Jamie Muffet

Voice-Over Newbies: You Have Been Warned!

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

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

No teasers. 

No anecdotes.

No mysterious introductions.

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

Here’s what you need to know.

NUMBER ONE

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

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

NUMBER TWO

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

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

NUMBER THREE

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

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

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

NUMBER FOUR

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

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

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

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

NUMBER FIVE

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

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

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

NUMBER SIX

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

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

But wait, there’s more. Much more!

NUMBER SEVEN

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

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

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

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

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Those Silly Americans

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, International, Personal, Promotion 12 Comments

The authorHere’s a question I get asked a lot:

“What’s it like to be a Dutch voice-over, living and working in the United States?”

Who wants to know?

Mostly European colleagues, who either think I’m totally nuts, or who secretly want to do what I did and move to this land of milk, honey, and doughnuts. Some of them have strange ideas about what my life on this side of the pond is like.

I sometimes have to explain to them that “No, I don’t live in a McMansion; there’s no giant gas guzzler parked in my garage, and I can’t call a Hollywood studio and put in a good word for you.” In fact, this American life I am leading is pretty ordinary and rather unspectacular.

I don’t know what my existence would have been like had I stayed in Holland, but in my experience, setting up shop in the States has as many advantages as disadvantages. My colleague Jamie Muffet just wrote a great piece on that very topic for Backstage, and he had me thinking. 

In this day and age where all of us are part of a huge global network, does it really matter where we do our job? It’s just as easy for me to plug into a studio in Amsterdam, as it is to reach a recording facility in New York or Johannesburg. Even agents who used to insist I make a personal appearance, don’t mind if I send them an mp3 audition. Times have changed.

Although technology has made it easy to have an international presence, there’s something I must admit. It took me a good number of years to find my way here in Pennsylvania, and at times I still struggle to make sense of my surroundings and the culture I live in. Personally, and professionally. For instance, I had a hard time trying to figure out how to position myself as a voice for hire.

CONFUSION

From a marketing perspective, it is important that clients have a clear concept of who I am, and what I bring to the table as a talent. When I first came here, people were mainly confused, and I don’t blame them. I spoke with a distinct British accent (the one I was taught in school), and most Americans thought I was from the UK. It was both a good and a bad thing.

It was good because casting directors who didn’t know any better, often hired me to play the part of a stuffy English professor. I even did a voice-over promoting a Beatles jukebox musical on Broadway. I tell you: it was fun being a fake!

There was a downside to having this posh accent. I felt that people were judging me all the time. They either thought I was highly intelligent, or a pompous ass. Of course neither is true. I can’t say it helped me define my professional identity as a native Dutch speaker. Then there was something else I stumbled upon.

IGNORANCE

Even though the United States is supposed to be this big melting pot, I’ve learned that Americans struggle with languages and accents. Many of them have never left the country, and they are rarely exposed to different tongues and twangs, the way Europeans are. Thanks to a brilliant educational system, their sense of geography tends to be off too.

A few weeks ago an agent asked me to audition for a documentary, and she was convinced my accent would be perfect. “You’re Dutch. You should nail this one,” she said. The minute I got the script I saw it was about an old ship… from Denmark. “Well, Dutch and Danish are pretty much the same, aren’t they?” the agent stated.

Not really. And Copenhagen is not the capital of the Netherlands.

Another thing I’ve had to explain over and over again, is the difference between Dutch and Flemish. Flemish is a kind of Dutch, spoken in a specific part of Belgium. It’s as different from Dutch as British English is from American English. That means you shouldn’t hire a Dutchman to voice a commercial meant for viewers in Belgium. But most people in the States don’t know that.

I used to get very annoyed with these ignorant Americans, but having lived here for over ten years, I’ve come to realize that many of them don’t know what they don’t know. Instead of holding it against them, I do my best to educate casting directors and agents, without sounding like a European know-it-all. And quite often they are very grateful for my advice.

Here’s another thing I learned the hard way.

SELF-PROMOTION

Coming from a Calvinistic country where any form of self-aggrandizement is frowned upon, I found out that in America modesty isn’t always an asset. In fact, people like talking about themselves. A lot. If you don’t toot your own horn, who will?

I had to learn to be comfortable with my accomplishments, and speak and write about them openly. In Holland I would have been accused of bragging. Here people say: “Don’t be shy. It’s okay. You have every reason to be proud.”

When talking to a potential client or an interested agent in the U.S., I make sure to sell myself as best as I can. When I’m dealing with someone in Europe, I like to tone it down considerably.

Another thing I realized was that Americans tend to be quite informal. Before you know it, you’re on a first-name basis talking about your family with someone you barely know. It doesn’t necessarily mean that people who come across as friendly, want to be your friend. Give it a few weeks, and they might not even remember your name. Don’t take it personally. 

Things are gradually shifting in Europe, but unless a new client signs his or her emails with a first name, I err on the side of caution, and I’m much more formal.

FEELING LIKE A KING

So, what’s it like to be a Dutch voice-over in the United States? 

In the Netherlands we have a saying: “In the land of the blind, the guy with one eye is king.” As one of the very few native Dutch voice-overs in North-America, that’s often how I feel. I’m a small orange fish in a huge pond. In all the years I have lived here, my English accent has changed considerably. It’s no longer British, and it’s not entirely American either. As I explained to Jamie Muffet: 

“Demand for a Dutch narrator isn’t exactly overwhelming, and thanks to the Internet, my competition in Holland is only one click away. My real niche is in ‘neutral English’ voiceovers, meaning my accent is neither British nor American. It’s more of a European twang, and businesses wanting to increase their global appeal hire me because of my international sound.”

If that’s not shameless self-promotion, I don’t know what is…

On occasion I go back to the Netherlands to see friends and family. I walk around in this tiny country, and I comment on how everything is so close, and how small things are. It’s guaranteed to make my Dutch friends laugh out loud.

“Oh, Paul,” they say…

“stop being such a silly American!”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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