Journalism & Media

Mastering the Media

by Paul Strikwerda in Internet, Journalism & Media, Promotion Comments Off on Mastering the Media

In the first installment of this mini media training, I wrote about what piques the interest of the press. We talked about the fact that landing an interview is not a goal in and of itself, but a means to an end. Then we discussed the importance of crafting a core message.

Part 2 was all about dealing with journalists and how to handle tricky questions. At this point you might think you’re ready for reporters who will happily hold your feet to the fire.

Not so fast. You might get burned!

First, let me ask you this:

Should you always say YES to every interview request?

Most people are flattered when the media shows interest. Why waste a good opportunity to generate some publicity, right? Well, that remains to be seen.

Compare an interview request to a job offer. Would you take any offer that comes your way, before even knowing what it’s about and whether or not you can handle it? I certainly hope not. In this phase, you need to be the one asking the questions. It shows you’re a pro.

Here’s what you minimally need to know and why:

How did they hear about you?

This should give you an idea of why they want to talk to you in the first place. Secondly, it tells you something about the effectiveness of your media campaign. Did they get your press release? Were they following you on Twitter? Have they read your blog? Did someone recommend you?

Is the interview for radio or television? Will it appear online or in print?

A different medium requires a different strategy and preparation.

We live in the age of the iPad and enriched, mixed media. Just because they’re booking you for a radio program, doesn’t mean you won’t be on television. Some stations broadcast their radio shows live on TV during the day. Newspapers have online editions that feature video.

Find out beforehand what the deal is. You don’t want to be dressed for comfort in a sloppy T-shirt and an old pair of jeans when a photographer shows up for a glamour shoot you forgot to ask about.

Which network, program, show, website, paper or magazine?

If you know the outlet, do you wish to be associated with it? Does the network or magazine have a particular political or religious affiliation? Are you comfortable with that? Are you hoping to reach a new audience? Are you ready to defend your views?

A lawyer appeared on what he thought would be a show about the legal aspects of divorce. He ended up being grilled by a minister-turned-radio host about why he was “helping the devil break up marriages.”

A freelance writer was invited to talk about her novel featuring two gay characters. Ninety percent of the questions were about her personal life and views on same sex marriage. She left the studio saying: “I wish I had known. Why didn’t anybody tell me this wasn’t going to be about my book?”

Which segment of the program/show or which section in the paper will you appear in?

A professional photographer had just opened a new studio in town. A reporter stopped by and asked a few questions. To his dismay, the photographer found his interview under the “Hobby” section of the local paper.

A voice-over talent gave an interview about his work and discovered his story in the business section under the heading: “Ten easy ways to make money in a bad economy.”

If you’ve never heard of the show, site or paper that has requested an interview, ask for a detailed description and do your own research.

It’s simple: watch the show, read the paper and visit the website to see what you’re getting yourself into. Good journalists do their homework, so why shouldn’t you?

Don’t complain afterwards that you didn’t know what was waiting for you. Nobody will ever force you to say “yes” to an interview (unless it’s in your contract).

Ask about the audience/readers and its reach: numbers, demographics and distribution.

Being interviewed often means walking a fine line between explaining something in terms most people will understand, without treating them like toddlers. There’s no need to dumb your story down, but you don’t want to go over people’s heads either.

I’m sure you’ve seen experts that seem to live in their own little bubble, totally unaware of the fact that the rest of the world has no clue what they’re talking about. They’re using jargon without realizing it is jargon, or abbreviations no one’s ever heard of.

For my non-voice-over friends, what do you think the following means:

“As I was hooking my shotgun up to my pre, I noticed that I shouldn’t speak off-axis because of the tight pick-up pattern this Sennheiser has. One of my SaVoA friends had warned me about it.”

I beg your pardon?

Can you speak English please?

Now, had this been an interview for a voice-over in crowd, you’d probably get away with it, although too many people still don’t know what SaVoA stands for. As for the rest of the world… you would have lost your listeners in the first five seconds and they’re already surfing for a better channel.

The key is to avoid technical language and to customize your content. If you do that, the audience will get the feeling that you’re talking directly to them (which is what you should be doing anyway). It’s a way to create rapport.

The following question is an interviewer’s favorite:

“Can you give me an example?”

This is a perfect opportunity to customize your content because you can pick something your audience can relate to.

Let’s assume you design websites and you’d love to get some more clients. The answer to the question: “So, what kinds of websites have you designed?” depends on your audience.

If you’re doing a show about business, you’ll highlight your corporate sites. If the audience is more artsy, you’ll pick sites you’ve designed for various artists.

Is the interview taped or live?

If you’re not familiar with differences in format, you might say: “It shouldn’t really matter. My story is my story.”

Those who have experienced the stress of a live radio or television broadcast know otherwise.

Personally, I love live. It’s a very different energy. People are on the edge of their seats, creating carefully orchestrated spontaneity. Time is always ticking. Every minute needs to be accounted for.

“We have 19 seconds till the end of the commercial break. Everybody stand by. We’re live in three, two, one….”

Live is exciting. Live can be stressful. What if you mess up? Forget retakes!

Some people believe you have less control when you’re going live. I disagree. Why? Because live cannot be edited.

When you’re on, you’re on, and you can take charge of the airwaves. If you don’t like where the interview is going, build a bridge (see part 2) and get to your core message as soon as you can.

Every minute you spend on what you want to say, means less time for what the interviewer wants to hear (unless you’re on the same page). At some point he’ll run out of time. The shorter the interview, the more important this becomes.

Compare this to the long, prerecorded interview. If your Grand Inquisitor thinks you’re not giving him a straight answer, he’ll simply go back to the question until you’ve answered it to his satisfaction. If he doesn’t like what he hears, he can cut it or shorten it, citing editorial freedom. He can summarize your position in his words, not yours.

Here’s the flip side of that coin. Because you’re not live, you can stop the tape at any time. If you don’t like the answer you’ve just given, you can start over. Do you need to look up some info? Go ahead.

As a reporter, I often had to ask people to pick it up from the start because they had given me a lengthy answer and I only had time for a soundbite.

If you’re new at this, see if you can do your first interviews semi-live. Just go for it it as if you’re on the air, even though it’s prerecorded. It’s good practice. If you manage to do everything in one take, you’re done. If you happen to get stuck, you just pick it up from there.

How long is the actual interview? How much air time do I get?

These are two very different things. Just because you have been recording for an hour, doesn’t mean you’ll be on the air for an hour. I hate to say it, but most people aren’t that interesting and most interviewers aren’t that good. On top of that, most of us are not interested in listening to the same person go on and on and on for sixty minutes.

We’ve been conditioned to the never-ending interruption of the commercial break. Attention spans are getting shorter. We have too much to do and not enough time. I’m surprised you’re still reading this!

If the magic doesn’t happen in the first sixty seconds, we move on, unless what we read, see or hear really speaks to us.

If you have trouble getting to the point in real life, you’ll be in trouble during an interview when the pressure’s on. Don’t worry. These things can be fixed. That’s why media trainers make a very decent living.

So, find out how much time you have to get your message across and prepare for your interview using the accordion model. An accordion expands and contracts. Think of what you want to talk about as an accordion.

If you have less time, you use the short version, but always be ready to expand. Let’s say you expect to be on air for five minutes. What if the next guest gets stuck in traffic and can’t make it to the studio? All of a sudden you’ve doubled your time. Make sure you don’t run out of material!

Unfortunately, the opposite is true too. You were promised a four-minute segment and then some breaking news cuts your time in half. In that case you better be ready to cut to the chase!

By the way, don’t ever trust your sense of timing. In my media trainings I always give my students thirty seconds to introduce themselves and mention one interesting fact we should know about them. Their intro is timed. Some people go on for three minutes before I cut them off and then they tell me: “Wow… that was really thirty seconds? It went by so fast!”

What are your questions?

I saved the most obvious for last because we tend to overlook the obvious. I have interviewed thousands of people and I can’t tell you how many of them simply said YES to my interview request, not knowing what I wanted to ask them. It has to do with human nature.

Deep down inside we all long for attention and acknowledgement; for someone who truly listens. Getting in the papers, on radio or on TV must mean we matter!

But if you don’t know what they want to know, how do you know you want to be on their show?

Overwhelmed?

Remember what I said in part one? The biggest beginner’s mistake is to underestimate what it takes to be interviewed. This is not some normal conversation. It’s more of a purposeful presentation disguised as a normal conversation…. with possibly millions of people watching over your shoulder.

So, have you thought about how to present yourself on television? Should you just be yourself or get all dressed up for the occasion?

Next time we’ll talk about the importance of image!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Managing Your Message

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Journalism & Media, Promotion 9 Comments

This is part 2 of Face the Press without Stress. You can read the 1st part by clicking here.

“That guy was a complete idiot,” said one of my friends, a classical pianist. He had just been interviewed by a major newspaper about his latest CD, and he was not a happy camper. Steam was coming out of his nostrils.

“This so-called journalist knew absolutely nothing about music,” he fumed. “He asked the most basic questions and I don’t think he could tell the difference between a Steinway and a Clavinova. Worst of all, he didn’t seem to care. Within ten minutes he was off to his next assignment, leaving me with that bloody photographer.”

“I’m going to write to his paper,” he continued angrily. “Next time they should send someone who knows what he’s doing, instead of wasting my time with a nitwit.”

The following day I opened the paper, hoping to find the interview. It was easy to spot. It featured a blown-up photo of my friend staring straight into the camera, looking perpetually peeved. Would anyone buy a CD from a guy who looked that annoyed, I wondered? Pictures are powerful, and first impressions can become lasting impressions in a split-second. Then I read the interview.

What I had feared, had happened: my friend -who really is a wonderful and talented artist- came across as an arrogant bastard. Had I not known him personally, I would have nominated him for the Most Arrogant Artist of the Year Award. One thing was certain: this story wasn’t going to sell a whole lot of CD’s.

When we talked about the fiasco afterwards, I told him:

“I know you’re weren’t happy with the journalist. Keep one thing in mind. You and I are lucky. We have chosen a profession we’re passionate about. We pour our heart and soul into our work. Most people -including your reporter- don’t have that privilege. For them their job is just their job. Besides…

Journalists aren’t paid to care. They’re paid to share.

In fact, in order to tell a story objectively, they need to keep a professional distance. A photographer wouldn’t be able to do his job if he’d stop and help every hungry child in front of his lens. A political reporter wouldn’t be ready to ask penetrating questions if he were afraid to hurt the fragile ego of the person he was interviewing.

Just as it’s better for a surgeon not to get emotionally attached to the opened up patient in the operating theater, reporters must dissociate themselves from their stories and subjects. It’s nothing personal. Remember this:

It isn’t a journalist’s job to be knowledgeable or interested. It is your job to be informed and interesting.

The expert reporter is an endangered species. Dwindling advertising revenues means cutbacks in the newsroom. There are fewer people to cover more stories. Specialists have become generalists in order to survive. There is not enough time for proper research, and almost no budget for in-depth analysis or investigative reporting.

If you’re lucky, your next interview could be conducted by someone who loves what you do for a living, but don’t be surprised if that person is more into heavy metal or chess. Ultimately, that shouldn’t matter. A good story is a good story and you, my friend, have to hand it to him (or her). Here’s why.

You’re not talking to the journalist. You’re reaching out to the audience.

Just as you’re not telling your story to a microphone and you’re not posing to make the camera happy, an interviewer is merely a conduit. He represents all the readers, viewers and listeners you’re really talking to, when you’re being interviewed.

In a strange way, it’s better for you if he doesn’t seem to be too interested or knowledgeable, because most people scanning the pages or flipping the channels aren’t either. But if you manage to draw that interviewer into your story, chances are the audience will follow. Unfortunately, it cuts both ways.

So, no matter how obnoxious and superficial your interviewer may seem, always remember whom you’re talking to. A morning show host might ask basic questions because that’s all his viewers want to know. He might not even listen to your answer because he’s getting instructions in his ear prompter. That’s why it’s up to you to…

Take charge and get your message across in spite of the interviewer.

If you don’t remember everything I’m telling you, please remember this point. Too many people take on a passive role when being interviewed. They prepare to answer questions they think are interesting and essential, and complain afterwards that those questions were never asked. Or worse, they don’t prepare at all and just go with the flow.

You’re not a victim. You have a say in what you put out into the world. Literally. And you won’t get many chances to reach so many people at once, so you better make the most of it

Think about it this way. You know infinitely more about the subject than your interviewer ever will. If you’d only stick to what your interviewer knows or wants to know, you’ll never get beyond the surface. Here’s what you do to manage your message.

Use questions as a springboard to tell what needs to be told.

Often, reporters will throw something at you and it’s not what you want to talk about. The trick is to build a bridge between what’s being asked and what you really want to say.

Let’s pretend for a moment that I’m being interviewed about my voice-over business. Here’s the question:

“Do you think celebrities doing voice-overs are spoiling it for the rest of you?”

Here’s one way to respond:

“Not really. There’s plenty of work for everyone. The author of my latest audio book chose my voice because I am not a celebrity.”

You see how that works? In two sentences you have shifted the focus from talking about other people to talking about your new book. Here are a few more bridges.

That’s an interesting observation. Before I get that, there’s something you need to know…”

“Thanks for bringing that up. Here’s what’s happening…”

“I understand where you’re coming from. I get that question all the time. What many people don’t realize is…”

Now, I’m not suggesting that you entirely evade the issue at hand like a seasoned politician. I recommend you use the issue to redirect the conversation to get your point across. If you don’t do that, you could spend an entire segment talking about Jeff Bridges and Morgan Freeman instead of promoting your new project.

You don’t have to agree with or pretend to understand everything the interviewer is saying.

That’s another sign of a passive attitude. You can’t answer a question you don’t really understand. Yet, because some people are easily intimidated by members of the press, they hate to admit that they have no clue what the interviewer is asking. To make matters worse, they start imagining what the interviewer could have meant and start answering that.

It’s okay to ask:

“Could you repeat the question, please? I didn’t quite get that.”

Beware of overt or covert assumptions.

As we’ve seen in the question about celebrities, interviewers often won’t ask a straight question but begin with a statement. A few examples:

“It is a well-know fact that people make a lot of money doing voice-overs. Now, let me ask you this…”

“Many believe this is easy money, and I’d like to know how you got into this business.”

“We all know that voice-overs can make a comfortable living, and what I am interested in is…”

It’s very tempting to answer the question following the statement, but before you do, ask yourself if you agree with the assumption. If you don’t, you must challenge it before you answer the question. Otherwise the audience is left with the impression that you concur. Here’s another one.

Watch out for suggestive, leading questions.

In order to win the ratings war, editors and producers all over the world are searching for the extraordinary, the grotesque, the shocking and the violent. The tens of thousands of planes that take off and land safely every day are not news, but the one that crashes is.

Journalists are trained to look for controversy and if there is none, to push the envelope and stir the pot. Suggestive questions are like a loaded weapon.

Think of a question as a laser beam, zooming in on a very small area. If it’s specific, it will direct your thoughts into one direction, excluding everything else. What do the following questions require you to focus on?

“How bad are things really in your business?

Sometimes things can get really nasty, don’t they? Give me an example.”

“What’s the worst thing that could happen?”

“What do you dislike more than anything else?”

“Tell me about your client from hell.”

Take a deep breath before you answer those questions, and ask yourself: Do I really want to go there? Do I want to dwell on the negative or highlight the positive?

How’s this for an answer:

“No matter what kind of work you do, there are always things that are not so great and there are things that totally make your day. As a matter of fact, one of my clients called me yesterday…” and then you share a positive story.

You might not control the question, but you can always control the answer!

Look out for false choices and either/or scenarios.

News outlets often aim for the biggest market share to please the sponsors, and therefore cater to the lowest common denominator. In order to appeal to the army of couch potatoes that wants to be entertained instead of informed, simplification is the name of the game. Complicated stories are broken up into bite-sized pieces even my pet gerbil can digest. Thus, reality becomes a caricature.

A favorite technique is to reduce a colorful, complex world to a juxtaposition of right and wrong and black and white. Some networks have turned that into a dubious art form. But as you very well know, there usually are no easy answers. Watch the political shows and wait for it to happen:

“Senator, with all due respect: Do you want to socialize health care or leave it up to the American people to choose their own insurance plan?”

“Are you in favor of big government, or do you want to reduce Washington’s bureaucracy?”

“Should we bomb Iran or increase sanctions?”

“Please answer my next question with a simple yes or no.”

Let’s be clear. These aren’t questions. They are traps; false choices based on either/or scenarios. Remember, if you choose to answer the question as such, you implicitly agree with the options presented to you. Are you sure you want to go there?

If an interviewer tries to drag me into an is-it-this-or-that scenario, I often answer with YES. But usually, it isn’t A or B. Why can’t it be C or D or both? Watch this:

Interviewer: “As a voice-over, what do you enjoy doing most: audio books or commercials?”

You: “To tell you the truth, I love voicing video games. I think we have a clip of the one I just finished. I had such a blast creating the character of….”

You’re not falling for this false dilemma, and with the bridge technique, you use the question as a springboard to talk about things that are on your agenda. I do it all the time and I don’t even realize I’m doing it.

Is this something I am naturally good at or did I need training? (watch the question…)

Well, it’s a bit of both I guess, but it certainly helps to have been on the other side of the mic for many years. I know a few tricks of the trade, and I have lots more to share with you. So, if you’re up for it, I’ll continue our conversation next week.

Here’s are some of the things I’ll talk about: What do you need to know before the interview? Do you prepare differently for a taped and a live interview?

What do you think?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Face the Press without Stress

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

This is Part One of a mini media training for artists, authors, entrepreneurs and anyone getting ready to be questioned.

As long as you’re prepared, you have no reason to be scared!

There’s no publicity like FREE publicity, especially if you run a small business on a small budget.

Right now I’m the media manager and PR-advisor to “Music for MS,” a benefit concert organized by and featuring my wife.

It’s my job to drum up as much media interest for this event as possible, and fill up the venue in a few weeks, by word of mouth and other means.

Every glossy flyer or multicolored poster we would print or ad we’d have to buy, would mean less money for the cause (the National Multiple Sclerosis Society), so I’m not doing that. Instead, I’m mobilizing the local press and I’m using social media to reach out to the community. It saves tons of paper which makes it eco-friendly.

The official campaign began yesterday, and so far we’ve already landed two interviews. This is where things get serious. Anyone can write a glorious press release, but not everyone does well on radio, television or in the papers. I know what I’m talking about because I have trained hundreds of people to get ready to meet the press.

YOU ARE UNINTERESTING

One of the first things my students would always complain about is the focus of the media: Why do they only cover sensational stories? Why has the news become so superficial? Why don’t they come to me for a story? What they’re really saying is this: “Paul, you’re a journalist. I’m interesting and you should interview me!”

My knee-jerk response would be: “No you’re not, and why should I?” But of course I’d keep that to myself. Here’s what I’d say instead:

1. You have to have a hook to be heard.

If your name is Kim Kardashian or Paris Hilton, you don’t have to do anything special to attract the attention of millions. In fact, that would be your only accomplishment: being famous for being famous. Mere mortals such as you and me have to give the news media a good REASON why they’d want to come to us. A hook. Preferably with fresh bait.

News is the report of an event that is:

  • recent
  • unusual
  • previously unknown and
  • interesting and relevant to a great number of people

 

Let me add something to that definition: If there’s nobody to cover it, it’s not news. Fortunately or unfortunately, these days, all we need is one idiot with an iPhone.

Secondly, news is news if conglomerates like Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation or Bertelsmann AG decide we should learn about it.

Third, news is news if the corporate sponsors (or other powers that be) feel it does not undermine their interests. (click here for an example)

Fourth: the more local the outlet, the lower the bar for what is deemed to be newsworthy.

Let’s assume you’re a voice-over professional hoping to attract some interest from the local papers. You’ve just completed another audio book. That’s something recent, but is it news?

Well, it depends on how unusual the book is and how many people would be interested in it. If we are talking about the audio version of Hitler’s secret diaries that were thought to be lost, you might have a story, but I don’t think this type of publicity would do your career any good. Which brings me to my next point.

2. You have to have a clear objective.

What do you ideally want to happen as a result of the media attention you hope to generate? Unless you’re hungry for recognition, an interview is just a means to an end.

In the case of my concert, the overall goal is to raise money and awareness for the fight to find a cure for Multiple Sclerosis, a chronic, mysterious and often misunderstood disease of the central nervous system. In order to accomplish that, I need as many people as possible to come to the concert. This gives me a way to measure the success of my campaign.

Please note: what you hope to accomplish and what the journalist wishes to accomplish, are usually two very different things!

If you don’t know what you want to get out of the interview, don’t do it. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you have to. It’s better to wait for the perfect opportunity than to waste a mediocre one.

If you do have an objective in mind, it’s time to go to the next step:

3. You have to craft a compelling core message.

If you could summarize what you’d like to get across in one or two sentences, what would it be? Let me put it in another way: If at the end of the interview people would only remember one thing, one powerful image or one great idea, what would you want that to be?

That should become the heart of your message, and it is your mission to get it across no matter what.

In the age of information overload, it is harder and harder to cut through the clutter and be heard. People scan the news and rarely look past the headlines or sound bites, so give them headlines and sound bites. You’ll survive.

I don’t care if you think it’s shallow or giving in to sensationalism. Should you get the chance to reach thousands, if not millions of people, don’t waste it by being boring. It’s regrettable to be forgettable.

A sound bite is usually not something you’ll come up with when the intimidating cameras are rolling and you’re staring into the hot, blinding studio lights. Do not count on your magic talent for improvisation. You can’t wing it.

4. You have to be prepared.

Well, well… isn’t that a given? Of course you need to give it some thought. Or is it better to be spontaneous and ‘in the moment’? You don’t want to look too rehearsed, do you?

Here’s my take on that.

One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen people make is not preparing for an interview. They’ve literally said to me: “But I’m the expert. You can throw any question at me any time. I don’t need interview training.”

Just because you’re an expert doesn’t mean you’ll do well during an interview. Readers, listeners, viewers… they all hate pompous know-it-alls that talk over people’s heads.

I have seen great thinkers, captains of industry and even bishops nearly faint because they couldn’t handle the pressure of the simplest unexpected question.

They approached a 2-minute interview as if they were delivering a half-hour sermon, and when time was up, they had said nothing of significance. Of course they’d blame the network for not giving them enough air time.

Everyone who’s ever been interviewed will agree with me: When you’re in the hot seat, time as we know it does not exist. In the stress and excitement of the moment, people forget the simples of things such as their middle names and the phone number of the organization they’ve come to promote.

Here’s the good news: it doesn’t have to be that way. In the next installment I’ll tell you how to deal with tricky questions.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Exhibitionists, Voyeurs and Stalkers

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Internet, Journalism & Media, Promotion, Social Media 4 Comments

In the past these were dirty words for dirty people.

Now these very same words can be used to describe the average social media addict.

We like strutting our stuff in public. We want the world to watch us. And we follow the fools who think that tweeting nonsense all day long makes them relevant.

8:05 AM. In line at Starbucks.

8:10 AM. Ordering a tall latte.

8:15 AM. Should have asked for a double shot of espresso.

8:18 AM. Back in my Mercedes. New Jersey Turnpike, here I come!

8:21 AM. In a car accident. Tweeting and drinking coffee don’t go well together.

9:33 AM. Thank goodness this hospital has a Starbucks.

We can laugh about it. We can cry about it, but things like tweeting and texting are changing the way we communicate. Even the way we dress.

If you don’t believe me, you should shop for winter gloves and count the pairs with holes in them or with special patches. Touchscreen gloves, that’s what they are called. Snowstorms, twisters and other natural disasters won’t prevent mankind from texting.

Every single day, two hundred trillion text messages are received in America alone (source). That’s more than an entire year’s worth of regular mail.

Nielsen reported that the average American teen sends 3,339 texts each month. That’s more than six per every hour they’re awake. The girls are beating the boys with 4,050 texts per month, (boys send an average of 2,539 texts). Mind you, these numbers are from 2010!

But it’s not just the kids. Go into any supermarket and count how many times you’ll hear a mother tell her stroller-toddler:

“Not now sweetie. Mommy’s texting.”

8:42 PM. At Trader Joe’s. Should I buy broccoli or cauliflower?

Thanks to all these very important messages, safety is no longer the number one reason for getting a phone. We just love being social, don’t we?

THE FACEBOOK REVOLUTION

In 2010, Facebook beat Google as the most visited site (if we leave out visits to Google-owned YouTube). A year later, Facebook’s U.S. advertising revenue of 2.2 billion dollars had surpassed that of both Google and Yahoo.

It is THE place to hang out and make new friends. It’s that wonderful platform where -in the midst of an economic crisis- everything is always A-Okay. No matter what happens, the show must go on  and we keep on dancing.

Smile people! Always beware of your brand. Heaven forbid we become real and share our fears and failures.

Occasionally, some Facebook friends will vent their frustrations, but overall, a happy-go-lucky attitude seems to be the norm: Do what you love and the money will follow. 🙂 Really?

Many Europeans consider this attitude to be “typically American.” They see the States as a country where people have a hard time accepting failure. We’d rather take a happy pill than deal with our problems. We’re certainly not going to share them on our Facebook Walls. We’ve turned those into advertorials and infomercials:

9:15 AM. Join me for an online seminar where I’ll teach you how not to waste your time on Facebook. Remember the early bird discount!

10:02 AM. Finished an amazing gig with an amazing director. Life is good. It’s great to be back in L.A.

11:46 AM. Jesus rocks! He guided me to book another gig for Playboy Enterprises. Praise the Lord.

11:47 AM. Deuteronomy 5:11

11:48 AM. John 8:7

11:49 AM. Broccoli or cauliflower?

1:15 PM. There’s a new article on the Nethervoice blog. Be the first one to read it before it appears on VoiceOverXtra.

Yep, Facebook is definitely a site we can’t live without. In fact, we need more of those online chatrooms. What did you just tell me? You’re not on Google+ yet? Boy, you’re missing out on something spectacular. It’s great for your business. The other day I saw a video of a dog. Man, that was funny. Every time his owner began playing the guitar, this dog started smiling. No kidding. I’ll send you the link.

3:30 PM. Wasted another 3 minutes watching a dog on YouTube. 

A WINDOW TO THE WORLD?

Look, I am not going to pooh-pooh social media again, but we should bury the idea that these sites are widening our world and increase interpersonal connections.

First of all, we don’t seem to know the difference between socializing and advertising. Socializing is all about connecting with others. Advertising is drawing attention to oneself in order to sell. If that becomes the main purpose of the interaction, it will turn people off. Sooner rather than later.

Secondly, people mainly interact with people they know or agree with. We block the rest and ban them from our circles. And if we don’t do it ourselves, algorithms will make sure that we see what we want to see and hear what we want to hear. Author and activist Eli Pariser calls this the “Filter Bubble.”

Based on our location and on what you and I have searched for and looked at in the past, certain websites (like Facebook) and search engines now use algorithms to predict and select what we’d be interested in right now. They call it “creating a personalized experience.”

YOUR WEB YOUR WAY

If you’re in the market for a new set of wheels and you’ve been browsing a few dealerships, chances are that you’ll be presented with car commercials instead of chewing gum ads. If you’re a fan of the current man in the White House and you keep track of his party’s politics, you won’t be exposed to Tea Party rhetoric. So far, so good, right?

Amazon and Netflix work the same way:

“If you liked this product or that movie, here’s what we recommend you check out next.”

I once made the mistake of tweeting about how much I love my memory foam mattress. Within the hour I was followed by three companies selling mattresses. I wanted to challenge them to a pillow fight.

But wait, there’s more!

If you and I were to enter the same keywords in Google, we would receive different results, based on past online behavior. You will get sites that are more in line with your interests and I will get sites that -according to the secret algorithm- will resonate more with things I prefer. Why is that so terrible?

DIVERSITY IS THE SPICE OF LIFE

I happen to think that it’s good to be exposed to different points of view. If I am only presented with an invisibly edited and uncontrollable stream of information that confirms my own bias, I lose something very important. Eli Pariser puts it this way:

“The Internet is showing us a world it thinks we want to see, but not necessarily what we need to see.”

We need to see how other people live and we need to hear what other people think. Intellectual discourse is part of a healthy democracy.

If we wish to promote peace, understanding and compassion in the world, we have to open ourselves up to other ideas, other traditions and the very things we don’t comprehend. Things that may make us uncomfortable. Otherwise, stupid stereotypes will go unchallenged and the people on this planet will never overcome their conflicts.

5:15 PM. More of the same is not only boring, it’s dangerous.

5:16 PM. I don’t want some geek at Google to tell me what’s relevant.

Knowledge empowers. Ignorance separates.

NOW WHAT?

It’s time to burst that filter bubble and give us control over the selection of sources of information. I don’t need Yahoo to determine what types of news stories will appear when I switch on my computer.

I want Facebook to be more about sharing and less about selling. I want parents to care more about their children than about their smart phones.

I want drivers to switch off their Blackberries and pay attention to the road. I want more people to be in the moment, instead of describing it on some electronic device.

That’s all great in theory, but here’s the question that’s been haunting me:

Will that ever happen or did we pass a point of no return?

5:24 PM. I am a practitioner of Positive Pessimism.

5:25 PM Hoping for the best. Expecting the worst.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Winning an Audition. Losing the Job.

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Journalism & Media, Promotion, Social Media 13 Comments

She jokingly called her students “germ bags” and described school parents as “snobby” and “arrogant.”

On Facebook.

As a result, this Massachusetts math and science teacher lost her $92,636-a-year job.

A waitress at a pizza restaurant in uptown Charlotte was fired after making derogatory remarks about customers who’d made her work an hour past the end of her shift and only left a small tip.

On Twitter.

Comedian Gilbert Gottfried lost his job as the voice of the Aflac duck, after the insurance company found out he was tweeting “jokes” about the devastating tsunami in Japan.

Free speech is a wonderful thing, as long as you realize who’s listening. Big Brother is following you. He might even be 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.

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The Amateur Infestation

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Internet, Journalism & Media 65 Comments

They’re everywhere. Haven’t you noticed?

Take one good look. Let’s start with your online shopping.

Who’s responsible for most reviews on Amazon.com?

Experts? Consumer advocates? Independent test laboratories?

No. Amateurs!

Who just gave your favorite movie two stars on Netflix? The movie critic of the New York Times?

No. Amateurs!

What kind of people put the “reality” in reality TV?

Amateurs!

Where would talent shows like “American Idol,” “The X Factor” and “The Voice” be without…

Amateurs!

Credentials are so yesterday. Experience is optional. If it breathes and has half a brain, 

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.

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The Essence of Excellence

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Journalism & Media 25 Comments

Some have called him the greatest performer of spoken word of our time.

His videos have brought YouTube viewers to tears. His powerful performances turned comic book addicts into poetry lovers.

In 2000, he won the individual championship at the National Poetry Slam in Providence, Rhode Island – beating 250 North American competitors. In doing so, he became the first-ever winner from outside the U.S.

His first published collection, Visiting Hours, was the only work of poetry selected by the Guardian, Globe and Mail newspapers, for their Best Books of the Year lists in 2005.

And yet, most people have never heard of him.

OLYMPIC MOMENT

All of that changed when Shane Koyczan recited his poem “We Are More” at the opening ceremony for the 2010 Winter Olympics held in Vancouver, British Columbia. The man who was born in the obscure town of Yellowknife in Canada’s Northwest Territories, wowed the world with his words.

Most footage of that performance is of very poor quality because the Olympic Committee regulates the rights to the original broadcast and we’re stuck with amateur video.

Here’s an extended and animated version of “We Are More”.

The reason I’m writing about Shane today can be summarized in one word:

INSPIRATION

Most days I wake up on the right side of the bed and everything just flows. Some days I feel stuck in a rut and I catch myself doing the same things I’ve always done, hoping to get a different result. It never works, does it?

To some, living life on cruise control might be the ultimate goal, but as soon as I find out that my brain has secretly switched on the autopilot, I tell it to turn it off and start doing some stretching exercises.

A big part of me has this inner urge to always learn and grow and expand what I am capable of. In order to do that, I need to be challenged beyond my boundaries. It’s the best way to escape my cozy comfort zone. But where to go? Whom can I turn to?

I am always on the lookout to emulate excellence. If I want to be the best, I have to learn from the best. That might sound straightforward to you, but in our culture that is not necessarily the predominant philosophy.

ROLE MODELS

I never understood why medical researchers seem to spend more time studying illness instead of learning about wellness. During their training, doctors-to-be poke around in dead bodies, supposedly learning the secrets to saving the living. They spend most of their time around the sick and the dying, and some of them eventually become specialists in a particular disease.

The study of the dysfunctional is the norm, but it doesn’t have to be.

In certain schools of Oriental medicine, doctors get paid to keep the people in their care healthy. Their focus is much more on preventing the root cause of a problem, rather than on treating or alleviating symptoms. Instead of trying to find a cure for diabetes, they are teaching their “patients” about a healthy diet and an active lifestyle.

It is a well-known fact that Western doctors have more problems with drugs and alcohol, and a higher suicide rate than their patients. (source) Most Oriental healers practice what they preach and keep on practicing well into their senior years. In their culture, the wisdom that comes with age is held in high regard, instead of hidden in underfunded assisted living facilities.

FINDING FAULT

Like doctors, many professionals are trained to spend most of their time on sick systems, tracking and analyzing problems. Psycho-analysts come to mind, as well as lawyers, economists and -dare I say it- politicians. We have become masters at focusing on what’s wrong and finding someone or something to blame.

“Fast food and soda made me fat. I didn’t do it! Pepsi won.”

What would have happened after 9/11, had we invested just as much money and brain power into building bridges between people, cultures and religions, as we have invested in beefing up homeland security? Or have we ignored the causes while we were busy trying to treat the symptoms?

Why not focus on creating beauty and cultivating friendships, as we fortify our nation to prevent more death and destruction? How can we sow the seeds of peace and understanding if we spend all our money and manpower building more barriers and pave over our gardens with concrete to protect us? Is that a sign of desperation or of inspiration?

I admit it: I have my dark days. When I look for inspiration and the essence of excellence, I sometimes turn to poetry and to my favorite poet: Shane Koyczan. He’s called a spoken word virtuoso for a reason.

As a professional speaker, I admire the way he hammers his words in with heart and with soul. They almost burn into my brain. I’d love to emulate his mastery of language and moving delivery. His artistry is the challenge I am looking for. His depth is what I aspire to.

Shane speaks to me in a way few other people do. One moment he seems to tenderly touch his words with velvet gloves, only to start building a tremendous crescendo of ideas and similes and associations my mind tries to process intellectually but cannot, until what’s left is an overwhelming feeling of intense exaltation.

It’s almost a hypnotic induction.

A great example of his style is the poem “Beethoven”. Even though the quality of the recording leaves a bit to be desired for, it is a monumental performance.

Shane Koyczan still performs his work for sold out houses, but he has done something else. He created a new genre called Talk Rock with his band the Short Story Long. His unique mix of song and verse won him the “Best New Artist” award at the BC Interior Music Awards in 2009.

Even though the poetry corner at my bookstore seems to be shrinking day by day, the spoken word is alive and kicking in Canada. And I can’t help but wonder: what would happen if the world would feed itself with the art of poets, painters, dancers and musicians instead of with the language of hate, discrimination, intolerance, fanaticism and violence? 

Shane Coyczan:

“Because there are times when the cost of truth is so high, we endure our own hearts to hearts break. We make love into a currency that can’t be cashed in, because there has never been a bank that will give out a loan based on the collateral of hope.”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS What inspires you? Who is your inspiration?

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Hanging Up My Hat

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Journalism & Media 41 Comments

“I will give you my personal prediction on what will implode first: Blogs containing information that serves no one but the writer, and his/her inner circle without fact-checking.”
Steven Lowell

Paul Strikwerda NethervoiceThe dust has finally settled.

Give it a few months, and last week’s discussion will rise out of the ashes and begin a new life somewhere else.

Same topic. Different voices, perhaps.

Steven’s remark about self-serving blogs and bloggers did make me think about my vision for this blog. Believe it or not: I have one, and it goes like this:

The Nethervoice blog is a platform and playground for ideas, dialogue and discourse about things personal and professional related but not limited to voice-overs and freelancing.

That covers pretty much everything, doesn’t it? Now, let me also tell you what it is not.

This blog is not some grand podium built to glorify my personal accomplishments or to sell Mr. Strikwerda’s amazing pipes. Why would anyone want to read about that? Not me!

If you’re interested in the technical side of voice-overs, you have to look elsewhere too. Although I’m fascinated with the tools of the trade, I am not a gearhead or audio specialist. I don’t receive free products from companies, take them out of the box, dangle them in front of a camera and post it as a “review.”

It’s true, I did write a series about building my voice-over booth on a budget, but I did not seek or receive any compensation for mentioning products, manufacturers or stores.

This blog is not a source of fair and unbiased industry news either.

In essence, it is nothing but a blog revolving around one man and his ideas and experiences and a bunch of friends who like to chime in every once in a while. If you’re looking for objective, investigative journalism, you’ve come to the wrong place.

Just like a lot of other stuff you’ll read online or in the papers, my articles are usually a mix of subjective opinion based on personal selection and interpretation of data. If you’d like to fact-check my sources, all you need to do is click on a few links that are embedded in the articles.

Nobody has to agree with anything I write.

My readers are intelligent enough to understand that it would be foolish to generalize my personal stories and turn them into an overall verdict on the issue at hand.

I don’t consider myself to be an authority or expert. My opinion is one of many, and one quick look at Bob Souer’s blog roll will tell you that I’m certainly not the only blogger in this voiceover town. Of course I’m tickled to see that some people seem to care about what I have to say, but that’s as far as it goes.

I strive to inform, I attempt to entertain and yes… I also like to rock the boat every once in a while. As a voiceover professional, it is my job to be outspoken. I don’t feel comfortable standing on the sidelines.

Unlike Steven Lowell, I am not a paid spokesperson for a company. I don’t pretend to proclaim and promote an objective, universal truth. This is my personal platform and I can be as passionate and opinionated as I want. I represent no one but myself.

So, why do I take a day out of every week to write this blog?

The short answer: Because I feel like it.

The moment it becomes just another chore, I will stop and take up billiards or Bingo.

Here’s another reason: I love to write and I think I have something to say that  -at times- is moderately insightful and interesting. At least, that’s what my readers keep on telling me.

As you may know, most of my stories start out as simple Notes to Self. The series about building a voice-over studio is a perfect example.

It took me many months before I was ready to start building my own studio. During that time, I had compiled a wealth of information and I thought it might be useful to share it with you. Now it’s available as a booklet on my shopping page. Sharing is important to me.

Over the years, I have benefited so much from the kindness, knowledge and insights of friends and colleagues. I wouldn’t be where I am today, had it not been for their advice and encouragement. In a way, I am repaying my debt to them by publishing this blog.

Thanks to my writings, I’ve also made countless new friends from all corners of this planet. Many of them won’t publicly comment on my articles, but each and every week they email me with questions and observations.

As far as the future goes, I’m branching out. Most of you already know that I write on all things international for Internet Voice Coach. I also conduct interviews with colleagues across the globe. The Edge Studio asked if I would be their International Marketing Coach and I said “yes.” 

Recently, I started recording three-minute vignettes for the International Freelancers Academy on building your business. There’s also a book on the way.

I’m not telling you this to impress you. Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn if you think this is impressive or not. The fact is, I love my work and I love writing about it.

As long as I still have music in me, I will continue to sing my songs.

And if people think it’s just a bunch of blah-blah, they’ll find other blogs to read, and this one will eventually implode.

Perhaps that wouldn’t be too bad.

It’s always better to end with a bang.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Why Pay to Plays will Implode

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Internet, Journalism & Media, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play 58 Comments

Read 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.

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Picking Bodalgo’s Brain

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, International, Internet, Journalism & Media, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play, Studio 13 Comments

“I’m being offered $200 to narrate a 120-thousand word audio book. Do you think that’s a fair rate?”

“A client wants me to record a movie trailer for $150. Should I do it?”

Not a day goes by without someone asking these types of questions on Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+.

Sometimes I stick my neck out and I respond to these questions, especially when I get sentimental and remember the early days of my career.

I was young and unafraid and incredibly ignorant. Back then there was no Internet. Picking brains became my specialty.

On other days I’m not so sappy, as I remember the kind words of my business coach:

“If you’re a Pro, you know what you’re worth. If you’re not, go do your own homework! You won’t learn a thing if I hand you everything on a silver platter.”

He was right.

These days, getting info has never been easier. Search Google for voiceover rates. You’ll get about 5,600,000 results in 0.52 seconds. How’s that for starters?

MONEY TALKS

Bringing up rates usually spells trouble. Talent likes them to go up. Clients love paying less. Where to begin?

The Freemarketeers will tell you to leave everything up to the unregulated forces of supply and demand. After all, it worked well for subprime mortgages, didn’t it? The Interventionists fear a free fall for all. They want rates to be regulated.

Unfortunately, it’s not that black-and-white. Voice-Over rates reflect many variables, and unless you belong to a union or you have an agent, it can be tough to put a price on your pipes.

Enter a parade of Pay-to-Plays. You pay for the privilege of being offered the opportunity to audition and bid for projects, together with thousands of other privileged colleagues. Here’s the catch.

As a member, you often have to subject yourself to an agreed price range per project deemed reasonable by that site. Whether or not you choose to accept that range depends on your personal Price Floor.

A Price Floor is a point below which a product or service should not be sold, or else you’d incur a loss. I bet you anything that most people reading these words right now, have no clue what their price floor actually is.

Be honest. Do you?

A EUROPEAN PERSPECTIVE

If you’ve read my work before, you know that I have written about U.S.-based voice casting sites and their perceived influence on dwindling voice-over rates.

On January 8th, 2008, a new player entered the market: Bodalgo. Based in Germany, Bodalgo is the brain child of a man who once had a very boring job as the deputy editor of Penthouse: Armin Hierstetter.

Armin’s no dummy.

He studied the existing P2P’s carefully, as he set out to take the good and improve the bad to create something beautiful. Unlike similar sites, Bodalgo is available in German, Spanish, Italian and English (American and British).

Now, if you think that you can buy your way into Bodalgo, you are wrong. No matter the credit limit on your Visa Card, if you sound like crap, you can’t join the club.

Bodalgo caters to clients from all over the world, but because it’s based in Bavaria, it’s a gateway to the European voice-over market. This brings me back to rates. How does Bodalgo compare to its American counterparts?

I (PS) decided to check in with the boss: Armin Hierstetter (AH). Here’s a transcript of the interview.

PS I just saw a project posted on your site in the 100-250 USD range. It made me think: Is Bodalgo going in the direction of its American counterparts, or did I miss something? Has $100 always been the minimum?

AH In USD the minimum range starts at 100 dollars (the Euro has a 50 to 150 minimum range as – for example – a local radio spot in Germany is usually 50 to 55 Euro).

If jobs are posted that are budgeted too low (intentionally or not), Bodalgo contacts the voice-seeker suggesting what we believe is a fair rate. Sometimes the voice-seeker sees our point and is willing to raise the budget, sometimes not. If the voice-seeker does not agree on increasing the budget, the job simply does not get posted. Period.

Of course, we hear many times:

“What? You want me to pay 250 USD for a job that is done in five minutes? You must be insane, you [censored]”

Well, depending on my mood, I sometimes try to explain why voiceovers cost what they cost (knowing that with these types of folks it really does not help at all in most cases), or I simply press the delete button and go on with whatever I am doing.

PS Bodalgo’s been in business for a few years now. What’s your overall take on how voice-over rates are established and where they are going?

AH There are many factors when it comes to rates. Here are few of them (this is by no means meant to be a complete list):

Your voice:

  1. Experience
  2. Skills
  3. Uniqueness (most important if you ask me)

Your studio:

  1. Equipment
  2. Recording skills

Other factors:

  1. Currencies
  2. Inflation

I see a link between equipment becoming more powerful yet more affordable, and declining voice-over rates. Let me share three trends with you:

1. The costs for your own studio are coming down, so you can make this beneficial for your clients as well;

2. Because many talents build their own studios, there is much more competition which also leads to lower prices. That’s how the market works.

PS Sorry to interrupt, but clients are saving money due to the increase in home studios. They no longer need to pay for studio time, an audio engineer/editor and a director.

It is my impression that these savings are simply pocketed and not passed on to the voice talent. In the end, we end up doing more for less. Shouldn’t this give us some leverage to raise our rates?

Armin Hierstetter

AH I fully understand that voice-seekers already save a lot of money because they’re used to getting the finished audio from the talent without paying for a studio.

I want to be honest with you. I really think that’s one of the biggest mistakes talents have made for a very long time: They did not charge properly for the studio work, only for the rate as a talent. It will be VERY difficult to change this to an approach where talent charges their normal rate plus editing costs;

3. More and more people of the type “My friends all tell me I should host a radio show,” buy a Shure SM58 microphone and think that their laptop recording is God’s gift to the audio world. Untrained amateurs seem to flood the market.

What’s worse, there are many voice-seekers out there that listen to crap demos thinking they are actually good, because they don’t have a proper recording at hand to compare.

But one thing is for sure: Bodalgo will never start to accept amateurs. Yes, there are a few talents with Bodalgo that have just slipped through the net that might not have passed if I had been pickier the day I activated their accounts. Still, the level of Bodalgo’s talent is much, much, much higher than with any other Pay2Play site that we’ve come across.

PS What’s your advice on how to best play the game? Everybody loves to win an audition, but not at any rate. Do you expect voice-over rates to go up any time soon?

AH If you ask me, the reasons why rates should go up are purely to be seen in costs of living. If those prices would be stable, I’d say it’s fair to assume that our rates would stay stable as well.

With financial markets facing the issues they face at the moment, including all the effects like higher inflation, increased costs for energy, food, rent etcetera, I think that we’ll see rates rising over the next years to cover the rising living expenses.

PS Inflation correction keeps rates at the same level. Talent won’t be making more just because the number on a check is higher. If we wish to increase the amount of money coming in, we need to compensate for the rise in the cost of living, and add e.g. 10% to whatever we’re charging.

AH Well, U.S.-based talent benefits from the weak dollar when paid in Euros by Euro-Zone clients. The opposite is true for Euro-Zone-Talent paid in USD. U.S. clients will not accept higher USD prices just because of exchange rates. It’s really just bad luck for us Euro-Talents. 

So, to cut a long story short: Yes, I see higher rates over the next years. But this is only because everything else will go up in price as well.

PS So, how can we best prepare for the tough years that are ahead of us?

AH 1. If you have not done so already, invest in your own studio.

2. Buy the good stuff (like Neumann or Brauner for mics, for example) as it will serve you well many, many years. Personally, I would no longer waste money on analog equipment. I would solely buy digital stuff (like the TLM 103 D from Neumann).

PS Quality equipment is essential, but owning a state of the art camera does not make one a top-notch photographer.

AH I do appreciate that a cool mic does not make a great voice talent, but this is not where I am coming from at all. I am just a firm believer that successful talent simply needs both: A well-trained voice and great equipment to deliver high-quality audio. There are too many Samsung USB mics out there in my opinion.

I know, of course, that those top shelf brands are pricey. But when you look at what you (and your client) get for the money – it turns out to be an excellent investment.

3. LEARN HOW TO RECORD PROPERLY!!! It’s really, really, really (I mean it) horrible to hear how bad, bad, bad many of the auditions are recorded (hiss, bad miking, bad levelling, bad everything). Use proper headphones to proof-listen your recordings and be super critical about the work you deliver. [Armin insisted this should be printed in bold]

PS Can Bodalgo keep both voice-seekers and voice talent equally happy, or is that impossible?

AH That’s easy: Our main goal is to attract more and more voice-seekers that post sanely budgeted jobs. We want to provide them with the easiest solution available to find high-quality talent without paying any commission. That way, both sides will win.

PS Herzlichen Dank, Armin.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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