Personal

Five Questions. Five Answers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s my answer:

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

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

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

WANT MORE ME?

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

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Here’s What You’ve Missed

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, International, Internet, Journalism & Media, Money Matters, Personal, Promotion Comments Off on Here’s What You’ve Missed
Paul Strikwerda

The author

Happy New Year!

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

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

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

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

WHAT DID YOU MISS

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

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

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

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

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

GETTING PERSONAL

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

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

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

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

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

IT’S ALL ABOUT COMMUNICATION

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

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

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

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

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

SELLING YOURSELF

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

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

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

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

MOVING ON

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s to another fabulous year!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!

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How To Handle Negative Comments

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Internet, Journalism & Media, Personal 12 Comments

cyberbullyingDon’t be shocked.

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

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

It doesn’t really matter.

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

Online. For the whole world to see.

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

A DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD

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

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

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

THE WIND AND THE TREES

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

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

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

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

1. Don’t take it personally.

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

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

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

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

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

One more thing.

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

2. Substantive feedback is valuable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Don’t.

Let others come to your defense.”

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

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

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

A few words of advice:

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

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

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

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

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

5. Comment carefully.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DEALING WITH NEGATIVITY

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

In a recent interview, Nadiya was asked:

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

Here’s what she said: 

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

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

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

The choice is yours.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!

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

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Should We Shoot The Messenger?

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

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

America has voted. The people have spoken. 

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

Some of us are elated.

Some of us are scared. 

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

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

How so? 

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

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

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

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

It’s all about influence. 

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

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

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

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

Don’t worry. That’s perfectly normal. 

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

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

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

Well, you’re wrong.

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

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

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

Words are never “just” words. 

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

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

“To what aim am I doing my job?”

“What are the potential consequences?” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It depends.

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

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

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

One last thing.

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

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

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

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

Our election is over.

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

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

Or is it just beginning?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!

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Lessons From Bridezilla and Buffet

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

BridezillaAt the bank I once worked for as a trainer, they had a saying:

“If it’s about money, it’s never funny.”

Ain’t that the truth!

To that I added my own adage:

“Show me your bank account, and I’ll tell you how you lead your life.”

Bankers and accountants probably know more about you than your therapist. By analyzing the way you spend your money, they can tell whether or not you lead a healthy lifestyle, if you’re a good planner, and if you can resist instant gratification.

On blogs and networking sites, money is a popular theme. People want to know how much to charge, whether or not they should spend $399 on a membership of a particular casting site, and if it’s OK to discount services… the list is endless.

A while ago, I found myself caught up in a discussion about online freelance job sites like Upwork and Freelancer.com. These sites can connect you with prospective clients from all over the world, and help you find projects that are not listed on the familiar voice-over casting sites.

However, when I looked at the average bids some of our colleagues put in to get voice-over work, I was stunned. If you think that doing a job for $100 is stretching it, wait until you check out sites like guru.com. Your jaw will drop to your knees, and that’s not a good thing if you’re in the voice-over business.   

HARD TIMES

Some of the people I was debating were justifying these low rates by pointing at the current economic climate:

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

Well, I wasn’t buying it. 

Are you? 

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

Then why do some of my colleagues feel the need to put themselves up for grabs in the bargain basement?

Remember: once you’re in there, it’s so hard to climb out. Forget how the economy is doing at a moment. If you subscribe to the notion that you often get what you pay for, why are you selling yourself and your colleagues short? What are you afraid of? Rejection by means of a certain two-letter word? 

THE HARDEST WORD

Top negotiator William Ury wrote a book called “The power of a positive No”. For some of us, that word is one of the hardest in the language, but it can also be very powerful. When we’re saying “No,” we’re asserting ourselves, and we’re affirming our boundaries, whether it’s in an intimate relationship, or in a business relationship.

Being an independent contractor means that we have to have a good sense of what we’re worth. We have to have the guts to stand up for ourselves (and each other), and say “No” when faced with a bad deal. If we don’t, people will inevitably take advantage of us.

Let me rephrase that: If we don’t dare to say “No,” we are allowing others to take advantage of us. Or, as Dr. Phil puts it: “We teach people how to treat us.” Here’s an example.

BRIDEZILLA

You may know that I used to be a non-denominational wedding officiant. I could set my own fees, and every now and then a newly engaged couple would tell me that they were on a shoestring budget. Before I knew it, they were practically begging me to lower my rate.

In the beginning -when I didn’t know any better- I fell for it big time. I wanted to be liked, and I felt sorry for the couple as I remembered the times I had to nickel and dime. Guess what… I paid for my lack of backbone, until I had learned my lesson.

First of all, these couples turned out to be the most demanding couples I had ever worked with. I’d give them a finger, and they would want the entire hand. I’m all for underpromising and overdelivering, but within reason. If you’ve seen some of the Bridezilla shows on TV, you know that not every princess is as sweet as her Daddy believes her to be.

Secondly, these ‘shoestring weddings’ often turned out to be the most lavish events I’d ever been invited to. Apparently, other vendors had not fallen for the couple’s story of woe. As soon as I had learned my lesson, and I started charging fair fees, I would say to my couples: 

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

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

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

THE SECRET TO MAKING BILLIONS

Author William Ury recalls a breakfast he once had with Warren Buffet, one of the most successful investors ever. Ury writes: “He confided in me that the secret to creating his fortune lay in his ability to say No.” Buffet said: 

“I sit there all day and look at investment proposals. I say No, No, No, No, No, No -until I see one that is exactly what I am looking for. And then I say Yes. All I have to do is say Yes a few times in my life and I’ve made my fortune.”

So, let’s learn from Buffet and promise each other to teach our clients how to treat us. 

Say NO to rates that insult your unique talent, your professionalism, your intelligence, and your experience.

Economists tell us that the only way to get out of an economic slump is to start spending again. 

If anything, we should start making more money, not less. 

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

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

Take that, Bridezillas!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoiceHow 

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

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Forget Regret!

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Personal 15 Comments

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

“No, there’s nothing I regret.”

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

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

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

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

“If only… then maybe….”

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

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

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

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

TURNING THE CLOCK BACK

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

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

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

Here are the facts.

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

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

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

HARSH JUDGEMENT

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE PAST IS NO MORE

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

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

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

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

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

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

That would only be fair, wouldn’t it?

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

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

I would tell her the following.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MAKING CHOICES

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

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

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

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

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

OFF THE HOOK

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

I wouldn’t go that far.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I promise you won’t regret it!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

P.S Be sweet. Please retweet!

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If Only I had Known

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Personal 17 Comments

Crystal Ball“Looking back, and knowing what you know now… what would you have done differently, and why?”

This question (and many of its variations), is really popular among those interviewing the rich and famous. It’s meant to elicit golden nuggets of priceless information, acquired over a long and illustrious career. It’s an old trick, and it still works.

As an interviewer I’ve probably used it dozens of times, and I could only get away with my lack of originality by editing myself out. I usually kept the answer until the end of the conversation. After a short musical interlude, the celebrity I was speaking with would “spontaneously” get philosophical, and come up with this profound life lesson that resonated long after the interview was over.

Mission accomplished!

Last week, the tables were turned when a young colleague asked me same question: “Looking back, and knowing what you know now… what would you have done differently, and why?”

At that moment one realizes that it’s much easier to ask than to answer, but I knew pretty quickly what I was going to say. It brought me back to the beginning of my American career, some sixteen years ago. Here’s what I came up with:

“I wish I would have listened to my heart, instead of to my mind, when I thought of becoming a voice-over.”

I realize that this is not an eye-opening, Zen-like insight, but I know I’m not the only one struggling with the battle between warm feelings and cold logic. 

At that time my analytical, practical mind came up with all these brilliant rationalizations as to why a VO-career would never work for me. This was at the beginning of a new millennium, and I had just arrived in the United States.

I had very little money, no contacts in the industry, and I didn’t know where to begin. How would I promote myself in a country with over 300 million people? Who would hire this nobody from Holland with his funny accent?

I felt overwhelmed, unprepared, and insecure.

Of course there was no Facebook or LinkedIn group where aspiring voice-overs could ask questions. There were no books about the business, and the concept of home studios did not exist. It was much easier to find a job waiting tables, and as someone who needed to make money, that’s exactly what I did.

My first job was at The Fish House in Lambertville, NJ, and even though I was a vegetarian, I knew how to sell sardines, swordfish, and Chilean sea bass. Because I didn’t know anybody, the so-called celebs who frequented this restaurant didn’t impress me.

One day, a colleague took me aside and said: “Do you know who you just served?”

I had no idea.

“The coach of the Eagles!” he replied enthusiastically. “You know… THE EAGLES!!”

I looked at him with a straight face, and said: “What Eagles?”

In hindsight I think coach Andy Reid appreciated that I treated him like a regular customer. He even laughed at one of my wine jokes. His wife Tammy wanted to know why the Jersey Chard she was drinking had such a distinctive yellow glow. I told her the vineyard was next to a nuclear power plant.

Fortunately she though it was funny. 

Meanwhile, I didn’t know that I had just taken the first step in becoming a real actor: I was waiting tables!

The restaurant was also where people began commenting on my voice, my accent, and my ability to speak several languages. To me it was kind of a party trick to help my tip jar, but kind customers asked: “No offense, but why are you a waiter? You should really do something with that voice of yours!”

Encouraged, I signed up for an open casting call at Mike Lemon Casting in Philadelphia. My heart told me that’s where I should go, but my mind was skeptical. Once again it came up with a million reasons as to why I wouldn’t make the cut. All those reasons made perfect sense, but they were all wrong. 

That day, voice casting director Joanne Joella signed me on the spot, and my American adventure in voice-overs officially began.

Well, not quite.

Even though I was booking some decent jobs here and there, my mind told me this wasn’t going to last, and that I really needed a serious position doing serious work. I was doing well on tips as a waiter, but recommending Jersey wine and pan-seared scallops did not make a career.

That’s how I ended up in a call center, surveying European hard- and software specialists by telephone. Of course these overworked, stressed out professionals had nothing better to do than talk to me, and they all loved telling me about their satisfaction with the latest network servers.

NOT.

This job had two amazing perks. One: Because we called businesses in Germany and in the Netherlands, I lived on European time, getting up at 2:00 AM, making my first call at 3:00 AM (9:00 AM in Amsterdam and Munich). Two: I had to use a script from which I was not allowed to deviate.

That was my second step in becoming a real actor: I got to use scripts!

A year or two into that pathetic call center job, something wonderful happened. All the interviewers were mercifully replaced by an automated voice response system that was much better at taking verbal abuse from German software specialists who were sick of revealing their satisfaction with product X on a scale of zero to ten, zero meaning completely dissatisfied, and ten meaning completely satisfied.

It was time for me to move up the ladder!

Did I listen to my heart this time, and would I be pursuing a full-time voice-over career?

No, my friends. My mind talked me into accepting a job as a customer service trainer at Wachovia Bank. As we all know, banks are a secure place to work. Some of them even offer benefits.

Yea for me!

Luckily, I knew nothing about the financial industry or balancing books, and I suffer from dyscalculia. That’s like being dyslexic but with numbers instead of words. It’s particularly useful when you have to stare at bank accounts all day long, and figure out why this infuriated client got slammed with five overdraft fees after buying a burger with money he didn’t have.

Here’s what I loved about this job. Since I was the lead trainer, I was in front of a class of sleepy, unmotivated students all day long. 

Looking back, Wachovia was my third step in becoming a real actor: I got to perform in front of a live audience!

By the way, if you can’t remember the name Wachovia, that’s perfectly understandable. Wachovia was eventually overrun by the Wells Fargo wagon, and they brought in their own training team to cultivate a new corporate culture.

Good for them. Great for me!

After three pointless, mind numbing, soul crushing, dream dashing jobs, I finally got the message:

“Follow Your Heart, you idiot! Become a full-time voice talent, and conquer the world.”

And that’s exactly what I did.

I strongly believe that living is learning, and that every job helped prepare me for the future I created for myself. Yet, when I look back at all those years of doing things for money while my heart wasn’t in it… When I think of how miserable I used to be, and how happy I am now… I often wonder:

If only I had known…

If only I would have taken the risk, and had followed my dreams from the get-go. Where would I be now?

Would I be a household name? Would obnoxious fans ask for my autograph at crazy comicons and conventions? Would agents fight to represent me? Would I be rich and famous?

Well, if that were me, I’m pretty sure that one day, a young reporter would knock on my door. After an in-depth, hour-long interview, he would pause and get ready for that very last killer-question:

“Looking back, and knowing what you know now… what would you have done differently, and why?”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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photo credit: you probably don’t wanna know via photopin (license)

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Don’t Ever Do This To A Client

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Personal 10 Comments

mooningSometimes I think I’m in the wrong business.

Has that ever happened to you? 

Especially during a dry spell, I start looking around, and I see people with a different skill set and a different level of education making tons of money.

All the time.

How fair is that?

Take Tom, for instance. Tom runs a small construction company. A few years ago, Tom and his team did a great job renovating part of our house. His business was still young, and he went above and beyond to make our home more modern. Tom was everything an average contractor isn’t. He was polite, communicative, affordable, he showed up on time, and he delivered on his promises. 

After weeks and weeks of hard work in the scorching July sun, the job was done. Before Tom gave us the keys to our brand new front door, his crew did something surprising. They carefully cleaned up the mess they had made during the renovation. Even our front and back yards received a make-over. How about that!

Needless to say, we sang Tom’s praises to anyone in need of a contractor, and it worked. For the next few months I saw Tom’s truck everywhere, and his business was booming.

He deserved every bit of success, and I was happy for him and his family. If only I could emulate his accomplishments… But, I was in the wrong business. Tom built walls, replaced windows, and renovated kitchens. It was tangible, visible work. All I did was talk for a living. 

Fast forward a couple of years.

Recently we were ready for the second phase of home improvement, and in our mind only one guy had proven himself worthy of the job. So, I called Tom again, and asked him to come over to take a look at what needed to be done.

I didn’t hear back from him for weeks. He did not respond to my messages, and I was worried that he might have left our Borough. However, his truck was parked next to his house, and he was still in business. When he finally answered his phone there was no explanation or apology. He almost sounded like I was inconveniencing him. I didn’t like that.

It took a few more weeks before Tom finally came over, and luckily he brought his old, cheery self. He assessed the work that we wanted done, and promised to give us an estimate within a matter of days. You can probably guess what happened next -or rather- what didn’t happen.

I lost count of how many times I called his business to remind him that we needed that estimate. I tried to sound upbeat and hopeful as I “talked” to Tom after the beep, but some of my messages might have revealed my increased frustration. Weeks and weeks passed, and Tom never returned any of my calls. It was as if I didn’t exist. 

I wondered what would happen if I would run my business like that. It would probably be “game over” in no time. You know what it’s like when an agent sends you a voice-over job that is making the rounds everywhere. You know what you need to do when you’ve spotted the perfect opportunity on a voice casting site. You’ve got to record that audition straight away, or else your voice will be lost in a whirlpool of other talent.

That’s one thing I imagine Tom doesn’t have to worry about. There are only a handful of reputable contractors in my area. Apparently Tom’s so busy, he doesn’t need more work. He can afford to ignore me.

And that’s where Tom and I differ.

At times I am pretty swamped, and job offers keep coming in. When it rains, it usually pours. But no matter how busy I am, I always get back to every client in a matter of hours. Some of them want me to start as soon as possible, and that’s not always an option. In that case I refer them to a reputable colleague. But quite often things are not as urgent as they seem, and I can fit the client in at a later point during the week.

To me this is not an earth-shattering approach, but I might be wrong. Just today, two clients thanked me for quickly getting back to them, as if it was something unusual. Isn’t that weird? I tend to think that the way I conduct business is the way everyone does it. I put in long hours. Others put in long hours. I have high standards. Others have high standards. But here’s what I have noticed.

Some colleagues just don’t seem to care as much, or they stopped caring, for whatever reason. And that’s the thing clients hate the most. They don’t want to be treated as a routine client with a routine job. They don’t want to be ignored or taken for granted. 

Clients are just like real people. People want to be acknowledged. Respected. Appreciated. They want to be treated as if they’re the only client in the world at that moment in time. And if you can give them that feeling, you do more than just a job. You are in the business of building long-lasting relationships.

So Tom… if you are reading this blog, I don’t know what happened to you since you started your company, but I don’t like it one bit. No matter how good you are at what you do, I will no longer recommend you. I will not hire you. I will find someone else to do the job.

Perhaps I will finally hear from you after you have read this, and you’ll give me some kind of lame excuse like: “I’ve been too busy, but it’s just business. Nothing personal.”

Well, you’re wrong about that.

It is always personal.

As a contractor, you come into people’s homes and invade their privacy. You tear up their walls, and you demolish their bathrooms. You fix what’s broken, and you make people feel safe under their own roof again.

I’m a contractor too. A so-called independent contractor. My voice gets in between people’s ears. Sometimes I tell them what to do or what to buy. Other times I read them a good book. It’s safe to say that we have a rather intimate relationship.

I will never take that relationship for granted, not just because it is the lifeblood of my business. I honor that relationship because it is the right thing to do. It’s how I was raised.

Let me end by saying this:

I vow to never let my success prevent me from treating my clients with professionalism, respect, and gratitude.

Even if all I do is talk for a living, I do my very best to walk my talk.

I’ve been doing this for over three decades.

Clients keep on coming, and I thoroughly enjoy what I am doing.

So… perhaps I’m in the right business after all!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Those Silly Americans

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, International, Personal, Promotion 12 Comments

The authorHere’s a question I get asked a lot:

“What’s it like to be a Dutch voice-over, living and working in the United States?”

Who wants to know?

Mostly European colleagues, who either think I’m totally nuts, or who secretly want to do what I did and move to this land of milk, honey, and doughnuts. Some of them have strange ideas about what my life on this side of the pond is like.

I sometimes have to explain to them that “No, I don’t live in a McMansion; there’s no giant gas guzzler parked in my garage, and I can’t call a Hollywood studio and put in a good word for you.” In fact, this American life I am leading is pretty ordinary and rather unspectacular.

I don’t know what my existence would have been like had I stayed in Holland, but in my experience, setting up shop in the States has as many advantages as disadvantages. My colleague Jamie Muffet just wrote a great piece on that very topic for Backstage, and he had me thinking. 

In this day and age where all of us are part of a huge global network, does it really matter where we do our job? It’s just as easy for me to plug into a studio in Amsterdam, as it is to reach a recording facility in New York or Johannesburg. Even agents who used to insist I make a personal appearance, don’t mind if I send them an mp3 audition. Times have changed.

Although technology has made it easy to have an international presence, there’s something I must admit. It took me a good number of years to find my way here in Pennsylvania, and at times I still struggle to make sense of my surroundings and the culture I live in. Personally, and professionally. For instance, I had a hard time trying to figure out how to position myself as a voice for hire.

CONFUSION

From a marketing perspective, it is important that clients have a clear concept of who I am, and what I bring to the table as a talent. When I first came here, people were mainly confused, and I don’t blame them. I spoke with a distinct British accent (the one I was taught in school), and most Americans thought I was from the UK. It was both a good and a bad thing.

It was good because casting directors who didn’t know any better, often hired me to play the part of a stuffy English professor. I even did a voice-over promoting a Beatles jukebox musical on Broadway. I tell you: it was fun being a fake!

There was a downside to having this posh accent. I felt that people were judging me all the time. They either thought I was highly intelligent, or a pompous ass. Of course neither is true. I can’t say it helped me define my professional identity as a native Dutch speaker. Then there was something else I stumbled upon.

IGNORANCE

Even though the United States is supposed to be this big melting pot, I’ve learned that Americans struggle with languages and accents. Many of them have never left the country, and they are rarely exposed to different tongues and twangs, the way Europeans are. Thanks to a brilliant educational system, their sense of geography tends to be off too.

A few weeks ago an agent asked me to audition for a documentary, and she was convinced my accent would be perfect. “You’re Dutch. You should nail this one,” she said. The minute I got the script I saw it was about an old ship… from Denmark. “Well, Dutch and Danish are pretty much the same, aren’t they?” the agent stated.

Not really. And Copenhagen is not the capital of the Netherlands.

Another thing I’ve had to explain over and over again, is the difference between Dutch and Flemish. Flemish is a kind of Dutch, spoken in a specific part of Belgium. It’s as different from Dutch as British English is from American English. That means you shouldn’t hire a Dutchman to voice a commercial meant for viewers in Belgium. But most people in the States don’t know that.

I used to get very annoyed with these ignorant Americans, but having lived here for over ten years, I’ve come to realize that many of them don’t know what they don’t know. Instead of holding it against them, I do my best to educate casting directors and agents, without sounding like a European know-it-all. And quite often they are very grateful for my advice.

Here’s another thing I learned the hard way.

SELF-PROMOTION

Coming from a Calvinistic country where any form of self-aggrandizement is frowned upon, I found out that in America modesty isn’t always an asset. In fact, people like talking about themselves. A lot. If you don’t toot your own horn, who will?

I had to learn to be comfortable with my accomplishments, and speak and write about them openly. In Holland I would have been accused of bragging. Here people say: “Don’t be shy. It’s okay. You have every reason to be proud.”

When talking to a potential client or an interested agent in the U.S., I make sure to sell myself as best as I can. When I’m dealing with someone in Europe, I like to tone it down considerably.

Another thing I realized was that Americans tend to be quite informal. Before you know it, you’re on a first-name basis talking about your family with someone you barely know. It doesn’t necessarily mean that people who come across as friendly, want to be your friend. Give it a few weeks, and they might not even remember your name. Don’t take it personally. 

Things are gradually shifting in Europe, but unless a new client signs his or her emails with a first name, I err on the side of caution, and I’m much more formal.

FEELING LIKE A KING

So, what’s it like to be a Dutch voice-over in the United States? 

In the Netherlands we have a saying: “In the land of the blind, the guy with one eye is king.” As one of the very few native Dutch voice-overs in North-America, that’s often how I feel. I’m a small orange fish in a huge pond. In all the years I have lived here, my English accent has changed considerably. It’s no longer British, and it’s not entirely American either. As I explained to Jamie Muffet: 

“Demand for a Dutch narrator isn’t exactly overwhelming, and thanks to the Internet, my competition in Holland is only one click away. My real niche is in ‘neutral English’ voiceovers, meaning my accent is neither British nor American. It’s more of a European twang, and businesses wanting to increase their global appeal hire me because of my international sound.”

If that’s not shameless self-promotion, I don’t know what is…

On occasion I go back to the Netherlands to see friends and family. I walk around in this tiny country, and I comment on how everything is so close, and how small things are. It’s guaranteed to make my Dutch friends laugh out loud.

“Oh, Paul,” they say…

“stop being such a silly American!”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet, Please retweet!

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The Weight Of The World

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

AtlasParis. Ankara. Istanbul. Brussels.

On some days this beautiful planet is so full of hatred and hardship that I feel guilty writing about such trivial things as “work.”

It sure is fun to blog about freelancing, marketing, and microphone technique, but I have to ask: “To what avail?”

Does it lead to a deeper understanding of the human psyche?

Does it tell us why young, radicalized men stuff their luggage with glass and nails, before they blow themselves and innocent others to bits and pieces?

Does it explain why so many people still believe that violence is the only way forward to further a cause?

As a blogger, shouldn’t I be writing about those issues, instead of talking about home studios, auditions, and online casting companies? 

Whenever I ask myself these questions, I have to remind myself of where I came from.

Before leaving the Netherlands, I worked as one of those stone-faced newscasters informing the world of yet another tragedy. On air, I asked countless experts about the roots of evil, and I grilled politicians about their ideas on how to fix a broken world.

Day after day I reported on endless suffering and strife, and I was part of the sensationalist “if it doesn’t bleed, it doesn’t lead” gang, that determines what is newsworthy and what isn’t. On sunnier days I would be searching for that snippet of positive news we could end our program with, to remind the listeners that not all people are perverts, rapists, or suicidal religious radicals. 

Don’t get me wrong: I loved the excitement and the adrenaline of the newsroom. It gave me a steady income, a certain status, and a sense of purpose. A democracy can only function when people are able to make smart decisions based on hard facts, and I was in the business of providing those facts. My radio station also gave me a unique opportunity to hold the feet of the famous to the fire.

Yet, one day, it all fell apart when I noticed myself caring less and less about the horror stories I was covering. In the beginning I would blame my lack of response on the need to “stay professional,” meaning detached from the raw emotions that are part and parcel of every human tragedy. I was supposed to stay as neutral as our network professed to be, and not get emotionally involved. But it came at a price. 

I gradually developed a tendency to disassociate myself from all kinds of feelings. Positive and negative. That invisible screen I was using to shield myself from sadness in the newsroom, had become like a second skin. It protected me, and it numbed me at the same time.

Over time, I came to a frightening realization:

I had lost one of the very few things that separates humans from animals: the ability to empathize.

I’d seen this happen to veteran journalists who were trying to cope with the crazy demands of their job. Some became chain smokers, heavy drinkers, and lifelong cynics. Others filed for divorce. It was not a road I wanted to travel.

One day, after covering yet another disaster, I just knew I had reached my limit. Years of reporting had done nothing to change the world. If anything, the world had gotten worse. All I wanted was to get out of broadcasting, and do something useful with my life. Something exhilarating. Something inspiring. Something uplifting.

When I finally left the poisonous bubble that was the newsroom, it took me a while to adjust to a new reality. A reality that wasn’t nearly as violent as I had thought it would be. Slowly but surely I discovered a world filled with kindness and good people. It was as if someone had opened the dark blinds that had been filtering the light from the windows for such a long time.

I came to realize that the news I had covered for all those years focused on the exceptions; on the grotesque and the extraordinary. The thousands of planes that land safely every day will never be on CNN. It’s the plane that crashes that ends up making headlines. And if you add all those headlines up, it’s easy to get the impression that this world is rotten to the core. But it’s a deliberate distortion of reality, contrived to kick up the ratings. 

Reality is so much better and less sensational than the networks want you to believe. For most of us it is reassuringly unspectacular and ordinary. It revolves around friends, family…. and work. Ultimately, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to blog about work, even when evil forces are trying to fill this world with fear.

The question remains: how do we respond to those who want to scare us by causing panic, pain, and suffering?

How do we deal with the fact that -to quote Harold Kushner- bad stuff happens to good people?

All of us have to come to terms with this in our own time and in our own way. Life and death are mysterious teachers.

Let me leave you with what I think.

The only way we can learn to live with darkness, is to focus on the light, and to become a reflection of that light.

Whether we realize it or not, all of us were born with the ability to shine. 

Once we start taking that to heart, perhaps we can begin making this place a better world.

In Paris. In Ankara. In Istanbul. In Brussels.

Everywhere.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet.  

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