Journalism & Media

Poisonous Pens

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Internet, Journalism & Media, Personal, Social Media33 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)

Send to Kindle

The Problem with Podcasting

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Journalism & Media, Social Media56 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)

Send to Kindle

My Dutch Digital Detox

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, International, Internet, Journalism & Media, Personal, Social Media13 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

Send to Kindle

My Best Year Ever

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Book, Career, Freelancing, International, Internet, Journalism & Media, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play, Promotion, Social Media11 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

Send to Kindle

Paul’s Great Giveaway

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Book, Freelancing, Journalism & Media, Pay-to-Play, Promotion15 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!

Send to Kindle

When The Manure Hits The Fan

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Journalism & Media, Promotion23 Comments

This is not a Voice Arts™ Award“This all may smell rotten to a European sensibility, but may we just stipulate that the Voice Arts™ Awards are not the Pulitzer Prize.”

“My personal take on it is if it’s important to you, participate. If it isn’t, ignore it. At first the whole thing just irritated me. I saw it as rather self-aggrandizing. Now I just don’t care.”

“I think the idea behind the awards was an excellent one and those involved at the top probably the best people to launch this endeavor. But it’s clear that, while a great deal is to be commended, some parts of the execution were a little creaky and need looking at.”

“I like the anonymity my job offers. I can go to a movie in peace, eat a restaurant in peace and not deal with stalkers. I quit theatrical work a long time ago because the wonderful world of VO and it’s people suited me better. I don’t see a point to a media event for awards in VO, unless it’s at a trade conference, presided over by our peers, and accessible to all VO pros, not just a few. This is the wrong business to get into if you want fame and fortune, and I like it that way.”

“This type of discussion is needed for the awards to have any chance of actually meaning something in the future. If we’re all “rah-rah for VO!!!”, and overlook the flaws in our own backyard, nobody else will respect us, or our craft. I’d rather have no award than one with so many obvious red flags in the process.”

“I’m reminded of naysayers early in mine and everybody else’s career who had nothing but negative things to say about anybody doing anything new or different. They are the people to avoid.”

“I don’t think one who criticizes or questions a promotion or event should be labeled a “naysayer.” Just like politics and everything else in life, people are going to have a variety of opinions and THAT is what keeps things interesting! When you’re as visible as Joan and Rudy are and you market something aggressively, you are always going to get a plethora of different opinions.”

“This so-called “expert” absolutely launched a personal attack upon all those who have taken a positive interest in the Voice Arts™ Awards, including its creators. And any idiot who doesn’t see that has his big fat empty head stuck in the sand. And now this character is pretending to be pleased with the reaction to his public editorial, as if he did it for the good of humanity. He is spewing his personal venom while hiding behind the mask of open debate.”

“It seems like a fairly small segment of the VO community stroking their own egos. If you pay your money, you get to be part of the club and get a little trophy that you can use to sell yourself when you start coaching and writing books.”

“I wonder how it must feel to have been awarded Saturday night only to have respected members of the community laugh in your face. To have people you admire nullify a very exciting night.”

“The Voice Arts™ Awards awards are good for voice-over, regardless, and should be encouraged as goals and standards that are possible.”

“You seem to be unusually fixated on trying to destroy something simply because it’s not your idea — because it outshines your banal rhetoric. Well, guess what? You’re maniacal envy is obvious to all, even the few pathetic cynics who might seem to come to your defense. Truth be told, you’re full of spite and envy. You’re blinded by ego and self-delusion. You are a sad man, full of rage and jealousy, and YOU KNOW IT. Honestly, you are completely irrelevant to the voiceover community and the only card you have left to play is to rail against that which is relevant.”

“This is a plain attack on all business people working hard and creating superior quality of a platform. It’s painful to see such ignorance displayed as opinion. I wouldn’t follow this man if the world was crashing around me.”

“That blog was not aiming to encourage discussion about the Awards, it wasn’t objective enough to even pass remotely close to that being it’s aim. I haven’t responded to the author because quite simply, I have better things to do and am not interested in being involved in a conversation that is negative from the off.”

“Don’t look for fair or perfection when it comes to honoring excellence. In the history of show business, it’s never been either and it never will. And a nomination/win doesn’t have to enhance your career. But it is a hellova lotta fun!!!!”

SPIRITED DEBATE

These are just a few of the hundreds of comments that came in, after last week’s story about the Voice Arts™ Awards (VAA). As I am typing these words, it has been read over 2,500 times. The follow-up entitled Party Pooper Unleashes Sh*tstorm, has so far attracted about 1,500 readers.

Colleague and VO business expert Tom Dheere suggested this discussion was perhaps an example of a Voice-Over Class Warfare between “blue-collar” voice talent and “white-collar” voice talent. Tom explains:

“Blue-collar” voice talents are part-time or full-time, primarily non-union, and have neither high-end agents nor regularly book national commercials. These types of voice talent tended to be anti-VAA.

White-collar” voice talents are full-time, in the union, have high-end agents, book nationally recognized VO work, and either coach, produce demos, or sell books & products catering to the voiceover industry, and either coach, produce demos, or sell books & products catering to the voiceover industry. These types of voice talent tended to be pro-VAA.”

Class warfare or not, I want to thank everyone for chiming in. We might not always be on the same page, but a spirited debate is a sign of an engaged community. 

As you know, blogs like mine are filled with opinion pieces. My articles are not an exercise in objective journalism. What surprised me though, is how certain people reacted to certain facts. Some said I hadn’t done my homework; that my research was all wrong. 

Well, it won’t surprise you that I disagree. This blog is widely read and talked about in the VO-community. It’s important to note that the information I presented was never challenged by anyone from the organization of these awards. 

Here’s what I believe to be undisputed:

Fact: I have no personal or professional ties to anyone within the organization of the Voice Arts™ Awards, or with any member of the jury. I am Facebook friends with some of them, but most of them I have never met or corresponded with.

Fact: At the moment, not every voice-over believes winning a Voice Arts™ Award is a credit worth having.

Fact: The number of entries was not disclosed, but it is safe to say that the pickings were slim this inaugural year.

Fact: The entry fees were substantial, and often non-refundable.

Fact: Some of the judges and members of the SOVAS™ board had personal and professional ties with nominees and contestants, posing a risk of a conflict of interest that could damage the integrity of the competition.

Fact: The VAA regulations as they are published, are not clear on how a potential conflict of interest should be handled.

Fact: Winners had to pay for their own statuette, unless the organization that had entered their submission picked up the tab.

Fact: The organization of the awards has yet to respond to anything that may be perceived as less than positive, whether on this blog or on other social media. 

CORRECTION

I just learned that SOVAS™ board member Rudy Gaskins did comment on my story, so I stand corrected. One of my voice-over colleagues whom I shall name X, had shared on Facebook how disappointed he/she was in the way I had blogged about the awards. This is part of Mr. Gaskin’s response:

“X, you are a work of art and indeed a phoenix rising above the morass of resentful sentiments that swarm like angry hornets around the hive of one self-aggrandizing monarch who would proclaim himself the all-knowing purveyor of what is worthy of appreciation to the rest of us. (…) Fortunately, the male hornets are few and they have only one real role—mating with the queen. Males die soon after their sexual task is complete, so one can only imagine the frustration of the impotent male who neither mates nor dies but must suffer under the weight of his own crushing spite. (…) 

The intention of the article to which you refer 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. Burn them off and keep moving forward, my friend. Blogging is a curious proposition whereby any person, (known or unknown) can declare themselves worthy of attention and begin to gradually pick up unsuspecting followers by skimming the surface of a topic. Obviously, some bloggers are incredibly special, genius in fact, but there are many seeking to prop themselves up to sell bologna as 100% real beef. In fact, one of the cheapest marketing ploys of the past 10 years has been: 1) Start a blog 2) -Self-publish a book. 3) Proclaim to be an expert. 4) Sell merchandise.

As for the dying hornet to whose blog is referred to herein, we are, all of us, witnessing the depths and insidiousness of envy. It is a most vicious, volatile and relentless mindset that knows no bounds. And yet, assuming the blogger actually produces tangible work as a voice actor, producer, director, etc., he is welcome to submit his samples to the Voice Arts Awards and benefit from the extraordinary jurors who lend their highly vetted and respected expertise to determining the best of the best. Of course, to insure the integrity of the judging process, some jurors may be required to abstain from judging entries where a conflict of interest may be discerned.”

COURT JESTER

In Medieval times court jesters held privileges which were not given to many other persons at court. For one, they had freedom of speech. You’ll often see them depicted holding a mirror, to symbolize what many of them did.

While they were cracking jokes, they held up a mirror to the powers that be. Their mockery was a way to ridicule or denigrate a ruler, and to show the world that the emperor was wearing very little clothes. Today we have people like John Stewart, Steven Colbert, Bill Maher, and John Oliver doing the same thing to an audience of millions.

Some of my critics believe it was foolish of me to -as they said- “ridicule and denigrate” the Voice Arts™ Awards, the jurors, the organizers, and even the nominees and winners. What was I after? 

Let’s look at the meaning of these words. To ridicule means to make fun of someone or something in a cruel or harsh way. To denigrate means to attack the reputation of, or to deny the importance or validity of.

So, what about my motivation? Did I really have a dark, sinister urge to belittle this event, and those associated with it? Am I a jealous, ignorant, angry hornet, hoping to increase my readership by spewing lies?

WHY I BLOG

In general, I write about things that interest me personally, and about topics that I feel are relevant to my readers. As I said last week:

“The only reason I’ve published a new blog post every week for the past four years, is not because I want people to agree with me, or to even like me. It is because I believe I have something to say that could be of interest and value to fellow-freelancers and voice-overs.”

These awards are indeed something new, and I wanted to examine the pros and cons of having a paid competition. That’s how I came to write my very first piece. Once the gala was over, I thought these awards deserved a deeper assessment, and that’s how I came to write a follow-up story.

You’ve probably noticed that most of the points I made in these articles had to do with the running of the competition. Many of the questions I asked were also in the minds of other colleagues. I just happened to be the one who wrote down what many others were thinking. 

It’s impossible to be objective about one’s own writing, but I can say that in none of the blog posts I have written about these awards, have I made fun of anyone or anything. Period. Perhaps my writing style is entertaining, but that’s one of the reasons people seem to enjoy my stories. I take it as a compliment. 

Did I attack the reputation of, or denied the importance or validity of, these awards? 

That’s hard to do, because these awards have no reputation. How could they? They’re brand new! I did question the importance of these awards for the same reason. It’s too early to tell whether or not winning a VAA is a credit worth having (and paying for). Not even the organizers could tell us that. As the last commentator said: 

“a nomination/win doesn’t have to enhance your career. But it is a hellova lotta fun!!!!”

CONNECTIONS

I did point out that certain jurors and members of the board had personal and professional connections with other jurors, nominees, and winners. I put these connections under the banner of “Conflict Of Interest” because I believe that these connections -real or apparent- should not exist within a jury that is supposed to be neutral and objective.

This is not a strange requirement. One international piano competition has the following clauses in their 14-page jury manual:

“Should any member of the Applicant Screening Panel or First or Second Juries have or have had previously a professional or personal relationship with a pianist whose application or recorded or live performance he/she is judging, he/she must notify the Jury Facilitator prior to his/her respective stage of adjudication.”

“In a case where the relationship is or has been within the previous five years one of regular or occasional teacher and student, the Jury Facilitator must rule that the member may not vote on that pianist’s performance.”

“There will be no communication of any kind between jury members and Competition pianists until the announcement of the Laureate. (…)  Should a pianist attempt to communicate with a member of any jury, either during or prior to the announcement of the Laureate, said juror must inform the Jury Facilitator. The pianist in question may be subject to disqualification at the discretion of the Jury Facilitator.”

If my concerns rubbed some people the wrong way, they should talk to the organization about making the judging process more transparent, instead of pointing their arrows at the messenger. Perhaps judges from outside the close-knit voice-over community could be added. Perhaps the organization could learn from other competitions that have dealt with this issue for years.

MOVING ON

At the end of the day, the Voice Arts™ Awards were devised to provide “international acknowledgement of the extraordinary skill and artistry that goes into voiceover acting and the associated roles, and to hold up a best-in-class standard of achievement to which the voiceover industry can continually aspire.”

That sounds like a noble objective, but as I said before, increased recognition and international acknowledgement can never be an aim in and of itself. What purpose should these awards ultimately serve? How exactly are they going to transform our industry for the better?

If it’s a matter of developing and promoting professional standards, I would turn to the World Voices Organization. If I wanted my performance to be evaluated by experts, I’d go to a few coaches. If I wanted to attract more clients, I would invest in increasing my skills, and in marketing my services.

Those who listen to my auditions are not going to hire me because I have a shiny statuette in my studio. They want to hear whether or not I have the right voice for the job. 

To me, “increased acknowledgment” is meaningless if it doesn’t lead to increased respect. I don’t mean increased respect from my peers, but from those who hire voice-overs.

The way we show respect for services rendered, is by paying the provider a decent amount of money. Unfortunately, every year I have been in this business, rates seem to go down instead of up. That too, is about competition.

For that type of competition I want to be ready, with or without these awards. 

How about you?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!

photo credit: kyle.wood via photopin cc

Send to Kindle

Party Pooper Unleashes Sh*tstorm

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Journalism & Media21 Comments

Please Dump Manure HereIt’s a fact.

My second blog post about the Voice Arts™ Awards (VAA) broke all records, and I’m still figuring out why (click here for part 1)

People certainly like controversy, but here’s the thing. I didn’t think my story was that contentious.

I did not reveal any secrets. Every bit of information I shared with you is in the public domain. I never spoke out against these awards, or against the people involved. All I did was share some observations that made a few folks uncomfortable.

If you’ve been following this blog for a few years, and you’ve read my book, you know I like to stir the pot every once in a while. Some people believe that makes me courageous. Others think I’m biting hands that could potentially feed me.

I don’t see it that way. I just presented some facts, and I questioned a few things I thought were worth mentioning. Apparently, that’s remarkable. Why would my opinion even matter? Well, some believe I have a knack for saying things other people are thinking. Perhaps that’s why my blog has close to thirty thousand subscribers.

In a way, a blog post is very much like these Voice Arts™ Awards. It will only be picked up and discussed if enough people feel it is relevant. And that’s exactly what happened with this article. Some people applauded me. Others questioned my concerns and my motives.

Today I’d like to address some of the things that came up as our community was discussing these awards.

Why criticize this initiative? These Voice Arts™ Awards are good for an industry that deserves to be recognized.

This question gets straight to the heart of the controversy. The need for public recognition. This is a deep human desire. You know the narrative. Voice-overs are unseen, anonymous entities in the entertainment industry and beyond. It’s about time we step into the limelight, and receive “international acknowledgement of the extraordinary skill and artistry that goes into voiceover acting and the associated roles.”

It may surprise you, but not everybody feels that way. Countless colleagues have told me they are quite happy doing what they’re doing without ever stepping onto a podium to receive a shiny object. Some don’t like the whole idea of competitions that divide colleagues into winners and losers. Their ideal world is a world where people cooperate, instead of compete; a world in which doing your very best is more important than being the best.

These people feel that their marketing money is better spent on updating a website or writing a newsletter, than on a few minutes of fame. To use one of my catch phrases: They’re in it for the music. Not for the applause.

To me, the bigger question is this. Increased recognition can never be an aim in and of itself. What purpose should it ultimately serve? How exactly is it going to transform our industry for the better?

If you’d like to strengthen professional standards, why not join the World Voices Organization? If you’d like to make more money, you should sign up for a sales training. If you’d like to increase your skills, a scholarship would be more welcome than a statuette you have to pay for yourself.

But Paul, this is a new initiative. Don’t you support innovation and creativity in our industry?

Of course I do, but let’s be honest. How new and innovative is the idea of an awards show? Every obscure and not so obscure organization or trade group has one. Every weekend, people are taking part in competitions across the country. If you really want to be creative, don’t be a copycat.

Several commentators also used the newness of the Voice Arts™ Awards to explain why so few voice-overs had entered the competition, and why some of the kinks still needed to be worked out. “Give it a few years,” people told me. “These awards are like a baby in diapers. Allow it to grow up and evolve.”

I’m willing to do that, but let’s remember one thing. Steve Ulrich is the executive director of the VAA. Ulrich is also the executive director of the Sports Emmy Awards. He oversees the entire process, from rules making, to entry collection, to judging and the announcement of nominees. He has produced the Daytime Entertainment Creative Arts Emmy Award Ceremony and the News and Documentary Emmy Award Ceremony since 2010. He also produces the Engineering and Technology Emmy Award Ceremony since 2012.

In other words: Ulrich knows what he is doing. He’s had time to create a format and a process that can stand up to scrutiny. Compared to the Emmy Awards, the VAA must seem like a small, intimate gathering.

You suggested that some of the judges had a conflict of interest. I know for a fact they didn’t.

Conflict of interest issues are very important to the integrity of any competition. Here’s a definition that is often used:

“A conflict of interest is a set of circumstances that creates a risk that professional judgement or actions regarding a primary interest will be unduly influenced by a secondary interest.”

Let’s say I’m a flute teacher, and I’m asked to judge a competition three of my students are taking part in. My primary interest is to judge in a fair and just way. My secondary interest may be to have one of my students win. After all, that’s good for my reputation as a teacher. It will also increase my standing with my colleagues.

Those two interests can never be reconciled. 

We can all agree on one thing. The voice-over world is relatively small. It doesn’t take long to get to know the main players. Year after year, the same faces rub shoulders at different conferences. That, by the way, is not unique to our industry.

For any competition to have any validity and value, it is imperative that the judging process is transparent, fair and impartial. Any hint of a conflict of interest should be avoided. Even board members of the organizing body should not have personal and professional ties with the contestants. Furthermore, judges should not be allowed to fraternize with contestants and nominees. That’s not something I made up. It is standard practice at many competitions.

As I told you earlier, a number of nominees and winners of the VAA had ties with jurors and board members of the Society Of Voice Arts And Sciences™. Not in a “I have seen you on Facebook”-kind of way. Some contestants had been coached by members of the jury and the board. What do the SOVAS™ regulations say about the jurors?

“The criteria for judging the Voice Arts™ Awards is based first and foremost on enlisting jurors who have exceptional expertise in the categories they are assigned to judge. SOVAS™ observes that many experts are quite capable of judging across multiple categories and that will be permitted. (…)

If a judge feels that he or she has a conflict of interest (personal relationship, sponsor relationship, etc.), that can be indicated on the electronic ballot.”

Notice that it doesn’t say that jurors with personal ties to a contestant cannot vote for that person. If there is a protocol on how to handle a potential conflict of interest, it is not published, and that alone is cause for concern. If you’re interested in this topic, look at the Standards and Guidelines of the College Art Association in New York.

As recently as September, violinist Miriam Fried had been asked not vote in the finals of the 2014 International Violin Competition of Indianapolis because of the six finalists, three of them were current or former students of hers. 

Sometimes that does not solve the problem. At other competitions, judges that could not vote for their students, simply gave lower marks to the other contestants. I am not suggesting that any of the VAA judges would ever do that, but it has happened at major competitions. You can read Julian Lloyd-Webbers claims in the Guardian newspaper if you click on this link

Before you shoot the messenger, please realize that running a fair and transparent competition is the sole responsibility of the organization. May I also note that the organizers of the Voice Arts™ Awards have yet to respond to any comments that may be perceived as less than positive. 

You’ve made a big deal about all the money the contestants had to pay to participate. This is an expensive undertaking, and the money has to come from somewhere. Winners at other awards shows have to pay for their trophies.

Let me be blunt.

The VAA do not give a prize to the best performance in a specific category. They only nominate and award those who paid to be evaluated.

Of course that is the case in any competition. “Best In Show” means “Best In Show.” Not “Best In The Entire World.”

More importantly, I believe that money should not be an arbiter of talent, or a barrier of entry. You may not agree with me on this one, but that’s how I feel, and I’ll tell you why.

It is not a secret that only a select group of voice actors make a six-figure income. Many in that group got into voice acting to supplement their on-camera work. A majority of my colleagues go from gig to gig, and often struggle to turn a profit.

Many of these people are just as gifted as their more financially secure colleagues, and they are just as deserving of a prize. In fact, they are the ones who would really benefit from the increased exposure winning an award could give them. However, they’ll never take part, because it’s too risky and too expensive.

As I mentioned in my previous article, between 210 and 280 categories could have been awarded at the gala. Only 33 awards were actually given out. My sources tell me that this was in part due to a disappointing lack of entries. Why is this important? 

Any competition is as strong as its field of competitors. The better the contestants, the more prestigious the prize. This is true in the world of sports, music, and in voice-overs. It really means something if out of a group of hundreds of strong runners, you win the marathon. If you have to beat three mediocre runners to get onto the podium, that doesn’t really say much, does it?

Mind you, I’m just pointing out the principle. I am not saying or implying anything about anyone in particular. The points I’m making have to do with the competition itself, and are no critique of or reflection on individual participants. 

If the VAA wants to attract and represent a large cross-section of the voice-over community, they need to lower the entry fees and skip the statue. Offer cash prizes and/or coaching/promotion packages to the winners instead. Give those who entered extensive feedback, allowing them to learn from the experience.

If you go to the SOVAS™ website, you’ll see a banner with an impressive list of participating companies. I’m pretty sure they have some extra money floating around to foot the bill. That way, talent does not have to receive a cigar from their own box.

You’re just an unsupportive jealous naysayer with some big chips on your shoulder. Joan and Rudy put together something no one had the foresight, guts, or fortitude to create. Much of the criticism is undeserved and much of it is very petty.

A few things really saddened me in the discussion about the awards. Some proponents seemed to have this “If you’re not with us, then you’re against us” attitude:

“If you don’t like these awards, you’re not supporting new initiatives.”
“If you make some critical remarks, you must not like Joan and Rudy.”
“If you question the value of this event, you’re stabbing your award-winning colleagues in the back.”

Having something to say about parts of the process was seen as burning the whole thing to the ground. That’s unfair and unjustified. No matter how well you run a show, it is impossible to please everyone, and there’s always room for improvement. Well-founded feedback can help the organization turn these awards into something really amazing.

The fact that so many people felt inclined to respond to my story, must mean that they care about this business we’re in, and that they care about the community they’re part of. It is a very diverse community, and we don’t have to agree on every single topic. It would be very boring if we did.

The worst thing we could do, is to make this professional issue personal.

Some people have made all kinds of assumptions about my mindset and my intentions while writing about these awards.

I have no personal scores to settle. I seek no compensation for personal frustration, nor do I feel the need to enter any competitions. As you’ve seen, I manage to attract quite a bit of attention without winning a prize.

The only reason I’ve published a new blog post every week for the past four years, is not because I want people to agree with me, or to even like me. It is because I believe I have something to say that could be of interest and value to fellow-freelancers and voice-overs.

I do believe in setting high standards for myself and for my professional community. If that happens to rub some people the wrong way, so be it.

A wise man once told me that the world we see is only a mirror of who we are.

This, of course, applies as much to you, as it does to me.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Click here to read a round up of all the comments, including the response of Rudy Gaskins, one of the board members of the Voice Arts™ Awards. 

PPS Be Sweet. Please retweet

photo credit: mnassal via photopin cc

Send to Kindle

Paying For Your Prize

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Journalism & Media, Promotion, Social Media44 Comments

Smoking a cigarNot not so long ago, I read a story about a young Dutch guy who was about to be married. His friends invited him to a fancy restaurant for an unforgettable bachelor party.

It was a classy, dignified event. No lap dances or excessive drinking. Yet, the groom-to-be, ended up with a serious hangover.

At the end of the night he hugged each of his friends, and thanked them for a memorable evening. When he was about to put on his coat, the waiter tapped him on the shoulder.

“Sir, aren’t you forgetting something?”

“I don’t think so,” said the bachelor. “Is something wrong?”

“Not really,” said the waiter, “as long as you pay your bill.”

“But I assumed that everything was being taken care of,” said the soon-to-be-groom.

“I’m afraid not,” answered the waiter. “You owe us a little over two thousand five hundred Euro. We take all major credit cards.”

That night, the young bachelor made a few changes to his list of wedding guests.

The Dutch have a unique saying for these painful situations:

“Een sigaar uit eigen doos krijgen.”

Literally translated this means: being offered a cigar from one’s own box. In other words: receiving a gift you had to pay for yourself. That’s not really a gift, is it?

It’s an old marketing trick. Making people believe they get something for free, even though they’re paying for it.

“If you buy product X right now, we’ll send you a second one, absolutely free!”

“When you buy this car, we’ll throw in a premium accessory package at no charge!”

“Sign up for a 12-month subscription to our website, and we will give you two extra months as a welcome gift.”

Yeah. Right!

Have you ever received a cigar like that?

VOICE ARTS™ AWARDS GALA

Last Sunday, the very first Voice Arts™ Awards were presented in New York. These awards were established by the relatively new Society Of Voice Arts And Sciences™ (SOVAS™). It’s an ambitious non-profit organization. As I reported in an earlier story, on their website you will find seventy pages of awards category descriptions. Each page lists about three to four different awards.

In theory, between 210 and 280 awards could have been given away during Sunday’s gala. In reality, 33 out of 100 nominees received an award (click here for a list of the winners). Depending on how you do the math, 177 or 247 categories were left out, either because there were no or very few entries, or because the quality of these entries did not meet the standards. SOVAS™ rules state:

“In the event that any individual category attracts fewer than 4 entries the organizer reserves the right to withdraw that category from the competition.”

In some categories there was barely any competition. In the Outstanding Audio Book Narration – Biography, the only nominees were Joe Cipriano for Living On Air, and Janis Ian for The Singer and the Song.

Only two audio books were nominated for Outstanding Audio Book Narration in the Classics category. There were two nominees for the local radio and television commercials, and two for the best national radio commercial. This reflected a trend. Check the list of nominees yourself, by clicking on this link.

Mind you, I’m not saying anything about the talent of the individual nominees. I’m just pointing out a few facts about the process. Facts some of you may have missed.

I’d like to make a few other observations.

CONFLICTING INTERESTS

Scott Brick, one of the jurors of the Voice Arts™ Awards, won for Best Male Voice in the category Outstanding Audio Book Narration – Non-Fiction.

Juror Nancy Wolfson produced the demo reel of Jay Britton, who won Best Male Voice in the category Outstanding Commercial Demo Reel. Nancy has also been one of Jay’s coaches. Jay went on to win a second award for his Animation Demo Reel.

Greg Russell received a nomination for Best Male Voice in the category Outstanding Commercial Demo Reel. His coaches were Joan Baker, Rudy Gaskins and Denise Woods.

Denise Woods was one of the jurors for this year’s awards. Rudy Gaskins and his wife Joan Baker are founders and board members of the Society Of Voice Arts And Sciences™. Gaskins is President and CEO of SOVAS™.

Linda Fouche was nominated for Best Female Voice in the Outstanding Commercial Demo Reel category. Her voice-over coach was Joan Baker, and her producer/director was Rudy Gaskins.

PUSH THAT’S VOICEOVER

Gaskins and Baker are also the creators of That’s Voiceover, a series of entertaining, educational events bringing voice-over pros, voice seekers, and those interested in VO together. The last installment took place in New York on November 10th, the day after the Voice Arts™ Award gala.

Gaskins’ branding agency Push Creative is very much involved in That’s Voiceover. Joan Baker is co-founder and Senior Vice President of Push Creative, and she handles public relations for the company. 

Among the speakers at That’s Voiceover were Voice Arts Awards winners Joe Cipriano, Scott Brick, Chuck Duran and Stacey Aswad, and jurors Cedering Fox, Sondra James, Trosh Scanlon, Frank Rodriguez and Dave Fennoy. Steve Ulrich, the executive director of SOVAS™ was also one of the presenters. That’s no coincidence, because if you go to the SOVAS™ website, a redirect to the That’s Voiceover site is only one click away. 

It’s a small world, isn’t it?

THE FUTURE OF VO

I’m not against new initiatives that strive to promote and enrich the voice-over industry. As I said in my earlier story: I am willing to give these new Voice Arts™ Awards the benefit of the doubt. I congratulate the winners, and I hope the money they spent on entering this competition and attending the gala, will prove to be worth the investment. As Bob Bergen said in response to my previous article:

“Everything you’ve pointed out, as well as your question about ROI, was questioned when The SAG Awards began 20 years ago. Heck, the same issues were brought up when The Emmys began in the late 40s. Many in Hollywood thought that awarding people from that little window display of the furniture box in the living room was a joke compared to The Academy Awards, where you have that big screen and REAL actors! It’s all relative and nothing new.

Let’s allow this award show to organically grow and evolve. Just like The Oscars, Tonys, Emmys, and every other award show has over the past 75 plus years. Each award show is always changing and trying to improve on itself from previous years. I really think honoring the world of VO is long overdue. I commend the producers of this for diving in. Let’s see how it goes!”

What does worry me, is that the Voice Arts™ Awards show seems to style itself after the Oscars and Emmys. To me, these shows have become highly staged marketing events where artistic integrity is sacrificed in favor of purchased publicity. Stars show up pretending to have a good time, knowing that they’re contractually obligated to plug their latest project. 

Television audiences are only watching to see their favorite stars on the red carpet, to see the big production numbers, and to hear the obligatory teary-eyed acceptance speeches. I don’t think the voice-over world should emulate that, and I don’t think we need to do that.

It is true: an Oscar-winning movie will do much better at the box office. I doubt that the masses will run to their favorite audio book store, to purchase the winner of a Voice Arts™ Award.

Why do I have doubts? Because for an award to have an impact, people need to know about it, care about it, and attach value to it. It needs to reach the folks outside of our cozy babble bubble. That has yet to happen. Perhaps I’m expecting too much from a young organization, but I think it’s fair to judge them by their own mission statement.

GOAL ACCOMPLISHED?

The Voice Arts Awards™ were announced months and months ago. I’m sure the major networks were notified, and all the papers got the press releases. In order to raise the stature of the gala, a Hollywood celebrity (James Earl Jones) was brought in to receive a special award, and even the late Robin Williams was mentioned on the podium. Yet, did this…

“provide international acknowledgement of the extraordinary skill and artistry that goes into the voiceover acting and the associated roles”?

After all, that’s one of SOVAS™ goals.

I’m not so sure.

I haven’t seen Joan Baker and company make the rounds on the morning chat shows. I didn’t read any headlines or interviews in leading newspapers. Yes, I’ve seen a few reprints of press releases here and there, but that’s not enough. Just Google Voice Arts™ Awards, and see for yourself how little comes up. 

What I did see on social media was a number of award-winning colleagues, proudly holding a shiny statuette, as well as photos of members of the VO-establishment sporting bow-ties, pony tails, and evening dresses.

And speaking of that statuette… After paying a hefty non-refundable entry fee plus the cost of travel, meals, accommodations (and of work lost because they’re attending the event), winners have to pay three hundred and fifty-some dollars to take it home. Or in Jay Britton’s case: $700. That’s an expensive dust receptacle!

I bet you Voice Icon Award winner James Earl Jones didn’t have to pay for his prize.

For every other winner, it’s a cigar from their own box.

How can a non-profit organization dedicated to adding value to our industry, be so cheap?

If you give me the right answer, please mail me $40, and I’ll send you a trophy!

Shipping, handling, and engraving will have to come out of your pocket, though.

How’s that for a Dutch treat?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS I’ve responded to some of the commentators, and you can read my response if you click on this link.

photo credit: Elvert Barnes via photopin cc

Send to Kindle

The Voice Arts™ Awards. The New Pay to Play?

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Journalism & Media, Promotion31 Comments

Competitions.

I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with competitions.

I enjoy watching a great soccer game or a tennis match. I’m a fan of the Olympics. The rules of the game are known. There’s a clear finish line. Whoever scores the most points or clocks the fastest time, wins.

When it comes to artistic competitions, things are not so defined. I remember going to an exhibition of prize-winning painters. All artists had entered portraits. The first prize went to a painting that was almost abstract. The second prize (and audience favorite) was a portrait that was Dali-like in its photorealism. Apples and oranges were more alike than these two entries. So, why did the abstract painting win? Because the jury said so.

DARE TO COMPARE

At the heart of every competition is the obscure art of comparing. This motion picture is better than the other. This photo stands out from the rest. This actor outperformed his colleagues. This poem is so much denser than the other poem. The question remains: Based on what, and according to whom?

Most judges of competitions will certainly be looking and listening for technical excellence. But what sets a winner apart from a loser is more than flawless technique. It has to do with artistic mastery; with having an authentic creative voice. 

Great art, whether it be music, dance, or any other medium, merely uses technique to give us something splendid that may very well break all the rules. It may even set a new standard. Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” is a great example. Some musicians thought it could not be played. It caused a scandal when it was first performed. Now it’s considered to be one of the masterpieces of modern music.

JURY DUTY

At the time of creation, great innovative art defies definition, and it is often anti-establishment. Here’s the problem: jurors of competitions are usually distinguished members of the establishment. It is their job to use semi-objective criteria, and apply them to very subjective artistic statements. Good luck with that!

Here’s another thing I don’t like about competitions: they turn colleagues into competitors, and divide them into winners and losers. My ideal world is a world where people cooperate instead of compete; a world in which doing your very best is more important than being the best.

Don’t get me wrong, I admire people at the top of their game, but I prefer the artist who selflessly and tirelessly works under the radar to the attention-seeking loudmouth looking for acknowledgment and recognition.

I admire people who are in it for the music. Not for the applause.

A NEW AWARD

All of this was going through my mind when the unknown Society Of Voice Arts And Sciences™ (SOVAS™) announced the establishment of the Voice Arts™ Awards. In its own words, this is an open competition honoring and acknowledging:

“voice actors, creative directors, copywriters, casting directors, talent agents, directors, producers, audio engineers, account executives, equipment manufacturers, podcasters, bloggers and others who create and sustain the highest levels of achievement within the voiceover industry.”

The following quote from their website reads like a mission statement:

“The purpose of the Voice Arts™ Awards is to provide international acknowledgement of the extraordinary skill and artistry that goes into the voiceover acting and the associated roles and to hold up a best-in-class standard of achievement to which the voiceover industry can continually aspire.”

That’s quite a mouthful, but voice actors should be able to handle that comfortably.

If you have a few hours to spare, I invite you to browse through seventy(!) pages of awards category descriptions. Each page lists about three to four different awards, such as “NATIONAL TV INTERSTITIAL ELEMENT – FEMALE” and “AUDIO BOOK NARRATION – CHILDREN INFANT TO 5 – MALE.”

Even though it’s mentioned in the “About section” of the Awards, I could not find a category for equipment manufacturers or bloggers. I guess I’m out of luck!

PAY TO PLAY

The competition is open to individuals, companies, and students, as long as the entry is in English, and has first appeared in public between January 1, 2013 and June 15, 2014 (click here for details). The price of a single entry for a company/non-SOVAS™ member is $310. If you’re an independent artist, you pay $210 per entry (there is an early bird discount, but the time for that has passed). SOVAS™ members may enter at a reduced rate.

SOVAS™ membership ranges from $125 per year (Basic Package) to a $5,000 Platinum Package. Five grand may seem a lot, but for that you’ll get a Voice Arts™ Awards statuette named and presented in your honor, and a Special Education Scholarship offered in your name (among other perks).

On a side note, the cost of the competition does not end there. Many competitions require that the nominees/winners attend the awards ceremony. I’d consider the cost of travel, meals, accommodations, and of work lost because you’re attending the event, as part of the expenses. A few of this year’s winners flew in from the United Kingdom.

Some of the Awards were presented during a Gala on November 9th, at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York. Early Bird tickets go for $225 each. The Sumner M. Redstone Theater seats 267. Let’s assume SOVAS™ sells 175 tickets. That alone should bring in almost forty thousand dollars.

Participants had until August 31st 2014 to send in their entries. Entry fees were non-refundable once the entries have been submitted. SOVAS™ rules state:

“In the event that any individual category attracts fewer than 4 entries the organizer reserves the right to withdraw that category from the competition. In this event, the participating companies will receive a credit towards future entry fees. No cash refund will be given.”

and…

“All submissions become the property of SOVAS™ to be used at their discretion, for the production of the ceremony and other uses.”

WHAT’S IN IT FOR YOU?

Even though I have my doubts about artistic competitions in general, I’m trying to keep an open mind about the Voice Arts™ Awards. Before I would even consider entering any kind of competition, I’d ask a few questions:

  1. Is the organization running the competition reputable?
  2. What’s the intention of the competition?
  3. Does it have the potential and credibility to raise the professional bar?
  4. Are the criteria by which people are judged fair and clear?
  5. Are the judges respectable, and are they known experts in their field?
  6. Does every entry receive a professional evaluation?
  7. Is the entry fee proportionate to the prize?
  8. Does the prize give a credit worth having?

The problem with the Voice Arts™ Awards is that for many questions it’s too early to tell, because this is the inaugural year. It’s never been done before, and I believe it’s too easy to pass judgement without giving them a fair chance. There’s a lot we don’t know, so let’s see what we do know.

FINDING ANSWERS

To start with question number one, SOVAS™ is run by five-time Emmy winner Steve Ulrich who is also the executive director of the Sports and Daytime Emmy Awards®. Producer Rudy Gaskins and his wife -voice-over celeb Joan Baker– are both on the board, as is the former head of the Promax/BDA awards program, Stephen McCarthy. Those people have a lot to lose, should these new awards turn out to be a flop. I think they’re smart enough not to let that happen.

Would the voice-over industry benefit from this competition? Would it make the invisibles of so many audio-visual productions visible? Would our profession finally get the respect many feel it deserves?

Do we really need a competition to get recognition?

Some people who know the industry really well, feel we do. It’s not enough to be outstanding. You need to stand out. And if there’s no podium, why not create one? Whether you like competitions or not, it’s a given that winning a prestigious prize has never hurt a career. The question is, will short-term recognition have a long-lasting effect? Could it increase your market value? And who’s paying attention? Are we just throwing a party for ourselves, or will these awards generate publicity outside of the small voice-over bubble?

A MATTER OF MONEY 

Let’s talk about the entry fees. Anyone will recognize that organizing these awards takes time and costs money. That money has to come from somewhere. Yet, I don’t think a voice actor’s wealth should be an arbiter of talent. Why, then, must it function as a barrier? Is it legitimate or exploitative? Is it to weed the amateurs out? Here’s the ultimate question:

Is the cost of entering worth the odds?

If you’re a winner, it probably is. But as in any competition, many are invited, and few are chosen. Established artistic competitions often have cash prizes, and may offer scholarships. What does the winner of a Voice Arts™ Award get? No money, but a golden statuette (which you have to pay for yourself), a title, and a temporary platform. Is that enough?

In Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley where I live, the Freddy© Awards are to high school musical theater what the Tony Awards® are to Broadway. Each show is rated by a number of evaluators, and every high school receives extensive feedback on all aspects of the production. This feedback is then used as a teaching tool at the drama departments.

In other words, even if you’re not nominated or a winner, you will be able to read your evaluation, and benefit from it. Wouldn’t it be great if the Voice Arts™ Awards would do the same? Unfortunately, that’s not the case. This is how it’s done:

“In each category, each judge shall rate each entry on three indices. These indices vary by category and are listed below. For each index, judges enter a score from 1.0 to 10.0, where 1.0 is valued as “very poor quality” and 10.0 is valued as “perfection” in the personal standards of the judge.” 

CRITICAL VOICES

Answering critics in VoiceOverXtra, Rudy Gaskins is very pragmatic about the entry fee. He encourages voice-overs to look at it from a business point of view. Being nominated for, and/or winning an award is smart marketing, he says. Every business should have a marketing budget. That’s where the entry fee should come from.

He has a point, but aren’t there other ways to market your business that are less risky, and that may have a bigger and more concrete pay-off? You could build a better website. You could invest in a newsletter. You could hire a graphic designer to come up with a logo.

COMMUNITY SERVICE

Gaskins also argues that these awards are a way to build community. He writes:

“Awards are a meeting place. They’re a focal point that draws the attention of those most interested and involved in your industry or profession. They’re an opportunity to engage your professional community in discussions of topics and controversies, in reviewing standards or discovering trends. Awards tend to involve leaders and experts. Awards are the place to learn, to network and to enhance professionalism.”

The sceptic in me highly doubts that these awards will have that effect. As I said earlier, by nature, competitions are pitting people and productions against one another. Slick award shows like the Emmys and Oscars are nothing but highly staged marketing events where artistic integrity is sacrificed in favor of purchased publicity. Stars show up pretending to have a good time, knowing that they’re contractually obligated to plug their latest project. Thank goodness for the gift bags!

Is that really what the voice-over world needs? Would that give our profession the much desired gravitas? Would increased respect lead to higher rates and higher standards? Would an average client be more inclined to hire an award-winning voice actor, or would he perhaps think that he probably can’t afford such a high-profile professional?

SHOW SOME RESPECT

Gaskins also believes these awards are good for our confidence and self-respect: 

“When you enter an award, you are saying to yourself and your constituents that you believe in what you do. Get on the playing field and let the chips fall where they may. People respect those who stand up to be counted. The other choice is to go unnoticed.”

I don’t think it’s that black-and-white: either enter the competition, or go unnoticed. As a professional voice actor I enter competitions every day. I call it “auditioning.” Secondly, happy clients are my credentials, and my readers and students are my accolades. I don’t need a jury to tell me how well I’m doing, or to make me feel good about myself.

Still, what the Society Of Voice Arts And Sciences™ is doing takes guts, and I’m willing to give this initiative the benefit of the doubt. On paper, the Voice Arts™ Awards certainly have potential, but the value of this prize has yet to prove itself. 

Ultimately, being a successful voice-over is not about winning or losing.

It’s about how well you play the game.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Read my follow-up story everyone is talking about. It’s called “Paying For Your Prize.”

UPDATE

It appears that those in charge of the awards took some of my 2014 feedback to heart. 

The 2017 early bird VAA entry fee for companies who are member of SOVAS™ was $129, and the regular fee was $150 per entry. For non-members it was $150 and $175. Independent artists who are member of SOVAS™ paid $99 and $119. Non-members paid $119 to $129 per entry. In 2014 (the inaugural year) the price of a single entry for a company/non-SOVAS™ member was $310. Independent artists paid $210 per entry.

In 2015, the SOVAS™ J. Michael Collins Academic Scholarship was created to “educate and encourage emerging talent.”

Send to Kindle

Tears, Tragedy, and an End to Conflict

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, International, Journalism & Media22 Comments

Schiphol-Airport-Memorial-MH17-Victims-July-2014

The shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was a senseless, inhumane, and barbaric act.

298 men, women and children of various nationalities lost their lives. About two-thirds of them were from the Netherlands.

As someone who was born and raised in that small country, I am devastated, and I am livid.

I am devastated by the tragic loss of innocent life. I am livid about the disrespectful way the dead have been treated, and about the way the crash site has been intentionally compromised by despicable thugs. 

I am haunted by images of the smoldering wreckage fallen from the sky in sunflower-filled fields. In the horrible rubble of bent steel and burnt fuselage, a row of chairs came down undamaged, passengers still strapped in their seat belts. One photo shows the hand of a victim, palm upward, pointing at the heavens in a gesture of terror and despair.

Children’s toys, books, passports, beach sandals, and open luggage tell stories of families, lovers, AIDS experts, students, soccer fans, and flight crew. Their vibrant lives have been desecrated, and their broken bodies lie looted by locals looking for jewelry, cell phones, credit cards, and duty-free goods. 

Masked men who in the past felt small and insignificant, were in charge of the crash site, empowered by big guns and cheap booze. The voice of reason and respect has been silenced by the barrel of a Kalashnikov, and a radical nationalist ideology. International observers and investigators were denied complete access. Spin doctors from all parties are still playing a sickening blame game.

In every corner of the earth, families in shock are trying to come to terms with what happened. The Dutch town of Hilversum where I spent most of my working life, lost three families. A total of 13 people perished. The mayor described visiting an elderly couple. They sat on the couch, holding hands as he came in. Not only did they lose their grandchildren, they also lost their son and daughter-in-law. Both 86-years old, the frail couple was inconsolable.

The northern town of Roden where I grew up, is also in mourning. The Van der Linde family, father Rob, mother Erna, daughter Merel (17), and son Mark (12) were looking forward to a fun vacation in Malaysia. Merel had taken her final exams, and Mark had just finished primary school.

Two other victims, Lisanne Engels and Hannah Meuleman, lived in the central town of Utrecht. That’s where I spent 19 years of my life. Lisanne studied medicine. She was on her way to do an ophthalmology internship in Malaysia. Hannah studied psychology, and was traveling to Bali with her boyfriend Pieter. She was on track to graduate after the summer.

In the next few days, most of the passengers of Flight MH17 will come back to the Netherlands for identification. Yesterday, the first forty coffins arrived, as the Netherlands observed a day of national mourning. Thousands of people lined the roads to pay their respects as the hearses passed. Thousands of others marched silently through the center of Amsterdam, wearing white. In other cities, people followed suit.

Even though I now live and work in the United States, I can’t stop thinking about the people on board of Flight MH17. I find it hard to focus on my job, and I follow every new development as it unfolds. 

In the past few days, many of you have reached out to me, and I want to thank you for sharing your outrage, your frustration, and your support. It means more to me than words can express. 

This crash –the deadliest airliner shootdown in history- is an example of what people can do to other people when they are driven by fear, extremism, and hate. It shows a total lack of respect for human life, decency, and dignity.

In one way, this crash is “just” a symptom of a much deeper problem. It brings us to one of the most fundamental questions we are facing today:

“How on earth can we resolve our conflicts in a peaceful way?”

If we don’t find the answer(s) to this question, more and more innocent people will be hurt by hate, and lose their lives, wherever they may live.

Of course there are no easy answers, but that doesn’t mean we should stop looking. And rather than leave it to the politicians and war lords, I think we should start close to home. Because if we can’t overcome our differences on a small scale, we don’t stand a chance when it comes to resolving the big geopolitical issues of our time.

Can I make one more suggestion?

In this quest to end conflicts peacefully, I think the women of the world should take the lead.

For centuries, men have had their chance, and they blew it big time. Macho politics has failed miserably. Instead of aggression, we need compassion. In my opinion, women are more capable of leaving their egos at the door; they are more caring and compassionate, and able to compromise.

Imagine for a moment what would happen if women were to take over in the Middle East. Would Israelis and Palestinians still be fighting each other? Would Sunnis and Shiites still kill one another? Can you imagine a UN summit led by people like Malala Yousafzai and Mary Robinson? Would the world finally take concrete steps to combat climate change, child labor, gender inequality, and starvation?

What would happen in Russia, if it weren’t led by a testosterone-driven, power-hungry, He-Man of a leader? Would it still be providing rockets to the rebels in Ukraine?

Of course it is too late for those who died on Flight MH17. But we owe it to them to try harder, to do better, and to take unusual steps to bring people together, and make peace. Let’s begin in our own backyard.

Otherwise, history will simply repeat itself, and we will soon mourn the loss of other people who do not deserve to die. 

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!

photo credit: “Schiphol-Airport-Memorial-MH17-Victims-July-2014– Photo by Persian Dutch Network” by PersianDutchNetworkOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Send to Kindle