A lot has happened since I announced the publication of the book at the end of April. At first I didn’t realize that writing a book and publishing it, was the easy part. Getting people to actually read it, is a different matter. First, they need to know that it exists.
Two weeks ago, I launched a new website where you can read three sample chapters for free. You’ll also find out what people like Dave Courvoisier(news anchor, blogger and voice actor), John Florian(VoiceOverXtra), and David Goldberg(CEO Edge Studio) think of my book. Here’s a screenshot of top of the site. Click on the image to access the site itself.
This one-page website is based on the FlatBook WordPress theme designed by Erik Taylor. Erik created something that is brilliantly simple and modern-looking. With limited knowledge and experience, I was able to customize the theme, and get the site up and running in no time. Whenever I ran into my own limitations, Erik was there to guide me at no additional cost, which was absolutely phenomenal.
I also created a fifty-second animated trailer to tell people about the book, and to promote the website. I’m new at animation, but the website www.wideo.co made this process fun and affordable. Wideo is a young company, and the creators of the software personally responded to my questions and comments. You should give it a try!
No promotional campaign is complete without a presence in social media. You may have seen the Facebook page where I am building a community of select readers and fans:
You can also follow the latest developments on Twitter:
Every publicity campaign begins with a press release. As a reader of this blog, I’d like to share it with you first:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Making Money In Your PJs is the new book by author and veteran voice actor Paul Strikwerda. Subtitled “Freelancing for voice-overs and other solopreneurs,” it offers a unique look at what it takes to be and stay in business as a voice for hire or other type of creative freelancer.
Paul Strikwerda: “Audiobook sales reached $1.6 billion in 2013, and are steadily growing. That’s one of the reasons why voice acting is hot at the moment. Year after year, thousands of hopefuls are led to believe that they can build a lucrative career as a narrator using a cheap microphone, a computer, and an internet connection. Others invest a hefty sum in expensive studio equipment, coaching, and demos, only to get nowhere. Making Money In Your PJs takes a revealing look into this booming industry where many are invited and very few are chosen.”
“Every day, I see aspiring voice-overs treat their new dream job as a hobby and fail miserably. It’s not as easy as it seems. People need more than pleasant pipes to make a living as a voice actor. They have to have business acumen in order to succeed. It’s the stuff nobody teaches you in voice-over school that can make or break a career. That’s precisely the focus of this book.”
Making Money In Your PJs covers topics such as:
Transforming a hobby into a profession
Successfully promoting a business online and offline
Turning potential customers into clients
Pricing services for profit
Getting paid on time, every time
What to do when business is slow
How to stand out from the competition
These are topics that not only voice actors need to address. They apply to practically anyone who is self-employed. Although this book is written from the perspective of a voice-over, any solopreneur will benefit from chapters on freelancing, marketing, handling clients, and money management.
Making Money In Your PJs is neither a “get-rich-quick by doing voice-overs guide,” nor a step-by-step course that will take the reader from voice-over novice to top talent in three days. Rather, it is a practical, personal, and often humorous account of what life is like behind the mic. It’s written with insight, intelligence, and a healthy dose of realism.
The sheer depth, breadth, and quality of the information on the pages of Making Money in Your PJs makes this book an obligatory resource in your library of voice-over and freelance success-building.
About the author
Paul Strikwerda is a multilingual voice actor, coach, and writer with 30 years of experience. His weekly blog is one of the most influential in the voice-over industry. He’s an expert-contributor to Edge Studio, Internet Voice Coach, the International Freelancers Academy, and recordinghacks.com. Paul grew up in the Netherlands and now lives and works in the historic town of Easton, Pennsylvania. Previous books include Building a Vocal Booth on a Budget, and Boosting Your Business with a Blog.
You may reach the author via the Contact Form on this website, to set up interviews and arrange speaking engagements.
The actual press release will have my full contact information, but I won’t share that on this blog. I receive well over fifty spam comments a day, and that’s why I’m not displaying every detail on this page.
So far, I’ve been doing most of the legwork myself, and that’s part of my job as an author. But as my campaign is warming up, I could certainly use some help in the word-of-mouth department. I’ve already experienced that voice actors tend to be very good at it (no surprise there), and that’s why I have a question for you.
If you are a fan of this blog, I hope you’ll help me spread the news about Making Money In Your Pjs. After all, the book wouldn’t be here, had you not asked for it! Follow the latest developments on Twitter and Facebook, and do tell your friends and colleagues about it.
The ultimate goal of Making Money In Your PJs is not to make me rich and famous, but to assist and inspire our community in becoming more professional. I wrote it to raise our morale, our standards, as well as our rates.
If this message resonates with you, put on your PJs, and start making some noise!
Things are in full swing at Nethervoice Publishing!
My book Making Money In Your PJs will be available in a couple of weeks, and most people want to know what’s in it.
The following, taken from the introduction, will give you a quick overview.
From the outside, a voice-over career seems almost ideal. You talk into a microphone and you get paid. In Part One of this book, I’ll debunk the most prevalent myths that unscrupulous sales people use to try to sell you expensive voice-over trainings and demo-packages. You’ll also get a much better idea of whether or not a voice-over career is for you.
Part Two deals with self-guided learning, coaching, and voice acting. I’ll tell you what producers and agents are listening for when they’re evaluating auditions, and how you can learn to let a script speak to you. I will also reveal my number one trick to get rid of loud breaths and other mouth noises that can mess up your recordings.
In the next section chapter we get down to business. Most newcomers to voice-over will give up within a year because they don’t know anything about freelancing. Part Three prepares you for the road ahead by learning from other people’s failures and successes. That way, you don’t have to start from scratch.
Having a pleasant voice is nice if you want to become a voice-over, but it’s not essential. However, making sure that clients can find you is crucial for your career. In “Spreading the Word” (Part Four), you’ll learn how to market yourself through your website and social media, and by developing a personal brand. It’s the story of “telling, not selling” any freelancer can benefit from.
If you want to build a long-term career, you’ll need your colleagues just as much as you need your clients. In Part Five I’ll tell you how to separate the pros from the con artists, and I will introduce you to some of the colorful characters you’re bound to meet in this crazy business.
Whether or not you are going to make it as a pro, will depend as much on your ability to read scripts as on your ability to read clients. That’s what Part Six is about. I will show you what you need to know before you start bidding on projects, and I’ll share my experience with one of the most popular voice casting sites.
Part Seven is about money. It doesn’t matter what you do as a freelancer, but if you don’t learn how to manage your money, you are sabotaging your success. I will spend a good deal of time discussing what you’re worth so that you won’t ever sell yourself or your colleagues short. And if you’ve ever been short-changed by a client, the chapters on collecting money are a must-read.
Next up, I’ll talk about the secret ingredient that can make or break a freelance career: Attitude. Part Eight is called “The Inner Game.” Life as a solopreneur can be a roller coaster ride. Some months you’ll feel on top of the world. Other months you may feel like hanging up your hat. How do you deal with that, emotionally? Well, you’re about to find out.
Whether you’re trying to make it as a voice actor, a graphic designer or a writer, freelancing is a means to an end. No matter what we do, our working life affects our private life, and the other way around. In the last part of this book you’ll hear more about the things that move me personally and professionally.
In a few weeks, my 400+ page book will be available in print and as an eBook. Later this year you can expect the release of the audio version, narrated by the author. He’s giving me a very special rate!
Until then, you can keep track of the progress and the official release date on a new Facebook page which I’d love you to like:
I’ll also be posting updates on a new Twitter account:
WHAT ELSE IS NEW?
In the next week I am launching a website (www.makingmoneyinyourpjs.com), that will do several things:
– promote the book with previews and reviews;
– serve as a companion to the paperback edition with hyperlinks from the eBook;
– provide an easy way to learn more about the author and ways to get in touch with him.
But that’s not all. Eventually, this website will evolve into something much bigger and better. More about that at a later stage.
WOULD YOU LIKE A FREE COPY?
Do you want to be among the first to read my book?
To celebrate the release of Making Money In Your PJs, I am offering a free PDF copy to the first 50 people who leave a short comment in the comment section below. Just make sure you fill in your email address before you click “ADD COMMENT.” Otherwise I can’t reach you. Please do not leave your email in the comment box.
The PDF-version will be ready in seven to ten days, and I’ll send it to you via wetransfer.com.
Many of you have asked for it, and it’s only fair that you are among the first to know.
This spring I’ll publish my first book!
I’ve already written a few guides: Building a Vocal Booth on a Budget, Boosting Your Business with a Blog, and a short paper called Selling more Real Estate with Videos and Voice-Overs. You can order them through my online shop.
My new book will become available in 10+ eBook stores, and you’ll be able to buy the paperback version on Amazon. Being a voice-over, I am also working on a spoken version. I just have to find a narrator who can do my work justice…
Right now, I’m putting the finishing touches to the manuscript. Proofreaders are making sure that this Dutchman’s English can pass the grammar and spelling test.
In the past week I’ve been working with a number of graphic designers to come up with an eye-catching cover. Today I’ll walk you through that process. Not because I expect you to be needing someone to design a book cover for you. I want to talk about it to give you an idea of what it’s like to be on “the other side.”
TURNING THE TABLES
You see, normally I’m the one that gets hired. This time around I’m doing the hiring. It’s an intriguing perspective that has taught me a lot in a short period of time. I think it’s also interesting for you, because you may be looking for someone to design a new logo, stationery, business card or a website.
Let me make one assumption right off the bat: You’re running a for-profit business and you’d like to keep your expenses down. So, the first question you have to ask yourself is twofold:
How important is my professional image and how much is it worth to me?
If you’re hoping to attract well-paying clients who don’t yet know you, image is everything. First impressions speak volumes. You may be selling high-quality goods, but if your store looks disheveled, you don’t exactly exude trust. In a world where the competition is only a short click away, you have a few seconds to impress, so you’d better make an impact.
Second question: Are you going to hire a cheap amateur or a more expensive pro? Third: Would you consider hiring a talented family member or a friend?
GETTING TOO CLOSE
Let’s start with the last point. If family ties and friendships mean anything to you, please do not hire someone from your inner circles. Not even a friend of a friend or a second cousin twice removed. Keep those relationships clean. They are too precious to be muddled by money. You can’t afford to lose a friend with a fragile ego, just because you’re too cheap to pay a pro.
It may sound strange, but I find I can be more direct with a professional than with a friend. There’s no baggage and there are no sensitive toes to step on. Instead, there’s distance that allows both parties to focus on the project. It’s much easier to critique and possibly fire someone you don’t run into every Thanksgiving, Passover, or Easter.
The choice between hiring a talented amateur and a pro is not an issue for me. It would be hypocritical to pick a budget-friendly hobbyist over a professional. In my line of work I’d never recommend doing that. Why would I make a different choice when it comes to selecting a graphic designer? Quality work always pays for itself, many times over.
SEARCHING FOR TALENT
My next hurdle was finding the perfect professional to create that eye-catching book cover. I have never published a book before, and typing “graphic designer” into Bing gave me 109 million results. That was no help. So I asked around. After a week I had a few names and phone numbers, but none of those who were recommended specialized in eBook covers.
For unknown authors such as myself, it is absolutely critical to have a striking cover. Not only did I want to avoid the self-published look, the cover had to stand out in an ocean of postage-stamp-sized images in online eBook stores. It also seemed a good idea to work with more than one designer.
That’s why I turned to crowdsourcing. It allowed me to tap into a collective of artists, and ask for contributions from a vast online community.
99designs.com is such a community. Whether you need a logo for your business, a website, an app, posters, flyers, product packaging, brochures, or book covers, 99designs.com can connect you to an international crowd of creatives.
It’s easy to get started. First you select what you need and then you launch a contest. It begins with writing a design brief, telling a bit about yourself, your project, and your target audience. You can also include ideas, images, sketches, and other documents that might be helpful. Once that’s done, you pick a bronze, silver, gold, or platinum package.
For $299 (bronze), you can expect about thirty designs. There’s a money-back guarantee should none of the designs meet your expectations. Once the contest is under way, you have seven days to pick a winner.
Just to be clear, only the winning designer gets paid, and 99designs takes a commission depending on which package is chosen and the level of support provided.
In the first couple of days you hold a qualifying round that’s open to all designers. During that time you can rate the designs that come in, and you can give feedback to each contestant. Based on that, they can refine their design or come up with something new. You can also eliminate what you don’t like.
In the second round you pick a few finalists and you work with each of them to get closer to the design you want. At the end of the week, you crown a winner. After that, you can continue to work with that winner to tweak the end product to perfection.
I have to tell you that I loved every minute of this process. It took up a lot of time, but it was so worth it. I had been dreaming of a book for years, and now professionals from all over the world were inspired by the title and my description. It was fantastic to see how people transformed the same words into very different designs. Seeing my name and the title of the book on a 3-D mock cover gave me goose bumps. All of a sudden, an abstract idea became concrete!
All in all, 17 designers presented me with 61 entries. That was way more than I expected at the bronze level. Here’s what I learned along the way.
1. The more specific you are in your brief, the greater the chance that you’ll get designs that are to your liking.
The first draft of my brief was purposely vague because I didn’t want to get in the way of someone’s creativity. A number of designs that were based on that brief were as original as they were hideous. But sometimes you have to see what you don’t like in order to find out what you do like. I bet many of our voice-over clients listening to auditions feel the same way.
As soon as I became more clear in my instructions, I received entries that had a lot of potential.
2. You have to be flexible and proactive to attract more designers.
My contest started as an open competition. This means that every designer could see what other colleagues had entered. Some were not comfortable with that and asked me to turn it into a blind contest. That way, no one could steal their ideas. As soon as I did that, some great new designers entered my contest.
I also decided to revoke the money-back guarantee. This meant that at the end of the process, I promised to pick a winner, no matter what. This made it more attractive for some contestants to take part. It showed them I was serious.
Lastly, I studied the online portfolios of hundreds of designers, and I sent invites to those that really spoke to me. This turned out to be the key to finding my winning designer!
3. The best designers base their entries on ideas from the client and not on their personal preferences.
I wanted to use the color scheme of my website for my book cover because it is part of my branding. A number of designers did their own thing and came up with very dark designs. That made it easy for me to rule them out. I also put in my brief that I wanted to avoid the stereotypical microphone on the cover of a book about voice-overs. In spite of that, some thirty percent of entries had microphones.
Some added tulips to their design. Now, if you’re already familiar with my site, that’s not a bad idea. However, I want to reach a new audience with my book. People do judge a book by its cover and there’s no natural connection between Dutch flowers, freelancing and voice-overs.
I also received a number of designs that would do well in the business section of Barnes & Noble. They made strong statement as covers, but they lacked a certain whimsicality and lightness which I had specifically asked for.
4. Top designers are great communicators and are open to feedback.
On the first day of the contest I received an entry that really made me laugh. I absolutely loved it. However, the subtitle of my book was missing and I asked the designer to add it. In fact, I reached out to him/her twice. In seven days, I never heard a word. If someone is not responsive in the initial phase, how can I trust that this will change once we’re working together for real?
Nelly Murariu, the young artist who ended up being my top pick, describes herself as “a passionate self-taught graphic designer with a big heart and a desire to get better at what I do every day.” She was quick to answer my questions, even later in the day. I don’t know how she did it, because she lives in Bucharest, Romania! Her English was flawless and she has a great sense of humor. She made sure she understood what I really wanted, before making any changes.
At one point I suggested something that I thought would improve the look of the book. It was a bad idea. Nevertheless, Nelly adjusted her design accordingly. When she sent it back to me, I immediately saw that her initial concept made much more sense. To me, this proved that she knew how the mind of a client operates: If you show ’em, you don’t have to tell ’em.
5. Winning designers go above and beyond.
Every time Nelly came back with an improved design, it was way better than what I had imagined. My instructions asked for a design that would work for an eBook, as well as for the print version. Nelly sent me 3-D renditions of the paperback, 2-D images of the front and back, as well as the eBook version. In other words: it was very clear what I was buying.
At one point I asked her if she could retouch the author picture on the back because my face looked a bit orange. It turned out that she had already fixed it. This girl read my mind! I felt a bit sorry for the other designers. Mind you, there were some very strong contenders, but every time a cover from another designer came in, I compared it to Nelly’s work.
Most importantly, Nelly made me feel like I was her only client and top priority.
She was so good that I ended up skipping the second phase of the contest where designers go head to head, and I crowned her the winner. You can find her on 99designs as “Nellista,” and you can contact her directly by clicking this link.
A COMPLETE SUCCESS?
To date, 99designs has a pool of 290,172 designers. In 2012 it opened its European headquarters in Berlin, and has launched localized versions of its services in German, French, Spanish, Dutch, and Italian. Since the start in 2008, the site has paid out $71,576,558 to the designer community through more than 288,987 contests. Impressive numbers, no doubt, but not every designer is happy with how the 99designs works or the commission it takes. It can be as high as 35 – 40%.
Imagine working hard to come up with two or three entries and walking away with absolutely nothing. Well, if you’ve ever auditioned for a voice-over job, you already know how that feels. The big difference is that when we audition, we usually only read a short sample script, whereas these designers are asked to come up with a complete logo, a brochure or a poster. It’s a great concept for clients like me, but it can get demotivating for designers.
Still, no one is forced to offer their services on 99designs. It’s a relatively easy way to get in touch with clients and possibly develop long-term relationships. I will certainly turn to Nelly for future projects, and I highly recommend her to anyone in need of a graphic designer.
In my last post of the year, I always go back in time to highlight some of the articles you may have missed or would like to revisit.
December turned out to be Gear Month at Nethervoice, and in a way we’ve come full circle. My first contribution of 2013 was entitled “Confessions of a Hopeless Gearhead.”
If you’ve ever wondered why evaluating and selecting new gear is so subjective and challenging, you have to read this article.
CLIENTS FROM HELL
No matter in what stage of your career you are, you and I have at least one thing in common: we’re always communicating with customers. How to effectively deal with clients has been a recurring theme on this blog.
In “Rotten Carrots and Cool Clients” I will introduce you to Type A and Type B clients, and I’ll show you how you can tell the difference. Here’s the bottom line: stay away from one of them!
VIOLENT VIDEO GAMES & TIPS FOR BEGINNERS
January was the month I finally decided to open up about something I feel strongly about: violence in video games and the role voice actors play in the production of these games. In “It’s just a Game” I weigh some of the evidence on the links between violent games and violent behavior.
Makers of violent video games may proclaim that all they do is provide innocent entertainment. I’m not buying it. You may not agree with my conclusions, but I hope you’ll take a few minutes to consider what I have to say.
Another recurring theme is the position of newbies in the voice-over industry and ways in which beginners can increase their level of professionalism. In “Learning on the job” I expose one of the persistent myths that it’s totally okay to advertise yourself as a pro and treat your clients to trial-and-error sessions.
Success does not come easy in this profession, and certainly not overnight. My article “Failure is Always an Option” tells the story of a number of colleagues with great intentions who made bad decisions that killed their career. There are lessons to be learned from failure!
LET’S GET PERSONAL
Every now and then I also give you an inside look into my personal life. I don’t do that because I’m a closet-narcissist (you can read about that in “Call me a Narcissist”).
It’s because I want to draw attention to a charity I feel passionate about: the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. In “Overcoming Obstacles and Giving Back” I tell the story of how my wife discovered she has MS and how she is dealing with this confusing and unpredictable disease.
Together, readers of this blog raised over $5000 for the MS Society, making us the number #5 fundraising team out of 58 in my area. I can’t thank you enough for your incredible generosity!
Speaking of my wife, in “The Wind beneath my Wings” I blogged about the importance of having a supportive partner in this field of work. A partner can be a dear friend but also a life partner. I know for a fact that I wouldn’t be able to do what I do, if it weren’t for my better half.
As a reluctant introvert, I tend to keep things inside. “The Emotional Dilemma” is a story about how my feelings are influencing my work for better or for worse, and how I am channeling these emotions as I’m interpreting scripts.
Many people have asked my about my background as a voice actor. “How it all began” will tell you more about the early days of my voice-over career.
Of course no year goes by without me delving into some of the more technical issues that come with our job. In “Get the boom out of the room” I reveal some of my personal secrets to creating a dry recording space.
Last week I reviewed Audient’s iD22, a top-notch audio interface that is my number one pick for best new VO-gear of the year. I also tried out Microphone X from Aphex. It’s a unique USB mic with built-in analog processing.
Getting paid is always a hot topic in voice-over land. A few months ago, I wrote a series of stories on that topic, beginning with “When a client owes you” followed by “Give me my money!” If you’re still waiting for that check that was promised ages ago, and you’re wondering what you can do about it, I’m sure my tips will help you.
For those of you in Europe or with clients in that part of the world, I reported on the efforts of the EU to crack down on late payments. A new EU directive protects people like you and me against clients who demand you deliver your work yesterday and who pay whenever they feel like it.
Of course my blogging year wouldn’t be complete without mentioning two stories that turned out to be immensely popular because they dealt with one popular Pay to Play site in particular.
In “Leaving Voices.com” I told you about my falling out with this Canadian company (be sure to listen to the audio sample!).This article was widely discussed and quoted, and I added a follow-up with “As the Dust Settles.”
One of my New Year’s resolutions is to leave every online casting site that is not working in my best interest and in the best interest of our profession. I’d say that covers about ninety percent of them.
WHAT YOU CAN DO FOR ME
All in all it’s been a pretty productive year.
Many people have asked me how I manage to write a blog each week (plus guest posts), and to have a full-time voice-over career. Just read “Are You Talking To Me” for some answers, as well as tips for those thinking of starting a blog in 2014.
Of course there are many articles from 2013 that I did not mention in this overview, but I’ll leave it to you to explore more and pick your personal favorites.
If you’ve enjoyed my writing in the past twelve months, I’d like to ask you one small favor.
Please keep on sharing my stories with your friends and colleagues and stay in touch.
Your comments, friendship and collegiality continue to inspire me!
That’s the question I ask when I read other people’s blogs.
Is the author talking to me or to him or herself?
Dialogue or Monologue? It’s a question I ask myself every time I’m writing a new blog post. Am I really talking to my readers, or am I involved in a narcissistic exercise?
Ideally, I want my stories to be the start of a conversation with you. That’s why the comment section is my favorite part of this blog. I love it when readers share their experiences and offer additional insights.
There are also comments that you never get to see.
Read the rest of this story in my new book. Click on the cover to access the website and get a sneak peek. Use the buttons to buy the book.
A few weeks ago, I was reviewing Lake Bell’s In A World(click here to read) and I noted that most on-screen actors easily transition into voice-overs, but that it doesn’t happen the other way around. I wrote:
“Have you ever seen a full-time voice actor land a major role in a motion picture? I haven’t.”
Well, I was wrong.
Weeks later, I discovered the 2010 movie Hello Lonesome. If you’re a Netflix user, the DVD is easy to find.
In it, real-life voice-over artist Harry Chase plays a… real-life voice-over artist. He’s Bill Soap, a cantankerous, lonely man, longing to make amends with his estranged daughter after his wife suddenly left him. His most regular contact with the outside world is an opera-loving delivery guy.
That’s not the synopsis of the entire movie, though. Bill is just one of the six characters who populate this picture, and there are three different and equally touching story lines.
Self-financed with a $50,000 budget and completed in only 15 days, the movie was written, produced, shot and directed by Adam Reid. Adam got his start writing and producing promos for Comedy Central including South Park and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. He is currently the Executive Creative Director of the production company Bodega Studios in New York City.
The New York Times called Hello Lonesome a…
“smart, poignant trilogy of interwoven vignettes” that “manages the considerable feat of creating six fully human characters who are quirky enough to transcend the stereotypes found in a typical indie film.”
On the movie website, Adam Reid writes:
“As a promo producer I have worked with a lot of voice over artists. I think a lot of us wish we could have that kind of life. From the outside, it’s a lazy persons paradise: Wake up, crawl to a sound proof booth in your basement, read out loud into a microphone and get paid handsomely for it.
Bill Soap is the center of our three-ring circus. We cast real life voiceover Harry Chase and shot on location at his home. (It’s worth noting that Harry happens to be a wonderful husband and father, unlike his character, but does occasionally report to work in his underwear.)
Each story in Hello Lonesome is a parable. I wanted all of the characters to be very real and believable, and at the same time, this is a movie about how the smallest communication can change your life. In Bill’s case, that’s quite literal. He’s isolated himself and is now trapped in his own voice over booth.”
WHO IS HARRY CHASE
Adam Reid, Harry Chase and Julia Reisen
Chase has over 30 years experience in the business, and you’ll probably recognize him as the voice of Captain Morgan’s Rum. His work includes feature film trailers as well as spots for Quiznos, Sony Vaio, Disney on Broadway, CNN, CBS, Lifetime, Sci-Fi and National Geographic.
Harry’s voice can also be heard in video games such as “Grand Theft Auto IV” and as Gandalf in “The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar.” Harry won a “Best Voice Over” Golden Trailer Award for his work on the movie trailer for “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” starring Brad Pitt.
THUMBS UP OR DOWN
Just like In A World is not a documentary about voice-overs, Hello Lonesome tells stories that revolve around relationships. It’s an intimate movie about loss, loneliness and human connection.
It does take us inside Harry Chase’s sound booth. We watch him at work during several ISDN sessions, and it’s clear that he is in his element. Without giving too much away, I can tell you that his studio plays an important part in one of the plot lines.
Once he is outside of the voice actor’s comfort zone, Chase proves to be a natural. At no point did I get the feeling that he was acting (which is the highest compliment I can pay a colleague). In fact, he sounded more himself and less of a movie trailer man when he wasn’t using his shotgun mic, but was teaching the delivery man how to fire a rifle.
“Shot simply, acted without fuss, Hello Lonesome is alternately funny, wistful, tragic and suspenseful. Reid does a lot with a little – and has crafted a small beauty of a film with his first try.”
I couldn’t have said it any better than that.
Hello Lonesome won the Best Ensemble Jury Award at the Los Angeles Film Festival, as well as a number of other awards. It is now available on iTunes and you can get the DVD through Netflix. Click here if you want to buy this brilliant movie.
That’s the mood the voice-over community has been in, lately.
It’s the release of Lake Bell’s motion picture In A World.
If you are a voice talent and you haven’t heard about this fun-filled father-and-daughter comedy, you must be living under a rock and a hard place.
This movie got so much publicity inside my professional bubble that I didn’t even want to blog about it.
The anticipation for In A World had been building for months. When it finally came out, the citizens of voiceoverland went a little crazy.
If you’re a true member of our VO family, you probably did one of three things:
You posted or reposted the In A World trailer on your social media outlets dozens of times;
You read reviews and listened to or watched several interviews with Miss Bell and her cast of other characters;
You frantically tried to get tickets from the box office of some small artsy theater where In A World was playing, hours away from your home.
If that’s what you did, let me ask you this:
Why all the hoopla for a movie that so far has grossed a humble $321,614 in the two weeks since its release; a movie that is number 30 on the box office charts, right behind this summer’s mega-flop “The Lone Ranger” and the equally disappointing “R.I.P.D.”?
You might think that In A World deserves to be seen by millions, but apparently, distributor Roadside Attractions wasn’t confident enough to go for a wide release. Are they hoping for a sleeper hit on Netflix?
To me it’s rather obvious why the attention-craving voice-over community has embraced Lake Bell’s movie.
This comedy is about US.
We, the masters of the spoken word, the unseen and unsung heroes of gazillions of trailers, audio books, commercials and e-Learning modules, are at last being recognized for who we are and what we do.
After decades of neglect and ridicule, voice-overs have come out of their walk-in closets, ready to be embraced for their vocal magnificence.
Thanks to Miss Bell, the voice-over world finally has a voice. Better still: It’s a FEMALE voice!
We feel validated and vindicated and tell ourselves:
“People find us interesting. Look, they even made a movie about us and talk about it in the media. That must mean we’re important!”
I hate to burst your bubble, but that’s an illusion.
In a few days, the promotional circus surrounding this picture will fade away, and not even Joan Baker will be able to elevate our status in a world that doesn’t really care. Very soon we’ll get back to where we were before: invisible, under appreciated, and chronically underpaid.
Let me tell you why voice-over people are relatively irrelevant.
1. Voice actors run an auditory business in an increasingly visual world.
A study published on August 19th in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, describes that people who were asked to identify the winners of major piano competitions tend to do better when they purely rely on visual – rather than auditory – cues.
Seeing, not hearing, is believing.
This confirms the age-old adage that a picture paints a thousand words. Images will always overpower what we play or say, no matter how meaningful the music or the script. Visual impact is everything.
That’s why movie stars are among the best paid people on the planet and voice actors are not. Keep in mind that it took a motion picture with on-screen actors and not some radio play or podcast to highlight the world VO’s live in.
2. Most on-screen actors easily transition into voice-overs.
Have you ever seen a full-time voice actor land a major role in a motion picture? I haven’t. Most of them can’t act and have to hire a coach to learn how to sound natural. The actors we know from the stage, the movies or television on the other hand, love doing voice-over work on the side, and most of them are very good at it.
When big brands need solid exposure, they turn to well-known names to get their message across. While voice actors often have to scramble for a decent rate, their on-camera colleagues can command top-dollar for that six-word catch phrase at the end of a commercial.
3. In A World is not a movie about voice-overs.
Ron Howard didn’t shoot “Backdraft” as a documentary about firefighters. The TV series ER wasn’t made to promote the medical profession. The fire station and the hospital were both backdrops that allowed human drama to unfold.
In A World takes us into recording studios to tell us about the rivalry between a father and a daughter who both happen to audition for the same job.
At heart, it is a light summer movie about relationships, and the voice-over setting is nothing but a clever prop, allowing the actors to showcase their skills and versatility. Nothing less and nothing more.
4. But doesn’t this movie have a powerful message about inequality in the VO-workplace?
It’s true. Lake Bell’s character tries to break into the male-dominated world of movie trailers. However, I don’t think the predominant purpose of In A World was to further some feminist agenda. It’s a comedy. Not a Gloria Steinem manifesto.
The male-female dichotomy at the center of In A World is a ploy that serves a plot. It creates conflict that needs to be resolved.
It’s an old theme in a new setting:
Will the underdog succeed against overwhelming odds? Watch the movie and find out!
Most movies aren’t made to move minds. Audiences across the globe like to escape and be entertained. They hate being lectured about social injustice. And let’s be honest: film studios are not some kind of philanthropic institution ready to promote an important cause. I can summarize their business model in four words:
Minimize risks. Maximize profits.
5. Will Lake Bell manage to break the gender barrier?
The short answer is NO.
I don’t think Bell will impact movie trailers the way Mary Tyler Moore changed television. Using a female voice for a movie trailer would require a revolution. Not a Sundance comedy.
Usually, Hollywood doesn’t like to try something that hasn’t been done before. Playing it safe is the name of the game. That’s why the same actors and actresses, screenwriters, directors and composers are hired again and again.
The fact that female voices aren’t chosen to promote blockbusters has nothing to do with sexism. It has everything to do with movie moguls testing every aspect of a motion picture to see if it will appeal to an audience of average Americans. Words are weighed and endings are altered based on feedback from the all-important focus groups.
Without being derogatory, it’s fair to say that Joe Six-pack is the most important movie ticket buying demographic. If a focus group of Joe’s agrees that a booming male voice has more gravitas, that’s what studios will choose. Forget feminism or equal opportunities.
Thus, the cliché continues.
One last thing.
6. The rest of the world isn’t nearly as interested in our profession as we are.
If we do our job right, the listeners will pay more attention to the message than to the messenger. We serve the script and make it shine.
Unlike on-screen actors, we stay out of the limelight. We don’t appear in tabloids or on talk shows. Our private lives are blissfully boring. There is no glamour in voice-overs. For a majority of celebrity-watchers, voice-overs are positively uninteresting.
So be it.
In our small and isolated world, Lake Bell’s movie might be a big deal; a victory for voice-overs, even. The rest of the planet falls for blockbusters about zombie invasions, promiscuous vampires and kids playing Hunger Games -all of them promoted by Don Lafontaine sound-alikes.
Just because we don’t necessarily get recognized for our work, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take professional pride in what we do. We might not make millions of dollars and live in huge mansions, but there’s no reason to feel inferior.
In real life, a lot of great things happen under the radar. Those things can be far more profound than anything the gossip shows will ever report on.
Think about those who have dedicated themselves to helping others. Ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Most of them will never be acknowledged or honored, and they’re fine with that.
When I first came to the United States in the early nineties, I noticed something weird.
An average American would not have thought about it twice, but as a European it really struck me.
People in this country seemed to have a problem with age and aging.
What was my first clue?
Compared to my native Netherlands, many “older” people in the States (women and men) were coloring their hair.
When my Dutch grandma went to a salon, she might have asked the stylist to add a touch of silver to her gray. That was as far as she would go. But on the West Coast where I was training at that time, pensioners had no problem going platinum blonde or pitch-black.
Many of them dressed in hip track suits and were wearing white sneakers. Mind you, I’d never seen my grandfather in anything else than a three-piece suit and Oxfords. My grandparents would never dare wear anything athletic in public. Sneakers were for the gym, not for the streets.
Being in California, I couldn’t help but notice all the “plastic people.” On TV I’d see actors and anchors who clearly had had work done to stay marketable. Commercials were populated by people in their twenties and thirties or by those who desperately tried to look like they were in their twenties and thirties.
Was there something wrong with the older generation, I wondered. Why couldn’t or why wouldn’t people look their age?
THE YOUTHFUL FOUNTAIN
We’re now living in a new millennium and it’s not just the aging population that wants to maintain their youthful, flawless looks.
The American Society of Plastic Surgeons estimated in 2009 that Botox was injected into Americans ages 13 to 19 nearly 12,000 times, including some teenagers who got multiple doses. According to the New York Times, doctors were injecting teenagers for a variety of perceived imperfections, from a too-gummy smile to a too-square jaw.
When teen girls were asked about why they chose to get the injections, they said they wanted to prevent wrinkles or “appear fresh” in front of the camera. (source)
Meanwhile, the anti-aging industry has gone global. The sale of lotions, potions, supplements and other products is expected to top $291 billion in a few years. (source) Most of these products need promotion, and in a way, voice-overs are benefiting from this trend.
As much as I’d like to believe that looks don’t matter, that talent is timeless and that age is a feeling and not a number, I must admit that turning fifty this week was a mixed blessing. It’s a blessing because personally and professionally, I’ve never been happier.
I don’t sweat the small things anymore. Things I used to take personally I stopped caring about. I’m no longer intimidated by pompous people (of which there are many in my industry), and I don’t have to work for a jerk who does not respect me. Experience has taught me to ride the tide of dry spells and getting more work than I can handle.
The need for approval and recognition is fading fast. What’s left is a focus on building true connections and delivering consistent quality. Giving is now more important than taking, but I know my experience is worth something, and I’m not afraid to charge accordingly.
On the other hand, I worry about staying current. Society and especially technology is changing at such a fast pace. Will I be able to keep up with it? Do I want to?
Part of me cringes when I’m being introduced as a “veteran voice actor.” It’s an honorary title, but to me it sounds painfully close to “old and almost irrelevant fart.” I don’t want to be that person talking about the good old days when we did our editing by cutting tape with a razor blade and the world was listening to vinyl.
I’m afraid that producers might think that “seasoned” means expensive and “experienced” equals inflexible. And what if they see that headshot with my graying head of hair? I think my voice still sounds young, but will clients continue to consider me for more youthful, energetic roles?
Even though I feel relatively fit, I don’t have the stamina of a twenty-year old, and I cannot pull off all-nighters. My eyesight is deteriorating and I need to have my hearing tested. And let’s not mention the inevitable colonoscopy which I’ve been putting off for ages.
Fifty is so much more than a number.
It’s a verdict.
I had wanted to write about this for quite some time now, but I kept it to myself because I didn’t think it would fit the way my public persona is generally perceived. People tend to think I’m an optimistic, resourceful go-getter, and not some sad sack with a good life who’s complaining about getting older.
Well, some things cannot be rinsed away with a bottle of “Just For Men.” I know it is perfectly possible to be stuck between the pros and cons of a certain situation. There is no light without darkness. But why bring it up in a blog? Isn’t that an exercise in narcissism?
One: There’s strength in honesty. Denial doesn’t solve anything. Acknowledging our fears is the beginning of overcoming them.
Two: There’s strength in sharing. I know I’m not alone in thinking about how my age might affect my career. Even people in their thirties and forties are dealing with it.
Three: I’d like to hear your perspective. Because voice actors are invisible, looks and age really shouldn’t matter. Peter Thomas (89) and June Foray (95) are still working. Yet, have you experienced ageism in our industry? Is being older an asset or an impediment?
While you ponder these important questions, this old man is going to put on a pair of white socks and sandals as he gets ready for his hair appointment.
Who knows… he might even ask the stylist to add some color!
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