Career

Marketing Demystified

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

Marketing.

It makes many freelancers uncomfortable.

They look at it as a necessary and expensive evil.

If possible, they’d rather delegate it to someone else. 

I disagree.

A while ago, Chris Kendall of Voice Artists United interviewed me about it. 

Here’s his first question:

Many people rely on just having a website and an Internet presence on Twitter, Facebook or on a P2P site to do their marketing for them. Does this work, and if not, why not?

Let’s take a step back and start with my definition of marketing:

Read the rest of this story in my new book. Click on the cover to access the website and get a sneak peek. Use the buttons to buy the book.

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The Most Obnoxious Man in Voice-Overs

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career 18 Comments

Characters.

The voice-over world is filled with them.

On-screen and off-screen.

Most of these characters are very likable, but every now and then you’ll encounter a rotten apple, an arrogant bully or a troll.

A week ago, I ran into one of them at a New York audition. I’d seen him before at some other place. He was an older guy, dressed in a classic three-piece suit. His tan was as fake as the color of his hair. When he spotted me filling out the sign-up sheet, he bellowed:

“Hey, Danish guy, I’m surprised to see you here. Did you finally decide to join the big leagues?”

I tried to ignore him, but he went on:

“Tell me, are you union yet?”

“No, I’m still happily non-union,” I answered. “Now, if you’ll excuse me. I’d like to…

Read the rest of this story in my new book. Click on the cover to access the website and get a sneak peek. Use the buttons to buy the book.

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Looking Back

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Gear, International, Internet, Journalism & Media, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play, Promotion, Social Media, Studio 3 Comments
Nethervoice blog author Paul Strikwerda

blog author Paul Strikwerda

In my last post of the year, I always go back in time to highlight some of the articles you may have missed or would like to revisit.

December turned out to be Gear Month at Nethervoice, and in a way we’ve come full circle. My first contribution of 2013 was entitled “Confessions of a Hopeless Gearhead.”

If you’ve ever wondered why evaluating and selecting new gear is so subjective and challenging, you have to read this  article.

CLIENTS FROM HELL

No matter in what stage of your career you are, you and I have at least one thing in common: we’re always communicating with customers. How to effectively deal with clients has been a recurring theme on this blog.

If you believe the customer is always right, you’re wrong and I’ll tell you why in a story about lengthy translations, short videos and managing expectations. “Bring in the Natives” looks at the many reasons why ignorant clients and careless online casting sites don’t bother with quality control any more.

In “Rotten Carrots and Cool Clients” I will introduce you to Type A and Type B clients, and I’ll show you how you can tell the difference. Here’s the bottom line: stay away from one of them!

VIOLENT VIDEO GAMES & TIPS FOR BEGINNERS

January was the month I finally decided to open up about something I feel strongly about: violence in video games and the role voice actors play in the production of these games. In “It’s just a Game” I weigh some of the evidence on the links between violent games and violent behavior. 

Makers of violent video games may proclaim that all they do is provide innocent entertainment. I’m not buying it. You may not agree with my conclusions, but I hope you’ll take a few minutes to consider what I have to say.

Another recurring theme is the position of newbies in the voice-over industry and ways in which beginners can increase their level of professionalism. In “Learning on the job” I expose one of the persistent myths that it’s totally okay to advertise yourself as a pro and treat your clients to trial-and-error sessions.

I even went as far as to share my entire voice-over working agreement with you, so you wouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel.

Success does not come easy in this profession, and certainly not overnight. My article “Failure is Always an Option” tells the story of a number of colleagues with great intentions who made bad decisions that killed their career. There are lessons to be learned from failure!

LET’S GET PERSONAL

Every now and then I also give you an inside look into my personal life. I don’t do that because I’m a closet-narcissist (you can read about that in “Call me a Narcissist”).

It’s because I want to draw attention to a charity I feel passionate about: the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. In “Overcoming Obstacles and Giving Back” I tell the story of how my wife discovered she has MS and how she is dealing with this confusing and unpredictable disease.

Together, readers of this blog raised over $5000 for the MS Society, making us the number #5 fundraising team out of 58 in my area. I can’t thank you enough for your incredible generosity!

Speaking of my wife, in “The Wind beneath my Wings” I blogged about the importance of having a supportive partner in this field of work. A partner can be a dear friend but also a life partner. I know for a fact that I wouldn’t be able to do what I do, if it weren’t for my better half.

As a reluctant introvert, I tend to keep things inside. “The Emotional Dilemma” is a story about how my feelings are influencing my work for better or for worse, and how I am channeling these emotions as I’m interpreting scripts.

Many people have asked my about my background as a voice actor. “How it all began” will tell you more about the early days of my voice-over career.

TECH TALK

Of course no year goes by without me delving into some of the more technical issues that come with our job. In “Get the boom out of the room” I reveal some of my personal secrets to creating a dry recording space.

Factory Demos and Fatal First Impressions” deals with sure ways to kill any chance of winning an audition and what you can do about it.

2013 was in many ways a testing year.

Last week I reviewed Audient’s iD22, a top-notch  audio interface that is my number one pick for best new VO-gear of the year. I also tried out Microphone X from Aphex. It’s a unique USB mic with built-in analog processing.

My new Presonus Eris 5 studio monitors inspired me to write an article about gear selection, and I tried out several gadgets designed to turn a smart phone into a voice-over recording device.

I also reviewed CAD’s Acousti-Shield 32 and their Sessions MH510 studio headphones.

MONEY, MONEY, MONEY

Getting paid is always a hot topic in voice-over land. A few months ago, I wrote a series of stories on that topic, beginning with “When a client owes you” followed by “Give me my money!” If you’re still waiting for that check that was promised ages ago, and you’re wondering what you can do about it, I’m sure my tips will help you.

For those of you in Europe or with clients in that part of the world, I reported on the efforts of the EU to crack down on late payments. A new EU directive protects people like you and me against clients who demand you deliver your work yesterday and who pay whenever they feel like it.

Of course my blogging year wouldn’t be complete without mentioning two stories that turned out to be immensely popular because they dealt with one popular Pay to Play site in particular.

In “Leaving Voices.com” I told you about my falling out with this Canadian company (be sure to listen to the audio sample!). This article was widely discussed and quoted, and I added a follow-up with “As the Dust Settles.”

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to leave every online casting site that is not working in my best interest and in the best interest of our profession. I’d say that covers about ninety percent of them. 

WHAT YOU CAN DO FOR ME

All in all it’s been a pretty productive year.

Many people have asked me how I manage to write a blog each week (plus guest posts), and to have a full-time voice-over career. Just read “Are You Talking To Me” for some answers, as well as tips for those thinking of starting a blog in 2014.

Of course there are many articles from 2013 that I did not mention in this overview, but I’ll leave it to you to explore more and pick your personal favorites.

If you’ve enjoyed my writing in the past twelve months, I’d like to ask you one small favor.

Please keep on sharing my stories with your friends and colleagues and stay in touch.

Your comments, friendship and collegiality continue to inspire me!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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The Voice Over Working Agreement

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Money Matters, Uncategorized 19 Comments

European Voice Talent Paul StrikwerdaLast week I answered some frequently asked questions about blogging.

Today, I’ll address something I get asked a lot by colleagues who are relatively new to the voice-over industry. They want to know if I have some sort of a working agreement in place with my clients.

The answer is Yes. It’s actually a mix between a working agreement and practical tips that are the result of over 25 years of experience.  

One of the first things I tell them is that I am a member of the World Voices Organization, and that I subscribe to the Best Practices for Voice Talent. I believe in this new organization, and I want my clients to know that I am committed to providing voice-over recordings that meet professional standards that are adopted and promoted by World Voices.

So, step into the shoes of my clients, as I take them by the hand and give them tips and guidelines for working with me.

A. HOME STUDIO & DIRECTION

By hiring a talent with a home studio, you save time and money. The studio fee is included in my quote; you’re not paying for an audio engineer or a director, and there are no travel costs to reimburse. I use professional, top-of-the-line equipment in an isolated, acoustically treated recording space. This allows me to deliver pristine, ready-to-use audio in a format of your choice.

Because you’re not physically present at the time of the recording, you cannot give me directions during the session. Please remember:

I can read your script but I cannot read your mind.

That’s why it is your responsibility to give me clear instructions ahead of time. More about that later. With those guidelines in hand, I will do my very best to interpret and read the script according to your wishes. If those instructions are missing, ambiguous or very broad, I will ask for clarification. If no (further) explanation is provided, I will assume that you have given me permission to interpret the script using my experience and expertise.

B. LIVE SESSIONS

You can choose to listen to a recording session in real-time and give directions via Skype or phone. It is the fastest way to get on the same page. My Skype ID is paulstrikwerda1. You may also call me at 732-322-5292 to communicate during a session.

Remember that I live and work close to New York City, which puts me on Eastern Standard Time. If you’re in Europe (Central European Time), you’re probably six hours ahead of me. By the time Europeans call it a day, I still have many hours left to finish your project so it’s ready for you first thing in the morning!

Important:

1. Please send your script at least 24 hours prior to the session. This will give me time to prepare.

2. If you opt to join me for a virtual session and have to cancel, please notify me 24 hours in advance. That way, I can accommodate other clients.

3. I am always happy to record another version of your script if my interpretation is not to your liking. However, if you did not provide clear instructions ahead of time and/or you changed your mind and chose not to direct me, this will be billed as a new project.

C. ANALYZING THE SCRIPT: TONE, TEMPO & ACCENT

Any text can be read in a thousand ways. The more specific you are about what you expect of me, the easier it will be to give you what you hope to hear. Here are a few ways in which you can get me on the right track:

1. Listen to my demos and pick a particular one you’d like me to match.

2. Ask me to record a short demo of your script to give you an idea of my approach. Based on that, you can give me feedback allowing me to fine-tune my performance.

3. If you’d like me to read in the style of e.g. Liev Schreiber narrating a documentary or John Cleese doing a commercial, please send me a link to a video on YouTube or Vimeo to give me an idea of what you’ll hope to hear.

Important: I am a voice actor and not a celebrity impersonator. Impersonation can be seen as a form of theft and it is illegal to impersonate a person without their permission with the intent to generate a profit.

4. If you have asked me to record a project that was produced in another language, please send me an audio sample of the original and I’ll do my best to match that, if that’s what you want.

5. Give me the backstory of a character and/or an image of a cartoon character you’d like me to voice. Tell me about age, family background, education, occupation, life experiences, accent, intentions et cetera.

D. PRONUNCIATION

I specialize in multilingual projects with an international angle. Correct pronunciation is one of the key factors determining the credibility of your message. Please help me get it right the first time. Here’s what you can do to help.

1. Provide a pronunciation guide in writing, or record an audio version of certain words, names or phrases. Alternatively, you could send me a link to a word on http://www.forvo.com or http://www.howjsay.com or use other online pronunciation resources. Remember; you can also coach me via Skype.

2. Sometimes, a script in one language contains words in another language. You need to make a choice as to how these words will be pronounced. Let me give you two examples.

– A Dutch script mentioned the name of an American company. Even though I could have pronounced the company name with a Dutch accent (as is common in the Netherlands), the client instructed me to pronounce it with an American accent.

– A Dutch e-Learning module about bikes featured many models and model numbers such as “Road Racer 315.” The client asked me to pronounce ‘Road Racer’ in English and the number in Dutch.

3. Please be explicit and write things such as numbers and abbreviations down the way you want them to be read. Examples:

– 120: one hundred and twenty or one hundred twenty?
– January fifth nineteen hundred and twelve or the fifth of January nineteen twelve?
– “In twenty twenty we will host the World Cup” or “In two thousand and twenty we will host the World Cup”?
 – “I’d like to say two things. 1. You are the best” or “I’d like to say two things. Number one: You are the best”?
– “5. The Fall of Rome” or “Chapter 5. The Fall of Rome”?

Tip: Never assume that I know how you want me to pronounce and/or read something.

In doubt, spell it out!

E. REVISIONS, CORRECTIONS AND RETAKES

Most scripts go through many drafts before they land on my desk. I will assume that the script you are giving me is the FINAL and OFFICIALLY APPROVED version. That’s what I will read and record. Once this recording is completed and received, payment is due within the time frame listed on the invoice.

Important: The recording of a script that was revised after the first, officially approved text was recorded, is regarded as a new project and will be billed accordingly.

Retakes that are the result of mistakes I made are always free.

F. TRANSLATIONS

Even though you didn’t hire me as a proofreader, you are paying me for script preparation. Every week I receive scripts filled with errors due to poor translation. Because my name and professional reputation are closely associated with the projects I voice, I will not record scripts that contain grammatical errors and other mistakes made by an unqualified translator.

Tip: I’m happy to translate or retranslate a script from English into Dutch or Dutch into English for you. I charge $0.15 or 0.11 Euro per word with a minimum of $30.00 (22 Euro).

G. AUDIO FORMAT

Audio files can be recorded and saved in many formats. Prior to recording you have to let me know what your preferred audio format is, such as MP3, WAV, AIFF, FLAC et cetera. Add to that the required bit depth (e.g. 16 or 24 bits) and sample rate (e.g. 44,100 or 48,000 Hz). If you’re not sure, ask your audio engineer.

Unless otherwise instructed, I take it that you would like to receive clean, unprocessed audio.

H. EDITING, FILE SEPARATION & SYNCING

Some clients automatically assume that home studio talent will deliver fully edited, ready-to-use audio at no extra charge. Be aware that audio editing is very time-consuming and that it requires a special skill set. Producing one hour of finished audio may take three to four hours of editing! While you may think you’re paying the talent for one hour of work only, he or she might spend half a day in the studio to complete that hour.

Unless otherwise agreed, my quote includes an editing fee.

For some projects it may be necessary to have me separate, label and save many files individually. Bulk processing is not always possible. Please realize that this could take longer than the actual recording and that an additional fee may apply.

If you’d like me to sync my voice-over to a video, make sure your script is time-coded and that it lists a maximum time for each segment. Should a paragraph be broken up into sections that need to be synced up precisely, make sure those sections are time-coded as well.

Alternatively, you may send me the video and the script, and I will time-code it for you at an additional charge.

I. RECEIVING YOUR RECORDING

In general, large audio files cannot be sent via email. Please let me know how you’d like to receive those files and if you’d like those files to be compressed.

Some clients use Dropbox, others use an FTP solution. I often use www.wetransfer.com, a free file transfer service. Once the audio is uploaded, I will send you a quick email. You will also receive an email invitation from wetransfer.com to download these files.

Important: Technology is never 100% foolproof. If something did not go as planned, let me know ASAP. If you did not receive an invitation to download, please check your spam folder. If you did receive the files, kindly send me a quick email to confirm receipt.

J. USAGE OF THE AUDIO

My voice-over rates are based on a number of variables: the medium (radio, television, internet), the market (local, national, international), the length, the nature and the use of the audio. The recording you are about to receive may only be used for the purposes indicated in your request and for the length of time and market we agreed upon in advance, unless a buy-out fee has been negotiated. Should you wish to change the original purpose, time and market, you must inform me of your intentions and additional payment is required.

Important: As long as the invoice has not been paid in full, the intellectual property of the audio (not the script) remains with me.

K. COPIES OF FINISHED WORK & CREDITS

Once a job is finished, I will ask you for a copy of the finished work for my portfolio, unless releasing the work violates a confidentiality agreement signed by me or the producer/client. You agree that I may use all or a portion of the copy on my website or voice-over demo or demos, and reference the project on my resume, but only for promotional purposes of my voice-over services and subject to any confidentiality agreement that may be in place.

If credit is given to those participating in the project for which I was hired, such as the actor(s), editor, composer, producer, et cetera, credit should be given to me as voice talent, as well.

L. PAYMENT

Once the job is completed and the voice-over is approved, you will receive an invoice from my assistant via email. To make sure this invoice reaches the right person and can be processed without problems, let me know to whom the invoice should be sent and to which email address. Please include all the information you need so the invoice can be generated and processed, such as a project number, job code or purchase order number.

I always strive to meet or beat a project deadline so you can have the audio you ordered at the agreed time. In turn, I ask you to make sure the invoice gets paid by the date listed on the invoice, regardless of whether or not you have received payment for the voice-over from the client you are working for.

*                     *                    *                    *                     *

At this point I go over the rest of my payment policies with my clients.

As you can see, I pretty much tried to cover all the bases, but I have to tell you that this is a work in progress. Feel free to add anything I might have missed. The comment box at the bottom of this blog would be perfect for that.

One last thing. The document you just read is followed by a legal section where I formalize this working agreement in a way that would make attorneys very happy. The entire document can be accessed online. All I have to do is send a client a link to the web page.  

Coming up with all these “rules” and stipulations is not a part of my job I very much enjoy. Yet, it’s important to have these things in writing to avoid misunderstandings and possible problems down the road.

It’s part of my free and ongoing Client Education Program, brought to you by the friendly folks at Nethervoice.

Class dismissed!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Overdoing and Underachieving

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Gear, Promotion, Social Media, Studio 13 Comments

Vegas stripAh, the American Dream.

If you work hard enough….

If you always put your best foot forward….

Then there’s a path from rags to riches for everybody.

Isn’t that the core of the message?

When I moved from Europe to the States, I noticed what pursuing this illusive dream can lead to.

An obsession with work!

Look around you. Fewer people are doing more and more work. Productivity is up in this “work hard – play hard” society. That’s what makes economists optimistic. Unfortunately, in the U.S. it seems to be all work and hardly any play.

In this no-vacation nation that claims to be big on family values, many kids are now raised by their grandparents because Mom and Dad need full-time jobs to stay afloat. And what if you don’t have any grandparents who live around the corner, or they need to be taken care of themselves?

A friend of mine has one child in day care and the other goes to early and late stay because his wife works as well. He did the math and discovered that most of his wife’s salary goes to childcare.

“Does that make any sense?“ he asked. “We want to spend more time with our children. Instead, we work more and see them less. And for what? Just to pay the babysitter, the daycare center and the elementary school? Is having the extra income really worth it?”

He just ran into the Law of Diminishing Returns which asserts that after a certain point, further investment or effort does not increase the expected return. In fact, it can even lower it.

Does this seem counterintuitive to you?

Read the rest of this story in my new eBook. Click on the cover to access the website and get a sneak peek. Use the buttons to buy the book.

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Bring in the Natives!

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Internet, Promotion 6 Comments

women in Volendam dressOkay, I had promised myself not to do it.

At least, not for a while.

Yet, I find myself doing it again.

And the thing is: I don’t feel so bad about it.

Today, I’ll talk about voices.com.

Again.

Rest assured. I’m not going to rehash my leaving-voices.com-litany. You’ve seen it. At the LinkedIn Voice Over Professionals group they’re still beating that dead horse. Click here if you’d like to join the fuss and the fun.

Since I left the Canadians, business has never been better, but that’s not what I wanted to talk to you about. I really want to talk about a few of my favorite topics: language, marketing, standards and blogging.

BLOGGING BOOSTS BUSINESS

You see, what the folks at “voices” understood from day one, is that free content is one of the best ways to attract visitors to your website. A good blog has people stay for a while and it makes them come back again and again. Voice123 has a blog as well; the Edge Studio is stepping up its blogging efforts and recently, Bodalgo joined the club.

Can you keep up with all the content? I certainly can’t! Thank goodness Derek Chappell reads them all and he posts the best blogs of the week on his own blog. 

Vox Daily is the official blog of voices.com. Over the years it has grown into a huge database of informative articles about every aspect of the industry. Most of the content is original. Sometimes the stories come from other sources.

I applaud the writers of Vox Daily for keeping this thing going with such creativity and consistency. As you know, I only blog once a week and frankly, that’s all I can handle.

As a native of the Netherlands, I was drawn to a recent Vox Daily article by Stephanie Ciccarelli, called “What is a Native Speaker?” In it, Ciccarelli outlines the advantages of hiring a native speaker. She cites a conversation with Spanish voice talent Simone Fojgiel who told her that

“70% of the projects she receives from her clients that were translated from English into Spanish, required revisions. Some even needed complete overhauls due to poor translation work.”

Stephanie concludes:

“Before we start pointing fingers at translators in general, we need to take a deep breath and consider why some translations may be poor, inaccurate or altogether baffling. My dear friends, it all comes to down to whether or not the translator is a native speaker of the language they’re translating in.”

I’m a native Dutch speaker and I recognize Simone’s observations. However, I don’t believe non-native speakers bare the full blame for poorly translated scripts. In my experience, bad translations are often the direct result of:

  1. carelessness or ignorance on the part of cheap clients;
  2. amateur-translators using translation software;
  3. lack of standards, quality control and overall professionalism.

The question is: what to do about it?

GOING DUTCH

Sometimes I talk myself into believing that one of my missions is to educate the ignorant. Allow me to illustrate.

A few months ago, I received an invitation to voice a Dutch language course for beginners. The budget was low and the sample script was filled with language that might have been in vogue some seventy years ago. Today, no Dutchman would ever use these outdated expressions. My guess is that the producers of the course had adapted an old guide after the copyright had expired. Perhaps they were unaware of the archaic language because they didn’t speak Dutch.

Rather than refusing the job out of hand, I auditioned for it, just to have an opportunity to get in touch with the client. I told them that the language in the guide was old-fashioned and that it would mislead people into believing they were learning Dutch as it is spoken today. I gave them several examples to illustrate my point. I also suggested that I could help them bring this language course into the 21st century.

Did I get a thank you note or even an acknowledgement that my comments were received?

Of course not.

I’m only a native speaker who was trying to offer some added value. Why on earth would they listen to me?

HELPING CLIENTS IMPROVE

According to Ciccarelli, Simone Fojgel has…

“made it her mission to protect, preserve and propel the brand image of her English clients as they step out boldly in effort to communicate to Spanish-speaking audiences.”

Not only does Simone review, prep and (re)write copy for her clients, she directs voice talent “to guarantee their performance is just right for the target audience.”

In that respect, Simone and I are on the same page. Both of us reach out to clients and offer to better their products. But after my experience with that Dutch language course, I asked myself:

Is it the job of a native voice talent to save a client’s reputation and turn a trash translation into a treasure?

I’m not so sure anymore, and I’ll explain why.

SAVING THE DAY?

1. First and foremost: You can provide people with information but you can’t be sure they’ll actually understand. And even if they do, it doesn’t mean that they will act upon it. Why should I waste my time talking to a client who doesn’t even want to listen? Let them produce that old-fashioned language course without my help. Perhaps they need to learn things the hard way. 

2. In order to be open to a solution, the client has to admit that there’s a problem in the first place. Here’s the thing. Clients don’t always see a problem. All they see is an added expense you call a solution.

3. A bad translation is only a symptom of a greater underlying cause. Clients are often more interested in treating symptoms.

I believe in fixing a problem at the root level. If a faucet is leaking, you don’t hire someone to mop up the floor thinking that this will solve everything. You call a pro to replace the washers, the o-ring or the seals. Unfortunately, not all clients think that way. They’d rather pay for cheap labor instead of hiring a more expensive pro. The worst scripts usually come from clients with bargain basement budgets. Not exactly my target market.

4. Is it worth my time?

Before I became a full-time voice-over, I worked as a professional translator and I hated it. I used to spend 14-hour days ruining my back in front of a computer screen translating boring market research, user manuals and legal documents. As a voice-over, I can make in thirty minutes what would take me a week of translation work. You do the math.

5. Leave it to the experts.

Being a native speaker doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re a great translator. Just as people underestimate what it takes to be a voice-over, people have no idea how hard it is to become an accredited translator. Even though I’m an academically trained linguist, I am happy to pass translation projects on to the natives who do this for a living.

Now, does all of this mean that I’ll never offer to correct a weak translation or tweak a text no matter what?

If the client is open to suggestions and is willing to spend some extra money on additional services, I’m game. As a voice-over, it is in my best interest to be associated with a stellar production. If it wins me some bonus points with a customer, better still!

So, at times, being a native speaker does translate into more business, but obviously not from the folks who were looking for a voice for that outdated Dutch language course. I believe the program is in the making as we speak. Unchanged.

And where did I find that job, by the way?

On voices.com.

Right before I ended my membership. 

Oops…

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

photo credit: screenpunk via photopin cc

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Wanted: Colleagues with Cojones

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing 9 Comments

It's better to be a lion for a day than a sheep for all your lifeColleagues, where is your courage?

Sometimes I feel like I’m dealing with a bunch of wimps.

Wimps who cave in without a fight and who compromise their integrity for money.

Last week I wrote about a recent European Directive to combat late-paying clients. New, stringent rules have changed the game in favor of small and mid-size companies. No longer are we at the mercy of businesses and government institutions that made us wait forever to get our money.

Now, any Europe-based entrepreneur can charge interest if a bill isn’t paid on time (usually within 30 days), and add at least €40 (about 54 USD) to cover the cost of debt collection, should it come to that. There’s no legal obligation to send a late-paying client a reminder. It is expected that an invoice gets paid when it is due.

If this were to happen in the U.S. where I live and work, I would jump for joy. Every year, thousands of businesses go bankrupt. Not because their product or service stinks, but because they’re waiting to get paid. This new Euro-legislation aims to make that a thing of the past. Isn’t that a cause for celebration?

Apparently not.

WORST-CASE SCENARIO

Some colleagues greeted the new rules with fear, disbelief and skepticism. One freelancer wrote to me:

“Those regulations are nice in theory, but I wouldn’t dare go after one of my biggest clients. It usually takes them 100+ days to pay me and I hate that. So, why do I put up with it? Because if I were to get tough on them, they’d hire someone else in a heartbeat.”

I asked him:

Read the rest of this story in my new eBook. Click on the cover to access the website and get a sneak peek. Use the buttons to buy the book.

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Behind the Facade

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career 12 Comments

woman wearing a mask“Leave your ego at the door.”

That’s one of the first commandments of Faffcon, the North-American voice-over unconference organized by Amy Snively and friends.

In a world filled with helpful, humble and caring colleagues, why would such a warning even be necessary, you might ask?

I’ll tell you why.

Because no matter where you go, you’ll always find a contingent of pompous, pretentious, big-headed individuals, ready to put you in your place. Even in voice-over circles.

These people will never come to you. They want you to come to them. They love to talk and hate to listen. They’ll interrupt you to change the subject because they’re easily bored. Dropping names is one of their favorite games. They’re eager to criticize and hard-pressed to praise. They specialize in being condescending and cocky because they’ve figured it all out. For them, there’s nothing more to learn.

You’ll find them at universities, hospitals, conservatories, in politics, in business and in places of worship. You’ll find them on Facebook, LinkedIn, on Twitter and in the blogosphere. No matter where you look, you’ll probably spot an emperor wearing very few clothes.

INFLATED EGOS

When I was seventeen, I first entered the world of broadcasting. It’s a world that seems to attract inflated egos and awful attitudes. Fame can turn reasonable men and women into narcissistic fools. Just because their smooth voices were heard on the radio or their plastic faces were on TV, some of them became utterly unbearable.

I’ve never been impressed with self-proclaimed authorities. I have to thank my upbringing for that. As a minister, my Dad was supposed to be one of those authorities. To me, he was just my Dad who put his teeth in a glass on the nightstand before he went to bed. One of his best friends ran a multi-million dollar corporation. I only knew him as uncle Joe who liked to break wind after a good meal. Nothing like a flatulent captain of industry to put things in perspective.

“Money doesn’t buy you manners,” my mother used to say. And she said something else that always stuck with me:

“If you’re full of yourself, there’s little room for others.”

I guess that’s why people say it’s lonely at the top.

Then, one day, I got to meet one of those people at the top. Not only that. I was asked to work with her. Together, we would present a radio program that already had a huge following.

MY BIG BREAK

A nationwide audience adored her, but colleagues called her the “Ice Princess” due to her standoffish demeanor. People warned me that she would likely give me the cold shoulder. After all, I was young, ambitious and very inexperienced. To the network, I was cheap labor who -one day- might replace this expensive, icy icon.

“Now, in order to work with her,” one of the executives told me, “you have to do as you are told. Never question her decisions. Always act interested -even when you’re not- and treat her like royalty. She is the star of the show and you are the sidekick. Remember your place. Then and only then you will stand a chance. Good luck. You’ll need it!”

I still remember the first day I went to work. Friends and family thought it was a dream come true. They were right. It was a tremendous opportunity. It could be the official launch of my career. Yet, part of me was very apprehensive.

On the way to the studio I forced myself to think of uncle Joe and his digestive system. He particularly enjoyed leaving silent surprises in crowded elevators. It worked, because I immediately felt less anxious.

When I entered the hallway, a familiar voice was telling a producer off, while smoking a cigarette. It was her!

“Oh boy,” I said to myself. “Here we go.”

Then the strangest thing happened.

SEEING A GHOST

While the argument with the producer was heating up, my soon-to-be mentor spotted me. As soon as she did, all color disappeared from her face. Undaunted, I began to introduce myself the way I had practiced many times in the mirror. After my first few words she interrupted me and then she disappeared into the studio, slamming the heavy door shut.

Five long minutes later she reemerged with a tissue in hand. Her eyes were red and teary.

“I can’t do this right now,” she said to me. “I really can’t. You have to go now.”

Was this some kind of bizarre test, I wondered? Should I leave or should I stay? Then I remembered the words from the network executive:

“Do as you are told. Never question her decisions.”

That afternoon the phone rang. It was the producer of the radio show.

“Paul,” he said, “I owe you an explanation. It was the weirdest thing. I have known this woman for many, many years, and not once have I seen her like that. She’s usually as tough as nails and distant, but when she saw you, she became overwhelmed with emotion.”

“What happened?” I asked. “Did I do something wrong?”

“I’ll tell you what she told me,” said the producer. “She said you looked like her son.”

“Well, is that a bad thing? I asked.

“She loved her son more than anything in the world,” said the producer, “but there’s something you should know. Ten years ago he was killed by a drunk driver. He was seventeen. Your age. She showed me one of his pictures and the resemblance is striking.”

I was stunned.

A SECOND CHANCE

“Now, here’s the good news,” he said. “She wants you to come back next week.”

“Are you sure that’s such a great idea?” I asked. “How are we going to work together if I all I do is open up a wound?”

The producer thought about it for a moment and said: “I think this might actually be good for her. She wants this. Let’s just see how it goes.”

A week later I came back to the studio and I introduced myself again. This time, she held it together. It was the beginning of something I will never forget. The person some people called the “Ice Princess,” turned out to be one of the warmest and most wonderful people I’d ever met. She took me under her wing, and the many things I learned from her I still use today.

One time after work, we got to talk about her son. She said:

“The day my son died, part of me died, and I became bitter and angry at the world. People who didn’t know me must have thought that I was a self-involved, stuck-up b*tch because I didn’t let anyone in. There still are people who believe I’m rather pretentious and cold. I know I can come across that way. I now realize that this is a mask I wear to protect myself. I need to be strong in order to survive. Ten years after my son’s death there’s still a huge hole in my heart.”

Although I knew I could never replace the son she had lost, I slowly realized that my presence might have a positive effect on her. Other people started noticing it as well.

TRANSFORMATION

Two years later, the network executive who had teamed me up with her, wanted to see me in his office. 

“Ah, there’s the man who made the Ice Princess melt,” he said when I came in. “I knew it would work.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Well, haven’t you seen the changes in the star of our show?” answered the executive. 

“Ever since you began working with her, she gradually opened up and has become more of the person I used to know. She started smiling again. The transformation is pretty amazing, don’t you think? I want to thank you for that.” 

“I don’t think I did much,” I said. “I mainly listened and tried to be there. But I’m curious. How did you know it would work? For one, did you have any idea I looked like her son?” 

“Of course,” the executive responded. “How could I not?

I’m her husband!”

COVERING UP THE PAIN

This wondrous world of ours is filled with all sorts of people. We all have stories to tell. Stories of courage, stories of despair, of jubilation and of grief. Those stories have shaped us into who we are and determine how we respond. We know the chapters that make up our lives intimately. But those who do not know us, often judge us by the cover and not by the book.

I still don’t feel drawn to pretentious people, but over time I’ve learned to get along. For most of them, their attitude is a mask, supposedly protecting them from pain and insecurity. Deep down, they long for recognition, companionship and validation. That’s my theory. And if you take the time to find out what really goes on behind that mask, you may find someone who’s vulnerable, alone and afraid.

Someone with a story.

And then there are people who are just like my uncle Joe.

Eccentric, and full of hot air. 

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
photo credit: pareeerica via photopin cc

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Do Voice Actors Suffer From An Inferiority Complex?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Journalism & Media, Promotion 20 Comments

Euphoric.

That’s the mood the voice-over community has been in, lately.

The reason?

It’s the release of Lake Bell’s motion picture In A World.

If you are a voice talent and you haven’t heard about this fun-filled father-and-daughter comedy, you must be living under a rock and a hard place.

This movie got so much publicity inside my professional bubble that I didn’t even want to blog about it.

The anticipation for In A World had been building for months. When it finally came out, the citizens of voiceoverland went a little crazy.

If you’re a true member of our VO family, you probably did one of three things:

  1. You posted or reposted the In A World trailer on your social media outlets dozens of times;
  2. You read reviews and listened to or watched several interviews with Miss Bell and her cast of other characters;
  3. You frantically tried to get tickets from the box office of some small artsy theater where In A World was playing, hours away from your home.

If that’s what you did, let me ask you this:

Why all the hoopla for a movie that so far has grossed a humble $321,614 in the two weeks since its release; a movie that is number 30 on the box office charts, right behind this summer’s mega-flop “The Lone Ranger” and the equally disappointing “R.I.P.D.”?

You might think that In A World deserves to be seen by millions, but apparently, distributor Roadside Attractions wasn’t confident enough to go for a wide release. Are they hoping for a sleeper hit on Netflix?

To me it’s rather obvious why the attention-craving voice-over community has embraced Lake Bell’s movie.

This comedy is about US.

Finally!

We, the masters of the spoken word, the unseen and unsung heroes of gazillions of trailers, audio books, commercials and e-Learning modules, are at last being recognized for who we are and what we do.

After decades of neglect and ridicule, voice-overs have come out of their walk-in closets, ready to be embraced for their vocal magnificence.

Thanks to Miss Bell, the voice-over world finally has a voice. Better still: It’s a FEMALE voice!

We feel validated and vindicated and tell ourselves:

“People find us interesting. Look, they even made a movie about us and talk about it in the media. That must mean we’re important!”

I hate to burst your bubble, but that’s an illusion. 

In a few days, the promotional circus surrounding this picture will fade away, and not even Joan Baker will be able to elevate our status in a world that doesn’t really care. Very soon we’ll get back to where we were before: invisible, under appreciated, and chronically underpaid.

Let me tell you why voice-over people are relatively irrelevant.

1. Voice actors run an auditory business in an increasingly visual world.

A study published on August 19th in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, describes that people who were asked to identify the winners of major piano competitions tend to do better when they purely rely on visual – rather than auditory – cues. 

Seeing, not hearing, is believing.

This confirms the age-old adage that a picture paints a thousand words. Images will always overpower what we play or say, no matter how meaningful the music or the script. Visual impact is everything.

That’s why movie stars are among the best paid people on the planet and voice actors are not. Keep in mind that it took a motion picture with on-screen actors and not some radio play or podcast to highlight the world VO’s live in.

2. Most on-screen actors easily transition into voice-overs.

Have you ever seen a full-time voice actor land a major role in a motion picture? I haven’t. Most of them can’t act and have to hire a coach to learn how to sound natural. The actors we know from the stage, the movies or television on the other hand, love doing voice-over work on the side, and most of them are very good at it.

When big brands need solid exposure, they turn to well-known names to get their message across. While voice actors often have to scramble for a decent rate, their on-camera colleagues can command top-dollar for that six-word catch phrase at the end of a commercial.

3. In A World is not a movie about voice-overs.

Ron Howard didn’t shoot “Backdraft” as a documentary about firefighters. The TV series ER wasn’t made to promote the medical profession. The fire station and the hospital were both backdrops that allowed human drama to unfold.

In A World takes us into recording studios to tell us about the rivalry between a father and a daughter who both happen to audition for the same job.

At heart, it is a light summer movie about relationships, and the voice-over setting is nothing but a clever prop, allowing the actors to showcase their skills and versatility. Nothing less and nothing more.

4. But doesn’t this movie have a powerful message about inequality in the VO-workplace?

It’s true. Lake Bell’s character tries to break into the male-dominated world of movie trailers. However, I don’t think the predominant purpose of In A World was to further some feminist agenda. It’s a comedy. Not a Gloria Steinem manifesto.

The male-female dichotomy at the center of In A World is a ploy that serves a plot. It creates conflict that needs to be resolved.

It’s an old theme in a new setting:

Will the underdog succeed against overwhelming odds? Watch the movie and find out!

Most movies aren’t made to move minds. Audiences across the globe like to escape and be entertained. They hate being lectured about social injustice. And let’s be honest: film studios are not some kind of philanthropic institution ready to promote an important cause. I can summarize their business model in four words:

Minimize risks. Maximize profits.

5. Will Lake Bell manage to break the gender barrier?

The short answer is NO.

I don’t think Bell will impact movie trailers the way Mary Tyler Moore changed television. Using a female voice for a movie trailer would require a revolution. Not a Sundance comedy.

Usually, Hollywood doesn’t like to try something that hasn’t been done before. Playing it safe is the name of the game. That’s why the same actors and actresses, screenwriters, directors and composers are hired again and again.

The fact that female voices aren’t chosen to promote blockbusters has nothing to do with sexism. It has everything to do with movie moguls testing every aspect of a motion picture to see if it will appeal to an audience of average Americans. Words are weighed and endings are altered based on feedback from the all-important focus groups. 

Without being derogatory, it’s fair to say that Joe Six-pack is the most important movie ticket buying demographic. If a focus group of Joe’s agrees that a booming male voice has more gravitas, that’s what studios will choose. Forget feminism or equal opportunities.

Thus, the cliché continues.

One last thing.

6. The rest of the world isn’t nearly as interested in our profession as we are.

If we do our job right, the listeners will pay more attention to the message than to the messenger. We serve the script and make it shine.

Unlike on-screen actors, we stay out of the limelight. We don’t appear in tabloids or on talk shows. Our private lives are blissfully boring. There is no glamour in voice-overs. For a majority of celebrity-watchers, voice-overs are positively uninteresting.

So be it.  

In our small and isolated world, Lake Bell’s movie might be a big deal; a victory for voice-overs, even. The rest of the planet falls for blockbusters about zombie invasions, promiscuous vampires and kids playing Hunger Games -all of them promoted by Don Lafontaine sound-alikes.  

Just because we don’t necessarily get recognized for our work, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take professional pride in what we do. We might not make millions of dollars and live in huge mansions, but there’s no reason to feel inferior. 

In real life, a lot of great things happen under the radar. Those things can be far more profound than anything the gossip shows will ever report on. 

Think about those who have dedicated themselves to helping others. Ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Most of them will never be acknowledged or honored, and they’re fine with that. 

These people are in it for the music. 

Not for the applause.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet! 

PPS “Hello Lonesome” is the voice-over movie you have never heard of. Click here for my story about this movie.

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