To an ignorant outsider, the voice-over community I belong to may seem cutthroat.
Yet, if there’s one thing that makes it stand out among other freelance groups it is this:
Voice-overs love to share.
People with no or very little experience can expect a warm welcome, and a helping hand when they join an online VO-community.
Do you need advice on a microphone? You’ve got it!
Are you wondering how to soundproof your booth? We’ve got you covered!
I could easily spend all day answering questions from people I don’t know on Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social media. However, those days are pretty much over. Why?
Because it is a thankless task that eats up time, and doesn’t build my business.
Perhaps I better explain myself.
Here’s what I know about internet culture. Most online communities consist of lurkers. You know, the people who observe, and very rarely participate. These folks like to take, but never give. They want to play the game, but they never show their cards. Have they earned the right to pick my brain? I think not.
It also consists of lazy people who never learn; people who want you to do their homework. Sorry, but I’m not going to enable an attitude of entitlement.
Can you imagine a teacher spoon-feeding her kids by giving them all the answers on a silver platter? I thought the purpose of education was to make children resourceful and independent.
I’ve also noticed another trend: many members of online voice-over communities are simply not serious. How do I know? Just look at the basic questions people ask. If they had half a brain and a genuine interest in the subject matter, they would have figured it out for themselves. But no, they apparently need a pro to hold their hand. Poor babies!
“But Paul,” some people respond… “Don’t be so harsh. You were once a newbie. You had to start somewhere, didn’t you?”
Of course I did, but here’s the thing. When I embarked upon a career in radio, I had more questions than answers. I made it my mission to find as many answers on my own, before asking for help. I didn’t want to embarrass myself in front of a pro. I wanted them to know that I had done my homework.
So VO-newbies, if you want to earn my respect, do your research!
INVESTING IN THE FUTURE
Thinking back to my start in radio, here’s what comes to mind: I was serious, I was committed, and I was willing to make an investment.
You see, that’s another thing that’s missing these days. This is the age of the free ride. Why pay for a song if you can download it at no cost? Why pay for Netflix if you can watch a pirated movie online? Why pay for expert advice if the experts are giving it away?
If we don’t value what we have to offer, we can’t expect others to find it valuable either. Those who are willing to make an investment, are usually invested in the process. Those who are not, have other priorities.
“But Paul,” some people commented, “wouldn’t it be good for your business if people got to know you as someone who knows his stuff? You might even get some coaching clients out of it!”
Let me tell you something. In all the years that I have chimed in on Facebook or Google+, no one ever contacted me for coaching because they liked my answer to their question. Nine out of ten times I didn’t even receive a “thank you,” or other sign of acknowledgement. That’s why I call it a thankless task. People simply get what they need, and move on.
Well, that’s not entirely true. Some did ask about coaching, but as soon as I told them my rate ($125 per session), they said they were just “exploring options.” It is the epitome of not committing.
Now, there’s another reason why I won’t be handing out free advice to every Tom, Dick, or Harry. I’ll explain by quoting a question I recently received from Mandy:
Paul, I read your article about your most embarrassing moment in your voice over career. You said that you used to use voices.com, but were only able to book a handful of jobs before leaving the site. I’m a voice actor as well and have been primarily using voices.com to find work. Now you said that you don’t really like the pay to play model and prefer to get work elsewhere. So my question is: what do you recommend for someone like me who is still new to voice acting? Are pay to play sites the only way for me to go being so new? I don’t have a demo or an agent so I don’t have people contacting me about jobs either. What options do I have? I haven’t really gotten much success with voices.com either, and voice acting is not my main source of income. I would very much like to learn and get better at voice acting too. Any knowledge or insight you can share would be great, thank you.
HERE’S MY ANSWER
First off: thank you so much for reading my blog. I really appreciate that!
There are many ways in which I could respond to your comments and questions, but I have to say this first:
Without demos, industry contacts, experience, or an online presence, it’s virtually impossible to build a voice-over career, especially on the side, and especially in 2016.
I haven’t heard your work, so I can’t even tell whether or not you’re uniquely talented. This makes it really hard to give you advice.
Some of my coaching colleagues might even question whether or not you’re serious about voice acting. They’re definitively not going to give you any recommendations on a silver platter. Their time and expertise are worth something.
I will say this, though.
The only way to get better in this field, is by taking trainings, and/or by working with a coach. Very much like driving a car, you can’t pick voice acting up from a book. You can’t teach it to yourself either, because you’re limited by your lack of knowledge.
Overall I’d say that it is unwise to put yourself out there when you aren’t ready. No one opens a restaurant without knowing how to cook, right?
The voice-over world has too many home cooks who all believe they’re the next best thing since sliced bread, and they don’t stand a chance against professional chefs.
So, please don’t put the cart before the horse and expect to get work. Put in your time, make the necessary investments, learn the ropes, and build a solid home studio. Then we can talk about attracting clients.
Does that make sense?
This probably wasn’t what Mandy expected to hear, because she never responded.
When it comes to a VO-career, there are too many people with their heads in the iCloud, and all of them believe they could be the next Don LaFontaine. Someone’s got to tell them that that’s never going to happen. Otherwise they’ll fall for all the propaganda from demo mills, unscrupulous VO-coaches, and greedy online casting sites.
I do want to point out one more thing I tried to convey in my answer to Mandy: it’s rather pretentious to give advice to people you know very little about. You wouldn’t want a doctor to write you a prescription without having fully examined you, right? Yet, with the best of intentions, colleagues dish out advice left and right without knowing whom they are talking to. Stephen Covey was correct when he coined the phrase:
Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood.
I see a lot of people trying to be understood, without really understanding what the issue is. Do you know what I mean?
One last thing.
If all of the above is true, -and I believe it is… why am I still blogging? Isn’t that handing out unsolicited advice to people I don’t even know?
I suppose it is, but you know what? I pick the topics. I usually ask the questions, and I come up with answers. And most of the time, I feel very much appreciated.
Before I started blogging, very few people had even heard of this Flying Dutchman and his voice-over business. Now I am one of the go-to people when companies ask for someone with a European accent. Clients come to me when they need a native Dutch speaker. In other words: this blog has helped me build my business.
If people seek me out for my expertise, they have to come to my site, and not to someone else’s online platform. The amount of traffic this blog generates is worth more than any online ad campaign could give me. And the many friends I have made along the way… that’s simply priceless!
The way I see it, everybody wins, and that is why I will keep on sharing on my turf and on my terms.
As a blogger and rather visible voice-over person, there are three questions I get asked a lot.
– How did you get started in the voice-over business?
– What challenges did you encounter in your career and how did you overcome them?
– What advice do you have for beginners?
Well, I could write a book about that, but a while ago, colleague Peter Kinney O’Connell asked me those same things in his “5 Questions” series. Let’s start with Peter’s first question.
1. The beginning: When did you know you wanted to be a voice-over talent; how did your career begin (please include what year it started) and then when did your passion for voice-over develop into something professional?
When I was six years old, my parents gave me a Philips cassette recorder. It didn’t take long before I discovered how to capture the sound of my own voice. That’s when it all began. In 1969.
I can still see myself sitting on the front porch with a copy of “King Arthur and the Black Knight.” It would become my very first audio book. Actually, it was more of a radio drama. Around me were all sorts of self-made instruments I used for sound effects. Every character had a different voice. Every voice had a different character.
The tape I made that day was used over and over again, and eventually it broke. What didn’t break was my love for painting pictures with sound.
Eleven years later I auditioned for my first job in Hilversum, the heart of Dutch broadcasting. A public network was recruiting a group of promising teens to start producing radio and television programs. Veterans would coach them in all aspects of the business. I just knew I had to be part of that program.
In the years that followed, that program became part of me. I produced and presented documentaries, talk shows, music specials and radio plays. The microphone became my best friend. It was the beginning of a career in broadcasting that would take me to a number of national networks, the BBC and Radio Netherlands International.
In 1999 I made a bold decision: I would leave Holland and start a new life in the New World. In a matter of months I was represented by Mike Lemon Casting in Philadelphia. My European accent seemed to be a welcome addition to their talent pool. It took me a number of years to build a client base that would sustain a full-time voice-over career, but eventually I became the Chief Artistic Officer of a company I named Nethervoice.
2. What is the one thing you know now that you wish someone had told you when you first started out in voice-over?
If someone had warned me that this job could easily turn into an obsession, I still would have applied for it. It’s true though, but it might also have to do with my personality. When I’m passionate about something, I want to immerse myself in every aspect of it, and learn to do it well.
I realized early on that it takes more than a good voice to make a good living in this field. Success needs to be carefully planned. It’s like a flower bed that has to be protected, watered and fertilized regularly (more about that in Jonathan Tilley’s “Voice Over Garden“).
Because I have a home studio, I’m always at work. It seems ideal (and it really is), but for someone with an obsession it can be dangerous. It’s tempting to become a boring recording recluse who lives and breathes voice-overs. And you know me… When I don’t read and record, I write about it in my blog.
Life Coaches always advocate finding a balance between work and play. But what if your work is your play? At some point in the day, the headphones have to come off and we must leave our soundproof studio. Without sunlight, there’s no growth. Our job is just a means to and end.
3. What do you see as the biggest professional or personal obstacle you face that impacts your voice-over business and how are you working to overcome it?
I wasn’t born to toot my own horn. The Calvinistic Dutch preach modesty and frown upon anything that may be perceived as vanity. Why? Because human talents are seen as a gift from God, so we shouldn’t take too much credit for our accomplishments. Many centuries have passed since the spirit of Calvin touched the Netherlands, yet, some of his principles are still present in our DNA, the Dutch National Attitude.
Looking back, I really believe that this mindset kept me from promoting myself properly. But there was something else. Coming from the relatively safe world of broadcasting, I never needed to market myself. I was hired by a network to do a number of jobs, and I left it to the PR people to sing my praises.
After I’d left Holland, I had to learn that it was okay to be proud of what I had achieved and use those achievements to attract business. To this day, I try to do this in a veiled way, by offering advice and entertainment in my blog. That’s where clients and colleagues get to know me as someone with a certain level of experience and pizzazz. Well, that’s the idea…
4. What personal trait or professional tool has helped you succeed the most in your career so far?
One thing that has helped me tremendously is a toolbox called Neuro-Linguistic Psychology. It’s a mix of positive attitudes, beliefs and strategies to help people design and live the life they’ve always dreamt of.
At the basis of NLP is the process of modeling. I’m not talking about the catwalk in Milan, but about the study of exceptional people: business tycoons, sports icons, therapists, artists et cetera.
The idea is that these people -in order to achieve something extraordinary- have set themselves up for success. They have carefully (and often unconsciously) conditioned themselves to accomplish amazing things. The question is: How did they do that?
NLP tries to break it down into bits and pieces: the ingredients of a recipe. Once the recipe is uncovered, it can be taught to almost anyone. The finest and fastest way to mastering something is to start teaching it. That’s why I eventually became an internationally certified trainer of NLP, and that’s the reason I started coaching voice talent.
5. In your development as a voice over performer, who has been the one particular individual or what has been the one piece of performance advice (maybe a key performance trick, etc.) that you felt has had the most impact on your actual voice over performance and why?
Find something that defines you but that does not limit you.
In other words: you want to box yourself in, to emphasize what sets you apart, but you want that box to be big enough to attract a wide audience. If you try to be everything to everyone, you end up being nothing to no one.
In my case, I describe myself as a European Voice. Not British. Not American. Not even Dutch, even though that’s my native language. I tell my clients that I specialize in intelligent international narration. For that reason I get to do multilingual projects and jobs that require someone with a more global, neutral English accent.
WANT MORE ME?
Recently, my old Radio Netherlands colleague Constantino De Miguel interviewed me about the voice-over business on Voice Over Plaza. If you want to take notes, get pen and paper ready!
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