nethervoice

Piracy in voice-over land

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, International 7 Comments

On June 5th 1995, John Baur and Mark Summers were playing a friendly game of racquetball. For some mysterious reason, they started encouraging each other in pirate slang. I’ll let them tell the story:

“…whoever let out the first “Arrr!” started something. One thing led to another. “That be a fine cannonade,” one said, to be followed by “Now watch as I fire a broadside straight into your yardarm!” and other such helpful phrases.

By the time our hour on the court was over, we realized that lapsing into pirate lingo had made the game more fun and the time pass more quickly. We decided then and there that what the world really needed was a new national holiday.”

With Halloween upon us, our streets will soon be filled with young Jack Sparrow lookalikes, some of them more Arrr-ticulate than others.

HALLOWEEN

As a voice-over arrr-tist, I absolutely love October 31st.  What other holiday gives me the perfect excuse to revisit my crypt of creepy vowels and consonants, and resurrect them for the promotion of a local thrill ride or a scary costume emporium?

At this magical time, I usually take out my secret weapon: the alveolar trill, also known as “rolling R”. Doesn’t everything sound more sinister and spooky with a rolling R? Just think of the prince of darkness himself: Count Drrrracula from Trrrrransylvania.

You should be warned: the Dutch have a distinct advantage in the rolling R department. We roll ’em out all the time. Words like Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Strikwerda… they wouldn’t be the same without a tongue-twisting alveolar trill. Netherlanders really appreciate their R’s.

The English on the other hand, consistently snub this consonant. What’s even worse, they leave half of them unspoken. Ask any Englishman to properly pronounce the following sentence:

“Not a word about the bird was ever heard until it occurred.”

Tell me, where did the R’s go? Now, if you did hear any rolling R’s in there, you were probably listening to a Scotsman.

PETER PAN

However, there’s one important exception. If a classically trained English speaking actor wishes to add a dash of extra creepiness to his delivery, he will bring back the rolling R. My favorite example: the inimitable Cyril Ritchard in his role of Captain Hook.

Even though most of us will never be asked to play Captain Hook, I believe the alveolar trill should be on the tip of the tongue of every professional voice-over actor. Many of our clients are paying us for our ability to correctly reproduce the names of people and places, foreign and domestic, no matter what our mother tongue may be.

Just as opera singers are expected to master Italian, French and German pronunciation, students in my fictitious voice-over academy would have to take languages classes as part of their verbal acrobatics curriculum. As one of my imaginary students, you’d only be allowed to graduate if you could say the following Spanish sentences correctly, three times in a row:

“Erre con erre cigarro. Erre con erre barril.

Rápido corren los carros sobre los rieles del ferrocarril”

THE MISSING LINK

There are other strange things going on with the R in the English language. As we’ve seen, the R is often written out but not pronounced, as in the sentence “Never say never” (spoken in the Queen’s English, of course). But if that same word precedes a word that begins with a vowel, the same R is pronounced, as in “Never say never again”. This is called a linking R.

On top of that, some English speakers add an R that doesn’t even appear on the page, as in the word “idea-r” or the sentence “President Obama-r-and his Danish counterpart”. Linguists call this phenomenon an “intrusive R”.

And then, there is this famous R…

Peter Cook as the “Impwessive Clewgyman” in Wob Weiners “The Pwincess Bwide”.

As non-native English speakers (such as myself), what-R-we to make of all this? Is there any logic to your language? Is there any welation between your spelling and your pwonunciation?

AMERICA

So far, I have only touched upon the rolling-R and the Bwitish R. What  about it’s American counterpart? Well, as you know, the ever so silent British R is often clearly pronounced in the States. Just as the rolling R might be a challenge for Americans, some Europeans have a hard time pronouncing a simple word like ‘hamburger’. See for yourself.

AHOY ME HARTEYS

There’s only day in the year that’s absolutely ideal for practicing your R’s. It’s September 19th, the International Talk Like A Pirate Day! And if you don’t believe me, ask John Baur and Mark Summers. With the help of some friends, they turned a goofy idea  into a global phenomenon, with a newsletter called The Poopdeck. It’s arrrguably one of the silliest idears I’ve heard in a long time, and that’s exactly why I love it.

Now, if you will excuse me… I have to get back to my ship.  Arrrrr!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS voice-over talents will love this short pirate video, written by & starring Jonathan Kydd. It’s called “Aharrr”.


Should amateurs be ousted from voice-over sites?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Internet, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play 19 Comments

Which orchestra was voted the best symphony orchestra in the world?

Eminent music critics asked themselves that same question at the end of 2008. They narrowed the list down to twenty. A year later, the renowned British music magazine “the Gramophone” published the results.

The famous Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra ended up in second place, but who came first? The New York Philharmonic? The Wiener Philharmoniker? The Chicago Symphony?

AN EARFUL

I just spent a few hours on-line listening to YOU… my colleagues, my competition, my inspiration. It was both frightening and enlightening. As I was clicking away part of my day, I was amazed by a number of things, going from Pay-to-Play to Pay-to-Play. This is what I found:

1. Anyone can sign up for a voice-over site these days, on three conditions:

a. you have to have a voice
b. you have to have a credit card
c. you have to have a computer and a microphone

2. Fifty percent of the advertised ‘talent’ can’t interpret a simple script;

3. The same people don’t seem to know the first thing about recording either;

4. Amateurs who put themselves out there as voice-over pros, have a lot of guts, coupled with a deadly mix of unrealistic expectations, a lack of experience and the funds to invest in a pipe dream;

5. As I wrote in another article, foreign voices are often not as advertised. We still have Flemish speakers posing as Dutch talents, German speakers who are really from Austria, and Australians pretending to be Americans. Whatever happened to quality control?

6. Don LaFontaine is still very much alive, but he goes by many different names these days. Or is just every other American male voice-over talent riding on his coattails as they are trying to emulate the master?

PAYING THE PRICE

I must say that I don’t envy the voice-seekers who have to sift through over one hundred auditions to find the perfect voice for their low- or no-budget project.

Then again: they asked for it, so we shouldn’t feel too sorry for them. It’s the price you pay when you’re asking every Tom, Dick or Harry to tape a custom demo for that cheap frying pan you’re trying to sell on late-night cable television. You often get what you pay for… frying pan, voice-over talent, it doesn’t make a difference.

What do I make of all this, you may ask? Well, here’s what I think.

Having a microphone, a MasterCard, a laptop and a fantasy doesn’t mean one should be allowed to join a professional site, no questions asked. We have websites for amateur dog breeders, amateur sports people, amateur musicians… why not design a site dedicated to amateur voice-over artists? I bet you’ll make a lot of money in the Odesk-market segment. It could be a kind of Bargain-Bodalgo.

Don’t get me wrong. Hobbies are wonderful things. My neighbor takes great pictures, but he wouldn’t dare to advertise himself as a professional photographer, nor should he. National Geographic would immediately show him the door.

A friend of mine is not a bad trumpet player, but if he were to audition for a real job in the music industry, he would never make the first cut (and he knows it). Apparently, those stringent standards don’t seem to be in place in certain segments of the voice-over industry. Why not?

THE PROBLEM BEHIND THE PROBLEM

As long as some sites make most of their money through subscriptions, more members means more money. It’s a business model, not a charity. It’s a model that essentially values quantity over quality. The only way to go, is to grow.

Let’s be honest. The voice-over market is pretty much saturated at this moment. You don’t need a degree in economics to realize that a greater supply in a weakened market can only mean one thing: tumbling prices.

The best way to speed this process up, is to have suppliers engage in a furious bidding war. Darwin would have named it: “Survival of the Cheapest”. Isn’t that exactly what is happening? And if you don’t believe me, why is it so hard to buy products that are not “made in China”? Before we know it, all of us will be replaced by IVONA speech synthesis technology. It’s almost as good as the real thing and I bet it’s a lot cheaper.

NO CURE NO P(L)AY

If it were up to me, I’d rather have a performance-based No Cure No Pay-system in place. Out with the premium, platinum and titanium memberships. From now on, voice-over sites should get paid when I get paid. And the only way I get paid, is when voice-over sites do their job and connect me to reputable voice-seekers that are ready to pay reasonable rates.

Perhaps that will make the Pay-to-Play’s more accountable and selective in terms of whom they’re willing to represent. Perhaps that’s the way to separate the wheat from the chaff. Let the dabblers do their thing. As long as they stay in their own league and stop messing with my market.

PROFESSIONAL STANDARDS

Secondly, I’d like to see these websites publish and uphold certain professional standards. Accreditation comes from the word ‘credo’, which means “I believe“. Although related, ‘credo’ is not the same as ‘credit’.

Our belief in someone’s talent should be based on professional principles, instead of on the spending limit on their credit card. So, let me ask you this:

1.In your experience, are you aware of any professional standards that are promoted and actively upheld by Pay-to-Play sites?

2. If the answer is “yes”, are you happy with these standards, and are they well-advertised and implemented?

3. If the answer to the 1st question is “no”, do you think that voice-over sites should adopt, publish, promote and maintain certain standards?

4. Should talents be denied membership, if they don’t meet certain basic criteria of professionalism?

5. Would it make sense to create a special category for amateur voice actors, or even a dedicated website? Or do dilettantes have no business being in our business?

6. What’s the best and most fair way to compensate P2P’s for their services? A subscription fee? A percentage of  what you’re making for a particular job?  A combination of both?

AND THE WINNER IS…

One question remains.  For that, we return to the quest for the best symphony orchestra in the world. The votes have been counted. The sealed envelope is opened as the audience collectively holds their breath. And the winner is….

The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra from Amsterdam

Why? Because their standards are higher. After a grueling audition process, the Concertgebouw only hires the cream of the crop; well-trained people playing the very best instruments. No amateur fiddlers. The Gramophone’s editor James Inverne, put it this way:

“It is hardly possible any more to recognize particular orchestras by their individual sound. I think that with some orchestras, and the Berlin Philharmonic amongst them, that’s a bit of a worry. Whereas with the Concertgebouw you always know it’s the Concertgebouw. And I think that’s what has given them the edge amongst our critics.

Maybe it’s occasionally very slightly rougher than what the Berliner Philharmonic can produce, but it doesn’t matter, because they’re like a great actor bringing their own charisma and their own personality to every work, and always giving you the sense of the spirit of the work.”

Now, that’s what I call music to my ears! I’ll gladly pay to hear them play any day!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

My next blog is a little more lighthearted, and I’ve invited Steve Martin, Peter Cook and Cyril Ritchard to add some  fun to the pirate party!


How to become a celebrity

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Promotion 1 Comment

She was a world famous news anchor.

In Holland, that is.

With a population of only 16 million, it’s easy to be a celeb in the lowlands. In fact, one in five individuals is probably (in)famous for something.

You might have heard of André Rieu, Famke Janssen, Rutger Hauer and Paul Verhoeven. Big fish who eventually escaped the small Dutch pond.

On this particular morning, our beloved news anchor showed up to make some money on the side. A local charity thought that the appearance of a TV-personality would please the crowds and bring in some much needed cash for a homeless shelter. I was there to see the limo arrive thirty minutes late.

Strangely enough, I didn’t recognize the person stepping out of the town car. Dark glasses covered her sleepy eyes. Then I remembered that she had presented the late night news the day before. And without any make-up, she had suddenly aged about 25 years in 2.5 seconds.

As she was escorted onto the stage, the audience, made up in part of homeless people, got a good look at her pink Chanel outfit, Fendi handbag and high-end jewelry. Yes, it was clear that this woman was in desperate need of the extra cash she was about to make. Then again, I shouldn’t be so judgmental. Her vacation home had just been featured in one of the lifestyle magazines, and I’m sure the monthly mortgage payment was weighing heavily on her haute-coutured shoulders.

HERE IS YOUR HOST

All of this went through my mind, as I stepped up to the podium at a local synagogue to host a special concert. It was more than a concert, actually. It was an emotional reunion of two musical sisters. One of them had made her way to the United States and the other had chosen to stay behind in Russia. And now, for the first time in many years, the two performed together on one stage.

Paul Strikwerda emcee

the author hosting an event

Hosting is different. It’s a perfect opportunity to connect with a crowd and get immediate feedback. Let me tell you this: nothing is more frightening than the sound of a joke falling flat on its face. Nothing is more exciting than the sound of roaring laughter, after you’ve delivered a great punch line.

IN THE SPOTLIGHT

Now, before you conclude that being an emcee is all about me, let me stop you in your tracks. It’s not. Rule number one in the book of hosting is this: 

Never take the focus away from the event and the performers.

Be warm and welcoming; keep your remarks to the point and make them short and sweet. Find a happy medium between being entertaining and informative. If you manage to do that, you’re well on your way to making hundreds of new friends.

For those of you who’d like to give it a try, here are a few other pointers:

Do your homework.

Find out what group of people you’ll be addressing. Don’t make references to “Gilligan’s Island” if your audience is under 25. And don’t mention Zac Efron, unless your audience is made up of yelling teenage girls. Stay away from politics. Get your facts right. Know the names of the performers and/or speakers, and know how to pronounce them correctly. Find out what they will be performing and dig up some short anecdotes or little known details. Have enough material in case you need fillers.

Arrive early. Dress for the occasion. Don’t wear a tux to a folk concert. Familiarize yourself with the location. Know where the emergency exits are. Introduce yourself to the staff, the sound technicians and the stage manager. Test the sound equipment. It usually does not work. Check the order of the program and find out about last-minute changes.

During the show:

Be the glue that holds the event together and the oil that keeps things moving. Briefly introduce yourself and engage your audience from the start. Set some ground rules (e.g. switch off cell phones). Be animated and avoid clichés such as “without further ado” or “give it up for…” Don’t play favorites. Introduce each performer with the same level of enthusiasm. Never, ever make fun of them.

Don’t be on stage during the performance, and please pay attention to the act or the speaker. You never know what you can use to build a bridge to the next performance. It also shows that you’re not just a talking head, but that you’re interested in what’s going on. Keep track of the time as well. It’s your job to make things start on time and end on time.

Be sure to publicly thank everybody at the end, and make some brief, final announcements. After the audience is on their way, thank everyone involved personally: the performers, the staff, anyone who made this happen.

THE BIG LET-DOWN

Let’s go back to the charity event for the homeless for a moment.

I have to be honest with you. Without sleep and without teleprompter, the celebrity news anchor was absolutely hopeless. The fact that she arrived in a limo and was dressed in designer clothes had not earned her much credit with the homeless.

She might have been good working the camera, but she certainly wasn’t working the audience. Her intros were taken straight from the program. Anyone could have done that. And as speaker after speaker tried to move the masses, she was sitting in the front row, sending text message after text message, looking utterly out of place.

When the event was finally over, she left through the back door, running away from the fans who had hoped to take a picture with her.

HAPPY ENDING

Luckily, my concert ended on a happier note. I think it was a C-sharp.

At the reception following the performance, I discovered another benefit of event hosting. My pro-bono appearance turned out to be tremendous free publicity for my services. All of a sudden I was on the local map! Some people even told me: “You should do this for a living!” But wait, it gets even better.

The videographer, who had been recording the entire performance, hired me on the spot for a movie he was shooting. You’ve heard me… a motion picture! Yes my friends, I am now world famous.

That is, in Easton, Pennsylvania.

My home town.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice.


Nail ’em to the wall!

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play 2 Comments

Humor and humiliation.

It’s a weird combination and yet, it’s the basis of every slapstick.

Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Laurel and Hardy, they all made us laugh because they made someone else cry. It’s that cake-in-your face humor, the poke in the eye joke and the dignitary forced to parade around town in his underpants that never seems to get old.

Embarrassing people is funny business. Especially if we embarrass those who were born without a funny bone. Sometimes it can be an effective deterrent too.

THE CONTINUING SAGA

If you’ve been following recent revelations on the limited success of Pay-to-Play sites, and the question that started it all What happens to our demos?,” you must have noticed that this storm still hasn’t subsided. Voices.com Stephanie Ciccarelli even wrote a two page “Clarification on the Status of Job Postings” on Vox Daily.

At the same time, voices.com has made changes to their SurePay system to prevent abuse from customers, specifically credit card fraud. And as you know, that’s not the only kind of abuse that’s going on in our industry.

On the LinkedIn Working Voice Actor Group, a colleague wrote about a lead she got from a P2P site. The voice-seeker said they wanted to hire her, but instead they used her scratch track and turned it into a commercial. The next day they had it airing all over the country. The talent never got paid and she only found out about it after friends alerted her when they heard her voice on the radio.

This is what I would like to know:

  • Apart from the bad guys, who should be held responsible? The talent, because she didn’t watermark her scratch track or charge the voice-seeker for stealing a demo?
  • Is the Pay-to-Play site to blame because they were responsible for the lead?
  • Would this have happened had this been a union job?
  • Would this have happened had the talent used an agent?
  • What can be done to make sure other voice-talents don’t fall into the same trap?

 

SCAMS GALORE

Of course trusting, law-abiding citizens like you and me are getting ripped off each and every day. I sometimes do double duty as a translator, and I got burned once or twice by a client writing out a bad check. I ran to the nearest Better Business Bureau and filed a complaint, but all they could do was lower the rating of the translation agency.

However, as a member of Translatorscafe.com (a P2P-style site), I have a not so secret weapon at my disposal. It’s called:

The Hall of Fame and Shame.

This is a members-only area, filled with feedback about unreliable agencies, dirty rotten scoundrels, reputable translators and anything in between. Before I take on a new job, I always enter this Hall to see what I can find. It’s by no means foolproof because not every agency is rated, but I backed out of a job a few times because I discovered that I had been contacted by a bad apple. The thing is: con artists are notorious repeat offenders, and as soon as they are found out, they move on to another unsuspecting victim.

It’s important to note that this Hall is for people on the demand as well as the supply side. Some translators are less talented than others. Some let a computer program do all the work while they are having all the fun. Some miss their deadlines and ‘mysteriously disappear’ from the radar screen. All of that is exposed. Apart from the bad and the ugly, there’s also lots of good stuff going on in the Hall. People sing the praises of interpreters and agencies alike. In that way, the Hall serves as both a carrot and a stick.

EARLY WARNING

Wouldn’t it be great if we had such an early warning system in place in our industry? You can find hints of it on certain sites, but as far as I can tell, there’s no database that’s filled with red flags and smiley faces. There’s no blacklist of known crooks that have stolen our demos, taken our money or conveniently forgot to pay us. Translatorscafé knows who they are. How about Voices.com?

Or are these sites just a funnel instead of a filter? Is this simply beyond their control? Should we just pay them a yearly fee and trust that nothing bad will ever happen? And when it does, are we condemned to fight the thugs on our own? Donna -voplanet- Summers wrote to the working voice actor group:

“(…) you guys chose not to use agents when you joined the P2P’s. You wanted to do it all yourselves, including negotiating, booking, and monitoring your auditions and jobs. P2P’S get you the auditions and you still complain! Save that big 10% you pay an agent to deal with these issues for you. And now you expect someone to jump in and save you from the big bad ad agents? You can’t have it both ways, Talent.”

Is she right? Are we paying the price for not being willing to pay an agent? How about those of us who can’t get one? Agents are highly selective, especially in this economy. And are agents immune to scams? Let’s ask the victims of Bernie Madoff! Steven Spielberg, Jeff Katzenberg and Elie Wiesel all fell for his scheme. I’m pretty sure that all of them had good advisors.

My point is this: we can’t always prevent bad things from happening. Part of this world is still a nasty and dark place. But it’s what we do after the fact that matters. Let’s put something in place that can serve as a deterrent and as a reference. Our weapon: a “Hall of Fame and Shame.” Our punishment: semi-public humiliation!

PARTY TIME

One final thought.

Every year my street has a much anticipated block party. In fact, it’s one of the oldest in the nation that is still going strong. This year’s highlight was not the moon bounce or the Chinese auction. Any idea what was?

You guessed it: it was the dunk tank.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS I wrote this post in 2009 and there’s still no voice-over equivalent of the Hall of Fame and Shame. 


What makes people click?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Internet, Journalism & Media, Promotion Comments Off on What makes people click?

 

On June 8th of 2009, something occurred that had never happened before in the history of mankind.

Hyères, the oldest and most southerly resort on the French Riviera, was the scene of an attempt to break the world record in Static Apnea. That’s the discipline in which a freediver holds his or her breath for as long as possible.

The old record of 10:12, set in 2008, was held by Tom Sietas of Germany.

The challenger, Frenchman Stéphan Mifsud, was determined to destroy it. Some called him a hero. Others thought he was a suicidal lunatic. Few believed that he could do it.

AIDA is the International Association for the Development of Freediving. Their website offers a lot of in-depth information about various disciplines, such as “free immersion,” “constant weight” and “dynamic with fins.” However, it does not answer one fundamental question:

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

Making Money In Your PJs cover


8 ways to boost your web traffic

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Internet, Promotion 8 Comments

Having a website is not an accomplishment.

Bella the Hamster has one. Famous dead people do too.

I have even seen sites in loving memory of unfamous dead hamsters! Some of those websites get more visitors in a day, than you hope to have in a year.

Here’s my question:

If you have a business website and you’re not getting any traffic, what’s the point? You might as well give the money you’re sending to your Internet Service Provider to a worthy cause, such as the Don LaFontaine Voice-Over Lab.

If, on the other hand, you want to use your online presence to your advantage, you better roll up your sleeves and get to work! Unless you’re too busy auditioning for that $200 narration of a 300 page audio book.

is a digital marketing agency with specific expertise in social media and 12 offices worldwide. In 2008, Nilhan Jayasinghe, their VP, wrote a paper entitled; “Optimizing for users, not search engines. Building a sustainable brand in a connected world”.  He says:

“As search engines become more sophisticated, they will increasingly incorporate user data to validate their results. The numbers of people visiting a site; the time that users spend on a site; the depth of their engagement; whether they return over a period of time; how many people add it to their social bookmarking tools such as Digg; all will potentially be taken into account.”

If you’ve read my last blog, you already know that the new Google is going in that direction. And where Google goes, others follow. In my opinion, there are at least two things you must do to take advantage of this development. These are the things that will drive people to your website; keep them there and make them come back:

1. Start writing for people, not for search engines: offer fresh & relevant content.
2. Stop “telling & selling”. Instead, engage your visitors and begin a dialogue.

Here are a few ways to do it:

1. Offer FREE STUFFParadoxically, some companies are making lots of money by giving things away for free. It’s called the “freemium model” whereby some content is offered at no charge, while premium content is not. Seattle-based Big Fish Games distributes more online games than anyone else, at about 1 million a day. You can try almost any Big Fish game for free, but there are add-ons that players have to pay for.

Slide 1A few months ago, our colleague Peter O’Connell made his e-book “The Voice Over Entrance Exam” available at no charge. I’m pretty sure that this brought new visitors to his website. It did something else too: it established him as an expert. Here’s a third bonus: free resources get links. Isn’t that what I just did?

2. Contests & Awards are another way to drive people to your site. Videovoicebank.net organized a contest, and voice-overs were invited to share their professional horror stories. Not only did the Videovoicebank-team manage to engage their community; for days, visitors could enter their email address and vote for their favorite story. I wonder what they’ll do with those email addresses…

 

3. Provide a resource that will benefit your target-group and (of course) offer it for free. Veteran VO-artist Mahmoud Taji compiled a voice-over directory of casting websites for “the benefit of established and up-and-coming voice over talent who want to secure more voice over work through the Internet.” He asked everyone in the industry to help out, and this is just another example of how to get people involved. So far, Taji has a list of 239 sites, and you might add a few to the directory.

4. Quizzes and Games on your site are a fun way to make people come back and spend more time with you. British talent Emma Clarke is the voice you’ll hear for a majority of the London Underground lines. Her website is terrific and it has games, spoof audios and even an online “Emma flip book”.  One of my favorites is a fridge magnet game where you can move the words around to make your own sentences and phrases – and have Emma speak them for you.

5. Actress Amy Walker (above) became an overnight sensation when her YouTube video 21Accents went “viral.” “These days, it’s not unusual to see a search engine like Google pull up a YouTube video in its top 10 results,” says Linda Girard, co-founder of online marketing consulting firm Pure Visibility in Ann Arbor, Michigan. “The best way to maximize this trend is by uploading your video to various sites and attach good, searchable terms to the clips in order to get those high rankings.” (source)

6. Then there’s the old trick of offering limited Deals & Discounts. Bristol-based voice-over talent Alison Pitman once offered a promotion of 25% discount on all message on hold voice-over recordings. Particularly if you’re also offering individual coaching and voice-over classes, never miss an opportunity to throw in an early bird special or a web coupon. Irresistible offers turn browsers into buyers.

7. Develop an ongoing relationship with your visitors (colleagues and clients). Answer their emails. Follow up with them. Ask them for feedback. Use social networking sites to connect. Take an active part in your community, online and offline. Send email newsletters using a service like Constant Contact or Aweber. It’s all about building your brand and positive reinforcement.

8. Blogging benefits business. Internet marketing company Hubspot surveyed over 1500 small businesses. They found that those with blogs attracted:

  1. 55% more traffic
  2. 97% more inbound links
  3. 434% more indexed pages

Blogs are a very effective way to create valuable content; to connect, to interact and to build relationships based on trust. Nilhan Jayasinghe put it this way:

“The closer that Google and others get to reading real interaction, the better they will become at separating the sites that look relevant from the sites that are relevant. Inevitably, it will become ever more difficult to fake the quality of a web page.

Given that this is the case, by far the best way to rank highly for a given term is to offer what the search engines are getting progressively better at finding – content that is genuinely useful to those people searching for that term.”

How to come up with quality content is going to be the topic of my next installment! In the meantime, how did you manage to increase your web traffic? What worked for you and why? What was a waste of time and money?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS What makes people click? Click to find out!


A Tempest in a Teapot?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Internet, Pay-to-Play 5 Comments

Ontario’s London Free Press called them “voice-over matchmakers”.

Back in 2003, David and Stephanie Ciccarelli created Voices.com out of their condo. At the time this blog was published in 2009, they had eight full-time staff and four computer developers on contract. David estimated about $11 million of business goes through the site annually.

If you’ve ever used their services, you know that Voices.com makes money from your subscription fees and from an optional 10% SurePay escrow fee on top of whatever the talent’s fee is, paid by the voice-seeker. According to the site:

“this Escrow fee is kept by Voices.com to cover the charges that we incur from holding the deposit for a period of time in a secure third party account”.

Stephanie Ciccarelli summarized my unease regarding audition submissions as follows:

“You’ve noted that many people are concerned to see that some of the past jobs they’ve auditioned for months ago have not yet progressed to awarding a talent, leaving them to wonder if a client is merely window-shopping or kicking tires, possibly also wondering if auditioning online is a waste of time.”

“According to a snapshot of statistics from the last four months (April 2009 through July 2009) tracking the completion rate of jobs posted at Voices.com, we can confirm that at any given stage, half of the open jobs are still being reviewed by their client and the other half are completed (that means a talent has been chosen), with over 2/3 of those completed jobs being verified and processed via SurePay.

Although this information is reassuring, we are aware that there is still room to improve and to grow.”

Stephanie cites a number of reasons as to why it appears that many voice-seekers on her site never seem to select a candidate. Allow me to paraphrase:

  1. Some clients, regardless of their deadlines for finding talent, may not have a pressing need to have their voice over recorded instantly. In other words: they file away the auditions until they are ready to hire. Sometimes this could take many months, but eventually, someone gets the job.
  2. Some clients use sites like voices.com, to find talent and they prefer to work with them off-site, leaving their job in an “Open” status (see the story of the Taylor family in my last blog). This explains why there are fewer “completed” jobs than there truly are.
  3. Some voice talents and/or voice seekers don’t want to use the SurePay system. If that’s the case, the job won’t be registered as completed.

VOICE-SEEKERS’ PERSPECTIVE

So far we’ve heard the story from the perspective of a voice talent and from representatives of several pay-to-play sites. Be sure to check out Voice123 Steven Lowell’s comments on my previous blog. What do voice-seekers make of all this?

A former casting director for a nationally known ad agency gave me permission to share his (or her) thoughts as long as he/she would remain anonymous.

“Agencies will do a lot of casting for projects they “hope” will become a client. They will hold auditions and actors will hold their breath (after creatives fawn all over them), expect a hold or booking….alas: no call! Of course it happens that another is booked, but it does also happen that no one is booked as the agency did not get the account or budget was cut.

It also happens that an audition is used as a demo in pitch for the account and the performer never knows about it. Top brass may not even know this practice is going on at his or her agency. The Head of production is calling the shots without others in chain of command knowing anything about you (performer) being screwed. You may have been instrumental in getting an account. When time came to cast for account, you may be forgotten for a more high profile talent.

I protested this practice (to the shock of the production chief), but it was an uphill battle to have any effect on this practice I did make some headway. In short: we don’t have many options in regard to this practice. Many agencies or agents don’t participate in this practice, but it does happen.”

ISSUE RESOLVED?

There you have it. Were these answers satisfying to you? Were my initial concerns justified or were they a tempest in a teapot? Do you feel that the major pay-to-play sites offer enough accountability and transparency? Even though they’re not our personal agents, we are paying them to provide a service, so we should have some say in how our money is spent. What suggestions do you have regarding this issue?

Please keep in mind that I am looking for constructive ideas. It’s always easy to blame someone or something else for our own lack of success. However, there are so many things we can do to increase our chances of being spotted and hired. We should never completely rely on these sites to bring in all the work.

As you have noticed, sites like voice123, voplanet and voices.com are listening to us, and they don’t shy away from controversial topics. They are following up with job seekers, and they too have to work with ad agencies that are only using their service to test the waters.

And finally: as every matchmaker knows, no matter how carefully you select two interested parties, not every match ends in matrimony!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

Don’t miss the next installment: “Why no one’s coming to your site“.


Are your auditions sucked into a black hole?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Internet, Pay-to-Play 10 Comments

John was a realtor.

The past couple of years had been the toughest ever.

Plenty of prospects; very few buyers. John had to work twice as hard and twice as long to woo aspiring home owners.

One day, his boss called him into the office and by the look on his face, he was not a happy camper. “John,” he said, “Do you have any idea how many leads you lost in the past three months?” “Well, maybe a few here and there,” said John. “I don’t really keep track.”

“What?” answered his boss angrily, “Are you telling me that you’ve spent hours researching homes and showing your clients house after house, and you have no clue how many sales opportunities you missed? Are you serious? How about the Taylors? They seemed ready to buy and they bailed out at the last moment. What went wrong?”

“Oh, I remember them” said John. “They backed out because they said the escrow fee was too high.” “That might be true” said his boss, “but do you want to know what really happened? After you had put in all your time and found them the perfect house, they walked out of our office and contacted the sellers directly. Two days later, the property was sold.”

JUST AN ANALOGY?

Of course I made this entire story up, and yet this scenario happens in voiceoverland each and every day. If you’ve taken a good look at your audition submissions of the past couple of months, doesn’t it seem like a majority has disappeared into a gigantic black hole?

As I mentioned in my first blog about this topic: most of my submissions didn’t result in an actual booking, not because the job was awarded to another talent, but because the voice-shopper never became a buyer. How did I know? Because months after the deadline for a project had past, still no talent had been selected for the job.

It turns out that I’m not alone. Many of you have vented your frustration and are demanding an explanation. That’s why I brought the matter up with three pay-to-play sites. I specifically asked them about their “conversion rate.” That’s the term marketing professionals use when a prospective consumer takes the intended action. I particularly wanted to know the percentage of voice-seekers who had become voice-buyers.

THE INDUSTRY RESPONDS

Mike Gomez works for www.voice123.com. His initial response was:

“We have around 4,000 active Premium subscribers on the site and these are the stats we keep regarding hirings:

50% – book at least 1 a month

30% – book between 1 & 5 a month

20% – book more than 5 a month”

That didn’t tell me anything about the percentage of job offers that actually lead to bookings. So, I tried again and Mike sent me the following reply:

“(…) those are the numbers we have, since we don’t control who gets hired, why and when but only seekers do, we currently have no accurate way to account for this.  Although we do know most jobs are granted on the site because we see talents are renewing constantly since our sales have been growing constantly through the months and the only way talents have money to renew is if they get work.”

Let’s do the math here. 4000 Premium subscribers times $299.00 (the voice123 annual subscription fee). That’s one million, one hundred ninety six thousand dollars. Yet, they have no “accurate way to account for who gets hired.”

There’s no doubt in my mind that voice123 has earned its spot in the market place. But the fact that people continue to renew their membership doesn’t tell me a whole lot about the effectiveness of the service voice123 provides. One does not measure the success of a temp agency by the number of job seekers in the database, but by the number of real jobs these people find through the agency.

WHAT VOPLANET ARE YOU FROM?

Donna Summers is the president of VoiceCasting and partner at www.voplanet.com. This is what she told me about her companies’ conversion rate:

“Because we deal with large production companies and ad agencies for the most part, virtually all the auditions we do are for actual jobs.  It is rare that an ad agency would take the time, effort and money it takes to put together an ad campaign, hire a copyrighter to write the script, get as far as voicing it and then completely dump it.

If one of our talents gets the job, we are of course, thrilled.  If the client books elsewhere, we do call and thank the client for the opportunity and ask who booked the job.  In answering your question, Paul, I would have to say that 100% with a little margin for error would be the number of auditions that actually become jobs.”

VERIFICATION

As a former journalist, I have to add that there is no independent way of verifying these statements, especially because both companies don’t seem to have a conversion monitoring mechanism in place. There actually is software to keep track of these things. QVC uses it and so does Amazon.com. In fact, most e-commerce site tracks their transactions at least on a daily basis.

So, how would you evaluate whether or not your investment in a particular pay-to-play site is worthwhile? Without a clear conversion rate, you can only base your decision on:

  • Previous personal experience
  • Anecdotal evidence
  • Testimonials & recommendations
  • The reputation of the company
  • Trust and gut feeling
  • The size of your wallet

 

SLICING THE BREAD

The Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza once said: “Life is like bread – no matter how thin you slice it, there are always two sides.

In my next installment, you can read the response of the www.voices.com team, as well as the revelations of an “Ad man.”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice


Where Voice-Over Casting Sites Fail

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Internet, Pay-to-Play 9 Comments

 A rude awakening.

There is no other way to describe it.

This morning I decided to take a closer look at one of the voice-over websites I subscribe to, and I particularly looked at all the auditions I had submitted in the past couple of months. What I discovered didn’t exactly make my day. Here’s why.

In four months, I had submitted a total of 185 auditions. For about 80% of these job offers, the indicated deadline had passed. In other words: one might assume that the client would have hired a voice by now.

However, much to my surprise, I noticed that in only 10% of the above cases a talent had actually been selected. Mind you, not every selection ends in a booking. When I looked even deeper into the postings that never lead to anything, it got worse. I saw that at least half of those had over one hundred submissions!

THE BOTTOM LINE: a majority of auditions didn’t result in an actual booking, not because the job was awarded to another talent, but because the voice-shopper never became a buyer. In most cases, the client had plenty of talent to choose from. And with 100+ submissions per project, bidding must have been fierce. What’s going on here?

At least four things came to mind:

  1. Is this an overall trend or is it unique to my situation?
  2. These missed opportunities mean a huge loss in revenue for the site in question, as well as for the subscribers who pay to play, and not to be thrown away.
  3. There’s tremendous untapped potential! Why are some sites barely scratching the surface of a goldmine?
  4. What can be done to turn browsers into buyers?

BATTING AVERAGE

To take up the last question first, this refers to what marketing guru’s call the “conversion rate.”  Consumer behavior expert Paco Underhill is the author of “Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping.” He writes:

“Conversion rate measures what you make of what you have- it shows how well (or how poorly) the entire enterprise is functioning where it counts most: in the store. Conversion rate is to retail what batting average is to baseball -without knowing it, you can say that somebody had a hundred hits last season, but you don’t know whether he had three hundred at-bats, or a thousand. Without conversion rate, you don’t know if you’re Mickey Mantle or Mickey Mouse.

One could also describe conversion rate is as “the percentage of visitors who take the action you wish for.” In the case of this blog, I hope my readers will leave a comment, become a subscriber and visit the rest of my website. Of course I also hope you find my writings entertaining and that you take away something useful. But what I’m ultimately aiming for is “engagement.” Remember that. I’ll get back to it later.

JUST LOOKING

It’s obvious that the conversion rate of the voice-over website I mentioned in the intro left a lot to be desired for. Yet, it’s nothing new for an internet-based business. Here’s the deal. This “just looking” behavior is ubiquitous online. That’s inherent to the medium. It gets worse, though. Some studies suggest that over half of all online shoppers abandon their carts part way through the check out process. Why is that?

The beginning of an answer to that question lies in the “interception rate,” the percentage of customers who have some contact with an employee. Paco Underhill:

“The more shopper-employee contacts that take place, the greater the average sale. Talking with an employee has a way of drawing a customer in closer. With no sales assistance it could be the difference between a conversion rate of 22 percent and a conversion rate that’s 50 to 60%.”

So, let me ask you this: when’s the last time you went on an online shopping spree, and had any type of interaction with an employee?

Where’s the engagement? Where’s the relationship? Where’s the interception?

Now, let’s go one step further and bring this closer to home. If you are a voice-over actor with a personal website or a blog, do you know your conversion rate? If not, wouldn’t you want to know? Do you even know how to measure your visitor’s response? I could care less about the number of hits you get on an average day, or your ranking on Bing. Bing doesn’t pay your bills. Don’t get me wrong: getting people in the door is a promising start. Keeping them inside is even better. Getting them to take action is the ultimate goal.

Here’s the 64 thousand dollar question: How do you do that? If customer-interception plays such a big part in increasing your sales, is such a thing even realistic in an anonymous, impersonal virtual world? How could you possibly turn browsers into buyers? Be sure to check out my next installment!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice


The Quest for the Best Voice-Over Mic

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Gear 1 Comment

Did you hear the joke about the three voice-over actors bragging in a bar?

“My condenser has phantom power,” says the guy with the spooky voice.

“My shotgun produces killer demos,” retorts the man in black.

“My ribbon has a suspended diaphragm,” snaps the girl in the Harlan Hogan baseball cap.

Waitress: “Anyone ordered a Blue Bottle?”

Unidentified customer: “No, I just got a Snowball.”

“Can I get some MixCubes on the side, please?”

Waitress: “Active or Passive?”

TICKLES

Hearing voice-overs talk is like listening to a Monty Python skit. It can be slightly surreal and silly. One thing’s for sure: many VO’s have opinions. Strong opinions, especially when it comes to gear.

Whenever people take themselves too seriously, I’d like to tickle them a little. If you ever plan on messing with the mind of a VO-pro, go to an online voice-over group and type in the following words:

“I am new to this business and I need your help. What’s the best voice-over mic?”

Unknowingly, you just released the beast. If you honestly believe that the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry is a big deal, wait until you get voice-overs started on their choice of mics…

You’ll soon discover that some VO-Pros suffer from a condition the psychological community calls “Microphone Envy.” So far, there is no sound treatment for this auditory affliction.

Here are some of the comments these hired voices might make about their precious sound catchers (in order to protect their identity, I decided to name all of them ‘Mike’).

Gear Geek-Mike: “My mic has a 32 mm gold sputtered thin Mylar capsule.”

Show-off Mike: “Mine has a retail value of $7,775. I got it for 7 grand on Ebay.”

Frugal Mike: “My cheap Chinese mic sounds almost like your pricey German one.”

Model Mike: “But I cut a deal with the Germans to endorse this microphone”

Macho-Mike: “Mine is bigger and better.”

If you happen to be in the market for a microphone, these message boards might not be the best place to solicit advice. In fact, I highly recommend not asking anyone for any recommendations. Period. Not online. Not in the shop. Trust me, you’ll sleep much better. Determine how much you can afford to spend and start doing your own homework instead.

Researching mics can be good fun. Why not fire up your laptop on a rainy Sunday afternoon, and listen to a few microphone tests. The fellows on this page always manage to crack me up… They’ll say something like this:

(test: courtesy of Nethervoice Sound Laboratories)

 

Remember though that a microphone is only one part of an audio chain and that different people will sound differently on the same mic. One colleague just bought a brand new and very expensive German mic. It was exactly the same make and model he had purchased fifteen years ago. In spite of that, the old and the new mic had their own, distinctive sound!

MY CHOICE

Many of you have asked me what microphone I use to bring home the bacon  (not an easy thing for a vegetarian). I use an MXL VO: 1 A cardioid condenser microphone. It’s the first mic designed for voice-overs by veteran voice actor Harlan Hogan.

At $249 it is not only very affordable; should you decide it’s not for you, you can send it back because it’s sold with a no-questions-asked money back guarantee.

The VO: 1-A has been tested against much more expensive industry standard voice-over microphones such as the Sennheiser 416, the  ElectroVoice RE20 and even the Neumann U87. Without exception, the reviews have been stellar. But what matters most to me is the fact that my clients seem to like what they hear (and I have some very picky customers!).

If you experience a sudden attack of “Microphone Envy,” remember this:

Writing about microphones is like ice skating about food.

It doesn’t really make sense. Just as you can’t get wet from the word water, you don’t know if a certain microphone is the one that will flatter your voice the most by merely reading about it or by staring at a picture. You’ve got to give it a spin and use your ears.

So, have you heard the one about the two voice-overs in a bar?

With tears in his eyes, the first one exclaims:

“Why did Don LaFontaine have to go before his time? It is so unfair.”

The other one thought about it for a moment, took a deep but silent voice-over breath, and replied:

“I guess God wanted his voice back!”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS This blog only reflects my personal opinion and I am not compensated in any way for featuring certain brands and/or products. It was written in 2009. These days, my microphone of choice is the Microtech Gefell M930 Ts. Click here for my review.