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Are Your Ears Driving You Crazy?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Personal 11 Comments

Man covering both earsSome movies go deeper than others.

Especially movies about submarines.

The Hunt for Red October and Das Boot are two of my favorites, but since Netflix came out with The Wolf’s Call, I love the genre even more.

Of course this only has a little bit to do with me being able to take my new Dolby Atmos® sound system to its limits.

The Wolf’s Call (Le Chant Du Loup) is about Chanteraide, a French submarine technician known for his “Golden Ears.” With just a few seconds of audio, he can detect the make, model, and nationality of another vessel. In times of a nuclear crisis this is a good ability to have.

I’m not going to spoil the movie by telling you the plot, but if you like tense scenes in small quarters and the future of civilization being at stake, I have a feeling you’re going to enjoy this French production.

I watched the movie while no one else was in the house, and the realistic 3-D surround sound effects put me right in the middle of the action.

In a way, the main character of this movie reminded me a bit of myself. I spend most of my days in closed, darkened quarters, listening carefully to my students, my colleagues, and to my own voice.

My ears are used to picking up every sound, every pop, every crackle, every bit of mouth noise, every breath, every sign of high frequency sibilance, and low frequency rumble. 

I wouldn’t be able to do my job without my “golden ears,” but here’s the problem:

I CAN’T TURN THEM OFF!

Perhaps it’s just me, or perhaps it’s a side-effect of what I do for living. Having worked in radio and doing voice-overs, my ears have become super sensitive. Some may call it professional deformation, a physical or psychological condition stemming from years of working in the same profession.

Here are some of my annoying symptoms:

– I’m avoiding big movie theaters because I usually find the sound too loud (especially the trailers). And when I go to see an IMAX blockbuster I bring ear plugs.

– I’m staying away from social situations where loud music is playing, and people have to yell to make themselves understood (e.g. the annual NYC VO Christmas Meetup).

– I don’t go to restaurants where the music is loud or live. Americans named it the number one most bothersome aspect of eating out. According to Zagat’s 2018 survey of dining trends, loud music outweighs the usual suspects of bad service and high prices.

By the way, there’s a handy app helping you to monitor sound and find quiet eating spots called SoundPrint.

– I hate fireworks. It’s become legal in Pennsylvania to buy a wide variety of noisy firecrackers, Roman candles, and bottle rockets. However, it’s illegal to set them off within 150 feet of an occupied structure. Of course no one cares.

This year the fireworks noise in my neighborhood started weeks before July 4th, and it’s still going on. Every time I hear a loud bang, it startles me, and my heart rate jumps through the roof.

KILLING ME SOFTLY

But it’s not just the volume of the sound that bothers me. Lately, I cringe at softer sounds as well. For example, I find the smacking noises of people eating close to me thoroughly annoying. Someone gulping loudly on a beverage disgusts me. I loathe people chewing gum with their mouth open.

The other day, I was sitting next to a guy in a hospital waiting room who was exhaling very audibly through his snotty nose. I had to sit elsewhere and ended up next to a man who put his earbuds in, and began listening to booming hip hop. Aargh!

Of course there were tons of kids playing beeping games on their irritating tablets, mothers talking trash on their cell phones, and TV’s blasting the latest terrible news. It’s the ideal environment for healing to take place, don’t you think?

LOSING HEARING

The trouble is that we’ve created a noisy society where people have grown accustomed to a certain decibel level and have learned to tune out unwanted sounds. Or -in case of a younger generation- they’ve lost part of their hearing and they don’t know it.

I’ve noticed this when coaching teenagers and people over sixty. When I point out some of the noises I hear in their audio, they are incredulous because they don’t hear what I hear. It’s not because they won’t, but because they can’t! I have to show the pops and clicks on the soundwave to them, otherwise they don’t believe me.

Anyway, my ears seem to be fine, and what I am experiencing may be the result of selective sound sensitivity syndrome, or misophonia (literally: hatred of sound). It’s a disorder in which certain sounds trigger emotional or physiological responses that some might perceive as unreasonable given the circumstance. According to WebMD…

“Individuals with misophonia often report they are triggered by oral sounds — the noise someone makes when they eat, breathe, or even chew. Other adverse sounds include keyboard or finger tapping or the sound of windshield wipers. Sometimes a small repetitive motion is the cause — someone fidgets, or wiggles their foot.”

BETWEEN THE EARS

According to recent studies, misophonia is a brain-based disorder. Researchers point to a disruption in the connectivity in parts of the brain that process both sound stimulation and the fight/flight response. It also involves parts of the brain that code the importance of sounds.

Just to be clear: misophonia is not a psychiatric disorder. It is a complex sensory disorder that impacts the brains ability to process information.

I can tell you this: having had a stroke certainly disrupted my brain in a major way. It still reaches sensory overload pretty quickly, and has trouble processing information. That’s why it’s not safe for me to drive a car. At the same time, I also believe my ears have been trained to be sensitive to sound and to detect anomalies.

In other words, it’s a blessing as well as a curse.

If you recognize this sensitivity to sound and you feel comfortable sharing this with the world, please add some comments below so people like me know we’re not alone.

If you have some of the same symptoms, you might want to check out Misophonia International, a resource website developed by two sufferers of misophonia. In the U.S. there’s also the Misophonia Association, an organization revolving around education, advocacy, research, and support.

I think I’m coping with what my ears tell me by using an avoidance strategy. If I have to go to public spaces that are known to be noisy, I take my headphones and listen to my favorite podcasts, such as the VO Boss and the VO Meter. It’s my way of tuning out the environment.

On other days, I just have to watch one of those fabulous submarine movies.

How about Down Periscope or Operation Petticoat?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Help! I Want My Child To Be a Voice-Over

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Personal 4 Comments

Skyler & her dad

It started some six, seven years ago, when one of my agents put out a call I’d never had before:

“If you have a son or daughter who’d like to audition for a commercial, please get in touch as soon as possible.”

Now, I’m not one of those dads who’d like his offspring to follow in his footsteps, but my daughter Skyler had shown some potential.

As a baby, we took her to New York where she modeled for a Fisher Price catalogue, and everybody commented on how easy-going and cute she was. I had to agree, and not just because I was her father. I looked around the dressing room. Compared to all those whining model-babies with their whining model-mothers, Skyler was an angel.

Like me, she was an early speaker and reader, she was musical and outgoing, and she did well in the company of adults. And like me, she had a mind of her own.

When she was two years old, she began reading the letters and numbers on license plates in our neighborhood. A year later I took her shopping at Target, and a green plant had fallen off the shelf, making a mess in the middle of an aisle.

When she spotted it, Skyler exclaimed: “Look Daddy… aRUgula!”

A sweet old lady came up to us and asked: “How old is your daughter?”

Before I could respond, Skyler said: “I am THREE years old,” holding up three fingers.

The lady said: “I’ve never seen such a thing. A three year old who knows what arugula is…”

“It’s my favorite vegetable,” answered Skyler with a smile.

As a toddler, Sky loved to sing and dance and didn’t care who was watching. At Musicfest in Bethlehem, folk singer Dave Fry performed, and asked if any kids would like to join him. Guess who was the first one to run to the stage?

When a magician was doing a show at our library he needed an assistant for one of his tricks. I don’t have to tell you who volunteered. Until her shy teenage years, my daughter was up for anything.

So when my agent was looking for a kid to audition for a commercial, I asked ten-year old Skyler if she was game. She looked at the script and said she’d give it a try. Prior to that moment, she had never recorded anything other than a few improvised songs about an imaginary creature called “Meep.”


When Skyler began to cold-read the script, it became immediately clear that she had no idea what she was doing. That wasn’t her fault, because I hadn’t prepped her. She read the conversational script in a monotone murmur, as if she was reading in class.

Gone was the spontaneous, playful child I was hoping to hear. She had no idea she was expected to speak the lines as a kid telling peope about Food Angels in no more than thirty seconds. What made it even worse was the fact that she couldn’t stand still in front of the microphone, and I could hear every breath and bit of mouth noise a child is able make.

When she was done, she looked at me with a very proud smile, and it seemed like she was ready to walk out of the studio after a job well done. “Not so fast, Sky,” I said. “We need to work on a few things before I can send this to my agent.”

“What do you mean?” she asked. “I read every word on the page. What’s wrong?” “Well, that’s the problem,” I said. “You READ the text but this is meant to be SPOKEN, as if you’re making it up on the spot.”

“But I would never say it that way,” said Skyler. “These words are weird.”

I looked at her and said, “I completely understand, but the trick is that you have to make them your own, even if you would never talk like the girl in the commercial. Let’s practice a bit, shall we?”

Her next take was a lot more animated but completely overacted with unnatural highs and lows. She looked at my expression and said: “I did what you wanted me to do, but I guess it’s still not good?”

“It’s more lively, and yet it doesn’t sound like the Skyler I know.”

She frowned.

“So dad, you want me to pretend I’m someone else, and you want me to be myself? That doesn’t make any sense.”

I bit my lip.

“Sweetie, I’d love it if you could bring a bit more Skyler into that character, if you know what I mean. And please, stay in front of the microphone. Don’t touch it. It’s very expensive.”

“Okay, I’m going to try it one more time, and then I’m done, alright?”

“We’ll see about that,” I answered, hoping she’d be right.

She wasn’t.

Eventually we went over the script line by line, and every time she tried it, she lost more of her confidence and energy. What was supposed to be a quick and fun father-daughter thing, turned into an hour filled with frustration.

I could see Skyler was ready to give up and start crying.

“You know what we’re going to do, Sky? Let’s take a fifteen-minute break and do one more take. That’s going to be the last one, I promise.”

When we came back to the studio she stopped me. “Dad, I’d like to do this myself. Can you please wait outside?”

“Of course,” I said. “You know what to do to start the recording, right?” She nodded.

Thirty minutes later she walked out. Exhausted, but satisfied.

“Papa, I’m going to go up now. Have a listen. If you think it’s any good you can send it over. If it’s not, just delete everything. I’m done.”

No matter how it would sound, I was proud of her.

I said to my wife: “I think she’s learned a life lesson today. Just because something is hard, doesn’t mean you give up, and Skyler is no quitter.”

Weeks later there would be another lesson.

“Hey dad,” asked Skyler, “Did you ever hear back from that audition I did?”

“No honey. I didn’t, and that usually means they picked someone else.”

“Why?” Skyler wanted to know.

“Most of the time they won’t tell you, sweetie. You’ll only hear from them when you book the job.”

“So I’ll never know what I did wrong?”

“Here’s what’s important, Skyler. Even if you did your very best (which I know you did), they still may pick someone else. That doesn’t mean you weren’t any good. It could mean they decided they wanted a boy instead of a girl, someone younger or older, or someone with a different voice. Sometimes the director’s kid gets the job.”

“That’s not fair,” said Skyler.

“I know, Sky. But as long as you know you did the best you could do, you can hold your head up high and you just go on to the next audition, and the next one, and the next…”

I could almost hear her think. Then she said:

“Is that what you do all day, Daddy?”

“Pretty much, Skyler.”

“Well, I never want to do that!” she said emphatically.

Over the years my agents kept coming back with auditions for my daughter, but because she didn’t show any interest, I didn’t bother her with it. I had reconciled myself with the fact that she’d never talk into a microphone again.

Skyler’s seventeen now, and in a year she’ll go off to college. She loves Panic at the Disco, Coldplay, and Dan and Phil. She writes for and edits the school paper, and loves social media and hanging out with her friends.

You may remember that I’m one of the announcers at the Easton Farmers’ Market, the nation’s oldest continuously running outdoor market. I was scheduled to be there during Father’s Day weekend, and I asked if Skyler wanted to join me. She immediately said yes, and offered to make a playlist of songs we could play around the square.

When we put all our equipment together, the sun came out, and the crowds began to arrive. On a good day, thousands of people visit our market between 9:00 AM and 1:00 PM. When the first song was playing, I turned to Skyler and said:

“Are you up for some announcing?”

Skyler at the market

“Absolutely!” she said. “What do you want me to do?”

“Anything you like, sweetie. You pick.”

For the next four hours we alternated making announcements as a Father-Daughter team, and Sky turned out to be a natural! She slowed her tempo down so it would sound clear through the many speakers around the square. Her young, melodic voice brought a welcome spark to the market as did her fresh choice of music. “They’re playing all the songs I like!” said one of the shopping teenagers.

“Can you come again?” asked the market manager at the end of the day.

“I’d love to!’ said Skyler.

This Saturday, the Easton Farmers’ Market celebrates its 267th birthday with special activities and cake for everyone.

And right in the middle, promoting all the vendors, and introducing the music will be my beautiful daughter.

The girl whom I thought would never talk into a microphone again.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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What’s Luck Got To Do With It?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Personal 14 Comments

One of my friends -let’s call him Tim- is stuck in a nine to five job he hates with every ounce of his being. He’s seriously overweight, so that’s a lot of hate.

I’ve tried to be helpful by being a considerate, patient listener, but last week it became clear to me that Tim is very invested in staying miserable.

It may sound twisted, but having something to hate means Tim can blame his misery on something he perceives as being out of his control. If he can’t control it, he can’t change it. That’s the idea.

Here’s my prediction: as long as Tim keeps blaming others for his woes, he’ll never be happy. For him to feel better, other people or “circumstances” would need to change, and that is unlikely to happen.

CREATING CHANGE

Between you and me, if I had a magic wand that could suddenly transform people into becoming moral, thoughtful, compassionate, selfless contributors to society, I’d go to every prison, school, addiction center… even the White House, and I would wave that wand.

The truth is that we cannot make other people do or believe what we think is in their best interest if they don’t see it that way. It’s the reason why countries are at war, marriages break up, friendships fail, and why psychotherapists are still in business.

I think Tim could benefit from seeing a therapist, but remember, he says there’s nothing wrong with him. The rest of the world just sucks. As you can imagine, Tim hasn’t been fun to hang around lately, especially since he’s added another poisonous emotion to his repertoire: resentment.

Not only does he hate his job, he also resents the fact that people like me love what we do for a living. Sorry Tim, but I make no apologies. I enjoy dealing with clients from the solitude of my home studio. I’m happy to use my voice to educate people about new medical treatments. I’m thrilled to help companies and organizations share their message with the world. I wish everyone had a job as fulfilling as mine.

GOOD FORTUNE

I’m not going to give up on Tim, though. He’s a good man going through a bad time. Been there. Done that. What rubs me the wrong way, however, is the thing he keeps on repeating every time we talk:

“Paul, you’re so lucky. You’re so lucky to have a job like that. I wish I was as lucky as you are.”

Tim is telling me something he’s not saying. He’s revealing how he believes the world works. It’s something I’ve heard many, many times when I tell people about the joys of doing voice-overs for a living.

Those who call me lucky don’t see my success as the result of hard work, but as the effect of good fortune. The gods must be smiling upon me as I count my lucky stars. I simply showed up at the right place at the right time with the right people, and everything fell into place. My goodness, what on earth did I do to deserve this?

This notion is strengthened by the fact that people who are good at what they do, make it seem easy. Look at famous athletes or musicians. If you make something look or sound effortless, it must mean that what you do requires little effort, education, experience, or talent.

HAVING A KNACK

Talent is another tricky one. It’s something you’re supposed to be born with, so: lucky you!

Let’s conveniently forget how long it takes to shape a diamond in the rough into a precious jewel. You’ve got to nurture nature. I’ve seen insanely talented people get nowhere because they’re lazy and arrogant. I’ve also seen moderately talented people make it big thanks to hard work and an attitude of humility.

To tell you the truth: professionally speaking (pun intended) I don’t feel lucky. I feel accomplished.

Me being where I am in my career is the result of carefully planned and executed steps that started way back when. It is the result of my choices and my actions. That’s where Tim and I differ.

Tim sees himself as a victim of circumstances. He feels he has no choice. I see myself as the creator of conditions that pave the way to success. In my mind, I always have a choice, as long as I am willing to learn, be flexible, and take action.

FEELING PRIVILEGED

Looking back at my life, I think there were only two things that have stacked the deck in my favor that made me extremely lucky:

The country of my birth, and what family I was born and raised in.

Those two elements are part of the tragic unfairness of life. We don’t get to choose where we’re born and into what family. But it does not have to define our destiny either. Getting a head start doesn’t mean we’ll beat everyone at the finish line. Some rich kids end up in the gutter and some poor kids run multi-million dollar companies. Who and what is to blame and why?

We can’t change where we were born, and from what gene pool we came into being. The rest is pretty much up to us if we choose to embrace that responsibility. That involves making a choice between cause and effect.

Do you wish to lead your life like Tim, who is letting things happen (effect), or do you want to be the one making things happen (cause)?

If you’re convinced things are randomly happening to you, Lady Luck is your best friend. If you believe you are the prime instigator of change in your life, preparedness is your best buddy.

ACTIONS AND RESULTS

After years and years on this planet, I have a feeling that things don’t just fall into our laps, although it may certainly seem that way. I believe that we -consciously and unconsciously- are putting things in motion by what we do and fail to do.

All these things lead up to one moment where preparedness meets opportunity. Not by chance but by choice. That opportunity leads to other opportunities, and to something we eventually call a career. Connect the dots backward, and you’ll see what I mean. And if you’re still not convinced, start reading (auto)biographies of people you admire.

If Tim wants to be happy, Tim needs to change. He needs to stop blaming his food for making him fat. He needs to stop blaming his boss for making him miserable. Tim needs to let go of his anger, and turn resentment into appreciation.

If he wants his life to change, he has to change.

Tim and I need to talk.

I’ll have that conversation with him tomorrow.

Wish me luck.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Do You Want To Scratch My Back?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Money Matters, Personal, Promotion Leave a comment

handshake with moneyIf you’ve been active as a voice-over long enough, you know one thing:

Finding a job usually takes much longer than doing a job.

It stinks, doesn’t it?

Let’s be honest. We all love doing the work, but we hate getting the work. That’s why we’re willing to pay online companies good money to send us leads. Every morning we simply open our inbox, and there they are: golden opportunities that are sent out to hundreds, if not thousands of hopefuls just like you. Welcome to the land where $249 a pop is the new normal!

FYI: if you can book five jobs out of a hundred auditions, you deserve a spot in my Hall of Fame. Just remember that no one is paying you for those ninety-five unsuccessful auditions that took hours and hours to record. But auditioning is such great practice, isn’t it? You’re definitely getting better at not being selected.

THE WAY TO GET WORK

What else can you do to get clients? If you like bothering people who don’t want to hear from you, try cold calling. Especially in winter. I know how much you love being interrupted at work or at the dinner table by some stranger, so why not do it yourself?

You could also build or buy a mailing list and start emailing people unwanted newsletters touting your accomplishments. No one has ever done that before, right? That’s why the spam folder was invented.

Perhaps an agent could jump start your career. Agents know people who know people. And they’ll only take you on board once you’ve landed the jobs you were hoping to get through them. Isn’t that ironic?

So, how about this? Your colleagues have contacts. Lots of them. Why not ask your VO friends to recommend and refer you to their clients? It doesn’t cost you anything, and sharing is caring! You don’t even have to be polite about it. Just ask. We’re all in the same boat.

PS If colleagues refuse to refer you, you can always raid their LinkedIn connections and Facebook friends, and spam them asking for help. Make sure to sound like a desperate dabbler.

You may shake your head in disbelief, but that’s how pretty much every week I am approached by people I don’t know, looking for jobs I don’t have. Yesterday, I received a short email from a colleague offering me 10% of whatever she will make, if she lands a job based on my referral. This could be a goldmine, people!

A MORAL MAZE

Not so fast!

There is a good reason why professionals like lawyers, realtors, accountants, and therapists have adopted codes of conduct, specifically prohibiting them from taking payment for referrals. It is considered to be unethical.

Look at the definition of bribery:

“An act implying money or gift given that alters the behavior of the recipient”

Do you really think you can buy my opinion and influence my behavior by offering me a bounty? Is that how you think I operate? Give me one reason why I shouldn’t feel insulted!

If I were motivated by money, I wouldn’t even be in the voice-over business. Take it from me: You will never do your best work for the love of money. Your best work is always a labor of love and never the result of greed.

Here’s my bottom line:

A referral needs to be earned, not bought.

I owe a huge part of my business success to unsollicited referrals, and I am frequently asked to recommend colleagues. For those recommendations I get paid handsomely.

Before I tell you what I receive in return, you must know that I take my referrals very seriously. You see, the fact that I will recommend a specific person reveals as much about me as it does about the person in question.

One can usually judge someone by the company he or she keeps. When you pass the name of a colleague on to someone else, you put your reputation on the line. So, how do you go about it?

A REFERRAL STRATEGY

For starters, never refer a person you don’t know. When you’re thinking of recommending someone, I want to ask you the following question:

How do you know that this person is good at their work?

I’ll give you four options to choose from:

  1. See – You need visual evidence (e.g. You have to watch them do their work)
  2. Hear – You need to hear them (e.g. listen to their demo)
  3. Read – You need to read about them (e.g. a review, an endorsement, a website)
  4. Do – You have to work with them to get a feel for how good they are

The answer to the question “How do I know that someone is good at their work?” is called a Convincer Strategy, and depending on the context, most people will have more than one answer.

My next question is:

How often does a person have to demonstrate that they’re good at what they do, before you are convinced?

  1. A number of times – e.g. Three or four times
  2. Automatic – You always give someone the benefit of the doubt
  3. Consistent – You’re never really convinced
  4. Period of time – It usually takes e.g. a week, a month or longer before you can tell if someone’s really good

The last thing you need to be aware of is your frame of reference:

  1. Internal – No matter what anyone says about her, only you can tell whether or not she’s any good
  2. External – A source you trust recommended her, and that’s good enough for you

It’s quite common for people to have an internal frame of reference with an external check, or the other way around. If your frame of reference is completely internal, no one will ever be able to convince you of anything. If it’s completely external, your opinion will be totally dependent on what others have to say.

By the way, we all use the above criteria in different situations, but most of us are not aware that we do.

REWARDING REFERRALS

Referring people can be very rewarding. It’s an essential part of being in business and staying in business, as long as you do it for the right reasons.

Let’s say you landed a gig as a result of my recommendation. In that case I demand that you pay me back… by doing the best job you can possibly do. As one of my teachers used to say:

“If you look good, I look good, so you better make me look good!”

Secondly, don’t send me any money or gift cards. You booked the job because you ticked all the right boxes, and you deserve it. I don’t take any credit (or cash) for that.

And please, if you insist I deserve a percentage of your fee, take your ten percent and give it to a worthy cause.

Pay it forward.

That’s the key to making the right referrals!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Please refer someone else to this blog by retweeting this story, and “liking” it on Facebook.

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Dealing With Your Deepest Insecurities

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Personal, Promotion, Social Media 4 Comments
Caitriona Balfe

Caitriona Balfe

What’s the biggest social media mistake you can make?

It’s this: not using social media to your advantage.

What’s the second biggest blunder?

Mistaking social for selling.

One of my older students admitted that she was intimidated by social media.

“Paul,” she said, “I don’t know where to begin, what to do, or how to do it. A year ago I didn’t even own a smartphone. Now I’m supposed to be on it all the time. I hate talking about myself. Bragging about my accomplishments makes me uncomfortable. I’ve never taken a selfie in my life, and I don’t even know why people would be interested in me.”

“That’s perfect,” I replied. “You know why? Because it’s not about people being interested in you. It’s about you being interested in people. Being on social media is about making connections. The best way to do that is by interacting with people you’re genuinely interested in as a person, not as a prospect.

In the beginning, you don’t even have to post anything. Simply start by liking things you like, and by making some friends you have a connection with. Giving other people sincere compliments is a lost art, and visiting places like Facebook are ideal to rekindle that art.

When people share milestones, congratulate them. When they feel down in the dumps, let them know you’re thinking of them. When they have a question you know part of the answer to, share it with them. The key is to be a helper. Not a complainer.”

Two weeks later we had our next session, and I asked: “How’s that social media thing going?” She smiled and said: “Well, I took your advice to heart, and something unexpected happened.”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“When I reached out to people, they actually wanted to connect with me.”

“You sound surprised,” I said. “Why is that?”

“To be honest, I didn’t expect people to be interested in me.”

“That tells me more about how you think about yourself,” I responded. “Let me ask you this. Do you believe clients could be interested in what you have to offer?”

She took a deep breath, sighed, and said: “Maybe.”

“That doesn’t sound very convincing,” I said. “Before you convince a client you are right for a role, you have to convince yourself. A competent voice without confidence isn’t going to win auditions. We’ve got to work on that.”

“I thought social media wasn’t about getting clients,” she answered.

“You’re right,” I said, “but in our business, it’s sometimes more important who you know, than what you know. I get many of my voice-over jobs through referrals from colleagues who have never seen me in real life, but they know about me because we connected. People will never refer someone they don’t know or don’t like.”

“So, what you are saying is that selling should never be the purpose of social media, but it could be a nice side effect?”

“Right! The point is that you want people to get to know you, but not in a salesy, “pick me” kind of way. That’s one of the reasons why I tell a lot of stories in my blog. I’m not selling. I’m just telling stories. You see, you can always argue with an opinion, but you can’t argue with an anecdote, because…. it’s just fiction. People forget facts, but they will remember a good story.”
 
“But what if people don’t like your stories or your opinions?” my student asked. “Don’t you have a problem?”
 
“If that’s the case, I don’t have a problem, but my readers do!” I said, jokingly. “Listen, I do not post on social media or write a blog to get some kind of validation or recognition. I’m not looking to make enemies either, but I’ve learned that you can’t please everyone without betraying yourself.
 
Although I’m proud to have so many subscribers, I’m not writing to gain thousands of followers. Making a thought-provoking contribution to my community is much more important than increasing the number of visitors to my website.

Here’s the point though: these things seem to go hand in hand. As long as I have interesting stuff to say, people seem to be interested in me. This does help my Google ranking and that’s not something you can buy. It’s something you have to earn.”
 
“Do you see any downsides to using social media?” my student wanted to know.
 
“Seriouly, it’s a monster waiting to be fed,” I said. “And it’s always hungry for more. Being on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest and what not, will eat up your time without much to show for. Our society favors instant gratification, but making a dent on social media takes time. It’s for those who are patient, persistent and consistent
 
If you have low self-esteem, and you have a deep need to be accepted, social media can be a cruel place. My friend’s daughter came home in a terrible mood because her latest Instagram post only got twenty-five likes. To her, it felt like the end of the world because she thought she had lost the popularity contest.

My student looked at me, and sighed: “Children… they’re so vulnerable and impressionable.”

“Almost as much as voice actors…” I said.
 
“Now, listen… when you’re ready to put yourself out there as a creative professional such as a voice-over, it’s probably best to lose these three things:
 
– your desire to please
 
– your need for praise, and
 
– your urge to compare
 
Comparing yourself to other, more experienced talent, will make you as miserable as the characters in a Victor Hugo novel. Please compare yourself to yourself and be happy for those who seem to be doing well. Remember that on social media people are trying to show their best, socially acceptable selves, and not necessarily their true selves. 
 
The need to be praised makes you dependent on the approval of others. I hate to break it to you, but that approval is something you have no influence over. Of course you want to do well, but you want to do it for the music. Not for the applause.”

I opened my iPad to an Irish Times interview with Outlander leading lady Caitriona Balfe. She recalls a valuable lesson she learned from an LA acting coach. He was…

“talking about releasing and destroying the need of whatever ‘it’ is. Whether you’re going to go in and audition, and you’re so nervous because you want people to like what you’re about to do: release and destroy the need to be liked.”

The Times continued:

Balfe learned to give herself permission to let go of those things that tie us all in knots, to move on from feelings. “It’s something so simple and so silly, but it works for a myriad of reasons. Whatever it is … just to walk away, to let go of that.”

My student nodded and I went on…

“In my mind, the desire to please has us focused on the wrong things. People-pleasers are constantly wondering: How am I doing? Am I messing up? Will they like me? I, I, I… Me, Me, Me…

As (voice) actors it is our mission to serve the script. We are a conduit. Our body is a vessel to communicate meaning. It’s not about “I hope they like me.” That’s a needy, egocentric approach. If we do our job well, our performance allows the audience to emotionally and intellectually connect with the text.

When a voice actor is struggling, I often wonder:

Are they self-conscious, or content-conscious?

It’s usually the former, and as long as they’re too busy dealing with their insecurities, they’ll never be able to immerse themselves in their read or in their role.”

“I think I understand what you mean,” said my student. “But how do I get there?”

“The way I see it, there are at least two elements that will take you there. One is preparedness. It’s the ultimate antidote to nerves. Good practise will prepare you. Once you know what to do, you can focus on being in the moment and getting the job done to the best of your abilities. It’s the difference between playing notes and making music. To make music, you need to know the score.

“What’s the second element?” asked my student.

“It is conviction. It’s having faith in your talent and your abilities. It’s something I can’t teach you, but it comes a lot easier when you’re well-prepared. In her interview, Caitriona Balfe put it like this:

“(…) a lot of it is just having the f***ing balls and grit to stick around and be persistent in the face of a lot of rejection. But I think that also comes from having a belief that if [there is] something you love to do so much, something that feels that it comes naturally, that in some way it has to be what you’re meant to do.”

My student’s face lit up like a Christmas tree. I continued:

“As your coach, it’s not for me to tell you what you’re meant to do. That’s for you to know, but I do know this.

If there’s enough of a voice-over fire burning inside of you, you stand a decent chance of having a long, rewarding career.

And you know what?

I’ll be the first one on social media to follow you, and cheer you on!”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS If you want to know how Caitriona uses social media, read the last paragraph of her interview.

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Paul goes Podcasting

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Journalism & Media, Personal, Promotion, Studio 2 Comments

pro audio podcast logoThis week saw the release of a podcast I recorded with the Pro Audio Suite team.

I don’t have time to listen to a lot of podcasts myself, but this is one I rarely miss, because the hosts know what they are talking about.

They are also good listeners, as I found out when I was a guest on their show.

What makes this podcast different from other podcasts? It’s produced like you were listening to a real radio show.

As you will hear, we cover a lot of ground in this interview, and I’m inviting you to be a butterfly on our wall.

Click here to listen.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

 

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VO Atlanta 2019: The Lost Album

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Journalism & Media, Personal 14 Comments

Dutch clog slippersFor many voice-overs, the 2019 edition of VO Atlanta was unforgettable. The cameraderie, the learning opportunities, the emotions, it was all a bit overwhelming. 

But, life goes on, and memories start to fade. There are new gatherings to go to, new projects to voice, and new memories to be made.

Thinking back to my time at VO Atlanta 2019, it was the year I had to stay under the radar. Still recovering from a stroke, I needed to keep away from the crowds and preserve energy for my presentations. 

Still, I managed to take a few snapshots here and there, and I filed those photos away until I found them again the other day.

Watching the slideshow you’re about to see brought back many precious moments. Whether you were at VO Atlanta, or you’re thinking of going in 2020, I’m sure you’ll recognize some familiar faces. A big thank you to Jon Ciano for taking the pictures of my Stinky Sock Breakout Session.

Be sure to watch the photos on full-screen in HD.

Enjoy!

VO Atlanta 2020 will be held from March 26-29. The theme is “Envision.” If you can’t wait that long, sign up for the Summer Intensive, a training weekend with Kay Bess, Joe Cipriano, and Cliff Zellman. Dates: August 16 – 17.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS After watching the slide show some people  asked me what camera and lens I use. It’s a Sony a5100 mirrorless camera, with a Sony SELP18105G 18-105mm f/4.0 G OSS lens.

 

 

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The Deaf Leading the Blind

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Gear, Personal, Social Media, Studio 6 Comments

Blindfolded archerAfter reading my last two articles, here’s what some of you wanted to know:

Do I make all this stuff up to scare newbies and make them look bad?

Before I address that, let’s explore the suggestion behind this question.

Number one: blaming the messenger is a cheap attempt to deflect attention from an unwelcome message. This is a tactic as old as mankind. If you feel you can’t win the argument, try to discredit the source, like:

“I’m uncomfortable with what Paul is saying, so I’ll accuse him of lying.”

Number two: why would I make stuff up? Every time I put myself out there as a blogger, I risk my reputation. The moment people would catch me in a falsehood, it’s game over. As a former journalist, I know for a fact that years of truth telling can be nullified by one stupid lie.

Once exposed, no one would ever want me to present at a conference, interview me for their podcast, read this blog, or buy my book. Clients that got wind of it might not want to work with me anymore.

Honestly, to lie would be a liability.

Lastly, why would I have to make things up if you can easily find them in open Facebook groups? If anything, social media is ideal for spotting public displays of ignorance. I’ve just combed through pages and pages of voice-over related nonsense to bring you the best of the worst. Before I get to that, here’s what you need to know.

You’re about to read literal quotes. I’m not paraphrasing anything, or correcting spelling. To protect the identity of the authors, I’m not going to name names. However, you should realize that this is my personal selection, specifically chosen to emphasize a few trends that worry me, namely:

1. Social media offer a seemingly equal playing field to pros and hobbyists. If you’re new to the business and you don’t know anybody, you can’t tell whom you can trust for advice. You might get solid information, or someone might be taking you for a ride.

2. Too many (amateur) doctors are prescribing cures before carefully diagnosing the patient, unhindered by a lack of common sense, knowledge, and experience. Anyone’s an expert, and quite often, the deaf are leading the blind. As usual, the quality of the info depends on the quality of the source.

3. Many Facebook groups have no barrier of entry, and any nobody can pretend to be somebody. I’ll say that again: any nobody can pretend to be somebody. Some critics claim that half of all Facebook accounts are fake. Ask yourself: do you know for sure that the Facebookers you’re chatting with are who they say they are?

In some groups, the people recruiting voices for their next project have started adding “must be 18+” because many of the submissions turned out to be from kids who were just fooling around.

4. There is no Facebook police, and too many group moderators are allowing anyone to say anything… they agree with. In my experience, it’s permitted to sing the praises of an unnamed, unethical, greedy P2P, but any criticism is quickly censored as “being negative.” In the same spirit, the moderator will allow rave reviews of newbie demos and websites (even when they’re crap), and will delete more honest assessments because they’re seen as “mean.”

An aspiring VO exclaimed:

“I’m going to leave this Facebook Group mainly because I’ve received nothing but negative comments since I’ve joined and I really only wanted to learn how to be successful and instead recieved so much hate.”

Thankfully, someone responded:

“I searched for your name and you’ve gotten one troll reply and about 30 helpful ones. It’s not hate if people don’t agree with you. It’s constructive criticism and at the end of the day only YOU choose what to take away or leave behind from any advice you get in life. If people keep taking things personally, then sorry but the VO business is not for you.”

As expected, people have lots of questions about breaking into the business. The scary thing is that so many Facebookers are ready to give advice without knowing anything about the person asking for it.

Let’s say you’re a car mechanic. Would you start working on a car before finding out what’s wrong with it? That’s pretty dumb, right? So, speaking of ways to get into the VO business, here’s what someone recommended:

“You have to move to los angeles to become an actor am i right regardless if how much fame or money you have or how many friends one gets in life? its easy for richard horvitz to be an actor if hes from there regardless how many friends he was with a pro actor or athlete right?”

That was particularly helpful, wasn’t it? Moving on to the next question:

“Been voicing anime since I was little but wanting to do it professionally; how to get started is my question.”

Here’s the answer:

“First creat a few demos”

Response:

“How to do that and not make it sound terrible?”

Answer:

“I think the first step is just put yourself out there, make your presence known so, maybe take some unpaid jobs first, build a report of people that will recommend you and go from there.”

Here’s another brilliant suggestion:

“First things’ first: got a good mic? then: record something and upload it to soundcloud.com then put url link here.”

Someone else chimes in:

“I was always told to reach out to radio stations. I’m friends with a few professional voice actors.”

My two cents? First of all, don’t move to LA yet. Get some training first and see if you have any talent. Secondly, don’t “creat” any demos if you haven’t demonstrated anything. Once you’re ready for those demos, hire a professional to create them with you. By the way, don’t put yourself out there (whatever that means) if you have no website, no sound samples, and no recording space. It’s like opening a shop with empty shelves. Lastly, stay out of radio stations. They’re breeding grounds for frustrated announcers.

Unsurprisingly, many questions on Facebook are about home studios and recording equipment. We’d rather spend hours debating the pros and cons of using a USB microphone, than talk about how to market our business. Here’s a selection:

Q. “What’s the best mic that I can buy for under $100?”
A1. “Blue snowball is good.”

A. “You can get the whole set up for about $200 and it’s totally worth it. You can see my mic and interface recommendations at XYZ.com Also, I’m selling my condo.”

A2. “You should able to go into a music shop and ask them if you can test their mics.”

A3. “I started with a Rode NT USB. A simple noise reduction pass is all you need and the set up is a fraction of the cost of XLR if you’re starting out on a budget.”

A4. “The Kaotica Eyeball is the only thing you need. It turns anywhere you are into your own sound studio.”

Let me break that down for you. Forget snowballs. Blue balls are particularly painful. $200 is not going to get you all you need to compete. Please don’t test microphones on the noisy shop floor of your local Guitar Center. Try them out in your recording space. Invest in a condenser mic and soundproof your studio. A plugin isn’t going to keep out lawn mowers and leaf blowers.

New question:

Q. “I don’t have a studio. How do i record when the neighbors kids are so loud i can hear them with the window closed?”

A1. “Tell the kids to shut up.”

A2. “You could try to build a little pvc/moving blanket fort… it will help.”

A3. “Upturned mattress and blankets all over will get you where you need to be once you get as far away from the kiddies as possible. Then a blanket over your head with your mic.”

Mattresses and blankets may help tame the boom in the room, but you need to decouple walls and add mass to keep the outside sounds out. FYI that’s going to cost you a pretty penny, but a VO without a home studio is like an Uber driver without a car.

A few more booth questions:

“Does anyone else use their macbook webcam mic? Do you find that sometimes your audio is inconsistant when you record? Somedays I sound clear and crisp, others I sound like I’m talking in a tin can. (I’m using Garage band to record)”

“So, I’m planning on making a cheap diy mobile sound booth on a pallet, and I’m wondering if you guys have any tips on what the cheapest materials I could use.”

“I have used fibre egg crates for sound absorbing material, they work great.”

“So I have a square closet that has a lightbulb hanging from the ceiling. I would probably want to put some soundproof material under the door because that’s the only part I can think of that would need it. I know that a lot of people start out with using a closet because it’s usually the most natural soundproof room.”

“Mine booth is a decommissioned shower stall. I used $5 moving blankets on all 4 sides as well as top and floor. It sounds as good as any booth in Hollywood I’ve ever used.”

He continues:

“Moving blankets for the walls, ceiling, and floor if you have hard floors. Then toss a heavy blanket or comforter over the top moving blanket and put a heavy blanket up behind you. That’s as good as it gets without being a whisper room or studio bricks or something else nearly soundproof.”

Another person says:

“If you’re trying to keep it on the cheap, generic Walmart mattress toppers are between 1-2 inches thick and are usually around 10 bucks for a twin/full size mattress.”

What’s the common denominator? People trying to create something on the cheap. Here’s the thing: if you compromise on sound quality, you compromise your career. You don’t need to invest in a Bentley to travel from A to B, but you need a reliable means of transportation to get anywhere. And egg crates are just a fire hazard.

What surprised even me, are the number of “passion projects” peddled in Facebook groups. “Passion project” turns out to be a euphemism for unpaid slave labor. Here’s a sample:

“Hello everyone! I am in need of a few voice actors for my Sonic Boom Stop-Motion Episode 2 Project. This is NON PAID and I need the roles filled in as soon as possible!”

“I am currently in production of the first season of an all audio sketch comedy show. The project isn’t compensated however there are other benefits we will provide and avail to you if you are selected and interested.”

“I’m helping for casting for my mates unpaid Doctor Who Audio Series. (Unpaid) I am still looking for male voice actors for my Return to Wonderland motion comic book series.”

“Looking for a female VO for a Halo themed audio book. Project is unpaid currently as it is a copyrighted IP, but a copy of the completed work will given, and when it is live VO’s will be paid out first. The previous VO is having to be replaced due to some audio issues.”

“[Non-Paying] Any lady vocalists/singers interested in trying their hand providing vocals for original tunes?”

“Hey guys, need a voice actor for 4 roles. One for a robber, a female bank clerk (can also be voiced by male), and 2 male cops. Ill post the script below. This is a non paying gig, but may be a paying gig in the future.”

“Doing a freebie for a friend and was wondering if any of you would voice a short commercial? It’s for a “amateur” wrestling show. Its non paying I just need someone who wants to voice something for local tv.”

“Im looking for a few people to do some narrations for a youtube series. The Theme is Children’s Stories and I hope to make a fair few episodes of it so may have returning narrators. Unfortunately its unpaid but it will be able to bring out the budding little actors who are starting out in the art of voice acting as well as the pro’s that don’t mind doing it for a little fun.”

You’d be surprised how many people respond to these passion projects. The desperation to start yelling something into a microphone is real.

Here’s my rule of thumb: If you’re good enough to be hired, you’re good enough to be paid. Period. Working for exposure is something only strippers do. Someone commented:

“Chances are if they can’t afford to pay, they don’t have a big enough platform to offer significant exposure anyway. And if they do have some MASSIVE platform, they should be paying.”

Plus, you’ve barely started to get your feet wet, and you’re already teaching clients they can get something for nothing. This is a comment from one of those clients:

“As a content creator I can tell you all 99.9% of us would love to pay everyone we work with on every project. But if I spend all my budget on talent what am I to do about promoting my project? If one is getting into this field looking at it as a job then you’re doing it wrong. This is the business of independent contractors.”

In other words: freelancers can’t expect to be paid? Well, there’s a new concept!

There’s another myth out there, namely the myth that doing auditions is such great practice. It’s not. Here’s what I believe:

You practice to audition. You don’t audition to practice.

In order to get the job, you have to demonstrate that you can do the job. Some half-baked attempt is not going to work. It will leave the client with a bad taste in his mouth, and the next time he hears your voice he’ll move right on to another talent.

Oddly enough, those applying for unpaid jobs complain elsewhere that they have no money to move their career forward. Here’s one of them:

“So, as an aspiring voice actor myself, I have made one demo in the past but it wasn’t easily accessible. Now i’d like to make another one but I’d like some help.

Nevermind just found out 1100 bucks for the classes and then the demo. That’s aloooot of cash.”

Between you and me, that’s not a lot of cash for voice-over training and a demo. I would be very suspicious of anyone offering such a package for a little over a thousand bucks.

Finishing up, let me reiterate that it’s not my intention to shame anyone or make fun of anyone new to the voice-over business. You are very brave, and I am giving you these examples as a warning. Quite often, Facebook is the worst place to seek advice for those who don’t know what they don’t know.

Be smart, and do not allow yourself to be taken advantage of by people who prey on impressionable beginners.

Do your homework before asking any questions. Show the world that you’ve made an effort to find a solution before bothering the group. Don’t beg for jobs. Don’t comment on things you know very little about. Be open to feedback. Save up so you can invest in coaching, equipment, and a recording space. And above all: give yourself time to become good at what you want to do, and have fun.

I had fun responding to a Facebook question recently:

“I’m looking for a high soprano for an album I’m very close to finishing. It’s a various artists album, with some Asian and Celtic influences. Please PM me if interested.”

I responded:

“You’re looking for stoned soprano?”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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PPS Working from home, a blessing or a curse? Click here to hear me talk to the guys at the Pro Audio Suite Podcast.

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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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VO Atlanta and the Meaning of Life

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Personal, Promotion 36 Comments

Gravy for the Brain, what kind of name is that?” asked my friend with a puzzled look on his face. We were both at the VO Atlanta conference, and I wasn’t paying any attention to him.

I was staring at an email from a new client I had been grooming for weeks. He finally reached out to me with a project, just as I was ready for four days of professional schmoozing. I love my job, but I didn’t want to go back to work. Not in Atlanta.

Normally I’d be up for a challenge because I always saw myself as the invincible superman. I could do it all: socialize into the wee hours of the night, get up first thing in the morning for some fitness training, attend a few workshops and presentations, and do it all over again after lunch. Then I would step into a studio and knock out a few scripts. No biggie.

But this time was different. My cardiologist had advised against going to Atlanta because I just started a new medication and he wanted to monitor me closely. However, I knew I had to be at this gathering. It was the goal I had set myself when I began my recovery about a year ago. I’d committed to leading a workshop and a Breakout session. This was going to be my moment to return to the VO community and be there for them after they had been there for me when I had my stroke.

The only way I could possibly handle the conference was by vigorously pacing myself. This included not doing this rush job for a new client. I had to heed the advice I give my students: “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you must.” That decision cost me seven hundred dollars, but it gave me the space and the energy I needed to take care of myself. After all, you can’t give what you don’t have.

So, I turned to my friend to address his question.

TOO MUCH INFO

“You’re right: it is a bit of an odd name, Gravy for the Brain. It doesn’t sound like a resource for voice talent, does it? Someone once told me the expression comes from the movie Conspiracy Theory but that doesn’t explain anything.

“I just looked it up in the Urban Dictionary,” said my friend pointing at his mobile. “It’s defined as the way your head feels after a long night of drinking and/or doing drugs.”  “I’ve got to tell you,” I said, “last year when I came back from VO Atlanta, it felt like I had gravy brain. Not because I had had too much to drink, but because I was in information overload. It took a while for me to process the experience. And here we are again, ready for more.”

Kay Bess

Keynote speaker Kay Bess

We walked to the Grand Salon for the conference opening and keynote speech by Kay Bess. “We distinguish ourselves, by being ourselves,” she said. Profound words that moved me deeply. I feel that being ourselves is one of the greatest gifts we can give this world. There’s only one problem. It does require that we have a sense of who we are, authentically speaking. I don’t know about you, but I’m still figuring that one out.

WHO AM I?

I sometimes wish we would come with an instruction manual we could give to friends, family, and colleagues. “Look, this is who I am. This is what floats my boat. Here’s how I rock and roll.” Instead, we’ve been given a lifetime to work things out, and if you believe in reincarnation, it’s several lifetimes.

I see becoming who we are meant to be as one of the great endeavors of our time on earth. It’s challenging because all of us play many roles in life. For instance, I am Paul the father, the husband, the patient, the son, and brother. I’m also the voice actor, the blogger, and punster. In different contexts I feel like a different person and act accordingly, so will the real authentic Paul please stand up?

On the subject of authenticity, here’s some free advice. If you’ve been to VO Atlanta, please don’t use anything you have learned in all the sessions you attended. Just don’t. Every other talent is already going to do that. If you wish to be authentic, do something out of the ordinary that no one else would possibly try.

Surprise the world. Be an original. Create. Don’t imitate. The field of people being and doing more of the same is growing by the day. That’s not your field. People who play it safe by taking the beaten path are blending in with the masses. You want to stand out, don’t you? As far as I could tell I was still the only person wearing clogs in Atlanta. Even though I didn’t socialize as much this year to conserve my energy, I think most people knew I was there. Total cost $19.99.

WHAT ELSE DID I NOTICE?

A few more random observations, some positive, others not so much:

– When you stick your head into a workshop for five minutes and decide it’s not for you, please don’t mock your fellow-presenter in public. It’s unfair and unkind to judge someone based on a snippet of info taken out of context.

– On the other hand, calling the CEO of a competing and highly unethical Pay to Play “That Idiot from the North” is allowed. The man is fair game.

– If you’re a prominent member of a worldwide organization of voice talent that’s dedicated to ethical conduct and fair rates, why would you have a profile on Fiverr and be proud of it?

– Doing voice-overs is sexy! Next year we should have a few after-hour X-rated sessions for narrators of erotica. Pseudonyms required.

– If you’re looking for the guy who used a sharpie to draw a mustache on J. Michael Collins in one of the elevators, look no further.

– I wish Voice123 CEO and spin doctor Rolf Veldman would have taken part in the karaoke. I had the perfect song for him: “Sorry seems to be the hardest word.”

TEARS AND MORE TEARS

VO Atlanta 2019 was an emotional experience for me. If you were there, you know that my eyeballs were leaking regularly. A big thanks to all of you who told me how relieved you were that I’m not dead. I must say I’m with you on that one. Thank you to all of my Guardian Angels who kept an eye on me throughout the conference. You know who you are, and so does my eternally grateful wife.

A special thanks to those who were at my workshop. One of you signed up at the very last minute after talking to me in the corridor. How sweet is that? One last thank you to those who came to play with my Stinky Sock and gave me a standing ovation. It’s gone straight to my head, and now I am impossible to live with. What else is new?

SURPRISING BONUS

Well, did I tell you I got to stay in Atlanta for one more day? Here’s what happened. My flight to Lehigh Valley International Airport was overbooked, and Delta offered those willing to give up their seat a hotel room and an $800 gift certificate. So, days ago I had lost $700 because I didn’t do the voice-over job I told you about. I ended up having eight hundred bucks to spend at Amazon. Life is fair after all!

As you can tell, the conference is over, but I am not over the conference. It’s been my second best experience of the past twelve months. What’s the very best experience, you ask? For that we have to go back to the night of my stroke. I was flown to the hospital in a helicopter, and a doctor was looking at a CAT-scan of the inside of my skull.

Things were serious. If the stroke had wiped out most of my brain, I would probably not survive. I can remember briefly regaining consciousness on the stretcher. I could hear my wife ask the surgeon about my chances. I’ll never forget what the doctor said:

“I think your husband isn’t going to die. Luckily, most of his grey matter is intact. In other words:

He is too brainy for the grave.”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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