of these awards for the same reason. It’s too early to tell whether or not winning a VAA is a credit worth having (and paying for). Not even the organizers could tell us that. As the last commentator said: 

“a nomination/win doesn’t have to enhance your career. But it is a hellova lotta fun!!!!”

CONNECTIONS

I did point out that certain jurors and members of the board had personal and professional connections with other jurors, nominees, and winners. I put these connections under the banner of “Conflict Of Interest” because I believe that these connections -real or apparent- should not exist within a jury that is supposed to be neutral and objective.

This is not a strange requirement. One international piano competition has the following clauses in their 14-page jury manual:

“Should any member of the Applicant Screening Panel or First or Second Juries have or have had previously a professional or personal relationship with a pianist whose application or recorded or live performance he/she is judging, he/she must notify the Jury Facilitator prior to his/her respective stage of adjudication.”

“In a case where the relationship is or has been within the previous five years one of regular or occasional teacher and student, the Jury Facilitator must rule that the member may not vote on that pianist’s performance.”

“There will be no communication of any kind between jury members and Competition pianists until the announcement of the Laureate. (…)  Should a pianist attempt to communicate with a member of any jury, either during or prior to the announcement of the Laureate, said juror must inform the Jury Facilitator. The pianist in question may be subject to disqualification at the discretion of the Jury Facilitator.”

If my concerns rubbed some people the wrong way, they should talk to the organization about making the judging process more transparent, instead of pointing their arrows at the messenger. Perhaps judges from outside the close-knit voice-over community could be added. Perhaps the organization could learn from other competitions that have dealt with this issue for years.

MOVING ON

At the end of the day, the Voice Arts™ Awards were devised to provide “international acknowledgement of the extraordinary skill and artistry that goes into voiceover acting and the associated roles, and to hold up a best-in-class standard of achievement to which the voiceover industry can continually aspire.”

That sounds like a noble objective, but as I said before, increased recognition and international acknowledgement can never be an aim in and of itself. What purpose should these awards ultimately serve? How exactly are they going to transform our industry for the better?

If it’s a matter of developing and promoting professional standards, I would turn to the World Voices Organization. If I wanted my performance to be evaluated by experts, I’d go to a few coaches. If I wanted to attract more clients, I would invest in increasing my skills, and in marketing my services.

Those who listen to my auditions are not going to hire me because I have a shiny statuette in my studio. They want to hear whether or not I have the right voice for the job. 

To me, “increased acknowledgment” is meaningless if it doesn’t lead to increased respect. I don’t mean increased respect from my peers, but from those who hire voice-overs.

The way we show respect for services rendered, is by paying the provider a decent amount of money. Unfortunately, every year I have been in this business, rates seem to go down instead of up. That too, is about competition.

For that type of competition I want to be ready, with or without these awards. 

How about you?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!

photo credit: kyle.wood via photopin cc


Party Pooper Unleashes Sh*tstorm

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Journalism & Media 19 Comments

Please Dump Manure HereIt’s a fact.

My second blog post about the Voice Arts™ Awards (VAA) broke all records, and I’m still figuring out why (click here for part 1)

People certainly like controversy, but here’s the thing. I didn’t think my story was that contentious.

I did not reveal any secrets. Every bit of information I shared with you is in the public domain. I never spoke out against these awards, or against the people involved. All I did was share some observations that made a few folks uncomfortable.

If you’ve been following this blog for a few years, and you’ve read my book, you know I like to stir the pot every once in a while. Some people believe that makes me courageous. Others think I’m biting hands that could potentially feed me.

I don’t see it that way. I just presented some facts, and I questioned a few things I thought were worth mentioning. Apparently, that’s remarkable. Why would my opinion even matter? Well, some believe I have a knack for saying things other people are thinking. Perhaps that’s why my blog has close to thirty thousand subscribers.

In a way, a blog post is very much like these Voice Arts™ Awards. It will only be picked up and discussed if enough people feel it is relevant. And that’s exactly what happened with this article. Some people applauded me. Others questioned my concerns and my motives.

Today I’d like to address some of the things that came up as our community was discussing these awards.

Why criticize this initiative? These Voice Arts™ Awards are good for an industry that deserves to be recognized.

This question gets straight to the heart of the controversy. The need for public recognition. This is a deep human desire. You know the narrative. Voice-overs are unseen, anonymous entities in the entertainment industry and beyond. It’s about time we step into the limelight, and receive “international acknowledgement of the extraordinary skill and artistry that goes into voiceover acting and the associated roles.”

It may surprise you, but not everybody feels that way. Countless colleagues have told me they are quite happy doing what they’re doing without ever stepping onto a podium to receive a shiny object. Some don’t like the whole idea of competitions that divide colleagues into winners and losers. Their ideal world is a world where people cooperate, instead of compete; a world in which doing your very best is more important than being the best.

These people feel that their marketing money is better spent on updating a website or writing a newsletter, than on a few minutes of fame. To use one of my catch phrases: They’re in it for the music. Not for the applause.

To me, the bigger question is this. Increased recognition can never be an aim in and of itself. What purpose should it ultimately serve? How exactly is it going to transform our industry for the better?

If you’d like to strengthen professional standards, why not join the World Voices Organization? If you’d like to make more money, you should sign up for a sales training. If you’d like to increase your skills, a scholarship would be more welcome than a statuette you have to pay for yourself.

But Paul, this is a new initiative. Don’t you support innovation and creativity in our industry?

Of course I do, but let’s be honest. How new and innovative is the idea of an awards show? Every obscure and not so obscure organization or trade group has one. Every weekend, people are taking part in competitions across the country. If you really want to be creative, don’t be a copycat.

Several commentators also used the newness of the Voice Arts™ Awards to explain why so few voice-overs had entered the competition, and why some of the kinks still needed to be worked out. “Give it a few years,” people told me. “These awards are like a baby in diapers. Allow it to grow up and evolve.”

I’m willing to do that, but let’s remember one thing. Steve Ulrich is the executive director of the VAA. Ulrich is also the executive director of the Sports Emmy Awards. He oversees the entire process, from rules making, to entry collection, to judging and the announcement of nominees. He has produced the Daytime Entertainment Creative Arts Emmy Award Ceremony and the News and Documentary Emmy Award Ceremony since 2010. He also produces the Engineering and Technology Emmy Award Ceremony since 2012.

In other words: Ulrich knows what he is doing. He’s had time to create a format and a process that can stand up to scrutiny. Compared to the Emmy Awards, the VAA must seem like a small, intimate gathering.

You suggested that some of the judges had a conflict of interest. I know for a fact they didn’t.

Conflict of interest issues are very important to the integrity of any competition. Here’s a definition that is often used:

“A conflict of interest is a set of circumstances that creates a risk that professional judgement or actions regarding a primary interest will be unduly influenced by a secondary interest.”

Let’s say I’m a flute teacher, and I’m asked to judge a competition three of my students are taking part in. My primary interest is to judge in a fair and just way. My secondary interest may be to have one of my students win. After all, that’s good for my reputation as a teacher. It will also increase my standing with my colleagues.

Those two interests can never be reconciled. 

We can all agree on one thing. The voice-over world is relatively small. It doesn’t take long to get to know the main players. Year after year, the same faces rub shoulders at different conferences. That, by the way, is not unique to our industry.

For any competition to have any validity and value, it is imperative that the judging process is transparent, fair and impartial. Any hint of a conflict of interest should be avoided. Even board members of the organizing body should not have personal and professional ties with the contestants. Furthermore, judges should not be allowed to fraternize with contestants and nominees. That’s not something I made up. It is standard practice at many competitions.

As I told you earlier, a number of nominees and winners of the VAA had ties with jurors and board members of the Society Of Voice Arts And Sciences™. Not in a “I have seen you on Facebook”-kind of way. Some contestants had been coached by members of the jury and the board. What do the SOVAS™ regulations say about the jurors?

“The criteria for judging the Voice Arts™ Awards is based first and foremost on enlisting jurors who have exceptional expertise in the categories they are assigned to judge. SOVAS™ observes that many experts are quite capable of judging across multiple categories and that will be permitted. (…)

If a judge feels that he or she has a conflict of interest (personal relationship, sponsor relationship, etc.), that can be indicated on the electronic ballot.”

Notice that it doesn’t say that jurors with personal ties to a contestant cannot vote for that person. If there is a protocol on how to handle a potential conflict of interest, it is not published, and that alone is cause for concern. If you’re interested in this topic, look at the Standards and Guidelines of the College Art Association in New York.

As recently as September, violinist Miriam Fried had been asked not vote in the finals of the 2014 International Violin Competition of Indianapolis because of the six finalists, three of them were current or former students of hers. 

Sometimes that does not solve the problem. At other competitions, judges that could not vote for their students, simply gave lower marks to the other contestants. I am not suggesting that any of the VAA judges would ever do that, but it has happened at major competitions. You can read Julian Lloyd-Webbers claims in the Guardian newspaper if you click on this link

Before you shoot the messenger, please realize that running a fair and transparent competition is the sole responsibility of the organization. May I also note that the organizers of the Voice Arts™ Awards have yet to respond to any comments that may be perceived as less than positive. 

You’ve made a big deal about all the money the contestants had to pay to participate. This is an expensive undertaking, and the money has to come from somewhere. Winners at other awards shows have to pay for their trophies.

Let me be blunt.

The VAA do not give a prize to the best performance in a specific category. They only nominate and award those who paid to be evaluated.

Of course that is the case in any competition. “Best In Show” means “Best In Show.” Not “Best In The Entire World.”

More importantly, I believe that money should not be an arbiter of talent, or a barrier of entry. You may not agree with me on this one, but that’s how I feel, and I’ll tell you why.

It is not a secret that only a select group of voice actors make a six-figure income. Many in that group got into voice acting to supplement their on-camera work. A majority of my colleagues go from gig to gig, and often struggle to turn a profit.

Many of these people are just as gifted as their more financially secure colleagues, and they are just as deserving of a prize. In fact, they are the ones who would really benefit from the increased exposure winning an award could give them. However, they’ll never take part, because it’s too risky and too expensive.

As I mentioned in my previous article, between 210 and 280 categories could have been awarded at the gala. Only 33 awards were actually given out. My sources tell me that this was in part due to a disappointing lack of entries. Why is this important? 

Any competition is as strong as its field of competitors. The better the contestants, the more prestigious the prize. This is true in the world of sports, music, and in voice-overs. It really means something if out of a group of hundreds of strong runners, you win the marathon. If you have to beat three mediocre runners to get onto the podium, that doesn’t really say much, does it?

Mind you, I’m just pointing out the principle. I am not saying or implying anything about anyone in particular. The points I’m making have to do with the competition itself, and are no critique of or reflection on individual participants. 

If the VAA wants to attract and represent a large cross-section of the voice-over community, they need to lower the entry fees and skip the statue. Offer cash prizes and/or coaching/promotion packages to the winners instead. Give those who entered extensive feedback, allowing them to learn from the experience.

If you go to the SOVAS™ website, you’ll see a banner with an impressive list of participating companies. I’m pretty sure they have some extra money floating around to foot the bill. That way, talent does not have to receive a cigar from their own box.

You’re just an unsupportive jealous naysayer with some big chips on your shoulder. Joan and Rudy put together something no one had the foresight, guts, or fortitude to create. Much of the criticism is undeserved and much of it is very petty.

A few things really saddened me in the discussion about the awards. Some proponents seemed to have this “If you’re not with us, then you’re against us” attitude:

“If you don’t like these awards, you’re not supporting new initiatives.”
“If you make some critical remarks, you must not like Joan and Rudy.”
“If you question the value of this event, you’re stabbing your award-winning colleagues in the back.”

Having something to say about parts of the process was seen as burning the whole thing to the ground. That’s unfair and unjustified. No matter how well you run a show, it is impossible to please everyone, and there’s always room for improvement. Well-founded feedback can help the organization turn these awards into something really amazing.

The fact that so many people felt inclined to respond to my story, must mean that they care about this business we’re in, and that they care about the community they’re part of. It is a very diverse community, and we don’t have to agree on every single topic. It would be very boring if we did.

The worst thing we could do, is to make this professional issue personal.

Some people have made all kinds of assumptions about my mindset and my intentions while writing about these awards.

I have no personal scores to settle. I seek no compensation for personal frustration, nor do I feel the need to enter any competitions. As you’ve seen, I manage to attract quite a bit of attention without winning a prize.

The only reason I’ve published a new blog post every week for the past four years, is not because I want people to agree with me, or to even like me. It is because I believe I have something to say that could be of interest and value to fellow-freelancers and voice-overs.

I do believe in setting high standards for myself and for my professional community. If that happens to rub some people the wrong way, so be it.

A wise man once told me that the world we see is only a mirror of who we are.

This, of course, applies as much to you, as it does to me.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Click here to read a round up of all the comments, including the response of Rudy Gaskins, one of the board members of the Voice Arts™ Awards. 

PPS Be Sweet. Please retweet

photo credit: mnassal via photopin cc


Paying For Your Prize

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Journalism & Media, Promotion, Social Media 42 Comments

Smoking a cigarNot not so long ago, I read a story about a young Dutch guy who was about to be married. His friends invited him to a fancy restaurant for an unforgettable bachelor party.

It was a classy, dignified event. No lap dances or excessive drinking. Yet, the groom-to-be, ended up with a serious hangover.

At the end of the night he hugged each of his friends, and thanked them for a memorable evening. When he was about to put on his coat, the waiter tapped him on the shoulder.

“Sir, aren’t you forgetting something?”

“I don’t think so,” said the bachelor. “Is something wrong?”

“Not really,” said the waiter, “as long as you pay your bill.”

“But I assumed that everything was being taken care of,” said the soon-to-be-groom.

“I’m afraid not,” answered the waiter. “You owe us a little over two thousand five hundred Euro. We take all major credit cards.”

That night, the young bachelor made a few changes to his list of wedding guests.

The Dutch have a unique saying for these painful situations:

“Een sigaar uit eigen doos krijgen.”

Literally translated this means: being offered a cigar from one’s own box. In other words: receiving a gift you had to pay for yourself. That’s not really a gift, is it?

It’s an old marketing trick. Making people believe they get something for free, even though they’re paying for it.

“If you buy product X right now, we’ll send you a second one, absolutely free!”

“When you buy this car, we’ll throw in a premium accessory package at no charge!”

“Sign up for a 12-month subscription to our website, and we will give you two extra months as a welcome gift.”

Yeah. Right!

Have you ever received a cigar like that?

VOICE ARTS™ AWARDS GALA

Last Sunday, the very first Voice Arts™ Awards were presented in New York. These awards were established by the relatively new Society Of Voice Arts And Sciences™ (SOVAS™). It’s an ambitious non-profit organization. As I reported in an earlier story, on their website you will find seventy pages of awards category descriptions. Each page lists about three to four different awards.

In theory, between 210 and 280 awards could have been given away during Sunday’s gala. In reality, 33 out of 100 nominees received an award (click here for a list of the winners). Depending on how you do the math, 177 or 247 categories were left out, either because there were no or very few entries, or because the quality of these entries did not meet the standards. SOVAS™ rules state:

“In the event that any individual category attracts fewer than 4 entries the organizer reserves the right to withdraw that category from the competition.”

In some categories there was barely any competition. In the Outstanding Audio Book Narration – Biography, the only nominees were Joe Cipriano for Living On Air, and Janis Ian for The Singer and the Song.

Only two audio books were nominated for Outstanding Audio Book Narration in the Classics category. There were two nominees for the local radio and television commercials, and two for the best national radio commercial. This reflected a trend. Check the list of nominees yourself, by clicking on this link.

Mind you, I’m not saying anything about the talent of the individual nominees. I’m just pointing out a few facts about the process. Facts some of you may have missed.

I’d like to make a few other observations.

CONFLICTING INTERESTS

Scott Brick, one of the jurors of the Voice Arts™ Awards, won for Best Male Voice in the category Outstanding Audio Book Narration – Non-Fiction.

Juror Nancy Wolfson produced the demo reel of Jay Britton, who won Best Male Voice in the category Outstanding Commercial Demo Reel. Nancy has also been one of Jay’s coaches. Jay went on to win a second award for his Animation Demo Reel.

Greg Russell received a nomination for Best Male Voice in the category Outstanding Commercial Demo Reel. His coaches were Joan Baker, Rudy Gaskins and Denise Woods.

Denise Woods was one of the jurors for this year’s awards. Rudy Gaskins and his wife Joan Baker are founders and board members of the Society Of Voice Arts And Sciences™. Gaskins is President and CEO of SOVAS™.

Linda Fouche was nominated for Best Female Voice in the Outstanding Commercial Demo Reel category. Her voice-over coach was Joan Baker, and her producer/director was Rudy Gaskins.

PUSH THAT’S VOICEOVER

Gaskins and Baker are also the creators of That’s Voiceover, a series of entertaining, educational events bringing voice-over pros, voice seekers, and those interested in VO together. The last installment took place in New York on November 10th, the day after the Voice Arts™ Award gala.

Gaskins’ branding agency Push Creative is very much involved in That’s Voiceover. Joan Baker is co-founder and Senior Vice President of Push Creative, and she handles public relations for the company. 

Among the speakers at That’s Voiceover were Voice Arts Awards winners Joe Cipriano, Scott Brick, Chuck Duran and Stacey Aswad, and jurors Cedering Fox, Sondra James, Trosh Scanlon, Frank Rodriguez and Dave Fennoy. Steve Ulrich, the executive director of SOVAS™ was also one of the presenters. That’s no coincidence, because if you go to the SOVAS™ website, a redirect to the That’s Voiceover site is only one click away. 

It’s a small world, isn’t it?

THE FUTURE OF VO

I’m not against new initiatives that strive to promote and enrich the voice-over industry. As I said in my earlier story: I am willing to give these new Voice Arts™ Awards the benefit of the doubt. I congratulate the winners, and I hope the money they spent on entering this competition and attending the gala, will prove to be worth the investment. As Bob Bergen said in response to my previous article:

“Everything you’ve pointed out, as well as your question about ROI, was questioned when The SAG Awards began 20 years ago. Heck, the same issues were brought up when The Emmys began in the late 40s. Many in Hollywood thought that awarding people from that little window display of the furniture box in the living room was a joke compared to The Academy Awards, where you have that big screen and REAL actors! It’s all relative and nothing new.

Let’s allow this award show to organically grow and evolve. Just like The Oscars, Tonys, Emmys, and every other award show has over the past 75 plus years. Each award show is always changing and trying to improve on itself from previous years. I really think honoring the world of VO is long overdue. I commend the producers of this for diving in. Let’s see how it goes!”

What does worry me, is that the Voice Arts™ Awards show seems to style itself after the Oscars and Emmys. To me, these shows have become highly staged marketing events where artistic integrity is sacrificed in favor of purchased publicity. Stars show up pretending to have a good time, knowing that they’re contractually obligated to plug their latest project. 

Television audiences are only watching to see their favorite stars on the red carpet, to see the big production numbers, and to hear the obligatory teary-eyed acceptance speeches. I don’t think the voice-over world should emulate that, and I don’t think we need to do that.

It is true: an Oscar-winning movie will do much better at the box office. I doubt that the masses will run to their favorite audio book store, to purchase the winner of a Voice Arts™ Award.

Why do I have doubts? Because for an award to have an impact, people need to know about it, care about it, and attach value to it. It needs to reach the folks outside of our cozy babble bubble. That has yet to happen. Perhaps I’m expecting too much from a young organization, but I think it’s fair to judge them by their own mission statement.

GOAL ACCOMPLISHED?

The Voice Arts Awards™ were announced months and months ago. I’m sure the major networks were notified, and all the papers got the press releases. In order to raise the stature of the gala, a Hollywood celebrity (James Earl Jones) was brought in to receive a special award, and even the late Robin Williams was mentioned on the podium. Yet, did this…

“provide international acknowledgement of the extraordinary skill and artistry that goes into the voiceover acting and the associated roles”?

After all, that’s one of SOVAS™ goals.

I’m not so sure.

I haven’t seen Joan Baker and company make the rounds on the morning chat shows. I didn’t read any headlines or interviews in leading newspapers. Yes, I’ve seen a few reprints of press releases here and there, but that’s not enough. Just Google Voice Arts™ Awards, and see for yourself how little comes up. 

What I did see on social media was a number of award-winning colleagues, proudly holding a shiny statuette, as well as photos of members of the VO-establishment sporting bow-ties, pony tails, and evening dresses.

And speaking of that statuette… After paying a hefty non-refundable entry fee plus the cost of travel, meals, accommodations (and of work lost because they’re attending the event), winners have to pay three hundred and fifty-some dollars to take it home. Or in Jay Britton’s case: $700. That’s an expensive dust receptacle!

I bet you Voice Icon Award winner James Earl Jones didn’t have to pay for his prize.

For every other winner, it’s a cigar from their own box.

How can a non-profit organization dedicated to adding value to our industry, be so cheap?

If you give me the right answer, please mail me $40, and I’ll send you a trophy!

Shipping, handling, and engraving will have to come out of your pocket, though.

How’s that for a Dutch treat?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS I’ve responded to some of the commentators, and you can read my response if you click on this link.

photo credit: Elvert Barnes via photopin cc


Getting In Our Own Way

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Studio 10 Comments

young woman looking in the mirrorThere are two types of people who are very hard to teach.

Let me break it down for you.

The first group could care less about how the world sees them.

These people often have an exaggerated sense of self, or worse, a narcissistic personality disorder. They have a hard time registering social cues, and they’re not very open to feedback. Feedback makes them hostile and defensive because they always know better. And those who know better, don’t have an incentive to learn new things. Teaching them, is like trying to fill a cup that’s already full (of itself).

The second group is the opposite. These people care too much about how the world perceives them. They suffer from the “invisible audience phenomenon,” a sense that they’re always on stage, and that the world is watching them. Gentle feedback is often taken as harsh criticism. The fearful voice of low self-esteem tells them they might as well give up. Teaching these people is like trying to fill a bottomless cup.

Of course these are extremes, but I’m sure you know one or two people who fall into both categories. Perhaps even intimately. The origin of these behaviors has a lot to do with self-awareness. You know, that thing that is supposed to separate human beings from animals.

MIRROR, MIRROR

One way to detect the presence of self-awareness is to do the mirror test. When a dog sees his reflection in a mirror, he’ll think it’s another dog. When we see our reflection, we know we’re staring at ourselves.

If you’d let group one and two do the mirror test, here’s what you would find:

The first group looks into the mirror, and finds it irresistible. The second group can’t stand their own reflection. Group one is focused on self, and group two is (consciously or unconsciously) focused on what others might be thinking.

As a voice actor and coach, I sometimes deal with people who display various forms of narcissism and self-deprecation. Oddly enough, it’s not all bad. One thing I always keep in mind is that certain aspects of these behaviors are actually useful and necessary, if you wish to survive as a freelancer (and as a voice-over). Shall I explain?

GOOD AND BAD

Let’s start with being self-conscious. All of us have to have a sense of how we come across, and we need to be aware of how others respond to us to. How else will we learn socially acceptable behavior? It’s also good to realize that we’re far from perfect. It keeps the mind open, and our spirit humble.

Secondly, as voice-over professionals working from our home studios, we often direct our own sessions. That requires the ability to recognize when we’re missing the mark, and when we’re hitting the nail on the head. If we want to deliver our best work, we need to be good evaluators of our performance. The more self-conscious we are, the easier this is.

The narcissist has an inflated sense of self. Obviously, that’s not helpful. However, any solopreneur can benefit from a healthy dose of self-confidence. You have to believe in yourself, and in your ability to attract clients. You may have incredible talent, but if you doubt that you can deliver, you’re sabotaging yourself.

The narcissist is able to recognize the good in him or herself. People who are shy and insecure find that hard to do. If you wish to have a successful career, you have to accept that you have something special to offer. Something that is worth paying for. You don’t need to be arrogant, but it helps to be audacious!

From an acting perspective, I think it is also useful to have the ability to imagine what it’s like to be a self-absorbed jerk, as well as an insecure mouse, and anything in between. The wider your emotional range, the greater your chance to land more demanding and interesting roles.

PARALYZED

Now, being overly self-conscious can have a paralyzing effect in everyday life, and in the recording studio. In fact, it’s one of the main reasons why some people have such a hard time sounding natural. They’re constantly over-analyzing what they’re doing, and usually not in a positive way. They’re busy thinking about how they will be perceived by others, and whether or not they can live up to certain expectations.

In a way, that microphone in front of them is like a camera. You’ve seen it happen. People are perfectly spontaneous, and they’re having a great time, until someone points a camera at them. All of a sudden they become very aware of themselves, and start acting in strange, stilted ways.

What’s really happening is this:

Without a camera pointing at them, most people focus on each other. They’re in the moment. In the flow of things. They act like no one’s watching. Naturally. As soon as a photographer or a cameraman comes in the picture, that changes. People start wondering: How does my hair look? Did I iron my shirt? Do I look fat in these clothes?

The same thing can happen in a studio. People are having a nice conversation. They’re animated and relaxed. Until the recording starts. All of a sudden the enthusiasm and the quiet confidence is gone. The voice becomes flat, and the text is not spoken but read. The narrator has become self-conscious.

In that moment, the focus on the script is replaced by the focus on self. That’s a shame, because as voice-over professionals, we get paid to let the script speak. In order to do that, we need to get out of our own way.

CAR TALK

This week, we learned that Tom Magliozzi, one of the presenters of NPR’s Car Talk, had died at the age of 77. For more than 25 years, Tom and his younger brother Ray entertained millions of people every week with car repair advice and comedic banter. People who didn’t care about cars, tuned in to Car Talk, if only to hear the brothers laugh.

What made these guys such a pleasure to listen to, was the fact that they talked to one another and their guests as if there were no microphones. In fact, the Magliozzi’s would be the first ones to admit that they knew nothing about radio. All they did, was be themselves. Their long-time producer Doug Berman told Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air

“What you heard on the show was absolutely them. And when you finish the show and went to get a cup of coffee it sounded the same, you know. I mean, the topics would change, but that’s what they did. They sat down and they enjoyed themselves and they found humor in whatever was around them. And they made each other laugh and they made us laugh. So it was not an effort to be funny about anything. That’s how they approached everything.”

FORGET THE MIC

Of course there’s a difference between doing a semi-live radio show and narrating a voice-over script, but I think many of us could benefit from forgetting that there’s a microphone in front of us. Just imagine there’s a dear friend or close relative to whom you’re telling a story. There is no audience. There are no critics. You have nothing to prove.

Imagine how freeing that would be!

Imagine what that would do to the way you sound!

From time to time you might slip into old behavior, and invite that inner voice to start critiquing you again. As soon as that happens, STOP, and bring your attention back to the text. Be script-conscious, instead of self-conscious. Let the focus be on the music, and not on the musician.

Instead of beating yourself up when you make a mistake, be soft on yourself. It’s no big deal. Correct it, and move on.

Eventually, you’ll notice a shift inside. A shift from that self-disparaging voice, to a self-accepting voice, to a self-respecting voice.

It’s something that’s almost impossible to teach.

It must be experienced.

Inside, and outside of your recording studio.

Are you ready for your lesson?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!

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What Is Holding You Back?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career 21 Comments

Doll on Halloween pumpkinIf I were to ask you:

“What is one of the greatest motivators of behavior on the planet?”

What would you say?

Before you answer, let me add this:

All animals respond to it, including us, humans.

Every year, companies make billions of dollars because of it. People lose sleep over it. Others are driven to insanity because they can’t handle it. Some people use it for entertainment purposes.

The remarkable thing is this: Most of the time we don’t even know if it is based in reality. It doesn’t matter. Alfred Hitchcock knew that our imagination is way more powerful than anything he could ever put on celluloid. He famously said:

“There is no terror in the bang. Only in the anticipation of it.”

WHAT DRIVES US?

One of our greatest motivators is FEAR.

Around this time of year we are all reminded of our love-hate relationship with fear. We love scary movies. Terrifying videos games are worldwide bestsellers. The most dangerous amusement park rides have the longest lines.

Fear is fun!

Why else would people jump out of airplanes, swim with sharks, or scare each other on Halloween, dressed up like zombies?

Fear also explains why so many Americans love their guns, why we buy insurance, why healthy nurses are quarantined, and why some people believe in G-d.

At the heart of fear is our deep concern for getting hurt. People are willing to do a lot to avoid a little pain, but they’re willing to give up even more to play it safe.

How many friends have given up a dream because they were afraid it would become a disaster? How many sweet souls have never declared their love for fear of rejection? How many people never dared to step on stage and show their talent, because they didn’t want to embarrass themselves?

Fear can paralyze and suffocate. It prevents people from even trying. Fear is the spirit behind the inner voice that whispers:

“I’m not good enough”

“I don’t deserve this”

“I’m sure I will fail”

“People will laugh at me”

DIFFERENT FEARS

Of course I should stop for a moment to make the distinction between rational and irrational fear. Fear of heights, ferocious animals, and fear of evil men with loaded guns is usually a good thing. When the danger is real, fear is meant to protect us from harm.  

However, we often suffer needlessly because we’re afraid of things that may happen, but probably never will. In holding on to irrational beliefs, we deny ourselves a chance to find out what will really happen when we dare to take a risk.

Many, many years ago I decided I didn’t want the security of a corporate job with corporate hours, and corporate benefits. I defied the expectations of family and friends by becoming a freelancer. Why? Because something inside me knew that the opposite of fear was freedom. I needed to be free to do my own thing in my own way, and in my own time.

Looking back, I can’t say that my road was without bumps, and that my game was free of curveballs. There were times I wished I had a regular schedule, and a regular paycheck. And yet, I am so glad I didn’t listen to those who warned me it would never work. Those people are now jealous that I can set my own hours, my own rates, and that I work out of my own home.

LIBERATE YOURSELF

If you wish to claim the rewards, you have to embrace the risk, defy your critics, and defeat your fears.

There will always be a million reasons that hold you back, but you only need one good reason to go for it.

What is yours?

Believe me, if you’re a self-starter and you run your own business, you will be asked to dig deep. People will test you, they will ridicule you, and they will desert you when you need them most. That’s scary, but not in a Halloween sort of way. In these times you will ask yourself:

“Why am I doing this? What is my motivation?”

Even though you and I may not know each other, I do know this:

There is something you are really good at. Maybe it has to be developed and refined. Perhaps it needs a few more years to mature. But you know the fire is burning, and you feel the yearning.

That talent and that fire is one of your many strengths. It is one of the reasons why you’re here. You owe it to yourself and to the rest of us to stand in your strength. That strength will help you turn your fear into faith. By faith I mean self-confidence. 

TRANSFORMATION

Faith will help you believe you can make it, even in the absence of proof. After all, how can you prove something that hasn’t happened yet? You have to believe it, before you can see it. 

I don’t know who Paul Sweeney is, but he said something powerful that has always stuck with me:

“True success is overcoming the fear of being unsuccessful.”

Perhaps you know the story of British singer Alice Fredenham. People first heard of her when she appeared on The Voice, a televised talent show in the UK. When she came on, this “beauty therapist” was all bubbly, upbeat, and full of confidence. Even though her performance of The Lady Is a Tramp was solid, she didn’t impress any of the judges, and she was sent home. Her greatest fear had become a reality. 

But Alice didn’t give up. Two months later, she appeared on Britain’s Got Talent, but with a very different attitude. Take a look:

Of course I realize that these shows thrive on carefully crafted sentimentality. Alice was accused of faking her insecurity and her tears, but I wonder how confident I would have felt on that stage.

After being rejected in front of millions, she overcame her fear and insecurity, because the song inside of her was stronger. She eventually made it to the semi-finals of Britain’s Got Talent, and signed a record deal with Sony.

BACK TO YOU

If you allow yourself to be motivated by fear, your focus is on what you don’t want. Take it from me, that’s not where your energy should be. Your energy should be on your strengths and your goals. Not on your weaknesses.

This week, do yourself a favor. Be like Alice Fredenham and do something uncomfortable. Do something you’re a bit afraid of; something that scares you. Don’t pick your greatest fear. Pick something small for starters. Big success is built on a series of small achievements.

Discover that what you were initially afraid of, wasn’t really a big deal after all. Perhaps what you expected to happen, didn’t. 

Next week, pick something else; something a bit bigger, and build on that experience. 

Use this trick, and turn it into a treat.

Make it worthwhile. Make it memorable. Make it meaningful.

That way, you get yourself ready for a moment when you can’t choose the challenge. The challenge chooses you. 

That’s when you’ll discover this simple fact:

Life doesn’t have to be a thriller, but it certainly can be thrilling.

Happy Halloween!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be Sweet. Please Retweet

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How To Sell Without Selling

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Book, Journalism & Media, Social Media 14 Comments

Tourguide“So, what do you hope to accomplish with that blog of yours,” asked one of my clients.

I had just finished a recording session, and somehow we started talking about my website.

“No offense,” said the client, “but these days, everybody has a blog. I try to read a few every once in a while to keep up with the business, and usually I’m sorry I did. Just because people are good at reading copy doesn’t mean they should write it. ‘Stick to what you know, and leave the rest to a pro.’ That’s what my father taught me.”

“I understand where you’re coming from,” I said, “but we can’t fault people for trying. They’ve heard that blogging is good for SEO. Every other colleague is doing it, so they jump on the bandwagon. The first few months they’ll write a few original posts, but when the newness wears off, it becomes a burden to find something to blog about. The five people who had been following the blog, disappear, and within three months, it goes belly up.”

“For how long have you been blogging?” my client wanted to know.

“I think I published my very first story about four years ago. As long as I can remember I’ve been jotting things down on a piece of paper. Notes to self, mostly. I had no idea other people would be interested in what I had to say. In fact, I’m still amazed I get some fifty to a hundred new subscribers a day.”

“So, back to my first question,” said the client. “I’m thinking of starting a company blog. That’s why I’m interested in what your goals are. Do you want to increase the number of visitors to your website? Are you trying to sell yourself? What are you aiming for?”

“First off, I have never written anything simply to increase web traffic. Any self-respecting writer sets out to write a good book, but never a bestseller. It’s true that my blog drives people to my website, but that’s just a pleasant side effect. The reason I write has to do with professionalism.

Call me idealistic, but I hope my stories will inspire people to raise the professional bar in freelancing, and in voice-overs. Secondly, I love to write. It’s a simple as that. As soon as it becomes a chore, I’ll hang up my hat.”

“So, you’re not selling yourself?” asked the client, as if he didn’t believe me.

“I don’t like that term,” I said. “There’s too much selling in social media, and people aren’t buying it. Those who are trying to sell something usually do so with themselves in mind: ‘Look what I did! See what I have to offer!’ It’s a big, boring ego trip.

I see myself more as a tour guide. You know, the guy with the silly hat, holding up an umbrella. As a blogger, it is my job to show people something they would otherwise overlook; something unexpected. At times I also want to give them something to think about.”

“That’s very noble of you,” said the client, “but with so much information available online, do you think that’s necessary? Do we really need another blog?”

“I believe it is a matter of perspective and style, I replied. “Great bloggers talk about things people can relate to. They’re not in the business of breaking news. It’s their point of view that makes them interesting, and the way they package it. The best blogs read like a conversation. Not like a sales pitch.”

The client was scribbling some notes on the back of a script as I continued:

“I agree, a lot of information is already available online, but also a lot of misinformation. I often use my blog to separate the facts from the advertorial. I don’t claim to be objective, but I do my research. My readers know that I’m not on the payroll of some corporate sponsor, and they seem to respect me for that. I always tell them: My voice is for hire, but my opinion is not for sale. I guess that’s why most of them trust me.”

The client interrupted: “The service I am offering is very much geared toward start-ups. Many of them are trying to reinvent the wheel. What’s the main thing you run into, when you write a blog for beginners?”

“Let me correct you there,” I said. “My blog isn’t only for beginners, but I do have a lot of newbies among my regular readers. I hate to generalize, but many of them tend to have a Q and A problem.”

“What do you mean by that?” asked my client.

“Questions and Assumptions,” I answered. “They make too many assumptions, and they don’t ask enough questions. As a blogger, I like taking their assumptions apart, and I address questions I know people want to ask. Blogging is not about what I want to tell, but about what readers want to know. I use that same approach with my customers. What I want to sell is irrelevant. It’s about what they want to buy.”

“Now, tell me this,” said the client. “Voice-overs is a niche market, right? How come you have over 27 thousand subscribers, and some of your colleagues only have a few hundred?”

“Well, you have to remember that I’ve been at it for a while,” I said. “That certainly helps. For one, I’m proud that I never bribed people to subscribe to my blog. Some blogging gurus will tell you to give stuff away for free in exchange for an email address. I always wonder: are these subscribers interested in the blog or in the freebie? And what happens once you give them your gift? Will they move on to the next free thing?

I sincerely think that colleagues with only a few hundred subscribers make one big mistake: they only write for the in-crowd. They preach to the choir. Had I only written about and for voice-overs in these past four years, I would have run out of material a long time ago. We’re a small, ruminating community. We tend to talk and write about the same things over and over again. It gets predictable.

For a blog to grow, you need to step out of your protective bubble, and find new readers and fresh content in areas that are related to your expertise, but that are different. I used the same strategy for my book Making Money In Your PJs. It’s not just a book for voice actors. It’s about freelancing in general.

Many of the examples in my book are taken from the world of voice-overs, but the advice I give applies to many solopreneurs. We all want to negotiate good rates, and we want to know how to market and grow our business. Once you start writing about these topics, your potential readership will skyrocket.”

“Interesting,” said the client. Do you happen to have a copy of your book with you?”

“As a matter of fact, I do,” I said. “Would you like me to sign it for you?”

As I was signing the book, the client looked at me with a twinkle in his eyes.

“Boy, you’re subtle,” he said.

“What do you mean?” I replied, giving him my most innocent look.

“You said you were not selling anything to me, but look what you just did. I’m going to subscribe to your blog, and I’m buying your book!”

Then he paused and asked:

“Is that how blogging works?”

“You betcha!” I said.

“Nice doing business with you!”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet, and buy the book! Click here to read a few sample chapters and to learn more.

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Life’s Unfair. Get Used To It.

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career 13 Comments
Father and son at the sea shore

My Dad and Me

Jake was a model employee. He’d been with the same company for 45 years, and never missed a day. At his retirement party, he received a farewell gift: a trip for two to Aruba. It was something Jake and his wife had always dreamt of.

A week later, they were on their way to the airport. While going through security, Jake suddenly collapsed, and died of a heart attack.

Jenny was a model athlete: tall, muscular, and motivated. From the age of fifteen she’d won practically every triathlon she took part in. At her Olympic qualifier she crushed the national competition. Two more weeks, and she would be on her way to represent her country.

Friends threw her a farewell pool party. That night, Jenny slipped over an ice cube, and landed on the edge of the pool. With a broken tibia, she could kiss her Olympic dreams goodbye. She never reached her old level again.

Folkert, my father, was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Last year, one of his doctors told him he was in the final stages, and advised him to get his affairs in order. While I was visiting, we got a second opinion which was much more optimistic.

My father began a breakthrough treatment to which he responded remarkably well. Instead of a few months, he was given a number of years. Then he started experiencing new symptoms, completely unrelated to his cancer. On September 30th, he was diagnosed with ALS.

DO YOU HAVE THE ANSWER

What do you make of these stories? How do you respond? What can you possibly say to Folkert, Jenny, and to Jake’s wife?

Is there a satisfactory answer to the question why bad things happen to good people?

Some have tried to come up with something, as if knowing the answer would somehow soften the blow. It doesn’t work that way. In fact, I get very uncomfortable when people attempt to make a wrong right. On what authority are they speaking? What do they know that I don’t?

Please don’t tell me that “everything happens for a reason,” or that it’s “for the better.” Don’t tell me there is a G-d who orchestrates cruel things out of love for his unruly children. Don’t tell me that Jake, Jenny, and Folkert deserved their fate because of some colossal cosmic conspiracy we call karma.

It doesn’t help.

It only hurts.

Yet, in the back of most people’s minds is the belief that we reap what we sow. We get what we deserve. It’s at the heart of the American Dream. If you study, apply yourself, and work hard, you can go from foster care to self-made millionaire. That’s only fair, isn’t it? If you are a good person, good things will happen to you. Good boys get rewarded. Bad boys get punished.

But what about all those bad boys who end up on top? The higher you climb up the corporate ladder, the more selfish, cutthroat executives you’ll encounter. They didn’t get there by playing nice. In certain circles, success knows no mercy. It’s either eat or be eaten. Sharks in fancy suits walk all over gentle Mr. Goody two-shoes, the docile doormat.

WHAT ABOUT YOUR CAREER

A few days ago I had a serious conversation with one of my voice-over students. In the last twelve months, she had invested a nice chunk of change in her studio. She bought a great new mic, a lovely preamp, and even a new computer.

I believe in her, and more importantly, she believes in herself.

When we started our session, she sounded peeved.

“Paul,” she said, “Over the past couple of years I have worked my butt off. You know that. I promised myself to give this voice-over thing a good shot. When I listen back to some of my early recordings, I can tell that I have grown. And when I listen to what else is out there, I know I have something to offer. You said so yourself. But get this…

The other day I told one of my voice-over friends that I was going to audition for that commercial we talked about. I really poured everything you’ve taught me into that audition, and I sounded pretty good, if I say so myself. Guess who got the job? My friend! The one who has zero personality and zero experience. She even let me listen to her audition, and it was mediocre at best.

Be honest with me, Paul. Did I just waste years of my life? Should I sell my equipment? What good did all of that training do if I get beaten by a newbie? It’s so frustrating, and it makes me mad! How long do I have to wait for my big break?”

THE MYTH OF OVERNIGHT SUCCESS

When I heard her question, I had to think of actress Jenna Fischer. You probably know her as Pam from the American version of The Office. She always wanted to be an actor, and she eventually moved to Hollywood to pursue her dream. She fully expected to be working in movies within a year of coming to LA. It didn’t happen that way.

Jenna worked as a temp, she took acting and improv classes, and she borrowed money to make ends meet. At one point she had to wear a pair of shoes with a hole in them because she couldn’t afford anything else. It took her more than six long years before she finally got “discovered.”

Jenna Fischer is a perfect example of the adage that it can take years to become an overnight success. She knows from experience that the (voice) acting business is without guarantees, no matter how talented and motivated you are. When asked about it, she had this to say:

“This business is not fair. It is not like other businesses where if you show up, and work above and beyond everyone’s expectations, you are pretty much guaranteed to move up the ladder. I don’t know why it works out for some and not for others. And when you move here (Hollywood, P.S.) you have no idea which camp you are going to fall into.”

JUST BE FAIR

“Fair” is an interesting concept. Most dictionaries define it as “in accordance with the rules.” Most rules civil societies live by, are practical, logical, and even reasonable. They’re an example of cause-effect thinking: If A, then B. Without rules, life would be chaotic. 

Most of us have unwritten rules that guide our hopes and expectations. To name a few: “If I train hard, and do my very best, I will be successful.” Or “If I live a healthy life, I will live a long life.”

Here’s the problem: those rules aren’t always reasonable, and they are rarely absolute. They only seem that way. What makes sense, and what seems right from our limited perspective, doesn’t necessarily happen. Kind, innocent people die young. Selfish bastards live to be a hundred. No explanation given. 

Secondly: Most people don’t play by our rules. They might not even be aware of them. Perhaps they’re playing a different game altogether, and we don’t even see it. Many decisions that affect us, have nothing to do with us. 

Third: Life isn’t logical. It’s not a matter of “If A, then B.” Usually, it’s: “If A, then D or Z.” People are emotional beings, and what they do isn’t cold and calculated. We forget. We make mistakes. We act impulsively, and break all the rules.

Last but not least: Even though we often think we are, we’re never one hundred percent in control. If we’re physically and mentally healthy, we can control our actions to a great extent, but we cannot control the outcome. Life consists of too many variables. Even perfectionists have to admit that…. at some point.  

NOW WHAT?

So, where does this leave us?

Are we hopeless and helpless leaves in the winds of chance? Should we stop trying to accomplish things, simply because the outcome is uncertain, and likely to be unfair?

I’ll tell you what I think we should do.

We should begin by skipping the question “Why.” “Why me, why this, why now?”

Asking “Why” is asking for a logical, reasonable explanation which you won’t always get. I hate to break it to you, but your rules, conscious or unconscious, don’t apply all the time. 

My student did everything she could to win that audition. There was nothing she could have done to change the preference of the client.

Jenny missed the Olympics because she accidentally stepped on that ice cube. It wasn’t part of some devious celestial plan.

Jake had earned that dream vacation, but he died at the airport because his heart stopped working. Period.

My father did nothing to deserve ALS. There wasn’t anything he could have done to prevent it from affecting him. The question “fair or not fair” isn’t going to change his condition. He has to learn to live with ALS, and he’ll eventually die with it. 

One last thing, if I may.

Most people tend to contemplate the issue of fairness when they believe they’ve been wronged, tricked, or were denied something they felt entitled to. That’s when they will ask the question “Why?”

When things go really well, and life smiles upon us, we hardly ever ask the question “Why me, why this, why now?”

We take our good fortune for granted.

Think about it.

Is that really fair?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!

photo credit: doobybrain via photopin cc


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