You’ve probably heard the story of the priest who preached the same sermon every Sunday.
After a few weeks, some of the parishioners got tired of it and demanded an explanation.
“Do you really want to know why I’m repeating myself at every service?” asked the priest. The crowd nodded.
“I will continue to tell you the same thing over and over again, until you take it to heart and do something with it.
If you don’t change your behavior, I don’t see any reason for me to change my sermon.”
Well, I may be the son of a minister, but as a writer, I can certainly relate to this priest. When it comes to setting rates, I sometimes feel I’m talking to a sea of people with frighteningly short memories and no backbone.
Watch me as I go to my pulpit and address the crowd:
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On my way to Las Vegas, I popped in a Tony Robbins tape from his Personal Power series.
Tony Robbins is a hugely successful motivational speaker, trainer and writer. If you have a million dollars, he’ll give you his private number and you may call him 365 days a year for a private coaching session.
People either love him or hate him. Those who hate him are usually put off by his hyped up, in your face presentation style. Those who love him are pumped up by his towering presence and contagious enthusiasm, whether it’s on CD, during a live seminar or on TV.
Robbins built his career on…
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“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” from Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking-Glass”
One sunny day, a fishmonger put up the following sign:
TODAY: FRESH FISH
One of his first customers said to him: “What’s this sign I see? You only have fresh fish today?”
“Of course not,” said the fishmonger. “I have fresh fish every day. You’ve been coming here for the past eight years. You know that.”
“Then why did you write: Today: Fresh Fish? That’s confusing,” said the customer.
So the fishmonger erased the word TODAY.
An hour later another customer questioned him about the sign:
“Why does it say ‘Fresh Fish’? Isn’t your fish always fresh? Or have you been selling me unfresh fish all these years?”
“Of course not,” answered the fishmonger a bit annoyed. “Each day I go to the harbor at the crack of dawn and buy my fish straight from the men who caught it. It can’t get any fresher than that.”
“Then why did you write: Fresh Fish? That’s confusing,” said the customer.
So the fishmonger erased the word FRESH. “I don’t get these people,” he mumbled. “Wasn’t it obvious what I was trying to say?”
Our life is filled with unspoken assumptions. The obvious does not need to be stated, does it? If we hold that to be true, we’re forgetting one thing:
What’s obvious to one person might not be obvious to another person.
Language in and of itself is vague, inadequate and ambiguous, and therefore up for interpretation. If you have any doubts about that, talk to theologians or lawyers. In both cases you often need divine intervention to get them to agree on anything, even if they speak the same language.
Polish-American scientist and philosopher Alfred Korzybski (1879–1950) is the developer of what he called “General Semantics.” Simply put, this refers to the study of how you and I react to our environment or an event, and how we derive meaning from it.
Korzybski coined the phrase “The map is not the territory,” meaning that a word is not what it defines (the territory), but merely a symbolic representation of it (the map). That’s why we don’t get wet from the word water.
Here’s the problem: if we don’t know what the territory looks like, how on earth can we know what the map refers to?
Take Nike’s famous trademark “Just do it.”
Without knowing anything about it, would you have any idea what these three words stand for? For instance: what is “it”? And if we don’t know what “it” is, how are we supposed to know how to “do” “it”? It could mean a million things, and we’re supposed to “just” do them? Forget it!
Let’s move away from fishy advertising and “just do” a little experiment. Take this simple sentence:
“We only have a small budget.”
That’s plain English, isn’t it? But what does it really mean? Do we have enough information to know what the writer intended it to mean?
If you say “yes” to the question, please tell me what you think it means and what you are basing it on. If you say “no,” tell me what is missing.
I have a feeling that you’ve seen this sentence before. I will also go as far as to imagine that every day, freelancers like you and me allow these six words to influence the bids they put in, to win a project. Am I right?
In order to truly know what the client means by “We only have a small budget,” a lot of blanks need to be filled in. First of all: who is “we”? Is it a client? And if so, who is this client? Donald Trump? I bet you anything that what “the Donald,” considers to be small, will forever redefine your meaning of the word!
My voiceover agent sometimes sends me five hundred-dollar jobs and apologizes for the “small budget.” To some, five hundred dollars might be a huge step up from the hundred-dollar jobs they’ve been auditioning for, just to break into the business. But considering the fact that this client is a key retailer and that the job involves all major markets and a six-year buyout, five hundred bucks is very low pay.
It’s all relative, relatively speaking.
By giving you these examples, what did I just do?
I provided you with some context.
The meaning of words is not only determined by what you find in the dictionary. It is defined by the setting and circumstances in which they are used. In fact, dictionary editors define the meaning of words by studying the context in which they appear. They even come up with sentences in which a word is used to illustrate its meaning.
But let’s assume that little or no context is provided. What do we usually do to attempt to understand the words we read or hear?
We start making things up. Believe it or not, there’s a mindreader in all of us! To me, this is where things get really interesting. On what exactly do we base our uninformed guesses?
I remember the first time I drove on an American highway and saw a sign that said RAMP. I must confess that I had no idea what it meant (for first-time readers: I’m originally from The Netherlands).
In an attempt to understand its meaning, my mind started making associations based on my personal frame of reference. In Dutch, the word RAMP means DISASTER! Till this very day, I get uncomfortable whenever I see that sign.
Without a clear context and without the ability to ask any questions, we generally base our understanding on speculation, which in turn is based on our subjective experience. In other words: the way you interpret “we only have a small budget,” will tell us a lot about you and next to nothing about the person who wrote it. This gets us into trouble all the time.
As a service provider it is not supposed to be about us. It’s about what the client wants to see and needs to hear. But clients typically hand out maps and leave it to us to second-guess what their territory is supposed to look or sound like.
They’ll tell you:
“I don’t know how to describe to you what I want, but I know it when I hear it. As long as you try to sound warm but professional…. If you know what I mean.”
No I don’t know what you mean. How could I? We have never met. Sometimes I don’t even understand my wife, and I think that I know her better than most people.
Now, do you still wonder why you didn’t land that ‘warm and professional’ gig?
Could it be, because you were led by your own assumptions? Did you forget to ask critical questions, or were you unable or not allowed to contact the client and get some context?
Beginners often wonder: “If only I could get some feedback after the fact. That would give me some idea as to why my audition was rejected.”
I think it would be much more helpful to get some perspective before the fact; some sense of direction. Dump the vague and ambiguous verbiage. If you don’t tell us what you want, how are we supposed to give it to you? I know that words are inadequate ways of describing an experience, but can you at least try a little harder?
While you do that, let’s go back to the story.
TODAY: FRESH FISH
After erasing the first two words, the fishmonger stared at the sign that now read “FISH.”
That should do it, he thought.
No one can argue with that.
He was ready to go inside when a boy walked up to him. He had a ten-dollar bill in his hand.
“Sir, sir…” the boy said, “Can I ask you a question?”
“Of course,” said the fishmonger. “What can I help you with, young man?”
The boy looked at him with big, hopeful eyes.
“Sir, I just saw your sign and I was wondering: do you sell goldfish?”
The fishmonger made a gesture of utter exasperation.
People are completely clueless, he thought.
Then he took a damp sponge and erased the word FISH.
“I will give you my personal prediction on what will implode first: Blogs containing information that serves no one but the writer, and his/her inner circle without fact-checking.” Steven Lowell
The dust has finally settled.
Give it a few months, and last week’s discussion will rise out of the ashes and begin a new life somewhere else.
Same topic. Different voices, perhaps.
Steven’s remark about self-serving blogs and bloggers did make me think about my vision for this blog. Believe it or not: I have one, and it goes like this:
The Nethervoice blog is a platform and playground for ideas, dialogue and discourse about things personal and professional related but not limited to voice-overs and freelancing.
That covers pretty much everything, doesn’t it? Now, let me also tell you what it is not.
This blog is not some grand podium built to glorify my personal accomplishments or to sell Mr. Strikwerda’s amazing pipes. Why would anyone want to read about that? Not me!
If you’re interested in the technical side of voice-overs, you have to look elsewhere too. Although I’m fascinated with the tools of the trade, I am not a gearhead or audio specialist. I don’t receive free products from companies, take them out of the box, dangle them in front of a camera and post it as a “review.”
This blog is not a source of fair and unbiased industry news either.
In essence, it is nothing but a blog revolving around one man and his ideas and experiences and a bunch of friends who like to chime in every once in a while. If you’re looking for objective, investigative journalism, you’ve come to the wrong place.
Just like a lot of other stuff you’ll read online or in the papers, my articles are usually a mix of subjective opinion based on personal selection and interpretation of data. If you’d like to fact-check my sources, all you need to do is click on a few links that are embedded in the articles.
Nobody has to agree with anything I write.
My readers are intelligent enough to understand that it would be foolish to generalize my personal stories and turn them into an overall verdict on the issue at hand.
I don’t consider myself to be an authority or expert. My opinion is one of many, and one quick look at Bob Souer’s blog roll will tell you that I’m certainly not the only blogger in this voiceover town. Of course I’m tickled to see that some people seem to care about what I have to say, but that’s as far as it goes.
I strive to inform, I attempt to entertain and yes… I also like to rock the boat every once in a while. As a voiceover professional, it is my job to be outspoken. I don’t feel comfortable standing on the sidelines.
Unlike Steven Lowell, I am not a paid spokesperson for a company. I don’t pretend to proclaim and promote an objective, universal truth. This is my personal platform and I can be as passionate and opinionated as I want. I represent no one but myself.
So, why do I take a day out of every week to write this blog?
The short answer: Because I feel like it.
The moment it becomes just another chore, I will stop and take up billiards or Bingo.
Here’s another reason: I love to write and I think I have something to say that -at times- is moderately insightful and interesting. At least, that’s what my readers keep on telling me.
As you may know, most of my stories start out as simple Notes to Self. The series about building a voice-over studio is a perfect example.
It took me many months before I was ready to start building my own studio. During that time, I had compiled a wealth of information and I thought it might be useful to share it with you. Now it’s available as a booklet on my shopping page. Sharing is important to me.
Over the years, I have benefited so much from the kindness, knowledge and insights of friends and colleagues. I wouldn’t be where I am today, had it not been for their advice and encouragement. In a way, I am repaying my debt to them by publishing this blog.
Thanks to my writings, I’ve also made countless new friends from all corners of this planet. Many of them won’t publicly comment on my articles, but each and every week they email me with questions and observations.
As far as the future goes, I’m branching out. Most of you already know that I write on all things international for Internet Voice Coach. I also conduct interviews with colleagues across the globe. The Edge Studio asked if I would be their International Marketing Coach and I said “yes.”
“I’m being offered $200 to narrate a 120-thousand word audio book. Do you think that’s a fair rate?”
“A client wants me to record a movie trailer for $150. Should I do it?”
Not a day goes by without someone asking these types of questions on Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+.
Sometimes I stick my neck out and I respond to these questions, especially when I get sentimental and remember the early days of my career.
I was young and unafraid and incredibly ignorant. Back then there was no Internet. Picking brains became my specialty.
On other days I’m not so sappy, as I remember the kind words of my business coach:
“If you’re a Pro, you know what you’re worth. If you’re not, go do your own homework! You won’t learn a thing if I hand you everything on a silver platter.”
He was right.
These days, getting info has never been easier. Search Google for voiceover rates. You’ll get about 5,600,000 results in 0.52 seconds. How’s that for starters?
Bringing up rates usually spells trouble. Talent likes them to go up. Clients love paying less. Where to begin?
The Freemarketeers will tell you to leave everything up to the unregulated forces of supply and demand. After all, it worked well for subprime mortgages, didn’t it? The Interventionists fear a free fall for all. They want rates to be regulated.
Unfortunately, it’s not that black-and-white. Voice-Over rates reflect many variables, and unless you belong to a union or you have an agent, it can be tough to put a price on your pipes.
Enter a parade of Pay-to-Plays. You pay for the privilege of being offered the opportunity to audition and bid for projects, together with thousands of other privileged colleagues. Here’s the catch.
As a member, you often have to subject yourself to an agreed price range per project deemed reasonable by that site. Whether or not you choose to accept that range depends on your personal Price Floor.
A Price Floor is a point below which a product or service should not be sold, or else you’d incur a loss. I bet you anything that most people reading these words right now, have no clue what their price floor actually is.
Be honest. Do you?
A EUROPEAN PERSPECTIVE
If you’ve read my work before, you know that I have written about U.S.-based voice casting sites and their perceived influence on dwindling voice-over rates.
On January 8th, 2008, a new player entered the market: Bodalgo. Based in Germany, Bodalgo is the brain child of a man who once had a very boring job as the deputy editor of Penthouse: Armin Hierstetter.
Armin’s no dummy.
He studied the existing P2P’s carefully, as he set out to take the good and improve the bad to create something beautiful. Unlike similar sites, Bodalgo is available in German, Spanish, Italian and English (American and British).
Now, if you think that you can buy your way into Bodalgo, you are wrong. No matter the credit limit on your Visa Card, if you sound like crap, you can’t join the club.
Bodalgo caters to clients from all over the world, but because it’s based in Bavaria, it’s a gateway to the European voice-over market. This brings me back to rates. How does Bodalgo compare to its American counterparts?
I (PS) decided to check in with the boss: Armin Hierstetter (AH). Here’s a transcript of the interview.
PSI just saw a project posted on your site in the 100-250 USD range. It made me think: Is Bodalgo going in the direction of its American counterparts, or did I miss something? Has $100 always been the minimum?
AH In USD the minimum range starts at 100 dollars (the Euro has a 50 to 150 minimum range as – for example – a local radio spot in Germany is usually 50 to 55 Euro).
If jobs are posted that are budgeted too low (intentionally or not), Bodalgo contacts the voice-seeker suggesting what we believe is a fair rate. Sometimes the voice-seeker sees our point and is willing to raise the budget, sometimes not. If the voice-seeker does not agree on increasing the budget, the job simply does not get posted. Period.
Of course, we hear many times:
“What? You want me to pay 250 USD for a job that is done in five minutes? You must be insane, you [censored]”
Well, depending on my mood, I sometimes try to explain why voiceovers cost what they cost (knowing that with these types of folks it really does not help at all in most cases), or I simply press the delete button and go on with whatever I am doing.
PSBodalgo’s been in business for a few years now. What’s your overall take on how voice-over rates are established and where they are going?
AH There are many factors when it comes to rates. Here are few of them (this is by no means meant to be a complete list):
Uniqueness (most important if you ask me)
I see a link between equipment becoming more powerful yet more affordable, and declining voice-over rates. Let me share three trends with you:
1. The costs for your own studio are coming down, so you can make this beneficial for your clients as well;
2. Because many talents build their own studios, there is much more competition which also leads to lower prices. That’s how the market works.
PSSorry to interrupt, but clients are saving money due to the increase in home studios. They no longer need to pay for studio time, an audio engineer/editor and a director.
It is my impression that these savings are simply pocketed and not passed on to the voice talent. In the end, we end up doing more for less. Shouldn’t this give us some leverage to raise our rates?
AH I fully understand that voice-seekers already save a lot of money because they’re used to getting the finished audio from the talent without paying for a studio.
I want to be honest with you. I really think that’s one of the biggest mistakes talents have made for a very long time: They did not charge properly for the studio work, only for the rate as a talent. It will be VERY difficult to change this to an approach where talent charges their normal rate plus editing costs;
3. More and more people of the type “My friends all tell me I should host a radio show,” buy a Shure SM58 microphone and think that their laptop recording is God’s gift to the audio world. Untrained amateurs seem to flood the market.
What’s worse, there are many voice-seekers out there that listen to crap demos thinking they are actually good, because they don’t have a proper recording at hand to compare.
But one thing is for sure: Bodalgo will never start to accept amateurs. Yes, there are a few talents with Bodalgo that have just slipped through the net that might not have passed if I had been pickier the day I activated their accounts. Still, the level of Bodalgo’s talent is much, much, much higher than with any other Pay2Play site that we’ve come across.
PSWhat’s your advice on how to best play the game? Everybody loves to win an audition, but not at any rate. Do you expect voice-over rates to go up any time soon?
AH If you ask me, the reasons why rates should go up are purely to be seen in costs of living. If those prices would be stable, I’d say it’s fair to assume that our rates would stay stable as well.
With financial markets facing the issues they face at the moment, including all the effects like higher inflation, increased costs for energy, food, rent etcetera, I think that we’ll see rates rising over the next years to cover the rising living expenses.
PSInflation correction keeps rates at the same level. Talent won’t be making more just because the number on a check is higher. If we wish to increase the amount of money coming in, we need to compensate for the rise in the cost of living, and add e.g. 10% to whatever we’re charging.
AH Well, U.S.-based talent benefits from the weak dollar when paid in Euros by Euro-Zone clients. The opposite is true for Euro-Zone-Talent paid in USD. U.S. clients will not accept higher USD prices just because of exchange rates. It’s really just bad luck for us Euro-Talents.
So, to cut a long story short: Yes, I see higher rates over the next years. But this is only because everything else will go up in price as well.
PSSo, how can we best prepare for the tough years that are ahead of us?
AH 1. If you have not done so already, invest in your own studio.
2. Buy the good stuff (like Neumann or Brauner for mics, for example) as it will serve you well many, many years. Personally, I would no longer waste money on analog equipment. I would solely buy digital stuff (like the TLM 103 D from Neumann).
PSQuality equipment is essential, but owning a state of the art camera does not make one a top-notch photographer.
AH I do appreciate that a cool mic does not make a great voice talent, but this is not where I am coming from at all. I am just a firm believer that successful talent simply needs both: A well-trained voice and great equipment to deliver high-quality audio. There are too many Samsung USB mics out there in my opinion.
I know, of course, that those top shelf brands are pricey. But when you look at what you (and your client) get for the money – it turns out to be an excellent investment.
3. LEARN HOW TO RECORD PROPERLY!!! It’s really, really, really (I mean it) horrible to hear how bad, bad, bad many of the auditions are recorded (hiss, bad miking, bad levelling, bad everything). Use proper headphones to proof-listen your recordings and be super critical about the work you deliver.[Armin insisted this should be printed in bold]
PSCan Bodalgo keep both voice-seekers and voice talent equally happy, or is that impossible?
AH That’s easy: Our main goal is to attract more and more voice-seekers that post sanely budgeted jobs. We want to provide them with the easiest solution available to find high-quality talent without paying any commission. That way, both sides will win.
For the past few weeks I have conducted a secret experiment. You probably haven’t noticed a thing and that was exactly my point.
Let me explain.
One fine day I was wondering what would happen if I’d stop publishing my blog and reduce my presence on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to a minimum.
After 21 days I got my answer:
That’s right: nothing happened.
No one emailed me to ask how I was doing. No one wanted to know why I hadn’t posted a new article in a while. Not a single Facebook friend checked in to find out how things were going (unless you count the barrage of birthday wishes).
What a relief!
If only I had done this experiment earlier. It would have saved me from the self-imposed pressure of having to publish something at regular intervals.
It could have stopped me from taking myself too seriously. And more importantly, I would have discovered how much time I had on my hands to do the things that matter most.
You see, as you and I go about our busy business, it’s so easy to get caught up in our work and forget to take care of the goose with the golden eggs.
I know the economy is in terrible shape. I know money is tight. But regardless of how hard we’re trying to stay afloat, there’s no excuse for putting ourselves last on the list. It’s the golden rule:
Love others like you love yourself
We personify our product. We embody our service. If we don’t take care of ourselves, our product suffers. That’s why all of us could benefit from a healthy dose of egotism in several areas of our life. To name a few:
That the United States has become a sedentary society should be no news to you. Friends visiting from Holland were shocked by the number of obese people they encountered while traveling. They said to me:
“We knew it was bad, but we had no idea it was this bad.”
In a study of over 17,000 Canadians, it was found that individuals who led a sedentary lifestyle were over 50% more likely to die from all causes, than their non-sedentary counterparts. This risk was not dependent upon age, smoking, or even physical activity levels.
I know I’ve become a desk jockey and I have gained a considerable amount of weight in the last few years. What’s even worse, I’ve come up with these stupid excuses to explain why I am in such bad shape:
“I’m not getting any younger so it’s only natural to put on a couple of extra pounds.” “I need my computer to work. I can’t be moving and typing at the same time.” “At the end of a long day I deserve a sweet treat or an ice-cold beer.”
Of course I know better. Ultimately, I am the boss of my own lifestyle. I determine how much or how little I move and eat. However, there’s a big difference between knowing what’s going on, and doing something about it.
That’s why I decided to be egotistical and bring my body back into shape.
Earlier on, I wrote about how bored I was by people recycling the same old topics in our field. It’s like still water but without any depth. Give it a few more weeks and it will start to reek and rot.
That’s why I have used the past month to catch up on my reading. I purposely steered away from anything having to do with my line of work. I am a firm believer in the stimulating effects of cross-pollination.
My second egotistical intellectual self-endulgement is music. Music is nourishment for the mind as well as food for the soul. I cannot live without it, and that’s why I started to spend more time improvising at the piano.
As I mentioned before, dear friends from The Netherlands whom I had not seen in ten years, came over for a prolonged visit. I’m telling you: Skype, Facebook or any other type of social technology is a poor substitute for seeing people in person.
Don’t get me wrong: I am grateful for modern means of communication, but using them is a bit like watching the Food Network. We observe people preparing delicious dishes, but we’re missing essential ingredients. We can’t smell or taste what’s on the menu.
I firmly believe that the quality of our life is greatly determined by the quality of our relationships. Taking the time to strengthen those relationships is vital and invigorating. Besides, I got to speak Dutch for days, and the world is a different place when you’re speaking another language.
Taking time off allowed me to work on a book. As a professional narrator, I get paid to read other people’s work. In a way, that’s re-creation.
At the same time, I have a strong inner urge to create my own material. I won’t tell you what I’ve been working on, but once again it was born out of healthy egotism. Writing is a way for me to release what’s been brewing inside.
END THE EXPERIMENT
My 21-day silence has been remarkably beneficial, but does this mean that I will continue my experiment?
Hold your horses. I’m not a hermit.
My blog is read by thousands of people per month and the number is steadily growing.
Just as a composer should never stop composing while there’s still music inside of him, I will keep on writing. Even if these words end up being nothing but notes to an egotistical bastard.
Ultimately, it’s the quality of the music that matters.
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