Journalism & Media

Elaine Clark Cracked the Podcasting Code

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Journalism & Media, ReviewsLeave a comment

Elaine A. Clark

I usually don’t get hate mail, but there was one story I wrote back in 2015 that rubbed a lot of readers the wrong way. 

It wasn’t one of my stories about voices dot com. It wasn’t even an article about the Voice Arts Awards.

It was a blog post called The Problem with Podcasting (as always, bolded words in blue are hyperlinks).

Here’s part of the introduction:

“I spend very little time listening to podcasts. I’d rather read an article, than listen to forty minutes of blah-blah-blah. An article or blog post I can scan in a short amount of time. I search for keywords, and skip the fluff.

Done.

On to the next one.

Am I going to listen to a forty-minute podcast to possibly pick up a few useful ideas?

No thank you.

But there’s another reason why most podcasts are not my cup of tea.

I have no patience for mediocrity, half-ass efforts, or for untalented amateurs playing radio.”

Five years later, I still stand behind what I wrote in 2015, although I must admit that I’ve added a few podcasts to my listening diet. Here are some shows I’m a fan of:

The VO Meter with Paul Stefano and Sean Daeley

Making an Impression & You’re Popping with Simon Lipson

Talking Creative with Samantha Boffin

The VO Social  with Nic Redman and Leah Marks

Voiceover Sermons with Terrry Daniel

The Voice Cast with Albert-Jan Sluis (in Dutch)

On occasion I will listen to shows like This American LifeFresh Air, or RadioLab. All these programs are professionally produced, and they make doing the dishes or yard work much more pleasant. But I really can’t stand podcasts that take way too long to get to the point, hosted by nitwits that love to hear themselves talk. 

It turns out, I’m not the only one!

A NEW BOOK

Voice Over coach Elaine Clark, author of There’s Money Where Your Mouth Is, just published -as she wrote:

“the book I would want if starting a new podcast or needing to improve an existing one.”

It’s called “Voice-Overs for Podcasting. How to Develop a Career and Make a Profit.”

I just read it, so, let me get straight to the point. Should you buy this book if you’re thinking of podcasting, or if you already have a podcast?

A B S O L U T E L Y!

One hundred percent.

But before you make plans to produce the next Serial (the record breaking podcast by Sarah Koenig), I have some great news for you, and some not so great news.

According to Edison Research, American podcast listenership has grown one hundred percent in the last four years. 67 million Americans listen to at least one podcast a month.

Here’s the daunting news: there are more than 850 thousand active podcasts and more than 30 million podcast episodes. If you’re serious about starting a podcast, you better know what you’re getting yourself into. It’s just like the world of voice overs:

Many are called. Few are chosen.

One of the things that crossed my mind when reading Elaine’s book was this: is podcasting something I could do on the side, to provide some passive income through lucrative sponsorship deals?

A MONEY MAKER

Well, get this. Elaine interviewed six successful podcasters for her book. One of them is Melissa Thom, founder, producer, and host of Spellbound. It takes Melissa two to five days to edit one episode which usually runs for thirty minutes. 

Jordan Harbinger, host of the one-hour Jordan Harbinger Show, takes 10 – 20 hours of research, 90 minutes to record, and 9 hours to edit (which he outsources). Podcaster Jason Allan Scott spends one hour of research per minute his guest is on the air.

Most voice overs (Elaine’s target market) don’t have so much time to spare. They’re too busy making money where their mouth is. And as you read Elaine’s book, you’ll discover that monetization is one of the biggest challenges for podcasters.

For most of them, it is and always will be a labor of love. 

The key to making money from podcasting is to have a large listener base. Only then are sponsors and advertisers interested in you. Jordan Harbinger says:

“It’s easy to get sponsorships once you get the big numbers. Getting the big numbers is the hard part. You need about 5 to 15 thousand downloads per episode (at the very least) before most sponsors will be interested in your show.”

For Jason Allan Scott, the magic minimum number is 20 thousand downloads per show. So, as in voice overs, being successful at making podcasts is not only about making interesting podcasts, but about being good at selling your podcast to the world! That alone, could easily be a second job, if you have plenty of time on your hand. 

But you can’t really sell something until you have a product people actually want to buy, and that’s where Elaine’s book delivers big time. She writes:

“After hundreds of hours of listening, dissecting, and talking to others about podcasts, the universal theme is GET TO THE POINT! Don’t make your story too precious, your intro too long, or your focus too broad. Listeners feel their time is valuable.”

THE BOTTOM LINE

Voice-Overs for Podcasting is an invaluable step-by-step guide to baking a mouthwatering podcasting cake, covering the most basic ingredients, to dealing with pitfalls and roadblocks. If you are serious about becoming a podcaster, this book will save you hundreds of hours of research, and will prevent you from trying to reinvent the wheel.

But remember: baking a great cake is about more than following a recipe. It’s about being creative, playful, daring, unusual, boundary-pushing, and about being an original. Those are things you cannot learn from letters printed on a page. 

It’s only 134 pages, but Elaine Clark’s book is filled with lists, practical tips and ideas, even scripts that will set you on the right track. In my opinion, there are only two things that will keep her book from reaching a wider audience.

One: The confusing title. Why isn’t it called Podcasting for Voice Overs? No matter how you spin it, the title suggests the book is geared toward voice overs. I believe it should be required reading for anyone who’s thinking of starting a podcast, and for podcasters who want to up their game.

Secondly, I think the cover looks generic and rather uninspiring.

But you know what…

If the cover is one of the only things to critique, you know the content must be pretty stellar!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Peter Dickson’s Voice Over Man

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Book, Journalism & Media, One Voice, PersonalLeave a comment

I love my job as a blogger, even though I don’t get a dime for all my work. There’s no subscription fee for you to pay, and I have no sponsors to support me. But please don’t pity me.

My reward is that I get to interview cool colleagues like Barri Tsavaris who was featured last week. I test out new equipment, such as the brilliant SSL2+ audio interface, and I review books like Voice Over Man by Peter Dickson. It’s not even out yet, but I got an advance copy, signed by the man himself!

Now, if you haven’t got the faintest idea who this Peter person is, don’t worry. I’ll let him introduce himself, the way he does best in his book:


Dickson began his career at the BBC where he holds the unique distinction of being the youngest ever TV news presenter at the tender age of 17. In 1982 he moved to BBC Radio 2 in London, as an announcer. And that was just the start. Peter continues:

“I have spent the last forty-three years locked in acoustically isolated, padded rooms shouting about pizzas, cars, gas boilers and three-piece suites, playing zombies and wizards and fighter pilots and working with and alongside some of the planet’s biggest stars. And yes – I’ve had the most unimaginable fun. I have been the voice of over 200 TV series, many of them multi-award-winning, the promo voice for over 60 TV channels, acted on over 30 of the world’s top-selling AAA game titles and I’ve voiced over 30,000 TV and radio commercials. Perhaps surprisingly, very little of what I have done survives, much of it having been broadcast, is now far away in the ether – halfway to Mars – and will eventually clatter around the cosmos forever. God help the inhabitants on Planet Zarg at the outer reaches of our universe when ‘The X Factor’ eventually reaches them in the 25 th Century. Lord only knows what they will make of it!”

NATURAL STORYTELLER (AND NAME DROPPER)

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of being in Peter’s company, you know the man is a born raconteur. If you haven’t had that experience, his book Voice Over Man is the next best thing. Not only will you meet a whole cast of colorful, and mostly British characters. You’ll learn about the changing media landscape in the United Kingdom, and how Peter has skillfully navigated that landscape to build an unparalleled portfolio as one of Britain’s most prominent, beloved, and versatile voice talents.

His career started, like so many of us of a certain generation, playing with a tape deck. Peter writes:

“I was a strange kid. Outwardly normal in every respect but with this weird compulsion to talk out loud in rooms on my own. I am laughing now because you could say I haven’t changed one bit!

On passing my eleven-plus Grammar School entrance exam on the second attempt, which was known as ‘the review’, my parents had bought me a brand spanking new National Panasonic cassette recorder, which was cutting edge technology back then, can you believe it? I would spend hours on that, recording little programmes, performing on the fly drop in edits, and reading aloud in the privacy of my bedroom where no one could see or hear me, or so I thought. My father was probably listening at the door thinking “What in the name of sweet Jesus have I spawned?””

And thus begins a journey that leads us to the studios of the BBC, and many other venerable institutions where Dickson’s voice could be heard in many different incarnations. He takes us behind the scenes of the many shows he has worked on, and delights in painting a picture of the often dimly lit, and most unglamorous spaces that were reserved for announcers:

“The old radio continuity desk at Radio Ulster was built like a Rolls Royce and probably cost as much. It was virtually bombproof, which was just as well because there were loads of them exploding on a nightly basis outside. Completed and installed back in the days when budgets were only for Chancellors and Aunty BBC had never heard of a bottom line. All black shiny Bakelite and Formica, with gleaming silver-plated knobs and dials illuminated from behind by impossibly exotic looking German valves with names like Telefunken EL84, which cast a comforting orange glow through the ventilation grill onto the wall behind. It must have cost fifty thousand licence fees. In the centre of the desk were the huge, doorknob sized orange handled ‘pot’ faders. These were the days before the horizontal sliding faders, which are now commonplace on today’s mixing desks.”

I don’t know about you, but when I read that description, I was right there at Radio Ulster. That’s just one of the many aspects that makes Peter’s book such a delightful read. Peter’s son, who is a graphic designer, was responsible for the look of the book. There are lots of cool graphics relating to the voice over world, including a volume knob as a page footer that appears to rotate when you flick through the pages! It’s these type of ingenuous touches that makes this autobiography stand out in a unique way. 

MEETING MOVIE STARS

But the bulk of Peter’s life story is taken up by numerous, humorous anecdotes. Stories, such as this one:

“One afternoon, I found myself alone, wandering down a corridor trying to find the sound stage where Purple Taxi was being shot, when a slightly built man wearing a beautifully tailored suit, stepped out of a room in front of me. There was no one else around and he proceeded to walk in front of me towards a large set of double doors. He stopped, turned 90°, opened the door, motioned with his hand and said, “After you!” Impressed by the stranger’s good manners I turned to him as I walked through and thanked him for his kindness. It was only when I looked at his face, I realised that I was looking at one of the biggest movie stars of all time, and I mean all time. They don’t come much bigger. I was face to face with none other than Mr Fred Astaire!”

Peter Dickson with Boy George

The first part of the book is mainly devoted to Dickson’s fascinating career in radio and television. But when he decides to break free from the confining corporate culture, and venture off on his own, things become even more relatable for voice overs trying to make a living in the gig economy. Dickson:

“The freelance life is altogether more discomfiting. There’s an edginess about it, it’s a hand to mouth, dog-eat-dog, day to day existence where the only yardstick of success is the amount of cash flowing into your bank account on a monthly or in most cases, an annual basis. The freelance world is so uncertain and irregular, that one has to invariably take this longer-term view. Annual income rather than monthly is the more accurate window of measurement. Scary stuff indeed for the dutiful wage slave I had become.”

CHANGING THE GAME

When Dickson became his own boss, he found himself on the road for most of the week, driving from studio to studio, reading script after script. The money was coming in, but at a hefty price because of all the travel involved. He was one of the first voices who saw the potential of ISDN, and jumped at it. Dickson installed ISDN in his home studio in 1999, and it was a total game changer. He writes:

“For those of us who adopted ISDN, it was revolutionary. I could work around the globe from the comfort of my own home, frequently wearing my pyjamas! What other job affords you that level of delicious informality and comfort.”

Peter Dickson at The Price is RightHowever, he soon discovered that every advantage has a disadvantage:

“What I and others hadn’t bargained for, however, was that this was about as far from a sociable way of working as you could imagine. In practice, it was exactly the opposite. I now found myself spending whole days in the studio – often not seeing or speaking to anyone, with only myself for company. Now, I don’t have an issue with this because I am by nature a fairly private individual and like my own company, but some of my colleagues, however, have found it difficult to adapt – and struggle with the long hours in isolation. It was this very issue that led me, Tony Aitken, Lois Lane, Jacky Davis and John McGuinn to found VOX, the world’s first social network for voice talent and much later, gravyforthebrain.com – a global training and networking organisation.

As the saying goes, it takes at least twenty five years to become an overnight success, let alone build a solid reputation. Peter’s long career is definitely a testament to that, and a powerful lesson to anyone thinking of breaking into the voice over business to make a quick buck. There is no such thing as a quick buck, and the buck is rapidly decreasing to fifty cents. 

In his book, Peter pays loving tribute to the many mentors he has had, without whom he probably would have stayed stuck in some stuffy studio as an anonymous disembodied voice. And let’s not forget the crucial role of his agent who seems to present him with golden opportunity after golden opportunity. 

SHORTCOMINGS

Full disclosure, I know Peter personally, and he asked me to write a short quote which you’ll find at the beginning of his book. I like and admire him immensely, so I’m not going to be too hard on him. But I do want to say the following.

If you’re looking for a book that teaches you the art of voice overs, this isn’t it (watch this instead). I had hoped to read a little bit more about how Peter created and maintains his signature sound; how his technique and approach has developed over the years, and how he has weathered the many trends in announcing and voice acting.

When you listen to broadcasts from forty years ago, you know how much has changed. People just don’t speak the way they did in the forties, fifties, and sixties. How does one stay relevant and marketable? Peter makes it sound so easy, and that usually means it is not.

You also have to realize that this is a quintessentially British book. If you’re an Anglophile like me, who grew up watching British TV and listening to the BBC (heck, I even worked for the BEEB), you’ll recognize many of the people that “guest star” in Dickson’s autobiography. People like Sir Terry Wogan, Bruce Forsyth, Harry Enfield, Steve Wright, and many, many more. Peter is of the generation that witnessed the birth of the comedy group Monty Python. When I mention Python to today’s generation, they’ll give you a blank stare and ask: “Monty who?”

That’s why many of the names that Dickson drops throughout his book, even the names of television shows and radio programs, won’t mean a thing to the average American, and perhaps not even to a younger generation in the UK. He tells fascinating stories, but if you’re not familiar with the eccentric characters, why should you even care?

That brings me to the main thing that bothers me a bit about this book. There is so much captivating anecdotal material about other people, that I feel I didn’t really get to know the real Peter Dickson.

Like many of the Brits I know and love, he remains charmingly reserved, not talking about who he is, but about what he does so well.

The Voice Over Man.

Why be so elusive, I wonder? Don’t you want us to know you, or am I so used to my American surroundings where unbridled self-disclosure is a national sport?

And then I was reminded of Peter’s own words:

The audiobook version is available from spokenwordaudio and the hardback, paperback, and Kindle versions are available on Amazon now. The audio version will also be available on Audible. Click here for a long interview with Peter on the Media Focus Podcast.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Are You Suffering From Mic Fright?

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Journalism & Media, Social Media3 Comments

Candid MicrophoneWhile listening to one of my favorite podcasts, Radiolab, I discovered an interesting fact.

Before legendary producer Allen Funt created Candid Camera, he experimented with a different show based on the same premise.

It was called The Candid Microphone, and it first aired on June 28th, 1947 on ABC Radio. Funt came up with the idea while producing radio shows for the armed forces at Camp Gruber.

One of the shows he worked on was called “The Gripe Booth.” Funt asked soldiers to come into his studio and talk about things that bothered them. Here’s what he found out.

During the pre-interview, most of his guests were at ease and happy to talk. But as soon as the red light went on (indicating that the recording had started), the soldiers became extremely nervous and tongue-tied. This phenomenon is called Mic Fright, and it doesn’t make for good radio.

Luckily, Funt found a way around it. He disconnected the red light, and started recording his guests secretly. He pretended to do a practice interview during which most soldiers were… themselves. And when it was time to do the real thing, he told them he already had what he needed. It was a great gimmick to get spontaneous reactions.

Funt knew he was onto something, and when the war was over, he pitched the idea to ABC, and The Candid Microphone was born.

FEAR THE MICROPHONE

It might not surprise you to hear that Mic Fright is a very common condition. Just as some people become very self-conscious as soon as they spot a camera, you’ll find that folks who are normally very eloquent, will freeze up when you put a microphone in front of their mouth.

It’s tough to be natural in an unnatural situation, even for professional communicators.

I’ve worked in radio since I was seventeen years old, and in that time I have seen veteran-broadcasters hyperventilate, and wipe the sweat of their foreheads before they were about to go on air. The live broadcasts were the worst, because there are no retakes when you go live.

Even though I believe the public doesn’t really mind it that much when people mess up on air (who doesn’t like bloopers?), I’ve seen colleagues who were utterly devastated after they misspoke. I’ve often wondered why they would beat themselves up over something that’s entirely human, and here’s what I came up with:

Many of us want to be perceived as being perfect in public.

That’s why we select the best selfie, and use photo editing software before we post it on social media. We treat the world to the highlights of our life, and we don’t expose our darker side. We love sharing our successes, and we carefully hide our failures.

PRIVACY PROTECTION

I completely understand that, by the way. “The world” doesn’t need to know everything about us. We have to protect our privacy and our reputation. The way to do that, is to control and manipulate the message.

Cameras and microphones scare us because they create a situation we can’t predict or control (unless we call the shots). They have the power to expose the private, and make it public. That’s part of the success of a show like Candid Camera. People who don’t know they’re being filmed are much more fun to watch.

Audiences all over the world prefer spontaneous over studied. We want raw emotions instead of rehearsed responses. But there’s something we conveniently forget: in the media, there is no “reality.” At best (or at its worst -depending on your viewpoint), it is “enhanced reality.”

Allen Funt found out pretty quickly that reality in and of itself was pretty boring. That’s why he ended up putting normal people in abnormal situations to see how they would react. I’m sure it wasn’t all comedy gold, and much of the footage ended up on the editing floor.

THE VOICE-OVER STUDIO

In a way, our recording booth is part of the “enhanced reality.” It is an artificial setting that can be quite intimidating, especially to newcomers. Some of my students have admitted that they too are sometimes suffering from Mic Fright, especially during live recordings. Their perfectionism might be part of the problem. They want to do so well that they tense up, and become like the self-conscious soldiers in “The Gripe Booth.”

One of the techniques I use to relax my students, is taken straight out of Allen Funt’s book. As we prepare for the session, we go over the script a couple of times and have fun with it. Unadulterated fun.

What my students don’t know, is that everything is being recorded. In their perception, there is no microphone, there is no right or wrong, and there’s nothing to be afraid of. They’re “just” talking to me, and there is no pressure to perform.

That’s when the magic happens, because people start sounding like themselves. They’re by no means perfect, but perfection is never the goal. Perfection is a perverse illusion, anyway. 

WINNING AUDITIONS

Now, don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I don’t want people to do their best. I just don’t want them to overdo it. 

One of the reasons why some people aren’t winning auditions is because they sound over rehearsed. They focus too much on the microphone, and they forget to have fun. I will often ask them to position the mic above their head, practically out of sight. That way, it doesn’t distract. It’s one of those small changes that can make a big difference.

Sometimes I go bit further.

A few weeks ago, I asked one of my students to print out a life-size picture of a human ear, and tape it to her microphone.

“Why should I do that?” she asked puzzled.

“To remind you that you’re always talking to a person,” I said. “Not to a mic. It might look a bit eerie (pun intended), but you’ll get used to it. I promise.”

Soon after my request she said her Mic Fright was practically gone, and when I listened to one of her auditions, she sounded so much better!

Yes, I know. I’m a genius.

To celebrate the achievement, I proposed to take a picture of her in the booth. “It has to be spontaneous,” I said. “So, I’m not going to tell you when I’m taking it.”

Even though she knew it was coming, my snapshot took her by surprise.

“Smile,” I joked.

“You’re on Candid Camera!”

Paul Strikwerda, ©nethervoice

 

REMEMBER: The One Voice Conference USA 2020 is held from August 13 @ 6:00 pm – August 16 @ 1:00 pm. Click here to buy your ticket. A little over $187 US dollars will get you in the door, and you don’t even have to leave your house. On Saturday, August 15th at 1:00 PM EST I’ll be leading a 3-hour workshop called “Blogging your way to voice over success.” Join me!

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GET YOUR ACT(ing) TOGETHER!

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Freelancing, Gear, Internet, Journalism & Media, Promotion, Social Media, Studio3 Comments

Mykle McCoslin

COVID-19 is killing the entertainment industry.

Most of Hollywood is closed for business. Studios are struggling to survive. Word has it that insurers are unlikely to cover productions for COVID-19 cases when business resumes.

Research by the Society of London Theatre indicates that 70% of UK theaters will run out of money by the end of the year. As you probably know, Broadway has been shut down until the end of January 2021.

Thanks to the Corona virus, thousands of on-camera and stage actors are twiddling their thumbs in desperation. One of them is Mykle McCoslin. She’s also an acting coach, writer, and president of the Houston-Austin SAG AFTRA local. She knows she won’t be returning to the stage or set any day soon. So, what can she do? Mykle says her agents might have the answer:

“Voice over is something that my agents have been emailing me about, saying: You’ve got to do this! Now is the time to learn how to build your own studio and be a professional voice over actor.”

But Mykle was in no way prepared to jump on the VO bandwagon:

“I’ve auditioned from my phone, but I am in no way proficient with the equipment. When my agents contacted me about an ethernet connection and Source Connect, I was freaking out.”

ORGANIZING A WEBINAR 

To learn more about the voice over business, Mykle and her colleague Betsy Curry recently hosted a How to get started in VO event, featuring two guests: tech guru George Whittam, and VO-actor and coach Lindsay Sheppard. It turned out to be a huge hit.

Within the first hours of the webinar, Mykle had over 1K views, 31 shares, and 160 comments. Less than two weeks later we are at 2.2K views and counting. Bear in mind that most actors who tuned in had most likely never heard of Whittam or Shepherd. They were just interested in the topic. What does this tell us?

It confirms what I hear from my agents, students, and on-camera colleagues. Thanks to COVID-19, many more people are thinking of a voice over career than ever before. Who can blame them? But, this does beg the question:

Should we be worried or excited?

Before I answer that, let me tell you that if you are currently a professional voice over (emphasis on professional), the webinar didn’t cover anything you wouldn’t already know. It addressed basic questions like:

  • What equipment do you need?
  • How can you create a home studio on a budget?
  • What types of voice over work are there?
  • Where do you find VO jobs?
  • How do you audition?
  • Do you need a demo, and if so, who can help?

 

Based on the questions that came in, one thing became abundantly clear:

Drama school does not prepare stage and on-camera actors for the demanding and uncertain world of voice overs.

Most actors are unaware of and intimidated by the technology required. If I were an employee at Guitar Center and one of these stage actors came in, hoping to start a VO career, I could literally sell him the cheapest or most expensive USB mic and get away with it. No questions asked.

I’m not saying that to put anyone down. Most voice actors would be totally out of their comfort zone in a television studio or on a film set. It’s understandable that their on-camera colleagues are not very familiar with the ins and outs of VO. 

WHAT NON-VOICE ACTORS DON’T KNOW

Before you’re getting alarmed that thousands of out of work on-camera and stage actors are all coming for our jobs, please keep this in mind:

– Most of them have no setup enabling them to work from home, and if they do, it’s probably insufficient (just think of the Broadway actor in her tiny New York apartment without any soundproofing)
– Most of them don’t even know what equipment they should buy; they may not even have the funds
– They’ve never heard of DAW’s, noise floor, presets, self-noise, Neumann, polar patterns, MKH 416’s, high-pass filters, et cetera
– They only have acting reels but no VO demos
– They may have VO credits, but have no idea how to properly record and edit audio, or how to set up a session for remote direction
– They have no long-time relationships in the VO world, nor do they have an established network of VO clients
– Some of their agents have no idea where to find VO-jobs
– Many of them will struggle with the lack of physicality in voice over work, the claustrophobic working conditions, and the anti-social aspect of the job
– SAG-AFTRA members will go after union jobs, and most of the VO work is non-union
– The lower VO rates, status, and lack of exposure may not seem attractive to on-camera, on-stage talent
– Like most people, on-camera and stage actors underestimate what it takes to have a successful and sustainable career in VO

Tom Hanks once said:

“There are times when my diaphragm is sore at the end of a four- or five-hour recording session, just because the challenge is to wring out every possible option for every piece of dialogue. It’s every incarnation of outrage and surprise and disappointment and heartache and panic and being plussed and nonplussed.”

He said this about his third Toy Story sequel:

“It’s an imaginary stretch. To the point of exhaustion. Because you’re only using your voice, you can’t go off mic, you cannot use any of your physicality. You have to imagine that physicality. In a lot of ways that’s the antithesis of what you do as an actor.”

What I like about these quotes is that they show respect for the challenging work we do as voice actors. You and I know that what we do is not as easy as it sounds, but I think many of us feel undervalued and not as appreciated as the people who walk the red carpet and get all the goodie bags. Not because we stink at what we do, but because we’re the invisibles of the industry. Some have noted that even SAG-AFTRA seems to take our profession more seriously these days (but that’s another blog post). 

THE ADVANTAGE OF BEING A TRAINED STAGE ACTOR

So, what do on-camera and stage actors have going for them when it comes to voice overs?

First and foremost: acting chops.

I happen to believe that the majority of people advertising themselves as “voice actors” are in fact “voice overs.” Voice overs can read a script with a certain authority and clarity, but that doesn’t mean they possess any dramatic acting skills. They are pretty good at reading a script, but not at embodying the text or the character they are paid to portray. It’s out of their comfort zone.

In a way, many voice overs are one-trick ponies like news readers, school teachers, or former radio jocks. You can tell within the first few seconds where they got their start. There’s no emotional range, depth, or color, whereas an on-stage actor is a chameleon, a shape-shifter who is able to act out different characters with subtle but essential changes in the placement of the body and the intonation of the voice.

To use a musical metaphor: most voice overs are like a piano. The sound they produce is adequate, consistent, and rather one-dimensional. An on-camera or stage actor can sound like many different instruments, performing a huge repertoire.

GETTING PHYSICAL

On-camera and stage actors have another advantage: their physicality. Whereas many voice overs are pinned down to their chairs inside a small space, their more dramatic colleagues are not afraid to get into character, twisting their bodies and faces into pretzels to become the person they pretend to be.

Because they are used to learning scripts, they can memorize their lines and sound like they’re spontaneously speaking instead of reading off a piece of paper. It’s the critical distinction between sounding natural and unnatural.

Once again, I’m not saying this to put anyone down. You can’t judge a mime for his inability to carry a tune because he was never trained to be a singer (unless that mime purposefully advertises his singing skills).

Speaking of vocal skills, while many voice overs are struggling to maintain vocal health and stamina, their on-stage counterparts are used to performing up to eight shows a week. From the onset, they already have the chops to record an audio book for five to six hours a day without damaging their vocal folds.

CELEBRITY STATUS

In what other areas can an on-camera/stage actor edge out a voice actor? It greatly depends on someone’s status and reputation. The problem is, voice actors are invisible. Stage actors are anything but, and can use that notoriety to their advantage. 

A-listers can make a killing recording commercials by leveraging their celebrity status, and because of the crisis we’re in, even celebs are becoming more affordable. Having said that, no job is ever guaranteed.

Daniel Stern is known for his roles in films like “Hannah and her Sisters,” “City Slickers,” and the first two “Home Alone” films. He is also the narrator for the “The Wonder Years” and he’s the voice of Dilbert in the animated TV series.

One day, Daniel got a script for a voice-over audition, and his mouth practically dropped to the floor when he read the specs:

“Must sound like Daniel Stern”

He’s thinking: “Piece of cake. This one’s in the bag!”

So, Stern goes to his booth; records a demo; sends it in…

…and doesn’t get the part!

GETTING NOTICED

Another thing invisible actors can learn from their visible counterparts is building a professional presence. On-camera actors have no problem putting themselves out there. I’m painting with broad strokes here, but it is my observation that voice overs tend to be more introverted, and on-camera/stage actors tend to be more extroverted.

We live in a time where branding is more important that ever. You’ve got to be visible in order to be noticed. A strong social media presence is required if you wish to play the game at the highest level. And if you want people to hire you, they need to be able to find you. Otherwise you’re a dime a dozen.

Back to my original question:

On-camera and stage actors getting into voice overs. Am I worried or excited? Should I feel threatened or honored? 

I personally welcome my on-stage and on-camera colleagues to the voice over business, in part because their professionalism forces me to up my game. I know that most of them will outperform me in the acting department, but without a quiet home studio (that doesn’t’ sound like one), their auditions won’t be competitive yet.

And while they’re gaining experience recording and editing audio, I can take online improv classes, redo my website and demos, and increase my social media presence.

In these uncertain times there’s one thing I know for sure.

You can learn a lot in a short amount of time, but you cannot fake the number of years you’ve been in business. Experience, expertise, and integrity are valuable commodities that can’t be bought or rushed, no matter how famous or unknown you are.

I firmly believe that there’s an abundance of jobs waiting for anyone with talent, who is willing to work hard and play fair.

And together we’ll eventually get past this crisis because it makes us so much stronger.

Personally and professionally!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

REMEMBER: The One Voice Conference USA 2020 is held from August 13 @ 6:00 pm – August 16 @ 1:00 pm. Click here to buy your ticket. A little over $187 US dollars will get you in the door, and you don’t even have to leave your house. On Saturday, August 15th at 1:00 PM EST I’ll be leading a 3-hour workshop called “Blogging your way to voice over success.” Join me!

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Whatever Happened to Critical Thinking?

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Freelancing, Internet, Journalism & Media, Pay-to-Play, Personal, Social Media2 Comments

After a brief but beneficent stay in the hospital, I want to take a minute or two, to share some of my worries and concerns as I mentally prepare myself for what lies ahead. 

Thank you, by the way, for all your support and well wishes. I got the sweetest messages from all over the world, and I feel enormously grateful for your kindness!

Now let’s return to my soap box. 

One of the things I worry about is the general level of willful ignorance among those calling themselves voice-over professionals. Increasingly, people without training, experience, or common sense, are populating Facebook groups for voice-overs, asking basic questions.

They have no idea where to start, where to find jobs, how to set up a simple studio, let alone what to charge. They can’t wait to jump into the ocean, but have no idea how to swim.

These ignoramuses write things like:

“I’ve just completed a six-week voice-over training. I think I’m ready to start auditioning, but I have no idea how to market myself. Please help!”

It turns out that this so-called training consisted of one evening a week, spread out over a six-week period. If that’s enough to get a serious career started, it must be magical! However, no one bothered to even touch upon the idea of marketing, so I doubt this program was as comprehensive as the brochure said it would be.

Two things are really bothering me:

  1. The fact that someone is making money convincing impressionable people they can become a VO in six sessions
  2. The fact that people are still falling for these stupid schemes

USE YOUR NOGGIN

Whatever happened to critical thinking? Whatever happened to thoroughly researching something you’re interested in before you fork over a small fortune? Does it really take an extraordinary amount of brain power to imagine that a six-evening introduction might not be enough to break into a very competitive market?

Could this be a sign that the current wave of anti-intellectualism has overtaken our community? I know that for some of you faith and gut feeling play an important role in your decisions. However, our creator has purposely endowed us with gray matter unlike any other species on the planet. Wouldn’t it be sinful to not use it? 

I know this is a huge generalization, but based on what I see in social media, critical thinking has left the building, and common sense has gone fishing, while more and more people expect the keys to the kingdom on a silver platter.

This year I made a conscious effort to no longer help and support people who aren’t willing to learn how to swim, and I implore you to do the same. “Isn’t that a bit harsh,” you may ask?

I don’t think so.

All successful VO’s have at least one thing in common:

They are self-sufficient.

EARN YOUR PLACE

They study up, and by that I don’t mean asking others to answer basic questions for them on Facebook. That’s not studying. That’s asking others to do your homework. 

Please don’t tell me that I’m mean and egotistical by not willing to share information. I’ve been sharing information in this blog for over a decade! Free of charge. 

I got my start in the late eighties-early nineties, and there were no resources available to the aspiring voice over. In Holland (where I grew up), there were only five or six people who booked all the VO jobs, and most of them were stage actors. There were no online tutorials, educational videos, VO coaches, or books about the business. At that time it made sense to ask those who did what I wanted to do for advice. But only after I had exhausted all my research!

These days, you can pretty much find the answer to any voice over related question by doing a quick Google search. If you’re too lazy to even do that, you’re not cut out to be an independent contractor, and you don’t deserve my help.

We don’t teach babies how to walk by holding them up by their arms and dragging them around the room. That way they’ll never develop strong muscles needed to find their own way. Same thing with voice over newbies. 

THINK COMMUNITY

I also want to encourage you to make smart business-related decisions that benefit not only yourself, but our community as a whole. Be more discerning! Stop working with companies that do not have (y)our best interest at heart. You know, the companies that turn your talent into a commodity, where the lowest bidder ends up working for the cheapest client. Do not enable them to increase their influence!

Stop bidding on projects without knowing how much to charge. Don’t settle for a full buyout in perpetuity without proper compensation. If you don’t have a strong backbone, ask an agent to negotiate on your behalf. Support the VO Agent Alliance. Join the World Voices Organization. Sign up for the Freelancers Union. It’s free!

And if you’re a member, keep pushing SAG-AFTRA to take voice actors just as seriously as the other actors they represent. Not just because COVID suddenly opened their eyes to the work we do as professionals.

Above all: stay vigilant!

BE THE CHANGE

Don’t hide your head in the sand hoping rates will magically go up, and “the market” will take care of itself. It doesn’t. Things get worse when people with good intentions sit still, hoping others will lift the first finger. 

Question what you read and what you hear, especially on social media. Always take the source of the information into account. 

Be clear on how you want to spend your time. There are too many forces competing for your attention, and most of them are useless distractions. 

And lastly:

The best chance of changing other people’s behavior is to change what they react to, namely your own behavior, so: 

Use your brain, and become the colleague you most want to be.

That’s the person I’d like to meet next time we see each other in person, or online!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet: subscribe & retweet!

REMEMBER: The One Voice Conference USA 2020 is held from August 13 @ 6:00 pm – August 16 @ 1:00 pm. Click here to buy your ticket. A little over $187 US dollars will get you in the door, and you don’t even have to leave your house. On Saturday, August 15th at 1:00 PM EST I’ll be leading a 3-hour workshop called “Blogging your way to voice over success.” Join me!

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

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

Do you remember your dreams? 

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

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

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

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

When it was finished, the voice returned and said:

“It’s time to go. Follow me.”

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

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

The drop was coming back to the ocean.

It was time to go home!

COPING WITH A DEADLY VIRUS

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

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

Pro Life my ass!

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

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

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

VOICE TALENT AND SPEECH THERAPIST

Hellen Moes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SPEECH PROBLEMS

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

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

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

Hellen at the hospital

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

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

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

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

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

Hellen is one of my heroes.

GIVING THANKS

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

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

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

Have a look:

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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

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How One of Our Own is Dealing with COVID-19

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

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

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

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

Rogers is often quoted as saying: 

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

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

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

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

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

DEALING WITH COVID-19

Jolanda Bayens

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

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

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

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

LACK OF PROTECTION AND EQUIPMENT

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

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

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

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

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

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

NO HEROES

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

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

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

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

It’s all about loving our fellow human beings.

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

Jolanda Bayens, voice over/nurse

 

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

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Sharpening the Axe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

MY PERSONAL REACTION

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

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

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

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

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

Ignorance weakens. Knowledge empowers. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Invest. Invest. Invest.

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

And remember:

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Share, repost and retweet

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All Talk and Nothing to Say

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Internet, Journalism & Media, Personal6 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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Het Mannetje van de Radio

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Dutch, International, Journalism & Media, Personal12 Comments

Vandaag doe ik iets dat ik nog nooit eerder heb gedaan.

Ik schrijf dit blog in het Nederlands.

Wat is daar nou nieuw aan, zal je misschien denken, maar sinds ik in 2007 met dit blog ben begonnen heb ik altijd in het Engels geschreven. De meeste van de bijna veertig duizend mensen die mijn schrijfsels elke week toegemaild krijgen spreken die taal. Vandaar.

De laatste tijd heb ik wat meer contact met jullie, mijn Nederlandse collega’s, en daarom wil ik dit verhaal graag in mijn moerstaal vertellen. Als je me later op Facebook of Instagram tegenkomt, dan heb je tenminste een beter idee wie die Friese Nederlandse Amerikaan eigenlijk is.

Ga er maar even voor zitten.

THE AMERICAN DREAM

Ik weet nog goed dat ik eind 1999 op de luchthaven van Philadelphia aankwam. Mijn hele leven zat opgepropt in twee koffers en een plastic zak.

Een grote groep gillende meiden wachtte me hysterisch huilend op. Die waren natuurlijk niet voor mij gekomen, maar voor de jongens van de razend populaire band *NSYNC die in hetzelfde vliegtuig naar Amerika waren teruggekeerd. Hun grootste hit op dat moment was “Bye, bye, bye.

Na 36 jaar in Holland te hebben gewoond en gewerkt was het ook voor mij “Bye, bye, bye.” Wat ik achterliet was een gebroken hart, een bedroefde familie, fijne vrienden, en een droombaan als baas van mijn eigen trainingsbedrijf.

Het was maar goed dat ik toen nog niet wist dat ik binnen twee jaar opnieuw zou trouwen, vader zou worden, in een slepende vechtscheiding terecht zou komen, dat mijn dochtertje kanker zou krijgen en mijn derde vrouw moest leren leven met MS. Ik had nog geen idee dat ik bijna aan een beroerte zou komen te overlijden, en dat ik amper twee maanden daarna achter de tralies zou worden gegooid.

Amerika. Het land van de onbegrensde mogelijkheden!

Ironisch genoeg waren de Verenigde Staten het laatste land waar ik ooit terecht had willen komen. Ik had niets met de cultuur. Ik vond de meeste mensen maar dom, luid en oppervlakkig, en mijn taalgevoelige oren hielden niet van het accent dat ik overal om me heen hoorde.

Als ik al ergens naartoe had willen emigreren, dan was het wel Engeland. Het land van de stiff upper lip, Monty Python, Shakespeare en de BBC. Maar voor mij liep de weg naar het Verenigd Koninkrijk wel via Hilversum.

PUBLIEKE OMROEP

Mijn omroep avontuur begon toen ik als 18-jarige geselecteerd werd voor de tweede generatie van AVRO’s MINJON, de Miniatuur Jongeren Omroep Nederland. Ik studeerde in die tijd musicologie in Utrecht, en het leek me wel wat om later klassieke muziekprogramma’s te presenteren.

Bij de stoffige AVRO kreeg ik de unieke kans om alle aspecten van radio en televisie te leren kennen, daarbij geholpen door oude rotten in het vak. Ze zagen blijkbaar wel wat in me, want een jaar later werd ik gevraagd of ik samen met Tosca Hoogduin (“voor wie wil gaan slapen, maar nog niet kan”) een programma zou willen presenteren. Zo leerde ik ook producer Imme Schade van Westrum kennen die bekend stond als “de man achter Willem Duys.”

Tosca ontfermde zich als een moeder over mij, en als ze in de microfoon sprak, resoneerde de tafel in de spreekcel mee met haar diep doorrookte stem. Hoewel ze er in de studio nooit eentje opstak, werd de ruimte snel gevuld door de geur van sigaretten die ze uitwalmde. Wij raakten ons radioprogramma “Play it Again” kwijt toen een AVRO-baas op ons tijdstip een Sinatra show wilde presenteren. De man bleek voorzitter van de Nederlandse Frank Sinatra fanclub te zijn.

NAAR DE IKON

Voor mij was het inmiddels tijd om mijn maatschappelijke dienstplicht te vervullen, en dat deed ik bij de Interkerkelijke Omroep Nederland. Die periode begon dramatisch met de dood van Koos Koster, Hans ter Laag, Jan Kuiper en Joop Willemsen, vier journalisten die in El Salvador door militairen weren vermoord.

Paul (L), in een pij bij het afscheid van IKON radio directeur Barend de Ronden. Links Pia Dijkstra.

Dankzij de IKON werd ik ondergedompeld in de wereld van geëngageerde journalistiek. Ik produceerde, ik presenteerde, en ik ging als reporter de straat op. Als zoon van een Gereformeerd predikant en lid van een Gregoriaans koor, voelde ik me als een vis in het water in de wereld van de religie. Ik interviewde net zo makkelijk Eelco Brinkman, de verbannen bisschop Bär, of zijn baas kardinaal Simonis. Ook kreeg ik de kans om met schrijver Henk Barnard te werken. Henk was de man achter “Pipo de Clown” en “Ja zuster, nee zuster,” de televisie waar ik mee was opgegroeid.

Hilversum is maar een klein dorp, en omdat de IKON geen eigen studios had kwam ik vaak over de vloer bij de NCRV en de KRO. Op een dag was ik aan het monteren toen er een omroeper onwel werd in de studio naast mij. Zijn technicus stormde in paniek binnen en vroeg of er iemand was die in kon vallen. Het enige wat ik hoefde te doen was praten tot aan de pips.

Zo begon mijn carrière als freelance omroeper. Mijn stem was jarenlang voor de NCRV te horen, de KRO, de IKON en later ook de Evangelische Omroep. In het nieuwe omroepcentrum lagen de continuiteitsstudios van radio 1, 2, 3, 4, en 5 tegenover elkaar aan hetzelfde “plein.” Op sommige dagen riep ik op het hele uur om voor de KRO op radio 5, en op het halve uur voor de EO op Radio 2. Beide omroepen betaalden gewoon het volle pond.

Bob van der Houven zat in die tijd vaak voor de klassieke zender in de spreekcel. Als hij een lange symfonie draaide hadden we even tijd om in de kantine Ducktales to improviseren. Hij speelde de neefjes en ik deed Donald Duck. Het was het begin van een lange vriendschap.

EINDELIJK NAAR LONDON

Mijn Londense werkplek

Nadat de bevlogen Wim Koole met pensioen was gegaan trad Geerten van Empel bij de IKON aan als directeur. Geerten bood me de kans om een jongensdroom in vervulling te brengen: werken bij de BBC! Dankzij de vele coproducties waren de lijntjes met London kort, en kreeg ik zomaar een eigen bureau in Yalding House. Ik ging als producer bij het Religious Department aan de slag.

In die tijd woonde ik in de peperdure wijk Kensington, in de buurt van het huis van princes Diana. Een rijke erfgename verhuurde tegen een zacht prijsje kleine cottages aan BBC-personeel. Die cottages waren vroeger voor het personeel van de koningin.

Ik had destijds een bekakt Engels accent, en dat opende heel wat deuren voor me. Zo ging ik undercover bij de Britse tak van Opus Dei (een ultra-conservatieve groep binnen de katholieke kerk), ik nam muziekprogramma’s op in de Abbey Road studios, en ik lunchte met rabbi Jonathan Sachs, de chief rabbi of the Commonwealth.

Mijn sluitstuk was het maken van een uur durende Paas special op Radio One, de meest beluisterde zender. Dit programma, “A Damn Good Lie,” zou later de Sandford St Martin Prize winnen voor “excellence in religious broadcasting.”

EEN WERELDBAAN

Terug bij de IKON leverde dat alles een oer-Hollands “Whatever” op, en het werd me snel duidelijk dat ik die club een beetje ontgroeid was. Gelukkig was de Wereldomroep (RNW) op zoek naar iemand voor het programma “Kerk en Samenleving,” (beter bekend als “Kerk en Samenzwering”) dat vroeger door Pia Dijkstra werd gemaakt.

met technicus Rien Otterspeer

Omdat niemand bij Radio Nederland ook maar enige kennis van of affiniteit met het religieuze leven had, en we de paters in Afrika toch tevreden moesten houden, kreeg ik vrij spel. Dat pakte goed uit, want elke week kreeg ik post van enthousiaste luisteraars uit de hele wereld. Op een terugkeerweekend van missionarissen ergens in het zuiden, werd ik al snel omringd door blije broeders en zusters die mijn stem herkenden. Ik had heuse fans, en ze spraken allemaal met een zachte G!

Mijn eilandje binnen de Wereldomroep was mooi en ook kwetsbaar. Bezuinigingen waren op komst, en er gingen zelfs geruchten over opheffing. Het internet bleek onze grootste vijand te zijn, maar de bedrijfsleiding dacht dat wel te kunnen overleven. Ik probeerde intussen te overleven door mijn halve baan aan te vullen met omroepen en nieuwslezen, werk dat Jeroen Pauw vóór mij had gehad.

Radio Nederland zond in de meeste tijdszones uit, en dat betekende dat ik dag en nacht achter de microfoon zat. Het ergste was als er een collega ziek werd, en ik dubbele diensten moest draaien. Ik hoopte stiekem op brekend nieuws zodat ik makkelijker wakker zou blijven.

Die ervaring maakte wel dat je me op elk tijdstip een tekst onder de neus kon duwen die ik foutloos en met gepaste autoriteit uit kon spreken.

ADRENALINE MACHINE

De onrust binnen de Wereldomroep zorgde voor veel personeelsverschuivingen, en ik werd als freelancer ingehuurd voor de nieuwsredactie en presentatie. Ook leverde ik bijdragen aan de Engelse afdeling en BVN, de televisietak van RNW.

Er werden bekende Nederlanders aangetrokken om onze programma’s meer allure te geven. Ik kwam te werken met Joop van Zijl, Harmen Siezen, Noraly Beyer, Job Boot, en Hans Hoogendoorn. Het was een gouden kans om de kunst van hen af te kijken.

In m’n vrije tijd was ik actief in de NVJ en deed ik wat ik kon om de positie van freelancers te versterken. Verder gaf ik mediatrainingen aan kerkleiders die zonder knikkende knieën voor de camera wilden verschijnen.

De radio was en bleef mijn tweede thuis, en ik raakte verslaafd aan het altijd maar halen van onmogelijke deadlines, aan het werkend eten en het etend werken. Het was ongezond voor lichaam en geest, maar de hechte band met mijn collega’s en de dagelijkse adrenalinekick maakten veel goed.

MUZIKAAL INTERMEZZO

Na een lange uitzending vond ik het heerlijk om, als alle lichten waren uitgegaan, de concertvleugel op te zoeken die tussen de studios geparkeerd stond.

Op een avond improviseerde ik in het donker en zong ik zelfgeschreven liedjes, toen plotseling uit een hoek een bekende (en zeer verzorgde) stem klonk. Het was Ilse Wessel die net het laatste nieuws had gelezen.

“Wat klink je goed!” zei Ilse. “Ik had geen idee dat jij dit kon. Heb je daar nooit iets mee willen doen?”

“Ik heb vroeger wel met studentencabarets opgetreden en op bruiloften van vrienden gezongen, maar daar is het bij gebleven.”

“Nou,” zei Ilse, “als je het goed vind bel ik een vriend van mij die in de muziek zit. Ik vind dat hij je moet horen. Mag ik je telefoonnummer doorgeven?”

“Dat zou ik geweldig vinden, Ilse” zei ik. “Wat aardig van je!”

Ilse hield woord, want de volgende dag ging de telefoon.

“Meneer Strikwerda, met Gerrit den Braber” klonk een wat korzelige stem. “Ilse Wessel zegt dat wij elkaar moeten ontmoeten. Heeft u donderdag tijd?”

Zestig seconden later had ik een afspraak met één van de bekendste producers van Nederland.

Het was 2 mei 1997.

Ik kon het haast niet geloven

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Klik hier voor deel twee

 

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