Promotion

Factory Demos: Fatal First Impressions

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Promotion, Studio 15 Comments

You know what they say about first impressions and second chances.

As a voice-over, a demo is often your only chance to make that first impression. It’s your business card, resume, portfolio and audition all compressed into one 60-90 second package.

A great demo is the result of the combined expertise of those behind the mic and behind the glass. If done right, it condenses years of experience into a minute or more of magic.

A professional demo does not come cheap, but not having one could be an expensive mistake.

There’s one thing it should not be:

Mediocre.

If that’s a given, then why are so many demos completely underwhelming and unmemorable?

Audio and production professional Cliff Zellman thinks he knows the answer. He has been hiring talent for over 35 years, and receives between 12 to 15 demos a week. He’s heard everything. From the best of the best to the worst of the worst.

As the Voice-Over industry began to change, Cliff noticed what he calls a detrimental shift in the way VO demos are created. A shift, he says, that does not play well for the VO Artist.

DISTURBING TRENDS

Emmy Award Winner Zellman, who has a degree in Audio Engineering, is referring to a few things. 

First of all, he receives demos that have been slammed together after a “talent” has taken some entry-level voice-over class. You’ve probably seen the ads for those trainings. They always end with the words “demo included.” These demos are usually stitched together from old scripts and they’re overproduced to mask someone’s level of incompetence and inexperience. 

Then there are demos that will tell you more about the single-mindedness of the director, than about the versatility of the voice talent. Zellman told me he often wonders:

“Whose demo is this really, the VO artist’s or the director’s? There’s no variety. The copy is uninspired and the music is outdated.”

Demos from a third category may sound terrific, but Zellman says:

“I have been disappointed more times than I care to remember because the talent could not reproduce the level of competency I heard or that I require. And they give me no indication of what their audio will actually sound like.”  

In other words, each line of the demo was spoon-fed by the director and recorded and sweetened in a million-dollar studio. It’s false advertising, because the talent can not deliver the same quality in a home studio setting.

Cliff has a name for all these demos. He calls them “Store-Bought,” and warns they are a big risk to buyers.

Cliff Zellman

A NEW CONCEPT

Having listened to way too many of them, Zellman started asking questions:

“When a talent leaves the booth after three or four grueling hours of a store-bought demo session, did they do their best? Were they relaxed? Were they intimidated? Is one session really ample time to allow the talent to shine?

And when they leave the studio, what do they have, really? An audio file. No real world education, no new knowledge of microphone selections, what works best for them in their environment with their voice. They are not receiving the collective years of experience and success of multiple directors… Just one person’s ability or inability.”

And out of his frustration, an idea was born:

• What if he could get the best directors and voice-over coaches in the nation under one umbrella?

• What if one voice talent could pick six of these coaches and work with them via Skype for six one-hour sessions in his or her home studio, using six different microphones?

• What if the result of these sessions would be professionally edited and mixed by an award-winning master digital music editor to create one outstanding 60-second demo?

This is precisely the concept behind Zellman’s latest endeavor: Done By Six Productions. (click on the name to visit the website) 

He calls it “The Industry’s first Online, Menu-based Voice Over Demo Production Company.” 

EXCLUSIVITY

I have to warn you. It will take more than a dream and a credit card to get access to Zellman’s roster of experts. He explains:

“There is a vetting committee of four or five industry professionals. If someone is NOT ready, we will be happy to suggest a coach that can help with their gaps.  When the coach says they are ready, we re-evaluate. We are a team created to actually HELP the voice talent succeed… not a factory.

This is also why Done By Six REQUIRES a talent to have a professional website, an approved home studio, knowledge of delivery methods and previous VO experience. We exist to elevate, not to hold hands.”

CONFUSION

At this time, talent can choose from a list of 39 seasoned professionals who cover all areas of the voice-over industry. People like Marc Cashman, Roy Yokelson, M.J. Lallo, Peter O’Connell, Dan Friedman, Randye Kaye, Doug Turkel, Amy Snively, and even the writer of this blog.

When I first heard about the concept, I thought:

Six directors for a 60-second demo. Isn’t that overkill? Aren’t six different coaches going to give conflicting advice, thus confusing the talent? Zellman:

“ABSOLUTELY NOT. It is a “real world” experience. When one goes to college, they don’t have the same professor for four years. Six directors will produce 60 seconds each. Each 60 seconds can be used as a full spot demo as well. 360 seconds will pretty much ensure that there is quality sections within each read.

Remember, we are NOT working with newbies. A talent is already used to working with different directors. Otherwise, why would someone attend a seminar with Pat Fraley, then Marc Cashman, then Myself, then Peter O’Connell et cetera. Conflicting advice opens doors! If everyone would bet on the same horse, the race would be boring.”

OWNERSHIP

When talking to Zellman, I mentioned that one of my colleagues had recorded a demo he wasn’t happy with. The pacing was off and the music was dreadful. He asked the producer for the dry audio so he could go somewhere else for a remix. Even though he had paid for his demo, the producer refused to give him the building blocks. And so I wondered: if a demo is produced by Done By Six Productions, who owns the audio? Cliff Zellman:

“The talent owns it! All dry files are already in the possession of the talent on their computer. I think any demo producer that doesn’t “gladly” give all dry audio to the talent is a paranoid fool and a charlatan. I am not looking to “lock-in” someone. I WANT them to spread their wings! Let them grow. Let them edit… let them punch-in!

I especially do not want the responsibility of being the ONLY one to help a talent. That’s ridiculous and I know demo coaches that feel very differently. I totally disagree. This is THEIR future, not mine. I am here to help, not control.

As far as music, I sublicensee it to the talent for this specific project. If a director has music in mind, cool. If not, all music used will be mixed into the production. If a talent wants to get creative in a few months, change up things on their own, I say YES!  They are one step closer to mastering this profession. Again, we are to HELP, not control.”

PS What happens if the voice talent isn’t happy with the end-result?

CZ “As long as they are in possession of the mics, every director I have spoken with agrees to an additional session of up to 15 minutes (or within reason).  Some may stick to 15 minutes sharp, others may be more liberal. If things get out of hand, I will step in, take responsibility and make sure the talent gets what they need. If I receive multiple complaints/concerns with a director, I remove them from the roster. Simple as that.”

Speaking of microphones, each talent receives a flight case with six of the industry’s most popular microphones: the Neumann TLM 103, the Sennheiser MKH-416, the AKG Perception 220, the CAD E100S, the Audio Technica T2020 and the Harlan Hogan MXL VO: 1-A.

This is the perfect opportunity to test these microphones in your own studio. It also ensures that each segment of your demo will sound differently. Shipping and insurance is part of the price of the package.

VOICEZAM

But there’s more. Included in the demo-package is a free 2-month subscription with VoiceZam.

VoiceZam is a new way of showcasing voice-over demos that gives clients and agents an opportunity to skip through the individual tracks of each demo. The user can also track who’s been listening to their demos. Cliff Zellman:

“I LOVE VoiceZam. My time is VERY valuable. I appreciate the speed, playback quality and ease of operation. I have had lengthy conversations with Bob Merkel (the man being VoiceZam), even to the point of offering him ideas and strategies at no consultation fee.

VoiceZam shows a professional attitude and a certain amount of savvy. I know if I go to a talent’s site and I see a VoiceZam player, there is a very good chance I am dealing with a solid pro.”

By the way, the VoiceZam image is just a picture. If you want to get a feel for how VoiceZam works, go to Bob Souer’s site and try it out. 

PS Why just focus on demos? You have a great line-up of coaches. Why don’t you offer more coaching services?

CZ “In time. Many new start-ups fail by trying to do too much too soon. Every Done By Six director is a potential coach. I know each of them personally and professionally. I know their strengths and weaknesses. Between the members of the vetting committee, we can steer the talent in the right direction. One of the benefits of being a Done By Six Director is the possibility of being selected as a coach. Once a coach is suggested by Done By Six, it is between the coach and the talent… for now.”

TASTE TEST

Go to any supermarket and you’ll find shelves filled with factory-baked breads. They may be packaged a bit differently, but you know that most of them are low on nutrition and they all taste the same.

I usually buy my bread at the local Farmers’ Market from an artisanal bakery. They have a huge variety made from different grains, nuts and herbs. The ingredients are high-quality and the bread is baked with love. I can taste the artistry and dedication that went into the making of the bread. It’s a taste that lingers on.

If voice-overs are your bread and butter, what type of taste test are you serving your clients?

Are you feeding them stale, factory-baked bland bread with margarine, or fresh, wholesome, hand-made bread, topped with real butter?

If you only had one chance to make a first impression, what would you rather serve?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS: Be sweet. Please retweet!

photo credit: Barbara.K via photopin cc, photo credit: Phil and Pam via photopin cc

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How it all began

by Paul Strikwerda in Career, Promotion 4 Comments

As a blogger and rather visible voice-over person, there are three questions I get asked a lot.

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

Well, I could write a book about that, but  a while ago, colleague Peter Kinney O’Connell asked me those same things in his “5 Questions” series. Let’s start with Peter’s first question.

1. The beginning: When did you know you wanted to be a voice-over talent; how did your career begin (please include what year it started) and then when did your passion for voice-over develop into something professional?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. In your development as a voice over performer, who has been the one particular individual or what has been the one piece of performance advice (maybe a key performance trick, etc.) that you felt has had the most impact on your actual voice over performance and why?

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

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

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

WANT MORE ME?

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

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Creating a Wave

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Internet, Promotion 27 Comments

You and I, we walk a fine line when it comes to drumming up business.

Here’s the situation.

Clients won’t hire us unless they know we exist.

Colleagues won’t recommend us if they have no idea what we’re capable of.

Agents might think we’re yesterday’s news if we don’t prove ourselves every once in a while.

The remedy to anonymity is self-promotion. However, we all know people who are constantly promoting themselves. They hijack threads on Facebook to toot their own horn. They pop up in LinkedIn groups to talk about themselves. They spam your inbox with “newsletters” that glorify their latest accomplishments.

They must believe they’re very interesting.

If you’re one of those people, I have this to say to you:

Read the rest of this story in my new book. Click on the cover to access the website and get a sneak peek. Use the buttons to buy the book.

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Playing Hard to Get

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Promotion 7 Comments

It’s time for an apology.

Yes, I’m truly sorry, but I can explain.

If you are one of the people who asked me to be your voice-over coach, chances are that I turned you down. Not that I don’t enjoy coaching. I’ve been coaching professionally for the past twenty years.

In my broadcasting days, I used to prepare people to meet the press in my role of media coach. Later on, I became what people now call a “Life Coach,” helping clients overcome obstacles and reach goals. I also taught two-week certification trainings centered around personal growth and development, and I loved every minute of it.

Even though my FAQ page (the page no one ever reads) will tell you that I still offer voice-over coaching services, I’m not shouting it from the rooftops.

WHY I KEEP COACHING QUIET

First of all, my clients are keeping me pretty busy, so I don’t have much time to be a coach. Secondly,

Read the rest of this story in my new book. Click on the cover to access the website and get a sneak peek. Use the buttons to buy the book.

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Spending a year with me

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Gear, Internet, Journalism & Media, Money Matters, Promotion, Social Media, Studio 15 Comments

2012 is a year I will remember for many reasons, but the main reason is this: 

Your generosity.

Did you know that readers of this blog donated $2,500 to the National MS Society this year? Thanks to your contributions, our Walk MS team raised a total of $6,504!

When I told you that my friend Patrice Devincentis had lost her Sonic Surgery recording studio in Hurricane Sandy, you stepped up to the plate big time.

Donations to Sonic Surgery

Donations to Sonic Surgery

Right now, part of my basement is taken over by audio equipment that was donated to Patrice, mostly by friends in the voice-over community.

Just when she thought her career was over, your help gave her hope and a chance to start rebuilding a studio and a career. 

As soon as her recording space is ready, I will deliver all the gear on your behalf, but that’s not all.

When you go to the Sonic Surgery GoFundMe page, you’ll see that together we’ve raised over $2,600 for Patrice. We still have a long way to go before we’ll reach our $10,000 goal, but it’s a great start.

SPREADING THE NEWS 

As readers, you’ve also been generous with your blog comments (all 2,658 of them), retweets, Facebook “likes” and all the other ways in which you helped my stories reach a wider audience. Thank you so much for that! It works and here’s the proof.

A story like the introduction of Studiobricks (a new type of vocal booth), has reached almost two thousand readers. Mike Bratton’s interview and review of the Studiobricks ONE cabin, has been seen over fifteen hundred times. But there were more reviews this year. 

In collaboration with recordinghacks.com, I put the Microtech Gefell M 930 Ts microphone to the test; the amazingly affordable and brilliant CAD E100S mic, as well as a shock mount for the 21st century, the Rycote InVision™ system.

I presented seven reasons to hate home studios, and most recently, I had a chance to review Jonathan Tilley’s new eBook “Voice Over Garden.” 

THE NEW NETHERVOICE

Let’s remember that 2012 was also the year my website got a major facelift. It gave me a chance to write about why your website stinks, how analyzing web traffic can help you craft content, and how you can use social media to spread your message (as long as you don’t step into the filter bubble). 

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you know that I love writing about the business of being in business. Having a great voice doesn’t mean that you’ll automatically have a great voice-over career. You have to be a savvy entrepreneur as well. 

When you open up shop, you’re all of a sudden the head of the advertising, marketing, sales and the customer service department. Are you sure you can handle that? Some customers can be a royal pain in the tuches, but you have to attract them first.

Over time you’ll notice that there are at least 10 things clients don’t care about, and that there are many things your clients won’t tell you that you absolutely need to know before you hit the record button. This year, I finally revealed my personal marketing strategy and the four keys to winning clients over.

Now, all these ideas didn’t appear to me in a dream. It has taken me quite a few years of running a freelance business to come up with certain vital concepts. Trial and error are the slowest teachers, and I had to learn many of my lessons the hard way. I still remember the day I almost made a $10,000 mistake.

Nethervoice studio

Nethervoice studio

STUDIO STORIES

On an average day I spend at least eight hours in my vocal booth/office, and of course I blogged about life behind the mic. I gave you the grand tour of my studio in two installments. 

First you got to see how I have outfitted my voice-over booth, followed by a review of the equipment I use to make my clients happy.

I also wrote about certain aspects of (voice) acting. In “Are You a Cliché” I dealt with the downside of doing impersonations. “Why you suck and what to do about it” is all about breathing and how to get rid of those nasty clicks and other mouth noises that can ruin a recording. “Are you playing by the rules” tells you what it takes to maintain a good relationship with your agent. 

MONEY MATTERS

In 2011, 44% of independent workers had trouble getting paid for their work. 3 out of 4 freelancers are paid late or not at all at least once in their careers. That’s why the New York-based Freelancers Union ran a campaign called “Get Paid, not played.”

I tend to write a lot about value and remuneration. Just click on the “Money Matters” category over on the right hand side of this blog and you’ll see what I mean. When my website got a make-over, I decided to publicly post my voice-over rates. Not everyone believed this was a wise move, so I wrote a story exploring the pros and cons of being open about fees. 

One relatively new way to fund your business, is to use crowdsourcing. I asked audio book publisher Karen Wolfer to share her experience with Kickstarter. Another money-related topic that came up this year was this: Should you work for free for charity? On paper “giving back” sounds like the right thing to do, but is it always the case? As with any of the stories mentioned above, click on the blue link to read the full article. 

TAKING CARE OF YOURSELF

Let’s move from wealth to health. I shall remember 2012 for one other reason. Never before have I written so much about fitness and well-being. In “Be kind. Unwind” I wrote about the importance of taking a break, being in the moment and leading a balanced life.  

After meeting the globetrotting host of The Amazing Race Phil Keoghan, I discovered four principles to live in the spirit of NOW (No Opportunity Wasted). In August it was time for me personally to cut the crap and rid myself of excuses that had me trapped in an unhealthy, sedentary lifestyle.

MAKE A DIFFERENCE 

All in all, 2012 has been a great year. We’ve had to weather some powerful storms, but the year was also packed with positive change. 

It always amazes me how relatively small changes can have a huge impact. Imagine someone throwing a pebble into a pond. See how the ripple effect moves through the water in ever-widening circles. That’s the effect one individual act of generosity can have.

It happens when people who care, share what they have to give without expecting anything in return. It can be time, it can be money or -as in Patrice’s case- even audio equipment. 

I am grateful and appreciative that you have chosen to take a few minutes out of your day, to see what I have to say. Many of you came back, week after week. Hopefully, you’ve found my stories and ideas helpful and worth sharing. If that’s been the case, I have news for you: 

I’m not done yet!

In fact, I’m ready to push more envelopes, stir more pots and be more outspoken in 2013. 

Do you think you can handle that? 

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet.

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Are You Invisible?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Promotion 16 Comments

As a child, I dreamed of being invisible. Did you? 

It seemed so much fun to be able to sneak into any room and listen to what people had to say about me, especially my parents.

At age 17, my wish came true, and I didn’t even need an invisibility cloak to make it happen.

The day I started working for a national radio station, I became a disembodied voice. At the flip of a switch, I could enter thousands of living rooms, kitchens, cars… and even people’s minds.

What I loved about radio was the relative anonymity. I had exposure without being exposed. On many days, my listeners were lucky they couldn’t see me behind a Neumann at the crack of dawn, looking like a zombie presenting a current affairs program.

There was no need to go to make-up and nobody ever said a word about my wardrobe or hair. All was well, as long as my vocal cords were working and my brain was semi-active.

The studio was a safe place. The outside world didn’t dare penetrate the soundproof walls and heavy double doors. I could question dignitaries and grill cabinet ministers without having to look them in the eye, unless they came to our station, which rarely happened.

As a journalist, I never risked my life on the front lines to get a story. I covered earthquakes, explosions, famines and other misery from the comfort of a warm recording studio, where the coffee was always fresh and dangerously leaded.

When my day was over, I would simply blend into the masses without ever being recognized or followed by a horde of hungry paparazzi.

So far, so good… or so I thought.

A PRE MID-LIFE CRISIS

One day, something happened that had never occurred before. The moment I woke up I knew something was wrong. I could feel it in my bones. I wanted to stay in bed. For a very long time.

Mind you, I wasn’t sick. I just didn’t want to go to work. This was not like me at all. I was always full of energy and enthusiasm. I loved my job. When we were on the air, I was on fire. That particular morning, all that was left of my passion for radio had turned into a fading column of sad smoke. What the heck was going on?

A few days and some soul-searching later, it finally dawned upon me:

I was stuck in a rut.

Radio had gradually lost its magic. It had become a routine. I felt that I wasn’t building a career. I was simply coasting and I was bored. What I needed was a new challenge, a new direction, and I already knew what my next move would be.

I wanted to move up to television; to the excitement of the bright lights, the cool cameras, the expensive sets and to a world in which I would be recognized.

No longer Mister Anonymous. I wanted to be seen!

MAKING MY MOVE

Of course this was easier said than done. I needed to get my foot in the TV door. My plan was to make a move at the Christmas party. It was one of those rare occasions where the radio and television departments of our station would be together in the same room. I knew some of the key TV people, and I could already see them walking up to me as I was getting a drink, saying:

“Hey, aren’t you the guy that does our morning show? Man, I’ve got to tell you… you’re doing a fantastic job -the way you nailed that last interview. Did you ever think of getting into television? You’d be perfect!”

A few weeks later I was wearing my nicest holiday sweater as I walked into a buzzing party room filled with holly and ivy. Immediately, I noticed something peculiar.

All my radio colleagues were gathered in one corner, talking quietly among themselves. It looked like they had almost as much fun as the occupants of a reading room in a convent. All the action seemed to be happening in the other corner, where faces familiar from television were the life of the party.

One network. Two different worlds.

The moment I entered that room, there was no doubt to which camp I belonged. Nobody was paying any attention to me. Why would they? I was invisible, remember.

CHOOSING SIDES

You should have seen the crowd’s reaction when one of the TV game show hosts made his grand entrance. He just finished taping his holiday show, looking all glamoured up in his Armani suit. The man had impossibly white teeth and a million dollar hairpiece. Wherever he went, he was followed by a hopelessly devoted circle of fans, ready to lick the floor beneath his size fourteen feet.

Whereas my radio friends looked painfully uncomfortable and very much out of place, most of my TV colleagues seemed to relish the limelight and take it all in. The more attention they got, the better.

Later on in my career I noticed the same phenomenon in a different setting. Whenever I went to a studio to audition for a voice-over part, there were always two types of people in the waiting room. The outgoing, chatty, we’re-here-to-have-a-good-time crowd, and the quiet, reserved, I’m-in-my-own-bubble-please-don’t-disturb-me people.

Both groups seemed to be attracted to the same line of work, so what was going on?

Here’s what I found out.

A TALE OF TWO TALENTS

The lively, talkative bunch almost always had a background in the performing arts, theater, film, dance, music and television. They were trained to entertain and were focused on the outside world. They were the people-people. The more the merrier!

The subdued, quiet folks loved to read and write and research… by themselves. They were focused on their inner world, and it usually took time and effort to get them out of their shells. It wasn’t easy for them to approach people they didn’t know. They would prefer it if someone else would make the first move. If you wouldn’t know any better, you might think they were terribly shy and withdrawn.

Now, let’s get one thing straight. There’s nothing inherently good or bad in being more extroverted or  introverted. In certain contexts, one type of behavior is just a bit more useful than the other.

CONTRAST AND COMPARE

The outgoing extroverts are often better at schmoozing and networking. They look for and respond to cues from others, which is important if you need to take directions. What other people think of them, influences what they think of themselves. It can boost their self-esteem or -in extreme cases- crush it.

The introverts hate to have to work the room and engage in what they see as superficial small talk. They need personal space. They have an internal frame of reference. You don’t have to tell them they did a good job. They already know. They’re not seeking attention or the approval of others. And when it’s time to recharge their batteries, they prefer to be alone or with a small group of people they feel comfortable with.

In this day and age of home studios, there’s no need to be super social anymore. It’s an introvert’s dream and an extrovert’s nightmare. Extroverts need events like voice-over mixers, conferences and other gatherings. Introverts will come too, but you have to drag them to these things. They prefer dial-in seminars and Facebook exchanges. At an event, the extroverts enjoy a wild evening of karaoke, while the introverts will hit the sack early to “rest their voices.”

Yes, I know I’m generalizing, but it’s my blog so I can be as black and white as I want to make a point.

WHO AM I?

To which category do I belong, you may wonder? If you’ve met me in person, what do you think? 

Well, to be totally honest with you, I am a reluctant extrovert.

I very much enjoy the peace and quiet of my own studio. I love having the ability to talk to you by putting my virtual pen to my virtual paper. Paper is patient.

You see, when I was watching that hyper animated TV crowd at the Christmas party of my radio station, many years ago, I suddenly couldn’t see myself becoming one of them.

These people enjoyed talking (especially about themselves), but they had a hard time listening. They openly critiqued other people’s appearance and behavior, without showing any interest in the actual person. They were loud but not necessarily deep. In short, I never made my move to Televisionland and transitioned out of radio into a more therapeutic career.

Years later, I came back to my radio roots to become a professional voice-over. I emigrated to a new country (the U.S.) where nobody knew me. I quickly found out that it isn’t very helpful to stay under the radar, especially in America, where people like to be loud and gregarious (although they don’t see it that way because most of them have never been across the border).

PROACTIVE PAYS OFF

Being a voice talent is not a wait-and-see career for the ever so shy and always so modest. This type of work is for enterprising go-getters who can quickly make connections.

People have to know that you exist. They expect you to take the initiative. If you don’t knock on their door, it will never open. I really had to get used to that concept, and that’s why my rise to “meteoric fame” is a tale of hard knocks. (I hope you caught the sarcasm)

If you were to get to know me a little bit better, though, you would find that the introvert side of me might have gone undercover, but it’s still there. I don’t mind being by myself. I also find it beneficial in this business to have an internal frame of reference with an external check. What does that mean?

It means you have to believe in yourself AND stay open to feedback from others. You have to be able to direct yourself in your home studio, and you have to be flexible enough to let someone else direct your session as well. 

Working in the media, it is good to make the rounds and mingle with the crowds. Yet, as voice-overs, we also have to be fine with spending many hours a day in solitary confinement, speaking into a microphone. We have to learn when it’s time to talk and when it’s time to shut up, listen and focus. 

It took me a while to get that.

Today I can finally say that I’m thoroughly enjoying the best of two worlds. I like the company of colleagues. Being social is not so bad. 

At the same time, I can go back to my home studio, shut the door and no one will even notice what I’m doing. It’s a minor miracle.

I have become visibly invisible!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Last week, UK-colleague Helen Lloyd interviewed me about voice-over marketing. You can read the story by clicking on this link.  

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Why I Spy On You

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Journalism & Media, Promotion, Social Media 17 Comments

Anyone can write a blog.

Some people are very good at it.

Others can’t even come up with an interesting tweet.

Does it matter?

If you’re on a podium and there’s no audience, what’s the point?

I count my lucky stars because I have an audience and it has grown ever since I started blogging. It’s not entirely due to luck though, because I do my very best to make your visit as enjoyable and memorable as possible. 

Before I tell you about the visible and often invisible ways in which I do that, I’d like to share four goals with you that are always at the back of my mind when I blog:

1. write compelling content
2. engage my readers
3. increase my reach and readership
4. become rich and famous

As you can see, one thing leads to the other. Quality content stimulates readers to like, repost, retweet and comment. This increases my reach and grows my readership. And if I play my cards right, the world will fall in love with me and make me a wealthy man.

Yeah. Right.

Seriously, in order to accomplish all these goals there’s one thing I need to do:

I have to stop thinking about myself.

There’s only one person that really matters.

Yes, it’s YOU!

What  I want to write about is not that important. It matters what you want to read. Even though I’m not a psychic, I have a pretty good idea what you are interested in. Just look at the list of Popular Posts in the upper right-hand corner. Not only does it provide some social proof; we can learn something from this list. 

WHAT’S POPULAR 

Based on the headlines, only 4 out of 10 articles have to do with my profession: providing voice-overs with a European sound. I often use a voice actor’s lens as a springboard to write about things that concern all kinds of freelancers. My list of popular posts proves that this is a good way to increase my reach beyond the small voice-over community.

There’s something else I monitor closely on my blog, and that’s the level of engagement. Some posts get more comments, retweets and likes than others. Look at this list:

This definitely confirms a trend because most comments have little to do with voice-over related topics. They are about freelancing, running a business, social media, marketing and money.

Not only do I know what my readers are interested in, I can tell you that most of them live in the United States, followed by Great Britain, Canada and The Netherlands.  What I particularly like is that I have a nice mix of returning readers and people who stop by for the very first time. It’s great to have loyal fans and I love to welcome new friends!

I can also tell you how most people find me. Here are the results from the last few weeks:

And where do most referrals come from?


These stats are very useful, not only because they help me understand my readers better. They tell me how effective my blog promotion is, and where there’s room for improvement.

Looking at the statistics, I also learned that an increasing number of people are reading this on a portable device (mostly iPhones). Based on that, I totally redesigned my website to make it mobile responsive (see: The New Nethervoice). That alone has dramatically influenced my bounce rate.

Bounce rate is usually defined as:

The percentage of visitors who see just one page on your website and the percentage of website visitors who stay on the site for a small amount of time (usually five seconds or less). 

It might look great on paper to have thousands of people come to your website, but if they’re gone in a few seconds, what good does that do? Currently, the bounce rate for nethervoice.com is 1.98%. For mobile users, my bounce rate is even lower: 0.34%. Get this: my old site had an average bounce rate of 40-60 percent!

Looking at the most recent numbers, I can tell you that people spend about 3 minutes and 47 seconds on my site (mobile users: 4:21). That’s pretty good, considering the fact that the average visit to a website lasts less than a minute and often no more than 10-20 seconds!

Where do I find all these factoids? I find them on Google Analytics and with the help of a number of WordPress plugins such as the Site Stats on Jetpack and SlimStat. Keep in mind that we’ve barely scratched the surface when it comes to web traffic analysis. I can drill down on individual web pages and blog posts and get a fairly good idea of what my visitors are up to. I even know what some of them do when they leave…

SHARING THE LOVE

Readers often share my content by copying and pasting it to emails and social media. How do I know? I use a nifty tool called Tynt to monitor what content anonymously leaves this site. Go ahead, copy and paste something from this page and see what happens!

Each time someone pastes content from my site, Tynt automatically adds a url-link back to the source. When that link is clicked, the user is directed to this blog and can see the original article. This increases traffic to my site. 

Tynt is one more way to measure traffic and engagement. Like other analytics tools, Tynt tells me which keywords were used to bring visitors to my site and which content prompted people to take action. Thanks to Tynt I now know that most people use email and Facebook to share my stories.

The nice thing is: with all these tools at my disposal, I have a way to measure results; not just for this blog but for my entire site.

STAY WITH ME 

As you just saw, most visitors spend almost four minutes on this site and something tells me this might have to do with the content. But there are other things I do to try to keep you from leaving. One simple way is to instruct WordPress how to handle outbound links. 

An outbound link is a word, phrase or image that you can click on, that will take you to a new website. As you can see, if a word or a phrase appears in blue on my blog, it’s an outbound link or an internal link.

 Here’s how I created the link above in WordPress:

If I don’t check the box Open a link in new window/tab, the reader will leave my website once the link is clicked, and may never come back. By ticking that box, the outbound link opens in a new window while leaving my page open, and the reader can return to it whenever he or she done. 

You’ve probably also noticed that I often refer to earlier articles in this blog. Whenever I do, I make sure to create an internal link to those stories. Not only is this a service to readers who want to find out more about a certain topic, it tends to increase the time people spend on my site. And by the way, I don’t only do this for my blog. My entire site is filled with internal links.

From an SEO (Search Engine Optimization) standpoint, internal links are invaluable. They become the threads holding the spiderweb together that is nethervoice.com. Search engine robots (sometimes called spiders), use these links to find content for indexing. A web marketing specialist from Japan put it as follows:

If one webpage links to another, it can be thought of as a vote for the linked webpage. Therefore, the more credibility a webpage has that links to another, the better it is for the linked webpage. 

There’s one other thing I like to do to keep you here just a bit longer. At the end of most blog posts, you’ll find a link to the next article. 

Readers have told me that they stumbled upon one of my stories by accident, and then just kept on flipping the virtual pages from link to link. Every click is a YES from a visitor; a mini-endorsement increasing the site’s credibility.

Perceived credibility is one of the factors influencing the page rank of a website. Contributing to that credibility is social behavior. The more people link, like, pin, repost, and retweet a page, the more relevant search engines believe it is.

Don’t assume that your visitors will take action, though. You have to make it easy for them to share content. That’s why you find share and like buttons at the top and bottom of my stories. Secondly, it helps to ask people to take action:

Be sweet. Please retweet!

Those four words have increased the number of retweets by sixty percent!

Now, there’s a reason why I put that request at the end of a blog post, just as I added the phrase:

“If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!

When people are finished reading a story, they’ve had an experience, and hopefully, it’s been a good one. Ideally, I want my readers to say:

“I want more of where that came from!”

or

“My friends need to read this.”

At that point they’re most likely to take action.

One of those actions can be to subscribe to this blog or to leave a comment.

HAVE YOUR SAY

If you’re a frequent visitor, you may have noticed that my blog roll is gone. In its place you’ll find the last five comments posted on this blog. There are a few reasons I made that decision.

Most importantly, very few people ever clicked on the links in the blog roll. That’s another thing Google Analytics told me. Secondly, not everybody on my blog roll was an active blogger and I didn’t feel like checking these blogs for fresh content every week. 

Why link to recent comments instead? Well, I want to encourage and reward reader participation. My most active friends and fans deserve to be featured more prominently. Having a blog just isn’t enough anymore to appear on this page. 

Once you post a comment, you’ll notice something else that’s new. I’m not going to tell you what it is. You’ll have to find out for yourself. 

SOCIAL MEDIA INTEGRATION

The last thing you might have seen is the Find us and like us on Facebook box I added a few weeks ago. You don’t have to leave this site to like me on Facebook, and you can see the faces of other “likers” as well. It will only display those “likers” that are already in your Facebook network. This creates a sense of community, and people are more likely to click “like” if they see the faces of friends. 

What I really hope is that you will click that button because you enjoy spending some time on this blog and you want to connect with me. This blog is published once a week. I update my Facebook page almost every day. It’s another place where we can be among friends and fellow-professionals and share useful information and ideas.

THE REAL SPY

As I have demonstrated, I’ve been keeping a close eye on you. Yes, I spied! But while I was writing this article, it did occur to me that the tables have turned. By sharing some of my hidden statistics with you, you were able to spy on me!

The truth is: I have no secrets. When it comes to blogging, I am an open book. In fact, that book is for sale. It’s called “Boosting Your Business with a Blog” and you can buy the unlimited PDF version right here on this website.

In it, I talk about creating compelling content, I teach you how to make your blog easy to read and I show you how to build an audience.

Please help me reach my fourth goal and buy this book today. It will be an enriching experience for both of us!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

Be sweet. Please retweet.

It looks stunning. It outperforms all known models. It can be assembled by hand in under an hour, yet this vocal booth costs less than other brands. What is it? Click here to find out. 

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The Secret Ingredients In My Social Media Sauce

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Internet, Promotion, Social Media 21 Comments

Last week I talked about the importance of tailoring your proposal or demo to the needs of the client.

This week I’m taking it one step further. I will show you how you can apply the principle of personalization and customization to your social media presence.

In a moment, I’ll share some cool new tools you can use to spread the news about your business more efficiently and effectively. The end result: more fans for your Facebook page. A better search engine ranking. More hits for your website. Increased business.

Interested?

MISTER SOCIAL

If you’ve been following me for a while, you know I spend a lot of online time “socializing.” I blog, I tweet, I pin, I comment and I participate in discussions for at least an hour a day, if not more.

Now, level with me for a moment because I want your honest opinion.

Am I wasting my time on a magnificent distraction or could this be beneficial for my business?

While you think about that, I’ll tell you how I see it.

Social Media are tools. Tools aren’t inherently good or bad. It depends on how they are used, by whom, to what end and what the ultimate return on investment is.

Professionally speaking, I don’t go online to play games, to save souls or to share what I’m making for dinner. Social Media are part of my “undercover” marketing strategy. If you’ve read my recent article on undercover marketing, you know what I mean by that:

Any activity that helps you find clients and helps clients find you

Here’s my golden rule: You want to spend most of your marketing time and money where your market is. In my case, that’s online.

If you’re in the same boat, it’s wise to:

  • have many ways to be found and drive traffic to your website
  • share and promote compelling content and services
  • create opportunities for clients to get to know you and interact with you

WHY JOIN THE MASSES?

At this point you might say: “I already have a website. Why should I join Google+, Pinterest and Twitter? I have enough on my plate.”

First off, counting on your website to bring in business is a very passive approach. You’re asking the world to come to you and the world is lazy and doesn’t know where to find you. If you don’t make any noise, no one will hear you.

Secondly, most websites aren’t very social. They offer static content and very little opportunity for interaction (more about sites in: Why Your Website Stinks). Search engines hate that, and so do your clients and fans.

Places like Facebook and LinkedIn on the other hand, are buzzing with activity and offer amazing opportunities to proactively build a network, strike up a conversation and -eventually- take people to your store. 

Remember: the purpose of this strategy is not to sell anything. You’re just building relationships. Facebook friends might become clients. Clients become fans. And eventually, your fans will do some of the marketing for you.

Here’s what I really like about Social Media: most of these platforms are (still) FREE! All you need to invest is a bit of time, energy and creativity. The returns could be tremendous.

There’s just one caveat. It’s easy to personalize your own website. It’s a bit more challenging to give generic sites such as Twitter and Facebook a personal and professional touch. In order to do that, let’s take one step back.

DESIGN YOUR IMAGE

First you have to create an overall look for your business in general and your website in particular; something that’s instantaneously recognizable. In my case it’s the color scheme of orange and dark gray, as well as the picture of me with the orange tulips. 

Then you consistently use your look across multiple platforms. 

Nethervoice Gravatar

 

One way of doing that is by creating a Gravatar. That’s short for Globally Recognized Avatar. A Gravatar is an image that follows you from site to site. It appears beside your name when you do things like comment on a blog.

Using a Gravatar reinforces your image, it creates a connection with the reader and it increases your credibility.

Content spammers usually don’t use Gravatars, so, having one identifies you as a genuine, trustworthy contributor. Besides, it makes you look much more personable.

Or would you rather have a Mystery Man picture next to your comment?  

So, how do you create a Gravatar? Click on this link and follow the instructions. It’s quick and it’s easy.

TWITTER

Whenever you go online, this image of me and my orange tulips will pop up. Once people make it to my website (the ultimate goal) they get a feeling of familiarity because they’ve seen it before.

Let’s look at my Twitter profile:

There are two other things I did to customize this profile. I added a hyperlink to my 160 character bio. It leads to one of my demos. Now, my over 2200 Twitter followers can hear what I sound like, and all it takes is one click.

Here’s the second part. Normally, the full link to that demo would look like this:

http://soundcloud.com/paul-strikwerda/paul_strikwerda-international

It wouldn’t fit into my bio, but luckily SoundCloud can give you an abbreviated version that looks like this: http://snd.sc/KyX8oJ. You could also use a service like tiny url or bit.ly to shorten your links. Before you do that, there’s something you should know.

Internet users have become increasingly suspicious of these shortlinks because you can’t really tell where they originate from. With so much harmful and useless crap floating around in cyberspace, people are more inclined to click on links they can identify and trust. 

So, how did I create a shortlink to one of my SoundCloud files that incorporates the url of my website and looks like this?

https://www.nethervoice.com/5oy3

I used a WordPress plugin called Pretty Link. Once installed, it will appear on your dashboard and allow you to generate shortlinks for all kinds of online content. This is what the window of the Pretty Link admin area looks like. It’s pretty self-explanatory. 

SOUNDCLOUD & PINTEREST

As you can see, I am visually and virtually connecting some of the content sharing sites people can find me on: Twitter, SoundCloud and Nethervoice. That way, they can cross-pollinate. It’s all about the sum of the parts.

If you’re not terribly familiar with SoundCloud, it’s kind of a YouTube for audio recordings.

All the embedded demos on this site are stored in SoundCloud. As you can see, the audio tracks are depicted as waveforms and listeners can easily download, distribute and comment. 

You can also use SoundCloud to upload demos to your Facebook page by creating a BandPage. You don’t have to have a band to do that.

It gets even better. Recently, SoundCloud introduced a new feature that makes it possible to “pin” your audio to your Pinterest boards.

Pinterest is one of the fastest growing content sharing sites, allowing you to create and manage image collections. Each collection has it own pinboard and here’s a screenshot of a few my boards:

When you click on a particular board, all the images on that board are displayed. Individual images can be “re-pinned,” liked on Facebook, emailed, embedded and shared on Twitter. But here’s the real magic: once you click on a particular photo, it becomes a link and you are taken to the site the photo is taken from. You can promote blog content by pinning it, YouTube videos as well as your SoundCloud demos. 

Why is all of this relevant? Pinterest is popular and is said to drive more traffic to websites than Twitter.

HubSpot recently published “How to use Pinterest for Business” which will tell you everything you need to know about this exploding content sharing service.

So, are you ready to become a social butterfly, or do you still have reservations?

What have you done to spice up your social media profiles and increase your reach? Share your tips below and be sure to add a link to your website.

I have lots more tricks up my sleeve, and next time I’ll take you behind the scenes of this blog!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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My $10,000 mistake

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Freelancing, Money Matters, Promotion 32 Comments

I was in a rush. I wasn’t thinking.

And it almost cost me ten thousand dollars.

The lesson I learned that day has been one of the cornerstones of my success as a voice talent. Before I share that lesson with you, let me ask you this:

Have you heard of the Calimero complex?

It is named after an Italian/Japanese cartoon character named Calimero, and many freelancers seem to suffer from it.

Calimero is the only black chick in a family of yellow chickens, and he still wears half of his eggshell on his head. It is as if he never really made it out of the nest.

Calimero is the archetypical underdog. He often gets in trouble and believes the whole world is out to get him. When the show reaches a dramatic climax, Calimero usually utters the following catch phrase:

Read the rest of this story in my new book. Click on the cover to access the website and get a sneak peek. Use the buttons to buy the book.

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Want more clients? Go undercover!

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Freelancing, Internet, Promotion 24 Comments

“Marketing is a sound. Those who hear the sound you make and resonate with it will follow.”    Bill Sanders, project management and process consultant at Roebling Strauss

Clients don’t grow on trees. We all know that.

We can’t expect them to find us if they don’t know we exist. In order for them to discover our needle in the online haystack, we have to make noise. Lots of noise. But what kind?

Some say the answer lies in Massive Marketing.

The truth is, most voice talents are pretty good at doing someone else’s marketing. That’s what they get paid for. But when it comes to tooting their own horn, a lot of them are as clueless as a hamster in outer space.

If marketing is not your forte, you’re not alone.

Recently, the online magazine VoiceOverXtra polled its readers and asked the following question:

Read the rest of this story in my new book. Click on the cover to access the website and get a sneak peek. Use the buttons to buy the book.

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