VoiceOverXtra

The Voice Arts™ Awards. The New Pay to Play?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Journalism & Media, Promotion 31 Comments

The Voice Arts™ AwardCompetitions.

I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with competitions.

I enjoy watching a great soccer game or a tennis match. I’m a fan of the Olympics. The rules of the game are known. There’s a clear finish line. Whoever scores the most points or clocks the fastest time, wins.

When it comes to artistic competitions, things are not so defined. I remember going to an exhibition of prize-winning painters. All artists had entered portraits. The first prize went to a painting that was almost abstract. The second prize (and audience favorite) was a portrait that was Dali-like in its photorealism. Apples and oranges were more alike than these two entries. So, why did the abstract painting win? Because the jury said so.

DARE TO COMPARE

At the heart of every competition is the obscure art of comparing. This motion picture is better than the other. This photo stands out from the rest. This actor outperformed his colleagues. This poem is so much denser than the other poem. The question remains: Based on what, and according to whom?

Most judges of competitions will certainly be looking and listening for technical excellence. But what sets a winner apart from a loser is more than flawless technique. It has to do with artistic mastery; with having an authentic creative voice. 

Great art, whether it be music, dance, or any other medium, merely uses technique to give us something splendid that may very well break all the rules. It may even set a new standard. Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” is a great example. Some musicians thought it could not be played. It caused a scandal when it was first performed. Now it’s considered to be one of the masterpieces of modern music.

JURY DUTY

At the time of creation, great innovative art defies definition, and it is often anti-establishment. Here’s the problem: jurors of competitions are usually distinguished members of the establishment. It is their job to use semi-objective criteria, and apply them to very subjective artistic statements. Good luck with that!

Here’s another thing I don’t like about competitions: they turn colleagues into competitors, and divide them into winners and losers. My ideal world is a world where people cooperate, instead of compete; a world in which doing your very best is more important than being the best.

Don’t get me wrong, I admire people at the top of their game, but I prefer the artist who selflessly and tirelessly works under the radar to the attention-seeking loudmouth looking for acknowledgment and recognition.

I admire people who are in it for the music. Not for the applause.

A NEW AWARD

All of this was going through my mind when the unknown Society Of Voice Arts And Sciences™ (SOVAS™) announced the establishment of the Voice Arts™ Awards. In its own words, this is an open competition honoring and acknowledging:

“voice actors, creative directors, copywriters, casting directors, talent agents, directors, producers, audio engineers, account executives, equipment manufacturers, podcasters, bloggers and others who create and sustain the highest levels of achievement within the voiceover industry.”

The following quote from their website reads like a mission statement:

“The purpose of the Voice Arts™ Awards is to provide international acknowledgement of the extraordinary skill and artistry that goes into the voiceover acting and the associated roles and to hold up a best-in-class standard of achievement to which the voiceover industry can continually aspire.”

That’s quite a mouthful, but voice actors should be able to handle that comfortably.

If you have a few hours to spare, I invite you to browse through seventy(!) pages of awards category descriptions. Each page lists about three to four different awards, such as “NATIONAL TV INTERSTITIAL ELEMENT – FEMALE” and “AUDIO BOOK NARRATION – CHILDREN INFANT TO 5 – MALE.”

Even though it’s mentioned in the “About section” of the Awards, I could not find a category for equipment manufacturers or bloggers. I guess I’m out of luck!

PAY TO PLAY

The competition is open to individuals, companies, and students, as long as the entry is in English, and has first appeared in public between January 1, 2013 and June 15, 2014 (click here for details). The price of a single entry for a company/non-SOVAS™ member is $310. If you’re an independent artist, you pay $210 per entry (there is an early bird discount, but the time for that has passed). SOVAS™ members may enter at a reduced rate.

SOVAS™ membership ranges from $125 per year (Basic Package) to a $5,000 Platinum Package. Five grand may seem a lot, but for that you’ll get a Voice Arts™ Awards statuette named and presented in your honor, and a Special Education Scholarship offered in your name (among other perks).

On a side note, the cost of the competition does not end there. Many competitions require that the nominees/winners attend the awards ceremony. I’d consider the cost of travel, meals, accommodations, and of work lost because you’re attending the event, as part of the expenses. A few of this year’s winners flew in from the United Kingdom.

Some of the Awards were presented during a Gala on November 9th, at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York. Early Bird tickets go for $225 each. The Sumner M. Redstone Theater seats 267. Let’s assume SOVAS™ sells 175 tickets. That alone should bring in almost forty thousand dollars.

Participants had until August 31st 2014 to send in their entries. Entry fees were non-refundable once the entries have been submitted. SOVAS™ rules state:

“In the event that any individual category attracts fewer than 4 entries the organizer reserves the right to withdraw that category from the competition. In this event, the participating companies will receive a credit towards future entry fees. No cash refund will be given.”

and…

“All submissions become the property of SOVAS™ to be used at their discretion, for the production of the ceremony and other uses.”

WHAT’S IN IT FOR YOU?

Even though I have my doubts about artistic competitions in general, I’m trying to keep an open mind about the Voice Arts™ Awards. Before I would even consider entering any kind of competition, I’d ask a few questions:

  1. Is the organization running the competition reputable?
  2. What’s the intention of the competition?
  3. Does it have the potential and credibility to raise the professional bar?
  4. Are the criteria by which people are judged fair and clear?
  5. Are the judges respectable, and are they known experts in their field?
  6. Does every entry receive a professional evaluation?
  7. Is the entry fee proportionate to the prize?
  8. Does the prize give a credit worth having?

The problem with the Voice Arts™ Awards is that for many questions it’s too early to tell, because this is the inaugural year. It’s never been done before, and I believe it’s too easy to pass judgement without giving them a fair chance. There’s a lot we don’t know, so let’s see what we do know.

FINDING ANSWERS

To start with question number one, SOVAS™ is run by five-time Emmy winner Steve Ulrich who is also the executive director of the Sports and Daytime Emmy Awards®. Producer Rudy Gaskins and his wife -voice-over celeb Joan Baker– are both on the board, as is the former head of the Promax/BDA awards program, Stephen McCarthy. Those people have a lot to lose, should these new awards turn out to be a flop. I think they’re smart enough not to let that happen.

Would the voice-over industry benefit from this competition? Would it make the invisibles of so many audio-visual productions visible? Would our profession finally get the respect many feel it deserves?

Do we really need a competition to get recognition?

Some people who know the industry really well, feel we do. It’s not enough to be outstanding. You need to stand out. And if there’s no podium, why not create one? Whether you like competitions or not, it’s a given that winning a prestigious prize has never hurt a career. The question is, will short-term recognition have a long-lasting effect? Could it increase your market value? And who’s paying attention? Are we just throwing a party for ourselves, or will these awards generate publicity outside of the small voice-over bubble?

A MATTER OF MONEY 

Let’s talk about the entry fees. Anyone will recognize that organizing these awards takes time and costs money. That money has to come from somewhere. Yet, I don’t think a voice actor’s wealth should be an arbiter of talent. Why, then, must it function as a barrier? Is it legitimate or exploitative? Is it to weed the amateurs out? Here’s the ultimate question:

Is the cost of entering worth the odds?

If you’re a winner, it probably is. But as in any competition, many are invited, and few are chosen. Established artistic competitions often have cash prizes, and may offer scholarships. What does the winner of a Voice Arts™ Award get? No money, but a golden statuette (which you have to pay for yourself), a title, and a temporary platform. Is that enough?

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 at 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.” 

CRITICAL VOICES

Answering critics in VoiceOverXtra, Rudy Gaskins is very pragmatic about the entry fee. He encourages voice-overs to look at it from a business point of view. Being nominated for, and/or winning an award is smart marketing, he says. Every business should have a marketing budget. That’s where the entry fee should come from.

He has a point, but aren’t there other ways to market your business that are less risky, and that may have a bigger and more concrete pay-off? You could build a better website. You could invest in a newsletter. You could hire a graphic designer to come up with a logo.

COMMUNITY SERVICE

Gaskins also argues that these awards are a way to build community. He writes:

“Awards are a meeting place. They’re a focal point that draws the attention of those most interested and involved in your industry or profession. They’re an opportunity to engage your professional community in discussions of topics and controversies, in reviewing standards or discovering trends. Awards tend to involve leaders and experts. Awards are the place to learn, to network and to enhance professionalism.”

The sceptic in me highly doubts that these awards will have that effect. As I said earlier, by nature, competitions are pitting people and productions against one another. Slick award shows like the Emmys and Oscars are nothing but highly staged marketing events where artistic integrity is sacrificed in favor of purchased publicity. Stars show up pretending to have a good time, knowing that they’re contractually obligated to plug their latest project. Thank goodness for the gift bags!

Is that really what the voice-over world needs? Would that give our profession the much desired gravitas? Would increased respect lead to higher rates and higher standards? Would an average client be more inclined to hire an award-winning voice actor, or would he perhaps think that he probably can’t afford such a high-profile professional?

SHOW SOME RESPECT

Gaskins also believes these awards are good for our confidence and self-respect: 

“When you enter an award, you are saying to yourself and your constituents that you believe in what you do. Get on the playing field and let the chips fall where they may. People respect those who stand up to be counted. The other choice is to go unnoticed.”

I don’t think it’s that black-and-white: either enter the competition, or go unnoticed. As a professional voice actor I enter competitions every day. I call it “auditioning.” Secondly, happy clients are my credentials, and my readers and students are my accolades. I don’t need a jury to tell me how well I’m doing, or to make me feel good about myself.

Still, what the Society Of Voice Arts And Sciences™ is doing takes guts, and I’m willing to give this initiative the benefit of the doubt. On paper, the Voice Arts™ Awards certainly have potential, but the value of this prize has yet to prove itself. 

Ultimately, being a successful voice-over is not about winning or losing.

It’s about how well you play the game.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Read my follow-up story everyone is talking about. It’s called “Paying For Your Prize.”

PPS Click here for a list of all the 2014 Voice Arts™ Award winners.


Call Me Materialistic

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Gear, Studio 9 Comments

Broken Piggy Bank“It’s only stuff, and stuff can be replaced.”

That’s what my mother said when I accidentally broke a piece of pottery that had belonged to her mother’s mother. I was five at the time.

It was a sweet thing to say, but I now know that not all things are “just things.” Some objects can never be replaced, and their sentimental value greatly exceeds their monetary value.

In this third installment of my Mind Your Own Business-series, I want to talk about the material aspect of our job. I’ve already addressed the physical and mental aspect. Next week, I’ll talk about the spiritual side of setting up shop.

PRO or PRETENDER

As much as I’d like to tell people that success is not defined by a number in a bank account, the primary purpose of any for-profit business is to make money and grow the bottom line. If that’s not happening, the IRS will happily inform you that you’re a hobbyist.

There are many hobbyists in my line of work: voice-overs. Many of them are posing as pros. How can you tell? They sound insecure or insincere. Proper enunciation is a problem. They work for bargain basement rates, and the quality of their recordings can be captured in one word: Crap.

My philosophy is simple. If you want a professional career, you need professional gear. You need tools that work with you and not against you.

Contrary to what some may want you to believe, a shoestring budget is not going to get you anywhere in this competitive climate. I’m not saying that top-of-the-line equipment will get you gigs, guaranteed. Combined with talent and experience, it will increase the likelihood of you landing jobs.

The knowledge that you own the right tools increases client confidence (and your confidence too). It makes you more marketable because it shows that you are serious.

KEEPING THINGS QUIET

Having a dedicated, soundproofed and acoustically treated recording space is almost a must, these days. Not only will it increase the quality of your audio, it will increase your productivity by leaps and bounds.

If I had a choice between buying an expensive microphone, or a recording booth such as a Studiobricks cabin, I’d choose the latter in a heartbeat. Even the best Neumann mic will make you sound like an amateur if you record in an echo chamber or next to a busy highway. A reasonably priced mic such as the sE Electronics X1, is going to sound much better if used in an appropriate space.

Not having a dedicated recording room, can be disastrous for your career.

One of my colleagues has pipes of gold. When his marriage broke down, he not only lost his home. He lost his home studio. Now he’s renting a small apartment in a busy neighborhood. Kids are crying. Cars are honking. People are yelling. Recording in a walk-in closet doesn’t cut it. Clients demand broadcast quality audio, and he can’t give it to them. He is desperate, and hasn’t booked a decent job in months.

SONIC SURGERY

You may remember the story of Patrice Devincentis. Patrice owns and operates Sonic Surgery, an audio production studio in Union Beach, N.J. Here she records, edits, mixes, and masters, working with musicians and voice-over talent. On October 29th, 2012, Hurricane Sandy completely destroyed the studio she had built in her garage. Most of her recording gear and musical instruments were lost.

Thanks to generous donations from readers of this blog, Patrice received some equipment to make a fresh start, but there was one big problem. Her entire home and studio needed to be elevated, and very little could be done until the property was deemed safe. This marked the beginning of a long and exhausting battle with authorities over inspections, permissions, and grants. 

Only last month, Patrice was finally taken off the waiting list; all the paperwork was completed and the elevation of her home is one step closer. Two years after the disaster, contractors may eventually come in, and begin their uplifting work. That is, if everything goes according to plan. Somehow, it never does.

ARE YOU PREPARED

Can you imagine being barely able to work for two years, due to some random force of nature, and a whole lot of New Jersey red tape? And don’t think it won’t happen to you. Superstorms don’t care where they hit or whose lives they ruin. 

If you believe that lighting won’t strike twice, read Mike Harrison’s story in VoiceOverXtra. He thought his computer and ISDN were safe, until the loudest crash of thunder he’d ever heard almost stopped his heart and his gear. And then it happened again!

I thought I was pretty well protected in my Pennsylvania basement booth, until water came into my studio. After close inspection, the culprit turned out to be a leaking 18-year-old hot water heater. Thankfully, it happened while I was working. Had I not been at home, I might have had serious damage to the tools I need to make a living.

Stories like these illustrate that a positive mindset and good health can only take you so far. All of us are vulnerable. Trouble happens when you least expect it. Hoping for the best is not enough. You have to prepare for the worst. So, let me ask you this:

Did you?

Is your equipment safe, and sufficiently insured?

Do you have a backup system in case of an emergency?

Have you invested enough to take on the competition?

It may only be “stuff,” but without it, all you have is a pipe dream. 

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet

photo credit: Joe Shlabotnik via photopin cc


Exhibitionists, Voyeurs and Stalkers

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Internet, Journalism & Media, Promotion, Social Media 4 Comments

In the past these were dirty words for dirty people.

Now these very same words can be used to describe the average social media addict.

We like strutting our stuff in public. We want the world to watch us. And we follow the fools who think that tweeting nonsense all day long makes them relevant.

8:05 AM. In line at Starbucks.

8:10 AM. Ordering a tall latte.

8:15 AM. Should have asked for a double shot of espresso.

8:18 AM. Back in my Mercedes. New Jersey Turnpike, here I come!

8:21 AM. In a car accident. Tweeting and drinking coffee don’t go well together.

9:33 AM. Thank goodness this hospital has a Starbucks.

We can laugh about it. We can cry about it, but things like tweeting and texting are changing the way we communicate. Even the way we dress.

If you don’t believe me, you should shop for winter gloves and count the pairs with holes in them or with special patches. Touchscreen gloves, that’s what they are called. Snowstorms, twisters and other natural disasters won’t prevent mankind from texting.

Every single day, two hundred trillion text messages are received in America alone (source). That’s more than an entire year’s worth of regular mail.

Nielsen reported that the average American teen sends 3,339 texts each month. That’s more than six per every hour they’re awake. The girls are beating the boys with 4,050 texts per month, (boys send an average of 2,539 texts). Mind you, these numbers are from 2010!

But it’s not just the kids. Go into any supermarket and count how many times you’ll hear a mother tell her stroller-toddler:

“Not now sweetie. Mommy’s texting.”

8:42 PM. At Trader Joe’s. Should I buy broccoli or cauliflower?

Thanks to all these very important messages, safety is no longer the number one reason for getting a phone. We just love being social, don’t we?

THE FACEBOOK REVOLUTION

In 2010, Facebook beat Google as the most visited site (if we leave out visits to Google-owned YouTube). A year later, Facebook’s U.S. advertising revenue of 2.2 billion dollars had surpassed that of both Google and Yahoo.

It is THE place to hang out and make new friends. It’s that wonderful platform where -in the midst of an economic crisis- everything is always A-Okay. No matter what happens, the show must go on  and we keep on dancing.

Smile people! Always beware of your brand. Heaven forbid we become real and share our fears and failures.

Occasionally, some Facebook friends will vent their frustrations, but overall, a happy-go-lucky attitude seems to be the norm: Do what you love and the money will follow. 🙂 Really?

Many Europeans consider this attitude to be “typically American.” They see the States as a country where people have a hard time accepting failure. We’d rather take a happy pill than deal with our problems. We’re certainly not going to share them on our Facebook Walls. We’ve turned those into advertorials and infomercials:

9:15 AM. Join me for an online seminar where I’ll teach you how not to waste your time on Facebook. Remember the early bird discount!

10:02 AM. Finished an amazing gig with an amazing director. Life is good. It’s great to be back in L.A.

11:46 AM. Jesus rocks! He guided me to book another gig for Playboy Enterprises. Praise the Lord.

11:47 AM. Deuteronomy 5:11

11:48 AM. John 8:7

11:49 AM. Broccoli or cauliflower?

1:15 PM. There’s a new article on the Nethervoice blog. Be the first one to read it before it appears on VoiceOverXtra.

Yep, Facebook is definitely a site we can’t live without. In fact, we need more of those online chatrooms. What did you just tell me? You’re not on Google+ yet? Boy, you’re missing out on something spectacular. It’s great for your business. The other day I saw a video of a dog. Man, that was funny. Every time his owner began playing the guitar, this dog started smiling. No kidding. I’ll send you the link.

3:30 PM. Wasted another 3 minutes watching a dog on YouTube. 

A WINDOW TO THE WORLD?

Look, I am not going to pooh-pooh social media again, but we should bury the idea that these sites are widening our world and increase interpersonal connections.

First of all, we don’t seem to know the difference between socializing and advertising. Socializing is all about connecting with others. Advertising is drawing attention to oneself in order to sell. If that becomes the main purpose of the interaction, it will turn people off. Sooner rather than later.

Secondly, people mainly interact with people they know or agree with. We block the rest and ban them from our circles. And if we don’t do it ourselves, algorithms will make sure that we see what we want to see and hear what we want to hear. Author and activist Eli Pariser calls this the “Filter Bubble.”

Based on our location and on what you and I have searched for and looked at in the past, certain websites (like Facebook) and search engines now use algorithms to predict and select what we’d be interested in right now. They call it “creating a personalized experience.”

YOUR WEB YOUR WAY

If you’re in the market for a new set of wheels and you’ve been browsing a few dealerships, chances are that you’ll be presented with car commercials instead of chewing gum ads. If you’re a fan of the current man in the White House and you keep track of his party’s politics, you won’t be exposed to Tea Party rhetoric. So far, so good, right?

Amazon and Netflix work the same way:

“If you liked this product or that movie, here’s what we recommend you check out next.”

I once made the mistake of tweeting about how much I love my memory foam mattress. Within the hour I was followed by three companies selling mattresses. I wanted to challenge them to a pillow fight.

But wait, there’s more!

If you and I were to enter the same keywords in Google, we would receive different results, based on past online behavior. You will get sites that are more in line with your interests and I will get sites that -according to the secret algorithm- will resonate more with things I prefer. Why is that so terrible?

DIVERSITY IS THE SPICE OF LIFE

I happen to think that it’s good to be exposed to different points of view. If I am only presented with an invisibly edited and uncontrollable stream of information that confirms my own bias, I lose something very important. Eli Pariser puts it this way:

“The Internet is showing us a world it thinks we want to see, but not necessarily what we need to see.”

We need to see how other people live and we need to hear what other people think. Intellectual discourse is part of a healthy democracy.

If we wish to promote peace, understanding and compassion in the world, we have to open ourselves up to other ideas, other traditions and the very things we don’t comprehend. Things that may make us uncomfortable. Otherwise, stupid stereotypes will go unchallenged and the people on this planet will never overcome their conflicts.

5:15 PM. More of the same is not only boring, it’s dangerous.

5:16 PM. I don’t want some geek at Google to tell me what’s relevant.

Knowledge empowers. Ignorance separates.

NOW WHAT?

It’s time to burst that filter bubble and give us control over the selection of sources of information. I don’t need Yahoo to determine what types of news stories will appear when I switch on my computer.

I want Facebook to be more about sharing and less about selling. I want parents to care more about their children than about their smart phones.

I want drivers to switch off their Blackberries and pay attention to the road. I want more people to be in the moment, instead of describing it on some electronic device.

That’s all great in theory, but here’s the question that’s been haunting me:

Will that ever happen or did we pass a point of no return?

5:24 PM. I am a practitioner of Positive Pessimism.

5:25 PM Hoping for the best. Expecting the worst.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice


The one word that saved my freelance career

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Internet, Money Matters, Promotion 48 Comments

No, I’m not going to tell you what it is just yet.

Let me begin by asking you a simple question:

Do words have power?

When you think of it, aren’t they just letters, arranged in a certain order? Or are there words in our language that are so potent, that they have the potential to transform our life and our livelihood?

Now, before you think that I’ve gone all philosophical instead of practical, just  STOP for a moment and think about it.

In the past few days I’ve asked some of my friends about words they feel have had (and still have) a profound impact on their professional lives. Here are some of the words they came up with:

  • Faith
  • Fear
  • Confidence
  • Creativity
  • Luck
  • Love
  • Play
  • Passion

 

As for me, the one word that has been my guiding light in the past 25 years as a freelancer, is neither grand nor deep. Yet, I believe it to be one of the most powerful words in our vocabulary. Without it, my career certainly wouldn’t be where it is today. It consists of two letters.

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

Making Money In Your PJs cover


Renowned German Scientist Apologizes

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Gear 19 Comments