Promotion

What Were They Thinking?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Journalism & Media, Money Matters, Promotion, Social Media Leave a comment

Sale!No matter how much you love your job as a voice-over, there are always aspects of your work you don’t care for, or would rather have someone else do.

I, for instance, am not a numbers man, and I’m glad my office manager is keeping the books for my business. Very few colleagues I talk to, enjoy doing the unglamorous paperwork that is part and parcel of running a professional service. Yet, it needs to be done. 

But if there’s one thing many voice-overs are very uncomfortable with, it is this: selling themselves. They’d rather spend hours in a dark booth recording an obscure historic novel, than having to talk a client into hiring them.

If you’re experienced enough to have a couple of agents, they will do the talking for you. Quite often though, a potential client will approach you directly because they’ve been on your website. In that case you have to do the negotiations yourself. Inevitably, you have to answer the following client questions:

1. Why should I hire a professional voice? 

2. Why should I pay that much money, if all you’re going to do is talk?

In the end there are three ways to answer these questions. You can highlight the benefits of what you have to offer, or you can tell some horror stories of clients who went with a cheap, unprofessional voice… or you can use a combination of positives and negatives.

Now, for some clients that’s not enough. Maybe they’re new at hiring a VO, and they simply can’t imagine what effect a bad voice-over could have on a good script. Those people need to see, in order to believe.

One guy started talking to me about text-to-speech software, and how advanced things were getting in that area. His boss had suggested he buy some software, and use it for the next video, instead of a real voice. The TTS-software would pay for itself in no time, he told me. 

“Well,” I said, “I’m not sure your company could afford the kind of artificial voices that are developed and used by Google or Apple. But let me send you a link to a video that was uploaded as recently as last year. This is an affordable product you could buy right now. Take a look, and let me know if this is what you had in mind?” Here it is:

Some things just speak for themselves, don’t they? A few weeks later I spoke to a Head of Internal Training who wanted to “explore his options.” He was producing a tutorial, and he said:

“I’ll be honest with you. Keith from IT has a decent voice, and he said he’s willing to put this thing together for a six-pack and a pizza. That would save me a lot of money. Give me one reason why I should hire you.”

“I’d be happy to,” I said, and I sent him this educational YouTube masterpiece:

Let me share one of my other favorite tutorials. It’s not a corporate presentation, but if you’re interested in baking banana bread, this is a must-see (but you might want to turn the volume up a bit…).

Are you hungry yet? I admit it: I put that video in here just for fun, and because it’s rather bizarre. Don’t be fooled though. People put strange stuff on YouTube because they can monetize it. That’s why you’re forced to watch all those annoying ads. 

The most popular tutorials on YouTube have to be the ones of girls teaching you how to put on make-up. Why do I bring this up? A year or so ago I was approached by a cosmetics brand. Their creative team was coming up with a new campaign, and they had two directions they wanted to explore. One was a more sophisticated approach for which they had my voice and accent in mind.

“The other idea,” said the account manager, “is to let real people tell their story. After all, that’s what our clients can relate to. We want someone who sounds like the friend they never knew they always wanted. Someone who can demonstrate our product, rather than sell it in a commercial.”

“Do you mean someone like this?” I asked? (and you might want to turn your volume down again…)

Most potential clients I talk to aren’t the creative types. They’ve already decided they want to hire me based on my demos, but they want me to give them my “best price.” That’s client speak for: “I think your rates are ridiculous, so let’s see how desperate you are.”

Last week I had a very interesting experience. A woman I was talking to about a voice-over project did something crazy.

She used the F-word!

We were talking about what I would charge, and all of a sudden she said: “But what about all these guys on Fiverr?”

“What about them?” I asked.

“Well,” she continued, “if I were to go with one of them I’d pay a lot less. In the end it’s all about the bottom line, you know.”

“Listen,” I said. “This video you’re putting together is going to be on the world wide web forever, and I hope thousands and thousands of people are going to watch it. For many, this is how they will learn about what your family business has to offer.

In most cases, you’ll get one chance to make your pitch. One chance. People have become extremely critical and impatient. If they don’t like what they see and what they hear, they’ll have millions of other things to watch. So, it’s up to you how you want to present the company your grandfather built. If your video looks unprofessional or sounds unprofessional, your company looks unprofessional.

Do you honestly want to put the reputation of your business in the mouth of this Fiverr guy?”

I think she got the point. Now, let me be clear.

This blog post is not about bashing people who are trying to make a few bucks with a dynamic microphone, or who want to share their knowledge, passion, and whispery voice with the online community. I used the above examples to provide some perspective, and because these videos are in the public domain.

One thing I’m sure you’ve picked up on, is that voice-over narration is very different from giving a running commentary of whatever you’re doing, using the cheapest device in the house. It’s not as easy as it seems, and it’s not true that anyone can do it. 

The difference between a pro and an amateur is this: a pro makes it seem easy and effortless. Amateurs are often hard to understand, and clumsy. Their presentation distracts from the message. A professional voice allows the viewer or listener to focus on the message. 

SELLING YOURSELF

This blog post started as a story about selling, so let’s get back to that.

Some clients are sold on benefits. They need to know what good things will happen when they hire you. Other clients are motivated by fear. They want to avoid disaster. Sometimes it really helps to give those people a flavor of what’s in store for them, should they go cheap. My message to them is this:

Cheap is always more expensive. 

Some things in life are just too important to leave to hobbyists or stupid software.

If you need a builder, a car mechanic, or an electrician, would you go to someone who charges five dollars for his or her service?

Would you pick your OB/GYN based on whomever has the lowest rate?

Would you want to get your teeth fixed by an amateur dentist?

Then why on earth would you trust a Bottom Dollar voice talent with your promotional message? Why would you allow a babbling dabbler to take a shot at your training course that took a fortune to develop? Do you want your employees to be distracted by Keith from IT, or do you want them to actually retain some information?

And to the creators of the Text to Speech video, the software tutorial, the banana bread lady, the make-up girl, and Mr. Fiverr I want to say this:

I’m not going to take away your right to post anything on YouTube you believe is worthwhile watching. But honestly:

What Were You Thinking?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!

photo credit: Paula Satijn Bargain via photopin (license)

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Ten Lies Voice Overs Tell

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Promotion, Social Media 7 Comments

Pants on fireHow far would you go to get ahead in this game we call the voiceover market place?

Would you betray your pacifist principles and record a promotional video for land mines?

Would you flirt with the casting director?

Would you badmouth a colleague in the hopes of improving your odds?

As soon as money is involved, people are prepared to sell their dignity and self-respect to the highest bidder, and it’s Survival of the Slickest and every man for himself. Take no prisoners. After all, the economy sucks and it ain’t getting better any time soon. If it’s a choice between you and me, my friend, it better be me.

In an attempt to break into the business or simply stay afloat, people even start sinning against the Ninth Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness. What do they tell you in this business?

If you can’t make it, just fake it!

That’s why the almighty Internet is inundated with pretenders, posers, anonymous commentators and self-styled experts. In this day and age where the latest is the greatest, nobody bothers to fact-check anymore. It’s the ideal opportunity to be whoever you say you are. No questions asked. It’s in black and white. That means it’s reliable, right?

Now, don’t believe for one second that the people in our community are holier than the Pope. They are not. Some of them are spinning a world wide web of lies. Of course they don’t call it that. They see it as innocent embellishments of the truth. The means justify the ends. Meanwhile, they are walking around with their pants on fire.

Here’s my Top 10 of the most common lies people tell to get ahead as a voice talent:

1. Experience

Lie: “With years of experience under her belt, Carla can handle almost any project.”
Truth: Carla has been at it for five months; part-time, that is.

2. Training & Coaching

Lie: “Roger has studied with some of the world’s best coaches.”
Truth: He took an introductory course at the local community college.

3. Clients

Lie: “John has recorded voice-overs for some of the biggest names in business.”
Truth: John wishes he had recorded voice-overs for some of the biggest names in business.

4. Equipment

Lie: “Peter exclusively uses his trusted Neumann U87, arguably the best known and most widely used studio microphone in the world.”
Truth: Peter doesn’t even know how to correctly pronounce the name Neumann. He is the proud owner of a second-hand Chinese condenser he got off eBay for $65.

5. Home studio

Lie: “Heather records her voiceovers in her professional studio, guaranteeing you the highest audio quality possible.”
Truth: “Heather hides inside a bedroom closet and she has no idea why this mattress foam won’t keep the noise out. She wonders: Should I have used egg crates instead?”

6. Demos

Lie: It sounds like Thomas really voiced those national campaigns, doesn’t it?
Truth: The scripts were stolen from auditions that never worked out. An audio engineer friend helped him with the music.

7a. Languages and accents

Lie: “Jerome speaks Dutch and is available for your eLearning projects.”
Truth: Jerome was born, raised and educated in Flanders (Belgium) and speaks Flemish. Dutch and Flemish are just as related and just as different as American and British English. Substitute Dutch and Flemish for other languages and accents to expose other actors.

7b. Native speakers

Lie: “Maria was born and raised in Germany and speaks ‘Hochdeutsch’ or Standard German.”
Truth: Maria moved to the U.S. when she was seventeen and thirty years later, she stills lives in Dallas. Ever heard a German with a Texas twang?

8. Testimonials

Lie: “Jennifer was a delight to work with. Our company would not hesitate to hire her again.”
Truth: Jennifer never worked for “that company” and she is the author of this endorsement.

9. Head shots

Lie: We see a young, smiling face, staring confidently into the camera.
Truth: After ten years, Harry doesn’t look like his old headshot anymore. He’s become bitter and it shows. He also gained twenty pounds.

10. Believing that you won’t get caught

You see, people with real credentials have real experience and a real portfolio. They don’t have to hide behind vague descriptions and false advertising. The truth will always come out and when it does, it will damage a career that never was and probably never will be.

SPOTTING THE ROTTEN APPLE

You don’t have to be a detective to find the fakers. Liars usually do a great job exposing themselves. I was emailing one of my colleagues the other day, and he shared the following story with me:

“I’ve read your blogs regarding people that want to be a voiceover talent with interest. I have some ideas on people that are “posing” as voiceover talent and how to spot them immediately.

For example: a young lady recently posted on a LinkedIn forum complaining that she wasn’t being hired via sites like voices.com and how obviously the system was flawed, and that was the reason she wasn’t getting work.

I visited her website to find that (through the placement of national logos for Burger King and Nissan) she had implicated that she’d done voiceover work for national companies.

When I listened to her demo it was apparent that she had nowhere near the skill level of a national voice talent.

Furthermore – on her website there was a mention of a client that she claimed as her client, when in fact, it had been MY client for more than four years. A quick check with producers led me to find that this person had never worked with that company.

In short, she wasn’t getting work because she sucked as a “talent”. And yet, she couldn’t hear this, and was angry with the world because she wasn’t getting work.

What are these people thinking? Do they really believe they can fool an experienced producer or Creative Service Director?”

ACTORS ARE LIARS

People in our profession have a strange relationship with the truth. We get paid to pretend. The most convincing liars get the nicest paychecks, an Oscar and a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.

However, true talent, trust and integrity are the cornerstones of a successful career.

Trust must be earned.

True talent and integrity can never be faked.

Ain’t that the truth?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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The One Voice Awards: More of the Same, or Setting a New Standard?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, International, Promotion 12 Comments
Peter Dickson & Hugh Edwards

Peter Dickson & Hugh Edwards

Oh no, not another voice-over award!

That was my initial reaction when I heard about the British One Voice Awards, coming to you at the end of April, courtesy of the people behind Gravy For The Brain Ltd.

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know I’m rather ambivalent about artistic contests promising people a chance at winning some shiny object to brag about, and charging them for it. Could this be any different? Besides, I thought there already was a British award for voice-overs.

For the past twenty years, the U.K. has had the VOX Awards, celebrating “the best creative audio talent in the media and broadcast industries across 10 categories.” Circa 2013, the organization behind these awards was VOX National EventsLast November, VNE was acquired by Bubble Communications, a global PR, marketing, and events agency.

MORE OF THE SAME?

So, how do the One Voice Awards (OVA’s) try to set themselves apart from VOX, and other VO award shows, such as the Voice Arts™ Awards? First of all, the OVA’s are the culmination of the One Voice Conference in London that brings together VO artists industry-wide for four days of workshops, talks, networking, and lots of practice. 

Inspired by the setup of voice conferences in the U.S., creators Hugh Edwards and Peter Dickson have said they want to set a new standard for what a U.K. voice acting event should be.

Secondly, these awards are not open to any employees or relatives of the One Voice Conference team, or Gravy For The Brain Ltd. None of them can be nominated, nor win one of their own awards.

The OVA’s team writes:

“The One Voice Awards have integrity. Our doors are not open for corruption as the awards are independently judged by an extensive panel of industry leaders, anonymously.

The One Voice Awards doesn’t take advantage of nor monetise voice artists, therefore, the awards actually mean something. They’re free to enter. We do not believe in triple-charging you (submission fee, attendance fee & award fee) for winning an award that you deserved to win.

We are celebrating excellence wherever it lies across our incredible community. The One Voice Awards isn’t just about giving yet another award to big names, or those who can afford to put themselves in the running to win industry awards.”

BUILDING A BETTER MODEL

Reading these words, I felt gratified, because it seems Edwards and Dickson are addressing some of the very things I have pointed out regarding the Voice Arts™ Awards. When I asked Edwards about it, he had this to say:

“Not only do I subscribe to your blog, but also to your point of view. I think that they are the same viewpoints because we both believe in fairness to people. I also realise that we have an uphill battle to climb with perceptions of awards in general though. Some awards organisations manage it, some do not. My opinion of the whole thing is that integrity is absolutely key. I think that it’s very difficult to dissociate the monetisation and profiteering that happens with other awards that go on, with the benefits that awards can bring to people.”

Over fifteen hundred hopefuls entered the One Voice Awards, and a panel of judges narrowed this down to ninety-six finalists across thirty-one categories. Some VO’s were shortlisted in more than one category.

Hugh Edwards: “There is a reason why in some cases there are only three shortlisted nominations and in some seven in this year’s OVA’s: There were only three in that category that came up to a certain standard (and we are not profiteering to just let people buy table spaces to make up numbers), and in the other case of seven, some were tied in their excellence and there was nothing between them – and in this case we are not going to take away that achievement from someone by arbitrarily selecting one out of three to be removed from the list because it’s important for those voice artists to be recognised for their achievement.”

CHEAPENING THE INDUSTRY?

Some people in the VO business are afraid that because anyone can submit audio samples, and anyone can come to your conference, this opens the floodgates to amateurs who will cheapen the industry. What do you think?

Hugh Edwards: “I completely understand those concerns, and I’ll address them both individually. Firstly to the point of anyone being able to submit themselves to the awards, and even before that, the idea of self-submission which has been raised to me before too. I think many people think that the larger awards bodies, such as BAFTA, the Oscars, the Emmy’s and so on, look to the industry and choose the films/projects that should be submitted themselves, but this is not the case. Even with those huge awards, it’s the production companies who produced the films who submit their films for consideration to the awards, exactly in the same way that the One Voice Awards do – there is no shame in this, and clearly, we do not have some kind of ‘magic eye’ that can see across the talent of anyone who voices in the UK!

Then, with regards who can submit audio clips, it’s quite clear that having the awards open to everyone is the only fair way to do this – and if this were not the case, who would police who is a ‘non-amateur’ voiceover artist? Who would determine the requirements set to determine who is ‘professional’? BAFTA, for example, does not restrict anyone who creates a game from that game being submitted for consideration in the game awards, before proving that they have already developed 5 successful titles – no, the only criteria is that the work is excellent, and that’s the only way it can fairly be run.

If you take that one step further, with over fifteen hundred submissions, yes we did receive some work that was not up to current professional standards expected in the industry today, but this work quickly fell to the bottom of the pile, and the cream of the crop rose to the top, as you would expect it should.

So, the only negative consequence to opening the submission doors to everyone, is that it means more work for us to listen and judge everything, but it means only positives for the voice community, as the final shortlisted nominations are genuinely the best of the best, and far from being ‘amateur’. Remember: we believe in being fair to everyone involved, and no one should be restricted from entering.”

THE EVALUATION PROCESS

There’s no information online about selection criteria or judges, so I asked Edwards about the judging process.

Edwards: “To have belief in the validity of the judging process, you need to be able to see inside that process. We have started the dissemination of this to the public and will be unveiling it fully at the awards. However, we have built our system from the ground up (actually based on how I cast voice talent, interestingly!) and it has the following criteria:

– All submissions are listened to;
– All submissions are anonymised (so that judges are not swayed by ‘friendship’ voting);
– The identity of the judges is secret (to protect any ‘corruption’ attempts);
– None of the judges are aware of who any of the other judges are (to protect ‘collusion’ voting);
– None of the judges can see any of the other judges scores (to prevent any ‘historical’ voting).

The idea is to protect the integrity of the awards so that it is uncorruptable.”

Hugh Edwards

Hugh Edwards

CONFLICT OF INTEREST

What has been done to prevent potential conflict of interest?

Edwards: “Our system is a software-based one, and we can see exactly who has voted for what, and when. There is one judge who is a voice artist, who entered into, and was shortlisted for one category, and through mutual agreement she abstained from voting in that category, and we have proof of that. All other judges were entirely independent.”

When judging artistic contests, there are objective and subjective criteria. Sound quality for instance can be objectively established, but script interpretation can be a matter of individual taste. How do the OVA’s deal with subjective judging?

Edwards: “The way to fix this (as we have) is to provide a top-level spread of senior judges from across a broad range of industry, as well as including some senior level voice artists – the hirers and the do’ers. Our judges are experts in their field, made up of: five senior-level Voice Artists, a senior-level Voice Director, a senior ADR Director/Mixer for film and TV, the CEO of a Voiceover Agency, a Head of a Network Radio company, two Heads of Creative from advertising agencies, two senior Studio Engineers and two Heads of Creative from television companies.”

A PRIZE FOR BLOOPERS?

Some of the OVA’s categories are pretty straightforward: male and female voice-over artist of the year, best character performance in animation, best audio books performance in fiction and non-fiction. There’s also an award for best demo reel performance, and for best outtake of the year. I think that awarding a prize to the best demo reel is like having an award for the best headshot, or demo tape of an aspiring rock band. And do the best bloopers really deserve a prize?

Hugh Edwards: “The demo reel category is actually as much for the demo creators as it is the voice artists. They deserve that recognition as well. There are some great demo producers out there, but there are also so many sharks doing shit work in the demo industry that we wanted to show excellence in this area. I think that category is valid to be honest – it’s an area of the industry that is widely seen, widely charged-for and widely used so it shouldn’t be restricted. The bloopers one you may have a point on, but it is there to provide comic relief throughout the awards ceremony and lighten the proceedings to help make it an enjoyable experience. I will re-evaluate it once this year’s OVA’s are done.”

THE CYNICS AND THE SKEPTICS

I’ve been in touch with a number of UK colleagues, and I got the impression that not every talent is going crazy over these awards. Some have suggested that you’re taking advantage of newbies. Some of the more experienced voice actors don’t want to come to the conference because they fear they’ll be perceived as amateurs. 

Edwards: “I’m pretty shocked by this suggestion, as it is in our company ethos to do the exact opposite. I can only presume that whoever asked this has not actually seen inside (I’m presuming they mean) Gravy For The Brain (GFTB). Look at other training companies in the UK and the USA and you will see average prices for day-training courses between £200-£300 – that’s for one topic, one subject, one coach. Multiply that up by the number of courses you would need to get up to a professional level (e.g., a beginners course, an advanced course, some professional mentoring sessions, for example then, an audiobook course, a course on how to setup and run a studio and edit, a course on voicing commercials, a course on getting your business, marketing and branding right etc), and you’re well into the thousands of pounds.

At GFTB we charge £39 a month (often discounted to £29) for literally everything you will ever need, with no signup fee, no cancellation fee, and no minimum term. So if you’re a ‘newbie’ and you want to be with GFTB for 3 months, at which point you could have taken 16 courses, watched 35 hour-long webinars, received the 12 live mentoring sessions we would have run in that time, used our CRM, had your home studio checked out, and much more….that would have cost you £117 – which is less than half the price of most single-day-long courses out there. 

I would go as far as to say we are one of the only voiceover training institutions in the world that is not taking advantage of the new talent in the industry.”

Thanks for that mini-commercial. Now, what about the second point?

Edwards: “With regards to the questioner’s concern that “experienced talent may not want to come to the One Voice Conference because of a fear they will be perceived as amateurs“, we should take a look at the biggest voiceover conference in the world: VO Atlanta. I was at the (excellent) conference this year and last year, and was in the room when the organiser asked the delegates to hold up their hands if they were a beginner; it was about a quarter of the room in each case. I’ve seen our attendee list for One Voice (where we’re just under 2/3rds of the tickets sold, with 5 weeks to go), and based on the attendees I know personally, I would estimate that this ratio is about the same. About a quarter of the attendees are beginners, and the rest are not.

One of the things I love so much about the US conferences, big or small, is that there is a feeling that everyone in the voiceover community is in the community together. Just look at WoVO (World Voices Organization) in the States: What they are not doing is complaining about all the ‘newbies flooding the industry’, instead, they are using their experience and knowledge about the industry to help the industry as a whole, including the beginners. 

What’s frustrating about this comment is that in a few small pockets of the UK community, there is a feeling from some of the more senior artists of negativity against the newcomers to the industry. I find it frustrating because they were newcomers too once, and someone helped and trained them at some point. They have had their careers, and they are probably still doing well from it. I’m not sure if it’s fear of change on their behalf, a fear that the industry is being too far diluted, a fear that their incomes will be taken from them. But change to the industry has already happened, and will always happen. It’s going to change further, and surely the best way to deal with this is to embrace that change and move with it.

The newcomers to the industry are the voices of tomorrow’s industry, and we all co-exist together. We will always support the newcomers as much as we support the intermediates and the advanced VO professionals, but you most definitely should not be perceived as being an amateur for attending a voice conference that celebrates everything about excellence in the industry. 

I mean, we have the woman who voices the Oscars and the Superbowl there for goodness sakes – the two biggest VO gigs in the world – does that sound like amateur hour to anyone!!!?? It certainly doesn’t to me!”

One Voice AwardsTHE VALUE OF THE PRIZE

And finally, is winning a One Voice Award really a credit worth having?

Edwards: “Let’s take the Oscars as an example. Obviously, the winner of Best Picture at the Oscars has huge benefits to the sales and marketing of that particular film, and also to the studio as a whole, and it also benefits the other people who have worked on that picture. Importantly though, being shortlisted for the nominations is also incredibly important to those productions/studios/staff, and you will often see them use the fact that they are nominated (but didn’t win) in their marketing and PR. The same is true for voice artists.

Yes, the winners of the awards will be able to put that on their marketing and PR, but the nominees can as well. It’s not just about people liking shiny things, it’s a line drawn in the sand to say that this voice artist stands out above their peers for excellence in their category, and that reflects then throughout their career.

In the end it’s all about integrity. Once the industry becomes aware of how we are doing things to protect the integrity and why we are doing it, I suspect that its value will grow and grow. Our plans for the OVA’s and actually the entire conference extend beyond three years even as of now, so we are committed to this for the long term.”

The One Voice Conference is held between 26 and 29 April, and the Awards gala is on the 28th, hosted by Peter Dickson (click here for a full schedule). Joe Cipriano is the keynote speaker. Randy Thomas, J. Michael Collins, Peter Bishop, Marc Graue, Graeme Spicer, Jon Briggs, Trish Bertram, Anne Ganguzza, Armin Hierstetter, and Brian Bowles are among the presenters.

Are you going?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Celia Siegel’s Voiceover Achiever

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Book, Career, Freelancing, Internet, Journalism & Media, Promotion, Social Media 6 Comments

Celia Siegel Voiceover Achiever“Brand Your VO Career. Change Your Life.”

That’s the somewhat ostentatious subtitle of Celia Siegel’s book Voiceover Achiever. It’s an illustrated, conversationally written step-by-step guide to branding your voice-over business, by one of the most amiable experts in our industry.

Will your life change after reading this book? It depends on how you’d answer the following question:

Can you get slim from reading about weight loss?

Or, to put it differently:

Are you an active, or a passive reader?

We all know people (perhaps intimately) who have tons of self-help books in their Billy bookcases that just collect dust. I call them shelf-help books, because that’s what they are. They’re the useless property of passive readers who are all talk and no action. In my estimation, about eighty percent of non-fiction fans fall into this category.

Active readers, on the other hand, absorb and embrace the information like a sponge. They make notes, they do the exercises, and start applying what they’ve learned immediately, and consistently. If that’s you, Celia’s book has tremendous potential to help you transform your business, and even your life. Whether you’re a voice-over, or otherwise self-employed.

And here’s the remarkable thing: Celia does it all in under 130 colorful pages, many of which feature large illustrations.

WHO NEEDS BRANDING?

But why buy a book about branding? I assume you have talent, training, equipment, connections, and even some business skills. You run a small shop. You’re not a company like Coca-Cola or Apple. Do you really need to boil down your essence into some smart slogan and a logo? Celia Siegel:

“The big question in our industry used to be: Do you have a beautiful voice? Do you know how to act? Those are still important. But they’re no longer enough. These days the question is: Are you brandable?”

Here’s the gist of it: In a cacophony of voices, you want to be found and heard. You want to stand out. You want to distinguish yourself from the rest by highlighting what makes you different, and more desirable. That’s what intelligent branding does. And since you personify the service you’re offering, you’ve got to start thinking of yourself as a brand, by -in Celia’s words: “being loud and proud about who you really are.”

That sounds great, but here’s the not so easy part. A brand is not something you can bottle and sell at a supermarket. It lives in people’s minds. A brand is the result of many implicit and explicit associations and perceptions of a product, a service, a person, or a company. It’s what turned brown, carbonized sugar water into a billion dollar business, and Oprah Winfrey into one of the most influential and wealthy people on this planet.

Now, here’s what you need to ask yourself: How can you create and control these associations that set you apart, and help your business perform better? That’s precisely what Celia Siegel does for a living, and her book is loaded with examples of voice talent whose niche she’s helped define.

Chapter by chapter, Voiceover Achiever takes you through the process she uses with her clients, helping you identify what makes you unique, and showing you how to tell the story of your brand through language, visuals, and different media. If this sounds like a daunting task, think again. Celia writes the way she speaks. She keeps it light and playful. She clearly knows her stuff, but she’s never stuffy, and at no point does she come across as a know-it-all talking down to noobs.

TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING?

As you can tell, this is not a boring intro into branding. It is a book about Celia, Celia’s business, and Celia’s clients. That’s its strength, and its weakness. Examples from the same talent are reused throughout the book, and at times I got the impression that I was reading a long testimonial. All those testimonials are from voice-overs, and not from agents, or from people who are searching for voices for their projects.

I’m glad the people who hired Celia are happy with their new image, but what about the professionals they wish to reach? What’s their feedback? I want to know to what extent business has increased after Celia’s intervention, and how much can be attributed to branding.

Here’s another question: How much are rates part of branding? If we’re in the business of controlling associations and perceptions, the price of a product or service definitely influences how it is perceived. That’s why some people prefer a Rolex over a Seiko, even though the much cheaper Seikos are just as good at keeping time. There’s no mention of rates in Siegel’s book.

A MATTER OF IMAGE

Some of the images in Voiceover Achiever feel like fillers, just as the twelve empty pages of Brand Journal in the back of the book make it look more substantial than it is. I wish there had been more content, instead of pictures of lollipops, unicorns, and bicycles that seem to have come out of a kids magazine.

While I appreciate the examples of websites that have had the signature Siegel makeover, I would have loved to see a before and after, revealing some of the no-no’s of branding. Celia also doesn’t mention A/B testing and other methods as a way to find out what clients most respond to.

Teaming up with a “Brand Buddy” as suggested by Siegel (a fellow vo-talent embarking on his or her own branding journey), might not be ideal. As a sounding board, a colleague could be just as clueless as to what works and what doesn’t as you are. If, on the other hand, you need someone to hold you accountable and keep you on track, a Buddy could be very helpful. 

CULTURAL DIVIDE

As a European living and working in the U.S., I’d like to know to what extent branding is context dependent, meaning that a different market may require a different message. In the Netherlands where I was born and raised, humility is considered a virtue, and superlatives frequently found on American websites, are often seen as bragging and off-putting.

I also don’t agree with some of the advice Celia’s giving. She recommends using a personal Facebook profile for business purposes, and I do not. It’s actually against the Facebook Terms of Service (for more about that, click here).

Siegel writes about website design:

“If you’re doing it yourself, I suggest a one-page, endless-scroll website, the simpler the better.”

From an SEO-perspective, websites that use pagination (spreading content over a number of pages) do much better because Google Analytics and other sites measuring statistics count page clicks. Visitors to infinite scroll sites don’t click. Clicking lowers the bounce rate, and increases engagement.

MAKING SOME NOISE

When it comes to spreading the message, I agree with Celia: You have to remind people that you exist. If you want to stand out, it’s no enough to be outstanding. That’s where her book moves from branding to marketing. Siegel explores social media such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram. She lists the benefits of using stickers, branded E-cards, banners, newsletters, and networking. However, there’s no mention of blogs, podcasts, or videos. That’s a big omission in a time where YouTube has become the second largest search engine, and blogs such as this one are huge drivers of website traffic.

I also would have liked to see a few paragraphs devoted to brand protection. Your brand is your intellectual capital, and national and international trade mark registration should at least be discussed. At the same time it’s important that you don’t infringe on someone else’s intellectual property by using names, tag lines, or images that are already in use by existing brands. It could cost you dearly (more on that when you click here).

Last but not least, instead of empty Branding Journal pages, I would have loved a list of recommended resources such as graphic designers, website developers, copywriters, copy editors, SEO-specialists, illustrators, social media experts, and other people who can help you tell your story, and spread your message.

SUMMING UP

Voiceover Achiever covers a vital aspect of our business that, until now, has not been written about in much detail. As such it is a welcome and wonderful addition to the growing list of books about the voice-over industry (click here for a list of other books). Better still, anyone running a freelance business can benefit from Celia’s experience and expertise. However, please keep the following in mind:

No amount of clever branding can cover up a bad product or poor service. It may take years to build a reputation, and it can be destroyed in a matter of minutes.

Before you buy this book (and I really hope you do), ask yourself:

Am I an active or a passive reader?

Here’s the bottom line:

This is not a must-read book.

It’s a must-DO book.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Why I Didn’t Like VO Atlanta

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, International, Personal, Promotion, Social Media 16 Comments

Paul Strikwerda at VO AtlantaYes, it’s totally true. I didn’t like VO Atlanta.

I LOVED it!

Sorry for the clickbait headline, but I couldn’t resist. My clogs sometimes take me places I have no business going.

Before I get into anything else, imagine this…

You just came back from a spectacular four-course dinner at an amazing restaurant.

The atmosphere was incredible. The waitstaff treated you like family. The cuisine was exquisite. You even took pictures to show the rest of the world what they’d missed.

Days after your experience you can still taste the food, and you can’t stop telling family, friends, and colleagues about it.

And guess what?

No matter how enthusiastic you are, and how great the meal looks in all the pics, people just don’t get it! They never will, because they didn’t share the experience. It’s frustrating, but you can’t blame them because that’s how things are.

Words are just words, and photos of food are two-dimensional. They have no taste, texture, or smell. In spite of many technological advancements, we still can’t bottle the positive energy that’s palpable in a room, and sell it on eBay. No drug will ever replicate or replace a hug. And that’s the way it should be.

Here’s the truth. Some, if not all of life’s best moments are literally beyond words. And this is what makes them so inexplicably precious, personal, and powerful.

So, I’m not even going to try and explain to you what it’s like to have been at the world’s largest gathering of voice-over professionals, a.k.a. VO Atlanta. It’s just as futile as telling you about that amazing dinner. But I will tell you this:

This year, VO Atlanta was not merely a Conference. It became a Movement!

For a movement to gain momentum, people have to be moved, and be willing to move. There was plenty of both from the early hours of the morning until… the early hours of the morning (those who took part in the Team Challenge often didn’t go to bed until 2:00 AM).

A movement has to have a common cause. Well, no matter where the attendees were from, all of them came to help strengthen and raise the professional bar for voice actors and voice acting. In my mind, this involves a number of things:

– an open mind, and a joyful commitment to lifelong learning
– a celebration of diversity, equality, and kindness
– a readiness to set higher standards and rates for our profession
– a continuous and selfless contribution to our community

Take any panel, any presentation, or any X-session… these four elements were markedly present in every room, and they made this conference a transformational experience for so many.

Now, you know me, don’t you?

I’m often critical and sometimes cynical of certain developments and players in our industry. I can smell a scam from miles away, and when I feel an emperor is wearing very few clothes, I will tell you.

I also know that one cannot orchestrate authenticity. It is impossible to fake friendship and sincerity. No matter how well any conference is organized (and believe me, VO Atlanta ran like a well-oiled machine), it ultimately depends on the people who attend, to pour their hearts and souls into it.

And that’s exactly what they did from the get-go. Together they made this conference a safe place to share, be vulnerable, try new things, feel empowered, as well as a space to learn, grow, laugh, cry, sing, act, admire, and dance.

In many ways, this is extraordinary. Why? Because the so-called real world doesn’t seem to work that way. To many, that world is a dark and fearful place, filled with people who are out to get us, instead of support us. It’s a dog-eat-dog, survival of the fittest society, where a ME-ME-ME mentality often prevails over a WE-frame of mind.

Being at VO Atlanta gave me hope that there is a different reality, and a different future for the voice-over work we love so much. By all accounts the segments of the market we contribute to are growing: eLearning, audio books, explainer videos, cartoons, documentaries, gaming, virtual reality, and so on.

Somewhere, someone is looking for your voice, and it is part of your job to make sure that this someone finds you, or you find him (or her). If you don’t know how, perhaps you should go to a voice-over conference and find out. In the afterglow of VO Atlanta, colleagues have already reported that using what they’ve learned only a few days ago, has paid off big time.

There was something else I noticed.

Faced with bold moves from self-absorbed, predatory companies that seek to devalue our talent and our training, a new awareness is growing that we have a choice to whom we lend our voice. Yes, we want to work, but not at any rate, and not for companies that demand more and more for less and less as they triple dip into a client’s budget, while denying us our fair share.

I felt a strong resolve in Atlanta to fight the commoditization of our work, and a deep desire to come together and show what we are worth. At this moment we have ethical agents, brilliant software developers, and SEO-specialists on our side, who are coming up with new, intelligent platforms to showcase and sell our services.

Online voice matchmakers such as Voice123 and Bodalgo are listening to us, and are coming up with smart, exciting features that benefit clients and voice talent alike. The World Voices Organization is growing every day, providing invaluable support and leadership to its members and our community at large.

Paul Strikwerda, presenting at VO Atlanta

Paul Strikwerda presents

Colleagues with years of experience share what they have learned with humor, wit, and wisdom. People whose voices you’ve grown up with suddenly sit next to you in the bar, and strike up a conversation. And guess what? They’re just as interested in you, as you are interested in them.

At first, VO Atlanta can be a bit overwhelming, but boy does it feel good when we eat, drink, and dance together, and colleagues from all over the world become fast friends. And speaking of friends, you may remember that I do my best to keep my personal and professional Facebook contacts separate (click here to find out why). That’s why I have a Nethervoice Page and a personal Profile.

However, if you’ve been to VO Atlanta this year, and you feel that we’ve connected in a meaningful way, I now warmly welcome you to my virtual living room, because I consider you my friend!

I hope we will meet sooner, but if not, I can’t wait to see you again in 2019!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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PPS If you are a current, or prior, attendee of VO Atlanta, you’re eligible to register as part of a super-early bird registration which saves you $150 on the conference registration for 2019. This offer expires March 18th. Click here to register.

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A Quick Course In Blogging & How To Get Thousands Of Subscribers

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Freelancing, Internet, Journalism & Media, Promotion, Social Media 5 Comments

Paul Strikwerda = OutspokenAs you’re reading these words, I’m at VO Atlanta, the largest gathering of voice talent in the world. When people spot me on the conference floor, one of the first things they usually say is:

“Hey, are you Paul from the Nethervoice blog? I thought I’d recognize you!”

Then we’ll chat for a few moments, and inevitably, people start asking me questions about my blog. Of course I love talking about the stories I write, and I’m happy to give aspiring bloggers some pointers.

Now, to save some time I’ve decided to answer some Frequently Asked Questions, and that way you don’t have to take any notes. So, here’s question number one:

Should every (freelance) business have a blog? 

That’s a tough one to answer. I can certainly tell you why I blog, and then you should decide for yourself if blogging could be beneficial to your business.

Here’s the thing.

You could own the best store in town, but if nobody knows who you are and where to find you, you’re not going to attract any customers. So, you need to do something to get people in the door. Once your customers have found you, you have to gain their trust. Nobody likes to do business with people they don’t trust. 

My blog does a number of things. It brings thousands of people to my website every month. That’s a big deal. It means that out of all the voice-overs sites they could have gone to, they go to Nethervoice.com, and they stay there for a while. 

Why do they do that? Because they find something of value that makes them come back again and again. That “something” happens to be my blog. And when they read that blog, they get to know me, and they learn about my take on the business I’m in. It’s a way for me to position myself in the voice-over market place as someone who knows a thing or two about my line of work. This builds trust.

I call this approach “under the radar marketing.” What do I mean by that? Well, I’m not putting up ads that say: 

“Better call Paul.

He’s the best!

If you need an international voice, Paul is your man!” 

People have become allergic to this kind of in your face, self-congratulatory marketing.

Instead, I write reviews, I give advice, and I tell stories. Most people hate ads, but they love a good story!

Does this approach work for everybody? Absolutely not. I happen to love writing. I’ve been doing it for most of my life. If you don’t like to write, then a blog is not for you. Perhaps you should do a weekly podcast. Others love making videos, or they put out a picture diary on Instagram. 

The important thing is to do something that excites you, and that fits you. People can sense whether or not your heart is in it.

How do you become a successful blogger?

Before I answer that question, I’d have to answer another question. How do you define success? That’s not only important for blogging, but for any area in your life. Success is one of those tricky words. We think we know what we’re talking about, but we all have our own definition.

Personally, I like Deepak Chopra’s definition:

“Success is the continued expansion of happiness, and the progressive realization of worthy goals”

The next questions would then be: What makes you happy, and what are worthy goals? 

Money? Fame? Influence?

For some bloggers, success means having two hundred followers. Others want two hundred thousand. Some bloggers look at how much money their blog is making them. My blog makes me happy because it enables me to connect with people from all over the world. Clients and colleagues. And when they tell me: “What you’ve written really helped me today,” that is a success. That makes me happy. 

When people write to me and say: “I don’t agree with you, but you really made look at some things in a different way,” that too is a success. 

Now, if I would tell you that numbers don’t matter, I would be lying. I am proud that I now have over thirty-nine thousand subscribers. For some bloggers that’s nothing, but I look at it in the context of our small voice-over community. 

If you believe that you have something that’s worthwhile sharing, you want to share it with as many people as possible. So, 39K is a nice start!

Now, back to the question. How do you become a successful blogger?

Three words: Content, Personality, and Promotion.

We all lead very busy lives. Every week I ask people to take a few minutes out of their day, and spend those minutes with me. They will only do that if they feel I have something to offer that is valuable and relevant.

My blog is a free service. It’s not a sales pitch, and I think my readers get that, and appreciate that. But there’s something else that I think makes it work. 

If you want to appeal to a wide audience, you have to have a unique point of view.

Why do people watch the Late Show with Stephen Colbert? It’s not because he rehashes dry facts from the paper. It’s because he’s Stephen Colbert.

Another reason why my blog has become a success is because I know a little bit about spreading my message. And thankfully, my readers are my best promoters. Without them, I would make as much noise as one hand clapping in a soundproof room. 

What should a blogger write about? 

If you don’t mind, I have to answer that question with a few more questions.

1. Who is your audience?

2. What are they interested in? What are they hungry for?

3. What do you have to offer that distinguishes you from other bloggers?

One of the things I like to do is to write about topics that are timely, and make them relatively timeless. News is outdated the moment it is published. Analysis lasts much longer.

If you want to give your content more staying power, I suggest you use specific examples to make a general point. For example…

Last year, I wrote about World Voice Day, an international event held every year on April 16th. I used it as an opportunity to write about vocal health. In the past I have written about the Voice Arts Awards. I used that story to talk about the pros and cons of competitions. I wrote about Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson who was fired after physically and verbally abusing a producer. I used his story to identify seven traits of successful colleagues, and the ways they treat the people they work with.

What things should you avoid as a blogger, and what are things you should absolutely do?

Here are a couple of dos and don’ts. Let’s start with a few don’ts.

1. Do not oversell yourself. People love to buy but they hate being sold. A blog is about offering value for free, and about creating a connection. Once people start trusting you, they will start trusting your product, especially if you happen to be your product.

If you wish to increase sales, don’t make it about selling.

2. If you want to highlight what you have to offer, don’t make it all about you. Show people what you’re made of, but avoid the ME, ME, ME-stories. Focus on your readers.

Here are a few do’s:

3. Educate without lecturing. Come across as an expert, but not as a know-it-all. The most compelling way to pack information is to make it fun and light. Make your blog conversational, as if you’re talking to one reader who is sitting across the table from you. Use stories to make a point. 

4. Always do your research. Make it easy for your readers to find and check your sources. If you want people to look at you as a reliable source of information, don’t spread rumors or make claims you cannot back up. It may take you years to get a decent following. It takes one stupid gaffe to lose your tribe.

Give your readers an opportunity to go one level deeper by giving them links to sources and resources. It will enhance your credibility.

5. Care about your readers, but don’t care about their opinions. If you feel like stirring the pot, then do it. Push that envelope. If you want to bring about change, you have to start pissing people off. Make a few folks uncomfortable. But be prepared to live with the consequences. 

I once wrote a blog post about podcasting that didn’t go over so well with the podcasting community. People started calling me all kinds of nasty names, and I had to change my comments policy because of it.

I also rubbed a few readers the wrong way by giving them five reasons why they should never become a voice-over. With over 10 thousand views, it became the most widely read story I ever wrote. 

How much time does blogging take? 

Some stories come easier than others. On average I’d say I spend at least one day every week on my blog, but usually more. This includes prep time, writing, rewriting, and publishing. It also includes how long it takes me to respond to your comments, tweets, Facebook & LinkedIn messages, and emails. 

I also spend a considerable amount of time repurposing content. I turn some of my blog posts into booklets, and I turn quotes from my blog into pictures that I repost on social media. My book “Making Money In Your PJs, Freelancing for Voice-Overs and other Solopreneurs” is largely based on stories I wrote for this blog.

Can blogging really increase business? 

Absolutely, and this brings me back to the beginning. People don’t do business with someone they don’t know and can’t find. Years ago I was at a voice-over conference, and I did a presentation. At the beginning I asked people how they had heard about me. No one said:

“Because you’re on Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter and Google+.”

Most of them said: “We know you because we read your blog every week.”

Now, you might say: “These people are your colleagues. Not your clients.” Well, I happen to get a lot of business through referrals from colleagues. But my blog is also read by agents, on-camera actors, producers, audio engineers, and other freelancers. 

What many people don’t realize is that I’m also a voice-over coach. Most of my students come to me because they’ve read my blog and/or my book.

So, in all modesty I can say that my blog did put me on the map. People visit my website because of it. They don’t go to a voice casting site or my Facebook page to find me. They come directly to me, and I can deal with them on my turf, and on my terms. To me, that’s huge!

How did your blog get over 39,000 subscribers?

Let me tell you: it didn’t happen overnight. It is the result of a lot of calculated small steps, and the support of my readers.

If you want to have that kind of success, the bigger question really is: Why would people come to your website? Why would they want to spend some of their limited time with you, week in, week out?

Here’s the answer:

You have to offer them something of value that is relevant to what they’re doing and thinking, and you have to present your content in a way that’s easy on the eyes. 

People also read blogs to find out where someone stands. My most opinionated pieces are the usually biggest hits. People like controversy, and a good rant. As a blogger I have made many friends, and also a few enemies. 

In summary: content, relevance, value, personality, and a pleasant format is what brings people to a blog.

But there’s even more to it.

If I were to write for the VO-community only, I would never have gotten where I am today. If you wish to be successful, you have to widen your reach. How do you do that? Start by asking yourself:

What greater community am I a part of?

This is what I came up with:

– Actors & artists

– The self-employed

– The underemployed

– Freelancers

– Solopreneurs

– Small business owners

As a narrator and voice actor, I’m also in touch with:

– Linguists & translators

– Sound engineers

– Bloggers

– Writers

– e-Learning specialists

– Advertisers & Social Media specialists

– People in the entertainment industry

Looking at this list, I had an idea: What if I were to write a blog that would be of interest to all of these groups? That way, I could use the angle of the voice-over industry as an example of a much greater picture. This really brings us back to one of my most important content rules:

If you want to appeal to a wide audience, you have to have a unique point of view.

Take fellow-freelancers for instance. They run into the same problems as I do as a voice-over professional:

• How do you put a price on your product?

• How do you handle challenging clients?

• How do you advertise your services?

• How do you overcome fear of failure?

• Where do you find new business?

Those are some of the things I write about every week.

Using Technology

Last but not least, you have to use technology to spread the word. My publishing platform is WordPress, and I let some of the WordPress plugins do part of the work for me.

A few tips: 

1. I optimize my blog for search engines, using the All in One SEO Pack plugin. This allows me to enter a title, a short description of the topic, and keywords to the blog. 

2. On the day my blog is posted to my website, I add it to relevant Facebook groups, such as Voice-Over Pros. I try not to post the blog to all groups at once.

3. I add it to relevant LinkedIn groups, to Google+, my Tumblr site. I add it to StumbleUpon and Reddit. Some of that is automated via the JetPack plugin. I usually write special Twitter links with shortened url’s. 

4. I make it easy for people to subscribe to my blog. Some bloggers offer an incentive to get people to subscribe. It’s usually a free book or link to a video. I don’t do that, but I’ve heard it works well. 

5. I encourage people to add my blog to Feedly, a content curator.

6. People can search for blog content by typing in keywords, or by category. 

7. I have a list of the most popular posts, and a list of the most recent posts.

8. I offer them related posts. That way they stay on my site a bit longer. For this I use the Related Posts by Zemanta plugin.

9. I encourage my readers to share my stories with friends and colleagues, and people do.

10. I reward interaction. I do my best to thank every commentator and people who share my content. I believe in the power of PR: positive reinforcement. First-time commentators get an automated thank you note, via the Thank Me Later plugin.

All these small steps combined create a nice wave of publicity, and it’s such a joy to ride that wave with you!

Thank you so much for your comments, and for your continued support. It means more to me than I’ll ever be able to put into words.

If you happen to be at VO Atlanta for the next few days, I’d love to meet you in person!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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PPS I’ll be at the entire conference, and below are the events I am scheduled to participate in:

Friday, March 2, 2018, 11:00 AM – 12:00 PM: I’m on a panel about The Future of Voiceover Casting, moderated by the inimitable and amicable J. Michael Collins.

Friday, March 2, 2018, 6:30 PM – 9:30 PM: I’ll be conducting an X-Session named “Six Steps To Turning Your VO-Business Around.”

Saturday, March 3, 2018, 3:15 PM–4:15 PM: I will do a presentation entitled “The Inner Game of Voice-Over.”

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Are You My Colleague or My Competitor?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Journalism & Media, Promotion 6 Comments

Lighting the Olympic flameIt’s February 2018, and the Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang are in full swing. 

Since the start of these games I have been glued to the television. 

For me, that’s a strange thing to do, and I’ll tell you why.

I’m not a huge sports fan. I don’t support one particular team. Between you and me, I think most sports coverage is overrated as the most important of very unimportant news.

I often wonder why millions of people get all psyched about a major game, but seem to care very little about famine, global warming, or the annihilation of yet another endangered species.

I don’t get why some folks are willing to fork over a fortune to buy tickets to a match, but aren’t willing to pay a few dollars more in taxes so their state can properly fund education, or repair those bridges that are on the brink of collapse.

I don’t understand why people make time to go to a lame game where two teams are chasing a round rubber object, but they couldn’t be bothered to leave the house to vote.

I find it profoundly disturbing that music, drama, and art teachers are always the first to be fired when schools need to cut jobs, but nobody dares to touch the athletic department.

Perhaps it’s a sign that I’m not fully integrated into American society yet. The USA is a country where baseball is called “The National Pastime,” and where NFL stars are paid more to defend their team’s title than we pay servicemen and women to defend their nation.

PRIORITIES

How we spend our money as a society, reveals our priorities.

If you want to know what’s important to a country, you should also listen to its language. U.S. politicians talk about “leveling the playing field.” Motivational speakers teach strategies for “winning the game of life,” and managers will ask us to “step up to the plate.”

Sport is part of the American spirit.

Enthusiasts tell us that it teaches healthy habits, strategic thinking, and teamwork. Sport, they say, is a powerful metaphor for life. 

That may be, but is sport always healthy?

According to Safe Kids Worldwide, an international non-profit organization aimed at preventing unintentional childhood injury, every 25 seconds, a child athlete suffers a sports injury serious enough to send him or her to the emergency room (source). At age twenty, American snowboarder Trevor Jacob once admitted that his memory is already a little fuzzy as the result of at least 25 concussions.

And what does sport teach us about relationships?

When we talk about sports, we’re talking about competition. Competition is based on confrontation where being the best is often more important than doing one’s best. The aim is to overpower the other team or fellow-competitor(s), rather than to work together as teams toward a common goal. It’s a black-and-white world of us against the rest. A world of winners and losers.

America does not like losers.

BIG BUCKS

These days, the world of professional sports is also a universe of sponsorships, mega-contracts, endorsements, and merchandise. You may be thinking that you’re watching a fun game, but in reality it is a shameless vehicle for product promotion. At this point the ad agencies have conditioned us so well, that many viewers are more excited about the TV commercials than about the game itself.

As voice-overs we’re benefitting from this development because we often lend our voices to these commercials. Fifteen seconds of script can pay the bills for an entire month.

Many of us have embraced sports metaphors in our line of work. We talk about “winning or losing an audition,” and we sign up for seminars to stay “ahead of the competition.” A bottle of “Entertainer’s Secret” is the performance enhancing drug of choice.

Having said that, I think it’s a big mistake to compare our job to what athletes do. First of all, most athletes are in much better shape! Secondly, we’re not running a race (although it may feel that way). We’re not competing for a place on the podium.

Yes, just like athletes we need coaching, quality equipment, and experience. Our success demands sacrifice. But submitting an audition is not the same as entering a competition, because we do not determine the outcome.

BEING THE BEST

In many sports, the fastest competitor wins. It’s that simple. Winning an audition has little to do with being the best. It’s about being the best fit in the eyes and ears of whoever is casting the part.

As voice talents we are not opponents. We’re colleagues. We have no title to defend or national reputation to uphold. Your success does not diminish my standing. As far as I’m concerned, we have a common goal:

To deliver the best service, to increase our standards, and to ensure that we’re getting paid a fair and decent rate.

In order to do that, we need to lead by example, and we need to stick together.

Clients love to have us fight among ourselves, especially about rates. They’re trying to drive a wedge between those who sell their talent for less, and those who refuse to devalue what we have to offer. It’s up to us to play that game or not.

One thing I know for sure.

As long as we see each other as competitors with a price to beat, there’s only going to be one winner: The Client.

Back to the Olympics.

WORKING TOGETHER

By now you know I’m not that much into sports, but I have been watching what’s happening in PyeongChang. Even though I don’t consider myself to be a chauvinist, I’m usually rooting for the guys and girls in orange: the Dutch team. But what really got me, was something that happened during the games in Rio.

In the summer of 2016, American middle-distance runner Abbey D’Agostina and her former opponent Nikki Hamblin were both awarded special Olympic medals for sportsmanship. I’ll let the official Olympic website tell the story:

New Zealand runner Nikki Hamblin tripped and fell to the ground during the 5,000m race, accidentally bringing American D’Agostino down behind her with around 2,000m to go. The 24-year-old D’Agostino was quick to get up again, yet instead of carrying on with her race she stopped to help the stricken Hamblin to her feet, encouraging her to join her in attempting to finish the race. However, during her tumble, D’Agostino suffered an ankle injury, slowing the runner down, but Hamblin sportingly hung back to in return offer her encouragements. The two women went on to complete the race together.

Now, that’s the spirit I love in sports, and I love seeing it in my profession too: people helping each other succeed.

So, be a good sport. Take the time to become good at what you do before you enter the race. Get an excellent coach. Buy professional equipment. Engage in fair play. Cheer each other on. 

You might not receive a medal, but you’ve just earned my respect, and the respect of your community.

That alone, makes you a winner!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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See Me in 3-D at VO Atlanta!

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Personal, Promotion, Social Media 14 Comments

At VO Atlanta in 2017

At age seventeen, I started making youth radio programs in the Netherlands.

Part of the fun was the inevitable trip to the cafeteria, where I could mix and mingle with the famous faces and voices of Dutch broadcasting. It was like seeing all the celebrities at Madame Tussaud’s wax museum come alive. 

The guy who read the prime time news bulletins turned out to have a strange love for raw herring. The girl who presented a popular quiz show was constantly starving herself, and the overpaid head of programming ate home-made liverwurst sandwiches, lovingly prepared by his mother.

Radio hosts were always the most surprising. Very few people knew what they looked like, and that was part of the magic. Radio is the theater of the imagination, and over time I had created mental pictures of my favorite presenters. Now that I was able to go backstage, I had a chance to meet them in person, as they were ordering burgers and fries.

SECOND IMPRESSIONS

The overexcited and loud sports commentator was an obese man with as much charisma as a cucumber. The announcer with the most muscular, manly pipes in radio, turned out to be a diminutive, unkempt, and rather sad person. If you’d see him in the subway, you’d give him a dollar.

The seductive sounding female host of a late night show I had fallen asleep to on many lonely nights, was a chain-smoking grandmother of seven with two double chins and way too much makeup.

For all these people, the anonymity of radio was a blessing. Seeing them in the flesh was a humbling experience. There and then I realized that I had created an unrealistic image in my mind, based on my idea of what they might look like, and it was something they could never live up to.

I wondered: how many times a day do we judge the people we come into contact with, based on the little information we have? Unless they get an opportunity to reveal more of who they are, they’ll never have a chance to be any better than who we believe them to be. It’s not fair, and it is one of the tragic reasons why so many people on this planet don’t get along. 

GOING SOUTH

Last year was the first time I came to VO Atlanta, the largest gathering of voice talent in the world. Walking in the hotel hallways was sort of a déjà vu experience for me. I felt I was back in the Dutch cafeteria, surrounded by people I thought I knew. 

One of the first people I ran into was Bill Farmer, a.k.a. the voice of Goofy. In my eyes he was voice-over royalty, and yet he couldn’t have been more “normal” if there is such a thing. Moments later I was passed by a very familiar face, but I couldn’t place him. Later I realized it was Jeffrey Umberger, one of my agents. Now, why didn’t I recognize him?

You see, people look differently in 3-D. Quite often, we know the colleagues we’ve never met from their profile pictures on social media or from flattering headshots. Some of these photos were taken many summers ago, and they lack any kind of personality. They are as polished as our demos: they reveal the person we want the world to think we are. 

REALITY CHECK

When I meet people for real for the first time, they go from being two-dimensional to three-dimensional. To put it differently: people get depth. I am often struck by how tall or not tall they are. That’s one thing you cannot see on Facebook. What’s also revealing is the energy people radiate. It’s something we rarely pick up on when we’re connecting in writing.

Some people just light up the room when they walk in. Others quickly fade into the background. Some people have the most contagious laugh in the world, and others are the best huggers.

Here’s something else I ran into: people’s perceptions of me.

Some conference participants had been reading my blog for years, and had formed an opinion of who they thought I was. At the last day of VO Atlanta 2017, a girl came up to me, and she was rather nervous. “I wanted to meet you,” she said, “but I was a little bit apprehensive.”

“Why?” I asked. “Well,” she said, “in your blog you often voice such strong opinions. One of my friends says you must be pretty nasty, and I wasn’t sure you’d be willing to talk to me. But I’ve watched you during the conference, and you seem to be a nice person, so here I am.”

It was the beginning of one of the best conversations of the entire conference.

OPEN YOUR EYES

Things are never what they seem, because we look at reality through glasses colored by our personal history and by our subjective opinions. In fact, when we look at another human being, I believe we’re actually looking at a reflection of what’s inside of us.

So, if you’re going to VO Atlanta, or to any other gathering for that matter, see if you can leave any preconceptions at the door, or at least be aware that you’re biased. You may think that you already know the next person you’re about to meet, but do you really? Your unconscious prejudices could prevent you from reaching out, and could deprive the other person from an opportunity to reveal his or her true self.

If you happen to run into me, don’t be afraid. I don’t bite, unless I’m eating. I’m probably different from the person you thought I would be, and I hope that’s okay. Just be yourself. That’s the person I’m interested in.

Speaking of VO Atlanta: on 3/2 I’ll be on a panel about the future of VO-casting from 11 – 12. The moderator is J. Michael Collins, and he promised to bring some big news.

My X-session, 6 Steps to Turning your VO-Business around is on 3/2 from 6:30 – 9:30 PM.

On 3/3 I’ll be leading a Breakout Session about The Inner Game of Voice-Over from 3:15 – 4:15 PM.

I hope to see you there, or at other times in the conference hotel.

DIFFERENT PEOPLE

Let’s revisit my experience at Dutch radio for a minute or two. Here’s what I eventually learned.

The overexcited and obese sports commentator knew how to turn it on at the right moment as he was describing the big games in real-time. He also knew how to turn it off to conserve his energy. Because much of his life was spent on the road traveling from game to game, he didn’t have a lot of time to eat, so he stuck to a fast food diet, and it was showing.

The shabby announcer with the most muscular, manly pipes in radio, had lost his wife some years ago, and when that happened, he stopped taking care of himself. He eventually hooked up with the anorexic quiz show host. While they were dating she put on some weight, and transformed him into a well-groomed radio personality which landed him a job on TV. 

The chain-smoking grandmother of seven with two double chins took me under her wing, and came to see me as the son she had lost when he was my age. The lessons I learned from her I still apply today.

Whether you’re going to a conference or not, I encourage you to always keep an open mind, and please remember:

We all have stories to tell, and most of the time our books are very different and much more interesting than their covers!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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The Magnet, the Colander, and the Clay

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Promotion 15 Comments

making potteryAs a blogger, coach, and voice talent, I think a lot about why certain people make it in this business and why others don’t.

Those who are doing well don’t always know why they belong to the happy few. “You’ve got to have a lot of luck,” they say, and “be at the right moment at the right time.”

It’s a nice observation, but as a teacher that doesn’t help me much. Just as I can’t predict who’s going to win the Powerball, I cannot influence luck. And if I knew how to be at the right moment at the right time, I probably would be doing something else with my life right now. 

What I can help people with as a coach, is preparedness. If you’re lucky to be at the right place at the right time and you’re not prepared, you’re not going to get very far. But preparedness alone is no guarantee that you’ll have a successful career as a creative freelancer. 

Let’s say you’re talented, you’re well-trained, and you have the right equipment that gets the job done. Is that enough to start and grow a for-profit business? I think we all know well-educated people with great skills and a nice set-up who can barely make ends meet. So, there must be other factors at play that determine the difference between success and failure.

Looking at colleagues who are at the top of their game, I have identified three characteristics all of them have in common. Number one I call:

THE MAGNET

The difference between dreamers and achievers is that achievers attract jobs. This is anything but a passive process. People don’t become magnets overnight and without planning. You’ve got to have an extensive network in place that generates a continuous flow of leads from multiple sources. If you’re just starting out, this is where you have to spend most of your time, energy, and money.

How do you become a magnet? Think about what you can do to draw people to you. You’ve got to offer something special at a price that tells people you take your work seriously. You have to make sure your presentation is in line with your (desired) reputation. Then you need to connect with clients and colleagues to let them know that you exist.

Obviously, this is not something you can do in a few weeks or months. Every self-employed person can tell you that this will be your life from now on, until you decide to close up shop. This type of magnet is like a rechargeable battery. If you don’t charge it regularly, it will quickly lose its power.

Now, let’s assume your magnetic powers have the desired effect and job offers are rolling in. Should you jump on every opportunity? Here’s where the second factor comes in. I call this:

THE COLANDER

Beginners often make the same mistake. They go after every single job offer, if only “to gain experience.” I remember when I first became a member of an online casting site. As soon as I had posted my profile and the membership fee was paid, the auditions started coming in. In my naïve enthusiasm I applied for every job, thinking that the more I auditioned, the greater the chance I would be hired. I was wrong.

Being a successful freelancer is not a numbers game. It is about going after the opportunities that are right for you. In order to do that, you have to filter out the misfits. That’s where the colander comes in.

Runners know their strengths. Some of them run marathons. Others sprint. In my line of work, some voice actors are great at narrating audiobooks. Others excel in voicing short commercials. Only a handful of people in every profession are true all-rounders. Chances are that you’re not one of them. That’s why you have to do yourself a favor: know your strengths, and become picky. Very picky.

There’s one last factor that separates the wheat from the chaff. I call it:

THE CLAY

No matter how good you are at attracting and selecting jobs, once you have landed a new project, you have one objective and one objective only: to make your client happy. That’s by no means an earth-shattering revelation, so why even mention it? Here’s why. So many people believe that if you do the very best you can, the client will be pleased with the result. That’s not necessarily true.

Your very best might not be good enough, and/or the client may have different expectations. That’s why it is so important to find out what those expectations are before you get to work. I often tell my clients: “Any text can be read in a million ways. The more specific you are about what you’d like to hear, the easier it is for me to give you the read you need.” And that’s where the clay comes in.

Clay is just potential. It can be molded into any shape, depending on the talent and skills of the potter. No matter what kind of freelance work you do, whether you’re a scriptwriter, an industrial designer or a voice-over, you’ve got to know your material and be a master molder. The better you are at understanding your client and at working the clay, the more successful you will be.

Mind you, this isn’t something you can pick up from reading a book, or by listening to a podcast. It will take talent, training, and time. It may take a few years before you break in and break even. But when you do, this is what you will discover:

Doing exceptional work almost always leads to more work, which brings us back to the concept of the magnet.

One last thing.

If your career isn’t where you want it to be at the moment, ask yourself:

“Where are my greatest challenges?

What needs more work?

Is it the magnet, the colander, or is it the way I handle the clay?”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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photo credit: Shaping the Heart via photopin (license)

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Did You Miss Me?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, International, Internet, Journalism & Media, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play, Promotion, Social Media 10 Comments

Paul Strikwerda self-portraitWise men say that one way to spot the difference between cultures, is by looking at how separate societies approach the concept of work.

As someone who has lived and worked in both Europe and in the United States, I feel comfortable making the following generalization:

In Europe, most people work to live.

In the Unites States, most people live to work.

By “most” I mean more than half.

Here’s the thing: I’ve never had more time off than during the thirty-six years I lived in the Netherlands. I was able to travel the world at a relaxed pace, and recharge my batteries. I had enough time to pursue one or two hobbies, and have a rich and balanced social life.

Once I became a U.S citizen, I learned that most people in America see even a short vacation as a luxury and not as a necessity. The odd American planning a trip outside of the country has one thing on his mind: how can I see and do as many things in as little time as possible? Kids are overscheduled by stressed parents working two jobs, and one of those jobs is to pay for daycare. 

I fully realize that I’m brushing with broad strokes, but what’s the end result of these two attitudes?

Countries where people work less like Ireland, Norway and Belgium, are more productive than the United States. In the most productive country on earth, Luxembourg, people work an average of 29 hours a week. On average, Americans put in 33.6 hours a week, only to rank fifth in the OECD list of most productive countries.

These findings support one of the conclusions of a story I wrote this year entitled “Are You Wasting Your Time Going Nowhere Fast?(click on the title to access the article)It’s a blog post about the difference between being busy and being productive. In it, I offer suggestions to increase your productivity as well as your bottom line, that will actually cost less time!

THE RAT RACE

No matter where you live, running the rat race can be pretty stressful. Some of my voice-over students get stressed out when they have to go into a studio to record. In “Don’t Drive Yourself Crazy,” I describe how you can keep that stress under control.

One of my most popular blog posts this year was “The One Thing That Will Improve Your Voice Acting Immediately.” What do you think it could be? Warm-ups? Tongue twisters? Sufficient hydration? No. No, and No! The other blog post that got a lot of attention was “The Vital Voice-Over Skill We Never Talk About.” It’s something that isn’t taught in voice-over school, and yet it could make or break your career.

Now, I have a question for you. If I were an investor on a show like Shark Tank or Dragons’ Den, and you came to me with a pitch to back your business, what would I be looking for? Enthusiasm? A unique product? The answer may surprise you. Read about it in “Would you Survive The Shark Tank?” 

MISTAKES AND FAILURES

Eighty percent of new businesses survive past their first year. However, half of all businesses no longer exist after five years. That’s a scary statistic, isn’t it? In “The Secret To Not Getting Hired,” I’ve summed up all the reasons why clients aren’t interested in working with you. Oddly enough, I also invite you to embrace failure as a way to grow personally and professionally. You can read about that in “Why I Want You To Fail.”

In “Being Wrong About Being Right,” I describe one of the biggest mistakes I made in 2017, and what I learned from it.

When you’re just starting out as a voice-over, it is so easy to make simple errors. Many of my VO-students tell me: “If only I had known…” I tell them: “If only you had read my blog!” The story about “The Seven Worst Mistakes Beginner Voice-Overs Make,” is a good start.

If there’s one thing I have learned in this unpredictable business, it is that success is by no means guaranteed. You can work your tail off and record audition after audition, only to face rejection, time after time. It’s frustrating, and that’s why I say: “VO’s Unfair, so, Grow a Pair!”

ATTITUDE ADJUSTMENT

Sometimes, people are their own worst enemies because they’re unconsciously sabotaging their success. In that case they might need a major attitude adjustment, such as the one I describe in What Are You Waiting For?and Be bold. Be brave. Be you.

Sometimes, you are not the problem, though. You’re just dealing with a terrible customer. Mine was named Elvis, and he was “My Worst Client Ever.”

Attracting clients has always been a major theme of this blog. In “The Key To Promoting Your Business,” I reveal what’s fundamentally wrong with the way many voice-overs (and other freelancers) market themselves, and what they can do about it.

Social media should play an important role in any marketing strategy, but you have to know how to play the game to get tangible results.

Facebook can be particularly tricky, and so many colleagues are still violating the terms of service. Because of it, they could be kicked off the platform. If that’s something you wish to avoid, please read “Facebook: Why You May Be Doing It All Wrong.” One thing you need to be particularly careful with, is posting pictures online. If you don’t do it right, “The Copyright Trolls Are Coming After You.”

2017 marked the year I finally took Nethervoice to Instagram. In “Help, I’m on Instagram. Now what?I talk about this experiment, and why I believe you should also give this platform a try. Let me also name a few things you should avoid in the new year.

STAY AWAY

Number one my list is spending too much money! It’s so easy to write check after check hoping it will benefit your business. Quite often, it’s better to save and make wise investments. In Becoming A Frugal Freelancer I’ll tell you how. This story alone could save you hundreds of dollars, pounds, or euro each year. 

Number two of things to avoid is working for low rates. In “Who’s Afraid of Decent Rates,” I urge you to stop blaming one specific group for the ongoing erosion of voice-over rates. You’ll be surprised to learn which group that is.

Number three has to do with the big rotten apple of the voice-over industry, known as Voices dot com (VDC). In their continuous effort to try to dominate the VO-market, VDC bought Voicebank with borrowed money, and it is rapidly turning well-paid union jobs into cheap managed projects. Read all about it in “A Deal With The Devil.” My question to you is:

“Are you part of the problem, or part of the solution?” 

As long as you keep investing in a company that does not have your best interest at heart, you keep that company in business. That’s why I’m telling you: “It’s Time To Choose.” Are you in or are you out?

NAMECALLING

The 2017 story that caused quite a stir on social media was “Divided We Stand.” Actually, it was an afterthought about a certain VO Awards show that prompted one commentator to label me a “racist.” Some of my critics thought this person went too far and said so in public. Others kept their mouth tightly shut. To me, that was more hurtful than the ridiculous slander itself. Einstein once said:

“If I were to remain silent, I’d be guilty of complicity.”

In the follow-up article “Paying the Piper,” I take on my critics, and I present ideas to make future award shows better and more relevant. 

SQUARE ONE

The last two stories I want to highlight bring us back to the beginning. It’s about our approach to work. A week or so ago, my colleague Paul Stefano posted on Facebook:

“Anybody else finding it hard to just stop during the holidays? Still frantically checking email for auditions, looking at casting sites and generally running at 90 mph. It’s as if all the energy it takes to do this business on a daily basis makes it really hard to hit the brakes!”

I responded:

“Auditions will keep coming in. Always. But precious moments with friends and family will never come back. If we don’t give ourselves the opportunity to enjoy these wonderful times, what are we really working for?”

Working harder and longer doesn’t mean we’ll be more productive. In fact, this blog was born when I dared to step away from my work for a while. I describe what happened in “Feeding Your Soul.” Little did I know that this blog would eventually attract an audience of 39K subscribers and counting!

READING LIST

If you do feel that your voice has earned a rest, and you wish to catch up on some reading, I warmly invite you to look at The Concise (and incomplete) Voice-Over Book List,” I compiled this year. As an author I will be adding another book to that list in 2018. What are your big plans for the new year?

For now I want to thank you for all your emails, questions, and comments. I hope to meet you in person at VO Atlanta in March where I’ll be doing a presentation, a panel discussion, and a break-out session.

May the new year bring you all the fulfillment and success you so deserve!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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