Steven Lowell

Hanging Up My Hat

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Journalism & Media 41 Comments

“I will give you my personal prediction on what will implode first: Blogs containing information that serves no one but the writer, and his/her inner circle without fact-checking.”
Steven Lowell

Paul Strikwerda NethervoiceThe dust has finally settled.

Give it a few months, and last week’s discussion will rise out of the ashes and begin a new life somewhere else.

Same topic. Different voices, perhaps.

Steven’s remark about self-serving blogs and bloggers did make me think about my vision for this blog. Believe it or not: I have one, and it goes like this:

The Nethervoice blog is a platform and playground for ideas, dialogue and discourse about things personal and professional related but not limited to voice-overs and freelancing.

That covers pretty much everything, doesn’t it? Now, let me also tell you what it is not.

This blog is not some grand podium built to glorify my personal accomplishments or to sell Mr. Strikwerda’s amazing pipes. Why would anyone want to read about that? Not me!

If you’re interested in the technical side of voice-overs, you have to look elsewhere too. Although I’m fascinated with the tools of the trade, I am not a gearhead or audio specialist. I don’t receive free products from companies, take them out of the box, dangle them in front of a camera and post it as a “review.”

It’s true, I did write a series about building my voice-over booth on a budget, but I did not seek or receive any compensation for mentioning products, manufacturers or stores.

This blog is not a source of fair and unbiased industry news either.

In essence, it is nothing but a blog revolving around one man and his ideas and experiences and a bunch of friends who like to chime in every once in a while. If you’re looking for objective, investigative journalism, you’ve come to the wrong place.

Just like a lot of other stuff you’ll read online or in the papers, my articles are usually a mix of subjective opinion based on personal selection and interpretation of data. If you’d like to fact-check my sources, all you need to do is click on a few links that are embedded in the articles.

Nobody has to agree with anything I write.

My readers are intelligent enough to understand that it would be foolish to generalize my personal stories and turn them into an overall verdict on the issue at hand.

I don’t consider myself to be an authority or expert. My opinion is one of many, and one quick look at Bob Souer’s blog roll will tell you that I’m certainly not the only blogger in this voiceover town. Of course I’m tickled to see that some people seem to care about what I have to say, but that’s as far as it goes.

I strive to inform, I attempt to entertain and yes… I also like to rock the boat every once in a while. As a voiceover professional, it is my job to be outspoken. I don’t feel comfortable standing on the sidelines.

Unlike Steven Lowell, I am not a paid spokesperson for a company. I don’t pretend to proclaim and promote an objective, universal truth. This is my personal platform and I can be as passionate and opinionated as I want. I represent no one but myself.

So, why do I take a day out of every week to write this blog?

The short answer: Because I feel like it.

The moment it becomes just another chore, I will stop and take up billiards or Bingo.

Here’s another reason: I love to write and I think I have something to say that  -at times- is moderately insightful and interesting. At least, that’s what my readers keep on telling me.

As you may know, most of my stories start out as simple Notes to Self. The series about building a voice-over studio is a perfect example.

It took me many months before I was ready to start building my own studio. During that time, I had compiled a wealth of information and I thought it might be useful to share it with you. Now it’s available as a booklet on my shopping page. Sharing is important to me.

Over the years, I have benefited so much from the kindness, knowledge and insights of friends and colleagues. I wouldn’t be where I am today, had it not been for their advice and encouragement. In a way, I am repaying my debt to them by publishing this blog.

Thanks to my writings, I’ve also made countless new friends from all corners of this planet. Many of them won’t publicly comment on my articles, but each and every week they email me with questions and observations.

As far as the future goes, I’m branching out. Most of you already know that I write on all things international for Internet Voice Coach. I also conduct interviews with colleagues across the globe. The Edge Studio asked if I would be their International Marketing Coach and I said “yes.” 

Recently, I started recording three-minute vignettes for the International Freelancers Academy on building your business. There’s also a book on the way.

I’m not telling you this to impress you. Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn if you think this is impressive or not. The fact is, I love my work and I love writing about it.

As long as I still have music in me, I will continue to sing my songs.

And if people think it’s just a bunch of blah-blah, they’ll find other blogs to read, and this one will eventually implode.

Perhaps that wouldn’t be too bad.

It’s always better to end with a bang.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice


Why you are boring me to death

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Pay-to-Play, Promotion 76 Comments

You’d think that voice-over pros always have something to talk about, but what happens when someone’s not feeding them any lines?

Would they still have something interesting to say, or would they be less vocal without a mic and a script?

Well, judging by the many voice-over blogs you can find online, we can’t seem to shut up.

And if we cannot talk, we must type.

Take me, for instance. You know I can’t stop yammering, and I am sure I’m not alone. Why is that? Is there really that much to blabber and blog about?

Yes, there isn’t!

MOO!

I’ve come to the conclusion that VO-Pros and cows have one thing in common: they are ruminants. Most ruminants have four stomachs.

The first stomach chamber (the “rumen”) is the chamber in which large amounts of food are stored and softened. Once it is processed, it is regurgitated and chewed and digested again in different chambers.

At the end there’s only one thing left: bullsh*t.

What I just described is the recycling of supposedly “hot voice-over topics” you and I like to ruminate about. Every year, the same issues and trends resurface, and they are milked and milked until there’s nothing left but utter claptrap.

Here is my shortlist of some of the most boring issues in our business:

  • PC or Mac?
  • Are Pay-to-Plays worth the money?
  • ISDN: must or rust?
  • Do real pros only use ProTools?
  • Headphones or no headphones?
  • Do you perform better while sitting, standing up or laying down?
  • Could a headshot help or hurt your voice-over career?
  • My mic is better than your mic.
  • Union or Non-Union?
  • Should I slate or watermark my demo?
  • Social Media: indispensable tools or magnificent distraction?
  • What did Stephanie Ciccarelli have for lunch?
  • How to succeed in voice-overs without really trying.
  • What would Don LaFontaine do?
  • Remedies for dry mouth and sore throat.
  • Harlan Hogan’s next big Porta-something.
  • Do egg cartons really help soundproof a room?
  • Joan Baker in a bikini.
  • Are celebrities stealing our business?
  • Is it “voice-over” or “voiceover”?
  • Why isn’t there an Oscar or an Emmy for Best Narrator?
  • Why Ted Williams?
  • What the heck is “neutral English”?
  • How many “followers” and “friends” does one need in order to be deemed relevant?
  • Don’t talk to me about reasonable rates. It’s just beer money.
  • When does self-promotion become spamming?

MEA CULPA

I will be the first one to admit that I have sinned by writing about some of these topics myself. That’s why I solemnly vow to not behave like a cow. For my own sanity and yours, I will seek out greener pastures and find more exciting things to write about, and I challenge you to do the same.

Rumination might be good for our bovine friends, but “obsessive or abnormal reflection upon an idea or deliberation over a choice” may lead to depression in humans, says Yale University psychologist Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, PhD. Rumination may also weaken thinking and problem-solving, and drive away critical social support.

In other words, by chewing over the stories of the past, we  might actually un-enlighten and isolate ourselves. That must be the last thing any serious blogger would hope to achieve.

Ruminating is not illuminating.

Now, chew on that for a while!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!


Mayhem at Newspapers for the Blind

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Internet, Journalism & Media, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play 8 Comments

Posting jobs under false names, not paying invoices and Jekyll and Hyde-treatment of voice-over talent… these appear to be the trademarks of William May.

Mr. May is the founder and editor of Newspapers For The Blind Organization,Inc,  a web–based service, offering a daily selection of newspaper articles for the vision impaired, read by voice-over pros. The site was quietly launched during the last quarter of 2009 (and should not be confused with NFB-Newsline®).

The idea behind Newspapers for the Blind (NFTB) is not new but certainly noble. The other two people involved, Dr. Edward E. Boas Jr. and Noelle Mills Adler, have impressive credentials. Dr. Boas is a Professor of Computer Science, Data Processing and Electronics at Cecil College in North East Maryland. Ms. Mills Adler is a past president of the Ladies Christian Union of New York City (now known as the LCU Foundation).

But it’s the voice-over professionals known as “newspapercasters” who are at the heart of NFTB. Newspapersfortheblind.org  raves:

“Our three dozen readers, culled from 3000 auditions, bring the precise vocal skills to reach and meet our unique audience.”

THE OFFER

At the beginning of September 2010, I became a member of this “elite team,” after auditioning for the following job posted on voice123:

Newspapers for Blind
This is a daily long term commitment to read a newspaper article into an MP3 for webcasting and free-phone service to the blind and hearing-impaired.

The files would want to be recorded from roughly midnight to 6AM US Eastern Time, so, geography may be important to readers.

The pacing of the delivery is painfully S-L-O-W, and the voice resonance is highly critical for the hearing-impaired. Tenors and sopranos need not bother; it won’t work for the hearing-impaired. Professor Henry Higgins diction is important; bite the words.

Voice-seekers name: confidential
Company name: hidden

I was absolutely thrilled to have made the cut. Regular gigs are hard to come by in this industry, but there was another reason why I was so excited. Some jobs we do for the money; others because it is the right thing to do. This was the best of both worlds!

THE AMAZING MR MAY

On top of that, the founder/editor seemed to possess an incredible drive and contagious enthusiasm to make things happen. His initial emails were personable, funny and encouraging. After I started reading leads from The Independent and The Times, he commented:

“My Cat; BraveHeart, loves your voice. She always perks up when I play your readings.  You have a fan.”

One day, I shared with him that I wasn’t feeling too well. He responded:

“Paul, hope you shake the cold…..just don’t shake this perfect voice, W”

This was clearly a man with a heart! One thing bothered me a little, though. Whenever I asked May if he intended to formalize the relationship and how payment would be handled, it took him months to come up with something that came close to a straight answer.

WORRIES

A month or so into the job, I had yet to be paid. Then I noticed that May had placed another job posting on voice123. Why would he be looking for new recruits? When I asked him about it, he answered:

“Please don’t worry about not enough readings for NFTB. Stick with me; I have to keep a Chinese Wall between the not-for-profit and other activities. There will be plenty of other activities to follow.”

He was right. Not only would I be recording and editing at least two articles a day, Will asked me and four other colleagues to record public service announcements for NFTB (a 501C-3 Corporation). I was tickled when he told me:

“Out of the 5, they chose your Public Service Message on 970 AM, New York.”

By that time I was on a roll. The only thing that was missing was a regular paycheck and eventually, that became an ordeal. I had to send out countless reminders, only to hear that my “address was lost” or that someone would be looking into it.

GIVE ME A BREAK

On November 15th, May surprised me with the following message:

“Lets let your money catch up with your readings; take a break.”

I responded:

“(…) As you know, I am very supportive of your charity, and I don’t understand why I should take a break. (…) If you do not have the money to pay me, you should have said so from the beginning. As a professional, I made my commitment based on your commitment. Financially, I plan ahead and make future projections based on assurances that have been made by my clients. Knowing that payment would not be forthcoming or would be seriously delayed, would have given me the opportunity to reconsider my commitment to NFTB, and possibly spend my time and energy generating income in other ways. (…)”

The answer:

“I had interpreted your last mail as unhappy. I was simply saying lets let the accounting, our weakest link, catch up with you. We have enough money, just not enough accounting bobbins.”

But on November 20th, I received the following email:

“Don’t count on any more readings in your planning; nothing to do with you.  We’ll catch up the accounting, and probably just wind things up.
May try to limp along at half or one-third normal see what happens.

(…)

Also, frankly, not enough users to merit all of the work; I’m working 18-20 hour days to throw 8-10 k out the window each week…what for.

I think we made sliced bread, when the world wants baguette.”

ANOTHER VOICE

The truth is that it was business as usual at Newspapers for the Blind. They didn’t miss a beat, and never have. I was sidetracked for no apparent reason, while waiting for my checks. And I was not alone:

Voice-over colleague Juliette Gray picks up the story:

“I was hired in November. They required reading articles (in my case from the London newspapers). These articles were long and the editing took ages. Then the person in charge decided because these people were also partially deaf that I needed to change my sound system. I did this willingly because I thought I had a steady job.

At quite a bit of expense I was ready to start working again and it was then he turned out to be a complete nightmare. We exchanged numerous e-mails, phone conversations, etc. and then he did a 180 degree turn – sort of like a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Became impossible to communicate with and finally did get nasty in his final e-mail. Needless to say I never got paid.”

VOICE123 JUMPS IN

At that time, Steven Lowell was the “community manager” for voice123. This is what he said when I asked him about NFTB and Will May::

“When I first saw the job posted a while back, I was very excited because in NYC, I got some early voice over practice in the 90’s doing charity by reading books to the blind at a local church. It was something a coach recommended I do for practice.

The job made me think, ‘Wow! Good to see something like this again! Yet, what followed was an unpleasant experience of several talents with decades of experience, complaining to me that he was harsh and unfriendly to work with.

When reaching out to Mr. May to present that there have been problems, merely as a way to communicate feedback, his reply to me was, ‘Who complained? I don’t have the time to coach every talent to perfection….’

Before hearing my side of the story, voice123 heard from Juliette and 2 other voice-over professionals; one from the US, and one from the UK. As I was researching this article, I got in touch with other newspapercasters. Without exception, they asked me not to reveal their names, because they’re still hoping to get paid and they want to keep their job. But all of them told similar tales about Mr. May, and I wondered if voice123 had taken any action.

BANNED

As a rule, voice123 only investigates non-payment matters that are 60-days old. Steven Lowell: “This is because we do not get involved, and most payment disputes are resolved quite easily with a reminder email from me.”

Having examined concrete proof from email correspondence as to what had happened, voice123 banned Will May from the site. Unfortunately, that was not the end of the matter. Lowell:

“Mr. May posted the initial jobs under his own name. Once removed from the site, he began to use different names. During verification efforts by our staff, it was discovered who was posting the job. The staff at Voice123 has not changed in 2 years, and we have become very aware of ‘who is who’, and as such, have been able to catch people easily trying to repost after being banned.”

MONEY

Juliette Gray is still waiting for her paycheck, and she’s not the only one. I was lucky. Even though Mr. May still owes me a substantial amount of money, I did get paid for approximately two-thirds of my work.

For months, I asked May to pay the remainder of the balance, but he was MIA. When my knocks on his door became louder, he finally sent a very unfriendly email, accusing me of “futzing the dates” on my invoices. He wrote:

“I am in no great rush to go through hours of checking to deal with whatever might be outstanding to you. Checking truth versus falsehood is a nuisance.”

I responded:

“The invoices were sent on November 9th of last year, so you have had over two months to figure things out. I resent your remark that I “started futzing the dates”. My invoices accurately and faithfully reflect the work I have done for your organization at your request, and that’s the work I deserve to be paid for.”

CLOSING THOUGHTS

I think that Newspapers for the Blind offers a terrific service. The newspapercasters are dedicated and talented readers who can be proud to support their families by bringing the news to the blind and vision-impaired, day in day out.

The website has an impressive list of reputable institutions labeled as “dedicated listeners”. There is no doubt in my mind that the energetic editor has moved mountains to realize this project. Based on my email exchanges with him, Will May works night and day to keep the service up and running. I don’t know for sure,  but I suspect that he has invested a substantial amount of his own money into this worthy undertaking.

I also believe that people are not their behavior. From time to time, all of us do things that we are not proud of, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t know any better. Just because we do something crazy, doesn’t mean that we are crazy.

Having said that, it is not okay to treat people the Will May-way, and voice123 was right to ban him from the site. Other sites have been alerted to make sure he doesn’t pull the same stuff. Furthermore: May needs to pay his talents. Without them, there would be no Newspapers for the Blind.

For now, I am left with one question: why would someone who is clearly invested in and dedicated to such a noble cause, turn from Mr. Nice into Mr. Nasty?

In my experience, there’s always a story behind a story. And believe me, in this case there is.

But that’s for another time and another day.

Click here for the follow-up. 

Paul Strikwerda ©2010 nethervoice 

2013 UPDATE

It appears that the Newspapers for the Blind website is down or no longer available. The Newspapers for the Blind Facebook page has last been updated on March 21, 2010. 

On his LinkedIn Profile, Mr. May still lists himself as the “Editor & Founder of NewspapersForTheBlind.ORG