Freelancing

Incompetent and Overly Confident

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

Let me begin with a simple but loaded question.

Why do so many voice overs on social media seem confident, yet ignorant?

I’m not making this up to bash newbies, if that’s what you think. Age and experience have nothing to do with it. I’ve seen seasoned colleagues make ridiculous claims, and I’ve observed youngsters parade their lack of knowledge in public without an ounce of shame or self-awareness.

Unfortunately, ignorance isn’t limited to our tiny voice-over bubble. Many people go through life being blind about basic facts. It doesn’t prevent them from commenting about things they know nothing about. It’s a free country! These people have careers, they raise children, and some of them even vote.

Do you want examples? Here are a few factoids from surveys that will make your jaw drop.

COMMON MISCONCEPTIONS

Only 45% of Americans can tell you what the initials in GOP stand for. Some believe it is short for Government of the People or God’s Own Party.

25% of Americans don’t know the country from which the USA gained its independence. Answers varied from France to China.

30% have no idea what the Holocaust was, and half of Americans believe that Christianity came before Judaism. These people are also convinced that Christianity was written into the Constitution.

Mind you, it’s not just the big stuff people have no clue about. I once asked a music student jokingly:

“For whom did Beethoven compose “Für Elise?”

She had no idea.

Now, here’s the real kicker. When asked these questions, those who were obviously incompetent did not see themselves as such. This isn’t weird. It’s very human, and it’s confirmed by an experiment among students who were doing a test.

When they handed the test in, they were asked how well they thought they did. Their answers were later compared to the actual results. Here’s what the researchers found.

The bottom performers in that test were almost as confident about how well they thought they did, as the top performers. In other words, they were blissfully unaware of their own lack of knowledge.

THE DUNNING – KRUGER EFFECT

In psychology this is known as the Dunning-Kruger effect, named after Cornell psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger. It’s a type of cognitive bias in which people believe that they are smarter and more capable than they really are. 

The explanation for this phenomenon is simple: people are too ignorant to recognize their own ignorance, and so they don’t see where their knowledge ends.

Why is this a problem, you ask? All we need to do is present the ignorant people of the world with the facts, and they’ll get off their high horse and accept that they’re wrong. End of story.

If only it were that easy.

By the way, for the sake of this discussion when I say “facts” I’m referring to information confirmed to be true according to objective scientific standards.

We can verify what GOP stands for, and from which country the USA gained its independence. It’s not a matter of opinion.

The real problem is not that people are not as knowledgeable as they think they are. To be honest: all of us live under the shadow of our own ignorance. The problem is that our misconceptions are a serious barrier to us learning anything new and accepting expert opinions. 

As the Zen master said:

“How can I fill your tea cup if it’s already full?”

I run into this problem when giving feedback as a coach.

ACCEPT FAILURE

For people to accept the feedback, they have to accept failure and be open to new information. Let me give you an example. One of my older students didn’t like what I had to say about the quality of his audio. His equipment was top-notch, but his recording space was terrible. All of his recordings had a low rumble and flutter echoes. 

He wasn’t booking anything, and yet he was intent on showing me how much he had spent on his microphone and preamp to prove that I was wrong. Good gear couldn’t lead to bad audio, he thought.

At my request he visited an audiologist, and found out he needed a hearing aid. Once the device was in place, he called to apologize. He had listened to his recordings and heard some things he’d never heard before, proving my point.

Here’s what I had to learn. Telling people they’re wrong puts them on the defense, allowing them to turn me into the bad guy. Facts can be denied and intentions can be questioned. Experiences on the other hand, are harder to disprove.

So, instead of telling my students what they’re doing wrong (creating resistance), I now give them assignments to help them assess their expertise of lack thereof, and I have them research ways in which they can improve. This way, they own the feedback as well as the solution.

It’s easy to forget a fact, but people will remember an experience.

The other problem with the Dunning – Kruger effect is that it leads to people making bad choices because they reach the wrong conclusions while thinking they’re doing okay.

AT THE SHOOTING RANGE

Dunning and Kruger went to a gun shooting event and asked gun enthusiasts to fill out a ten-question firearm and safety knowledge quiz used by the NRA. It turned out that the gun owners who knew the least about gun safety overestimated their knowledge the most.

I don’t know about you, but this scares the hell out of me. To take it one step further, people have pointed at the behavior of our Commander-in-Chief as a prime example of the Dunning – Kruger effect.

Those who are suffering from Dunning – Kruger have trouble measuring themselves against real experts because they’re so confident they are right. I mean, why should a know-it-all turn to other sources for advice?

What makes it worse is that overly confident and narcissistic leaders tend to surround themselves with YES-men and women who are too afraid to criticize their boss for fear of repercussions. This lack of feedback makes a leader even more convinced that he’s doing a perfect job.

One last thing. Someone displaying signs of the Dunning – Kruger effect has trouble taking responsibility when things go haywire. How can someone unable to make mistakes possibly do something wrong? Instead, they point the finger at others.

ALL ARE AFFECTED

Now, before you tell me I’m turning this blog into a political diatribe, I think it’s important to look into the mirror and admit that all of us show signs of the Dunning – Kruger effect. No matter how much we think we know about a topic, our knowledge is finite, whereas what we don’t know is infinite.

There are simple biological limitations to what we’re able to know as well. Our brain cannot remember everything. It does not need to remember everything because we can find most information online. Some have called this the “Google Effect,” the automatic forgetting of info that’s available on the world wide web.

We should also realize that the ill-informed don’t necessarily know less. They’re not stupid. They just believe things that aren’t always rooted in facts. People will endorse erroneous information if it fits their opinion. They also know more about different things that may or may not be relevant or deemed important.

One of my cousins is not the sharpest tool in the shed, but he can blindly identify the make and model of a car, simply by listening to the noise the engine is making. And if he listens a bit longer, he can tell you what needs to be fixed (he grew up in a body shop).

I also know people who are extremely knowledgeable in one area of their life, but please don’t ask them to make eggs over easy. The kitchen is going to be a mess.

Having interviewed some of the best brains in the world, one thing became very clear to me. Knowing a lot doesn’t make someone smart, or kind, or more understanding.

METACOGNITION

Is there a way to counter the Dunning – Kruger effect? As you can imagine, arguing with people who experience the Dunning – Kruger effect is frustrating. They will often become more entrenched in their beliefs. So, lets’s start with ourselves.

One way to overcome the effect is to develop what psychologists call metacognition. It is the ability to think about one’s own thinking and behavior. It’s a skill that helps us recognize how well we are performing. I’d say this is an essential skill for the self-employed.

How do you develop this skill? Well, by doing what you are doing right now. By reading this story you’re hopefully learning to recognize the symptoms in others and in yourself. Every change we wish to make has to start with us being aware of what needs to change. As long as we’re in denial, treatment is futile.

Another way of dealing with the Dunning – Kruger effect is to accept that we don’t need to know everything about everything. I find not having to know everything very liberating and humbling. What’s more, it has opened me up to a whole realm of surprising possibilities.

Because of this blog, I get a lot of questions from readers like you. How much should they charge for this project in this country, what’s the best microphone for a high female voice, should they join the union or go Taft-Hartley?

I’m no longer afraid to tell them I don’t have an answer. It doesn’t diminish who I am. I’d rather be open about my ignorance than arrogant about my perceived knowledge and steer my readers in the wrong direction.

I’m also willing to accept that not everything I write, or all the things I think I know, are shiny pearls of wisdom. These days, I restrain myself more and more from commenting on social media (much to the relief of many).

Knowing my limitations also means I can start working on the knowledge I lack, if that’s important to me.

There’s always more to learn.

In short, I’ve become very confident about my ignorance, and I’m totally okay with that.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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5 Things You Should Stop Doing Right Now

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

Are you a nail-biter, a chain-sitter, or an overeater?

We all have bad habits we want to get rid of.

If you’re a serious voice talent, here are a few things I suggest you let go of in 2020. 

1. Spending money on new equipment while you’re still in a bad recording space.

Yes, I know you’ve been eyeballing that new microphone for the past six months now, but will it stop the neighbor’s leaf blower from blowing, or the deep rumble of the school bus from making a guest appearance in your auditions? Will it magically tame the flutter echoes in your improvised booth, and make you sound like the next movie trailer man (or woman)?

Not in a million years!

The number one thing that held me back from being successful as a voice-over, was the absence of a dedicated and isolated recording space. Once I built my own booth, I had the freedom and confidence to go after every job I felt I was suitable for. Last year, almost every production I’ve been involved in began in my home studio. It has paid for itself many times over.

Treat the space first. Then treat yourself to some shiny new equipment. If you must. 

2. Expecting the keys to the kingdom on a silver platter.

I’m a member of many social media groups dedicated to voice overs. A majority of these groups are supposed to be for professional voice talent. Yet, every single day I see amateur questions that have been asked and answered hundreds of times, coming from people who are too lazy to do their homework. In the age of the Internet no one can claim ignorance, so:

Stop playing dumb, people! It is embarrassing. 

It’s not that our community isn’t willing to share. If anything, the VO-universe is very giving to those who demonstrate relentless commitment and extraordinary talent. But I refuse to help people who want to pick my brain out of a false sense of entitlement, and a simplistic idea of what it takes to make it in this business.

So, dear colleagues: Stop giving free rides to those who don’t feel like learning how to drive. If you keep spoon-feeding a child, it will never learn how to eat by itself. 

3. Complaining without taking responsibility or action.

“The book I’m narrating is awful. The author is impossible to work with. The deadline for this project is unrealistic. They expect me to record a complete rewrite of the script for free…”

First of all: Stop whining!

Winners aren’t whiners. 

You’re a freelancer. You are free to work with anyone you want. Nobody is forcing you to narrate a crap novel about a topic no one’s interested in for a ridiculous royalty share. You don’t have to collaborate with a disrespectful writer who pretends to know more about voice-over narration than you do. If a deadline doesn’t work for you, then don’t agree to it. Never record a complete rewrite at no charge. Your time and your talent are valuable.

If you feel this particular pay-to-play you’re a “member” of, is greedy and unethical, don’t keep it in business by renewing your membership. Don’t tell me your livelihood depends on this one company. It’s bad business to put all your eggs in one rotten basket.

If you want quality clients, start doing the legwork yourself. It’s part of being a pro!

4. Working for less than you deserve. 

No matter what freelance business you’re in, there’s a quick and easy way to get rid of clients that treat you like dirt, and pay you accordingly:

Price for profit and raise your rates!

It’s not that complicated. Every time you accept a job for less, you send a signal to the market about your worth, and the worth of your colleagues. Clients aren’t stupid. They love getting more and more for less and less. We all do. But most people also understand that there’s a link between value and price.

Price is an important indicator of professionalism and quality. 

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: When it comes to voice-over fees, you’re either part of the problem, or you’re part of the solution. As soon as you start competing on price and out of fear, you’re doing yourself and your community a huge disservice. As soon as you start competing confidently on added value, you’re teaching your clients about the worth of (y)our work. 

By the way, here’s something else you should stop doing in the new year:

5. Making assumptions about your clients.

So many colleagues tell me:

“If my quote is too high, I’m afraid the client won’t be able to afford me, and I’ll lose the job.”

Let me ask you this:

“How do you know what a client can or cannot afford? Did you talk to their accountant? Let’s say you didn’t get that job because of your higher bid, what did you lose?” You can’t lose something that wasn’t yours in the first place. Secondly, you’ve actually gained time to pursue or do a job at a respectable rate.”

Last year I’ve said “no” to more offers than in any year of my entire career, and this was one of my best years on record. I’m not saying that to impress you. I’m saying that to empower you.

Don’t ever pretend to know what your client is thinking of, or hoping for. You’re not in the mind reading business. You’re in the script reading business.

Never assume. Always ask.

Having said that, I won’t assume what things you’d like to stop doing this year.

If you like, please share them in the comment section.

Don’t let me stop you.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Becoming the Sharpest Tool in the Shed

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, International, Internet 4 Comments

Peter Dickson & Hugh Edwards

Mark my words: the next decade is going to be BIG!

There will be more opportunities for professional voice actors than ever before. Take a quick look at the trends. 

In 2019, video game revenue has again surpassed the total global box office for the film industry. The prediction is that it will increase by about 9.6% to generate 152.1 billion USD.

Streaming services are investing heavily in the production of original content. The audio book market keeps on growing exponentially (audiobook revenue in 2018 grew by 24.5 percent and totaled USD $940 million). The eLearning industry is expected to grow beyond USD 300 billion by 2025.

With the number of self-professed voice-overs increasing year after year, the question is not:

“Will there be enough work for everybody?” The question is: “Who is in the best position to take advantage of the growth in our line of work?”

The answer is simple: those who are best prepared to meet the demands of the market will dominate it. So, the real question becomes: How do you prepare for the future?

PRESIDENTIAL ADVICE

Abraham Lincoln, who was a skilled woodcutter before becoming president of the United States, famously said:

“If I had six hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend the first four hours sharpening the axe.”

For VO’s this translates to at least four things:

  • Continuing education, but not only with the help of voice over coaches. I’m talking about taking acting and improv classes, singing lessons, and even language training. In other words, start improving your skills to make yourself more versatile and marketable. But that’s only the beginning;
  • On top of that I highly recommend you learn how to properly run a freelance business. This means knowing how to manage your finances, learning how to develop your brand, and coming up with innovative ways to position yourself. It involves making meaningful connections, and presenting yourself as a unique solution to a specific problem;
  • Third, you must invest in equipment and in a recording environment that will make you look and sound like the pro you profess to be;
  • And lastly, you need to learn how to manage yourself. If you can’t take the pressure and uncertainty of being a freelancer, the constant stream of rejections, and so-called colleagues trying to undercut you at every corner, please find another job. 

 

FOREVER AND EVER

Looking at this list you may wonder: won’t this take years and years to accomplish? It may, but it depends on your approach, your finances, and on the time you give yourself. The people who make the least progress are those who are trying to figure this out on their own. They kid themselves by believing that you can find everything you need online, and for free.

Why have we never heard of those trying to teach themselves how to drive a car or swim, using distance learning? Because they have crashed and drowned! If you think you can reinvent the wheel, be my guest. I think it’s much faster to learn from those who already are where you want to be. That’s precisely where conferences come in.

A conference is a safe and exciting place where you meet colleagues and experts who have struggled with the same things you are struggling with at the moment. It’s a place where you can help and inspire others who are stuck in their careers. And if you’re looking for a personal coach, you get the opportunity to experience a number of experts and see who might be a good fit for you.

A voice over conference is the perfect place to start sharpening that axe of yours.

BACK TO LONDON

I’ll be going to VO Atlanta in March, and I’m totally tickled to tell you that I am coming to London in May 2020! The ONE VOICE CONFERENCE where I will be speaking, takes place from May 7th – 10th and is put together by the team behind Gravy For The  Brain. I spoke with organizer Hugh Edwards, and asked him:

This is the third Voice One Conference. What have you learned since the first gatherings?

“Well, we are very big on customer feedback, each year we’ve done exit surveys and we’ve really listened to what has been fed back to us. We genuinely try and improve the conference in any way we can. One of the key changes we’ve made this year is that we are completely focussing the conference on professional voiceover, pro VO’s and pro VO standards.

Most conferences cater for a spread, i.e., beginner, intermediate and advanced content, but this often leads to a lack of content for the pros – this year we are doing an about face on that. My theory is that if you aim for 100% professional content, everyone is going to learn something useful and new, and you don’t alienate any section of your audience. 

The second big change is that this year I’ve dropped the idea of genre-based content. What I mean by that is that with years 1 and 2 we had a genre list – audiobooks, IVR, corporate etc – and we filled all the speaker slots based on fulfilling that list.

This year we’ve focussed in the reverse; who are the really great people who we are going to learn the best information from. As a product of this, we aren’t fulfilling all the genres, but we have much more interesting content, from the best of the best in the world, we have many more casting directors attending for example. It’s a subtle but incredibly important shift in our approach.”

You’ve been to VO conferences in the USA like VO Atlanta. What’s the difference in the way Americans and Brits approach these events? In what way is the atmosphere different? 

“Well, the heart of the voice artists in both countries, and Canada, Mexico, France, Australia etc are fundamentally the same. They all have the same hopes and dreams, needs and wants. The love of the industry is a common love that runs throughout everyone I meet in the industry. I think the attitudes are a little different though.

The brits tend to say outright and to people’s faces that they don’t think something is right, and the Americans seem slightly more reserved, will make their judgements and just not buy that person’s product, or that companies offering etc.

That isn’t to say that the American audience is in anyway less passionate, just that we all have different ways of expressing it. The Americans are much louder with whooping, hollering and dancing, the brits less so – but again, it’s not any less enthusiasm or passion – just different expressions!”

I sometimes feel that in the US, voice talent suffers from an inferiority complex. Voice-overs are invisible and don’t get the recognition they wish to get, artistically and financially. Is this something you recognize in the UK? If so, how can an event like One Voice help change the perception VO’s have of themselves, and the perception of the public?

“I wouldn’t agree that VO’s have an inferiority complex generally – in fact they often get the best of both worlds in that they get to work with the big productions but can still walk down the street un-hassled! But the public perception of VO around the world is growing daily.

One Voice, and Gravy For The Brain definitely help change the public perception of voiceover, both in education and (with things like the One Voice Awards) in celebration. The more opportunities given to shout about their craft, the more the public takes an interest. Some VO artists are becoming household names in the UK and the USA and the industry is changing at a rapid pace.”

 Looking back at the past two events, what has been your most gratifying experience?

“This is actually easier to answer than you might think! One Voice is a little like the analogy of the duck swimming on a lake; calm, serene and in control on the surface (which is what the public sees) and feet paddling like crazy under the surface (which is what our fantastic team is doing behind the scenes to make everything smooth and enjoyable for the delegates).

The amount of work that goes into the conference before the event is absolutely huge, from dress rehearsals, to coding, to awards and submissions, to speaker bookings, you name it, the team does it – and it’s right that the public never needs to know.

So what’s my most gratifying experience? I stand at the bar at the end of the day and I look around at all the VO’s and speakers gathered together – and all I see is smiles, and happiness, community and mutual respect. Seeing everyone being so happy after all the work, all the late nights and all the hours involved makes me as happy as I can be.”

These conferences cost a lot of money to organize and that’s one of the reasons you have corporate sponsors. How do you give your sponsors what they want without exposing the attendees to aggressive sales pitches?

“Yep – it’s a good point, and not all conferences get this right. I think one of the reasons for this is that virtually no other conference owner is also a sponsor at other conferences, whereas Gravy For The Brain has sponsored almost all the VO conference in the world in the last two years. We see what works for us, and when, as sponsors we are disappointed – we know what works for us and when we feel we are getting value, and when we feel neglected.

But it’s also worth saying that it’s a little sycophantic to presume that it’s an us (VO’s) and them (sponsors) scenario – in fact, it’s a completely symbiotic relationship; the sponsors are generally providing products or services that we love and need as a community, and although it’s a business, we’re all in this together.

When it comes to sponsor talks, we’re quite strict on not allowing sponsors to do sales pitches – that’s not the best use of their time at all – and instead we fixed the whole ‘expo area’ idea, which is done so wrong in so many other conferences – if you have to have a ‘room’ for the sponsors, by default delegates have to make a conscious effort to visit so attendance is always low.

At One Voice the expo area is the connection space between all the presentation rooms, so we have a constant flow of traffic for the exhibitors. Because of this the sponsors have no need to use their talk to be the only time they can pitch to the voices – they’re just integrated into the conference as a whole.”

Talent that’s on the fence about going, usually has a few questions about the conference:

– Is this suitable for beginners?

“Yes, all levels. As I mentioned earlier, we’re now presenting content for the professional, which means that all levels are going to learn as much as we can provide for them.”

– Will I get lost in the crowd?

“No. The fire limit for One Voice is 350 people, which in reality means 300 voice artists. It’s a lovely intimate space and has a real family feel to it!”

– Will it get me more work?

“Well, anyone – conference owners, trainers, coaches, whoever who says that their product is going to get you more work, is a liar, or at best misguided. What we are doing is helping you make connections and network, and giving you education and tools for you to be able to do this for yourself…and in that way, yes absolutely!

VO is a long game and no one is going to do this for you – it takes hard work and dedication, but One Voice is the best networking opportunity, an amazing centre of excellence in education and the most value-for-money conference you can attend in the UK.”

meeting Mark Graue

– Will I have the opportunity to meet face to face with presenters?

“Absolutely. it’s such a social event, and most of the presenters are there for the whole weekend. We’ve consistently found that our presenters are extremely generous with their time and their advice – they’re a great spirited and friendly bunch! The overriding word that comes back to me here is community – they are as much a part of it as you are, and their expertise and experience is arguably the most valuable part of the weekend.”

What’s new in 2020? Why should people who already have attended a conference come back?

“So I previously mentioned the refocusing on professional standards, education, and tuition. This extends through to all the areas of the conference, from talks, to workshops, the networking to the community and our sponsors. Almost all of our speakers this year were not speakers last year which is part of our ongoing commitment to provide value for money, freshness, and diversity in the content we are providing. 

At the end of last year’s One Voice I polled the audience about our workshops and what people thought – we had a pretty polar split with those who loved them, and those who thought the content was great but that they were too short. So we listened, and this year we will be providing the one-hour workshops which are still free with your ticket, and also three-hour specialised workshops which will have an additional fee. It’s only fair that we pay the experts who are imparting their knowledge for a 3-hour period.

The One Voice Boat Party is back, because it was so hugely successful and fun last year – we just couldn’t resist doing it again!”

As I was conducting my interview, Hugh broke the news that Alexander Armstrong had agreed to become the second keynote speaker (Kate Robbins being the other one). Alexander is a well-know British voice actor, comedian, game show host, and singer. He also plays the title character in the new edition of Danger Mouse.

Why Alexander Armstrong is happy to be out of the voiceover game

With a voice like that, it's no surprise that brands were desperate to snap up the talents of Alexander Armstrong! ?

Posted by BBC Radio 2 on Friday, May 24, 2019

 

Back to my interview with Hugh. I wanted to know: Will you still have the Awards Gala? 

“I’m glad you asked! Yes the One Voice Awards is growing from strength to strength and is becoming a genuine force for good in the VO community. Because of our ethical values and the truly locked nature of the judging system proving 100% absolute integrity, the One Voice Awards are seen as a wholly trusted and worthwhile thing. It’s also one heck of a fun night!

We have some very cool surprises up our sleeve this year too! Submissions will open in January – and for anyone who isn’t on our mailing list just head over to www.onevoiceconference.com and sign up to the newsletter – and further details will follow!

Bodalgo’s Armin Hierstetter

We’re running a super early bird at the moment which is 30% off the ticket price and lasts only up until Christmas Day. The price for the entire 4-day event (excluding the awards) at this discount is only £229 +tax (that’s about 300 USD) – which represents incredible value for money. Then we go into the Early bird for a few weeks in January and then normal ticket pricing after that.

We have negotiated an amazing hotel rate which includes breakfast, and of course lunches are included within the ticket price. One Voice Conference is the UK’s biggest and best VO conference for a reason – we really care about each and every one of our attendees – and we’d love to see everyone there for our third year!”

MY CONTRIBUTION

Many thanks to Hugh for taking the time to answer my questions, and frankly, for having me at One Voice.

From the many responses I get, I know there are quite a few fans of this blog in the UK as well as in the rest of Europe. I’d love to meet you at the One Voice Conference where I will be doing a one-hour presentation on how to increase your visibility, SEO, and professional reputation by blogging, followed by a thee-hour interactive workshop where we will dig in a lot deeper.

As you may know, my blog has propelled this website to becoming the number one individual VO website on the interweb. If you play your cards right, you could very well follow in my footsteps, and I’ll do whatever I can to get you there.

It all depends on one thing:

Are you ready to sharpen your axe?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Are Those Black Friday Deals Really Worth It?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Freelancing, Gear, Money Matters, Studio, Widgets Leave a comment

Black Friday at Best BuyAt this very moment, the retail powers that be, are working you left and right.

They’re preying on you, like a lion lures a lamb.

Unlike the lion (who will do his best to stay undetected until he makes his deadly move), retailers come at you in plain sight. They have no desire to rip you to pieces. They want you alive, so they can bleed you year after year.

Retailers won’t jump you either. Instead, they play a game of not so subtle seduction, with one or two pieces of masterful bait, the first one being (drum roll):

Low Prices

Yes, Black Friday and Cyber Monday are around the corner, and credit card companies are already drooling over your looming debt increase.

We may all believe that we’re independent thinkers that cannot be manipulated, but psychologists know better. They know that one of the strongest human fears is the fear of missing out.

That’s why the time ticker at QVC and the Home Shopping Network is such an effective sales tool. It tells you how much time is left to get this incredible gadget you suddenly cannot live without. That’s why they throw in all these “but wait, there’s more” extras to sweeten the deal, but only if you BUY NOW.

Limited time offers and low prices are classic incentives to get weak and impressionable people to buy stuff. Black Friday and Cyber Monday are the ultimate examples of these incentives, because they only come once a year, and some of the deals are truly incredible.

Supposedly.

You and I know that those heavily discounted doorbusters are meant to give you a shopping high, so you’ll buy more once you’re in the door. Besides, these deals will often come back in slower seasons.

If you’re still tempted to empty your wallet around Thanksgiving, I can’t stop you. But allow me to give you a few pointers, if I may. 

1. Distinguish between a WANT and a NEED

Every time you’re tempted to make a major purchase, ask yourself:

“Do I really need it right now, or is it just something I want?” “Is it a necessity, or a luxury?”

If you wish to experience sustained success as a for-profit freelancer, there’s one simple formula you must stick to:

Keep your revenue stream high, and your expenses low.

So, if you really, really want to buy this nice, new, shiny piece of equipment, ask yourself:

– Will it make me more professional, productive, and profitable?

– Will my clients experience an undeniable difference as a result of this purchase?

– Will this investment pay for itself within a reasonable period of time?

For instance, a few of my voice-over colleagues are already salivating over a new microphone this season. But a recording will only sound as good as the space it’s recorded in. So, rather than spending cash on a new mic, it’s often much wiser to invest in creating a better acoustic environment.

Most clients won’t hear the difference between a $300 microphone and a $1000 mic. They will hire you because you’re able to deliver clean and crisp audio, without the sound of the neighbor’s leaf blower in the background.

2. Choose High Quality over Low Price

If you must make an investment, do your research before you make that impulse buy. This means you have to overcome one of humanity’s eternal weaknesses: the need for immediate gratification when buying something that’s on sale. 

As a freelancer, competing on price is a losing strategy. You want people to pick you because of your added value, and that value is worth something. If you truly subscribe to this idea, you can’t just apply it to your own business. You have to “live it” in all areas of your life. So, stop buying things just because they’re cheap.

Only yesterday, I threw out all the heavy catalogues of the major pro audio retailers without even looking at them. Apart from being a waste of tropical rain forest, I have everything I need to run my business. I’ve carefully collected my equipment over time. I gave myself an opportunity to save up, to gather info, and to invest some of my profits in quality gear that will last for many years.

I’ve said it before, and I will say it again: Buying cheap can be expensive. Buying quality saves you money in the long run, and a whole lot more.

3. Choose the Planet over Price

I already mentioned the catalogues I had to throw away. But that’s not the only thing that concerns me.

In the past few decades, there’s a growing tendency among manufacturers to make things that only last a few years, and cannot be fixed. As a result, we end up with landfills of trash, gradually leaking toxins into the environment. Nature’s resources are depleted, and people in low-wage countries are exploited as they make the shiny trinkets we end up throwing away.

This process will go on for two reasons. One: because the environmental and societal impact of a product is hardly ever a part of the price. Two: because people like you and me keep buying them.

I’m a strong believer in creating change through spending. If I want local businesses to grow; local farmers to go organic, and make a decent living, that’s where I’ll have to spend my money. If I want manufacturers to create products that are environmentally-friendly, that last, and can be repaired, I have to show them there’s a market for those products.

Now, if you believe that you alone can’t make a difference, talk to Tara Button. Tara is Founder and CEO of BuyMeOnce.com. She was so frustrated with our throw-away culture, that she went on a global quest to find things that are built to last, and that are made in an ethical, green way. Her website features kitchenware, furniture, clothes, shoes, beauty products, and other things. Yes, you’ll pay more upfront, but you’ll save money over time.

4. Don’t spend all your money on objects

If you’re still itching to spend (or borrow) Black Friday money, do you really have to spend it on “stuff”? How fulfilling is that, ultimately? Once the rush of owning something shiny is over, there’ll be a new void, waiting to be filled. And what void are you filling anyway, and for what reason? Do you want to impress your colleagues?

To borrow a phrase from a weight-loss coach:

“Until you know what you’re truly hungry for, you’ll never be satisfied.”

We’ve been shoving waste under the carpet for decades. Is that a legacy you can be proud of? You don’t have to agree with me, but I think mother earth would be better off if we’d shift from an economy of “more and more,” to an economy of “enough is enough.” 

As we’re celebratingThanksgiving, can we just stop for a moment, and be grateful for what we already have? Can we also spend some time giving, instead of getting? For so many charities, your (tax-deductible) donation is not a want, but a need.

If you insist on giving yourself a gift, why not buy a gym membership (and actually use it)? Why not enroll in a cooking class that teaches you to make healthy meals?

Treat your family to a trip abroad, allowing everyone to broaden their horizons, and to recharge those batteries that have been going non-stop.

Gift yourself to your community by volunteering! Science has proven that it is better to give than to receive. So, be selfish, and share your time and talent with those who need it. It will truly transform your life!

I’ll tell you one thing:

It will beat leaving Thanksgiving dinner early, so you can stand in a stupid line for Best Buy.

And if Black Friday shopping is a cherished family tradition you want to break with, you know there’s only one way to do it:

Go cold turkey!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Has VDC Gone Too Far?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Freelancing, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play Leave a comment

Before I come back to Monday’s story about voices dot com’s changed Terms of Service, I have a word for my many subscribers.

Until now, I’ve used a service called Feedburner to enable people to subscribe to this blog. Google stopped supporting this service quite some time ago, but it was still operational.

As of today I have retired Feedburner, and replaced it with a simple subscription system provided by Jetpack.

What I did not do is automatically transfer thousands of Feedburner subscribers to the new system. That may not seem such a smart move, because I’d stand to lose many subscribers. However, I feel I cannot just move your private information over from one system to another without your permission. That choice has to be yours, not mine.

If you feel this blog offers enough value, I ask you to please go to the top right-hand part of this page and resubscribe using the new system. You will receive a short email asking you to confirm your choice. Mind you: you can always unsubscribe if my musings are no longer relevant or interesting to you.

I will weep in silence, but eventually I’ll get over it.

LOSING YOUR INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY RIGHTS

With that said, let’s move on to my friends at voices dot com (VDC). Every member past and present has received an email notification saying:

“As part of our regular updates, we’re making a few changes to our Terms of Service to reflect new features, clarify our policies related to file ownership and improve your experience on Voices.com.”

As I reported on Monday (a day before VDC made the announcement) CEO David Ciccarelli had decided that, in order to “improve your experiences on Voices.com,” it would be best to hand complete ownership of your finished work over to VDC.

As soon as your audio has been uploaded, VDC can do with it whatever it wants. Once the client has paid in full, that ownership is transferred to the client.

The following is from the new VDC Terms of Service (TOS):

6. Non-Union Work Product: With respect to non-union voice work produced by Talent for a Client in connection with a Services Agreement or an accepted Job Posting (“Non-Union Work Product”), immediately upon the transfer, transmission, submission or upload of Non-Union Work Product through the Site, or otherwise through a Service, Talent: (i) transfers, assigns and conveys to Voices.com, all right, title and interest (including without limitation copyright) in and to such Non-Union Work Product (including without limitation sound recordings, performances, compositions, musical works and other copyrighted content included therein) that Talent has agreed to provide the Client (via Voices.com) in the applicable Job Posting, Services Agreement or other agreement between Talent and Client; (ii) waives all moral rights (and all other rights of a like nature) that Talent may have in such Non-Union Work Product in favour of the applicable Client (and any third party authorized by the Client to use such Non-Union Work Product); and (iii) agrees to execute any and all such further documents as Voices.com may request to confirm and/or give full effect to Voices.com and/or the applicable Client’s rights hereunder.

Without limiting the generality of the foregoing, Voices.com (including its assignees or licensees) may use Non-Union Work Product in accordance with the applicable Job Posting, Services Agreement or other agreement between Talent and Client without restriction and without any rights of approval by Talent. Upon payment in full by the Client, Voices.com grants to Client all right, title and interest (including without limitation copyright) that Talent has agreed to provide the Client (via Voices.com) in and to the applicable Non-Union Work in the applicable Job Posting, Services Agreement or other agreement between Talent and Client, which for greater certainty will be limited and subject to any purposes, intent, scope and restrictions (including, if applicable, category of use, market size and time period) set out in the applicable Job Posting, Services Agreement or other agreement between Talent and Client. In the event the applicable Services or Job Posting does not specify such limits nor usage restrictions, a full buy-out of the Non-Union Work Product is assigned.

A BIG DEAL

Why is this even an issue? Our colleague Chris Thorn comments:

“If Burt’s Bagel Shop (of course I am making this up) wishes to pay me X number of dollars to voice an advertisement for them, frankly, I’m all for it. I’ve done him a service, he has compensated me, and we both live happily ever after. That I do or do not own the intellectual property rights to that 30 seconds of Emmy quality audio troubles me not. What on earth am I going to do with the property other than sell it to Burt who has already purchased it.

Most of us don’t play with the “big boys”. Here is where we carve out our niche and put food in our belly’s, that I don’t have the intellectual property rights to Burt’s Bagels ad, Sally’s Fine Nails Internet Explainer Video voice over, or Junk City’s benefits presentation audio troubles me very, very little. Signed, An Unconcerned Voice Actor”

First of all, the right to ownership of your intellectual property is in the US Constitution. Apparently, you need a Dutch voice talent to point that out. Just because a third party is paying for your voice over recording, doesn’t mean they own those rights, UNLESS you agree to signing those rights over in a work for hire agreement made prior to you starting the job. That’s how it’s done.

It’s not for a company like VDC to automatically give that right away using a Terms of Service Agreement most members won’t even read.

Secondly, if a company wants exclusivity, THEY PAY FOR IT.

UK Colleague Marcus Hutton explains:

“The level of exposure matters. And in your fee there should always be an exclusivity element built in. Heavy association with one product will naturally take similar products off the table (who wants to use the same voice that a rival uses?). If you go and work for Betty’s Bagel shop then Bert won’t be using you again and bang goes you client relationship.

Even if your job is is officially non exclusively licensed, a rival client would be very peed off if they made the connection. Unofficially, radio stations ( as an example) who do not pay exclusivity fees just won’t use you for a competing product. And how on earth can you negotiate a fee with Bert’s Bagel Shop in the first place if you don’t know what the usage will be ? In Europe that’s now illegal under the new copyright directive. Clients can be fined for providing insufficient information.”

He continues:

“A study by the IP department of a major UK university on voice overs licensing, and unfair practises by P2P platforms is underway, and the first part of their research was published earlier in the year. There is more to come specifically on the legality of P2P licensing and how it varies between the US and Europe and what part the WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization)can play in making things fairer. Jurisdiction will be a hot topic.”

Click here to access this study. Here’s one of the conclusions:

“In a two-part analysis, this study demonstrates that online peer-to-peer recruitment platforms defeat the framework of intellectual property (copyright and performers’ rights) on a global scale.

The results of the survey show that: online peer-to-peer recruitment platforms are perceived very negatively by voice-over performers; the use of written contracts, summarizing the key aspects of a transaction is extremely rare; and, there is a critical lack of awareness of intellectual property rights within voice-over performers paired with a perceived lack of representation by unions or organizations to defend and advance their rights.”

The author (R) and Rob Sciglimpaglia

LEGAL OPINION

As (voice) actor, attorney and the author of Voice Over Legal, Robert Sciglimpaglia said on Monday:

Talent should think long and hard about waiving their intellectual property rights through a buried term in a terms of service agreement on a website. The end client may ask the talent to sign a work for hire, but it’s an open question for me whether TOS is an enforceable work for hire.”

And by the way, what would you, Chris Thorn, do when VDC uses the explainer video for Sally’s Fine Nails as a national commercial, or uses it for years past what you contracted for? How are you going to stop them from doing that if you have no more ownership of your work?

Unlike you, I did not make these examples up. These are actual cases that were litigated and reported by VDC members. Or how about when they use your work to create an AI database to do who knows how many jobs that you could have done to put food in your belly? It’s no secret that VDC has a partnership with AI company VocaliD.

YOUR INPUT

Ciccarelli explains how this change in TOS came about:

“We listened to your feedback via online forums and our customer advisory group. We consulted industry experts, our board of directors and finally, our legal counsel.”

If you’re a VDC member, were you asked to weigh in on this decision that impacts your livelihood? Did you give VDC feedback, begging them to please take away your intellectual property rights to make the poor clients happy?

Only a fool or an extremely naive beginner would do that.

I have many connections in the voice over world, and as far as I can tell, no voice talent was ever consulted.

Once again, VDC is pulling a fast one, screwing the talent it depends on to make millions.

What else is new?

Voiceoverist extraordinaire Philip Banks has this to say to VDC:

“Dear Dave, Steph and all you lovely Voice Devils Canada. A client, not you, will pay me for the reasonable use of my work. My performance was, is and will remain my property. YOU, dearest Dave, Steph and the lovely Voice Devils Canada take an annual fee from me and an undetermined percentage of my income, MY INCOME, derived from your site. That’s it.

 “In order to improve service” as used in your T&Cs is like greasing my wallet in order to improve the service I get from Quentin the local pickpocket.”

 

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Voices Dot Com is Giving Your Rights Away

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Freelancing, Internet, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play 4 Comments

I just received an email from Michelle Melski, the new communications manager at Voices Dot Com (VDC).

She writes:

“After conversations with customers and industry stakeholders it became obvious that we needed to clarify our Terms of Service, particularly around the ownership of files. 

Our terms of service will be updated tomorrow (11/12/’19 PS) to reflect that voice talent own the demos they are uploading to the website and that the clients own the finished work. Our CEO will blog about it in more detail on our website tomorrow, but I wanted to give you a heads up because I know that it matters to you.”

In his blog, VDC CEO David Ciccarelli writes:

“As always, voice talent are the owners of their demo materials. Voices.com holds ‘non-exclusive’ rights to host and promote these files through our website and mobile applications.

Additionally, clients own the final files for the work that they have paid to have completed on Voices.com. Ownership and usage of final files is determined by what’s written in the job posting, service agreement or other agreement between the talent and the clients.”

(…)

“I trust that you’ll see our commitment to providing a valuable service that is governed by policies designed to protect our community.”

To some this may not seem like a big deal, but in my understanding an independent contractor owns the intellectual property (IP) rights to his or her creation, in this case an audio recording.

Unless the talent explicitly waives those rights, the client does not own the finished voice recording. The client only pays for limited usage of the work. It’s very much like a professional photographer keeping ownership of the negatives while the client pays for limited use of those negatives.

Only if you have a written contract in place (a so-called work for hire agreement) that was agreed upon before the job began, stating that the intellectual property belongs to the client, the freelancer loses his or her rights. If there’s no written agreement, the IP remains with the voice talent.

Mind you: just because the client paid you for your work does not mean he or she automatically owns the intellectual property rights.

The big question is: are the VDC Terms of Service (TOS) the same as a work for hire agreement

I checked in with screen actor and voice talent Robert Sciglimpaglia. Rob’s also an attorney and the author of Voice Over Legal. He said:

“This issue will need to be tested by the Courts, and talent should think long and hard about waiving their intellectual property rights through a buried term in a terms of service agreement on a website.” Rob continues:

“The talent owns the recording unless they sign a work for hire agreement. Does the TOS meet the terms for a valid work for hire agreement? In order for it to be challenged properly I would recommend talent register the work as a sound recording with the US Copyright office just prior to submitting to VDC. The end client may ask the talent to sign a work for hire, but it’s an open question for me whether TOS is an enforceable work for hire.”

Rob writes in his book:

“Voice talent are most certainly hired to do most voice over jobs as “work for hire,” meaning that whoever hires the voice talent is retaining the right to copyright the finished product with the talent’s voice on it. This is normal and customary in the business.”

Here’s my take on it. 

As freelancer, I am free to set my own terms and conditions when working with my clients. I can negotiate my rate, in part based on intended usage of the audio, precisely because I own the intellectual property rights to my recordings. Why would I want to give those rights away?

Has VDC asked any of their talents if they agree that content created by the talent for a third party belongs to that party, simply because VDC claims their Terms of Service trump intellectual property laws?

And if you’re giving something away, shouldn’t you get something in return?

I asked VDC’s Michelle Melski:

“Does this mean that all VDC members effectively agree to a full buyout in perpetuity? If so, how will this be reflected in the rates?”

Her response:

“As always, clients are only able to use the files for the specifications laid out in the Job Posting, Services Agreement, or other agreement between Talent and Client. Our CEO will outline this in more detail on our blog tomorrow (11/12/’19 PS).”

What guarantees does the talent have that clients owning the finished work will stick to those agreements? How is VDC going to monitor and enforce that? And will VDC rates go up in exchange for talent giving up up their intellectual property rights? And should you really have to register your work with the US copyrights office at $35 a pop, every time you land a job on VDC? Is the client really willing to wait until your voice over is officially registered?

As Rob Sciglimpaglia notes in Voice Over Legal:

“The copyright is effective on receipt by the Copyright Office, and you will receive your registration certificate in four to five months. Because of this time delay, it’s advisable to send the material by either certified mail (return receipt requested), or courier (such as FedEx or UPS).”

The following screenshot provided by VDC outlines the specifications a client must list when posting a job for a voice talent at VDC. Michelle Melski says the rate is adjusted based on the parameters of the job. 

Just remember that transparency has always been lacking at VDC, and since I’m no longer a member I cannot tell you if rates have actually gone up.

This whole relinquishing your rights thing is clearly a move that benefits clients and not the talent VDC says it represents. What community is VDC actually protecting?

It’s no wonder why so many smart voice actors have left this company, and why VDC is no longer welcome at conferences like VO Atlanta.

So, will this be the final straw for you, or are you okay with VDC giving away your rights to please their cheap clients?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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I’m Looking For Voice Talent!

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Promotion 4 Comments

museum audio tourDo you want to hear my formula for voice over success?

Number one: There is no formula. Just talent and hard work.

Number two: It’s getting the basics right. Consistently.

Number three: Learn from the best and distinguish yourself from the rest.

Number four: Make it easy to hire you and easy to work with you.

I was reminded of those last points as I got involved in the casting of a project for a Spanish client. He asked if I could help him find a few Dutch female voices for an hour-long museum tour

Easy, right?

But where to start?

With so much talent, I had to find a way to separate the wheat from the chaff, knowing that my recommendations would also reflect on me. In my role as voice seeker I came up with a couple of principles that are so obvious that they’re often overlooked. Here’s number one:

People are more likely to suggest and hire people they know and can relate to

The longer I am in this business, the more I’m reminded that connections are the key to a sustainable career. If you don’t have a long-term strategy to cultivate these connections, you’re going to have a hard time.

Why are connections so important? It comes down to the most valuable commodity in our volatile line of work: trust

“But I don’t know anyone in the business,” said a newcomer. “I’ll never be able to break in.”

“Then make some friends!” I said. “With social media it’s never been easier. Don’t wait for others to take the initiative. Start reaching out!”

A year or so ago, I became more active in a Facebook group for Dutch talent. I rekindled old connections, and began making new ones. I received friend requests, and asked people to befriend me.

Some colleagues were predominantly interested in how I could help them land big American clients, and I understand that. Others were also interested in me as a person, and they offered their help. 

From the moment I started my life as a freelancer, I’ve learned to pick out the ME-people from the WE-people.

The ME-people ask: What can you do for ME?” They are mainly interested in getting

The WE- people ask: “What can I do for YOU?” They are mainly interested in giving

You’ll notice the same thing when people discuss the merits of going to voice over conferences. Some want to know: “What’s in it for me? Will I get my money’s worth?” Others ask: “How can I contribute? What can I do to help?” 

I’m very much drawn to the WE-crowd. The ones who want to cooperate. Those are the people I am likely to recommend. 

So, if you want me to put in a good word for you, become a go-giver instead of a go-getter!

Here’s the second thing I value when recommending fellow voice talent:

Make it easy to find you, and to get relevant information about you

When I started searching among the members of the Dutch voice over group, I noticed that many still use a personal profile instead of a professional Facebook page to highlight their voice over work.

If you do this too, this means that I, as a voice seeker am looking at your family photos where you pose in a tiny bikini holding a beer stein looking tipsy. I see your political postings, and the slightly weird way you interact with your friends.

Like it or not, I form an opinion which may or may not be favorable. If it comes down to you and another talent, and I don’t happen to like your political affiliation or your love of lager, you’re out. 

What also surprised me was that a good number of talents didn’t have any contact info in the About-section. Not even a link to their website! You want me to recommend you for a job, but you won’t tell me how to reach you or check out your demos? I’m a busy guy and I don’t have time to track you down. 

Your most critical information has to be one click away.

Number three:

Your demos need to reflect the totality of your talent

You can have the most amazing art work on your website and a wonderful bio, but if you post three demos and they all sound the same, you are selling yourself short. Very few voice overs can make a living being a one-trick pony. No one wants to come to a restaurant where the cook can only make three dishes.

So, if you wish to be a working voice talent, I want to hear you narrate some audio books, teach me a lesson through eLearning, sell me a product or a service, give me a guided tour of a museum, and act out a few video game characters. Show me your range.

Don’t only post your overproduced, expensive demos with all the bells and whistles. Clients want to know how you sound in your home studio with your own equipment. Unsweetened. In heavenly mono.

Eighty percent of the website demos I listened to for my Spanish client could not be downloaded. That’s another stumbling block. First I had to find the website. Then I couldn’t find a demo that didn’t sound salesy. On top of that there was nothing to download and send to the client.

Who is playing hard to get?

Eventually, I did get my demos, but most of them didn’t have the talent name in the audio file. They just said something like “Audio tour 2019.” Why is that a problem?

Imagine having to cast this job, and out of twenty to thirty samples you find your top three. The problem is, you don’t know which talent recorded which demo because it’s not listed in the title. Now you have to spend more time finding the name that goes with the voice. 

Let’s move on to number four:

Be responsive, ask the right questions, and follow the instructions

If you’ve ever had to hire voices, you know that you can weed out seventy percent of talent because:

  • the audio quality is terrible
  • deadlines are ignored
  • talent makes the wrong assumptions
  • talent can’t follow simple directions, and is
  • unable to interpret the script

 

So, which talent gets hired? The talent that’s capable, available, and affordable. If you can’t deliver on all three fronts, you’re gone.

At the beginning of my day I approached ten voice talents. By the end of the afternoon seven got back to me. Out of those seven, five asked questions about the job. Three offered to record a custom demo.

In order to put in an educated quote for this audio guide, you need to know:

  • the length of the script
  • does the client want finished, fully edited audio that is separated, or is it okay to send in one file
  • what’s the budget
  • does that include retakes

 

Since the script was still being translated, I couldn’t give the talent a text, but at the end of the day, four sent me a sample of audio tours they had recorded in the past. The remaining three had found a few paragraphs of a real audio tour and sent that in.

Full marks for everyone!

The quotes I received for an hour of finished audio were between €850 and €2500. The cheaper talent sounded just as professional as the more expensive talent.

Now, it took me a few hours of communicating with my colleagues and my client to get the right information to the right people. I was only helping out, remember? 

Do I have any idea who will get hired?

Call me cynical, but based on my experience, here’s what I predict.

The client will thank me for my efforts and post the job on Voice123 or on that other online casting auction house, the one in Canada…

…where they will find some sucker who is willing to do the job for $250 or less, claiming he has to “feed his family.”

No questions asked.

And thus, our business will slowly go to pieces. One lousy job at a time.

The end.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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PPS One of my Dutch students just got signed by a major US agent!

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Have I Got News For You!

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Book, Career, Dutch, Freelancing, International, Personal, Promotion, VO Atlanta 30 Comments

Paul Strikwerda

If you’re a follower of this blog you’re probably wondering why you keep seeing stories in some strange European language. Frankly, it started as a one-off thing for my Dutch friends and colleagues.

Because I’ve been away from home for twenty years, most people had no idea what had happened to me. I literally disappeared off the map when I left the Netherlands with my entire life packed up in two suitcases and a plastic bag.

Yes, people… I am one of those immigrants who came to your country in search of a better life, ready to steal your jobs and marry your women. You better watch out!

A DUTCH TREAT

Anyway, I wanted to let my fellow-Netherlanders know what I’d been up to since I left my motherland, and that’s why I started writing in Dutch. I had to talk myself into it though, because I wasn’t sure if I still had it in me. Most of my thoughts are in English, I speak English all day long, and ninety percent of what I read and write is in English. I didn’t want to make a fool of myself penning pieces in Denglish.

After my first Dutch article was published, it became clear I had no reason to be worried. Over three hundred people read the story of my exodus and liked it. I didn’t think there were even three hundred voice actors in Holland. Better still, people wanted me to keep on writing, and that’s what I did. So far, there are six chapters and there’s more to come. 

Now, here’s the thing. I have no way to ensure that my Dutch stories will only go to my Dutch subscribers. So, if English is your preferred language I hope you will do me a favor. Just ignore the blog posts in Dutch and wait for a new English story on Thursday. If you’re Dutch, you are in luck because you get two articles for the price of one!

CHANGING COURSE

With that out of the way I’d like to share some news with you. I am in the process of realigning my business with new and exciting plans that are in part based on what I am physically and mentally able to accomplish. You probably remember that the stroke I had in March of last year has forced me to seriously slow down and rethink my priorities.

My mind would love to continue as if nothing has happened, but my body disagrees. A permanent tremor in one of my vocal folds limits the time I am able to record voice-overs. My voice tires much faster, and no amount of vocal exercises has changed that. Mind you: this does not mean I can’t do any recordings.

As I speak, I am learning to do more with less. Fortunately, my clients and my agents completely understand, so they’re not sending me 600-page novels, or auditions for video games that require dying a thousand agonizing deaths.

KEEPING MY PRESENCE

Just because my vocal folds are taking a bit of a back seat doesn’t mean I have lost my voice completely. In Holland we say: “Onkruid vergaat niet,” meaning “Weeds don’t die.” I can assure you that I will continue to have a voice in our community.

At VO Atlanta (March 26 – 29, 2020), I’ll be leading a 3-hour workshop called Boosting Your Business with a Blog, and I’ll do a presentation on The Incredible Power of Language.

I am working on a second book, and I will continue to write this blog with a double dose of truthiness and snarcasm. If things go according to plan, 50% of my business is going to be devoted to content creation, 20% to speaking, and 30% to helping others succeed.

Here’s an example of that last category. Some of my Dutch colleagues want to spread their professional wings, and try their luck abroad. These folks need a tour guide who’s been there and done that.

In the coming months I’ll be coaching some of Holland’s top-tier talent and taking them to VO Atlanta. I’d like you to get to know them, and that’s why I’ll be interviewing each one of them for this blog. Stay tuned, these folks will knock your socks off!

ONLINE ACTIVITIES

All of the above means that I have to have a website that reflects this shift in focus. That’s why I am working with the splendid team at voiceactorwebsites on a complete overhaul of the Nethervoice site. According to Joe Davis who heads voiceactorwebsites, Nethervoice.com is already the number one individual voice-over site on the interweb, and I am going to strengthen that position even more.

Expect a site that truly showcases my writings, featuring a clean, sophisticated design, and a new, simpler way to subscribe. Of course it is going to load super fast and it’s 100% mobile-friendly. Because I’m pretty picky, all of this is going to take a while to accomplish, but it will be worth waiting for!

Thanks for your continued support and patience during this time of transition.

It means the world to me!

Tot de volgende keer.

Till next time!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Who wants to be an Emcee?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Personal 8 Comments

The author as emcee. Click photo to watch video.

It all started when I was still working in radio and television. I’d been a roaming reporter, a producer, a news anchor, and a presenter. I knew people, and people knew me. What’s more, they trusted me.

One day I got a call from a symposium organizer who wanted to know if I’d be interested in moderating a debate they were organizing. I happened to be available, so I said yes. That two-hour gig made me more money than an entire week on the radio. More importantly, I had so much fun doing it!

The audience seemed to respond well, and one gig led to another, and another. Then a local theater needed an emcee for a gala, and thought I’d be a good fit. A week later I was introducing speakers and performers on a huge stage.

ESCAPING THE STUDIO

What I loved about it was the opportunity to escape from the studio, and be in front of a live audience that responded immediately to what I was saying and doing. That rarely happens in radio (or in voice-overs). Even when taping a TV show, the audience is warmed up ahead of time by some sad comedian, and told when to applaud. There’s nothing spontaneous about it.

As the emcee, I got to set the tone and the energy for whatever event I was involved in, and it brought the extrovert out in me. Eventually, this hosting thing became a nice side hustle and I got more requests than I could handle. I reacted by raising my fee, but that had the opposite effect. Because I was more expensive I became more in demand. Remember that when you’re negotiating your next VO gig!

The truth is, I’m not sure I was that good, but I soon discovered that there simply weren’t too many people who had the guts to address a large crowd. Most folks would probably pee in their pants at the idea of being in the limelight.

As a minister’s son I had had years of practice being in front of the congregation reading from scripture or doing a nativity play. Unknowingly, the Dutch Reformed Church had prepared me for becoming a master of ceremonies.

THE BIGGEST HURDLE

Being an event host is a bit like doing voice-overs: it seems easy until you actually have to do it. Here’s why:

It’s tough to be natural in an unnatural situation.

Most people become extremely self-conscious. They don’t know how to hold their hands, they can’t control their voice, and suddenly the words that come out of their mouths sound silly and insincere.

Now imagine doing all of that on stage, with lots of strangers watching your every move. Are you having fun yet?

So, depending on your mental makeup, this could either be a nightmare scenario or an interesting career opportunity for you. We all know that freelance income fluctuates, and since you’re already using your voice to make a living, why not add some public speaking to your repertoire?

To make sure you’ll get asked back after your first engagement, I’m going to share some tips with you.

HOW TO BE AN AMAZING EMCEE

The number one question people always ask me is this:

“How do you curb your nerves?”

First, you’ve got to know that nerves are normal. They’re a sign that your mind and your body are awake, alert, and willing to do well. Welcome your butterflies and thank them for lifting up your level of energy and excitement. Athletes, actors, and musicians need that extra boost to take their performance to the next level. So do you!

Secondly, the best way to prevent nerves from paralyzing you, is preparation. The next question is: how do you prepare?

When I first started emceeing, I expected the organization that was hiring me to take care of every little detail. Because they knew what was happening, they expected me to know what was happening as well. They thought I’d just go on stage and start talking.

I soon learned that it was my job as host to get as many details about the event and the speakers as possible, at least a few weeks ahead of time. If the organization was unwilling or unable to provide that, I took that as a red flag and I declined the job.

This is also your first opportunity to establish your expertise and your authority by putting your foot down. Even though you don’t organize the event, once the show starts rolling, you will be seen as the person in charge, and you effectively are. At that point you don’t want people to challenge, distract, or confuse you.

So, what sort of information do you need?

GET THE FACTS

Before you even agree to do the job, find out as much as you can about the organization(s) involved. Would you be proud to be associated with them? Even though you have no formal ties with them, you will be seen as representing them on stage. Equally important is to know your audience. You don’t want to talk down to them, or go over their heads.

As you are preparing, dig up some fun facts about the company or charity behind the event, as well as the speakers and the entertainment. That way you’ll always have something to say in case you need to stall for time.

No matter how well-organized an event may be, speakers may arrive late, the band will need a few more minutes to set up, and the prize you were supposed to hand out might vanish. During those times you’ll be glad you have something to talk about.

Be sure you are in command of the basic facts: who will be speaking when, how to pronounce their names, and what their credentials and accomplishments are. In case of performers, get the names of the individual band members, find some career highlights, let the audience know where they can find their music, and where they’ll be performing next. 

Let me stress: don’t trust the organizers to give you all the info you need. Do some digging yourself. Being knowledgeable shows that you’re not just in it for the money. A professional emcee is genuinely interested in the event, the people, and the organizations that take part.

Here’s the thing: if you are interested and involved, you will sound interested and involved, and you are more likely to get the audience interested and involved. I’ve seen emcees that looked like they were only there to collect a paycheck. It’s boring, embarrassing, and insulting.

SPONSORS

These days, most events don’t happen without sponsors. These sponsors don’t throw money at an event just because they’re in a charitable mood. They expect something in return: publicity. Perhaps they’re also a vendor at the conference.

It is your job as an emcee to enthusiastically mention these sponsors multiple times during your time on stage. Be prepared to say something nice about them, and ask the audience to show their appreciation by giving them a round of applause. If the CEO’s of these sponsors are present, acknowledge and thank them as well.

Remember: people like to feel valued and appreciated. CEO’s want to look good in the public eye. If you treat them with respect and present their company or organization in a positive light, chances are that they’ll continue sponsoring the event in years to come. This will make you look good in the eyes of the organization that hired you, and the CEO’s might think of you to emcee their next corporate event. Win – win!

Speaking of those who hired you, even though you are the MASTER of ceremonies, you provide a SERVICE for which you’re getting paid. Act like the confident professional you are, and don’t bite the hand that feeds you. Don’t behave like a jerk or a diva, just because your face is on television, or all over YouTube.

No matter what happens, your job is to make the organization and the organizers look good. If they look good, you look good.

DISASTER STRIKES

If something goes wrong, don’t point it out. Unless the building catches fire, the audience doesn’t need to know. It’s up to you to distract and deflect. Buy time while the problem is being sorted out.

Now, in case of a real emergency, you may have to direct the audience to stay calm and head to the nearest exit. So, make sure you know where those exits are and what is expected of you in those situations. Lives may depend on it.

Another question people always ask is: “What should I wear?”

The short answer is to dress professionally and dress for the occasion. You don’t go to a gala in your jeans, and you don’t wear a tuxedo if you’re moderating an academic panel. If in doubt, ask the organization.

Whatever you wear, make sure it is clean, ironed, and it fits right. Bring some spare clothes in case someone spills a drink on you. And visit your hairdresser before the event. If you look good, you feel good, and you’ll shine on stage.

Realize that the harsh stage lights aren’t always kind to your complexion. In fact, they might make you look downright pale and sickly. To counteract that, always bring some powder foundation and apply it before you go on stage. This tip is for women AND men! Click here for a quick tutorial. You may want to consult with a makeup artist to find out which products are best for you.

Emceeing the Easton Farmers’ Market

TAKE YOUR TIME

This brings me to another point: give yourself enough time to get to the venue and prepare. Professionals are punctual. Require a parking pass or a reserved parking spot so you don’t waste time hunting for one.

Familiarize yourself with the stage and the equipment. Make friends with the sound engineer and do the soundcheck ahead of time. The words “Check, one, two, three,” followed by thumping on the microphone at the beginning of a show, are the sounds of an amateur.

Always bring a clipboard for your notes, or prepared 3 x 5 cards. Never write complete sentences but use keywords so you can speak semi-spontaneously instead of reading to the audience. When you read, you lose eye contact, and you disconnect from those in front of you.

If you’d like to put some personality into your presentations, avoid using clichés such as:

“Without further ado,”

“Sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.”

“Last but not least,” and 

“Boy, are we in for a good time.”

When speaking, make sure you face the audience. That seems to be a given, but I’ve seen quite a few emcees with their backs to the crowd as they were introducing the band behind them on stage.

Even though you may not see your audience very well because of the blinding lights, pretend you do. Let your eyes rest at various spots in the auditorium, including the balcony. This will give people the feeling that you connect with them, no matter where they are sitting.

HOW TO HANDLE THE AUDIENCE

Some jobs will require you to go into the audience to get some reactions or do short interviews. A few pointers:

Never drink any alcohol before, during, or after your gig.

Make sure your breath is fresh. Click here to find out what kind of mouth spray I use. 

Always hold on to your microphone. Once it’s taken from you, you have lost control of the situation.

Never embarrass people by making fun of their appearance or accent. You’re putting them on the spot, so please be respectful.

Be very careful with humor. It could easily backfire. I once cracked a joke about our mayor as I was introducing him, and he was not amused. Later on he called the organization that had asked me to emcee, and filed a complaint. In hindsight I had to agree with him. The joke wasn’t very funny and could easily be misinterpreted.

In doubt, err on the side of caution.

Having said that, no one likes an emcee who’s bone dry and dead serious. So, if you catch yourself saying something that makes the audience laugh, make a mental note. In the beginning of your emcee career, you’re like a comedian doing tryouts to find out what works and what doesn’t.

Here’s an example.

Sometimes you’ll be asked to hand out rewards or prizes to unsuspecting individuals. They walk up to the stage, overwhelmed and incredibly nervous. It’s your job to put them at ease so they’re able to give a short thank you speech. Quite often, these people will be crying their eyes out.

At that point I usually hand them a tissue saying: “Please take this tissue. I’ve only used it once.”

Somehow, that always gets a laugh from the audience and from the person crying. Once they start smiling, I know they’re ready for their acceptance speech.

TAKING CARE OF YOU

I’ve already mentioned the importance of your physical appearance. But there’s more. Being an emcee is a great responsibility that comes with a lot of pressure. You need to keep the show moving and make sure every element begins and ends on time. There are a lot of details to keep track of and people to please. And you have to do it all with a smile.

Some days you can’t wait to go on stage and do your thing. Other days you just want to stay home and relax. Then there are days when everything turns dark when a beloved pet, close friend, or family member ends up in the hospital or worse.

You’re bound by a contract, so the show must go on. Whether you like it or not.

Whatever is going on in your personal life, leave it at the door as soon as you walk in. You have been hired to support the event. Whatever support you need has to be put on hold.

I’ve been in situations where I’d wish I wouldn’t have to be on stage pretending everything is hunky-dory, but you know what? The distraction of being there, helping other people have a good time, helped me deal with my personal issues. For a few hours I could stop obsessing over a stressful situation and focus on the job I had to do. 

That too, is being a professional.

Two months after my stroke

SHOULD YOU DO IT?

If you feel that emceeing is something you could do, you’ve got to do it for the right reasons. For one, you are not the star of the show. You’re on stage to create a welcoming atmosphere in which all participants can shine. Your job is to make other people look good. Sometimes you’re their safety net. Sometimes you’re their cheerleader.

Whatever role you play, you’ve got to be genuinely involved and interested – even when the spotlight is not on you. I’ve seen emcees enthusiastically announce an act, and look completely disinterested and bored off-stage, even making faces at the performers. Things like that upset me more than I’d like to admit.

Good emcees are focused on others. Bad ones are focused on themselves.

Being an emcee is not for the shy. You’ve got to be

comfortable in front of a crowd

comfortable without a script

comfortable under pressure

comfortable dealing with strong personalities

comfortable thinking on your feet

comfortable being you

Now, it is often said that the last thing you leave people with, will be remembered most. So, after you have thanked the participants, the organization, and the audience for their involvement, you leave the stage and thank everyone who has helped you do your job, from the sound engineer, to the floor manager, to the girl who fixed your hair.

Be gracious and grateful. Even though you might feel exhausted and you want to jump in your car, take a few moments to show your appreciation. In our society this sometimes seems like a lost art. Let’s keep it alive!

With that, I want to thank you for reading what turned out to be a rather lengthy blog post.

I hope to see you on stage, some day soon!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Een Zinkend Schip

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Dutch, Freelancing, Personal 2 Comments

Wat doe je als je merkt dat je op een zinkend schip zit? Laten we de boot SS Wereldomroep noemen.

Je hebt drie mogelijkheden:

1. Je geniet van de omgeving en hoopt dat alles weer goed komt;

2. je gaat in een reddingssloep van boord, of

3. je werkt extra hard om het vaartuig drijvende te houden.

Er is ook nog een vierde, meer radicale optie, en die werd gekozen door een beminnelijke collega met een lange staat van dienst. Hier is een hint: zijn werk was zijn leven.

Toen zijn baan werd wegbezuinigd sprong hij overboord en werd later teruggevonden, bungelend aan een brug.

De zachtaardige, stille man die altijd had gedacht dat hij onmisbaar was, was binnen een week vergeten.

Laat dat maar even bezinken.

MIJN GROTE KANS

De meeste mensen om mij heen dachten dat de ondergang van Radio Nederland nog niet zo’n vaart zou lopen. Ze genoten van hun omgeving en hoopten op betere tijden. Ikzelf koos voor optie drie, maar werkte achter de schermen hard aan nummer twee.

Stel dat Gerrit den Braber net zo enthousiast over mij zou zijn als Ilse Wessel. Wat voor deuren zou dat openen? Ik durfde haast niet te dromen. Zelfs mijn vrouw wist nog van niks. Eerst maar eens horen of ik een kans zou maken. Daarna zien we wel verder, was mijn redenering.

Het was 3 mei 1997. Ik lag na een late dienst nog wat uit te slapen toen mijn geliefde me een dampende kop koffie kwam brengen. “Alles goed?” vroeg ik.

“Ja hoor” zei ze. “Ik heb net even een wasje gedraaid en naar De Dingen van de Dag geluisterd.”

“Is er nog iets gebeurd in de wereld?” wilde ik weten.

in de Wereldomroep studio

“Jij zit ook altijd aan het nieuws te denken,” zei mijn vrouw met terechte frustratie.

“Ik weet het. Het is beroepsdeformatie. Ze betalen me om op de hoogte te blijven van al het wereldleed.”

“Over leed gesproken,” zei mijn vrouw. “Weet je wie er vannacht is overleden?”

“Geen idee,” zei ik. “Vertel.”

Gerrit den Braber.”

Ik verslikte me abrupt in de hete koffie en die spoot met een bruine straal over het witte dekbed.

“Het is maar goed dat ik net de was aan het doen ben,” reageerde mijn vrouw. “Ben jij okay? Je ziet eruit alsof jij een spook gezien hebt.”

“Ik denk dat ik net een teken van het universum heb gekregen,” antwoordde ik in shock. “Zeg… zullen we straks even praten over dat trainingsbedrijf waar we het al zo lang over hebben gehad? Iets zegt me dat de tijd rijp is om daar nu aan te beginnen.”

Het was mijn optie nummer twee.

PERSOONLIJKE GROEI

Het ambivalente van een freelance baan is dat het permanente onzekerheid koppelt aan een hoop vrijheid en verantwoordelijkheid. Hoe je daarmee omgaat is helemaal aan jou. De meeste mensen hebben baat bij voorspelbaarheid en structuur, en dat vinden huisbazen, banken en de belastingdienst wel zo prettig. Je weet elke maand precies wat er binnenkomt. Saai maar betrouwbaar. En zo achterhaald.

Soms denk ik dat ik als freelancer geboren ben, omdat ik altijd al alles zelf wilde doen. Ik kon slecht werken onder domme bazen die hun baan te danken hadden aan het Peter Principle. Je weet wel, de arrogante klunzen die waren bevorderd tot een positie waar ze te weinig voor in huis hadden. Daar liepen er in Hilversum te veel van rond. Keizers zonder kleren.

Als freelancer gebruikte ik mijn vrije tijd om trainingen te volgen op het gebied van persoonlijke groei en ontwikkeling. Ik kwam daarbij uit op NLP, maar niet bij het vuurlopen waar Tony Robbins-imitator Ratelband bekend door werd. Mijn tak van Neuro-Linguistisch Programmeren was minder hype en meer therapie. Ik was voortdurend op zoek naar “het probleem achter het probleem,” en naar het ontdekken van iemands ongekende vermogens

met NLP trainer Tad James

Toen mijn vrouw en ik in Nederland de Practitioner en Master Practitioner opleiding hadden afgerond, volgden wij in Costa Mesa (Californië) de trainersopleiding. Ons doel was om ooit samen cursussen te geven. We keerden een aantal zomers als assistent-trainers terug naar Amerika, en werden in Lancaster (Pennsylvania Dutch Country) ook nog opgeleid tot hypnotherapeut.

MEDIA MOE

Ik kon dit alles combineren met mijn omroepwerk, maar op het moment dat mijn eigen programma bij Radio Nederland de nek werd omgedraaid en mijn collega zelfmoord pleegde, bleef één zin maar door mijn hoofd spoken:

“Waar doe ik het in hemelsnaam toch allemaal voor?”

Bij de geëngageerde IKON had ik nog het idee dat ik de wrede wereld kon veranderen met reportages en interviews. Als mensen over al het onrecht in de samenleving horen, dan komen ze wel in actie, dacht ik naïef. Toch bleef de zeespiegel maar stijgen, bleven ploerten aan de macht, en werden mensen het meeleven en meelijden moe. 

Ze wilden afleiding en amusement. Bloot en spelen.

Voor mij was er maar één conclusie:

Educatie (al of niet via de media) leidt niet tot transformatie.

Als informatie echt tot gedragsverandering kon leiden, dan zou niemand meer te veel eten, kettingroken of roekeloos rijden. We weten tenslotte dat dat slecht voor ons is. Maar échte verandering komt van binnenuit, en NLP and hypnose waren manieren om dat binnenste naar buiten te krijgen.

SUCCES

met één van mijn studenten

Terugkijkend ben ik trots dat we ons trainingsinstituut binnen twee jaar op de kaart wisten te zetten. Onze eerste cursus had vijf deelnemers, de tweede tien, en het werden er meer en meer. Hoewel we het niet om het geld deden kwamen er mooie bedragen op onze bankrekening binnen, en dat maakte het voor mij makkelijk om Hilversum te verlaten. 

Bevrijd van de negativiteit en stress van het nieuws genoot ik er elke dag van om het beste uit mijn cursisten (en mezelf) te halen. Ik voelde me zo happy als het lachende mannetje op de Life is Good t-shirts!

Niets wees er nog op dat ik vlak voor de Kerst van 1999 huis en haard zou achterlaten om een nieuw leven te beginnen in een ver land waar ik eigenlijk niks mee had.

wordt vervolgd

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

 

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