Freelancing

The Voice Over Working Agreement

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Money Matters, Uncategorized 19 Comments

European Voice Talent Paul StrikwerdaLast week I answered some frequently asked questions about blogging.

Today, I’ll address something I get asked a lot by colleagues who are relatively new to the voice-over industry. They want to know if I have some sort of a working agreement in place with my clients.

The answer is Yes. It’s actually a mix between a working agreement and practical tips that are the result of over 25 years of experience.  

One of the first things I tell them is that I am a member of the World Voices Organization, and that I subscribe to the Best Practices for Voice Talent. I believe in this new organization, and I want my clients to know that I am committed to providing voice-over recordings that meet professional standards that are adopted and promoted by World Voices.

So, step into the shoes of my clients, as I take them by the hand and give them tips and guidelines for working with me.

A. HOME STUDIO & DIRECTION

By hiring a talent with a home studio, you save time and money. The studio fee is included in my quote; you’re not paying for an audio engineer or a director, and there are no travel costs to reimburse. I use professional, top-of-the-line equipment in an isolated, acoustically treated recording space. This allows me to deliver pristine, ready-to-use audio in a format of your choice.

Because you’re not physically present at the time of the recording, you cannot give me directions during the session. Please remember:

I can read your script but I cannot read your mind.

That’s why it is your responsibility to give me clear instructions ahead of time. More about that later. With those guidelines in hand, I will do my very best to interpret and read the script according to your wishes. If those instructions are missing, ambiguous or very broad, I will ask for clarification. If no (further) explanation is provided, I will assume that you have given me permission to interpret the script using my experience and expertise.

B. LIVE SESSIONS

You can choose to listen to a recording session in real-time and give directions via Skype or phone. It is the fastest way to get on the same page. My Skype ID is paulstrikwerda1. You may also call me at 732-322-5292 to communicate during a session.

Remember that I live and work close to New York City, which puts me on Eastern Standard Time. If you’re in Europe (Central European Time), you’re probably six hours ahead of me. By the time Europeans call it a day, I still have many hours left to finish your project so it’s ready for you first thing in the morning!

Important:

1. Please send your script at least 24 hours prior to the session. This will give me time to prepare.

2. If you opt to join me for a virtual session and have to cancel, please notify me 24 hours in advance. That way, I can accommodate other clients.

3. I am always happy to record another version of your script if my interpretation is not to your liking. However, if you did not provide clear instructions ahead of time and/or you changed your mind and chose not to direct me, this will be billed as a new project.

C. ANALYZING THE SCRIPT: TONE, TEMPO & ACCENT

Any text can be read in a thousand ways. The more specific you are about what you expect of me, the easier it will be to give you what you hope to hear. Here are a few ways in which you can get me on the right track:

1. Listen to my demos and pick a particular one you’d like me to match.

2. Ask me to record a short demo of your script to give you an idea of my approach. Based on that, you can give me feedback allowing me to fine-tune my performance.

3. If you’d like me to read in the style of e.g. Liev Schreiber narrating a documentary or John Cleese doing a commercial, please send me a link to a video on YouTube or Vimeo to give me an idea of what you’ll hope to hear.

Important: I am a voice actor and not a celebrity impersonator. Impersonation can be seen as a form of theft and it is illegal to impersonate a person without their permission with the intent to generate a profit.

4. If you have asked me to record a project that was produced in another language, please send me an audio sample of the original and I’ll do my best to match that, if that’s what you want.

5. Give me the backstory of a character and/or an image of a cartoon character you’d like me to voice. Tell me about age, family background, education, occupation, life experiences, accent, intentions et cetera.

D. PRONUNCIATION

I specialize in multilingual projects with an international angle. Correct pronunciation is one of the key factors determining the credibility of your message. Please help me get it right the first time. Here’s what you can do to help.

1. Provide a pronunciation guide in writing, or record an audio version of certain words, names or phrases. Alternatively, you could send me a link to a word on http://www.forvo.com or http://www.howjsay.com or use other online pronunciation resources. Remember; you can also coach me via Skype.

2. Sometimes, a script in one language contains words in another language. You need to make a choice as to how these words will be pronounced. Let me give you two examples.

– A Dutch script mentioned the name of an American company. Even though I could have pronounced the company name with a Dutch accent (as is common in the Netherlands), the client instructed me to pronounce it with an American accent.

– A Dutch e-Learning module about bikes featured many models and model numbers such as “Road Racer 315.” The client asked me to pronounce ‘Road Racer’ in English and the number in Dutch.

3. Please be explicit and write things such as numbers and abbreviations down the way you want them to be read. Examples:

– 120: one hundred and twenty or one hundred twenty?
– January fifth nineteen hundred and twelve or the fifth of January nineteen twelve?
– “In twenty twenty we will host the World Cup” or “In two thousand and twenty we will host the World Cup”?
 – “I’d like to say two things. 1. You are the best” or “I’d like to say two things. Number one: You are the best”?
– “5. The Fall of Rome” or “Chapter 5. The Fall of Rome”?

Tip: Never assume that I know how you want me to pronounce and/or read something.

In doubt, spell it out!

E. REVISIONS, CORRECTIONS AND RETAKES

Most scripts go through many drafts before they land on my desk. I will assume that the script you are giving me is the FINAL and OFFICIALLY APPROVED version. That’s what I will read and record. Once this recording is completed and received, payment is due within the time frame listed on the invoice.

Important: The recording of a script that was revised after the first, officially approved text was recorded, is regarded as a new project and will be billed accordingly.

Retakes that are the result of mistakes I made are always free.

F. TRANSLATIONS

Even though you didn’t hire me as a proofreader, you are paying me for script preparation. Every week I receive scripts filled with errors due to poor translation. Because my name and professional reputation are closely associated with the projects I voice, I will not record scripts that contain grammatical errors and other mistakes made by an unqualified translator.

Tip: I’m happy to translate or retranslate a script from English into Dutch or Dutch into English for you. I charge $0.15 or 0.11 Euro per word with a minimum of $30.00 (22 Euro).

G. AUDIO FORMAT

Audio files can be recorded and saved in many formats. Prior to recording you have to let me know what your preferred audio format is, such as MP3, WAV, AIFF, FLAC et cetera. Add to that the required bit depth (e.g. 16 or 24 bits) and sample rate (e.g. 44,100 or 48,000 Hz). If you’re not sure, ask your audio engineer.

Unless otherwise instructed, I take it that you would like to receive clean, unprocessed audio.

H. EDITING, FILE SEPARATION & SYNCING

Some clients automatically assume that home studio talent will deliver fully edited, ready-to-use audio at no extra charge. Be aware that audio editing is very time-consuming and that it requires a special skill set. Producing one hour of finished audio may take three to four hours of editing! While you may think you’re paying the talent for one hour of work only, he or she might spend half a day in the studio to complete that hour.

Unless otherwise agreed, my quote includes an editing fee.

For some projects it may be necessary to have me separate, label and save many files individually. Bulk processing is not always possible. Please realize that this could take longer than the actual recording and that an additional fee may apply.

If you’d like me to sync my voice-over to a video, make sure your script is time-coded and that it lists a maximum time for each segment. Should a paragraph be broken up into sections that need to be synced up precisely, make sure those sections are time-coded as well.

Alternatively, you may send me the video and the script, and I will time-code it for you at an additional charge.

I. RECEIVING YOUR RECORDING

In general, large audio files cannot be sent via email. Please let me know how you’d like to receive those files and if you’d like those files to be compressed.

Some clients use Dropbox, others use an FTP solution. I often use www.wetransfer.com, a free file transfer service. Once the audio is uploaded, I will send you a quick email. You will also receive an email invitation from wetransfer.com to download these files.

Important: Technology is never 100% foolproof. If something did not go as planned, let me know ASAP. If you did not receive an invitation to download, please check your spam folder. If you did receive the files, kindly send me a quick email to confirm receipt.

J. USAGE OF THE AUDIO

My voice-over rates are based on a number of variables: the medium (radio, television, internet), the market (local, national, international), the length, the nature and the use of the audio. The recording you are about to receive may only be used for the purposes indicated in your request and for the length of time and market we agreed upon in advance, unless a buy-out fee has been negotiated. Should you wish to change the original purpose, time and market, you must inform me of your intentions and additional payment is required.

Important: As long as the invoice has not been paid in full, the intellectual property of the audio (not the script) remains with me.

K. COPIES OF FINISHED WORK & CREDITS

Once a job is finished, I will ask you for a copy of the finished work for my portfolio, unless releasing the work violates a confidentiality agreement signed by me or the producer/client. You agree that I may use all or a portion of the copy on my website or voice-over demo or demos, and reference the project on my resume, but only for promotional purposes of my voice-over services and subject to any confidentiality agreement that may be in place.

If credit is given to those participating in the project for which I was hired, such as the actor(s), editor, composer, producer, et cetera, credit should be given to me as voice talent, as well.

L. PAYMENT

Once the job is completed and the voice-over is approved, you will receive an invoice from my assistant via email. To make sure this invoice reaches the right person and can be processed without problems, let me know to whom the invoice should be sent and to which email address. Please include all the information you need so the invoice can be generated and processed, such as a project number, job code or purchase order number.

I always strive to meet or beat a project deadline so you can have the audio you ordered at the agreed time. In turn, I ask you to make sure the invoice gets paid by the date listed on the invoice, regardless of whether or not you have received payment for the voice-over from the client you are working for.

*                     *                    *                    *                     *

At this point I go over the rest of my payment policies with my clients.

As you can see, I pretty much tried to cover all the bases, but I have to tell you that this is a work in progress. Feel free to add anything I might have missed. The comment box at the bottom of this blog would be perfect for that.

One last thing. The document you just read is followed by a legal section where I formalize this working agreement in a way that would make attorneys very happy. The entire document can be accessed online. All I have to do is send a client a link to the web page.  

Coming up with all these “rules” and stipulations is not a part of my job I very much enjoy. Yet, it’s important to have these things in writing to avoid misunderstandings and possible problems down the road.

It’s part of my free and ongoing Client Education Program, brought to you by the friendly folks at Nethervoice.

Class dismissed!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Bring in the Natives!

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Internet, Promotion 6 Comments

women in Volendam dressOkay, I had promised myself not to do it.

At least, not for a while.

Yet, I find myself doing it again.

And the thing is: I don’t feel so bad about it.

Today, I’ll talk about voices.com.

Again.

Rest assured. I’m not going to rehash my leaving-voices.com-litany. You’ve seen it. At the LinkedIn Voice Over Professionals group they’re still beating that dead horse. Click here if you’d like to join the fuss and the fun.

Since I left the Canadians, business has never been better, but that’s not what I wanted to talk to you about. I really want to talk about a few of my favorite topics: language, marketing, standards and blogging.

BLOGGING BOOSTS BUSINESS

You see, what the folks at “voices” understood from day one, is that free content is one of the best ways to attract visitors to your website. A good blog has people stay for a while and it makes them come back again and again. Voice123 has a blog as well; the Edge Studio is stepping up its blogging efforts and recently, Bodalgo joined the club.

Can you keep up with all the content? I certainly can’t! Thank goodness Derek Chappell reads them all and he posts the best blogs of the week on his own blog. 

Vox Daily is the official blog of voices.com. Over the years it has grown into a huge database of informative articles about every aspect of the industry. Most of the content is original. Sometimes the stories come from other sources.

I applaud the writers of Vox Daily for keeping this thing going with such creativity and consistency. As you know, I only blog once a week and frankly, that’s all I can handle.

As a native of the Netherlands, I was drawn to a recent Vox Daily article by Stephanie Ciccarelli, called “What is a Native Speaker?” In it, Ciccarelli outlines the advantages of hiring a native speaker. She cites a conversation with Spanish voice talent Simone Fojgiel who told her that

“70% of the projects she receives from her clients that were translated from English into Spanish, required revisions. Some even needed complete overhauls due to poor translation work.”

Stephanie concludes:

“Before we start pointing fingers at translators in general, we need to take a deep breath and consider why some translations may be poor, inaccurate or altogether baffling. My dear friends, it all comes to down to whether or not the translator is a native speaker of the language they’re translating in.”

I’m a native Dutch speaker and I recognize Simone’s observations. However, I don’t believe non-native speakers bare the full blame for poorly translated scripts. In my experience, bad translations are often the direct result of:

  1. carelessness or ignorance on the part of cheap clients;
  2. amateur-translators using translation software;
  3. lack of standards, quality control and overall professionalism.

The question is: what to do about it?

GOING DUTCH

Sometimes I talk myself into believing that one of my missions is to educate the ignorant. Allow me to illustrate.

A few months ago, I received an invitation to voice a Dutch language course for beginners. The budget was low and the sample script was filled with language that might have been in vogue some seventy years ago. Today, no Dutchman would ever use these outdated expressions. My guess is that the producers of the course had adapted an old guide after the copyright had expired. Perhaps they were unaware of the archaic language because they didn’t speak Dutch.

Rather than refusing the job out of hand, I auditioned for it, just to have an opportunity to get in touch with the client. I told them that the language in the guide was old-fashioned and that it would mislead people into believing they were learning Dutch as it is spoken today. I gave them several examples to illustrate my point. I also suggested that I could help them bring this language course into the 21st century.

Did I get a thank you note or even an acknowledgement that my comments were received?

Of course not.

I’m only a native speaker who was trying to offer some added value. Why on earth would they listen to me?

HELPING CLIENTS IMPROVE

According to Ciccarelli, Simone Fojgel has…

“made it her mission to protect, preserve and propel the brand image of her English clients as they step out boldly in effort to communicate to Spanish-speaking audiences.”

Not only does Simone review, prep and (re)write copy for her clients, she directs voice talent “to guarantee their performance is just right for the target audience.”

In that respect, Simone and I are on the same page. Both of us reach out to clients and offer to better their products. But after my experience with that Dutch language course, I asked myself:

Is it the job of a native voice talent to save a client’s reputation and turn a trash translation into a treasure?

I’m not so sure anymore, and I’ll explain why.

SAVING THE DAY?

1. First and foremost: You can provide people with information but you can’t be sure they’ll actually understand. And even if they do, it doesn’t mean that they will act upon it. Why should I waste my time talking to a client who doesn’t even want to listen? Let them produce that old-fashioned language course without my help. Perhaps they need to learn things the hard way. 

2. In order to be open to a solution, the client has to admit that there’s a problem in the first place. Here’s the thing. Clients don’t always see a problem. All they see is an added expense you call a solution.

3. A bad translation is only a symptom of a greater underlying cause. Clients are often more interested in treating symptoms.

I believe in fixing a problem at the root level. If a faucet is leaking, you don’t hire someone to mop up the floor thinking that this will solve everything. You call a pro to replace the washers, the o-ring or the seals. Unfortunately, not all clients think that way. They’d rather pay for cheap labor instead of hiring a more expensive pro. The worst scripts usually come from clients with bargain basement budgets. Not exactly my target market.

4. Is it worth my time?

Before I became a full-time voice-over, I worked as a professional translator and I hated it. I used to spend 14-hour days ruining my back in front of a computer screen translating boring market research, user manuals and legal documents. As a voice-over, I can make in thirty minutes what would take me a week of translation work. You do the math.

5. Leave it to the experts.

Being a native speaker doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re a great translator. Just as people underestimate what it takes to be a voice-over, people have no idea how hard it is to become an accredited translator. Even though I’m an academically trained linguist, I am happy to pass translation projects on to the natives who do this for a living.

Now, does all of this mean that I’ll never offer to correct a weak translation or tweak a text no matter what?

If the client is open to suggestions and is willing to spend some extra money on additional services, I’m game. As a voice-over, it is in my best interest to be associated with a stellar production. If it wins me some bonus points with a customer, better still!

So, at times, being a native speaker does translate into more business, but obviously not from the folks who were looking for a voice for that outdated Dutch language course. I believe the program is in the making as we speak. Unchanged.

And where did I find that job, by the way?

On voices.com.

Right before I ended my membership. 

Oops…

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

photo credit: screenpunk via photopin cc

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Wanted: Colleagues with Cojones

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing 9 Comments

It's better to be a lion for a day than a sheep for all your lifeColleagues, where is your courage?

Sometimes I feel like I’m dealing with a bunch of wimps.

Wimps who cave in without a fight and who compromise their integrity for money.

Last week I wrote about a recent European Directive to combat late-paying clients. New, stringent rules have changed the game in favor of small and mid-size companies. No longer are we at the mercy of businesses and government institutions that made us wait forever to get our money.

Now, any Europe-based entrepreneur can charge interest if a bill isn’t paid on time (usually within 30 days), and add at least €40 (about 54 USD) to cover the cost of debt collection, should it come to that. There’s no legal obligation to send a late-paying client a reminder. It is expected that an invoice gets paid when it is due.

If this were to happen in the U.S. where I live and work, I would jump for joy. Every year, thousands of businesses go bankrupt. Not because their product or service stinks, but because they’re waiting to get paid. This new Euro-legislation aims to make that a thing of the past. Isn’t that a cause for celebration?

Apparently not.

WORST-CASE SCENARIO

Some colleagues greeted the new rules with fear, disbelief and skepticism. One freelancer wrote to me:

“Those regulations are nice in theory, but I wouldn’t dare go after one of my biggest clients. It usually takes them 100+ days to pay me and I hate that. So, why do I put up with it? Because if I were to get tough on them, they’d hire someone else in a heartbeat.”

I asked him:

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Give Me My Money!

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Freelancing, Money Matters 16 Comments

Last week I clearly disappointed some readers.

They thought I was going to give them a few quick tips on how to handle non-paying clients. Instead, I asked them to take a good look at their relationship with money.

“I’m not the one to blame,” said one colleague. “Why should I feel guilty when a client refuses to pay me when the invoice is due? I delivered my work on time. Don’t make me the bad guy!”

I wasn’t trying to guilt-trip anyone, but there’s a reason why I wanted you to take a look in the mirror when it comes to finances. As a freelancer, you are responsible for how you run your business. If you’ve done everything right and your client still isn’t paying, remember this:

It’s not your fault, but it is your problem.

“Doing everything right” means…

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When A Client Owes You

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Freelancing, Money Matters 17 Comments

DSC05783Imagine walking into a fancy restaurant.

You like what you see on the menu and you order a three-course meal plus a bottle of Bordeaux. After a short wait, the food arrives, meticulously prepared by an expert chef. The meal is delicious. The wine is divine.

When it’s time to pay, you tell the waiter:

“I’d be happy to take care of the bill, but I’m afraid I can’t do that right now.”

“What seems to be the problem?” the server asks. Your response:

“Well, I’m a little low on cash right now. I’m waiting for someone to send me a check. Once that money is in my account, I can pay you. That could take a few weeks or even a month. I’m sure you understand the position I’m in. I promise you’ll get your money. Just not today.”

It’s an absurd scenario, but if you’re a freelancer it’s not uncommon. According to the Freelancers Union,

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The Freelancer’s Creed

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Freelancing, Money Matters 19 Comments

Paul Strikwerda with tulipsTo my past, present and future clients:

I AM A FREELANCER and my added value will always be higher than my rate.

I am here to make your life easier; to solve a particular problem; work on a project and save you money by getting the job done more efficiently and more skillfully.

When you hire me, you can rely on my expertise, my experience and my enthusiasm.

Unlike so many people who go to work and go through the motions just to collect a paycheck, I became a freelancer to do what I’m good at; to do what I love… and I love what I do.

I need no time tracker, no hand-holding micro-managing supervisor or never-ending on-the-job training.

When your 9 to 5 crew leaves the building,

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Failure is Always an Option

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

A few years ago, entrepreneur and New York Times contributor Jay Goltz asked owners of failed small businesses what had gone wrong.

Guess what?

Most of them didn’t really have a clue.

To a certain extent that’s not surprising. Had they known what the problem was, they might have been able to fix it.

Some owners were in denial. Instead of acknowledging their own responsibility, they blamed the economy, the current administration, the bank or an idiot partner. Never themselves.

In many cases, Goltz noted that (ex) customers had a much better understanding of what went wrong. The owner still had his stubborn head in the sand.

Over the years, I’ve counseled quite a few struggling voice-overs who were ready to give up. Without exception they were sweet, well-intentioned and hard-working people. Some of them were even talented. And like the folks Goltz interviewed, they were wondering why their new career was going down the drain.

TAKE LARRY

Larry called himself a victim of the recession.

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Creating a Wave

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Internet, Promotion 27 Comments

You and I, we walk a fine line when it comes to drumming up business.

Here’s the situation.

Clients won’t hire us unless they know we exist.

Colleagues won’t recommend us if they have no idea what we’re capable of.

Agents might think we’re yesterday’s news if we don’t prove ourselves every once in a while.

The remedy to anonymity is self-promotion. However, we all know people who are constantly promoting themselves. They hijack threads on Facebook to toot their own horn. They pop up in LinkedIn groups to talk about themselves. They spam your inbox with “newsletters” that glorify their latest accomplishments.

They must believe they’re very interesting.

If you’re one of those people, I have this to say to you:

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Rotten Carrots and Cool Clients

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing 24 Comments

In a black-and-white world, there are two types of clients:

Type A: Pain in the neck

Type B: Pleasure to work with

After many years of freelancing, I have developed a sixth sense, warning me ahead of time which type of client I’m dealing with. Usually, this gut feeling is spot-on, but recently, I was unpleasantly surprised.

It all started when I was asked to narrate a Dutch script. From the first paragraph I could tell…

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The Customer Is Always Right

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Freelancing, Money Matters 17 Comments

Do you actually believe that?

I’m not buying it. Not even for a second.

Customers will do anything to get a discount, a freebie or something extra. At the end of the season they’ll return clothes that clearly have been worn, and ask for their money back. They’ll order a steak medium rare and want a comp because they say it was undercooked.

They don’t follow instructions, break the appliance and blame it on the manufacturer. What’s more, they’ll tell everybody on Facebook and Twitter about it.

Are those customers right?

I don’t think so.

Customers are calculating, conniving and…

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