Common questions and the answers you don’t want to hear

Paul Strikwerda at the beach

the author, enjoying some fresh ocean air

Every couple of weeks I make the social media rounds on the various Facebook voice-over groups to see what’s new. The answer:

Not much.

In fact, most of what’s going on is an endless regurgitation of familiar topics, and Me-Me-Me marketing we love wasting our time on: How much should I charge? Where can I find work? Will you critique my demo and my new website?

In an effort to nip these dreadfully boring and superfluous conversations in the bud, I’m going to cover some returning questions rapid-fire style, so we can all get on with our work.

I want to get started in voice-overs, but I have no experience, no equipment, and no money. Where do I begin?

Are you serious? You sound like the guy who wants to be an Uber driver, who doesn’t know how to drive, does not own a car, and has no money in the bank. How’s that going to work?

My two cents: Get a job. Put some money aside, and work with a coach to find out if you’re even remotely talented before you spend big bucks on a studio, gear, demos, and a website.

It sounds like I need a lot of money to break into this business. Why is it so expensive?

Compared to what? Ask a New York cab driver how much he paid for his medallion. What did the pianist pay for her Steinway? How much debt did your doctor take on to get her degree?

You can’t be invested without making an investment. If something is worth it, you’ve got to pay the price. And if you’re serious, you can equip your voice-over studio for under a thousand dollars. Click here to find out how.

I just got started as a voice-over. I’ve been auditioning for over three months and haven’t booked a single job. Nobody ever told me it was going to be this hard. I’ve got rent to pay.

Your coach should have prepared you for a harsh reality. Ninety percent of trained actors are out of work. The ones on the A-list get booked again and again. It’s not much different for voice actors. Your job is finding jobs. Over and over and over again. So, stop lurking on social media and start marketing yourself!

I signed up for several Pay-to-Plays. Posted my demos. Nothing’s happening. Is this a scam?

A P2P is the lazy way to get into this business. You pay your membership fees, you post a few homemade half-baked demos, you do a few lousy auditions with your crap equipment, and you expect magic to happen? Don’t blame the system. You are delusional.

My neighbor is driving me crazy with his mad dogs, his leaf blower, and his lawn mower. Right now I want to kill him.

Do you expect the world to stop just because you need to meet a deadline? You advertise yourself as a professional, yet you have no dedicated, isolated recording space. That’s a problem. Costs come before revenue. Stop moaning and get a double-walled booth. If you’re any good, it will pay for itself many times over.

This new client hasn’t paid me in months and won’t respond to my emails. Help!

Who have you been working for? Did you do your research to find out whom you’re dealing with? Did you watermark your audio? Did you ask to be paid upfront? Not every client can be trusted so you have to protect yourself. You either lawyer up and threaten legal action, or write the unpaid invoice off as a business loss. Remember: even if small claims court rules in your favor, it’s not going to collect your money. That’s on you.

I’m not making enough as a voice-over. What am I doing wrong?

You’re not alone! In this business, there is no guaranteed return on investment, and with what you’re charging, are you surprised you’re not making enough? It’s a self-inflicted wound. Low rates are the sign of a desperate amateur. Who wants to work with a desperate amateur?

Be better, not cheaper.

Sitting in front of a computer all day long is hurting my health. I hate it!

No one is forcing you to do anything that’s detrimental to your health. In order to take care of your clients, you have to take care of yourself. Exercise, do yoga, move around, choose a healthy diet. Sit up, hydrate, get a supportive chair, and a wrist rest. Don’t forget your emotional health. Surround yourself with supportive people. Get a life outside of your studio! Your work is just a means to an end.

Being a freelancer is hard work. I thought it would be fun to be my own boss, but I’m starting to change my mind.

No job in the world is 100% fun all the time, no matter what some Instagram posts may tell you. What you see and what you hear – the end result, may sound and look like fun, but you don’t see the effort necessary to make it happen. If you do your job well, you make it seem effortless.

If your level of fun is the only criterium you use to evaluate your job, you’re never going to be satisfied.

Now, if you’re not happy with how things are going, know that nothing is going to change unless you change. Keep in mind that as long as you keep on blaming others for your misfortune, they have to be the ones that have to change in order for you to be happy.

That ain’t gonna happen.

Allow yourself to make mistakes. Allow others to make mistakes. You don’t have to spoon-feed every newbie begging for free advice. They’ll end up being lazy, ungrateful, and dependent.

Give yourself time to become good at what you do. Learn from the experts. Invest your earnings to further your career. Value what you have to offer and price accordingly.

And beginning today, start figuring out ways to get visitors to your web pages, instead of interacting on other people’s groups and sites, boosting their SEO. 

What do you say?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet: Subscribe, Share & Retweet!

Send to Kindle

About the author

Paul Strikwerda

is a Dutch-English voice-over pro, coach, and writer. His blog is one of the most widely read and influential blogs in the industry. Paul is also the author of "Making Money In Your PJs, Freelancing for voice-overs and other solopreneurs."

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Freelancing, Gear, Internet, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play, Personal, Promotion, Social Media, Studio

35 Responses to Common questions and the answers you don’t want to hear

  1. Amy

    I ?? “be better, not cheaper!”

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Forgive me, I’m not getting your comment.

    [Reply]

  2. Shaun Toole

    Tough love! But you really nailed it with this statement:

    “Nothing is going to change unless you change.”

    That message needs to be hammered into heads world-wide.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Those who bring the right hammer will nail it!

    [Reply]

  3. Chris Turbiville

    when someone asks me how to get in the business, I tell them – “you dont”

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    I’ve tried that, and it’s usually not well received. People don’t like to hear the word NO. I’ve been accused of trying to scare off my competition by discouraging folks to become a voice talent. These days I package my public message differently, but as a coach, I only work with those who are truly committed. I go to great lengths to weed out those who are merely interested.

    [Reply]

  4. CC Hogan

    Just to add a bit, aside from whether someone who wants to get into this world can act, can learn to act, needs help acting, and so on, do they have the basic tool for the job? In other words, do they have a nice voice?

    In my years in studios, I discovered a very important thing about a voice. The voice overs who made it and were the best, weren’t just good actors, but they had something innately listenable about their voice.

    And it wasn’t down to training, though that helps, because some actors (and since we worked with the mainstream bunch, I mean successful actors) were terrible voice overs. If they weren’t doing a character and weren’t working against another actor, their voice wasn’t interesting to listen to. I was good at training actors to be voiceovers, but I was defeated by some. Turn the camera on and they came to life, other than that, they read okay, but were dull and didn’t draw you in. It takes a naturally nice voice (or interesting voice) and a certain mind set.

    Also, I often hear, “Oh, I don’t act, but I am going to do non-fiction, so it won’t matter.”

    Oh yes it does! (Join in everyone). Since I decided to wander back into the voice over world after many years, I have listened to a lot of samples. And I can’t believe how BORING many of them are. Especially in non-fiction.

    Whatever the subject, fiction or non-fiction, you have to sell it to the listener. Keep them involved, make it interesting, act your socks off!

    [Reply]

    CC Hogan Reply:

    By the way, one of the problems a lot of inexperiences voice-overs have is with pace. They have a set pace and they hardly vary it all. It ticks along throughout a sentence like a clock.

    A good read has a constantly variable pace. You slow down on the important bits, speed up on the less important bits. You emphasise by stretching a word, playing with pauses and breath lengths. You join words together (even in Rada training you don’t hit every consonant at the end of words!). Basically, you make it human.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    The problem is that so many VO’s are directing their own sessions. We cannot be objective about our performance. We don’t hear what others hear.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Yes, Yes and YES!

    [Reply]

  5. Kat Negron

    Thanks for having such a helpful blog, Paul! It’s a huge resource for me. As someone new to this industry, I really appreciate you summarizing these common questions. But…

    It drives me crazy when others that are new, too, ask these questions anywhere and everywhere without researching. They’ve been asked before! Decide if this career is right for you. Do your research, get great training, get an honest coach, cut a PROFESSIONAL demo. Then, pound the pavement, get some scrapes and bruises, and keep going!

    OK, I feel better now. 🙂

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    I totally agree with you. People who are lazy drive me crazy. I also have a bone to pick with those who enable this sort of behavior by handing out free advice. It’s no sin to be helpful, but you’re not helping anyone by spoon-feeding the answers. It only teaches these babies the shape of the spoon.

    [Reply]

  6. Paolo

    Oh yes!

    [Reply]

  7. Nathan Carlson

    I was laughing out loud as I was reading your post before starting my day job. Thanks for the well written dose of reality. As a physician, and a big supporter of your message over the years, I’m happy you are doing so well. I’m rooting for you and agree that people getting into this business need to “adult”…if the word could be imagined as a verb.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Thanks for your support, Nathan. If “adulterer” is a word, I guess “to adult” must be a verb.

    [Reply]

  8. Daniel Lenard

    Paul,

    Game, set. match.

    I occasionally get e-mails from people asking almost ALL those questions. One needs to have recognized professional coaching and consultation in order to get up and running. As you said, you have to invest. There is no free lunch in this biz.

    When I started, I created a 5 year plan. With clear goals, I achieved them in less than three years. That included investment in coaching, the proper equipment, my website, and time contacting people who would hire me.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    If you’re ever in my neck of the woods, I will personally serve you a free lunch, Dan!

    [Reply]

  9. Paul Strikwerda

    Amen to that, Cliff. In this industry, there are dues and don’ts. Thanks for spelling out both so eloquently and succinctly!

    [Reply]

  10. Cliff Zellman

    Clap…Clap…Clap.

    There is NOTHING brutal about truth and honesty. The brutality comes from those seeking to take advantage of the newcomers. The brutality comes from wrong or misleading social media responses from those seeking instant credibility directed to those seeking instant gratification. The brutality comes from unprepared people lowballing and accepting jobs, only to ask for a “free” bail-out on social media to a job that should have been yours in the first place. Let’s Make America Professional Again. Make no mistake, I love and support the newcomers, but they have to love and support the industry. Dues are meant to be paid.

    [Reply]

  11. T Diaz

    Watermarking audio, who knew? Well, now I do! And I really don’t mind boosting your SEO a little bit, Paul, in exchange for the valuable content and the always entertaining reads 😉

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    You’re so nice! Thanks for being a returning reader. Now, remember to mark your water!

    [Reply]

  12. Wende11

    Yes! The brutality of honesty! Love it. Now run along and return your usb mic on Amazon.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    But I love my Snow Ball. It’s sooo cute. I wish it would come in pink.

    [Reply]

  13. Moe Rock

    HAHA! This is great! I wish this stuff was said more often!

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    I’ll keep on saying it in different ways on different days. Looking back at this blog, I’ve been sharing this message for over ten years now, and it has never been more relevant.

    [Reply]

  14. Paul Garner

    We learn and we learn and we learn. We apply and hopefully get better. Then we do it all over again. More to it than that, of course, but we’ve got to be willing to slog through the mud to get to the highlands. I continue to appreciate your honesty, Paul
    Thanks!

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Living is learning, and thank goodness there is always more to learn. The problem I see is that too many people think they know it all, and they’re no longer open to learning new things. Once you point that out they get defensive and start blaming the messenger.

    [Reply]

  15. Matt Forrest Esenwine

    I’ve seen lots of these comments, as well…and it’s not just the VO pages. The KidLit community is awash with new folks asking all the same old questions it had never occurred to me to ask back when I was starting out: who do I send manuscripts to, how do I write a cover letter, what do I do if a publisher doesn’t accept unsolicited manuscripts? I never asked these questions because I sought out the answers for myself – either by asking those I was close to or by simple research and trial & error!

    One woman even asked a group the other day, “Does anyone use an assistant to send out manuscripts and cover letters? Please don’t tell me I should do it myself because I’m a busy professional with teens and just don’t have the time.” Of course, everyone who responded basically DID tell her she needed to do it herself – as nicely as we could – and she abruptly quit the group. Obviously, there are lots of folks out there who don’t want to hear the truth!

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    You’re right about that. Writing a book is one thing. Getting it published, promoted, and sold are very different things. It took a friend of mine several years before Penguin published his book after many tedious revisions. It has been translated into many languages and has had tremendous reviews. But my friend has yet to give up his day job because the book is not a money maker.

    [Reply]

  16. Mel Allen

    Wait – this is real work and there’s an up front investment in starting your own business? Now you tell me! Great writing as always Paul!

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    It never fails to amaze me how willfully ignorant some people can be. We’ve created a society where we want it all, as long as we don’t have to pay for it.

    [Reply]

    Harry Roger Williams, III Reply:

    “I Want it All, and I Want it Now.” Queen song in a Grubhub commercial that will now play in my head as an earworm for several hours. Thanks for a wonderful post, Paul.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    That’s the motto of the microwave society. Fast, furious, and unhealthy.

  17. Fiona Hughes

    I say, that post was a breath of fresh air. Thank you for the reality check, Paul.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Thanks, Fiona. Any time!

    [Reply]

Add a Comment

%d bloggers like this: