The two women were sitting opposite each other in the ski lodge. Their kids were out on the slopes and so they had all morning to catch up.
I usually don’t mind other people’s business, but these two were very hard to ignore. Their voices were as loud as the bling they were wearing. Even though they were dressed in the latest ski apparel, I don’t think either of them had any intention of ever going down a snowy hill.
This morning they seemed to be discussing their favorite topic: family illness.
“My father just went in for a double bypass,” said the one closest to me, as she was digging deep into a
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.
Are you salivating while watching your favorite Food Network show?
Do you get nightmares after renting that horror flick?
What happens when you’re playing Grand Theft Auto, Soldier of Fortune or a game like Manhunt?
No matter the context, our brain is constantly processing events from the outside world, turning them into physical, emotional and (sometimes) rational responses. In a split second, it has to answer these three questions:
1. What do I see, hear, feel, smell or taste?
2. What does it mean?
3. How do I respond?
If our behavior of choice results in positive feedback (e.g. the release of endorphins, causing a “high”), we’re more likely to choose that type of response in the future. The more we do it, the more we want it, and the better we get at it. It’s classic conditioning.
PLAYING GAMES ALTERS BRAINS
In 2012, researchers at the Indiana University School of Medicine published the results of an experiment with 28 young men between 18 to 29.
One group played a shooting video game for 10 hours over the course of one week. The second week they didn’t play at all. The control group did not play any video games during these two weeks.
Both groups had fMRI analysis at the start, after the first week, and after the second week. Yang Wang, is assistant research professor in the Department of Radiology and Imaging Science. He said in a news release:
“For the first time, we have found that a sample of randomly assigned young adults showed less activation in certain frontal brain regions following a week of playing violent video games at home. These brain regions are important for controlling emotions and aggressive behavior. (…) These findings indicate that violent video game play has a long-term effect on brain functioning.”
In the same year, researchers for Ohio State University discovered that:
“People who played a violent video game for three consecutive days showed increases in aggressive behavior and hostile expectations each day they played. Meanwhile, those who played nonviolent games showed no meaningful changes in aggression or hostile expectations over that period.”
VIOLENT GAMES ALTER BEHAVIOR
Brad Bushman, Ph.D., is a Professor of Communication and Psychology and co-author of the study. He comments:
“Playing video games could be compared to smoking cigarettes. A single cigarette won’t cause lung cancer, but smoking over weeks or months or years greatly increases the risk. In the same way, repeated exposure to violent video games may have a cumulative effect on aggression.”
Recently, a research team at Brock University in Canada found that teenagers who play violent video games over a number of years become more aggressive towards other people. They said their results were “concerning” and argued that violent games could “reinforce the notion that aggression is an effective and appropriate way to deal with conflict and anger.”
“It is clear that there is a long-term association between violent video games and aggression,” said Lead researcher Professor Teena Willoughby. “This is an important and concerning finding, particularly in light of the hours that youth spend playing these games.”
THE SOCIAL ASPECT OF GAMING
Not all studies on video game violence and aggression come to the same conclusion, though. David Ewoldson is professor of Communication at the same Ohio State University that published Brad Bushman’s study. His take on the matter:
“Clearly, research has established there are links between playing violent video games and aggression, but that’s an incomplete picture. Most of the studies finding links between violent games and aggression were done with people playing alone. The social aspect of today’s video games can change things quite a bit.”
He concluded that violent video games don’t always make players more aggressive. It all depends on your playing style. Players who cooperated in playing the video game later showed more cooperation than those who competed against each other. (source)
In January of 2012, the Swedish Media Council published a comprehensive review of the research done between 2000 and 2012 into violent video games and aggression. The Council concluded:
“There is an extensive amount of research that demonstrates a statistical relationship between VCG (violent computer games) and aggression. Much of this measured aggression related only to mental processes and not to violent behavior. In addition, there was no evidence for VCG to cause aggressive behavior.”
“That a person reacts in a given manner in a laboratory environment does not mean that they would react similarly in an everyday environment.”
THE GAME BOYS
Some estimate the video game industry to be worth $100 billion worldwide. Whether or not there is a proven causal relationship between violent games and violent behavior, Vice President Joe Biden wanted to meet with video game industry representatives. He did, and they talked for two hours. The topic: gun violence prevention.
According to Biden, the issue at stake wasn’t just gun control. It was about “civility in society,” and the coarsening of our culture.”
After the meeting, Biden suggested ways to address violence in video games, movies and on television when he sent President Barack Obama a package of recommendations for curbing gun violence. This was in response to the Newtown school massacre that killed 20 kids and 6 adults.
According to Reuters, a senior administration official said that President Obama would be asking for $10 million for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to study the root causes of gun violence, including any relationship to video games and media images.
OUR OWN RESPONSE
Of course Biden wasn’t the only one discussing gun violence and control. As was the case after the movie theater massacre in Aurora (12 dead, 58 wounded), Facebook exploded.
People sticking to their guns clashed with those who didn’t know what to make of the ongoing infatuation with firearms. After heated exchanges, long-time colleagues were unfriended and new friends were found. That’s freedom of speech in action.
Here’s what bothered me most.
The voice-over community discussed putting armed guards in schools, weapons at Walmart, strengthening background checks and restrictions on high-capacity ammunition magazines. Those issues are important, but they are symptoms of a much deeper problem in the United States. People hardly talked about the culture of violence in this country, and the role video games play in that culture.
To me, that would have been interesting, because a number of voice-over actors are making a decent living voicing violent games; games in which aggression is magnified, glorified and rewarded. Games that according to people like professor Bushman, make the players more aggressive.
Why in all these years, didn’t anyone in our community have the guts to stand up and say:
“This stuff is sick. This stuff is wrong. I don’t want to play any part in it!”
I think I know why.
Things get uncomfortable when they hit close to home. The discussion is no longer about theoretical situations. It touches our lives and our livelihood. Someone’s got to voice these things, right? It might as well be you. A paycheck is a paycheck, and if you’re lucky, you get to go to Comi-Cons and talk about your character and meet the fans. You’re almost a… celebrity!
Secondly, we’ve grown up with the perverted idea that violence makes enticing entertainment. In a twisted way, inflicting imaginary pain causes pleasure. Boys and girls who are bullied at school get to handle mega rounds of ammo and can blast their evil opponents to smithereens. That’s even therapeutic, yes?!
Right now, America is talking about the things we feed our kids (and ourselves) and the impact these things have on the health of the nation. You don’t have to be a nutritionist to realize that there is a link between the obesity crisis and our diet.
The fact that our youngsters have become a generation of video game playing couch potatoes who get very little exercise doesn’t help either. Eventually, junk builds up in the system like a powerful poison, and one day it will present its ugly face.
But what else do we feed our kids? Think about their mental health for a moment. Do we teach our kids how to build meaningful relationships, how to communicate effectively and how to resolve conflicts peacefully?
Do we teach them to loathe cruelty, to engage in dialogue, to be emphatic and become kinder, more understanding and respectful citizens?
Show me one popular video game that teaches those values.
I have yet to find it.
What we are exposed to on a regular basis becomes the norm. It starts to live inside of us. For better or for worse.
IS FAKE VIOLENCE OKAY?
There used to be a time when researchers could say: All that violence on TV and in the movies… people know it’s not real. Watching TV or a movie is passive. It really doesn’t affect us that much. That was before the era of hyper interactive, highly addictive video games.
As Dr. Bushman noted, most people learn best and much faster when they are actively involved. In Psychology Today he asked the question:
“Suppose you wanted to learn how to fly an airplane. What would be the best method to use: read a book, watch a TV program, or use a video game flight simulator?”
Bushman also observed that “players of violent video games are more likely to identify with a violent character. If the game is a first person shooter, players have the same visual perspective as the killer (…) In a violent TV program, viewers might or might not identify with a violent character. People are more likely to behave aggressively themselves when they identify with a violent character.”
“Violent games directly reward violent behavior, such as by awarding points or by allowing players to advance to the next game level. In some games, players are rewarded through verbal praise, such as hearing the words “Nice shot!” after killing an enemy. It is well-known that rewarding behavior increases its frequency. (Would you go to work tomorrow if your boss said you would no longer be paid?) In TV programs, reward is not directly tied to the viewer’s behavior.”
THE BIGGER PICTURE
The Swedish Media Council I mentioned earlier, makes decisions about age limits for films to be shown in movie theaters. They do not only base their considerations on how much violence the film contains. Assessment is made using a formulation from the UN’s child convention, about whether the film may harm the child’s well-being. The Council states:
“The same reasoning should be applied to computer games: a one-sided focus on the violence in the game leads to other issues regarding content being forgotten. (…)If we adults stop focusing all our energy on the incidence of violence in computer games, we can instead begin asking ourselves questions that the research will never be able to answer: what values, norms and ideologies do we want to pass on to our children?“
I don’t think it’s necessarily either/or. Why not have a discussion about norms and values, as well as a dialogue about video game violence? One has to do with the other.
As a dad of a ten-year old, I often wonder and worry about the world I will leave behind for my daughter and her children. Is it going to be a safer, sweeter and saner place, or will we have armed guards on every street corner and in every school?
Is that the “Land of the Free” we so proudly sing of, or is it the “Land of the Fearful”?
How will we teach tolerance and respect and help our children understand and appreciate differences between people, faiths and cultures?
Some scholars say that games are an innocent way for kids to get ready for the real world. Games allow us to playfully engage in imaginary scenarios that -subconsciously- prepare us for things to come.
If that’s the case, what’s a game like Grand Theft Auto or Manhunt teaching our teens? How is it enriching their lives? With so much exciting, innovative technology at our fingertips, is that really the best we can do for our children? Don’t they deserve better?
As a professional, I think it’s time for voice actors to come together, take a stand and speak out against these ultra violent games that are getting more lifelike by the day.
The fundamental question is this: How do we wish to use our talent? Are we going to use it to produce gratuitous violence or to teach people to get along better? Are we going to search for a solution, or are we going to stay part of the problem?
Or, do we simply stick our heads in the sand and claim there is no problem?
We’re simply involved in the production of harmless entertainment.
2012 is a year I will remember for many reasons, but the main reason is this:
Did you know that readers of this blog donated $2,500 to the National MS Society this year? Thanks to your contributions, our Walk MS team raised a total of $6,504!
When I told you that my friend Patrice Devincentis had lost her Sonic Surgery recording studio in Hurricane Sandy, you stepped up to the plate big time.
Donations to Sonic Surgery
Right now, part of my basement is taken over by audio equipment that was donated to Patrice, mostly by friends in the voice-over community.
Just when she thought her career was over, your help gave her hope and a chance to start rebuilding a studio and a career.
As soon as her recording space is ready, I will deliver all the gear on your behalf, but that’s not all.
When you go to the Sonic Surgery GoFundMe page, you’ll see that together we’ve raised over $2,600 for Patrice. We still have a long way to go before we’ll reach our $10,000 goal, but it’s a great start.
SPREADING THE NEWS
As readers, you’ve also been generous with your blog comments (all 2,658 of them), retweets, Facebook “likes” and all the other ways in which you helped my stories reach a wider audience. Thank you so much for that! It works and here’s the proof.
A story like the introduction of Studiobricks (a new type of vocal booth), has reached almost two thousand readers. Mike Bratton’s interview and review of the Studiobricks ONE cabin, has been seen over fifteen hundred times. But there were more reviews this year.
If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you know that I love writing about the business of being in business. Having a great voice doesn’t mean that you’ll automatically have a great voice-over career. You have to be a savvy entrepreneur as well.
When you open up shop, you’re all of a sudden the head of the advertising, marketing, sales and the customer service department. Are you sure you can handle that? Some customers can be a royal pain in the tuches, but you have to attract them first.
Now, all these ideas didn’t appear to me in a dream. It has taken me quite a few years of running a freelance business to come up with certain vital concepts. Trial and error are the slowest teachers, and I had to learn many of my lessons the hard way. I still remember the day I almost made a $10,000 mistake.
On an average day I spend at least eight hours in my vocal booth/office, and of course I blogged about life behind the mic. I gave you the grand tour of my studio in two installments.
In 2011, 44% of independent workers had trouble getting paid for their work. 3 out of 4 freelancers are paid late or not at all at least once in their careers. That’s why the New York-based Freelancers Union ran a campaign called “Get Paid, not played.”
I tend to write a lot about value and remuneration. Just click on the “Money Matters” category over on the right hand side of this blog and you’ll see what I mean. When my website got a make-over, I decided to publicly post my voice-over rates. Not everyone believed this was a wise move, so I wrote a story exploring the pros and cons of being open about fees.
One relatively new way to fund your business, is to use crowdsourcing. I asked audio book publisher Karen Wolfer to share her experience with Kickstarter. Another money-related topic that came up this year was this: Should you work for free for charity? On paper “giving back” sounds like the right thing to do, but is it always the case? As with any of the stories mentioned above, click on the blue link to read the full article.
TAKING CARE OF YOURSELF
Let’s move from wealth to health. I shall remember 2012 for one other reason. Never before have I written so much about fitness and well-being. In “Be kind. Unwind” I wrote about the importance of taking a break, being in the moment and leading a balanced life.
After meeting the globetrotting host of The Amazing Race Phil Keoghan, I discovered four principles to live in the spirit of NOW (No Opportunity Wasted). In August it was time for me personally to cut the crap and rid myself of excuses that had me trapped in an unhealthy, sedentary lifestyle.
MAKE A DIFFERENCE
All in all, 2012 has been a great year. We’ve had to weather some powerful storms, but the year was also packed with positive change.
It always amazes me how relatively small changes can have a huge impact. Imagine someone throwing a pebble into a pond. See how the ripple effect moves through the water in ever-widening circles. That’s the effect one individual act of generosity can have.
It happens when people who care, share what they have to give without expecting anything in return. It can be time, it can be money or -as in Patrice’s case- even audio equipment.
I am grateful and appreciative that you have chosen to take a few minutes out of your day, to see what I have to say. Many of you came back, week after week. Hopefully, you’ve found my stories and ideas helpful and worth sharing. If that’s been the case, I have news for you:
I’m not done yet!
In fact, I’m ready to push more envelopes, stir more pots and be more outspoken in 2013.
Sh*t happens. Accept it. One of life’s great lessons is how we can turn our sh*t into manure. Here’s a hint: it requires getting your hands dirty.
There are many metaphors for our existence on this planet.
Depending on your perspective, life’s a stage, a bowl of cherries or a box of chocolates. One of my favorite images is that of a garden.
Going through life, it’s up to us to treat the soil and select the seeds we plant. We must make sure that there’s plenty of sunlight, shade and water. With patience, persistence, some pruning and some weeding, we eventually reap what we have sown. Some of the fruits of our labor will be bitter. Others will be sweet. You get the idea.
Comparing a budding voice over talent to a gardener, Tilley teaches the reader how to stock the greenhouse, cultivate the soil, get saplings to bloom, how to create fabulous flower arrangements and sell them on the international market at a profit.
This is the first voice-over book that is not stuffed with pictures of people talking into microphones. Instead, it looks like a Burpee or Wildflower Farm catalogue and it reads like a popular, practical self-help book, with sentences such as:
“Phew! How ya feeling? That was a lot of research. Does your brain hurt a little?”
“Yet another list. Geez, are you for real? Yup, sure thing buttercup.”
Don’t let the language fool you! Tilley is the Mike McGrath of voiceovers, and he generously shares what he has learned over the course of many years in the business.
In addition to 26 chapters, $25 will also get you a 38-page workbook packed with breathing exercises, tongue-twisters, character creation worksheets, model cover letters and sheets to help you organize and optimize your finances. On top of that, the author included 25 sound files on breathing, warm-ups and vocal flexibility.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
American-born Tilley lives in Germany and has worked as a full-time VO artist since 2007. Unlike many voice talents, he did not start his career in radio. He received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Musical Theatre from Ithaca College and a minor in Dance at Cornell University. After graduation he moved to New York City. Tilley describes what happened next:
“I broke out into the NYC dance scene performing in multiple award-winning dance companies and in the movie “Center Stage” filmed at the Lincoln Center. What an experience! In 1999 I was offered a 6 month contract to go to Germany with a production of “42nd Street”. Little did I know I was off to face an amazing adventure.
I lucked out and worked for 8 years straight in the German musical theatre scene in productions of “CATS”, “Dance of the Vampires”, another production of “42nd Street”, and “Mamma Mia!”. I also had the great opportunity to choreograph fashion and hair shows for L’Oreal, Wella, and Intercoiffure in Berlin, Rome, and Paris.”
After performing onstage for over 20 years, he transitioned into a voice-over career. It turned out to be a wise choice. Now he’s one of the top American voices German companies like Mercedes-Benz, Daimler and Porsche turn to for business presentations and commercials. Tilley’s secret to success is based on four pillars:
Patience, Commitment, Courage and Taking Action.
Despite its motivational style and optimistic tone, Voice Over Garden is not a “How to break into the VO business in two weeks” kind of book. Starting with the Disclaimer on page 2, Tilley levels with his audience and warns them about unrealistic expectations. He knows that seeds don’t turn into strong trees overnight, and writes:
“(…) let go of the notion that you can learn absolutely everything in a VO weekend workshop.”
“If you can’t be handed a page of text, get behind the mic and record it perfectly in 1 or 2 takes, you aren’t ready to contact people for work, especially agents. You first need training.”
Voice Over Garden was put together as a training manual that was sent to Tilley’s students, chapter by chapter. It gave them something to read and to research between coaching sessions so that they would be better prepared for their next lesson. That explains why Tilley takes his time to cover the basics. As a fellow voice coach, I think that’s an excellent choice. A solid career requires a solid foundation.
Some of the more experienced voice talents will find that they are familiar with this material. Just bear in mind that reading Jonathan’s book is like learning how to dance. You start by taking simple steps. In this case it’s about learning how to breathe properly, enunciate clearly and work the microphone like a pro. Only then you’ll learn how to break down copy, create characters and get ready to record a demo.
By the way, not all the information offered is limited to the book itself. You’ll find links to helpful YouTube videos, recommended products, websites and blogs (yes, even this blog!). Each chapter ends with a few homework assignments, and that’s where the workbook comes in handy.
As expected, Tilley digs deeper and deeper with each chapter. He is at his best when he gets personal as he recalls the mistakes he made and what he learned from them (such as in “My First Demo, or How I Learned To Stop Picking My Nose”). Thanks to these stories, told with a disarming and refreshing sense of humor, it feels like Tilley is talking directly to the reader, very much like he does in his videos.
GETTING DOWN TO BUSINESS
I’m especially pleased that Tilley devotes a lot of his book to the business of being in business. It’s the Achilles’ heel of many aspiring and experienced voice actors (and other freelancers). Many of them have no clue what their services are really worth, and they don’t know how much money needs to come in, just to break even.
Unfortunately, this is also the part of the book where Tilley starts to sound like a cheap pitchman. Listen to this:
“I have created a system for you to become ridiculously rich. I have used this system myself and have become ridiculously rich from it. I have coached this system of VO business to my students and they too have become ridiculously rich from it.”
Thankfully, he redeems himself soon after that by saying:
“I do not define my Worth by what is sitting in the bank. I define my Worth by my “You Are Enough And Worthy Feeling”. That’s what makes me feel ridiculously rich and remember, that is priceless.”
Of course Tilley realizes that this “You Are Enough And Worthy Feeling” does not necessarily pay the bills. That’s why part of Voice Over Garden is a mini-course in money management. To my knowledge, no other voice-over book currently on the market, covers this area as well as Jonathan’s book.
He reveals how he has organized his business, what kind of bookkeeping software he uses, why he hired a personal assistant and is outsourcing work to a company in India. Tilley clearly demonstrates that it takes much more than a pleasant-sounding voice, a microphone and a laptop, to thrive as an international voice talent.
In spite of the fact that Voice Over Garden fills an important gap in the voice-over literature, it has its flaws. You may not agree with me, but the constant comparison between gardening and a voice-over career became a bit old after a while. At some point I wanted to shout:
“Okay, Jonathan… I get it. My soil needs fertilizer and I should water my plants. Can we move on, now?”
There are too many stock images of flower beds, gardening tools, green grass and mulch, and they take up way too much space. At times I felt the author was writing an illustrated VO for kids book, with lines like:
“You are about to do something remarkable and truly astounding. Yes, you are about to record your demo!”
And there were other times where I felt I was back in Kindergarten. Take this excerpt from an otherwise excellent chapter on script annotation:
I’m also not on board with Jonathan’s suggestions when it comes to gear. Rather than presenting us with a few options, he recommends using the Neumann TLM 103 microphone, Pro Tools and an MBox Mini. In the resource section, Tilley lists a YouTube video called “A candid word with Joan Baker and Neumann,” posted by Sennheiser. Neumann is owned by Sennheiser and Baker is a paid Neumann endorser.
There are many other microphones (such as the affordable CAD E100S) that are very suitable for voice-over work. I agree with home studio expert Dan Lenard that Pro Tools is terrific if you’re running a recording studio, but it’s overkill for most voice-over talent. Personally, I prefer the sleek simplicity of Twisted Waveaudio recording software.
I also disagree with Tilley when it comes to recording demos. He writes:
“Second biggest mistake in recording a demo: Never record or produce it yourself.”
Of course a professional demo should be of high quality. However, I have heard way too many overproduced demos that do not reflect the quality of what the voice talent can produce in his or her home studio. Most of my clients want to hear what I am able to deliver, and not what some audio engineer is able to fix or sweeten.
Then there’s the price of Voice Over Garden: 25 dollars. Truth be told: Tilley offers a lot of bang for your buck, but he is selling an eBook as a PDF and in EPUB and MOBI format for various eReaders. In that market, $25 is a lot of money for a virtual publication. He’s also publishing the book himself and not through a company like Smashwords that would allow him to tap into a distribution network such as Barnes & Noble and the Apple iBookstore. That’s a shame because I do believe it deserves to be on those virtual shelves.
Voice Over Garden is the one book I wish I would have had when I started in the business. It’s intelligently written, comprehensive, eye-opening and loaded with practical tips. The basic weakness of many publications in this category is that one cannot learn how to cook by reading a book (or a blog for that matter).
Reading Voice Over Garden won’t make you a successful international voice over star. No book can do that. It’s what you do with the information that makes all the difference. As a companion to one on one coaching sessions, it is quite brilliant.
It’s so easy not to be grateful for the things we take for granted.
Every night we go to bed, knowing that when we wake up, our world will still be the same because we are in charge. We own the place. We shape it the way we command it to be. Chaos has been tamed into perfect order. Life has become reassuringly predictable.
Our fridges are filled with fresh food. Clean water will come out of our faucets. Outlets provide us with a constant flow of energy. On cold days, central heating keeps us warm, and the roof over our head protects us against the dark forces of nature.
Until nature decides to teach us a cruel lesson.
Hurricane Sandy was such a lesson.
Why people have to learn their life lessons the hard way, I honestly don’t know. Perhaps it is because we often learn more from the things that don’t go as planned, as opposed to the things that go exactly as we imagined. Some things, however, we either can’t imagine, or we refuse to accept the possibility that they could happen…. to us.
What I have learned is this: disasters do not discriminate.
Flash floods and hurricane winds will wash away the residences of the young and the old, the rich and the poor, the sick and the healthy, the liberal and the conservative, the Democrat and the Republican.
Nature doesn’t care about our possessions, our monuments, our accomplishments, our basic needs or even our friends and family. Things that we believed to be certain for many years to come, are washed away in a matter of seconds. Cherished landmarks we built with pride, are crushed and erased in the middle of a stormy, moonlit night.
People panic as they are overpowered by a raging enemy beyond their control. Tall trees that have stood strong for decades, are uprooted in the blink of an eye, and plant themselves on roof tops, vehicles, power lines and on the kind man in his sixties who went outside for two fatal minutes, just to let his dogs out.
As you look at the images my neighborhood woke up to on Tuesday morning, Sandy was well on her way to torture new towns and destroy the dreams of other people.
Today, I count myself very lucky.
All I lost was power. I had to live without electricity for a couple of days. I could not go on-line. Emails were left unanswered. Facebook was forgotten. Two nights without TV.
Meanwhile, the radio told me about beaches being washed away, neighborhoods being flooded, houses that were burning, people who were displaced and snowstorms making life practically impossible.
This is my neighborhood, but my car is not under that tree you see. My home is undamaged. My life is not in shatters. My loved ones are safe, and hard-working men from out of State cleared the roads and repaired the power lines.
I am grateful.
I am grateful for the friends and colleagues who have reached out to me, praying for my well-being. I am grateful for the first responders who risked their lives in the eye of the storm, the men and women who worked through the night coordinating the response to the crisis, and I am grateful for the many volunteers in the shelters.
I made new friends sitting on the floor at Barnes & Noble, as we recharged the batteries of our electronic devices, because the hurricane had left us powerless. We shared the stories of the storm and the stories of our life.
In a way it is ironic. When we have everything our heart desires, we think we don’t need one another. Adversity, on the other hand, brings people together and turns strangers into friends.
What would you do if you knew that your time on earth was about to come to an end?
Would you go back to work and pretend nothing happened?
Would you go on a cruise around the world?
Would you visit as many friends and family members as possible?
Or would you stay inside, close the blinds and curl up with a pint of your favorite ice cream?
Phil Keoghan, host of “The Amazing Race,” was 19 when he almost lost his life. On one of his first TV shoots under water, he got trapped in an upturned interior cabin of a sunken cruise liner and couldn’t find his way out. With very little air left in his tank, he panicked, realizing that his next breath could be his last.
After what seemed an eternity, the support crew on the surface sent a rescue diver to find him. In the nick of time, Phil was pulled to the surface and he survived. The next day, he went back to repeat the dive that nearly killed him.
That was not all.
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.
Others can’t even come up with an interesting tweet.
Does it matter?
If you’re on a podium and there’s no audience, what’s the point?
I count my lucky stars because I have an audience and it has grown ever since I started blogging. It’s not entirely due to luck though, because I do my very best to make your visit as enjoyable and memorable as possible.
Before I tell you about the visible and often invisible ways in which I do that, I’d like to share four goals with you that are always at the back of my mind when I blog:
1. write compelling content 2. engage my readers 3. increase my reach and readership 4. become rich and famous
As you can see, one thing leads to the other. Quality content stimulates readers to like, repost, retweet and comment. This increases my reach and grows my readership. And if I play my cards right, the world will fall in love with me and make me a wealthy man.
Seriously, in order to accomplish all these goals there’s one thing I need to do:
I have to stop thinking about myself.
There’s only one person that really matters.
Yes, it’s YOU!
What I want to write about is not that important. It matters what you want to read. Even though I’m not a psychic, I have a pretty good idea what you are interested in. Just look at the list of Popular Posts in the upper right-hand corner. Not only does it provide some social proof; we can learn something from this list.
Based on the headlines, only 4 out of 10 articles have to do with my profession: providing voice-overs with a European sound. I often use a voice actor’s lens as a springboard to write about things that concern all kinds of freelancers. My list of popular posts proves that this is a good way to increase my reach beyond the small voice-over community.
There’s something else I monitor closely on my blog, and that’s the level of engagement. Some posts get more comments, retweets and likes than others. Look at this list:
This definitely confirms a trend because most comments have little to do with voice-over related topics. They are about freelancing, running a business, social media, marketing and money.
Not only do I know what my readers are interested in, I can tell you that most of them live in the United States, followed by Great Britain, Canada and The Netherlands. What I particularly like is that I have a nice mix of returning readers and people who stop by for the very first time. It’s great to have loyal fans and I love to welcome new friends!
I can also tell you how most people find me. Here are the results from the last few weeks:
And where do most referrals come from?
These stats are very useful, not only because they help me understand my readers better. They tell me how effective my blog promotion is, and where there’s room for improvement.
Looking at the statistics, I also learned that an increasing number of people are reading this on a portable device (mostly iPhones). Based on that, I totally redesigned my website to make it mobile responsive (see: The New Nethervoice). That alone has dramatically influenced my bounce rate.
Bounce rate is usually defined as:
The percentage of visitors who see just one page on your website and the percentage of website visitors who stay on the site for a small amount of time (usually five seconds or less).
It might look great on paper to have thousands of people come to your website, but if they’re gone in a few seconds, what good does that do? Currently, the bounce rate for nethervoice.com is 1.98%. For mobile users, my bounce rate is even lower: 0.34%. Get this: my old site had an average bounce rate of 40-60 percent!
Looking at the most recent numbers, I can tell you that people spend about 3 minutes and 47 seconds on my site (mobile users: 4:21). That’s pretty good, considering the fact that the average visit to a website lasts less than a minute and often no more than 10-20 seconds!
Where do I find all these factoids? I find them on Google Analytics and with the help of a number of WordPress plugins such as the Site Stats on Jetpack and SlimStat. Keep in mind that we’ve barely scratched the surface when it comes to web traffic analysis. I can drill down on individual web pages and blog posts and get a fairly good idea of what my visitors are up to. I even know what some of them do when they leave…
SHARING THE LOVE
Readers often share my content by copying and pasting it to emails and social media. How do I know? I use a nifty tool called Tynt to monitor what content anonymously leaves this site. Go ahead, copy and paste something from this page and see what happens!
Each time someone pastes content from my site, Tynt automatically adds a url-link back to the source. When that link is clicked, the user is directed to this blog and can see the original article. This increases traffic to my site.
Tynt is one more way to measure traffic and engagement. Like other analytics tools, Tynt tells me which keywords were used to bring visitors to my site and which content prompted people to take action. Thanks to Tynt I now know that most people use email and Facebook to share my stories.
The nice thing is: with all these tools at my disposal, I have a way to measure results; not just for this blog but for my entire site.
STAY WITH ME
As you just saw, most visitors spend almost four minutes on this site and something tells me this might have to do with the content. But there are other things I do to try to keep you from leaving. One simple way is to instruct WordPress how to handle outbound links.
An outbound link is a word, phrase or image that you can click on, that will take you to a new website. As you can see, if a word or a phrase appears in blue on my blog, it’s an outbound link or an internal link.
Here’s how I created the link above in WordPress:
If I don’t check the box Open a link in new window/tab, the reader will leave my website once the link is clicked, and may never come back. By ticking that box, the outbound link opens in a new window while leaving my page open, and the reader can return to it whenever he or she done.
You’ve probably also noticed that I often refer to earlier articles in this blog. Whenever I do, I make sure to create an internal link to those stories. Not only is this a service to readers who want to find out more about a certain topic, it tends to increase the time people spend on my site. And by the way, I don’t only do this for my blog. My entire site is filled with internal links.
From an SEO (Search Engine Optimization) standpoint, internal links are invaluable. They become the threads holding the spiderweb together that is nethervoice.com. Search engine robots (sometimes called spiders), use these links to find content for indexing. A web marketing specialist from Japan put it as follows:
If one webpage links to another, it can be thought of as a vote for the linked webpage. Therefore, the more credibility a webpage has that links to another, the better it is for the linked webpage.
There’s one other thing I like to do to keep you here just a bit longer. At the end of most blog posts, you’ll find a link to the next article.
Readers have told me that they stumbled upon one of my stories by accident, and then just kept on flipping the virtual pages from link to link. Every click is a YES from a visitor; a mini-endorsement increasing the site’s credibility.
Perceived credibility is one of the factors influencing the page rank of a website. Contributing to that credibility is social behavior. The more people link, like, pin, repost, and retweet a page, the more relevant search engines believe it is.
Don’t assume that your visitors will take action, though. You have to make it easy for them to share content. That’s why you find share and like buttons at the top and bottom of my stories. Secondly, it helps to ask people to take action:
Be sweet. Please retweet!
Those four words have increased the number of retweets by sixty percent!
Now, there’s a reason why I put that request at the end of a blog post, just as I added the phrase:
If you’re a frequent visitor, you may have noticed that my blog roll is gone. In its place you’ll find the last five comments posted on this blog. There are a few reasons I made that decision.
Most importantly, very few people ever clicked on the links in the blog roll. That’s another thing Google Analytics told me. Secondly, not everybody on my blog roll was an active blogger and I didn’t feel like checking these blogs for fresh content every week.
Why link to recent comments instead? Well, I want to encourage and reward reader participation. My most active friends and fans deserve to be featured more prominently. Having a blog just isn’t enough anymore to appear on this page.
Once you post a comment, you’ll notice something else that’s new. I’m not going to tell you what it is. You’ll have to find out for yourself.
SOCIAL MEDIA INTEGRATION
The last thing you might have seen is the Find us and like us on Facebook box I added a few weeks ago. You don’t have to leave this site to like me on Facebook, and you can see the faces of other “likers” as well. It will only display those “likers” that are already in your Facebook network. This creates a sense of community, and people are more likely to click “like” if they see the faces of friends.
What I really hope is that you will click that button because you enjoy spending some time on this blog and you want to connect with me. This blog is published once a week. I update my Facebook page almost every day. It’s another place where we can be among friends and fellow-professionals and share useful information and ideas.
THE REAL SPY
As I have demonstrated, I’ve been keeping a close eye on you. Yes, I spied! But while I was writing this article, it did occur to me that the tables have turned. By sharing some of my hidden statistics with you, you were able to spy on me!
The truth is: I have no secrets. When it comes to blogging, I am an open book. In fact, that book is for sale. It’s called “Boosting Your Business with a Blog” and you can buy the unlimited PDF version right here on this website.
In it, I talk about creating compelling content, I teach you how to make your blog easy to read and I show you how to build an audience.
Please help me reach my fourth goal and buy this book today. It will be an enriching experience for both of us!
My very first website was based on a rather generic template, and to tell you the truth: it was just okay, and “just okay” doesn’t cut it. That’s why I had to rebuild it from the ground up (more about that in “The New Nethervoice“).
It turns out that I’m not the only one.
Whether you’re redesigning or starting from scratch, there are some important do’s and don’ts you have to keep in mind.
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 number of years ago, I paid a visit to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.
At that time I was a reporter, producer and presenter for Radio Netherlands International. The museum had just announced the discovery of a new Van Gogh, and I was on my way to get a first look.
The curator was visibly excited to share his find with the world. So-called “new” Van Gogh’s had popped up now and then, but most of them turned out to be poor imitations or brilliant forgeries. This time around, the authenticity was not in doubt. Why? Because the actual painting was invisible.
As I walked down the climate controlled basement, I saw canvas after canvas radiating with vibrant colors. Some of them were in the process of being restored. Others were carefully wrapped up, ready to go on loan to a museum abroad. Then we stopped at what looked like a huge file cabinet with wide drawers.
“This is it,” said the young curator, as he opened one of the drawers. “Here’s our discovery. It is a portrait of an unknown woman.”
“I don’t understand,” I said. “All I see is a painting of a Patch of Grass.”
The broad brush strokes of vivid green seemed to be sculpted onto the canvas, making this magnificent meadow an almost three-dimensional work of art.
The curator smiled and said: “That’s because you can’t see the portrait. Van Gogh often re-used his old canvases to save money. The painting you’re looking at right now was painted over the image of the woman. Let me show you what the X-ray revealed.
A HIDDEN MASTERPIECE
We believe the painting underneath was made in 1884 or 1885, during a period in which Van Gogh painted several portraits of peasants in the Dutch village of Nuenen.
The colors are kind of gloomy, certainly compared to the work of Impressionists, and that’s probably why Vincent decided to paint a brighter and more commercial scene over it when we was in Paris. As many as one-third of his paintings may conceal earlier works.”
In 2008, researchers used a newer technique to penetrate the layers of paint, revealing more details and color of the unknown woman hidden underneath the green grass.
In March of 2012, the Philadelphia Museum of Art had some 40 Van Gogh’s on display at their “Van Gogh Up Close” exhibition. I don’t think “A Patch of Grass” has made it to the U.S. but a work like “Undergrowth With Two Figures” from 1890 is part of the exhibit. Looking at it, one can almost feel the waves of wind whispering in the weeds.
MY U.S. TELEVISION DEBUT
The catalogue for the exhibition was in part funded by the Netherland-America foundation and NBC 10 provides promotional support.
As part of that promotion, Eileen Matthews produced the documentary “Van Gogh Up Close” which aired on March 17. Lori Wilson was the narrator, and you can hear me as the voice of Van Gogh, reading quotes from some of the many letters he wrote.
NBC wanted me to add some authenticity to this production and that made for an interesting challenge because we don’t really know what Van Gogh sounded like. He was born in the South of Holland and at age 20, he moved to London to work for an art dealer. Some scholars believe these were the happiest days of his life.
Van Gogh returned to England for work as a supply teacher in a small boarding school and later he became a missionary’s assistant. This leads me to believe that he might have spoken English with Dutch-British accent.
Here is part of a letter Van Gogh wrote in 1881 to his brother Theo who was an art dealer. These are the actual words Vincent wrote:
[audio:https://www.nethervoice.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Letter-to-Theo-Dutch.mp3|titles=Van Gogh’s Letter to Theo in Dutch read by Paul Strikwerda]
Listen to the same letter in English:
[audio:https://www.nethervoice.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Letter-to-Theo-English.mp3|titles=Van Gogh’s letter to Theo in English read by Paul Strikwerda]
Talking to non-Dutch speakers, one thing always comes up when discussing Van Gogh. Nobody seems to know how to correctly pronounce his last name. Is it “Van Goff” or “Van Goh”?
The correct answer: neither.
If you wish to impress your friends and family, here’s how you do it:
[audio:https://www.nethervoice.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Untitled.mp3|titles=Dutch pronunciation Vincent Van Gogh]
A NEW DISCOVERY?
Even today, people claim to have found new masterpieces by van Gogh. On Wednesday March 14th, Joshua Tree resident Michael Wilson announced he had discovered a long-lost painting depicting beech trees at sunset. He bought it for $50 in a junk shop. If the painting turns out to be genuine, it could be appraised at approximately $200 million.
During his lifetime, Van Gogh only sold one oil painting. He lived and died in poverty, but he knew he was leaving an extraordinary legacy.
He once said:
“I can’t change the fact that my paintings don’t sell, but the time will come when people will recognize that they are worth more than the value of the paints used in the picture.”
Well, that’s certainly one of the most prophetic understatements in the history of art. Especially if you take into consideration that some owners of a real Van Gogh might actually have purchased two pictures for the price of one!
“I don’t care about looks. They just have to take me as I am. And if they don’t like it, that’s their problem, not mine.”
My piano-playing friend whom we met in the second installment of this media training, was at it again. He was getting ready for another interview and he decided to wear an old shirt that had a stain and desperately needed ironing.
I said to him:
“Just look at you. Your shirt is dirty. Your nails are filthy. You haven’t had a haircut in months and it might be nice to wear some deodorant for a change. Is this the best you can do for a TV show with an audience of three million?”
“Give me a break, Mr. Clean!” he said. “You’re not my mother. They’ve invited me for my music and not for my dashing looks.”
“Just think about that for a moment,” I said. “Picture yourself in a studio with the camera zooming in as you’re playing a romantic piece. Do you really feel that we should see a close-up of your dirty nails; hair sticking out of your ears and nose and that beer stain on the cuff of your shirt… in crystal-clear HD? Wouldn’t that be a bit distracting, if not repulsive?
The camera lens is a magnifying glass. It makes everything look bigger (including your ego). I guarantee you: When you watch that interview on TV, you’ll notice things about yourself you’ve never seen before.
I recently saw a show featuring one of my voice-over colleagues, and after the first five seconds I said to my wife: “This guy’s a radio man.”
“How can you tell?” she asked.
“For starters, look at his hands,” I said. “He’s scratching his head. He’s touching his face. He’s playing with his coffee mug. He acts as if nobody’s watching, and I bet you anything he has no clue he’s doing it. This guy is used to being in a radio studio where nobody but the engineer can see him.”
Then I asked my wife: “Tell me what he just said.”
She paused for a moment and drew a blank.
“Why can’t you remember?” I asked.
“I guess I was distracted by what he was doing,” she said. “The guy can’t sit still and he looks nervous.”
“That’s exactly my point,” I responded. “It might seem silly, but most people don’t realize that television is a visual medium and that pictures always overpower words.
When I teach a media training, I usually tape the first interview of the day and play it back without sound so my students can focus on their body language. Most of them are shocked by what they see.
Then we tape the interview again, and this time they look like a deer staring in the headlights of a fast approaching Mack truck. They’re frozen stiff. That’s not good either.
Unless you’re a trained actor or presenter, most of us are not so great at being natural in unnatural situations, and we have no sense of how we come across. That’s why training is so important. People need to learn to sit still and make smaller, purposeful movements that emphasize the points they’re making. If a movement doesn’t add anything, it distracts from the story.”
JUDGING A BOOK
My piano playing friend finally stopped me and said: “I don’t want to be judged based on my looks or on my moves. I want to be taken seriously as a musician and I’m not going to sell out to the media. It’s all so superficial. All I want is to make music and reach people through my art.”
“Precisely!” I said. “And that’s why you have to learn to use the media instead of complaining that they’re using you. The media are nothing but an instrument and you have to know how to play it.
Understand that everything about you sends a message, including the way you look. First impressions matter. In a way, an interview is like an audition for thousands, if not millions of people. You want to show your best and most professional self.
“What are you really saying?” asked my friend.
“Just because you wear comfortable clothes in your home studio doesn’t mean you should show up in your favorite jeans and a T-shirt that says “Who’s Your Daddy?“
It’s time to think of yourself as a brand. Every brand has an image. If you’re on camera looking ungroomed and sloppy, what impression do you think the viewers will get of you? If you constantly shift in your seat or play with a pen, what are you telling them?
YOU’RE A MOUTHPIECE
There’s one more thing to consider. As a recording artist, it’s not all about you. You also represent your label.
You know I’m a voice-over artist. This means that I am literally the spokesperson for a product, a company or the voice of an author of a book I just narrated. Because my voice is associated with something or someone else, it matters how I present myself. Take my word for it:
It’s not only important that you look good. It’s important that you make others look good (including your host).
You want to come across as an entertaining, informed guest; someone the viewers can relate to; someone they might want to hire or buy from.
Remember the purpose of the interview. It’s a means to an end. In your case, you’re selling CD’s and seats in the concert halls you’re playing in. Your talent keeps a lot of people employed. Do you still think you can show up in that stained old shirt or should I call in the team of “What Not To wear?“
My friend looked at me with a grin on his face as if he suddenly had an idea. He walked back to his bedroom to get changed.
Before he reached the door I said:
“Now, do me a favor will you? Don’t go overboard and show up in your tails. Save those for Carnegie Hall. Clean up. Get a haircut and a close shave. Dress business-casual if you like, but whatever you decide to do: make sure your clothes are relatively new, clean and ironed. Wear matching socks and polish your shoes. Don’t cut any corners but don’t overdo it either.
Some people panic and buy a three piece suit, even if they never wear a suit. During the show it’s obvious they feel like a dressed-up monkey performing tricks on TV.
I’ve seen women overdose on make-up and jewelry, sporting a “hairstylist special” held together with tons of hairspray. Just because you’re on TV doesn’t mean you have to dress up like a Christmas tree or show more cleavage. It doesn’t make you look more intelligent.
Again, the idea is to reinforce your message and not to distract from it. Simplicity and sophistication often go hand in hand. Less is more”
“That’s what I think when I hear you talking,” said my friend when he came back down.
“Get off your behind. We’re going clothes shopping. You and Me. Now!”
* * * * *
As we picked out an appropriate outfit, I had some time to give my friend a few last tips before he was ready to go on TV:
Turn your cell phone off before you go on the air. Better yet: don’t bring it with you into the studio.
Leave your watch with your cell phone. You don’t want the camera to catch you while you look at the time during an interview.
Take time to focus before it’s your turn to be interviewed. Go over your main talking points and remember your sound bites.
Never chew gum. It makes you look like a cow.
Apply a bit of lip balm before the interview, as long as it’s not glossy.
Be well-hydrated, but don’t drink a whole bottle right before going live. It could make the next ten minutes extremely uncomfortable.
Even though a TV studio might seem intimidating, act as if you belong there and focus on your message.
While on air, don’t say things like: “I never knew your studio was this big,” or “It certainly takes a lot of people to produce a show like this.” You want to come across as a pro.
Keep the magic of orchestrated spontaneity alive. The audience needs to feel that things are happening right there and then. They don’t need to know what is going on behind the scenes. Don’t say: “As I was just saying to one of your producers,” or “This is what I told the girl who did the pre-interview.”
In the world of television, the only moment that matters is the moment you’re on the air.
Forget the cameras. Talk to the interviewers. They are the windows to your audience. Have a normal conversation with them under artificial circumstances.
Don’t take it as a bad omen if the host acts distracted or disinterested. She’s probably not even listening to you but to the instructions in her earpiece.
Don’t expect your hosts to know the ins and outs of your topic. In the worst case scenario, they just read lines off the teleprompter pretending to be knowledgeable.
Be an active listener and show interest in other guests, if you happen to share the spotlight with them.
Never ever stare straight into the camera. Ignore it.
Don’t try to be funny. You either are or you’re not.
Be ready to illustrate your points with short anecdotes. Pick examples people can relate to; stories that paint a picture and evoke an emotional response.
Tell a story as if you’re telling it for the first time. For your audience, it is the first time they’re hearing it.
Avoid jargon, abbreviations and name dropping (unless you can reasonably assume people know whom you’re talking about).
Professional blindness will most certainly prevent you from knowing what is jargon and what isn’t. That’s why you need training!
If the interviewer asks you to keep your answer short, do it. Otherwise you’ll be cut off.
Be gracious. Don’t protest after the fact if the five minutes that were promised to you were reduced to two because of breaking news. It’s up to you to roll with the punches and make the best of every second you’re in the hot seat.
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