Journalism & Media

GET YOUR ACT(ing) TOGETHER!

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Freelancing, Gear, Internet, Journalism & Media, Promotion, Social Media, Studio2 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

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Whatever Happened to Critical Thinking?

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Freelancing, Internet, Journalism & Media, Pay-to-Play, Personal, Social Media1 Comment

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!

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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

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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

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BEING BOSSED AROUND

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Journalism & Media, Personal10 Comments
VO Boss team

Anne Ganguzza & Gabby Nistico

Voice-overs love talking into microphones. No surprise there. That’s why a number of colleagues have embraced the podcast as a medium to spread their message.

Truth be told, I have a love – hate relationship with podcasts. You may remember my story “The problem with podcasting” where I explain why podcasts are not my thing:

“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.”

This admission unleashed a storm of hate mail the likes I had never experienced before. People called me an arrogant sun of a gun, a failed, jealous blogger, and all kinds of other names I don’t care to repeat in public. It was clear that I had stepped on some very sensitive, potty-mouthed toes.

LISTENING TO MYSELF

This hasn’t stopped me from appearing on podcasts. I’m always honored that people seem to think I have interesting things to say, but here’s what you should know:

I rarely listen back to my interviews. Why is that?

Honestly, I feel more comfortable trusting my thoughts to my computer than to an interviewer. You see, writing gives me time to organize my ideas, and rephrase sentences until I’m happy with my words. Being interviewed is a spontaneous process (especially when it’s live), and it’s much easier to fumble and stumble. Once your words are out, you can’t take ’em back!

I tend to self-analyze while I’m talking, and I lose my train of thought wondering what point I was trying to make. Sounds familiar? On top of that, my post-stroke brain is often foggy, forgetful, and disorganized. What comes out of my mouth tends to be a reflection of that.

So, when Anne Ganguzza and Gabby Nistico asked me to be a guest on the VO BOSS podcast, I had to talk myself into doing it. One of the reasons for my hesitation was connected to my struggle to control my feelings in public.

 

ACCESSING EMOTIONS

It’s ironic: right after my stroke I couldn’t access my emotions, no matter how hard I tried. I could sense they were waiting behind a huge wall, but I had no way of reaching them. I felt disassociated from what was happening to me, and my speaking voice was monotone and robotic. Only after many, many hours of speech therapy was I able to begin to infuse my words with some emotion.

In March of this year, during VO Atlanta, a miracle happened. I unexpectedly broke through the impenetrable wall, and the floodgates opened! Since then I’ve become this overly sensitive and sappy guy whose eyeballs start leaking while watching sad and sweet stories on TV. I’m particularly moved by people helping people who are down on their luck.

Those who are close to me say it’s a good thing that a man dares to be vulnerable and show some emotions. They wish more men would show that side of their personality. To me it feels like I have no choice but to tear up, and I’d like to be able to control my feelings a bit better.

One of the things I have learned during my recovery is that I can’t force anything to happen. It will happen when the time is right. Perhaps I will always stay this way, and you’ll catch me crying during a podcast. Perhaps I’ll get a grip and contain myself in the future.

MY VO BOSS MOMENT

So, here’s the interview with Anne and Gabby. The one I’m not going to listen to.

Will you do the honors?

A huge thank you to the VO Boss team for having me on the show, and thank you for listening to the podcast!

Can I please get back to my computer?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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The Essence of Excellence

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Journalism & Media, Personal7 Comments

Some have called him the greatest performer of spoken word of our time.

His videos have brought YouTube viewers to tears. His powerful performances turned comic book addicts into poetry lovers.

In 2000, he won the individual championship at the National Poetry Slam in Providence, Rhode Island – beating 250 North American competitors. In doing so, he became the first-ever winner from outside the U.S.

His first published collection, Visiting Hours, was the only work of poetry selected by the Guardian, Globe and Mail newspapers, for their Best Books of the Year lists in 2005.

And yet, most people have never heard of him.

OLYMPIC MOMENT

All of that changed when Shane Koyczan recited his poem “We Are More” at the opening ceremony for the 2010 Winter Olympics held in Vancouver, British Columbia. The man who was born in the obscure town of Yellowknife in Canada’s Northwest Territories, wowed the world with his words.

Most footage of that performance is of very poor quality because the Olympic Committee regulates the rights to the original broadcast and we’re stuck with amateur video.

Here’s an extended and animated version of “We Are More” (click on Watch on YouTube).

The reason I’m writing about Shane today can be summarized in one word:

I N S P I R A T I O N

Most days I wake up on the right side of the bed and everything just flows. Some days I feel stuck in a rut and I catch myself doing the same things I’ve always done, hoping to get a different result. It never works, does it?

To some, living life on cruise control might be the ultimate goal, but as soon as I find out that my brain has secretly switched on the autopilot, I tell it to turn it off and start doing some stretching exercises.

A big part of me has this inner urge to always learn and grow and expand what I am capable of. In order to do that, I need to be challenged beyond my boundaries. It’s the best way to escape my cozy comfort zone. But where to go? Whom can I turn to?

I am always on the lookout to emulate excellence. If I want to be the best, I have to learn from the best. That might sound straightforward to you, but in our culture that is not necessarily the predominant philosophy.

ROLE MODELS

I never understood why medical researchers seem to spend more time studying illness instead of learning about wellness. During their training, doctors-to-be poke around in dead bodies, supposedly learning the secrets to saving the living. They spend most of their time around the sick and the dying, and some of them eventually become specialists in a particular disease.

The study of the dysfunctional is the norm, but it doesn’t have to be.

In certain schools of Oriental medicine, doctors get paid to keep the people in their care healthy. Their focus is much more on preventing the root cause of a problem, rather than on treating or alleviating symptoms. Instead of trying to find a cure for diabetes, they are teaching their “patients” (they call them “students”) about a healthy diet and an active lifestyle.

It is a well-known fact that Western doctors have more problems with drugs and alcohol, and a higher suicide rate than their patients. (source) Most Oriental healers practice what they preach and keep on practicing well into their senior years. In their culture, the wisdom that comes with age is held in high regard, instead of hidden in underfunded assisted living facilities.

FINDING FAULT

Like doctors, many professionals are trained to spend most of their time on sick systems, tracking and analyzing problems. Psycho-analysts come to mind, as well as lawyers, economists and -dare I say it- politicians. We have become masters at focusing on what’s wrong and finding someone or something to blame.

“Fast food and soda made me fat. I didn’t do it!”

What would have happened after 9/11, had we invested just as much money and brain power into building bridges between people, cultures and religions, as we have invested in beefing up homeland security? Or have we ignored the causes while we were busy trying to treat the symptoms?

Why not focus on creating beauty and cultivating friendships as we fortify our nation to prevent more death and destruction? How can we sow the seeds of peace and understanding if we spend all our money and manpower building more barriers and billion-dollar walls to protect us? Is that a sign of desperation or of inspiration?

CHOOSING POETRY

I admit it: I have my dark days. When I look for inspiration, I sometimes turn to poetry and to my favorite poet: Shane Koyczan. He’s called a spoken word virtuoso for a reason.

As a professional speaker, I admire the way he hammers his words in with heart and with soul. They almost burn into my brain. I’d love to emulate his mastery of language and moving delivery. His artistry is the challenge I am looking for. His depth is what I aspire to.

Shane speaks to me in a way few other people do. One moment he seems to tenderly touch his words with velvet gloves, only to start building a tremendous crescendo of ideas and similes and associations my mind tries to process intellectually but cannot, until what’s left is an overwhelming feeling of intense exaltation.

It’s almost a hypnotic induction.

A great example of his style is the poem “Beethoven”. Even though the quality of the recording leaves a bit to be desired for, it is a monumental performance.

Shane Koyczan still performs his work for sold out houses, but he has done something else. He created a new genre called Talk Rock with his band the Short Story Long. His unique mix of song and verse won him the “Best New Artist” award at the BC Interior Music Awards.

WORD POWER

Even though the poetry corner at my bookstore seems to be shrinking, the spoken word is alive and kicking. And I can’t help but wonder: what would happen if the world would feed itself with the art of poets, painters, dancers and musicians instead of with the language of hate, discrimination, intolerance, fanaticism and violence? 

I also wonder how we as voice-over artists can do our part to change this world through the words we speak.

If you ever need inspiration, just listen to Shane.

To me he personifies the essence of excellence.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS What inspires you? Who is your inspiration?

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Bodalgo Founder Launches voices.net

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, International, Internet, Journalism & Media, Pay-to-Play4 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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