Articles

Open Letter to Voice-Seekers

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play 17 Comments

Dear voice-over shopper:

Thank you so much for getting in touch! Before we get down to business, may I ask you a question?

Would you ever bid on a project without knowing the specifics?

Let’s assume you’re in the construction industry. A prospect sends you an email asking:

“How much for a building? Give me your best price!”

Could you honestly answer that question? Of course not. Yet, I receive emails every day, asking:

“How much for a voice-over? Give me your best price!”

… as if we’re talking about the cost of a Big Mac or a quart of milk. Even that differs depending on where you live.

If you were a builder who was asked to come up with an accurate estimate, you’d minimally need to know what purpose the construction would serve (commercial or residential); you’d have to know where it will be located, how big it needs to be, when it needs to be finished etcetera, etcetera.

Voice-over professionals are no different. They’re  independent contractors. They need to know what purpose their recording will serve, in what market it will play, how long the script is and how soon you need it (among other things).

Without specifics, any bid is based on pure guesswork and not on the particulars of your project.

“Then why” -you might ask- “are so many of your colleagues willing to plug in just about any number -no questions asked?”

I’ll answer that question with a question.

Would you trust a builder who’d name a price knowing hardly any details of the project? Or would you consider that to be… unprofessional?

STANDARDS, ANYBODY?

The voice-over industry is populated by seasoned pros, hopeful hobbyists and anything in between. With today’s technology, it’s so easy to plug a mic into a computer and hang up a sign saying:

“Voice for Hire. Will work for the experience.”

 

There are no requirements, no regulations and no standards.

What would happen if the construction industry would operate that way?

Some might argue that that’s an unfair comparison. When builders don’t follow regulations, people could get hurt. No one’s ever going to get harmed by an unprofessional voice-over artist, right?

Think again, and let’s zoom in on Medical Narrations. What would happen if the name of a medication would be mispronounced or if the narrator messes up the dosage? What would happen if a procedure would be read in such a way that it could be misconstrued?

These are extreme examples. I agree. How about something less serious: Audio Tours.

Imagine hundreds of tourists getting stranded on a hot summer’s day because the narrator had instructed them to go left instead of right. Among the group members are elderly people, pregnant women and folks with various medical conditions.

That’s not just a ‘small oversight on the part of an inexperienced narrator’.

That’s a lawsuit in the making!

THE REAL DEAL

Professionals do their homework. When a voice talent gets back to you with specific questions, that person is not trying to be a pain in the neck. It’s a sign of professionalism. It means that you’re not getting the cookie cutter treatment. It’s an indication that this person takes his or her job and your project seriously. Please remember:

Amateurs passively plug in guesstimates. Pros ask questions and give informed quotes.

There’s a reason why the word pro is part of ‘pro-active.’

Think of it this way: your voice-over project is a destination. If your end-client does not provide you with a clear description, how can you be sure that you’ll ever get there? Without the right information, you’re setting yourself up for failure, as well as the talent you’re hoping to hire.

Let’s assume the end-client asks for fruit and you come back with the juiciest orange ever to hang from a tree. It could have been a lucky guess. But what if your client says:

“Oh come on… I didn’t want a boring orange. I had an orange yesterday. You should have brought me an apple. A green apple. From Holland.”

THE BLAME GAME

Now, it’s easy to point the finger and blame your unspecific client. But blame is lame and disempowering. The ball was in your court. What did you do with it?

Not only are you now wasting your own time; you’ve just posted a vague project on a casting site and hundreds of voice-over talents are wasting their time recording a custom demo that’s nothing more than a shot in the dark.

Some of you might respond: “That’s just too bad. It’s part of the industry. It’s always been like that and it will never change. You win some. You lose some. And if you don’t like it, go do something else.”

That might be true, but does it really have to be that way? It’s the twenty-first century. Are we still running the industry based on these inefficient, expensive, last century old-school ideas?

IT ALL ADDS UP

Please consider this: how long will it take you to weed through all these shot-in-the-dark submissions? You might end up picking a very affordable talent, but -thinking of your hourly rate- how much did all that weeding just cost you and your company? Don’t you have better things to do than listen to auditions that totally miss the mark?

If you expect talent to be on target, give them a fair chance to hit the bull’s-eye.

Tell them what you’ll be listening for in as much detail as possible. If not for the sake of the voice talent, do it for your own sake. You’ll get much better results in less time.

Here are a few other tips. Don’t worry, they won’t cost you anything!

Language. Don’t just put “Spanish” if you really need a speaker from Chile. Otherwise you’ll get accents from wherever Spanish is spoken. (more on accents in this article)

Age. When you need a young and energetic sound and you’re not clueing us in, don’t be surprised to receive demos from mellow middle-aged matriarchs and serious sounding seniors (as well as from blogging voice-overs who love alliteration).

Budget. You say that you want to hire an experienced voice talent. Do you really think you’ll get one for a hundred bucks? Try this experiment: go to a jewelry store and shop for a 24 carat diamond. When you’ve picked out a nice rock, tell them you wish to get it at the price of a cubic zirconia. Let me know how that worked out for you.

I assume that you take pride in your work, just as we take pride in ours. Don’t devalue what we do. Believe me: it’s not as easy as it sounds.

Expertise. If you don’t want to pay a pro, why don’t you ask Sam in Receiving to record that power point presentation you’re about to give to potential investors. It’s only the future of your company that’s at stake.

Cindy the secretary has a nice voice too. Perhaps she’s willing to do that phone greeting that will be heard by thousands of customers every day. It’s not our job to determine how you want your company image to be perceived by the rest of the world.

Editing. If you expect a talent to deliver clean, edited audio, don’t assume that someone will throw that in for free. First of all, editing is a special skill and not every talent has mastered that skill.

Secondly, it takes an experienced editor at least twice as long to clean up the audio as the time needed to record it. People deserve to be compensated for their time and expertise. Aren’t you?

Payment. Don’t be surprised if we ask you to pay 50% upfront and the remainder upon receiving the recording. Some colleagues won’t record a word without getting paid in full first. You see, we haven’t established a relationship yet, and most of us have been burned in the past. Did that band you hired for the office party require money upfront? Did the hotel ask you for a deposit at the time you reserved that conference room?

Don’t take it personally. We run a voice-over business; not a collection agency. We give you our word (literally) that we’ll deliver the goods. In fact: we will WOW you! Please PayPal your down payment so we can get the ball rolling.

FINAL THOUGHTS

If you happened to detect a slight sarcastic undertone in my writing, please know that I’m aware of that. It’s a bad habit and I’m working on it. Just not today.

Secondly: not all voice-seekers are created equal, and it’s not right to put all of you into the same category. You’ve got to make a living too and make your boss happy by hiring the best talent at a reasonable price.

I’m confident that we can meet in the middle, and I’m committed to making your product or service shine as if it were my own. You and I are in the same boat:

Happy customers are our best credentials.

Testimonials from satisfied clients are stories that can never be accurately reflected in the most detailed of rate sheets.

Quality will always be remembered long after the bill has been paid.

Now… let’s talk some business, shall we?!

Sincerely,

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Voice seekers are not the only ones trying to get more out of you for less. My next article is about Internet Casting Services taking it to the extreme.

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Why you’re leaving money on the table

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Money Matters 18 Comments

 

How much do you charge for your services? What determines your asking price? If you charge too much, you run the risk of losing the job. If you’re selling yourself cheap, you look like an amateur. Here are 10 ways to win the bidding war.

“Do these cookies taste as good as they look?” asked our friendly neighbor.

“Even better,” said my almost 8-year old daughter with a big smile on her face. “I baked them myself this morning!”

Last week, she went door-to-door to raise money for our Walk MS team. She’s a much better fund-raiser than her father, who’s still hoping to do better with his own campaign. 

“How much are they?” the neighbor wanted to know.

“You can get two cookies for a dollar,” answered my daughter. A moment later, she had four shiny quarters in her hand.

“Fantastic,” I said. “I’m so proud of you! You just made your first dollar. Now, do you want to know a little secret to raising some serious money?” She was all ears.

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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The secret to landing any freelance job

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Money Matters 11 Comments

Is your freelance business going down the drain?

Are you sick and tired of rejection?

Have you had enough of wasting your time on auditions, bids and proposals that never lead to anything?

Perhaps it is time to make frustration your friend. Be sure to add a strong dose of disgust to the mix. According to success strategist Jim Rohn, disgust is one of the four emotions that can lead to life change. Rohn:

“The person who feels disgusted has reached a point of no return. He or she is ready to throw down the gauntlet at life and say, “I’ve had it!”

RESOLVE

Once your frustration has reached a boiling point, it is time to make up your mind. Are you throwing in the towel, or are you going to take massive action and turn your business around? If you pick the last option, the next question is: HOW?

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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Renowned German Scientist Apologizes

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Gear 19 Comments


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The Mic Warmer: launching a true innovation

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Gear 29 Comments

“Paul, I think you’re on to something,” said Heinz Gruenewald.

Heinz works for the world-renowned Westdeutscher Rundfunklabor in Germany, and he’s one of the top sound wave specialists. He has several patents in nanomaterials, acoustic devices, transducers and sensors in his name.

AN UNUSUAL TALENT

Just like some wine connoisseurs are born with an extraordinary palette, Heinz is blessed with extraordinary hearing. As you know, you can let an oenophile taste a glass of wine, and he’ll tell you what country it’s from, what region and even from what year. Heinz has that same uncanny ability but with microphones.

He says that it’s both a blessing and a curse: “Whenever I hear audio, my mind immediately tries to figure out what microphone was used to record it. It usually takes me a few seconds to analyze the sound spectrum. Call me arrogant, but 9 out of 10 ten times I’m dead on.” Heinz has even been on the German version of 20/20 to show his talent off.”

Right now, he is working on a portable version of the digital microphone interface, which is expected to come out next year. The rapid advance of high-def television is associated with increasing requirements in terms of audio technology, which can only be met with the aid of digital microphones. That’s where Heinz comes in.

SURPRISE DISCOVERY

Heinz and I actually started an “online relationship” when I found him on the Internet as I was looking for an expert who could confirm or deny what only can be labeled as a surprise discovery. Here’s how it started.

At the end of 2008, I was listening to some old demos of mine, to determine which ones to keep and which ones to delete. Since I’ve been listening to myself for my entire life, it’s fair to say that I know my sound top to bottom, inside out. For some reason I listened back to back to a demo recorded at the end of January and one from the middle of August. The difference between the two couldn’t have been greater. It was almost as if another person had taken over my vocal chords. I couldn’t believe it.

Back in January, my sound was thin, shallow and cold. In August I sounded rich, resonant and warm. Mind you: I was certain that I had used the same microphone, the same preamplifier and they were all at the same setting I always use to create a consistent sound. For days I kept wondering what could account for the tremendous difference in the way my voice came across. It was night and day. It was too weird for words. What on earth could be the difference that had made the difference?

EUREKA MOMENT

Then I got an unexpected breakthrough. One December morning, I went into my studio to record an audition. It was early and I was freezing. Nevertheless I gave it my all. But when I heard myself back, I could hear the cold of the morning in my voice. This wasn’t working. I decided to switch on the thermal heater and come back when the temperature would be up.

Fast forward sixty minutes. I recorded the same lines with the same gear, and out of curiosity I played the two recordings I had made one after the other. My mouth fell open. A week and many experiments later, I contacted Heinz.

“Let me get this right,” he said with his soft German accent. “Are you saying that the temperature in the recording booth actually influences the way you sound?”

“Based on my experiments, I’m prepared to go even one step further,” I said. “At this point I am convinced that the temperature of the microphone greatly affects the tonal qualities of the sound it is picking up. It boils down to this:

When the mic is cold, I sound cold. When the mic is warm, I sound much warmer.

SCIENCE IN ACTION

Being a scientist and a sound wave specialist, Heinz didn’t take my word for it. Not even when I sent him the audio files. But I could tell he was intrigued and determined to repeat my experiment in a laboratory setting. It was easy enough to replicate.

At 3:00 AM the next morning my phone rang. An excited Heinz had forgotten that he was on German time.

“Paul, I think you’re on to something,” he said. “I have never heard anything like it. I only had a cheap microphone in my office, but I decided to put it to the test anyway. Stone cold it sounded like…. the piece of junk that it was. But when I left it on the radiator and it had warmed up significantly, it was a totally different animal. I swear to you, it almost had tube-like characteristics. It’s amazing. I don’t know how it works, but it definitely does.”

FURTHER TESTING

In the months that followed, Heinz and his team made sure that this hadn’t been a random event. Test groups were brought in to evaluate identical sound bites that were recorded with cold mics and mics that were warmed up. Without exception, the people surveyed not only noticed the difference; they all preferred the warmer sound of the warm microphone.

In February 2009, I traveled to Germany to go over the findings of the Rundfunklabor in person. Heinz and I had been speculating about how we could put my discovery to practical use. We had agreed that it would be a shame to leave the results of the research in some stuffy drawer.

When we sat around the table at the lab, Heinz had a big smile on his face when he handed me a cable with some sort of extension that reminded me a bit of a MicPort Pro. He said: “It looks like an ordinary USB cable, right?” “More or less,” I replied. “What is this black thing that’s attached to it, and why are you showing me this?” Heinz said: “You are looking at a prototype, my friend. And I have a feeling that this is going to create a small revolution.”

TRIAL PRODUCT

He continued: “This device is powered from the USB port and needs no batteries. The other end plugs directly into a condenser microphone. Now, do you see this control knob? Notice that the scale is in centigrades?

When you turn it up, it draws energy from the computer and transfers it into heat. This heat is actually warming up the microphone. And because you can adjust the temperature, you can adjust the tonal quality of whatever the mic is recording. That means that you can use a lower temperature for microphones that already have a warmer sound. Isn’t it ingenious?”

I was floored. In a few months time and without telling me, Heinz had turned my little discovery into the beginnings of a product. “Do you think people would actually buy this?” I asked.

“Paul, listen to me,” said Heinz. “I took the cheapest condenser microphone I could find and plugged it into this mic warmer. When it had reached the right temperature, I asked a professional narrator to read a few paragraphs into this mic. Then we asked him to read the same passage and we recorded it with a Neumann U87 large diaphragm microphone. I think it sells for about $3400.00 in the US.

My assistants had me listen to both samples, and I am telling you right now that I could not hear the difference. And you know me. My ears never lie. This is going to be big!”

“We have to make sure that this thing is safe,” I said. “I don’t want to be sued by some engineer because my device set his studio on fire.” Heinz agreed that there still was a lot of work to be done, but he was confident that we could put this thing on the market within one to two years.

NEW DEVELOPMENTS

With the backing of an innovation grant from the European Union, things moved fast. Patents were secured. The technology was thoroughly tested. Designers were brought in to make the mic warmer look sleek and futuristic. Because we were using European money, the device had to be manufactured in Europe. That’s where my Dutch connections came in. I managed to find a small company in the North of Holland that was able to start a modest production line. And I am proud to tell you that in the next month or so, the very first mic warmer will be ready to go to market!

It will be officially launched at the biggest annual audio show in Munich, but one of America’s top pro-audio providers has already placed a substantial advance order after hearing the test results. Geoff Deary, the head engineer, said that he had been very skeptical at first, but that he was “absolutely blown away by this small device.”

CONTEST

So… there you have it.  As faithful readers of my blog, I wanted you to be the first ones to know. But this story does not end here. I need your help. My product needs a name. For some reason ‘mic warmer’ doesn’t sound good. That’s where you come in. I’m asking you to come up with a better name. Please leave your suggestions in the comment section at the bottom of this article.

In two weeks, Heinz Gruenewald and I will pick a winner. And if we choose your name, you will be the first person to receive the finished product! The winner will be announced in this blog, so stay tuned.

Thank you so much for your help!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS please take a few moments to read a personal letter from Prof. Dr. Heinz Gruenewald.

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10 ways to spot a voice-over amateur

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Gear 54 Comments

“Dad,” said my almost eight year old daughter…

“What does baklava taste like?”

“It’s like a slice of heaven,” I answered.

“In that case… I don’t want it,” she replied.

“Why not?” I asked. “It’s sooo good!”

My daughter answered:

“I don’t want to…

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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Drunk and Lazy

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles 7 Comments

The rumors started a few years ago.

It all began when they had seen her struggle to get to the car.

It was not a pretty sight.

Swaying from one side to the other, Jennifer stopped to take a breath and regain her balance. Her brain was telling her body to walk upright, with that strong, steady gait she had always been so proud of. But somehow, that message didn’t reach her muscles because she kept on waddling like a duck.

As she looked down, she realized how uneven the sidewalk was. Every tile that was sticking out turned it into an obstacle course.

She stopped again and looked at her neighbor’s porch. A shadow quickly moved away from the front window.

When she finally reached the car, she had to hold on to it, to stay on her feet. Jennifer opened the door and swung herself into the driver’s seat. When she drove away, she already felt exhausted, and the day had barely begun. She wondered how well she would do at the audition.

NEIGHBORS

The people next door were old school. They didn’t say much, and when they did, it was usually behind her back. Much of the world was a mystery to them, and yet, they acted as if they knew everything.

For one, they thought that Jennifer was lazy, because she hardly ever left for work in the morning. They had no idea that Jennifer had a state of the art voice-over home studio equipped with ISDN and SourceConnect.

Secondly, they were pretty sure that Jennifer was faking a handicap. One day, they had seen her walking with a cane. The next day, she seemed to be totally fine. Besides, she looked great. Sick people usually don’t look that good.

Perhaps Jennifer was feigning disability to get money from the government. How else could she afford the mortgage? After all, she had no job and people abuse the system all the time.

The neighbors also knew something else: Jennifer liked a drink or two. That would explain the swaying and the stumbling on the sidewalk. In short: Jennifer was a jobless, lazy drunk who shouldn’t even be driving. She should be ashamed of herself!

THE STAGGERING TRUTH

This week is MS Awareness week, and like many other people who suffer from multiple sclerosis, Jennifer was gearing up for the annual Walk MS event in May. She needed sponsors for the walk and she decided to stay close to home. Jennifer loved to bake and had an idea: she would go door-to-door with her delicious home-made cookies and raise funds for the event.

As the oven was heating up, she thought back to the last meeting of her support group. That night, they had discussed the many misconceptions surrounding MS.

Larry, the facilitator, warned everybody:

“When it comes to a chronic illness like MS, if it’s not visible, it does not exist. In other words: as long as you’re not in a wheelchair, people tend to think that you must be doing alright.

Some folks think that MS is the result of a poor diet or negative thinking. In other words: you’re basically doing it to yourself. Eating healthy and an optimistic attitude alone could solve the problem. Wouldn’t that be lovely?

As you know, many MS symptoms are silent. Different people have different symptoms and some of them come and go. There’s poor coordination, fatigue, vertigo, visual disturbances, tremors, spasticity, weakness, slurred speech, unstable walking, sensitivity to heat… do I need to go on?”

POLLING THE PEOPLE

“When they surveyed people in the UK about MS last year, almost half of the respondents couldn’t name a single symptom. Others believed that MS was contagious or inherited and almost always fatal. None of that is true. Mind you, the people that were interviewed were from a cross-section of the population. They weren’t exactly uneducated.

So, on top of suffering from a nearly invisible autoimmune disease, people with MS also suffer from these myths and misconceptions.”

At that point, Carlos interjected. He had been a flight attendant for many years, until MS had him grounded.

“I always tell people: Even though I have this disease, it’s not who I am. I’m still the same person. I don’t want your sympathy. I want your understanding.”

FEELING IT

Have you ever wondered what it feels like to have MS? Singer-songwriter Kristie Salerno Kent was officially diagnosed in November 1999. She made a short film about living with MS. Please take a few moments to watch it. I think you’ll like her approach. Depending on your computer, you might have to turn the volume up a little:

DOOR-TO-DOOR

Let’s pick up Jennifer’s story where we left off. Her scrumptious chocolate chip cookies were ready and wrapped with an orange ribbon. Within the hour, she had sold almost her entire batch to the people on her block, and there was only one house left: the neighbors. On her last legs, she rang the doorbell.

“What’s up with you?” asked the neighbor. “It looks like you were hit by a truck.”

“Oh well,” said Jennifer. “It’s the fatigue. I’ve been going door-to-door to sell these cookies for the MS Walk…”

“I know exactly what you mean,” interrupted the neighbor. I get tired too. We all do. Just get some rest and you’ll be okay. Why are you selling cookies? Did you join the Girl Scouts?”

“It’s for people who want to sponsor my team for the MS Walk in May. You get three for a dollar,” said Jennifer.

“MS… that’s what Michael J. Fox has, right?” asked the neighbor. “He looks fine to me. Saw him on the Olympics a few weeks ago. Once an actor, always an actor.”

“I believe he has Parkinson’s,” said Jennifer. “I raise money for Multiple Sclerosis.”

“I’ll tell you what,” said the neighbor. “I just gave money to those poor people in Haiti, and I’m sure you’ll make someone else happy with these cookies for Multiple… whatever it is. Right now, my pizzas have arrived.”

As Jennifer walked back to her house, the guy from Domino’s made his delivery.

“Sir, that’ll be $18.98”.

“Here’s twenty five,” said the neighbor. “Keep the change.”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

 

FACTS*
MS is a chronic, unpredictable neurological disease that affects the central nervous system.

Approximately 400,000 Americans have MS, and every hour someone is newly diagnosed. Worldwide, MS affects about 2.1 million people. Even though there is no cure, there are now FDA-approved medications that have been shown to “modify” or slow down the underlying course of MS. In addition, many therapeutic and technological advances are helping people manage symptoms.

MS SOCIETY
The National MS Society is the largest nonprofit organization in the United States supporting research for the treatment, prevention and cure of multiple sclerosis. Approximately 83% of Society income is devoted to research and service programs that enhance the lives of people with MS and their families.

WALK MS
Every spring nearly 300,000 people unite across the country to participate in Walk MS. All walks have an accessible route so people of all abilities can participate. Funds raised support the Society’s research and services programs. 

*Source: National MS Society

PS Are you ready for my most popular article ever?

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Are you replaced by Text-to-Speech software?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles 1 Comment

Should voice-over artists be afraid of artificial unintelligence?

Will robots take over the role of narrator or do voice-over professionals still have a future?

 The man who had lost his voice from thyroid cancer, spoke again on the Oprah Winfrey show. In 2010, the late film critic Roger Ebert gave his Oscar predictions with the help of text-to-speech (TTS) software that speaks whatever he typed.

The first computer-based speech synthesis systems were created in the late 1950s. They’ve come a long way, but a lot of TTS software still sounds rather robotic and unnatural. That’s why Ebert turned to Scottish firm CereProc for help.

CereProc actually uses someone’s audio recordings to create a digital voice that comes very close to the real thing. Usually, CereProc has people come in to their studio and record about 15 hours of audio. This is used to re-create the original voice.

In Ebert’s case, they used audio commentary he had made for several DVD documentaries. The quality was poor and the recordings were not as long as they would have liked. Nevertheless, they did the impossible and gave Ebert his voice back.

OUR NEW COMPETITOR?  

TTS software is not only used for people who have lost the ability to speak. It’s used to capture accents and dialects that are on the verge of dying out. People also use it to learn a foreign language. There’s one other application you should be aware of: it could eventually be used to replace you and me! Poland-based Ivona Text-to-Speech advertises:

“Save money spent on voice talent recordings. You do not have to look for recording studios and speakers. You do not waste time concluding agreements and contacting the contractors and it’s accessible 24/7.”

If you want to get an idea of what this software is capable of, go to their website; type in a few words and have a digital voice read it back to you. Rival NeoSpeech, headquartered in California claims: 

“Robotic voices are now history.”

Neospeech offers nine different voices that speak US English, Mexican Spanish, Korean, Japanese and Mandarin Chinese for a wide range of hand-held devices, desktop and network/server applications.

POLITICAL VOICES

If it weren’t for a certain former president, Roger Ebert might never have  found CereProc. Ebert came across the Bush-o-Matic talking head, a hilarious re-creation of the 43rd president. I must admit: Bush never sounded so articulate! You can make him say things that are intelligent, and even make him wink, squint or blink.

The CereProc engineers pieced the voice of Bush together from his weekly radio address. It’s kind of scary, but in a fun way. Just to be fair, they also added a virtual version of president Obama’s voice and the inimitable accent of the former governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

As you can tell from the audio samples, CereProc is getting close, but they’re not quite there yet. One of the biggest challenges any TTS provider needs to overcome, is how to add some emotion to the speech. Most artificial voices still sound a bit flat and get very boring very quickly. And for ordinary mortals, it’s still too expensive to re-create their own voice with the help of this technology. 

TIME TO GO?

So, do you think it’s getting time for professional voice-overs to pack their bags and start looking for other work? Yes and no.

First of all, text-to-speech companies all over the world use voice talent to record different languages and accents for different applications. Secondly, if you’re a musician, you might find this technological development very interesting but non-threatening.

As you probably know, any musical instrument under the sun has been sampled, and entire symphony orchestras can come out of a can. Yet, people are still buying real Steinways and there are plenty of musicians who make a very decent living.

Do you think that we’ll ever see the time when Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” as performed on virtual instruments, will win a Grammy? I don’t think so. Will a laboratory ever be able to produce a recording of Bach’s cello solo sonatas that rivals the depth of Yo Yo Ma’s interpretation?

You see, there’s still hope for the most subtle, most flexible, most surprising and unique of all instruments: the human voice.  

Here’s the rub: robots have a hard time emoting. They can patiently and dispassionately guide you to the next exit, but they have a hard time expressing even the most basic of feelings such as fear, anger, hurt, guilt and… love.

However, give it a few years, and who knows what the industry will come up with!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Bursting the Audition Bubble

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career 8 Comments

 

Some voice-over casting sites have an interesting way of dealing with members complaining that they haven’t had much luck. Here’s what these sites say:

“Auditioning is great practice! Even if you didn’t get that 100 dollar job, at least you’re honing your skills.”

Oh, please… Give me a break!

WORDS OF WISDOM

At the end of a two day “voice-over intensive,” the trainer looked at her students one last time. By the expression on her face they could tell she was about to say something significant.

Her velvet voice had sold millions of sheets of the softest bathroom tissue known to mankind. Anything that came out of her mouth was as good as gold. Star-struck, the students all listened like attention-deprived orphans, waiting to get one last bit of tough love.

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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The Story behind the Story

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Internet, Journalism & Media, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play 2 Comments

The voice-over market is a buyer’s market. Voice-talents are exposed; voice-seekers are protected. As voice-over pros, we want to work. We need to work. Sometimes we’re so happy to be picked out of a pile of 100+ auditions; it’s tempting to say “YES” when we finally get a break. But would we have done so, had we known the facts?

The World Wide Web has put me in touch with the wonderful, the wacky and the weird. Anyone can pretend to be anything on the Net. That nice guy you met online might very well be the next “Craigslist Killer”. Or he could be Prince Charming! How can you be sure?

THE VOICE-OVER AS P.I. 

I have a question for you: do you think you should have to play Sherlock Holmes if you audition for a job on a site like voices.com? Aren’t you paying the staff to do their homework to make sure you’re not connected to some creep?

If you’re a member of voice123, you might have seen the following disclaimer:

Legal note: Although Voice123 tries to establish the legitimacy of all voice seekers, you are responsible for conducting your own investigation into any and all claims made by prospective voice seekers, agents and/or clients. You assume all liability for use of any information you find through Voice123, LLC, or any of its publications.

Good luck, especially if the voice seeker is purposely hiding his or her identity! As we have seen in the case of the founder of Newspapers for the Blind, the voice123 team responded after members had complained about the way they had been treated. Make no mistake about it: at the end of the day, “You are responsible for conducting your own investigation.”

Here’s the good news: the Internet is not only a place for con-men and convicts. With so much information in the public domain, we might as well use it as a tool in our fight against the frauds, the fakes and the phonies. My story of Newspapers for the Blind is the perfect example. Before I get into that, I have an admission to make.

A GOOD CAUSE

When I was young, idealistic and hopelessly naive, I honestly believed that people involved in philanthropy must be good people. It never occurred to me to do a background check on a charity. What can I say? Even Steven Spielberg thought that Bernie Madoff was a nice guy…

After my story about Will May, some of you wondered: Is his organization a real charity?

On its website, Newspapers for the Blind (NFBT) says it’s a 501C-3 Corporation. This is a type of incorporation that is used to set up a charitable corporation, founded with the intention of providing a service to the community, rather than making a profit.

Incorporating a company makes it a legal entity, responsible for its actions in the community. This is important, because it removes a great deal of the responsibility from the person who is starting the company.

One source puts it this way: “If you start a 501(c)3 company, you want the legal liability for possible damages to be the responsibility of the 501(c)3 corporation so that your personal possessions are safe from creditors.”

FACT CHECK

So, how do you separate the chaff from the wheat? The IRS web site has a search engine that makes finding a registered charity a piece of cake. The Better Business Bureaus* have a similar function on their website. In both databases, Newspapers for the Blind does not come up as a registered charity, and I have asked the IRS and the BBB to look into this. I also checked the Maryland Charities Database (the state where NFTB is based). Again: nothing came up.

But there’s a catch: Elisabeth Leamy, the ABC News Consumer Correspondent warns:

“ (…) even if the IRS really has granted non-profit 501C-3 status to a group, that’s no indication of quality. The IRS doesn’t have the time or staff to really scrutinize those who apply for charity status. I once investigated a company that earned 501C-3 status. The IRS overlooked the fact that the founder was a convicted felon who kept most of the group’s money for himself and didn’t even register with the state as required by law.”

In her article “How to Identify a Fake Charity”, Jamie K. Wilson recommends we carefully examine a charity’s website and look for the following signs:

  • A board of directors numbering at least six people, with their credentials or regular job titles and place of employment listed
  • A permanent street address in the United States or your own country
  • A 501(c)3 statement
  • Success stories
  • An outline of this charity’s goals
  • Downloadable financial statements that detail where money has been expended in the past
  • Accurate statistics with verifiable and legitimate sources
  • Good writing, spelling, and grammar

 

She concludes:

“Any charitable website lacking two or more of these traits is suspect. That does not mean the charity is fake. On the contrary, it might be very new and very legitimate, but without a track record. However, fake charities generally lack at least two of the above items.”

Steven Lowell of voice123 had this to say about Will May, the founder and editor of NFTB:

“Truth is… if he is rough to deal with, and pays, that is one thing. You get your money and never work with the person again. But to pose as a charitable organization, then not pay, and pull the routine that the people who delivered work must be the problem, when he in fact hired them… It is not a better business practice, and to some extent, illegal. I am not up to date on laws governing posing as false charity, but he did promise payment, and never came through.”

WHO IS WILL MAY?

Again, using what is in the public domain, what can we learn about the founder and editor of Newspapers for the Blind? Let’s first see what Will May told us about himself on his 2010 LinkedIn profile:

Interests: I like to sail boats and fly aeroplanes

Groups and Associations: Chief Medical Examiner of the Lesbian Fighter Pilots Association

In 2013, his interests are still the same, but his Groups and Associations comment was no longer there.  His LinkedIn Summary consists of the following quote:

“I like to make money, so I can be ‘A river to my people.’ ~Auda”

May still lists himself as the owner of Nevis LLC. A Nevis Limited Liability Company is based in the Caribbean tax-haven of Nevis. For $1495 USD, you too could become the proud owner of a Nevis LLC. It has a few benefits:

  • Nevis does not impose corporate tax, income tax, withholding tax, stamp tax, asset tax, exchange controls or other fees or taxes on assets or income originating outside of Nevis.
  • The owners and managers are not registered anywhere, which provides for complete secrecy.
  • A Nevis LLC allows you to shield your assets from lawsuits, agencies, and financial creditors.
  • Owners can manage the company without becoming liable for company financial obligations or legal liabilities.

 

THE LAST TYCOON

Voice-over colleague Juliette Gray worked for Will May and never received a penny. She confirmed what I had suspected when I questioned where the money for Newspapers for the Blind was coming from. Juliette wrote:

“One long conversation I had with him he told me that he had put a lot of money himself into it and he was a retired real estate tycoon from NYC.”

This is confirmed by the information May listed in his 2010 LinkedIn profile under “experience”:

“Chairman of Wm. B May & Company- Real Estate from 1982  – 2006”

This is not your average local realtor. The William B. May Company once was the nation’s oldest real estate brokerage firm, and it has been in the hands of one family for four generations. The website of the New York Real Estate Institute states:

“William B. May’s impeccable reputation has been built on a singular philosophy of integrity, trust, full accountability and integrated service. To this day, we pride ourselves on unwavering ethics, steadfast client loyalty, and competitive endurance.”

In a December 2000 newsletter, the company boasts:

“With age comes wisdom. The development of 57th Street at the heart of New York City was what first put William B. May on the map in the late 1860’s. At that time, we sold property to the Carnegies, the Fricks and the Vanderbilts.”

Today, the company is no more. Only the brand William B. May has survived. The business concept is owned by Broker Services Holding, LLC and it is operated as a franchise.

On his  LinkedIn page, Will May concurs that the company as it had existed, ceased operations in 2006, after -as he put it- “a tumultuous take-over fight”.

A BLAST FROM THE PAST

Gabriel Sherman is contributing editor at New York Magazine and a special correspondent for the New Republic. Prior to 2006, he was the media reporter at the New York Observer. In April of  ’05, he witnessed the demise of the venerable family firm.

When I read his article  “William T. May Sues Agency On Century 21 Ads”, a few things fell into place. This is how it begins:

“William Talcott May is the co-chairman of the storied real-estate brokerage founded by his great grandfather in 1866 and inheritor of the New York real-estate dynasty that bears his father’s name, William B. May.

But when the 44-year-old eccentric bounded into City Bakery on West 18th Street on a recent Thursday morning, wearing a fire-truck-red Scottish kilt and a navy-blue wool sweater, his broad, leonine cheekbones streaked with charcoal-hued face paint, he looked more Braveheart than businessman.”

If you don’t have time to read the entire article, here are some of the ‘highlights’:

  • Mr. May studied economics at Duke University. He dropped out in 1982 after two and half years. At Duke, Mr. May was a member of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity, played rugby and co-founded the school’s polo club with 40 ponies he said his cousin won in a craps game in South America.
  • After leaving Duke, Billy May -as he was known- returned to New York and worked in William B. May’s brokerage business while managing some of his own buildings. On the job he was stabbed and shot by tenants.
  • As he was flying his private plane on 9/11/’01, he witnessed the entire disaster from 10,000 feet above New York Harbor. He told Gabriel Sherman: “I was on the radio to McGuire Air Force base in 20 seconds saying there had been a terrorist attack.”
  • In December of 2001, the FBI and police arrested Mr. May for leaving six fake bombs at the New Castle County Airport in an attempt to highlight lax security.
  • Between trial and sentencing, he served 31 days in solitary confinement. Mr. May received a felony conviction and four years probation for the incident.
  • Mr. May’s attorney at the time, Penelope Marshall, said in reports that Mr. May was not medicated for his bipolar disorder.

 

Sherman ends his report from 2005 as follows:

“Mr. May, who says he has already spent $1 million of his own money to stanch the attacks on his family’s business, said he will not surrender until his family wins its name back. “I’m like a one-man pack of wild dogs when I get angry,” he said.”

LESSONS LEARNED

You don’t have to be  a psychologist to realize that past behavior can -to a certain extent- predict future behavior. In the case of William Talcott May, knowing about his background made me understand where his Mr. Nice and Mr. Nasty type of behavior was coming from. I just hope that he doesn’t unleash his ‘one-man pack of wild dogs’ on me. I’m more of a cat person.

As I said before: I think that Newspapers for the Blind offers a terrific service. I sincerely hope that it will survive Will May’s erratic actions. Eventually, his karma will catch up with him.

INTERNET CASTING

As for our friends at the voice-over casting sites (sometimes known as Pay-to-Plays)… we realize that you don’t have the time or the resources to conduct extensive investigations. However, it would be very helpful if you would publish information on those individuals who have pulled a fast one, and share it with your members and with other voice-over casting sites. That way, scammers who are exposed on one site, won’t be able to set up shop at another site.

Instead, you have left it up to our trusted colleague Mahmoud Taji, to come up with a Scam-Alert for our industry. As much as I applaud his hard work, this should not have been left to the efforts of one blogging voice-over talent in Egypt.

As voice-seekers, we pay you in order to take advantage of your internet voice-casting service. We don’t want to be taken advantage of, because you choose to protect your voice-seekers from our phone calls.

Come to think of it… isn’t that how we used to do business? We simply picked up the phone and introduced ourselves to a prospective client. What would Sherlock Holmes call that?

Elementary, perhaps?

Paul Strikwerda ©2010 nethervoice

2013 UPDATE

It appears that the Newspapers for the Blind website is down or no longer available. The Newspapers for the Blind Facebook page has last been updated on March 21, 2010.

On his LinkedIn Profile, Mr. May still lists himself as the “Editor & Founder of NewspapersForTheBlind.ORG 

*The BBB Wise Giving Alliance has developed Standards for Charity Accountability to “assist donors in making sound giving decisions and to foster public confidence in charitable organizations. The standards seek to encourage fair and honest solicitation practices, to promote ethical conduct by charitable organizations and to advance support of philanthropy.”

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