Journalism & Media

Do I get to keep the gear I review?

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Gear, Journalism & MediaLeave a comment

“Can I use this picture for my blog?” I asked my wife.

“If you want to look like a silly person who’s crazy about gear, you can,” she answered with refreshing honesty.

And that’s why you have me grinning, holding a Polsen USB microphone with a fun, retro design.

Now, if you follow my Instagram account (@nethervoice), you probably know that I post a micro blog every single day. One of my most popular entries last week, was a post featuring a gorgeous new stainless steel microphone.

That’s not just a gimmick, but a tool of the trade. Just as photographers need a professional camera to do their job, voice overs need professional sound catchers to make money. As a blogger and occasional gear reviewer, I’ve made it my job to find out how professional these new tools really are.

You know as well as I do that manufacturers feel they have to come out with new models all the time, just to stay relevant, whatever that means. But every once in a while they surprise me with something that’s really innovative and impressive, such as AustrianAudio’sOC18 and 818 microphones.

REVIEWING MY REVIEWS

One of my very first reviews is still my most popular. It’s the one about the CAD E100S microphone. Not to pat myself on the back, but prior to my review, very few in the community had ever heard of Conneaut Audio Devices, let alone of the weird looking E100S.

Today, many of my colleagues own one after reading my review, and it’s hands down the Booth Junkie’s favorite mic. Every other microphone he reviews on his YouTube channel gets tested against the ultra-quiet CAD.

By the way, if you see blue text in bold on this blog, it means it’s a hyperlink taking you to content I’m referring to.

Back in 2012, I was the first voice talent to discover StudioBricks, the Spanish company making game-changing vocal booths that have rapidly become the new standard in our line of work.

Over the years I have also reviewed preamplifiers such as the Audient iD22, and the SSL 2+. I’ve written about studio monitors, acoustic treatment for home studios, shock mounts, headphones, and the hidden dangers lurking in your VO studio.

Next week I hope to introduce you to two new microphones from Earthworks Audio, a company in Milford, NH.

WHAT’S IN IT FOR ME

As you know, most voice overs love talking about gear, but some people are strangely suspicious of my motives. They seem to think that I’m in it to get free audio equipment. Let me give you four reasons why this is complete and utter hogwash.

1. If I need new gear, I’ll pay for it out of my own pocket. Period.

2. A majority of the gear I review, I actually own. The rest usually goes back to where it came from after my test is concluded.

3. I really don’t need more gear that would only be gathering dust. I guess I could give it away in a raffle as an incentive for people to subscribe to my blog. However, that’s a bribe, and I want people to subscribe for the right reasons. Not because of free stuff. Those subscribers never last.

REVIEWS SELL GEAR

4. My last point needs a longer explanation. I think the reviews I write are pretty thorough, and well-respected in our business. They reach thousands of interested people who trust my opinion.

I know that when I make a recommendation, colleagues listen, and they will make a purchase if and when they’re in the market for something new.

My reviews stay on my blog for many years to come, attracting not only voice over talents, but thousands of other people who are researching audio equipment.

This type of publicity is more valuable than any expensive advertising campaign coming from the manufacturer. Ads are by definition biased and manipulative, making people suspicious.

The makers of the products I review are very much aware of this. They also know that I usually spend several days reviewing and writing about their gear. During those days, I could have been making money recording voice overs.

So, as a sign of their appreciation, manufacturers will sometimes tell me to keep whatever it is I review. This, by the way, never influences my opinion.

I once reviewed the Microphone X by Aphex, and a company rep didn’t like what I had written. He got mad at me, and asked for a retraction which I refused. Unsurprisingly, they wanted their mic back, and I was more than happy to oblige.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Please remember: with every recommendation, I put my professional reputation on the line. If I write enthusiastically about something that’s crap, people will find out soon enough and blame me for misleading them. So far, my track record has been pretty good, and I intend to keep it that way.

I don’t review audio equipment to get free microphones and such. I’m just one of those silly, crazy gearheads who is always looking for the next best thing. And oddly enough, there always is a next best thing!

I also know the readers of this blog, and my gear reviews are among the most popular stories I write. So, I give my audience what it wants, while satisfying my twisted curiosity.

That’s a win-win in my book!

One last thing.

As you can see in the sideline of every blog post, I am a member of Amazon’s Associates Program. What does that mean?

When you click on, for example, a microphone link and you decide to buy it from Amazon, I get a very small percentage of that sale. To be honest, it doesn’t amount to much, but every little thing adds up over time.

Now, if you’ll excuse me… I have another microphone to test!

Paul Strikwerda @nethervoice.com

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WHEN NORMAL IS SPECIAL

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Dutch, Journalism & Media, Personal1 Comment

I must have been seven or eight years old.

When I moved from the West of the Netherlands (that’s where you’ll find Amsterdam), to the North, I was in for a culture shock no one had prepared me for.

I will never forget the first day at my new school. Kids surrounded me as if I was some kind of novelty, and they started making fun of me for the way I spoke.

“You talk funny,” they yelled. “Your Dutch sounds so proper.” They said it as if this was not a good thing.

I had no idea what they were referring to. I didn’t do anything special. I just spoke the way I always spoke; the way I was taught to speak.

POSH PRONUNCIATION

I had no clue that the town in the West of the Netherlands I had moved from (Santpoort), was known for being at the heart of where ABN (Algemeen Beschaafd Nederlands) was spoken.

In English you’d call it RP or SAE. It’s the (subjective but influential) standard of how a language should be spoken “Beschaafd” by the way, means “civilized” in Dutch.

So, ABN literally means Common Civilized Dutch, implying that those with a different way of speaking were uncivilized. How stupid!

The people in the West (the part of Holland that was dominant in an economical sense) enunciate very clearly, making many sounds in the front of the mouth.

The Northerners (living in a poorer part of the country) often seem to mumble their words, making many sounds in the back of their mouth.

All my life I had been praised for my clear diction, but in my new school (in the town of Roden, Drenthe), kids were mocking me because of my posh accent. They called me a “show-off,” “the teacher’s pet,” or “the professor.”

MOVING ON

Fast forward ten years.

At the age of seventeen, I had moved from the North to a central part of the Netherlands (Utrecht), and I found myself applying for an internship at one of Holland’s public radio stations to make youth radio programs.

You should know that living in the North had not changed my Dutch accent very much. To me, the way I spoke was like a warm, familiar blanket. I had learned to live with kids making fun of me, and I never felt the need to blend in. I still don’t.

At this radio station, part of the application process was a job interview with the head of the station. I introduced myself, and his eyes immediately lit up. The first thing he said was:

“I just LOVE the way you speak. I could listen to you for hours. It’s perfect for radio!”

Again, the way I talked was totally normal to me, but he thought there was something special to it.

Not to show off, but he hired me on the spot, and it was the beginning of a 25-year career in broadcasting, which eventually led to me doing voice overs.

MEANING AND CONTEXT

Coming back to last week’s story about branding, always remember that you don’t see or hear yourself the way other people see or hear you. And the way other people perceive you, tells you a lot about them. I certainly learned a lot about my mocking classmates from the North.

The meaning of things is always determined by the context, that is, the setting and the circumstances that determine the interpretation and understanding of what’s happening.

For instance, a bunch of people sitting stark naked in a small room, is totally inappropriate if this were to take place during an American voice over conference. But in a Finnish sauna, it would be inappropriate for the same people to wear any clothes.

Same behavior. Different context. Different meaning.

Running a red light is usually a dumb and dangerous thing to do, but running the light because your wife is about to give birth and you need to get to the hospital, is a different matter. You get the picture.

LISTEN TO LISA

I remember voice talent Lisa Biggs telling me how kids at school made fun of her childlike voice. It affected her self-esteem, until – one day – she discovered that there was a need for more mature voice actors who could sound like children. Think Bart Simpson.

Her high-pitched, squeaky voice that was often ridiculed, turned out to be quite the money maker! These days, Lisa is a powerhouse in voice over land. She offers trainings and coaching, and she’s hired by the biggest brands and the best animation studios. If your kids have any speaking toys at home, chances are you’ve heard Lisa’s happy voice.

Again, for Lisa, special was normal. After she had done a talk, a professor once told her:

“Your presentation was great, but if anyone is ever going to take you seriously in the real world, you’re going to have to do something about your voice”.

What in one context was seen as an impediment, turned out to be a big asset in another context. Normal was special, and these days people are taking Lisa’s talent very seriously.

So, here’s this week’s takeaway:

If you ever feel less than positive about something that makes you stand out, please ask yourself: in which context could this actually be an asset?

And remember: your “normal” could be pretty special to the rest of the world.

You might even make a career out of it!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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There’s a new VO show. Watch at your own risk!

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Freelancing, International, Internet, Journalism & Media, Personal, Promotion, Social Media3 Comments

Andrew Morrison

 

There’s a new kid on the block of voice over podcasts.

It’s the Voice Over Coffee Shopwith host Andrew Morrison.

Voice Overs are usually known for their ability to talk, but I tell you what… Andrew can listen! He was kind enough to let me be his first guest.

He kept on asking questions, so I kept on talking. So much so, that poor Andrew had to slice our interview up into three, bite-sized pieces.

Here’s part one:

To be honest, I had to talk myself into watching the podcast on YouTube. Even though I listen to my voice every single day, it’s not easy for me to observe myself. When I listen to my voice, it’s usually because I’m editing a voice over I just recorded. I’m reading someone else’s text, and the words and inflection are very deliberate.

Being interviewed is a more or less spontaneous process. I can choose my own words, and once they’re uttered, I can’t take ’em back, or record another take. That’s why I prefer blogging.

Blogging allows me to edit my thoughts, and sculpt my message until I’m satisfied. Every post you read on this blog contains dozens of rewrites before it reaches you. It’s a neatly manicured lawn, whereas an interview can be a bit of a jungle.

Well, you be the judge. Part two of the interview is right here:

One of my greatest challenges during an interview is my altered awareness of time.

If you’ve been following me for a while, you know that since my stroke I very much live in the moment. That can be a blessing AND a curse.

As recently as last night, I left a burner on our electric stove on the highest setting, after I had removed the pan and served our dinner. I then went up to watch some TV and totally forgot about the stove.

When my wife came down, the thing was red hot, and had been inadvertently warming up the kitchen. Imagine what could have happened, had I left a pan on the burner!

During live interviews I also lose my sense of time, and I just keep on talking. One thought leads to another and another. I’m sure you’ve noticed that while watching the interview. If you haven’t, you must have been in the moment, too!

Because I am aware of it, I instruct my interviewers beforehand to interrupt me when I’m going on too long. In our society, interrupting someone is usually seen as impolite, so, not every podcast host feels comfortable doing it.

If you’ve made it through part one and two, you might as well watch the conclusion.

I sincerely hope you won’t feel as uncomfortable as I am, watching myself. Of course I could have declined Andrew’s request for an interview, but I believe that it’s good to do things in life that make us uncomfortable. “Playing it Safe” is not a strategy I subscribe to.

One thing the great movers and shakers of society have in common is that they never play it safe. Many of them proved that what people believed could never be done, could actually be done once you turn fear into courage, and courage into action.

Those people dare to be different. They dare to stand out, and be laughed at for being dreamers. A flower will never bloom as long as it’s afraid of the sun. 

There’s another thing that holds people back from sticking their necks out. It’s the following thought:

“What will others think of me?”

The moment I released that limiting idea, was the moment my freelance career started taking off.

Here’s the thing.

If you’re doing a good job as a content producer (such as a blogger or podcaster), people WILL talk about you. You actually WANT that! The moment people stay silent, or stop caring, you should be worried.

This is what I learned over time:

No matter how hard you try, you cannot force people to like you, or to agree with you. Even if you think you’ve explained your position to the best of your abilities, there will always be folks who believe they’re looking at a 6, while you are clearly talking about a 9.

Our perception of reality is subjective, and is always a matter of personal perspective. If you don’t believe me, read up on confirmation bias

Now, how you respond to Andrew’s interview with me is up to you. I can only (more or less) control what I send out into the world, including this interview.

One thing I hope you will do, is support Drew and his podcast by subscribing to it on the website, and by subscribing to his YouTube Channel  (as always, all text on this blog that is bold and dark blue, is a hyperlink).

You can also buy Drew a brew, when you click on this link

Talk to you next week!

Please bring a thermos filled with coffee. You might be stuck with me for a while. 

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Mr. Nethervoice is an arrogant Hypocrite

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Freelancing, Journalism & Media, Personal, Social Media10 Comments

So, it happened again.

As predicted.

After last week’s blog was posted on the Global Voiceover Artists Network Facebook group, a very spirited debate ensued.

I LOVE it when that happens!

If you recall, it was a blog about ethics in our business. Apparently, it’s a hot potato in our community. Click here to read the full story called “You are an enabler.”

The gist of the story was this:

Before you accept a job because it pays well, think about the bigger picture. Who or what are you enabling by doing this voice over? Are you selling your soul to the devil for a few bucks? Just because you can do this job, doesn’t mean you should.

TOO POLITICAL

Some thought my article was too political because it mentioned colleagues who had been doing VO’s for right-wing media. Others questioned why I was pointing fingers. Who was I to call people out? Why don’t I mind my own business?

Many responses were supportive of my position, but there’s always this one guy who says:

“Screw morals. I have to put food on the table. I’m a hired gun.”

So, in his model of the world it’s either Money or Morals.

Beware of people who give you false choices. The moment you respond, you have to buy into the limited choices they present to you.

“Do you want A or B?”

What if you prefer C, D, E or F?

Why would you have to choose between money or morals? Can’t you run a for-profit business in an ethical manner? I’ve been doing it for years, and I’m not the only one. You can put food on the table AND be ethical. If you’re one of those rare people with a conscience, you’ll sleep much better at night.

IT’S ALL PRETEND

Then there are those who claim that doing voice overs is JUST ACTING. In other words, we can’t be held accountable for lines other people feed us.

It may be acting, but it’s still enabling!

As I am writing these words, we are observing International Holocaust Remembrance day. During the Second World War, thousands of professional musicians played in orchestras that were used to glorify the Third Reich.

Tell me, were they “JUST PLAYING,” or did they enable a well-oiled Nazi propaganda machine that lead to the killing of millions of people?

WINE AND TOAST

Another person thought he had a GOTCHA-moment by pointing out that I had voiced a national IHOP commercial, singing the praises of Hawaiian French Toast. On top of that, I had had the audacity to record a promo for wine!

Think of the poor souls dying from obesity and alcoholism! I had been encouraging them to eat junk food, and drink alcohol while accusing others of being immoral.

Stop the presses: Mr. Nethervoice is an enabler too!

Let him who is without sin cast the first stone!

I have several things to say about that. First, I never claimed that I am holier than Pope Francis. Secondly, our moral compass is always evolving.

Things we did years ago without reservations, we probably wouldn’t do again, knowing what we know now. I, for instance, used to eat meat. Then I learned about the agricultural-industrial complex, and how animals are mistreated. Now I am a staunch vegetarian. So, depending on where we are in life, our ethics may change.

THE WHEAT AND THE CHAFF

But there is a more important point I’d like to make. It has to do with the way I make ethical decisions in my business. Here’s my thinking:

If a voice over script deals with (purported) FACTS, especially if it’s news and current affairs related, I will think twice about what information I will or will not be spreading.

For instance, if some television news network would ask me to promote the lie that Donald J. Trump won the election and should be president, I would absolutely refuse, no matter how much they’d pay me.

What people see and hear in the context of a newscast, they will take much more seriously (as we have seen on January 6th).

If a voice over script is FICTION, however, it’s much easier for me to say YES to a job. To me, commercials fall under fiction, because anyone with half a brain knows most ads aren’t truthful. Be honest: do you take them seriously?

So, for me, promoting Hawaiian French Toast and Spanish wine falls in the category fiction. Promoting a big fat political lie on cable news as if it were fact, is not okay.

Let me quickly add that those are my personal choices. Different people do different things for different reasons.

WHO AM I?

On to the last point: Who the hell do I think I am to lecture people about what VO jobs they should or should not take?

The answer is simple:

I’m just a guy with an opinion and a blog, who can’t keep his big mouth shut. That’s probably why I am a voice over. But seriously, that’s it.

You don’t have to agree with me. I don’t want to convince you of anything. All I want is for you to look at certain aspects of our business through my colored lens, and then make up your own mind.

If you don’t like what I have to say, move on!

If my writing inspires or amuses you, GREAT!

But please, even if I annoy you and push a few buttons, stay civil. This isn’t FOX News. Don’t make assumptions about me, or utter rude remarks. Those reactions say more about you, than about me.

In the end, the Facebook moderator had to disable the comments because things got a bit out of hand.

Heaven forbid we ever talk about ethics again.

Let’s talk about microphones and Pay-to-Plays instead. Those are not controversial topics, are they?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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You Are An Enabler

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Journalism & Media, Personal, Promotion9 Comments

Yes, you’ve heard me.

I chose the word enabler deliberately. Why?

It’s simple. As a voice over, you’re a service provider. Your job consists of serving others, helping them to reach a certain goal.

Oftentimes, you are literally the mouthpiece of an author, a scientist, a corporation, or even a political campaign.

They have a message that needs to reach the masses:

“Buy this. Buy that. Our butter is the best. Ask your doctor about this medication. Vote for Donald J. Trump. Elect Joseph R. Biden.”

They provide the platform. You are their bullhorn.

They tell you what to say. You say it.

You bear no responsibility. You didn’t write the words. You just said them, and got paid.

Kaching!

Please don’t shoot the messenger.

Really?

You are an enabler. You’re using your voice to entertain, educate, encourage, entice, and even incite.

Ask yourself: To what aim? What could be the consequences?

Don’t tell me you have no impact. Why else would they hire you? The powers that be expect your voice to drive business and move minds.

Every time you record a voice over, you help spread information. You enable the person or platform that paid you to get that information across in the most professional, effective way.

Why YOU, out of all other voices, you may ask?

Because you happen to have a voice people respond to and trust.

YOU HAVE A CHOICE

Now, you could use that trusted voice to spread falsehoods about COVID vaccination or the “stolen election,” or you could use your voice to tell the truth.

You could use your voice to glorify a political candidate who doesn’t believe people are equal, and who thinks this pandemic shouldn’t be taken seriously.

Or you could voice an anti-racism campaign, and a PSA that encourages people to get a COVID shot.

It’s up to you.

Before you randomly accept a voice over job because of all the money you’ll make, ask yourself:

“By recording this script, what or who am I enabling?”

Think about the bigger picture before you think about your bank account.

Our profession isn’t values-free. Just because you can accept any assignment, doesn’t mean you should.

In my opinion, integrity and ethics should play a huge part in our business decisions.

Let me make it personal.

GREEDY HYPOCRITE

I cannot on one hand be a vegetarian, and with the other, help promote the sale of beef, pork, or chicken.

It would make me a greedy hypocrite.

I can’t be in favor of stricter gun laws, and voice a campaign for the now bankrupt National Rifle Association.

Mind you, it’s not for me to tell you where I think you should stand on the political spectrum. Follow your conscience. Use your moral compass. But I want you to think about this.

On December 24, 1913, in Calumet, Michigan. Seventy-three men, women, and children, were crushed to death in a stampede when someone falsely shouted “fire” at a crowded Christmas party.

Words have meaning. Words have consequences. Words can spark and fan flames, as we have seen on the sixth of January, the day the heart of American democracy was threatened by a misguided mob. The day five people lost their lives.

Why was this angry mob there?

Because they were inspired by words from people they trusted.

Because they had been watching right-wing television networks and had been listening to right-wing radio stations spewing out untruths about the recent election.

Some of our voice over colleagues are contracted by those media to assist them in the spread of misinformation.

These colleagues are enablers that had a choice.

THE BURDEN OF RESPONSIBILITY

The only way a corrupt and immoral administration stays in power, is thanks to the support of the many people that do their bidding (and the many that are too afraid to speak out in the face of injustice).

So, if you are one of those voices that enabled the spread of falsehoods, I am calling you out.

YOU SHOULD BE ASHAMED OF YOURSELF!

You helped create and propagate a myth millions of people still believe in, because it was repeated endlessly by trusted voices like you.

Don’t hide behind the argument that you were just reading someone else’s script. Did they force you at gunpoint to do it, or did you have a choice?

Could you have walked away when you saw that things were getting out of hand? Of course you could, but you chose not to.

Don’t hide behind the argument that we have freedom of speech, either. Incitement to hatred, encouraging lawless action, and spreading blatant lies is an abuse of that freedom.

PROFESSIONAL PRIDE

In the beginning of my career, I made a vow to only accept work that would make me proud. This vow has cost me tens of thousands of dollars.

Last year I received a very generous offer from a megachurch to become the voice of their international outreach. My father was a minister, and I used to be a religious affairs correspondent, so this was right up my alley.

Until I did some research, and found some horrible homophobic sermons on the church’s website. Right there and then I knew I could not lend my voice to this faith community, even though it would have paid the mortgage for an entire year.

Anyone can take a symbolic stance, but it really means something when there is a price to pay. I’ll say it again:

My voice is for hire, but my integrity and my soul are not for sale.

THE GIFT YOU WERE GIVEN

You were born with a very special instrument. Some say it’s the most beautiful and most personal instrument on earth. The question I have for you is this:

How are you going to use this instrument?

Will you be an Amanda Gorman, the young poet who spoke so eloquently at Biden’s inauguration, or will you use your voice to help spread falsehoods and hatred on Fox News or Newsmax?

Is your voice a megaphone for good, or a MAGAphone?

What or who are you enabling?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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What We Must Talk About In 2021

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Journalism & Media, Personal5 Comments

A few years ago, I decided to join yet another social media platform.

Instagram.

It filled me with reservation and trepidation. Here’s what was going through my mind:

1. Do I really want to spend more of my valuable time posting and responding to wisecrack quotes and grumpy cat pictures?

2. Would what I have to say be interesting enough to make a positive difference? I already have a Facebook presence and a blog. Enough already!

3. Social media has become a set of self-indulgent platforms for fakers, where blatant lies appear to be just as important as undeniable truths. Experts get as much exposure as idiots, and no one has time to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Fast forward a few years, and look at me now. Almost a thousand Insta-posts, over three thousand followers (@nethervoice), and the numbers are growing by the day.

I don’t know why, but companies I’ve never even heard of are now reaching out to me, to see if I’m interested in becoming their “influencer” or “brand ambassador.”

They will pay me if I mention them, link to them, or hold up a product in a picture.

I could be making money in my PJ’s!

Yeah, forget that. I don’t want to be in anyone’s pocket.

MY THREE CRITICAL KEYS

When it comes to my social media presence, three things are vitally important to me:

Credibility, sincerity, and integrity.

My entire reputation is based on those three pillars.

Credibility comes from the latin word “credo,” which means “I believe.” One of the reasons people seem to appreciate what I have to say, is because they trust me.

Trust is not something that can be bought. It is hard earned over a long period of time.

Even though I am known for being opinionated, my opinions are never based on rumors or on things that can’t be fact-checked. I always do my homework. Now, based on the same facts, different people may come to different conclusions, but that’s what makes life so darn interesting.

OUTSPOKEN AND EARNEST

In my eyes, a sincere person is an honest person who walks his or her talk. I’m not one of those people telling others to wear a mask, while taking mine off when I think no one is watching.

When I tell my readers to value their worth and bill the client accordingly, it would be hypocritical for me to charge a low fee to win a bid on a Pay to Play.

When I review a new product on my blog, and the maker decides to give it to me for free, I will still give my honest assessment. I’ll say it again:

My voice is for hire, but my opinion is not for sale.

You know me: I speak my mind, even if it is unpopular, and even if it could hurt my career. Isn’t that one of the reasons why you’re still reading my ramblings?

Being sincere also means opening up to you as a person, and not only as a professional. That’s why this blog isn’t only about voice overs. It’s about people and the imperfections that make them beautiful and vulnerable.

Between you and me, I merely use the prism of voice overs to talk about things that are much more important than being locked up in a vocal booth to make a few bucks.

MORALS AND ETHICS

Integrity is often explained as “uncompromising adherence to strong moral and ethical principles and values.” Both credibility and sincerity are part of being a person of integrity.

Yes, in some areas I am relentlessly uncompromising. However, many of my critics mistakenly believe that I’m writing this blog to convince my fans and followers of my truth. Nothing could be further from… the truth.

The truth is: it’s not my intention to change anyone’s mind. I do not possess that superpower. I do want to give my followers reasons to change their own minds, or to strengthen beliefs they already have.

By the way, I don’t like the word followers in the context of social media. People aren’t sheep, although they sometimes display sheepish behavior.

Of course I hope you’ll subscribe to my blog and follow me on Facebook and Instagram, but I don’t expect you to agree with everything I do or say. That would be scary and rather redundant.

Back to integrity.

FRESH PERSPECTIVE

Ethical principles and values are deeply personal. They go back to our unique upbringing and life experience. Our morals and convictions are often shaped by significant emotional events. Those events can be empowering and positive, or terribly traumatic.

What I’m hoping to do on social media and in this blog, is to offer people a fresh and different perspective based on my European upbringing and life experience. Here’s a quick example.

As someone who spent part of his life as a broadcast journalist trying to separate propaganda from facts, I realized early on that the truth is constantly under attack. We all know what happens if you keep on repeating a lie over and over again.

You end up with people who believe there’s no pandemic, vaccines are dangerous, the election was rigged, and Trump has a heart.

I publicly use this blog to expose some of the untruths in our line of work, one of them being that anyone can become a voice over.

Now, I know that because you’re reading this blog you don’t believe that, but as we speak, impressionable newbies affected by COVID are being targeted by certain unethical companies, trying to sell them a dead end dream. We need to warn these hopefuls.

LOOKING AHEAD

I wholeheartedly hope that in 2021 we can not only discuss which microphone works best for VO, what to do with mouth noise, how to land an agent, or which computer is better in the studio, Mac or PC.

I hope we will find time to talk about how we can bring credibility, sincerity, and integrity to our profession.

If you’re up for that, you know where to find me!

One last thing before I go.

You may have noticed that this website is losing some of its functionality. The WordPress theme I’ve been using is no longer supported, comments are sometimes disabled, and your messages don’t always reach me.

The good news is that the brilliant folks at voiceactorwebsites are busy building a new blog-centered site as we speak, to be launched next year.

Thank you for all your support and kind comments in 2020. You’ve made a dark year a lot lighter!

Merry Christmas, and a healthy 2021!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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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 Socialwith Nic Redman and Leah Marks

Voiceover Sermons with Terrry Daniel

The Voice Castwith Albert-Jan Sluis (in Dutch)

On occasion I will listen to shows like This American Life, Fresh 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 Scottspends 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 2020is held from August 13 @ 6:00 pmAugust 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 2020is held from August 13 @ 6:00 pmAugust 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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