At many occasions where Fred Rogers was asked to speak, he invited his audience to be quiet for sixty seconds. He said:
“I’d like to give you all an invisible gift. A gift of a silent minute to think about those who have helped you become who you are today. Some of them may be here right now. Some may be far away. Some, may even be in Heaven. But wherever they are, if they’ve loved you, and encouraged you, and wanted what was best in life for you, they’re right inside your self. And I feel that you deserve quiet time, on this special occasion, to devote some thought to them. So, let’s just take a minute, in honor of those that have cared about us all along the way. One silent minute.”
Today, I am going to introduce you to my remarkable Dutch colleague Jolanda Bayens, who will be joining me at VO Atlanta (March 26 -29). As you will find out, she has a very special person who has always encouraged her, and helped her become who she is today. We’ll get to that in a minute.
Jolanda, how did you get started in the business, and for how long have you been a voice-over?
In the past, I was a nurse, specializing in terminal care. After my studies I worked at a hospice, and later in home nursing. I fell and broke my pelvis in three locations. A few years later they discovered I had a condition that caused my bones to break very easily and significantly. I was declared unfit to work because the fractures didn’t heal properly.
I enjoyed taking care of my children, but I missed a working environment. After trying out different things, I ended up as a volunteer at a commercial radio station where they trained me to write and read news bulletins. Over time I took on other jobs such as doing interviews, producing promos and jingles, as well as voicing commercials. I practiced so much!
In 2002 I sent a demo to a producer of commercials, and within a week I had booked a national spot. From then on the ball started rolling, and it has never stopped. A year later I was asked to read the news for a Dutch press agency. Shortly after that they asked me to present the traffic info. That’s how it all started.
What do you like about your work and the business you’re in?
I love working uninterrupted in my voice over booth, laughing about my own mistakes and spontaneously recording silly things. In my opinion, the business has become a lot harder in recent years. I also notice that young directors often prefer a beautiful, sultry voice instead of paying attention to correct pronunciation, accent placement, et cetera.
What has changed since you made your very first recording?
In the beginning I often had to go to a studio to record. These days that seldom happens. Most of my jobs I record at home. I love working from home, but I miss seeing my colleagues.
What do you specialize in? What makes you unique?
My versatility is my speciality. I particularly like that my voice has a wide range, from low to high. I’m also able to quickly access feelings, and emote them through my voice. On top of that I love playing with the Dutch language, and I know almost instinctively how a sentence needs to be spoken.
What do you find the most challenging aspect of your work, and why?
My biggest challenge is to make and maintain connections, and to sell myself. That’s hard for me. But it’s part of being an entrepreneur, so I have to do it.
What would be your dream VO job?
That’s a tough question. I’ve already had the opportunity to do so much. I don’t think there’s one genre of VO I haven’t done already.
What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?
I’m proud of everything I have done so far. Especially because this work gives me so much joy and satisfaction. It’s a puzzle piece of my life that just fits. I’m also very proud of voiceovercollege.nl. It’s a training institute for voice overs of which I am the founder and lead trainer. I teach courses in the Netherlands as well as in Belgium.
My approach is quite unique because I look at people in a holistic way. I don’t offer tricks that promise to give every student perfect pipes. I make people aware of who they are and all the things they can do with their voice. I’m very proud that a number of my ex-students are now enjoying a great career in voice overs.
What’s an important part of your life you want people to know about, that doesn’t necessarily have to do with voice-overs?
To cut a long story short: when I was three and a half years old I was adopted by the Bayens family. I had been gravely neglected as a child, and the only thing I could do was throw temper tantrums and swear in a strong Amsterdam dialect.
My mother spoke impeccable Dutch. Every day she’d read to me for hours, and sing children’s songs one after the other. That’s how she taught me to speak correctly without any regional accents and without cursing. I adopted her way of reading to people. Thanks to her, I am a voice over. Unfortunately, my adoptive parents passed away before I started doing this work, and that’s a shame.
Why are you coming to VO Atlanta, and what are you looking forward to most?
My main reason for coming to Atlanta boils down to one word: curiosity. I’ve never really been to a voice over conference. I’d love to just take everything in, and meet people. I’d like to learn from others and I hope others will also learn from me. I’m interested in the differences between voice overs from all over the world.
I find it kind of thrilling to be by myself in a very different place, surrounded by people I’ve never met. But, as my husband tells me:
PS I’ll be at VO Atlanta for two panels and two presentations. On March 27th at 9:50 AM I present “The incredible power of words.” The next day it’s time for my X-session “Boosting Your Business with a Blog” on March 28th at 9:30 AM.Click here to register.
Machteld van der Gaag, photo credit: Mart Boudestein
This year I have another reason to be super stoked about VO Atlanta.
I won’t be the only Dutch game in town!
Three of Holland’s finest voice talents will be joining me: Machteld van der Gaag, Jolanda Bayens, and Tuffie Vos.
You’ve probably never heard of them, and that’s about to change. In the lead-up to the conference (March 26 – 29) I’ll be asking them the same questions, but you’ll get very different answers. You’ll find out what voice-over life is like in one of Europe’s smallest and most affluent countries.
Do the Dutch have the same struggles? Do we have more in common than what separates us? What do they expect to get out of VO Atlanta?
Let’s start with powerhouse Machteld van der Gaag. The last time I talked to her, she was on her bicycle, going to a gig in Amsterdam.
Machteld, how did you get started in the business, and for how long have you been a voice-over?
I accidentally stumbled into the business in 1994. That’s when I had my first voice over on national TV. I was a copywriter at that time, and I imitated the voice talent who didn’t show up to the recording. The client liked what I did and said: “Why don’t you record the script?”
I only started calling myself a ‘voice-over’ about 15 yeas ago. I was on both sides of the mic, as a copywriter I hired many voices, and as a voice I recorded quite a lot of my colleagues’ writings.
What do you like about your work and the business you’re in?
Like? I LOVE it! Mostly the diversity. No day is the same, no project is the same, and you’re never done learning. Every day means a new beginning, new skills you can learn, try out, use again. And the people who work with voices are usually pretty nice folks too. It’s just your own little private party in your recording booth, every day!
What has changed since you made your very first recording?
Oh my. Everything. I’m a dinosaur really. I go back to big sound studio’s with 1/4 inch small tape. Cut and paste, literally. U-matics. DAT cassettes, CD’s… and then, the digital revolution. And the internet. The world opened up. This enabled voices like me to set up a studio at home, ready to produce broadcast quality recordings. This changed everything. It also meant that I dared to give up my copywriters work and fully concentrate on voice over projects.
What do you specialize in? What makes you unique?
My voice is young, versatile, and my diction is clear. I’m quick, I easily take directions – probably because I have directed hundreds of voices myself when I was a copywriter. But what really makes me stand out, is that I am lucky enough to work in three languages, two of them native (French and Dutch) and one near-native (English). My journey has led me to specialize in mostly commercial projects, but I feel there’s many more fields I’d like to explore, as long as clients give me a chance to shine.
What do you find the most challenging aspect of your work, and why?
The technical aspect for one. That’s my weak spot. I was lucky enough to record mostly with a great sound designer behind the wheel, so I could concentrate on my craft. I manage, but I regularly need a little help from my technical friends if I hit a bump in the road. The second aspect is the marketing and the admin of being a small business owner. But, as in other areas, the tools are getting better and better.
What would be your dream VO job?
I guess it would be something regular. Like weekly. I have been the voice of a brand for 15 years now, but they only air commercials 2 or 3 times a year. I love all my scattered projects, but a regular gig would be a dream to me.
What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?
This was quite recent. I had voiced a TedX promo, in my Transatlantic American accent. My American voice /accent coach was attending that event, but didn’t know I was the Voice Over. When I told her, she couldn’t believe it. She thought she heard an authentic American speaker. I still don’t completely believe her, but if she did mean it, that would make me real proud.
What’s an important part of your life you want people to know about, that doesn’t necessarily have to do with voice-overs?
Five years ago, I started singing in public. That had always been a dream of mine, but I never trusted my singing voice enough to do something with it. Now that I have been performing for five years, I feel the next step needs to be made: recording my singing voice, which scares the hell out of me, but hey, how scary can a mic be ?
In 2018, Machteld entered the prestigious Concours de la Chanson Alliance Française, a competition dedicated to the performance of French songs. Much to her surprise, she walked away with first prize!
Why are you coming to VO Atlanta, and what are you looking forward to most?
I think I’ll probably stand out as the gawking, happy faced Dutch girl who will just get excited by everything and who wants to meet everybody. So basically, meeting colleagues (so many!!! the voice over community in the Netherlands is of course way smaller!), sharing experiences, learning about techniques, discovering new ways of using my voice (games and animations, which I’m not doing yet)… And I heard there’s an open mic!
But seriously, colleagues have repeatedly asked to come to Atlanta, but now, I’m just so excited I’m going in the first place.
Nothing can disappoint me!
I can reveal that Machteld is planning a small surprise at VO Atlanta. If you’re in the neighborhood, keep your eyes and ears open!
Gerald Griffith, the charismatic creator of VO Atlanta, is a clever cookie. He wants to give the attendees of this conference what they want. How does he know what they want? It’s simple. He’s not afraid to ask. It’s an approach many small business owners (such as VO’s) could learn something from:
1. understand your clients, and 2. ensure that what you’re offering meets or exceeds their needs
Result: Happy, returning customers!
So, over the past eight years, Gerald has been polling his audience trying to find out what kinds of topics they’d be interested in. Doing so, he noticed an inexplicable trend. Gerald:
“The pattern is the same. There’s a lot of demand for tech and business, but those are the most poorly attended sessions.”
This year it’s no different. Griffith:
“When I review the current block of workshop bookings (same holds true for breakout sessions in past years), guess which ones DO NOT show up in the top three? Technology and Marketing.”
For this blog post, I’ll leave the tech talk to the experts, but business and marketing are definitely my cup of tea. Full disclosure: I’m a presenter and panelist in these areas. So, why would people indicate they want more of these sessions, and yet not show up for them? It doesn’t make sense, does it? What’s going on?
First off: polls are opinions, not behavior. People vote with their feet. It’s the problem every pollster has to face: human beings say the socially acceptable thing, and do another. But there’s more.
Advertisers realized a long time ago that most people decide with their heart, not with their head. Business-oriented sessions tend to appeal to the analytical, left side of the brain. Some attendees falsely believe business segments are boring and filled with dry, factual information. In contrast, a hands-on workshop about getting into character animation, led by a brilliant man known for voicing a pig, has way more emotional pull.
Now, if you had a choice between work and play, which one would you choose? The truth is: most VO’s -me included- are more interested in the fun aspects of their job than in running the numbers. Bookkeeping is considered work. Making phone calls is work. Social Media can be a chore. We’d rather talk about how fun it is to bring scripts to life.
In my experience as a coach, many VO’s don’t want to face financial reality. They call themselves voice-over artists, not entrepreneurs. They prefer to stick their head in the sand while complaining about rates going down.
What’s also keeping people from signing up for business sessions is a particular mindset, summarized in these two maxims:
“If you build it, they will come”
“Do what you love and the money will follow”
These two ideas are part of the reason why about one-fifth of business startups fail in the first year, and about half go bust within five years. Only about one-third make it to ten.
Let me ask you this. If you build it without telling the world about it, why would people come? They don’t know you exist. And if they do know you exist, why should they come to you and not to someone else with a pleasant voice?
What makes you so special?
Go ahead and build it, but there’s no guarantee that they will come! Now, what about passion? Isn’t that enough to make the magic money fountains flow?
I know plenty of people who hate what they do, and yet they make a boatload of money. I also know people who love what they do, who are struggling to make ends meet. Investing in yourself by signing up for sessions that will help you improve your voice-over skills is not a bad idea. However, you can offer the best product in the world, but if you don’t know how to sell it, the money will not follow. And in VO, you are your product.
Take a few minutes and Google “reasons why small businesses fail.” You’ll find that most authors are in agreement. Small businesses don’t fail because new entrepreneurs aren’t creative, passionate, or skilled enough. It is because their owners do not run them like a business. A business needs to be properly funded. Many freelancers don’t spend enough money to put themselves out there, and they don’t make enough money to stay there.
Secondly, failing businesses are offering something no one is looking for because it’s already available, usually of better quality and at a lower price. If you’re thinking of starting your own business, you have to find your place in the market by providing something only very few can offer. That’s your niche.
As a voice talent, it’s not enough to say: “I am special because no one sounds like me.” Believe it or not, there are people who sort of sound like you with more money, more experience, better equipment, a quiet recording space, a nicer website, a harder working agent, better branding, greater marketing, and an amazing social media presence. Anything they’re not good at or don’t like to do, they hire experts for. Those who want to do it all by themselves end up working eighty hours a week wondering why they ever wanted to be their own boss.
If you don’t want to belong to that fifty percent of small businesses that close within five years, you have to stop treating your profession as a hobby, as something you do because it sparks joy only. Owning a small business is challenging, frustrating, and exhausting, as well as exhilarating.
Here’s the good news: learning how to run a freelance business is a rewarding journey, and in our community you’ll find excellent tour guides to show you around. Many of the best are coming to VO Atlanta from March 26 – 29.
COME TO ME
The Stinky Sock Session
On Friday 3/27, I’ll be leading a Breakout Session from 9:50 to 10:50 AM called “The Incredible Power of Words.” I might even bring a Stinky Sock! Here’s how I describe this experience:
“Even though we cannot do our jobs without them, it’s easy to minimize the impact our words have on the minds of the people who listen to us. In this session, you’ll hear compelling stories about how words can transform lives for better or for worse; how words can help and heal, and how we as professional storytellers can inspire our listeners and entice them to take action. And finally, I’ll talk about the things we say to ourselves, and how they can bring us down or lift us up. This session will leave no one untouched.”
The next day I’d love to meet you at my X-Session “Boosting your Business with a Blog” from 9:30 to 12:30 AM. It’s not a lecture, but an interactive workshop open to no more than twelve people. I’ll share the secrets that have made this blog one of the most popular in the business, and my website the most visited personal VO site on the web.
In this volatile, crazy voice-over business, many are called but few are chosen. When doing my presentations, I often look at my audience and wonder: who will be here next year, five years from now, and in ten years? Who will have given up, and who have staying power?
I don’t have a crystal ball, but I do know this: having a remarkable voice and knowing how to use it is not enough.
The colleagues enjoying sustained success are very likely to give you this piece of advice if you want to do well:
They can inspire us, they make us laugh, they melt our hearts, and they entice our souls to jump for joy.
Words can also scare us and scar us. They can intimidate, discriminate, and humiliate.
The sound of certain words alone, can petrify people. Try this, will you?
Say the following words out loud, and let them sink in for a moment:
Terror Horror Pain Death Disaster
Did you feel the effect?
Although they are nothing but letters arranged in a specific order, they sound dark and ominous because of all the things we’ve learned to associate with them. The terror of 9/11, the horror of the Holocaust, the pain of suffering, the death of a loved one, and the disaster of losing a home in a fire.
We all carry these uniquely personal connotations within us, and -invisible to the outside world- they resonate whenever we hear these words. Here’s where things get interesting.
Although you may think that we share some of life’s ups and downs because they are part of being human, all of us experience these highs and lows in our own way. These experiences color what we associate with certain words. This explains why people can use the same words, and yet mean and feel very different things.
For instance, the word “Dutch” means something different to me than what it means to you. I was born in the Netherlands and grew up there. Dutch is part of my DNA. If you’re an American, the first thing you may think of is Pennsylvania Dutch, or a fun game of Double Dutch.
Take the word “relationship.” There’s the definition from the dictionary, and then there’ s our experiential definition, infused with memories, and expectations. We emotionally respond to the latter, not the former.
There are many scary words in our language, the scariest being the word “NO.”
A close second is the word “rejection,” which basically means the same thing. Today, I’m going to zoom in on that word, because I believe the voice-over community needs more of it.
Yes, you’ve heard me.
We need more rejection. And before you reject that idea, please hear me out.
For newcomers trying to make a name for themselves in this competitive business, rejection is the worst that can happen. They’ve (hopefully) invested a lot of time and money in training and equipment, and feel ready to start playing the game. Subconsciously, many are convinced the world owes them. Why?
Well, when you make a serious investment, you should expect a decent return, right? That’s only fair.
Unfortunately, there is no fair in voice-over casting. There’s talent, training, experience, luck, who you know in the business, and subjective selection. None of them will guarantee any work.
So, when a novice starts auditioning for everything under the sun, and lands exactly zero jobs in three months, it feels like a slap in the face. Over time, they may start suffering from a gloomy condition I call rejection dejection, a feeling of failure caused by perceived incompetence.
Now, if that’s the result of rejection, why do I believe we need more of it? I’ll tell you.
1. People set themselves up for failure, and they deserve to be rejected
If you were ever in a position to cast a project, you know what I mean. You can throw at least half of the submissions out because the audio quality is appalling. Snowball microphones, egg crates, and leaf blowing neighbors can’t compete with pristine professional audio from someone who knows what s/he’s doing.
A quarter of auditionees don’t read the specs, and can’t be bothered to follow instructions. A quarter sounds fake and inauthentic, and many don’t know how to price their services. They’re either too cheap to be taken seriously, or too expensive to be competitive.
How do I know this? Because I’ve made all these mistakes! I simply didn’t know what I didn’t know without knowing it. The other day I was listening to some of my old auditions, and I was embarrassed. No wonder I didn’t book anything. But did I go on Facebook to moan and groan? No way! The only thing I could do was up my game, and rejection was the kick in the pants I desperately needed.
In short, rejection separates the wheat from the chaff, and can give people a strong incentive to learn and grow up.
2. We need to reframe rejection
The discussion about rejection almost always focuses on the poor, powerless voice-over, being a victim of the whims of a demanding, mysterious client. I’m not falling into that trap of misery and self-pity. Over the years I have turned the tables, and have come to see myself as the one doing the rejecting. It’s quite simple:
On any given day, I receive invitations to audition, and projects to record. Most of them I reject. I believe that quality, not quantity, is the secret to winning auditions. The client does not pay me to learn on the job, so I will only accept projects I know I can handle in terms of my skills and the time I have available.
I also reject projects that advocate unethical practices or promote products I cannot stand behind. For instance, I don’t want to be associated with the weapons trade, climate destruction, human rights abuses, the meat processing industry, and political parties whose ideas I cannot support. I know this has cost me work, but having principles comes at a price.
Lastly, I reject working with clients, corporations, or businesses that have been shown to act unethically. A particular Canadian Pay to Play comes to mind.
What’s the result of all this rejection? It’s the fact that I do work I can be proud of; work that makes me happy. If that’s something you want, I advise you to warmly embrace rejection!
3. We need to reject low rates, cheap clients, greedy Pay to Plays, and lowballing “colleagues”
Audio books are booming, video games are making billions, streaming services are producing more and more original content, eLearning is in high demand… I’d say the opportunities for voice-overs have never been better. That’s why so many want to give it a try.
In spite of these opportunities, many colleagues I talk to are finding it harder to get decent work for decent pay. Some of them end up doing more for less because the cost of living is going up and bills need to be paid. Agents dealing with clients tell me that it’s harder to negotiate a good rate, and that almost every client wants an unlimited buyout without paying for it.
Meanwhile, new voice casting services are opening their virtual doors, hoping to do good business with low rates and high commissions. It seems the gradual commoditization of our industry is in full swing.
The big questions is: how should we respond to that?
I think the answer lies in …. you’ve guessed it: rejection.
Be proud of your pricing, and reject rates that are insultingly low. Reject companies that triple dip, and leave you with less. Reject undercutting “colleagues.” Educate them, just as you educate your clients about fair fees.
Reject the lowballers that say: “One bird in the hand is better than two in the bush.” That’s based on shortsighted, egotistical thinking. It’s not a way to carve out a sustainable career that can feed a family.
Reject the notion that your decisions do not make a difference. Every time you quote a project or you accept a fee, you send a signal to the market: “This is what I believe my work is worth.” The only reason clients are getting away with paying pennies, is because people agree to work for pennies. No one is forcing them at gunpoint.
Now, you may have all kinds of reasons why you feel you have the right to work for a low rate, but I’m not interested in reasons. I’m interested in results. And the result is that for many it’s become harder and harder to make a living as a full-time voice-over.
Do all of us a favor and stop competing on price. It’s a game you will lose, because there’s always an idiot willing to do more for less, and go bankrupt in the process.
Show some self-respect, and show some respect for your craft and your community. Start competing on added value. Prove to the client that you’re worth what you’re asking.
Because if you do things right, your added value will always be higher than your rate!
Now, if that’s an idea you reject, I’m afraid can’t help you.
To be honest with you, I’d rather read an article than listen to forty minutes of blah-blah-blah. I can scan an article or blog post in a short amount of time. I search for keywords, and skip the fluff. Done. On to the next one. I think I’m too impatient for most podcasts.
Since I wrote the story in 2015, the number of VO-related podcasts has increased considerably, and I have to admit that many of them are a joy to listen to.
I’ve been interviewed by a multitude of hosts, and my experience has always been very positive. Yet, there are only a handful of podcasts I regularly tune into, and they’re seldom about voice overs. Why?
I think It’s very important for a well-rounded VO (and I’m not talking about our waistline), to step outside of our blah blah bubble, and skip the talk about which microphone is best and how to get an agent. There’s a whole wide world out there filled with information and inspiration. Constant navel-gazing isn’t going to help us learn and grow as a human being.
This week, a Dutch podcast forum asked me about my experiences with podcasts. Do I have any faves, pet peeves, or tips?
This is what I wrote.
Let me start my story with a confession.
My roots are in radio.
That’s both a blessing and a curse. It means I can no longer listen to podcasts with an open, carefree mind. I listen the way a music critic listens to a concert. With super critical ears. Luckily I can turn the darn thing off as soon as I get bored.
In addition you should know that I’ve been a voice over for more than thirty years. This has made me allergic to badly written scripts, stupid slips of the tongue, loud, distracting breaths, and poorly recorded audio.
I’ve also made a living as a journalist, presenter, and media trainer. I know a little bit about interviewing guests. How to do it, and how not to do it.
All of the above means that many podcasts are just not my thing, even though I love the medium dearly. My favorite podcasts offer theater between the ears allowing my imagination to run wild. When I’m listening, I’m not distracted by flashing images on television which makes it easier to focus on the content.
I love the freedom podcasts give me. I usually listen when I have boring things to do like the dishes, yard work, house cleaning, long drives, or running on the treadmill. What do I listen to? Mostly radio shows.
This year marks my 20th anniversary of living and working in the USA. To stay connected to what’s happening in Holland (where I’m from), I listen to a show called Met het oog op morgen, (Keeping an eye on tomorrow). It’s a daily roundup of news, current affairs, and background stories.
As a former newscaster I’m always on the lookout for people who can interpret what’s going on in the world today. I want to know what motivated this person to make that statement, and what the implications are. That’s why I often tune in to the Brian Leher Show on WNYC, a New York City-based public radio station. Brian is a progressive interviewer who has an uncanny ability to ask pointed questions in a friendly and respectful way.
When I want to know more about art, literature, and music, I turn to Fresh Air, a legendary talk show with Terry Gross. Terry is considered a national treasure in the US, and for good reason. She’s been on national radio since 1975, and her show can be heard all over the United States. She’s known for her empathic, intelligent way of interviewing her guests.
For philosophy and science I listen to Radiolab with Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich. Jad composes the experimental music which is like a running commentary on the theme of the show. Apart from interviews with people such as neurologist Oliver Sacks, conversations between the hosts are also part of the program. Radiolab is exquisitely immersive and never fails to make me think.
PROBLEMS WITH PODCASTS
There are very few “real” podcasts (as opposed to regular radio shows) I can listen to without cringing. Usually, that’s because of three things:
1. Amateurs “playing radio.”
Bad audio quality is the first clue. The recording space is often too noisy, everyone is miles away from the microphone, and guests are mumbling their answers. After hearing the first twenty seconds I ask myself: “What on earth am I listening to?”
Podcast producers who actually know what they’re doing realize that they have to compete with “real” radio programs. Award-winning podcasts have a team of researchers, editors, script writers, and sound engineers that take their job seriously.
In the next few years the difference between hobbyists and professionals making podcasts will increase dramatically. The consumer will have even more to choose from, and won’t have to settle for kitchen table productions.
2. Hosts that are overly self-involved.
Podcasts seem to attract people that like to hear themselves talk, but who have very little to say. I’m thinking of the unfunny folks who believe they’re God’s gift to comedy, and who have trouble getting to the point. I call them “self-arousers” because the sound of their own voice makes them horny as hell.
The best interviewers don’t make themselves the star of the show but focus on the guests. They don’t stick to a list of pre-cooked questions. They listen carefully to the answers and follow up. This is not an easy thing to do. You’ve got to get people talking, you’ve got to learn to keep your mouth shut, and you have to jump in at the right moment with the right questions.
3. Weak content
Before you read the next line I’d like you to do a quick experiment while recording yourself. Choose a topic you’re interested in at the moment. Have a stopwatch ready, and when you press START, talk for one minute straight offering relevant information. No hesitations, no filler words, and no ums.
Ready. Set. GO!
Most people who do this experiment notice how hard it is to fill just one minute fluently, while keeping the audience engaged as they’re trying to make sense.
I often tell my students:
“If you want people to be interested, you have to be interesting. Your topics and your guests have to be interesting.”
Too many podcasts are of the category “much ado about nothing,” hosted by lazy, self-absorbed hosts that allow their guests to yammer on and on and on.
If you’re reading producing podcasts, you know it requires quite an investment to produce an outstanding show on a weekly basis. That’s why it is almost impossible to listen to your own shows with impartiality. It’s also the reason I recommend you get yourself a feedback group of people who know what they’re talking about. Do not ask family and friends who will love everything you say and do, no matter what.
You need the critical ears of those who will tell you what you don’t like to hear.
My 3-hour X-session Boosting Your Business with a Blog at VO Atlanta is now on sale. I’ll teach you all the blogging secrets that made the Nethervoice blog one of the most widely read VO blogs in the business, and my website the number one individual VO site on the web. Only 12 seats available! Click here to sign up.
Why do so many voice overs on social media seem confident, yet ignorant?
I’m not making this up to bash newbies, if that’s what you think. Age and experience have nothing to do with it. I’ve seen seasoned colleagues make ridiculous claims, and I’ve observed youngsters parade their lack of knowledge in public without an ounce of shame or self-awareness.
Unfortunately, ignorance isn’t limited to our tiny voice-over bubble. Many people go through life being blind about basic facts. It doesn’t prevent them from commenting about things they know nothing about. It’s a free country! These people have careers, they raise children, and some of them even vote.
Do you want examples? Here are a few factoids from surveys that will make your jaw drop.
Only 45% of Americans can tell you what the initials in GOP stand for. Some believe it is short for Government of the People or God’s Own Party.
25% of Americans don’t know the country from which the USA gained its independence. Answers varied from France to China.
30% have no idea what the Holocaust was, and half of Americans believe that Christianity came before Judaism. These people are also convinced that Christianity was written into the Constitution.
Mind you, it’s not just the big stuff people have no clue about. I once asked a music student jokingly:
“For whom did Beethoven compose “Für Elise?”
She had no idea.
Now, here’s the real kicker. When asked these questions, those who were obviously incompetent did not see themselves as such. This isn’t weird. It’s very human, and it’s confirmed by an experiment among students who were doing a test.
When they handed the test in, they were asked how well they thought they did. Their answers were later compared to the actual results. Here’s what the researchers found.
The bottom performers in that test were almost as confident about how well they thought they did, as the top performers. In other words, they were blissfully unaware of their own lack of knowledge.
THE DUNNING – KRUGER EFFECT
In psychology this is known as the Dunning-Kruger effect, named after Cornell psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger. It’s a type of cognitive bias in which people believe that they are smarter and more capable than they really are.
The explanation for this phenomenon is simple: people are too ignorant to recognize their own ignorance, and so they don’t see where their knowledge ends.
Why is this a problem, you ask? All we need to do is present the ignorant people of the world with the facts, and they’ll get off their high horse and accept that they’re wrong. End of story.
If only it were that easy.
By the way, for the sake of this discussion when I say “facts” I’m referring to information confirmed to be true according to objective scientific standards.
We can verify what GOP stands for, and from which country the USA gained its independence. It’s not a matter of opinion.
The real problem is not that people are not as knowledgeable as they think they are. To be honest: all of us live under the shadow of our own ignorance. The problem is that our misconceptions are a serious barrier to us learning anything new and accepting expert opinions.
As the Zen master said:
“How can I fill your tea cup if it’s already full?”
I run into this problem when giving feedback as a coach.
For people to accept the feedback, they have to accept failure and be open to new information. Let me give you an example. One of my older students didn’t like what I had to say about the quality of his audio. His equipment was top-notch, but his recording space was terrible. All of his recordings had a low rumble and flutter echoes.
He wasn’t booking anything, and yet he was intent on showing me how much he had spent on his microphone and preamp to prove that I was wrong. Good gear couldn’t lead to bad audio, he thought.
At my request he visited an audiologist, and found out he needed a hearing aid. Once the device was in place, he called to apologize. He had listened to his recordings and heard some things he’d never heard before, proving my point.
Here’s what I had to learn. Telling people they’re wrong puts them on the defense, allowing them to turn me into the bad guy. Facts can be denied and intentions can be questioned. Experiences on the other hand, are harder to disprove.
So, instead of telling my students what they’re doing wrong (creating resistance), I now give them assignments to help them assess their expertise of lack thereof, and I have them research ways in which they can improve. This way, they own the feedback as well as the solution.
It’s easy to forget a fact, but people will remember an experience.
The other problem with the Dunning – Kruger effect is that it leads to people making bad choices because they reach the wrong conclusions while thinking they’re doing okay.
AT THE SHOOTING RANGE
Dunning and Kruger went to a gun shooting event and asked gun enthusiasts to fill out a ten-question firearm and safety knowledge quiz used by the NRA. It turned out that the gun owners who knew the least about gun safety overestimated their knowledge the most.
I don’t know about you, but this scares the hell out of me. To take it one step further, people have pointed at the behavior of our Commander-in-Chief as a prime example of the Dunning – Kruger effect.
Those who are suffering from Dunning – Kruger have trouble measuring themselves against real experts because they’re so confident they are right. I mean, why should a know-it-all turn to other sources for advice?
What makes it worse is that overly confident and narcissistic leaders tend to surround themselves with YES-men and women who are too afraid to criticize their boss for fear of repercussions. This lack of feedback makes a leader even more convinced that he’s doing a perfect job.
One last thing. Someone displaying signs of the Dunning – Kruger effect has trouble taking responsibility when things go haywire. How can someone unable to make mistakes possibly do something wrong? Instead, they point the finger at others.
ALL ARE AFFECTED
Now, before you tell me I’m turning this blog into a political diatribe, I think it’s important to look into the mirror and admit that all of us show signs of the Dunning – Kruger effect. No matter how much we think we know about a topic, our knowledge is finite, whereas what we don’t know is infinite.
There are simple biological limitations to what we’re able to know as well. Our brain cannot remember everything. It does not need to remember everything because we can find most information online. Some have called this the “Google Effect,” the automatic forgetting of info that’s available on the world wide web.
We should also realize that the ill-informed don’t necessarily know less. They’re not stupid. They just believe things that aren’t always rooted in facts. People will endorse erroneous information if it fits their opinion. They also know more about different things that may or may not be relevant or deemed important.
One of my cousins is not the sharpest tool in the shed, but he can blindly identify the make and model of a car, simply by listening to the noise the engine is making. And if he listens a bit longer, he can tell you what needs to be fixed (he grew up in a body shop).
I also know people who are extremely knowledgeable in one area of their life, but please don’t ask them to make eggs over easy. The kitchen is going to be a mess.
Having interviewed some of the best brains in the world, one thing became very clear to me. Knowing a lot doesn’t make someone smart, or kind, or more understanding.
Is there a way to counter the Dunning – Kruger effect? As you can imagine, arguing with people who experience the Dunning – Kruger effect is frustrating. They will often become more entrenched in their beliefs. So, lets’s start with ourselves.
One way to overcome the effect is to develop what psychologists call metacognition. It is the ability to think about one’s own thinking and behavior. It’s a skill that helps us recognize how well we are performing. I’d say this is an essential skill for the self-employed.
How do you develop this skill? Well, by doing what you are doing right now. By reading this story you’re hopefully learning to recognize the symptoms in others and in yourself. Every change we wish to make has to start with us being aware of what needs to change. As long as we’re in denial, treatment is futile.
Another way of dealing with the Dunning – Kruger effect is to accept that we don’t need to know everything about everything. I find not having to know everything very liberating and humbling. What’s more, it has opened me up to a whole realm of surprising possibilities.
Because of this blog, I get a lot of questions from readers like you. How much should they charge for this project in this country, what’s the best microphone for a high female voice, should they join the union or go Taft-Hartley?
I’m no longer afraid to tell them I don’t have an answer. It doesn’t diminish who I am. I’d rather be open about my ignorance than arrogant about my perceived knowledge and steer my readers in the wrong direction.
I’m also willing to accept that not everything I write, or all the things I think I know, are shiny pearls of wisdom. These days, I restrain myself more and more from commenting on social media (much to the relief of many).
Knowing my limitations also means I can start working on the knowledge I lack, if that’s important to me.
There’s always more to learn.
In short, I’ve become very confident about my ignorance, and I’m totally okay with that.
In Philipsburg, NJ, the town across the river from where I live, a familiar ritual is taking place as we speak.
A shopping mall is closing.
Built in 1989, the Philipsburg Mall once featured one hundred stores and a four thousand-space parking lot. Today, this enclosed, 577,000-square-foot concrete structure is almost empty, and ready for the wrecking ball.
It’s part of what the experts have coined the “retail apocalypse.” Studies show roughly one in four malls across the USA are expected to close by 2022. This week, Macy’s announced the closure of twenty-eight locations. Pier 1 Imports said recently it would be closing nearly half of its stores.
Overall, 2019 was a terrible year for US retailers. Coresight Research announced 9,302 store closings, and that’s a 59% jump from 2018. In fact, it’s the highest number since they began tracking data in 2012.
To explain this phenomenon, the same experts point to a trend they call the Amazoning of America. It’s the idea that malls and individual retailers are being pushed out of business by online giants like Amazon Prime and Alibaba.
Others are pointing to a changing economy where the middle class that used to shop at stores like Sears, Bon Ton, and Macy’s is struggling and is looking for cheaper alternatives.
The people who have trouble making ends meet now shop at the Dollar Store. After opening 900 stores in 2018, Dollar General opened 975 stores in 2019, making it the top retail company in terms of expansion. Discount chains like Dollar Tree, Family Dollar, Aldi and Five Below were in the top five for opening stores in 2019.
Yes folks, the U.S. economy is doing better than ever before!
To counter lower revenues and high rents, regular retailers purposely understaff their stores, and stock less or older merchandise, leading to a poor shopping experience. Good luck trying to get help in a department store these days.
With this in mind, it’s easy and convenient to point fingers at the economy and Amazon for the retail apocalypse. We don’t control Amazon, and we have no influence over something as abstract as “the economy.” If you can’t control it, you cannot change it.
Or can you?
Someone in my neighborhood was complaining about all the distribution centers being built in my region, the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania. “They take up farmland, they lead to an increase in truck traffic damaging our roads, and they’re just plain ugly,” the man said. “I blame Jeff Bezos!”
But what if Bezos wouldn’t have as many customers? Would he still be renovating his $23 million Washington mansion with 11 bedrooms and 25 bathrooms? What would happen if all of us would start shopping locally again, instead of online? Would developers still be building all those distribution centers?
The way I see it, we as consumers have tremendous influence on our economy. The way we spend money is our superpower to bring about positive and negative change.
It is our behavior that is killing shopping malls, bankrupting family businesses, and is giving the Five Below’s of the world billion dollar profits while their cheap Chinese trinkets are polluting the planet with plastic.
We choose the behavior, and we are responsible for the consequences.
As long as people don’t get that and blame outside factors for unwanted changes, we won’t be able to solve the climate crisis, the increase in racism, gun violence, and a whole string of other worrisome developments in our society.
To bring it back to my line of work… many of my voice over colleagues are complaining about rates getting lower, and clients getting cheaper. They blame the free market for their woes.
“It’s what the marketplace dictates,” they say. “A job that used to pay $2500, now pays $250. I can’t change that. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”
I strongly disagree. Getting paid $250 for a $2500 job is the result of your inability to make an appealing value proposition to your client, and your ineptitude to negotiate a decent deal. It reeks of desperation and a lack of professionalism.
Just as the success of Amazon (and all its consequences) is the result of millions of individual purchase decisions, the lowering of our rates is the result of thousands of freelancers deciding to settle for less. No one is forcing them, and yet it sends a clear signal to our clients:
“This is what I believe this job is worth. Why pay a penny more?”
Look, I get that there’s a market for the Dollar Store, but why not leave that market to the freakin’ freelancers you find on Fiverr? They obviously can’t compete on value, so they can only compete on price. Let them dabble as they babble pretending to be a pro.
In this new year I challenge you to decide who your clients are going to be. The cheapskates who are the most demanding and demeaning, or the ones who value and respect you professionally and financially? This means drawing a line in the sand by being clear about what you no longer wish to accept for yourself and your community of colleagues.
It may also mean raising your standards as well as your rates, because clients with bigger budgets expect you to give them their money’s worth. This is where the small shop owner beats the strip mall and the online retailer.
A DIFFERENT TOWN
Across the bridge from Philipsburg, lies the town of Easton, PA. It’s where I live. Easton is a town that warmly welcomes entrepreneurs. We don’t have a retail apocalypse. We have a retail resurgence!
Every month we celebrate the opening of new stores, businesses, and restaurants. People who are sick and tired of skyrocketing New York rents are coming to Easton. For what they’re paying for a tiny NYC apartment, they can buy a historic home or a penthouse overlooking the Delaware river.
The Easton Business Association is a free organization where all members help each other succeed. Together with the Easton Main Street Initiative, shop keepers, restaurant owners, and service providers come up with events that bring thousands of people to the downtown area. Every fourth Friday there’s Easton Out Loud with music, food, drinks, games, and activities for the whole family.
You won’t find big box stores in downtown Easton. Instead, you’ll find flower shops, bakeries, gift shops, antique stores, vintage clothes shops, art galleries, independent book stores, cafés, pubs, restaurants, and breweries. And did I mention a fabulous Farmers’ Market?
Festivals such as Bacon Fest, Heritage Day, the Zucchini 500 races, and the Peace Candle Lighting bring huge crowds to Easton. All these events are sponsored by local companies and are run by an army of enthusiastic volunteers of all ages.
In my town you will find unique things made by local artists and artisans you won’t be able to buy on Amazon or even Etsy. When I needed a set of walking poles, Adam (the owner of the Easton Outdoor Company), took over an hour to make sure I picked the right pair, and he taught me how to use them. That’s not an experience you can get online or even at Dick’s Sporting Goods.
COMMUNITY & CONNECTION
What Easton offers more than anything, is a sense of community and belonging that has disappeared from so many towns and cities. It comes from store owners who care about their business and their customers. From people who take pride in what they produce. From people who don’t see new stores as their competition, but as an opportunity to work together to attract more business. After all, visitors like having more choice.
Now, remember that all these stores exist and flourish in the age of Amazon. They don’t compete on price. They compete on giving the customer high-quality and often unique products, pies they can taste, flowers they can smell, and clothes they can try on. These shops offer stellar customer service, and an experience that makes you feel you’re among friends. These ingredients are the warm and fuzzies you’ll never get from a website, no matter how sophisticated or cheap it may be.
So, in 2020 I want you to stop whining about sliding rates, and focus on how you are going to give your customers an experience they will always remember and are happy to pay for. Let me give you one hint:
You’ll never be able to distinguish yourself as long as you’re part of someone else’s store charging someone else’s prices.
Their roof. Their rules.
The shop owners at the dying Philipsburg Mall noticed that the Real Estate Investment Trust that owned the property treated them as commodities. They didn’t innovate and invest to bring back customers. Right now, the roof is leaking, repairs aren’t being made, and the parking lot is filled with potholes.
Some people believe the owners are driving the mall into functional obsolescence. The land under the mall, however, has value.
It’s perfect for yet another ugly distribution center.
Are you a nail-biter, a chain-sitter, or an overeater?
We all have bad habits we want to get rid of.
If you’re a serious voice talent, here are a few things I suggest you let go of in 2020.
1. Spending money on new equipment while you’re still in a bad recording space.
Yes, I know you’ve been eyeballing that new microphone for the past six months now, but will it stop the neighbor’s leaf blower from blowing, or the deep rumble of the school bus from making a guest appearance in your auditions? Will it magically tame the flutter echoes in your improvised booth, and make you sound like the next movie trailer man (or woman)?
Not in a million years!
The number one thing that held me back from being successful as a voice-over, was the absence of a dedicated and isolated recording space. Once I built my own booth, I had the freedom and confidence to go after every job I felt I was suitable for. Last year, almost every production I’ve been involved in began in my home studio. It has paid for itself many times over.
Treat the space first. Then treat yourself to some shiny new equipment. If you must.
2. Expecting the keys to the kingdom on a silver platter.
I’m a member of many social media groups dedicated to voice overs. A majority of these groups are supposed to be for professional voice talent. Yet, every single day I see amateur questions that have been asked and answered hundreds of times, coming from people who are too lazy to do their homework. In the age of the Internet no one can claim ignorance, so:
Stop playing dumb, people! It is embarrassing.
It’s not that our community isn’t willing to share. If anything, the VO-universe is very giving to those who demonstrate relentless commitment and extraordinary talent. But I refuse to help people who want to pick my brain out of a false sense of entitlement, and a simplistic idea of what it takes to make it in this business.
So, dear colleagues: Stop giving free rides to those who don’t feel like learning how to drive. If you keep spoon-feeding a child, it will never learn how to eat by itself.
3. Complaining without taking responsibility or action.
“The book I’m narrating is awful. The author is impossible to work with. The deadline for this project is unrealistic. They expect me to record a complete rewrite of the script for free…”
First of all: Stop whining!
Winners aren’t whiners.
You’re a freelancer. You are free to work with anyone you want. Nobody is forcing you to narrate a crap novel about a topic no one’s interested in for a ridiculous royalty share. You don’t have to collaborate with a disrespectful writer who pretends to know more about voice-over narration than you do. If a deadline doesn’t work for you, then don’t agree to it. Never record a complete rewrite at no charge. Your time and your talent are valuable.
If you feel this particular pay-to-play you’re a “member” of, is greedy and unethical, don’t keep it in business by renewing your membership. Don’t tell me your livelihood depends on this one company. It’s bad business to put all your eggs in one rotten basket.
If you want quality clients, start doing the legwork yourself. It’s part of being a pro!
4. Working for less than you deserve.
No matter what freelance business you’re in, there’s a quick and easy way to get rid of clients that treat you like dirt, and pay you accordingly:
Price for profit and raise your rates!
It’s not that complicated. Every time you accept a job for less, you send a signal to the market about your worth, and the worth of your colleagues. Clients aren’t stupid. They love getting more and more for less and less. We all do. But most people also understand that there’s a link between value and price.
Price is an important indicator of professionalism and quality.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: When it comes to voice-over fees, you’re either part of the problem, or you’re part of the solution. As soon as you start competing on price and out of fear, you’re doing yourself and your community a huge disservice. As soon as you start competing confidently on added value, you’re teaching your clients about the worth of (y)our work.
By the way, here’s something else you should stop doing in the new year:
5. Making assumptions about your clients.
So many colleagues tell me:
“If my quote is too high, I’m afraid the client won’t be able to afford me, and I’ll lose the job.”
Let me ask you this:
“How do you know what a client can or cannot afford? Did you talk to their accountant? Let’s say you didn’t get that job because of your higher bid, what did you lose?” You can’t lose something that wasn’t yours in the first place. Secondly, you’ve actually gained time to pursue or do a job at a respectable rate.”
Last year I’ve said “no” to more offers than in any year of my entire career, and this was one of my best years on record. I’m not saying that to impress you. I’m saying that to empower you.
Don’t ever pretend to know what your client is thinking of, or hoping for. You’re not in the mind reading business. You’re in the script reading business.
Never assume. Always ask.
Having said that, I won’t assume what things you’d like to stop doing this year.
If you like, please share them in the comment section.
Because I’m the son of a minister, people have always assumed that Christmas was my favorite time of year.
To tell you the truth: it wasn’t.
In fact, every year I was glad it was over.
In the weeks leading up to the celebration of the birth of Christ, our home became a very stressful place where kids had to walk on eggshells.
My mom was responsible for Sunday School, and for the inescapable Nativity Play. Every year she had to deal with parents harassing her because their son or daughter was selected to be an ox, an ass, or worse, a tree.
My dad was crazy busy writing too many sermons on the subject of world peace, hoping to make an impression on those who only came to church at the end of December. His calendar was dominated by one social function after another. He was often asked to bring the whole family to singalongs, nursing homes, hospitals, and countless receptions.
During those hectic weeks, my sister and I got an idea of what it must feel like to be part of the First Family. We had to be on our best behavior, as we were getting stuffed with sugary treats from sweet old ladies. It gave us tons of energy, and we had nowhere to put it.
At the end of this grueling marathon, we visited both sets of grandparents in Friesland, all the way in the north of the country. By that time, it became harder and harder for our family to keep up appearances, especially when familial buttons would be pushed. And believe me, around the holidays those buttons only needed to be touched lightly to have maximum effect. It was only a matter of time before one of us would either explode or collapse.
“Thank God Christmas is over,” my dad used to say, and he meant every word of it.
When he left his congregation to become Head of Pastoral Services at a university hospital, Christmas became a bit more relaxed for all involved. I learned to play the cornet, and joined a local band. It was one of those marching bands that -thank goodness- did very little marching. We did have a special Christmas tradition.
In the early hours of Christmas Day, a select group of musicians would go to different street corners, and play a number of carols. We did that for an hour or so, and then all of us would have breakfast at a nursing home. This had been going on for so long that most of the people in my town felt like it wasn’t really Christmas until the caroling band had woken them up at the crack of dawn.
Getting to as many street corners as possible with a bunch of brass players was not as easy as it sounds. We used to arrive in separate cars to do our thing, until two brothers offered to help. One played the tuba and the other French horn, and both drove what was known in Holland as “SRV-vans.” These vans looked like huge motor homes or bookmobiles. They were actually supermarkets on wheels, and miracles of technical ingenuity.
Almost anything a local supermarket would stock, was for sale in these vans. They sold only one brand of peanut butter, coffee, or laundry detergent, but for many customers it was very convenient to have these goods arrive at their doorstep. On top of that, these vans were electrical, and thus very environmentally friendly.
So, imagine a group of musicians arriving on a cold and dark winter morning. The streets were usually slippery, and driving conditions were hazardous. Our lips would nearly freeze to our mouthpieces, but we were determined to fulfill our mission. Moments later, the two SRV-vans would arrive, filled to the brim with all kinds of groceries.
When the whole group was ready, we split up into two teams to cover different parts of town. One by one, you’d see trumpets, trombones, euphoniums, and basses get into the vans. Inside, we tried to find a safe space in between heads of lettuce, orange juice, cheeses, bread flour, milk, and the Holiday edition of Playboy. It was a very tight fit.
Inside the van
From the very beginning, it was clear that these vans were not made for public transportation, especially if the roads were covered in snow and ice. Those inside had to hold on for dear life when these vehicles rounded corners. That wasn’t easy with a brass instrument in one hand. Everything inside would start to shift, and I vividly remember round Edam cheeses falling off the shelves like cannonballs.
Because there were no side windows, we often had no idea where we’d stop, if we’d stop at all. Thanks to the added weight, the vans would slide a couple of extra meters on a frozen road after the driver had stepped on the brake. With so many passengers on board, his windscreen was all fogged up, and it was a miracle that we never collided with anything dead or alive.
If my cornet would survive the Christmas ride without bumps and bruises, I’d be a happy man. If I’d survive the ride, my parents would be extremely relieved.
Looking back, it was a crazy thing we did, and yet I didn’t want to miss it for anything in the world. We knew how many people were counting on us, and we were willing to take the risk.
There still are about three hundred supermarkets on wheels in The Netherlands, serving rural communities and the elderly. They’re long gone from the town I used to live in, but the last time I was there I heard a persistent rumor.
If you happen to wake up early on December 25th, you may hear the faint sound of a brass band playing carols in the cold.
Mark my words: the next decade is going to be BIG!
There will be more opportunities for professional voice actors than ever before. Take a quick look at the trends.
In 2019, video game revenue has again surpassed the total global box office for the film industry. The prediction is that it will increase by about 9.6% to generate 152.1 billion USD.
Streaming services are investing heavily in the production of original content. The audio book market keeps on growing exponentially (audiobook revenue in 2018 grew by 24.5 percent and totaled USD $940 million). The eLearning industry is expected to grow beyond USD 300 billion by 2025.
With the number of self-professed voice-overs increasing year after year, the question is not:
“Will there be enough work for everybody?” The question is: “Who is in the best position to take advantage of the growth in our line of work?”
The answer is simple: those who are best prepared to meet the demands of the market will dominate it. So, the real question becomes: How do you prepare for the future?
Abraham Lincoln, who was a skilled woodcutter before becoming president of the United States, famously said:
“If I had six hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend the first four hours sharpening the axe.”
For VO’s this translates to at least four things:
Continuing education, but not only with the help of voice over coaches. I’m talking about taking acting and improv classes, singing lessons, and even language training. In other words, start improving your skills to make yourself more versatile and marketable. But that’s only the beginning;
On top of that I highly recommend you learn how to properly run a freelance business. This means knowing how to manage your finances, learning how to develop your brand, and coming up with innovative ways to position yourself. It involves making meaningful connections, and presenting yourself as a unique solution to a specific problem;
Third, you must invest in equipment and in a recording environment that will make you look and sound like the pro you profess to be;
And lastly, you need to learn how to manage yourself. If you can’t take the pressure and uncertainty of being a freelancer, the constant stream of rejections, and so-called colleagues trying to undercut you at every corner, please find another job.
FOREVER AND EVER
Looking at this list you may wonder: won’t this take years and years to accomplish? It may, but it depends on your approach, your finances, and on the time you give yourself. The people who make the least progress are those who are trying to figure this out on their own. They kid themselves by believing that you can find everything you need online, and for free.
Why have we never heard of those trying to teach themselves how to drive a car or swim, using distance learning? Because they have crashed and drowned! If you think you can reinvent the wheel, be my guest. I think it’s much faster to learn from those who already are where you want to be. That’s precisely where conferences come in.
A conference is a safe and exciting place where you meet colleagues and experts who have struggled with the same things you are struggling with at the moment. It’s a place where you can help and inspire others who are stuck in their careers. And if you’re looking for a personal coach, you get the opportunity to experience a number of experts and see who might be a good fit for you.
A voice over conference is the perfect place to start sharpening that axe of yours.
BACK TO LONDON
I’ll be going to VO Atlanta in March, and I’m totally tickled to tell you that I am coming to London in May 2020! The ONE VOICE CONFERENCE where I will be speaking, takes place from May 7th – 10th and is put together by the team behind Gravy For The Brain. I spoke with organizer Hugh Edwards, and asked him:
This is the third Voice One Conference. What have you learned since the first gatherings?
“Well, we are very big on customer feedback, each year we’ve done exit surveys and we’ve really listened to what has been fed back to us. We genuinely try and improve the conference in any way we can. One of the key changes we’ve made this year is that we are completely focussing the conference on professional voiceover, pro VO’s and pro VO standards.
Most conferences cater for a spread, i.e., beginner, intermediate and advanced content, but this often leads to a lack of content for the pros – this year we are doing an about face on that. My theory is that if you aim for 100% professional content, everyone is going to learn something useful and new, and you don’t alienate any section of your audience.
The second big change is that this year I’ve dropped the idea of genre-based content. What I mean by that is that with years 1 and 2 we had a genre list – audiobooks, IVR, corporate etc – and we filled all the speaker slots based on fulfilling that list.
You’ve been to VO conferences in the USA like VO Atlanta. What’s the difference in the way Americans and Brits approach these events? In what way is the atmosphere different?
“Well, the heart of the voice artists in both countries, and Canada, Mexico, France, Australia etc are fundamentally the same. They all have the same hopes and dreams, needs and wants. The love of the industry is a common love that runs throughout everyone I meet in the industry. I think the attitudes are a little different though.
The brits tend to say outright and to people’s faces that they don’t think something is right, and the Americans seem slightly more reserved, will make their judgements and just not buy that person’s product, or that companies offering etc.
That isn’t to say that the American audience is in anyway less passionate, just that we all have different ways of expressing it. The Americans are much louder with whooping, hollering and dancing, the brits less so – but again, it’s not any less enthusiasm or passion – just different expressions!”
I sometimes feel that in the US, voice talent suffers from an inferiority complex. Voice-overs are invisible and don’t get the recognition they wish to get, artistically and financially. Is this something you recognize in the UK? If so, how can an event like One Voice help change the perception VO’s have of themselves, and the perception of the public?
“I wouldn’t agree that VO’s have an inferiority complex generally – in fact they often get the best of both worlds in that they get to work with the big productions but can still walk down the street un-hassled! But the public perception of VO around the world is growing daily.
One Voice, and Gravy For The Brain definitely help change the public perception of voiceover, both in education and (with things like the One Voice Awards) in celebration. The more opportunities given to shout about their craft, the more the public takes an interest. Some VO artists are becoming household names in the UK and the USA and the industry is changing at a rapid pace.”
Looking back at the past two events, what has been your most gratifying experience?
“This is actually easier to answer than you might think! One Voice is a little like the analogy of the duck swimming on a lake; calm, serene and in control on the surface (which is what the public sees) and feet paddling like crazy under the surface (which is what our fantastic team is doing behind the scenes to make everything smooth and enjoyable for the delegates).
The amount of work that goes into the conference before the event is absolutely huge, from dress rehearsals, to coding, to awards and submissions, to speaker bookings, you name it, the team does it – and it’s right that the public never needs to know.
So what’s my most gratifying experience? I stand at the bar at the end of the day and I look around at all the VO’s and speakers gathered together – and all I see is smiles, and happiness, community and mutual respect. Seeing everyone being so happy after all the work, all the late nights and all the hours involved makes me as happy as I can be.”
These conferences cost a lot of money to organize and that’s one of the reasons you have corporate sponsors. How do you give your sponsors what they want without exposing the attendees to aggressive sales pitches?
“Yep – it’s a good point, and not all conferences get this right. I think one of the reasons for this is that virtually no other conference owner is also a sponsor at other conferences, whereas Gravy For The Brain has sponsored almost all the VO conference in the world in the last two years. We see what works for us, and when, as sponsors we are disappointed – we know what works for us and when we feel we are getting value, and when we feel neglected.
But it’s also worth saying that it’s a little sycophantic to presume that it’s an us (VO’s) and them (sponsors) scenario – in fact, it’s a completely symbiotic relationship; the sponsors are generally providing products or services that we love and need as a community, and although it’s a business, we’re all in this together.
When it comes to sponsor talks, we’re quite strict on not allowing sponsors to do sales pitches – that’s not the best use of their time at all – and instead we fixed the whole ‘expo area’ idea, which is done so wrong in so many other conferences – if you have to have a ‘room’ for the sponsors, by default delegates have to make a conscious effort to visit so attendance is always low.
At One Voice the expo area is the connection space between all the presentation rooms, so we have a constant flow of traffic for the exhibitors. Because of this the sponsors have no need to use their talk to be the only time they can pitch to the voices – they’re just integrated into the conference as a whole.”
Talent that’s on the fence about going, usually has a few questions about the conference:
– Is this suitable for beginners?
“Yes, all levels. As I mentioned earlier, we’re now presenting content for the professional, which means that all levels are going to learn as much as we can provide for them.”
– Will I get lost in the crowd?
“No. The fire limit for One Voice is 350 people, which in reality means 300 voice artists. It’s a lovely intimate space and has a real family feel to it!”
– Will it get me more work?
“Well, anyone – conference owners, trainers, coaches, whoever who says that their product is going to get you more work, is a liar, or at best misguided. What we are doing is helping you make connections and network, and giving you education and tools for you to be able to do this for yourself…and in that way, yes absolutely!
VO is a long game and no one is going to do this for you – it takes hard work and dedication, but One Voice is the best networking opportunity, an amazing centre of excellence in education and the most value-for-money conference you can attend in the UK.”
meeting Mark Graue
– Will I have the opportunity to meet face to face with presenters?
“Absolutely. it’s such a social event, and most of the presenters are there for the whole weekend. We’ve consistently found that our presenters are extremely generous with their time and their advice – they’re a great spirited and friendly bunch! The overriding word that comes back to me here is community – they are as much a part of it as you are, and their expertise and experience is arguably the most valuable part of the weekend.”
What’s new in 2020? Why should people who already have attended a conference come back?
“So I previously mentioned the refocusing on professional standards, education, and tuition. This extends through to all the areas of the conference, from talks, to workshops, the networking to the community and our sponsors. Almost all of our speakers this year were not speakers last year which is part of our ongoing commitment to provide value for money, freshness, and diversity in the content we are providing.
At the end of last year’s One Voice I polled the audience about our workshops and what people thought – we had a pretty polar split with those who loved them, and those who thought the content was great but that they were too short. So we listened, and this year we will be providing the one-hour workshops which are still free with your ticket, and also three-hour specialised workshops which will have an additional fee. It’s only fair that we pay the experts who are imparting their knowledge for a 3-hour period.
The One Voice Boat Party is back, because it was so hugely successful and fun last year – we just couldn’t resist doing it again!”
As I was conducting my interview, Hugh broke the news that Alexander Armstrong had agreed to become the second keynote speaker (Kate Robbins being the other one). Alexander is a well-know British voice actor, comedian, game show host, and singer. He also plays the title character in the new edition of Danger Mouse.
Back to my interview with Hugh. I wanted to know: Will you still have the Awards Gala?
“I’m glad you asked! Yes the One Voice Awards is growing from strength to strength and is becoming a genuine force for good in the VO community. Because of our ethical values and the truly locked nature of the judging system proving 100% absolute integrity, the One Voice Awards are seen as a wholly trusted and worthwhile thing. It’s also one heck of a fun night!
We have some very cool surprises up our sleeve this year too! Submissions will open in January – and for anyone who isn’t on our mailing list just head over to www.onevoiceconference.com and sign up to the newsletter – and further details will follow!
Bodalgo’s Armin Hierstetter
We’re running a super early bird at the moment which is 30% off the ticket price and lasts only up until Christmas Day. The price for the entire 4-day event (excluding the awards) at this discount is only £229 +tax (that’s about 300 USD) – which represents incredible value for money. Then we go into the Early bird for a few weeks in January and then normal ticket pricing after that.
We have negotiated an amazing hotel rate which includes breakfast, and of course lunches are included within the ticket price. One Voice Conference is the UK’s biggest and best VO conference for a reason – we really care about each and every one of our attendees – and we’d love to see everyone there for our third year!”
Many thanks to Hugh for taking the time to answer my questions, and frankly, for having me at One Voice.
From the many responses I get, I know there are quite a few fans of this blog in the UK as well as in the rest of Europe. I’d love to meet you at the One Voice Conference where I will be doing a one-hour presentation on how to increase your visibility, SEO, and professional reputation by blogging, followed by a thee-hour interactive workshop where we will dig in a lot deeper.
As you may know, my blog has propelled this website to becoming the number one individual VO website on the interweb. If you play your cards right, you could very well follow in my footsteps, and I’ll do whatever I can to get you there.
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