Nethervoice blog

Entitled Wannabees Need Not Reply

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Book, Career, Freelancing, Personal 38 Comments

man with microphoneOkay, this is for the last freakin’ time, so pay attention.

No. I will not introduce you to my agents.

I refuse to evaluate your kitchen table demo, and critique your dime-a-dozen website.

You don’t get access to my network of contacts which took me years to build.

You cannot pick my brain over a cup of coffee. Who do you think you are? A zombie?

In fact, I don’t even know you, and it is clear that you don’t know me.

Why didn’t you do your homework before you assumed that I would gladly share my thirty-plus years of experience with you? Is that how you intend to operate your business? Taking advantage of people left and right?

In case you’re wondering: I will never send you any work. My voice is for rent. I do not hire anyone, and I won’t put in a good word for you either.

Let me ask you this.

Would you recommend someone you know nothing about; a rude, obnoxious person who thinks it just takes a few free tips to be able to do what I do?

It shows such ignorance and disrespect. I don’t even know where to begin. But here is where it ends. I have better things to do with my time.

There’s a reason why I am busy. I have scripts to narrate. Edits to make. Invoices to send. I need to feed the social media monster, and prepare a presentation.

I also have students to coach who actually pay me for my time and expertise. Imagine that!

Whatever happened to helping a beginner out, you ask. Why am I being so defensive and greedy?

I’ll tell you why.

I’m not defensive. I am protective. I’m protective of the brand that took me years to build, and the knowledge I have accumulated along the way. I value what I have to offer, and so do my clients. Does that make me a selfish money grabber?

Here’s some news for you: I run a for-profit business.

There’s a mortgage to pay, a house to heat, and I drive a thirsty car that loves a full tank. I just ordered new business cards, my computer is on its last legs, and I must make sure there’s enough money in the bank to survive the inevitable dry spells.

I ask you: Who’s going to take care of that? The cheapskates at VoiceBunny, Fiverr, and Upwork, or the scoundrels at Voices dot con?

No way José. They don’t care whether I turn a profit or not. They just care about their bottom line.

You seem puzzled. Why?

Because you’re clueless! You don’t know what it takes, and you don’t have what it takes to run your own business. You may not like your current nine-to-five job, but let’s face it. If your supervisor wouldn’t tell you what to do and when to do it, would you get anything done? And I don’t mean the fun stuff. We all like doing the fun stuff.

Would you, of your own free will, get out of bed and work a twelve-hour day? Would you like to be solely responsible for all advertising, marketing, sales, client acquisition, distribution, accounting, quality control, and customer service, while you create all the products for your company?

You may say that’s unrealistic, but guess what? This is what many freelancers do. Every day. Without any job security, paid sick leave, company-sponsored health insurance, pension plan, or other benefits.

Do you still think that doing voice-overs is about raking in the big bucks by talking into a microphone? Yeah, right. And every idiot with a camera can pretend to be professional photographer. I should buy you a baton, and you could start conducting a symphony orchestra (after you’ve picked someone’s brain over coffee, of course).

Take it from me: if doing voice-overs were that easy, everyone would be famous making a fortune from home because they have such a glorious voice…

Let’s experiment, shall we?

Try reading and recording this blog as if the words just entered your mind. Make it conversational without slurring the lines, without popping your p’s, or taking loud breaths. Give it some energy and character but don’t sound disingenuous. Say it as if you mean it, without overdoing it. In other words: don’t sound like someone pretending to be a voice actor.

Do you even have the space and the equipment to do that?

Can you put down a take without making one mistake? Can you do this faster, slower, higher, lower, warmer, cooler, seductive, instructive, informal, judgmental, frustrated, deflated, sedated, or elated?

I thought so. You’re not even close. And yet, you want me to help you break into a highly competitive business in exchange for a cup of Joe? I feel offended!

Listen, if you want to read up about voice-overs, I’ve written over three hundred articles you can access for free on my website. Buy my book. Do your homework. Take some training. Join an improv group. Build a studio. Read out loud every single day.

Show me that you’re serious.

Once you’ve done all that and you still want to pursue a career in voice-overs, drop me a line.

I might even buy you a double espresso.

You’re gonna need it!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Act Like A Pro

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Money Matters, Social Media Leave a comment

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The Magnet, the Colander, and the Clay

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Promotion 15 Comments

making potteryAs a blogger, coach, and voice talent, I think a lot about why certain people make it in this business and why others don’t.

Those who are doing well don’t always know why they belong to the happy few. “You’ve got to have a lot of luck,” they say, and “be at the right moment at the right time.”

It’s a nice observation, but as a teacher that doesn’t help me much. Just as I can’t predict who’s going to win the Powerball, I cannot influence luck. And if I knew how to be at the right moment at the right time, I probably would be doing something else with my life right now. 

What I can help people with as a coach, is preparedness. If you’re lucky to be at the right place at the right time and you’re not prepared, you’re not going to get very far. But preparedness alone is no guarantee that you’ll have a successful career as a creative freelancer. 

Let’s say you’re talented, you’re well-trained, and you have the right equipment that gets the job done. Is that enough to start and grow a for-profit business? I think we all know well-educated people with great skills and a nice set-up who can barely make ends meet. So, there must be other factors at play that determine the difference between success and failure.

Looking at colleagues who are at the top of their game, I have identified three characteristics all of them have in common. Number one I call:

THE MAGNET

The difference between dreamers and achievers is that achievers attract jobs. This is anything but a passive process. People don’t become magnets overnight and without planning. You’ve got to have an extensive network in place that generates a continuous flow of leads from multiple sources. If you’re just starting out, this is where you have to spend most of your time, energy, and money.

How do you become a magnet? Think about what you can do to draw people to you. You’ve got to offer something special at a price that tells people you take your work seriously. You have to make sure your presentation is in line with your (desired) reputation. Then you need to connect with clients and colleagues to let them know that you exist.

Obviously, this is not something you can do in a few weeks or months. Every self-employed person can tell you that this will be your life from now on, until you decide to close up shop. This type of magnet is like a rechargeable battery. If you don’t charge it regularly, it will quickly lose its power.

Now, let’s assume your magnetic powers have the desired effect and job offers are rolling in. Should you jump on every opportunity? Here’s where the second factor comes in. I call this:

THE COLANDER

Beginners often make the same mistake. They go after every single job offer, if only “to gain experience.” I remember when I first became a member of an online casting site. As soon as I had posted my profile and the membership fee was paid, the auditions started coming in. In my naïve enthusiasm I applied for every job, thinking that the more I auditioned, the greater the chance I would be hired. I was wrong.

Being a successful freelancer is not a numbers game. It is about going after the opportunities that are right for you. In order to do that, you have to filter out the misfits. That’s where the colander comes in.

Runners know their strengths. Some of them run marathons. Others sprint. In my line of work, some voice actors are great at narrating audiobooks. Others excel in voicing short commercials. Only a handful of people in every profession are true all-rounders. Chances are that you’re not one of them. That’s why you have to do yourself a favor: know your strengths, and become picky. Very picky.

There’s one last factor that separates the wheat from the chaff. I call it:

THE CLAY

No matter how good you are at attracting and selecting jobs, once you have landed a new project, you have one objective and one objective only: to make your client happy. That’s by no means an earth-shattering revelation, so why even mention it? Here’s why. So many people believe that if you do the very best you can, the client will be pleased with the result. That’s not necessarily true.

Your very best might not be good enough, and/or the client may have different expectations. That’s why it is so important to find out what those expectations are before you get to work. I often tell my clients: “Any text can be read in a million ways. The more specific you are about what you’d like to hear, the easier it is for me to give you the read you need.” And that’s where the clay comes in.

Clay is just potential. It can be molded into any shape, depending on the talent and skills of the potter. No matter what kind of freelance work you do, whether you’re a scriptwriter, an industrial designer or a voice-over, you’ve got to know your material and be a master molder. The better you are at understanding your client and at working the clay, the more successful you will be.

Mind you, this isn’t something you can pick up from reading a book, or by listening to a podcast. It will take talent, training, and time. It may take a few years before you break in and break even. But when you do, this is what you will discover:

Doing exceptional work almost always leads to more work, which brings us back to the concept of the magnet.

One last thing.

If your career isn’t where you want it to be at the moment, ask yourself:

“Where are my greatest challenges?

What needs more work?

Is it the magnet, the colander, or is it the way I handle the clay?”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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photo credit: Shaping the Heart via photopin (license)

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Bored Stiff

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Personal 10 Comments

The author behind his microphone

I’ve been behind the mic since I was seventeen. By the look of my grey hair, you can tell that’s a pretty long time. Thirty-seven years to be exact. 

“Does it ever get old” someone wanted to know. “This voice-over thing you do.”

“Well, ‘it’ doesn’t get old, but I certainly do,” I replied, not knowing that I had spoken too early.

An hour later I got this really boring script about ladders, and I changed my mind. It was poorly written, poorly translated, and I had no idea why they had selected poor old me to narrate it. Yes, it was money in the bank, but in reality I would rather go back to bed. 

Let me explain something to you. 

I have no particular fondness for ladders. Walking under them brings bad luck, and many of them wobble in a most disconcerting way. Ladders are ugly and dangerous. Just because they take you to the top, doesn’t mean they’re special. They’re just a few steps up from step stools. One of the reasons I became a freelancer is because I wasn’t good at climbing the corporate ladder. So, why out of all people, should I have to sing their praises? 

It’s for the same reason they talked me into voicing videos about agricultural insurance, miracle car wax, and motorcycle repair. It’s part of the unavoidable, unglamorous, unexciting work voice-overs do every day in dimly lit chatter boxes. 

I must admit: that part of the job does get old and boring. Especially if one has to edit, separate, and name hundreds of files per specific client instructions that make it impossible to do this semi-automatically. Of course the client conveniently “forgot” to mention it at the time of the booking.

Come to think of it: that gets old too. You know, clients trying to take advantage. The other day one of them sent me a message saying that I had “forgotten” to read one paragraph. Of course they would need it right away. The thing is, that mystery paragraph was never in the original script. It was a last-minute addition. 

Now, I know that some colleagues would forgive the client for this “mistake,” and record the five or six extra lines pro bono. In my book, however, more words means more money. It’s not that I am greedy. I just happen to run a for-profit business. With the Arctic temperatures we’re experiencing, someone’s got to pay the heating bill!

If you were to ask a contractor to paint your kitchen as a courtesy, right after she’s finished with the living room, do you think she’d do it? Would an Uber driver take you to the town next to your agreed destination, and not charge you for it? Of course not. Then why do some people expect they can get a voice-over to record a few extra lines at no charge? 

“Well, the other guy we hired did it.” 

“Then why didn’t you ask him to do it?”

“Because he sucked.”

It’s the same old story, and it makes me yawn every time I hear it. 

If you’re getting your feet wet as a VO, trust me. There are parts of this job that are “just work.” Work you may hate. For instance, you’ve signed up to narrate a 400-page audio book, and with every chapter you get this nagging feeling that it’s not getting better. In fact, it’s going nowhere. You start wondering how this piece of pulp ever got published. Then you find out this is a vanity project by someone who should have kept his job at the department of motor vehicles. 

Argh!

One of the most boring jobs you can get in this business involves speech synthesis. It’s the artificial production of human sounds by computers. The text-to-speech software “runs” on thousands of snippets of sounds (phonemes) recorded by voice-overs. Recording sessions can go on for months and are notoriously tedious (just ask Susan Bennett, the voice of Siri).

Once the engineers have what they need, they can use the program to simulate speech for apps, navigation systems, or virtual assistants such as Bixby and Alexa. Amazon now has a database of synthesized voices that is rented out to developers in need of voices for their applications. 

Here’s the kicker. As a voice-over you only get paid once for the database you helped create. That’s it. A colleague of mine heard his voice in at least twenty applications varying from computer games to language courses that were created artificially, and he’ll never see a penny. 

Since he recorded his phonemes, technology has moved even further. 

Did you know that Adobe’s Voco (the Photoshop of speech) only needs about twenty minutes of recorded target speech to generate a sound-alike voice, producing sound patterns that were not even recorded?

Watch this (and try not to be bored):

Perhaps they should have Voco read that terrible self-published novel I mentioned earlier!

Anyway, thanks to modern technology, the most boring parts of voice-over jobs might be behind us. If we can get machines to say anything we want them to say, why use humans? Computers can work without a break, and don’t require a SAG-AFTRA contract. 

In a strange way, that’s music to my ears. 

I might lose a few dollars, but very soon people like me won’t have to talk about ladders anymore.

How exciting is that?!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS If you’d like to hear an audio version of this story, be my guest:


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Did You Miss Me?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, International, Internet, Journalism & Media, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play, Promotion, Social Media 10 Comments

Paul Strikwerda self-portraitWise men say that one way to spot the difference between cultures, is by looking at how separate societies approach the concept of work.

As someone who has lived and worked in both Europe and in the United States, I feel comfortable making the following generalization:

In Europe, most people work to live.

In the Unites States, most people live to work.

By “most” I mean more than half.

Here’s the thing: I’ve never had more time off than during the thirty-six years I lived in the Netherlands. I was able to travel the world at a relaxed pace, and recharge my batteries. I had enough time to pursue one or two hobbies, and have a rich and balanced social life.

Once I became a U.S citizen, I learned that most people in America see even a short vacation as a luxury and not as a necessity. The odd American planning a trip outside of the country has one thing on his mind: how can I see and do as many things in as little time as possible? Kids are overscheduled by stressed parents working two jobs, and one of those jobs is to pay for daycare. 

I fully realize that I’m brushing with broad strokes, but what’s the end result of these two attitudes?

Countries where people work less like Ireland, Norway and Belgium, are more productive than the United States. In the most productive country on earth, Luxembourg, people work an average of 29 hours a week. On average, Americans put in 33.6 hours a week, only to rank fifth in the OECD list of most productive countries.

These findings support one of the conclusions of a story I wrote this year entitled “Are You Wasting Your Time Going Nowhere Fast?(click on the title to access the article)It’s a blog post about the difference between being busy and being productive. In it, I offer suggestions to increase your productivity as well as your bottom line, that will actually cost less time!

THE RAT RACE

No matter where you live, running the rat race can be pretty stressful. Some of my voice-over students get stressed out when they have to go into a studio to record. In “Don’t Drive Yourself Crazy,” I describe how you can keep that stress under control.

One of my most popular blog posts this year was “The One Thing That Will Improve Your Voice Acting Immediately.” What do you think it could be? Warm-ups? Tongue twisters? Sufficient hydration? No. No, and No! The other blog post that got a lot of attention was “The Vital Voice-Over Skill We Never Talk About.” It’s something that isn’t taught in voice-over school, and yet it could make or break your career.

Now, I have a question for you. If I were an investor on a show like Shark Tank or Dragons’ Den, and you came to me with a pitch to back your business, what would I be looking for? Enthusiasm? A unique product? The answer may surprise you. Read about it in “Would you Survive The Shark Tank?” 

MISTAKES AND FAILURES

Eighty percent of new businesses survive past their first year. However, half of all businesses no longer exist after five years. That’s a scary statistic, isn’t it? In “The Secret To Not Getting Hired,” I’ve summed up all the reasons why clients aren’t interested in working with you. Oddly enough, I also invite you to embrace failure as a way to grow personally and professionally. You can read about that in “Why I Want You To Fail.”

In “Being Wrong About Being Right,” I describe one of the biggest mistakes I made in 2017, and what I learned from it.

When you’re just starting out as a voice-over, it is so easy to make simple errors. Many of my VO-students tell me: “If only I had known…” I tell them: “If only you had read my blog!” The story about “The Seven Worst Mistakes Beginner Voice-Overs Make,” is a good start.

If there’s one thing I have learned in this unpredictable business, it is that success is by no means guaranteed. You can work your tail off and record audition after audition, only to face rejection, time after time. It’s frustrating, and that’s why I say: “VO’s Unfair, so, Grow a Pair!”

ATTITUDE ADJUSTMENT

Sometimes, people are their own worst enemies because they’re unconsciously sabotaging their success. In that case they might need a major attitude adjustment, such as the one I describe in What Are You Waiting For?and Be bold. Be brave. Be you.

Sometimes, you are not the problem, though. You’re just dealing with a terrible customer. Mine was named Elvis, and he was “My Worst Client Ever.”

Attracting clients has always been a major theme of this blog. In “The Key To Promoting Your Business,” I reveal what’s fundamentally wrong with the way many voice-overs (and other freelancers) market themselves, and what they can do about it.

Social media should play an important role in any marketing strategy, but you have to know how to play the game to get tangible results.

Facebook can be particularly tricky, and so many colleagues are still violating the terms of service. Because of it, they could be kicked off the platform. If that’s something you wish to avoid, please read “Facebook: Why You May Be Doing It All Wrong.” One thing you need to be particularly careful with, is posting pictures online. If you don’t do it right, “The Copyright Trolls Are Coming After You.”

2017 marked the year I finally took Nethervoice to Instagram. In “Help, I’m on Instagram. Now what?I talk about this experiment, and why I believe you should also give this platform a try. Let me also name a few things you should avoid in the new year.

STAY AWAY

Number one my list is spending too much money! It’s so easy to write check after check hoping it will benefit your business. Quite often, it’s better to save and make wise investments. In Becoming A Frugal Freelancer I’ll tell you how. This story alone could save you hundreds of dollars, pounds, or euro each year. 

Number two of things to avoid is working for low rates. In “Who’s Afraid of Decent Rates,” I urge you to stop blaming one specific group for the ongoing erosion of voice-over rates. You’ll be surprised to learn which group that is.

Number three has to do with the big rotten apple of the voice-over industry, known as Voices dot com (VDC). In their continuous effort to try to dominate the VO-market, VDC bought Voicebank with borrowed money, and it is rapidly turning well-paid union jobs into cheap managed projects. Read all about it in “A Deal With The Devil.” My question to you is:

“Are you part of the problem, or part of the solution?” 

As long as you keep investing in a company that does not have your best interest at heart, you keep that company in business. That’s why I’m telling you: “It’s Time To Choose.” Are you in or are you out?

NAMECALLING

The 2017 story that caused quite a stir on social media was “Divided We Stand.” Actually, it was an afterthought about a certain VO Awards show that prompted one commentator to label me a “racist.” Some of my critics thought this person went too far and said so in public. Others kept their mouth tightly shut. To me, that was more hurtful than the ridiculous slander itself. Einstein once said:

“If I were to remain silent, I’d be guilty of complicity.”

In the follow-up article “Paying the Piper,” I take on my critics, and I present ideas to make future award shows better and more relevant. 

SQUARE ONE

The last two stories I want to highlight bring us back to the beginning. It’s about our approach to work. A week or so ago, my colleague Paul Stefano posted on Facebook:

“Anybody else finding it hard to just stop during the holidays? Still frantically checking email for auditions, looking at casting sites and generally running at 90 mph. It’s as if all the energy it takes to do this business on a daily basis makes it really hard to hit the brakes!”

I responded:

“Auditions will keep coming in. Always. But precious moments with friends and family will never come back. If we don’t give ourselves the opportunity to enjoy these wonderful times, what are we really working for?”

Working harder and longer doesn’t mean we’ll be more productive. In fact, this blog was born when I dared to step away from my work for a while. I describe what happened in “Feeding Your Soul.” Little did I know that this blog would eventually attract an audience of 39K subscribers and counting!

READING LIST

If you do feel that your voice has earned a rest, and you wish to catch up on some reading, I warmly invite you to look at The Concise (and incomplete) Voice-Over Book List,” I compiled this year. As an author I will be adding another book to that list in 2018. What are your big plans for the new year?

For now I want to thank you for all your emails, questions, and comments. I hope to meet you in person at VO Atlanta in March where I’ll be doing a presentation, a panel discussion, and a break-out session.

May the new year bring you all the fulfillment and success you so deserve!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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My Most Personal Post

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Personal 54 Comments

As a blogger, I often write about various aspects that play an important role in the way we lead our life, and the way we run our business. Think of things like our health, our state of mind, and the stuff we use to make a living.

Today’s topic is something I approach with trepidation. For one, it’s very delicate and personal. Secondly, some commentators believe it has no place in a discussion about work.

I respectfully disagree.

Hanukkah is being celebrated right now. Christmas is less than two weeks away. So, let’s talk about spirituality! 

EVERYDAY ETHICS

For me, spirituality has a clear role in how I conduct myself, and how I conduct business. It permeates everything I do, and it often guides me as to what not to do. It’s a moral compass.

Notice that I do not use the word faith in this context. I avoid it religiously. To me, spirituality is less divisive of a term. It’s more elusive and inclusive.

Whereas faith and religion are often associated with dogmatic, hierarchical institutions, spirituality is first and foremost a subjective individual experience. I cannot and will not define it for you. What I can do, is tell you what it means to me.

When I use the word spirituality, I am referring to a connection to something greater than myself. This can be a physical as well as a metaphysical connection. Spirituality tells me that there’s more to life than the naked eye can observe, and more than science can explain. 

Spirituality helps me answer some very basic but essential (business-related) questions:

  • Why do I do what I do?
  • Why is that important?
  • What am I (ultimately) trying to accomplish?
  • For what (higher) purpose?
  • What will it allow me to do?
  • How does that affect those around me, and the planet? 


Spirituality is linked to motivation and mission. It can provide us with a motive -a reason- that explains and drives why we do what we do. But it’s not as simple and superficial as that. Ultimately, it’s about living a life of meaning and purpose. It’s uniquely personal and universal at the same time. 

INTERCONNECTION

To me, leading a spiritual life acknowledges the fact that we don’t live on an island. Whether we realize it or not, we’re all part of a larger whole. We’re all connected. Our individual choices and actions have the potential to influence other individuals. Right now, and in the future. It’s impossible to know to what extent one simple decision will change the course of many lives, but action-reaction is a dominant force of transformation. 

Not everyone sees it that way, or acts that way. Too often, nations, corporations, and individuals act as if there’s no tomorrow, and their behavior has no consequences. We fight one another over faith, scarce resources, and land. We poison the planet to make shareholders happy, and we focus on ourselves because we believe we are at the center of our universe. To many, the here and now is all that matters.

We ignore the bigger picture because we refuse to look further than our own backyard. We choose to focus on what divides us, instead of on our common interests. And in doing so, we lose a vital sense of (global) community and interconnectedness. We may even lose part of our humanity.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

CONSEQUENCES

Being mindful of the consequences of our thoughts and actions, makes for a consequential life.

The Iroquois called it Seven Generation thinking. That’s the idea that decisions should be considered for their impact on the seventh generation to come. This focus on sustainability is philosophical and practical at the same time. It is based on a profound respect for this magnificent speck of stardust in the midst of an infinite universe we get to borrow during our lifetime.

That’s my kind of spirituality!

You may have noticed that I am trying to stay as down to earth as possible when it comes to spirituality. Rather than praying for some magical, mystical experience, I choose to also interpret spirituality as doing things in a certain spirit. That’s where the word inspire comes from. Spiritual people lead inspired lives, and strive to inspire others.

So, in what spirit do I choose to conduct business?

MY PERSONAL APPROACH

Well, I believe I’ve been given (and have developed) certain gifts for which I am eternally grateful. What better way to celebrate those gifts than to share them with the world? That’s one of the reasons I use my voice and my pen for a living.

Here are some other spiritual principles that guide me every day:

• I want to be of service, and use my talents to the very best of my ability.

I want to treat clients and colleagues with class, kindness, and respect.

I want to do business in an honest, open, and accountable way.

I want to charge rates that are fair, not only for my benefit, but for the benefit of my entire professional community.

I want my business to be as environmentally friendly as possible.

I am totally committed to keep on learning and growing, and –

I want to assist and inspire others to do the same.

I won’t take on projects that go against my beliefs, e.g. games that glorify gratuitous violence and turn horrifying aggression into so-called entertainment.

I want to make this place a better world.

THE ANSWER WITHIN

Freelancing is not for the faint of heart. At one point in our professional lives we’re all going to be tested. Perhaps we’ll hit a long dry spell. Perhaps we’ll receive some horrible feedback. Maybe we will start doubting ourselves, or we’ll feel professionally isolated and alone. 

Especially during those times, we have to rely on our WHY. If the answer to the question “Why do I do what I do?” isn’t convincing enough, it will be very tempting to give in and give up.

But if, on the other hand, our inner fire is burning with purpose, we’re poised to get back on track, and turn stumbling blocks into stepping stones. Challenges become learning experiences and opportunities to grow and give.

I believe it is human to crave connection and look for meaning. Otherwise, why are we even here? Why do we even bother?

And should our lives be part of some divine design, I think a life well-lived may very well be measured by the number of meaningful connections we manage to make during our time on earth.

Professionally and personally.

If that isn’t spiritual, I don’t know what is!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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The Trouble With Giving Unwanted Advice

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing 26 Comments

Thanks, but no thanks.We are a suspicious society.

Whether we realize it or not, most of us are trained to distrust people’s intentions.

Some fifteen years ago, my friend was driving me home at night. The United States was still new to me, and I had a lot of cultural adjusting to do.

At one point during our dark drive I spotted someone with car trouble by the side of the road. The hood of her Honda was up, and she seemed distressed. To my surprise, my friend drove right past her without blinking an eye.

“Are you crazy,?” I cried indignantly. “Why didn’t you stop to help the poor woman?”

“That’s a very bad idea,” my friend said. “For one, she might think that we’re coming to molest her. Two: Her friends could be waiting in the wings to mug us. Why don’t you take my phone and let the police know what’s going on. They’ll handle it.”

“Whatever happened to being a good Samaritan?” I asked.

“Forget that,” said my friend. “You can’t trust anyone anymore. This is America. People have guns, and they are not afraid to use them.”

I was flabbergasted. In the Netherlands where I came from, not helping someone in need could be interpreted as criminal negligence. In the USA it apparently was a liability. 

But America has more trust issues.

FLYER OR FIVER

A few years ago, Kyle MacDonald conducted a social experiment. He took to the streets with a stack of flyers and five-dollar bills. Much to his surprise, it was easier to hand out flyers than fivers. People didn’t seem to want his money because they believed Kyle had ulterior motives. After all, there’s no such thing as a free ride, right?

Suspicions about the true intentions of strangers are nothing new, by the way. Telling the story of the famous Trojan horse, the classic author Virgil coined the phrase Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes, often translated as Beware of Greeks bearing gifts. What he meant to say was this:

Do not trust an opponent who offers to do something nice for you.

This adds another element to the mix. That of an opponent. That’s because those who assume the worst, often see people they don’t know or understand as adversaries, competitors, or as folks they should be afraid of.

I guess it takes one, to know one.

Don’t get me wrong. There are some pretty scary individuals out there, ready to scam our grandparents, abduct our kids, and steal our identities. Radicalized, brainwashed fanatics will kill themselves and many others to glorify their G-d. We need to be vigilant, but we also need to put things into perspective.

THANK GOODNESS

Just because something bad might happen, doesn’t mean it will. Most of the time it doesn’t. Random acts of kindness are performed every day, and there are still genuinely kind and trustworthy people in this world who wish to help their fellow human beings out, no strings attached.

The voice-over community I am a part of is blessed with countless supportive Samaritans who are ready to assist you, whether you’re a veteran or a newcomer. They recommend colleagues to clients, and people get hired because of it every day. Including me. 

They critique each other’s demos and websites for free, they answer questions about rates, and they put their two cents in when asked about what audio equipment to buy. Just spend some time on Facebook and LinkedIn, read a few blogs, and you’ll pick up golden nuggets at no cost whatsoever.

Yet, I found out that free advice is not always welcomed and appreciated. Sometimes, it is treated with utmost suspicion. 

NO CRITICISM ALLOWED

The moderator of a particular voice-over Facebook group (which shall remain unnamed) made it clear that no one was allowed to be “negative” about cheap sites like Fiverr.com and VoiceBunny. “Everyone has to start somewhere,” was his reasoning, and “we should not discourage talent to sell their services on those types of websites.”

I am not going to repeat myself by telling you where I stand in terms of those sites. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know exactly how I feel. Here’s the thing, though. I sometimes see it as my mission to educate clients and colleagues. After all, I’ve been around the block a few times, and I have this strange illusion that some of my insights might be helpful. Especially to those who are just starting out.

So, when a member of this particular Facebook group made some comments about Fiverr, I couldn’t keep my big mouth shut. As it turned out, I wasn’t the only one. Soon, other experienced colleagues chimed in with valuable advice which was… not appreciated at all. It didn’t take long before the name calling began.

We were accused of being old-school, pretentious know-it-alls who did not understand where the new generation of voice talent was coming from. Perhaps we felt threatened by young talent? Is that why we told people to stay away from the bargain basement?

By the way, I got the same response to last week’s blog post entitled Voice-Over Newbies: You Have Been Warned, which was read over 10,000 times. “This was undoubtedly,” as someone put it, “my sad attempt to discourage the competition.” But let’s get back to the discussion about Fiverr.

TALKING TO A WALL

No matter how hard we tried to inject some logic and common sense into the heated exchange, people kept questioning our motives. They thought we just wanted to impress, or get some coaching clients out of the debate.

Then the moderator (who took part in the back-and-forth) had had enough. With the click of a mouse he removed the entire thread. That’s when I decided to remove myself from the group.

Closed minds make the worst students. 

Yet, I cannot put all the blame on the inexperienced, skeptical members of this group. When people regard you as an uninvited guest, it’s often better to stay under the radar, and I didn’t.

In my view, people are more open to advice from those they know and trust. I did not really know the people I was talking to, and they clearly didn’t trust me. There was no rapport, and that was mistake number one.

EXPOSING IGNORANCE

Secondly, people don’t like it when their ignorance is publicly exposed. They feel humiliated, and become defensive. Perhaps I had advocated my point of view as THE truth, which is never a good thing. Many roads lead to Rome. Some are just a bit longer than others. People need to learn from their mistakes, so, who am I to deny them a significant aha moment?

The thing is: opinions can be discarded. Life experience is harder to refute. 

Instead of blasting the Facebook group with my “wisdom,” I could have asked: “May I give a suggestion?” Putting it that way tends to removes resistance. 

Third, when people make an investment (e.g. in my services as a coach), they’re usually more invested in what is offered. For instance, I can tell one person something, and they respond with “Whatever.” I can say the same thing to a student, and they tell me it’s the best suggestion ever. Go figure!

The last piece of advice I would give myself is this: 

Don’t waste your time giving eye-openers to people who are willfully blind.

Too many beginners don’t know what they don’t know, and when a horse isn’t thirsty, you can’t get it to drink.

And by the way…

Whenever I see someone stranded by the side of the road, I still feel inclined to pull over and help.

I must be a very naïve and strange person!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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photo credit: Day 5, Ape Can’t Trust Man via photopin (license)

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Voice-Over Newbies: You Have Been Warned!

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

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

No teasers. 

No anecdotes.

No mysterious introductions.

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

Here’s what you need to know.

NUMBER ONE

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

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

NUMBER TWO

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

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

NUMBER THREE

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

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

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

NUMBER FOUR

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

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

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

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

NUMBER FIVE

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

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

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

NUMBER SIX

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

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

But wait, there’s more. Much more!

NUMBER SEVEN

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

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

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

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

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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The Key To Promoting Your Business

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Journalism & Media, Promotion, Social Media 16 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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