nethervoice

The Trouble With Giving Unwanted Advice

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing 26 Comments

Thanks, but no thanks.We are a suspicious society.

Whether we realize it or not, most of us are trained to distrust people’s intentions.

Some fifteen years ago, my friend was driving me home at night. The United States was still new to me, and I had a lot of cultural adjusting to do.

At one point during our dark drive I spotted someone with car trouble by the side of the road. The hood of her Honda was up, and she seemed distressed. To my surprise, my friend drove right past her without blinking an eye.

“Are you crazy,?” I cried indignantly. “Why didn’t you stop to help the poor woman?”

“That’s a very bad idea,” my friend said. “For one, she might think that we’re coming to molest her. Two: Her friends could be waiting in the wings to mug us. Why don’t you take my phone and let the police know what’s going on. They’ll handle it.”

“Whatever happened to being a good Samaritan?” I asked.

“Forget that,” said my friend. “You can’t trust anyone anymore. This is America. People have guns, and they are not afraid to use them.”

I was flabbergasted. In the Netherlands where I came from, not helping someone in need could be interpreted as criminal negligence. In the USA it apparently was a liability. 

But America has more trust issues.

FLYER OR FIVER

A few years ago, Kyle MacDonald conducted a social experiment. He took to the streets with a stack of flyers and five-dollar bills. Much to his surprise, it was easier to hand out flyers than fivers. People didn’t seem to want his money because they believed Kyle had ulterior motives. After all, there’s no such thing as a free ride, right?

Suspicions about the true intentions of strangers are nothing new, by the way. Telling the story of the famous Trojan horse, the classic author Virgil coined the phrase Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes, often translated as Beware of Greeks bearing gifts. What he meant to say was this:

Do not trust an opponent who offers to do something nice for you.

This adds another element to the mix. That of an opponent. That’s because those who assume the worst, often see people they don’t know or understand as adversaries, competitors, or as folks they should be afraid of.

I guess it takes one, to know one.

Don’t get me wrong. There are some pretty scary individuals out there, ready to scam our grandparents, abduct our kids, and steal our identities. Radicalized, brainwashed fanatics will kill themselves and many others to glorify their G-d. We need to be vigilant, but we also need to put things into perspective.

THANK GOODNESS

Just because something bad might happen, doesn’t mean it will. Most of the time it doesn’t. Random acts of kindness are performed every day, and there are still genuinely kind and trustworthy people in this world who wish to help their fellow human beings out, no strings attached.

The voice-over community I am a part of is blessed with countless supportive Samaritans who are ready to assist you, whether you’re a veteran or a newcomer. They recommend colleagues to clients, and people get hired because of it every day. Including me. 

They critique each other’s demos and websites for free, they answer questions about rates, and they put their two cents in when asked about what audio equipment to buy. Just spend some time on Facebook and LinkedIn, read a few blogs, and you’ll pick up golden nuggets at no cost whatsoever.

Yet, I found out that free advice is not always welcomed and appreciated. Sometimes, it is treated with utmost suspicion. 

NO CRITICISM ALLOWED

The moderator of a particular voice-over Facebook group (which shall remain unnamed) made it clear that no one was allowed to be “negative” about cheap sites like Fiverr.com and VoiceBunny. “Everyone has to start somewhere,” was his reasoning, and “we should not discourage talent to sell their services on those types of websites.”

I am not going to repeat myself by telling you where I stand in terms of those sites. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know exactly how I feel. Here’s the thing, though. I sometimes see it as my mission to educate clients and colleagues. After all, I’ve been around the block a few times, and I have this strange illusion that some of my insights might be helpful. Especially to those who are just starting out.

So, when a member of this particular Facebook group made some comments about Fiverr, I couldn’t keep my big mouth shut. As it turned out, I wasn’t the only one. Soon, other experienced colleagues chimed in with valuable advice which was… not appreciated at all. It didn’t take long before the name calling began.

We were accused of being old-school, pretentious know-it-alls who did not understand where the new generation of voice talent was coming from. Perhaps we felt threatened by young talent? Is that why we told people to stay away from the bargain basement?

By the way, I got the same response to last week’s blog post entitled Voice-Over Newbies: You Have Been Warned, which was read over 10,000 times. “This was undoubtedly,” as someone put it, “my sad attempt to discourage the competition.” But let’s get back to the discussion about Fiverr.

TALKING TO A WALL

No matter how hard we tried to inject some logic and common sense into the heated exchange, people kept questioning our motives. They thought we just wanted to impress, or get some coaching clients out of the debate.

Then the moderator (who took part in the back-and-forth) had had enough. With the click of a mouse he removed the entire thread. That’s when I decided to remove myself from the group.

Closed minds make the worst students. 

Yet, I cannot put all the blame on the inexperienced, skeptical members of this group. When people regard you as an uninvited guest, it’s often better to stay under the radar, and I didn’t.

In my view, people are more open to advice from those they know and trust. I did not really know the people I was talking to, and they clearly didn’t trust me. There was no rapport, and that was mistake number one.

EXPOSING IGNORANCE

Secondly, people don’t like it when their ignorance is publicly exposed. They feel humiliated, and become defensive. Perhaps I had advocated my point of view as THE truth, which is never a good thing. Many roads lead to Rome. Some are just a bit longer than others. People need to learn from their mistakes, so, who am I to deny them a significant aha moment?

The thing is: opinions can be discarded. Life experience is harder to refute. 

Instead of blasting the Facebook group with my “wisdom,” I could have asked: “May I give a suggestion?” Putting it that way tends to removes resistance. 

Third, when people make an investment (e.g. in my services as a coach), they’re usually more invested in what is offered. For instance, I can tell one person something, and they respond with “Whatever.” I can say the same thing to a student, and they tell me it’s the best suggestion ever. Go figure!

The last piece of advice I would give myself is this: 

Don’t waste your time giving eye-openers to people who are willfully blind.

Too many beginners don’t know what they don’t know, and when a horse isn’t thirsty, you can’t get it to drink.

And by the way…

Whenever I see someone stranded by the side of the road, I still feel inclined to pull over and help.

I must be a very naïve and strange person!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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photo credit: Day 5, Ape Can’t Trust Man via photopin (license)

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Voice-Over Newbies: You Have Been Warned!

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Gear, International, Internet, Money Matters, Studio 24 Comments

Today I’m going to jump right into the topic of this blog.

No teasers. 

No anecdotes.

No mysterious introductions.

Right now I want to take a few minutes to talk about the pitfalls of a voice-over career. Now matter how many times you’ve dreamed about becoming the next Tom Kenny or Nancy Cartwright, you should never jump into the ocean if you don’t know how to swim. Too many hopefuls are drowning, and I don’t want you to be one of them. 

Here’s what you need to know.

NUMBER ONE

Most people tend to underestimate what it takes to become a full-time, for-profit voice-over. Why is that? Because the job of a true pro is to make it sound easy, spontaneous, and seamless. The best actors distinguish themselves by their ability to fool everyone into thinking that they’re not acting. Just because it sounds easy or looks easy, doesn’t mean it IS easy. 

So, pitfall number one is underestimating the difficulty of having to be natural in an unnatural situation. It requires a special ability to sound authentic even if you don’t believe a word of what you’re saying, as well as the skill to sound sincere, conversational, and real, as someone else is putting weird words into your mouth. To be honest: most people can’t do it.

NUMBER TWO

Pitfall number two is the technical aspect of this business. The number one reason most auditions get rejected is bad audio. You may have the perfect pipes for the job, but if you’re talking into a cheap microphone with a lot of self-noise, you lack basic microphone technique, and your recording space is not isolated and acoustically treated, you’re wasting your time. 

That expensive demo you just recorded in this great recording studio is worth nothing if you have no way of producing clean and professional audio recorded in your home. 

NUMBER THREE

Let’s boil it down to one word: professionalism. It’s easy to do this as a hobby, but as soon as you advertise yourself as a voice-over professional, things get serious. That label creates expectations, and rightly so. Clients hate it when they need to hold your hand. That’s not what they’re paying you for. 

As a pro you have to know how to run a freelance business with you being the CEO, the CFO, the head of marketing, advertising, and sales. You run the bookkeeping department, and you’re the audio engineer, as well as the featured talent. Plus, if you’re online, you’re running a global business!

Too many beginners are trying to figure things out on the fly, without any preparation or training. Why on earth would they do that? It’s asking for trouble. 

NUMBER FOUR

The next pitfall is a big one: money. You’ve got to spend money to make money, but you didn’t need me to tell you that.

While it is possible to get started as a VO with a simple recording set-up, please remember that you’re competing with people who have been doing this for years. These are people with a soundproof studio, a really nice microphone and preamp, and a website that attracts clients. It all adds up. On top of that, you have to stay afloat financially, while you are building your business. Your bank wants you to continue to pay your mortgage, and you do want to keep your health insurance, don’t you?

Secondly, while the cost of living goes up every year, voice-over rates have been going down at a dramatic degree. If you want to do this for a living, you can’t rely on doing the odd job here and there, unless you have a partner who can help you out, financially. You need to make sure that you have a consistent flow of projects coming your way, and that’s easier said than done – even for voice-overs. My advice: have a cash cushion that will help you stay afloat for… a few years.

Lastly, too many newbies quote or accept a job, even when they have no idea what to charge. Can you imagine a baker or a florist running her store that way? Clients love getting a bargain, but do you really want to contribute to the problem of sliding rates?

NUMBER FIVE

This is another big one: time. We live in an impatient world. Very few people experience overnight success. You can’t buy your way into a voice-over career. It needs to be earned. Slowly. The people who are at the top of their game are not the people that just started doing voice-overs. Most of them have been at it for years. 

VO is not a get rich quick – I can do this part-time scheme. The only people who can do this on the side are A-list actors who don’t depend on VO for a living. Ironically, they are the ones collecting all the awards.

Again, most people underestimate how long it may take before their voice can be the main source of revenue. For many, it will never happen. That’s not me being mean. That’s me warning you based on decades of experience, and on input from people like you. 

NUMBER SIX

Next on the list is increased competition. In case you hadn’t noticed, you’re not the only one who thinks he can do a mean Morgan Freeman impression, or talk like a movie trailer man. We have plenty of those folks in our ranks, and the role of Morgan Freeman is already taken by… Morgan Freeman. 

If you don’t have a specialty or a niche, it’s going to be tough to make your mark because you’re basically redundant. Technology has made it a lot cheaper an easier to get started. You don’t need to be close to a studio to do your work. That means that every frustrated teacher, every burned-out retail clerk, and every unemployed actor (which happens to be the majority) is now your competition.

But wait, there’s more. Much more!

NUMBER SEVEN

If you want to hear a number other things you should look out for, I invite you to listen to Jamie Muffett’s VO School Podcast

You’ll find it on SoundCloud, iTunes, Google Play, and a few other platforms. Jamie is producing and hosting this podcast in collaboration with Backstage Magazine

In the latest episode, agent Erik Sheppard and I talk candidly about the many schemes you shouldn’t fall for when starting in this business. 

Please join us, and don’t tell me I didn’t warn you!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Calling it Quits

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Money Matters 19 Comments

There.

He said it.

And I happen to agree with him.

My agent Erik has a YouTube Channel every voice talent should watch and subscribe to. It’s called The Outspoken. Erik uses this channel to answer questions, and to expose all the BS that’s going on in the voice-over world. Let me tell you: he’s got his job cut out for him!

A week or so ago, Erik posted a video with no-nonsense advice for voice-over newbies and coaches. To coaches he had this to say:

“I feel it’s irresponsible in today’s market to bring in and encourage new talent.”

And for newbies he dropped this bombshell:

“Your chances of making it big are close to… nil.”

That’s not the message most people want to hear, and yet they have to hear it again and again until it sinks into their stubborn skulls. And if you don’t take Erik’s word for it, listen to what one of your colleagues had to say. He just wrote me this email:

“Paul, I know that you’re a good source for the up and up on voiceovers and was just wondering: are voiceover actors getting obsolete? I have been doing this for well over nine years now; had my ups and downs, but lately it’s been on the downside. I was used to making thousands of dollars on the side doing this, but now it’s virtually nothing, so now I’m trying to reignite my IT career once again. It’s not something that I really like, but I do have a degree in it. I like doing voiceovers a lot more, but it is very slim pickens now. Just wondering if you knew anything going on in the voiceover industry that might be happening with voice talent.”

Well, a lot is happening, and it ain’t all good.

So many talented, hard-working people are having a tough time right now. Don’t think we’re the only group of flex workers that has trouble in this fickle gig economy, though. Freelance photographers, graphic designers, copywriters, event planners, fitness trainers, independent music teachers, -even therapists in private practice are struggling to find clients, and make ends meet. Some of them are ready to pull the plug. The question is:

How do you know it is time to hang up your hat?

Different people have different reasons. For some it’s purely financial. Others have trouble keeping up with the changing nature of their business. So, what are some of the reasons for wanting or needing to call it quits?

Here’s a quick checklist:

You’re not booking enough jobs, and you’re running out of money.

You have no bites on Pay-to-Plays, and agents aren’t interested.

You don’t know how to distinguish yourself from the rest of the pack.

You can’t afford to invest in quality equipment and/or coaching, and you have no money to outsource the things you hate doing.

You find it tough to market yourself, and to sell your services. 

You have a hard time motivating yourself. You’re bored doing the same thing over and over again. There’s no challenge, and no room to grow, 

You’re stressed out by the uncertainty that comes with so-called freelance freedom.

You can’t organize or prioritize.

You need a lot of hand-holding and spoon-feeding.

You’re feeling isolated and lonely. You miss daily, in-person interaction with colleagues.

You want to leave your work at work, but you can’t keep your personal life separate from your professional life, and your family is suffering.

You’re working too much for too little. 

You want it all, and you want it NOW, but after three years things are not improving. 

You long for a job with regular hours & benefits, and a predictable income.

Here’s my rule of thumb. If you’ve checked off at least five boxes, you have some serious soul-searching to do. No one is forcing you to make this voice-over thing happen. But you’re the boss, and it’s up to you how long you want to keep going at it.

FACE THE FACTS

If I’m totally honest, I believe that some seventy to eighty percent of people calling themselves voice-over talent have no business being in this business. They’re not cut out for it. They have very few skills, and almost no talent. Their chances of making it big are close to nil. All they can do is compete on price, which will be their downfall.

Now, listen. If you’re part of this group, that doesn’t mean you’re a hopeless, horrible human being. You probably have other talents in other areas. As I said in my article 5 Reasons Why You Should Never Become a Voice-Over…

“We have enough people talking into microphones. What this world needs is less talk and more action. We need teachers, doctors, nurses, and scientists. We need experts in conflict resolution, people who know how to fight global warming, and first responders to natural disasters.

If you want to make a real difference on this planet, don’t hide behind soundproof walls selling stuff no one needs. Get out there and start helping the poor, the homeless, and the ones without a voice. They need you more than Disney does.”

UNKIND WORDS

You may think that this sounds harsh, and that it doesn’t apply to you. After all, I don’t know you, and I don’t care about you. Well, that’s not necessarily so. I know too many naive hopefuls like you, who are being ripped off by unscrupulous characters and companies selling them a pipe dream that will never come true. I really don’t want you to fall for those expensive schemes. And get this…

If even pros with years of experience and an impressive portfolio have trouble booking jobs these days, you need to bring something very special to the table if you wish to compete at the highest level. You need to have a comfortable cash cushion to survive the first few years, and you must be strong and determined enough to withstand massive rejection.

If that’s you, then by all means: GO FOR IT! Prove Erik and me wrong!

You’ll become part of a select, supportive community of go-getters, risk takers, fast learners, and people who are sillier than the characters they’re paid to play. All of them have this in common:

At one point in their lives they made one of the most important decisions that propelled them to where they are now.

They decided to quit quitting.

If that’s something you know deep down you can do, you better fasten your seatbelt.

It’s going to be a crazy ride!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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The Key To Promoting Your Business

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Journalism & Media, Promotion, Social Media 14 Comments

If you’re like most colleagues I know, you love doing what you’re doing for a living…

… but you hate selling yourself. 

Am I right?

I know I felt that way for a long, long time.

My mom and dad brought me up to be modest, and to never put myself on a pedestal. And that’s what selling and self-promotion really is about, right? Tooting your own horn is an exercise in vanity, telling the world how great you are, and why people should buy from you.

Maybe it’s a generational thing, but millennials don’t seem to have so many reservations about it. The word “humble” has been removed from the humble brag. We live in the age of the shameless selfie, and the i-everything. The iPhone, iPad, the i can have anything I want whenever I want it. Now. 

Beauty is in the I of the beholder, and the world shall bear witness. 

These days, it’s super cool and common to document one’s life in “vids and pics,” and give everybody a front row seat. Just follow people around on social media. Without telling you they’re telling you: 

Look at where I’m going!

Look at what I’m eating!

Look at my kids!

Look at my cats!

Look at my coffee!

Look at my new car!

Look at my new wife!

Look at ME!

Gimme some likes. Gimme some love. Gimme the feeling that I matter. I beg you!

Worst of all, some people are taking this self-absorbed attitude to their marketing strategy, because they believe that effective marketing revolves around self-promotion. If you don’t tell the world about your magnificent offerings, the world will go somewhere else. At least, that’s what they’re afraid of. 

Let me ask you: Is that really how it works? Is this the new way to attract clients? Why are people doing this?

INSTAGRAM

I spend way too much time on social media, and this week I’m trying to crack this monster called Instagram. It’s exciting to see how many colleagues have embraced it wholeheartedly, and I want to learn from them. What are they posting? What hashtags are they using? Do they seem to have a specific strategy to promote their business?

Here’s what I’ve noticed.

I see lots of pictures of cute animals, sunsets, waterfalls, babies, fabulous food, family members, beaches, cups of coffee, art work, quotes about the meaning of life, and yes… selfies. 

Don’t get me wrong: some of these pictures are gorgeous, and as an amateur photographer I get inspired. But what do snapshots from a family album tell me about someone’s business? Are they meant to promote something, or what?

PERSONAL OR PROFESSIONAL

Perhaps I’m wrong, but it looks like a majority of the colleagues I am now following is using Instagram strictly for personal reasons. That’s why they don’t have a business account, and that’s why I see photos of cousin David’s bris, and auntie Annie’s aging Pomeranian. Both are equally painful, I might add.

I see these things on Facebook too, by the way -particularly if people have connected Facebook to their Instagram account. That means you get to see the same boring stuff twice. I’ve also noticed that some colleagues are still using a Facebook Profile to promote their voice-over services, instead of having a separate business page (click here if you want to know more about that).

What’s behind this? Is it because the boundaries between our personal and professional lives are slowly fading? Are people doing this because they feel that good marketing is based on self(ie)-promotion, or are they basically clueless, or too self-absorbed? 

IT’S NOT ABOUT ME

My philosophy as a solopreneur is simple: I am in business to serve my clients as best as I can. That means my marketing has to be centered on the people I serve, and hope to serve. It has to be about them. Always.

To come up with a marketing message, I have to think about my clients, and ask them questions like: 

– What do you need? 

– What do you want? 

– How can I best help you?

Contrast and compare that to the “Look at ME” strategy.

I strongly believe that I have something to offer; something my (potential) clients are searching for. I am a resource, and it is my job to connect (future) clients to that resource. Now, people won’t find me if they don’t know I exist. The challenge is to make it easy to find me, and to show my prospects what I can do for them without making it the never-ending Strikwerda show. 

My marketing goal is threefold. It is to…

1. Increase awareness of the Nethervoice brand

2. Position myself as an experienced, knowledgeable premium provider people can trust

3. Engage my audience, and lead people to my website

As one of the more outspoken members of the voice-over community, there’s a fourth goal worth mentioning: I want to be a strong voice in, and a resource to my community. That’s why I use social media to promote this blog. It’s obvious that this effort supports my three main goals. 

The question is: Will I reach these goals by posting cute pictures of cats, sunsets, and sangria?

WHAT’S YOUR REASON

Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against people who are using the internet to share their lives with others. If you’re one of those people, you’ve got to ask yourself: For what purpose am I doing this? How can I use social media to grow my business?

It’s no secret that with more and more talent trying to make buck or two, clients have a huge pool of people they can choose from. What are the chances they will find you, and pick you? What can you do to increase the odds? Yes, YOU! Not that Pay-to-Play, or those agents. YOU!

I’ve come up with a marketing strategy that works for me, and I’m refining it week by week. That doesn’t mean it will work for you. Not everybody is a blogger. Not everybody is comfortable using 140 characters to craft a message. It takes time to learn the ins and outs of Instagram (and I’ve only started to scratch the surface).

But no matter what you do, it all starts by thinking of the people you wish to serve, and the clients you want to attract.

It is not one, big ego trip.

Use your marketing as a magnet.

If it’s strong enough, you’ll be able to monetize it.

Once the money starts coming in, you’ll have lots of time to post cute pictures of your feline friends. 

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Help, I’m on Instagram! Now what?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Freelancing, Journalism & Media, Promotion, Social Media Leave a comment

Some have called it: “The next Facebook.”

Since it’s owned by Facebook, that’s a bit of a stretch.

No matter how you look at it, Instagram is the second most popular social media platform on the planet.

Instagram has more monthly active users than Twitter. About 700 million people now use Instagram every month, with about 400 million of them checking in daily. Eighty percent of users are outside of the United States.

In spite of these impressive numbers, I have neglected Instagram for years. To me, it was just one more thing to do, and to be frank, I didn’t really know what to do with it. I’m not an exhibitionist, and I didn’t feel the need to let perfect strangers into my private life that’s far from picturesque. Also, I didn’t want to become one of those people ruining a perfect moment to snap an Instagram photo, instead of experiencing that moment.

Life needs to be lived. Not observed. Observation creates detachment, instead of closeness.

MISSING OUT

As the number of Instagram users started to grow rapidly, I began to suffer from a mild case of FOMO, the Fear Of Missing Out. Was I doing my voice-over business a disservice by ignoring this platform?

Because of its visual nature, millenials prefer Instagram over Facebook and Twitter. Hashtags make it easy to find and grow an audience. You don’t need to have access to your computer to use it, and there is less competition from other small businesses.

As a solopreneur who leads a fairly isolated existence due to the nature of my job, making new connections is vital to the survival of my modest enterprise. So, could Instagram connect me to new clients, and provide me with a fun and effective way to stay in touch with my readers? Social Media gurus have done the math.

Engagement with brands on Instagram is said to be 10 times higher than Facebook, 54 times higher than Pinterest, and 84 times higher than Twitter. Experts tell me that even if I had less followers than on other channels, my Instagram audience would be far more interactive. With so much untapped potential, I decided it was time to give my Instagram account some love!

WHAT TO EXPECT

If you’re already on Instagram, what can you expect from me? Pictures of my cats, and other family members? Photos of food, my visits to the gym, or vacation snapshots? If that’s what you were hoping for, I have to disappoint you.

If Instagram is supposed to be this powerful tool to reach thousands if not millions of people, I want to use it to inspire. That’s goal number one. Goal number two is to increase awareness of the Nethervoice brand (to use marketing-speak), and to drive people to my website. It’s not all fun and games. I have to make a living.

My strategy is to post one picture a day with a quote from one of my blog posts. It’s easy on the eyes, and it will make you think. It reinforces my message, and I hope that those who have never read my blog and book, will get curious. That’s the plan. Will it work? I have no idea, but I’ll keep you posted. Right now I have 338 followers, so there’s plenty of room to grow.

If you’re already on Instagram, you can do me a huge favor, and follow mehttps://www.instagram.com/nethervoice/ I will gladly follow you back. Here are two examples of the type of posts you can look forward to:

Are you on Instagram? What has been your experience, so far? Has it been beneficial to your business, or is it just another way to socialize online? Please share your tips and comments below.

Thanks!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Should You Neutralize Your Accent?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career 15 Comments

©Paul Strikwerda“Voice-seekers are idiots. 

Well… some of them,” said one of my colleagues, known for her strong opinions. 

“Why is that?” I asked. 

“Because they ask for the impossible, especially when it comes to accents.” Her argument went like this…

Take your typical voice-over job listing:

Project: Short Video
Language: English
Gender: Both
Age: Middle Aged
Budget: Embarrassingly low (but it’s great experience!)

Here’s the 64,000 dollar question. Based on this description…

Should you take a few moments of your valuable time to record a demo?

If the answer is YES, what’s going to be your approach? How do you know what the client will be listening for? What exactly does she need to hear to hire you?

Here’s the honest answer:

YOU HAVE NO CLUE!

It’s the story of a man walking into a bar asking for “a drink.” The bartender randomly selects a bottle and pours a trendy macaroon-infused vodka. After one disgusting sip the man turns to the barman and says: “That’s not what I wanted!” The bartender responds: “How was I supposed to know? You could have been a bit more specific!”

The barman has a point. So, let’s see if we can be more precise in our imaginary job description by adding one word:

Language: English (British)

That’s a big help, isn’t it? The voice-seeker simply wants a UK-accent.

But not too fast…is there such a thing as a “British accent“?

As you know, the United Kingdom consists of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Even though there’s a great degree of uniformity when it comes to written British English within the UK, when a Scotsman from Aberdeen and a Cockney from London open their mouths, they sound like they’re from a different planet. Some might argue they actually are. Bottom line: a uniform “British accent” is as real as the Loch Ness Monster.

BBC

To get a better idea of the variety of British inflections, the BBC captured 1,200 voices of the United Kingdom, Channel Islands, and the Isle of Man, and made them available online.

All you had to do is click on a dot on the map, and it would take you to an audio clip of a regional speaker. Get this: some of the clips had to be subtitled! Even seasoned BBC listeners couldn’t always understand some of their fellow countrymen and women.

Unfortunately, this resource is no longer available. 

HER MAJESTY

But what about RP, you might ask. RP or Received Pronunciation is sometimes called “The Queen’s English” or BBC English. It is estimated that only 2 percent of UK citizens speak a pure form of RP.

Recordings show that even Queen Elizabeth has changed her accent over the past 50 years, and the BBC has long abandoned the policy of only hiring people for their posh pronunciation. Instead, you’ll find a wide range of accents at the Beeb, and these days, a mock 1950’s BBC accent is only used in comedy.

Voice-seekers wake up!

BBC English died a long time ago. You probably aren’t even looking for a British accent, but for a stereotype. A cliché. And if that’s not what you want, you need to be much more specific. John Cleese, Ricky Gervais, Russel Brand, and Sir Ian McKellen all have UK accents. But do they sound the same? To quote Monty Python: “Say no more!”

THE NEW WORLD

An estimated two thirds of all native English speakers live in the United States. The English spoken on the streets of Miami is remarkably different from the accents you’ll hear in the Deep South or in Vancouver.

Many of the nation’s newscasters tend to speak GA (General American) or ABE (American Broadcast English). Television journalist Linda Ellerbee, who worked hard to eliminate a Texas accent, said: “in television you are not supposed to sound like you’re from anywhere”.

So, is that what voice-seekers want when they ask for a North American accent?  Shall we pretend that we came out of nowhere and sound as neutral as the taste of tap water?

Should we, like Linda Ellerbee, lose our Southern twang and work hard to sound just like the Cronkites, the Lauers, and the Courics? Will that land us the job? Or should we look at our accent as an asset; something that distinguishes us from the rest of the pack?

Here’s the thing: why sound like everyone else? Why not bring some color to the grey masses? Geico’s gecko doesn’t speak ABE. And what about that “fabulous” Orbit chewing gum girl? These actors didn’t get the gig because they went for “neutral.”

Voice-seekers, please listen to me: you don’t want to have to weed through hours of auditions, but you have to help us out here. Tell us what you want in as much detail as possible. If you want us to sing it, you need to bring it. If you don’t give us a clear idea of the destination, how are we supposed to get there?

GOING NEUTRAL

Here’s by far the worst thing you could ever throw at us:

Language: English (neutral)

Who came up with that brilliant idea? What does “neutral” sound like? It’s like asking Bobby Flay to cook a flavorless meal. Can you imagine a casting director asking Kevin Spacey who is auditioning for a role, to play the part without personality? Would snowboarder Shaun White enjoy such worldwide appeal, had he chosen to stay Mr. Plain and boring?

It boils down to this.

An accent is a way of pronouncing a language. It is therefore impossible to speak without an accent. No one is neutral. And I’ll tell you something else: voice seekers are starting to realize that their voice of choice could have a dramatic impact on the conversion rate of their website. Here’s where it gets really interesting for people like you and me!

Ginger software makes a contextual grammar and spelling checker that enables writers to produce error-free texts. It’s geared toward people for whom English is a second language. Ginger asked video optimization firm EyeView to develop an introductory video for their homepage to increase the conversion of this page for visitors.

The conversion goal for the page was for visitors to click the Free Download button. EyeView had a choice to make. Would they go with a British narrator, or with an American talent? Would it even make a difference? What do you think?

THE EXPERIMENT

EyeView decided to run a test:  50% of the global audience saw the video with a British voice-over, and 50% saw it with the voice-over performed with an American accent. The result: globally, the British voice-over was 4% more effective at converting visitors into downloaders. The Catholic Church would be thrilled with this rate of conversion! But wait… there’s more! EyeView:

“For US audiences, the conversion rate for the British accent was 5.5% higher than the American one – above the global average. In Canada, the British accent still outperformed the American, but by a mere 1.5%.

Irish viewers watching the British version converted 12% more often than those hearing an American voice while the response of the Australians was even more extreme. Viewers “down under” converted 32% more often when pitched with Pommy tones than with an American twang.”

Only in the UK and India, the American voice-over outperformed her British counterpart. So much for “neutral”. And so far, Ginger has seen a 15% increase in the number of people downloading their software.

The next time you wonder whether or not you should do that voice-over job for $125, think of the tremendous impact your voice can have on the sales of a business. In these times of economic woes, an increase of 15% is a CEO’s dream. That’s surely worth more than a symbolic fee.

NYTimes bestselling author Bryan Eisenberg is an authority and pioneer in online marketing and improving online conversion rates. He was the key note speaker at the Search Engine Strategies Expo in London, a few years ago. His talk was called: “21 Secrets of Top Converting Websites. In his speech, the EyeView experiment was on the top of his list.

MY SECRET

When people ask me about my personal voice-over ‘secret,’ this is what I tell them:

Even though it’s fun to do all kinds of accents and characters, nine out of ten times clients hire me because I sound like me, and not like someone else.

That signature sound is a combination of my upbringing, my education, my travels, and my love for music and languages. My accent is the result of time spent living and working in the Netherlands, England, Israel, and the United States. It’s a blend of my biology and my biography. I can honestly say that I do my best work as soon as I stop pretending to be someone I’m not.

Allow me to accentuate one last thing.

Being me has one big advantage:

I have very little competition!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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THE EXPERIMENT
EyeView decided
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It’s Time To Choose

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play, Personal 8 Comments

Back in the Netherlands (where I was born), the fathers of my two best friends both worked in the same chemical plant.

I was eight or nine years old, so I wasn’t sure what the plant was producing. We did notice nasty clouds of yellow smoke coming from the chimney day and night. The stream behind the main building was smelly and bereft of life. My parents always warned me not to play there. 

Then, a local journalist, suspicious of what was going on, went undercover for a year, and with the help of an environmental group, he discovered that this plant was dumping dangerous chemicals left and right to save money. That money, by the way, went straight into the coffers of the two brothers who owned the plant.

The news of the pollution shocked and surprised the community, but it turned out that many employees knew all along what was going on. They said management had told them the dumping was necessary to keep the plant competitive, and that mother nature could handle it. 

How did the fathers of my friends respond? Very differently! One said that what this plant was doing was despicable, and he could no longer work for a factory that poisoned the environment for the sake of profit. So, he quit.

The other wasn’t happy about the pollution either, but said he needed to make a living. His family depended on his job, and he couldn’t afford to give it up. “Don’t make me feel guilty for staying,” he used to say to critics. “Do you want my family to starve? There’s no pride in poverty!”

While the father who quit went on to start his own business, the one who stayed died within a year. Doctors said his cancer was probably linked to the chemicals he had been dumping on a daily basis. 

A UNIVERSAL EXPERIENCE

This story of choices and the consequences of those choices is by no means unique. All over the world, at any hour of the day, good people do great work in bad organizations. They know the organization is bad, and yet they stay. Why? Because it pays the bills, and they have no other job lined up.

You see, the father who left the chemical plant had a small side business going on in his spare time. He had developed a line of biodegradable cleaning agents, and with the help of an investor he was able to launch his own brand which eventually became a household name. 

I was reminded of this saga after reading some of the responses to my last blog post entitled A Deal With The Devil, about voices dot com acquiring Voicebank. In it, I think I’m pretty clear:

It is time to choose sides.

Either, you’re part of the solution, or you’re part of the problem. As long as you keep investing in a company that does not have your best interest at heart, you keep that company in business. So, if you want voices dot com to stop poisoning the voice-over well while it is grabbing a larger share of the market, you have to act, and you have to act now. It’s in your own interest, and in the interest of your community. That is, if you feel part of that community.

Perhaps there’s the rub. 

To me the word collegial means “relating to, or involving shared responsibility, as among a group of colleagues.” It means standing up for common interests, and having each other’s backs. It refers to a friendly spirit of cooperation. As far as I’m concerned, we have a common goal:

To deliver the best service, to increase our standards, and to ensure that we’re getting paid a fair and decent rate.

BROTHER AGAINST BROTHER

Clients love to have us fight among ourselves, especially about what we charge. They’re trying to drive a wedge between those who sell their talent for less, and those who refuse to devalue what we have to offer. It’s up to us to play that game or not.

No matter where we stand, all VO Pros are small business owners, and it’s a no-brainer that the higher our rates, the more we make. The more we make, the more we can share and grow. So, it’s in our best interest to do whatever we can as a group and as individuals to educate clients and newcomers, and charge a decent rate for decent work so you and I can make a good living.

People have asked me to explain what I mean by a “decent rate,” and “making a good living.” That’s a good question.

My definition of a making good living is going to sound rather technical. It’s to make enough money to cover a family’s needs, to achieve financial independence while maintaining housing and food security, and have enough resources for health care, child care, education, transportation, savings, taxes, charitable giving, vacations, investments, and provisions for retirement or home purchases that build wealth, and ensure long-term financial security. A decent rate is a rate that allows you to realize these goals. 

Is that something you’re interested in? 

MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS

You may believe it’s none of my business what you or other people charge, or to which Pay to Play you want to belong, but I believe it is everybody’s business, because we don’t operate in a vacuum. We’re all connected, whether we realize it or not. The movement of the markets is the result of many, many individual decisions. 

Some readers thought it was incredibly rude of me to suggest that someone who’s okay with doing low-budget jobs, finds another line of work. Well, I think it is rude to resort to predatory pricing to undercut the competition by cheapening the value of our services. People who are willing to work for less than minimum wage or in some cases for free just to get exposure, should seriously consider another career before going broke trying to break into the business. 

“But Paul, I can’t afford to leave voices dot com. I have to eat. My family has to eat.” 

Well, I’ve been freelancing for most of my life, and I’ve discovered that it doesn’t have to be either/or: either we starve asking for a decent rate, or we eat while charging a rate that’s not so great. It’s a false dilemma. It’s also bad business as a freelancer to make yourself dependent on one or two sources of income. You’re supposed to be an independent contractor!

Every time someone gets hired for a reasonable rate, they prove that clients are willing to pay good money for good work. It’s a matter of identifying one’s strengths, and targeting clients looking for someone with those strengths. If you’re not doing so well financially speaking, you might be looking and booking in the wrong places. But if you’re good at what you do, you compete on much more than price. You compete on added value!

Remember what I tell my clients?

My added value is always higher than my rate.

YOU DESERVE MORE

There’s no pride in settling for less than you deserve. If you feel you’re not getting paid what you’re worth, hire a coach to help you improve and grow your business. That’s where you should spend your money. Don’t spend it on a hefty membership fee that gives you the privilege of auditioning for low-paying jobs that may go out to hundreds if not thousands of other “privileged” members. 

Now, let’s be honest. If you feel that voices dot com rates are as fair as their business practices, I want you to explain why it would be beneficial to a freelancer to leave money on the table, and why it’s okay to play a part in the overall decline of voice-over rates. Explain to me why it is fine for a non transparent company like voices dot com to turn voice actors into a commodity, and keep most of the money for managing a job (whatever that means), and handling your payment. I dare you!

The people who decided to stay with “Voices,” have told me they are aware of what’s going on, and they don’t necessarily approve. If that’s the case, I challenge you to get a spine, raise your voice, and contact the CEO, David Ciccarelli. Tell him exactly how you feel, and give him a chance to respond. Companies can change course under pressure, and Ciccarelli knows that without voices, there is no voices dot com. Let’s see if the company you still trust, is trustworthy, and open to feedback.

Here’s what I’m wondering, though: Do you have the guts to speak your mind, or will you continue to whine about people who you think are trying to make you feel guilty (thereby making them the problem, and not voices dot com)?

BACK TO HOLLAND

Meanwhile, the chemical plant in the Netherlands I was talking about denied the allegations, and tried to discredit the journalist who had exposed their practices. The government launched an independent investigation, and did indeed find that the chemical company had been poisoning the environment for years, putting an entire community at risk.

The company was ordered to pay a huge fine, clean up the polluted property, and change their production process. The brothers who owned the plant said they could not afford to do that, and when the government forced them to, they declared bankruptcy. Hundreds of people lost their jobs. 

Rumor has it that the two brothers moved to Switzerland, where they live a life of luxury.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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A Deal With The Devil

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play 29 Comments

Thanks a lot VoiceBank. You just made a deal with the devil.

Yes, you desperately needed a facelift, and you needed more money to up your services. Your auditions had turned into cattle calls. But we trusted you. Our agents trusted you. And now you’ve betrayed us in the worst way by jumping into bed with the Ciccarelli’s

Selling VoiceBank wasn’t really “selling.” It was selling out.

Don’t tell me you didn’t know what you were doing. You knew about their business model, screwing talent at every corner, cheapening our noble profession. But you were horny for money, and you took whatever you could get. And thanks to the kind folks at Morgan Stanley Expansion Capital, I’m sure you got a pretty sum. 

By taking the cash, you have shown your true nature, VoiceBank. Likes attract. You even admitted it in the press release:

“From early meetings,” said VoiceBank CEO Jeff Hixon, “it was clear to me that our companies had much in common, including a similar vision for the future.”

And what might that future be?

* Strengthening an unethical, greedy middle man who charges a hefty membership fee (which will probably increase), and takes a 40 – 50% “management fee”?

* Bypassing agents who negotiate fair terms & fees for the talent they represent? Putting them out of business, perhaps?

* Turning more and more union jobs into non-union jobs?

* Speeding up the race to the bottom?

* Turning unique voice talent into a commodity?

Hixon continued:

“(…) this relationship with Voices.com will be an invaluable benefit for both Voicebank.net and our customers.”

One category is clearly missing in this statement, and it is telling. Hixon forgot to mention voice talent. You know, the people who put the “voices” in VoiceBank and voices dot com (VDC). These voices are outraged, stunned, and disgusted. They also know that one can do a lot with 18 million dollars of Morgan Stanley money, but one cannot buy quality or integrity. 

As a result of this acquisition, a hungry, hopeful mob of cheap, amateur talent will be released to clients and casting directors. Let’s see how much time a busy voice booker is willing to spend, listening to a never-ending stream of VDC crap auditions. Casting directors have already been bypassing VoiceBank, counting on agents to find the right voices. That’s not going to change now that the Canadians are in charge. 

AGENCIES

Let’s see how many agents will cut their ties with VoiceBank, and double their efforts to make the most of their network of connections. Here’s the thing: the value of VoiceBank lies in the agencies and their roster. Take away the agencies, and you take away the value of the acquisition. The exodus has already begun. 

In fact, nine agencies have just formed the VO AGENT ALLIANCE, pledging Fairness, Integrity, Confidentiality, Professionalism and Diligence. The VO Agent Alliance is actively expanding, and ready to speak with other agencies willing to stand up for our industry. The nine agencies are In Both Ears, Go Voices, Voice Talent Productions, Play Talent, Umberger Agency, DeSanti Talents Agency, Rockstar Entertainment, The Actors Group, and ta-da! Voiceworks.

UNION RESPONSE

Let’s find out what SAG-AFTRA’s response will be. Perhaps this is their chance to show the voice acting community that -at last- it is taken seriously. Their reaction came on August 23rd, and it was lame and late:

“This new consolidation is of interest to SAG-AFTRA considering it could potentially impact members in the future. We will be in regular conversation on the subject with members, talent agents and casting directors, along with VDC and Voicebank. If you have any questions, please email adsgounion@sagaftra.org.”

AND YOU

What can you as voice-over do? Talk to your agent(s), and express your concerns and your support. Tell them you don’t want to have anything to do with the new and deteriorated VoiceBank. Ask them to pull out, and move on. If you subscribe to the weekly workouts, call to cancel, and tell VoiceBank why. Donate the money you save to WoVo and GVAA.

If you still have a profile on voices dot com (whether it’s free or not), ask to be removed immediately. If you seek a solution, you can’t be part of the problem. As long as you keep investing in a company that does not have your best interest at heart, you keep that company in business. It’s that simple.

The bottom line is this:

Voices dot com may now own VoiceBank.net, but it does not own you or me.

As voice talent, we cannot control companies, clients, or colleagues. We can only control ourselves. I left VDC a long time ago, and I survived. I have never landed a job through VoiceBank, and I’m still here. I have quite a few amazing agents, but if I had to rely on them to make a living, I’d be out on the street.

At the end of the day, I am my best agent. No one will do more to further my career than the guy who stares back at me in the mirror. I know I don’t control the winds of change, but I know how to adjust my sales. And no, that’s not a typo.

Out in my neighborhood I just walked passed a majestic sunflower. It had taken months to grow from a small seed into a radiant explosion of yellow. But today, something had changed. 

The giant flower became top-heavy; too full of itself, and now it is bending its small neck toward the ground.

It became a victim of its own weight.

In a day or two, it will all be over.  

You can bank on that!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Who’s Afraid Of Decent Rates?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Freelancing, International, Internet, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play 34 Comments

AfraidNewsflash!

The great rate debate is still going strong.

I’ve been writing about the erosion of voice-over rates for years, and every day, clients and colleagues are arguing privately and publicly about the value of our voices.

One thing is certain: that value keeps going down. Talk is getting cheaper and cheaper.

What’s going on?

Let’s begin with our clients. It’s so easy to blame clients for this downward trend, because they’re the ones paying us. However, I think it’s time to cut them some slack. So many of them are small players in a big, international market. Because that market is unregulated, and there are no universal prices, they have a hard time figuring out how much they can expect to pay for our services. That’s not really their fault.

A majority of voice-overs do not list their rates, hoping clients will contact them and ask for a quote. Those quotes may differ greatly because we need to take so many variables into account, and frankly, many of us don’t always know what to charge. Go to a VO Facebook group on any given day, and you’ll find someone asking for advice on price.

TURNING A PROFIT

Because I run my own business, I completely understand that my clients want to keep their costs low, and their revenue up. If you can get great service at a great price, why pay a penny more? I also understand that there’s a link between what you pay and what you get, no matter what industry you’re in. It’s foolish to expect top quality at a bargain-basement price, unless you’re benefitting from a liquidation sale.

These days, everyone’s online, and that complicates matters. It may seem that we’re all operating on a level playing field (the world wide web), which is not the case. It is anything but level, but try explaining that to an imaginary photographer in Latvia, who needs a few English voices for a website he’s launching. He’s offering $20 for 5 minutes of VO, which he believes is perfectly reasonable because he’s hired local talent at that price. He wants to know:

Why should I pay $250 for a 5-minute voice-over, if Olga in Riga is willing to do it for $20?

I told him: “Your job posting tells me that you’re looking for voice-overs with an authentic British accent. If Olga can pull that off, why not hire her? The reason you’re posting your job overseas is that ’20-dollar Olga’ has no idea what she’s doing. Her accent is clearly from Latvia, and not from London. And because it’s cold in the Baltics, she’s probably using a Snowball microphone, guaranteed to give that crap amateur sound the Fiverr crowd is so proud of. You pay for professionalism, or lack thereof.”

The photographer responds:

I understand that it might be hard for me to find a native British voice-over in my neck of the woods, but that still doesn’t explain the huge difference in rates. $250 for five minutes? I think people are just greedy.

I said: “Location makes a big difference. Let me give you an example. Why does a Big Mac cost $7.80 in Norway, and only $1.62 in India? Why doesn’t McDonalds charge the same price for the same product, regardless of the location? Because the price of a Big Mac is a reflection of its local production and delivery cost, the cost of advertising, and what the local market will bear.

The cost of living is much higher in Norway, and consequently, people make more. According to the CIA, the 2016 per capita income in Norway was $69,300 and in India it was $6,700. If I were a Norwegian voice-over artist and I would charge Indian prices, I wouldn’t be able to make a living. That has nothing to do with greed.

As a freelancer, you have to price for profit wherever you’re located, because that’s where you’re buying your Big Mac. It’s where you pay your bills, and your taxes. That’s why a UK talent charges more than someone in Latvia, or in India.

ONGOING ADDED VALUE

And let’s remember that a voice-over is not some hamburger you order at the drive-through. Every Big Mac should pretty much taste the same, no matter where you order it. It’s generic. Once it has been consumed, it has served its purpose.

Every voice is unique, and every voice-over artist brings special talents and experience to the table. Once recorded, that commercial, trailer, or eLearning course can be played again and again, adding value every time someone’s listening. That’s worth something. 

Last but not least, just because you’re paying $250, doesn’t mean the voice-over always gets $250. Some online casting companies like Canada-based voices dot com, pocket a considerable amount without telling you or the talent. If you want to talk about greed, talk about that!”

THE TROUBLE WITH COLLEAGUES

The Latvian photographer still doesn’t understand why he can’t hire a UK talent for $20. However, in my experience it’s much easier to talk sense into some clients, than to reason with certain colleagues (and I use the term colleagues loosely, because they’re acting anything but collegial). Most of my clients know how to run a for-profit business, but so many ‘colleagues’ seem to be clueless. They don’t know the difference between “selling,” and “selling out.”

Every time the issue of reasonable rates comes up, there are always voices saying:

“Who are you to tell me what I should charge? It’s a free country, and I can charge whatever I want!”

Yes, and I can sell my Subaru Outback any time for $300, but does that make any sense whatsoever? Why should I settle for a handout if the market value of my car is at least $3,000? How stupid do I have to be to practically give my car away to the lowest bidder?

By the way, this whole free country argument is a load of bull, used by imbeciles to defend all kinds of idiotic practices. Here’s the thing:

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you must, or that it’s wise. 

“But who cares if I sell my voice for five bucks? Mind your own business! I’m not telling you what to charge. My bottom line doesn’t affect yours.”

Is that really so? What would happen if half of all car owners would decide to sell their vehicles way below value? Tell me that has zero impact on the used car market!

If what’s happening at the bottom of the VO-market does not affect the rest, why aren’t voice-over fees at least keeping up with the rate of inflation? Why are rates across the board in a steady decline?

WE NEED EACH OTHER

In the grand scheme of things you may feel insignificant, and believe that your choices only influence your bottom line. But hundreds of these individual choices send a message, and thousands create a trend clever clients have picked up on. 

To put it differently: if you really believe that one, individual decision has no impact on the overall outcome, then there’s no reason to live in a democracy. You might as well move to North-Korea. But since you’re still here, and (I hope) you vote, you must believe that you can make a difference.

Your choice of what to charge makes a difference. It impacts our professional community, and the families that depend on it. 

You can either cheapen our profession and our community, or enrich it. You can build it up, or tear it down.

You can price like a predator, or like a professional. 

Or are you afraid to charge a decent rate? Are you afraid the client will reject you?

Are you not convinced that what you have to offer can command a fair price?

If that’s the case, here’s a suggestion: perhaps you should find another job.

A certain Pay to Play call center in Canada might be hiring very soon.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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PPS Below you’ll find links to some of the other articles I’ve written about rates and pricing

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How Dangerous Is Your Voice-Over Studio?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Gear, Studio 35 Comments
voice-over & blogger Paul Strikwerda

the author of this blog in his studio

Voice-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!

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