Do you remember the first time you heard a recording of your own voice? Going back to that moment now, what went through your mind?
Were you shocked or pleasantly surprised? Did you expect you’d sound like that?
Most people respond the same way. When they hear themselves on tape, they get a bit uncomfortable and will tell you:
“That doesn’t sound like me at all. Who is that person? Did I just say that?”
People tend to become very self-conscious and self-critical. Why? Because most of us don’t have a clue how other people perceive the sound of our voice. How could we?
We hear ourselves from the inside 24/7. We’re locked into our own little world thinking that -because we perceive ourselves a certain way- others hear what we hear and will respond accordingly.
Let me break the news to you: they do not.
As a media trainer, I spent many years coaching influential people on how to prepare for interviews on radio and TV. My favorite part was taking a CEO to a studio and putting him or her in front of a few cameras and blinding lights, while I would ask innocent questions.
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As I’m writing this story, it is January 6th, 2011.
If you happen to read this story four or five years from now, will you still remember Ted Williams?
And if you do, will you be thinking of that great hitter from the golden age of baseball or of the homeless man with the golden pipes with the same name?
Only a week ago, some of us were watching retrospectives of the year that was. To me, those programs are a wake-up call because they always remind me of how little I remember of the year’s most notable events and newsworthy personalities.
Here today. Gone tomorrow.
Ted’s remarkable story had me thinking. It brought up questions about the unfair randomness of reporting; about self-serving charity and even about the foundations of faith.
THE VIRAL VIDEO
What would have happened if that videographer for the Columbus Dispatch who shot the video that went viral, had done what thousands and thousands of drivers did for years: ignore that unkept panhandler begging for some change, or have him do a trick for a dollar without a video camera ready?
Would Mr. “Goldenvoice” be the internet sensation he is today? Of course not. He’d still be roaming the streets, together with over 3 million other homeless people in this Land of Plenty.
By nature, news focuses on the extraordinary and the exceptional. It is selective, it is simplistic and often sensational. Increasingly, news media emphasize non-news items such as stories about the irrelevant lives of celebrities. Objective, in-depth reporting has been replaced by shallow, subjective entertainment.
More importantly, the medium started to dictate the message: if we can capture it on camera, it’s news. No cameras, no news! What we don’t see does not exist. A few days ago, tossed-by-the-road Ted Williams did not exist.
There’s another reason why Mr. William’s story captured the hearts of many news editors. As we all know, most news is bad news, and to offset that daily dose of misery, newsrooms comb the wires for the perfect feel-good story with a fairytale ending. Well, last Monday was their lucky day.
“Talented helpless homeless man finds redemption on the highway.
We’ll be right back after these words from our sponsors.”
TWO SIDES OF THE COIN
Please understand that I am very happy for Ted. I was one of the first people to watch his video and I immediately joined the Facebook group “Help Get Ted Williams a Voiceover Job.” I did what I could to alert my voice-over community, and I wrote to the new Oprah Winfrey Network suggesting that they should hire Mr. Williams.
At the same time, I felt ashamed that I live in one of the richest nations on earth where people’s fate may depend on random encounters with reporters and networks, rather than on solid support from a caring society.
Yes, it’s great that a deserving family receives a million dollar Extreme Home Makeover. Yes, it’s nice that an undercover boss donates five grand to a working minimum wage earning mother so she can give her daughter the medication she needs. But it’s time to get real.
Let’s remember that these so-called “reality shows” provide tear-jerking, rating boosting entertainment that single a few lucky individuals out, often ignoring the underlying issues that have lead to these people’s problems. Let’s see if we can relieve some symptoms instead of dealing with the cause. As long as the numbers from the Nielsen rating agency are up, our sponsors will be satisfied!
There is a not so fine line between offering alleviation and engaging in exploitation. Today we’ll eat you up. Tomorrow we will spit you out.
The righteous religious have their own theory. Instead of random acts of reporters, they detect Divine Intervention. Ted Williams prayed to God and God answered by sending him Doral Chenoweth III from the Columbus Dispatch. “This time around I have a God of understanding in my life,” Williams told the Today Show.
I am not a theologian, but I consider myself to be a spiritual person. Here’s what I struggle with. Millions of God’s children are without a home today. In the United States, families make up 40% of the homeless population. In fact, it’s the fastest growing segment.
No matter where these people come from or who they are, I strongly believe that each individual living on the streets and off the streets is born with a God-given talent. I also believe that each and every one deserves a break and a shot at success.
I don’t believe in a God who would single some people out for redemption and some for a life of suffering. I believe in a benevolent God; not in a sadist. I also believe that God has given us hands that can either help or hurt and a conscience to do what is right. The choice is ours.
Baseball star Ted Williams once said: “God gets you to the plate, but once you’re there, you’re on your own.”
As soon as the Goldenvoice video went viral and Ted Williams was scheduled to appear on the radio, lucrative voice-over offers started rolling in. The part of me that was rooting for Ted was absolutely thrilled. Another part of me was stunned.
In these challenging economic times, some voice-over colleagues with as much talent as Mr. Williams are forced to sell their equipment and find other employment. Even for people with a proven voice-over track record it’s harder and harder to get the attention of major players. On certain voice casting sites, producers are generously offering up to $250 for a TV commercial.
Meanwhile, Ted landed a $10.000 contract from the Ohio Credit Union and was hired by Kraft and MSNBC, and he was groomed by the Cleveland Cavaliers… AOL NEWS even spoke of “a thousand job offers.”
Most of us in the industry do not begrudge Ted’s sudden success. However, some of us are looking at these generous companies saying: “Where were you when we knocked on your door?”
I’ll go even further than that and ask these companies:
When was the last time you helped the homeless? Why are you just now jumping on the bandwagon? Are you really motivated by altruism or are you hoping to get something out of giving something? In other words: was your gift a selfless act or rather self-serving? And if you were giving in order to gain, was it really a gift?
Maimonides was a 12th century Jewish scholar. He wrote a code of law based on the Rabbinic oral tradition. He organized different levels of charity into a list from the least to the most honorable. Here they are:
Giving less that you should, but giving it cheerfully.
Giving after being asked
Giving before being asked
Giving when you do not know the recipient’s identity, but the recipient knows your identity
Giving when you know the recipient’s identity, but the recipient doesn’t know your identity
Giving when neither party knows the other’s identity
Enabling the recipient to become self-reliant
Hopefully, a year or even six months from now, Ted Williams will be completely self-reliant.
Hopefully, we’ll all still know him as the man who gave the homeless a voice.
When Claire Dodin was about seven years old, her mother built a theater in the attic of their apartment. Claire and her sister started putting on plays for her friends. Claire:
“It was such a happy time, and I decided I’d just have to play for the rest of my life!”
Fast-forward a few years, and you’ll find that Claire is as much at home in front of a camera as she is behind a mic. Born and raised in France, this actress, model, singer and voice-over talent moved to the UK before she made Los Angeles her home.
Bi-lingual, multi-talented and exceptionally professional, Claire has done well for herself. Her story is one of dedication, discipline and of following your dreams.
PS Let’s pretend that I’m a client and your agent had 30 seconds to describe Claire Dodin to me. How would your agent “sell” you?
CD I guess he would say that I’m versatile; I can handle pretty much anything, and can do several character voices including children’s voices. He’d probably tell you that I’ve voiced several jobs for Disney and the X-Box 360, and that I usually don’t need a lot of takes to please the clients. That’s why everyone wants to work with me again.
PS Percentagewise, how much of your career is taken up by voice-over work?
CD In the acting business things are always changing and moving. There can be months when all I do is voice-overs, and months when I’m shooting film after film and I don’t have much time for voice-overs. This always makes me sad because I have to pass on really fun jobs. There simply isn’t enough time to do everything. I have to turn down so much work, mainly due to lack of availability.
I would say that on average, voice-overs represent about 70% of my income and maybe 30% of my time. It always makes me laugh that it costs more to get only my voice, than to have me on camera!
Having said that, it can happen that a week goes by and there’s nothing, not one job offer. Then I start thinking that it’s all over and that I will never work again! It’s the nature of being self-employed. Nothing is ever set in stone. No one is ever entirely safe. You’re fashionable one week; the week after you’re not.
That’s why it’s so important that we value ourselves and feel an inner sense of security, and not let our job define who we are. Otherwise it becomes impossible to handle the stress. Luckily, a job always seems to come along when I need it.
PS Speaking of voice-over projects, what are you most proud of and why?
CD There are quite a few jobs I’m very proud of like the French-speaking FisherPrice cuddly bear who says things like “I love you, hug me…” Just thinking about it makes me smile. It’s the cutest thing ever! Or being on the Statue of Liberty tour in New York and being in the gardens of Versailles in Paris. I just love that my voice is over there! Next I want to be at the Taj Mahal! 😉
But the job I’m the most proud of right now is my Zombiepodcast in which I’m a series regular. It’s called “We’re Alive” and I play Riley. The scripts are fabulous and the production quality is amazing. It’s an honor to be part of it.
We have reached over 600,000 downloads with the first season! We’ve won the Gold Ogle Award 2010, the Communicator Award 2010 and we were a finalist for the Parsec Award 2010. The episode submitted for these, is one that is centered around my character, which makes me even happier! The second season has begun, and it’s free to listen to, so catch up with the episodes now!
PS Let’s talk about accent. Some people believe that -in order to make it as a foreign actor in another country- you need to get rid of your accent. Others believe your accent is what sets you apart. Where do you stand?
CD Well, I am not able to put on a convincing British or American accent, so I don’t even try. I believe clients would go for native speakers anyway, so it really doesn’t matter. When I get hired for an English job, they want my accent, because it sets me apart from everyone else. Sometimes they want a stronger French accent, which I can tone up or down. Sometimes, they just want a very clear English accent with a hint of French.
Accents are great, as long as the diction is excellent and people can understand it. That’s where many foreign voices fail: they are not clear enough. I only started booking work in English regularly, after years of working at speaking more clearly. It’s not as easy as it sounds.
PS Does another accent come naturally to you, or do you have to work with a coach to get it right?
CD I do work with a coach for accent reduction when a part requires it, but it is never for voice acting, always for on-camera. In the voice-over world, if they want a British voice, they’ll hire a British voice. Nowadays, it’s so easy to get a native speaker.
Accents do not come naturally to me. It’s very difficult if you were not immersed in foreign sounds as a child. In France, all TV programs and most films are dubbed. I pretty much never heard English sounds before moving to England. It’s different in other countries like Sweden or The Netherlands. That’s why the Swedes and the Dutch are usually much better at accents than French people.
PS Do Europeans have an advantage over Americans when it comes to foreign languages and accents?
CD Being European in America is certainly an advantage because there are fewer of us, and Americans love European accents. If you are an American in America, there are hundreds of other people who sound exactly like you, so it’s harder.
This is where personality is incredibly important, because in reality, there is only one of each of us. And we hear so much that we need to sound like this or this… In truth, what will make you book the job is YOU, your quirkiness, your own little things that most people are trying to get rid of. Keep them (but use the correct techniques)!
Being French in a foreign country has absolutely made my career. I was working as an on-camera actress in the UK, and people found me because they needed a French voice and couldn’t get one.
That’s how I landed my first jobs. Then I thought that maybe I should get an agent, so I sent samples of the jobs I had done. I didn’t have a demo at the time, and pretty much all the agents wanted to sign me and I started booking national jobs straight away. I think I recorded my first demo a couple of years later. I was very lucky. To this day, jobs still come to me. I don’t have to work very hard at getting them. I am in a very fortunate position. There isn’t much competition.
PS You have lived and worked in the UK and now you’re in LA. These days, we’re all connected via the Internet. Does location matter anymore?
CD Unfortunately, location still matters a lot. I’m hoping that clients will get used to ISDN, but today, most major clients want to meet up with the voices at the studio. This means that by moving to LA, I’ve lost most of the work I was getting in London. When I go back there for a week, suddenly I’ve got bookings every day in London studios. They haven’t forgotten me, but they want me there in person.
It’s the same in France, I know several people who would hire me regularly, but they want me in the studio in Paris. I imagine that it is the same for Los Angeles and New York.
Of course there are many jobs we can do remotely, but they rarely are high end. I once did a six months national radio campaign for the UK, and the client was happy to do it via ISDN for each recording. This was an exception, and I think it was because it was for radio. In the UK, most radio ads are recorded via ISDN. But for TV, you have to be in the room with them. I did record the Versailles job at my LA studio though, so sometimes it can happen if they really want you.
PS How do you get work, these days?
CD The reality of the business is that most voice-over talents audition every day. I’m in a very different position. The vast majority of the work I do, comes from direct offers via my agents, or directly from existing clients or new clients through referral/reputation.
It may sound strange to American voice talents, but I did not audition for any of the national commercials I did, video games, TV documentaries, high-profile jobs… That’s the way they do it in Europe: we get hired based on our demo or based on a recommendation from our agent or producers/sound engineers. I did however audition for the Fisher Price toys I voiced, but they paid me for the audition and then hired me. I also auditioned for the Versailles job, but they had specifically asked for me.
I think that the system works differently in America. Even established talents have to audition. That being said, I have many American clients that don’t ask me to audition either. I’m glad it works this way because I usually don’t have time to audition. When happen to I have spare time, I will record some open auditions, but this rarely leads to work (funny, no?). That’s the problem with open auditions: they don’t want You; they want A voice, and usually the cheapest one.
PS Do clients, agents, producers and directors have different expectations based on where they’re located? Do you approach an audition differently based on the country and culture?
CD Actually, everyone wants the best product at the best price as fast as possible pretty much everywhere. What may be different is the style of the voice-overs. For example, I find that promos and documentaries on US TV tend to have a “sensational” factor. In the UK they tend to be more casual/matter of fact. In France there’s also a distinctive sound for news or documentaries. The voice talent simply needs to adapt to the style of the country, but also to the medium and the client. Each job is different, which is part of the fun. For an audition, I try to find out as much as I can about the client and the target audience. That way, I can make a best guess as to what style is appropriate for the script.
PS This is a highly competitive business. Apart from talent and experience, what do you think is absolutely essential, in order to have an international voice-over career?
CDObviously, to have an international voice career it is essential to speak English, so you can communicate with clients anywhere (pretty much everyone will speak some English). Apart from that, you just need the same qualities that will make you a successful national talent, as well as a good marketing plan so people abroad know who you are.
The internet is an excellent medium, but it’s not essential. I know voice talents who have booked major international campaigns through their local agent. By local, I mean: one of the top agents in one of the top cities. It still seems difficult to book high-profile work without one of these agents, and you can usually only sign with one of them if you live in one of the major cities. That would be Los Angeles or New York for America; London for the UK and Paris for France.
Of course there are rare exceptions. There are a few very successful voice talents who do not live in the major cities, but they used to live there at one point. They moved away, and kept their agents and clients thanks to an ISDN-line. I only know of one person who has always lived far away and who is hugely successful.
This will hopefully change in the future, as home studios are becoming as good as studios in the big cities. I think it will still take a while before major clients accept not meeting a voice talent in person. This is why Don LaFontaine had a limo, so he could quickly go from studio to studio to record several jobs a day. It would have been so much easier to have him in one studio and the other studios would connect via ISDN, but it didn’t work that way and he had to drive from place to place.
I wish things were different, but nowadays, the best jobs are still recorded in major studios in major cities.
PS What’s most overlooked by up and coming international talent?
CD Something that foreign voices often overlook is to have an English version of their website. I was once looking for an Italian voice, and all I could find were websites in Italian, which I don’t speak. Had they had an English version, I would have contacted them. But I couldn’t work out if they had a home studio etcetera.
Also, they should indicate their location on the website. I was looking to book voices to come to a London studio, and I didn’t know where they lived. I nearly booked a voice once; I was ready to pay for a ticket to Paris, when he told me he lived in a small town in France and it wasn’t possible to get to where he needed to be, fast enough.
Another voice that I thought was in London, turned out to have moved to Paris. So, keep the info on your website up to date. Location is a big one, not just for outside studio bookings, but so we know your time zone in case we want an ISDN booking or we need you for a rush job.
PS What do you tell people who think that voice-over work is easy money, and that basically anyone with a good voice could do this?
CD Ah, ah! It’s a tough question, I could probably write a book about it! Voice-over acting is an art and the voice is the tool. You might have a fabulous canvas, great paints and a brush, but how easy is it to paint something that will sell for a few hundreds or thousands of dollars and be exhibited in a museum? Hmmm… But if you work hard, learn skills and have talent, maybe you’ll make a living as a painter. Same thing for voice-overs. And a few gifted ones will make it to the top.
PS What technology can you not live without, and how has it helped you book clients?
CD The only technology I really need, is my computer for my emails and my phone so I can take bookings. That’s all. But, with my home studio I can record more jobs and make a better living. Some voice talents earn a lot more than I do, and don’t have one, so it’s not essential. However, other voice talents only work from home.
PS You work for clients on different continents in different time zones. On one hand you need to be accessible but on the other hand you can’t be available 24/7. How do you handle that?
CD Ah, ah! Another tough one! I don’t handle it; it’s a bit of a problem. I get called in the middle of the night (when I forget to switch the phone off), I wake up at 5am for an ISDN session and I sometimes record till midnight! I need to be better at saying “no” to clients and regulate my hours. But I’m weak when people are nice and need a favor. I try to schedule ISDN sessions with Europe starting at 8am, LA time. That’s the end of the day for them. It usually works.
PS How much did you map out your career? Did you follow a strict plan or is it more spontaneous, “go with the flow”?
CDAt first I just went with the flow: voice-overs came to me not once, not twice but many times. This is when I realized that I should pursue it. Somehow, people knew I had a gift for it, even before I knew it. Then I started buying equipment to record from home. When my agent asked me to, I upgraded my equipment. When clients asked me to, I got the ISDN. I guess I always go with the flow. I don’t force things, they just happen when they need to, but I’ve got my ears open and I’m listening to the signs that tell me in which direction I need to go to.
That said, when I do something, I don’t do it halfheartedly. When I made the decision to work from my home studio, I practiced a lot to learn how to use the equipment. I listened to other voices and took advice from many people. I took classes etcetera. It took me a long time before I was able to make a quality recording.
When I upgraded to ISDN, I asked an engineer to come and install it for me, and install my sound booth so the sound would be good enough. I also bought a Neumann microphone. What’s the point of connecting to another studio if your own sound isn’t as good? So basically, every time the decision to go to the next step was made following the flow, but once the decision was made it was thought out and I followed a careful plan.
Being disciplined is absolutely essential if you work from home. It’s too easy to do something else if you don’t have a boss checking up on you, making sure that you are putting the hours in. You have to do it for yourself and be very organized. For me, one of the hardest things is to keep track of the jobs recorded, the invoices sent, the invoices paid/unpaid etc… I find the admin part the hardest.
When I get really busy, I forget to reply to emails that aren’t essential, like companies asking me to fill out forms and send demos for future jobs. Sometimes I struggle to find the time to send invoices. That’s not a good thing. Staying on top of the paperwork is not easy. I’m dreaming of the day I’ll be able to employ an assistant to do these things for me!
PS What’s the best advice anyone has ever given you in this business, and how has it helped you?
CD The best advice I was ever given, as far as performance is concerned, was:
“It’s not about you. It’s about the person you are talking to”.
This changed everything. I stopped watching and listening to myself. I stopped getting nervous and I became so much better.
The best business advice I was ever given, was to set up a website. I had no idea how important it was, until I did it, and it boosted my career immensely.
Thanks to the internet, any business is now a global business. Getting through to non-native English speakers can be a serious challenge. But just because your client knows a few English words, doesn’t mean he understands everything you’re saying.Here’s how not to get lost in translation.
“I have a good one,” I said to my friend from France.
“Why do gun-carrying Americans usually wear short-sleeved shirts?”
“No idea,” he answered. “You tell me.”
“Because they believe in the right to bear arms.”
“Sorry, but I don’t get it,” said Philippe. “Explain.”
“Well,” I said, “I can try, but I don’t think it would make the Second Amendment any funnier.”
“Oh, was it supposed to be funny?”
“Well, Philippe, some people think that puns are bad by definition.”
“What’s a pun?” Philippe wanted to know.
Have you ever had a conversation like that? All along you…
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I don’t think it has made it into the DSM-IV yet (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders).
Give it some time and the American Psychiatric Association might include it in the next edition (together with Orthorexia nervosa, a harmful obsession with health foods).
If your plate or glass always appears to be half empty, it’s tempting to feel hopeless and helpless about the current state of the nation. Of course your freelance career is down in the dumps. It’s the economy, stupid! It has nothing to do with you.
Here’s the thing:
If it has nothing to do with you, it means that you can’t turn it around.
You’re a victim of circumstance. Now go to your doctor and ask for a happy-pill. You might be depressed, but the least you can do is feel good about it.
Remember that no matter where you look, you’ll always find a way to filter your perception of reality to justify your outlook on the world. If you feel that this time of economic crisis is limiting your chances of landing freelance jobs, you’re right. If you feel that the current recession is creating brand new freelance opportunities, you’re right!
What you focus on most, is most likely to materialize. That’s the idea behind the self-fulfilling prophecy.
As a blogging freelancer, I get a lot of emails from colleagues who want to pick my brain. Here’s the number one question people ask me:
How do you beat the recession?
My first inclination is to ask them “What recession?” but that would be insensitive. Of course I know that millions of people are scrambling to get by. I used to be one of them. But feeling overpowered and helpless about it is not going to pull you out of your slump. If you’re giving in and giving up, it’s game over. But that would be too easy. I think you deserve better.
At the risk of sounding like a self-help guru, I do believe that one way to beat this recession is by working from the inside out. Before you do anything, I recommend you look at the way you are perceiving yourself right now.
In Holland we have a saying:
“Als je voor een dubbeltje geboren bent, word je nooit een kwartje.”
Or in plain English:
“If you were born a dime, you’ll never become a quarter.”
It’s another way of saying: You need to know your place and stay there. Well, if that’s really how you feel, what impact could this have on the choices you make?
If you’re applying for a job, and deep-down inside you’re telling yourself “I don’t deserve this” or “I’ll never make it,” aren’t you setting yourself up for failure?
Other people grow up believing: “I can do anything I set my mind to” or “No matter what happens, I’ll always find a solution.” How do you think this impacts the way they lead their lives?
Here’s the remarkable thing about beliefs: it doesn’t matter whether they’re true or not. Yet, beliefs are a powerful driving force behind behavior. Beliefs can give us hope, strength and courage, or they can fence us in and bring us down.
A belief is not some innocent abstract concept without consequences. Some people are prepared to kill and die in the name of whatever they believe in. Americans wouldn’t be celebrating the Fourth of July, if it weren’t for a set of certain powerful beliefs!
Proponents of mind-body medicine like Bernie Siegel, M.D., are convinced that our beliefs can heal or harm our body, and that our state of mind has a measurable impact on our immune system.
If you think that all of this is just a bunch of mumbo-jumbo, realize that this too, is a belief. Beliefs don’t have to make any sense. Beliefs don’t need to be scientifically sound. Beliefs give people a feeling of certainty. All that matters is that a belief is plausible. The powerful placebo effect is entirely based on this assumption.
Nevertheless, a group of medical students who firmly believed in a logical, analytical approach to medicine, wouldn’t have any of it. How could ordinary thoughts possibly influence biological functions and seemingly autonomous chemical-electrical responses? That’s just a bunch of New Age baloney!
One day, their professor walked in and said: “By a show of hands, how many of you believe that the mind is capable of influencing the body?” Not one single hand went up in the air. Mind over matter wasn’t science. It was science-fiction.
Then the professor started reading one of the more notorious passages from “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” by D.H. Lawrence. Soon his audience started to blush. At the end of a few quite explicit paragraphs, he looked up at his students and asked the same question again. “How many of you believe that the mind is capable of influencing the body?” This time, they all raised their hands.
So, let me share one of my empowering beliefs with you. It goes like this:
THERE’S NO ONE LIKE ME
I can already hear some people’s reaction:
“Well, duh… After all that build-up, is that the best you can do? Thank you Captain Obvious, superhero of platitudes! That’s not much of an eye-opener, is it? Of course there’s no one like you (and that’s probably a good thing).”
Well, once you get past the sarcasm and cynicism, consider the following.
Every day, thousands of people are waking up with a dream. Some want to become writers, news anchors or architects. Some want to find a cure for Multiple Sclerosis or invent an environmentally friendly way to clean up oil spills.
By the time we enter our teens, most of us have learned that dreams are figments of the imagination and that in order to grow up, we must face “reality.” Isn’t it strange? We start out as this helpless but boundless human being filled with infinite possibilities .
Then the process of social conditioning and conforming sets in. If we wish to please our parents and other role-models, we better be compliant and allow ourselves to be conditioned in order to be worthy of their love, attention and affection. We learn to blend in and not to raise our voice. If we do well, we are rewarded. If we don’t fit the mould, we have to face the consequences. Heaven forbid that we should stand out from the crowd…
When my 8-year old daughter wanted to go to school in a Yankees-shirt while 98% of the kids were wearing Phillies-Jerseys, some parents thought I was nuts. Why would I expose my daughter to ridicule and make her stick out like a sore thumb? What kind of a parent does that?
Here’s the thing: my daughter didn’t feel all warm and fuzzy about the Phillies. She happened to root, root, root for the Yankees. And when she went to school, she soon found out that a few other kids were Yankees fans too. Yes, some classmates made fun of her and others ignored her. But she held her head up high and felt even stronger because she stood up for something she believed in. Months later, the Bronx Bombers defeated the Phillies to win the World Series.
What does that have to do with beating the recession? I’ll tell you!
If you want to be self-employed but you don’t believe in yourself, you are sabotaging your success even before you’re out of the gate. You have to be comfortable with who you are and with what you have to offer (comfortable, not cocky).
If you’re in the service industry, you are your product. If you’re producing a product, you will be identified with it. Whether you like it or not, you are your brand and you better embrace it.
RIDICULE AND MOCKERY
When I set out to become a full-time voice-over professional, I knew the odds were heavily against me. Some people said:
“Do you honestly believe that you’ll make it as an actor? Dream on! The restaurants of New York and LA are filled with thousands of hopeful waiters. All they do is wait and wait for an opportunity that never comes. These days, anyone with a mic and a laptop can claim to be the next Don LaFontaine. The market is saturated. The economy is bad. Why don’t you get a real job, my friend?”
Here’s why I didn’t: because I knew that there’s no one like me. Yes, there are tons of people who do what I do, but they don’t do it the way I do it. It’s just a matter of letting the rest of the world know what I have to offer.
Believe it or not, when I wrote this article, my business was less than twelve months ago. A year before that, I had no ‘corporate identity’ and there was no company website or a blog. I didn’t own expensive equipment and I had no big shot agents ready to represent me. All I had, was a bunch of excited neurons bouncing around in my brain forming thoughts about starting my own business.
Well, that’s not entirely true. I had a number of people who believed in me, and who were willing to lend me a very generous helping hand. But before they could believe in me, I had to believe in myself.
After less than a year I achieved a lot.
My writings are read and reposted by more people than I ever hoped for. I have built a terrific studio and have invested in top-of-the-line equipment. I am recording voice-overs in four languages for clients on all continents.
Now, this list of personal achievements is not some vain attempt to show off. Rather, it’s my way of telling you what could happen if you refuse to give in to recession depression.
The skeptics will tell you “I will believe it when I see it”. I am telling you that you have to believe it before you will see it.
When Disney World opened its doors, Walt Disney was no longer alive. Before the opening ceremony, a reporter asked Walt’s brother Roy:
“Don’t you think it’s a shame that Walt Disney isn’t here to see it all?”
The voice-over market is a buyer’s market. Voice-talents are exposed; voice-seekers are protected. As voice-over pros, we want to work. We need to work. Sometimes we’re so happy to be picked out of a pile of 100+ auditions; it’s tempting to say “YES” when we finally get a break. But would we have done so, had we known the facts?
The World Wide Web has put me in touch with the wonderful, the wacky and the weird. Anyone can pretend to be anything on the Net. That nice guy you met online might very well be the next “Craigslist Killer”. Or he could be Prince Charming! How can you be sure?
THE VOICE-OVER AS P.I.
I have a question for you: do you think you should have to play Sherlock Holmes if you audition for a job on a site like voices.com? Aren’t you paying the staff to do their homework to make sure you’re not connected to some creep?
If you’re a member of voice123, you might have seen the following disclaimer:
Legal note: Although Voice123 tries to establish the legitimacy of all voice seekers, you are responsible for conducting your own investigation into any and all claims made by prospective voice seekers, agents and/or clients. You assume all liability for use of any information you find through Voice123, LLC, or any of its publications.
Good luck, especially if the voice seeker is purposely hiding his or her identity! As we have seen in the case of the founder of Newspapers for the Blind, the voice123 team responded after members had complained about the way they had been treated. Make no mistake about it: at the end of the day, “You are responsible for conducting your own investigation.”
Here’s the good news: the Internet is not only a place for con-men and convicts. With so much information in the public domain, we might as well use it as a tool in our fight against the frauds, the fakes and the phonies. My story of Newspapers for the Blind is the perfect example. Before I get into that, I have an admission to make.
A GOOD CAUSE
When I was young, idealistic and hopelessly naive, I honestly believed that people involved in philanthropy must be good people. It never occurred to me to do a background check on a charity. What can I say? Even Steven Spielberg thought that Bernie Madoff was a nice guy…
After my story about Will May, some of you wondered: Is his organization a real charity?
On its website, Newspapers for the Blind (NFBT) says it’s a 501C-3 Corporation. This is a type of incorporation that is used to set up a charitable corporation, founded with the intention of providing a service to the community, rather than making a profit.
Incorporating a company makes it a legal entity, responsible for its actions in the community. This is important, because it removes a great deal of the responsibility from the person who is starting the company.
One source puts it this way: “If you start a 501(c)3 company, you want the legal liability for possible damages to be the responsibility of the 501(c)3 corporation so that your personal possessions are safe from creditors.”
So, how do you separate the chaff from the wheat? The IRS web site has a search engine that makes finding a registered charity a piece of cake. The Better Business Bureaus* have a similar function on their website. In both databases, Newspapers for the Blind does not come up as a registered charity, and I have asked the IRS and the BBB to look into this. I also checked the Maryland Charities Database (the state where NFTB is based). Again: nothing came up.
But there’s a catch: Elisabeth Leamy, the ABC News Consumer Correspondent warns:
“ (…) even if the IRS really has granted non-profit 501C-3 status to a group, that’s no indication of quality. The IRS doesn’t have the time or staff to really scrutinize those who apply for charity status. I once investigated a company that earned 501C-3 status. The IRS overlooked the fact that the founder was a convicted felon who kept most of the group’s money for himself and didn’t even register with the state as required by law.”
In her article “How to Identify a Fake Charity”, Jamie K. Wilson recommends we carefully examine a charity’s website and look for the following signs:
A board of directors numbering at least six people, with their credentials or regular job titles and place of employment listed
A permanent street address in the United States or your own country
A 501(c)3 statement
An outline of this charity’s goals
Downloadable financial statements that detail where money has been expended in the past
Accurate statistics with verifiable and legitimate sources
Good writing, spelling, and grammar
“Any charitable website lacking two or more of these traits is suspect. That does not mean the charity is fake. On the contrary, it might be very new and very legitimate, but without a track record. However, fake charities generally lack at least two of the above items.”
Steven Lowell of voice123 had this to say about Will May, the founder and editor of NFTB:
“Truth is… if he is rough to deal with, and pays, that is one thing. You get your money and never work with the person again. But to pose as a charitable organization, then not pay, and pull the routine that the people who delivered work must be the problem, when he in fact hired them… It is not a better business practice, and to some extent, illegal. I am not up to date on laws governing posing as false charity, but he did promise payment, and never came through.”
WHO IS WILL MAY?
Again, using what is in the public domain, what can we learn about the founder and editor of Newspapers for the Blind? Let’s first see what Will May told us about himself on his 2010 LinkedIn profile:
Interests: I like to sail boats and fly aeroplanes
Groups and Associations: Chief Medical Examiner of the Lesbian Fighter Pilots Association
In 2013, his interests are still the same, but his Groups and Associations comment was no longer there. His LinkedIn Summary consists of the following quote:
“I like to make money, so I can be ‘A river to my people.’ ~Auda”
May still lists himself as the owner of Nevis LLC. A Nevis Limited Liability Company is based in the Caribbean tax-haven of Nevis. For $1495 USD, you too could become the proud owner of a Nevis LLC. It has a few benefits:
Nevis does not impose corporate tax, income tax, withholding tax, stamp tax, asset tax, exchange controls or other fees or taxes on assets or income originating outside of Nevis.
The owners and managers are not registered anywhere, which provides for complete secrecy.
A Nevis LLC allows you to shield your assets from lawsuits, agencies, and financial creditors.
Owners can manage the company without becoming liable for company financial obligations or legal liabilities.
THE LAST TYCOON
Voice-over colleague Juliette Gray worked for Will May and never received a penny. She confirmed what I had suspected when I questioned where the money for Newspapers for the Blind was coming from. Juliette wrote:
“One long conversation I had with him he told me that he had put a lot of money himself into it and he was a retired real estate tycoon from NYC.”
This is confirmed by the information May listed in his 2010 LinkedIn profile under “experience”:
“Chairman of Wm. B May & Company- Real Estate from 1982 – 2006”
This is not your average local realtor. The William B. May Company once was the nation’s oldest real estate brokerage firm, and it has been in the hands of one family for four generations. The website of the New York Real Estate Institute states:
“William B. May’s impeccable reputation has been built on a singular philosophy of integrity, trust, full accountability and integrated service. To this day, we pride ourselves on unwavering ethics, steadfast client loyalty, and competitive endurance.”
In a December 2000 newsletter, the company boasts:
“With age comes wisdom. The development of 57th Street at the heart of New York City was what first put William B. May on the map in the late 1860’s. At that time, we sold property to the Carnegies, the Fricks and the Vanderbilts.”
Today, the company is no more. Only the brand William B. May has survived. The business concept is owned by Broker Services Holding, LLC and it is operated as a franchise.
On his LinkedIn page, Will May concurs that the company as it had existed, ceased operations in 2006, after -as he put it- “a tumultuous take-over fight”.
A BLAST FROM THE PAST
Gabriel Sherman is contributing editor at New York Magazine and a special correspondent for the New Republic. Prior to 2006, he was the media reporter at the New York Observer. In April of ’05, he witnessed the demise of the venerable family firm.
When I read his article “William T. May Sues Agency On Century 21 Ads”, a few things fell into place. This is how it begins:
“William Talcott May is the co-chairman of the storied real-estate brokerage founded by his great grandfather in 1866 and inheritor of the New York real-estate dynasty that bears his father’s name, William B. May.
But when the 44-year-old eccentric bounded into City Bakery on West 18th Street on a recent Thursday morning, wearing a fire-truck-red Scottish kilt and a navy-blue wool sweater, his broad, leonine cheekbones streaked with charcoal-hued face paint, he looked more Braveheart than businessman.”
If you don’t have time to read the entire article, here are some of the ‘highlights’:
Mr. May studied economics at Duke University. He dropped out in 1982 after two and half years. At Duke, Mr. May was a member of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity, played rugby and co-founded the school’s polo club with 40 ponies he said his cousin won in a craps game in South America.
After leaving Duke, Billy May -as he was known- returned to New York and worked in William B. May’s brokerage business while managing some of his own buildings. On the job he was stabbed and shot by tenants.
As he was flying his private plane on 9/11/’01, he witnessed the entire disaster from 10,000 feet above New York Harbor. He told Gabriel Sherman: “I was on the radio to McGuire Air Force base in 20 seconds saying there had been a terrorist attack.”
In December of 2001, the FBI and police arrested Mr. May for leaving six fake bombs at the New Castle County Airport in an attempt to highlight lax security.
Between trial and sentencing, he served 31 days in solitary confinement. Mr. May received a felony conviction and four years probation for the incident.
Mr. May’s attorney at the time, Penelope Marshall, said in reports that Mr. May was not medicated for his bipolar disorder.
Sherman ends his report from 2005 as follows:
“Mr. May, who says he has already spent $1 million of his own money to stanch the attacks on his family’s business, said he will not surrender until his family wins its name back. “I’m like a one-man pack of wild dogs when I get angry,” he said.”
You don’t have to be a psychologist to realize that past behavior can -to a certain extent- predict future behavior. In the case of William Talcott May, knowing about his background made me understand where his Mr. Nice and Mr. Nasty type of behavior was coming from. I just hope that he doesn’t unleash his ‘one-man pack of wild dogs’ on me. I’m more of a cat person.
As I said before: I think that Newspapers for the Blind offers a terrific service. I sincerely hope that it will survive Will May’s erratic actions. Eventually, his karma will catch up with him.
As for our friends at the voice-over casting sites (sometimes known as Pay-to-Plays)… we realize that you don’t have the time or the resources to conduct extensive investigations. However, it would be very helpful if you would publish information on those individuals who have pulled a fast one, and share it with your members and with other voice-over casting sites. That way, scammers who are exposed on one site, won’t be able to set up shop at another site.
Instead, you have left it up to our trusted colleague Mahmoud Taji, to come up with a Scam-Alert for our industry. As much as I applaud his hard work, this should not have been left to the efforts of one blogging voice-over talent in Egypt.
As voice-seekers, we pay you in order to take advantage of your internet voice-casting service. We don’t want to be taken advantage of, because you choose to protect your voice-seekers from our phone calls.
Come to think of it… isn’t that how we used to do business? We simply picked up the phone and introduced ourselves to a prospective client. What would Sherlock Holmes call that?
*The BBB Wise Giving Alliance has developed Standards for Charity Accountability to “assist donors in making sound giving decisions and to foster public confidence in charitable organizations. The standards seek to encourage fair and honest solicitation practices, to promote ethical conduct by charitable organizations and to advance support of philanthropy.”
Posting jobs under false names, not paying invoices and Jekyll and Hyde-treatment of voice-over talent… these appear to be the trademarks of William May.
Mr. May is the founder and editor of Newspapers For The Blind Organization,Inc, a web–based service, offering a daily selection of newspaper articles for the vision impaired, read by voice-over pros. The site was quietly launched during the last quarter of 2009 (and should not be confused with NFB-Newsline®).
The idea behind Newspapers for the Blind (NFTB) is not new but certainly noble. The other two people involved, Dr. Edward E. Boas Jr. and Noelle Mills Adler, have impressive credentials. Dr. Boas is a Professor of Computer Science, Data Processing and Electronics at Cecil College in North East Maryland. Ms. Mills Adler is a past president of the Ladies Christian Union of New York City (now known as the LCU Foundation).
But it’s the voice-over professionals known as “newspapercasters” who are at the heart of NFTB. Newspapersfortheblind.org raves:
“Our three dozen readers, culled from 3000 auditions, bring the precise vocal skills to reach and meet our unique audience.”
At the beginning of September 2010, I became a member of this “elite team,” after auditioning for the following job posted on voice123:
Newspapers for Blind
This is a daily long term commitment to read a newspaper article into an MP3 for webcasting and free-phone service to the blind and hearing-impaired.
The files would want to be recorded from roughly midnight to 6AM US Eastern Time, so, geography may be important to readers.
The pacing of the delivery is painfully S-L-O-W, and the voice resonance is highly critical for the hearing-impaired. Tenors and sopranos need not bother; it won’t work for the hearing-impaired. Professor Henry Higgins diction is important; bite the words.
Voice-seekers name: confidential
Company name: hidden
I was absolutely thrilled to have made the cut. Regular gigs are hard to come by in this industry, but there was another reason why I was so excited. Some jobs we do for the money; others because it is the right thing to do. This was the best of both worlds!
THE AMAZING MR MAY
On top of that, the founder/editor seemed to possess an incredible drive and contagious enthusiasm to make things happen. His initial emails were personable, funny and encouraging. After I started reading leads from The Independent and The Times, he commented:
“My Cat; BraveHeart, loves your voice. She always perks up when I play your readings. You have a fan.”
One day, I shared with him that I wasn’t feeling too well. He responded:
“Paul, hope you shake the cold…..just don’t shake this perfect voice, W”
This was clearly a man with a heart! One thing bothered me a little, though. Whenever I asked May if he intended to formalize the relationship and how payment would be handled, it took him months to come up with something that came close to a straight answer.
A month or so into the job, I had yet to be paid. Then I noticed that May had placed another job posting on voice123. Why would he be looking for new recruits? When I asked him about it, he answered:
“Please don’t worry about not enough readings for NFTB. Stick with me; I have to keep a Chinese Wall between the not-for-profit and other activities. There will be plenty of other activities to follow.”
He was right. Not only would I be recording and editing at least two articles a day, Will asked me and four other colleagues to record public service announcements for NFTB (a 501C-3 Corporation). I was tickled when he told me:
“Out of the 5, they chose your Public Service Message on 970 AM, New York.”
By that time I was on a roll. The only thing that was missing was a regular paycheck and eventually, that became an ordeal. I had to send out countless reminders, only to hear that my “address was lost” or that someone would be looking into it.
GIVE ME A BREAK
On November 15th, May surprised me with the following message:
“Lets let your money catch up with your readings; take a break.”
“(…) As you know, I am very supportive of your charity, and I don’t understand why I should take a break. (…) If you do not have the money to pay me, you should have said so from the beginning. As a professional, I made my commitment based on your commitment. Financially, I plan ahead and make future projections based on assurances that have been made by my clients. Knowing that payment would not be forthcoming or would be seriously delayed, would have given me the opportunity to reconsider my commitment to NFTB, and possibly spend my time and energy generating income in other ways. (…)”
“I had interpreted your last mail as unhappy. I was simply saying lets let the accounting, our weakest link, catch up with you. We have enough money, just not enough accounting bobbins.”
But on November 20th, I received the following email:
“Don’t count on any more readings in your planning; nothing to do with you. We’ll catch up the accounting, and probably just wind things up. May try to limp along at half or one-third normal see what happens.
Also, frankly, not enough users to merit all of the work; I’m working 18-20 hour days to throw 8-10 k out the window each week…what for.
I think we made sliced bread, when the world wants baguette.”
The truth is that it was business as usual at Newspapers for the Blind. They didn’t miss a beat, and never have. I was sidetracked for no apparent reason, while waiting for my checks. And I was not alone:
Voice-over colleague Juliette Gray picks up the story:
“I was hired in November. They required reading articles (in my case from the London newspapers). These articles were long and the editing took ages. Then the person in charge decided because these people were also partially deaf that I needed to change my sound system. I did this willingly because I thought I had a steady job.
At quite a bit of expense I was ready to start working again and it was then he turned out to be a complete nightmare. We exchanged numerous e-mails, phone conversations, etc. and then he did a 180 degree turn – sort of like a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Became impossible to communicate with and finally did get nasty in his final e-mail. Needless to say I never got paid.”
VOICE123 JUMPS IN
At that time, Steven Lowell was the “community manager” for voice123. This is what he said when I asked him about NFTB and Will May::
“When I first saw the job posted a while back, I was very excited because in NYC, I got some early voice over practice in the 90’s doing charity by reading books to the blind at a local church. It was something a coach recommended I do for practice.
The job made me think, ‘Wow! Good to see something like this again! Yet, what followed was an unpleasant experience of several talents with decades of experience, complaining to me that he was harsh and unfriendly to work with.
When reaching out to Mr. May to present that there have been problems, merely as a way to communicate feedback, his reply to me was, ‘Who complained? I don’t have the time to coach every talent to perfection….’
Before hearing my side of the story, voice123 heard from Juliette and 2 other voice-over professionals; one from the US, and one from the UK. As I was researching this article, I got in touch with other newspapercasters. Without exception, they asked me not to reveal their names, because they’re still hoping to get paid and they want to keep their job. But all of them told similar tales about Mr. May, and I wondered if voice123 had taken any action.
As a rule, voice123 only investigates non-payment matters that are 60-days old. Steven Lowell: “This is because we do not get involved, and most payment disputes are resolved quite easily with a reminder email from me.”
Having examined concrete proof from email correspondence as to what had happened, voice123 banned Will May from the site. Unfortunately, that was not the end of the matter. Lowell:
“Mr. May posted the initial jobs under his own name. Once removed from the site, he began to use different names. During verification efforts by our staff, it was discovered who was posting the job. The staff at Voice123 has not changed in 2 years, and we have become very aware of ‘who is who’, and as such, have been able to catch people easily trying to repost after being banned.”
Juliette Gray is still waiting for her paycheck, and she’s not the only one. I was lucky. Even though Mr. May still owes me a substantial amount of money, I did get paid for approximately two-thirds of my work.
For months, I asked May to pay the remainder of the balance, but he was MIA. When my knocks on his door became louder, he finally sent a very unfriendly email, accusing me of “futzing the dates” on my invoices. He wrote:
“I am in no great rush to go through hours of checking to deal with whatever might be outstanding to you. Checking truth versus falsehood is a nuisance.”
“The invoices were sent on November 9th of last year, so you have had over two months to figure things out. I resent your remark that I “started futzing the dates”. My invoices accurately and faithfully reflect the work I have done for your organization at your request, and that’s the work I deserve to be paid for.”
I think that Newspapers for the Blind offers a terrific service. The newspapercasters are dedicated and talented readers who can be proud to support their families by bringing the news to the blind and vision-impaired, day in day out.
The website has an impressive list of reputable institutions labeled as “dedicated listeners”. There is no doubt in my mind that the energetic editor has moved mountains to realize this project. Based on my email exchanges with him, Will May works night and day to keep the service up and running. I don’t know for sure, but I suspect that he has invested a substantial amount of his own money into this worthy undertaking.
I also believe that people are not their behavior. From time to time, all of us do things that we are not proud of, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t know any better. Just because we do something crazy, doesn’t mean that we are crazy.
Having said that, it is not okay to treat people the Will May-way, and voice123 was right to ban him from the site. Other sites have been alerted to make sure he doesn’t pull the same stuff. Furthermore: May needs to pay his talents. Without them, there would be no Newspapers for the Blind.
For now, I am left with one question: why would someone who is clearly invested in and dedicated to such a noble cause, turn from Mr. Nice into Mr. Nasty?
On June 8th of 2009, something occurred that had never happened before in the history of mankind.
Hyères, the oldest and most southerly resort on the French Riviera, was the scene of an attempt to break the world record in Static Apnea. That’s the discipline in which a freediver holds his or her breath for as long as possible.
The old record of 10:12, set in 2008, was held by Tom Sietas of Germany.
The challenger, Frenchman Stéphan Mifsud, was determined to destroy it. Some called him a hero. Others thought he was a suicidal lunatic. Few believed that he could do it.
AIDA is the International Association for the Development of Freediving. Their website offers a lot of in-depth information about various disciplines, such as “free immersion,” “constant weight” and “dynamic with fins.” However, it does not answer one fundamental question:
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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