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What the heck is Neutral English?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, International Comments Off on What the heck is Neutral English?

It’s time to tackle one of the most frustrating issues in the voice-over business.

It’s particularly frustrating because in all the years that I have been a VO-pro, I have seen little or no change. Voice-seekers are just not getting it and voice talents are putting up with it like meek sheep.

Before I tell you what the issue is, imagine for a moment, being lead into a pitch dark room. In this room -so you are told- you will find a dart board, but it could be anywhere.

You are given no more than one dart and one instruction: You must hit the bull’s-eye. If you don’t, you won’t be given a second chance and all your time and energy is wasted. Questions are out of the question. You are on your own.

Let me ask you this:

How great do you feel your chances are of hitting the bull’s-eye?

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

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Shame on you, Mr. Nethervoice!

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, International 9 Comments

Something strange and unexpected has happened.

Thanks to the growing popularity of this blog, some of my readers now write to me saying:

“Dear Mr. Nethervoice, I enjoy your articles but I never knew you were into voice-overs as well. For how long have you been gracing this world with the sweet, seductive sound of your pleasantly persuasive pipes?”

At that point, I patiently explain that I’ve been working the mic since I was 17, and some three years later I’m still at it. Well, that’ s not entirely true. I feel and act like I’m seventeen… most of the time. Of course information about my illustrious career has been available on other pages of my blog. You know, the ones next to this text that nobody bothers to read.

Since every question is a golden opportunity to enlighten my fans, colleagues and clients alike, I will do something I have never done before, at least not this openly.

For once, I will shamelessly sing my own praises, and if you’re not comfortable with that, I shall retreat into a corner and weep bitter tears of shame and disappointment… and proceed as planned! After all, who is going to stop me?

This is me in a nutshell:

  • full-time voice-over artist and writer
  • records in English, Dutch (mother tongue) and German
  • most in-demand accent:  “neutral” or “European” English
  • specialty: intelligent international narration
  • impressive clients: Novartis, Deloitte, Plantronics, Farmers Life
  • expert-contributor to Internet Voice Coach
  • websites: www.nethervoice.com, www.dutchvoiceover.net
  • Favorite quote: “Your voice is like velcro. Whatever you say sticks

Based on that last line, I should perhaps go by the surname of Stick-worda.

GUIDED TOUR
Now that we’ve made our formal acquaintance, allow me to take you on a quick tour of some of my voice-over projects.

The Dutch are known for being great ice skaters. This is me, telling them about another exciting sport: skate boarding!

On to another mode of transportation. Here’s the only Dutch commercial I ever recorded for the black market:

Ready to get more mileage out of your gas tank? Then you should listen to “Muzzle the Guzzle: 50 Fuel Saving Strategies” by Michael Minsky.

This audio book received an average rating of 4.67 out of 5 stars on the earth-shattering Audible.com Richter scale. Narrated in English by yours truly.

On to other modes of transportation.

Meet Andreas Klauser. He’s the President and CEO for CASE IH, one of one of the world’s largest brands of agriculture equipment.

Born and educated in Austria, Mr. Klauser is a native German speaker. CASE IH asked me to dub a series of meet the CEO-videos, as the voice of Mr. Klauser… in German, that is! Kein Problem für mich!

The Austrian ski resort of Zauchensee is one of the hidden treasures of the Alps. Not for long, if it’s up to me.

The Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises was one of the most influential proponents of Liberalism.

Jörg Guido Hülsmann, professor of economics at the University of Paris, tells the full story of his dramatic and inspiring life and contributions in a 1143-page biography.

The Von Mises Institute commissioned me to record the complete audio version of this masterpiece (some 32+ hours) and next week, work will start on a second book.

The Wharton School is the business school of the University of Pennsylvania, an Ivy League university in Philadelphia. Wharton is the world’s first collegiate business school and the first business school in the United States.

I’ll tell you more about Wharton in this presentation:

Haliotika in Brittany (France), offers everything to do with sea fishing, including displays of boats, fish varieties, interactive education for children and boat rides. A very fishy place, indeed.

Take the audio tour, and you’ll hear me as the German voice of Philippe and Claude, two local fishermen talking about net profit.

Camp Gurs was an internment and refugee camp constructed by the French government in 1939. In 1940, it became a concentration camp for Jews of any nationality except French, as well as people considered dangerous by the government. I was honored to narrate the German audio tour.

This Dutch company has produced an ingenious interactive digital movie course. It contains a large collection of known and unknown film clips from 1878 up to the present day.

Each clip is an example of a new discovery in cinematography: editing, camera movement, image cutouts, sound, talkies, color film, acting method, etcetera. This time, I step into the role of English tour guide.

Speaking of tours, we all have our dream homes. I happen to have quite a few of them and thanks to Spartina Studios, I get to be the host of many of Connecticut’s most precious properties. Here’s one of these humble abodes:

There’s no doubt about it: video increases home sales as long as it’s done right. That’s why I have written “Real Estate Videos & Voice Overs,” a white paper for videographers and real estate agents.

Some people still believe that voice-overs is all about doing silly voices (click here for more misconceptions). Well, sometimes it is! Who would have thought that a Dutchman would ever dub Johnny Depp?

Here’s a video I voiced  for an insurance company. It will never win a prize for best animation, but I sure had a blast doing both voices! (the fun starts at 0:53)

This paint of this last video is still wet. Made in Kibbutz Gat, it tells the story of a multi-national  company most of you have probably never heard of.  It’s in Dutch, so I’ll leave it up to you to figure this one out!

Well, that’s all folks!

Thank you so much for enduring this exercise in self-indulgence. I admire your persistence and perseverance. Now you can go back to your daily chores as you reminisce about the delectable servings of eye and ear candy I had the pleasure of serving up for you.

I’m just going to look and listen to all the videos one last time…

… can’t help myself!

Paul Strikwerda ©2011

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MAD AS HELL

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career 10 Comments

Warning: this post contains some strong language that may not be appropriate for sensitive souls.

* An overly demanding client has nickeled-and-dimed you down to your lowest rate and is never satisfied

* You’re angry at yourself for ever taking on this job making you work for a jerk

* You’re going out of your way to serve a customer and she treats you like a servant

* You spend hours perfecting a proposal and you never hear back from your prospect

* You’ve given a colleague free advice, and now he’s offering your service at half-price

* Colleagues and job sites are bringing your rates down and you can’t do anything about it

* You’ve just lost a dream project; you have no idea why and you feel like giving up

* Your Mom says: “I told you this would happen. Why don’t you get a real job?”

Sounds familiar? If that’s the case, how do you usually respond? Can you let it go, or are you getting sick and tired of having to depend on people who don’t seem to care? How long are you going to put up with that? Isn’t it time to draw a line in the sand and say to yourself:

“I’ve had it. Enough’s enough!”

If that’s the case, why don’t you get up right now and go to the window, open it, and stick your head out and yell:

“I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!!”

Of course you’re not going to do that. That only happens in movies. You’ve been conditioned to respond in a rational way and to behave like a proper professional.

Shit happens. You just have to make sure it doesn’t hit your fans. Besides, we live in the age of positive psychology where people don’t have problems anymore. People have “challenges”. We don’t run into difficulties. We call them “learning opportunities.” We never fail. We just get a “less than desirable result.” We’ve learned to turn lemons into lemonade and above all… we never, ever argue. We have “spirited debates” instead.

Welcome to the bitter-sweet world of reframing, sugar coating and turd-polishing! Are you feeling any better yet? Should you internalize your anger and put on your happy Facebook face? After all, you don’t want the world to know you’re having a hard day, do you? Everything is always A-ok and the show must go on, right? So, get a grip and pull yourself together!

If only it were that easy.

How healthy can it be, to keep it all inside and pretend everything’s alright all the time? You’re not a saint. Sometimes, you’re a volcano waiting to erupt and you’re ready to slap those people telling you that “everything happens for a reason.” Is that supposed to help? Give me a break!

So, what do you do when your frustration reaches a boiling point and you’ve absolutely had it? Hit the bottle? Hit the wall? Use your partner as a punching bag? That’ll make it all go away, won’t it?

COMMUNICATION STYLES

Even if you’re not a disciple of Sigmund Freud or a follower of Carl Jung, it’s easy to recognize four classic ways of dealing with rage, disappointment and despair. I’ve broken them down into different personalities and I’d like you to meet them.

1. THE PESSIMISTIC DOORMAT: the passive response

– Easily overwhelmed, defeated and depressed
– Blames him or herself
– Excuses the behavior of others
– Avoids confrontation at all cost
– A people pleaser, always ready to take on the victim role
– Gives in; gives up and disengages
– Acts out of fear and fatalism
– Tells you: “I feel like shit.”

2. THE BULLY: the aggressive response

– Acts impulsively
– Takes everything personally
– Goes on the attack and thrives on confrontation
– Blames and criticizes others
– Feels superior because others are always wrong
– Overbearing and controlling: it’s my way or the highway
– Acts out of anger
– Tells the world: “These guys are shit.”

3. THE INDIRECT ADVERSARY: the passive aggressive response

– Acts in a disingenuous way
– Responds with sarcasm and cynicism
– Refuses to openly acknowledge that there’s a problem
– Feels misunderstood and underappreciated,
– Hides true feelings: smiles when angry
– Cooperates but does so begrudgingly, even sabotaging the effort
– Acts out of denial, resentment and evasion
– Won’t tell you: “I pretend I don’t give a shit but I really do.”

GENERALIZATIONS

I’ll be the first one to admit that these profiles are based on broad generalizations. Secondly, I am only describing a type of behavior. Behavior always takes place on a continuum and not every individual will display all characteristics at once. But sometimes it’s easier to make a point by highlighting the extremes.

Third, although some of us have become better at one communication style, we might show tendencies of another style, depending on the situation. In many cases, we have learned these adaptive responses at an early age, often from a role model such as a parent.

Fourth: because people are so accustomed to their own behavior, they are often unaware of their communication style and it kicks in automatically.

If you’re a blogger or a regular participant in discussions on various social networks, you’ve probably dealt with a few of these individuals. The nature and tone of some of the comments people throw at you, can give you an insight into who’s leaving them.

A few examples…

The pessimistic doormat will say things like: “I should have known better. It’s all my fault. There’s nothing we can do about it. It is what it is. Who are we to think that we can change things? It’s been like this for years and it’s no use going against the grain. We’re just a small piece in a big puzzle. Stop wasting your time. I’m sorry but that’s just how I feel.”

The bully will tell you: “You’re dead wrong. I can’t believe you just said that. It makes no sense. When’s the last time you had your brain checked? Stop being so ridiculous. Who do you think you are? Did you even read what you just wrote? These guys owe me big time. I did nothing wrong. They’re the ones that screwed things up. I’ll make them pay!”

The indirect adversary’s favorite phrase is “Whatever,” while moaning and muttering to himself. You should hear the sarcasm when she says: “Sure, we’ll do whatever you want. Let’s see how well that works out.” He’ll tell you: “I’m not upset at all. You seem to be the only one having a problem here. Everything’s fine on my end,” even though things are not at all fine on his end.

But enough about other people. Let’s talk about you. How do you respond when someone’s made you mad as hell and you’re not going to take it anymore? Will you let them have it because they deserve it? What is your weapon of choice: public humiliation, strong language, ridicule? Or will you withdraw from the world and curl up in a ball crying “poor me, this is so unfair!”?

UNDER THE CARPET

I’m not a big fan of sticking strong emotions in a jar and putting a lid on it. That jar is called your body. It’s the house you live in and if you start piling up junk, it will start to rot, stinking up the entire place. Sooner or later, you’ll be poisoning the whole neighborhood. Here’s the thing: all that garbage has to come out at some point, or else the house will burst at the seams. You might as well let it out now.

It’s okay to be mad. It’s unhealthy to stay stuck in it, even if anger motivates you.

Begin by realizing that you’re feeling all these strong emotions because someone or something crossed the line between what’s acceptable and unacceptable to you.

Before you ask yourself what that might be, you have to let off some steam, preferably in a way that does not hurt you or any (significant) others.

The worst thing you could do, is to write an angry response or to let whoever has hurt you “have it,” even though it might be totally justified. Any negative knee-jerk response will almost certainly backfire. On the internet -as in real life- you can’t ever take something back.

What you need to do first, is to get rid of that explosive energy. Break a couple of plates if you must; play some hard rock on Guitar Hero; beat the crap out of your drum kit, leave your house and run a couple of miles… as long as you get out of that mad mood of yours. Here’s a hint: it helps to get physical!

Once you’re out of that angry state, you might realize that you were not really responding to what happened, but to something deeper that was ignited by the event. When we finally give ourselves permission to take the lid off that jar, it’s quite common that a lot of that piled up garbage comes out, that has absolutely nothing to do with the trigger. As a result we overreact.

RESOURCEFUL RESPONSE

Now, as soon as you are in a more resourceful mood, it’s much easier to dissociate from that spark that caused the flame, and figure out how to respond in a more calm and collected way. You might find it helpful to ask yourself a couple of questions. However, steer away from disempowering questions like:

– How could he/she do this to me?
– Why does this always happen to me?
– What’s wrong with me?

Believe me, your brain will always come up with an answer, and you’re not going to like it. Ask these types of questions instead:

  • How can I resolve this situation in a good way?
  • What’s the first thing I can do to turn this around?
  • What help do I need and who can best help me?
  • What have I learned from this that is positive and useful?
  • What changes can I make to prevent this from happening again?

 

Sometimes the answers will come easily. Sometimes they won’t. If you feel that it’s not so hard to get back into that old, negative mood, you’re not going to get very far. It’s better to take some time and change your state of mind before doing something you will later regret. The heat of the moment often magnifies things that -when you look back at them- are no big deal. And if they are, the more reason to respond with care and consideration.

Remember: you own the house you live in. It’s your choice to open your house up to things that don’t support you and to folks that respect neither you nor your property. If they show up at your doorstep with a “present” you don’t want, do not accept it.

By this time, you’re hopefully in a more resourceful mode. The mode of what I like to call:

4. THE RESPECTFUL ADVOCATE: the assertive response

– Being collected and connected
– Owning one’s feelings
– Opening a dialogue: seeking resolution
– Looking at the issue from different sides
– Competently standing up for oneself
– Acting out of confidence and optimism
– Tells you: “I’ll turn this shit into manure.”

You’ll know that you’re in this mindset because you’ll feel much more relaxed and in charge of the situation. You’re doing your best to understand where the other person is coming from, and you realize that just because people do stupid things sometimes, it doesn’t mean that they are stupid.

In this frame of mind, you respond to the present and not to the past. You deal with the event and leave it at that.

You stand up for yourself from a place of confidence, not arrogance or anger. You make your point knowing that not everyone will or has to agree with you.

You are aware that you can’t control others. You can only control yourself. People can only push your buttons if you let them. You choose your battles and you walk away when people disrespect you. You choose to surround yourself with friends that support and respect you. You deserve no less.

This is your house. This is your garden.

You sow the seeds and weed the weeds.

May it bloom as you blossom,

and may your home be filled with

laughter, peace and prosperity!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Is voices.com playing a numbers game?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Internet, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play 15 Comments

On February 11, 2011, VOICES.COM released new numbers testifying to the success of the company.

There’s every reason to congratulate the owners, David and Stephanie Ciccarelli. They proudly announced “$39,290,580 in Total Earnings by Voice Talent at Voices.com.”

Some commentators concluded that the data in the report are a summary of this company’s past year in business, but Stephanie Ciccarelli states:

“These numbers are based upon the last several years of data we’ve collected at the site.”

What does she mean by that?

Voices.com has been in business since 2003, starting as “Interactive Voices”. In September 2006, Interactive Voices became voices.com.

The new report speaks of:

155,915 All-time number of jobs awarded to voice talent.”

In 2011, voices.com stated on their About-page that they are “creating 6911 job opportunities on average, each and every month.” My calculator tells me that this adds up to an average of 82,932 jobs per year.

How did voices.com arrive at 155,915? The verbiage “All-time number of jobs” suggests that they started counting from the very first day of business. Was that in 2003 or as of September 2006? Let’s do the numbers:

155,915 : 7 years = an average of 22,273 jobs per year (2003-2010)

155,915 : 3 years = an average of 51,971 jobs per year (2007-2010)

And what about $39,290,580 in total earnings? Is that also “based upon the last several years of data”?

PERSPECTIVE

It’s impossible to put these numbers into proper perspective if we don’t know what time period we’re talking about. That’s exactly the problem I have with most of the numbers coming from voices.com. I’m not saying that they are pulled out of a hat, but they lack clarity and context and they don’t always stand up to simple scrutiny.

The same can be said about their “Annual Report on the Voice Over Industry.” It is not compiled by an established, independent market research firm, but by the CEO of voices.com, David Ciccarelli.

As long as we cannot independently verify the numbers, or get a clear sense of the time period during which these data were collected, I choose to look at these reports as marketing tools, more than anything else.

AVERAGE FEE

Stephanie Ciccarell broke down the $39,290,580 in Total Earnings by Voice Talent at voices.com.

On average” -she writes- “a voice talent made $252.97 per job” using their service.

I haven’t been keeping track of the voices.com numbers over time, but it would be interesting to see whether or not the average payment per job went up or down since 2003, and if so, by how much.

Stephanie Ciccarelli concludes:

“10,000+ people have earned a respectable income from doing voice overs with Voices.com serving as a key part of their marketing strategy.”

Once again, the numbers are vague and note that the term “respectable income” is not defined.

Here’s one scenario:

Let’s assume a talent lands one job per week on voices.com at $252.97. That would bring in $13,154.44 per year.

The talent decides to use the voices.com SurePay escrow system, at a 10% fee per job, costing him $1315.44. This brings the gross income down to $11.839.00. Subtract 10% for expenses and we’re left with: $10,649.10. Subtract from that amount $1504 in self-employment taxes and we arrive at a grand total of $9,149.10.

Would you call that a “respectable” income?

The 2011 Federal Poverty Guidelines of The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services puts the income level at $10,890 for a one person household.

Of course this is a theoretical example. Some voices.com jobs pay a lot more and some pay a lot less. No professional voice-over talent should entirely depend on one source to generate leads and make a living. At the same time, not everyone will land one gig a week using voices.com. Stephanie did write:

“10,000+ people have earned a respectable income from doing voice overs with Voices.com.”

In his analysis of the report, colleague Peter O’Connel comments:

Taking the Voices.com figure ($252.97), as a P2P industry average – that figure, I believe, doesn’t reflect what the voice over customer market “dictates”.

I believe it reflects what the voice over customer market “can get away with” with the help of the pay to play (P2P) business model.

ADDING IT ALL UP

There’s no doubt about it: voices.com has become one of the market leaders in online voice casting. That role comes with responsibilities. Market leaders have the clout to be trend setters and “power pricers”.

Voices.com has become more than a neutral playing field where supply meets demand. It has developed into a game changer that can write the rules of engagement by dictating the terms and conditions.

One of those conditions is “a minimum project posting requirement for any job posted publicly and this amount is $100.” By the way, this doesn’t mean that a voice seeker can’t go any lower than that. Voices.com states:

“If your budget is lower than $100 then you may post a job privately using the Request Quote function within our search engine or you may email talent directly with your project details and budget.”

Critics feel that the Pay to Play business model is in part to blame for the steady decline in voice-over rates and professional standards. Peter O’Connell:

I don’t believe or financially support any service in which voice talent “pays to play” i.e. pays a subscription to receive auditions. I believe such services lower the rate expectations of potential clients because so many voice talents who swim in the pay to play pool low ball their rates out of what I feel is a kind of sad desperation for revenue of any kind.

The pay to play model negatively impacts the voice over business and its practitioners, in my opinion.

It has been suggested that if voices.com is really interested in their members making a “respectable income,” they should start by raising that $100 minimum rate immediately.

Secondly, as of 2015, voices.com claims it has a global network of over 125,000 members. I used to be one of them. I think the members should expect and demand a lot more transparency and accountability when it comes to numbers.

As voices.com so aptly pointed out: they did not make $39,290,580 in total earnings.

Their members did.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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The Awedition

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Money Matters 12 Comments

“Not everything is what it seems to be,” said the King as he looked into the Court Jester’s mirror.”

Have you ever wondered what’s going on behind the closed doors of a casting agency?

What’s it like to be part of a nerve-wracking cattle call?

Would the casting director be one of those failed actors who has turned his bitterness for the business into a lifelong mission to humiliate terrified talent?

Would the waiting area be filled with intimidating, cutthroat competitors, exchanging stories of horror and faded glory? Or is all of that just a caricature, perpetuated in Hollywood movies about the trials and tribulations of aspiring actors?

Well, you’re about to find out!

Being the famous blogger I am, I was recently granted unprecedented permission to record one of my auditions for the enjoyment and continued enlightenment of my readers. Nothing’s more fun than learning from other people’s most embarrassing moments, right?

So, for once you get to be a fly on the wall, as I enter a casting agency at an undisclosed location near New York.

For those of you who’d like to read along, you’ll see that I provided a copy of the script.

Anything to please my faithful fans!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Ted Williams: The Revelation behind the Sensation

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Internet, Journalism & Media 43 Comments

As I’m writing this story, it is January 6th, 2011.

If you happen to read this story four or five years from now, will you still remember Ted Williams?

And if you do, will you be thinking of that great hitter from the golden age of baseball or of the homeless man with the golden pipes with the same name?

Only a week ago, some of us were watching retrospectives of the year that was. To me, those programs are a wake-up call because they always remind me of how little I remember of the year’s most notable events and newsworthy personalities.

Here today. Gone tomorrow.

Ted’s remarkable story had me thinking. It brought up questions about the unfair randomness of reporting; about self-serving charity and even about the foundations of faith.

THE VIRAL VIDEO

What would have happened if that videographer for the Columbus Dispatch who shot the video that went viral, had done what thousands and thousands of drivers did for years: ignore that unkept panhandler begging for some change, or have him do a trick for a dollar without a video camera ready?

Would Mr. “Goldenvoice” be the internet sensation he is today? Of course not. He’d still be roaming the streets, together with over 3 million other homeless people in this Land of Plenty.

By nature, news focuses on the extraordinary and the exceptional. It is selective, it is simplistic and often sensational. Increasingly, news media emphasize non-news items such as stories about the irrelevant lives of celebrities. Objective, in-depth reporting has been replaced by shallow, subjective entertainment.

More importantly, the medium started to dictate the message: if we can capture it on camera, it’s news. No cameras, no news! What we don’t see does not exist. A few days ago, tossed-by-the-road Ted Williams did not exist.

There’s another reason why Mr. William’s story captured the hearts of many news editors. As we all know, most news is bad news, and to offset that daily dose of misery, newsrooms comb the wires for the perfect feel-good story with a fairytale ending. Well, last Monday was their lucky day.

“Talented helpless homeless man finds redemption on the highway.

We’ll be right back after these words from our sponsors.”

TWO SIDES OF THE COIN

Please understand that I am very happy for Ted. I was one of the first people to watch his video and I immediately joined the Facebook group “Help Get Ted Williams a Voiceover Job.” I did what I could to alert my voice-over community, and I wrote to the new Oprah Winfrey Network suggesting that they should hire Mr. Williams.

At the same time, I felt ashamed that I live in one of the richest nations on earth where people’s fate may depend on random encounters with reporters and networks, rather than on solid support from a caring society.

Yes, it’s great that a deserving family receives a million dollar Extreme Home Makeover. Yes, it’s nice that an undercover boss donates five grand to a working minimum wage earning mother so she can give her daughter the medication she needs. But it’s time to get real.

Let’s remember that these so-called “reality shows” provide tear-jerking, rating boosting entertainment that single a few lucky individuals out, often ignoring the underlying issues that have lead to these people’s problems. Let’s see if we can relieve some symptoms instead of dealing with the cause. As long as the numbers from the Nielsen rating agency are up, our sponsors will be satisfied!

There is a not so fine line between offering alleviation and engaging in exploitation. Today we’ll eat you up. Tomorrow we will spit you out.

OMG

The righteous religious have their own theory. Instead of random acts of reporters, they detect Divine Intervention. Ted Williams prayed to God and God answered by sending him Doral Chenoweth III from the Columbus Dispatch. “This time around I have a God of understanding in my life,” Williams told the Today Show.

I am not a theologian, but I consider myself to be a spiritual person. Here’s what I struggle with. Millions of God’s children are without a home today. In the United States, families make up 40% of the homeless population. In fact, it’s the fastest growing segment.

No matter where these people come from or who they are, I strongly believe that each individual living on the streets and off the streets is born with a God-given talent. I also believe that each and every one deserves a break and a shot at success.

I don’t believe in a God who would single some people out for redemption and some for a life of suffering. I believe in a benevolent God; not in a sadist. I also believe that God has given us hands that can either help or hurt and a conscience to do what is right. The choice is ours.

Baseball star Ted Williams once said: “God gets you to the plate, but once you’re there, you’re on your own.”

SWEET CHARITY

As soon as the Goldenvoice video went viral and Ted Williams was scheduled to appear on the radio, lucrative voice-over offers started rolling in. The part of me that was rooting for Ted was absolutely thrilled. Another part of me was stunned.

In these challenging economic times, some voice-over colleagues with as much talent as Mr. Williams are forced to sell their equipment and find other employment. Even for people with a proven voice-over track record it’s harder and harder to get the attention of major players. On certain voice casting sites, producers are generously offering up to $250 for a TV commercial.

Meanwhile, Ted landed a $10.000 contract from the Ohio Credit Union and was hired by Kraft and MSNBC, and he was groomed by the Cleveland Cavaliers… AOL NEWS even spoke of “a thousand job offers.”

Most of us in the industry do not begrudge Ted’s sudden success. However, some of us are looking at these generous companies saying: “Where were you when we knocked on your door?”

I’ll go even further than that and ask these companies:

When was the last time you helped the homeless? Why are you just now jumping on the bandwagon? Are you really motivated by altruism or are you hoping to get something out of giving something? In other words: was your gift a selfless act or rather self-serving? And if you were giving in order to gain, was it really a gift?

Maimonides was a 12th century Jewish scholar. He wrote a code of law based on the Rabbinic oral tradition. He organized different levels of charity into a list from the least to the most honorable. Here they are:

  1. Giving begrudgingly
  2. Giving less that you should, but giving it cheerfully.
  3. Giving after being asked
  4. Giving before being asked
  5. Giving when you do not know the recipient’s identity, but the recipient knows your identity
  6. Giving when you know the recipient’s identity, but the recipient doesn’t know your identity
  7. Giving when neither party knows the other’s identity
  8. Enabling the recipient to become self-reliant

Hopefully, a year or even six months from now, Ted Williams will be completely self-reliant.

Hopefully, we’ll all still know him as the man who gave the homeless a voice.

A golden voice.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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The Troublesome Truth about Voice-Overs

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Money Matters 58 Comments

The Holidays are a great time to meet new people and catch up with folks you only see once or twice a year.

This season I noticed a new trend. I’d be quietly munching on a Christmas cookie, and a relative of a friend of a friend would come up to me with a glass of eggnog in his hand.

“I hear you do voices, right?”

“Well,” I said, “I’m a voice-over, if that’s what you mean.”

“You do books for the blind?” he wanted to know.

“No, not really. I….”

And before I could finish he continued:

“Because everyone’s been telling me that I have a great voice and I should be doing what you’re doing if you know what I mean. No offense, but it can’t be that hard. I bet you make some pretty good money. I said to the wife: “I talk all day long. I might as well get paid for it.”

“I wish someone would pay him to shut up for a moment,” said the wife, who had been listening to the conversation.

No matter where I went in these past few weeks, I’d always run into guys with eggnog, ready to show off their Sean Connery impersonation or some version of a “movie trailer man voice.”

All of them had three things in common:

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.

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Is Your Freelance Career Fueled by Fear?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing 24 Comments

“Do not anticipate trouble, or worry about what may never happen. Keep in the sunlight.” – Benjamin Franklin

WARNING: do not read the following sentence.

Yes, this one!

Why did you read it when I asked you not to?

Don’t even think of reading the next line either.

Are you blind? You just did it again. What’s up with you?

Why is it so hard to follow simple instructions?

You’re a grown-up, aren’t you?

Kids are different. You go to the store and make them swear upon their teddy bear’s life not to touch anything. And what do they do? As soon as they get a chance, they start picking up stuff left and right. You tell them not to cross the road and before you know it, they run to the other side of the street. But that’s youthful spontaneity, isn’t it?

What about you? When you tell yourself not to do something, do you do it? Or rather: not do it?

Then why is it so hard not to hear that stupid tune that has totally taken over your brain?

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.

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Call Off Black Friday

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Freelancing, Money Matters 24 Comments

10-plus money-saving tips for the frugal freelancer!

My mother must have had a Master’s Degree in Money Management.

As a child, I hated it. At the supermarket checkout there was always some whiny kid in front of me, pointing at the strategically placed sweets.

“Mommy, I want a lollipop!” cried the boy.

The little brat was already digging into an open bag of greasy potato chips that had yet to be paid for.

“Mom, I want it now!”

As his mother was loading boxes of sugar-coated cereal onto the conveyor belt, the 3-year old monster turned up the volume to show the world who was in charge.

“Mom, give me that lollipop! You said I could have a lollipop!! I WANT IT!”

And sure enough, after thirty seconds of relentless begging, the little Prince’s wish was granted.

His mother turned to my Mom and said apologetically:

“What can you do? He’s just so adorable, isn’t he?”

“Why don’t you give him an apple?” my Mom suggested.

“Oh no, that wouldn’t work,” said the monster’s Mom. “I’ve tried that once. It was a disaster. “Connor isn’t really into fruit. He might be allergic.”

“Well,” said my Mom, “he seems to like strawberries” as she pointed to the lollipop sticking out of Connor’s mouth. But she had spoken too early.

“I hate this lollipop,” yelled the boy. “Give me a cherry one!”

As the appropriately named Dum Dum landed on the floor, I had only one wish: I wanted to trade my Mom in for Connor’s mother. My Mother never bought me any lollipops, or that colored cereal with a surprise toy in the box. And if I happened to be hungry, she gave me a carrot or a celery stick. Disgusting!

A few years later, we ran into Connor again at Toyland. Not much had changed, apart from the fact that he had put on a few pounds. He was the first six-year old with a double chin I’d ever seen.

“Mom, I want that race car!” he yelled.

Connor and I were both drooling over the same shiny Matchbox® model. It was a piece of perfection.

“Mom, I want it now!”

Connor’s presence somehow gave me the courage to ask my mother if she’d buy me the car.

“How much money have you saved so far?” asked my Mom.

This year I had started earning an allowance by doing small chores around the house.

“Fifty cents,” I replied.

“And how much is this car?”

“One guilder.”

“You get 20 cents per week, so if you really want this car, why don’t you save up for it?”

“Mom, I knew you would say that!”

“Of course,” said my Mom. “Now, let’s get your sister a birthday present.”

At the checkout, Connor had already taken his brand new car out of the box and was ready to destroy it.

His mother turned around and said:

“What can you do? He’s just so adorable, isn’t he?”

ACCOUNTABLE

The other day, I had a meeting with my accountant. He specializes in small businesses.

“Let me ask you a question,” he said when I came in.

What’s the difference between a successful and a not so successful freelancer? If you had to boil it down to one thing, what would it be?”

“Well,” I said, “I can think of a few things. How about talent… connections… creativity?”

“Wrong,” said my accountant. “What do Jerry Lee Lewis, Tammy Wynette, Mickey Rooney and Lorraine Bracco have in common?”

“Brian,” I said, “You tell me. You’re the expert.”

He continued: “We’re talking about talented, well-connected and creative people. And at one point in their career, all of them had to file for bankruptcy.

Here’s my point, Paul: The difference between a successful and a not so successful freelancer lies in these two words: Money Management. And where does money management start?

“Well, Brian, isn’t that where you come in?”

“Wrong again. Money management starts between your ears! It’s about the difference between instant gratification and impulse control. Didn’t your mother teach you that? You see, there’s no secret formula to financial stability:

  1. Spend less than you earn
  2. Pay off your debt
  3. Invest, save and share

“That’s a great philosophy, Brian” I replied. “But you know as well as I do that it doesn’t work like that in the real world. The kids that have never heard the word “no” became adults driven by a sense of entitlement.

We might moan and groan about the economy, but all we really want is a big fat turkey for Thanksgiving and a big flat screen TV on Black Friday. People demand the latest and the greatest, if only to keep up with the Joneses.

If life gets hard, put it on a card.

After all: You’re worth it. That’s what this country is all about: prescription drug addiction, emotional eating and retail therapy.”

MODERATION NATION

“It feels good to vent, doesn’t it?” said Brian. “So, what’s your answer to the I consume, therefore I am mindset? Should we call off Black Friday and fire Santa?”

“How about moderation?” I said. “How about redefining what makes us happy? Happiness cannot be found in the ever-increasing accumulation of stuff. Isn’t life supposed to be about who you are and what you have to give; not about how much you have and can keep for yourself?

My Mom kept a tight rein on the budget, and at times I was jealous of some of my classmates who could literally be a kid in the candy store. She didn’t always give me what I wanted, but I always got what I needed. Thanks to her, I became a frugal freelancer. She taught me one of the most important lessons:

A rich life has nothing to do with an expensive lifestyle.

We never went to Disney World®. We hiked on nature trails instead, and for years I told the world I wanted to be a forester, protecting plants and animals. We rarely went out to dinner. Instead, my mother taught me how to make delicious, nutritious meals from scratch. Our kitchen never had a microwave in it, and somehow, we survived.

At the time I thought it was so unfair: all the kids in the neighborhood had a VCR. Meanwhile, it took years before we got our first color TV. But my best childhood memories are of the whole family sitting around the table playing board games. I paused for a moment…

Be honest, Brian: Am I getting old?”

“Definitely,” my accountant said with a smile. “But as your financial advisor, I like the way you’re thinking. Now, tell me again: what was that website you were talking about the other day?”

“It’s called Freecycle.org. Freecycle is a worldwide network of people who are giving and getting stuff for free in their towns. Not junk, but good stuff that would otherwise end up in landfills. A year ago, our stove decided it was time to retire and Freecycle came to the rescue.

Someone in the neighborhood was remodeling the kitchen and her practically new stove didn’t fit anymore. She put it on Freecycle and I picked it up. It didn’t cost me a penny. And if there’s stuff we have no use for, we put it on Freecycle too.

“Didn’t your TV set give up, last year?” asked Brian.

“You’re right, and guess how much I paid to replace it? Fourteen dollars and ninety-five cents. I found a TV at a local Goodwill store. The folks who dropped it off were going for one of these LCD-things. There’s nothing wrong with that old television. It’s just a bit… ginormous and you need five men to lift it. But the story gets even better…

Last month we cut the cable. I was getting tired of being forced to pay for all those networks we never watch. Cable companies are like a restaurant charging you for everything on the menu when you’re only eating a few items. Cutting cable alone saves us over $1300 a year. Now I can put that money into my new recording space.”

“Aren’t those prefab boxes expensive?” Brian wanted to know.

“You bet they are,” I said. “That’s why one of my friends is going to help me build a booth in the basement. And if we ever were to sell our home, the new owners will have the soundproof media room they always wanted.

SAVING GRACE

Spending money is just too easy. Saving money is a sport.

I spent hours and hours researching the web for the best materials and the best deals. I asked my social media friends for advice and I got quite an education. And at the end of the day, I believe that building something with my own bare hands is much more rewarding. I can also make sure that the materials I use are environmentally friendly.

I do the same thing when I am shopping for gear. Before buying brand new, I check out Sweetwater’s Trading Post, Craigslist and eBay first. A friend of mine just got a beautiful Blue Robbie preamp; retail price: $799. He picked it up for $500. It was barely a year old and the former owner had taken care of it as if it were his baby. My friend’s voice-over clients couldn’t hear the difference between brand new and “previously loved.” He recently bought a Mac Mini. Refurbished, same story.”

“Off course it’s not all about money,” said Brian. “My new-age therapist says that money is just an exchange of energy. She tells me I should move more. I spend my days behind a desk, staring at a screen. At the end of the day I just want to go home, be a slouch on the couch and… stare at a screen.”

“Do you know what you and I should do, Brian?” I said.

“What’s that?”

“I think both of us should become independently healthy.”

“Care for some carrots?” joked Brian.

“You’re funny! That’s what my Mom used to say.”

“Speaking of your Mom… how’s she doing?”

“She passed away on April 11, 2008.”

I took a deep breath. 

“My Mother really knew how to stretch a guilder. When she died, most of her belongings went to families in need and she made it very clear that she didn’t want to be buried. She donated her organs and the rest of her body to science. 

My Mom died on a Friday.

It was one of the darkest days of my life.

Not a day goes by, without me thinking of her, and wishing I could call that day off.”

SHORTLIST

 Now, before we get all teary-eyed and sentimental, let’s end with something practical. Here’s my shortlist of tips for the Frugal Freelancer my mother would definitely approve of:

1. THINK of the WHY before you buy. Separate the needs from the wants. Ask questions such as:

  • Is this something I simply would like to have, or do I absolutely need it NOW?
  • What would happen if I don’t buy it?
  • Can I afford it?
  • Sleep on it (especially when buying mattresses). Build in a minimum waiting period for bigger purchases 

2. DO YOUR HOMEWORK and use the internet for research and for finding deals


3. Invest in QUALITY that will last

  • Remember: refurbished products are tested and certified and offer big savings. I bought my Apple Time Capsule refurbished and it is doing its job without any problems. 

4. GO GREEN

  • Pick products that are good for the planet
  • Buy Energy Star products
  • Go paperless and recycle
  • Buy at a consignment or Goodwill store and use www.freecycle.org to get rid of good stuff you no longer need or to find things you’ve always wanted.

5. CUT the CABLE


6. BREW your own COFFEE and make your own MEALS

7. STAY HEALTHY

8. SELL YOUR SECOND CAR

9. REDISCOVER THE LIBRARY

10. BE ORGANIZED and keep track of your income and expenses

11. Add up all your savings and give at least 10% to a worthy cause, and

Live each day with an attitude of gratitude.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet: please retweet.

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