Internet

All Talk and Nothing to Say

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Internet, Journalism & Media, Personal 4 Comments

Five years ago I got in serious trouble with some of my readers.

“What else is new?” you may ask.

Did I write about amateurism in voice overs, insultingly low rates, or about greedy Pay-to-Plays?

Nope.

The topic was podcasting, or rather my ambivalence toward podcasts.

To be honest with you, I’d rather read an article than listen to forty minutes of blah-blah-blah. I can scan an article or blog post in a short amount of time. I search for keywords, and skip the fluff. Done. On to the next one. I think I’m too impatient for most podcasts.

Since I wrote the story in 2015, the number of VO-related podcasts has increased considerably, and I have to admit that many of them are a joy to listen to.

I’ve been interviewed by a multitude of hosts, and my experience has always been very positive. Yet, there are only a handful of podcasts I regularly tune into, and they’re seldom about voice overs. Why?

I think It’s very important for a well-rounded VO (and I’m not talking about our waistline), to step outside of our blah blah bubble, and skip the talk about which microphone is best and how to get an agent. There’s a whole wide world out there filled with information and inspiration. Constant navel-gazing isn’t going to help us learn and grow as a human being. 

This week, a Dutch podcast forum asked me about my experiences with podcasts. Do I have any faves, pet peeves, or tips? 

This is what I wrote.

 

Let me start my story with a confession.

My roots are in radio.

That’s both a blessing and a curse. It means I can no longer listen to podcasts with an open, carefree mind. I listen the way a music critic listens to a concert. With super critical ears. Luckily I can turn the darn thing off as soon as I get bored. 

In addition you should know that I’ve been a voice over for more than thirty years. This has made me allergic to badly written scripts, stupid slips of the tongue, loud, distracting breaths, and poorly recorded audio.

I’ve also made a living as a journalist, presenter, and media trainer. I know a little bit about interviewing guests. How to do it, and how not to do it.

All of the above means that many podcasts are just not my thing, even though I love the medium dearly. My favorite podcasts offer theater between the ears allowing my imagination to run wild. When I’m listening, I’m not distracted by flashing images on television which makes it easier to focus on the content.

I love the freedom podcasts give me. I usually listen when I have boring things to do like the dishes, yard work, house cleaning, long drives, or running on the treadmill. What do I listen to? Mostly radio shows.

PODCAST FAVORITES

This year marks my 20th anniversary of living and working in the USA. To stay connected to what’s happening in Holland (where I’m from), I listen to a show called Met het oog op morgen, (Keeping an eye on tomorrow). It’s a daily roundup of news, current affairs, and background stories.

As a former newscaster I’m always on the lookout for people who can interpret what’s going on in the world today. I want to know what motivated this person to make that statement, and what the implications are. That’s why I often tune in to the Brian Leher Show on WNYC, a New York City-based public radio station. Brian is a progressive interviewer who has an uncanny ability to ask pointed questions in a friendly and respectful way.

When I want to know more about art, literature, and music, I turn to Fresh Air, a legendary talk show with Terry Gross. Terry is considered a national treasure in the US, and for good reason. She’s been on national radio since 1975, and her show can be heard all over the United States. She’s known for her empathic, intelligent way of interviewing her guests. 

For philosophy and science I listen to Radiolab with Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich. Jad composes the experimental music which is like a running commentary on the theme of the show. Apart from interviews with people such as neurologist Oliver Sacks, conversations between the hosts are also part of the program. Radiolab is exquisitely immersive and never fails to make me think.

PROBLEMS WITH PODCASTS

There are very few “real” podcasts (as opposed to regular radio shows) I can listen to without cringing. Usually, that’s because of three things:

1. Amateurs “playing radio.”

Bad audio quality is the first clue. The recording space is often too noisy, everyone is miles away from the microphone, and guests are mumbling their answers. After hearing the first twenty seconds I ask myself: “What on earth am I listening to?”

Podcast producers who actually know what they’re doing realize that they have to compete with “real” radio programs. Award-winning podcasts have a team of researchers, editors, script writers, and sound engineers that take their job seriously.

In the next few years the difference between hobbyists and professionals making podcasts will increase dramatically. The consumer will have even more to choose from, and won’t have to settle for kitchen table productions.

2. Hosts that are overly self-involved.

Podcasts seem to attract people that like to hear themselves talk, but who have very little to say. I’m thinking of the unfunny folks who believe they’re God’s gift to comedy, and who have trouble getting to the point. I call them “self-arousers” because the sound of their own voice makes them horny as hell.

The best interviewers don’t make themselves the star of the show but focus on the guests. They don’t stick to a list of pre-cooked questions. They listen carefully to the answers and follow up. This is not an easy thing to do. You’ve got to get people talking, you’ve got to learn to keep your mouth shut, and you have to jump in at the right moment with the right questions. 

3. Weak content

Before you read the next line I’d like you to do a quick experiment while recording yourself. Choose a topic you’re interested in at the moment. Have a stopwatch ready, and when you press START, talk for one minute straight offering relevant information. No hesitations, no filler words, and no ums.

Ready. Set. GO!

Most people who do this experiment notice how hard it is to fill just one minute fluently, while keeping the audience engaged as they’re trying to make sense.

I often tell my students:

“If you want people to be interested, you have to be interesting. Your topics and your guests have to be interesting.”

Too many podcasts are of the category “much ado about nothing,” hosted by lazy, self-absorbed hosts that allow their guests to yammer on and on and on.

If you’re reading producing podcasts, you know it requires quite an investment to produce an outstanding show on a weekly basis. That’s why it is almost impossible to listen to your own shows with impartiality. It’s also the reason I recommend you get yourself a feedback group of people who know what they’re talking about. Do not ask family and friends who will love everything you say and do, no matter what.

You need the critical ears of those who will tell you what you don’t like to hear.

The ears of people like me.

People with roots in radio.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Are You Still Competing On Price?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Internet, Money Matters, Uncategorized 6 Comments

Philipsburg Mall

In Philipsburg, NJ, the town across the river from where I live, a familiar ritual is taking place as we speak.

A shopping mall is closing.

Built in 1989, the Philipsburg Mall once featured one hundred stores and a four thousand-space parking lot. Today, this enclosed, 577,000-square-foot concrete structure is almost empty, and ready for the wrecking ball.

It’s part of what the experts have coined the “retail apocalypse.” Studies show roughly one in four malls across the USA are expected to close by 2022. This week, Macy’s announced the closure of twenty-eight locations. Pier 1 Imports said recently it would be closing nearly half of its stores.

Overall, 2019 was a terrible year for US retailers. Coresight Research announced 9,302 store closings, and that’s a 59% jump from 2018. In fact, it’s the highest number since they began tracking data in 2012.

AMAZONING

To explain this phenomenon, the same experts point to a trend they call the Amazoning of America. It’s the idea that malls and individual retailers are being pushed out of business by online giants like Amazon Prime and Alibaba.

Others are pointing to a changing economy where the middle class that used to shop at stores like Sears, Bon Ton, and Macy’s is struggling and is looking for cheaper alternatives.

The people who have trouble making ends meet now shop at the Dollar Store. After opening 900 stores in 2018, Dollar General opened 975 stores in 2019, making it the top retail company in terms of expansion. Discount chains like Dollar Tree, Family Dollar, Aldi and Five Below were in the top five for opening stores in 2019.

Yes folks, the U.S. economy is doing better than ever before!

To counter lower revenues and high rents, regular retailers purposely understaff their stores, and stock less or older merchandise, leading to a poor shopping experience. Good luck trying to get help in a department store these days.

With this in mind, it’s easy and convenient to point fingers at the economy and Amazon for the retail apocalypse. We don’t control Amazon, and we have no influence over something as abstract as “the economy.” If you can’t control it, you cannot change it.

Or can you?

BLAME BAZOS

Someone in my neighborhood was complaining about all the distribution centers being built in my region, the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania. “They take up farmland, they lead to an increase in truck traffic damaging our roads, and they’re just plain ugly,” the man said. “I blame Jeff Bezos!”

But what if Bezos wouldn’t have as many customers? Would he still be renovating his $23 million Washington mansion with 11 bedrooms and 25 bathrooms? What would happen if all of us would start shopping locally again, instead of online? Would developers still be building all those distribution centers?

The way I see it, we as consumers have tremendous influence on our economy. The way we spend money is our superpower to bring about positive and negative change.

It is our behavior that is killing shopping malls, bankrupting family businesses, and is giving the Five Below’s of the world billion dollar profits while their cheap Chinese trinkets are polluting the planet with plastic.

We choose the behavior, and we are responsible for the consequences.

As long as people don’t get that and blame outside factors for unwanted changes, we won’t be able to solve the climate crisis, the increase in racism, gun violence, and a whole string of other worrisome developments in our society.

To bring it back to my line of work… many of my voice over colleagues are complaining about rates getting lower, and clients getting cheaper. They blame the free market for their woes.

“It’s what the marketplace dictates,” they say. “A job that used to pay $2500, now pays $250. I can’t change that. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”

VALUE PROPOSITION

I strongly disagree. Getting paid $250 for a $2500 job is the result of your inability to make an appealing value proposition to your client, and your ineptitude to negotiate a decent deal. It reeks of desperation and a lack of professionalism.

Just as the success of Amazon (and all its consequences) is the result of millions of individual purchase decisions, the lowering of our rates is the result of thousands of freelancers deciding to settle for less. No one is forcing them, and yet it sends a clear signal to our clients:

“This is what I believe this job is worth. Why pay a penny more?”

Look, I get that there’s a market for the Dollar Store, but why not leave that market to the freakin’ freelancers you find on Fiverr? They obviously can’t compete on value, so they can only compete on price. Let them dabble as they babble pretending to be a pro.

In this new year I challenge you to decide who your clients are going to be. The cheapskates who are the most demanding and demeaning, or the ones who value and respect you professionally and financially? This means drawing a line in the sand by being clear about what you no longer wish to accept for yourself and your community of colleagues. 

It may also mean raising your standards as well as your rates, because clients with bigger budgets expect you to give them their money’s worth. This is where the small shop owner beats the strip mall and the online retailer.

A DIFFERENT TOWN

Across the bridge from Philipsburg, lies the town of Easton, PA. It’s where I live. Easton is a town that warmly welcomes entrepreneurs. We don’t have a retail apocalypse. We have a retail resurgence!

Every month we celebrate the opening of new stores, businesses, and restaurants. People who are sick and tired of skyrocketing New York rents are coming to Easton. For what they’re paying for a tiny NYC apartment, they can buy a historic home or a penthouse overlooking the Delaware river.

The Easton Business Association is a free organization where all members help each other succeed. Together with the Easton Main Street Initiative, shop keepers, restaurant owners, and service providers come up with events that bring thousands of people to the downtown area. Every fourth Friday there’s Easton Out Loud with music, food, drinks, games, and activities for the whole family. 

You won’t find big box stores in downtown Easton. Instead, you’ll find flower shops, bakeries, gift shops, antique stores, vintage clothes shops, art galleries, independent book stores, cafés, pubs, restaurants, and breweries. And did I mention a fabulous Farmers’ Market?

Festivals such as Bacon Fest, Heritage Day, the Zucchini 500 races, and the Peace Candle Lighting bring huge crowds to Easton. All these events are sponsored by local companies and are run by an army of enthusiastic volunteers of all ages. 

In my town you will find unique things made by local artists and artisans you won’t be able to buy on Amazon or even Etsy. When I needed a set of walking poles, Adam (the owner of the Easton Outdoor Company), took over an hour to make sure I picked the right pair, and he taught me how to use them. That’s not an experience you can get online or even at Dick’s Sporting Goods.

COMMUNITY & CONNECTION

What Easton offers more than anything, is a sense of community and belonging that has disappeared from so many towns and cities. It comes from store owners who care about their business and their customers. From people who take pride in what they produce. From people who don’t see new stores as their competition, but as an opportunity to work together to attract more business. After all, visitors like having more choice.

Now, remember that all these stores exist and flourish in the age of Amazon. They don’t compete on price. They compete on giving the customer high-quality and often unique products, pies they can taste, flowers they can smell, and clothes they can try on. These shops offer stellar customer service, and an experience that makes you feel you’re among friends. These ingredients are the warm and fuzzies you’ll never get from a website, no matter how sophisticated or cheap it may be. 

So, in 2020 I want you to stop whining about sliding rates, and focus on how you are going to give your customers an experience they will always remember and are happy to pay for. Let me give you one hint:

You’ll never be able to distinguish yourself as long as you’re part of someone else’s store charging someone else’s prices.

Their roof. Their rules.

The shop owners at the dying Philipsburg Mall noticed that the Real Estate Investment Trust that owned the property treated them as commodities. They didn’t innovate and invest to bring back customers. Right now, the roof is leaking, repairs aren’t being made, and the parking lot is filled with potholes.

Some people believe the owners are driving the mall into functional obsolescence. The land under the mall, however, has value. 

It’s perfect for yet another ugly distribution center. 

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Becoming the Sharpest Tool in the Shed

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, International, Internet 4 Comments

Peter Dickson & Hugh Edwards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PRESIDENTIAL ADVICE

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

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

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

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

 

FOREVER AND EVER

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

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

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

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

BACK TO LONDON

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Is this suitable for beginners?

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

– Will I get lost in the crowd?

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

– Will it get me more work?

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

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

meeting Mark Graue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Bodalgo’s Armin Hierstetter

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

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

MY CONTRIBUTION

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

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

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

It all depends on one thing:

Are you ready to sharpen your axe?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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PPS photos courtesy of One Voice Conference

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Paul’s Personally Curated Holiday Shopping List

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Book, Career, Gear, Internet, Personal Leave a comment

The older I get, the harder it is to give me something for the holidays. 

For one, I have pretty much everything my heart desires and I don’t need to accumulate more stuff. Instead, I’d like to invest in memories, in people, and in experiences that enrich my life and the lives of others. 

Those are the things that cannot be bought on Amazon or sold on eBay.

Yet, I don’t blame you if you keep a secret wish list under your pillow as you dream of new microphones, preamplifiers, and the latest and greatest headphones. At the same time, your friends and family members may be looking for some smaller ticket items to put under the Christmas tree or Hanukkah bush.

That’s where I come in!

GIFT IDEAS

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been collecting some voice-over gift ideas for people like me, who aren’t so easy to shop for. 

Before I show you my list, you should know that by clicking on the images you will be transported to the virtual warehouse that is Amazon. This means a small portion of your purchase will go towards supporting this blog, since I am an Amazon affiliate.

I also encourage you to shop locally as much as you can, but you won’t find many of the items below on the shelves of your downtown retailers.

Let’s start by finding something for our noses!

I have mixed feelings about fragrances. On one hand, I’m no fan of natural body odor. On the other, an increasing number of people are allergic to perfumes and after-shaves. At my doctor’s office, there’s a sign asking patients not to wear any perfume when they come in for a visit.

I clearly remember a nauseating recording session in a booth that appeared to be sprayed with Old Spice from the previous VO. Please do your colleagues a favor and use an odorless deodorant before you come in to record.

If, in your private life, you’d like to be a bit more fragrant, here are two options to consider. I haven’t tested them, but I think the bottles look pretty cool!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next package is more impressive and expensive. There’s even an unboxing video if you’re really interested. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The following fragrance is not for your body. This microphone-shaped contraption is meant to freshen up your car.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coming back to personal hygiene, how about some soap on a rope? You can warm up your pipes as you take a long, hot shower.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s one thing I’ve never understood. When you buy a nice microphone, it usually comes in a fancy box or case you’ll rarely use. However, there’s nothing to protect your mic once it’s in your studio. Dust and humidity are major enemies, so my $1750 microphone is hanging in an old sunglasses bag filled with Silica gel packets. There’s a more high-end solution, though. 

My next item is a universal microphone protector and dust cover. It’s made from double-sided quilted nylon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another company offers a two-pack with custom embroidery included.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My recording studio is in the basement, and my wife’s office is on the first floor. She always knows when I’m in session because of my Harlan Hogan remote controlled recording sign.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s another light for you. An “On The Air” night light. The plug can be rotated to accommodate outlets in any direction.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then there’s fun voice-over attire. Here are a few examples of what you can find on Amazon. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Most VO’s are avid readers, and some of us -me included- also take up the pen. If you’d like to add to your collection of voice over books, I recommend you send your friends and family to my Concise (and Incomplete) Voice Over Book List on this blog. 

If you’re a Manga fan, you’ll be delighted to know that Maki Minami has written a whole series about young voice-over artists. Here’s the cover of volume 1. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If your vocal folds are in need of some TLC, these Voice Lessons To Go by Ariella Vaccarino might be the thing you need. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

GIFTS TO YOURSELF

Then there are gifts that aren’t really physical. They tend to be a bit more expensive, but they will definitely help you move your business forward.

For $120 per year you can upgrade your WeTransfer account to a Pro version. This gets you your own WeTransfer URL and artwork, email transfers to up to 50 people, and you’ll receive 1TB of storage. This allows you to keep your transfers available for as long as you want. In the free version they get deleted after 7 days.

Why not make this the year year you finally become a member of the World Voices Organization? The new member application fee is $99 USD. You’ll get access to educational materials, WoVO mentors, and VoiceOver.biz, a site where you can post your profile and voice seekers can hire you. Those seekers are serious clients looking for vetted professionals. When you land a job, there’s no commission or agent fee.

Besides, you’ll be a member of an organization that develops and promotes best practices, as well as standards for ethical conduct and professional expertise as it relates to the voiceover industry, run by voice over talent for voice over talent.

VO CONFERENCE

Have you thought of giving yourself a ticket to VO Atlanta (March 26 – 29, 2020)? Join colleagues from over 44 states and 20 countries, and enjoy a selection of 200 scheduled session hours by the best in the business. Plus, you get to meet me! 

For those who are wondering if VO Atlanta is worth attending, here’s a quick recap of this year’s conference. 

 

Well, there you have it! My list of voice over inspired holiday gifts. There’s one thing you should know, though. 

Nothing on this list comes even close to the gift you have given me throughout the years: your continued support for this blog and for me.

I am beyond grateful for your kindness and your willingness to spend some time with me, week after week.

It is truly something I am immensely thankful for.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Voices Dot Com is Giving Your Rights Away

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Freelancing, Internet, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play 4 Comments

I just received an email from Michelle Melski, the new communications manager at Voices Dot Com (VDC).

She writes:

“After conversations with customers and industry stakeholders it became obvious that we needed to clarify our Terms of Service, particularly around the ownership of files. 

Our terms of service will be updated tomorrow (11/12/’19 PS) to reflect that voice talent own the demos they are uploading to the website and that the clients own the finished work. Our CEO will blog about it in more detail on our website tomorrow, but I wanted to give you a heads up because I know that it matters to you.”

In his blog, VDC CEO David Ciccarelli writes:

“As always, voice talent are the owners of their demo materials. Voices.com holds ‘non-exclusive’ rights to host and promote these files through our website and mobile applications.

Additionally, clients own the final files for the work that they have paid to have completed on Voices.com. Ownership and usage of final files is determined by what’s written in the job posting, service agreement or other agreement between the talent and the clients.”

(…)

“I trust that you’ll see our commitment to providing a valuable service that is governed by policies designed to protect our community.”

To some this may not seem like a big deal, but in my understanding an independent contractor owns the intellectual property (IP) rights to his or her creation, in this case an audio recording.

Unless the talent explicitly waives those rights, the client does not own the finished voice recording. The client only pays for limited usage of the work. It’s very much like a professional photographer keeping ownership of the negatives while the client pays for limited use of those negatives.

Only if you have a written contract in place (a so-called work for hire agreement) that was agreed upon before the job began, stating that the intellectual property belongs to the client, the freelancer loses his or her rights. If there’s no written agreement, the IP remains with the voice talent.

Mind you: just because the client paid you for your work does not mean he or she automatically owns the intellectual property rights.

The big question is: are the VDC Terms of Service (TOS) the same as a work for hire agreement

I checked in with screen actor and voice talent Robert Sciglimpaglia. Rob’s also an attorney and the author of Voice Over Legal. He said:

“This issue will need to be tested by the Courts, and talent should think long and hard about waiving their intellectual property rights through a buried term in a terms of service agreement on a website.” Rob continues:

“The talent owns the recording unless they sign a work for hire agreement. Does the TOS meet the terms for a valid work for hire agreement? In order for it to be challenged properly I would recommend talent register the work as a sound recording with the US Copyright office just prior to submitting to VDC. The end client may ask the talent to sign a work for hire, but it’s an open question for me whether TOS is an enforceable work for hire.”

Rob writes in his book:

“Voice talent are most certainly hired to do most voice over jobs as “work for hire,” meaning that whoever hires the voice talent is retaining the right to copyright the finished product with the talent’s voice on it. This is normal and customary in the business.”

Here’s my take on it. 

As freelancer, I am free to set my own terms and conditions when working with my clients. I can negotiate my rate, in part based on intended usage of the audio, precisely because I own the intellectual property rights to my recordings. Why would I want to give those rights away?

Has VDC asked any of their talents if they agree that content created by the talent for a third party belongs to that party, simply because VDC claims their Terms of Service trump intellectual property laws?

And if you’re giving something away, shouldn’t you get something in return?

I asked VDC’s Michelle Melski:

“Does this mean that all VDC members effectively agree to a full buyout in perpetuity? If so, how will this be reflected in the rates?”

Her response:

“As always, clients are only able to use the files for the specifications laid out in the Job Posting, Services Agreement, or other agreement between Talent and Client. Our CEO will outline this in more detail on our blog tomorrow (11/12/’19 PS).”

What guarantees does the talent have that clients owning the finished work will stick to those agreements? How is VDC going to monitor and enforce that? And will VDC rates go up in exchange for talent giving up up their intellectual property rights? And should you really have to register your work with the US copyrights office at $35 a pop, every time you land a job on VDC? Is the client really willing to wait until your voice over is officially registered?

As Rob Sciglimpaglia notes in Voice Over Legal:

“The copyright is effective on receipt by the Copyright Office, and you will receive your registration certificate in four to five months. Because of this time delay, it’s advisable to send the material by either certified mail (return receipt requested), or courier (such as FedEx or UPS).”

The following screenshot provided by VDC outlines the specifications a client must list when posting a job for a voice talent at VDC. Michelle Melski says the rate is adjusted based on the parameters of the job. 

Just remember that transparency has always been lacking at VDC, and since I’m no longer a member I cannot tell you if rates have actually gone up.

This whole relinquishing your rights thing is clearly a move that benefits clients and not the talent VDC says it represents. What community is VDC actually protecting?

It’s no wonder why so many smart voice actors have left this company, and why VDC is no longer welcome at conferences like VO Atlanta.

So, will this be the final straw for you, or are you okay with VDC giving away your rights to please their cheap clients?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Bodalgo Founder Launches voices.net

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, International, Internet, Journalism & Media, Pay-to-Play 4 Comments

Armin Hierstetter

He’s done it!

Armin Hierstetter, the brains behind online casting site BODALGO has launched a new site: voices.net.

It’s been months in the making, but do we really need another voice casting site?

Time for a quick interview.

1. What specifically prompted you to build voices.net?

It was a thought process over a couple of months. Online casting has not really evolved that much over the last decade. Sure, I tried to enhance bodalgo.com by adding bodalgoCall and bodalgoCRM, but the core functionality of all the usual suspects is still the same. So is the concept of all the ones that showed up in the last two years.

2. How does your approach and philosophy differ from other voice casting sites?

It’s not pay to play. And while other new sites to the industry claim that their online casting sites are neither, the reality is: They are. voices.net on the other hand will not take a single cent from the talents. It is the clients that need to pay in order to be able to use the service.

3. Why would they ever do that when they can cast talents online for free on so many other websites?

The major problem with most online casting websites: Way too many auditions for a job! And way too low quality of auditions in many cases (there are a few exceptions, though, bodalgo.com being one of them, I would think). But the major downside: A client has always to wait for the auditions to shuffle in before they get a feeling what to expect. All the p2ps are centered around the audition process. The matching process is not precise enough by design, so many talents get job offers and have the feeling a lot of opportunities are coming through. And when all of them audition, only a fraction will be really relevant to the client’s needs. That’s an issue.

voices.net will completely change that. Even before the audition process, a client can narrow down the selection of potential talents in a very, very sophisticated way that works in real time.

An example: Let’s say somebody is looking for a US English female voiceover for commercial. Also, they want a low pitched breathy voice that sounds mystical. With websites out there, they would have to post a job and hope for the best.

With voices.net, you will be able to first narrow down a selection of talents that exactly fit that description in a few seconds. And if after listening to a few demos you changed your mind and would rather listen to higher pitched demos, it is just a click away.

4. How is this possible?

1. All demos on voices.net are precisely tagged by the talents including language, gender, character and attributes (warm, confident, sexy, passionate, caring etc.). A talent can upload an unlimited number of demos. But: Each demo must only feature one specific recording. It is not allowed to mix different genres or different styles of a read in one demo as the tagging would not be accurate anymore. voices.net does a lot to educate the talents to follow those rules. In fact, I have pointed out quite in the face that breaking the rules will lead to the deletion of a profile. The quality expectations are really super high.

2. voices.net has artificial intelligence built in to determine the pitch of a talent. This is important, because you need to have the same standard across the board. Talents are asked to have a standard demo of their signature voice analyzed as a pitch reference which will be taken as a default value for every further demo uploaded. Of course, if you intentionally voiced a demo higher than your signature voice, you can adjust the pitch tagging manually.

This pre audition filter process takes less than a minute. By listening to most relevant demos, a client can then decide whether he wants to contact a single talent directly or invite a group of talents to audition. For the talent that means: In case of an audition you are not up against a few hundred but up against a pre-selected few.

Maybe it becomes also clear why it is therefore in the best interest of the talents to be as precise as possible when tagging the demos. If they are not, they will end up in the filter results with a group of other talents that are much more relevant. So they will not stand a chance. So you absolutely want to make sure that your tagging is spot on on order to be successful.

So why will clients pay for this? Because voices.net will generate better results in a shorter amount of time.

5. The name of the site is obviously a nudge to a certain Canadian company that has cornered a huge segment of the market. Are you openly challenging them? Do you expect any legal challenges from voices.com since your sites have similar objectives, or has that been sorted out?

Do I challenge them? No. In my book, vcom is mainly a platform for amateurs and bottom feeders. And for companies that do not know that a huge chunk of their budget does not end up with the talents but in the pocket of vcom. voices.net is a completely different game.

Regarding the website name: voices.net and voices network are registered trademarks in the EU. But even if that would not be the case: According to the EUIPO (European Union Intellectual Property Office), “voices” by itself is a descriptive term that cannot be trademarked under EU regulation. If you choose a name like this, you simply have to accept that others might use it well. That’s not what I say, that’s what the trademark office says. Fair enough if you ask me.

6. Voices dot com has spent many years and millions of dollars on CEO and online advertising campaigns. Do you believe your David can beat Goliath at their own game and if yes, why?

First of all: Online advertising hardly works anymore when your objective is to find new clients (not talents). Reason is partly because those ads, for a few years now actually, are clicked more and more by talents looking for platforms they can book jobs from instead of clients looking for talents. Actually, it is the talents that kinda ruin the campaigns that are created to get them jobs in the first place. It’s a bit ironic.

But for voices.net, this will not be that of an issue. voices.net targets top shelf clients that have very high expectations regarding quality. Those companies don’t google “hire voice talent” (which is far fewer searched for than some people think, by the way). Getting those clients excited about voices.net will work best if you actually go to them and present the magic personally.

Will that be easy? No. Not at all. But every of those clients will have a healthy amount of jobs all the time, so if you get only a few dozens of the bigger ones on board, you already have a great base to work from. And because the talents do not pay a cent, I do not feel the pressure to find clients at all costs. It will take time, but I am sure that the path is right.

And if it fails: Nothing to lose for the talents except the time to create the most compelling profile on the planet.

7. Is the investment in voices.net coming out of your own pocket, or do you have any backers?

It comes out of my own pocket. Talking about it: I find it a bit amusing that there is one site out there at the moment that was basically created with membership fees paid upfront by the talents. That’s a pretty interesting stunt I have to say: Building a website and promoting it with no financial risk attached. If it does not work, it was not your money. Not sure though, how all those talents will feel about it when it does not work out¦

8. Who runs voices.net by the way? Is it just you or do you have a team?

Just me. It’s always just me, nobody loves me! [laughs]

9. The only way to measure the success of your new site is by the number of good paying jobs available. You already run an online voice casting site that is sometimes criticized for not offering as many opportunities as e.g. voice123. Shouldn’t you just focus on growing Bodalgo instead of dividing your time and energy between voices.net and your site selling vintage game consoles?

I think how I divide my time is completely my business. The numbers of bodalgo have been growing constantly for a decade now. Yes, there are fewer jobs than with the big “v’s”. On the other hand, the quality of the jobs is much higher. And the number of premium talents much lower. And the membership fee is much lower. Do I need to go on?

What’s more: Talents tell me time and time and time again that they convert many clients into returning clients. They can do so because bodalgo does not “own” the clients. So in a nutshell: bodalgo is doing fine and will continue to do so. And remember: If I present voices.net to new clients that are despite the compelling concept not willing to pay for online casting, there is still the option to promote bodalgo to them. So now I have two great products to bring to the market. I see that as an advantage for the talents, too.

10. Can any voice talent -experienced or inexperienced- sign up for voices.net? Do you have a limit as to how many voice actors you accept? What are your acceptance criteria?

No, absolutely not! The bar will be set extremely high. First, you need to be a pro. Second, your audio quality must scream awesomeness. And even if you are an experienced talent: That might not guarantee that your profile will make it in the end (maybe because of sub par audio quality, maybe because of incorrect tagging of demos, etc). The goal is to identify the best of the best talents available.

I know that this approach will not go down well with everybody, especially when they are rejected, but when you want to create something insanely great, there is no chance to be everybody’s darling at the same time. I hope the talents will understand that and rather work on their skills than blaming me for “playing god”.

11. Best scenario: five years from now, where do you see voices.net?

The go-to place when you are looking for the best voice over talents in the world. For agents, producers, ad agencies, enterprises, casting directors, you name it.

Many thanks, Armin, and best of luck with voices.net!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Facebook: Why You May Be Doing It All Wrong

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Internet, Journalism & Media, Personal, Promotion, Social Media 7 Comments

On July 31, Facebook will be updating the Terms of Service again. Why?

Because in their own words, they want to “better explain the rights people have when using our services.”

One thing that will not change is the distinction between Profiles and Pages. It’s something many colleagues still don’t seem to get. Here’s the deal:

You should never run your businesss from a personal profile. Always create a Facebook page for your business.

There are many reasons for doing that, and I’ll give you lots of carrots, but let’s start with a few sticks. The Facebook Terms of Service state:

“You will not use your personal timeline primarily for your own commercial gain, and will use a Facebook Page for such purposes.”

In other words, using a Profile for commercial activities is a violation of those Terms of Service, and Facebook can and will delete your Profile because of it. That’s what someone in my neighborhood found out when she tried to peddle her skin care pyramid scheme on a local Facebook group. Fellow-Facebookers reported her, and without warning she lost all her contacts, messages, pictures, and more.

PROFILE OR PAGE

To some people, the distinction between a Profile and a Page is a bit confusing, so here’s the bottom line.

A Facebook Profile is a personal, non-commercial account for individuals. It’s the way you connect with friends and family. It’s where you share your photos, videos, and life events. You can only have one Profile, and it’s managed by you. Only people you’ve added as a friend are able to see your posts, unless all your updates are public. For some mysterious reason Facebook allows you to have no more than 5,000 friends.

A Facebook Page is a business account for a company or organization. You can have many Pages, managed by multiple people. Your following is not limited by friend requests. Anyone who clicks the Like button receives your updates, and you can have an unlimited number of followers.

In order to create a Page, you first need to have a Profile. You can convert a Profile to a Page, but I don’t recommend it. First off, you only get one chance to do it. Secondly, the name on your personal account will become the Page’s name, which isn’t very smart. You want your Page to have the name of your business. Your Profile picture and cover photo will also be transferred, but it’s better for your brand to use your business pictures, instead of those silly summer vacation snapshots.

PROFESSIONAL OR PRIVATE

Before I discuss some of the features you can access once you have a Facebook Page, I want to tell you why I think it’s inappropriate to use a Profile to promote your business. It has to do with privacy, professionalism, and boundaries.

Number one: why would you give people you barely know access to your private life? Just because you exchanged business cards at a conference, doesn’t mean they should see you on your Timeline sporting a skimpy bathing suit at the Jersey shore, or drinking beer from a boot in Berlin.

The current U.S. administration may think it’s okay for Internet Service Providers to share our browsing history, financial information, health information, children’s information, social security number, and app usage. I strongly disagree.

I don’t want my private life to become publicly traded property. It’s literally none of other people’s business.

Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t like the fact that the lines between public and private are getting more blurry every day. I value my privacy. Online and offline. I don’t see the need to turn my life into some kind of reality show for the whole world to see. It’s not that interesting anyway.

CUSTOMERS OR FRIENDS

Some of my colleagues who are still using a Profile for their business, have accepted friend requests from clients without giving it any thought. To me, that’s shocking. I don’t think a client needs to know what’s going on in your life or mine. It can have serious consequences.

Let’s say a customer asks you to do a rush job, and you tell him you’re too busy to fit it in. Then he sees on Facebook that you’re taking the day off, and he wonders: “Why were you lying to me?”

It is unacceptable for an employer to ask about your general health and medical condition, so why share that information on social media? Let’s assume a client has a job for you, but you just posted that you’re a bit under the weather, so he hires someone else. Had he not known that you’re sick, he would have asked you, and you could have said: “I’m totally booked today, but I can do it tomorrow,” (if you think you’ll feel better by then).

A few more scenarios.

A client owes you money, and he sees on your Profile that you just bought a nice set of wheels. That client may think: “Oh, he’s got plenty of cash. He can wait to be paid.”

What if you tell your Facebook pals you’re struggling financially? Friends of mine just started a very public GoFundMe Campaign because their clunker car died, and they can’t afford to buy a new one. Desperate people are willing to work for less, and a client could abuse that situation to negotiate a lower rate.

One colleague became Facebook friends with the author of a series of books he was about to narrate. “He’s such a great guy,” my colleague said. “I’m honored he wanted to be friends with me.”

Well, when the writer saw on Facebook that my colleague was gay, he said he could no longer work with him, citing his faith. What a terrible way to lose a deal worth thousands of dollars!

A conservative think tank wanted to hire a voice-over for a number of ads, and they found a female talent with the perfect pipes. Just before they offered her the contract, they did a background check. Because all the posts on her Facebook Profile were public, they discovered she was an Elizabeth Warren supporter, and they called off the deal.

So, you have to ask yourself: should you really give the whole world access to your personal life? Is gaining a superficial Facebook friend worth the risk of losing a good client?

GENERATIONAL DIVIDE

Here’s an interesting trend. When I first brought this page/pofile thing up in my voice-over community, I got two kinds of responses. The older generation seemed to get this separation between private and professional spheres, as well as the need for reputation management.

The response of the younger generation boiled down to one word:

One girl wrote:

“This is a FREE country. I am who I am. If the client doesn’t like it, that’s their problem. I am building an online persona, and my followers like me just the way I am. They want a behind-the-scenes look into my life, and I ‘m gonna give it to them.”

To each his own, but as Dr. Phil keeps on reminding us: “If you choose the behavior, you choose the consequences.”

Those consequences can be quite serious. One of my agents just posted the following:

“It happened again. A huge project we had an opportunity with turned down loads of talent from many agencies for inappropriate social media including:

    • Lingerie posted on Social Media
    • Sexually Suggestive posts on Social Media
    • Profanity on Social Media
    • Political affiliations on Social Media
    • Politically Charged posts on Social Media
    • Inappropriate language on Social Media.

 

If you ever want to get in with a kid or family friendly network, your social media needs to be squeaky clean. Because if one parent sees that you post something inappropriate you can be in big trouble.”

Of course you can remove controversial content you posted after that wild night out, but when you need to do that, it’s usually too late. Know that it can take up to 90 days for deleted content to be removed from the system.

FRIENDS OR COLLEAGUES

Now, is it safe and okay to befriend fellow-voice talent on Facebook? As a popular blogger, many people want to be my Facebook friend, and that’s very flattering. If you’re one of those people, you’ve probably received the following message:

“Thank you for your friend request. I’m honored! This is my personal Facebook Profile which I’ve reserved for close friends and family members. It helps me separate my personal from my professional life.

If you’re interested in my work as a voice-over, and in developments in that field, please like my professional Page: https://www.facebook.com/nethervoice. That’s the best way to stay in touch with me. Thanks for understanding!”

In the beginning I thought people would hate me for blowing them off, but you know what the most common response to this message is?

“That makes so much sense. I should really do that too.”

But when I check in on a colleague a few weeks later, she is still promoting her business on a Facebook Profile, together with pictures of her cats, a couple of bible verses, and some crazy pop quizzes about celebrities and sex. 

Very professional, indeed!

WHAT’S A FRIEND ANYWAY

Sociologists have said lots of things about the way Facebook has hollowed out the notion of (online) friendship.

Yes, some of my Facebook friends happen to be colleagues, but not all colleagues are my friends. It takes a certain level of intimacy and bonding before I let people into that select circle. Most people who want to be friends, want to connect with me professionally anyway, so why bother them with pet pictures, or photos from lunch at the local eatery? That’s why I send them to my business Page. 

Sometimes, colleagues become contractors when they hire me for a job, making them my clients. That’s another reason to point them to my professional Page. Making this distinction has another advantage. Because I have fewer friends, it’s now easier to keep track of the lives of people I feel closer to, and Facebook is less of a time suck.

CREATING A BUSINESS PAGE

When you’re ready to create a Facebook Page, you have to pick a category based on the following options:

  1. Local Business or place
  2. Company
  3. Organization or institution
  4. Brand or product
  5. Artist, band, or public figure
  6. Cause or community

Once your business Page is set up, and you have at least 25 fans (or Likes), you should get a vanity URL. For instance, my Page is https://www.facebook.com/nethervoice/. This will make it much easier to find your page for those doing an internet search. Be sure your 180 x 180 pixel profile picture, and 828 x 315 pixel cover photo (the most important visual aspects of your Page), look good, and reflect your brand.

Last summer Facebook rolled out a new ad-free business layout, making it possible to add more prominent Calls to Action buttons to your Page. The seven calls to action available are: Book Now, Contact Us, Use App, Play Game, Shop Now, Sign Up, and Watch Video. Try my Contact Us Call to Action button, and see what happens.

VALUABLE INSIGHTS

A business Page also gives you an idea how your audience is responding, and how your Page is performing through Page Insights. Insights tell you which posts have the most engagement (videos and images rule!), and when your audience is on Facebook. You can use that information to increase traffic by creating content people respond to, and post it at strategic times. Jennifer Beese wrote an excellent article about Page Insights for Sprout Social.

Boosting posts is another way to increase your reach. You can boost a post when you create it, or after it’s been published. Simply click the Boost Post button, and you’ll be presented with some options. This is not a free service, by the way. The budget field allows you to select the amount you want to spend, or enter your own. 

Another thing a Facebook Page allows you to do (and a Profile won’t), is create ads. Facebook itself has written a step-by-step guide, and you might also want to check out this beginner’s guide from Hootsuite

THE BIG QUESTION MARK

My more senior coaching students will often ask me:

“Do I really need to be on Facebook? Isn’t it all a big waste of time?”

Facebook is too big to ignore. It’s the largest and most popular social network in the world, with over a billion and a half monthly active users, and over a billion daily active users. If Facebook were a country, it would be substantially bigger than China (source), and it continues to grow by 18% per year. According to Pew Research, 79% of internet users are on Facebook, and Forbes estimates that fifty million businesses are now using Facebook Pages.

In other words: this is a huge opportunity, because most of your (potential) customers are already using Facebook. If you were to pick one social media site for your marketing, skip Twitter and Instagram, and choose Facebook.

But please, do yourself a favor, and create a Page for your business today!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Common questions and the answers you don’t want to hear

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Freelancing, Gear, Internet, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play, Personal, Promotion, Social Media, Studio 35 Comments
Paul Strikwerda at the beach

the author, enjoying some fresh ocean air

Every couple of weeks I make the social media rounds on the various Facebook voice-over groups to see what’s new. The answer:

Not much.

In fact, most of what’s going on is an endless regurgitation of familiar topics, and Me-Me-Me marketing we love wasting our time on: How much should I charge? Where can I find work? Will you critique my demo and my new website?

In an effort to nip these dreadfully boring and superfluous conversations in the bud, I’m going to cover some returning questions rapid-fire style, so we can all get on with our work.

I want to get started in voice-overs, but I have no experience, no equipment, and no money. Where do I begin?

Are you serious? You sound like the guy who wants to be an Uber driver, who doesn’t know how to drive, does not own a car, and has no money in the bank. How’s that going to work?

My two cents: Get a job. Put some money aside, and work with a coach to find out if you’re even remotely talented before you spend big bucks on a studio, gear, demos, and a website.

It sounds like I need a lot of money to break into this business. Why is it so expensive?

Compared to what? Ask a New York cab driver how much he paid for his medallion. What did the pianist pay for her Steinway? How much debt did your doctor take on to get her degree?

You can’t be invested without making an investment. If something is worth it, you’ve got to pay the price. And if you’re serious, you can equip your voice-over studio for under a thousand dollars. Click here to find out how.

I just got started as a voice-over. I’ve been auditioning for over three months and haven’t booked a single job. Nobody ever told me it was going to be this hard. I’ve got rent to pay.

Your coach should have prepared you for a harsh reality. Ninety percent of trained actors are out of work. The ones on the A-list get booked again and again. It’s not much different for voice actors. Your job is finding jobs. Over and over and over again. So, stop lurking on social media and start marketing yourself!

I signed up for several Pay-to-Plays. Posted my demos. Nothing’s happening. Is this a scam?

A P2P is the lazy way to get into this business. You pay your membership fees, you post a few homemade half-baked demos, you do a few lousy auditions with your crap equipment, and you expect magic to happen? Don’t blame the system. You are delusional.

My neighbor is driving me crazy with his mad dogs, his leaf blower, and his lawn mower. Right now I want to kill him.

Do you expect the world to stop just because you need to meet a deadline? You advertise yourself as a professional, yet you have no dedicated, isolated recording space. That’s a problem. Costs come before revenue. Stop moaning and get a double-walled booth. If you’re any good, it will pay for itself many times over.

This new client hasn’t paid me in months and won’t respond to my emails. Help!

Who have you been working for? Did you do your research to find out whom you’re dealing with? Did you watermark your audio? Did you ask to be paid upfront? Not every client can be trusted so you have to protect yourself. You either lawyer up and threaten legal action, or write the unpaid invoice off as a business loss. Remember: even if small claims court rules in your favor, it’s not going to collect your money. That’s on you.

I’m not making enough as a voice-over. What am I doing wrong?

You’re not alone! In this business, there is no guaranteed return on investment, and with what you’re charging, are you surprised you’re not making enough? It’s a self-inflicted wound. Low rates are the sign of a desperate amateur. Who wants to work with a desperate amateur?

Be better, not cheaper.

Sitting in front of a computer all day long is hurting my health. I hate it!

No one is forcing you to do anything that’s detrimental to your health. In order to take care of your clients, you have to take care of yourself. Exercise, do yoga, move around, choose a healthy diet. Sit up, hydrate, get a supportive chair, and a wrist rest. Don’t forget your emotional health. Surround yourself with supportive people. Get a life outside of your studio! Your work is just a means to an end.

Being a freelancer is hard work. I thought it would be fun to be my own boss, but I’m starting to change my mind.

No job in the world is 100% fun all the time, no matter what some Instagram posts may tell you. What you see and what you hear – the end result, may sound and look like fun, but you don’t see the effort necessary to make it happen. If you do your job well, you make it seem effortless.

If your level of fun is the only criterium you use to evaluate your job, you’re never going to be satisfied.

Now, if you’re not happy with how things are going, know that nothing is going to change unless you change. Keep in mind that as long as you keep on blaming others for your misfortune, they have to be the ones that have to change in order for you to be happy.

That ain’t gonna happen.

Allow yourself to make mistakes. Allow others to make mistakes. You don’t have to spoon-feed every newbie begging for free advice. They’ll end up being lazy, ungrateful, and dependent.

Give yourself time to become good at what you do. Learn from the experts. Invest your earnings to further your career. Value what you have to offer and price accordingly.

And beginning today, start figuring out ways to get visitors to your web pages, instead of interacting on other people’s groups and sites, boosting their SEO. 

What do you say?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Promoting Yourself the Nethervoice Way

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Internet, Journalism & Media, Promotion, Social Media 6 Comments

silouette of man with bull hornLast week I wrote about the fallacy of ME, ME, ME marketing. One of my readers emailed me and said:

“You’re very good at telling me what NOT to do. Please write about the best ways for me to promote my business.”

For that, I want to go back to an email conversation I had with one of my British colleagues.

Here’s what we talked about.

Q: Many people rely on just having a website and an internet presence on Twitter, Facebook or on a P2P site to do their marketing for them… does this work? And if not, why not?
 
Let’s take a step back and talk about what I believe marketing to be:
 
Any activity that helps you find clients and helps clients find you.
 
Marketing is about understanding your clients’ needs and connecting your product or service with customers who want it.
 
Effective marketing is a compelling, engaging conversation. It’s about building profitable relationships and creating an amazing experience around your brand, product, or service.
 
If you succeed in these three areas, your marketing works. It’s as simple and as complicated as that.
 
Having an internet presence in and of itself is as useless as hanging up an expensive billboard in the middle of nowhere. In order to be effective, you have to make sure people find your needle in the online haystack.
 
It’s not enough to have an online profile on a P2P site or on Facebook. That only benefits the P2P and the world created by Mark Zuckerberg. You need to drive traffic to a site that you own and control.

Q: What is the most effective tool to market yourself? Blogging, Facebook, Tweeting?
 
My blog has proven to be my most effective instrument in my marketing toolbox, and I’ll tell you why. You can offer the best product nobody has ever heard of and never make a penny. In order for people to buy from you or hire you, they have to find you, get to know you, and learn to trust you. That’s exactly what my blog has done for me.
 
Today’s search engines have become much smarter. Quantity is no longer king. It’s about quality and engagement. Relevance and social interaction are now built into the algorithm that determines how your pages are ranked and thus found.
 
Most experts agree that one of the best ways to boost your SEO is to offer fresh and quality content. Most websites are pretty static. Once it’s up, not much changes. That’s why blogs are so effective. Every day or every week you get a chance to connect with your followers and attract new readers by sharing something of value.
 
Q: To be effective, how much time do you estimate it is necessary to spend on marketing?
 
It’s a running joke among freelancers that we spend 80% of our time finding the work and 20% doing the work. Marketing never stops. Look at the big brands. We know their logos and slogans by heart. Yet, they continue to bombard us with messages. Award-winning colleagues whom we think of as “established” never stop marketing.
 
B.L. Ochman, president of What’s Next said it best:
 
“Marketing is everything a company does, from how they answer the phone, how quickly and effectively they respond to email, to how they handle accounts payable, to how they treat their employees and customers. Done right, marketing integrates a great product or service with PR, sales, advertising, new media, personal contact. In other words, marketing is not a discipline or an activity – it is everything a company is – at least if the company wants to be successful.”

Q: Are there other ways to market yourself other than online?
 
Marketing is never an either/or. It’s doing this, that and a whole bunch of other things in order to influence perception. If marketing is not integrated into everything you do, you’re not doing it right and you’re not doing enough.
 
Q: If you have limited time/resources… how do you choose the best marketing tools for you?
 
The best form of marketing is delivering a stellar product or service. Clients are your best credentials. If you exceed their expectations, they will do part of the marketing for you. Remember: tooting your own horn is necessary but suspicious. What others have to say about you is perceived to be more credible than all the things you will ever say about yourself.
 
Q: How do you ensure that you are constantly reaching new people and not just preaching to the converted.
 
Ask yourself this question: What greater community am I a part of?
 
Most voice-over professionals are:
 
– Actors & artists

– Self-employed

– Underemployed

– Freelancers

– Solopreneurs

– Small business owners
 
As a narrator and voice actor, I’m also in touch with:
 
– Linguists & translators

– Sound engineers

– Bloggers

– Writers

– e-Learning specialists

– Advertisers & Social Media specialists

– People in the entertainment industry
 
Blogging is a form of content marketing. If I only were to write my blog for a relatively small group of voice-over colleagues, I would be preaching to the choir. That’s why I make sure to write content that appeals to all the groups mentioned above. That way, I widen my circle, instead of preaching to the choir.
 
Q: Is marketing yourself the same as bragging?
 
No, it’s not, although it often comes across like that. My advice may sound a bit like a contradiction in terms: If you want to highlight what you have to offer, don’t make it all about you. A blog or brochure is not a public diary about your personal trials, tribulations, and triumphs.
 
Here’s the challenge: you have to show people what you’re made of, but avoid the ME, ME, ME-stories. That book is usually very thin and gets very old.
 
Focus on your market. Find out what their frustrations are and offer practical tips, and remember this: Educate without lecturing. Come across as an expert, but not as a know-it-all.
 
Q: As soon as you have an online presence, you are vulnerable … how do you protect yourself from spam and junk?
 
Never put your email address on your website. It’s an open invitation to spam bots. Use a spam-protected contact form instead. Use an email program with a solid spam filter, or buy one. Make sure your anti-virus software is up to date. Install anti-tracking software. I also check every new subscriber to my blog against a list of known spammers.
 
Q: How would you compare the impact of automated tweets, updates, responses, and postings etc. against individually composed postings?
 
Small businesses have a strong competitive advantage over huge corporations. They can deal with (potential) clients in a very direct and personal way. Because voice actors embody their product, that’s their unique selling point.
 
Mass emails, tweets, and newsletters can be deleted in seconds. Personal messages, letters, and faxes are harder to ignore.
 
Ultimately, effective marketing is directed at key individuals. Cater your message to their needs and you’ll be more successful. Remember: marketing is not a sales pitch. It is highlighting a service.
 
Q: In an overcrowded marketplace, how do you ensure that you stand out from the crowd?
 
I am going to brag now, but only because it’s based on feedback from my readers. The number one reason readers come back to my blog is that they find content that is relevant and helpful, told from a unique perspective.
 
If you want to appeal to a wide audience, you have to have a unique point of view. I’m not telling my readers how great I am. I’m simply showing them how they can be more successful if they follow some of my suggestions. In other words: I am not asking them to buy something from me. I’m giving them something useful.
 
If you try to be everything to everyone, you end up being nothing to no one. I highly recommend finding a niche and emphasize your specialty in your marketing messages. In my case, I market myself as “The Ultimate European Voice.” I realize that sounds rather pretentious, but for someone living and working in the United States, my European-ness is one of my unique selling points.
 
More and more clients don’t necessarily want a British or North-American English speaker for a global campaign. Because of my more “neutral” English accent, international companies are interested in my services.
 
Q: For people who may not be technically minded … do you think it is worthwhile employing someone to do your internet marketing for you?
 
Technology is a tool that sometimes stands in the way of true communication. There has never been a generation in the history of this planet that has been more connected, yet millions and millions of people miss a real connection.
 
Technology enables us to send a mass email or newsletter to everyone in our database. It’s as sad and ineffective as cold calling. You’re playing a numbers game, thinking: The more people I send stuff to, the more likely it is that someone will respond.
 
I always get the best responses from personal contact. I have no marketing guru to run my “campaign”. The reason is simple.
 
No one is as motivated and dedicated to my business as I am. No one is willing to work as hard for my business as I am. That doesn’t mean I don’t ask for help.
 
We all have our strengths and I do feel that when I look at certain websites, some people should have used a web designer, a copywriter, or a professional photographer. First impressions are vital!
 
However, it does pay off to learn how to maintain your own site. Otherwise, you end up paying your webmaster (or mistress) for every small change or update.
 
Q: Talk a little about keeping the balance right … e.g. marketing versus actually doing the job. Is it possible to do too much marketing?
 
As I said earlier, doing your job to the very best of your ability is one of the best forms of marketing. If you approach it that way, there is no real separation between the two.
 
There is a risk of overdoing it, though. I’m not going to name any names, but one voice-over coach regularly plasters the internet with promos for seminars, classes, and the whole shebang. It’s overkill and it’s counterproductive.
 
If you yell too loudly and too frequently (especially if it is more of the same), it becomes annoying and people will start tuning you out.
 
Q: How do you think marketing will develop over the next five years? 
 
I’ll have to take out my crystal ball for that one. On one hand I see that marketing is becoming more and more mobile technology driven. YouTube is quickly becoming the number one search engine. Social proof is rapidly replacing expert advice.
 
If you wish to make a dent in the marketing universe, you need to learn to play the technological game, create visual content and attract, grow, and serve a considerable online following.
 
On the other hand, it is critically important to always remember that you’re talking to real people with real problems that need to be solved. It’s impossible to meet their needs with a mass email. Marketing can be the beginning of a connection, but it’s only a first step.
 
Let me put it this way. Creating an appealing window display is one thing, but no level of technology can force people to come inside, let alone become a (return) customer.
 
Q: Joining the dots … and creating a seamless approach to marketing – creating your own look, logos, fonts etc. Are they important?
 
Now we’re entering the realm of branding: the marketing practice of creating a name, symbol or design that identifies and differentiates a product from other products.
 
With thousands of voice-over talent entering the market each year, differentiation is essential. Having a picture of a microphone on your website is anything but unique. What clients are looking and listening for is personality.
 
Things like a recognizable logo, a catchphrase, and a consistent color scheme have to reflect your personality and your niche.
 
I don’t have a logo per se, but I consistently use a picture of me, holding a bunch of orange tulips. On a subconscious level, people still associate tulips with Holland, and as a native Dutch speaker that’s a good thing. Orange also happens to be the Dutch national color. Then there’s the pun “tulips” and “two lips” which for a voice-over professional is a nice association.
 
Q: What is the most important thing you have learned about marketing?
 
Three things:
 
1. Marketing is like sowing seeds. You can’t force those seeds to come up overnight, grow into trees, and produce fruit. Marketing is an organic process that requires persistence, patience, and love for what you’re doing.
 
2. It is pointless to market a bad product because it won’t sell.
 
3. Even the sharpest tools in the shed get dull after prolonged use. Keep on learning to refine your skills.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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