Personal

Dorith Hassing: Painting with Words. Communicating with Color.

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Dutch, Freelancing, International, Personal, Social Media Leave a comment

Dorith Hassing

I’ve always been intrigued by people who can do things I believe I wasn’t born to do.

I suck at sports, so that’s out. My mind has trouble processing numbers, so forget math. My DIY skills are minimal, so please don’t ask me to fix your plumbing, or you might be in for a wet surprise. 

Don’t feel sorry for me. I think I have other talents this world may benefit from. If all of us would be good at doing the same things, boy, would life be boring!

I will say one thing. It seems to me that in this day and age people are perfecting their ability to critique one another, while we’re gradually losing our ability to understand, appreciate and admire. What a shame!

One person I greatly value and admire is my Dutch colleague Dorith Hassing. Not only is she a successful voice talent, she’s also a very talented painter. The other day I asked her how her voice over career began. Here’s what Dorith told me:

I didn’t go to the Fine Art Academy, even though I thought I would, and for years and years I kept trying to find my place in this world. I enjoyed a very rewarding career, but it felt like I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to do. I wanted to be self-employed. I wanted to be creative.

I didn’t discover my vocation until the day my youngest child got a toy the parent had to record a voice for. When I learned that one could actually make a living using one’s voice, the penny dropped, and light bulbs went off in my head!

I started researching the VO business. How does it work? Who’s doing this? What skills does one need to have, and where can I learn these skills? I took some workshops with Barnier Geerling of stemacteren.nl, and for the next few years I practiced by myself: recording, listening back to the recording, recording it again. Listening to others, mimicking them, giving it my own spin.

Then there was the technical aspect. How does one record voice overs, and where? Because I decided to totally go for it, I immediately invested in professional equipment and an amazing vocal booth. After that, my career took off.

I’ve been doing this for five years now, and lately, the work has been finding me. The first years I was very busy generating work by adding myself to the roster of online casting agencies, making demos, doing auditions, responding to job offers, networking, and improving my website.

How would you describe your niche in the business? Do you specialize in certain genres, or are you a Jill of all Trades? 

To most people, my voice sounds surprisingly familiar, as if they already know me. That’s why I’m a good fit for projects that need familiarity, things like explainers, or for projects that require people to trust the narrator. But I’m also good at voicing the every day stuff we all want and need. This means I can handle a wide range of work and I take every opportunity to do it. Most of my jobs are corporate in nature, like voice response systems, videos, and animated explainers. But I also love voicing commercials and instructional videos. (Click on the blue hyperlinks to see and hear samples of Dorith’s work.) More recently, I started recording audio books which is great fun!

Name a few projects you’re proud of.

My first television commercial was such a thrill, but what I liked even better was to be the voice of the Lifestyle Collection of Swiss Sense (a Dutch bedding and mattress chain). In the past couple of months I’ve worked on e-learnings for Shell, and I’m the voice of customer service at American Express Netherlands. To be honest, all jobs make me equally happy, whether they’re long or short, and whether I get a lot of exposure or no exposure at all.

Where do you find voice over jobs in the Netherlands?

I’m listed on many national and international voice casting sites. Networking has been very successful for me. A couple of years ago I went to have a drink with a few colleagues, and last month that resulted in me landing a big project. Being part of online groups and being active on LinkedIn also leads to work. It often takes one contact to get the ball rolling.

What kind of projects would you reject out of hand?

I don’t believe that my personal preferences matter when it comes to voicing projects, but I stay away from jobs where people are clearly scammed. A private investigator wanted me to record a few tapes he wanted use to bate cheaters. Trying to frame people using fake recordings isn’t my thing.

What would be your dream project?

I would love to be the signature voice of a reputable brand, and cultivate a long-term business relationship with that brand. I imagine myself helping them navigate the seasons and the ever changing world, working together to find the right tone of voice.

What do you see as your greatest obstacle preventing you from reaching that goal?

There already are so many great, established voices at the moment, which makes it challenging to be noticed by the big studios and agencies that book the big accounts. I get that, but it’s kind of tough to be a small needle in a huge haystack.

Which came first? Painting or voice overs?

As a child I spent a lot of time in my dad’s art studio. I’ve always felt I had a future in the arts, but when I came to an open house at the fine art academy, I didn’t feel at home. My teenage angst got the better of me, and I bailed out.

My lingering artistic longing has been replaced by inspiring life experiences. Voice acting set things in motion, allowing me to become more daring and in charge of my destiny. This opened up new opportunities inside of me. It made me focus on what I really wanted, and apart from painting with words, I wanted to paint with brushes! Thanks to voice overs, I started working on canvases again!

Do you see yourself having two professions, or is one more like a hobby?

Doing voice overs is my (amazing) job, and painting is part of my identity. In my ideal world I would sell a few more paintings allowing me to spend more time with my canvases, but I’d still record voice overs. Doing voice overs expands my window to the world, and I love the variety it brings. I go from pharma to automotive, from health care to commercial, and from local to international. I go from speaking to children to talking to the elderly in need, from a heartwarming bedtime story, to a very serious script. All of this inspires me to keep on painting.

Tell me more about your artistic side.

I paint using the name FacingDorith. My work revolves around beauty and emotion. With beauty I don’t mean perfection, but character, atmosphere, and originality. I paint people because they touch me deeply. Because of who they are, of what they do, and what they don’t do. I’m also endlessly fascinated by what they have to say. Meeting people leads to new insights, to rethinking, and sometimes to confusion. This whirlwind of emotions finds its way onto my canvas.

I do not feel the need to be ultra realistic. What’s important is the feeling I get regarding the person I’m painting. I want to capture their charisma, their intensity, and strength. There are some remarkable similarities between people from all over the world and their faces. It takes less than a second to feel a sense of familiarity and emotion that connects us all.

My own emotions are at the basis of my work. Not only do I want to paint the beauty of life and people’s strength, I also want to paint their fears, their losses, and their sorrows.

The darkest nights bring out the brightest stars.

I love using color. It expresses a certain feeling. Every color has its own character, but it can appear in so many nuances, and it can create an entirely different image in combination with other colors.

What’s the nicest thing someone has ever said about your work, and why were you touched by that?

When someone is really moved by my work, that’s a tremendous compliment because it affirms that what I put into it, is resonating. Some people get emotional because my work can be intense. It touches a nerve because feelings that were hidden inside, are coming out. I love that. All of us experience life in different ways, so what they are feeling is not necessarily the same as what inspired me to create the artwork. That’s never my intention.

By evoking an emotion, a connection is created. In my opinion, a work of art is never finished until it is observed by someone. The act of observation creates a message. Everyone is free to distill their own message, and that message changes depending on things like personal experiences, someone’s mood, or something simple like a different environment, or a change of light.

Do you get the same satisfaction from your voice over work?

I compare my voice over work to painting on commission versus painting spontaneously. I do work on request and that can be challenging. It’s less free, but the limitations and restrictions create a tension, a pressure, and a focus that bring out new things in me, and help me grow. That happens too, when I record voice overs.

You’re a mother of three young, energetic children. You’ve got to be there for your clients and for your kids. Does that sometimes cause friction, and how do you deal with that?

What I predominantly experience is lots of freedom. That’s because it’s easy for me to unwind and leave things as they are. It’s super busy at times, but I love working in the weekend or at night. After all: it’s me I’m doing it for. When things are slow in terms of voice overs, I grab my brushes and start painting, I go to a museum, or to the beach. I need that space to be there for my children and for myself.

My workload comes and goes, and the pressure to perform can be intense. But I also know that things will eventually calm down, so cleaning up the house can wait a little longer. When I’m busy doing voice overs I paint less, but sometimes both activities reinforce one another, and I keep on creating at night and during weekends.

What tips do you have for working moms and dads?

Here’s the thing. You’ve made the choice not to work a regular, nine to five job, so don’t put that pressure on yourself. I see no benefit in sitting behind a computer for forty hours a week. Working efficiently is different from being busy.

Take advantage of your freedom, and don’t worry about the slow times. Enjoy what you’re doing! These dry spells allow you to work on your website, to do some networking, et cetera. I get my best ideas when I’m doing something totally different, so please enjoy your freedom. By that I also mean the freedom to choose whom you want to work with. I stopped working with some clients because I was getting bad vibes. Isn’t that great? I no longer work with unpleasant or unreasonable people.

These days it’s not enough to be good at what you do. You also have to sell yourself.

To me, that’s the most challenging part of being a freelancer. As a voice over and a painter I AM selling myself. I feel vulnerable when I do that, especially when I don’t get the jobs I was in the running for. I always keep in mind: different strokes for different folks. Sometimes I just don’t fit the bill and that’s okay. I’ve learned not to take it personally. Having said that, I’m still uncomfortable presenting myself in public. I’m an introvert at heart. I register what’s going on around me, but I prefer being in the background.

What role do social media play in your professional life?

They’re really important to me. This includes my profiles on Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn, as well as the online networking groups and my websites. I update them regularly, and I have noticed that people are finding me more frequently. However, I will only do things that fit me, so you won’t see me writing blogs, vlogs, or newsletters.


I see you’ve included English demos on your website. What do you think you have to offer clients outside of the Netherlands?

My voice sounds friendly, clear, and familiar – even in English. Most people find it hard to tell where I am from, which is ideal for an international market, particularly when a service or a product isn’t linked to a specific country. This subtle Northern European accent enhances the authenticity of the message.

Being both a visual artist and a voice over artist comes with a lot of uncertainty. Do you ever long for a “normal,” steady job with fringe benefits?

When the Netherlands was still in what they were calling an “intelligent lockdown,” I worked very little. At those times I thought a more permanent job would be more desirable. On the other hand, it was relatively easy to combine home schooling my kids with working on the projects that did come in. Life has taught me to trust in my abilities as well as in the power of the mind.

When I look back at the path I have taken, I am grateful for every success, big or small. I realize I can’t see the road ahead, but I know where I want to go, and I am convinced that I will get there.

Paul Strikwerda, ©nethervoice

 

REMEMBER: The One Voice Conference USA 2020 is held from August 13 @ 6:00 pm – August 16 @ 1:00 pm. Click here to buy your ticket. A little over $187 US dollars will get you in the door, and you don’t even have to leave your house. On Saturday, August 15th at 1:00 PM EST I’ll be leading a 3-hour workshop called “Blogging your way to voice over success.” Join me!


The Most Embarrassing Moment of my Voice Over Career

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Gear, Pay-to-Play, Personal, Studio 2 Comments

Crazy MinionThis week I decided to do something different.

Instead of telling you a story, or giving you some kind of Top Ten, I will answer three seemingly simple questions I get asked a lot.

I’ll start off with some career advice, then I’ll talk about gear, and I will finish with my most embarrassing moment in this business.

Why not save the best for last?

As a voice over coach, I work with experienced people and absolute beginners. This is what many want to know:

How do I become a top-earning voice talent?

This is actually easy to answer:

By NOT becoming a full-time voice actor.

Just look at the evidence. I’m sure you’ve seen a few lists of the best paid voice overs. Trey Parker and Matt Stone are usually on those lists. They are the creators of South Park, and they wrote The Book of Mormon musical. Matt and Trey are screenwriters, producers. directors…. and they do voices for the cartoons they created.

Seth MacFarlane, Harry Shearer, and Hank Azaria are also on that list. All three are multi-talented multimillionaires. Hank is a stage actor, director and comedian. Seth created Family Guy and co-created American Dad. He’s a writer, a producer, actor, and singer. Shearer hosts his own weekly radio show, and stars in many movies.

In 2015, the movie Minions hit American theaters. The voices of these cute yellow fellows didn’t come from a professional voice actor, but from French animator Pierre-Louis Padang Coffi. In the Despicable Me movies, fellow director Chris Renaud voiced a few minions too. 

One last exhibit.

Have you seen the list of Primetime Emmy’s Nominees For Outstanding VO Character Performance & Outstanding Narrator that just came out? On that list are people like Maya Rudolph, Leslie Odom Jr., Wanda Sykes, Angela Basset, Lupita Nyong’o, and Sir David Attenborough. Now tell me: how many of them are actual voice actors as opposed to screen actors doing VO as a side hustle?

So, if your goal is to make a ton of money doing voice overs, the sure-fire road to making a fortune does not lead to the VO studio, but to a film set, a Broadway stage, or to a comedy club. Unless your name is David Attenborough. There are exceptions, but the people for whom voice acting is just something they do on the side (among many other things), tend to be the highest earners.

My advice: get famous doing something in the entertainment industry first. Once you’re a household name, the voice over offers will start pouring in. 

What equipment do you recommend for the voice over studio?

First off, even the best gear sounds crappy in a bad environment. I strongly urge you to spend most of your money on creating a semi-soundproof and acoustically treated recording space before you blow it all on a Neumann mic.

When it comes to selecting equipment, I find that a lot of people go for familiar brand names without looking any further, and they spend way too much money.

King Bee

A while ago I wrote a story entitled: Equip Your Voice-Over Studio For Under A Thousand Bucks. In it I recommend the RØDE NT1 microphone as a great starter microphone. The surprisingly excellent NEAT King Bee microphone is a more affordable alternative. Ever since NEAT separated itself from the failing mother company Gibson, they have discounted their microphones significantly. 

Now, it takes a good preamp to make a microphone shine. Audient might not be the first brand you think of when it comes to voice-over gear. Yet, this British company is known throughout the recording industry for their pristine preamps. If you’re looking for a pre with top-of-the-line AD/DA converters, a monitor controller, and lots of connectivity, the iD22 is an excellent choice. 

The iD22 has a little brother: the iD4. It’s a compact, robust, portable plug and play solution. At two hundred bucks, this stylish all-metal powerhouse is hard to beat in the studio and on the road.

What was the most embarrassing moment of your voice over career?

Let me preframe my answer by saying that I firmly believe that people make decisions based on the information that is available at the deciding moment. This information is always insufficient, and it is colored by many factors such as our emotions. Looking back, some of the decisions you and I have made may seem silly or stupid now, but had we known better, we would have made better choices.

Here’s one decision I came to deeply regret.

Back in 2009 I was launching my voice-over career in the United States, and I signed up for voices.com. That turned out to be a pretty good move, because straight away I started booking a handful of lucrative jobs.

A few months later, Voices held a contest called “The Ultimate Success Story,” asking their members to write a few words about how well they did using the online voice casting service. The grand prize was a $500 gift certificate to pro audio retailer Sweetwater.

I think you can guess what happened next: my glowing testimonial turned out to be the top pick. Last time I checked, it is still used for promotional purposes.

Why was winning the grand prize so embarrassing?

Well, right after claiming my reward, my luck on Voices ran out, and after a few years I started to dislike the whole Pay-to-Play model. As I wrote in my book Making Money In Your PJs:

“In 2013 I had a five-star rating, 5445 listens on voices.com (more than any other Dutch talent), and I landed a total of… (are you ready?) TEN jobs, earning me a whopping $2,740.89. God only knows how many auditions I have had to submit before being selected.

This can only mean one of two things. Either, I stink at playing the Pay-to-Play game, or I’m a talentless, misguided soul who should be doing something useful with his life.”

That year I left voices.com, and I never looked back. I no longer believe that a site like Voices benefits my career or my community. As I wrote in my article Leaving Voices.com:

“Today, I’d rather work for agents who have an incentive to send me quality leads with decent rates. There are no upfront fees. When I get paid, they get paid. When they negotiate a better deal, they make more money too. That’s only fair. I only pay when I actually get to play.”

Every now and then I still run into people who have read my prize-winning VDC endorsement. They also know of my overall disenchantment with online casting mills. And when they bring up my old testimonial, I get very uncomfortable.

It is the unfortunate price I pay for my Sweetwater shopping spree!

But don’t feel sorry for me.

I may not make as much as Trey, Matt, Hank or Harry, but I’m doing quite alright. 

Paul Strikwerda, ©nethervoice

 

REMEMBER: The One Voice Conference USA 2020 is held from August 13 @ 6:00 pm – August 16 @ 1:00 pm. Click here to buy your ticket. A little over $187 US dollars will get you in the door, and you don’t even have to leave your house. On Saturday, August 15th at 1:00 PM EST I’ll be leading a 3-hour workshop called “Blogging your way to voice over success.” Join me!

photo credit: Happy Meal Minion Toys via photopin (license)


VO’s Unfair, so, Grow a Pair!

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

Two pears

The other day it happened again.

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

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

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

He agreed.

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

“What do you mean?” my student asked.

“Let me give you a few examples.

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

How about this one:

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

Here’s another one:

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

He never heard from the company again.

Is that fair?

Now, here’s something that happened to me.

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

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

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

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

Well, wouldn’t that be nice?

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

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

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

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

That’s not unfair. It is what it is.

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

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

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

My student let out a despondent sigh.

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

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

I call them “the Nobodies.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What can you do for ME, today?

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

“Every advantage has its disadvantage.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’re on a personal path.

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

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

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

Forget the word fair.

Instead, focus on the word Prepare.

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

My student made an affirmative noise. 

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

Reluctantly, my student agreed, and I went on:

“The best thing I can tell you is this:

Be soft on yourself!

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

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

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

Because perfection has nowhere to grow.”

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

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

“Fair enough,” said my student.

“Fair enough.”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please share and retweet!

REMEMBER: The One Voice Conference USA 2020 is held from August 13 @ 6:00 pm – August 16 @ 1:00 pm. Click here to buy your ticket. A little over $187 US dollars will get you in the door, and you don’t even have to leave your house. On Saturday, August 15th at 1:00 PM EST I’ll be leading a 3-hour workshop called “Blogging your way to voice over success.” Join me!


Whatever Happened to Critical Thinking?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Internet, Journalism & Media, Pay-to-Play, Personal, Social Media 2 Comments

After a brief but beneficent stay in the hospital, I want to take a minute or two, to share some of my worries and concerns as I mentally prepare myself for what lies ahead. 

Thank you, by the way, for all your support and well wishes. I got the sweetest messages from all over the world, and I feel enormously grateful for your kindness!

Now let’s return to my soap box. 

One of the things I worry about is the general level of willful ignorance among those calling themselves voice-over professionals. Increasingly, people without training, experience, or common sense, are populating Facebook groups for voice-overs, asking basic questions.

They have no idea where to start, where to find jobs, how to set up a simple studio, let alone what to charge. They can’t wait to jump into the ocean, but have no idea how to swim.

These ignoramuses write things like:

“I’ve just completed a six-week voice-over training. I think I’m ready to start auditioning, but I have no idea how to market myself. Please help!”

It turns out that this so-called training consisted of one evening a week, spread out over a six-week period. If that’s enough to get a serious career started, it must be magical! However, no one bothered to even touch upon the idea of marketing, so I doubt this program was as comprehensive as the brochure said it would be.

Two things are really bothering me:

  1. The fact that someone is making money convincing impressionable people they can become a VO in six sessions
  2. The fact that people are still falling for these stupid schemes

USE YOUR NOGGIN

Whatever happened to critical thinking? Whatever happened to thoroughly researching something you’re interested in before you fork over a small fortune? Does it really take an extraordinary amount of brain power to imagine that a six-evening introduction might not be enough to break into a very competitive market?

Could this be a sign that the current wave of anti-intellectualism has overtaken our community? I know that for some of you faith and gut feeling play an important role in your decisions. However, our creator has purposely endowed us with gray matter unlike any other species on the planet. Wouldn’t it be sinful to not use it? 

I know this is a huge generalization, but based on what I see in social media, critical thinking has left the building, and common sense has gone fishing, while more and more people expect the keys to the kingdom on a silver platter.

This year I made a conscious effort to no longer help and support people who aren’t willing to learn how to swim, and I implore you to do the same. “Isn’t that a bit harsh,” you may ask?

I don’t think so.

All successful VO’s have at least one thing in common:

They are self-sufficient.

EARN YOUR PLACE

They study up, and by that I don’t mean asking others to answer basic questions for them on Facebook. That’s not studying. That’s asking others to do your homework. 

Please don’t tell me that I’m mean and egotistical by not willing to share information. I’ve been sharing information in this blog for over a decade! Free of charge. 

I got my start in the late eighties-early nineties, and there were no resources available to the aspiring voice over. In Holland (where I grew up), there were only five or six people who booked all the VO jobs, and most of them were stage actors. There were no online tutorials, educational videos, VO coaches, or books about the business. At that time it made sense to ask those who did what I wanted to do for advice. But only after I had exhausted all my research!

These days, you can pretty much find the answer to any voice over related question by doing a quick Google search. If you’re too lazy to even do that, you’re not cut out to be an independent contractor, and you don’t deserve my help.

We don’t teach babies how to walk by holding them up by their arms and dragging them around the room. That way they’ll never develop strong muscles needed to find their own way. Same thing with voice over newbies. 

THINK COMMUNITY

I also want to encourage you to make smart business-related decisions that benefit not only yourself, but our community as a whole. Be more discerning! Stop working with companies that do not have (y)our best interest at heart. You know, the companies that turn your talent into a commodity, where the lowest bidder ends up working for the cheapest client. Do not enable them to increase their influence!

Stop bidding on projects without knowing how much to charge. Don’t settle for a full buyout in perpetuity without proper compensation. If you don’t have a strong backbone, ask an agent to negotiate on your behalf. Support the VO Agent Alliance. Join the World Voices Organization. Sign up for the Freelancers Union. It’s free!

And if you’re a member, keep pushing SAG-AFTRA to take voice actors just as seriously as the other actors they represent. Not just because COVID suddenly opened their eyes to the work we do as professionals.

Above all: stay vigilant!

BE THE CHANGE

Don’t hide your head in the sand hoping rates will magically go up, and “the market” will take care of itself. It doesn’t. Things get worse when people with good intentions sit still, hoping others will lift the first finger. 

Question what you read and what you hear, especially on social media. Always take the source of the information into account. 

Be clear on how you want to spend your time. There are too many forces competing for your attention, and most of them are useless distractions. 

And lastly:

The best chance of changing other people’s behavior is to change what they react to, namely your own behavior, so: 

Use your brain, and become the colleague you most want to be.

That’s the person I’d like to meet next time we see each other in person, or online!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet: subscribe & retweet!

REMEMBER: The One Voice Conference USA 2020 is held from August 13 @ 6:00 pm – August 16 @ 1:00 pm. Click here to buy your ticket. A little over $187 US dollars will get you in the door, and you don’t even have to leave your house. On Saturday, August 15th at 1:00 PM EST I’ll be leading a 3-hour workshop called “Blogging your way to voice over success.” Join me!


What Top Japanese School Bands Taught Me About Voice Overs

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Personal 2 Comments

the author is on the right

This may come as a surprise, but I never wanted to be a voice over.

I still think it’s strange that I make a living talking to imaginary people reading scripts from folks I’ve never met, for clients I’ve never even spoken to.

But it beats digging ditches, flagging traffic in 100 degree weather, working in an Amazon warehouse, or doing the night shift at a meat processing plant.

In my teens I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to have a career in music.

THE MUSIC MAN

From the age of eight I played the cornet in what Americans would call a marching band, even though we didn’t march much. It was more of a concert band. Later on I added organ lessons, and I played the piano. I was also an avid collector of native flutes from all over the world, most of which I could play.

When I was sixteen years old I started taking conducting lessons, I began composing and arranging, and at eighteen I became the interim conductor of my band. After high school I went to Utrecht University to study musicology, even though I was admitted to a conservatory in the north of Holland.

As a university student, I joined a brass band, an orchestra playing broadway musicals, a jazz band, and a choir specializing in plainchant. I simply couldn’t sit still and be quiet. My life was music, and music was my life.

If you’d ask me today to choose between music or voice overs, I would choose music in a heartbeat. No doubt about it.

So, it won’t come as surprise that I’ve kept a keen interest in the world of brass bands, concert bands, classical music in general, and organ music in particular.

WATCH WITH ME

What I’m going to do next is a bit of a risk. I’m going to ask you to watch a spectacular seven-minute music video. What you’re about to see is a selection of the best Japanese high school symphonic bands taking part in a 2019 national competition.

Perhaps the music you’re about to hear is not your cup of tea. On the other hand, you might have played in a high school band yourself, or you may have friends who did. Perhaps you still play an instrument, and you’ll recognize and appreciate the level of musicianship you’re about to see.

Anyway, I hope you will watch a bit of it, or the whole thing, just to get a better feel for what I’m going to talk about next.

I don’t know about you, but when I watched this video for the first time, I was floored. Having played in this type of ensemble myself, I was blown away by the technical abilities of the teenagers on stage, but there was more.

If you’ve ever been a member of any school orchestra, you know there are always a few people who practice really hard, and a whole lot who are simply winging it. You can say the same about sports teams, by the way. It’s rare to have an entire youth orchestra with kids who seem to be so committed and so completely competent.

QUALITY AND DEDICATION

Another thing I noticed was that they’re not playing on crappy instruments. To me, this is proof that the schools are taking their music program seriously. It’s not an afterthought without a proper budget.

Some kids on stage are multi-instrumentalists. At 3:20 you’ll see a girl on the left playing a mallet percussion instrument walking over to the harp. Without missing a beat, she starts plucking the strings. 

What also struck me was the collective level of focus and dedication. No one was phoning it in. Of course this footage was shot at a competition, so that’s what one would expect, but here’s the thing. When you watch individual performances of these orchestras outside of a competitive setting (and there are tons of videos on YouTube), you’ll see the same level of energy, musicianship, and enthusiasm starting at the elementary school level.

Unlike my old orchestra, most of these school bands are also marching bands that frequently travel the world to show off their amazingly intricate routines. Click here to watch one of these shows. 

Back to the 2019 competition video. What impressed me most was that the performances weren’t only technically top-notch, but these teens were making real music with heart and with soul. Here’s the big question: How do they do it?

WHAT’S THE SECRET

As an academic discipline, music in Japan is just as important as mathematics. All of the musicians you see on stage started their music education in elementary school. If you don’t believe me, watch this video of an all-girl elementary school brass band playing “Jupiter” from the “The Planets” by Gustav Holst. And they’re doing it from memory!

So, what can we learn from music education in Japan?

Lesson number one: Start as early as you can, and whatever it is you do, have fun but take it seriously.

Lesson number two: Practice, practice, practice.

Most band members in Japan can’t rehearse at home, so they stay after school for a couple of hours on every weekday for individual and band practice, and sometimes during weekends and vacations as well. A band is only as good as its weakest link. No one wants to let the team down. 

Lesson number three: Keep at it. Don’t give up too quickly.

So many kids are ready to give up when things become challenging, and parents let them. How can you know that playing the piano is not for you after only a couple of  lessons? Successful people aren’t quitters.

Practicing does not come naturally. It requires discipline and needs to be learned. It takes time for habits to form. 

Lesson number four: Stay focused.

We live in a time of many distractions and short attention spans. Cell phones are always within reach, and in many homes the TV is always on. It’s easy for your mind to wonder off, if you don’t make whatever it is you want to become good at, a priority.

Lesson number five: Become an expert.

The best way to master something, is to teach it. In Japan, elder students are expected to educate the young, and younger students have to respect senior students. 

Lesson number six: Have an open, curious mind, and an eagerness to learn. 

Western band directors have marveled at the openness of the Japanese students to new ideas and noticed the apparent absence of “attitude.” Japanese students want to learn, they accept the information and instructions given to them, and most importantly, they do the work necessary to realize the desired results.

Lesson number seven: If you want to be at the top of your game, you have to have reliable equipment.

This means you need to have the means and the willingness to make a serious investment. A cheap instrument will only take you so far, and it will limit what you can achieve. 

Lesson number eight: Setting the bar high is a matter of tremendous pride.

Do these Japanese school orchestras consist of a bunch of overachievers? To the naive outsider that may seem the case, but in Japan these orchestras are of vital importance since they represent each school and its identity. 

Every year, prestigious national competitions are organized to elect the best orchestra. Imagine 14,000 bands with 800,000 competing musicians! This allows pupils to be highly motivated in terms of instrument practice because they want to defend the honor of their school.

Lesson number nine: Study the best performers in your field and keep on learning.

Japanese students are encouraged to watch live performances and learn from them. Observing top orchestras and individual performers can inspire students to up their game. The band director will often bring in professionals for clinics and joint performances to bring out the best in the students.

Lesson number ten: Cultures are different and unique. Not everything that works in Japan will work as well in the rest of the world.

For one, Japanese culture focuses more on the collective than on the individual. To an outsider, there seems to be greater (and an unhealthy) pressure to be perfect. Voice over Sean Daeley who has lived and worked in Japan told me:

“While I admit there is an element of cultural difference in perfectionism, the importance of not letting the band or your family down, and maybe even tiger mom/parentage, I’ve also talked to a number of adult students who reflected back on those experiences, saying while they may have hated it at the time, they were truly grateful they were encouraged to put in the time to enjoy the level of skill they still have as adults.”

BUT WHAT ABOUT VOICE OVERS

Here’s the connection.

Performing music is an art, and so is doing voice overs. A musician interprets the notes in a score, just as voice overs interpret the words on a page.

Before you can start a career as a voice over artist, you have to learn how to play your instrument. This takes time, practice, and concentration. You need careful guidance and a willingness to accept direction from people with more experience.

You have to leave your attitude of entitlement and “I know everything already” at the door. You don’t know what you don’t know. 

When you get advice from a VO veteran, don’t complain about the older generation pretending to be better than you are. Say “Thank you,” and repay him or her by putting it into practice and by paying it forward.

You need to focus, listen, and learn until you become so good at what you do, that you can teach the material to a new generation. It requires relentless dedication, time, and energy.

As someone who will be self-employed, no one will set the bar, but you. No one will get you out of bed, but you. No one will tell you what to do, but you. 

If you’re not disciplined enough to handle that (and most people aren’t), a voice over career isn’t your thing.

And finally…

Your studio will be your stage, and you’ll be performing for an audience you’ll never see.

So, don’t do it for the applause.

Do it for the music!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice


Life and Death in times of COVID

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Dutch, Personal Leave a comment

A few weeks ago, I told you about my Dutch colleague Jolanda Bayens. She is the founder and director of the Voice Over College, and one of Holland’s most in-demand voices. Jolanda is also a registered nurse, but she hasn’t practiced in twenty-six years.

When the Corona virus hit her region hard, she felt she had to do something to help, and she offered to go back to nursing. After Jolanda’s first story was published, people kept checking in with me to find out how she’s doing.

This is her update:

It’s a gorgeous sunny day in May. The highway is a bit busier than last week. As I’m driving, I start thinking about the things I have to do, tomorrow. One of those jobs is a voice over recording, a medical animation to be exact. I’m grateful that most of my customers still know where to find me, even in these testing times. 

There’s also lots of planning to do for my training institute, the voice over college. Thank goodness my guest teachers are incredibly flexible. Meanwhile, the lockdown seems to get more relaxed in the Netherlands. We’re allowed to get out a bit more, emphasis on “a bit.” When I pass an electronic message board, I’m being warned not to unwind in a nearby nature reserve as they’re expecting record crowds this weekend.

Half an hour has passed when I park my car in the parking lot of the nursing home. Because I’m working in a COVID-19 ward, I’m not allowed to use the regular staff entrance. My colleagues and I have to enter through the mortuary. Different doors that only open when I enter the correct code, take me to the stairwell. I walk up the stairs, and I consciously take a deep breath in and out, pushing the door open.

I have arrived. 

PROTECTING OURSELVES

Jolanda Bayens

As a temp nurse I work on different COVID-19 wards. Today I go to a floor that has been hit very hard. My colleague and I (it’s just the two of us because they couldn’t find an additional nurse for this shift), get into our protective suits. We put on gloves, face masks, and safety goggles. During our shift we cannot leave this ward and we’re responsible for nine demented people. Only one of them is not infected with the Corona virus.

That one person happens to be stretching his legs as I walk in. He has no idea where he is or what he’s doing There’s no one to stop him and his family is not allowed to come in. He is terrified and keeps asking what he is supposed to do. I feel guilty because I can’t really help him.

During the day shift three people on this floor have passed. Apart from the one “healthy” resident, all others are in bed feeling terribly sick. I can tell one of them hasn’t got long to live. The doctor has been called to administer morphine, which he does. Because we expect that death is near, we call the next of kin. They show up wearing layers of protective clothing.

THE LIVING AND THE DYING

The family members come inside, and we show them to their dad who is fighting for his life. His kids are shocked by what they see and tell their father that it’s okay to let go. But the old man is clinging on. I get goosebumps as I’m fighting back the tears.

We stay a while to explain what the family can and cannot do under these circumstances, and then we continue with our work. One lady in our care is gravely ill, and the rest of the residents are so sick that they don’t want to eat or drink.

Forty-five minutes later the family of the dying man decides to go home. They were only allowed to stay for half an hour, but we gave them some extra time. Every ten minutes my colleague and I stick our heads around the corner to see how the dying man is doing.

When I enter his room around eight, I see that he has passed. He looks totally exhausted. I ask a doctor to call the time of death, while family members contact the undertaker who will take care of the body. Normally, that’s our job, but because of Corona regulations we aren’t allowed to do that. 

FEELING GUILTY

The only thing we can do is carry on. We help people eat and drink, we give them medications, and we clean the residents up. We take their temperature and blood pressure, and we measure their oxygen level. We continue to do so until the end of our shift.

In the car, on my way back, I feel guilty because I wasn’t able to give my patients the care they so desperately deserve and need. When I try to brush that uncomfortable feeling away, I suddenly notice how thirsty I am. Walking around in those protective suits feels like being in a sauna, and with only two nurses on duty, there wasn’t enough time to even take a sip of water.

I turn on the radio to listen to the news. The number of people with COVID-19 being admitted to hospitals has gone down again, and the numbers at the ICU’s are decreasing as well. But once again, no one is mentioning anything about nursing homes. It is as if we do not exist.

The news reader continues: at the main railway station in Amsterdam, police officers and railway officials had to be deployed to manage the enormous flow of travelers heading for the beach resort of Zandvoort. Forget social distancing. Getting an early tan and emptying a six pack of Heineken is much more important. 

I’m finally home. I get out of my car and take a deep breath.

It’s time to go inside.

My voice over studio awaits.

Jolanda Bayens


When COVID-19 leaves patients speechless, a voice actor steps up

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Dutch, International, Journalism & Media, Personal 2 Comments

Do you remember your dreams? 

I rarely do, but the one I had last night has been on my mind since I woke up at 4:00 AM. It was an almost mystical and comforting experience. Here’s why. 

In my sleep, a deep, soothing voice instructed me to go to my computer and write a new story for my blog.

“Make sure you give it some thought,” the voice said, “because it’s going to be your very last blog post. If there’s anything you’d like to say to your readers, this is the time to say it.”

Once I started typing, the emotional floodgates opened, and line after line started weaving a story filled with love, gratitude, and endless appreciation.

When it was finished, the voice returned and said:

“It’s time to go. Follow me.”

At that moment, my soul left my exhausted body in the hospital bed beneath me. As I floated upward, feeling like a fluffy feather in the wind, I could see the nurses take me off the ventilator, and cover my mortal remains with a white sheet.

It felt perfectly natural. I wasn’t scared. I remember being blissfully overwhelmed by a tingling sensation of lightness that I’d never experienced before. Instinctively I knew that everything was going to be alright.

The drop was coming back to the ocean.

It was time to go home!

COPING WITH A DEADLY VIRUS

We all deal with COVID-19 in different ways. I’m not interested in political spin, or in networks trying to pump up their ratings with unscientific sensationalism. Give me the facts and I’ll be fine. I’d like to know what I am dealing with.

I’m not scared of this virus because I know how to keep myself and those around me safe. What I am afraid of are the gun slinging nitwits who believe it’s okay to endanger my life just so they can get a six pack at the beer emporium, buy some ammo at Walmart, and get their bushy beards trimmed. All in the name of freedom.

Pro Life my ass!

Then there are people I have tremendous admiration for. The essential workers, the ones who do the dirty, risky jobs for minimum wage with minimum protection. You know, the tax-paying immigrants targeted for incarceration and eventually deportation.

I also admire colleagues such as Jolanda Bayens (I wrote about her last week), who went back to nursing to help vulnerable seniors. Every single day she’s dealing with new cases of Corona, as coffins leave the premises of the care facility she works at. 

COVID-19 preys on the weak, the willfully unprotected, and even on pastors who are dead certain that God will keep them and their misguided out of the Pearly Gates.

VOICE TALENT AND SPEECH THERAPIST

Hellen Moes

This week I learned that another member of our voice acting tribe is doing her share to help those suffering from COVID. Her name is Hellen Moes, and she doubles as a certified speech therapist in the Netherlands. She works in a teaching hospital, and normally she assists patients who have trouble swallowing and speaking after they’ve been treated for a malignant tumor in the oral cavity, or pharynx.

These days, Hellen helps Corona patients that just came off the ventilator who are having problems with their oral intake. Hellen says that most people don’t realize that the same organs that allow us to speak and sing, are used for the safe intake of food. They help us to chew and taste, and swallow solids and liquids. “Safe” means making sure that everything ends up in the esophagus, and not in the trachea.

All of us were born with a very ingenious system that protects us from choking. Hellen explains:

“In less than a second, our swallowing reflex separates food from air, closing the vocal folds, making the larynx move up as the epiglottis is closing the opening to the respiratory system while the tongue and the back throat wall are pushing the food to the gullet inlet. 

COVID-19 patients on respirators are intubated. During intubation a special instrument (laryngoscope) is used to carefully push the epiglottis away, so the intubation tube can be inserted in the trachea through the opened vocal folds. A small balloon at the end of the tube holds it in place inside the trachea. 

This means that patients can’t swallow as long as they’re on a respirator. They’re fed artificially through a nasal probe that enters the throat, going to the gullet inlet to the stomach. That’s precisely the reason why these patients are sedated while they’re on a respirator. 

When the throat muscles aren’t used for complicated things like coughing, vocalizing, and speaking, they weaken. During intubation it sometimes happens that a vocal fold gets scratched, a vocal cord nerve gets entrapped, and vocal folds become paralyzed. This has a negative impact on the swallowing function, and on someone’s ability to speak.”

SPEECH PROBLEMS

Once the intubation tube has been removed, and the patients wake up, they find that it’s almost impossible to speak. They’ve either completely lost their voice, or the voice is very weak. On top of that it’s almost impossible to cough because the vocal folds cannot close properly to build up the necessary pressure.

When the patients try to drink something, they choke and can’t cough. When that happens, a speech therapist like Hellen is called in. She picks up the story:

“The Corona virus has definitely changed the nature of my work. Part of me is afraid, a little ill at ease, and unsure of myself.

Hellen at the hospital

The support and involvement of the nurses is crucial for me, as is the protective clothing. It gives me some peace of mind. Because I am wearing a face mask, the patients have a hard time hearing my instructions. Normally, I show my patients how they can swallow more forcefully, but now they can’t see that. After I give them instructions, I have to listen carefully to make sure no food has gotten into their vulnerable lungs. 

Most of my patients have a long way to go before they can eat their steak and fries, but they are usually very grateful that they’re able to taste real food after having gone through a very, very difficult period.”

Please remember that COVID-19 is a merciless killer. To quote a recent article

“Clinicians are realizing that although the lungs are ground zero, its reach can extend to many organs including the heart and blood vessels, kidneys, gut, and brain. The disease can attack almost anything in the body with devastating consequences. Its ferocity is breathtaking and humbling.” 

Hellen Moes is taking a short break from speech therapy to voice a project for the medical faculty of the University of Maastricht. Like her colleague Jolanda, she’s very down to earth, and doesn’t think she’s doing something heroic. She’s doing what she’s been trained to do: helping people recover from something that could have easily killed them. Something that could potentially kill her too.

Hellen is one of my heroes.

GIVING THANKS

As I wake up from my dream, I feel elated to be alive. It seems my number isn’t up yet. All I can do to help, is stay inside as much as I can. Anne Frank and her family could do it for two years, and they didn’t have Netflix, Instagram, or Facebook. So, you don’t hear me complaining about physical distancing, or the need for a haircut. It’s a small price to pay to save lives.

Once again I feel overcome by gratitude for the people in the front lines who battle COVID-19 every single day. The people who keep the country running and the supermarkets stocked. The workers in warehouses, the people who deliver, and the scientists searching for a vaccine. If only I had a way to say “Thank you!”

Then my colleague Bev Standing came up with an idea. J. Michael Collins wrote the script, and Humberto Franco did the editing. Lots of voice over friends donated their voice to a video that says it all.

Have a look:

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Hellen is available to voice your projects with a Euro-English accent. Have a listen.


How One of Our Own is Dealing with COVID-19

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Dutch, International, Journalism & Media, Personal 10 Comments

In Europe, very few people have heard of Fred Rogers, or Mr. Rogers, as he was known to millions of Americans.

The Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood TV show for preschoolers aired from 1968 to 2001, and it continues to run in syndication and on streaming services today. Last year saw the premiere of the movie A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, starring Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers. 

Fred Rogers was an expert at translating the complex adult world in terms kids could understand. His shows are still a resource for parents on talking to children about tragic events such as school shootings and killer viruses. 

Rogers is often quoted as saying: 

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”

As the world is dealing with the Corona virus, one of those helpers is a colleague of ours whom I interviewed for this blog not so long ago. She was supposed to come to VO Atlanta, but COVID-19 disrupted her plans. Her name: Jolanda Bayens.

Jolanda is one of Holland’s most prominent voice overs, and the founder and CEO of the Voice Over College, a training institute for voice actors. 

Twenty-six years ago, Jolanda was a nurse, specializing in terminal care. After her studies she worked at a hospice, and later in home nursing. She fell and broke her pelvis in three locations. A few years later they discovered she had a condition that caused her bones to break very easily and significantly. She was declared unfit to work because the fractures didn’t heal properly.

Today, Jolanda is back in her nurse’s uniform, being one of the helpers. I asked her to tell her story:

DEALING WITH COVID-19

Jolanda Bayens

“When the Corona crisis hit the Netherlands, I felt an urge. The urge to help. After all, I am a trained nurse, and taking care of people is not something one easily forgets.

I don’t work in a hospital, but in a place that takes care of the weakest people in our society: a nursing home. In the Netherlands, just like anywhere else, entire wards have been isolated from the outside world because patients have COVID-19. In those wards, a silent disaster is taking place, right under our noses. 

I take care of 34 people who suffer from all types of dementia. Most of them aren’t ambulatory anymore. They don’t know who they are, let alone who I am. They’re confused, lonely, and unable to carry on a conversation. They look at you with hollow eyes, and listen with ears that do not understand what’s going on.

These people are bedridden, and one is sicker than the other. The virus is unpredictable. In the morning someone can seem wide awake and alert, and in the afternoon that same person is down with a high fever. Their oxygen level is low, so they’re short of breath. About a third of infected patients won’t make it. Physically, they were already weak, and this virus causes severe pneumonia which is usually the cause of death.

LACK OF PROTECTION AND EQUIPMENT

We have only one oxygen saturation monitor that measures the oxygen level of all 140 patients. There are safety goggles available, but we don’t have enough of them. We really have no idea if we have enough face masks and protective clothing for everyone in the near future. We’re using one face mask and one apron per shift, which is against regulations, but we have no choice. We’re constantly begging for more. 

My heart breaks for my patients. Every hour of my shift their condition deteriorates. Because there aren’t enough nurses and the family isn’t allowed to help, I feel like I’m constantly running behind. 

As soon as someone is close to death, we call the family. Only one person is allowed in the room with the patient. Most of the time that’s a partner or a child. The rest of the next of kin has to say their goodbyes outside, waiting in front of a window. Fortunately, my section is on the ground floor. Otherwise this wouldn’t even be possible. The person who has been with the patient then has to be self-quarantined.

About half of the permanent staff has chosen not to work on my floor as long as there’s COVID-19. A small group of caregivers is forced to make that choice because their husband, wife, or child is part of a risk group. They fear infection. I do understand that, but I also notice that this causes resentment among the caregivers who are continuing to work on the COVID ward.

All in all I feel frustrated. There aren’t enough caregivers, and those who are working are exhausted. There’s a lack of qualified nurses and we cannot protect our patients or ourselves. The family of the people we care for isn’t always understanding. They get angry and blame us for the infection. That really hurts. 

So, why are we continuing to care for our patients, possibly risking our own lives? Because we’re afraid that no one else will help these fragile people who are totally dependent on others. They deserve as much care as anyone else.

NO HEROES

I’ve seen signs outside of hospitals saying that the people who work there are heroes. Every now and then people start applauding the doctors and nurses. That doesn’t happen where I work.

I’m afraid that the people I take care of are part of a forgotten group. Small local businesses, however, have not forgotten us. Almost every day they send us flowers and yummy treats which are very much appreciated. 

Today, I’m off. That means: I work from home. I do the laundry, I run the house, I cook, and I record voice overs, of course. The show must go on. Thank goodness the projects keep coming in, even though there aren’t as many as in normal times. Tomorrow, after my morning shift in the nursing home, I’m going to rest up a bit. That way I’m ready to teach my beginner voice acting class in the evening.

I want to stress that my fellow nurses and I don’t see ourselves as heroes. We just want to do what we can, because if we don’t, no one else will do it.

It’s all about loving our fellow human beings.

Regardless of who they are, or what state they’e in.”

Jolanda Bayens, voice over/nurse

 

PS If you’d like to show Jolanda some love, please leave a few words of encouragement in the comments. 


Business as Unusual

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Dutch, International, Personal 5 Comments

I’ve been living and working in the United States for twenty years, but I’ll never forget my first tornado warning.

All of a sudden the dark sky became a strange shade of green, and the violent winds died down abruptly. It became quiet in the street. Eerily quiet. The birds stopped singing, and the hounds stopped howling.

Without warning we could hear a deep and loud roar, as if a freight train rumbled into our neighborhood. This was our signal to seek shelter in the basement. Something deadly was coming our way that would demolish anything in its path.

This is what it feels like, living under the threat of the Corona virus. It’s the chilly silence before the storm that will come our way, no matter what.

I live about an hour and half from New York, the place that has been hit the hardest. Until yesterday, the Transbridge bus from Manhattan took groups of commuters to my town, several times a day.

Because hardly anyone gets tested for COVID-19, we have no way of knowing who’s infected and who isn’t. Only yesterday, a man my age was sent back home from the hospital because his symptoms were too mild. He died a few hours later.

Tragedies like that make one ponder matters of life and death.

In the meantime, we think we’re safe at home, as long as we obsessive-compulsively wash our hands and don’t mingle with the masses. But you know what? A man’s got to eat, so we rush to the supermarket to stock up. There we wait in line for the checkout, only separated by the length of our shopping carts, and absolutely no one keeps a six foot distance. There’s simply no space to do that.

In Pennsylvania (where I live), the situation is very similar to the one in the Netherlands (where I was born): closed stores and schools, people working from home, and senior citizens who cannot be visited. The social-cultural-religious life has come to a standstill, and Netflix is more popular than ever.

In a weird way, not much has changed for me. As a voice over with a fully equipped home studio, I’ve been separating myself from the outside world for years. Clients find me online, they email me their scripts, and they receive the audio in digital format.

For my wife the situation was different. She teaches flute and piano, and students always come to her studio. Now she has successfully transitioned to online-only teaching with the help of Zoom, Skype, and FaceTime. All of the concerts she had scheduled for the next few months, were cancelled.

At the end of our workday, we migrate to our couch to watch some sappy Dutch TV shows. I’ve got to tell you, in spite of all the news reports, things still feel quite normal, and this has me worried. An invisible danger is rapidly approaching, and I am aware that we are in a risk group.

My wife and I are both over fifty. She’s got MS, and I have a serious heart condition. We know that the hospitals cannot handle the virus, as they’re already begging for protective clothing and ventilators.

And yet, I choose not to live in permanent fear. I stick to my daily routine by being there for my significant other, my customers, and my coaching students. It’s something to hold on to in uncertain times.

I know I cannot stop the storm, but I can adjust my sails.

This too, shall eventually pass.

For now, it’s business as unusual.

 

Ik woon en werk nu al twintig jaar in Amerika, maar ik zal mijn eerste tornado waarschuwing nooit vergeten.

De donkere lucht kleurde opeens een wonderlijk groen, en de harde wind ging plotseling liggen. Het werd stil op straat. Onheilspellend stil. Geen vogel zong meer, en ook de honden hielden op met huilen.

Plotsklaps klonk er een diep en luid gebrul, alsof er een vrachttrein grommend op de buurt afdenderde. Dat was voor ons het signaal om de kelder in te duiken. Er was iets dodelijks op komst dat alles in zijn pad zou vernietigen.

Zo voelt het een beetje nu we leven onder de dreiging van het Corona virus. Het is de ijzige stilte voor de storm die hoe dan ook zal komen.

Ik woon op anderhalf uur afstand van New York dat het hardst getroffen is. Tot gister hadden we nog een busverbinding naar Manhattan die een paar keer per dag groepen reizigers afleverde. Omdat er nauwelijks op COVID-19 getest wordt weten we niet wie al geïnfecteerd is en wie niet.

Gister stuurde een ziekenhuis nog een man van mijn leeftijd naar huis omdat zijn klachten niet ernstig genoeg waren. Hij overleed een paar uur later.

Dan ga je toch wel even nadenken over leven en dood.

We wanen ons intussen veilig in ons huis zolang we de handen maar obsessief-compulsief blijven wassen en ons niet tussen de massa’s begeven. Maar goed, een mens  moet toch eten, dus even snel naar de supermarkt voor proviand. Daar staan we wagentje aan wagentje te wachten voor de kassa, en geen kip houdt zich aan de anderhalve meter afstand. Daar is geen ruimte voor.

Bij ons in Pennsylvania hetzelfde beeld als bij jullie: gesloten winkels en scholen, mensen die vanuit huis werken, en bejaarden die geen bezoek meer mogen ontvangen. Het sociaal-cultureel-religieuze leven staat stil, en Netflix beleeft gouden tijden.

Gek genoeg is er voor mij niet eens zo heel veel veranderd. Als voice over met een thuisstudio ben ik al jaren van de buitenwereld afgesloten. Mijn klanten vinden mij online, ze emailen me scripts toe, en ze krijgen de audio digitaal toegestuurd.

Voor mijn vrouw was het anders. Zij geeft piano- en dwarsfluitles, en de studenten komen altijd naar haar toe. Nu geeft ze met succes online les via Zoom, Skype, en FaceTime. Wel zijn al haar concerten voor de komende maanden afgelast.

Als onze werkdag ten einde is, dan gaan we lekker op de bank “Boer zoekt Vrouw” zitten kijken. Ik zal je vertellen, ondanks de nieuwsberichten voelt het allemaal nog zo normaal aan, en dat beangstigt mij een beetje. Er is een onzichtbaar gevaar op komst, en ik besef dat we alle twee in een risicogroep zitten.

Mijn vrouw en ik zijn beide boven de vijftig. Zij heeft MS, en ik heb vrij serieuze hartklachten. We weten dat de ziekenhuizen niet op dit virus berekend zijn en nu al om beschermingsmiddelen en beademingsapparatuur moeten bedelen. Intussen kopen Amerikanen wapens, in plaats van naaimachines om mondkapjes mee te maken. 

Toch kies ik er voor om niet in permanente angst te leven. Ik blijf mijn normale routine volgen door er te zijn voor mijn geliefde, mijn klanten, en m’n voice over studenten. Het is iets om me aan vast te houden in onzekere tijden.

Ik weet dat ik de storm niet kan keren, maar ik kan wel m’n zeilen bijzetten.

Ook dit gaat uiteindelijk weer voorbij.

Voor nu is het “business as unusual.”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice


Sharpening the Axe

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, International, Journalism & Media, Personal, Social Media, VO Atlanta 6 Comments

Camp VO was canceled. VO Atlanta was postponed, and the One Voice Conference in London is going ahead in a virtual format.

I think we can all agree that the right decisions were made, given the extraordinary circumstances. However, the feeling of disappointment remains.

What will be axed next, you wonder? The summer Olympics?

It’s fascinating that the word crisis comes from the Greek word krisis, which means “turning point in a disease, a change which indicates recovery or death.”

This COVID-19 crisis has forced all of us to change our behavior in ways we would have never imagined, only a few weeks ago. The main questions on my mind were:

  • What exactly is going on?
  • What are the consequences?
  • How do I respond?

 

MY PERSONAL REACTION

This week I’d like to tell you how I am dealing with the corona crisis, by sharing some of my recent Instagram posts. If you’re not following me yet, I hope you will after reading this blog post (@nethervoice).

What I want to do with these statements is increase awareness, and make people think twice about the situation they’re in. My strategy is always to say as much as I can in as few words as possible without distorting the truth. At least, my version of the truth. 

For many people, being confined to their home seems to be a major challenge. I count myself very lucky that living and working in isolation is no problem for me.

Other people are clearly having a hard time staying away from one another. They mob supermarkets hunting for toilet paper and hand sanitizer. What’s up with that?

Because my wife and I are in a risk group, people seem to believe we should be very afraid. For me, knowing what’s going on helps me get a better grip on the situation.

Ignorance weakens. Knowledge empowers. 

Some politicians were accusing the messenger throughout this pandemic, and they continue to do so. Before we blame the press for all our woes, let’s agree that it’s up to us which source of information we trust, and what we do with the information from that source.

The media cannot make us do anything. We are responsible for how we respond to what we see, hear, and choose to believe.

I’m not worried about those who practice social distancing, and stay home as much as they can. I’m not worried about those who are mindful of others. I do worry about those who think they don’t have to change their behavior, just because they do not notice any symptoms. 

To me, the image below sums up the best response we could have to COVID-19. I’d rather be overly careful, than underestimate the situation we’re in. 

You don’t have to be an expert to see that this corona virus is not only a health crisis but an economic one as well. Unless you’re selling sanitizers, respirators and protective clothing, your business will slow down and suffer.

I hate to say it, but from now on it’s going to be survival of the smartest and those who are best prepared. The good news is that with less work coming in, you’ll have more time to prepare yourself for the months and years to come.

Abraham Lincoln, who was a skilled woodcutter before becoming one of the most important presidents in US history, famously said:

“If I had six hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend the first four hours sharpening the axe.”

Well, my friends, this is the time to sharpen your axe, and use it wisely.

Refresh your demos, revamp your website, step up your marketing, increase your social media exposure, work with a coach on your weaknesses, build a proper studio, upgrade your gear.

Invest. Invest. Invest.

If you don’t do it, others will, and they’ll come out of this crisis ready and running.

And remember:

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Share, repost and retweet