Money Matters

Has VDC Gone Too Far?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Freelancing, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play Leave a comment

Before I come back to Monday’s story about voices dot com’s changed Terms of Service, I have a word for my many subscribers.

Until now, I’ve used a service called Feedburner to enable people to subscribe to this blog. Google stopped supporting this service quite some time ago, but it was still operational.

As of today I have retired Feedburner, and replaced it with a simple subscription system provided by Jetpack.

What I did not do is automatically transfer thousands of Feedburner subscribers to the new system. That may not seem such a smart move, because I’d stand to lose many subscribers. However, I feel I cannot just move your private information over from one system to another without your permission. That choice has to be yours, not mine.

If you feel this blog offers enough value, I ask you to please go to the top right-hand part of this page and resubscribe using the new system. You will receive a short email asking you to confirm your choice. Mind you: you can always unsubscribe if my musings are no longer relevant or interesting to you.

I will weep in silence, but eventually I’ll get over it.

LOSING YOUR INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY RIGHTS

With that said, let’s move on to my friends at voices dot com (VDC). Every member past and present has received an email notification saying:

“As part of our regular updates, we’re making a few changes to our Terms of Service to reflect new features, clarify our policies related to file ownership and improve your experience on Voices.com.”

As I reported on Monday (a day before VDC made the announcement) CEO David Ciccarelli had decided that, in order to “improve your experiences on Voices.com,” it would be best to hand complete ownership of your finished work over to VDC.

As soon as your audio has been uploaded, VDC can do with it whatever it wants. Once the client has paid in full, that ownership is transferred to the client.

The following is from the new VDC Terms of Service (TOS):

6. Non-Union Work Product: With respect to non-union voice work produced by Talent for a Client in connection with a Services Agreement or an accepted Job Posting (“Non-Union Work Product”), immediately upon the transfer, transmission, submission or upload of Non-Union Work Product through the Site, or otherwise through a Service, Talent: (i) transfers, assigns and conveys to Voices.com, all right, title and interest (including without limitation copyright) in and to such Non-Union Work Product (including without limitation sound recordings, performances, compositions, musical works and other copyrighted content included therein) that Talent has agreed to provide the Client (via Voices.com) in the applicable Job Posting, Services Agreement or other agreement between Talent and Client; (ii) waives all moral rights (and all other rights of a like nature) that Talent may have in such Non-Union Work Product in favour of the applicable Client (and any third party authorized by the Client to use such Non-Union Work Product); and (iii) agrees to execute any and all such further documents as Voices.com may request to confirm and/or give full effect to Voices.com and/or the applicable Client’s rights hereunder.

Without limiting the generality of the foregoing, Voices.com (including its assignees or licensees) may use Non-Union Work Product in accordance with the applicable Job Posting, Services Agreement or other agreement between Talent and Client without restriction and without any rights of approval by Talent. Upon payment in full by the Client, Voices.com grants to Client all right, title and interest (including without limitation copyright) that Talent has agreed to provide the Client (via Voices.com) in and to the applicable Non-Union Work in the applicable Job Posting, Services Agreement or other agreement between Talent and Client, which for greater certainty will be limited and subject to any purposes, intent, scope and restrictions (including, if applicable, category of use, market size and time period) set out in the applicable Job Posting, Services Agreement or other agreement between Talent and Client. In the event the applicable Services or Job Posting does not specify such limits nor usage restrictions, a full buy-out of the Non-Union Work Product is assigned.

A BIG DEAL

Why is this even an issue? Our colleague Chris Thorn comments:

“If Burt’s Bagel Shop (of course I am making this up) wishes to pay me X number of dollars to voice an advertisement for them, frankly, I’m all for it. I’ve done him a service, he has compensated me, and we both live happily ever after. That I do or do not own the intellectual property rights to that 30 seconds of Emmy quality audio troubles me not. What on earth am I going to do with the property other than sell it to Burt who has already purchased it.

Most of us don’t play with the “big boys”. Here is where we carve out our niche and put food in our belly’s, that I don’t have the intellectual property rights to Burt’s Bagels ad, Sally’s Fine Nails Internet Explainer Video voice over, or Junk City’s benefits presentation audio troubles me very, very little. Signed, An Unconcerned Voice Actor”

First of all, the right to ownership of your intellectual property is in the US Constitution. Apparently, you need a Dutch voice talent to point that out. Just because a third party is paying for your voice over recording, doesn’t mean they own those rights, UNLESS you agree to signing those rights over in a work for hire agreement made prior to you starting the job. That’s how it’s done.

It’s not for a company like VDC to automatically give that right away using a Terms of Service Agreement most members won’t even read.

Secondly, if a company wants exclusivity, THEY PAY FOR IT.

UK Colleague Marcus Hutton explains:

“The level of exposure matters. And in your fee there should always be an exclusivity element built in. Heavy association with one product will naturally take similar products off the table (who wants to use the same voice that a rival uses?). If you go and work for Betty’s Bagel shop then Bert won’t be using you again and bang goes you client relationship.

Even if your job is is officially non exclusively licensed, a rival client would be very peed off if they made the connection. Unofficially, radio stations ( as an example) who do not pay exclusivity fees just won’t use you for a competing product. And how on earth can you negotiate a fee with Bert’s Bagel Shop in the first place if you don’t know what the usage will be ? In Europe that’s now illegal under the new copyright directive. Clients can be fined for providing insufficient information.”

He continues:

“A study by the IP department of a major UK university on voice overs licensing, and unfair practises by P2P platforms is underway, and the first part of their research was published earlier in the year. There is more to come specifically on the legality of P2P licensing and how it varies between the US and Europe and what part the WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization)can play in making things fairer. Jurisdiction will be a hot topic.”

Click here to access this study. Here’s one of the conclusions:

“In a two-part analysis, this study demonstrates that online peer-to-peer recruitment platforms defeat the framework of intellectual property (copyright and performers’ rights) on a global scale.

The results of the survey show that: online peer-to-peer recruitment platforms are perceived very negatively by voice-over performers; the use of written contracts, summarizing the key aspects of a transaction is extremely rare; and, there is a critical lack of awareness of intellectual property rights within voice-over performers paired with a perceived lack of representation by unions or organizations to defend and advance their rights.”

The author (R) and Rob Sciglimpaglia

LEGAL OPINION

As (voice) actor, attorney and the author of Voice Over Legal, Robert Sciglimpaglia said on Monday:

Talent should think long and hard about waiving their intellectual property rights through a buried term in a terms of service agreement on a website. The end client may ask the talent to sign a work for hire, but it’s an open question for me whether TOS is an enforceable work for hire.”

And by the way, what would you, Chris Thorn, do when VDC uses the explainer video for Sally’s Fine Nails as a national commercial, or uses it for years past what you contracted for? How are you going to stop them from doing that if you have no more ownership of your work?

Unlike you, I did not make these examples up. These are actual cases that were litigated and reported by VDC members. Or how about when they use your work to create an AI database to do who knows how many jobs that you could have done to put food in your belly? It’s no secret that VDC has a partnership with AI company VocaliD.

YOUR INPUT

Ciccarelli explains how this change in TOS came about:

“We listened to your feedback via online forums and our customer advisory group. We consulted industry experts, our board of directors and finally, our legal counsel.”

If you’re a VDC member, were you asked to weigh in on this decision that impacts your livelihood? Did you give VDC feedback, begging them to please take away your intellectual property rights to make the poor clients happy?

Only a fool or an extremely naive beginner would do that.

I have many connections in the voice over world, and as far as I can tell, no voice talent was ever consulted.

Once again, VDC is pulling a fast one, screwing the talent it depends on to make millions.

What else is new?

Voiceoverist extraordinaire Philip Banks has this to say to VDC:

“Dear Dave, Steph and all you lovely Voice Devils Canada. A client, not you, will pay me for the reasonable use of my work. My performance was, is and will remain my property. YOU, dearest Dave, Steph and the lovely Voice Devils Canada take an annual fee from me and an undetermined percentage of my income, MY INCOME, derived from your site. That’s it.

 “In order to improve service” as used in your T&Cs is like greasing my wallet in order to improve the service I get from Quentin the local pickpocket.”

 

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Voices Dot Com is Giving Your Rights Away

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Freelancing, Internet, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play 4 Comments

I just received an email from Michelle Melski, the new communications manager at Voices Dot Com (VDC).

She writes:

“After conversations with customers and industry stakeholders it became obvious that we needed to clarify our Terms of Service, particularly around the ownership of files. 

Our terms of service will be updated tomorrow (11/12/’19 PS) to reflect that voice talent own the demos they are uploading to the website and that the clients own the finished work. Our CEO will blog about it in more detail on our website tomorrow, but I wanted to give you a heads up because I know that it matters to you.”

In his blog, VDC CEO David Ciccarelli writes:

“As always, voice talent are the owners of their demo materials. Voices.com holds ‘non-exclusive’ rights to host and promote these files through our website and mobile applications.

Additionally, clients own the final files for the work that they have paid to have completed on Voices.com. Ownership and usage of final files is determined by what’s written in the job posting, service agreement or other agreement between the talent and the clients.”

(…)

“I trust that you’ll see our commitment to providing a valuable service that is governed by policies designed to protect our community.”

To some this may not seem like a big deal, but in my understanding an independent contractor owns the intellectual property (IP) rights to his or her creation, in this case an audio recording.

Unless the talent explicitly waives those rights, the client does not own the finished voice recording. The client only pays for limited usage of the work. It’s very much like a professional photographer keeping ownership of the negatives while the client pays for limited use of those negatives.

Only if you have a written contract in place (a so-called work for hire agreement) that was agreed upon before the job began, stating that the intellectual property belongs to the client, the freelancer loses his or her rights. If there’s no written agreement, the IP remains with the voice talent.

Mind you: just because the client paid you for your work does not mean he or she automatically owns the intellectual property rights.

The big question is: are the VDC Terms of Service (TOS) the same as a work for hire agreement

I checked in with screen actor and voice talent Robert Sciglimpaglia. Rob’s also an attorney and the author of Voice Over Legal. He said:

“This issue will need to be tested by the Courts, and talent should think long and hard about waiving their intellectual property rights through a buried term in a terms of service agreement on a website.” Rob continues:

“The talent owns the recording unless they sign a work for hire agreement. Does the TOS meet the terms for a valid work for hire agreement? In order for it to be challenged properly I would recommend talent register the work as a sound recording with the US Copyright office just prior to submitting to VDC. The end client may ask the talent to sign a work for hire, but it’s an open question for me whether TOS is an enforceable work for hire.”

Rob writes in his book:

“Voice talent are most certainly hired to do most voice over jobs as “work for hire,” meaning that whoever hires the voice talent is retaining the right to copyright the finished product with the talent’s voice on it. This is normal and customary in the business.”

Here’s my take on it. 

As freelancer, I am free to set my own terms and conditions when working with my clients. I can negotiate my rate, in part based on intended usage of the audio, precisely because I own the intellectual property rights to my recordings. Why would I want to give those rights away?

Has VDC asked any of their talents if they agree that content created by the talent for a third party belongs to that party, simply because VDC claims their Terms of Service trump intellectual property laws?

And if you’re giving something away, shouldn’t you get something in return?

I asked VDC’s Michelle Melski:

“Does this mean that all VDC members effectively agree to a full buyout in perpetuity? If so, how will this be reflected in the rates?”

Her response:

“As always, clients are only able to use the files for the specifications laid out in the Job Posting, Services Agreement, or other agreement between Talent and Client. Our CEO will outline this in more detail on our blog tomorrow (11/12/’19 PS).”

What guarantees does the talent have that clients owning the finished work will stick to those agreements? How is VDC going to monitor and enforce that? And will VDC rates go up in exchange for talent giving up up their intellectual property rights? And should you really have to register your work with the US copyrights office at $35 a pop, every time you land a job on VDC? Is the client really willing to wait until your voice over is officially registered?

As Rob Sciglimpaglia notes in Voice Over Legal:

“The copyright is effective on receipt by the Copyright Office, and you will receive your registration certificate in four to five months. Because of this time delay, it’s advisable to send the material by either certified mail (return receipt requested), or courier (such as FedEx or UPS).”

The following screenshot provided by VDC outlines the specifications a client must list when posting a job for a voice talent at VDC. Michelle Melski says the rate is adjusted based on the parameters of the job. 

Just remember that transparency has always been lacking at VDC, and since I’m no longer a member I cannot tell you if rates have actually gone up.

This whole relinquishing your rights thing is clearly a move that benefits clients and not the talent VDC says it represents. What community is VDC actually protecting?

It’s no wonder why so many smart voice actors have left this company, and why VDC is no longer welcome at conferences like VO Atlanta.

So, will this be the final straw for you, or are you okay with VDC giving away your rights to please their cheap clients?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Are You Pimping Your Voice?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Money Matters, Social Media 6 Comments

I apologize in advance for what you’re about to read. I’m a bit fired up today.

What’s going on?

Well, I made the mistake of once again visiting the Voice Acting Alliance (Unofficial Group) Facebook Group. That’s the 9,300 member strong group where pretend voice actors will do pretty much anything for nothing.

If you’re serious about voice acting and you’re looking for solid advice, do yourself a favor and find another online community. Please.

You’ll avoid encountering people tackling pressing issues such as:

“Who will critique my shitty demo recorded in the closet with $70 worth of equipment. Kindly ignore the neighbor’s rottweiler.”

“I been having a hard time finding acting classes so if anyone could give me some references or pointers. I be very grateful.”

“I haven’t done any voice acting in this group yet. If any of you need a voice just let me know. I’m currently learning myself.”

I thought I’d give a test with the Kaotica Eyeball in case anyone would like to give this ball a try. Enjoy.”

I just learned what “slating” means… 10 auditions later…”

and the ultimate question:

“What food do voice actor eat?” (seriously!)

If I may, I’d like to add the following query:

“What diaper do voice actor wear?”

SPOON FEEDERS UNITE

The most surprising thing is that some colleagues with too much time on their hands take these questions seriously, and they start helping the ignorant members of this group under the guise of “giving back to the community.”

Excuse me, but that’s not giving back. This is spoon feeding toddlers and teens who are too lazy to do their homework. If you want to stand any chance as a future voice actor, you have to be self-sufficient instead of becoming dependent on people you don’t even know.

Now, the exchange that raised my heart rate today started with this question:

I got asked by a new author to narrate their novel. They had heard my voice and asked, and after some negotiation we agreed on a rather ludicrous price, in my favor.

Then I read the first chapter.

Bad grammar and amateur structure are but a few of the problems.

I’m not an editor, so I’m not even going to suggest that the errors be fixed. There are just too many I found in the first chapter of what is ultimately a 100,000 plus word book.

So, two questions.

1. Do I do it for the money and risk having my name attached to a trainwreck, or
2. Politely opt out and if so, what reason would I give.

Any advice is appreciated. Thanks.”

Notwithstanding the bad grammar and structure of this request for help, please take a deep breath and ask yourself what you would do, if you were the narrator. Would you take the money and suffer for the sake of gaining experience, or would you pass on this golden opportunity?

Here are some of the responses that came from the group:

I would do it for the experience as well as the pay. If you want to do audio books in the future, this is a great way to start.”

The performance can be good, regardless of the writing. If the writing sucks, that’s the author’s fault. If you can’t make the performance good, that’s on you.

Do it. Make it the best you can. Have confidence not many will hear it if it isn’t written well.… I voice poorly written spots all the time. I do everything I can to make them sound good. I get paid.”

“If f the price is right I would still do it.”

PROBLEM NUMBER ONE

As with most Facebook exchanges, people start answering questions without knowing enough about the issue. It’s like a doctor diagnosing his patient without a proper examination. How on earth can you prescribe a cure if you don’t really know what the illness is?

All we know is that we’re talking about a lengthy novel that will result in some eleven hours of finished audio if you average 2.5 words per second. According to the Audiobook Creation Exchange, ACX:

    • It takes about two hours to narrate what will become one finished hour.
    • After the narration is recorded, it then takes an editor (who might be the same person as the narrator) about three hours to edit each finished hour of recording.
    • At this point, it is strongly recommended that you run a quality control (QC) pass over the finished project. This means spending time re-listening and suggesting words, sentences, or sections to re-record. And that takes about 1.2 hours for every finished hour.

 

So, if we go by ACX, it takes about 6.2 hours to produce one hour of finished audio. That makes this novel a seventy-hour job. Probably more, because the person asking the question doesn’t seem to have a lot of experience.

PROBLEM NUMBER TWO

How much will the narrator be making? In his words he negotiated “a rather ludicrous price, in my favor.”

That doesn’t tell us anything, does it? I’ve seen people in this group thinking that $50 or less per finished hour is perfectly acceptable. Others are offering their services for free in exchange for exposure. If you don’t believe me, visit the group and start counting the “passion projects” on the page.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:

If exposure is what you’re after, join Exhibitionists Anonymous.

Don’t stink up our joint with your rotten amateur attitude.

Lastly, the narrator doesn’t tell us if he negotiated a flat fee or a royalty share. That could make a huge difference in his paycheck.

PROBLEM NUMBER THREE

The narrator has read the first chapter and concludes: “Bad grammar and amateur structure are but a few of the problems.”

To me that’s a sign that this new author is peddling a self-published novel. Novels released by established publishers are heavily edited and wouldn’t have an amateur structure.

Royalty shares work out great for bestsellers, but not for most self-published books (Fifty Shades of Grey being the exception).

The real question is: how bad does bad have to be, before you bail?

Lastly, why did the narrator agree on a “rather ludicrous price” before having read the book? Don’t you want to know ahead of time what you’re getting yourself into?

Now to some of the answers that made me quite upset. They all come down to one thing:

DO IT FOR THE MONEY

Seriously, what kind of lousy response is that? Are you pimping yourself out to the highest bidder? Is that it? In that case, I’m afraid you’ve chosen the wrong line of work. 

Let’s say you’re an independent contractor bidding on a construction job. The architect is an amateur, the floor plan is flawed, and the materials you’re required to use are inferior. In short, you’ll be building a dangerous structure and it will take forever to finish the project as you’re learning on the job.

Nevertheless, you would still do it because you’re making good money?

Don’t you have any professional or ethical standards? Are you simply that desperate?

Don’t you realize that even though you didn’t write the damn book, you will forever be associated with this piece of pulp fiction? Even if you were to use a pseudonym, it’s still your voice whispering in people’s ear. 

At this point I can hear you say:

“Now, wait a minute. Who are you to judge me? It’s just someone else’s book. It’s no big deal.  Life is about compromises, and I’ve got to pay the bills.” 

WHAT ABOUT INTEGRITY

Here’s what I would say:

I can fully understand that as a narrator you’d record books you would never take out of the library yourself. I’ve narrated the biography of Ludwig von Mises, a libertarian economist who was vehemently against socialist government intervention. I see myself as being on the opposite side of the political spectrum, and yet I thoroughly enjoyed learning about laissez-fair economics as I was recording the book.

The biography was well-written, well-structured, and well-edited. To this day, I am very proud of my contribution.

Contrast that with a lengthy, poorly structured, self-published novel filled with errors and bad grammar. Out of all the voice-over projects you could be taking on, is that the one you wish to record? And why? For the money? For the experience? 

I can guarantee you that this will become one of your most painful and frustrating experiences as an aspiring audio book narrator. You will curse the day you said YES to this project, and you will resent the overly demanding author who will bombard you with changes he expects you to record for free.

How do I know that? Because as a rule of thumb, the cheapest clients are the biggest pain in the butt. Once they hear you reading their work, they realize what’s wrong with it, and they’ll start rewriting entire passages.

The only experience you’ll get will teach you how not to approach audio book narration. If you ask me, no money in the world is worth the stress and aggravation.

If you want to learn how to properly cook a meal, start with the right ingredients. You’ll never make an amazing dish using inferior produce and rotten fish. 

MAKING THE BEST OF IT

But what about this comment:

The performance can be good, regardless of the writing. If the writing sucks, that’s the author’s fault. If you can’t make the performance good, that’s on you.

Have you ever seen the buddy movie 50/50 with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick, and Anjelica Huston? It’s one of the worst movies I’ve seen in years. It is utterly predictable, and even actors I normally admire cannot save a terrible script and poor direction. The Guardian critic wrote:

“I can only say I found it charmless, shallow, smug and unlikable: a bromance weepie about cancer with a very serious “bros before hos” attitude.”

A good performance cannot save a bad script, and a good script cannot make up for bad acting. The end result is still forgettable.

Do you really want to associate yourself with garbage, simply because you’re motivated by money?

Don’t you have any professional pride?

Take it from me: you will never do your best work for the love of the pretty penny.

If money is what you’re after, you should probably pick a different profession.

I rest my case.

Rant over.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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How I Saved Over $1,000 On My New Computer

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Gear, Money Matters, Reviews, Studio 5 Comments

We’ve all had this experience.

After years of functioning fabulously, your computer tells you it can’t keep up with the times.

You see the spinning beach ball of death way too often, applications suddenly freeze, websites crash, and you can’t upgrade to the latest operating system.

I’ve had my trusted Mac Mini since 2011, and the once so silent computer wasn’t so silent anymore. As it heated up, the fans worked overtime, huffing and puffing right next to me in my voice-over booth. I almost felt sorry for the thing.

A few weeks ago my Mini made its last grand gesture of expiration: it crashed in the middle of a live interview with the Voice Over Body Shop guys, even though I had placed an ice pack on top of it. That terrifying moment was not something I wanted to relive with a well-paying client on the other end of the line.

Something had to be done.

MAC OR PC

In my small family we’ve had the Mac versus PC discussion a long time ago, and we’re done. My wife and I both have had a few Dells and they were a D-saster. The remote techs that were supposed to help were even worse than the lousy machines they were paid to support.

The moment Apple arrived in our household, sanity returned, and we never looked back. We now have iPhones, iPads, Apple TV, Apple desktops and laptops, and we’re living on the iCloud where all is well. And if it isn’t, we just call the friendly folks at AppleCare where they speak using words we can actually understand.

Last year, Apple finally updated the Mac Mini, and for a while it seemed obvious that I would just upgrade to the latest model. Then I started thinking (a dangerous habit of mine, I know).

CAMERA MAN

I don’t have many hobbies, but one thing I do like is photography. I enjoy going out in nature seeing the world through the lens of my mirrorless camera. I especially love taking pictures of people, particularly when they’re not posing.

Over time my photos have been used for social media campaigns, magazines, and websites. Last year one of my pictures landed on the cover of a historic novel. I’ve even won a photography competition with this shot:

click to enlarge

Just like voice-overs, photographers spend a lot of time staring at screens, editing. And that’s why I started thinking about getting an iMac.

iMac

Back in the days I owned one of the first fruit-colored iMacs in the Netherlands (mine was purple), and I’ve always loved the newer aluminum, minimalist design dating back to 2007. Plus, this all-in-one comes with a gorgeous 5K monitor. It is ideal for photo and video editing.

The cheapest 27” display with a 5120 x 2880 resolution is made by LG and costs around $1,300. What if I could get an entire computer for less than that? And if I could, would it be smart to have a huge iMac in the middle of a recording booth?

I asked my VO Facebook friends about it, and the responses ranged from “Don’t do it, you idiot!” to “No problem whatsoever.” Thanks, guys! Very helpful.

COMPUTER NOISE

Now, most of the computer noise usually comes from the fans that kick in when the CPU (Central Processing Unit) has to work hard. This usually happens when you run complicated programs involving lots of graphics. The more bits and bytes the machine has to process, the hotter it gets.

Thankfully, voice-over recordings require very little computing power so they’re not likely to cause overheating, as long as you don’t have a lot of other programs running at the same time.

Hard Disk Drives (HDD’s) are another source of noise because they have moving parts. HDD’s can make clicking and humming noises when the motor is spinning and data is being read or written. Computers with a Solid State Drive (SSD) are quiet because SSD’s have no moving parts. Although prices are coming down, SSD’s are more expensive than HDD’s.

When buying a new iMac you can choose between two different types of storage: Flash storage (SSD) or a Fusion Drive. When you go to the online Apple store, the three iMac models on virtual display all have 1 to 2 TB Fusion drives. Are they good options for the VO studio?

A Fusion Drive consists of two separate drives ‘fused’ together. It contains a regular (heat-producing) hard drive, with a spinning plate inside, and a solid-state drive. What Apple doesn’t tell you is that only 128 GB of that Fusion drive is SSD.

Bottom line, if you want a studio computer that stays cool and runs quietly, forget a Fusion drive and choose SSD instead. SSD’s offer better performance, boot up much quicker, and are not as power hungry. Nice features, but they come at a price!

FINDING A BUDGET FRIENDLY iMAC

A 2019 base model iMac with 16 GB of RAM and 512 GB of SSD would set me back $2,299.00. That’s way over my budget! What if could get an older computer that was in good shape for a lot less money?

The Apple store is selling reconditioned 2017 iMacs with 16 GB of RAM and 512 GB of SSD for a whopping $2,209. Not cool!

For the next couple of weeks I kept a close eye on eBay and saw that some 2017 iMacs had a more friendly price tag. I also looked at the reputable Apple refurb sites, as well as at Amazon Renewed. It took me a while, but I gradually narrowed down my options.

One day I decided to take a little detour and check out Facebook Marketplace. This ad caught my eye:


The owner turned out to be an IT specialist working at a Philadelphia university, and when I reached out to him, he couldn’t be nicer. Long story short, I made him an offer and his pristine iMac became mine in a Starbucks near Philly. Now, here’s the best part. How much did it cost me?

I’ll tell you!

I paid $1,260, saving me $1,039 by not buying from Apple. That meant that the iMac did not come with a one-year warranty, but to me the price difference was worth the risk.

MEMORY

Part of what makes Macs so expensive has to do with what Apple charges for memory upgrades. For instance, 32 GB of RAM costs $600 at the Apple store. Crucial sells the same amount of RAM for $134.99! The trouble is that for most Apple products, it’s a giant pain in the neck (if not impossible) to upgrade the RAM yourself… unless you own a 27″ iMac. That’s another reason why I chose the iMac over the Mac Mini. Watch how easy it is to install memory.

Speaking of upgrades, if you’re in the market for an iMac, I have a few suggestions. To create a sleek, clean look, the Apple engineers decided to hide all ports in the back like so:

This means that every time you need to reach one of these slots, you’ve got to turn this 21 pound (9.44 kg ) computer around, leaving scratch marks on your desk. That’s why I got the Rain Design i360 Turntable for iMac (see video below). Please note: if your computer is placed close to the wall, this turntable doesn’t work (obviously).

You’ll also notice another accessory, the Twelve South Backpack for iMac. It’s a small hidden storage shelf for things like external hard drives and SSD’s. In my case it holds an APRIME ineo 1TB USB-C Gen.2 Metallic External Solid State Drive. That’s my backup drive for Time Machine. I’ve also added a 1 TB Seagate backup drive for all my photos and videos.

Thanks to the Backpack, I can enjoy my 5K monitor without having to stare at all kinds of wires and drives cluttering up my desk.

And finally, I wanted to protect my investment with a Tripp Lite 8 Outlet Surge Protector Power Strip. What I like is that Tripp Lite will repair or replace any connected equipment damaged by surges, including direct lightning strikes, up to $75,000 for life (valid in the U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico only). Let’s hope I never need it.

USING THE iMAC

I’ve used my brand new, previously loved iMac for almost a week now, and as my wife will attest, I am in love with this beautiful machine! A bit too much perhaps.

I love how fast it boots up, how brilliant the screen is, and I marvel at the classic Jony Ives design. I no longer have to wait endlessly for pages to load and websites to connect. As a result, I can work faster and be more productive and free of frustration!

The fans have yet to kick in, and if they did, I didn’t hear them. It’s just the way I want it to be.

I am only left with one question:

Who wants a mid-2011 Mac Mini?

Come meet me at Starbucks and I’ll quote you a good price!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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PPS If you own a Mac and your fans are out of control, check out the following tools to reduce noise: HHD fan Control, SSD Fan Control, and smcFancontrol.

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4 Things I Wish I Would Have Known Before I Got Into Voice-Overs

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Gear, Money Matters 20 Comments

egg crate studioWhen you’re just getting your feet wet, there’s so much to do and so much to learn. It’s an exciting and confusing time. You have many choices to make, but which ones are right, and which ones are wrong?

Here are four things I wish I’d figured out ahead of time.

1. It doesn’t take much money to get started, but you can’t have a career on the cheap.

You already have a nice voice, an okay computer, and an internet connection. Now, run to Guitar Center and get yourself a USB microphone for under a hundred dollars and download free Audacity recording software.

Bam! You’re in business, ready to make the big bucks!

That’s what I was told by quite a few people when I became serious about doing this voice-over thing professionally. Until then I had had a career in radio and I knew nothing about setting up a home studio, getting voice-over coaching, marketing myself, and the thousand other things you have to pay for to begin a business. 

No one told me it was going to take at least three years and a small fortune before I would be able to support myself as a voice talent. They also forgot to tell me how I was to survive those first three years that were filled with uncertainty, stress, and lots of ramen noodles.

Here’s a hard truth many hopefuls don’t want to hear:

2. You must invest to compete with the best.

When I share this with aspiring talent, they say I’m just an old-school party pooper who wants to scare off the competition.

They say you don’t need a seriously soundproofed recording space. Just build a booth from pvc pipes and put up some moving blankets. You’ll never be interrupted by a barking dog or the low rumble of the garbage truck.

They say you simply sign up for Fiverr and Upwork, and the money will start coming in.

They say you need no expensive training. Everything’s online and it don’t cost a dime!

They say you can easily put your own demos together and build a website from a free template…

…and then they complain about not getting any work (other than the “passion projects” they’re doing for free).

Let me ask you this: would you hire a wedding photographer who proudly proclaims he only needs a smart phone to capture one of the most important days of your life? Would you trust a physician you found on Fiverr? Would you allow an amateur electrician to redo your electrical wiring?

NOT FAIR

Some will say these are unfair comparisons. After all, voice acting is not a profession that requires an academic education, vocational training, or some kind of official accreditation. They believe it’s experience based. You pick it up as you go along.

Yes, experience comes into play, but also talent, training, specific skills, and equipment. I’ve encountered too many people with considerable experience and very little talent. Many of my students have tons of talent but very little training. Some of them are quite skilled but they don’t have professional equipment to compete in a crowded market, let alone an expensive dedicated recording space. 

Especially in a business as unregulated as ours, the ongoing investments we make are part of our credentials. Remember: the very first thing that will make you lose an audition is poor sound quality. The second thing is your inability to interpret and narrate a script, sounding clear and natural.

Please do yourself a favor and seek expert advice. Don’t just believe any Tom, Dick, or Harriet, because it’s become a hobby for people to flaunt their ignorance in public and be proud of it. This is what I have learned:

3. The quality of advice depends on the quality of the source. Ninety percent of online chatter is just noise.

When I began to explore becoming a VO, I was like a sponge, soaking up as much info as I could. Here’s the problem: I didn’t know what I didn’t know, and I was unable to separate the wheat from the chaff.

I was brought up to believe that most people have the best of intentions, and I should give them the benefit of the doubt. After being burned more than once, I’m not so sure I believe that anymore.

Sure, there were plenty of nice guys and gals who wanted to help an enthusiastic beginner. But when it comes to depth of knowledge, I quickly learned that many helpful colleagues were surprisingly shallow, and they were giving terribly uninformed advice.

These days I often wonder: who is more ignorant? The person asking the question, or the one answering it?

Before you accuse me of bashing newbies again, I hope you’ll agree that my observations on online advice probably apply to most public exchanges, regardless of the topic. Just look at the Facebook page of the town you live in. Lots of opinions based on an embarrassing lack of factual and experiential knowledge.

That begs the question: whom can you trust in the wonderful world of voice-overs?

My rule of thumb: if someone hasn’t run a profitable voice-over business for at least three years, ignore their advice. After all, you would never ask a newlywed about the secrets of a long-lasting marriage, let alone a bachelor.

ARE EXPERIENCED PROS ALWAYS RIGHT?

Having said that, I must admit that there are many voice-over veterans I disagree with as well, because they are stuck in their ways. You know, the gear snobs who say that any microphone under $500 can’t be any good. It has to be Neumann or a 416. Then there’s the idea that you’re not a first-tier talent if you’re not a member of the union. Really?

I recently got into an argument with a seasoned pro who insisted that I shouldn’t take a vacation without bringing a mobile recording kit. This, after I told him I had sold my Apogee travel MiC. “But what if your client needs you?” was his argument. “You don’t want to lose a client, do you?”

I told him that on vacation my family needs me more than I need a client. I always tell my returning customers when I’ll be away, and when I’ll be coming back. Fortunately, most of them are in Europe and they understand the importance of taking time off to recharge the batteries. It’s those work-obsessed Americans that live in a no-vacation nation who think they always have to be available. It’s a recipe for burnout, which brings me to my last point:

4. Your health cannot be bought or sold, and it can make or break your business.

You are the personification of your product. You embody the service you are selling. You are IT, baby!

No matter at what stage of your career you are, if you don’t take care of yourself, you’re not protecting your most important asset. That’s why I see vacation as a form of preventative healthcare. It’s sacred time for the mind, the body, and the soul. It reminds us why we are doing what we are doing.

However, you need more than vacation to keep your engine running.

When you go to voice-over conferences, be ready to see lots of people who are out of breath and out of shape. They live a sedentary life, talking to imaginary people in a soundproof box you wouldn’t want to put a prisoner in. The uncertainty of freelance life, not knowing when the next job will fall into your lap and the next check will arrive, causes constant stress.

You’re isolated from the world, literally and figuratively. If you’re a social person longing for watercooler conversations, it’s a nightmare. “But it must be so much fun,” a friend of mine said. “Setting your own hours, being your own boss, all the freedom… You get to do what many dream of, and you’re even getting paid for it!”

I didn’t tell him that at that very moment I was waiting on a client who owed me a considerable sum. My rent was due, my car needed inspection, and my computer was on its last leg. I was living the dream, alright!

What I didn’t know was that years later I would face the ultimate test, as far as my health was concerned. I nearly died of a surprise stroke I had in my studio. It took months of recovery before I had the energy to start working again, and I still don’t have the stamina I once had. My voice is gradually coming back, but it will never be as strong as before. I’m not allowed to drive a car yet, and my heart’s rhythm continues to be out of control.

I am not sharing this with you so you’ll feel sorry for me. I’m sharing this to stress that life is as fragile as it is precious. Just as you invest in your continuing education, your studio, and in your marketing, please invest in leading a healthy, balanced life.

Get out of that studio. Move more. Choose quality food over quantity. Stay hydrated. Surround yourself with positive people who support you. Be kind to them and to yourself.

Begin today.

That way you’ll never have to tell me:

“If only I had known…”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS photo courtesy of Carlos Alvarez

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Does Money Make You Uncomfortable?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Money Matters 7 Comments

hamburger“Why are you so expensive?”

The question came out of nowhere. I was talking to a client about a job he wanted me to do, and he verbalized what many customers are thinking when they hire a voice-over:

“Why should I pay you over four hundred dollars for three measly minutes of audio? It’s outrageous!”

“Why are you so expensive?”

How would you react to that question? Would you start doubting yourself? Would you apologize for your fee? Would you say: “Well, if it’s too much, perhaps we can agree on a different amount?”

The truth is this: money makes many people uncomfortable. Especially those who have chosen to do what they love. Creatives like musicians, writers, photographers, and yes, voice-over artists. If you are fortunate enough to enjoy your dream job, the wonderful work itself should be rewarding enough, shouldn’t it?

For years, the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam’s Carnegie Hall, didn’t pay young musicians a penny for playing lunch concerts. Not even travel expenses were reimbursed. Meanwhile, the ushers, sound engineers, and other staff members making these concerts possible were receiving a salary. How could that happen?

The Concertgebouw said it was giving artists a unique opportunity to gain some experience and get exposure. The same reasoning was used by schools “hiring” musicians for educational concerts, by pubs, churches, charities, and even TV shows. This went on for years and years. Why?

Because the artists agreed to it, thus teaching clients how to treat them.

Many had to give up their dream career because exposure doesn’t pay the bills.

JUSTIFYING YOUR FEE

As a for-profit freelancer, you have to answer the question “Why are you so expensive?” on at least two levels. First, you owe yourself an explanation. Secondly, you have to explain it to your client.

Before you do that, you have to realize that most questions are based on unspoken assumptions. If you buy into these assumptions, you buy into the client’s way of thinking, which is not such a smart thing to do.

Let’s unpack.

The question “Why are you so expensive?” has three elements. WHY, YOU, and EXPENSIVE. The word WHY demands justification, immediately putting you on the defensive. Do you wish to go there?

Here’s the thing: if you are comfortable with your rates, there is no need to defend them. The moment you feel unsure about your prices (and your self-worth), you’re more likely to lower your fee at the first sign of resistance.

In the beginning of my career, I was afraid to lose jobs because my fees might be perceived as too high. As soon as a customer uttered the magic words “we have a limited budget,” I believed them, and I lowered my price. Big mistake.

These days I know that there is no way of knowing how much a client -big or small- can or cannot afford. I do know that I cannot afford to work for low rates. Here’s the kicker: low fees are often seen as a sign of inexperience and amateurism. Charging less may actually result in not getting hired!

Bottom line: stop being so desperate. Have some dignity. If you are running a for-profit business you must be okay to walk away from a bad deal. Let others record that lengthy, self-published, shitty novel for $75 per finished hour thinking they have landed the deal of the century. You can’t convince stupid. Stupid has to learn from experience or repeat the same mistakes over and over again.

THE REAL DEAL

This brings me to the YOU in “Why are YOU so expensive?”

The question behind the question is: Compared to whom? The unspoken assumption is that there are others who are willing to do it for cheaper. That may be true, but you have to realize that the client is talking to you for a reason. You are not a dime a dozen. You sound like a million bucks and they know it.

Your voice is used by multinationals, world-famous brands, and well-known organizations. You need no hand-holding and no sound engineer to fix your audio. You’re easy to work with and you always meet your deadlines. That’s worth something. A lot, actually.

And if you’re a voice talent that’s just getting started, you know you have this fresh voice no one else has. You have a solid studio with decent equipment, and you’re a natural at making the words in the script dance off the page. You listen to your clients, and you give them what they need without an attitude. You may be new to the business, but you are a pro!

DEFINE EXPENSIVE

A wedding photographer I used to work with got this question all the time: “Why should we pay you a fortune for a few hours of your time?”

She learned that the first thing she had to overcome was the costumer’s ignorance about pricing and ignorance about what’s involved in doing the job. Most people had no idea of the going rate, so they had no way of telling whether someone was expensive or not. They just heard a number that seemed high. They made a mistake many beginning freelancers make:

Thinking that what you make is what you take home.

They did not realize that the fee for a photo shoot paid for professional cameras, lenses, lights, a shooting assistant, computers, editing software, a website, advertising, accountant’s fees, taxes, memberships of professional organizations, insurance, continuing education, a retirement plan, transportation, a photo studio, time spent looking for work, doing the books, editing photos, et cetera. Whatever is left has to pay for rent or mortgage, groceries, utilities, childcare, vacations, charitable donations, and many other expenses.

CLUELESS CUSTOMERS

Believe me: your clients have no clue about your cost of doing business, and they do not care.

However, if you don’t build these expenses into your fee, you will go broke. All the talent, skill and experience in the world is not going to save you if you’re not turning a profit.

So, the next time someone asks you “Why are you so expensive?” think twice before you answer.

Personally, I am comfortable with what I charge. I think it’s more than fair, and I deserve it.

When people ask me why I charge what I charge I tell them in a friendly but self-assured way:

“That’s my rate,” and I leave it at that. And you know what? Nine out of ten times, they accept it, and that’s understandable.

I mean, I don’t go into a restaurant challenging the chef why he charges $35 for the main course.

It’s simple.

If I don’t want to pay that much, I should eat somewhere else.

There’s fine dining, there’s fast food, and anything in between.

What are you cooking up for your clients?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Do You Want To Scratch My Back?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Money Matters, Personal, Promotion Leave a comment

handshake with moneyIf you’ve been active as a voice-over long enough, you know one thing:

Finding a job usually takes much longer than doing a job.

It stinks, doesn’t it?

Let’s be honest. We all love doing the work, but we hate getting the work. That’s why we’re willing to pay online companies good money to send us leads. Every morning we simply open our inbox, and there they are: golden opportunities that are sent out to hundreds, if not thousands of hopefuls just like you. Welcome to the land where $249 a pop is the new normal!

FYI: if you can book five jobs out of a hundred auditions, you deserve a spot in my Hall of Fame. Just remember that no one is paying you for those ninety-five unsuccessful auditions that took hours and hours to record. But auditioning is such great practice, isn’t it? You’re definitely getting better at not being selected.

THE WAY TO GET WORK

What else can you do to get clients? If you like bothering people who don’t want to hear from you, try cold calling. Especially in winter. I know how much you love being interrupted at work or at the dinner table by some stranger, so why not do it yourself?

You could also build or buy a mailing list and start emailing people unwanted newsletters touting your accomplishments. No one has ever done that before, right? That’s why the spam folder was invented.

Perhaps an agent could jump start your career. Agents know people who know people. And they’ll only take you on board once you’ve landed the jobs you were hoping to get through them. Isn’t that ironic?

So, how about this? Your colleagues have contacts. Lots of them. Why not ask your VO friends to recommend and refer you to their clients? It doesn’t cost you anything, and sharing is caring! You don’t even have to be polite about it. Just ask. We’re all in the same boat.

PS If colleagues refuse to refer you, you can always raid their LinkedIn connections and Facebook friends, and spam them asking for help. Make sure to sound like a desperate dabbler.

You may shake your head in disbelief, but that’s how pretty much every week I am approached by people I don’t know, looking for jobs I don’t have. Yesterday, I received a short email from a colleague offering me 10% of whatever she will make, if she lands a job based on my referral. This could be a goldmine, people!

A MORAL MAZE

Not so fast!

There is a good reason why professionals like lawyers, realtors, accountants, and therapists have adopted codes of conduct, specifically prohibiting them from taking payment for referrals. It is considered to be unethical.

Look at the definition of bribery:

“An act implying money or gift given that alters the behavior of the recipient”

Do you really think you can buy my opinion and influence my behavior by offering me a bounty? Is that how you think I operate? Give me one reason why I shouldn’t feel insulted!

If I were motivated by money, I wouldn’t even be in the voice-over business. Take it from me: You will never do your best work for the love of money. Your best work is always a labor of love and never the result of greed.

Here’s my bottom line:

A referral needs to be earned, not bought.

I owe a huge part of my business success to unsollicited referrals, and I am frequently asked to recommend colleagues. For those recommendations I get paid handsomely.

Before I tell you what I receive in return, you must know that I take my referrals very seriously. You see, the fact that I will recommend a specific person reveals as much about me as it does about the person in question.

One can usually judge someone by the company he or she keeps. When you pass the name of a colleague on to someone else, you put your reputation on the line. So, how do you go about it?

A REFERRAL STRATEGY

For starters, never refer a person you don’t know. When you’re thinking of recommending someone, I want to ask you the following question:

How do you know that this person is good at their work?

I’ll give you four options to choose from:

  1. See – You need visual evidence (e.g. You have to watch them do their work)
  2. Hear – You need to hear them (e.g. listen to their demo)
  3. Read – You need to read about them (e.g. a review, an endorsement, a website)
  4. Do – You have to work with them to get a feel for how good they are

The answer to the question “How do I know that someone is good at their work?” is called a Convincer Strategy, and depending on the context, most people will have more than one answer.

My next question is:

How often does a person have to demonstrate that they’re good at what they do, before you are convinced?

  1. A number of times – e.g. Three or four times
  2. Automatic – You always give someone the benefit of the doubt
  3. Consistent – You’re never really convinced
  4. Period of time – It usually takes e.g. a week, a month or longer before you can tell if someone’s really good

The last thing you need to be aware of is your frame of reference:

  1. Internal – No matter what anyone says about her, only you can tell whether or not she’s any good
  2. External – A source you trust recommended her, and that’s good enough for you

It’s quite common for people to have an internal frame of reference with an external check, or the other way around. If your frame of reference is completely internal, no one will ever be able to convince you of anything. If it’s completely external, your opinion will be totally dependent on what others have to say.

By the way, we all use the above criteria in different situations, but most of us are not aware that we do.

REWARDING REFERRALS

Referring people can be very rewarding. It’s an essential part of being in business and staying in business, as long as you do it for the right reasons.

Let’s say you landed a gig as a result of my recommendation. In that case I demand that you pay me back… by doing the best job you can possibly do. As one of my teachers used to say:

“If you look good, I look good, so you better make me look good!”

Secondly, don’t send me any money or gift cards. You booked the job because you ticked all the right boxes, and you deserve it. I don’t take any credit (or cash) for that.

And please, if you insist I deserve a percentage of your fee, take your ten percent and give it to a worthy cause.

Pay it forward.

That’s the key to making the right referrals!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Please refer someone else to this blog by retweeting this story, and “liking” it on Facebook.

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How To Fix Sliding Voice-Over Rates

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, International, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play 12 Comments

Peter Dickson (l) and Hugh Edwards (r)

I usually don’t allow guest posts on my website, but today I am making an exception for Hugh Edwards, CEO & Founder of Gravy for the Brain.

The issue of sliding voice-over rates is pressing and seemed impossible to solve.

The folks at Gravy for the Brain came up with a brilliant, no-cost solution that can make a huge difference in the lives of those who talk for a living.

Click on this link to read Hugh’s article.

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Peanuts and Monkeys

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Money Matters, Promotion 5 Comments

Peanut & MonkeyI don’t know about you, but I’m astonished at the growing number of people responding to no-budget and low-budget voice-over jobs. It had me wonder:

Who are they? What drives them? How do we make them stop?

Some colleagues suggested I shouldn’t take these lowballers seriously. They’re ignorant hobbyists at best, and their actions have no impact on us professionals.

I disagree.

BEING WORTHLESS

It’s insulting and upsetting when both client and talent find the contribution of a voice-over of so little value that no money changes hands. Meanwhile, the copywriter and sound engineer get paid, the animator receives a check, and the guy who hired them to create an ad campaign has a full-time position with benefits.

What’s wrong with this picture?

If the company is too cheap to pay a pro, why don’t they ask Keith from accounting to do the voice-over? Why do they have to post a job in a Facebook group for voice-overs? It’s simple: because they know that Keith in accounting is a klutz, and there’s always a hopeless hopeful VO with a sliver of talent who’s willing to do it for nothing.

I’m sorry, but I’ve worked too long and too hard to be giving my voice away. Even if I were getting my feet wet, I’d have enough respect for myself and my colleagues to insist on being paid good money for good work.

So, why are some budding voice-overs willing to work for free? Beginning plumbers don’t do that. Newly graduated chefs don’t put a zero dollar menu together. Young teachers make less, but they get paid for doing their job. What makes us voice-overs so special that we deserve not to be paid?

A TYPICAL JOB OFFER

To get some perspective, let’s pick a real gig that was just posted on Facebook. The job is for a “nonprofit small low power Christian radio station” and was described as follows:

“A concept piece mentioning a new name and slogan along with some catchphrases. It’s like a sizzle reel in tv terms. Unpaid but appreciated.”

Someone who wants this job responds (and I’m not going to pick on the grammar):

“I could use the exposure and experience being new to professional.”

Just imagine all the exposure a small nonprofit low power Christian radio station can bring! I think you’ll need the intervention of a higher power to make all that exposure work to your benefit.

Speaking of exposure, try going to a restaurant telling the owner: “I’m not going to pay you today, but I’ll make sure to say nice things about you on Instagram.” Unless you’re Kim Kardashian, Paris Hilton, or Kylie Jenner, I don’t think you’ll be getting very far.

As someone who has been using his voice professionally since he was seventeen, I can tell you that, unless you’re a flasher, exposure is highly overrated. It doesn’t pay the rent and it can’t feed your family. It’s a transparent trick to make you believe you’re getting something in exchange for volunteering your services.

Some high-profile jobs may give you limited exposure, but these jobs usually go to A-list celebs and come with a nice paycheck. Keep in mind that voice-overs are the Invisibles of the industry. By definition, our role is mainly supportive (the exception being audiobook narration which I think is underpaid). We have to make up our own awards shows in order to get some recognition… from our peers.

So, if you’re looking for exposure, you’ve chosen the wrong profession. Don Lafontaine was arguably the most famous voice-over artist of his time, but very few people knew who he was until he appeared as a sidekick in a Geiko television commercial. Notice that he’s introduced as “that announcer guy from the movies.”

WHAT EXPERIENCE?

Will working for free give you the experience needed to book more paid jobs? It totally depends on the experience. I vividly remember an angry young conductor kicked out of a competition. He wanted to know why he hadn’t made it to the next round. He told the jury: “Compared to all the other contestants I’ve had much more experience. Why are you letting me go?” The chairman of the jury told him: “Your experience must not have been very good.”

Some experiences simply don’t translate. Just because you’ve worked as an announcer for a radio station or you were a teacher or a minister doesn’t mean you have the chops to be a successful voice-over. Having extensive experience as a voice talent doesn’t necessarily get me hired. Most clients aren’t interested in what I’ve done for other people in the past. They want to know:

What can you do for me today?

Will experience help you finally land an agent? Agents get interested once they know you can make them money. Doing jobs for free tells them you’re desperate instead of marketable. In my opinion, the experience you need as a budding voice-over is the experience of working with a good coach who’s not afraid to say what you don’t want to hear.

BEING A PROFESSIONAL

Let’s get back to the reason one of our colleagues thought he’d be a good fit for that no-budget Christian radio station job. He wrote:

“I could use the exposure and experience being new to professional.”

We’ve covered exposure and experience. Let’s get to the “professional” aspect. According to one dictionary, a professional is “engaged in a specified activity as one’s main paid occupation rather than as a pastime.”

So, if you’re doing something professionally, it can’t be a hobby, and you have to get paid. In addition, voice-overs are small business owners. The IRS says:

“A trade or business is generally an activity carried on for a livelihood or in good faith to make a profit.”

In other words:

WORKING FOR FREE IS UNPROFESSIONAL

A GOOD CAUSE

But what about working for charities? Don’t they at least deserve a discount? Before I get into that, let me be clear: the VO jobs I see posted in Facebook groups are sometimes for nonprofits but not for charities. Every charity is a nonprofit, but not every nonprofit is a charity.

As professionals we have to stop making assumptions about how much we believe a potential client can or cannot afford. They’re not going to tell us so we will never know. Just because it’s a nonprofit or a charity, doesn’t mean there’s no budget for PR. I know because organizations like Charity Navigator keep track of how much of a charity’s budget goes to fundraising campaigns.

Charities like the Cancer Survivors’ Fund, the Autism Spectrum Disorder Foundation, and the Kids Wish Network spend more than 50% of their budget on fundraising activities (source: click here). That isn’t necessarily a good thing, but don’t tell me all charities have no money and deserve a break.

Many CEO’s of charities make six-figure incomes. In 2015, the CEO of the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center made $3.6 million, and Wayne LaPierre who heads the nonprofit National Rifle Association was reported to make $4.6 million. These are extremes, but Charity Navigator says that among the charities they’ve evaluated, the average CEO salary is $150,000 (source: click here).

THERE’S A DIFFERENCE

What’s my point? Not every charity is created equal. Many are huge, professional organizations with big budgets for promotion. If there’s money to pay a CEO a decent salary, there is money to pay a voice-over a decent fee. Now, if you wish to support that charity because you connect with the cause, don’t discount your services. Make a tax-deductible donation after you get paid.

What baffles me most about those willing to work for (next to) nothing is the fact that they seem to be beginners. Perhaps I’m weird, but when I started out, I needed all the money I could get so I could invest in my career. I had to buy decent equipment, a good website, and I saved up to create a quiet recording space. Plus, I had to have a roof over my head and some food on the table.

I couldn’t afford to work for free, and I still can’t.

Here’s the thing most lowballers won’t admit: it takes real talent to book a top-dollar job, but it’s pretty easy to book a gig when you’re charging very little or nothing.

Once clients are used to your low rates they won’t be willing to pay you full price, and your colleagues will have a harder time negotiating a better deal. Why should clients pay more if they can get it for less (especially those for whom “good enough” is good enough).

Charging peanuts means you’ll never have the life you’re hoping for, and you’ll have less money to give to that charity you say you wish to support.

The moment you start charging a reasonable rate, you create expectations. You have something to prove. You tell the world:

“This is what this job is worth!

This is what I am worth, professionally speaking.”

If what you bring to the table has no added value, you’ve nothing left but to compete on price. But…

if you’re any good at what you do, people are willing to pay for it, and the benefit of hiring you outweighs the cost every single time.

Even monkeys can figure that out.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Common questions and the answers you don’t want to hear

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Freelancing, Gear, Internet, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play, Personal, Promotion, Social Media, Studio 35 Comments
Paul Strikwerda at the beach

the author, enjoying some fresh ocean air

Every couple of weeks I make the social media rounds on the various Facebook voice-over groups to see what’s new. The answer:

Not much.

In fact, most of what’s going on is an endless regurgitation of familiar topics, and Me-Me-Me marketing we love wasting our time on: How much should I charge? Where can I find work? Will you critique my demo and my new website?

In an effort to nip these dreadfully boring and superfluous conversations in the bud, I’m going to cover some returning questions rapid-fire style, so we can all get on with our work.

I want to get started in voice-overs, but I have no experience, no equipment, and no money. Where do I begin?

Are you serious? You sound like the guy who wants to be an Uber driver, who doesn’t know how to drive, does not own a car, and has no money in the bank. How’s that going to work?

My two cents: Get a job. Put some money aside, and work with a coach to find out if you’re even remotely talented before you spend big bucks on a studio, gear, demos, and a website.

It sounds like I need a lot of money to break into this business. Why is it so expensive?

Compared to what? Ask a New York cab driver how much he paid for his medallion. What did the pianist pay for her Steinway? How much debt did your doctor take on to get her degree?

You can’t be invested without making an investment. If something is worth it, you’ve got to pay the price. And if you’re serious, you can equip your voice-over studio for under a thousand dollars. Click here to find out how.

I just got started as a voice-over. I’ve been auditioning for over three months and haven’t booked a single job. Nobody ever told me it was going to be this hard. I’ve got rent to pay.

Your coach should have prepared you for a harsh reality. Ninety percent of trained actors are out of work. The ones on the A-list get booked again and again. It’s not much different for voice actors. Your job is finding jobs. Over and over and over again. So, stop lurking on social media and start marketing yourself!

I signed up for several Pay-to-Plays. Posted my demos. Nothing’s happening. Is this a scam?

A P2P is the lazy way to get into this business. You pay your membership fees, you post a few homemade half-baked demos, you do a few lousy auditions with your crap equipment, and you expect magic to happen? Don’t blame the system. You are delusional.

My neighbor is driving me crazy with his mad dogs, his leaf blower, and his lawn mower. Right now I want to kill him.

Do you expect the world to stop just because you need to meet a deadline? You advertise yourself as a professional, yet you have no dedicated, isolated recording space. That’s a problem. Costs come before revenue. Stop moaning and get a double-walled booth. If you’re any good, it will pay for itself many times over.

This new client hasn’t paid me in months and won’t respond to my emails. Help!

Who have you been working for? Did you do your research to find out whom you’re dealing with? Did you watermark your audio? Did you ask to be paid upfront? Not every client can be trusted so you have to protect yourself. You either lawyer up and threaten legal action, or write the unpaid invoice off as a business loss. Remember: even if small claims court rules in your favor, it’s not going to collect your money. That’s on you.

I’m not making enough as a voice-over. What am I doing wrong?

You’re not alone! In this business, there is no guaranteed return on investment, and with what you’re charging, are you surprised you’re not making enough? It’s a self-inflicted wound. Low rates are the sign of a desperate amateur. Who wants to work with a desperate amateur?

Be better, not cheaper.

Sitting in front of a computer all day long is hurting my health. I hate it!

No one is forcing you to do anything that’s detrimental to your health. In order to take care of your clients, you have to take care of yourself. Exercise, do yoga, move around, choose a healthy diet. Sit up, hydrate, get a supportive chair, and a wrist rest. Don’t forget your emotional health. Surround yourself with supportive people. Get a life outside of your studio! Your work is just a means to an end.

Being a freelancer is hard work. I thought it would be fun to be my own boss, but I’m starting to change my mind.

No job in the world is 100% fun all the time, no matter what some Instagram posts may tell you. What you see and what you hear – the end result, may sound and look like fun, but you don’t see the effort necessary to make it happen. If you do your job well, you make it seem effortless.

If your level of fun is the only criterium you use to evaluate your job, you’re never going to be satisfied.

Now, if you’re not happy with how things are going, know that nothing is going to change unless you change. Keep in mind that as long as you keep on blaming others for your misfortune, they have to be the ones that have to change in order for you to be happy.

That ain’t gonna happen.

Allow yourself to make mistakes. Allow others to make mistakes. You don’t have to spoon-feed every newbie begging for free advice. They’ll end up being lazy, ungrateful, and dependent.

Give yourself time to become good at what you do. Learn from the experts. Invest your earnings to further your career. Value what you have to offer and price accordingly.

And beginning today, start figuring out ways to get visitors to your web pages, instead of interacting on other people’s groups and sites, boosting their SEO. 

What do you say?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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