voice-overs

Act Like A Pro

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Money Matters, Social Media Leave a comment

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Bored Stiff

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Personal 10 Comments

The author behind his microphone

I’ve been behind the mic since I was seventeen. By the look of my grey hair, you can tell that’s a pretty long time. Thirty-seven years to be exact. 

“Does it ever get old” someone wanted to know. “This voice-over thing you do.”

“Well, ‘it’ doesn’t get old, but I certainly do,” I replied, not knowing that I had spoken too early.

An hour later I got this really boring script about ladders, and I changed my mind. It was poorly written, poorly translated, and I had no idea why they had selected poor old me to narrate it. Yes, it was money in the bank, but in reality I would rather go back to bed. 

Let me explain something to you. 

I have no particular fondness for ladders. Walking under them brings bad luck, and many of them wobble in a most disconcerting way. Ladders are ugly and dangerous. Just because they take you to the top, doesn’t mean they’re special. They’re just a few steps up from step stools. One of the reasons I became a freelancer is because I wasn’t good at climbing the corporate ladder. So, why out of all people, should I have to sing their praises? 

It’s for the same reason they talked me into voicing videos about agricultural insurance, miracle car wax, and motorcycle repair. It’s part of the unavoidable, unglamorous, unexciting work voice-overs do every day in dimly lit chatter boxes. 

I must admit: that part of the job does get old and boring. Especially if one has to edit, separate, and name hundreds of files per specific client instructions that make it impossible to do this semi-automatically. Of course the client conveniently “forgot” to mention it at the time of the booking.

Come to think of it: that gets old too. You know, clients trying to take advantage. The other day one of them sent me a message saying that I had “forgotten” to read one paragraph. Of course they would need it right away. The thing is, that mystery paragraph was never in the original script. It was a last-minute addition. 

Now, I know that some colleagues would forgive the client for this “mistake,” and record the five or six extra lines pro bono. In my book, however, more words means more money. It’s not that I am greedy. I just happen to run a for-profit business. With the Arctic temperatures we’re experiencing, someone’s got to pay the heating bill!

If you were to ask a contractor to paint your kitchen as a courtesy, right after she’s finished with the living room, do you think she’d do it? Would an Uber driver take you to the town next to your agreed destination, and not charge you for it? Of course not. Then why do some people expect they can get a voice-over to record a few extra lines at no charge? 

“Well, the other guy we hired did it.” 

“Then why didn’t you ask him to do it?”

“Because he sucked.”

It’s the same old story, and it makes me yawn every time I hear it. 

If you’re getting your feet wet as a VO, trust me. There are parts of this job that are “just work.” Work you may hate. For instance, you’ve signed up to narrate a 400-page audio book, and with every chapter you get this nagging feeling that it’s not getting better. In fact, it’s going nowhere. You start wondering how this piece of pulp ever got published. Then you find out this is a vanity project by someone who should have kept his job at the department of motor vehicles. 

Argh!

One of the most boring jobs you can get in this business involves speech synthesis. It’s the artificial production of human sounds by computers. The text-to-speech software “runs” on thousands of snippets of sounds (phonemes) recorded by voice-overs. Recording sessions can go on for months and are notoriously tedious (just ask Susan Bennett, the voice of Siri).

Once the engineers have what they need, they can use the program to simulate speech for apps, navigation systems, or virtual assistants such as Bixby and Alexa. Amazon now has a database of synthesized voices that is rented out to developers in need of voices for their applications. 

Here’s the kicker. As a voice-over you only get paid once for the database you helped create. That’s it. A colleague of mine heard his voice in at least twenty applications varying from computer games to language courses that were created artificially, and he’ll never see a penny. 

Since he recorded his phonemes, technology has moved even further. 

Did you know that Adobe’s Voco (the Photoshop of speech) only needs about twenty minutes of recorded target speech to generate a sound-alike voice, producing sound patterns that were not even recorded?

Watch this (and try not to be bored):

Perhaps they should have Voco read that terrible self-published novel I mentioned earlier!

Anyway, thanks to modern technology, the most boring parts of voice-over jobs might be behind us. If we can get machines to say anything we want them to say, why use humans? Computers can work without a break, and don’t require a SAG-AFTRA contract. 

In a strange way, that’s music to my ears. 

I might lose a few dollars, but very soon people like me won’t have to talk about ladders anymore.

How exciting is that?!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS If you’d like to hear an audio version of this story, be my guest:


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How Not To Impersonate A Saint

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Personal 15 Comments
Intocht van Sinterklaas in Schiedam 2009

Sinterklaas

Becoming a professional is very much like growing up.

At some point we all have to lose our carefree, childlike naiveté.

Old beliefs about the trustworthiness of people disappear. Ideas we’ve cherished for too long, vanish as quickly as melting snow.

The tooth fairy is a lie, parents aren’t perfect, and reindeer don’t fly.

In The Netherlands, every child grows up believing in St. Nicholas, or Sinterklaas as the Dutch call him. In November this legendary bishop leaves Spain on a steamboat loaded with gifts.

His triumphant arrival in Holland is broadcast live on national television. Just like his rotund brother Santa Claus, Sinterklaas will go from town to town to meet as many overexcited children as he can.

The “Sint” (a Dutch version of “Saint”), always brings a big book in which he keeps track of the behavior of every child. In the olden days, nice children would be rewarded. The naughty ones would be punished by one of his helpers.

DUTCH BOXING DAY

In the weeks leading up to Saint Nicholas’ Eve, kids are expected to be on their best behavior. They put their shoes next to the chimney (or radiator), and leave some treats for Sinterklaas’ horse. Children also sing traditional songs before they go to bed. The next morning, they’ll usually find some sweets or a small present in their shoes.

On the evening of December 5th, the Dutch celebrate their version of boxing day. It is still the main gift-giving day in The Netherlands, and retail wouldn’t be the same without it.

In my family, most presents would be accompanied by a rhyme, making innocent fun of the receiver. Sometimes a poem would contain a clue as to where the present was hidden. Some gifts would be disguised in all kinds of creative ways, and the recipient had to guess what he or she was getting.

As a kid, I never doubted the existence of Sinterklaas. After all, he came to my school and he visited my house, year after year. Even when I started having some logistical questions about the distribution of so many presents to so many homes on one single night, I kept the faith. Like every other kid, I was afraid that the minute I’d start believing Saint Nicholas was bogus, I wouldn’t get any presents anymore.

All was well, until that dismal day Sinterklaas came to my Elementary school.

SINTERKLAAS GOES TO SCHOOL

I must have been seven or eight years old. All classes gathered in the gym, which doubled as an auditorium. I can still smell the pungent aroma of sweat and tears this dreary hall was notorious for. We kids were arranged according to our grades, and as we were waiting for the Sint’s arrival, a bespectacled young teacher started playing songs on an out of tune piano. Soon we all joined in.

After about ten minutes we’d come to the end of our repertoire, but Sinterklaas and his helpers were nowhere to be seen. It didn’t take long before docile kids turned into a restless mob of minors. The principal who’d been on the lookout, rushed back to calm the crowds.

“Kids,” he barked, “if you’re not going to be quiet and show some respect, Sinterklaas will be skipping this school. Now, is that what you want?”

“NO!” we answered in unison.

“So, are you going to be quiet?” he asked.

“YES!” we shouted at the top of our lungs. “We want Sinterklaas! We want Sinterklaas!” the whole room chanted.

At that very moment, a rusty, beat up compact car arrived at the gates. This couldn’t be the old man, could it? He was supposed to arrive on a magnificent white horse. Not in a Morris Marina. A few boys in sixth grade stood up to catch a glimpse of the bearded shadow that came out of the car. A single helper in black face called Zwarte Piet (or Black Pete) accompanied the tall man.

“It’s him,” the boys cried. “He’s coming! He’s coming!”

WHO IS THIS MAN?

“Children, children,” shouted the principal. “Remember our agreement. If you can’t be quiet, I will ask Sinterklaas to leave, and you can all go back to your classroom. Now, let us sing a song to welcome our distinguished guest.”

To many children, Sinterklaas was as close to a living legend as one could get. On one hand they would fear him, because he knew exactly what they’d been up to in the past year. On the other, they’d revere him because he was old, wise and dignified. His warm, deep voice and saintly demeanor was enough to turn the biggest chatterbox in the room into a shy and silent mouse.

As my heart pounded with expectation, the doors of the auditorium swung open, and in came Sinterklaas, wearing his traditional red cape and a rather faded mitre. He was holding a long gold-colored crosier. He waved at the children as his helper handed out traditional treats called “pepernoten.”

The second I saw the Sint, I knew there was something familiar about him. Of course I’d seen Sinterklaas before, but that wasn’t it. This was different. First of all, he was wearing thick rimmed glasses. No Sinterklaas I’d ever seen wore glasses.

Secondly, for a man who was supposed to be in his eighties or nineties, he walked remarkably fast and energetic. There was also something very wrong with his white beard. It looked like it had been quickly attached to his face with cheap tape. It seemed to have a life of its own, because the thing barely stayed in place.

As the Sint sat down on a makeshift throne, I noticed something else: his brown shoes. I could have sworn I’d seen those shoes before. But that could just be a coincidence, couldn’t it? Then the principal started talking. He asked Sinterklaas about his trip to Holland, and about his plans for the day.

That’s when it happened.

A DREAM DASHED

Instead of that deep, grandfatherly voice every child had grown up with, “our” Sinterklaas had a relatively high-pitched, young voice. To tell you the truth: He didn’t sound like Sinterklaas at all. Not even like a bad imposter.

I was utterly confused, and I wasn’t the only one. Something wasn’t right, but I still wanted to hang on to my conviction that this man was real. I tried to see in him what I wanted to see. Meanwhile, the girl next to me started crying, and said she needed to go the bathroom.

Then one of the bigger boys in sixth grade whispered something astonishing:

“Jongens, dit is Sinterklaas niet. Het is de dominee!”

“People, this isn’t Sinterklaas. It’s our minister!”

The rumor spread like wildfire through the gym. Soon enough, kids in each row repeated the same phrase:

“It’s the minister. It’s the minister,” until it reached a very uncomfortable looking principal.

I must say he handled it gracefully. He told us Saint Nicholas wasn’t feeling so well, and that he had to cut his visit short. The “old” bishop left as fast as he had come, without much ceremony. Later on, one of my friends claimed he’d found a fake beard in the bushes.

AN ODD DISCOVERY

When I came home that afternoon, the first thing I noticed was a pair of brown shoes on the doormat. I walked up to the study where my dad was working on Sunday’s sermon. He was wearing his usual thick rimmed glasses.

He looked up from his books.

“I’m not much of an actor, am I?” he asked rhetorically. “I’m really sorry.”

He waited a few seconds, and gestured: “Why don’t you come a little closer?”

“You know,” he said, “this morning I got a phone call from your school. The guy who was supposed to be Sinterklaas had fallen off his horse and couldn’t make it. Your principal practically begged me to fill in. I just couldn’t disappoint him.”

I didn’t exactly know how to respond to that. At that age I did not get the irony of a Protestant minister pretending to be Catholic saint. Then my dad continued.

“Paul, today I learned a valuable lesson.”

“What lesson is that?” I asked.

“I learned that just because you can, doesn’t mean you must.

Remember that,” said my father. “I knew I wouldn’t be any good, and yet I forced myself to go through with it. What was I thinking?”

He stood up from his desk and gave me a big hug.

“Papa,” I said with a trembling voice, “may I ask you something?”

“Always,” he said. “What is it?”

“Does this mean I won’t be getting any presents this year?”

“Of course you will,” my dad responded. “The whole school is well aware that I was just pretending to be Sinterklaas, but you know what? The real guy is still out there. Trust me.”

I so wanted to believe my father, but I couldn’t. Not anymore.

That day, my childhood (and the childhood of seven hundred other kids), had lost a bit of its magic, simply because my father couldn’t say no.

COMING HOME

Forty-four years later I look at an inbox filled with voice-over auditions (I’m a voice actor); opportunities other people think I should embrace. But when I look at them, I know I don’t want to be the guy with the fake beard and the brown shoes, arriving in a Morris Marina. And I think of my fathers words:

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you must.

The author and his father.

My dad ain’t no saint, but his words of wisdom are a gift I will treasure for the rest of my life.

Some three years ago, I left for The Netherlands, and knocked on my father’s door. We both knew this was probably the last time we would see each other.

In my father’s presence I once again became the boy I used to be, and we talked about the day my dad impersonated a Spanish bishop.

We laughed.

We cried.

And we said our goodbyes.

My dad died on January 10th, 2015.

This Saturday it will be my turn to play Sinterklaas for the families of the Netherlands-America Association of the Delaware Valley. The day after I will make a saintly appearance at Trinity Episcopal Church, in Easton, Pennsylvania, where I now live.

And so, the family tradition continues. 

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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photo credit: Sander van der Wel, Netherlands

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Divided We Stand

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Pay-to-Play, Promotion 36 Comments

free hugsIs the voice-over world one big love fest?

If you go to pretty much any VO-conference, you may get that impression. There’s a lot of hugging and endearing cheering going on. People speak of “my voice-over family,” and will introduce you to their “Sister from another Mister.” It’s all hunky-dory on cloud nine. Why is that?

Is it because voice-overs tend to be part of an inherently “nice” and unpretentious group of people who avoid conflict at all cost, or is it because all the “nasty” people stay away from these social gatherings? Perhaps the bad apples congregate at conventions we know nothing about, sponsored by voices dot double U dee (wd stands for world domination).

But seriously, not all is well in voice-over land, and you know it. As in any community, there is camaraderie and controversy. Not to stir the pot in any way, but there still are a couple of hot-button issues we shouldn’t sweep under the carpet. Let me name a few.

1. Rates: publish them, or keep the client guessing?

Out of all the topics, the greatest shift in thinking happened on this one. In 2012 I made the case for colleagues to publish their rates on their website. Why? Because in the twenty-first century, people want to know how much things cost. That’s the way they are wired. 

The nay-sayers argued that listing prices would hurt negotiations. It would scare away customers, and we’d make it easier for the competition to put in lower bids. Besides, there was no consensus as to what was considered to be a standard rate.

Fast forward five years. The Global Voice Acting Academy’s Rate Guide has taken our community by storm, and is widely used as a point of reference. It’s been sent to some Pay-to-Plays, and the latest version was edited so it could be presented to clients. More recently, UK-based Gravy For The Brain published a guide to voice-over rates typically charged by voice artists in the United Kingdom.

In short: voice-over rates are no longer a big mystery. More and more colleagues are publishing how much they charge. Still, a fair number of colleagues feel we don’t do our industry a favor by being open about our prices, and thus the discussion continues.

2. Rates: how much or how little to charge

Critics of rate guides almost always use the same argument: “Who are you to tell me what I should charge? Mind your own business!” Oddly enough, it’s usually people on the lower end of the scale who seem to be defensive, and I have trouble understanding why they respond that way. If you’re running a for-profit business, isn’t it helpful to know what the going rates might be?

Secondly, these rate guides are called guides for a reason. No one will force you to charge a decent fee for decent work. If you feel your voice-over isn’t worth more than a fistful of dollars, welcome to the Wild West where the deaf lead the blind.

But let’s put all of that aside. Why shouldn’t we have a rate debate? Why can’t we issue guidelines? Almost every professional organization on the planet deals with compensation. That’s just one of the things professionals talk about. Only amateurs don’t have to concern themselves with what they charge. And that’s perhaps the crux of the matter.

The never-ending influx of amateurs has weakened the position of professionals. That’s why pros are taking a stand, and say:

“You may want to work at any rate, but it is immoral and unwise to do so. If you don’t value what you have to offer, you cannot expect others to value it either.”

3. Union membership

This is another hot topic in the voice-over world. Some prominent voice-overs feel the answer to all our troubles is to join SAG-AFTRA (or if you live outside of the U.S., to join another union). We’d all be paid a fair amount, we’d get health insurance, and we’d be in a much better position to negotiate with the big players. United we stand!

The problem is that many voice-overs feel that SAG-AFTRA has been treating them as unwanted stepchildren, once removed. Compared to on-screen actors, we’re the invisible small potatoes. Who cares if we ruin our vocal folds, dying a thousand screaming deaths for some silly video game? We don’t deserve extra compensation for that, do we? (please insert sarcasm)

After the longest strike in SAG-AFTRA history, there’s a tentative deal on the table that includes a promise that companies will work with the union to “examine the issue” for the next three years.

Things like that make me scream, but I have to be careful!

In a recent article, the Washington Post concluded: “In a $24.5 billion U.S. video game market that has turned some voice actors into celebrities, they still aren’t treated with the same respect as actors in television and in movies.”

Did you know that video games don’t pay residuals, and a union-proposed bonus structure for voice-overs didn’t make it into the tentative contract?

On top of that, a lot of union jobs are now turned into non-union, and SAG-AFTRA has done little or nothing to stop that trend. Oh, and did you get the news that a certain Canadian voice casting site has introduced a platform for talent agencies to access SAG-AFTRA jobs? They’re also going after ACTRA and other performance unions around the globe. Did the union(s) speak out about that, yet?

All I heard was crickets, so let’s turn to another topic. 

4. WoVO

The World Voices Organization (WoVO) was incorporated on April 25th 2012, and it was launched a day later. WoVO is a non-profit international industry trade organization. Its mission is:

“to inform and educate members of the voice-over community and other business professionals about best practices, standards for ethical conduct, and professional expertise as it relates to the voiceover industry.”

WoVO is run by voice-over talent for voiceover talent, and I am one of its members.

Why do I list WoVO as one of the hot-button topics in voice-over land? Because there must be thousands and thousands of voice-overs in the world, and only about eight hundred or so are WoVO members. If WoVO-membership would be a no-brainer, this number would be much higher. Apparently, it’s up for debate.

If you are reading this blog, and you are not a member, what are you waiting for? 

5. Voices dot wd

In one way I’ve got to give it to the leadership of this greedy, unethical company: David C. has always been clear about his ambitions. He wants to be THE middleman in voiceoverland, taking a big fat cut from every party involved in every transaction on his site. This year, Morgan Stanley Expansion Capital gave him eighteen million reasons to demonstrate he can deliver.

The pressure is on!

David’s strategy is straightforward: gain the biggest share in the voice-over market by creating a streamlined system that’s simple enough for stupid people to use. The next step is turning his VO-services into a commodity by encouraging the lowest bidders to sell to the cheapest clients. 

How do you get voice-overs to buy into this scheme? 

1. Appeal to the laziest hopefuls by promising to deliver lots of leads via email. 

2. Have them pay an annual membership fee for the privilege of bidding on jobs they’re likely to never land; a privilege shared with over 200,000 other voice actors in 139 countries.

3.  Make it easy to sign on the dotted line. No talent needed. Just a credit card.

Why is this still dividing the voice-over community, you wonder? There are two hundred thousand reasons why. Without them, there would be no voices dot wd. 

BONUS: The Voice Arts® Awards

On Sunday, November 5th, people were flocking to New York to attend The Voice Arts® Awards Gala, known to some as the “Joan & Rudy show.”

There are voice actors who believe our profession needs these awards to provide international acknowledgement of the extraordinary skill and artistry that goes into voice-over acting. Others like me, question the value of these awards.

In case you didn’t know: the Voice Arts® Awards do not give a prize to the best performance in a specific category. They only nominate and award those who paid a significant amount of money to be evaluated. In other words: you pay to play. So, a phenomenal voice talent might never win an award because he doesn’t want to spend his money on some competition.

By the way, the costs don’t end there. As a nominee, you’d have to travel to the awards, pay for a hotel and meals, pay for a ticket for your partner, and if you win, you also have to fork over $350 for your trophy. Is that worth it? And get this. Even though all VO’s pay to enter the competition, only VIP’s get to walk the red carpet, and last year there wasn’t enough time in the show for everyone to accept their award on stage. One of last year’s nominees told me:

“I was sold on going to this show and spending about $2000 because I’d have my name and work announced (marketing!), and I would have my moment like all the other nominees (fun!). And I was robbed of both. Those were the two reasons for going to the VAA.”

Another colleague wrote:

“There are no stars in VO. We both know it’s not glamorous. A big party is fun when we’re all together. But to get together to honor the dubious distinction of buying temporary adulation and ‘stardom,’ seems to me to be so disingenuous.”

So, is the voice-over world one big love fest? Of course not!

You may not agree with half of what I just wrote, and that’s fine with me. As long as we keep on talking. Every time I make a contribution to this blog, I want it to be the beginning of a conversation. Never the end.

What you are reading here is just my opinion,

and my opinion is always up for debate!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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You Too?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Journalism & Media, Personal, Social Media 12 Comments

Police line upThe “aholification” of society, otherwise known as the increase in the number of a-holes in the world.

That was what I was going to rant about this week.

You know, the people who just don’t seem to care about anyone but themselves. The people without manners. The loudmouths. The whiners. The bullies. The bullshitters. The people who treat the world as their trash can. The folks who cut you off as they weave toward the next stop light. The ones who always skip the line because they’re so important. The people who love to criticize but never contribute. The ones who believe the world owes them everything, and the rules don’t apply. I’m talking about the blamers, the willfully ignorant, and the folks who hide behind screens as they troll their way into social media with poisonous pens, racist ideas, and bad spelling.

HORRIBLE HARVEY

Then the Weinstein scandal broke, and I had to add a whole new group to my list: the pigs, the perverts, the abusers of power, the ones preying on vulnerable and impressionable people, the horny sickos in bathrobes, the catcallers, the womanizers, the humiliators, the guys who think a short skirt is an invitation, and the men who can’t keep their hands in their pockets. I’m talking about the Players, the creeps, the sexists, the intimidators, the ones who pretend not to understand the meaning of the word NO, and those who believe that money and power can buy decades of silence.

As a man, I am utterly horrified and shocked by all the #MeToo messages, and sickening stories of sexual harassment and abuse. Judging by my Facebook timeline, a-holes are everywhere! They hold respectable positions: teachers, doctors, therapists, members of the clergy, managers, casting directors. Some just have a bit more money and influence than others. Many of them are friends of the family, and helpful neighbors. The question is: would you recognize a sexual predator if you saw one?

FIND THE BAD GUY

Years of television typecasting has taught us how to spot a criminal, right? There’s the unibrow. The scarface. The ever-present five-o’clock shadow, clothes that don’t fit, and -in some cases- the British accent. Reality is very different. I bet you wouldn’t be able to pick a pervert from a police lineup. Fathers of five look too normal. I met one of them once, and I was utterly clueless. Here’s how it happened.

When I was seventeen, I got an opportunity to produce and present youth radio and television programs for a national broadcasting company. It was the chance of a lifetime, because all the teens that were chosen would be coached by industry veterans. Some of our coaches turned out to be minor celebrities with major attitudes, but my favorite teacher was a jolly guy in his sixties. Let’s call him Hans.

Grandfatherly Hans had been a producer of beloved children’s programs for years, and he knew everyone in the business. I learned a lot from him, and as we got closer, I asked him if he missed being involved in the day-to-day production of TV shows.

“I never really retired,” he told me. “I run a small production company out of my home, making low-budget movies. Come to think of it,” said Hans, “I wanted to ask you… would your girlfriend be interested in doing some acting?” At the time my girlfriend was in the same coaching program I was in, and apparently, she had caught his attention.

TAKING THE BAIT

When I told my girlfriend about the acting opportunity, she was flattered, and she thought it might be a good experience to work with a renowned producer. One quick screen test later she was learning her lines, and within a month she heard that the first shoot would be on a remote location. “How do I get there?” she asked, because she was too young to drive a car. “Don’t worry, I’ll take you,” said Hans. “It’s quite a drive, but I have a fast car.”

At this point you probably hear the sound of a million alarm bells going off, but this was years and years ago, and we were quite naive. Hans loved everybody, and everybody loved Hans. His professional reputation was stellar, and there was no reason to doubt that his intentions were less than honorable. He always told us that he “wanted to pay it forward,” and pass his knowledge and experience on to younger generations.

Little did my girlfriend know that she was on her way to a porn shoot.

What really happened during the drive I still don’t know, but after an hour of grooming, patting, and sweet talk, it became quite clear that the budget for this production wasn’t going to the costume department. My girlfriend was furious, and at a stoplight she started screaming her head off. Drivers in other cars took notice, and an embarrassed Hans offered to turn around. What a gentleman!

THE OFFICIAL DENIAL

When we told the head of the coaching program what had occurred, he said my girlfriend must have misread Hans’s intentions. It couldn’t possibly be true. After all, “nothing happened.” Those were his words. Later on, we learned that they were old pals looking out for each other. Sounds familiar?

If you’ve ever been in a similar situation, you know that there is no such thing as “nothing happened.” There’s the shame, the embarrassment, the violation of trust, the anger, the disbelief, the self-doubt, the cover-up, the nightmares, the bitter taste of betrayal.

Back then there were no hashtags, no social media, and no reporters interested in the story. Today is different! Thank goodness so many courageous women are speaking out against the a-holes who are now on notice. They will be named and shamed in public. Their reputations will be ruined. Their families will be torn apart. Their businesses will pay a hefty price.

If that’s what it takes to create a safe, respectful society, so be it.

It won’t happen overnight, but all the Weinsteins of the world should know this:

Karma has no deadline.

If you knowingly and shamelessly dig yourself into a hole, Karma will come and find you!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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The Concise (and incomplete) Voice-Over Book List

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Book, Career, Freelancing, Journalism & Media, Money Matters, Social Media 4 Comments

Man reading bookStop reading my blog!

Well… at least for a week or so. Then I expect you back where you belong. But let me ask you this:

When is the last time you read a book? A real book?

If you’re like me, you are so used to staring at poorly written scripts, and when you’re done, you turn to social media. That’s where you live your life in fleeting paragraphs, funny photos, shocking videos, and concise comments meant for people with the attention span of a peanut.

Here’s the good news: You don’t have to be one of those people! You’re much smarter than that. You can read entire chapters in one sitting. 

This week I challenge you to do what I ask of all my voice-over students: Deepen your knowledge. Broaden your horizons. Learn how to run a profitable freelance business. Be inspired by the pros. Find out how to free your voice, and how to build a home studio.

Go beyond the heartfelt but very limited advice you get on Facebook, Reddit, LinkedIn, or whatever platform you prefer. There’s so much to take in, and as a freelancer, you must take time to work ON your business, and not only IN your business. 

Below is your starter kit. It’s an incomplete collection of books covering many aspects of a voice-over career. Clicking on a title will magically take you to an online store. Should you order that title, this store will send a few pennies my way. I consider it my tip jar.

THE NETHERVOICE-OVER LIST OF BOOKS

The Wealthy Freelancer, 12 secrets to a great income and an enviable lifestyle by Steve Slaunwhite, Pete Savage, and Ed Gandia.

My So-Called Freelance Life: How to Survive and Thrive as a Creative Professional for Hire, by Michelle Goodman.

The Freelancer’s Bible: Everything You Need to Know to Have the Career of Your Dreams – On Your Terms, by Sara Horowitz and Toni Sciarra Pointer.

Become Your Own Boss in 12 Months: A Month-by-Month Guide to a Business that Works, by Melinda F. Emerson.

The Money Book for Freelancers, Part-Timers, and the Self-Employed: The Only Personal Finance System for People with Not-So-Regular Jobs, by Joseph D’Agnese and Denise Kieran.

There’s Money Where Your Mouth Is: A Complete Insider’s Guide to Earning Income and Building a Career in Voice-Overs, by Elaine A. Clark.

Voice for Hire: Launch and Maintain a Lucrative Career in Voice-Overs, by Randy Thomas and Peter Rofe.

More Than Just A Voice: The REAL Secret to Voiceover Success, by Dave Courvoisier.

V-Oh!: Tips, Tricks, Tools and Techniques to Start and Sustain Your Voiceover Career, by Marc Cashman.

Voice-Over Voice Actor: What It’s Like Behind the Mic, by Yuri Lowenthal and Tara Platt.

The Art of Voice Acting: The Craft and Business of Performing for Voiceover, by James Alburger.
You Too Can Make Money In Voice Overs, by Sharon Brogden.
Step Up to the Mic: A Positive Approach to Succeeding in Voice-Overs, by Rodney Saulsberry.

Rodney Saulsberry’s Tongue Twisters and Vocal Warm-Ups: With Other Vocal-Care Tips, by Rodney Saulsberry.

You Can Bank On Your Voice: Your Guide to a Successful Career in Voice-Overs, by Rodney Saulsberry.

The Voice Over Actor’s Handbook: How to Analyze, Interpret, and Deliver Scripts, by John Burr.

Voice-Over for Animation, by Jean Ann Wright and M.J. Lallo.

My Life as a Ten Year Old Boy, by Nancy Cartwright.

Scenes for Actors and Voices, by Daws Butler.

Daws Butler, Characters Actor, by Ben Ohmart, and Joe Bevilacqua.

The Magic Behind the Voices: A Who’s Who of Cartoon Voice Actors, by Tim Lawson and Alisa Persons.

Did You Grow Up with Me, Too? – The Autobiography of June Foray. 

Mel Blanc: The Man of a Thousand Voices, by Ben Ohmart.

That’s Not All Folks, by Mel Blanc. 

VO: Tales and Techniques of a Voice-Over Actor, by Harlan Hogan.

Secrets of Voice-Over Success: Top Voice-Over Actors Reveal How They Did It, by Joan Baker.

Accents: A Manual for Actors– Revised and Expanded Edition, by Robert Blumenfeld.

The Actor Speaks: Voice and the Performer, by Patsy Rotenburg.

Freeing the Natural Voice: Imagery and Art in the Practice of Voice and Language, by Kristin Linklater.

Set Your Voice Free: How To Get The Singing Or Speaking Voice You Want, by Roger Love and Donna Frazier.

Sound Advice: Voiceover from an Audio Engineer’s Perspective, by Dan Friedman.

Home Recording Studio: Build It Like the Pros, by Rod Gervais.

Acoustic Design for the Home Studio, by Mitch Gallagher.

Voice Over LEGAL, by Robert J. Sciglimpaglia Jr.

 

I could have added my own masterpiece, Making Money In Your PJ’s, to the list, but I’m too modest to even mention it. Besides, as a regular reader of this blog I fully expect you to have one or two copies on your bookshelf.

If you’d like to add other recommendations to my list, please mention them in the comments.

Now, stop reading this blog.

Find a quiet corner.

Gently attach a “Do Not Disturb” sign to your forehead, and start turning pages.

Enjoy!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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A Deal With The Devil

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play 29 Comments

Thanks a lot VoiceBank. You just made a deal with the devil.

Yes, you desperately needed a facelift, and you needed more money to up your services. Your auditions had turned into cattle calls. But we trusted you. Our agents trusted you. And now you’ve betrayed us in the worst way by jumping into bed with the Ciccarelli’s

Selling VoiceBank wasn’t really “selling.” It was selling out.

Don’t tell me you didn’t know what you were doing. You knew about their business model, screwing talent at every corner, cheapening our noble profession. But you were horny for money, and you took whatever you could get. And thanks to the kind folks at Morgan Stanley Expansion Capital, I’m sure you got a pretty sum. 

By taking the cash, you have shown your true nature, VoiceBank. Likes attract. You even admitted it in the press release:

“From early meetings,” said VoiceBank CEO Jeff Hixon, “it was clear to me that our companies had much in common, including a similar vision for the future.”

And what might that future be?

* Strengthening an unethical, greedy middle man who charges a hefty membership fee (which will probably increase), and takes a 40 – 50% “management fee”?

* Bypassing agents who negotiate fair terms & fees for the talent they represent? Putting them out of business, perhaps?

* Turning more and more union jobs into non-union jobs?

* Speeding up the race to the bottom?

* Turning unique voice talent into a commodity?

Hixon continued:

“(…) this relationship with Voices.com will be an invaluable benefit for both Voicebank.net and our customers.”

One category is clearly missing in this statement, and it is telling. Hixon forgot to mention voice talent. You know, the people who put the “voices” in VoiceBank and voices dot com (VDC). These voices are outraged, stunned, and disgusted. They also know that one can do a lot with 18 million dollars of Morgan Stanley money, but one cannot buy quality or integrity. 

As a result of this acquisition, a hungry, hopeful mob of cheap, amateur talent will be released to clients and casting directors. Let’s see how much time a busy voice booker is willing to spend, listening to a never-ending stream of VDC crap auditions. Casting directors have already been bypassing VoiceBank, counting on agents to find the right voices. That’s not going to change now that the Canadians are in charge. 

AGENCIES

Let’s see how many agents will cut their ties with VoiceBank, and double their efforts to make the most of their network of connections. Here’s the thing: the value of VoiceBank lies in the agencies and their roster. Take away the agencies, and you take away the value of the acquisition. The exodus has already begun. 

In fact, nine agencies have just formed the VO AGENT ALLIANCE, pledging Fairness, Integrity, Confidentiality, Professionalism and Diligence. The VO Agent Alliance is actively expanding, and ready to speak with other agencies willing to stand up for our industry. The nine agencies are In Both Ears, Go Voices, Voice Talent Productions, Play Talent, Umberger Agency, DeSanti Talents Agency, Rockstar Entertainment, The Actors Group, and ta-da! Voiceworks.

UNION RESPONSE

Let’s find out what SAG-AFTRA’s response will be. Perhaps this is their chance to show the voice acting community that -at last- it is taken seriously. Their reaction came on August 23rd, and it was lame and late:

“This new consolidation is of interest to SAG-AFTRA considering it could potentially impact members in the future. We will be in regular conversation on the subject with members, talent agents and casting directors, along with VDC and Voicebank. If you have any questions, please email adsgounion@sagaftra.org.”

AND YOU

What can you as voice-over do? Talk to your agent(s), and express your concerns and your support. Tell them you don’t want to have anything to do with the new and deteriorated VoiceBank. Ask them to pull out, and move on. If you subscribe to the weekly workouts, call to cancel, and tell VoiceBank why. Donate the money you save to WoVo and GVAA.

If you still have a profile on voices dot com (whether it’s free or not), ask to be removed immediately. If you seek a solution, you can’t be part of the problem. As long as you keep investing in a company that does not have your best interest at heart, you keep that company in business. It’s that simple.

The bottom line is this:

Voices dot com may now own VoiceBank.net, but it does not own you or me.

As voice talent, we cannot control companies, clients, or colleagues. We can only control ourselves. I left VDC a long time ago, and I survived. I have never landed a job through VoiceBank, and I’m still here. I have quite a few amazing agents, but if I had to rely on them to make a living, I’d be out on the street.

At the end of the day, I am my best agent. No one will do more to further my career than the guy who stares back at me in the mirror. I know I don’t control the winds of change, but I know how to adjust my sales. And no, that’s not a typo.

Out in my neighborhood I just walked passed a majestic sunflower. It had taken months to grow from a small seed into a radiant explosion of yellow. But today, something had changed. 

The giant flower became top-heavy; too full of itself, and now it is bending its small neck toward the ground.

It became a victim of its own weight.

In a day or two, it will all be over.  

You can bank on that!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Who’s Afraid Of Decent Rates?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Freelancing, International, Internet, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play 34 Comments

AfraidNewsflash!

The great rate debate is still going strong.

I’ve been writing about the erosion of voice-over rates for years, and every day, clients and colleagues are arguing privately and publicly about the value of our voices.

One thing is certain: that value keeps going down. Talk is getting cheaper and cheaper.

What’s going on?

Let’s begin with our clients. It’s so easy to blame clients for this downward trend, because they’re the ones paying us. However, I think it’s time to cut them some slack. So many of them are small players in a big, international market. Because that market is unregulated, and there are no universal prices, they have a hard time figuring out how much they can expect to pay for our services. That’s not really their fault.

A majority of voice-overs do not list their rates, hoping clients will contact them and ask for a quote. Those quotes may differ greatly because we need to take so many variables into account, and frankly, many of us don’t always know what to charge. Go to a VO Facebook group on any given day, and you’ll find someone asking for advice on price.

TURNING A PROFIT

Because I run my own business, I completely understand that my clients want to keep their costs low, and their revenue up. If you can get great service at a great price, why pay a penny more? I also understand that there’s a link between what you pay and what you get, no matter what industry you’re in. It’s foolish to expect top quality at a bargain-basement price, unless you’re benefitting from a liquidation sale.

These days, everyone’s online, and that complicates matters. It may seem that we’re all operating on a level playing field (the world wide web), which is not the case. It is anything but level, but try explaining that to an imaginary photographer in Latvia, who needs a few English voices for a website he’s launching. He’s offering $20 for 5 minutes of VO, which he believes is perfectly reasonable because he’s hired local talent at that price. He wants to know:

Why should I pay $250 for a 5-minute voice-over, if Olga in Riga is willing to do it for $20?

I told him: “Your job posting tells me that you’re looking for voice-overs with an authentic British accent. If Olga can pull that off, why not hire her? The reason you’re posting your job overseas is that ’20-dollar Olga’ has no idea what she’s doing. Her accent is clearly from Latvia, and not from London. And because it’s cold in the Baltics, she’s probably using a Snowball microphone, guaranteed to give that crap amateur sound the Fiverr crowd is so proud of. You pay for professionalism, or lack thereof.”

The photographer responds:

I understand that it might be hard for me to find a native British voice-over in my neck of the woods, but that still doesn’t explain the huge difference in rates. $250 for five minutes? I think people are just greedy.

I said: “Location makes a big difference. Let me give you an example. Why does a Big Mac cost $7.80 in Norway, and only $1.62 in India? Why doesn’t McDonalds charge the same price for the same product, regardless of the location? Because the price of a Big Mac is a reflection of its local production and delivery cost, the cost of advertising, and what the local market will bear.

The cost of living is much higher in Norway, and consequently, people make more. According to the CIA, the 2016 per capita income in Norway was $69,300 and in India it was $6,700. If I were a Norwegian voice-over artist and I would charge Indian prices, I wouldn’t be able to make a living. That has nothing to do with greed.

As a freelancer, you have to price for profit wherever you’re located, because that’s where you’re buying your Big Mac. It’s where you pay your bills, and your taxes. That’s why a UK talent charges more than someone in Latvia, or in India.

ONGOING ADDED VALUE

And let’s remember that a voice-over is not some hamburger you order at the drive-through. Every Big Mac should pretty much taste the same, no matter where you order it. It’s generic. Once it has been consumed, it has served its purpose.

Every voice is unique, and every voice-over artist brings special talents and experience to the table. Once recorded, that commercial, trailer, or eLearning course can be played again and again, adding value every time someone’s listening. That’s worth something. 

Last but not least, just because you’re paying $250, doesn’t mean the voice-over always gets $250. Some online casting companies like Canada-based voices dot com, pocket a considerable amount without telling you or the talent. If you want to talk about greed, talk about that!”

THE TROUBLE WITH COLLEAGUES

The Latvian photographer still doesn’t understand why he can’t hire a UK talent for $20. However, in my experience it’s much easier to talk sense into some clients, than to reason with certain colleagues (and I use the term colleagues loosely, because they’re acting anything but collegial). Most of my clients know how to run a for-profit business, but so many ‘colleagues’ seem to be clueless. They don’t know the difference between “selling,” and “selling out.”

Every time the issue of reasonable rates comes up, there are always voices saying:

“Who are you to tell me what I should charge? It’s a free country, and I can charge whatever I want!”

Yes, and I can sell my Subaru Outback any time for $300, but does that make any sense whatsoever? Why should I settle for a handout if the market value of my car is at least $3,000? How stupid do I have to be to practically give my car away to the lowest bidder?

By the way, this whole free country argument is a load of bull, used by imbeciles to defend all kinds of idiotic practices. Here’s the thing:

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you must, or that it’s wise. 

“But who cares if I sell my voice for five bucks? Mind your own business! I’m not telling you what to charge. My bottom line doesn’t affect yours.”

Is that really so? What would happen if half of all car owners would decide to sell their vehicles way below value? Tell me that has zero impact on the used car market!

If what’s happening at the bottom of the VO-market does not affect the rest, why aren’t voice-over fees at least keeping up with the rate of inflation? Why are rates across the board in a steady decline?

WE NEED EACH OTHER

In the grand scheme of things you may feel insignificant, and believe that your choices only influence your bottom line. But hundreds of these individual choices send a message, and thousands create a trend clever clients have picked up on. 

To put it differently: if you really believe that one, individual decision has no impact on the overall outcome, then there’s no reason to live in a democracy. You might as well move to North-Korea. But since you’re still here, and (I hope) you vote, you must believe that you can make a difference.

Your choice of what to charge makes a difference. It impacts our professional community, and the families that depend on it. 

You can either cheapen our profession and our community, or enrich it. You can build it up, or tear it down.

You can price like a predator, or like a professional. 

Or are you afraid to charge a decent rate? Are you afraid the client will reject you?

Are you not convinced that what you have to offer can command a fair price?

If that’s the case, here’s a suggestion: perhaps you should find another job.

A certain Pay to Play call center in Canada might be hiring very soon.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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PPS Below you’ll find links to some of the other articles I’ve written about rates and pricing

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How Dangerous Is Your Voice-Over Studio?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Gear, Studio 35 Comments
voice-over & blogger Paul Strikwerda

the author of this blog in his studio

Voice-over people are really weird.

Every day they spend a long time sitting in a small, soundproof room, staring at a screen, and talking to themselves.

If they’re good at what they do, they pretend to communicate with an illusive but unresponsive listener.  

Then they spend an eternity listening to themselves as they edit and sweeten the audio.

After hours and hours of sitting on their behinds, these voice-overs emerge out of the darkness, longing for fresh air and an adult beverage.

The next day they do it all over again, because it’s such a glamorous job!

Don’t get me wrong: I enjoy this sequestered lifestyle tremendously, but it took me a few years before I got comfortable in my studio. In order to truly feel at home, happy, and safe in my claustrophobic recording cave, I had to add some items and make some adjustments to make life a lot healthier.

Tip: as is always the case, the text in blue is a link to an article or a product I recommend (links open in a new tab). And yes, as stated under “Disclosure” on the right-hand side of this blog, product links will take you to an online retailer. 

EYE PROTECTION

Let’s talk about CVS. No, I don’t mean the American chain of pharmacies. I’m talking about Computer Vision Syndrome (sometimes called DES: Digital Eye Strain). It’s the strain on the eyes that happens when you use a computer or digital device for prolonged periods of time. Common symptoms are eye fatigue, headaches, blurred vision, red, dry, or burning eyes, and even neck and shoulder pain. 

According to the Vision Council (the optical trade association) if you spend two or more hours in front of a digital screen, you’re likely to experience one or more symptoms of CVS. The blue light emitted from these screens seems to play a big role. Blue light or high-energy visible light, is a particularly intense light wave emitted in the 380-500nm range.

The question is: What can you do to protect your eyes from CVS?

One: Make sure the lighting in your studio is comfortable on the eyes. One way to do that is by using bias lighting (backlighting of a television or computer monitor). 

I’ve placed a simple Himalayan Rock Salt Lamp behind my computer monitor. Not only does it emit a nice warm glow, some people believe a salt lamp generates negative ions neutralizing (bad) positive ions coming from electronic devices.

Noticing the benefits of bias lighting in my studio, I went ahead and attached a strip of LED lights to the back of our television. Not only did the contrast ratio of the HDTV improve, my eye fatigue was practically nonexistent after a night of Netflix.

Two: Another way to prevent eye strain is to reduce glare. It helps to use indirect or reflective studio lighting. Some people attach a blue light blocking screen protector to their computer monitor. I always wear tinted computer glasses with a special lens coating to reduce glare.

Three: Blink more often, and take frequent breaks. Taking five-minute “mini-breaks” throughout the work day actually makes people more productive. During your computer breaks, stand up, move about and stretch your arms, legs, back, neck and shoulders to reduce tension and muscle fatigue.

PREVENTING RSI

Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) is a potentially disabling illness caused by prolonged repetitive hand movements, such as those involved in computer use. If you’ve just edited your latest audio book, you know what I’m talking about. Symptoms include intermittent shooting pains in the hands, wrists, forearms, and back.

Taking regular breaks is one way to prevent RSI. It helps to sit up straight, and to use a good chair. Don’t be a cheapskate when you buy one. You’ll be using it for many hours a day. For voice-overs it’s important to make sure the chair is quiet. Too many office chairs make squeaky noises that will make a guest appearance on your recordings.

The seat pan of the chair should be adjusted to tilt slightly forward to encourage a good posture when seated. Your forearms should be approximately horizontal when working, with your shoulders and upper arms relaxed. The seat height should be adjusted accordingly. I’ve also added a lumbar support pillow for extra comfort.

Many people develop RSI in their mouse hand. I use a gel wrist pad to keep my right wrist in a better position while using the mouse. I’ve also invested in an elbow rest (here’s another model) which has helped me tremendously.

It does make a difference what kind of mouse you use. I recommend choosing an ergonomic mouse with a track ball. It’s much easier to quickly move the cursor around, and there’s less strain on the hand. Some colleagues have switched to a track pad and are glad they did. 

By the way, did I tell you that I use two mice when editing my audio with Twisted Wave? The left-hand mouse moves the cursor on the screen, and the right-hand mouse highlights areas and makes the cuts. I used to use the Contour ShuttlePro V.2 for my left hand. It’s a neat, mouse-like controller with programmable buttons. However, using two mice and keyboard shortcuts works just as well for me.

BE KIND TO YOUR EARS

I absolutely adore my fluffy Beyerdynamic DT 880 studio headphones. They’re so comfortable, I don’t even notice that I’m wearing them… for hours in a row. And that’s not a good thing. When I do precision editing, I tend to turn the volume up to hear all the sonic details, and that can be risky.

Here’s the troubling thing: hearing loss is pretty sneaky. It’s usually something that happens gradually. How do you even notice your hearing isn’t as good as it used to be? Well, we have an app for that. Several to be precise. 

For Apple users there’s UHear and the Mimi Hearing Test. For Android users there’s the Hearing Test or the app Test Your Hearing (among other things). Click here to take an online hearing test. 

How can hearing loss be prevented?

For starters, I began using my Eris E5 studio monitors more and more. They usually provide enough clarity and detail for me to edit my audio. I also turned the smart phone volume down to a safer level (go to your settings and drop the volume limit to about 70%).

When I work out in the gym I prefer wearing earbuds. I have replaced the regular tips with memory foam tips that keep the earphones much better in place. They also block out the noise more effectively. That way I don’t have to turn my podcasts up so much. 

When I go to the movies, concerts, or shows, I always bring my Made in Holland Alpine Hearing Protection Earplugs. They’re on my key chain, so I don’t have to remember to take them with me.

Now, there are more things in your studio that are potentially dangerous. For instance, some people don’t respond well to the gases emitted by acoustic foam. Some get headaches or have trouble breathing. Switching to panels made of natural materials is one obvious solution. I could also have talked about vocal health in this overview of studio hazards. However, I’ve already covered that in my interview with vocal coach Elissa Weinzimmer

Let me leave you with one last thought.

TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF

The issues I described in this post aren’t exactly sexy. In the voice-over community we’d much rather talk about gear, or about declining standards and rates. The thing is: most colleagues don’t even realize they are putting their health at risk when they are entering their home studio and office.

Computer Vision Syndrome, Repetitive Strain Injury, and hearing loss are slow processes that -when ignored- can cause permanent damage. They’re not unique to the voice-over world. Adults spend 8+ hours staring at screens every day. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), RSI affects some 1.8 million workers per year. Hearing loss among teens is about 30 percent higher than in the eighties and nineties.

The good news is that all of these problems can be prevented. So, the next time you’re looking to invest in your studio, perhaps you don’t need that new microphone or preamp. Perhaps you should get yourself a good chair, a nice pair of computer glasses, a salt lamp, and new monitors.

Take my advice and don’t wait until it’s too late. If you’re having any of the symptoms I’ve described, or you’re experiencing other problems, go and see your doctor. After all, this is just a blog and I’m not a medical professional.

If you have any other tips that have made your time in the studio less risky and more comfortable, please share them in the comment section below, and share this blog post with your friends and colleagues.

Thank you!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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