Freelancing

Seven Signs You’re Not Meant To Be A Voice Over

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Freelancing23 Comments

1. You think you’re good at imitating celebs. 

You may be getting some pity laughs at parties, but your impersonations are quite pathetic, really. If someone would give me a dollar for every aspiring VO telling me he can do “a mean Sean Connery,” or a silly Schwarzenegger, I’d retire early.

And no, I won’t be back!

Pretending to be someone you’re not, is NOT your ticket to voice over fame, UNLESS you’re truly extraordinary. 

If you wish to stand a chance to make it in the overcrowded world of voice talent, take this to heart:

Be An Original.

Agents aren’t looking for folks that sound like the people that are already on their roster. They want new, natural, refreshing, raw, daring, dazzling, and authentic. They want someone who doesn’t try to sound like someone else. 

2. You need job security.

Does your family depend on a stable income? Do you have monthly bills that always need to be paid on time? Do you have enough of a cash cushion to survive for a year on very little money, while you invest in your voice over career?

By invest I mean: hiring a VO coach, building a home studio, buying reliable audio equipment, installing Source Connect (sorry, not the free version), getting a website, having demos produced, creating your brand, and launching a marketing campaign.

If you’re not in a financial position to make these investments, is your partner able to pick up the tab and the slack, even in these economically uncertain times? Oh, and did I tell you that freelancers don’t get a benefits package, vacation time, sick leave, or paid training? It will all come out of your pocket. Good luck with that when you start peddling your services on Fiverr!

Are you psychologically ready to embrace the unpredictability and stress of freelance life? What are you willing to sacrifice to pursue your dream, knowing that it may take years before you finally break even?

3. You’re not disciplined, and self-motivated.

If you’re used to the nine to five routine, you’re in for a rude awakening. Once you are your own boss, no one will tell you to get out of bed in the morning, or get down to your office (which now consists of a small, dark, padded room with a microphone). You don’t have a list of old clients to call, or a sales department to sell your services.

When you’re self-employed, everything is always on you

Your first question is going to be: How on earth am I going to find work? Where are all the auditions everyone is talking about? And when you finally find a few opportunities, you see that hundreds of hopefuls have already sent in their custom demos while you’re still trying to work out how to use this Pro Tools nightmare. 

Let’s assume you’ve finally learned how to record a decent audition, what are you going to do when you realize that your recording is being dumped into a gigantic black hole, never to be heard of again? At that point you’ll finally recognize that…

4. You know nothing about running a voice over business.

That’s right. It seemed such a great idea at the time: you get paid to talk. A dream come true!

Being a successful voice over has everything to do with your ability to run a profitable international freelance business all by yourself, 24/7.

Let that sink in for a moment or two. Then read this line again.

Being a successful voice over has everything to do with your ability to run a profitable international freelance business all by yourself, 24/7.

Don’t think for one moment that you’ll spend most of your time speaking into a microphone. You’ll spend a lot of time doing the boring, unglamorous stuff, like keeping the books, trying to connect with clients, figuring out how to market yourself.

During those moments you discover that…

5. You don’t like tooting your own horn.

You’ve always been taught not to be boastful, and that modesty is still a virtue. You get uncomfortable when people are paying you compliments. You brush it away saying: “Oh, it was nothing, really. No big deal.”

The thing is, clients aren’t going to hire you if they can’t find you, and they won’t be able to find you when you’re playing hard to get. Like it or not, you need to create a presence in the marketplace, and because you happen to personify your product (or service, rather), selling your services means selling yourself!

If that makes you uncomfortable, too bad.

I’m a reluctant extravert who had to learn how to reach out and promote my one-man business. It was a bit weird at first, but it helped me uncover parts of myself I didn’t even know existed. If you’re not comfortable being uncomfortable, perhaps this business is not for you. This world needs plenty of people who are happy to play it safe. 

6. You hate technology. You just want to read.

Technology is not just for geeks. I started my career at a radio station with sound engineers taking care of every aspect of the recording. All I had to do was open my mouth and make intelligible noises.

Now I am my own sound engineer. I am in charge of the equipment and technology needed to send my voice across continents. If it works, it’s amazing. If it doesn’t, God help me! 

Over the years I have learned to ask for advice, but not to rely too much on outside help. I’m an independent contractor, after all. Besides, the people who tell you “Call me when you need me,” never answer the phone when you’re in a pickle. They’re usually too busy helping other people. 

There’s also this: other people’s opinion (emphasis on “opinion”) is no substitute for my own hands-on experience. There are too many gear snobs in this community with a big mouth and limited knowledge (see my final point). 

Take my advice.

If you wish to have a career as a VO Pro (especially in times of Corona) you MUST have a decent home studio and quality equipment that you know how to use. You expect a plumber to have the tools of the trade, before he or she enters your house, don’t you? Your clients expect the same of you. Remember that the number one reason auditions end up in the bin is bad audio quality.

7. You always take things personally.

Is it easy to step on your toes? Does your mood depend on how others treat you? Do you secretly seek affirmation? Do you crave to be included?

If that’s the case, how will you deal with the horrific R-word? 

R  E  J  E  C  T  I  O  N

When an audition doesn’t go well for, let’s say, a trumpet player, he or she can always blame the instrument. But when the instrument is your voice, it’s personal! You can’t go to a store and buy a more expensive voice box. Of course you can train your vocal folds to become more resonant, but what if the client just doesn’t like the way you sound? 

Listen, if I book five percent of all the jobs I audition for, I can keep my boat afloat. That does mean that nintey-five percent of the time the client chooses someone else. What’s even worse, I’ve wasted my time and energy creating the custom audition I thought would win me the job (and would pay the bills for the next few weeks). 

If you’re a sensitive soul, this is not good for your self-esteem.

The way you deal with rejection (or selection, as some like to call it) will determine how happy you will be as a performing artist. Some people become stronger. Others eventually give up.

Now, if you’re still reading, I have to reward you with a bonus sign! Here’s one more thing telling you you’re probably not meant to be a voice over…

8. You think you know best.

There are two things I can’t stand: willfully ignorant people, and people who believe that they are smarter and more capable than they really are (see my story “Incompetent and Overly Confident“). 

The first group is hard to help because they stay ignorant on purpose. With all the information in the world only a few mouse clicks away, they are usually too lazy or too recalcitrant to educate themselves.

The second group is unable to recognize their own incompetence, and because of that, they overestimate their own capabilities. In psychology this is known as the Dunning-Kruger effect.

David Dunning wrote in an article for Pacific Standard

“In many cases, incompetence does not leave people disoriented, perplexed, or cautious. Instead, the incompetent are often blessed with an inappropriate confidence, buoyed by something that feels to them like knowledge.”

Bear with me here.

If doing voice overs seems like something fun you’d like to try, I’m happy for you.

And you know what?

It is so much fun, and it’s hands down the best job I’ve ever had. 

But it’s also so much more than that, and if you’re seriously considering making this your career, you need to know about the more. A lot more!

So, please don’t think you know what’s best for you as you’re starting out. I don’t mind a good dose of natural confidence, but it has to be backed up by competence. Competence is not just something you can buy on the virtual shelves of Amazon. Competence requires patience because it is gained over time.

The trouble is: patience isn’t very popular in these “I want it, and I want it now” times. 

By the way, experience itself doesn’t necessarily lead to competence. Some of my coaching students have been in the business for years, and they have acquired bad habits they need to unlearn before they can make any progress.

Experience in one area does not necessarily translate to another area, either. Having had a career in radio for instance, does not automatically lead to a successful career in voice overs. 

It’s the quality of your experience that qualifies you. 

If you think you know best in this business without having anything to back it up, good luck to you. You’ll need it. 

The newcomers who do well in our community recognize their limitations, they respect more seasoned talent, and they are willing to learn from them, instead of giving them an attitude. 

Please don’t be that person David Dunning calls a “Confident Idiot.” 

One last thing, if I may. 

In the past, some of my readers have accused me of writing wild rants telling people what not to do, without advising them on what they actually should do.

To them I say: explore this blog. You’ll find over 350 articles on all aspects of the voice over business. These stories are packed with practical tips that won’t cost you a penny but can make you a ton of money. Don’t take my word for it. Ask around. 

And if that’s not enough, get my book Making Money In Your PJs.

You see, that’s extraverted me, tooting my own horn.

I always practice what I preach!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Barri Tsavaris: Creating The Next Big Thing

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Freelancing, International, PersonalLeave a comment

Barri Tsavaris

Being an expat myself, I’ve always had a soft spot for those who left everything and everyone behind to start a new life in a new country.

There’s the predictable culture shock, and in many cases a language barrier. In the beginning, every day is an exciting and surprising adventure. But as you start to settle in, you quickly discover that your dream of living in a new land does not resemble reality in any way, shape, or form.

To some people in your adopted country, you’re an unwelcome foreigner trying to steal their jobs. To others, you’re an exotic outsider with weird manners and a strange way of speaking. 

As you’re settling in, you come to the following realization.

Living, loving, and working far away from home, you’ll never feel more connected to where you came from.

The longer you’re gone, the stronger this feeling gets. Until you go back for a quick visit after a few years have passed, and you notice how much has changed in your absence. And for the first time in your life, you feel like you’re no longer fitting in at home either.

I remember coming back to the Netherlands, and finding out all the money had changed from guilders to euros. It’s only money, but it’s something valuable you use every day. It’s a symbol of a nation’s identity and pride.

I also observed that people had started speaking differently. The familiar Dutch was increasingly interspersed with English words and expressions. And when I spoke, I saw some raised eyebrows because -as I learned later- I was using words that had gone out of fashion. 

FROM NORTH AMERICA TO SOUTH KOREA

In this edition of the Nethervoice blog, I am talking to fellow expat Barri Tsavaris. She’s an American voice over colleague who lives and works in South Korea. When I asked her how she ended up there, this is what she told me:

“I was working for the jewelry brand John Hardy, planning all their trade shows. At the end of ’08, the US was struck with the housing crisis and subsequent recession, which led to me losing my job in early 2009. I used that year to produce my semi-autobiographical play, I Will Follow, which debuted in the NY International Fringe Festival. Once that closed, I sat in my office (the grand hall of the New York City Public Library) and decided that I couldn’t just go back to temping and the occasional acting gig while waiting for the next big thing. I had to create the next big thing for myself.

Teacher Barri

The economy in NYC was a mess, I’d gone through a divorce the year before, I lost my apartment…all signs were telling me it was time to step away from New York for a bit. So I googled “what job can I get abroad with only a bachelor’s degree in film?” Haha good times! I got a job teaching English at a public school just outside of Seoul. I flew to Asia 4 months later.”

Are you there permanently or temporarily?

“Temporarily. Wait…does 10 years count as temporary?! When I left New York, I told myself it was just for a year. My plan was to write the next “Eat, Pray, Love” and return to NYC to produce it on stage. But toward the end of that first year, I was in a production of The Vagina Monologues, and one of my castmates was a woman who was working as a voice actor. We became friends, she introduced me to her agent, and within a few months, I was scurrying around Seoul to recording studios.

I know all too well how difficult life is trying to be an actor in NYC. I found myself suddenly working full-time as a voice actor, while friends that had put in 5, 10 years in NYC and LA were still struggling to make ends meet. So I decided to stay. I say I’m here temporarily (despite owning all my appliances, getting married and having 3 cats) because my husband and I do plan to leave Korea eventually.”

What do you like about life in South Korea and what do you miss?

“After a decade, it’s easy to get Korea-fatigue. But I try my best to focus on the positive. Like the phenomenal public transit system. I can get anywhere in Seoul for a buck, the trains and busses are always on time, and I swear, you could eat off of the subway floors. The city employs older Korean women to clean all the subway stations. That’s another thing I love – growing old in Korea is viewed differently than America. Older generations aren’t put out to pasture; they’re encouraged to stay active physically and mentally. I love my expat community. There are countless English teachers here and many help form a thriving expat arts scene.

I thought I would miss New York City, and I do, but what I really miss are people. I miss hugging my parents, I miss sitting around and gabbing for hours with my best girlfriends from high school and college, I miss all the cool artists I used to perform improv and theatre with. So people… and food. Seoul has gotten better during my time here in terms of foreign food, but man, I miss a real bagel and a slice of New York pizza. That’s always the very first thing I eat when I visit the states!”

Tell me about the voice over scene. How does it differ from the US? What do you wish you would have known in the beginning?

“How much time do you have?! I could go on for hours about this. First, entry into voiceover here is much simpler. Pro demos, a VO website and home studio are not required. You can go into one of the main agencies here, audition, and if you’re good, you could be sent out to work the next day. Second, demos. Korean voice actors use voice “samples” and the professionally produced demos that reign supreme in Western markets are unheard of here. A sample is a short voice clip, 15-30 seconds, oftentimes an excerpt from an actual job you did. Actors keep a file of anywhere from 10 to a few dozen voice samples that they send to prospective studios and clients.

When I decided to venture into the global VO market, even though I had almost a decade of recording experience, I didn’t have a single demo appropriate for use outside Korea. Third, it’s a small pond. The core English-language VO community is just a few dozen people and we all know each other. And lastly, we don’t have a union, we’re not permitted to join the Korean voice actor’s union, and it’s illegal for foreigners to unionize. This means we’ve had to work tirelessly as a group for standard rates, protections, and respect.

From the business perspective, I wish I’d known about standard rates, both within Korea as well as globally. I was taken advantage of when I was new and I worked far too many jobs for far too little money. From the performance perspective, I wish I’d known sooner that voice acting is storytelling. Korean clients tend to want a woman’s voice to be bright and bubbly (though that’s gradually changing), so I spent so much time focusing on making a certain sound. Now, especially after coaching, I focus on telling the story first and allowing the sound, whatever it is, to come from that.”

Do you have to speak the language? 

“It certainly helps, but I wouldn’t say you *have* to. I learned most of the Korean I know in my first few weeks here. I don’t eat beef or pork, so I had to figure out how to say a few key things quickly or starve. While it’s tough to learn to speak Korean, it’s super easy to learn to read it. You can learn the Korean alphabet, Hangul, in an afternoon. A few years later, I hired a Korean tutor to teach me what I call “studio Korean” – about 50 phrases I wanted to be able to communicate during a recording session. That got me through most of my career here! Last year I formally enrolled in a course for the first time, but then voiceover work picked up, so I dropped out. I’m actually a touch embarrassed at how little Korean I can speak.”

Is it easy to get work as a foreigner?

“It was 10 years ago! It’s definitely not now. It used to be all you needed was a 4-year degree in anything, from anywhere, and you could get a job teaching English. Over the years though, the government has shifted money from language education to math. This has affected the work for voice actors because roughly half the VO work in Korea is for the language education machine – textbooks, exams, prep materials, etc. COVID has further impacted employment; nobody is hiring anyone from abroad right now. A decade ago I would’ve said, yeah, sure, come on out, there’s plenty of work to go around. Now, I wouldn’t suggest trying to move here for work, at least until a vaccine for Coronavirus is developed.”

Do you feel you’re integrated in Korean society, or are you mainly mingling with expats?

“I’m mainly mingling with expats. I’ve integrated in the sense that I have a strong and steady career and the respect of the Koreans I work with.”

How has living in Korea changed your outlook on America?

“It pains me to say it, but living in Korea has made me view America as not quite the great nation I was taught it was. My quality of life in Korea is so high compared to the life I led in New York, and that is due to Korea’s national health care system, prohibition of guns, state-of-the-art infrastructure, and the familial mindset that stems from Confucianism. We certainly give up certain privacies and liberties here – the government can track our every move. But that’s been exactly why Korea has been a forerunner in combating COVID-19.”

When and how did you know that voice overs was the thing for you?

“It was after the first month that I went full-time. I’d been part-time for 8 months and was very nervous to walk away from a very good job at a private elementary school within a major Korean university campus. My agent told me it was time and I’d be fine. That first month I earned twice what I did as a teacher. I knew voiceover was my calling and I never looked back.”

Who have been instrumental to you in terms of getting your VO career off the ground, and in what way?

“The very first person that I always have to give credit to is my friend and fellow voice actor, Jessica Rau Chin. She’s the one who first introduced me to her agent in Seoul 10 years ago. She left Korea several years ago and is now in LA.

And the next person I met several years later: Anne Ganguzza. I knew I needed coaching and proper demos. There were a few coaches on my short list. I scheduled a 15-minute consultation with Anne. We spoke for 45 minutes. I’ll never forget the final thing she said to me during that first call: “Whoever you choose for your coach, be sure they are going to brand you and focus on marketing.” I wound up coaching with Anne for a year and in the end she produced a corporate narration demo and an e-learning demo that are each perfectly suited to my brand.


I also have to give a shout out to Marc Scott. VOpreneur in all its incarnations (the blog, the Facebook page, the podcast) is where I’ve gotten most of the information I’ve used to pivot my career from the Asian to the Western market. In that community I’ve discovered knowledge, support, and an overall touchstone for the voiceover business and where I fit into it.”

What are some of the most valuable lessons you’ve learned from them?

motion capture for a video game

“From Jessica, I learned that it’s okay to allow space for new voice actors to enter the business. Operating from a place of scarcity and fear will only fill you with negativity. Now, a decade later, I do my best to create space for other women just starting out. I’m a mentor to several newer voice actresses in Seoul, and it fulfills me just as much as landing the raddest video game job or global commercial spot.

From Anne, I’ve learned (and am continuing to learn) how to be a VO Boss. As my performance coach, she helped me engage the storyteller in me. But our sessions were also peppered with chats about the business side of VO.

From Marc, I’ve learned that I need to outsource! Haha! But seriously, Marc’s Marketing Playbook is an invaluable resource. My greatest takeaway from it is that the work is out there, and how much of it I’m gonna get is entirely up to me and how much effort I put into direct marketing.”

Congrats on your new website. What were you hoping to accomplish with this new site, and what were some of the stumbling blocks you had to overcome to make it happen?

“Thank you! The point of this new site is to introduce me to the global VO marketplace. They love me in Asia, but it’s time for me to step out of the pond and dive into deeper waters. 

There weren’t many stumbling blocks, per se. It was more that various pieces took me longer to put together than I originally thought. Like coaching and demo production, for example. I naively thought that it would be a fast process. Bang that out in 6 weeks. (Hahaha) I realized after a few sessions with Anne that it would take much longer than that. Then I had to find a way to process my antsiness, my just wanting to launch and start booking ASAP. So I suppose the greatest stumbling block was learning to give everything time to come together.”

Why barrivoiceover.com and not barritsavaris.com?

“I’ve got a tough name. Both halves are tough – the Barri and the Tsavaris. People never know how to say either one, how to spell either one… sometimes they don’t even know I’m a woman! For the record, Barri is pronounced like Barry, as in Manilow, Gibb or Sanders. So, after talking to some trusted people in the business, I decided to keep it simple and go with just my first name. That’s how most of my Korean clients know me anyway. (I’m like the Cher of English voiceover in Korea). But believe me, it was a tough decision to make.”

What was working with the folks at voiceactorwebsites like?

“Karin, Joe, Lo-An and the rest of the team at Voice Actor Websites are just incredible. I came to them with some unique requests and at no point in the process did they ever say, oh no, we don’t do that. It was always, oh cool, we haven’t done that before, but we’ll figure it out for you. Specifically, I wanted my site to be accessible to both my Western and Korean clients, so having a Korean language version was key. I also wanted clients to be able to submit testimonials directly through a form on my site.

Voice Actor Websites had never done that for anyone else, but they figured it out for me and now it’s a function they can offer to other actors. I also really appreciated that they always made themselves available to speak with me at times that were convenient for me, despite the awkward time difference. The experience was smooth, collaborative and well worth the investment – So much so that we’re now having them design my husband’s site!”

Looking back at a decade in South Korea, what are you particularly proud of?

“I’m proud that I came to Asia completely by myself and built an amazing voiceover career from nothing, but I’m particularly proud to have been the official voice of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.”

What’s next for you?

“Short term, I am in conversations with agents in the States and Europe and am looking to have representation in those markets soon. I’m also gearing up for the launch of my passion project, TIGHTS, a radio play about superheroes and their alter egos (@tightstheshow). It is the brainchild of my producing partner, Greta Wink. I came in as the recording director, we brought together two dozen actors from around the world, and we recorded most of it in my studio in Seoul. We’re in post-production now and it will go live before the year is out.

In the long-term, I look forward to moving back to America with my husband and 3 cats (a.k.a. The @Voiceover.Kitties) and finally getting to meet in person all of the amazing voiceover peeps (like yourself!) who I’ve had the pleasure to connect with on social media these past couple years.”

You can connect with Barri on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Vimeo.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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The Magnet, the Colander, and the Clay

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Freelancing, Promotion12 Comments

making potteryAs a blogger, coach, and voice talent, I think a lot about why certain people make it in this business and why others don’t.

Those who are doing well don’t always know why they belong to the happy few. 

“You’ve got to have a lot of luck,” they say, and “be at the right moment at the right time.”

It’s a nice observation, but as a teacher that doesn’t help me much. Just as I can’t predict who’s going to win the Powerball, I cannot influence luck. And if I knew how to be at the right moment at the right time, I probably would be doing something else with my life right now. 

What I can help people with as a coach, is preparedness. If you’re lucky to be at the right place at the right time and you’re not prepared, you’re not going to get very far. But preparedness alone is no guarantee that you’ll have a successful career as a creative freelancer. 

Let’s say you’re talented, you’re well-trained, and you have the right equipment that gets the job done. Is that enough to start and grow a for-profit business? I think we all know well-educated people with great skills and a nice set-up who can barely make ends meet. So, there must be other factors at play that determine the difference between success and failure.

Looking at colleagues who are at the top of their game, I have identified three characteristics all of them have in common. Number one I call:

THE MAGNET

The difference between dreamers and achievers is that achievers attract jobs. This is anything but a passive process. People don’t become magnets overnight and without planning. You’ve got to have an extensive network in place that generates a continuous flow of leads from multiple sources. If you’re just starting out, this is where you have to spend most of your time, energy, and money.

How do you become a magnet? Think about what you can do to draw people to you. You’ve got to offer something special at a price that tells people you take your work seriously. You have to make sure your presentation is in line with your (desired) reputation. Then you need to connect with clients and colleagues to let them know that you exist.

Obviously, this is not something you can do in a few weeks or months. Every self-employed person can tell you that this will be your life from now on, until you decide to close up shop. This type of magnet is like a rechargeable battery. If you don’t charge it regularly, it will quickly lose its power.

Now, let’s assume your magnetic powers have the desired effect and job offers are rolling in. Should you jump on every opportunity? Here’s where the second factor comes in. I call this:

THE COLANDER

Beginners often make the same mistake. They go after every single job offer, if only “to gain experience.” I remember when I first became a member of an online casting site. As soon as I had posted my profile and the membership fee was paid, the auditions started coming in. In my naïve enthusiasm I applied for every job, thinking that the more I auditioned, the greater the chance I would be hired. I was wrong.

Being a successful freelancer is not a numbers game. It is about going after the opportunities that are right for you. In order to do that, you have to filter out the misfits. That’s where the colander comes in.

Runners know their strengths. Some of them run marathons. Others sprint. In my line of work, some voice actors are great at narrating audiobooks. Others excel in voicing short commercials. Only a handful of people in every profession are true all-rounders. Chances are that you’re not one of them. That’s why you have to do yourself a favor: know your strengths, and become picky. Very picky.

There’s one last factor that separates the wheat from the chaff. I call it:

THE CLAY

No matter how good you are at attracting and selecting jobs, once you have landed a new project, you have one objective and one objective only: to make your client happy. That’s by no means an earth-shattering revelation, so why even mention it? Here’s why. So many people believe that if you do the very best you can, the client will be pleased with the result. That’s not necessarily true.

Your very best might not be good enough, and/or the client may have different expectations. That’s why it is so important to find out what those expectations are before you get to work. I often tell my clients: “If I don’t know what you want, I can’t give it to you.” And that’s where the clay comes in.

Clay is just potential. It can be molded into any shape, depending on the talent and skills of the potter. No matter what kind of freelance work you do, whether you’re a scriptwriter, an industrial designer, or a voice-over, you’ve got to know your material and be a master molder. The better you are at understanding your client and at working the clay, the more successful you will be.

Mind you, this isn’t something you can pick up from reading a book, or by listening to a podcast. It will take talent, training, and time. It may take a few years before you break in and break even. But when you do, this is what you will discover:

Doing exceptional work almost always leads to more work, which brings us back to the concept of the magnet.

One last thing.

If your career isn’t where you want it to be at the moment, ask yourself:

“Where are my greatest challenges?

What needs more work?

Is it the magnet, the colander, or is it the way I handle the clay?”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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photo credit: Shaping the Heart via photopin (license)

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Dorith Hassing: Painting with Words. Communicating with Color.

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Dutch, Freelancing, International, Personal, Social MediaLeave a comment

Dorith Hassing

I’ve always been intrigued by people who can do things I believe I wasn’t born to do.

I suck at sports, so that’s out. My mind has trouble processing numbers, so forget math. My DIY skills are minimal, so please don’t ask me to fix your plumbing, or you might be in for a wet surprise. 

Don’t feel sorry for me. I think I have other talents this world may benefit from. If all of us would be good at doing the same things, boy, would life be boring!

I will say one thing. It seems to me that in this day and age people are perfecting their ability to critique one another, while we’re gradually losing our ability to understand, appreciate and admire. What a shame!

One person I greatly value and admire is my Dutch colleague Dorith Hassing. Not only is she a successful voice talent, she’s also a very talented painter. The other day I asked her how her voice over career began. Here’s what Dorith told me:

I didn’t go to the Fine Art Academy, even though I thought I would, and for years and years I kept trying to find my place in this world. I enjoyed a very rewarding career, but it felt like I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to do. I wanted to be self-employed. I wanted to be creative.

I didn’t discover my vocation until the day my youngest child got a toy the parent had to record a voice for. When I learned that one could actually make a living using one’s voice, the penny dropped, and light bulbs went off in my head!

I started researching the VO business. How does it work? Who’s doing this? What skills does one need to have, and where can I learn these skills? I took some workshops with Barnier Geerling of stemacteren.nl, and for the next few years I practiced by myself: recording, listening back to the recording, recording it again. Listening to others, mimicking them, giving it my own spin.

Then there was the technical aspect. How does one record voice overs, and where? Because I decided to totally go for it, I immediately invested in professional equipment and an amazing vocal booth. After that, my career took off.

I’ve been doing this for five years now, and lately, the work has been finding me. The first years I was very busy generating work by adding myself to the roster of online casting agencies, making demos, doing auditions, responding to job offers, networking, and improving my website.

How would you describe your niche in the business? Do you specialize in certain genres, or are you a Jill of all Trades? 

To most people, my voice sounds surprisingly familiar, as if they already know me. That’s why I’m a good fit for projects that need familiarity, things like explainers, or for projects that require people to trust the narrator. But I’m also good at voicing the every day stuff we all want and need. This means I can handle a wide range of work and I take every opportunity to do it. Most of my jobs are corporate in nature, like voice response systems, videos, and animated explainers. But I also love voicing commercials and instructional videos. (Click on the blue hyperlinks to see and hear samples of Dorith’s work.) More recently, I started recording audio books which is great fun!

Name a few projects you’re proud of.

My first television commercial was such a thrill, but what I liked even better was to be the voice of the Lifestyle Collection of Swiss Sense (a Dutch bedding and mattress chain). In the past couple of months I’ve worked on e-learnings for Shell, and I’m the voice of customer service at American Express Netherlands. To be honest, all jobs make me equally happy, whether they’re long or short, and whether I get a lot of exposure or no exposure at all.

Where do you find voice over jobs in the Netherlands?

I’m listed on many national and international voice casting sites. Networking has been very successful for me. A couple of years ago I went to have a drink with a few colleagues, and last month that resulted in me landing a big project. Being part of online groups and being active on LinkedIn also leads to work. It often takes one contact to get the ball rolling.

What kind of projects would you reject out of hand?

I don’t believe that my personal preferences matter when it comes to voicing projects, but I stay away from jobs where people are clearly scammed. A private investigator wanted me to record a few tapes he wanted use to bate cheaters. Trying to frame people using fake recordings isn’t my thing.

What would be your dream project?

I would love to be the signature voice of a reputable brand, and cultivate a long-term business relationship with that brand. I imagine myself helping them navigate the seasons and the ever changing world, working together to find the right tone of voice.

What do you see as your greatest obstacle preventing you from reaching that goal?

There already are so many great, established voices at the moment, which makes it challenging to be noticed by the big studios and agencies that book the big accounts. I get that, but it’s kind of tough to be a small needle in a huge haystack.

Which came first? Painting or voice overs?

As a child I spent a lot of time in my dad’s art studio. I’ve always felt I had a future in the arts, but when I came to an open house at the fine art academy, I didn’t feel at home. My teenage angst got the better of me, and I bailed out.

My lingering artistic longing has been replaced by inspiring life experiences. Voice acting set things in motion, allowing me to become more daring and in charge of my destiny. This opened up new opportunities inside of me. It made me focus on what I really wanted, and apart from painting with words, I wanted to paint with brushes! Thanks to voice overs, I started working on canvases again!

Do you see yourself having two professions, or is one more like a hobby?

Doing voice overs is my (amazing) job, and painting is part of my identity. In my ideal world I would sell a few more paintings allowing me to spend more time with my canvases, but I’d still record voice overs. Doing voice overs expands my window to the world, and I love the variety it brings. I go from pharma to automotive, from health care to commercial, and from local to international. I go from speaking to children to talking to the elderly in need, from a heartwarming bedtime story, to a very serious script. All of this inspires me to keep on painting.

Tell me more about your artistic side.

I paint using the name FacingDorith. My work revolves around beauty and emotion. With beauty I don’t mean perfection, but character, atmosphere, and originality. I paint people because they touch me deeply. Because of who they are, of what they do, and what they don’t do. I’m also endlessly fascinated by what they have to say. Meeting people leads to new insights, to rethinking, and sometimes to confusion. This whirlwind of emotions finds its way onto my canvas.

I do not feel the need to be ultra realistic. What’s important is the feeling I get regarding the person I’m painting. I want to capture their charisma, their intensity, and strength. There are some remarkable similarities between people from all over the world and their faces. It takes less than a second to feel a sense of familiarity and emotion that connects us all.

My own emotions are at the basis of my work. Not only do I want to paint the beauty of life and people’s strength, I also want to paint their fears, their losses, and their sorrows.

The darkest nights bring out the brightest stars.

I love using color. It expresses a certain feeling. Every color has its own character, but it can appear in so many nuances, and it can create an entirely different image in combination with other colors.

What’s the nicest thing someone has ever said about your work, and why were you touched by that?

When someone is really moved by my work, that’s a tremendous compliment because it affirms that what I put into it, is resonating. Some people get emotional because my work can be intense. It touches a nerve because feelings that were hidden inside, are coming out. I love that. All of us experience life in different ways, so what they are feeling is not necessarily the same as what inspired me to create the artwork. That’s never my intention.

By evoking an emotion, a connection is created. In my opinion, a work of art is never finished until it is observed by someone. The act of observation creates a message. Everyone is free to distill their own message, and that message changes depending on things like personal experiences, someone’s mood, or something simple like a different environment, or a change of light.

Do you get the same satisfaction from your voice over work?

I compare my voice over work to painting on commission versus painting spontaneously. I do work on request and that can be challenging. It’s less free, but the limitations and restrictions create a tension, a pressure, and a focus that bring out new things in me, and help me grow. That happens too, when I record voice overs.

You’re a mother of three young, energetic children. You’ve got to be there for your clients and for your kids. Does that sometimes cause friction, and how do you deal with that?

What I predominantly experience is lots of freedom. That’s because it’s easy for me to unwind and leave things as they are. It’s super busy at times, but I love working in the weekend or at night. After all: it’s me I’m doing it for. When things are slow in terms of voice overs, I grab my brushes and start painting, I go to a museum, or to the beach. I need that space to be there for my children and for myself.

My workload comes and goes, and the pressure to perform can be intense. But I also know that things will eventually calm down, so cleaning up the house can wait a little longer. When I’m busy doing voice overs I paint less, but sometimes both activities reinforce one another, and I keep on creating at night and during weekends.

What tips do you have for working moms and dads?

Here’s the thing. You’ve made the choice not to work a regular, nine to five job, so don’t put that pressure on yourself. I see no benefit in sitting behind a computer for forty hours a week. Working efficiently is different from being busy.

Take advantage of your freedom, and don’t worry about the slow times. Enjoy what you’re doing! These dry spells allow you to work on your website, to do some networking, et cetera. I get my best ideas when I’m doing something totally different, so please enjoy your freedom. By that I also mean the freedom to choose whom you want to work with. I stopped working with some clients because I was getting bad vibes. Isn’t that great? I no longer work with unpleasant or unreasonable people.

These days it’s not enough to be good at what you do. You also have to sell yourself.

To me, that’s the most challenging part of being a freelancer. As a voice over and a painter I AM selling myself. I feel vulnerable when I do that, especially when I don’t get the jobs I was in the running for. I always keep in mind: different strokes for different folks. Sometimes I just don’t fit the bill and that’s okay. I’ve learned not to take it personally. Having said that, I’m still uncomfortable presenting myself in public. I’m an introvert at heart. I register what’s going on around me, but I prefer being in the background.

What role do social media play in your professional life?

They’re really important to me. This includes my profiles on Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn, as well as the online networking groups and my websites. I update them regularly, and I have noticed that people are finding me more frequently. However, I will only do things that fit me, so you won’t see me writing blogs, vlogs, or newsletters.

I see you’ve included English demos on your website. What do you think you have to offer clients outside of the Netherlands?

My voice sounds friendly, clear, and familiar – even in English. Most people find it hard to tell where I am from, which is ideal for an international market, particularly when a service or a product isn’t linked to a specific country. This subtle Northern European accent enhances the authenticity of the message.

Being both a visual artist and a voice over artist comes with a lot of uncertainty. Do you ever long for a “normal,” steady job with fringe benefits?

When the Netherlands was still in what they were calling an “intelligent lockdown,” I worked very little. At those times I thought a more permanent job would be more desirable. On the other hand, it was relatively easy to combine home schooling my kids with working on the projects that did come in. Life has taught me to trust in my abilities as well as in the power of the mind.

When I look back at the path I have taken, I am grateful for every success, big or small. I realize I can’t see the road ahead, but I know where I want to go, and I am convinced that I will get there.

Paul Strikwerda, ©nethervoice

 

REMEMBER: The One Voice Conference USA 2020 is held from August 13 @ 6:00 pm – August 16 @ 1:00 pm. Click here to buy your ticket. A little over $187 US dollars will get you in the door, and you don’t even have to leave your house. On Saturday, August 15th at 1:00 PM EST I’ll be leading a 3-hour workshop called “Blogging your way to voice over success.” Join me!

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VO’s Unfair, so, Grow a Pair!

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Freelancing, Personal16 Comments

Two pears

The other day it happened again.

In mid-session, I gave one of my voice over students a simple script for a cold read. I thought he’d be excited to try something new, but this is what he said:

“You’re giving me this now? Are you trying to trick me? You gave me zero time to prepare. I don’t think that’s fair.”

“Wow, I wasn’t expecting that response,” I said. “You’ve grown so much in the last few weeks, I thought you’d be up for a challenge. Maybe we should use this as a teaching moment?”

He agreed.

“First off, just as there is no crying in baseball, there is no fair in voice overs, or in any freelance job for that matter.”

“What do you mean?” my student asked.

“Let me give you a few examples.

Yesterday, some A-list actor made fifteen grand for saying three lines in a 30-second commercial. Today, a VO-colleague got a nineteen hundred dollar check for narrating a lengthy novel that took her a month to record, and two weeks to edit. Is that fair?

How about this one:

A voice over veteran auditioned for ten jobs a day for four weeks straight, and landed none of them. Meanwhile, a newbie walked up to a microphone, yelling a few words and hit the jackpot because some producer thought he sounded “raw and authentic.”

Here’s another one:

A fellow voice actor had been recording eLearning programs for the same company for six years at the same rate. His work was consistent, and he never missed a deadline. He came to think of himself as the go-to voice of that company. So, when year seven came around, he raised his rates a little, in line with the increased cost of living.

He never heard from the company again.

Is that fair?

Now, here’s something that happened to me.

A few weeks ago I auditioned for a very prestigious job that would have paid the mortgage for at least six months. At the end, it was between me and another person. Why didn’t I get the job? The reason was simple: the client preferred a female voice.

“Tell me,” I asked my student, “do you think that’s fair?”

He made a noise suggesting a lightbulb was slowly coming on in his head, so I continued…

“The idea of “fair” presupposes that there’s some grand equalizing principle at work in the world that gives equal opportunities to people with similar education, abilities, and experience.

Well, wouldn’t that be nice?

In many ways we may be equals, but that doesn’t mean we’re equal, or that we’re treated as such. What do I mean by that?

In a highly subjective and personal business as ours, things like training and experience count for something, but they will never get you hired. The fact that you’ve taken a few voice over classes, and you’ve been knocking on doors for a few years, entitles you to… nothing.

The only guarantee I can give you, is that there are no guarantees.

No matter how hard or how long some people study, they’ll never become the next Albert Einstein, Yo-Yo Ma, or Don LaFontaine.

That’s not unfair. It is what it is.

On paper you may be the most experienced voice talent in the room, but a casting director isn’t listening for your resume or seniority. She needs to make her client happy, and the client wants someone who sounds just like his grandfather selling cattle in Kansas during the Great Depression.

Oh… but the specs didn’t say that, right? How unfair!

That’s because the client didn’t know he was looking for that voice until he listened to the top ten auditions.

My student let out a despondent sigh.

“That’s why the audition was a “cattle call,” I joked.

“But seriously, the only “fair” thing about this situation is that to most people in the middle, this crazy business is equally unfair. With “people in the middle” I mean the vast majority of voice overs who aren’t making millions voicing The Simpsons, but who aren’t new to the business either.

I call them “the Nobodies.”

It may sound derogatory, but I don’t mean it that way. I mean it literally. Not figuratively.

Voice actors get hired for the way they move their lips; not for the way they move their hips. We’re not in the game for our glamorous looks, but for the way we sound. You and I… we are a no-body. Personally, that makes me very happy because slobs like me still stand a chance.

“But what about things like merit,” my student wanted to know. “Isn’t winning something like an Audie, or a Voice Arts™ Award going to open certain doors? That would be fair, wouldn’t it? I mean, winning a prize makes people more in-demand, right?”

“It’s a definite maybe. Let me explain.

Even though audio books have become increasingly popular, most people still think of a German car when they hear the word Audie. Secondly, I’m not sure clients will hire you on the spot because you won some gold-plated statuette they’ve never heard of. Accolades may be well-deserved, but they’re only worth their weight if they mean something to people outside the cheering in-crowd.

Even Oscar winners need to audition again and again, unless a part is especially written for them. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It keeps people sharp and humble.”

I took a long sip of water, and formed my next thought.

“Then there’s this weird phenomenon in our business that’s hard to prove. Let’s pretend people actually know about your reputation as a prize-winning narrator. They might not consider you for their next project because they assume you’ve become too expensive. Do you think that’s fair?

I once thought I could convince a client to hire me by telling them about the famous brands I had worked with in the past. Big mistake! The software giant I was auditioning for, ruled me out once they heard a close competitor had used my voice in 2015. This is what I also learned:

Most clients aren’t very interested in what you did for others, years ago. They want to know one thing:

What can you do for ME, today?

I’m not saying accolades aren’t awesome, but as the Dutch soccer star Johan Cruyff used to say:

“Every advantage has its disadvantage.”

That’s unfair too, but here’s the ugly truth:

In an unregulated business, those in power, and those with the deepest pockets get to determine what is fair.

“Pardon me, but that’s depressing,” said my student. “First of all, you’re giving me a lecture instead of a lesson. Secondly, I thought you were supposed to encourage me. Now I don’t even know if I want to be a voice over anymore.”

“Language is a wonderful thing,” I said. “Especially if you like to play with words. To the ear, there’s almost no difference between “the termination,” and “determination.” The choice is yours.

If you want to end this, it’s going to be the termination of something promising. If -on the other hand- you really, really want to become a successful voice over, allow what I’ve just said to strengthen your determination.

Please don’t be a chicken. You didn’t hire me to stick some feathers up your butt, so I could make some money off your dreams. That would be unethical. Just like that coach in the gym, you hired me to take you through a series of exercises designed to build your muscles, and give you a strong spine. You’re gonna need it!

And just like in the gym, change is a gradual process. Some days, your muscles might ache because of the resistance training. Sometimes, it might feel like you’ll never reach your ideal weight because you see other people getting fitter faster. But remember:

You’re on a personal path.

Those scary slim people you admire so much were born with different bodies, and different metabolisms. Some of them go to the gym every day of the week, and stay there for hours. Others like you can only afford to come twice a week for a 45-minute session.

You know what isn’t fair? Comparing yourself to others!

Compare yourself to yourself instead. So, here’s what I want you to do.

Forget the word fair.

Instead, focus on the word Prepare.

My goal is to help you be the best you can be at this moment in time, and to become even better in the future. Forget the silly randomness of this subjective business. You cannot control it. But one day soon, opportunity will knock on your door, and you better be ready! That’s the part you can control. Do you get that?”

My student made an affirmative noise. 

“Before we end this session, I want to give you one more piece of advice. I’ve known you for a while, and you’ve told me more than once that you’re a perfectionist. That mindset will hold you back, and that’s why you probably didn’t want to do the cold read I just gave you. Am I right? Were you afraid of making mistakes because I didn’t give you any time to look at the text?”

Reluctantly, my student agreed, and I went on:

“The best thing I can tell you is this:

Be soft on yourself!

I strongly believe that living is learning. As human beings, I feel it is our job to evolve; to unearth and develop what we’re capable of, and to share those gifts with the world. 

To that effect, life offers us lessons. And unlike in voice overs, life’s unscripted. You never know what it will throw at you next, so you have to be prepared to catch it while you can. Sometimes you need to improvise, and try things you’ve never done before. Sometimes you’ll get it right, and sometimes you won’t. As long as you keep on learning and growing, you’re doing great. This is what I want you to remember:

No matter how long you train, and how hard you work, you will never be perfect, and that’s perfectly fine. You want to know why? 

Because perfection has nowhere to grow.”

My student’s response was so quiet that I could almost hear the penny drop. Then I said:

“Let that sink in for a while, and let me know what you think, okay?”

“Fair enough,” said my student.

“Fair enough.”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please share and retweet!

REMEMBER: The One Voice Conference USA 2020 is held from August 13 @ 6:00 pm – August 16 @ 1:00 pm. Click here to buy your ticket. A little over $187 US dollars will get you in the door, and you don’t even have to leave your house. On Saturday, August 15th at 1:00 PM EST I’ll be leading a 3-hour workshop called “Blogging your way to voice over success.” Join me!

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Does Money Make You Uncomfortable?

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Freelancing, Money Matters2 Comments

hamburgerWhy are you so expensive?”

The question came out of nowhere. I was talking to a client about a job he wanted me to do, and he verbalized what many customers are thinking when they hire a voice-over:

“Why should I pay you over four hundred dollars for three measly minutes of audio? It’s outrageous!”

“Why are you so expensive?”

How would you react to that question? Would you start doubting yourself? Would you apologize for your fee? Would you say: “Well, if it’s too much, perhaps we can agree on a different amount?”

The truth is this: money makes many people uncomfortable. Especially those who have chosen to do what they love. You know: creatives like musicians, writers, photographers, and yes, voice-over artists. If you are fortunate enough to enjoy your dream job, the wonderful work itself should be rewarding enough, shouldn’t it?

For years, the Concertgebouw (Amsterdam’s Carnegie Hall), didn’t pay young musicians a penny for playing lunch concerts. Not even travel expenses were reimbursed. Meanwhile, the ushers, sound engineers, and other staff members making these concerts possible were receiving a salary. How could that happen?

The Concertgebouw said it was giving artists a unique opportunity to gain some experience and get exposure. It’s a familiar story. The same reasoning was used by schools “hiring” musicians for educational concerts, by pubs, churches, charities, and even TV shows. “Exposure” was the magic word. This went on for years and years. Why?

Because the artists agreed to it, thus teaching clients how to treat them.

Many of them had to give up their dream career because exposure doesn’t pay the bills.

JUSTIFYING YOUR FEE

As a for-profit freelancer, you have to answer the question “Why are you so expensive?” on at least two levels. First, you owe yourself an explanation. Secondly, you have to explain it to your client.

Before you do that, you have to realize that most questions are based on unspoken assumptions. If you buy into these assumptions, you buy into the client’s way of thinking, which is not such a smart thing to do.

Let’s unpack.

The question “Why are you so expensive?” has three elements. WHY, YOU, and EXPENSIVE.

The word WHY demands justification, immediately putting you on the defensive. Do you even wish to go there?

Here’s the thing: if you are comfortable with your rates, there is no need to defend them. The moment you feel unsure about your prices (and your self-worth), you’re more likely to lower your fee at the first sign of resistance.

In the beginning of my career, I was afraid to lose jobs because my fees might be perceived as too high. As soon as a customer uttered the magic words “we have a limited budget,” I believed them, and I lowered my price. Big mistake.

These days I know that there is no way of knowing how much a client can or cannot afford. I do know that I cannot afford to work for low rates. Here’s the kicker: low fees are often seen as a sign of inexperience and amateurism. Charging less may actually result in not getting hired!

Bottom line: STOP BEING SO DESPERATE!

Have some dignity. If you are running a for-profit business you must be okay to walk away from a bad deal. Let others record that lengthy, self-published, shitty novel for $75 per finished hour thinking they have landed the deal of the century. You can’t convince stupid. Stupid has to learn from experience, or repeat the same mistakes over and over again.

THE REAL DEAL

This brings me to the YOU in “Why are YOU so expensive?”

The question behind the question is: Compared to whom?

The unspoken assumption is that there are others who are willing to do it for cheaper. That may be true, but you have to realize that the client is talking to you for a reason. You are not a dime a dozen. You sound like a million bucks. You know it and they know it.

Your voice is used by multinationals, world-famous brands, and well-known organizations. You need no hand-holding and no sound engineer to fix your audio. You’re easy to work with and you always meet your deadlines. That’s worth something.

A lot, actually.

And if you’re a voice talent that’s just getting started, you know you have this fresh voice no one else has. You have a solid studio with decent equipment, and you’re a natural at making the words in the script dance off the page. You listen to your clients, and you give them what they need without an attitude. You may be new to the business, but you are a PRO who should be paid accordingly!

DEFINE EXPENSIVE

A wedding photographer I used to work with got this question all the time:

“Why should we pay you a fortune for a few hours of your time?”

She learned that the first thing she had to overcome was the costumer’s ignorance about pricing and ignorance about what’s involved in doing the job. Most people had no idea of the going rate, so they had no way of telling whether someone was expensive or not. They just heard a number that seemed high. They made a mistake many beginning freelancers make:

Thinking that what you make is what you take home.

They did not realize that the fee for a photo shoot paid for professional cameras, lenses, lights, a shooting assistant, computers, editing software, a website, advertising, accountant’s fees, taxes, memberships of professional organizations, insurance, continuing education, a retirement plan, transportation, a photo studio, time spent looking for work, doing the books, editing photos, et cetera.

Whatever is left has to pay for rent or mortgage, groceries, utilities, childcare, vacations, charitable donations, and many other expenses.

CLUELESS CUSTOMERS

Believe me: your clients have no clue about your cost of doing business, and they do not care.

However, if you don’t build these expenses into your fee, you will go broke. All the talent, skill and experience in the world is not going to save you if you’re not turning a profit.

So, the next time someone asks you “Why are you so expensive?” think twice before you answer.

My friend Bob van der Houven told me the story of one of his VO colleagues who was asked:

“Why should I pay you $500 for an hour of your time?”

He answered:

“You’re not paying for an hour. You’ re paying for 30 years of experience!” 

Personally, I am comfortable with what I charge. I think it’s more than fair, and frankly, I deserve it.

When people ask me why I charge what I charge I tell them in a friendly but self-assured way:

“That’s my rate,” and I leave it at that. And you know what? Nine out of ten times they accept it, and that’s understandable.

I mean, I don’t go into a restaurant challenging the chef why he charges $35 for the main course.

It’s simple.

If I don’t want to pay that much, I should eat somewhere else.

There’s fine dining, there’s fast food, and anything in between.

So, tell me: what are you cooking up for your clients?

A gourmet meal or a sloppy burger?

Paul Strikwerda, ©nethervoice

 

REMEMBER: The One Voice Conference USA 2020 is held from August 13 @ 6:00 pm – August 16 @ 1:00 pm. Click here to buy your ticket. A little over $187 US dollars will get you in the door, and you don’t even have to leave your house. On Saturday, August 15th at 1:00 PM I’ll be leading a 3-hour workshop called “Blogging your way to voice over success.” Join me!

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GET YOUR ACT(ing) TOGETHER!

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Freelancing, Gear, Internet, Journalism & Media, Promotion, Social Media, Studio3 Comments

Mykle McCoslin

COVID-19 is killing the entertainment industry.

Most of Hollywood is closed for business. Studios are struggling to survive. Word has it that insurers are unlikely to cover productions for COVID-19 cases when business resumes.

Research by the Society of London Theatre indicates that 70% of UK theaters will run out of money by the end of the year. As you probably know, Broadway has been shut down until the end of January 2021.

Thanks to the Corona virus, thousands of on-camera and stage actors are twiddling their thumbs in desperation. One of them is Mykle McCoslin. She’s also an acting coach, writer, and president of the Houston-Austin SAG AFTRA local. She knows she won’t be returning to the stage or set any day soon. So, what can she do? Mykle says her agents might have the answer:

“Voice over is something that my agents have been emailing me about, saying: You’ve got to do this! Now is the time to learn how to build your own studio and be a professional voice over actor.”

But Mykle was in no way prepared to jump on the VO bandwagon:

“I’ve auditioned from my phone, but I am in no way proficient with the equipment. When my agents contacted me about an ethernet connection and Source Connect, I was freaking out.”

ORGANIZING A WEBINAR 

To learn more about the voice over business, Mykle and her colleague Betsy Curry recently hosted a How to get started in VO event, featuring two guests: tech guru George Whittam, and VO-actor and coach Lindsay Sheppard. It turned out to be a huge hit.

Within the first hours of the webinar, Mykle had over 1K views, 31 shares, and 160 comments. Less than two weeks later we are at 2.2K views and counting. Bear in mind that most actors who tuned in had most likely never heard of Whittam or Shepherd. They were just interested in the topic. What does this tell us?

It confirms what I hear from my agents, students, and on-camera colleagues. Thanks to COVID-19, many more people are thinking of a voice over career than ever before. Who can blame them? But, this does beg the question:

Should we be worried or excited?

Before I answer that, let me tell you that if you are currently a professional voice over (emphasis on professional), the webinar didn’t cover anything you wouldn’t already know. It addressed basic questions like:

  • What equipment do you need?
  • How can you create a home studio on a budget?
  • What types of voice over work are there?
  • Where do you find VO jobs?
  • How do you audition?
  • Do you need a demo, and if so, who can help?

 

Based on the questions that came in, one thing became abundantly clear:

Drama school does not prepare stage and on-camera actors for the demanding and uncertain world of voice overs.

Most actors are unaware of and intimidated by the technology required. If I were an employee at Guitar Center and one of these stage actors came in, hoping to start a VO career, I could literally sell him the cheapest or most expensive USB mic and get away with it. No questions asked.

I’m not saying that to put anyone down. Most voice actors would be totally out of their comfort zone in a television studio or on a film set. It’s understandable that their on-camera colleagues are not very familiar with the ins and outs of VO. 

WHAT NON-VOICE ACTORS DON’T KNOW

Before you’re getting alarmed that thousands of out of work on-camera and stage actors are all coming for our jobs, please keep this in mind:

– Most of them have no setup enabling them to work from home, and if they do, it’s probably insufficient (just think of the Broadway actor in her tiny New York apartment without any soundproofing)
– Most of them don’t even know what equipment they should buy; they may not even have the funds
– They’ve never heard of DAW’s, noise floor, presets, self-noise, Neumann, polar patterns, MKH 416’s, high-pass filters, et cetera
– They only have acting reels but no VO demos
– They may have VO credits, but have no idea how to properly record and edit audio, or how to set up a session for remote direction
– They have no long-time relationships in the VO world, nor do they have an established network of VO clients
– Some of their agents have no idea where to find VO-jobs
– Many of them will struggle with the lack of physicality in voice over work, the claustrophobic working conditions, and the anti-social aspect of the job
– SAG-AFTRA members will go after union jobs, and most of the VO work is non-union
– The lower VO rates, status, and lack of exposure may not seem attractive to on-camera, on-stage talent
– Like most people, on-camera and stage actors underestimate what it takes to have a successful and sustainable career in VO

Tom Hanks once said:

“There are times when my diaphragm is sore at the end of a four- or five-hour recording session, just because the challenge is to wring out every possible option for every piece of dialogue. It’s every incarnation of outrage and surprise and disappointment and heartache and panic and being plussed and nonplussed.”

He said this about his third Toy Story sequel:

“It’s an imaginary stretch. To the point of exhaustion. Because you’re only using your voice, you can’t go off mic, you cannot use any of your physicality. You have to imagine that physicality. In a lot of ways that’s the antithesis of what you do as an actor.”

What I like about these quotes is that they show respect for the challenging work we do as voice actors. You and I know that what we do is not as easy as it sounds, but I think many of us feel undervalued and not as appreciated as the people who walk the red carpet and get all the goodie bags. Not because we stink at what we do, but because we’re the invisibles of the industry. Some have noted that even SAG-AFTRA seems to take our profession more seriously these days (but that’s another blog post). 

THE ADVANTAGE OF BEING A TRAINED STAGE ACTOR

So, what do on-camera and stage actors have going for them when it comes to voice overs?

First and foremost: acting chops.

I happen to believe that the majority of people advertising themselves as “voice actors” are in fact “voice overs.” Voice overs can read a script with a certain authority and clarity, but that doesn’t mean they possess any dramatic acting skills. They are pretty good at reading a script, but not at embodying the text or the character they are paid to portray. It’s out of their comfort zone.

In a way, many voice overs are one-trick ponies like news readers, school teachers, or former radio jocks. You can tell within the first few seconds where they got their start. There’s no emotional range, depth, or color, whereas an on-stage actor is a chameleon, a shape-shifter who is able to act out different characters with subtle but essential changes in the placement of the body and the intonation of the voice.

To use a musical metaphor: most voice overs are like a piano. The sound they produce is adequate, consistent, and rather one-dimensional. An on-camera or stage actor can sound like many different instruments, performing a huge repertoire.

GETTING PHYSICAL

On-camera and stage actors have another advantage: their physicality. Whereas many voice overs are pinned down to their chairs inside a small space, their more dramatic colleagues are not afraid to get into character, twisting their bodies and faces into pretzels to become the person they pretend to be.

Because they are used to learning scripts, they can memorize their lines and sound like they’re spontaneously speaking instead of reading off a piece of paper. It’s the critical distinction between sounding natural and unnatural.

Once again, I’m not saying this to put anyone down. You can’t judge a mime for his inability to carry a tune because he was never trained to be a singer (unless that mime purposefully advertises his singing skills).

Speaking of vocal skills, while many voice overs are struggling to maintain vocal health and stamina, their on-stage counterparts are used to performing up to eight shows a week. From the onset, they already have the chops to record an audio book for five to six hours a day without damaging their vocal folds.

CELEBRITY STATUS

In what other areas can an on-camera/stage actor edge out a voice actor? It greatly depends on someone’s status and reputation. The problem is, voice actors are invisible. Stage actors are anything but, and can use that notoriety to their advantage. 

A-listers can make a killing recording commercials by leveraging their celebrity status, and because of the crisis we’re in, even celebs are becoming more affordable. Having said that, no job is ever guaranteed.

Daniel Stern is known for his roles in films like “Hannah and her Sisters,” “City Slickers,” and the first two “Home Alone” films. He is also the narrator for the “The Wonder Years” and he’s the voice of Dilbert in the animated TV series.

One day, Daniel got a script for a voice-over audition, and his mouth practically dropped to the floor when he read the specs:

“Must sound like Daniel Stern”

He’s thinking: “Piece of cake. This one’s in the bag!”

So, Stern goes to his booth; records a demo; sends it in…

…and doesn’t get the part!

GETTING NOTICED

Another thing invisible actors can learn from their visible counterparts is building a professional presence. On-camera actors have no problem putting themselves out there. I’m painting with broad strokes here, but it is my observation that voice overs tend to be more introverted, and on-camera/stage actors tend to be more extroverted.

We live in a time where branding is more important that ever. You’ve got to be visible in order to be noticed. A strong social media presence is required if you wish to play the game at the highest level. And if you want people to hire you, they need to be able to find you. Otherwise you’re a dime a dozen.

Back to my original question:

On-camera and stage actors getting into voice overs. Am I worried or excited? Should I feel threatened or honored? 

I personally welcome my on-stage and on-camera colleagues to the voice over business, in part because their professionalism forces me to up my game. I know that most of them will outperform me in the acting department, but without a quiet home studio (that doesn’t’ sound like one), their auditions won’t be competitive yet.

And while they’re gaining experience recording and editing audio, I can take online improv classes, redo my website and demos, and increase my social media presence.

In these uncertain times there’s one thing I know for sure.

You can learn a lot in a short amount of time, but you cannot fake the number of years you’ve been in business. Experience, expertise, and integrity are valuable commodities that can’t be bought or rushed, no matter how famous or unknown you are.

I firmly believe that there’s an abundance of jobs waiting for anyone with talent, who is willing to work hard and play fair.

And together we’ll eventually get past this crisis because it makes us so much stronger.

Personally and professionally!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

REMEMBER: The One Voice Conference USA 2020 is held from August 13 @ 6:00 pm – August 16 @ 1:00 pm. Click here to buy your ticket. A little over $187 US dollars will get you in the door, and you don’t even have to leave your house. On Saturday, August 15th at 1:00 PM EST I’ll be leading a 3-hour workshop called “Blogging your way to voice over success.” Join me!

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Whatever Happened to Critical Thinking?

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Freelancing, Internet, Journalism & Media, Pay-to-Play, Personal, Social Media2 Comments

After a brief but beneficent stay in the hospital, I want to take a minute or two, to share some of my worries and concerns as I mentally prepare myself for what lies ahead. 

Thank you, by the way, for all your support and well wishes. I got the sweetest messages from all over the world, and I feel enormously grateful for your kindness!

Now let’s return to my soap box. 

One of the things I worry about is the general level of willful ignorance among those calling themselves voice-over professionals. Increasingly, people without training, experience, or common sense, are populating Facebook groups for voice-overs, asking basic questions.

They have no idea where to start, where to find jobs, how to set up a simple studio, let alone what to charge. They can’t wait to jump into the ocean, but have no idea how to swim.

These ignoramuses write things like:

“I’ve just completed a six-week voice-over training. I think I’m ready to start auditioning, but I have no idea how to market myself. Please help!”

It turns out that this so-called training consisted of one evening a week, spread out over a six-week period. If that’s enough to get a serious career started, it must be magical! However, no one bothered to even touch upon the idea of marketing, so I doubt this program was as comprehensive as the brochure said it would be.

Two things are really bothering me:

  1. The fact that someone is making money convincing impressionable people they can become a VO in six sessions
  2. The fact that people are still falling for these stupid schemes

USE YOUR NOGGIN

Whatever happened to critical thinking? Whatever happened to thoroughly researching something you’re interested in before you fork over a small fortune? Does it really take an extraordinary amount of brain power to imagine that a six-evening introduction might not be enough to break into a very competitive market?

Could this be a sign that the current wave of anti-intellectualism has overtaken our community? I know that for some of you faith and gut feeling play an important role in your decisions. However, our creator has purposely endowed us with gray matter unlike any other species on the planet. Wouldn’t it be sinful to not use it? 

I know this is a huge generalization, but based on what I see in social media, critical thinking has left the building, and common sense has gone fishing, while more and more people expect the keys to the kingdom on a silver platter.

This year I made a conscious effort to no longer help and support people who aren’t willing to learn how to swim, and I implore you to do the same. “Isn’t that a bit harsh,” you may ask?

I don’t think so.

All successful VO’s have at least one thing in common:

They are self-sufficient.

EARN YOUR PLACE

They study up, and by that I don’t mean asking others to answer basic questions for them on Facebook. That’s not studying. That’s asking others to do your homework. 

Please don’t tell me that I’m mean and egotistical by not willing to share information. I’ve been sharing information in this blog for over a decade! Free of charge. 

I got my start in the late eighties-early nineties, and there were no resources available to the aspiring voice over. In Holland (where I grew up), there were only five or six people who booked all the VO jobs, and most of them were stage actors. There were no online tutorials, educational videos, VO coaches, or books about the business. At that time it made sense to ask those who did what I wanted to do for advice. But only after I had exhausted all my research!

These days, you can pretty much find the answer to any voice over related question by doing a quick Google search. If you’re too lazy to even do that, you’re not cut out to be an independent contractor, and you don’t deserve my help.

We don’t teach babies how to walk by holding them up by their arms and dragging them around the room. That way they’ll never develop strong muscles needed to find their own way. Same thing with voice over newbies. 

THINK COMMUNITY

I also want to encourage you to make smart business-related decisions that benefit not only yourself, but our community as a whole. Be more discerning! Stop working with companies that do not have (y)our best interest at heart. You know, the companies that turn your talent into a commodity, where the lowest bidder ends up working for the cheapest client. Do not enable them to increase their influence!

Stop bidding on projects without knowing how much to charge. Don’t settle for a full buyout in perpetuity without proper compensation. If you don’t have a strong backbone, ask an agent to negotiate on your behalf. Support the VO Agent Alliance. Join the World Voices Organization. Sign up for the Freelancers Union. It’s free!

And if you’re a member, keep pushing SAG-AFTRA to take voice actors just as seriously as the other actors they represent. Not just because COVID suddenly opened their eyes to the work we do as professionals.

Above all: stay vigilant!

BE THE CHANGE

Don’t hide your head in the sand hoping rates will magically go up, and “the market” will take care of itself. It doesn’t. Things get worse when people with good intentions sit still, hoping others will lift the first finger. 

Question what you read and what you hear, especially on social media. Always take the source of the information into account. 

Be clear on how you want to spend your time. There are too many forces competing for your attention, and most of them are useless distractions. 

And lastly:

The best chance of changing other people’s behavior is to change what they react to, namely your own behavior, so: 

Use your brain, and become the colleague you most want to be.

That’s the person I’d like to meet next time we see each other in person, or online!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet: subscribe & retweet!

REMEMBER: The One Voice Conference USA 2020 is held from August 13 @ 6:00 pm – August 16 @ 1:00 pm. Click here to buy your ticket. A little over $187 US dollars will get you in the door, and you don’t even have to leave your house. On Saturday, August 15th at 1:00 PM EST I’ll be leading a 3-hour workshop called “Blogging your way to voice over success.” Join me!

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Is Your Client Driving You Crazy?

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Freelancing5 Comments
David Ogilvy

David Ogilvy

The other day, one of my readers wanted to know:

“Have you ever fired a client, and why? I have one customer who is driving me nuts, but I can’t afford to lose his business.”

First of all, that’s a horrible position to be in. Many freelancers choose to run their own business because they don’t want to depend on someone or something else. Having big spenders as clients may seem fantastic, but if you’re not careful, you end up being in their pocket, and they start pulling all the shots. 

David Ogilvy, the famous advertising guru, took great care in selecting his clients. That concept alone was revolutionary. If you’re a service provider, don’t clients choose you? Isn’t that how the game is played? Not in Ogilvy’s world. 

Ogilvy and his partner would turn down about sixty clients every year, and this was one of their rules:

“Never work for a client so big you can’t afford to lose them.”

They once turned down Ford because the iconic motor company would represent half of their total billing. 

So, to get back to my reader’s question: be selective in whom you want to work with, even if you’re just starting out. Don’t put all your eggs in one or two baskets. It makes you overly dependent, and very vulnerable. If that one big client pulls out, you’re toast. 

Have I ever fired a client? I sure have, and I’m happy I did. It wasn’t all about money. In fact, in many cases money had little to do with it. 

Here are a few clients I gladly gave the sack:

THE DICTATOR

Here’s the client who thinks he owns you twenty-four seven. He always knows best; he’s overly demanding, disrespectful, and never satisfied. These people are impossible to please. The more you try, the less you succeed.

Working for dictators made me hate myself and my job. I did everything I could to avoid contact with them because it was emotionally draining. No money in the world could make up for how lousy I felt working for these bullies. 

THE VIOLATOR

Some clients act as if the rules don’t apply to them. Even with a written agreement in place, they try to bend and break it as fast as they can: “Sorry, we can’t pay you within thirty days. We’ll cut a check as soon as the end-client pays us.” 

“Did the agreement say that we have to pay you even if we don’t use your recording? Well, that’s just too bad. We have switched gears, and don’t need your voice-over anymore.”

When you continue working for a client who is not paying your bill, you are sending the message that you are not worth the fee you charge. 

THE  CHEAPSKATE 

Stay away from clients with great ideas and no budget, and the ones that try to nickel-and-dime you from the get-go. I once fired a long-time client of mine that was locked into old rates. When I increased my fees across the board, she insisted I make an exception “for old times sake.” 

While it may seem like a “nice” gesture, deals like that hold your business back. Time spent on these small-budget clients prevents you from spending that time working for a client who respects your rate. Ogilvy was right when he said:

“Only work for clients who want you to make a profit.” 

THE UNETHICAL

When thinking of your clients, ask yourself these two questions:

“Do they sell a product or service I can be proud of?”

“Will I be able to do my very best work?”

Whether you’re a copywriter, a graphic designer, or a voice-over, you will be professionally associated with a product or service you helped promote. Your reputation is always on the line.

An advertising agency I had worked with in the past, asked me to voice a commercial for one of the world’s worst weed killers. I politely declined, and they understood. My voice is for hire, but my integrity is not for sale. 

It’s up to you where you draw the line, but I would never want to be involved in something illegal, or help sell something I’m morally against. 

THE UNPROFESSIONAL

Some clients are completely unorganized and in over their heads. One day they want one thing. The next day all has changed. It’s something you find out once you start working with them. As a freelancer, you’re used to juggling many plates, but you’re not getting paid to help your clients juggle theirs. 

Sometimes clients become overly friendly. They start calling at night with some lame excuse. It turns out: they just want to talk about a personal issue, or they start gossiping about a colleague they’ve worked with. Before you know it, they’ll be asking you favors because of the perceived friendship. 

Take my word: keep things clean, and have clear boundaries. It’s painful to have to fire these clients, because you know they’ll start gossiping about you to the next professional they cling to. But if you give in because you want to be nice, they’ll suck up your time and tire you out.

THE HIDDEN MESSAGE

All the clients I just described have a few things in common: They keep you from growing your business. They drag you away from your goals. They also appear on your path as your teachers.

People who don’t respect you, are giving you a chance to learn to respect yourself.

People who distract you, are showing you the importance of being focused.

People who don’t pay you, are testing what you think of the value of your work.

People who are trying to manipulate your feelings, are helping you grow a pair. 

Now, if you are bound by a contract I’m not suggesting you break your word and fire these clients. Rather than cutting them loose, you’ve got to cut your losses, fulfill your obligation, and learn from the situation.

But should these clients contact you again for a project, respectfully decline their offer. All they would do is take the fun out of your job. And as Ogilvy said:

“Where people aren’t having any fun, they seldom produce good work.”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Next week I’ll have an interview with J. Michael Collins about the upcoming virtual One Voice Conference USA (August 13-16). Tickets are available NOW!

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5 Reasons Why You Should Never Become A Voice Over

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Freelancing, Pay-to-Play5 Comments

“Want to work from home during COVID-19?”

“Millions of dollars paid out to voice actors globally.”

“Audition for your dream job now.”

“Instant access to amazing opportunities.”

“One million registered users can’t be wrong.”

“New job postings every day.”

It sure sounds tempting, doesn’t it? Especially when you’re young, idealistic, and impressionable. It’s the way online voice casting sites throw out their net. Especially now that many of us are jobless and stuck inside thanks to a killer virus.

Day after day an ever-growing army of hopefuls is eagerly looking at their inbox, waiting for the next “amazing opportunity” to become a voice over star. It comes at a price, though. 

If you’re taking part in these online cattle calls, be ready to be milked!

Of course these casting sites won’t tell you that you have to spend between $349 and $399 per year to take part in a crapshoot. They’ll feed you success stories about people who claim to make a six-figure income by winning audition after audition. Anecdotal evidence always trumps independently verified numbers, right?

People believe what they want to believe when they’re desperate and uninformed.

So, today I’m not going to give you the golden formula to online voice over success. Sorry to break the news, but it does not exist. Instead, I will give you a few reasons why you probably should stay clear of this business. I’ll start with the most important one. 

1. The world doesn’t need you.

Yes, you’ve heard me.

We have enough people talking into microphones, thank you very much. What this world needs is less talk and more action.

We need teachers, doctors, nurses, and scientists. We need experts in conflict resolution; people who know how to fight global warming and racism. We need first responders to pandemics, contact tracers and census takers. 

If you really want to make a difference on this planet, don’t hide behind soundproof walls selling stuff no one needs. Get out there and start helping the poor, the sick, the homeless, the marginalized, and the ones without a voice. They need you more than Disney does.

2. There’s no money in voice-overs.

The cost of living goes up every year while voice over rates are in steady decline. That makes sense, doesn’t it? Even the union can’t stop it. Thanks to online casting services and ignorant amateurs, your voice has become a commodity, sold by the lowest bidder to the cheapest client.

VO has become a game of averages, and here’s how it works.

The bottom feeders choose lowball sites like Upwork, Fiverr, and freelancer.com to sell their services for beer money. The top end of the market consists of A-list actors making millions voicing cartoons and commercials. If you’re average, you’re forever stuck in the middle. You have enough integrity to leave the crumbs to the idiots, but you won’t get the big gigs for the big money.

Don’t be fooled by voice-over veterans posting on Facebook how well they are doing. Some of them confided in me that they’re just keeping up appearances. No one wants to hire a loser, so they’ve got to tell the world they’re still an important player. Yay for social media! Everything people post is 100% true, right?

3. You are a social being.

Unless you enjoy going to expensive events to hear VoiceVIP’s talk about themselves and plug their books, you’re pretty much on your own in this business. I mean, who likes being locked up between the four carpeted walls of a 3.5’ by 3.5’ recording booth all day long?

You have no one to talk to but yourself, and you’ll never see a response from the people you’re supposedly entertaining. If acknowledgment is what you’re secretly longing for, wait for the Corona crisis to be over and go to a nursing home and read to the residents. Tell stories to kids in the cancer ward. It will make their day, and yours!

The sedentary lifestyle of a typical voice-over is unhealthy for the mind, body, and soul. It’s bad enough that you have to stay at home to stay safe these days. Let’s assume you’re an extrovert and you thrive in the company of others.

I can tell you right now that you will curse the day you decided to lock yourself up in a walk-in closet, just so you could narrate some third-rate novel for a royalty share that doesn’t even pay this month’s water bill. 

4. You’ll spend at least 80% of your time trying to get work, and 20% doing the work.

Voice-overs spend a lot of time being busy without being productive. How rewarding is that? Regardless of what voice casting sites want you to believe, most jobs you audition for will go to someone else, and you’ll never know why. Don’t you love it?

But what about agents, you may ask. Once you have an agent or two, things will get better, right?

No they won’t.

The pickings are slim, and these days, all the agents in North America will send the same bathroom tissue script to every talent with a potty mouth. That really makes you feel part of an exclusive club, doesn’t it?

5. It may take many years before you see a return on your investment, if you’re lucky.

A voice-over career cannot be bought. It has to be conquered. Slowly.

You may think you’re going to be successful because of your unique sound. Dream on! The only way you’ll stand a chance is if you stop treating your pipe dream as a hobby. This means you’ve got to invest in professional gear and in a quiet place to record ($$$). Then you have to get yourself a few top-notch demos, plus a website to tell the world what you’re doing ($$$).

And this is just the beginning.

Having all of that in place is no guarantee that you’ll make any money with your voice. Thousands of people all over the world are doing exactly what you do, and they are giving up within a year. The only money they’ll ever see is when they’re selling their stuff on eBay. At a loss. 

When you really think about it, you have to be an idiot to become a voice over.

I was foolish enough to choose that as my career, and guess what?

I’ve never been happier!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS If you believe I’m being negative for no reason, you should read 5 awful things nobody tells you about being an actor. Then we’ll talk, okay?

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