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Mess up your demos!

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Promotion Comments Off on Mess up your demos!

Don’t ever think it won’t happen to you.

I guarantee you it will, and when it does, it will leave a bitter taste in your mouth.

A few years ago, a colleague of mine got a disturbing phone call. It was an old friend from high school:

“I didn’t know you were in the voice-over business,” he said. “I was listening to our latest radio promo at work, and I said to myself: I know that voice. And it finally dawned on me. It was you! Great job, man. You’re really good at what you do.”

THE SCAM

“Where exactly do you work?” my colleague asked, quite puzzled. It turned out to be some unknown up-and-coming ad agency. “That’s strange… it doesn’t ring a bell for me, and I practically have a photographic memory for every job I’ve ever done,” my colleague said. A day later, when going through a list of past auditions, he found the answer.

About a month ago, he had sent in a demo for an ad campaign to one of the online voice-over casting sites, and never heard anything back. Until now. Under normal circumstances people might say: You win some, you lose some. Isn’t that part of this business? That may be true, but a client can’t just use an audition recording without paying for it. And my colleague allowed it to happen.

Everybody knows not to walk around with your wallet sticking out of your purse. It’s an open invitation to pickpockets. But when it comes to our demos, some of us are doing just that. Perhaps I should repeat the advice my biology teacher once gave us, while covering a certain subject: Use protection!

You have two options to prevent shady producers from running off with your audio file: watermarking and -my personal favorite- messing things up.

DISTURBING SIGNAL

You’ve probably seen watermarks on pictures, rendering them practically unusable. The same can be done for audio files. Some recording software has this effect built in. Your demo will either have some weird buzz in the background or some noise under part of your read. You can also buy separate watermarking software or produce the sound effects yourself.

Imagine smashing up a couple of plates while recording your demo for that Greek restaurant commercial… Of course this can become quite distracting, and if I were you, I would want clients to pay attention to the brilliance of my performance, and not to some nasty tone or the sound of breaking china.

This brings me to option two, which is even more creative. I usually change a few things in the copy, such as an address or a phone number to make it unusable. I recently recorded an IVR-demo (Interactive Voice Response), and I purposely changed the numbers a little bit:

“For sales, press five hundred and sixty-six, for customer service, press one.

I believe I also said:

“If you don’t know your party’s extension, please dial it now”.

For some of you that might be stretching it. Alternatively, you can choose to leave out a word here and there, but whichever method you prefer, be sure to let the voice-seeker know that you did this on purpose. Otherwise he might think that you recently escaped from a clinic for frustrated voice-actors.

TAKE IT TO COURT

Eventually, my colleague called the ad agency that ran away with his demo. Much to his surprise, they immediately admitted using his audition.

“We played it so the team could hear the type of voice we were NOT looking for,” they said. “We assure you that this was for internal purposes only.”

Some ad agencies take the art of spinning to a whole new level! Whatever the reason, using material you did not pay for is still theft.

Eventually, my colleague called a lawyer to find out if he had a case. 

Here’s the good news: The lawyer was up for it. The bad news: His retainer was more than what my voice-over colleague had made in six months.

Sometimes it’s better to count your losses and smash-up a couple of plates.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Money, Money, Money

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play Comments Off on Money, Money, Money

At the bank I once worked for as a trainer, they had a saying:

“If it’s about money, it’s never funny”

Ain’t that the truth! To that I added my own adage:

“Show me your bank account, and I’ll tell you how you lead your life”

Bankers and accountants probably know more about you than your therapist. By analyzing the way you spend your money, they can tell whether or not you lead a healthy lifestyle, if you’re a good planner, and if you can resist instant gratification.

On blogs and networking sites, money is a popular theme. People want to know how much to charge, whether or not they should spend  $399 on a membership of a particular site, and if it’s OK to discount services… the list is endless.

Recently, I found myself caught up in a discussion about on-line freelance job sites like Upwork and Freelancer.com. These sites can connect you with prospective employers from all over the world, and help you find projects that are not listed on the familiar voice-over casting sites.

However, when I looked at the average bids some of our colleagues put in to get voice-over work, I was stunned. If you think that doing a job for $100 is stretching it, wait until you check out sites like guru.com. Your jaw will drop to your knees, and that’s not a good thing if you’re in the voice-over business.  

HARD TIMES

Some people are justifying this downward trend by pointing at the current economic climate:

“Times are still tough. We all have to tighten our belts and do more with less. The only way to still get work is to lower our fees.”

I’m not buying it! Are you?

As I was paying a stack of medical bills, I had a realization. Do our doctors lower their rates because the economy still isn’t doing so great? Would a nurse take care of us at half price? Is a baker going to charge less for his loaf of bread, or would a plumber be willing to show up and take a 40% pay cut? No way. If anything, their fees increase every year to keep up with the rate of inflation.

Then why do some of us feel the need to put themselves up for grabs in the bargain basement?

Remember: once you’re in there, it’s so hard to climb out. Forget how the economy is doing for a moment. If you subscribe to the notion that you often get what you pay for, why are you selling yourself and your colleagues short? What are you afraid of? A certain two-letter word?

THE HARDEST WORD

Top negotiator William Ury wrote a book called The power of a positive No”. For some of us, that powerful word is one of the hardest in the language. But when we’re saying “No,” we’re asserting ourselves, and we’re affirming our boundaries, whether it’s in an intimate relationship, or in a business relationship.

Being an independent contractor means that we have to have a good sense of what we’re worth. We have to have the guts to stand up for ourselves (and each other), and say “No” when faced with a bad deal. If we don’t, people will inevitably take advantage of us.

Let me rephrase that: If we don’t dare to say “No,” we are allowing others to take advantage of us. Or, as Dr. Phil puts it: “We teach people how to treat us.” Here’s an example.

BRIDEZILLA

Did you know that I used to be a non-denominational wedding officiant? I could set my own fees, and every now and then a newly engaged couple would tell me that they were on a shoestring budget. Before I knew it, they were practically begging me to lower my rate.

In the beginning -when I didn’t know any better- I fell for it big time. I wanted to be liked, and I felt sorry for the couple, as I remembered the times I had to nickel and dime. Guess what… I paid for my lack of backbone, until I had learned my lesson.

First of all, these couples turned out to be the most demanding couples I had ever worked with. I’d give them a finger, and they would ask for the entire hand. I’m all for underpromising and overdelivering, but within reason. If you’ve seen some of the Bridezilla shows, you know that not every princess is as sweet as her Daddy believes her to be.

Secondly, these ‘shoestring weddings’ often turned out to be the most lavish events I’d ever be invited to. Apparently, other vendors had not fallen for the couple’s story of woe. As soon as I had learned my lesson, I encouraged my brides to price officiants out. I’d also tell them that low fees are usually a red flag. It either means that an officiant is just starting out, or that he or she might not be able to offer as many services. I would tell my couples:

“You can’t expect a gourmet meal at a fast-food price.”

When I started to put my foot down, something amazing happened. As soon as I decided to charge a fair fee, people started taking me seriously. Sure, I lost a few weddings due to price, but my limited time on earth is too valuable to have to deal with haggling Bridezillas.  

THE SECRET TO MAKING BILLIONS

Author William Ury recalls a breakfast he once had with Warren Buffet, one of the most successful investors ever. Ury writes: “He confided in me that the secret to creating his fortune lay in his ability to say No.” Buffet said:

“I sit there all day and look at investment proposals. I say No, No, No, No, No, No -until I see one that is exactly what I am looking for. And then I say Yes. All I have to do is say Yes a few times in my life and I’ve made my fortune.”

So, let’s learn from Buffet and promise each other to teach our clients how to treat us.

Say NO to rates and fees that insult your unique talent, your professionalism, your intelligence, and your experience.

Economists tell us that the only way to get out of an economic slump is to start spending again.

If anything, we should start making more, not less.

For that to happen, you need to assert yourself. Or, as I like to say:

“You sometimes have to put your foot down, in order to get a leg up!”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

HERE COMES THE BRIDE
Some of you
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