International

The Voice Over Event You Can’t Afford To Miss

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, International, Internet, One Voice, Promotion4 Comments

JMC & the author at VO Atlanta

If you’ve missed the big news, let me spell it out for you:

The ONE VOICE CONFERENCE is coming to North America in August!

This virtual gathering is the Gravy For the Brainchild of UK-based Hugh Edwards and Peter Dickson. They are the dynamic duo behind Gravy For The Brain.

In May they pulled something off that many of us thought would never work. An online voice over conference that was as fun as it was informative. Those of us who took part were left with one overwhelming feeling:

WE WANT MORE!

For the North American edition Hugh and Peter teamed up with J. Michael Collins, the man who runs Gravy for the Brain USA (and so much more). If you’re unfamiliar with Gravy for the Brain (GFTB), let me give you the bullet point version.

In spite of its playful name, I think of GFTB as the number one platform for those who are serious about becoming a voice over and having a successful and sustainable career. And no, I’m not getting paid to say this!

Since 2008 GFTB has assisted and inspired over forty thousand voice overs with a plethora of certificated voice over courses allowing students to learn at their own pace, hosted by industry experts. Coming back from VO Atlanta, Peter and Hugh wanted to create a UK conference which gave new talent and ideas a place to flourish and change the voice over industry. That became the One Voice Conference (OVC). Now in its third year, this conference is coming to America!

I’ve interviewed Hugh in the past, and I have an interview with Peter in the pipeline, so I turned to J. Michael Collins to give me the lowdown on the OVC USA (as always, everything in BLUE is a hyperlink). Before I asked my questions, there’s something I wanted him to clear up. I wrote the following email:

Dear JMC:

Let me start with an admission: I don’t know how to properly address you. 

Do I say: “Dear JMC?” 

Do I say: “Dear Michael,” “Dear J. Michael,” or “Dear Mike?”

I need a little guidance, please.

He wrote back:

Hi Paul,

Thanks for your message.

J. Michael, JMC, or That Guy Who Smells Like Lobster are all acceptable. 🙂

So, I said to That Guy Who Smells Like Lobster:

– We’ve had the UK edition of the One Voice Conference in May with attendees from all over the world, including the USA. For those who have attended the One Voice UK conference, is it still worthwhile to go to the US edition?

The US edition is still going to provide tremendous value. We have a vastly different lineup than the UK edition. I don’t think there is much cross-over at all. We’ve also brought out people who don’t generally come out to speak at conferences like Christian Lanz, Portia Scott, Christina Milizia, Joe Zieja, and Pat Brady. These people are just not “on the circuit” as much as the speakers that we usually see, including myself. It’s good to have a more diverse group.

Diversity is something we have a commitment to at this particular conference. We feel it’s important that the community of speakers and presenters is reflective of what the community of voice talent is like these days. As we all know, in the past ten or twenty years there has been a sea change of more diverse voices. Voices that look more like America now are being hired much more regularly than they were when the industry was much less inclusive.

If you go back twenty or thirty years it was ninety five percent white and very heavily male. Today it’s just incredibly diverse and if anything, the minority voices and diverse voices are having access to opportunities that they’ve never had in the past. So, we think our lineup reflects that. We continue to add new presenters, so keep your eye on the website and on the presenter roster to see who we add in the coming weeks.

– Is it for American/Canadian talent only?

No. I am personally going to be presenting on the international VO market for talent who live elsewhere. That session in and of itself will be helpful. We have a handful of speakers from all over the world. We have speakers from Germany, from France, from the UK. However, the content that we have designed for this conference is certainly North American-centric.

– As you know, there are quite a few VO gatherings aimed at newcomers who simply wish to explore the business. Is One Voice USA one of those conferences, or is there a barrier to entry for OVC USA?

There is no barrier to entry for OV USA. What we would say is that it’s our mission to make our conference focused primarily on professional level content. That doesn’t mean it’s inaccessible to newer talent. It just means that when newer talent attend a conference like One Voice, they can expect to hear content that is geared towards people who want to have full-time careers in voice over, and content that’s a little bit more detailed and a little more in-depth in terms of taking your business from a fledgling state into a state where it is what you do for a living.

While we believe that all the content we have is going to be relevant and helpful for people who are new to the business, our focus is on attracting pros to the conference because we believe that the content we’re trying to offer will help people who are already full-time professional voice actors, advance their careers to a level beyond where it is currently.

– Tell me about the keynote speakers. Who are they, on what basis did you select them, and what will they be talking about?

Portia Scott

We have two keynotes, and we wanted to approach it from both the agency side, from the other side of the glass, the side that’s hiring, and also from the performance side.

Our agency side keynote is Portia Scott who is the head of voice over for Coast to Coast Talent Group in LA and New York. She’s one of the real power agents in the business and has quite an interesting story to tell about her career and her life in the voice over industry.

She has helped to take that agency to where it is now, to make it one of the big players in the highest level of voice over. Of course she’ll be talking about what you need to do to attract that level of representation, and to get on the radar of the very highest end LA-New York Union agencies.

Tara Strong

Our performance keynote is Tara Strong. She really needs no introduction if you are at all into animation, cartoons, and video games. Just go and look at her IMDB page. It’s about two and a half miles long. She has one of the most impressive resumes of any character voice actor in history. You can make a fair argument that she’s maybe the leading female character voice actor in the industry today, and in many ways of all time.

Tara’s going to talk about her journey and what you can do if that’s the path you set yourself on. While she’s heavily focused on the character side of the business, I think the nuggets that she will be offering to our attendees will also be germane to any other genre. There is a core means of establishing yourself, of getting noticed, of making yourself a presence, and honing your craft to a level that is going to be compelling to buyers, that translates from genre to genre.

– According to the website, some speakers are “to be announced.” Does that mean there will be a few surprises, or are you actively looking for additional speakers?

We’re not actively looking for additional speakers and we’re not open for submissions. However, if you think you have a particularly unique idea or a slant on something and you’d like to approach us, we wouldn’t close that off completely. As far as the roster of speakers is concerned, we might have a few surprises up our sleeve. There’s one in particular that we’re working on that I can’t talk about yet, but if we would be able to get him or her, that would be fantastic!

– Part of the fun of going to these conferences is the social aspect. The meals. The parties. The adult beverages. How are you going to make up for that in an online setting?

Obviously, we’d rather be there in person with everybody. I’m a big believer that hugs are going to make a comeback as soon as we have a vaccine. In the short term we have to do the best we can with what we’ve got.

One of the things that was just really impressive to me about the One Voice UK conference were the socials, and the outside of content-content where people got together and shared adult beverages over Zoom. You don’t think it would work, but I’ll tell you, when we’ve been isolated from each other as much as we have, this is a wonderful loving connected community. Even over a Zoom call! Those hangouts, those socials that we do, they were full, they were fun, and they were lively.

We’re doing our best to make this a social event, and not just a content event. Hopefully, we’re paving some new territory in giving people some added value; giving them a chance to vent and connect, and to be human again in the current situation.

– The One Voice UK conference was a huge success, and yet it was criticized for a lack of diversity because most speakers were male and Caucasian. How have you addressed that for the USA edition?

There has been a lack of diversity in the voice over industry, but that has been changing dramatically over the past few years. It’s certainly a legacy of the industry. We are committed to being a part of the solution. We’re committed to recognizing the privilege that a lot of us who have been in this business, have. We’re committed to addressing that, and to being as inclusive as we can be.

We feel that the lineup that we’ve put together is balanced. It’s at least fifty-fifty or possibly even slightly more female than male. We have substantial representation from the black community, from the latinx community, from the LBGTQ plus community. We believe that as North America becomes more diverse, that our industry will by necessity become more diverse. We’re already seeing that in practice.

On a personal note, many of my dearest friends in the business are diverse, minority talent, and LGBTQ plus talent. My lead audio engineer on my JMC demos production team is from that community. I hope some day we get to a place where we don’t need modifiers anymore, where we’re just people. I know that’s Utopian, and I know that can be interpreted as a very privileged thing for an older successful white male to say. But I believe we’re capable of getting there. And if there’s anything you think we can do better, we’re all ears. Always!

Peter Dickson

– The UK conference is usually followed by the One Voice Awards. Are you planning on having a USA competition as well?

We’re not planning to have a One Voice Awards USA at this time.

– Did you have to find new sponsors for this event? Will there be giveaways? Will JMC Demos be involved?

We have a lot of the same sponsors coming back from the UK conference: Bodalgo, Source Elements, and JMC Demos is a sponsor as well. And yes, we will be doing some giveaways and add as much value as possible. I imagine someone will be winning a demo from me, and probably some coaching as well. Other sponsors will be offering some things up as well.

– Some colleagues believe we have enough voice overs in the world today. Too many, perhaps. Why should a conference like this enable more people to join a profession in times of so much competition? In ten years, half of our work is going to be replaced by text to speech software anyway.

I couldn’t disagree more with the premise that we have enough voice overs in the world today. There are certainly more than enough people calling themselves “professional voice actors.” I always throw the number out there that in North America there probably are two hundred thousand talent calling themselves “professional voice actors,” but the fact of the matter is that it’s five or ten thousand of them who are consistently booking. If you really drill deep I would imagine that you would find that it’s about a thousand voices that book most of the work. So, I’m a big believer that the myth of competition or saturation is just a myth.

I have coached and watched enough new talent come into the business who have the chops and who have built incredible careers for themselves in the past ten, fifteen years. There is plenty of work out there, and while there are certain areas of voice over, especially those that are more glamorous like animation, TV narration, documentary, promo, movie trailer…. those genres are areas where there is a finite amount of work.

You can say that there probably is more quality talent than there is work to be had in those genres. So, you do have to work three times as hard. You have to stand out ten times as much. You really have to play the game well, and make sure that you take every step correctly. And even then there is no guarantee that you’re going to crack the door in those genres because there is a lot of competition and there’s only so much work to go around. Video games is maybe getting to the point now where it’s exploding to where there’s more of a balance, but in genres that are more glamorous and sought after, there does tend to be a bit more of an imbalance in favor of the client. But that’s not true everywhere.

Commercial work is glamorous and many people want to do commercials. We’ve seen commercial rates come down over the years largely because of the fact that technology has made talent more accessible. What we’ve now seen is -and the current crisis has proven this point – that those rates have hit a floor. I don’t know that there is going to be a substantial bounce back, but I certainly think they’re not going to go any lower.

The reason is that eventually, talent just won’t do the jobs if the pressure on rates continues to be strong. There is certainly a glut of talent wanting to do commercial work, but with new media, social media advertising, with web ads and so on and so forth, there is more content than there has ever been. There is a tremendous amount of work out there. There are many talent who are chasing it, and in my mind it is more accessible than perhaps some of those other genres that I talked about earlier.

The other side of the coin is non-broadcast narration. When you start getting into corporate narration, explainers, eLearning, medical narration, and to some degree audio books, you have a higher barrier to entry. In my opinion you have to have a graduate or post-graduate level of facility with language to be competitive in corporate narration. Not every talent has that. And so we found over the years that rates for corporate, eLearning, for medical haven’t been going down. They’re going up because there is a supply-demand imbalance in favor of the talent. There is still more work out there than there is quality talent to do it. In some fields in the current crisis, eLearning and medical have just exploded. The amount of work out there is staggering. Even talent that is brand new is finding demand for their services.

So, no, I don’t think we have enough voice overs in the world today. If anything, we need more. I think we need them to understand where they’re going to have the best chance of success. Not everybody is going to do Dreamworks or Disney animation. Not everybody is going to be booking national commercial work every day. However, the amount of content out there is only going to grow. The need for VO’s is going to grow as well. What’s important is that talent who is going to get into the business do it the right way. That entails building a strong sustainable business that does not involve working on platforms where the rates are burnout rates, where you can only make substantial money when you work ninety hours a week.

You have to focus on core training, making sure you’re prepared before you do a demo. As you know, I’m a demo producer and I will be the first person to tell somebody: “Please, do not get a demo until you’re ready.” An ethical demo producer is not going to take your demo unless you are ready to go out and be competitive.

Hugh Edwards

Do the coaching. Do the training. Sometimes that starts with small things. At the One Voice Conference and Gravy for the Brain we think we have great content and that’s a fantastic resource for people to start with. Do that before you get a coach. Then a year down the line, get a demo. Don’t do it all in one go right off the bat. Just do it the right way and you’ll be much happier and successful in the long run.

Look, there are people making money on low-budget platforms, and that’s where they should live. That’s where their talent slates them. But if you want to make this a serious career, the best advice is to follow the tried and true path. To get the training that’s appropriate. To make sure that you get a legitimate evaluation from somebody who will tell you that it’s not right for you because it’s not right for everybody.

I have worked with talent who have glorious voices, but this business just isn’t for them because the acting isn’t there. They’re not able to connect with copy. They’re unable to inhabit a character and form something other than them, within themselves.

In any case, there is plenty of room in this business for new talent. I don’t think that in ten years our work is going to be replaced by text to speech software, but I will tell you that if I were one of the low-budget talent on Fiverr, or if I were doing the three-cent eLearning for people on other continents, or the twenty dollar explainer videos, I would be scared because the AI (Artificial Intelligence) technology is going to get good enough that clients who are focused on price and not on quality, will use it.

It will be super cheap and it will ultimately kill off the low end of the industry. At the end of the day, we’re going to look back and say that AI was a good thing for professional voice over because I think what it’s going to do is it’s going to solve our lowball problem. It’s going to get rid of the side of the industry that undercuts the competition and works for rates they shouldn’t, and it’s going to replace it with robots.

Clients who are after quality and who are after high-end professional content will always be looking for human actors because for them it’s not about price. It’s about messaging. It’s about getting it right. Remember: the best AI can ever be is as good as we are. It can never be better. The human voice will always be at least its equal, and in most cases it will be better. AI doesn’t scare me. In fact, I welcome our new robot overlords and I think that they will ultimately do a service to the industry by cleaning out the lowest end of the business.

the author presenting at the OVC UK 2020

– A ticket to the UK conference gave the attendees access to the archive of previous conferences. Will the attendees of One Voice USA get that same deal, access to the UK archive?

Absolutely! What you’re really getting is access to content from four conferences for the price of one!

-What do you hope a conference like this will ultimately achieve for the voice over community, and why is that important to you?

It’s what I hope any conference will achieve for the voice over community: providing quality educational content that will allow the talent who attend to advance their careers. I believe that we’re bringing in fresh faces, people who are up and comers, the next generation of stars in our industry, in addition to some of the established legends that we always want to see at these things. This is the freshest lineup that has ever been put forth in a conference. I believe that the perspective the attendees are going to receive will be different and new. That’s the key selling point to me.

Prior to the One Voice UK conference I made a comment to somebody that I was supporting it to fly the flag for Gravy for the Brain, and One Voice, and because I love Hugh and Peter. They do right by the community, but I didn’t believe that virtual conference could work very well.

Well, they proved me wrong! It was virtually seamless. It was a remarkable coming together of technology and humanity to create an experience that was so far above and beyond of what I thought could be done. I was just left with mouth agape at the quality that it offered. So, I’m just so excited to bring that to US community now with the Reattendance platform in combination with Zoom. Just to give the American community a taste of how good this can be, virtually.

Yes, we’d always rather be there hugging each other, toasting to each other’s success. But what they were able to accomplish at the UK conference was remarkable and I think that we’re going to be able to do the same thing for the USA. We are going to offer an experience that -if nothing else- will at least scratch the itch and prove cathartic for those of us who so desperately miss our voice over friends and don’t get to play in the same sandbox the way that we usually do because of the current crisis.

I hope it’s the last virtual one, but certainly an experience to remember. And get this. It’s more affordable than an in-person conference because a large portion of those ticket prices are going to the overhead. The bottom line is that hotels and conference centers charge astronomical fees for every little thing. Here you’re getting in the door for under two hundred dollars, and you’re getting content that, at a live conference would be a six, seven hundred dollar ticket.

To me it’s a no-brainer, and I couldn’t be more proud to be a part of it!

J. Michael Collins with lobster mask

Many thanks to J. Michael, JMC, or That Guy Who Smells Like Lobster. If you’re looking for an award-winning demo producer and overall standup guy to guide you in your VO career, click here.

The One Voice Conference USA 2020 is held from August 13 @ 6:00 pm – August 16 @ 1:00 pm. Click here to buy your ticket. A little over $187 US dollars will get you in the door, and you don’t even have to leave your house.

And finally, I’m happy to say that I will also be contributing to this conference. On Saturday, August 15th at 1:00 PM I’ll be leading a 3-hour workshop called “Blogging your way to voice over success.” Hope you will join me!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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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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This May Be The Best Investment In Your VO Career Right Now

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, International, Internet, One Voice, Promotion4 Comments

Some say he’s got a big blob of gravy for a brain.

Some say he is the secret love child of Telly Savalas and his Austrian mistress Inga.

Some say he combs his armpits with an electric toothbrush, and they are sure he shines the top of his head with extra fine sandpaper, giving him a ten-minute braingasm.

All we know is that he’s called….

Huge Edwards (photo).

Apologies. It’s Hugh Edwards. Actually. 

If you’re a Top Gear fan, you recognize the reference. If not, you probably think I’m stark raving mad. You might be right. This self-quarantining situation does crazy things to a sane mind. 

Anyway, today I had a chance to talk to the Stig of the voice over world. The man who can pull off stunts no one has ever attempted before. The guy who is working 24/7 to put together the world’s first LIVE virtual voice over gathering. The co-creator of the One Voice Conference which opens its online doors on Thursday, May 7th.

And by the way, the bold words in blue are (as always) hyperlinks.

A PLANET GONE VIRAL

Listen, I don’t have to remind you how much the world has changed thanks to this nasty virus. I know you’re probably not working as much as you would like. That does mean you have more time on your hands, and I know just the way to spend that time. You need to get ready for when the world reopens and you’re back in business. Stronger and better than ever. As I said before:

“This is the time to sharpen your axe, and use it wisely.

Refresh your demos, revamp your website, step up your marketing, increase your social media exposure, work with a coach on your weaknesses, build a proper studio, upgrade your gear.

Invest. Invest. Invest.

If you don’t do it, others will, and they’ll come out of this crisis ready and running.”

That’s why I’d be thrilled if you could join me at the One Voice Conference. All the other VO conferences are not going to happen this year, and -as you will hear shortly- if you decide to join me, you will have access to not one but THREE conferences at a price which has been slashed in half by Stig Edwards himself.

SELLING MYSELF

If this sounds like a self-serving sales pitch to you, I am guilty as charged because I’m one of the contributors to the conference. Do I want this thing to be a huge success for everyone involved? Of course I do!

But even if I wasn’t contributing, I would still suggest you sign up because I know and trust the people who are putting it together, and I’ve seen the line up of speakers (53 and counting). Check them out, and imagine for a moment that you’d have to pay each presenter $150 to $200 for a private consultation.

Get this: A weekend virtual conference pass is $226.80, and Gravy For The Brain members are paying even less.

One of the frustrations of a “normal” conference is that by going to one presentation, you miss out on many others because they’re happening at the same time. With this virtual conference that’s no longer a problem. You get access to all of them (and more), and you can watch them whenever it is most convenient for you. 

But wait… there’s more!

THE ONE VOICE INTERVIEW

Earlier today I had a Zoom meeting with Hugh Edwards, and we talked about how participants of the conference would interact with one another, and with the presenters. Did the content of the conference have to be changed due to the virtual format? Will the sponsors of One Voice still offer surprise bonuses and special deals? (A little bird told me that Sennheiser is giving away a $700 Neumann BCM 705 broadcast microphone, and a pair of $100 Sennheiser HD 280 closed back studio headphones)

I began by asking about the challenges Hugh and his team had to overcome, to put this LIVE conference together.


Many thanks to Hugh for talking to me in the midst of his busy schedule.

Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at the situation during one of the One Voice dress rehearsals (and believe it or not, this is only one quarter of the kit). 

MY ROLE AT ONE VOICE

“But Paul, what about your contributions to the One Voice Conference?” you may ask.

Good question!

On Friday May 7th, I’ll be doing a 40-minute presentation about how blogging put me on the international map as a voice over artist (and why you should start blogging too!). I have a surprise gift for everyone who’s attending.

On Saturday May 8th I will conduct a 3-hour paid workshop, entitled: “Blogging Yourself To Voice Over Success” (click here to book a seat).

Both take place at 4 PM UK time (11 AM EST, 8 AM PT).

The Friday presentation is in part my personal story and also an introduction to the value of blogging for voice overs. The Saturday workshop is a practical, in-depth look at the process of blogging, and I’ll teach you how to reach an audience, and how to monetize your blog.

I know one thing for sure: without this blog very few colleagues and clients would know my name, my voice, and this website. It was, and still is crucial to my career, and having a blog can do the same thing for you!

So, I’m counting on seeing you at the conference in May. If only for one reason and one reason only:

To make Hugh/You Happy!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Hugh is the first to acknowledge that world’s very first online voice over conference was Voice Over Virtual, back in 2013, produced by John Florian of VoiceOverXtra. What makes ONE VOICE stand out, is that it’s the first LIVE virtual conference.

 

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When COVID-19 leaves patients speechless, a voice actor steps up

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Dutch, International, Journalism & Media, Personal2 Comments

Do you remember your dreams? 

I rarely do, but the one I had last night has been on my mind since I woke up at 4:00 AM. It was an almost mystical and comforting experience. Here’s why. 

In my sleep, a deep, soothing voice instructed me to go to my computer and write a new story for my blog.

“Make sure you give it some thought,” the voice said, “because it’s going to be your very last blog post. If there’s anything you’d like to say to your readers, this is the time to say it.”

Once I started typing, the emotional floodgates opened, and line after line started weaving a story filled with love, gratitude, and endless appreciation.

When it was finished, the voice returned and said:

“It’s time to go. Follow me.”

At that moment, my soul left my exhausted body in the hospital bed beneath me. As I floated upward, feeling like a fluffy feather in the wind, I could see the nurses take me off the ventilator, and cover my mortal remains with a white sheet.

It felt perfectly natural. I wasn’t scared. I remember being blissfully overwhelmed by a tingling sensation of lightness that I’d never experienced before. Instinctively I knew that everything was going to be alright.

The drop was coming back to the ocean.

It was time to go home!

COPING WITH A DEADLY VIRUS

We all deal with COVID-19 in different ways. I’m not interested in political spin, or in networks trying to pump up their ratings with unscientific sensationalism. Give me the facts and I’ll be fine. I’d like to know what I am dealing with.

I’m not scared of this virus because I know how to keep myself and those around me safe. What I am afraid of are the gun slinging nitwits who believe it’s okay to endanger my life just so they can get a six pack at the beer emporium, buy some ammo at Walmart, and get their bushy beards trimmed. All in the name of freedom.

Pro Life my ass!

Then there are people I have tremendous admiration for. The essential workers, the ones who do the dirty, risky jobs for minimum wage with minimum protection. You know, the tax-paying immigrants targeted for incarceration and eventually deportation.

I also admire colleagues such as Jolanda Bayens (I wrote about her last week), who went back to nursing to help vulnerable seniors. Every single day she’s dealing with new cases of Corona, as coffins leave the premises of the care facility she works at. 

COVID-19 preys on the weak, the willfully unprotected, and even on pastors who are dead certain that God will keep them and their misguided out of the Pearly Gates.

VOICE TALENT AND SPEECH THERAPIST

Hellen Moes

This week I learned that another member of our voice acting tribe is doing her share to help those suffering from COVID. Her name is Hellen Moes, and she doubles as a certified speech therapist in the Netherlands. She works in a teaching hospital, and normally she assists patients who have trouble swallowing and speaking after they’ve been treated for a malignant tumor in the oral cavity, or pharynx.

These days, Hellen helps Corona patients that just came off the ventilator who are having problems with their oral intake. Hellen says that most people don’t realize that the same organs that allow us to speak and sing, are used for the safe intake of food. They help us to chew and taste, and swallow solids and liquids. “Safe” means making sure that everything ends up in the esophagus, and not in the trachea.

All of us were born with a very ingenious system that protects us from choking. Hellen explains:

“In less than a second, our swallowing reflex separates food from air, closing the vocal folds, making the larynx move up as the epiglottis is closing the opening to the respiratory system while the tongue and the back throat wall are pushing the food to the gullet inlet. 

COVID-19 patients on respirators are intubated. During intubation a special instrument (laryngoscope) is used to carefully push the epiglottis away, so the intubation tube can be inserted in the trachea through the opened vocal folds. A small balloon at the end of the tube holds it in place inside the trachea. 

This means that patients can’t swallow as long as they’re on a respirator. They’re fed artificially through a nasal probe that enters the throat, going to the gullet inlet to the stomach. That’s precisely the reason why these patients are sedated while they’re on a respirator. 

When the throat muscles aren’t used for complicated things like coughing, vocalizing, and speaking, they weaken. During intubation it sometimes happens that a vocal fold gets scratched, a vocal cord nerve gets entrapped, and vocal folds become paralyzed. This has a negative impact on the swallowing function, and on someone’s ability to speak.”

SPEECH PROBLEMS

Once the intubation tube has been removed, and the patients wake up, they find that it’s almost impossible to speak. They’ve either completely lost their voice, or the voice is very weak. On top of that it’s almost impossible to cough because the vocal folds cannot close properly to build up the necessary pressure.

When the patients try to drink something, they choke and can’t cough. When that happens, a speech therapist like Hellen is called in. She picks up the story:

“The Corona virus has definitely changed the nature of my work. Part of me is afraid, a little ill at ease, and unsure of myself.

Hellen at the hospital

The support and involvement of the nurses is crucial for me, as is the protective clothing. It gives me some peace of mind. Because I am wearing a face mask, the patients have a hard time hearing my instructions. Normally, I show my patients how they can swallow more forcefully, but now they can’t see that. After I give them instructions, I have to listen carefully to make sure no food has gotten into their vulnerable lungs. 

Most of my patients have a long way to go before they can eat their steak and fries, but they are usually very grateful that they’re able to taste real food after having gone through a very, very difficult period.”

Please remember that COVID-19 is a merciless killer. To quote a recent article

“Clinicians are realizing that although the lungs are ground zero, its reach can extend to many organs including the heart and blood vessels, kidneys, gut, and brain. The disease can attack almost anything in the body with devastating consequences. Its ferocity is breathtaking and humbling.” 

Hellen Moes is taking a short break from speech therapy to voice a project for the medical faculty of the University of Maastricht. Like her colleague Jolanda, she’s very down to earth, and doesn’t think she’s doing something heroic. She’s doing what she’s been trained to do: helping people recover from something that could have easily killed them. Something that could potentially kill her too.

Hellen is one of my heroes.

GIVING THANKS

As I wake up from my dream, I feel elated to be alive. It seems my number isn’t up yet. All I can do to help, is stay inside as much as I can. Anne Frank and her family could do it for two years, and they didn’t have Netflix, Instagram, or Facebook. So, you don’t hear me complaining about physical distancing, or the need for a haircut. It’s a small price to pay to save lives.

Once again I feel overcome by gratitude for the people in the front lines who battle COVID-19 every single day. The people who keep the country running and the supermarkets stocked. The workers in warehouses, the people who deliver, and the scientists searching for a vaccine. If only I had a way to say “Thank you!”

Then my colleague Bev Standing came up with an idea. J. Michael Collins wrote the script, and Humberto Franco did the editing. Lots of voice over friends donated their voice to a video that says it all.

Have a look:

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Hellen is available to voice your projects with a Euro-English accent. Have a listen.

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How One of Our Own is Dealing with COVID-19

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Dutch, International, Journalism & Media, Personal10 Comments

In Europe, very few people have heard of Fred Rogers, or Mr. Rogers, as he was known to millions of Americans.

The Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood TV show for preschoolers aired from 1968 to 2001, and it continues to run in syndication and on streaming services today. Last year saw the premiere of the movie A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, starring Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers. 

Fred Rogers was an expert at translating the complex adult world in terms kids could understand. His shows are still a resource for parents on talking to children about tragic events such as school shootings and killer viruses. 

Rogers is often quoted as saying: 

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”

As the world is dealing with the Corona virus, one of those helpers is a colleague of ours whom I interviewed for this blog not so long ago. She was supposed to come to VO Atlanta, but COVID-19 disrupted her plans. Her name: Jolanda Bayens.

Jolanda is one of Holland’s most prominent voice overs, and the founder and CEO of the Voice Over College, a training institute for voice actors. 

Twenty-six years ago, Jolanda was a nurse, specializing in terminal care. After her studies she worked at a hospice, and later in home nursing. She fell and broke her pelvis in three locations. A few years later they discovered she had a condition that caused her bones to break very easily and significantly. She was declared unfit to work because the fractures didn’t heal properly.

Today, Jolanda is back in her nurse’s uniform, being one of the helpers. I asked her to tell her story:

DEALING WITH COVID-19

Jolanda Bayens

“When the Corona crisis hit the Netherlands, I felt an urge. The urge to help. After all, I am a trained nurse, and taking care of people is not something one easily forgets.

I don’t work in a hospital, but in a place that takes care of the weakest people in our society: a nursing home. In the Netherlands, just like anywhere else, entire wards have been isolated from the outside world because patients have COVID-19. In those wards, a silent disaster is taking place, right under our noses. 

I take care of 34 people who suffer from all types of dementia. Most of them aren’t ambulatory anymore. They don’t know who they are, let alone who I am. They’re confused, lonely, and unable to carry on a conversation. They look at you with hollow eyes, and listen with ears that do not understand what’s going on.

These people are bedridden, and one is sicker than the other. The virus is unpredictable. In the morning someone can seem wide awake and alert, and in the afternoon that same person is down with a high fever. Their oxygen level is low, so they’re short of breath. About a third of infected patients won’t make it. Physically, they were already weak, and this virus causes severe pneumonia which is usually the cause of death.

LACK OF PROTECTION AND EQUIPMENT

We have only one oxygen saturation monitor that measures the oxygen level of all 140 patients. There are safety goggles available, but we don’t have enough of them. We really have no idea if we have enough face masks and protective clothing for everyone in the near future. We’re using one face mask and one apron per shift, which is against regulations, but we have no choice. We’re constantly begging for more. 

My heart breaks for my patients. Every hour of my shift their condition deteriorates. Because there aren’t enough nurses and the family isn’t allowed to help, I feel like I’m constantly running behind. 

As soon as someone is close to death, we call the family. Only one person is allowed in the room with the patient. Most of the time that’s a partner or a child. The rest of the next of kin has to say their goodbyes outside, waiting in front of a window. Fortunately, my section is on the ground floor. Otherwise this wouldn’t even be possible. The person who has been with the patient then has to be self-quarantined.

About half of the permanent staff has chosen not to work on my floor as long as there’s COVID-19. A small group of caregivers is forced to make that choice because their husband, wife, or child is part of a risk group. They fear infection. I do understand that, but I also notice that this causes resentment among the caregivers who are continuing to work on the COVID ward.

All in all I feel frustrated. There aren’t enough caregivers, and those who are working are exhausted. There’s a lack of qualified nurses and we cannot protect our patients or ourselves. The family of the people we care for isn’t always understanding. They get angry and blame us for the infection. That really hurts. 

So, why are we continuing to care for our patients, possibly risking our own lives? Because we’re afraid that no one else will help these fragile people who are totally dependent on others. They deserve as much care as anyone else.

NO HEROES

I’ve seen signs outside of hospitals saying that the people who work there are heroes. Every now and then people start applauding the doctors and nurses. That doesn’t happen where I work.

I’m afraid that the people I take care of are part of a forgotten group. Small local businesses, however, have not forgotten us. Almost every day they send us flowers and yummy treats which are very much appreciated. 

Today, I’m off. That means: I work from home. I do the laundry, I run the house, I cook, and I record voice overs, of course. The show must go on. Thank goodness the projects keep coming in, even though there aren’t as many as in normal times. Tomorrow, after my morning shift in the nursing home, I’m going to rest up a bit. That way I’m ready to teach my beginner voice acting class in the evening.

I want to stress that my fellow nurses and I don’t see ourselves as heroes. We just want to do what we can, because if we don’t, no one else will do it.

It’s all about loving our fellow human beings.

Regardless of who they are, or what state they’e in.”

Jolanda Bayens, voice over/nurse

 

PS If you’d like to show Jolanda some love, please leave a few words of encouragement in the comments. 

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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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Business as Unusual

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Dutch, International, Personal5 Comments

I’ve been living and working in the United States for twenty years, but I’ll never forget my first tornado warning.

All of a sudden the dark sky became a strange shade of green, and the violent winds died down abruptly. It became quiet in the street. Eerily quiet. The birds stopped singing, and the hounds stopped howling.

Without warning we could hear a deep and loud roar, as if a freight train rumbled into our neighborhood. This was our signal to seek shelter in the basement. Something deadly was coming our way that would demolish anything in its path.

This is what it feels like, living under the threat of the Corona virus. It’s the chilly silence before the storm that will come our way, no matter what.

I live about an hour and half from New York, the place that has been hit the hardest. Until yesterday, the Transbridge bus from Manhattan took groups of commuters to my town, several times a day.

Because hardly anyone gets tested for COVID-19, we have no way of knowing who’s infected and who isn’t. Only yesterday, a man my age was sent back home from the hospital because his symptoms were too mild. He died a few hours later.

Tragedies like that make one ponder matters of life and death.

In the meantime, we think we’re safe at home, as long as we obsessive-compulsively wash our hands and don’t mingle with the masses. But you know what? A man’s got to eat, so we rush to the supermarket to stock up. There we wait in line for the checkout, only separated by the length of our shopping carts, and absolutely no one keeps a six foot distance. There’s simply no space to do that.

In Pennsylvania (where I live), the situation is very similar to the one in the Netherlands (where I was born): closed stores and schools, people working from home, and senior citizens who cannot be visited. The social-cultural-religious life has come to a standstill, and Netflix is more popular than ever.

In a weird way, not much has changed for me. As a voice over with a fully equipped home studio, I’ve been separating myself from the outside world for years. Clients find me online, they email me their scripts, and they receive the audio in digital format.

For my wife the situation was different. She teaches flute and piano, and students always come to her studio. Now she has successfully transitioned to online-only teaching with the help of Zoom, Skype, and FaceTime. All of the concerts she had scheduled for the next few months, were cancelled.

At the end of our workday, we migrate to our couch to watch some sappy Dutch TV shows. I’ve got to tell you, in spite of all the news reports, things still feel quite normal, and this has me worried. An invisible danger is rapidly approaching, and I am aware that we are in a risk group.

My wife and I are both over fifty. She’s got MS, and I have a serious heart condition. We know that the hospitals cannot handle the virus, as they’re already begging for protective clothing and ventilators.

And yet, I choose not to live in permanent fear. I stick to my daily routine by being there for my significant other, my customers, and my coaching students. It’s something to hold on to in uncertain times.

I know I cannot stop the storm, but I can adjust my sails.

This too, shall eventually pass.

For now, it’s business as unusual.

 

Ik woon en werk nu al twintig jaar in Amerika, maar ik zal mijn eerste tornado waarschuwing nooit vergeten.

De donkere lucht kleurde opeens een wonderlijk groen, en de harde wind ging plotseling liggen. Het werd stil op straat. Onheilspellend stil. Geen vogel zong meer, en ook de honden hielden op met huilen.

Plotsklaps klonk er een diep en luid gebrul, alsof er een vrachttrein grommend op de buurt afdenderde. Dat was voor ons het signaal om de kelder in te duiken. Er was iets dodelijks op komst dat alles in zijn pad zou vernietigen.

Zo voelt het een beetje nu we leven onder de dreiging van het Corona virus. Het is de ijzige stilte voor de storm die hoe dan ook zal komen.

Ik woon op anderhalf uur afstand van New York dat het hardst getroffen is. Tot gister hadden we nog een busverbinding naar Manhattan die een paar keer per dag groepen reizigers afleverde. Omdat er nauwelijks op COVID-19 getest wordt weten we niet wie al geïnfecteerd is en wie niet.

Gister stuurde een ziekenhuis nog een man van mijn leeftijd naar huis omdat zijn klachten niet ernstig genoeg waren. Hij overleed een paar uur later.

Dan ga je toch wel even nadenken over leven en dood.

We wanen ons intussen veilig in ons huis zolang we de handen maar obsessief-compulsief blijven wassen en ons niet tussen de massa’s begeven. Maar goed, een mens  moet toch eten, dus even snel naar de supermarkt voor proviand. Daar staan we wagentje aan wagentje te wachten voor de kassa, en geen kip houdt zich aan de anderhalve meter afstand. Daar is geen ruimte voor.

Bij ons in Pennsylvania hetzelfde beeld als bij jullie: gesloten winkels en scholen, mensen die vanuit huis werken, en bejaarden die geen bezoek meer mogen ontvangen. Het sociaal-cultureel-religieuze leven staat stil, en Netflix beleeft gouden tijden.

Gek genoeg is er voor mij niet eens zo heel veel veranderd. Als voice over met een thuisstudio ben ik al jaren van de buitenwereld afgesloten. Mijn klanten vinden mij online, ze emailen me scripts toe, en ze krijgen de audio digitaal toegestuurd.

Voor mijn vrouw was het anders. Zij geeft piano- en dwarsfluitles, en de studenten komen altijd naar haar toe. Nu geeft ze met succes online les via Zoom, Skype, en FaceTime. Wel zijn al haar concerten voor de komende maanden afgelast.

Als onze werkdag ten einde is, dan gaan we lekker op de bank “Boer zoekt Vrouw” zitten kijken. Ik zal je vertellen, ondanks de nieuwsberichten voelt het allemaal nog zo normaal aan, en dat beangstigt mij een beetje. Er is een onzichtbaar gevaar op komst, en ik besef dat we alle twee in een risicogroep zitten.

Mijn vrouw en ik zijn beide boven de vijftig. Zij heeft MS, en ik heb vrij serieuze hartklachten. We weten dat de ziekenhuizen niet op dit virus berekend zijn en nu al om beschermingsmiddelen en beademingsapparatuur moeten bedelen. Intussen kopen Amerikanen wapens, in plaats van naaimachines om mondkapjes mee te maken. 

Toch kies ik er voor om niet in permanente angst te leven. Ik blijf mijn normale routine volgen door er te zijn voor mijn geliefde, mijn klanten, en m’n voice over studenten. Het is iets om me aan vast te houden in onzekere tijden.

Ik weet dat ik de storm niet kan keren, maar ik kan wel m’n zeilen bijzetten.

Ook dit gaat uiteindelijk weer voorbij.

Voor nu is het “business as unusual.”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Sharpening the Axe

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, International, Journalism & Media, Personal, Social Media, VO Atlanta6 Comments

Camp VO was canceled. VO Atlanta was postponed, and the One Voice Conference in London is going ahead in a virtual format.

I think we can all agree that the right decisions were made, given the extraordinary circumstances. However, the feeling of disappointment remains.

What will be axed next, you wonder? The summer Olympics?

It’s fascinating that the word crisis comes from the Greek word krisis, which means “turning point in a disease, a change which indicates recovery or death.”

This COVID-19 crisis has forced all of us to change our behavior in ways we would have never imagined, only a few weeks ago. The main questions on my mind were:

  • What exactly is going on?
  • What are the consequences?
  • How do I respond?

 

MY PERSONAL REACTION

This week I’d like to tell you how I am dealing with the corona crisis, by sharing some of my recent Instagram posts. If you’re not following me yet, I hope you will after reading this blog post (@nethervoice).

What I want to do with these statements is increase awareness, and make people think twice about the situation they’re in. My strategy is always to say as much as I can in as few words as possible without distorting the truth. At least, my version of the truth. 

For many people, being confined to their home seems to be a major challenge. I count myself very lucky that living and working in isolation is no problem for me.

Other people are clearly having a hard time staying away from one another. They mob supermarkets hunting for toilet paper and hand sanitizer. What’s up with that?

Because my wife and I are in a risk group, people seem to believe we should be very afraid. For me, knowing what’s going on helps me get a better grip on the situation.

Ignorance weakens. Knowledge empowers. 

Some politicians were accusing the messenger throughout this pandemic, and they continue to do so. Before we blame the press for all our woes, let’s agree that it’s up to us which source of information we trust, and what we do with the information from that source.

The media cannot make us do anything. We are responsible for how we respond to what we see, hear, and choose to believe.

I’m not worried about those who practice social distancing, and stay home as much as they can. I’m not worried about those who are mindful of others. I do worry about those who think they don’t have to change their behavior, just because they do not notice any symptoms. 

To me, the image below sums up the best response we could have to COVID-19. I’d rather be overly careful, than underestimate the situation we’re in. 

You don’t have to be an expert to see that this corona virus is not only a health crisis but an economic one as well. Unless you’re selling sanitizers, respirators and protective clothing, your business will slow down and suffer.

I hate to say it, but from now on it’s going to be survival of the smartest and those who are best prepared. The good news is that with less work coming in, you’ll have more time to prepare yourself for the months and years to come.

Abraham Lincoln, who was a skilled woodcutter before becoming one of the most important presidents in US history, famously said:

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

Well, my friends, this is the time to sharpen your axe, and use it wisely.

Refresh your demos, revamp your website, step up your marketing, increase your social media exposure, work with a coach on your weaknesses, build a proper studio, upgrade your gear.

Invest. Invest. Invest.

If you don’t do it, others will, and they’ll come out of this crisis ready and running.

And remember:

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Bart Vleugels: Giving Words Wings

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Dutch, International, VO Atlanta2 Comments

Bart Vleugels

The news is out. VO Atlanta 2020 has been postponed.

In light of the rapid spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, this was the only smart decision CEO Gerald Griffith could make. Nevertheless, it’s a huge disappointment for those who were already packing their bags, me included.

The good news is that a delay is not a denial. Once COVID-19 has been contained, and we no longer need to practice social distancing, VOA 2020 will go ahead.

For now, the entire voice over community will get full access to the 2019 panels, keynote, and sponsored sessions for FREE. Gerald said: “We’re all in this together, right? and my commitment to connecting the community is more than lip-service.”

I don’t know about you, but I remember my very first VO Atlanta.

I wasn’t sure I was going to like it. So many people. So much to choose from, from the moment you get up, to the moment you go to bed.

And when you finally do fall asleep, you dream of voice overs all night long. 

This reluctant extrovert was nervous and unsure he would fit in.

That all changed when I found out there was one other Dutch speaker at the conference. Originally from Belgium, his name was Bart Vleugels. “Vleugels” means “wings” in Dutch. Hence the headline.

Bart, as you will find out, is a fellow-introvert who was like me: way out of his comfort zone amidst those crazy outgoing, enthusiastic Americans. We sort of survived the conference together, and we liked it so much that we came back, year after year.

Since I’m interviewing every Dutch-speaking participant who’s coming to this year’s rendition of VO Atlanta, I’m rolling out the red carpet for Bart. The man who gives words wings. 

Bart, how did you get started in the business, and for how long have you been a voice-over?

Like a lot of other VO talent, it all started at a radio station. In fact, I built my first station. It had a range of a miserable 50 meters, courtesy of Radio Shack. It was a “radio station in a box” and I called it Radio Bonanza because it was the only instrumental track I had that I could talk over… I was 14 at the time. I volunteered at a local pirate radio station for awhile and became a DJ soon after.

I took a break in the late 80s to go to the USA as an exchange student. That’s when I REALLY fell in love with radio. That American sound, hitting the post during the intros, it all sounded so cool. I did some more DJ’ing at 2 radio stations in Belgium after returning from the US and during my (then mandatory) military service. I went back to the USA in 1993 to study broadcasting in college.

My very first paid voice-over job was in 1996 when I voiced and produced liners and station IDs for a station in Belgium. If you want to know what I sound like, here’s one of my commercials:

What do you like about your work and the business you’re in?

What’s not to like!? I’m beyond an introvert, so the booth is my happy place and sanctuary. I like the opportunity to interpret and deliver the words that somebody else wrote. I enjoy trying to get in the writer’s head and bring those words and emotions to life. I love giving alternate takes. I like to provide a service to clients that reaches beyond what they expect.

I like VO because the business moves very fast: Audition, get job, do job, get paid. Get in, get out. Boom. Pow. Bye. Next. Multiple jobs a day and they’re never the same. Gotta love that variety!

What has changed since you made your very first recording?

From a technical standpoint, it’s incredible what we can do now compared to 10 or 20 years ago. Remember SAW and SAW+? Actually, I’m old enough to remember splicing tape on a reel-to-reel. We needed big studios and bank loans to have a “studio”. But now… Being able to walk into my booth and do a session one-on-one with a producer half way around the world? Unbelievable!

I have changed as well. I was just a kid when this all started. I grew up. I learned humility, patience, respect.

What do you specialize in? What makes you unique?

We’re ALL unique in our own way. For me, I’m a dual citizen who speaks Flemish and English with a studio in Oklahoma City. Not too many of those? As far as my voice quality and tone, I’ve learned from previous VO Atlanta conferences that our voices are unique to ourselves. Nobody can sound like me. So I’m running with it!

I’m proud to say I’ve been a ProTools user since 1996, back in the ProTools III days. I like Protools, I’m used to it, I’m fast with it. My specialty is translation and then narrating my own translation. Every month I receive an English safety video, accompanied with the script. The client wants it translated into Flemish, and then narrated and sync’ed in Flemish as well. I LOVE that I can provide both services.

What do you find the most challenging aspect of your work, and why?

For me personally it’s Marketing. As I mentioned before, I’m the quiet type. So, getting on social media and actually posting something doesn’t come natural for me. I admire people like yourself Paul, who feel comfortable in sharing your ideas and feelings in a blog or podcast. I grew up with parents who made it perfectly clear not to gloat or show off when I did something good. I’m still trying to find that happy medium where it’s OK to be proud of something, and share that with the world without sounding like a know-it-all or become the “look at me!” type.

What would be your dream VO job?

I really enjoy e-learning projects and the long format jobs. But don’t ask me to read a book. I’m so in awe of book narrators who can go hours and keep track of the characters, accents, etc. Such artists! In second place would be radio imaging. That’s how I started and I really enjoyed not only being the voice of the station, but also doing the production with all its whooshes, hits, zaps and zings! And I’m still dreaming of hosting a radio show/podcast where I’m doing a US Top-15 or Top-20 countdown in Flemish, but all done from the US. Almost like a weekly Entertainment Tonight/Countdown show.

What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?

There’s a Belgian expression: “Belgians are born with a brick in their stomach”. It basically means they don’t move. You pretty much are born, grow up and probably die in the same town. I’m proud that I had the courage at 17 to get on a plane and go somewhere I had never been before. Go to school and experience an entire year as a high school kid and as a member of a family, not a tourist. It was a great experience and it built the foundation for the reasons I live in the US now.

What’s an important part of your life you want people to know about, that doesn’t necessarily have to do with voice-overs? 

I’m proud that I became a US citizen 10 years ago. I love it here so much. And I get to vote (and serve on a jury) now!

Also, just like Serge (Belgian VO talent living in Texas) I’m active with fostering dogs. My wife and I have been fostering for almost 8 years now. It’s so much fun to see the different personalities each dog brings to the crate.

Why are you coming to VO Atlanta, and what are you looking forward to most?

This will be the third consecutive VO Atlanta conference for me. I will be surrounded by people who LOVE what they do: Professionals who, even though we all do the same thing, understand that we’re not competitors but partners!

It’s one thing to go to a conference because your boss says so. But VO Atlanta: The atmosphere, the vibe, the smiles, the familiar faces, the new connections, the learning, but especially the PEOPLE,… It’s a 3-day pep rally!!

And I can’t wait to see you and those Dutch clogs of yours again!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Serge De Marre: The Flemish Phenomenon

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Dutch, International, VO Atlanta2 Comments

Serge De Marre

It happens at least once a month.

An English speaking client comes to me for a Dutch voice over. She sends the script over, and I immediately know it’s not for me. Why?

The text is not written in Dutch (spoken in the Netherlands), but in Flemish, the dialect of Flanders, a region in neighboring Belgium. It’s like sending a script for the Brazilian market to a Portuguese talent, or something in Castilian Spanish to a Mexican voice over. Linguistically it’s close, but it’s still a mismatch.

Just like Danes and Swedes understand one another, the Dutch and Flemish can converse without problems. However, there’s a very clear regional difference in accent and vocabulary that sets the speakers apart. So, if you’re an agent looking for a Dutch speaker, always ask the client whether it’s for the Dutch or the Flemish market.

To complicate matters, some Flemish voice overs will advertise themselves as Dutch speakers, and that’s because Flemish isn’t an official language. It’s a variant of Dutch. 

If you’re interested in what Flemish sounds like, you should come to VO Atlanta (March 26 -29), and strike up a conversation with voice talent Serge De Marre. It’s his first VO Atlanta, so make him feel at home! A few days ago, I had a chance to catch up with him. 

Serge, how did you get started in the business, and for how long have you been a voice-over? 


About 20 years ago I accidentally reconnected with an old school friend. He worked at a local radiostation in a small town in Belgium. I just got out of a relationship and to cheer me up, he dragged me to the station so “I could keep him company” during his radio show. I enjoyed the whole behind-the-scenes experience, and after he finished his show, he put me behind the microphone and we recorded a short demo. 

A couple of weeks later I got a call from the station manager: “Hey Serge, I listened to your demo and I really like it. One of our hosts is leaving, are you interested in his weekly slot?” It didn’t pay very well, but I was so excited!

In the years after, I worked my way up and got a show on Belgium’s biggest commercial radiostation Qmusic. Meanwhile, I was also doing voice overs on the side. In 2010 my husband’s employer wanted to relocate us to Washington, DC, and we decided to say yes to the adventure. Initially, his assignment was supposed to last for only two years, but 10 years later we are still in the USA. 

Job wise, this transition was tough for me. In normal circumstances I would’ve gotten a visa that’s linked to my spouse’s. But because our same-sex marriage was not recognized at the time I couldn’t get a visa nor a work permit in the USA. I did find a workaround and was able to get a journalist visa so I could work as an on air reporter for a Belgian tv channel. Here I am, reporting on a tornado.

Thanks to a Supreme Court decision in 2013, same-sex marriage was finally recognized in the USA and I was able to apply for a work permit and a green card. I started investing in my voice over business: bought a booth, polished my English with a dialect coach, and contacted Nancy Wolfson for private VO coaching sessions. I even expanded my business, and now I am also voicing in Neutral English.

What do you like about your work and the business you’re in?

I love, love, love that I’m able to create something magical out of the words written on a piece of paper. 

I love when clients are really excited about me bringing those scripts to life.

I love that I’m my own boss. 

I love that every day is 100% different. No gig is the same.

I love brainstorming with the many interesting and enthusiastic people in this business.

I love that after 20 years of being in the voice business, I’m still learning every day. Not only about the business itself but also about the companies, brands, and products that are out there. The other day a client contacted me to voice a corporate video for a drone that kills insects in green houses. How fascinating is that?!

What has changed since you made your very first recording?

Me. I have changed. I used to think that it was impossible to make a decent living with voice overs. For a long time, I saw the voice over business as a side business, but there is so much work out there. One day it just hit me. I decided to go for it full time and just do what I like and what I am good at. 

You know… everything changes once you start focussing on your goal. I learned that many years ago when I was working at a local radiostation, and I had this dream about having my own show on a national station. I just worked towards that goal and it happened. But I had this blind spot about voice over for a long time. I just didn’t think it was possible to make a living as a fulltime Flemish voice. You just have to persevere. Eventually, you’ll find your way.

What do you specialize in? What makes you unique?

Here’s the thing. My voice is what it is. You either like it or you don’t. The same goes for so many other voices, so there’s not much unique there. The difference with those other voices is that I offer an amazingly smooth experience. I am very flexible. I have a quick turnover. I am trustworthy and honest. I wanna make my clients happy, I go all out. 

Sometimes things are out of your control. Luckily, it hasn’t happened very often, but I will get really upset when my clients aren’t happy for whatever reason.

This one time a studio booked me after hearing my audition. We recorded several tv commercials during a 3 hour live directed session. The client and studio were beyond ecstatic with my work. A couple of days later they told me they’d decided to go with a different voice because corporate headquarters thought I sounded “too different from to the original French voice” that they never let me hear. This was a complete surprise to me. They were very apologetic though. This wasn’t something I could fix but I still was upset for a couple of days. (laughs)

What do you find the most challenging aspect of your work, and why?

Working with clients who only know what they don’t want, and don’t know what they do want is a challenge I love to accept. Or clients that give you contradicting instructions: “Give me a dynamic, happy but serious read.” My years of experience will handle these situations perfectly by just asking a lot of questions and narrowing down the things they don’t want. These situations are always a challenge but eventually we’ll get there.

What would be your dream VO job?

Wouldn’t it be nice to just sit in your booth all day and do nothing but voice work? In my dreams I’d have a sales manager. Someone who’d pick up the phone and replies to my emails. A marketing guy who’d update my website and social media. Someone who negotiates fees for me and sends invoices. You have to have goals! One day… who knows. (laughs)

What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?

I’m proud to be working again for Qmusic, the Belgian radiostation I left in 2010. I’m now their station voice. Those recording sessions are always a lot of fun.

I’m also very proud of getting into the International English voice over market. Who would’ve thought, 10 years ago! 

You know… I’m actually very proud of everything I’m doing today. In elementary school as well as in high school, I was a below average student. Teachers used to tell me that I was a lost cause, and just not smart enough. “You’re just too dumb and I don’t know what is going to become of you” is a sentence I heard many times, and I believed it!

Look where I am now! I’m very proud of what I’ve accomplished.

What’s an important part of your life you want people to know about, that doesn’t necessarily have to do with voice-overs?

Ha! Professionally? I’ve interviewed and met many celebrities. Actors Jim Carrey and Angela Lansbury, Ellie Goulding, James Blunt, Birdy, Jim Kerr, Taio Cruz, Bryan Adams, Phil Collins… to name a few. This was for Qmusic radio and a tv station. It shows how much my producers and bosses trusted me with my expertise and talent.

On a personal level.. When I moved to the USA and didn’t have a work permit, I volunteered at the Houston SPCA and fostered over 40 puppies. No, not all at once! (laughs) This was over a period of 4 years. That was so much fun! I also photographed a lot of the shelter dogs, so we could put up their picture on the SPCA’s website and get them off the adoption floor quicker. 

Why are you coming to VO Atlanta, and what are you looking forward to most?

Learn, learn, learn. I’m looking forward to meet with other people in the business and hear their experiences. There’s so much I can learn from not only the X-sessions, but also from other voices.

And maybe I might get a new client out of it? Who knows?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

 

PS I’ll be at VO Atlanta for two panels and two presentations. On March 27th at 9:50 AM I present “The incredible power of words.” The next day it’s time for my X-session “Boosting Your Business with a Blog” on March 28th at 9:30 AM. Click here to register.

Through March 10th you get 25% off select sessions by using the coupon code MARCHMADNESS25.

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