Nethervoice Blog

What makes people click?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Internet, Journalism & Media, Promotion Comments Off on What makes people click?

 

On June 8th of 2009, something occurred that had never happened before in the history of mankind.

Hyères, the oldest and most southerly resort on the French Riviera, was the scene of an attempt to break the world record in Static Apnea. That’s the discipline in which a freediver holds his or her breath for as long as possible.

The old record of 10:12, set in 2008, was held by Tom Sietas of Germany.

The challenger, Frenchman Stéphan Mifsud, was determined to destroy it. Some called him a hero. Others thought he was a suicidal lunatic. Few believed that he could do it.

AIDA is the International Association for the Development of Freediving. Their website offers a lot of in-depth information about various disciplines, such as “free immersion,” “constant weight” and “dynamic with fins.” However, it does not answer one fundamental question:

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


8 ways to boost your web traffic

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Internet, Promotion 8 Comments

Having a website is not an accomplishment.

Bella the Hamster has one. Famous dead people do too.

I have even seen sites in loving memory of unfamous dead hamsters! Some of those websites get more visitors in a day, than you hope to have in a year.

Here’s my question:

If you have a business website and you’re not getting any traffic, what’s the point? You might as well give the money you’re sending to your Internet Service Provider to a worthy cause, such as the Don LaFontaine Voice-Over Lab.

If, on the other hand, you want to use your online presence to your advantage, you better roll up your sleeves and get to work! Unless you’re too busy auditioning for that $200 narration of a 300 page audio book.

is a digital marketing agency with specific expertise in social media and 12 offices worldwide. In 2008, Nilhan Jayasinghe, their VP, wrote a paper entitled; “Optimizing for users, not search engines. Building a sustainable brand in a connected world”.  He says:

“As search engines become more sophisticated, they will increasingly incorporate user data to validate their results. The numbers of people visiting a site; the time that users spend on a site; the depth of their engagement; whether they return over a period of time; how many people add it to their social bookmarking tools such as Digg; all will potentially be taken into account.”

If you’ve read my last blog, you already know that the new Google is going in that direction. And where Google goes, others follow. In my opinion, there are at least two things you must do to take advantage of this development. These are the things that will drive people to your website; keep them there and make them come back:

1. Start writing for people, not for search engines: offer fresh & relevant content.
2. Stop “telling & selling”. Instead, engage your visitors and begin a dialogue.

Here are a few ways to do it:

1. Offer FREE STUFFParadoxically, some companies are making lots of money by giving things away for free. It’s called the “freemium model” whereby some content is offered at no charge, while premium content is not. Seattle-based Big Fish Games distributes more online games than anyone else, at about 1 million a day. You can try almost any Big Fish game for free, but there are add-ons that players have to pay for.

Slide 1A few months ago, our colleague Peter O’Connell made his e-book “The Voice Over Entrance Exam” available at no charge. I’m pretty sure that this brought new visitors to his website. It did something else too: it established him as an expert. Here’s a third bonus: free resources get links. Isn’t that what I just did?

2. Contests & Awards are another way to drive people to your site. Videovoicebank.net organized a contest, and voice-overs were invited to share their professional horror stories. Not only did the Videovoicebank-team manage to engage their community; for days, visitors could enter their email address and vote for their favorite story. I wonder what they’ll do with those email addresses…

 

3. Provide a resource that will benefit your target-group and (of course) offer it for free. Veteran VO-artist Mahmoud Taji compiled a voice-over directory of casting websites for “the benefit of established and up-and-coming voice over talent who want to secure more voice over work through the Internet.” He asked everyone in the industry to help out, and this is just another example of how to get people involved. So far, Taji has a list of 239 sites, and you might add a few to the directory.

4. Quizzes and Games on your site are a fun way to make people come back and spend more time with you. British talent Emma Clarke is the voice you’ll hear for a majority of the London Underground lines. Her website is terrific and it has games, spoof audios and even an online “Emma flip book”.  One of my favorites is a fridge magnet game where you can move the words around to make your own sentences and phrases – and have Emma speak them for you.

5. Actress Amy Walker (above) became an overnight sensation when her YouTube video 21Accents went “viral.” “These days, it’s not unusual to see a search engine like Google pull up a YouTube video in its top 10 results,” says Linda Girard, co-founder of online marketing consulting firm Pure Visibility in Ann Arbor, Michigan. “The best way to maximize this trend is by uploading your video to various sites and attach good, searchable terms to the clips in order to get those high rankings.” (source)

6. Then there’s the old trick of offering limited Deals & Discounts. Bristol-based voice-over talent Alison Pitman once offered a promotion of 25% discount on all message on hold voice-over recordings. Particularly if you’re also offering individual coaching and voice-over classes, never miss an opportunity to throw in an early bird special or a web coupon. Irresistible offers turn browsers into buyers.

7. Develop an ongoing relationship with your visitors (colleagues and clients). Answer their emails. Follow up with them. Ask them for feedback. Use social networking sites to connect. Take an active part in your community, online and offline. Send email newsletters using a service like Constant Contact or Aweber. It’s all about building your brand and positive reinforcement.

8. Blogging benefits business. Internet marketing company Hubspot surveyed over 1500 small businesses. They found that those with blogs attracted:

  1. 55% more traffic
  2. 97% more inbound links
  3. 434% more indexed pages

Blogs are a very effective way to create valuable content; to connect, to interact and to build relationships based on trust. Nilhan Jayasinghe put it this way:

“The closer that Google and others get to reading real interaction, the better they will become at separating the sites that look relevant from the sites that are relevant. Inevitably, it will become ever more difficult to fake the quality of a web page.

Given that this is the case, by far the best way to rank highly for a given term is to offer what the search engines are getting progressively better at finding – content that is genuinely useful to those people searching for that term.”

How to come up with quality content is going to be the topic of my next installment! In the meantime, how did you manage to increase your web traffic? What worked for you and why? What was a waste of time and money?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS What makes people click? Click to find out!


A Tempest in a Teapot?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Internet, Pay-to-Play 5 Comments

Ontario’s London Free Press called them “voice-over matchmakers”.

Back in 2003, David and Stephanie Ciccarelli created Voices.com out of their condo. At the time this blog was published in 2009, they had eight full-time staff and four computer developers on contract. David estimated about $11 million of business goes through the site annually.

If you’ve ever used their services, you know that Voices.com makes money from your subscription fees and from an optional 10% SurePay escrow fee on top of whatever the talent’s fee is, paid by the voice-seeker. According to the site:

“this Escrow fee is kept by Voices.com to cover the charges that we incur from holding the deposit for a period of time in a secure third party account”.

Stephanie Ciccarelli summarized my unease regarding audition submissions as follows:

“You’ve noted that many people are concerned to see that some of the past jobs they’ve auditioned for months ago have not yet progressed to awarding a talent, leaving them to wonder if a client is merely window-shopping or kicking tires, possibly also wondering if auditioning online is a waste of time.”

“According to a snapshot of statistics from the last four months (April 2009 through July 2009) tracking the completion rate of jobs posted at Voices.com, we can confirm that at any given stage, half of the open jobs are still being reviewed by their client and the other half are completed (that means a talent has been chosen), with over 2/3 of those completed jobs being verified and processed via SurePay.

Although this information is reassuring, we are aware that there is still room to improve and to grow.”

Stephanie cites a number of reasons as to why it appears that many voice-seekers on her site never seem to select a candidate. Allow me to paraphrase:

  1. Some clients, regardless of their deadlines for finding talent, may not have a pressing need to have their voice over recorded instantly. In other words: they file away the auditions until they are ready to hire. Sometimes this could take many months, but eventually, someone gets the job.
  2. Some clients use sites like voices.com, to find talent and they prefer to work with them off-site, leaving their job in an “Open” status (see the story of the Taylor family in my last blog). This explains why there are fewer “completed” jobs than there truly are.
  3. Some voice talents and/or voice seekers don’t want to use the SurePay system. If that’s the case, the job won’t be registered as completed.

VOICE-SEEKERS’ PERSPECTIVE

So far we’ve heard the story from the perspective of a voice talent and from representatives of several pay-to-play sites. Be sure to check out Voice123 Steven Lowell’s comments on my previous blog. What do voice-seekers make of all this?

A former casting director for a nationally known ad agency gave me permission to share his (or her) thoughts as long as he/she would remain anonymous.

“Agencies will do a lot of casting for projects they “hope” will become a client. They will hold auditions and actors will hold their breath (after creatives fawn all over them), expect a hold or booking….alas: no call! Of course it happens that another is booked, but it does also happen that no one is booked as the agency did not get the account or budget was cut.

It also happens that an audition is used as a demo in pitch for the account and the performer never knows about it. Top brass may not even know this practice is going on at his or her agency. The Head of production is calling the shots without others in chain of command knowing anything about you (performer) being screwed. You may have been instrumental in getting an account. When time came to cast for account, you may be forgotten for a more high profile talent.

I protested this practice (to the shock of the production chief), but it was an uphill battle to have any effect on this practice I did make some headway. In short: we don’t have many options in regard to this practice. Many agencies or agents don’t participate in this practice, but it does happen.”

ISSUE RESOLVED?

There you have it. Were these answers satisfying to you? Were my initial concerns justified or were they a tempest in a teapot? Do you feel that the major pay-to-play sites offer enough accountability and transparency? Even though they’re not our personal agents, we are paying them to provide a service, so we should have some say in how our money is spent. What suggestions do you have regarding this issue?

Please keep in mind that I am looking for constructive ideas. It’s always easy to blame someone or something else for our own lack of success. However, there are so many things we can do to increase our chances of being spotted and hired. We should never completely rely on these sites to bring in all the work.

As you have noticed, sites like voice123, voplanet and voices.com are listening to us, and they don’t shy away from controversial topics. They are following up with job seekers, and they too have to work with ad agencies that are only using their service to test the waters.

And finally: as every matchmaker knows, no matter how carefully you select two interested parties, not every match ends in matrimony!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

Don’t miss the next installment: “Why no one’s coming to your site“.


Are your auditions sucked into a black hole?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Internet, Pay-to-Play 10 Comments

John was a realtor.

The past couple of years had been the toughest ever.

Plenty of prospects; very few buyers. John had to work twice as hard and twice as long to woo aspiring home owners.

One day, his boss called him into the office and by the look on his face, he was not a happy camper. “John,” he said, “Do you have any idea how many leads you lost in the past three months?” “Well, maybe a few here and there,” said John. “I don’t really keep track.”

“What?” answered his boss angrily, “Are you telling me that you’ve spent hours researching homes and showing your clients house after house, and you have no clue how many sales opportunities you missed? Are you serious? How about the Taylors? They seemed ready to buy and they bailed out at the last moment. What went wrong?”

“Oh, I remember them” said John. “They backed out because they said the escrow fee was too high.” “That might be true” said his boss, “but do you want to know what really happened? After you had put in all your time and found them the perfect house, they walked out of our office and contacted the sellers directly. Two days later, the property was sold.”

JUST AN ANALOGY?

Of course I made this entire story up, and yet this scenario happens in voiceoverland each and every day. If you’ve taken a good look at your audition submissions of the past couple of months, doesn’t it seem like a majority has disappeared into a gigantic black hole?

As I mentioned in my first blog about this topic: most of my submissions didn’t result in an actual booking, not because the job was awarded to another talent, but because the voice-shopper never became a buyer. How did I know? Because months after the deadline for a project had past, still no talent had been selected for the job.

It turns out that I’m not alone. Many of you have vented your frustration and are demanding an explanation. That’s why I brought the matter up with three pay-to-play sites. I specifically asked them about their “conversion rate.” That’s the term marketing professionals use when a prospective consumer takes the intended action. I particularly wanted to know the percentage of voice-seekers who had become voice-buyers.

THE INDUSTRY RESPONDS

Mike Gomez works for www.voice123.com. His initial response was:

“We have around 4,000 active Premium subscribers on the site and these are the stats we keep regarding hirings:

50% – book at least 1 a month

30% – book between 1 & 5 a month

20% – book more than 5 a month”

That didn’t tell me anything about the percentage of job offers that actually lead to bookings. So, I tried again and Mike sent me the following reply:

“(…) those are the numbers we have, since we don’t control who gets hired, why and when but only seekers do, we currently have no accurate way to account for this.  Although we do know most jobs are granted on the site because we see talents are renewing constantly since our sales have been growing constantly through the months and the only way talents have money to renew is if they get work.”

Let’s do the math here. 4000 Premium subscribers times $299.00 (the voice123 annual subscription fee). That’s one million, one hundred ninety six thousand dollars. Yet, they have no “accurate way to account for who gets hired.”

There’s no doubt in my mind that voice123 has earned its spot in the market place. But the fact that people continue to renew their membership doesn’t tell me a whole lot about the effectiveness of the service voice123 provides. One does not measure the success of a temp agency by the number of job seekers in the database, but by the number of real jobs these people find through the agency.

WHAT VOPLANET ARE YOU FROM?

Donna Summers is the president of VoiceCasting and partner at www.voplanet.com. This is what she told me about her companies’ conversion rate:

“Because we deal with large production companies and ad agencies for the most part, virtually all the auditions we do are for actual jobs.  It is rare that an ad agency would take the time, effort and money it takes to put together an ad campaign, hire a copyrighter to write the script, get as far as voicing it and then completely dump it.

If one of our talents gets the job, we are of course, thrilled.  If the client books elsewhere, we do call and thank the client for the opportunity and ask who booked the job.  In answering your question, Paul, I would have to say that 100% with a little margin for error would be the number of auditions that actually become jobs.”

VERIFICATION

As a former journalist, I have to add that there is no independent way of verifying these statements, especially because both companies don’t seem to have a conversion monitoring mechanism in place. There actually is software to keep track of these things. QVC uses it and so does Amazon.com. In fact, most e-commerce site tracks their transactions at least on a daily basis.

So, how would you evaluate whether or not your investment in a particular pay-to-play site is worthwhile? Without a clear conversion rate, you can only base your decision on:

  • Previous personal experience
  • Anecdotal evidence
  • Testimonials & recommendations
  • The reputation of the company
  • Trust and gut feeling
  • The size of your wallet

 

SLICING THE BREAD

The Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza once said: “Life is like bread – no matter how thin you slice it, there are always two sides.

In my next installment, you can read the response of the www.voices.com team, as well as the revelations of an “Ad man.”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice


Where Voice-Over Casting Sites Fail

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Internet, Pay-to-Play 9 Comments

 A rude awakening.

There is no other way to describe it.

This morning I decided to take a closer look at one of the voice-over websites I subscribe to, and I particularly looked at all the auditions I had submitted in the past couple of months. What I discovered didn’t exactly make my day. Here’s why.

In four months, I had submitted a total of 185 auditions. For about 80% of these job offers, the indicated deadline had passed. In other words: one might assume that the client would have hired a voice by now.

However, much to my surprise, I noticed that in only 10% of the above cases a talent had actually been selected. Mind you, not every selection ends in a booking. When I looked even deeper into the postings that never lead to anything, it got worse. I saw that at least half of those had over one hundred submissions!

THE BOTTOM LINE: a majority of auditions didn’t result in an actual booking, not because the job was awarded to another talent, but because the voice-shopper never became a buyer. In most cases, the client had plenty of talent to choose from. And with 100+ submissions per project, bidding must have been fierce. What’s going on here?

At least four things came to mind:

  1. Is this an overall trend or is it unique to my situation?
  2. These missed opportunities mean a huge loss in revenue for the site in question, as well as for the subscribers who pay to play, and not to be thrown away.
  3. There’s tremendous untapped potential! Why are some sites barely scratching the surface of a goldmine?
  4. What can be done to turn browsers into buyers?

BATTING AVERAGE

To take up the last question first, this refers to what marketing guru’s call the “conversion rate.”  Consumer behavior expert Paco Underhill is the author of “Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping.” He writes:

“Conversion rate measures what you make of what you have- it shows how well (or how poorly) the entire enterprise is functioning where it counts most: in the store. Conversion rate is to retail what batting average is to baseball -without knowing it, you can say that somebody had a hundred hits last season, but you don’t know whether he had three hundred at-bats, or a thousand. Without conversion rate, you don’t know if you’re Mickey Mantle or Mickey Mouse.

One could also describe conversion rate is as “the percentage of visitors who take the action you wish for.” In the case of this blog, I hope my readers will leave a comment, become a subscriber and visit the rest of my website. Of course I also hope you find my writings entertaining and that you take away something useful. But what I’m ultimately aiming for is “engagement.” Remember that. I’ll get back to it later.

JUST LOOKING

It’s obvious that the conversion rate of the voice-over website I mentioned in the intro left a lot to be desired for. Yet, it’s nothing new for an internet-based business. Here’s the deal. This “just looking” behavior is ubiquitous online. That’s inherent to the medium. It gets worse, though. Some studies suggest that over half of all online shoppers abandon their carts part way through the check out process. Why is that?

The beginning of an answer to that question lies in the “interception rate,” the percentage of customers who have some contact with an employee. Paco Underhill:

“The more shopper-employee contacts that take place, the greater the average sale. Talking with an employee has a way of drawing a customer in closer. With no sales assistance it could be the difference between a conversion rate of 22 percent and a conversion rate that’s 50 to 60%.”

So, let me ask you this: when’s the last time you went on an online shopping spree, and had any type of interaction with an employee?

Where’s the engagement? Where’s the relationship? Where’s the interception?

Now, let’s go one step further and bring this closer to home. If you are a voice-over actor with a personal website or a blog, do you know your conversion rate? If not, wouldn’t you want to know? Do you even know how to measure your visitor’s response? I could care less about the number of hits you get on an average day, or your ranking on Bing. Bing doesn’t pay your bills. Don’t get me wrong: getting people in the door is a promising start. Keeping them inside is even better. Getting them to take action is the ultimate goal.

Here’s the 64 thousand dollar question: How do you do that? If customer-interception plays such a big part in increasing your sales, is such a thing even realistic in an anonymous, impersonal virtual world? How could you possibly turn browsers into buyers? Be sure to check out my next installment!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice


The Quest for the Best Voice-Over Mic

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Gear 1 Comment

Did you hear the joke about the three voice-over actors bragging in a bar?

“My condenser has phantom power,” says the guy with the spooky voice.

“My shotgun produces killer demos,” retorts the man in black.

“My ribbon has a suspended diaphragm,” snaps the girl in the Harlan Hogan baseball cap.

Waitress: “Anyone ordered a Blue Bottle?”

Unidentified customer: “No, I just got a Snowball.”

“Can I get some MixCubes on the side, please?”

Waitress: “Active or Passive?”

TICKLES

Hearing voice-overs talk is like listening to a Monty Python skit. It can be slightly surreal and silly. One thing’s for sure: many VO’s have opinions. Strong opinions, especially when it comes to gear.

Whenever people take themselves too seriously, I’d like to tickle them a little. If you ever plan on messing with the mind of a VO-pro, go to an online voice-over group and type in the following words:

“I am new to this business and I need your help. What’s the best voice-over mic?”

Unknowingly, you just released the beast. If you honestly believe that the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry is a big deal, wait until you get voice-overs started on their choice of mics…

You’ll soon discover that some VO-Pros suffer from a condition the psychological community calls “Microphone Envy.” So far, there is no sound treatment for this auditory affliction.

Here are some of the comments these hired voices might make about their precious sound catchers (in order to protect their identity, I decided to name all of them ‘Mike’).

Gear Geek-Mike: “My mic has a 32 mm gold sputtered thin Mylar capsule.”

Show-off Mike: “Mine has a retail value of $7,775. I got it for 7 grand on Ebay.”

Frugal Mike: “My cheap Chinese mic sounds almost like your pricey German one.”

Model Mike: “But I cut a deal with the Germans to endorse this microphone”

Macho-Mike: “Mine is bigger and better.”

If you happen to be in the market for a microphone, these message boards might not be the best place to solicit advice. In fact, I highly recommend not asking anyone for any recommendations. Period. Not online. Not in the shop. Trust me, you’ll sleep much better. Determine how much you can afford to spend and start doing your own homework instead.

Researching mics can be good fun. Why not fire up your laptop on a rainy Sunday afternoon, and listen to a few microphone tests. The fellows on this page always manage to crack me up… They’ll say something like this:

(test: courtesy of Nethervoice Sound Laboratories)

 

Remember though that a microphone is only one part of an audio chain and that different people will sound differently on the same mic. One colleague just bought a brand new and very expensive German mic. It was exactly the same make and model he had purchased fifteen years ago. In spite of that, the old and the new mic had their own, distinctive sound!

MY CHOICE

Many of you have asked me what microphone I use to bring home the bacon  (not an easy thing for a vegetarian). I use an MXL VO: 1 A cardioid condenser microphone. It’s the first mic designed for voice-overs by veteran voice actor Harlan Hogan.

At $249 it is not only very affordable; should you decide it’s not for you, you can send it back because it’s sold with a no-questions-asked money back guarantee.

The VO: 1-A has been tested against much more expensive industry standard voice-over microphones such as the Sennheiser 416, the  ElectroVoice RE20 and even the Neumann U87. Without exception, the reviews have been stellar. But what matters most to me is the fact that my clients seem to like what they hear (and I have some very picky customers!).

If you experience a sudden attack of “Microphone Envy,” remember this:

Writing about microphones is like ice skating about food.

It doesn’t really make sense. Just as you can’t get wet from the word water, you don’t know if a certain microphone is the one that will flatter your voice the most by merely reading about it or by staring at a picture. You’ve got to give it a spin and use your ears.

So, have you heard the one about the two voice-overs in a bar?

With tears in his eyes, the first one exclaims:

“Why did Don LaFontaine have to go before his time? It is so unfair.”

The other one thought about it for a moment, took a deep but silent voice-over breath, and replied:

“I guess God wanted his voice back!”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS This blog only reflects my personal opinion and I am not compensated in any way for featuring certain brands and/or products. It was written in 2009. These days, my microphone of choice is the Microtech Gefell M930 Ts. Click here for my review. 


A Sundial In The Shade

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles 2 Comments

Taking the Oath“I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been subject or citizen”.

Together with 66 other people from 31 different nations, these were the words I spoke in Philadelphia on the last day of July, 2009. With it, a six-year process came to an end. In less than a minute, this subject of the Kingdom of The Netherlands became an American citizen. My first order of business: filling out a voter registration form.

Prior to the ceremony, I went to Independence Mall to walk in the footsteps of the Founding Fathers. The famous crack in the Liberty Bell was a stark reminder of the fact that at a certain time in history, these truths were anything but self-evident:

“that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness”. 

Looking at the world today, I was painfully aware of two things: for many, these truths are still not self-evident. For many others they have become so obvious, that they are taken for granted. Some have turned them into -as someone once put it- “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Crappiness.”

America’s most interactive history museum is only a few blocks away. If you’ve never been to the National Constitution Center, you’re in for an experience that will stay with you for a long time. This Center brilliantly manages to do what we as voice-over pros do for a living: bring words to life.

Every visit starts with “Freedom Rising,” a multi-media presentation that connects visitors to the story of the U.S. Constitution. To my surprise, this production was narrated by a voice-over actor who’s actually there in person,  serving as tour guide on a historic journey.

In Signers’ Hall, I came face to face with the man who once said:

“Tell me and I forget.

Teach me and I remember.

Involve me and I learn.”

It was Benjamin Franklin. I know he wasn’t speaking about our line of work, but as far as I am concerned, he hit the nail on the head. Unknowingly, Franklin was speaking about the Narcissists, the Professors and the Movers of our profession.

All of us have come across audio books narrated by people who seem to be so much in love with their own voice, they turn a travelogue into an ego-trip. The biggest turn-off in audio books: two lips of a narcissist.

The Professors on the other hand, haven’t learned the following lesson: people don’t like to be lectured. People prefer to be entertained and engaged. That’s why movie stars make more money than Yale academics.

The educational staff at the Constitution Center was obviously aware of that, when they hired Movers to shake thing up a bit. Movers are voice-over artists, who selflessly devote and dedicate themselves to the words given to them, and who use their voice as a vehicle to engage and move the audience. As a result, the listener is drawn in and drawn out; totally absorbed and involved.

Movers masterfully manage to infuse and energize dry letters on a page with meaning and emotion, bringing them back from the dead in a way a musician transforms scribbles into sounds. However, it takes a true artist to turn those sounds into music that touches the heart, feeds the soul and moves the mind. 

When I took the Oath of Allegiance, I became part of “We the people,” the people of a nation where Freedom of Expression is a constitutional right. The Citizen’s Almanac I received as a welcoming gift, describes it as follows:

“Americans can speak and act as they wish as long as it does not endanger others or obstruct another’s freedom of expression in the process”.

As voice-over artist, this freedom of speech guarantees that I can do what I love without fear of persecution or imprisonment. I can pursue my interests and happiness, as long as it does not interfere with the rights of others.

For that, I feel tremendously privileged and grateful.

Without it, all of us would be -as Franklin put it- “a sundial in the shade”.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice


Sorry, you’re not “it”.

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career 1 Comment

If I were to make a top-ten of the hardest words in any language, this word would be my number one pick. It’s also one of the shortest. This simple sound has destroyed countless careers; it has propelled people into the depths of depression, and it has broken many hopeful hearts.

It is the horrible, ugly word “NO”.

“No” is every salesperson’s nightmare. “No” has turned rejected lovers into vindictive maniacs. And -as any parent will tell you- “No” can turn the sweetest kid into a manipulative monster. In fact, this two-letter word is so destructive, one could make a case for it to be banned from our vocabulary because of the damage it has done over the ages. But I can predict what our linguists would say to that: “No”.

Here in the States, the nation is watching another season of “America’s got talent.” I pity the three judges who have to sit through a never-ending parade of geriatric belly-dancers, tone-deaf Whitney Houston wannabees, drag queen contortionists and hip hoppers with egos bigger than their beefed up physiques.

They all believe that they’re the next big act to hit the Vegas strip, worthy of a million dollars. All I can think of is: Who opened this loony bin and who is going to close it? I have to admit: in this crazy context, the word “No” can actually be a blessing!

We might watch these voluntary victims of reality TV with amazement, but voice-over talents actually have something in common with these strange folks. We too, audition. We might not do it on national TV, but time and again we have to face the final verdict that could shatter our dreams into a million pieces. Or not. This is what I learned about rejection dejection.

Lesson number one: The greatest disappointments are always well-planned.

Yes, you’ve heard me: we are setting ourselves up for disaster. Expectation and disillusion are twins. Evil twins. The more we expect, the bigger the disappointment.

Watch “America’s got talent” for a few minutes, and you’ll see the following tragic story unfold:

A camera zooms in on a middle-aged librarian who’s showing all the obvious signs of a sedentary lifestyle. The talent tells the interviewer: “I’ve been blessed with a unique gift. Since the moment I took my first breath, I knew I was destined for greatness. I am definitely going to blow the judges away. This is the moment I have been waiting for all my life.”

He steps up to the microphone; introduces himself to the world, and starts rubbing his hands together. This better be good!

The next thing we hear is a sound that can only be described as someone breaking wind to the tune of “America the beautiful”. Yes, we’re blown away alright!

The audience starts yelling; the judges hammer on their red buttons and moments later, our handy hero is crushed and crumbled under the weight of humiliation that will haunt him for the rest of his librarian life.

Lesson number two: know your strengths!

Small fish wanting to play in the big pond better bring something extraordinary to the table, otherwise the big fish will have you for lunch.

One AGT-episode featured a self-professed ‘celebrity impersonator’. He was so bad that -even though he spelled out which impression he was going to do- no one got it. I know voice-over artists who make a decent living pretending to be someone else. Some of them are so good, it’s frightening… they sound even better than the original! But unless and until your impersonation is spot-on, don’t tell the world you’re the next big thing. People might get the wrong impression…

Lesson three: get a reality check.

In other words: go for a second opinion. Get as many second opinions as you can. And please, don’t run to your mother for feedback. She’ll love you no matter what. That’s her job. What you need is an honest opinion. Go to a pro. Not one of those people who get paid to chat you up so you’ll enroll into some vague voice-over academy.

A good coach will analyze every ounce of your talent (or lack thereof), and expose you for what you are. A great coach will also tell you what you need to do to improve. A superb coach will teach you the tricks of the trade.

Back to the show for lesson four: have a recovery strategy.

I am still floored by how ungraceful some of the untalented are in defeat. They become defensive, they come up with excuses, they blame the judges… it’s always something or someone else, isn’t it?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for positive reinforcement. But America’s upbeat culture of programmed positive praise has led to a distinct lack of self-awareness and humility. Thus, smiling small town heroes turn into angry big town, big time losers when they hear the dreaded word “No.”

This begs the question: how should one prepare for possible rejection? Should we simply expect not to expect anything? That way, we won’t ever be disappointed. If you don’t strive to win, you’ll never lose. Could that be the answer? But what about our hopes, our dreams and aspirations? Isn’t life about taking risks, shooting for the stars and about being the best one can be? Had we been playing it safe, we’d still be staring at the moon, instead of landing on it.

Here’s the good news. There is an effective way of dealing with denial. It’s no magic bullet, but it will certainly keep you grounded. It is part of what I call my ‘Ultimate Auditioning Strategy’. I have refined it over many years, and I’d be happy to share it with you.

Here’s the thing: this strategy works for any type of audition. I have taught it to musicians, stage actors, public speakers, job seekers, sports people and yes… to voice-over artists.

The Ultimate Auditioning Strategy

 

Whether you’re applying for a job or for a part in a commercial, there comes a time when some of us have to face our greatest fear: the fear of rejection. Especially the people-pleasers, the doormats and the perfectionists of this world, have a particularly hard time in the hot seat. If you happen to be intimately acquainted with one of those people, this is for you.

MINDSET

Having been in the voice-over business for over 25 years, I am absolutely convinced that a successful try-out is only in part based on vocal cords, experience and skills. Most of it has to do with being in the right mindset. Let me give you an example.

GuitarOne of my cousins is an amazingly talented guitar player. His technique is truly breathtaking, only paralleled by the likes of Tommy Emmanuel and John Williams. Every time he plays for me in the comfort of his own room, he sets his six strings on fire. If he wanted to, he could be up there with the Paco Pena’s and the Yngwie Malmsteens.

Unfortunately, no one has ever heard of him. Why? Because he never thought he was good enough, and somehow, he wasn’t able to summon the courage to get on stage and share his gift with the world. He was and is his own biggest stumbling block.

Do yourself a favor: don’t be like my cousin! If you have talent, there’s no failure in “going for it.” However, if you don’t, the game’s already lost before it even started.

VITAL COMPONENTS

The way I see it,  a successful audition is the result of three vital ingredients: competence , confidence and being at the right place at the right time. Some call the last component luck, but as Samuel Goldwyn once said: “The harder I work, the luckier I get.”

Now, let me share a few things that have helped me tremendously. Even though some of the fundamentals I am about to describe apply to cattle-call situations, most steps are relevant to those who audition on-line as well.

The first ‘secret ingredient’ is the fact that my Ultimate Audition Strategy starts long before I step up to the mic. It’s made up of a number of “empowering beliefs” that have become part of my DNA (Dutch Natural Attitude):

1. Treasure your talents and know your limitations.

2. Build on your strengths and work on your weaknesses.

3. Hone your craft, while learning from the best.

BEING THERE

4. When it’s time to audition: come prepared and always arrive early.

5. Dress professionally. Don’t make a beginner’s mistake by thinking that it’s only about the way you sound. Plus: you won’t be the first voice-over actor being offered an on-camera job as the result of an off-camera audition.

6. Before you’re called in, find a space to center yourself and mentally rehearse what you’re about to do, picturing a positive outcome. Don’t allow others to distract you.

7. Be confident, not cocky. Your attitude should be an asset and not a turn-off.

8. Leave your troubles at the door. If you can’t do that for an audition, how are you going to handle personal problems during a recording session?

9. Realize that the client needs you as much as you need the client. Connect with them from the very first moment you walk in. Remember: a smile is the shortest way between two people.

10. Make it easy to work with you: be open to suggestions; follow directions, relax and have some fun.

11. Once you’re in the hotspot…give it all you got, and then some. If you know that you gave it your all, there is no such thing as failure. Only feedback.

12. Make your first read a good one, but never make it your best. Give the director something to work with. It’s her opportunity to show the client what a genius she is…

13. Do not criticize the hand that might be feeding you. Generally speaking, badmouthing others (including your colleagues) doesn’t make you any better either. On the contrary.

14. Be gracious and grateful. Thank the casting crew for the opportunity, and make sure that your last impression is a lasting one. Hand out your cards and demos before you leave, if you haven’t done so already.

15. When you’re out of the limelight, find a quiet place and imagine stepping outside of your body; put yourself into the voice-seekers shoes as you evaluate your own performance. What went well? What could have gone better? What can you do next time to “kick it up a notch”? What do you need to do to get there?

What you do next is absolutely crucial:

16. Let go of the outcome. Forgedaboudit! Put your performance in a balloon and release it. If it comes back to you, celebrate! If it doesn’t, know that someone else in this universe is jumping for joy.

17. If you don’t hear anything back, realize two things: delays are not denials. Even though we live in a world of instant gratification, patience is still a virtue. If it’s a “No”, understand that auditioning is a process of selection, not rejection. Just because they didn’t pick you, doesn’t mean your audition was crap. Just because you didn’t get the part, doesn’t mean you have failed in life. Even the best chefs can’t please every single diner.

18. Embrace the fact that living is learning, and that we often learn more from the things that don’t go as planned, than from the things we’ve already mastered.

19. Move on! This industry rewards the go-getters, not the whiners and the finger-pointers. As long as you know that you did your best, and that you took something useful away from the audition experience, your time was well-spent.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice


Getting the edge in voiceovers

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career Comments Off on Getting the edge in voiceovers

What’s the link between a rice beverage and voice-over work?

In a “Taste the dream” contest, Rice Dream offered prize winners the chance to experience their dream job for 3 days. The ad agency that came up with this campaign thought that our line of work qualified as a ‘dream job,’ because they put a picture of a voice-over person on the milk carton.

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love what I do for a living, but since launching my business  nethervoice, I have received several emails, asking me for a reality check. Most of them go like this:

Dear Mr. Nethervoice:I am James Kumbatani, the grandson of the late Mr. Oshia Bumbayashi, grand chief of the Olali tribe. Mr. Bumbayashi left me in charge of his personal fortune valued at seven million….

 

Sorry, wrong email. Here’s the one I was looking for:

Dear Mr. Strikwerda:

I am an aspiring voice over artist and my dream is to break into the business. People have told me that it’s not as easy as it sounds. Do you agree? What did you bring to the table that -in your opinion- gave you an edge over other voice-over professionals? Thank you for your time.

Penny Whistle

This is what I wrote back:

Dear Penny:

Great voice-over talents make what they do sound so natural and easy, no wonder why so many people believe anyone could pull that off in a heartbeat. In reality, voice-over artists are no different from other performers or athletes. When people hear a great pianist play or watch a well-know sports star at the top of her game, they usually don’t think of all the years these pros had to put in, in order to get where they are now. Long before I became a full-time voice over pro, I learned some things that -as you put it- gave me an edge.

1. Sight Reading

Thanks to the never-ending encouragement of my mother, I’ve always been an avid reader. During my days as a news anchor for Dutch International Radio, I got used to reading last-minute news flashes and intros without skipping a beat. Today, I can print out a script, glance it over and take it into my sound booth and press ‘record.’ A few minutes later, my demo is on its way to the client. If I’m working on an actual job, however, I apply a different strategy (see 3 & 4).

2. Foreign languages

Growing up in Holland, I was exposed to many different languages and accents. I speak Dutch, English, German and some French & Portuguese. I also know some Latin and Hebrew. Unlike many Europeans, Americans usually aren’t polyglots, and I do my very best to take full advantage of that. Knowing how to pronounce unfamiliar names of people and places has been a great help in my career. Some clients like working with me, because I’m able to record the same commercial in four different languages.

3. Translating & Proofreading

I also work as a proofreader/translator, and I’m a professional nitpicker when it comes to scripts. Last-minute submissions often contain slips of the pen, and my clients are always grateful when I spot those mistakes and correct them. It shows them that I’m not just reading anything people put in front of me. It’s a great opportunity to show my clients that I care as much about their reputation as they do.

The other day, I was recording a Dutch commercial and the director asked me to translate some last-minute additions right there and then. No problem! I regularly receive international copy that was translated with the help of translation software. That’s usually a BIG red flag! I often end up correcting the work of a robot before I start recording a script that was supposedly ‘translated’.

4. Journalism

As a former newscaster, checking my sources has become second nature. Sloppy copywriters have handed me scripts with incorrect website addresses, wrong phone numbers and even company names that were misspelled. I always verify the information provided, no matter how reliable the source. Another thing I do is research the company I’m dealing with. Not only does it give me a feel for the corporate culture, I also check in with the Better Business Bureau and research the reputation of a particular business.

A word of warning: even though a company might have a good BBB rating, things could still be fishy.

A few months ago, I was approached by “European Immigration and Translation Consultants” in Florida. This company asked me to translate a birth and a marriage certificate. They received my work the very same day and they thanked me by writing out a bad check. Of course I ended up paying a fee to my bank. I asked for a money order instead, with the penalty added to the bill, but the agency refused.

After some more research, I found out that the con-sulting company was run by a con artist who was wanted by the Canadian authorities. Of course I filed a complaint with the BBB, but the company never responded. All the bureau could do was giving them an “F” rating and close the case.

5. Love of music

As an amateur musician, I developed a sense of rhythm, diction and melodic lines that is very helpful when it comes to getting into the groove of the music in a commercial or a narration. As a cornet-player and  singer, I’m blessed with increased lung capacity and breathing support. Singing is great gymnastics for your voice. It’s a fun vocal cord workout that not only gives you the stamina to complete a long recording session; it also enhances voice projection, diction and flexibility.

Penny, if you’d like to learn more about this business, I suggest you read Harlan Hogan’s “Tales and Techniques of a Voice-Over Actor.” In it, Harlan quotes Dick Moore of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, AFTRA (now SAGAFTRA).

Moore says that of the eighty thousand AFTRA members the union represents, no more than a hundred people do most of the voice work.

So, in order to stand out, not only do you need to be outstanding at what you do; you also need to bring something special to the table. There are thousands of hopefuls out there, and all of them believe they have a fantastic voice.

Ultimately, it’s what you can do with that voice that makes all the difference.

Best of luck to you.

Now I’m off to have a cold rice beverage.

Cheers!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice


Busting Five Voice-Over Myths

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career 5 Comments

Some of you won’t like what I am about to reveal, but it needs to be said.

Yes, I will be the Debbie Downer of the voice-over community and the rain on your parade. If you’re a seasoned vo-pro, my message should come as no surprise. But I realize that blogs like these are also read by aspiring voice-over artists, and it’s about time that they should know the truth (or at least my version of it). Even if it hurts.

PERSISTENT MYTHSTAKES

In times of recession, desperate people cling to desperate things. For many, a new career as a voice-over artist seems to be the next best thing. Let me tell you point blank that it’s not. Far from it. Yet, every day, hundreds of hopefuls plunge into the pool of voice-over talent without even knowing how to swim. Why? Because they’re holding on to ideas that have no basis in reality.

Take your pick and allow me to burst your bubble:

1. “I LOVE YOUR VOICE”

Tons of people have told you that you have a great voice. “You’d do so much better than that woman announcing the Tony Awards,” they said. And you’ve heard it so many times that you start believing it yourself. Could this be a new career; the golden key to fame and fortune?

Without realizing it, you just made mistake number one. Thinking that having a good voice is all it takes, is like saying that, in order to be a successful actor, all you need are great looks. As far as I can tell, only Tom Cruise pulled that one off.

Owning a Steinway doesn’t automatically make you a great pianist. Having a Viking range in your kitchen doesn’t make you a phenomenal chef. Having a good set of vocal chords definitely helps, but it’s a very small piece of a big puzzle. Knowing how to use that voice is a different matter!

2. IMPRESSIONISM

Friends have said that you do a mean Morgan Freeman impression. In fact, they like it so much that you’re asked to perform your little trick at parties and high school reunions. It got you thinking: “Mr. Freeman must make lots of money reading a few words off a page. If he can do it, why can’t I? The world loves impersonators, right?”

Wake up, pal: we already have one Morgan Freeman. We do not need a clone. Your impression might be dead-on, but if you’re hoping to ride on the back of his success, you’ll always be someone you’re not. Making money impersonating a celebrity could get you in all kinds of legal trouble too. More importantly, you’re betraying yourself by forsaking what makes you truly unique: your very own sound.

3. RADIO GA-GA

You read the news for a local station. The latest membership drive didn’t go so well, and all of a sudden you’re as relevant as yesterday’s paper. What’s worse: you’re out the door. Thank goodness for your radio training. You can always become a voice-over artist, right? After all, it’s basically the same thing.

Next, you join one of those voice-over casting sites, and you record your first audition: a paragraph from a book about bachelor cardiac surgeons, voluptuous nurses and broken hearts.

Luckily, your membership came with a free voice evaluation and your coach gave your first demo…. a firm thumbs down. What hurt you the most was that the fact that she said that you sounded “like a news reader”. Wasn’t that supposed to be a good thing?

4. EASY MONEY

Even though your financial advisor warned you not to do it, you decide to tap into your nest egg and spend part of your IRA on a decent home studio and premium memberships of voices.com, voice123.com and voplanet.com. If you’re gonna do something, you might as well do it right! These sites will no doubt open the door to big companies offering big bucks to have you do a 20 second commercial or a 2-minute narration. Just wait and see… A few auditions a day will make the recession fade away!

I guess no one ever told you that almost 40% of professional voice-overs makes less than $25,000 per year, even after having been in the business for 10-25 years. Over one quarter of those surveyed make less than $10,000 per year.  (Source: VoiceOver Insider magazine). If that’s not living large…. I don’t know what is!

Veteran voice actor Ed Victor shared that over the past four weeks, he had submitted 50 auditions on Pay 2 Play sites. The net result: zero jobs. Mind you: Ed is known as “The Big Gun” of the business. In my opinion, he is the cream of the crop. But even if your last name happens to be Victor, it doesn’t automatically make you a winner.

5. OVERNIGHT SUCCESS

Would you ever pick up a violin and after a few weeks of practice and no lessons, record your first CD? Of course not.

No one would walk into a sports store and get the best tennis gear money can buy, and expect to be playing Wimbledon the week after.

Now explain to me why some wannabe voice-actors dig deep into their pockets and invest in top of the line equipment without any formal training or experience, expecting instant return on investment?

It takes great skill and practice to breathe life into a text, as well as technical expertise. It’s very similar to mastering a musical instrument. It usually takes many years to become an overnight success. And as we’ve seen, even respected talents find that the pickings are becoming increasingly slim. So, if you’re still thinking of pursuing a voice-over career, think again…. and then some more.

In a way, it’s like that picture on the box of your microwave dinner. It makes you hungry, but the meal usually doesn’t taste half as good as it looks. What’s even worse: it doesn’t have enough nutritional value to sustain you! Yet, millions are falling for it…. and are left hungry and feeling ripped-off.

YOUR TURN

Well, there’s your reality check. I told you this wasn’t going to be pretty. Feel free to disagree with me. Did I mention in my last blog that everything is perception? That’s why I’m really interested in your assessment of the voice-over business. Is it a goldmine or a minefield?

What advice would you give to a newbie? Have you seen talented people fail? What went wrong? Have you made it against all odds? If so, what’s been the secret of your success? What voice-over myths would you like to bust?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice