Money Matters

Mind Your Own Business

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Freelancing, Money MattersLeave a comment

Gerald Griffith

Gerald Griffith, the charismatic creator of VO Atlanta, is a clever cookie. He wants to give the attendees of this conference what they want. How does he know what they want? It’s simple. He’s not afraid to ask. It’s an approach many small business owners (such as VO’s) could learn something from:

1. understand your clients, and
2. ensure that what you’re offering meets or exceeds their needs

Result: Happy, returning customers!

So, over the past eight years, Gerald has been polling his audience trying to find out what kinds of topics they’d be interested in. Doing so, he noticed an inexplicable trend. Gerald:

“The pattern is the same. There’s a lot of demand for tech and business, but those are the most poorly attended sessions.”

This year it’s no different. Griffith:

“When I review the current block of workshop bookings (same holds true for breakout sessions in past years), guess which ones DO NOT show up in the top three? Technology and Marketing.”

For this blog post, I’ll leave the tech talk to the experts, but business and marketing are definitely my cup of tea. Full disclosure: I’m a presenter and panelist in these areas. So, why would people indicate they want more of these sessions, and yet not show up for them? It doesn’t make sense, does it? What’s going on?

STRANGE BEHAVIOR

First off: polls are opinions, not behavior. People vote with their feet. It’s the problem every pollster has to face: human beings say the socially acceptable thing, and do another. But there’s more.

Advertisers realized a long time ago that most people decide with their heart, not with their head. Business-oriented sessions tend to appeal to the analytical, left side of the brain. Some attendees falsely believe business segments are boring and filled with dry, factual information. In contrast, a hands-on workshop about getting into character animation, led by a brilliant man known for voicing a pig, has way more emotional pull.

Now, if you had a choice between work and play, which one would you choose? The truth is: most VO’s -me included- are more interested in the fun aspects of their job than in running the numbers. Bookkeeping is considered work. Making phone calls is work. Social Media can be a chore. We’d rather talk about how fun it is to bring scripts to life. 

In my experience as a coach, many VO’s don’t want to face financial reality. They call themselves voice-over artists, not entrepreneurs. They prefer to stick their head in the sand while complaining about rates going down.

STRANGE IDEAS

What’s also keeping people from signing up for business sessions is a particular mindset, summarized in these two maxims:

“If you build it, they will come”

“Do what you love and the money will follow”

These two ideas are part of the reason why about one-fifth of business startups fail in the first year, and about half go bust within five years. Only about one-third make it to ten.

Let me ask you this. If you build it without telling the world about it, why would people come? They don’t know you exist. And if they do know you exist, why should they come to you and not to someone else with a pleasant voice?

What makes you so special?

Go ahead and build it, but there’s no guarantee that they will come! Now, what about passion? Isn’t that enough to make the magic money fountains flow?

I know plenty of people who hate what they do, and yet they make a boatload of money. I also know people who love what they do, who are struggling to make ends meet. Investing in yourself by signing up for sessions that will help you improve your voice-over skills is not a bad idea. However, you can offer the best product in the world, but if you don’t know how to sell it, the money will not follow. And in VO, you are your product.

FAILING BUSINESSES

Take a few minutes and Google “reasons why small businesses fail.” You’ll find that most authors are in agreement. Small businesses don’t fail because new entrepreneurs aren’t creative, passionate, or skilled enough. It is because their owners do not run them like a business. A business needs to be properly funded. Many freelancers don’t spend enough money to put themselves out there, and they don’t make enough money to stay there.

Secondly, failing businesses are offering something no one is looking for because it’s already available, usually of better quality and at a lower price. If you’re thinking of starting your own business, you have to find your place in the market by providing something only very few can offer. That’s your niche.

As a voice talent, it’s not enough to say: “I am special because no one sounds like me.” Believe it or not, there are people who sort of sound like you with more money, more experience, better equipment, a quiet recording space, a nicer website, a harder working agent, better branding, greater marketing, and an amazing social media presence. Anything they’re not good at or don’t like to do, they hire experts for. Those who want to do it all by themselves end up working eighty hours a week wondering why they ever wanted to be their own boss.

If you don’t want to belong to that fifty percent of small businesses that close within five years, you have to stop treating your profession as a hobby, as something you do because it sparks joy only. Owning a small business is challenging, frustrating, and exhausting, as well as exhilarating.

Here’s the good news: learning how to run a freelance business is a rewarding journey, and in our community you’ll find excellent tour guides to show you around. Many of the best are coming to VO Atlanta from March 26 – 29.

COME TO ME

Paul Strikwerda presenting at VO Atlanta

The Stinky Sock Session

On Friday 3/27, I’ll be leading a Breakout Session from 9:50 to 10:50 AM called “The Incredible Power of Words.” I might even bring a Stinky Sock! Here’s how I describe this experience:

“Even though we cannot do our jobs without them, it’s easy to minimize the impact our words have on the minds of the people who listen to us. In this session, you’ll hear compelling stories about how words can transform lives for better or for worse; how words can help and heal, and how we as professional storytellers can inspire our listeners and entice them to take action. And finally, I’ll talk about the things we say to ourselves, and how they can bring us down or lift us up. This session will leave no one untouched.”

The next day I’d love to meet you at my X-Session “Boosting your Business with a Blog” from 9:30 to 12:30 AM. It’s not a lecture, but an interactive workshop open to no more than twelve people. I’ll share the secrets that have made this blog one of the most popular in the business, and my website the most visited personal VO site on the web. 

THE FUTURE

In this volatile, crazy voice-over business, many are called but few are chosen. When doing my presentations, I often look at my audience and wonder: who will be here next year, five years from now, and in ten years? Who will have given up, and who have staying power?

I don’t have a crystal ball, but I do know this: having a remarkable voice and knowing how to use it is not enough.

The colleagues enjoying sustained success are very likely to give you this piece of advice if you want to do well:

Mind your own business!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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The Voice-Over World Needs More Rejection.

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play14 Comments

Words are powerful things.

They can inspire us, they make us laugh, they melt our hearts, and they entice our souls to jump for joy.

Words can also scare us and scar us. They can intimidate, discriminate, and humiliate.

The sound of certain words alone, can petrify people. Try this, will you?

Say the following words out loud, and let them sink in for a moment:

Terror
Horror
Pain
Death
Disaster

Did you feel the effect?

Although they are nothing but letters arranged in a specific order, they sound dark and ominous because of all the things we’ve learned to associate with them. The terror of 9/11, the horror of the Holocaust, the pain of suffering, the death of a loved one, and the disaster of losing a home in a fire.

We all carry these uniquely personal connotations within us, and -invisible to the outside world- they resonate whenever we hear these words. Here’s where things get interesting.

Although you may think that we share some of life’s ups and downs because they are part of being human, all of us experience these highs and lows in our own way. These experiences color what we associate with certain words. This explains why people can use the same words, and yet mean and feel very different things.

For instance, the word “Dutch” means something different to me than what it means to you. I was born in the Netherlands and grew up there. Dutch is part of my DNA. If you’re an American, the first thing you may think of is Pennsylvania Dutch, or a fun game of Double Dutch.

Take the word “relationship.” There’s the definition from the dictionary, and then there’ s our experiential definition, infused with memories, and expectations. We emotionally respond to the latter, not the former.

There are many scary words in our language, the scariest being the word “NO.”

A close second is the word “rejection,” which basically means the same thing. Today, I’m going to zoom in on that word, because I believe the voice-over community needs more of it.

What?

Yes, you’ve heard me.

We need more rejection. And before you reject that idea, please hear me out.

For newcomers trying to make a name for themselves in this competitive business, rejection is the worst that can happen. They’ve (hopefully) invested a lot of time and money in training and equipment, and feel ready to start playing the game. Subconsciously, many are convinced the world owes them. Why?

Well, when you make a serious investment, you should expect a decent return, right? That’s only fair.

Unfortunately, there is no fair in voice-over casting. There’s talent, training, experience, luck, who you know in the business, and subjective selection. None of them will guarantee any work.

So, when a novice starts auditioning for everything under the sun, and lands exactly zero jobs in three months, it feels like a slap in the face. Over time, they may start suffering from a gloomy condition I call rejection dejection, a feeling of failure caused by perceived incompetence.

Now, if that’s the result of rejection, why do I believe we need more of it? I’ll tell you.

1. People set themselves up for failure, and they deserve to be rejected

If you were ever in a position to cast a project, you know what I mean. You can throw at least half of the submissions out because the audio quality is appalling. Snowball microphones, egg crates, and leaf blowing neighbors can’t compete with pristine professional audio from someone who knows what s/he’s doing.

A quarter of auditionees don’t read the specs, and can’t be bothered to follow instructions. A quarter sounds fake and inauthentic, and many don’t know how to price their services. They’re either too cheap to be taken seriously, or too expensive to be competitive.

How do I know this? Because I’ve made all these mistakes! I simply didn’t know what I didn’t know without knowing it. The other day I was listening to some of my old auditions, and I was embarrassed. No wonder I didn’t book anything. But did I go on Facebook to moan and groan? No way! The only thing I could do was up my game, and rejection was the kick in the pants I desperately needed.

In short, rejection separates the wheat from the chaff, and can give people a strong incentive to learn and grow up.

2. We need to reframe rejection

The discussion about rejection almost always focuses on the poor, powerless voice-over, being a victim of the whims of a demanding, mysterious client. I’m not falling into that trap of misery and self-pity. Over the years I have turned the tables, and have come to see myself as the one doing the rejecting. It’s quite simple:

On any given day, I receive invitations to audition, and projects to record. Most of them I reject. I believe that quality, not quantity, is the secret to winning auditions. The client does not pay me to learn on the job, so I will only accept projects I know I can handle in terms of my skills and the time I have available.

I also reject projects that advocate unethical practices or promote products I cannot stand behind. For instance, I don’t want to be associated with the weapons trade, climate destruction, human rights abuses, the meat processing industry, and political parties whose ideas I cannot support. I know this has cost me work, but having principles comes at a price.

Lastly, I reject working with clients, corporations, or businesses that have been shown to act unethically. A particular Canadian Pay to Play comes to mind.

What’s the result of all this rejection? It’s the fact that I do work I can be proud of; work that makes me happy. If that’s something you want, I advise you to warmly embrace rejection!

3. We need to reject low rates, cheap clients, greedy Pay to Plays, and lowballing “colleagues”

Audio books are booming, video games are making billions, streaming services are producing more and more original content, eLearning is in high demand… I’d say the opportunities for voice-overs have never been better. That’s why so many want to give it a try.

In spite of these opportunities, many colleagues I talk to are finding it harder to get decent work for decent pay. Some of them end up doing more for less because the cost of living is going up and bills need to be paid. Agents dealing with clients tell me that it’s harder to negotiate a good rate, and that almost every client wants an unlimited buyout without paying for it.

Meanwhile, new voice casting services are opening their virtual doors, hoping to do good business with low rates and high commissions. It seems the gradual commoditization of our industry is in full swing.

The big questions is: how should we respond to that?

I think the answer lies in …. you’ve guessed it: rejection.

Be proud of your pricing, and reject rates that are insultingly low. Reject companies that triple dip, and leave you with less. Reject undercutting “colleagues.” Educate them, just as you educate your clients about fair fees.

Reject the lowballers that say: “One bird in the hand is better than two in the bush.” That’s based on shortsighted, egotistical thinking. It’s not a way to carve out a sustainable career that can feed a family.

Reject the notion that your decisions do not make a difference. Every time you quote a project or you accept a fee, you send a signal to the market: “This is what I believe my work is worth.” The only reason clients are getting away with paying pennies, is because people agree to work for pennies. No one is forcing them at gunpoint.

Now, you may have all kinds of reasons why you feel you have the right to work for a low rate, but I’m not interested in reasons. I’m interested in results. And the result is that for many it’s become harder and harder to make a living as a full-time voice-over.

Do all of us a favor and stop competing on price. It’s a game you will lose, because there’s always an idiot willing to do more for less, and go bankrupt in the process.

Show some self-respect, and show some respect for your craft and your community. Start competing on added value. Prove to the client that you’re worth what you’re asking.

Because if you do things right, your added value will always be higher than your rate!

Now, if that’s an idea you reject, I’m afraid can’t help you.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Are You Still Competing On Price?

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Internet, Money Matters, Uncategorized6 Comments

Philipsburg Mall

In Philipsburg, NJ, the town across the river from where I live, a familiar ritual is taking place as we speak.

A shopping mall is closing.

Built in 1989, the Philipsburg Mall once featured one hundred stores and a four thousand-space parking lot. Today, this enclosed, 577,000-square-foot concrete structure is almost empty, and ready for the wrecking ball.

It’s part of what the experts have coined the “retail apocalypse.” Studies show roughly one in four malls across the USA are expected to close by 2022. This week, Macy’s announced the closure of twenty-eight locations. Pier 1 Imports said recently it would be closing nearly half of its stores.

Overall, 2019 was a terrible year for US retailers. Coresight Research announced 9,302 store closings, and that’s a 59% jump from 2018. In fact, it’s the highest number since they began tracking data in 2012.

AMAZONING

To explain this phenomenon, the same experts point to a trend they call the Amazoning of America. It’s the idea that malls and individual retailers are being pushed out of business by online giants like Amazon Prime and Alibaba.

Others are pointing to a changing economy where the middle class that used to shop at stores like Sears, Bon Ton, and Macy’s is struggling and is looking for cheaper alternatives.

The people who have trouble making ends meet now shop at the Dollar Store. After opening 900 stores in 2018, Dollar General opened 975 stores in 2019, making it the top retail company in terms of expansion. Discount chains like Dollar Tree, Family Dollar, Aldi and Five Below were in the top five for opening stores in 2019.

Yes folks, the U.S. economy is doing better than ever before!

To counter lower revenues and high rents, regular retailers purposely understaff their stores, and stock less or older merchandise, leading to a poor shopping experience. Good luck trying to get help in a department store these days.

With this in mind, it’s easy and convenient to point fingers at the economy and Amazon for the retail apocalypse. We don’t control Amazon, and we have no influence over something as abstract as “the economy.” If you can’t control it, you cannot change it.

Or can you?

BLAME BAZOS

Someone in my neighborhood was complaining about all the distribution centers being built in my region, the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania. “They take up farmland, they lead to an increase in truck traffic damaging our roads, and they’re just plain ugly,” the man said. “I blame Jeff Bezos!”

But what if Bezos wouldn’t have as many customers? Would he still be renovating his $23 million Washington mansion with 11 bedrooms and 25 bathrooms? What would happen if all of us would start shopping locally again, instead of online? Would developers still be building all those distribution centers?

The way I see it, we as consumers have tremendous influence on our economy. The way we spend money is our superpower to bring about positive and negative change.

It is our behavior that is killing shopping malls, bankrupting family businesses, and is giving the Five Below’s of the world billion dollar profits while their cheap Chinese trinkets are polluting the planet with plastic.

We choose the behavior, and we are responsible for the consequences.

As long as people don’t get that and blame outside factors for unwanted changes, we won’t be able to solve the climate crisis, the increase in racism, gun violence, and a whole string of other worrisome developments in our society.

To bring it back to my line of work… many of my voice over colleagues are complaining about rates getting lower, and clients getting cheaper. They blame the free market for their woes.

“It’s what the marketplace dictates,” they say. “A job that used to pay $2500, now pays $250. I can’t change that. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”

VALUE PROPOSITION

I strongly disagree. Getting paid $250 for a $2500 job is the result of your inability to make an appealing value proposition to your client, and your ineptitude to negotiate a decent deal. It reeks of desperation and a lack of professionalism.

Just as the success of Amazon (and all its consequences) is the result of millions of individual purchase decisions, the lowering of our rates is the result of thousands of freelancers deciding to settle for less. No one is forcing them, and yet it sends a clear signal to our clients:

“This is what I believe this job is worth. Why pay a penny more?”

Look, I get that there’s a market for the Dollar Store, but why not leave that market to the freakin’ freelancers you find on Fiverr? They obviously can’t compete on value, so they can only compete on price. Let them dabble as they babble pretending to be a pro.

In this new year I challenge you to decide who your clients are going to be. The cheapskates who are the most demanding and demeaning, or the ones who value and respect you professionally and financially? This means drawing a line in the sand by being clear about what you no longer wish to accept for yourself and your community of colleagues. 

It may also mean raising your standards as well as your rates, because clients with bigger budgets expect you to give them their money’s worth. This is where the small shop owner beats the strip mall and the online retailer.

A DIFFERENT TOWN

Across the bridge from Philipsburg, lies the town of Easton, PA. It’s where I live. Easton is a town that warmly welcomes entrepreneurs. We don’t have a retail apocalypse. We have a retail resurgence!

Every month we celebrate the opening of new stores, businesses, and restaurants. People who are sick and tired of skyrocketing New York rents are coming to Easton. For what they’re paying for a tiny NYC apartment, they can buy a historic home or a penthouse overlooking the Delaware river.

The Easton Business Association is a free organization where all members help each other succeed. Together with the Easton Main Street Initiative, shop keepers, restaurant owners, and service providers come up with events that bring thousands of people to the downtown area. Every fourth Friday there’s Easton Out Loud with music, food, drinks, games, and activities for the whole family. 

You won’t find big box stores in downtown Easton. Instead, you’ll find flower shops, bakeries, gift shops, antique stores, vintage clothes shops, art galleries, independent book stores, cafés, pubs, restaurants, and breweries. And did I mention a fabulous Farmers’ Market?

Festivals such as Bacon Fest, Heritage Day, the Zucchini 500 races, and the Peace Candle Lighting bring huge crowds to Easton. All these events are sponsored by local companies and are run by an army of enthusiastic volunteers of all ages. 

In my town you will find unique things made by local artists and artisans you won’t be able to buy on Amazon or even Etsy. When I needed a set of walking poles, Adam (the owner of the Easton Outdoor Company), took over an hour to make sure I picked the right pair, and he taught me how to use them. That’s not an experience you can get online or even at Dick’s Sporting Goods.

COMMUNITY & CONNECTION

What Easton offers more than anything, is a sense of community and belonging that has disappeared from so many towns and cities. It comes from store owners who care about their business and their customers. From people who take pride in what they produce. From people who don’t see new stores as their competition, but as an opportunity to work together to attract more business. After all, visitors like having more choice.

Now, remember that all these stores exist and flourish in the age of Amazon. They don’t compete on price. They compete on giving the customer high-quality and often unique products, pies they can taste, flowers they can smell, and clothes they can try on. These shops offer stellar customer service, and an experience that makes you feel you’re among friends. These ingredients are the warm and fuzzies you’ll never get from a website, no matter how sophisticated or cheap it may be. 

So, in 2020 I want you to stop whining about sliding rates, and focus on how you are going to give your customers an experience they will always remember and are happy to pay for. Let me give you one hint:

You’ll never be able to distinguish yourself as long as you’re part of someone else’s store charging someone else’s prices.

Their roof. Their rules.

The shop owners at the dying Philipsburg Mall noticed that the Real Estate Investment Trust that owned the property treated them as commodities. They didn’t innovate and invest to bring back customers. Right now, the roof is leaking, repairs aren’t being made, and the parking lot is filled with potholes.

Some people believe the owners are driving the mall into functional obsolescence. The land under the mall, however, has value. 

It’s perfect for yet another ugly distribution center. 

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Are Those Black Friday Deals Really Worth It?

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Freelancing, Gear, Money Matters, Studio, WidgetsLeave a comment

Black Friday at Best BuyAt this very moment, the retail powers that be, are working you left and right.

They’re preying on you, like a lion lures a lamb.

Unlike the lion (who will do his best to stay undetected until he makes his deadly move), retailers come at you in plain sight. They have no desire to rip you to pieces. They want you alive, so they can bleed you year after year.

Retailers won’t jump you either. Instead, they play a game of not so subtle seduction, with one or two pieces of masterful bait, the first one being (drum roll):

Low Prices

Yes, Black Friday and Cyber Monday are around the corner, and credit card companies are already drooling over your looming debt increase.

We may all believe that we’re independent thinkers that cannot be manipulated, but psychologists know better. They know that one of the strongest human fears is the fear of missing out.

That’s why the time ticker at QVC and the Home Shopping Network is such an effective sales tool. It tells you how much time is left to get this incredible gadget you suddenly cannot live without. That’s why they throw in all these “but wait, there’s more” extras to sweeten the deal, but only if you BUY NOW.

Limited time offers and low prices are classic incentives to get weak and impressionable people to buy stuff. Black Friday and Cyber Monday are the ultimate examples of these incentives, because they only come once a year, and some of the deals are truly incredible.

Supposedly.

You and I know that those heavily discounted doorbusters are meant to give you a shopping high, so you’ll buy more once you’re in the door. Besides, these deals will often come back in slower seasons.

If you’re still tempted to empty your wallet around Thanksgiving, I can’t stop you. But allow me to give you a few pointers, if I may. 

1. Distinguish between a WANT and a NEED

Every time you’re tempted to make a major purchase, ask yourself:

“Do I really need it right now, or is it just something I want?” “Is it a necessity, or a luxury?”

If you wish to experience sustained success as a for-profit freelancer, there’s one simple formula you must stick to:

Keep your revenue stream high, and your expenses low.

So, if you really, really want to buy this nice, new, shiny piece of equipment, ask yourself:

– Will it make me more professional, productive, and profitable?

– Will my clients experience an undeniable difference as a result of this purchase?

– Will this investment pay for itself within a reasonable period of time?

For instance, a few of my voice-over colleagues are already salivating over a new microphone this season. But a recording will only sound as good as the space it’s recorded in. So, rather than spending cash on a new mic, it’s often much wiser to invest in creating a better acoustic environment.

Most clients won’t hear the difference between a $300 microphone and a $1000 mic. They will hire you because you’re able to deliver clean and crisp audio, without the sound of the neighbor’s leaf blower in the background.

2. Choose High Quality over Low Price

If you must make an investment, do your research before you make that impulse buy. This means you have to overcome one of humanity’s eternal weaknesses: the need for immediate gratification when buying something that’s on sale. 

As a freelancer, competing on price is a losing strategy. You want people to pick you because of your added value, and that value is worth something. If you truly subscribe to this idea, you can’t just apply it to your own business. You have to “live it” in all areas of your life. So, stop buying things just because they’re cheap.

Only yesterday, I threw out all the heavy catalogues of the major pro audio retailers without even looking at them. Apart from being a waste of tropical rain forest, I have everything I need to run my business. I’ve carefully collected my equipment over time. I gave myself an opportunity to save up, to gather info, and to invest some of my profits in quality gear that will last for many years.

I’ve said it before, and I will say it again: Buying cheap can be expensive. Buying quality saves you money in the long run, and a whole lot more.

3. Choose the Planet over Price

I already mentioned the catalogues I had to throw away. But that’s not the only thing that concerns me.

In the past few decades, there’s a growing tendency among manufacturers to make things that only last a few years, and cannot be fixed. As a result, we end up with landfills of trash, gradually leaking toxins into the environment. Nature’s resources are depleted, and people in low-wage countries are exploited as they make the shiny trinkets we end up throwing away.

This process will go on for two reasons. One: because the environmental and societal impact of a product is hardly ever a part of the price. Two: because people like you and me keep buying them.

I’m a strong believer in creating change through spending. If I want local businesses to grow; local farmers to go organic, and make a decent living, that’s where I’ll have to spend my money. If I want manufacturers to create products that are environmentally-friendly, that last, and can be repaired, I have to show them there’s a market for those products.

Now, if you believe that you alone can’t make a difference, talk to Tara Button. Tara is Founder and CEO of BuyMeOnce.com. She was so frustrated with our throw-away culture, that she went on a global quest to find things that are built to last, and that are made in an ethical, green way. Her website features kitchenware, furniture, clothes, shoes, beauty products, and other things. Yes, you’ll pay more upfront, but you’ll save money over time.

4. Don’t spend all your money on objects

If you’re still itching to spend (or borrow) Black Friday money, do you really have to spend it on “stuff”? How fulfilling is that, ultimately? Once the rush of owning something shiny is over, there’ll be a new void, waiting to be filled. And what void are you filling anyway, and for what reason? Do you want to impress your colleagues?

To borrow a phrase from a weight-loss coach:

“Until you know what you’re truly hungry for, you’ll never be satisfied.”

We’ve been shoving waste under the carpet for decades. Is that a legacy you can be proud of? You don’t have to agree with me, but I think mother earth would be better off if we’d shift from an economy of “more and more,” to an economy of “enough is enough.” 

As we’re celebratingThanksgiving, can we just stop for a moment, and be grateful for what we already have? Can we also spend some time giving, instead of getting? For so many charities, your (tax-deductible) donation is not a want, but a need.

If you insist on giving yourself a gift, why not buy a gym membership (and actually use it)? Why not enroll in a cooking class that teaches you to make healthy meals?

Treat your family to a trip abroad, allowing everyone to broaden their horizons, and to recharge those batteries that have been going non-stop.

Gift yourself to your community by volunteering! Science has proven that it is better to give than to receive. So, be selfish, and share your time and talent with those who need it. It will truly transform your life!

I’ll tell you one thing:

It will beat leaving Thanksgiving dinner early, so you can stand in a stupid line for Best Buy.

And if Black Friday shopping is a cherished family tradition you want to break with, you know there’s only one way to do it:

Go cold turkey!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Has VDC Gone Too Far?

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Freelancing, Money Matters, Pay-to-PlayLeave 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 Strikwerdain Articles, Freelancing, Internet, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play4 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 Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Money Matters, Social Media6 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 Strikwerdain Articles, Gear, Money Matters, Reviews, Studio5 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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4 Things I Wish I Would Have Known Before I Got Into Voice-Overs

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Gear, Money Matters20 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 Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Freelancing, Money Matters7 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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