Career

Ways to win an audition and nail the job

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career 15 Comments

On paper it sounded so easy.

“You have been hired to record the voices of five different guys for a new interactive game.”

After I had signed a contract and a comprehensive non-disclosure agreement, I took a moment to reflect on what I had gotten myself into.

I had wanted to break into this segment of the voice-over market, but there were at least three minor complications with this assignment.

One: I had to play all five characters.

Two: These guys were supposed to be teenagers.

Three: I am 49 years old.

As soon as I signed the papers, I started having second thoughts. Could I pull this one off? Was I really the right person for this project? Who was I kidding?

All along I have been telling you never to accept a job you think you can’t handle. Why did I choose to ignore my own advice?

Then there was this.

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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Call Me a Narcissist

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career 21 Comments

Nethervoice Studio ShotA few days ago, I announced that I was pulling the plug on my blog. As soon as the news started to spread, all kinds of reactions poured in.

Narrator Jeffrey Kafer wrote:

“If this is an April Fools joke, it’s the most narcissistic one I’ve ever seen. Hope you got all the attention you were after, Paul.”

He was probably just kidding, but in a way, Jeffrey was right and he was wrong.

My April 1st post about me quitting blogging was indeed a prank, but was it narcissistic?

LOOK AT ME

Narcissism is characterized by egotism, vanity, and selfishness. At worst, it is a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance and a deep need for admiration.

If I were to have an inner need to be admired and an inflated sense of self, I have definitely chosen the wrong career. Voice-over artists are the invisibles of the industry. We are servants of our scripts. If we’re doing our job right, people pay more attention to the message than to the messenger.

Unlike on-camera actors, we don’t get recognized when we’re walking down the street, and our craft doesn’t get much recognition either. No network will ever think of broadcasting the Audie Awards to a global audience.

There’s no Academy Award for the best voice-over performance in a motion picture. Name one narrator who’s made millions pimping his pipes… I just did my taxes and I can tell you with utmost certainty that it’s not me.

Contrary to popular perception, our work isn’t glamorous either. We voluntarily lock ourselves up in a padded box, dressed in sloppy clothes that won’t make any noise, and we talk to people who aren’t even there. Normally, that sort of behavior would warrant a psychiatric evaluation.

BIG EGOS

Are voice-over people self-centered? Well, if you and I don’t take good care of ourselves, it becomes hard to take good care of others. Since we personify our product, it’s in our best commercial interest to stay healthy. That doesn’t make us egotistical, does it?

If anything, our small community is the most selfless group of professionals I’ve ever been part of. It is a caring community and a sharing community. There are no industry secrets. Go ahead and try it out. Go to a Facebook or LinkdIn group and ask a VO-related question. Within the hour you’ll get a number of responses from people who know what they’re talking about, free of charge.

Every week there is a plethora of blogs, podcasts, articles and webcasts to choose from, packed with valuable industry insights and practical tips. Again, you don’t have to spend a penny to receive priceless information.

Here’s another remarkable thing.

As voice actors, we often compete against one another for the same jobs, yet we manage to remain friends. If there is a cutthroat mentality in voiceoverland, I haven’t encountered it. Sometimes we tease one another, but we don’t badmouth colleagues. If anything, we’re “goodmouthing” each other. We recommend and refer colleagues to clients and agents. And if one of us lands the gig of the century, we celebrate!

A CHARITABLE BUNCH

Not only are we generous with our advice and support, we give freely to worthy causes and to those in need. With one month left, I’ve already reached 86% of my fundraising goal for my annual MS Walk, thanks to readers like you. One audio book narrator wrote to me:

“I just received a nice royalty check from my last four books. I’m glad to donate part of it to the Multiple Sclerosis Society.”

I almost cried when I read those words!

Now, if you’ve followed my train of thought closely, you’ve no doubt noticed that I addressed Jeffrey Kafer’s comment by focusing on our community. But as you know, Kafer wasn’t talking about our community. He was talking about me. This put me in an interesting bind.

If I were to respond to his characterization, I’d be forced to talk about myself, thus running the risk of coming across as a narcissist.

If I were to let it rest, I’d be evading the issue.

MASSIVE RESPONSE

What happened after I published my made-up story on April 1st, blew me away. It took no time for this blog post to gain traction. People read my sad story, they shared it and they started commenting on it. I received thank you messages. People emailed me and said they understood why I had decided to quit. Some wanted to know if I was okay, because I didn’t respond to the comments that were posted on my website.

There were a few skeptics among the commentators, but the majority of readers seemed to buy it and wished me well. By the end of the day, almost 700 people had read my farewell-article. An all-time record. What did that tell me?

If we trust the source, a story doesn’t necessarily have to be true to be believed, as long as it is plausible. Apparently, lots of people see this blog as a reliable source of opinion and information. That’s the best a blogger could hope for!

I was also overwhelmed by the unexpected outpour of appreciation. Reading all the comments almost felt like listening to a eulogy. I also felt a bit guilty because I knew I was pulling people’s legs.

KING OF THE HILL

Most narcissists are interpersonally exploitative. They take advantage of others to achieve their own ends. If you know me well enough (and I think you do), you know that that’s not me. I blog because I enjoy sharing my experiences with whomever is willing to listen. To me, it’s a way of giving back to a community that is giving so much to me.

Narcissists wish to be recognized as superior and they’re preoccupied with fantasies of success and power. I don’t see myself as superior. I’m proud of my achievements and I know what I’m capable of. I’m also very much aware of my limitations and my weaknesses.

I don’t need power, but I strive to empower.

And what about success?

I measure my success by the number of people who tell me they have benefited from something I wrote. Here are two examples:

“Paul, I not only read your blog, but like a lot of the readers, I await the blog, which should be appearing in 41 minutes, with great anticipation. Why, because it’s (A) loaded with content (B) stimulates me to action, changes my thought processing or introduces me to things I didn’t know existed (C) it is directly relevant to me and most of my friends.”

and

“Paul, in my 50 years of voice work, this is the best and most practical advice I’ve had the pleasure of reading. Thank you many times over for the wonderful insight.”

I didn’t add these quotes to give myself a public pat on the back. You’ve already done that by the way you responded to me supposedly pulling the plug on this blog.

My point is this:

If something I wrote somehow contributed to someone’s success, I feel successful.

If you believe that makes me a narcissist, so be it. 

I much prefer tulips over narcissus flowers.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Creating a Wave

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Internet, Promotion 27 Comments

You and I, we walk a fine line when it comes to drumming up business.

Here’s the situation.

Clients won’t hire us unless they know we exist.

Colleagues won’t recommend us if they have no idea what we’re capable of.

Agents might think we’re yesterday’s news if we don’t prove ourselves every once in a while.

The remedy to anonymity is self-promotion. However, we all know people who are constantly promoting themselves. They hijack threads on Facebook to toot their own horn. They pop up in LinkedIn groups to talk about themselves. They spam your inbox with “newsletters” that glorify their latest accomplishments.

They must believe they’re very interesting.

If you’re one of those people, I have this to say to you:

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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Rotten Carrots and Cool Clients

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing 24 Comments

In a black-and-white world, there are two types of clients:

Type A: Pain in the neck

Type B: Pleasure to work with

After many years of freelancing, I have developed a sixth sense, warning me ahead of time which type of client I’m dealing with. Usually, this gut feeling is spot-on, but recently, I was unpleasantly surprised.

It all started when I was asked to narrate a Dutch script. From the first paragraph I could tell…

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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Shut Up and Listen!

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

The two women were sitting opposite each other in the ski lodge. Their kids were out on the slopes and so they had all morning to catch up.

I usually don’t mind other people’s business, but these two were very hard to ignore. Their voices were as loud as the bling they were wearing. Even though they were dressed in the latest ski apparel, I don’t think either of them had any intention of ever going down a snowy hill.

This morning they seemed to be discussing their favorite topic: family illness.

“My father just went in for a double bypass,” said the one closest to me, as she was digging deep into a

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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Playing Hard to Get

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Promotion 7 Comments

It’s time for an apology.

Yes, I’m truly sorry, but I can explain.

If you are one of the people who asked me to be your voice-over coach, chances are that I turned you down. Not that I don’t enjoy coaching. I’ve been coaching professionally for the past twenty years.

In my broadcasting days, I used to prepare people to meet the press in my role of media coach. Later on, I became what people now call a “Life Coach,” helping clients overcome obstacles and reach goals. I also taught two-week certification trainings centered around personal growth and development, and I loved every minute of it.

Even though my FAQ page (the page no one ever reads) will tell you that I still offer voice-over coaching services, I’m not shouting it from the rooftops.

WHY I KEEP COACHING QUIET

First of all, my clients are keeping me pretty busy, so I don’t have much time to be a coach. Secondly,

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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Learning on the job

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career 26 Comments

It happened again.

On the Working Voice Actor LinkdIn Group, the discussion had turned to ACX, the Audiobook Creation Exchange.

Of course we all want to know whether or not people are booking jobs and if it’s worth their time and effort. The answer to the first question is YES and to the second one: MAYBE.

It’s a fact that most best-selling authors don’t have to go to ACX to get their books published in audio format. Celebs will do their own narration, and a league of ten to fifteen distinguished gentlemen and women will read the rest, skillfully assisted by an audio engineer and a director, hired by Harper Collins or Hachette. 

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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It’s just a game…

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Journalism & Media, Social Media 19 Comments

Does reading erotic stories excite you?

Are you salivating while watching your favorite Food Network show?

Do you get nightmares after renting that horror flick?

What happens when you’re playing Grand Theft Auto, Soldier of Fortune or a game like Manhunt?

No matter the context, our brain is constantly processing events from the outside world, turning them into physical, emotional and (sometimes) rational responses. In a split second, it has to answer these three questions:

1. What do I see, hear, feel, smell or taste?

2. What does it mean?

3. How do I respond?

If our behavior of choice results in positive feedback (e.g. the release of endorphins, causing a “high”), we’re more likely to choose that type of response in the future. The more we do it, the more we want it, and the better we get at it. It’s classic conditioning.

PLAYING GAMES ALTERS BRAINS

In 2012, researchers at the Indiana University School of Medicine published the results of an experiment with 28 young men between 18 to 29.

One group played a shooting video game for 10 hours over the course of one week. The second week they didn’t play at all. The control group did not play any video games during these two weeks.

Both groups had fMRI analysis at the start, after the first week, and after the second week. Yang Wang, is assistant research professor in the Department of Radiology and Imaging Science. He said in a news release:

“For the first time, we have found that a sample of randomly assigned young adults showed less activation in certain frontal brain regions following a week of playing violent video games at home. These brain regions are important for controlling emotions and aggressive behavior. (…) These findings indicate that violent video game play has a long-term effect on brain functioning.”

In the same year, researchers for Ohio State University discovered that:

“People who played a violent video game for three consecutive days showed increases in aggressive behavior and hostile expectations each day they played. Meanwhile, those who played nonviolent games showed no meaningful changes in aggression or hostile expectations over that period.”

VIOLENT GAMES ALTER BEHAVIOR

Brad Bushman, Ph.D., is a Professor of Communication and Psychology and co-author of the study. He comments:

“Playing video games could be compared to smoking cigarettes. A single cigarette won’t cause lung cancer, but smoking over weeks or months or years greatly increases the risk. In the same way, repeated exposure to violent video games may have a cumulative effect on aggression.”

Recently, a research team at Brock University in Canada found that teenagers who play violent video games over a number of years become more aggressive towards other people. They said their results were “concerning” and argued that violent games could “reinforce the notion that aggression is an effective and appropriate way to deal with conflict and anger.”

“It is clear that there is a long-term association between violent video games and aggression,” said Lead researcher Professor Teena Willoughby. “This is an important and concerning finding, particularly in light of the hours that youth spend playing these games.”

THE SOCIAL ASPECT OF GAMING

Not all studies on video game violence and aggression come to the same conclusion, though. David Ewoldson is professor of Communication at the same Ohio State University that published Brad Bushman’s study. His take on the matter:

“Clearly, research has established there are links between playing violent video games and aggression, but that’s an incomplete picture. Most of the studies finding links between violent games and aggression were done with people playing alone. The social aspect of today’s video games can change things quite a bit.”

He concluded that violent video games don’t always make players more aggressive. It all depends on your playing style. Players who cooperated in playing the video game later showed more cooperation than those who competed against each other. (source)

In January of 2012, the Swedish Media Council published a comprehensive review of the research done between 2000 and 2012 into violent video games and aggression. The Council concluded:

“There is an extensive amount of research that demonstrates a statistical relationship between VCG (violent computer games) and aggression. Much of this measured aggression related only to mental processes and not to violent behavior. In addition, there was no evidence for VCG to cause aggressive behavior.”

“That a person reacts in a given manner in a laboratory environment does not mean that they would react similarly in an everyday environment.”

THE GAME BOYS

Some estimate the video game industry to be worth $100 billion worldwide. Whether or not there is a proven causal relationship between violent games and violent behavior, Vice President Joe Biden wanted to meet with video game industry representatives. He did, and they talked for two hours. The topic: gun violence prevention.

According to Biden, the issue at stake wasn’t just gun control. It was about “civility in society,” and the coarsening of our culture.”

After the meeting, Biden suggested ways to address violence in video games, movies and on television when he sent President Barack Obama a package of recommendations for curbing gun violence. This was in response to the Newtown school massacre that killed 20 kids and 6 adults.

According to Reuters, a senior administration official said that President Obama would be asking for $10 million for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to study the root causes of gun violence, including any relationship to video games and media images.

OUR OWN RESPONSE

Of course Biden wasn’t the only one discussing gun violence and control. As was the case after the movie theater massacre in Aurora (12 dead, 58 wounded), Facebook exploded.

People sticking to their guns clashed with those who didn’t know what to make of the ongoing infatuation with firearms. After heated exchanges, long-time colleagues were unfriended and new friends were found. That’s freedom of speech in action.

Here’s what bothered me most.

The voice-over community discussed putting armed guards in schools, weapons at Walmart, strengthening background checks and restrictions on high-capacity ammunition magazines. Those issues are important, but they are symptoms of a much deeper problem in the United States. People hardly talked about the culture of violence in this country, and the role video games play in that culture.

To me, that would have been interesting, because a number of voice-over actors are making a decent living voicing violent games; games in which aggression is magnified, glorified and rewarded. Games that according to people like professor Bushman, make the players more aggressive. 

 Why in all these years, didn’t anyone in our community have the guts to stand up and say:

“This stuff is sick. This stuff is wrong. I don’t want to play any part in it!”

I think I know why.

GAMING GLORY

Things get uncomfortable when they hit close to home. The discussion is no longer about theoretical situations. It touches our lives and our livelihood. Someone’s got to voice these things, right? It might as well be you. A paycheck is a paycheck, and if you’re lucky, you get to go to Comi-Cons and talk about your character and meet the fans. You’re almost a… celebrity!

Secondly, we’ve grown up with the perverted idea that violence makes enticing entertainment. In a twisted way, inflicting imaginary pain causes pleasure. Boys and girls who are bullied at school get to handle mega rounds of ammo and can blast their evil opponents to smithereens. That’s even therapeutic, yes?! 

Shoot-them-up video games are said to improve visual skills and eye-hand coördination. But what happens when the player snaps and gets his hands on the real thing?

FEEDING A NEW GENERATION

Right now, America is talking about the things we feed our kids (and ourselves) and the impact these things have on the health of the nation. You don’t have to be a nutritionist to realize that there is a link between the obesity crisis and our diet. 

The fact that our youngsters have become a generation of video game playing couch potatoes who get very little exercise doesn’t help either. Eventually, junk builds up in the system like a powerful poison, and one day it will present its ugly face.

But what else do we feed our kids? Think about their mental health for a moment. Do we teach our kids how to build meaningful relationships, how to communicate effectively and how to resolve conflicts peacefully?

Do we teach them to loathe cruelty, to engage in dialogue, to be emphatic and become kinder, more understanding and respectful citizens?

Show me one popular video game that teaches those values.

I have yet to find it.

What we are exposed to on a regular basis becomes the norm. It starts to live inside of us. For better or for worse.

IS FAKE VIOLENCE OKAY?

There used to be a time when researchers could say: All that violence on TV and in the movies… people know it’s not real. Watching TV or a movie is passive. It really doesn’t affect us that much. That was before the era of hyper interactive, highly addictive video games.

As Dr. Bushman noted, most people learn best and much faster when they are actively involved. In Psychology Today he asked the question:

“Suppose you wanted to learn how to fly an airplane. What would be the best method to use: read a book, watch a TV program, or use a video game flight simulator?”

Bushman also observed that “players of violent video games are more likely to identify with a violent character. If the game is a first person shooter, players have the same visual perspective as the killer (…) In a violent TV program, viewers might or might not identify with a violent character. People are more likely to behave aggressively themselves when they identify with a violent character.”

He continues:

 “Violent games directly reward violent behavior, such as by awarding points or by allowing players to advance to the next game level. In some games, players are rewarded through verbal praise, such as hearing the words “Nice shot!” after killing an enemy. It is well-known that rewarding behavior increases its frequency. (Would you go to work tomorrow if your boss said you would no longer be paid?) In TV programs, reward is not directly tied to the viewer’s behavior.”

THE BIGGER PICTURE

The Swedish Media Council I mentioned earlier, makes decisions about age limits for films to be shown in movie theaters. They do not only base their considerations on how much violence the film contains. Assessment is made using a formulation from the UN’s child convention, about whether the film may harm the child’s well-being. The Council states:

“The same reasoning should be applied to computer games: a one-sided focus on the violence in the game leads to other issues regarding content being forgotten. (…) If we adults stop focusing all our energy on the incidence of violence in computer games, we can instead begin asking ourselves questions that the research will never be able to answer: what values, norms and ideologies do we want to pass on to our children?

I don’t think it’s necessarily either/or. Why not have a discussion about norms and values, as well as a dialogue about video game violence? One has to do with the other.

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

I live in a nation that has the highest gun-related homicide rates of any developed country in the world. Gun sales are soaring.

As a dad of a ten-year old, I often wonder and worry about the world I will leave behind for my daughter and her children. Is it going to be a safer, sweeter and saner place, or will we have armed guards on every street corner and in every school?

Is that the “Land of the Free” we so proudly sing of, or is it the “Land of the Fearful”?

How will we teach tolerance and respect and help our children understand and appreciate differences between people, faiths and cultures?

Some scholars say that games are an innocent way for kids to get ready for the real world. Games allow us to playfully engage in imaginary scenarios that -subconsciously- prepare us for things to come. 

If that’s the case, what’s a game like Grand Theft Auto or Manhunt teaching our teens? How is it enriching their lives? With so much exciting, innovative technology at our fingertips, is that really the best we can do for our children? Don’t they deserve better?

As a professional, I think it’s time for voice actors to come together, take a stand and speak out against these ultra violent games that are getting more lifelike by the day.

The fundamental question is this: How do we wish to use our talent? Are we going to use it to produce gratuitous violence or to teach people to get along better? Are we going to search for a solution, or are we going to stay part of the problem? 

Or, do we simply stick our heads in the sand and claim there is no problem?

After all…

We’re simply involved in the production of harmless entertainment.

A video game is just a game, right?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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photo credit: naughty_dog via photopin cc, malloreigh via photopin cc,  demandaj via photopin cc, Orobi via photopin cc sparktography via photopin cc, Rad Jose via photopin cc

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Spending a year with me

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Gear, Internet, Journalism & Media, Money Matters, Promotion, Social Media, Studio 15 Comments

2012 is a year I will remember for many reasons, but the main reason is this: 

Your generosity.

Did you know that readers of this blog donated $2,500 to the National MS Society this year? Thanks to your contributions, our Walk MS team raised a total of $6,504!

When I told you that my friend Patrice Devincentis had lost her Sonic Surgery recording studio in Hurricane Sandy, you stepped up to the plate big time.

Donations to Sonic Surgery

Donations to Sonic Surgery

Right now, part of my basement is taken over by audio equipment that was donated to Patrice, mostly by friends in the voice-over community.

Just when she thought her career was over, your help gave her hope and a chance to start rebuilding a studio and a career. 

As soon as her recording space is ready, I will deliver all the gear on your behalf, but that’s not all.

When you go to the Sonic Surgery GoFundMe page, you’ll see that together we’ve raised over $2,600 for Patrice. We still have a long way to go before we’ll reach our $10,000 goal, but it’s a great start.

SPREADING THE NEWS 

As readers, you’ve also been generous with your blog comments (all 2,658 of them), retweets, Facebook “likes” and all the other ways in which you helped my stories reach a wider audience. Thank you so much for that! It works and here’s the proof.

A story like the introduction of Studiobricks (a new type of vocal booth), has reached almost two thousand readers. Mike Bratton’s interview and review of the Studiobricks ONE cabin, has been seen over fifteen hundred times. But there were more reviews this year. 

In collaboration with recordinghacks.com, I put the Microtech Gefell M 930 Ts microphone to the test; the amazingly affordable and brilliant CAD E100S mic, as well as a shock mount for the 21st century, the Rycote InVision™ system.

I presented seven reasons to hate home studios, and most recently, I had a chance to review Jonathan Tilley’s new eBook “Voice Over Garden.” 

THE NEW NETHERVOICE

Let’s remember that 2012 was also the year my website got a major facelift. It gave me a chance to write about why your website stinks, how analyzing web traffic can help you craft content, and how you can use social media to spread your message (as long as you don’t step into the filter bubble). 

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you know that I love writing about the business of being in business. Having a great voice doesn’t mean that you’ll automatically have a great voice-over career. You have to be a savvy entrepreneur as well. 

When you open up shop, you’re all of a sudden the head of the advertising, marketing, sales and the customer service department. Are you sure you can handle that? Some customers can be a royal pain in the tuches, but you have to attract them first.

Over time you’ll notice that there are at least 10 things clients don’t care about, and that there are many things your clients won’t tell you that you absolutely need to know before you hit the record button. This year, I finally revealed my personal marketing strategy and the four keys to winning clients over.

Now, all these ideas didn’t appear to me in a dream. It has taken me quite a few years of running a freelance business to come up with certain vital concepts. Trial and error are the slowest teachers, and I had to learn many of my lessons the hard way. I still remember the day I almost made a $10,000 mistake.

Nethervoice studio

Nethervoice studio

STUDIO STORIES

On an average day I spend at least eight hours in my vocal booth/office, and of course I blogged about life behind the mic. I gave you the grand tour of my studio in two installments. 

First you got to see how I have outfitted my voice-over booth, followed by a review of the equipment I use to make my clients happy.

I also wrote about certain aspects of (voice) acting. In “Are You a Cliché” I dealt with the downside of doing impersonations. “Why you suck and what to do about it” is all about breathing and how to get rid of those nasty clicks and other mouth noises that can ruin a recording. “Are you playing by the rules” tells you what it takes to maintain a good relationship with your agent. 

MONEY MATTERS

In 2011, 44% of independent workers had trouble getting paid for their work. 3 out of 4 freelancers are paid late or not at all at least once in their careers. That’s why the New York-based Freelancers Union ran a campaign called “Get Paid, not played.”

I tend to write a lot about value and remuneration. Just click on the “Money Matters” category over on the right hand side of this blog and you’ll see what I mean. When my website got a make-over, I decided to publicly post my voice-over rates. Not everyone believed this was a wise move, so I wrote a story exploring the pros and cons of being open about fees. 

One relatively new way to fund your business, is to use crowdsourcing. I asked audio book publisher Karen Wolfer to share her experience with Kickstarter. Another money-related topic that came up this year was this: Should you work for free for charity? On paper “giving back” sounds like the right thing to do, but is it always the case? As with any of the stories mentioned above, click on the blue link to read the full article. 

TAKING CARE OF YOURSELF

Let’s move from wealth to health. I shall remember 2012 for one other reason. Never before have I written so much about fitness and well-being. In “Be kind. Unwind” I wrote about the importance of taking a break, being in the moment and leading a balanced life.  

After meeting the globetrotting host of The Amazing Race Phil Keoghan, I discovered four principles to live in the spirit of NOW (No Opportunity Wasted). In August it was time for me personally to cut the crap and rid myself of excuses that had me trapped in an unhealthy, sedentary lifestyle.

MAKE A DIFFERENCE 

All in all, 2012 has been a great year. We’ve had to weather some powerful storms, but the year was also packed with positive change. 

It always amazes me how relatively small changes can have a huge impact. Imagine someone throwing a pebble into a pond. See how the ripple effect moves through the water in ever-widening circles. That’s the effect one individual act of generosity can have.

It happens when people who care, share what they have to give without expecting anything in return. It can be time, it can be money or -as in Patrice’s case- even audio equipment. 

I am grateful and appreciative that you have chosen to take a few minutes out of your day, to see what I have to say. Many of you came back, week after week. Hopefully, you’ve found my stories and ideas helpful and worth sharing. If that’s been the case, I have news for you: 

I’m not done yet!

In fact, I’m ready to push more envelopes, stir more pots and be more outspoken in 2013. 

Do you think you can handle that? 

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Are You Invisible?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Promotion 16 Comments

As a child, I dreamed of being invisible. Did you? 

It seemed so much fun to be able to sneak into any room and listen to what people had to say about me, especially my parents.

At age 17, my wish came true, and I didn’t even need an invisibility cloak to make it happen.

The day I started working for a national radio station, I became a disembodied voice. At the flip of a switch, I could enter thousands of living rooms, kitchens, cars… and even people’s minds.

What I loved about radio was the relative anonymity. I had exposure without being exposed. On many days, my listeners were lucky they couldn’t see me behind a Neumann at the crack of dawn, looking like a zombie presenting a current affairs program.

There was no need to go to make-up and nobody ever said a word about my wardrobe or hair. All was well, as long as my vocal cords were working and my brain was semi-active.

The studio was a safe place. The outside world didn’t dare penetrate the soundproof walls and heavy double doors. I could question dignitaries and grill cabinet ministers without having to look them in the eye, unless they came to our station, which rarely happened.

As a journalist, I never risked my life on the front lines to get a story. I covered earthquakes, explosions, famines and other misery from the comfort of a warm recording studio, where the coffee was always fresh and dangerously leaded.

When my day was over, I would simply blend into the masses without ever being recognized or followed by a horde of hungry paparazzi.

So far, so good… or so I thought.

A PRE MID-LIFE CRISIS

One day, something happened that had never occurred before. The moment I woke up I knew something was wrong. I could feel it in my bones. I wanted to stay in bed. For a very long time.

Mind you, I wasn’t sick. I just didn’t want to go to work. This was not like me at all. I was always full of energy and enthusiasm. I loved my job. When we were on the air, I was on fire. That particular morning, all that was left of my passion for radio had turned into a fading column of sad smoke. What the heck was going on?

A few days and some soul-searching later, it finally dawned upon me:

I was stuck in a rut.

Radio had gradually lost its magic. It had become a routine. I felt that I wasn’t building a career. I was simply coasting and I was bored. What I needed was a new challenge, a new direction, and I already knew what my next move would be.

I wanted to move up to television; to the excitement of the bright lights, the cool cameras, the expensive sets and to a world in which I would be recognized.

No longer Mister Anonymous. I wanted to be seen!

MAKING MY MOVE

Of course this was easier said than done. I needed to get my foot in the TV door. My plan was to make a move at the Christmas party. It was one of those rare occasions where the radio and television departments of our station would be together in the same room. I knew some of the key TV people, and I could already see them walking up to me as I was getting a drink, saying:

“Hey, aren’t you the guy that does our morning show? Man, I’ve got to tell you… you’re doing a fantastic job -the way you nailed that last interview. Did you ever think of getting into television? You’d be perfect!”

A few weeks later I was wearing my nicest holiday sweater as I walked into a buzzing party room filled with holly and ivy. Immediately, I noticed something peculiar.

All my radio colleagues were gathered in one corner, talking quietly among themselves. It looked like they had almost as much fun as the occupants of a reading room in a convent. All the action seemed to be happening in the other corner, where faces familiar from television were the life of the party.

One network. Two different worlds.

The moment I entered that room, there was no doubt to which camp I belonged. Nobody was paying any attention to me. Why would they? I was invisible, remember.

CHOOSING SIDES

You should have seen the crowd’s reaction when one of the TV game show hosts made his grand entrance. He just finished taping his holiday show, looking all glamoured up in his Armani suit. The man had impossibly white teeth and a million dollar hairpiece. Wherever he went, he was followed by a hopelessly devoted circle of fans, ready to lick the floor beneath his size fourteen feet.

Whereas my radio friends looked painfully uncomfortable and very much out of place, most of my TV colleagues seemed to relish the limelight and take it all in. The more attention they got, the better.

Later on in my career I noticed the same phenomenon in a different setting. Whenever I went to a studio to audition for a voice-over part, there were always two types of people in the waiting room. The outgoing, chatty, we’re-here-to-have-a-good-time crowd, and the quiet, reserved, I’m-in-my-own-bubble-please-don’t-disturb-me people.

Both groups seemed to be attracted to the same line of work, so what was going on?

Here’s what I found out.

A TALE OF TWO TALENTS

The lively, talkative bunch almost always had a background in the performing arts, theater, film, dance, music and television. They were trained to entertain and were focused on the outside world. They were the people-people. The more the merrier!

The subdued, quiet folks loved to read and write and research… by themselves. They were focused on their inner world, and it usually took time and effort to get them out of their shells. It wasn’t easy for them to approach people they didn’t know. They would prefer it if someone else would make the first move. If you wouldn’t know any better, you might think they were terribly shy and withdrawn.

Now, let’s get one thing straight. There’s nothing inherently good or bad in being more extroverted or  introverted. In certain contexts, one type of behavior is just a bit more useful than the other.

CONTRAST AND COMPARE

The outgoing extroverts are often better at schmoozing and networking. They look for and respond to cues from others, which is important if you need to take directions. What other people think of them, influences what they think of themselves. It can boost their self-esteem or -in extreme cases- crush it.

The introverts hate to have to work the room and engage in what they see as superficial small talk. They need personal space. They have an internal frame of reference. You don’t have to tell them they did a good job. They already know. They’re not seeking attention or the approval of others. And when it’s time to recharge their batteries, they prefer to be alone or with a small group of people they feel comfortable with.

In this day and age of home studios, there’s no need to be super social anymore. It’s an introvert’s dream and an extrovert’s nightmare. Extroverts need events like voice-over mixers, conferences and other gatherings. Introverts will come too, but you have to drag them to these things. They prefer dial-in seminars and Facebook exchanges. At an event, the extroverts enjoy a wild evening of karaoke, while the introverts will hit the sack early to “rest their voices.”

Yes, I know I’m generalizing, but it’s my blog so I can be as black and white as I want to make a point.

WHO AM I?

To which category do I belong, you may wonder? If you’ve met me in person, what do you think? 

Well, to be totally honest with you, I am a reluctant extrovert.

I very much enjoy the peace and quiet of my own studio. I love having the ability to talk to you by putting my virtual pen to my virtual paper. Paper is patient.

You see, when I was watching that hyper animated TV crowd at the Christmas party of my radio station, many years ago, I suddenly couldn’t see myself becoming one of them.

These people enjoyed talking (especially about themselves), but they had a hard time listening. They openly critiqued other people’s appearance and behavior, without showing any interest in the actual person. They were loud but not necessarily deep. In short, I never made my move to Televisionland and transitioned out of radio into a more therapeutic career.

Years later, I came back to my radio roots to become a professional voice-over. I emigrated to a new country (the U.S.) where nobody knew me. I quickly found out that it isn’t very helpful to stay under the radar, especially in America, where people like to be loud and gregarious (although they don’t see it that way because most of them have never been across the border).

PROACTIVE PAYS OFF

Being a voice talent is not a wait-and-see career for the ever so shy and always so modest. This type of work is for enterprising go-getters who can quickly make connections.

People have to know that you exist. They expect you to take the initiative. If you don’t knock on their door, it will never open. I really had to get used to that concept, and that’s why my rise to “meteoric fame” is a tale of hard knocks. (I hope you caught the sarcasm)

If you were to get to know me a little bit better, though, you would find that the introvert side of me might have gone undercover, but it’s still there. I don’t mind being by myself. I also find it beneficial in this business to have an internal frame of reference with an external check. What does that mean?

It means you have to believe in yourself AND stay open to feedback from others. You have to be able to direct yourself in your home studio, and you have to be flexible enough to let someone else direct your session as well. 

Working in the media, it is good to make the rounds and mingle with the crowds. Yet, as voice-overs, we also have to be fine with spending many hours a day in solitary confinement, speaking into a microphone. We have to learn when it’s time to talk and when it’s time to shut up, listen and focus. 

It took me a while to get that.

Today I can finally say that I’m thoroughly enjoying the best of two worlds. I like the company of colleagues. Being social is not so bad. 

At the same time, I can go back to my home studio, shut the door and no one will even notice what I’m doing. It’s a minor miracle.

I have become visibly invisible!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Last week, UK-colleague Helen Lloyd interviewed me about voice-over marketing. You can read the story by clicking on this link.  

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