Freelancing

GET YOUR ACT(ing) TOGETHER!

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Freelancing, Gear, Internet, Journalism & Media, Promotion, Social Media, Studio2 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

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Whatever Happened to Critical Thinking?

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Freelancing, Internet, Journalism & Media, Pay-to-Play, Personal, Social Media1 Comment

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!

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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-Play4 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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The Great Desperation

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Freelancing, International, Internet, Pay-to-Play12 Comments

Dear friends,

In the midst of the devastating Corona crisis, it is time to have a party!

Let’s all go to Casa Ciccarelli in Canada, hang up some garlands, bring out our silly hats, and throw some confetti because…

Voices dot com has reached One Billion Registered Users!

Apologies…. make that One Million users*.

The news sounds just as pathetic as the McDonald’s sign saying “billions and billions served.” It still means they’re selling indigestion and obesity on a plastic plate. Just on a grander scale.

According to VDC, the top 5 countries with the most users are… (drumroll please):

The USA, Canada, India, the United Kingdom, and the Philippines.

Call me cynical, but could this meteoric rise in numbers have anything to do with the effects of the current pandemic? You know, the sheer number of people out of a job. The poor impressionables who are suddenly forced to work from home and have no idea what to do with themselves?

“Oh wait, when all else fails, I could always become… a voice over! Let’s find that Snowball microphone that is gathering dust.”

Is VDC cashing in on a global crisis?

Or is that a dark thought coming from a notorious VDC critic? Let’s ask David Ciccarelli, CEO and co-founder of Voices.com. He said the following in a press release:

These times are challenging and Voices.com is a solution for many of our customers in their time of need,”  (…) Aspiring voice talent have been registering in record numbers, and, not surprisingly, professional voice talent who have invested in remote recording studio technologies are benefiting from the increase in demand.”

Do you want to know what I think?

VDC is one of the least transparent voice over service providers on the planet, and is one of the best at putting itself at the top of search engines. I take whatever they tout with a huge grain of Himalayan salt. This includes any numbers they provide because they cannot be independently verified.

Secondly, have you noticed a sudden “increase in demand” for voice overs?

THE COLLAPSING MARKET

Has your local car dealership called for a commercial lately? Or Holiday Hair?

How about the tourism and hospitality industry?

Did you get a call to do any airline adverts, or promote any theme parks or live events recently?

I didn’t think so.

Businesses and service providers can’t advertise themselves out of a pandemic-induced recession. What we need at this time is tests and vaccines and people staying away from people. Not more ads for things we can’t afford because that Trump-signed $1200 check doesn’t really cut it.

The media and entertainment industry is being hit hard, and with it, the (voice) actors. The production of motion pictures and TV shows has come to a standstill. Theaters and cinemas are closed. Meanwhile companies like Netflix are signing up subscribers by the millions, stealing viewers from network television that runs on advertising.

Huge sports events like the Olympics have been postponed or cancelled. Did you know that NBC had already booked more than $1 billion in national advertising commitments for the Games in Tokyo?

You may say that analysts have not detected a drop in ad spending during the first quarter of 2020, and you would be right. That’s because most advertisers made reservations for that ad time last summer during the so-called upfront market, when the bulk of TV commercial time is sold.

This means that the real sh*t hasn’t even hit the fan yet.

CANADA TO THE RESCUE?

But thank goodness we have voices dot com. They’re always there for us, fighting hard to keep the dream of aspiring voice actors alive with wonderful projects thousands will audition for (and never get), a dollar- a-holler.

I mean, it makes complete sense that if you want to start a new career, you don’t invest in any training, you get crap recording equipment you use in an untreated space, and you expect to stand out among hundreds of thousands of other users doing the same thing on the same platform! Aren’t you a smart cookie!

And, should you be one of those lucky companies that hasn’t slashed the marketing and advertising budget yet, wouldn’t you just love to have to weed through hundreds and hundreds of substandard online auditions, hoping to find one low-bidding amateur needle in an amateur haystack?

SPOKEN BOOKS

But Paul, what about audio books? Audio books are in the midsts of a boom. Deloitte predicted that the global market will grow by 25 per cent in 2020 to $3.5 billion (USD). That’s where the amazing opportunities are!

Well, you may have a point, but let’s look at who narrates the spoken books that actually make money. Publishers aren’t born yesterday. They know who to hire.

According to the BBC, Penguin released  thirty of their classics in audiobook format, narrated by well-known names including Andrew Scott reading The Dubliners and Natalie Dormer voicing A Room of One’s Own.

Meanwhile, Audible has had Rosamund Pike reading Pride and Prejudice and Thandie Newton narrating Jane Eyre. A huge seller for them has been Stephen Fry’s 72-hour-long reading of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Collection.

So, if you happen to be an audio book publisher, who would you rather hire? Benedict Cumberbatch, or some unknown voice over person with a free profile on VDC? Since most stage and on-screen actors are twiddling their thumbs at the moment, you might be able to get an A-lister for cheap.

By the way, if you’re new to voice overs, please realize that narrating audio books is one of the most challenging things you could ever do in this business. Your beginner voice won’t have the stamina to read for hours on end,  and you won’t have the acting chops to portray the many different characters in the novel you want to audition for. You have no clue how to self-direct, and your cheap microphone records every loud breath, sharp S, mouth click, and popping plosive, as well as a generous amount of self-noise. And did I tell you about the endless editing?

DISTANCE LEARNING

Then there’s eLearning. For some reason medical narration seems to be very much in-demand at the moment. Yippie! Let me  give you a taste of what that entails. Here’s a snippet from a script I got to voice for a pharmaceutical giant, recently:

“Physicians look for complications of cirrhosis including presence of peripheral edema, splenomegaly, ascites, and encephalopathy. Physicians also look for rare complications such as cyanosis (due to hepatopulmonary syndrome) or evidence of pulmonary hypertension (portopulmonary hypertension).”

And this is by no means the most challenging medical script I ever had to narrate. As one of the new VDC recruits, do you think you’re totally ready for this type of project? I know that’s what VDC wants you to believe. If you have a voice, a pulse, and a credit card, they’re happy to welcome you to the club!

I agree that times are tough, and when people are desperate, they become an easy target for those offering them what seems to be an easy way out. You may call those who pray on desperate people opportunists, givers of false hope, con artists even.

I hate to break it to you, but you don’t become a best-selling author overnight, you don’t make a fortune selling stock photos shot with your iPhone, or become a millionaire doing make-up tutorials on YouTube. I’ve tried two out of three, and I still don’t have that red Maserati in my driveway. Frankly, I don’t know any voice actor who has. 

BURSTING A BUBBLE

I’m not telling you this because you don’t deserve to dream. I’m telling you this because I don’t want you to get your hopes up and be taken advantage of. I’m also telling you this because I want you to be well-prepared when you do decide to go for it. Who am I to stop you?

As in any profession, you can’t buy yourself a career in voice overs. You’ve got to earn it first, before reaping the rewards. Those rewards, by the way, are going down as professional voices are becoming more of a commodity due to the increased number of people signing up for services like VDC. It’s a buyers market.

Jobs that used to pay $2500 are now going for $250 or less, because people who don’t know any better believe it’s good money. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, right? At the end of the day, talking into a microphone is better and safer than slaving in some Amazon warehouse just so Jeff Bezos can buy another mansion.

But before you fork over $399 for a premium membership, or $2,999 for a platinum membership (so you can get priority ranking in the Voices.com directory search results), think about what one of my colleagues just said after I posted the following picture on Instagram:

He told me:

“I am sinking as is. Why turn over $400 a year, PAYING to get rejected?”

Perhaps you think the owners of VDC deserve to be congratulated on their success. They were once the toast of the town. Now they’re no longer welcome at voice over conferences because of their well-documented unethical business practices.

You can choose to be a part of those practices and enable their growth if you like. After all, you can do great work for a bad business.

Or you can save yourself some money, and invest it in building your own freelance business with integrity.

It doesn’t even have to be a voice over business.

It’s your life.

It’s your party.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

* According to VDC it has 1 million business and voice actor registered users.

 

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Is Visibility Coaching For You?

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Freelancing, International, Internet, Promotion, Social MediaLeave a comment

You know me.

I’m pretty open and honest about my business.

In this blog I share some aspects of how I make money as a voice talent. But there’s one part of my profession I don’t advertise.

It’s my work as a coach

Over the years I’ve helped lots of colleagues become more successful, and I feel they should take the credit. Not me.

Plus, I’m quite busy voicing projects and I don’t have a lot of time to coach. Frankly, I can make more money recording a three-minute script, than spending an hour giving someone advice.

But two years ago, things changed. I had my stroke, and it affected my vocal folds. My voice doesn’t last as long as it used to, and I can’t take on every project that’s offered to me.

Over time, my coaching hours increased, and I discovered that helping others can be much more satisfying than recording a pancake commercial.

Now, some coaches specialize in accent reduction. Others know all about audio books. I call myself a Visibility Coach because my strength lies in helping people stand out in a world filled with noise.

GETTING VOICE OVER JOBS

There are basically two approaches to finding more work:

– You can target and approach clients all day long by cold calling, by begging agents to send you gigs, and by auditioning online until you’re blue in the voice, or you can…

– Make those clients come to you by having a strong online presence through your website and social media

The second approach cuts out the middle man, and gives you the freedom to negotiate with clients on your turf and on your terms. Most people have tried the first method and they end up being frustrated, broke, and exhausted. Oddly enough, they’ve never spent much time trying the second method.

If you are one of those people and you’re wondering if coaching is for you, I have a question for you:

Can you pull yourself up by your bootstraps and make things better?

If you could, then why haven’t you? And if you haven’t, what’s holding you back?

You can always ask friends and family for advice, but what do they really know about the business you’re in? Do they know what it takes to put yourself out there, even if you don’t feel like selling yourself? Do they have the practical experience to figure out what’s keeping you from booking more jobs? 

Do they have the right connections to improve your visibility in the field, without plastering your face all over the internet? Do they know anything about branding and marketing? You see, friends and family will always have an opinion, but they lack the objectivity, the skills, and the know-how to guide you.

That’s where I come in.

THE BEGINNING

Twenty years ago, I came to the United States with two suitcases and a plastic bag. No one knew who I was, and I had no idea where to begin. But I did it anyway. Now I have a thriving business, happy clients, and over forty thousand people that subscribe to this blog. I speak at conferences, I give interviews, and I have written one of the more successful books on voice overs and freelancing.

One could say that I’ve figured a few things out about what it takes to do well in this ever-changing business. And I’m happy to share them with you. The Dutch are known for being very direct, and I am no sugar-coater. In fact, I am probably the person who will tell you what you don’t want to hear. If you can’t handle that, find a coach who will gladly massage your ego.

As your coach, I will be your greatest fan and cheerleader. I will hold you accountable for the actions you choose to take. If you want to talk the talk, you will have to walk the walk. I will help you plan a path, make connections, and teach you what I know. Not from boring books, but from international experience.

For instance, many European colleagues are wondering what it takes to break into the American market. It’s not easy, but it’s not impossible. I’ve done it. It’s all about talent, strategy, and connections. You bring the talent, and together we’ll focus on the rest.

MY GOAL 

My ultimate goal as a visibility coach is to make myself redundant. Your job is to do everything it takes to get to a point where you stand strong, and take full credit for your accomplishments.

We live in testing times. As the economy is crumbling and you’re not working as much as you’d like to, this is a good moment to dig in and make some changes. If you don’t, others will take this opportunity to develop a competitive advantage. 

I believe you deserve to do well in the world. I believe you deserve to use the gifts that you’re developing to the best of your ability.

If any of this resonates with you, I hope you’ll get in touch. I have to warn you, though.

I don’t take on every student that seeks coaching. My time is just as valuable as yours, and I only work with those who are highly motivated and ready to do whatever it takes. You must be prepared to spend some serious time on whatever it is that needs to improve.

IT’S UP TO YOU

Please realize that I don’t have a magic wand to lead you to instant success. Coaching is not the same as making a prefab microwave meal. Coaching is more of a crockpot process. Each student has different strengths and weaknesses, and needs a different recipe.

One last thing. This is important. 

As your coach, I cannot force you to do anything. I cannot make clients hire you on the spot, but I can teach you how to drive and navigate the road, so to speak. You, however, are in the driver’s seat, and you determine the destination.

Once you’re ready to get behind the wheel, please drop me a line. I’ll send you a copy of my Coaching Agreement to give you a better sense of my approach, and the required investment on your part.

Let’s speak soon!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Mind Your Own Business

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Freelancing, Money MattersLeave a comment

Gerald Griffith

Gerald Griffith, the charismatic creator of VO Atlanta, is a clever cookie. He wants to give the attendees of this conference what they want. How does he know what they want? It’s simple. He’s not afraid to ask. It’s an approach many small business owners (such as VO’s) could learn something from:

1. understand your clients, and
2. ensure that what you’re offering meets or exceeds their needs

Result: Happy, returning customers!

So, over the past eight years, Gerald has been polling his audience trying to find out what kinds of topics they’d be interested in. Doing so, he noticed an inexplicable trend. Gerald:

“The pattern is the same. There’s a lot of demand for tech and business, but those are the most poorly attended sessions.”

This year it’s no different. Griffith:

“When I review the current block of workshop bookings (same holds true for breakout sessions in past years), guess which ones DO NOT show up in the top three? Technology and Marketing.”

For this blog post, I’ll leave the tech talk to the experts, but business and marketing are definitely my cup of tea. Full disclosure: I’m a presenter and panelist in these areas. So, why would people indicate they want more of these sessions, and yet not show up for them? It doesn’t make sense, does it? What’s going on?

STRANGE BEHAVIOR

First off: polls are opinions, not behavior. People vote with their feet. It’s the problem every pollster has to face: human beings say the socially acceptable thing, and do another. But there’s more.

Advertisers realized a long time ago that most people decide with their heart, not with their head. Business-oriented sessions tend to appeal to the analytical, left side of the brain. Some attendees falsely believe business segments are boring and filled with dry, factual information. In contrast, a hands-on workshop about getting into character animation, led by a brilliant man known for voicing a pig, has way more emotional pull.

Now, if you had a choice between work and play, which one would you choose? The truth is: most VO’s -me included- are more interested in the fun aspects of their job than in running the numbers. Bookkeeping is considered work. Making phone calls is work. Social Media can be a chore. We’d rather talk about how fun it is to bring scripts to life. 

In my experience as a coach, many VO’s don’t want to face financial reality. They call themselves voice-over artists, not entrepreneurs. They prefer to stick their head in the sand while complaining about rates going down.

STRANGE IDEAS

What’s also keeping people from signing up for business sessions is a particular mindset, summarized in these two maxims:

“If you build it, they will come”

“Do what you love and the money will follow”

These two ideas are part of the reason why about one-fifth of business startups fail in the first year, and about half go bust within five years. Only about one-third make it to ten.

Let me ask you this. If you build it without telling the world about it, why would people come? They don’t know you exist. And if they do know you exist, why should they come to you and not to someone else with a pleasant voice?

What makes you so special?

Go ahead and build it, but there’s no guarantee that they will come! Now, what about passion? Isn’t that enough to make the magic money fountains flow?

I know plenty of people who hate what they do, and yet they make a boatload of money. I also know people who love what they do, who are struggling to make ends meet. Investing in yourself by signing up for sessions that will help you improve your voice-over skills is not a bad idea. However, you can offer the best product in the world, but if you don’t know how to sell it, the money will not follow. And in VO, you are your product.

FAILING BUSINESSES

Take a few minutes and Google “reasons why small businesses fail.” You’ll find that most authors are in agreement. Small businesses don’t fail because new entrepreneurs aren’t creative, passionate, or skilled enough. It is because their owners do not run them like a business. A business needs to be properly funded. Many freelancers don’t spend enough money to put themselves out there, and they don’t make enough money to stay there.

Secondly, failing businesses are offering something no one is looking for because it’s already available, usually of better quality and at a lower price. If you’re thinking of starting your own business, you have to find your place in the market by providing something only very few can offer. That’s your niche.

As a voice talent, it’s not enough to say: “I am special because no one sounds like me.” Believe it or not, there are people who sort of sound like you with more money, more experience, better equipment, a quiet recording space, a nicer website, a harder working agent, better branding, greater marketing, and an amazing social media presence. Anything they’re not good at or don’t like to do, they hire experts for. Those who want to do it all by themselves end up working eighty hours a week wondering why they ever wanted to be their own boss.

If you don’t want to belong to that fifty percent of small businesses that close within five years, you have to stop treating your profession as a hobby, as something you do because it sparks joy only. Owning a small business is challenging, frustrating, and exhausting, as well as exhilarating.

Here’s the good news: learning how to run a freelance business is a rewarding journey, and in our community you’ll find excellent tour guides to show you around. Many of the best are coming to VO Atlanta from March 26 – 29.

COME TO ME

Paul Strikwerda presenting at VO Atlanta

The Stinky Sock Session

On Friday 3/27, I’ll be leading a Breakout Session from 9:50 to 10:50 AM called “The Incredible Power of Words.” I might even bring a Stinky Sock! Here’s how I describe this experience:

“Even though we cannot do our jobs without them, it’s easy to minimize the impact our words have on the minds of the people who listen to us. In this session, you’ll hear compelling stories about how words can transform lives for better or for worse; how words can help and heal, and how we as professional storytellers can inspire our listeners and entice them to take action. And finally, I’ll talk about the things we say to ourselves, and how they can bring us down or lift us up. This session will leave no one untouched.”

The next day I’d love to meet you at my X-Session “Boosting your Business with a Blog” from 9:30 to 12:30 AM. It’s not a lecture, but an interactive workshop open to no more than twelve people. I’ll share the secrets that have made this blog one of the most popular in the business, and my website the most visited personal VO site on the web. 

THE FUTURE

In this volatile, crazy voice-over business, many are called but few are chosen. When doing my presentations, I often look at my audience and wonder: who will be here next year, five years from now, and in ten years? Who will have given up, and who have staying power?

I don’t have a crystal ball, but I do know this: having a remarkable voice and knowing how to use it is not enough.

The colleagues enjoying sustained success are very likely to give you this piece of advice if you want to do well:

Mind your own business!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Incompetent and Overly Confident

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Freelancing, Personal, Social Media16 Comments

Let me begin with a simple but loaded question.

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

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

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

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

COMMON MISCONCEPTIONS

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

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

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

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

“For whom did Beethoven compose “Für Elise?”

She had no idea.

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

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

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

THE DUNNING – KRUGER EFFECT

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

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

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

If only it were that easy.

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

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

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

As the Zen master said:

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

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

ACCEPT FAILURE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AT THE SHOOTING RANGE

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

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

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

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

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

ALL ARE AFFECTED

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

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

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

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

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

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

METACOGNITION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There’s always more to learn.

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

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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5 Things You Should Stop Doing Right Now

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Freelancing, Social Media, Studio8 Comments

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

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

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

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

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

Not in a million years!

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

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

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

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

Stop playing dumb, people! It is embarrassing. 

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

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

3. Complaining without taking responsibility or action.

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

First of all: Stop whining!

Winners aren’t whiners. 

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

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

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

4. Working for less than you deserve. 

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

Price for profit and raise your rates!

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

Price is an important indicator of professionalism and quality. 

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

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

5. Making assumptions about your clients.

So many colleagues tell me:

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

Let me ask you this:

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

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

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

Never assume. Always ask.

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

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

Don’t let me stop you.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Becoming the Sharpest Tool in the Shed

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Freelancing, International, Internet4 Comments

Peter Dickson & Hugh Edwards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PRESIDENTIAL ADVICE

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

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

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

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

 

FOREVER AND EVER

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

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

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

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

BACK TO LONDON

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Is this suitable for beginners?

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

– Will I get lost in the crowd?

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

– Will it get me more work?

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

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

meeting Mark Graue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Bodalgo’s Armin Hierstetter

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

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

MY CONTRIBUTION

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

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

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

It all depends on one thing:

Are you ready to sharpen your axe?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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PPS photos courtesy of One Voice Conference

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