Mike Harrison

Call Me Materialistic

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Gear, Studio 9 Comments

Broken Piggy Bank“It’s only stuff, and stuff can be replaced.”

That’s what my mother said when I accidentally broke a piece of pottery that had belonged to her mother’s mother. I was five at the time.

It was a sweet thing to say, but I now know that not all things are “just things.” Some objects can never be replaced, and their sentimental value greatly exceeds their monetary value.

In this third installment of my Mind Your Own Business-series, I want to talk about the material aspect of our job. I’ve already addressed the physical and mental aspect. Next week, I’ll talk about the spiritual side of setting up shop.

PRO or PRETENDER

As much as I’d like to tell people that success is not defined by a number in a bank account, the primary purpose of any for-profit business is to make money and grow the bottom line. If that’s not happening, the IRS will happily inform you that you’re a hobbyist.

There are many hobbyists in my line of work: voice-overs. Many of them are posing as pros. How can you tell? They sound insecure or insincere. Proper enunciation is a problem. They work for bargain basement rates, and the quality of their recordings can be captured in one word: Crap.

My philosophy is simple. If you want a professional career, you need professional gear. You need tools that work with you and not against you.

Contrary to what some may want you to believe, a shoestring budget is not going to get you anywhere in this competitive climate. I’m not saying that top-of-the-line equipment will get you gigs, guaranteed. Combined with talent and experience, it will increase the likelihood of you landing jobs.

The knowledge that you own the right tools increases client confidence (and your confidence too). It makes you more marketable because it shows that you are serious.

KEEPING THINGS QUIET

Having a dedicated, soundproofed and acoustically treated recording space is almost a must, these days. Not only will it increase the quality of your audio, it will increase your productivity by leaps and bounds.

If I had a choice between buying an expensive microphone, or a recording booth such as a Studiobricks cabin, I’d choose the latter in a heartbeat. Even the best Neumann mic will make you sound like an amateur if you record in an echo chamber or next to a busy highway. A reasonably priced mic such as the sE Electronics X1, is going to sound much better if used in an appropriate space.

Not having a dedicated recording room, can be disastrous for your career.

One of my colleagues has pipes of gold. When his marriage broke down, he not only lost his home. He lost his home studio. Now he’s renting a small apartment in a busy neighborhood. Kids are crying. Cars are honking. People are yelling. Recording in a walk-in closet doesn’t cut it. Clients demand broadcast quality audio, and he can’t give it to them. He is desperate, and hasn’t booked a decent job in months.

SONIC SURGERY

You may remember the story of Patrice Devincentis. Patrice owns and operates Sonic Surgery, an audio production studio in Union Beach, N.J. Here she records, edits, mixes, and masters, working with musicians and voice-over talent. On October 29th, 2012, Hurricane Sandy completely destroyed the studio she had built in her garage. Most of her recording gear and musical instruments were lost.

Thanks to generous donations from readers of this blog, Patrice received some equipment to make a fresh start, but there was one big problem. Her entire home and studio needed to be elevated, and very little could be done until the property was deemed safe. This marked the beginning of a long and exhausting battle with authorities over inspections, permissions, and grants. 

Only last month, Patrice was finally taken off the waiting list; all the paperwork was completed and the elevation of her home is one step closer. Two years after the disaster, contractors may eventually come in, and begin their uplifting work. That is, if everything goes according to plan. Somehow, it never does.

ARE YOU PREPARED

Can you imagine being barely able to work for two years, due to some random force of nature, and a whole lot of New Jersey red tape? And don’t think it won’t happen to you. Superstorms don’t care where they hit or whose lives they ruin. 

If you believe that lighting won’t strike twice, read Mike Harrison’s story in VoiceOverXtra. He thought his computer and ISDN were safe, until the loudest crash of thunder he’d ever heard almost stopped his heart and his gear. And then it happened again!

I thought I was pretty well protected in my Pennsylvania basement booth, until water came into my studio. After close inspection, the culprit turned out to be a leaking 18-year-old hot water heater. Thankfully, it happened while I was working. Had I not been at home, I might have had serious damage to the tools I need to make a living.

Stories like these illustrate that a positive mindset and good health can only take you so far. All of us are vulnerable. Trouble happens when you least expect it. Hoping for the best is not enough. You have to prepare for the worst. So, let me ask you this:

Did you?

Is your equipment safe, and sufficiently insured?

Do you have a backup system in case of an emergency?

Have you invested enough to take on the competition?

It may only be “stuff,” but without it, all you have is a pipe dream. 

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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photo credit: Joe Shlabotnik via photopin cc


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