“What’s it like to be a Dutch voice-over, living and working in the United States?”
Who wants to know?
Mostly European colleagues, who either think I’m totally nuts, or who secretly want to do what I did and move to this land of milk, honey, and doughnuts. Some of them have strange ideas about what my life on this side of the pond is like.
I sometimes have to explain to them that “No, I don’t live in a McMansion; there’s no giant gas guzzler parked in my garage, and I can’t call a Hollywood studio and put in a good word for you.” In fact, this American life I am leading is pretty ordinary and rather unspectacular.
I don’t know what my existence would have been like had I stayed in Holland, but in my experience, setting up shop in the States has as many advantages as disadvantages. My colleague Jamie Muffet just wrote a great piece on that very topic for Backstage, and he had me thinking.
In this day and age where all of us are part of a huge global network, does it really matter where we do our job? It’s just as easy for me to plug into a studio in Amsterdam, as it is to reach a recording facility in New York or Johannesburg. Even agents who used to insist I make a personal appearance, don’t mind if I send them an mp3 audition. Times have changed.
Although technology has made it easy to have an international presence, there’s something I must admit. It took me a good number of years to find my way here in Pennsylvania, and at times I still struggle to make sense of my surroundings and the culture I live in. Personally, and professionally. For instance, I had a hard time trying to figure out how to position myself as a voice for hire.
From a marketing perspective, it is important that clients have a clear concept of who I am, and what I bring to the table as a talent. When I first came here, people were mainly confused, and I don’t blame them. I spoke with a distinct British accent (the one I was taught in school), and most Americans thought I was from the UK. It was both a good and a bad thing.
It was good because casting directors who didn’t know any better, often hired me to play the part of a stuffy English professor. I even did a voice-over promoting a Beatles jukebox musical on Broadway. I tell you: it was fun being a fake!
There was a downside to having this posh accent. I felt that people were judging me all the time. They either thought I was highly intelligent, or a pompous ass. Of course neither is true. I can’t say it helped me define my professional identity as a native Dutch speaker. Then there was something else I stumbled upon.
Even though the United States is supposed to be this big melting pot, I’ve learned that Americans struggle with languages and accents. Many of them have never left the country, and they are rarely exposed to different tongues and twangs, the way Europeans are. Thanks to a brilliant educational system, their sense of geography tends to be off too.
A few weeks ago an agent asked me to audition for a documentary, and she was convinced my accent would be perfect. “You’re Dutch. You should nail this one,” she said. The minute I got the script I saw it was about an old ship… from Denmark. “Well, Dutch and Danish are pretty much the same, aren’t they?” the agent stated.
Not really. And Copenhagen is not the capital of the Netherlands.
Another thing I’ve had to explain over and over again, is the difference between Dutch and Flemish. Flemish is a kind of Dutch, spoken in a specific part of Belgium. It’s as different from Dutch as British English is from American English. That means you shouldn’t hire a Dutchman to voice a commercial meant for viewers in Belgium. But most people in the States don’t know that.
I used to get very annoyed with these ignorant Americans, but having lived here for over ten years, I’ve come to realize that many of them don’t know what they don’t know. Instead of holding it against them, I do my best to educate casting directors and agents, without sounding like a European know-it-all. And quite often they are very grateful for my advice.
Here’s another thing I learned the hard way.
Coming from a Calvinistic country where any form of self-aggrandizement is frowned upon, I found out that in America modesty isn’t always an asset. In fact, people like talking about themselves. A lot. If you don’t toot your own horn, who will?
I had to learn to be comfortable with my accomplishments, and speak and write about them openly. In Holland I would have been accused of bragging. Here people say: “Don’t be shy. It’s okay. You have every reason to be proud.”
When talking to a potential client or an interested agent in the U.S., I make sure to sell myself as best as I can. When I’m dealing with someone in Europe, I like to tone it down considerably.
Another thing I realized was that Americans tend to be quite informal. Before you know it, you’re on a first-name basis talking about your family with someone you barely know. It doesn’t necessarily mean that people who come across as friendly, want to be your friend. Give it a few weeks, and they might not even remember your name. Don’t take it personally.
Things are gradually shifting in Europe, but unless a new client signs his or her emails with a first name, I err on the side of caution, and I’m much more formal.
FEELING LIKE A KING
So, what’s it like to be a Dutch voice-over in the United States?
In the Netherlands we have a saying: “In the land of the blind, the guy with one eye is king.” As one of the very few native Dutch voice-overs in North-America, that’s often how I feel. I’m a small orange fish in a huge pond. In all the years I have lived here, my English accent has changed considerably. It’s no longer British, and it’s not entirely American either. As I explained to Jamie Muffet:
“Demand for a Dutch narrator isn’t exactly overwhelming, and thanks to the Internet, my competition in Holland is only one click away. My real niche is in ‘neutral English’ voiceovers, meaning my accent is neither British nor American. It’s more of a European twang, and businesses wanting to increase their global appeal hire me because of my international sound.”
If that’s not shameless self-promotion, I don’t know what is…
On occasion I go back to the Netherlands to see friends and family. I walk around in this tiny country, and I comment on how everything is so close, and how small things are. It’s guaranteed to make my Dutch friends laugh out loud.
For years, Balloons has been a fixture in my Borough.
He drives around in a silly red VW Beetle with a slogan prominently printed on the back:
“Honk if you like clowns.”
I’ll be honest: in all the years that our paths have crossed, I’ve never heard a single honk. That must be pretty depressing, if you’re a professional clown. But as one of my old teachers used to say:
“The meaning of our communication is the response we get.”
Here’s my question: Why would someone like Balloons even ask us to make some noise? My guess is that it has to do with the theme of last week’s blog post: reassurance. Perhaps this family entertainer is hoping for honks to confirm his presumed popularity.
Even though you probably don’t make a living walking around in huge shoes wearing a red nose, you and I, and Balloons, have something in common: we like to be reassured.
Our need for reassurance has to do with a deep human desire: the wish to be accepted. It’s this universal, comforting feeling that we matter, that we are safe, and that everything is going to be alright. It’s what lovers love, preachers preach, and what politicians promise. The person able to reassure us the most, gains our trust and gets our vote.
Clients are no different. They want to know that they are in good hands, and that their money is well spent. It is your job to convince them of that fact. As I suggested last week:
Selling is about reassuring. Before the sale, during the sale, and after the sale.
THE DO’S AND DON’TS
As the client is making up his mind, here are a few things that will make him feel confident that you’re the right person for the job. This is what you have to do:
Read and follow instructions
Respond in a timely and personal way
Be clear about your policies
Demonstrate knowledge and experience
Use plain language, and avoid jargon when dealing with inexperienced buyers
Use correct spelling and grammar
Be as helpful as you can
Only take on jobs you know you can handle
“But isn’t this what you’re supposed to do as a professional?” you may ask. Well, you’d be surprised to learn that many so-called pros:
Focus on themselves
Don’t follow basic instructions
Leave clients hanging
Have no studio policies
Try to impress by using language clients don’t understand
Send out poorly written emails
Do the minimum to get the job done
Bite off more than they can chew
By treating clients that way, these colleagues risk way more than losing one specific job.
Here’s my second lesson:
Selling is not about making a sale. It is about winning a client’s confidence, and building a relationship.
Your aim is never to make a quick buck. Your ultimate goal is to cultivate a long-term connection.
MORE WORK TO DO
Now, once the buyer has decided to hire you, don’t think that everything is A-Okay. Your job to reassure him or her is far from over. You still need to prove yourself. You might have the best testimonials and reputation in the world, but some clients just don’t care about the opinion of others. This is the question they want answered:
“What can you do for ME?”
There’s only one appropriate answer: you have to deliver a stellar product that is worth more than the price paid. Remember: you’re not just in the business of providing a voice-over (or other freelance service). You are in the business of adding value. That’s what you’re really selling.
There’s one other thing you must do at this stage: you need to keep your client informed of your progress. This is especially important when you’re working on longer projects such as eLearning modules, and audio books. If you’re behind schedule, let your client know. If you’re on schedule, tell your client too.
Remember the online purchase I wrote about last week? Once I had bought my reading glasses, I couldn’t wait to get them. I was happy to receive immediate confirmation of my purchase, and I got a message once my readers were shipped. Thanks to a tracking number, I knew when the package would arrive at my doorstep. How reassuring!
But wait… there’s more. Let’s get back to your client.
Let’s say everything went according to plan. Your customer is happy with his or her purchase, and you are ready to move on. But are you really done?
This was just the beginning of a relationship, and some clients may need additional assurance that they made a solid investment. That’s nothing new. One of my best buddies just bought a car, and he is showing it to all his friends. Of course he is proud of his new Subaru, but what he is secretly hoping for, is some kind of confirmation that he made the right choice. In other words: he wants reassurance after the purchase was made.
So, what can you do to give a client a warm and fuzzy feeling once the audio has been delivered? Well, show some gratitude! Send your client a thank you email, or -better still- a handwritten card. Let them know how much you enjoyed working with them The key thing is personalization. Avoid clichés such as “I look forward to working with you again,” or “if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact me.” If you have done your job and you did it well, they WILL get back in touch with you.
Secondly, make it painless to pay you. Some authors will tell you to invoice a client as soon as possible. I always wait a few days. Number one: I want to be sure that my recording is approved before I send the bill. Number two: I don’t want to give the impression that I’m all about money. Don’t wait too long either. Catch the client in the afterglow of their experience. That way they still remember what they’re paying you for.
Ask clients what their preferred payment method is. If your client prefers PayPal, use PayPal. If your client likes TransferWise, use TransferWise. And when the check clears and the money is in the bank, send another thank you note. Always reward desired behavior!
When I received my readers I noticed four things:
They arrived ahead of schedule
They fit like a glove
I received a 10% off coupon for my next purchase
I was encouraged to leave feedback
Numbers 1 – 3 once again reassured me that I had made a wise purchase from a trustworthy company. That put me in the right mood to do something with number 4. An hour after getting my new glasses, I posted a glowing online review. The very next day I received an email from the customer service manager, thanking me for my feedback. It wasn’t one of those automated messages, by the way. It was a personal note that referenced my positive comments.
To those of us who will never meet their customers in person: that’s how you do business, and stay in business!
So, whether you’re selling a product or a service, do yourself a big favor and don’t clown around.
If you consistently show your customers that you genuinely care, they will be happy to honk their horns!
I’m not one to stand in line for hours to get my hands on a doorbuster, but being the frugal Dutchman I am, I love a good deal. Most of those deals I find online, and I’m not the only one.
According to the website PracticalEcommerce, spending in actual stores fell 10 percent from last year on both Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday. Compared to 2014, online sales on Thanksgiving were up by 25%, by 14.3% on Black Friday, and by 16% on Cyber Monday.
Here’s an interesting development: for the first time, mobile shopping trumped the desktop on Thanksgiving, with a 57% share. On Black Friday, 33.2% of all sales were mobile, and on Cyber Monday 27% of all shoppers used their smart phones and tablets to make a purchase.
This change does not only affect the big-box stores and supercenters. If you are selling your services online (like most voice-overs do), this affects you too. In what way?
If clients can’t easily find you online, you do not exist;
If your website is not optimized for smaller screens, you will lose business;
If your website doesn’t instill confidence, people will shop elsewhere.
CASE IN POINT
Let me tell you about one of my most recent online purchases, and what I learned from that experience. I didn’t buy a big-ticket item. It was a pair of reading glasses. You’ll be amazed how many businesses are trying to sell readers on the web. Like voice-overs, these readers come in all shapes and sizes, but they basically do the same thing.
The big problem with buying glasses online, is that you can’t try them on. You can look at plenty of samples, but how do you know that a particular frame is the right fit? Voice-overs have the same challenge. You can present a prospect with many generic demos, but how does the client know that your take on the script will be a good fit?
Therein lies the first lesson:
Selling is about reassuring.
Prospective clients need to feel comfortable, before they’re ready to buy. Reassurance is actually critical in three phases of the sales process:
a. Before the sale
You have to convince the client that your product or service meets their specific needs, and that your asking price is worth paying;
b. During the sale
A client needs to be reassured when buying your product, or when hiring you;
c. After the sale
You need to reassure the customer that he/she has made the right decision. That way, they’ll be thinking of you the next time they need a voice for a new project.
Let’s break this down a little bit by going back to my purchase. How did the online vendor manage to reassure me? Here’s how.
By listing the exact measurements of each frame, I could easily tell which pair of reading glasses would be a good fit for my rather big head, and which ones were not. All I had to do was pick a pair I liked, and look at the frame dimensions.
Secondly, I needed some reassurance on the return policy. We’ve all ordered items that seemed great online, but when we tried them on, they looked ridiculous. So, I needed to be reassured that this vendor had a no-hassle return policy.
The next thing the vendor had to do, was justify the price of the item. These days you can buy cheap readers at the grocery store. You can put them on there and then, and there are no shipping costs. So why even bother ordering them online?
Well, the vendor made two value propositions. Grocery store reading glasses can be boring and poorly made. These online readers were stylish and sturdy. On top of that, there were plenty of testimonials from satisfied customers telling me how great they looked, and how long these fashionable readers lasted. These reviews were very specific, and seemed genuine to me. Fake reviews are often generic and are suspect because of bad spelling and poor grammar.
Never underestimate the power of a testimonial. I’ve said it before and I will say it again:
Nothing you say about yourself will ever be as strong as what other people say about you.
Once I was reassured, I was sold!
The question is: How could you apply this to the way you do business online? After all, you’re selling a service instead of special spectacles.
Think of it this way: just as the vendor of reading glasses, you are offering a unique solution to a particular problem. How can a client determine whether or not you’ll be a good solution?
First of all, your website needs to impress, and your demos really have to shine. Secondly, you need to make it crystal clear that you can deliver a custom-demo based on a portion of the client’s script, within a matter of hours. This gives the client an opportunity to try on your voice. That’s reassurance number one.
Next, you have to let the client know what your retake policy is. Clients don’t want to be stuck with something they’re unhappy with. On the other hand, they can’t expect you to re-record ad infinitum at no cost to them. My approach is based on the three F’s: Fair, Firm and Flexible.
Fair: I’m not going to charge a client for my mistakes. Firm: I will charge a client if he wants me to record a new version of a script after the first version was approved and recorded. Flexible: I am willing to be more lenient toward an established client, especially if that client pays exceptionally well.
THE COST FACTOR
At this point we have to talk about price. Selling used to be all about people. In the online world, it is increasingly about price because there is no personal, face-to-face interaction. As I said in the beginning, more and more people are shopping online, which creates certain expectations. One of those expectations is that buyers will know how much they’re going to pay for what’s being offered.
Whether you like it or not, sooner or later you have to answer the question: How much is this going to cost me? May I suggest that you better answer that question sooner, before your shopper goes to a competitor who is open about rates.
Telling prospects how much something is going to cost, may be scary to you, but it is reassuring to those who are thinking of hiring you. It also weeds out the low-budget buyers. I know that it’s often impossible to break voice-over jobs down to the dime, but a ballpark figure or a price range will suffice.
Lastly, like the vendor of reading glasses, you have to justify your rates. You have to answer the age-old questions: Why should I buy from you? What makes you so special? Those questions are easier asked than answered, and that’s probably why so many voice-over colleagues fail to come up with a solid value proposition. A value proposition is a promise of value to be delivered. It’s the number one reason a potential client should buy from you.
If you’re struggling with these questions, let me give you a hint: You’re probably not the best person to answer them. You’re too familiar with yourself, and you’re likely to make too many assumptions. What you need to do, is find out how other people see you, and how they perceive the benefits of what you have to offer. Next, you have to translate these benefits into headlines, paragraphs, visuals, and audio.
If you need an example of what I mean, take a look at my home page. It’s by no means perfect, but I think it gets the point across. What do you think my value proposition is? Is it easy to understand? Keep in mind that for most of my clients, English is a second language. Do I address basic questions and concerns? Do you see a testimonial?
So far, all I have talked about is ways to reassure the online client before the sale is made. Why is this so important? Well, reassurance leads totrust, and -trust me- people will never buy from someone they don’t trust.
Next week we’re going to dig even deeper, and look at ways you can reassure buyers during and even after the sale. It’s an aspect of selling that is often overlooked, but it is crucial if you want to get return business from happy customers.
Now, one thing I am often asked as a blogger is this: How do you come up with this stuff?
The answer is simple.
It is based on years of experience as a freelancer, first in the Netherlands, and now in the United States.
And remember: this blog post started with a pair of glasses and a bad pun. Brought to you at no cost whatsoever.
To an ignorant outsider, the voice-over community I belong to may seem cutthroat.
Yet, if there’s one thing that makes it stand out among other freelance groups it is this:
Voice-overs love to share.
People with no or very little experience can expect a warm welcome, and a helping hand when they join an online VO-community.
Do you need advice on a microphone? You’ve got it!
Are you wondering how to soundproof your booth? We’ve got you covered!
I could easily spend all day answering questions from people I don’t know on Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social media. However, those days are pretty much over. Why?
Because it is a thankless task that eats up time, and doesn’t build my business.
Perhaps I better explain myself.
Here’s what I know about internet culture. Most online communities consist of lurkers. You know, the people who observe, and very rarely participate. These folks like to take, but never give. They want to play the game, but they never show their cards. Have they earned the right to pick my brain? I think not.
It also consists of lazy people who never learn; people who want you to do their homework. Sorry, but I’m not going to enable an attitude of entitlement.
Can you imagine a teacher spoon-feeding her kids by giving them all the answers on a silver platter? I thought the purpose of education was to make children resourceful and independent.
I’ve also noticed another trend: many members of online voice-over communities are simply not serious. How do I know? Just look at the basic questions people ask. If they had half a brain and a genuine interest in the subject matter, they would have figured it out for themselves. But no, they apparently need a pro to hold their hand. Poor babies!
“But Paul,” some people respond… “Don’t be so harsh. You were once a newbie. You had to start somewhere, didn’t you?”
Of course I did, but here’s the thing. When I embarked upon a career in radio, I had more questions than answers. I made it my mission to find as many answers on my own, before asking for help. I didn’t want to embarrass myself in front of a pro. I wanted them to know that I had done my homework.
So VO-newbies, if you want to earn my respect, do your research!
INVESTING IN THE FUTURE
Thinking back to my start in radio, here’s what comes to mind: I was serious, I was committed, and I was willing to make an investment.
You see, that’s another thing that’s missing these days. This is the age of the free ride. Why pay for a song if you can download it at no cost? Why pay for Netflix if you can watch a pirated movie online? Why pay for expert advice if the experts are giving it away?
If we don’t value what we have to offer, we can’t expect others to find it valuable either. Those who are willing to make an investment, are usually invested in the process. Those who are not, have other priorities.
“But Paul,” some people commented, “wouldn’t it be good for your business if people got to know you as someone who knows his stuff? You might even get some coaching clients out of it!”
Let me tell you something. In all the years that I have chimed in on Facebook or Google+, no one ever contacted me for coaching because they liked my answer to their question. Nine out of ten times I didn’t even receive a “thank you,” or other sign of acknowledgement. That’s why I call it a thankless task. People simply get what they need, and move on.
Well, that’s not entirely true. Some did ask about coaching, but as soon as I told them my rate ($125 per session), they said they were just “exploring options.” It is the epitome of not committing.
Now, there’s another reason why I won’t be handing out free advice to every Tom, Dick, or Harry. I’ll explain by quoting a question I recently received from Mandy:
Paul, I read your article about your most embarrassing moment in your voice over career. You said that you used to use voices.com, but were only able to book a handful of jobs before leaving the site. I’m a voice actor as well and have been primarily using voices.com to find work. Now you said that you don’t really like the pay to play model and prefer to get work elsewhere. So my question is: what do you recommend for someone like me who is still new to voice acting? Are pay to play sites the only way for me to go being so new? I don’t have a demo or an agent so I don’t have people contacting me about jobs either. What options do I have? I haven’t really gotten much success with voices.com either, and voice acting is not my main source of income. I would very much like to learn and get better at voice acting too. Any knowledge or insight you can share would be great, thank you.
HERE’S MY ANSWER
There are many ways in which I could respond to your comments and questions, but I have to say this first:
Without demos, industry contacts, experience, or an online presence, it’s virtually impossible to build a voice-over career, especially on the side, and especially in 2018.
I haven’t heard your work, so I can’t even tell whether or not you’re uniquely talented. This makes it really hard to give you advice.
Some of my coaching colleagues might even question whether or not you’re serious about voice acting. They’re definitively not going to give you any recommendations on a silver platter. Their time and expertise are worth something.
I will say this, though.
The only way to get better in this field, is by taking trainings, and/or by working with a coach. Very much like driving a car, you can’t pick voice acting up from a book. You can’t teach it to yourself either, because you’re limited by your lack of knowledge.
Overall I’d say that it is unwise to put yourself out there when you aren’t ready. No one opens a restaurant without knowing how to cook, right?
The voice-over world has too many home cooks who all believe they’re the next best thing since sliced bread, and they don’t stand a chance against professional chefs.
So, please don’t put the cart before the horse and expect to get work. Put in your time, make the necessary investments, learn the ropes, and build a solid home studio. Then we can talk about attracting clients.
Does that make sense?
This probably wasn’t what Mandy expected to hear, because she never responded.
When it comes to a VO-career, there are too many people with their heads in the iCloud, and all of them believe they could be the next Don LaFontaine. Someone’s got to tell them that that’s never going to happen. Otherwise they’ll fall for all the propaganda from demo mills, unscrupulous VO-coaches, and greedy online casting sites.
I do want to point out one more thing I tried to convey in my answer to Mandy: it’s rather pretentious to give advice to people you know very little about. You wouldn’t want a doctor to write you a prescription without having fully examined you, right? Yet, with the best of intentions, colleagues dish out advice left and right without knowing whom they are talking to. Stephen Covey was correct when he coined the phrase:
Seek first to understand, then to be understood.
I see a lot of people trying to be understood, without really understanding what the issue is. Do you know what I mean?
One last thing.
If all of the above is true, -and I believe it is… why am I still blogging? Isn’t that handing out unsolicited advice to people I don’t even know?
I suppose it is, but you know what? I pick the topics. I usually ask the questions, and I come up with answers. And most of the time, I feel very much appreciated.
Before I started blogging, very few people had even heard of this Flying Dutchman and his voice-over business. Now I am one of the go-to people when companies ask for someone with a European accent. Clients come to me when they need a native Dutch speaker. In other words: this blog has helped me build my business.
If people seek me out for my expertise, they have to come to my site, and not to someone else’s online platform. The amount of traffic this blog generates is worth more than any online ad campaign could give me. And the many friends I have made along the way… that’s simply priceless!
The way I see it, everybody wins, and that is why I will keep on sharing on my turf and on my terms.
“I’ve decided to just embrace my role as the Simon Cowell of the writing world. I’m honestly tired of being nice and supportive to everyone who comes up to me with a half-baked idea or worse, a half-baked product, and asks what I think. Because they don’t want to know what I think. They want to hear how awesome they are. And most of the time they aren’t awesome. Most of the time I’d be better off trimming my toenails than reading their godawful attempts at a book or story, because at least that can get exciting if I trim a little too closely. So here goes – unexpurgated Hartness on why you’re not going to make it as a writer.”
And that’s only the beginning…
If, after reading that tirade you still believe I’m the rudest man in the voice-over universe, your skin is way too thin. That’s a serious problem, because -just as the life of a writer- the life of an average voice talent revolves around rejection. And if you’re not rejected enough, you’re not auditioning enough.
Now, is this me being negative and bitter again?
I’m not saying anything new. I’m merely stating a fact, and if you can’t handle that, you are being bitter. Not me.
RULES AND EXCEPTIONS
Here’s what most of my critics pointed out (and I paraphrase here):
While there is some truth to Paul’s five points, there are exceptions to his rules. Quite a few people are making a good living as a voice-over. Some are doing very useful work. It is possible to be social and productive as a VO.
To that I say: Big whoop!
I know a few actors who aren’t waiting tables in NYC or LA, but what does that prove?
Of course I’m generalizing. Anyone who has been in this industry for longer than a year recognizes that. But that doesn’t mean there’s no validity to my point of view. Here’s a quick recap:
– This world needs less talk, and more action.
– VO rates have been steadily eroding.
– Being a voice-over can be unhealthy, and lonely.
– Finding the work often takes more time than doing the work.
– It may take years before you make some serious money.
WHAT’S MY OBJECTIVE
Let’s be honest. Are these really the statements of some disenchanted, fearful soul, meant to scare newcomers off his lawn? Or am I simply restating a few arguments countless colleagues have made for many, many years?
If you have a problem with these conclusions, why shoot the messenger? Why not write to that online casting site you paid good money to, and ask them to raise the minimum rate, and to do some decent quality control? You’re an esteemed member. Shouldn’t you have a say in these matters?
And to commentator Scott Spaulding I’d like to say this:
You claim that there is money in voice-overs, and that’s fine. Your profile on Elance/Odesk tells me that your minimum hourly rate is $38. You voiced an animated infographic for $82! And you’re telling me that you’re “not working for beer money?”
Are you serious?
“(…) just because you work as a voice talent, doesn’t mean you don’t have any interaction with anyone. You can still pick up the phone and call a client directly to try to build a relationship that way. As well as cold-calling potential clients and try to build a report with someone other than through email.”
Yeah, let’s cold call a client to break the social isolation, and build a relationship. I’m sure that’ll go over really well. We all know how much people love to get a cold call. I haven’t had one in a while, and I really miss it.
I do have to commend you for your honesty, Scott. You said:
“I did find your comment about the voice conference speakers a little bit hypocritical though. You make a snarky remark about the VoiceVIP’s talking about themselves and plugging their own books at these conferences… when you’re doing the same thing on this blog! You have a link to your book on this page that says “Buy the book!” They’re using the conferences to help advertise and sell their book and you use this blog to help advertise and sell your book. You even plugged your book in one of your replies to someone who posted a comment.”
Are you saying that I shouldn’t promote my own work on my own website? What school of business did you go to? You’re on my turf, and the number one goal of this site is to generate an income. How is that hypocritical? You have samples of your work on your website, don’t you?
There’a big difference between landing on my site, and going to a VO conference. The 5,000+ people who visit my site every month pay zero dollars. What do they get for that? Over 120 blog posts that many visitors find informative, entertaining, and thought-provoking. Unlike some VO-conferences, I’m not asking people to pay a hefty fee for my privilege to plug my products.
Scott, I totally disagree with you on your definition of “productive.” You said:
“Whatever you’re doing that is helping build your VO business IS being productive. Whether it’s looking up places to contact, working on a new demo, emailing potential clients, looking up new marketing ideas… it’s all part of working towards your goal of getting business!”
Being busy does not equal being productive.
In any business, input leads to output. Input can be anything used to produce a product or a service (such as writing newsletters and emails, producing demos, making calls). Productivity is measured by the result of those actions. It’s the output that matters.
When you’re delivering services at a more rapid rate than before, you’re being more productive. Not when you’re making more calls, or when you’re doing market research.
As an envelope-pushing, pot-stirring blogger I accept the fact that people will criticize and ridicule me. Different opinions and dialogue are welcome, as long as we can have a civilized discussion.
I also realize that not everyone gets my tongue-in-cheek style. People tend to take the written word more literally, and snarcasm is not for everyone.
I never ask my readers to agree with anything I’m suggesting, but here’s the thing. I don’t provoke for the sake of provocation. The aim of last week’s piece was to provide a counterweight to all the propaganda from companies that are still trying to sell the same old story to a new, naive audience. If anything, I had expected a firm response from those companies. Instead, some colleagues accused me of dissuading newbies to join my club.
“If you don’t have anything positive to say, then perhaps you shouldn’t say it,” is their advice.
Sorry, but that’s not how I was raised.
If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you know I do more than complain and campaign. And when I spot things in my industry that seem unfair or downright wrong, I speak up. I don’t care if that makes a few people uncomfortable. As long as things are comfortable, nothing will change.
So, allow me to be that self-appointed watchdog. I may step on a few toes here and there, but my bark is worse than my bite.
At the beginning of 2014, I took a big risk with this blog.
I no longer wanted to write about things such as:
– What is the best acoustic foam money can buy?
– Should we record standing up or sitting down?
– ISDN. Disappearing when?
– Pay to Play, Yea or Nay?
… and all the other questions that come back ad infinitum on Facebook, LinkedIn and in other social media. In Spoon-feeding Blabbermouths I vented my frustration with being asked to answer the same basic questions over and over again. I wrote:
It’s not my job to do someone else’s homework. Those who wish to make it in this field have to be proactive, independent, and resourceful. If they can’t be bothered to do a simple Google search, why should I take time out of my busy day to do it for them?
I still wanted to write about voice-over related topics, but only if the subject matter would allow me to dig deeper. As an avid snorkeler, I know that things get much more interesting under the surface of the sea.
GROWING MY READERSHIP
There’s another reason for moving away from the road much traveled. Over the years, I discovered that only a part of my readers consisted of voice-over colleagues. Many frequent visitors were fellow freelancers, artists, directors, bloggers, and entrepreneurs. If I wanted to increase my readership, I had to make sure to keep it relevant for them.
The big question is: Did I make a huge mistake or did my efforts pay off?
Well, I’ll let the numbers do the talking. At the beginning of 2014 I had about 3,000 subscribers. At the last day of that year, I counted over 32,100!
Another element in my “success formula” is the way I started using social proof. You can read about it in The Power of One. In this post I go over some of the main reasons why people buy.
A third reason for the growth of this blog (and my business) has to do with what I am willing to let go of, and how I handle problems. In Giving Up, I wrote about the things most people who want to be successful don’t wish to see or hear, and I concluded:
There is no success without setbacks, and when times are tough, you need to reconnect with what ultimately drives you.
YOUR LIFE. YOUR BUSINESS.
That is easier said than done. That’s why I wrote a series about four aspects that play a vital part in the way we live our lives, and the way we run our business. These aspects are Physical, Mental, Material and Spiritual.
The first article in this series entitled Mind Your Own Business, dealt with the physical aspect of our jobs. It inspired numerous colleagues to look at their unhealthy lifestyles, and even to go on a diet! Hundreds of pounds have been lost since then, and a number of Faffcon 7 participants received a copy of my book to celebrate those losses.
In part two, The Stuff Between Your Ears, I share 10attributes I believe to be the trademark of any successful solopreneur. In part three –Call Me Materialistic– I explore the important relationship between having the right tools for the job, and a little thing called confidence.
On June 18th I published my most personal post to date. It’s a down to earth story about spirituality, and how it relates to the work we do. Here’s a quote:
To me, leading a spiritual life acknowledges the fact that we don’t live on an island. Whether we realize it or not, we’re all part of a larger whole. We’re all connected. Our individual choices and actions have the potential to influence other individuals.
DEALING WITH DISASTER
In July I wrote another very personal story after the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. 298 men, women, and children of various nationalities lost their lives. About two-thirds of them were from the Netherlands. It’s called Tears, Tragedy and an End to Conflict.
We often wonder why bad things happen to good people. This prompted me to write Life’s Unfair. Get used to it!In it, I try to come to terms with senseless tragedies. Of course there are no easy answers, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t ask the questions.
One of the reasons I publish an overview of past posts each year, is because even the most loyal Nethervoice-followers tend to miss stories, which they often regret. Speaking of regret, the following quote is taken from an article I published in September called Forget Regret:
It’s unfair and irrational to explain or judge the past using today’s standards. Present knowledge is unhelpful because it’s limited, and colored by personal ideas of how we think this world works or should work. Present knowledge doesn’t change the past one bit. It just changes our perspective.
One thing I did not regret was publishing a series of articles on a new awards show for voice talent. The first story was called The Voice Arts™ Awards, The New Pay to Play? The follow-up, Paying For Your Prize broke all records. It was read over 3,000 times, and it prompted many heated discussions on this blog, and outside of it. People loved me for writing it, and they hated me for the same reason.
The intention of the article (…) was to hurt, not inform. Brush it off. With success and recognition comes the unfortunate trail of parasites who, lacking the erudition to create anything truly inspired, seek their sustenance from sucking the life blood of others.
Well, this “parasite” went on to write a seven-part series on script delivery and performance. See for yourself if it lacked erudition and inspiration. You can read the introduction in The Funniest Joke of the Year. In it, I ask the question:
What makes a good delivery? What’s involved; can it be learned or does it come naturally?
MASTERFUL SCRIPT DELIVERY
In The Worst Acting Advice Ever (part two), I discuss something I must have heard a million times: “Just be you, and you’ll do just fine.” Here’s a quote:
Whether on stage, in front of a camera or in the recording studio, you’re not hired to “just be you.” You’re hired to be your best, most professional self, and to make it sound (and look) perfectly spontaneous.
In How to be Believable, I tackle the next aspect of masterful delivery. Once again I try to break seemingly simple concepts down into bitesize pieces. In this case, I discuss the concept of congruence.
The next article in this series (What Clients Hate the Most) proposes that delivery is about much more than the way we read our lines. As a solopreneur, we’re judged by the way we deliver a total package. The bottom line: If you advertise yourself as a pro, you have to present yourself as a pro on ALL levels.
In The Secret to Audio Book Success, I examine how great narrators such as Jim Dale, have the ability to stay in character, and then switch character and get back to the first character, while introducing a third. They do this for hours at a time in a space smaller than a prison cell. I also introduce you to Gary Catona, the voice builder.
This series continues with The Devil is in the Delivery, which focuses on mistakes narrators make every day that cause them to lose auditions. I conclude with a story about something that’s not for sale, and yet it is one of the most sought after things in the world: Charisma. Once again, it’s one of those things everyone is talking about, but very few people have taken the trouble to demystify it. That’s exactly what I attempt to do in Defining the IT-Factor.
2014 was also the year I made my stage debut. Granted, it wasn’t Broadway, but a local historic production in which I played activist-philosopher Thomas Paine, author of Common Sense. You can read about it in my blog post Acting Out In Public, which inspired several colleagues to audition for plays in their neck of the woods. You’ll see that there’s a huge difference between the studio and the stage!
If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you know about my interest in sales and marketing. It’s something many freelancers know very little about. They always wonder: “Is there some secret way to make sure clients buy from me?” If that question interests you, I hope you will read How To Sell Without Selling.
One of the greatest obstacles to professional growth can be very close to home. Some people have a tendency to make their own life rather difficult. If that’s something you recognize, I invite you to read Getting In Our Own Way.
At the start of a new year it’s not only good to look back, but also to plan for the future. Are you going to play it safe, or will it be a year in which you dare to take some risks? Perhaps it is time to ask yourself what your job really does for you. If you’re wondering about that, I encourage you to read A Means to an End which examines the question “Why am I doing what I am doing?”
And finally, if you’re looking at your motivation, you might wonder what has held you back all this time. What reasons, excuses and rationalizations do you need to let go of, before you allow yourself and your business to grow rapidly and organically. You may find some clues in What Is Holding You Back.
If you’ve enjoyed spending a small part of your Thursday with me (that’s the day I usually publish my blog), there’s no need to thank me. I just hope you’ll share your enthusiasm with someone else who -in turn- will become a regular reader.
As long as you do your part, I promise to treat you to more thought-provoking, controversial, and insightful articles in 2015.
The other day, one of my colleagues asked me an interesting question.
“Paul,” he said, “Why don’t you speak at voice-over conferences? I mean, we have a number of these events throughout the year, and you’re never on the program. Don’t you feel that you’re being ignored?”
“Not really,” I said. “You seem to think they should invite me. Why is that?”
“Well, for one, you’ve published a pretty unconventional voice-over book this year. They always invite authors to these events. Secondly, your blog has thirty thousand subscribers. I don’t think anyone in our small industry has as many followers. Doesn’t that mean anything?
But more importantly, many see you as one of the thought leaders of our community. Weren’t you the guy who kind of discovered Studiobricks and the CAD E100S microphone? These days, most colleagues have either heard about them or got one. I think that’s pretty amazing.”
“That may be true,” I said, “but that doesn’t make me (keynote) speaker material. You’d be surprised how many people still believe that I live and work in the Netherlands! They’re not going to fly a Dutchman in to speak at a conference in the States. Even though I’ve been here since 1999 and I’m a U.S. citizen, the myth persists that I reside in Holland with one of my fingers stuck in a dyke.
Secondly, some of these conferences are organized and frequented by people I have managed to piss off in the past. I don’t think voices.com or any other Pay to Play will ever ask me to say a few words, or even write a guest post for one of their online publications. They’re probably too afraid I will say something that is less than flattering. And you know what? They’re right!
I don’t play the game that everything is hunky-dory in voiceoverland. I consider myself to be a positive person, yet, when I feel my colleagues are being taken advantage of, I can’t help but raise my voice. That’s how I was brought up.
Having a minister for a father has taught me that so-called authority figures are ordinary people like you and me. They fail from time to time. They love the limelight. They enjoy being looked up to. And many of them can’t handle criticism very well. They take it way too personally. But there’s more.
Throughout the years I have blogged about increasing voice-over rates, and raising professional standards. I’ve talked about coming together as a professional group, and about ways to counter the erosion of quality and the influx of cheap, ignorant amateurism. Some have seen that as an attack on the free market. Others believe I enjoy belittling beginners. You know better than that.
The way I see it, many conferences want to create an atmosphere of We’re one happy family. Look how wonderful it is to be in voice-overs! Imagine this silly Dutch guy walking in on his wooden shoes, creating controversy. Why doesn’t he go back to Europe where he belongs?”
My colleague chuckled. I continued:
“Here’s the thing. On one hand, we have a very supportive community. If you need a new pop filter, tons of people will tell you which one to get. But if you wish to create a strong, non-profit, member-driven international association of voice actors such as the world voices organization, most colleagues look the other way. What are they afraid of? A little bit of solidarity? Socialism? You tell me!
World Voices is trying to do what I have been doing in my blog for years: Empower and educate people; give them tools to stand out from the crowd. I guess empowerment and critical thinking isn’t that popular anymore. But I digress, don’t I?”
“You could say that,” said my colleague. “I was just wondering why you don’t speak at voice-over conferences. I really think you could shake things up a little.”
I paused for a moment. Then I said: “A prominent voice actor opened up to me recently, and confessed:
‘I considered inviting you to my event, but I was afraid you’d be too critical.’
That surprised me a little. Is that really how people perceive me?
When I look back at all the stories I have written, most of them were about the business of being in business. I’ve written about selling, marketing, and about communicating with clients and colleagues. I just finished a six-part series on improving voice-over performance. None of that stuff I would label as controversial.
Even if I’ve been critical in some of my writings, why would that be a bad thing? Are we that insecure? As they say: Feedback is the breakfast of champions. It helps us learn and grow. Getting a kick in the pants may hurt little, but any coach knows it’s sometimes necessary for a student to make progress.”
My colleague nodded approvingly. I leaned forward, and whispered: “Do you want to know the real reason why I don’t speak at conferences?”
“Absolutely,” he answered. “I’ve been waiting for that.”
“It’s actually very simple,” I said with a smile. “I’m too shy and too modest.”
“Get out of here,” he responded.
“You? Shy and modest? You must be joking!”
“Guilty as charged,” I said. “However, with thirty thousand blog subscribers and counting, I do feel I have built up quite an audience. It’s my way of public speaking. And I’m not even charging for it. My blog is a platform I’m very proud of, and thankful for. And that’s why I want to give something back to my community.
Here’s the plan, Stan.
I’m going to ask my readers to nominate someone who -in their opinion- could really benefit from my book Making Money In Your PJs. It could be someone who’s struggling at the moment. It could be a beginner. It could be someone with talent but without any business acumen. Perhaps it’s someone who needs a little encouragement.
To keep it confidential, I want my readers to use the contact form on this website to send me the name and the email address of the person they’re nominating. No one else needs to know about it. (Please don’t nominate yourself. This is about giving, and not about getting.)
To celebrate reaching thirty thousand subscribers (and almost 1,000 Facebook fans), I will send at least thirty nominees a PDF copy of my book. Remember, that’s the edition with ten bonus chapters. The person receiving the book will not learn the identity of the person who nominated him or her. It’s like a secret Santa thing.”
So, if you’re reading these words and you have someone in mind, please let me know before December 1st. I’ll make sure they get a complimentary copy (I will not use the email addresses for promotional purposes).
And should you consider having me speak at your conference, rest assured that my bark is bigger than my bite.
As long as you don’t call me Shirley, these two lips from Holland promise to be on their best behavior.
“This all may smell rotten to a European sensibility, but may we just stipulate that the Voice Arts™ Awards are not the Pulitzer Prize.”
“My personal take on it is if it’s important to you, participate. If it isn’t, ignore it. At first the whole thing just irritated me. I saw it as rather self-aggrandizing. Now I just don’t care.”
“I think the idea behind the awards was an excellent one and those involved at the top probably the best people to launch this endeavor. But it’s clear that, while a great deal is to be commended, some parts of the execution were a little creaky and need looking at.”
“I like the anonymity my job offers. I can go to a movie in peace, eat a restaurant in peace and not deal with stalkers. I quit theatrical work a long time ago because the wonderful world of VO and it’s people suited me better. I don’t see a point to a media event for awards in VO, unless it’s at a trade conference, presided over by our peers, and accessible to all VO pros, not just a few. This is the wrong business to get into if you want fame and fortune, and I like it that way.”
“This type of discussion is needed for the awards to have any chance of actually meaning something in the future. If we’re all “rah-rah for VO!!!”, and overlook the flaws in our own backyard, nobody else will respect us, or our craft. I’d rather have no award than one with so many obvious red flags in the process.”
“I’m reminded of naysayers early in mine and everybody else’s career who had nothing but negative things to say about anybody doing anything new or different. They are the people to avoid.”
“I don’t think one who criticizes or questions a promotion or event should be labeled a “naysayer.” Just like politics and everything else in life, people are going to have a variety of opinions and THAT is what keeps things interesting! When you’re as visible as Joan and Rudy are and you market something aggressively, you are always going to get a plethora of different opinions.”
“This so-called “expert” absolutely launched a personal attack upon all those who have taken a positive interest in the Voice Arts™ Awards, including its creators. And any idiot who doesn’t see that has his big fat empty head stuck in the sand. And now this character is pretending to be pleased with the reaction to his public editorial, as if he did it for the good of humanity. He is spewing his personal venom while hiding behind the mask of open debate.”
“It seems like a fairly small segment of the VO community stroking their own egos. If you pay your money, you get to be part of the club and get a little trophy that you can use to sell yourself when you start coaching and writing books.”
“I wonder how it must feel to have been awarded Saturday night only to have respected members of the community laugh in your face. To have people you admire nullify a very exciting night.”
“The Voice Arts™ Awards awards are good for voice-over, regardless, and should be encouraged as goals and standards that are possible.”
“You seem to be unusually fixated on trying to destroy something simply because it’s not your idea — because it outshines your banal rhetoric. Well, guess what? You’re maniacal envy is obvious to all, even the few pathetic cynics who might seem to come to your defense. Truth be told, you’re full of spite and envy. You’re blinded by ego and self-delusion. You are a sad man, full of rage and jealousy, and YOU KNOW IT. Honestly, you are completely irrelevant to the voiceover community and the only card you have left to play is to rail against that which is relevant.”
“This is a plain attack on all businesspeople working hard and creating superior quality of a platform. It’s painful to seesuch ignorance displayed as opinion. I wouldn’t follow this man if the world was crashing around me.”
“That blog was not aiming to encourage discussion about the Awards, it wasn’t objective enough to even pass remotely close to that being it’s aim. I haven’t responded to the author because quite simply, I have better things to do and am not interested in being involved in a conversation that is negative from the off.”
“Don’t look for fair or perfection when it comes to honoring excellence. In the history of show business, it’s never been either and it never will. And a nomination/win doesn’t have to enhance your career. But it is a hellova lotta fun!!!!”
Colleague and VO business expert Tom Dheere suggested this discussion was perhaps an example of a Voice-Over Class Warfare between “blue-collar” voice talent and “white-collar” voice talent. Tom explains:
“Blue-collar” voice talents are part-time or full-time, primarily non-union, and have neither high-end agents nor regularly book national commercials. These types of voice talent tended to be anti-VAA.
White-collar” voice talents are full-time, in the union, have high-end agents, book nationally recognized VO work, and either coach, produce demos, or sell books & products catering to the voiceover industry, and either coach, produce demos, or sell books & products catering to the voiceover industry. These types of voice talent tended to be pro-VAA.”
Class warfare or not, I want to thank everyone for chiming in. We might not always be on the same page, but a spirited debate is a sign of an engaged community.
As you know, blogs like mine are filled with opinion pieces. My articles are not an exercise in objective journalism. What surprised me though, is how certain people reacted to certain facts. Some said I hadn’t done my homework; that my research was all wrong.
Well, it won’t surprise you that I disagree. This blog is widely read and talked about in the VO-community. It’s important to note that the information I presented was never challenged by anyone from the organization of these awards.
Here’s what I believe to be undisputed:
Fact: I have no personal or professional ties to anyone within the organization of the Voice Arts™ Awards, or with any member of the jury. I am Facebook friends with some of them, but most of them I have never met or corresponded with.
Fact: At the moment, not every voice-over believes winning a Voice Arts™ Award is a credit worth having.
Fact: The number of entries was not disclosed, but it is safe to say that the pickings were slim this inaugural year.
Fact: The entry fees were substantial, and often non-refundable.
Fact: Some of the judges and members of the SOVAS™ board had personal and professional ties with nominees and contestants, posing a risk of a conflict of interest that could damage the integrity of the competition.
Fact: The VAA regulations as they are published, are not clear on how a potential conflict of interest should be handled.
Fact: Winners had to pay for their own statuette, unless the organization that had entered their submission picked up the tab.
Fact: The organization of the awards has yet to respond to anything that may be perceived as less than positive, whether on this blog or on other social media.
I just learned that SOVAS™ board member Rudy Gaskins did comment on my story, so I stand corrected. One of my voice-over colleagues whom I shall name X, had shared on Facebook how disappointed he/she was in the way I had blogged about the awards. This is part of Mr. Gaskin’s response:
“X, you are a work of art and indeed a phoenix rising above the morass of resentful sentiments that swarm like angry hornets around the hive of one self-aggrandizing monarch who would proclaim himself the all-knowing purveyor of what is worthy of appreciation to the rest of us. (…) Fortunately, the male hornets are few and they have only one real role—mating with the queen. Males die soon after their sexual task is complete, so one can only imagine the frustration of the impotent male who neither mates nor dies but must suffer under the weight of his own crushing spite. (…)
The intention of the article to which you refer was to hurt, not inform. Brush it off. With success and recognition comes the unfortunate trail of parasites who, lacking the erudition to create anything truly inspired, seek their sustenance from sucking the life blood of others. Burn them off and keep moving forward, my friend. Blogging is a curious proposition whereby any person, (known or unknown) can declare themselves worthy of attention and begin to gradually pick up unsuspecting followers by skimming the surface of a topic. Obviously, some bloggers are incredibly special, genius in fact, but there are many seeking to prop themselves up to sell bologna as 100% real beef. In fact, one of the cheapest marketing ploys of the past 10 years has been: 1) Start a blog 2) -Self-publish a book. 3) Proclaim to be an expert. 4) Sell merchandise.
As for the dying hornet to whose blog is referred to herein, we are, all of us, witnessing the depths and insidiousness of envy. It is a most vicious, volatile and relentless mindset that knows no bounds. And yet, assuming the blogger actually produces tangible work as a voice actor, producer, director, etc., he is welcome to submit his samples to the Voice Arts Awards and benefit from the extraordinary jurors who lend their highly vetted and respected expertise to determining the best of the best. Of course, to insure the integrity of the judging process, some jurors may be required to abstain from judging entries where a conflict of interest may be discerned.”
In Medieval times court jesters held privileges which were not given to many other persons at court. For one, they had freedom of speech. You’ll often see them depicted holding a mirror, to symbolize what many of them did.
While they were cracking jokes, they held up a mirror to the powers that be. Their mockery was a way to ridicule or denigrate a ruler, and to show the world that the emperor was wearing very little clothes. Today we have people like John Stewart, Steven Colbert, Bill Maher, and John Oliver doing the same thing to an audience of millions.
Some of my critics believe it was foolish of me to -as they said- “ridicule and denigrate” the Voice Arts™ Awards, the jurors, the organizers, and even the nominees and winners. What was I after?
Let’s look at the meaning of these words. To ridicule means to make fun of someone or something in a cruel or harsh way. To denigrate means to attack the reputation of, or to deny the importance or validity of.
So, what about my motivation? Did I really have a dark, sinister urge to belittle this event, and those associated with it? Am I a jealous, ignorant, angry hornet, hoping to increase my readership by spewing lies?
WHY I BLOG
In general, I write about things that interest me personally, and about topics that I feel are relevant to my readers. As I said last week:
“The only reason I’ve published a new blog post every week for the past four years, is not because I want people to agree with me, or to even like me. It is because I believe I have something to say that could be of interest and value to fellow-freelancers and voice-overs.”
These awards are indeed something new, and I wanted to examine the pros and cons of having a paid competition. That’s how I came to write my very first piece. Once the gala was over, I thought these awards deserved a deeper assessment, and that’s how I came to write a follow-up story.
You’ve probably noticed that most of the points I made in these articles had to do with the running of the competition. Many of the questions I asked were also in the minds of other colleagues. I just happened to be the one who wrote down what many others were thinking.
It’s impossible to be objective about one’s own writing, but I can say that in none of the blog posts I have written about these awards, have I made fun of anyone or anything. Period. Perhaps my writing style is entertaining, but that’s one of the reasons people seem to enjoy my stories. I take it as a compliment.
Did I attack the reputation of, or denied the importance or validity of, these awards?
That’s hard to do, because these awards have no reputation. How could they? They’re brand new! I did question the importance of these awards for the same reason. It’s too early to tell whether or not winning a VAA is a credit worth having (and paying for). Not even the organizers could tell us that. As the last commentator said:
“a nomination/win doesn’t have to enhance your career. But it is a hellova lotta fun!!!!”
I did point out that certain jurors and members of the board had personal and professional connections with other jurors, nominees, and winners. I put these connections under the banner of “Conflict Of Interest” because I believe that these connections -real or apparent- should not exist within a jury that is supposed to be neutral and objective.
This is not a strange requirement. One international piano competition has the following clauses in their 14-page jury manual:
“Should any member of the Applicant Screening Panel or First or Second Juries have or have had previously a professional or personal relationship with a pianist whose application or recorded or live performance he/she is judging, he/she must notify the Jury Facilitator prior to his/her respective stage of adjudication.”
“In a case where the relationship is or has been within the previous five years one of regular or occasional teacher and student, the Jury Facilitator must rule that the member may not vote on that pianist’s performance.”
“There will be no communication of any kind between jury members and Competition pianists until the announcement of the Laureate. (…) Should a pianist attempt to communicate with a member of any jury, either during or prior to the announcement of the Laureate, said juror must inform the Jury Facilitator. The pianist in question may be subject to disqualification at the discretion of the Jury Facilitator.”
If my concerns rubbed some people the wrong way, they should talk to the organization about making the judging process more transparent, instead of pointing their arrows at the messenger. Perhaps judges from outside the close-knit voice-over community could be added. Perhaps the organization could learn from other competitions that have dealt with this issue for years.
At the end of the day, the Voice Arts™ Awards were devised to provide “international acknowledgement of the extraordinary skill and artistry that goes into voiceover acting and the associated roles, and to hold up a best-in-class standard of achievement to which the voiceover industry can continually aspire.”
That sounds like a noble objective, but as I said before, increased recognition and international acknowledgement can never be an aim in and of itself. What purpose should these awards ultimately serve? How exactly are they going to transform our industry for the better?
If it’s a matter of developing and promoting professional standards, I would turn to the World Voices Organization. If I wanted my performance to be evaluated by experts, I’d go to a few coaches. If I wanted to attract more clients, I would invest in increasing my skills, and in marketing my services.
Those who listen to my auditions are not going to hire me because I have a shiny statuette in my studio. They want to hear whether or not I have the right voice for the job.
To me, “increased acknowledgment” is meaningless if it doesn’t lead to increased respect. I don’t mean increased respect from my peers, but from those who hire voice-overs.
The way we show respect for services rendered, is by paying the provider a decent amount of money. Unfortunately, every year I have been in this business, rates seem to go down instead of up. That too, is about competition.
For that type of competition I want to be ready, with or without these awards.
Not not so long ago, I read a story about a young Dutch guy who was about to be married. His friends invited him to a fancy restaurant for an unforgettable bachelor party.
It was a classy, dignified event. No lap dances or excessive drinking. Yet, the groom-to-be, ended up with a serious hangover.
At the end of the night he hugged each of his friends, and thanked them for a memorable evening. When he was about to put on his coat, the waiter tapped him on the shoulder.
“Sir, aren’t you forgetting something?”
“I don’t think so,” said the bachelor. “Is something wrong?”
“Not really,” said the waiter, “as long as you pay your bill.”
“But I assumed that everything was being taken care of,” said the soon-to-be-groom.
“I’m afraid not,” answered the waiter. “You owe us a little over two thousand five hundred Euro. We take all major credit cards.”
That night, the young bachelor made a few changes to his list of wedding guests.
The Dutch have a unique saying for these painful situations:
“Een sigaar uit eigen doos krijgen.”
Literally translated this means: being offered a cigar from one’s own box. In other words: receiving a gift you had to pay for yourself. That’s not really a gift, is it?
It’s an old marketing trick. Making people believe they get something for free, even though they’re paying for it.
“If you buy product X right now, we’ll send you a second one, absolutely free!”
“When you buy this car, we’ll throw in a premium accessory package at no charge!”
“Sign up for a 12-month subscription to our website, and we will give you two extra months as a welcome gift.”
Have you ever received a cigar like that?
VOICE ARTS™ AWARDS GALA
Last Sunday, the very first Voice Arts™ Awards were presented in New York. These awards were established by the relatively new Society Of Voice Arts And Sciences™ (SOVAS™). It’s an ambitious non-profit organization. As I reported in an earlier story, on their website you will find seventy pages of awards category descriptions. Each page lists about three to four different awards.
In theory, between 210 and 280 awards could have been given away during Sunday’s gala. In reality, 33 out of 100 nominees received an award (click here for a list of the winners). Depending on how you do the math, 177 or 247 categories were left out, either because there were no or very few entries, or because the quality of these entries did not meet the standards. SOVAS™ rules state:
“In the event that any individual category attracts fewer than 4 entries the organizer reserves the right to withdraw that category from the competition.”
In some categories there was barely any competition. In the Outstanding Audio Book Narration – Biography, the only nominees were Joe Cipriano for Living On Air, and Janis Ian for The Singer and the Song.
Only two audio books were nominated for Outstanding Audio Book Narration in the Classics category. There were two nominees for the local radio and television commercials, and two for the best national radio commercial. This reflected a trend. Check the list of nominees yourself, by clicking on this link.
Mind you, I’m not saying anything about the talent of the individual nominees. I’m just pointing out a few facts about the process. Facts some of you may have missed.
I’d like to make a few other observations.
Scott Brick, one of the jurors of the Voice Arts™ Awards, won for Best Male Voice in the category Outstanding Audio Book Narration – Non-Fiction.
Juror Nancy Wolfson produced the demo reel of Jay Britton, who won Best Male Voice in the category Outstanding Commercial Demo Reel. Nancy has also been one of Jay’s coaches. Jay went on to win a second award for his Animation Demo Reel.
Greg Russell received a nomination for Best Male Voice in the category Outstanding Commercial Demo Reel. His coaches were Joan Baker, Rudy Gaskins and Denise Woods.
Denise Woods was one of the jurors for this year’s awards. Rudy Gaskins and his wife Joan Baker are founders and board members of the Society Of Voice Arts And Sciences™. Gaskins is President and CEO of SOVAS™.
Linda Fouche was nominated for Best Female Voice in the Outstanding Commercial Demo Reel category. Her voice-over coach was Joan Baker, and her producer/director was Rudy Gaskins.
PUSH THAT’S VOICEOVER
Gaskins and Baker are also the creators of That’s Voiceover, a series of entertaining, educational events bringing voice-over pros, voice seekers, and those interested in VO together. The last installment took place in New York on November 10th, the day after the Voice Arts™ Award gala.
Gaskins’ branding agency Push Creative is very much involved in That’s Voiceover. Joan Baker is co-founder and Senior Vice President of Push Creative, and she handles public relations for the company.
Among the speakers at That’s Voiceover were Voice Arts Awards winners Joe Cipriano, Scott Brick, Chuck Duran and Stacey Aswad, and jurors Cedering Fox, Sondra James, Trosh Scanlon, Frank Rodriguez and Dave Fennoy. Steve Ulrich, the executive director of SOVAS™ was also one of the presenters. That’s no coincidence, because if you go to the SOVAS™ website, a redirect to the That’s Voiceover site is only one click away.
It’s a small world, isn’t it?
THE FUTURE OF VO
I’m not against new initiatives that strive to promote and enrich the voice-over industry. As I said in my earlier story: I am willing to give these new Voice Arts™ Awards the benefit of the doubt. I congratulate the winners, and I hope the money they spent on entering this competition and attending the gala, will prove to be worth the investment. As Bob Bergen said in response to my previous article:
“Everything you’ve pointed out, as well as your question about ROI, was questioned when The SAG Awards began 20 years ago. Heck, the same issues were brought up when The Emmys began in the late 40s. Many in Hollywood thought that awarding people from that little window display of the furniture box in the living room was a joke compared to The Academy Awards, where you have that big screen and REAL actors! It’s all relative and nothing new.
Let’s allow this award show to organically grow and evolve. Just like The Oscars, Tonys, Emmys, and every other award show has over the past 75 plus years. Each award show is always changing and trying to improve on itself from previous years. I really think honoring the world of VO is long overdue. I commend the producers of this for diving in. Let’s see how it goes!”
What does worry me, is that the Voice Arts™ Awards show seems to style itself after the Oscars and Emmys. To me, these shows have become highly staged marketing events where artistic integrity is sacrificed in favor of purchased publicity. Stars show up pretending to have a good time, knowing that they’re contractually obligated to plug their latest project.
Television audiences are only watching to see their favorite stars on the red carpet, to see the big production numbers, and to hear the obligatory teary-eyed acceptance speeches. I don’t think the voice-over world should emulate that, and I don’t think we need to do that.
It is true: an Oscar-winning movie will do much better at the box office. I doubt that the masses will run to their favorite audio book store, to purchase the winner of a Voice Arts™ Award.
Why do I have doubts? Because for an award to have an impact, people need to know about it, care about it, and attach value to it. It needs to reach the folks outside of our cozy babble bubble. That has yet to happen. Perhaps I’m expecting too much from a young organization, but I think it’s fair to judge them by their own mission statement.
The Voice Arts Awards™ were announced months and months ago. I’m sure the major networks were notified, and all the papers got the press releases. In order to raise the stature of the gala, a Hollywood celebrity (James Earl Jones) was brought in to receive a special award, and even the late Robin Williams was mentioned on the podium. Yet, did this…
“provide international acknowledgement of the extraordinary skill and artistry that goes into the voiceover acting and the associated roles”?
After all, that’s one of SOVAS™ goals.
I’m not so sure.
I haven’t seen Joan Baker and company make the rounds on the morning chat shows. I didn’t read any headlines or interviews in leading newspapers. Yes, I’ve seen a few reprints of press releases here and there, but that’s not enough. Just Google Voice Arts™ Awards, and see for yourself how little comes up.
What I did see on social media was a number of award-winning colleagues, proudly holding a shiny statuette, as well as photos of members of the VO-establishment sporting bow-ties, pony tails, and evening dresses.
And speaking of that statuette… After paying a hefty non-refundable entry fee plus the cost of travel, meals, accommodations (and of work lost because they’re attending the event), winners have to pay three hundred and fifty-some dollars to take it home. Or in Jay Britton’s case: $700. That’s an expensive dust receptacle!
I bet you Voice Icon Award winner James Earl Jones didn’t have to pay for his prize.
For every other winner, it’s a cigar from their own box.
How can a non-profit organization dedicated to adding value to our industry, be so cheap?
If you give me the right answer, please mail me $40, and I’ll send you a trophy!
Shipping, handling, and engraving will have to come out of your pocket, though.
I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with competitions.
I enjoy watching a great soccer game or a tennis match. I’m a fan of the Olympics. The rules of the game are known. There’s a clear finish line. Whoever scores the most points or clocks the fastest time, wins.
When it comes to artistic competitions, things are not so defined. I remember going to an exhibition of prize-winning painters. All artists had entered portraits. The first prize went to a painting that was almost abstract. The second prize (and audience favorite) was a portrait that was Dali-like in its photorealism. Apples and oranges were more alike than these two entries. So, why did the abstract painting win? Because the jury said so.
DARE TO COMPARE
At the heart of every competition is the obscure art of comparing. This motion picture is better than the other. This photo stands out from the rest. This actor outperformed his colleagues. This poem is so much denser than the other poem. The question remains: Based on what, and according to whom?
Most judges of competitions will certainly be looking and listening for technical excellence. But what sets a winner apart from a loser is more than flawless technique. It has to do with artistic mastery; with having an authentic creative voice.
Great art, whether it be music, dance, or any other medium, merely uses technique to give us something splendid that may very well break all the rules. It may even set a new standard. Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” is a great example. Some musicians thought it could not be played. It caused a scandal when it was first performed. Now it’s considered to be one of the masterpieces of modern music.
At the time of creation, great innovative art defies definition, and it is often anti-establishment. Here’s the problem: jurors of competitions are usually distinguished members of the establishment. It is their job to use semi-objective criteria, and apply them to very subjective artistic statements. Good luck with that!
Here’s another thing I don’t like about competitions: they turn colleagues into competitors, and divide them into winners and losers. My ideal world is a world where people cooperate instead of compete; a world in which doing your very best is more important than being the best.
Don’t get me wrong, I admire people at the top of their game, but I prefer the artist who selflessly and tirelessly works under the radar to the attention-seeking loudmouth looking for acknowledgment and recognition.
I admire people who are in it for the music. Not for the applause.
A NEW AWARD
All of this was going through my mind when the unknown Society Of Voice Arts And Sciences™ (SOVAS™) announced the establishment of the Voice Arts™ Awards. In its own words, this is an open competition honoring and acknowledging:
“voice actors, creative directors, copywriters, casting directors, talent agents, directors, producers, audio engineers, account executives, equipment manufacturers, podcasters, bloggers and others who create and sustain the highest levels of achievement within the voiceover industry.”
The following quote from their website reads like a mission statement:
“The purpose of the Voice Arts™ Awards is to provide international acknowledgement of the extraordinary skill and artistry that goes into the voiceover acting and the associated roles and to hold up a best-in-class standard of achievement to which the voiceover industry can continually aspire.”
That’s quite a mouthful, but voice actors should be able to handle that comfortably.
If you have a few hours to spare, I invite you to browse through seventy(!) pages of awards category descriptions. Each page lists about three to four different awards, such as “NATIONAL TV INTERSTITIAL ELEMENT – FEMALE” and “AUDIO BOOK NARRATION – CHILDREN INFANT TO 5 – MALE.”
Even though it’s mentioned in the “About section” of the Awards, I could not find a category for equipment manufacturers or bloggers. I guess I’m out of luck!
PAY TO PLAY
The competition is open to individuals, companies, and students, as long as the entry is in English, and has first appeared in public between January 1, 2013 and June 15, 2014 (click here for details). The price of a single entry for a company/non-SOVAS™ member is $310. If you’re an independent artist, you pay $210 per entry (there is an early bird discount, but the time for that has passed). SOVAS™ members may enter at a reduced rate.
SOVAS™ membership ranges from $125 per year (Basic Package) to a $5,000 Platinum Package. Five grand may seem a lot, but for that you’ll get a Voice Arts™ Awards statuette named and presented in your honor, and a Special Education Scholarship offered in your name (among other perks).
On a side note, the cost of the competition does not end there. Many competitions require that the nominees/winners attend the awards ceremony. I’d consider the cost of travel, meals, accommodations, and of work lost because you’re attending the event, as part of the expenses. A few of this year’s winners flew in from the United Kingdom.
Some of the Awards were presented during a Gala on November 9th, at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York. Early Bird tickets go for $225 each. The Sumner M. Redstone Theater seats 267. Let’s assume SOVAS™ sells 175 tickets. That alone should bring in almost forty thousand dollars.
Participants had until August 31st 2014 to send in their entries. Entry fees were non-refundable once the entries have been submitted. SOVAS™ rules state:
“In the event that any individual category attracts fewer than 4 entries the organizer reserves the right to withdraw that category from the competition. In this event, the participating companies will receive a credit towards future entry fees. No cash refund will be given.”
“All submissions become the property of SOVAS™ to be used at their discretion, for the production of the ceremony and other uses.”
WHAT’S IN IT FOR YOU?
Even though I have my doubts about artistic competitions in general, I’m trying to keep an open mind about the Voice Arts™ Awards. Before I would even consider entering any kind of competition, I’d ask a few questions:
Is the organization running the competition reputable?
What’s the intention of the competition?
Does it have the potential and credibility to raise the professional bar?
Are the criteria by which people are judged fair and clear?
Are the judges respectable, and are they known experts in their field?
Does every entry receive a professional evaluation?
Is the entry fee proportionate to the prize?
Does the prize give a credit worth having?
The problem with the Voice Arts™ Awards is that for many questions it’s too early to tell, because this is the inaugural year. It’s never been done before, and I believe it’s too easy to pass judgement without giving them a fair chance. There’s a lot we don’t know, so let’s see what we do know.
To start with question number one, SOVAS™ is run by five-time Emmy winner Steve Ulrich who is also the executive director of the Sports and Daytime Emmy Awards®. Producer Rudy Gaskins and his wife -voice-over celeb Joan Baker– are both on the board, as is the former head of the Promax/BDA awards program, Stephen McCarthy. Those people have a lot to lose, should these new awards turn out to be a flop. I think they’re smart enough not to let that happen.
Would the voice-over industry benefit from this competition? Would it make the invisibles of so many audio-visual productions visible? Would our profession finally get the respect many feel it deserves?
Do we really need a competition to get recognition?
Some people who know the industry really well, feel we do. It’s not enough to be outstanding. You need to stand out. And if there’s no podium, why not create one? Whether you like competitions or not, it’s a given that winning a prestigious prize has never hurt a career. The question is, will short-term recognition have a long-lasting effect? Could it increase your market value? And who’s paying attention? Are we just throwing a party for ourselves, or will these awards generate publicity outside of the small voice-over bubble?
A MATTER OF MONEY
Let’s talk about the entry fees. Anyone will recognize that organizing these awards takes time and costs money. That money has to come from somewhere. Yet, I don’t think a voice actor’s wealth should be an arbiter of talent. Why, then, must it function as a barrier? Is it legitimate or exploitative? Is it to weed the amateurs out? Here’s the ultimate question:
Is the cost of entering worth the odds?
If you’re a winner, it probably is. But as in any competition, many are invited, and few are chosen. Established artistic competitions often have cash prizes, and may offer scholarships. What does the winner of a Voice Arts™ Award get? No money, but a golden statuette (which you have to pay for yourself), a title, and a temporary platform. Is that enough?
In other words, even if you’re not nominated or a winner, you will be able to read your evaluation, and benefit from it. Wouldn’t it be great if the Voice Arts™ Awards would do the same? Unfortunately, that’s not the case. This is how it’s done:
“In each category, each judge shall rate each entry on three indices. These indices vary by category and are listed below. For each index, judges enter a score from 1.0 to 10.0, where 1.0 is valued as “very poor quality” and 10.0 is valued as “perfection” in the personal standards of the judge.”
Answering critics in VoiceOverXtra, Rudy Gaskins is very pragmatic about the entry fee. He encourages voice-overs to look at it from a business point of view. Being nominated for, and/or winning an award is smart marketing, he says. Every business should have a marketing budget. That’s where the entry fee should come from.
He has a point, but aren’t there other ways to market your business that are less risky, and that may have a bigger and more concrete pay-off? You could build a better website. You could invest in a newsletter. You could hire a graphic designer to come up with a logo.
Gaskins also argues that these awards are a way to build community. He writes:
“Awards are a meeting place. They’re a focal point that draws the attention of those most interested and involved in your industry or profession. They’re an opportunity to engage your professional community in discussions of topics and controversies, in reviewing standards or discovering trends. Awards tend to involve leaders and experts. Awards are the place to learn, to network and to enhance professionalism.”
The sceptic in me highly doubts that these awards will have that effect. As I said earlier, by nature, competitions are pitting people and productions against one another. Slick award shows like the Emmys and Oscars are nothing but highly staged marketing events where artistic integrity is sacrificed in favor of purchased publicity. Stars show up pretending to have a good time, knowing that they’re contractually obligated to plug their latest project. Thank goodness for the gift bags!
Is that really what the voice-over world needs? Would that give our profession the much desired gravitas? Would increased respect lead to higher rates and higher standards? Would an average client be more inclined to hire an award-winning voice actor, or would he perhaps think that he probably can’t afford such a high-profile professional?
SHOW SOME RESPECT
Gaskins also believes these awards are good for our confidence and self-respect:
“When you enter an award, you are saying to yourself and your constituents that you believe in what you do. Get on the playing field and let the chips fall where they may. People respect those who stand up to be counted. The other choice is to go unnoticed.”
I don’t think it’s that black-and-white: either enter the competition, or go unnoticed. As a professional voice actor I enter competitions every day. I call it “auditioning.” Secondly, happy clients are my credentials, and my readers and students are my accolades. I don’t need a jury to tell me how well I’m doing, or to make me feel good about myself.
Still, what the Society Of Voice Arts And Sciences™ is doing takes guts, and I’m willing to give this initiative the benefit of the doubt. On paper, the Voice Arts™ Awards certainly have potential, but the value of this prize has yet to prove itself.
Ultimately, being a successful voice-over is not about winning or losing.
It appears that those in charge of the awards took some of my 2014 feedback to heart.
The 2017 early bird VAA entry fee for companies who are member of SOVAS™ was $129, and the regular fee was $150 per entry. For non-members it was $150 and $175. Independent artists who are member of SOVAS™ paid $99 and $119. Non-members paid $119 to $129 per entry. In 2014 (the inaugural year) the price of a single entry for a company/non-SOVAS™ member was $310. Independent artists paid $210 per entry.
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