Voice Arts™ Awards

The Ministry of Silly Voice-Overs

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Pay-to-Play, Personal 19 Comments

Lumberjack SongLast week it happened again.

In my dreams.

I got a phone call from a potential student who wanted to know how long it would take to break into the voice-over business.

He had no training, no equipment, no experience, and no patience. When I asked him how much he was willing to invest, it turned out he had no money either.

What a brilliant start!

“But I have a profile on voices.com,” he said proudly.

“How did you pull that off?” I wondered.

“I just recorded a few things on my friend’s computer so I would have some demos, and they accepted me straight away. They must think I have potential, right?”

“Listen carefully,” I said, “these people would accept a talking parrot for a new member as long as it presented a credit card that wasn’t expired. In fact, I believe I’ve heard a few of our feathered friends on that site, and they all sound very much like Gilbert Gottfried.”

“Oh, I can do a Gilbert Gottfried for you,” said my aspiring voice-over enthusiastically. “Just give me a few seconds to get into character.”

“Please don’t,” I begged, but it was too late. I had to hold the phone a mile away from my ear in order to avoid permanent hearing loss.

After one of the most painful minutes of my life listening to the sound of an Aflac duck being strangled, I had had enough, and shouted:

GILBERT, YOU’RE FIRED!”

“That’s so funny,” giggled the voice on the other end of the line. “Gottfried lost his job after making a tsunami joke. I must have sounded pretty convincing.”

“To tell you the truth, you sounded more like a dead parrot to me, my friend. Had you gone on for much longer, my neighbors would have reported me to the police for cruelty to animals. I’m sure they could hear every wretched noise you just made.”

“Speaking of dead parrots,” the aspiring student continued unabashed, “I can also do a mean John Cleese impression. And without skipping a beat he yelled:

‘Ello, Miss, I wish to complain about this parrot what I purchased not half an hour ago from this very boutique.’

“Before you go any further, Mr. Cleese,” I interrupted, “I have an admission to make.”

‘ELLO POLLY!!!!! Testing! Testing! Testing! Testing!’ the guy continued, but the moment he took a breath I seized the opportunity and said:

“You are extremely talented…”

The blissful silence that followed these glorious words lasted precisely two seconds.

“Do you really think so?” the impersonator whispered.

“Extremely talented…

at pissing people off, Pet Shop man,” I continued. “Let me give it to you plain and simple: 

If you go on like this, I can pretty much guarantee that you’ll never get a second chance to make a first impression. Right now, your voice-over career is as dead in the water as Monty Python’s Norwegian Blue. It’s stone dead. It has ceased to be. It’s expired, and gone to meet its maker. Bereft of life. It’s kicked the bucket, and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible…”

“Alright, alright… I get it,” said the voice-over wannabe. “But you have to help me out here. I came to you for some coaching. Not to have an argument. I told you that at the beginning.”

“No you didn’t” I said.

“Yes I did,” he said.

“You did not!”

“I’m telling you I did!”

“You did not!”

“Oh this is futile,” he said.”

“At last we agree on something,” I replied. “From what I’ve heard so far, you’re as good at doing voice-overs as Basil Fawlty was at running a hotel.”

“Coming from you, that means a lot,” the guy said. “I appreciate your honesty. Will you be my coach?”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” I exclaimed. “I just insulted you, and you want to be my student? What are you? A masochist? I don’t think you’re cut out for this sort of work.”

“But for the past few months this has been my dream,” he stammered. “Right now I work at Holiday Hair, and I hate it. I have this terrible un-un-uncontrollable fear whenever I see hair. When I was a kid I used to hate the sight of hair being cut. My mother said I was a fool. She said the only way to cure it was to become a hairdresser. Guess what? It didn’t work.”

He let out a deep, sad sigh.

“Mr. Strikwerda, If I can’t do voice-overs, what else am I to do?”

I knew I couldn’t leave the guy hanging. He had a good sense of humor, and I wanted him to get something out of our conversation. What was I to do? All of a sudden I knew the perfect answer.

“Listen, I said… why don’t you…  why don’t you become a… LUMBERJACK!” 

“Leaping from tree to tree as they float down the mighty rivers of British Columbia,” he continued.

“The giant redwood, the larch, the fir, the mighty scots pine…”

“If I ever want to get rid of this lad, I have to stop feeding him lines,” I said to myself. After taking a sip of water I got back into the conversation.

“You know my name. What’s yours?” I asked.

“Michael,” he said. “I was named after Michael Palin.” 

“How surprising,” I thought. 

“Well, Michael, I tell you what. Why don’t you take one of your demos, and send it to the Voice Arts™ Awards. If you win, I’ll give you five free coaching sessions. How does that sound?”

“Are you serious?” he asked. “That’s amazing! Thank you. Now I feel much more optimistic.”

“That’s the spirit!” I said. “You know what they say: ‘Always look on the bright side of life.'”

Michael laughed, and replied on cue:

“Nudge, nudge. Say no more!”

Paul Strikwerda (and Monty Pyton) ©nethervoice

Be sweet. Please retweet.

photo credit: Photo 02-07-14 11 21 31 via photopin (license)


When The Manure Hits The Fan

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Journalism & Media, Promotion 23 Comments

This is not a Voice Arts™ Award“This all may smell rotten to a European sensibility, but may we just stipulate that the Voice Arts™ Awards are not the Pulitzer Prize.”

“My personal take on it is if it’s important to you, participate. If it isn’t, ignore it. At first the whole thing just irritated me. I saw it as rather self-aggrandizing. Now I just don’t care.”

“I think the idea behind the awards was an excellent one and those involved at the top probably the best people to launch this endeavor. But it’s clear that, while a great deal is to be commended, some parts of the execution were a little creaky and need looking at.”

“I like the anonymity my job offers. I can go to a movie in peace, eat a restaurant in peace and not deal with stalkers. I quit theatrical work a long time ago because the wonderful world of VO and it’s people suited me better. I don’t see a point to a media event for awards in VO, unless it’s at a trade conference, presided over by our peers, and accessible to all VO pros, not just a few. This is the wrong business to get into if you want fame and fortune, and I like it that way.”

“This type of discussion is needed for the awards to have any chance of actually meaning something in the future. If we’re all “rah-rah for VO!!!”, and overlook the flaws in our own backyard, nobody else will respect us, or our craft. I’d rather have no award than one with so many obvious red flags in the process.”

“I’m reminded of naysayers early in mine and everybody else’s career who had nothing but negative things to say about anybody doing anything new or different. They are the people to avoid.”

“I don’t think one who criticizes or questions a promotion or event should be labeled a “naysayer.” Just like politics and everything else in life, people are going to have a variety of opinions and THAT is what keeps things interesting! When you’re as visible as Joan and Rudy are and you market something aggressively, you are always going to get a plethora of different opinions.”

“This so-called “expert” absolutely launched a personal attack upon all those who have taken a positive interest in the Voice Arts™ Awards, including its creators. And any idiot who doesn’t see that has his big fat empty head stuck in the sand. And now this character is pretending to be pleased with the reaction to his public editorial, as if he did it for the good of humanity. He is spewing his personal venom while hiding behind the mask of open debate.”

“It seems like a fairly small segment of the VO community stroking their own egos. If you pay your money, you get to be part of the club and get a little trophy that you can use to sell yourself when you start coaching and writing books.”

“I wonder how it must feel to have been awarded Saturday night only to have respected members of the community laugh in your face. To have people you admire nullify a very exciting night.”

“The Voice Arts™ Awards awards are good for voice-over, regardless, and should be encouraged as goals and standards that are possible.”

“You seem to be unusually fixated on trying to destroy something simply because it’s not your idea — because it outshines your banal rhetoric. Well, guess what? You’re maniacal envy is obvious to all, even the few pathetic cynics who might seem to come to your defense. Truth be told, you’re full of spite and envy. You’re blinded by ego and self-delusion. You are a sad man, full of rage and jealousy, and YOU KNOW IT. Honestly, you are completely irrelevant to the voiceover community and the only card you have left to play is to rail against that which is relevant.”

“This is a plain attack on all business people working hard and creating superior quality of a platform. It’s painful to see such ignorance displayed as opinion. I wouldn’t follow this man if the world was crashing around me.”

“That blog was not aiming to encourage discussion about the Awards, it wasn’t objective enough to even pass remotely close to that being it’s aim. I haven’t responded to the author because quite simply, I have better things to do and am not interested in being involved in a conversation that is negative from the off.”

“Don’t look for fair or perfection when it comes to honoring excellence. In the history of show business, it’s never been either and it never will. And a nomination/win doesn’t have to enhance your career. But it is a hellova lotta fun!!!!”

SPIRITED DEBATE

These are just a few of the hundreds of comments that came in, after last week’s story about the Voice Arts™ Awards (VAA). As I am typing these words, it has been read over 2,500 times. The follow-up entitled Party Pooper Unleashes Sh*tstorm, has so far attracted about 1,500 readers.

Colleague and VO business expert Tom Dheere suggested this discussion was perhaps an example of a Voice-Over Class Warfare between “blue-collar” voice talent and “white-collar” voice talent. Tom explains:

“Blue-collar” voice talents are part-time or full-time, primarily non-union, and have neither high-end agents nor regularly book national commercials. These types of voice talent tended to be anti-VAA.

White-collar” voice talents are full-time, in the union, have high-end agents, book nationally recognized VO work, and either coach, produce demos, or sell books & products catering to the voiceover industry, and either coach, produce demos, or sell books & products catering to the voiceover industry. These types of voice talent tended to be pro-VAA.”

Class warfare or not, I want to thank everyone for chiming in. We might not always be on the same page, but a spirited debate is a sign of an engaged community. 

As you know, blogs like mine are filled with opinion pieces. My articles are not an exercise in objective journalism. What surprised me though, is how certain people reacted to certain facts. Some said I hadn’t done my homework; that my research was all wrong. 

Well, it won’t surprise you that I disagree. This blog is widely read and talked about in the VO-community. It’s important to note that the information I presented was never challenged by anyone from the organization of these awards. 

Here’s what I believe to be undisputed:

Fact: I have no personal or professional ties to anyone within the organization of the Voice Arts™ Awards, or with any member of the jury. I am Facebook friends with some of them, but most of them I have never met or corresponded with.

Fact: At the moment, not every voice-over believes winning a Voice Arts™ Award is a credit worth having.

Fact: The number of entries was not disclosed, but it is safe to say that the pickings were slim this inaugural year.

Fact: The entry fees were substantial, and often non-refundable.

Fact: Some of the judges and members of the SOVAS™ board had personal and professional ties with nominees and contestants, posing a risk of a conflict of interest that could damage the integrity of the competition.

Fact: The VAA regulations as they are published, are not clear on how a potential conflict of interest should be handled.

Fact: Winners had to pay for their own statuette, unless the organization that had entered their submission picked up the tab.

Fact: The organization of the awards has yet to respond to anything that may be perceived as less than positive, whether on this blog or on other social media. 

CORRECTION

I just learned that SOVAS™ board member Rudy Gaskins did comment on my story, so I stand corrected. One of my voice-over colleagues whom I shall name X, had shared on Facebook how disappointed he/she was in the way I had blogged about the awards. This is part of Mr. Gaskin’s response:

“X, you are a work of art and indeed a phoenix rising above the morass of resentful sentiments that swarm like angry hornets around the hive of one self-aggrandizing monarch who would proclaim himself the all-knowing purveyor of what is worthy of appreciation to the rest of us. (…) Fortunately, the male hornets are few and they have only one real role—mating with the queen. Males die soon after their sexual task is complete, so one can only imagine the frustration of the impotent male who neither mates nor dies but must suffer under the weight of his own crushing spite. (…) 

The intention of the article to which you refer was to hurt, not inform. Brush it off. With success and recognition comes the unfortunate trail of parasites who, lacking the erudition to create anything truly inspired, seek their sustenance from sucking the life blood of others. Burn them off and keep moving forward, my friend. Blogging is a curious proposition whereby any person, (known or unknown) can declare themselves worthy of attention and begin to gradually pick up unsuspecting followers by skimming the surface of a topic. Obviously, some bloggers are incredibly special, genius in fact, but there are many seeking to prop themselves up to sell bologna as 100% real beef. In fact, one of the cheapest marketing ploys of the past 10 years has been: 1) Start a blog 2) -Self-publish a book. 3) Proclaim to be an expert. 4) Sell merchandise.

As for the dying hornet to whose blog is referred to herein, we are, all of us, witnessing the depths and insidiousness of envy. It is a most vicious, volatile and relentless mindset that knows no bounds. And yet, assuming the blogger actually produces tangible work as a voice actor, producer, director, etc., he is welcome to submit his samples to the Voice Arts Awards and benefit from the extraordinary jurors who lend their highly vetted and respected expertise to determining the best of the best. Of course, to insure the integrity of the judging process, some jurors may be required to abstain from judging entries where a conflict of interest may be discerned.”

COURT JESTER

In Medieval times court jesters held privileges which were not given to many other persons at court. For one, they had freedom of speech. You’ll often see them depicted holding a mirror, to symbolize what many of them did.

While they were cracking jokes, they held up a mirror to the powers that be. Their mockery was a way to ridicule or denigrate a ruler, and to show the world that the emperor was wearing very little clothes. Today we have people like John Stewart, Steven Colbert, Bill Maher, and John Oliver doing the same thing to an audience of millions.

Some of my critics believe it was foolish of me to -as they said- “ridicule and denigrate” the Voice Arts™ Awards, the jurors, the organizers, and even the nominees and winners. What was I after? 

Let’s look at the meaning of these words. To ridicule means to make fun of someone or something in a cruel or harsh way. To denigrate means to attack the reputation of, or to deny the importance or validity of.

So, what about my motivation? Did I really have a dark, sinister urge to belittle this event, and those associated with it? Am I a jealous, ignorant, angry hornet, hoping to increase my readership by spewing lies?

WHY I BLOG

In general, I write about things that interest me personally, and about topics that I feel are relevant to my readers. As I said last week:

“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.”

These awards are indeed something new, and I wanted to examine the pros and cons of having a paid competition. That’s how I came to write my very first piece. Once the gala was over, I thought these awards deserved a deeper assessment, and that’s how I came to write a follow-up story.

You’ve probably noticed that most of the points I made in these articles had to do with the running of the competition. Many of the questions I asked were also in the minds of other colleagues. I just happened to be the one who wrote down what many others were thinking. 

It’s impossible to be objective about one’s own writing, but I can say that in none of the blog posts I have written about these awards, have I made fun of anyone or anything. Period. Perhaps my writing style is entertaining, but that’s one of the reasons people seem to enjoy my stories. I take it as a compliment. 

Did I attack the reputation of, or denied the importance or validity of, these awards? 

That’s hard to do, because these awards have no reputation. How could they? They’re brand new! I did question the importance of these awards for the same reason. It’s too early to tell whether or not winning a VAA is a credit worth having (and paying for). Not even the organizers could tell us that. As the last commentator said: 

“a nomination/win doesn’t have to enhance your career. But it is a hellova lotta fun!!!!”

CONNECTIONS

I did point out that certain jurors and members of the board had personal and professional connections with other jurors, nominees, and winners. I put these connections under the banner of “Conflict Of Interest” because I believe that these connections -real or apparent- should not exist within a jury that is supposed to be neutral and objective.

This is not a strange requirement. One international piano competition has the following clauses in their 14-page jury manual:

“Should any member of the Applicant Screening Panel or First or Second Juries have or have had previously a professional or personal relationship with a pianist whose application or recorded or live performance he/she is judging, he/she must notify the Jury Facilitator prior to his/her respective stage of adjudication.”

“In a case where the relationship is or has been within the previous five years one of regular or occasional teacher and student, the Jury Facilitator must rule that the member may not vote on that pianist’s performance.”

“There will be no communication of any kind between jury members and Competition pianists until the announcement of the Laureate. (…)  Should a pianist attempt to communicate with a member of any jury, either during or prior to the announcement of the Laureate, said juror must inform the Jury Facilitator. The pianist in question may be subject to disqualification at the discretion of the Jury Facilitator.”

If my concerns rubbed some people the wrong way, they should talk to the organization about making the judging process more transparent, instead of pointing their arrows at the messenger. Perhaps judges from outside the close-knit voice-over community could be added. Perhaps the organization could learn from other competitions that have dealt with this issue for years.

MOVING ON

At the end of the day, the Voice Arts™ Awards were devised to provide “international acknowledgement of the extraordinary skill and artistry that goes into voiceover acting and the associated roles, and to hold up a best-in-class standard of achievement to which the voiceover industry can continually aspire.”

That sounds like a noble objective, but as I said before, increased recognition and international acknowledgement can never be an aim in and of itself. What purpose should these awards ultimately serve? How exactly are they going to transform our industry for the better?

If it’s a matter of developing and promoting professional standards, I would turn to the World Voices Organization. If I wanted my performance to be evaluated by experts, I’d go to a few coaches. If I wanted to attract more clients, I would invest in increasing my skills, and in marketing my services.

Those who listen to my auditions are not going to hire me because I have a shiny statuette in my studio. They want to hear whether or not I have the right voice for the job. 

To me, “increased acknowledgment” is meaningless if it doesn’t lead to increased respect. I don’t mean increased respect from my peers, but from those who hire voice-overs.

The way we show respect for services rendered, is by paying the provider a decent amount of money. Unfortunately, every year I have been in this business, rates seem to go down instead of up. That too, is about competition.

For that type of competition I want to be ready, with or without these awards. 

How about you?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!

photo credit: kyle.wood via photopin cc


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


Paying For Your Prize

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Journalism & Media, Promotion, Social Media 44 Comments

Smoking a cigarNot not so long ago, I read a story about a young Dutch guy who was about to be married. His friends invited him to a fancy restaurant for an unforgettable bachelor party.

It was a classy, dignified event. No lap dances or excessive drinking. Yet, the groom-to-be, ended up with a serious hangover.

At the end of the night he hugged each of his friends, and thanked them for a memorable evening. When he was about to put on his coat, the waiter tapped him on the shoulder.

“Sir, aren’t you forgetting something?”

“I don’t think so,” said the bachelor. “Is something wrong?”

“Not really,” said the waiter, “as long as you pay your bill.”

“But I assumed that everything was being taken care of,” said the soon-to-be-groom.

“I’m afraid not,” answered the waiter. “You owe us a little over two thousand five hundred Euro. We take all major credit cards.”

That night, the young bachelor made a few changes to his list of wedding guests.

The Dutch have a unique saying for these painful situations:

“Een sigaar uit eigen doos krijgen.”

Literally translated this means: being offered a cigar from one’s own box. In other words: receiving a gift you had to pay for yourself. That’s not really a gift, is it?

It’s an old marketing trick. Making people believe they get something for free, even though they’re paying for it.

“If you buy product X right now, we’ll send you a second one, absolutely free!”

“When you buy this car, we’ll throw in a premium accessory package at no charge!”

“Sign up for a 12-month subscription to our website, and we will give you two extra months as a welcome gift.”

Yeah. Right!

Have you ever received a cigar like that?

VOICE ARTS™ AWARDS GALA

Last Sunday, the very first Voice Arts™ Awards were presented in New York. These awards were established by the relatively new Society Of Voice Arts And Sciences™ (SOVAS™). It’s an ambitious non-profit organization. As I reported in an earlier story, on their website you will find seventy pages of awards category descriptions. Each page lists about three to four different awards.

In theory, between 210 and 280 awards could have been given away during Sunday’s gala. In reality, 33 out of 100 nominees received an award (click here for a list of the winners). Depending on how you do the math, 177 or 247 categories were left out, either because there were no or very few entries, or because the quality of these entries did not meet the standards. SOVAS™ rules state:

“In the event that any individual category attracts fewer than 4 entries the organizer reserves the right to withdraw that category from the competition.”

In some categories there was barely any competition. In the Outstanding Audio Book Narration – Biography, the only nominees were Joe Cipriano for Living On Air, and Janis Ian for The Singer and the Song.

Only two audio books were nominated for Outstanding Audio Book Narration in the Classics category. There were two nominees for the local radio and television commercials, and two for the best national radio commercial. This reflected a trend. Check the list of nominees yourself, by clicking on this link.

Mind you, I’m not saying anything about the talent of the individual nominees. I’m just pointing out a few facts about the process. Facts some of you may have missed.

I’d like to make a few other observations.

CONFLICTING INTERESTS

Scott Brick, one of the jurors of the Voice Arts™ Awards, won for Best Male Voice in the category Outstanding Audio Book Narration – Non-Fiction.

Juror Nancy Wolfson produced the demo reel of Jay Britton, who won Best Male Voice in the category Outstanding Commercial Demo Reel. Nancy has also been one of Jay’s coaches. Jay went on to win a second award for his Animation Demo Reel.

Greg Russell received a nomination for Best Male Voice in the category Outstanding Commercial Demo Reel. His coaches were Joan Baker, Rudy Gaskins and Denise Woods.

Denise Woods was one of the jurors for this year’s awards. Rudy Gaskins and his wife Joan Baker are founders and board members of the Society Of Voice Arts And Sciences™. Gaskins is President and CEO of SOVAS™.

Linda Fouche was nominated for Best Female Voice in the Outstanding Commercial Demo Reel category. Her voice-over coach was Joan Baker, and her producer/director was Rudy Gaskins.

PUSH THAT’S VOICEOVER

Gaskins and Baker are also the creators of That’s Voiceover, a series of entertaining, educational events bringing voice-over pros, voice seekers, and those interested in VO together. The last installment took place in New York on November 10th, the day after the Voice Arts™ Award gala.

Gaskins’ branding agency Push Creative is very much involved in That’s Voiceover. Joan Baker is co-founder and Senior Vice President of Push Creative, and she handles public relations for the company. 

Among the speakers at That’s Voiceover were Voice Arts Awards winners Joe Cipriano, Scott Brick, Chuck Duran and Stacey Aswad, and jurors Cedering Fox, Sondra James, Trosh Scanlon, Frank Rodriguez and Dave Fennoy. Steve Ulrich, the executive director of SOVAS™ was also one of the presenters. That’s no coincidence, because if you go to the SOVAS™ website, a redirect to the That’s Voiceover site is only one click away. 

It’s a small world, isn’t it?

THE FUTURE OF VO

I’m not against new initiatives that strive to promote and enrich the voice-over industry. As I said in my earlier story: I am willing to give these new Voice Arts™ Awards the benefit of the doubt. I congratulate the winners, and I hope the money they spent on entering this competition and attending the gala, will prove to be worth the investment. As Bob Bergen said in response to my previous article:

“Everything you’ve pointed out, as well as your question about ROI, was questioned when The SAG Awards began 20 years ago. Heck, the same issues were brought up when The Emmys began in the late 40s. Many in Hollywood thought that awarding people from that little window display of the furniture box in the living room was a joke compared to The Academy Awards, where you have that big screen and REAL actors! It’s all relative and nothing new.

Let’s allow this award show to organically grow and evolve. Just like The Oscars, Tonys, Emmys, and every other award show has over the past 75 plus years. Each award show is always changing and trying to improve on itself from previous years. I really think honoring the world of VO is long overdue. I commend the producers of this for diving in. Let’s see how it goes!”

What does worry me, is that the Voice Arts™ Awards show seems to style itself after the Oscars and Emmys. To me, these shows have become highly staged marketing events where artistic integrity is sacrificed in favor of purchased publicity. Stars show up pretending to have a good time, knowing that they’re contractually obligated to plug their latest project. 

Television audiences are only watching to see their favorite stars on the red carpet, to see the big production numbers, and to hear the obligatory teary-eyed acceptance speeches. I don’t think the voice-over world should emulate that, and I don’t think we need to do that.

It is true: an Oscar-winning movie will do much better at the box office. I doubt that the masses will run to their favorite audio book store, to purchase the winner of a Voice Arts™ Award.

Why do I have doubts? Because for an award to have an impact, people need to know about it, care about it, and attach value to it. It needs to reach the folks outside of our cozy babble bubble. That has yet to happen. Perhaps I’m expecting too much from a young organization, but I think it’s fair to judge them by their own mission statement.

GOAL ACCOMPLISHED?

The Voice Arts Awards™ were announced months and months ago. I’m sure the major networks were notified, and all the papers got the press releases. In order to raise the stature of the gala, a Hollywood celebrity (James Earl Jones) was brought in to receive a special award, and even the late Robin Williams was mentioned on the podium. Yet, did this…

“provide international acknowledgement of the extraordinary skill and artistry that goes into the voiceover acting and the associated roles”?

After all, that’s one of SOVAS™ goals.

I’m not so sure.

I haven’t seen Joan Baker and company make the rounds on the morning chat shows. I didn’t read any headlines or interviews in leading newspapers. Yes, I’ve seen a few reprints of press releases here and there, but that’s not enough. Just Google Voice Arts™ Awards, and see for yourself how little comes up. 

What I did see on social media was a number of award-winning colleagues, proudly holding a shiny statuette, as well as photos of members of the VO-establishment sporting bow-ties, pony tails, and evening dresses.

And speaking of that statuette… After paying a hefty non-refundable entry fee plus the cost of travel, meals, accommodations (and of work lost because they’re attending the event), winners have to pay three hundred and fifty-some dollars to take it home. Or in Jay Britton’s case: $700. That’s an expensive dust receptacle!

I bet you Voice Icon Award winner James Earl Jones didn’t have to pay for his prize.

For every other winner, it’s a cigar from their own box.

How can a non-profit organization dedicated to adding value to our industry, be so cheap?

If you give me the right answer, please mail me $40, and I’ll send you a trophy!

Shipping, handling, and engraving will have to come out of your pocket, though.

How’s that for a Dutch treat?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS I’ve responded to some of the commentators, and you can read my response if you click on this link.

photo credit: Elvert Barnes via photopin cc


The Voice Arts™ Awards. The New Pay to Play?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Journalism & Media, Promotion 31 Comments

The Voice Arts™ AwardCompetitions.

I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with competitions.

I enjoy watching a great soccer game or a tennis match. I’m a fan of the Olympics. The rules of the game are known. There’s a clear finish line. Whoever scores the most points or clocks the fastest time, wins.

When it comes to artistic competitions, things are not so defined. I remember going to an exhibition of prize-winning painters. All artists had entered portraits. The first prize went to a painting that was almost abstract. The second prize (and audience favorite) was a portrait that was Dali-like in its photorealism. Apples and oranges were more alike than these two entries. So, why did the abstract painting win? Because the jury said so.

DARE TO COMPARE

At the heart of every competition is the obscure art of comparing. This motion picture is better than the other. This photo stands out from the rest. This actor outperformed his colleagues. This poem is so much denser than the other poem. The question remains: Based on what, and according to whom?

Most judges of competitions will certainly be looking and listening for technical excellence. But what sets a winner apart from a loser is more than flawless technique. It has to do with artistic mastery; with having an authentic creative voice. 

Great art, whether it be music, dance, or any other medium, merely uses technique to give us something splendid that may very well break all the rules. It may even set a new standard. Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” is a great example. Some musicians thought it could not be played. It caused a scandal when it was first performed. Now it’s considered to be one of the masterpieces of modern music.

JURY DUTY

At the time of creation, great innovative art defies definition, and it is often anti-establishment. Here’s the problem: jurors of competitions are usually distinguished members of the establishment. It is their job to use semi-objective criteria, and apply them to very subjective artistic statements. Good luck with that!

Here’s another thing I don’t like about competitions: they turn colleagues into competitors, and divide them into winners and losers. My 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.

Don’t get me wrong, I admire people at the top of their game, but I prefer the artist who selflessly and tirelessly works under the radar to the attention-seeking loudmouth looking for acknowledgment and recognition.

I admire people who are in it for the music. Not for the applause.

A NEW AWARD

All of this was going through my mind when the unknown Society Of Voice Arts And Sciences™ (SOVAS™) announced the establishment of the Voice Arts™ Awards. In its own words, this is an open competition honoring and acknowledging:

“voice actors, creative directors, copywriters, casting directors, talent agents, directors, producers, audio engineers, account executives, equipment manufacturers, podcasters, bloggers and others who create and sustain the highest levels of achievement within the voiceover industry.”

The following quote from their website reads like a mission statement:

“The purpose of the Voice Arts™ Awards is to provide international acknowledgement of the extraordinary skill and artistry that goes into the voiceover acting and the associated roles and to hold up a best-in-class standard of achievement to which the voiceover industry can continually aspire.”

That’s quite a mouthful, but voice actors should be able to handle that comfortably.

If you have a few hours to spare, I invite you to browse through seventy(!) pages of awards category descriptions. Each page lists about three to four different awards, such as “NATIONAL TV INTERSTITIAL ELEMENT – FEMALE” and “AUDIO BOOK NARRATION – CHILDREN INFANT TO 5 – MALE.”

Even though it’s mentioned in the “About section” of the Awards, I could not find a category for equipment manufacturers or bloggers. I guess I’m out of luck!

PAY TO PLAY

The competition is open to individuals, companies, and students, as long as the entry is in English, and has first appeared in public between January 1, 2013 and June 15, 2014 (click here for details). The price of a single entry for a company/non-SOVAS™ member is $310. If you’re an independent artist, you pay $210 per entry (there is an early bird discount, but the time for that has passed). SOVAS™ members may enter at a reduced rate.

SOVAS™ membership ranges from $125 per year (Basic Package) to a $5,000 Platinum Package. Five grand may seem a lot, but for that you’ll get a Voice Arts™ Awards statuette named and presented in your honor, and a Special Education Scholarship offered in your name (among other perks).

On a side note, the cost of the competition does not end there. Many competitions require that the nominees/winners attend the awards ceremony. I’d consider the cost of travel, meals, accommodations, and of work lost because you’re attending the event, as part of the expenses. A few of this year’s winners flew in from the United Kingdom.

Some of the Awards were presented during a Gala on November 9th, at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York. Early Bird tickets go for $225 each. The Sumner M. Redstone Theater seats 267. Let’s assume SOVAS™ sells 175 tickets. That alone should bring in almost forty thousand dollars.

Participants had until August 31st 2014 to send in their entries. Entry fees were non-refundable once the entries have been submitted. SOVAS™ rules state:

“In the event that any individual category attracts fewer than 4 entries the organizer reserves the right to withdraw that category from the competition. In this event, the participating companies will receive a credit towards future entry fees. No cash refund will be given.”

and…

“All submissions become the property of SOVAS™ to be used at their discretion, for the production of the ceremony and other uses.”

WHAT’S IN IT FOR YOU?

Even though I have my doubts about artistic competitions in general, I’m trying to keep an open mind about the Voice Arts™ Awards. Before I would even consider entering any kind of competition, I’d ask a few questions:

  1. Is the organization running the competition reputable?
  2. What’s the intention of the competition?
  3. Does it have the potential and credibility to raise the professional bar?
  4. Are the criteria by which people are judged fair and clear?
  5. Are the judges respectable, and are they known experts in their field?
  6. Does every entry receive a professional evaluation?
  7. Is the entry fee proportionate to the prize?
  8. Does the prize give a credit worth having?

The problem with the Voice Arts™ Awards is that for many questions it’s too early to tell, because this is the inaugural year. It’s never been done before, and I believe it’s too easy to pass judgement without giving them a fair chance. There’s a lot we don’t know, so let’s see what we do know.

FINDING ANSWERS

To start with question number one, SOVAS™ is run by five-time Emmy winner Steve Ulrich who is also the executive director of the Sports and Daytime Emmy Awards®. Producer Rudy Gaskins and his wife -voice-over celeb Joan Baker– are both on the board, as is the former head of the Promax/BDA awards program, Stephen McCarthy. Those people have a lot to lose, should these new awards turn out to be a flop. I think they’re smart enough not to let that happen.

Would the voice-over industry benefit from this competition? Would it make the invisibles of so many audio-visual productions visible? Would our profession finally get the respect many feel it deserves?

Do we really need a competition to get recognition?

Some people who know the industry really well, feel we do. It’s not enough to be outstanding. You need to stand out. And if there’s no podium, why not create one? Whether you like competitions or not, it’s a given that winning a prestigious prize has never hurt a career. The question is, will short-term recognition have a long-lasting effect? Could it increase your market value? And who’s paying attention? Are we just throwing a party for ourselves, or will these awards generate publicity outside of the small voice-over bubble?

A MATTER OF MONEY 

Let’s talk about the entry fees. Anyone will recognize that organizing these awards takes time and costs money. That money has to come from somewhere. Yet, I don’t think a voice actor’s wealth should be an arbiter of talent. Why, then, must it function as a barrier? Is it legitimate or exploitative? Is it to weed the amateurs out? Here’s the ultimate question:

Is the cost of entering worth the odds?

If you’re a winner, it probably is. But as in any competition, many are invited, and few are chosen. Established artistic competitions often have cash prizes, and may offer scholarships. What does the winner of a Voice Arts™ Award get? No money, but a golden statuette (which you have to pay for yourself), a title, and a temporary platform. Is that enough?

In Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley where I live, the Freddy© Awards are to high school musical theater what the Tony Awards® are to Broadway. Each show is rated by a number of evaluators, and every high school receives extensive feedback on all aspects of the production. This feedback is then used as a teaching tool at the drama departments.

In other words, even if you’re not nominated or a winner, you will be able to read your evaluation, and benefit from it. Wouldn’t it be great if the Voice Arts™ Awards would do the same? Unfortunately, that’s not the case. This is how it’s done:

“In each category, each judge shall rate each entry on three indices. These indices vary by category and are listed below. For each index, judges enter a score from 1.0 to 10.0, where 1.0 is valued as “very poor quality” and 10.0 is valued as “perfection” in the personal standards of the judge.” 

CRITICAL VOICES

Answering critics in VoiceOverXtra, Rudy Gaskins is very pragmatic about the entry fee. He encourages voice-overs to look at it from a business point of view. Being nominated for, and/or winning an award is smart marketing, he says. Every business should have a marketing budget. That’s where the entry fee should come from.

He has a point, but aren’t there other ways to market your business that are less risky, and that may have a bigger and more concrete pay-off? You could build a better website. You could invest in a newsletter. You could hire a graphic designer to come up with a logo.

COMMUNITY SERVICE

Gaskins also argues that these awards are a way to build community. He writes:

“Awards are a meeting place. They’re a focal point that draws the attention of those most interested and involved in your industry or profession. They’re an opportunity to engage your professional community in discussions of topics and controversies, in reviewing standards or discovering trends. Awards tend to involve leaders and experts. Awards are the place to learn, to network and to enhance professionalism.”

The sceptic in me highly doubts that these awards will have that effect. As I said earlier, by nature, competitions are pitting people and productions against one another. Slick award shows like the Emmys and Oscars are nothing but highly staged marketing events where artistic integrity is sacrificed in favor of purchased publicity. Stars show up pretending to have a good time, knowing that they’re contractually obligated to plug their latest project. Thank goodness for the gift bags!

Is that really what the voice-over world needs? Would that give our profession the much desired gravitas? Would increased respect lead to higher rates and higher standards? Would an average client be more inclined to hire an award-winning voice actor, or would he perhaps think that he probably can’t afford such a high-profile professional?

SHOW SOME RESPECT

Gaskins also believes these awards are good for our confidence and self-respect: 

“When you enter an award, you are saying to yourself and your constituents that you believe in what you do. Get on the playing field and let the chips fall where they may. People respect those who stand up to be counted. The other choice is to go unnoticed.”

I don’t think it’s that black-and-white: either enter the competition, or go unnoticed. As a professional voice actor I enter competitions every day. I call it “auditioning.” Secondly, happy clients are my credentials, and my readers and students are my accolades. I don’t need a jury to tell me how well I’m doing, or to make me feel good about myself.

Still, what the Society Of Voice Arts And Sciences™ is doing takes guts, and I’m willing to give this initiative the benefit of the doubt. On paper, the Voice Arts™ Awards certainly have potential, but the value of this prize has yet to prove itself. 

Ultimately, being a successful voice-over is not about winning or losing.

It’s about how well you play the game.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Read my follow-up story everyone is talking about. It’s called “Paying For Your Prize.”

PPS Click here for a list of all the 2014 Voice Arts™ Award winners.