Pay-to-Play

Has VDC Gone Too Far?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LOSING YOUR INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY RIGHTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A BIG DEAL

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

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

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

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

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

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

UK Colleague Marcus Hutton explains:

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

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

He continues:

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

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

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

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

The author (R) and Rob Sciglimpaglia

LEGAL OPINION

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

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

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

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

YOUR INPUT

Ciccarelli explains how this change in TOS came about:

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

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

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

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

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

What else is new?

Voiceoverist extraordinaire Philip Banks has this to say to VDC:

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

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

 

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Voices Dot Com is Giving Your Rights Away

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

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

She writes:

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

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

In his blog, VDC CEO David Ciccarelli writes:

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

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

(…)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rob writes in his book:

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

Here’s my take on it. 

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

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

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

I asked VDC’s Michelle Melski:

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

Her response:

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

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

As Rob Sciglimpaglia notes in Voice Over Legal:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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You’re NOT a Professional Voice Over if…

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Pay-to-Play, Personal 6 Comments
headshot Paul Strikwerda

the author

You’re selling yourself short on Fiverr.

You don’t go to at least one VO conference a year.

You can’t fill in the blanc when asked: “Mel who?”

Your website isn’t made by Joe Davis and his team.

You haven’t watched at least five episodes of VOBS.

Your marketing doesn’t include a picture of you with a microphone.

You don’t suffer from GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome).

You’ve never tasted Sweetwater candy.

You’re not afraid of Nancy Wolfsons critique.

You haven’t taken a selfie with J. Michael Collins.

You don’t own an unopened copy of James Alburger’s “The Art of Voice Acting.”

You think recording audio books is a piece of cake.

You’re not showing signs of a sedentary life.

You think you can win auditions by lowering your rate.

You’re tricked into believing that exposure is fair compensation.

You’re an extrovert who doesn’t want to go back to his booth.

You think a Snowball is professional grade gear.

Bob Bergen hasn’t told you to join the union.

You think that Roy’s not your uncle.

You’ve never heard of VoiceOverXtra.

You don’t belong to at least ten VO Facebook groups.

You think celebrity impersonations will make you rich and famous.

You’re convinced a few Pay to Play memberships are all you need to succeed.

You believe having an agent will solve all your problems.

Your life partner has never asked you to “stop doing silly voices.”

You haven’t heard Armin Hierstetter drop the F-bomb.

You believe Don LaFontaine is that man from the old GEICO commercial.

You’re not a WoVO member.

You don’t subscribe to the Nethervoice blog.

You have trouble understanding double negatives.

You don’t take everything I’ve listed with a grain of salt.

 

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Bodalgo Founder Launches voices.net

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, International, Internet, Journalism & Media, Pay-to-Play 4 Comments

Armin Hierstetter

He’s done it!

Armin Hierstetter, the brains behind online casting site BODALGO has launched a new site: voices.net.

It’s been months in the making, but do we really need another voice casting site?

Time for a quick interview.

1. What specifically prompted you to build voices.net?

It was a thought process over a couple of months. Online casting has not really evolved that much over the last decade. Sure, I tried to enhance bodalgo.com by adding bodalgoCall and bodalgoCRM, but the core functionality of all the usual suspects is still the same. So is the concept of all the ones that showed up in the last two years.

2. How does your approach and philosophy differ from other voice casting sites?

It’s not pay to play. And while other new sites to the industry claim that their online casting sites are neither, the reality is: They are. voices.net on the other hand will not take a single cent from the talents. It is the clients that need to pay in order to be able to use the service.

3. Why would they ever do that when they can cast talents online for free on so many other websites?

The major problem with most online casting websites: Way too many auditions for a job! And way too low quality of auditions in many cases (there are a few exceptions, though, bodalgo.com being one of them, I would think). But the major downside: A client has always to wait for the auditions to shuffle in before they get a feeling what to expect. All the p2ps are centered around the audition process. The matching process is not precise enough by design, so many talents get job offers and have the feeling a lot of opportunities are coming through. And when all of them audition, only a fraction will be really relevant to the client’s needs. That’s an issue.

voices.net will completely change that. Even before the audition process, a client can narrow down the selection of potential talents in a very, very sophisticated way that works in real time.

An example: Let’s say somebody is looking for a US English female voiceover for commercial. Also, they want a low pitched breathy voice that sounds mystical. With websites out there, they would have to post a job and hope for the best.

With voices.net, you will be able to first narrow down a selection of talents that exactly fit that description in a few seconds. And if after listening to a few demos you changed your mind and would rather listen to higher pitched demos, it is just a click away.

4. How is this possible?

1. All demos on voices.net are precisely tagged by the talents including language, gender, character and attributes (warm, confident, sexy, passionate, caring etc.). A talent can upload an unlimited number of demos. But: Each demo must only feature one specific recording. It is not allowed to mix different genres or different styles of a read in one demo as the tagging would not be accurate anymore. voices.net does a lot to educate the talents to follow those rules. In fact, I have pointed out quite in the face that breaking the rules will lead to the deletion of a profile. The quality expectations are really super high.

2. voices.net has artificial intelligence built in to determine the pitch of a talent. This is important, because you need to have the same standard across the board. Talents are asked to have a standard demo of their signature voice analyzed as a pitch reference which will be taken as a default value for every further demo uploaded. Of course, if you intentionally voiced a demo higher than your signature voice, you can adjust the pitch tagging manually.

This pre audition filter process takes less than a minute. By listening to most relevant demos, a client can then decide whether he wants to contact a single talent directly or invite a group of talents to audition. For the talent that means: In case of an audition you are not up against a few hundred but up against a pre-selected few.

Maybe it becomes also clear why it is therefore in the best interest of the talents to be as precise as possible when tagging the demos. If they are not, they will end up in the filter results with a group of other talents that are much more relevant. So they will not stand a chance. So you absolutely want to make sure that your tagging is spot on on order to be successful.

So why will clients pay for this? Because voices.net will generate better results in a shorter amount of time.

5. The name of the site is obviously a nudge to a certain Canadian company that has cornered a huge segment of the market. Are you openly challenging them? Do you expect any legal challenges from voices.com since your sites have similar objectives, or has that been sorted out?

Do I challenge them? No. In my book, vcom is mainly a platform for amateurs and bottom feeders. And for companies that do not know that a huge chunk of their budget does not end up with the talents but in the pocket of vcom. voices.net is a completely different game.

Regarding the website name: voices.net and voices network are registered trademarks in the EU. But even if that would not be the case: According to the EUIPO (European Union Intellectual Property Office), “voices” by itself is a descriptive term that cannot be trademarked under EU regulation. If you choose a name like this, you simply have to accept that others might use it well. That’s not what I say, that’s what the trademark office says. Fair enough if you ask me.

6. Voices dot com has spent many years and millions of dollars on CEO and online advertising campaigns. Do you believe your David can beat Goliath at their own game and if yes, why?

First of all: Online advertising hardly works anymore when your objective is to find new clients (not talents). Reason is partly because those ads, for a few years now actually, are clicked more and more by talents looking for platforms they can book jobs from instead of clients looking for talents. Actually, it is the talents that kinda ruin the campaigns that are created to get them jobs in the first place. It’s a bit ironic.

But for voices.net, this will not be that of an issue. voices.net targets top shelf clients that have very high expectations regarding quality. Those companies don’t google “hire voice talent” (which is far fewer searched for than some people think, by the way). Getting those clients excited about voices.net will work best if you actually go to them and present the magic personally.

Will that be easy? No. Not at all. But every of those clients will have a healthy amount of jobs all the time, so if you get only a few dozens of the bigger ones on board, you already have a great base to work from. And because the talents do not pay a cent, I do not feel the pressure to find clients at all costs. It will take time, but I am sure that the path is right.

And if it fails: Nothing to lose for the talents except the time to create the most compelling profile on the planet.

7. Is the investment in voices.net coming out of your own pocket, or do you have any backers?

It comes out of my own pocket. Talking about it: I find it a bit amusing that there is one site out there at the moment that was basically created with membership fees paid upfront by the talents. That’s a pretty interesting stunt I have to say: Building a website and promoting it with no financial risk attached. If it does not work, it was not your money. Not sure though, how all those talents will feel about it when it does not work out¦

8. Who runs voices.net by the way? Is it just you or do you have a team?

Just me. It’s always just me, nobody loves me! [laughs]

9. The only way to measure the success of your new site is by the number of good paying jobs available. You already run an online voice casting site that is sometimes criticized for not offering as many opportunities as e.g. voice123. Shouldn’t you just focus on growing Bodalgo instead of dividing your time and energy between voices.net and your site selling vintage game consoles?

I think how I divide my time is completely my business. The numbers of bodalgo have been growing constantly for a decade now. Yes, there are fewer jobs than with the big “v’s”. On the other hand, the quality of the jobs is much higher. And the number of premium talents much lower. And the membership fee is much lower. Do I need to go on?

What’s more: Talents tell me time and time and time again that they convert many clients into returning clients. They can do so because bodalgo does not “own” the clients. So in a nutshell: bodalgo is doing fine and will continue to do so. And remember: If I present voices.net to new clients that are despite the compelling concept not willing to pay for online casting, there is still the option to promote bodalgo to them. So now I have two great products to bring to the market. I see that as an advantage for the talents, too.

10. Can any voice talent -experienced or inexperienced- sign up for voices.net? Do you have a limit as to how many voice actors you accept? What are your acceptance criteria?

No, absolutely not! The bar will be set extremely high. First, you need to be a pro. Second, your audio quality must scream awesomeness. And even if you are an experienced talent: That might not guarantee that your profile will make it in the end (maybe because of sub par audio quality, maybe because of incorrect tagging of demos, etc). The goal is to identify the best of the best talents available.

I know that this approach will not go down well with everybody, especially when they are rejected, but when you want to create something insanely great, there is no chance to be everybody’s darling at the same time. I hope the talents will understand that and rather work on their skills than blaming me for “playing god”.

11. Best scenario: five years from now, where do you see voices.net?

The go-to place when you are looking for the best voice over talents in the world. For agents, producers, ad agencies, enterprises, casting directors, you name it.

Many thanks, Armin, and best of luck with voices.net!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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How To Fix Sliding Voice-Over Rates

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

Peter Dickson (l) and Hugh Edwards (r)

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

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

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

Click on this link to read Hugh’s article.

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5 Reasons Why You Should Never Become A Voice-Over

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Pay-to-Play 82 Comments

voice talentSo, after my last blog caused quite a ripple effect throughout the VO community, I’m adding some fuel to the fire with what you’re about to read. When it was first published I managed to piss off a great number of people, and I’d love to do that again. That’s why I’m republishing the story below.

If you’re looking for fresh content this week, you’re invited to check out a new category on my website: Reviews

Over the years I’ve reviewed voice-over gear, and I wanted to create a place to bring these articles together. But prepare yourself: I’m going to branch out to other products I have tested, unrelated to voice-over. Click here to get to my first new review. I’m not going to tell you what it’s about. If you’re interested, you’ll find out. Alternatively, keep on reading about…

5 Reasons Why You Should Never Become A Voice-Over

by Paul Strikwerda

 

“Millions of dollars paid out to voice actors globally.”

“Audition for your dream job now.”

“Instant access to amazing opportunities.”

“New job postings every day.”

It sure sounds tempting, doesn’t it? Especially when you’re young, idealistic, and impressionable. It’s the way online casting sites throw out their net, hoping that loquacious people will bite.

Well, bite they do, and day after day an ever-growing army of hopefuls is eagerly looking at their inbox, waiting for the next “amazing opportunity” to arrive. It comes at a price, though. 

If you’re taking part in these online cattle calls, be ready to be milked!

Of course these casting sites won’t tell you that you have to spend between $349 and $399 per year to take part in a crapshoot. They’ll feed you success stories about people who claim to make a six-figure income by winning audition after audition. Anecdotal evidence always trumps independently verified numbers, right?

Believe me: People believe what they want to believe.

So, today I’m not going to give you the golden formula to online voice-over success. Sorry to break the news, but it does not exist. Instead, I will give you a few reasons why you probably should stay clear of this business. I’ll start with the most important one. 

1. The world doesn’t need you.

Yes, you’ve heard me.

We have enough people talking into microphones, thank you very much. What this world needs is less talk and more action. We need teachers, doctors, nurses, and scientists. We need experts in conflict resolution; people who know how to fight global warming, and first responders to natural disasters.

If you want to make a real difference on this planet, don’t hide behind soundproof walls selling stuff no one needs. Get out there and start helping the poor, the homeless, and the ones without a voice. They need you more than Disney does.

2. There’s no money in voice-overs.

The cost of living goes up every year, while voice-over rates are in steady decline. That makes sense, doesn’t it? Even the union can’t stop it. Thanks to online casting services and ignorant amateurs, your voice has become a commodity, sold by the lowest bidder to the cheapest client.

VO has become a game of averages, and here’s how it works.

The bottom feeders choose lowball sites like Elance, Fiverr, and freelancer.com to sell their services for beer money. The top end of the market consists of A-list actors making millions voicing cartoons and commercials. If you’re average, you’re forever stuck in the middle. You have enough integrity to leave the crumbs to the idiots, but you won’t get the big gigs for the big money.

Don’t be fooled by voice-over veterans posting on Facebook how well they are doing. Some of them confided in me that they’re just keeping up appearances. No one wants to hire a loser, so you’ve got to tell the world you’re still an important player. Yay for social media! Everything people post is 100% true. 

3. You are a social being.

Unless you enjoy going to expensive conferences to hear VoiceVIP’s talk about themselves and plug their books, you’re pretty much on your own in this business. I mean, who likes being locked up between the four carpeted walls of a 3.5’ by 3.5’ whisper box all day long?

You have no one to talk to but yourself, and you’ll never see a response from the people you’re supposedly entertaining. If acknowledgment is what you’re secretly longing for, go to a nursing home and read to the residents. Tell stories to kids in the cancer ward. It will make their day, and yours!

The sedentary lifestyle of a typical voice-over is unhealthy for the mind, body, and soul. If you’re an extrovert, you crave contact, and you thrive in the company of others. I can tell you right now that you will curse the day you decided to isolate yourself from the world, just so you could narrate some third-rate novel for a royalty share that doesn’t even pay this month’s water bill. 

4. You’ll spend at least 80% of your time trying to get work, and 20% doing the work.

Voice-overs spend a lot of time being busy without being productive. How rewarding is that? Regardless of what voice casting sites want you to believe, most jobs you audition for will go to someone else, and you’ll never know why. Don’t you love it?

But what about agents, you may ask. Once you have an agent or two, things will get better, right?

No they won’t.

The pickings are slim, and these days, all the agents in North America will send the same bathroom tissue script to every talent with a potty mouth. That really makes you feel part of an exclusive club, doesn’t it?

5. It may take many years before you see a return on your investment.

A voice-over career cannot be bought. It has to be conquered. Slowly.

You may think you’re going to be successful because of your unique sound. Dream on! The only way you’ll stand a chance is if you stop treating your pipe dream as a hobby. This means you’ve got to invest in professional gear and in a quiet place to record. Then you have to get yourself a few top-notch demos, plus a website to tell the world what you’re doing. And this is just the beginning.

Having all of that in place is no guarantee that you’ll make any money with your voice. Thousands of people all over the world are doing exactly what you do, and they are giving up within a year. The only money they’ll ever see is when they’re selling their stuff on eBay. At a loss. 

When you really think about it, you have to be a fool to become a voice-over.

I was foolish enough to choose that as my career, and guess what?

I’ve never been happier!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS If you believe I’m being negative for no reason, you should read 5 awful things nobody tells you about being an actor. Then we’ll talk, okay?

photo credit: Sound Design: ADR Recording via photopin (license)

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

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

the author, enjoying some fresh ocean air

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

Not much.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be better, not cheaper.

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

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

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

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

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

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

That ain’t gonna happen.

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

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

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

What do you say?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Who’s Afraid of Voices dot com?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Pay-to-Play 8 Comments

David Ciccarelli has done it again. We can’t stop talking about his business meddling with our business.

Just look at how many times you see the Voices dot com (VDC) logo pop up whenever someone inadvertently creates a hyperlink to the Canadian website. Hurray, another field day of free publicity for the most pervasive and obnoxious company in voice-over land!

For those who don’t know what the buzz is all about (where were you?), here’s what happened.

On February 25th. Voices dot com announced they’re going to offer synthetic voices to their customers thanks to a partnership with VocaliD. That’s a Voice AI Company (artificial intelligence) in Massachusetts that creates customized digital voices to make sure not everyone who needs an artificial voice sounds like the late Stephen Hawking. These days, VocaliD is making voices for all sorts of things that talk.

Why this partnership? The idea is that new computer-generated voices are going to be based on recordings from VDC voice actors and then converted into synthetic speech engines. This way, a brand can select its own unique voice for their applications.

BIG SURPRISE

When the news just broke, voice-overs responded with shock, fear, and disbelief. Why would VDC be competing with itself by giving clients the option of picking a cheaper artificial voice over a real voice? Is VDC even allowed to use the samples in their voicebank without permission from the talent? Will this put voice actors out of business? Is this yet another nail in our coffin?

Here’s what I think.

First of all, no one should be surprised by this partnership deal. VDC-CEO David Ciccarelli has been consistently clear about his agenda. Like Dr. Evil in the Austin Powers movies, he wants one thing: world domination. He wants his company to be the number one resource for voices on the planet.

Remember that VDC wasn’t founded to make sure all these lovely voice actor people have something to do. Ciccarelli’s main purpose is to turn a profit and to make his company more valuable each and every year. In that respect, strategic alliances like the one with VocaliD make perfect sense. It opens up a brand new market.

SMART SPEAKERS

More and more devices and applications use artificial voices to communicate with their users. It’s much easier and cheaper to make a computer say anything you want for as long as you want. You don’t have to pay extra for retakes or have to hold the clammy hand of inexperienced talent. The public is already accustomed to interacting with these fake voices. Amazon alone has sold more than 100 million devices with Alexa on board.

Now, can VDC simply repurpose the recordings in their voicebank and have VocaliD use them to create synthetic voices without compensating voice talent? Read Article 6 in their Terms of Service:

“any (non-union) work submitted through their platform is subject to the following, “… the Talent assigns to [Voices Dot Com] all right, title and interest, absolutely, to the copyright and other intellectual property in or relating to the Talent’s Non-Union Work Product throughout the world, free of all licenses, mortgages, charges or other encumbrances, unless agreed otherwise by the parties in writing.”

In other words: once you’ve uploaded your audio to the VDC server, you no longer own your recording. VDC does. As WoVo president Peter Bishop put it:

“It is clear that any work submitted to Voices Dot Com can be reused in a manner which VDC deems appropriate, with no further consideration of the talent.”

VoiceOverXtra’s John Florian asked David Ciccarelli for a reaction. He said that the company’s archived recordings are off limits to VocaliD. His vice president of marketing, Alina Morkin, added:

“Voices found on files on our system, whether that’s from a demo file, an audition file, or any other file, will not be used to develop a new synthetic voice.”

To that I say: How do we know we can rely on VDC? What have they done lately to earn our trust? Why does VocaliD need to enter into a partnership with VDC? If they’re looking for fresh voices, there’s nothing preventing them from posting a job on the platform and take it from there. 

If you’re a VDC member and you find this new development as unconscionable as I do, you have a choice to make. Are you going to leave or are you staying? That’s where your power lies. Companies like VDC can only exist because their 500.000 purported users keep them afloat. The paying members are in fact enablers who support a business model that turns your voice into a commodity and takes away your rights to fair compensation.

Don’t you deserve better than that?

BUSINESS MODEL

I’m not saying it’s wrong for VDC to turn a profit. VDC is free to start partnerships all over the world. But what VDC is doing all over again, is selling out the very talent that helps them be in business in the first place. To that, I strongly object.

Let’s address the fear for a moment. Are you afraid that you won’t make any money without VDC? Perhaps you shouldn’t put all your eggs in one rotten basket. If you feel you must go Pay to Play, there are plenty of alternatives. Better still: find your own clients and make sure potential clients know where to find you.

Do you fear synthetic speech is going to put you out of business? I don’t see that happening, yet. It is and will be used for some of the jobs that are now handled by a human. The boring, repetitive jobs. But there’s plenty of fun stuff left that needs a personal touch.

But there’s another reason why I don’t think the synthetic VDC voices of VocaliD will soon be reading audio books to me or will feature in a national commercial. Why? Because frankly, they sound like… synthetic voices. I can’t imagine any major brand going for that. What do I mean?

Click here or click here to listen to some samples on the VocaliD website (be sure to scroll down).

Am I right?

NO BIG DEAL

In the world of AI voices, VocaliD is small potatoes. The real threat comes from the big guns. Companies like Microsoft and Google (click on their names for examples). Their AI voices sound more and more natural every year. Adobe’s VoCo text to speech synthesizer is described as “Photoshop for the voice.” Some of the demos I have seen are pretty scary.

Do I feel threatened by these developments?

In my experience, those driven by fear are often insecure about their own abilities, and perhaps need to up their game to play at the highest level.

What worries me more than the shenanigans of companies like Voices dot com, are the hordes of voice actors who are going along with it without blinking an eye.

Those are the voices that could really use some artificial intelligence!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
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My Most Moving And Miraculous Year

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Gear, International, Internet, Journalism & Media, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play, Personal, Promotion, Social Media, Studio 6 Comments

Paul Strikwerda

Counting correctly, this is my 49th entry this year. Wow!

You may have read them all, or you may have read a few. Anyhow, I’m glad you’re here so I can remind you of the stories you have memorized, as well as the ones you may have missed. As always, blue text means a hyperlink that takes you straight to the story.

Apart from the usual musings about clients, colleagues, and the ins and outs of running a for-profit freelance business, things took a very serious turn some nine months ago. March 26th was the day I almost died. It was hard to imagine that only a few days before, I had been a presenter at VO Atlanta, which I didn’t like, by the way. I LOVED it, and I’ll be back in 2019!

After my stroke, the blog entries kept coming, but I disappeared from your radar screen, so I could focus on my recovery. One of the things I had to work on was getting my voice back, which is not as easy as it sounds.

People going through major, traumatic, life-changing events often ask three questions:

– Why me?

– Why this?

– Why now?

In Life’s Unfair. Get Used To It, I’ll tell you how I deal with these questions. Stories like these are examples of what I’m trying to do with this blog. Many assume that since I work as a voice talent, this must be a blog about voice-overs. That’s only partially true.

For me, the world of voice acting is just a lens through which I observe and comment on the world. When I write about customers, colleagues, and communication, what I really write about is relationships and human interaction.

A story like Filling In The Blanks, is not only a tale about what happens when you start to second-guess what you think your clients want to hear. It’s a story about perception and projection. About making assumptions, and finding true meaning.

In Getting In Our Own Way, I describe two types of voice talents: the narcissist and the masochist. They are two types of people who are very hard to teach. Take a few minutes to read it, and tell me if it only applies to the world of voice acting.

One more example. Are Clients Walking All Over You? is not just about dealing with difficult clients. It’s about how to handle conflict and getting a spine. That’s something many of us struggle with on a regular basis.

Some of my stuff is explicitly written for those who are thinking of becoming a voice-over, and those who are new to the business. When it comes to these people, here’s my general approach: I tell them what they don’t want to hear. As you can imagine, that makes me very popular in certain circles.

Stories like Entitled Wannabees Need Not Reply, Ten Lies Voice Overs Tell, and 5 Reasons Why You Should Never Become A Voice-Over are perfect examples. Bored Stiff, about the unexciting parts of being a VO, is another one.

This December I wrote a 3-part series called Why is doing voice-overs so difficult? (here’s a link to Part One, Part Two, and Part Three). If you ever have the “People told me I have a great voice” conversation with a wannabe, and you’re lost for words, please point them to this series.

Now, whenever I write these cautionary articles, there are always one or two commentating newcomers who still believe I’m trying to denigrate and disparage beginners.“You must be threatened by us,” they say, or “You were once a newbie. Why are you so mean?” It’s as if I personally reject them.

Although I’m convinced The Voice-Over World Needs More Rejection, it is never my intention to spitefully discourage people who are talented and truly committed to becoming a voice actor. In fact, in my blog I give those folks tools and strategies to help them navigate a new career in a competitive market.

Take a story like Surviving the Gig Economy, or 4 Ways To Get From Good To Great. The Secret to Sustained Success is another example. As a blogger I want to warn and welcome my readers to this fascinating but tricky line of work. Not to scare them, but to prepare them. If you don’t get the difference, you’re probably too thin-skinned for this business.

Speaking of business, without customers, you would not have one. Blog posts like Is Your Client Driving You Crazy? or Learn To Speak Like Your Clients were written to help you manage the delicate relationship with the hands that feed you.

In Would You Survive The Shark Tank? I invite you to take a good look at your business to see how well you would do in front of cash-hungry investors. If you want to cut expenses, read Becoming A Frugal Freelancer. If you need to increase sales, turn to How To Sell Without Selling. If you’re struggling with getting fair rates, read Stop Selling Yourself Short.

As a voice-over coach I’ve encountered a common problem that’s keeping talented voice actors from making a good living. They have the right training, the right gear, and promising demos, and yet they’re struggling. Why?

Because they are subconsciously sabotaging their success. They might be stuck in the Perfectionism Trap. They might be suffering from Mike Fright, or they might be held back by other fears. In other cases they are lacking a support system, or they may need some serious rebranding.

This year (like any other year), I could not resist writing about gear. Check out Picking the Perfect Voice-Over Microphone, and Equip Your Voice-Over Studio For Under A Thousand Bucks. Start spending those lovely gift cards during the post-Christmas sale! I know they’re burning a hole in your pocket.

What was my greatest gift this year? I’ll tell you: it was your ongoing support when I needed it most. Thank you for reaching out after my stroke, and for showing me that you’re not just a colleague or reader of this blog, but a true friend I can count on when times are tough.

My recovery made 2018 a miraculous year.

Your help and encouragement have moved me more than words could possibly convey.

I wish you a very happy and healthy New Year!

Gratefully yours,

Paul Strikwerda  ©nethervoice

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Why is doing voice-overs so difficult? Part 2

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Internet, Pay-to-Play, Promotion, Social Media 10 Comments

Click here for part 1

What do you think voice-overs do all day long?

Sit behind their microphones and record the most amazing scripts?

Make $5,000 for a twenty-second commercial?

Narrate yet another best-selling novel?

If you choose to believe Facebook, that’s what voice-overs do. They book, they record, and they cash in. Rinse and repeat.

Unfortunately, that’s a big fat lie, told to the world because no one wants to look like a loser on social media. We’re one happy family, everything is always great, and business is booming!

The truth is, some voice actors are doing really well, and many are not. Going into 2019, even the big names are asked to work for smaller budgets at full perpetual buyouts, while $249 seems to be the new normal for many non-union jobs. Jobs that would easily go for four or five times as much some years ago, perhaps even more.

If you’re just starting out, and your expectations are as great as your ambition, that’s probably not something you want to hear. But let’s be realistic for a moment.

Once you’ve told the world that you are now a professional voice-over, it stops being a hobby or a daydream. In fact, you’ve just opened up a business. Congratulations.

Are you ready to be a business owner?

Just to be clear: the IRS considers an activity to be a business if:

“that activity is carried on for profit if it makes a profit during at least three of the last five tax years, including the current year (…).”

As someone who has coached many beginning voice talents, I’ll be straight with you. Most of my students have no clue what it means to run a for-profit business in a market saturated with wannabes. That’s a huge part of what makes doing voice-overs so difficult!

Think about it. You may be a crazy talented chef in your state-of-the-art kitchen, but if you don’t know how to run a successful restaurant, you’re doomed to fail. If you don’t believe me, ask Gordon Ramsey!

Here’s where the comparison stops. A smart chef has a staff managing all business aspects of his establishment. That way, he can concentrate on the cooking. As a VO-pro you are on your own, wearing many, many hats. You’ve got to get customers in the door, set the tables, cook the food, clean up at the end of the day, and do the books.

On top of that, too many beginners don’t know what they don’t know. Between you and me, they just want to have fun talking into a microphone, and get paid for it.

I’ll let you in on a dirty little secret: most voice-overs spend way more time trying to get the work than doing the work, myself included (and I’ve been at it for over thirty years).

Like any business, you’ve got to attract customers. How do you do that when no one has ever heard of you (and no one cares to hear about you)? Have you thought about that?

Don’t tell me you’re going to sign up for a voice casting website, and expect them to get you work. That big unethical one in Canada claims to have a global network of over 200,000 voice-overs, and most of them speak English. By the time you open that casting email, you’re at the back of a long line of hopefuls who just received the same message. Chances are that the client won’t ever hear your carefully crafted custom demo. I mean, who’s got time to listen to over a hundred auditions?

And you pay for that “privilege”?

Don’t expect an agent to send you work either when you still have to prove yourself. The irony is: agents want you when you no longer need them. As soon as you have clearly demonstrated an ability to make them money, you become interesting. By that time you should already have a portfolio of returning clients giving your business a sustainable basis.

So, if you can’t rely on Pay to Plays or agents, what are you to do? Where do all these fantastic money-making voice-over jobs come from? Do you find them on Craigslist? Do they grow on trees?

Ultimately, finding work comes down to one person: YOU!

Here’s secret number two: it’s easier to have clients find you, than you having to find clients.

To get people’s attention, you’ve got to toot your own horn. That puts you not only in the business of providing voice-overs. You’re also in the business of self-promotion and marketing. Be honest: do you have expertise in those areas? Are you even comfortable telling people why they should hire you?

Let’s be more specific. Do you know how to design and maintain a kick-ass website that’s search engine optimized, and ready to withstand hackers? If not, do you know a reputable company that can build that site for you? Let’s assume you just spent thousands of dollars on coaching, professional demos, equipment, and a good recording space, how much money is left to get you an online presence? Include the money you pay to a company like SiteGround, to host your website.

Building a website is not just about finding an attractive template and some stock photographs. You need someone with serious copywriting skills to sell your services. Someone who can capture your essence and turn it into a brand. You also have to develop fresh content to give visitors a reason to come back to your website. How are you going to do that?

Then there’s your social media presence. Your brand new company has to be on LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, YouTube, and whatever the next big thing is going to be. Each platform has its own rules, algorithms, and format. You’ll have to learn how to shoot and edit decent home videos, how to take striking pictures, and how to write compelling copy that makes you stand out above the crowd.

A word of warning. Once you get started, you’ll soon notice that social media is a monster that constantly needs to be fed with fresh, relevant, and unique content created by YOU. This takes time. Lots of time. If you’re lucky, your content gets picked up. More likely, it gets lost in an ocean of mindless, self-absorbed chatter crying “Look at ME. Look at ME!”

Those who are young and full of energy are used to living life online. Their self-esteem is linked to the number of likes each post receives. To them, creating a social media presence is no big deal. I have coached quite a few people for whom voice-overs is a second or third career. They’re in their fifties or sixties, and to them building a website and being active on social media is intimidating and often frustrating. It’s not what they signed up for when they dreamt of being an audio book narrator.

They want to try it the old-fashioned way: cold calling clients. It’s the most masochistic way to spend your day. With people being sick of unwanted solicitation and robocalls, good luck trying to get past the screener before you can read your script to some teenager who is in charge of promotions. These days, more and more people refuse to answer the phone if they don’t recognize the number. If you love listening to voicemail and pissing people off, go for it!

So, let’s quickly recap. Why is doing voice-overs so difficult?

Last week I told you it is hard to sound natural in an unnatural situation, and to act as if you’re not acting. You need much more than a great voice to make it.

Today we talked about running a business, finding work, and self-promotion.

Next week I’ll add another layer: dealing with constant uncertainty.

Be certain to check it out!

Click here for part 3.

Paul Strikwerda

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PPS Bob Souer, one of the nicest people in the voice-over community, has had a tough year. He has asked for our help to turn a corner and move ahead. Through the years, Bob has supported many of us with his wisdom and insight. Now it is time we support him and his family. Please visit his GoFundMe page, and give what you can give. Thank you!

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