Personal

The Cost of Having a Conscience: the Ethics of Voice-Over

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Pay-to-Play, Personal, Social Media 22 Comments

The author at VO Atlanta

There is no doubt about it:

The fifth edition of VO Atlanta was spec-ta-cu-lar!

Over 550 voice-overs, coaches, service providers, and VO VIPS gathered for three never-ending days, and had a blast.

The quest for actionable knowledge was palpable. The desire to raise our reputation, our standards, and our rates was on everybody’s mind. The energy was electric!

If you ever doubt that ours is a sharing and caring community, come to next year’s conference, and feel the love of an amazingly talented, supportive, and crazy group of people who are short on ego, and big on brother- and sisterhood. You’ll never feel isolated again, and you will leave tired but incredibly inspired.

I had the good fortune of sharing the stage with Bev Standing, Dave Courvoisier, Cliff Zellman, Rob Sciglimpaglia, and moderator J. Michael Collins for a panel discussion on Voice-Overs and Ethics. Because so many of you weren’t able to be there, and the topic is so important, I want to recap some of my thoughts on the issue. Let’s begin with my take on ethics.

MORALS, MONEY, and ME

In short, ethics are moral principles that shape our lives; beliefs about what’s right and what’s wrong. These beliefs guide our decisions, and help us make choices based on what we think is important and good for us, and for society. Every day we make ethical decisions: at the grocery store, when we decide which charity to donate to, and which party and politician to vote for.

Even though the ethics panel largely focused on rates and business practices, ethics goes further than fees and codes of conduct. In my case, personal ethics impact pretty much every business decision I make. My moral compass makes me ask questions such as:

– Do I really want to work with this client?
– Is this a product or service, political party, or philosophy I want to be associated with?
– Is my business all about money, or can and should it be an instrument for social change?

During the panel discussion, moderator J. Michael Collins asked a number of thought-provoking questions, and here’s number one:

Do talent have an obligation to consider the impact of their pricing on the greater industry?

No one lives on an island. Whether we realize it or not, we’re all connected. Perhaps I see it that way because I come from a very small country. In the Netherlands, the Dutch can’t easily escape the consequences of their actions. The behavior of one company or one person even, can affect society as a whole. 

In the labor market, voice-overs belong to a rapidly growing group of independent contractors. I’ve always thought that this label was wrong. I prefer to call us interdependent contractors. We’re all linked by common causes, and individual actions influence those causes. What do I mean?

For one, all of us are training clients how to treat us.

Every time we quote a job, we’re giving out a signal to the industry: “This is what a job is worth. This is what I’m worth.” If we’re telling clients they can get more for less, we’ve just helped set a standard, and made our job a bit cheaper. Of course you may not see it that way, because it’s part of human nature to downplay the impact individuals have on their environment.

Millions of individual shoppers, for instance, neglect the fact that their plastic bags are responsible for the killing of marine life on a scale that’s unimaginable. But -as a wise man once said- if you believe that individuals have no influence on the system as a whole, you’ve never spent the night with a flea in your bed.

Here’s Michael’s next question:

Do talent have a responsibility to avoid doing business with sites or companies who promote poor pay standards?

As far as I’m concerned, there are many reasons to avoid working with certain companies. Perhaps they’re big polluters. Perhaps they use child labor. Perhaps they are run by a corrupt family. You’ve got to do your homework to find out. By working with those companies and sites, we keep them in business, thus enabling their practices.

Here’s the thing. I’m not going to tell you why and where you should draw the line. If you’re okay voicing a promotional video for a company that makes cluster bombs, that’s your choice. If you’re fine voicing a commercial for a fast food giant, go ahead -as long as you take some time to think about the ethical implications of what you’re doing.

In our line of work, a job is rarely “just” a job.

I will not lend my voice to video games that glorify gratuitous violence. As a vegetarian, I refuse to promote animal products, and as a non-smoker, I will never sing the praises of a tobacco product. For that, I am willing to pay a price. Sometimes it is a hefty price, because throughout my career I’ve had to say “No” to quite a few projects that would have paid the bills for many months.

My voice may be for hire, but my morals are not for sale.

So, do I think we have a responsibility to not do business with companies that rip us off? Absolutely! We’re either part of the problem, or we’re part of the solution.

What are some best practices you would like to see coaches and demo producers follow?

Number one: Don’t guarantee your students any work. ROI is not a given. There are very few shortcuts to success. Coaches and producers should stress that this is a subjective, unfair business. Get rich quick does not exist. They should educate their students about going rates, and professional standards.

Coaches and producers should carefully select whom they want to work with. They should not continue to take money from students that have no talent, or show little improvement, just because they’re paying customers. In my opinion, that’s unethical.

What expectations should talent reasonably have of talent agents and agencies?

An agent or agencies should offer opportunities that play to the strength of a particular talent. They should do the leg work, so the talent can focus on the job. Agents or agencies should also negotiate a decent rate. What else?

A good agent knows you better than you know yourself. A good agent sees potential, and hears things you yourself do not hear. A good agent helps you grow, and goes to bat for you.

A great agent has a unique in, into the market; something other agents may not have. I want an agent to be brutally honest with me, and to shield me from bad clients.

What is a reasonable commission for an agent, or other casting organization to take?

Anywhere between ten and twenty percent.

What are some red flags to watch out for when seeking agency representation?

Agents charging a fee for representation: “I’ll represent you if you pay me 250 bucks!”

Another red flag points at agents that send out jobs every other agent sends out. That’s lazy. Also keep an eye out for agents that are never available, and never give you any feedback.

What level of transparency should we expect from online casting sites, and what does that look like?

A lot has been said about one of the biggest online casting sites operating out of Canada. Last year, Voices dot com (VDC) had a clear and controversial presence at VO Atlanta. This year, the conference organizers determined that VDC was no longer welcome at the table, because it “does not have the best interest of voice talent at heart.” The importance of that decision should not be underestimated, and the announcement was greeted with great applause.

As you may know, I have exposed VDC’s dubious business practices in the past, and part of their problem has to do with a lack of transparency. When asked why VDC would not be entirely open about the way they do business, I quoted psychologist Dr. Phil McGraw, who once said:

“People who have nothing to hide, hide nothing.”

An online casting site must be open about their business practices. Otherwise, it will lose the trust of its members. It has to be clear about the way auditions are offered, and to whom. Is everybody getting a fair chance, or is there a secret system limiting talent, lining the pockets of the people in charge?

A Pay to Play has to be open about how much a client is paying, how much the talent is getting, and how much is taken in by the casting site. That site should listen to feedback from its members, answer questions honestly and without spin, and refrain from double or triple dipping.

Is it reasonable for sites to charge both a membership fee and a commission?

Ideally, I believe a commission should cover all services provided by the online casting site. That way the site has an incentive to deliver, and make sure the talent gets paid a fair fee. Commission rewards positive action. The more a talent makes, the more the casting site makes.

Now, by using the commission model, an online casting site might start acting like an agent, and in the U.S. that’s not allowed. Remember though, that in most countries in the world there are no voice-over agents, so this is not as big of an issue as it may seem to some.

THE UNSPOKEN SIDE OF BUSINESS

During the panel discussion in Atlanta I noticed something I hadn’t noticed before: the ethical aspect of our business is not something we tweet about, or talk about on Facebook. Ethical issues are hard to put into 140 characters, or in a short status update. They often are complex, deeply personal, and seldom black or white.

Some people don’t give ethics much thought. If the money is good, they’ll take the job. Others feel that just because they’re the voice of a campaign, it doesn’t mean they have to agree with that campaign. They see themselves as voice actors, and actors merely play a role. That in and of itself, is a position based on a personal belief. 

One thing I know for sure, and from experience.

Once you decide where you draw the ethical line, you will be tested. Let’s say you don’t like the way animals are treated by the agricultural-industrial complex. The moment you decide not to promote anything having to do with animal abuse, you will get a request to do a commercial for a fast food company.

It’s the irony of life!

WILL YOU JOIN ME?

During VO Atlanta, many colleagues had a breakthrough moment, or even multiple Aha moments. Just look at your social media stream. People can’t stop posting about it. Something in them has changed as a result of this conference. A spark has been ignited, colleagues have become friends, and people no longer feel isolated.

Take my advice, and join that silly gang in 2018 (March 1-4). If you preregister now by clicking on this link, you’ll lock in the very best price. This offer is available until the end of the month.

I hope to see you there, and perhaps we’ll get another chance to talk about ethics!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet: subscribe and retweet!

PPS The inimitable Peter O’Connell has penned a response to this post. Click here to read it. 


VO’s Unfair, so, Grow a Pair!

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Personal 16 Comments

Two pears

The other day it happened again.

In mid-session, I gave one of my voice-over students a simple script for a cold read. I thought he’d be excited to try something new, but this is what he said:

“You’re giving me this now? Are you trying to trick me? You gave me zero time to practice and get ready. I don’t think that’s fair.”

“Wow, I wasn’t expecting that response,” I said. “You’ve grown so much in the last few weeks, I thought you’d be up for a challenge. Maybe we should use this as a teaching moment?”

He agreed.

“First off, just as there is no crying in baseball, there is no fair in voice-overs, or in any freelance job for that matter.”

“What do you mean?” my student asked.

“Let me give you a few examples.

Yesterday, some A-list actor made fifteen grand for saying three lines in a 30-second commercial. Today, a VO-colleague got a nineteen hundred dollar check for narrating a lengthy novel that took her a month to record, and two weeks to edit. Is that fair?

How about this one:

A voice-over veteran auditioned for ten jobs a day for four weeks straight, and landed none of them. Meanwhile, a newbie walked up to a microphone, yelling a few words and hit the jackpot because some producer thought he sounded “raw and authentic.”

Here’s another one:

A fellow voice actor had been recording eLearning programs for the same company for six years at the same rate. His work was consistent, and he never missed a deadline. He came to think of himself as the go-to voice of that company. So, when year seven came around, he raised his rates a little, in line with the increased cost of living.

He never heard from the company again.

Is that fair?

Now, here’s something that happened to me.

A few weeks ago I auditioned for a very prestigious job that would have paid the mortgage for at least six months. At the end, it was between me and another person. Why didn’t I get the job? The reason was simple: the client preferred a female voice.

“Tell me,” I asked my student, “do you think that’s fair?”

He made a noise suggesting a lightbulb was slowly coming on in his head, so I continued…

“The idea of “fair” presupposes that there’s some grand equalizing principle at work in the world that gives equal opportunities to people with similar education, abilities, and experience.

Well, wouldn’t that be nice?

In many ways we may be equals, but that doesn’t mean we’re equal, or that we’re treated as such. What do I mean by that?

In a highly subjective and personal business as ours, things like training and experience count for something, but they will never get you hired. The fact that you’ve taken a few voice-over classes, and you’ve been knocking on doors for a few years, entitles you to… nothing.

The only guarantee I can give you, is that there are no guarantees.

No matter how hard or how long some people study, they’ll never become the next Albert Einstein, Yo-Yo Ma, or Don LaFontaine.

That’s not unfair. It is what it is.

On paper you may be the most experienced voice talent in the room, but a casting director isn’t listening for your resume or seniority. She needs to make her client happy, and the client wants someone who sounds just like his grandfather selling cattle in Kansas during the Great Depression.

Oh… but the specs didn’t say that, right? How unfair!

That’s because the client didn’t know he was looking for that voice until he listened to the top ten auditions.

My student let out a despondent sigh.

“That’s why the audition was a “cattle call,” I joked.

“But seriously, the only “fair” thing about this situation is that to most people in the middle, this crazy business is equally unfair. With “people in the middle” I mean the vast majority of voice-overs who aren’t making millions voicing The Simpsons, but who aren’t new to the business either.

I call them “the Nobodies.”

It may sound derogatory, but I don’t mean it that way. I mean it literally. Not figuratively.

Voice actors get hired for the way they move their lips; not for the way they move their hips. We’re not in the game for our glamorous looks, but for the way we sound. You and I… we are a no-body. Personally, that makes me very happy because slobs like me still stand a chance.

“But what about things like merit,” my student wanted to know. “Isn’t winning something like an Audie, or a Voice Arts™ Award going to open certain doors? That would be fair, wouldn’t it? I mean, winning a prize makes people more in-demand, right?”

“It’s a definite maybe. Let me explain.

Even though audio books have become increasingly popular, most people still think of a German car when they hear the word Audie. Secondly, I’m not sure clients will hire you on the spot because you won some gold-plated statuette they’ve never heard of. Accolades may be well-deserved, but they’re only worth their weight if they mean something to people outside the cheering in-crowd.

Even Oscar winners need to audition again and again, unless a part is especially written for them. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It keeps people sharp and humble.”

I took a long sip of water, and formed my next thought.

“Then there’s this weird phenomenon in our business that’s hard to prove. Let’s pretend people actually know about your reputation as a prize-winning narrator. They might not consider you for their next project because they assume you’ve become too expensive. Do you think that’s fair?

I once thought I could convince a client to hire me by telling them about the famous brands I had worked with in the past. Big mistake! The software giant I was auditioning for, ruled me out once they heard a close competitor had used my voice in 2015. This is what I also learned:

Most clients aren’t very interested in what you did for others, years ago. They want to know one thing:

What can you do for ME, today?

I’m not saying accolades aren’t awesome, but as the Dutch soccer star Johan Cruyff used to say:

“Every advantage has its disadvantage.”

That’s unfair too, but here’s the ugly truth:

In an unregulated business, those in power, and those with the deepest pockets get to determine what is fair.

“Pardon me, but that’s depressing,” said my student. “First of all, you’re giving me a lecture instead of a lesson. Secondly, I thought you were supposed to encourage me. Now I don’t even know if I want to be a voice-over anymore.”

“Language is a wonderful thing,” I said. “Especially if you like to play with words. To the ear, there’s almost no difference between “the termination,” and “determination.” The choice is yours.

If you want to end this, it’s going to be the termination of something promising. If -on the other hand- you really, really want to become a successful voice-over, allow what I’ve just said to strengthen your determination.

Please don’t be a chicken. You didn’t hire me to stick some feathers up your butt, so I could make some money off your dreams. That would be unethical. Just like that coach in the gym, you hired me to take you through a series of exercises designed to build your muscles, and give you a strong spine. You’re gonna need it!

And just like in the gym, change is a gradual process. Some days, your muscles might ache because of the resistance training. Sometimes, it might feel like you’ll never reach your ideal weight because you see other people getting fitter faster. But remember:

You’re on a personal path.

Those scary slim people you admire so much were born with different bodies, and different metabolisms. Some of them go to the gym every day of the week, and stay there for hours. Others like you can only afford to come twice a week for a 45-minute session.

You know what isn’t fair? Comparing yourself to others!

Compare yourself to yourself instead. So, here’s what I want you to do.

Forget the word fair.

Instead, focus on the word Prepare.

My goal is to help you be the best you can be at this moment in time, and to become even better in the future. Forget the silly randomness of this subjective business. You cannot control it. But one day soon, opportunity will knock on your door, and you’d better be ready! That’s the part you can control. Do you get that?”

My student made an affirmative noise. 

“Before we end this session, I want to give you one more piece of advice. I’ve known you for a while, and you’ve told me more than once that you’re a perfectionist. That mindset will hold you back, and that’s why you probably didn’t want to do the cold read I just gave you. Am I right? Were you afraid of making mistakes because I didn’t give you any time to look at the text?”

Reluctantly, my student agreed, and I went on:

“Please listen to this:

Be soft on yourself!

I strongly believe that living is learning. As human beings, I feel it is our job to evolve; to unearth and develop what we’re capable of, and to share those gifts with the world. 

To that effect, life offers us lessons. And unlike in voice-overs, life’s unscripted. You never know what it will throw at you next, so you have to be prepared to catch it while you can. Sometimes you need to improvise, and try things you’ve never done before. Sometimes you’ll get it right, and sometimes you won’t. As long as you keep on learning and growing, you’re doing great. This is what I want you to remember:

No matter how long you train, and how hard you work, you will never be perfect, and that’s perfectly fine. You want to know why? 

Because perfection has nowhere to grow.”

My student’s response was so quiet that I could almost hear the penny drop. Then I said:

“Let that sink in for a while, and let me know what you think, okay?”

“Fair enough,” said my student.

“Fair enough.”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!


Five Questions. Five Answers.

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Personal 3 Comments

As a blogger and somewhat visible voice-over person, there are a few questions I get asked a lot:

  1. – How did you get started in the voice-over business?
  2. – What challenges did you encounter in your career, and how did you overcome them?
  3. – What advice do you have for beginners?

Well, I could write a book about that (and I did), but some time ago, my colleague Peter Kinney O’Connell asked me the following:

1. When did you know you wanted to be a voice-over talent; how did your career begin, and when did your passion for voice-over develop into something professional?

When I was six years old, my parents gave me a Philips cassette recorder. It didn’t take long before I discovered how to capture the sound of my own voice. That’s when it all began. In 1969.

I can still see myself sitting on the front porch with a copy of “King Arthur and the Black Knight.” It would become my very first audio book. Actually, it was more of a radio drama. Around me were all sorts of self-made instruments I used for sound effects. Every character had a different voice. Every voice had a different character.

The tape I made that day was used over and over again, and eventually it broke. What didn’t break was my love for painting pictures with sound.

Eleven years later I auditioned for my first job in Hilversum, the heart of Dutch broadcasting. A public network was recruiting a group of promising teens to start producing radio and television programs. Veterans would coach them in all aspects of the business. I just knew I had to be part of that program.

In the years that followed, that program became part of me. I produced and presented documentaries, talk shows, music specials, and radio plays. The microphone became my best friend. It was the beginning of a career in broadcasting that would take me to a number of national Dutch networks, the BBC, and Radio Netherlands International.

In 1999 I made a bold decision: I would leave Holland and start a new life in the New World. In a matter of months I was represented by Mike Lemon Casting in Philadelphia. My European accent seemed to be a welcome addition to their talent pool. It took me a number of years to build a client base that would sustain a full-time voice-over career, but eventually I became the Chief Artistic Officer of a company I named Nethervoice.

2. What is the one thing you know now that you wish someone had told you when you started out in voice-over?

If someone had warned me that this job could easily turn into an obsession, I still would have applied for it. It’s true though, but it might also have to do with my personality. When I’m passionate about something, I want to immerse myself in every aspect of it, and learn to do it well.

I realized early on that it takes more than a good voice to make a good living in this field. Success needs to be carefully planned. It’s like a flower bed that has to be protected, watered, and fertilized regularly (more about that in Jonathan Tilley’s “Voice Over Garden“).

Because I have a home studio, I’m always at work. It seems ideal, but for someone with an obsession it can be dangerous. It’s tempting to become a boring recording recluse who lives and breathes voice-overs. And you know me… When I don’t read and record, I write about it in my blog.

Life Coaches always advocate finding a balance between work and play. But what if your work is your play? At some point in the day, the headphones have to come off, and we must leave our soundproof studio. Without sunlight, there’s no growth. Our job is just a means to and end.

3. What do you see as the biggest professional or personal obstacle you face that impacts your voice-over business and how are you working to overcome it?

I wasn’t born to toot my own horn. The Calvinistic Dutch preach modesty and frown upon anything that may be perceived as vanity. Why? Because human talents are seen as a gift from God, so we shouldn’t take too much credit for our accomplishments. Many centuries have passed since the spirit of Calvin touched the Netherlands, yet, some of his principles are still present in our DNA, the Dutch National Attitude.

Looking back, I really believe that this mindset kept me from promoting myself properly. But there was something else. Coming from the relatively safe world of broadcasting, I never needed to market myself. I was hired by a network to do a number of jobs, and I left it to the PR people to sing my praises.

After I’d said goodbye to Holland, I had to learn that it was okay to be proud of what I had achieved, and use those achievements to attract business. To this day, I try to do this in a veiled way, by offering advice and entertainment in my blog. That’s where clients and colleagues get to know me as someone with a certain level of experience and pizzazz. Well, that’s the idea…

4. What personal trait or professional tool has helped you succeed the most in your career so far?

One thing that has helped me tremendously is a toolbox called Neuro-Linguistic Psychology. It’s a mix of positive attitudes, beliefs, and strategies to help people design and live the life they’ve always dreamt of.

At the basis of NLP is the process of modeling. I’m not talking about the catwalk in Milan, but about the study of exceptional people: business tycoons, sports icons, therapists, artists, et cetera.

The idea is that these people -in order to achieve something extraordinary- have set themselves up for success. They have carefully (and often unconsciously) conditioned themselves to accomplish amazing things. The question is: How did they do that?

NLP tries to break it down into bits and pieces: the ingredients of a recipe. Once the recipe is uncovered, it can be taught to almost anyone. The finest and fastest way to mastering something is to start teaching it. That’s why I eventually became an internationally certified trainer of NLP, and that’s the reason I started coaching voice talent.

5. In your development as a voice-over performer, what has been the one piece of performance advice that you felt has had the most impact on your actual voice over performance and why?

Here’s my answer:

Find something that defines you, but that does not limit you.

In other words: you want to box yourself in to emphasize what sets you apart, but you want that box to be big enough to attract a wide audience. If you try to be everything to everyone, you end up being nothing to no one.

In my case, I describe myself as a European Voice. Not British. Not American. Not even Dutch, even though that’s my native language. I tell my clients that I specialize in intelligent international narration. For that reason I get to do multilingual projects and jobs that require someone with a more global, neutral English accent. 

WANT MORE ME?

A while ago, my old Radio Netherlands colleague Constantino De Miguel interviewed me about the voice-over business on Voice Over Plaza. If you want to take notes, get pen and paper ready!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice


Don’t Drive Yourself Crazy

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Personal 16 Comments

Road rageDo you remember the time you learned how to drive?

I sure do!

In the beginning it was utterly overwhelming and scary. My hands and feet were supposed to do different things at the same time, and they vehemently refused. When I had to shift gears, I felt the urge to look at that darn stick shift, but my instructor insisted I keep my eyes on the road, and use the mirrors to monitor the dangerous world around me. 

How on earth was I supposed to peek at the dashboard; leave a safe space between my car and the one in front of me; keep a semi-intelligent conversation going, while figuring out where to go without getting everyone killed? 

As my hands were digging deep into the wheel, I couldn’t imagine ever drinking coffee while driving, or listening to a Shostakovich symphony on the freeway. And what would happen if I had to sneeze?

Mind you: at that point I was only doing fifteen miles per hour on a back road. 

“Give it some time,” said my overweight instructor as he wiped the pearly sweat from his impressive forehead. “Before you know it, everything will become second nature, and you’ll love being in the driver’s seat. Now, make sure not to cut off that cyclist on your right. I don’t think my insurance covers fatal accidents. Besides, I just washed the car.”

He paused for a moment, and said: “That was a joke.”

Then he took a long sip from his stainless steel flask. “Look,” he said proudly, “My wife had it engraved. Can you see what it says?” 

“Do not dangle that thing in front of me. I don’t want to see what it says,” I squeaked, barely avoiding a ditch. “I’m trying to focus!”

“It says: 

If everything comes your way, you are in the wrong lane. 

Isn’t that funny?” continued my instructor. “I love a woman with a sense of humor. You know, my first wife was way too serious. She got car sick all the time. That should have been a sign. It was a messy divorce, but it was worth every penny! Do you have any kids?”

At that point I firmly put my foot on the brake, stopping the car so abruptly that our bodies turned into crash test dummies. 

“Please take me home!” I cried. “My mind is in overdrive right now, and this is all I can take. I’m sure your new wife loves you very much, but giving you a flask for work? What was she thinking?”

“It’s just to take the edge off, Mr. Strikwerda. I think you should have a sip yourself. Believe me, you need it. Is it okay if I eat a bean burrito? I haven’t had lunch yet.”

Ten years and two driving instructors later, my mind took me back to this unsettling experience. The brain works in mysterious ways, especially when it consists of dark matter and black holes, like mine. 

I was at a fancy New York voice-over studio, surrounded by self-absorbed nitwits who all believed they were crucial to the success of the recording I was hired to do. It was some stupid script about a new type of air bag, designed for driverless cars (and instructors with engraved flasks). 

As five people argued over some last-minute script changes, I looked at the audio engineer. He nodded knowingly, and whispered in my headphones: 

“Just remember: your meter is running. My meter is running. The longer they take, the more we make.”

In the past, these types of situations would have been as stressful as learning how to drive a car. I didn’t like being in a different environment with different people. Too many things were going on at the same time. Lots of egos, and me feeling inadequate and insecure. My internal dialogue would almost paralyze me with its ugly voice:

“Are they talking about me? What if I make a mistake? What if they hate my take on the text? Why is my mouth so dry? Is it okay to take a bathroom break? And what about that horrendous tongue twister in the third line?”

That was then. This is now. Things have changed.

I’ve learned how to drive while drinking a tall Latte as I listen to the BBC. I even drove myself to New York. In rush hour, and I only got beeped at once. 

Call me Mr. Cool!

I leaned back in my chair, looking at the microphone. The folks on the other side of the studio window were still deliberating, and for some reason I had to think back to a radio interview I just heard on my way to the Big Apple. It was more of a conversation between two pianists, Gabriela Montero and Khatia Buniatishvili.

The interviewer asked:

“Could you describe the moment when the concert hall hushes, your fingers are poised above the keys… Take us inside your head. What are you thinking then?”

Khatia, who is from Georgia, answered:

“Actually, on stage I try not to think, because on stage there are things much more important than just human thinking that happen there. I’m totally forgetting my ego.”

“What about you, Gabriela?”

“I sit down, and I just want to be able to tell stories. That’s really the only thing that matters to me. I want to be able to convey in the deepest ways who we are, as a people; who we are, and what moves us. I want to move the public.”

Listening to these two professional performers, I felt a surprisingly close connection. As I was getting ready for my voice-over, I took a nice deep breath, and said to myself:

This script is my score, my voice is my instrument, and this studio is my stage.

The best thing I can do right now, is to stop thinking about myself. 

I’m a conduit. A storyteller, paid to move people with a message.

I have worked on my technique. I have analyzed the text. I have rehearsed it at home.

I am ready to let it go, and let it flow. 

I am in my comfort zone, and this is just as easy…

as driving a car.”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet.


Here’s What You’ve Missed

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, International, Internet, Journalism & Media, Money Matters, Personal, Promotion Leave a comment
Paul Strikwerda

The author

Happy New Year!

Today I want to start by thanking you for reading my blog. There’s so much content to choose from these days, and I am so glad you landed on this page.

Perhaps this is your first time, so: “Welcome!” Perhaps you’ve been here before. In that case I welcome you back with open arms.

One of the joys of being a blogger is the opportunity to connect with so many people from all over the world. This year I’ll be aiming for 40 thousand subscribers, which is unheard of in my particular niche: voice-overs. Then again, this blog is not just for professional speakers. It’s for all kinds of creative freelancers who struggle with things like finding work, dealing with difficult clients, and getting paid a decent amount.

If these topics interest you, I hope you’ll take a minute or so to subscribe. That way you’ll always know when I’ve written a new post. Just enter your email address in the upper right-hand corner. It will never be sold or used in any other commercial context. I promise!

WHAT DID YOU MISS

Now, we all lead pretty busy lives, and I completely understand that you might have missed a few stories from last year (especially if you’re new to this blog). That’s why I’m starting 2017 by giving you a quick overview of some of the topics I have covered (or uncovered). The headlines in blue are all hyperlinks, by the way. 

One of the things I write about frequently, is the road to success. Does luck play a part in it? Do you have to be at the right place at the right time? Read about it in “The Magnet, the Colander, and the Clay.” In “Secrets From Successful Voice-Overs” I share more top tips with you.

I’ve been freelancing for my entire professional life. Being a solopreneur is often fantastic, and sometimes frustrating. Do you want to know what my pet peeves are? Click here to find out. We might have a few in common!

One of the recurring themes of this blog is me taking a critical look at the field I work in: voice-overs. In “Voice-Over’s Seven Deadly Sins” I explore manifestations of things like Lust, Gluttony, and Greed among voice actors. Not every colleague always appreciates what I have to say. In fact, some think I’m quite the curmudgeon. Read “Call Me Oscar” to find out if that’s really true. 

Another topic I like to write about is how to deal with setbacks. No path to success is ever smooth, and in “Turning Resistance Into results” I take you to my gym for a few unexpected tips. In “The Mistake You Don’t Want To Make” I discuss a list of things freelancers do to sabotage their success, and I tell you about the one thing you must do, to make it in this business.

GETTING PERSONAL

Beginning voice-overs often have to overcome a lack of confidence before they are comfortable selling their services. My story “Do Nice People Always Finish Last?” deals with that issue.

During the course of a year great things happen, and things that are absolutely horrible. When tragedy strikes, I don’t always feel like writing about microphones, challenging clients, or impossible scripts. I feel a need to get personal with my readers, and posts like “The Weight Of The World” elicit lots of responses. 

Not every reader knows that I was born, raised, and educated in the Netherlands. So, what’s it like for a Dutchman to live and work in the United States? You can read all about it in “Those Silly Americans.”

Because I bring a different and more European perspective to the table, some of my readers say that I usually “tell it like it is.” This attitude is appreciated by many, and criticized by some. In “The Cult of Kumbaya” I’ll tell you how I deal with my critics, and with criticism in general. “How I Handle Negative Comments” is another take on how I respond to feedback that is less than positive. If you’re in a business where rejection is the name of the game, I think you’re going to find these stories helpful.

Another theme I like to return to has to do with treating your business like a business. If you don’t do that, you’ll never have the success you’re hoping to have. “Are You In Bed With A Bad Client” tells you what to do when a client is taking you for a ride. In “Is Your Client Driving You Crazy” I write about the clients I gladly gave the sack.

IT’S ALL ABOUT COMMUNICATION

As voice actors we spend a lot of time in one place: our studio. Did you know it could be dangerous to do that? Just read “How Dangerous Is Your Voice-Over Studio” and you’ll find out about the hidden dangers in your recording space, and what you can do about it. 

Since I’m in the communication business, it won’t surprise you that I love blogging about communication. “Filling In The Blanks” deals with a strange habit many of us have that could cost us clients, as well as personal friends. “Don’t Ever Do This To A Client” is a warning about how not to conduct business, ever.

What I love about being a blogger is the interaction with my readers. Many of them respond in the comment section. Others send me emails. The question I get asked a lot is this: “Looking back, and knowing what you know now… what would you have done differently, and why?” Click here to read my answer.

One of the unexpected discoveries I made in the past few years is that this blog is also read by copywriters, freelance photographers, web designers, as well as producers, and potential clients. For them I wrote “How To Hire The Right Voice-Over.” Even if you provide VO-services yourself, you might want to check this one out to get a sense of what clients are really looking and listening for.

If you’ve been following me for a few years, you know I’m no big fan of the Pay-to-Play model. Now, here’s a fun fact. If I want to guarantee myself at least a thousand hits in one day, all I need to do is write about one of those Pay-to-Plays: Voices dot com. “Stop Bashing Voices.com” is a story for those who don’t like what “Voices” is doing, and yet renew their membership year after year.

SELLING YOURSELF

Marketing your services is one of the most important skills you must possess to have a flourishing freelance business. At times you need to educate clients new to voice-overs about the benefits of hiring a professional voice. One way to do that, is to contrast what you have to offer with examples of what I call “voice-overs gone wrong.” If you want to have a laugh and some heart-felt advice, click on “What Were They Thinking?

Another question some people ask me is where I find the inspiration to write a new blog every week. To be honest with you, I often look outside of my own professional bubble. Click here to find out why, and what we can learn from fellow-freelancers who are active in another field.

Many blogs in the blogosphere are highly topical. Writing about current events is fun, but here’s the problem: the content gets outdated rather quickly. I do blog about things that are in the news, but I do my very best to make something that is timely more timeless. A good example is my story about the presidential election in the U.S., and the question of ethics and morality in voice-overs. It’s called “Should We Shoot The Messenger?” It certainly got people talking.

Another example is my blog about Black Friday. Yes, Black Friday is the “hook,” but in reality this is a blog about why people buy, and how you -as a frugal freelancer- should spend your money. “The Most Important Question Of The Year” is another story about the business of being in business. If you want to get to the bottom line, please read it.

MOVING ON

There you have it. That’s my overview. What were your favorite stories?

Looking at the new year, here are 5 things you should stop doing in 2017, and in 2018, 2019, et cetera.

One thing I hope you’ll continue to do, is come back to this blog every once in a while, -better still- every Thursday. Leave some feedback for me. Let me know what you’d like me to write about. Share your experiences in the comment section.

If you enjoy my musings and think they’re helpful, share them with your friends and colleagues on social media. That always makes my day.

And remember: Subscribe to stay in the loop, and get the latest scoop.

Here’s to another fabulous year!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!


How To Handle Negative Comments

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Internet, Journalism & Media, Personal 10 Comments

cyberbullyingDon’t be shocked.

Sooner or later it is bound to happen, and you will ask yourself:

“Was it something I said, something I wrote, or something I did?”

It doesn’t really matter.

The truth is: you probably annoyed someone in some way, and they’re letting you have it.

Online. For the whole world to see.

You wonder: “What do I do? Do I ignore it? Should I retaliate?”

A DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD

Having an online presence is a blessing and a curse. It’s an opportunity to reach thousands of people instantaneously. Sane people, and insane people. Ideally, you don’t want your fans, readers, and potential clients to passively consume your content. You want people to react to what you’re posting. You want the “likes,” the retweets, the comments, and the thumbs up, don’t you? I know I do, and I’ll tell you why.

I purposely push the envelope from time to time, and stir the pot. I welcome and encourage a good discussion, because I want my readers to be moved in some way or another. I want them to be aware of the Emperors in our industry that aren’t wearing any clothes. I want people to think twice before they send their money to some demo mill, or to a casting website selling virtual cattle calls.

I know this doesn’t make me popular in some of the more established circles, but popularity has never been my goal. If anything, I want to empower my readers to become more professional, more business-savvy, and better equipped to run a profitable and ethical freelance business.

THE WIND AND THE TREES

In the Netherlands we have a saying that goes like this: “Hoge bomen vangen veel wind.” It means “Tall trees catch much wind.” In other words: if you choose to put yourself out there, things might get rough. You’re kind of asking for it. Let me give you an example.

You’re probably aware that I wrote a book called Making Money In Your PJs, Freelancing for voice-overs and other solopreneurs. It has an average of four and a half stars on Amazon. Not long ago I noticed that I got my first (and only) one-star review from Jack Dennis, a colleague. I can use Jack’s name, because he chose to identify himself at the end of his review which I appreciate. Here’s what he wrote:

“Don’t believe what you read. Paul is not well respected in the vo biz. In fact, quite the opposite. He has successfully offended many major league elite vo actors and their representatives. He is everything you shouldn’t be to become a major league talent. He embarrasses me and shames the art of voice over. He’s an author, coach and does vo. The basic formula for success is to learn from the best in their respective fields. You can learn nothing from Paul. He is pompous, arrogant and brings nothing positive to the table. He will only take your money and discourage you from going after your dream. This sounds like a nasty review it is. I’m tired of the vo wolves preying on those with a dream. If you want to have any success in the vo world, avoid people like this.”

While I didn’t enjoy reading these words, I do want to thank Jack for inspiring me to write about handling feedback. If you feel hurt, or angry about some of the negative comments you may have received, here’s what I’d like you to keep in mind:

1. Don’t take it personally.

I strongly feel that most comments reveal much more about the commentators, than about what or whom they’re trying to critique. In three words: Perception is projection.

I also think that ALL of us are looking at the world through dirty lenses. Our vision is colored by past experience, and by our values, our beliefs, and our expectations.

Some people feel big when they can make other people feel small. Some are jealous, narrow-minded, vindictive, or simply ill-informed. Some people thrive on creating conflict. Some fall for fake news. Some have been hurt, wronged, or disappointed, and they’ve become cynical, sad, or bitter bullies.

All of this resonates in the background, and influences how people perceive the world and respond to it. Sometimes it takes one small trigger that provides the spark that lights the fire. Some days, you might be that trigger, and you get some dirt thrown your way.

Mind you: I’m not justifying bad behavior. I’m just trying to put it into context.

One more thing.

A person is much more than his or her behavior. The behavior is just the tip of the iceberg. Just as we don’t like to be judged based on one thing we said or wrote, it would be unfair to judge the commentators based on a single, not so positive comment.

2. Substantive feedback is valuable.

It is really hard for most people to have an accurate sense of how they come across, in person, and especially in writing. As you’re reading these words, you can’t hear my tone of voice, and you don’t see my body language. Yet, most communication experts agree that tonality, facial expressions, and posture are way more revealing and honest than the words we speak. That’s why the written word is easily misunderstood (and why some of us use emoticons).

Quality feedback (emphasis on “quality”) is a precious gift. It’s a mirror that teaches us something about how we’re being perceived. It can be a confrontation with a part of ourselves we’re uncomfortable with. That’s why some people become very defensive. They take critique of one small aspect of how they come across, as an attack on their entire personality.

When someone has a few harsh words for me, this what I want to know:

– Is the feedback based on actual observations and facts, or on assumptions and interpretations?
– Is it specific, or does it consist of a bunch of generalizations?
– What is it, that the commentator is missing in order to truly understand me, and what do I need to do better, in order to be understood?

You see, I cannot change my critics. If they’re intent on cutting me down because they have some chip on their shoulder I know nothing about, I cannot help them. Frankly, it’s their problem. Not mine. I can only change myself. I can choose to ignore feedback that has no basis in reality, and to learn from feedback that’s fair. This brings me to the next point:

3. Ask yourself: Is the critique consistent and recurring?

Now, here’s where I start paying attention. If the same substantive feedback is coming back again and again, that’s like an alarm bell. Action needs to be taken. Jack’s one-star review may be annoying, but it doesn’t really worry me. Apparently, he has some bone to pick with me and/or the world, but his review is overshadowed by many positive comments from other readers…. which leads me to my next suggestion.

When fellow-bloggers and writers ask me if and how they should respond to people like Jack, I tell them:

“Don’t.

Let others come to your defense.”

When others advocate on your behalf, it has a much stronger impact than when you speak up yourself. And if you’ve taken the time to develop a considerable following, people will jump in. I guarantee it.

4. How you respond to feedback, teaches you about you.

Just as most comments reveal a lot about the commentators, how you respond to those comments tells you something about yourself. If you’re a people-pleaser, you probably want to be liked, and you avoid conflict. A critical comment may feel like a slap in the face. 

A few words of advice:

– It is impossible to please everyone, all the time. It’s also unhealthy!

– You are not perfect, and you don’t have to be, to be liked and loved.

– Receiving feedback is different from being rejected. It’s information, and you decide what to do with it.

– Always consider the source of the feedback. You can’t reason with unreasonable people.

– You cannot control the comments, but you can control your response.

5. Comment carefully.

If you happen to have a sharp online tongue, bite it!

If you have something to say, don’t hide behind an anonymous online identity. Own your ideas. Be accountable. Only cowards operate in the dark.

Be aware of the incredible power of words. Using strong language to provoke a response is not a game. It is not funny. It is beyond rude, and it is dangerous. Cyberbullying has led to suicide.

Never respond when you’re angry or under the influence. Realize that what you say about others, says a lot about yourself. Do you want to be known as a considerate and kind person, or as a jackass?

Online comments have a long shelf life. Something you wrote in anger, might come up in searches years after it was written, and may even cost you a job.

If you have very strong feelings about a person’s opinion or actions, why not send him or her a private message? Be polite. Be thoughtful. Be reasonable.

As Patrick Stokes once said: “You are not entitled to your opinion. You are only entitled to what you can argue for.”

DEALING WITH NEGATIVITY

If you’re a fan of British television, you may have heard of Nadiya Hussain. She’s the most recent winner of The Great British Bake-Off on the BBC. Nadiya walked into the show wearing a headscarf, and became one of the most well-known Muslims in the UK. Now she stars in her own television series, she wrote a number of books, and she even baked a birthday cake for the Queen.

In a recent interview, Nadiya was asked:

Many Muslim women have to endure anti-Islamic slurs in the street – has that ever happened to you?

Here’s what she said: 

“From the moment I’ve worn my headscarf, that almost comes with the territory. I don’t feed negativity with negativity. I receive it with a smile and I say: “You know what? I don’t need to balance the scales.” For me that’s really important because my foremost and most important job is my children. I live in a lovely country. I don’t want my kids to grow up with a chip on their shoulder. Those negative people and those negative comments are the minority, and I don’t let that dictate how I live my life.”

I agree with Nadiya. Never sink to the level of the person you’re responding to. Don’t become what you despise. It’s a sure way to fan the flames, and it will stain your soul. 

Language can be used to help, heal, or hurt.

The choice is yours.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!

PPS Have you ever received nasty comments? How did you handle it?


4 Ways To Get From Good To Great

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Personal 11 Comments
the author singing in a choir

The author singing in a choir

Being a successful voice-over.

It has a little bit to do with having pleasant pipes, and lot with other factors. Some of those factors can be influenced. Others are beyond our control.

A few days ago, one of my students had an interesting question for me. Professionally speaking (pun intended, always), she was doing okay. Clients loved working with her. Business was getting better every year. Yet, she felt that something was preventing her from reaching that proverbial “next level,” and she couldn’t figure out what to do.

“Paul,” she said, “I’ve read all the books on voice-over I could find, including yours. I follow the best bloggers. I listen to podcasts, and I watch videos on VO. What am I missing? I seem to be stuck doing the same thing the same way, getting the same results. How do I move forward from here?”

“What you’re really asking,” I said, “is how to get from good to great. Am I right?”

“Absolutely.”

“Well, the first thing you have to realize is that growth is a gradual process. You don’t expect a seed to bloom the next day, do you? We all grow in different ways at different speeds.

People can teach you new techniques, but it may take a while before those techniques become second nature. However, at your level, techniques are usually not the issue. Other things are holding you back. One of the main obstacles to growth is familiarity. You said it yourself.”

“What do you mean?” my student asked.

“You can call it coasting, if you like. You just told me that you were stuck doing the same thing the same way, getting the same results.

Secondly, you seem to be looking for inspiration and guidance within your field. Again: you’re focusing on the familiar. You already know how to interpret a script. I think you can handle a microphone. You don’t better yourself by doing things that are easy and predictable. That’s like working out without weights.

If you really want to grow as a person and as a professional, you’ve got to look elsewhere. That’s where the challenges will be, and challenges will help you grow. Now, here’s the amazing thing: growth in one area of your life will positively influence growth in other areas of your life.”

“Any suggestions as to what I should do?” my student asked.

“Plenty,” I said. “Here’s one:

1. Start leading a healthy life.

A year ago, one of my students was in bad shape. He was overweight, he sat in his recording booth for long periods of time, and his diet had way too much sugar, fat and salt in it. It affected his mood, his self-image, and his self-confidence. I could hear it in his voice. His breathing was very shallow, and he sounded insecure.

One day, he decided he had had enough, and he joined a gym. He exercised at least five times a week, and started shedding pounds. In the kitchen he began using fresh, organic ingredients, and he filled his plate with fruits and vegetables. Within two months, he felt more energetic and alive, and people told him he looked better.

His renewed energy and enthusiasm could be heard in the way he spoke when the mic was on, and when the mic was off. Because he felt better, he performed better, and he began booking more and more jobs. For him, leading a healthy lifestyle was the key that brought him to the next level.

Here’s another thing you can do:

2. Learn a foreign language.

Forget tongue twisters and other vocal exercises. Start studying that language you’ve always wanted to learn! A new language is a doorway to a different culture. Every language has its own rhythm and melody. You’ll even start thinking differently when speaking a foreign language.

Becoming bilingual benefits the brain. It improves cognitive skills that don’t even have to do with language. Bilinguals are better at solving puzzles, better at staying on task, and being bilingual can even delay the onset of Alzheimer’s.

One of my students decided to learn Italian at a later point in life. It took her a couple of years, but after a few vacations near Florence, she was almost fluent. As a bilingual voice talent, a whole new market opened up. She claims that she feels much more flexible, vocally speaking, and that it has become easier to do all sorts of accents and character voices.

But there’s more you can do to take your career to the next level:

3. Join a community theater or improv group.

Voice-overs are usually so stuck to their scripts… they have a hard time letting it go, and letting it flow. When you’re forced to memorize your words to perform on stage, you not only train your brain. You also learn how to speak your lines, instead of reading them. It’s also a very physical experience.

Rather than talking into a microphone, you get to inter-act with real people who re-act to what you’re saying. You get instant feedback on how you land your lines, not only from your fellow-actors but from the audience. You have a whole new way of getting into character.

Improv classes are a great way to learn to loosen up, and become conversational. Name one client who doesn’t ask for a “conversational read”?

I remember an audio book narrator who was stuck in his studio most of the time. Some people thought he was anti-social. When he finally joined an improv group, he made new friends who thought he was witty, funny, and charming. Two years later, the introvert has become quite extroverted, and his loyal listeners love the way his audio book characters bounce off the page like never before.”

“Those are some great suggestions,” said my student. “Is there anything else you’d recommend?”

“Well, how about you…

4. Take singing lessons, and join a choir.

Voice-overs talk for a living, yet too many of them have no clue how to use their voice. Their range is limited, their diction is off, and after half an hour, vocal fatigue sets in. Using your voice means using muscles, the thyroarytenoid muscles and the cricothyroid muscles to be exact.

Taking singing lessons is like going to the gym for your voice. You’ll learn effective warm-ups, proper pronunciation and projection, and you’ll train the muscles needed to produce sound. After a while, your voice will become stronger, clearer, more resonant and more flexible. Your listening skills and timing will improve, and you’ll be able to infuse your scripts with musicality.

On top of that, you’ll have yet another reason to get off your behind, and rehearse with your choir. There’s nothing like the sweet sensation of voices blending, creating harmonies and melodies that soothe the soul.

The main thing to remember is that everything is connected. The change you make in one area of your life is likely to affect other areas of your life.

Whatever you decide to do, you are the goose with the golden eggs, so you had better take good care of yourself.

Step out of your comfort zone, but be patient. It might take a while before you see the payoff of your pursuits.

Eventually, things will fall into place in a most surprising and delightful way. 

Take it from me, the exercising, multilingual, singing amateur stage actor!”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!


Should We Shoot The Messenger?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Journalism & Media, Personal 22 Comments

Hillary and DonaldA painful, and often embarrassing war of words is finally over.

America has voted. The people have spoken. 

We have a president-elect, and his name is Donald J. Trump. 

Some of us are elated.

Some of us are scared. 

Some of us are asking ourselves: “How the heck did this happen?”

Now, before you think this is yet another analysis of the election, let me stop you. This is primarily a blog about people’s voices and their meaning, and that’s why you and I need to talk. 

How so? 

Because some of us were foot soldiers in this war of words. Soldiers of fortune. 

I’m referring to the voice actors who used their talent to spread the message of a particular party. Masterful manipulators, hand-picked and hired to move hearts and minds. 

That’s not some dark, political point of view. It’s the ultimate purpose of our profession. Clients hire voice actors when they have something to sell, someone to entertain, something to teach, or something to preach. 

If we do our jobs well, we lift dead words off the page, and bring them to life in the most impactful way possible. Sometimes that way is a seductive whisper. Sometimes it is a battle cry about making a nation great again, or stronger together. As long as that cry is believable, people are buying it in droves. 

It’s all about influence. 

A masterful audio book narrator can create wonderful worlds and characters that become an intimate part of the listener’s experience. Well-delivered catch phrases from commercials become engrained in our culture. 

As the French say: “It’s the tone that makes the music,” and in my mind, it’s the voice-over who sets the tone, whether it’s someone like Sir David Attenborough, Gilbert Godfrey, or Morgan Freeman.   

Who can forget the way Ed McMahon delivered his “Here’s Johnny,” for almost thirty years? Who doesn’t remember Don LaFontaine’s booming “In a world…”  or Don Pardo announcing Saturday Night Live? 

As you’re reading these words, you probably heard their voices inside your head, and hearing these voices put you in a certain state of mind, if only for a moment. 

Don’t worry. That’s perfectly normal. 

Voice-overs infuse scripts with meaning and emotion. A talented voice actor can “play” the words, the way a musician turns notes into music, and music into art. 

Now, at this point I can hear some of you say: 

“Slow down a little. What’s the big deal? Words are just words! You can’t get wet from the word water. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.”

Well, you’re wrong.

Words are powerful weapons. Depending on who delivers them, and how they are delivered, words can act as a placebo, or as a poison.  

The word Kristallnacht isn’t “just” a word. Kristallnacht opens up a burning world of meaning; a world of anti-Semitism and intolerance that lead to the killing of six million innocent people. 

Words are loaded. They can be used to divide, to incite, to help, and to heal. Words drive teenagers to suicide, and words inspire religious fanatics to murder and maim. 

Words are never “just” words. 

Now, subscribing to the idea that words have power, has implications for all of us, and especially for professional communicators.

Whether you’re a copywriter, a speech writer, a politician, or a voice-over, as a paid manipulator of language, you have the responsibility to ask yourself: 

“To what aim am I doing my job?”

“What are the potential consequences?” 

“Would this project I’m involved in make me proud?”

Under what circumstances would I refuse to work on something?”

“Is this job an opportunity to make money, to make a difference, or both?” 

Some of my fellow voice-overs answer those questions in a very pragmatic way. They tell me:

“Don’t shoot the messenger. I’m only an actor. I’ll say whatever they pay me to say.” 

To be perfectly honest with you: I struggle with that attitude. Especially when it’s about causes I strongly believe in, I find it hard to separate personal from professional ethics. For instance, as a lifelong vegetarian, I would never butcher my beliefs to promote the consumption of meat, no matter how much they’d pay me.

At the same time, I’m not going to make the mistake of confusing an actor with his or her character. If someone portrays a member of the KKK in a movie, I know it doesn’t mean he supports the KKK. Perhaps that actor wanted to play this role to warn the world about the dangers of the Klan. 

So, to help myself deal with some professional, moral dilemmas, I find it useful to make a distinction between fiction, and fantasy. As a voice actor I give myself permission to play a despicable person if it’s non-fiction (and with certain limitations). But I would never record a promo video for the KKK. 

And what about political ads? Would I be willing to help a political party influence the voters?

It depends.

Although many political ads sound too good to be true, I put them in the category of non-fiction. They’re a tool in a battle to influence the masses. They’re instruments of propaganda. Based on my personal morals, and knowing what I know about the power of words, I would never lend my voice to a message I don’t believe in, regardless of the paycheck. 

My voice is for hire, but my integrity is not for sale.

I understand that you may draw the line differently, because your values and beliefs are different from mine. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t discuss ethics in our profession. Our voice is a powerful instrument of influence, that can be used for many purposes, good, or bad. 

One last thing.

Let’s not confuse doing a great job with doing what is right. 

It is very much possible to do great work for a terrible cause. Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph des Willens, is a cinematic masterpiece of propaganda about the 1934 Nazi Party Congress in Nuremberg. Her documentary Olympia about the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, was groundbreaking.

Sometimes it’s not the work itself that’s being criticized. It’s the purpose it serves, that matters.

With that being said, it’s time to adjust to a new reality. 

Our election is over.

To many observers, this wasn’t an election about issues. This was an election about emotions; about who was best at selling a message to the masses. 

A painful, and often embarrassing war of words has finally come to an end.

Or is it just beginning?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!


Lessons From Bridezilla and Buffet

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Money Matters, Personal 3 Comments

BridezillaAt 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 casting site, and if it’s OK to discount services… the list is endless.

A while ago, I found myself caught up in a discussion about online freelance job sites like Upwork and Freelancer.com. These sites can connect you with prospective clients 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 of the people I was debating were justifying these low rates by pointing at the current economic climate:

“Times are tough. We all have to tighten our belts and do more with less. The only way to still get work, is to put in a bid a client can’t refuse.”

Well, I wasn’t buying it. 

Are you? 

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

Then why do some of my colleagues 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 at 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? Rejection by means 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 word is one of the hardest in the language, but it can also be very powerful. 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

You may 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 want the entire hand. I’m all for underpromising and overdelivering, but within reason. If you’ve seen some of the Bridezilla shows on TV, 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 been invited to. Apparently, other vendors had not fallen for the couple’s story of woe. As soon as I had learned my lesson, and I started charging fair fees, I would say to my couples: 

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

When I finally dared to put my foot down, something amazing happened: people began taking me seriously! Sure, I lost a few weddings due to price, but my limited time on earth was too valuable to have to deal with haggling Bridezillas.

Now, let’s move from the wonderful world of weddings to the business of investing.

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 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 money, not less. 

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

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

Take that, Bridezillas!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoiceHow 

photo credit: cheriejoyful Brides by CherieJPhotography via photopin (license)


Forget Regret!

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Personal 15 Comments

Big Hair“Non, je ne regrette rien,” Edith Piaf famously sang.

“No, there’s nothing I regret.”

If there ever were a top ten of useless, disempowering emotions, regret would be at the top of my list.

What’s the last thing you’ve regretted, lately?

Not jumping at an opportunity? Not buying a piece of equipment while it was on sale? Not making up with your partner? Not following up with a potential client?

Regret almost always starts with a question, and ends with a perhaps:

“If only… then maybe….”

“If only I had kept my big mouth shut, then maybe…”

“If only I had studied more, then maybe…”

“If only I had left the house earlier, maybe…”

Questions like that are the mental equivalent of Chinese water torture. They can haunt people until the day they die.

TURNING THE CLOCK BACK

A mother who lost her only son during the war in Iraq still believes she should have done more to talk him out of a military career.

A father believes that if only he’d shown a bit more affection, his daughter wouldn’t have become addicted to drugs.

A colleague is still upset about an important audition she lost two weeks ago. She’s sure she didn’t get the job because she couldn’t keep her nerves under control.

Here are the facts.

The producer and director thought my “nervous” colleague came across as confident. They agreed she is a very talented actress. She just didn’t have the right looks for the part.

The girl with the drug addiction thinks the world of her father. She’s in rehab, and takes full responsibility for her own actions.

Nothing could have convinced the soldier-son not to enlist. He felt a strong inner urge to serve and protect his country, and he died saving the lives of his brothers-in-arms.

HARSH JUDGEMENT

Regret is problematic, because it’s based on a harsh evaluation of the past, using the knowledge and notions we have now.

One of my friends was showing me her high school pictures, and she constantly commented on how “stupid” she looked in those “dumb clothes” her mother made her wear. She hated her glasses, and called her sixties haircut “horrendous.” Browsing through her yearbooks, pretty much every girl looked like her: big hair, weird clothes, and yes… huge frames. At that time, this was perfectly normal, even fashionable.

It’s unfair and irrational to explain or judge the past using today’s standards.

There’s another reason why we should not use what we know today, to look at yesteryear.

Present knowledge is unhelpful because it’s limited, and colored by personal ideas of how we think this world works or should work. Present knowledge doesn’t change the past one bit. It just changes our perspective.

My actress-friend was sure that her nerves caused her to lose the audition. She couldn’t be more wrong, and yet she kept on beating herself up about it day after day. It was a terrible waste of time and energy over something she couldn’t do anything about anyway: her looks.

THE PAST IS NO MORE

Regret makes you a prisoner of the past, and of your own imagination. 

The past is a given. It’s dead. What has happened, happened, and cannot be undone (the word “regret” comes from the French “regretter,” and originally meant “lamenting over the dead”).

What’s really underneath the notion of regret, is a hidden desire to control. In a universe of infinite possibilities, we secretly want the world to go one way. Our way. This manifests itself through simplistic “if this… then that”-thinking.

“If you work long and hard enough, then you’ll be successful.”

“If you treat people with respect, then they will treat you with respect too.”

“If you lead a healthy lifestyle, then you’ll live a long life.”

That would only be fair, wouldn’t it?

We all know that life isn’t fair. It just is. Bad things happen to good people, and the other way around.

The mother whose son went to war, wished she’d been able to make him change his mind. She blamed herself for failing to do that, and it made her miserable. At an unconscious level, she even felt responsible for his death, and she couldn’t shake the feeling.

I would tell her the following.

If you want to get over regret, you have to learn to accept one thing:

It’s hard enough to control oneself, let alone someone else.

People have free will, and make choices based on their ideas. Not yours.

In order to give up regret, you have to acknowledge that you’re very rarely in complete control. Without total control, you can’t be held 100% responsible for everything that happens as a result of what you did or didn’t do. Cause and effect are complicated things. 

To some, that notion is freeing. To others it is frightening.

The other “thing” we can’t control (and it’s a biggie) is the future. We can prepare for it, but we can’t bend it to our will.

Life is never a simple game of “if this”…. “then that…” The future is wide open, and filled with endless probabilities and possibilities. Literally anything can happen. It’s impossible to plan for millions of scenarios, and even the best plans fail.

MAKING CHOICES

We can only make decisions based on the information we have access to at a given point in time. The trouble is: we rarely have enough information. The info we do have might be twisted, incomplete, or downright inaccurate.

Had we known better, we’d done better, but we didn’t, so we couldn’t. 

Our actions are also directed by the resources we have available at the moment of decision. By resources I mean things like our level of intelligence, education, maturity, experience, skill set, our attitude, and what we’re physically capable of. On some days we’re more resourceful than on other days.

Whether you like it or not, life is an ongoing series of judgment calls, where a split second can mean the difference between a positive outcome, and a not so positive outcome. Quite often, these judgement calls aren’t even based on logic. We might act out of anger, frustration, guilt, or love. Some days we’re Mr. Spock. Other days we act like Captain Kirk. 

Ultimately, life itself is highly illogical, unpredictable, and random in the way it unfolds.

OFF THE HOOK

Does this mean we’re totally off the hook, and that we’re absolved of any responsibility?

I wouldn’t go that far.

We must stand behind our decisions, and accept that we are human, fallible, and that we’re never alone. Sometimes things work out the way they were planned, and quite often they do not. On occasion we get more than we bargained for, or less than we expected. 

What I am saying is that we should cut ourselves some slack. Instead of beating ourselves up over something we had little or no influence over, we should look deeper.

Sometimes, we have to go through certain experiences that don’t go as planned, so we know better next time. That’s the definition of experience. Instead of regretting what didn’t go our way, we could ask ourselves:

“What has this experience taught me that is positive?”

“What can I do differently next time, to bring about a more desired outcome?”

Once you start doing that, you stop dwelling on the past. You stop playing the blame game, so you can focus on the future.

It also helps to realize that not everything happens for a reason, or for your reasons. And at times, very good things can come out of very bad things. It may just take a while before we’re permitted to see the whole picture. 

So, the next time you feel sad or sorry about something you did or didn’t do, please be kind to yourself. Take a deep breath, and move forward. 

Always do the best you can. Some days, your best will be better than other days. That’s okay, as long as you stay in the game.

I promise you won’t regret it!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

P.S Be sweet. Please retweet!

photo . credit: drdad via photopin cc