Career

Winning an Audition. Losing the Job.

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Journalism & Media, Promotion, Social Media 13 Comments

She jokingly called her students “germ bags” and described school parents as “snobby” and “arrogant.”

On Facebook.

As a result, this Massachusetts math and science teacher lost her $92,636-a-year job.

A waitress at a pizza restaurant in uptown Charlotte was fired after making derogatory remarks about customers who’d made her work an hour past the end of her shift and only left a small tip.

On Twitter.

Comedian Gilbert Gottfried lost his job as the voice of the Aflac duck, after the insurance company found out he was tweeting “jokes” about the devastating tsunami in Japan.

Free speech is a wonderful thing, as long as you realize who’s listening. Big Brother is following you. He might even be a

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Are you afraid of raising your rates?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Money Matters 25 Comments

“Those who can’t build value, have nothing left but to compete on price.” Paul Strikwerda

At the end of December 2011, Alex Rodriguez had earned $39,000,000. That’s 33 million in salary and winnings from the New York Yankees, and 6 million in endorsements. Not bad for a year’s work.

Do you think he’s worth it?

In 2006, entertainment tycoon David Geffen sold Jackson Pollock’s painting No. 5, 1948 for 140 million dollars. Assuming you had that kind of spare change, would you spend it on a painting described by some as “stunning drip”?

Can you tell me why 15-year old actress Abigail Breslin reportedly made $65K for 5 hours of voice-over work for the animated film “Zambezia”? Yes, that’s $13,000 per hour!

Let’s be honest: what did these people really do?

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The Amateur Infestation

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Internet, Journalism & Media 65 Comments

They’re everywhere. Haven’t you noticed?

Take one good look. Let’s start with your online shopping.

Who’s responsible for most reviews on Amazon.com?

Experts? Consumer advocates? Independent test laboratories?

No. Amateurs!

Who just gave your favorite movie two stars on Netflix? The movie critic of the New York Times?

No. Amateurs!

What kind of people put the “reality” in reality TV?

Amateurs!

Where would talent shows like “American Idol,” “The X Factor” and “The Voice” be without…

Amateurs!

Credentials are so yesterday. Experience is optional. If it breathes and has half a brain, 

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Those Bloody Bottom Feeders

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Internet, Money Matters, Promotion 51 Comments

“It’s not the crook we fear in modern business; rather, it’s the honest guy who doesn’t know what he is doing.” Owen Young

The lines have been drawn.

The time to mince words is over.

Every day, our community seems to get more polarized around the issue of low rates. Listen to the buzz. Look at the chatter. Do you think this bubble is about to burst?

Some people are past being polite. They’re frustrated and angry. I like that. If you’re pissed off at something, it means you give a damn and you want things to change.

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The Lowdown on Lowballing

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, International, Money Matters 70 Comments

You’ve probably heard the story of the priest who preached the same sermon every Sunday.

After a few weeks, some of the parishioners got tired of it and demanded an explanation.

“Do you really want to know why I’m repeating myself at every service?” asked the priest. The crowd nodded.

“I will continue to tell you the same thing over and over again, until you take it to heart and do something with it.

If you don’t change your behavior, I don’t see any reason for me to change my sermon.”

Well, I may be the son of a minister, but as a writer, I can certainly relate to this priest. When it comes to setting rates, I sometimes feel I’m talking to a sea of people with frighteningly short memories and no backbone.

Watch me as I go to my pulpit and address the crowd:

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Are You a Winner or a Whiner?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career 12 Comments

We all do it.

With the best of intentions.

We tell ourselves that this is the year we will turn things around.

Finally.

We even tell the world.

And then we move on with our lives and ‘forget’ about it.

A year passes, and we wonder why nothing has changed.

And we always find something or someone to blame.

Our greatest accomplishments and our greatest disappointments are well-planned.

People are good at setting themselves up for failure, and good at setting themselves up for success.

It starts between the ears.

Winners understand the power of planning.

Whiners live from day to day.

Winners say:

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Why Some Will Never Make It

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career 78 Comments

I remember exactly where I was when it happened.

On my way to Las Vegas, I popped in a Tony Robbins tape from his Personal Power series.

Tony Robbins is a hugely successful motivational speaker, trainer and writer. If you have a million dollars, he’ll give you his private number and you may call him 365 days a year for a private coaching session.

People either love him or hate him. Those who hate him are usually put off by his hyped up, in your face presentation style. Those who love him are pumped up by his towering presence and contagious enthusiasm, whether it’s on CD, during a live seminar or on TV.

Robbins built his career on…

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How I Became An Egotistical Bastard

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Social Media 43 Comments

For the past few weeks I have conducted a secret experiment. You probably haven’t noticed a thing and that was exactly my point.

Let me explain.

One fine day I was wondering what would happen if I’d stop publishing my blog and reduce my presence on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to a minimum.

After 21 days I got my answer:

Nothing.

That’s right: nothing happened.

No one emailed me to ask how I was doing. No one wanted to know why I hadn’t posted a new article in a while. Not a single Facebook friend checked in to find out how things were going (unless you count the barrage of birthday wishes).

What a relief!

If only I had done this experiment earlier. It would have saved me from the self-imposed pressure of having to publish something at regular intervals.

It could have stopped me from taking myself too seriously. And more importantly, I would have discovered how much time I had on my hands to do the things that matter most.

You see, as you and I go about our busy business, it’s so easy to get caught up in our work and forget to take care of the goose with the golden eggs.

I know the economy is in terrible shape. I know money is tight. But regardless of how hard we’re trying to stay afloat, there’s no excuse for putting ourselves last on the list. It’s the golden rule:

Love others like you love yourself

We personify our product. We embody our service. If we don’t take care of ourselves, our product suffers. That’s why all of us could benefit from a healthy dose of egotism in several areas of our life. To name a few:

1. PHYSICAL

That the United States has become a sedentary society should be no news to you. Friends visiting from Holland were shocked by the number of obese people they encountered while traveling. They said to me:

“We knew it was bad, but we had no idea it was this bad.”

In a study of over 17,000 Canadians, it was found that individuals who led a sedentary lifestyle were over 50% more likely to die from all causes, than their non-sedentary counterparts. This risk was not dependent upon age, smoking, or even physical activity levels.

I know I’ve become a desk jockey and I have gained a considerable amount of weight in the last few years. What’s even worse, I’ve come up with these stupid excuses to explain why I am in such bad shape:

“I’m not getting any younger so it’s only natural to put on a couple of extra pounds.”
“I need my computer to work. I can’t be moving and typing at the same time.”
“At the end of a long day I deserve a sweet treat or an ice-cold beer.”

Of course I know better. Ultimately, I am the boss of my own lifestyle. I determine how much or how little I move and eat. However, there’s a big difference between knowing what’s going on, and doing something about it.

That’s why I decided to be egotistical and bring my body back into shape.

2. INTELLECTUAL

Earlier on, I wrote about how bored I was by people recycling the same old topics in our field. It’s like still water but without any depth. Give it a few more weeks and it will start to reek and rot.

That’s why I have used the past month to catch up on my reading. I purposely steered away from anything having to do with my line of work. I am a firm believer in the stimulating effects of cross-pollination.

My second egotistical intellectual self-endulgement is music. Music is nourishment for the mind as well as food for the soul. I cannot live without it, and that’s why I started to spend more time improvising at the piano.

3. RELATIONSHIPS

As I mentioned before, dear friends from The Netherlands whom I had not seen in ten years, came over for a prolonged visit. I’m telling you: Skype, Facebook or any other type of social technology is a poor substitute for seeing people in person.

Don’t get me wrong: I am grateful for modern means of communication, but using them is a bit like watching the Food Network. We observe people preparing delicious dishes, but we’re missing essential ingredients. We can’t smell or taste what’s on the menu.

I firmly believe that the quality of our life is greatly determined by the quality of our relationships. Taking the time to strengthen those relationships is vital and invigorating. Besides, I got to speak Dutch for days, and the world is a different place when you’re speaking another language.

4. CREATIVITY

Taking time off allowed me to work on a book. As a professional narrator, I get paid to read other people’s work. In a way, that’s re-creation.

At the same time, I have a strong inner urge to create my own material. I won’t tell you what I’ve been working on, but once again it was born out of healthy egotism. Writing is a way for me to release what’s been brewing inside.

END THE EXPERIMENT

My 21-day silence has been remarkably beneficial, but does this mean that I will continue my experiment?

Hold your horses. I’m not a hermit.

My blog is read by thousands of people per month and the number is steadily growing.

Just as a composer should never stop composing while there’s still music inside of him, I will keep on writing. Even if these words end up being nothing but notes to an egotistical bastard.

Ultimately, it’s the quality of the music that matters.

Not the applause.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

photo credit: Skyler Simpson

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Give Me a Break!

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Gear 22 Comments

After much use, even the sharpest knives get dull. Paul Strikwerda

 

Can a voice-over pro ever take time off?

Do you have to be available 24/7?

Is it okay to shut down your business for a few weeks of Rest and Relaxation?

Will your Facebook fans unfriend you?

Will your Twitter followers desert you?

Will your voice-overworked agent ever talk to you again?

Let me answer these questions with a question:

What won’t happen if you don’t do it?

BALANCING ACT

I am a big believer in a balanced lifestyle. As a European living in the States (the number 1 “no vacation nation”), I see a lot of people around me who are absolutely addicted to their jobs. Modern technology has made it easier than ever to stay connected and become a burned-out, boss-pleasing slave laborer.

Have we forgotten our history?

On January 31st, 1865, The U.S. House of Representatives passed the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, abolishing slavery in the United States. It read:

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude… shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

I guess the keyword is involuntary servitude.

We are free people, living in a free country who have earned the right to free themselves of any free time. Instead, we have chosen “voluntary servitude.”

Now, that’s what I call progress in a society built upon the principles of “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness!”

But let’s put the cynicism and sarcasm aside for a moment. If you’re pursuing happiness as a full-time freelancer, you are in charge of your own destiny. You set your own hours. You determine your own rates. You’re the only one who can call it a day and shout from the roof tops:

Give me a break!

You’re self-employed. You embody your service. Literally. If you don’t take care of yourself, no one else will. If you don’t guard your boundaries carefully, good people with the best of intentions will step on them and leave you depleted.

TRAPPED & TIRED

A few weeks ago, I was asked to do a presentation in front of hundreds of people. Prior to that, there was a reception and -of course- you can’t have a reception without background music. It’s a known fact that most musicians aren’t capable of staying in the background. No matter the crowd, they have to be LOUD.

I knew that if I were to schmooze prior to my presentation, I would have no voice left, even though my vocal cords are well-trained.

As they say: “If you schmooze, you lose.”

Besides, the next day I was going to New York for a recording session and my voice had to be in top-shape in order to sell well.

So, I was left with a choice. Either slip something into the drinks of the band that would have them running to the restroom in a matter of minutes… or hide myself from the crowd until it was time to go on stage.

The first option was obviously more entertaining, but I ended up hiding in the basement. Unfortunately, an overzealous janitor came down, turned off the lights and kicked the door shut, leaving me trapped.

This is where cell phones can save the day. I called the organizer of the event:

“Hi, it’s Paul.”

“Paul, where are you? We’ve looked all over for you!”

“I am trapped in the basement. It is dark in here. Rats are nibbling on my feet. Please rescue me!”

That day, instead of being a voice-over, I became a voice-under.

I think you get my point.

In order to give your all, you sometimes have to get away from it all. But avoid being locked up.

GO AWAY

Now, in an ideal world you would just pack your bags and go where no one can reach you. But what to do when you’re waiting for that all-important callback or that once-in-a-lifetime chance to audition for something you can’t afford to refuse?

In that case, you need to take some gear on the road and improvise. Rather than spending a few hours going over all the options, I suggest you read Harlan Hogan and Jeffrey Fischer’s classic Voice Actor’s Guide to Recording at Home and on the Road. It’s jam-packed with practical information and I highly recommend it to anyone remotely interested in a voice-over career.

Here’s what I take along on my travels:

  • a laptop
  • a microphone
  • a CEntrance MicPort Pro
  • earplug-sized headphones

A MicPort Pro is a nifty mini audio interface/preamplifier that plugs directly into your microphone. On the other side there’s a USB cable that plugs into your computer. In other words: this device can turn any microphone into a USB mic. It has phantom power, a headphone jack and two knobs for setting the record level and the headphone volume.

So… after all that subtle product placement, let’s get back to the original question:

Can you take off for a period of time without ruining your career?

Here’s an experiment you should do at home:

Fill up your watering can to the brim and start watering your plants. Keep on watering and watering and watering… until there’s no more water left.

I don’t have to tell you that -in order for those plants to grow- you need to water them regularly. An empty watering can is useless. The moral of the story:

You can’t give what you don’t have.

Now, why is that so easy to understand when it comes to our plants, and why are we surprised that “We the People,” are so stressed, so drained and left without an ounce of creativity?

Take my advice and get lost! Recharge your batteries. Discover that you have significant others in your life who’d love to get to know you. It can’t be all work and no play… Your job is just a means to an end.

TAKING TIME OFF

Be sure to let your voice casting sites and agents know that you’ll be gone for a particular period of time. If you must, bring your gear, but promise yourself that you will only do what is absolutely essential. Otherwise, you’ll get sucked into obsessive email checking, incessant instant messaging and frantic Facebooking.

Only use your cell phone when you’re stuck in a basement and someone’s thrown away the key.

When you come back from your well-deserved vacation, notice how refreshed, alert and full of energy you are.

People can see it in your face. They hear it in your voice.

Now you’re ready to wow the world again!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Why you are boring me to death

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Pay-to-Play, Promotion 76 Comments

You’d think that voice-over pros always have something to talk about, but what happens when someone’s not feeding them any lines?

Would they still have something interesting to say, or would they be less vocal without a mic and a script?

Well, judging by the many voice-over blogs you can find online, we can’t seem to shut up.

And if we cannot talk, we must type.

Take me, for instance. You know I can’t stop yammering, and I am sure I’m not alone. Why is that? Is there really that much to blabber and blog about?

Yes, there isn’t!

MOO!

I’ve come to the conclusion that VO-Pros and cows have one thing in common: they are ruminants. Most ruminants have four stomachs.

The first stomach chamber (the “rumen”) is the chamber in which large amounts of food are stored and softened. Once it is processed, it is regurgitated and chewed and digested again in different chambers.

At the end there’s only one thing left: bullsh*t.

What I just described is the recycling of supposedly “hot voice-over topics” you and I like to ruminate about. Every year, the same issues and trends resurface, and they are milked and milked until there’s nothing left but utter claptrap.

Here is my shortlist of some of the most boring issues in our business:

  • PC or Mac?
  • Are Pay-to-Plays worth the money?
  • ISDN: must or rust?
  • Do real pros only use ProTools?
  • Headphones or no headphones?
  • Do you perform better while sitting, standing up or laying down?
  • Could a headshot help or hurt your voice-over career?
  • My mic is better than your mic.
  • Union or Non-Union?
  • Should I slate or watermark my demo?
  • Social Media: indispensable tools or magnificent distraction?
  • What did Stephanie Ciccarelli have for lunch?
  • How to succeed in voice-overs without really trying.
  • What would Don LaFontaine do?
  • Remedies for dry mouth and sore throat.
  • Harlan Hogan’s next big Porta-something.
  • Do egg cartons really help soundproof a room?
  • Joan Baker in a bikini.
  • Are celebrities stealing our business?
  • Is it “voice-over” or “voiceover”?
  • Why isn’t there an Oscar or an Emmy for Best Narrator?
  • Why Ted Williams?
  • What the heck is “neutral English”?
  • How many “followers” and “friends” does one need in order to be deemed relevant?
  • Don’t talk to me about reasonable rates. It’s just beer money.
  • When does self-promotion become spamming?

MEA CULPA

I will be the first one to admit that I have sinned by writing about some of these topics myself. That’s why I solemnly vow to not behave like a cow. For my own sanity and yours, I will seek out greener pastures and find more exciting things to write about, and I challenge you to do the same.

Rumination might be good for our bovine friends, but “obsessive or abnormal reflection upon an idea or deliberation over a choice” may lead to depression in humans, says Yale University psychologist Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, PhD. Rumination may also weaken thinking and problem-solving, and drive away critical social support.

In other words, by chewing over the stories of the past, we  might actually un-enlighten and isolate ourselves. That must be the last thing any serious blogger would hope to achieve.

Ruminating is not illuminating.

Now, chew on that for a while!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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