Career

Debunking Bottom Feeders

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Book, Career, Freelancing, Money Matters 47 Comments

Lowest PriceSomething strange is happening in the voice-over world, and it scares me.

I know of no other profession where colleagues (and I use the word loosely) denigrate other colleagues simply because they’re advocating for decent rates.

Those who favor higher fees are regularly labeled as greedy, unrealisticelitist, old school, or as misguided union members.

Since when did it become uncool to want to make more money, or at least earn a living wage?

Is it bad for business? Would it tarnish our reputation? What are people afraid of?

Some voice-overs who operate on the lower end of the scale have even come forward to proudly defend why they’re charging next to nothing. People like Rebecca Schwab, who confessed in a recent blog post that bloggers like me sometimes make her feel like “a voice over fraud.”

She goes on to describe her method of breaking into the voice-over business: by selling her services at rock bottom prices. In another blog post Rebecca writes:

“Whether or not I was “undercutting” anyone was the last thing on my mind. It was simply a matter of economics.”

I’m not going to copy and paste her articles here, but I think Rebecca* needs to learn a thing or two about economics and collegiality.

The frightening thing is that she’s not alone. If you frequent certain Facebook voice-over groups, you’ll notice that even some moderators have become very defensive when the subject of rates comes up. What’s even worse, you can’t argue with these people because they will kick you out of a group if you try to start a dialogue about money.

So, rather than get into a discussion with people who are unwilling to listen, let me give you my take on some of the arguments that are being used to defend, excuse, or justify low rates. Even though we’re talking about voice-over services, you’ll find the same type of reasoning when other freelance rates are discussed.

Let’s start with something I hear almost every day:

1. There will always be a high end and a low end of the market. Accept it and move on.

That’s a given, and it’s not addressing the real issue. We all know that there’s a market for KIA and Rolls-Royce. The point is: how low is the KIA dealer willing to go to make a sale? Is he prepared to sell his cars at a loss, just to get his business going? How long can he keep that up before he goes bankrupt? It’s not a way to get loyal customers either. Next time, they’ll just buy from someone who’s willing to go even lower.

Bottom line: You need to cover your costs, and then factor in a profit. Once you get clients hooked on cheap fees, they will never pay full price again.

2. You may lose money on every sale, but you’ll make it up in volume!

That’s like buying ten melons for a dollar each, and then selling 12 for 10 bucks. Does that make any sense? No matter how many KIAs a dealer sells, if he sells them below cost, he’s not making any money. A small business owner once said: “Sales numbers feed egos. Profits feed families.”

It’s not how much you sell, but how much money you get to keep that matters. Business is a game of margins, not volume. Bargain airlines tried making money on volume. Guess what? They’re gone! Would you rather do less for more, or more for less?

3. Purchase decisions are primarily based on price.

If that’s the case, Mr. Client, I will send you your order in two years, okay? I’ll also make sure that it will fall apart in two weeks, and you won’t be getting your money back. Don’t bother calling me, because I just closed our customer service department.

Most people do not buy on price alone. They will talk about price, but what they really mean is that you haven’t offered enough value to justify paying the price you’re asking.

There’s this cartoon with a picture of a brother and sister each with their own lemonade stand side by side. The brother’s lemonade stand reads “Lemonade 25 cents.” The sister’s lemonade stand reads:

Lemonade 50 cents (clean water).

Do you want your service to be known for being the cheapest on the market, or for high quality? Competing on price is a losing battle.

Lawrence Steinmetz and William Brooks are the authors of How to sell at margins higher than your competitors. Winning every sale at full price, rate or fee. They say:

“If you want to earn a solid living in sales, you need to remember that you are going to face a consistent challenge to hang on to a higher price, because you will always find yourself competing with a fool who is going broke cutting prices.”

The key is adding value. If you don’t offer exceptional value, then your product or service becomes just another commodity. People buy commodities on price. If you’re just another web designer, voice-over artist, or car dealership, you’re in trouble.

Value means: offering more at a higher price.

4. Price does not influence the perception of a product.

If that were the case, why are people prepared to pay thousands of dollars for a Rolex, instead of buying a $50 Seiko? Most watchmakers agree that the Seiko is the better time piece.

Let’s talk about brain surgery. Why don’t people go to the cheapest surgeon in the area? Because low prices make people think he isn’t any good. Price makes a statement. Cheap = cheap. What does your rate tell the world about what you think you’re worth?

5. Some clients just can’t afford paying higher rates. I cannot change that.

How do you know they can’t pay you a better rate? Buyers lie in order to get you to lower your price. It’s the oldest trick in the book. If they could get it from someone else at a better price, why are they still talking to you?

Stop making excuses for those who don’t respect you enough to pay you a decent fee. Unless you’ve seen their balance sheet, you don’t know what they can or cannot afford. 

Know your bottom line. Add value. Don’t compromise so easily. Negotiate. Dare to say NO to a bad deal. Study the art of making the sale. It’s part of being a pro.

6. I don’t set the rates. The market does.

So, what you’re saying is that you don’t take responsibility for your prices? They are forced upon you at gunpoint? You’re just a helpless leaf in the wind?

Let me put it bluntly: The market doesn’t determine your price. Your client doesn’t set your fee. YOU do.

It’s just very convenient to tell the world that you don’t have any influence over your rate. If you can’t control it, you can’t change it. You’re a victim of circumstance. End of story. Now go feel sorry for yourself.

Market trends are the result of millions of individual decisions. Decisions you and I make, each and every day. Change the decisions, and you change the trends. 

Price-cutting is a self-inflicted wound. Should you decide that $5 for an eight paragraph voice-over script is fair compensation, so be it. Contract law states that parties must agree to enter into a contract freely, and must be of sound mind.

I’m not saying that you should ignore the competition or forget about the rate cards that are floating in cyberspace. It’s up to you if you want to look at Odesk, freelancer.com, or the $100 voices.com minimum rate, and decide that that’s what “the market” is willing to pay. After all, the only thing the client cares about is price, right?

Or you could decide to look at union rates, and make those the basis of your pricing structure.

Why not talk to a few agents? If you’re any good, they might want to represent you. They will fight for a decent rate because if you do well, they will do well.

7. I’m not a sales person. I’m an artist. I don’t know how to negotiate.

No, you’re a wimp, and you need a firm kick in the pants! Nobody is forcing you to be a full-time freelancer. But if you tell the world you are doing this to make a living, it automatically means that you’re the head of the sales department, whether you like it or not. Lawrence Steinmetz has this to add:

“The first thing you have to understand is that the selling price is a function of your ability to sell and nothing else.”

Any idiot can cave in at the first sign of buyer resistance, and offer a price cut. That’s not selling. That’s being lazy and fearful. It’s a sign that you don’t believe in the value of your product or service. Clients always pick up on that, and it will cost you dearly.

Being extraordinarily talented in what you do, doesn’t guarantee instant success. Life might have dealt you a pretty good hand, but if you don’t know how to play the game, even the best cards are useless. We all know starving geniuses.

The way I see it, you have two choices. You either learn the rules and become good at playing the game, or you stay out of it. Remember: experience is the slowest teacher.

8. Low-end rates do not affect high-end rates.

If that were the case, why aren’t rates going up, instead of down? Why have so many auditions turned into a bidding war? Actor, writer and producer J.S. Gilbert:

“While it’s not being broadcast, I’m seeing people I know who have made six-figure+ incomes at voice-over for years now, looking at incomes that are fractions of what they were a few years ago.”

I understand that we’ll never get back to the golden days of Don LaFontaine (a.k.a. “The Voice of G-d”) and his limo. Thanks to the internet, the rise in home studios, and online job boards, clients no longer have to book union talent at union rates through an agent. Talk has become a lot cheaper.

As Gilbert pointed out to me, a job that used to cost the client $1000, is now offered at $250. But why pay $250 if some fool is willing to do it for $25?

As I said before, once clients are taught they can get it for less, why should they pay a penny more? Give me one reason why this trend does not impact today’s prices, and has never done so in the past. 

9. But I’m just getting started. I can’t possibly ask full price.

Some beginners admitted to me that they’ve offered their services for free, just to be able to build a portfolio. Mind you: they were not talking about doing stuff for charity.

I think a freebie only makes sense if you have something else to sell. That’s why a baker hands out samples, and that’s why my custom demos are free of charge. But if you’re giving 500 dollars worth of services away for free, you’re not only creating expectations, you’re in fact saying: “This is what I think my work is worth.” Meanwhile, you’re robbing a colleague of the chance to make five hundred bucks.

Jason Fried is the co-founder and President of software solution provider Basecamp. He recommends you practice charging a reasonable rate from day one. But what he said next was a real eye-opener to me:

“It’s very safe to charge low rates, because you don’t have to prove anything. But as soon as you charge a customer a good price, it gives them the power to demand something from you, such as good quality and great service. Those are the types of pressures you want on you as a small business owner. You want to be forced to be good. Charging for something forces you to be good.”

10. I don’t need to make a full-time income. It’s only a hobby.

If it’s only a hobby, then why are you advertising yourself as a voice-over professional? I play the piano, but I don’t market myself as a concert pianist.

If you enjoy reading to other people, go volunteer at your local children’s hospital or elder care facility. You will probably get more appreciation for doing this, than for anything you’ve ever done before.

Most talents I know are only freelancing part-time, because they’re still building what they hope will become a full-time business. A part-time teacher only gets paid less because she puts in fewer hours. Does a part-time cab driver fix the meter so he can drive you around at half-price? So, why should you offer your services at bottom dollar?

Oh… I see. Your partner has a steady job, and the money you make doing the occasional voice-over doesn’t have to pay the mortgage, right?

Guess what? In this economy there’s no such thing as a steady job anymore. What would happen if your partner gets laid off and you become the sole breadwinner? Can your beer money pay the bills? Do you really think you could raise your rates to make ends meet?

Price buyers are the first to look elsewhere. They don’t care about your personal situation. They care about cutting costs. But stop thinking about your own situation for a moment.

There are people who depend on doing this for a living right now, and they think your price dumping is nothing but unfair competition. I must admit: you’re quite talented, and by charging these low rates you are making it harder and harder for them to justify their fees.

I think it’s time for you to think about the bigger picture.

Asking for a reasonable rate is not about shameless greed or about becoming filthy rich and famous. This is about being able to provide for your family; being able to send your kids to college, and save some money for a rainy day.

Your voice could help sell millions of dollars worth of product. It can introduce people to brilliant books that enrich their lives. Your voice can be the voice of a mentor, teaching valuable skills to e-learners across the globe. Your voice can inform, entertain, sell, and assist. Surely, that must be worth something?

However…

Those who fail to build value, have nothing left but to compete on price.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

*since the publication of this article, Rebecca’s blog posts are no longer available

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PPS The above article is an excerpt from my book “Making Money In Your PJs, Freelancing For Voice-Overs And Other Solopreneurs.” Click on one of the buttons below to get your copy.

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Casting Pearls Before Swine

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Internet, Journalism & Media, Promotion, Social Media 27 Comments

handing out adviceTo an ignorant outsider, the voice-over community I belong to may seem cutthroat.

Yet, if there’s one thing that makes it stand out among other freelance groups it is this:

Voice-overs love to share.

People with no or very little experience can expect a warm welcome, and a helping hand when they join an online VO-community.

Do you need advice on a microphone? You’ve got it!

Are you wondering how to soundproof your booth? We’ve got you covered!

I could easily spend all day answering questions from people I don’t know on Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social media. However, those days are pretty much over. Why?

Because it is a thankless task that eats up time, and doesn’t build my business.

Perhaps I better explain myself.

LURING LURKERS

Here’s what I know about internet culture. Most online communities consist of lurkers. You know, the people who observe, and very rarely participate. These folks like to take, but never give. They want to play the game, but they never show their cards. Have they earned the right to pick my brain? I think not.

It also consists of lazy people who never learn; people who want you to do their homework. Sorry, but I’m not going to enable an attitude of entitlement. 

Can you imagine a teacher spoon-feeding her kids by giving them all the answers on a silver platter? I thought the purpose of education was to make children resourceful and independent. 

I’ve also noticed another trend: many members of online voice-over communities are simply not serious. How do I know? Just look at the basic questions people ask. If they had half a brain and a genuine interest in the subject matter, they would have figured it out for themselves. But no, they apparently need a pro to hold their hand. Poor babies!

“But Paul,” some people respond… “Don’t be so harsh. You were once a newbie. You had to start somewhere, didn’t you?”

Of course I did, but here’s the thing. When I embarked upon a career in radio, I had more questions than answers. I made it my mission to find as many answers on my own, before asking for help. I didn’t want to embarrass myself in front of a pro. I wanted them to know that I had done my homework.

So VO-newbies, if you want to earn my respect, do your research!

INVESTING IN THE FUTURE

Thinking back to my start in radio, here’s what comes to mind: I was serious, I was committed, and I was willing to make an investment.

You see, that’s another thing that’s missing these days. This is the age of the free ride. Why pay for a song if you can download it at no cost? Why pay for Netflix if you can watch a pirated movie online? Why pay for expert advice if the experts are giving it away?

If we don’t value what we have to offer, we can’t expect others to find it valuable either. Those who are willing to make an investment, are usually invested in the process. Those who are not, have other priorities. 

“But Paul,” some people commented, “wouldn’t it be good for your business if people got to know you as someone who knows his stuff? You might even get some coaching clients out of it!”

Let me tell you something. In all the years that I have chimed in on Facebook or Google+, no one ever contacted me for coaching because they liked my answer to their question. Nine out of ten times I didn’t even receive a “thank you,” or other sign of acknowledgement. That’s why I call it a thankless task. People simply get what they need, and move on.

Well, that’s not entirely true. Some did ask about coaching, but as soon as I told them my rate ($125 per session), they said they were just “exploring options.” It is the epitome of not committing. 

Now, there’s another reason why I won’t be handing out free advice to every Tom, Dick, or Harry. I’ll explain by quoting a question I recently received from Mandy:

Paul, I read your article about your most embarrassing moment in your voice over career. You said that you used to use voices.com, but were only able to book a handful of jobs before leaving the site. I’m a voice actor as well and have been primarily using voices.com to find work. Now you said that you don’t really like the pay to play model and prefer to get work elsewhere. So my question is: what do you recommend for someone like me who is still new to voice acting? Are pay to play sites the only way for me to go being so new? I don’t have a demo or an agent so I don’t have people contacting me about jobs either. What options do I have? I haven’t really gotten much success with voices.com either, and voice acting is not my main source of income. I would very much like to learn and get better at voice acting too. Any knowledge or insight you can share would be great, thank you.

HERE’S MY ANSWER

Hello Mandy:

There are many ways in which I could respond to your comments and questions, but I have to say this first:

Without demos, industry contacts, experience, or an online presence, it’s virtually impossible to build a voice-over career, especially on the side, and especially in 2018.

I haven’t heard your work, so I can’t even tell whether or not you’re uniquely talented. This makes it really hard to give you advice. 

Some of my coaching colleagues might even question whether or not you’re serious about voice acting. They’re definitively not going to give you any recommendations on a silver platter. Their time and expertise are worth something.

I will say this, though.

The only way to get better in this field, is by taking trainings, and/or by working with a coach. Very much like driving a car, you can’t pick voice acting up from a book. You can’t teach it to yourself either, because you’re limited by your lack of knowledge. 

Overall I’d say that it is unwise to put yourself out there when you aren’t ready. No one opens a restaurant without knowing how to cook, right? 

The voice-over world has too many home cooks who all believe they’re the next best thing since sliced bread, and they don’t stand a chance against professional chefs. 

So, please don’t put the cart before the horse and expect to get work. Put in your time, make the necessary investments, learn the ropes, and build a solid home studio. Then we can talk about attracting clients.

Does that make sense?

This probably wasn’t what Mandy expected to hear, because she never responded. 

When it comes to a VO-career, there are too many people with their heads in the iCloud, and all of them believe they could be the next Don LaFontaine. Someone’s got to tell them that that’s never going to happen. Otherwise they’ll fall for all the propaganda from demo mills, unscrupulous VO-coaches, and greedy online casting sites.

UNDERSTAND FIRST

I do want to point out one more thing I tried to convey in my answer to Mandy: it’s rather pretentious to give advice to people you know very little about. You wouldn’t want a doctor to write you a prescription without having fully examined you, right? Yet, with the best of intentions, colleagues dish out advice left and right without knowing whom they are talking to. Stephen Covey was correct when he coined the phrase:

Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

I see a lot of people trying to be understood, without really understanding what the issue is. Do you know what I mean?

One last thing.

If all of the above is true, -and I believe it is… why am I still blogging? Isn’t that handing out unsolicited advice to people I don’t even know?

I suppose it is, but you know what? I pick the topics. I usually ask the questions, and I come up with answers. And most of the time, I feel very much appreciated.

Before I started blogging, very few people had even heard of this Flying Dutchman and his voice-over business. Now I am one of the go-to people when companies ask for someone with a European accent. Clients come to me when they need a native Dutch speaker. In other words: this blog has helped me build my business.

If people seek me out for my expertise, they have to come to my site, and not to someone else’s online platform. The amount of traffic this blog generates is worth more than any online ad campaign could give me. And the many friends I have made along the way… that’s simply priceless!

The way I see it, everybody wins, and that is why I will keep on sharing on my turf and on my terms. 

And yes: you’re welcome!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be Sweet. Please Retweet!

photo credit: Pondering Bob’s advice via photopin (license)

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How To Become A Superhero

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Book, Career, Freelancing 13 Comments

The SuperfreelancerOkay, I admit it.

Last week’s post entitled Ten Things Clients Don’t Care About was pretty harsh. Yet, I felt it needed to be said, and many readers agreed with me.

You see, here’s the thing. 

Too many freelancers are too focused on themselves, and it is costing them business.

The way I see it, successful solopreneurs have one job, and one job only: To be a Superhero.

A superhero doesn’t think about him- or herself. A superhero answers a call of someone in need, and uses special powers to save the day. And once the job is done, the hero leaves the scene to tackle another problem.

Now, the very best superheroes have at least one thing in common: They know when they are needed.

To bring it back to my story, some of you said the following: “In your last blog post you’ve told us what clients don’t care about. I get that. Now, why don’t you tell us what clients really want?”

That’s a great question, and every sales person who has ever lived has asked that question many times. In order to answer that question, we have to take a step back, and answer another question: What motivates people to buy things?

Even though you and I are likely to have different clients with different needs, there are three factors that always play a role in every purchase decision. You might be selling a service or a product. It doesn’t matter. All buyers are influenced by the same three things:

Price, Benefits, and Perceptions

The price is what the customer pays in exchange for benefits received. It’s something your client has to give up in order to get something from you. Ideally, those benefits should outweigh or at least equal the cost.

Benefits are the positive effects derived from using your solution or service. It’s the pleasure people experience after getting rid of their inner emptiness, frustration, or pain.

Smart sales people sell benefits. Stupid sales people slash prices. Any idiot can close a sale by cutting the price (and go broke in the process). It takes brains to sell benefits.

Perceptions are the result of how people evaluate the benefits and price, the (initial) impression they get from your business, as well as the total experience of using your product or service.

In the end, perceptions matter most. Allow me to demonstrate.

EVALUATING VALUE

Let’s assume you’ve studied the market and you decide to charge $250 per hour for your services. Is that too much or not enough? Does it even matter what you think?

Client A will never hire you because she thinks you’re too cheap, and cheap equals crap. Client B will hire someone else because she thinks you’re overpriced. Client C will happily hire you because she believes your price is just right.

Your fee is just a number in a certain context. It is always evaluated in relation to something else. That “something else” is a matter of interpretation or perception.

People do things for their reasons. Not for yours. Get this:

An anonymous donor paid $3.5 million at a charity auction to have lunch with Warren Buffet, one of the richest men in the world. Is that too much for a few hours of conversation and a meal?

Hedge fund manager Ted Weschler spent about $5.3 million to win both the 2010 and 2011 auctions. To him, it was money well spent. Buffet ended up hiring him to manage an investment portfolio.

Perceptions are personal value judgments, and therefore highly subjective. This begs the question:

Can perceptions be influenced? Can we manipulate a client into buying from us?

Even though I believe that lasting change comes from within and cannot be forced upon someone, the fact is: people are impressionable. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be as open to social proof, and all advertising would be totally irrelevant.

Years of being a solopreneur have taught me that there are things you can do to get an interested client in your corner, as long as you play your cards right.

Here’s what I have learned:

1. First impressions are crucial

We all know that we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but psychologists will tell you that it takes us only a few seconds to form an opinion of someone or something. That’s why companies spend billions on packaging, and people spend millions on make-up, clothing, and cosmetic surgery.

If you can’t pique a consumer’s interest or instill a level of trust right from the start, he or she will move on to whatever catches the eye next. So, ask yourself:

What is the very first thing new customers see or experience when they stumble upon my product or service? Is it the landing page of my website? Is it a cover of a book or a brochure? Is it… me?

This first impression is the all-important hook. It sets the tone and tells prospective clients enough about your level of professionalism and style, or lack thereof. If anything, this is where you should spend most of your marketing money. To do it right…

2. Your message needs to be clear, convincing, congruent, and consistent

If you want to play the part, you have to dress the part, and embody the part. That might seem obvious, yet, so many business owners undermine their own credibility by sending out conflicting signals. A few examples:

A translation and proofreading service emailed me: “Your welcome to visit our website.” When I pointed this out to them, they blamed this slip of the pen on the intern.

If you don’t proofread your own material, why would my legal translation be safe in your hands?

The sign in the front yard said: “Quality lawn care at a price anyone can afford.” Meanwhile, weeds were growing everywhere, and most trees needed pruning.

The owner of the local health food store looked like she was terminally ill. She must be friends with that overweight director of the fitness center.

See what I mean? Actions speak louder than words. Remember the four Cs when you craft you core message. You have to be Clear, Convincing, Congruent, and Consistent.

3. You have to be responsive

What clients hate more than anything is to be ignored. It gives them the feeling that their business isn’t important to you, and you know what? I think they’re right. Time happens to be something we all have the same amount of. How we choose to spend that time, gives us an inside look into someone’s priorities and planning skills.

I’ve walked out of a fancy restaurant because the wait staff couldn’t be bothered to serve my table in a timely way. I don’t care if you’re known for the best food in town. If your service sucks, you’re screwed.

I read on your website’s Contact page that you’ll get back to me within 24 hours. I sent you a message three days ago and I have yet to hear from you. What other promises aren’t you going to keep? My project has a strict deadline. If you can’t meet your own, how can I be sure you’ll meet mine?

Being responsive also means: giving your client concise progress reports. It’s a way to reassure them that they’re in good hands. If you’re right on track, let your client know. If you’re experiencing an unexpected delay, you have to let your client know. Don’t wait until they send you an email wondering why they haven’t heard from you in days.

Communication is key, as long as you’re to the point. Anticipate and answer client’s questions. Be an open book. Stay in touch. Make it a breeze to do business with you. You want your clients to smile when they think of you. That will happen when you…

4. Go out of your way to be helpful

Not all inquiries lead to a sale. Sometimes what you have to offer is not what a client is looking for. In my case they might want to hire a female voice actor or someone with an older sound or a different accent. Does that mean that all my efforts were wasted? On the contrary.

If you cut off contact because you can’t make an immediate sale, you’re thinking about yourself and you’re thinking short term. Everything is marketing. Any contact with a client, no matter how brief, is a golden opportunity to start building a relationship. A healthy relationship is a two-way street and takes time to evolve. It’s about giving and receiving.

So, how do you give to a client who doesn’t need your services?

It’s simple: Be a resource.

If you’re not right for the job, recommend a few colleagues who are. I’m sure they won’t mind. Show your expertise. Build some goodwill. You’re sowing seeds, and who knows when they might bloom? There are always new projects in the pipeline that might be a better fit for you.

Here’s the thing about giving, though. Don’t just do it for future rewards. That’s not a gift. That’s a bribe. Do it because it’s a decent thing to do.

It’s all a matter of perception.

Even superheroes are aware of that!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet.

PPS The above article is a chapter from my book Making Money In Your PJs, Freelancing for voice-overs and other solopreneurs. It’s available in paperback, and as a digital download. 

photo credit: A Is For Aquaman via photopin (license)

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The Most Embarrassing Moment of my Voice-Over Career

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Gear, Pay-to-Play, Personal, Studio 8 Comments

Crazy MinionThis week I decided to do something different.

Instead of telling you a story, or giving you some kind of Top Ten, I will answer three seemingly simple questions I get asked a lot.

I’ll start off with some career advice, then I’ll talk about gear, and I will finish with my most embarrassing moment in this business.

Why not save the best for last?

As a voice-over coach, I work with experienced people and absolute beginners. This is what many want to know:

How do I become a top-earning voice talent?

This is actually easy to answer:

By not becoming a full-time voice actor.

Just look at the evidence. I’m sure you’ve seen a few lists of the best paid voice-overs. Trey Parker and Matt Stone are usually on those lists. They are the creators of South Park, and they wrote The Book of Mormon musical. Matt and Trey are screenwriters, producers. directors…. and they do voices for the cartoons they created.

Seth MacFarlane, Harry Shearer, and Hank Azaria are also on that list. All three are multi-talented multimillionaires. Hank is a stage actor, director and comedian. Seth created Family Guy and co-created American Dad. He’s a writer, a producer, actor, and singer. Shearer hosts his own weekly radio show, and stars in many movies.

On July 10th, 2015, Minions hit American movie theaters. The voices of these cute yellow fellows don’t come from a professional voice actor, but from French animator Pierre-Louis Padang Coffi. In the Despicable Me movies, fellow director Chris Renaud voiced a few minions too. 

So, if your goal is to make a ton of money doing voice-overs, the sure-fire road to success does not lead to the VO studio, but to a film set, a Broadway stage, or to a comedy club. There are exceptions, but the people for whom voice acting is just something they do on the side (among many other things), tend to be the highest earners.

My advice: Get famous doing something else first, and before you know it, the voice-over offers will start pouring in!

What Equipment do you recommend for the voice-over studio?

First off, even the best gear sounds crappy in a bad environment. I strongly urge you to spend most of your money on creating a semi-soundproof and acoustically treated recording space before you blow it all on a Neumann mic.

When it comes to selecting equipment, I find that a lot of people go for familiar brand names without looking any further, and they spend way too much money.

When in 2012 I introduced the voice-over community to one of my favorite microphones, many colleagues said: “Conneaut Audio Devices, what kind of brand name is that?” Yet, I still believe that their E100S model is one of the best values for money. Click here to find out why. 

It is probably time for me to change the headline of this review, because the CAD E100S (retailing for about $350) has earned quite a reputation. Whenever someone asks for microphone advice, you’ll always find a happy CAD convert chiming in on social media, and for very good reasons.

Now, it takes a good preamp to make a microphone shine. Audient might not be the first brand you think of when it comes to voice-over gear. Yet, this British company is known throughout the recording industry for their pristine preamps. If you’re looking for a pre with top-of-the-line AD/DA converters, a monitor controller, and lots of connectivity, the iD22 ($599) is an excellent choice. I use it in my voice-over studio, and you can click here to read my review.

Audient iD14

click to enlarge

A few months ago, the iD22 got a little brother: the iD14. It’s a compact, robust, portable plug and play solution. At $299, this stylish all-metal powerhouse is hard to beat in the studio and on the road.

What was the most embarrassing moment of your voice-over career?

Let me preframe my answer by saying that I firmly believe that people make decisions based on the information that is available at the deciding moment. This information is always insufficient, and it is colored by many factors such as our emotions. Looking back, some of the decisions you and I have made may seem silly or stupid now, but had we known better, we would have made better choices.

Here’s one decision I later came to regret.

Back in 2009 I was launching my voice-over career in the United States, and I signed up for voices.com. That turned out to be a pretty good move, because straight away I started booking a handful of lucrative jobs.

A few months later, Voices held a contest called “The Ultimate Success Story,” asking their members to write a few words about how well they did using the online voice casting service. The grand prize was a $500 gift certificate to pro audio retailer Sweetwater.

I think you can guess what happened next: my glowing testimonial turned out to be the top pick. Last time I checked, it is still used for promotional purposes.

Why was winning the grand prize so embarrassing?

Well, right after claiming my reward, my luck on Voices ran out, and after a few years I started to dislike the whole Pay-to-Play model. As I wrote in my book Making Money In Your PJs:

“In 2013 I had a five-star rating, 5445 listens on voices.com (more than any other Dutch talent), and I landed a total of… (are you ready?) TEN jobs, earning me a whopping $2,740.89. God only knows how many auditions I have had to submit before being selected.

This can only mean one of two things. Either, I stink at playing the Pay-to-Play game, or I’m a talentless, misguided soul who should be doing something useful with his life.”

That year I left voices.com, and I never looked back. I no longer believe that a site like Voices benefits my career or my community. As I wrote in my article Leaving Voices.com:

“Today, I’d rather work for agents who have an incentive to send me quality leads with decent rates. There are no upfront fees. When I get paid, they get paid. When they negotiate a better deal, they make more money too. That’s only fair. I only pay when I actually get to play.”

Every now and then I still run into people who have read my prize-winning endorsement. They also know of my overall disenchantment with online casting mills. And when they bring up my old testimonial, I get very uncomfortable.

It is the unfortunate price I pay for my Sweetwater shopping spree!

But don’t feel sorry for me.

I may not make as much as Trey, Matt, Hank or Harry, but I’m doing quite alright. 

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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photo credit: Happy Meal Minion Toys via photopin (license)

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How Vocal Coach Elissa Weinzimmer Lost Her Voice and Found Herself

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Personal 14 Comments
Elissa Weinzimmer, vocal coach

Elissa Weinzimmer

Okay. I’m going to do the decent thing, and not start with how a simple sex toy could benefit your (voice) acting career.

That would be a cheesy way to pique your interest, and I’m not going there.

Besides, it’s just a small part of a much bigger story, and it has been covered before

Don’t worry. I’ll get to it eventually, but you have to be patient.

Instead, I’d like your mind to go somewhere else…

Imagine for a moment that you’re young, and your voice is your life. 

You love it so much that you want to make a living using that voice.

You take every opportunity to speak, sing and perform in public.

You dream of a career on stage, and you work very hard to make it a reality. 

And then, all of a sudden, you lose the one thing you trust and rely on most.

How would you feel?

This is not some sort of hypothetical scenario. This actually happened to vocal coach Elissa Weinzimmer. She told me her story, and today I’m going to share it with you. Here’s Elissa, recounting the events that took place some eight years ago.

“Simply put, I lost my voice in 2007. It was due to a combination of factors… I was really pushing to belt a solo in my a cappella group (USC Reverse Osmosis), and I was also drinking almost every day because I was trying to enjoy my remaining months in college (!). The drinking part was quite out of character, so it only lasted about a month before my body reacted. One morning I woke up, and felt like I had shards of glass in my throat. It hurt to swallow and speak. Later on that day, I spat up blood.

I rushed myself to the Ear, Nose and Throat specialist that week to have my vocal cords scoped, and I was told I had severe onset of acid reflux, and had experienced vocal “trauma” from overuse. I was put on vocal rest for a month… I had to walk around with a little notepad to communicate my thoughts. After that, I was sent to speech therapy. The whole experience was a major turning point for me. I stopped performing. I even stopped singing much in the car or the shower, places where I usually rocked out. Recently, I’ve started to call the seven years after losing my voice my silent years.”

When your voice is such a part of your identity, what did it do to you psychologically, when you could no longer rely on it?

“It was really emotional, of course. My confidence took a hit because I felt like I couldn’t rely on my voice. When I talk about it in yogi terms, I say that I spent years shutting down my fifth chakra, the center of energy in my throat. The fifth chakra is all about creativity and expression, so I felt stifled. Opening back up to my expressiveness has been a challenging but joyful process.”

How did losing your voice change a possible career path you had set out for yourself at that time? 

“Well, I’d spent most of my life believing that I was going to pursue a career in acting – that I was going to sing on Broadway. Interestingly enough though, a few months before I lost my voice I directed my first full length show, the musical Cabaret. So I was already intrigued and exhilarated by the idea of pursuing a career in directing. When I couldn’t rely on my voice anymore, it was a no-brainer that I would focus my efforts on directing instead. The idea to teach voice didn’t arise until a year or so later.”

Some people look at unfortunate events as blessings in disguise. Was losing your voice such a blessing, and in what way?

“Eight years later, I absolutely believe that it was a blessing. My story fits the archetype of the person who enters a healing or helping profession because of their own challenges. Losing my voice redirected my course in life, and I deeply love what I do now. So, in some ways I’m very grateful to have gone through the experience.”

What surprising things did you discover in the process of getting your voice back, and how has that changed you as a person, and as a professional?

“By the time I was ready to start reclaiming my voice I was already teaching voice to others quite a lot. It became clear to me that it was time to start walking the walk rather than just talking the talk. After all, it’s one thing to tell people to express themselves fully, and it’s entirely something else to be a model of that. I have to admit, a lot of my motivation for performing again was selfish – I needed to do it for me. Yet in pursuing my passion and my truth, I hope I offer a model that encourages other people to do the same in their own way. I believe the world will get really exciting when a critical mass of people start pursuing their true passions and desires, and I feel very strongly about being part of that movement.”

You have used a few methods to restore your voice, to strengthen your vocal folds, and to deal with vocal fatigue. One is called Fitzmaurice Voicework®. In a nutshell, what did you learn from using this technique that was new to you?

“It wasn’t what I expected. I encountered Fitzmaurice Voicework® in my theatre voice class when I was a senior at the University of Southern California. After I lost my voice I began to study the technique more deeply. Fitzmaurice is a beautiful and unique full body approach to making sound, but the exercises weren’t the thing that provided the biggest change for me. The huge change came from encountering a mindset shift inherent in that work: that instead of needing to have the best voice or a perfect voice, I could focus on having my voice.

I showed up at Fitzmaurice lessons wanting to get better and fix my voice. Of course that makes sense, I had spent my whole life up to that point trying to be a good singer and trying to make a good sound. But I learned that improving the voice is a paradox, because in order to get “better,” we have to uncover what’s already there. It’s not about adding stuff, it’s about peeling the extra junk away. In this new way of thinking I could let go of judging myself as good or bad/right or wrong, and I could instead ask myself: “What might this way of making sound be good for?” or “What might this way of breathing be right for?”

This paradigm shift changed everything for me. Once it sunk in, I was immediately committed to the idea of becoming a voice teacher, and sharing this way of thinking with others.”

You say the whole body is involved in creating sound. Many voice-overs lead very sedentary lives. They lock themselves up in a small, soundproof box, and sit all day, reading long scripts. What advice do you have for them?

“An ongoing struggle that I’ve had in my own vocal practice is to actually do my warm ups and take good care of myself. I will be the first to admit that that’s challenging! I have often felt like I’m not doing enough, and when I start working without warming up I feel guilty. However I’m lucky to be curious – fascinated in fact – with how the voice works and the connection between the voice and the body. At this point I’ve spent years experiencing and teaching warm ups and exercises. In the process I have come to believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that having a vocal practice works. Doing vocal warm ups and keeping ourselves in shape makes a difference.

So, for those of us who are really committed to using our voices as an instrument, I suggest this:

Get curious about how your voice works. We would never hop on a motorcycle without first learning how it works, so why would we ever presume to use our voice every day if we don’t understand it? Pick up a book and read. Joanna Cazden’s “Everyday Voice Care” is a great place to start. Create accountability and support. Sign up for a class. Go to yoga or the gym regularly. Create a practice.

Professor David Ley

Professor David Ley (left)

In 2012 you moved to Edmonton, Canada, to earn an MFA in Theatre Voice Pedagogy at the University of Alberta. That’s where you met one of your mentors, professor David Ley. One of the things he has developed is called the “Vibrant Voice Technique.” Tell me about it, and in particular how this technique could be beneficial to voice actors.

“Vibrant Voice Technique is based on this outside-the-box idea that David had to use a vibrator for your voice. He had a client suffering from extreme vocal fatigue. She’d been to the Ear Nose and Throat doctor, and she’d been scoped, but there was no damage. That being said, she was having ongoing difficulty making sound due to muscle tension. She had trouble giving herself a manual throat massage to release the tension, so David thought to himself… “Hmm, what’s small and vibrates?” The subsequent lightbulb moment led to a trip to the “love shop” to purchase a pocket-sized vibrator, and sure enough it worked!

Essentially, with Vibrant Voice Technique we use external vibration to reduce muscular tension, and enhance resonance. The technique can be incredibly beneficial to voice actors because it makes vocal exercises quick, easy, and highly effective. You don’t have to have a long regimen of exercises that you feel guilty about not doing. Quite honestly, Vibrant Voice is a shortcut to staying in vocal shape. So for voice actors who deal with issues of duration and overuse it can be extremely helpful.”

You’ve taught this technique to stage actors, on-camera actors, and professional singers. What’s the response when they found out they’re about to use a sex toy?

“There’s this very funny moment that happens when I say to someone: “I teach people to use a vibrator for their voice.” Almost always it goes like this: a blank stare, followed by a slow smile, then a vigorous nod. Sure the idea is surprising, but it makes sense to most people as soon as they think about it! Obviously many media outlets have capitalized on the sex toy angle because it’s sensational. Yet we continue to teach and do what we’re doing because the technique really works.”

Right now you’re recommending a “sensual personal massager” made by a Swedish company, but you’re developing a custom-made voice vibrator, aren’t you? What’s the word on that?

“Yes, we are in the process of developing our own vibrator. Unfortunately, I can’t say too much about that at the moment. However, if anyone reading this is interested in getting involved with the fundraising or research process, they are welcome to email us! You can find our contact info at Vibrant Voice Technique.

Apart from being the managing director of Vibrant Voice Technique, you run your own business called “Voice Body Connection.” What do you offer, and who are your clients?

“Voice Body Connection is based in New York City where I live. The business is all about helping people tune into the connection between their voice and body (as the name suggests). My mission is to help performers and public speakers communicate with more confidence and ease. I work in many ways: I coach clients privately in person, and over the internet. I teach actors at a studio in New York called Anthony Meindl’s Actors Workshop. I also teach an online Speak With Confidence class for public speakers. I’d love to develop a class for voice-over actors too!

In whatever format I’m teaching, the work starts with examining and shifting our mindset about how we communicate, and progresses to techniques and practices to create sound with more expression and less effort.”

I’m particularly intrigued by something you offer called Yoga for the Voice.

“I think there are many voice teachers now who are playing with combining vocal exercises and yoga. In a lot of ways the practices are complementary. So, I certainly can’t claim to have invented Yoga for the Voice. However I love exploring the interplay of how we might make sound while we do yoga, or how we might carry yoga concepts into voice work. It’s an exciting area of exploration for me, and I think for my students too!”

You also prep people for auditions. What are some of the common mistakes you help people correct?

“Well, I think the greatest challenge for a performer is that we’re usually given a script, and that maps out our impulses for us. It is so easy, when we’re being told what our impulses should be, to plan and make logical decisions about how we’ll perform. However the real goal is to allow impulses to bubble up creatively from our right brain, the same way impromptu speech pours out of us. So, the biggest thing I find I spend my time doing when I’m coaching people for auditions or performance, is helping them find a way to marry their own impulses with the impulses that have been provided in the script.”

Quite a few voice actors suffer from vocal fatigue. They got into the business because they loved to read out loud, and because they could do “funny voices.” Not everyone has had professional voice training. What advice do you have for an audio book narrator who records five hours a day, or for a voice actor who has to scream his head off while recording video games or cartoons?

“So, you’ve just brought up two issues: the duration issue (length of time doing the work) and the use issue (are we using healthy practices?). In either case, I highly recommend a warm up and a cool down.

Now, we’re doing the warm up not just to go through the motions. We’re doing it because it’s an opportunity to let our voice know: “This is how I’d like you to behave as I move through my work.” It sets us up for success. After you’ve done a warm up you can do whatever you want within reason – you can scream, cry, and make crazy sounds.

At the end of your session, you want to reset by doing a cool down. You’ve done a lot of work and potentially used extreme effort, so you want to come back down to a more healthy, neutral resting place. The primary reason actors get into trouble with fatigue is because they carry their overuse or misuse into the rest of their day or into the bar that night. So the biggest piece of advice I can offer is: Warm up and cool down! Even thirty seconds of humming will do.

Elissa Weinzimmer, performing "Home."

Elissa, performing her show “Home.”

And finally, back to you. Helping all these performers, don’t you feel the pull of the stage? Will you be coaching in the background, or is there a chance we could see you perform in public again?

“The answer to both is yes! I love coaching. I love helping facilitate people’s art. However, now that I’ve broken the seal, so to speak, I’m back, and I’m going to continue performing!

What do you mean?

I recently sang a cabaret show for my 30th birthday! It was an incredible experience. The theme of the show was “Home.” I’ve been moving around a lot over the last couple years, so it’s about finding home wherever I am. But it’s also about coming home to my voice. You can read about my three performances on a special website I just created.

I don’t know what my next project will be, but I’m very much open to the possibility and opportunity to perform again.”

SPECIAL OFFER

Elissa has developed an online training on how the voice works, and she offers online voice coaching. She also teaches one-on-one sessions in Vibrant Voice Technique via Zoom (online), or in-person in New York City. Check out her website for details.

She’s kindly offering readers of this blog 10% off of any of her sessions when you mention Nethervoice. If you’re unsure how to properly use your voice, or if you’re suffering from vocal fatigue, one or more sessions could very well save your career. 

Thank you, Elissa!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Are Clients Walking All Over You?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Money Matters, Personal 36 Comments

Angry manAs a freelancer, I’ve had to learn many lessons.

Some of these lessons came easy. Others were excruciating.

Out of all the things I picked up along the way, these two were perhaps the hardest:

1. How to deal with conflict.

2. How to stand up for myself.

I grew up in a very protective environment, and was taught never to raise my voice. The main philosophy in our house was this:

Most people have good intentions. If you treat them with kindness and understanding, they will treat you in a similar way.

So, when my best friend asked if he could borrow some money, I immediately gave it to him. I think I was eight years old at that time, and I had earned a few bucks by helping out around the house. “You’ll get it back tomorrow,” he said, and I totally believed him.

Of course he never returned a penny, and I couldn’t figure out why. Was it something I had said? Was it something I had done? You see, that was one of my patterns. Whenever something negative would happen to me, I started questioning myself.

This made it harder for me to confront my friend and ask for my money. Part of me didn’t want to risk losing him as my best buddy. Part of me was just too scared to challenge him. “Don’t cause conflicts,” said that little voice in the back of my head that sounded very much like my mother. “People might not like you when you start arguing with them.”

A LOSING STRATEGY

I have to tell you right now: this approach didn’t work for me as a child, and it didn’t work for me as an adult. It left me with no backbone, and it made me vulnerable. Yet, when I started my own business, I did everything I could to avoid conflict by becoming a people-pleaser.

If you’re offering a professional service like I do, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. You want your clients to be happy, and their wish is your command, but there are limits. I found it very hard to say “No,” even when clients made unreasonable demands.

“Could you cancel all your plans and come to our studio for an audition tomorrow? Let’s make it nine o’ clock.”

The next day I cursed rush hour traffic on my way to New York for a cattle call in some obscure basement. I would spend half a day on the highway, and a small fortune in parking fees to audition for a $250 job. It was madness.

“Since you’re a Dutch native speaker, could you check the translation of the script we sent you, just to make sure everything is the way it’s supposed to be?”

Unable to refuse, I would spend the next two hours proofing and correcting a horrible script that had been translated by stupid software. All of this for a cheap client who never said “please,” or “thank you,” and who expected me to do this at the drop of a hat, and for free.

“If I don’t do it, I might lose the job,” I told myself in those days.

Five minutes later, the phone would ring. It was one of my late-paying clients.

“Paul, we’re having some cashflow problems. Is it okay if we pay you in about… six weeks?”

“I’d rather get paid in six weeks than not being paid at all,” I said to myself, and I told the client not to worry. I was going to be the easiest freelancer they would ever work with!

MR. DOORMAT

Looking back, I had all sorts of people walk over me, and I found it increasingly difficult to put on a professional smile, and be okay with being treated like a dirty disposable doormat. Even though I began to resent being disrespected, there were three things I forgot.

1. Ultimately, my ultra-accommodating behavior gave me something I wanted: a way to avoid conflict. I would be seen as the amiable hired helper who always went above and beyond. Who wouldn’t want to work with me?

2. I wasn’t a powerless victim of those who took advantage of me. I was an active participant in the process by allowing people to walk all over me.

3. By behaving the way I did, I created certain expectations. I taught my clients how to treat me.

At the time, I didn’t see it that way. I saw myself as the always accommodating Mr. Nice Guy, smiling on the outside, but suffering in silence on the inside. It was only a matter of time before the last drop landed in the bucket.

PUSHING MY BUTTONS

I had finished recording a technical script for a high-maintenance, unorganized client who always needed everything yesterday. Even though I was swamped, I managed to meet his deadline. Two days later I was getting ready to go to a wedding, when he called me with some drastic changes to the script.

“Don’t blame me,” he said. “I don’t control the people I work for.”

He basically expected me to drop everything and help him out, and here’s the worst part: he wanted me to do it at no charge.

Already in my tuxedo, my frustration finally reached a boiling point, and I snapped at this man with an indignation that had been building up for years. I’ll tell you: when I was done, I felt so relieved!

My client, on the other hand, was speechless. Once he composed himself, he just said a few words:

“I wouldn’t want you to miss that wedding. We’ll go over everything tomorrow, and I’ll make sure you get paid for your time.”

Just like that!

I was stunned.

I looked in the mirror and thought:

“So, that’s what happens when you put your foot down!”

I later apologized to the client for losing my temper, and I thanked him for teaching me a valuable lesson.

BOUNDARIES

This all happened quite some time ago. Eventually, I came to realize that I had to set some professional boundaries. Now, if you’re going through the same things I experienced, you might wonder:

How do you know where these boundaries are? They’re pretty much invisible.

It’s simple, really. You know where your boundaries are by the amount of BS you’re willing to put up with in your life.

As long as you’re okay, no lines are crossed. But if someone or something makes you angry or upset, it’s probably a sign that your boundaries have been violated. You’re likely to find out during some kind of crisis. That’s when you discover who you are, and what’s important to you.

Over the years I have developed very strong boundaries when it comes to rates, professional standards, and the terms and conditions under which I am willing to work with a client or a student.

I no longer drive to New York if a job pays less than $500. My agents know that, and they understand. Most of them will ask a producer if it’s okay for me to send an MP3 audition, instead of making me go to a cattle call. Usually, that’s no problem either.

If clients want me to translate or proof a script, they’ll have to pay me to do it, and payment is expected within 30 days after the invoice is received. I’m happy to record changes to the script after the initial, approved text was recorded, but not for free. 

NEW RESPECT

Did I lose a couple of clients because I refused to put up with their BS? Of course I did, but I was glad to get rid of them. Now here’s the kicker…

Because I was putting my foot down (ever so gently, of course), people started to respect me more.

As my self-confidence increased, their confidence in me increased as well. To my surprise I discovered that being clear about my boundaries lead to less conflict. 

My rate was no longer seen as expensive, but as a sign of professionalism. These days, many clients are willing to do a lot to accommodate me, instead of the other way around.

All in all I’d say that standing up for myself has made me feel better about myself in general, and it has brought more clients to my business.

However, there’s one thing that keeps on bugging me.

Not long ago, the childhood friend I told you about in the beginning, found me on Facebook, and now he wants to connect. It’s been more than forty years since we last spoke, and I’m curious to find out how he is doing. However, I’m reluctant to honor his request.

After all, the guy still owes me money!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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photo credit: la colérica e inmediata respuesta gestual via photopin (license)

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Causing A Ruckus. Again.

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Internet, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play, Personal, Promotion 45 Comments

Sweet watchdog.Oh dear, I think I stepped on some very sensitive toes, last week.

And I’m not at all sorry.

If you weren’t part of the now 8,500 strong group that has read last week’s story, click here to catch up on what you missed. It will take you to:

5 Reasons Why You Should Never Become A Voice-Over.

Some of the folks who read it, kindly called me:

“Disheartening and rude.”

“Snarky, mean-spirited, and quite arrogant.”

“Negative, pompous and absolute.”

Another commentator wrote:

“Seems like a severe case of sour grapes and he/she really needs to seek out a career change…”

People know me so well, don’t they? They haven’t got the faintest idea whether I’m a man or a woman, but they sure know my deepest motivations, and darkest desires.

Listen up people. There are psychics among us, and they know exactly what drives us!

If you’ve read all the comments, you know there were other opinions:

“A little reality check is always a good thing. And, as Paul pointed out at the end, if you’re a fool and passionate about it, then you’ll love every lonely, frustrating, fabulous minute of it!”

“As one of the doe-eyed hopefuls making these same mistakes and assumptions, I respect his perspective.”

“Knowing these truths and being aware of the harsh realities of the business is what helped me survive and get work.”

IT COULD BE WORSE

Should you belong to the group that believes I was impudent and impertinent, you must read a blog post entitled:

Five Reasons You Won’t Make It As A Writer,” by John Hartness.

Here’s how it starts:

“I’ve decided to just embrace my role as the Simon Cowell of the writing world. I’m honestly tired of being nice and supportive to everyone who comes up to me with a half-baked idea or worse, a half-baked product, and asks what I think. Because they don’t want to know what I think. They want to hear how awesome they are. And most of the time they aren’t awesome. Most of the time I’d be better off trimming my toenails than reading their godawful attempts at a book or story, because at least that can get exciting if I trim a little too closely. So here goes – unexpurgated Hartness on why you’re not going to make it as a writer.”

And that’s only the beginning…

If, after reading that tirade you still believe I’m the rudest man in the voice-over universe, your skin is way too thin. That’s a serious problem, because -just as the life of a writer- the life of an average voice talent revolves around rejection. And if you’re not rejected enough, you’re not auditioning enough.

Now, is this me being negative and bitter again?

Hell no!

I’m not saying anything new. I’m merely stating a fact, and if you can’t handle that, you are being bitter. Not me.

RULES AND EXCEPTIONS

Here’s what most of my critics pointed out (and I paraphrase here):

While there is some truth to Paul’s five points, there are exceptions to his rules. Quite a few people are making a good living as a voice-over. Some are doing very useful work. It is possible to be social and productive as a VO.

To that I say: Big whoop!

I know a few actors who aren’t waiting tables in NYC or LA, but what does that prove?

Of course I’m generalizing. Anyone who has been in this industry for longer than a year recognizes that. But that doesn’t mean there’s no validity to my point of view. Here’s a quick recap:

– This world needs less talk, and more action.

– VO rates have been steadily eroding.

– Being a voice-over can be unhealthy, and lonely.

– Finding the work often takes more time than doing the work.

– It may take years before you make some serious money.

WHAT’S MY OBJECTIVE

Let’s be honest. Are these really the statements of some disenchanted, fearful soul, meant to scare newcomers off his lawn? Or am I simply restating a few arguments countless colleagues have made for many, many years?

If you have a problem with these conclusions, why shoot the messenger? Why not write to that online casting site you paid good money to, and ask them to raise the minimum rate, and to do some decent quality control? You’re an esteemed member. Shouldn’t you have a say in these matters?

And to commentator Scott Spaulding I’d like to say this:

You claim that there is money in voice-overs, and that’s fine. Your profile on Elance/Odesk tells me that your minimum hourly rate is $38. You voiced an animated infographic for $82! And you’re telling me that you’re “not working for beer money?”

Are you serious?

You wrote:

“(…) just because you work as a voice talent, doesn’t mean you don’t have any interaction with anyone. You can still pick up the phone and call a client directly to try to build a relationship that way. As well as cold-calling potential clients and try to build a report with someone other than through email.”

Yeah, let’s cold call a client to break the social isolation, and build a relationship. I’m sure that’ll go over really well. We all know how much people love to get a cold call. I haven’t had one in a while, and I really miss it.

WHO’S HYPOCRITICAL

I do have to commend you for your honesty, Scott. You said:

“I did find your comment about the voice conference speakers a little bit hypocritical though. You make a snarky remark about the VoiceVIP’s talking about themselves and plugging their own books at these conferences… when you’re doing the same thing on this blog! You have a link to your book on this page that says “Buy the book!” They’re using the conferences to help advertise and sell their book and you use this blog to help advertise and sell your book. You even plugged your book in one of your replies to someone who posted a comment.”

Are you saying that I shouldn’t promote my own work on my own website? What school of business did you go to? You’re on my turf, and the number one goal of this site is to generate an income. How is that hypocritical? You have samples of your work on your website, don’t you? 

There’a big difference between landing on my site, and going to a VO conference. The 5,000+ people who visit my site every month pay zero dollars. What do they get for that? Over 120 blog posts that many visitors find informative, entertaining, and thought-provoking. Unlike some VO-conferences, I’m not asking people to pay a hefty fee for my privilege to plug my products.

BEING PRODUCTIVE

Scott, I totally disagree with you on your definition of “productive.” You said:

“Whatever you’re doing that is helping build your VO business IS being productive. Whether it’s looking up places to contact, working on a new demo, emailing potential clients, looking up new marketing ideas… it’s all part of working towards your goal of getting business!”

Being busy does not equal being productive. 

In any business, input leads to output. Input can be anything used to produce a product or a service (such as writing newsletters and emails, producing demos, making calls). Productivity is measured by the result of those actions. It’s the output that matters.

When you’re delivering services at a more rapid rate than before, you’re being more productive. Not when you’re making more calls, or when you’re doing market research.

MY MOTIVATION

As an envelope-pushing, pot-stirring blogger I accept the fact that people will criticize and ridicule me. Different opinions and dialogue are welcome, as long as we can have a civilized discussion. 

I also realize that not everyone gets my tongue-in-cheek style. People tend to take the written word more literally, and snarcasm is not for everyone.

I never ask my readers to agree with anything I’m suggesting, but here’s the thing. I don’t provoke for the sake of provocation. The aim of last week’s piece was to provide a counterweight to all the propaganda from companies that are still trying to sell the same old story to a new, naive audience. If anything, I had expected a firm response from those companies. Instead, some colleagues accused me of dissuading newbies to join my club.

“If you don’t have anything positive to say, then perhaps you shouldn’t say it,” is their advice.

Sorry, but that’s not how I was raised.

If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you know I do more than complain and campaign. And when I spot things in my industry that seem unfair or downright wrong, I speak up. I don’t care if that makes a few people uncomfortable. As long as things are comfortable, nothing will change.

So, allow me to be that self-appointed watchdog. I may step on a few toes here and there, but my bark is worse than my bite.

You see… I told you so:

This industry is going to the dogs!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet. 

photo credit: Miss Olive via photopin (license)

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5 Reasons Why You Should Never Become A Voice-Over

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Pay-to-Play 114 Comments

voice talent“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 Quilted Northern audition to every talent with a potty mouth. That really makes you feel part of an exclusive club, doesn’t it? (Quilted Northern is a type of bathroom tissue)

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?

I’ve never been happier!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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

photo credit: Sound Design: ADR Recording via photopin (license)

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The Easiest Way To Shoot Yourself In The Foot

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Personal 20 Comments

Pointing fingersBeing judged.

For some people, it is the worst feeling in the world.

Not only that, it can be totally paralyzing.

We all have friends or family members who are really good at something they do. Perhaps they play an instrument, or they write funny little poems. But as soon as you ask them to play or read something in public, they come up with all kinds of excuses:

“I don’t think I’m ready.”

“I’m not that special.”

“What if I mess up?”

“What will people think of me?”

Here’s what’s so remarkable about these statements. They’re all based on self-doubt; on the assumption that things will go badly, and on the idea that the audience consists of critics.

This fearful attitude reminds me of children who refuse to eat something they’ve never eaten before. They always expect the worst. When asked why they’re not willing to try this new food, they all say:

“I’m not sure I’m going to like it.”

Perhaps that’s where this unadventurous, negative attitude starts. With whiny kids and overprotective parents.

THE ICE CREAM STORY

One of my young nieces is a very picky eater who only eats things she’s familiar with: mac and cheese and chicken nuggets. One day I took her to the ice cream parlor for dessert. Her eyes lit up when she saw the sixty plus flavors in the freezer window.

“I want ice cream, Uncle Paul,” she said. “I think I’ll have two scoops.”

I looked at her, knowing this would be the perfect learning opportunity.

“Are you going to treat me?” I asked playfully. “What a nice surprise!”

“No silly,” she laughed. “I don’t have any money. I’m just a kid. But I do want ice cream.”

“Well,” I said, “I don’t think I heard a question. Is that how your mother raised you?”

“No,” she answered sheepishly. I could tell she was a bit surprised that she didn’t get her way immediately.

A few seconds later she tried:

“Can I have some ice cream, Uncle Paul?”

This wasn’t the time to talk about the difference between “can and “may,” so I said:

“That’s much better, but I think I’m still missing the magic word. Do you want to ask me again?”

My niece was getting a bit frustrated, but her desire for ice cream was greater, so she said:

“Can I have some ice cream, PLEASE?”

“That’s more like it,” I said. “Now, let me ask YOU a question: Have you ever had ice cream from this place before?”

“No,” she answered.

“Oh dear,” I said. “In that case I don’t think you’re going to like it.”

“Why is that?” she said surprised.

“At lunch, when I asked you to eat your broccoli, you refused, because you said you never had it before. You didn’t think you would like it. So, how do you know you are going to like this ice cream?”

I could see that my niece’s wheels were turning for a moment or two, and while staring at the many colorful flavors, she let out a big sigh.

Then she looked up at me and said:

“Uncle Paul, I guess I’ll just have to try.”

“That’s great,” I responded, and we walked inside. I knew the owner of the store, and as I pointed to my niece, I said:

“This young lady would like to have some broccoli ice cream please.”

The owner winked, and he gave her a big scoop of pistachio gelato.

My niece took one big lick, and said she loved it.

“See, had you not tried it, you would have been missing out,” I said. “I’m proud of you!”

After a while I explained to her that this wasn’t really broccoli ice cream, but I don’t think she cared one way or the other.

The next day, I got a phone call. It was her mother, and she had a question.

“I don’t know what you did, Paul, but my daughter just asked for broccoli. How do you prepare that?”

BACK TO YOU

Here’s the point I want to make.

All of us are born with an amazing tool: our imagination. It allows us to create all kinds of scenarios, some of them more uplifting than others. Sometimes we form opinions about food we’ve never tasted. Other times we imagine what it would be like to perform in front of an audience.

What many people don’t realize is that we choose what we want to focus on, and what it means to us. We’re in the driver’s seat.

Are we going to tell ourselves:

“This new vegetable is probably not going to be very tasty,”

or

“This green leafy thing could be surprisingly delicious?”

When asked to step onto a stage, are we afraid that we’re going to embarrass ourselves, or do we see ourselves entertaining a delighted crowd?

No matter what we choose, we are programming ourselves for a certain outcome, based on a hallucination. That’s all it is. And parents pass these hallucinations onto their children.

I just heard a mother say to her son: “You’re probably not going to like these Brussels sprouts, but I want you to try at least one.”

What a setup! No wonder the boy didn’t want to take a bite. 

The biggest disappointments are usually well-prepared.

ALTERING ASSUMPTIONS

I work in a competitive industry where many are invited, and very few are chosen. Every day I send voice-over auditions into the world that will be evaluated by total strangers. If they’re kind, they’ll give me between five and ten seconds to make my mark. Most jobs will go to other people, and I’ll never know why. 

As a coach, it is my job to prepare my students for this highly subjective and uncertain process. Before they hit “record,” I want them to have the right mindset. So, this is what I tell them:

“People will form opinions no matter what, but it’s not the judgment of others that may or may not hold you back. It is your own judgment that may help or hurt you.

After all, you don’t really know what others are thinking. You have no idea how you’ll be perceived. It’s a waste of energy to be concerned about things you can’t control. 

There are four things you can influence:

* your attitude,

* the way you cultivate your talent,

your level of preparedness, and

* your performance.

Always put your best foot forward. Record that demo, and send it on its way.

After that, there’s only one thing you can do:

Let it go!

Enjoy the feeling that you put yourself out there; that you gave yourself a chance. And if that puts you in a good mood, perhaps you deserve a small but cool reward.

How about a scoop of ice cream?

Broccoli-flavored, of course!

Paul Strikwerda

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!

photo credit: Rosario speaks via photopin (license)

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Old School, Old Fool?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Personal 33 Comments

Kids listening to story tellerThe country I live in is built for the young.

The population however, is aging rapidly. 

It’s a huge problem, and a tremendous opportunity.

In as little as 15 years, the U.S. is expected to be home to 73 million people over the age of 65. That’s about 33 million more than today. 

The Baby boomers born between 1946 and 1964 are now between 51 and 69 years old. According to a 2011 Associated Press and LifeGoesStrong.com survey, 42% of those who are still working, are delaying retirement. 25% claim they will never retire.    

Behind these rather boring numbers are real people. They may be friends or members of your family. Or you may belong to that group yourself. If that’s the case, you could be part of the first generation that grew up with television. You know, the people who still remember Gilligan’s Island, and where they were the day John F. Kennedy was killed. 

MEMORY LANE

I’m not of that generation, but I remember my parents waking me up in the middle of the night to watch Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walk on the moon. I remember the end of the Vietnam war, the oil embargo, and the Berlin Wall coming down. I remember getting my first personal computer, a cordless phone, and an Internet connection.

I don’t feel like a dinosaur yet, but that’s only a matter of time. Imagine me in 1982. I was eighteen, and I presented my first show on national radio in the Netherlands. Since then I spent most of my days with a microphone eight inches from my nose. 

Every time people refer to me as a voice-over veteran I cringe in disbelief. Please don’t tell me I am that old! And every time I land a job I say to myself: “Thank goodness I’m still relevant!” It’s pathetic, and I know it. 

If Annie Lennox can rock the mic at the Grammys at age 60, I have no excuse or reason to feel sorry for myself. But how will I feel ten years from now, or twenty? Will I be one of the 42% that delays retirement… indefinitely? Will there still be a younger generation willing and able to pay for their elders? Will I still be relevant?

THE AGING VOICE ACTOR

When I look at my older voice-over colleagues, I wonder what it’s like to be them. How do they handle the pressure of being a professional in a fast-paced industry where technology is changing the name of the game? A game taken over by like youngsters who are like totally into virtual reality and stuff… like that.

One of my friends -let’s call her Lizzy- turned sixty-six this year. After she retired as headmistress at a private school, she just couldn’t sit still. People always said that she had a powerful, resonant voice, and she loved reading to children. So, when one of her teachers mentioned voice acting, she perked up. 

Thankfully, Lizzy had saved some money, and she hired a great voice-over coach. After twelve long months she converted a small guest room into a home studio, and even got herself a real Neumann microphone! A thousand dollars or so later, she had a demo she could pass around. With plenty of time on her hands, Lizzy was ready to break into the business!

Soon she discovered that having time, money, and a distinctive voice does not make a career. Finding work was hard, especially because Lizzy had never liked using a computer. “I don’t need a website,” she said. “That’s for the kids. I’ll do things the old-fashioned way. And forget about Facebook. I’m not going to waste my time chit-chatting about nothing.”

Her son convinced her to get a laptop, and helped her sign up for an online casting service. Once Lizzy became familiar with the inner workings of this service, she made a discovery that left her depressed for days.

BEING SIDETRACKED

“All the jobs on this site are for perky 20 to 40 year olds,” Lizzy said. “If you ever need an example of ageism, this is it. No one wants to hire an old headmistress. What am I supposed to do?”

But a week later her spirits were up. A client in Sweden needed a grandma for a number of English children’s stories, and he said Lizzy’s voice was perfect. “Can we set up a Skype session so I can give you some guidance?” he asked. Lizzy froze. She had heard of Skype, but had no idea what it was or how to use it.

“And,” said the producer, “once I have given you some pointers, I take it you can record the rest of the script without my help. We do expect you to deliver clean, edited audio that is ready to use. That’s not a problem, is it?”

“No, no, of course not,” mumbled Lizzy.

“Well, I’ll email you the script, and eh… can you send me the audio in let’s say.… four days? And shall we do our Skype session two days from now? Is ten o’clock your time okay?”

When Lizzy put the phone down she panicked because she realized she was not even close to being ready. What had she gotten herself into? That evening her son installed Skype on her computer, and showed her how to use it. He even took a morning off work, so he could be there when Sweden called.

MESSING UP BIG TIME

Once the connection was made and Lizzy started reading the script, everything was fine. Sven the producer seemed happy with her narration, and within the hour, Lizzy had recorded four three-minute stories. She even remembered how to edit the audio the way her coach had shown her. Things were looking up!

The next day she received a call from the client. He loved her storytelling, but he said they couldn’t use the audio. “Why not?” Lizzy wanted to know.

“Because of all the mouth noises,” Sven said. “I thought you would send me clean audio. That was our agreement.” 

“Let me see what I can do,” said Lizzy, and she went back to her studio. She must have listened to her stories four or five times, but she didn’t hear what the client was talking about. What on earth was going on?

She asked her son to come over and have a listen. After a few minutes he looked at her and said: “Mom, are you sure you didn’t hear all those clicks and smacks? They’re all over the place.”

“Not really,” answered Lizzy.

“Well, that explains why you have been talking louder lately. I think you should see an audiologist. Get your ears checked. And when’s the last time you’ve been to the dentist? I have a feeling you may need new dentures.”

“Ah, the joys of old age,” said Lizzy. “The joys of old age.”

A REVELATION

Two months and two hearing aids later, Lizzy missed being at school. A year ago, people still knew who she was. When she spoke, they listened to her. They even did what she told them to do. She missed being social.

In the world of voice acting, no one knew who she was, and no one cared. People were not polite. They expected her to drop whatever she was doing to record a demo. They never told her why she didn’t book a job she’d auditioned for. Whatever happened to patience and good manners?

When she called her coach, he wasn’t very supportive.

“Lizzy, clients don’t owe you an explanation,” he said. “We’ve talked about that. You may not have that young, hip voice everyone is looking for these days, but there are still jobs out there. It takes time to build up a network and a reputation. You’ve got to work at it. Every. Single. Day.”

He paused for a moment and said: “Lizzy are you listening?”

He continued:

“A client doesn’t work on your schedule. You work on his or hers. And if you want people to find you, you need to have an online presence. You need to be comfortable with technology. I know you don’t like computers, but clients don’t care about what you like or don’t like. If you want to play the game, you have to live by their rules, no matter how old or how young you are.”

Spring was in the air. Outside, kids were playing tag. They were obviously having a good time. “There’s nothing like the sound of children laughing,” Lizzy thought. It always made her happy.

“Now, Lizzy, dear, can I ask you a question?” said her coach.

“Go ahead,” said a distracted Lizzy.

“What is it that you really want? Why did you want to become a voice-over?”

The answer immediately popped into Lizzy’s mind.

“Because I love telling stories!”

“Then why don’t you go out and do that!” her coach said. “There’s no need to stay home and stare at a screen all day long, hoping to get the perfect part. If you have stories to tell, start telling them!”

FINDING A PURPOSE

Two weeks later, Lizzy invited me to come down to the library. Ten four-year olds sat in a semicircle around her. I’d never seen a group of kids being so attentive. And when Lizzy started telling her stories, you could hear a pin drop. The toddlers were mesmerized.

“Lizzy, they absolutely loved you!” I said after the kids were gone. “You were fantastic! Now, are we still on for tomorrow?”

“What’s tomorrow?” asked Lizzy.

“Tomorrow’s Friday.”

“In that case, I can’t make it,” she said. I’m going to the hospital.”

“Oh no, is something wrong?” I wanted to know.

“I’m fine,” said Lizzy. “I’m going to the children’s ward to tell some more stories.”

“But what about your voice-over career?” I asked. “Weren’t you going to set up a website, and do some more auditions?”

“Oh forget that,” Lizzy responded. “There are so many places where I can make myself useful. This world needs more volunteers than voice actors, and I need to be around people. When I looked into the eyes of those children this morning, there was a connection. I felt I was doing something meaningful. I bet that’s not something you can find on Facebook.”

“Oh Lizzy,” I said, “when I’m your age, can I be you?”

“No way,” she answered. “I’m already taken!”

When we walked out of the library, she gave me a big hug and asked jokingly:

“Do you want to buy a microphone? It’s a Newman. It didn’t do me any good.”

“Hang on to it my friend,” I said. “Sweden might be calling back soon. Over there they know how to take care of senior citizens. They treat them with the respect they deserve.”

“Oh, stop it,” said Lizzy. I’m not ready for retirement.

I may be old school, but I am no old fool!”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

Be sweet. Please retweet.

photo credit: Kids and Library! via photopin (license)

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