Career

The Book and the Cover

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Personal 2 Comments

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

That’s one of the first commandments of many voice-over conferences that are being held throughout the year.

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 Nice People Always Finish Last?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Personal 15 Comments

smiling girl in a princess dress“Why do clients always think they can play me?” said one of my students. Let’s call her Ella.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Well, first they try to nickel and dime me, and then they expect me to record a major revision of a script for free. After going above and beyond to keep them happy, they wait months and months to pay me. I’m sick of it! Who do they think I am? Some kind of doormat?”

“If anything, you’re a goody two-shoes,” I said, “and that might be part of your problem.”

“How so?” my student wanted to know.

“I’ll get to that in a moment,” I responded. “First you have to acknowledge something I had to learn the hard way.”

“And what is that?”

“It’s the fact that it’s virtually impossible to change other people. You can only change yourself. So, if you want a different response from a client, you have to change the way you respond to them. That’s the way it works in any type of relationship. And when you act differently, your environment might start to treat you differently.”

“Can you give me an example?” Ella asked intrigued.

“Sure. Here’s one thing I noticed when we started working together,” I said. “You’re a very friendly person who will go out of her way to please people. You also have a tendency to become very informal very quickly.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with being a kind and open person. However, you can be friendly and business-like at the same time. There’s no need to share all kinds of personal details with someone you know professionally. You work together to get a job done. You don’t have to become best buddies. In fact, I think it’s often best to keep your personal life out of it.

Because you tend to be so informal with everybody, some clients might get the impression that you’re not very professional. It’s a lot easier to push people around who don’t seem to know what they’re doing. Do you know what I mean?”

“I totally get it,” Ella said. “I probably come across as someone who is very naive and inexperienced.”

“It wouldn’t surprise me, Ella, and part of this business is all about perceptions. If people perceive you to be weak in one area, they’ll take advantage of it.”

“So what do I do?” Ella asked.

“Use your secret weapon,” I said. “Use your voice!

I have noticed that your voice has a tendency to go up at the end of most sentences. You might not even be aware of it, but it sounds like you’re not very certain of yourself. Everything ends in a question. It makes you sound insecure. And if you seem insecure, clients won’t trust you. We’ve got to work on that.”

“Perhaps I am insecure,” said Ella. “I don’t have a lot of experience, and I don’t want to lose a client because he doesn’t like me.”

“Thanks for bringing that up,” I said. “Correct me if I am wrong, but it seems to me that you are rather inclined to take things personally. Is that true?”

Ella nodded.

“That’s going to be tough in this business. Very tough. In any given week you’ll hear a lot of no’s, and very few yeses. If you take every single no as a personal rejection, you’ll be absolutely miserable. And I don’t want that to happen. You’re too talented.

Unless you completely messed up, or the quality of your recording was abysmal, it is never about you. It is all about the subjective opinion of the person casting the job. Emphasis on subjective.

Now, back to using your voice.

If you end your sentences with a period instead of with a question mark, you’ll sound a lot more confident. Period. You might not feel entirely confident, but the client doesn’t know that. You also have to work on your breathing, but that’s for another day.

Secondly, keep things strictly business. Remember, you are the expert. That’s why they’re thinking of hiring you. They’re not looking for a new friend. 

Take charge of the conversation, and -if it is a new client- explain how you usually work. Let the client know they’re in good hands. And one more thing: stop apologizing all the time. You came in seven minutes ago, and you’ve already apologized ten times for things that weren’t even your fault. Why?

“I’m sorry,” said Ella…

And then she realized what she was doing. She blushed, and said: “I didn’t mean to interrupt.”

“I know you’re not doing it on purpose, but it’s not doing you any favors. Did you have a Catholic upbringing?”

“No, said Ella. “I’m Jewish.”

I laughed.

“Now, let’s get back to what we were talking about. I was giving you some advice, so here’s another thing I want you to consider: only take on a job you know you can handle. Be clear about your policies and procedures, and be firm about your rates. Never negotiate a rate after the fact. Get to an agreement before you go into the studio, and confirm things in writing ahead of time. Are you following me?”

“I’m listening,” said Ella, “and it all makes sense. I just don’t know if I can come across as someone who has been doing this for years. I don’t want to pretend to be someone I’m not. That’s not who I am.”

“I understand that” I said, “but here’s the good news:

In this business you get paid to pretend.

I just recorded a voice-over for a pharmaceutical company, and I played the part of a neurologist. The day before I worked on a guided tour for a museum, and I was cast as a historian. Who knows what they want me to be tomorrow? A mad scientist? A cartoon character? A Flying Dutchman? That’s the fun of this job! You can pretend to be anyone you want, and make some money too! The better you are at pretending, the more in-demand you’ll be as a voice-over.

If you can convince the client you mean business, you are in business.”

Ella looked at me, and I could see that my words had ignited a spark. 

“Ella, listen to me. You know that as soon as you get a script that reads like it’s been written for you, you’ll knock it out of the park, right? In other words: it’s not even a matter of being qualified or not. It’s a matter of you believing in yourself. Don’t you agree?

A wise teacher once said: You can pretend anything, and master it.

So, let’s start this coaching session by “pretending” you know the ropes, okay? We’ll do a mock conversation with a potential customer. I’ll be the obnoxious client, and you’ll be the brilliant voice talent. It is your job to convince me that you are the right person for the job. 

Are you game?”

Ella smiled.

“As in voice acting, you might need a few takes before you hit the nail on the head, but by the time we’re done, you’ll know how to respond like a pro, and you’ll never be played again.

How does that sound?”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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photo credit: Wanderin’ free | Part of your world via photopin (license)

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Stop Selling Yourself Short

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Money Matters 10 Comments

Famous Dave’s Signature Spicy Pickle SpearsA while ago it happened again.

One of my contacts sent me the following message:

“Paul, my client would like you to voice two animations. Both advertise the same product on the same platform, but each one appeals to a different audience. Both scripts are no longer than 125 words. Normally we’d pay you €250 per video, but the client was wondering if you’d record both videos for €250. After all, these things are very short, and this is for the same product on the same platform. Another option would be to offer the client a $150 discount. Let me know how you’d like to proceed.”

What do you think I should do? Should I voice these two videos for €250 or $350? Should I charge the full €500, or even more?

Well, the answer depends on your pricing strategy, and on how you position yourself in the market place.

Let me explain.

A TALE OF TWO PICKLES

In front of me I have two 24 ounce jars filled with pickle spears. One is a store brand retailing for about two dollars. The other is a jar of Famous Dave’s Signature Spicy Pickle Spears, selling for about five bucks. Both jars contain the same basic ingredient: crunchy cucumbers immersed in an acidic solution.

Why would people pay five dollars instead of two, for ten to twelve pickles, you may ask. The answer is simple. Dave’s spears are distinctly different. His spicy cucumbers tingle your tongue with a signature blend of sweet and heat. They are addictively delicious.

Last weekend I was entertaining guests, and I served Dave’s pickles without telling them. I just put them on a plate. After the first guest took a bite his whole face lit up and he said: “Wow, where did you get these pickles? They are incredible!” Two minutes later everyone in the room was crunching away, and wanted to know where they could buy these special spears.

Yesterday I talked to one of my friends who was with us that evening, and he said: “I had so much fun last weekend. And by the way… those pickles were amazing!”

So, let me ask you this:

Would you rather be an ordinary pickle, or one of Famous Dave’s Spicy Spears?

MAKE A CHOICE

Are you a dime a dozen, or do you have something unique to offer? If you fall into the last category, in what way do you distinguish yourself, and how do you convey that to your clients? You see, believing that you’re special doesn’t get you anywhere. You need to prove it.

Famous Dave is a smart guy. He knows he’s got something awesome going, and that’s why he’s not competing on price. He is competing on added value. Added value can be defined as “an improvement or addition to a product or service that makes it worth more.”

As a voice-over, you add value to a video, a computer game, an ad campaign, an e-Learning program, a bestseller, or a major brand. The right voice can bring credibility and authenticity to a message. That alone can be worth millions of dollars, and advertising agencies know it.

You will never see those millions, but I happen to think that you deserve to be well compensated for your contribution. That will only happen if and when YOU value what you have to offer in terms of your expertise, and your experience.

PRICE LIKE A PRO

One way to convince a client that what you’re offering is valuable, is by using the link between price and professionalism. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Your rate is more than a number. It is a powerful statement. It says: This is what I believe I’m worth. It is also a way to prequalify your clients.

My rate sheet tells them: I take my job seriously. Lowballers better stay away. Quality clients are welcome. I will treat you with respect, and I will do the best job I can.

Like Famous Dave, I know that what I have to offer is different. My English has a European quality that adds a special flavor to a script. Those who like that flavor have no reason to haggle.

WHY COMPROMISE?

Now, let’s discuss that discount I talked about in the beginning of this blog post. Here’s my take on reducing a fee.

1. Discounts are for people who compete on price only, and for clients for whom price is the determining factor.

Here’s a hint: price is rarely the sole determining factor in a purchasing decision.

If clients would buy based on price alone, it would be perfectly fine to take months to send them a poorly made product, right? They wouldn’t dare to complain because you were the cheapest.

2. But Paul, didn’t the client say that these two jobs combined would be no more than 250 words? Why not give in a little?

Well, there are two hidden assumptions behind that argument. One: This job is something I could record in a heartbeat. Two: Clients pay me for my time. Both assumptions are false.

We all know that most clients have no idea how long it takes to deliver any length of finished audio. Secondly, I don’t charge clients for my time. They pay for my talent, my skills, and for my experience. They pay me for the added value I bring to their production.

3. If I were an on-camera actor, and I’d be featured in two videos targeting different audiences, wouldn’t I get paid in full for both? Then why should a voice actor accept a huge pay cut? Does that make any sense? Just because we’re invisible, doesn’t mean people should take advantage of us.

A MATTER OF TRUST

4. The client promised that both videos would be for the same platform, but how can I trust a claim made by someone I’ve never worked with? Clients will tell you anything to bring your price down. What guarantees do I have that these two videos won’t end up on different platforms? Who’s going to check that?

5. In the beginning of a relationship with a new client you set the parameters. If you accept a certain fee for whatever reason, that becomes your going rate. Don’t blame it on the client. That’s what you’ve trained them to expect.

So, the next time you ask for more money, don’t be surprised if your client comes back with: “But last week you did a similar job for X amount of dollars. Why should we pay you a penny extra?” And you know what? They’re right!

6. If you accept doing two jobs for the price of one (or even less), you’ve just stabbed your colleagues in the back. We are not independent contractors. We’re interdependent contractors. We are connected. A going rate is nothing but the prevailing market price. Every individual pricing decision -big or small- impacts that market. Before you know it, you’re contributing to a downward trend.

RATE REDUCTION

Having said that, here’s where I’m willing to give a discount:

A. When a client commits to a long-term working relationship, and a high volume of jobs.

B. As an incentive for a client to pay in full upon receipt of the invoice.

Some colleagues are in the bad habit of giving discounts to all charities, but I make that determination on a case-by-case basis. More about voice-overs and charities in my article “Work For Free For Charity?

STICK TO YOUR GUNS

Listen carefully. You don’t have to agree with me when it comes to discounts. In fact, you don’t have to agree with anything I’m saying in this blog. It’s just my opinion. But if you haven’t thought about your value, your pricing, and about your position on discounts, simple questions like the one from my contact can get you in a pickle.

I decided to charge full price for those two animations, and I told my contact why. Taking a stance means taking a risk, and I ended up losing the animation job to a colleague who was willing to do it for less. But the story doesn’t end there.

Two weeks later my contact called me again. Working with the cheaper voice-over had left a bitter taste in the mouth of the client, and they wanted me to step in.

“At full price?,” I asked.

“At full price,” he said.

Being cheap often costs more, but some people have to learn that lesson the hard way. Don’t be one of them.

That day I went to the post office to send my contact a small thank you gift.

“Does this parcel contain anything fragile, liquid, perishable, or potentially hazardous, including lithium batteries and perfume?” the woman behind the counter wanted to know.

“Yes it does,” I said.

“What’s in it?” she asked.

“It’s a jar of Famous Dave’s Signature Spicy Pickle Spears!”

“Oh, those are the best,” she said. “Not cheap, but so worth it!”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please subscribe &retweet!

PPS The word ‘pickle‘ comes from the Dutch word ‘pekel,’ meaning ‘something piquant,’ and originally referred to a spiced, salted vinegar that was used as a preservative (source.) You should know that I am in no way compensated to promote Famous Dave’s delicious pickles.

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The Wind Beneath Our Wings

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing 17 Comments
Paul Strikwerda & Pamela Taylor

wedding day, photo by Kevin Horn

This blog post is dedicated to my wife Pamela.

 

Some fifteen years ago, I walked into the office of my very first U.S. casting agent.

I was absolutely thrilled, but I didn’t realize that I was about to make a big mistake.

The walls were filled with posters of all the blockbuster movies the agency had been involved in. Signed thank you notes from famous directors decorated the hallways. Old awards were gathering dust in the renovated warehouse-turned-office that oozed sleek, expensive minimalism.

“Our voice-over director will see you shortly. One of her sessions is running late. Would you care for some coffee?,” asked a secretary.

Ten minutes and a perfect cappuccino later, I was handed an audition script. It would take a little longer, I was told.

“No need to be nervous,” the girl said. “I’m sure you’ll do just fine.”

It’s strange how these things work. When I walked in, I was feeling great. I knew I could nail this. But as soon as she mentioned nerves, I felt like a kid waiting outside the principal’s office, wondering what I had done wrong.

GETTING STARTED

It was my first year in the States and I was green. I even had a Green Card to prove it. I didn’t really know anybody, and nobody knew me. That’s why I had brought a friend along for the audition.

I just needed some backup, a second opinion if you will, to make sure this place was legit. Too many people were being taken for a ride by shady characters posing as casting directors, and I didn’t want to become one of them.

This friend happened to be nosy. Very nosy.

If you were to invite him to your house, he would read the back of the postcards that are hanging on your fridge. He would open up a family photo album without asking permission. I once caught him checking out a closed bedroom on his way to the smallest chamber in the house.

So, while I was learning my lines for the audition, you can imagine what my friend was doing. When the secretary was away to get the coffee, he went over to her desk and looked at some of the contracts she was working on. When she came back, he grilled her about the business, as if this was an episode of Shark Tank or Dragons’ Den.

I tried to give him the Cut it out, You’re not helping me-look, but to no avail. He acted like a pit bull sniffing a hot trail.

It got even worse when we finally met the voice-over director. Initially, my friend was wise enough to let me do all the talking. But when I went into the vocal booth to record my script, I could see him distracting her with all his inappropriate questions.

When the session was over, I heard in my headphones: “Paul, we need to talk…. in private. Ask your friend to go back to the waiting area and tell him not to snoop around.”

ONE ON ONE

“Let me level with you,” the casting director said when we sat down. “You have talent. You have experience and I love your accent. I don’t think we have anybody that can bring that European sense of sophistication to a read. In short, we’d like to represent you, but on one condition.”

I knew what was coming, and I knew she was right.

“Don’t ever bring your friend to this office again. I can understand you’re new to this country and you needed some support, but seriously… I almost kicked the two of you out. He was asking all sorts of questions about how much you would be making and how many jobs we would offer you each month. It was obvious that he knew nothing about the casting process, and we hadn’t even taken you on board.

Let me be clear. Contrary to what your friend seems to believe, there are no guarantees in this business. We can send you auditions, but YOU have to book the jobs. We don’t control our clients. If they ask us to recommend five voices for a project, we give hem five voices. You might be number one on my shortlist, but that’s irrelevant. You’d be surprised how often a client picks the voice I personally find least suitable. It’s all very subjective, and you have to be okay with that. By the way, did you bring some recent headshots?”

We talked for another ten minutes, we shook hands, and I left.

“It’s up to you, but I would never do business with these people,” said my nosy friend when I came out of the meeting. “I got the weirdest vibes off that casting director. You should have seen the way she looked at me. All I did was ask some simple questions to make sure the place was kosher. What’s wrong with that?

Of course it’s up to you what you want to do, but I think you should explore other options. One day you’re going to thank me.”

He was right. I did thank him for teaching me a valuable lesson that day. I also told him that I had signed with the agency. Two months later, he went his way and I went mine. Recently, someone told me he’s now an investigative reporter at some magazine I’d never heard of.

SUPPORT SYSTEM

Our choice of friends says a lot about who we are as a person and as a professional. In order to be successful in any business, it’s important to surround yourself with people you believe in, and who believe in you.

I don’t mean people who think that every word that comes out of your mouth is pure gold. That role is reserved for proud mothers and misguided fans. You need people who look out for you in a discreet, intelligent way. Preferably, people who know the territory. There’s nothing as useless as the advice coming from the mouth of a person who doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

And let me tell you something else.

The most important friend you and I will ever have, is the person we choose to live our life with. First and foremost, this friend needs to be comfortable with uncertainty. Although attitudes are gradually shifting, most people still prefer the predictability of a steady job (and income) over the freedom and fluctuation of a freelance career.

If you’re living with a voice actor, you know some months are slow and others are crazy busy. You probably know how much money goes out every month, but you never know how much money will be coming in. That makes it hard to plan ahead. The perfect partner for a voice actor has a steady job with benefits. This is especially important in the beginning of a career.

Because of the ongoing uncertainty, this partner also has to be incredibly patient, flexible, and understanding. Ask any established talent, and they’ll tell you that a voice-over career is not a sprint but a marathon. If you’re still in business after the first three years, you’re either a fool or you’re beginning to get somewhere.

Not everybody can and will hang in there while you’re trying to make it in a field that’s becoming increasingly competitive. You need to sow a lot of seeds, and the harvest might be years away.

BENDING OVER BACKWARDS

Talking about flexibility… I can’t tell you how many times we have had to change our family’s plans at the last minute, because some client needed me to record a script pronto. At times I wish I had the audacity to tell that customer:

“You can’t do this to me. I have a life, you know! When you called this Sunday morning, we were all wearing our bike shorts, ready for a ride.”

Instead I keep quiet, go down to my studio, close the soundproof door and start recording that darn, poorly written script about the importance of family time. When the client says “Dance,” I dance. Meanwhile, the family goes on a bike ride without me.

If you’re not ready to roll with the punches and take life one day at a time, you’re not ready to start a serious relationship with a voice actor. And if you are, you must be a saint!

People with a steady job often have a hard time wrapping their brains around what it means to be self-employed. I’m lucky to be married to a professional musician. She understands that if someone offers you a good gig, you take it. If you don’t, someone else will, and they’ll start calling that person next time.

EMOTIONAL ROLLERCOASTER

On paper it sounds great. Today’s voice actor stays home all day, recording short commercials and promos that bring in more money than most people will make in a month. It’s easy to forget that getting the work takes up far more time than doing the work.

Every audition brings new hope. “What if I get picked to be the next voice of ….?” (name a big brand name). “I’d finally have some income I can count on, and the recognition I’ve been secretly longing for.”

Of course you’ll never hear back about the role you thought was made for you, and when you turn on the radio three months later, you hear a complete idiot mess up the lines you auditioned for because they chose him over you. That morning, you will hear that stupid commercial over and over and over again. This will make your day. I guarantee it!

But you’re never going to take your frustration out on the one you love most, right? You always manage to stay calm, composed, and positive. You never take things personally. It’s only your voice they’re evaluating.

Instead, you send a quick email to congratulate the lucky bastard who landed the job, and you put on a fake Facebook smile because it’s so wonderful to be able to do what you love and get paid for it. Meanwhile, you don’t know how you’re going to pay this month’s health insurance premium, or how to fix the fridge that just broke down.

At that point you need a soft place to land. You need someone who has your back. Someone who doesn’t think you’re a failure. Someone who says:

“I love you. Let’s go for a walk. It’s a beautiful day.”

SWEET SUCCESS

Other times you do get lucky and you hit the jackpot. You get tons of work and you need the house to be quiet so you can finish your recordings. Who’s there to make sure you can work in peace? Who’s taking over your household chores so you can finish editing that never-ending audio book?

When things go really, really well, and your voice is heard all over the nation; when hotshot agents who always ignored you all of a sudden know who you are; when you yourself start believing that you’re the Big Kahuna now… Who’s there to celebrate your success, and keep you grounded?

When you’re too big for your boots, who will gently put you in your place? Who will tell you that there’s more to life than talking into a microphone, or being adored by countless fans? Who’s going to be there for you when the applause fades away? With whom will you share and develop other interests?

I guess it boils down to this:

WHY are you doing what you’re doing?

Does it make any sense if you can’t share your setbacks or successes with someone?

Mind you, even though I am happily married, I’m not advocating the advantages of matrimony per se. I am simply in favor of surrounding yourself with a couple of close friends who can keep you sane in a weird and complicated world. People with whom you can let your guard down, be vulnerable, and be yourself.

It’s about time we give those friends the credit they deserve.

They truly are the wind beneath our wings.

Paul Strikwerda @nethervoice

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The One Voice Awards: More of the Same, or Setting a New Standard?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, International, Promotion 12 Comments
Peter Dickson & Hugh Edwards

Peter Dickson & Hugh Edwards

Oh no, not another voice-over award!

That was my initial reaction when I heard about the British One Voice Awards, coming to you at the end of April, courtesy of the people behind Gravy For The Brain Ltd.

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know I’m rather ambivalent about artistic contests promising people a chance at winning some shiny object to brag about, and charging them for it. Could this be any different? Besides, I thought there already was a British award for voice-overs.

For the past twenty years, the U.K. has had the VOX Awards, celebrating “the best creative audio talent in the media and broadcast industries across 10 categories.” Circa 2013, the organization behind these awards was VOX National EventsLast November, VNE was acquired by Bubble Communications, a global PR, marketing, and events agency.

MORE OF THE SAME?

So, how do the One Voice Awards (OVA’s) try to set themselves apart from VOX, and other VO award shows, such as the Voice Arts™ Awards? First of all, the OVA’s are the culmination of the One Voice Conference in London that brings together VO artists industry-wide for four days of workshops, talks, networking, and lots of practice. 

Inspired by the setup of voice conferences in the U.S., creators Hugh Edwards and Peter Dickson have said they want to set a new standard for what a U.K. voice acting event should be.

Secondly, these awards are not open to any employees or relatives of the One Voice Conference team, or Gravy For The Brain Ltd. None of them can be nominated, nor win one of their own awards.

The OVA’s team writes:

“The One Voice Awards have integrity. Our doors are not open for corruption as the awards are independently judged by an extensive panel of industry leaders, anonymously.

The One Voice Awards doesn’t take advantage of nor monetise voice artists, therefore, the awards actually mean something. They’re free to enter. We do not believe in triple-charging you (submission fee, attendance fee & award fee) for winning an award that you deserved to win.

We are celebrating excellence wherever it lies across our incredible community. The One Voice Awards isn’t just about giving yet another award to big names, or those who can afford to put themselves in the running to win industry awards.”

BUILDING A BETTER MODEL

Reading these words, I felt gratified, because it seems Edwards and Dickson are addressing some of the very things I have pointed out regarding the Voice Arts™ Awards. When I asked Edwards about it, he had this to say:

“Not only do I subscribe to your blog, but also to your point of view. I think that they are the same viewpoints because we both believe in fairness to people. I also realise that we have an uphill battle to climb with perceptions of awards in general though. Some awards organisations manage it, some do not. My opinion of the whole thing is that integrity is absolutely key. I think that it’s very difficult to dissociate the monetisation and profiteering that happens with other awards that go on, with the benefits that awards can bring to people.”

Over fifteen hundred hopefuls entered the One Voice Awards, and a panel of judges narrowed this down to ninety-six finalists across thirty-one categories. Some VO’s were shortlisted in more than one category.

Hugh Edwards: “There is a reason why in some cases there are only three shortlisted nominations and in some seven in this year’s OVA’s: There were only three in that category that came up to a certain standard (and we are not profiteering to just let people buy table spaces to make up numbers), and in the other case of seven, some were tied in their excellence and there was nothing between them – and in this case we are not going to take away that achievement from someone by arbitrarily selecting one out of three to be removed from the list because it’s important for those voice artists to be recognised for their achievement.”

CHEAPENING THE INDUSTRY?

Some people in the VO business are afraid that because anyone can submit audio samples, and anyone can come to your conference, this opens the floodgates to amateurs who will cheapen the industry. What do you think?

Hugh Edwards: “I completely understand those concerns, and I’ll address them both individually. Firstly to the point of anyone being able to submit themselves to the awards, and even before that, the idea of self-submission which has been raised to me before too. I think many people think that the larger awards bodies, such as BAFTA, the Oscars, the Emmy’s and so on, look to the industry and choose the films/projects that should be submitted themselves, but this is not the case. Even with those huge awards, it’s the production companies who produced the films who submit their films for consideration to the awards, exactly in the same way that the One Voice Awards do – there is no shame in this, and clearly, we do not have some kind of ‘magic eye’ that can see across the talent of anyone who voices in the UK!

Then, with regards who can submit audio clips, it’s quite clear that having the awards open to everyone is the only fair way to do this – and if this were not the case, who would police who is a ‘non-amateur’ voiceover artist? Who would determine the requirements set to determine who is ‘professional’? BAFTA, for example, does not restrict anyone who creates a game from that game being submitted for consideration in the game awards, before proving that they have already developed 5 successful titles – no, the only criteria is that the work is excellent, and that’s the only way it can fairly be run.

If you take that one step further, with over fifteen hundred submissions, yes we did receive some work that was not up to current professional standards expected in the industry today, but this work quickly fell to the bottom of the pile, and the cream of the crop rose to the top, as you would expect it should.

So, the only negative consequence to opening the submission doors to everyone, is that it means more work for us to listen and judge everything, but it means only positives for the voice community, as the final shortlisted nominations are genuinely the best of the best, and far from being ‘amateur’. Remember: we believe in being fair to everyone involved, and no one should be restricted from entering.”

THE EVALUATION PROCESS

There’s no information online about selection criteria or judges, so I asked Edwards about the judging process.

Edwards: “To have belief in the validity of the judging process, you need to be able to see inside that process. We have started the dissemination of this to the public and will be unveiling it fully at the awards. However, we have built our system from the ground up (actually based on how I cast voice talent, interestingly!) and it has the following criteria:

– All submissions are listened to;
– All submissions are anonymised (so that judges are not swayed by ‘friendship’ voting);
– The identity of the judges is secret (to protect any ‘corruption’ attempts);
– None of the judges are aware of who any of the other judges are (to protect ‘collusion’ voting);
– None of the judges can see any of the other judges scores (to prevent any ‘historical’ voting).

The idea is to protect the integrity of the awards so that it is uncorruptable.”

Hugh Edwards

Hugh Edwards

CONFLICT OF INTEREST

What has been done to prevent potential conflict of interest?

Edwards: “Our system is a software-based one, and we can see exactly who has voted for what, and when. There is one judge who is a voice artist, who entered into, and was shortlisted for one category, and through mutual agreement she abstained from voting in that category, and we have proof of that. All other judges were entirely independent.”

When judging artistic contests, there are objective and subjective criteria. Sound quality for instance can be objectively established, but script interpretation can be a matter of individual taste. How do the OVA’s deal with subjective judging?

Edwards: “The way to fix this (as we have) is to provide a top-level spread of senior judges from across a broad range of industry, as well as including some senior level voice artists – the hirers and the do’ers. Our judges are experts in their field, made up of: five senior-level Voice Artists, a senior-level Voice Director, a senior ADR Director/Mixer for film and TV, the CEO of a Voiceover Agency, a Head of a Network Radio company, two Heads of Creative from advertising agencies, two senior Studio Engineers and two Heads of Creative from television companies.”

A PRIZE FOR BLOOPERS?

Some of the OVA’s categories are pretty straightforward: male and female voice-over artist of the year, best character performance in animation, best audio books performance in fiction and non-fiction. There’s also an award for best demo reel performance, and for best outtake of the year. I think that awarding a prize to the best demo reel is like having an award for the best headshot, or demo tape of an aspiring rock band. And do the best bloopers really deserve a prize?

Hugh Edwards: “The demo reel category is actually as much for the demo creators as it is the voice artists. They deserve that recognition as well. There are some great demo producers out there, but there are also so many sharks doing shit work in the demo industry that we wanted to show excellence in this area. I think that category is valid to be honest – it’s an area of the industry that is widely seen, widely charged-for and widely used so it shouldn’t be restricted. The bloopers one you may have a point on, but it is there to provide comic relief throughout the awards ceremony and lighten the proceedings to help make it an enjoyable experience. I will re-evaluate it once this year’s OVA’s are done.”

THE CYNICS AND THE SKEPTICS

I’ve been in touch with a number of UK colleagues, and I got the impression that not every talent is going crazy over these awards. Some have suggested that you’re taking advantage of newbies. Some of the more experienced voice actors don’t want to come to the conference because they fear they’ll be perceived as amateurs. 

Edwards: “I’m pretty shocked by this suggestion, as it is in our company ethos to do the exact opposite. I can only presume that whoever asked this has not actually seen inside (I’m presuming they mean) Gravy For The Brain (GFTB). Look at other training companies in the UK and the USA and you will see average prices for day-training courses between £200-£300 – that’s for one topic, one subject, one coach. Multiply that up by the number of courses you would need to get up to a professional level (e.g., a beginners course, an advanced course, some professional mentoring sessions, for example then, an audiobook course, a course on how to setup and run a studio and edit, a course on voicing commercials, a course on getting your business, marketing and branding right etc), and you’re well into the thousands of pounds.

At GFTB we charge £39 a month (often discounted to £29) for literally everything you will ever need, with no signup fee, no cancellation fee, and no minimum term. So if you’re a ‘newbie’ and you want to be with GFTB for 3 months, at which point you could have taken 16 courses, watched 35 hour-long webinars, received the 12 live mentoring sessions we would have run in that time, used our CRM, had your home studio checked out, and much more….that would have cost you £117 – which is less than half the price of most single-day-long courses out there. 

I would go as far as to say we are one of the only voiceover training institutions in the world that is not taking advantage of the new talent in the industry.”

Thanks for that mini-commercial. Now, what about the second point?

Edwards: “With regards to the questioner’s concern that “experienced talent may not want to come to the One Voice Conference because of a fear they will be perceived as amateurs“, we should take a look at the biggest voiceover conference in the world: VO Atlanta. I was at the (excellent) conference this year and last year, and was in the room when the organiser asked the delegates to hold up their hands if they were a beginner; it was about a quarter of the room in each case. I’ve seen our attendee list for One Voice (where we’re just under 2/3rds of the tickets sold, with 5 weeks to go), and based on the attendees I know personally, I would estimate that this ratio is about the same. About a quarter of the attendees are beginners, and the rest are not.

One of the things I love so much about the US conferences, big or small, is that there is a feeling that everyone in the voiceover community is in the community together. Just look at WoVO (World Voices Organization) in the States: What they are not doing is complaining about all the ‘newbies flooding the industry’, instead, they are using their experience and knowledge about the industry to help the industry as a whole, including the beginners. 

What’s frustrating about this comment is that in a few small pockets of the UK community, there is a feeling from some of the more senior artists of negativity against the newcomers to the industry. I find it frustrating because they were newcomers too once, and someone helped and trained them at some point. They have had their careers, and they are probably still doing well from it. I’m not sure if it’s fear of change on their behalf, a fear that the industry is being too far diluted, a fear that their incomes will be taken from them. But change to the industry has already happened, and will always happen. It’s going to change further, and surely the best way to deal with this is to embrace that change and move with it.

The newcomers to the industry are the voices of tomorrow’s industry, and we all co-exist together. We will always support the newcomers as much as we support the intermediates and the advanced VO professionals, but you most definitely should not be perceived as being an amateur for attending a voice conference that celebrates everything about excellence in the industry. 

I mean, we have the woman who voices the Oscars and the Superbowl there for goodness sakes – the two biggest VO gigs in the world – does that sound like amateur hour to anyone!!!?? It certainly doesn’t to me!”

One Voice AwardsTHE VALUE OF THE PRIZE

And finally, is winning a One Voice Award really a credit worth having?

Edwards: “Let’s take the Oscars as an example. Obviously, the winner of Best Picture at the Oscars has huge benefits to the sales and marketing of that particular film, and also to the studio as a whole, and it also benefits the other people who have worked on that picture. Importantly though, being shortlisted for the nominations is also incredibly important to those productions/studios/staff, and you will often see them use the fact that they are nominated (but didn’t win) in their marketing and PR. The same is true for voice artists.

Yes, the winners of the awards will be able to put that on their marketing and PR, but the nominees can as well. It’s not just about people liking shiny things, it’s a line drawn in the sand to say that this voice artist stands out above their peers for excellence in their category, and that reflects then throughout their career.

In the end it’s all about integrity. Once the industry becomes aware of how we are doing things to protect the integrity and why we are doing it, I suspect that its value will grow and grow. Our plans for the OVA’s and actually the entire conference extend beyond three years even as of now, so we are committed to this for the long term.”

The One Voice Conference is held between 26 and 29 April, and the Awards gala is on the 28th, hosted by Peter Dickson (click here for a full schedule). Joe Cipriano is the keynote speaker. Randy Thomas, J. Michael Collins, Peter Bishop, Marc Graue, Graeme Spicer, Jon Briggs, Trish Bertram, Anne Ganguzza, Armin Hierstetter, and Brian Bowles are among the presenters.

Are you going?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Celia Siegel’s Voiceover Achiever

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Book, Career, Freelancing, Internet, Journalism & Media, Promotion, Social Media 6 Comments

Celia Siegel Voiceover Achiever“Brand Your VO Career. Change Your Life.”

That’s the somewhat ostentatious subtitle of Celia Siegel’s book Voiceover Achiever. It’s an illustrated, conversationally written step-by-step guide to branding your voice-over business, by one of the most amiable experts in our industry.

Will your life change after reading this book? It depends on how you’d answer the following question:

Can you get slim from reading about weight loss?

Or, to put it differently:

Are you an active, or a passive reader?

We all know people (perhaps intimately) who have tons of self-help books in their Billy bookcases that just collect dust. I call them shelf-help books, because that’s what they are. They’re the useless property of passive readers who are all talk and no action. In my estimation, about eighty percent of non-fiction fans fall into this category.

Active readers, on the other hand, absorb and embrace the information like a sponge. They make notes, they do the exercises, and start applying what they’ve learned immediately, and consistently. If that’s you, Celia’s book has tremendous potential to help you transform your business, and even your life. Whether you’re a voice-over, or otherwise self-employed.

And here’s the remarkable thing: Celia does it all in under 130 colorful pages, many of which feature large illustrations.

WHO NEEDS BRANDING?

But why buy a book about branding? I assume you have talent, training, equipment, connections, and even some business skills. You run a small shop. You’re not a company like Coca-Cola or Apple. Do you really need to boil down your essence into some smart slogan and a logo? Celia Siegel:

“The big question in our industry used to be: Do you have a beautiful voice? Do you know how to act? Those are still important. But they’re no longer enough. These days the question is: Are you brandable?”

Here’s the gist of it: In a cacophony of voices, you want to be found and heard. You want to stand out. You want to distinguish yourself from the rest by highlighting what makes you different, and more desirable. That’s what intelligent branding does. And since you personify the service you’re offering, you’ve got to start thinking of yourself as a brand, by -in Celia’s words: “being loud and proud about who you really are.”

That sounds great, but here’s the not so easy part. A brand is not something you can bottle and sell at a supermarket. It lives in people’s minds. A brand is the result of many implicit and explicit associations and perceptions of a product, a service, a person, or a company. It’s what turned brown, carbonized sugar water into a billion dollar business, and Oprah Winfrey into one of the most influential and wealthy people on this planet.

Now, here’s what you need to ask yourself: How can you create and control these associations that set you apart, and help your business perform better? That’s precisely what Celia Siegel does for a living, and her book is loaded with examples of voice talent whose niche she’s helped define.

Chapter by chapter, Voiceover Achiever takes you through the process she uses with her clients, helping you identify what makes you unique, and showing you how to tell the story of your brand through language, visuals, and different media. If this sounds like a daunting task, think again. Celia writes the way she speaks. She keeps it light and playful. She clearly knows her stuff, but she’s never stuffy, and at no point does she come across as a know-it-all talking down to noobs.

TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING?

As you can tell, this is not a boring intro into branding. It is a book about Celia, Celia’s business, and Celia’s clients. That’s its strength, and its weakness. Examples from the same talent are reused throughout the book, and at times I got the impression that I was reading a long testimonial. All those testimonials are from voice-overs, and not from agents, or from people who are searching for voices for their projects.

I’m glad the people who hired Celia are happy with their new image, but what about the professionals they wish to reach? What’s their feedback? I want to know to what extent business has increased after Celia’s intervention, and how much can be attributed to branding.

Here’s another question: How much are rates part of branding? If we’re in the business of controlling associations and perceptions, the price of a product or service definitely influences how it is perceived. That’s why some people prefer a Rolex over a Seiko, even though the much cheaper Seikos are just as good at keeping time. There’s no mention of rates in Siegel’s book.

A MATTER OF IMAGE

Some of the images in Voiceover Achiever feel like fillers, just as the twelve empty pages of Brand Journal in the back of the book make it look more substantial than it is. I wish there had been more content, instead of pictures of lollipops, unicorns, and bicycles that seem to have come out of a kids magazine.

While I appreciate the examples of websites that have had the signature Siegel makeover, I would have loved to see a before and after, revealing some of the no-no’s of branding. Celia also doesn’t mention A/B testing and other methods as a way to find out what clients most respond to.

Teaming up with a “Brand Buddy” as suggested by Siegel (a fellow vo-talent embarking on his or her own branding journey), might not be ideal. As a sounding board, a colleague could be just as clueless as to what works and what doesn’t as you are. If, on the other hand, you need someone to hold you accountable and keep you on track, a Buddy could be very helpful. 

CULTURAL DIVIDE

As a European living and working in the U.S., I’d like to know to what extent branding is context dependent, meaning that a different market may require a different message. In the Netherlands where I was born and raised, humility is considered a virtue, and superlatives frequently found on American websites, are often seen as bragging and off-putting.

I also don’t agree with some of the advice Celia’s giving. She recommends using a personal Facebook profile for business purposes, and I do not. It’s actually against the Facebook Terms of Service (for more about that, click here).

Siegel writes about website design:

“If you’re doing it yourself, I suggest a one-page, endless-scroll website, the simpler the better.”

From an SEO-perspective, websites that use pagination (spreading content over a number of pages) do much better because Google Analytics and other sites measuring statistics count page clicks. Visitors to infinite scroll sites don’t click. Clicking lowers the bounce rate, and increases engagement.

MAKING SOME NOISE

When it comes to spreading the message, I agree with Celia: You have to remind people that you exist. If you want to stand out, it’s no enough to be outstanding. That’s where her book moves from branding to marketing. Siegel explores social media such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram. She lists the benefits of using stickers, branded E-cards, banners, newsletters, and networking. However, there’s no mention of blogs, podcasts, or videos. That’s a big omission in a time where YouTube has become the second largest search engine, and blogs such as this one are huge drivers of website traffic.

I also would have liked to see a few paragraphs devoted to brand protection. Your brand is your intellectual capital, and national and international trade mark registration should at least be discussed. At the same time it’s important that you don’t infringe on someone else’s intellectual property by using names, tag lines, or images that are already in use by existing brands. It could cost you dearly (more on that when you click here).

Last but not least, instead of empty Branding Journal pages, I would have loved a list of recommended resources such as graphic designers, website developers, copywriters, copy editors, SEO-specialists, illustrators, social media experts, and other people who can help you tell your story, and spread your message.

SUMMING UP

Voiceover Achiever covers a vital aspect of our business that, until now, has not been written about in much detail. As such it is a welcome and wonderful addition to the growing list of books about the voice-over industry (click here for a list of other books). Better still, anyone running a freelance business can benefit from Celia’s experience and expertise. However, please keep the following in mind:

No amount of clever branding can cover up a bad product or poor service. It may take years to build a reputation, and it can be destroyed in a matter of minutes.

Before you buy this book (and I really hope you do), ask yourself:

Am I an active or a passive reader?

Here’s the bottom line:

This is not a must-read book.

It’s a must-DO book.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Why I Didn’t Like VO Atlanta

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

Paul Strikwerda at VO AtlantaYes, it’s totally true. I didn’t like VO Atlanta.

I LOVED it!

Sorry for the clickbait headline, but I couldn’t resist. My clogs sometimes take me places I have no business going.

Before I get into anything else, imagine this…

You just came back from a spectacular four-course dinner at an amazing restaurant.

The atmosphere was incredible. The waitstaff treated you like family. The cuisine was exquisite. You even took pictures to show the rest of the world what they’d missed.

Days after your experience you can still taste the food, and you can’t stop telling family, friends, and colleagues about it.

And guess what?

No matter how enthusiastic you are, and how great the meal looks in all the pics, people just don’t get it! They never will, because they didn’t share the experience. It’s frustrating, but you can’t blame them because that’s how things are.

Words are just words, and photos of food are two-dimensional. They have no taste, texture, or smell. In spite of many technological advancements, we still can’t bottle the positive energy that’s palpable in a room, and sell it on eBay. No drug will ever replicate or replace a hug. And that’s the way it should be.

Here’s the truth. Some, if not all of life’s best moments are literally beyond words. And this is what makes them so inexplicably precious, personal, and powerful.

So, I’m not even going to try and explain to you what it’s like to have been at the world’s largest gathering of voice-over professionals, a.k.a. VO Atlanta. It’s just as futile as telling you about that amazing dinner. But I will tell you this:

This year, VO Atlanta was not merely a Conference. It became a Movement!

For a movement to gain momentum, people have to be moved, and be willing to move. There was plenty of both from the early hours of the morning until… the early hours of the morning (those who took part in the Team Challenge often didn’t go to bed until 2:00 AM).

A movement has to have a common cause. Well, no matter where the attendees were from, all of them came to help strengthen and raise the professional bar for voice actors and voice acting. In my mind, this involves a number of things:

– an open mind, and a joyful commitment to lifelong learning
– a celebration of diversity, equality, and kindness
– a readiness to set higher standards and rates for our profession
– a continuous and selfless contribution to our community

Take any panel, any presentation, or any X-session… these four elements were markedly present in every room, and they made this conference a transformational experience for so many.

Now, you know me, don’t you?

I’m often critical and sometimes cynical of certain developments and players in our industry. I can smell a scam from miles away, and when I feel an emperor is wearing very few clothes, I will tell you.

I also know that one cannot orchestrate authenticity. It is impossible to fake friendship and sincerity. No matter how well any conference is organized (and believe me, VO Atlanta ran like a well-oiled machine), it ultimately depends on the people who attend, to pour their hearts and souls into it.

And that’s exactly what they did from the get-go. Together they made this conference a safe place to share, be vulnerable, try new things, feel empowered, as well as a space to learn, grow, laugh, cry, sing, act, admire, and dance.

In many ways, this is extraordinary. Why? Because the so-called real world doesn’t seem to work that way. To many, that world is a dark and fearful place, filled with people who are out to get us, instead of support us. It’s a dog-eat-dog, survival of the fittest society, where a ME-ME-ME mentality often prevails over a WE-frame of mind.

Being at VO Atlanta gave me hope that there is a different reality, and a different future for the voice-over work we love so much. By all accounts the segments of the market we contribute to are growing: eLearning, audio books, explainer videos, cartoons, documentaries, gaming, virtual reality, and so on.

Somewhere, someone is looking for your voice, and it is part of your job to make sure that this someone finds you, or you find him (or her). If you don’t know how, perhaps you should go to a voice-over conference and find out. In the afterglow of VO Atlanta, colleagues have already reported that using what they’ve learned only a few days ago, has paid off big time.

There was something else I noticed.

Faced with bold moves from self-absorbed, predatory companies that seek to devalue our talent and our training, a new awareness is growing that we have a choice to whom we lend our voice. Yes, we want to work, but not at any rate, and not for companies that demand more and more for less and less as they triple dip into a client’s budget, while denying us our fair share.

I felt a strong resolve in Atlanta to fight the commoditization of our work, and a deep desire to come together and show what we are worth. At this moment we have ethical agents, brilliant software developers, and SEO-specialists on our side, who are coming up with new, intelligent platforms to showcase and sell our services.

Online voice matchmakers such as Voice123 and Bodalgo are listening to us, and are coming up with smart, exciting features that benefit clients and voice talent alike. The World Voices Organization is growing every day, providing invaluable support and leadership to its members and our community at large.

Paul Strikwerda, presenting at VO Atlanta

Paul Strikwerda presents

Colleagues with years of experience share what they have learned with humor, wit, and wisdom. People whose voices you’ve grown up with suddenly sit next to you in the bar, and strike up a conversation. And guess what? They’re just as interested in you, as you are interested in them.

At first, VO Atlanta can be a bit overwhelming, but boy does it feel good when we eat, drink, and dance together, and colleagues from all over the world become fast friends. And speaking of friends, you may remember that I do my best to keep my personal and professional Facebook contacts separate (click here to find out why). That’s why I have a Nethervoice Page and a personal Profile.

However, if you’ve been to VO Atlanta this year, and you feel that we’ve connected in a meaningful way, I now warmly welcome you to my virtual living room, because I consider you my friend!

I hope we will meet sooner, but if not, I can’t wait to see you again in 2019!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Subscribe and retweet

PPS If you are a current, or prior, attendee of VO Atlanta, you’re eligible to register as part of a super-early bird registration which saves you $150 on the conference registration for 2019. This offer expires March 18th. Click here to register.

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Entitled Wannabees Need Not Reply

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Book, Career, Freelancing, Personal 38 Comments

man with microphoneOkay, this is for the last freakin’ time, so pay attention.

No. I will not introduce you to my agents.

I refuse to evaluate your kitchen table demo, and critique your dime-a-dozen website.

You don’t get access to my network of contacts which took me years to build.

You cannot pick my brain over a cup of coffee. Who do you think you are? A zombie?

In fact, I don’t even know you, and it is clear that you don’t know me.

Why didn’t you do your homework before you assumed that I would gladly share my thirty-plus years of experience with you? Is that how you intend to operate your business? Taking advantage of people left and right?

In case you’re wondering: I will never send you any work. My voice is for rent. I do not hire anyone, and I won’t put in a good word for you either.

Let me ask you this.

Would you recommend someone you know nothing about; a rude, obnoxious person who thinks it just takes a few free tips to be able to do what I do?

It shows such ignorance and disrespect. I don’t even know where to begin. But here is where it ends. I have better things to do with my time.

There’s a reason why I am busy. I have scripts to narrate. Edits to make. Invoices to send. I need to feed the social media monster, and prepare a presentation.

I also have students to coach who actually pay me for my time and expertise. Imagine that!

Whatever happened to helping a beginner out, you ask. Why am I being so defensive and greedy?

I’ll tell you why.

I’m not defensive. I am protective. I’m protective of the brand that took me years to build, and the knowledge I have accumulated along the way. I value what I have to offer, and so do my clients. Does that make me a selfish money grabber?

Here’s some news for you: I run a for-profit business.

There’s a mortgage to pay, a house to heat, and I drive a thirsty car that loves a full tank. I just ordered new business cards, my computer is on its last legs, and I must make sure there’s enough money in the bank to survive the inevitable dry spells.

I ask you: Who’s going to take care of that? The cheapskates at VoiceBunny, Fiverr, and Upwork, or the scoundrels at Voices dot con?

No way José. They don’t care whether I turn a profit or not. They just care about their bottom line.

You seem puzzled. Why?

Because you’re clueless! You don’t know what it takes, and you don’t have what it takes to run your own business. You may not like your current nine-to-five job, but let’s face it. If your supervisor wouldn’t tell you what to do and when to do it, would you get anything done? And I don’t mean the fun stuff. We all like doing the fun stuff.

Would you, of your own free will, get out of bed and work a twelve-hour day? Would you like to be solely responsible for all advertising, marketing, sales, client acquisition, distribution, accounting, quality control, and customer service, while you create all the products for your company?

You may say that’s unrealistic, but guess what? This is what many freelancers do. Every day. Without any job security, paid sick leave, company-sponsored health insurance, pension plan, or other benefits.

Do you still think that doing voice-overs is about raking in the big bucks by talking into a microphone? Yeah, right. And every idiot with a camera can pretend to be professional photographer. I should buy you a baton, and you could start conducting a symphony orchestra (after you’ve picked someone’s brain over coffee, of course).

Take it from me: if doing voice-overs were that easy, everyone would be famous making a fortune from home because they have such a glorious voice…

Let’s experiment, shall we?

Try reading and recording this blog as if the words just entered your mind. Make it conversational without slurring the lines, without popping your p’s, or taking loud breaths. Give it some energy and character but don’t sound disingenuous. Say it as if you mean it, without overdoing it. In other words: don’t sound like someone pretending to be a voice actor.

Do you even have the space and the equipment to do that?

Can you put down a take without making one mistake? Can you do this faster, slower, higher, lower, warmer, cooler, seductive, instructive, informal, judgmental, frustrated, deflated, sedated, or elated?

I thought so. You’re not even close. And yet, you want me to help you break into a highly competitive business in exchange for a cup of Joe? I feel offended!

Listen, if you want to read up about voice-overs, I’ve written over three hundred articles you can access for free on my website. Buy my book. Do your homework. Take some training. Join an improv group. Build a studio. Read out loud every single day.

Show me that you’re serious.

Once you’ve done all that and you still want to pursue a career in voice-overs, drop me a line.

I might even buy you a double espresso.

You’re gonna need it!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Please be sweet: Subscribe & Retweet!

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See Me in 3-D at VO Atlanta!

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Personal, Promotion, Social Media 14 Comments

At VO Atlanta in 2017

At age seventeen, I started making youth radio programs in the Netherlands.

Part of the fun was the inevitable trip to the cafeteria, where I could mix and mingle with the famous faces and voices of Dutch broadcasting. It was like seeing all the celebrities at Madame Tussaud’s wax museum come alive. 

The guy who read the prime time news bulletins turned out to have a strange love for raw herring. The girl who presented a popular quiz show was constantly starving herself, and the overpaid head of programming ate home-made liverwurst sandwiches, lovingly prepared by his mother.

Radio hosts were always the most surprising. Very few people knew what they looked like, and that was part of the magic. Radio is the theater of the imagination, and over time I had created mental pictures of my favorite presenters. Now that I was able to go backstage, I had a chance to meet them in person, as they were ordering burgers and fries.

SECOND IMPRESSIONS

The overexcited and loud sports commentator was an obese man with as much charisma as a cucumber. The announcer with the most muscular, manly pipes in radio, turned out to be a diminutive, unkempt, and rather sad person. If you’d see him in the subway, you’d give him a dollar.

The seductive sounding female host of a late night show I had fallen asleep to on many lonely nights, was a chain-smoking grandmother of seven with two double chins and way too much makeup.

For all these people, the anonymity of radio was a blessing. Seeing them in the flesh was a humbling experience. There and then I realized that I had created an unrealistic image in my mind, based on my idea of what they might look like, and it was something they could never live up to.

I wondered: how many times a day do we judge the people we come into contact with, based on the little information we have? Unless they get an opportunity to reveal more of who they are, they’ll never have a chance to be any better than who we believe them to be. It’s not fair, and it is one of the tragic reasons why so many people on this planet don’t get along. 

GOING SOUTH

Last year was the first time I came to VO Atlanta, the largest gathering of voice talent in the world. Walking in the hotel hallways was sort of a déjà vu experience for me. I felt I was back in the Dutch cafeteria, surrounded by people I thought I knew. 

One of the first people I ran into was Bill Farmer, a.k.a. the voice of Goofy. In my eyes he was voice-over royalty, and yet he couldn’t have been more “normal” if there is such a thing. Moments later I was passed by a very familiar face, but I couldn’t place him. Later I realized it was Jeffrey Umberger, one of my agents. Now, why didn’t I recognize him?

You see, people look differently in 3-D. Quite often, we know the colleagues we’ve never met from their profile pictures on social media or from flattering headshots. Some of these photos were taken many summers ago, and they lack any kind of personality. They are as polished as our demos: they reveal the person we want the world to think we are. 

REALITY CHECK

When I meet people for real for the first time, they go from being two-dimensional to three-dimensional. To put it differently: people get depth. I am often struck by how tall or not tall they are. That’s one thing you cannot see on Facebook. What’s also revealing is the energy people radiate. It’s something we rarely pick up on when we’re connecting in writing.

Some people just light up the room when they walk in. Others quickly fade into the background. Some people have the most contagious laugh in the world, and others are the best huggers.

Here’s something else I ran into: people’s perceptions of me.

Some conference participants had been reading my blog for years, and had formed an opinion of who they thought I was. At the last day of VO Atlanta 2017, a girl came up to me, and she was rather nervous. “I wanted to meet you,” she said, “but I was a little bit apprehensive.”

“Why?” I asked. “Well,” she said, “in your blog you often voice such strong opinions. One of my friends says you must be pretty nasty, and I wasn’t sure you’d be willing to talk to me. But I’ve watched you during the conference, and you seem to be a nice person, so here I am.”

It was the beginning of one of the best conversations of the entire conference.

OPEN YOUR EYES

Things are never what they seem, because we look at reality through glasses colored by our personal history and by our subjective opinions. In fact, when we look at another human being, I believe we’re actually looking at a reflection of what’s inside of us.

So, if you’re going to VO Atlanta, or to any other gathering for that matter, see if you can leave any preconceptions at the door, or at least be aware that you’re biased. You may think that you already know the next person you’re about to meet, but do you really? Your unconscious prejudices could prevent you from reaching out, and could deprive the other person from an opportunity to reveal his or her true self.

If you happen to run into me, don’t be afraid. I don’t bite, unless I’m eating. I’m probably different from the person you thought I would be, and I hope that’s okay. Just be yourself. That’s the person I’m interested in.

Speaking of VO Atlanta: on 3/2 I’ll be on a panel about the future of VO-casting from 11 – 12. The moderator is J. Michael Collins, and he promised to bring some big news.

My X-session, 6 Steps to Turning your VO-Business around is on 3/2 from 6:30 – 9:30 PM.

On 3/3 I’ll be leading a Breakout Session about The Inner Game of Voice-Over from 3:15 – 4:15 PM.

I hope to see you there, or at other times in the conference hotel.

DIFFERENT PEOPLE

Let’s revisit my experience at Dutch radio for a minute or two. Here’s what I eventually learned.

The overexcited and obese sports commentator knew how to turn it on at the right moment as he was describing the big games in real-time. He also knew how to turn it off to conserve his energy. Because much of his life was spent on the road traveling from game to game, he didn’t have a lot of time to eat, so he stuck to a fast food diet, and it was showing.

The shabby announcer with the most muscular, manly pipes in radio, had lost his wife some years ago, and when that happened, he stopped taking care of himself. He eventually hooked up with the anorexic quiz show host. While they were dating she put on some weight, and transformed him into a well-groomed radio personality which landed him a job on TV. 

The chain-smoking grandmother of seven with two double chins took me under her wing, and came to see me as the son she had lost when he was my age. The lessons I learned from her I still apply today.

Whether you’re going to a conference or not, I encourage you to always keep an open mind, and please remember:

We all have stories to tell, and most of the time our books are very different and much more interesting than their covers!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet: please subcribe & retweet!

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Surviving the Gig Economy

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing 9 Comments

spinning platesIn about ten years, contract workers and freelancers are expected to make up half of the U.S. workforce.

Let that sink in for a moment.

Forget full-time positions. Goodbye job security and legal protection. No more benefits. No pensions or health insurance. No sick leave. Nothing.

Working without a safety net is rapidly becoming the new normal. 

Not everyone is cut out for it. It takes a special type of personality to run one’s own business, because the best equipment is useless without you having the right mindset.

Today I’d like to share a number of attributes I believe to be the trademark of any successful solopreneur. If you want to make it on your own, you have to be…

CREATIVE

I don’t necessarily mean “artistic” when I say “creative.” I’m thinking more in terms of the ability to create opportunities. Being your own boss means coming up with a concept for your business, and turning that idea into reality. No one will tell you what to do or how to do it. As the Chief Creative Officer, you have to take responsibility for every part of the process. It’s a daunting, never-ending task, and the outcome is by no means guaranteed. That’s why successful solopreneurs have to be…

OPTIMISTIC

Go to any bank for a loan, tell them you’re self-employed, and wait for the reaction. I bet you’ll see some raised eyebrows. Freelancers are considered to be unstable which is often mistaken for being unreliable. If you don’t have a hopeful and positive outlook, you’re going to have a tough time dealing with rejection and uncertainty. Without optimism, it’s easy to give in to recession depression, and eventually hang up your hat. You’ve got to believe that your business has a future, and that clients will come. Even if other people don’t see potential, you have to have vision. You also have to be…

NURTURING

A business is like a flower bed. If you don’t give it the proper care and attention, it has no potential for growth. You cannot approach it as a hobby because it will bankrupt you. You’ve got to be “All in, all the time.” People who are transitioning from a corporate nine-to-five job are often not ready for that. Because a business can easily eat up all your time, it’s important that you nurture yourself too. You are the goose with the golden eggs. You can only take good care of business if you take good care of yourself. One way of doing that, is by being…

FLEXIBLE

The final measure of fitness is flexibility. It’s the ability to move muscles and joints through a whole range of motions. Psychologically speaking, the most flexible person will have the most choices and will be able to achieve more. Huge corporations find it almost impossible to change course. Flexible freelancers adapt, change, and can bend without breaking. They also have to keep on…

INVESTING

Your product will only be as good as the tools you use to make it. You are one of those tools. That’s why it is essential to keep on investing in yourself. Sign up for trainings. Participate in meetup groups. Read the latest literature. Invest in building a supportive social network. A successful solopreneur never stops investing. S/he is also…

DISCIPLINED

The freedom of owning your own business can easily become a trap. With no one to hold you accountable, it is very tempting to spend a lot of time doing the things you like whenever you want. Those who run a successful business often start the day by doing the things they don’t like but that need to be done anyway. They delegate things they’re not good at, and that take up too much time. Being disciplined also applies to the way you manage your money. Successful solopreneurs have a strong work ethic and they…

EXCEL

In a saturated market, one of the best strategies for success is to excel in what you do. Here’s the problem. So many people are trying to become better quickly, and they forget how long it takes to become good.

However, it is not enough to be good at what you do. You have to express yourself in ways in which you are heard. You’ve got to master marketing to reach customers and colleagues. They’ll be more open to your message if you have a clear…

NICHE

Find a specific area that defines you, but that does not limit you. Your niche is the raison d’être for your business (the reason your business exists). It’s the focus of your attention. If you’re not clear what your focus should be, you’re like a ship, drifting at sea. Clients will have a hard time differentiating what you have to offer from your competitors. You’ll have a hard time selling it to them (and to yourself). In essence, you need…

CONTROL

As a solopreneur, you control the course of your business. You control your professional standards, your services, your rates, the hours you’re willing to work, the flow of money, and the way you communicate. Are you ready for that responsibility? Not only that, is this something you’d embrace and enjoy?

All of this points to the last attribute I’d like to bring up. It’s having an…

ENTREPRENEUR MENTALITY

Some have described it as the “ability to see something in nothing.” It’s the urge to take matters into your own hands and to take calculated risks. It’s about being proactive, passionate, patient, and persistent. Entrepreneurs have to overcome obstacles, absorb losses, and gradually grow their business. If you don’t treat it like a true business, it will never be one.

And finally, all of these attributes will make very little difference if you lack one specific mental quality.

What is it?

Take the first letter of each attribute, and you’ll find out!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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