Some say that this is utterly insignificant, but I urge you to pay attention to what the masses are watching. It tells us something about people’s priorities: football and bouncing bosoms!
And I don’t even like football…
For many years, I have been downplaying the effect the world wide web has on my life, but it has become this huge black hole that doesn’t like to be ignored. I couldn’t do my job without it, but that doesn’t mean I like it.
Even though I spent many years in a newsroom, I find it harder and harder to separate online fact from opinion, information from propaganda, and sincerity from sales. Part of that has to do with the sheer volume of slick and seductive online messages I am bombarded with on any given day. I cannot properly process it anymore. My brain goes in overload, and when that happens, it loses its critical focus.
Thankfully, I still control what I allow myself to be exposed to, and for how long. Nobody tells me how many hours a day I should spend on social media. No one forces me to watch silly videos on YouTube. I can still lead a happy, balanced life without the wonders of WiFi.
Or am I kidding myself?
As you may know, I just spent eleven days abroad. The high-speed internet connection we thought we would have in our apartment, wasn’t there. So, every day we went to the nearest Hotspot to get access to the online world. Its epicenter turned out to be in the freezer section of a nearby supermarket.
Every morning, my wife and I sat down with our devices, surrounded by ice cream, pizzas, TV dinners, frozen vegetables, and frantic shoppers.
I’ll tell you one thing. Putting a Hotspot in one of the coldest places forces a person to use his time efficiently, and effectively. You should try it!
I surprised myself by how little effort it took to dump all the fluff, and get down to business. And once our online business was done, there was a whole day left to live life offline.
We walked. We talked. We connected with people in person.
We had wonderful dinners, instead of watching cooking shows.
We explored interesting sites, instead of websites.
We survived over a week without internet trolls trying to sell us stuff, and feeding us fluff.
Yes, at times being offline was mighty inconvenient, but boy did I love this digital detox! I could get so much done in very little time, and I didn’t have to stare at a screen all day long. Why did I only do this while I was out of the country?
Back home I began to limit all the electronic time suckers that used to drain the energy out of my days. I unsubscribed from automatic updates, boring groups, newsletters, and blogs I never had the time to read anyway.
I deleted half of my Facebook contacts, only to keep close friends, family members, and the people in and around the town I live in. For those interested in my voice-over work, there’s always the Nethervoice page.
And this is barely the beginning.
Liberating myself from all the impersonal online crap and clutter feels phenomenal! As I said in my very first line: “the internet is a cold and superficial place.” If you’re hoping to find true companionship, collegiality, and connection, you better look elsewhere.
That’s obviously an overgeneralization, and life simply isn’t that simple. How do I know that?
Shortly after that, I received hundreds of messages from all over the world. Some of you even sent cards and flowers. Your comforting words gave me strength, and touched me and my family deeply. Your thoughtfulness, your prayers, and your support traveled with us to the Netherlands, right to my father’s funeral.
When the moment came to deliver the eulogy, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do it. I had imagined myself doing it, but this was different. This was the final farewell.
Right before it was my time to speak, I thought of all the things that you had written. This really moved me. As something lifted me out of my seat, I suddenly felt calm and determined. I walked towards the lectern, took a deep breath, and started to speak.
Thank you so much for caring!
Thank you for showing me that the medium we use to connect, is just a tool. Like any other tool, its use and impact depends on the integrity, the emotions, and intelligence (or lack thereof) of the people using it.
May we all use it wisely, creatively, sparingly, and caringly.
At the beginning of 2014, I took a big risk with this blog.
I no longer wanted to write about things such as:
– What is the best acoustic foam money can buy?
– Should we record standing up or sitting down?
– ISDN. Disappearing when?
– Pay to Play, Yea or Nay?
… and all the other questions that come back ad infinitum on Facebook, LinkedIn and in other social media. In Spoon-feeding Blabbermouths I vented my frustration with being asked to answer the same basic questions over and over again. I wrote:
It’s not my job to do someone else’s homework. Those who wish to make it in this field have to be proactive, independent, and resourceful. If they can’t be bothered to do a simple Google search, why should I take time out of my busy day to do it for them?
I still wanted to write about voice-over related topics, but only if the subject matter would allow me to dig deeper. As an avid snorkeler, I know that things get much more interesting under the surface of the sea.
GROWING MY READERSHIP
There’s another reason for moving away from the road much traveled. Over the years, I discovered that only a part of my readers consisted of voice-over colleagues. Many frequent visitors were fellow freelancers, artists, directors, bloggers, and entrepreneurs. If I wanted to increase my readership, I had to make sure to keep it relevant for them.
The big question is: Did I make a huge mistake or did my efforts pay off?
Well, I’ll let the numbers do the talking. At the beginning of 2014 I had about 3,000 subscribers. At the last day of that year, I counted over 32,100!
Another element in my “success formula” is the way I started using social proof. You can read about it in The Power of One. In this post I go over some of the main reasons why people buy.
A third reason for the growth of this blog (and my business) has to do with what I am willing to let go of, and how I handle problems. In Giving Up, I wrote about the things most people who want to be successful don’t wish to see or hear, and I concluded:
There is no success without setbacks, and when times are tough, you need to reconnect with what ultimately drives you.
YOUR LIFE. YOUR BUSINESS.
That is easier said than done. That’s why I wrote a series about four aspects that play a vital part in the way we live our lives, and the way we run our business. These aspects are Physical, Mental, Material and Spiritual.
The first article in this series entitled Mind Your Own Business, dealt with the physical aspect of our jobs. It inspired numerous colleagues to look at their unhealthy lifestyles, and even to go on a diet! Hundreds of pounds have been lost since then, and a number of Faffcon 7 participants received a copy of my book to celebrate those losses.
In part two, The Stuff Between Your Ears, I share 10attributes I believe to be the trademark of any successful solopreneur. In part three –Call Me Materialistic– I explore the important relationship between having the right tools for the job, and a little thing called confidence.
On June 18th I published my most personal post to date. It’s a down to earth story about spirituality, and how it relates to the work we do. Here’s a quote:
To me, leading a spiritual life acknowledges the fact that we don’t live on an island. Whether we realize it or not, we’re all part of a larger whole. We’re all connected. Our individual choices and actions have the potential to influence other individuals.
DEALING WITH DISASTER
In July I wrote another very personal story after the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. 298 men, women, and children of various nationalities lost their lives. About two-thirds of them were from the Netherlands. It’s called Tears, Tragedy and an End to Conflict.
We often wonder why bad things happen to good people. This prompted me to write Life’s Unfair. Get used to it!In it, I try to come to terms with senseless tragedies. Of course there are no easy answers, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t ask the questions.
One of the reasons I publish an overview of past posts each year, is because even the most loyal Nethervoice-followers tend to miss stories, which they often regret. Speaking of regret, the following quote is taken from an article I published in September called Forget Regret:
It’s unfair and irrational to explain or judge the past using today’s standards. Present knowledge is unhelpful because it’s limited, and colored by personal ideas of how we think this world works or should work. Present knowledge doesn’t change the past one bit. It just changes our perspective.
One thing I did not regret was publishing a series of articles on a new awards show for voice talent. The first story was called The Voice Arts™ Awards, The New Pay to Play? The follow-up, Paying For Your Prize broke all records. It was read over 3,000 times, and it prompted many heated discussions on this blog, and outside of it. People loved me for writing it, and they hated me for the same reason.
The intention of the article (…) was to hurt, not inform. Brush it off. With success and recognition comes the unfortunate trail of parasites who, lacking the erudition to create anything truly inspired, seek their sustenance from sucking the life blood of others.
Well, this “parasite” went on to write a seven-part series on script delivery and performance. See for yourself if it lacked erudition and inspiration. You can read the introduction in The Funniest Joke of the Year. In it, I ask the question:
What makes a good delivery? What’s involved; can it be learned or does it come naturally?
MASTERFUL SCRIPT DELIVERY
In The Worst Acting Advice Ever (part two), I discuss something I must have heard a million times: “Just be you, and you’ll do just fine.” Here’s a quote:
Whether on stage, in front of a camera or in the recording studio, you’re not hired to “just be you.” You’re hired to be your best, most professional self, and to make it sound (and look) perfectly spontaneous.
In How to be Believable, I tackle the next aspect of masterful delivery. Once again I try to break seemingly simple concepts down into bitesize pieces. In this case, I discuss the concept of congruence.
The next article in this series (What Clients Hate the Most) proposes that delivery is about much more than the way we read our lines. As a solopreneur, we’re judged by the way we deliver a total package. The bottom line: If you advertise yourself as a pro, you have to present yourself as a pro on ALL levels.
In The Secret to Audio Book Success, I examine how great narrators such as Jim Dale, have the ability to stay in character, and then switch character and get back to the first character, while introducing a third. They do this for hours at a time in a space smaller than a prison cell. I also introduce you to Gary Catona, the voice builder.
This series continues with The Devil is in the Delivery, which focuses on mistakes narrators make every day that cause them to lose auditions. I conclude with a story about something that’s not for sale, and yet it is one of the most sought after things in the world: Charisma. Once again, it’s one of those things everyone is talking about, but very few people have taken the trouble to demystify it. That’s exactly what I attempt to do in Defining the IT-Factor.
2014 was also the year I made my stage debut. Granted, it wasn’t Broadway, but a local historic production in which I played activist-philosopher Thomas Paine, author of Common Sense. You can read about it in my blog post Acting Out In Public, which inspired several colleagues to audition for plays in their neck of the woods. You’ll see that there’s a huge difference between the studio and the stage!
If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you know about my interest in sales and marketing. It’s something many freelancers know very little about. They always wonder: “Is there some secret way to make sure clients buy from me?” If that question interests you, I hope you will read How To Sell Without Selling.
One of the greatest obstacles to professional growth can be very close to home. Some people have a tendency to make their own life rather difficult. If that’s something you recognize, I invite you to read Getting In Our Own Way.
At the start of a new year it’s not only good to look back, but also to plan for the future. Are you going to play it safe, or will it be a year in which you dare to take some risks? Perhaps it is time to ask yourself what your job really does for you. If you’re wondering about that, I encourage you to read A Means to an End which examines the question “Why am I doing what I am doing?”
And finally, if you’re looking at your motivation, you might wonder what has held you back all this time. What reasons, excuses and rationalizations do you need to let go of, before you allow yourself and your business to grow rapidly and organically. You may find some clues in What Is Holding You Back.
If you’ve enjoyed spending a small part of your Thursday with me (that’s the day I usually publish my blog), there’s no need to thank me. I just hope you’ll share your enthusiasm with someone else who -in turn- will become a regular reader.
As long as you do your part, I promise to treat you to more thought-provoking, controversial, and insightful articles in 2015.
The shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was a senseless, inhumane, and barbaric act.
298 men, women and children of various nationalities lost their lives. About two-thirds of them were from the Netherlands.
As someone who was born and raised in that small country, I am devastated, and I am livid.
I am devastated by the tragic loss of innocent life. I am livid about the disrespectful way the dead have been treated, and about the way the crash site has been intentionally compromised by despicable thugs.
I am haunted by images of the smoldering wreckage fallen from the sky in sunflower-filled fields. In the horrible rubble of bent steel and burnt fuselage, a row of chairs came down undamaged, passengers still strapped in their seat belts. One photo shows the hand of a victim, palm upward, pointing at the heavens in a gesture of terror and despair.
Children’s toys, books, passports, beach sandals, and open luggage tell stories of families, lovers, AIDS experts, students, soccer fans, and flight crew. Their vibrant lives have been desecrated, and their broken bodies lie looted by locals looking for jewelry, cell phones, credit cards, and duty-free goods.
Masked men who in the past felt small and insignificant, were in charge of the crash site, empowered by big guns and cheap booze. The voice of reason and respect has been silenced by the barrel of a Kalashnikov, and a radical nationalist ideology. International observers and investigators were denied complete access. Spin doctors from all parties are still playing a sickening blame game.
In every corner of the earth, families in shock are trying to come to terms with what happened. The Dutch town of Hilversum where I spent most of my working life, lost three families. A total of 13 people perished. The mayor described visiting an elderly couple. They sat on the couch, holding hands as he came in. Not only did they lose their grandchildren, they also lost their son and daughter-in-law. Both 86-years old, the frail couple was inconsolable.
The northern town of Roden where I grew up, is also in mourning. The Van der Linde family, father Rob, mother Erna, daughter Merel (17), and son Mark (12) were looking forward to a fun vacation in Malaysia. Merel had taken her final exams, and Mark had just finished primary school.
Two other victims, Lisanne Engels and Hannah Meuleman, lived in the central town of Utrecht. That’s where I spent 19 years of my life. Lisanne studied medicine. She was on her way to do an ophthalmology internship in Malaysia. Hannah studied psychology, and was traveling to Bali with her boyfriend Pieter. She was on track to graduate after the summer.
In the next few days, most of the passengers of Flight MH17 will come back to the Netherlands for identification. Yesterday, the first forty coffins arrived, as the Netherlands observed a day of national mourning. Thousands of people lined the roads to pay their respects as the hearses passed. Thousands of others marched silently through the center of Amsterdam, wearing white. In other cities, people followed suit.
Even though I now live and work in the United States, I can’t stop thinking about the people on board of Flight MH17. I find it hard to focus on my job, and I follow every new development as it unfolds.
In the past few days, many of you have reached out to me, and I want to thank you for sharing your outrage, your frustration, and your support. It means more to me than words can express.
This crash –the deadliest airliner shootdown in history- is an example of what people can do to other people when they are driven by fear, extremism, and hate. It shows a total lack of respect for human life, decency, and dignity.
In one way, this crash is “just” a symptom of a much deeper problem. It brings us to one of the most fundamental questions we are facing today:
“How on earth can we resolve our conflicts in a peaceful way?”
If we don’t find the answer(s) to this question, more and more innocent people will be hurt by hate, and lose their lives, wherever they may live.
Of course there are no easy answers, but that doesn’t mean we should stop looking. And rather than leave it to the politicians and war lords, I think we should start close to home. Because if we can’t overcome our differences on a small scale, we don’t stand a chance when it comes to resolving the big geopolitical issues of our time.
Can I make one more suggestion?
In this quest to end conflicts peacefully, I think the women of the world should take the lead.
For centuries, men have had their chance, and they blew it big time. Macho politics has failed miserably. Instead of aggression, we need compassion. In my opinion, women are more capable of leaving their egos at the door; they are more caring and compassionate, and able to compromise.
Imagine for a moment what would happen if women were to take over in the Middle East. Would Israelis and Palestinians still be fighting each other? Would Sunnis and Shiites still kill one another? Can you imagine a UN summit led by people like Malala Yousafzai and Mary Robinson? Would the world finally take concrete steps to combat climate change, child labor, gender inequality, and starvation?
What would happen in Russia, if it weren’t led by a testosterone-driven, power-hungry, He-Man of a leader? Would it still be providing rockets to the rebels in Ukraine?
Of course it is too late for those who died on Flight MH17. But we owe it to them to try harder, to do better, and to take unusual steps to bring people together, and make peace. Let’s begin in our own backyard.
Otherwise, history will simply repeat itself, and we will soon mourn the loss of other people who do not deserve to die.
In my last post of the year, I always go back in time to highlight some of the articles you may have missed or would like to revisit.
December turned out to be Gear Month at Nethervoice, and in a way we’ve come full circle. My first contribution of 2013 was entitled “Confessions of a Hopeless Gearhead.”
If you’ve ever wondered why evaluating and selecting new gear is so subjective and challenging, you have to read this article.
CLIENTS FROM HELL
No matter in what stage of your career you are, you and I have at least one thing in common: we’re always communicating with customers. How to effectively deal with clients has been a recurring theme on this blog.
In “Rotten Carrots and Cool Clients” I will introduce you to Type A and Type B clients, and I’ll show you how you can tell the difference. Here’s the bottom line: stay away from one of them!
VIOLENT VIDEO GAMES & TIPS FOR BEGINNERS
January was the month I finally decided to open up about something I feel strongly about: violence in video games and the role voice actors play in the production of these games. In “It’s just a Game” I weigh some of the evidence on the links between violent games and violent behavior.
Makers of violent video games may proclaim that all they do is provide innocent entertainment. I’m not buying it. You may not agree with my conclusions, but I hope you’ll take a few minutes to consider what I have to say.
Another recurring theme is the position of newbies in the voice-over industry and ways in which beginners can increase their level of professionalism. In “Learning on the job” I expose one of the persistent myths that it’s totally okay to advertise yourself as a pro and treat your clients to trial-and-error sessions.
Success does not come easy in this profession, and certainly not overnight. My article “Failure is Always an Option” tells the story of a number of colleagues with great intentions who made bad decisions that killed their career. There are lessons to be learned from failure!
LET’S GET PERSONAL
Every now and then I also give you an inside look into my personal life. I don’t do that because I’m a closet-narcissist (you can read about that in “Call me a Narcissist”).
It’s because I want to draw attention to a charity I feel passionate about: the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. In “Overcoming Obstacles and Giving Back” I tell the story of how my wife discovered she has MS and how she is dealing with this confusing and unpredictable disease.
Together, readers of this blog raised over $5000 for the MS Society, making us the number #5 fundraising team out of 58 in my area. I can’t thank you enough for your incredible generosity!
Speaking of my wife, in “The Wind beneath my Wings” I blogged about the importance of having a supportive partner in this field of work. A partner can be a dear friend but also a life partner. I know for a fact that I wouldn’t be able to do what I do, if it weren’t for my better half.
As a reluctant introvert, I tend to keep things inside. “The Emotional Dilemma” is a story about how my feelings are influencing my work for better or for worse, and how I am channeling these emotions as I’m interpreting scripts.
Many people have asked my about my background as a voice actor. “How it all began” will tell you more about the early days of my voice-over career.
Of course no year goes by without me delving into some of the more technical issues that come with our job. In “Get the boom out of the room” I reveal some of my personal secrets to creating a dry recording space.
Last week I reviewed Audient’s iD22, a top-notch audio interface that is my number one pick for best new VO-gear of the year. I also tried out Microphone X from Aphex. It’s a unique USB mic with built-in analog processing.
Getting paid is always a hot topic in voice-over land. A few months ago, I wrote a series of stories on that topic, beginning with “When a client owes you” followed by “Give me my money!” If you’re still waiting for that check that was promised ages ago, and you’re wondering what you can do about it, I’m sure my tips will help you.
For those of you in Europe or with clients in that part of the world, I reported on the efforts of the EU to crack down on late payments. A new EU directive protects people like you and me against clients who demand you deliver your work yesterday and who pay whenever they feel like it.
Of course my blogging year wouldn’t be complete without mentioning two stories that turned out to be immensely popular because they dealt with one popular Pay to Play site in particular.
In “Leaving Voices.com” I told you about my falling out with this Canadian company (be sure to listen to the audio sample!).This article was widely discussed and quoted, and I added a follow-up with “As the Dust Settles.”
One of my New Year’s resolutions is to leave every online casting site that is not working in my best interest and in the best interest of our profession. I’d say that covers about ninety percent of them.
WHAT YOU CAN DO FOR ME
All in all it’s been a pretty productive year.
Many people have asked me how I manage to write a blog each week (plus guest posts), and to have a full-time voice-over career. Just read “Are You Talking To Me” for some answers, as well as tips for those thinking of starting a blog in 2014.
Of course there are many articles from 2013 that I did not mention in this overview, but I’ll leave it to you to explore more and pick your personal favorites.
If you’ve enjoyed my writing in the past twelve months, I’d like to ask you one small favor.
Please keep on sharing my stories with your friends and colleagues and stay in touch.
Your comments, friendship and collegiality continue to inspire me!
Vida Ghaffari is a second generation Iranian-American, and her career has certainly taken off since she left the nest.
Actress, red carpet reporter, voice-over talent… Vida is as vivacious as she is versatile.
Vida comes from a famous and influential Iranian family of actors, directors, writers. That’s quite something to live up to.I had to ask her:
Is it a blessing or a curse?
VG I think before the revolution (the Iranian revolution of 1979, PS), it would have been a blessing as the Ghaffaris were well-known for their contributions to the fine and dramatic arts and were active in the media and the performing arts.
Sometimes, it’s a curse as a lot of other (Iranian) people expect me to do anything: paint, direct, be a scholar, rocket scientist, politician… the list is endless.
PS In what way has this rich family background influenced your career choices?
VG Well, my dad is in the sciences, but I always had an interest in the arts as my mom was an illustrator in the old country before she married my dad. My grandmother was a suffragist and she has been such a source of inspiration in my life. She was also a poet, so the house was full of art and impromptu poetry recitals.
I’m pretty sure that most Iranian families quote full verses of renowned poets such as Hafez, Saadi, Khayyam, and Rumi at the dinner table, but for me it was a constant. My mom also was a child actress. She performed in a play for the Shah and Ambassador Grady, the former US ambassador to Iran at the time, and many other prominent political figures of that era.
Unfortunately at the time in Iran, the performing arts weren’t highly regarded as a path for young women to pursue, so my mom was forced to quit acting at her father’s insistence at the tender age of 9. I’m sure she would have been very successful. So fast forward to years later, and my dad being the very practical mathematician and scientist, he wanted me to get a job at the World Bank, because he had friends there who got great salaries, benefits, and job security.
I suppressed my artistic side and studied Economics at the University of Maryland and minored in theater and journalism. Even though these weren’t my majors, I was very involved with theater at Maryland and wrote for the school paper. I even DJ’ed my own radio show on WMUC, the campus radio station. It was a tough pill for me to swallow as in high school, I was invited to enroll into a couple of great performing arts magnet schools, but chose to go to regular high school at my dad’s insistence.
After college, I had some stints on Capitol Hill, where I was awarded journalism and research grants from the Woodrow Wilson Center and the National Journalism Center.
PS Immigrants and/or political refugees usually have two choices when coming to a new country: assimilate or hold on to their own identity. It’s a choice between blending in or standing out.
You were born in the U.S. and you sound like an all-American girl. However, you seem to have embraced your heritage with open arms. How do you reconcile both worlds?
VG My parents have lived here in the US for many years (my dad was invited here in 1948 and my mom came here in the 1960’s), so I think they have assimilated very well and truly love this great nation. I was born and raised in the DC area and I have a sense of pride, being raised in such a historically significant and political town.
I’m often told that I have the warmth of an Iranian and the integrity of an American, whatever that means. I guess I’m a paradox of sorts in that I can seamlessly incorporate the two. I love baklava and apple pie!
I also feel very grateful and privileged to be born here in the land of the free, but I truly have a profound respect for my heritage. The pony express was created in ancient Persia and there have been countless contributions made to mathematics, the sciences as well as poetry and literature.
The renowned poet Saadi’s poem used to grace the entrance to the “Hall of Nations” of the United Nations building in New York, with a call for breaking all barriers:
“Human beings are members of a whole, in creation of one essence and soul. If one member is afflicted with pain, other members uneasy will remain. If you have no sympathy for human pain, the name of human you cannot retain.”
The first Declaration of Human Rights was created by Cyrus the Great. Also, Iranian-Americans have become so successful in this country, not only as businesspeople, but as doctors, lawyers, engineers and other professionals. It’s so inspiring to see how they’re making so many contributions to this society in such a short time. I know this is true of most Iranian immigrant communities internationally as well.
I’m very proud of the struggle of the brave Iranian youth in search of the freedom they so rightly deserve and have covered many protests in LA as a journalist.
PS I’ve heard that casting agencies sometimes list you as “ethnically ambiguous”. What does that even mean?
VG Ethnically ambiguous means that one is ethnic, but not categorizable as what nationality he/she actually is. There are more and more casting notices looking for “ethnically ambiguous” actors, so for me and many of my friends and colleagues, it’s a good thing as there are more roles and opportunities out there for us.
PS Actors from Middle Eastern countries are often typecast as terrorists or as the stereotypical submissive women. In other words: as caricatures. Do you think that’s fair?
VG Not at all. After all, the renowned poet Ferdowsi referred to them as lionesses. I think Middle Eastern women are very strong and silently brave, considering the sexist culture(s) they live in.
As for me, I can’t even get seen for any Middle Eastern roles as many casting directors don’t think I look ethnic enough. There’s such a strong stereotype of what a Middle Eastern person should look like. I usually go in for Caucasian roles. I even used to be a translator back home in DC and I worked for Persian TV here, so my Farsi is pretty good if the role calls for it.
PS At some point everyone in the entertainment industry faces a tough choice: Should I specialize and make it easy for the public to put me in a box, or should I diversify and risk being accused of a lack of focus. What’s your answer?
VG As a character actress, I have a little bit more room in terms of the variety of the roles I play. I feel very blessed and lucky about that. As an artist, I like widening my range.
PS You’re a big proponent of networking. Why is it so important to make the rounds and make sure you stay in the picture?
VG Because we’re in a business of referrals and contacts. It’s very important to network and put yourself out there. But I also love meeting new people, especially other folks in the arts. I guess I’m a people person! I do have to add that what I spent the most time on is my craft first and foremost. I’m either in a class, workshop, acting workout group, staged reading, et cetera.
PS At what point does networking become a nuisance?
VG It doesn’t really become a nuisance, but it can be very time-consuming… meeting like-minded people, staying in touch with them, planning meetings with them. It’s very hard to schedule things properly also when one takes into consideration this crazy LA traffic!
PS It must be nice to have a Rolodex full of contacts, but then what? What tips do you have for maintaining these relationships?
VG Staying in touch via email is great. Let folks in the industry know what you’re up to by updating on Facebook and Twitter, but not so much that you’re doing status updates 24/7!
I also give back to my friends as much as possible if they need a referral, advice, or I inform them of a project they’d be right for. I even give free voice-over lessons to some actors from time to time who really want to study voice-over, but can’t afford it. I think it’s so important to be a part of the community and give back, especially in an artistic one.
PS You’ve also mentioned that you think it’s important to have a mentor. What does a mentor mean to you? Who’s your mentor and what’s the most important thing you’ve learned from him/her?
VG A mentor for me has been like a total career guide. I was lucky enough to meet mine by chance. I enrolled in instructor Doug Rye’s excellent voice-over class at LA Valley College and soon he became my mentor.
There’s also, Ivy Bethune, a legendary character actress, whom I consider to be a dear friend and she’s like a mentor to me. I aspire to be like her one day! She’s one of the sweetest, most generous, talented and humble artists I’ve ever met.
I met her in my voice-over workout group and I’ve learned more from watching her read her copy in the booth for a 30 second ad that I have in many years of classes, workshops, et cetera. I also was on the planning committee for the Ivy Bethune Tri-union diversity awards that were named in her honor.
Speaking of volunteer work, I contribute to various causes such as voicing many charity events as well as the NOH8 campaign (a silent protest photo project against California Proposition 8, PS). I even acted in their PSA.
PS You’re not only an actor, reporter, presenter… you’re also a voice-over professional. You’re obviously comfortable in front of the camera and an audience.
Voice-over talents usually hide in dark studios and talk to an audience that’s not there. Yet, you say it’s your passion. What do you like about it? Is it easier or harder to do than the on-camera stuff?
VGVoice-over is a lot of fun. I love that I can play a wider range of characters from sultry leading ladies to sassy bosses to pushy soccer moms. You name it. And don’t even get me started on dialects!
Voice-over actors tend not to get typecast like on-camera actors as they’re not being seen, just heard. Voice-over is a different medium, so I can’t really compare it to on-camera work, but I have fun doing both.
PS Pretend for a moment that I am a budding actor/voice-over talent. What mistakes have you –Vida- made that I could learn from, and what are those lessons?
VG I’ve made more mistakes on-camera than in voice over, probably because I’ve done it longer. I would have probably invested more time and money in my career early on. I would also reach out to more people in the industry more often and try to maintain contact with them.
As I mentioned earlier, I think the most important thing to do as an artist is to continually work on your craft on a daily basis, be it on the stage, in a booth, or even in your living room. I think it’s also to find a community of like-minded people you can collaborate with.
Also, as I mentioned earlier, finding a mentor would be great thing to do, especially in a career path like this one that is constantly changing and evolving.
PS If I could offer you a dream job today, what would it be and why?
VG I think being a correspondent for “the Daily Show” would be the perfect fit as I have a strong background in journalism, news, comedy, acting, and sometimes I hear the correspondents do voice-overs. Besides John Hodgman, I think I’d be the only correspondent with a journalism background and I think with my unique point-of-view
I could add a lot to the show. Did you hear that Jon Stewart? 🙂
Sh*t happens. Accept it. One of life’s great lessons is how we can turn our sh*t into manure. Here’s a hint: it requires getting your hands dirty.
There are many metaphors for our existence on this planet.
Depending on your perspective, life’s a stage, a bowl of cherries or a box of chocolates. One of my favorite images is that of a garden.
Going through life, it’s up to us to treat the soil and select the seeds we plant. We must make sure that there’s plenty of sunlight, shade and water. With patience, persistence, some pruning and some weeding, we eventually reap what we have sown. Some of the fruits of our labor will be bitter. Others will be sweet. You get the idea.
Comparing a budding voice over talent to a gardener, Tilley teaches the reader how to stock the greenhouse, cultivate the soil, get saplings to bloom, how to create fabulous flower arrangements and sell them on the international market at a profit.
This is the first voice-over book that is not stuffed with pictures of people talking into microphones. Instead, it looks like a Burpee or Wildflower Farm catalogue and it reads like a popular, practical self-help book, with sentences such as:
“Phew! How ya feeling? That was a lot of research. Does your brain hurt a little?”
“Yet another list. Geez, are you for real? Yup, sure thing buttercup.”
Don’t let the language fool you! Tilley is the Mike McGrath of voiceovers, and he generously shares what he has learned over the course of many years in the business.
In addition to 26 chapters, $25 will also get you a 38-page workbook packed with breathing exercises, tongue-twisters, character creation worksheets, model cover letters and sheets to help you organize and optimize your finances. On top of that, the author included 25 sound files on breathing, warm-ups and vocal flexibility.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
American-born Tilley lives in Germany and has worked as a full-time VO artist since 2007. Unlike many voice talents, he did not start his career in radio. He received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Musical Theatre from Ithaca College and a minor in Dance at Cornell University. After graduation he moved to New York City. Tilley describes what happened next:
“I broke out into the NYC dance scene performing in multiple award-winning dance companies and in the movie “Center Stage” filmed at the Lincoln Center. What an experience! In 1999 I was offered a 6 month contract to go to Germany with a production of “42nd Street”. Little did I know I was off to face an amazing adventure.
I lucked out and worked for 8 years straight in the German musical theatre scene in productions of “CATS”, “Dance of the Vampires”, another production of “42nd Street”, and “Mamma Mia!”. I also had the great opportunity to choreograph fashion and hair shows for L’Oreal, Wella, and Intercoiffure in Berlin, Rome, and Paris.”
After performing onstage for over 20 years, he transitioned into a voice-over career. It turned out to be a wise choice. Now he’s one of the top American voices German companies like Mercedes-Benz, Daimler and Porsche turn to for business presentations and commercials. Tilley’s secret to success is based on four pillars:
Patience, Commitment, Courage and Taking Action.
Despite its motivational style and optimistic tone, Voice Over Garden is not a “How to break into the VO business in two weeks” kind of book. Starting with the Disclaimer on page 2, Tilley levels with his audience and warns them about unrealistic expectations. He knows that seeds don’t turn into strong trees overnight, and writes:
“(…) let go of the notion that you can learn absolutely everything in a VO weekend workshop.”
“If you can’t be handed a page of text, get behind the mic and record it perfectly in 1 or 2 takes, you aren’t ready to contact people for work, especially agents. You first need training.”
Voice Over Garden was put together as a training manual that was sent to Tilley’s students, chapter by chapter. It gave them something to read and to research between coaching sessions so that they would be better prepared for their next lesson. That explains why Tilley takes his time to cover the basics. As a fellow voice coach, I think that’s an excellent choice. A solid career requires a solid foundation.
Some of the more experienced voice talents will find that they are familiar with this material. Just bear in mind that reading Jonathan’s book is like learning how to dance. You start by taking simple steps. In this case it’s about learning how to breathe properly, enunciate clearly and work the microphone like a pro. Only then you’ll learn how to break down copy, create characters and get ready to record a demo.
By the way, not all the information offered is limited to the book itself. You’ll find links to helpful YouTube videos, recommended products, websites and blogs (yes, even this blog!). Each chapter ends with a few homework assignments, and that’s where the workbook comes in handy.
As expected, Tilley digs deeper and deeper with each chapter. He is at his best when he gets personal as he recalls the mistakes he made and what he learned from them (such as in “My First Demo, or How I Learned To Stop Picking My Nose”). Thanks to these stories, told with a disarming and refreshing sense of humor, it feels like Tilley is talking directly to the reader, very much like he does in his videos.
GETTING DOWN TO BUSINESS
I’m especially pleased that Tilley devotes a lot of his book to the business of being in business. It’s the Achilles’ heel of many aspiring and experienced voice actors (and other freelancers). Many of them have no clue what their services are really worth, and they don’t know how much money needs to come in, just to break even.
Unfortunately, this is also the part of the book where Tilley starts to sound like a cheap pitchman. Listen to this:
“I have created a system for you to become ridiculously rich. I have used this system myself and have become ridiculously rich from it. I have coached this system of VO business to my students and they too have become ridiculously rich from it.”
Thankfully, he redeems himself soon after that by saying:
“I do not define my Worth by what is sitting in the bank. I define my Worth by my “You Are Enough And Worthy Feeling”. That’s what makes me feel ridiculously rich and remember, that is priceless.”
Of course Tilley realizes that this “You Are Enough And Worthy Feeling” does not necessarily pay the bills. That’s why part of Voice Over Garden is a mini-course in money management. To my knowledge, no other voice-over book currently on the market, covers this area as well as Jonathan’s book.
He reveals how he has organized his business, what kind of bookkeeping software he uses, why he hired a personal assistant and is outsourcing work to a company in India. Tilley clearly demonstrates that it takes much more than a pleasant-sounding voice, a microphone and a laptop, to thrive as an international voice talent.
In spite of the fact that Voice Over Garden fills an important gap in the voice-over literature, it has its flaws. You may not agree with me, but the constant comparison between gardening and a voice-over career became a bit old after a while. At some point I wanted to shout:
“Okay, Jonathan… I get it. My soil needs fertilizer and I should water my plants. Can we move on, now?”
There are too many stock images of flower beds, gardening tools, green grass and mulch, and they take up way too much space. At times I felt the author was writing an illustrated VO for kids book, with lines like:
“You are about to do something remarkable and truly astounding. Yes, you are about to record your demo!”
And there were other times where I felt I was back in Kindergarten. Take this excerpt from an otherwise excellent chapter on script annotation:
I’m also not on board with Jonathan’s suggestions when it comes to gear. Rather than presenting us with a few options, he recommends using the Neumann TLM 103 microphone, Pro Tools and an MBox Mini. In the resource section, Tilley lists a YouTube video called “A candid word with Joan Baker and Neumann,” posted by Sennheiser. Neumann is owned by Sennheiser and Baker is a paid Neumann endorser.
There are many other microphones (such as the affordable CAD E100S) that are very suitable for voice-over work. I agree with home studio expert Dan Lenard that Pro Tools is terrific if you’re running a recording studio, but it’s overkill for most voice-over talent. Personally, I prefer the sleek simplicity of Twisted Waveaudio recording software.
I also disagree with Tilley when it comes to recording demos. He writes:
“Second biggest mistake in recording a demo: Never record or produce it yourself.”
Of course a professional demo should be of high quality. However, I have heard way too many overproduced demos that do not reflect the quality of what the voice talent can produce in his or her home studio. Most of my clients want to hear what I am able to deliver, and not what some audio engineer is able to fix or sweeten.
Then there’s the price of Voice Over Garden: 25 dollars. Truth be told: Tilley offers a lot of bang for your buck, but he is selling an eBook as a PDF and in EPUB and MOBI format for various eReaders. In that market, $25 is a lot of money for a virtual publication. He’s also publishing the book himself and not through a company like Smashwords that would allow him to tap into a distribution network such as Barnes & Noble and the Apple iBookstore. That’s a shame because I do believe it deserves to be on those virtual shelves.
Voice Over Garden is the one book I wish I would have had when I started in the business. It’s intelligently written, comprehensive, eye-opening and loaded with practical tips. The basic weakness of many publications in this category is that one cannot learn how to cook by reading a book (or a blog for that matter).
Reading Voice Over Garden won’t make you a successful international voice over star. No book can do that. It’s what you do with the information that makes all the difference. As a companion to one on one coaching sessions, it is quite brilliant.
The other day, one of our colleagues posted the following on Facebook:
Now offering FREE voiceovers for charity and animal rescue organizations. Please spread the word…
When I first saw this message, my reaction was mixed. At first glance, it looked like a noble thing to do. Times are tough for charities, so why not help them a little. The less they have to spend on advertising, the more money is left for the cause. What could possibly be wrong with that?
Read the rest of this story in my new book. Click on the cover to access the website and get a sneak peek. Use the buttons to buy the book.
SaVoA, the Society of Accredited Voice Over Artists has imploded.
Six members of the executive board resigned in April of 2012, citing irreconcilable differences between them and SaVoA’s founding father.
On hearing the news, I was stirred but certainly not shaken. To me, the real news was how the worldwide voice-over community responded. The overall reaction can be summarized in two words:
Of course a few inner circle members -sorry, make that “certificate holders”– reacted as expected by telling their version of the break-up. And yet again, thousands of voice actors answered silently in unison and said:
If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?
You see, in the five years of its existence, SaVoA managed to attract and accredit a whopping 170 people, and it never became the organization it set out to be. Instead, it was regarded by some as an old-boys network.
The idea was to bring together a group of voice artists who had proven to their peers that they could provide “vocally and technically proficient, broadcast-quality voice over services” and who would “conduct business in such a way that it enhances the profession as a whole.”
Apart from a few discounts on trainings and gear, accredited members received a SaVoA certificate and a seal that could be displayed on websites and business cards. Like the Good Housekeeping seal, it was meant to reassure prospective clients that they were about to hire an established, highly qualified voice talent.
Upon seeing the seal, most clients said:
“What the heck is that? Just because some unknown body has accredited you, doesn’t mean you’re a good fit for the job. Let me hear your demo. You’re a voice-over. Words speak louder than actions.”
Many colleagues responded the same way. Why would an experienced talent even need to be accredited? Paul Payton:
“My accreditation is 24 years in the VO business, 22 without a back-up job, working with great clients including many who bring me repeat business. If a certificate works for someone, great; for me, every check I cash is an accreditation. Color me grateful.”
Others like Todd Schick questioned SaVoA’s technical standards:
“How good are standards that can be easily faked? What good is legal gobbledygook to a consumer who hired a SaVoA talent, only to find out that they didn’t have a phone patch, the editing was horrible, the sound sucked because they had a -40dB noise floor… and couldn’t work after 5 pm EST because they had a day job?”
The SaVoA certificate still hangs on Danish voice talent Jacob Ekström‘s wall. Even though SaVoA as we know it is no more, he believes it’s useful to set standards.
“Certification in general is not a new thing, and in an industry like ours where clueless noobs armed with a $20 RadioShack microphone can build a website and/or sign up to a p2p-site and think they can compete with VO-veterans with $10.000 studios, it certainly could be an asset to voice seekers with limited time to listen through 500+ auditions or demos. But alas, not if they don’t know what it means, and I guess this is where SaVoA failed.”
“As a well-established talent you can always argue “Sheesh, why would I need this, a $75 badge on my website isn’t going to get me more gigs anyway!” – and that’s true. But for the remaining 90% of us, just maybe it could. Mind you, the original idea was NOT to build a “boys club” – it was to make the industry better, not only for our clients, but more importantly for ourselves.
Having a SaVoA badge on your website should be something everyone should want to strive for, not because it looks good, but because it means you’re serious and you want your clients to know. And yes, we all know you don’t need a $75 badge to actually be serious, but all the $20 microphone guys who clutter the p2p-sites do not, and, apparently, neither does the industry. And that’s why I feel it’s a damn shame SaVoA never made an impact.”
Audio producer, script writer and voice actor Matt Forrest has a different take on the viability of a professional organization for voice actors:
“Unless the standards or code are adopted by an organized group (like a union or SaVoA) and used – and promoted – for the benefit of its members, I’m not sure what good any of it would do. Being individual contractors, we all know how we want to treat our customers and our craft, but getting everyone to abide by them would be like trying to herd cats.”
Dan Lenard is one of the former members of SaVoA’s executive board. He strongly believes the voice-over community has to have a SaVoA type of organization:
“We have common needs. We need to come together in an organized manner to harness this energy that has created this unique virtual community, and work together to deal with the unique marketing, legal and technical issues involved, along with the socially isolating nature of our trade.”
OUT OF THE ASHES
Together with other ex-SaVoA directors, Dan has been building a new and more transparent voice-over organization, modeled after a Trade Association. It was incorporated on April 25th 2012, and it was launched a day later. It’s called the World-Voices organization. Lenard explains:
“It’s an organization founded and funded by businesses that operate in a specific industry. An industry trade association participates in public relations activities such as advertising, education, and publishing, but its main focus is collaboration between businesses, or standardization. Many associations are non-profit organizations governed by bylaws and directed by officers who are also actual voting “members” of the association, not just certificate of Accreditation holders.
This is a model that makes sense for us, the independently based freelance voice artist, here and now. To have an individual competitive advantage we need to have agreed standards of business to strive for. Marketing wise, legally and because of the new territory of being able to produce quality audio at home, Accreditation of technical skills based on the reality of today’s digital marketplace, not outdated, obsolete broadcasting standards.”
“Our founders are Dustin Ebaugh, Dan Lenard, Chris Mezzolesta, Robert Sciglimpaglia, Andy Bowyer, “Kat” Keesling, and myself. All are SaVoa ex-patriates. With certain obstacles out of our way, we’ve been able to organize, conceptualize, implement, and carry-out an amazing array of technical, foundational, and legal collaborations in just a matter of days.
The newly established World-Voices Organization will actively work to promote certified members to potential voice seekers through its website and in an aggressive marketing campaign. Materials explaining a proposed structure will be posted on our website.”
And what do I make of this?
If teachers, lawyers, roofers and even DJ’s see value in building a business organization with a code of conduct and professional standards, I see no reason why voice-overs should not follow in their footsteps.
I am in favor of defining criteria for excellence and ethical behavior. It’s important to create programs that will further our field and promote professionalism. Let’s show the outside world what being a voice-over pro entails!
We have a vibrant, supportive and growing community. It’s time to take ourselves and our line of work seriously. If we don’t, no one else will and we’ll forever be known as a bunch of bickering amateuristic blabbermouths.
We need and deserve this professional organization for ourselves, and to help the outside world separate the wheat from the chaff.
Now, to make sure that good people with good intentions will fail, you and I will only have to do one thing:
It’s very easy to stand on the sidelines and ridicule, criticize and discourage the efforts of a few. It takes no commitment whatsoever. It’s safe, it’s lame and it’s lazy.
I’d like you to consider this.
SaVoA did not fail to grow because the founder had no vision. The fact that SaVoA wasn’t thriving cannot be blamed on directors supposedly sitting on their behinds. Most of them worked their butts off!
The way I see it, SaVoA failed because part of the voice-over community paid lip service to the organization (VO’s are good at that), but never invested in it. The other part looked at it from a distance and said:
Existing members did not succeed in making the organization relevant. Some of them adopted a wait-and-see attitude and vented their frustration that nothing was happening.
Many will look at World-Voices and ask themselves this question:
“What will I get out of it?”
Those who are primarily focused on themselves ask that question all the time. If that is going to be your approach, I predict that this new association of voice over professionals will die a quick death.
This is not going to be a ME-ME-ME organization. This is a WE-organization, working to benefit our entire community and beyond.
I challenge you to ask this question instead:
“What can I do to make World-Voices relevant, strong and successful?”
If you want to make it matter, you have to be involved.
Otherwise, another tree will soon fall in the forest without a sound.
A number of years ago, I paid a visit to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.
At that time I was a reporter, producer and presenter for Radio Netherlands International. The museum had just announced the discovery of a new Van Gogh, and I was on my way to get a first look.
The curator was visibly excited to share his find with the world. So-called “new” Van Gogh’s had popped up now and then, but most of them turned out to be poor imitations or brilliant forgeries. This time around, the authenticity was not in doubt. Why? Because the actual painting was invisible.
As I walked down the climate controlled basement, I saw canvas after canvas radiating with vibrant colors. Some of them were in the process of being restored. Others were carefully wrapped up, ready to go on loan to a museum abroad. Then we stopped at what looked like a huge file cabinet with wide drawers.
“This is it,” said the young curator, as he opened one of the drawers. “Here’s our discovery. It is a portrait of an unknown woman.”
“I don’t understand,” I said. “All I see is a painting of a Patch of Grass.”
The broad brush strokes of vivid green seemed to be sculpted onto the canvas, making this magnificent meadow an almost three-dimensional work of art.
The curator smiled and said: “That’s because you can’t see the portrait. Van Gogh often re-used his old canvases to save money. The painting you’re looking at right now was painted over the image of the woman. Let me show you what the X-ray revealed.
A HIDDEN MASTERPIECE
We believe the painting underneath was made in 1884 or 1885, during a period in which Van Gogh painted several portraits of peasants in the Dutch village of Nuenen.
The colors are kind of gloomy, certainly compared to the work of Impressionists, and that’s probably why Vincent decided to paint a brighter and more commercial scene over it when we was in Paris. As many as one-third of his paintings may conceal earlier works.”
In 2008, researchers used a newer technique to penetrate the layers of paint, revealing more details and color of the unknown woman hidden underneath the green grass.
In March of 2012, the Philadelphia Museum of Art had some 40 Van Gogh’s on display at their “Van Gogh Up Close” exhibition. I don’t think “A Patch of Grass” has made it to the U.S. but a work like “Undergrowth With Two Figures” from 1890 is part of the exhibit. Looking at it, one can almost feel the waves of wind whispering in the weeds.
MY U.S. TELEVISION DEBUT
The catalogue for the exhibition was in part funded by the Netherland-America foundation and NBC 10 provides promotional support.
As part of that promotion, Eileen Matthews produced the documentary “Van Gogh Up Close” which aired on March 17. Lori Wilson was the narrator, and you can hear me as the voice of Van Gogh, reading quotes from some of the many letters he wrote.
NBC wanted me to add some authenticity to this production and that made for an interesting challenge because we don’t really know what Van Gogh sounded like. He was born in the South of Holland and at age 20, he moved to London to work for an art dealer. Some scholars believe these were the happiest days of his life.
Van Gogh returned to England for work as a supply teacher in a small boarding school and later he became a missionary’s assistant. This leads me to believe that he might have spoken English with Dutch-British accent.
Here is part of a letter Van Gogh wrote in 1881 to his brother Theo who was an art dealer. These are the actual words Vincent wrote:
[audio:https://www.nethervoice.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Letter-to-Theo-Dutch.mp3|titles=Van Gogh’s Letter to Theo in Dutch read by Paul Strikwerda]
Listen to the same letter in English:
[audio:https://www.nethervoice.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Letter-to-Theo-English.mp3|titles=Van Gogh’s letter to Theo in English read by Paul Strikwerda]
Talking to non-Dutch speakers, one thing always comes up when discussing Van Gogh. Nobody seems to know how to correctly pronounce his last name. Is it “Van Goff” or “Van Goh”?
The correct answer: neither.
If you wish to impress your friends and family, here’s how you do it:
[audio:https://www.nethervoice.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Untitled.mp3|titles=Dutch pronunciation Vincent Van Gogh]
A NEW DISCOVERY?
Even today, people claim to have found new masterpieces by van Gogh. On Wednesday March 14th, Joshua Tree resident Michael Wilson announced he had discovered a long-lost painting depicting beech trees at sunset. He bought it for $50 in a junk shop. If the painting turns out to be genuine, it could be appraised at approximately $200 million.
During his lifetime, Van Gogh only sold one oil painting. He lived and died in poverty, but he knew he was leaving an extraordinary legacy.
He once said:
“I can’t change the fact that my paintings don’t sell, but the time will come when people will recognize that they are worth more than the value of the paints used in the picture.”
Well, that’s certainly one of the most prophetic understatements in the history of art. Especially if you take into consideration that some owners of a real Van Gogh might actually have purchased two pictures for the price of one!
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