Nethervoice blog

Voice-Over Newbies: You Have Been Warned!

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Gear, International, Internet, Money Matters, Studio 19 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 say yes to a job, even when they have know idea what to charge. 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 Muffet’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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The Key To Promoting Your Business

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Journalism & Media, Promotion, Social Media 14 Comments

If you’re like most colleagues I know, you love doing what you’re doing for a living…

… but you hate selling yourself. 

Am I right?

I know I felt that way for a long, long time.

My mom and dad brought me up to be modest, and to never put myself on a pedestal. And that’s what selling and self-promotion really is about, right? Tooting your own horn is an exercise in vanity, telling the world how great you are, and why people should buy from you.

Maybe it’s a generational thing, but millennials don’t seem to have so many reservations about it. The word “humble” has been removed from the humble brag. We live in the age of the shameless selfie, and the i-everything. The iPhone, iPad, the i can have anything I want whenever I want it. Now. 

Beauty is in the I of the beholder, and the world shall bear witness. 

These days, it’s super cool and common to document one’s life in “vids and pics,” and give everybody a front row seat. Just follow people around on social media. Without telling you they’re telling you: 

Look at where I’m going!

Look at what I’m eating!

Look at my kids!

Look at my cats!

Look at my coffee!

Look at my new car!

Look at my new wife!

Look at ME!

Gimme some likes. Gimme some love. Gimme the feeling that I matter. I beg you!

Worst of all, some people are taking this self-absorbed attitude to their marketing strategy, because they believe that effective marketing revolves around self-promotion. If you don’t tell the world about your magnificent offerings, the world will go somewhere else. At least, that’s what they’re afraid of. 

Let me ask you: Is that really how it works? Is this the new way to attract clients? Why are people doing this?

INSTAGRAM

I spend way too much time on social media, and this week I’m trying to crack this monster called Instagram. It’s exciting to see how many colleagues have embraced it wholeheartedly, and I want to learn from them. What are they posting? What hashtags are they using? Do they seem to have a specific strategy to promote their business?

Here’s what I’ve noticed.

I see lots of pictures of cute animals, sunsets, waterfalls, babies, fabulous food, family members, beaches, cups of coffee, art work, quotes about the meaning of life, and yes… selfies. 

Don’t get me wrong: some of these pictures are gorgeous, and as an amateur photographer I get inspired. But what do snapshots from a family album tell me about someone’s business? Are they meant to promote something, or what?

PERSONAL OR PROFESSIONAL

Perhaps I’m wrong, but it looks like a majority of the colleagues I am now following is using Instagram strictly for personal reasons. That’s why they don’t have a business account, and that’s why I see photos of cousin David’s bris, and auntie Annie’s aging Pomeranian. Both are equally painful, I might add.

I see these things on Facebook too, by the way -particularly if people have connected Facebook to their Instagram account. That means you get to see the same boring stuff twice. I’ve also noticed that some colleagues are still using a Facebook Profile to promote their voice-over services, instead of having a separate business page (click here if you want to know more about that).

What’s behind this? Is it because the boundaries between our personal and professional lives are slowly fading? Are people doing this because they feel that good marketing is based on self(ie)-promotion, or are they basically clueless, or too self-absorbed? 

IT’S NOT ABOUT ME

My philosophy as a solopreneur is simple: I am in business to serve my clients as best as I can. That means my marketing has to be centered on the people I serve, and hope to serve. It has to be about them. Always.

To come up with a marketing message, I have to think about my clients, and ask them questions like: 

– What do you need? 

– What do you want? 

– How can I best help you?

Contrast and compare that to the “Look at ME” strategy.

I strongly believe that I have something to offer; something my (potential) clients are searching for. I am a resource, and it is my job to connect (future) clients to that resource. Now, people won’t find me if they don’t know I exist. The challenge is to make it easy to find me, and to show my prospects what I can do for them without making it the never-ending Strikwerda show. 

My marketing goal is threefold. It is to…

1. Increase awareness of the Nethervoice brand

2. Position myself as an experienced, knowledgeable premium provider people can trust

3. Engage my audience, and lead people to my website

As one of the more outspoken members of the voice-over community, there’s a fourth goal worth mentioning: I want to be a strong voice in, and a resource to my community. That’s why I use social media to promote this blog. It’s obvious that this effort supports my three main goals. 

The question is: Will I reach these goals by posting cute pictures of cats, sunsets, and sangria?

WHAT’S YOUR REASON

Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against people who are using the internet to share their lives with others. If you’re one of those people, you’ve got to ask yourself: For what purpose am I doing this? How can I use social media to grow my business?

It’s no secret that with more and more talent trying to make buck or two, clients have a huge pool of people they can choose from. What are the chances they will find you, and pick you? What can you do to increase the odds? Yes, YOU! Not that Pay-to-Play, or those agents. YOU!

I’ve come up with a marketing strategy that works for me, and I’m refining it week by week. That doesn’t mean it will work for you. Not everybody is a blogger. Not everybody is comfortable using 140 characters to craft a message. It takes time to learn the ins and outs of Instagram (and I’ve only started to scratch the surface).

But no matter what you do, it all starts by thinking of the people you wish to serve, and the clients you want to attract.

It is not one, big ego trip.

Use your marketing as a magnet.

If it’s strong enough, you’ll be able to monetize it.

Once the money starts coming in, you’ll have lots of time to post cute pictures of your feline friends. 

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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How Dangerous Is Your Voice-Over Studio?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Gear, Studio 35 Comments
voice-over & blogger Paul Strikwerda

the author of this blog in his studio

Voice-over people are really weird.

Every day they spend a long time sitting in a small, soundproof room, staring at a screen, and talking to themselves.

If they’re good at what they do, they pretend to communicate with an illusive but unresponsive listener.  

Then they spend an eternity listening to themselves as they edit and sweeten the audio.

After hours and hours of sitting on their behinds, these voice-overs emerge out of the darkness, longing for fresh air and an adult beverage.

The next day they do it all over again, because it’s such a glamorous job!

Don’t get me wrong: I enjoy this sequestered lifestyle tremendously, but it took me a few years before I got comfortable in my studio. In order to truly feel at home, happy, and safe in my claustrophobic recording cave, I had to add some items and make some adjustments to make life a lot healthier.

Tip: as is always the case, the text in blue is a link to an article or a product I recommend (links open in a new tab). And yes, as stated under “Disclosure” on the right-hand side of this blog, product links will take you to an online retailer. 

EYE PROTECTION

Let’s talk about CVS. No, I don’t mean the American chain of pharmacies. I’m talking about Computer Vision Syndrome (sometimes called DES: Digital Eye Strain). It’s the strain on the eyes that happens when you use a computer or digital device for prolonged periods of time. Common symptoms are eye fatigue, headaches, blurred vision, red, dry, or burning eyes, and even neck and shoulder pain. 

According to the Vision Council (the optical trade association) if you spend two or more hours in front of a digital screen, you’re likely to experience one or more symptoms of CVS. The blue light emitted from these screens seems to play a big role. Blue light or high-energy visible light, is a particularly intense light wave emitted in the 380-500nm range.

The question is: What can you do to protect your eyes from CVS?

One: Make sure the lighting in your studio is comfortable on the eyes. One way to do that is by using bias lighting (backlighting of a television or computer monitor). 

I’ve placed a simple Himalayan Rock Salt Lamp behind my computer monitor. Not only does it emit a nice warm glow, some people believe a salt lamp generates negative ions neutralizing (bad) positive ions coming from electronic devices.

Noticing the benefits of bias lighting in my studio, I went ahead and attached a strip of LED lights to the back of our television. Not only did the contrast ratio of the HDTV improve, my eye fatigue was practically nonexistent after a night of Netflix.

Two: Another way to prevent eye strain is to reduce glare. It helps to use indirect or reflective studio lighting. Some people attach a blue light blocking screen protector to their computer monitor. I always wear tinted computer glasses with a special lens coating to reduce glare.

Three: Blink more often, and take frequent breaks. Taking five-minute “mini-breaks” throughout the work day actually makes people more productive. During your computer breaks, stand up, move about and stretch your arms, legs, back, neck and shoulders to reduce tension and muscle fatigue.

PREVENTING RSI

Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) is a potentially disabling illness caused by prolonged repetitive hand movements, such as those involved in computer use. If you’ve just edited your latest audio book, you know what I’m talking about. Symptoms include intermittent shooting pains in the hands, wrists, forearms, and back.

Taking regular breaks is one way to prevent RSI. It helps to sit up straight, and to use a good chair. Don’t be a cheapskate when you buy one. You’ll be using it for many hours a day. For voice-overs it’s important to make sure the chair is quiet. Too many office chairs make squeaky noises that will make a guest appearance on your recordings.

The seat pan of the chair should be adjusted to tilt slightly forward to encourage a good posture when seated. Your forearms should be approximately horizontal when working, with your shoulders and upper arms relaxed. The seat height should be adjusted accordingly. I’ve also added a lumbar support pillow for extra comfort.

Many people develop RSI in their mouse hand. I use a gel wrist pad to keep my right wrist in a better position while using the mouse. I’ve also invested in an elbow rest (here’s another model) which has helped me tremendously.

It does make a difference what kind of mouse you use. I recommend choosing an ergonomic mouse with a track ball. It’s much easier to quickly move the cursor around, and there’s less strain on the hand. Some colleagues have switched to a track pad and are glad they did. 

By the way, did I tell you that I use two mice when editing my audio with Twisted Wave? The left-hand mouse moves the cursor on the screen, and the right-hand mouse highlights areas and makes the cuts. I used to use the Contour ShuttlePro V.2 for my left hand. It’s a neat, mouse-like controller with programmable buttons. However, using two mice and keyboard shortcuts works just as well for me.

BE KIND TO YOUR EARS

I absolutely adore my fluffy Beyerdynamic DT 880 studio headphones. They’re so comfortable, I don’t even notice that I’m wearing them… for hours in a row. And that’s not a good thing. When I do precision editing, I tend to turn the volume up to hear all the sonic details, and that can be risky.

Here’s the troubling thing: hearing loss is pretty sneaky. It’s usually something that happens gradually. How do you even notice your hearing isn’t as good as it used to be? Well, we have an app for that. Several to be precise. 

For Apple users there’s UHear and the Mimi Hearing Test. For Android users there’s the Hearing Test or the app Test Your Hearing (among other things). Click here to take an online hearing test. 

How can hearing loss be prevented?

For starters, I began using my Eris E5 studio monitors more and more. They usually provide enough clarity and detail for me to edit my audio. I also turned the smart phone volume down to a safer level (go to your settings and drop the volume limit to about 70%).

When I work out in the gym I prefer wearing earbuds. I have replaced the regular tips with memory foam tips that keep the earphones much better in place. They also block out the noise more effectively. That way I don’t have to turn my podcasts up so much. 

When I go to the movies, concerts, or shows, I always bring my Made in Holland Alpine Hearing Protection Earplugs. They’re on my key chain, so I don’t have to remember to take them with me.

Now, there are more things in your studio that are potentially dangerous. For instance, some people don’t respond well to the gases emitted by acoustic foam. Some get headaches or have trouble breathing. Switching to panels made of natural materials is one obvious solution. I could also have talked about vocal health in this overview of studio hazards. However, I’ve already covered that in my interview with vocal coach Elissa Weinzimmer

Let me leave you with one last thought.

TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF

The issues I described in this post aren’t exactly sexy. In the voice-over community we’d much rather talk about gear, or about declining standards and rates. The thing is: most colleagues don’t even realize they are putting their health at risk when they are entering their home studio and office.

Computer Vision Syndrome, Repetitive Strain Injury, and hearing loss are slow processes that -when ignored- can cause permanent damage. They’re not unique to the voice-over world. Adults spend 8+ hours staring at screens every day. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), RSI affects some 1.8 million workers per year. Hearing loss among teens is about 30 percent higher than in the eighties and nineties.

The good news is that all of these problems can be prevented. So, the next time you’re looking to invest in your studio, perhaps you don’t need that new microphone or preamp. Perhaps you should get yourself a good chair, a nice pair of computer glasses, a salt lamp, and new monitors.

Take my advice and don’t wait until it’s too late. If you’re having any of the symptoms I’ve described, or you’re experiencing other problems, go and see your doctor. After all, this is just a blog and I’m not a medical professional.

If you have any other tips that have made your time in the studio less risky and more comfortable, please share them in the comment section below, and share this blog post with your friends and colleagues.

Thank you!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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What Are You Waiting For?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing 6 Comments

A big break? 

A small miracle?

Are you waiting for that one person to tell you you’re the best, and you should really do this?

It’s the daily drama of the wannabe freelancer. Lots of good intentions. Hopes and dreams galore. Always looking for the key that magically opens all doors. 

And when those doors remain closed, be ready for the surprise, the indignation, and the excuses:

“They told me I had talent!”

“They said there would be lots of opportunities.”

“I’m just a beginner. You can’t expect me to know all these things.”

Every new job has a learning curve. That’s a given. But advertising yourself as a pro elicits expectations. Clients expect you to have professional equipment. Clients trust that you have the basic skills to do the job you just bid on. Is that too much to ask?

Yes, there are lots of opportunities, and lots of people are going after those opportunities. People with more experience, better gear, and a better understanding of how things work in this business. They are your competition. Can you compete on more than price?

I have no doubt that you are talented. But talent is nothing but potential. A diamond in the rough looks quite ugly, and needs serious cutting and polishing before it can be sold. Do you have the time, the means, and the patience to listen, learn, and improve?

Do you have enough drive, or do you like to be driven?

You see, this is not a superficial thing. To get to most diamonds, you need to dig deep. Diamonds don’t polish themselves, and doors don’t magically open. Only saints can claim small miracles, and that big break is highly overrated. Some wannabe’s go broke, waiting for that break.

Intentions, hopes, and dreams are figments of the imagination. Clearly defined goals, a solid education, and a willingness to work harder than anyone else, are not. 

Here’s the real rub.

If you are waiting for someone or something, you’re doing it wrong. 

The key to being successfully self-employed lies in taking massive, positive action. Not because someone told you to. Not because you felt forced. 

You get out of bed because you have this burning desire to accomplish something meaningful, whatever it may be. 

Step by step.

Day by day.

So, stop whining. 

Stop waiting.

Start creating.

Your life.

Now. 

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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How To Attract and Keep New Clients

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Book, Career, Freelancing, Promotion 2 Comments

The SuperfreelancerOkay, I admit it.

I sometimes get annoyed by colleagues tooting their own horn really loud.

We may be living in the “Age of ME,” but it’s painful to see beginners and more experienced talent trying to construct some kind of image that’s supposed to persuade clients to hire them. Here’s the problem:

Too many freelancers are too focused on themselves, and it is costing them business.

The way I see it, successful solopreneurs have one job, and one job only: To be a Superhero.

A superhero doesn’t think about him- or herself. A superhero answers a call of someone in need, and uses special powers to save the day. Once the job is done, the hero leaves the scene to tackle another problem.

Now, the very best superheroes have at least one thing in common: they know when they are needed. Here’s what I want to know: How do they figure that out?

That’s a great question, and every sales person who has ever lived has asked that question many times. In order to answer that question, we have to take a step back, and answer another question: What motivates people to buy things?

Even though you and I are likely to have different clients with different needs, there are three factors that always play a role in every purchase decision. You might be selling a service or a product. It doesn’t matter. All buyers are influenced by the same three things:

Price, Benefits, and Perceptions

The price is what the customer pays in exchange for benefits received. It’s something your client has to give up in order to get something from you. Ideally, those benefits should outweigh or at least equal the cost.

Benefits are the positive effects derived from using your solution or service. It’s the pleasure people experience after getting rid of their inner emptiness, frustration, or pain.

Smart sales people sell benefits. Stupid sales people slash prices. Any idiot can close a sale by cutting the price (and go broke in the process). It takes brains to sell benefits.

Perceptions are the result of how people evaluate the benefits and price, the (initial) impression they get from your business, as well as the total experience of using your product or service.

In the end, perceptions matter most. Allow me to demonstrate.

EVALUATING VALUE

Let’s assume you’ve studied the market and you decide to charge $250 per hour for your services. Is that too much or not enough? Does it even matter what you think?

Client A will never hire you because she thinks you’re too cheap, and cheap equals crap. Client B will hire someone else because she thinks you’re overpriced. Client C will happily hire you because she believes your price is just right.

Your fee is just a number in a certain context. It is always evaluated in relation to something else. That “something else” is a matter of interpretation or perception.

People do things for their reasons. Not for yours. Get this:

An anonymous donor paid $3.5 million at a charity auction to have lunch with Warren Buffet, one of the richest men in the world. Is that too much for a few hours of conversation and a meal?

Hedge fund manager Ted Weschler spent about $5.3 million to win both the 2010 and 2011 auctions. To him, it was money well spent. Buffet ended up hiring him to manage an investment portfolio.

Perceptions are personal value judgments, and therefore highly subjective. This begs the question:

Can perceptions be influenced? Can we manipulate a client into buying from us?

Even though I believe that lasting change comes from within and cannot be forced upon someone, the fact is: people are impressionable. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be as open to social proof, and all advertising would be totally irrelevant.

Years of being a solopreneur have taught me that there are things you can do to get an interested client in your corner, as long as you play your cards right.

Here’s what I have learned:

1. First impressions are crucial

We all know that we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but psychologists will tell you that it takes us only a few seconds to form an opinion of someone or something. That’s why companies spend billions on packaging, and people spend millions on make-up, clothing, and cosmetic surgery.

If you can’t pique a consumer’s interest or instill a level of trust right from the start, he or she will move on to whatever catches the eye next. So, ask yourself:

What is the very first thing new customers see or experience when they stumble upon my product or service? Is it the landing page of my website? Is it a cover of a book or a brochure? Is it… me?

This first impression is the all-important hook. It sets the tone and tells prospective clients enough about your level of professionalism and style, or lack thereof. If anything, this is where you should spend most of your marketing money. To do it right…

2. Your message needs to be clear, convincing, congruent, and consistent

If you want to play the part, you have to dress the part, and embody the part. That might seem obvious, yet, so many business owners undermine their own credibility by sending out conflicting signals. A few examples:

A translation and proofreading service emailed me: “Your welcome to visit our website.” When I pointed this out to them, they blamed this slip of the pen on the intern.

If you don’t proofread your own material, why would my legal translation be safe in your hands?

The sign in the front yard said: “Quality lawn care at a price anyone can afford.” Meanwhile, weeds were growing everywhere, and most trees needed pruning.

The owner of the local health food store looked like she was terminally ill. She must be friends with that overweight director of the fitness center.

See what I mean? Actions speak louder than words. Remember the four Cs when you craft you core message. You have to be Clear, Convincing, Congruent, and Consistent.

3. You have to be responsive

What clients hate more than anything is to be ignored. It gives them the feeling that their business isn’t important to you, and you know what? I think they’re right. Time happens to be something we all have the same amount of. How we choose to spend that time, gives us an inside look into someone’s priorities and planning skills.

I’ve walked out of a fancy restaurant because the wait staff couldn’t be bothered to serve my table in a timely way. I don’t care if you’re known for the best food in town. If your service sucks, you’re screwed.

I read on your website’s Contact page that you’ll get back to me within 24 hours. I sent you a message three days ago and I have yet to hear from you. What other promises aren’t you going to keep? My project has a strict deadline. If you can’t meet your own, how can I be sure you’ll meet mine?

Being responsive also means: giving your client concise progress reports. It’s a way to reassure them that they’re in good hands. If you’re right on track, let your client know. If you’re experiencing an unexpected delay, you have to let your client know. Don’t wait until they send you an email wondering why they haven’t heard from you in days.

Communication is key, as long as you’re to the point. Anticipate and answer client’s questions. Be an open book. Stay in touch. Make it a breeze to do business with you. You want your clients to smile when they think of you. That will happen when you…

4. Go out of your way to be helpful

Not all inquiries lead to a sale. Sometimes what you have to offer is not what a client is looking for. In my case they might want to hire a female voice actor or someone with an older sound or a different accent. Does that mean that all my efforts were wasted? On the contrary.

If you cut off contact because you can’t make an immediate sale, you’re thinking about yourself and you’re thinking short-term. Everything is marketing. Any contact with a client, no matter how brief, is a golden opportunity to start building a relationship. A healthy relationship is a two-way street and takes time to evolve. It’s about giving and receiving.

So, how do you give to a client who doesn’t need your services?

It’s simple: Be a resource.

If you’re not right for the job, recommend a few colleagues who are. I’m sure they won’t mind. Show your expertise. Build some goodwill. You’re sowing seeds, and who knows when they might bloom? There are always new projects in the pipeline that might be a better fit for you.

Here’s the thing about giving, though.

Don’t just do it for future rewards. That’s not a gift. That’s a bribe.

Do it because it’s a decent thing to do.

It’s all a matter of perception.

Even superheroes are aware of that!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet.

PPS The above article is a chapter from my book Making Money In Your PJs, Freelancing for voice-overs and other solopreneurs. It’s available in paperback, and as a digital download. 

photo credit: A Is For Aquaman via photopin (license)

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Spoon Feeding Blabbermouths

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Money Matters 33 Comments

Let’s say you’ve made somewhat of a name for yourself in the VO-community.

Your weekly blog is doing really well, and colleagues want to be friends with you.

People you don’t know seem to value your opinion and start reaching out.

They write messages that begin with praise, and of course you’re flattered. At the same time you can sense where this is going. Inevitably, there will be a paragraph at the end of the email that goes like this:

“I admire your work and I respect your opinion. You must be very busy, but….
* What do you think of my demo?
* How much should I charge as a beginner?
* Which online casting service is the best?
* What microphone do you recommend?
* How do I get an agent? Can you introduce me to yours?
* Why is there a hum on my recording?
* How do I master my audio?
* I do tons of auditions but I never get hired. What am I doing wrong?

Any tips that could help me in my career are more than welcome!”

On one hand I’m happy that strangers trust me enough to ask for advice. On the other, it makes me a bit uncomfortable. I want to help, but I also have a business to run. Clients are waiting to hear back from me. There’s editing to be done. That guest post I’m writing isn’t finished yet, and on top of that I’m fighting a cold.

More importantly: Where does friendly advice end, and where does professional coaching begin?

Then there’s the issue of money. Even though my opinion is considered to be valuable, it is almost always assumed that my advice is free.

That bothers me.

NOT ALONE

As a voice talent, blogger and coach, I’m not the only one having to deal with this situation. Perhaps there’s something to learn from how other professionals approach this problem.

The following question was posted on a forum for IT professionals:

“Because I’m a programmer, people constantly ask me to fix their computer. How do you handle this situation? Do you make exceptions for relatives, friends and co-workers? Do you charge people for it?”

This is the answer that got the most votes:

“Here’s what you do:

• If it’s a Windows box say, “I only know how to fix Macs.”
• If it’s a Mac say, “I only know how to fix PC’s.”
• If it’s a Linux box say, “You’re a Linux user… fix it yourself!”

Here are a few other suggestions:

“Say you’ll fix their computer. Open their temporary internet files folder and then look totally shocked when you discover the obligatory hardcore porn images that are bound to be there. They probably will be too ashamed to ever ask you again.”

“I have an amazon.com wish list. I do genuinely like helping people, however I feel my time is worth something. Where accepting cash may not feel 100% appropriate, sending them my Amazon wish list has worked very well for me.”

“I give them a visiting card (made for this occasion) and I ask them to schedule an appointment to talk about the problem. End of the story.”

“My personal strategy is just to be very, very busy. Nine out of ten times they’ll find other help by the time I get around to it.”

“I tell them: “I am a programmer, not an administrator. You would not ask an architect to repair your roof, either. Of course, this works with almost everybody, except with my mom. Nowadays I just tell her to get a Mac.”

“My conditions are: First half hour is free, after that, it’s $100/hr. Reason: I like to help people but I don’t like it when I’m abused as free support. So if it really is “just a simple tiny thing,” then no problem, can do. But often “simply tiny problem” stands for “I have no idea what’s wrong; just fix it for me!” As soon as money is involved, they stop and start thinking if it’s really worth it.”

“I fixed her computer (the printer was unplugged!). Now, 4 years later, we’re married!”

Did any of these solutions strike a chord with you?

MY OWN ROLE

As I was trying to figure out how to best deal with requests from my fans, friends and followers, I realized one thing: I created this situation.

I always encourage my readers to respond. The opportunity to connect with people from all over the globe is one of the blessings of writing a blog. But some days it is a mixed blessing. With 38,266+ subscribers, I have to come up with a way to handle questions and comments effectively and efficiently.

Let’s start with blog comments. If you take the time to publicly respond to one of my articles, you deserve to be acknowledged. Quite often, your reaction will give me a chance to delve a bit deeper into what I’ve been writing about, or to clear up misunderstandings. The bottom line: if you care to comment, you can expect an answer.

As of this moment, there are 6,608 comments on this blog, and my guess is that half of them were penned by me in response to someone’s remarks. (the oldest article dates back to May 2009).

Now, what do I do with questions that reach me outside of this blog? Well, I start by looking at three things:

1. Who’s asking?
2. What are they asking?
3. How are they asking?

You’d be surprised how many people contact me out of the blue without even introducing themselves. Maybe they have a feeling they already know me because they’ve been reading my blog for a while. Still, why can’t we treat an email as a regular conversation? I’d never walk up to someone new with a question without introducing myself first.

One of the keys that can make or break a career is your ability to build relationships. Don’t expect to get information without a establishing a relation. 

NO BABY TALK

Secondly, I refuse to answer basic questions. It’s not my job to do someone else’s homework. Those who wish to make it in this field have to be proactive, independent and resourceful. If they can’t be bothered to do a simple Google search, why should I take time out of my busy day to do it for them?

Babies need to be spoon-fed. They’re helpless. Wasn’t it E.M. Foster who said:

“Spoon feeding in the long run teaches us nothing but the shape of the spoon.”

In my experience, the answers people find for themselves tend to stick much better than those that have been handed to them on a silver platter.

What I will do, is encourage people to search my blog. With over 350 archived articles, it is likely they’ll find what they are looking for. If I happen to remember a specific story that might be relevant, I often include a link. It reduces my bounce rate

DEMO CRITIQUE

Almost half of those who get in touch, want me to critique their demos and/or website. If the request comes from a colleague I’m close to, I am happy to give feedback. I know they’d do the same for me. If the request comes out of nowhere from someone I don’t know, I will charge a fee for my time and expertise.

I tell my readers all the time how important it is that they value their time and their work. I practice what I preach. Besides, free advice is easily ignored. When people make an investment, they’re much more invested in what they’ve learned because they tend to find it more valuable. 

The decision to charge money turned out to be a huge time-saver. Nine out of ten people hoping to get free feedback will literally drop off the planet as soon as they are asked to pay. Are you surprised?

TASTE TEST

There’s a reason why you can get free samples at your ice cream store. It only makes sense to give a freebie if it increases the chances of making a sale.

The only time I will critique a demo free of charge is when someone’s seriously thinking of hiring me as their coach. Listening to their audio will give me an idea of where they’re coming from and whether or not I want to take them under my wings. At the same time, the person submitting the demo will get a better sense of whether or not I’d be a good fit.

And finally….

A lot of the questions I get, cannot and should not be answered in writing. It would be as silly as teaching someone how to play the Double Bass over the phone. Helping a person with things like script interpretation, diction, breathing and microphone technique, needs a closer, more direct connection. It requires involved interaction over a longer period of time.

THE INNER GAME

You may have noticed that I like to blog about the more psychological aspects of our business. I write about fear of failure, finding your strength, overcoming rejection and so on. Because of that focus, some people turn to me with deeper, more personal questions.

In order to be a successful voice talent, I think it’s just as important to deal with our inner voice, as it is to refine what comes out of our mouth. One affects the other. This very personal aspect is too sacred and too intimate to be dealt with in writing. The spoken word and even silence, can convey infinitely more than letters on a computer screen.

In matters of the soul and of the heart, it’s far more important to actively listen, than to come up with answers. In fact, my personal opinion is irrelevant.

As a coach I believe it’s vital to help people connect to their own wisdom, instead of making them dependent on someone else’s ideas.

How do I facilitate that process?

By asking questions.

You’ve heard me.

Nine out of ten times, I’d rather give you an earful, than a spoon. 

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet.

photo credit: freeloosedirt via photopin cc

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The Seven Worst Mistakes Beginner Voice-Overs Make

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing 3 Comments

You know what they say about hindsight, and it’s annoying.

Especially in retrospect.

The idea is that, had we known better, we would have done better. That sounds very reasonable in theory, but in reality, I find most people to be stubbornly unreasonable. Hindsight or no hindsight.

In many major decisions, logic seems to play a minor part: the choice of a life partner (or to stay single); whom to trust in business and in politics; whether to have children or not, to name a few.

If logic and reason would rule the world, no one would be overweight, or smoke cigarettes. There would be no littering, global warming, texting while driving, or unprotected sex.

Instead, we live in a world where people cannot control their most primitive impulses, their most unfounded fears, and their most irrational ideas. History repeats itself as fallible human beings fail to learn from the past. As countless psychologists have observed: previous behavior is a good predictor of future behavior.

Having said that, I really wish I had known a thing or two before I started speaking for a living. Here’s my top 7 of things I did, before I knew better:

1. Putting on a voice

Listening back to old recordings, I noticed that I was trying too hard to sound like a voice-over. I was imitating someone else, instead of being me. There’s too much effort. I spoke louder than I normally do, delivering a speech, instead of having a conversation.

Takeaway: There’s no one like you. Be effortlessly authentic. (click here for some tips)

2. Auditioning for everything under the sun

Once upon a time I believed in the numbers game. You know, the silly idea that the more you audition, the greater the chance you’ll eventually land a job. Forget that. If you don’t sound like John Wayne, Darth Vader, or Helen Mirren, don’t be a pretender. It’s embarrassing. Only take on what you know you can pull off, while developing your range.

Takeaway: Be selective in what you audition for. Play to your strengths.

3. Not delivering pristine audio

What’s the number one reason most auditions end up in the garbage bin? Bad sound quality! In hindsight, I took too long to get a professional recording space, and quality equipment. Once I did, my bookings tripled, because the audio from my home studio was just as good as the audio of my demos.

Takeaway: If you want to play with the best, you need to invest. Having a home studio is a must.

4. Approaching it like a hobby

You may have an amazing voice and great equipment, but that’s no guarantee that you’ll have a successful voice-over career. You must learn how to run a freelance business, how to manage your money, and how to toot your horn without annoying the heck out of everybody.

Takeaway: Being business savvy is often more important than having a unique talent.

5. Being reactive instead of proactive

Being a voice-over is not for those who wait and see, or for those playing the blame game. You’re in the driver’s seat, buddy! If you don’t steer your career, you’ll never know where you’ll end up. Successful solopreneurs are risk-takers, go-getters, and fast learners. They love to lead, and hate to follow.

Takeaway: Don’t let things happen. Make them happen!

6. Trying to reinvent the wheel

You may think you know it all, and can do it all, but you don’t know what you don’t know. It’s better to admit your limitations, than to be willfully ignorant. The self-employed wear many hats. Dare to excel in a few things, instead of being mediocre in many.

Takeaway: Do your homework, and ask for help. Outsource the things you’re not (yet) good at. (click here for more on this)

7. Not charging enough

I thought that low rates would get me work. It turned out that by charging less, I branded myself a desperate beginner. People didn’t take me seriously, and those who paid the least, were the biggest pains in the neck.

Takeaway: Any fool can undercut the competition and go broke in the process. Running a for-profit business starts with valuing yourself and your services properly. (click here for more on low rates)

 

Well, there you have it.

Now I can tell you “I told you so.” Not that it’s going to make any difference.

Some people don’t like being told what to do, and I understand that.

The most profound life lessons are often the ones coming from experience, and not from books, blogs, or well-meaning mothers.

But it might take you a few years to come to that realization.

Unless you have perfect vision.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
PS Be sweet. Subscribe & retweet!

PPS Here’s a quick summary of the main points.

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The Weight Of The World

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Personal 5 Comments

photo credit: © Paul Strikwerda

Last week, I did a webinar on blogging for members of The VoiceOver Network.

One of the things host Rachael Naylor wanted to know, was how I got from zero to over thirty-eight thousand subscribers.

Although I did not survey each and every reader of this blog, I do receive a lot of feedback from my “fans.” This gives me some indication as to why they return to my musings, week after week.

The one comment that comes back again and again, is that -even though this is a voice-over blog- people like that I write about more than microphones, making money, and the secret to winning auditions.

Ultimately, I see my work as a means to an end, and sometimes I feel more like writing about “the end,” than about the means to getting there. To illustrate the point, I ended my webinar by reading my blog post The Weight of the World, which -in light of the recent terrorist attacks- turned out to be terribly relevant.

After my appearance on the VoiceOver Hour, some of the students in the U.K. asked me if I could republish that particular blog post, because it really resonated with them. It had only been a few days since a suicide bomber had blown himself and twenty-two others up, during an Ariana Grande concert.

Last Saturday, terrorists struck again on London Bridge, killing eight people.

So, with great sadness and a heavy heart, here is The Weight of the World:

 

Paris. Kabul. Manchester. London.

On some days this beautiful planet is so full of hatred and hardship that I feel guilty writing about such trivial things as “work.”

It sure is fun to blog about freelancing, marketing, and microphone technique, but I have to ask: “To what avail?”

Does it lead to a deeper understanding of the human psyche?

Does it tell us why young, radicalized men stuff their luggage with glass and nails, before they blow themselves and innocent others to bits and pieces?

Does it explain why so many people still believe that violence is the only way forward to further a cause?

As a blogger, shouldn’t I be writing about those issues, instead of talking about home studios, auditions, and online casting companies? 

Whenever I ask myself these questions, I have to remind myself of where I came from.

Before leaving the Netherlands, I worked as one of those stone-faced newscasters informing the world of yet another tragedy. On air, I asked countless experts about the roots of evil, and I grilled politicians about their ideas on how to fix a broken world.

Day after day I reported on endless suffering and strife, and I was part of the sensationalist “if it doesn’t bleed, it doesn’t lead” gang, that determines what is newsworthy and what isn’t. On sunnier days I would be searching for that snippet of positive news we could end our program with, to remind the listeners that not all people are perverts, rapists, or suicidal religious radicals. 

Don’t get me wrong: I loved the excitement and the adrenaline of the newsroom. It gave me a steady income, a certain status, and a sense of purpose. A democracy can only function when people are able to make smart decisions based on hard facts, and I was in the business of providing those facts. My radio station also gave me a unique opportunity to hold the feet of the famous to the fire.

Yet, one day, it all fell apart when I noticed myself caring less and less about the horror stories I was covering. In the beginning I would blame my lack of response on the need to “stay professional,” meaning detached from the raw emotions that are part and parcel of every human tragedy. I was supposed to stay as neutral as our network professed to be, and not get emotionally involved. But it came at a price. 

I gradually developed a tendency to disassociate myself from all kinds of feelings. Positive and negative. That invisible screen I was using to shield myself from sadness in the newsroom, had become like a second skin. It protected me, and it numbed me at the same time.

Over time, I came to a frightening realization:

I had lost one of the very few things that separates humans from animals: the ability to empathize.

I’d seen this happen to veteran journalists who were trying to cope with the crazy demands of their job. Some became chain smokers, heavy drinkers, and lifelong cynics. Others filed for divorce. It was not a road I wanted to travel.

One day, after covering yet another disaster, I just knew I had reached my limit. Years of reporting had done nothing to change the world. If anything, the world had gotten worse. All I wanted was to get out of broadcasting, and do something useful with my life. Something exhilarating. Something inspiring. Something uplifting.

When I finally left the poisonous bubble that was the newsroom, it took me a while to adjust to a new reality. A reality that wasn’t nearly as violent as I had thought it would be. Slowly but surely I discovered a world filled with kindness and good people. It was as if someone had opened the dark blinds that had been filtering the light from the windows for such a long time.

I came to realize that the news I had covered for all those years focused on the exceptions; on the grotesque and the extraordinary. The thousands of planes that land safely every day will never be on CNN. It’s the plane that crashes that ends up making headlines. And if you add all those headlines up, it’s easy to get the impression that this world is rotten to the core. But it’s a deliberate distortion of reality, contrived to kick up the ratings. 

Reality is so much better and less sensational than the networks want you to believe. For most of us it is reassuringly unspectacular and ordinary. It revolves around friends, family…. and work. Ultimately, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to blog about work, even when evil forces are trying to fill this world with fear.

The question remains: how do we respond to those who want to scare us by causing panic, pain, and suffering?

How do we deal with the fact that -to quote Harold Kushner- bad stuff happens to good people?

All of us have to come to terms with this in our own time and in our own way. Life and death are mysterious teachers.

Let me leave you with what I think.

The only way we can learn to live with darkness, is to focus on the light, and to become a reflection of that light.

Whether we realize it or not, all of us were born with the ability to shine. 

Once we start taking that to heart, perhaps we can begin making this place a better world.

In Paris. In Kabul. In Manchester. In London.

Everywhere.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Only Fools and Horses

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing 5 Comments

If…

You believe that having a good voice is your ticket to success,

You’ve never had any coaching or training,

You don’t know what equipment to buy,

You have no professional demos,

You have no idea how to price your services,

You think that low rates will attract quality clients,

You don’t know how to run a freelance business,

You have no clue how to market and sell your services,

You can’t handle constant rejection,

You have a hard time working on your own,

You adopt a wait and see approach,

You expect to make full-time income while working part-time,

You’re happy to reinvent the wheel,

You try to fake it until you make it,

You think you get paid to learn on the job,

You’re convinced that a good microphone will make up for a bad recording space,

You believe that an online casting service will launch your career,

You think an agent will give you all the work you can handle,

You’re certain that sites like Fiverr are a way to break into the business,

You take on more than you can handle,

You have no support system,

You know nothing about vocal health,

You like to complain but not contribute,

You constantly have to ask your colleagues for advice,

or

You believe you know it all…

You are not ready to call yourself

a voice-over professional.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Five Questions. Five Answers.

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Personal 3 Comments

As a blogger and somewhat visible voice-over person, there are a few questions I get asked a lot:

  1. – How did you get started in the voice-over business?
  2. – What challenges did you encounter in your career, and how did you overcome them?
  3. – What advice do you have for beginners?

Well, I could write a book about that (and I did), but some time ago, my colleague Peter Kinney O’Connell asked me the following:

1. When did you know you wanted to be a voice-over talent; how did your career begin, and when did your passion for voice-over develop into something professional?

When I was six years old, my parents gave me a Philips cassette recorder. It didn’t take long before I discovered how to capture the sound of my own voice. That’s when it all began. In 1969.

I can still see myself sitting on the front porch with a copy of “King Arthur and the Black Knight.” It would become my very first audio book. Actually, it was more of a radio drama. Around me were all sorts of self-made instruments I used for sound effects. Every character had a different voice. Every voice had a different character.

The tape I made that day was used over and over again, and eventually it broke. What didn’t break was my love for painting pictures with sound.

Eleven years later I auditioned for my first job in Hilversum, the heart of Dutch broadcasting. A public network was recruiting a group of promising teens to start producing radio and television programs. Veterans would coach them in all aspects of the business. I just knew I had to be part of that program.

In the years that followed, that program became part of me. I produced and presented documentaries, talk shows, music specials, and radio plays. The microphone became my best friend. It was the beginning of a career in broadcasting that would take me to a number of national Dutch networks, the BBC, and Radio Netherlands International.

In 1999 I made a bold decision: I would leave Holland and start a new life in the New World. In a matter of months I was represented by Mike Lemon Casting in Philadelphia. My European accent seemed to be a welcome addition to their talent pool. It took me a number of years to build a client base that would sustain a full-time voice-over career, but eventually I became the Chief Artistic Officer of a company I named Nethervoice.

2. What is the one thing you know now that you wish someone had told you when you started out in voice-over?

If someone had warned me that this job could easily turn into an obsession, I still would have applied for it. It’s true though, but it might also have to do with my personality. When I’m passionate about something, I want to immerse myself in every aspect of it, and learn to do it well.

I realized early on that it takes more than a good voice to make a good living in this field. Success needs to be carefully planned. It’s like a flower bed that has to be protected, watered, and fertilized regularly (more about that in Jonathan Tilley’s “Voice Over Garden“).

Because I have a home studio, I’m always at work. It seems ideal, but for someone with an obsession it can be dangerous. It’s tempting to become a boring recording recluse who lives and breathes voice-overs. And you know me… When I don’t read and record, I write about it in my blog.

Life Coaches always advocate finding a balance between work and play. But what if your work is your play? At some point in the day, the headphones have to come off, and we must leave our soundproof studio. Without sunlight, there’s no growth. Our job is just a means to and end.

3. What do you see as the biggest professional or personal obstacle you face that impacts your voice-over business and how are you working to overcome it?

I wasn’t born to toot my own horn. The Calvinistic Dutch preach modesty and frown upon anything that may be perceived as vanity. Why? Because human talents are seen as a gift from God, so we shouldn’t take too much credit for our accomplishments. Many centuries have passed since the spirit of Calvin touched the Netherlands, yet, some of his principles are still present in our DNA, the Dutch National Attitude.

Looking back, I really believe that this mindset kept me from promoting myself properly. But there was something else. Coming from the relatively safe world of broadcasting, I never needed to market myself. I was hired by a network to do a number of jobs, and I left it to the PR people to sing my praises.

After I’d said goodbye to Holland, I had to learn that it was okay to be proud of what I had achieved, and use those achievements to attract business. To this day, I try to do this in a veiled way, by offering advice and entertainment in my blog. That’s where clients and colleagues get to know me as someone with a certain level of experience and pizzazz. Well, that’s the idea…

4. What personal trait or professional tool has helped you succeed the most in your career so far?

One thing that has helped me tremendously is a toolbox called Neuro-Linguistic Psychology. It’s a mix of positive attitudes, beliefs, and strategies to help people design and live the life they’ve always dreamt of.

At the basis of NLP is the process of modeling. I’m not talking about the catwalk in Milan, but about the study of exceptional people: business tycoons, sports icons, therapists, artists, et cetera.

The idea is that these people -in order to achieve something extraordinary- have set themselves up for success. They have carefully (and often unconsciously) conditioned themselves to accomplish amazing things. The question is: How did they do that?

NLP tries to break it down into bits and pieces: the ingredients of a recipe. Once the recipe is uncovered, it can be taught to almost anyone. The finest and fastest way to mastering something is to start teaching it. That’s why I eventually became an internationally certified trainer of NLP, and that’s the reason I started coaching voice talent.

5. In your development as a voice-over performer, what has been the one piece of performance advice that you felt has had the most impact on your actual voice over performance and why?

Here’s my answer:

Find something that defines you, but that does not limit you.

In other words: you want to box yourself in to emphasize what sets you apart, but you want that box to be big enough to attract a wide audience. If you try to be everything to everyone, you end up being nothing to no one.

In my case, I describe myself as a European Voice. Not British. Not American. Not even Dutch, even though that’s my native language. I tell my clients that I specialize in intelligent international narration. For that reason I get to do multilingual projects and jobs that require someone with a more global, neutral English accent. 

WANT MORE ME?

A while ago, my old Radio Netherlands colleague Constantino De Miguel interviewed me about the voice-over business on Voice Over Plaza. If you want to take notes, get pen and paper ready!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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