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VO Atlanta 2019: The Lost Album

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Journalism & Media, Personal 13 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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In Sickness and in Health

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Personal 16 Comments
In the Intensive Care Unit

In the ICU

March 26th 2018 may not mean much to you, but it’s the day my life changed in many ways. It started like any other ordinary day, with me working in my studio. By the end of the afternoon I was rushed into a rumbling helicopter that flew me to the ER.

As I was airlifted, the surgeon waiting for me called my wife to prepare her for three possible outcomes. These were the options: if there were to be enough time, they would remove the blood clot from my brain that had caused a stroke, and I would recover. To what extent, he couldn’t say. If not, there was a good chance the brain damage would leave me greatly impaired and dependent for the rest of my life. Option three was least attractive: me reaching my expiration date.

By the way, what happened to me was nothing special. On average, every 40 seconds someone in the United States has a stroke. Stroke is now the third leading cause of death (behind heart disease and cancer) and a major cause of disability.

I lucked out. As you can tell, I’m still very much alive, and I plan to remain in that fascinating state for as long as I can. This gives me the opportunity to share some of my post-stroke observations with you. Perhaps it’s not what you expect from a blog about the world of voice-overs and freelancing. I get that. But please bear with me. One day, you or a loved one might have to deal with a similar situation. I feel it is part of my mission to tell my story. It’s one of the reasons I’m still alive.

SYMPATHY & SUPPORT

Once the news of my stroke broke, I experienced an incredible outpouring of sympathy and support, particularly on social media. The well wishes came from all over the planet. It was heartwarming and uplifting! If you ever want to find out how much people care, make sure you nearly die and tell the world about it! It will do wonders for your self-esteem!

The two things people told me over and over again were both very sweet and totally unrealistic:

Get Well Soon!

and

Speedy recovery!

We know a lot about the workings of the body and the mind, and there’s probably just as much that we don’t know. Good doctors have no problem admitting that. The not so good ones think they know it all. No doctor can predict how soon you will recover, or how much you will recover. In the case of strokes it greatly depends on which part of the brain is affected, and to what extent. The faster you find treatment, the better your chances.

Recovery from a stroke is more a matter of Getting Well S l o w l y. The first year is crucial, but recovery continues long after that thanks to the amazing plasticity of the brain. That’s the ability of the brain to reorganize itself by forming new connections between brain cells.

Especially during the first six months after I was out of the hospital, I could feel my grey matter making new connections, and boy did it tire me out! Saying I felt tired doesn’t do it justice. I felt utterly fatigued. What’s the difference? Simply put, fatigue is extreme exhaustion that surpasses feeling tired. It’s a total lack of motivation and energy. I spent most of my time in bed, sleeping the day away while my brain was reconnecting.

It took me a few months to be okay with my state of slumber. At first I felt terribly guilty that I wasn’t able to help out and be productive. I’ve always been such a go-getter, and now my biggest accomplishment of the day was a smooth bowel movement. Kicking and screaming, I learned to accept that I could not jumpstart myself into getting well again, and that it was okay and imperative to ask for help.

A NEW JOB

The next thing I discovered was this: recovery is not some passive process. It’s a day job. Apart from getting enough rest, my post-stroke life was (and still is) dominated by frequent doctor’s visits and therapy appointments. I had speech therapy, vision therapy, sessions with a neuro-psychologist, and lots of homework to be ready for even more sessions. I’ve been back to the ER four times now, and spent some time in the hospital over Thanksgiving and St. Patrick’s Day (and I just missed Valentine’s Day another time!).

I’m not bringing this up so you’ll feel sorry for me. I just want to give you a glimpse of my life so you’ll understand why I went undercover for so long. As I’ve described in another blog post, after my stroke I lost the ability to emote and enunciate, which is kind of a problem for a voice actor like myself. My delivery was as flat as a pancake. On top of that, a tremor on one of my vocal folds made my voice hoarse and tired in no time. Forget long-form narration!

DEALING WITH LOSS

So, not only was I reevaluating my physical and psychological state, I also had to take a hard look at my career in voice-overs. My psychologist described it as a state of mourning. I was mourning the loss of my health, my sanity, and possibly my way of making a living. I had to do all of that with a damaged brain that was readjusting and prone to stimulus overload.

I clearly remember going into one of the many hospital waiting rooms, unable to deal with all the noise. Around me, people were making phone calls, kids were playing loud games on their tablets, and patients were comparing notes about doctors and treatments. At the reception desk calls were answered and people were signed in. A big tv hanging from the ceiling was informing us about the father who brutally murdered his beautiful wife and two adorable children. Trump was touting his wall. This cacophony sent my brain into overload and made me nauseous.

Even though I have been generally impressed with the extraordinary level of care I received, hospitals and doctors’ offices do very little to create an environment conducive to stress reduction, well-being, and healing. I’d prefer a spa-like atmosphere with soothing colors, greenery, soft lighting, essential oils, and meditative music. A sanctuary away from the constant distractions and hubbub of our 24/7 society.

FOCUS & RESPONSE

Now, for those who are dealing with the effects of a stroke, it is easy to get despondent and depressed, making a bad situation even worse. I must admit that I’ve not always been able to keep it together, but a few things helped me not to wallow in my fate. One of them is the belief that human beings are free to choose what we focus on, and how to respond to what is happening to us.

Instead of bemoaning all the things I had lost, I chose to be thankful for the many things that were unaffected. I started reading about people in similar situations who had made remarkable recoveries that could not always be explained by traditional medicine. What did they do to get there? What were they thinking, eating, and drinking?

I came across stories of self care and self love, stories of patience, and picking new priorities. I decided to give myself time to heal, and to spend it on things that made me happy. I began writing my blog again as a way to have a voice. I purposely stayed away from petty problems and draining interactions with people who thrive on negativity. Gradually, my level of energy and my vision improved, and I was able to express myself with more emotion.

SUPPORT NETWORK

my wife

To be honest: I never could have done this on my own. I have a whole team of doctors, nurses, technicians, and therapists to thank. Colleagues came by and friends stepped in making meals and driving me to appointments. But by far my best bedside advocate, designated driver, medication manager, cheerleader, and personal chef is my wife Pam. She is my solid rock, and the soft shoulder I lean on every single day.

When I’m forgetful, she remembers. When I am anxious, she calms me down. When I need to rest, she makes sure I’m not disturbed. She fills out the many forms, deals with my health insurance, and talks to my doctors. For my trip to VO Atlanta, she’s set up a support system to make sure I won’t overdo it. In short: she’s my guardian angel, and I’m so lucky we’re together in health and in sickness.

On Thursday I’ll be leaving for VO Atlanta. 800 participants are coming together to immerse themselves in all things voice-over. If you’re going, I can’t wait to meet you! You’re invited to attend my X-Session “Six Steps To Turning Your Business Around,” on Friday from 1:30 PM to 4:30 PM, and my Breakout Session about “Winning Mindsets” aka the Stinky Sock Session on Saturday from 4:45 to 5:45 PM.

See you soon!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Don’t Drive Yourself Crazy

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Personal 6 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

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The Fallacy of ME, ME, ME Marketing

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Internet, Journalism & Media, Personal, Promotion, Social Media 4 Comments

selfie with microphoneQuestion on Quora:

“Is it okay to post pictures of yourself on Instagram? Would people think I’m too much into myself?”

Top answer:

“Since 99.99% of Instagram users have chosen to make evident how in love they are with themselves, you’ll fit right in.”

I had to think of that when one of my colleagues jokingly posted on Facebook that he was sick of seeing selfies of voice-overs in their studios. You know, these stereotypical posed pictures of smiling people in sweatshirts that always feature a microphone.

This led to a heated debate about narcissism and the perceived benefits of plastering your face all over the internet. Here’s what I want to know: are these selfies just a big ego trip, or an effective way to show your customers who you really are?

WHAT’S YOUR GOAL

Before I answer that question, let’s take a step back. Why would you as a small business owner use social media in the first place? It’s a time suck, a distraction, and as soon as you think you’ve figured it out, Zuckerberg and company change the algorithms.

For most freelancers, having a social media presence is part of their marketing strategy. The purpose of marketing is no mystery. It’s all about influence and perception. In a nutshell, here’s what effective marketing should do:

– Tells the world that you exist, and educates your audience about what you have to offer
– Helps your customers understand why your product or service is better than, or different from the competition
– Builds authority, credibility, and trust. It shows that you’re a pro running a reputable business
– Develops a relationship with your market: communicates with customers, and turns clients into fans
– Improves and reinforces brand awareness
– Grows your business by extending your reach and increasing your sales

Successful marketers influence how their product or service is perceived. They win people over by convincing them they have something special to offer that meets their needs. The ultimate goal is conversion: turning a prospect into a buyer.

How do selfies fit into this picture?

YOU OR THE CLIENT

We seem to have at least two schools of thought. I call them egocentric marketing and customer-centric marketing. An egocentric marketing campaign revolves around “Look at ME. Look at what I did. Look at what I’m doing.” It’s for people who mistake their own enthusiasm for what will motivate their potential customers.

Posting pictures of yourself and about yourself only works if you’re an interesting person leading an interesting life and if you already have a following that’s interested in you. Think of actors, musicians, models, celebrity chefs, politicians, and other public figures.

Let’s be honest: most of us aren’t that interesting, especially in a dimly lit studio with a big mike in front of our face. Unlike on-screen actors, voice actors don’t go on different sets in exotic locations. There’s no costume department clothing us, or makeup department carefully camouflaging our pimples. If we ever leave the house for work, it is to visit another dimly lit recording studio with more mikes, cables, and headphones.

Customer-centric marketing is based on the idea that if you wish to win people over, you have to stop talking about yourself and start listening. Based on what you hear, you provide content that addresses your customer’s fears, problems, and needs. It’s not about you. It’s about them. Customer-centric marketing is not only about increasing exposure. It’s about providing value for your viewers and followers.

WHO’S YOUR TARGET

The problem is that I don’t think many Instagrammers have identified a target audience before they start posting pictures. They don’t even have a business account. A personal account is used to post anything and everything. Snapshots from family trips, pictures of the pets, lunches, dinners, and the occasional picture of mama or papa doing voice-overs. All of this goes out to clients, colleagues, friends, family, and the one billion other people on Instagram.

There’s no distinction between the personal and the professional.

The question I asked myself before I became active on social media was this: Do I want to make my private life public, and if so, for what purpose?

Perhaps this is a generational thing. The younger generation has no trouble sharing their private lives publicly. The more views, the better. Self-esteem is linked to likes. A young colleague told me: “I want my clients to get to know me. If they see what I am like, they’ll remember me. If they remember me, there’s a greater chance that they will hire me.”

In contrast, I want to protect my privacy. The only time I open up about my personal life on this blog is to illustrate a point, or when I want to share something that I feel is relevant to many of my readers. That’s the reason you know about my stroke. I wanted to increase awareness through my experience.

My intended Instagram audience consists of colleagues and other freelancers. That’s why you won’t find any vacation photos, pics of alcoholic beverages, or silly selfies. Most of my posts are pictures with quotes from this blog. My goal is simple: to make people think. They don’t have to agree with me. I just want them to consider what’s written. It helps me be a trusted voice in an ongoing conversation.

I can hear you think: “That sounds very idealistic. Why would that be beneficial to your bottom line?”

Well, through these posts people get to know me and my ideas. And if they like what they see, they might go to my blog and sign up for coaching sessions. It gets me invites to interviews and podcasts, I’m asked to write guest posts, do presentations, and conduct workshops. It’s free publicity! People end up buying my book and start referring me to clients who need a European, neutral English voice.

There’s a lot that you can do when using social media to spread the word about your business. LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram give you an opportunity to highlight different aspects of what you have to offer. Different formats require a different approach.

What you do is up to you, but if you wish to make the switch from egocentric to customer-centric marketing, I leave you with the advice of one expert:

“It’s okay to be proud of your work, but turn your brags into benefits!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Why I Want You To Fail

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Personal 6 Comments

cellist“Failure” is one of the dirtiest words in the dictionary.

In a culture where the notion of “being successful” is forced upon us from an early age, failure is hardly an option. Winners never fail, and who doesn’t want to be a winner?

Helicopter parents pressure their offspring to always be the best, and go for the A plus and extra credits. Their over-scheduled kids are expected to be brilliant at whatever it is they do, from horseback riding to playing the violin, to selling the most girl scout cookies ever.

If children don’t come home with a trophy, a badge, or high honors, what’s the point? What will you put on Facebook? “Sarah did okay in math?” “Brian got a B minus in biology?” “Sandy can’t keep up with the rest of her class?”

Heaven forbid! How would that reflect on you as a parent?

Out of this thinking comes the idea that we have to make it easy for our kids to succeed. We want to build them up, and make them feel good about themselves. How do we do that? By giving them high praise for mediocre accomplishments.

“She took two bites of oatmeal today, isn’t that amazing?”

“He brushed his teeth all by himself. I am so proud of him!”

“The soccer coach gave him a prize, just for showing up every week.”

When you set the bar really low, it becomes almost impossible to fail, but what you’re really doing is reinforcing behavior that is below average. It might give some kids a false sense of confidence and entitlement, which could carry over into adulthood.

LIFE LESSONS

When I was a teenager, my French professor always gave us easy tests. Even the slowest of students would do well, and on paper it looked like this teacher was a genius. But during our school trip to Paris, no one was able to put more than two words of French together, and we got hopelessly lost in the subway.

At that point we realized that this great teacher wasn’t so great after all. The biggest shock came later that year however, during final exams. Compared to most other students in the country, we did miserably, even though our grades had been fabulous.

A cellist I know had accepted a new, young student who was rather full of himself. When he got to meet the parents, he understood why. Mom and Dad thought that their Daniel was destined to be the next Yo-Yo Ma or Mstislav Rostropovich. “Well, we’ll see about that,” said the cellist. Let’s begin our first lesson, and afterward I’ll tell you what I think.”

It turned out that the kid wasn’t very good, even though he played an expensive instrument. “It’s not the instrument. It’s how you play it,” said the cellist to the parents, but they wouldn’t listen, and neither would their son.

So, what did his new teacher do? He signed Daniel up for a regional competition. Even though the boy had several months to prepare, he thought he could wing it. His parents (who knew very little about music) were convinced he was doing really well. Filled with great expectations they took him to the competition.

BEING TESTED

You probably know what’s coming. Compared to other students, Daniel didn’t impress the judges that much, and he got low marks. When his parents found out, they were furious.

“You set our Daniel up for failure,” they said. “The boy is in tears. What kind of teacher are you?”

“Let me tell you something,” said the cellist. “Your son might think he failed. In my opinion he just didn’t get the result you were expecting, which, given his skills and attitude, was rather unrealistic to begin with. This is not an easy instrument to master. So far, you have been comparing your son to himself. This competition was an opportunity to compare him to other kids in his age group.”

He went on: “Parents and other family members are supposed to be supportive. There’s nothing wrong with that. But the people who are closest to us, aren’t necessarily the most knowledgeable or experienced. Most of them don’t know what they’re listening and looking for. So, if you want honest feedback, you need two things. Number one: make sure the test is tough enough. Number two: the evaluators have to be experts.”

THE RELEVANCE

Now, if you’re new to voice-overs and you’re reading this blog, you might be wondering why I am talking about learning French or a musical instrument. You’re trying to break into the business thinking you stand a good chance of making it. People have told you that you have a great voice, and why wouldn’t McDonalds hire you for one of their commercials? You’re auditioning left and right, but so far there’ve been no takers. What does that tell you?

First of all, if making money as a voice-over would be easy, anybody would do it, and the rates would be even lower. Something that comes easy, isn’t worth much. Secondly, do you even know if you’re good at this? Let me rephrase that: Is what you have to offer ultra competitive in a market that is pretty much saturated? How do you know? Are you able to recognize your limitations?

HEARING MYSELF

A few days ago I listened to some of the auditions I recorded in 2010. At that time I honestly thought I sounded pretty great, and I didn’t understand why clients wouldn’t hire me. Knowing what I know now, there is no way I would have hired myself back then.

After a year of trying, I was ready to call my efforts to become a VO Pro an epic fail. Yet, as you know, one of the reasons I write this blog is because I’m still in business. How did that happen?

It turned out that this year of trying was a big test. It tested my preparedness, my resolve, my talent, my nerves, and my ability to learn and grow from feedback. I needed at least a year of “failure” to work on my weaknesses, as well as on my strengths.

I also learned to reframe that word “failure.” I started looking at my situation in terms of results. Just because I wasn’t getting the results I had hoped for, didn’t mean I had failed, or that I was a failure. I began to ask myself questions like:

– What results did I get?

– What part of it was something I could  influence, and what part was beyond my control? 

– What did I learn from it that was positive and practical?

– What would I need to do to improve?

– Who could help me make those improvements? 

– How was this process helping me become the professional I want to be?

And finally, just as it can take many years to learn a foreign language or master an instrument, I knew that it would take me a while to get good at doing voice-overs, and running a freelance business. Every “failure” could bring me one step closer to success, as long as I used it as a chance to learn something new.

If you happen to be in the middle of that process, and things aren’t going so well, please remember what one of my teachers once told me:

“No matter where you are in life, never stop learning.

Quite often, the best students get the hardest test!”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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My Most Moving And Miraculous Year

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

Paul Strikwerda

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

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

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

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

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

– Why me?

– Why this?

– Why now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My recovery made 2018 a miraculous year.

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

I wish you a very happy and healthy New Year!

Gratefully yours,

Paul Strikwerda  ©nethervoice

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Why is doing voice-overs so difficult? Part 3

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Personal 12 Comments

Leap of FaithClick here for Part 1, and click here for Part 2.

One thing I am sure of.

Human beings have a hard time dealing with uncertainty.

From the moment we’re born till the moment we die, we have a need to know.

That’s why we spend a lifetime answering questions, such as:

  • Why am I here?
  • Is there a God?
  • Can I be happy?
  • Why does evil exist?
  • Is there an afterlife?
  • McDonald’s or Burger King?

Not knowing is often worse than knowing. That’s why TV shows take us from cliffhanger to cliffhanger, and millions tune in to find out who the next American Idol is going to be. We cannot live with the suspense of not knowing.

Where does this innate urge come from? I believe it has to do with control. Subconsciously, people assume that the things they know for sure, they can control. We cannot measure and control the things that are unknown.

Two friends of mine love going on vacations. Let’s call them Jack and John. Both have traveled the world in ways that couldn’t be more different. Jack’s a free spirit. He likes to improvise, and takes life one step at a time. Jack is the person who’d buy a ticket to Rome and a Lonely Planet guide to Italy, and he lets his gut feeling determine where and when he goes to explore the country.

John would absolutely hate that. He prefers to tour Italy with a group, knowing exactly where he ‘s going to be, and where he is going to stay from day to day to day. And if things wouldn’t go according to plan, he’d get very nervous and upset. “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail” is his favorite saying.

Ask yourself: Are you a Jack, or are you a John?

That’s a question anyone should ask before deciding to become an independent contractor. It’s exactly the sort of thing that makes it so hard to be a professional voice-over. I’ll go one step further: the answer to that question is the number one reason why most people who are going freelance, fail.

I’m not making that up to rain on your parade. The Small Business Association (SBA) estimates that 30% of new businesses fail during the first two years of being open, 50% during the first five years, and 66% during the first 10. Those cold numbers camouflage dreams dashed, families in turmoil, and the burden of bankruptcy.

I’ll be very clear: those who eventually become successful at doing voice-overs, are great at handling uncertainty in an economic system that favors predictability.

So, what kind of uncertainty am I talking about?

For starters, you’ll never know where your work will be coming from, and which job you’ll land, and which job will go to a colleague. If you’re not selected, you’ll never know why.

When you audition, you won’t know what the client is looking for. Many clients will tell you: “I’ll know it when I hear it.” The job description is purposely vague: “Male/Female voice, Neutral English, Young Adult to Middle Age.”

You’ll never know how much the client has budgeted for the job you just auditioned for. They all plead poverty. These days you won’t even know how much a particular job is worth anymore, and what your bid should be. You’ll be bidding on jobs in many countries and many markets for all sorts of media. There will always be an idiot who will do more for less.

Once you’ve accepted the job, things don’t get any clearer. Nine out of ten times you’ll be recording by yourself without a director, so it’s up to you to read between the lines and interpret the script as best as you can. It’s a hit or miss process.

The whole thing feels like running a restaurant where you are the owner and chef. The client comes in and wants food. “What would you like?” you ask. “I’ll know it when I see it,” says the customer. “Go to the kitchen and work your magic. But make it quick.”

Half an hour later you proudly present your finished dish. The client smells the food, turns green, and waves the plate away saying: “That’s not what I ordered! I’m not paying for that.” Or worse, they’ll eat everything and disappear without leaving a check.”

You see, that’s another thing you’ll be uncertain about. As a voice-over, you run an international business that’s based on trust. The client trusts you to take care of the job. You trust the client to pay you for the job. On time and in full.

Good luck with that!

The Freelancers Union estimates that 7 out of 10 freelance workers face nonpayment, and freelancers are stiffed an average of $6000 annually.

Who is going to protect you? So far, New York is the only city in the United States to adopt the Freelancing Isn’t Free Act which extends unprecedented protections against nonpayment for millions of New York City’s freelance workers.

But what do you do when that client in Mumbai or Shenyang doesn’t respond to your payment requests? They wanted your audio files yesterday, you sent them, and now they’re MIA. You have no leverage. The only thing you can do is publicly shame them, and demand payment up front the next time you work with an unknown client.

Given the fact that you don’t know what you’ll be working on, when you’ll be working, how much you’ll be working, how much you’re getting paid, and when the money will be coming in, how do you know you’ll be able to pay the bills?

Try getting a mortgage on a freelance income, or any other loan for that matter. If you’re just getting started you need the money the most to pay for all that equipment, your demos, website, home studio, marketing materials, and coaching sessions. And you have nothing to show for it but good intentions.

No matter how much or how little is coming in, your insurance company expects you to pay your premium on time, your rent is due the first of the month, and your credit cards need to be paid, as well as your taxes. John would go crazy going from month to month.

You may be able to live with uncertainty, but what about your family?

Now, in the past I used to say that the only factor in this business you can count on and control, is YOU.

That sounds nice, but based on my experience, most people who try their hand at voice-overs lack the knowledge, the drive, and the discipline to run a business. They can handle it as a hobby, but that’s it. Let me give you an example. As a VO-coach I can quickly tell if someone has what it takes by the way they handle my assignments.

Those who need a lot of hand-holding don’t impress me. Those who don’t do their homework and make all sorts of excuses, tend not to do well. Those who say “Just tell me where I can find work,” are likely to fail.

Many are interested. Very few are committed.

Here’s the problem: as someone who is self-employed, no one will tell you what to do. No one will hold you accountable. No one cares if you sleep in, or waste your time surfing the web.

And then there’s this.

Until March of this year, I thought I was in control. I believed that I was the certainty my business was based on.

Then I had a stroke.

I woke up weak, exhausted, and without a voice. During many months of rehab I lost thousands of dollars in work I was unable to do. Some of my clients with whom I’d been working for years, found other talent and never came back.

Instead of building my business, I am rebuilding it, piece by piece. But if it weren’t for my amazing better half, my business probably would have gone bust.

At the end of the day, running a business is about risks and rewards.

Too often, newcomers focus on the rewards, and forget about the risks.

So, if you’re seriously thinking of becoming a voice-over, are you a Jack or a John?

I know you want the rewards, but are you certain you’re ready for the risks?

If so, you are in for a most rewarding career!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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