Articles

Bodalgo Founder Launches voices.net

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, International, Internet, Journalism & Media, Pay-to-Play 4 Comments

Armin Hierstetter

He’s done it!

Armin Hierstetter, the brains behind online casting site BODALGO has launched a new site: voices.net.

It’s been months in the making, but do we really need another voice casting site?

Time for a quick interview.

1. What specifically prompted you to build voices.net?

It was a thought process over a couple of months. Online casting has not really evolved that much over the last decade. Sure, I tried to enhance bodalgo.com by adding bodalgoCall and bodalgoCRM, but the core functionality of all the usual suspects is still the same. So is the concept of all the ones that showed up in the last two years.

2. How does your approach and philosophy differ from other voice casting sites?

It’s not pay to play. And while other new sites to the industry claim that their online casting sites are neither, the reality is: They are. voices.net on the other hand will not take a single cent from the talents. It is the clients that need to pay in order to be able to use the service.

3. Why would they ever do that when they can cast talents online for free on so many other websites?

The major problem with most online casting websites: Way too many auditions for a job! And way too low quality of auditions in many cases (there are a few exceptions, though, bodalgo.com being one of them, I would think). But the major downside: A client has always to wait for the auditions to shuffle in before they get a feeling what to expect. All the p2ps are centered around the audition process. The matching process is not precise enough by design, so many talents get job offers and have the feeling a lot of opportunities are coming through. And when all of them audition, only a fraction will be really relevant to the client’s needs. That’s an issue.

voices.net will completely change that. Even before the audition process, a client can narrow down the selection of potential talents in a very, very sophisticated way that works in real time.

An example: Let’s say somebody is looking for a US English female voiceover for commercial. Also, they want a low pitched breathy voice that sounds mystical. With websites out there, they would have to post a job and hope for the best.

With voices.net, you will be able to first narrow down a selection of talents that exactly fit that description in a few seconds. And if after listening to a few demos you changed your mind and would rather listen to higher pitched demos, it is just a click away.

4. How is this possible?

1. All demos on voices.net are precisely tagged by the talents including language, gender, character and attributes (warm, confident, sexy, passionate, caring etc.). A talent can upload an unlimited number of demos. But: Each demo must only feature one specific recording. It is not allowed to mix different genres or different styles of a read in one demo as the tagging would not be accurate anymore. voices.net does a lot to educate the talents to follow those rules. In fact, I have pointed out quite in the face that breaking the rules will lead to the deletion of a profile. The quality expectations are really super high.

2. voices.net has artificial intelligence built in to determine the pitch of a talent. This is important, because you need to have the same standard across the board. Talents are asked to have a standard demo of their signature voice analyzed as a pitch reference which will be taken as a default value for every further demo uploaded. Of course, if you intentionally voiced a demo higher than your signature voice, you can adjust the pitch tagging manually.

This pre audition filter process takes less than a minute. By listening to most relevant demos, a client can then decide whether he wants to contact a single talent directly or invite a group of talents to audition. For the talent that means: In case of an audition you are not up against a few hundred but up against a pre-selected few.

Maybe it becomes also clear why it is therefore in the best interest of the talents to be as precise as possible when tagging the demos. If they are not, they will end up in the filter results with a group of other talents that are much more relevant. So they will not stand a chance. So you absolutely want to make sure that your tagging is spot on on order to be successful.

So why will clients pay for this? Because voices.net will generate better results in a shorter amount of time.

5. The name of the site is obviously a nudge to a certain Canadian company that has cornered a huge segment of the market. Are you openly challenging them? Do you expect any legal challenges from voices.com since your sites have similar objectives, or has that been sorted out?

Do I challenge them? No. In my book, vcom is mainly a platform for amateurs and bottom feeders. And for companies that do not know that a huge chunk of their budget does not end up with the talents but in the pocket of vcom. voices.net is a completely different game.

Regarding the website name: voices.net and voices network are registered trademarks in the EU. But even if that would not be the case: According to the EUIPO (European Union Intellectual Property Office), “voices” by itself is a descriptive term that cannot be trademarked under EU regulation. If you choose a name like this, you simply have to accept that others might use it well. That’s not what I say, that’s what the trademark office says. Fair enough if you ask me.

6. Voices dot com has spent many years and millions of dollars on CEO and online advertising campaigns. Do you believe your David can beat Goliath at their own game and if yes, why?

First of all: Online advertising hardly works anymore when your objective is to find new clients (not talents). Reason is partly because those ads, for a few years now actually, are clicked more and more by talents looking for platforms they can book jobs from instead of clients looking for talents. Actually, it is the talents that kinda ruin the campaigns that are created to get them jobs in the first place. It’s a bit ironic.

But for voices.net, this will not be that of an issue. voices.net targets top shelf clients that have very high expectations regarding quality. Those companies don’t google “hire voice talent” (which is far fewer searched for than some people think, by the way). Getting those clients excited about voices.net will work best if you actually go to them and present the magic personally.

Will that be easy? No. Not at all. But every of those clients will have a healthy amount of jobs all the time, so if you get only a few dozens of the bigger ones on board, you already have a great base to work from. And because the talents do not pay a cent, I do not feel the pressure to find clients at all costs. It will take time, but I am sure that the path is right.

And if it fails: Nothing to lose for the talents except the time to create the most compelling profile on the planet.

7. Is the investment in voices.net coming out of your own pocket, or do you have any backers?

It comes out of my own pocket. Talking about it: I find it a bit amusing that there is one site out there at the moment that was basically created with membership fees paid upfront by the talents. That’s a pretty interesting stunt I have to say: Building a website and promoting it with no financial risk attached. If it does not work, it was not your money. Not sure though, how all those talents will feel about it when it does not work out¦

8. Who runs voices.net by the way? Is it just you or do you have a team?

Just me. It’s always just me, nobody loves me! [laughs]

9. The only way to measure the success of your new site is by the number of good paying jobs available. You already run an online voice casting site that is sometimes criticized for not offering as many opportunities as e.g. voice123. Shouldn’t you just focus on growing Bodalgo instead of dividing your time and energy between voices.net and your site selling vintage game consoles?

I think how I divide my time is completely my business. The numbers of bodalgo have been growing constantly for a decade now. Yes, there are fewer jobs than with the big “v’s”. On the other hand, the quality of the jobs is much higher. And the number of premium talents much lower. And the membership fee is much lower. Do I need to go on?

What’s more: Talents tell me time and time and time again that they convert many clients into returning clients. They can do so because bodalgo does not “own” the clients. So in a nutshell: bodalgo is doing fine and will continue to do so. And remember: If I present voices.net to new clients that are despite the compelling concept not willing to pay for online casting, there is still the option to promote bodalgo to them. So now I have two great products to bring to the market. I see that as an advantage for the talents, too.

10. Can any voice talent -experienced or inexperienced- sign up for voices.net? Do you have a limit as to how many voice actors you accept? What are your acceptance criteria?

No, absolutely not! The bar will be set extremely high. First, you need to be a pro. Second, your audio quality must scream awesomeness. And even if you are an experienced talent: That might not guarantee that your profile will make it in the end (maybe because of sub par audio quality, maybe because of incorrect tagging of demos, etc). The goal is to identify the best of the best talents available.

I know that this approach will not go down well with everybody, especially when they are rejected, but when you want to create something insanely great, there is no chance to be everybody’s darling at the same time. I hope the talents will understand that and rather work on their skills than blaming me for “playing god”.

11. Best scenario: five years from now, where do you see voices.net?

The go-to place when you are looking for the best voice over talents in the world. For agents, producers, ad agencies, enterprises, casting directors, you name it.

Many thanks, Armin, and best of luck with voices.net!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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4 Ways To Get From Good To Great

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Personal 3 Comments
the author singing in a choir

The author singing in a choir

What does it take to become a successful voice-over?

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

A few weeks 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

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A Sundial In The Shade

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Personal 2 Comments

Taking the Oath“I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been subject or citizen”.

Together with 66 other people from 31 different nations, these were the words I spoke in Philadelphia on the last day of July, 2009. With it, a six-year process came to an end.

In less than a minute, this subject of the Kingdom of The Netherlands became an American citizen. My first order of business: filling out a voter registration form.

Prior to the ceremony, I went to Independence Mall to walk in the footsteps of the Founding Fathers. The famous crack in the Liberty Bell was a stark reminder of the fact that at a certain time in history, these truths were anything but self-evident:

“that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness”. 

Looking at the world today, I was painfully aware of two things: for many, these truths are still not self-evident. For many others they have become so obvious that they are taken for granted. Some have turned the phrase into “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Crappiness.”

BRINGING WORDS TO LIFE

America’s most interactive history museum is only a few blocks away. If you’ve never been to the National Constitution Center, you’re in for an experience that will stay with you for a long time. This Center brilliantly manages to do what we as voice-over pros do for a living: bring words to life.

Every visit starts with “Freedom Rising,” a multi-media presentation that connects visitors to the story of the U.S. Constitution. To my surprise, this production was narrated by a voice-over actor who’s actually there in person, serving as tour guide on a historic journey.

In Signers’ Hall, I came face to face with the man who once said:

“Tell me and I forget.

Teach me and I remember.

Involve me and I learn.”

This man was Benjamin Franklin. I know he wasn’t speaking about our line of work, but as far as I am concerned, he hit the nail on the head. Unknowingly, Franklin was speaking about the Narcissists, the Professors and the Movers of our profession. What do I mean?

THREE TYPES OF NARRATORS

All of us have come across audio books narrated by people who seem to be so much in love with their own voice. These people turn a travelogue into an ego-trip. For me, it’s the biggest turn-off in audio books: two lips of a narcissist.

The Professors on the other hand, haven’t learned the following lesson: people don’t like to be lectured. People prefer to be entertained and engaged. That’s why movie stars make more money than academics.

The educational staff at the Constitution Center was obviously aware of that, when they hired Movers to shake thing up a bit.

Movers are voice-over artists who selflessly devote themselves to the words given to them, and who use their voice as a vehicle to engage and move the audience. As a result, the listener is drawn in and drawn out; totally absorbed and involved.

Movers masterfully manage to infuse and energize dry letters on a page with meaning and emotion, bringing them back from the dead in a way a musician transforms scribbles into sounds. However, it takes a true artist to turn those sounds into music that touches the heart, feeds the soul and moves the mind.

TAKING THE OATH

When I took the Oath of Allegiance, I became part of “We the people,” the people of a nation where Freedom of Expression is a constitutional right. The Citizen’s Almanac I received as a welcoming gift, describes it as follows:

“Americans can speak and act as they wish as long as it does not endanger others or obstruct another’s freedom of expression in the process”.

As voice-over artist, this freedom of speech guarantees that I can do what I love without fear of persecution or imprisonment. I can pursue my interests and happiness, as long as it does not interfere with the rights of others.

For that, I feel tremendously privileged and grateful.

Without it, all of us would be -as Franklin put it- “a sundial in the shade”.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Bouncing Back and Starting Over

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Personal, VO Atlanta 16 Comments

Heads up: this is going to be one of my more personal blogs, so if that’s not your cup of tea today, you might want to read one of the older stories in the archive.

If, however, you’re one of the many people who has checked in with me about my health, I hope the following will light a warm flame of curiosity and a spark of inspiration.

Yesterday, as I was preparing for my VOBS interview, I sat down at the kitchen table and asked myself the following question:

It’s been a year and four months since I had my stroke. What have I learned?

Well, for starters, my physical and psychlogical health has much improved, but I have not made a full recovery. That would be unrealistic because the brain cells that are lost won’t magically grow back. On a positive note, my brain is constantly making new neurlogical connections to allow other brain cells to take over.

On a good day, the people who meet me and who don’t know I’ve had a stroke, don’t notice anything. But there’s a lot going on under the hood that they aren’t aware of. I can’t attribute every symptom to the stroke, but I am definitely not the person I used to be. What does that mean in practical terms?

THE NEW (AND NOT SO IMPROVED) ME

First off, keep in mind that every stroke is different, and the consequences depend on what part of the brain has been affected, how much has been affected, and for how long. Click here for the warning signs. I was incredibly lucky, and yet, here’s what I’m dealing with on a daily basis:

– I often feel disassociated from reality, as if I’m living in a dream. I’m more of an observer than a participant
– I can’t access parts of my past because of memory loss
– I have difficulty retaining information and I need frequent reminders
– My eyesight has worsened
– My speech is affected. I’ve had months and months of speech therapy to improve my enunciation and expression, but when I’m really tired I start slurring my words
– I have word finding issues and facial blindness
– It’s hard for me to stay focused; it’s easy to get distracted
– Sensory overload is still a problem. My brain tends to overheat quickly when bombarded with many stimuly at once
– I’ve become super sensitive to sound (misophonia). Click here to read about it
– In the first months after my stroke, I found it hard to access my emotions. Now the opposite is true. I’m a big bowl of mush (as you will see on my interview with George and Dan)
– My voice tires quickly and gets hoarse
– I’ve got a limited amount of energy. I can function at full speed for about three hours. Then I’m pretty much done

Here’s what has improved since my stroke:

– I’ve learned to be more patient, and to accept help without feeling guilty
– I’m listening to my body. Most of the time, my body is telling me to slow down and I pay attention. This way I take away unhealthy stress
– I’m living more in the now. I can get lost in the moment and totally enjoy it
– I’ve become more emotional, and I’m not afraid to show it
– I am more appreciative of what I have, who I am, and of the people around me
– I’ve stopped chasing superficial success and approval. I’m no longer trying to prove to the world that I matter
– I’m trying to do more with less. I am creating opportunities to attract work. Instead of jumping at every audition, I only go for what jumps out at me

LEARNING ABOUT LIFE

Beyond that, there are other lessons I have learned. Before I share them with you, please know that these are my personal beliefs. It is not my intention to convince you of anything. It’s your job to find your own truths in this life, preferably without coming close to dying. I just want to give you some food for thought. Let’s begin with dish number one:

Stop looking for the Why.

When disaster strikes, it is so tempting to ask: “Why me, why this, why now? What did I do to deserve this?”

It’s tempting, but it’s not helpful.

Here’s the thing. Asking “why” is really looking for a logical, rational explanation. It’s looking for a reason. Quite often, the bad things that are happening to us are unreasonable. They make no sense. They defy logic.

Why would a child get cancer? Why would an innocent person get hit by a drunk driver? Why do bad things happen to good people? Is there a punishing God who wants his flock to suffer? If God is love, why is God a sadist?

People looking for the “why” are often looking for something or someone to blame. Or they blame themselves with the torturing question “If only…”

They think that by turning the clock back, or by identifying that blameworthy someone or something will help them accept and heal from the evil that’s ruining their lives. I don’t believe it does because there is no “why” big enough to explain needless, endless suffering, and so many things don’t happen for a reason. Like my stroke, they simply happen. End of story.

Now let’s focus on beginning a new one.

If you want to move on and get better, you must leave the place of guilt, bitterness, anger, and hurt. You have to let go of the grudge and the resentment and be okay that some questions will remain unanswered.

You can’t change what happened. I can’t un-have my stroke, but I can draw on my experience and use it as an opportunity to rediscover myself and be there for others. Here’s something else I feel strongly about:

A stroke is something I had. It’s not who I am.

I hate it when I hear someone who hasn’t had a drink for thirty years say: “I am an alcoholic.” Or someone who’s been cancer-free for years say: “I am a cancer survivor.” They identify themselves with something they no longer are or have. They’re tied with chains to the past.

I’ve been a vegetarian since I was seventeen. I don’t tell the world, “I am a meat eater.” That’s absurd.

You see, whatever you focus on regularly tends to e x p a n d. It magnifies, and we are more likely to attract it. This is true for things that are positive and not so positive. So, be careful what you focus on.

Be honest:

Are you focusing more on who you were, or on who you are and aspire to be?

Listen, we are so much more than our past behavior. That’s just a small part of our identity. We’ve been there. We’ve done that. It’s OVER. That’s why I don’t see myself as a stroke victim or stroke survivor. I refuse to be defined by that small slice of my existence.

I’d rather see myself as a lover of life; as an envelope-pushing pot-stirring person who just happens to talk for a living.

Now, I’ve always had a problem with generalizations. ALWAYS. The irony is that every belief we embrace is a generalization. Here’s another one:

Don’t think in absolutes. Discover the exceptions to the rules. YOU can be exceptional!

Understand that what people believe to be true only reflects their level of knowledge (or ignorance) and (in)experience, plus what science has been able to prove. That knowledge gets outdated very fast.

Not so long ago a guy in the Netherlands broke his backbone and was told he’d never walk again. He believed his doctors. Then a medical team invented special 3-D implants, put them in his spinal column, and guess what? He’s walking!

People are pushing the boundaries of what’s possible as we speak, and you can be one of those people. Be a rule breaker. Go against the grain. Prove the establishment wrong. You don’t move forward by playing it safe.

As I’m sure the late Steve Jobs would acknowledge, the people who end up changing the world are often the crazy, unreasonable ones. It helps if you…

Don’t believe everything the experts tell you. It makes you lazy and dependent.

My cardiologist is a fine doctor with many years of experience. He knows a lot about a little. He told me I wasn’t a stroke risk. Boy, did I prove him wrong!

My neurologist just said to me I wouldn’t make any more progress. I’d have to learn to live with my limitations, and things will only go downhill from here. I know he means well and doesn’t want to get my hopes up, but I have respectfully decided to ignore him. I’m not falling for the placebo effect of a person in authority imposing his limited model of the world on me.

I believe in the power of the body and the mind to continue to heal, and I will do everything I can to make that happen. I’ve changed my diet, my lifestyle, and my thinking. Progress WILL continue!

Speaking of not relying on authorities… Ever since VO Atlanta I’ve had terrible swelling in my feet, legs, arms and hands. The swelling started to itch and soon I was covered in self-inflicted scratch marks. Many so-called specialists looked into it but couldn’t find a cause or a cure. They said I had to put some cream on my limbs and learn to live with it.

Did I give up? Of course not!

A good friend of ours is an acupuncturist, and she started a series of treatments. Within weeks the swelling went down, and a month later it was gone. Why her treatment works is still a mystery, but I don’t care about the why. All I care about is the result.

Please understand that I’m not against seeking expert advice. But please, use your own brain for a change. Do your homework. Just becuse someone’s wearing a white coat and a stethoscope doesn’t mean you should believe everything that’s being said.

Deep breath… In…. and out….

No one knows better who you are than the person staring back at you in the mirror. That person is powerful, loving, intelligent, kind, and posesses intuitive wisdom. Trust that wisdom. One day, it might save your life or the life of someone else.

THE GIFT AND THE PURPOSE

Looking back at the past sixteen months, I’ve concluded that I was given the gift of life for a second time in my existence. This gift comes with tremendous joy and great responsibility. I was given an opportunity to start over and redefine my purpose for being here.

In all humility I feel that part of my purpose could be to inspire those around me through my writing and my actions. I want to continue to touch lives with my words and by living my truth.

I secretly hope you will do the same.

It’s the only way to make this place a better world for all of us.

In the words of Buddha:

“Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.”

So, be grateful, be happy, and keep on lighting candles!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Facebook: Why You May Be Doing It All Wrong

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Internet, Journalism & Media, Personal, Promotion, Social Media 7 Comments

On July 31, Facebook will be updating the Terms of Service again. Why?

Because in their own words, they want to “better explain the rights people have when using our services.”

One thing that will not change is the distinction between Profiles and Pages. It’s something many colleagues still don’t seem to get. Here’s the deal:

You should never run your businesss from a personal profile. Always create a Facebook page for your business.

There are many reasons for doing that, and I’ll give you lots of carrots, but let’s start with a few sticks. The Facebook Terms of Service state:

“You will not use your personal timeline primarily for your own commercial gain, and will use a Facebook Page for such purposes.”

In other words, using a Profile for commercial activities is a violation of those Terms of Service, and Facebook can and will delete your Profile because of it. That’s what someone in my neighborhood found out when she tried to peddle her skin care pyramid scheme on a local Facebook group. Fellow-Facebookers reported her, and without warning she lost all her contacts, messages, pictures, and more.

PROFILE OR PAGE

To some people, the distinction between a Profile and a Page is a bit confusing, so here’s the bottom line.

A Facebook Profile is a personal, non-commercial account for individuals. It’s the way you connect with friends and family. It’s where you share your photos, videos, and life events. You can only have one Profile, and it’s managed by you. Only people you’ve added as a friend are able to see your posts, unless all your updates are public. For some mysterious reason Facebook allows you to have no more than 5,000 friends.

A Facebook Page is a business account for a company or organization. You can have many Pages, managed by multiple people. Your following is not limited by friend requests. Anyone who clicks the Like button receives your updates, and you can have an unlimited number of followers.

In order to create a Page, you first need to have a Profile. You can convert a Profile to a Page, but I don’t recommend it. First off, you only get one chance to do it. Secondly, the name on your personal account will become the Page’s name, which isn’t very smart. You want your Page to have the name of your business. Your Profile picture and cover photo will also be transferred, but it’s better for your brand to use your business pictures, instead of those silly summer vacation snapshots.

PROFESSIONAL OR PRIVATE

Before I discuss some of the features you can access once you have a Facebook Page, I want to tell you why I think it’s inappropriate to use a Profile to promote your business. It has to do with privacy, professionalism, and boundaries.

Number one: why would you give people you barely know access to your private life? Just because you exchanged business cards at a conference, doesn’t mean they should see you on your Timeline sporting a skimpy bathing suit at the Jersey shore, or drinking beer from a boot in Berlin.

The current U.S. administration may think it’s okay for Internet Service Providers to share our browsing history, financial information, health information, children’s information, social security number, and app usage. I strongly disagree.

I don’t want my private life to become publicly traded property. It’s literally none of other people’s business.

Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t like the fact that the lines between public and private are getting more blurry every day. I value my privacy. Online and offline. I don’t see the need to turn my life into some kind of reality show for the whole world to see. It’s not that interesting anyway.

CUSTOMERS OR FRIENDS

Some of my colleagues who are still using a Profile for their business, have accepted friend requests from clients without giving it any thought. To me, that’s shocking. I don’t think a client needs to know what’s going on in your life or mine. It can have serious consequences.

Let’s say a customer asks you to do a rush job, and you tell him you’re too busy to fit it in. Then he sees on Facebook that you’re taking the day off, and he wonders: “Why were you lying to me?”

It is unacceptable for an employer to ask about your general health and medical condition, so why share that information on social media? Let’s assume a client has a job for you, but you just posted that you’re a bit under the weather, so he hires someone else. Had he not known that you’re sick, he would have asked you, and you could have said: “I’m totally booked today, but I can do it tomorrow,” (if you think you’ll feel better by then).

A few more scenarios.

A client owes you money, and he sees on your Profile that you just bought a nice set of wheels. That client may think: “Oh, he’s got plenty of cash. He can wait to be paid.”

What if you tell your Facebook pals you’re struggling financially? Friends of mine just started a very public GoFundMe Campaign because their clunker car died, and they can’t afford to buy a new one. Desperate people are willing to work for less, and a client could abuse that situation to negotiate a lower rate.

One colleague became Facebook friends with the author of a series of books he was about to narrate. “He’s such a great guy,” my colleague said. “I’m honored he wanted to be friends with me.”

Well, when the writer saw on Facebook that my colleague was gay, he said he could no longer work with him, citing his faith. What a terrible way to lose a deal worth thousands of dollars!

A conservative think tank wanted to hire a voice-over for a number of ads, and they found a female talent with the perfect pipes. Just before they offered her the contract, they did a background check. Because all the posts on her Facebook Profile were public, they discovered she was an Elizabeth Warren supporter, and they called off the deal.

So, you have to ask yourself: should you really give the whole world access to your personal life? Is gaining a superficial Facebook friend worth the risk of losing a good client?

GENERATIONAL DIVIDE

Here’s an interesting trend. When I first brought this page/pofile thing up in my voice-over community, I got two kinds of responses. The older generation seemed to get this separation between private and professional spheres, as well as the need for reputation management.

The response of the younger generation boiled down to one word:

One girl wrote:

“This is a FREE country. I am who I am. If the client doesn’t like it, that’s their problem. I am building an online persona, and my followers like me just the way I am. They want a behind-the-scenes look into my life, and I ‘m gonna give it to them.”

To each his own, but as Dr. Phil keeps on reminding us: “If you choose the behavior, you choose the consequences.”

Those consequences can be quite serious. One of my agents just posted the following:

“It happened again. A huge project we had an opportunity with turned down loads of talent from many agencies for inappropriate social media including:

    • Lingerie posted on Social Media
    • Sexually Suggestive posts on Social Media
    • Profanity on Social Media
    • Political affiliations on Social Media
    • Politically Charged posts on Social Media
    • Inappropriate language on Social Media.

 

If you ever want to get in with a kid or family friendly network, your social media needs to be squeaky clean. Because if one parent sees that you post something inappropriate you can be in big trouble.”

Of course you can remove controversial content you posted after that wild night out, but when you need to do that, it’s usually too late. Know that it can take up to 90 days for deleted content to be removed from the system.

FRIENDS OR COLLEAGUES

Now, is it safe and okay to befriend fellow-voice talent on Facebook? As a popular blogger, many people want to be my Facebook friend, and that’s very flattering. If you’re one of those people, you’ve probably received the following message:

“Thank you for your friend request. I’m honored! This is my personal Facebook Profile which I’ve reserved for close friends and family members. It helps me separate my personal from my professional life.

If you’re interested in my work as a voice-over, and in developments in that field, please like my professional Page: https://www.facebook.com/nethervoice. That’s the best way to stay in touch with me. Thanks for understanding!”

In the beginning I thought people would hate me for blowing them off, but you know what the most common response to this message is?

“That makes so much sense. I should really do that too.”

But when I check in on a colleague a few weeks later, she is still promoting her business on a Facebook Profile, together with pictures of her cats, a couple of bible verses, and some crazy pop quizzes about celebrities and sex. 

Very professional, indeed!

WHAT’S A FRIEND ANYWAY

Sociologists have said lots of things about the way Facebook has hollowed out the notion of (online) friendship.

Yes, some of my Facebook friends happen to be colleagues, but not all colleagues are my friends. It takes a certain level of intimacy and bonding before I let people into that select circle. Most people who want to be friends, want to connect with me professionally anyway, so why bother them with pet pictures, or photos from lunch at the local eatery? That’s why I send them to my business Page. 

Sometimes, colleagues become contractors when they hire me for a job, making them my clients. That’s another reason to point them to my professional Page. Making this distinction has another advantage. Because I have fewer friends, it’s now easier to keep track of the lives of people I feel closer to, and Facebook is less of a time suck.

CREATING A BUSINESS PAGE

When you’re ready to create a Facebook Page, you have to pick a category based on the following options:

  1. Local Business or place
  2. Company
  3. Organization or institution
  4. Brand or product
  5. Artist, band, or public figure
  6. Cause or community

Once your business Page is set up, and you have at least 25 fans (or Likes), you should get a vanity URL. For instance, my Page is https://www.facebook.com/nethervoice/. This will make it much easier to find your page for those doing an internet search. Be sure your 180 x 180 pixel profile picture, and 828 x 315 pixel cover photo (the most important visual aspects of your Page), look good, and reflect your brand.

Last summer Facebook rolled out a new ad-free business layout, making it possible to add more prominent Calls to Action buttons to your Page. The seven calls to action available are: Book Now, Contact Us, Use App, Play Game, Shop Now, Sign Up, and Watch Video. Try my Contact Us Call to Action button, and see what happens.

VALUABLE INSIGHTS

A business Page also gives you an idea how your audience is responding, and how your Page is performing through Page Insights. Insights tell you which posts have the most engagement (videos and images rule!), and when your audience is on Facebook. You can use that information to increase traffic by creating content people respond to, and post it at strategic times. Jennifer Beese wrote an excellent article about Page Insights for Sprout Social.

Boosting posts is another way to increase your reach. You can boost a post when you create it, or after it’s been published. Simply click the Boost Post button, and you’ll be presented with some options. This is not a free service, by the way. The budget field allows you to select the amount you want to spend, or enter your own. 

Another thing a Facebook Page allows you to do (and a Profile won’t), is create ads. Facebook itself has written a step-by-step guide, and you might also want to check out this beginner’s guide from Hootsuite

THE BIG QUESTION MARK

My more senior coaching students will often ask me:

“Do I really need to be on Facebook? Isn’t it all a big waste of time?”

Facebook is too big to ignore. It’s the largest and most popular social network in the world, with over a billion and a half monthly active users, and over a billion daily active users. If Facebook were a country, it would be substantially bigger than China (source), and it continues to grow by 18% per year. According to Pew Research, 79% of internet users are on Facebook, and Forbes estimates that fifty million businesses are now using Facebook Pages.

In other words: this is a huge opportunity, because most of your (potential) customers are already using Facebook. If you were to pick one social media site for your marketing, skip Twitter and Instagram, and choose Facebook.

But please, do yourself a favor, and create a Page for your business today!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Are Your Ears Driving You Crazy?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Personal 13 Comments

Man covering both earsSome movies go deeper than others.

Especially movies about submarines.

The Hunt for Red October and Das Boot are two of my favorites, but since Netflix came out with The Wolf’s Call, I love the genre even more.

Of course this only has a little bit to do with me being able to take my new Dolby Atmos® sound system to its limits.

The Wolf’s Call (Le Chant Du Loup) is about Chanteraide, a French submarine technician known for his “Golden Ears.” With just a few seconds of audio, he can detect the make, model, and nationality of another vessel. In times of a nuclear crisis this is a good ability to have.

I’m not going to spoil the movie by telling you the plot, but if you like tense scenes in small quarters and the future of civilization being at stake, I have a feeling you’re going to enjoy this French production.

I watched the movie while no one else was in the house, and the realistic 3-D surround sound effects put me right in the middle of the action.

In a way, the main character of this movie reminded me a bit of myself. I spend most of my days in closed, darkened quarters, listening carefully to my students, my colleagues, and to my own voice.

My ears are used to picking up every sound, every pop, every crackle, every bit of mouth noise, every breath, every sign of high frequency sibilance, and low frequency rumble. 

I wouldn’t be able to do my job without my “golden ears,” but here’s the problem:

I CAN’T TURN THEM OFF!

Perhaps it’s just me, or perhaps it’s a side-effect of what I do for living. Having worked in radio and doing voice-overs, my ears have become super sensitive. Some may call it professional deformation, a physical or psychological condition stemming from years of working in the same profession.

Here are some of my annoying symptoms:

– I’m avoiding big movie theaters because I usually find the sound too loud (especially the trailers). And when I go to see an IMAX blockbuster I bring ear plugs.

– I’m staying away from social situations where loud music is playing, and people have to yell to make themselves understood (e.g. the annual NYC VO Christmas Meetup).

– I don’t go to restaurants where the music is loud or live. Americans named it the number one most bothersome aspect of eating out. According to Zagat’s 2018 survey of dining trends, loud music outweighs the usual suspects of bad service and high prices.

By the way, there’s a handy app helping you to monitor sound and find quiet eating spots called SoundPrint.

– I hate fireworks. It’s become legal in Pennsylvania to buy a wide variety of noisy firecrackers, Roman candles, and bottle rockets. However, it’s illegal to set them off within 150 feet of an occupied structure. Of course no one cares.

This year the fireworks noise in my neighborhood started weeks before July 4th, and it’s still going on. Every time I hear a loud bang, it startles me, and my heart rate jumps through the roof.

KILLING ME SOFTLY

But it’s not just the volume of the sound that bothers me. Lately, I cringe at softer sounds as well. For example, I find the smacking noises of people eating close to me thoroughly annoying. Someone gulping loudly on a beverage disgusts me. I loathe people chewing gum with their mouth open.

The other day, I was sitting next to a guy in a hospital waiting room who was exhaling very audibly through his snotty nose. I had to sit elsewhere and ended up next to a man who put his earbuds in, and began listening to booming hip hop. Aargh!

Of course there were tons of kids playing beeping games on their irritating tablets, mothers talking trash on their cell phones, and TV’s blasting the latest terrible news. It’s the ideal environment for healing to take place, don’t you think?

LOSING HEARING

The trouble is that we’ve created a noisy society where people have grown accustomed to a certain decibel level and have learned to tune out unwanted sounds. Or -in case of a younger generation- they’ve lost part of their hearing and they don’t know it.

I’ve noticed this when coaching teenagers and people over sixty. When I point out some of the noises I hear in their audio, they are incredulous because they don’t hear what I hear. It’s not because they won’t, but because they can’t! I have to show the pops and clicks on the soundwave to them, otherwise they don’t believe me.

Anyway, my ears seem to be fine, and what I am experiencing may be the result of selective sound sensitivity syndrome, or misophonia (literally: hatred of sound). It’s a disorder in which certain sounds trigger emotional or physiological responses that some might perceive as unreasonable given the circumstance. According to WebMD…

“Individuals with misophonia often report they are triggered by oral sounds — the noise someone makes when they eat, breathe, or even chew. Other adverse sounds include keyboard or finger tapping or the sound of windshield wipers. Sometimes a small repetitive motion is the cause — someone fidgets, or wiggles their foot.”

BETWEEN THE EARS

According to recent studies, misophonia is a brain-based disorder. Researchers point to a disruption in the connectivity in parts of the brain that process both sound stimulation and the fight/flight response. It also involves parts of the brain that code the importance of sounds.

Just to be clear: misophonia is not a psychiatric disorder. It is a complex sensory disorder that impacts the brains ability to process information.

I can tell you this: having had a stroke certainly disrupted my brain in a major way. It still reaches sensory overload pretty quickly, and has trouble processing information. That’s why it’s not safe for me to drive a car. At the same time, I also believe my ears have been trained to be sensitive to sound and to detect anomalies.

In other words, it’s a blessing as well as a curse.

If you recognize this sensitivity to sound and you feel comfortable sharing this with the world, please add some comments below so people like me know we’re not alone.

If you have some of the same symptoms, you might want to check out Misophonia International, a resource website developed by two sufferers of misophonia. In the U.S. there’s also the Misophonia Association, an organization revolving around education, advocacy, research, and support.

I think I’m coping with what my ears tell me by using an avoidance strategy. If I have to go to public spaces that are known to be noisy, I take my headphones and listen to my favorite podcasts, such as the VO Boss and the VO Meter. It’s my way of tuning out the environment.

On other days, I just have to watch one of those fabulous submarine movies.

How about Down Periscope or Operation Petticoat?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Help! I Want My Child To Be a Voice-Over

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Personal 5 Comments

Skyler & her dad

It started some six, seven years ago, when one of my agents put out a call I’d never had before:

“If you have a son or daughter who’d like to audition for a commercial, please get in touch as soon as possible.”

Now, I’m not one of those dads who’d like his offspring to follow in his footsteps, but my daughter Skyler had shown some potential.

As a baby, we took her to New York where she modeled for a Fisher Price catalogue, and everybody commented on how easy-going and cute she was. I had to agree, and not just because I was her father. I looked around the dressing room. Compared to all those whining model-babies with their whining model-mothers, Skyler was an angel.

Like me, she was an early speaker and reader, she was musical and outgoing, and she did well in the company of adults. And like me, she had a mind of her own.

When she was two years old, she began reading the letters and numbers on license plates in our neighborhood. A year later I took her shopping at Target, and a green plant had fallen off the shelf, making a mess in the middle of an aisle.

When she spotted it, Skyler exclaimed: “Look Daddy… aRUgula!”

A sweet old lady came up to us and asked: “How old is your daughter?”

Before I could respond, Skyler said: “I am THREE years old,” holding up three fingers.

The lady said: “I’ve never seen such a thing. A three year old who knows what arugula is…”

“It’s my favorite vegetable,” answered Skyler with a smile.

As a toddler, Sky loved to sing and dance and didn’t care who was watching. At Musicfest in Bethlehem, folk singer Dave Fry performed, and asked if any kids would like to join him. Guess who was the first one to run to the stage?

When a magician was doing a show at our library he needed an assistant for one of his tricks. I don’t have to tell you who volunteered. Until her shy teenage years, my daughter was up for anything.

So when my agent was looking for a kid to audition for a commercial, I asked ten-year old Skyler if she was game. She looked at the script and said she’d give it a try. Prior to that moment, she had never recorded anything other than a few improvised songs about an imaginary creature called “Meep.”


When Skyler began to cold-read the script, it became immediately clear that she had no idea what she was doing. That wasn’t her fault, because I hadn’t prepped her. She read the conversational script in a monotone murmur, as if she was reading in class.

Gone was the spontaneous, playful child I was hoping to hear. She had no idea she was expected to speak the lines as a kid telling peope about Food Angels in no more than thirty seconds. What made it even worse was the fact that she couldn’t stand still in front of the microphone, and I could hear every breath and bit of mouth noise a child is able make.

When she was done, she looked at me with a very proud smile, and it seemed like she was ready to walk out of the studio after a job well done. “Not so fast, Sky,” I said. “We need to work on a few things before I can send this to my agent.”

“What do you mean?” she asked. “I read every word on the page. What’s wrong?” “Well, that’s the problem,” I said. “You READ the text but this is meant to be SPOKEN, as if you’re making it up on the spot.”

“But I would never say it that way,” said Skyler. “These words are weird.”

I looked at her and said, “I completely understand, but the trick is that you have to make them your own, even if you would never talk like the girl in the commercial. Let’s practice a bit, shall we?”

Her next take was a lot more animated but completely overacted with unnatural highs and lows. She looked at my expression and said: “I did what you wanted me to do, but I guess it’s still not good?”

“It’s more lively, and yet it doesn’t sound like the Skyler I know.”

She frowned.

“So dad, you want me to pretend I’m someone else, and you want me to be myself? That doesn’t make any sense.”

I bit my lip.

“Sweetie, I’d love it if you could bring a bit more Skyler into that character, if you know what I mean. And please, stay in front of the microphone. Don’t touch it. It’s very expensive.”

“Okay, I’m going to try it one more time, and then I’m done, alright?”

“We’ll see about that,” I answered, hoping she’d be right.

She wasn’t.

Eventually we went over the script line by line, and every time she tried it, she lost more of her confidence and energy. What was supposed to be a quick and fun father-daughter thing, turned into an hour filled with frustration.

I could see Skyler was ready to give up and start crying.

“You know what we’re going to do, Sky? Let’s take a fifteen-minute break and do one more take. That’s going to be the last one, I promise.”

When we came back to the studio she stopped me. “Dad, I’d like to do this myself. Can you please wait outside?”

“Of course,” I said. “You know what to do to start the recording, right?” She nodded.

Thirty minutes later she walked out. Exhausted, but satisfied.

“Papa, I’m going to go up now. Have a listen. If you think it’s any good you can send it over. If it’s not, just delete everything. I’m done.”

No matter how it would sound, I was proud of her.

I said to my wife: “I think she’s learned a life lesson today. Just because something is hard, doesn’t mean you give up, and Skyler is no quitter.”

Weeks later there would be another lesson.

“Hey dad,” asked Skyler, “Did you ever hear back from that audition I did?”

“No honey. I didn’t, and that usually means they picked someone else.”

“Why?” Skyler wanted to know.

“Most of the time they won’t tell you, sweetie. You’ll only hear from them when you book the job.”

“So I’ll never know what I did wrong?”

“Here’s what’s important, Skyler. Even if you did your very best (which I know you did), they still may pick someone else. That doesn’t mean you weren’t any good. It could mean they decided they wanted a boy instead of a girl, someone younger or older, or someone with a different voice. Sometimes the director’s kid gets the job.”

“That’s not fair,” said Skyler.

“I know, Sky. But as long as you know you did the best you could do, you can hold your head up high and you just go on to the next audition, and the next one, and the next…”

I could almost hear her think. Then she said:

“Is that what you do all day, Daddy?”

“Pretty much, Skyler.”

“Well, I never want to do that!” she said emphatically.

Over the years my agents kept coming back with auditions for my daughter, but because she didn’t show any interest, I didn’t bother her with it. I had reconciled myself with the fact that she’d never talk into a microphone again.

Skyler’s seventeen now, and in a year she’ll go off to college. She loves Panic at the Disco, Coldplay, and Dan and Phil. She writes for and edits the school paper, and loves social media and hanging out with her friends.

You may remember that I’m one of the announcers at the Easton Farmers’ Market, the nation’s oldest continuously running outdoor market. I was scheduled to be there during Father’s Day weekend, and I asked if Skyler wanted to join me. She immediately said yes, and offered to make a playlist of songs we could play around the square.

When we put all our equipment together, the sun came out, and the crowds began to arrive. On a good day, thousands of people visit our market between 9:00 AM and 1:00 PM. When the first song was playing, I turned to Skyler and said:

“Are you up for some announcing?”

Skyler at the market

“Absolutely!” she said. “What do you want me to do?”

“Anything you like, sweetie. You pick.”

For the next four hours we alternated making announcements as a Father-Daughter team, and Sky turned out to be a natural! She slowed her tempo down so it would sound clear through the many speakers around the square. Her young, melodic voice brought a welcome spark to the market as did her fresh choice of music. “They’re playing all the songs I like!” said one of the shopping teenagers.

“Can you come again?” asked the market manager at the end of the day.

“I’d love to!’ said Skyler.

This Saturday, the Easton Farmers’ Market celebrates its 267th birthday with special activities and cake for everyone.

And right in the middle, promoting all the vendors, and introducing the music will be my beautiful daughter.

The girl whom I thought would never talk into a microphone again.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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What’s Luck Got To Do With It?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Personal 14 Comments

One of my friends -let’s call him Tim- is stuck in a nine to five job he hates with every ounce of his being. He’s seriously overweight, so that’s a lot of hate.

I’ve tried to be helpful by being a considerate, patient listener, but last week it became clear to me that Tim is very invested in staying miserable.

It may sound twisted, but having something to hate means Tim can blame his misery on something he perceives as being out of his control. If he can’t control it, he can’t change it. That’s the idea.

Here’s my prediction: as long as Tim keeps blaming others for his woes, he’ll never be happy. For him to feel better, other people or “circumstances” would need to change, and that is unlikely to happen.

CREATING CHANGE

Between you and me, if I had a magic wand that could suddenly transform people into becoming moral, thoughtful, compassionate, selfless contributors to society, I’d go to every prison, school, addiction center… even the White House, and I would wave that wand.

The truth is that we cannot make other people do or believe what we think is in their best interest if they don’t see it that way. It’s the reason why countries are at war, marriages break up, friendships fail, and why psychotherapists are still in business.

I think Tim could benefit from seeing a therapist, but remember, he says there’s nothing wrong with him. The rest of the world just sucks. As you can imagine, Tim hasn’t been fun to hang around lately, especially since he’s added another poisonous emotion to his repertoire: resentment.

Not only does he hate his job, he also resents the fact that people like me love what we do for a living. Sorry Tim, but I make no apologies. I enjoy dealing with clients from the solitude of my home studio. I’m happy to use my voice to educate people about new medical treatments. I’m thrilled to help companies and organizations share their message with the world. I wish everyone had a job as fulfilling as mine.

GOOD FORTUNE

I’m not going to give up on Tim, though. He’s a good man going through a bad time. Been there. Done that. What rubs me the wrong way, however, is the thing he keeps on repeating every time we talk:

“Paul, you’re so lucky. You’re so lucky to have a job like that. I wish I was as lucky as you are.”

Tim is telling me something he’s not saying. He’s revealing how he believes the world works. It’s something I’ve heard many, many times when I tell people about the joys of doing voice-overs for a living.

Those who call me lucky don’t see my success as the result of hard work, but as the effect of good fortune. The gods must be smiling upon me as I count my lucky stars. I simply showed up at the right place at the right time with the right people, and everything fell into place. My goodness, what on earth did I do to deserve this?

This notion is strengthened by the fact that people who are good at what they do, make it seem easy. Look at famous athletes or musicians. If you make something look or sound effortless, it must mean that what you do requires little effort, education, experience, or talent.

HAVING A KNACK

Talent is another tricky one. It’s something you’re supposed to be born with, so: lucky you!

Let’s conveniently forget how long it takes to shape a diamond in the rough into a precious jewel. You’ve got to nurture nature. I’ve seen insanely talented people get nowhere because they’re lazy and arrogant. I’ve also seen moderately talented people make it big thanks to hard work and an attitude of humility.

To tell you the truth: professionally speaking (pun intended) I don’t feel lucky. I feel accomplished.

Me being where I am in my career is the result of carefully planned and executed steps that started way back when. It is the result of my choices and my actions. That’s where Tim and I differ.

Tim sees himself as a victim of circumstances. He feels he has no choice. I see myself as the creator of conditions that pave the way to success. In my mind, I always have a choice, as long as I am willing to learn, be flexible, and take action.

FEELING PRIVILEGED

Looking back at my life, I think there were only two things that have stacked the deck in my favor that made me extremely lucky:

The country of my birth, and what family I was born and raised in.

Those two elements are part of the tragic unfairness of life. We don’t get to choose where we’re born and into what family. But it does not have to define our destiny either. Getting a head start doesn’t mean we’ll beat everyone at the finish line. Some rich kids end up in the gutter and some poor kids run multi-million dollar companies. Who and what is to blame and why?

We can’t change where we were born, and from what gene pool we came into being. The rest is pretty much up to us if we choose to embrace that responsibility. That involves making a choice between cause and effect.

Do you wish to lead your life like Tim, who is letting things happen (effect), or do you want to be the one making things happen (cause)?

If you’re convinced things are randomly happening to you, Lady Luck is your best friend. If you believe you are the prime instigator of change in your life, preparedness is your best buddy.

ACTIONS AND RESULTS

After years and years on this planet, I have a feeling that things don’t just fall into our laps, although it may certainly seem that way. I believe that we -consciously and unconsciously- are putting things in motion by what we do and fail to do.

All these things lead up to one moment where preparedness meets opportunity. Not by chance but by choice. That opportunity leads to other opportunities, and to something we eventually call a career. Connect the dots backward, and you’ll see what I mean. And if you’re still not convinced, start reading (auto)biographies of people you admire.

If Tim wants to be happy, Tim needs to change. He needs to stop blaming his food for making him fat. He needs to stop blaming his boss for making him miserable. Tim needs to let go of his anger, and turn resentment into appreciation.

If he wants his life to change, he has to change.

Tim and I need to talk.

I’ll have that conversation with him tomorrow.

Wish me luck.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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4 Things I Wish I Would Have Known Before I Got Into Voice-Overs

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Gear, Money Matters 20 Comments

egg crate studioWhen you’re just getting your feet wet, there’s so much to do and so much to learn. It’s an exciting and confusing time. You have many choices to make, but which ones are right, and which ones are wrong?

Here are four things I wish I’d figured out ahead of time.

1. It doesn’t take much money to get started, but you can’t have a career on the cheap.

You already have a nice voice, an okay computer, and an internet connection. Now, run to Guitar Center and get yourself a USB microphone for under a hundred dollars and download free Audacity recording software.

Bam! You’re in business, ready to make the big bucks!

That’s what I was told by quite a few people when I became serious about doing this voice-over thing professionally. Until then I had had a career in radio and I knew nothing about setting up a home studio, getting voice-over coaching, marketing myself, and the thousand other things you have to pay for to begin a business. 

No one told me it was going to take at least three years and a small fortune before I would be able to support myself as a voice talent. They also forgot to tell me how I was to survive those first three years that were filled with uncertainty, stress, and lots of ramen noodles.

Here’s a hard truth many hopefuls don’t want to hear:

2. You must invest to compete with the best.

When I share this with aspiring talent, they say I’m just an old-school party pooper who wants to scare off the competition.

They say you don’t need a seriously soundproofed recording space. Just build a booth from pvc pipes and put up some moving blankets. You’ll never be interrupted by a barking dog or the low rumble of the garbage truck.

They say you simply sign up for Fiverr and Upwork, and the money will start coming in.

They say you need no expensive training. Everything’s online and it don’t cost a dime!

They say you can easily put your own demos together and build a website from a free template…

…and then they complain about not getting any work (other than the “passion projects” they’re doing for free).

Let me ask you this: would you hire a wedding photographer who proudly proclaims he only needs a smart phone to capture one of the most important days of your life? Would you trust a physician you found on Fiverr? Would you allow an amateur electrician to redo your electrical wiring?

NOT FAIR

Some will say these are unfair comparisons. After all, voice acting is not a profession that requires an academic education, vocational training, or some kind of official accreditation. They believe it’s experience based. You pick it up as you go along.

Yes, experience comes into play, but also talent, training, specific skills, and equipment. I’ve encountered too many people with considerable experience and very little talent. Many of my students have tons of talent but very little training. Some of them are quite skilled but they don’t have professional equipment to compete in a crowded market, let alone an expensive dedicated recording space. 

Especially in a business as unregulated as ours, the ongoing investments we make are part of our credentials. Remember: the very first thing that will make you lose an audition is poor sound quality. The second thing is your inability to interpret and narrate a script, sounding clear and natural.

Please do yourself a favor and seek expert advice. Don’t just believe any Tom, Dick, or Harriet, because it’s become a hobby for people to flaunt their ignorance in public and be proud of it. This is what I have learned:

3. The quality of advice depends on the quality of the source. Ninety percent of online chatter is just noise.

When I began to explore becoming a VO, I was like a sponge, soaking up as much info as I could. Here’s the problem: I didn’t know what I didn’t know, and I was unable to separate the wheat from the chaff.

I was brought up to believe that most people have the best of intentions, and I should give them the benefit of the doubt. After being burned more than once, I’m not so sure I believe that anymore.

Sure, there were plenty of nice guys and gals who wanted to help an enthusiastic beginner. But when it comes to depth of knowledge, I quickly learned that many helpful colleagues were surprisingly shallow, and they were giving terribly uninformed advice.

These days I often wonder: who is more ignorant? The person asking the question, or the one answering it?

Before you accuse me of bashing newbies again, I hope you’ll agree that my observations on online advice probably apply to most public exchanges, regardless of the topic. Just look at the Facebook page of the town you live in. Lots of opinions based on an embarrassing lack of factual and experiential knowledge.

That begs the question: whom can you trust in the wonderful world of voice-overs?

My rule of thumb: if someone hasn’t run a profitable voice-over business for at least three years, ignore their advice. After all, you would never ask a newlywed about the secrets of a long-lasting marriage, let alone a bachelor.

ARE EXPERIENCED PROS ALWAYS RIGHT?

Having said that, I must admit that there are many voice-over veterans I disagree with as well, because they are stuck in their ways. You know, the gear snobs who say that any microphone under $500 can’t be any good. It has to be Neumann or a 416. Then there’s the idea that you’re not a first-tier talent if you’re not a member of the union. Really?

I recently got into an argument with a seasoned pro who insisted that I shouldn’t take a vacation without bringing a mobile recording kit. This, after I told him I had sold my Apogee travel MiC. “But what if your client needs you?” was his argument. “You don’t want to lose a client, do you?”

I told him that on vacation my family needs me more than I need a client. I always tell my returning customers when I’ll be away, and when I’ll be coming back. Fortunately, most of them are in Europe and they understand the importance of taking time off to recharge the batteries. It’s those work-obsessed Americans that live in a no-vacation nation who think they always have to be available. It’s a recipe for burnout, which brings me to my last point:

4. Your health cannot be bought or sold, and it can make or break your business.

You are the personification of your product. You embody the service you are selling. You are IT, baby!

No matter at what stage of your career you are, if you don’t take care of yourself, you’re not protecting your most important asset. That’s why I see vacation as a form of preventative healthcare. It’s sacred time for the mind, the body, and the soul. It reminds us why we are doing what we are doing.

However, you need more than vacation to keep your engine running.

When you go to voice-over conferences, be ready to see lots of people who are out of breath and out of shape. They live a sedentary life, talking to imaginary people in a soundproof box you wouldn’t want to put a prisoner in. The uncertainty of freelance life, not knowing when the next job will fall into your lap and the next check will arrive, causes constant stress.

You’re isolated from the world, literally and figuratively. If you’re a social person longing for watercooler conversations, it’s a nightmare. “But it must be so much fun,” a friend of mine said. “Setting your own hours, being your own boss, all the freedom… You get to do what many dream of, and you’re even getting paid for it!”

I didn’t tell him that at that very moment I was waiting on a client who owed me a considerable sum. My rent was due, my car needed inspection, and my computer was on its last leg. I was living the dream, alright!

What I didn’t know was that years later I would face the ultimate test, as far as my health was concerned. I nearly died of a surprise stroke I had in my studio. It took months of recovery before I had the energy to start working again, and I still don’t have the stamina I once had. My voice is gradually coming back, but it will never be as strong as before. I’m not allowed to drive a car yet, and my heart’s rhythm continues to be out of control.

I am not sharing this with you so you’ll feel sorry for me. I’m sharing this to stress that life is as fragile as it is precious. Just as you invest in your continuing education, your studio, and in your marketing, please invest in leading a healthy, balanced life.

Get out of that studio. Move more. Choose quality food over quantity. Stay hydrated. Surround yourself with positive people who support you. Be kind to them and to yourself.

Begin today.

That way you’ll never have to tell me:

“If only I had known…”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS photo courtesy of Carlos Alvarez

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Does Money Make You Uncomfortable?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Money Matters 7 Comments

hamburger“Why are you so expensive?”

The question came out of nowhere. I was talking to a client about a job he wanted me to do, and he verbalized what many customers are thinking when they hire a voice-over:

“Why should I pay you over four hundred dollars for three measly minutes of audio? It’s outrageous!”

“Why are you so expensive?”

How would you react to that question? Would you start doubting yourself? Would you apologize for your fee? Would you say: “Well, if it’s too much, perhaps we can agree on a different amount?”

The truth is this: money makes many people uncomfortable. Especially those who have chosen to do what they love. Creatives like musicians, writers, photographers, and yes, voice-over artists. If you are fortunate enough to enjoy your dream job, the wonderful work itself should be rewarding enough, shouldn’t it?

For years, the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam’s Carnegie Hall, didn’t pay young musicians a penny for playing lunch concerts. Not even travel expenses were reimbursed. Meanwhile, the ushers, sound engineers, and other staff members making these concerts possible were receiving a salary. How could that happen?

The Concertgebouw said it was giving artists a unique opportunity to gain some experience and get exposure. The same reasoning was used by schools “hiring” musicians for educational concerts, by pubs, churches, charities, and even TV shows. This went on for years and years. Why?

Because the artists agreed to it, thus teaching clients how to treat them.

Many had to give up their dream career because exposure doesn’t pay the bills.

JUSTIFYING YOUR FEE

As a for-profit freelancer, you have to answer the question “Why are you so expensive?” on at least two levels. First, you owe yourself an explanation. Secondly, you have to explain it to your client.

Before you do that, you have to realize that most questions are based on unspoken assumptions. If you buy into these assumptions, you buy into the client’s way of thinking, which is not such a smart thing to do.

Let’s unpack.

The question “Why are you so expensive?” has three elements. WHY, YOU, and EXPENSIVE. The word WHY demands justification, immediately putting you on the defensive. Do you wish to go there?

Here’s the thing: if you are comfortable with your rates, there is no need to defend them. The moment you feel unsure about your prices (and your self-worth), you’re more likely to lower your fee at the first sign of resistance.

In the beginning of my career, I was afraid to lose jobs because my fees might be perceived as too high. As soon as a customer uttered the magic words “we have a limited budget,” I believed them, and I lowered my price. Big mistake.

These days I know that there is no way of knowing how much a client -big or small- can or cannot afford. I do know that I cannot afford to work for low rates. Here’s the kicker: low fees are often seen as a sign of inexperience and amateurism. Charging less may actually result in not getting hired!

Bottom line: stop being so desperate. Have some dignity. If you are running a for-profit business you must be okay to walk away from a bad deal. Let others record that lengthy, self-published, shitty novel for $75 per finished hour thinking they have landed the deal of the century. You can’t convince stupid. Stupid has to learn from experience or repeat the same mistakes over and over again.

THE REAL DEAL

This brings me to the YOU in “Why are YOU so expensive?”

The question behind the question is: Compared to whom? The unspoken assumption is that there are others who are willing to do it for cheaper. That may be true, but you have to realize that the client is talking to you for a reason. You are not a dime a dozen. You sound like a million bucks and they know it.

Your voice is used by multinationals, world-famous brands, and well-known organizations. You need no hand-holding and no sound engineer to fix your audio. You’re easy to work with and you always meet your deadlines. That’s worth something. A lot, actually.

And if you’re a voice talent that’s just getting started, you know you have this fresh voice no one else has. You have a solid studio with decent equipment, and you’re a natural at making the words in the script dance off the page. You listen to your clients, and you give them what they need without an attitude. You may be new to the business, but you are a pro!

DEFINE EXPENSIVE

A wedding photographer I used to work with got this question all the time: “Why should we pay you a fortune for a few hours of your time?”

She learned that the first thing she had to overcome was the costumer’s ignorance about pricing and ignorance about what’s involved in doing the job. Most people had no idea of the going rate, so they had no way of telling whether someone was expensive or not. They just heard a number that seemed high. They made a mistake many beginning freelancers make:

Thinking that what you make is what you take home.

They did not realize that the fee for a photo shoot paid for professional cameras, lenses, lights, a shooting assistant, computers, editing software, a website, advertising, accountant’s fees, taxes, memberships of professional organizations, insurance, continuing education, a retirement plan, transportation, a photo studio, time spent looking for work, doing the books, editing photos, et cetera. Whatever is left has to pay for rent or mortgage, groceries, utilities, childcare, vacations, charitable donations, and many other expenses.

CLUELESS CUSTOMERS

Believe me: your clients have no clue about your cost of doing business, and they do not care.

However, if you don’t build these expenses into your fee, you will go broke. All the talent, skill and experience in the world is not going to save you if you’re not turning a profit.

So, the next time someone asks you “Why are you so expensive?” think twice before you answer.

Personally, I am comfortable with what I charge. I think it’s more than fair, and I deserve it.

When people ask me why I charge what I charge I tell them in a friendly but self-assured way:

“That’s my rate,” and I leave it at that. And you know what? Nine out of ten times, they accept it, and that’s understandable.

I mean, I don’t go into a restaurant challenging the chef why he charges $35 for the main course.

It’s simple.

If I don’t want to pay that much, I should eat somewhere else.

There’s fine dining, there’s fast food, and anything in between.

What are you cooking up for your clients?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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