If you’re a follower of this blog you’re probably wondering why you keep seeing stories in some strange European language. Frankly, it started as a one-off thing for my Dutch friends and colleagues.
Because I’ve been away from home for twenty years, most people had no idea what had happened to me. I literally disappeared off the map when I left the Netherlands with my entire life packed up in two suitcases and a plastic bag.
Yes, people… I am one of those immigrants who came to your country in search of a better life, ready to steal your jobs and marry your women. You better watch out!
A DUTCH TREAT
Anyway, I wanted to let my fellow-Netherlanders know what I’d been up to since I left my motherland, and that’s why I started writing in Dutch. I had to talk myself into it though, because I wasn’t sure if I still had it in me. Most of my thoughts are in English, I speak English all day long, and ninety percent of what I read and write is in English. I didn’t want to make a fool of myself penning pieces in Denglish.
After my first Dutch article was published, it became clear I had no reason to be worried. Over three hundred people read the story of my exodus and liked it. I didn’t think there were even three hundred voice actors in Holland. Better still, people wanted me to keep on writing, and that’s what I did. So far, there are six chapters and there’s more to come.
Now, here’s the thing. I have no way to ensure that my Dutch stories will only go to my Dutch subscribers. So, if English is your preferred language I hope you will do me a favor. Just ignore the blog posts in Dutch and wait for a new English story on Thursday. If you’re Dutch, you are in luck because you get two articles for the price of one!
With that out of the way I’d like to share some news with you. I am in the process of realigning my business with new and exciting plans that are in part based on what I am physically and mentally able to accomplish. You probably remember that the stroke I had in March of last year has forced me to seriously slow down and rethink my priorities.
My mind would love to continue as if nothing has happened, but my body disagrees. A permanent tremor in one of my vocal folds limits the time I am able to record voice-overs. My voice tires much faster, and no amount of vocal exercises has changed that. Mind you: this does not mean I can’t do any recordings.
As I speak, I am learning to do more with less. Fortunately, my clients and my agents completely understand, so they’re not sending me 600-page novels, or auditions for video games that require dying a thousand agonizing deaths.
KEEPING MY PRESENCE
Just because my vocal folds are taking a bit of a back seat doesn’t mean I have lost my voice completely. In Holland we say: “Onkruid vergaat niet,” meaning “Weeds don’t die.” I can assure you that I will continue to have a voice in our community.
At VO Atlanta (March 26 – 29, 2020), I’ll be leading a 3-hour workshop called Boosting Your Business with a Blog, and I’ll do a presentation on The Incredible Power of Language.
I am working on a second book, and I will continue to write this blog with a double dose of truthiness and snarcasm. If things go according to plan, 50% of my business is going to be devoted to content creation, 20% to speaking, and 30% to helping others succeed.
Here’s an example of that last category. Some of my Dutch colleagues want to spread their professional wings, and try their luck abroad. These folks need a tour guide who’s been there and done that.
In the coming months I’ll be coaching some of Holland’s top-tier talent and taking them to VO Atlanta. I’d like you to get to know them, and that’s why I’ll be interviewing each one of them for this blog. Stay tuned, these folks will knock your socks off!
All of the above means that I have to have a website that reflects this shift in focus. That’s why I am working with the splendid team at voiceactorwebsites on a complete overhaul of the Nethervoice site. According to Joe Davis who heads voiceactorwebsites, Nethervoice.com is already the number one individual voice-over site on the interweb, and I am going to strengthen that position even more.
Expect a site that truly showcases my writings, featuring a clean, sophisticated design, and a new, simpler way to subscribe. Of course it is going to load super fast and it’s 100% mobile-friendly. Because I’m pretty picky, all of this is going to take a while to accomplish, but it will be worth waiting for!
Thanks for your continued support and patience during this time of transition.
Heads up: this is going to be one of my more personal blogs, so if that’s not your cup of tea today, you might want to read one of the older stories in the archive.
If, however, you’re one of the many people who has checked in with me about my health, I hope the following will light a warm flame of curiosity and a spark of inspiration.
Yesterday, as I was preparing for my VOBS interview, I sat down at the kitchen table and asked myself the following question:
It’s been a year and four months since I had my stroke. What have I learned?
Well, for starters, my physical and psychlogical health has much improved, but I have not made a full recovery. That would be unrealistic because the brain cells that are lost won’t magically grow back. On a positive note, my brain is constantly making new neurlogical connections to allow other brain cells to take over.
On a good day, the people who meet me and who don’t know I’ve had a stroke, don’t notice anything. But there’s a lot going on under the hood that they aren’t aware of. I can’t attribute every symptom to the stroke, but I am definitely not the person I used to be. What does that mean in practical terms?
THE NEW (AND NOT SO IMPROVED) ME
First off, keep in mind that every stroke is different, and the consequences depend on what part of the brain has been affected, how much has been affected, and for how long. Click here for the warning signs. I was incredibly lucky, and yet, here’s what I’m dealing with on a daily basis:
– I often feel disassociated from reality, as if I’m living in a dream. I’m more of an observer than a participant – I can’t access parts of my past because of memory loss – I have difficulty retaining information and I need frequent reminders – My eyesight has worsened – My speech is affected. I’ve had months and months of speech therapy to improve my enunciation and expression, but when I’m really tired I start slurring my words – I have word finding issues and facial blindness – It’s hard for me to stay focused; it’s easy to get distracted – Sensory overload is still a problem. My brain tends to overheat quickly when bombarded with many stimuly at once – I’ve become super sensitive to sound (misophonia). Click here to read about it – In the first months after my stroke, I found it hard to access my emotions. Now the opposite is true. I’m a big bowl of mush (as you will see on my interview with George and Dan) – My voice tires quickly and gets hoarse – I’ve got a limited amount of energy. I can function at full speed for about three hours. Then I’m pretty much done
Here’s what has improved since my stroke:
– I’ve learned to be more patient, and to accept help without feeling guilty – I’m listening to my body. Most of the time, my body is telling me to slow down and I pay attention. This way I take away unhealthy stress – I’m living more in the now. I can get lost in the moment and totally enjoy it – I’ve become more emotional, and I’m not afraid to show it – I am more appreciative of what I have, who I am, and of the people around me – I’ve stopped chasing superficial success and approval. I’m no longer trying to prove to the world that I matter – I’m trying to do more with less. I am creating opportunities to attract work. Instead of jumping at every audition, I only go for what jumps out at me
LEARNING ABOUT LIFE
Beyond that, there are other lessons I have learned. Before I share them with you, please know that these are my personal beliefs. It is not my intention to convince you of anything. It’s your job to find your own truths in this life, preferably without coming close to dying. I just want to give you some food for thought. Let’s begin with dish number one:
Stop looking for the Why.
When disaster strikes, it is so tempting to ask: “Why me, why this, why now? What did I do to deserve this?”
It’s tempting, but it’s not helpful.
Here’s the thing. Asking “why” is really looking for a logical, rational explanation. It’s looking for a reason. Quite often, the bad things that are happening to us are unreasonable. They make no sense. They defy logic.
Why would a child get cancer? Why would an innocent person get hit by a drunk driver? Why do bad things happen to good people? Is there a punishing God who wants his flock to suffer? If God is love, why is God a sadist?
People looking for the “why” are often looking for something or someone to blame. Or they blame themselves with the torturing question “If only…”
They think that by turning the clock back, or by identifying that blameworthy someone or something will help them accept and heal from the evil that’s ruining their lives. I don’t believe it does because there is no “why” big enough to explain needless, endless suffering, and so many things don’t happen for a reason. Like my stroke, they simply happen. End of story.
Now let’s focus on beginning a new one.
If you want to move on and get better, you must leave the place of guilt, bitterness, anger, and hurt. You have to let go of the grudge and the resentment and be okay that some questions will remain unanswered.
You can’t change what happened. I can’t un-have my stroke, but I can draw on my experience and use it as an opportunity to rediscover myself and be there for others. Here’s something else I feel strongly about:
A stroke is something I had. It’s not who I am.
I hate it when I hear someone who hasn’t had a drink for thirty years say: “I am an alcoholic.” Or someone who’s been cancer-free for years say: “I am a cancer survivor.” They identify themselves with something they no longer are or have. They’re tied with chains to the past.
I’ve been a vegetarian since I was seventeen. I don’t tell the world, “I am a meat eater.” That’s absurd.
You see, whatever you focus on regularly tends to e x p a n d. It magnifies, and we are more likely to attract it. This is true for things that are positive and not so positive. So, be careful what you focus on.
Are you focusing more on who you were, or on who you are and aspire to be?
Listen, we are so much more than our past behavior. That’s just a small part of our identity. We’ve been there. We’ve done that. It’s OVER. That’s why I don’t see myself as a stroke victim or stroke survivor. I refuse to be defined by that small slice of my existence.
I’d rather see myself as a lover of life; as an envelope-pushing pot-stirring person who just happens to talk for a living.
Now, I’ve always had a problem with generalizations. ALWAYS. The irony is that every belief we embrace is a generalization. Here’s another one:
Don’t think in absolutes. Discover the exceptions to the rules. YOU can be exceptional!
Understand that what people believe to be true only reflects their level of knowledge (or ignorance) and (in)experience, plus what science has been able to prove. That knowledge gets outdated very fast.
Not so long ago a guy in the Netherlands broke his backbone and was told he’d never walk again. He believed his doctors. Then a medical team invented special 3-D implants, put them in his spinal column, and guess what? He’s walking!
People are pushing the boundaries of what’s possible as we speak, and you can be one of those people. Be a rule breaker. Go against the grain. Prove the establishment wrong. You don’t move forward by playing it safe.
As I’m sure the late Steve Jobs would acknowledge, the people who end up changing the world are often the crazy, unreasonable ones. It helps if you…
Don’t believe everything the experts tell you. It makes you lazy and dependent.
My cardiologist is a fine doctor with many years of experience. He knows a lot about a little. He told me I wasn’t a stroke risk. Boy, did I prove him wrong!
My neurologist just said to me I wouldn’t make any more progress. I’d have to learn to live with my limitations, and things will only go downhill from here. I know he means well and doesn’t want to get my hopes up, but I have respectfully decided to ignore him. I’m not falling for the placebo effect of a person in authority imposing his limited model of the world on me.
I believe in the power of the body and the mind to continue to heal, and I will do everything I can to make that happen. I’ve changed my diet, my lifestyle, and my thinking. Progress WILL continue!
Speaking of not relying on authorities… Ever since VO Atlanta I’ve had terrible swelling in my feet, legs, arms and hands. The swelling started to itch and soon I was covered in self-inflicted scratch marks. Many so-called specialists looked into it but couldn’t find a cause or a cure. They said I had to put some cream on my limbs and learn to live with it.
Did I give up? Of course not!
A good friend of ours is an acupuncturist, and she started a series of treatments. Within weeks the swelling went down, and a month later it was gone. Why her treatment works is still a mystery, but I don’t care about the why. All I care about is the result.
Please understand that I’m not against seeking expert advice. But please, use your own brain for a change. Do your homework. Just becuse someone’s wearing a white coat and a stethoscope doesn’t mean you should believe everything that’s being said.
Deep breath… In…. and out….
No one knows better who you are than the person staring back at you in the mirror. That person is powerful, loving, intelligent, kind, and posesses intuitive wisdom. Trust that wisdom. One day, it might save your life or the life of someone else.
THE GIFT AND THE PURPOSE
Looking back at the past sixteen months, I’ve concluded that I was given the gift of life for a second time in my existence. This gift comes with tremendous joy and great responsibility. I was given an opportunity to start over and redefine my purpose for being here.
In all humility I feel that part of my purpose could be to inspire those around me through my writing and my actions. I want to continue to touch lives with my words and by living my truth.
I secretly hope you will do the same.
It’s the only way to make this place a better world for all of us.
In the words of Buddha:
“Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.”
So, be grateful, be happy, and keep on lighting candles!
For many voice-overs, the 2019 edition of VO Atlanta was unforgettable. The cameraderie, the learning opportunities, the emotions, it was all a bit overwhelming.
But, life goes on, and memories start to fade. There are new gatherings to go to, new projects to voice, and new memories to be made.
Thinking back to my time at VO Atlanta 2019, it was the year I had to stay under the radar. Still recovering from a stroke, I needed to keep away from the crowds and preserve energy for my presentations.
Still, I managed to take a few snapshots here and there, and I filed those photos away until I found them again the other day.
Watching the slideshow you’re about to see brought back many precious moments. Whether you were at VO Atlanta, or you’re thinking of going in 2020, I’m sure you’ll recognize some familiar faces. A big thank you to Jon Ciano for taking the pictures of my Stinky Sock Breakout Session.
Be sure to watch the photos on full-screen in HD.
VO Atlanta 2020 will be held from March 26-29. The theme is “Envision.” If you can’t wait that long, sign up for the Summer Intensive, a training weekend with Kay Bess, Joe Cipriano, and Cliff Zellman. Dates: August 16 – 17.
“Gravy for the Brain, what kind of name is that?” asked my friend with a puzzled look on his face. We were both at the VO Atlanta conference, and I wasn’t paying any attention to him.
I was staring at an email from a new client I had been grooming for weeks. He finally reached out to me with a project, just as I was ready for four days of professional schmoozing. I love my job, but I didn’t want to go back to work. Not in Atlanta.
Normally I’d be up for a challenge because I always saw myself as the invincible superman. I could do it all: socialize into the wee hours of the night, get up first thing in the morning for some fitness training, attend a few workshops and presentations, and do it all over again after lunch. Then I would step into a studio and knock out a few scripts. No biggie.
But this time was different. My cardiologist had advised against going to Atlanta because I just started a new medication and he wanted to monitor me closely. However, I knew I had to be at this gathering. It was the goal I had set myself when I began my recovery about a year ago. I’d committed to leading a workshop and a Breakout session. This was going to be my moment to return to the VO community and be there for them after they had been there for me when I had my stroke.
The only way I could possibly handle the conference was by vigorously pacing myself. This included not doing this rush job for a new client. I had to heed the advice I give my students: “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you must.” That decision cost me seven hundred dollars, but it gave me the space and the energy I needed to take care of myself. After all, you can’t give what you don’t have.
So, I turned to my friend to address his question.
TOO MUCH INFO
“You’re right: it is a bit of an odd name, Gravy for the Brain. It doesn’t sound like a resource for voice talent, does it? Someone once told me the expression comes from the movie Conspiracy Theory but that doesn’t explain anything.
“I just looked it up in the Urban Dictionary,” said my friend pointing at his mobile. “It’s defined as the way your head feels after a long night of drinking and/or doing drugs.” “I’ve got to tell you,” I said, “last year when I came back from VO Atlanta, it felt like I had gravy brain. Not because I had had too much to drink, but because I was in information overload. It took a while for me to process the experience. And here we are again, ready for more.”
Keynote speaker Kay Bess
We walked to the Grand Salon for the conference opening and keynote speech by Kay Bess. “We distinguish ourselves, by being ourselves,” she said. Profound words that moved me deeply. I feel that being ourselves is one of the greatest gifts we can give this world. There’s only one problem. It does require that we have a sense of who we are, authentically speaking. I don’t know about you, but I’m still figuring that one out.
WHO AM I?
I sometimes wish we would come with an instruction manual we could give to friends, family, and colleagues. “Look, this is who I am. This is what floats my boat. Here’s how I rock and roll.” Instead, we’ve been given a lifetime to work things out, and if you believe in reincarnation, it’s several lifetimes.
I see becoming who we are meant to be as one of the great endeavors of our time on earth. It’s challenging because all of us play many roles in life. For instance, I am Paul the father, the husband, the patient, the son, and brother. I’m also the voice actor, the blogger, and punster. In different contexts I feel like a different person and act accordingly, so will the real authentic Paul please stand up?
On the subject of authenticity, here’s some free advice. If you’ve been to VO Atlanta, please don’t use anything you have learned in all the sessions you attended. Just don’t. Every other talent is already going to do that. If you wish to be authentic, do something out of the ordinary that no one else would possibly try.
Surprise the world. Be an original. Create. Don’t imitate. The field of people being and doing more of the same is growing by the day. That’s not your field. People who play it safe by taking the beaten path are blending in with the masses. You want to stand out, don’t you? As far as I could tell I was still the only person wearing clogs in Atlanta. Even though I didn’t socialize as much this year to conserve my energy, I think most people knew I was there. Total cost $19.99.
WHAT ELSE DID I NOTICE?
A few more random observations, some positive, others not so much:
– When you stick your head into a workshop for five minutes and decide it’s not for you, please don’t mock your fellow-presenter in public. It’s unfair and unkind to judge someone based on a snippet of info taken out of context.
– On the other hand, calling the CEO of a competing and highly unethical Pay to Play “That Idiot from the North” is allowed. The man is fair game.
– If you’re a prominent member of a worldwide organization of voice talent that’s dedicated to ethical conduct and fair rates, why would you have a profile on Fiverr and be proud of it?
– Doing voice-overs is sexy! Next year we should have a few after-hour X-rated sessionsfor narrators of erotica. Pseudonyms required.
– If you’re looking for the guy who used a sharpie to draw a mustache on J. Michael Collins in one of the elevators, look no further.
– I wish Voice123 CEO and spin doctor Rolf Veldman would have taken part in the karaoke. I had the perfect song for him: “Sorry seems to be the hardest word.”
TEARS AND MORE TEARS
VO Atlanta 2019 was an emotional experience for me. If you were there, you know that my eyeballs were leaking regularly. A big thanks to all of you who told me how relieved you were that I’m not dead. I must say I’m with you on that one. Thank you to all of my Guardian Angels who kept an eye on me throughout the conference. You know who you are, and so does my eternally grateful wife.
A special thanks to those who were at my workshop. One of you signed up at the very last minute after talking to me in the corridor. How sweet is that? One last thank you to those who came to play with my Stinky Sock and gave me a standing ovation. It’s gone straight to my head, and now I am impossible to live with. What else is new?
Well, did I tell you I got to stay in Atlanta for one more day? Here’s what happened. My flight to Lehigh Valley International Airport was overbooked, and Delta offered those willing to give up their seat a hotel room and an $800 gift certificate. So, days ago I had lost $700 because I didn’t do the voice-over job I told you about. I ended up having eight hundred bucks to spend at Amazon. Life is fair after all!
As you can tell, the conference is over, but I am not over the conference. It’s been my second best experience of the past twelve months. What’s the very best experience, you ask? For that we have to go back to the night of my stroke. I was flown to the hospital in a helicopter, and a doctor was looking at a CAT-scan of the inside of my skull.
Things were serious. If the stroke had wiped out most of my brain, I would probably not survive. I can remember briefly regaining consciousness on the stretcher. I could hear my wife ask the surgeon about my chances. I’ll never forget what the doctor said:
“I think your husband isn’t going to die. Luckily, most of his grey matter is intact. In other words:
As general registration for VO Atlanta (March 26 – 29 2020) is now open, something predictable is happening. The people who are on the fence about going, start making the rounds on social media asking:
“Is it worth it?”
You’ll never hear those who have participated in previous years ask this question. For them, it’s a non-issue because they know from experience that they will receive much more than they have invested. That’s why they’re coming back again and again and again.
The question “Is it worth it,” is asked a lot on social media in different ways. “Is joining Pay to Play X worth the money?” “Should I buy microphone Y?” “Does Mr. Z produce good demos?” I’m always surprised by the number of people ready to answer these queries without knowing anything about the person who is asking, and knowing very little about the subject matter. Online, the deaf often lead the blind.
A MATTER OF VALUE
When someone asks me “Is it worth it” I want to know at least two things before I decide to chime in:
What do you mean by “it,”
How do you determine “worth?”
If I don’t get clarification on those two things, I’ll run the risk of answering the question from my experience and with my values in mind, which are bound to be different from the person asking the question. Bear in mind:
People don’t do things for my reasons or your reasons.
They do things for their reasons.
Once you find out what their reasons are, you can make a case based on what motivates them. Consequently, they’re more likely to resonate with what you have to say. Anyone working in sales should know this.
Going back to the questions behind the question “Is it worth it?” what does the first “it” actually mean? Obviously, “It” refers to VO Atlanta. It is a linguistic attempt to fit the entire conference experience into a two-letter word. You don’t have to be a brain surgeon to see that that’s impossible. A conference like VO Atlanta consists of multiple days loaded with content and social interaction. It’s pointless and unfair to boil that down to one meaningless word.
Besides, everyone experiences the conference differently. It’s not a spectator sport. As in real life, what you get out of it is greatly determined by what you put into it. If you don’t put yourself out there professionally and personally, you’ll have a very different conference than when you do. In other words: YOU determine the return on investment.
Here’s my prediction. If your mindset is “I’ll wait and see. You come to me,” then you’re not going to get as much out of the conference compared to an actively involved participant. Some of the most valuable and memorable moments at VO Atlanta (and I’m talking about “worth” now) may come from unplanned, spontaneous meetings in the corridors of the hotel, or at the lunch table.
They may come when you gather all your courage to walk up to one of your VO idols and start a conversation. Before you know it, you end up sharing a meal as you informally talk about the biz. That’s what makes VO Atlanta so unique.
2019 keynote speaker Kay Bess
As a former journalist, I had to report on lots of conferences. From that, I learned two things. One: most of these gatherings are a snooze fest. Two: the speakers are unapproachable and leave as soon as they’ve collected their checks. Everyone who’s ever been to VO Atlanta will tell you that this event is the complete opposite. It is engrossing and entertaining, and all presenters are accessible during the entire conference.
There are no industry secrets and no oversized egos. Just people who want you to succeed.
What else would make VO Atlanta worthwhile? I won’t speak for you, but I’ll gladly share my thoughts and feelings.
IN IT TOGETHER
What many are looking for, is a sense of connection. We all do our work in isolation, in a small box, talking to imaginary people. We know that there are lots of other silly people who do the same thing, but they’re just a profile picture on Facebook or Instagram. Meeting these people in real life means truly connecting with an international voice-over family you never knew you always had. There’s an instant rapport with folks who really get you because they do what you do, and love it just as much.
As the grand hotel ballroom fills up with hundreds of talkative colleagues, you look at the gathering crowd, and it suddenly dawns upon you:
I am not alone! This is my community! These are my people!
Here’s what happens: competitors become colleagues, and colleagues become friends. Friends become a support system you can count on in good times, and when times are not so good.
“That’s all nice, warm and fuzzy, but will it get me any work?” you ask. “My clients aren’t going to be at VO Atlanta.”
I can only speak for myself, but I get a lot of work through referrals from colleagues who know that I am the go-to person for Dutch and neutral English jobs. People don’t refer people they don’t know, so it’s important to make connections. A conference is an ideal setting to do just that.
LEARNING FROM FEEDBACK
You also get a chance to impress top coaches and casting directors with your audition. Normally, you’d probably have a hard time getting in the door with these folks because they have no time and they don’t know you. At VO Atlanta, meeting them is part of your ticket. Not only will they listen to you, but they’ll also give you feedback on your read, and if they like you, they might sign you.
Because the voice-over industry is not regulated, there is no requirement for continued education. Come to think of it, there’s no requirement for any education! As the number of professional VO’s increases each year, those who are best prepared, have a greater chance of actually making a living. The many panels, workshops, presentations, and X-sessions at VO Atlanta will give you a necessary edge in a crowded field. Rather than reinventing the wheel making beginner’s mistakes, you’ll save time and money by learning from the pros who made the same mistakes when they were starting out.
Do you need more reasons to come to Atlanta?
THE SECRET INGREDIENT
There’s one thing you won’t find in any of the promotional materials, online or otherwise, simply because it cannot be captured. It has to be experienced. I am talking about the energy at the conference. At times it’s electric and contagious.
I may be biased, but I think that voice-over people are among the least pretentious, kindest, and most giving people on the planet. In Atlanta, the sense that we’re all here to help and support one another is overwhelming. Together we’ll continue the fight for fair rates, we’ll call out unethical and greedy companies, and together we’ll strive to continuously raise the professional bar. Plus, we don’t take ourselves too seriously, and we like to laugh a lot!
To someone who has never been to this conference the following may sound overly dramatic, but at VO Atlanta I got a glimpse of what the world can be when people of all backgrounds, faiths, persuasions, languages, and traditions come together and cheer each other on. It is powerful in the most positive way, and this world needs more of it. When leaving last year’s conference, I couldn’t stop smiling!
To me, that positive energy was one of the greatest takeaways from the conference, and one of the many reasons why I will be coming back as a presenter and a participant.
WHY YOU SHOULD GO
Let’s face it. You’re working hard on building a VO career and you deserve a break. A BIG break, even. Do yourself a favor and get out of that musty studio of yours. Go south, see some daylight, and meet some real people. You may not read from the same script, but you’re already on the same page.
the author presents
Take part in the group challenge and record a commercial for a charity. You might even win some gear! Dress up under the disco ball, and dance like no one is watching. Laugh a lot and cry a little when a deserving colleague receives the Unicorn Award. You’ll come home with a new vision, feeling recharged and refreshed.
And remember to look for the guy in the yellow clogs!
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know I’m rather ambivalent about artistic contests promising people a chance at winning some shiny object to brag about, and charging them for it. Could this be any different? Besides, I thought there already was a British award for voice-overs.
For the past twenty years, the U.K. has had the VOX Awards, celebrating “the best creative audio talent in the media and broadcast industries across 10 categories.” Circa 2013, the organization behind these awards was VOX National Events. Last November, VNE was acquired by Bubble Communications, a global PR, marketing, and events agency.
MORE OF THE SAME?
So, how do the One Voice Awards (OVA’s) try to set themselves apart from VOX, and other VO award shows, such as the Voice Arts™ Awards? First of all, the OVA’s are the culmination of the One Voice Conference in London that brings together VO artists industry-wide for four days of workshops, talks, networking, and lots of practice.
Inspired by the setup of voice conferences in the U.S., creators Hugh Edwards and Peter Dickson have said they want to set a new standard for what a U.K. voice acting event should be.
Secondly, these awards are not open to any employees or relatives of the One Voice Conference team, or Gravy For The Brain Ltd. None of them can be nominated, nor win one of their own awards.
The OVA’s team writes:
“The One Voice Awards have integrity. Our doors are not open for corruption as the awards are independently judged by an extensive panel of industry leaders, anonymously.
The One Voice Awards doesn’t take advantage of nor monetise voice artists, therefore, the awards actually mean something. They’re free to enter. We do not believe in triple-charging you (submission fee, attendance fee & award fee) for winning an award that you deserved to win.
We are celebrating excellence wherever it lies across our incredible community. The One Voice Awards isn’t just about giving yet another award to big names, or those who can afford to put themselves in the running to win industry awards.”
BUILDING A BETTER MODEL
Reading these words, I felt gratified, because it seems Edwards and Dickson are addressing some of the very things I have pointed out regarding the Voice Arts™ Awards. When I asked Edwards about it, he had this to say:
“Not only do I subscribe to your blog, but also to your point of view. I think that they are the same viewpoints because we both believe in fairness to people. I also realise that we have an uphill battle to climb with perceptions of awards in general though. Some awards organisations manage it, some do not. My opinion of the whole thing is that integrity is absolutely key. I think that it’s very difficult to dissociate the monetisation and profiteering that happens with other awards that go on, with the benefits that awards can bring to people.”
Over fifteen hundred hopefuls entered the One Voice Awards, and a panel of judges narrowed this down to ninety-six finalists across thirty-one categories. Some VO’s were shortlisted in more than one category.
Hugh Edwards: “There is a reason why in some cases there are only three shortlisted nominations and in some seven in this year’s OVA’s: There were only three in that category that came up to a certain standard (and we are not profiteering to just let people buy table spaces to make up numbers), and in the other case of seven, some were tied in their excellence and there was nothing between them – and in this case we are not going to take away that achievement from someone by arbitrarily selecting one out of three to be removed from the list because it’s important for those voice artists to be recognised for their achievement.”
CHEAPENING THE INDUSTRY?
Some people in the VO business are afraid that because anyone can submit audio samples, and anyone can come to your conference, this opens the floodgates to amateurs who will cheapen the industry. What do you think?
Hugh Edwards: “I completely understand those concerns, and I’ll address them both individually. Firstly to the point of anyone being able to submit themselves to the awards, and even before that, the idea of self-submission which has been raised to me before too. I think many people think that the larger awards bodies, such as BAFTA, the Oscars, the Emmy’s and so on, look to the industry and choose the films/projects that should be submitted themselves, but this is not the case. Even with those huge awards, it’s the production companies who produced the films who submit their films for consideration to the awards, exactly in the same way that the One Voice Awards do – there is no shame in this, and clearly, we do not have some kind of ‘magic eye’ that can see across the talent of anyone who voices in the UK!
Then, with regards who can submit audio clips, it’s quite clear that having the awards open to everyone is the only fair way to do this – and if this were not the case, who would police who is a ‘non-amateur’ voiceover artist? Who would determine the requirements set to determine who is ‘professional’? BAFTA, for example, does not restrict anyone who creates a game from that game being submitted for consideration in the game awards, before proving that they have already developed 5 successful titles – no, the only criteria is that the work is excellent, and that’s the only way it can fairly be run.
If you take that one step further, with over fifteen hundred submissions, yes we did receive some work that was not up to current professional standards expected in the industry today, but this work quickly fell to the bottom of the pile, and the cream of the crop rose to the top, as you would expect it should.
So, the only negative consequence to opening the submission doors to everyone, is that it means more work for us to listen and judge everything, but it means only positives for the voice community, as the final shortlisted nominations are genuinely the best of the best, and far from being ‘amateur’. Remember: we believe in being fair to everyone involved, and no one should be restricted from entering.”
THE EVALUATION PROCESS
There’s no information online about selection criteria or judges, so I asked Edwards about the judging process.
Edwards: “To have belief in the validity of the judging process, you need to be able to see inside that process. We have started the dissemination of this to the public and will be unveiling it fully at the awards. However, we have built our system from the ground up (actually based on how I cast voice talent, interestingly!) and it has the following criteria:
– All submissions are listened to; – All submissions are anonymised (so that judges are not swayed by ‘friendship’ voting); – The identity of the judges is secret (to protect any ‘corruption’ attempts); – None of the judges are aware of who any of the other judges are (to protect ‘collusion’ voting); – None of the judges can see any of the other judges scores (to prevent any ‘historical’ voting).
The idea is to protect the integrity of the awards so that it is uncorruptable.”
CONFLICT OF INTEREST
What has been done to prevent potential conflict of interest?
Edwards: “Our system is a software-based one, and we can see exactly who has voted for what, and when. There is one judge who is a voice artist, who entered into, and was shortlisted for one category, and through mutual agreement she abstained from voting in that category, and we have proof of that. All other judges were entirely independent.”
When judging artistic contests, there are objective and subjective criteria. Sound quality for instance can be objectively established, but script interpretation can be a matter of individual taste. How do the OVA’s deal with subjective judging?
Edwards: “The way to fix this (as we have) is to provide a top-level spread of senior judges from across a broad range of industry, as well as including some senior level voice artists – the hirers and the do’ers. Our judges are experts in their field, made up of: five senior-level Voice Artists, a senior-level Voice Director, a senior ADR Director/Mixer for film and TV, the CEO of a Voiceover Agency, a Head of a Network Radio company, two Heads of Creative from advertising agencies, two senior Studio Engineers and two Heads of Creative from television companies.”
A PRIZE FOR BLOOPERS?
Some of the OVA’s categories are pretty straightforward: male and female voice-over artist of the year, best character performance in animation, best audio books performance in fiction and non-fiction. There’s also an award for best demo reel performance, and for best outtake of the year. I think that awarding a prize to the best demo reel is like having an award for the best headshot, or demo tape of an aspiring rock band. And do the best bloopers really deserve a prize?
Hugh Edwards: “The demo reel category is actually as much for the demo creators as it is the voice artists. They deserve that recognition as well. There are some great demo producers out there, but there are also so many sharks doing shit work in the demo industry that we wanted to show excellence in this area. I think that category is valid to be honest – it’s an area of the industry that is widely seen, widely charged-for and widely used so it shouldn’t be restricted. The bloopers one you may have a point on, but it is there to provide comic relief throughout the awards ceremony and lighten the proceedings to help make it an enjoyable experience. I will re-evaluate it once this year’s OVA’s are done.”
THE CYNICS AND THE SKEPTICS
I’ve been in touch with a number of UK colleagues, and I got the impression that not every talent is going crazy over these awards. Some have suggested that you’re taking advantage of newbies. Some of the more experienced voice actors don’t want to come to the conference because they fear they’ll be perceived as amateurs.
Edwards: “I’m pretty shocked by this suggestion, as it is in our company ethos to do the exact opposite. I can only presume that whoever asked this has not actually seen inside (I’m presuming they mean) Gravy For The Brain (GFTB). Look at other training companies in the UK and the USA and you will see average prices for day-training courses between £200-£300 – that’s for one topic, one subject, one coach. Multiply that up by the number of courses you would need to get up to a professional level (e.g., a beginners course, an advanced course, some professional mentoring sessions, for example then, an audiobook course, a course on how to setup and run a studio and edit, a course on voicing commercials, a course on getting your business, marketing and branding right etc), and you’re well into the thousands of pounds.
At GFTB we charge £39 a month (often discounted to £29) for literally everything you will ever need, with no signup fee, no cancellation fee, and no minimum term. So if you’re a ‘newbie’ and you want to be with GFTB for 3 months, at which point you could have taken 16 courses, watched 35 hour-long webinars, received the 12 live mentoring sessions we would have run in that time, used our CRM, had your home studio checked out, and much more….that would have cost you £117 – which is less than half the price of most single-day-long courses out there.
I would go as far as to say we are one of the only voiceover training institutions in the world that is not taking advantage of the new talent in the industry.”
Thanks for that mini-commercial. Now, what about the second point?
Edwards: “With regards to the questioner’s concern that “experienced talent may not want to come to the One Voice Conference because of a fear they will be perceived as amateurs“, we should take a look at the biggest voiceover conference in the world: VO Atlanta. I was at the (excellent) conference this year and last year, and was in the room when the organiser asked the delegates to hold up their hands if they were a beginner; it was about a quarter of the room in each case. I’ve seen our attendee list for One Voice (where we’re just under 2/3rds of the tickets sold, with 5 weeks to go), and based on the attendees I know personally, I would estimate that this ratio is about the same. About a quarter of the attendees are beginners, and the rest are not.
One of the things I love so much about the US conferences, big or small, is that there is a feeling that everyone in the voiceover community is in the community together. Just look at WoVO(World Voices Organization) in the States: What they are not doing is complaining about all the ‘newbies flooding the industry’, instead, they are using their experience and knowledge about the industry to help the industry as a whole, including the beginners.
What’s frustrating about this comment is that in a few small pockets of the UK community, there is a feeling from some of the more senior artists of negativity against the newcomers to the industry. I find it frustrating because they were newcomers too once, and someone helped and trained them at some point. They have had their careers, and they are probably still doing well from it. I’m not sure if it’s fear of change on their behalf, a fear that the industry is being too far diluted, a fear that their incomes will be taken from them. But change to the industry has already happened, and will always happen. It’s going to change further, and surely the best way to deal with this is to embrace that change and move with it.
The newcomers to the industry are the voices of tomorrow’s industry, and we all co-exist together. We will always support the newcomers as much as we support the intermediates and the advanced VO professionals, but you most definitely should not be perceived as being an amateur for attending a voice conference that celebrates everything about excellence in the industry.
I mean, we have the woman who voices the Oscars and the Superbowl there for goodness sakes – the two biggest VO gigs in the world – does that sound like amateur hour to anyone!!!?? It certainly doesn’t to me!”
THE VALUE OF THE PRIZE
And finally, is winning a One Voice Award really a credit worth having?
Edwards: “Let’s take the Oscars as an example. Obviously, the winner of Best Picture at the Oscars has huge benefits to the sales and marketing of that particular film, and also to the studio as a whole, and it also benefits the other people who have worked on that picture. Importantly though, being shortlisted for the nominations is also incredibly important to those productions/studios/staff, and you will often see them use the fact that they are nominated (but didn’t win) in their marketing and PR. The same is true for voice artists.
Yes, the winners of the awards will be able to put that on their marketing and PR, but the nominees can as well. It’s not just about people liking shiny things, it’s a line drawn in the sand to say that this voice artist stands out above their peers for excellence in their category, and that reflects then throughout their career.
In the end it’s all about integrity. Once the industry becomes aware of how we are doing things to protect the integrity and why we are doing it, I suspect that its value will grow and grow. Our plans for the OVA’s and actually the entire conference extend beyond three years even as of now, so we are committed to this for the long term.”
The One Voice Conference is held between 26 and 29 April, and the Awards gala is on the 28th, hosted by Peter Dickson (click here for a full schedule). Joe Cipriano is the keynote speaker. Randy Thomas, J. Michael Collins, Peter Bishop, Marc Graue, Graeme Spicer, Jon Briggs, Trish Bertram, Anne Ganguzza, Armin Hierstetter, and Brian Bowles are among the presenters.
Sorry for the clickbait headline, but I couldn’t resist. My clogs sometimes take me places I have no business going.
Before I get into anything else, imagine this…
You just came back from a spectacular four-course dinner at an amazing restaurant.
The atmosphere was incredible. The waitstaff treated you like family. The cuisine was exquisite. You even took pictures to show the rest of the world what they’d missed.
Days after your experience you can still taste the food, and you can’t stop telling family, friends, and colleagues about it.
And guess what?
No matter how enthusiastic you are, and how great the meal looks in all the pics, people just don’t get it! They never will, because they didn’t share the experience. It’s frustrating, but you can’t blame them because that’s how things are.
Words are just words, and photos of food are two-dimensional. They have no taste, texture, or smell. In spite of many technological advancements, we still can’t bottle the positive energy that’s palpable in a room, and sell it on eBay. No drug will ever replicate or replace a hug. And that’s the way it should be.
Here’s the truth. Some, if not all of life’s best moments are literally beyond words. And this is what makes them so inexplicably precious, personal, and powerful.
So, I’m not even going to try and explain to you what it’s like to have been at the world’s largest gathering of voice-over professionals, a.k.a. VO Atlanta. It’s just as futile as telling you about that amazing dinner. But I will tell you this:
This year, VO Atlanta was not merely a Conference. It became a Movement!
For a movement to gain momentum, people have to be moved, and be willing to move. There was plenty of both from the early hours of the morning until… the early hours of the morning (those who took part in the Team Challenge often didn’t go to bed until 2:00 AM).
A movement has to have a common cause. Well, no matter where the attendees were from, all of them came to help strengthen and raise the professional bar for voice actors and voice acting. In my mind, this involves a number of things:
– an open mind, and a joyful commitment to lifelong learning – a celebration of diversity, equality, and kindness – a readiness to set higher standards and rates for our profession – a continuous and selfless contribution to our community
Take any panel, any presentation, or any X-session… these four elements were markedly present in every room, and they made this conference a transformational experience for so many.
Now, you know me, don’t you?
I’m often critical and sometimes cynical of certain developments and players in our industry. I can smell a scam from miles away, and when I feel an emperor is wearing very few clothes, I will tell you.
I also know that one cannot orchestrate authenticity. It is impossible to fake friendship and sincerity. No matter how well any conference is organized (and believe me, VO Atlanta ran like a well-oiled machine), it ultimately depends on the people who attend, to pour their hearts and souls into it.
And that’s exactly what they did from the get-go. Together they made this conference a safe place to share, be vulnerable, try new things, feel empowered, as well as a space to learn, grow, laugh, cry, sing, act, admire, and dance.
In many ways, this is extraordinary. Why? Because the so-called real world doesn’t seem to work that way. To many, that world is a dark and fearful place, filled with people who are out to get us, instead of support us. It’s a dog-eat-dog, survival of the fittest society, where a ME-ME-ME mentality often prevails over a WE-frame of mind.
Being at VO Atlanta gave me hope that there is a different reality, and a different future for the voice-over work we love so much. By all accounts the segments of the market we contribute to are growing: eLearning, audio books, explainer videos, cartoons, documentaries, gaming, virtual reality, and so on.
Somewhere, someone is looking for your voice, and it is part of your job to make sure that this someone finds you, or you find him (or her). If you don’t know how, perhaps you should go to a voice-over conference and find out. In the afterglow of VO Atlanta, colleagues have already reported that using what they’ve learned only a few days ago, has paid off big time.
There was something else I noticed.
Faced with bold moves from self-absorbed, predatory companies that seek to devalue our talent and our training, a new awareness is growing that we have a choice to whom we lend our voice. Yes, we want to work, but not at any rate, and not for companies that demand more and more for less and less as they triple dip into a client’s budget, while denying us our fair share.
I felt a strong resolve in Atlanta to fight the commoditization of our work, and a deep desire to come together and show what we are worth. At this moment we have ethical agents, brilliant software developers, and SEO-specialists on our side, who are coming up with new, intelligent platforms to showcase and sell our services.
Online voice matchmakers such as Voice123 and Bodalgo are listening to us, and are coming up with smart, exciting features that benefit clients and voice talent alike. The World Voices Organization is growing every day, providing invaluable support and leadership to its members and our community at large.
Paul Strikwerda presents
Colleagues with years of experience share what they have learned with humor, wit, and wisdom. People whose voices you’ve grown up with suddenly sit next to you in the bar, and strike up a conversation. And guess what? They’re just as interested in you, as you are interested in them.
At first, VO Atlanta can be a bit overwhelming, but boy does it feel good when we eat, drink, and dance together, and colleagues from all over the world become fast friends. And speaking of friends, you may remember that I do my best to keep my personal and professional Facebook contacts separate (click here to find out why). That’s why I have a Nethervoice Page and a personal Profile.
However, if you’ve been to VO Atlanta this year, and you feel that we’ve connected in a meaningful way, I now warmly welcome you to my virtual living room, because I consider you my friend!
I hope we will meet sooner, but if not, I can’t wait to see you again in 2019!
PPS If you are a current, or prior, attendee of VO Atlanta, you’re eligible to register as part of a super-early bird registration which saves you $150 on the conference registration for 2019. This offer expires March 18th. Click here to register.
At age seventeen, I started making youth radio programs in the Netherlands.
Part of the fun was the inevitable trip to the cafeteria, where I could mix and mingle with the famous faces and voices of Dutch broadcasting. It was like seeing all the celebrities at Madame Tussaud’s wax museum come alive.
The guy who read the prime time news bulletins turned out to have a strange love for raw herring. The girl who presented a popular quiz show was constantly starving herself, and the overpaid head of programming ate home-made liverwurst sandwiches, lovingly prepared by his mother.
Radio hosts were always the most surprising. Very few people knew what they looked like, and that was part of the magic. Radio is the theater of the imagination, and over time I had created mental pictures of my favorite presenters. Now that I was able to go backstage, I had a chance to meet them in person, as they were ordering burgers and fries.
The overexcited and loud sports commentator was an obese man with as much charisma as a cucumber. The announcer with the most muscular, manly pipes in radio, turned out to be a diminutive, unkempt, and rather sad person. If you’d see him in the subway, you’d give him a dollar.
The seductive sounding female host of a late night show I had fallen asleep to on many lonely nights, was a chain-smoking grandmother of seven with two double chins and way too much makeup.
For all these people, the anonymity of radio was a blessing. Seeing them in the flesh was a humbling experience. There and then I realized that I had created an unrealistic image in my mind, based on my idea of what they might look like, and it was something they could never live up to.
I wondered: how many times a day do we judge the people we come into contact with, based on the little information we have? Unless they get an opportunity to reveal more of who they are, they’ll never have a chance to be any better than who we believe them to be. It’s not fair, and it is one of the tragic reasons why so many people on this planet don’t get along.
Last year was the first time I came to VO Atlanta, the largest gathering of voice talent in the world. Walking in the hotel hallways was sort of a déjà vu experience for me. I felt I was back in the Dutch cafeteria, surrounded by people I thought I knew.
One of the first people I ran into was Bill Farmer, a.k.a. the voice of Goofy. In my eyes he was voice-over royalty, and yet he couldn’t have been more “normal” if there is such a thing. Moments later I was passed by a very familiar face, but I couldn’t place him. Later I realized it was Jeffrey Umberger, one of my agents. Now, why didn’t I recognize him?
You see, people look differently in 3-D. Quite often, we know the colleagues we’ve never met from their profile pictures on social media or from flattering headshots. Some of these photos were taken many summers ago, and they lack any kind of personality. They are as polished as our demos: they reveal the person we want the world to think we are.
When I meet people for real for the first time, they go from being two-dimensional to three-dimensional. To put it differently: people get depth. I am often struck by how tall or not tall they are. That’s one thing you cannot see on Facebook. What’s also revealing is the energy people radiate. It’s something we rarely pick up on when we’re connecting in writing.
Some people just light up the room when they walk in. Others quickly fade into the background. Some people have the most contagious laugh in the world, and others are the best huggers.
Here’s something else I ran into: people’s perceptions of me.
Some conference participants had been reading my blog for years, and had formed an opinion of who they thought I was. At the last day of VO Atlanta 2017, a girl came up to me, and she was rather nervous. “I wanted to meet you,” she said, “but I was a little bit apprehensive.”
“Why?” I asked. “Well,” she said, “in your blog you often voice such strong opinions. One of my friends says you must be pretty nasty, and I wasn’t sure you’d be willing to talk to me. But I’ve watched you during the conference, and you seem to be a nice person, so here I am.”
It was the beginning of one of the best conversations of the entire conference.
OPEN YOUR EYES
Things are never what they seem, because we look at reality through glasses colored by our personal history and by our subjective opinions. In fact, when we look at another human being, I believe we’re actually looking at a reflection of what’s inside of us.
So, if you’re going to VO Atlanta, or to any other gathering for that matter, see if you can leave any preconceptions at the door, or at least be aware that you’re biased. You may think that you already know the next person you’re about to meet, but do you really? Your unconscious prejudices could prevent you from reaching out, and could deprive the other person from an opportunity to reveal his or her true self.
If you happen to run into me, don’t be afraid. I don’t bite, unless I’m eating. I’m probably different from the person you thought I would be, and I hope that’s okay. Just be yourself. That’s the person I’m interested in.
Speaking of VO Atlanta: on 3/2 I’ll be on a panel about the future of VO-casting from 11 – 12. The moderator is J. Michael Collins, and he promised to bring some big news.
My X-session, 6 Steps to Turning your VO-Business around is on 3/2 from 6:30 – 9:30 PM.
On 3/3 I’ll be leading a Breakout Session about The Inner Game of Voice-Over from 3:15 – 4:15 PM.
I hope to see you there, or at other times in the conference hotel.
Let’s revisit my experience at Dutch radio for a minute or two. Here’s what I eventually learned.
The overexcited and obese sports commentator knew how to turn it on at the right moment as he was describing the big games in real-time. He also knew how to turn it off to conserve his energy. Because much of his life was spent on the road traveling from game to game, he didn’t have a lot of time to eat, so he stuck to a fast food diet, and it was showing.
The shabby announcer with the most muscular, manly pipes in radio, had lost his wife some years ago, and when that happened, he stopped taking care of himself. He eventually hooked up with the anorexic quiz show host. While they were dating she put on some weight, and transformed him into a well-groomed radio personality which landed him a job on TV.
The chain-smoking grandmother of seven with two double chins took me under her wing, and came to see me as the son she had lost when he was my age. The lessons I learned from her I still apply today.
Whether you’re going to a conference or not, I encourage you to always keep an open mind, and please remember:
We all have stories to tell, and most of the time our books are very different and much more interesting than their covers!
The fifth edition of VO Atlanta was spec-ta-cu-lar!
Over 550 voice-overs, coaches, service providers, and VO VIPS gathered for three never-ending days, and had a blast.
The quest for actionable knowledge was palpable. The desire to raise our reputation, our standards, and our rates was on everybody’s mind. The energy was electric!
If you ever doubt that ours is a sharing and caring community, come to next year’s conference, and feel the love of an amazingly talented, supportive, and crazy group of people who are short on ego, and big on brother- and sisterhood. You’ll never feel isolated again, and you will leave tired but incredibly inspired.
In short, ethics are moral principles that shape our lives; beliefs about what’s right and what’s wrong. These beliefs guide our decisions, and help us make choices based on what we think is important and good for us, and for society. Every day we make ethical decisions: at the grocery store, when we decide which charity to donate to, and which party and politician to vote for.
Even though the ethics panel largely focused on rates and business practices, ethics goes further than fees and codes of conduct. In my case, personal ethics impact pretty much every business decision I make. My moral compass makes me ask questions such as:
– Do I really want to work with this client? – Is this a product or service, political party, or philosophy I want to be associated with? – Is my business all about money, or can and should it be an instrument for social change?
During the panel discussion, moderator J. Michael Collins asked a number of thought-provoking questions, and here’s number one:
Do talent have an obligation to consider the impact of their pricing on the greater industry?
No one lives on an island. Whether we realize it or not, we’re all connected. Perhaps I see it that way because I come from a very small country. In the Netherlands, the Dutch can’t easily escape the consequences of their actions. The behavior of one company or one person even, can affect society as a whole.
In the labor market, voice-overs belong to a rapidly growing group of independent contractors. I’ve always thought that this label was wrong. I prefer to call us interdependent contractors. We’re all linked by common causes, and individual actions influence those causes. What do I mean?
For one, all of us are training clients how to treat us.
Every time we quote a job, we’re giving out a signal to the industry: “This is what a job is worth. This is what I’m worth.” If we’re telling clients they can get more for less, we’ve just helped set a standard, and made our job a bit cheaper. Of course you may not see it that way, because it’s part of human nature to downplay the impact individuals have on their environment.
Millions of individual shoppers, for instance, neglect the fact that their plastic bags are responsible for the killing of marine life on a scale that’s unimaginable. But -as a wise man once said- if you believe that individuals have no influence on the system as a whole, you’ve never spent the night with a flea in your bed.
Here’s Michael’s next question:
Do talent have a responsibility to avoid doing business with sites or companies who promote poor pay standards?
As far as I’m concerned, there are many reasons to avoid working with certain companies. Perhaps they’re big polluters. Perhaps they use child labor. Perhaps they are run by a corrupt family. You’ve got to do your homework to find out. By working with those companies and sites, we keep them in business, thus enabling their practices.
Here’s the thing. I’m not going to tell you why and where you should draw the line. If you’re okay voicing a promotional video for a company that makes cluster bombs, that’s your choice. If you’re fine voicing a commercial for a fast food giant, go ahead -as long as you take some time to think about the ethical implications of what you’re doing.
In our line of work, a job is rarely “just” a job.
I will not lend my voice to video games that glorify gratuitous violence. As a vegetarian, I refuse to promote animal products, and as a non-smoker, I will never sing the praises of a tobacco product. For that, I am willing to pay a price. Sometimes it is a hefty price, because throughout my career I’ve had to say “No” to quite a few projects that would have paid the bills for many months.
My voice may be for hire, but my morals are not for sale.
So, do I think we have a responsibility to not do business with companies that rip us off? Absolutely! We’re either part of the problem, or we’re part of the solution.
What are some best practices you would like to see coaches and demo producers follow?
Number one: Don’t guarantee your students any work. ROI is not a given. There are very few shortcuts to success. Coaches and producers should stress that this is a subjective, unfair business. Get rich quick does not exist. They should educate their students about going rates, and professional standards.
Coaches and producers should carefully select whom they want to work with. They should not continue to take money from students that have no talent, or show little improvement, just because they’re paying customers. In my opinion, that’s unethical.
What expectations should talent reasonably have of talent agents and agencies?
An agent or agencies should offer opportunities that play to the strength of a particular talent. They should do the leg work, so the talent can focus on the job. Agents or agencies should also negotiate a decent rate. What else?
A good agent knows you better than you know yourself. A good agent sees potential, and hears things you yourself do not hear. A good agent helps you grow, and goes to bat for you.
A great agent has a unique in, into the market; something other agents may not have. I want an agent to be brutally honest with me, and to shield me from bad clients.
What is a reasonable commission for an agent, or other casting organization to take?
Anywhere between ten and twenty percent.
What are some red flags to watch out for when seeking agency representation?
Agents charging a fee for representation: “I’ll represent you if you pay me 250 bucks!”
Another red flag points at agents that send out jobs every other agent sends out. That’s lazy. Also keep an eye out for agents that are never available, and never give you any feedback.
What level of transparency should we expect from online casting sites, and what does that look like?
A lot has been said about one of the biggest online casting sites operating out of Canada. Last year, Voices dot com (VDC) had a clear and controversial presence at VO Atlanta. This year, the conference organizers determined that VDC was no longer welcome at the table, because it “does not have the best interest of voice talent at heart.” The importance of that decision should not be underestimated, and the announcement was greeted with great applause.
As you may know, I have exposed VDC’s dubious business practices in the past, and part of their problem has to do with a lack of transparency. When asked why VDC would not be entirely open about the way they do business, I quoted psychologist Dr. Phil McGraw, who once said:
“People who have nothing to hide, hide nothing.”
An online casting site must be open about their business practices. Otherwise, it will lose the trust of its members. It has to be clear about the way auditions are offered, and to whom. Is everybody getting a fair chance, or is there a secret system limiting talent, lining the pockets of the people in charge?
A Pay to Play has to be open about how much a client is paying, how much the talent is getting, and how much is taken in by the casting site. That site should listen to feedback from its members, answer questions honestly and without spin, and refrain from double or triple dipping.
Is it reasonable for sites to charge both a membership fee and a commission?
Ideally, I believe a commission should cover all services provided by the online casting site. That way the site has an incentive to deliver, and make sure the talent gets paid a fair fee. Commission rewards positive action. The more a talent makes, the more the casting site makes.
Now, by using the commission model, an online casting site might start acting like an agent, and in the U.S. that’s not allowed. Remember though, that in most countries in the world there are no voice-over agents, so this is not as big of an issue as it may seem to some.
THE UNSPOKEN SIDE OF BUSINESS
During the panel discussion in Atlanta I noticed something I hadn’t noticed before: the ethical aspect of our business is not something we tweet about, or talk about on Facebook. Ethical issues are hard to put into 140 characters, or in a short status update. They often are complex, deeply personal, and seldom black or white.
Some people don’t give ethics much thought. If the money is good, they’ll take the job. Others feel that just because they’re the voice of a campaign, it doesn’t mean they have to agree with that campaign. They see themselves as voice actors, and actors merely play a role. That in and of itself, is a position based on a personal belief.
One thing I know for sure, and from experience.
Once you decide where you draw the ethical line, you will be tested. Let’s say you don’t like the way animals are treated by the agricultural-industrial complex. The moment you decide not to promote anything having to do with animal abuse, you will get a request to do a commercial for a fast food company.
It’s the irony of life!
WILL YOU JOIN ME?
During VO Atlanta, many colleagues had a breakthrough moment, or even multiple Aha moments. Just look at your social media stream. People can’t stop posting about it. Something in them has changed as a result of this conference. A spark has been ignited, colleagues have become friends, and people no longer feel isolated.
Take my advice, and join that silly gang in 2018 (March 1-4). If you preregister now by clicking on this link, you’ll lock in the very best price. This offer is available until the end of the month.
I hope to see you there, and perhaps we’ll get another chance to talk about ethics!
Last week, thousands of people went to an inauguration, and millions marched for women’s rights.
There is strength in numbers, and power in groups of people.
Even though I can see the point of bonding together for a common cause, I have an admission to make:
I hate being in the middle of a huge crowd.
Crowds are noisy and smelly. Somehow I always end up next to a loudmouth man-child who hasn’t used deodorant since puberty, or a Southern Belle who just bathed herself in Curve Crush By Liz Claiborne. For the lucky uninitiated: that’s a perfume I utterly detest.
Crowds infringe upon my sacred personal space, and they test my patience more than I can bear. They move according to the slowest common denominator, and they rarely go to where I want or need to be.
My nightmare scenario is being stuck indoors when a fire breaks out, and everyone is running for the nearest exit as they’re screaming their heads off. Of course only one exit is open, and the mob trapped inside starts trampling one another to escape the deadly fumes. Just thinking about it makes me nauseous.
Does all of this mean that I suffer from social anxiety, or that I’m anti-social? I don’t think so. My fear might have to do with a natural need to be safe. I prefer having meaningful conversations in quiet corners, rather than losing my voice yelling over the masses to reach a friend.
In the past I have described myself as a “reluctant extrovert,” and I still feel that way. I’d rather spend three hours with someone one-on-one, than fifteen minutes in a large group. I feel lost in a crowd, and I don’t want to be lost.
Why am I even bothering you with this pitiful confession? It’s because I’ve used my unease with crowds as one of the reasons to stay away from voice-over conferences bringing together hundreds of colleagues from different countries and continents. Today I am happy to tell you that this is about to change.
MAKING AN APPEARANCE
Over the years, literally hundreds of readers have asked the same question: “Where and when can I meet you?”
Those of you attending VO Atlanta from March 9th -12th, will finally have a chance to run into me, as well as over 550 colleagues from 35 states and 15 countries who have come to enjoy over 150+ hours of top-notch programming. It’s the largest annual voice-over event for our community.
This year’s keynote speaker is Bill Farmer, and some of the other speakers are Dave Fennoy, Elaine Clark, Celia Siegel, Joe Cipriano, Johnny Heller, Jonathan Tilley, Lori Alan, Scott Brick, Anne Ganguzza, and David Rosenthal.
There are sessions about audio books, business and marketing, gaming and animation, narration and eLearning, performance and improvisation, and promo & imaging. There are also workshops (labeled as X-sessions), as well as a Spanish, and a youth program. You can see the full program on the conference website.
On Saturday, March 11th at 7:30 pm, I’ll be on a panel led by J. Michael Collins, discussing Ethics for Voice Actors and Demo Producers. Speakers are Rob Sciglimpaglia and Cliff Zellman, and the other panelists are Dave Courvoisier and Bev Standing. If you’re a subscriber to this blog, you know that I have written extensively about some of the moral guidelines voice talent and clients should live by, and I can’t wait to hear what others have to say.
Now, I didn’t want to come to Atlanta just to be on a panel, so you’ll be able to track me down from day one. The welcome reception starts Thursday 3/9 at 5:00 pm, and I really look forward to meeting you in person! I have only one request:
Gentlemen: please use deodorant, and ladies: leave your bottle of Curve Crush at home, and we’ll survive the crowds together.
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