Nethervoice Blog

When COVID-19 leaves patients speechless, a voice actor steps up

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Dutch, International, Journalism & Media, Personal2 Comments

Do you remember your dreams? 

I rarely do, but the one I had last night has been on my mind since I woke up at 4:00 AM. It was an almost mystical and comforting experience. Here’s why. 

In my sleep, a deep, soothing voice instructed me to go to my computer and write a new story for my blog.

“Make sure you give it some thought,” the voice said, “because it’s going to be your very last blog post. If there’s anything you’d like to say to your readers, this is the time to say it.”

Once I started typing, the emotional floodgates opened, and line after line started weaving a story filled with love, gratitude, and endless appreciation.

When it was finished, the voice returned and said:

“It’s time to go. Follow me.”

At that moment, my soul left my exhausted body in the hospital bed beneath me. As I floated upward, feeling like a fluffy feather in the wind, I could see the nurses take me off the ventilator, and cover my mortal remains with a white sheet.

It felt perfectly natural. I wasn’t scared. I remember being blissfully overwhelmed by a tingling sensation of lightness that I’d never experienced before. Instinctively I knew that everything was going to be alright.

The drop was coming back to the ocean.

It was time to go home!

COPING WITH A DEADLY VIRUS

We all deal with COVID-19 in different ways. I’m not interested in political spin, or in networks trying to pump up their ratings with unscientific sensationalism. Give me the facts and I’ll be fine. I’d like to know what I am dealing with.

I’m not scared of this virus because I know how to keep myself and those around me safe. What I am afraid of are the gun slinging nitwits who believe it’s okay to endanger my life just so they can get a six pack at the beer emporium, buy some ammo at Walmart, and get their bushy beards trimmed. All in the name of freedom.

Pro Life my ass!

Then there are people I have tremendous admiration for. The essential workers, the ones who do the dirty, risky jobs for minimum wage with minimum protection. You know, the tax-paying immigrants targeted for incarceration and eventually deportation.

I also admire colleagues such as Jolanda Bayens (I wrote about her last week), who went back to nursing to help vulnerable seniors. Every single day she’s dealing with new cases of Corona, as coffins leave the premises of the care facility she works at. 

COVID-19 preys on the weak, the willfully unprotected, and even on pastors who are dead certain that God will keep them and their misguided out of the Pearly Gates.

VOICE TALENT AND SPEECH THERAPIST

Hellen Moes

This week I learned that another member of our voice acting tribe is doing her share to help those suffering from COVID. Her name is Hellen Moes, and she doubles as a certified speech therapist in the Netherlands. She works in a teaching hospital, and normally she assists patients who have trouble swallowing and speaking after they’ve been treated for a malignant tumor in the oral cavity, or pharynx.

These days, Hellen helps Corona patients that just came off the ventilator who are having problems with their oral intake. Hellen says that most people don’t realize that the same organs that allow us to speak and sing, are used for the safe intake of food. They help us to chew and taste, and swallow solids and liquids. “Safe” means making sure that everything ends up in the esophagus, and not in the trachea.

All of us were born with a very ingenious system that protects us from choking. Hellen explains:

“In less than a second, our swallowing reflex separates food from air, closing the vocal folds, making the larynx move up as the epiglottis is closing the opening to the respiratory system while the tongue and the back throat wall are pushing the food to the gullet inlet. 

COVID-19 patients on respirators are intubated. During intubation a special instrument (laryngoscope) is used to carefully push the epiglottis away, so the intubation tube can be inserted in the trachea through the opened vocal folds. A small balloon at the end of the tube holds it in place inside the trachea. 

This means that patients can’t swallow as long as they’re on a respirator. They’re fed artificially through a nasal probe that enters the throat, going to the gullet inlet to the stomach. That’s precisely the reason why these patients are sedated while they’re on a respirator. 

When the throat muscles aren’t used for complicated things like coughing, vocalizing, and speaking, they weaken. During intubation it sometimes happens that a vocal fold gets scratched, a vocal cord nerve gets entrapped, and vocal folds become paralyzed. This has a negative impact on the swallowing function, and on someone’s ability to speak.”

SPEECH PROBLEMS

Once the intubation tube has been removed, and the patients wake up, they find that it’s almost impossible to speak. They’ve either completely lost their voice, or the voice is very weak. On top of that it’s almost impossible to cough because the vocal folds cannot close properly to build up the necessary pressure.

When the patients try to drink something, they choke and can’t cough. When that happens, a speech therapist like Hellen is called in. She picks up the story:

“The Corona virus has definitely changed the nature of my work. Part of me is afraid, a little ill at ease, and unsure of myself.

Hellen at the hospital

The support and involvement of the nurses is crucial for me, as is the protective clothing. It gives me some peace of mind. Because I am wearing a face mask, the patients have a hard time hearing my instructions. Normally, I show my patients how they can swallow more forcefully, but now they can’t see that. After I give them instructions, I have to listen carefully to make sure no food has gotten into their vulnerable lungs. 

Most of my patients have a long way to go before they can eat their steak and fries, but they are usually very grateful that they’re able to taste real food after having gone through a very, very difficult period.”

Please remember that COVID-19 is a merciless killer. To quote a recent article

“Clinicians are realizing that although the lungs are ground zero, its reach can extend to many organs including the heart and blood vessels, kidneys, gut, and brain. The disease can attack almost anything in the body with devastating consequences. Its ferocity is breathtaking and humbling.” 

Hellen Moes is taking a short break from speech therapy to voice a project for the medical faculty of the University of Maastricht. Like her colleague Jolanda, she’s very down to earth, and doesn’t think she’s doing something heroic. She’s doing what she’s been trained to do: helping people recover from something that could have easily killed them. Something that could potentially kill her too.

Hellen is one of my heroes.

GIVING THANKS

As I wake up from my dream, I feel elated to be alive. It seems my number isn’t up yet. All I can do to help, is stay inside as much as I can. Anne Frank and her family could do it for two years, and they didn’t have Netflix, Instagram, or Facebook. So, you don’t hear me complaining about physical distancing, or the need for a haircut. It’s a small price to pay to save lives.

Once again I feel overcome by gratitude for the people in the front lines who battle COVID-19 every single day. The people who keep the country running and the supermarkets stocked. The workers in warehouses, the people who deliver, and the scientists searching for a vaccine. If only I had a way to say “Thank you!”

Then my colleague Bev Standing came up with an idea. J. Michael Collins wrote the script, and Humberto Franco did the editing. Lots of voice over friends donated their voice to a video that says it all.

Have a look:

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Hellen is available to voice your projects with a Euro-English accent. Have a listen.


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How One of Our Own is Dealing with COVID-19

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Dutch, International, Journalism & Media, Personal10 Comments

In Europe, very few people have heard of Fred Rogers, or Mr. Rogers, as he was known to millions of Americans.

The Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood TV show for preschoolers aired from 1968 to 2001, and it continues to run in syndication and on streaming services today. Last year saw the premiere of the movie A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, starring Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers. 

Fred Rogers was an expert at translating the complex adult world in terms kids could understand. His shows are still a resource for parents on talking to children about tragic events such as school shootings and killer viruses. 

Rogers is often quoted as saying: 

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”

As the world is dealing with the Corona virus, one of those helpers is a colleague of ours whom I interviewed for this blog not so long ago. She was supposed to come to VO Atlanta, but COVID-19 disrupted her plans. Her name: Jolanda Bayens.

Jolanda is one of Holland’s most prominent voice overs, and the founder and CEO of the Voice Over College, a training institute for voice actors. 

Twenty-six years ago, Jolanda was a nurse, specializing in terminal care. After her studies she worked at a hospice, and later in home nursing. She fell and broke her pelvis in three locations. A few years later they discovered she had a condition that caused her bones to break very easily and significantly. She was declared unfit to work because the fractures didn’t heal properly.

Today, Jolanda is back in her nurse’s uniform, being one of the helpers. I asked her to tell her story:

DEALING WITH COVID-19

Jolanda Bayens

“When the Corona crisis hit the Netherlands, I felt an urge. The urge to help. After all, I am a trained nurse, and taking care of people is not something one easily forgets.

I don’t work in a hospital, but in a place that takes care of the weakest people in our society: a nursing home. In the Netherlands, just like anywhere else, entire wards have been isolated from the outside world because patients have COVID-19. In those wards, a silent disaster is taking place, right under our noses. 

I take care of 34 people who suffer from all types of dementia. Most of them aren’t ambulatory anymore. They don’t know who they are, let alone who I am. They’re confused, lonely, and unable to carry on a conversation. They look at you with hollow eyes, and listen with ears that do not understand what’s going on.

These people are bedridden, and one is sicker than the other. The virus is unpredictable. In the morning someone can seem wide awake and alert, and in the afternoon that same person is down with a high fever. Their oxygen level is low, so they’re short of breath. About a third of infected patients won’t make it. Physically, they were already weak, and this virus causes severe pneumonia which is usually the cause of death.

LACK OF PROTECTION AND EQUIPMENT

We have only one oxygen saturation monitor that measures the oxygen level of all 140 patients. There are safety goggles available, but we don’t have enough of them. We really have no idea if we have enough face masks and protective clothing for everyone in the near future. We’re using one face mask and one apron per shift, which is against regulations, but we have no choice. We’re constantly begging for more. 

My heart breaks for my patients. Every hour of my shift their condition deteriorates. Because there aren’t enough nurses and the family isn’t allowed to help, I feel like I’m constantly running behind. 

As soon as someone is close to death, we call the family. Only one person is allowed in the room with the patient. Most of the time that’s a partner or a child. The rest of the next of kin has to say their goodbyes outside, waiting in front of a window. Fortunately, my section is on the ground floor. Otherwise this wouldn’t even be possible. The person who has been with the patient then has to be self-quarantined.

About half of the permanent staff has chosen not to work on my floor as long as there’s COVID-19. A small group of caregivers is forced to make that choice because their husband, wife, or child is part of a risk group. They fear infection. I do understand that, but I also notice that this causes resentment among the caregivers who are continuing to work on the COVID ward.

All in all I feel frustrated. There aren’t enough caregivers, and those who are working are exhausted. There’s a lack of qualified nurses and we cannot protect our patients or ourselves. The family of the people we care for isn’t always understanding. They get angry and blame us for the infection. That really hurts. 

So, why are we continuing to care for our patients, possibly risking our own lives? Because we’re afraid that no one else will help these fragile people who are totally dependent on others. They deserve as much care as anyone else.

NO HEROES

I’ve seen signs outside of hospitals saying that the people who work there are heroes. Every now and then people start applauding the doctors and nurses. That doesn’t happen where I work.

I’m afraid that the people I take care of are part of a forgotten group. Small local businesses, however, have not forgotten us. Almost every day they send us flowers and yummy treats which are very much appreciated. 

Today, I’m off. That means: I work from home. I do the laundry, I run the house, I cook, and I record voice overs, of course. The show must go on. Thank goodness the projects keep coming in, even though there aren’t as many as in normal times. Tomorrow, after my morning shift in the nursing home, I’m going to rest up a bit. That way I’m ready to teach my beginner voice acting class in the evening.

I want to stress that my fellow nurses and I don’t see ourselves as heroes. We just want to do what we can, because if we don’t, no one else will do it.

It’s all about loving our fellow human beings.

Regardless of who they are, or what state they’e in.”

Jolanda Bayens, voice over/nurse

 

PS If you’d like to show Jolanda some love, please leave a few words of encouragement in the comments. 

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Austrian Audio’s Hi-X55 Headphones Reveal All

by Paul Strikwerdain Gear, Reviews, Studio1 Comment

Okay, here’s the thing every aspiring voice over wants to know:

“Why was my amazing audition just rejected?”

Well, I am not a certified psychic (if there is such a thing), but without even listening to your audition, I think I can tell what was wrong with it.

It’s the same reason why eighty percent of all auditions end up in the bin:

POOR AUDIO QUALITY

If you don’t believe me, ask experts like Roy Yokelson, Don Baarns, Dan Lenard, and George Whittam.

I dare you to send them a sample of that audition you were so proud of, and they’ll kindly tell you what you don’t want to hear:

– your gain is too high

– your gain is too low

– there’s a persistent low rumble in the background

– your booth isn’t well-isolated and outside noises are coming in

– your recording space sounds too hollow because it lacks proper acoustical treatment

– your audio sample is filled with mouth clicks, lip smacks, popping plosives, and loud breaths

– your cheap microphone has too much self-noise

– you’ve over compressed your audio, distorting the sound

Reading all this, you say to yourself:

“How can this be? I’ve listened to my audition over and over again, and I had no idea this was going on! What did I miss, and how did I miss it?”

THE UNTRAINED EAR

Before you start blaming yourself, just realize that as a beginner, you don’t know what you don’t know. Folks like Roy, Don, Dan, and George also have a gift. Just like Simone Biles was born to be a gymnast, these guys came into this world with extraordinary ears. Ears which benefitted from many years of training and listening experience.

If you enjoy watching cooking shows like I do, here’s an analogy that will appeal to your senses.

What happens when you give a professional chef a dish s/he’s never tasted before? Within seconds their brain will begin to analyze aromas, smells, and textures. After the second bite they’ll be able to tell you all the ingredients and all the ways the dish was prepared. On top of that they also know what went wrong during preparation, and what needs to be done to make it better.

Think of their palate as an exquisite instrument. It’s almost like a microscope. The more refined and precise it is, the better results you get. That, by the way, is reason number two why beginning voice talent is unable to hear their own flaws. Not only are their ears untrained, they also lack the sophisticated equipment to identify and measure the quality of their audio.

There’s also the bias factor. It is impossible for us to listen to our ourselves with clinical objectivity. Most of the time we see what we want to see and we hear what we want to hear. We’ve become so used to the low humming sound of that fridge not far away from our studio, that our brain filters it out as unimportant information.

Our biology limits us in more ways. Some of my older and even younger coaching students are experiencing hearing loss. Thirty nine percent of adults ages 60 to 69 have trouble hearing speech clearly. The first thing to disappear is the ability to clearly hear high-pitched sounds.

BETTER GEAR

While we cannot reverse hearing loss or make up for years of ear training, what we can do is invest in equipment that is better at revealing the weak spots in our recordings. Some people like to use spectral sound analyzers such as the one in Adobe Audition (click here for a quick demo).

I do all my editing in Twisted Wave, and I rely heavily on my headphones to tell me what’s wrong with my audio. If you’re new to voice overs, I strongly suggest you invest in headphones designed for audio engineering purposes since you are in fact an audio engineer. I highly recommend you buy good quality cans before purchasing studio monitors.

In my workflow I first do the precision editing using headphones, and once that’s done I’ll often listen to the audio on my computer speakers because that’s how many people will hear the end result. In the beginning, I relied on AKG’s classic K240 semi-open over ear headphones (55-ohm version). They’re light-weight, very reasonably priced, and reasonably reliable.

Since AKG was taken over by Harman, and Harman was taken over by Samsung, AKG is focusing more on the consumer market than on the professional market. That’s why I hesitate to recommend AKG products for the voice over studio. For audio monitoring I now rely on the Beyerdynamic DDT 880 PRO headphones, the 250 Ohm version, to be precise.

ENTER AUSTRIAN AUDIO

Austrian Audio Hi-X55

Last year, I discovered a brand new brand: Austrian Audio. The team behind Austrian Audio was responsible for the development of most of the AKG products in the past twenty years. When their Vienna offices closed, they made a deal with Harman to buy as much AKG equipment as they could, from office furniture to machinery. Austrian Audio is focused on developing best-in-class, professional audio equipment. Last year I reviewed their stellar OC18 microphone, which is based on the famous C12 capsule.

More recently, Austrian Audio came out with two headphones. One on-the-ear model, and one for over the ears. They were kind enough to send me the over-the-ear model for review, the Hi-X55 which retails for $299. Unlike my DT 880’s which are marketed as “semi-open” (but are really “open”), the Hi-X55 cans are closed. This means no sound is supposed to leak in or out of the headphones.

Whereas the DT 880’s use moderate to low spring pressure, the Hi-X55 feels firmer but not in an unpleasant way. Coming from the gentle Beyerdynamic cans, I did have to get used to the increased pressure on my ears, but there was a payoff. The outside world did not leak into the sound very much, allowing me to focus entirely on my recording. Especially if you plan on monitoring in an environment that’s not as quiet as you’d like it to be, closed back is definitely the way to go.

The Beyerdynamic headphones are known for their soft, velvet ear pads which offer unrivaled comfort. They’re like a teddy bear hugging your ears. The Hi-X55 has leatherette earpads with additional room and slow-retention memory foam to increase comfort and reduce fatigue. They fit my rather large ears and head very well, but the fake leather did cause my ears to sweat a bit after prolonged listening. And listening I did, from the early hours of the morning until late at night

To be honest, I couldn’t put them down and here’s why.

INCREDIBLE DETAIL

The amount of detail the Hi-X55 headphones reveal is -pardon the pun- uncanny. Don’t expect a rich and warm audiophile sound. That’s not what they are meant to reproduce. I’d call the soundstage direct and very accurate. To me that means uncolored with no hyped frequencies and especially no beef in the bass department.

Listening back to some of my previous recordings using the Hi-X55’s, I heard mouth noises and breaths I should have edited out. While I wasn’t happy about that, it’s precisely what I want and need in a good pair of studio headphones. They have to be as unforgiving as the Spanish Inquisition. When you’re performing sonic surgery, your headphones better sound close to clinical.

But I went a step further in my test, realizing that not everyone is going to use these Austrian Audio headphones to edit simple voice over tracks. In order to recommend them, they have to perform well in different soundscapes. Click here for one test I always do when I take headphones for a spin. The Hi-X55’s passed with flying colors. 

Audio engineer Darin Fong has developed virtual speaker software for headphones that replicates the experience of listening to high-end speakers using only headphones. He says it allows the listener to experience their music or movie as if they were actually sitting in the room with the speakers that were measured – but without having to actually be there. Think of it as audio “virtual reality.” Anyway, hearing is believing, and every time I test new cans I have to play this Darin Fong demo:

Lately, I’ve really gotten into a thing called “binaural audio.” Binaural literally means “having two ears.”  Binaural sound is stereo audio that is recorded through a dual microphone setup mimicking human ears. The goal of recording binaural sound is to create a 3D audio effect that simulates sound as if it is being heard live. Binaural sound can only be experienced through headphones. Here’s a stunning demo that takes you to the streets of New York:

On YouTube you’ll find lots of binaural recordings ranging from classical music to pop. If you have trouble sleeping, check out the binaural tracks that supposedly bring you into a state of deep relaxation. It worked for me! For something more upbeat, here’s Pink Floyd like you’ve never heard before:

I am giving you these examples because they really gave me an opportunity to test the Austrian Audio Headphones in terms of realistic reproduction of sound. I have to admit that I often forgot that I was wearing headphones as I was taking a virtual tour of the streets of New York. It was such an immersive experience, and to me that speaks to the quality of the Hi-X55’s. 

LOW IMPEDANCE

What surprised me most about these cans was the low impedance of 25 ohms. Headphones with low impedance require little power to deliver high audio levels. This means you can easily plug them into mobile recording solutions such as your laptop or tablet, and even your smart phone. 

Normally, professional, high-end studio headphones favor high impedance. They demand more power from a headphone pre to deliver high audio levels. But for the low-impedance Hi-X55’s, the secret is in the High Excursion (Hi-X) drivers that were designed in-house, generating a higher sound pressure level.

Monica and Sabine, of the production team in the reorganized production rooms in Vienna, assemble Hi-X headphones.

So, what’s my final verdict?

From the classy design, innovative technology, and high-end materials, it’s obvious that these Hi-X55 headphones are built to last. They are as much at home in the professional studio as they are suitable for recording on the road. Austrian Audio has once again raised the bar in terms of uncompromising sound and build quality, a quality that is often lost in an era of mass production. The Hi-X55 are my new go-to cans for voice over audio editing.

Don’t just take my word for it. The MusicTech Magazine recently awarded these headphones their prestigious MusicTech Choice award. Click here to read their review. Here’s a quote:

“Austrian Audio has created a superb set of headphones in the Hi-X55s. Their sound-for-pound cannot be faulted and, in many respects, especially with regard to the capacious soundstage, they outperform some more costly designs.”

SPECIAL OFFER

If $299 headphones are not in your budget right now, but you would like to get a second opinion on the sound coming from your home studio, I have good news.

Uncle Roy Yokelson has kindly offered to analyze and annotate your studio audio FOR FREE, if you send him an unprocessed 30-second sample (be sure to include room tone) and the same sample using your normal audio processing.

Please label the unprocessed sample with your name and RAW (e.g. paulstrikwerda_RAW.wav), and the processed sample with your name and FINAL. Roy’s email address is antlandprods@aol.com.

Thank you so much, Roy. You are a gem!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Many thanks to Austrian Audio for sending me not only the Hi-X55 headphones for testing, but also for the photos you see on this page. As always, my opinion is independent and not influenced by any manufacturer. 

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Is Visibility Coaching For You?

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

You know me.

I’m pretty open and honest about my business.

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

It’s my work as a coach

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

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

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

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

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

GETTING VOICE OVER JOBS

There are basically two approaches to finding more work:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s where I come in.

THE BEGINNING

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

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

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

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

MY GOAL 

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

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

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

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

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

IT’S UP TO YOU

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

One last thing. This is important. 

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

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

Let’s speak soon!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Business as Unusual

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Dutch, International, Personal5 Comments

I’ve been living and working in the United States for twenty years, but I’ll never forget my first tornado warning.

All of a sudden the dark sky became a strange shade of green, and the violent winds died down abruptly. It became quiet in the street. Eerily quiet. The birds stopped singing, and the hounds stopped howling.

Without warning we could hear a deep and loud roar, as if a freight train rumbled into our neighborhood. This was our signal to seek shelter in the basement. Something deadly was coming our way that would demolish anything in its path.

This is what it feels like, living under the threat of the Corona virus. It’s the chilly silence before the storm that will come our way, no matter what.

I live about an hour and half from New York, the place that has been hit the hardest. Until yesterday, the Transbridge bus from Manhattan took groups of commuters to my town, several times a day.

Because hardly anyone gets tested for COVID-19, we have no way of knowing who’s infected and who isn’t. Only yesterday, a man my age was sent back home from the hospital because his symptoms were too mild. He died a few hours later.

Tragedies like that make one ponder matters of life and death.

In the meantime, we think we’re safe at home, as long as we obsessive-compulsively wash our hands and don’t mingle with the masses. But you know what? A man’s got to eat, so we rush to the supermarket to stock up. There we wait in line for the checkout, only separated by the length of our shopping carts, and absolutely no one keeps a six foot distance. There’s simply no space to do that.

In Pennsylvania (where I live), the situation is very similar to the one in the Netherlands (where I was born): closed stores and schools, people working from home, and senior citizens who cannot be visited. The social-cultural-religious life has come to a standstill, and Netflix is more popular than ever.

In a weird way, not much has changed for me. As a voice over with a fully equipped home studio, I’ve been separating myself from the outside world for years. Clients find me online, they email me their scripts, and they receive the audio in digital format.

For my wife the situation was different. She teaches flute and piano, and students always come to her studio. Now she has successfully transitioned to online-only teaching with the help of Zoom, Skype, and FaceTime. All of the concerts she had scheduled for the next few months, were cancelled.

At the end of our workday, we migrate to our couch to watch some sappy Dutch TV shows. I’ve got to tell you, in spite of all the news reports, things still feel quite normal, and this has me worried. An invisible danger is rapidly approaching, and I am aware that we are in a risk group.

My wife and I are both over fifty. She’s got MS, and I have a serious heart condition. We know that the hospitals cannot handle the virus, as they’re already begging for protective clothing and ventilators.

And yet, I choose not to live in permanent fear. I stick to my daily routine by being there for my significant other, my customers, and my coaching students. It’s something to hold on to in uncertain times.

I know I cannot stop the storm, but I can adjust my sails.

This too, shall eventually pass.

For now, it’s business as unusual.

 

Ik woon en werk nu al twintig jaar in Amerika, maar ik zal mijn eerste tornado waarschuwing nooit vergeten.

De donkere lucht kleurde opeens een wonderlijk groen, en de harde wind ging plotseling liggen. Het werd stil op straat. Onheilspellend stil. Geen vogel zong meer, en ook de honden hielden op met huilen.

Plotsklaps klonk er een diep en luid gebrul, alsof er een vrachttrein grommend op de buurt afdenderde. Dat was voor ons het signaal om de kelder in te duiken. Er was iets dodelijks op komst dat alles in zijn pad zou vernietigen.

Zo voelt het een beetje nu we leven onder de dreiging van het Corona virus. Het is de ijzige stilte voor de storm die hoe dan ook zal komen.

Ik woon op anderhalf uur afstand van New York dat het hardst getroffen is. Tot gister hadden we nog een busverbinding naar Manhattan die een paar keer per dag groepen reizigers afleverde. Omdat er nauwelijks op COVID-19 getest wordt weten we niet wie al geïnfecteerd is en wie niet.

Gister stuurde een ziekenhuis nog een man van mijn leeftijd naar huis omdat zijn klachten niet ernstig genoeg waren. Hij overleed een paar uur later.

Dan ga je toch wel even nadenken over leven en dood.

We wanen ons intussen veilig in ons huis zolang we de handen maar obsessief-compulsief blijven wassen en ons niet tussen de massa’s begeven. Maar goed, een mens  moet toch eten, dus even snel naar de supermarkt voor proviand. Daar staan we wagentje aan wagentje te wachten voor de kassa, en geen kip houdt zich aan de anderhalve meter afstand. Daar is geen ruimte voor.

Bij ons in Pennsylvania hetzelfde beeld als bij jullie: gesloten winkels en scholen, mensen die vanuit huis werken, en bejaarden die geen bezoek meer mogen ontvangen. Het sociaal-cultureel-religieuze leven staat stil, en Netflix beleeft gouden tijden.

Gek genoeg is er voor mij niet eens zo heel veel veranderd. Als voice over met een thuisstudio ben ik al jaren van de buitenwereld afgesloten. Mijn klanten vinden mij online, ze emailen me scripts toe, en ze krijgen de audio digitaal toegestuurd.

Voor mijn vrouw was het anders. Zij geeft piano- en dwarsfluitles, en de studenten komen altijd naar haar toe. Nu geeft ze met succes online les via Zoom, Skype, en FaceTime. Wel zijn al haar concerten voor de komende maanden afgelast.

Als onze werkdag ten einde is, dan gaan we lekker op de bank “Boer zoekt Vrouw” zitten kijken. Ik zal je vertellen, ondanks de nieuwsberichten voelt het allemaal nog zo normaal aan, en dat beangstigt mij een beetje. Er is een onzichtbaar gevaar op komst, en ik besef dat we alle twee in een risicogroep zitten.

Mijn vrouw en ik zijn beide boven de vijftig. Zij heeft MS, en ik heb vrij serieuze hartklachten. We weten dat de ziekenhuizen niet op dit virus berekend zijn en nu al om beschermingsmiddelen en beademingsapparatuur moeten bedelen. Intussen kopen Amerikanen wapens, in plaats van naaimachines om mondkapjes mee te maken. 

Toch kies ik er voor om niet in permanente angst te leven. Ik blijf mijn normale routine volgen door er te zijn voor mijn geliefde, mijn klanten, en m’n voice over studenten. Het is iets om me aan vast te houden in onzekere tijden.

Ik weet dat ik de storm niet kan keren, maar ik kan wel m’n zeilen bijzetten.

Ook dit gaat uiteindelijk weer voorbij.

Voor nu is het “business as unusual.”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Sharpening the Axe

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, International, Journalism & Media, Personal, Social Media, VO Atlanta6 Comments

Camp VO was canceled. VO Atlanta was postponed, and the One Voice Conference in London is going ahead in a virtual format.

I think we can all agree that the right decisions were made, given the extraordinary circumstances. However, the feeling of disappointment remains.

What will be axed next, you wonder? The summer Olympics?

It’s fascinating that the word crisis comes from the Greek word krisis, which means “turning point in a disease, a change which indicates recovery or death.”

This COVID-19 crisis has forced all of us to change our behavior in ways we would have never imagined, only a few weeks ago. The main questions on my mind were:

  • What exactly is going on?
  • What are the consequences?
  • How do I respond?

 

MY PERSONAL REACTION

This week I’d like to tell you how I am dealing with the corona crisis, by sharing some of my recent Instagram posts. If you’re not following me yet, I hope you will after reading this blog post (@nethervoice).

What I want to do with these statements is increase awareness, and make people think twice about the situation they’re in. My strategy is always to say as much as I can in as few words as possible without distorting the truth. At least, my version of the truth. 

For many people, being confined to their home seems to be a major challenge. I count myself very lucky that living and working in isolation is no problem for me.

Other people are clearly having a hard time staying away from one another. They mob supermarkets hunting for toilet paper and hand sanitizer. What’s up with that?

Because my wife and I are in a risk group, people seem to believe we should be very afraid. For me, knowing what’s going on helps me get a better grip on the situation.

Ignorance weakens. Knowledge empowers. 

Some politicians were accusing the messenger throughout this pandemic, and they continue to do so. Before we blame the press for all our woes, let’s agree that it’s up to us which source of information we trust, and what we do with the information from that source.

The media cannot make us do anything. We are responsible for how we respond to what we see, hear, and choose to believe.

I’m not worried about those who practice social distancing, and stay home as much as they can. I’m not worried about those who are mindful of others. I do worry about those who think they don’t have to change their behavior, just because they do not notice any symptoms. 

To me, the image below sums up the best response we could have to COVID-19. I’d rather be overly careful, than underestimate the situation we’re in. 

You don’t have to be an expert to see that this corona virus is not only a health crisis but an economic one as well. Unless you’re selling sanitizers, respirators and protective clothing, your business will slow down and suffer.

I hate to say it, but from now on it’s going to be survival of the smartest and those who are best prepared. The good news is that with less work coming in, you’ll have more time to prepare yourself for the months and years to come.

Abraham Lincoln, who was a skilled woodcutter before becoming one of the most important presidents in US history, famously said:

“If I had six hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend the first four hours sharpening the axe.”

Well, my friends, this is the time to sharpen your axe, and use it wisely.

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

Invest. Invest. Invest.

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

And remember:

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Share, repost and retweet

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Bart Vleugels: Giving Words Wings

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Dutch, International, VO Atlanta2 Comments

Bart Vleugels

The news is out. VO Atlanta 2020 has been postponed.

In light of the rapid spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, this was the only smart decision CEO Gerald Griffith could make. Nevertheless, it’s a huge disappointment for those who were already packing their bags, me included.

The good news is that a delay is not a denial. Once COVID-19 has been contained, and we no longer need to practice social distancing, VOA 2020 will go ahead.

For now, the entire voice over community will get full access to the 2019 panels, keynote, and sponsored sessions for FREE. Gerald said: “We’re all in this together, right? and my commitment to connecting the community is more than lip-service.”

I don’t know about you, but I remember my very first VO Atlanta.

I wasn’t sure I was going to like it. So many people. So much to choose from, from the moment you get up, to the moment you go to bed.

And when you finally do fall asleep, you dream of voice overs all night long. 

This reluctant extrovert was nervous and unsure he would fit in.

That all changed when I found out there was one other Dutch speaker at the conference. Originally from Belgium, his name was Bart Vleugels. “Vleugels” means “wings” in Dutch. Hence the headline.

Bart, as you will find out, is a fellow-introvert who was like me: way out of his comfort zone amidst those crazy outgoing, enthusiastic Americans. We sort of survived the conference together, and we liked it so much that we came back, year after year.

Since I’m interviewing every Dutch-speaking participant who’s coming to this year’s rendition of VO Atlanta, I’m rolling out the red carpet for Bart. The man who gives words wings. 

Bart, how did you get started in the business, and for how long have you been a voice-over?

Like a lot of other VO talent, it all started at a radio station. In fact, I built my first station. It had a range of a miserable 50 meters, courtesy of Radio Shack. It was a “radio station in a box” and I called it Radio Bonanza because it was the only instrumental track I had that I could talk over… I was 14 at the time. I volunteered at a local pirate radio station for awhile and became a DJ soon after.

I took a break in the late 80s to go to the USA as an exchange student. That’s when I REALLY fell in love with radio. That American sound, hitting the post during the intros, it all sounded so cool. I did some more DJ’ing at 2 radio stations in Belgium after returning from the US and during my (then mandatory) military service. I went back to the USA in 1993 to study broadcasting in college.

My very first paid voice-over job was in 1996 when I voiced and produced liners and station IDs for a station in Belgium. If you want to know what I sound like, here’s one of my commercials:

What do you like about your work and the business you’re in?

What’s not to like!? I’m beyond an introvert, so the booth is my happy place and sanctuary. I like the opportunity to interpret and deliver the words that somebody else wrote. I enjoy trying to get in the writer’s head and bring those words and emotions to life. I love giving alternate takes. I like to provide a service to clients that reaches beyond what they expect.

I like VO because the business moves very fast: Audition, get job, do job, get paid. Get in, get out. Boom. Pow. Bye. Next. Multiple jobs a day and they’re never the same. Gotta love that variety!

What has changed since you made your very first recording?

From a technical standpoint, it’s incredible what we can do now compared to 10 or 20 years ago. Remember SAW and SAW+? Actually, I’m old enough to remember splicing tape on a reel-to-reel. We needed big studios and bank loans to have a “studio”. But now… Being able to walk into my booth and do a session one-on-one with a producer half way around the world? Unbelievable!

I have changed as well. I was just a kid when this all started. I grew up. I learned humility, patience, respect.

What do you specialize in? What makes you unique?

We’re ALL unique in our own way. For me, I’m a dual citizen who speaks Flemish and English with a studio in Oklahoma City. Not too many of those? As far as my voice quality and tone, I’ve learned from previous VO Atlanta conferences that our voices are unique to ourselves. Nobody can sound like me. So I’m running with it!

I’m proud to say I’ve been a ProTools user since 1996, back in the ProTools III days. I like Protools, I’m used to it, I’m fast with it. My specialty is translation and then narrating my own translation. Every month I receive an English safety video, accompanied with the script. The client wants it translated into Flemish, and then narrated and sync’ed in Flemish as well. I LOVE that I can provide both services.

What do you find the most challenging aspect of your work, and why?

For me personally it’s Marketing. As I mentioned before, I’m the quiet type. So, getting on social media and actually posting something doesn’t come natural for me. I admire people like yourself Paul, who feel comfortable in sharing your ideas and feelings in a blog or podcast. I grew up with parents who made it perfectly clear not to gloat or show off when I did something good. I’m still trying to find that happy medium where it’s OK to be proud of something, and share that with the world without sounding like a know-it-all or become the “look at me!” type.

What would be your dream VO job?

I really enjoy e-learning projects and the long format jobs. But don’t ask me to read a book. I’m so in awe of book narrators who can go hours and keep track of the characters, accents, etc. Such artists! In second place would be radio imaging. That’s how I started and I really enjoyed not only being the voice of the station, but also doing the production with all its whooshes, hits, zaps and zings! And I’m still dreaming of hosting a radio show/podcast where I’m doing a US Top-15 or Top-20 countdown in Flemish, but all done from the US. Almost like a weekly Entertainment Tonight/Countdown show.

What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?

There’s a Belgian expression: “Belgians are born with a brick in their stomach”. It basically means they don’t move. You pretty much are born, grow up and probably die in the same town. I’m proud that I had the courage at 17 to get on a plane and go somewhere I had never been before. Go to school and experience an entire year as a high school kid and as a member of a family, not a tourist. It was a great experience and it built the foundation for the reasons I live in the US now.

What’s an important part of your life you want people to know about, that doesn’t necessarily have to do with voice-overs? 

I’m proud that I became a US citizen 10 years ago. I love it here so much. And I get to vote (and serve on a jury) now!

Also, just like Serge (Belgian VO talent living in Texas) I’m active with fostering dogs. My wife and I have been fostering for almost 8 years now. It’s so much fun to see the different personalities each dog brings to the crate.

Why are you coming to VO Atlanta, and what are you looking forward to most?

This will be the third consecutive VO Atlanta conference for me. I will be surrounded by people who LOVE what they do: Professionals who, even though we all do the same thing, understand that we’re not competitors but partners!

It’s one thing to go to a conference because your boss says so. But VO Atlanta: The atmosphere, the vibe, the smiles, the familiar faces, the new connections, the learning, but especially the PEOPLE,… It’s a 3-day pep rally!!

And I can’t wait to see you and those Dutch clogs of yours again!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Serge De Marre: The Flemish Phenomenon

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Dutch, International, VO Atlanta2 Comments

Serge De Marre

It happens at least once a month.

An English speaking client comes to me for a Dutch voice over. She sends the script over, and I immediately know it’s not for me. Why?

The text is not written in Dutch (spoken in the Netherlands), but in Flemish, the dialect of Flanders, a region in neighboring Belgium. It’s like sending a script for the Brazilian market to a Portuguese talent, or something in Castilian Spanish to a Mexican voice over. Linguistically it’s close, but it’s still a mismatch.

Just like Danes and Swedes understand one another, the Dutch and Flemish can converse without problems. However, there’s a very clear regional difference in accent and vocabulary that sets the speakers apart. So, if you’re an agent looking for a Dutch speaker, always ask the client whether it’s for the Dutch or the Flemish market.

To complicate matters, some Flemish voice overs will advertise themselves as Dutch speakers, and that’s because Flemish isn’t an official language. It’s a variant of Dutch. 

If you’re interested in what Flemish sounds like, you should come to VO Atlanta (March 26 -29), and strike up a conversation with voice talent Serge De Marre. It’s his first VO Atlanta, so make him feel at home! A few days ago, I had a chance to catch up with him. 

Serge, how did you get started in the business, and for how long have you been a voice-over? 


About 20 years ago I accidentally reconnected with an old school friend. He worked at a local radiostation in a small town in Belgium. I just got out of a relationship and to cheer me up, he dragged me to the station so “I could keep him company” during his radio show. I enjoyed the whole behind-the-scenes experience, and after he finished his show, he put me behind the microphone and we recorded a short demo. 

A couple of weeks later I got a call from the station manager: “Hey Serge, I listened to your demo and I really like it. One of our hosts is leaving, are you interested in his weekly slot?” It didn’t pay very well, but I was so excited!

In the years after, I worked my way up and got a show on Belgium’s biggest commercial radiostation Qmusic. Meanwhile, I was also doing voice overs on the side. In 2010 my husband’s employer wanted to relocate us to Washington, DC, and we decided to say yes to the adventure. Initially, his assignment was supposed to last for only two years, but 10 years later we are still in the USA. 

Job wise, this transition was tough for me. In normal circumstances I would’ve gotten a visa that’s linked to my spouse’s. But because our same-sex marriage was not recognized at the time I couldn’t get a visa nor a work permit in the USA. I did find a workaround and was able to get a journalist visa so I could work as an on air reporter for a Belgian tv channel. Here I am, reporting on a tornado.

Thanks to a Supreme Court decision in 2013, same-sex marriage was finally recognized in the USA and I was able to apply for a work permit and a green card. I started investing in my voice over business: bought a booth, polished my English with a dialect coach, and contacted Nancy Wolfson for private VO coaching sessions. I even expanded my business, and now I am also voicing in Neutral English.

What do you like about your work and the business you’re in?

I love, love, love that I’m able to create something magical out of the words written on a piece of paper. 

I love when clients are really excited about me bringing those scripts to life.

I love that I’m my own boss. 

I love that every day is 100% different. No gig is the same.

I love brainstorming with the many interesting and enthusiastic people in this business.

I love that after 20 years of being in the voice business, I’m still learning every day. Not only about the business itself but also about the companies, brands, and products that are out there. The other day a client contacted me to voice a corporate video for a drone that kills insects in green houses. How fascinating is that?!

What has changed since you made your very first recording?

Me. I have changed. I used to think that it was impossible to make a decent living with voice overs. For a long time, I saw the voice over business as a side business, but there is so much work out there. One day it just hit me. I decided to go for it full time and just do what I like and what I am good at. 

You know… everything changes once you start focussing on your goal. I learned that many years ago when I was working at a local radiostation, and I had this dream about having my own show on a national station. I just worked towards that goal and it happened. But I had this blind spot about voice over for a long time. I just didn’t think it was possible to make a living as a fulltime Flemish voice. You just have to persevere. Eventually, you’ll find your way.

What do you specialize in? What makes you unique?

Here’s the thing. My voice is what it is. You either like it or you don’t. The same goes for so many other voices, so there’s not much unique there. The difference with those other voices is that I offer an amazingly smooth experience. I am very flexible. I have a quick turnover. I am trustworthy and honest. I wanna make my clients happy, I go all out. 

Sometimes things are out of your control. Luckily, it hasn’t happened very often, but I will get really upset when my clients aren’t happy for whatever reason.

This one time a studio booked me after hearing my audition. We recorded several tv commercials during a 3 hour live directed session. The client and studio were beyond ecstatic with my work. A couple of days later they told me they’d decided to go with a different voice because corporate headquarters thought I sounded “too different from to the original French voice” that they never let me hear. This was a complete surprise to me. They were very apologetic though. This wasn’t something I could fix but I still was upset for a couple of days. (laughs)

What do you find the most challenging aspect of your work, and why?

Working with clients who only know what they don’t want, and don’t know what they do want is a challenge I love to accept. Or clients that give you contradicting instructions: “Give me a dynamic, happy but serious read.” My years of experience will handle these situations perfectly by just asking a lot of questions and narrowing down the things they don’t want. These situations are always a challenge but eventually we’ll get there.

What would be your dream VO job?

Wouldn’t it be nice to just sit in your booth all day and do nothing but voice work? In my dreams I’d have a sales manager. Someone who’d pick up the phone and replies to my emails. A marketing guy who’d update my website and social media. Someone who negotiates fees for me and sends invoices. You have to have goals! One day… who knows. (laughs)

What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?

I’m proud to be working again for Qmusic, the Belgian radiostation I left in 2010. I’m now their station voice. Those recording sessions are always a lot of fun.

I’m also very proud of getting into the International English voice over market. Who would’ve thought, 10 years ago! 

You know… I’m actually very proud of everything I’m doing today. In elementary school as well as in high school, I was a below average student. Teachers used to tell me that I was a lost cause, and just not smart enough. “You’re just too dumb and I don’t know what is going to become of you” is a sentence I heard many times, and I believed it!

Look where I am now! I’m very proud of what I’ve accomplished.

What’s an important part of your life you want people to know about, that doesn’t necessarily have to do with voice-overs?

Ha! Professionally? I’ve interviewed and met many celebrities. Actors Jim Carrey and Angela Lansbury, Ellie Goulding, James Blunt, Birdy, Jim Kerr, Taio Cruz, Bryan Adams, Phil Collins… to name a few. This was for Qmusic radio and a tv station. It shows how much my producers and bosses trusted me with my expertise and talent.

On a personal level.. When I moved to the USA and didn’t have a work permit, I volunteered at the Houston SPCA and fostered over 40 puppies. No, not all at once! (laughs) This was over a period of 4 years. That was so much fun! I also photographed a lot of the shelter dogs, so we could put up their picture on the SPCA’s website and get them off the adoption floor quicker. 

Why are you coming to VO Atlanta, and what are you looking forward to most?

Learn, learn, learn. I’m looking forward to meet with other people in the business and hear their experiences. There’s so much I can learn from not only the X-sessions, but also from other voices.

And maybe I might get a new client out of it? Who knows?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

 

PS I’ll be at VO Atlanta for two panels and two presentations. On March 27th at 9:50 AM I present “The incredible power of words.” The next day it’s time for my X-session “Boosting Your Business with a Blog” on March 28th at 9:30 AM. Click here to register.

Through March 10th you get 25% off select sessions by using the coupon code MARCHMADNESS25.

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The Versatile Voice Holland Loves to Hate

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Dutch, VO Atlanta2 Comments

Tuffie Vos

Anyone who has ever taken the train in the Netherlands, knows the voice of Tuffie Vos, and has cursed her at least once or twice.

That’s understandable, because her public announcements usually bring bad tidings. Things like sudden platform changes, derailments, delays, and more delays.

The video in which she was exposed as the voice behind these announcements went viral, and made her the object of ridicule and vitriol. Undaunted, Tuffie went on national television to read some of the nastiest comments with humor and poise.

No matter what you throw at her, Tuffie always gets the job done. She’s been one of Holland’s top talents for years, even though VO isn’t her main thing anymore.

Tuffie’s got big plans, and that’s one of the reasons she is coming to the 2020 VO Atlanta conference (March 26 -29). A few days ago, I spoke with her. 

Tuffie, how did you get started in the business, and for how long have you been a voice-over?

I started as a voice-over when I was 15, exactly 40 years ago this year.

At that time a brand new voice agency needed young voices. There were none. My mother (Dutch Radio & TV personality Tineke de Nooij, PS) already worked for that agency as a voice. In those days, only 8 voice overs in the Netherlands were doing all the work.

Three of them were women, and they were all over 40. I was the first young female voice, and this did not change for almost fifteen years.

What do you like about your work and the business you’re in?

I love the independency of this business and the creativity of the work. I have never ever worked for a boss in my life. When I started, it wasn’t even considered to be a real business. It was a side hustle for actors, singers, and radio dj’s.

I still approach the business that way, because it’s only part of what I do, professionally. I also studied singing, and I am a spiritual teacher as well.

I truly believe that succes is always a result of putting a lot of effort in what you do, while staying focused. My voice is my talent, my gift, and I’ve always worked very hard to develop it. The same is true for my reading skills and my acting. I am good at what I do, and I love it. You may call yourself privileged if you can make money with something you really like doing.

What has changed since you made your very first recording?

The whole world? 🙂

In the eighties there were only a few big studio’s, and it all was tape-recorded. A sound engineer needed to cut the tape and glue it back again if you’d made a mistake. This would take a lot of time and everyone in the studio had to wait for him to repair it, while the client payed a big amount of money for the studio. That’s why it was very important that you didn’t make a mistake! Nailing the read quickly, became my professional trademark. If I see a text, I immediately know how it has to sound, and I can produce what I hear in my head right away.

What do you specialize in? What makes you unique?

I see myself as a voice artist. I can do any genre. I blend in like a chameleon. These days, voice-overs primarily do the same thing again and again. The same style of reading, the same accents, the same melody and rhythm, the same tricks, the same sound etc. It’s just one way of delivery. Thanks to my experience and education I can “soundshapeshift” into any role or genre. Commercials, documentaries, games, IVR, news anchoring, E-learning… There is nothing I haven’t done.

What do you find the most challenging aspect of your work, and why?

In the last ten years the business has changed so radically, that I have no idea where it will go in the future. There is an overwhelming number of voice overs at this moment in a relatively small professional field. Sometimes, they’ll do the jobs for a quarter of my fee, which already has been slashed in half compared to what it used to be.

Nobody seems to be aware of how our language or a voice over should sound anymore. As a result, quality and professionalism is not heard or acknowledged anymore. This development has frustrated me for a while now. I had to find and fight my way back, take my place, own it, and make choices. Since I did that, I’m once again very happy with the business. And with myself.

Related to this is another challenging part of my life: my medical issues. It’s the dark side of being independent, and not having a steady job. In 2003 I was diagnosed with a bone tumor behind my eye. From then on until 2014, I’ve had twenty surgeries in my eye. I was glad to have paid high insurance premiums in my twenty working years!

In 2012, I got a new, titanium eye socket. Since that time my double vision has become so bad that I can’t read long scripts anymore. To be totally honest, reading has become a cruelty. It has been quite a process to acknowledge to myself that I am no longer able to do this part of my work anymore. I’m talking about long form narration, like 4 hours of E-learning, recorded in 4, 5 hours because I never make a mistake, are history. After 15 minutes I start making mistakes in every sentence, twice. It’s not working.

What would be your dream VO job?

Well, what I’m actually dreaming of today, is to find my way back to my first love, commercials, and find a few nice clients to build up a long term friendship. To have a creative blast with them on a steady basis. 

My biggest dream is to have an account in the U.S. I want to produce something really good, and the product to be a big succes. I have experienced that a few times in my career, and I still get a great kick out of that.

What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?

At the end of the day, I think it’s being the voice of the public announcement system of the Nederlandse Spoorwegen, the Dutch Railways. When we started this project, the sound engineer and I put a lot of time and effort in how this announcement had to sound and what the experience would be of people hearing it, while listening to bad news. The sound needed to be soft, high-pitched, and friendly. When all the puzzle pieces were put together (which took days of recording), it had to have a natural flow, and still sound like a real human being (even though it’s computer-generated, PS). The system still works great after 24 years.

What’s an important part of your life you want people to know about, that doesn’t necessarily have to do with voice-overs?

Much more than a voice-over, I am a spiritual reader, healer and teacher. I’ve been doing this for over 30 years now. I’m also slowly building up a new life as a jazz singer. I picked up singing three years ago after I got burned out.

I hadn’t sung since I graduated from the conservatory, 22 year ago. This is who I really am. My voice is the mirror of my soul. It brings a lot of joy to my life to make music and heal people.

Why are you coming to VO Atlanta, and what are you looking forward to most?

I’m ready for new adventures and challenges in my life! Since my children are officially grown-ups this year, I’m preparing to live in New York to dive in the jazz scene for a couple of months a year. This has been a dream of mine for a long time, particularly in my younger years. It would be nice to find connections with recording studios and agencies over there. Even information from voice-overs colleagues about how the business works in the USA, is valuable. So, a lot of networking and research I suppose, just to find out how things work over there.

When I stay in New York I don’t want to bring my Apogee travel kit and stress myself all the time in my closet being covered with blankets, but I want to rent a professional sound studio there once or twice a week. I do the same thing here in Amsterdam with longer VO jobs.

I’m looking forward most to the workshop Nail your commercial reading I signed up for. Also hanging out with you guys, and singing with Machteld on the last night jam will be fun.

We’re going to have a ball together!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

 

PS I’ll be at VO Atlanta for two panels and two presentations. On March 27th at 9:50 AM I present “The incredible power of words.” The next day it’s time for my X-session “Boosting Your Business with a Blog” on March 28th at 9:30 AM. Click here to register.

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From Volunteer to Voice Over Dream Job

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Dutch, International, VO Atlanta1 Comment

Jolanda Bayens

At many occasions where Fred Rogers was asked to speak, he invited his audience to be quiet for sixty seconds. He said:

“I’d like to give you all an invisible gift. A gift of a silent minute to think about those who have helped you become who you are today. Some of them may be here right now. Some may be far away. Some, may even be in Heaven. But wherever they are, if they’ve loved you, and encouraged you, and wanted what was best in life for you, they’re right inside your self. And I feel that you deserve quiet time, on this special occasion, to devote some thought to them. So, let’s just take a minute, in honor of those that have cared about us all along the way. One silent minute.”

Today, I am going to introduce you to my remarkable Dutch colleague Jolanda Bayens, who will be joining me at VO Atlanta (March 26 -29). As you will find out, she has a very special person who has always encouraged her, and helped her become who she is today. We’ll get to that in a minute.

Jolanda, how did you get started in the business, and for how long have you been a voice-over?

In the past, I was a nurse, specializing in terminal care. After my studies I worked at a hospice, and later in home nursing. I fell and broke my pelvis in three locations. A few years later they discovered I had a condition that caused my bones to break very easily and significantly. I was declared unfit to work because the fractures didn’t heal properly. 

I enjoyed taking care of my children, but I missed a working environment. After trying out different things, I ended up as a volunteer at a commercial radio station where they trained me to write and read news bulletins. Over time I took on other jobs such as doing interviews, producing promos and jingles, as well as voicing commercials. I practiced so much!

In 2002 I sent a demo to a producer of commercials, and within a week I had booked a national spot. From then on the ball started rolling, and it has never stopped. A year later I was asked to read the news for a Dutch press agency. Shortly after that they asked me to present the traffic info. That’s how it all started.

What do you like about your work and the business you’re in?

I love working uninterrupted in my voice over booth, laughing about my own mistakes and spontaneously recording silly things. In my opinion, the business has become a lot harder in recent years. I also notice that young directors often prefer a beautiful, sultry voice instead of paying attention to correct pronunciation, accent placement, et cetera.

What has changed since you made your very first recording?

In the beginning I often had to go to a studio to record. These days that seldom happens. Most of my jobs I record at home. I love working from home, but I miss seeing my colleagues.

What do you specialize in? What makes you unique?

My versatility is my speciality. I particularly like that my voice has a wide range, from low to high. I’m also able to quickly access feelings, and emote them through my voice. On top of that I love playing with the Dutch language, and I know almost instinctively how a sentence needs to be spoken.

What do you find the most challenging aspect of your work, and why?

My biggest challenge is to make and maintain connections, and to sell myself. That’s hard for me. But it’s part of being an entrepreneur, so I have to do it.

What would be your dream VO job?

That’s a tough question. I’ve already had the opportunity to do so much. I don’t think there’s one genre of VO I haven’t done already.

What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?

I’m proud of everything I have done so far. Especially because this work gives me so much joy and satisfaction. It’s a puzzle piece of my life that just fits. I’m also very proud of voiceovercollege.nl. It’s a training institute for voice overs of which I am the founder and lead trainer. I teach courses in the Netherlands as well as in Belgium.

voiceover college

My approach is quite unique because I look at people in a holistic way. I don’t offer tricks that promise to give every student perfect pipes. I make people aware of who they are and all the things they can do with their voice. I’m very proud that a number of my ex-students are now enjoying a great career in voice overs. 

What’s an important part of your life you want people to know about, that doesn’t necessarily have to do with voice-overs?

To cut a long story short: when I was three and a half years old I was adopted by the Bayens family. I had been gravely neglected as a child, and the only thing I could do was throw temper tantrums  and swear in a strong Amsterdam dialect.

My mother spoke impeccable Dutch. Every day she’d read to me for hours, and sing children’s songs one after the other. That’s how she taught me to speak correctly without any regional accents and without cursing. I adopted her way of reading to people. Thanks to her, I am a voice over. Unfortunately, my adoptive parents passed away before I started doing this work, and that’s a shame.

Why are you coming to VO Atlanta, and what are you looking forward to most?

My main reason for coming to Atlanta boils down to one word: curiosity. I’ve never really been to a voice over conference. I’d love to just take everything in, and meet people. I’d like to learn from others and I hope others will also learn from me. I’m interested in the differences between voice overs from all over the world. 

I find it kind of thrilling to be by myself in a very different place, surrounded by people I’ve never met. But, as my husband tells me:

“Just go for it!”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS I’ll be at VO Atlanta for two panels and two presentations. On March 27th at 9:50 AM I present “The incredible power of words.” The next day it’s time for my X-session “Boosting Your Business with a Blog” on March 28th at 9:30 AM. Click here to register.

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