Nethervoice SOVAS

Party Pooper Unleashes Sh*tstorm

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Journalism & Media 21 Comments

Please Dump Manure HereIt’s a fact.

My second blog post about the Voice Arts™ Awards (VAA) broke all records, and I’m still figuring out why (click here for part 1)

People certainly like controversy, but here’s the thing. I didn’t think my story was that contentious.

I did not reveal any secrets. Every bit of information I shared with you is in the public domain. I never spoke out against these awards, or against the people involved. All I did was share some observations that made a few folks uncomfortable.

If you’ve been following this blog for a few years, and you’ve read my book, you know I like to stir the pot every once in a while. Some people believe that makes me courageous. Others think I’m biting hands that could potentially feed me.

I don’t see it that way. I just presented some facts, and I questioned a few things I thought were worth mentioning. Apparently, that’s remarkable. Why would my opinion even matter? Well, some believe I have a knack for saying things other people are thinking. Perhaps that’s why my blog has close to thirty thousand subscribers.

In a way, a blog post is very much like these Voice Arts™ Awards. It will only be picked up and discussed if enough people feel it is relevant. And that’s exactly what happened with this article. Some people applauded me. Others questioned my concerns and my motives.

Today I’d like to address some of the things that came up as our community was discussing these awards.

Why criticize this initiative? These Voice Arts™ Awards are good for an industry that deserves to be recognized.

This question gets straight to the heart of the controversy. The need for public recognition. This is a deep human desire. You know the narrative. Voice-overs are unseen, anonymous entities in the entertainment industry and beyond. It’s about time we step into the limelight, and receive “international acknowledgement of the extraordinary skill and artistry that goes into voiceover acting and the associated roles.”

It may surprise you, but not everybody feels that way. Countless colleagues have told me they are quite happy doing what they’re doing without ever stepping onto a podium to receive a shiny object. Some don’t like the whole idea of competitions that divide colleagues into winners and losers. Their ideal world is a world where people cooperate, instead of compete; a world in which doing your very best is more important than being the best.

These people feel that their marketing money is better spent on updating a website or writing a newsletter, than on a few minutes of fame. To use one of my catch phrases: They’re in it for the music. Not for the applause.

To me, the bigger question is this. Increased recognition can never be an aim in and of itself. What purpose should it ultimately serve? How exactly is it going to transform our industry for the better?

If you’d like to strengthen professional standards, why not join the World Voices Organization? If you’d like to make more money, you should sign up for a sales training. If you’d like to increase your skills, a scholarship would be more welcome than a statuette you have to pay for yourself.

But Paul, this is a new initiative. Don’t you support innovation and creativity in our industry?

Of course I do, but let’s be honest. How new and innovative is the idea of an awards show? Every obscure and not so obscure organization or trade group has one. Every weekend, people are taking part in competitions across the country. If you really want to be creative, don’t be a copycat.

Several commentators also used the newness of the Voice Arts™ Awards to explain why so few voice-overs had entered the competition, and why some of the kinks still needed to be worked out. “Give it a few years,” people told me. “These awards are like a baby in diapers. Allow it to grow up and evolve.”

I’m willing to do that, but let’s remember one thing. Steve Ulrich is the executive director of the VAA. Ulrich is also the executive director of the Sports Emmy Awards. He oversees the entire process, from rules making, to entry collection, to judging and the announcement of nominees. He has produced the Daytime Entertainment Creative Arts Emmy Award Ceremony and the News and Documentary Emmy Award Ceremony since 2010. He also produces the Engineering and Technology Emmy Award Ceremony since 2012.

In other words: Ulrich knows what he is doing. He’s had time to create a format and a process that can stand up to scrutiny. Compared to the Emmy Awards, the VAA must seem like a small, intimate gathering.

You suggested that some of the judges had a conflict of interest. I know for a fact they didn’t.

Conflict of interest issues are very important to the integrity of any competition. Here’s a definition that is often used:

“A conflict of interest is a set of circumstances that creates a risk that professional judgement or actions regarding a primary interest will be unduly influenced by a secondary interest.”

Let’s say I’m a flute teacher, and I’m asked to judge a competition three of my students are taking part in. My primary interest is to judge in a fair and just way. My secondary interest may be to have one of my students win. After all, that’s good for my reputation as a teacher. It will also increase my standing with my colleagues.

Those two interests can never be reconciled. 

We can all agree on one thing. The voice-over world is relatively small. It doesn’t take long to get to know the main players. Year after year, the same faces rub shoulders at different conferences. That, by the way, is not unique to our industry.

For any competition to have any validity and value, it is imperative that the judging process is transparent, fair and impartial. Any hint of a conflict of interest should be avoided. Even board members of the organizing body should not have personal and professional ties with the contestants. Furthermore, judges should not be allowed to fraternize with contestants and nominees. That’s not something I made up. It is standard practice at many competitions.

As I told you earlier, a number of nominees and winners of the VAA had ties with jurors and board members of the Society Of Voice Arts And Sciences™. Not in a “I have seen you on Facebook”-kind of way. Some contestants had been coached by members of the jury and the board. What do the SOVAS™ regulations say about the jurors?

“The criteria for judging the Voice Arts™ Awards is based first and foremost on enlisting jurors who have exceptional expertise in the categories they are assigned to judge. SOVAS™ observes that many experts are quite capable of judging across multiple categories and that will be permitted. (…)

If a judge feels that he or she has a conflict of interest (personal relationship, sponsor relationship, etc.), that can be indicated on the electronic ballot.”

Notice that it doesn’t say that jurors with personal ties to a contestant cannot vote for that person. If there is a protocol on how to handle a potential conflict of interest, it is not published, and that alone is cause for concern. If you’re interested in this topic, look at the Standards and Guidelines of the College Art Association in New York.

As recently as September, violinist Miriam Fried had been asked not vote in the finals of the 2014 International Violin Competition of Indianapolis because of the six finalists, three of them were current or former students of hers. 

Sometimes that does not solve the problem. At other competitions, judges that could not vote for their students, simply gave lower marks to the other contestants. I am not suggesting that any of the VAA judges would ever do that, but it has happened at major competitions. You can read Julian Lloyd-Webbers claims in the Guardian newspaper if you click on this link

Before you shoot the messenger, please realize that running a fair and transparent competition is the sole responsibility of the organization. May I also note that the organizers of the Voice Arts™ Awards have yet to respond to any comments that may be perceived as less than positive. 

You’ve made a big deal about all the money the contestants had to pay to participate. This is an expensive undertaking, and the money has to come from somewhere. Winners at other awards shows have to pay for their trophies.

Let me be blunt.

The VAA do not give a prize to the best performance in a specific category. They only nominate and award those who paid to be evaluated.

Of course that is the case in any competition. “Best In Show” means “Best In Show.” Not “Best In The Entire World.”

More importantly, I believe that money should not be an arbiter of talent, or a barrier of entry. You may not agree with me on this one, but that’s how I feel, and I’ll tell you why.

It is not a secret that only a select group of voice actors make a six-figure income. Many in that group got into voice acting to supplement their on-camera work. A majority of my colleagues go from gig to gig, and often struggle to turn a profit.

Many of these people are just as gifted as their more financially secure colleagues, and they are just as deserving of a prize. In fact, they are the ones who would really benefit from the increased exposure winning an award could give them. However, they’ll never take part, because it’s too risky and too expensive.

As I mentioned in my previous article, between 210 and 280 categories could have been awarded at the gala. Only 33 awards were actually given out. My sources tell me that this was in part due to a disappointing lack of entries. Why is this important? 

Any competition is as strong as its field of competitors. The better the contestants, the more prestigious the prize. This is true in the world of sports, music, and in voice-overs. It really means something if out of a group of hundreds of strong runners, you win the marathon. If you have to beat three mediocre runners to get onto the podium, that doesn’t really say much, does it?

Mind you, I’m just pointing out the principle. I am not saying or implying anything about anyone in particular. The points I’m making have to do with the competition itself, and are no critique of or reflection on individual participants. 

If the VAA wants to attract and represent a large cross-section of the voice-over community, they need to lower the entry fees and skip the statue. Offer cash prizes and/or coaching/promotion packages to the winners instead. Give those who entered extensive feedback, allowing them to learn from the experience.

If you go to the SOVAS™ website, you’ll see a banner with an impressive list of participating companies. I’m pretty sure they have some extra money floating around to foot the bill. That way, talent does not have to receive a cigar from their own box.

You’re just an unsupportive jealous naysayer with some big chips on your shoulder. Joan and Rudy put together something no one had the foresight, guts, or fortitude to create. Much of the criticism is undeserved and much of it is very petty.

A few things really saddened me in the discussion about the awards. Some proponents seemed to have this “If you’re not with us, then you’re against us” attitude:

“If you don’t like these awards, you’re not supporting new initiatives.”
“If you make some critical remarks, you must not like Joan and Rudy.”
“If you question the value of this event, you’re stabbing your award-winning colleagues in the back.”

Having something to say about parts of the process was seen as burning the whole thing to the ground. That’s unfair and unjustified. No matter how well you run a show, it is impossible to please everyone, and there’s always room for improvement. Well-founded feedback can help the organization turn these awards into something really amazing.

The fact that so many people felt inclined to respond to my story, must mean that they care about this business we’re in, and that they care about the community they’re part of. It is a very diverse community, and we don’t have to agree on every single topic. It would be very boring if we did.

The worst thing we could do, is to make this professional issue personal.

Some people have made all kinds of assumptions about my mindset and my intentions while writing about these awards.

I have no personal scores to settle. I seek no compensation for personal frustration, nor do I feel the need to enter any competitions. As you’ve seen, I manage to attract quite a bit of attention without winning a prize.

The only reason I’ve published a new blog post every week for the past four years, is not because I want people to agree with me, or to even like me. It is because I believe I have something to say that could be of interest and value to fellow-freelancers and voice-overs.

I do believe in setting high standards for myself and for my professional community. If that happens to rub some people the wrong way, so be it.

A wise man once told me that the world we see is only a mirror of who we are.

This, of course, applies as much to you, as it does to me.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Click here to read a round up of all the comments, including the response of Rudy Gaskins, one of the board members of the Voice Arts™ Awards. 

PPS Be Sweet. Please retweet

photo credit: mnassal via photopin cc