rejection

The Devil Is In The Delivery

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career 19 Comments
Voice actor James Arnold Taylor

James Arnold Taylor

There’s no doubt about it.

The repugnant R-word is one of the most dreaded words in the business, if not in life.

We all have a deep desire to be accepted, to belong, to be loved, and to be recognized.

Many people aim to please, hoping for a warm reception, only to receive a cold shoulder.

Rejection can be a terrible thing, especially when you have no clue why you’re being rejected.

Yet, if you want to become a (voice) actor, you must accept the fact that most jobs you audition for, you will never get. No reasons given.

That’s not unkind or unfair. It just is.

“But…” say my students, “rejection would be so much easier to take, if only the client or the casting director would tell me why I didn’t make the cut. It would allow me to correct my mistakes, and grow from the experience.”

At that point I usually take a deep breath and tell them:

“That casting director or client does not owe you an explanation. He or she is not your mentor. If you need feedback, hire a coach. If you need validation, ask your fans. And if you can’t get over the fact that you weren’t selected, perhaps you should pick another profession.”

This is not a business for the thin-skinned, or for those who thrive on rational explications. Quite often, casting decisions are based on budgets, gut feelings, past experience and, -dare I say it- nepotism. This business is as subjective as it gets (just as this blog is, by the way).

Although we’ll never be able to penetrate the voice-seeker’s psyche, I do know why some of you were never hired.

Narrowing it down to voice casting, here are a few obvious reasons:

  1. You did not follow simple audition instructions. 
  2. You were unable to deliver professional quality audio.
  3. Your voice wasn’t right for the project.
  4. Your rate was too high or too low.
  5. You weren’t able to convincingly deliver the lines.

In my book Making Money In Your PJs, freelancing for voice-overs and other solopreneurs, I’ve written extensively about most reasons, and how to overcome them. Because this blog post is part of a series on delivery and performance, let’s focus on number five.

THE DEVIL IS IN THE DELIVERY

In previous articles I’ve already stressed the importance of clear, clean, convincing, and consistent delivery. Today I want to discuss whether or not your vocal performance is context and content appropriate. It’s one of the secrets to winning more auditions.

By context I mean the situation in which something happens; the setting of an event that allows you to understand what is going on.

If your delivery does not support the context of the script, it will contradict the content.

Let me give you a few examples.

If the context is e-Learning, and your delivery is too casual, you’ll lack credibility, and learners will be more likely to disregard what you’re supposed to teach them. If you’re auditioning to narrate a rich historic novel and your tone is all business, your demo will be history before you know it. 

One of my students had hoped to narrate her favorite adult mystery novel, and she spent hours on her audition. When the author told her she’d completely missed the mark, my student was peeved and puzzled, but when I listened to her audition, there was no mystery. She sounded like she was reading to a group of children. Her delivery wasn’t context and content appropriate.

And what about commercials?

Most advertisers have figured out that their target market doesn’t want to be sold. Their market wants to be told, preferably by someone the listener can relate to. That’s why many scripts require a natural, conversational read. If you, however, submit an announcer-read, there’s a mismatch between the conversational nature of the copy and your delivery. It’s a sure way to lose an audition.

These examples speak for themselves, and you may wonder why voice-overs might make these basic mistakes. I’ll tell you.

  • Some people don’t take the time to do their homework.
  • Some people don’t realize how they come across.
  • Some people don’t know how to use their voice properly.
  • Some people have no sense of their strengths and limitations.
  • Some people have an inflated sense of their strengths and limitations.
  • Some people are afraid to let loose and experiment.
  • Some people have little or no acting skills/experience.


UNFLATTERING IMITATION

This also brings me back to what we discussed last week in The Big Secret To Audio Book Success. In this article I mentioned one of the classic beginner mistakes:

  • Some people believe that in order to make it as an audio book narrator or in animation and video games, they have to be good at doing impressions.


James Arnold Taylor nailed it when he said: 

“It seems most people believe voice-over acting is simply talking into a microphone and doing funny voices. Nothing can be farther from the truth. In voice-over all you have to convey every type of emotion is your voice. Making faces or using your hands and body to express yourself is great, but nobody gets to see that in voice-over.

Acting is the most crucial skill, and there is a large divide between acting and mimicking. Just because you can imitate others doesn’t mean you can just go out and do what they do. You must know how to make what you’re reading in a script sound as though it is free flowing from you.

You also have to be able to read things “cold,” meaning having never seen them before. Most voice acting is done with a script you’ve received a few minutes before the recording session begins. You have to be extremely flexible with your emotions and your attitude. It is a very demanding profession yet very rewarding if you’re dedicated to it.”

I can’t tell you how often I’ve had to listen to demos of voice actors who were trying to sound like… other voice actors, regardless of the content or the context of the copy. Mark my words:

Let the script speak to you first, before you open your mouth!

Then you decide on tone, tempo, volume, pitch, and perhaps accent. 

Forget impersonations, no matter how good you may think you are. Casting directors don’t want more of the same, unless they need a voice match for an existing character. Most of them are looking and listening for three things: authenticity, originality, and versatility. You have to come up with unique voices that are appropriate in the context of a particular production. 

Now, allow me to make one or two more points before I bring this to a close.

WHO BEARS THE BLAME

There is another reason why some (voice) actors won’t make it past the audition, regardless of their talent. I blame it on lack of information. Without a map, it’s hard to get to one’s destination. Without a backstory, it is tough to create a character, and to strike the right tone.

These days, clients are giving less and less info about the projects they need a voice for. This is particularly true for those clients using online casting services. 

How helpful is a description like this:

Male, English, neutral, Mid-Atlantic.”

It is as if clients expect us to read their minds.

Sorry, but most voice-overs aren’t psychic. That’s a prediction I can confidently make.

Unless and until we get a better sense of how clients would like us to sound, it’s hard to give them what they’re hoping to hear. That’s why it is so important to ask clients to clarify the context. Unfortunately, that’s not always allowed or possible.

Let me tell you another casting secret that makes your job as voice-over even harder.

Some clients have no idea what they want, until they hear the perfect voice. Then, everything falls into place. All you can do for an audition, is to be your best self, and to have fun with the copy. 

One last thing.

If you’re new to this field and you’ve recently been rejected, please remember this:

Just because you’ve failed to land that job, doesn’t mean you’re a failure.

There are many variables in the casting process you have no influence over. You can only control the things that you can change. 

My student who didn’t get to narrate her favorite mystery novel, was hired to record an amazing children’s book. It opened the door to opportunities she hadn’t even considered, and she told me yesterday:

“I’ve learned to never dwell on the jobs I didn’t get. It’s pointless. Instead, I focus on the things I can do today to become even better at what I do, and I have never felt happier!”

How’s that for a storybook ending?!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

photo credit: gordontarpley via photopin cc

PS You didn’t think this article only applied to voice-overs, did you?

PPS You may have noticed that my blog has reached a milestone recently. I now have over 37,000 subscribers! If you’re one of them, I want to thank you for coming back again and again to read my musings. It means the world to me!


Everything is perception. Perception is everything.

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career 13 Comments

mirror, mirrorSome people believe that auditioning is nothing but a numbers game.

Let me tell you a story.

Two groups of kids were playing outside. Someone had written a big number 6 on the street, and a fight had broken out because of it.

One group claimed that the number was actually a 9. The other group insisted it was a 6. Before the debate got totally out of hand, a little girl shouted:

“You’re all wrong. Can’t you see it’s just a circle with a line?”

The kids decided that she was right and they went on to do some cloud spotting. But as they were lying in the grass, another fight broke out.

“That cloud looks just like a giant elf,” said one of them.

“No way,” said another kid. “It’s a fairy. Anyone can see that!”

SOME PERSPECTIVE

How on earth is it possible to come to very different conclusions, based on the same input? Well, the simple answer is that most of us tend to select information based on what resonates with our model of the world. The rest is conveniently filtered out. In other words:

We see what we want to see, and we hear what we want to hear.

A young psychologist decided to test this principle. During a road trip to promote his first book, he had breakfast in a different diner every morning. And every morning he ordered “scramberred eggs.” Not once did a waitress ask: “Excuse me sir, what did you just say?” He always got a plate of scrambled eggs, because that’s what the waitress believed he said.

As a trained journalist I happen to be a professional skeptic. I was taught to always check my sources, and in the absence of empirical evidence, do my own fact-finding. So, when I read the “scramberred eggs” anecdote, I decided to put it to the test, but with a slight twist.

NAPKIN COLE

One of my favorite sound engineers was a huge fan of a crooner known for songs like “Stardust,” “Mona Lisa,” and “When I Fall in Love.” During a break I innocently asked:

“Hey Mike, did you know that they just discovered an unknown recording by Napkin Cole?”

He said: “Really? Where did you hear that?”

For the next half hour, all we talked about was Napkin Cole. I must have pronounced the name at least 40 times that way, and not once did Mike raise an eyebrow. It was unforgettable… Next week I will ask him about his favorite female jazz singer: Elephant Gerald.

Having strong preconceptions is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, taking things for granted means that we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. It’s the principle of generalization upon which all learning is based. On the other hand, it closes us off to valuable new information. Worst of all, it seems to happen beyond our control.

For us voice-over pros this can be frightening. Whenever we record a demo, we’re basing our approach on our take on the text. We put that info through our filters and come up with a unique interpretation of the script. That part we can control. But once this demo reaches the ears of the client, everything depends on what unknown filters are operating in his or her brain. Sometimes, the effect can be unexpected and surprising.

MY BIG BREAK

A few years ago, I auditioned for an amazing job. It was one of those once in a lifetime opportunities, and I just knew that it was going to be my big break. Needless to say, I pulled out all the stops to make sure my demo was spot-on. Only after I was completely satisfied that I had absolutely nailed it, did I send my demo on its way.

An hour later I received a generic rejection. It was a huge slap in the face, and I felt like a complete failure. I listened to my demo over and over again, and I couldn’t figure out what had gone so horribly wrong.

A year later I finally got the answer.

By chance I ran into a colleague of the voice-seeker who had so cruelly crushed my dreams. He recognized my voice, and we started talking about that fateful project I had auditioned for.

I said to him: “I have to ask… I know I would have been perfect for this project. Tell me: Why didn’t I get the job?”

He paused for a moment and replied:

“I know exactly why.

You sounded too much like the producer’s ex-boyfriend.”

When I heard those words, two very conflicting emotions boiled up to the surface. I was both livid and relieved. My angry ego shouted: How could this woman have been so unprofessional?

At the same time I was glad to know that there was nothing I could have done to change her mind.

Ancient wisdom tells us that the world we see is a mirror of who we are.

Everything is perception.

Perception is everything.

It is written in the clouds.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet.


Sorry, you’re not “it”.

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career 1 Comment

If I were to make a top-ten of the hardest words in any language, this word would be my number one pick. It’s also one of the shortest. This simple sound has destroyed countless careers; it has propelled people into the depths of depression, and it has broken many hopeful hearts.

It is the horrible, ugly word “NO”.

“No” is every salesperson’s nightmare. “No” has turned rejected lovers into vindictive maniacs. And -as any parent will tell you- “No” can turn the sweetest kid into a manipulative monster. In fact, this two-letter word is so destructive, one could make a case for it to be banned from our vocabulary because of the damage it has done over the ages. But I can predict what our linguists would say to that: “No”.

Here in the States, the nation is watching another season of “America’s got talent.” I pity the three judges who have to sit through a never-ending parade of geriatric belly-dancers, tone-deaf Whitney Houston wannabees, drag queen contortionists and hip hoppers with egos bigger than their beefed up physiques.

They all believe that they’re the next big act to hit the Vegas strip, worthy of a million dollars. All I can think of is: Who opened this loony bin and who is going to close it? I have to admit: in this crazy context, the word “No” can actually be a blessing!

We might watch these voluntary victims of reality TV with amazement, but voice-over talents actually have something in common with these strange folks. We too, audition. We might not do it on national TV, but time and again we have to face the final verdict that could shatter our dreams into a million pieces. Or not. This is what I learned about rejection dejection.

Lesson number one: The greatest disappointments are always well-planned.

Yes, you’ve heard me: we are setting ourselves up for disaster. Expectation and disillusion are twins. Evil twins. The more we expect, the bigger the disappointment.

Watch “America’s got talent” for a few minutes, and you’ll see the following tragic story unfold:

A camera zooms in on a middle-aged librarian who’s showing all the obvious signs of a sedentary lifestyle. The talent tells the interviewer: “I’ve been blessed with a unique gift. Since the moment I took my first breath, I knew I was destined for greatness. I am definitely going to blow the judges away. This is the moment I have been waiting for all my life.”

He steps up to the microphone; introduces himself to the world, and starts rubbing his hands together. This better be good!

The next thing we hear is a sound that can only be described as someone breaking wind to the tune of “America the beautiful”. Yes, we’re blown away alright!

The audience starts yelling; the judges hammer on their red buttons and moments later, our handy hero is crushed and crumbled under the weight of humiliation that will haunt him for the rest of his librarian life.

Lesson number two: know your strengths!

Small fish wanting to play in the big pond better bring something extraordinary to the table, otherwise the big fish will have you for lunch.

One AGT-episode featured a self-professed ‘celebrity impersonator’. He was so bad that -even though he spelled out which impression he was going to do- no one got it. I know voice-over artists who make a decent living pretending to be someone else. Some of them are so good, it’s frightening… they sound even better than the original! But unless and until your impersonation is spot-on, don’t tell the world you’re the next big thing. People might get the wrong impression…

Lesson three: get a reality check.

In other words: go for a second opinion. Get as many second opinions as you can. And please, don’t run to your mother for feedback. She’ll love you no matter what. That’s her job. What you need is an honest opinion. Go to a pro. Not one of those people who get paid to chat you up so you’ll enroll into some vague voice-over academy.

A good coach will analyze every ounce of your talent (or lack thereof), and expose you for what you are. A great coach will also tell you what you need to do to improve. A superb coach will teach you the tricks of the trade.

Back to the show for lesson four: have a recovery strategy.

I am still floored by how ungraceful some of the untalented are in defeat. They become defensive, they come up with excuses, they blame the judges… it’s always something or someone else, isn’t it?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for positive reinforcement. But America’s upbeat culture of programmed positive praise has led to a distinct lack of self-awareness and humility. Thus, smiling small town heroes turn into angry big town, big time losers when they hear the dreaded word “No.”

This begs the question: how should one prepare for possible rejection? Should we simply expect not to expect anything? That way, we won’t ever be disappointed. If you don’t strive to win, you’ll never lose. Could that be the answer? But what about our hopes, our dreams and aspirations? Isn’t life about taking risks, shooting for the stars and about being the best one can be? Had we been playing it safe, we’d still be staring at the moon, instead of landing on it.

Here’s the good news. There is an effective way of dealing with denial. It’s no magic bullet, but it will certainly keep you grounded. It is part of what I call my ‘Ultimate Auditioning Strategy’. I have refined it over many years, and I’d be happy to share it with you.

Here’s the thing: this strategy works for any type of audition. I have taught it to musicians, stage actors, public speakers, job seekers, sports people and yes… to voice-over artists.

The Ultimate Auditioning Strategy

 

Whether you’re applying for a job or for a part in a commercial, there comes a time when some of us have to face our greatest fear: the fear of rejection. Especially the people-pleasers, the doormats and the perfectionists of this world, have a particularly hard time in the hot seat. If you happen to be intimately acquainted with one of those people, this is for you.

MINDSET

Having been in the voice-over business for over 25 years, I am absolutely convinced that a successful try-out is only in part based on vocal cords, experience and skills. Most of it has to do with being in the right mindset. Let me give you an example.

GuitarOne of my cousins is an amazingly talented guitar player. His technique is truly breathtaking, only paralleled by the likes of Tommy Emmanuel and John Williams. Every time he plays for me in the comfort of his own room, he sets his six strings on fire. If he wanted to, he could be up there with the Paco Pena’s and the Yngwie Malmsteens.

Unfortunately, no one has ever heard of him. Why? Because he never thought he was good enough, and somehow, he wasn’t able to summon the courage to get on stage and share his gift with the world. He was and is his own biggest stumbling block.

Do yourself a favor: don’t be like my cousin! If you have talent, there’s no failure in “going for it.” However, if you don’t, the game’s already lost before it even started.

VITAL COMPONENTS

The way I see it,  a successful audition is the result of three vital ingredients: competence , confidence and being at the right place at the right time. Some call the last component luck, but as Samuel Goldwyn once said: “The harder I work, the luckier I get.”

Now, let me share a few things that have helped me tremendously. Even though some of the fundamentals I am about to describe apply to cattle-call situations, most steps are relevant to those who audition on-line as well.

The first ‘secret ingredient’ is the fact that my Ultimate Audition Strategy starts long before I step up to the mic. It’s made up of a number of “empowering beliefs” that have become part of my DNA (Dutch Natural Attitude):

1. Treasure your talents and know your limitations.

2. Build on your strengths and work on your weaknesses.

3. Hone your craft, while learning from the best.

BEING THERE

4. When it’s time to audition: come prepared and always arrive early.

5. Dress professionally. Don’t make a beginner’s mistake by thinking that it’s only about the way you sound. Plus: you won’t be the first voice-over actor being offered an on-camera job as the result of an off-camera audition.

6. Before you’re called in, find a space to center yourself and mentally rehearse what you’re about to do, picturing a positive outcome. Don’t allow others to distract you.

7. Be confident, not cocky. Your attitude should be an asset and not a turn-off.

8. Leave your troubles at the door. If you can’t do that for an audition, how are you going to handle personal problems during a recording session?

9. Realize that the client needs you as much as you need the client. Connect with them from the very first moment you walk in. Remember: a smile is the shortest way between two people.

10. Make it easy to work with you: be open to suggestions; follow directions, relax and have some fun.

11. Once you’re in the hotspot…give it all you got, and then some. If you know that you gave it your all, there is no such thing as failure. Only feedback.

12. Make your first read a good one, but never make it your best. Give the director something to work with. It’s her opportunity to show the client what a genius she is…

13. Do not criticize the hand that might be feeding you. Generally speaking, badmouthing others (including your colleagues) doesn’t make you any better either. On the contrary.

14. Be gracious and grateful. Thank the casting crew for the opportunity, and make sure that your last impression is a lasting one. Hand out your cards and demos before you leave, if you haven’t done so already.

15. When you’re out of the limelight, find a quiet place and imagine stepping outside of your body; put yourself into the voice-seekers shoes as you evaluate your own performance. What went well? What could have gone better? What can you do next time to “kick it up a notch”? What do you need to do to get there?

What you do next is absolutely crucial:

16. Let go of the outcome. Forgedaboudit! Put your performance in a balloon and release it. If it comes back to you, celebrate! If it doesn’t, know that someone else in this universe is jumping for joy.

17. If you don’t hear anything back, realize two things: delays are not denials. Even though we live in a world of instant gratification, patience is still a virtue. If it’s a “No”, understand that auditioning is a process of selection, not rejection. Just because they didn’t pick you, doesn’t mean your audition was crap. Just because you didn’t get the part, doesn’t mean you have failed in life. Even the best chefs can’t please every single diner.

18. Embrace the fact that living is learning, and that we often learn more from the things that don’t go as planned, than from the things we’ve already mastered.

19. Move on! This industry rewards the go-getters, not the whiners and the finger-pointers. As long as you know that you did your best, and that you took something useful away from the audition experience, your time was well-spent.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice