Double Dutch Blog

Raising money for your business

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Freelancing, Internet, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play, Promotion, Social Media 2 Comments

So, you have this amazing idea for a new service, a movie, a video game or a CD. Your plans are in place. Your team is ready. What’s the one thing you need to make it happen?

Money!

One way to get your hands on a chunk of startup cash is to pitch your idea to investors. A few years ago, Priscilla Groves and James Kennedy did just that. They went on the TV show Dragon’s Den, to raise cash for their budding business called “Piehole,” an online voice casting service.

Did they get the money they asked for? Find out for yourself:

Audio book publisher Karen Wolfer had a different idea. She used crowdfunding to pay for the spoken version of “Safe Harbor,” by Radclyffe. You can find her project on Kickstarter.com.

Since launching in April 2009, Kickstarter has successfully funded more than 20 thousand projects backed by 1.8 million people who raised over 200 million dollars.

The idea is simple. Once your project is approved, you post it on the site and you list how much you’d like to raise within a certain time frame. Visitors to the site can pledge a dollar amount and in return they receive a reward.

If the project succeeds in reaching its funding goal, all backers’ credit cards are charged when time expires. If the project falls short, no one is charged.

SUCCESS STORIES

Winning projects don’t get to keep all the money raised. 3-5% goes to Amazon Payments for processing the donations and 5% goes to Kickstarter.

Video game developer Double Fine Productions surprised everybody in 2012. They were shooting for a 400 thousand dollar investment. Within 24 hours they had received over 1 million. An hour before it closed, the project had reached the 3 million dollar level.

Entrepreneur Eric Migicovsky outdid them. He created Pebble, a futuristic watch that syncs with Android or iPhone apps. Migicovsky raised over 10 million dollars!

Compared to them, Karen Wolfer was asking for a modest $4,700. Why did she decide to raise funds using Kickstarter? Karen Wolfer:

“With Kickstarter, the money is collected before the recording project is started. Fees can be paid for narrators, sound engineers and materials up front. And by involving fans of the story or of the narrator, it becomes a form of pre-advertising for the finished book. Social media is utilized in a big way, so buzz is created from the first stage of an audio book’s life.”

You need a minimum $4,700 for this project to get the green light. Is this your entire production budget, and if not, what does it cover?

“Yes, this is my entire production budget. It will cover travel expenses for the actresses (Diane Gaidry) we signed to do the book, her fees, the sound engineer fees, and a new pre-amp we need.”

How do you reach potential backers?

“Social media: Facebook, Twitter, emails. Lots of them!”

Your company, Dog Ear Audio specializes in lesbian literature. What has been the response, so far?

“Pretty darn good! There is a passionate fan base for these stories, and Dog Ear Audio is the only audio publisher serving this niche market. The biggest surprise so far is the dollar amounts being pledged. We’ve had more pledges over the $100 amount, than we’ve had of the expected $5 and $10 amounts. The biggest pledge was a whopping $500 from folks in the Australian Outback! That floored me. But it also showed me there is a hunger for these books.

All the money is coming from fans of the author our narrator, and of course, we also have fans of Dog Ear Audio’s other titles. They have been very loyal customers. We’ve had pledges from the aforementioned Outback of Australia, the UK, and all over the US. I wrote to my brother about donating, but have not heard back from him. If he doesn’t help, boy, is he in trouble.” 😉

What will happen if you don’t reach your goal on June 1st. Will “Safe Harbor” still be recorded?

“Lol…I won’t let that happen now that we are so close. There are still lots of people to meet and share our project with. It’s all a matter of finding those ‘friends’ and groups that this story would appeal to. It is very much like any sales campaign, only the sales work is done first. You get paid first, and then you create the product.

The great thing is, there are still sales to be made after the book is published through the normal sales pathways. But to further answer your question, yes, I would still record “Safe Harbor” because I believe in this project so much, and I know the fan base is there.”

Based on your experience with Kickstarter, will you be using it again?

“Absolutely. The site is so beautifully organized. It is easy to create your project, all the answers are there to help you with the process, and I love the energy the creators of Kickstarter put into all their communications. Someone has put a lot of thought into the entire process.

A huge side benefit to launching a project this way, is that you can measure the likely success rate of your book, or any project, before you invest considerable time and money into that work. I have seen some projects receive no money, so maybe that idea needs to be revamped or even abandoned. But the person now knows that there may not be a market for that idea without having invested a lot of their own money.

Or, it may be that person needs to hone up on their social media skills. That can make or break a project, too. And as you see with Kickstarter, if a project does not receive full funding, no money is collected from donors. It is safe for anyone pledging.

I understand that it helps if a person donates to other projects before they launch their own. It is a form of ‘payback karma’; you help me, I help you, not only in donations, but in advertising of a project. I have ‘liked’ other projects that are similar to mine, and they have done the same to me, so the social networking is wonderful. Sooooo, if anyone needs a place to start, I would greatly appreciate any help from this voice-over community toward our goal.

One last detail. We are donating a percentage of any monies collected to the Safe Harbor Prison Dog rescue in Lansing KS. There are more details on this on our Kickstarter page. Again, it is in the spirit of paying it forward, and sharing the abundance that is out there.”

RISKS & RETURNS

Karen reached her goal three weeks before the deadline plus and extra $1,000. It doesn’t always work out that way. In 2011, 46% of the projects posted on Kickstarter were successful. In 2010 the success rate was 43%.

Let’s assume a project reaches its minimum limit. Who will hold the fundraiser accountable to live up to his or her promises? Kickstarter writes:

“It is the responsibility of the project creator to fulfill the promises of their project. Kickstarter reviews projects to ensure they do not violate the Project Guidelines, however Kickstarter does not investigate a creator’s ability to complete their project. (…) At the end of the day, use your internet street smarts.

Pledges to Kickstarter projects are generally not tax-deductible and if you live outside of the United States, the site will tell you that you might “experience a problem trying to pledge.”

Then there’s the fact that the success of a Kickstarter campaign heavily depends on word of mouth. It’s the number of backers that determines what gets funded and not necessarily the quality of what’s being offered. It’s a popularity contest.

If we would leave it to public opinion, the paintings of Thomas Kinkade would now be in the Museum of Modern Art. Indie artists looking for funding might think twice about seeking support for their work on Kickstarter.

Last but not least, funding Kickstarter projects is not an investment. You might get a T-shirt out of it, or some public recognition from an author, but that’s it.

What if Eric Migicovsky’s Pebble watch becomes a huge hit? We know that Kickstarter and Amazon together take about ten percent of his 10 million dollars raised.

If you have pledged $99, all you get is a watch. Okay, it’s a very cool watch, but still…

Would you back or post a project on Kickstarter?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice


Are You a Cliché?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Internet 25 Comments

His name is Jake Foushee and he’s an online voice-over sensation. Over one million people have watched his movie trailer man impersonation on YouTube.

If you haven’t seen the video, you might wonder: What’s the big deal?

Well, even though he sounds like he’s in his fifties, Mr. Foushee was actually fourteen years old at the time he shot the video. It’s creepy. Fortunately for Jake, we like creepy. Regular Joes rarely make the headlines, but we all love the bizarre and the eccentric, don’t we?

Next to the bearded lady we now have a 14-year old who sounds a bit like Don LaFontaine. It doesn’t get any better than that.

Ellen DeGeneres had him on her show and like a docile puppy,

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


Seven Reasons to Hate Home Studios

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Freelancing, Studio 33 Comments

Just like desktop publishing changed the printing business, home studios have forever transformed the world of voice-overs.

If you enjoy hanging out in a stuffy, cramped, dark claustrophobic enclosure all day long, having a home studio is heaven.

Most clients seem to love it. They no longer have to hire an audio engineer and a director and pay for studio time. Theoretically, hiring voice talent with a home studio may save a lot of money, but it can come at a price.

Let me tell you about the downside of home recording.

1. $$$

At some point in your voice-over career you want to get rid of the egg crates and the moving blankets hanging from a pvc frame, and move into a real recording space. You have two choices: Prefab or DIY.

Even the cheapest Whisper Room™ will cost you more than three grand and this does not include shipping (these booths weigh as much as an elephant). The standard, single wall models usually don’t offer enough isolation. Double wall is your best and more expensive bet.

Most booths sound boxy and you will need bass traps to tame the “boominess.” Imagine putting these huge babies in your 3.5′ x 3.5′ space. If you enjoy breathing fresh air, add another $500 for a ventilation system.

Ka-ching!

Of course you can always build your own recording cave. This is not a project you can do on a Sunday afternoon. It might take many months and eat up all your spare time, energy and extra cash.

I designed and built my own booth, but I couldn’t have done it without the help of a contractor-friend. Thanks to him, I was able to keep the costs down. I couldn’t be happier with the result, but if I ever move, my studio stays and I’ll have to start from scratch.

2. More $$$

Read the rest of this story in my new eBook. 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


Are You Still Hiding Your Rates?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Freelancing, Money Matters 29 Comments

Whether you’re a voice-over artist, a photographer or a freelance copywriter, sooner or later you’ll have to answer this question:

Is it wise to put your rates on your website?

I used to be vehemently against it, but I have changed my mind. To give you an idea why, let’s explore both sides of the argument.

Business writer and voice-over professional Maxine Dunn describes herself as a savvy solopreneur. Does she think it’s a good idea to post rates? Maxine:

Read the rest of this story in my new book. Click here for the paperback version, and click here for a Kindle download.

Click on the cover to access the website and get a sneak peek.

Making Money In Your PJs cover


What Some Clients Won’t Tell You

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Freelancing, Money Matters 40 Comments

If you don’t know what your clients want and need, you’ll never be able to give it to them. Paul Strikwerda

Throughout my career I have really tried to educate potential clients. Yet, almost every day I get the same old question:

“How much do you charge for a 2 minute voice-over?”

As if we’re talking about a pound of sugar or a gallon of milk.

I really can’t answer that question, but if you think you can I’d like to know:

What are you basing your answer on?

In the absence of specifics most people start making things up.

Take it from me: Do not assume you know what your clients want.

Ever.

Amateurs make assumptions. Professionals…

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


More Studio Secrets Revealed

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Gear, Studio 25 Comments

You’ve seen the inside of my voice-over booth. Now it’s time to talk about technology.

Don’t worry, I’ll do my very best not to be too technical, if only for my own sake.

When it comes to the tools of the trade, I subscribe to the “less is more” philosophy. Life is complicated as is, and in my studio I’d like to keep things as simple as possible. 

Without exception, my clients ask for audio that’s “unfooled around with”. Most of them are much better equipped to do post-production sweetening in their studios, if that’s what they want.

I have no inclination to compete with all the high-end bells and whistles their engineers have at their disposal. As long as I can give them clean and clear audio, they’re happy and I’m happy.

Mac MiniComputing Power: the hardware

At the heart of my studio is a Mac Mini with a dual-core 2.3 GHz Intel i5 processor running OS X Lion. It came with 2GB of memory, but thanks to a removable bottom, it is very easy to add more memory to your mini. If you let Apple do it for you, 8 GB will cost you $400. It took me ten minutes to do it myself for less than $45. At the time I even got a $10 rebate and free shipping!

Sorry, but I’m not going to get into the Apple versus PC discussion. I’ve used both and I have found Apple to be more reliable and user-friendly. I do want to tell you what prompted me to get a Mac Mini.

Reason number one: it barely makes any noise. When it does, it produces a whisper that’s almost inaudible.

Some colleagues have a studio with two separate areas: a sound booth and a control room. The computer is usually outside the booth. I combined both spaces, which means that my desktop sits next to me in my studio. The Mac Mini uses very little energy and it rarely ever gets warm. That makes it amazingly quiet.

Secondly, this computer stays in my studio. It doesn’t have to go on the road with me. Otherwise I would have bought the Macbook Air (no moving parts and also nearly silent).

Third: I already had peripherals such as a flat-screen monitor and an ergonomic mouse. I just added a wireless keyboard. Tip: if you want to connect a standard analog computer monitor or LCD to your Mac Mini, you need a Mini DisplayPort to VGA Adapter.

What the Mac Mini doesn’t have is an optical drive to play and burn CD’s or DVD’s. For that purpose I bought the Macbook Air SuperDrive which can be plugged into one of the four Mac Mini USB 2.0 ports.

The actual move from PC to Mac was very easy. It took me about a week to get used to my new computer and the operating system. It’s all rather intuitive. A few weeks ago we did add a MacBook Air to our household. This is no ordinary laptop. It is a work of art!

Apple Time CapsuleBackup, please!

We’ve all heard horror stories of friends who lost months if not years worth of irreplaceable data when their system decided to take a permanent break. Backing up is something all of us should do, but we often don’t. We forget. We tell ourselves that we’ll do it tomorrow or the day after. It’s just one more thing to think about, and that’s why I wanted a backup system that would do the thinking for me.

I now have an Apple Time Capsule with a 2 TB hard drive, designed to work with my operating system (although it works with PC’s too). After an initial backup which lasted several hours, it now backs up both computers in our home quickly, wirelessly and automatically. Installing it was a piece of cake. The Time Machine feature in the OS detected the Time Capsule and within minutes it was up and running.

Tip: as the Time Capsule is backing up, it may interfere with your recording. In my case, I noticed a soft but annoying buzzing sound on the audio file, which disappears when the automatic back-up is switched off.

Look at me!

Next on my list was a webcam which I use for coaching sessions, webinars and Skype. I picked the Logitech HD Pro Webcam C910. The Carl Zeiss optics lens has a wide angle and the video quality is remarkably crisp and clear.

Reviewers also praise the quality of the stereo microphones. That’s not so important to me because my sound comes directly from my studio condenser.

Mac users: don’t get all gaga over all the advanced features listed on the box and in the manual (zoom, face tracking, exposure adjustments). Even though Apple sells this camera in their stores, most of the Logitech functionally works on a PC and not on a Mac. The C910 is also not supported as an iMovie camera, but that’s Apple’s fault.

In summary, this camera gets an A for image quality, but a C- for limited Apple functionality.

Software

There are many different types of DAW’s (Digital Audio Workstations) available for audio production on a Mac. Colleagues with a background in audio engineering like to use Pro Tools. A lot of my voice-overs friends rave about Adobe Audition CS5.5 and Twisted Wave. Until I made the switch, I was a happy Sound Forge™ Pro user.

I won’t be going over the pros and cons of each program. You can try most of them out for free and I’d certainly take advantage of that.

I ended up choosing Twisted Wave because it’s very stable, easy to use and at $79.90 it’s also budget-friendly. Thanks to a great interface, zooming in and out of a waveform is very fast, even when the file is quite long. I particularly like the fact that I can zoom in at great detail for precision editing.

Different clients prefer different audio formats and TW can import, export and convert most of them. It has a time-saving batch processing feature which is especially useful when you’re working on a lengthy e-Learning project with lots of short files that need to be separated out and individually named.

TW doesn’t come with a whole lot of special effects, but new and existing plugins are imported seamlessly. With TW, effects no longer have to be applied one by one, but it’s possible to load any number in an effect stack and still adjust them separately.

Some of you might prefer Adobe Audition CS5.5 because it’s loaded with features such as Noise Reduction, a DeClicker, a DeHummer etcetera. I had already invested in Izotope’s RX2 audio repair toolkit and it’s now an integral part of my Twisted Wave Effects line-up.

I do have two items on my Twisted Wave wish list. I’d love to have a feature similar to Adobe Audition’s Auto Heal function for brushing away audio glitches. It’s like having Photoshop® for your audio! I also like to have my Sound Forge WaveHammer tool back. It applies a tad of compression and normalization to the sound files to give the audio just a bit more oomph.

Controlling the Wave

To streamline my job in the editing room I’m using a ShuttlePROv2 controller. It has 15 programmable buttons, a jog knob and a spring loaded wheel with which I can control the main editing functions in Twisted Wave.

It’s preprogrammed for things like Garageband, iPhoto and iTunes, but it was really easy to program the TW keyboard shortcuts into the Shuttle. With my mouse in one hand and my ShuttlePRO in the other, I can scroll, zoom, cut, copy and paste much faster than with a keyboard.

The ShuttlePROv2 connects to your computer via a USB port and it comes with custom labels for the top 9 buttons. It can be used on either MAC or PC computers and it retails for about $80.

Gefell M 930 Ts & Rycote's InVision™ Studio KitMicrophone and shock mount

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that I consider myself to be a very lucky man. In December 2011, I won a Microtech Gefell M 930 Ts large diaphragm condenser microphone in a recordinghacks.com giveaway. This microphone happens to be ideal for voice-over work. To find out why, you should read my review by clicking here.

Because the Gefell did not come with a shock mount, I had to find a suspension system that would hold this small microphone. Rycote, a company based in the UK, makes the InVision™ Studio Kit you see in the picture ($149.99). It’s a combination of a unique, universal shock mount and a very light and effective pop filter. If you click here, you’ll find out what I think of this kit.

I’m using an Ultimate Support® mic stand and their telescoping Ulti-Boom. WindTech cable clips keep the mic cable separate from the stand.

Preamplifier

A good preamplifier strengthens the low level signal coming from your microphone to a level suitable for recording, without degrading the signal to noise ratio (S/N). A preamp with a high S/N has very little background noise.

Some boutique preamplifiers can really color your sound and that wasn’t something I was particularly interested in. My ideal preamp needed to be dead quiet, transparent, detailed and clear in all frequencies.

Grace Design M101As I researched preamps within my budget range, I kept coming back to one model: the Grace Design m101.

Built in Colorado, the sound quality is often described as “natural” and “pristine”. I couldn’t agree more. This is a phenomenal preamplifier!

Looking at the front panel, you’ll see a 48V phantom power button, a ‘ribbon button’ which, when engaged, bypasses the phantom power circuit, and a high-pass filter button to reduce low-end rumble and curb the proximity effect of a microphone.

In my review for pro audio dealer Sweetwater, I called this preamp an “Amazing Grace” because it makes my microphone shine.

Audio Interface

In a nutshell, an audio interface connects your microphone and other sound sources to your computer. For audio to be usable by a computer it needs to be digital, and an interface converts your analog signal to bits and bytes. You’ll often find external audio interfaces that include a mic preamp, but since I already had a pre, I opted for the pocket-sized Echo AudioFire2 (discontinued, but still available for around $200).

Echo AudioFire2This device is connected to and powered by the computer via a FireWire bus. I purposely didn’t want to get a USB-interface. The Mac Mini only has four USB slots that fill up pretty quickly and USB devices cannot draw power from the computer. With the AudioFire 2 you can record 24-bit 96 kHz audio with near-zero latency (delay) monitoring.

Because the AudioFire2 has a 400 Mbps FireWire port and the Mac Mini has an 800 Mbps port, you need an adaptor to be able to connect it to the computer. The AudioFire could also use a simple step-by-step  set-up guide. Perhaps it’s my lack of technical insight, but it took me a while to make the right connections (literally and figuratively).

Overall, this sturdy, small metal box performs just fine. It’s more of a necessity than anything else.

Monitoring

Like so many of you, I evaluate my audio in two ways: I use headphones and studio monitors. Gear-guru’s often recommend buying closed headphones to prevent sound leaks from feeding back through the microphone. That’s why I got the Sennheiser HD 280 Pro.

These headphones stay put alright, and they shut outside sounds out (not that ambient noise is a problem in an isolated studio). Over time I found them to be quite uncomfortable. I happen to have a rather large head (thanks Dad!), and I didn’t like the tight grip the Sennheiser had on my ears.

The AKG K 240 semi-open Studio headphones I am using now (also $99), are very comfy and they provide plenty of acoustic isolation. My ears can breathe! After a year and a half, the cups started showing some wear and tear, and I will replace them soon with velvet ear pads.

The AKG has a regular, straight cable which I also prefer. Somehow, things always get caught in a coiled cable, such as the one that comes with the Sennheiser.

Both headphones are excellent for detailed monitoring.

When it came to picking out a pair of speakers a few years ago, my budget was limited and so was my space. At that time I was recording in a cold corner of the attic. For $99 I bought a pair of Alesis M1Active 320USB monitors.

At first I was quite skeptical and I didn’t really expect much from these bookshelf speakers. Once I plugged them in, I was blown away by the fact that so much sound could come out of such a small package. That has not changed.

I’m sure they are no match for a pair of Genelec studio monitors, but for under 100 bucks these Alesis speakers continue to impress me. As you can see, I have placed them on stands at ear hight. It really makes a difference.

Enough already

Alright… I think I’m done shopping for a while, don’t you?

Selecting audio equipment can be a daunting task and it can be a learning experience. Just as a musician has to know his instruments, a voice-over pro has to have a basic knowledge of the tools he or she is using. There’s so much good stuff available these days, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed.

Whatever you do, don’t be intimidated by gear-snobs and audiophiles. Talk to people you trust and whenever possible, try things out for yourself.

Don’t blindly buy something just because some guy at your local Guitar Center told you he loves it, or because Paul Strikwerda wrote about it in his blog.

After all, that’s just a bunch of Double Dutch!

Paul Strikwerda ©2012


My Studio Secrets Revealed

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Studio 11 Comments

Almost every week colleagues and clients ask me about my voice-over studio. I’m proud of it and I am always happy to answer questions such as:

  • Did you buy prefab or did you build it yourself?
  • What’s your audio chain?
  • Why did you pick this particular preamp?
  • What audio editing software do you use?

You should know that I don’t consider myself to be an expert on booth-building or gear selection, but years of hands-on experience and the advice from friends like Dan Lenard, George Whittam, Dan Friedman and Mel Allen has given me a pretty good idea of how to spend my dollars wisely.

When it comes to investing in my business, I am guided by a few, simple principles:

  • A professional career requires professional gear.
  • Keep costs down and bring revenue up.
  • If you don’t invest, you can’t grow.
  • Every investment is a calculated risk that should pay for itself many times over.
  • The growth of your business determines and justifies the amount you invest.
  • Every investment must have long-term benefits.
  • Smart spending = smart saving.
  • Learn from the best and don’t reinvent the wheel.

Today I’ll take you on a tour of my studio and I’ll tell you what choices I have made and why. Please keep in mind that what works for me might not work in your situation, but you never know.

When reading the info below as well as the next story about my professional gear, remember this: my voice is for hire but my opinion is not for sale. I did not receive or solicit compensation for featuring the products I am using.

With that out of the way, why not start with the space I spend most of my time in:

The Nethervoice-over Booth

If you take your profession seriously, you need a quiet, dedicated recording space. Period.

Noise pollution is everywhere and it is on the rise! I was sick of having to interrupt my sessions just because my neighbors decided to try out their new leaf blowers and weed wackers.

The most expensive equipment sounds terrible in an untreated, non-isolated room. More and more clients are rightfully demanding recordings free of rumble, hiss and reverberations.

After a year of comparison shopping and studying soundproofing principles, I was ready to create my own recording area. I designed a seven-by-seven foot isolated room in my basement for under $2000, which I helped build with my two bare left hands.

The entire process is documented in a 46-page booklet called “Building a Vocal Booth on a Budget,” and over a hundred colleagues have used my plan or parts of it with great success.

You can buy this guide for $6.99 in my webshop, and I’ve just released a version in ePUB and Mobi format, which means it’s ready for your eBook reader or tablet.

Foam Alone

Once my vocal booth was built, the sounds of the outside world were kept pretty much at bay. However, the acoustics were worse than in my bathroom because the space was not yet treated with dampening materials.

Many companies sell so-called “soundproofing foam” and that’s just ludicrous. Foam does not soundproof a room. It absorbs and diffuses sound waves, which reduces slap and flutter echos.

To tame these echos, I spent $118 on a Small Studio Starter Kit made by Next Acoustics. It contains twelve 2 inch SoundTrax™ panels and 4 CornerBlox™ bass traps. It didn’t only look cool, it immediately absorbed most of the sound waves bouncing up and down the walls and ceiling. But I had more up my sleeve.

Freecycle.org

Freecycle is a worldwide network of people who are giving and getting things for free in their towns. Not junk, but good stuff that would otherwise end up in landfills. I found 10 Sonox acoustic miniPanels on Freecycle, as well as a rug and two bookcases. I also added four huge floor pillows from my attic to reduce even more reverb.

Last but not least, I added some leftover Auralex foam from my old recording space and put it on opposite walls and the ceiling. Yes, it’s a bit of a mishmash, but I think my clients care more about the way my studio sounds than about the way it looks. Listen to the difference:


Remember that the hard surface of a desk or music stand can cause unwanted reflections too. That was certainly the case with my desk which is in part made of glass. Luckily, I found a fleece dog bed that just happened to be a perfect fit.

What about ergonomics?

Ergonomics is the study of designing equipment and devices that fit the human body, its movements, and its cognitive abilities. Because I spend many hours a day in my studio, I wanted to create a healthy set-up for the mind and for the body.

The following question always pops up on various voice-over forums:

“Do you record standing up or sitting down?”

I can honestly answer that question with a resounding “Yes”! You can’t really see it, but I’m sitting on an adjustable kneeling chair. These types of chairs were first developed in the seventies in my neck of the woods: Northern Europe.

The kneeling chair promotes a healthier body posture, allowing your back to straighten. This relieves compression of the spine as well as tension in the lower back and leg muscles.

It also allows the diaphragm to move freely, and this promotes better breathing and blood circulation.

Most people need some time to adapt to this new kneeling position because they’ve been sitting like a sack of potatoes for years. The body has to build up the core muscles in the lower back, but once you have that strength going, you will never want to go back to a regular office chair. It helped me get rid of the pain in my lower back.

Should you decide to invest in a kneeling chair, you’ll discover that there are many poorly made products on the market that barely have any padding. As in voice-overs, you get what you pay for. My kneeling chair came all the way from New Zealand. It arrived within a week and I paid about $450 including shipping.

Preventing RSI

After one particularly long editing session, my right hand, arm and shoulder were protesting loudly and painfully. My neck wasn’t too happy either and my eyes were burning after staring at the monitor for so long. It lasted for a couple of days and it felt like the beginnings of repetitive strain injury.

One of the best ways to prevent that from happening is to move regularly. More and more research is coming out, pointing to the fact that a sedentary lifestyle is dangerous.

I also bought five things that have made my studio life a lot easier.

  • An adjustable, ergonomic arm rest. (available for about $60)
  • A computer monitor arm (about $70) putting the screen at eye level.
  • Anti-glare computer glasses to reduce eyestrain ($25). I’m wearing them in the pictures.
  • An ergonomic mouse and mouse pad

Here’s the disclaimer: if life at the editing desk is getting uncomfortable, it may be wise to talk to your doctor. There might be things going on that go beyond quick fixes and fancy chairs.

See the light

Lighting can affect someone’s mood (that’s why there’s heliotherapy). Personally, I prefer a warmly lit workplace and I’m not a big fan of those bright halogen lamps. They often buzz and that’s a no-no in a studio. Some energy-saving bulbs produce a high-pitched screech.

The one lamp I knew I had to have is a Himalayan salt lamp. Not only does it emit a very soothing light, some people believe that when heated up, the salt crystals actually purify and ionize the air, especially around electronic equipment. True or not, I just love the warm, comforting glow in my studio.

What about gear?

Next time I will show you what type of audio equipment I use to record and monitor my voice-overs with.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice


My Prized Possession

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Gear, Studio 34 Comments

What do the Vatican, the United Nations, the German Parliament, the BBC and my company Nethervoice have in common?

We all use top of the line microphones from a family owned business in the small German town of Gefell.

If you’ve never heard of Gefell and you enjoy European history, let’s travel back in time for a moment.

In 1943, Georg Neumann‘s main microphone laboratory in Berlin was hit by bombs and caught fire. To avoid more damage, Neumann and his technical director Erich Kühnast moved the entire company to Gefell where they continued their work in an old textile mill.

After Germany’s surrender, Gefell was occupied by the Americans and then handed over to the Soviet Union. In 1946 a number of Gefell employees returned to Berlin to establish a small workshop. This workshop eventually became Georg Neumann GmbH, the second Neumann company.

Kühnast and most of the original staff stayed in Gefell and continued to develop and build microphones. Neumann made Kühnast manager of the limited partnership Georg Neumann & Co. which was later nationalized by the German Democratic Republic (GDR). Despite the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961, the management of the two companies stayed in touch with one another.

In 1972, the GDR prohibited use of the Neumann trademark, and the East-German company was renamed VEB Mikrofontechnik Gefell.

After the Wall came down in 1989, Georg Neumann’s heirs reclaimed their share in the company and a new period of cooperation began. Here’s what’s remarkable. When the Neumann engineers took a closer look at the Gefell products that had been developed behind the Iron Curtain, they discovered microphone technology that was more sophisticated than some of that in the West.

After Sennheiser took over Neumann in 1991, Microtech Gefell -as it is now called- became an independent, privately owned company, known for hand-made, high-end microphones. (this overview is in part based on an article in Sound on Sound and on information on the Gefell website).

MY NEW BABY

Fast forward to Tuesday, January 17th, 2012, the day I became the first person in America to own a Gefell M 930 Ts studio condenser microphone.

Out of thousands of microphones on the market, why did I pick this particular make and model?

I have to be honest with you: I didn’t pick this mic. It picked me. Or rather: I got lucky. Very, very lucky!

In my radio days I never paid any attention to the equipment I was using, but since I became master and commander of my own studio, things have changed. As a professional, I think it’s important to get to know the tools of the trade. 

Before I’m ready to make any type of investment in my business, I spend months doing research, reading reviews and talking to colleagues in the know. They make sure I don’t fall for the latest fad, and that when I finally decide on a new purchase, I invest in quality that will last for many years to come.

Any professional chef, musician or mechanic can tell you that well-made, reliable tools make the job a lot easier because they work with you instead of against you. Good tools can’t make an artist more creative, but they can inspire. Without them, he’s less able to realize his dreams. A great set of tools can take you to that proverbial next level.

It’s a cliché, but quality never goes out of style. It is remembered long after the price is forgotten.

RISING FROM THE PACK

As home studios are becoming the norm and more people are having a go at voice-overs, it’s increasingly important to distinguish oneself. It all starts with the way the voice is captured.

The quality of your sound is your signature.

Clients are sick and tired of having to put up with hiss, rumble, interference and echoes coming from inferior equipment recorded in so-called ‘professional’ booths set up in someone’s boudoir. By the sound of it, these spaces aren’t studios. They sound more like shacks. Radio shacks.

If you can’t provide clean, crystal clear audio, you should start a website where amateur VO’s can go forth, multiply and make a lot of noise. Why not call it VoiceRabbit (after the rabid growth I predict it will undergo)?

Alternatively, you could consult men like Dan Lenard, Dan Friedman, George Whittam or Mel Allen. They will set you up with the right gear and help you fine-tune your sound in less time than it will take you to learn the ropes through trial and error.

Although it never paints a complete picture, quality equipment does make a statement. When a client or agent sees you are using professional grade gear, they know you mean business and they have one less thing to worry about.

Imagine going to a wedding photographer to find out if he’s going to be a good fit for your big day, and the man pulls out a cheap point-and-shoot camera. Would you hire him? I don’t think so. Now, owning a Hasselblad 503CW does not make one a brilliant photographer, but that’s a different story.

RECORDINGHACKS

In my quest for the best equipment, I spent many hours on Matt Mcglyn’s creation: www.recordinghacks.com. It’s an online magazine as well as the world’s most extensive database of a 1000+ microphones.

If you happen to be looking for a good podcasting mic for $200, recordinghacks has put them to the test. If you need the specs of the Manley Reference Gold tube condenser, look no further. Interested in a $60,000 ribbon mic shootout? You know where to go!

In 2011, recordinghacks gave away a new mic every month: a Cascade Fathead II, a Blue Yeti Pro, a Lauten Horizon et cetera. December’s prize topped it all: a brand new Microtech Gefell 930 Ts. This small, large diaphragm condenser was made with broadcasting and voice-over applications in mind.

AND THE WINNER IS…

In the first week of January, Matt Mcglyn said he had some good news for me: I was the lucky winner of the giveaway! It was unbelievable. What a start to the new year!

I want to thank Microtech Gefell GmbH for such a generous gift, and for their ongoing, uncompromising dedication to quality.

Matt Mcglyn deserves a big ‘thank you’ for creating such an excellent database and magazine, and for magically pulling my name out of his recordinghacks-hat.

As for the rest of you, I’m sure you’d like to know how my new mic sounds, and how it stacks up against other voice-over microphones. Well, it just so happens that I have written a review for recordinghacks, and you’ll find out for yourself why the Vatican has given its blessing to a small German company.

If there ever was one brand that has earned the right to capture the voice of G-d, it has to be Microtech Gefell!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice 

Next week I’ll tell you about one of the worst customer service experiences I’ve ever had, and what lessons we can draw from that for our own business.


Exhibitionists, Voyeurs and Stalkers

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Internet, Journalism & Media, Promotion, Social Media 4 Comments

In the past these were dirty words for dirty people.

Now these very same words can be used to describe the average social media addict.

We like strutting our stuff in public. We want the world to watch us. And we follow the fools who think that tweeting nonsense all day long makes them relevant.

8:05 AM. In line at Starbucks.

8:10 AM. Ordering a tall latte.

8:15 AM. Should have asked for a double shot of espresso.

8:18 AM. Back in my Mercedes. New Jersey Turnpike, here I come!

8:21 AM. In a car accident. Tweeting and drinking coffee don’t go well together.

9:33 AM. Thank goodness this hospital has a Starbucks.

We can laugh about it. We can cry about it, but things like tweeting and texting are changing the way we communicate. Even the way we dress.

If you don’t believe me, you should shop for winter gloves and count the pairs with holes in them or with special patches. Touchscreen gloves, that’s what they are called. Snowstorms, twisters and other natural disasters won’t prevent mankind from texting.

Every single day, two hundred trillion text messages are received in America alone (source). That’s more than an entire year’s worth of regular mail.

Nielsen reported that the average American teen sends 3,339 texts each month. That’s more than six per every hour they’re awake. The girls are beating the boys with 4,050 texts per month, (boys send an average of 2,539 texts). Mind you, these numbers are from 2010!

But it’s not just the kids. Go into any supermarket and count how many times you’ll hear a mother tell her stroller-toddler:

“Not now sweetie. Mommy’s texting.”

8:42 PM. At Trader Joe’s. Should I buy broccoli or cauliflower?

Thanks to all these very important messages, safety is no longer the number one reason for getting a phone. We just love being social, don’t we?

THE FACEBOOK REVOLUTION

In 2010, Facebook beat Google as the most visited site (if we leave out visits to Google-owned YouTube). A year later, Facebook’s U.S. advertising revenue of 2.2 billion dollars had surpassed that of both Google and Yahoo.

It is THE place to hang out and make new friends. It’s that wonderful platform where -in the midst of an economic crisis- everything is always A-Okay. No matter what happens, the show must go on  and we keep on dancing.

Smile people! Always beware of your brand. Heaven forbid we become real and share our fears and failures.

Occasionally, some Facebook friends will vent their frustrations, but overall, a happy-go-lucky attitude seems to be the norm: Do what you love and the money will follow. 🙂 Really?

Many Europeans consider this attitude to be “typically American.” They see the States as a country where people have a hard time accepting failure. We’d rather take a happy pill than deal with our problems. We’re certainly not going to share them on our Facebook Walls. We’ve turned those into advertorials and infomercials:

9:15 AM. Join me for an online seminar where I’ll teach you how not to waste your time on Facebook. Remember the early bird discount!

10:02 AM. Finished an amazing gig with an amazing director. Life is good. It’s great to be back in L.A.

11:46 AM. Jesus rocks! He guided me to book another gig for Playboy Enterprises. Praise the Lord.

11:47 AM. Deuteronomy 5:11

11:48 AM. John 8:7

11:49 AM. Broccoli or cauliflower?

1:15 PM. There’s a new article on the Nethervoice blog. Be the first one to read it before it appears on VoiceOverXtra.

Yep, Facebook is definitely a site we can’t live without. In fact, we need more of those online chatrooms. What did you just tell me? You’re not on Google+ yet? Boy, you’re missing out on something spectacular. It’s great for your business. The other day I saw a video of a dog. Man, that was funny. Every time his owner began playing the guitar, this dog started smiling. No kidding. I’ll send you the link.

3:30 PM. Wasted another 3 minutes watching a dog on YouTube. 

A WINDOW TO THE WORLD?

Look, I am not going to pooh-pooh social media again, but we should bury the idea that these sites are widening our world and increase interpersonal connections.

First of all, we don’t seem to know the difference between socializing and advertising. Socializing is all about connecting with others. Advertising is drawing attention to oneself in order to sell. If that becomes the main purpose of the interaction, it will turn people off. Sooner rather than later.

Secondly, people mainly interact with people they know or agree with. We block the rest and ban them from our circles. And if we don’t do it ourselves, algorithms will make sure that we see what we want to see and hear what we want to hear. Author and activist Eli Pariser calls this the “Filter Bubble.”

Based on our location and on what you and I have searched for and looked at in the past, certain websites (like Facebook) and search engines now use algorithms to predict and select what we’d be interested in right now. They call it “creating a personalized experience.”

YOUR WEB YOUR WAY

If you’re in the market for a new set of wheels and you’ve been browsing a few dealerships, chances are that you’ll be presented with car commercials instead of chewing gum ads. If you’re a fan of the current man in the White House and you keep track of his party’s politics, you won’t be exposed to Tea Party rhetoric. So far, so good, right?

Amazon and Netflix work the same way:

“If you liked this product or that movie, here’s what we recommend you check out next.”

I once made the mistake of tweeting about how much I love my memory foam mattress. Within the hour I was followed by three companies selling mattresses. I wanted to challenge them to a pillow fight.

But wait, there’s more!

If you and I were to enter the same keywords in Google, we would receive different results, based on past online behavior. You will get sites that are more in line with your interests and I will get sites that -according to the secret algorithm- will resonate more with things I prefer. Why is that so terrible?

DIVERSITY IS THE SPICE OF LIFE

I happen to think that it’s good to be exposed to different points of view. If I am only presented with an invisibly edited and uncontrollable stream of information that confirms my own bias, I lose something very important. Eli Pariser puts it this way:

“The Internet is showing us a world it thinks we want to see, but not necessarily what we need to see.”

We need to see how other people live and we need to hear what other people think. Intellectual discourse is part of a healthy democracy.

If we wish to promote peace, understanding and compassion in the world, we have to open ourselves up to other ideas, other traditions and the very things we don’t comprehend. Things that may make us uncomfortable. Otherwise, stupid stereotypes will go unchallenged and the people on this planet will never overcome their conflicts.

5:15 PM. More of the same is not only boring, it’s dangerous.

5:16 PM. I don’t want some geek at Google to tell me what’s relevant.

Knowledge empowers. Ignorance separates.

NOW WHAT?

It’s time to burst that filter bubble and give us control over the selection of sources of information. I don’t need Yahoo to determine what types of news stories will appear when I switch on my computer.

I want Facebook to be more about sharing and less about selling. I want parents to care more about their children than about their smart phones.

I want drivers to switch off their Blackberries and pay attention to the road. I want more people to be in the moment, instead of describing it on some electronic device.

That’s all great in theory, but here’s the question that’s been haunting me:

Will that ever happen or did we pass a point of no return?

5:24 PM. I am a practitioner of Positive Pessimism.

5:25 PM Hoping for the best. Expecting the worst.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice


Paul Picks the Best of his Blog

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles 8 Comments

In order to know where you’re going, it’s essential to know where you are and where you came from.

As predicted, 2011 is history.

Because we’re always so focused on the future, we rarely take the time to look back and appreciate what we’ve accomplished. Yet, in this first week of the new year, people like to take stock of their lives as they welcome a new beginning.

Had I not done that, I would have missed the fact that this is my hundred and first contribution since I started writing this blog. My stats reveal that -on average- every article was read 965 times.

Numbers, however, are cold and cannot express how deeply grateful I am that week after week you have taken a few moments out of your day to walk through this Double Dutch door.

Yes, it’s flattering to have made this year’s list of Most Influential VO-Bloggers, but I didn’t make it happen all by myself.

You did.

You are the soundboard that resonates when I strike a chord.

Without you, my words would dissipate as swiftly as a New Year’s resolution on January 2nd. Without your comments (almost 1,700 so far), emails and other conversations, I would be talking to myself (and believe me, I do too much of that already).

Since this is the official blog of Nethervoice, I’d like to indulge myself and use this last post of 2011 to revisit some of this year’s milestone moments in the history of… me.

Here are a few things I am proud of and thankful for:

1. In 2011 I landed four new agents on three continents

2. I designed and built a soundproof voice-over studio in my basement

3. Moving to a Mac, I upgraded practically all my hard- and software

4. At Faffcon 3 I had the opportunity to share my blogging secrets

5. I published two eBooks: “Building a Vocal Booth on a Budget” and “Boosting your Business with a Blog

6. My eighth audio book just went on sale. It’s called “Brains on Fire” and (appropriately) it’s about word of mouth marketing

MY YEAR IN QUOTES

If you don’t mind, I’d love to end this year by looking back at 2011 as we flip through the pages of past posts. What’s worth remembering and what shall we put into the recycle bin? To refresh your memory, here are some of my favorite quotes:

“It’s so easy to speak in generalizations and pretend we understand one another. When we do, we usually don’t.”

from: “Taken for a Ride

“I strive to inform, I attempt to entertain and yes… I also like to rock the boat every once in a while. As a voiceover professional, it is my job to be outspoken.”

from: “Hanging Up My Hat

“Most people find it easier to sum up what they don’t want. Take it from me: You’ll never get anywhere by focusing on the things you wish to avoid. In fact, you’re more likely to attract the very things you’re running away from.”

from: “Are You a Winner or a Whiner

“If you never stick your neck out, you won’t get hurt, but you won’t rise above the rest either.”

from: “Finding your Value as a Voice-Over

“The voice-over future is filled with gloom and doom. When people tell you less is more, they’re usually referring to your rate and not to your interpretation of the script. ”

“If you want to make lots of money, you have two options: you either apply for a job at the U.S. Mint, or you start an online voice casting business.”

from: “Pimping Your Pipes”

“How long does it take to find a quality needle in a huge haystack made of scrap metal?”

from: “Why Pay to Plays will Implode

“Is Ted Williams honing his Kraft or is he still recovering from rehab?”

from: “Pimping Your Pipes”

“Every year, tens of thousands of self-employed people file for bankruptcy because they made one big mistake: they followed a dream and forgot to run the numbers. They are what I like to call ‘under-estimators’.”

“Your fee structure will help you attract the kind of customers you want to be working for, and the type of jobs you are shooting for. At the same time it will weed out the folks that cannot or will not afford you; the ones that are most likely to give you a hard time anyway.”

from: “The Power of Pricing

“Just because a client needs you, doesn’t mean they can afford you, or that you can afford to work for them.”

from: “The Lowdown on Lowballing

“Stop making excuses for those who don’t respect you enough to pay you a decent fee. Unless you’ve seen their balance sheet, you don’t know what they can or cannot afford. Know your bottom line. Add value. Don’t compromise so easily. Negotiate. Dare to say NO to a bad deal. Study the art of making the sale. It’s part of being a pro.”

“The key is adding value. If you don’t offer exceptional value, then your product or service becomes just another commodity. People buy commodities on price. If you’re just another web designer, voice-over artist or a car dealership, you’re in trouble. Value means offering more for a higher price.”

“Those who can’t build value, have nothing left but to compete on price.”

“Being extraordinary talented in what you do, doesn’t guarantee instant success. Life might have dealt you a pretty good hand, but if you don’t know how to play the game, even the best cards are useless. “

from: “Those Bloody Bottom Feeders

“You can set the stage, learn your lines and lessons and strive to be the best you can be. But you can’t force feed your target markets, especially if you don’t know what they’re hungry for.”

“Stop pushing and start listening. Don’t offer a solution before you know what the problem is.”

“If self-control were that easy, very few people would smoke; all of us would maintain the perfect weight and prisons would be empty.”

from: “Can You Control Your Career

“We are free people, living in a free country who earned the right to free themselves of any free time.”

“You’re self-employed. You embody your service. Literally. If you don’t take care of yourself, no one else will. If you don’t guard your boundaries carefully, good people with the best of intentions will step on them and leave you depleted.”

from: “Give Me a Break

“Bad habits are very effective strategies for consistently getting undesired results.”

from: “Your Biggest Blind Spot

“If you happen to hire voices, I have a message for you: We can read your script but we can’t read your mind.”

from: “What the heck is Neutral English?

“I go online for information and communication; not for salvation. For me, conversion rate is about turning visitors into customers. Let’s not trivialize the sacred scriptures and turn the internet into a stairway to heaven.”

from: “8 Things I Hate About You

“I’ve come to the conclusion that VO-Pros and cows have one thing in common: they are ruminants. Most ruminants have four stomachs. The first stomach chamber (the “rumen”) is the chamber in which large amounts of food are stored and softened. Once it is processed, it is regurgitated and chewed and digested again in different chambers. At the end there’s only one thing left: bullsh*t.”

from: “Why you a boring me to death

“Shit happens. You just have to make sure it doesn’t hit your fans.”

from: “Mad as Hell

“I firmly believe that the quality of our life is greatly determined by the quality of our relationships. Taking the time to strengthen those relationships is vital and invigorating.”

from: “How I Became An Egotistical Bastard

“People in our profession have a strange relationship with the truth. We get paid to pretend. The most convincing liars get the nicest paychecks, an Oscar and a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. However, true talent, trust and integrity are the cornerstones of a successful career. Trust must be earned. True talent and integrity can never be faked.”

from: “Ten Lies Voice Overs Tell

“Your mindset is the filter through which you look at reality and interpret what it means to you and which actions to take.”

“There are no silver platters, silver bullets or golden shortcuts to the top.”

from:  “Why some will never make it

“Money is a means to a beginning. That beginning is called “autonomy”. As long as you low ball whatever it is you’re offering, you’re telling the world that you don’t believe that you’re worth a penny more. That’s not the road to independence. It’s a road to nowhere.”

“Passionate people have a tendency to be stuck in the now, absorbed in the moment. But even those who have reached the top will tell you that you need to think ahead if you want to stay ahead. If you want to manage your career, you have to learn how to manage your money.”

from: “Right on the Money

“You will never do your best work for the love of money. You do your best work when you hold yourself up to standards no one else can or will match. Your best work is always a labor of love and never the result of greed.”

from: “Are you taking kickbacks?

“Quality calls for experience, dedication, patience and passion. It’s so much easier to be average. Mediocrity can be phoned in. It doesn’t require effort, enthusiasm or attention to detail. It doesn’t ask for sacrifice, continued education or for high-end equipment.”

from: “Finding your Value as a Voice-Over

“The greatest goals are never about personal fame and fortune, and they will never come true the way you imagined them to come true.

At the end of the day, every goal is a picture of what you believe you’re capable of, with all the resources you have available right now.

That means that every goal is limited by your imagination and your perception of what is possible.

The most ambitious goals will seem unrealistic and unreasonable, and yet, even those are confined by what you think you can or cannot accomplish.”

from: “Are You a Winner or a Whiner

Have a peaceful, productive and prosperous new year!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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