Dave Courvoisier

How I Became Dear Abby

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career 45 Comments

Paul StrikwerdaSomething scary and awful has happened to me.

Because of the strange popularity of this blog and my appearance as an “expert” on several VO-shows and webinars, people are starting to take me seriously.

What am I to do?

All of a sudden, friends and foes feel the urge to retweet my nonsensical wisecracks, and care to comment on bizarre thoughts I share with you on Facebook. Some people even shower me with compliments and unhealthy adoration.

STOP THAT!

I already suffer from extreme self-esteem, and you’re not making it any easier for me to stick to my twelve-step program aimed at practicing modesty and humility.

My AA (Arrogance Anonymous) self-help group was just praising me for the progress I had made in that area. It was horrible. All of a sudden I felt exceedingly full of myself again, and their flattery threw me back several months.

Because of my growing reputation, folks from all corners of the earth believe I have the answer to all their voice-over questions. Who do you think I am?

Joan Baker? J.S. Gilbert? Bill DeWees?

I thought I’d share a few of their issues with you, and when you read my responses, you will soon realize that it’s pointless to contact me.

Here we go.

Q. Dear Paul, I’d like you to critique my demo. How much do you charge for that?

A. Mr. Friedman, it depends on the audio. If your demo is very bad, you can’t pay me enough to listen to it. If it’s any good, you don’t need my critique because it speaks for itself.

Q. Dear Paul, I want to get rid of my announcer voice. What do I do?

A. Dear Doug Turkel, I can see why this could be a problem for you. I suggest talk therapy, and be sure to keep it conversational. Once you’re rid of your radio voice, relaunch your business. When you do, you better make a big announcement!

Q. Dear Paul, can you tell me what James Cameron found when his submarine hit the floor of the Mariana Trench?

A. Contrary to popular belief, this was not a marine expedition. Mr. Cameron was actually looking for cheap voice talent for his upcoming productions. He wondered how low they would go, and I think he found some bottom feeders.

Q. Dear Paul, am I allowed to drink during the session if the client is paying for a “dry read only”?

A. Very funny. Yes, you may drink, but only from a Blue Bottle!

I have a good one for you: Are you allowed to shout in a Whisper Room®?

Q. Dear Paul, Marc Cashman charged me an arm and a leg to help me find my money voice. Is that okay?

A. Give the man some credit. He’s a genius, and he deserves every penny!

Q. Dear Paul, I have some emotional scars from a Nancy Wolfson tough love seminar. What do I need to heal from that experience?

A. A big hug from Bob Souer or Uncle Roy.

Q. Dear Paul, although I just started my voice-over business, I want to come across as a seasoned professional. What are some of the must-haves if I want to pull this off?

A. That’s easy. People are doing it every day. You have to have:

• a profile picture of you, hugging a microphone;

• demos that have been so doctored, sweetened, and spiced up that your voice needs decompression after the session;

• a YouTube video tour of your walk-in closet voice-over studio showing a surprisingly rich variety of naughty undergarments;

• knowing the answer to the question: “What would Don have done?” (No, not Don Draper);

• a Neumann TLM 103 because you can’t afford a U87;

• a website with a picture of you hugging a microphone;

• a friend request from Dave Courvoisier;

• a Facebook album with pictures of you holding various celebrities in an iron grip as they are forced to pose with you;

• a subscription to my blog;

• a real job.

Q. Dear Paul, please listen to my most recent audition. Should I put more egg crates on the wall to tame the reflections?

A. The audition was horrible. Your bathroom sounds just fine, but I think you are the one who needs more treatment.

Q. Dear Paul, you’re such a wordsmith. Can you come up with a snappy slogan for my VO-business?

A. What do you think of these?

“I can’t read your mind but I will read your script.”
“I’m always on speaking terms with my clients.”
“Speak for yourself, or I will do it for you!”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS My sincere apologies to all the colleagues mentioned in this article. You never wrote to me, and after this article I fear you never will.


Win a One-Year VoiceZam VO Demo Player Subscription

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Promotion 83 Comments

stopwatch

We live in an impatient world, filled with distractions.

Our plates are getting fuller. Attention spans are getting shorter. Decisions are made faster.

The other day, I was using my “old” computer on a slow internet connection, and I was ready to throw a brick at it because it took forever to load a simple web page. Only a few years ago, I felt lucky to have such an amazing connection.

Technology has turned us into spoiled brats. We demand immediate access and real-time interactivity. We want direct control and hate to waste any time waiting. The voice-over world is affected by it, too.

If you don’t respond to that audition right away, you might as well forget it because every Tom, Dick or Harry is rushing to that online cattle call. Wait two minutes and there are 30 people ahead of you. How did that happen?

CATERING TO THE CLIENT

Like most people on the planet, our clients live by the law of least effort. They want to get a quick sense of our sound and say Yea or Nay. They don’t want to beg you to send them a demo or spend hours listening to an endless mix of sweetened soundbites.

Software Engineer Bob Merkel used to be a producer at an advertising agency. Part of his job was to find voice talent to match their scripts. He spent hours weeding through talent. Listening to their demos was like having to read an entire magazine. All Bob really wanted, was to flip through all the articles to see which one he was interested in.

That’s when he started dreaming of an audio player that would allow him to fast forward within a demo. At that time, it didn’t exist.

In early 2002 he started writing the first system application for his idea. In September of ’08 he was granted a patent, and the VoiceZam Voice-Over Demo Player was born. It’s a player that offers more than a way to put audio on a website. Here’s colleague Chris Mezzolesta:

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that this is not an independent review. It’s a promo and Chris is trying to sell a service, just like most of us VO’s do each and every day. So I decided to check in with a few industry experts and find out what they think of Merkel’s brainchild.

Cliff Zellman is the mastermind behind Done By Six Productions. You can read about him in my story “Factory Demos: Fatal First Impressions.” Zellman:

As a casting director for RadioVision in Dallas Texas I am always open to hearing new voices and fresh deliveries. On a potential hire’s website, I appreciate the speed and ease of use the VoiceZam player provides. When I see a VoiceZam player, I know I am dealing with a professional, as I believe Bob Merkel (great guy) vets each user before issuing them a player. The quality of the player is excellent and the load time is non-existent. It’s that fast.

One of the benefits of using a VoiceZam player is the availability to hear many selections from a voice talent within one application with an easy to navigate menu system. Sometime I will hire someone not for what I am currently seeking, but rather a voice or character I can use in the future.

VOICE-OVERS WEIGH IN

Voice Talent Tom Test started using the player in early 2013.

I am very versatile, which is a “problem” with a traditional linear-playing demo.  The talent seeker might find exactly the read they need on my 7th clip out of a dozen, but might not stick around long enough to get to it out of impatience. VoiceZam (VZ) makes it so easy to skip from track to track, it is MUCH more time-efficient for the listener AND as a result gives me a better shot at showing off the entire range of my reads.

I demonstrated it to one of my top agents here in Chicago, and he was very impressed. He’d love to have VZ on the agency’s website.

Voice-Over Anthony Gettig has been using VZ for almost a year:

My clients really dig it. Being a data driven guy, I am tickled with VoiceZam! The analytics (Zamtistics™) let me see who listened to my demo and from what Internet connection. I can usually deduce from that where they are from. VoiceZam lets you create a “ZamLink,” which is a specially crafted URL that you can copy and paste into an email or image link. When the person receiving the message clicks on that link, it shows up the Zamtistics. I see this and can then follow up with the prospect.

Early adopter Dave Courvoisier has a link to the VZ player in his email signature and has embedded it in his blog. Courvoisier:

As you know, I have a ready interest in new trends, techniques, gizmos, apps, and software development. I found Merkel’s product to have a high degree of sophistication, innovative design features, and a no-frills web site that supported the product.  I eventually had the opportunity to talk to Bob a lot about the genesis of VoiceZam, and realized it grew out of his considerable experience with voice talent, agencies, advertising, and the corporate business world.  I became convinced that he had developed a truly new “take” on the linear model of playing demos. My experience is that the product is genuine, robust, configurable, and meets its PR promises.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY

Not everyone is as enthusiastic. Recently, Courvoisier blogged about VoiceZam, and one of his readers commented:

If only you buy this one more product, your voice business will be a success. No. VoiceZam is a solution without a problem.

Cliff Zellman brings up another point:

The only drawback I see as an end-user is the absence of a pause button. Very often during audition playbacks, I like to pause the audio and discuss, then continuing from there, only to pause and discuss again. Once the VoiceZam player has this feature, a simple pause button, it will be the player of choice for VO talent seekers. I really hope to see it added soon.

Joe J. Thomas commented:

I’m really hoping that whoever listens to my demo the first time listens all the way through. After all, it’s only :60-:90 – If I can’t hold their attention that long, I’m in the wrong biz!

Joe also mentioned pricing. Many audio players are free. Even though VoiceZam just slashed its fees in half, premium service is $8.95 a month. If you want statistics, add $4.95. That’s more than most people pay for hosting an entire site. Tom Test also made a really good point:

VoiceZam is not magic. It won’t do much good if the talent doesn’t do any sort of marketing to drive people to their site.

So, is the VoiceZam player a luxury or a necessity to keep up with the times? Has the voice-over world been waiting for this solution? Bob Merkel:

The question, “Is this really something they’ve been waiting for?” is interesting. My answer is “Absolutely!” because I see the value it brings to all parties. The closest analogy I can use is when the iPod was introduced in the early 2000s. It would be have been difficult for a music enthusiast to answer the question “Is the iPod something you’ve been waiting for?” After the normal music playback method of stereos and CD driven boom boxes, it took a lot of time for people to understand the new paradigm of digital songs you could hold in your hand. But once they got it, the way music was presented, changed forever.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS The blue text in this blog indicates a hyperlink. For more info, go to www.voicezam.com

Be Sweet. Please Retweet!

photo credit: purplemattfish via photopin cc


The Wheat and the Chaff

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, International, Promotion 62 Comments

SaVoA, the Society of Accredited Voice Over Artists has imploded.

Six members of the executive board resigned in April of 2012, citing irreconcilable differences between them and SaVoA’s founding father.

On hearing the news, I was stirred but certainly not shaken. To me, the real news was how the worldwide voice-over community responded. The overall reaction can be summarized in two words:

“So what?”

Of course a few inner circle members -sorry, make that “certificate holders”– reacted as expected by telling their version of the break-up. And yet again, thousands of voice actors answered silently in unison and said:

“Who cares?”

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

You see, in the five years of its existence, SaVoA managed to attract and accredit a whopping 170 people, and it never became the organization it set out to be. Instead, it was regarded by some as an old-boys network.

The idea was to bring together a group of voice artists who had proven to their peers that they could provide “vocally and technically proficient, broadcast-quality voice over services” and who would “conduct business in such a way that it enhances the profession as a whole.”

Apart from a few discounts on trainings and gear, accredited members received a SaVoA certificate and a seal that could be displayed on websites and business cards. Like the Good Housekeeping seal, it was meant to reassure prospective clients that they were about to hire an established, highly qualified voice talent.

Upon seeing the seal, most clients said:

“What the heck is that? Just because some unknown body has accredited you, doesn’t mean you’re a good fit for the job. Let me hear your demo. You’re a voice-over. Words speak louder than actions.”

Many colleagues responded the same way. Why would an experienced talent even need to be accredited? Paul Payton:

“My accreditation is 24 years in the VO business, 22 without a back-up job, working with great clients including many who bring me repeat business. If a certificate works for someone, great; for me, every check I cash is an accreditation. Color me grateful.”

Others like Todd Schick questioned SaVoA’s technical standards:

“How good are standards that can be easily faked? What good is legal gobbledygook to a consumer who hired a SaVoA talent, only to find out that they didn’t have a phone patch, the editing was horrible, the sound sucked because they had a -40dB noise floor… and couldn’t work after 5 pm EST because they had a day job?”

The SaVoA certificate still hangs on Danish voice talent Jacob Ekström‘s wall. Even though SaVoA as we know it is no more, he believes it’s useful to set standards.

“Certification in general is not a new thing, and in an industry like ours where clueless noobs armed with a $20 RadioShack microphone can build a website and/or sign up to a p2p-site and think they can compete with VO-veterans with $10.000 studios, it certainly could be an asset to voice seekers with limited time to listen through 500+ auditions or demos. But alas, not if they don’t know what it means, and I guess this is where SaVoA failed.”

“As a well-established talent you can always argue “Sheesh, why would I need this, a $75 badge on my website isn’t going to get me more gigs anyway!” – and that’s true. But for the remaining 90% of us, just maybe it could. Mind you, the original idea was NOT to build a “boys club” – it was to make the industry better, not only for our clients, but more importantly for ourselves.

Having a SaVoA badge on your website should be something everyone should want to strive for, not because it looks good, but because it means you’re serious and you want your clients to know. And yes, we all know you don’t need a $75 badge to actually be serious, but all the $20 microphone guys who clutter the p2p-sites do not, and, apparently, neither does the industry. And that’s why I feel it’s a damn shame SaVoA never made an impact.”

Audio producer, script writer and voice actor Matt Forrest has a different take on the viability of a professional organization for voice actors:

“Unless the standards or code are adopted by an organized group (like a union or SaVoA) and used – and promoted – for the benefit of its members, I’m not sure what good any of it would do. Being individual contractors, we all know how we want to treat our customers and our craft, but getting everyone to abide by them would be like trying to herd cats.”

Dan LenardDan Lenard is one of the former members of SaVoA’s executive board. He strongly believes the voice-over community has to have a SaVoA type of organization:

“We have common needs. We need to come together in an organized manner to harness this energy that has created this unique virtual community, and work together to deal with the unique marketing, legal and technical issues involved, along with the socially isolating nature of our trade.”

OUT OF THE ASHES

Together with other ex-SaVoA directors, Dan has been building a new and more transparent voice-over organization, modeled after a Trade Association. It was incorporated on April 25th 2012, and it was launched a day later. It’s called the World-Voices organization. Lenard explains:

“It’s an organization founded and funded by businesses that operate in a specific industry. An industry trade association participates in public relations activities such as advertising, education, and publishing, but its main focus is collaboration between businesses, or standardization. Many associations are non-profit organizations governed by bylaws and directed by officers who are also actual voting “members” of the association, not just certificate of Accreditation holders.

This is a model that makes sense for us, the independently based freelance voice artist, here and now. To have an individual competitive advantage we need to have agreed standards of business to strive for. Marketing wise, legally and because of the new territory of being able to produce quality audio at home, Accreditation of technical skills based on the reality of today’s digital marketplace, not outdated, obsolete broadcasting standards.”

Founding Executive Vice President, Dave Courvoisier says:

“Our founders are Dustin Ebaugh, Dan Lenard, Chris Mezzolesta, Robert Sciglimpaglia, Andy Bowyer, “Kat” Keesling, and myself. All are SaVoa ex-patriates. With certain obstacles out of our way, we’ve been able to organize, conceptualize, implement, and carry-out an amazing array of technical, foundational, and legal collaborations in just a matter of days.

The newly established World-Voices Organization will actively work to promote certified members to potential voice seekers through its website and in an aggressive marketing campaign. Materials explaining a proposed structure will be posted on our website.”

And what do I make of this?

If teachers, lawyers, roofers and even DJ’s see value in building a business organization with a code of conduct and professional standards, I see no reason why voice-overs should not follow in their footsteps.

I am in favor of defining criteria for excellence and ethical behavior. It’s important to create programs that will further our field and promote professionalism. Let’s show the outside world what being a voice-over pro entails!

We have a vibrant, supportive and growing community. It’s time to take ourselves and our line of work seriously. If we don’t, no one else will and we’ll forever be known as a bunch of bickering amateuristic blabbermouths.

We need and deserve this professional organization for ourselves, and to help the outside world separate the wheat from the chaff.

Now, to make sure that good people with good intentions will fail, you and I will only have to do one thing:

NOTHING

It’s very easy to stand on the sidelines and ridicule, criticize and discourage the efforts of a few. It takes no commitment whatsoever. It’s safe, it’s lame and it’s lazy.

I’d like you to consider this.

SaVoA did not fail to grow because the founder had no vision. The fact that SaVoA wasn’t thriving cannot be blamed on directors supposedly sitting on their behinds. Most of them worked their butts off!

The way I see it, SaVoA failed because part of the voice-over community paid lip service to the organization (VO’s are good at that), but never invested in it. The other part looked at it from a distance and said:

“Whatever”

Existing members did not succeed in making the organization relevant. Some of them adopted a wait-and-see attitude and vented their frustration that nothing was happening.

THE FUTURE

Many will look at World-Voices and ask themselves this question:

“What will I get out of it?”

Those who are primarily focused on themselves ask that question all the time. If that is going to be your approach, I predict that this new association of voice over professionals will die a quick death.

This is not going to be a ME-ME-ME organization. This is a WE-organization, working to benefit our entire community and beyond.

I challenge you to ask this question instead:

“What can I do to make World-Voices relevant, strong and successful?”

If you want to make it matter, you have to be involved.

Otherwise, another tree will soon fall in the forest without a sound.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
We have a new internet sensation: a 14 year-old kid who sounds like a movie trailer man. Could your ability to sound like someone else help or hurt your career? That’s the topic of my next blog post

 


Freelancing and Fresh Fish

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Freelancing 11 Comments

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
from Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking-Glass”

 

One sunny day, a fishmonger put up the following sign:

TODAY: FRESH FISH

One of his first customers said to him: “What’s this sign I see? You only have fresh fish today?”

“Of course not,” said the fishmonger. “I have fresh fish every day. You’ve been coming here for the past eight years. You know that.”

“Then why did you write: Today: Fresh Fish? That’s confusing,” said the customer.

So the fishmonger erased the word TODAY.

An hour later another customer questioned him about the sign:

“Why does it say ‘Fresh Fish’? Isn’t your fish always fresh? Or have you been selling me unfresh fish all these years?”

“Of course not,” answered the fishmonger a bit annoyed. “Each day I go to the harbor at the crack of dawn and buy my fish straight from the men who caught it. It can’t get any fresher than that.”

“Then why did you write: Fresh Fish? That’s confusing,” said the customer.

So the fishmonger erased the word FRESH. “I don’t get these people,” he mumbled. “Wasn’t it obvious what I was trying to say?”

ASSUMPTIONS

Our life is filled with unspoken assumptions. The obvious does not need to be stated, does it? If we hold that to be true, we’re forgetting one thing:

What’s obvious to one person might not be obvious to another person.

Language in and of itself is vague, inadequate and ambiguous, and therefore up for interpretation. If you have any doubts about that, talk to theologians or lawyers. In both cases you often need divine intervention to get them to agree on anything, even if they speak the same language.

Polish-American scientist and philosopher Alfred Korzybski (1879–1950) is the developer of what he called “General Semantics.” Simply put, this refers to the study of how you and I react to our environment or an event, and how we derive meaning from it.

Korzybski coined the phrase “The map is not the territory,” meaning that a word is not what it defines (the territory), but merely a symbolic representation of it (the map). That’s why we don’t get wet from the word water.

Here’s the problem: if we don’t know what the territory looks like, how on earth can we know what the map refers to?

Take Nike’s famous trademark “Just do it.

Without knowing anything about it, would you have any idea what these three words stand for? For instance: what is “it”? And if we don’t know what “it” is, how are we supposed to know how to “do” “it”? It could mean a million things, and we’re supposed to “just” do them? Forget it!

Let’s move away from fishy advertising and “just do” a little experiment. Take this simple sentence:

“We only have a small budget.”

That’s plain English, isn’t it? But what does it really mean? Do we have enough information to know what the writer intended it to mean?

If you say “yes” to the question, please tell me what you think it means and what you are basing it on. If you say “no,” tell me what is missing.

I have a feeling that you’ve seen this sentence before. I will also go as far as to imagine that every day, freelancers like you and me allow these six words to influence the bids they put in, to win a project. Am I right?

In order to truly know what the client means by “We only have a small budget,” a lot of blanks need to be filled in. First of all: who is “we”? Is it a client? And if so, who is this client? Donald Trump? I bet you anything that what “the Donald,” considers to be small, will forever redefine your meaning of the word!

My voiceover agent sometimes sends me five hundred-dollar jobs and apologizes for the “small budget.” To some, five hundred dollars might be a huge step up from the hundred-dollar jobs they’ve been auditioning for, just to break into the business. But considering the fact that this client is a key retailer and that the job involves all major markets and a six-year buyout, five hundred bucks is very low pay.

It’s all relative, relatively speaking.

DEFINING MEANING

By giving you these examples, what did I just do?

I provided you with some context.

The meaning of words is not only determined by what you find in the dictionary. It is defined by the setting and circumstances in which they are used. In fact, dictionary editors define the meaning of words by studying the context in which they appear. They even come up with sentences in which a word is used to illustrate its meaning.

But let’s assume that little or no context is provided. What do we usually do to attempt to understand the words we read or hear?

We start making things up. Believe it or not, there’s a mindreader in all of us! To me, this is where things get really interesting. On what exactly do we base our uninformed guesses?

I remember the first time I drove on an American highway and saw a sign that said RAMP. I must confess that I had no idea what it meant (for first-time readers: I’m originally from The Netherlands).

In an attempt to understand its meaning, my mind started making associations based on my personal frame of reference. In Dutch, the word RAMP means DISASTER! Till this very day, I get uncomfortable whenever I see that sign.

Without a clear context and without the ability to ask any questions, we generally base our understanding on speculation, which in turn is based on our subjective experience. In other words: the way you interpret “we only have a small budget,” will tell us a lot about you and next to nothing about the person who wrote it. This gets us into trouble all the time.

As a service provider it is not supposed to be about us. It’s about what the client wants to see and needs to hear. But clients typically hand out maps and leave it to us to second-guess what their territory is supposed to look or sound like.

They’ll tell you:

“I don’t know how to describe to you what I want, but I know it when I hear it. As long as you try to sound warm but professional…. If you know what I mean.”

No I don’t know what you mean. How could I? We have never met. Sometimes I don’t even understand my wife, and I think that I know her better than most people.

MISUNDERSTANDING

Now, do you still wonder why you didn’t land that ‘warm and professional’ gig?

Could it be, because you were led by your own assumptions? Did you forget to ask critical questions, or were you unable or not allowed to contact the client and get some context?

Beginners often wonder: “If only I could get some feedback after the fact. That would give me some idea as to why my audition was rejected.”

I think it would be much more helpful to get some perspective before the fact; some sense of direction. Dump the vague and ambiguous verbiage. If you don’t tell us what you want, how are we supposed to give it to you? I know that words are inadequate ways of describing an experience, but can you at least try a little harder?

While you do that, let’s go back to the story.

TODAY: FRESH FISH

After erasing the first two words, the fishmonger stared at the sign that now read “FISH.”

That should do it, he thought.

No one can argue with that.

He was ready to go inside when a boy walked up to him. He had a ten-dollar bill in his hand.

“Sir, sir…” the boy said, “Can I ask you a question?”

“Of course,” said the fishmonger. “What can I help you with, young man?”

The boy looked at him with big, hopeful eyes.

“Sir, I just saw your sign and I was wondering: do you sell goldfish?”

The fishmonger made a gesture of utter exasperation.

People are completely clueless, he thought.

Then he took a damp sponge and erased the word FISH.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice