Journalism & Media

A Friend Vanishes. Now what?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Journalism & Media 18 Comments

Police officersAbout a week ago, my good friend Mark left his home early in the morning to go to work.

There was nothing unusual about that, except for one thing.

He never arrived.

That day, Mark did not come home either, and he did not respond to increasingly desperate text and voice messages from his wife Maggie.

Mark disappeared without a trace.

As you can imagine, Maggie was at her wit’s end when she asked my wife and me to help look for her husband. But where to begin? Whom to call? And what would we tell their 11-year old daughter?

The police were notified. A missing persons report was filed. Hospitals were called. Again and again. It felt like we were part of some television drama. Except, this wasn’t scripted, and we weren’t acting out scenes. This was raw and real, and our friend was probably in danger.

Once we realized that Mark wasn’t coming back any time soon, we used social media to alert as many friends, colleagues, and family members as possible. The day after Mark disappeared, police forces in several states, church groups, girl scouts, teachers, and the news media were searching for our friend.

As the hours went by, we hoped for the best, and feared the worst. The hardest part was not knowing what was going on, and when and how it would end. 

Looking back at this time, I learned a few things I want share with you.

EVERYTHING CHANGES

For one, the definition of what’s important in life completely changes when one of your best friends goes missing. All of a sudden, the little things that seemed so annoying, aren’t worth fussing about anymore. 

As we were working around the clock to potentially save Mark’s life, I was also struck by the fact that so many people are pursuing things that are utterly trivial. It is the luxury of the careless and carefree. Until the day Mark left, I took that luxury very much for granted. 

Third, responses to Mark’s disappearance fell into two categories. One group of people told us they were “hoping and praying.” The other group asked us: “What can we do to help?” Both responses we much needed, and much appreciated!

Following that, I discovered something else. Getting help is not always easy, but if you need it, you have to ask for it. Shamelessly. Of course Mark’s wife felt uncomfortable having to share her husband’s disappearance with the world. But as soon as we started reaching out, people we didn’t even know existed began organizing search parties.

Friends of friends just happened to know police officers in the area where one of Mark’s phones was located. One person was friends with a producer for Dateline NBC. Perhaps we could take the story national! People also started making meals for us, so we could focus on our search. After all, time was ticking.

LOOKING IN THE WRONG PLACES

I also learned that it was very easy to waste precious time taking the right action in the wrong direction. Here’s one example. 

By pinging one of Mark’s cell phones, it was possible to locate the tower origin of the last signal his phone received. This turned out to be a rather bad neighborhood of a town in New Jersey. That’s where the police hoped to find Mark and his car. When nothing turned up, we got extremely worried.

Later on we learned that Mark was nowhere near that town, but that somebody had probably stolen one of his phones, and had taken it to that location.

With almost no leads, and no signs of life, imagine our response every time the home phone rang. At times, the uncertainty was unbearable. But throughout this ordeal we kept on believing that our friend would eventually be found, and be reunited with his family. Pessimism was another luxury we couldn’t afford.

AN UNEXPECTED CALL

Mark disappeared on a Wednesday morning. Friday night his wife came back from picking up their daughter, when she noticed that someone had left a message on her phone from an unknown number. When she listened to it, she shrieked. It was Mark. He asked to be picked up at a shopping mall in the area. He was exhausted but alive.

An hour later, Mark was home again, hugging his wife and daughter.

What prompted him to disappear for a few days, only Mark knows. There were a few problems in his life that he didn’t know how to solve, and he needed time to clear his mind and sort things out. He now knows that what he did was an act of desperation, and that he needs professional help (which he is already getting). 

Once he was back, he also realized that no matter how bad things seemed, and how lonely he may have felt, he was never alone. He was surrounded by people ready to lend a helping hand. 

At this point you may wonder why I am sharing Mark’s story on a blog about freelancing and voice-overs.

THE BIGGER PICTURE

My first reason is personal. Because I love what I do so much, I have a tendency to be obsessed with my work. I spend long hours in a small studio recording in solitude, and when I’m done, I write about it on these pages. Sometimes I even think that what I do has some significance.

Surely, it is a lot of fun, and it pays a few bills, but in the grand scheme of things it’s just a means to an end. All the battles I’ve been fighting on this blog about rates, reputation, and professionalism… those battles could wait until a friend was found.

Professionally speaking, Mark’s story demonstrates that it’s easy to waste time and energy taking action in the wrong direction, hoping and praying for something that is never going to be. I think of the many people who have been talked into a voice-over career who just don’t have what it takes (apart from a credit card). They throw money at online casting sites, and spend hours and hours auditioning for jobs they’ll never get.

No matter how hard you work and how much you invest, you’re not going to find what you’re searching for, if you’re looking in the wrong places.

CONNECTIONS

And finally, I have to talk about the importance of a support system. Whether we realize it or not, all of us are connected in many unexpected ways. Even when things seem dark and hopeless, there are people you may not even know, who care and who can help. Whether you have a problem with your business or it’s something personal… all you need to do is reach out, and ask.

There is a reason why we’re not on this planet by ourselves. Of course that’s both a blessing and a curse.

A journalist once asked a famous theologian why G-d would allow so much evil to happen.

The theologian answered:

“G-d is not in the evil action. G-d is in the loving response.”

Well, the response to Mark’s disappearance was heartwarming, and it gave us hope and the strength to continue our search. But it did more than that.

Somewhere on his lonely journey, Mark felt that something was pulling him back home. He couldn’t quite put his finger on it, but he knew that he had to return, and that everything would be okay.

Eventually.

You see, what happens to us is something we can’t always control.

The one thing we have control over, is how we respond.

If you were one of “our” responders, I want you to know that you have made a difference, and Mark, his family, and his friends will be eternally grateful for what you did.

You’ve made this place a better world!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet.

photo credit: gay celebration dolores park — dyke rally, pre pink saturday party : sfpd, police officers, dolores park, san francisco (2013) via photopin (license)

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Voices.com: Unethical and Greedy?

by Paul Strikwerda in Journalism & Media, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play 138 Comments

On October 15, 2014, Susan Truppe, the Canadian Member of Parliament for London North Centre, visited the offices of Voices.com for a second time. She did not come empty-handed.

That day she announced that “Voices” would be receiving $900,000 from the government “to go global by expanding its project management division and translating its products into additional languages.” (source)

She had some nice things to say to the owners of Voices:

“Taking a business idea and turning it into something that does well in commercial markets is something we need to see happen more and more in Canada. The founders of Voices.com have done this extremely well and I congratulate you, David and Stephanie Ciccarelli. (…) You have grown your business into a marketplace valued by radio and television stations, advertising agencies and Fortune 500 companies.”

Notice which category was missing?

Voice actors!

EXPANSION

$900,000 may seem a lot of money, but it’s not nearly enough if you have big plans.

In April 2015 it became clear that Voices had secured $2 million from BDC Capital, and according to Voices CEO David Ciccarelli, his company has raised $5 million so far, all of it debt financing. Talking to the Financial Post, Ciccarelli added that he estimates his company to make $15 million in gross revenue over the next 12 months, and that Voices will exceed $100 million in annual revenue within three years.

In June, Voices announced that it would open up shop in New York City. According to the website TechVibes, 85% of Voices.com’s customers are located in the US, and a majority of the company’s 125,000 voice talent are located there.

Did you know that voices.com had a database of 125.000 members?

Again according to TechVibes, the Canadian company is experiencing 400% year-over-year growth, and it expects its workforce to reach up to 200 employees by the end of 2016.

SUCCESS STORY

From a business perspective, Voices is a success story Canada can be proud of. By all accounts, the two owners are intelligent, hard-working people, who want their company to be the leading voice casting service on the planet.

There’s nothing wrong with being ambitious, but what an increasing number of members are concerned about, is how those ambitions are being realized. They know that without voice talent, the company would have nothing to offer. One might as well remove the word “voices” from Voices.com.

However, the very people who are at the center of the company’s growth, feel they’re being treated like second and third-rate citizens. The massive response to last week’s blog post, attests to that. The story has been viewed more than ten thousand eight hundred times, and if you haven’t seen it, stop what you’re doing, and read Voices.com Is Slapping Regular Members In The Face.

In the days after this article was published, we learned a lot more about the business practices of Voices.com, thanks to many colleagues who decided they’ve had enough. Here are some themes that emerged from hundreds of comments:

1. Voices.com is driving VO-rates down.

While the price of membership goes up and up, voice-over rates are going down and down. That should come as no surprise. Voices tells clients on their “About-page” that by using their services they can expect a “50% savings on voice talent and audio production and administrative costs.”

Big corporations and institutions that used to pay talent a decent rate, can now book a voice at a bargain. Good for them. Bad for us. Once clients are used to lower prices, why would they ever want to pay a penny more?

2. Voices.com may take more money than you make.

Let’s assume a client pays Voices $650 for their services. That doesn’t mean the talent will see or get $650 for a voice-over narration. Colleagues tell me that Voices will often show the job as paying much less, from which a 10% escrow fee will be deducted as part of their SurePay™ system that every member is forced to use.

This is not some random example. This actually happened to voice-over Andrew Randall. The client was already a contact of his, and told him how much they had paid Voices to get the job done. Andrew writes:

“The rate Voices.com originally posted on this job was $440. Deducting their 10% escrow fee, that would have left me $396. That means Voices.com was intending to keep $254 of the client’s voice-over talent budget of $650, or a staggering 39%.”

This particular job was handled by Voices’ Professional Services team. This division will cast the job on the client’s behalf, and more and more projects are handled this way. It seems fair that a client pays a bit extra for this service, but close to 40%? That’s a huge cut of which the voice talent will never see a dime.

A ticked off Andrew responds:

“Union agents are only legally allowed to take 10% of a talent’s fee, and even non-union agents never take more than 20%, and usually 10 to 15%. I wonder how much money I have lost over the years from previous jobs for which I was unaware that Voices.com was taking such a huge cut of my fee. I may seek legal advice to see if I have a case to request those exorbitant fees back.”

But there’s more.

One disgruntled Platinum member told me she booked a job through Voices for $400, not knowing who the client was because Voices didn’t list it. And since Voices explicitly forbids talent to contact clients directly, she couldn’t ask.

Once she got the script, she found out that it was for a MAJOR global brand. The video she ended up narrating has over 3 million hits and counting. She said she has a feeling that Voices charged the client a much higher fee, and pocketed the difference.

A fellow-voice-over agreed, and said:

“They do take $ and hide what the client is actually paying. Another talent mentioned earlier today that they had a friend who booked a job at $1500 (outside of the pay-to-plays) and Voices posted that same job as paying $250. I’ve heard several different accounts of this happening from different sources now.”

This practice doesn’t only insult talent. It also angers those who use Voices to hire talent. A producer just commented:

“I had a recent job where my offer was $250/voice, and the talent told me that they were told by Voices that the job was only $120. This pisses me off because it makes me look like a cheap bastard and some good talent probably passed on auditioning since they saw the job as too low budget for them but in reality, it wasn’t.”

3. Voices controls how much you can “play,” based on what you pay.

As a regular Premium member, you will never see all the jobs that are in the Voices.com system. That’s how it is set up.

As I reported last week, a select group of 100 Platinum and Platinum Unlimited members who pay $2500 or $5000 respectively, are invited to more public job postings, and will get more private invitations than any of the other 124,900 members. Not because they’re more talented or more experienced, but because they paid Voices to give them preferential treatment. They’ll also receive VIP customer service.

One voice talent responded:

“What about everyone else who cannot afford $2500 for a membership, let alone $5000? They are basically making those talents audition into the void and completely waste their time. It’s not about TALENT anymore with this system- it favors those who will put in the money. As someone who grew up very poor, this makes me incredibly sad- and truly outraged.”

Someone else added:

“If I could afford the $2500, I wouldn’t need Voices.com”

Of course Voices.com cannot guarantee any member at any level that they’ll ever get selected for any posted project. They may control the flow of auditions, but they can’t tell the client whom to hire. 

Since my story broke, I have heard from a number of Platinum members, all of whom have been in the business for many, many years. One of them was voice talent and coach Deb Munro. She commented:

“I received more private auditions and made my initial investment back, but not much more than that either. I am floored that they are offering another tier [The Platinum Unlimited membership, PS]. This will be the demise of the site in my opinion, once more exposed.”

Here’s another point most commentators seem to agree on:

4. Auditioning on Voices.com is pretty much a waste of time and money.

Just listen to what three experienced voice-overs had to say:

“I auditioned like crazy, got one gig. 95% of my auditions were never even listened to. I finally would only audition if it was a 90% or better match, and less than 25 people had already auditioned, still nothing. I don’t know what the secret code is, but I couldn’t crack it, and I get plenty of other work.”

“The count of my auditions at Voices.com is in the high hundreds, and I’ve landed a total of two jobs – both from the same employer. I’ve received quite a few “likes” on my work, but a large number of my auditions go unheard and many more projects get closed without any further action. Spend more for better treatment and more visibility? Can Voices.com guarantee I’ll earn my investment back? On both counts, I think not.”

“Wow! I swore off P2P years ago. I thought it was not for me. This new Platinum Unlimited membership level brings it to a whole new level of wasted effort! I know there are some talents who have landed spectacular clients and/ or ongoing gigs. But that seems to be a rarity.”

Can it get any worse? Well, here’s another conclusion many colleagues seem to share:

5. The business practices of Voices.com are unethical. The company exploits naïve beginners, and doesn’t care about voice talent.

Here’s a small selection of comments on that topic:

“Monetize all the things” seems to be the new business model. Even inventing things to monetize. Yeah, one year was enough.”

“I would come back with open arms if they stopped the bidding wars, stopped undercutting their talent, and started representing their talent honorably. They have essentially taken over the job of a talent agent, and are NOT treating their talent according to the principles true talent agencies do. In the process, they are putting real talent agencies at risk – the real workers who fight for the talent. It has to stop.”

“I hate the way they run the company now. They used to pretend to care about members. Now they don’t even pretend to care. They just show utter contempt. David and Stephanie can run their company how they like. I will no longer support it or recommend it to other actors.”

“The arrogance and abusiveness of this company is astounding.”

Voice talent Todd Schick does’t mince words on his website:

“Some people are devoid of ethics and morals; they simply can’t see the benefit – monetarily or otherwise – to treat others in a fair, ethical manner.
Indeed, I’ve heard personally from former employees at Voices.com who have been threatened….now in fear of coming forward. Those that work there are rumoured to have been told to toe the line or be fired. Further still, talent who make noise about this issue are blacklisted (…).”

WHAT WILL HAPPEN NEXT?

You have read the critique. The question is: will it make a difference? Many colleagues are cynical:

“Paul rightly calls them on their tactics, but Voices.com knows VO-land is disorganized and that there will always be newbies willing to under-bid on a job to get a foothold in this job field. For every one subscriber who quits the P2P in disgust, three more step up with dollars in hand.”

“They’re making money hand over fist. That’s all they care about. They’ll ignore this until it dies down, and then continue to think of new ways to fill their coffers.”

I have blogged about Voices.com before, and whenever I do, it always seems to hit a raw nerve. People share these stories on social media, and comment like crazy. But this time, one thing was definitely different, and I’ll tell you what it is.

Normally, I would always get a few commentators who would come to Voices.com’s defense. They’d tell me how much they love the site, how much money they had made, and that business was booming thanks to this Canadian company. Some said I should stop being so mean to Stephanie and David.

This time around…. nothing.

What I heard instead was this:

“I’m done.”

“I called customer service, and cancelled my membership. I should have done it a long time ago.”

Time after time after time.

And you know what else? In the midst of all this bad publicity, the company isn’t even attempting to do any form of damage control. They’re not denying anything that has been said or written.

At their headquarters in London, Ontario, it has been quiet.

Disturbingly quiet.

Voices.com seems to have lost its voice.

Oh well…

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!

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Casting Pearls Before Swine

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Internet, Journalism & Media, Promotion, Social Media 27 Comments

handing out adviceTo an ignorant outsider, the voice-over community I belong to may seem cutthroat.

Yet, if there’s one thing that makes it stand out among other freelance groups it is this:

Voice-overs love to share.

People with no or very little experience can expect a warm welcome, and a helping hand when they join an online VO-community.

Do you need advice on a microphone? You’ve got it!

Are you wondering how to soundproof your booth? We’ve got you covered!

I could easily spend all day answering questions from people I don’t know on Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social media. However, those days are pretty much over. Why?

Because it is a thankless task that eats up time, and doesn’t build my business.

Perhaps I better explain myself.

LURING LURKERS

Here’s what I know about internet culture. Most online communities consist of lurkers. You know, the people who observe, and very rarely participate. These folks like to take, but never give. They want to play the game, but they never show their cards. Have they earned the right to pick my brain? I think not.

It also consists of lazy people who never learn; people who want you to do their homework. Sorry, but I’m not going to enable an attitude of entitlement. 

Can you imagine a teacher spoon-feeding her kids by giving them all the answers on a silver platter? I thought the purpose of education was to make children resourceful and independent. 

I’ve also noticed another trend: many members of online voice-over communities are simply not serious. How do I know? Just look at the basic questions people ask. If they had half a brain and a genuine interest in the subject matter, they would have figured it out for themselves. But no, they apparently need a pro to hold their hand. Poor babies!

“But Paul,” some people respond… “Don’t be so harsh. You were once a newbie. You had to start somewhere, didn’t you?”

Of course I did, but here’s the thing. When I embarked upon a career in radio, I had more questions than answers. I made it my mission to find as many answers on my own, before asking for help. I didn’t want to embarrass myself in front of a pro. I wanted them to know that I had done my homework.

So VO-newbies, if you want to earn my respect, do your research!

INVESTING IN THE FUTURE

Thinking back to my start in radio, here’s what comes to mind: I was serious, I was committed, and I was willing to make an investment.

You see, that’s another thing that’s missing these days. This is the age of the free ride. Why pay for a song if you can download it at no cost? Why pay for Netflix if you can watch a pirated movie online? Why pay for expert advice if the experts are giving it away?

If we don’t value what we have to offer, we can’t expect others to find it valuable either. Those who are willing to make an investment, are usually invested in the process. Those who are not, have other priorities. 

“But Paul,” some people commented, “wouldn’t it be good for your business if people got to know you as someone who knows his stuff? You might even get some coaching clients out of it!”

Let me tell you something. In all the years that I have chimed in on Facebook or Google+, no one ever contacted me for coaching because they liked my answer to their question. Nine out of ten times I didn’t even receive a “thank you,” or other sign of acknowledgement. That’s why I call it a thankless task. People simply get what they need, and move on.

Well, that’s not entirely true. Some did ask about coaching, but as soon as I told them my rate ($125 per session), they said they were just “exploring options.” It is the epitome of not committing. 

Now, there’s another reason why I won’t be handing out free advice to every Tom, Dick, or Harry. I’ll explain by quoting a question I recently received from Mandy:

Paul, I read your article about your most embarrassing moment in your voice over career. You said that you used to use voices.com, but were only able to book a handful of jobs before leaving the site. I’m a voice actor as well and have been primarily using voices.com to find work. Now you said that you don’t really like the pay to play model and prefer to get work elsewhere. So my question is: what do you recommend for someone like me who is still new to voice acting? Are pay to play sites the only way for me to go being so new? I don’t have a demo or an agent so I don’t have people contacting me about jobs either. What options do I have? I haven’t really gotten much success with voices.com either, and voice acting is not my main source of income. I would very much like to learn and get better at voice acting too. Any knowledge or insight you can share would be great, thank you.

HERE’S MY ANSWER

Hello Mandy:

There are many ways in which I could respond to your comments and questions, but I have to say this first:

Without demos, industry contacts, experience, or an online presence, it’s virtually impossible to build a voice-over career, especially on the side, and especially in 2018.

I haven’t heard your work, so I can’t even tell whether or not you’re uniquely talented. This makes it really hard to give you advice. 

Some of my coaching colleagues might even question whether or not you’re serious about voice acting. They’re definitively not going to give you any recommendations on a silver platter. Their time and expertise are worth something.

I will say this, though.

The only way to get better in this field, is by taking trainings, and/or by working with a coach. Very much like driving a car, you can’t pick voice acting up from a book. You can’t teach it to yourself either, because you’re limited by your lack of knowledge. 

Overall I’d say that it is unwise to put yourself out there when you aren’t ready. No one opens a restaurant without knowing how to cook, right? 

The voice-over world has too many home cooks who all believe they’re the next best thing since sliced bread, and they don’t stand a chance against professional chefs. 

So, please don’t put the cart before the horse and expect to get work. Put in your time, make the necessary investments, learn the ropes, and build a solid home studio. Then we can talk about attracting clients.

Does that make sense?

This probably wasn’t what Mandy expected to hear, because she never responded. 

When it comes to a VO-career, there are too many people with their heads in the iCloud, and all of them believe they could be the next Don LaFontaine. Someone’s got to tell them that that’s never going to happen. Otherwise they’ll fall for all the propaganda from demo mills, unscrupulous VO-coaches, and greedy online casting sites.

UNDERSTAND FIRST

I do want to point out one more thing I tried to convey in my answer to Mandy: it’s rather pretentious to give advice to people you know very little about. You wouldn’t want a doctor to write you a prescription without having fully examined you, right? Yet, with the best of intentions, colleagues dish out advice left and right without knowing whom they are talking to. Stephen Covey was correct when he coined the phrase:

Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

I see a lot of people trying to be understood, without really understanding what the issue is. Do you know what I mean?

One last thing.

If all of the above is true, -and I believe it is… why am I still blogging? Isn’t that handing out unsolicited advice to people I don’t even know?

I suppose it is, but you know what? I pick the topics. I usually ask the questions, and I come up with answers. And most of the time, I feel very much appreciated.

Before I started blogging, very few people had even heard of this Flying Dutchman and his voice-over business. Now I am one of the go-to people when companies ask for someone with a European accent. Clients come to me when they need a native Dutch speaker. In other words: this blog has helped me build my business.

If people seek me out for my expertise, they have to come to my site, and not to someone else’s online platform. The amount of traffic this blog generates is worth more than any online ad campaign could give me. And the many friends I have made along the way… that’s simply priceless!

The way I see it, everybody wins, and that is why I will keep on sharing on my turf and on my terms. 

And yes: you’re welcome!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be Sweet. Please Retweet!

photo credit: Pondering Bob’s advice via photopin (license)

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Perfectionism Is A Trap

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Journalism & Media, Personal 29 Comments

Drummer“Practice makes perfect.”

It’s one of my least favorite sayings in the English language. Yet, last year, this expression topped a poll of words of wisdom Britons picked up in childhood, and continue to use well into their older years.

It did better than “the grass is always greener on the other side,” and “good things come to those who wait.”

Why do I dislike “practice makes perfect” so much?

First of all, as is true for most clichés, it is a broad generalization. Secondly, perfection is a very loaded notion. Some people believe we should reserve that qualification to describe the divine. 

“Practice makes perfect” assumes that those who work hard will be rewarded. If only that were the case! Life isn’t fair, and hard work doesn’t necessarily lead to success. The millions of Americans who are working their butts off for minimum wage can attest to that.

And finally, I don’t believe we are created equal. Not everyone was born to win Wimbledon, or write a best-selling novel, no matter how hard and how often they may try.

But let’s start at the beginning by looking at the notion of practice.

GOOD INTENTIONS. BAD ADVICE.

People who tell you “practice makes perfect,” are usually trying to be encouraging, but they rarely define what they mean by “practice.” Of course the general idea is that the more one does something, the better one gets at it. As if repetition alone will lead to positive results.

Practicing can be very helpful, but it won’t make you a gold medal winner, or a world-famous musician. There’s one thing that consistent rehearsal will do, though. 

Practice tends to make permanent, but is that always beneficial?

If you practice the wrong things over and over again, you’ll only become better at what you’re not good at. It’s hard to unlearn bad habits.

If you really want to master something, you have to have a natural talent; you have to develop that talent from an early age, and you need what Swedish psychologist K. Anders Ericsson calls “deliberate practice.”

Deliberate practice is a type of practice that’s rich on feedback, aimed at correcting mistakes. Ericsson says it’s the only factor that explains differences in performance in sports, arts, sciences, and intellectual games. Deliberate practice is not something you can do just by yourself. You need precise guidance, evaluation, and accountability.

MORE THAN REPETITION

Guillermo Campitelli is a lecturer at Edith Cowan University. He investigates individual differences in performance, judgements and decisions.

Campitelli has been involved in a study that re-analyzed previous research in the fields of chess and music, including data from Ericsson’s original deliberate practice study.

Campitelli’s research in chess expertise has shown that there is a huge variability in the numbers of hours of individual practice required to become a national master. One player he studied achieved that level after 800 hours (or 2 years). Another did it after 24,000 hours (or 26 years). A significant number of players dedicated more than 10,000 hours of individual practice, and never achieved that level.

His re-analysis showed that, on average, practice only accounts for 30% of the skill differences in music, and 34% of skill differences in chess. Campitelli concluded that deliberate practice is important, but other factors should be taken into account as well. Factors, such as our working memory capacity.

Our working memory capacity or executive functioning, is the ability to store and process information at the same time. Some of us are better at it than others, depending on the gene pool we came from.

People with high levels of working memory, outperformed those with lower working memory capacity in tasks such as piano sight reading, even when the latter group had extensive experience and knowledge of the task (source).

THE FLAW OF FLAWLESS

Practice isn’t all it’s cooked up to be, so let’s now turn to the notion of perfection. I think striving for perfection puts unnecessary pressure on people to achieve something that isn’t necessarily humanly possible, or even desirable.

One way to achieve perfection is to avoid errors. What could possibly be wrong with that? Well, avoiding errors can lead to people sticking to what they already know by playing it safe. That’s boring, and it stifles growth and creativity. Those who are trying to avoid something are usually motivated by fear, which can take away the pleasure of accomplishment. 

If we really wish to make progress, we need to push ourselves out of our comfort zone, take risks, and accept that we will make mistakes along the way, from which we will (hopefully) learn. To me, steady progress is a better and more enjoyable outcome than perfection.

There’s one last reason why perfection isn’t such a great goal.

LISTEN TO THE BEAT

In a lot of popular music, live drummers are being replaced by drum machines. These machines don’t make any mistakes. They’ll give you a consistent, perfect beat every single time. That’s something professional drummers cannot do.

Professional drummers aren’t robots. Even when playing to a super steady metronomic beat, they tend to fluctuate slightly. According to researcher Holger Henning, these variations are typically small, perhaps 10 to 20 milliseconds. Yet, listeners can tell the difference. Not only that, research has shown that these human variations are more pleasing to the ear.

Many electronic music programs now have “randomizing” functions to help producers add imperfections back into the music to give it a more human feel. However, they cannot produce the same rhythmic variety that people subconsciously recognize and prefer. There’s is no improvisation, spontaneity, or heart and soul in software. 

Musician Jojo Mayer says in his mini-documentary Between Zero and One:

“Digital computers are binary machines, which means they compute tasks making decisions between zero and one — yes or no. When we play music and generate it in real-time, when we improvise, that decision-making process gets condensed to a degree where it surpasses our capability to make conscious decisions anymore. When that happens, I am entering that zone beyond zero and one, beyond yes and no, which is a space that machines cannot access yet. That’s the human experience — right between zero and one.”

To put it differently: It’s the imperfections, that make a performance perfect.”

Think about that, if you’re a perfectionist.

Keep it in mind, the next time you wonder if voice actors will ever be completely replaced by text-to-speech software.

Take it from me: It will never happen!

Deliberate practice helps you prepare and perform better, but it doesn’t make you perfect.

And that’s perfectly fine with me.

Paul Strikwerda

PS Be sweet. Pleased retweet.

photo credit: Drummer with the cut outs at Oswestry Music Live 2008 via photopin (license)

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The Window To The Soul

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, International, Internet, Journalism & Media 6 Comments

Young mother & babyThe person who coined the phrase:

“Eyes are the window to the soul”

was wrong.

If anything can offer us a unique insight into someone’s soul, it is the human voice. The voice tells us something about someone’s mood, someone’s mind, and someone’s history.

Sometimes it’s subtle. Sometimes it cries out to you.

The voice is an example of how mind and body are clearly connected. Our tone and texture changes when we’re in love, when we’re angry, when we’re feeling insecure, and when we’re sick.

The way someone speaks can tell us where he or she is from, how (and where) someone was educated, and it reveals something about someone’s (desired) social status.

By listening to someone’s voice, experts can diagnose certain health problems. A croaky voice may indicate acid reflux. A head cold voice can point to chronic sinusitis. A hoarse voice could be a sign of laryngeal cancer.

But there’s more.

We can change the meaning of words, simply by changing our tonality.  When our body language, the words we speak, and our tone of voice don’t match, we won’t be taken seriously. 

People can hear we’re not sincere. In fact, sincerity is so hard to hard fake that only pros can pull it off.

EMOTIONAL IMPACT

You and I have been touched by certain voices. For better, or for worse. Can you think of a few?

As kids, we’ve all experienced that when our mom or dad called us with that special tone of voice, we knew we were in trouble.

Certain teachers had the uncanny ability to terrify us, because of what they said, and how they said it. So much so, that years later, we can still recall their voices, and get an instantaneous physical reaction.

Someone’s voice can also induce a very positive mood.

Perhaps it’s just me, but I could never fall in love with someone who has a horrible voice. When our beloved whispers our name in that very special way, our heart melts, and we’re almost hypnotized. 

When a charismatic public speaker rallies the troops, we feel energized and inspired.

That first word from a child we brought into the world, is something we’ll always remember.

Our sensitivity to tonality comes from the time we were infants, when we learned to attribute feelings to certain words through the way they were spoken. 

UNIQUE OR UNIVERSAL

Now, there’s one thing I’ve always wondered. With so many cultures, languages, and dialects in the world, are certain vocal inflections universal, or limited to one geographic area? More importantly, do they mean the same thing?

Take the tonality of love, for instance. Is that something we have in common with every person on this planet? Does “angry” sound the same, wherever we go?

Yuval Mor and Yoram Levanon spent eighteen years researching more than sixty-thousand test subjects speaking twenty-six different languages. What they found was surprising: language and culture make little difference in what they call “emotion analysis.”

Emotional Analytics is a new scientific field that focuses on identifying and analyzing the full spectrum of human emotions and personality. Yuval and Yoram’s company Beyond Verbal, has developed a way to decode vocal intonations into their underlying emotions in real-time.

It’s all based on the notion that what we say is not as important as how we say it.

THERE’S AN APP FOR THAT

In 2013, Beyond Verbal launched a free app called Moodies to extract, decode, and interpret human emotions from voice samples that are as short as twenty seconds. The app claims to give information on the speaker’s mood, his or her attitude, and on someone’s personality.

Here’s how it works.

The software examines how we speak, and listens for specific patterns. It analyzes things like pitch, tempo, pauses, and the volume of the voice. It then compares these patterns to a database of research. The ongoing analysis on the screen, is presented in clusters as the subject speaks. 

To see this in action, here’s a short clip from an interview with whistleblower Edward Snowdon. Be sure to select HD in the YouTube settings before you start watching.

Beyond Verbal has an interesting YouTube channel with voice analysis of people like Steve Jobs, Jeb Bush, and Winston Churchill. 

It’s important to note that analyzing emotions is very different from detecting lies. That is something the software cannot do.

Currently, the program can recognize about four hundred different emotions. The makers say it’s about eighty percent accurate.

PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS

If Beyond Verbal’s method is correct, we now have a way to find out what people really feel, in spite of what they’re saying. That information could be useful in at least three areas:

1. Person to person interaction.

Beyond Verbal software is already used in call centers. It helps market researchers to find out how people genuinely feel about products, promotions, and… politicians. Researchers can get past the socially acceptable answers, and go with the emotional response.

Voice analysis is also used in job interviews and sales meetings. It can answer questions like: “Is the client truly receptive to our offer, or merely being polite? Is this applicant really confident, or is he putting on a show?”

It turns out that it’s easier to fool people than to mislead computers. 

2. Allowing machines to understand us better, and improve interaction.

At the moment, virtual assistants such as Siri and S Voice base their response on what we say, and not on how we say it. If they could read our mood, this could influence their answers. Beyond Verbal has already made their platform available to other developers to make the devices of the future more intuitive.

Let’s say we’d use voice control for a service like Netflix. Based on our intonation, Netflix could recommend movies that would fit the mood we’re in. iTunes could work the same way. Some video game controllers already respond to subtle pressure and body heat. What if they could hear our fear, and change the progress of the game accordingly?

What if voice analysis software in a car could pick up if a driver was under the influence of alcohol, or suffering from road rage? Based on that, it could start making adjustments, and e.g. slow the vehicle down.

3. Self-improvement; getting a better understanding of ourselves.

This is particularly interesting to me as a professional communicator. Quite often, there’s a disconnect between how we think we come across, and how our communication is perceived. Let’s say you have a piece of copy that needs to be read in a friendly, but convincing way. How do you know you hit the nail on the head? Do you call your coach, a friend or a colleague?

Moodies app

click to enlarge

I took my iPhone, opened up the Moodies app, pressed the mic button, and started reading the script. After about fifteen seconds, I got my feedback in three layers (see picture on the left). The app keeps refreshing, so you can see if your adjustments have the desired effect.

When you’re done, and you concur with the analysis, you can click “Agree,” helping the software to be more accurate in the future.

I have to admit, before I tried Moodies I was very sceptical. I mean, can a machine really detect emotions? It’s hard enough for us, humans. But when I started using it, I was surprised by the results. Whether I was speaking Dutch (my first language), or English, it was quite accurate.

Moodies didn’t tell me what I wanted to hear, like horoscopes do. It told me what I needed to hear. Based on that, I changed my tonality to match the specs of the script. Getting this type of instantaneous feedback was refreshing!

LOOKING AHEAD

Beyond Verbal was launched in May 2013, with a 3.8 million dollar investment, and has about twenty employees. 

Examiner.com named Moodies the best iPhone app of 2014, and Forbes listed it as one of the five innovative marketing solutions that can help a business grow.

This Tel Aviv-based company is definitively onto something, and it seems they’ve only scratched the surface. 

Even though I believe a computer can never penetrate the depths of the human soul, it can certainly open a window to our emotions.

Today, it seems that one of the best ways to unlock that window, actually speaks for itself.

Our voice.

Paul Strikwerda

Be sweet. Please retweet.

photo credit: Mother via photopin (license)

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Poisonous Pens

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Internet, Journalism & Media, Personal, Social Media 33 Comments

Intimidation“When you step into a boxing ring, expect a few punches.”

That’s how I would paraphrase a well-known Dutch proverb.

I had to remind myself of that saying quite a few times last week, after publishing a critical blog post on podcasting.

Last time I checked, over 2,500 people read it, and many felt the urge to respond. Here’s what some of the fans had to say:

“I LIKED the article specifically because it addressed many of my pet peeves (long intros, crappy audio, self-aggrandizing hosts).”

“Your story basically said: “Try harder, and don’t put out sh*t.” To which I wholeheartedly agree.”

“This article is SPOT ON. And the industry is suffering because most podcasters are not paying attention to opinions like the one expressed there.”

“I’m going to print this out and remind myself to read it once a week for a month. FANTASTIC! I couldn’t agree more!”

But not everyone was as pleased with what I had written:

“The central point of this article is pretty ridiculous, and contains a very “get-off-my-lawn” sentiment that I believe is incredibly harmful to the industry of podcasting.”

“I think people need to step off of their high horses.”

“Wow this is insulting. Was this written by a radio dj threatened by podcasts?”

“The author, hilariously enough, made his article about himself by injecting snide attempts at humor.”

“New podcasters don’t deserve to be mocked or shunned.”

These reactions were pretty innocent, compared to what a few others shared with me after I had published my story.

UNLEASH THE BULLIES

Some angry, resentful readers told me to “stick it where the sun don’t shine.” They accused me of being an arrogant son of a gun, who should just go and “F” himself. One person suggested that I go back to the Netherlands, if I didn’t like what I heard over here (as if podcasts stop at the border…).

I’ve gotten some nasty comments before, even from my own voice-over community, but this podcasting piece seemed to have hit a raw nerve.

One thing separated the more graphic commentators from the rest. The vitriolic ones responded anonymously. Quite a few used an online identity like fartface5 or bigwillywonderman.

That’s not surprising.

Last year, assistant professor Arthur Santana of the University of Houston found that 53.3 percent of anonymous online comments included language that was vulgar, racist, profane or hateful. Only 28.7 percent of non-anonymous comments were found to be uncivil. 

This is often attributed to the online disinhibition effect. It’s the idea that people’s inhibitions drop when their identity is hidden, and their actions have no visible consequences.

INVISIBLE ENEMIES

In the days before the Internet, when someone spoke in public, the audience would be able to see who was talking, and they could hold that person accountable, right there and then. In the virtual world we live in that’s not always possible.

Some people believe that because they’re invisible online, they are safe, and they can say whatever they want. There are no authority figures to stop them. Free speech is free speech, right? Besides, they weren’t even serious. It was just a joke. The online world isn’t “real life.”

Well, tell that to the victims of cyberbullying, and their friends and families! I think they have a different story for you. Personally, I’ve never believed the children’s rhyme:

“Sticks and stones will break my bones
But words will never harm me.”

Words can have a profound effect on someone, in a very positive, and in a very negative way. I know people who haven’t spoken to one another for twenty years because of words that were exchanged. I know people who are comforted and uplifted by words of love and encouragement.

Words can heal, and words can hurt.

Words can be wonderful, and they can be used as weapons.

There are these sick individuals who find joy in publicly humiliating others in a most vicious and obscene way, using no more than 140 characters.

SCHILLING’S WAR

Perhaps you’ve read about retired baseball great Curt Schilling. After his daughter Gabby became the target of relentless Twitter trolls, he decided to go after them, and expose their identities. Within an hour and a half, Schilling found nine of them.

One troll was a student at Brookdale Community College in central New Jersey. He was suspended from school. Another turned out to be a vice president of the Theta Xi fraternity at Montclair State University in northern New Jersey. He lost his part-time job selling tickets for the Yankees.

The message was clear: Nobody should have to put up with trolls and other cyberbullies. There are serious consequences for this type of behavior. Just because we cherish and celebrate free speech in this country, doesn’t mean that anything goes. 

ZERO TOLERANCE

What was said to me after last week’s blog post wasn’t nearly as vulgar as what Gabby Schilling had to endure, but I was thoroughly disgusted. I am not going to expose the culprits, but I am going to do something else. 

From now on I will no longer accept anonymous comments, or comments by people using a fictitious online identity.  

On this blog I want people to own up to what they’re saying, and not hide behind a made up character. Comments that are rude and disrespectful will be deleted immediately.

This is my platform, and I will act as moderator.

I welcome a spirited, civil debate on this site, and if you would like to take part, I encourage you to create a Gravatar. A Gravatar is an image that follows you from site to site appearing beside your name when you do things like comment or post on a blog. A Gravatar lets us know who you are.

Click here to create your personal Gravatar

One last thing.

Trolls intend to provoke, and they want to see which buttons they can push. They live for the fear they instill and for the outrage they create.

We have seen that their insults can lead to injury and worse if we let them get to us.

Luckily, we are not like Pavlov’s dogs, and we don’t have to fall for their dirty games. 

Like Schilling, I have zero tolerance for trolls.

As far as I’m concerned, they can take their poisonous pens, and stick ’em where the sun don’t shine!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Dare to share if you care!

photo credit: Determination via photopin (license)

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The Problem with Podcasting

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Journalism & Media, Social Media 56 Comments

PodcastingSome called it “The little box that changed everything.”

That tiny box made its debut just a few weeks after 9/11.

In September 2014, just before its 13th birthday, the iPod Classic was no more.

I’m not sure how long other digital music players will last, but I do know one thing.

Podcasts are here to stay, and one of the reasons may surprise you:

Cars.

This year, about half of all the cars will be digitally connected. By 2025 that’s going to be one hundred percent. (source)

Connected cars are music to the ears of the audio streaming industry. Over forty percent of all radio listening takes place in cars. (source)

Car-based listeners love to listen for long stretches of time, if only to survive their daily commute. They are the ideal captive audience for podcasters. Especially because we’re living in the age of on-demand everything. Just as millions and millions are using Netflix and Amazon Instant Video, people want to stream their audio as well.

NOT FOR ME

I’ll be honest with you. With a home studio, I have the best commute in the world, and 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.

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.

MARKETING CONTENT

Podcasts are often mentioned as glorious examples of content marketing. That’s a strategy to attract and engage an audience by means of storytelling. The ultimate goal is to influence behavior. 

But what if there’s no content worth marketing? Then podcasters are just filling dead air. For what purpose? And why do I find so many shows so utterly annoying? 

I usually blame it on the self-absorbed host who often doubles as the producer and sound engineer. A deadly combination. The typical podcast jock loves to hear him- or herself talk.

After a ten to fifteen minute introduction where the presenter shares the most boring details about his private life, we might get an idea of what the show is all about.

Or not.

By that time they’ve completely lost me.  

Some shows bring in guests, for one purpose only: to give the host something to play off of. Or – even worse – to confirm the presenter’s bias. How can you tell?

For one, the host doesn’t listen. Why should he? It’s his show, so he does most of the talking. And when he doesn’t, he feels the need to constantly interrupt. His questions are closed, and without a critical producer, they lack originality and depth.

What makes it even more painful to listen to, is the fact that many amateur podcasters think they’re funny. They’re so funny that they laugh at their own jokes.

Because no one else does. 

Podcasters will often present their opinions as facts. Facts that no one is ever going to check or challenge. There is no editor-in-chief to make sure that the stories told stand up to scrutiny.

Why not? Because no one cares. 

In one ear. Out the other.

At least the printed word has some appearance of authority. It’s in black and white, and it has staying power. People can come back to it. Check the facts. Look at the sources, and leave comments. That’s why I prefer blogging.

ARE YOU A PODCASTER?

If you’re thinking of hosting a podcast and you want me to listen to you, you have to do me a few favors, okay?

Don’t make the show about you. If you want to please yourself, try masturbation. I’ve heard some good things about it. 

If you want people to tune in, make it about your listeners. Find out what’s relevant to them. What are they talking about? What problems do they have? Give them a reason to spend twenty to thirty minutes in your company. And unless you’re really, really good, don’t make it any longer.

I have a life.

And don’t do it just for my sake. Do it to appeal to a new audience. 

A recent article in Mind/Shift talked about the increasing popularity of podcasts in high school. Teachers are using shows such as Serial and This American Life to teach learning through listening, and kids love it! Asked about Serial, One of the teachers is quoted as saying:

“Narrator Sarah Koenig’s quick shifts in tone and perspectives — we spend three minutes with a lawyer, say, then with a former classmate and then a detective — is especially appealing to teenagers who bore easily.”

But there’s more you can do to make your podcast more appealing.

I don’t need to know that the dog ate your breakfast, or that your daughter dyed her hair purple. Get to the point quickly. No endless sign-on music. No bombastic introductions.

Be real. Be authentic. Be you.

Secondly, if you feel the need to give me advice, at least make it entertaining. Don’t preach. If I want a sermon, I’ll go to church. If I need a lecture, I’ll subscribe to iTunes U.

WHAT TURNS ME ON

Do you know what I find very entertaining, and even slightly sexy?

Intelligence!

A unique point of view. 

These things are hard to find in the mainstream media. Everything is dumbed down to appeal to the lowest common denominator. That’s the target group the advertisers are aiming for. 

With podcasts you don’t have to lower yourself to that level because you don’t do this for the money. You have no shareholders to please. Instead, you have the freedom to produce content that matters. 

I’d love to hear guests on your show, as long as you realize that they know way more about a subject than you do. So, give them space to talk. Listen carefully. Use their answers as the basis for your next questions. Don’t just go down your list. You might miss the most interesting aspects of their story. 

If you only ask questions about what you think you know, you might as well interview yourself. Make it about your guests. And get this:

An interview is not a discussion between equals. It is not a debate. You are simply a facilitator. Create some intimacy, instead of confrontation. Help people open up. 

When you truly connect with your guests, you will connect with your audience.  

HIGH STANDARDS

My rant is almost over, but not quite.

Please use quality equipment. We live in the digital age, and we can hear the difference between a crappy microphone and a good one. And be sure to edit your show. Better still, let someone else edit it. No one likes to cut into his own flesh. 

Give us the best you have to offer. That alone will make you stand out from the competition.

And finally, listen to your listeners, especially when they tell you things you don’t like to hear. If you don’t listen to them, why should they listen to you?

In a way, listeners are like your clients. They expect value, and they want to be heard.

Now for some good news, and a bit of bad news.

The iPod may eventually go away, but podcasts are here to stay. If anything, they’re getting more popular.

It’s never been easier to produce a podcast, but because so many people are doing it, it’s never been harder to create content people like to listen to. More and more podcasts are professionally produced by an entire team. It’s like a radio show, but cheaper.

So, if you’re a podcaster, I have one final word of advice:

Up your game!

Make me want to listen to you.

And one day, I just might.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS As you can see from the number of comments, this story caused quite a stir. Click here to read my reaction.

photo credit: Kafelog Vs. Nua via photopin (license)

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My Dutch Digital Detox

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, International, Internet, Journalism & Media, Personal, Social Media 13 Comments

Screen Shot 2015-01-29 at 12.04.38 AMIt is often said that the internet is a cold and superficial place.

I tend to agree. 

Even though we can connect with practically anyone, anywhere at any time, it doesn’t make us less lonely or more engaged.

If anything, the online universe is a distant world in which reality is observed instead of experienced. A world that I find increasingly trivial, and uninspiring.

It is a shallow hideout for the self-absorbed, the self-promotors, and for those dying to be distracted.

Do you want to see Jennifer Aniston test the incredible vibrating bra? Her video went viral, and has almost 17 million hits. 

Do you want to watch Teddy Bear the porcupine predict the winner of the Super Bowl? Be my guest!

And speaking of that Bowl, Kim Kardashian West’s T-Mobile commercial is already an internet sensation, well before the big game has started.

Some say that this is utterly insignificant, but I urge you to pay attention to what the masses are watching. It tells us something about people’s priorities: football and bouncing bosoms!

And I don’t even like football…

For many years, I have been downplaying the effect the world wide web has on my life, but it has become this huge black hole that doesn’t like to be ignored. I couldn’t do my job without it, but that doesn’t mean I like it. 

Even though I spent many years in a newsroom, I find it harder and harder to separate online fact from opinion, information from propaganda, and sincerity from sales. Part of that has to do with the sheer volume of slick and seductive online messages I am bombarded with on any given day. I cannot properly process it anymore. My brain goes in overload, and when that happens, it loses its critical focus.

Thankfully, I still control what I allow myself to be exposed to, and for how long. Nobody tells me how many hours a day I should spend on social media. No one forces me to watch silly videos on YouTube. I can still lead a happy, balanced life without the wonders of WiFi.

Or am I kidding myself? 

As you may know, I just spent eleven days abroad. The high-speed internet connection we thought we would have in our apartment, wasn’t there. So, every day we went to the nearest Hotspot to get access to the online world. Its epicenter turned out to be in the freezer section of a nearby supermarket.

Every morning, my wife and I sat down with our devices, surrounded by ice cream, pizzas, TV dinners, frozen vegetables, and frantic shoppers.

I’ll tell you one thing. Putting a Hotspot in one of the coldest places forces a person to use his time efficiently, and effectively. You should try it!

I surprised myself by how little effort it took to dump all the fluff, and get down to business. And once our online business was done, there was a whole day left to live life offline.

We walked. We talked. We connected with people in person.

We had wonderful dinners, instead of watching cooking shows.

We explored interesting sites, instead of websites.

We survived over a week without internet trolls trying to sell us stuff, and feeding us fluff.

Yes, at times being offline was mighty inconvenient, but boy did I love this digital detox! I could get so much done in very little time, and I didn’t have to stare at a screen all day long. Why did I only do this while I was out of the country?

Back home I began to limit all the electronic time suckers that used to drain the energy out of my days. I unsubscribed from automatic updates, boring groups, newsletters, and blogs I never had the time to read anyway.

I deleted half of my Facebook contacts, only to keep close friends, family members, and the people in and around the town I live in. For those interested in my voice-over work, there’s always the Nethervoice page.

And this is barely the beginning. 

Liberating myself from all the impersonal online crap and clutter feels phenomenal! As I said in my very first line: “the internet is a cold and superficial place.” If you’re hoping to find true companionship, collegiality, and connection, you better look elsewhere.

That’s obviously an overgeneralization, and life simply isn’t that simple. How do I know that?

Because of YOU!

Even though we never met in person, or we may know each other only professionally, you were there for me when I recently wrote about the death of my father.

Shortly after that, I received hundreds of messages from all over the world. Some of you even sent cards and flowers. Your comforting words gave me strength, and touched me and my family deeply. Your thoughtfulness, your prayers, and your support traveled with us to the Netherlands, right to my father’s funeral. 

When the moment came to deliver the eulogy, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do it. I had imagined myself doing it, but this was different. This was the final farewell.

Right before it was my time to speak, I thought of all the things that you had written. This really moved me. As something lifted me out of my seat, I suddenly felt calm and determined. I walked towards the lectern, took a deep breath, and started to speak.

Thank you so much for caring!

Thank you for showing me that the medium we use to connect, is just a tool. Like any other tool, its use and impact depends on the integrity, the emotions, and intelligence (or lack thereof) of the people using it.

May we all use it wisely, creatively, sparingly, and caringly.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!

photo credit: solomonborxes via photopin cc

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My Best Year Ever

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Book, Career, Freelancing, International, Internet, Journalism & Media, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play, Promotion, Social Media 11 Comments

The author, photographed by Kevin HornAt the beginning of 2014, I took a big risk with this blog.

I no longer wanted to write about things such as:

– What is the best acoustic foam money can buy?

– Should we record standing up or sitting down?

– ISDN. Disappearing when?

– Pay to Play, Yea or Nay?

… and all the other questions that come back ad infinitum on Facebook, LinkedIn and in other social media. In Spoon-feeding Blabbermouths I vented my frustration with being asked to answer the same basic questions over and over again. I wrote:

It’s not my job to do someone else’s homework. Those who wish to make it in this field have to be proactive, independent, and resourceful. If they can’t be bothered to do a simple Google search, why should I take time out of my busy day to do it for them?

I still wanted to write about voice-over related topics, but only if the subject matter would allow me to dig deeper. As an avid snorkeler, I know that things get much more interesting under the surface of the sea.

GROWING MY READERSHIP

There’s another reason for moving away from the road much traveled. Over the years, I discovered that only a part of my readers consisted of voice-over colleagues. Many frequent visitors were fellow freelancers, artists, directors, bloggers, and entrepreneurs. If I wanted to increase my readership, I had to make sure to keep it relevant for them.

The big question is: Did I make a huge mistake or did my efforts pay off?

Well, I’ll let the numbers do the talking. At the beginning of 2014 I had about 3,000 subscribers. At the last day of that year, I counted over 32,100!

PUBLISHING SUCCESS

One of the things that really helped me increase my readership was the publication of my book Making Money In Your PJs, freelancing for voice-overs and other solopreneurs which came out in May. With over 400 pages of practical information for about $10 (eBook) or about $17 for a paperback, it really is a steal. I say this in all honesty and humility. 

Another element in my “success formula” is the way I started using social proof. You can read about it in The Power of One. In this post I go over some of the main reasons why people buy.

A third reason for the growth of this blog (and my business) has to do with what I am willing to let go of, and how I handle problems. In Giving Up, I wrote about the things most people who want to be successful don’t wish to see or hear, and I concluded:

There is no success without setbacks, and when times are tough, you need to reconnect with what ultimately drives you.

YOUR LIFE. YOUR BUSINESS.

That is easier said than done. That’s why I wrote a series about four aspects that play a vital part in the way we live our lives, and the way we run our business. These aspects are Physical, Mental, Material and Spiritual.

The first article in this series entitled Mind Your Own Business, dealt with the physical aspect of our jobs. It inspired numerous colleagues to look at their unhealthy lifestyles, and even to go on a diet! Hundreds of pounds have been lost since then, and a number of Faffcon 7 participants received a copy of my book to celebrate those losses.

In part two, The Stuff Between Your Ears, I share 10 attributes I believe to be the trademark of any successful solopreneur. In part three –Call Me Materialistic– I explore the important relationship between having the right tools for the job, and a little thing called confidence.

On June 18th I published my most personal post to date. It’s a down to earth story about spirituality, and how it relates to the work we do. Here’s a quote:

To me, leading a spiritual life acknowledges the fact that we don’t live on an island. Whether we realize it or not, we’re all part of a larger whole. We’re all connected. Our individual choices and actions have the potential to influence other individuals.

DEALING WITH DISASTER

In July I wrote another very personal story after the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. 298 men, women, and children of various nationalities lost their lives. About two-thirds of them were from the Netherlands. It’s called Tears, Tragedy and an End to Conflict.

We often wonder why bad things happen to good people. This prompted me to write Life’s Unfair. Get used to it! In it, I try to come to terms with senseless tragedies. Of course there are no easy answers, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t ask the questions.

One of the reasons I publish an overview of past posts each year, is because even the most loyal Nethervoice-followers tend to miss stories, which they often regret. Speaking of regret, the following quote is taken from an article I published in September called Forget Regret:

It’s unfair and irrational to explain or judge the past using today’s standards. Present knowledge is unhelpful because it’s limited, and colored by personal ideas of how we think this world works or should work. Present knowledge doesn’t change the past one bit. It just changes our perspective.

CONTROVERSY

One thing I did not regret was publishing a series of articles on a new awards show for voice talent. The first story was called The Voice Arts™ Awards, The New Pay to Play? The follow-up, Paying For Your Prize broke all records. It was read over 3,000 times, and it prompted many heated discussions on this blog, and outside of it. People loved me for writing it, and they hated me for the same reason.

I responded with Partypooper Unleashes Sh*tstorm, and When the Manure hits the Fan. In my last response I quoted a reaction from one of the organizers of the Voice Arts™ Awards to my story. Here’s part of what he had to say:

The intention of the article (…) was to hurt, not inform. Brush it off. With success and recognition comes the unfortunate trail of parasites who, lacking the erudition to create anything truly inspired, seek their sustenance from sucking the life blood of others.

Well, this “parasite” went on to write a seven-part series on script delivery and performance. See for yourself if it lacked erudition and inspiration. You can read the introduction in The Funniest Joke of the Year. In it, I ask the question: 

What makes a good delivery? What’s involved; can it be learned or does it come naturally?

MASTERFUL SCRIPT DELIVERY

In The Worst Acting Advice Ever (part two), discuss something I must have heard a million times: “Just be you, and you’ll do just fine.” Here’s a quote:

Whether on stage, in front of a camera or in the recording studio, you’re not hired to “just be you.” You’re hired to be your best, most professional self, and to make it sound (and look) perfectly spontaneous.

In How to be Believable, I tackle the next aspect of masterful delivery. Once again I try to break seemingly simple concepts down into bitesize pieces. In this case, I discuss the concept of congruence.

The next article in this series (What Clients Hate the Most) proposes that delivery is about much more than the way we read our lines. As a solopreneur, we’re judged by the way we deliver a total package. The bottom line: If you advertise yourself as a pro, you have to present yourself as a pro on ALL levels.

In The Secret to Audio Book Success, I examine how great narrators such as Jim Dale, have the ability to stay in character, and then switch character and get back to the first character, while introducing a third. They do this for hours at a time in a space smaller than a prison cell. I also introduce you to Gary Catona, the voice builder.

This series continues with The Devil is in the Delivery, which focuses on mistakes narrators make every day that cause them to lose auditions. I conclude with a story about something that’s not for sale, and yet it is one of the most sought after things in the world: Charisma. Once again, it’s one of those things everyone is talking about, but very few people have taken the trouble to demystify it. That’s exactly what I attempt to do in Defining the IT-Factor.

ON STAGE

2014 was also the year I made my stage debut. Granted, it wasn’t Broadway, but a local historic production in which I played activist-philosopher Thomas Paine, author of Common Sense. You can read about it in my blog post Acting Out In Publicwhich inspired several colleagues to audition for plays in their neck of the woods. You’ll see that there’s a huge difference between the studio and the stage!

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you know about my interest in sales and marketing. It’s something many freelancers know very little about. They always wonder: “Is there some secret way to make sure clients buy from me?” If that question interests you, I hope you will read How To Sell Without Selling.

One of the greatest obstacles to professional growth can be very close to home. Some people have a tendency to make their own life rather difficult. If that’s something you recognize, I invite you to read Getting In Our Own Way.

LOOKING AHEAD

At the start of a new year it’s not only good to look back, but also to plan for the future. Are you going to play it safe, or will it be a year in which you dare to take some risks? Perhaps it is time to ask yourself what your job really does for you. If you’re wondering about that, I encourage you to read A Means to an End which examines the question “Why am I doing what I am doing?”

And finally, if you’re looking at your motivation, you might wonder what has held you back all this time. What reasons, excuses and rationalizations do you need to let go of, before you allow yourself and your business to grow rapidly and organically. You may find some clues in What Is Holding You Back.

If you’ve enjoyed spending a small part of your Thursday with me (that’s the day I usually publish my blog), there’s no need to thank me. I just hope you’ll share your enthusiasm with someone else who -in turn- will become a regular reader.

As long as you do your part, I promise to treat you to more thought-provoking, controversial, and insightful articles in 2015.

Happy New Year!

May it be your best year ever!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be Sweet. Please retweet!

photo credit: Kevin Horn, http://www.blinkpix.net

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Paul’s Great Giveaway

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Book, Freelancing, Journalism & Media, Pay-to-Play, Promotion 15 Comments

The other day, one of my colleagues asked me an interesting question.

“Paul,” he said, “Why don’t you speak at voice-over conferences? I mean, we have a number of these events throughout the year, and you’re never on the program. Don’t you feel that you’re being ignored?”

“Not really,” I said. “You seem to think they should invite me. Why is that?” 

“Well, for one, you’ve published a pretty unconventional voice-over book this year. They always invite authors to these events. Secondly, your blog has thirty thousand subscribers. I don’t think anyone in our small industry has as many followers. Doesn’t that mean anything?

But more importantly, many see you as one of the thought leaders of our community. Weren’t you the guy who kind of discovered Studiobricks and the CAD E100S microphone? These days, most colleagues have either heard about them or got one. I think that’s pretty amazing.”

“That may be true,” I said, “but that doesn’t make me (keynote) speaker material. You’d be surprised how many people still believe that I live and work in the Netherlands! They’re not going to fly a Dutchman in to speak at a conference in the States. Even though I’ve been here since 1999 and I’m a U.S. citizen, the myth persists that I reside in Holland with one of my fingers stuck in a dyke.

Secondly, some of these conferences are organized and frequented by people I have managed to piss off in the past. I don’t think voices.com or any other Pay to Play will ever ask me to say a few words, or even write a guest post for one of their online publications. They’re probably too afraid I will say something that is less than flattering. And you know what? They’re right!

I don’t play the game that everything is hunky-dory in voiceoverland. I consider myself to be a positive person, yet, when I feel my colleagues are being taken advantage of, I can’t help but raise my voice. That’s how I was brought up.

Having a minister for a father has taught me that so-called authority figures are ordinary people like you and me. They fail from time to time. They love the limelight. They enjoy being looked up to. And many of them can’t handle criticism very well. They take it way too personally. But there’s more.

Throughout the years I have blogged about increasing voice-over rates, and raising professional standards. I’ve talked about coming together as a professional group, and about ways to counter the erosion of quality and the influx of cheap, ignorant amateurism. Some have seen that as an attack on the free market. Others believe I enjoy belittling beginners. You know better than that.

The way I see it, many conferences want to create an atmosphere of We’re one happy family. Look how wonderful it is to be in voice-overs! Imagine this silly Dutch guy walking in on his wooden shoes, creating controversy. Why doesn’t he go back to Europe where he belongs?”

My colleague chuckled. I continued:

“Here’s the thing. On one hand, we have a very supportive community. If you need a new pop filter, tons of people will tell you which one to get. But if you wish to create a strong, non-profit, member-driven international association of voice actors such as the world voices organization, most colleagues look the other way. What are they afraid of? A little bit of solidarity? Socialism? You tell me!

World Voices is trying to do what I have been doing in my blog for years: Empower and educate people; give them tools to stand out from the crowd. I guess empowerment and critical thinking isn’t that popular anymore. But I digress, don’t I?”

“You could say that,” said my colleague. “I was just wondering why you don’t speak at voice-over conferences. I really think you could shake things up a little.”

I paused for a moment. Then I said: “A prominent voice actor opened up to me recently, and confessed:

‘I considered inviting you to my event, but I was afraid you’d be too critical.’

That surprised me a little. Is that really how people perceive me? 

When I look back at all the stories I have written, most of them were about the business of being in business. I’ve written about selling, marketing, and about communicating with clients and colleagues. I just finished a six-part series on improving voice-over performance. None of that stuff I would label as controversial.

Even if I’ve been critical in some of my writings, why would that be a bad thing? Are we that insecure? As they say: Feedback is the breakfast of champions. It helps us learn and grow. Getting a kick in the pants may hurt little, but any coach knows it’s sometimes necessary for a student to make progress.”

My colleague nodded approvingly. I leaned forward, and whispered: “Do you want to know the real reason why I don’t speak at conferences?”

“Absolutely,” he answered. “I’ve been waiting for that.”

“It’s actually very simple,” I said with a smile. “I’m too shy and too modest.”

“Get out of here,” he responded.

“You? Shy and modest? You must be joking!”

“Guilty as charged,” I said. “However, with thirty thousand blog subscribers and counting, I do feel I have built up quite an audience. It’s my way of public speaking. And I’m not even charging for it. My blog is a platform I’m very proud of, and thankful for. And that’s why I want to give something back to my community.

Here’s the plan, Stan.

I’m going to ask my readers to nominate someone who -in their opinion- could really benefit from my book Making Money In Your PJs. It could be someone who’s struggling at the moment. It could be a beginner. It could be someone with talent but without any business acumen. Perhaps it’s someone who needs a little encouragement.

To keep it confidential, I want my readers to use the contact form on this website to send me the name and the email address of the person they’re nominating. No one else needs to know about it. (Please don’t nominate yourself. This is about giving, and not about getting.)

To celebrate reaching thirty thousand subscribers (and almost 1,000 Facebook fans), I will send at least thirty nominees a PDF copy of my book. Remember, that’s the edition with ten bonus chapters. The person receiving the book will not learn the identity of the person who nominated him or her. It’s like a secret Santa thing.”

So, if you’re reading these words and you have someone in mind, please let me know before December 1st. I’ll make sure they get a complimentary copy (I will not use the email addresses for promotional purposes).

And should you consider having me speak at your conference, rest assured that my bark is bigger than my bite.

As long as you don’t call me Shirley, these two lips from Holland promise to be on their best behavior.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Within a week I received over 50 nominations! It is no longer possible to enter a name. Everyone will receive a PDF copy before December 7th. Thank you!

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