Money Matters

What Pay-to-Plays don’t want you to know

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play 19 Comments

Imagine an international marketplace where buyers meet suppliers.

This business environment offers the broadest and most colorful selection of products from all over the globe. A fast and furious bidding process determines which supplier will sell to which buyer at what price.

Can you guess the name of this marketplace? Could it be eBay? Voices.com? Voice123, perhaps?

TEAMWORK

Let me tell you what’s unique about this particular auction environment.

Read the rest of this story in my new book. Click on the cover to access the website and get a sneak peek. Use the buttons to buy the book.

Making Money In Your PJs cover

Send to Kindle

Should amateurs be ousted from voice-over sites?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Internet, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play 19 Comments

Which orchestra was voted the best symphony orchestra in the world?

Eminent music critics asked themselves that same question at the end of 2008. They narrowed the list down to twenty. A year later, the renowned British music magazine “the Gramophone” published the results.

The famous Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra ended up in second place, but who came first? The New York Philharmonic? The Wiener Philharmoniker? The Chicago Symphony?

AN EARFUL

I just spent a few hours on-line listening to YOU… my colleagues, my competition, my inspiration. It was both frightening and enlightening. As I was clicking away part of my day, I was amazed by a number of things, going from Pay-to-Play to Pay-to-Play. This is what I found:

1. Anyone can sign up for a voice-over site these days, on three conditions:

a. you have to have a voice
b. you have to have a credit card
c. you have to have a computer and a microphone

2. Fifty percent of the advertised ‘talent’ can’t interpret a simple script;

3. The same people don’t seem to know the first thing about recording either;

4. Amateurs who put themselves out there as voice-over pros, have a lot of guts, coupled with a deadly mix of unrealistic expectations, a lack of experience and the funds to invest in a pipe dream;

5. As I wrote in another article, foreign voices are often not as advertised. We still have Flemish speakers posing as Dutch talents, German speakers who are really from Austria, and Australians pretending to be Americans. Whatever happened to quality control?

6. Don LaFontaine is still very much alive, but he goes by many different names these days. Or is just every other American male voice-over talent riding on his coattails as they are trying to emulate the master?

PAYING THE PRICE

I must say that I don’t envy the voice-seekers who have to sift through over one hundred auditions to find the perfect voice for their low- or no-budget project.

Then again: they asked for it, so we shouldn’t feel too sorry for them. It’s the price you pay when you’re asking every Tom, Dick or Harry to tape a custom demo for that cheap frying pan you’re trying to sell on late-night cable television. You often get what you pay for… frying pan, voice-over talent, it doesn’t make a difference.

What do I make of all this, you may ask? Well, here’s what I think.

Having a microphone, a MasterCard, a laptop and a fantasy doesn’t mean one should be allowed to join a professional site, no questions asked. We have websites for amateur dog breeders, amateur sports people, amateur musicians… why not design a site dedicated to amateur voice-over artists? I bet you’ll make a lot of money in the Odesk-market segment. It could be a kind of Bargain-Bodalgo.

Don’t get me wrong. Hobbies are wonderful things. My neighbor takes great pictures, but he wouldn’t dare to advertise himself as a professional photographer, nor should he. National Geographic would immediately show him the door.

A friend of mine is not a bad trumpet player, but if he were to audition for a real job in the music industry, he would never make the first cut (and he knows it). Apparently, those stringent standards don’t seem to be in place in certain segments of the voice-over industry. Why not?

THE PROBLEM BEHIND THE PROBLEM

As long as some sites make most of their money through subscriptions, more members means more money. It’s a business model, not a charity. It’s a model that essentially values quantity over quality. The only way to go, is to grow.

Let’s be honest. The voice-over market is pretty much saturated at this moment. You don’t need a degree in economics to realize that a greater supply in a weakened market can only mean one thing: tumbling prices.

The best way to speed this process up, is to have suppliers engage in a furious bidding war. Darwin would have named it: “Survival of the Cheapest”. Isn’t that exactly what is happening? And if you don’t believe me, why is it so hard to buy products that are not “made in China”? Before we know it, all of us will be replaced by IVONA speech synthesis technology. It’s almost as good as the real thing and I bet it’s a lot cheaper.

NO CURE NO P(L)AY

If it were up to me, I’d rather have a performance-based No Cure No Pay-system in place. Out with the premium, platinum and titanium memberships. From now on, voice-over sites should get paid when I get paid. And the only way I get paid, is when voice-over sites do their job and connect me to reputable voice-seekers that are ready to pay reasonable rates.

Perhaps that will make the Pay-to-Play’s more accountable and selective in terms of whom they’re willing to represent. Perhaps that’s the way to separate the wheat from the chaff. Let the dabblers do their thing. As long as they stay in their own league and stop messing with my market.

PROFESSIONAL STANDARDS

Secondly, I’d like to see these websites publish and uphold certain professional standards. Accreditation comes from the word ‘credo’, which means “I believe“. Although related, ‘credo’ is not the same as ‘credit’.

Our belief in someone’s talent should be based on professional principles, instead of on the spending limit on their credit card. So, let me ask you this:

1.In your experience, are you aware of any professional standards that are promoted and actively upheld by Pay-to-Play sites?

2. If the answer is “yes”, are you happy with these standards, and are they well-advertised and implemented?

3. If the answer to the 1st question is “no”, do you think that voice-over sites should adopt, publish, promote and maintain certain standards?

4. Should talents be denied membership, if they don’t meet certain basic criteria of professionalism?

5. Would it make sense to create a special category for amateur voice actors, or even a dedicated website? Or do dilettantes have no business being in our business?

6. What’s the best and most fair way to compensate P2P’s for their services? A subscription fee? A percentage of  what you’re making for a particular job?  A combination of both?

AND THE WINNER IS…

One question remains.  For that, we return to the quest for the best symphony orchestra in the world. The votes have been counted. The sealed envelope is opened as the audience collectively holds their breath. And the winner is….

The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra from Amsterdam

Why? Because their standards are higher. After a grueling audition process, the Concertgebouw only hires the cream of the crop; well-trained people playing the very best instruments. No amateur fiddlers. The Gramophone’s editor James Inverne, put it this way:

“It is hardly possible any more to recognize particular orchestras by their individual sound. I think that with some orchestras, and the Berlin Philharmonic amongst them, that’s a bit of a worry. Whereas with the Concertgebouw you always know it’s the Concertgebouw. And I think that’s what has given them the edge amongst our critics.

Maybe it’s occasionally very slightly rougher than what the Berliner Philharmonic can produce, but it doesn’t matter, because they’re like a great actor bringing their own charisma and their own personality to every work, and always giving you the sense of the spirit of the work.”

Now, that’s what I call music to my ears! I’ll gladly pay to hear them play any day!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

My next blog is a little more lighthearted, and I’ve invited Steve Martin, Peter Cook and Cyril Ritchard to add some  fun to the pirate party!

Send to Kindle

Nail ’em to the wall!

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play 2 Comments

Humor and humiliation.

It’s a weird combination and yet, it’s the basis of every slapstick.

Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Laurel and Hardy, they all made us laugh because they made someone else cry. It’s that cake-in-your face humor, the poke in the eye joke and the dignitary forced to parade around town in his underpants that never seems to get old.

Embarrassing people is funny business. Especially if we embarrass those who were born without a funny bone. Sometimes it can be an effective deterrent too.

THE CONTINUING SAGA

If you’ve been following recent revelations on the limited success of Pay-to-Play sites, and the question that started it all What happens to our demos?,” you must have noticed that this storm still hasn’t subsided. Voices.com Stephanie Ciccarelli even wrote a two page “Clarification on the Status of Job Postings” on Vox Daily.

At the same time, voices.com has made changes to their SurePay system to prevent abuse from customers, specifically credit card fraud. And as you know, that’s not the only kind of abuse that’s going on in our industry.

On the LinkedIn Working Voice Actor Group, a colleague wrote about a lead she got from a P2P site. The voice-seeker said they wanted to hire her, but instead they used her scratch track and turned it into a commercial. The next day they had it airing all over the country. The talent never got paid and she only found out about it after friends alerted her when they heard her voice on the radio.

This is what I would like to know:

  • Apart from the bad guys, who should be held responsible? The talent, because she didn’t watermark her scratch track or charge the voice-seeker for stealing a demo?
  • Is the Pay-to-Play site to blame because they were responsible for the lead?
  • Would this have happened had this been a union job?
  • Would this have happened had the talent used an agent?
  • What can be done to make sure other voice-talents don’t fall into the same trap?

 

SCAMS GALORE

Of course trusting, law-abiding citizens like you and me are getting ripped off each and every day. I sometimes do double duty as a translator, and I got burned once or twice by a client writing out a bad check. I ran to the nearest Better Business Bureau and filed a complaint, but all they could do was lower the rating of the translation agency.

However, as a member of Translatorscafe.com (a P2P-style site), I have a not so secret weapon at my disposal. It’s called:

The Hall of Fame and Shame.

This is a members-only area, filled with feedback about unreliable agencies, dirty rotten scoundrels, reputable translators and anything in between. Before I take on a new job, I always enter this Hall to see what I can find. It’s by no means foolproof because not every agency is rated, but I backed out of a job a few times because I discovered that I had been contacted by a bad apple. The thing is: con artists are notorious repeat offenders, and as soon as they are found out, they move on to another unsuspecting victim.

It’s important to note that this Hall is for people on the demand as well as the supply side. Some translators are less talented than others. Some let a computer program do all the work while they are having all the fun. Some miss their deadlines and ‘mysteriously disappear’ from the radar screen. All of that is exposed. Apart from the bad and the ugly, there’s also lots of good stuff going on in the Hall. People sing the praises of interpreters and agencies alike. In that way, the Hall serves as both a carrot and a stick.

EARLY WARNING

Wouldn’t it be great if we had such an early warning system in place in our industry? You can find hints of it on certain sites, but as far as I can tell, there’s no database that’s filled with red flags and smiley faces. There’s no blacklist of known crooks that have stolen our demos, taken our money or conveniently forgot to pay us. Translatorscafé knows who they are. How about Voices.com?

Or are these sites just a funnel instead of a filter? Is this simply beyond their control? Should we just pay them a yearly fee and trust that nothing bad will ever happen? And when it does, are we condemned to fight the thugs on our own? Donna -voplanet- Summers wrote to the working voice actor group:

“(…) you guys chose not to use agents when you joined the P2P’s. You wanted to do it all yourselves, including negotiating, booking, and monitoring your auditions and jobs. P2P’S get you the auditions and you still complain! Save that big 10% you pay an agent to deal with these issues for you. And now you expect someone to jump in and save you from the big bad ad agents? You can’t have it both ways, Talent.”

Is she right? Are we paying the price for not being willing to pay an agent? How about those of us who can’t get one? Agents are highly selective, especially in this economy. And are agents immune to scams? Let’s ask the victims of Bernie Madoff! Steven Spielberg, Jeff Katzenberg and Elie Wiesel all fell for his scheme. I’m pretty sure that all of them had good advisors.

My point is this: we can’t always prevent bad things from happening. Part of this world is still a nasty and dark place. But it’s what we do after the fact that matters. Let’s put something in place that can serve as a deterrent and as a reference. Our weapon: a “Hall of Fame and Shame.” Our punishment: semi-public humiliation!

PARTY TIME

One final thought.

Every year my street has a much anticipated block party. In fact, it’s one of the oldest in the nation that is still going strong. This year’s highlight was not the moon bounce or the Chinese auction. Any idea what was?

You guessed it: it was the dunk tank.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS I wrote this post in 2009 and there’s still no voice-over equivalent of the Hall of Fame and Shame. 

Send to Kindle

Money, Money, Money

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play Comments Off on Money, Money, Money

At the bank I once worked for as a trainer, they had a saying:

“If it’s about money, it’s never funny”

Ain’t that the truth! To that I added my own adage:

“Show me your bank account, and I’ll tell you how you lead your life”

Bankers and accountants probably know more about you than your therapist. By analyzing the way you spend your money, they can tell whether or not you lead a healthy lifestyle, if you’re a good planner, and if you can resist instant gratification.

On blogs and networking sites, money is a popular theme. People want to know how much to charge, whether or not they should spend  $399 on a membership of a particular site, and if it’s OK to discount services… the list is endless.

Recently, I found myself caught up in a discussion about on-line freelance job sites like Upwork and Freelancer.com. These sites can connect you with prospective employers from all over the world, and help you find projects that are not listed on the familiar voice-over casting sites.

However, when I looked at the average bids some of our colleagues put in to get voice-over work, I was stunned. If you think that doing a job for $100 is stretching it, wait until you check out sites like guru.com. Your jaw will drop to your knees, and that’s not a good thing if you’re in the voice-over business.  

HARD TIMES

Some people are justifying this downward trend by pointing at the current economic climate:

“Times are still tough. We all have to tighten our belts and do more with less. The only way to still get work is to lower our fees.”

I’m not buying it! Are you?

As I was paying a stack of medical bills, I had a realization. Do our doctors lower their rates because the economy still isn’t doing so great? Would a nurse take care of us at half price? Is a baker going to charge less for his loaf of bread, or would a plumber be willing to show up and take a 40% pay cut? No way. If anything, their fees increase every year to keep up with the rate of inflation.

Then why do some of us feel the need to put themselves up for grabs in the bargain basement?

Remember: once you’re in there, it’s so hard to climb out. Forget how the economy is doing for a moment. If you subscribe to the notion that you often get what you pay for, why are you selling yourself and your colleagues short? What are you afraid of? A certain two-letter word?

THE HARDEST WORD

Top negotiator William Ury wrote a book called The power of a positive No”. For some of us, that powerful word is one of the hardest in the language. But when we’re saying “No,” we’re asserting ourselves, and we’re affirming our boundaries, whether it’s in an intimate relationship, or in a business relationship.

Being an independent contractor means that we have to have a good sense of what we’re worth. We have to have the guts to stand up for ourselves (and each other), and say “No” when faced with a bad deal. If we don’t, people will inevitably take advantage of us.

Let me rephrase that: If we don’t dare to say “No,” we are allowing others to take advantage of us. Or, as Dr. Phil puts it: “We teach people how to treat us.” Here’s an example.

BRIDEZILLA

Did you know that I used to be a non-denominational wedding officiant? I could set my own fees, and every now and then a newly engaged couple would tell me that they were on a shoestring budget. Before I knew it, they were practically begging me to lower my rate.

In the beginning -when I didn’t know any better- I fell for it big time. I wanted to be liked, and I felt sorry for the couple, as I remembered the times I had to nickel and dime. Guess what… I paid for my lack of backbone, until I had learned my lesson.

First of all, these couples turned out to be the most demanding couples I had ever worked with. I’d give them a finger, and they would ask for the entire hand. I’m all for underpromising and overdelivering, but within reason. If you’ve seen some of the Bridezilla shows, you know that not every princess is as sweet as her Daddy believes her to be.

Secondly, these ‘shoestring weddings’ often turned out to be the most lavish events I’d ever be invited to. Apparently, other vendors had not fallen for the couple’s story of woe. As soon as I had learned my lesson, I encouraged my brides to price officiants out. I’d also tell them that low fees are usually a red flag. It either means that an officiant is just starting out, or that he or she might not be able to offer as many services. I would tell my couples:

“You can’t expect a gourmet meal at a fast-food price.”

When I started to put my foot down, something amazing happened. As soon as I decided to charge a fair fee, people started taking me seriously. Sure, I lost a few weddings due to price, but my limited time on earth is too valuable to have to deal with haggling Bridezillas.  

THE SECRET TO MAKING BILLIONS

Author William Ury recalls a breakfast he once had with Warren Buffet, one of the most successful investors ever. Ury writes: “He confided in me that the secret to creating his fortune lay in his ability to say No.” Buffet said:

“I sit there all day and look at investment proposals. I say No, No, No, No, No, No -until I see one that is exactly what I am looking for. And then I say Yes. All I have to do is say Yes a few times in my life and I’ve made my fortune.”

So, let’s learn from Buffet and promise each other to teach our clients how to treat us.

Say NO to rates and fees that insult your unique talent, your professionalism, your intelligence, and your experience.

Economists tell us that the only way to get out of an economic slump is to start spending again.

If anything, we should start making more, not less.

For that to happen, you need to assert yourself. Or, as I like to say:

“You sometimes have to put your foot down, in order to get a leg up!”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

HERE COMES THE BRIDE
Some of you
Send to Kindle

« Previous   1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10