Career

GET YOUR ACT(ing) TOGETHER!

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Freelancing, Gear, Internet, Journalism & Media, Promotion, Social Media, Studio2 Comments

Mykle McCoslin

COVID-19 is killing the entertainment industry.

Most of Hollywood is closed for business. Studios are struggling to survive. Word has it that insurers are unlikely to cover productions for COVID-19 cases when business resumes.

Research by the Society of London Theatre indicates that 70% of UK theaters will run out of money by the end of the year. As you probably know, Broadway has been shut down until the end of January 2021.

Thanks to the Corona virus, thousands of on-camera and stage actors are twiddling their thumbs in desperation. One of them is Mykle McCoslin. She’s also an acting coach, writer, and president of the Houston-Austin SAG AFTRA local. She knows she won’t be returning to the stage or set any day soon. So, what can she do? Mykle says her agents might have the answer:

“Voice over is something that my agents have been emailing me about, saying: You’ve got to do this! Now is the time to learn how to build your own studio and be a professional voice over actor.”

But Mykle was in no way prepared to jump on the VO bandwagon:

“I’ve auditioned from my phone, but I am in no way proficient with the equipment. When my agents contacted me about an ethernet connection and Source Connect, I was freaking out.”

ORGANIZING A WEBINAR 

To learn more about the voice over business, Mykle and her colleague Betsy Curry recently hosted a How to get started in VO event, featuring two guests: tech guru George Whittam, and VO-actor and coach Lindsay Sheppard. It turned out to be a huge hit.

Within the first hours of the webinar, Mykle had over 1K views, 31 shares, and 160 comments. Less than two weeks later we are at 2.2K views and counting. Bear in mind that most actors who tuned in had most likely never heard of Whittam or Shepherd. They were just interested in the topic. What does this tell us?

It confirms what I hear from my agents, students, and on-camera colleagues. Thanks to COVID-19, many more people are thinking of a voice over career than ever before. Who can blame them? But, this does beg the question:

Should we be worried or excited?

Before I answer that, let me tell you that if you are currently a professional voice over (emphasis on professional), the webinar didn’t cover anything you wouldn’t already know. It addressed basic questions like:

  • What equipment do you need?
  • How can you create a home studio on a budget?
  • What types of voice over work are there?
  • Where do you find VO jobs?
  • How do you audition?
  • Do you need a demo, and if so, who can help?

 

Based on the questions that came in, one thing became abundantly clear:

Drama school does not prepare stage and on-camera actors for the demanding and uncertain world of voice overs.

Most actors are unaware of and intimidated by the technology required. If I were an employee at Guitar Center and one of these stage actors came in, hoping to start a VO career, I could literally sell him the cheapest or most expensive USB mic and get away with it. No questions asked.

I’m not saying that to put anyone down. Most voice actors would be totally out of their comfort zone in a television studio or on a film set. It’s understandable that their on-camera colleagues are not very familiar with the ins and outs of VO. 

WHAT NON-VOICE ACTORS DON’T KNOW

Before you’re getting alarmed that thousands of out of work on-camera and stage actors are all coming for our jobs, please keep this in mind:

– Most of them have no setup enabling them to work from home, and if they do, it’s probably insufficient (just think of the Broadway actor in her tiny New York apartment without any soundproofing)
– Most of them don’t even know what equipment they should buy; they may not even have the funds
– They’ve never heard of DAW’s, noise floor, presets, self-noise, Neumann, polar patterns, MKH 416’s, high-pass filters, et cetera
– They only have acting reels but no VO demos
– They may have VO credits, but have no idea how to properly record and edit audio, or how to set up a session for remote direction
– They have no long-time relationships in the VO world, nor do they have an established network of VO clients
– Some of their agents have no idea where to find VO-jobs
– Many of them will struggle with the lack of physicality in voice over work, the claustrophobic working conditions, and the anti-social aspect of the job
– SAG-AFTRA members will go after union jobs, and most of the VO work is non-union
– The lower VO rates, status, and lack of exposure may not seem attractive to on-camera, on-stage talent
– Like most people, on-camera and stage actors underestimate what it takes to have a successful and sustainable career in VO

Tom Hanks once said:

“There are times when my diaphragm is sore at the end of a four- or five-hour recording session, just because the challenge is to wring out every possible option for every piece of dialogue. It’s every incarnation of outrage and surprise and disappointment and heartache and panic and being plussed and nonplussed.”

He said this about his third Toy Story sequel:

“It’s an imaginary stretch. To the point of exhaustion. Because you’re only using your voice, you can’t go off mic, you cannot use any of your physicality. You have to imagine that physicality. In a lot of ways that’s the antithesis of what you do as an actor.”

What I like about these quotes is that they show respect for the challenging work we do as voice actors. You and I know that what we do is not as easy as it sounds, but I think many of us feel undervalued and not as appreciated as the people who walk the red carpet and get all the goodie bags. Not because we stink at what we do, but because we’re the invisibles of the industry. Some have noted that even SAG-AFTRA seems to take our profession more seriously these days (but that’s another blog post). 

THE ADVANTAGE OF BEING A TRAINED STAGE ACTOR

So, what do on-camera and stage actors have going for them when it comes to voice overs?

First and foremost: acting chops.

I happen to believe that the majority of people advertising themselves as “voice actors” are in fact “voice overs.” Voice overs can read a script with a certain authority and clarity, but that doesn’t mean they possess any dramatic acting skills. They are pretty good at reading a script, but not at embodying the text or the character they are paid to portray. It’s out of their comfort zone.

In a way, many voice overs are one-trick ponies like news readers, school teachers, or former radio jocks. You can tell within the first few seconds where they got their start. There’s no emotional range, depth, or color, whereas an on-stage actor is a chameleon, a shape-shifter who is able to act out different characters with subtle but essential changes in the placement of the body and the intonation of the voice.

To use a musical metaphor: most voice overs are like a piano. The sound they produce is adequate, consistent, and rather one-dimensional. An on-camera or stage actor can sound like many different instruments, performing a huge repertoire.

GETTING PHYSICAL

On-camera and stage actors have another advantage: their physicality. Whereas many voice overs are pinned down to their chairs inside a small space, their more dramatic colleagues are not afraid to get into character, twisting their bodies and faces into pretzels to become the person they pretend to be.

Because they are used to learning scripts, they can memorize their lines and sound like they’re spontaneously speaking instead of reading off a piece of paper. It’s the critical distinction between sounding natural and unnatural.

Once again, I’m not saying this to put anyone down. You can’t judge a mime for his inability to carry a tune because he was never trained to be a singer (unless that mime purposefully advertises his singing skills).

Speaking of vocal skills, while many voice overs are struggling to maintain vocal health and stamina, their on-stage counterparts are used to performing up to eight shows a week. From the onset, they already have the chops to record an audio book for five to six hours a day without damaging their vocal folds.

CELEBRITY STATUS

In what other areas can an on-camera/stage actor edge out a voice actor? It greatly depends on someone’s status and reputation. The problem is, voice actors are invisible. Stage actors are anything but, and can use that notoriety to their advantage. 

A-listers can make a killing recording commercials by leveraging their celebrity status, and because of the crisis we’re in, even celebs are becoming more affordable. Having said that, no job is ever guaranteed.

Daniel Stern is known for his roles in films like “Hannah and her Sisters,” “City Slickers,” and the first two “Home Alone” films. He is also the narrator for the “The Wonder Years” and he’s the voice of Dilbert in the animated TV series.

One day, Daniel got a script for a voice-over audition, and his mouth practically dropped to the floor when he read the specs:

“Must sound like Daniel Stern”

He’s thinking: “Piece of cake. This one’s in the bag!”

So, Stern goes to his booth; records a demo; sends it in…

…and doesn’t get the part!

GETTING NOTICED

Another thing invisible actors can learn from their visible counterparts is building a professional presence. On-camera actors have no problem putting themselves out there. I’m painting with broad strokes here, but it is my observation that voice overs tend to be more introverted, and on-camera/stage actors tend to be more extroverted.

We live in a time where branding is more important that ever. You’ve got to be visible in order to be noticed. A strong social media presence is required if you wish to play the game at the highest level. And if you want people to hire you, they need to be able to find you. Otherwise you’re a dime a dozen.

Back to my original question:

On-camera and stage actors getting into voice overs. Am I worried or excited? Should I feel threatened or honored? 

I personally welcome my on-stage and on-camera colleagues to the voice over business, in part because their professionalism forces me to up my game. I know that most of them will outperform me in the acting department, but without a quiet home studio (that doesn’t’ sound like one), their auditions won’t be competitive yet.

And while they’re gaining experience recording and editing audio, I can take online improv classes, redo my website and demos, and increase my social media presence.

In these uncertain times there’s one thing I know for sure.

You can learn a lot in a short amount of time, but you cannot fake the number of years you’ve been in business. Experience, expertise, and integrity are valuable commodities that can’t be bought or rushed, no matter how famous or unknown you are.

I firmly believe that there’s an abundance of jobs waiting for anyone with talent, who is willing to work hard and play fair.

And together we’ll eventually get past this crisis because it makes us so much stronger.

Personally and professionally!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Whatever Happened to Critical Thinking?

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Freelancing, Internet, Journalism & Media, Pay-to-Play, Personal, Social Media1 Comment

After a brief but beneficent stay in the hospital, I want to take a minute or two, to share some of my worries and concerns as I mentally prepare myself for what lies ahead. 

Thank you, by the way, for all your support and well wishes. I got the sweetest messages from all over the world, and I feel enormously grateful for your kindness!

Now let’s return to my soap box. 

One of the things I worry about is the general level of willful ignorance among those calling themselves voice-over professionals. Increasingly, people without training, experience, or common sense, are populating Facebook groups for voice-overs, asking basic questions.

They have no idea where to start, where to find jobs, how to set up a simple studio, let alone what to charge. They can’t wait to jump into the ocean, but have no idea how to swim.

These ignoramuses write things like:

“I’ve just completed a six-week voice-over training. I think I’m ready to start auditioning, but I have no idea how to market myself. Please help!”

It turns out that this so-called training consisted of one evening a week, spread out over a six-week period. If that’s enough to get a serious career started, it must be magical! However, no one bothered to even touch upon the idea of marketing, so I doubt this program was as comprehensive as the brochure said it would be.

Two things are really bothering me:

  1. The fact that someone is making money convincing impressionable people they can become a VO in six sessions
  2. The fact that people are still falling for these stupid schemes

USE YOUR NOGGIN

Whatever happened to critical thinking? Whatever happened to thoroughly researching something you’re interested in before you fork over a small fortune? Does it really take an extraordinary amount of brain power to imagine that a six-evening introduction might not be enough to break into a very competitive market?

Could this be a sign that the current wave of anti-intellectualism has overtaken our community? I know that for some of you faith and gut feeling play an important role in your decisions. However, our creator has purposely endowed us with gray matter unlike any other species on the planet. Wouldn’t it be sinful to not use it? 

I know this is a huge generalization, but based on what I see in social media, critical thinking has left the building, and common sense has gone fishing, while more and more people expect the keys to the kingdom on a silver platter.

This year I made a conscious effort to no longer help and support people who aren’t willing to learn how to swim, and I implore you to do the same. “Isn’t that a bit harsh,” you may ask?

I don’t think so.

All successful VO’s have at least one thing in common:

They are self-sufficient.

EARN YOUR PLACE

They study up, and by that I don’t mean asking others to answer basic questions for them on Facebook. That’s not studying. That’s asking others to do your homework. 

Please don’t tell me that I’m mean and egotistical by not willing to share information. I’ve been sharing information in this blog for over a decade! Free of charge. 

I got my start in the late eighties-early nineties, and there were no resources available to the aspiring voice over. In Holland (where I grew up), there were only five or six people who booked all the VO jobs, and most of them were stage actors. There were no online tutorials, educational videos, VO coaches, or books about the business. At that time it made sense to ask those who did what I wanted to do for advice. But only after I had exhausted all my research!

These days, you can pretty much find the answer to any voice over related question by doing a quick Google search. If you’re too lazy to even do that, you’re not cut out to be an independent contractor, and you don’t deserve my help.

We don’t teach babies how to walk by holding them up by their arms and dragging them around the room. That way they’ll never develop strong muscles needed to find their own way. Same thing with voice over newbies. 

THINK COMMUNITY

I also want to encourage you to make smart business-related decisions that benefit not only yourself, but our community as a whole. Be more discerning! Stop working with companies that do not have (y)our best interest at heart. You know, the companies that turn your talent into a commodity, where the lowest bidder ends up working for the cheapest client. Do not enable them to increase their influence!

Stop bidding on projects without knowing how much to charge. Don’t settle for a full buyout in perpetuity without proper compensation. If you don’t have a strong backbone, ask an agent to negotiate on your behalf. Support the VO Agent Alliance. Join the World Voices Organization. Sign up for the Freelancers Union. It’s free!

And if you’re a member, keep pushing SAG-AFTRA to take voice actors just as seriously as the other actors they represent. Not just because COVID suddenly opened their eyes to the work we do as professionals.

Above all: stay vigilant!

BE THE CHANGE

Don’t hide your head in the sand hoping rates will magically go up, and “the market” will take care of itself. It doesn’t. Things get worse when people with good intentions sit still, hoping others will lift the first finger. 

Question what you read and what you hear, especially on social media. Always take the source of the information into account. 

Be clear on how you want to spend your time. There are too many forces competing for your attention, and most of them are useless distractions. 

And lastly:

The best chance of changing other people’s behavior is to change what they react to, namely your own behavior, so: 

Use your brain, and become the colleague you most want to be.

That’s the person I’d like to meet next time we see each other in person, or online!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Is Your Client Driving You Crazy?

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Freelancing5 Comments
David Ogilvy

David Ogilvy

The other day, one of my readers wanted to know:

“Have you ever fired a client, and why? I have one customer who is driving me nuts, but I can’t afford to lose his business.”

First of all, that’s a horrible position to be in. Many freelancers choose to run their own business because they don’t want to depend on someone or something else. Having big spenders as clients may seem fantastic, but if you’re not careful, you end up being in their pocket, and they start pulling all the shots. 

David Ogilvy, the famous advertising guru, took great care in selecting his clients. That concept alone was revolutionary. If you’re a service provider, don’t clients choose you? Isn’t that how the game is played? Not in Ogilvy’s world. 

Ogilvy and his partner would turn down about sixty clients every year, and this was one of their rules:

“Never work for a client so big you can’t afford to lose them.”

They once turned down Ford because the iconic motor company would represent half of their total billing. 

So, to get back to my reader’s question: be selective in whom you want to work with, even if you’re just starting out. Don’t put all your eggs in one or two baskets. It makes you overly dependent, and very vulnerable. If that one big client pulls out, you’re toast. 

Have I ever fired a client? I sure have, and I’m happy I did. It wasn’t all about money. In fact, in many cases money had little to do with it. 

Here are a few clients I gladly gave the sack:

THE DICTATOR

Here’s the client who thinks he owns you twenty-four seven. He always knows best; he’s overly demanding, disrespectful, and never satisfied. These people are impossible to please. The more you try, the less you succeed.

Working for dictators made me hate myself and my job. I did everything I could to avoid contact with them because it was emotionally draining. No money in the world could make up for how lousy I felt working for these bullies. 

THE VIOLATOR

Some clients act as if the rules don’t apply to them. Even with a written agreement in place, they try to bend and break it as fast as they can: “Sorry, we can’t pay you within thirty days. We’ll cut a check as soon as the end-client pays us.” 

“Did the agreement say that we have to pay you even if we don’t use your recording? Well, that’s just too bad. We have switched gears, and don’t need your voice-over anymore.”

When you continue working for a client who is not paying your bill, you are sending the message that you are not worth the fee you charge. 

THE  CHEAPSKATE 

Stay away from clients with great ideas and no budget, and the ones that try to nickel-and-dime you from the get-go. I once fired a long-time client of mine that was locked into old rates. When I increased my fees across the board, she insisted I make an exception “for old times sake.” 

While it may seem like a “nice” gesture, deals like that hold your business back. Time spent on these small-budget clients prevents you from spending that time working for a client who respects your rate. Ogilvy was right when he said:

“Only work for clients who want you to make a profit.” 

THE UNETHICAL

When thinking of your clients, ask yourself these two questions:

“Do they sell a product or service I can be proud of?”

“Will I be able to do my very best work?”

Whether you’re a copywriter, a graphic designer, or a voice-over, you will be professionally associated with a product or service you helped promote. Your reputation is always on the line.

An advertising agency I had worked with in the past, asked me to voice a commercial for one of the world’s worst weed killers. I politely declined, and they understood. My voice is for hire, but my integrity is not for sale. 

It’s up to you where you draw the line, but I would never want to be involved in something illegal, or help sell something I’m morally against. 

THE UNPROFESSIONAL

Some clients are completely unorganized and in over their heads. One day they want one thing. The next day all has changed. It’s something you find out once you start working with them. As a freelancer, you’re used to juggling many plates, but you’re not getting paid to help your clients juggle theirs. 

Sometimes clients become overly friendly. They start calling at night with some lame excuse. It turns out: they just want to talk about a personal issue, or they start gossiping about a colleague they’ve worked with. Before you know it, they’ll be asking you favors because of the perceived friendship. 

Take my word: keep things clean, and have clear boundaries. It’s painful to have to fire these clients, because you know they’ll start gossiping about you to the next professional they cling to. But if you give in because you want to be nice, they’ll suck up your time and tire you out.

THE HIDDEN MESSAGE

All the clients I just described have a few things in common: They keep you from growing your business. They drag you away from your goals. They also appear on your path as your teachers.

People who don’t respect you, are giving you a chance to learn to respect yourself.

People who distract you, are showing you the importance of being focused.

People who don’t pay you, are testing what you think of the value of your work.

People who are trying to manipulate your feelings, are helping you grow a pair. 

Now, if you are bound by a contract I’m not suggesting you break your word and fire these clients. Rather than cutting them loose, you’ve got to cut your losses, fulfill your obligation, and learn from the situation.

But should these clients contact you again for a project, respectfully decline their offer. All they would do is take the fun out of your job. And as Ogilvy said:

“Where people aren’t having any fun, they seldom produce good work.”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Next week I’ll have an interview with J. Michael Collins about the upcoming virtual One Voice Conference USA (August 13-16). Tickets are available NOW!

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5 Reasons Why You Should Never Become A Voice Over

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Freelancing, Pay-to-Play4 Comments

“Want to work from home during COVID-19?”

“Millions of dollars paid out to voice actors globally.”

“Audition for your dream job now.”

“Instant access to amazing opportunities.”

“One million registered users can’t be wrong.”

“New job postings every day.”

It sure sounds tempting, doesn’t it? Especially when you’re young, idealistic, and impressionable. It’s the way online voice casting sites throw out their net. Especially now that many of us are jobless and stuck inside thanks to a killer virus.

Day after day an ever-growing army of hopefuls is eagerly looking at their inbox, waiting for the next “amazing opportunity” to become a voice over star. It comes at a price, though. 

If you’re taking part in these online cattle calls, be ready to be milked!

Of course these casting sites won’t tell you that you have to spend between $349 and $399 per year to take part in a crapshoot. They’ll feed you success stories about people who claim to make a six-figure income by winning audition after audition. Anecdotal evidence always trumps independently verified numbers, right?

People believe what they want to believe when they’re desperate and uninformed.

So, today I’m not going to give you the golden formula to online voice over success. Sorry to break the news, but it does not exist. Instead, I will give you a few reasons why you probably should stay clear of this business. I’ll start with the most important one. 

1. The world doesn’t need you.

Yes, you’ve heard me.

We have enough people talking into microphones, thank you very much. What this world needs is less talk and more action.

We need teachers, doctors, nurses, and scientists. We need experts in conflict resolution; people who know how to fight global warming and racism. We need first responders to pandemics, contact tracers and census takers. 

If you really want to make a difference on this planet, don’t hide behind soundproof walls selling stuff no one needs. Get out there and start helping the poor, the sick, the homeless, the marginalized, and the ones without a voice. They need you more than Disney does.

2. There’s no money in voice-overs.

The cost of living goes up every year while voice over rates are in steady decline. That makes sense, doesn’t it? Even the union can’t stop it. Thanks to online casting services and ignorant amateurs, your voice has become a commodity, sold by the lowest bidder to the cheapest client.

VO has become a game of averages, and here’s how it works.

The bottom feeders choose lowball sites like Upwork, Fiverr, and freelancer.com to sell their services for beer money. The top end of the market consists of A-list actors making millions voicing cartoons and commercials. If you’re average, you’re forever stuck in the middle. You have enough integrity to leave the crumbs to the idiots, but you won’t get the big gigs for the big money.

Don’t be fooled by voice-over veterans posting on Facebook how well they are doing. Some of them confided in me that they’re just keeping up appearances. No one wants to hire a loser, so they’ve got to tell the world they’re still an important player. Yay for social media! Everything people post is 100% true, right?

3. You are a social being.

Unless you enjoy going to expensive events to hear VoiceVIP’s talk about themselves and plug their books, you’re pretty much on your own in this business. I mean, who likes being locked up between the four carpeted walls of a 3.5’ by 3.5’ recording booth all day long?

You have no one to talk to but yourself, and you’ll never see a response from the people you’re supposedly entertaining. If acknowledgment is what you’re secretly longing for, wait for the Corona crisis to be over and go to a nursing home and read to the residents. Tell stories to kids in the cancer ward. It will make their day, and yours!

The sedentary lifestyle of a typical voice-over is unhealthy for the mind, body, and soul. It’s bad enough that you have to stay at home to stay safe these days. Let’s assume you’re an extrovert and you thrive in the company of others.

I can tell you right now that you will curse the day you decided to lock yourself up in a walk-in closet, just so you could narrate some third-rate novel for a royalty share that doesn’t even pay this month’s water bill. 

4. You’ll spend at least 80% of your time trying to get work, and 20% doing the work.

Voice-overs spend a lot of time being busy without being productive. How rewarding is that? Regardless of what voice casting sites want you to believe, most jobs you audition for will go to someone else, and you’ll never know why. Don’t you love it?

But what about agents, you may ask. Once you have an agent or two, things will get better, right?

No they won’t.

The pickings are slim, and these days, all the agents in North America will send the same bathroom tissue script to every talent with a potty mouth. That really makes you feel part of an exclusive club, doesn’t it?

5. It may take many years before you see a return on your investment, if you’re lucky.

A voice-over career cannot be bought. It has to be conquered. Slowly.

You may think you’re going to be successful because of your unique sound. Dream on! The only way you’ll stand a chance is if you stop treating your pipe dream as a hobby. This means you’ve got to invest in professional gear and in a quiet place to record ($$$). Then you have to get yourself a few top-notch demos, plus a website to tell the world what you’re doing ($$$).

And this is just the beginning.

Having all of that in place is no guarantee that you’ll make any money with your voice. Thousands of people all over the world are doing exactly what you do, and they are giving up within a year. The only money they’ll ever see is when they’re selling their stuff on eBay. At a loss. 

When you really think about it, you have to be an idiot to become a voice over.

I was foolish enough to choose that as my career, and guess what?

I’ve never been happier!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS If you believe I’m being negative for no reason, you should read 5 awful things nobody tells you about being an actor. Then we’ll talk, okay?

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What Top Japanese School Bands Taught Me About Voice Overs

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Personal2 Comments

the author is on the right

This may come as a surprise, but I never wanted to be a voice over.

I still think it’s strange that I make a living talking to imaginary people reading scripts from folks I’ve never met, for clients I’ve never even spoken to.

But it beats digging ditches, flagging traffic in 100 degree weather, working in an Amazon warehouse, or doing the night shift at a meat processing plant.

In my teens I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to have a career in music.

THE MUSIC MAN

From the age of eight I played the cornet in what Americans would call a marching band, even though we didn’t march much. It was more of a concert band. Later on I added organ lessons, and I played the piano. I was also an avid collector of native flutes from all over the world, most of which I could play.

When I was sixteen years old I started taking conducting lessons, I began composing and arranging, and at eighteen I became the interim conductor of my band. After high school I went to Utrecht University to study musicology, even though I was admitted to a conservatory in the north of Holland.

As a university student, I joined a brass band, an orchestra playing broadway musicals, a jazz band, and a choir specializing in plainchant. I simply couldn’t sit still and be quiet. My life was music, and music was my life.

If you’d ask me today to choose between music or voice overs, I would choose music in a heartbeat. No doubt about it.

So, it won’t come as surprise that I’ve kept a keen interest in the world of brass bands, concert bands, classical music in general, and organ music in particular.

WATCH WITH ME

What I’m going to do next is a bit of a risk. I’m going to ask you to watch a spectacular seven-minute music video. What you’re about to see is a selection of the best Japanese high school symphonic bands taking part in a 2019 national competition.

Perhaps the music you’re about to hear is not your cup of tea. On the other hand, you might have played in a high school band yourself, or you may have friends who did. Perhaps you still play an instrument, and you’ll recognize and appreciate the level of musicianship you’re about to see.

Anyway, I hope you will watch a bit of it, or the whole thing, just to get a better feel for what I’m going to talk about next.

I don’t know about you, but when I watched this video for the first time, I was floored. Having played in this type of ensemble myself, I was blown away by the technical abilities of the teenagers on stage, but there was more.

If you’ve ever been a member of any school orchestra, you know there are always a few people who practice really hard, and a whole lot who are simply winging it. You can say the same about sports teams, by the way. It’s rare to have an entire youth orchestra with kids who seem to be so committed and so completely competent.

QUALITY AND DEDICATION

Another thing I noticed was that they’re not playing on crappy instruments. To me, this is proof that the schools are taking their music program seriously. It’s not an afterthought without a proper budget.

Some kids on stage are multi-instrumentalists. At 3:20 you’ll see a girl on the left playing a mallet percussion instrument walking over to the harp. Without missing a beat, she starts plucking the strings. 

What also struck me was the collective level of focus and dedication. No one was phoning it in. Of course this footage was shot at a competition, so that’s what one would expect, but here’s the thing. When you watch individual performances of these orchestras outside of a competitive setting (and there are tons of videos on YouTube), you’ll see the same level of energy, musicianship, and enthusiasm starting at the elementary school level.

Unlike my old orchestra, most of these school bands are also marching bands that frequently travel the world to show off their amazingly intricate routines. Click here to watch one of these shows. 

Back to the 2019 competition video. What impressed me most was that the performances weren’t only technically top-notch, but these teens were making real music with heart and with soul. Here’s the big question: How do they do it?

WHAT’S THE SECRET

As an academic discipline, music in Japan is just as important as mathematics. All of the musicians you see on stage started their music education in elementary school. If you don’t believe me, watch this video of an all-girl elementary school brass band playing “Jupiter” from the “The Planets” by Gustav Holst. And they’re doing it from memory!

So, what can we learn from music education in Japan?

Lesson number one: Start as early as you can, and whatever it is you do, have fun but take it seriously.

Lesson number two: Practice, practice, practice.

Most band members in Japan can’t rehearse at home, so they stay after school for a couple of hours on every weekday for individual and band practice, and sometimes during weekends and vacations as well. A band is only as good as its weakest link. No one wants to let the team down. 

Lesson number three: Keep at it. Don’t give up too quickly.

So many kids are ready to give up when things become challenging, and parents let them. How can you know that playing the piano is not for you after only a couple of  lessons? Successful people aren’t quitters.

Practicing does not come naturally. It requires discipline and needs to be learned. It takes time for habits to form. 

Lesson number four: Stay focused.

We live in a time of many distractions and short attention spans. Cell phones are always within reach, and in many homes the TV is always on. It’s easy for your mind to wonder off, if you don’t make whatever it is you want to become good at, a priority.

Lesson number five: Become an expert.

The best way to master something, is to teach it. In Japan, elder students are expected to educate the young, and younger students have to respect senior students. 

Lesson number six: Have an open, curious mind, and an eagerness to learn. 

Western band directors have marveled at the openness of the Japanese students to new ideas and noticed the apparent absence of “attitude.” Japanese students want to learn, they accept the information and instructions given to them, and most importantly, they do the work necessary to realize the desired results.

Lesson number seven: If you want to be at the top of your game, you have to have reliable equipment.

This means you need to have the means and the willingness to make a serious investment. A cheap instrument will only take you so far, and it will limit what you can achieve. 

Lesson number eight: Setting the bar high is a matter of tremendous pride.

Do these Japanese school orchestras consist of a bunch of overachievers? To the naive outsider that may seem the case, but in Japan these orchestras are of vital importance since they represent each school and its identity. 

Every year, prestigious national competitions are organized to elect the best orchestra. Imagine 14,000 bands with 800,000 competing musicians! This allows pupils to be highly motivated in terms of instrument practice because they want to defend the honor of their school.

Lesson number nine: Study the best performers in your field and keep on learning.

Japanese students are encouraged to watch live performances and learn from them. Observing top orchestras and individual performers can inspire students to up their game. The band director will often bring in professionals for clinics and joint performances to bring out the best in the students.

Lesson number ten: Cultures are different and unique. Not everything that works in Japan will work as well in the rest of the world.

For one, Japanese culture focuses more on the collective than on the individual. To an outsider, there seems to be greater (and an unhealthy) pressure to be perfect. Voice over Sean Daeley who has lived and worked in Japan told me:

“While I admit there is an element of cultural difference in perfectionism, the importance of not letting the band or your family down, and maybe even tiger mom/parentage, I’ve also talked to a number of adult students who reflected back on those experiences, saying while they may have hated it at the time, they were truly grateful they were encouraged to put in the time to enjoy the level of skill they still have as adults.”

BUT WHAT ABOUT VOICE OVERS

Here’s the connection.

Performing music is an art, and so is doing voice overs. A musician interprets the notes in a score, just as voice overs interpret the words on a page.

Before you can start a career as a voice over artist, you have to learn how to play your instrument. This takes time, practice, and concentration. You need careful guidance and a willingness to accept direction from people with more experience.

You have to leave your attitude of entitlement and “I know everything already” at the door. You don’t know what you don’t know. 

When you get advice from a VO veteran, don’t complain about the older generation pretending to be better than you are. Say “Thank you,” and repay him or her by putting it into practice and by paying it forward.

You need to focus, listen, and learn until you become so good at what you do, that you can teach the material to a new generation. It requires relentless dedication, time, and energy.

As someone who will be self-employed, no one will set the bar, but you. No one will get you out of bed, but you. No one will tell you what to do, but you. 

If you’re not disciplined enough to handle that (and most people aren’t), a voice over career isn’t your thing.

And finally…

Your studio will be your stage, and you’ll be performing for an audience you’ll never see.

So, don’t do it for the applause.

Do it for the music!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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The Great Desperation

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Freelancing, International, Internet, Pay-to-Play12 Comments

Dear friends,

In the midst of the devastating Corona crisis, it is time to have a party!

Let’s all go to Casa Ciccarelli in Canada, hang up some garlands, bring out our silly hats, and throw some confetti because…

Voices dot com has reached One Billion Registered Users!

Apologies…. make that One Million users*.

The news sounds just as pathetic as the McDonald’s sign saying “billions and billions served.” It still means they’re selling indigestion and obesity on a plastic plate. Just on a grander scale.

According to VDC, the top 5 countries with the most users are… (drumroll please):

The USA, Canada, India, the United Kingdom, and the Philippines.

Call me cynical, but could this meteoric rise in numbers have anything to do with the effects of the current pandemic? You know, the sheer number of people out of a job. The poor impressionables who are suddenly forced to work from home and have no idea what to do with themselves?

“Oh wait, when all else fails, I could always become… a voice over! Let’s find that Snowball microphone that is gathering dust.”

Is VDC cashing in on a global crisis?

Or is that a dark thought coming from a notorious VDC critic? Let’s ask David Ciccarelli, CEO and co-founder of Voices.com. He said the following in a press release:

These times are challenging and Voices.com is a solution for many of our customers in their time of need,”  (…) Aspiring voice talent have been registering in record numbers, and, not surprisingly, professional voice talent who have invested in remote recording studio technologies are benefiting from the increase in demand.”

Do you want to know what I think?

VDC is one of the least transparent voice over service providers on the planet, and is one of the best at putting itself at the top of search engines. I take whatever they tout with a huge grain of Himalayan salt. This includes any numbers they provide because they cannot be independently verified.

Secondly, have you noticed a sudden “increase in demand” for voice overs?

THE COLLAPSING MARKET

Has your local car dealership called for a commercial lately? Or Holiday Hair?

How about the tourism and hospitality industry?

Did you get a call to do any airline adverts, or promote any theme parks or live events recently?

I didn’t think so.

Businesses and service providers can’t advertise themselves out of a pandemic-induced recession. What we need at this time is tests and vaccines and people staying away from people. Not more ads for things we can’t afford because that Trump-signed $1200 check doesn’t really cut it.

The media and entertainment industry is being hit hard, and with it, the (voice) actors. The production of motion pictures and TV shows has come to a standstill. Theaters and cinemas are closed. Meanwhile companies like Netflix are signing up subscribers by the millions, stealing viewers from network television that runs on advertising.

Huge sports events like the Olympics have been postponed or cancelled. Did you know that NBC had already booked more than $1 billion in national advertising commitments for the Games in Tokyo?

You may say that analysts have not detected a drop in ad spending during the first quarter of 2020, and you would be right. That’s because most advertisers made reservations for that ad time last summer during the so-called upfront market, when the bulk of TV commercial time is sold.

This means that the real sh*t hasn’t even hit the fan yet.

CANADA TO THE RESCUE?

But thank goodness we have voices dot com. They’re always there for us, fighting hard to keep the dream of aspiring voice actors alive with wonderful projects thousands will audition for (and never get), a dollar- a-holler.

I mean, it makes complete sense that if you want to start a new career, you don’t invest in any training, you get crap recording equipment you use in an untreated space, and you expect to stand out among hundreds of thousands of other users doing the same thing on the same platform! Aren’t you a smart cookie!

And, should you be one of those lucky companies that hasn’t slashed the marketing and advertising budget yet, wouldn’t you just love to have to weed through hundreds and hundreds of substandard online auditions, hoping to find one low-bidding amateur needle in an amateur haystack?

SPOKEN BOOKS

But Paul, what about audio books? Audio books are in the midsts of a boom. Deloitte predicted that the global market will grow by 25 per cent in 2020 to $3.5 billion (USD). That’s where the amazing opportunities are!

Well, you may have a point, but let’s look at who narrates the spoken books that actually make money. Publishers aren’t born yesterday. They know who to hire.

According to the BBC, Penguin released  thirty of their classics in audiobook format, narrated by well-known names including Andrew Scott reading The Dubliners and Natalie Dormer voicing A Room of One’s Own.

Meanwhile, Audible has had Rosamund Pike reading Pride and Prejudice and Thandie Newton narrating Jane Eyre. A huge seller for them has been Stephen Fry’s 72-hour-long reading of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Collection.

So, if you happen to be an audio book publisher, who would you rather hire? Benedict Cumberbatch, or some unknown voice over person with a free profile on VDC? Since most stage and on-screen actors are twiddling their thumbs at the moment, you might be able to get an A-lister for cheap.

By the way, if you’re new to voice overs, please realize that narrating audio books is one of the most challenging things you could ever do in this business. Your beginner voice won’t have the stamina to read for hours on end,  and you won’t have the acting chops to portray the many different characters in the novel you want to audition for. You have no clue how to self-direct, and your cheap microphone records every loud breath, sharp S, mouth click, and popping plosive, as well as a generous amount of self-noise. And did I tell you about the endless editing?

DISTANCE LEARNING

Then there’s eLearning. For some reason medical narration seems to be very much in-demand at the moment. Yippie! Let me  give you a taste of what that entails. Here’s a snippet from a script I got to voice for a pharmaceutical giant, recently:

“Physicians look for complications of cirrhosis including presence of peripheral edema, splenomegaly, ascites, and encephalopathy. Physicians also look for rare complications such as cyanosis (due to hepatopulmonary syndrome) or evidence of pulmonary hypertension (portopulmonary hypertension).”

And this is by no means the most challenging medical script I ever had to narrate. As one of the new VDC recruits, do you think you’re totally ready for this type of project? I know that’s what VDC wants you to believe. If you have a voice, a pulse, and a credit card, they’re happy to welcome you to the club!

I agree that times are tough, and when people are desperate, they become an easy target for those offering them what seems to be an easy way out. You may call those who pray on desperate people opportunists, givers of false hope, con artists even.

I hate to break it to you, but you don’t become a best-selling author overnight, you don’t make a fortune selling stock photos shot with your iPhone, or become a millionaire doing make-up tutorials on YouTube. I’ve tried two out of three, and I still don’t have that red Maserati in my driveway. Frankly, I don’t know any voice actor who has. 

BURSTING A BUBBLE

I’m not telling you this because you don’t deserve to dream. I’m telling you this because I don’t want you to get your hopes up and be taken advantage of. I’m also telling you this because I want you to be well-prepared when you do decide to go for it. Who am I to stop you?

As in any profession, you can’t buy yourself a career in voice overs. You’ve got to earn it first, before reaping the rewards. Those rewards, by the way, are going down as professional voices are becoming more of a commodity due to the increased number of people signing up for services like VDC. It’s a buyers market.

Jobs that used to pay $2500 are now going for $250 or less, because people who don’t know any better believe it’s good money. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, right? At the end of the day, talking into a microphone is better and safer than slaving in some Amazon warehouse just so Jeff Bezos can buy another mansion.

But before you fork over $399 for a premium membership, or $2,999 for a platinum membership (so you can get priority ranking in the Voices.com directory search results), think about what one of my colleagues just said after I posted the following picture on Instagram:

He told me:

“I am sinking as is. Why turn over $400 a year, PAYING to get rejected?”

Perhaps you think the owners of VDC deserve to be congratulated on their success. They were once the toast of the town. Now they’re no longer welcome at voice over conferences because of their well-documented unethical business practices.

You can choose to be a part of those practices and enable their growth if you like. After all, you can do great work for a bad business.

Or you can save yourself some money, and invest it in building your own freelance business with integrity.

It doesn’t even have to be a voice over business.

It’s your life.

It’s your party.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

* According to VDC it has 1 million business and voice actor registered users.

 

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This May Be The Best Investment In Your VO Career Right Now

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, International, Internet, One Voice, Promotion4 Comments

Some say he’s got a big blob of gravy for a brain.

Some say he is the secret love child of Telly Savalas and his Austrian mistress Inga.

Some say he combs his armpits with an electric toothbrush, and they are sure he shines the top of his head with extra fine sandpaper, giving him a ten-minute braingasm.

All we know is that he’s called….

Huge Edwards (photo).

Apologies. It’s Hugh Edwards. Actually. 

If you’re a Top Gear fan, you recognize the reference. If not, you probably think I’m stark raving mad. You might be right. This self-quarantining situation does crazy things to a sane mind. 

Anyway, today I had a chance to talk to the Stig of the voice over world. The man who can pull off stunts no one has ever attempted before. The guy who is working 24/7 to put together the world’s first LIVE virtual voice over gathering. The co-creator of the One Voice Conference which opens its online doors on Thursday, May 7th.

And by the way, the bold words in blue are (as always) hyperlinks.

A PLANET GONE VIRAL

Listen, I don’t have to remind you how much the world has changed thanks to this nasty virus. I know you’re probably not working as much as you would like. That does mean you have more time on your hands, and I know just the way to spend that time. You need to get ready for when the world reopens and you’re back in business. Stronger and better than ever. As I said before:

“This is the time to sharpen your axe, and use it wisely.

Refresh your demos, revamp your website, step up your marketing, increase your social media exposure, work with a coach on your weaknesses, build a proper studio, upgrade your gear.

Invest. Invest. Invest.

If you don’t do it, others will, and they’ll come out of this crisis ready and running.”

That’s why I’d be thrilled if you could join me at the One Voice Conference. All the other VO conferences are not going to happen this year, and -as you will hear shortly- if you decide to join me, you will have access to not one but THREE conferences at a price which has been slashed in half by Stig Edwards himself.

SELLING MYSELF

If this sounds like a self-serving sales pitch to you, I am guilty as charged because I’m one of the contributors to the conference. Do I want this thing to be a huge success for everyone involved? Of course I do!

But even if I wasn’t contributing, I would still suggest you sign up because I know and trust the people who are putting it together, and I’ve seen the line up of speakers (53 and counting). Check them out, and imagine for a moment that you’d have to pay each presenter $150 to $200 for a private consultation.

Get this: A weekend virtual conference pass is $226.80, and Gravy For The Brain members are paying even less.

One of the frustrations of a “normal” conference is that by going to one presentation, you miss out on many others because they’re happening at the same time. With this virtual conference that’s no longer a problem. You get access to all of them (and more), and you can watch them whenever it is most convenient for you. 

But wait… there’s more!

THE ONE VOICE INTERVIEW

Earlier today I had a Zoom meeting with Hugh Edwards, and we talked about how participants of the conference would interact with one another, and with the presenters. Did the content of the conference have to be changed due to the virtual format? Will the sponsors of One Voice still offer surprise bonuses and special deals? (A little bird told me that Sennheiser is giving away a $700 Neumann BCM 705 broadcast microphone, and a pair of $100 Sennheiser HD 280 closed back studio headphones)

I began by asking about the challenges Hugh and his team had to overcome, to put this LIVE conference together.


Many thanks to Hugh for talking to me in the midst of his busy schedule.

Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at the situation during one of the One Voice dress rehearsals (and believe it or not, this is only one quarter of the kit). 

MY ROLE AT ONE VOICE

“But Paul, what about your contributions to the One Voice Conference?” you may ask.

Good question!

On Friday May 7th, I’ll be doing a 40-minute presentation about how blogging put me on the international map as a voice over artist (and why you should start blogging too!). I have a surprise gift for everyone who’s attending.

On Saturday May 8th I will conduct a 3-hour paid workshop, entitled: “Blogging Yourself To Voice Over Success” (click here to book a seat).

Both take place at 4 PM UK time (11 AM EST, 8 AM PT).

The Friday presentation is in part my personal story and also an introduction to the value of blogging for voice overs. The Saturday workshop is a practical, in-depth look at the process of blogging, and I’ll teach you how to reach an audience, and how to monetize your blog.

I know one thing for sure: without this blog very few colleagues and clients would know my name, my voice, and this website. It was, and still is crucial to my career, and having a blog can do the same thing for you!

So, I’m counting on seeing you at the conference in May. If only for one reason and one reason only:

To make Hugh/You Happy!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Hugh is the first to acknowledge that world’s very first online voice over conference was Voice Over Virtual, back in 2013, produced by John Florian of VoiceOverXtra. What makes ONE VOICE stand out, is that it’s the first LIVE virtual conference.

 

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Is Visibility Coaching For You?

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Freelancing, International, Internet, Promotion, Social MediaLeave a comment

You know me.

I’m pretty open and honest about my business.

In this blog I share some aspects of how I make money as a voice talent. But there’s one part of my profession I don’t advertise.

It’s my work as a coach

Over the years I’ve helped lots of colleagues become more successful, and I feel they should take the credit. Not me.

Plus, I’m quite busy voicing projects and I don’t have a lot of time to coach. Frankly, I can make more money recording a three-minute script, than spending an hour giving someone advice.

But two years ago, things changed. I had my stroke, and it affected my vocal folds. My voice doesn’t last as long as it used to, and I can’t take on every project that’s offered to me.

Over time, my coaching hours increased, and I discovered that helping others can be much more satisfying than recording a pancake commercial.

Now, some coaches specialize in accent reduction. Others know all about audio books. I call myself a Visibility Coach because my strength lies in helping people stand out in a world filled with noise.

GETTING VOICE OVER JOBS

There are basically two approaches to finding more work:

– You can target and approach clients all day long by cold calling, by begging agents to send you gigs, and by auditioning online until you’re blue in the voice, or you can…

– Make those clients come to you by having a strong online presence through your website and social media

The second approach cuts out the middle man, and gives you the freedom to negotiate with clients on your turf and on your terms. Most people have tried the first method and they end up being frustrated, broke, and exhausted. Oddly enough, they’ve never spent much time trying the second method.

If you are one of those people and you’re wondering if coaching is for you, I have a question for you:

Can you pull yourself up by your bootstraps and make things better?

If you could, then why haven’t you? And if you haven’t, what’s holding you back?

You can always ask friends and family for advice, but what do they really know about the business you’re in? Do they know what it takes to put yourself out there, even if you don’t feel like selling yourself? Do they have the practical experience to figure out what’s keeping you from booking more jobs? 

Do they have the right connections to improve your visibility in the field, without plastering your face all over the internet? Do they know anything about branding and marketing? You see, friends and family will always have an opinion, but they lack the objectivity, the skills, and the know-how to guide you.

That’s where I come in.

THE BEGINNING

Twenty years ago, I came to the United States with two suitcases and a plastic bag. No one knew who I was, and I had no idea where to begin. But I did it anyway. Now I have a thriving business, happy clients, and over forty thousand people that subscribe to this blog. I speak at conferences, I give interviews, and I have written one of the more successful books on voice overs and freelancing.

One could say that I’ve figured a few things out about what it takes to do well in this ever-changing business. And I’m happy to share them with you. The Dutch are known for being very direct, and I am no sugar-coater. In fact, I am probably the person who will tell you what you don’t want to hear. If you can’t handle that, find a coach who will gladly massage your ego.

As your coach, I will be your greatest fan and cheerleader. I will hold you accountable for the actions you choose to take. If you want to talk the talk, you will have to walk the walk. I will help you plan a path, make connections, and teach you what I know. Not from boring books, but from international experience.

For instance, many European colleagues are wondering what it takes to break into the American market. It’s not easy, but it’s not impossible. I’ve done it. It’s all about talent, strategy, and connections. You bring the talent, and together we’ll focus on the rest.

MY GOAL 

My ultimate goal as a visibility coach is to make myself redundant. Your job is to do everything it takes to get to a point where you stand strong, and take full credit for your accomplishments.

We live in testing times. As the economy is crumbling and you’re not working as much as you’d like to, this is a good moment to dig in and make some changes. If you don’t, others will take this opportunity to develop a competitive advantage. 

I believe you deserve to do well in the world. I believe you deserve to use the gifts that you’re developing to the best of your ability.

If any of this resonates with you, I hope you’ll get in touch. I have to warn you, though.

I don’t take on every student that seeks coaching. My time is just as valuable as yours, and I only work with those who are highly motivated and ready to do whatever it takes. You must be prepared to spend some serious time on whatever it is that needs to improve.

IT’S UP TO YOU

Please realize that I don’t have a magic wand to lead you to instant success. Coaching is not the same as making a prefab microwave meal. Coaching is more of a crockpot process. Each student has different strengths and weaknesses, and needs a different recipe.

One last thing. This is important. 

As your coach, I cannot force you to do anything. I cannot make clients hire you on the spot, but I can teach you how to drive and navigate the road, so to speak. You, however, are in the driver’s seat, and you determine the destination.

Once you’re ready to get behind the wheel, please drop me a line. I’ll send you a copy of my Coaching Agreement to give you a better sense of my approach, and the required investment on your part.

Let’s speak soon!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Sharpening the Axe

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, International, Journalism & Media, Personal, Social Media, VO Atlanta6 Comments

Camp VO was canceled. VO Atlanta was postponed, and the One Voice Conference in London is going ahead in a virtual format.

I think we can all agree that the right decisions were made, given the extraordinary circumstances. However, the feeling of disappointment remains.

What will be axed next, you wonder? The summer Olympics?

It’s fascinating that the word crisis comes from the Greek word krisis, which means “turning point in a disease, a change which indicates recovery or death.”

This COVID-19 crisis has forced all of us to change our behavior in ways we would have never imagined, only a few weeks ago. The main questions on my mind were:

  • What exactly is going on?
  • What are the consequences?
  • How do I respond?

 

MY PERSONAL REACTION

This week I’d like to tell you how I am dealing with the corona crisis, by sharing some of my recent Instagram posts. If you’re not following me yet, I hope you will after reading this blog post (@nethervoice).

What I want to do with these statements is increase awareness, and make people think twice about the situation they’re in. My strategy is always to say as much as I can in as few words as possible without distorting the truth. At least, my version of the truth. 

For many people, being confined to their home seems to be a major challenge. I count myself very lucky that living and working in isolation is no problem for me.

Other people are clearly having a hard time staying away from one another. They mob supermarkets hunting for toilet paper and hand sanitizer. What’s up with that?

Because my wife and I are in a risk group, people seem to believe we should be very afraid. For me, knowing what’s going on helps me get a better grip on the situation.

Ignorance weakens. Knowledge empowers. 

Some politicians were accusing the messenger throughout this pandemic, and they continue to do so. Before we blame the press for all our woes, let’s agree that it’s up to us which source of information we trust, and what we do with the information from that source.

The media cannot make us do anything. We are responsible for how we respond to what we see, hear, and choose to believe.

I’m not worried about those who practice social distancing, and stay home as much as they can. I’m not worried about those who are mindful of others. I do worry about those who think they don’t have to change their behavior, just because they do not notice any symptoms. 

To me, the image below sums up the best response we could have to COVID-19. I’d rather be overly careful, than underestimate the situation we’re in. 

You don’t have to be an expert to see that this corona virus is not only a health crisis but an economic one as well. Unless you’re selling sanitizers, respirators and protective clothing, your business will slow down and suffer.

I hate to say it, but from now on it’s going to be survival of the smartest and those who are best prepared. The good news is that with less work coming in, you’ll have more time to prepare yourself for the months and years to come.

Abraham Lincoln, who was a skilled woodcutter before becoming one of the most important presidents in US history, famously said:

“If I had six hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend the first four hours sharpening the axe.”

Well, my friends, this is the time to sharpen your axe, and use it wisely.

Refresh your demos, revamp your website, step up your marketing, increase your social media exposure, work with a coach on your weaknesses, build a proper studio, upgrade your gear.

Invest. Invest. Invest.

If you don’t do it, others will, and they’ll come out of this crisis ready and running.

And remember:

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Bart Vleugels: Giving Words Wings

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Dutch, International, VO Atlanta2 Comments

Bart Vleugels

The news is out. VO Atlanta 2020 has been postponed.

In light of the rapid spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, this was the only smart decision CEO Gerald Griffith could make. Nevertheless, it’s a huge disappointment for those who were already packing their bags, me included.

The good news is that a delay is not a denial. Once COVID-19 has been contained, and we no longer need to practice social distancing, VOA 2020 will go ahead.

For now, the entire voice over community will get full access to the 2019 panels, keynote, and sponsored sessions for FREE. Gerald said: “We’re all in this together, right? and my commitment to connecting the community is more than lip-service.”

I don’t know about you, but I remember my very first VO Atlanta.

I wasn’t sure I was going to like it. So many people. So much to choose from, from the moment you get up, to the moment you go to bed.

And when you finally do fall asleep, you dream of voice overs all night long. 

This reluctant extrovert was nervous and unsure he would fit in.

That all changed when I found out there was one other Dutch speaker at the conference. Originally from Belgium, his name was Bart Vleugels. “Vleugels” means “wings” in Dutch. Hence the headline.

Bart, as you will find out, is a fellow-introvert who was like me: way out of his comfort zone amidst those crazy outgoing, enthusiastic Americans. We sort of survived the conference together, and we liked it so much that we came back, year after year.

Since I’m interviewing every Dutch-speaking participant who’s coming to this year’s rendition of VO Atlanta, I’m rolling out the red carpet for Bart. The man who gives words wings. 

Bart, how did you get started in the business, and for how long have you been a voice-over?

Like a lot of other VO talent, it all started at a radio station. In fact, I built my first station. It had a range of a miserable 50 meters, courtesy of Radio Shack. It was a “radio station in a box” and I called it Radio Bonanza because it was the only instrumental track I had that I could talk over… I was 14 at the time. I volunteered at a local pirate radio station for awhile and became a DJ soon after.

I took a break in the late 80s to go to the USA as an exchange student. That’s when I REALLY fell in love with radio. That American sound, hitting the post during the intros, it all sounded so cool. I did some more DJ’ing at 2 radio stations in Belgium after returning from the US and during my (then mandatory) military service. I went back to the USA in 1993 to study broadcasting in college.

My very first paid voice-over job was in 1996 when I voiced and produced liners and station IDs for a station in Belgium. If you want to know what I sound like, here’s one of my commercials:

What do you like about your work and the business you’re in?

What’s not to like!? I’m beyond an introvert, so the booth is my happy place and sanctuary. I like the opportunity to interpret and deliver the words that somebody else wrote. I enjoy trying to get in the writer’s head and bring those words and emotions to life. I love giving alternate takes. I like to provide a service to clients that reaches beyond what they expect.

I like VO because the business moves very fast: Audition, get job, do job, get paid. Get in, get out. Boom. Pow. Bye. Next. Multiple jobs a day and they’re never the same. Gotta love that variety!

What has changed since you made your very first recording?

From a technical standpoint, it’s incredible what we can do now compared to 10 or 20 years ago. Remember SAW and SAW+? Actually, I’m old enough to remember splicing tape on a reel-to-reel. We needed big studios and bank loans to have a “studio”. But now… Being able to walk into my booth and do a session one-on-one with a producer half way around the world? Unbelievable!

I have changed as well. I was just a kid when this all started. I grew up. I learned humility, patience, respect.

What do you specialize in? What makes you unique?

We’re ALL unique in our own way. For me, I’m a dual citizen who speaks Flemish and English with a studio in Oklahoma City. Not too many of those? As far as my voice quality and tone, I’ve learned from previous VO Atlanta conferences that our voices are unique to ourselves. Nobody can sound like me. So I’m running with it!

I’m proud to say I’ve been a ProTools user since 1996, back in the ProTools III days. I like Protools, I’m used to it, I’m fast with it. My specialty is translation and then narrating my own translation. Every month I receive an English safety video, accompanied with the script. The client wants it translated into Flemish, and then narrated and sync’ed in Flemish as well. I LOVE that I can provide both services.

What do you find the most challenging aspect of your work, and why?

For me personally it’s Marketing. As I mentioned before, I’m the quiet type. So, getting on social media and actually posting something doesn’t come natural for me. I admire people like yourself Paul, who feel comfortable in sharing your ideas and feelings in a blog or podcast. I grew up with parents who made it perfectly clear not to gloat or show off when I did something good. I’m still trying to find that happy medium where it’s OK to be proud of something, and share that with the world without sounding like a know-it-all or become the “look at me!” type.

What would be your dream VO job?

I really enjoy e-learning projects and the long format jobs. But don’t ask me to read a book. I’m so in awe of book narrators who can go hours and keep track of the characters, accents, etc. Such artists! In second place would be radio imaging. That’s how I started and I really enjoyed not only being the voice of the station, but also doing the production with all its whooshes, hits, zaps and zings! And I’m still dreaming of hosting a radio show/podcast where I’m doing a US Top-15 or Top-20 countdown in Flemish, but all done from the US. Almost like a weekly Entertainment Tonight/Countdown show.

What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?

There’s a Belgian expression: “Belgians are born with a brick in their stomach”. It basically means they don’t move. You pretty much are born, grow up and probably die in the same town. I’m proud that I had the courage at 17 to get on a plane and go somewhere I had never been before. Go to school and experience an entire year as a high school kid and as a member of a family, not a tourist. It was a great experience and it built the foundation for the reasons I live in the US now.

What’s an important part of your life you want people to know about, that doesn’t necessarily have to do with voice-overs? 

I’m proud that I became a US citizen 10 years ago. I love it here so much. And I get to vote (and serve on a jury) now!

Also, just like Serge (Belgian VO talent living in Texas) I’m active with fostering dogs. My wife and I have been fostering for almost 8 years now. It’s so much fun to see the different personalities each dog brings to the crate.

Why are you coming to VO Atlanta, and what are you looking forward to most?

This will be the third consecutive VO Atlanta conference for me. I will be surrounded by people who LOVE what they do: Professionals who, even though we all do the same thing, understand that we’re not competitors but partners!

It’s one thing to go to a conference because your boss says so. But VO Atlanta: The atmosphere, the vibe, the smiles, the familiar faces, the new connections, the learning, but especially the PEOPLE,… It’s a 3-day pep rally!!

And I can’t wait to see you and those Dutch clogs of yours again!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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