The famous opera singer Maria Callas had a reputation. The director of the New York Met said that Callas was the most difficult artist he ever worked with, “because she was so much more intelligent. Other artists, you could get around. But Callas you could not get around. She knew exactly what she wanted, and why she wanted it.”
Callas is still a controversial singer. Her voice had an extraordinary range. In one season she sang Brünnhilde in Wagner’s Die Walküre, a heavy, challenging role that played to her strengths. Then, on very short notice, she was asked to step into the part of Elvira in Bellini’s I Puritani, showcasing her coloratura.
Callas was a temperamental vocal enchantress who could walk out of performances if she felt her needs weren’t met, leaving audiences stunned. Some say she did it out of self-preservation. Others say she was an overrated Diva.
CONTROVERSY SELLS TICKETS
The problem is that people love controversies and colorful personalities. Not one performance that Callas gave at the Met was without boos, and there’s nothing like a good scandal to keep the box office busy. Of course members of the media gladly fanned the flames. Most of Callas’s colleagues did not like her at all.
“Rival” soprano Renata Tebaldi once said: “I have one thing that Callas doesn’t have: a heart”, and Callas said that comparing her with Tebaldi was like “comparing Champagne with Coca-Cola.”
I’m not a particular fan of Callas, but what I do see is a strong-willed woman in a male-dominated environment who has no problem putting her foot down, refusing to be a cookie-cutter soprano. I also see someone who dares not to be technically perfect, but who rather shows us the complexity and fragility of human emotions through music.
THE VERY FIRST TIME
Opera is so much more than hitting the right notes (just like voice over is so much more than reading the right words). Playwright Terrence McNally said about Callas:
“It was as if she were speaking and not singing, and what she was saying was being said for the very first time.”
I think that’s one of the most profound compliments one can ever pay a singer.
Now, think about this.
People who are being remembered are almost always seen as difficult to work with. Do I need to mention Steve Jobs or Elon Musk? Here’s the thing. When they’re men, we say they have strong personalities. When they’re women, we call them Divas.
When Callas was told that she was considered temperamental, her answer was:
“I will always be as difficult as necessary to achieve the best.”
GET A SPINE
You don’t have to be an opera buff to learn something from Maria Callas. You and I know that not every client values our work as much as we do. In fact, there are plenty of so-called colleagues who don’t value our work as much as we do. How do you respond to that?
Are you just going to take it like a hopeless, helpless lamb ready to be eaten, or will you stand strong like Bev Standing who is taking TikTok to court?
Personally, I have had it with people who say we should just accept the situation and learn to live with it. After all, no one can stop technology. Rates will continue to go down.
If a company wants to clone your voice, separating speech from speaker, do you sign your rights away for thirty pieces of silver, or do you make sure you have a solid contract in place limiting the use of your voice to the application it was recorded for?
If a big company says they only have a small budget, are you going to give in, devaluing your work (and mine)?
Or will you pull a Callas and walk away?
GIVING IN AND GIVING UP
Let me tell you something. It is easy to give in and sell out. It’s no accomplishment to book a low-paying job.
It’s much more challenging to stand firm on what you’re worth. But think of what will happen if you don’t! Every time you cave, you tell the client they can get more for less, and all of us get screwed.
“But Paul, I’m no Maria Callas… I’m not an opera superstar. I have no leverage. If I ask for more I’m afraid I’ll lose the job!”
Give me a break and grow a pair!
Have the courage to walk away from a bad deal. You run a for-profit business, don’t you? Isn’t the cost of living going up every year? Why then, should you have to lower your price while big companies make big money and are getting tax breaks left and right?
You may not have the star power of a celebrity like Callas, but your power lies in the fact that you do have a unique voice, AND you are not alone. What would happen if a client doesn’t like your rate and they go shopping around, only to find that the next talent they call charges the same or even more?
To some of you, the above scenario may sound ridiculous, but I’ll never stop making the argument because I speak not from some sort of pipe dream, but from experience. If you want things to change, stop complaining and do something about it! LEAD THE WAY!
Don’t compete on price. You’re not a commodity. Compete on added value. It will pay off!!!
Maria Callas got fired from her jobs multiple times, and in spite of it, she became a very wealthy woman because she dared to put her foot down.
When 60-Minutes interviewer Mike Wallace asked her about her fortune, she downplayed how much she had made, saying:
“To the rich people I am very poor. To the poor people I am very rich.”
Spoken like a true Diva!
Paul Schmidt says
And in the next 5 years, those who don’t practice the craft and stand up for their worth will get obliterated by AI voices.
Paul Strikwerda says
Voice123 just published a report on AI and voice overs. The main takeaways:
1. In the AI character voices experiment, Voice123 found that 8.6% of clients said that our AI voices were hireable.
2. Generally, AI voices are currently most appealing for jobs that don’t require great acting ability.
Joshua Alexander says
“Do you sign your rights away for thirty pieces of silver?” OUCH! Such a strong statement and comparison to Judas – and so true! And so NEEDED. Thanks Paul. Just turned down a job from a repeat customer this morning who wanted full broadcast rights in perpetuity for $500 per each of 3 spots. I pulled a Callas. Would I like $1500? Sure. But I would rather be a Diva.
Paul Strikwerda says
There’s a difference between selling and selling out. I just hope that people will get from a me, Me, ME mindset to a WE mindset. Trends are made up of thousands of individual decisions. It will take many getting a spine, to change where we are going, but it can be done!
Craig Williams says
“Give me a break and grow a pair!”
That is the hard part for many. When people “move” from an hourly job into this profession, they don’t understand the Freelancer mindset. All they think is “I was earning $15 an hour at Starbucks so doing a 5 minute explainer for $15 works for me!”.
All we can do is try to educate and you do a stellar job of that Paul.
Paul Strikwerda says
Thank you Craig. I just hope those who need to hear my words will find me in time!
Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt says
Maria Callas and her attitude resonate. She didn’t live her life listening to little minds.
In my field, mainstream novels, the traditional publishers have the biggest and almost only voice – yet every year they focus more and more on a few bestsellers, and there are fewer and fewer spots in their catalogues.
Fewer and fewer spots for anything but a number of flashy debuts which have to pay out big for the business model to work.
The advances are smaller and smaller for midlisters.
And I have the temerity to want to succeed on merit – with significant physical and mental problems (little energy and a lot of brain fog) – and to want to write about characters who are real, and one of whom is disabled.
My chances in the traditional publishing field I assessed at vanishingly small.
I went indie.
I know perfectly well I can only compete by being uniquely, stubbornly, persistently, aggressively myself as a writer. But, oh, the lovely words in the reviews when I can persuade someone to read. A number of them, from older guys, include some form of “I don’t normally read this kind of literature, but I’m smitten… And can’t wait for Book 2 in the trilogy.” To which my soul replies, Yes! Gotcha!
I expected those from women – but have come to realize that, in my detailed planning to write for men AND women, I know what I’m doing.
The marketing – finding the readers – will be hugely assisted by getting the second book launched, which I hope to do this year. Because my readers are out there, and they’re tired of quickly-produced, hyped ‘bestsellers.’
Paul Strikwerda says
I wish you the very best as you’re planning the release of your next novel!