Journalism & Media

Take a Sneak Peek

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Book, Freelancing, Journalism & Media 3 Comments

Things are in full swing at Nethervoice Publishing!

My book Making Money In Your PJs will be available in a couple of weeks, and most people want to know what’s in it.

The following, taken from the introduction, will give you a quick overview.

From the outside, a voice-over career seems almost ideal. You talk into a microphone and you get paid. In Part One of this book, I’ll debunk the most prevalent myths that unscrupulous sales people use to try to sell you expensive voice-over trainings and demo-packages. You’ll also get a much better idea of whether or not a voice-over career is for you.

Part Two deals with self-guided learning, coaching, and voice acting. I’ll tell you what producers and agents are listening for when they’re evaluating auditions, and how you can learn to let a script speak to you. I will also reveal my number one trick to get rid of loud breaths and other mouth noises that can mess up your recordings.

In the next section chapter we get down to business. Most newcomers to voice-over will give up within a year because they don’t know anything about freelancing. Part Three prepares you for the road ahead by learning from other people’s failures and successes. That way, you don’t have to start from scratch. 

Having a pleasant voice is nice if you want to become a voice-over, but it’s not essential. However, making sure that clients can find you is crucial for your career. In “Spreading the Word” (Part Four), you’ll learn how to market yourself through your website and social media, and by developing a personal brand. It’s the story of “telling, not selling” any freelancer can benefit from.

If you want to build a long-term career, you’ll need your colleagues just as much as you need your clients. In Part Five I’ll tell you how to separate the pros from the con artists, and I will introduce you to some of the colorful characters you’re bound to meet in this crazy business.

Whether or not you are going to make it as a pro, will depend as much on your ability to read scripts as on your ability to read clients. That’s what Part Six is about. I will show you what you need to know before you start bidding on projects, and I’ll share my experience with one of the most popular voice casting sites.

Part Seven is about money. It doesn’t matter what you do as a freelancer, but if you don’t learn how to manage your money, you are sabotaging your success. I will spend a good deal of time discussing what you’re worth so that you won’t ever sell yourself or your colleagues short. And if you’ve ever been short-changed by a client, the chapters on collecting money are a must-read.

Next up, I’ll talk about the secret ingredient that can make or break a freelance career: Attitude. Part Eight is called “The Inner Game.” Life as a solopreneur can be a roller coaster ride. Some months you’ll feel on top of the world. Other months you may feel like hanging up your hat. How do you deal with that, emotionally? Well, you’re about to find out.

Whether you’re trying to make it as a voice actor, a graphic designer or a writer, freelancing is a means to an end. No matter what we do, our working life affects our private life, and the other way around. In the last part of this book you’ll hear more about the things that move me personally and professionally. 

That’s all you’re going to see for now. 

Meanwhile, you can follow the news about Making Money In Your PJs on a special Facebook page: www.facebook.com/moneyinyourpjs, as well as on Twitter: https://twitter.com/MoneyInYourPJs.

The website for the book is now live and you can check it out at http://makingmoneyinyourpjs.com.

Stay in touch!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
photo credit: will_i_be via photopin cc

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I’m Giving My Book Away

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Book, Journalism & Media, Promotion, Social Media 124 Comments

3D 1

Well, there you have it!

What do you think?

In a few weeks, my 400+ page book will be available in print and as an eBook. Later this year you can expect the release of the audio version, narrated by the author. He’s giving me a very special rate! 

Until then, you can keep track of the progress and the official release date on a new Facebook page which I’d love you to like:

The Facebook page of "Making Money In Your PJs" by Paul Strikwerda.

I’ll also be posting updates on a new Twitter account:

The Twitter account of  "Making Money In Your PJs" by Paul Strikwerda.

WHAT ELSE IS NEW?

In the next week I am launching a website (www.makingmoneyinyourpjs.com), that will do several things:

– promote the book with previews and reviews;

– serve as a companion to the paperback edition with hyperlinks from the eBook;

– provide an easy way to learn more about the author and ways to get in touch with him.

But that’s not all. Eventually, this website will evolve into something much bigger and better. More about that at a later stage.

WOULD YOU LIKE A FREE COPY?

Do you want to be among the first to read my book?

To celebrate the release of Making Money In Your PJs, I am offering a free PDF copy to the first 50 people who leave a short comment in the comment section below. Just make sure you fill in your email address before you click “ADD COMMENT.” Otherwise I can’t reach you. Please do not leave your email in the comment box.

The PDF-version will be ready in seven to ten days, and I’ll send it to you via wetransfer.com.

Meanwhile, enjoy Making Money In Your PJs!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!

PPS Looking for a graphic designer? Try crowdsourcing with 99designs. That’s where I found mine. Last week I wrote about the process.

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Warning: This Post is Rather Graphic!

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Book, Freelancing, Journalism & Media 16 Comments

Book loveIt’s time to let the cat out of the bag.

Many of you have asked for it, and it’s only fair that you are among the first to know.

This spring I’ll publish my first book!

I’ve already written a few guides: Building a Vocal Booth on a Budget, Boosting Your Business with a Blog, and a short paper called Selling more Real Estate with Videos and Voice-Overs. You can order them through my online shop.

My new book will become available in 10+ eBook stores, and you’ll be able to buy the paperback version on Amazon. Being a voice-over, I am also working on a spoken version. I just have to find a narrator who can do my work justice…

Right now, I’m putting the finishing touches to the manuscript. Proofreaders are making sure that this Dutchman’s English can pass the grammar and spelling test.

In the past week I’ve been working with a number of graphic designers to come up with an eye-catching cover. Today I’ll walk you through that process. Not because I expect you to be needing someone to design a book cover for you. I want to talk about it to give you an idea of what it’s like to be on “the other side.”

TURNING THE TABLES

You see, normally I’m the one that gets hired. This time around I’m doing the hiring. It’s an intriguing perspective that has taught me a lot in a short period of time. I think it’s also interesting for you, because you may be looking for someone to design a new logo, stationery, business card or a website.

Let me make one assumption right off the bat: You’re running a for-profit business and you’d like to keep your expenses down. So, the first question you have to ask yourself is twofold:

How important is my professional image and how much is it worth to me?

If you’re hoping to attract well-paying clients who don’t yet know you, image is everything. First impressions speak volumes. You may be selling high-quality goods, but if your store looks disheveled, you don’t exactly exude trust. In a world where the competition is only a short click away, you have a few seconds to impress, so you’d better make an impact.

Second question: Are you going to hire a cheap amateur or a more expensive pro? Third: Would you consider hiring a talented family member or a friend?

GETTING TOO CLOSE

Let’s start with the last point. If family ties and friendships mean anything to you, please do not hire someone from your inner circles. Not even a friend of a friend or a second cousin twice removed. Keep those relationships clean. They are too precious to be muddled by money. You can’t afford to lose a friend with a fragile ego, just because you’re too cheap to pay a pro.

It may sound strange, but I find I can be more direct with a professional than with a friend. There’s no baggage and there are no sensitive toes to step on. Instead, there’s distance that allows both parties to focus on the project. It’s much easier to critique and possibly fire someone you don’t run into every Thanksgiving, Passover, or Easter.

The choice between hiring a talented amateur and a pro is not an issue for me. It would be hypocritical to pick a budget-friendly hobbyist over a professional. In my line of work I’d never recommend doing that. Why would I make a different choice when it comes to selecting a graphic designer? Quality work always pays for itself, many times over.

SEARCHING FOR TALENT

My next hurdle was finding the perfect professional to create that eye-catching book cover. I have never published a book before, and typing “graphic designer” into Bing gave me 109 million results. That was no help. So I asked around. After a week I had a few names and phone numbers, but none of those who were recommended specialized in eBook covers.

For unknown authors such as myself, it is absolutely critical to have a striking cover. Not only did I want to avoid the self-published look, the cover had to stand out in an ocean of postage-stamp-sized images in online eBook stores. It also seemed a good idea to work with more than one designer.

That’s why I turned to crowdsourcing. It allowed me to tap into a collective of artists, and ask for contributions from a vast online community.

CREATIVE COLLECTIVE

99designs.com is such a community. Whether you need a logo for your business, a website, an app, posters, flyers, product packaging, brochures, or book covers, 99designs.com can connect you to an international crowd of creatives.

It’s easy to get started. First you select what you need and then you launch a contest. It begins with writing a design brief, telling a bit about yourself, your project, and your target audience. You can also include ideas, images, sketches, and other documents that might be helpful. Once that’s done, you pick a bronze, silver, gold, or platinum package.

For $299 (bronze), you can expect about thirty designs. There’s a money-back guarantee should none of the designs meet your expectations. Once the contest is under way, you have seven days to pick a winner.

Just to be clear, only the winning designer gets paid, and 99designs takes a commission depending on which package is chosen and the level of support provided. 

THE CONTEST

In the first couple of days you hold a qualifying round that’s open to all designers. During that time you can rate the designs that come in, and you can give feedback to each contestant. Based on that, they can refine their design or come up with something new. You can also eliminate what you don’t like.

In the second round you pick a few finalists and you work with each of them to get closer to the design you want. At the end of the week, you crown a winner. After that, you can continue to work with that winner to tweak the end product to perfection.

I have to tell you that I loved every minute of this process. It took up a lot of time, but it was so worth it. I had been dreaming of a book for years, and now professionals from all over the world were inspired by the title and my description. It was fantastic to see how people transformed the same words into very different designs. Seeing my name and the title of the book on a 3-D mock cover gave me goose bumps. All of a sudden, an abstract idea became concrete!

LESSONS LEARNED

All in all, 17 designers presented me with 61 entries. That was way more than I expected at the bronze level. Here’s what I learned along the way.

1. The more specific you are in your brief, the greater the chance that you’ll get designs that are to your liking.

The first draft of my brief was purposely vague because I didn’t want to get in the way of someone’s creativity. A number of designs that were based on that brief were as original as they were hideous. But sometimes you have to see what you don’t like in order to find out what you do like. I bet many of our voice-over clients listening to auditions feel the same way.

As soon as I became more clear in my instructions, I received entries that had a lot of potential.

2. You have to be flexible and proactive to attract more designers.

My contest started as an open competition. This means that every designer could see what other colleagues had entered. Some were not comfortable with that and asked me to turn it into a blind contest. That way, no one could steal their ideas. As soon as I did that, some great new designers entered my contest.

I also decided to revoke the money-back guarantee. This meant that at the end of the process, I promised to pick a winner, no matter what. This made it more attractive for some contestants to take part. It showed them I was serious.

Lastly, I studied the online portfolios of hundreds of designers, and I sent invites to those that really spoke to me. This turned out to be the key to finding my winning designer!

3. The best designers base their entries on ideas from the client and not on their personal preferences.

I wanted to use the color scheme of my website for my book cover because it is part of my branding. A number of designers did their own thing and came up with very dark designs. That made it easy for me to rule them out. I also put in my brief that I wanted to avoid the stereotypical microphone on the cover of a book about voice-overs. In spite of that, some thirty percent of entries had microphones.

Some added tulips to their design. Now, if you’re already familiar with my site, that’s not a bad idea. However, I want to reach a new audience with my book. People do judge a book by its cover and there’s no natural connection between Dutch flowers, freelancing and voice-overs.

I also received a number of designs that would do well in the business section of Barnes & Noble. They made strong statement as covers, but they lacked a certain whimsicality and lightness which I had specifically asked for. 

4. Top designers are great communicators and are open to feedback.

On the first day of the contest I received an entry that really made me laugh. I absolutely loved it. However, the subtitle of my book was missing and I asked the designer to add it. In fact, I reached out to him/her twice. In seven days, I never heard a word. If someone is not responsive in the initial phase, how can I trust that this will change once we’re working together for real?

Nelly Murariu, the young artist who ended up being my top pick, describes herself as “a passionate self-taught graphic designer with a big heart and a desire to get better at what I do every day.” She was quick to answer my questions, even later in the day. I don’t know how she did it, because she lives in Bucharest, Romania! Her English was flawless and she has a great sense of humor. She made sure she understood what I really wanted, before making any changes.

At one point I suggested something that I thought would improve the look of the book. It was a bad idea. Nevertheless, Nelly adjusted her design accordingly. When she sent it back to me, I immediately saw that her initial concept made much more sense. To me, this proved that she knew how the mind of a client operates: If you show ’em, you don’t have to tell ’em. 

5. Winning designers go above and beyond.

Every time Nelly came back with an improved design, it was way better than what I had imagined. My instructions asked for a design that would work for an eBook, as well as for the print version. Nelly sent me 3-D renditions of the paperback, 2-D images of the front and back, as well as the eBook version. In other words: it was very clear what I was buying.

At one point I asked her if she could retouch the author picture on the back because my face looked a bit orange. It turned out that she had already fixed it. This girl read my mind! I felt a bit sorry for the other designers. Mind you, there were some very strong contenders, but every time a cover from another designer came in, I compared it to Nelly’s work.

Most importantly, Nelly made me feel like I was her only client and top priority.

She was so good that I ended up skipping the second phase of the contest where designers go head to head, and I crowned her the winner. You can find her on 99designs as “Nellista,” and you can contact her directly by clicking this link.

A COMPLETE SUCCESS?

To date, 99designs has a pool of 290,172 designers. In 2012 it opened its European headquarters in Berlin, and has launched localized versions of its services in German, French, Spanish, Dutch, and Italian. Since the start in 2008, the site has paid out $71,576,558 to the designer community through more than 288,987 contests. Impressive numbers, no doubt, but not every designer is happy with how the 99designs works or the commission it takes. It can be as high as 35 – 40%.

Imagine working hard to come up with two or three entries and walking away with absolutely nothing. Well, if you’ve ever auditioned for a voice-over job, you already know how that feels. The big difference is that when we audition, we usually only read a short sample script, whereas these designers are asked to come up with a complete logo, a brochure or a poster. It’s a great concept for clients like me, but it can get demotivating for designers.

Still, no one is forced to offer their services on 99designs. It’s a relatively easy way to get in touch with clients and possibly develop long-term relationships. I will certainly turn to Nelly for future projects, and I highly recommend her to anyone in need of a graphic designer.

For the next two weeks, you can get a free $99 upgrade through this link: http://99designs.refr.cc/W3F6SSR. This offer expires April 10th.

If you’re curious to find out what my book looks like, stay tuned. Next week I will reveal the title, and the cover Nelly designed for me.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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photo credit: Carlos Porto via photopin cc

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8 Ways to Increase Web Traffic – Guaranteed

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Journalism & Media, Promotion 14 Comments

pretty girl holding a megaphoneLast week I revealed that this blog had reached 5,000 subscribers. Since then, this number has increased by another seven thousand, and I haven’t seen any signs of a slowdown.

If you’re wondering how I got to this point and how you can get there too, stay tuned. But before I tell you what worked for me, I have a confession to make.

Read the rest of this story in my new book. Click on the cover to access the website and get a sneak peek. Use the buttons to buy the book.

Making Money In Your PJs cover

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Looking Back

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Gear, International, Internet, Journalism & Media, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play, Promotion, Social Media, Studio 3 Comments
Nethervoice blog author Paul Strikwerda

blog author Paul Strikwerda

In my last post of the year, I always go back in time to highlight some of the articles you may have missed or would like to revisit.

December turned out to be Gear Month at Nethervoice, and in a way we’ve come full circle. My first contribution of 2013 was entitled “Confessions of a Hopeless Gearhead.”

If you’ve ever wondered why evaluating and selecting new gear is so subjective and challenging, you have to read this  article.

CLIENTS FROM HELL

No matter in what stage of your career you are, you and I have at least one thing in common: we’re always communicating with customers. How to effectively deal with clients has been a recurring theme on this blog.

If you believe the customer is always right, you’re wrong and I’ll tell you why in a story about lengthy translations, short videos and managing expectations. “Bring in the Natives” looks at the many reasons why ignorant clients and careless online casting sites don’t bother with quality control any more.

In “Rotten Carrots and Cool Clients” I will introduce you to Type A and Type B clients, and I’ll show you how you can tell the difference. Here’s the bottom line: stay away from one of them!

VIOLENT VIDEO GAMES & TIPS FOR BEGINNERS

January was the month I finally decided to open up about something I feel strongly about: violence in video games and the role voice actors play in the production of these games. In “It’s just a Game” I weigh some of the evidence on the links between violent games and violent behavior. 

Makers of violent video games may proclaim that all they do is provide innocent entertainment. I’m not buying it. You may not agree with my conclusions, but I hope you’ll take a few minutes to consider what I have to say.

Another recurring theme is the position of newbies in the voice-over industry and ways in which beginners can increase their level of professionalism. In “Learning on the job” I expose one of the persistent myths that it’s totally okay to advertise yourself as a pro and treat your clients to trial-and-error sessions.

I even went as far as to share my entire voice-over working agreement with you, so you wouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel.

Success does not come easy in this profession, and certainly not overnight. My article “Failure is Always an Option” tells the story of a number of colleagues with great intentions who made bad decisions that killed their career. There are lessons to be learned from failure!

LET’S GET PERSONAL

Every now and then I also give you an inside look into my personal life. I don’t do that because I’m a closet-narcissist (you can read about that in “Call me a Narcissist”).

It’s because I want to draw attention to a charity I feel passionate about: the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. In “Overcoming Obstacles and Giving Back” I tell the story of how my wife discovered she has MS and how she is dealing with this confusing and unpredictable disease.

Together, readers of this blog raised over $5000 for the MS Society, making us the number #5 fundraising team out of 58 in my area. I can’t thank you enough for your incredible generosity!

Speaking of my wife, in “The Wind beneath my Wings” I blogged about the importance of having a supportive partner in this field of work. A partner can be a dear friend but also a life partner. I know for a fact that I wouldn’t be able to do what I do, if it weren’t for my better half.

As a reluctant introvert, I tend to keep things inside. “The Emotional Dilemma” is a story about how my feelings are influencing my work for better or for worse, and how I am channeling these emotions as I’m interpreting scripts.

Many people have asked my about my background as a voice actor. “How it all began” will tell you more about the early days of my voice-over career.

TECH TALK

Of course no year goes by without me delving into some of the more technical issues that come with our job. In “Get the boom out of the room” I reveal some of my personal secrets to creating a dry recording space.

Factory Demos and Fatal First Impressions” deals with sure ways to kill any chance of winning an audition and what you can do about it.

2013 was in many ways a testing year.

Last week I reviewed Audient’s iD22, a top-notch  audio interface that is my number one pick for best new VO-gear of the year. I also tried out Microphone X from Aphex. It’s a unique USB mic with built-in analog processing.

My new Presonus Eris 5 studio monitors inspired me to write an article about gear selection, and I tried out several gadgets designed to turn a smart phone into a voice-over recording device.

I also reviewed CAD’s Acousti-Shield 32 and their Sessions MH510 studio headphones.

MONEY, MONEY, MONEY

Getting paid is always a hot topic in voice-over land. A few months ago, I wrote a series of stories on that topic, beginning with “When a client owes you” followed by “Give me my money!” If you’re still waiting for that check that was promised ages ago, and you’re wondering what you can do about it, I’m sure my tips will help you.

For those of you in Europe or with clients in that part of the world, I reported on the efforts of the EU to crack down on late payments. A new EU directive protects people like you and me against clients who demand you deliver your work yesterday and who pay whenever they feel like it.

Of course my blogging year wouldn’t be complete without mentioning two stories that turned out to be immensely popular because they dealt with one popular Pay to Play site in particular.

In “Leaving Voices.com” I told you about my falling out with this Canadian company (be sure to listen to the audio sample!). This article was widely discussed and quoted, and I added a follow-up with “As the Dust Settles.”

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to leave every online casting site that is not working in my best interest and in the best interest of our profession. I’d say that covers about ninety percent of them. 

WHAT YOU CAN DO FOR ME

All in all it’s been a pretty productive year.

Many people have asked me how I manage to write a blog each week (plus guest posts), and to have a full-time voice-over career. Just read “Are You Talking To Me” for some answers, as well as tips for those thinking of starting a blog in 2014.

Of course there are many articles from 2013 that I did not mention in this overview, but I’ll leave it to you to explore more and pick your personal favorites.

If you’ve enjoyed my writing in the past twelve months, I’d like to ask you one small favor.

Please keep on sharing my stories with your friends and colleagues and stay in touch.

Your comments, friendship and collegiality continue to inspire me!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Are You Talking To Me?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Journalism & Media, Promotion, Social Media 7 Comments

young girl writingDialogue or Monologue?

That’s the question I ask when I read other people’s blogs.

Is the author talking to me or to him or herself?

Dialogue or Monologue? It’s a question I ask myself every time I’m writing a new blog post. Am I really talking to my readers, or am I involved in a narcissistic exercise?

Ideally, I want my stories to be the start of a conversation with you. That’s why the comment section is my favorite part of this blog. I love it when readers share their experiences and offer additional insights.

There are also comments that you never get to see.

Read the rest of this story in my new book. Click on the cover to access the website and get a sneak peek. Use the buttons to buy the book.

Making Money In Your PJs cover

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The Voice-Over Movie You’ve Never Heard Of

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Journalism & Media 9 Comments

Harry Chase. photo credit: Mark Rosenberg

Harry Chase, I owe you an apology.

A few weeks ago, I was reviewing Lake Bell’s In A World (click here to read) and I noted that most on-screen actors easily transition into voice-overs, but that it doesn’t happen the other way around. I wrote:

“Have you ever seen a full-time voice actor land a major role in a motion picture? I haven’t.”

Well, I was wrong.

Weeks later, I discovered the 2010 movie Hello Lonesome. If you’re a Netflix user, the DVD is easy to find. 

In it, real-life voice-over artist Harry Chase plays a… real-life voice-over artist. He’s Bill Soap, a cantankerous, lonely man, longing to make amends with his estranged daughter after his wife suddenly left him. His most regular contact with the outside world is an opera-loving delivery guy. 

That’s not the synopsis of the entire movie, though. Bill is just one of the six characters who populate this picture, and there are three different and equally touching story lines. 

Self-financed with a $50,000 budget and completed in only 15 days, the movie was written, produced, shot and directed by Adam Reid. Adam got his start writing and producing promos for Comedy Central including South Park and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. He is currently the Executive Creative Director of the production company Bodega Studios in New York City.

The New York Times called Hello Lonesome a…

“smart, poignant trilogy of interwoven vignettes” that “manages the considerable feat of creating six fully human characters who are quirky enough to transcend the stereotypes found in a typical indie film.”

On the movie website, Adam Reid writes:

“As a promo producer I have worked with a lot of voice over artists. I think a lot of us wish we could have that kind of life. From the outside, it’s a lazy persons paradise: Wake up, crawl to a sound proof booth in your basement, read out loud into a microphone and get paid handsomely for it.

Bill Soap is the center of our three-ring circus. We cast real life voiceover Harry Chase and shot on location at his home. (It’s worth noting that Harry happens to be a wonderful husband and father, unlike his character, but does occasionally report to work in his underwear.)

Each story in Hello Lonesome is a parable. I wanted all of the characters to be very real and believable, and at the same time, this is a movie about how the smallest communication can change your life. In Bill’s case, that’s quite literal. He’s isolated himself and is now trapped in his own voice over booth.”

WHO IS HARRY CHASE

Harry Chase on the set of Hello LOnesome

Adam Reid, Harry Chase and Julia Reisen

Chase has over 30 years experience in the business, and you’ll probably recognize him as the voice of Captain Morgan’s Rum. His work includes feature film trailers as well as spots for Quiznos, Sony Vaio, Disney on Broadway, CNN, CBS, Lifetime, Sci-Fi and National Geographic.

Harry’s voice can also be heard in video games such as “Grand Theft Auto IV” and as Gandalf in “The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar.” Harry won a “Best Voice Over” Golden Trailer Award for his work on the movie trailer for “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” starring Brad Pitt.

THUMBS UP OR DOWN

Just like In A World is not a documentary about voice-overs, Hello Lonesome tells stories that revolve around relationships. It’s an intimate movie about loss, loneliness and human connection. 

It does take us inside Harry Chase’s sound booth. We watch him at work during several ISDN sessions, and it’s clear that he is in his element. Without giving too much away, I can tell you that his studio plays an important part in one of the plot lines.  

Once he is outside of the voice actor’s comfort zone, Chase proves to be a natural. At no point did I get the feeling that he was acting (which is the highest compliment I can pay a colleague). In fact, he sounded more himself and less of a movie trailer man when he wasn’t using his shotgun mic, but was teaching the delivery man how to fire a rifle.

Reviewing the movie for The Huffington Post, Marshall Fine said:

“Shot simply, acted without fuss, Hello Lonesome is alternately funny, wistful, tragic and suspenseful. Reid does a lot with a little – and has crafted a small beauty of a film with his first try.” 

I couldn’t have said it any better than that.

Hello Lonesome won the Best Ensemble Jury Award at the Los Angeles Film Festival, as well as a number of other awards. It is now available on iTunes and you can get the DVD through Netflix. Click here if you want to buy this brilliant movie.

Hats off to you, Harry Chase. 

Now, can you please put your pants back on?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Do Voice Actors Suffer From An Inferiority Complex?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Journalism & Media, Promotion 20 Comments

Euphoric.

That’s the mood the voice-over community has been in, lately.

The reason?

It’s the release of Lake Bell’s motion picture In A World.

If you are a voice talent and you haven’t heard about this fun-filled father-and-daughter comedy, you must be living under a rock and a hard place.

This movie got so much publicity inside my professional bubble that I didn’t even want to blog about it.

The anticipation for In A World had been building for months. When it finally came out, the citizens of voiceoverland went a little crazy.

If you’re a true member of our VO family, you probably did one of three things:

  1. You posted or reposted the In A World trailer on your social media outlets dozens of times;
  2. You read reviews and listened to or watched several interviews with Miss Bell and her cast of other characters;
  3. You frantically tried to get tickets from the box office of some small artsy theater where In A World was playing, hours away from your home.

If that’s what you did, let me ask you this:

Why all the hoopla for a movie that so far has grossed a humble $321,614 in the two weeks since its release; a movie that is number 30 on the box office charts, right behind this summer’s mega-flop “The Lone Ranger” and the equally disappointing “R.I.P.D.”?

You might think that In A World deserves to be seen by millions, but apparently, distributor Roadside Attractions wasn’t confident enough to go for a wide release. Are they hoping for a sleeper hit on Netflix?

To me it’s rather obvious why the attention-craving voice-over community has embraced Lake Bell’s movie.

This comedy is about US.

Finally!

We, the masters of the spoken word, the unseen and unsung heroes of gazillions of trailers, audio books, commercials and e-Learning modules, are at last being recognized for who we are and what we do.

After decades of neglect and ridicule, voice-overs have come out of their walk-in closets, ready to be embraced for their vocal magnificence.

Thanks to Miss Bell, the voice-over world finally has a voice. Better still: It’s a FEMALE voice!

We feel validated and vindicated and tell ourselves:

“People find us interesting. Look, they even made a movie about us and talk about it in the media. That must mean we’re important!”

I hate to burst your bubble, but that’s an illusion. 

In a few days, the promotional circus surrounding this picture will fade away, and not even Joan Baker will be able to elevate our status in a world that doesn’t really care. Very soon we’ll get back to where we were before: invisible, under appreciated, and chronically underpaid.

Let me tell you why voice-over people are relatively irrelevant.

1. Voice actors run an auditory business in an increasingly visual world.

A study published on August 19th in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, describes that people who were asked to identify the winners of major piano competitions tend to do better when they purely rely on visual – rather than auditory – cues. 

Seeing, not hearing, is believing.

This confirms the age-old adage that a picture paints a thousand words. Images will always overpower what we play or say, no matter how meaningful the music or the script. Visual impact is everything.

That’s why movie stars are among the best paid people on the planet and voice actors are not. Keep in mind that it took a motion picture with on-screen actors and not some radio play or podcast to highlight the world VO’s live in.

2. Most on-screen actors easily transition into voice-overs.

Have you ever seen a full-time voice actor land a major role in a motion picture? I haven’t. Most of them can’t act and have to hire a coach to learn how to sound natural. The actors we know from the stage, the movies or television on the other hand, love doing voice-over work on the side, and most of them are very good at it.

When big brands need solid exposure, they turn to well-known names to get their message across. While voice actors often have to scramble for a decent rate, their on-camera colleagues can command top-dollar for that six-word catch phrase at the end of a commercial.

3. In A World is not a movie about voice-overs.

Ron Howard didn’t shoot “Backdraft” as a documentary about firefighters. The TV series ER wasn’t made to promote the medical profession. The fire station and the hospital were both backdrops that allowed human drama to unfold.

In A World takes us into recording studios to tell us about the rivalry between a father and a daughter who both happen to audition for the same job.

At heart, it is a light summer movie about relationships, and the voice-over setting is nothing but a clever prop, allowing the actors to showcase their skills and versatility. Nothing less and nothing more.

4. But doesn’t this movie have a powerful message about inequality in the VO-workplace?

It’s true. Lake Bell’s character tries to break into the male-dominated world of movie trailers. However, I don’t think the predominant purpose of In A World was to further some feminist agenda. It’s a comedy. Not a Gloria Steinem manifesto.

The male-female dichotomy at the center of In A World is a ploy that serves a plot. It creates conflict that needs to be resolved.

It’s an old theme in a new setting:

Will the underdog succeed against overwhelming odds? Watch the movie and find out!

Most movies aren’t made to move minds. Audiences across the globe like to escape and be entertained. They hate being lectured about social injustice. And let’s be honest: film studios are not some kind of philanthropic institution ready to promote an important cause. I can summarize their business model in four words:

Minimize risks. Maximize profits.

5. Will Lake Bell manage to break the gender barrier?

The short answer is NO.

I don’t think Bell will impact movie trailers the way Mary Tyler Moore changed television. Using a female voice for a movie trailer would require a revolution. Not a Sundance comedy.

Usually, Hollywood doesn’t like to try something that hasn’t been done before. Playing it safe is the name of the game. That’s why the same actors and actresses, screenwriters, directors and composers are hired again and again.

The fact that female voices aren’t chosen to promote blockbusters has nothing to do with sexism. It has everything to do with movie moguls testing every aspect of a motion picture to see if it will appeal to an audience of average Americans. Words are weighed and endings are altered based on feedback from the all-important focus groups. 

Without being derogatory, it’s fair to say that Joe Six-pack is the most important movie ticket buying demographic. If a focus group of Joe’s agrees that a booming male voice has more gravitas, that’s what studios will choose. Forget feminism or equal opportunities.

Thus, the cliché continues.

One last thing.

6. The rest of the world isn’t nearly as interested in our profession as we are.

If we do our job right, the listeners will pay more attention to the message than to the messenger. We serve the script and make it shine.

Unlike on-screen actors, we stay out of the limelight. We don’t appear in tabloids or on talk shows. Our private lives are blissfully boring. There is no glamour in voice-overs. For a majority of celebrity-watchers, voice-overs are positively uninteresting.

So be it.  

In our small and isolated world, Lake Bell’s movie might be a big deal; a victory for voice-overs, even. The rest of the planet falls for blockbusters about zombie invasions, promiscuous vampires and kids playing Hunger Games -all of them promoted by Don Lafontaine sound-alikes.  

Just because we don’t necessarily get recognized for our work, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take professional pride in what we do. We might not make millions of dollars and live in huge mansions, but there’s no reason to feel inferior. 

In real life, a lot of great things happen under the radar. Those things can be far more profound than anything the gossip shows will ever report on. 

Think about those who have dedicated themselves to helping others. Ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Most of them will never be acknowledged or honored, and they’re fine with that. 

These people are in it for the music. 

Not for the applause.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet! 

PPS “Hello Lonesome” is the voice-over movie you have never heard of. Click here for my story about this movie.

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Am I too old for this?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Journalism & Media 25 Comments

Staying youngWhen I first came to the United States in the early nineties, I noticed something weird.

An average American would not have thought about it twice, but as a European it really struck me.

People in this country seemed to have a problem with age and aging.

What was my first clue?

Compared to my native Netherlands, many “older” people in the States (women and men) were coloring their hair. 

When my Dutch grandma went to a salon, she might have asked the stylist to add a touch of silver to her gray. That was as far as she would go. But on the West Coast where I was training at that time, pensioners had no problem going platinum blonde or pitch-black. 

Many of them dressed in hip track suits and were wearing white sneakers. Mind you, I’d never seen my grandfather in anything else than a three-piece suit and Oxfords. My grandparents would never dare wear anything athletic in public. Sneakers were for the gym, not for the streets.

Being in California, I couldn’t help but notice all the “plastic people.” On TV I’d see actors and anchors who clearly had had work done to stay marketable. Commercials were populated by people in their twenties and thirties or by those who desperately tried to look like they were in their twenties and thirties.

Was there something wrong with the older generation, I wondered. Why couldn’t or why wouldn’t people look their age? 

THE YOUTHFUL FOUNTAIN

We’re now living in a new millennium and it’s not just the aging population that wants to maintain their youthful, flawless looks.

The American Society of Plastic Surgeons estimated in 2009 that Botox was injected into Americans ages 13 to 19 nearly 12,000 times, including some teenagers who got multiple doses. According to the New York Times, doctors were injecting teenagers for a variety of perceived imperfections, from a too-gummy smile to a too-square jaw.

When teen girls were asked about why they chose to get the injections, they said they wanted to prevent wrinkles or “appear fresh” in front of the camera. (source)

Meanwhile, the anti-aging industry has gone global. The sale of lotions, potions, supplements and other products is expected to top $291 billion in a few years. (source) Most of these products need promotion, and in a way, voice-overs are benefiting from this trend.

MIXED FEELINGS

As much as I’d like to believe that looks don’t matter, that talent is timeless and that age is a feeling and not a number, I must admit that turning fifty this week was a mixed blessing. It’s a blessing because personally and professionally, I’ve never been happier. 

I don’t sweat the small things anymore. Things I used to take personally I stopped caring about. I’m no longer intimidated by pompous people (of which there are many in my industry), and I don’t have to work for a jerk who does not respect me. Experience has taught me to ride the tide of dry spells and getting more work than I can handle. 

The need for approval and recognition is fading fast. What’s left is a focus on building true connections and delivering consistent quality. Giving is now more important than taking, but I know my experience is worth something, and I’m not afraid to charge accordingly. 

MY FEARS

On the other hand, I worry about staying current. Society and especially technology is changing at such a fast pace. Will I be able to keep up with it? Do I want to? 

Part of me cringes when I’m being introduced as a “veteran voice actor.” It’s an honorary title, but to me it sounds painfully close to “old and almost irrelevant fart.” I don’t want to be that person talking about the good old days when we did our editing by cutting tape with a razor blade and the world was listening to vinyl. 

I’m afraid that producers might think that “seasoned” means expensive and “experienced” equals inflexible. And what if they see that headshot with my graying head of hair? I think my voice still sounds young, but will clients continue to consider me for more youthful, energetic roles? 

Even though I feel relatively fit, I don’t have the stamina of a twenty-year old, and I cannot pull off all-nighters. My eyesight is deteriorating and I need to have my hearing tested. And let’s not mention the inevitable colonoscopy which I’ve been putting off for ages.

Fifty is so much more than a number.

It’s a verdict.

BEING REAL

Surprised? 

I had wanted to write about this for quite some time now, but I kept it to myself because I didn’t think it would fit the way my public persona is generally perceived. People tend to think I’m an optimistic, resourceful go-getter, and not some sad sack with a good life who’s complaining about getting older.

Well, some things cannot be rinsed away with a bottle of “Just For Men.” I know it is perfectly possible to be stuck between the pros and cons of a certain situation. There is no light without darkness. But why bring it up in a blog? Isn’t that an exercise in narcissism? 

One: There’s strength in honesty. Denial doesn’t solve anything. Acknowledging our fears is the beginning of overcoming them. 

Two: There’s strength in sharing. I know I’m not alone in thinking about how my age might affect my career. Even people in their thirties and forties are dealing with it.

Three: I’d like to hear your perspective. Because voice actors are invisible, looks and age really shouldn’t matter. Peter Thomas (89) and June Foray (95) are still working. Yet, have you experienced ageism in our industry? Is being older an asset or an impediment?

While you ponder these important questions, this old man is going to put on a pair of white socks and sandals as he gets ready for his hair appointment.

Who knows… he might even ask the stylist to add some color!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

photo credit: marlambie via photopin cc

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Vida Ghaffari: Baklava and Apple Pie

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, International, Journalism & Media 1 Comment

Vida Ghaffari

Vida Ghaffari is a second generation Iranian-American, and her career has certainly taken off since she left the nest.

Actress, red carpet reporter, voice-over talent… Vida is as vivacious as she is versatile.  

Vida comes from a famous and influential Iranian family of actors, directors, writers. That’s quite something to live up to. I had to ask her:

Is it a blessing or a curse?

VG I think before the revolution (the Iranian revolution of 1979, PS), it would have been a blessing as the Ghaffaris were well-known for their contributions to the fine and dramatic arts and were active in the media and the performing arts.

Sometimes, it’s a curse as a lot of other (Iranian) people expect me to do anything: paint, direct, be a scholar, rocket scientist, politician… the list is endless.

PS In what way has this rich family background influenced your career choices?

VG Well, my dad is in the sciences, but I always had an interest in the arts as my mom was an illustrator in the old country before she married my dad. My grandmother was a suffragist and she has been such a source of inspiration in my life. She was also a poet, so the house was full of art and impromptu poetry recitals.

I’m pretty sure that most Iranian families quote full verses of renowned poets such as Hafez, Saadi, Khayyam, and Rumi at the dinner table, but for me it was a constant. My mom also was a child actress. She performed in a play for the Shah and Ambassador Grady, the former US ambassador to Iran at the time, and many other prominent political figures of that era.

Unfortunately at the time in Iran, the performing arts weren’t highly regarded as a path for young women to pursue, so my mom was forced to quit acting at her father’s insistence at the tender age of 9. I’m sure she would have been very successful. So fast forward to years later, and my dad being the very practical mathematician and scientist, he wanted me to get a job at the World Bank, because he had friends there who got great salaries, benefits, and job security.

I suppressed my artistic side and studied Economics at the University of Maryland and minored in theater and journalism. Even though these weren’t my majors, I was very involved with theater at Maryland and wrote for the school paper. I even DJ’ed my own radio show on WMUC, the campus radio station. It was a tough pill for me to swallow as in high school, I was invited to enroll into a couple of great performing arts magnet schools, but chose to go to regular high school at my dad’s insistence.

After college, I had some stints on Capitol Hill, where I was awarded journalism and research grants from the Woodrow Wilson Center and the National Journalism Center.

PS Immigrants and/or political refugees usually have two choices when coming to a new country: assimilate or hold on to their own identity. It’s a choice between blending in or standing out.

You were born in the U.S. and you sound like an all-American girl. However, you seem to have embraced your heritage with open arms. How do you reconcile both worlds?

VG My parents have lived here in the US for many years (my dad was invited here in 1948 and my mom came here in the 1960’s), so I think they have assimilated very well and truly love this great nation. I was born and raised in the DC area and I have a sense of pride, being raised in such a historically significant and political town.

I’m often told that I have the warmth of an Iranian and the integrity of an American, whatever that means. I guess I’m a paradox of sorts in that I can seamlessly incorporate the two. I love baklava and apple pie!

I also feel very grateful and privileged to be born here in the land of the free, but I truly have a profound respect for my heritage. The pony express was created in ancient Persia and there have been countless contributions made to mathematics, the sciences as well as poetry and literature.

The renowned poet Saadi’s poem used to grace the entrance to the “Hall of Nations” of the United Nations building in New York, with a call for breaking all barriers:

“Human beings are members of a whole, in creation of one essence and soul. If one member is afflicted with pain, other members uneasy will remain. If you have no sympathy for human pain, the name of human you cannot retain.”

The first Declaration of Human Rights was created by Cyrus the Great. Also, Iranian-Americans have become so successful in this country, not only as businesspeople, but as doctors, lawyers, engineers and other professionals. It’s so inspiring to see how they’re making so many contributions to this society in such a short time. I know this is true of most Iranian immigrant communities internationally as well.

I’m very proud of the struggle of the brave Iranian youth in search of the freedom they so rightly deserve and have covered many protests in LA as a journalist.

PS I’ve heard that casting agencies sometimes list you as “ethnically ambiguous”. What does that even mean?

VG Ethnically ambiguous means that one is ethnic, but not categorizable as what nationality he/she actually is. There are more and more casting notices looking for “ethnically ambiguous” actors, so for me and many of my friends and colleagues, it’s a good thing as there are more roles and opportunities out there for us.

PS Actors from Middle Eastern countries are often typecast as terrorists or as the stereotypical submissive women. In other words: as caricatures. Do you think that’s fair?

VG Not at all. After all, the renowned poet Ferdowsi referred to them as lionesses. I think Middle Eastern women are very strong and silently brave, considering the sexist culture(s) they live in.

As for me, I can’t even get seen for any Middle Eastern roles as many casting directors don’t think I look ethnic enough. There’s such a strong stereotype of what a Middle Eastern person should look like. I usually go in for Caucasian roles. I even used to be a translator back home in DC and I worked for Persian TV here, so my Farsi is pretty good if the role calls for it.

PS At some point everyone in the entertainment industry faces a tough choice: Should I specialize and make it easy for the public to put me in a box, or should I diversify and risk being accused of a lack of focus. What’s your answer?

VG As a character actress, I have a little bit more room in terms of the variety of the roles I play. I feel very blessed and lucky about that. As an artist, I like widening my range.

PS You’re a big proponent of networking. Why is it so important to make the rounds and make sure you stay in the picture?

VG Because we’re in a business of referrals and contacts. It’s very important to network and put yourself out there. But I also love meeting new people, especially other folks in the arts. I guess I’m a people person! I do have to add that what I spent the most time on is my craft first and foremost. I’m either in a class, workshop, acting workout group, staged reading, et cetera.

PS At what point does networking become a nuisance?

VG It doesn’t really become a nuisance, but it can be very time-consuming… meeting like-minded people, staying in touch with them, planning meetings with them. It’s very hard to schedule things properly also when one takes into consideration this crazy LA traffic!

PS It must be nice to have a Rolodex full of contacts, but then what? What tips do you have for maintaining these relationships?

VG Staying in touch via email is great. Let folks in the industry know what you’re up to by updating on Facebook and Twitter, but not so much that you’re doing status updates 24/7!

I also give back to my friends as much as possible if they need a referral, advice, or I inform them of a project they’d be right for. I even give free voice-over lessons to some actors from time to time who really want to study voice-over, but can’t afford it. I think it’s so important to be a part of the community and give back, especially in an artistic one.

PS You’ve also mentioned that you think it’s important to have a mentor. What does a mentor mean to you? Who’s your mentor and what’s the most important thing you’ve learned from him/her?

VG A mentor for me has been like a total career guide. I was lucky enough to meet mine by chance. I enrolled in instructor Doug Rye’s excellent voice-over class at LA Valley College and soon he became my mentor. 

There’s also, Ivy Bethune, a legendary character actress, whom I consider to be a dear friend and she’s like a mentor to me. I aspire to be like her one day! She’s one of the sweetest, most generous, talented and humble artists I’ve ever met.

I met her in my voice-over workout group and I’ve learned more from watching her read her copy in the booth for a 30 second ad that I have in many years of classes, workshops, et cetera. I also was on the planning committee for the Ivy Bethune Tri-union diversity awards that were named in her honor. 

Speaking of volunteer work, I contribute to various causes such as voicing many charity events as well as the NOH8 campaign (a silent protest photo project against California Proposition 8, PS). I even acted in their PSA.

PS You’re not only an actor, reporter, presenter… you’re also a voice-over professional. You’re obviously comfortable in front of the camera and an audience.

Voice-over talents usually hide in dark studios and talk to an audience that’s not there. Yet, you say it’s your passion. What do you like about it? Is it easier or harder to do than the on-camera stuff?

VG Voice-over is a lot of fun. I love that I can play a wider range of characters from sultry leading ladies to sassy bosses to pushy soccer moms. You name it. And don’t even get me started on dialects!

Voice-over actors tend not to get typecast like on-camera actors as they’re not being seen, just heard. Voice-over is a different medium, so I can’t really compare it to on-camera work, but I have fun doing both.

PS Pretend for a moment that I am a budding actor/voice-over talent. What mistakes have you –Vida- made that I could learn from, and what are those lessons?

VG I’ve made more mistakes on-camera than in voice over, probably because I’ve done it longer. I would have probably invested more time and money in my career early on. I would also reach out to more people in the industry more often and try to maintain contact with them.

As I mentioned earlier, I think the most important thing to do as an artist is to continually work on your craft on a daily basis, be it on the stage, in a booth, or even in your living room. I think it’s also to find a community of like-minded people you can collaborate with.

Also, as I mentioned earlier, finding a mentor would be great thing to do, especially in a career path like this one that is constantly changing and evolving.

PS If I could offer you a dream job today, what would it be and why?

VG I think being a correspondent for “the Daily Show” would be the perfect fit as I have a strong background in journalism, news, comedy, acting, and sometimes I hear the correspondents do voice-overs. Besides John Hodgman, I think I’d be the only correspondent with a journalism background and I think with my unique point-of-view

I could add a lot to the show. Did you hear that Jon Stewart? 🙂

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

Headshots by Robert Kazandjian and Courtney Beckett 

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