Nethervoice Blog

Leaving a Legacy

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles 2 Comments

Overnight, the world turned white…..

I always like to go outside before snow plows and shovels ruin a perfect picture. There’s something very magical about the light reflected by billions and billions of unique crystals.

Fallen from heaven, those tiny flakes perform a timeless, selfless act. Down to earth, they reflect the light of the moon and stars, giving back what they receive, before melting away, only to be reincarnated.

A Buddhist might say that the beauty of snowflakes lies in their transient nature. One moment they’re here. The next, they’re gone. But leave it to less-philosophical people to attempt to defeat the inevitable passing of time and stop the clock from ticking.

We’ve become quite good at it, actually. I’m not referring to the treatments available in certain celebrity spas. Mankind has developed even more sophisticated time capsules that do not involve the use of Clostridium botulinum.

FACE IT

Instead of smoothing away the ripples of the past, I wish to preserve them as best as I can. Why? Because those wrinkles are the storylines of our life. It’s where our ‘biology reflects our biography,’ as Caroline Myss would put it. So, how do I go about my acts of self-preservation? It’s quite simple.

For this purpose, I use a clever device that is capable of capturing the moment, right before its echo is about to disappear into nothingness. It’s called a microphone. The very moment my sound meets the silence, I catch it; I record it and I store it in a safe place.

A PIONEER

It wasn’t as easy for Wilson Bentley. Born in 1865, he grew up on a farm in Jericho, Vermont. As a teenager he became fascinated by snowflakes. When he was fifteen, his mother gave him a microscope, and soon Wilson was on a mission to capture what he affectionately called “ice flowers”. Trying to draw them was impossible, because the flakes would vanish before he was able to finish the picture. His breath would take them away.

After years of experimentation, the 19-year old Bentley became the first person ever to photograph a single snow crystal, using a bellows camera to which he adapted a Dutch invention, the compound microscope. And it was Bentley, who discovered that no two snowflakes are alike.

During his lifetime, he captured more than five thousand snowflakes. He also published articles for magazines and journals including National Geographic and Scientific American, and filled nine notebooks with 47 years worth of his observations and analysis. In 1925 he wrote:

“Under the microscope, I found that snowflakes were miracles of beauty; and it seemed a shame that this beauty should not be seen and appreciated by others. Every crystal was a masterpiece of design and no one design was ever repeated. When a snowflake melted, that design was forever lost. Just that much beauty was gone, without leaving any record behind.”

Earlier this year, on a trip to Vermont, I visited the Snowflake Bentley Museum at the Old Red Mill in Jericho. There I learned that this pioneer of science and photography, who had dedicated his life to studying snow crystals, eventually died of pneumonia after walking home through a blizzard. But, as that blockbuster movie trailer voice-over guy would say: “His legacy lives on.”

COMING HOME

While the world around me was covered up in white, I found myself reminiscing about a year that had nearly come to an end. Most moments had melted away, almost without a trace. But then I had to think of memories that had actually crystallized into something concrete. There’s this small collection of blog posts that can still be read, and of course my voice can be heard on countless projects that, hopefully, will be around for a while.

No matter what we do in life, at some point in our journey, all of us have to ask ourselves the big questions:

“Does what I do really matter? What’s the purpose? Do I make a difference? What do I leave behind when it’s my time to go home?”

I’m no expert in the afterlife, but who knows. Long after I’m gone, my grandchildren might even pick up one of the audio books I recorded this year. And as they listen to my voice, painstakingly preserved for posterity, the sounds that were frozen in time become fluid. In a  flurry of words, past and present embrace each other in the now of the moment, and nothing, nothing will ever be the same again.

Call me a flake, but I think that’s just very cool!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS This article is dedicated to the memory of Steve Christen, a gentle man, a wonderful Mensch and a heck of a horn player.

PPS 2009 has been a tough year for voice-over talents. That’s why I am starting a mini-series about ways to turn your business around. First up: how dreams can turn into nightmares.


Only in America

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Money Matters 1 Comment

Active Bottoms. Buy one. Get one free.

 

“What kind of sign is that?” asked my friend Kees, who was on a visit from Holland. “Active bottoms… If I take 50 percent off my active bottom, I won’t be able to sit straight.”

“You’re right,” I replied. “But the world would be a quieter place!” Kees laughed. “By the way, I think TJ Maxx really means sweat pants.” “Really?” said Kees. People wear pants in a sauna?” “Well, you can take half off,” I said. This conversation was going downhill fast.

“Only in America,” said Kees. “Only in America.”

“Alright, my friend. Let’s go to the store next door,” I said as I was heading over to the parking lot. Kees didn’t understand. “Wait a minute….. That store is no more than twenty steps away. Where do you think you’re going?”

I quickly hid my car keys and remembered that I had responded exactly the same way when I first came to the States. “No wonder you gained some weight, man! You’ve gotten lazy. Getting any exercise lately?” “Lots,” I said. “That Wii thing is absolutely amazing. It’s unreal.” “You’re right about that,” Kees mumbled.

We entered the bookstore. “Is that coffee I smell?” asked my Dutch friend. “Coffee, in a bookstore?” “You’re right,” Kees. “But it gets even better. You can pick a couple of magazines, buy a calorie infused mocha-java shake with lava cake, grab a chair and trash whatever you’re reading. And when you’re done, you just leave your mess on the table.”

“No way,” said Kees. “Don’t you have to pay for that copy of ‘Good Housekeeping’ and the ‘Parenting Magazine’?” “Are you kidding me, Kees? Of course not. People even leave their kids here while they go visit the rest of the Mall. In fact, I just heard one of those hockey moms tell her daughter: ‘Here’s twenty bucks. Now get lost.’ Yes, Kees,” I smiled, “This country is big on family values. No child left behind.”

An elderly gentleman walked up to us in the music department. “Can I help you find something?,” he asked for the two hundred and forty fourth time that day. “Well,” said Kees, “If you tell me what you are looking for, perhaps I can find it for you. That way, you sir, can take a seat and rest your legs a little.”

“Oh no, I can’t do that,” said the man nervously. “I work here.” “He must be in his late sixties,” whispered Kees in my ear.”Don’t people retire?”

Meanwhile, I looked around. Something was missing. “What happened to all your classical CD’s?,” I asked the music seller. “The only things I see are bargain DVD’s.”

“We have a few CD’s left,” said the clerk, pointing apologetically at two or three rows of ‘Music for the Millions’. “I used to be a music professor,” he sighed.”My wife and I loved coming here. There was Bach, Beethoven, Brahms and Bartok. Look at it now.

We have Andrea Boccelli and that Dutch fiddler, Andre Rieu. People don’t know what they’re missing. I just had a customer ask for the theme of ‘The Lone Ranger’. I said to her: ‘I can order the William Tell overture for you.’ ‘No’, she said. ‘I want ‘The Lone Ranger’. Didn’t you hear me the first time?'”

“Let me see if I understand you correctly,” I said to the seller. “You have to order a CD of popular overtures, but you can sell me the unrated set of ‘Saw’ on brilliant Blue Ray?”

“That’s right,” answered the clerk. “Teenagers love it. Saw, Hostel 1, 2 and 3 and that Twilight stuff. And it’s not exactly cheap either.”

Two high school kids walked in, drinks in hand. “Hey Pops,” shouted one of them. “Any good deals on Black Friday?”

“What’s Black Friday? Something African-American?,” Kees wanted to know. He was puzzled because there’s no such thing in Holland. “It’s the day after Thanksgiving,” I explained. “The busiest shopping day of the year. People get up at the crack of dawn. They wait in line in front of their local Wal-Mart, and when the doors finally open, they crush the doorman to death so they can be the first one to walk away with a flat screen TV. That’s all. No White Christmas without a Black Friday. Only in America. The land of the killer deal.”

“You’ve become quite the cynic, after you became a citizen,” observed Kees. “And stop sorting those CD’s”. “I can’t help myself,” I said. “I used to work here a few years ago. It’s the curse of retail. But let me tell you something. Most people who work at this chain have two things in common. They’re overqualified and underpaid.”

“So, why do they do it? It can’t be fun to stand on your feet for eight hours selling rap, rock and horror when you’re nearly seventy,” Kees asked. “Benefits, my friend. Benefits,” I replied. “This country suffers from a major preexisting condition. There’s no such thing as universal health care over here. Not yet. But on a more positive note: we just discovered that there’s definitely water on the moon!”

We walked out empty-handed. “And you know what?,” I continued, “More than a third of what they call the ‘working poor’ have jobs in retail. When I used to work here, most of my colleagues had a second job to make ends meet.

The average department store “associate” only makes about 18 thousand dollars per year. So, single moms were counting on their parents to take care of the kids, while they worked another shift at the International House of Fruitcakes. And the next day, they would do it all over again. Not exactly the American dream, is it?

They used to say: if you work hard enough, you can achieve anything. Well, these people are doing just that and they’re going absolutely nowhere.”

“Let’s change the subject,” said Kees. “This stuff is depressing. What do people like to do for fun over here? Do they ever take a break?”

“I hate generalizations,” I said, “but some say that most Europeans work to live and that most Americans live to work.

My neighbors still don’t believe that I used to take at least four weeks off during the summer.” “So what does the average American like to do or see while on vacation?” asked Kees. “The Grand Canyon? The National Mall? MoMA?”

“Funny you should ask,” I replied. “I just finished reading a book by Ellen Ruppel Shell. She’s a professor of journalism at Boston University. It’s called CHEAP, and according to her research, America’s number-one tourist destination is… the factory outlet.

Not only are factory outlets the fastest-growing segment of the retail industry, but also of the travel industry. But as you can tell, even ordinary shopping centers are immensely popular. I read in the New York Times that the Mall of America in Minneapolis attracts more visitors per year than Disney World, Graceland and the Grand Canyon combined.”

“I thought you guys were in a recession,” said Kees. He continued, “I must admit one thing though…. Things like clothes are dirt cheap over here. I mean… take those active bottoms. Perhaps we should go back and get a pair.”

I had to interrupt, “Believe it or not Kees, I am convinced that there’s a link between the price of those sweat pants, the sweat shops where they were made, and the recession we’re in. This whole bargain basement outlet culture is one of the reasons why people aren’t earning wages that would enable them to keep their heads above water without maxing out their credit cards.

Speaking of credit cards… before we go home, I need to hit one more store today. My wife needs a new bra for her car and we’re not going to find it at Victoria’s Secret.”

Kees’ mouth fell open. “A bra. For a car? You must be joking!” “Haven’t you ever heard of a Car Bra?” I asked. “It protects the paint on the front of your car from things like bugs, flying rocks, and suicidal retail associates.”

“Only in America,” said Kees. “Only in America.”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice


How much $$ do you need to break even?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Money Matters 5 Comments

7-7-2008

“It will look so good on your resume”
“This might lead to regular work”
“We’re a start-up business”
“It’s such a small project”
“This is an Indie film”
“It will only take a few minutes”
“You’re new and we want to give you a chance”
“Even if you don’t get the job, it’s still great practice”
“You’d be perfect for this… I wish we could afford you”

If you’ve been an active job-seeking member of the voice-over community for… about two weeks, I’m pretty sure these ‘teasers’ have been thrown out at you a few times. They’re getting old quickly, don’t you think? Or are you still falling for them? Be honest!

These days, clients are getting even more efficient by leaving these phrases out. Now it’s just:

“Manhattan-based attorney’s office in need of a male voice for their website. Budget $100.”

Are you kidding me? These attorneys won’t even pick up the phone for 100 bucks. So, why do they expect us to work for a hand-out? Is it perhaps because many of us call ourselves voice-over ARTISTS?

MISCONCEPTION ONE: Artists don’t work. They just enjoy their hobby.

My wife, a phenomenal professional flutist, had just finished an exhausting wedding gig: a ninety minute Mass followed by a two-hour cocktail party. All in all she had had two breaks: one to rush from the church to the banquet hall, and a ten minute bathroom break during the reception.

When she came back to get a refreshment, some guests looked at her as if she was stealing from the buffet. One of them even walked up to her and whispered: “Aren’t you supposed to be playing?”

At the end of the engagement, the mother of the groom walked her out and said it had been “lovely”. She sighed: “I used to play the flute. It must be wonderful…. being able to play music all day long.”

When my wife discretely asked for the paycheck that should have been handed to her at the beginning of the day, the groom’s mother looked shocked. She said: “Are you telling me you’re actually getting paid for this?”

Some people just don’t get it, do they? Whether we’re musicians, writers, web designers or voice-over artists, the opportunity to do the things we’re passionate about, should be enough, don’t you think? Well, why don’t we ask Alex Rodriguez about that? Perhaps he’d be satisfied with getting the keys to the Big Apple and a fat World Series ring.

MISCONCEPTION TWO: All you need in this profession is a computer, a microphone and an Internet connection, and you’re in voice-over business. Small investment. Huge ROI (and you can even do it in your PJ’s!).

Well, well…haven’t we heard that one before? If it were that easy, tell me who is paying for your:

  • marketing
  • advertising
  • bookkeeping
  • hours spent finding work
  • taxes
  • overhead
  • continued education
  • attorney
  • sick days
  • paid holidays
  • vacation
  • union dues
  • health insurance
  • dental insurance
  • disability insurance
  • life insurance
  • business insurance
  • unemployment
  • retirement
  • invoices that never get paid
  • … and all other joys that come with running your own business?

 

BREAKING EVEN

Remember, all of the above (and more) has to come out of that job that you almost accepted for $125. Do you even know how much money you need to make in a year, just to break even? How about in a month? How much per week… per day? That’s just to cover costs. How about making a profit? How about saving a little for a rainy day or for college?

If all of this is a little overwhelming and intimidating, let me reassure you. This does not have to be your life! If you don’t have the drive now, do not waste any more time. If you’re not prepared to run your career as a for-profit business, you still have plenty of options… to name a few:

1. Stop posing as a pro and leave the market place to those who are willing to be professional. Stay an amateur instead. No pressure.
2. Get a ‘regular’ job with benefits

GET REAL

However, should you decide to become a professional solopreneur, start acting like one! Don’t do anything else before you take the next step: figure out what your basic minimum hourly rate must be, based on cost, billable hours and the profit you’re comfortable with.

Depending on your input, this could take 5 to 20 minutes of your time. How do you do it? By using this simple on-line rate calculator, developed by one of my favorite websites: www.freelanceswitch.com.

calculatorRUNNING THE NUMBERS

Of course it would be a little presumptuous to tell you what to do. Some people just don’t want to spoil their hopes and dreams by facing reality. These are the folks that purchased a house they can’t afford because they thought they could swing it. And now they’re paying for it.

Some people are more comfortable playing the victim or playing the blame-game. Others use excuses such as: “I was never any good with numbers”.

Sorry, but I’m not buying it!

First off, this rate calculator is so easy, even I can use it. Secondly, you can always ask a friend to help you out; find a mentor, hire a pro… There are business coaches out there who’d love to have your voice on their AVR in exchange for their advice. It’s often better to have an impartial opinion from someone who is not in love with your dream. Have a business lunch with them and bring your calculator and a note pad.

Third, make a small investment and get “The Money Book for Freelancers, Part-Timers, and the Self-Employed” by Joseph D’Agnese and Denise Kiernan. This was the first book about money matters that I actually enjoyed reading. It felt like I was getting advice from friends who knew exactly what situation I was in. Joe and Denise offer very practical, down-to-earth strategies in a language anyone can understand, and they’re actually very funny too!

FINE DINING

So…. next time a voice-seeker holds up one of those carrots I started this article with, imagine yourself walking into a restaurant and telling the waiter:

“I can’t really pay you full-price, but if your food is any good, I’ll be sure to spread the word about this place.”

Please let me know how that worked out for you.

And if that did not go over so well, try going into Home Depot, hoping to get 75% off that professional pneumatic drill. 

“And why would we do that?” asks the manager.

And then you utter the magic words: 

“Well, it’s only for a small project….”

And finally, would you be willing to do me one last favor, please? Once you’ve figured out your desired and minimum hourly rate, look at that $100 voice-over project again, that you were just considering. You know, the one that “will give you great exposure”.

Now look at your hourly rate again.

Get it?!

2-17-2008

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Many thanks to artist N.C. Winters for giving me permission to republish the comic strips. Find out more about the work of N.C. at the artist’s site and at Freelance Freedom.

PPS A Dutchman visiting the US offers some refreshing insights as he holds up the mirror: Only in America.


Paying the Price

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

Is there a hidden link between price and perception?

Do we get what we are paying for?

Are we more satisfied when we’ve paid top dollar?

On January 14th, 2008, a team a of scientists from the California Institute of Technology and Stanford University, published a paper called:

“Marketing actions can modulate neural representations of experienced pleasantness.”

It was the result of research I would have loved to be part of. The hypothesis was that…

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

Making Money In Your PJs cover


Breaking Down an Audio Book Rate

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play 28 Comments

Books and headphones

 “Attention Voice-Mart shoppers… in aisle seven you’ll find a fresh selection of promising audio book narrators, ready to read your epic three hundred-page novel for only $499.99. But hurry! Only today, they’ll throw in free editing. That’s right, a $299.99 value could be yours, absolutely FREE.”

The shrill sound of my phone woke me up out of a bad dream. So much for power naps!

Ever since I had helped my friend Fernanda with her website, she regularly calls me because she wants to pick my brain about the voice-over business. Her enthusiasm is contagious, and sometimes I feel almost guilty to be the one who has to bring her down to earth again.

The thing is, Fernanda is incredibly talented. I could listen to her voice for hours, and as it turns out, I’m not the only one. Not only is she blessed with amazing vocal cords; Fernanda has the uncanny ability to take you on a journey to a place where time and space no longer exist.

Her unique talent is only matched by her naiveté about the less artistic aspects of our work; minor details such as contracts, rates, self-promotion… you know, the boring stuff. In other words: she’s the ideal candidate to be taken for a ride. The other day it almost happened again…

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

Making Money In Your PJs cover


What Pay-to-Plays don’t want you to know

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play 19 Comments

Imagine an international marketplace where buyers meet suppliers.

This business environment offers the broadest and most colorful selection of products from all over the globe. A fast and furious bidding process determines which supplier will sell to which buyer at what price.

Can you guess the name of this marketplace? Could it be eBay? Voices.com? Voice123, perhaps?

TEAMWORK

Let me tell you what’s unique about this particular auction environment.

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

Making Money In Your PJs cover


Piracy in voice-over land

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, International 7 Comments

On June 5th 1995, John Baur and Mark Summers were playing a friendly game of racquetball. For some mysterious reason, they started encouraging each other in pirate slang. I’ll let them tell the story:

“…whoever let out the first “Arrr!” started something. One thing led to another. “That be a fine cannonade,” one said, to be followed by “Now watch as I fire a broadside straight into your yardarm!” and other such helpful phrases.

By the time our hour on the court was over, we realized that lapsing into pirate lingo had made the game more fun and the time pass more quickly. We decided then and there that what the world really needed was a new national holiday.”

With Halloween upon us, our streets will soon be filled with young Jack Sparrow lookalikes, some of them more Arrr-ticulate than others.

HALLOWEEN

As a voice-over arrr-tist, I absolutely love October 31st.  What other holiday gives me the perfect excuse to revisit my crypt of creepy vowels and consonants, and resurrect them for the promotion of a local thrill ride or a scary costume emporium?

At this magical time, I usually take out my secret weapon: the alveolar trill, also known as “rolling R”. Doesn’t everything sound more sinister and spooky with a rolling R? Just think of the prince of darkness himself: Count Drrrracula from Trrrrransylvania.

You should be warned: the Dutch have a distinct advantage in the rolling R department. We roll ’em out all the time. Words like Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Strikwerda… they wouldn’t be the same without a tongue-twisting alveolar trill. Netherlanders really appreciate their R’s.

The English on the other hand, consistently snub this consonant. What’s even worse, they leave half of them unspoken. Ask any Englishman to properly pronounce the following sentence:

“Not a word about the bird was ever heard until it occurred.”

Tell me, where did the R’s go? Now, if you did hear any rolling R’s in there, you were probably listening to a Scotsman.

PETER PAN

However, there’s one important exception. If a classically trained English speaking actor wishes to add a dash of extra creepiness to his delivery, he will bring back the rolling R. My favorite example: the inimitable Cyril Ritchard in his role of Captain Hook.

Even though most of us will never be asked to play Captain Hook, I believe the alveolar trill should be on the tip of the tongue of every professional voice-over actor. Many of our clients are paying us for our ability to correctly reproduce the names of people and places, foreign and domestic, no matter what our mother tongue may be.

Just as opera singers are expected to master Italian, French and German pronunciation, students in my fictitious voice-over academy would have to take languages classes as part of their verbal acrobatics curriculum. As one of my imaginary students, you’d only be allowed to graduate if you could say the following Spanish sentences correctly, three times in a row:

“Erre con erre cigarro. Erre con erre barril.

Rápido corren los carros sobre los rieles del ferrocarril”

THE MISSING LINK

There are other strange things going on with the R in the English language. As we’ve seen, the R is often written out but not pronounced, as in the sentence “Never say never” (spoken in the Queen’s English, of course). But if that same word precedes a word that begins with a vowel, the same R is pronounced, as in “Never say never again”. This is called a linking R.

On top of that, some English speakers add an R that doesn’t even appear on the page, as in the word “idea-r” or the sentence “President Obama-r-and his Danish counterpart”. Linguists call this phenomenon an “intrusive R”.

And then, there is this famous R…

Peter Cook as the “Impwessive Clewgyman” in Wob Weiners “The Pwincess Bwide”.

As non-native English speakers (such as myself), what-R-we to make of all this? Is there any logic to your language? Is there any welation between your spelling and your pwonunciation?

AMERICA

So far, I have only touched upon the rolling-R and the Bwitish R. What  about it’s American counterpart? Well, as you know, the ever so silent British R is often clearly pronounced in the States. Just as the rolling R might be a challenge for Americans, some Europeans have a hard time pronouncing a simple word like ‘hamburger’. See for yourself.

AHOY ME HARTEYS

There’s only day in the year that’s absolutely ideal for practicing your R’s. It’s September 19th, the International Talk Like A Pirate Day! And if you don’t believe me, ask John Baur and Mark Summers. With the help of some friends, they turned a goofy idea  into a global phenomenon, with a newsletter called The Poopdeck. It’s arrrguably one of the silliest idears I’ve heard in a long time, and that’s exactly why I love it.

Now, if you will excuse me… I have to get back to my ship.  Arrrrr!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS voice-over talents will love this short pirate video, written by & starring Jonathan Kydd. It’s called “Aharrr”.


Should amateurs be ousted from voice-over sites?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Internet, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play 19 Comments

Which orchestra was voted the best symphony orchestra in the world?

Eminent music critics asked themselves that same question at the end of 2008. They narrowed the list down to twenty. A year later, the renowned British music magazine “the Gramophone” published the results.

The famous Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra ended up in second place, but who came first? The New York Philharmonic? The Wiener Philharmoniker? The Chicago Symphony?

AN EARFUL

I just spent a few hours on-line listening to YOU… my colleagues, my competition, my inspiration. It was both frightening and enlightening. As I was clicking away part of my day, I was amazed by a number of things, going from Pay-to-Play to Pay-to-Play. This is what I found:

1. Anyone can sign up for a voice-over site these days, on three conditions:

a. you have to have a voice
b. you have to have a credit card
c. you have to have a computer and a microphone

2. Fifty percent of the advertised ‘talent’ can’t interpret a simple script;

3. The same people don’t seem to know the first thing about recording either;

4. Amateurs who put themselves out there as voice-over pros, have a lot of guts, coupled with a deadly mix of unrealistic expectations, a lack of experience and the funds to invest in a pipe dream;

5. As I wrote in another article, foreign voices are often not as advertised. We still have Flemish speakers posing as Dutch talents, German speakers who are really from Austria, and Australians pretending to be Americans. Whatever happened to quality control?

6. Don LaFontaine is still very much alive, but he goes by many different names these days. Or is just every other American male voice-over talent riding on his coattails as they are trying to emulate the master?

PAYING THE PRICE

I must say that I don’t envy the voice-seekers who have to sift through over one hundred auditions to find the perfect voice for their low- or no-budget project.

Then again: they asked for it, so we shouldn’t feel too sorry for them. It’s the price you pay when you’re asking every Tom, Dick or Harry to tape a custom demo for that cheap frying pan you’re trying to sell on late-night cable television. You often get what you pay for… frying pan, voice-over talent, it doesn’t make a difference.

What do I make of all this, you may ask? Well, here’s what I think.

Having a microphone, a MasterCard, a laptop and a fantasy doesn’t mean one should be allowed to join a professional site, no questions asked. We have websites for amateur dog breeders, amateur sports people, amateur musicians… why not design a site dedicated to amateur voice-over artists? I bet you’ll make a lot of money in the Odesk-market segment. It could be a kind of Bargain-Bodalgo.

Don’t get me wrong. Hobbies are wonderful things. My neighbor takes great pictures, but he wouldn’t dare to advertise himself as a professional photographer, nor should he. National Geographic would immediately show him the door.

A friend of mine is not a bad trumpet player, but if he were to audition for a real job in the music industry, he would never make the first cut (and he knows it). Apparently, those stringent standards don’t seem to be in place in certain segments of the voice-over industry. Why not?

THE PROBLEM BEHIND THE PROBLEM

As long as some sites make most of their money through subscriptions, more members means more money. It’s a business model, not a charity. It’s a model that essentially values quantity over quality. The only way to go, is to grow.

Let’s be honest. The voice-over market is pretty much saturated at this moment. You don’t need a degree in economics to realize that a greater supply in a weakened market can only mean one thing: tumbling prices.

The best way to speed this process up, is to have suppliers engage in a furious bidding war. Darwin would have named it: “Survival of the Cheapest”. Isn’t that exactly what is happening? And if you don’t believe me, why is it so hard to buy products that are not “made in China”? Before we know it, all of us will be replaced by IVONA speech synthesis technology. It’s almost as good as the real thing and I bet it’s a lot cheaper.

NO CURE NO P(L)AY

If it were up to me, I’d rather have a performance-based No Cure No Pay-system in place. Out with the premium, platinum and titanium memberships. From now on, voice-over sites should get paid when I get paid. And the only way I get paid, is when voice-over sites do their job and connect me to reputable voice-seekers that are ready to pay reasonable rates.

Perhaps that will make the Pay-to-Play’s more accountable and selective in terms of whom they’re willing to represent. Perhaps that’s the way to separate the wheat from the chaff. Let the dabblers do their thing. As long as they stay in their own league and stop messing with my market.

PROFESSIONAL STANDARDS

Secondly, I’d like to see these websites publish and uphold certain professional standards. Accreditation comes from the word ‘credo’, which means “I believe“. Although related, ‘credo’ is not the same as ‘credit’.

Our belief in someone’s talent should be based on professional principles, instead of on the spending limit on their credit card. So, let me ask you this:

1.In your experience, are you aware of any professional standards that are promoted and actively upheld by Pay-to-Play sites?

2. If the answer is “yes”, are you happy with these standards, and are they well-advertised and implemented?

3. If the answer to the 1st question is “no”, do you think that voice-over sites should adopt, publish, promote and maintain certain standards?

4. Should talents be denied membership, if they don’t meet certain basic criteria of professionalism?

5. Would it make sense to create a special category for amateur voice actors, or even a dedicated website? Or do dilettantes have no business being in our business?

6. What’s the best and most fair way to compensate P2P’s for their services? A subscription fee? A percentage of  what you’re making for a particular job?  A combination of both?

AND THE WINNER IS…

One question remains.  For that, we return to the quest for the best symphony orchestra in the world. The votes have been counted. The sealed envelope is opened as the audience collectively holds their breath. And the winner is….

The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra from Amsterdam

Why? Because their standards are higher. After a grueling audition process, the Concertgebouw only hires the cream of the crop; well-trained people playing the very best instruments. No amateur fiddlers. The Gramophone’s editor James Inverne, put it this way:

“It is hardly possible any more to recognize particular orchestras by their individual sound. I think that with some orchestras, and the Berlin Philharmonic amongst them, that’s a bit of a worry. Whereas with the Concertgebouw you always know it’s the Concertgebouw. And I think that’s what has given them the edge amongst our critics.

Maybe it’s occasionally very slightly rougher than what the Berliner Philharmonic can produce, but it doesn’t matter, because they’re like a great actor bringing their own charisma and their own personality to every work, and always giving you the sense of the spirit of the work.”

Now, that’s what I call music to my ears! I’ll gladly pay to hear them play any day!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

My next blog is a little more lighthearted, and I’ve invited Steve Martin, Peter Cook and Cyril Ritchard to add some  fun to the pirate party!


How to become a celebrity

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Promotion 1 Comment

She was a world famous news anchor.

In Holland, that is.

With a population of only 16 million, it’s easy to be a celeb in the lowlands. In fact, one in five individuals is probably (in)famous for something.

You might have heard of André Rieu, Famke Janssen, Rutger Hauer and Paul Verhoeven. Big fish who eventually escaped the small Dutch pond.

On this particular morning, our beloved news anchor showed up to make some money on the side. A local charity thought that the appearance of a TV-personality would please the crowds and bring in some much needed cash for a homeless shelter. I was there to see the limo arrive thirty minutes late.

Strangely enough, I didn’t recognize the person stepping out of the town car. Dark glasses covered her sleepy eyes. Then I remembered that she had presented the late night news the day before. And without any make-up, she had suddenly aged about 25 years in 2.5 seconds.

As she was escorted onto the stage, the audience, made up in part of homeless people, got a good look at her pink Chanel outfit, Fendi handbag and high-end jewelry. Yes, it was clear that this woman was in desperate need of the extra cash she was about to make. Then again, I shouldn’t be so judgmental. Her vacation home had just been featured in one of the lifestyle magazines, and I’m sure the monthly mortgage payment was weighing heavily on her haute-coutured shoulders.

HERE IS YOUR HOST

All of this went through my mind, as I stepped up to the podium at a local synagogue to host a special concert. It was more than a concert, actually. It was an emotional reunion of two musical sisters. One of them had made her way to the United States and the other had chosen to stay behind in Russia. And now, for the first time in many years, the two performed together on one stage.

Paul Strikwerda emcee

the author hosting an event

Hosting is different. It’s a perfect opportunity to connect with a crowd and get immediate feedback. Let me tell you this: nothing is more frightening than the sound of a joke falling flat on its face. Nothing is more exciting than the sound of roaring laughter, after you’ve delivered a great punch line.

IN THE SPOTLIGHT

Now, before you conclude that being an emcee is all about me, let me stop you in your tracks. It’s not. Rule number one in the book of hosting is this: 

Never take the focus away from the event and the performers.

Be warm and welcoming; keep your remarks to the point and make them short and sweet. Find a happy medium between being entertaining and informative. If you manage to do that, you’re well on your way to making hundreds of new friends.

For those of you who’d like to give it a try, here are a few other pointers:

Do your homework.

Find out what group of people you’ll be addressing. Don’t make references to “Gilligan’s Island” if your audience is under 25. And don’t mention Zac Efron, unless your audience is made up of yelling teenage girls. Stay away from politics. Get your facts right. Know the names of the performers and/or speakers, and know how to pronounce them correctly. Find out what they will be performing and dig up some short anecdotes or little known details. Have enough material in case you need fillers.

Arrive early. Dress for the occasion. Don’t wear a tux to a folk concert. Familiarize yourself with the location. Know where the emergency exits are. Introduce yourself to the staff, the sound technicians and the stage manager. Test the sound equipment. It usually does not work. Check the order of the program and find out about last-minute changes.

During the show:

Be the glue that holds the event together and the oil that keeps things moving. Briefly introduce yourself and engage your audience from the start. Set some ground rules (e.g. switch off cell phones). Be animated and avoid clichés such as “without further ado” or “give it up for…” Don’t play favorites. Introduce each performer with the same level of enthusiasm. Never, ever make fun of them.

Don’t be on stage during the performance, and please pay attention to the act or the speaker. You never know what you can use to build a bridge to the next performance. It also shows that you’re not just a talking head, but that you’re interested in what’s going on. Keep track of the time as well. It’s your job to make things start on time and end on time.

Be sure to publicly thank everybody at the end, and make some brief, final announcements. After the audience is on their way, thank everyone involved personally: the performers, the staff, anyone who made this happen.

THE BIG LET-DOWN

Let’s go back to the charity event for the homeless for a moment.

I have to be honest with you. Without sleep and without teleprompter, the celebrity news anchor was absolutely hopeless. The fact that she arrived in a limo and was dressed in designer clothes had not earned her much credit with the homeless.

She might have been good working the camera, but she certainly wasn’t working the audience. Her intros were taken straight from the program. Anyone could have done that. And as speaker after speaker tried to move the masses, she was sitting in the front row, sending text message after text message, looking utterly out of place.

When the event was finally over, she left through the back door, running away from the fans who had hoped to take a picture with her.

HAPPY ENDING

Luckily, my concert ended on a happier note. I think it was a C-sharp.

At the reception following the performance, I discovered another benefit of event hosting. My pro-bono appearance turned out to be tremendous free publicity for my services. All of a sudden I was on the local map! Some people even told me: “You should do this for a living!” But wait, it gets even better.

The videographer, who had been recording the entire performance, hired me on the spot for a movie he was shooting. You’ve heard me… a motion picture! Yes my friends, I am now world famous.

That is, in Easton, Pennsylvania.

My home town.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice.


Nail ’em to the wall!

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play 2 Comments

Humor and humiliation.

It’s a weird combination and yet, it’s the basis of every slapstick.

Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Laurel and Hardy, they all made us laugh because they made someone else cry. It’s that cake-in-your face humor, the poke in the eye joke and the dignitary forced to parade around town in his underpants that never seems to get old.

Embarrassing people is funny business. Especially if we embarrass those who were born without a funny bone. Sometimes it can be an effective deterrent too.

THE CONTINUING SAGA

If you’ve been following recent revelations on the limited success of Pay-to-Play sites, and the question that started it all What happens to our demos?,” you must have noticed that this storm still hasn’t subsided. Voices.com Stephanie Ciccarelli even wrote a two page “Clarification on the Status of Job Postings” on Vox Daily.

At the same time, voices.com has made changes to their SurePay system to prevent abuse from customers, specifically credit card fraud. And as you know, that’s not the only kind of abuse that’s going on in our industry.

On the LinkedIn Working Voice Actor Group, a colleague wrote about a lead she got from a P2P site. The voice-seeker said they wanted to hire her, but instead they used her scratch track and turned it into a commercial. The next day they had it airing all over the country. The talent never got paid and she only found out about it after friends alerted her when they heard her voice on the radio.

This is what I would like to know:

  • Apart from the bad guys, who should be held responsible? The talent, because she didn’t watermark her scratch track or charge the voice-seeker for stealing a demo?
  • Is the Pay-to-Play site to blame because they were responsible for the lead?
  • Would this have happened had this been a union job?
  • Would this have happened had the talent used an agent?
  • What can be done to make sure other voice-talents don’t fall into the same trap?

 

SCAMS GALORE

Of course trusting, law-abiding citizens like you and me are getting ripped off each and every day. I sometimes do double duty as a translator, and I got burned once or twice by a client writing out a bad check. I ran to the nearest Better Business Bureau and filed a complaint, but all they could do was lower the rating of the translation agency.

However, as a member of Translatorscafe.com (a P2P-style site), I have a not so secret weapon at my disposal. It’s called:

The Hall of Fame and Shame.

This is a members-only area, filled with feedback about unreliable agencies, dirty rotten scoundrels, reputable translators and anything in between. Before I take on a new job, I always enter this Hall to see what I can find. It’s by no means foolproof because not every agency is rated, but I backed out of a job a few times because I discovered that I had been contacted by a bad apple. The thing is: con artists are notorious repeat offenders, and as soon as they are found out, they move on to another unsuspecting victim.

It’s important to note that this Hall is for people on the demand as well as the supply side. Some translators are less talented than others. Some let a computer program do all the work while they are having all the fun. Some miss their deadlines and ‘mysteriously disappear’ from the radar screen. All of that is exposed. Apart from the bad and the ugly, there’s also lots of good stuff going on in the Hall. People sing the praises of interpreters and agencies alike. In that way, the Hall serves as both a carrot and a stick.

EARLY WARNING

Wouldn’t it be great if we had such an early warning system in place in our industry? You can find hints of it on certain sites, but as far as I can tell, there’s no database that’s filled with red flags and smiley faces. There’s no blacklist of known crooks that have stolen our demos, taken our money or conveniently forgot to pay us. Translatorscafé knows who they are. How about Voices.com?

Or are these sites just a funnel instead of a filter? Is this simply beyond their control? Should we just pay them a yearly fee and trust that nothing bad will ever happen? And when it does, are we condemned to fight the thugs on our own? Donna -voplanet- Summers wrote to the working voice actor group:

“(…) you guys chose not to use agents when you joined the P2P’s. You wanted to do it all yourselves, including negotiating, booking, and monitoring your auditions and jobs. P2P’S get you the auditions and you still complain! Save that big 10% you pay an agent to deal with these issues for you. And now you expect someone to jump in and save you from the big bad ad agents? You can’t have it both ways, Talent.”

Is she right? Are we paying the price for not being willing to pay an agent? How about those of us who can’t get one? Agents are highly selective, especially in this economy. And are agents immune to scams? Let’s ask the victims of Bernie Madoff! Steven Spielberg, Jeff Katzenberg and Elie Wiesel all fell for his scheme. I’m pretty sure that all of them had good advisors.

My point is this: we can’t always prevent bad things from happening. Part of this world is still a nasty and dark place. But it’s what we do after the fact that matters. Let’s put something in place that can serve as a deterrent and as a reference. Our weapon: a “Hall of Fame and Shame.” Our punishment: semi-public humiliation!

PARTY TIME

One final thought.

Every year my street has a much anticipated block party. In fact, it’s one of the oldest in the nation that is still going strong. This year’s highlight was not the moon bounce or the Chinese auction. Any idea what was?

You guessed it: it was the dunk tank.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS I wrote this post in 2009 and there’s still no voice-over equivalent of the Hall of Fame and Shame.