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The Yin and Yang of Freelancing

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing 13 Comments

IMPOSSIBLE CLIENTS.

We know who you are!

You’re searching for a specialist who can handle almost anything.

Isn’t that a contradiction in terms?

Does your family doctor make a great brain surgeon?

Can a novelist write irresistible advertising copy?

Yet, some clients are looking for a be-all, do-it-all freelancer with young, fresh ideas and years of experience.

Is that too much to ask?

Some psychologists say that the fact that we humans are able to hold two diametrically opposed ideas in our mind at the same time, is a true sign of intelligence. Part of me wants to believe that this is indeed correct. The other part thinks it’s

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How I Beat the Recession

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

RECESSION DEPRESSION

I don’t think it has made it into the DSM-IV yet (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders).

Give it some time and the American Psychiatric Association might include it in the next edition (together with Orthorexia nervosa, a harmful obsession with health foods).

If your plate or glass always appears to be half empty, it’s tempting to feel hopeless and helpless about the current state of the nation. Of course your freelance career is down in the dumps. It’s the economy, stupid! It has nothing to do with you.

Here’s the thing:

If it has nothing to do with you, it means that you can’t turn it around.

You’re a victim of circumstance. Now go to your doctor and ask for a happy-pill. You might be depressed, but the least you can do is feel good about it.

SUBJECTIVE REALITY

Remember that no matter where you look, you’ll always find a way to filter your perception of reality to justify your outlook on the world. If you feel that this time of economic crisis is limiting your chances of landing freelance jobs, you’re right. If you feel that the current recession is creating brand new freelance opportunities, you’re right!

What you focus on most, is most likely to materialize. That’s the idea behind the self-fulfilling prophecy.

As a blogging freelancer, I get a lot of emails from colleagues who want to pick my brain. Here’s the number one question people ask me:

How do you beat the recession?

My first inclination is to ask them “What recession?” but that would be insensitive. Of course I know that millions of people are scrambling to get by. I used to be one of them. But feeling overpowered and helpless about it is not going to pull you out of your slump. If you’re giving in and giving up, it’s game over. But that would be too easy. I think you deserve better.

INSIDE INFORMATION

At the risk of sounding like a self-help guru, I do believe that one way to beat this recession is by working from the inside out. Before you do anything, I recommend you look at the way you are perceiving yourself right now.

In Holland we have a saying: 

“Als je voor een dubbeltje geboren bent, word je nooit een kwartje.”

Or in plain English:

“If you were born a dime, you’ll never become a quarter.”

It’s another way of saying: You need to know your place and stay there. Well, if that’s really how you feel, what impact could this have on the choices you make?

If you’re applying for a job, and deep-down inside you’re telling yourself “I don’t deserve this” or “I’ll never make it,” aren’t you setting yourself up for failure?

Other people grow up believing: “I can do anything I set my mind to” or “No matter what happens, I’ll always find a solution.” How do you think this impacts the way they lead their lives?

CONVENIENT ASSUMPTIONS

Here’s the remarkable thing about beliefs: it doesn’t matter whether they’re true or not. Yet, beliefs are a powerful driving force behind behavior. Beliefs can give us hope, strength and courage, or they can fence us in and bring us down.

A belief is not some innocent abstract concept without consequences. Some people are prepared to kill and die in the name of whatever they believe in. Americans wouldn’t be celebrating the Fourth of July, if it weren’t for a set  of certain powerful beliefs!

Proponents of mind-body medicine like Bernie Siegel, M.D., are convinced that our beliefs can heal or harm our body, and that our state of mind has a measurable impact on our immune system.

If you think that all of this is just a bunch of mumbo-jumbo, realize that this too, is a belief. Beliefs don’t have to make any sense. Beliefs don’t need to be scientifically sound. Beliefs give people a feeling of certainty. All that matters is that a belief is plausible. The powerful placebo effect is entirely based on this assumption.

SCIENCE-FICTION

Nevertheless, a group of medical students who firmly believed in a logical, analytical approach to medicine, wouldn’t have any of it. How could ordinary thoughts possibly influence biological functions and seemingly autonomous chemical-electrical responses? That’s just a bunch of New Age baloney!

One day, their professor walked in and said: “By a show of hands, how many of you believe that the mind is capable of influencing the body?” Not one single hand went up in the air. Mind over matter wasn’t science. It was science-fiction.

Then the professor started reading one of the more notorious passages from Lady Chatterley’s Loverby D.H. Lawrence. Soon his audience started to blush. At the end of a few quite explicit paragraphs, he looked up at his students and asked the same question again. “How many of you believe that the mind is capable of influencing the body?” This time, they all raised their hands.

So, let me share one of my empowering beliefs with you. It goes like this:

THERE’S NO ONE LIKE ME

 I can already hear some people’s reaction:

“Well, duh… After all that build-up, is that the best you can do? Thank you Captain Obvious, superhero of platitudes! That’s not much of an eye-opener, is it? Of course there’s no one like you (and that’s probably a good thing).”

Well, once you get past the sarcasm and cynicism, consider the following.

Every day, thousands of people are waking up with a dream. Some want to become writers, news anchors or architects. Some want to find a cure for Multiple Sclerosis or invent an environmentally friendly way to clean up oil spills.

By the time we enter our teens, most of us have learned that dreams are figments of the imagination and that in order to grow up, we must face “reality.” Isn’t it strange? We start out as this helpless but boundless human being filled with infinite possibilities .

Then the process of social conditioning and conforming sets in. If we wish to please our parents and other role-models, we better be compliant and allow ourselves to be conditioned in order to be worthy of their love, attention and affection. We learn to blend in and not to raise our voice. If we do well, we are rewarded. If we don’t fit the mould, we have to face the consequences. Heaven forbid that we should stand out from the crowd…

GO YANKEES

When my 8-year old daughter wanted to go to school in a Yankees-shirt while 98% of the kids were wearing Phillies-Jerseys, some parents thought I was nuts. Why would I expose my daughter to ridicule and make her stick out like a sore thumb? What kind of a parent does that?

Here’s the thing: my daughter didn’t feel all warm and fuzzy about the Phillies. She happened to root, root, root for the Yankees. And when she went to school, she soon found out that a few other kids were Yankees fans too. Yes, some classmates made fun of her and others ignored her. But she held her head up high and felt even stronger because she stood up for something she believed in. Months later, the Bronx Bombers defeated the Phillies to win the World Series.

What does that have to do with beating the recession? I’ll tell you!

If you want to be self-employed but you don’t believe in yourself, you are sabotaging your success even before you’re out of the gate. You have to be comfortable with who you are and with what you have to offer (comfortable, not cocky).

If you’re in the service industry, you are your product. If you’re producing a product, you will be identified with it. Whether you like it or not, you are your brand and you better embrace it.

RIDICULE AND MOCKERY

When I set out to become a full-time voice-over professional, I knew the odds were heavily against me. Some people said:

“Do you honestly believe that you’ll make it as an actor? Dream on! The restaurants of New York and LA are filled with thousands of hopeful waiters. All they do is wait and wait for an opportunity that never comes. These days, anyone with a mic and a laptop can claim to be the next Don LaFontaine. The market is saturated. The economy is bad. Why don’t you get a real job, my friend?”

Here’s why I didn’t: because I knew that there’s no one like me. Yes, there are tons of people who do what I do, but they don’t do it the way I do it. It’s just a matter of letting the rest of the world know what I have to offer.

Believe it or not, when I wrote this article, my business was less than twelve months ago. A year before that, I had no ‘corporate identity’ and there was no company website or a blog. I didn’t own expensive equipment and I had no big shot agents ready to represent me. All I had, was a bunch of excited neurons bouncing around in my brain forming thoughts about starting my own business.

Well, that’s not entirely true. I had a number of people who believed in me, and who were willing to lend me a very generous helping hand. But before they could believe in me, I had to believe in myself.

GETTING THERE

After less than a year I achieved a lot.

My writings are read and reposted by more people than I ever hoped for. I have built a terrific studio and have invested in top-of-the-line equipment. I am recording voice-overs in four languages for clients on all continents.

Now, this list of personal achievements is not  some vain attempt to show off. Rather, it’s my way of telling you what could happen if you refuse to give in to recession depression.

The skeptics will tell you “I will believe it when I see it”. I am telling you that you have to believe it before you will see it.

When Disney World opened its doors, Walt Disney was no longer alive. Before the opening ceremony, a reporter asked Walt’s brother Roy:

“Don’t you think it’s a shame that Walt Disney isn’t here to see it all?”

Roy answered:

“That’s not entirely true.

Because Walt saw it, we are seeing it today!”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice 

PS My next article is  about freelance dilemmas. Is it better to be a generalist or a specialist?

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The one word that saved my freelance career

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Internet, Money Matters, Promotion 48 Comments

No, I’m not going to tell you what it is just yet.

Let me begin by asking you a simple question:

Do words have power?

When you think of it, aren’t they just letters, arranged in a certain order? Or are there words in our language that are so potent, that they have the potential to transform our life and our livelihood?

Now, before you think that I’ve gone all philosophical instead of practical, just  STOP for a moment and think about it.

In the past few days I’ve asked some of my friends about words they feel have had (and still have) a profound impact on their professional lives. Here are some of the words they came up with:

  • Faith
  • Fear
  • Confidence
  • Creativity
  • Luck
  • Love
  • Play
  • Passion

 

As for me, the one word that has been my guiding light in the past 25 years as a freelancer, is neither grand nor deep. Yet, I believe it to be one of the most powerful words in our vocabulary. Without it, my career certainly wouldn’t be where it is today. It consists of two letters.

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

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When your work becomes your life

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career Comments Off on When your work becomes your life

Two psychoanalysts were walking down a narrow road. A colleague came up to them for a stop-and-chat and asked:

“How are you today?”

Both analysts looked at each other and wondered:

What would he mean by that?

When I first came to America some 15 years ago, I noticed something strange. Whenever I asked someone: “How are you?” people would usually respond by telling me about their work, as if I had asked them: “What do you do?”

TO DO OR NOT TO DO

This begs the question: is our work so important that this is how we ultimately define ourselves? Isn’t there’s a big difference between ‘being’ and ‘doing’? Isn’t what we do only a part of who we really are?

Now, I completely understand that for some people, a profession is an expression of their identity, especially for those working in a creative field. But if we confine our definition of ourselves to the job we do, are we giving ourselves enough credit?

On one level, it is a privilege to be able to turn a passion into a profession and make it the center of our universe. Beethoven did it. Picasso too, perhaps. It can also be dangerous. How dangerous? Let me tell you about John*.

RADIO DAZE

John was a colleague of mine at the station I used to work for. Radio was his life. It was his ‘magnificent obsession.’ In fact, that’s all he ever talked about. He was a walking encyclopedia of all things wireless.

John was one of those gentle men you would easily overlook at a party. He seemed socially shy and out of place. But put him in front of a microphone, and you almost wouldn’t recognize him: he was engaging, energetic, funny and full of… life! The two sides of this golden coin couldn’t have been more different.

One day, serious looking men in charcoal gray suits walked into our station. They had one mission: to make us do more with less. Cutbacks were unavoidable. Layoffs were a certainty. It was only a matter of time.

Rumors were spreading fast. Would they get rid of those who had joined the station last, or would they turn to the veterans who, because of their seniority, were making a very decent salary, thereby draining the budget?

A LOST MAN

Two weeks later, I got my answer. John and I shared an office, and I saw him putting some old tapes and CD’s into a cardboard box. “Getting ready for the show, tomorrow?” I asked. Then I took a good look at him. His face had lost all color as if he had donated too much blood. “John, are you alright?” I said. “Do you need some help?” He never said a word to me, and continued packing, as if in a trance.

The next morning, the sound engineer knocked on my door. “This is John’s desk, right?” he wanted to know. “You’re looking at it,” I said. “It’s never been cleaner.”

“Do you happen to know where he is?” asked the engineer. “We’re supposed to tape his show in a few minutes. Usually he sets things up way ahead of time and I can’t find him anywhere.”

“To be honest with you, I haven’t seen him all morning,” I replied. “That’s not like him at all.”

Of course we called John’s home and he didn’t appear to be there either. Where could he be? All of us knew that he lived for his radio show and that he hadn’t missed a taping in thirty years. We were getting worried.

THE FINAL ANSWER

Two hours later, the management said they had an announcement to make. Two kids playing together had spotted John… hanging from a bridge.

One of John’s long-time colleagues and closest friends exploded when he heard the news. He stormed off saying: “Those bastards. They killed him. They should burn in hell!”

“What was that about?” I asked the sound engineer.

“I just heard,” he said.

“Heard what?” I asked.

“John had a meeting with the management, yesterday.”

“And?” I wanted to know.

“They fired him. Just like that.”

A LIFE’S WORK

The example of John is extreme. But I’m sure you know people for whom their work is their life. We praise them for their dedication. We admire them for what they accomplish. And when the reason for their existence is suddenly taken away from them, they are left with a void.

So, let me ask you: How are you?

Who are you?

How much of you is shaped by the work you do? Are you still chasing your dreams of a life filled with fame and fortune? Do you feel that you’ve achieved success?

CHOPRA

Writer, endocrinologist and one of the principal proponents of mind-body medicine, Deepak Chopra, came from India to study in the United States. He authored more than 50 books, including “Reinventing the Body, Resurrecting the Soul.”

His writings, CD’s, seminars and appearances have made him a wealthy man. But does he consider himself to be successful? Well, it depends on the definition.

I had the pleasure of interviewing him once, and Chopra defined success as follows:

  • The progressive realization of worthy goals;
  • The ability to love and have compassion;
  • To be in touch with the creative source inside you;
  • To ultimately move from success to significance

 

ALWAYS ON THE GO

So, measured by those standards, how are you really doing? And how are we doing as a society? Sometimes it’s best to have others hold up a mirror.

Many years ago, a visitor from a distant land came to the New World.  He had never seen any skyscrapers, department stores or the subway during the Monday morning rush hour. He was obviously overwhelmed and couldn’t wait to get back to his country, to report to his tribe what he had seen.

“What are the people like?” was what they wanted to know.

“The people?” he said? “I’ll tell you!”

“All they do is hurry-worry, hurry-worry. Day in day out.”

“What are you wearing on your wrist?” asked one of the elders, pointing at a watch that was given to him as a present.

“This is a device that tells you what hour of the day it is. It’s called a watch,” the man said.

“And you know what?” he continued,

“In this New World I visited, everybody wears a watch.

But nobody has time.”

GROUP THERAPY

“Nice story”, said the psychoanalyst to the narrator. “Thank you for that.”

Then he turned to me. “I believe we have to welcome a new member to our group today. Tell us who you are.”

I took a deep breath and said:

“Hello. My name is Paul, and I’m a workaholic.”

“Hi Paul” answered the group in unison.

“Great,” said the therapist.

“Now we all know who we are, let’s get to work!”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS What’s the one word that saved my freelance career? Find out in my next article.

*John’s not his real name. I have changed it to protect the identity of those involved.

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Top Voice Actor launches Internet Voice Coach

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Internet 2 Comments

Daniel Stern is known for his roles in films like “Hannah and her Sisters,” “City Slickers” and the first two “Home Alone” films. He’s also the narrator for the “The Wonder Years” and the voice of Dilbert in the animated TV series.

One day, Daniel got a script for a voice-over audition, and his mouth practically dropped to the floor when he read the specs:

“Must sound like Daniel Stern”

He’s thinking: “Piece of cake. This one’s in the bag!”

So, Stern goes to his booth; records a demo; sends it in…

…and doesn’t get the part!

Has that ever happened to you? Probably not, because your name is not Daniel Stern. However, we’re all too familiar with the story of that brilliant audition we did, that disappeared into nothingness and left us wondering:

“What just happened? I knew I nailed it. Why didn’t I get the part? Was it something I said?”

OVERCOMING REJECTION

There are two ways of dealing with this sad smack in the face:

1. Tell yourself: “Those ignorant producers don’t know talent even when it’s staring them in the face. By not selecting me, they have proven themselves unworthy of my God-given artistic gifts to this world. It’s their loss; not mine. Now, if you will excuse me, I’m late for my pedicure.”

or you could

2. Ask yourself: “What did I miss? Was there anything I could have done or should have done, to turn this audition from ‘good’ into ‘great’?”

Let’s be honest. All of us get stuck in a rut from time to time. Without prior warning, we lose our “magic touch,” our “MoVo”. That Money Voice that used to sell so well ain’t doin’ it no more. Does that mean your career is over? Of course not. It just means that it’s time to take a step back and get a second opinion.

You see, most of us aren’t as good as Baron von Munchausen, who reportedly pulled himself up from the swamp by his own hair. Sometimes, we need someone who’s not going to tell us what we want to hear, but what we need to hear.

We need a Dr. Phil who listens to people playing the same old tapes inside of their heads over and over again, and who will “tell-it-like-it-is”.

Or perhaps we want to go with someone with more hair, more flair and with more experience in the voice-over industry. Someone like David Rosenthal.

David is not only a top voice-over talent, actor and director with over 25 years of experience; he’s also a sought-after voice coach and teacher. A few days ago, I had a chance to talk to him about his craft, his approach as a coach and about his latest endeavor: Internet Voice Coach.

ALL WORK, NO PLAY

Rosenthal: “I tell all my students that auditioning has to be one of the most enjoyable parts of their day. If you are worried about getting that job or needing to sound a particular way, then it will never happen, because then you’re judging yourself; you’re in your ‘work-mode.’ The whole point is that people who truly know how to take life in the most optimistic and playful way, are priming themselves for being wonderful voice actors.

I feel that a lot of people getting into voice-overs have forgotten how to play as adults. All the actors in this industry that have created and sustained careers for 25, 30, 35 years, have done so, because they know how to play. They know how to roll with it; to be creative and imaginative and they’re never too hard on themselves.

This is another great secret: when you’re playing, nobody can judge you. You are free. You can’t judge play. It’s creative, in-the-moment stuff. It is attractive. It’s what keeps clients coming back to us as voice-over professionals, because we know how to bring that sense of play to life for their products. They know it’s magic.”

BIRTH OF AN IDEA

Rosenthal received his BA in Theatre, Anthropology, and English Lit. from Sarah Lawrence College. He studied acting in NYC at Herbert Bergoff Studios and in San Francisco with Richard Seyd. He is a regular voiceover talent for Sony, Nintendo, Sega and for commercial radio, with over 600 voice-over credits to his name. David teaches Spokesperson trainings, the Art of Voice Acting and he is a staff member of the Kids-On–Camera Acting School in the Bay area. He continues:

“Students would come up to me after class and say: ‘Dave, if there was any way that you could bottle this up -not just the lessons but the way you in which you teach them- and put it on the internet or on a DVD, I would buy it in a second.’ That stuck in my head. So I decided to take this particular philosophy that I have about this industry and our art, and present it to as many people as possible, in an extremely informative manner.”

ON-LINE VOICE COACHING

Rosenthal kept his word. In 2010, he launched a brand new website called Internet Voice Coach (IVC). It’s an extensive on-line resource as well as a community that brings industry experts, trainers, students and voice-over veterans together. Rosenthal:

“The primary focus of the site is on PLAY. People often come to me saying: ‘Everyone tells me I have a real nice voice,’ and I tell them: That’s really wonderful but, when you talk about essential prerequisites for making it in this industry, a really nice voice is not one of them. It’s a great asset, but that, by itself, won’t cut it.

So, I started thinking of creating a website around the philosophy of play, but also having all the tools that are necessary to help people who are just getting started, as well as more specialized advice and tips for seasoned pros.

For instance, we have interviews with casting directors and we’re asking them: What are you looking for? Why did you hire me for this last job? What’s going on in the industry right now that people need to be aware of? What are some common mistakes that you hear in auditions?”

ACTING OUT

“When you go on the site, you don’t just see a bunch of people talking about the industry. You can watch me as I prepare for an audition, literally playing in front of you, messing up my face and my voice, joking around.”

Here’s David on keeping a voice consistent with a character:

DEMO CRITIQUE

Internet Voice Coach offers more than videos, how-to articles and interviews. Rosenthal:

“We have an incredible aspect to our site. It is something I do not believe any other site has out there in the voice-over world and that is: ongoing personal feedback.

When you become a yearly member, you will get 20 opportunities a year to send in a voice-over demo for an audition or practice files that you’re working on. You can send them as an MP3, and you’ll receive an MP3 from us, loaded with feedback.

The advantage to that over one-on-one phone coaching is that it’s very focused and it doesn’t cost $130. I’m trying to be conscious of people’s pocket books, and at the same time give them a tremendous opportunity to learn and grow (membership is $199 per year PS).

We also have monthly webinars. That means we’re live on video, and members can log in and join in. After we talk about a particular subject for about 45 minutes, we take questions.”

DREAM TEAM

IVC is David’s brainchild, but he teamed up with voice-over actor and coach Jason Klofstad, who just happens to be the voice of Apple computer. His other partner is Mary Windishar, a broadcast producer for over 20 years (Oprah Winfrey Show); a voice and on-camera talent for over 15 years and a prominent spokesperson for women in the field of voice-overs.

Then there’s a whole list of regular contributors such as Elaine Clark, author of “There’s Money Where Your Mouth Is”.

David Rosenthal:

“The site is purposely called Internet Voice Coach and not Voice-Over Coach. It has modules on public speaking (featuring expert-in-residence Brian Collins) and articles on vocal health, overcoming rejection, marketing and much more.

Ultimately, IVC is a resource that isn’t just for learning the craft, but for staying on top of your craft. Had I had this site 25 years ago, I really would have been able to kick-start my career a lot faster. Why reinvent the wheel if you can learn from the best in the business?”

One of those people is actor Daniel Stern who was recently interviewed for the site.

He didn’t get the part, even though it his name written all over it.

I couldn’t help but wonder who eventually landed that gig.

Could it be… a certain David Rosenthal, perhaps?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS I have joined the IVC team of contributors as a voice-over specialist on ‘all things international.’ If you enjoy this blog, please join me on IVC for exclusive content and industry insights. Click on this link for a sample interview with actress Claire Dodin.

PPS All work but no play? My next blog is about the dangers of becoming a workaholic…

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Open Letter to Voice-Seekers

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play 17 Comments

Dear voice-over shopper:

Thank you so much for getting in touch! Before we get down to business, may I ask you a question?

Would you ever bid on a project without knowing the specifics?

Let’s assume you’re in the construction industry. A prospect sends you an email asking:

“How much for a building? Give me your best price!”

Could you honestly answer that question? Of course not. Yet, I receive emails every day, asking:

“How much for a voice-over? Give me your best price!”

… as if we’re talking about the cost of a Big Mac or a quart of milk. Even that differs depending on where you live.

If you were a builder who was asked to come up with an accurate estimate, you’d minimally need to know what purpose the construction would serve (commercial or residential); you’d have to know where it will be located, how big it needs to be, when it needs to be finished etcetera, etcetera.

Voice-over professionals are no different. They’re  independent contractors. They need to know what purpose their recording will serve, in what market it will play, how long the script is and how soon you need it (among other things).

Without specifics, any bid is based on pure guesswork and not on the particulars of your project.

“Then why” -you might ask- “are so many of your colleagues willing to plug in just about any number -no questions asked?”

I’ll answer that question with a question.

Would you trust a builder who’d name a price knowing hardly any details of the project? Or would you consider that to be… unprofessional?

STANDARDS, ANYBODY?

The voice-over industry is populated by seasoned pros, hopeful hobbyists and anything in between. With today’s technology, it’s so easy to plug a mic into a computer and hang up a sign saying:

“Voice for Hire. Will work for the experience.”

 

There are no requirements, no regulations and no standards.

What would happen if the construction industry would operate that way?

Some might argue that that’s an unfair comparison. When builders don’t follow regulations, people could get hurt. No one’s ever going to get harmed by an unprofessional voice-over artist, right?

Think again, and let’s zoom in on Medical Narrations. What would happen if the name of a medication would be mispronounced or if the narrator messes up the dosage? What would happen if a procedure would be read in such a way that it could be misconstrued?

These are extreme examples. I agree. How about something less serious: Audio Tours.

Imagine hundreds of tourists getting stranded on a hot summer’s day because the narrator had instructed them to go left instead of right. Among the group members are elderly people, pregnant women and folks with various medical conditions.

That’s not just a ‘small oversight on the part of an inexperienced narrator’.

That’s a lawsuit in the making!

THE REAL DEAL

Professionals do their homework. When a voice talent gets back to you with specific questions, that person is not trying to be a pain in the neck. It’s a sign of professionalism. It means that you’re not getting the cookie cutter treatment. It’s an indication that this person takes his or her job and your project seriously. Please remember:

Amateurs passively plug in guesstimates. Pros ask questions and give informed quotes.

There’s a reason why the word pro is part of ‘pro-active.’

Think of it this way: your voice-over project is a destination. If your end-client does not provide you with a clear description, how can you be sure that you’ll ever get there? Without the right information, you’re setting yourself up for failure, as well as the talent you’re hoping to hire.

Let’s assume the end-client asks for fruit and you come back with the juiciest orange ever to hang from a tree. It could have been a lucky guess. But what if your client says:

“Oh come on… I didn’t want a boring orange. I had an orange yesterday. You should have brought me an apple. A green apple. From Holland.”

THE BLAME GAME

Now, it’s easy to point the finger and blame your unspecific client. But blame is lame and disempowering. The ball was in your court. What did you do with it?

Not only are you now wasting your own time; you’ve just posted a vague project on a casting site and hundreds of voice-over talents are wasting their time recording a custom demo that’s nothing more than a shot in the dark.

Some of you might respond: “That’s just too bad. It’s part of the industry. It’s always been like that and it will never change. You win some. You lose some. And if you don’t like it, go do something else.”

That might be true, but does it really have to be that way? It’s the twenty-first century. Are we still running the industry based on these inefficient, expensive, last century old-school ideas?

IT ALL ADDS UP

Please consider this: how long will it take you to weed through all these shot-in-the-dark submissions? You might end up picking a very affordable talent, but -thinking of your hourly rate- how much did all that weeding just cost you and your company? Don’t you have better things to do than listen to auditions that totally miss the mark?

If you expect talent to be on target, give them a fair chance to hit the bull’s-eye.

Tell them what you’ll be listening for in as much detail as possible. If not for the sake of the voice talent, do it for your own sake. You’ll get much better results in less time.

Here are a few other tips. Don’t worry, they won’t cost you anything!

Language. Don’t just put “Spanish” if you really need a speaker from Chile. Otherwise you’ll get accents from wherever Spanish is spoken. (more on accents in this article)

Age. When you need a young and energetic sound and you’re not clueing us in, don’t be surprised to receive demos from mellow middle-aged matriarchs and serious sounding seniors (as well as from blogging voice-overs who love alliteration).

Budget. You say that you want to hire an experienced voice talent. Do you really think you’ll get one for a hundred bucks? Try this experiment: go to a jewelry store and shop for a 24 carat diamond. When you’ve picked out a nice rock, tell them you wish to get it at the price of a cubic zirconia. Let me know how that worked out for you.

I assume that you take pride in your work, just as we take pride in ours. Don’t devalue what we do. Believe me: it’s not as easy as it sounds.

Expertise. If you don’t want to pay a pro, why don’t you ask Sam in Receiving to record that power point presentation you’re about to give to potential investors. It’s only the future of your company that’s at stake.

Cindy the secretary has a nice voice too. Perhaps she’s willing to do that phone greeting that will be heard by thousands of customers every day. It’s not our job to determine how you want your company image to be perceived by the rest of the world.

Editing. If you expect a talent to deliver clean, edited audio, don’t assume that someone will throw that in for free. First of all, editing is a special skill and not every talent has mastered that skill.

Secondly, it takes an experienced editor at least twice as long to clean up the audio as the time needed to record it. People deserve to be compensated for their time and expertise. Aren’t you?

Payment. Don’t be surprised if we ask you to pay 50% upfront and the remainder upon receiving the recording. Some colleagues won’t record a word without getting paid in full first. You see, we haven’t established a relationship yet, and most of us have been burned in the past. Did that band you hired for the office party require money upfront? Did the hotel ask you for a deposit at the time you reserved that conference room?

Don’t take it personally. We run a voice-over business; not a collection agency. We give you our word (literally) that we’ll deliver the goods. In fact: we will WOW you! Please PayPal your down payment so we can get the ball rolling.

FINAL THOUGHTS

If you happened to detect a slight sarcastic undertone in my writing, please know that I’m aware of that. It’s a bad habit and I’m working on it. Just not today.

Secondly: not all voice-seekers are created equal, and it’s not right to put all of you into the same category. You’ve got to make a living too and make your boss happy by hiring the best talent at a reasonable price.

I’m confident that we can meet in the middle, and I’m committed to making your product or service shine as if it were my own. You and I are in the same boat:

Happy customers are our best credentials.

Testimonials from satisfied clients are stories that can never be accurately reflected in the most detailed of rate sheets.

Quality will always be remembered long after the bill has been paid.

Now… let’s talk some business, shall we?!

Sincerely,

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Voice seekers are not the only ones trying to get more out of you for less. My next article is about Internet Casting Services taking it to the extreme.

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Why you’re leaving money on the table

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Money Matters 18 Comments

 

How much do you charge for your services? What determines your asking price? If you charge too much, you run the risk of losing the job. If you’re selling yourself cheap, you look like an amateur. Here are 10 ways to win the bidding war.

“Do these cookies taste as good as they look?” asked our friendly neighbor.

“Even better,” said my almost 8-year old daughter with a big smile on her face. “I baked them myself this morning!”

Last week, she went door-to-door to raise money for our Walk MS team. She’s a much better fund-raiser than her father, who’s still hoping to do better with his own campaign. 

“How much are they?” the neighbor wanted to know.

“You can get two cookies for a dollar,” answered my daughter. A moment later, she had four shiny quarters in her hand.

“Fantastic,” I said. “I’m so proud of you! You just made your first dollar. Now, do you want to know a little secret to raising some serious money?” She was all ears.

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

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The secret to landing any freelance job

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Money Matters 11 Comments

Is your freelance business going down the drain?

Are you sick and tired of rejection?

Have you had enough of wasting your time on auditions, bids and proposals that never lead to anything?

Perhaps it is time to make frustration your friend. Be sure to add a strong dose of disgust to the mix. According to success strategist Jim Rohn, disgust is one of the four emotions that can lead to life change. Rohn:

“The person who feels disgusted has reached a point of no return. He or she is ready to throw down the gauntlet at life and say, “I’ve had it!”

RESOLVE

Once your frustration has reached a boiling point, it is time to make up your mind. Are you throwing in the towel, or are you going to take massive action and turn your business around? If you pick the last option, the next question is: HOW?

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

Making Money In Your PJs cover

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Renowned German Scientist Apologizes

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Gear 19 Comments


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The Mic Warmer: launching a true innovation

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Gear 29 Comments

“Paul, I think you’re on to something,” said Heinz Gruenewald.

Heinz works for the world-renowned Westdeutscher Rundfunklabor in Germany, and he’s one of the top sound wave specialists. He has several patents in nanomaterials, acoustic devices, transducers and sensors in his name.

AN UNUSUAL TALENT

Just like some wine connoisseurs are born with an extraordinary palette, Heinz is blessed with extraordinary hearing. As you know, you can let an oenophile taste a glass of wine, and he’ll tell you what country it’s from, what region and even from what year. Heinz has that same uncanny ability but with microphones.

He says that it’s both a blessing and a curse: “Whenever I hear audio, my mind immediately tries to figure out what microphone was used to record it. It usually takes me a few seconds to analyze the sound spectrum. Call me arrogant, but 9 out of 10 ten times I’m dead on.” Heinz has even been on the German version of 20/20 to show his talent off.”

Right now, he is working on a portable version of the digital microphone interface, which is expected to come out next year. The rapid advance of high-def television is associated with increasing requirements in terms of audio technology, which can only be met with the aid of digital microphones. That’s where Heinz comes in.

SURPRISE DISCOVERY

Heinz and I actually started an “online relationship” when I found him on the Internet as I was looking for an expert who could confirm or deny what only can be labeled as a surprise discovery. Here’s how it started.

At the end of 2008, I was listening to some old demos of mine, to determine which ones to keep and which ones to delete. Since I’ve been listening to myself for my entire life, it’s fair to say that I know my sound top to bottom, inside out. For some reason I listened back to back to a demo recorded at the end of January and one from the middle of August. The difference between the two couldn’t have been greater. It was almost as if another person had taken over my vocal chords. I couldn’t believe it.

Back in January, my sound was thin, shallow and cold. In August I sounded rich, resonant and warm. Mind you: I was certain that I had used the same microphone, the same preamplifier and they were all at the same setting I always use to create a consistent sound. For days I kept wondering what could account for the tremendous difference in the way my voice came across. It was night and day. It was too weird for words. What on earth could be the difference that had made the difference?

EUREKA MOMENT

Then I got an unexpected breakthrough. One December morning, I went into my studio to record an audition. It was early and I was freezing. Nevertheless I gave it my all. But when I heard myself back, I could hear the cold of the morning in my voice. This wasn’t working. I decided to switch on the thermal heater and come back when the temperature would be up.

Fast forward sixty minutes. I recorded the same lines with the same gear, and out of curiosity I played the two recordings I had made one after the other. My mouth fell open. A week and many experiments later, I contacted Heinz.

“Let me get this right,” he said with his soft German accent. “Are you saying that the temperature in the recording booth actually influences the way you sound?”

“Based on my experiments, I’m prepared to go even one step further,” I said. “At this point I am convinced that the temperature of the microphone greatly affects the tonal qualities of the sound it is picking up. It boils down to this:

When the mic is cold, I sound cold. When the mic is warm, I sound much warmer.

SCIENCE IN ACTION

Being a scientist and a sound wave specialist, Heinz didn’t take my word for it. Not even when I sent him the audio files. But I could tell he was intrigued and determined to repeat my experiment in a laboratory setting. It was easy enough to replicate.

At 3:00 AM the next morning my phone rang. An excited Heinz had forgotten that he was on German time.

“Paul, I think you’re on to something,” he said. “I have never heard anything like it. I only had a cheap microphone in my office, but I decided to put it to the test anyway. Stone cold it sounded like…. the piece of junk that it was. But when I left it on the radiator and it had warmed up significantly, it was a totally different animal. I swear to you, it almost had tube-like characteristics. It’s amazing. I don’t know how it works, but it definitely does.”

FURTHER TESTING

In the months that followed, Heinz and his team made sure that this hadn’t been a random event. Test groups were brought in to evaluate identical sound bites that were recorded with cold mics and mics that were warmed up. Without exception, the people surveyed not only noticed the difference; they all preferred the warmer sound of the warm microphone.

In February 2009, I traveled to Germany to go over the findings of the Rundfunklabor in person. Heinz and I had been speculating about how we could put my discovery to practical use. We had agreed that it would be a shame to leave the results of the research in some stuffy drawer.

When we sat around the table at the lab, Heinz had a big smile on his face when he handed me a cable with some sort of extension that reminded me a bit of a MicPort Pro. He said: “It looks like an ordinary USB cable, right?” “More or less,” I replied. “What is this black thing that’s attached to it, and why are you showing me this?” Heinz said: “You are looking at a prototype, my friend. And I have a feeling that this is going to create a small revolution.”

TRIAL PRODUCT

He continued: “This device is powered from the USB port and needs no batteries. The other end plugs directly into a condenser microphone. Now, do you see this control knob? Notice that the scale is in centigrades?

When you turn it up, it draws energy from the computer and transfers it into heat. This heat is actually warming up the microphone. And because you can adjust the temperature, you can adjust the tonal quality of whatever the mic is recording. That means that you can use a lower temperature for microphones that already have a warmer sound. Isn’t it ingenious?”

I was floored. In a few months time and without telling me, Heinz had turned my little discovery into the beginnings of a product. “Do you think people would actually buy this?” I asked.

“Paul, listen to me,” said Heinz. “I took the cheapest condenser microphone I could find and plugged it into this mic warmer. When it had reached the right temperature, I asked a professional narrator to read a few paragraphs into this mic. Then we asked him to read the same passage and we recorded it with a Neumann U87 large diaphragm microphone. I think it sells for about $3400.00 in the US.

My assistants had me listen to both samples, and I am telling you right now that I could not hear the difference. And you know me. My ears never lie. This is going to be big!”

“We have to make sure that this thing is safe,” I said. “I don’t want to be sued by some engineer because my device set his studio on fire.” Heinz agreed that there still was a lot of work to be done, but he was confident that we could put this thing on the market within one to two years.

NEW DEVELOPMENTS

With the backing of an innovation grant from the European Union, things moved fast. Patents were secured. The technology was thoroughly tested. Designers were brought in to make the mic warmer look sleek and futuristic. Because we were using European money, the device had to be manufactured in Europe. That’s where my Dutch connections came in. I managed to find a small company in the North of Holland that was able to start a modest production line. And I am proud to tell you that in the next month or so, the very first mic warmer will be ready to go to market!

It will be officially launched at the biggest annual audio show in Munich, but one of America’s top pro-audio providers has already placed a substantial advance order after hearing the test results. Geoff Deary, the head engineer, said that he had been very skeptical at first, but that he was “absolutely blown away by this small device.”

CONTEST

So… there you have it.  As faithful readers of my blog, I wanted you to be the first ones to know. But this story does not end here. I need your help. My product needs a name. For some reason ‘mic warmer’ doesn’t sound good. That’s where you come in. I’m asking you to come up with a better name. Please leave your suggestions in the comment section at the bottom of this article.

In two weeks, Heinz Gruenewald and I will pick a winner. And if we choose your name, you will be the first person to receive the finished product! The winner will be announced in this blog, so stay tuned.

Thank you so much for your help!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS please take a few moments to read a personal letter from Prof. Dr. Heinz Gruenewald.

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