Promotion

GET YOUR ACT(ing) TOGETHER!

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Freelancing, Gear, Internet, Journalism & Media, Promotion, Social Media, Studio2 Comments

Mykle McCoslin

COVID-19 is killing the entertainment industry.

Most of Hollywood is closed for business. Studios are struggling to survive. Word has it that insurers are unlikely to cover productions for COVID-19 cases when business resumes.

Research by the Society of London Theatre indicates that 70% of UK theaters will run out of money by the end of the year. As you probably know, Broadway has been shut down until the end of January 2021.

Thanks to the Corona virus, thousands of on-camera and stage actors are twiddling their thumbs in desperation. One of them is Mykle McCoslin. She’s also an acting coach, writer, and president of the Houston-Austin SAG AFTRA local. She knows she won’t be returning to the stage or set any day soon. So, what can she do? Mykle says her agents might have the answer:

“Voice over is something that my agents have been emailing me about, saying: You’ve got to do this! Now is the time to learn how to build your own studio and be a professional voice over actor.”

But Mykle was in no way prepared to jump on the VO bandwagon:

“I’ve auditioned from my phone, but I am in no way proficient with the equipment. When my agents contacted me about an ethernet connection and Source Connect, I was freaking out.”

ORGANIZING A WEBINAR 

To learn more about the voice over business, Mykle and her colleague Betsy Curry recently hosted a How to get started in VO event, featuring two guests: tech guru George Whittam, and VO-actor and coach Lindsay Sheppard. It turned out to be a huge hit.

Within the first hours of the webinar, Mykle had over 1K views, 31 shares, and 160 comments. Less than two weeks later we are at 2.2K views and counting. Bear in mind that most actors who tuned in had most likely never heard of Whittam or Shepherd. They were just interested in the topic. What does this tell us?

It confirms what I hear from my agents, students, and on-camera colleagues. Thanks to COVID-19, many more people are thinking of a voice over career than ever before. Who can blame them? But, this does beg the question:

Should we be worried or excited?

Before I answer that, let me tell you that if you are currently a professional voice over (emphasis on professional), the webinar didn’t cover anything you wouldn’t already know. It addressed basic questions like:

  • What equipment do you need?
  • How can you create a home studio on a budget?
  • What types of voice over work are there?
  • Where do you find VO jobs?
  • How do you audition?
  • Do you need a demo, and if so, who can help?

 

Based on the questions that came in, one thing became abundantly clear:

Drama school does not prepare stage and on-camera actors for the demanding and uncertain world of voice overs.

Most actors are unaware of and intimidated by the technology required. If I were an employee at Guitar Center and one of these stage actors came in, hoping to start a VO career, I could literally sell him the cheapest or most expensive USB mic and get away with it. No questions asked.

I’m not saying that to put anyone down. Most voice actors would be totally out of their comfort zone in a television studio or on a film set. It’s understandable that their on-camera colleagues are not very familiar with the ins and outs of VO. 

WHAT NON-VOICE ACTORS DON’T KNOW

Before you’re getting alarmed that thousands of out of work on-camera and stage actors are all coming for our jobs, please keep this in mind:

– Most of them have no setup enabling them to work from home, and if they do, it’s probably insufficient (just think of the Broadway actor in her tiny New York apartment without any soundproofing)
– Most of them don’t even know what equipment they should buy; they may not even have the funds
– They’ve never heard of DAW’s, noise floor, presets, self-noise, Neumann, polar patterns, MKH 416’s, high-pass filters, et cetera
– They only have acting reels but no VO demos
– They may have VO credits, but have no idea how to properly record and edit audio, or how to set up a session for remote direction
– They have no long-time relationships in the VO world, nor do they have an established network of VO clients
– Some of their agents have no idea where to find VO-jobs
– Many of them will struggle with the lack of physicality in voice over work, the claustrophobic working conditions, and the anti-social aspect of the job
– SAG-AFTRA members will go after union jobs, and most of the VO work is non-union
– The lower VO rates, status, and lack of exposure may not seem attractive to on-camera, on-stage talent
– Like most people, on-camera and stage actors underestimate what it takes to have a successful and sustainable career in VO

Tom Hanks once said:

“There are times when my diaphragm is sore at the end of a four- or five-hour recording session, just because the challenge is to wring out every possible option for every piece of dialogue. It’s every incarnation of outrage and surprise and disappointment and heartache and panic and being plussed and nonplussed.”

He said this about his third Toy Story sequel:

“It’s an imaginary stretch. To the point of exhaustion. Because you’re only using your voice, you can’t go off mic, you cannot use any of your physicality. You have to imagine that physicality. In a lot of ways that’s the antithesis of what you do as an actor.”

What I like about these quotes is that they show respect for the challenging work we do as voice actors. You and I know that what we do is not as easy as it sounds, but I think many of us feel undervalued and not as appreciated as the people who walk the red carpet and get all the goodie bags. Not because we stink at what we do, but because we’re the invisibles of the industry. Some have noted that even SAG-AFTRA seems to take our profession more seriously these days (but that’s another blog post). 

THE ADVANTAGE OF BEING A TRAINED STAGE ACTOR

So, what do on-camera and stage actors have going for them when it comes to voice overs?

First and foremost: acting chops.

I happen to believe that the majority of people advertising themselves as “voice actors” are in fact “voice overs.” Voice overs can read a script with a certain authority and clarity, but that doesn’t mean they possess any dramatic acting skills. They are pretty good at reading a script, but not at embodying the text or the character they are paid to portray. It’s out of their comfort zone.

In a way, many voice overs are one-trick ponies like news readers, school teachers, or former radio jocks. You can tell within the first few seconds where they got their start. There’s no emotional range, depth, or color, whereas an on-stage actor is a chameleon, a shape-shifter who is able to act out different characters with subtle but essential changes in the placement of the body and the intonation of the voice.

To use a musical metaphor: most voice overs are like a piano. The sound they produce is adequate, consistent, and rather one-dimensional. An on-camera or stage actor can sound like many different instruments, performing a huge repertoire.

GETTING PHYSICAL

On-camera and stage actors have another advantage: their physicality. Whereas many voice overs are pinned down to their chairs inside a small space, their more dramatic colleagues are not afraid to get into character, twisting their bodies and faces into pretzels to become the person they pretend to be.

Because they are used to learning scripts, they can memorize their lines and sound like they’re spontaneously speaking instead of reading off a piece of paper. It’s the critical distinction between sounding natural and unnatural.

Once again, I’m not saying this to put anyone down. You can’t judge a mime for his inability to carry a tune because he was never trained to be a singer (unless that mime purposefully advertises his singing skills).

Speaking of vocal skills, while many voice overs are struggling to maintain vocal health and stamina, their on-stage counterparts are used to performing up to eight shows a week. From the onset, they already have the chops to record an audio book for five to six hours a day without damaging their vocal folds.

CELEBRITY STATUS

In what other areas can an on-camera/stage actor edge out a voice actor? It greatly depends on someone’s status and reputation. The problem is, voice actors are invisible. Stage actors are anything but, and can use that notoriety to their advantage. 

A-listers can make a killing recording commercials by leveraging their celebrity status, and because of the crisis we’re in, even celebs are becoming more affordable. Having said that, no job is ever guaranteed.

Daniel Stern is known for his roles in films like “Hannah and her Sisters,” “City Slickers,” and the first two “Home Alone” films. He is also the narrator for the “The Wonder Years” and he’s the voice of Dilbert in the animated TV series.

One day, Daniel got a script for a voice-over audition, and his mouth practically dropped to the floor when he read the specs:

“Must sound like Daniel Stern”

He’s thinking: “Piece of cake. This one’s in the bag!”

So, Stern goes to his booth; records a demo; sends it in…

…and doesn’t get the part!

GETTING NOTICED

Another thing invisible actors can learn from their visible counterparts is building a professional presence. On-camera actors have no problem putting themselves out there. I’m painting with broad strokes here, but it is my observation that voice overs tend to be more introverted, and on-camera/stage actors tend to be more extroverted.

We live in a time where branding is more important that ever. You’ve got to be visible in order to be noticed. A strong social media presence is required if you wish to play the game at the highest level. And if you want people to hire you, they need to be able to find you. Otherwise you’re a dime a dozen.

Back to my original question:

On-camera and stage actors getting into voice overs. Am I worried or excited? Should I feel threatened or honored? 

I personally welcome my on-stage and on-camera colleagues to the voice over business, in part because their professionalism forces me to up my game. I know that most of them will outperform me in the acting department, but without a quiet home studio (that doesn’t’ sound like one), their auditions won’t be competitive yet.

And while they’re gaining experience recording and editing audio, I can take online improv classes, redo my website and demos, and increase my social media presence.

In these uncertain times there’s one thing I know for sure.

You can learn a lot in a short amount of time, but you cannot fake the number of years you’ve been in business. Experience, expertise, and integrity are valuable commodities that can’t be bought or rushed, no matter how famous or unknown you are.

I firmly believe that there’s an abundance of jobs waiting for anyone with talent, who is willing to work hard and play fair.

And together we’ll eventually get past this crisis because it makes us so much stronger.

Personally and professionally!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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The Voice Over Event You Can’t Afford To Miss

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, International, Internet, One Voice, Promotion4 Comments

JMC & the author at VO Atlanta

If you’ve missed the big news, let me spell it out for you:

The ONE VOICE CONFERENCE is coming to North America in August!

This virtual gathering is the Gravy For the Brainchild of UK-based Hugh Edwards and Peter Dickson. They are the dynamic duo behind Gravy For The Brain.

In May they pulled something off that many of us thought would never work. An online voice over conference that was as fun as it was informative. Those of us who took part were left with one overwhelming feeling:

WE WANT MORE!

For the North American edition Hugh and Peter teamed up with J. Michael Collins, the man who runs Gravy for the Brain USA (and so much more). If you’re unfamiliar with Gravy for the Brain (GFTB), let me give you the bullet point version.

In spite of its playful name, I think of GFTB as the number one platform for those who are serious about becoming a voice over and having a successful and sustainable career. And no, I’m not getting paid to say this!

Since 2008 GFTB has assisted and inspired over forty thousand voice overs with a plethora of certificated voice over courses allowing students to learn at their own pace, hosted by industry experts. Coming back from VO Atlanta, Peter and Hugh wanted to create a UK conference which gave new talent and ideas a place to flourish and change the voice over industry. That became the One Voice Conference (OVC). Now in its third year, this conference is coming to America!

I’ve interviewed Hugh in the past, and I have an interview with Peter in the pipeline, so I turned to J. Michael Collins to give me the lowdown on the OVC USA (as always, everything in BLUE is a hyperlink). Before I asked my questions, there’s something I wanted him to clear up. I wrote the following email:

Dear JMC:

Let me start with an admission: I don’t know how to properly address you. 

Do I say: “Dear JMC?” 

Do I say: “Dear Michael,” “Dear J. Michael,” or “Dear Mike?”

I need a little guidance, please.

He wrote back:

Hi Paul,

Thanks for your message.

J. Michael, JMC, or That Guy Who Smells Like Lobster are all acceptable. 🙂

So, I said to That Guy Who Smells Like Lobster:

– We’ve had the UK edition of the One Voice Conference in May with attendees from all over the world, including the USA. For those who have attended the One Voice UK conference, is it still worthwhile to go to the US edition?

The US edition is still going to provide tremendous value. We have a vastly different lineup than the UK edition. I don’t think there is much cross-over at all. We’ve also brought out people who don’t generally come out to speak at conferences like Christian Lanz, Portia Scott, Christina Milizia, Joe Zieja, and Pat Brady. These people are just not “on the circuit” as much as the speakers that we usually see, including myself. It’s good to have a more diverse group.

Diversity is something we have a commitment to at this particular conference. We feel it’s important that the community of speakers and presenters is reflective of what the community of voice talent is like these days. As we all know, in the past ten or twenty years there has been a sea change of more diverse voices. Voices that look more like America now are being hired much more regularly than they were when the industry was much less inclusive.

If you go back twenty or thirty years it was ninety five percent white and very heavily male. Today it’s just incredibly diverse and if anything, the minority voices and diverse voices are having access to opportunities that they’ve never had in the past. So, we think our lineup reflects that. We continue to add new presenters, so keep your eye on the website and on the presenter roster to see who we add in the coming weeks.

– Is it for American/Canadian talent only?

No. I am personally going to be presenting on the international VO market for talent who live elsewhere. That session in and of itself will be helpful. We have a handful of speakers from all over the world. We have speakers from Germany, from France, from the UK. However, the content that we have designed for this conference is certainly North American-centric.

– As you know, there are quite a few VO gatherings aimed at newcomers who simply wish to explore the business. Is One Voice USA one of those conferences, or is there a barrier to entry for OVC USA?

There is no barrier to entry for OV USA. What we would say is that it’s our mission to make our conference focused primarily on professional level content. That doesn’t mean it’s inaccessible to newer talent. It just means that when newer talent attend a conference like One Voice, they can expect to hear content that is geared towards people who want to have full-time careers in voice over, and content that’s a little bit more detailed and a little more in-depth in terms of taking your business from a fledgling state into a state where it is what you do for a living.

While we believe that all the content we have is going to be relevant and helpful for people who are new to the business, our focus is on attracting pros to the conference because we believe that the content we’re trying to offer will help people who are already full-time professional voice actors, advance their careers to a level beyond where it is currently.

– Tell me about the keynote speakers. Who are they, on what basis did you select them, and what will they be talking about?

Portia Scott

We have two keynotes, and we wanted to approach it from both the agency side, from the other side of the glass, the side that’s hiring, and also from the performance side.

Our agency side keynote is Portia Scott who is the head of voice over for Coast to Coast Talent Group in LA and New York. She’s one of the real power agents in the business and has quite an interesting story to tell about her career and her life in the voice over industry.

She has helped to take that agency to where it is now, to make it one of the big players in the highest level of voice over. Of course she’ll be talking about what you need to do to attract that level of representation, and to get on the radar of the very highest end LA-New York Union agencies.

Tara Strong

Our performance keynote is Tara Strong. She really needs no introduction if you are at all into animation, cartoons, and video games. Just go and look at her IMDB page. It’s about two and a half miles long. She has one of the most impressive resumes of any character voice actor in history. You can make a fair argument that she’s maybe the leading female character voice actor in the industry today, and in many ways of all time.

Tara’s going to talk about her journey and what you can do if that’s the path you set yourself on. While she’s heavily focused on the character side of the business, I think the nuggets that she will be offering to our attendees will also be germane to any other genre. There is a core means of establishing yourself, of getting noticed, of making yourself a presence, and honing your craft to a level that is going to be compelling to buyers, that translates from genre to genre.

– According to the website, some speakers are “to be announced.” Does that mean there will be a few surprises, or are you actively looking for additional speakers?

We’re not actively looking for additional speakers and we’re not open for submissions. However, if you think you have a particularly unique idea or a slant on something and you’d like to approach us, we wouldn’t close that off completely. As far as the roster of speakers is concerned, we might have a few surprises up our sleeve. There’s one in particular that we’re working on that I can’t talk about yet, but if we would be able to get him or her, that would be fantastic!

– Part of the fun of going to these conferences is the social aspect. The meals. The parties. The adult beverages. How are you going to make up for that in an online setting?

Obviously, we’d rather be there in person with everybody. I’m a big believer that hugs are going to make a comeback as soon as we have a vaccine. In the short term we have to do the best we can with what we’ve got.

One of the things that was just really impressive to me about the One Voice UK conference were the socials, and the outside of content-content where people got together and shared adult beverages over Zoom. You don’t think it would work, but I’ll tell you, when we’ve been isolated from each other as much as we have, this is a wonderful loving connected community. Even over a Zoom call! Those hangouts, those socials that we do, they were full, they were fun, and they were lively.

We’re doing our best to make this a social event, and not just a content event. Hopefully, we’re paving some new territory in giving people some added value; giving them a chance to vent and connect, and to be human again in the current situation.

– The One Voice UK conference was a huge success, and yet it was criticized for a lack of diversity because most speakers were male and Caucasian. How have you addressed that for the USA edition?

There has been a lack of diversity in the voice over industry, but that has been changing dramatically over the past few years. It’s certainly a legacy of the industry. We are committed to being a part of the solution. We’re committed to recognizing the privilege that a lot of us who have been in this business, have. We’re committed to addressing that, and to being as inclusive as we can be.

We feel that the lineup that we’ve put together is balanced. It’s at least fifty-fifty or possibly even slightly more female than male. We have substantial representation from the black community, from the latinx community, from the LBGTQ plus community. We believe that as North America becomes more diverse, that our industry will by necessity become more diverse. We’re already seeing that in practice.

On a personal note, many of my dearest friends in the business are diverse, minority talent, and LGBTQ plus talent. My lead audio engineer on my JMC demos production team is from that community. I hope some day we get to a place where we don’t need modifiers anymore, where we’re just people. I know that’s Utopian, and I know that can be interpreted as a very privileged thing for an older successful white male to say. But I believe we’re capable of getting there. And if there’s anything you think we can do better, we’re all ears. Always!

Peter Dickson

– The UK conference is usually followed by the One Voice Awards. Are you planning on having a USA competition as well?

We’re not planning to have a One Voice Awards USA at this time.

– Did you have to find new sponsors for this event? Will there be giveaways? Will JMC Demos be involved?

We have a lot of the same sponsors coming back from the UK conference: Bodalgo, Source Elements, and JMC Demos is a sponsor as well. And yes, we will be doing some giveaways and add as much value as possible. I imagine someone will be winning a demo from me, and probably some coaching as well. Other sponsors will be offering some things up as well.

– Some colleagues believe we have enough voice overs in the world today. Too many, perhaps. Why should a conference like this enable more people to join a profession in times of so much competition? In ten years, half of our work is going to be replaced by text to speech software anyway.

I couldn’t disagree more with the premise that we have enough voice overs in the world today. There are certainly more than enough people calling themselves “professional voice actors.” I always throw the number out there that in North America there probably are two hundred thousand talent calling themselves “professional voice actors,” but the fact of the matter is that it’s five or ten thousand of them who are consistently booking. If you really drill deep I would imagine that you would find that it’s about a thousand voices that book most of the work. So, I’m a big believer that the myth of competition or saturation is just a myth.

I have coached and watched enough new talent come into the business who have the chops and who have built incredible careers for themselves in the past ten, fifteen years. There is plenty of work out there, and while there are certain areas of voice over, especially those that are more glamorous like animation, TV narration, documentary, promo, movie trailer…. those genres are areas where there is a finite amount of work.

You can say that there probably is more quality talent than there is work to be had in those genres. So, you do have to work three times as hard. You have to stand out ten times as much. You really have to play the game well, and make sure that you take every step correctly. And even then there is no guarantee that you’re going to crack the door in those genres because there is a lot of competition and there’s only so much work to go around. Video games is maybe getting to the point now where it’s exploding to where there’s more of a balance, but in genres that are more glamorous and sought after, there does tend to be a bit more of an imbalance in favor of the client. But that’s not true everywhere.

Commercial work is glamorous and many people want to do commercials. We’ve seen commercial rates come down over the years largely because of the fact that technology has made talent more accessible. What we’ve now seen is -and the current crisis has proven this point – that those rates have hit a floor. I don’t know that there is going to be a substantial bounce back, but I certainly think they’re not going to go any lower.

The reason is that eventually, talent just won’t do the jobs if the pressure on rates continues to be strong. There is certainly a glut of talent wanting to do commercial work, but with new media, social media advertising, with web ads and so on and so forth, there is more content than there has ever been. There is a tremendous amount of work out there. There are many talent who are chasing it, and in my mind it is more accessible than perhaps some of those other genres that I talked about earlier.

The other side of the coin is non-broadcast narration. When you start getting into corporate narration, explainers, eLearning, medical narration, and to some degree audio books, you have a higher barrier to entry. In my opinion you have to have a graduate or post-graduate level of facility with language to be competitive in corporate narration. Not every talent has that. And so we found over the years that rates for corporate, eLearning, for medical haven’t been going down. They’re going up because there is a supply-demand imbalance in favor of the talent. There is still more work out there than there is quality talent to do it. In some fields in the current crisis, eLearning and medical have just exploded. The amount of work out there is staggering. Even talent that is brand new is finding demand for their services.

So, no, I don’t think we have enough voice overs in the world today. If anything, we need more. I think we need them to understand where they’re going to have the best chance of success. Not everybody is going to do Dreamworks or Disney animation. Not everybody is going to be booking national commercial work every day. However, the amount of content out there is only going to grow. The need for VO’s is going to grow as well. What’s important is that talent who is going to get into the business do it the right way. That entails building a strong sustainable business that does not involve working on platforms where the rates are burnout rates, where you can only make substantial money when you work ninety hours a week.

You have to focus on core training, making sure you’re prepared before you do a demo. As you know, I’m a demo producer and I will be the first person to tell somebody: “Please, do not get a demo until you’re ready.” An ethical demo producer is not going to take your demo unless you are ready to go out and be competitive.

Hugh Edwards

Do the coaching. Do the training. Sometimes that starts with small things. At the One Voice Conference and Gravy for the Brain we think we have great content and that’s a fantastic resource for people to start with. Do that before you get a coach. Then a year down the line, get a demo. Don’t do it all in one go right off the bat. Just do it the right way and you’ll be much happier and successful in the long run.

Look, there are people making money on low-budget platforms, and that’s where they should live. That’s where their talent slates them. But if you want to make this a serious career, the best advice is to follow the tried and true path. To get the training that’s appropriate. To make sure that you get a legitimate evaluation from somebody who will tell you that it’s not right for you because it’s not right for everybody.

I have worked with talent who have glorious voices, but this business just isn’t for them because the acting isn’t there. They’re not able to connect with copy. They’re unable to inhabit a character and form something other than them, within themselves.

In any case, there is plenty of room in this business for new talent. I don’t think that in ten years our work is going to be replaced by text to speech software, but I will tell you that if I were one of the low-budget talent on Fiverr, or if I were doing the three-cent eLearning for people on other continents, or the twenty dollar explainer videos, I would be scared because the AI (Artificial Intelligence) technology is going to get good enough that clients who are focused on price and not on quality, will use it.

It will be super cheap and it will ultimately kill off the low end of the industry. At the end of the day, we’re going to look back and say that AI was a good thing for professional voice over because I think what it’s going to do is it’s going to solve our lowball problem. It’s going to get rid of the side of the industry that undercuts the competition and works for rates they shouldn’t, and it’s going to replace it with robots.

Clients who are after quality and who are after high-end professional content will always be looking for human actors because for them it’s not about price. It’s about messaging. It’s about getting it right. Remember: the best AI can ever be is as good as we are. It can never be better. The human voice will always be at least its equal, and in most cases it will be better. AI doesn’t scare me. In fact, I welcome our new robot overlords and I think that they will ultimately do a service to the industry by cleaning out the lowest end of the business.

the author presenting at the OVC UK 2020

– A ticket to the UK conference gave the attendees access to the archive of previous conferences. Will the attendees of One Voice USA get that same deal, access to the UK archive?

Absolutely! What you’re really getting is access to content from four conferences for the price of one!

-What do you hope a conference like this will ultimately achieve for the voice over community, and why is that important to you?

It’s what I hope any conference will achieve for the voice over community: providing quality educational content that will allow the talent who attend to advance their careers. I believe that we’re bringing in fresh faces, people who are up and comers, the next generation of stars in our industry, in addition to some of the established legends that we always want to see at these things. This is the freshest lineup that has ever been put forth in a conference. I believe that the perspective the attendees are going to receive will be different and new. That’s the key selling point to me.

Prior to the One Voice UK conference I made a comment to somebody that I was supporting it to fly the flag for Gravy for the Brain, and One Voice, and because I love Hugh and Peter. They do right by the community, but I didn’t believe that virtual conference could work very well.

Well, they proved me wrong! It was virtually seamless. It was a remarkable coming together of technology and humanity to create an experience that was so far above and beyond of what I thought could be done. I was just left with mouth agape at the quality that it offered. So, I’m just so excited to bring that to US community now with the Reattendance platform in combination with Zoom. Just to give the American community a taste of how good this can be, virtually.

Yes, we’d always rather be there hugging each other, toasting to each other’s success. But what they were able to accomplish at the UK conference was remarkable and I think that we’re going to be able to do the same thing for the USA. We are going to offer an experience that -if nothing else- will at least scratch the itch and prove cathartic for those of us who so desperately miss our voice over friends and don’t get to play in the same sandbox the way that we usually do because of the current crisis.

I hope it’s the last virtual one, but certainly an experience to remember. And get this. It’s more affordable than an in-person conference because a large portion of those ticket prices are going to the overhead. The bottom line is that hotels and conference centers charge astronomical fees for every little thing. Here you’re getting in the door for under two hundred dollars, and you’re getting content that, at a live conference would be a six, seven hundred dollar ticket.

To me it’s a no-brainer, and I couldn’t be more proud to be a part of it!

J. Michael Collins with lobster mask

Many thanks to J. Michael, JMC, or That Guy Who Smells Like Lobster. If you’re looking for an award-winning demo producer and overall standup guy to guide you in your VO career, click here.

The One Voice Conference USA 2020 is held from August 13 @ 6:00 pm – August 16 @ 1:00 pm. Click here to buy your ticket. A little over $187 US dollars will get you in the door, and you don’t even have to leave your house.

And finally, I’m happy to say that I will also be contributing to this conference. On Saturday, August 15th at 1:00 PM I’ll be leading a 3-hour workshop called “Blogging your way to voice over success.” Hope you will join me!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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This May Be The Best Investment In Your VO Career Right Now

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, International, Internet, One Voice, Promotion4 Comments

Some say he’s got a big blob of gravy for a brain.

Some say he is the secret love child of Telly Savalas and his Austrian mistress Inga.

Some say he combs his armpits with an electric toothbrush, and they are sure he shines the top of his head with extra fine sandpaper, giving him a ten-minute braingasm.

All we know is that he’s called….

Huge Edwards (photo).

Apologies. It’s Hugh Edwards. Actually. 

If you’re a Top Gear fan, you recognize the reference. If not, you probably think I’m stark raving mad. You might be right. This self-quarantining situation does crazy things to a sane mind. 

Anyway, today I had a chance to talk to the Stig of the voice over world. The man who can pull off stunts no one has ever attempted before. The guy who is working 24/7 to put together the world’s first LIVE virtual voice over gathering. The co-creator of the One Voice Conference which opens its online doors on Thursday, May 7th.

And by the way, the bold words in blue are (as always) hyperlinks.

A PLANET GONE VIRAL

Listen, I don’t have to remind you how much the world has changed thanks to this nasty virus. I know you’re probably not working as much as you would like. That does mean you have more time on your hands, and I know just the way to spend that time. You need to get ready for when the world reopens and you’re back in business. Stronger and better than ever. As I said before:

“This is the time to sharpen your axe, and use it wisely.

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

Invest. Invest. Invest.

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

That’s why I’d be thrilled if you could join me at the One Voice Conference. All the other VO conferences are not going to happen this year, and -as you will hear shortly- if you decide to join me, you will have access to not one but THREE conferences at a price which has been slashed in half by Stig Edwards himself.

SELLING MYSELF

If this sounds like a self-serving sales pitch to you, I am guilty as charged because I’m one of the contributors to the conference. Do I want this thing to be a huge success for everyone involved? Of course I do!

But even if I wasn’t contributing, I would still suggest you sign up because I know and trust the people who are putting it together, and I’ve seen the line up of speakers (53 and counting). Check them out, and imagine for a moment that you’d have to pay each presenter $150 to $200 for a private consultation.

Get this: A weekend virtual conference pass is $226.80, and Gravy For The Brain members are paying even less.

One of the frustrations of a “normal” conference is that by going to one presentation, you miss out on many others because they’re happening at the same time. With this virtual conference that’s no longer a problem. You get access to all of them (and more), and you can watch them whenever it is most convenient for you. 

But wait… there’s more!

THE ONE VOICE INTERVIEW

Earlier today I had a Zoom meeting with Hugh Edwards, and we talked about how participants of the conference would interact with one another, and with the presenters. Did the content of the conference have to be changed due to the virtual format? Will the sponsors of One Voice still offer surprise bonuses and special deals? (A little bird told me that Sennheiser is giving away a $700 Neumann BCM 705 broadcast microphone, and a pair of $100 Sennheiser HD 280 closed back studio headphones)

I began by asking about the challenges Hugh and his team had to overcome, to put this LIVE conference together.


Many thanks to Hugh for talking to me in the midst of his busy schedule.

Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at the situation during one of the One Voice dress rehearsals (and believe it or not, this is only one quarter of the kit). 

MY ROLE AT ONE VOICE

“But Paul, what about your contributions to the One Voice Conference?” you may ask.

Good question!

On Friday May 7th, I’ll be doing a 40-minute presentation about how blogging put me on the international map as a voice over artist (and why you should start blogging too!). I have a surprise gift for everyone who’s attending.

On Saturday May 8th I will conduct a 3-hour paid workshop, entitled: “Blogging Yourself To Voice Over Success” (click here to book a seat).

Both take place at 4 PM UK time (11 AM EST, 8 AM PT).

The Friday presentation is in part my personal story and also an introduction to the value of blogging for voice overs. The Saturday workshop is a practical, in-depth look at the process of blogging, and I’ll teach you how to reach an audience, and how to monetize your blog.

I know one thing for sure: without this blog very few colleagues and clients would know my name, my voice, and this website. It was, and still is crucial to my career, and having a blog can do the same thing for you!

So, I’m counting on seeing you at the conference in May. If only for one reason and one reason only:

To make Hugh/You Happy!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Hugh is the first to acknowledge that world’s very first online voice over conference was Voice Over Virtual, back in 2013, produced by John Florian of VoiceOverXtra. What makes ONE VOICE stand out, is that it’s the first LIVE virtual conference.

 

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Is Visibility Coaching For You?

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Freelancing, International, Internet, Promotion, Social MediaLeave a comment

You know me.

I’m pretty open and honest about my business.

In this blog I share some aspects of how I make money as a voice talent. But there’s one part of my profession I don’t advertise.

It’s my work as a coach

Over the years I’ve helped lots of colleagues become more successful, and I feel they should take the credit. Not me.

Plus, I’m quite busy voicing projects and I don’t have a lot of time to coach. Frankly, I can make more money recording a three-minute script, than spending an hour giving someone advice.

But two years ago, things changed. I had my stroke, and it affected my vocal folds. My voice doesn’t last as long as it used to, and I can’t take on every project that’s offered to me.

Over time, my coaching hours increased, and I discovered that helping others can be much more satisfying than recording a pancake commercial.

Now, some coaches specialize in accent reduction. Others know all about audio books. I call myself a Visibility Coach because my strength lies in helping people stand out in a world filled with noise.

GETTING VOICE OVER JOBS

There are basically two approaches to finding more work:

– You can target and approach clients all day long by cold calling, by begging agents to send you gigs, and by auditioning online until you’re blue in the voice, or you can…

– Make those clients come to you by having a strong online presence through your website and social media

The second approach cuts out the middle man, and gives you the freedom to negotiate with clients on your turf and on your terms. Most people have tried the first method and they end up being frustrated, broke, and exhausted. Oddly enough, they’ve never spent much time trying the second method.

If you are one of those people and you’re wondering if coaching is for you, I have a question for you:

Can you pull yourself up by your bootstraps and make things better?

If you could, then why haven’t you? And if you haven’t, what’s holding you back?

You can always ask friends and family for advice, but what do they really know about the business you’re in? Do they know what it takes to put yourself out there, even if you don’t feel like selling yourself? Do they have the practical experience to figure out what’s keeping you from booking more jobs? 

Do they have the right connections to improve your visibility in the field, without plastering your face all over the internet? Do they know anything about branding and marketing? You see, friends and family will always have an opinion, but they lack the objectivity, the skills, and the know-how to guide you.

That’s where I come in.

THE BEGINNING

Twenty years ago, I came to the United States with two suitcases and a plastic bag. No one knew who I was, and I had no idea where to begin. But I did it anyway. Now I have a thriving business, happy clients, and over forty thousand people that subscribe to this blog. I speak at conferences, I give interviews, and I have written one of the more successful books on voice overs and freelancing.

One could say that I’ve figured a few things out about what it takes to do well in this ever-changing business. And I’m happy to share them with you. The Dutch are known for being very direct, and I am no sugar-coater. In fact, I am probably the person who will tell you what you don’t want to hear. If you can’t handle that, find a coach who will gladly massage your ego.

As your coach, I will be your greatest fan and cheerleader. I will hold you accountable for the actions you choose to take. If you want to talk the talk, you will have to walk the walk. I will help you plan a path, make connections, and teach you what I know. Not from boring books, but from international experience.

For instance, many European colleagues are wondering what it takes to break into the American market. It’s not easy, but it’s not impossible. I’ve done it. It’s all about talent, strategy, and connections. You bring the talent, and together we’ll focus on the rest.

MY GOAL 

My ultimate goal as a visibility coach is to make myself redundant. Your job is to do everything it takes to get to a point where you stand strong, and take full credit for your accomplishments.

We live in testing times. As the economy is crumbling and you’re not working as much as you’d like to, this is a good moment to dig in and make some changes. If you don’t, others will take this opportunity to develop a competitive advantage. 

I believe you deserve to do well in the world. I believe you deserve to use the gifts that you’re developing to the best of your ability.

If any of this resonates with you, I hope you’ll get in touch. I have to warn you, though.

I don’t take on every student that seeks coaching. My time is just as valuable as yours, and I only work with those who are highly motivated and ready to do whatever it takes. You must be prepared to spend some serious time on whatever it is that needs to improve.

IT’S UP TO YOU

Please realize that I don’t have a magic wand to lead you to instant success. Coaching is not the same as making a prefab microwave meal. Coaching is more of a crockpot process. Each student has different strengths and weaknesses, and needs a different recipe.

One last thing. This is important. 

As your coach, I cannot force you to do anything. I cannot make clients hire you on the spot, but I can teach you how to drive and navigate the road, so to speak. You, however, are in the driver’s seat, and you determine the destination.

Once you’re ready to get behind the wheel, please drop me a line. I’ll send you a copy of my Coaching Agreement to give you a better sense of my approach, and the required investment on your part.

Let’s speak soon!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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I’m Looking For Voice Talent!

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Freelancing, Promotion4 Comments

museum audio tourDo you want to hear my formula for voice over success?

Number one: There is no formula. Just talent and hard work.

Number two: It’s getting the basics right. Consistently.

Number three: Learn from the best and distinguish yourself from the rest.

Number four: Make it easy to hire you and easy to work with you.

I was reminded of those last points as I got involved in the casting of a project for a Spanish client. He asked if I could help him find a few Dutch female voices for an hour-long museum tour

Easy, right?

But where to start?

With so much talent, I had to find a way to separate the wheat from the chaff, knowing that my recommendations would also reflect on me. In my role as voice seeker I came up with a couple of principles that are so obvious that they’re often overlooked. Here’s number one:

People are more likely to suggest and hire people they know and can relate to

The longer I am in this business, the more I’m reminded that connections are the key to a sustainable career. If you don’t have a long-term strategy to cultivate these connections, you’re going to have a hard time.

Why are connections so important? It comes down to the most valuable commodity in our volatile line of work: trust

“But I don’t know anyone in the business,” said a newcomer. “I’ll never be able to break in.”

“Then make some friends!” I said. “With social media it’s never been easier. Don’t wait for others to take the initiative. Start reaching out!”

A year or so ago, I became more active in a Facebook group for Dutch talent. I rekindled old connections, and began making new ones. I received friend requests, and asked people to befriend me.

Some colleagues were predominantly interested in how I could help them land big American clients, and I understand that. Others were also interested in me as a person, and they offered their help. 

From the moment I started my life as a freelancer, I’ve learned to pick out the ME-people from the WE-people.

The ME-people ask: What can you do for ME?” They are mainly interested in getting

The WE- people ask: “What can I do for YOU?” They are mainly interested in giving

You’ll notice the same thing when people discuss the merits of going to voice over conferences. Some want to know: “What’s in it for me? Will I get my money’s worth?” Others ask: “How can I contribute? What can I do to help?” 

I’m very much drawn to the WE-crowd. The ones who want to cooperate. Those are the people I am likely to recommend. 

So, if you want me to put in a good word for you, become a go-giver instead of a go-getter!

Here’s the second thing I value when recommending fellow voice talent:

Make it easy to find you, and to get relevant information about you

When I started searching among the members of the Dutch voice over group, I noticed that many still use a personal profile instead of a professional Facebook page to highlight their voice over work.

If you do this too, this means that I, as a voice seeker am looking at your family photos where you pose in a tiny bikini holding a beer stein looking tipsy. I see your political postings, and the slightly weird way you interact with your friends.

Like it or not, I form an opinion which may or may not be favorable. If it comes down to you and another talent, and I don’t happen to like your political affiliation or your love of lager, you’re out. 

What also surprised me was that a good number of talents didn’t have any contact info in the About-section. Not even a link to their website! You want me to recommend you for a job, but you won’t tell me how to reach you or check out your demos? I’m a busy guy and I don’t have time to track you down. 

Your most critical information has to be one click away.

Number three:

Your demos need to reflect the totality of your talent

You can have the most amazing art work on your website and a wonderful bio, but if you post three demos and they all sound the same, you are selling yourself short. Very few voice overs can make a living being a one-trick pony. No one wants to come to a restaurant where the cook can only make three dishes.

So, if you wish to be a working voice talent, I want to hear you narrate some audio books, teach me a lesson through eLearning, sell me a product or a service, give me a guided tour of a museum, and act out a few video game characters. Show me your range.

Don’t only post your overproduced, expensive demos with all the bells and whistles. Clients want to know how you sound in your home studio with your own equipment. Unsweetened. In heavenly mono.

Eighty percent of the website demos I listened to for my Spanish client could not be downloaded. That’s another stumbling block. First I had to find the website. Then I couldn’t find a demo that didn’t sound salesy. On top of that there was nothing to download and send to the client.

Who is playing hard to get?

Eventually, I did get my demos, but most of them didn’t have the talent name in the audio file. They just said something like “Audio tour 2019.” Why is that a problem?

Imagine having to cast this job, and out of twenty to thirty samples you find your top three. The problem is, you don’t know which talent recorded which demo because it’s not listed in the title. Now you have to spend more time finding the name that goes with the voice. 

Let’s move on to number four:

Be responsive, ask the right questions, and follow the instructions

If you’ve ever had to hire voices, you know that you can weed out seventy percent of talent because:

  • the audio quality is terrible
  • deadlines are ignored
  • talent makes the wrong assumptions
  • talent can’t follow simple directions, and is
  • unable to interpret the script

 

So, which talent gets hired? The talent that’s capable, available, and affordable. If you can’t deliver on all three fronts, you’re gone.

At the beginning of my day I approached ten voice talents. By the end of the afternoon seven got back to me. Out of those seven, five asked questions about the job. Three offered to record a custom demo.

In order to put in an educated quote for this audio guide, you need to know:

  • the length of the script
  • does the client want finished, fully edited audio that is separated, or is it okay to send in one file
  • what’s the budget
  • does that include retakes

 

Since the script was still being translated, I couldn’t give the talent a text, but at the end of the day, four sent me a sample of audio tours they had recorded in the past. The remaining three had found a few paragraphs of a real audio tour and sent that in.

Full marks for everyone!

The quotes I received for an hour of finished audio were between €850 and €2500. The cheaper talent sounded just as professional as the more expensive talent.

Now, it took me a few hours of communicating with my colleagues and my client to get the right information to the right people. I was only helping out, remember? 

Do I have any idea who will get hired?

Call me cynical, but based on my experience, here’s what I predict.

The client will thank me for my efforts and post the job on Voice123 or on that other online casting auction house, the one in Canada…

…where they will find some sucker who is willing to do the job for $250 or less, claiming he has to “feed his family.”

No questions asked.

And thus, our business will slowly go to pieces. One lousy job at a time.

The end.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet: subscribe, share & retweet!

PPS One of my Dutch students just got signed by a major US agent!

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Have I Got News For You!

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Book, Career, Dutch, Freelancing, International, Personal, Promotion, VO Atlanta30 Comments

Paul Strikwerda

If you’re a follower of this blog you’re probably wondering why you keep seeing stories in some strange European language. Frankly, it started as a one-off thing for my Dutch friends and colleagues.

Because I’ve been away from home for twenty years, most people had no idea what had happened to me. I literally disappeared off the map when I left the Netherlands with my entire life packed up in two suitcases and a plastic bag.

Yes, people… I am one of those immigrants who came to your country in search of a better life, ready to steal your jobs and marry your women. You better watch out!

A DUTCH TREAT

Anyway, I wanted to let my fellow-Netherlanders know what I’d been up to since I left my motherland, and that’s why I started writing in Dutch. I had to talk myself into it though, because I wasn’t sure if I still had it in me. Most of my thoughts are in English, I speak English all day long, and ninety percent of what I read and write is in English. I didn’t want to make a fool of myself penning pieces in Denglish.

After my first Dutch article was published, it became clear I had no reason to be worried. Over three hundred people read the story of my exodus and liked it. I didn’t think there were even three hundred voice actors in Holland. Better still, people wanted me to keep on writing, and that’s what I did. So far, there are six chapters and there’s more to come. 

Now, here’s the thing. I have no way to ensure that my Dutch stories will only go to my Dutch subscribers. So, if English is your preferred language I hope you will do me a favor. Just ignore the blog posts in Dutch and wait for a new English story on Thursday. If you’re Dutch, you are in luck because you get two articles for the price of one!

CHANGING COURSE

With that out of the way I’d like to share some news with you. I am in the process of realigning my business with new and exciting plans that are in part based on what I am physically and mentally able to accomplish. You probably remember that the stroke I had in March of last year has forced me to seriously slow down and rethink my priorities.

My mind would love to continue as if nothing has happened, but my body disagrees. A permanent tremor in one of my vocal folds limits the time I am able to record voice-overs. My voice tires much faster, and no amount of vocal exercises has changed that. Mind you: this does not mean I can’t do any recordings.

As I speak, I am learning to do more with less. Fortunately, my clients and my agents completely understand, so they’re not sending me 600-page novels, or auditions for video games that require dying a thousand agonizing deaths.

KEEPING MY PRESENCE

Just because my vocal folds are taking a bit of a back seat doesn’t mean I have lost my voice completely. In Holland we say: “Onkruid vergaat niet,” meaning “Weeds don’t die.” I can assure you that I will continue to have a voice in our community.

At VO Atlanta (March 26 – 29, 2020), I’ll be leading a 3-hour workshop called Boosting Your Business with a Blog, and I’ll do a presentation on The Incredible Power of Language.

I am working on a second book, and I will continue to write this blog with a double dose of truthiness and snarcasm. If things go according to plan, 50% of my business is going to be devoted to content creation, 20% to speaking, and 30% to helping others succeed.

Here’s an example of that last category. Some of my Dutch colleagues want to spread their professional wings, and try their luck abroad. These folks need a tour guide who’s been there and done that.

In the coming months I’ll be coaching some of Holland’s top-tier talent and taking them to VO Atlanta. I’d like you to get to know them, and that’s why I’ll be interviewing each one of them for this blog. Stay tuned, these folks will knock your socks off!

ONLINE ACTIVITIES

All of the above means that I have to have a website that reflects this shift in focus. That’s why I am working with the splendid team at voiceactorwebsites on a complete overhaul of the Nethervoice site. According to Joe Davis who heads voiceactorwebsites, Nethervoice.com is already the number one individual voice-over site on the interweb, and I am going to strengthen that position even more.

Expect a site that truly showcases my writings, featuring a clean, sophisticated design, and a new, simpler way to subscribe. Of course it is going to load super fast and it’s 100% mobile-friendly. Because I’m pretty picky, all of this is going to take a while to accomplish, but it will be worth waiting for!

Thanks for your continued support and patience during this time of transition.

It means the world to me!

Tot de volgende keer.

Till next time!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Facebook: Why You May Be Doing It All Wrong

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Freelancing, Internet, Journalism & Media, Personal, Promotion, Social Media7 Comments

On July 31, Facebook will be updating the Terms of Service again. Why?

Because in their own words, they want to “better explain the rights people have when using our services.”

One thing that will not change is the distinction between Profiles and Pages. It’s something many colleagues still don’t seem to get. Here’s the deal:

You should never run your businesss from a personal profile. Always create a Facebook page for your business.

There are many reasons for doing that, and I’ll give you lots of carrots, but let’s start with a few sticks. The Facebook Terms of Service state:

“You will not use your personal timeline primarily for your own commercial gain, and will use a Facebook Page for such purposes.”

In other words, using a Profile for commercial activities is a violation of those Terms of Service, and Facebook can and will delete your Profile because of it. That’s what someone in my neighborhood found out when she tried to peddle her skin care pyramid scheme on a local Facebook group. Fellow-Facebookers reported her, and without warning she lost all her contacts, messages, pictures, and more.

PROFILE OR PAGE

To some people, the distinction between a Profile and a Page is a bit confusing, so here’s the bottom line.

A Facebook Profile is a personal, non-commercial account for individuals. It’s the way you connect with friends and family. It’s where you share your photos, videos, and life events. You can only have one Profile, and it’s managed by you. Only people you’ve added as a friend are able to see your posts, unless all your updates are public. For some mysterious reason Facebook allows you to have no more than 5,000 friends.

A Facebook Page is a business account for a company or organization. You can have many Pages, managed by multiple people. Your following is not limited by friend requests. Anyone who clicks the Like button receives your updates, and you can have an unlimited number of followers.

In order to create a Page, you first need to have a Profile. You can convert a Profile to a Page, but I don’t recommend it. First off, you only get one chance to do it. Secondly, the name on your personal account will become the Page’s name, which isn’t very smart. You want your Page to have the name of your business. Your Profile picture and cover photo will also be transferred, but it’s better for your brand to use your business pictures, instead of those silly summer vacation snapshots.

PROFESSIONAL OR PRIVATE

Before I discuss some of the features you can access once you have a Facebook Page, I want to tell you why I think it’s inappropriate to use a Profile to promote your business. It has to do with privacy, professionalism, and boundaries.

Number one: why would you give people you barely know access to your private life? Just because you exchanged business cards at a conference, doesn’t mean they should see you on your Timeline sporting a skimpy bathing suit at the Jersey shore, or drinking beer from a boot in Berlin.

The current U.S. administration may think it’s okay for Internet Service Providers to share our browsing history, financial information, health information, children’s information, social security number, and app usage. I strongly disagree.

I don’t want my private life to become publicly traded property. It’s literally none of other people’s business.

Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t like the fact that the lines between public and private are getting more blurry every day. I value my privacy. Online and offline. I don’t see the need to turn my life into some kind of reality show for the whole world to see. It’s not that interesting anyway.

CUSTOMERS OR FRIENDS

Some of my colleagues who are still using a Profile for their business, have accepted friend requests from clients without giving it any thought. To me, that’s shocking. I don’t think a client needs to know what’s going on in your life or mine. It can have serious consequences.

Let’s say a customer asks you to do a rush job, and you tell him you’re too busy to fit it in. Then he sees on Facebook that you’re taking the day off, and he wonders: “Why were you lying to me?”

It is unacceptable for an employer to ask about your general health and medical condition, so why share that information on social media? Let’s assume a client has a job for you, but you just posted that you’re a bit under the weather, so he hires someone else. Had he not known that you’re sick, he would have asked you, and you could have said: “I’m totally booked today, but I can do it tomorrow,” (if you think you’ll feel better by then).

A few more scenarios.

A client owes you money, and he sees on your Profile that you just bought a nice set of wheels. That client may think: “Oh, he’s got plenty of cash. He can wait to be paid.”

What if you tell your Facebook pals you’re struggling financially? Friends of mine just started a very public GoFundMe Campaign because their clunker car died, and they can’t afford to buy a new one. Desperate people are willing to work for less, and a client could abuse that situation to negotiate a lower rate.

One colleague became Facebook friends with the author of a series of books he was about to narrate. “He’s such a great guy,” my colleague said. “I’m honored he wanted to be friends with me.”

Well, when the writer saw on Facebook that my colleague was gay, he said he could no longer work with him, citing his faith. What a terrible way to lose a deal worth thousands of dollars!

A conservative think tank wanted to hire a voice-over for a number of ads, and they found a female talent with the perfect pipes. Just before they offered her the contract, they did a background check. Because all the posts on her Facebook Profile were public, they discovered she was an Elizabeth Warren supporter, and they called off the deal.

So, you have to ask yourself: should you really give the whole world access to your personal life? Is gaining a superficial Facebook friend worth the risk of losing a good client?

GENERATIONAL DIVIDE

Here’s an interesting trend. When I first brought this page/pofile thing up in my voice-over community, I got two kinds of responses. The older generation seemed to get this separation between private and professional spheres, as well as the need for reputation management.

The response of the younger generation boiled down to one word:

One girl wrote:

“This is a FREE country. I am who I am. If the client doesn’t like it, that’s their problem. I am building an online persona, and my followers like me just the way I am. They want a behind-the-scenes look into my life, and I ‘m gonna give it to them.”

To each his own, but as Dr. Phil keeps on reminding us: “If you choose the behavior, you choose the consequences.”

Those consequences can be quite serious. One of my agents just posted the following:

“It happened again. A huge project we had an opportunity with turned down loads of talent from many agencies for inappropriate social media including:

    • Lingerie posted on Social Media
    • Sexually Suggestive posts on Social Media
    • Profanity on Social Media
    • Political affiliations on Social Media
    • Politically Charged posts on Social Media
    • Inappropriate language on Social Media.

 

If you ever want to get in with a kid or family friendly network, your social media needs to be squeaky clean. Because if one parent sees that you post something inappropriate you can be in big trouble.”

Of course you can remove controversial content you posted after that wild night out, but when you need to do that, it’s usually too late. Know that it can take up to 90 days for deleted content to be removed from the system.

FRIENDS OR COLLEAGUES

Now, is it safe and okay to befriend fellow-voice talent on Facebook? As a popular blogger, many people want to be my Facebook friend, and that’s very flattering. If you’re one of those people, you’ve probably received the following message:

“Thank you for your friend request. I’m honored! This is my personal Facebook Profile which I’ve reserved for close friends and family members. It helps me separate my personal from my professional life.

If you’re interested in my work as a voice-over, and in developments in that field, please like my professional Page: https://www.facebook.com/nethervoice. That’s the best way to stay in touch with me. Thanks for understanding!”

In the beginning I thought people would hate me for blowing them off, but you know what the most common response to this message is?

“That makes so much sense. I should really do that too.”

But when I check in on a colleague a few weeks later, she is still promoting her business on a Facebook Profile, together with pictures of her cats, a couple of bible verses, and some crazy pop quizzes about celebrities and sex. 

Very professional, indeed!

WHAT’S A FRIEND ANYWAY

Sociologists have said lots of things about the way Facebook has hollowed out the notion of (online) friendship.

Yes, some of my Facebook friends happen to be colleagues, but not all colleagues are my friends. It takes a certain level of intimacy and bonding before I let people into that select circle. Most people who want to be friends, want to connect with me professionally anyway, so why bother them with pet pictures, or photos from lunch at the local eatery? That’s why I send them to my business Page. 

Sometimes, colleagues become contractors when they hire me for a job, making them my clients. That’s another reason to point them to my professional Page. Making this distinction has another advantage. Because I have fewer friends, it’s now easier to keep track of the lives of people I feel closer to, and Facebook is less of a time suck.

CREATING A BUSINESS PAGE

When you’re ready to create a Facebook Page, you have to pick a category based on the following options:

  1. Local Business or place
  2. Company
  3. Organization or institution
  4. Brand or product
  5. Artist, band, or public figure
  6. Cause or community

Once your business Page is set up, and you have at least 25 fans (or Likes), you should get a vanity URL. For instance, my Page is https://www.facebook.com/nethervoice/. This will make it much easier to find your page for those doing an internet search. Be sure your 180 x 180 pixel profile picture, and 828 x 315 pixel cover photo (the most important visual aspects of your Page), look good, and reflect your brand.

Last summer Facebook rolled out a new ad-free business layout, making it possible to add more prominent Calls to Action buttons to your Page. The seven calls to action available are: Book Now, Contact Us, Use App, Play Game, Shop Now, Sign Up, and Watch Video. Try my Contact Us Call to Action button, and see what happens.

VALUABLE INSIGHTS

A business Page also gives you an idea how your audience is responding, and how your Page is performing through Page Insights. Insights tell you which posts have the most engagement (videos and images rule!), and when your audience is on Facebook. You can use that information to increase traffic by creating content people respond to, and post it at strategic times. Jennifer Beese wrote an excellent article about Page Insights for Sprout Social.

Boosting posts is another way to increase your reach. You can boost a post when you create it, or after it’s been published. Simply click the Boost Post button, and you’ll be presented with some options. This is not a free service, by the way. The budget field allows you to select the amount you want to spend, or enter your own. 

Another thing a Facebook Page allows you to do (and a Profile won’t), is create ads. Facebook itself has written a step-by-step guide, and you might also want to check out this beginner’s guide from Hootsuite

THE BIG QUESTION MARK

My more senior coaching students will often ask me:

“Do I really need to be on Facebook? Isn’t it all a big waste of time?”

Facebook is too big to ignore. It’s the largest and most popular social network in the world, with over a billion and a half monthly active users, and over a billion daily active users. If Facebook were a country, it would be substantially bigger than China (source), and it continues to grow by 18% per year. According to Pew Research, 79% of internet users are on Facebook, and Forbes estimates that fifty million businesses are now using Facebook Pages.

In other words: this is a huge opportunity, because most of your (potential) customers are already using Facebook. If you were to pick one social media site for your marketing, skip Twitter and Instagram, and choose Facebook.

But please, do yourself a favor, and create a Page for your business today!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Do You Want To Scratch My Back?

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Freelancing, Money Matters, Personal, PromotionLeave a comment

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

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

It stinks, doesn’t it?

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

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

THE WAY TO GET WORK

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

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

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

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

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

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

A MORAL MAZE

Not so fast!

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

Look at the definition of bribery:

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

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

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

Here’s my bottom line:

A referral needs to be earned, not bought.

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

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

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

A REFERRAL STRATEGY

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

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

I’ll give you four options to choose from:

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

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

My next question is:

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

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

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

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

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

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

REWARDING REFERRALS

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

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

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

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

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

Pay it forward.

That’s the key to making the right referrals!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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

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Dealing With Your Deepest Insecurities

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Freelancing, Personal, Promotion, Social Media4 Comments
Caitriona Balfe

Caitriona Balfe

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

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

What’s the second biggest blunder?

Mistaking social for selling.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s that?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Times continued:

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

My student nodded and I went on…

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

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

When a voice actor is struggling, I often wonder:

Are they self-conscious, or content-conscious?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And you know what?

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

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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

PPS Be sweet: subscribe, share & retweet

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Paul goes Podcasting

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Freelancing, Journalism & Media, Personal, Promotion, Studio2 Comments

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to listen.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

 

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