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“May you live in interesting times.”
It’s a well-known Chinese curse, and for me, the past two weeks have been very interesting to say the least. I must indeed be cursed.
It all started with my outrageous blog post Divided We Stand. In it, I talked about a few topics the voice-over community doesn’t quite agree on: WoVO (World Voices Organization), the Union, our rates, and Voices dot com (VDC).
At the eleventh hour I decided to add The Voice Arts® Awards (VAA’s).
Out of all those topics, what do you think people picked up on? Fair rates? How the Union treats VO as an afterthought? How VDC is trying to monopolize our industry?
Let’s put it into context.
The longest strike in SAG-AFTRA history had just ended with a less than ideal deal. VDC took over VoiceBank, and announced it was going after union jobs. VO rates are plummeting. And what were we getting fired up about?
A few shiny statuettes! And it’s all my fault!
If it were not for me and my wicked ways to get hits on my blog, we’d all be happily schmoozing at Lincoln Center (the location for the VAA’s), enjoying an abundance of excellent food AND an open bar at $200-something per person.
But no. This begrudging, predictable party pooper had to rain on everybody’s parade. What a bitter, bad sport he is! This Debbie Downer must hate all things that create community, and he’s probably out on some personal vendetta against the organizers.
Now, hold on one second…
TRUTH OR DARE
It’s obvious that my piece hit some raw nerves, but did I divulge things in my blog that were uncalled for and untrue?
Based on the many responses in the Voice Over Pros Facebook group as well as other comments, people proved my point. As a community we are divided about the VAA’s. Is that a terrible thing? Not at all. There is strength in diversity. It certainly makes life more interesting.
Here’s another fact I mentioned in my piece: you have to pay to participate in the VAA’s. Isn’t that true for many award shows, people asked. Absolutely. That -by the way- doesn’t mean such a show is inherently good, bad, or even relevant. Did I ever suggest that people had to pay to get nominated? Never! Is charging an entry fee the only way to preselect participants? Certainly not.
Are there other costs involved for those who end up being nominated? Of course, and if people believe these expenses are a solid investment in their career, they should go and have a great time (and I don’t mean that in a cynical way).
One of the colleagues I quoted said that the things that had sold him on the 2016 show did not materialize. The other colleague felt it was disingenuous to “honor the dubious distinction of buying temporary adulation and ‘stardom.’ “ Those were real quotes from real people.
What am I getting at? As a former journalist I know the importance of getting my facts straight. If you don’t like ‘em, challenge the facts, but there’s no reason to attack the person, and his/her perceived motives.
Here’s what really bothers me. The VAA’s are portrayed as something utterly positive. Those who sing their praises are portrayed as the good guys in the industry. The people who don’t, are labeled as being negative. Those who dare to be critical are accused of badmouthing, and are unfriended and blocked from certain groups. Is that how we have dialogue in our community? Are we that insecure, that we can’t handle a bit of feedback?
And here’s another thing that’s not sitting well with me. Criticism of these awards is seen as criticism of those who enter and organize this event. Why the need to make things personal? Can’t we have our reservations about a game, and still like the players? Some have suggested that the people who question the merits of the VAA’s must be jealous or bitter. I can only speak for myself, but I’m neither bitter nor jealous. On the contrary.
CRITIQUE IS NO CRIME
No organization is perfect, and if it wishes to better itself, it can’t just be surrounded by cheerleaders. You need supporters, as much as you need contrarians. You need like-minded people on your team, as well as those who can point out imperfections. Otherwise you end up like those CEO’s on Undercover Boss who are only told what people think they want to hear, until they speak to their employees in disguise.
And speaking of disguise, I have received a number of emails from colleagues who say they agree with my analysis, but refuse to go on the record. The quotes I used in my piece were anonymous on purpose. Some are afraid to speak out, fearing it might have a negative impact on their career. It takes years to build a reputation, and seconds to tarnish it.
Heaven forbid you become known as someone who is opinionated, and who dares to challenge some of the heavy hitters in our industry. It’s better to stay under the radar, smile, and pretend all is well. He who pays the piper calls the tune.
No matter where you stand in this discussion, no one should feel intimidated, and fear for his or her career for speaking one’s mind.
FINDING COMMON GROUND
If you’ve been critical of my assessment, I want to thank you for engaging in a dialogue. I don’t think less of you because we’re not on the same page as far as this topic is concerned. Frankly, we have bigger fish to fry. I respect your choice to support and/or enter this competition, and I hope it was worth it. Perhaps we can agree on the following:
Different people define worth in different ways, based on their experiences, their expectations, and their priorities.
That’s why in the same thread one award-winning colleague says he can “unequivocally quantify the extra earnings directly attributable to relationships and bookings resultant from the VAA’s at well into the six figures and counting,” while another states:
“I have been a pro VO for 23 years and collected various awards over the years (that production companies entered into, not me) and they never, ever got me any gig. Not one. Never, ever, a client told me they casted me because I had an award. Ever.”
Is one right, and the other wrong, or can both exist at the same time? If you accept that last premise, you also have to accept that the value of a win varies per person. Isn’t that true for any award show? Of course it is. I never contested that. It’s especially true for a show very few people outside the voice-over bubble have heard about. It also means that as a promotional tool, the value of winning an award is uncertain. Is that me being derisive, or is that just the way it is?
Awards are by definition selective and exclusive. It’s never a level playing field.
Again, this is not a specific flaw of the VAA’s, but it’s a problem with most award shows. You don’t excuse or fix a problem by pointing out that others are struggling with the same things.
For instance, for years, the stunt people have lobbied for a special Academy Award. The powers that be, decided that those who often risk their lives (and sometimes lose it), are not Oscar-worthy, but those who compose a silly song may walk away with a statue. Is that fair and reasonable? You tell me!
The voice-over announcing the 2017 VAA’s, said:
“Tonight, we honor the leading international talent in the voice-over industry. We recognize the greatest voice actors who impact our ears, our lives, our world.”
If your publishing company, agent, distributor, radio station, or network wants to enter your work, you’re in luck, and you’re a contender to be among “the greatest.” If they’re not interested, or they don’t want to pay the entry fee, you won’t be considered, even though you might be mega-talented.
The VAA’s were created to provide international acknowledgement of the extraordinary skill and artistry that goes into voice-over acting. Apparently, it’s easier for some people to be acknowledged than others. One commentator remarked:
“I work every day on some cracking radio and the odd TV ad, but mostly, like today, I will go and voice 10 explainer videos for one of the UK’s largest supermarket chains. And you don’t get awards for that I’m afraid. You don’t even get a discount voucher for the shop.”
And why is there a special VAA for podcasts and not for radio dramas? To me, radio dramas are about voice acting. The podcasts are about people talking about voice acting. And on that note, do the Oscars have an award for the best acting demo reel? Would the Country Music Awards ever award a demo tape sent in by an aspiring singer? Then why on earth are we recognizing demo reels at the VAA’s?
Some have argued that the cream will always rise to the top. I don’t agree. Turds tend to be pretty lightweight too. At any award show, only the people who enter and pay have a chance to be measured and rise. And if the competition in a particular category isn’t very strong, it’s easier for mediocrity to take top honors. In the land of the blind, the girl with one eye is queen.
Some have also suggested that the purpose of these VAA’s is not to boost one’s career, but to celebrate it. If that’s the case, why sell these awards as a marketing opportunity? Why not organize one big VO party for equals among equals? Skip the speeches, the celebs, and the shiny objects. Go straight to the dance floor and have fun under the disco ball!
To make the VAA’s more beneficial to our community and beyond, we need a different model.
It’s one thing to point out weaknesses, but another to come up with concrete suggestions for improvement.
This might surprise you, but I’m not entirely against competitions. My wife’s piano and flute students take part in them. It gives them something to prepare for, and an opportunity to get valuable feedback from experts. This feedback is used to reinforce good habits, correct bad ones, and help kids grow as a musician. It’s always about the music, and not about the applause.
In Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley where I live, the Freddy© Awards are to high school musical theater what the Tony Awards® are to Broadway. Each show is rated by a number of evaluators, and every high school receives extensive feedback on all aspects of the production. This feedback is then used as a teaching tool in the drama departments.
In other words, even if you’re not nominated or a winner, you will be able to read your evaluation, and benefit from it. Wouldn’t it be great if the Voice Arts® Awards would do the same? Unfortunately, that’s not the case. This is how it’s done:
“In each category, each judge shall rate each entry on three indices. These indices vary by category and are listed below. For each index, judges enter a score from 1.0 to 10.0, where 1.0 is valued as “very poor quality” and 10.0 is valued as “perfection” in the personal standards of the judge.”
What is there to learn if your performance is summarized in an abstract number?
After a lengthy preselection, all competitors take part in a week of open masterclasses where they work under the instruction of renowned artists to improve their vocal performance, musical expression, song interpretation, stage presence, and skills such as self-management, networking, and interview training. In other words: the actual competition is only a part of the program. It’s as much about coaching and career development. Even those who don’t win, walk away with an invaluable experience.
What about expenses and prizes?
For those entering the final round, Neue Stimmen reimburses travel expenses and board and lodging (up to a certain amount). The two winners receive a cash award of €15,000 each, and an opportunity to pursue a career as an opera singer. The second and third prize winners receive €10,000 and €5,000 respectively. To give you an idea, 1,430 contestants from 76 countries registered to take part in this year’s event. 39 talents qualified for the final round, and 16 female and male singers participated in the semifinals. Now, that’s how you get the best of the best!
I’m not suggesting we turn the VAA’s into an opera competition, but there’s a reason why out of many singing competitions, Neue Stimmen has produced most careers. I like the fact that there’s a focus on extensive feedback, artistic growth, performance, and career development. Oh, and no one has to pay for his or her prize.
I hope we can agree that there are different ways of looking at the Voice Arts® Awards. To me, they were best summarized by two colleagues. One of them said:
“Human beings are very simple creatures. Most of them are impressed with shiny things and pay attention to those that have them. That isn’t just in voiceover, that’s in life in general. You can either decide to work with that principle, ignore it altogether or work against it.”
And another stated:
“The real reward is the remuneration for your work. The recognition you ultimately need is from your clients who put food on your table and pay your mortgage who’ve never heard of these ceremonies and conferences. I get the impression that some people are too busy enjoying their pop-shield selfies and frantic tagging at events to ask themselves the honest questions.”
What can I say?
We live in very interesting times.
Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
PS Be sweet. Subscribe & Retweet!
Especially in retrospect.
The idea is that, had we known better, we would have done better. That sounds very reasonable in theory, but in reality, I find most people to be stubbornly unreasonable. Hindsight or no hindsight.
In many major decisions, logic seems to play a minor part: the choice of a life partner (or to stay single); whom to trust in business and in politics; whether to have children or not, to name a few.
If logic and reason would rule the world, no one would be overweight, or smoke cigarettes. There would be no littering, global warming, texting while driving, or unprotected sex.
Instead, we live in a world where people cannot control their most primitive impulses, their most unfounded fears, and their most irrational ideas. History repeats itself as fallible human beings fail to learn from the past. As countless psychologists have observed: previous behavior is a good predictor of future behavior.
Having said that, I really wish I had known a thing or two before I started speaking for a living. Here’s my top 7 of things I did, before I knew better:
1. Putting on a voice
Listening back to old recordings, I noticed that I was trying too hard to sound like a voice-over. I was imitating someone else, instead of being me. There’s too much effort. I spoke louder than I normally do, delivering a speech, instead of having a conversation.
Takeaway: There’s no one like you. Be effortlessly authentic. (click here for some tips)
2. Auditioning for everything under the sun
Once upon a time I believed in the numbers game. You know, the silly idea that the more you audition, the greater the chance you’ll eventually land a job. Forget that. If you don’t sound like John Wayne, Darth Vader, or Helen Mirren, don’t be a pretender. It’s embarrassing. Only take on what you know you can pull off, while developing your range.
Takeaway: Be selective in what you audition for. Play to your strengths.
3. Not delivering pristine audio
What’s the number one reason most auditions end up in the garbage bin? Bad sound quality! In hindsight, I took too long to get a professional recording space, and quality equipment. Once I did, my bookings tripled, because the audio from my home studio was just as good as the audio of my demos.
Takeaway: If you want to play with the best, you need to invest. Having a home studio is a must.
4. Approaching it like a hobby
You may have an amazing voice and great equipment, but that’s no guarantee that you’ll have a successful voice-over career. You must learn how to run a freelance business, how to manage your money, and how to toot your horn without annoying the heck out of everybody.
Takeaway: Being business savvy is often more important than having a unique talent.
5. Being reactive instead of proactive
Being a voice-over is not for those who wait and see, or for those playing the blame game. You’re in the driver’s seat, buddy! If you don’t steer your career, you’ll never know where you’ll end up. Successful solopreneurs are risk-takers, go-getters, and fast learners. They love to lead, and hate to follow.
Takeaway: Don’t let things happen. Make them happen!
6. Trying to reinvent the wheel
You may think you know it all, and can do it all, but you don’t know what you don’t know. It’s better to admit your limitations, than to be willfully ignorant. The self-employed wear many hats. Dare to excel in a few things, instead of being mediocre in many.
Takeaway: Do your homework, and ask for help. Outsource the things you’re not (yet) good at. (click here for more on this)
7. Not charging enough
I thought that low rates would get me work. It turned out that by charging less, I branded myself a desperate beginner. People didn’t take me seriously, and those who paid the least, were the biggest pains in the neck.
Takeaway: Any fool can undercut the competition and go broke in the process. Running a for-profit business starts with valuing yourself and your services properly. (click here for more on low rates)
Well, there you have it.
Now I can tell you “I told you so.” Not that it’s going to make any difference.
Some people don’t like being told what to do, and I understand that.
The most profound life lessons are often the ones coming from experience, and not from books, blogs, or well-meaning mothers.
But it might take you a few years to come to that realization.
Unless you have perfect vision.
Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
PS Be sweet. Subscribe & retweet!
PPS Here’s a quick summary of the main points.
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.
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.
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:
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!
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.
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
PPS Be sweet. Please retweet!
For one, I saw the number of subscribers to this blog grow to over 36 thousand. That’s insane!
It didn’t happen by accident. How did I do it? Well, if you read this article, you will get a good sense of my strategy.
Few things are more gratifying than knowing that you chose to take a few minutes each week to spend them in my company. Not only that, you have shared my stories with your friends and colleagues. You’ve discussed them online and offline, and you’ve reached out to me when one of my posts struck a chord. Thank you so much!
Now, we all lead busy lives, and I realize that throughout the year you might have missed a blog post here or there. That’s why -at the end of the year- I want to highlight a few stories that you may not have seen, or that have faded from your memory.
If anything, this past year has been very emotional for me. There were times that I didn’t feel like going into my studio to record, and when I did, it was challenging to say the least. I wrote about it in Feeling Like A Fake.
There were a few “firsts” in 2015. I believe I was the first voice-over who openly wrote about sex. If you’re curious about what I had to say, read The Confident Skills of a Sex God. I think I also was the first and perhaps the only VO who celebrated World Voice Day by writing two contributions.
The first post entitled Your Voice Your Life, was about vocal health. If you care about your instrument, it is a must-read! The second was The Window to the Soul, and it’s about a new area of research: emotional analytics. It’s all based on the notion that what we say is not as important as how we say it.
Like last year, I continued to rub many readers the wrong way. In fact, posts in which I vent my frustration usually end up being the most popular.
In March I became the most hated man among podcasters, when I published The Problem with Podcasting. After receiving some very nasty and mostly anonymous comments, I was forced to change my comment policy. Here’s a summary:
I no longer accept anonymous comments, or comments by people using a fictitious online identity. I want people to own up to what they’re saying, and not hide behind a made up character. Comments that are rude and disrespectful will be deleted immediately. You’ll find more about this in Poisonous Pens.
Another blog post that elicited some angry responses was 5 Reasons Why You Should Never Become A Voice Over. It was unfortunate that the angriest commentators forgot to read the last line. Skimming the text is not the same as reading it. In The Agony of Ignorance, I reveal some other traits I cannot stand.
People often get upset because I tend to say things that are perceived as being harsh and confrontational. One of those posts was The Message Very Few Want To Hear. Between you and me: I never ask my readers to agree with me, and I’m not intent on winning a popularity contest. I must admit: sugarcoating is not my strength.
One of the main goals in writing this blog, is to enhance professionalism in my line of work. In The Secret to Sustained Success, I discuss short-term versus long-term thinking, and the effect it can have on a career. In To Discount Or Not To Discount, I share what Famous Dave’s delicious pickles tell us about pricing strategy.
Are Clients Walking All Over You deals with the importance of setting professional boundaries, and in Sending The Wrong Signals I reveal one of the worst things you can do in customer service, and how you can turn it around.
Many more experienced readers want to know how they can get to the proverbial “next level.” If that speaks to you, please read 4 Ways to Get From Good to Great. You might also want to know The One Thing Every Client Is Listening For. Don’t get ahead of yourself, though, because Perfectionism Is A Trap!
And then there’s my biggest story of 2015. All my posts about Voices.com went viral this year, and the first one was Voices.com is Slapping Members in the Face, followed by Voices.com: Unethical and Greedy. Number three is called The Ciccarelli Circus.
To me, one of the biggest trends of 2015 was the fact that people were finally fed up with a pay-to-play system that didn’t give them a fair shot at landing jobs, and with a company that seemed to be double and triple dipping while cheapening the marketplace with low rates. Read Calling It As I See It, for other trends.
But if there was one piece that summed up my state of mind in 2015, it has to be Giving Up. It’s a new philosophy that I will continue to live by in 2016.
What I won’t give up, is this blog. As long as there’s still music inside of me, I will keep on singing with my Nethervoice.
May the new year bring you health, happiness, inspiration, satisfaction, and continued success!
Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
PS In case you hadn’t noticed, the text in blue is a hyperlink, taking you to the actual blog post.
What if you advertise yourself as a pro, but you’re still learning on the job;
What if you wonder why you’re not booking, but you’re too cheap to hire a coach;
What if you’re too lazy to look things up, and count on your community to bail you out;
What if you think you can break into the business on a shoestring budget;
What if you’re convinced you can crush the competition by undercutting rates;
What if you feel that no one has your back, but you refuse to join WoVo;
What if “What’s in it for me?” is your motto, and you don’t care about your colleagues;
What if you expect to make money, but you don’t know how to run a business;
What if your Pay-to-Play acts unethically, yet you don’t raise your voice;
What if your client pays dirt, but you bend over backwards anyway;
What if you are totally exhausted, but you never take a break;
What if you love to complain, but you never contribute;
What if you don’t believe in yourself, yet you hope others will…
Well, I’m really sorry, but I cannot help you. You have to help yourself, and up your game if you want to become a pro.
Pros know what to do. That’s what they’re getting paid for;
Pros never stop learning. Even the best work with a coach;
Pros are proactive, and do their own homework;
Pros invest in quality, and are willing to pay for it;
Pros know what they’re worth, and charge accordingly;
Pros stick together, and belong to the World-Voices Organization;
Pros look at the bigger picture, and care about community;
Pros are business savvy, and price for profit;
Pros speak up when they’re treated with little respect;
Pros work with clients who recognize their value;
Pros take care of themselves, knowing they can’t give what they don’t have;
Pros aren’t whiners; they are winners;
Pros are poised, and self-assured.
Pros realize that talent entitles them to nothing. It challenges them to do everything.
And above all, Pros know that success is the result of many small, intelligent steps, taken in the right direction.
Success can’t be rushed. It can’t be bought. It can’t be forced or faked.
It has to be learned.
It has to be earned.
Every. Single. Day.
Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
PS Be Sweet. Please retweet!
At the end of Uncle Roy’s 10th annual VO-BBQ, a young colleague walked up to me and said:
“I wanted to thank you.
You are the reason why I am a voice-over today.”
“How so?” I asked, pleasantly surprised.
He said: “When I watched your video The Troublesome Truth about a Voice-Over Career, I just knew I had to become a voice actor. Since then I have worked very hard to launch my career, and I couldn’t be happier doing what I love to do. So, thank you!”
“I’m so glad to hear that,” I said, “but really… all the credit goes to you. You made this happen. Not me. I just put a video on YouTube.”
When I thought about this encounter the next day, it made me smile. So many people have seen the video, and quite a few commentators accused me of trying to kill their dreams by listing all the reasons why a voice-over career might not be for them. How dare I?
Now, here’s a guy who had the opposite response. After watching my video, he became more determined than ever to make it as a professional voice talent! It just goes to show that the same information can elicit an entirely different reaction, depending on the person who’s processing it.
This confirms one of my favorite sayings:
The world we see is a mirror of who we are.
If you are a glass-is-half-empty kind of person, you will always find evidence to support that idea. If you believe that the glass is always half full, you’ll find example after example to underpin that view. Our perception is mostly projection.
I also had to smile because I do love it when open-minded, talented people take advice to heart, and run with it.
You see, it’s so easy to look at a video, listen to a podcast or quickly scan a blog post, and immediately move on to something else. That’s today’s society. We go from one stimulus to the next. There’s no percolation time, allowing info to sink in. That’s a shame, because processing more information faster doesn’t make us any wiser. I believe it makes us more shallow and stressed.
When we listen to someone making a point, we hardly ask ourselves the basic questions:
1. What is the speaker really saying? How much of it do I understand, and what is it that I don’t yet get?
2. What does this information mean to me? How is it relevant?
3. What should I do with it?
Why do we skip these questions?
For one, because many of us have lost the ability to be in the moment and truly listen. We’re so busy trying to come up with a response, that we don’t even hear what’s being said. Or, we assume we already know what the other person is going to say, and we respond to that. The better we know the person we’re talking to, the more frequently this happens.
It’s a relationship killer, and I’m not only talking about intimate relationships.
Whether you’re a voice actor or you do some other kind of freelance work, your level of success is deeply linked to the level in which you understand and respond to your client’s needs. That’s why I find it very challenging to work with clients who give little or no instructions.
It’s impossible to live up to unknown expectations. This is true in our professional, as well as in our personal lives. And because we make assumptions instead of asking questions, we get in trouble.
The other day I was convinced I knew what a client wanted me to do. My job was to dub a Dutch actor in English, and the director had sent me a video clip of the guy I was supposed to emulate. So, I sent the director a recording of me mimicking the Dutchman to the best of my abilities.
The next day I got a request to redo the dub. “I only sent you the video so you could get a sense of the tempo,” the director said. “I don’t want you to imitate the man. I want you to sound like yourself.” So, once again I had been mind reading someone else’s intentions, and had missed the mark.
Because of experiences like these, I can’t blame those who leave strange and unusual comments on my Troublesome Truth video, or on this blog for that matter. I have to accept that once I release words and images into cyberspace, they will take on a life of their own, and people will interpret them any way they want.
Sometimes I am pleasantly surprised. Like the time this young colleague thanked me for my video.
And I realize that what he did with my message says a lot about him, and very little about me.
Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
Before you begin, please note that the following article was written in September 2015, long before Voices dot com bought VoiceBank. I think my story proves that past behavior is a good indicator of future behavior.
Beginning bloggers often ask me how to write a story that gets a lot of attention and traction.
They realize they have to cut through a lot of clutter to reach an audience suffering from information overload, and they don’t know how.
In a way, blogging is a bit like a voice-over career. With thousands of hopefuls jumping like Shrek’s donkey shouting “Pick me, pick me!,” how do you make sure your voice is heard?
As far as blogging goes, there are a few tried-and-tested ways to grab people’s attention:
1. Have a strong headline;
2. Use numbered lists (like I’m doing right now);
3. Tap into problems your readers are experiencing, and offer practical solutions;
4. Be provocative as well as entertaining.
Stories that prove to be particularly popular are the ones claiming to reveal success secrets of those who have made it. Content aggregators can’t seem to get enough of articles like:
“6 Behaviors of the Most Successful People”
“4 Remarkable Insights to Inspire Social Media Success”
“8 Habits of Exceptionally Successful CEOs”
“11 Secrets of Irresistible People”
I don’t even have to read these stories to tell you what “secrets” they reveal:
• Be yourself, and believe in yourself
• Work hard and play hard
• Be proactive and stay focused
• Keep on learning
• Stay in shape, mentally and physically
• Be persistent and flexible
• Do what you love, and love what you do
• Don’t get comfortable, stay hungry
• Always exceed expectations
That’s all good, but there are a few things that are frequently overlooked. Here’s one aspect all successful people and organizations have in common:
They are open to feedback, and willing to change course when they’re moving in the wrong direction.
A GREAT TEAM
A management team is useless if it only consists of cheerleaders. Cheerleaders love everything you do, and they will only tell you what you want to hear. We can all use some positive reinforcement once in a while, but a great company builds on its strengths, and it works on its weaknesses.
It takes clever and fearless critics to point out those weaknesses. They have the guts to tell you what you don’t want to hear. For that, critics may get a bad rep, because they are often seen as unsupportive contrarians who only want to disrupt and destroy.
Some companies have developed a culture where any form of criticism is being suppressed, because it is seen as being disloyal. It turns out that those companies not only close themselves off from inside critique. They don’t want to hear it from the outside either. And once a business stops listening to those who use their products or services, it is pretty much doomed.
You’ve probably heard of the show Undercover Boss. It features CEOs of struggling companies. Most of these men and women seem to have one thing in common: they have lost touch with reality. They know something’s wrong with their business, but they can’t put a finger on it because the people they surround themselves with are just as clueless, or they are too afraid to speak up.
So, the boss goes undercover and works a few jobs on different levels to find out what’s going on, and to hear what people are really thinking. What they usually discover is that the employees they work with on the show, are very much aware of what’s wrong. Some of them even have good ideas about how to fix it.
The program always ends with the CEO revealing him or herself, and implementing some or all of the recommendations and suggestions he/she picked up in the field. But there’s more.
The people who spoke up (not knowing they were talking to their boss) are publicly praised and rewarded, instead of being punished for criticizing the company.
The moral of the story? Whether you’re a public organization, a publicly traded company, or you run your own business, feedback is necessary for your survival. Otherwise you’re operating in a vacuum. Even if the criticism is harsh, and feels like a personal attack, you are being given a gift. How you handle that gift is up to you.
Now, if you’re a solopreneur like me, you can’t go undercover in your own business. You need some other system to get feedback. That’s where a coach or mentor comes in.
Being a coach myself, I often have to be the bearer of bad news. It’s no fun telling people what they don’t want to hear. Hopes are high and egos are fragile. Susceptible people love to believe that they are special, and that they have what it takes to be the next Mel Blanc or Tom Kenny.
When that’s clearly not the case, it’s easier for a student to blame the messenger, and find another coach who will take their money and tell them what they want to hear. It’s just as easy to sign up for a site that will validate their status as a “professional” voice artist, in spite of their lack of talent. But “easy” won’t get them anywhere, because easy is an illusion.
Here’s the ugly truth:
If recording voice-overs was easy, everybody would be doing it, and they all would make tons of money. Instead, it’s the companies and individuals that want you to believe that it’s easy, that are making the money.
But I digress. The topic was feedback.
VOICES on “VOICES”
Over the past few weeks, this blog sparked a wave of criticism directed toward voices.com (VDC), one of the many online casting services. Colleagues like Iona Frances, who would normally bite her tongue on this topic, felt compelled to respond, and she shared her experience, as did many others.
The big question is: What will voices.com do with this feedback? I’m pretty sure the management has read the articles as well as the comments, and they can’t be too pleased. Countless colleagues have called Canada to cancel their membership, and have asked for a refund. Some have even contacted a lawyer.
If I were the CEO of “Voices,” I would listen, and listen carefully. This is an opportunity to learn and grow as a company. If the critique is valid, changes must be made. If the feedback is based on false assumptions, the company needs to set the record straight. What it cannot do, is to remain silent.
Ignoring a problem does not make it go away.
The worst thing “Voices” could do, is to give those who give them feedback, a hard time. But based on what I have heard, that’s exactly what’s been happening. It’s easier for an elephant to fly in the sky using his ears, than for VDC users to cancel their membership. Even those who thought they had been removed from the VDC database years ago, found out that they’re still in the system!
Instead of trying to regain the trust of members who each paid $399 or more for services they feel they’re not receiving, VDC is giving callers an earful. That’s not how you treat the talent your site supposedly supports. Moreover, it only confirms the negative impression people had in the first place.
After a deluge of devastating one-star reviews in August 2017, the moderator of the VDC Facebook page removed the review option altogether, deleting all the comments. Why does the image of an ostrich sticking its head in the sand suddenly pop up?
As for me, I have always retained a free membership that allowed me to monitor developments and changes at “Voices” from the inside. Rather than have other people tell me about sliding rates and managed projects, I could see for myself what was going on.
One day in September 2015 when I tried to log on in, I made an interesting discovery: my account had been removed.
Without any warning or explanation.
Apparently, that’s how this company deals with those who dare to criticize it. You have been warned!
I have only one thing to say:
“Voices.com, thanks for the feedback.
Keep on doing what you’re doing, but know that we’re on to you.
WE HAVE HAD IT!”
Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
“Audition for your dream job now.”
“Instant access to amazing opportunities.”
“New job postings every day.”
It sure sounds tempting, doesn’t it? Especially when you’re young, idealistic, and impressionable. It’s the way online casting sites throw out their net, hoping that loquacious people will bite.
Well, bite they do, and day after day an ever-growing army of hopefuls is eagerly looking at their inbox, waiting for the next “amazing opportunity” to arrive. It comes at a price, though.
If you’re taking part in these online cattle calls, be ready to be milked!
Of course these casting sites won’t tell you that you have to spend between $349 and $399 per year to take part in a crapshoot. They’ll feed you success stories about people who claim to make a six-figure income by winning audition after audition. Anecdotal evidence always trumps independently verified numbers, right?
Believe me: People believe what they want to believe.
So, today I’m not going to give you the golden formula to online voice-over success. Sorry to break the news, but it does not exist. Instead, I will give you a few reasons why you probably should stay clear of this business. I’ll start with the most important one.
1. The world doesn’t need you.
Yes, you’ve heard me.
We have enough people talking into microphones, thank you very much. What this world needs is less talk and more action. We need teachers, doctors, nurses, and scientists. We need experts in conflict resolution; people who know how to fight global warming, and first responders to natural disasters.
If you want to make a real difference on this planet, don’t hide behind soundproof walls selling stuff no one needs. Get out there and start helping the poor, the homeless, and the ones without a voice. They need you more than Disney does.
2. There’s no money in voice-overs.
The cost of living goes up every year, while voice-over rates are in steady decline. That makes sense, doesn’t it? Even the union can’t stop it. Thanks to online casting services and ignorant amateurs, your voice has become a commodity, sold by the lowest bidder to the cheapest client.
VO has become a game of averages, and here’s how it works.
The bottom feeders choose lowball sites like Elance, Fiverr, and freelancer.com to sell their services for beer money. The top end of the market consists of A-list actors making millions voicing cartoons and commercials. If you’re average, you’re forever stuck in the middle. You have enough integrity to leave the crumbs to the idiots, but you won’t get the big gigs for the big money.
Don’t be fooled by voice-over veterans posting on Facebook how well they are doing. Some of them confided in me that they’re just keeping up appearances. No one wants to hire a loser, so you’ve got to tell the world you’re still an important player. Yay for social media! Everything people post is 100% true.
3. You are a social being.
Unless you enjoy going to expensive conferences to hear VoiceVIP’s talk about themselves and plug their books, you’re pretty much on your own in this business. I mean, who likes being locked up between the four carpeted walls of a 3.5’ by 3.5’ whisper box all day long?
You have no one to talk to but yourself, and you’ll never see a response from the people you’re supposedly entertaining. If acknowledgment is what you’re secretly longing for, go to a nursing home and read to the residents. Tell stories to kids in the cancer ward. It will make their day, and yours!
The sedentary lifestyle of a typical voice-over is unhealthy for the mind, body, and soul. If you’re an extrovert, you crave contact, and you thrive in the company of others. I can tell you right now that you will curse the day you decided to isolate yourself from the world, just so you could narrate some third-rate novel for a royalty share that doesn’t even pay this month’s water bill.
4. You’ll spend at least 80% of your time trying to get work, and 20% doing the work.
Voice-overs spend a lot of time being busy without being productive. How rewarding is that? Regardless of what voice casting sites want you to believe, most jobs you audition for will go to someone else, and you’ll never know why. Don’t you love it?
But what about agents, you may ask. Once you have an agent or two, things will get better, right?
No they won’t.
The pickings are slim, and these days, all the agents in North America will send the same Quilted Northern audition to every talent with a potty mouth. That really makes you feel part of an exclusive club, doesn’t it? (Quilted Northern is a type of bathroom tissue)
5. It may take many years before you see a return on your investment.
A voice-over career cannot be bought. It has to be conquered. Slowly.
You may think you’re going to be successful because of your unique sound. Dream on! The only way you’ll stand a chance is if you stop treating your pipe dream as a hobby. This means you’ve got to invest in professional gear and in a quiet place to record. Then you have to get yourself a few top-notch demos, plus a website to tell the world what you’re doing. And this is just the beginning.
Having all of that in place is no guarantee that you’ll make any money with your voice. Thousands of people all over the world are doing exactly what you do, and they are giving up within a year. The only money they’ll ever see is when they’re selling their stuff on eBay. At a loss.
When you really think about it, you have to be a fool to become a voice-over.
I was foolish enough to choose that as my career, and guess what?
I’ve never been happier!
Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
PS If you believe I’m being negative for no reason, you should read 5 awful things nobody tells you about being an actor. Then we’ll talk, okay?
For some people, it is the worst feeling in the world.
Not only that, it can be totally paralyzing.
We all have friends or family members who are really good at something they do. Perhaps they play an instrument, or they write funny little poems. But as soon as you ask them to play or read something in public, they come up with all kinds of excuses:
“I don’t think I’m ready.”
“I’m not that special.”
“What if I mess up?”
“What will people think of me?”
Here’s what’s so remarkable about these statements. They’re all based on self-doubt; on the assumption that things will go badly, and on the idea that the audience consists of critics.
This fearful attitude reminds me of children who refuse to eat something they’ve never eaten before. They always expect the worst. When asked why they’re not willing to try this new food, they all say:
“I’m not sure I’m going to like it.”
Perhaps that’s where this unadventurous, negative attitude starts. With whiny kids and overprotective parents.
THE ICE CREAM STORY
One of my young nieces is a very picky eater who only eats things she’s familiar with: mac and cheese and chicken nuggets. One day I took her to the ice cream parlor for dessert. Her eyes lit up when she saw the sixty plus flavors in the freezer window.
“I want ice cream, Uncle Paul,” she said. “I think I’ll have two scoops.”
I looked at her, knowing this would be the perfect learning opportunity.
“Are you going to treat me?” I asked playfully. “What a nice surprise!”
“No silly,” she laughed. “I don’t have any money. I’m just a kid. But I do want ice cream.”
“Well,” I said, “I don’t think I heard a question. Is that how your mother raised you?”
“No,” she answered sheepishly. I could tell she was a bit surprised that she didn’t get her way immediately.
A few seconds later she tried:
“Can I have some ice cream, Uncle Paul?”
This wasn’t the time to talk about the difference between “can and “may,” so I said:
“That’s much better, but I think I’m still missing the magic word. Do you want to ask me again?”
My niece was getting a bit frustrated, but her desire for ice cream was greater, so she said:
“Can I have some ice cream, PLEASE?”
“That’s more like it,” I said. “Now, let me ask YOU a question: Have you ever had ice cream from this place before?”
“No,” she answered.
“Oh dear,” I said. “In that case I don’t think you’re going to like it.”
“Why is that?” she said surprised.
“At lunch, when I asked you to eat your broccoli, you refused, because you said you never had it before. You didn’t think you would like it. So, how do you know you are going to like this ice cream?”
I could see that my niece’s wheels were turning for a moment or two, and while staring at the many colorful flavors, she let out a big sigh.
Then she looked up at me and said:
“Uncle Paul, I guess I’ll just have to try.”
“That’s great,” I responded, and we walked inside. I knew the owner of the store, and as I pointed to my niece, I said:
“This young lady would like to have some broccoli ice cream please.”
The owner winked, and he gave her a big scoop of pistachio gelato.
My niece took one big lick, and said she loved it.
“See, had you not tried it, you would have been missing out,” I said. “I’m proud of you!”
After a while I explained to her that this wasn’t really broccoli ice cream, but I don’t think she cared one way or the other.
The next day, I got a phone call. It was her mother, and she had a question.
“I don’t know what you did, Paul, but my daughter just asked for broccoli. How do you prepare that?”
BACK TO YOU
Here’s the point I want to make.
All of us are born with an amazing tool: our imagination. It allows us to create all kinds of scenarios, some of them more uplifting than others. Sometimes we form opinions about food we’ve never tasted. Other times we imagine what it would be like to perform in front of an audience.
What many people don’t realize is that we choose what we want to focus on, and what it means to us. We’re in the driver’s seat.
Are we going to tell ourselves:
“This new vegetable is probably not going to be very tasty,”
“This green leafy thing could be surprisingly delicious?”
When asked to step onto a stage, are we afraid that we’re going to embarrass ourselves, or do we see ourselves entertaining a delighted crowd?
No matter what we choose, we are programming ourselves for a certain outcome, based on a hallucination. That’s all it is. And parents pass these hallucinations onto their children.
I just heard a mother say to her son: “You’re probably not going to like these Brussels sprouts, but I want you to try at least one.”
What a setup! No wonder the boy didn’t want to take a bite.
The biggest disappointments are usually well-prepared.
I work in a competitive industry where many are invited, and very few are chosen. Every day I send voice-over auditions into the world that will be evaluated by total strangers. If they’re kind, they’ll give me between five and ten seconds to make my mark. Most jobs will go to other people, and I’ll never know why.
As a coach, it is my job to prepare my students for this highly subjective and uncertain process. Before they hit “record,” I want them to have the right mindset. So, this is what I tell them:
“People will form opinions no matter what, but it’s not the judgment of others that may or may not hold you back. It is your own judgment that may help or hurt you.
After all, you don’t really know what others are thinking. You have no idea how you’ll be perceived. It’s a waste of energy to be concerned about things you can’t control.
There are four things you can influence:
* your attitude,
* the way you cultivate your talent,
* your level of preparedness, and
* your performance.
Always put your best foot forward. Record that demo, and send it on its way.
After that, there’s only one thing you can do:
Let it go!
Enjoy the feeling that you put yourself out there; that you gave yourself a chance. And if that puts you in a good mood, perhaps you deserve a small but cool reward.
How about a scoop of ice cream?
Broccoli-flavored, of course!
PS Be sweet. Please retweet!