voice-over coach

The Cult of Kumbaya

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Journalism & Media, Pay-to-Play, Promotion, Social Media 21 Comments

Screen Shot 2016-04-20 at 7.59.01 PMNot long ago, Adam Aron, the CEO of America’s biggest movie theater chain, had a brilliant idea. 

To attract a younger audience, he wanted to make his AMC theaters smartphone-friendly. If it were up to him, texting would be allowed, and he told Variety why:

“You can’t tell a 22-year-old to turn off their cellphone. That’s not how they live their life.”

Not everyone agreed. His remarks were immediately followed by a widespread backlash on social media. People complained left and right. Days later Aron responded:

“We have heard loud and clear that this is a concept our audience does not want. With your advice in hand, there will be NO TEXTING ALLOWED in any of the auditoriums at AMC Theatres. Not today, not tomorrow and not in the foreseeable future.”

I think Adam Aron is a smart guy. He had a bad idea. People protested. He listened, and he changed his mind. Good for him. Good for us. Unless you’re a millennial. 

CULTURE OF COMPLAINING

This story was just playing out as I was reading a short article by “Voice Whisperer™” Marice Tobias called “The Culture of Complaint: A black hole for Voice Talent and…the rest of us.”

Tobias sets the tone in the first two paragraphs:

“Thanks to social media, attack television and brigades of haters running rampant across all platforms, complaining and criticizing has become the discourse du jour for this moment in time. It generates a lot of piling on and follow-up posts.

Problem is, running a continuous negative commentary is not only tedious and alienating, it can also cost you work and income while wearing the rest of us out!”

“Check your negativity at the door,” Tobias recommends. Clients don’t care for it. You only have so much energy. Use it to be in a more empowering, positive state of mind. 

DON’T BITE THE HAND

Part of me totally agrees with Tobias. We do seem to live in a culture of confrontation. Just look at social media or at the current political process. Civility, respect, and intelligent discourse are rare commodities. Facebook threads can easily escalate into shouting matches. Anonymous trolls push people’s buttons. The coarseness and narrow-mindedness of some exchanges is nauseating. 

The voice-over business is a people-business. Nobody wants to work with a jerk. Voice-overs are hired to read copy. Not to criticize it. The more positive interactions we have with our clients, the more likely it is that they will call us again. 

But that’s not all. 

The other part of me strongly believes that there’s a role for criticism. Constructive criticism, that is. Complaining for the sake of complaining is a waste of time and energy, but sometimes people have legitimate grievances and concerns. They’re not being negative. They just want things to change for the better. 

ROSE-COLORED GLASSES

As a blogger I can relate to that. I see the world through a colored lens, and not all I see is perfect and positive. 

One of the worrying things I have observed is what I call “The Cult of Kumbaya.” It’s a tendency to approach the tough business of voice-overs with naïve optimism, believing that most players act out of altruism and integrity. 

It is constantly fed by commercial propaganda, trying to paint a pretty picture of an unforgiving industry:

“Work from home in your spare time,” says the website. “We need audio book narrators now!”

“Become a member,” the Pay-to-Plays say. “Upload your demos, and start making money with your voice today!” 

“Let me be your mentor,” the voice coach boasts. “Give me a few sessions, and I will teach you the tricks of the trade.” 

LA-LA LAND

Then there are voice actors who will tell you that everything is hunky-dory. Whenever I criticize voice casting sites on this blog, they tell me that these companies have “revolutionized the business, and have generated thousands of jobs.” 

When I call out colleagues who are willing to work for next to nothing, I am told to mind my own business because it is a free market. It will all even out in the end. 

When I express doubts about certain awards shows or expensive industry conferences, colleagues get angry because I should be supportive of my own tribe and embrace new initiatives. 

Here’s the problem with this type of uncritical thinking: it’s either/or.

Criticizing someone or something is equated with being negative and unsupportive. The unspoken assumption being that supportive, positive people don’t complain or criticize. They don’t foul their own nest. 

Forgive me, but that’s utter hogwash. 

Every coach knows that they will have to critique a performance in order to support a student. Every journalist has to expose injustice to bring about a more just society. Every parent has to correct their child’s behavior, so s/he will grow up to become a decent human being. 

Secondly, no matter how good something or someone is, there’s always room for improvement. But we can’t improve without quality feedback.

SIMILAR OR DIFFERENT

Now, this world is basically filled with two kinds of people. One part of the population sorts for similarities. The other for differences. You need both on your team. 

Let’s say you have a bucket of pebbles that are painted blue. The person sorting for similarities will say:

“Look, all those pebbles are the same color!”

The person sorting for differences will say:

“Every pebble has a different shape and size.”

Both approaches are correct and perfectly fine. We need people in this world who spot patterns, and who can see the big picture. We need people to tell us when things are right. 

We also need people who can spot exceptions, and who can focus on details that are different. We need people who can tell us when things are wrong.

FACE THE FEEDBACK

I can handle critics. I can even deal with complainers, because they will tell me that texting in a movie theater is a bad idea. I’d rather hear the honest truth than foolish flatter.

The people I have a hard time with are the whiners. The contrarians. The know-it-alls. Their negativity can be draining. 

So, whenever I encounter criticism, I ask myself a few questions before I react. 

1. How does this relate to me?

If it’s not important, why get all worked up?

2. Who or what is the source?

Do I trust the source? Is the source influential and reliable? Why start a discussion with someone who clearly doesn’t know what he/she is talking about?

3. What is the context?

Nothing is ever said in isolation. To understand where someone’s coming from, we usually need more information than a tweet or quick comment can give us.

4. Is this a real issue or a cheap personal attack?

Some commentators just have a chip own their shoulder. Unfortunately, it’s not a chocolate chip. 

5. What is the complaint or criticism an example of?

That’s a good way to move away from specific examples and elevate the discussion to a higher level.

6. Does the complainer offer a solution?

If that’s the case, you know they’re not just in it to moan and groan.

7. What can I learn from this that is useful and positive?

Even if the criticism seems over the top and unjustified, there might be a lesson to be learned. 

ANCIENT WISDOM

So… are complaints and negative comments a “Black hole for Voice Talent… and the rest of us”?

It depends.

A great critique is never a burden or an attack. It is an opportunity to learn and grow. It is a gift. And speaking of gifts…

One of Buddha’s followers once approached him, and asked:

“Master, do you see that nasty man over there? He is always badmouthing me. I feel horrible. Please do something about it. Make him stop.”

Buddha looked at his student, and said:

“If someone gives you a gift, and you decide not to accept it,

to whom does the gift belong?”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!

photo credit: Caro pointing finger via photopin (license)


Spoon Feeding Blabbermouths

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Money Matters 32 Comments

Let’s say you’ve made somewhat of a name for yourself in the VO-community.

Your weekly blog is doing really well and colleagues want to be friends with you.

People you don’t know seem to value your opinion and start reaching out.

They write messages that begin with praise, and of course you’re flattered. At the same time you can sense where this is going. Inevitably, there will be a paragraph at the end of the email that goes like this:

“I admire your work and I respect your opinion. You must be very busy, but….
* What do you think of my demo?
* How much should I charge as a beginner?
* Which online casting service is the best?
* What microphone do you recommend?
* How do I get an agent? Can you introduce me to yours?
* Why is there a hum on my recording?
* How do I master my audio?
* I do tons of auditions but I never get hired. What am I doing wrong?

Any tips that could help me in my career are more than welcome!”

On one hand I’m happy that strangers trust me enough to ask for advice. On the other, it makes me a bit uncomfortable. I want to help, but I also have a business to run. Clients are waiting to hear back from me. There’s editing to be done. That guest post I’m writing isn’t finished yet, and on top of that I’m fighting a cold.

More importantly: Where does friendly advice end, and where does professional coaching begin?

Then there’s the issue of money. Even though my opinion is considered to be valuable, it is almost always assumed that my advice is free.

That bothers me.

NOT ALONE

As a voice talent, blogger and coach, I’m not the only one having to deal with this situation. Perhaps there’s something to learn from how other professionals approach this problem.

The following question was posted on a forum for IT professionals:

“Because I’m a programmer, people constantly ask me to fix their computer. How do you handle this situation? Do you make exceptions for relatives, friends and co-workers? Do you charge people for it?”

This is the answer that got the most votes:

“Here’s what you do:

• If it’s a Windows box say, “I only know how to fix Macs.”
• If it’s a Mac say, “I only know how to fix PC’s.”
• If it’s a Linux box say, “You’re a Linux user… fix it yourself!”

Here are a few other suggestions:

“Say you’ll fix their computer. Open their temporary internet files folder and then look totally shocked when you discover the obligatory hardcore porn images that are bound to be there. They probably will be too ashamed to ever ask you again.”

“I have an amazon.com wish list. I do genuinely like helping people, however I feel my time is worth something. Where accepting cash may not feel 100% appropriate, sending them my Amazon wish list has worked very well for me.”

“I give them a visiting card (made for this occasion) and I ask them to schedule an appointment to talk about the problem. End of the story.”

“My personal strategy is just to be very, very busy. Nine out of ten times they’ll find other help by the time I get around to it.”

“I tell them: “I am a programmer, not an administrator. You would not ask an architect to repair your roof, either. Of course, this works with almost everybody, except with my mom. Nowadays I just tell her to get a Mac.”

“My conditions are: First half hour is free, after that, it’s $100/hr. Reason: I like to help people but I don’t like it when I’m abused as free support. So if it really is “just a simple tiny thing,” then no problem, can do. But often “simply tiny problem” stands for “I have no idea what’s wrong; just fix it for me!” As soon as money is involved, they stop and start thinking if it’s really worth it.”

“I fixed her computer (the printer was unplugged!). Now, 4 years later, we’re married!”

Did any of these solutions strike a chord with you?

MY OWN ROLE

As I was trying to figure out how to best deal with requests from my fans, friends and followers, I realized one thing: I created this situation.

I always encourage my readers to respond. The opportunity to connect with people from all over the globe is one of the blessings of writing a blog. But some days it is a mixed blessing. With 33,675+ subscribers, I have to come up with a way to handle questions and comments effectively and efficiently.

Let’s start with blog comments. If you take the time to publicly respond to one of my articles, you deserve to be acknowledged. Quite often, your reaction will give me a chance to delve a bit deeper into what I’ve been writing about, or to clear up misunderstandings. The bottom line: if you care to comment, you can expect an answer.

As of this moment, there are almost 4,495 comments on this blog, and my guess is that half of them were penned by me in response to someone’s remarks. (the oldest article dates back to May 2009).

Now, what do I do with questions that reach me outside of this blog? Well, I start by looking at three things:

1. Who’s asking?
2. What are they asking?
3. How are they asking?

You’d be surprised how many people contact me out of the blue without even introducing themselves. Maybe they have a feeling they already know me because they’ve been reading my blog for a while. Still, why can’t we treat an email as a regular conversation? I’d never walk up to someone new with a question without introducing myself first.

One of the keys that can make or break a career is your ability to build relationships. Don’t expect to get information without a establishing a relation. 

NO BABY TALK

Secondly, I refuse to answer basic questions. It’s not my job to do someone else’s homework. Those who wish to make it in this field have to be proactive, independent and resourceful. If they can’t be bothered to do a simple Google search, why should I take time out of my busy day to do it for them?

Babies need to be spoon-fed. They’re helpless. Wasn’t it E.M. Foster who said:

“Spoon feeding in the long run teaches us nothing but the shape of the spoon.”

In my experience, the answers people find for themselves tend to stick much better than those that have been handed to them on a silver platter.

What I will do, is encourage people to search my blog. With over 200 archived articles, it is likely they’ll find what they are looking for. If I happen to remember a specific story that might be relevant, I often include a link. It reduces my bounce rate

DEMO CRITIQUE

Almost half of those who get in touch, want me to critique their demos and/or website. If the request comes from a colleague I’m close to, I am happy to give feedback. I know they’d do the same for me. If the request comes out of nowhere from someone I don’t know, I will charge a fee for my time and expertise.

I tell my readers all the time how important it is that they value their time and their work. I practice what I preach. Besides, free advice is easily ignored. When people make an investment, they’re much more invested in what they’ve learned because they tend to find it more valuable. 

The decision to charge money turned out to be a huge time-saver. Nine out of ten people hoping to get free feedback will literally drop off the planet as soon as they are asked to pay. Are you surprised?

TASTE TEST

There’s a reason why you can get free samples at your ice cream store. It only makes sense to give a freebie if it increases the chances of making a sale.

The only time I will critique a demo free of charge is when someone’s seriously thinking of hiring me as their coach. Listening to their audio will give me an idea of where they’re coming from and whether or not I want to take them under my wings. At the same time, the person submitting the demo will get a better sense of whether or not I’d be a good fit.

And finally….

A lot of the questions I get, cannot and should not be answered in writing. It would be as silly as teaching someone how to play the Double Bass over the phone. Helping a person with things like script interpretation, diction, breathing and microphone technique, needs a closer, more direct connection. It requires involved interaction over a longer period of time.

THE INNER GAME

You may have noticed that I like to blog about the more psychological aspects of our business. I write about fear of failure, finding your strength, overcoming rejection and so on. Because of that focus, some people turn to me with deeper, more personal questions.

In order to be a successful voice talent, I think it’s just as important to deal with our inner voice, as it is to refine what comes out of our mouth. One affects the other. This very personal aspect is too sacred and too intimate to be dealt with in writing. The spoken word and even silence, can convey infinitely more than letters on a computer screen.

In matters of the soul and of the heart, it’s far more important to actively listen, than to come up with answers. In fact, my personal opinion is irrelevant.

As a coach I believe it’s vital to help people connect to their own wisdom, instead of making them dependent on someone else’s ideas.

How do I facilitate that process?

By asking questions.

You’ve heard me.

Sometimes, questions are the answer.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet.

photo credit: freeloosedirt via photopin cc


The Yin and Yang of Freelancing

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing 13 Comments

IMPOSSIBLE CLIENTS.

We know who you are!

You’re searching for a specialist who can handle almost anything.

Isn’t that a contradiction in terms?

Does your family doctor make a great brain surgeon?

Can a novelist write irresistible advertising copy?

Yet, some clients are looking for a be-all, do-it-all freelancer with young, fresh ideas and years of experience.

Is that too much to ask?

Some psychologists say that the fact that we humans are able to hold two diametrically opposed ideas in our mind at the same time, is a true sign of intelligence. Part of me wants to believe that this is indeed correct. The other part thinks it’s

Read the rest of this story in my new book. Click on the cover to access the website and get a sneak peek. Use the buttons to buy the book.

Making Money In Your PJs cover


Top Voice Actor launches Internet Voice Coach

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Internet 2 Comments

Daniel Stern is known for his roles in films like “Hannah and her Sisters,” “City Slickers” and the first two “Home Alone” films. He’s also the narrator for the “The Wonder Years” and the voice of Dilbert in the animated TV series.

One day, Daniel got a script for a voice-over audition, and his mouth practically dropped to the floor when he read the specs:

“Must sound like Daniel Stern”

He’s thinking: “Piece of cake. This one’s in the bag!”

So, Stern goes to his booth; records a demo; sends it in…

…and doesn’t get the part!

Has that ever happened to you? Probably not, because your name is not Daniel Stern. However, we’re all too familiar with the story of that brilliant audition we did, that disappeared into nothingness and left us wondering:

“What just happened? I knew I nailed it. Why didn’t I get the part? Was it something I said?”

OVERCOMING REJECTION

There are two ways of dealing with this sad smack in the face:

1. Tell yourself: “Those ignorant producers don’t know talent even when it’s staring them in the face. By not selecting me, they have proven themselves unworthy of my God-given artistic gifts to this world. It’s their loss; not mine. Now, if you will excuse me, I’m late for my pedicure.”

or you could

2. Ask yourself: “What did I miss? Was there anything I could have done or should have done, to turn this audition from ‘good’ into ‘great’?”

Let’s be honest. All of us get stuck in a rut from time to time. Without prior warning, we lose our “magic touch,” our “MoVo”. That Money Voice that used to sell so well ain’t doin’ it no more. Does that mean your career is over? Of course not. It just means that it’s time to take a step back and get a second opinion.

You see, most of us aren’t as good as Baron von Munchausen, who reportedly pulled himself up from the swamp by his own hair. Sometimes, we need someone who’s not going to tell us what we want to hear, but what we need to hear.

We need a Dr. Phil who listens to people playing the same old tapes inside of their heads over and over again, and who will “tell-it-like-it-is”.

Or perhaps we want to go with someone with more hair, more flair and with more experience in the voice-over industry. Someone like David Rosenthal.

David is not only a top voice-over talent, actor and director with over 25 years of experience; he’s also a sought-after voice coach and teacher. A few days ago, I had a chance to talk to him about his craft, his approach as a coach and about his latest endeavor: Internet Voice Coach.

ALL WORK, NO PLAY

Rosenthal: “I tell all my students that auditioning has to be one of the most enjoyable parts of their day. If you are worried about getting that job or needing to sound a particular way, then it will never happen, because then you’re judging yourself; you’re in your ‘work-mode.’ The whole point is that people who truly know how to take life in the most optimistic and playful way, are priming themselves for being wonderful voice actors.

I feel that a lot of people getting into voice-overs have forgotten how to play as adults. All the actors in this industry that have created and sustained careers for 25, 30, 35 years, have done so, because they know how to play. They know how to roll with it; to be creative and imaginative and they’re never too hard on themselves.

This is another great secret: when you’re playing, nobody can judge you. You are free. You can’t judge play. It’s creative, in-the-moment stuff. It is attractive. It’s what keeps clients coming back to us as voice-over professionals, because we know how to bring that sense of play to life for their products. They know it’s magic.”

BIRTH OF AN IDEA

Rosenthal received his BA in Theatre, Anthropology, and English Lit. from Sarah Lawrence College. He studied acting in NYC at Herbert Bergoff Studios and in San Francisco with Richard Seyd. He is a regular voiceover talent for Sony, Nintendo, Sega and for commercial radio, with over 600 voice-over credits to his name. David teaches Spokesperson trainings, the Art of Voice Acting and he is a staff member of the Kids-On–Camera Acting School in the Bay area. He continues:

“Students would come up to me after class and say: ‘Dave, if there was any way that you could bottle this up -not just the lessons but the way you in which you teach them- and put it on the internet or on a DVD, I would buy it in a second.’ That stuck in my head. So I decided to take this particular philosophy that I have about this industry and our art, and present it to as many people as possible, in an extremely informative manner.”

ON-LINE VOICE COACHING

Rosenthal kept his word. In 2010, he launched a brand new website called Internet Voice Coach (IVC). It’s an extensive on-line resource as well as a community that brings industry experts, trainers, students and voice-over veterans together. Rosenthal:

“The primary focus of the site is on PLAY. People often come to me saying: ‘Everyone tells me I have a real nice voice,’ and I tell them: That’s really wonderful but, when you talk about essential prerequisites for making it in this industry, a really nice voice is not one of them. It’s a great asset, but that, by itself, won’t cut it.

So, I started thinking of creating a website around the philosophy of play, but also having all the tools that are necessary to help people who are just getting started, as well as more specialized advice and tips for seasoned pros.

For instance, we have interviews with casting directors and we’re asking them: What are you looking for? Why did you hire me for this last job? What’s going on in the industry right now that people need to be aware of? What are some common mistakes that you hear in auditions?”

ACTING OUT

“When you go on the site, you don’t just see a bunch of people talking about the industry. You can watch me as I prepare for an audition, literally playing in front of you, messing up my face and my voice, joking around.”

Here’s David on keeping a voice consistent with a character:

DEMO CRITIQUE

Internet Voice Coach offers more than videos, how-to articles and interviews. Rosenthal:

“We have an incredible aspect to our site. It is something I do not believe any other site has out there in the voice-over world and that is: ongoing personal feedback.

When you become a yearly member, you will get 20 opportunities a year to send in a voice-over demo for an audition or practice files that you’re working on. You can send them as an MP3, and you’ll receive an MP3 from us, loaded with feedback.

The advantage to that over one-on-one phone coaching is that it’s very focused and it doesn’t cost $130. I’m trying to be conscious of people’s pocket books, and at the same time give them a tremendous opportunity to learn and grow (membership is $199 per year PS).

We also have monthly webinars. That means we’re live on video, and members can log in and join in. After we talk about a particular subject for about 45 minutes, we take questions.”

DREAM TEAM

IVC is David’s brainchild, but he teamed up with voice-over actor and coach Jason Klofstad, who just happens to be the voice of Apple computer. His other partner is Mary Windishar, a broadcast producer for over 20 years (Oprah Winfrey Show); a voice and on-camera talent for over 15 years and a prominent spokesperson for women in the field of voice-overs.

Then there’s a whole list of regular contributors such as Elaine Clark, author of “There’s Money Where Your Mouth Is”.

David Rosenthal:

“The site is purposely called Internet Voice Coach and not Voice-Over Coach. It has modules on public speaking (featuring expert-in-residence Brian Collins) and articles on vocal health, overcoming rejection, marketing and much more.

Ultimately, IVC is a resource that isn’t just for learning the craft, but for staying on top of your craft. Had I had this site 25 years ago, I really would have been able to kick-start my career a lot faster. Why reinvent the wheel if you can learn from the best in the business?”

One of those people is actor Daniel Stern who was recently interviewed for the site.

He didn’t get the part, even though it his name written all over it.

I couldn’t help but wonder who eventually landed that gig.

Could it be… a certain David Rosenthal, perhaps?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS I have joined the IVC team of contributors as a voice-over specialist on ‘all things international.’ If you enjoy this blog, please join me on IVC for exclusive content and industry insights. Click on this link for a sample interview with actress Claire Dodin.

PPS All work but no play? My next blog is about the dangers of becoming a workaholic…