Mahmoud Taji

The one word that saved my freelance career

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Internet, Money Matters, Promotion 48 Comments

No, I’m not going to tell you what it is just yet.

Let me begin by asking you a simple question:

Do words have power?

When you think of it, aren’t they just letters, arranged in a certain order? Or are there words in our language that are so potent, that they have the potential to transform our life and our livelihood?

Now, before you think that I’ve gone all philosophical instead of practical, just  STOP for a moment and think about it.

In the past few days I’ve asked some of my friends about words they feel have had (and still have) a profound impact on their professional lives. Here are some of the words they came up with:

  • Faith
  • Fear
  • Confidence
  • Creativity
  • Luck
  • Love
  • Play
  • Passion

 

As for me, the one word that has been my guiding light in the past 25 years as a freelancer, is neither grand nor deep. Yet, I believe it to be one of the most powerful words in our vocabulary. Without it, my career certainly wouldn’t be where it is today. It consists of two letters.

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


The Story behind the Story

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Internet, Journalism & Media, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play 2 Comments

The voice-over market is a buyer’s market. Voice-talents are exposed; voice-seekers are protected. As voice-over pros, we want to work. We need to work. Sometimes we’re so happy to be picked out of a pile of 100+ auditions; it’s tempting to say “YES” when we finally get a break. But would we have done so, had we known the facts?

The World Wide Web has put me in touch with the wonderful, the wacky and the weird. Anyone can pretend to be anything on the Net. That nice guy you met online might very well be the next “Craigslist Killer”. Or he could be Prince Charming! How can you be sure?

THE VOICE-OVER AS P.I. 

I have a question for you: do you think you should have to play Sherlock Holmes if you audition for a job on a site like voices.com? Aren’t you paying the staff to do their homework to make sure you’re not connected to some creep?

If you’re a member of voice123, you might have seen the following disclaimer:

Legal note: Although Voice123 tries to establish the legitimacy of all voice seekers, you are responsible for conducting your own investigation into any and all claims made by prospective voice seekers, agents and/or clients. You assume all liability for use of any information you find through Voice123, LLC, or any of its publications.

Good luck, especially if the voice seeker is purposely hiding his or her identity! As we have seen in the case of the founder of Newspapers for the Blind, the voice123 team responded after members had complained about the way they had been treated. Make no mistake about it: at the end of the day, “You are responsible for conducting your own investigation.”

Here’s the good news: the Internet is not only a place for con-men and convicts. With so much information in the public domain, we might as well use it as a tool in our fight against the frauds, the fakes and the phonies. My story of Newspapers for the Blind is the perfect example. Before I get into that, I have an admission to make.

A GOOD CAUSE

When I was young, idealistic and hopelessly naive, I honestly believed that people involved in philanthropy must be good people. It never occurred to me to do a background check on a charity. What can I say? Even Steven Spielberg thought that Bernie Madoff was a nice guy…

After my story about Will May, some of you wondered: Is his organization a real charity?

On its website, Newspapers for the Blind (NFBT) says it’s a 501C-3 Corporation. This is a type of incorporation that is used to set up a charitable corporation, founded with the intention of providing a service to the community, rather than making a profit.

Incorporating a company makes it a legal entity, responsible for its actions in the community. This is important, because it removes a great deal of the responsibility from the person who is starting the company.

One source puts it this way: “If you start a 501(c)3 company, you want the legal liability for possible damages to be the responsibility of the 501(c)3 corporation so that your personal possessions are safe from creditors.”

FACT CHECK

So, how do you separate the chaff from the wheat? The IRS web site has a search engine that makes finding a registered charity a piece of cake. The Better Business Bureaus* have a similar function on their website. In both databases, Newspapers for the Blind does not come up as a registered charity, and I have asked the IRS and the BBB to look into this. I also checked the Maryland Charities Database (the state where NFTB is based). Again: nothing came up.

But there’s a catch: Elisabeth Leamy, the ABC News Consumer Correspondent warns:

“ (…) even if the IRS really has granted non-profit 501C-3 status to a group, that’s no indication of quality. The IRS doesn’t have the time or staff to really scrutinize those who apply for charity status. I once investigated a company that earned 501C-3 status. The IRS overlooked the fact that the founder was a convicted felon who kept most of the group’s money for himself and didn’t even register with the state as required by law.”

In her article “How to Identify a Fake Charity”, Jamie K. Wilson recommends we carefully examine a charity’s website and look for the following signs:

  • A board of directors numbering at least six people, with their credentials or regular job titles and place of employment listed
  • A permanent street address in the United States or your own country
  • A 501(c)3 statement
  • Success stories
  • An outline of this charity’s goals
  • Downloadable financial statements that detail where money has been expended in the past
  • Accurate statistics with verifiable and legitimate sources
  • Good writing, spelling, and grammar

 

She concludes:

“Any charitable website lacking two or more of these traits is suspect. That does not mean the charity is fake. On the contrary, it might be very new and very legitimate, but without a track record. However, fake charities generally lack at least two of the above items.”

Steven Lowell of voice123 had this to say about Will May, the founder and editor of NFTB:

“Truth is… if he is rough to deal with, and pays, that is one thing. You get your money and never work with the person again. But to pose as a charitable organization, then not pay, and pull the routine that the people who delivered work must be the problem, when he in fact hired them… It is not a better business practice, and to some extent, illegal. I am not up to date on laws governing posing as false charity, but he did promise payment, and never came through.”

WHO IS WILL MAY?

Again, using what is in the public domain, what can we learn about the founder and editor of Newspapers for the Blind? Let’s first see what Will May told us about himself on his 2010 LinkedIn profile:

Interests: I like to sail boats and fly aeroplanes

Groups and Associations: Chief Medical Examiner of the Lesbian Fighter Pilots Association

In 2013, his interests are still the same, but his Groups and Associations comment was no longer there.  His LinkedIn Summary consists of the following quote:

“I like to make money, so I can be ‘A river to my people.’ ~Auda”

May still lists himself as the owner of Nevis LLC. A Nevis Limited Liability Company is based in the Caribbean tax-haven of Nevis. For $1495 USD, you too could become the proud owner of a Nevis LLC. It has a few benefits:

  • Nevis does not impose corporate tax, income tax, withholding tax, stamp tax, asset tax, exchange controls or other fees or taxes on assets or income originating outside of Nevis.
  • The owners and managers are not registered anywhere, which provides for complete secrecy.
  • A Nevis LLC allows you to shield your assets from lawsuits, agencies, and financial creditors.
  • Owners can manage the company without becoming liable for company financial obligations or legal liabilities.

 

THE LAST TYCOON

Voice-over colleague Juliette Gray worked for Will May and never received a penny. She confirmed what I had suspected when I questioned where the money for Newspapers for the Blind was coming from. Juliette wrote:

“One long conversation I had with him he told me that he had put a lot of money himself into it and he was a retired real estate tycoon from NYC.”

This is confirmed by the information May listed in his 2010 LinkedIn profile under “experience”:

“Chairman of Wm. B May & Company- Real Estate from 1982  – 2006”

This is not your average local realtor. The William B. May Company once was the nation’s oldest real estate brokerage firm, and it has been in the hands of one family for four generations. The website of the New York Real Estate Institute states:

“William B. May’s impeccable reputation has been built on a singular philosophy of integrity, trust, full accountability and integrated service. To this day, we pride ourselves on unwavering ethics, steadfast client loyalty, and competitive endurance.”

In a December 2000 newsletter, the company boasts:

“With age comes wisdom. The development of 57th Street at the heart of New York City was what first put William B. May on the map in the late 1860’s. At that time, we sold property to the Carnegies, the Fricks and the Vanderbilts.”

Today, the company is no more. Only the brand William B. May has survived. The business concept is owned by Broker Services Holding, LLC and it is operated as a franchise.

On his  LinkedIn page, Will May concurs that the company as it had existed, ceased operations in 2006, after -as he put it- “a tumultuous take-over fight”.

A BLAST FROM THE PAST

Gabriel Sherman is contributing editor at New York Magazine and a special correspondent for the New Republic. Prior to 2006, he was the media reporter at the New York Observer. In April of  ’05, he witnessed the demise of the venerable family firm.

When I read his article  “William T. May Sues Agency On Century 21 Ads”, a few things fell into place. This is how it begins:

“William Talcott May is the co-chairman of the storied real-estate brokerage founded by his great grandfather in 1866 and inheritor of the New York real-estate dynasty that bears his father’s name, William B. May.

But when the 44-year-old eccentric bounded into City Bakery on West 18th Street on a recent Thursday morning, wearing a fire-truck-red Scottish kilt and a navy-blue wool sweater, his broad, leonine cheekbones streaked with charcoal-hued face paint, he looked more Braveheart than businessman.”

If you don’t have time to read the entire article, here are some of the ‘highlights’:

  • Mr. May studied economics at Duke University. He dropped out in 1982 after two and half years. At Duke, Mr. May was a member of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity, played rugby and co-founded the school’s polo club with 40 ponies he said his cousin won in a craps game in South America.
  • After leaving Duke, Billy May -as he was known- returned to New York and worked in William B. May’s brokerage business while managing some of his own buildings. On the job he was stabbed and shot by tenants.
  • As he was flying his private plane on 9/11/’01, he witnessed the entire disaster from 10,000 feet above New York Harbor. He told Gabriel Sherman: “I was on the radio to McGuire Air Force base in 20 seconds saying there had been a terrorist attack.”
  • In December of 2001, the FBI and police arrested Mr. May for leaving six fake bombs at the New Castle County Airport in an attempt to highlight lax security.
  • Between trial and sentencing, he served 31 days in solitary confinement. Mr. May received a felony conviction and four years probation for the incident.
  • Mr. May’s attorney at the time, Penelope Marshall, said in reports that Mr. May was not medicated for his bipolar disorder.

 

Sherman ends his report from 2005 as follows:

“Mr. May, who says he has already spent $1 million of his own money to stanch the attacks on his family’s business, said he will not surrender until his family wins its name back. “I’m like a one-man pack of wild dogs when I get angry,” he said.”

LESSONS LEARNED

You don’t have to be  a psychologist to realize that past behavior can -to a certain extent- predict future behavior. In the case of William Talcott May, knowing about his background made me understand where his Mr. Nice and Mr. Nasty type of behavior was coming from. I just hope that he doesn’t unleash his ‘one-man pack of wild dogs’ on me. I’m more of a cat person.

As I said before: I think that Newspapers for the Blind offers a terrific service. I sincerely hope that it will survive Will May’s erratic actions. Eventually, his karma will catch up with him.

INTERNET CASTING

As for our friends at the voice-over casting sites (sometimes known as Pay-to-Plays)… we realize that you don’t have the time or the resources to conduct extensive investigations. However, it would be very helpful if you would publish information on those individuals who have pulled a fast one, and share it with your members and with other voice-over casting sites. That way, scammers who are exposed on one site, won’t be able to set up shop at another site.

Instead, you have left it up to our trusted colleague Mahmoud Taji, to come up with a Scam-Alert for our industry. As much as I applaud his hard work, this should not have been left to the efforts of one blogging voice-over talent in Egypt.

As voice-seekers, we pay you in order to take advantage of your internet voice-casting service. We don’t want to be taken advantage of, because you choose to protect your voice-seekers from our phone calls.

Come to think of it… isn’t that how we used to do business? We simply picked up the phone and introduced ourselves to a prospective client. What would Sherlock Holmes call that?

Elementary, perhaps?

Paul Strikwerda ©2010 nethervoice

2013 UPDATE

It appears that the Newspapers for the Blind website is down or no longer available. The Newspapers for the Blind Facebook page has last been updated on March 21, 2010.

On his LinkedIn Profile, Mr. May still lists himself as the “Editor & Founder of NewspapersForTheBlind.ORG 

*The BBB Wise Giving Alliance has developed Standards for Charity Accountability to “assist donors in making sound giving decisions and to foster public confidence in charitable organizations. The standards seek to encourage fair and honest solicitation practices, to promote ethical conduct by charitable organizations and to advance support of philanthropy.”


Pay-to-Play: Dracula or Frankenstein?

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

Mahmoud Taji is not only a Cairo-based Creative Director, he’s also a successful Arabic voice-over talent and blogger extraordinaire.

Taji recently relaunched his Voice Emporium, and on this site you will find thought-provoking articles, but also a very valuable Voice-over Directory of 231 casting websites and a Scam Alert for the Voice-over industry.

Taji is a man on a mission. A mission to create a monster. He writes:

“Let’s (for the sake of argument) say that you and I are partnering together on a business venture. We are going to build the perfect Voice Over Casting Site.

It’ll be a Pay-To-Play site… and it will be an amalgamation of the best parts of all the voice over casting websites that are on the market these days… so it’s a Frankenstein’s monster (remember Frankie was the doctor… his creation was the monster) consisting of the best from Voices.com, Voice123.com, VOplanet.com & Bodalgo.com.

What would it be like? What would it have?”

Of course I couldn’t resist the temptation. These are some of the elements my ideal Pay-to-Pay site would have:

  • Organizational structure: a cooperative. The site is owned and partially run by its members. Every member pays a relatively small membership fee to cover operational and promotional costs.
  • Decisions. Members have a huge say in how the site is run and who is running it. Every year, they receive a detailed account of the state of the cooperative. Members vote on major decisions and they monitor (and can vote on) the performance of the site manager. One person, one vote.
  • Earnings: the site takes 10% of the earnings of each job. This money will pay for staff salaries. What’s left after deduction of operational costs, salaries and overhead, will flow right back to the members at the end of each year.
  • Rates. The site and its members promote and practice fair trade: every project posted has a minimum budget based on industry averages (to be adjusted every year). That means that the minimum budget for an audio book will be higher than the minimum fee for a one page narration. No project shall be less than $250 and underbidding is unacceptable.
  • Accountability. Every single project posted will be accounted for. Members will know when the job was awarded and for how much. Voice-seekers who find talent on this site, must book the talent through the site. Demos will no longer disappear into a black hole.
  • Standards. In order to be eligible for membership, each prospective member has to agree to uphold and promote certain standards of ethical business practice and professional conduct.
  • Quality. Before being accepted, members are screened to ensure that they meet minimum professional criteria in terms of vocal and technical delivery. Throughout the year, auditions are monitored to ensure that quality is maintained. The reputation of the site rests on quality; not on rock-bottom rates.
  • Openness. Voice-seekers are expected to do business openly and honestly. They cannot hide their identity. This allows the voice-talent to conduct his/her own investigation into any and all claims made by prospective voice-seekers, agents and/or clients.
  • Specificity. Without a clear map, it’s hard to reach a destination: voice-seekers must clearly and specifically define what type of voice-talent they are hoping to hire. They must clearly outline the terms of the contract, listing and limiting the use of the end-product.
  • Auditions are open to any member; as long as this member fits the criteria for a particular project (see 8). This is left to the discretion of the talent.
  • Payment. Talent will be paid 50% of the agreed rate after a contract is signed, and the remainder upon delivery of the audio file(s).
  • Joint venture. Overall, this cooperative is characterized by quality, cooperation, transparency and accountability. It’s a place where professional talent is working with each other and for each other, rather than against each other.

Well, those are my two cents. I think Taji’s right. This ideal Voice-over casting site is probably going to be an intelligent version of Frankenstein’s monster; a patchwork of positive elements from existing Pay-to-Plays, combined with some brand new features. Is it a pipe dream? Not really. Revisit my article What Pay-to-Plays don’t want you to know” . You’ll find out that this cooperative model is used to run one of Holland’s most successful multi-billion dollar businesses.

TALES FROM THE CRYPT
One thing’s for sure. This imaginary Voice-over casting site is going to be radically different from the current Dracula-model, where competing voice talents are sucking the life blood out of each other by low balling, undercutting and underbidding on bargain basement projects posted by cheap, anonymous voice-seekers.

Read my lips: eventually, only voice-over virgins will fall for this scheme, and this model will implode when it’s held up to the light, just like the illustrious Count from Transylvania.

If you’d like to join vampire-slayer Taji on his quest for the best Voice-over casting site, wake up out of your slumber; bring your cloves of garlic and have your say today!

Don’t be scared.

He’s not going to bite…

Paul Strikwerda © 2010

www.nethervoice.com