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:
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.
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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