voice-over blog

Should We Shoot The Messenger?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Journalism & Media, Personal 22 Comments

Hillary and DonaldA painful, and often embarrassing war of words is finally over.

America has voted. The people have spoken. 

We have a president-elect, and his name is Donald J. Trump. 

Some of us are elated.

Some of us are scared. 

Some of us are asking ourselves: “How the heck did this happen?”

Now, before you think this is yet another analysis of the election, let me stop you. This is primarily a blog about people’s voices and their meaning, and that’s why you and I need to talk. 

How so? 

Because some of us were foot soldiers in this war of words. Soldiers of fortune. 

I’m referring to the voice actors who used their talent to spread the message of a particular party. Masterful manipulators, hand-picked and hired to move hearts and minds. 

That’s not some dark, political point of view. It’s the ultimate purpose of our profession. Clients hire voice actors when they have something to sell, someone to entertain, something to teach, or something to preach. 

If we do our jobs well, we lift dead words off the page, and bring them to life in the most impactful way possible. Sometimes that way is a seductive whisper. Sometimes it is a battle cry about making a nation great again, or stronger together. As long as that cry is believable, people are buying it in droves. 

It’s all about influence. 

A masterful audio book narrator can create wonderful worlds and characters that become an intimate part of the listener’s experience. Well-delivered catch phrases from commercials become engrained in our culture. 

As the French say: “It’s the tone that makes the music,” and in my mind, it’s the voice-over who sets the tone, whether it’s someone like Sir David Attenborough, Gilbert Godfrey, or Morgan Freeman.   

Who can forget the way Ed McMahon delivered his “Here’s Johnny,” for almost thirty years? Who doesn’t remember Don LaFontaine’s booming “In a world…”  or Don Pardo announcing Saturday Night Live? 

As you’re reading these words, you probably heard their voices inside your head, and hearing these voices put you in a certain state of mind, if only for a moment. 

Don’t worry. That’s perfectly normal. 

Voice-overs infuse scripts with meaning and emotion. A talented voice actor can “play” the words, the way a musician turns notes into music, and music into art. 

Now, at this point I can hear some of you say: 

“Slow down a little. What’s the big deal? Words are just words! You can’t get wet from the word water. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.”

Well, you’re wrong.

Words are powerful weapons. Depending on who delivers them, and how they are delivered, words can act as a placebo, or as a poison.  

The word Kristallnacht isn’t “just” a word. Kristallnacht opens up a burning world of meaning; a world of anti-Semitism and intolerance that lead to the killing of six million innocent people. 

Words are loaded. They can be used to divide, to incite, to help, and to heal. Words drive teenagers to suicide, and words inspire religious fanatics to murder and maim. 

Words are never “just” words. 

Now, subscribing to the idea that words have power, has implications for all of us, and especially for professional communicators.

Whether you’re a copywriter, a speech writer, a politician, or a voice-over, as a paid manipulator of language, you have the responsibility to ask yourself: 

“To what aim am I doing my job?”

“What are the potential consequences?” 

“Would this project I’m involved in make me proud?”

Under what circumstances would I refuse to work on something?”

“Is this job an opportunity to make money, to make a difference, or both?” 

Some of my fellow voice-overs answer those questions in a very pragmatic way. They tell me:

“Don’t shoot the messenger. I’m only an actor. I’ll say whatever they pay me to say.” 

To be perfectly honest with you: I struggle with that attitude. Especially when it’s about causes I strongly believe in, I find it hard to separate personal from professional ethics. For instance, as a lifelong vegetarian, I would never butcher my beliefs to promote the consumption of meat, no matter how much they’d pay me.

At the same time, I’m not going to make the mistake of confusing an actor with his or her character. If someone portrays a member of the KKK in a movie, I know it doesn’t mean he supports the KKK. Perhaps that actor wanted to play this role to warn the world about the dangers of the Klan. 

So, to help myself deal with some professional, moral dilemmas, I find it useful to make a distinction between fiction, and fantasy. As a voice actor I give myself permission to play a despicable person if it’s non-fiction (and with certain limitations). But I would never record a promo video for the KKK. 

And what about political ads? Would I be willing to help a political party influence the voters?

It depends.

Although many political ads sound too good to be true, I put them in the category of non-fiction. They’re a tool in a battle to influence the masses. They’re instruments of propaganda. Based on my personal morals, and knowing what I know about the power of words, I would never lend my voice to a message I don’t believe in, regardless of the paycheck. 

My voice is for hire, but my integrity is not for sale.

I understand that you may draw the line differently, because your values and beliefs are different from mine. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t discuss ethics in our profession. Our voice is a powerful instrument of influence, that can be used for many purposes, good, or bad. 

One last thing.

Let’s not confuse doing a great job with doing what is right. 

It is very much possible to do great work for a terrible cause. Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph des Willens, is a cinematic masterpiece of propaganda about the 1934 Nazi Party Congress in Nuremberg. Her documentary Olympia about the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, was groundbreaking.

Sometimes it’s not the work itself that’s being criticized. It’s the purpose it serves, that matters.

With that being said, it’s time to adjust to a new reality. 

Our election is over.

To many observers, this wasn’t an election about issues. This was an election about emotions; about who was best at selling a message to the masses. 

A painful, and often embarrassing war of words has finally come to an end.

Or is it just beginning?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!


A Shock Mount for the 21st Century

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Gear, Studio 11 Comments

Lyre, lyre, your mic’s on fire!

Is it just me, or are microphones getting more and more exotic?

We have Snowballs, Yetis, Voodoos, Fat Heads, microphones with holes, pear-shaped mics, flat ones, round ones…

To accommodate all these weird shapes, sizes and different weights, each microphone now seems to come with its own, custom-designed shock mount.

What amazes me is this.

The most inexpensive mics often ship with a cat’s cradle suspension system, whereas some of the big boys demand top-dollar for shock mounts that are sold separately. 

It’s as if you’re buying a high-end mountain bike that does not come with a proper seat.

I ran into that problem when I got my Microtech Gefell M 930 Ts microphone. If you’ve read my review you know that I adore this nifty little thing. Because it’s a pretty sensitive microphone, a proper shock mount is no luxury item. It is a necessity.

Here’s the thing: the M 930Ts is an exceptionally small large condenser, and it does not fit into a regular shock mount. Of course Gefell will happily sell you the one they make for a little over $300, but that’s just outrageous for a wire frame and some elastic bands.

But there’s more to this story than my mini microphone.

Traditional shock mounts

In my quest for a more universal, durable, and modern suspension, I stumbled upon Rycote, a family run business in Gloucestershire, UK. Founded in 1969 by film and television sound recordist John Gozzard, the company became first known for its furry microphone windshields.

Forty years later, Rycote products can be found in television studios and on film sets all over the world. In 2000, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences recognized Rycote by a Technical Achievement Award, but the company certainly did not rest on its laurels.

INTO THE 21st CENTURY

A few years ago, Rycote came up with the ingenious InVision™ shock mount system for side-address studio microphones. It is based on the patented vibration-resistant Lyre™ suspension.

Rycote’s shock mount is made of lightweight plastic, and has an inner and an outer ring, just like the more traditional mounts. Here’s what’s new: the inner ring that holds the microphone is not suspended by elastic bands, but by four W-shaped Lyre™ clips attached to the outer ring.

click to enlarge

The red Lyre™ clips (see picture) are not the only part of what makes this shock mount both unique and universal. What holds the microphone in place is a miniature version of a Christmas tree stand: four screw clamps with rubber tips.

Attached to the inner ring, they can secure microphones of different sizes and shapes with very little effort.

There are several versions of the InVision™ Studio line. The regular USM (Universal Shock Mount) is for microphones between 1 and 55 mm, weighing 400–750 grams (about 14 – 26 ounces).

The USM-VB is for mics between 55–68 mm weighing up to 900 grams (about 31 ounces). My test model is the USM-L for mics between 18–55 mm, weighing up to 400 grams.

Rycote’s online compatibility charts will tell you which mount you’ll need for which microphone.

My demo mount came just in time, as I was about to test several microphones, one of which was my own studio mic, the Gefell M 930 Ts. With the help of a 5/8 inch brass thread adapter (included) it was a breeze to attach the mount to the mic stand. In less than ninety seconds, my Gefell was safely suspended in mid-air.

I won’t say that you can’t screw this up, because you have to.

SURPRISING DETAIL

click to enlarge

The InVison™ mount revealed one surprising but very welcome detail: a clever cable clamp close to the thread, separating the microphone cable from the boom arm. This prevents vibration traveling through the cable from reaching the microphone.

In the next few days I tried the InVision™ model on several microphones such as the more angular Lewitt LCT 640 and the more traditionally shaped Avantone CK6. Fitting these mics to the mount was simple, and at no point was I worried that the fasteners would lose their grip, or crush the mic.

Because my Gefell only weighs 273 grams (9.6 ounces), I used the USM-L (“L” for Lite) that comes with the red, more flexible Lyres. 

I tried the same microphones with the shock mounts that were provided by their respective manufacturers. In a series of unscientific but rigorous wiggling and thumping tests, the Rycote suspension system lived up to its promise and audibly outperformed the more traditional mounts.

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!

click to enlarge

Rycote also sells this shock mount as a Studio Kit which consists of a suspension system and a pop filter. The filter’s slightly curved frame can be attached to the outer support ring of the mount, and it will also lock tightly to most “spider” type elastic shock mounts. Thanks to a rotatable fitting, it’s easy to get the filter out of the way when swapping microphones.

The oval-shaped filter is made from super light mesh (an ABS nylon blend plastic), which is really a 10 mm thick open cell foam pad, held in place by a support ring. This foam can be easily removed for cleaning or replacement.

I’ve never been a fan of pop filters held in place by a heavy metal clamp and a gooseneck. The less stuff I have in my field of vision, the better. Somehow, the clamp always seems to loosen its grip after a while, and I’ve had the whole thing come down in the middle of a live recording session. That won’t happen with the Rycote filter because it only weighs 45 g (about 1.5 ounces).

Being used to the old metal mesh and nylon filters, I was surprised by how effective the Rycote foam filter really is. The company says it can reduce the effect of plosives by 20 dB (as compared to no pop screen at all). It sits at a good distance from the microphone, but it cannot be moved closer or further away. It wasn’t a problem for me, but some might consider that to be less than ideal.

CONCLUSION

click to enlarge

At $178,22 I think Rycote’s InVison™ Studio Kit is reasonably priced, especially compared to the more than $300 I would have had to fork over for a genuine Gefell shock mount.

That I am not returning my demo kit to the dealer, shouldn’t come as a shock to you!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS My voice is for hire, but my opinion is not for sale. I was not compensated by Rycote for this review. 


Are You My Colleague or My Competitor?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Journalism & Media, Promotion 18 Comments

Screen Shot 2016-08-31 at 2.25.42 PMThe Olympic Games in Rio are over. The Paralympics end on September 18th.

Since the start of these games I have been glued to the television. For me, that’s a strange thing to do, and I’ll tell you why.

I’m not a huge sports fan. I don’t support one particular team. Between you and me, I think most sports coverage is overrated as the most important of very unimportant news.

I often wonder why millions of people get all psyched about a major game, but seem to care very little about famine, global warming, or the annihilation of yet another endangered species.

I don’t get why some folks are willing to fork over a fortune to buy tickets to a match, but aren’t willing to pay a few dollars more in taxes so their state can properly fund education, or repair those bridges that are on the brink of collapse.

I don’t understand why people make time to go to a lame game where two teams are chasing a round rubber object, but they couldn’t be bothered to leave the house to vote.

I find it profoundly disturbing that music, drama, and art teachers are always the first to be fired when schools need to cut jobs, but nobody dares to touch the athletic department.

Perhaps it’s a sign that I’m not fully integrated into American society yet. The USA is a country where baseball is called “The National Pastime,” and where NFL stars are paid more to defend their team’s title than we pay servicemen and women to defend their nation.

How we spend our money as a society, reveals our priorities.

If you want to know what’s important to a country, you should also listen to its language. U.S. politicians talk about “leveling the playing field.” Motivational speakers teach strategies for “winning the game of life,” and managers will ask us to “step up to the plate.”

Sport is part of the American spirit.

Enthusiasts tell us that it teaches healthy habits, strategic thinking, and teamwork. Sport, they say, is a powerful metaphor for life. 

That may be, but is sport always healthy?

According to Safe Kids Worldwide, an international non-profit organization aimed at preventing unintentional childhood injury, every 25 seconds, a child athlete suffers a sports injury serious enough to send him or her to the emergency room (source). Twenty year-old American snowboarder Trevor Jacob admitted that his memory is already a little fuzzy as the result of at least 25 concussions.

And what does sport teach us about relationships?

When we talk about sports, we’re talking about competition. Competition is based on confrontation where being the best is often more important than doing one’s best. The aim is to overpower the other team or fellow-competitor(s), rather than to work together as teams toward a common goal. It’s a black-and-white world of us against the rest. A world of winners and losers.

America does not like losers.

These days, the world of professional sports is also a universe of sponsorships, mega-contracts, endorsements, and merchandise. You may be thinking that you’re watching a fun game, but in reality it is a shameless vehicle for product promotion. At this point the ad agencies have conditioned us so well, that many viewers are more excited about the TV commercials than about the game itself.

As voice-overs we’re benefitting from this development because we often lend our voices to these commercials. Fifteen seconds of script can pay the bills for an entire month.

Many of us have embraced sports metaphors in our line of work. We talk about “winning or losing an audition,” and we sign up for seminars to stay “ahead of the competition.” A bottle of “Entertainer’s Secret” is the performance enhancing drug of choice.

Having said that, I think it’s a big mistake to compare our job to what athletes do. First of all, most athletes are in much better shape! Secondly, we’re not running a race (although it may feel that way). We’re not competing for a place on the podium.

Yes, just like athletes we need coaching, quality equipment, and experience. Our success demands sacrifice. But submitting an audition is not the same as entering a competition, because we do not determine the outcome.

In many sports, the fastest competitor wins. It’s that simple. Winning an audition has little to do with being the best. It’s about being the best fit in the eyes and ears of whoever is casting the part.

As voice talents, we are not opponents. We’re colleagues. We have no title to defend or national reputation to uphold. Your success does not diminish my standing. As far as I’m concerned, we have a common goal:

To deliver the best service, to increase our standards, and to ensure that we’re getting paid a fair and decent rate.

In order to do that, we need to lead by example, and we need to stick together.

Clients love to have us fight among ourselves, especially about rates. They’re trying to drive a wedge between those who sell their talent for less, and those who refuse to devalue what we have to offer. It’s up to us to play that game or not.

One thing I know for sure.

As long as we see each other as competitors with a price to beat, there’s only going to be one winner: The Client.

Back to the Olympics.

By now you know I’m not that much into sports, but I have been watching what’s happening in Rio. Even though I don’t consider myself to be a chauvinist, I’m usually rooting for the guys and girls in orange: the Dutch team. But what really got me, was this.

This summer, American middle-distance runner Abbey D’agostina and her former opponent Nikki Hamblin were both awarded special Olympic medals for sportsmanship. I’ll let the official Olympic website tell the story:

New Zealand runner Nikki Hamblin tripped and fell to the ground during the 5,000m race, accidentally bringing American D’Agostino down behind her with around 2,000m to go. The 24-year-old D’Agostino was quick to get up again, yet instead of carrying on with her race she stopped to help the stricken Hamblin to her feet, encouraging her to join her in attempting to finish the race. However, during her tumble, D’Agostino suffered an ankle injury, slowing the runner down, but Hamblin sportingly hung back to in return offer her encouragements. The two women went on to complete the race together.

Now, that’s the spirit I love in sports, and I love seeing it in my profession too: people helping each other succeed.

So, be a good sport. Engage in fair play. Help each other out. Admire your colleague’s accomplishments. 

You might not receive a medal, but you’ve just earned my respect, and the respect of your community.

That alone, makes you a winner!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

Be Sweet. Please retweet.


The Big Secret To Audio Book Success

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career 29 Comments

Jim Dale in "Barnum."Heroes and role models.

We all have people we admire because they inspire.

One of my heroes happens to be a dancer, singer-songwriter, comedian, stage and screen actor, as well as a first-rate audio book narrator.

Like me, he is a naturalized U.S. citizen. One of the songs he wrote the lyrics to, was nominated for an Oscar. He received five Tony Award nominations, and won one for Barnum. He also has two Grammy’s.

In July of 2014, aged 78, he finished a twelve week one-man show about his career at the Laura Pels Theater in New York called “Just Jim Dale.”

I’m sure you know Jim Dale as the narrator of the Harry Potter series in the U.S. (Stephen Fry narrated the UK version). For his voice work Dale received ten Audie Awards, and twenty-three Audio File Earphone Awards.

Dale previously held the record for creating and recording 134 different characters portrayed in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. The new record holder is Roy Dotrice -aged 91- with 224 voices for A Game of Thrones.

This is what the AudioFile magazine wrote about Dale:

“When J.K. Rowling has Hagrid boom, Dumbledore hum, and Aunt Marge belch, listeners can hear exactly what that sounds like, thanks to Jim Dale’s spellbinding narration. He gives voice to every wizard, muggle, house elf, goblin, giant, and hundreds of other characters who pass through Hogwarts, Hogsmeade, Diagon Alley, and the other magical environs of the Harry Potter series. He is a major part of why these fantastical volumes are among the top-selling audiobooks of all time.”

THE BIG SECRET

This begs the question: Is there a secret to Jim Dale’s mastery? Fortunately, he gave us the answer. Dale said:

“Good acting is consistency of performance.”

The ability to deliver the same quality over a period of time is one of those things that separates the professional from the pretender, whether it is in sports, music, the culinary arts or in (voice) acting.

If you want your performance to be credible, you have to be consistent.

This may seem obvious, but as in many things in life, it is easier said than done. Imagine having to come up with 134 different character voices, knowing that many of them will return in a series of seven books.

In a motion picture, these characters are portrayed by different actors. The audio book narrator is on his or her own, and has to create and recreate these characters accurately over a period of time. It’s a daunting task, and quite a responsibility.

In an article on authentic listening, Junko Yokota and Miriam Martinez said the following:

“The audiobook narrator plays a role similar to that of a translator of a book from one language to another. A good translator can make a big difference in the reading experience through word choice and passage interpretation; likewise, the audiobook narrator helps mediate the story for the listener by selecting what tone to take, what types of voices to give to characters, what to emphasize, and how to engage the listener.”

There’s a big difference between reading into a microphone, and telling a story. Great narrators like Jim Dale are storytellers who take you on a journey you never want to end. And by the way, this doesn’t only apply to audio books. Sometimes, a twenty-second script for a commercial is a short story in and of itself.

BEGINNER MISTAKES

These days, some voice-over coaches are trying to drum up business by telling prospective students that audio books and video games are booming. They are right. We’re living in the golden age of the spoken book, and successful video games make way more money than Oscar-winning movies.

Hordes of hopefuls sign up for voice-over classes because they believe they have the pipes casting directors are waiting for. Many of these beginners are making two big mistakes:

  1. They 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.
  2. They think that being able to sing one song, makes them ready to perform an entire opera.

In the Documentary I Know That Voice, voice actor James Arnold Taylor had this to say:

“It’s not about ‘I can do Christopher Walken, I can do Johnny Depp, I can do Michael J. Fox.’ That’s great, but can you do ANYTHING as them? Can you stay in that voice for hours; scream in that voice for four hours?”

In other words: consistency is key. Consistency and stamina.

ARE YOU REALLY READY?

Like Jim Dale, you have to have the ability to stay in character, and then switch character and get back to the first character, while introducing a third. And you do this for hours at a time in a space smaller than a prison cell. Dale is usually in the studio from 10:30 am until 5:30 pm, recording twenty pages an hour for two weeks to record one book (source). This requires serious training, serious preparation, and serious self-care.

If you’re new to the business and want to break into audio books, I dare you to record for even one hour straight, and find out how your voice feels at the end. Does it still sound the same? Could you continue for another hour, or are you exhausted; do your vocal folds feel raw, and do you need a few hours to recover? If so, you’re not ready to meet that 3-week deadline for this 700-page novel you just agreed to narrate at $100 per finished hour (a ridiculously low rate by the way).

THE VOICE BUILDER

Gary Cantona, the voice builder

Gary Catona

There’s a reason why some VO-pros like James Arnold Taylor study with Gary Catona. Catona calls himself the “voice builder,” and he has worked with Andrea Bocelli, Usher, Shakira, Shirley MacLaine, Tony Bennett, and many others. He approaches voice building as a sport, and encourages his students to train the voice like an athlete trains his muscles. 

You can read about his method in his book “A Revolution in Singing.” Gary also developed an iPhone/iPad Voice Building App ($4.99) with over twenty voice building sessions, exercises, and video demonstrations for singing and speaking voices.

A few years ago he did a talk at Google, and if you’re interested in his work and his philosophy, you can watch it on YouTube when you click this link. At 26:34 Catona answers a question from a voice-over artist in the audience. 

BUT THERE’S MORE..

Being consistent as a (voice) actor means more than being able to do marathon recording sessions, and staying in character(s). Pacing is important too. If you’re reading your lines too fast, the listener has no idea of what’s being said. If you’re too slow, the listeners’ mind will start to wander.

It also means being able to deliver audio files of consistent professional quality. People like Jim Dale go to a studio and work with an audio engineer, and perhaps a director. Most narrators do not have that luxury. They run a business out of a walk-in closet, hoping the dog next door won’t start to bark. They self-direct, self-record, and they edit every minute of every file. One hour of finished audio can take many hours to complete.

Dale realizes how much work goes into the production of an audio book. When Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire came out, he told reporter Rochelle O’Gorman:

“The magic of the Harry Potter books is really in the hands of the editors and engineers. They take all the mistakes that I make – and I make thousands of them – and edit them out, and splice the tape reading into such a beautifully seamless production. They’re the geniuses; they’re the ones that we should applaud because nobody knows how much work they have to do.”

Credit where credit is due, but at the same time, Dale gave those engineers something magical to work with:

Constant, consistent brilliance.

And that’s why he is one of my heroes!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS When this story was first published, I received the following message from Jim Dale:

“So many thanks for the words you have written about me, truly embarrassing. I also wish to congratulate you on all your work in the narrating world, very impressive. I have also traveled through your website, really amazing. My thanks again for writing about me and my sincere best wishes in whatever you choose to become involved in next. Jim”

PS This is part 5 in my series on performance and script delivery. You can read part 1 by clicking on this link, and part 2 by clicking on this link. Click here for part 3. If you’d like to read part 4, please click here.


What Clients Hate The Most

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing 19 Comments

SurpriseOkay, this may sound like a pop quiz, but are you a go-with-the-flow person, or do you like to plan everything out?

Do you like surprises, or do you prefer to know what will happen next?

How well do you handle uncertainty, and last-minute changes?

Personally, I think life would be unexciting without the unexpected. I like not knowing what I will get for my birthday. I love to give a chef free rein, as he creates a special dish for me. I purposefully seek out new ideas and uncharted avenues. It keeps the brain cells bouncing around in playful anticipation.

But forget personal preferences for a moment. Let’s talk about the lifeblood of your business: your clients.

If there’s one thing clients all over the world consistently hate, it’s not knowing what to expect.

That’s understandable.

In an uncertain and stressful world, clients want reliability, dependability, and predictability. If your work is inconsistent, you can’t be trusted to deliver a product or service a client can count on.

I’ve been going to the same restaurant for years, and the food was always outstanding. Always. Until a few months ago. The menu had changed. The wait staff wasn’t the same, and the open kitchen had disappeared. That evening, I had one of the worst meals ever, and now I hesitate to go back.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

So, let’s talk about inconsistency for a moment.

Since I’m continuing my series on script delivery, you may be inclined to connect (in)consistency to your (voice) acting performance. We’ll get to that later, because we have a bigger picture to discuss.

If there’s one thing I’d like you to take away from this post, it is this:

Consistent delivery is about much more than the way you read your lines.

As a solopreneur, you’re judged by the way you deliver a total package. This starts with first impressions:

  • What does your website look like?
  • How do your demos sound?
  • What kind of equipment do you use?
  • How do you present yourself in person, via email, in social media, and over the phone?


If done right, all of these elements should send one consistent and congruent message:

Professional At Work

In a time where anyone can hang out a shingle and pretend to be a pro, it is easy to spot the inconsistencies that turn clients off. Do you want examples? Be my guest!

MIXED MESSAGES

On her website, one freelancer boasted about “years of experience.” Then I looked at her client list of… seven companies total. None of them were names you would recognize.

Another colleague thought that adding that amateur Polaroid snapshot to his website would really impress visitors. I hope his ideal clients are into Margaritaville, because that’s the logo I spotted in the picture’s background. 

Can it get any worse? Of course.

A few years ago I went to a recording session in Manhattan. The first thing I heard when I came in, was the sound of crying kids. One of the other talents had brought her two toddlers to the studio. The high-end client who had flown in for the session, was not amused.

One voice actor described himself on his website as detail-oriented. In the next paragraph I found not one but two spelling errors.

Sending mixed messages like that, undermines credibility. It kills trust.

DECEPTIVE DEMO

Here’s another inconsistency clients talk about all the time. They hire a voice-over based on a kick-ass demo. The talent gets the script and records the audio. But when the client receives the recording, it sounds nothing like the voice on the demo tracks.

You can guess how this came about. The super slick demo was overproduced, and later doctored by a talented audio engineer. When it was time to do the real work, the voice talent went back to her boomy closet booth where she self-directed.

“I’m not going to pay for that,” said the angry producer. “This girl charges top-dollar for something I can’t use!”

That’s another inconsistency. In this case, the quality of the product did not match the price.

Here’s one more pet peeve of mine.

A talented voice actor offered a quick turnaround time. It took him over a week before he got back to me. Mind you, during that period he was all over Facebook. I’ll have to think a very long time before I ever recommend him.

NEW AND OLD

Now, before you tell me that this blog post is one of those “nice reminders for beginners,” you should know that I find these types of inconsistencies across the board. In fact, fresh talent seems a lot more willing to please, because they still have to make a name for themselves.

Some veteran voice actors, on the other hand, have become complacent. They believe that their reputation should speak for itself. Although a nice portfolio doesn’t hurt, many clients don’t want to know what you have done for others in the past. All they need to know is this:

“What can you do for me, today?”

Here’s the bottom line. If you advertise yourself as a pro, you have to present yourself as a pro on ALL levels.

There’s a reason why a fashion designer doesn’t dress like a slob. It is obvious why a fitness trainer is usually in good shape. It’s part of a consistent message. A message a client is more likely to remember and respond to.

And what about consistency when it comes to the delivery of your script?

Let’s continue that conversation next week, when I’ll also look at the big secret to audio book success!

How’s that for a surprising teaser?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS This is part 4 in my series on performance and script delivery. You can read part 1 by clicking on this link, and part 2 by clicking on this link. Click here for part 3.

PPS Be sweet. Please retweet!

photo credit: dawolf- via photopin cc


How To Be Believable

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career 20 Comments

Founders Hall ©nethervoiceCongruence.

It’s one of those mysterious English words I had to learn as a native Dutch speaker. Little did I know that this word would come to play a pivotal part in my voice-over career.

Congruence is not a word you hear very often. At least, I don’t. It’s sometimes used in mathematics or geometry. What does it mean?

Congruence is actually a state achieved by different elements coming together. It’s a state of agreement and harmony. In a moment, I’ll tell you why this state is so important to professional speakers.

As I continue my series on performance, I want to remind you of the five characteristics of masterful delivery. They are:

• Clear and Clean
• Convincing
• Consistent
• Context & content appropriate
• Charismatic

SAY YOU’RE SORRY

Last week we talked about the significance of clean and clear delivery. Today we’ll move on to the next C. Let’s start off with a question:

How can you tell someone’s apology is not sincere? To put it differently, how do you pick up on the fact that someone doesn’t mean what he or she is saying?

It might help to think back to a moment where one of your friends or colleagues sounded totally unconvincing. From the moment this person opened his or her mouth you knew something was wrong, but you couldn’t quite put your finger on it.

Was it the choice of words? Could it be the tone of voice? Was it the body language that tipped you off?

I’d like to suggest that it was all of the above.

You see, what we say, how we say it, and the way we hold our body while we are saying it, is utterly revealing.

SHOW ME THE MONEY

Years ago, a collection agency wanted to know the difference between a successful debt collector, and someone struggling to collect. In this case, they looked at employees who were using the phone to commit debtors to pay. In other words: these guys were making collect calls.

Both the successful collectors and the unsuccessful ones were using the same script, verbatim. So, why did one group succeed and the other fail? One of the determining factors turned out to be the very last sentence in the script. After informing the respondent of the outstanding debt and ways to take care of it, here’s what the collectors had to ask:

“Can you make a payment today?”

Because it is constructed as a question, the natural thing would be to read this line with a question mark. In other words, the speaker’s voice would go up at the end of the sentence. That’s exactly what the unsuccessful collectors did. Collectively.

UPTALK

We all know people who are in the habit of ending their sentences on a higher pitch. Phonologists have named this tendency HRT or high-rising terminal, and they believe this trend is growing in Australia and North America. Down Under they call it the Australian Question Intonation or AQI.

To many listeners, upward inflection (or uptalk) is an indicator of insecurity, and that’s exactly how the debtors interpreted it. Listening to the collector on the phone, the person owing money didn’t think the situation was urgent, so most people would put off making a payment.

The successful collectors on the other hand, treated the question “Can you make a payment today” as a statement. Instead of going up, their voices would go down at the word “today.” It almost sounded like a command, and it had the desired effect.

WHAT DO YOU MEAN

Same words. Different tonality. Different meaning. The French even have a saying for that:

“C’est le ton qui fait la musique”

It’s not what you say, but the way you say it.

Just as our tone of voice conveys meaning, our body language can be very revealing too.

At a party, one of my friends was rather quiet and withdrawn. He avoided eye contact, and looked down at the floor.

“How are you?” I asked.

“Oh, I feel great,” my friend said. “I’m really enjoying this party.”

“If that’s the case, why don’t I see it in your face?” I asked.

It turned out that his partner just broke up with him, and he felt as happy as a sad sack of potatoes.

PANTS ON FIRE

You see, it’s easy to choose the right words. We can also make an effort to sound upbeat even if we’re not, but it’s tough to make our bodies lie. That’s because our posture and facial expressions are a result of unconscious processes that are hard to manipulate, unless…. you’re in the acting business.

Actors are paid pretenders. The more convincing they can “lie,” the higher their paychecks.

As a (voice) actor, it is your job to sell your lines so that the audience is buying it. In order for them to believe in what you’re saying, they have to believe that you believe it yourself. How do you do that? Here’s one clue:

If you wish your audience to access a certain state, you have to access that state yourself first.

What do I mean by that? Lets assume you’re a keynote speaker at a conference, and you want to pump the audience up. They’ll never get out of their seats if you take forever to come on stage, start adjusting your microphone, and you begin by arranging your notes saying the following words in the most sleep-inducing tone of voice:

“Ehhh, ladies and gentlemen, it is an honor and a privilege to be here with you tonight.”

Zzzzzzzzz

Now imagine a hypnotherapist trying to put his patient under while speaking in a most animated, rapid-fire way. It’s not going to work because his words are saying one thing, and his actions are saying something else. 

CONFIDENCE

If you want to be a successful (voice) actor, you have to become masterful at evoking and managing your states. Like so many things in life, this starts between the ears.

Your external dialogue begins with your internal dialogue.

We started this story by talking about being convincing. You will never be able to convince anyone of anything without confidence. If you wish to come across as confident, you have to access a state of confidence. 

But what if you’re insecure or nervous? What do you do? Well, there are a few ways you can approach this.

Strategy number one: Just pretend that you’re confident. As kids, most of us were very good at pretending. This is your chance to become a kid again, and feign the state you wish to access. It’s fun and it works, as long as you give yourself permission to play. Are you willing to do that, or are you too stuck in your adult ways?

Strategy number two: Model confident people. Study how they walk. Study how they talk. Study their beliefs. It’s the basic stuff actors do when preparing for specific roles. Once you’ve analyzed people’s mannerisms, speech patterns and body language, it’s your turn to reproduce them, and make them your own.

Strategy number three is based on the following principle: Competence breeds confidence. In other words, the more competent you become, the more confident you will feel. For instance, years of doing live radio taught me that I can cold read any script any time and sound like I know it inside out. What’s one thing you can do to increase your competence? 

Strategy number four: Face your fears. People who aren’t very confident and convincing are usually afraid that something unpleasant will happen should they assert themselves. Unless and until you deal with that, you’ll always be stuck at the level of pretending.

NEED PROOF?

So, let’s assume you’ve taken the time to use these strategies, and you’re ready to put them to the test. How can you tell you sound convincing? How do you actually know you’ve nailed it? This brings me back to the very first word of this blog post: congruence. It’s the polar opposite of sending mixed signals.

When your tone of voice and your body language match your message, you’ve become a congruent, convincing communicator.

This does not mean that you always have to act as someone who knows what he or she is doing. It totally depends on the part you play. If your job is to portray someone who is insecure, you embody that role as convincingly as you can. 

Secondly, -like the debt collectors- you will know you’re on the right track by observing how people react. Are they paying… attention to you?

The meaning of your communication is the response you get.

One last question. Well, two actually, but who’s counting? 

Have I convinced you?

Is congruence key to a solid delivery?

As a writer, I have a bit of a problem here. All I have to work with are words. You can’t see me, and you don’t hear me.

Unless you’re blessed with a rich imagination.

In that case, I hope you’ve made me look and sound incredibly convincing!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice 

PS Be Sweet. Please retweet!

PPS This is part 3 in my series on performance and script delivery. You can read part 1 by clicking on this link, and part 2 by clicking on this link.


How To Hire The Right Voice Over

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles 8 Comments

man with microphoneMike’s corporate video looked like a million bucks.

The camerawork was first-rate. The captions were loud and clear. The whole package was a winner.

As long as the sound remained muted.

Why?

Because the voice-over brought everything down.

“Where did you find this guy?” I asked. “He sounds like he has no idea what he is saying. There are certain words I cannot understand, and there’s a weird echo that is very distracting.”

“That’s our Dave,” said Mike with a proud smile. “Dave works in Delivery, and everybody kept on telling me that he has a nice voice. I thought I’d give him a break. Why search for outside talent when the answer is under our own roof?”

“Because this is a professional production,” I answered. “Whoever is going to see this, doesn’t care that Dave is your delivery guy. His voice is now associated with your company. If people are perceiving him as unprofessional (and they will), what will they think of your business?”

“But I saved a ton of money,” tried Mike. “I gave Dave fifty bucks, and he was happy with that.”

“No Mike,” I said. “You just lost a ton of money by working with an amateur. Think of a voice as your auditory logo. What does it tell potential customers about the kind of company you are? Dave’s delivery is undermining your message. He just doesn’t sound trustworthy, and that is damaging your corporate image.”

There was an awkward silence as I heard a few pennies drop.

“So, if Dave’s not doing it for you, how do I find the right voice?” asked Mike. “There are thousands of people online who all pretend to be voice-over pros. How do I separate the wheat from the chaff, and how long is that going to take?”

”It all starts with you, Mike,” I said. “You have to…

1. Know what you want.

Let me ask you a question: How will you find your way to a specific destination if you don’t know where it is and what it looks like? The same is true in voice-over land. Ask yourself:

“If my product or company had a voice, what would it sound like?”

Is it male or female? Would it be a young, hip voice, or the voice of wisdom and experience? Would it be a booming voice, a gravelly voice, a sultry voice, or a motivating voice? Does this voice speak with a particular accent or intonation? Does it sound like someone I know from radio, TV, or from the movies?

Also ask yourself:

What audience am I trying to reach?

Is it an educated audience? If so, what’s their level of education? Do they fall in a particular age group? Is it an international audience, or are they local?

Once you have a voice profile, put it in the audition information you want the talent to see. If you don’t do that, every Tom, Dick, or Harriet will submit an MP3, and you’ll have the hardest time sorting through hundreds of entries.

Tip: Know what you want, but keep an open mind (and ear). Sometimes you think you have the right idea until you see or hear something that is even better!

2. Does the talent sound authentic and trustworthy?

This is crucial.

People are seldom fooled by a fake. Once they perceive that a voice-over lacks sincerity and natural authority, they lose trust. People who lose trust won’t be sold on your message or your product. Take Dave the delivery guy. He does not sound like he believes in what he is saying. At times he is unintelligible.”

“Are you sure?” asked Mike, “’cause I didn’t hear it.”

“Mike, you wrote the script, so you know what Dave’s supposed to say. That’s why you didn’t pick up on it.

The number one test for any professional communicator is not tone of voice but intelligibility.

Here’s the next question you should ask yourself when you listen to a demo:

3. Is the audio of professional quality?

Imagine shooting a fifteen thousand dollar video with a third-rate camera. You would never do that, would you? So, why would you accept audio that was recorded with sub-standard equipment, recorded on the kitchen table?

Professional audio sounds clean, clear, and without flutter echoes or ambient noise. Trust me. If you can hear the neighbor’s weed whacker or pickup truck in the background, move on to the next talent.

You also have to listen for microphone technique. Amateur audio may have pops… plosives that cause a nasty burst of air that’s picked up by the mic and your ears. You’ll also hear all kinds of mouth noises such as lip smacks, and very audible, distracting breaths.

Here’s an important tip: A voice talent may sound fantastic on the demo they sent you. Remember that those demos are usually heavily doctored in a professional studio. Unless the talent records your script in that same studio with the same equipment and engineer, they’ll never be able to replicate it in their home studio.

Always ask for a custom demo, recorded with the same set-up that will be used for your project.

On to the next question:

4. Did the talent respond in a professional way?

Did s/he get back to you in a timely fashion? Did you get a standard answer, or did the talent put some thought into his/her response? Was the email grammatically correct? Were there spelling errors? Was the tone of the message respectful?

Did you get a sense that the voice-over tried to understand your specific needs? Did the voice talent come across as desperate, or as confident?

Was the voice-over clear about the cost? Remember: you pay for professionalism. Cheap rates often expose inexperienced or amateur talent.”

Mike took a deep breath, and said:

“Those tips are great, but that still doesn’t answer one of my questions.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Well, there are thousands of people online who all pretend to be voice-over pros. I have no time to listen to hundreds of auditions from a voice casting site. I’ve done that in the past, and a lot of what I got was crap. You’ve got to help me here!”

“You could go two ways,” I said. “I could either give you the names of a few reputable agents, or I could send you to a trusted pool of online talent. If you describe what you’re looking for to any of my agents, they’ll select a few voice actors for you that could all do the job. Guaranteed. You may pay a bit more, but you’ll save a lot of time, and you avoid having to listen to a tragic lineup of wannabes.

The website I want to direct you to is http://www.voiceover.biz. It’s a non-profit voice casting site that’s run by the World Voices Organization. On it you will only find vetted members of this professional, international voice-over association.

No amateurs. No wannabes. No delivery guys.

You will only find the cream of the crop.

It’s as simple as that.

And that’s how you hire the right voice-over!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

Be sweet. Please retweet!


How Not To Be Like Jeremy Clarkson

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Journalism & Media, Social Media 26 Comments

Top Gear presenters Jeremy Clarkson and James May with Tony Harrison's Lancia Beta Coupe Stanford Hall 2008 Last Sunday, the BBC premiered the 23rd season of Top Gear with a new team of presenters. The program drew disappointing ratings in the UK and abroad. This had a lot to do with the absence of star presenter Jeremy Clarkson, who was forced to leave the show. More about that later.

Because Clarkson was such a dominating presence on Top Gear, he might have thought that the program wouldn’t stand a chance without him. Perhaps the critics and viewers proved him right. After all, there’s only one Jeremy Clarkson. This had me wondering…

Do you ever think you’re indispensable?

Do you believe your clients, your readers, or your viewers can’t live without you?

Unfortunately, the reality for most independent contractors is that they can be tossed out any time. The price of freelance freedom is often paid in uncertainty and stress.

In theory, this uncertainty should at least be partially compensated by a higher paycheck. But you know as well as I do that we have to fight for decent rates. 

Small fish in a big ocean don’t have a lot of leverage in the labor market, unless they operate as a school. But what about the big fish? How far are they allowed to go?

INFLATED EGOS

Some people, especially in the entertainment industry, seem to think they are untouchable, and they behave accordingly.

Like spoiled children.

Over the years they have gathered a loyal following, and have amassed a considerable fortune. Whenever they enter a room, people ooh and aah, and ask for autographs and selfies.

When these celebs say something that isn’t even remotely funny, people laugh hysterically. Some are suddenly seen as “thought leaders,” “trend setters,” or as the sexiest men/women alive.

Photographers will pray or pay for a pose and a smile. Companies fight for the opportunity to stuff backstage gift bags, hoping for a tweet of acknowledgment or better still: a product endorsement.

And so, the people who have everything they could possibly wish for, get even more without paying a dime. Those who aren’t as fortunate, can only hope, dream, and drool.

But fame is fickle, and recognition can be a double-edged sword.

The higher you climb, the lower you can fall. But if your cushion is elastic enough, you may be able to bounce back. Comfortably.

TOP GEAR

On March 25th, 2015, the BBC fired Jeremy Clarkson, one of the presenters of Top Gear. Top Gear is one of the most successful programs in the history of the Beeb, bringing in millions of pounds every year. The car show is one of the biggest factual TV shows in the world with an estimated audience of 350 million in 200 countries. People who don’t even care for cars (myself included) watch Top Gear religiously.

Clarkson’s sacking was self-induced. He was fired for physically and verbally attacking one of the producers because no hot food was provided after a day’s filming. Prior to that, he had been given a final warning because of earlier controversies. “This time,” said the BBC, “a line was crossed.” Clarkson was dismissed, in spite of the million+ people who had signed an online petition to reinstate him.

Yes, we’re all unique, but no one is irreplaceable, or above the law.

As Tony Hall, the BBC’s Director-General, said: “There cannot be one rule for one and one rule for another dictated by either rank, or public relations and commercial considerations.”

The question is: Who will have the last laugh?

Clarkson’s contract was up for renewal anyway, and as soon as he left, other networks in Great Britain started fighting over who could offer the man the most lucrative deal. In the end, Amazon Video won out. Like the Terminator, Clarkson (and fellow-presenters Richard Hammond & James May) will be back, making more money than ever.

THE TAKEAWAY

As much as I deplore what Clarkson did, I wondered if we could learn anything from what happened. Like Clarkson, you and I work with producers and directors all the time. Some of them are very nice people. Others are not. Some make unreasonable demands, crazy requests, and give you a hard time when asked if the check is finally in the mail.

There are some big egos in our business, and I’ve seen colleagues suck up to the people with power, and kick those who are lower on the ladder. Here’s something that happened to me while I was working at a radio station.

One day, a fellow-presenter lashed out at an assistant because he had given her a glass of water with what looked like a hair in it. The woman exploded, and left the assistant heavily hyperventilating in the hallway. But when the director of the station paid us a surprise visit right after the incident, my angry colleague was suddenly all smiles.

After we had taped our show, I took a good look at the infamous glass of water. A curly, red hair was indeed floating on the surface.

My explosive colleague happened to have curly, red hair.

SEVEN SIGNS

Most people I’ve worked with seem to have it together. Perhaps this is because invisible voices have a low profile. We don’t have millions of fans, or millions of dollars. 

Those I admire in my industry have certain things in common. They often thrive against the odds. They are loved by colleagues and clients alike. And if you wish to follow in their footsteps, I have a few recommendations for you.

My first suggestion is simple: Treat everyone around you with respect; not only the people in power. Even if some co-workers do their very best to push your buttons, you’re not a robot. You can’t control their behavior, but you can choose your response.

Secondly: Celebrate your achievements, and remember where you came from. You are where you are because people who probably didn’t know you, believed in you, and were kind to you.

You made tons of mistakes. We all do, but were they met with punishment or patience? And even if your teachers weren’t always tolerant, don’t use that as an excuse to give others the same treatment you so hated.

Third: Don’t ever take success for granted. It entitles you to nothing. It has to be earned, and treasured. Over and over again. And what good does it do you, if you make the people around you miserable? They’ll feed you what you want to hear, while spitting out the truth behind your back.

Fourth: Don’t mistake fame for importance, and money for value. Who gives a damn how many followers you have on social media, and how much you have stashed away in your Swiss bank account. Why should we even care about your credentials? All these things do not make you a good person.

You should take your work and your fans seriously, but please take yourself with a few grains of salt.

Fifth: If you end up -willingly or unwillingly- being a role model, know that it comes with responsibilities. You are in a privileged position to influence a great number of people who look up to you. Are you going to use that position, or abuse it?

Sixth: Don’t ever ask: “What’s in it for me?” The better question is: “What can I do today to improve the lives of others without getting anything in return?” It’s the result that matters. Not the reward.

Seven: Be humble, and be grateful. Every single day.

Success is hard to sustain. One moment you’re the flavor of the month. The next you’re yesterday’s news. Clients may seem ungrateful, but that doesn’t mean you should be. 

Appreciate what you have right now, and realize that you couldn’t have done it without the help of others. No matter how hard you’ve worked for it, and how much you think you deserve it, feel confident without being cocky. Big egos don’t make amigos.

One last thought.

No one is irreplaceable, but at least for one project, one gig, or for one show, you were chosen. That means something. 

If you’re lucky, you can make it last.

If it doesn’t, enjoy the ride, but hopefully not in a Jeremy Clarkson sort of way.

Paul Strikwerda ©Nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!

photo credit: Jeremy Clarkson and James May Top Gear presenters with my Lancia Beta Coupe Stanford Hall 2008 IMG_6342 via photopin (license)


Don’t Ever Do This To A Client

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Personal 9 Comments

mooningSometimes I think I’m in the wrong business.

Has that ever happened to you? 

Especially during a dry spell, I start looking around, and I see people with a different skill set and a different level of education making tons of money.

All the time.

How fair is that?

Take Tom, for instance. Tom runs a small construction company. A few years ago, Tom and his team did a great job renovating part of our house. His business was still young, and he went above and beyond to make our home more modern. Tom was everything an average contractor isn’t. He was polite, communicative, affordable, he showed up on time, and he delivered on his promises. 

After weeks and weeks of hard work in the scorching July sun, the job was done. Before Tom gave us the keys to our brand new front door, his crew did something surprising. They carefully cleaned up the mess they had made during the renovation. Even our front and back yards received a make-over. How about that!

Needless to say, we sang Tom’s praises to anyone in need of a contractor, and it worked. For the next few months I saw Tom’s truck everywhere, and his business was booming.

He deserved every bit of success, and I was happy for him and his family. If only I could emulate his accomplishments… But, I was in the wrong business. Tom built walls, replaced windows, and renovated kitchens. It was tangible, visible work. All I did was talk for a living. 

Fast forward a couple of years.

Recently we were ready for the second phase of home improvement, and in our mind only one guy had proven himself worthy of the job. So, I called Tom again, and asked him to come over to take a look at what needed to be done.

I didn’t hear back from him for weeks. He did not respond to my messages, and I was worried that he might have left our Borough. However, his truck was parked next to his house, and he was still in business. When he finally answered his phone there was no explanation or apology. He almost sounded like I was inconveniencing him. I didn’t like that.

It took a few more weeks before Tom finally came over, and luckily he brought his old, cheery self. He assessed the work that we wanted done, and promised to give us an estimate within a matter of days. You can probably guess what happened next -or rather- what didn’t happen.

I lost count of how many times I called his business to remind him that we needed that estimate. I tried to sound upbeat and hopeful as I “talked” to Tom after the beep, but some of my messages might have revealed my increased frustration. Weeks and weeks passed, and Tom never returned any of my calls. It was as if I didn’t exist. 

I wondered what would happen if I would run my business like that. It would probably be “game over” in no time. You know what it’s like when an agent sends you a voice-over job that is making the rounds everywhere. You know what you need to do when you’ve spotted the perfect opportunity on a voice casting site. You’ve got to record that audition straight away, or else your voice will be lost in a whirlpool of other talent.

That’s one thing I imagine Tom doesn’t have to worry about. There are only a handful of reputable contractors in my area. Apparently Tom’s so busy, he doesn’t need more work. He can afford to ignore me.

And that’s where Tom and I differ.

At times I am pretty swamped, and job offers keep coming in. When it rains, it usually pours. But no matter how busy I am, I always get back to every client in a matter of hours. Some of them want me to start as soon as possible, and that’s not always an option. In that case I refer them to a reputable colleague. But quite often things are not as urgent as they seem, and I can fit the client in at a later point during the week.

To me this is not an earth-shattering approach, but I might be wrong. Just today, two clients thanked me for quickly getting back to them, as if it was something unusual. Isn’t that weird? I tend to think that the way I conduct business is the way everyone does it. I put in long hours. Others put in long hours. I have high standards. Others have high standards. But here’s what I have noticed.

Some colleagues just don’t seem to care as much, or they stopped caring, for whatever reason. And that’s the thing clients hate the most. They don’t want to be treated as a routine client with a routine job. They don’t want to be ignored or taken for granted. 

Clients are just like real people. People want to be acknowledged. Respected. Appreciated. They want to be treated as if they’re the only client in the world at that moment in time. And if you can give them that feeling, you do more than just a job. You are in the business of building long-lasting relationships.

So Tom… if you are reading this blog, I don’t know what happened to you since you started your company, but I don’t like it one bit. No matter how good you are at what you do, I will no longer recommend you. I will not hire you. I will find someone else to do the job.

Perhaps I will finally hear from you after you have read this, and you’ll give me some kind of lame excuse like: “I’ve been too busy, but it’s just business. Nothing personal.”

Well, you’re wrong about that.

It is always personal.

As a contractor, you come into people’s homes and invade their privacy. You tear up their walls, and you demolish their bathrooms. You fix what’s broken, and you make people feel safe under their own roof again.

I’m a contractor too. A so-called independent contractor. My voice gets in between people’s ears. Sometimes I tell them what to do or what to buy. Other times I read them a good book. It’s safe to say that we have a rather intimate relationship.

I will never take that relationship for granted, not just because it is the lifeblood of my business. I honor that relationship because it is the right thing to do. It’s how I was raised.

Let me end by saying this:

I vow to never let my success prevent me from treating my clients with professionalism, respect, and gratitude.

Even if all I do is talk for a living, I do my very best to walk my talk.

I’ve been doing this for over three decades.

Clients keep on coming, and I thoroughly enjoy what I am doing.

So… perhaps I’m in the right business after all!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet.


Are You in Bed with a Bad Client?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career 8 Comments

I’m not going to waste any time introducing today’s topic.

Here’s what I want you to do.

Read the statements below, and tell me if any of them sound familiar.

“I’ll put in a good word for you.”

“I will keep you in mind.”

“Next time we will definitely call you.”

“One of the best auditions of the day. Unfortunately…”

“I loved your take on the script, but the client had final say.”

“Don’t worry if you don’t get the job. It’s still great practice, isn’t it?”

“I wish we could pay you more but my hands are tied.”

“This may very well lead to more work.”

“You were this close to nailing it.”

“You’re so experienced. This will only take you ten minutes.”

“I will pay you as soon as I receive the files.”

“We don’t need a contract. We do this all the time.”

“If we decide to use it, you will get paid.”

“We have someone who is willing to do it at half your rate.”

“We’re a charity. Can you do this for free?”

“It’s such great exposure!”

“We ended up not using your work. Sorry.”

“Nice try, but it’s not what we wanted.”

“We got somebody internal to do it instead.”

“Apologies for not getting back to you earlier. We had to cancel the project.”

“We decided to go a different route with another talent.”

“We had to change the script drastically. You wouldn’t mind recording a new version for us, would you?”

“Trust us. Everything is going to be fine.”

Whether you’re a voice-over, a graphic designer, or a copywriter, I’m 99% sure that at some point in your freelance career some client from hell fed you a few of these lines. Combined with a certain tonality and body language, they all spell the same two-letter expletive:

B S

You just know that when people say “I will keep you in mind,” you will never hear from them again. Ever. The person who said “I wish we could pay you more,” is laughing all the way to the bank because he just saved his boss a boatload of money by hiring a wimp. And when someone says “Trust us. Everything is going to be fine,” he or she is waving a big fat red flag in your face.

Tell me you’re not surprised. Please.

You see, while playing in the sandbox at kindergarten, you should have learned your lesson: not every kid is playing nice. And when these kids grow up, they’re even worse. Why? Because experience has taught them that they can get away with almost anything, and get rich while doing it (no, I’m not talking about the presidential race here).

These clients have two things in common. They were born with a silver tongue, and they’re masters at spotting and exploiting weakness.

Are you desperate to work? Your email will give you away. 

Are you too eager to please? Your voice will tell it all.

Are you just getting your feet wet? Your cheap rate speaks volumes.

Desperate doormat novices are easily manipulated. They’ll work just for the exposure. They’ll record a rewritten script for zero dollars. They’ll send the audio files, trusting that payment won’t be a problem.

Until they get burned, or they get smart.

One of my young colleagues just came to me with a sob story:

“I was so happy and proud that I booked my first big gig, and the client seemed so nice. He said he loved my voice, and he had total faith in me. I worked really hard to deliver the project on time, and I think I did a pretty good job.

Before I got started I asked the client: ‘Should we sign anything to make it official?’ I remember his exact words. He said: ‘Don’t you trust me? We do this all the time. There’s no need for a contract.’ When he said that, I felt kind of guilty. Why would I doubt him? He gave me a great opportunity, and I should be thankful.”

“When did this happen?” I asked.

“Six months ago,” my colleague answered.

“And did you get paid?”

“No,” said my colleague. “Once I had sent the audio files, the client disappeared. It’s a long story, but when I finally spoke to someone at the company he was working for, they said he got fired. No one knew anything about the project I had worked on. They said they didn’t owe me anything.”

Part of me wanted to feel sorry for my colleague, but the other part wanted to tell her:

“I know this totally sucks, but it’s not the client’s responsibility to teach you how to be a professional. You may feel that this guy took advantage of you, and he did. However, you allowed it to happen. You enabled that client to treat you poorly. 

This is no longer a hobby for you. You’re in business now, and you have to protect your business. The best way to do that, is to prevent problems from the outset. Don’t assume that everything will be alright, and that all people have the best and purest intentions. Clients run businesses too, and if they want to be successful, they must do two things:

  1. Minimize expenses
  2. Maximize profits

To them, you’re an expense. It’s not their fault if you don’t stand up for yourself and negotiate a decent fee. They’re not to blame if you’re okay with working without a contract. 

On one hand you are vulnerable. On the other hand you also have power. You have something the clients needs and wants. 

If anything, remember this:

A client cannot make you do anything you’re uncomfortable with. If you don’t like it, you renegotiate, or you walk away.

Before you do any work, both sides need to be clear about their expectations. Ideally, those expectations should be turned into a written agreement. Without such an agreement, you’ll have a hard time making a claim in court, should it come to that.

Before you sign on the dotted line, you have to fully understand what you are agreeing to. If you don’t, ask an expert to explain it to you.

One of the things you must be clear about, is payment. Let the client know that the work you have done is yours, until he pays for it. In other words: the right to use your work transfers upon full payment. Of course you need to define usage too. In case of voice-overs, are you talking about a full buyout, or is there a renewal fee?

Please understand that asking for a contract does not make you difficult to work with. A solid contract benefits both parties. Parties that are about to start an intimate relationship. A relationship that requires protection.”

Mike Monteiro from design firm Mule put it this way:

“Starting work without a contract, is like putting on a condom after taking a home pregnancy test. It is not going to help you at that point. You have lost any leverage you had.”

In summary: clients can make strange bedfellows.

Make sure you don’t end up feeling used. 

Watch the warning signs.

Listen to the language.

And don’t fall for all the two-letter expletives!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!

photo credit: CRASH via photopin (license)


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