voiceover

4 Ways To Get From Good To Great

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Personal 11 Comments
the author singing in a choir

The author singing in a choir

Being a successful voice-over.

It has a little bit to do with having pleasant pipes, and lot with other factors. Some of those factors can be influenced. Others are beyond our control.

A few days ago, one of my students had an interesting question for me. Professionally speaking (pun intended, always), she was doing okay. Clients loved working with her. Business was getting better every year. Yet, she felt that something was preventing her from reaching that proverbial “next level,” and she couldn’t figure out what to do.

“Paul,” she said, “I’ve read all the books on voice-over I could find, including yours. I follow the best bloggers. I listen to podcasts, and I watch videos on VO. What am I missing? I seem to be stuck doing the same thing the same way, getting the same results. How do I move forward from here?”

“What you’re really asking,” I said, “is how to get from good to great. Am I right?”

“Absolutely.”

“Well, the first thing you have to realize is that growth is a gradual process. You don’t expect a seed to bloom the next day, do you? We all grow in different ways at different speeds.

People can teach you new techniques, but it may take a while before those techniques become second nature. However, at your level, techniques are usually not the issue. Other things are holding you back. One of the main obstacles to growth is familiarity. You said it yourself.”

“What do you mean?” my student asked.

“You can call it coasting, if you like. You just told me that you were stuck doing the same thing the same way, getting the same results.

Secondly, you seem to be looking for inspiration and guidance within your field. Again: you’re focusing on the familiar. You already know how to interpret a script. I think you can handle a microphone. You don’t better yourself by doing things that are easy and predictable. That’s like working out without weights.

If you really want to grow as a person and as a professional, you’ve got to look elsewhere. That’s where the challenges will be, and challenges will help you grow. Now, here’s the amazing thing: growth in one area of your life will positively influence growth in other areas of your life.”

“Any suggestions as to what I should do?” my student asked.

“Plenty,” I said. “Here’s one:

1. Start leading a healthy life.

A year ago, one of my students was in bad shape. He was overweight, he sat in his recording booth for long periods of time, and his diet had way too much sugar, fat and salt in it. It affected his mood, his self-image, and his self-confidence. I could hear it in his voice. His breathing was very shallow, and he sounded insecure.

One day, he decided he had had enough, and he joined a gym. He exercised at least five times a week, and started shedding pounds. In the kitchen he began using fresh, organic ingredients, and he filled his plate with fruits and vegetables. Within two months, he felt more energetic and alive, and people told him he looked better.

His renewed energy and enthusiasm could be heard in the way he spoke when the mic was on, and when the mic was off. Because he felt better, he performed better, and he began booking more and more jobs. For him, leading a healthy lifestyle was the key that brought him to the next level.

Here’s another thing you can do:

2. Learn a foreign language.

Forget tongue twisters and other vocal exercises. Start studying that language you’ve always wanted to learn! A new language is a doorway to a different culture. Every language has its own rhythm and melody. You’ll even start thinking differently when speaking a foreign language.

Becoming bilingual benefits the brain. It improves cognitive skills that don’t even have to do with language. Bilinguals are better at solving puzzles, better at staying on task, and being bilingual can even delay the onset of Alzheimer’s.

One of my students decided to learn Italian at a later point in life. It took her a couple of years, but after a few vacations near Florence, she was almost fluent. As a bilingual voice talent, a whole new market opened up. She claims that she feels much more flexible, vocally speaking, and that it has become easier to do all sorts of accents and character voices.

But there’s more you can do to take your career to the next level:

3. Join a community theater or improv group.

Voice-overs are usually so stuck to their scripts… they have a hard time letting it go, and letting it flow. When you’re forced to memorize your words to perform on stage, you not only train your brain. You also learn how to speak your lines, instead of reading them. It’s also a very physical experience.

Rather than talking into a microphone, you get to inter-act with real people who re-act to what you’re saying. You get instant feedback on how you land your lines, not only from your fellow-actors but from the audience. You have a whole new way of getting into character.

Improv classes are a great way to learn to loosen up, and become conversational. Name one client who doesn’t ask for a “conversational read”?

I remember an audio book narrator who was stuck in his studio most of the time. Some people thought he was anti-social. When he finally joined an improv group, he made new friends who thought he was witty, funny, and charming. Two years later, the introvert has become quite extroverted, and his loyal listeners love the way his audio book characters bounce off the page like never before.”

“Those are some great suggestions,” said my student. “Is there anything else you’d recommend?”

“Well, how about you…

4. Take singing lessons, and join a choir.

Voice-overs talk for a living, yet too many of them have no clue how to use their voice. Their range is limited, their diction is off, and after half an hour, vocal fatigue sets in. Using your voice means using muscles, the thyroarytenoid muscles and the cricothyroid muscles to be exact.

Taking singing lessons is like going to the gym for your voice. You’ll learn effective warm-ups, proper pronunciation and projection, and you’ll train the muscles needed to produce sound. After a while, your voice will become stronger, clearer, more resonant and more flexible. Your listening skills and timing will improve, and you’ll be able to infuse your scripts with musicality.

On top of that, you’ll have yet another reason to get off your behind, and rehearse with your choir. There’s nothing like the sweet sensation of voices blending, creating harmonies and melodies that soothe the soul.

The main thing to remember is that everything is connected. The change you make in one area of your life is likely to affect other areas of your life.

Whatever you decide to do, you are the goose with the golden eggs, so you had better take good care of yourself.

Step out of your comfort zone, but be patient. It might take a while before you see the payoff of your pursuits.

Eventually, things will fall into place in a most surprising and delightful way. 

Take it from me, the exercising, multilingual, singing amateur stage actor!”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!


Giving Thanks

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles 3 Comments

Giving Thanks ©Paul Strikwerda

 

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice


Are Those Black Friday Deals Really Worth It?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Freelancing, Gear, Money Matters, Studio, Widgets 3 Comments

Black Friday at Best BuyAt this very moment, the retail powers that be, are working you left and right.

They’re preying on you, like a lion lures a lamb.

Unlike the lion (who will do his best to stay undetected until he makes his deadly move), retailers come at you in plain sight. They have no desire to rip you to pieces. They want you alive, so they can bleed you year after year.

Retailers won’t jump you either. Instead, they play a game of not so subtle seduction, with one or two pieces of masterful bait, the first one being (drum roll):

Low Prices.

Yes, Black Friday and Cyber Monday will soon be upon us, and credit card companies are already drooling over your looming debt increase.

We may all believe that we’re independent thinkers that cannot be manipulated, but psychologists know better. They know that one of the strongest human fears is the fear of missing out.

That’s why the time ticker at QVC and the Home Shopping Network is such an effective sales tool. It tells you how much time is left to get this incredible gadget you suddenly cannot live without. That’s why they throw in all these “but wait, there’s more” extras to sweeten the deal, but only if you BUY NOW.

Limited time offers and low prices are classic incentives to get weak and impressionable people to buy stuff. Black Friday and Cyber Monday are the ultimate examples of these incentives, because they only come once a year, and some of the deals are truly incredible.

Supposedly.

You and I know that those heavily discounted doorbusters are meant to give you a shopping high, so you’ll buy more once you’re in the door. Besides, these deals will often come back in slower seasons.

If you’re still tempted to empty your wallet around Thanksgiving, I can’t stop you. But allow me to give you a few pointers, if I may. 

1. Distinguish between a WANT and a NEED

Every time you’re tempted to make a major purchase, ask yourself:

“Do I really need it right now, or is it just something I want?” “Is it a necessity, or a luxury?”

If you wish to experience sustained success as a for-profit freelancer, there’s one simple formula you must stick to:

Keep your revenue stream high, and your expenses low.

So, if you really, really want to buy this nice, new, shiny piece of equipment, ask yourself:

– Will it make me more professional, productive, and profitable?

– Will my clients experience an undeniable difference as a result of this purchase?

– Will this investment pay for itself within a reasonable period of time?

For instance, a few of my voice-over colleagues are already salivating over a new microphone this season. But a recording will only sound as good as the space it’s recorded in. So, rather than spending cash on a new mic, it’s often much wiser to invest in creating a better acoustic environment.

Most clients won’t hear the difference between a $300 microphone and a $1000 mic. They will hire you because you’re able to deliver clean and crisp audio, without the sound of the neighbor’s leaf blower in the background.

2. Choose High Quality over Low Price

If you must make an investment, do your research before you make that impulse buy. This means you have to overcome one of humanity’s eternal weaknesses: the need for immediate gratification when buying something that’s on sale. 

As a freelancer, competing on price is a losing strategy. You want people to pick you because of your added value, and that value is worth something. If you truly subscribe to this idea, you can’t just apply it to your own business. You have to “live it” in all areas of your life. So, stop buying things just because they’re cheap.

Only yesterday, I threw out all the heavy catalogues of the major pro audio retailers without even looking at them. Apart from being a waste of tropical rain forest, I have everything I need to run my business. I’ve carefully collected my equipment over time. I gave myself an opportunity to save up, to gather info, and to invest some of my profits in quality gear that will last for many years.

I’ve said it before, and I will say it again: Buying cheap can be expensive. Buying quality saves you money in the long run, and a whole lot more.

3. Choose the Planet over Price

I already mentioned the catalogues I had to throw away. But that’s not the only thing that concerns me.

In the past few decades, there’s a growing tendency among manufacturers to make things that only last a few years, and cannot be fixed. As a result, we end up with landfills of trash, gradually leaking toxins into the environment. Nature’s resources are depleted, and people in low-wage countries are exploited as they make the shiny trinkets we end up throwing away.

This process will go on for two reasons. One: because the environmental and societal impact of a product is hardly ever a part of the price. Two: because people like you and me keep buying them.

I’m a strong believer in creating change through spending. If I want local businesses to grow; local farmers to go organic, and make a decent living, that’s where I’ll have to spend my money. If I want manufacturers to create products that are environmentally-friendly, that last, and can be repaired, I have to show them there’s a market for those products.

Now, if you believe that you alone can’t make a difference, talk to Tara Button. Tara is Founder and CEO of BuyMeOnce.com. She was so frustrated with our throw-away culture, that she went on a global quest to find things that are built to last, and that are made in an ethical, green way. Her website features kitchenware, furniture, clothes, shoes, beauty products, and other things. Yes, you’ll pay more upfront, but you’ll save money over time.

4. Don’t spend all your money on objects

If you’re still itching to spend (or borrow) Black Friday money, do you really have to spend it on “stuff”? How fulfilling is that, ultimately? Once the rush of owning something shiny is over, there’ll be a new void, waiting to be filled. And what void are you filling anyway, and for what reason? Do you want to impress your colleagues?

To borrow a phrase from a weight-loss coach:

“Until you know what you’re truly hungry for, you’ll never be satisfied.”

We’ve been shoving waste under the carpet for decades. Is that a legacy you can be proud of? You don’t have to agree with me, but I think mother earth would be better off if we’d shift from an economy of “more and more,” to an economy of “enough is enough.” 

As Thanksgiving is coming up, can we just stop for a moment, and be grateful for what we already have? Can we also spend some time giving, instead of getting? For so many charities, your (tax-deductible) donation is not a want, but a need.

If you insist on giving yourself a gift, why not buy a gym membership (and actually use it)? Why not enroll in a cooking class that teaches you to make healthy meals?

Treat your family to a trip abroad, allowing everyone to broaden their horizons, and to recharge those batteries that have been going non-stop.

Gift yourself to your community by volunteering! Science has proven that it is better to give than to receive. So, be selfish, and share your time and talent with those who need it. It will truly transform your life!

I’ll tell you one thing:

It will beat leaving Thanksgiving dinner early, so you can stand in line for Best Buy.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!


Should We Shoot The Messenger?

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

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

America has voted. The people have spoken. 

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

Some of us are elated.

Some of us are scared. 

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

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

How so? 

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

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

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

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

It’s all about influence. 

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

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

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

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

Don’t worry. That’s perfectly normal. 

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

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

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

Well, you’re wrong.

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

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

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

Words are never “just” words. 

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

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

“To what aim am I doing my job?”

“What are the potential consequences?” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It depends.

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

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

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

One last thing.

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

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

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

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

Our election is over.

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

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

Or is it just beginning?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!


Secrets From Successful Voice-Overs

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing 8 Comments

Road to SuccessLast week, I shared the story of Rick, a voice actor and producer with over 30 years of experience. In spite of his talent and time in the business, Rick isn’t doing so well. What’s even worse: he has pretty much given up hope that things will change for the better.

His story struck a chord. Colleagues reacted privately and publicly, telling me that the voice-over Boulevard of Broken Dreams is a crowded place. Is it possible to get stuck there? Of course it is, but with the right mindset, skill set, and marketing strategy, your chances at success will improve dramatically.

I asked my commentators what kind of advice they had for Rick. Here’s what they had to say.

1. DON’T DWELL ON THE PAST

“The bottom line is this: get rid of all the negativity in your life, believe in yourself, and thank the powers that be for all the good fortune in your life. Yesterday is gone, tomorrow doesn’t exist, so that leaves today! Working on today is what I do very well!”

Shane Morris

“Be in the right mindset. We can often be our own worst enemy with what we unconsciously BELIEVE to be “true,” and can sabotage our own best efforts, because deep down, we really think we don’t deserve success, or some other faulty belief that we keep living out and finding evidence to support.”

Debbie Grattan

2. CHOOSE HAPPINESS OVER MONEY

“After working as a Part-time VO for 20 years, I only just went full time 3 years ago, and I am in the midst of my best year ever. I am tracking to make 30K this year. Still only a third of what I used to make as a multimedia developer. But I am much happier.

I realize I may not ever hit the “Big-Time,” but it doesn’t deter me from continuing in this industry because I am happy. I know the pitfalls, and in my opinion, they are less stressful and more rewarding than any company I worked for all my life. It’s not all peaches and cream. It’s perspective, and I appreciate honesty above all. Less surprises that way.”

John N. Gully

3. FIND YOUR NICHE

“If you can find a mid-sized market where you can be the “only” at something, I think you can have a real shot. I entered a mid-sized market when there was no one else who sounded like me. This mattered because there were tons of women with deep, sexy voices in the Philly market.

I was a recent college grad with a high-pitched, very young sounding voice. I even had engineers say to me “We finally have someone to call to play a high school or college student!” At that time, there was a lot of character parts in radio VO, and I played the daughter, the valley girl (that was a “thing” at the time), the high school or college student, etc. I wasn’t the best voice talent, but I did have acting skills and I was essentially the “only.”

Jeannie Stith

4. BE CLOSE & BE READY

“People will tell you that because of the internet, Source-Connect, ISDN, etc. you can do this from “wherever.” Don’t believe it. I mean, you can…sort of… but with limited success. I have had the success I’ve had because I can be at studios in Burbank/Los Angeles/Hollywood at the drop of a hat. It’s not because I’m better than anyone else – I’m sure I’m not.

I have a dear friend in Des Moines who works at a car dealership. He has an amazing home studio with everything you could ever need or want, and he’s a lot better than I am. He would beat me at every read. But, I book 200% more work than he does because of WHERE he is, and because opportunities come when he’s working his other job. I get auditions that need to be done in the next 4 hours and so does he. You can’t do those if you’re working another job. I get work, not because I beat guys on the read, but because I beat them to the punch.

Treat VO like a part-time job or a sideline, and that’s all it will ever be.”

Jon Armond

5. BE OPEN & EXPAND YOUR HORIZONS

“Stay up with the times. Just because you’ve been doing something for 30 years, if you’re working from an old paradigm, then perhaps you need to expand into a new way of thinking… not only with copywriting, but vocal delivery, music mix, and message.

Diversify. Don’t only focus on commercial work. How about being open to niches in narration, explainers, phone messaging, audio books, video games? The VO world has expanded so much from 30 years ago, with niches opening up that didn’t even exist before.”

6. OUTSOURCE

“Hire other professionals to help you in areas where you’re not an expert (website building, branding, marketing, SEO, social media management, blog writing, etc.) and also coaches, to keep fresh in your vocal delivery. Hire demo producers to cut new and cutting edge demos – they seem to constantly need to be refreshed.

Get copies of your work to upload onto many different playlists on YouTube, and then keyword those to attract potential clients. These are just a few practices that can make a big difference. Outsource, where you can, and this includes housekeeping, yard maintenance, etc.”

Debbie Grattan

I want to thank my colleagues for chiming in with these words of wisdom. They illustrate the final point I’d like to make:

7. DON’T REINVENT THE WHEEL: LEARN FROM THE BEST

As they say: “Experience is the slowest teacher,” particularly bad experience. Cut your learning curve by working with pros who are where you want to be. That way, you don’t have to make the mistakes they had to make.

Remember that even the best athletes work with coaches on a regular basis. The success of a single player is a team effort.

Surround yourself with people who support your goals, and who have the expertise to get you there.

Be patient. Be persistent. Be a Pro. 

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be Sweet. Please retweet!

photo credit: ota_photos Road to Success via photopin (license)


Lessons From Bridezilla and Buffet

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Money Matters, Personal 3 Comments

BridezillaAt the bank I once worked for as a trainer, they had a saying:

“If it’s about money, it’s never funny.”

Ain’t that the truth!

To that I added my own adage:

“Show me your bank account, and I’ll tell you how you lead your life.”

Bankers and accountants probably know more about you than your therapist. By analyzing the way you spend your money, they can tell whether or not you lead a healthy lifestyle, if you’re a good planner, and if you can resist instant gratification.

On blogs and networking sites, money is a popular theme. People want to know how much to charge, whether or not they should spend $399 on a membership of a particular casting site, and if it’s OK to discount services… the list is endless.

A while ago, I found myself caught up in a discussion about online freelance job sites like Upwork and Freelancer.com. These sites can connect you with prospective clients from all over the world, and help you find projects that are not listed on the familiar voice-over casting sites.

However, when I looked at the average bids some of our colleagues put in to get voice-over work, I was stunned. If you think that doing a job for $100 is stretching it, wait until you check out sites like guru.com. Your jaw will drop to your knees, and that’s not a good thing if you’re in the voice-over business.   

HARD TIMES

Some of the people I was debating were justifying these low rates by pointing at the current economic climate:

“Times are tough. We all have to tighten our belts and do more with less. The only way to still get work, is to put in a bid a client can’t refuse.”

Well, I wasn’t buying it. 

Are you? 

As I was paying a stack of medical bills, I had a realization. Did my doctors lower their rates because the economy still isn’t doing that great? Would a nurse take care of me at half price? Is a baker going to charge less for a loaf of bread, or would a plumber be willing to take a 40% pay cut? No way! If anything, their fees increase every year, if only to keep up with the rate of inflation. 

Then why do some of my colleagues feel the need to put themselves up for grabs in the bargain basement?

Remember: once you’re in there, it’s so hard to climb out. Forget how the economy is doing at a moment. If you subscribe to the notion that you often get what you pay for, why are you selling yourself and your colleagues short? What are you afraid of? Rejection by means of a certain two-letter word? 

THE HARDEST WORD

Top negotiator William Ury wrote a book called “The power of a positive No”. For some of us, that word is one of the hardest in the language, but it can also be very powerful. When we’re saying “No,” we’re asserting ourselves, and we’re affirming our boundaries, whether it’s in an intimate relationship, or in a business relationship.

Being an independent contractor means that we have to have a good sense of what we’re worth. We have to have the guts to stand up for ourselves (and each other), and say “No” when faced with a bad deal. If we don’t, people will inevitably take advantage of us.

Let me rephrase that: If we don’t dare to say “No,” we are allowing others to take advantage of us. Or, as Dr. Phil puts it: “We teach people how to treat us.” Here’s an example.

BRIDEZILLA

You may know that I used to be a non-denominational wedding officiant. I could set my own fees, and every now and then a newly engaged couple would tell me that they were on a shoestring budget. Before I knew it, they were practically begging me to lower my rate.

In the beginning -when I didn’t know any better- I fell for it big time. I wanted to be liked, and I felt sorry for the couple as I remembered the times I had to nickel and dime. Guess what… I paid for my lack of backbone, until I had learned my lesson.

First of all, these couples turned out to be the most demanding couples I had ever worked with. I’d give them a finger, and they would want the entire hand. I’m all for underpromising and overdelivering, but within reason. If you’ve seen some of the Bridezilla shows on TV, you know that not every princess is as sweet as her Daddy believes her to be.

Secondly, these ‘shoestring weddings’ often turned out to be the most lavish events I’d ever been invited to. Apparently, other vendors had not fallen for the couple’s story of woe. As soon as I had learned my lesson, and I started charging fair fees, I would say to my couples: 

“You can’t expect a gourmet meal at a fast-food price.”

When I finally dared to put my foot down, something amazing happened: people began taking me seriously! Sure, I lost a few weddings due to price, but my limited time on earth was too valuable to have to deal with haggling Bridezillas.

Now, let’s move from the wonderful world of weddings to the business of investing.

THE SECRET TO MAKING BILLIONS

Author William Ury recalls a breakfast he once had with Warren Buffet, one of the most successful investors ever. Ury writes: “He confided in me that the secret to creating his fortune lay in his ability to say No.” Buffet said: 

“I sit there all day and look at investment proposals. I say No, No, No, No, No, No -until I see one that is exactly what I am looking for. And then I say Yes. All I have to do is say Yes a few times in my life and I’ve made my fortune.”

So, let’s learn from Buffet and promise each other to teach our clients how to treat us. 

Say NO to rates that insult your unique talent, your professionalism, your intelligence, and your experience.

Economists tell us that the only way to get out of an economic slump is to start spending again. 

If anything, we should start making more money, not less. 

For that to happen, you need to assert yourself. Or, as I like to put it:

“You sometimes have to put your foot down, in order to get a leg up!”

Take that, Bridezillas!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoiceHow 

photo credit: cheriejoyful Brides by CherieJPhotography via photopin (license)


Why Navel-Gazing Is Bad For Business

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing 9 Comments

photographerI love being part of my sweet, supportive, and unpretentious voice-over community. It’s one of the many perks of the job.

When one of us lands the gig of a lifetime, all of us rejoice.

When one of us is down in the dumps, many of us reach out.

When one of us spots a scammer, we spread the news and warn our colleagues.

Most voice-overs I know, are sharing and caring people. We like hanging out with members of our invisible community, whether it’s in person, or online. While we may disagree on certain issues, we tend to have “warm exchanges,” instead of heated debates.

Spending time with our peeps is good fun, and often educational, but there’s a slight risk involved. The more time we spend inside our rosy VO-bubble, the greater our tendency to look inward. 

That inner focus may lead us to believe that the challenges we’re dealing with are unique to our profession. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is estimated that over one third of the U.S. workforce consists of freelancers. That’s over 54 million people, and those people have a lot in common!

So, when I am searching for answers and inspiration, I like to look outside of my small circle. Take freelance photographers, for instance. You may think that there are quite a few colorful characters among voice actors, and you’re right. But have you ever watched photographers on YouTube? Oh dear!

A DIFFERENT LENS

But let’s be serious for a moment.

Like voice-overs, many photographers operate as a one-person band. Like us, they tend to have studios. Just as the microphone is our professional ear that zooms in on sounds, the camera is the all-seeing eye that registers images.

Both voice-overs and photographers edit in “post,” using software. And if you think VO’s go crazy for the greatest gear, you should spend some time reading reviews of the latest lenses, filters, and other accessories!

If you still believe that any comparison between VO’s and photographers is a bit contrived, listen to David Shaw. He writes:

“More gear won’t make you a better photographer. Don’t get me wrong, I love camera gear. New bodies, lenses, and accessories are fun and exciting, but they won’t magically make you better at photography. To be a better photographer you need to learn how to find images. The gear can help you capture them, but the finding part is up to you.

Whenever I’m thinking of buying a new piece of gear, I ask myself, “Is my current gear holding me back?” Sometimes the answer is yes. (…) More often though, the answer to whether my gear is holding me back is no. The actual reason I want a new piece of gear is that it is shiny. I may lust over new camera stuff, but if that gear won’t improve my photography in a very tangible way, I don’t buy it. Remember that good photography comes from your heart and your mind, not your wallet.”

YOU’RE GETTING MARRIED

Whenever I try to explain the value of my work as a voice-over pro to a potential client, or even to a lowballing colleague, I often use the metaphor of a photographer. Since everyone carries a camera (disguised as a phone), and we all take snapshots, most people can relate to that.

I’ll often tell a hesitant client:

“Imagine it’s your wedding day. One of the best and most important days of your life. Who is going to take the pictures you will one day share with your grandchildren? Uncle Arthur with his silly smart phone? Cousin Fred with his point-and-shoot, and unsteady hand? Or will you look for the cheapest hack on Craigslist? You’ll save a lot of money, and you will regret it every single day.”

And all of a sudden, people who know very little about hiring a voice-over, get it.

IT IS A GIFT

Now, another thing photographers and voice-overs have in common is this: people tend to underestimate what it takes to get to a certain level. An amateur can take pictures all day long, and doesn’t have to live up to a standard. He or she can learn on the job. Pros, on the other hand, are expected to know what they’re doing. It takes hard work to make something look effortless.

Once again, here’s David Shaw:

“A few times, I’ve been told by people looking at one of my images, “You have such a gift.” I know they are being kind, that they are offering a compliment, but I can’t help feeling insulted. I want to say, “It’s not a gift! I worked my ass off to make that image! That shot is the result of years of effort, of early mornings, and hours of travel, of study and practice, tens of thousands of failed and deleted shots, and thousands of dollars in equipment. Nothing about that image was given to me, I earned it.” Of course, I don’t say that. Instead, I smile as though they’ve just said the nicest thing, and say thanks. (…) So no, photography is not a knack – it’s work.”

That’s precisely why professional rates are based on experience, and not on time spent. What’s true in photography is true in voice-overs. Talent cannot be bought. It has to be cultivated. Patiently. It requires discipline. It requires commitment. It may take years before you see a decent return on investment. David Shaw agrees:

“With the exception of the very top people in the industry, we pros aren’t millionaires, or anywhere close. Out of our meagre incomes have to come our mortgage, food, computers, software fees, travel, and yes, camera equipment. When I made the transition to full-time freelancer, that new reality hit me like a falling piano. Science fiction writer John Scalzi once wrote that you shouldn’t consider leaving your day job until you are making TWICE your normal income with your writing (or in this case photography). It’s good advice.”

LOOKING BEYOND

So, if you’re searching for answers, inspiration, and a common cause, look outside of your familiar circles. Extend and expand your network, and reach out to fellow-freelancers. Find script writers, copywriters, cinematographers, graphic designers, art directors, authors, artists, photographers, et cetera. Learn from their struggles. Immerse yourself in new ideas. Stand with them, be stronger, and be ready to be surprised.

This the really exciting part:

One new connection will often lead to another, and another, and another.

A photographer I had been in contact with, was getting into video production. She wanted to produce virtual house tours for realtors, and she needed someone to do the voice-over narration. Guess who she turned to?

Had I stayed in my sweet, supportive, and navel-gazing community, she probably wouldn’t have found me. What she needed, was a personal connection. 

Here’s what you have to understand.

These things don’t just happen. You have to be the one who reaches out. Today.

Do you get the picture?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!

photo credit: ** RCB ** pictures the hard way via photopin (license)


What Were They Thinking?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Journalism & Media, Money Matters, Promotion, Social Media 20 Comments

Sale!No matter how much you love your job as a voice-over, there are always aspects of your work you don’t care for, or would rather have someone else do.

I, for instance, am not a numbers man, and I’m glad my office manager is keeping the books for my business. Very few colleagues I talk to, enjoy doing the unglamorous paperwork that is part and parcel of running a professional service. Yet, it needs to be done. 

But if there’s one thing many voice-overs are very uncomfortable with, it is this: selling themselves. They’d rather spend hours in a dark booth recording an obscure historic novel, than having to talk a client into hiring them.

If you’re experienced enough to have a couple of agents, they will do the talking for you. Quite often though, a potential client will approach you directly because they’ve been on your website. In that case you have to do the negotiations yourself. Inevitably, you have to answer the following client questions:

1. Why should I hire a professional voice? 

2. Why should I pay that much money, if all you’re going to do is talk?

In the end there are three ways to answer these questions. You can highlight the benefits of what you have to offer, or you can tell some horror stories of clients who went with a cheap, unprofessional voice… or you can use a combination of positives and negatives.

Now, for some clients that’s not enough. Maybe they’re new at hiring a VO, and they simply can’t imagine what effect a bad voice-over could have on a good script. Those people need to see, in order to believe.

One guy started talking to me about text-to-speech software, and how advanced things were getting in that area. His boss had suggested he buy some software, and use it for the next video, instead of a real voice. The TTS-software would pay for itself in no time, he told me. 

“Well,” I said, “I’m not sure your company could afford the kind of artificial voices that are developed and used by Google or Apple. But let me send you a link to a video that was uploaded as recently as last year. This is an affordable product you could buy right now. Take a look, and let me know if this is what you had in mind?” Here it is:

Some things just speak for themselves, don’t they? A few weeks later I spoke to a Head of Internal Training who wanted to “explore his options.” He was producing a tutorial, and he said:

“I’ll be honest with you. Keith from IT has a decent voice, and he said he’s willing to put this thing together for a six-pack and a pizza. That would save me a lot of money. Give me one reason why I should hire you.”

“I’d be happy to,” I said, and I sent him this educational YouTube masterpiece:

Let me share one of my other favorite tutorials. It’s not a corporate presentation, but if you’re interested in baking banana bread, this is a must-see (but you might want to turn the volume up a bit…).

Are you hungry yet? I admit it: I put that video in here just for fun, and because it’s rather bizarre. Don’t be fooled though. People put strange stuff on YouTube because they can monetize it. That’s why you’re forced to watch all those annoying ads. 

The most popular tutorials on YouTube have to be the ones of girls teaching you how to put on make-up. Why do I bring this up? A year or so ago I was approached by a cosmetics brand. Their creative team was coming up with a new campaign, and they had two directions they wanted to explore. One was a more sophisticated approach for which they had my voice and accent in mind.

“The other idea,” said the account manager, “is to let real people tell their story. After all, that’s what our clients can relate to. We want someone who sounds like the friend they never knew they always wanted. Someone who can demonstrate our product, rather than sell it in a commercial.”

“Do you mean someone like this?” I asked? (and you might want to turn your volume down again…)

Most potential clients I talk to aren’t the creative types. They’ve already decided they want to hire me based on my demos, but they want me to give them my “best price.” That’s client speak for: “I think your rates are ridiculous, so let’s see how desperate you are.”

Last week I had a very interesting experience. A woman I was talking to about a voice-over project did something crazy.

She used the F-word!

We were talking about what I would charge, and all of a sudden she said: “But what about all these guys on Fiverr?”

“What about them?” I asked.

“Well,” she continued, “if I were to go with one of them I’d pay a lot less. In the end it’s all about the bottom line, you know.”

“Listen,” I said. “This video you’re putting together is going to be on the world wide web forever, and I hope thousands and thousands of people are going to watch it. For many, this is how they will learn about what your family business has to offer.

In most cases, you’ll get one chance to make your pitch. One chance. People have become extremely critical and impatient. If they don’t like what they see and what they hear, they’ll have millions of other things to watch. So, it’s up to you how you want to present the company your grandfather built. If your video looks unprofessional or sounds unprofessional, your company looks unprofessional.

Do you honestly want to put the reputation of your business in the mouth of this Fiverr guy?”

I think she got the point. Now, let me be clear.

This blog post is not about bashing people who are trying to make a few bucks with a dynamic microphone, or who want to share their knowledge, passion, and whispery voice with the online community. I used the above examples to provide some perspective, and because these videos are in the public domain.

One thing I’m sure you’ve picked up on, is that voice-over narration is very different from giving a running commentary of whatever you’re doing, using the cheapest device in the house. It’s not as easy as it seems, and it’s not true that anyone can do it. 

The difference between a pro and an amateur is this: a pro makes it seem easy and effortless. Amateurs are often hard to understand, and clumsy. Their presentation distracts from the message. A professional voice allows the viewer or listener to focus on the message. 

SELLING YOURSELF

This blog post started as a story about selling, so let’s get back to that.

Some clients are sold on benefits. They need to know what good things will happen when they hire you. Other clients are motivated by fear. They want to avoid disaster. Sometimes it really helps to give those people a flavor of what’s in store for them, should they go cheap. My message to them is this:

Cheap is always more expensive. 

Some things in life are just too important to leave to hobbyists or stupid software.

If you need a builder, a car mechanic, or an electrician, would you go to someone who charges five dollars for his or her service?

Would you pick your OB/GYN based on whomever has the lowest rate?

Would you want to get your teeth fixed by an amateur dentist?

Then why on earth would you trust a Bottom Dollar voice talent with your promotional message? Why would you allow a babbling dabbler to take a shot at your training course that took a fortune to develop? Do you want your employees to be distracted by Keith from IT, or do you want them to actually retain some information?

And to the creators of the Text to Speech video, the software tutorial, the banana bread lady, the make-up girl, and Mr. Fiverr I want to say this:

I’m not going to take away your right to post anything on YouTube you believe is worthwhile watching. But honestly:

What Were You Thinking?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!

photo credit: Paula Satijn Bargain via photopin (license)


Are You My Colleague or My Competitor?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sport is part of the American spirit.

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

That may be, but is sport always healthy?

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

And what does sport teach us about relationships?

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

America does not like losers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One thing I know for sure.

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

Back to the Olympics.

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

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

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

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

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

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

That alone, makes you a winner!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

Be Sweet. Please retweet.


What Clients Hate The Most

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing 19 Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s understandable.

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

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

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Professional At Work

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

MIXED MESSAGES

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

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

Can it get any worse? Of course.

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

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

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

DECEPTIVE DEMO

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

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

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

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

Here’s one more pet peeve of mine.

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

NEW AND OLD

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

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

“What can you do for me, today?”

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

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

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

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

How’s that for a surprising teaser?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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

PPS Be sweet. Please retweet!

photo credit: dawolf- via photopin cc


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