Career

Incompetent and Overly Confident

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Personal, Social Media 16 Comments

Let me begin with a simple but loaded question.

Why do so many voice overs on social media seem confident, yet ignorant?

I’m not making this up to bash newbies, if that’s what you think. Age and experience have nothing to do with it. I’ve seen seasoned colleagues make ridiculous claims, and I’ve observed youngsters parade their lack of knowledge in public without an ounce of shame or self-awareness.

Unfortunately, ignorance isn’t limited to our tiny voice-over bubble. Many people go through life being blind about basic facts. It doesn’t prevent them from commenting about things they know nothing about. It’s a free country! These people have careers, they raise children, and some of them even vote.

Do you want examples? Here are a few factoids from surveys that will make your jaw drop.

COMMON MISCONCEPTIONS

Only 45% of Americans can tell you what the initials in GOP stand for. Some believe it is short for Government of the People or God’s Own Party.

25% of Americans don’t know the country from which the USA gained its independence. Answers varied from France to China.

30% have no idea what the Holocaust was, and half of Americans believe that Christianity came before Judaism. These people are also convinced that Christianity was written into the Constitution.

Mind you, it’s not just the big stuff people have no clue about. I once asked a music student jokingly:

“For whom did Beethoven compose “Für Elise?”

She had no idea.

Now, here’s the real kicker. When asked these questions, those who were obviously incompetent did not see themselves as such. This isn’t weird. It’s very human, and it’s confirmed by an experiment among students who were doing a test.

When they handed the test in, they were asked how well they thought they did. Their answers were later compared to the actual results. Here’s what the researchers found.

The bottom performers in that test were almost as confident about how well they thought they did, as the top performers. In other words, they were blissfully unaware of their own lack of knowledge.

THE DUNNING – KRUGER EFFECT

In psychology this is known as the Dunning-Kruger effect, named after Cornell psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger. It’s a type of cognitive bias in which people believe that they are smarter and more capable than they really are. 

The explanation for this phenomenon is simple: people are too ignorant to recognize their own ignorance, and so they don’t see where their knowledge ends.

Why is this a problem, you ask? All we need to do is present the ignorant people of the world with the facts, and they’ll get off their high horse and accept that they’re wrong. End of story.

If only it were that easy.

By the way, for the sake of this discussion when I say “facts” I’m referring to information confirmed to be true according to objective scientific standards.

We can verify what GOP stands for, and from which country the USA gained its independence. It’s not a matter of opinion.

The real problem is not that people are not as knowledgeable as they think they are. To be honest: all of us live under the shadow of our own ignorance. The problem is that our misconceptions are a serious barrier to us learning anything new and accepting expert opinions. 

As the Zen master said:

“How can I fill your tea cup if it’s already full?”

I run into this problem when giving feedback as a coach.

ACCEPT FAILURE

For people to accept the feedback, they have to accept failure and be open to new information. Let me give you an example. One of my older students didn’t like what I had to say about the quality of his audio. His equipment was top-notch, but his recording space was terrible. All of his recordings had a low rumble and flutter echoes. 

He wasn’t booking anything, and yet he was intent on showing me how much he had spent on his microphone and preamp to prove that I was wrong. Good gear couldn’t lead to bad audio, he thought.

At my request he visited an audiologist, and found out he needed a hearing aid. Once the device was in place, he called to apologize. He had listened to his recordings and heard some things he’d never heard before, proving my point.

Here’s what I had to learn. Telling people they’re wrong puts them on the defense, allowing them to turn me into the bad guy. Facts can be denied and intentions can be questioned. Experiences on the other hand, are harder to disprove.

So, instead of telling my students what they’re doing wrong (creating resistance), I now give them assignments to help them assess their expertise of lack thereof, and I have them research ways in which they can improve. This way, they own the feedback as well as the solution.

It’s easy to forget a fact, but people will remember an experience.

The other problem with the Dunning – Kruger effect is that it leads to people making bad choices because they reach the wrong conclusions while thinking they’re doing okay.

AT THE SHOOTING RANGE

Dunning and Kruger went to a gun shooting event and asked gun enthusiasts to fill out a ten-question firearm and safety knowledge quiz used by the NRA. It turned out that the gun owners who knew the least about gun safety overestimated their knowledge the most.

I don’t know about you, but this scares the hell out of me. To take it one step further, people have pointed at the behavior of our Commander-in-Chief as a prime example of the Dunning – Kruger effect.

Those who are suffering from Dunning – Kruger have trouble measuring themselves against real experts because they’re so confident they are right. I mean, why should a know-it-all turn to other sources for advice?

What makes it worse is that overly confident and narcissistic leaders tend to surround themselves with YES-men and women who are too afraid to criticize their boss for fear of repercussions. This lack of feedback makes a leader even more convinced that he’s doing a perfect job.

One last thing. Someone displaying signs of the Dunning – Kruger effect has trouble taking responsibility when things go haywire. How can someone unable to make mistakes possibly do something wrong? Instead, they point the finger at others.

ALL ARE AFFECTED

Now, before you tell me I’m turning this blog into a political diatribe, I think it’s important to look into the mirror and admit that all of us show signs of the Dunning – Kruger effect. No matter how much we think we know about a topic, our knowledge is finite, whereas what we don’t know is infinite.

There are simple biological limitations to what we’re able to know as well. Our brain cannot remember everything. It does not need to remember everything because we can find most information online. Some have called this the “Google Effect,” the automatic forgetting of info that’s available on the world wide web.

We should also realize that the ill-informed don’t necessarily know less. They’re not stupid. They just believe things that aren’t always rooted in facts. People will endorse erroneous information if it fits their opinion. They also know more about different things that may or may not be relevant or deemed important.

One of my cousins is not the sharpest tool in the shed, but he can blindly identify the make and model of a car, simply by listening to the noise the engine is making. And if he listens a bit longer, he can tell you what needs to be fixed (he grew up in a body shop).

I also know people who are extremely knowledgeable in one area of their life, but please don’t ask them to make eggs over easy. The kitchen is going to be a mess.

Having interviewed some of the best brains in the world, one thing became very clear to me. Knowing a lot doesn’t make someone smart, or kind, or more understanding.

METACOGNITION

Is there a way to counter the Dunning – Kruger effect? As you can imagine, arguing with people who experience the Dunning – Kruger effect is frustrating. They will often become more entrenched in their beliefs. So, lets’s start with ourselves.

One way to overcome the effect is to develop what psychologists call metacognition. It is the ability to think about one’s own thinking and behavior. It’s a skill that helps us recognize how well we are performing. I’d say this is an essential skill for the self-employed.

How do you develop this skill? Well, by doing what you are doing right now. By reading this story you’re hopefully learning to recognize the symptoms in others and in yourself. Every change we wish to make has to start with us being aware of what needs to change. As long as we’re in denial, treatment is futile.

Another way of dealing with the Dunning – Kruger effect is to accept that we don’t need to know everything about everything. I find not having to know everything very liberating and humbling. What’s more, it has opened me up to a whole realm of surprising possibilities.

Because of this blog, I get a lot of questions from readers like you. How much should they charge for this project in this country, what’s the best microphone for a high female voice, should they join the union or go Taft-Hartley?

I’m no longer afraid to tell them I don’t have an answer. It doesn’t diminish who I am. I’d rather be open about my ignorance than arrogant about my perceived knowledge and steer my readers in the wrong direction.

I’m also willing to accept that not everything I write, or all the things I think I know, are shiny pearls of wisdom. These days, I restrain myself more and more from commenting on social media (much to the relief of many).

Knowing my limitations also means I can start working on the knowledge I lack, if that’s important to me.

There’s always more to learn.

In short, I’ve become very confident about my ignorance, and I’m totally okay with that.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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5 Things You Should Stop Doing Right Now

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Social Media, Studio 8 Comments

Are you a nail-biter, a chain-sitter, or an overeater?

We all have bad habits we want to get rid of.

If you’re a serious voice talent, here are a few things I suggest you let go of in 2020. 

1. Spending money on new equipment while you’re still in a bad recording space.

Yes, I know you’ve been eyeballing that new microphone for the past six months now, but will it stop the neighbor’s leaf blower from blowing, or the deep rumble of the school bus from making a guest appearance in your auditions? Will it magically tame the flutter echoes in your improvised booth, and make you sound like the next movie trailer man (or woman)?

Not in a million years!

The number one thing that held me back from being successful as a voice-over, was the absence of a dedicated and isolated recording space. Once I built my own booth, I had the freedom and confidence to go after every job I felt I was suitable for. Last year, almost every production I’ve been involved in began in my home studio. It has paid for itself many times over.

Treat the space first. Then treat yourself to some shiny new equipment. If you must. 

2. Expecting the keys to the kingdom on a silver platter.

I’m a member of many social media groups dedicated to voice overs. A majority of these groups are supposed to be for professional voice talent. Yet, every single day I see amateur questions that have been asked and answered hundreds of times, coming from people who are too lazy to do their homework. In the age of the Internet no one can claim ignorance, so:

Stop playing dumb, people! It is embarrassing. 

It’s not that our community isn’t willing to share. If anything, the VO-universe is very giving to those who demonstrate relentless commitment and extraordinary talent. But I refuse to help people who want to pick my brain out of a false sense of entitlement, and a simplistic idea of what it takes to make it in this business.

So, dear colleagues: Stop giving free rides to those who don’t feel like learning how to drive. If you keep spoon-feeding a child, it will never learn how to eat by itself. 

3. Complaining without taking responsibility or action.

“The book I’m narrating is awful. The author is impossible to work with. The deadline for this project is unrealistic. They expect me to record a complete rewrite of the script for free…”

First of all: Stop whining!

Winners aren’t whiners. 

You’re a freelancer. You are free to work with anyone you want. Nobody is forcing you to narrate a crap novel about a topic no one’s interested in for a ridiculous royalty share. You don’t have to collaborate with a disrespectful writer who pretends to know more about voice-over narration than you do. If a deadline doesn’t work for you, then don’t agree to it. Never record a complete rewrite at no charge. Your time and your talent are valuable.

If you feel this particular pay-to-play you’re a “member” of, is greedy and unethical, don’t keep it in business by renewing your membership. Don’t tell me your livelihood depends on this one company. It’s bad business to put all your eggs in one rotten basket.

If you want quality clients, start doing the legwork yourself. It’s part of being a pro!

4. Working for less than you deserve. 

No matter what freelance business you’re in, there’s a quick and easy way to get rid of clients that treat you like dirt, and pay you accordingly:

Price for profit and raise your rates!

It’s not that complicated. Every time you accept a job for less, you send a signal to the market about your worth, and the worth of your colleagues. Clients aren’t stupid. They love getting more and more for less and less. We all do. But most people also understand that there’s a link between value and price.

Price is an important indicator of professionalism and quality. 

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: When it comes to voice-over fees, you’re either part of the problem, or you’re part of the solution. As soon as you start competing on price and out of fear, you’re doing yourself and your community a huge disservice. As soon as you start competing confidently on added value, you’re teaching your clients about the worth of (y)our work. 

By the way, here’s something else you should stop doing in the new year:

5. Making assumptions about your clients.

So many colleagues tell me:

“If my quote is too high, I’m afraid the client won’t be able to afford me, and I’ll lose the job.”

Let me ask you this:

“How do you know what a client can or cannot afford? Did you talk to their accountant? Let’s say you didn’t get that job because of your higher bid, what did you lose?” You can’t lose something that wasn’t yours in the first place. Secondly, you’ve actually gained time to pursue or do a job at a respectable rate.”

Last year I’ve said “no” to more offers than in any year of my entire career, and this was one of my best years on record. I’m not saying that to impress you. I’m saying that to empower you.

Don’t ever pretend to know what your client is thinking of, or hoping for. You’re not in the mind reading business. You’re in the script reading business.

Never assume. Always ask.

Having said that, I won’t assume what things you’d like to stop doing this year.

If you like, please share them in the comment section.

Don’t let me stop you.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Becoming the Sharpest Tool in the Shed

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, International, Internet 4 Comments

Peter Dickson & Hugh Edwards

Mark my words: the next decade is going to be BIG!

There will be more opportunities for professional voice actors than ever before. Take a quick look at the trends. 

In 2019, video game revenue has again surpassed the total global box office for the film industry. The prediction is that it will increase by about 9.6% to generate 152.1 billion USD.

Streaming services are investing heavily in the production of original content. The audio book market keeps on growing exponentially (audiobook revenue in 2018 grew by 24.5 percent and totaled USD $940 million). The eLearning industry is expected to grow beyond USD 300 billion by 2025.

With the number of self-professed voice-overs increasing year after year, the question is not:

“Will there be enough work for everybody?” The question is: “Who is in the best position to take advantage of the growth in our line of work?”

The answer is simple: those who are best prepared to meet the demands of the market will dominate it. So, the real question becomes: How do you prepare for the future?

PRESIDENTIAL ADVICE

Abraham Lincoln, who was a skilled woodcutter before becoming president of the United States, famously said:

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

For VO’s this translates to at least four things:

  • Continuing education, but not only with the help of voice over coaches. I’m talking about taking acting and improv classes, singing lessons, and even language training. In other words, start improving your skills to make yourself more versatile and marketable. But that’s only the beginning;
  • On top of that I highly recommend you learn how to properly run a freelance business. This means knowing how to manage your finances, learning how to develop your brand, and coming up with innovative ways to position yourself. It involves making meaningful connections, and presenting yourself as a unique solution to a specific problem;
  • Third, you must invest in equipment and in a recording environment that will make you look and sound like the pro you profess to be;
  • And lastly, you need to learn how to manage yourself. If you can’t take the pressure and uncertainty of being a freelancer, the constant stream of rejections, and so-called colleagues trying to undercut you at every corner, please find another job. 

 

FOREVER AND EVER

Looking at this list you may wonder: won’t this take years and years to accomplish? It may, but it depends on your approach, your finances, and on the time you give yourself. The people who make the least progress are those who are trying to figure this out on their own. They kid themselves by believing that you can find everything you need online, and for free.

Why have we never heard of those trying to teach themselves how to drive a car or swim, using distance learning? Because they have crashed and drowned! If you think you can reinvent the wheel, be my guest. I think it’s much faster to learn from those who already are where you want to be. That’s precisely where conferences come in.

A conference is a safe and exciting place where you meet colleagues and experts who have struggled with the same things you are struggling with at the moment. It’s a place where you can help and inspire others who are stuck in their careers. And if you’re looking for a personal coach, you get the opportunity to experience a number of experts and see who might be a good fit for you.

A voice over conference is the perfect place to start sharpening that axe of yours.

BACK TO LONDON

I’ll be going to VO Atlanta in March, and I’m totally tickled to tell you that I am coming to London in May 2020! The ONE VOICE CONFERENCE where I will be speaking, takes place from May 7th – 10th and is put together by the team behind Gravy For The  Brain. I spoke with organizer Hugh Edwards, and asked him:

This is the third Voice One Conference. What have you learned since the first gatherings?

“Well, we are very big on customer feedback, each year we’ve done exit surveys and we’ve really listened to what has been fed back to us. We genuinely try and improve the conference in any way we can. One of the key changes we’ve made this year is that we are completely focussing the conference on professional voiceover, pro VO’s and pro VO standards.

Most conferences cater for a spread, i.e., beginner, intermediate and advanced content, but this often leads to a lack of content for the pros – this year we are doing an about face on that. My theory is that if you aim for 100% professional content, everyone is going to learn something useful and new, and you don’t alienate any section of your audience. 

The second big change is that this year I’ve dropped the idea of genre-based content. What I mean by that is that with years 1 and 2 we had a genre list – audiobooks, IVR, corporate etc – and we filled all the speaker slots based on fulfilling that list.

This year we’ve focussed in the reverse; who are the really great people who we are going to learn the best information from. As a product of this, we aren’t fulfilling all the genres, but we have much more interesting content, from the best of the best in the world, we have many more casting directors attending for example. It’s a subtle but incredibly important shift in our approach.”

You’ve been to VO conferences in the USA like VO Atlanta. What’s the difference in the way Americans and Brits approach these events? In what way is the atmosphere different? 

“Well, the heart of the voice artists in both countries, and Canada, Mexico, France, Australia etc are fundamentally the same. They all have the same hopes and dreams, needs and wants. The love of the industry is a common love that runs throughout everyone I meet in the industry. I think the attitudes are a little different though.

The brits tend to say outright and to people’s faces that they don’t think something is right, and the Americans seem slightly more reserved, will make their judgements and just not buy that person’s product, or that companies offering etc.

That isn’t to say that the American audience is in anyway less passionate, just that we all have different ways of expressing it. The Americans are much louder with whooping, hollering and dancing, the brits less so – but again, it’s not any less enthusiasm or passion – just different expressions!”

I sometimes feel that in the US, voice talent suffers from an inferiority complex. Voice-overs are invisible and don’t get the recognition they wish to get, artistically and financially. Is this something you recognize in the UK? If so, how can an event like One Voice help change the perception VO’s have of themselves, and the perception of the public?

“I wouldn’t agree that VO’s have an inferiority complex generally – in fact they often get the best of both worlds in that they get to work with the big productions but can still walk down the street un-hassled! But the public perception of VO around the world is growing daily.

One Voice, and Gravy For The Brain definitely help change the public perception of voiceover, both in education and (with things like the One Voice Awards) in celebration. The more opportunities given to shout about their craft, the more the public takes an interest. Some VO artists are becoming household names in the UK and the USA and the industry is changing at a rapid pace.”

 Looking back at the past two events, what has been your most gratifying experience?

“This is actually easier to answer than you might think! One Voice is a little like the analogy of the duck swimming on a lake; calm, serene and in control on the surface (which is what the public sees) and feet paddling like crazy under the surface (which is what our fantastic team is doing behind the scenes to make everything smooth and enjoyable for the delegates).

The amount of work that goes into the conference before the event is absolutely huge, from dress rehearsals, to coding, to awards and submissions, to speaker bookings, you name it, the team does it – and it’s right that the public never needs to know.

So what’s my most gratifying experience? I stand at the bar at the end of the day and I look around at all the VO’s and speakers gathered together – and all I see is smiles, and happiness, community and mutual respect. Seeing everyone being so happy after all the work, all the late nights and all the hours involved makes me as happy as I can be.”

These conferences cost a lot of money to organize and that’s one of the reasons you have corporate sponsors. How do you give your sponsors what they want without exposing the attendees to aggressive sales pitches?

“Yep – it’s a good point, and not all conferences get this right. I think one of the reasons for this is that virtually no other conference owner is also a sponsor at other conferences, whereas Gravy For The Brain has sponsored almost all the VO conference in the world in the last two years. We see what works for us, and when, as sponsors we are disappointed – we know what works for us and when we feel we are getting value, and when we feel neglected.

But it’s also worth saying that it’s a little sycophantic to presume that it’s an us (VO’s) and them (sponsors) scenario – in fact, it’s a completely symbiotic relationship; the sponsors are generally providing products or services that we love and need as a community, and although it’s a business, we’re all in this together.

When it comes to sponsor talks, we’re quite strict on not allowing sponsors to do sales pitches – that’s not the best use of their time at all – and instead we fixed the whole ‘expo area’ idea, which is done so wrong in so many other conferences – if you have to have a ‘room’ for the sponsors, by default delegates have to make a conscious effort to visit so attendance is always low.

At One Voice the expo area is the connection space between all the presentation rooms, so we have a constant flow of traffic for the exhibitors. Because of this the sponsors have no need to use their talk to be the only time they can pitch to the voices – they’re just integrated into the conference as a whole.”

Talent that’s on the fence about going, usually has a few questions about the conference:

– Is this suitable for beginners?

“Yes, all levels. As I mentioned earlier, we’re now presenting content for the professional, which means that all levels are going to learn as much as we can provide for them.”

– Will I get lost in the crowd?

“No. The fire limit for One Voice is 350 people, which in reality means 300 voice artists. It’s a lovely intimate space and has a real family feel to it!”

– Will it get me more work?

“Well, anyone – conference owners, trainers, coaches, whoever who says that their product is going to get you more work, is a liar, or at best misguided. What we are doing is helping you make connections and network, and giving you education and tools for you to be able to do this for yourself…and in that way, yes absolutely!

VO is a long game and no one is going to do this for you – it takes hard work and dedication, but One Voice is the best networking opportunity, an amazing centre of excellence in education and the most value-for-money conference you can attend in the UK.”

meeting Mark Graue

– Will I have the opportunity to meet face to face with presenters?

“Absolutely. it’s such a social event, and most of the presenters are there for the whole weekend. We’ve consistently found that our presenters are extremely generous with their time and their advice – they’re a great spirited and friendly bunch! The overriding word that comes back to me here is community – they are as much a part of it as you are, and their expertise and experience is arguably the most valuable part of the weekend.”

What’s new in 2020? Why should people who already have attended a conference come back?

“So I previously mentioned the refocusing on professional standards, education, and tuition. This extends through to all the areas of the conference, from talks, to workshops, the networking to the community and our sponsors. Almost all of our speakers this year were not speakers last year which is part of our ongoing commitment to provide value for money, freshness, and diversity in the content we are providing. 

At the end of last year’s One Voice I polled the audience about our workshops and what people thought – we had a pretty polar split with those who loved them, and those who thought the content was great but that they were too short. So we listened, and this year we will be providing the one-hour workshops which are still free with your ticket, and also three-hour specialised workshops which will have an additional fee. It’s only fair that we pay the experts who are imparting their knowledge for a 3-hour period.

The One Voice Boat Party is back, because it was so hugely successful and fun last year – we just couldn’t resist doing it again!”

As I was conducting my interview, Hugh broke the news that Alexander Armstrong had agreed to become the second keynote speaker (Kate Robbins being the other one). Alexander is a well-know British voice actor, comedian, game show host, and singer. He also plays the title character in the new edition of Danger Mouse.

Why Alexander Armstrong is happy to be out of the voiceover game

With a voice like that, it's no surprise that brands were desperate to snap up the talents of Alexander Armstrong! ?

Posted by BBC Radio 2 on Friday, May 24, 2019

 

Back to my interview with Hugh. I wanted to know: Will you still have the Awards Gala? 

“I’m glad you asked! Yes the One Voice Awards is growing from strength to strength and is becoming a genuine force for good in the VO community. Because of our ethical values and the truly locked nature of the judging system proving 100% absolute integrity, the One Voice Awards are seen as a wholly trusted and worthwhile thing. It’s also one heck of a fun night!

We have some very cool surprises up our sleeve this year too! Submissions will open in January – and for anyone who isn’t on our mailing list just head over to www.onevoiceconference.com and sign up to the newsletter – and further details will follow!

Bodalgo’s Armin Hierstetter

We’re running a super early bird at the moment which is 30% off the ticket price and lasts only up until Christmas Day. The price for the entire 4-day event (excluding the awards) at this discount is only £229 +tax (that’s about 300 USD) – which represents incredible value for money. Then we go into the Early bird for a few weeks in January and then normal ticket pricing after that.

We have negotiated an amazing hotel rate which includes breakfast, and of course lunches are included within the ticket price. One Voice Conference is the UK’s biggest and best VO conference for a reason – we really care about each and every one of our attendees – and we’d love to see everyone there for our third year!”

MY CONTRIBUTION

Many thanks to Hugh for taking the time to answer my questions, and frankly, for having me at One Voice.

From the many responses I get, I know there are quite a few fans of this blog in the UK as well as in the rest of Europe. I’d love to meet you at the One Voice Conference where I will be doing a one-hour presentation on how to increase your visibility, SEO, and professional reputation by blogging, followed by a thee-hour interactive workshop where we will dig in a lot deeper.

As you may know, my blog has propelled this website to becoming the number one individual VO website on the interweb. If you play your cards right, you could very well follow in my footsteps, and I’ll do whatever I can to get you there.

It all depends on one thing:

Are you ready to sharpen your axe?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Paul’s Personally Curated Holiday Shopping List

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Book, Career, Gear, Internet, Personal Leave a comment

The older I get, the harder it is to give me something for the holidays. 

For one, I have pretty much everything my heart desires and I don’t need to accumulate more stuff. Instead, I’d like to invest in memories, in people, and in experiences that enrich my life and the lives of others. 

Those are the things that cannot be bought on Amazon or sold on eBay.

Yet, I don’t blame you if you keep a secret wish list under your pillow as you dream of new microphones, preamplifiers, and the latest and greatest headphones. At the same time, your friends and family members may be looking for some smaller ticket items to put under the Christmas tree or Hanukkah bush.

That’s where I come in!

GIFT IDEAS

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been collecting some voice-over gift ideas for people like me, who aren’t so easy to shop for. 

Before I show you my list, you should know that by clicking on the images you will be transported to the virtual warehouse that is Amazon. This means a small portion of your purchase will go towards supporting this blog, since I am an Amazon affiliate.

I also encourage you to shop locally as much as you can, but you won’t find many of the items below on the shelves of your downtown retailers.

Let’s start by finding something for our noses!

I have mixed feelings about fragrances. On one hand, I’m no fan of natural body odor. On the other, an increasing number of people are allergic to perfumes and after-shaves. At my doctor’s office, there’s a sign asking patients not to wear any perfume when they come in for a visit.

I clearly remember a nauseating recording session in a booth that appeared to be sprayed with Old Spice from the previous VO. Please do your colleagues a favor and use an odorless deodorant before you come in to record.

If, in your private life, you’d like to be a bit more fragrant, here are two options to consider. I haven’t tested them, but I think the bottles look pretty cool!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next package is more impressive and expensive. There’s even an unboxing video if you’re really interested. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The following fragrance is not for your body. This microphone-shaped contraption is meant to freshen up your car.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coming back to personal hygiene, how about some soap on a rope? You can warm up your pipes as you take a long, hot shower.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s one thing I’ve never understood. When you buy a nice microphone, it usually comes in a fancy box or case you’ll rarely use. However, there’s nothing to protect your mic once it’s in your studio. Dust and humidity are major enemies, so my $1750 microphone is hanging in an old sunglasses bag filled with Silica gel packets. There’s a more high-end solution, though. 

My next item is a universal microphone protector and dust cover. It’s made from double-sided quilted nylon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another company offers a two-pack with custom embroidery included.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My recording studio is in the basement, and my wife’s office is on the first floor. She always knows when I’m in session because of my Harlan Hogan remote controlled recording sign.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s another light for you. An “On The Air” night light. The plug can be rotated to accommodate outlets in any direction.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then there’s fun voice-over attire. Here are a few examples of what you can find on Amazon. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Most VO’s are avid readers, and some of us -me included- also take up the pen. If you’d like to add to your collection of voice over books, I recommend you send your friends and family to my Concise (and Incomplete) Voice Over Book List on this blog. 

If you’re a Manga fan, you’ll be delighted to know that Maki Minami has written a whole series about young voice-over artists. Here’s the cover of volume 1. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If your vocal folds are in need of some TLC, these Voice Lessons To Go by Ariella Vaccarino might be the thing you need. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

GIFTS TO YOURSELF

Then there are gifts that aren’t really physical. They tend to be a bit more expensive, but they will definitely help you move your business forward.

For $120 per year you can upgrade your WeTransfer account to a Pro version. This gets you your own WeTransfer URL and artwork, email transfers to up to 50 people, and you’ll receive 1TB of storage. This allows you to keep your transfers available for as long as you want. In the free version they get deleted after 7 days.

Why not make this the year year you finally become a member of the World Voices Organization? The new member application fee is $99 USD. You’ll get access to educational materials, WoVO mentors, and VoiceOver.biz, a site where you can post your profile and voice seekers can hire you. Those seekers are serious clients looking for vetted professionals. When you land a job, there’s no commission or agent fee.

Besides, you’ll be a member of an organization that develops and promotes best practices, as well as standards for ethical conduct and professional expertise as it relates to the voiceover industry, run by voice over talent for voice over talent.

VO CONFERENCE

Have you thought of giving yourself a ticket to VO Atlanta (March 26 – 29, 2020)? Join colleagues from over 44 states and 20 countries, and enjoy a selection of 200 scheduled session hours by the best in the business. Plus, you get to meet me! 

For those who are wondering if VO Atlanta is worth attending, here’s a quick recap of this year’s conference. 

 

Well, there you have it! My list of voice over inspired holiday gifts. There’s one thing you should know, though. 

Nothing on this list comes even close to the gift you have given me throughout the years: your continued support for this blog and for me.

I am beyond grateful for your kindness and your willingness to spend some time with me, week after week.

It is truly something I am immensely thankful for.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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I’m Looking For Voice Talent!

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Promotion 4 Comments

museum audio tourDo you want to hear my formula for voice over success?

Number one: There is no formula. Just talent and hard work.

Number two: It’s getting the basics right. Consistently.

Number three: Learn from the best and distinguish yourself from the rest.

Number four: Make it easy to hire you and easy to work with you.

I was reminded of those last points as I got involved in the casting of a project for a Spanish client. He asked if I could help him find a few Dutch female voices for an hour-long museum tour

Easy, right?

But where to start?

With so much talent, I had to find a way to separate the wheat from the chaff, knowing that my recommendations would also reflect on me. In my role as voice seeker I came up with a couple of principles that are so obvious that they’re often overlooked. Here’s number one:

People are more likely to suggest and hire people they know and can relate to

The longer I am in this business, the more I’m reminded that connections are the key to a sustainable career. If you don’t have a long-term strategy to cultivate these connections, you’re going to have a hard time.

Why are connections so important? It comes down to the most valuable commodity in our volatile line of work: trust

“But I don’t know anyone in the business,” said a newcomer. “I’ll never be able to break in.”

“Then make some friends!” I said. “With social media it’s never been easier. Don’t wait for others to take the initiative. Start reaching out!”

A year or so ago, I became more active in a Facebook group for Dutch talent. I rekindled old connections, and began making new ones. I received friend requests, and asked people to befriend me.

Some colleagues were predominantly interested in how I could help them land big American clients, and I understand that. Others were also interested in me as a person, and they offered their help. 

From the moment I started my life as a freelancer, I’ve learned to pick out the ME-people from the WE-people.

The ME-people ask: What can you do for ME?” They are mainly interested in getting

The WE- people ask: “What can I do for YOU?” They are mainly interested in giving

You’ll notice the same thing when people discuss the merits of going to voice over conferences. Some want to know: “What’s in it for me? Will I get my money’s worth?” Others ask: “How can I contribute? What can I do to help?” 

I’m very much drawn to the WE-crowd. The ones who want to cooperate. Those are the people I am likely to recommend. 

So, if you want me to put in a good word for you, become a go-giver instead of a go-getter!

Here’s the second thing I value when recommending fellow voice talent:

Make it easy to find you, and to get relevant information about you

When I started searching among the members of the Dutch voice over group, I noticed that many still use a personal profile instead of a professional Facebook page to highlight their voice over work.

If you do this too, this means that I, as a voice seeker am looking at your family photos where you pose in a tiny bikini holding a beer stein looking tipsy. I see your political postings, and the slightly weird way you interact with your friends.

Like it or not, I form an opinion which may or may not be favorable. If it comes down to you and another talent, and I don’t happen to like your political affiliation or your love of lager, you’re out. 

What also surprised me was that a good number of talents didn’t have any contact info in the About-section. Not even a link to their website! You want me to recommend you for a job, but you won’t tell me how to reach you or check out your demos? I’m a busy guy and I don’t have time to track you down. 

Your most critical information has to be one click away.

Number three:

Your demos need to reflect the totality of your talent

You can have the most amazing art work on your website and a wonderful bio, but if you post three demos and they all sound the same, you are selling yourself short. Very few voice overs can make a living being a one-trick pony. No one wants to come to a restaurant where the cook can only make three dishes.

So, if you wish to be a working voice talent, I want to hear you narrate some audio books, teach me a lesson through eLearning, sell me a product or a service, give me a guided tour of a museum, and act out a few video game characters. Show me your range.

Don’t only post your overproduced, expensive demos with all the bells and whistles. Clients want to know how you sound in your home studio with your own equipment. Unsweetened. In heavenly mono.

Eighty percent of the website demos I listened to for my Spanish client could not be downloaded. That’s another stumbling block. First I had to find the website. Then I couldn’t find a demo that didn’t sound salesy. On top of that there was nothing to download and send to the client.

Who is playing hard to get?

Eventually, I did get my demos, but most of them didn’t have the talent name in the audio file. They just said something like “Audio tour 2019.” Why is that a problem?

Imagine having to cast this job, and out of twenty to thirty samples you find your top three. The problem is, you don’t know which talent recorded which demo because it’s not listed in the title. Now you have to spend more time finding the name that goes with the voice. 

Let’s move on to number four:

Be responsive, ask the right questions, and follow the instructions

If you’ve ever had to hire voices, you know that you can weed out seventy percent of talent because:

  • the audio quality is terrible
  • deadlines are ignored
  • talent makes the wrong assumptions
  • talent can’t follow simple directions, and is
  • unable to interpret the script

 

So, which talent gets hired? The talent that’s capable, available, and affordable. If you can’t deliver on all three fronts, you’re gone.

At the beginning of my day I approached ten voice talents. By the end of the afternoon seven got back to me. Out of those seven, five asked questions about the job. Three offered to record a custom demo.

In order to put in an educated quote for this audio guide, you need to know:

  • the length of the script
  • does the client want finished, fully edited audio that is separated, or is it okay to send in one file
  • what’s the budget
  • does that include retakes

 

Since the script was still being translated, I couldn’t give the talent a text, but at the end of the day, four sent me a sample of audio tours they had recorded in the past. The remaining three had found a few paragraphs of a real audio tour and sent that in.

Full marks for everyone!

The quotes I received for an hour of finished audio were between €850 and €2500. The cheaper talent sounded just as professional as the more expensive talent.

Now, it took me a few hours of communicating with my colleagues and my client to get the right information to the right people. I was only helping out, remember? 

Do I have any idea who will get hired?

Call me cynical, but based on my experience, here’s what I predict.

The client will thank me for my efforts and post the job on Voice123 or on that other online casting auction house, the one in Canada…

…where they will find some sucker who is willing to do the job for $250 or less, claiming he has to “feed his family.”

No questions asked.

And thus, our business will slowly go to pieces. One lousy job at a time.

The end.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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PPS One of my Dutch students just got signed by a major US agent!

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Have I Got News For You!

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Book, Career, Dutch, Freelancing, International, Personal, Promotion, VO Atlanta 30 Comments

Paul Strikwerda

If you’re a follower of this blog you’re probably wondering why you keep seeing stories in some strange European language. Frankly, it started as a one-off thing for my Dutch friends and colleagues.

Because I’ve been away from home for twenty years, most people had no idea what had happened to me. I literally disappeared off the map when I left the Netherlands with my entire life packed up in two suitcases and a plastic bag.

Yes, people… I am one of those immigrants who came to your country in search of a better life, ready to steal your jobs and marry your women. You better watch out!

A DUTCH TREAT

Anyway, I wanted to let my fellow-Netherlanders know what I’d been up to since I left my motherland, and that’s why I started writing in Dutch. I had to talk myself into it though, because I wasn’t sure if I still had it in me. Most of my thoughts are in English, I speak English all day long, and ninety percent of what I read and write is in English. I didn’t want to make a fool of myself penning pieces in Denglish.

After my first Dutch article was published, it became clear I had no reason to be worried. Over three hundred people read the story of my exodus and liked it. I didn’t think there were even three hundred voice actors in Holland. Better still, people wanted me to keep on writing, and that’s what I did. So far, there are six chapters and there’s more to come. 

Now, here’s the thing. I have no way to ensure that my Dutch stories will only go to my Dutch subscribers. So, if English is your preferred language I hope you will do me a favor. Just ignore the blog posts in Dutch and wait for a new English story on Thursday. If you’re Dutch, you are in luck because you get two articles for the price of one!

CHANGING COURSE

With that out of the way I’d like to share some news with you. I am in the process of realigning my business with new and exciting plans that are in part based on what I am physically and mentally able to accomplish. You probably remember that the stroke I had in March of last year has forced me to seriously slow down and rethink my priorities.

My mind would love to continue as if nothing has happened, but my body disagrees. A permanent tremor in one of my vocal folds limits the time I am able to record voice-overs. My voice tires much faster, and no amount of vocal exercises has changed that. Mind you: this does not mean I can’t do any recordings.

As I speak, I am learning to do more with less. Fortunately, my clients and my agents completely understand, so they’re not sending me 600-page novels, or auditions for video games that require dying a thousand agonizing deaths.

KEEPING MY PRESENCE

Just because my vocal folds are taking a bit of a back seat doesn’t mean I have lost my voice completely. In Holland we say: “Onkruid vergaat niet,” meaning “Weeds don’t die.” I can assure you that I will continue to have a voice in our community.

At VO Atlanta (March 26 – 29, 2020), I’ll be leading a 3-hour workshop called Boosting Your Business with a Blog, and I’ll do a presentation on The Incredible Power of Language.

I am working on a second book, and I will continue to write this blog with a double dose of truthiness and snarcasm. If things go according to plan, 50% of my business is going to be devoted to content creation, 20% to speaking, and 30% to helping others succeed.

Here’s an example of that last category. Some of my Dutch colleagues want to spread their professional wings, and try their luck abroad. These folks need a tour guide who’s been there and done that.

In the coming months I’ll be coaching some of Holland’s top-tier talent and taking them to VO Atlanta. I’d like you to get to know them, and that’s why I’ll be interviewing each one of them for this blog. Stay tuned, these folks will knock your socks off!

ONLINE ACTIVITIES

All of the above means that I have to have a website that reflects this shift in focus. That’s why I am working with the splendid team at voiceactorwebsites on a complete overhaul of the Nethervoice site. According to Joe Davis who heads voiceactorwebsites, Nethervoice.com is already the number one individual voice-over site on the interweb, and I am going to strengthen that position even more.

Expect a site that truly showcases my writings, featuring a clean, sophisticated design, and a new, simpler way to subscribe. Of course it is going to load super fast and it’s 100% mobile-friendly. Because I’m pretty picky, all of this is going to take a while to accomplish, but it will be worth waiting for!

Thanks for your continued support and patience during this time of transition.

It means the world to me!

Tot de volgende keer.

Till next time!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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In voor- en tegenspoed

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Dutch, Personal 2 Comments

onze bruiloft

This is the continuation of my American adventures, written for my friends and colleagues in the Netherlands. It is in Dutch, and if you’re looking for a new story in English, please come back on Thursday!

Paul

Wat doe je als de zaken in je leven niet gaan zoals je zou willen?

Ga je bij de pakken neerzitten en jezelf ontzettend zielig vinden, of sla je het stof van je af en kijk je omhoog naar de hemelsblauwe lucht?

Het is uiteindelijk een kwestie van focus.

Als je je concentreert op alles wat er mis is, dan voel je je binnen de korte keren depressief en lusteloos. Als je focust op al het goede en mooie in de wereld, dan ga je je gelijk een stuk vrolijker en energieker voelen.

Het is dezelfde wereld. Alleen de manier waarop je kiest te kijken is radicaal anders.

Op basis van mijn ervaring geloof ik innig dat de dingen waar wij ons dagelijks het meeste op focussen ons het meest beïnvloedden en sturen. “What you think, you become,” zei Boeddha al (hij was onwijs wijs).

Vergelijk het met voedsel. Als jij je elke dag volpropt met junk food, dan is dat aan je lijf te zien. Eet je gezond, dan reageert je lichaam daar ook op. Hetzelfde geldt voor een mentaal dieet.

Na mijn scheiding zette ik mezelf op dat mentale dieet, daarbij geholpen door een geheim wapen: mijn beltoon. Elke keer als iemand me telefoneerde klonk het begin van de Shaffy Cantate, een aanstekelijke melodie die me onmiddellijk in een goede stemming bracht. In NLP noemen ze dat een positief anker. Vergelijk het met de bel van Pavlov’s hond.

Op sommig dagen had ik die beltoon meer nodig dan op andere. De moeder van mijn dochter maakte me het leven zuur, mijn baan in het callcentrum was geestdodend, en ik miste mijn Hollandse vrienden en familie. Dankzij m’n werkschema voelde ik me altijd uitgeblust, maar ik wilde niet dat de zorg voor mijn dochter daar onder zou lijden.

NIET MEER ALLEEN

Na een jaar op mezelf te zijn geweest groeide langzaam de behoefte aan een goede vriend of vriendin. Maar als je elke dag om twee uur ’s ochtends naast je bed staat, ’s middags voor je kind zorgt en ’s avonds vroeg gaat slapen, dan is er weinig gelegenheid voor sociale contacten.

Dan maar het internet op.

Dankzij Match.com en eHarmony.com merkte ik tot m’n verbazing dat ik nogal goed in de markt lag. Ik had een baan, een interessante internationale achtergrond, en…. een kleine dochter. Voor veel al wat minder jonge vouwen bleek ik een uitgelezen kans om hun kinderwens in vervulling te laten gaan. Ikzelf had zoiets van: laten we eerst maar eens kijken of we het samen leuk kunnen hebben voordat ik je aan Skyler voorstel. Na twee stukgelopen relaties was ik voorzichtig geworden.

Ik zou boeken kunnen volschrijven over de klungelige manier waarop ik mijn eerste afspraakjes inging, maar je bent natuurlijk het meest geïnteresseerd in mijn voice-over verhaal. Die draad pak ik iets later weer op, dat beloof ik. Na een aantal maanden van dates met dames die meer in mijn dochter geïnteresseerd waren dan in mij, vond ik nog steeds geen Match en zeker geen eHarmony.

Opgeven deed ik niet zo makkelijk, dus besloot ik het nog maar eens via Yahoo Personals te proberen. En tijdens een driedaags proeflidmaatschap gebeurde het. Pamela, die via een profiel van een vriendin naar iemand op zoek was om mee te skiën, stuurde me een berichtje. Hoe was ze nou bij mij terechtgekomen?

Heel simpel. Om haar zoektocht wat gerichter te maken toetste ze de trefwoorden “ski” en “skiing” in. Eén van de dingen die ik in mijn profiel has geschreven was dit:

“I’m originally from the Netherlands. The country is as flat as a pancake, so I do not ski.”

Dat ene zinnetje zou ons hele leven op slag veranderen. Onderschat dus nooit hoe kleine dingen grote invloed kunnen hebben!

EEN NIEUWE RELATIE

Pam was uitvoerend musicus, en ze gaf fluit- en pianoles. Dat sprak mij met m’n musicologie achtergrond meteen aan. Ook bleken we alle twee sinds onze tienerjaren vegetariër te zijn. Ze was redelijk bereisd en sprak verschillende talen, en dat is niet iets wat de meeste Amerikanen kunnen zeggen. Verder had ze een helder hoofd en hield ze enorm van de natuur.

Na een paar afspraakjes wisten we dat we verder met elkaar wilden, en nam Pam me mee naar een skigebied in de Pocono bergen. “If this is going to be serieus,” zei ze, “You’ll have to learn how to ski. Otherwise you won’t see much of me in the winter.”

Een uur later stond ik op de lange latten naar een instructeur te luisteren, en even later ging ik met angst en beven de helling af. Het was niet bepaald elegant maar het ging wel snel, een stijl waar ik tot op de dag van vandaag om bekend sta.

new familyIk had zo m’n eigen voorwaarden voor onze relatie. Als het tussen Pam en Skyler niet zou klikken, dan zouden we alleen vrienden blijven. Toen Pam uiteindelijk bij mij over de vloer kwam was Skyler één jaar oud en kon ze al aardig op haar beentjes staan. Pam ging op de grond zitten en Skyler kwam gelijk lachend naar haar toe dribbelen. Ze plofte vervolgens in Pam’s schoot neer en bleef daar een uur lang zitten.

Ik wist genoeg!

VERHUIZING

Een jaar later verhuisde ik naar Easton waar Pam woonde, en in oktober 2004 zijn we in onze woonkamer door de burgemeester getrouwd. Skyler was ons bloemenmeisje. Ik bleef gewoon in het callcentrum werken maar moest nóg vroeger m’n bed uit omdat Easton een uur verder weg lag. Op een natte herfstochtend ben ik achter het stuur in slaap gevallen en heb ik mijn auto tegen een rotsblok total loss gereden. Ikzelf kwam er wonderbaarlijk genoeg zonder kleerscheuren van af.

Het was daarom letterlijk een geluk bij een ongeluk dat het internationale enquêtebureau waar ik werkte er achter kwam dat ze de interviews die we deden makkelijk konden vervangen door online vragenlijsten. Computers vonden het geen probleem om constant uitgescholden te worden, en leverden betrouwbare antwoorden op.

Na onze wittebroodsweken zat ik dus vrij snel zonder werk, en diende ook een ander probleem zich aan. Pam leed al sinds haar kinderjaren aan multiple sclerose maar dat kon je bijna nergens aan merken. Het vroegtijdig overlijden van haar moeder raakte haar diep, en zorgde ervoor dat allerlei symptomen de kop op staken. Ze verloor haar balans, haar spieren verstijfden en verzwakten, en op sommige dagen kwam ze moeilijk uit haar woorden. Onze buren dachten dat ze soms dronken thuiskwam.

Na lang tegensputteren kocht ze uiteindelijk een wandelstok, een looprek en later ook een elektrische scooter.

Was dit het begin van het einde, of was er nog hoop op herstel?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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You’re NOT a Professional Voice Over if…

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Pay-to-Play, Personal 6 Comments
headshot Paul Strikwerda

the author

You’re selling yourself short on Fiverr.

You don’t go to at least one VO conference a year.

You can’t fill in the blanc when asked: “Mel who?”

Your website isn’t made by Joe Davis and his team.

You haven’t watched at least five episodes of VOBS.

Your marketing doesn’t include a picture of you with a microphone.

You don’t suffer from GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome).

You’ve never tasted Sweetwater candy.

You’re not afraid of Nancy Wolfsons critique.

You haven’t taken a selfie with J. Michael Collins.

You don’t own an unopened copy of James Alburger’s “The Art of Voice Acting.”

You think recording audio books is a piece of cake.

You’re not showing signs of a sedentary life.

You think you can win auditions by lowering your rate.

You’re tricked into believing that exposure is fair compensation.

You’re an extrovert who doesn’t want to go back to his booth.

You think a Snowball is professional grade gear.

Bob Bergen hasn’t told you to join the union.

You think that Roy’s not your uncle.

You’ve never heard of VoiceOverXtra.

You don’t belong to at least ten VO Facebook groups.

You think celebrity impersonations will make you rich and famous.

You’re convinced a few Pay to Play memberships are all you need to succeed.

You believe having an agent will solve all your problems.

Your life partner has never asked you to “stop doing silly voices.”

You haven’t heard Armin Hierstetter drop the F-bomb.

You believe Don LaFontaine is that man from the old GEICO commercial.

You’re not a WoVO member.

You don’t subscribe to the Nethervoice blog.

You have trouble understanding double negatives.

You don’t take everything I’ve listed with a grain of salt.

 

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Are You Pimping Your Voice?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Money Matters, Social Media 6 Comments

I apologize in advance for what you’re about to read. I’m a bit fired up today.

What’s going on?

Well, I made the mistake of once again visiting the Voice Acting Alliance (Unofficial Group) Facebook Group. That’s the 9,300 member strong group where pretend voice actors will do pretty much anything for nothing.

If you’re serious about voice acting and you’re looking for solid advice, do yourself a favor and find another online community. Please.

You’ll avoid encountering people tackling pressing issues such as:

“Who will critique my shitty demo recorded in the closet with $70 worth of equipment. Kindly ignore the neighbor’s rottweiler.”

“I been having a hard time finding acting classes so if anyone could give me some references or pointers. I be very grateful.”

“I haven’t done any voice acting in this group yet. If any of you need a voice just let me know. I’m currently learning myself.”

I thought I’d give a test with the Kaotica Eyeball in case anyone would like to give this ball a try. Enjoy.”

I just learned what “slating” means… 10 auditions later…”

and the ultimate question:

“What food do voice actor eat?” (seriously!)

If I may, I’d like to add the following query:

“What diaper do voice actor wear?”

SPOON FEEDERS UNITE

The most surprising thing is that some colleagues with too much time on their hands take these questions seriously, and they start helping the ignorant members of this group under the guise of “giving back to the community.”

Excuse me, but that’s not giving back. This is spoon feeding toddlers and teens who are too lazy to do their homework. If you want to stand any chance as a future voice actor, you have to be self-sufficient instead of becoming dependent on people you don’t even know.

Now, the exchange that raised my heart rate today started with this question:

I got asked by a new author to narrate their novel. They had heard my voice and asked, and after some negotiation we agreed on a rather ludicrous price, in my favor.

Then I read the first chapter.

Bad grammar and amateur structure are but a few of the problems.

I’m not an editor, so I’m not even going to suggest that the errors be fixed. There are just too many I found in the first chapter of what is ultimately a 100,000 plus word book.

So, two questions.

1. Do I do it for the money and risk having my name attached to a trainwreck, or
2. Politely opt out and if so, what reason would I give.

Any advice is appreciated. Thanks.”

Notwithstanding the bad grammar and structure of this request for help, please take a deep breath and ask yourself what you would do, if you were the narrator. Would you take the money and suffer for the sake of gaining experience, or would you pass on this golden opportunity?

Here are some of the responses that came from the group:

I would do it for the experience as well as the pay. If you want to do audio books in the future, this is a great way to start.”

The performance can be good, regardless of the writing. If the writing sucks, that’s the author’s fault. If you can’t make the performance good, that’s on you.

Do it. Make it the best you can. Have confidence not many will hear it if it isn’t written well.… I voice poorly written spots all the time. I do everything I can to make them sound good. I get paid.”

“If f the price is right I would still do it.”

PROBLEM NUMBER ONE

As with most Facebook exchanges, people start answering questions without knowing enough about the issue. It’s like a doctor diagnosing his patient without a proper examination. How on earth can you prescribe a cure if you don’t really know what the illness is?

All we know is that we’re talking about a lengthy novel that will result in some eleven hours of finished audio if you average 2.5 words per second. According to the Audiobook Creation Exchange, ACX:

    • It takes about two hours to narrate what will become one finished hour.
    • After the narration is recorded, it then takes an editor (who might be the same person as the narrator) about three hours to edit each finished hour of recording.
    • At this point, it is strongly recommended that you run a quality control (QC) pass over the finished project. This means spending time re-listening and suggesting words, sentences, or sections to re-record. And that takes about 1.2 hours for every finished hour.

 

So, if we go by ACX, it takes about 6.2 hours to produce one hour of finished audio. That makes this novel a seventy-hour job. Probably more, because the person asking the question doesn’t seem to have a lot of experience.

PROBLEM NUMBER TWO

How much will the narrator be making? In his words he negotiated “a rather ludicrous price, in my favor.”

That doesn’t tell us anything, does it? I’ve seen people in this group thinking that $50 or less per finished hour is perfectly acceptable. Others are offering their services for free in exchange for exposure. If you don’t believe me, visit the group and start counting the “passion projects” on the page.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:

If exposure is what you’re after, join Exhibitionists Anonymous.

Don’t stink up our joint with your rotten amateur attitude.

Lastly, the narrator doesn’t tell us if he negotiated a flat fee or a royalty share. That could make a huge difference in his paycheck.

PROBLEM NUMBER THREE

The narrator has read the first chapter and concludes: “Bad grammar and amateur structure are but a few of the problems.”

To me that’s a sign that this new author is peddling a self-published novel. Novels released by established publishers are heavily edited and wouldn’t have an amateur structure.

Royalty shares work out great for bestsellers, but not for most self-published books (Fifty Shades of Grey being the exception).

The real question is: how bad does bad have to be, before you bail?

Lastly, why did the narrator agree on a “rather ludicrous price” before having read the book? Don’t you want to know ahead of time what you’re getting yourself into?

Now to some of the answers that made me quite upset. They all come down to one thing:

DO IT FOR THE MONEY

Seriously, what kind of lousy response is that? Are you pimping yourself out to the highest bidder? Is that it? In that case, I’m afraid you’ve chosen the wrong line of work. 

Let’s say you’re an independent contractor bidding on a construction job. The architect is an amateur, the floor plan is flawed, and the materials you’re required to use are inferior. In short, you’ll be building a dangerous structure and it will take forever to finish the project as you’re learning on the job.

Nevertheless, you would still do it because you’re making good money?

Don’t you have any professional or ethical standards? Are you simply that desperate?

Don’t you realize that even though you didn’t write the damn book, you will forever be associated with this piece of pulp fiction? Even if you were to use a pseudonym, it’s still your voice whispering in people’s ear. 

At this point I can hear you say:

“Now, wait a minute. Who are you to judge me? It’s just someone else’s book. It’s no big deal.  Life is about compromises, and I’ve got to pay the bills.” 

WHAT ABOUT INTEGRITY

Here’s what I would say:

I can fully understand that as a narrator you’d record books you would never take out of the library yourself. I’ve narrated the biography of Ludwig von Mises, a libertarian economist who was vehemently against socialist government intervention. I see myself as being on the opposite side of the political spectrum, and yet I thoroughly enjoyed learning about laissez-fair economics as I was recording the book.

The biography was well-written, well-structured, and well-edited. To this day, I am very proud of my contribution.

Contrast that with a lengthy, poorly structured, self-published novel filled with errors and bad grammar. Out of all the voice-over projects you could be taking on, is that the one you wish to record? And why? For the money? For the experience? 

I can guarantee you that this will become one of your most painful and frustrating experiences as an aspiring audio book narrator. You will curse the day you said YES to this project, and you will resent the overly demanding author who will bombard you with changes he expects you to record for free.

How do I know that? Because as a rule of thumb, the cheapest clients are the biggest pain in the butt. Once they hear you reading their work, they realize what’s wrong with it, and they’ll start rewriting entire passages.

The only experience you’ll get will teach you how not to approach audio book narration. If you ask me, no money in the world is worth the stress and aggravation.

If you want to learn how to properly cook a meal, start with the right ingredients. You’ll never make an amazing dish using inferior produce and rotten fish. 

MAKING THE BEST OF IT

But what about this comment:

The performance can be good, regardless of the writing. If the writing sucks, that’s the author’s fault. If you can’t make the performance good, that’s on you.

Have you ever seen the buddy movie 50/50 with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick, and Anjelica Huston? It’s one of the worst movies I’ve seen in years. It is utterly predictable, and even actors I normally admire cannot save a terrible script and poor direction. The Guardian critic wrote:

“I can only say I found it charmless, shallow, smug and unlikable: a bromance weepie about cancer with a very serious “bros before hos” attitude.”

A good performance cannot save a bad script, and a good script cannot make up for bad acting. The end result is still forgettable.

Do you really want to associate yourself with garbage, simply because you’re motivated by money?

Don’t you have any professional pride?

Take it from me: you will never do your best work for the love of the pretty penny.

If money is what you’re after, you should probably pick a different profession.

I rest my case.

Rant over.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Een Rampjaar

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Dutch, Personal Leave a comment

I’m in a bit of a pickle, and I only have myself to blame.

A few weeks ago I started blogging in Dutch, and some of my English speaking friends have been wondering why they’re receiving articles they can’t read.

Let me assure you: it’s only temporary. I just don’t have a way to send my Dutch contributions to my Dutch speaking subscribers only. There will be a new story in English each week. Just skip this post and read my article about a lucrative side hustle: emceeing live events!

ELF SEPTEMBER

Het was najaar 2001. Amerika was net opgeschrikt door de brute terroristische aanslagen op het World Trade Center en het Pentagon. Passagiers van vlucht 93 wisten nipt een aanslag op Washington, D.C. te voorkomen. Familie en vrienden uit Nederland belden me paniekerig op omdat ze gehoord hadden dat er een gekaapt vliegtuig in Pennsylvania was neergestort.

In de dagen na nine-eleven liepen opeens overal geüniformeerde mannetjes met machinegeweren rond. Ouders knuffelden elkaar en hun kinderen bij elk afscheid met hernieuwde intensiteit. De restaurants waren leeg want het voelde ongepast om lekker uit eten te gaan.

Terwijl de natie in nationale rouw was gedompeld begon ik aan een nieuw hoofdstuk in mijn carrière. Een hoofdstuk dat begon in een oud verbouwd pakhuis, vlakbij de haven van Amerika’s eerste hoofdstad, Philadelphia. The City of Brotherly Love.

Het was de eerste woensdag van de maand. Geen gehaktdag, maar de maandelijkse open casting call bij Mike Lemon. Ze noemen het terecht een Cattle Call, omdat de gangen van het castingbureau zwart zagen van de mensen die allemaal hun kunstjes kwamen tonen. Jongleurs, buiksprekers, hip hop dansers, coloratuur sopranen, fotomodellen…. en een verdwaalde Nederlander met een omroepverleden.

Iedereen die zich inschreef kreeg een nummer en daarna begon het lange wachten. Opgefokte ouders met jengelende kinderen gingen aan mij voorbij. Puisterige pubers warmden zich ongegeneerd op. En ik vroeg me af wat ik daar in hemelsnaam deed, zonder goocheltrucs of danspasjes.

MIJN SCREENTEST

“Mister Strick-Word-Aah?” klonk het uit een hoek. Ik werd in een donkere kamer geleid met een camera en een fel licht.

“Strick-Word-Aah, what kind of name is that?” vroeg iemand in het duister.

“It’s Dutch. I’m from Holland.”

“Poland? I though you were Dutch?” zei de stem.

“Holland as in the Netherlands,” antwoordde ik.

“Ah, the Netherlands. Why didn’t you say so? I know the Netherlands. Clogs. Tulips. Windmills. The people are very tall and everybody speaks English. I like the Netherlands!”

Hij ging verder:

“So, let’s see what you got for us today. Stand in front of the camera, state your name, and tell us about yourself.”

Na amper twee zinnen onderbrak hij me.

“You don’t sound like you’re from the Netherlands. You sound like you’re from England, but not quite… Interesting. Give me two seconds.”

Hij draaide zich om en riep “Get me Joanne.”

Twee minuten later kwam er een struise vrouw binnenlopen.

“Joanne, I want you to meet Paul. He’s from Holland. Paul, meet Joanne, our voice-over director. The two of you should talk.”

“Mike, Manoj is on the phone,” fluisterde Joanne. “He says it’s urgent.”

Manoj is de “M” in M. Night Shyamalan, de maker van The Sixth Sense (“I see dead people!”) voor wie Mike Lemon alle casting deed.

Joanne wandelde me van het donker in het licht naar een kamer die van de vloer tot aan het plafond gevuld was met cassettebandjes.

“That’s all my talent,” zei Joanne met een brede lach. “I represent over a thousand voices but I’ve never had someone from the Netherlands. What’s your story?”

Een paar koppen koffie later had ik het gevoel dat ik met een oude vriendin aan tafel zat. Joanne Joella had net als ik een radio achtergrond. Ze was adjunct professor in het theater department van een locale universiteit. Bekende en onbekende acteurs huurden haar in als stemmen- en dialect coach. Haar persoonlijkheid was wat ze hier “larger than life” noemen. Joviaal, aanstekelijk uitbundig, en lekker luidruchtig.

Die middag gingen we aan het werk met allerlei scripts. “I want to know how well you can take direction,” zei ze. “You can have the best voice in the world, but if you can’t follow instructions you’re never going to make it.”

De paar uur die ik met haar spendeerde was een masterclass in stem acteren, en pas later besefte ik dat ik ook auditie aan het doen was. De middag vloog om, en toen het tijd was om te vertrekken zei Joanne: “I think I might have something for you. I’ll call you tomorrow.”

Toen ik Mike Lemon Casting verliet besefte ik dat ik opeens een echte Amerikaanse agent had.

Wow!

My first headshot

UIT DE ILLEGALITEIT

Een week later ging ik terug naar Philadelphia voor de opname van mijn eerste commercial, een radioreclame voor Hersheypark, het pretpark van een bekende chocoladefabriek. Een maand later lag er een vette cheque bij mij in de brievenbus, dik verdiend door een Hollandse kaaskop zonder werkvergunning.

Houston, we’ve got a problem. 

De snelste manier om legaal in de Verenigde Staten te kunnen werken, was om Amerikaans staatsburger te worden. Dat was alleen na 9/11 een stuk moeilijker geworden. De procedure kon jaren duren, zelfs voor iemand uit een neutraal land als Nederland.

“I see only one solution,” zei mijn partner.

“What might that be?” wilde ik weten. 

“We’ve got to get married. They can’t deny you citizenship once we’ve tied the knot.”

Eerlijk gezegd was ik nog helemaal niet aan trouwen toe. Aan de andere kant wilde ik graag voice-overs blijven opnemen. Ik was het oberen zat, en de kans die me bij Mike Lemon geboden werd was een dream come true.

“Ik wil er eerst een nachtje over slapen,” zei ik. “This is too important.”

Het werd een slapeloze nacht van wikken en wegen, van voors en van tegens. Hoe meer ik er over nadacht, hoe minder zeker ik van mijn zaak was. 

Maar toen de zon eindelijk opkwam, wist ik wat ik wilde.

En zo nam ik de beste en slechtste beslissing van m’n leven.

wordt vervolgd

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

 

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