I don’t know about you, but I’m astonished at the growing number of people responding to no-budget and low-budget voice-over jobs. It had me wonder:
Who are they? What drives them? How do we make them stop?
Some colleagues suggested I shouldn’t take these lowballers seriously. They’re ignorant hobbyists at best, and their actions have no impact on us professionals.
It’s insulting and upsetting when both client and talent find the contribution of a voice-over of so little value that no money changes hands. Meanwhile, the copywriter and sound engineer get paid, the animator receives a check, and the guy who hired them to create an ad campaign has a full-time position with benefits.
What’s wrong with this picture?
If the company is too cheap to pay a pro, why don’t they ask Keith from accounting to do the voice-over? Why do they have to post a job in a Facebook group for voice-overs? It’s simple: because they know that Keith in accounting is a klutz, and there’s always a hopeless hopeful VO with a sliver of talent who’s willing to do it for nothing.
I’m sorry, but I’ve worked too long and too hard to be giving my voice away. Even if I were getting my feet wet, I’d have enough respect for myself and my colleagues to insist on being paid good money for good work.
So, why are some budding voice-overs willing to work for free? Beginning plumbers don’t do that. Newly graduated chefs don’t put a zero dollar menu together. Young teachers make less, but they get paid for doing their job. What makes us voice-overs so special that we deserve not to be paid?
A TYPICAL JOB OFFER
To get some perspective, let’s pick a real gig that was just posted on Facebook. The job is for a “nonprofit small low power Christian radio station” and was described as follows:
“A concept piece mentioning a new name and slogan along with some catchphrases. It’s like a sizzle reel in tv terms. Unpaid but appreciated.”
Someone who wants this job responds (and I’m not going to pick on the grammar):
“I could use the exposure and experience being new to professional.”
Just imagine all the exposure a small nonprofit low power Christian radio station can bring! I think you’ll need the intervention of a higher power to make all that exposure work to your benefit.
Speaking of exposure, try going to a restaurant telling the owner: “I’m not going to pay you today, but I’ll make sure to say nice things about you on Instagram.” Unless you’re Kim Kardashian, Paris Hilton, or Kylie Jenner, I don’t think you’ll be getting very far.
As someone who has been using his voice professionally since he was seventeen, I can tell you that, unless you’re a flasher, exposure is highly overrated. It doesn’t pay the rent and it can’t feed your family. It’s a transparent trick to make you believe you’re getting something in exchange for volunteering your services.
Some high-profile jobs may give you limited exposure, but these jobs usually go to A-list celebs and come with a nice paycheck. Keep in mind that voice-overs are the Invisibles of the industry. By definition, our role is mainly supportive (the exception being audiobook narration which I think is underpaid). We have to make up our own awards shows in order to get some recognition… from our peers.
So, if you’re looking for exposure, you’ve chosen the wrong profession. Don Lafontaine was arguably the most famous voice-over artist of his time, but very few people knew who he was until he appeared as a sidekick in a Geiko television commercial. Notice that he’s introduced as “that announcer guy from the movies.”
Will working for free give you the experience needed to book more paid jobs? It totally depends on the experience. I vividly remember an angry young conductor kicked out of a competition. He wanted to know why he hadn’t made it to the next round. He told the jury: “Compared to all the other contestants I’ve had much more experience. Why are you letting me go?” The chairman of the jury told him: “Your experience must not have been very good.”
Some experiences simply don’t translate. Just because you’ve worked as an announcer for a radio station or you were a teacher or a minister doesn’t mean you have the chops to be a successful voice-over. Having extensive experience as a voice talent doesn’t necessarily get me hired. Most clients aren’t interested in what I’ve done for other people in the past. They want to know:
What can you do for me today?
Will experience help you finally land an agent? Agents get interested once they know you can make them money. Doing jobs for free tells them you’re desperate instead of marketable. In my opinion, the experience you need as a budding voice-over is the experience of working with a good coach who’s not afraid to say what you don’t want to hear.
BEING A PROFESSIONAL
Let’s get back to the reason one of our colleagues thought he’d be a good fit for that no-budget Christian radio station job. He wrote:
“I could use the exposure and experience being new to professional.”
We’ve covered exposure and experience. Let’s get to the “professional” aspect. According to one dictionary, a professional is “engaged in a specified activity as one’s main paid occupation rather than as a pastime.”
So, if you’re doing something professionally, it can’t be a hobby, and you have to get paid. In addition, voice-overs are small business owners. The IRS says:
“A trade or business is generally an activity carried on for a livelihood or in good faith to make a profit.”
In other words:
WORKING FOR FREE IS UNPROFESSIONAL
A GOOD CAUSE
But what about working for charities? Don’t they at least deserve a discount? Before I get into that, let me be clear: the VO jobs I see posted in Facebook groups are sometimes for nonprofits but not for charities. Every charity is a nonprofit, but not every nonprofit is a charity.
As professionals we have to stop making assumptions about how much we believe a potential client can or cannot afford. They’re not going to tell us so we will never know. Just because it’s a nonprofit or a charity, doesn’t mean there’s no budget for PR. I know because organizations like Charity Navigator keep track of how much of a charity’s budget goes to fundraising campaigns.
Charities like the Cancer Survivors’ Fund, the Autism Spectrum Disorder Foundation, and the Kids Wish Network spend more than 50% of their budget on fundraising activities (source: click here). That isn’t necessarily a good thing, but don’t tell me all charities have no money and deserve a break.
Many CEO’s of charities make six-figure incomes. In 2015, the CEO of the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center made $3.6 million, and Wayne LaPierre who heads the nonprofit National Rifle Association was reported to make $4.6 million. These are extremes, but Charity Navigator says that among the charities they’ve evaluated, the average CEO salary is $150,000 (source: click here).
THERE’S A DIFFERENCE
What’s my point? Not every charity is created equal. Many are huge, professional organizations with big budgets for promotion. If there’s money to pay a CEO a decent salary, there is money to pay a voice-over a decent fee. Now, if you wish to support that charity because you connect with the cause, don’t discount your services. Make a tax-deductible donation after you get paid.
What baffles me most about those willing to work for (next to) nothing is the fact that they seem to be beginners. Perhaps I’m weird, but when I started out, I needed all the money I could get so I could invest in my career. I had to buy decent equipment, a good website, and I saved up to create a quiet recording space. Plus, I had to have a roof over my head and some food on the table.
I couldn’t afford to work for free, and I still can’t.
Here’s the thing most lowballers won’t admit: it takes real talent to book a top-dollar job, but it’s pretty easy to book a gig when you’re charging very little or nothing.
Once clients are used to your low rates they won’t be willing to pay you full price, and your colleagues will have a harder time negotiating a better deal. Why should clients pay more if they can get it for less (especially those for whom “good enough” is good enough).
Charging peanuts means you’ll never have the life you’re hoping for, and you’ll have less money to give to that charity you say you wish to support.
The moment you start charging a reasonable rate, you create expectations. You have something to prove. You tell the world:
“This is what this job is worth!
This is what I am worth, professionally speaking.”
If what you bring to the table has no added value, you’ve nothing left but to compete on price. But…
if you’re any good at what you do, people are willing to pay for it, and the benefit of hiring you outweighs the cost every single time.
After reading my last two articles, here’s what some of you wanted to know:
Do I make all this stuff up to scare newbies and make them look bad?
Before I address that, let’s explore the suggestion behind this question.
Number one: blaming the messenger is a cheap attempt to deflect attention from an unwelcome message. This is a tactic as old as mankind. If you feel you can’t win the argument, try to discredit the source, like:
“I’m uncomfortable with what Paul is saying, so I’ll accuse him of lying.”
Number two: why would I make stuff up? Every time I put myself out there as a blogger, I risk my reputation. The moment people would catch me in a falsehood, it’s game over. As a former journalist, I know for a fact that years of truth telling can be nullified by one stupid lie.
Once exposed, no one would ever want me to present at a conference, interview me for their podcast, read this blog, or buy my book. Clients that got wind of it might not want to work with me anymore.
Honestly, to lie would be a liability.
Lastly, why would I have to make things up if you can easily find them in open Facebook groups? If anything, social media is ideal for spotting public displays of ignorance. I’ve just combed through pages and pages of voice-over related nonsense to bring you the best of the worst. Before I get to that, here’s what you need to know.
You’re about to read literal quotes. I’m not paraphrasing anything, or correcting spelling. To protect the identity of the authors, I’m not going to name names. However, you should realize that this is my personal selection, specifically chosen to emphasize a few trends that worry me, namely:
1. Social media offer a seemingly equal playing field to pros and hobbyists. If you’re new to the business and you don’t know anybody, you can’t tell whom you can trust for advice. You might get solid information, or someone might be taking you for a ride.
2. Too many (amateur) doctors are prescribing cures before carefully diagnosing the patient, unhindered by a lack of common sense, knowledge, and experience. Anyone’s an expert, and quite often, the deaf are leading the blind. As usual, the quality of the info depends on the quality of the source.
3. Many Facebook groups have no barrier of entry, and any nobody can pretend to be somebody. I’ll say that again: any nobody can pretend to be somebody. Some critics claim that half of all Facebook accounts are fake. Ask yourself: do you know for sure that the Facebookers you’re chatting with are who they say they are?
In some groups, the people recruiting voices for their next project have started adding “must be 18+” because many of the submissions turned out to be from kids who were just fooling around.
4. There is no Facebook police, and too many group moderators are allowing anyone to say anything… they agree with. In my experience, it’s permitted to sing the praises of an unnamed, unethical, greedy P2P, but any criticism is quickly censored as “being negative.” In the same spirit, the moderator will allow rave reviews of newbie demos and websites (even when they’re crap), and will delete more honest assessments because they’re seen as “mean.”
An aspiring VO exclaimed:
“I’m going to leave this Facebook Group mainly because I’ve received nothing but negative comments since I’ve joined and I really only wanted to learn how to be successful and instead recieved so much hate.”
Thankfully, someone responded:
“I searched for your name and you’ve gotten one troll reply and about 30 helpful ones. It’s not hate if people don’t agree with you. It’s constructive criticism and at the end of the day only YOU choose what to take away or leave behind from any advice you get in life. If people keep taking things personally, then sorry but the VO business is not for you.”
As expected, people have lots of questions about breaking into the business. The scary thing is that so many Facebookers are ready to give advice without knowing anything about the person asking for it.
Let’s say you’re a car mechanic. Would you start working on a car before finding out what’s wrong with it? That’s pretty dumb, right? So, speaking of ways to get into the VO business, here’s what someone recommended:
“You have to move to los angeles to become an actor am i right regardless if how much fame or money you have or how many friends one gets in life? its easy for richard horvitz to be an actor if hes from there regardless how many friends he was with a pro actor or athlete right?”
That was particularly helpful, wasn’t it? Moving on to the next question:
“Been voicing anime since I was little but wanting to do it professionally; how to get started is my question.”
Here’s the answer:
“First creat a few demos”
“How to do that and not make it sound terrible?”
“I think the first step is just put yourself out there, make your presence known so, maybe take some unpaid jobs first, build a report of people that will recommend you and go from there.”
Here’s another brilliant suggestion:
“First things’ first: got a good mic? then: record something and upload it to soundcloud.com then put url link here.”
Someone else chimes in:
“I was always told to reach out to radio stations. I’m friends with a few professional voice actors.”
My two cents? First of all, don’t move to LA yet. Get some training first and see if you have any talent. Secondly, don’t “creat” any demos if you haven’t demonstrated anything. Once you’re ready for those demos, hire a professional to create them with you. By the way, don’t put yourself out there (whatever that means) if you have no website, no sound samples, and no recording space. It’s like opening a shop with empty shelves. Lastly, stay out of radio stations. They’re breeding grounds for frustrated announcers.
Unsurprisingly, many questions on Facebook are about home studios and recording equipment. We’d rather spend hours debating the pros and cons of using a USB microphone, than talk about how to market our business. Here’s a selection:
Q. “What’s the best mic that I can buy for under $100?” A1. “Blue snowball is good.”
A. “You can get the whole set up for about $200 and it’s totally worth it. You can see my mic and interface recommendations at XYZ.com Also, I’m selling my condo.”
A2. “You should able to go into a music shop and ask them if you can test their mics.”
A3. “I started with a Rode NT USB. A simple noise reduction pass is all you need and the set up is a fraction of the cost of XLR if you’re starting out on a budget.”
A4. “The Kaotica Eyeball is the only thing you need. It turns anywhere you are into your own sound studio.”
Let me break that down for you. Forget snowballs. Blue balls are particularly painful. $200 is not going to get you all you need to compete. Please don’t test microphones on the noisy shop floor of your local Guitar Center. Try them out in your recording space. Invest in a condenser mic and soundproof your studio. A plugin isn’t going to keep out lawn mowers and leaf blowers.
Q. “I don’t have a studio. How do i record when the neighbors kids are so loud i can hear them with the window closed?”
A1. “Tell the kids to shut up.”
A2. “You could try to build a little pvc/moving blanket fort… it will help.”
A3. “Upturned mattress and blankets all over will get you where you need to be once you get as far away from the kiddies as possible. Then a blanket over your head with your mic.”
Mattresses and blankets may help tame the boom in the room, but you need to decouple walls and add mass to keep the outside sounds out. FYI that’s going to cost you a pretty penny, but a VO without a home studio is like an Uber driver without a car.
A few more booth questions:
“Does anyone else use their macbook webcam mic? Do you find that sometimes your audio is inconsistant when you record? Somedays I sound clear and crisp, others I sound like I’m talking in a tin can. (I’m using Garage band to record)”
“So, I’m planning on making a cheap diy mobile sound booth on a pallet, and I’m wondering if you guys have any tips on what the cheapest materials I could use.”
“I have used fibre egg crates for sound absorbing material, they work great.”
“So I have a square closet that has a lightbulb hanging from the ceiling. I would probably want to put some soundproof material under the door because that’s the only part I can think of that would need it. I know that a lot of people start out with using a closet because it’s usually the most natural soundproof room.”
“Mine booth is a decommissioned shower stall. I used $5 moving blankets on all 4 sides as well as top and floor. It sounds as good as any booth in Hollywood I’ve ever used.”
“Moving blankets for the walls, ceiling, and floor if you have hard floors. Then toss a heavy blanket or comforter over the top moving blanket and put a heavy blanket up behind you. That’s as good as it gets without being a whisper room or studio bricks or something else nearly soundproof.”
Another person says:
“If you’re trying to keep it on the cheap, generic Walmart mattress toppers are between 1-2 inches thick and are usually around 10 bucks for a twin/full size mattress.”
What’s the common denominator? People trying to create something on the cheap. Here’s the thing: if you compromise on sound quality, you compromise your career. You don’t need to invest in a Bentley to travel from A to B, but you need a reliable means of transportation to get anywhere. And egg crates are just a fire hazard.
What surprised even me, are the number of “passion projects” peddled in Facebook groups. “Passion project” turns out to be a euphemism for unpaid slave labor. Here’s a sample:
“Hello everyone! I am in need of a few voice actors for my Sonic Boom Stop-Motion Episode 2 Project. This is NON PAID and I need the roles filled in as soon as possible!”
“I am currently in production of the first season of an all audio sketch comedy show. The project isn’t compensated however there are other benefits we will provide and avail to you if you are selected and interested.”
“I’m helping for casting for my mates unpaid Doctor Who Audio Series. (Unpaid) I am still looking for male voice actors for my Return to Wonderland motion comic book series.”
“Looking for a female VO for a Halo themed audio book. Project is unpaid currently as it is a copyrighted IP, but a copy of the completed work will given, and when it is live VO’s will be paid out first. The previous VO is having to be replaced due to some audio issues.”
“[Non-Paying] Any lady vocalists/singers interested in trying their hand providing vocals for original tunes?”
“Hey guys, need a voice actor for 4 roles. One for a robber, a female bank clerk (can also be voiced by male), and 2 male cops. Ill post the script below. This is a non paying gig, but may be a paying gig in the future.”
“Doing a freebie for a friend and was wondering if any of you would voice a short commercial? It’s for a “amateur” wrestling show. Its non paying I just need someone who wants to voice something for local tv.”
“Im looking for a few people to do some narrations for a youtube series. The Theme is Children’s Stories and I hope to make a fair few episodes of it so may have returning narrators. Unfortunately its unpaid but it will be able to bring out the budding little actors who are starting out in the art of voice acting as well as the pro’s that don’t mind doing it for a little fun.”
You’d be surprised how many people respond to these passion projects. The desperation to start yelling something into a microphone is real.
Here’s my rule of thumb: If you’re good enough to be hired, you’re good enough to be paid. Period. Working for exposure is something only strippers do. Someone commented:
“Chances are if they can’t afford to pay, they don’t have a big enough platform to offer significant exposure anyway. And if they do have some MASSIVE platform, they should be paying.”
Plus, you’ve barely started to get your feet wet, and you’re already teaching clients they can get something for nothing. This is a comment from one of those clients:
“As a content creator I can tell you all 99.9% of us would love to pay everyone we work with on every project. But if I spend all my budget on talent what am I to do about promoting my project? If one is getting into this field looking at it as a job then you’re doing it wrong. This is the business of independent contractors.”
In other words: freelancers can’t expect to be paid? Well, there’s a new concept!
There’s another myth out there, namely the myth that doing auditions is such great practice. It’s not. Here’s what I believe:
You practice to audition. You don’t audition to practice.
In order to get the job, you have to demonstrate that you can do the job. Some half-baked attempt is not going to work. It will leave the client with a bad taste in his mouth, and the next time he hears your voice he’ll move right on to another talent.
Oddly enough, those applying for unpaid jobs complain elsewhere that they have no money to move their career forward. Here’s one of them:
“So, as an aspiring voice actor myself, I have made one demo in the past but it wasn’t easily accessible. Now i’d like to make another one but I’d like some help.
Nevermind just found out 1100 bucks for the classes and then the demo. That’s aloooot of cash.”
Between you and me, that’s not a lot of cash for voice-over training and a demo. I would be very suspicious of anyone offering such a package for a little over a thousand bucks.
Finishing up, let me reiterate that it’s not my intention to shame anyone or make fun of anyone new to the voice-over business. You are very brave, and I am giving you these examples as a warning. Quite often, Facebook is the worst place to seek advice for those who don’t know what they don’t know.
Be smart, and do not allow yourself to be taken advantage of by people who prey on impressionable beginners.
Do your homework before asking any questions. Show the world that you’ve made an effort to find a solution before bothering the group. Don’t beg for jobs. Don’t comment on things you know very little about. Be open to feedback. Save up so you can invest in coaching, equipment, and a recording space. And above all: give yourself time to become good at what you want to do, and have fun.
I had fun responding to a Facebook question recently:
“I’m looking for a high soprano for an album I’m very close to finishing. It’s a various artists album, with some Asian and Celtic influences. Please PM me if interested.”
So, after my last blog caused quite a ripple effect throughout the VO community, I’m adding some fuel to the fire with what you’re about to read. When it was first published I managed to piss off a great number of people, and I’d love to do that again. That’s why I’m republishing the story below.
If you’re looking for fresh content this week, you’re invited to check out a new category on my website: Reviews.
Over the years I’ve reviewed voice-over gear, and I wanted to create a place to bring these articles together. But prepare yourself: I’m going to branch out to other products I have tested, unrelated to voice-over. Click here to get to my first new review. I’m not going to tell you what it’s about. If you’re interested, you’ll find out. Alternatively, keep on reading about…
5 Reasons Why You Should Never Become A Voice-Over
by Paul Strikwerda
“Millions of dollars paid out to voice actors globally.”
“Audition for your dream job now.”
“Instant access to amazing opportunities.”
“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 casting sites throw out their net, hoping that loquacious people will bite.
Well, bite they do, and day after day an ever-growing army of hopefuls is eagerly looking at their inbox, waiting for the next “amazing opportunity” to arrive. 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?
Believe me: People believe what they want to believe.
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 first responders to natural disasters.
If you want to make a real difference on this planet, don’t hide behind soundproof walls selling stuff no one needs. Get out there and start helping the poor, the homeless, 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 Elance, 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 you’ve got to tell the world you’re still an important player. Yay for social media! Everything people post is 100% true.
3. You are a social being.
Unless you enjoy going to expensive conferences 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’ whisper box 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, 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. If you’re an extrovert, you crave contact, and you thrive in the company of others. I can tell you right now that you will curse the day you decided to isolate yourself from the world, 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.
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 a fool to become a voice-over.
I was foolish enough to choose that as my career, and guess what?
“Name one of the most beautiful musical instruments on the planet.”
“What’s your favorite?”
When I ask people these questions, they’ll usually say something like “cello,” “piano,” “harp,” or “flute.”
Bagpipes, cowbells, and kazoos never seem to make it to the list, and I can understand that.
But much to my surprise, people tend to leave out my favorite instrument: the human voice. Why is that?
Even though many of us sing in the shower, somehow we don’t recognize our voice as an instrument. Is that why people usually take better care of their violin than of their vocal folds? Is that why many of us don’t know the first thing about voice strengthening, proper breathing, and voice protection?
I find that very strange, especially if you’re using your voice to make a living.
We spend years practicing scales and arpeggios on the piano. Teachers tell us how to breathe correctly when playing a clarinet or trumpet, and we make sure to have the right posture before we put that French horn to our lips. But when I ask my voice-over colleagues how they have trained their voices, I usually hear a long pause.
IGNORANCE OR CARELESSNESS?
The truth is simple. We fully expect professional singers, athletes, or dancers to get their bodies into shape, but we expect our voices to do whatever we want them to do at any given time for as long as we want, without preparation.
This includes dying a thousand different deaths in video games or animation, or narrating an audio book from 10:30 am to 5:30 pm, five days a week.
If you’re not properly trained, that’s not only impossible. It is also dangerous.
We fully expect professional singers, athletes, or dancers to get their bodies into shape, but we expect our voices to do whatever we want them to do without preparation.
I say to them: “The fact that you even believe that, tells me you’re not taking this seriously.”
“Nobody would dare to swim the English Channel without proper preparation, unless you’re suicidal. So, what makes you think you can just jump in when you barely got your feet wet?”
PICKING A PRO
The other day, a colleague was complaining that famous people were taking voice-over jobs away from not so famous people. “They’re already making a fortune,” he said. “Why do they have to cut a big piece from my pie? It just isn’t right.”
First off, it’s not his pie, and secondly, there’s a reason why well-known actors are paid good money to do voice-over work. It’s not only because they’re a celebrity, but because they spent years honing their craft.
They have learned to strengthen and control the muscles of the larynx. Not from a book or from some website, but from a professional.
“Real” actors realize that they use three-quarters of their bodies when they speak. They have learned how to move purposefully, and breathe properly: low and expansive. They know that good posture and deep breathing not only affect the voice. It makes them feel more centered, confident, and calm.
“Real” actors know the difference between a strong, resonant voice, and a loud voice. They know the difference between projecting and yelling. Their voices are flexible, and don’t diminish in quality during long sessions.
Because they’ve memorized their lines, these actors keep their heads up, which results in a more powerful and open sound. Many voice-overs glance down to read the script. This bends the neck and throat, and the voice sounds contorted, lower, and softer.
“Real” actors never start talking without a warm-up, they drink lots of water (6 to 8 glasses a day), and they stay in good physical shape. That means: regular exercise, a healthy diet, and plenty of rest. They avoid clearing their throat, screaming, whispering, and noisy places. And of course they don’t smoke.
Too many voice-overs are serial sitters, shallow breathers, and unhealthy eaters and drinkers. Most of them have never taken singing or dancing lessons, or seen an otolaryngologist.
Too many voice-overs are serial sitters, shallow breathers, and unhealthy eaters and drinkers.
Now, here’s a quick question for you:
How can you tell a voice talent just came back from a VO-conference?
Because they lost their voice!
If you’ve ever been to a WoVoCon, Faffcon, VO Atlanta,or other convention, you know I’m right. The unavoidable Karaoke is a killer! You’d never expect ballroom dancers to come back crippled from a contest, would you? So why would voice-overs abuse their vocal folds for a day or two? And why do most of them start taking care of their voices once something’s wrong?
It just doesn’t make any professional sense.
A DAY FOR THE VOICE
A change in behavior has to start with increased awareness.
April 16th is World Voice Day. It is the brain child of an international group of scientists, specialists, teachers, and artists who came together in 2012. One of the missions of World Voice Day is “to encourage men and women, young and old, to assess their vocal health, and take action to improve or maintain good voice habits.”
Trust me, that’s not as boring as it sounds. It’s also a day to celebrate the magic of the voice with over 300 events in more than 50 countries. Expect a series of talks and concerts, as well as videos about the many different facets of the voice. The 2019 motto is: “Be Kind With Your Voice.”
For more information on World Voice Day, and a list of all the activities, go to http://world-voice-day.org. The website will have info on live streams, on how to take care of your voice, warm up exercises, and educational videos from around the world. The World Voice Day Facebook page is also a good way to follow what’s going on hour by hour, on April 16th.
Your voice is unique. It’s instantaneously recognizable.
It’s the only one you were born with, and you don’t have to be a professional speaker to be nice to it.
The Dutch philosopher Erasmus was right when he said: “Prevention is better than cure.”
So, don’t wait until it’s too late. In fact, it is vital that you begin today! All the things you can do and must avoid are not only good for your voice. They will enhance your well-being across the board.
Be a pro and start taking better care of yourself. Sign up for singing lessons. Hydrate. Move those muscles. Warm up. Read out loud. Rest up. Use a microphone when speaking in public. Don’t whisper, or clear your throat. See a specialist when you’re in pain.
And please, do me one small favor.
Don’t leave a comment saying: “Great post, Paul. Thanks for the reminders.”
Reminders are rubbish. You file them away and forget.
If your voice becomes hoarse or raspy; if your voice feels raw, achy, or strained, or if it becomes an effort to talk after a while, I can tell you this:
“Gravy for the Brain, what kind of name is that?” asked my friend with a puzzled look on his face. We were both at the VO Atlanta conference, and I wasn’t paying any attention to him.
I was staring at an email from a new client I had been grooming for weeks. He finally reached out to me with a project, just as I was ready for four days of professional schmoozing. I love my job, but I didn’t want to go back to work. Not in Atlanta.
Normally I’d be up for a challenge because I always saw myself as the invincible superman. I could do it all: socialize into the wee hours of the night, get up first thing in the morning for some fitness training, attend a few workshops and presentations, and do it all over again after lunch. Then I would step into a studio and knock out a few scripts. No biggie.
But this time was different. My cardiologist had advised against going to Atlanta because I just started a new medication and he wanted to monitor me closely. However, I knew I had to be at this gathering. It was the goal I had set myself when I began my recovery about a year ago. I’d committed to leading a workshop and a Breakout session. This was going to be my moment to return to the VO community and be there for them after they had been there for me when I had my stroke.
The only way I could possibly handle the conference was by vigorously pacing myself. This included not doing this rush job for a new client. I had to heed the advice I give my students: “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you must.” That decision cost me seven hundred dollars, but it gave me the space and the energy I needed to take care of myself. After all, you can’t give what you don’t have.
So, I turned to my friend to address his question.
TOO MUCH INFO
“You’re right: it is a bit of an odd name, Gravy for the Brain. It doesn’t sound like a resource for voice talent, does it? Someone once told me the expression comes from the movie Conspiracy Theory but that doesn’t explain anything.
“I just looked it up in the Urban Dictionary,” said my friend pointing at his mobile. “It’s defined as the way your head feels after a long night of drinking and/or doing drugs.” “I’ve got to tell you,” I said, “last year when I came back from VO Atlanta, it felt like I had gravy brain. Not because I had had too much to drink, but because I was in information overload. It took a while for me to process the experience. And here we are again, ready for more.”
Keynote speaker Kay Bess
We walked to the Grand Salon for the conference opening and keynote speech by Kay Bess. “We distinguish ourselves, by being ourselves,” she said. Profound words that moved me deeply. I feel that being ourselves is one of the greatest gifts we can give this world. There’s only one problem. It does require that we have a sense of who we are, authentically speaking. I don’t know about you, but I’m still figuring that one out.
WHO AM I?
I sometimes wish we would come with an instruction manual we could give to friends, family, and colleagues. “Look, this is who I am. This is what floats my boat. Here’s how I rock and roll.” Instead, we’ve been given a lifetime to work things out, and if you believe in reincarnation, it’s several lifetimes.
I see becoming who we are meant to be as one of the great endeavors of our time on earth. It’s challenging because all of us play many roles in life. For instance, I am Paul the father, the husband, the patient, the son, and brother. I’m also the voice actor, the blogger, and punster. In different contexts I feel like a different person and act accordingly, so will the real authentic Paul please stand up?
On the subject of authenticity, here’s some free advice. If you’ve been to VO Atlanta, please don’t use anything you have learned in all the sessions you attended. Just don’t. Every other talent is already going to do that. If you wish to be authentic, do something out of the ordinary that no one else would possibly try.
Surprise the world. Be an original. Create. Don’t imitate. The field of people being and doing more of the same is growing by the day. That’s not your field. People who play it safe by taking the beaten path are blending in with the masses. You want to stand out, don’t you? As far as I could tell I was still the only person wearing clogs in Atlanta. Even though I didn’t socialize as much this year to conserve my energy, I think most people knew I was there. Total cost $19.99.
WHAT ELSE DID I NOTICE?
A few more random observations, some positive, others not so much:
– When you stick your head into a workshop for five minutes and decide it’s not for you, please don’t mock your fellow-presenter in public. It’s unfair and unkind to judge someone based on a snippet of info taken out of context.
– On the other hand, calling the CEO of a competing and highly unethical Pay to Play “That Idiot from the North” is allowed. The man is fair game.
– If you’re a prominent member of a worldwide organization of voice talent that’s dedicated to ethical conduct and fair rates, why would you have a profile on Fiverr and be proud of it?
– Doing voice-overs is sexy! Next year we should have a few after-hour X-rated sessionsfor narrators of erotica. Pseudonyms required.
– If you’re looking for the guy who used a sharpie to draw a mustache on J. Michael Collins in one of the elevators, look no further.
– I wish Voice123 CEO and spin doctor Rolf Veldman would have taken part in the karaoke. I had the perfect song for him: “Sorry seems to be the hardest word.”
TEARS AND MORE TEARS
VO Atlanta 2019 was an emotional experience for me. If you were there, you know that my eyeballs were leaking regularly. A big thanks to all of you who told me how relieved you were that I’m not dead. I must say I’m with you on that one. Thank you to all of my Guardian Angels who kept an eye on me throughout the conference. You know who you are, and so does my eternally grateful wife.
A special thanks to those who were at my workshop. One of you signed up at the very last minute after talking to me in the corridor. How sweet is that? One last thank you to those who came to play with my Stinky Sock and gave me a standing ovation. It’s gone straight to my head, and now I am impossible to live with. What else is new?
Well, did I tell you I got to stay in Atlanta for one more day? Here’s what happened. My flight to Lehigh Valley International Airport was overbooked, and Delta offered those willing to give up their seat a hotel room and an $800 gift certificate. So, days ago I had lost $700 because I didn’t do the voice-over job I told you about. I ended up having eight hundred bucks to spend at Amazon. Life is fair after all!
As you can tell, the conference is over, but I am not over the conference. It’s been my second best experience of the past twelve months. What’s the very best experience, you ask? For that we have to go back to the night of my stroke. I was flown to the hospital in a helicopter, and a doctor was looking at a CAT-scan of the inside of my skull.
Things were serious. If the stroke had wiped out most of my brain, I would probably not survive. I can remember briefly regaining consciousness on the stretcher. I could hear my wife ask the surgeon about my chances. I’ll never forget what the doctor said:
“I think your husband isn’t going to die. Luckily, most of his grey matter is intact. In other words:
March 26th 2018 may not mean much to you, but it’s the day my life changed in many ways. It started like any other ordinary day, with me working in my studio. By the end of the afternoon I was rushed into a rumbling helicopter that flew me to the ER.
As I was airlifted, the surgeon waiting for me called my wife to prepare her for three possible outcomes. These were the options: if there were to be enough time, they would remove the blood clot from my brain that had caused a stroke, and I would recover. To what extent, he couldn’t say. If not, there was a good chance the brain damage would leave me greatly impaired and dependent for the rest of my life. Option three was least attractive: me reaching my expiration date.
By the way, what happened to me was nothing special. On average, every 40 seconds someone in the United States has a stroke. Stroke is now the third leading cause of death (behind heart disease and cancer) and a major cause of disability.
I lucked out. As you can tell, I’m still very much alive, and I plan to remain in that fascinating state for as long as I can. This gives me the opportunity to share some of my post-stroke observations with you. Perhaps it’s not what you expect from a blog about the world of voice-overs and freelancing. I get that. But please bear with me. One day, you or a loved one might have to deal with a similar situation. I feel it is part of my mission to tell my story. It’s one of the reasons I’m still alive.
SYMPATHY & SUPPORT
Once the news of my stroke broke, I experienced an incredible outpouring of sympathy and support, particularly on social media. The well wishes came from all over the planet. It was heartwarming and uplifting! If you ever want to find out how much people care, make sure you nearly die and tell the world about it! It will do wonders for your self-esteem!
The two things people told me over and over again were both very sweet and totally unrealistic:
Get Well Soon!
We know a lot about the workings of the body and the mind, and there’s probably just as much that we don’t know. Good doctors have no problem admitting that. The not so good ones think they know it all. No doctor can predict how soon you will recover, or how much you will recover. In the case of strokes it greatly depends on which part of the brain is affected, and to what extent. The faster you find treatment, the better your chances.
Recovery from a stroke is more a matter of Getting Well S l o w l y. The first year is crucial, but recovery continues long after that thanks to the amazing plasticity of the brain. That’s the ability of the brain to reorganize itself by forming new connections between brain cells.
Especially during the first six months after I was out of the hospital, I could feel my grey matter making new connections, and boy did it tire me out! Saying I felt tired doesn’t do it justice. I felt utterly fatigued. What’s the difference? Simply put, fatigue is extreme exhaustion that surpasses feeling tired. It’s a total lack of motivation and energy. I spent most of my time in bed, sleeping the day away while my brain was reconnecting.
It took me a few months to be okay with my state of slumber. At first I felt terribly guilty that I wasn’t able to help out and be productive. I’ve always been such a go-getter, and now my biggest accomplishment of the day was a smooth bowel movement. Kicking and screaming, I learned to accept that I could not jumpstart myself into getting well again, and that it was okay and imperative to ask for help.
A NEW JOB
The next thing I discovered was this: recovery is not some passive process. It’s a day job. Apart from getting enough rest, my post-stroke life was (and still is) dominated by frequent doctor’s visits and therapy appointments. I had speech therapy, vision therapy, sessions with a neuro-psychologist, and lots of homework to be ready for even more sessions. I’ve been back to the ER four times now, and spent some time in the hospital over Thanksgiving and St. Patrick’s Day (and I just missed Valentine’s Day another time!).
I’m not bringing this up so you’ll feel sorry for me. I just want to give you a glimpse of my life so you’ll understand why I went undercover for so long. As I’ve described in another blog post, after my stroke I lost the ability to emote and enunciate, which is kind of a problem for a voice actor like myself. My delivery was as flat as a pancake. On top of that, a tremor on one of my vocal folds made my voice hoarse and tired in no time. Forget long-form narration!
DEALING WITH LOSS
So, not only was I reevaluating my physical and psychological state, I also had to take a hard look at my career in voice-overs. My psychologist described it as a state of mourning. I was mourning the loss of my health, my sanity, and possibly my way of making a living. I had to do all of that with a damaged brain that was readjusting and prone to stimulus overload.
I clearly remember going into one of the many hospital waiting rooms, unable to deal with all the noise. Around me, people were making phone calls, kids were playing loud games on their tablets, and patients were comparing notes about doctors and treatments. At the reception desk calls were answered and people were signed in. A big tv hanging from the ceiling was informing us about the father who brutally murdered his beautiful wife and two adorable children. Trump was touting his wall. This cacophony sent my brain into overload and made me nauseous.
Even though I have been generally impressed with the extraordinary level of care I received, hospitals and doctors’ offices do very little to create an environment conducive to stress reduction, well-being, and healing. I’d prefer a spa-like atmosphere with soothing colors, greenery, soft lighting, essential oils, and meditative music. A sanctuary away from the constant distractions and hubbub of our 24/7 society.
FOCUS & RESPONSE
Now, for those who are dealing with the effects of a stroke, it is easy to get despondent and depressed, making a bad situation even worse. I must admit that I’ve not always been able to keep it together, but a few things helped me not to wallow in my fate. One of them is the belief that human beings are free to choose what we focus on, and how to respond to what is happening to us.
Instead of bemoaning all the things I had lost, I chose to be thankful for the many things that were unaffected. I started reading about people in similar situations who had made remarkable recoveries that could not always be explained by traditional medicine. What did they do to get there? What were they thinking, eating, and drinking?
I came across stories of self care and self love, stories of patience, and picking new priorities. I decided to give myself time to heal, and to spend it on things that made me happy. I began writing my blog again as a way to have a voice. I purposely stayed away from petty problems and draining interactions with people who thrive on negativity. Gradually, my level of energy and my vision improved, and I was able to express myself with more emotion.
To be honest: I never could have done this on my own. I have a whole team of doctors, nurses, technicians, and therapists to thank. Colleagues came by and friends stepped in making meals and driving me to appointments. But by far my best bedside advocate, designated driver, medication manager, cheerleader, and personal chef is my wife Pam. She is my solid rock, and the soft shoulder I lean on every single day.
When I’m forgetful, she remembers. When I am anxious, she calms me down. When I need to rest, she makes sure I’m not disturbed. She fills out the many forms, deals with my health insurance, and talks to my doctors. For my trip to VO Atlanta, she’s set up a support system to make sure I won’t overdo it. In short: she’s my guardian angel, and I’m so lucky we’re together in health and in sickness.
On Thursday I’ll be leaving for VO Atlanta. 800 participants are coming together to immerse themselves in all things voice-over. If you’re going, I can’t wait to meet you! You’re invited to attend my X-Session “Six Steps To Turning Your Business Around,” on Friday from 1:30 PM to 4:30 PM, and my Breakout Session about “Winning Mindsets” aka the Stinky Sock Session on Saturday from 4:45 to 5:45 PM.
Do you remember the time you learned how to drive?
I sure do!
In the beginning it was utterly overwhelming and scary. My hands and feet were supposed to do different things at the same time, and they vehemently refused. When I had to shift gears, I felt the urge to look at that darn stick shift, but my instructor insisted I keep my eyes on the road, and use the mirrors to monitor the dangerous world around me.
How on earth was I supposed to peek at the dashboard; leave a safe space between my car and the one in front of me; keep a semi-intelligent conversation going, while figuring out where to go without getting everyone killed?
As my hands were digging deep into the wheel, I couldn’t imagine ever drinking coffee while driving, or listening to a Shostakovich symphony on the freeway. And what would happen if I had to sneeze?
Mind you: at that point I was only doing fifteen miles per hour on a back road.
“Give it some time,” said my overweight instructor as he wiped the pearly sweat from his impressive forehead. “Before you know it, everything will become second nature, and you’ll love being in the driver’s seat. Now, make sure not to cut off that cyclist on your right. I don’t think my insurance covers fatal accidents. Besides, I just washed the car.”
He paused for a moment, and said: “That was a joke.”
Then he took a long sip from his stainless steel flask. “Look,” he said proudly, “My wife had it engraved. Can you see what it says?”
“Do not dangle that thing in front of me. I don’t want to see what it says,” I squeaked, barely avoiding a ditch. “I’m trying to focus!”
If everything comes your way, you are in the wrong lane.
Isn’t that funny?” continued my instructor. “I love a woman with a sense of humor. You know, my first wife was way too serious. She got car sick all the time. That should have been a sign. It was a messy divorce, but it was worth every penny! Do you have any kids?”
At that point I firmly put my foot on the brake, stopping the car so abruptly that our bodies turned into crash test dummies.
“Please take me home!” I cried. “My mind is in overdrive right now, and this is all I can take. I’m sure your new wife loves you very much, but giving you a flask for work? What was she thinking?”
“It’s just to take the edge off, Mr. Strikwerda. I think you should have a sip yourself. Believe me, you need it. Is it okay if I eat a bean burrito? I haven’t had lunch yet.”
Ten years and two driving instructors later, my mind took me back to this unsettling experience. The brain works in mysterious ways, especially when it consists of dark matter and black holes, like mine.
I was at a fancy New York voice-over studio, surrounded by self-absorbed nitwits who all believed they were crucial to the success of the recording I was hired to do. It was some stupid script about a new type of air bag, designed for driverless cars (and instructors with engraved flasks).
As five people argued over some last-minute script changes, I looked at the audio engineer. He nodded knowingly, and whispered in my headphones:
“Just remember: your meter is running. My meter is running. The longer they take, the more we make.”
In the past, these types of situations would have been as stressful as learning how to drive a car. I didn’t like being in a different environment with different people. Too many things were going on at the same time. Lots of egos, and me feeling inadequate and insecure. My internal dialogue would almost paralyze me with its ugly voice:
“Are they talking about me? What if I make a mistake? What if they hate my take on the text? Why is my mouth so dry? Is it okay to take a bathroom break? And what about that horrendous tongue twister in the third line?”
That was then. This is now. Things have changed.
I’ve learned how to drive while drinking a tall Latte as I listen to the BBC. I even drove myself to New York. In rush hour, and I only got beeped at once.
Call me Mr. Cool!
I leaned back in my chair, looking at the microphone. The folks on the other side of the studio window were still deliberating, and for some reason I had to think back to a radio interview I just heard on my way to the Big Apple. It was more of a conversation between two pianists, Gabriela Montero and Khatia Buniatishvili.
The interviewer asked:
“Could you describe the moment when the concert hall hushes, your fingers are poised above the keys… Take us inside your head. What are you thinking then?”
Khatia, who is from Georgia, answered:
“Actually, on stage I try not to think, because on stage there are things much more important than just human thinking that happen there. I’m totally forgetting my ego.”
“What about you, Gabriela?”
“I sit down, and I just want to be able to tell stories. That’s really the only thing that matters to me. I want to be able to convey in the deepest ways who we are, as a people; who we are, and what moves us. I want to move the public.”
Listening to these two professional performers, I felt a surprisingly close connection. As I was getting ready for my voice-over, I took a nice deep breath, and said to myself:
“This script is my score, my voice is my instrument, and this studio is my stage.
The best thing I can do right now, is to stop thinking about myself.
I’m a conduit. A storyteller, paid to move people with a message.
I have worked on my technique. I have analyzed the text. I have rehearsed it at home.
I am ready to let it go, and let it flow.
I am in my comfort zone, and this is just as easy…
It’s a trap I have fallen into many times. I was working all day long, without much to show for it. That is, until something finally dawned upon me:
Busy people talk about how little time they have. Productive people make time for what’s important.
The question is: how do you know what is important for your business?
On some days, everything seems important: answering emails, invoicing clients, making phone calls, updating the website, recording auditions, paying bills, designing marketing materials, researching new gear, keeping up with social media… The list is endless, especially when you’re a one-person band. It’s tempting to do it all, and to do it all by yourself.
That’s mistake number one. Here’s how to fix it:
Focus on what you’re good at. Outsource the rest.
There’s a reason why a brain surgeon doesn’t do her own billing, a CEO doesn’t answer every call, and Tim Cook doesn’t design the next iPhone. People who run a successful business hire people who are smarter and more talented than they are, to take care of certain aspects of that business. These experts are able to do things better and quicker, leaving you with more time to focus on your strengths. That’s where the money is!
So, if you’re not a kick-ass web designer, hire someone who is, and have him/her teach you to maintain and update the site once it’s up and running. Or do you have time to become an SEO specialist? I didn’t think so!
If you stink at bookkeeping, get an office assistant to take care of the numbers, and let an accountant prepare your taxes. This ensures that you maximize your deductions, and you minimize the money going to the IRS. An office assistant can also take on other administrative tasks, such as dealing with unpaid invoices. That way, you don’t have to be the bad guy (or gal).
If you’re struggling to create a logo or a catch phrase, hire a graphic designer and a copywriter. They specialize in making you look and sound much more professional than you’ll ever be able to do yourself. Clients will only see you as a professional if you present yourself like a pro.
If you’re recording a massive project (such as an audio book) on a tight deadline, pay someone to edit and master the audio for you. Why spend time on a $50 to $100 per hour job, if you could make between $350 and $500 per hour?
If you’re thinking about how much all of this will cost, you’re looking at it the wrong way. Reinventing the wheel, learning on the fly, trying to do everything yourself… it will leave you frustrated and without energy to do what you do best. You know, the very things clients hire you to do. That is going to cost you!
If -on the other hand- you decide to outsource some or all of these things, you’ll be surprised how much time you will gain. Now, let’s see if I can save you some more!
In the beginning of my career I spent way too much time auditioning for jobs that were out of my range. Why? Because someone had told me that it was a numbers game. The more I auditioned, the greater the chance I would eventually land a job, they said. Doing auditions was a way to learn on the job, right?
Clients hire you because they trust you can do the job. They don’t want you to experiment on their dime. These days I am super selective. I know I don’t have a movie trailer voice, so I’m not even going to try to sound like one. I won’t audition for projects by companies or causes I cannot support (sorry fast food and tobacco industry). If you’re not offering a decent rate, you can find yourself a Craigslist talent, but please don’t waste my time.
I also got smarter in the way I audition. Knowing that clients will often only listen to the first seconds, I am no longer recording three-minute scripts. Unless the client specifies otherwise, I’ll pick a few lines from the beginning with the company name, and I’ll include the payoff line at the end. Then I’m done. I know Michael J. Collins auditions this way, and he seems to be doing okay.
One last thing about auditions: I no longer record ten takes before I’m satisfied. If I can’t produce a good read in a few tries, the job is probably not meant for me.
THE HARDEST WORD
Apart from curbing my presence on social media, there’s one other thing that has saved me tons of time: I became better at saying a certain two-letter word.
“Can you evaluate my demo for free?”
“Can you write a guest post for this blog with 12 subscribers?”
“Can you tell me how to break into the business?”
“Can you answer this question I am too lazy to research myself?”
Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy helping others, but I don’t run a charity. I run a for-profit business. That means that in everything I do, I have to think about the Return On Investment.
Making enough money gives me the opportunity to invest in ways that will save me money and grow my business, as well as the freedom to engage in activities that are important, but that won’t generate any money.
ONE MORE LESSON
When I look back at my career, I wasted so much time waiting for things to happen. I thought that if I put a few things in place; had the right equipment and a decent amount of talent, things would turn out okay. After all, a wise man had told me: “Do what you love, and the money will follow.”
Tell that to the people who are going broke, lovingly living a dream.
A few hard years later, I realized that if I wanted to be successful, I had to become the prime instigator and number one delegator. I had to stop being busy, and start becoming productive.
It was quite the transformation, but you know what they say:
“Busy people talk about how they will change.
Productive people are making those changes.”
VO ATLANTA 2019
If your VO business isn’t where you want it to be, and you wish to change that, come to VO Atlanta at the end of the month. On Saturday March 29th I’ll be leading a workshop (X-session) called Six Steps To Turning Your Business Around. It’s a practical, 3-hour, hands-on session during which I will challenge you to take a good look at six aspects of your voice-over career. What’s working, and what isn’t? Is one aspect sabotaging other areas? What aspect needs more work? At the end of the session you will walk out with a practical plan to take your business to the next level.
The day after I hope you will join me for a fun one-hour breakout session called Winning Mindsets To Take Charge Of Your Career. Great equipment and a good voice can only get you so far in this business. What you tell yourself is just as important as what you tell others. Find out what accomplished colleagues are doing differently between the ears that leads to their success.
David Ciccarelli has done it again. We can’t stop talking about his business meddling with our business.
Just look at how many times you see the Voices dot com (VDC) logo pop up whenever someone inadvertently creates a hyperlink to the Canadian website. Hurray, another field day of free publicity for the most pervasive and obnoxious company in voice-over land!
For those who don’t know what the buzz is all about (where were you?), here’s what happened.
On February 25th. Voices dot com announced they’re going to offer synthetic voices to their customers thanks to a partnership with VocaliD. That’s a Voice AI Company (artificial intelligence) in Massachusetts that creates customized digital voices to make sure not everyone who needs an artificial voice sounds like the late Stephen Hawking. These days, VocaliD is making voices for all sorts of things that talk.
Why this partnership? The idea is that new computer-generated voices are going to be based on recordings from VDC voice actors and then converted into synthetic speech engines. This way, a brand can select its own unique voice for their applications.
When the news just broke, voice-overs responded with shock, fear, and disbelief. Why would VDC be competing with itself by giving clients the option of picking a cheaper artificial voice over a real voice? Is VDC even allowed to use the samples in their voicebank without permission from the talent? Will this put voice actors out of business? Is this yet another nail in our coffin?
Here’s what I think.
First of all, no one should be surprised by this partnership deal. VDC-CEO David Ciccarelli has been consistently clear about his agenda. Like Dr. Evil in the Austin Powers movies, he wants one thing: world domination. He wants his company to be the number one resource for voices on the planet.
Remember that VDC wasn’t founded to make sure all these lovely voice actor people have something to do. Ciccarelli’s main purpose is to turn a profit and to make his company more valuable each and every year. In that respect, strategic alliances like the one with VocaliD make perfect sense. It opens up a brand new market.
More and more devices and applications use artificial voices to communicate with their users. It’s much easier and cheaper to make a computer say anything you want for as long as you want. You don’t have to pay extra for retakes or have to hold the clammy hand of inexperienced talent. The public is already accustomed to interacting with these fake voices. Amazon alone has sold more than 100 million devices with Alexa on board.
Now, can VDC simply repurpose the recordings in their voicebank and have VocaliD use them to create synthetic voices without compensating voice talent? Read Article 6 in their Terms of Service:
“any (non-union) work submitted through their platform is subject to the following, “… the Talent assigns to [Voices Dot Com] all right, title and interest, absolutely, to the copyright and other intellectual property in or relating to the Talent’s Non-Union Work Product throughout the world, free of all licenses, mortgages, charges or other encumbrances, unless agreed otherwise by the parties in writing.”
In other words: once you’ve uploaded your audio to the VDC server, you no longer own your recording. VDC does. As WoVo president Peter Bishop put it:
“It is clear that any work submitted to Voices Dot Com can be reused in a manner which VDC deems appropriate, with no further consideration of the talent.”
VoiceOverXtra’s John Florian asked David Ciccarelli for a reaction. He said that the company’s archived recordings are off limits to VocaliD. His vice president of marketing, Alina Morkin, added:
“Voices found on files on our system, whether that’s from a demo file, an audition file, or any other file, will not be used to develop a new synthetic voice.”
To that I say: How do we know we can rely on VDC? What have they done lately to earn our trust? Why does VocaliD need to enter into a partnership with VDC? If they’re looking for fresh voices, there’s nothing preventing them from posting a job on the platform and take it from there.
If you’re a VDC member and you find this new development as unconscionable as I do, you have a choice to make. Are you going to leave or are you staying? That’s where your power lies. Companies like VDC can only exist because their 500.000 purported users keep them afloat. The paying members are in fact enablers who support a business model that turns yourvoice into a commodity and takes away your rights to fair compensation.
Don’t you deserve better than that?
I’m not saying it’s wrong for VDC to turn a profit. VDC is free to start partnerships all over the world. But what VDC is doing all over again, is selling out the very talent that helps them be in business in the first place. To that, I strongly object.
Let’s address the fear for a moment. Are you afraid that you won’t make any money without VDC? Perhaps you shouldn’t put all your eggs in one rotten basket. If you feel you must go Pay to Play, there are plenty of alternatives. Better still: find your own clients and make sure potential clients know where to find you.
Do you fear synthetic speech is going to put you out of business? I don’t see that happening, yet. It is and will be used for some of the jobs that are now handled by a human. The boring, repetitive jobs. But there’s plenty of fun stuff left that needs a personal touch.
But there’s another reason why I don’t think the synthetic VDC voices of VocaliD will soon be reading audio books to me or will feature in a national commercial. Why? Because frankly, they sound like… synthetic voices. I can’t imagine any major brand going for that. What do I mean?
In the world of AI voices, VocaliD is small potatoes. The real threat comes from the big guns. Companies like Microsoft and Google (click on their names for examples). Their AI voices sound more and more natural every year. Adobe’s VoCo text to speech synthesizer is described as “Photoshop for the voice.” Some of the demos I have seen are pretty scary.
Do I feel threatened by these developments?
In my experience, those driven by fear are often insecure about their own abilities, and perhaps need to up their game to play at the highest level.
What worries me more than the shenanigans of companies like Voices dot com, are the hordes of voice actors who are going along with it without blinking an eye.
Those are the voices that could really use some artificial intelligence!
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