I admit it: I managed to piss off part of my community yet again, by calling out one of our heroes in public: Carin Gilfry, VP of NAVA.
You may be wondering:
“How far will this nasty Netherlander go? What’s gotten into him? NAVA is the best thing to ever happen to voice overs since… WoVO. How dare this Dutchman attack one of the darlings of our industry over some comments she made about Fiverr at VO Atlanta?
And you know what? He’s done it before. First he went after David and Stephanie of voices dot com. Then he attacked Joan and Rudy for giving us the voice arts awards. Now he’s vilifying Carin Gilfry. Will the man ever stop? How low can Nether-voice go?”
Oh come, all ye voice over people. Let’s vilify the vilifier!
THE DAMNING EVIDENCE
Okay… calm down for a moment and watch how all of this started.
Yes, I am one of those weird people that wants voice overs to at least make a living wage (but preferably a lot more). I’m also crazy for thinking that sites like Fiverr are cheapening freelance work, the way Uber did for taxi services. I mean, we live in the gig economy. This is capitalism. Forget professional rates, standards, and qualifications. It’s survival of the cheapest, baby!
Besides, did you know that the good people on Fiverr can actually charge more than five dollars per project? Exhibit number one: Alice Everdeen. CBS wrote:
“This 31-year-old makes $15,000 a month as a voiceover artist and lives in a school bus.”
Apparently, she owes it all to Fiverr, and if Alice can do it, ANYONE can. She’s the ultimate proof that Fiverr is fantastic. Now we have all kinds of “coaches” promising you can make an X-amount of dollars a month on Fiverr if only you buy what they are selling. The last time I wrote about one of them, I was subjected to all kinds of verbal abuse and threats from his students. How dare I slander their savior?
Here’s what I think. Alice isn’t proof that Fiverr is a great platform. Alice is proof that TALENT matters. Most VO’s I hear on Fiverr are no Alice Everdeen and will never, ever make as much as she does. The exception proves the rule. And you know what? The vice president of NAVA, Carin Gilfry, agrees with me. Here’s what she said on her podcast: [bolded words in blue are hyperlinks]
“I do not advocate for Fiverr. I don’t like the idea of earning $5 for a job that should pay more. I don’t think that one person’s success is an indication that the site is not problematic in many ways. The site is problematic in many ways. For one, it has a branding problem. It has a name problem. Fiverr implies that every job is five dollars.”
Yes, Carin. From the onset Fivrr is misleading buyers, and selling sellers short. That’s their business model, and it’s working for them. Fiverr’s net worth today is estimated at 1point 22 billion US dollars.
DOES FIVERR CARE
Fiverr doesn’t care about fair rates, about the talent on their site, or about educating sellers and buyers. It’s always profit over people. Is that a business model we should be excited about?
Listening to the podcast, it turns out Carin isn’t excited about Fiverr, but she’s reaching out to voice talent that’s using Fiverr. Even though she says she didn’t speak for NAVA at the VOA panel, she wants to welcome Fiverr fans to NAVA:
“(…) it is my goal to embrace all people who do voice over for a living. Everyone. It doesn’t matter where you got that job. Fiverr, V123, your agent, direct marketing, it does not matter. We at NAVA do not support any specific platform, we are union agnostic, we don’t support one way of working over another, but we do support voice actors in every single shape and form they come in. And that is the beauty of NAVA. That we’re trying to embrace and include everyone who does this for a living, and educate our members regardless of what stage they’re in, in their VO career, educate them about rates, about standards for synthetic voices and jobs. But the point is: we’re embracing everyone.”
I’m all for embracing people. I must have hugged hundreds of people in Atlanta (how I didn’t walk away with COVID is still a miracle). But here’s what bothers me about people who choose to sell their services on Fiverr. I totally get that some are utterly naive about the business and are drawn to the platform by success stories about folks like Alice. But if you don’t know how the game is played, shouldn’t you at least make an effort to learn the rules?
If you don’t know how to swim, why are you jumping into the ocean?
There’s a lot of willful ignorance involved that cannot only be blamed on the platform. Every time someone pays a fee to any Pay to Play, they support that business and keep it going. They are enabling an exploitative system that’s misleading customers and ripping off sellers. They are also undercutting my services and my rates.
“But Paul, it’s a free market. There will always be a bottom end.” As Carin said:
“I think there is room for the Dollar Store. There’s room for Target, and for Tiffany’s. The same person might shop at all three different places for different moments in their life. The Dollar Store does not devalue Tiffany’s or Target.”
Look, it’s a given that some people have a budget to buy a KIA and others have money to buy a BMW. But voice overs don’t sell cars. They sell services.
Pricing services is not as easy as pricing tangible products. It’s more subjective because you have to factor in your costs, your education, your experience, and your time. You have to also look at what your competitors are charging for similar services in your market and see how consumers are responding to their prices. On top of that voice overs have to factor in the medium and the market the VO is for, and the usage. Are those things Fiverr cares about? I doubt it.
Now, about this myth that the low end doesn’t affect the high end…
I know a piano teacher who had studied at a famous conservatory and she charged accordingly. All of a sudden she started losing students. It turned out that an amateur pianist was offering lessons at half the rate because she said she didn’t have to make a living teaching. Her husband had a full time job with generous benefits. But what would happen if her husband got laid off? Could they get by on those low rates she was charging? I don’t think so.
I learned from the CEO of Voice123 that 80% of his customers (the people looking for a voice), have no idea how much to pay for a voice over, and why they pay what they’re paying. So why would they spend $250 if they can get a VO for $25 on Fiverr? As Carin said, even VO’s turn to Fiverr to have someone design a cheap logo.
BLAMING CLIENTS OR PAY TO PLAYS
Listen, I no longer blame ignorant clients for the decline in rates. They want to pay less so they can make more. I do blame undercutting voice overs for accepting these low rates. And yes, I do believe rates have gone down since I started recording voice overs in the USA, some 20 years ago. If anything, they haven’t gone up while the cost of living keeps on rising, so in effect, we are making less and NAVA should be worried.
Now, an argument in favor of Fiverr that Jamie Muffet and Carin made on their podcast, had to do with gaining experience. Jamie said:
“You’ve got to start somewhere. Maybe it’s Fiverr, maybe it’s Upwork. People have been working for cheap early in their career for time immemorial.”
I agree. You need time to become good at what you do, and the stakes aren’t as high on a low-budget platform.
Here’s what I think: no matter how much or how little a client pays, you’re being paid because you’re supposed to KNOW the job. You’re not getting paid to learn on the job. If you were a plumber, electrician, or a surgeon, that would not be tolerated, so why is doing voice overs any different? The only thing you learn from a failed audition is how not to do it. The only thing you learn from landing a $25 dollar job is that you’re worth $25 (minus 20% and PayPal costs) and not a penny more.
GOOD PEOPLE, BAD SYSTEM
I don’t doubt that good people can do great things in a bad system. Alice Everdeen is doing well on Fiverr. Some people are doing very well on voices dot com. But that doesn’t mean we should cosy up to the platform. J. Michael Collins made millions on VDC and yet he left because of what he saw as unethical business practices. And as far as I can tell, he’s still doing very well without them.
He drew a line in the sand. As far as I can tell, Fiverr is as low as one can go, and that’s where I draw mine. I really respect Carin and Tim Friedlander, the NAVA president, for all they have done and are doing to make sure our voices are heard. But I wish NAVA would add a P to their name, the National Association of Professional Voice Actors.
Because, contrary to what many people believe, we are not a group of hobbyists talking into USB microphones. Many of us invest thousands of dollars in equipment and recording space, in branding, marketing, training, and client acquisition. We have years of experience. We have standards. We are worth more than most jobs on Fiverr will ever pay.
If NAVA wants to represent the people that don’t give a sh*t and refuse to educate themselves or work for decent rates, that’s NAVA’s prerogative. Personally, I’d love to see a higher barrier to entry if it wants to market itself as a professional organization.
WHAT ABOUT CARIN
Now a few words about Carin and me. Thanks to her podcast (called The Breakfast Show) which she recorded after my video came out, I understand two things I didn’t understand initially.
- Carin isn’t a fan of Fiverr
- Carin didn’t speak on behalf of NAVA at the VOA panel
- Carin wants to welcome anyone working as a voice actor to NAVA
Had I known 1 and 2, I would probably have worded my video differently, and I’m truly sorry that she was hurt by my words. As I said in subsequent videos, I salute and admire the work she and NAVA president Tim Friedlander are doing. But if your goal is to welcome EVERYBODY to the table, don’t expect everybody to like everything you’re serving.
Just because Carin and I disagree or misunderstood each other on some details, doesn’t mean I am attempting to torpedo a new organization or attack its credibility. That’s absurd.
If I don’t like a particular piece of cheesecake at a bakery, does that mean that the whole bakery should shut down? Maybe there’s something wrong with my tastebuds. Maybe the baker and I don’t have the same taste when it comes to cheesecakes. Is it okay that different people have different tastes? And can these people still be friends?
Was it wrong of me to call Carin out in public?
The reason I called Carin out personally (which I regret), was because of what I understood she said about Fiverr during the panel at VOA. She had been introduced as the VP of NAVA, and at no point during our discussion did she separate her personal opinion from NAVA. If I were to advise Carin on her new role, I would tell her: Yes, I was a bit harsh, but…
If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen!
If you’re going to negotiate on behalf of us (and do what WoVO tried to do, but couldn’t get done), you can expect things to get a lot rougher and tougher.
I’m just one guy with a blog and a big mouth. Wait until you talk to the bosses in the entertainment industry, the guys who control the money, and who are only thinking of cutting costs, big profits, and their shareholders. They don’t care about the lovey-dovey “We are all in it together” message.
Back in the Netherlands I trained many CEO’s of big corporations on how to deal with the press. The one point I stressed over and over again, was that as CEO people will always see you as speaking for your company. It doesn’t matter if you think you don’t. Perception is everything.
“I just wanted to say I hear you, and no hard feelings. As I said before, I value you and your opinion, and I respect you very much. And I think that, putting my hurt aside, the net positive is that people are openly discussing a subject that doesn’t get talked about in the open enough. And that is good for everyone. Sending you positive vibes. I hope we can see each other in person again soon.”
Debra Stitt says
Good read. I believe we should be able to openly discuss “controversial” topics. All of us have been hurt at one point or another. Without honest, sometimes difficult, dialogue, it’s very easy to slip down those slippery slopes.
Paul Strikwerda says
I don’t shy away from the hard conversations, and I like shaking things up a little. Because if all you do is whisper, no one will hear you.
Dan Lenard says
It was great seeing you and your Nether shoes at VOA!
Just to make something clear. WoVO cannot dictate rates. We’re not a union, NAVA is welcome to try and will be subject scrutiny from the Federal Trade Commission who have a big problem with freelance professionals “colluding” to set prices.
At World-Voices.org, we set standards for best practices for talent, coaches, and demo producers. We also are the only freelance VO organization to set audio standards for VO.
When it comes to setting rates, only SAG/AFTRA seems to have any say, except for individuals who pride themselves on the quality of their work and charge accordingly to their needs.
The VO Awards panel, while sparsely attended was very revealing as to what people really think about all the faux awards programs. To me, the reward I get every time I key up my mic is the money in my bank account. Yeah VO is art, but it’s professional art. Awarding people for demos is ridiculous. People should be rewarded for the good they do in the world and for the VO Community. Like .. You, Paul!
Paul Strikwerda says
Hey Dan, it was so good seeing you too. As part of the WoVO founding 500, I have seen it develop into the professional organization it is today. It has a clear barrier to entry, which I think is a good thing. NAVA is often referred to as an advocacy group. I’m not sure what they’re advocating for, except for health insurance and AI riders, both of which are important. I don’t see why they can’t advocate for professional standards and fair rates (like GVAA does), without any form of collusion.
I don’t think I’ll ever win an award for anything I do in the VO community, because for every ten people that applaud what I say and do, there are probably eleven who don’t know, don’t care, or don’t like my take on things. In have no desire to walk on stage and accept something because some say I’m exceptional. I’m just me, and that’s enough. My biggest reward is the life I lead after having survived a stroke. It may be a cliche, but every day is a gift!
Paul Payton says
Once upon a time, I went out for awards. Shortly after I began, I got a look at the individual judging sheets from one of the competitions. Half of them thought I sucked, the other half wanted to have what I had. (No one was in the middle.) Moral of the story: my clients give me my awards by hiring me and then (often) hiring me again. Those jobs, and the mutual respect of my peers, are my awards.
Re: Fiverr: $5.00 a word, let’s talk. $5.00 a page, go talk to someone else. Maybe I’m old school – I’ve been doing this for a long time – but personal contact has always worked best for me.
I hope everyone had fun at VOA and made a lot of good contacts.
Paul Strikwerda says
VOA sure was a lot of fun! If Fiverr would charge $5 a word, I’d sign up yesterday. I don’t need any awards either. Every time a client awards me a job is a win in my book!
Carl Bishop says
Thanks for standing up for professionalism in our business. Living and working in the NYC VO world was hard enough at Sag/Aftra rates. Now EVERYTHING is non union at 10% of what I used to make per session/usage. $25.00 (much less $250) doesn’t cut it. The P2P’s at first introduced me to some decent ‘side’ work, but then that paradigm ate my lunch. I just quoted a job the other day – that I didn’t get – from a long time producer client (not direct to client), who’s reason for saying no was “all the other talents quoted a lot less”. I said to please submit my quote as is and we’ll see what the buyer says. They said no. More power to the VOs that are doing this job, I guess. Sorry for the long diatribe. Keep up the good work brother.
Paul Strikwerda says
It’s become a race to the bottom and we’re being chased by AI. The lowest bidding talent meets the cheapest clients. No surprise most VO’s make less than 20K a year.
Carl Bishop says
It’s a good thing I married well.
Heather Henderson says
Excellent piece, Paul. Excellent. Coaches and authors of VO How-To books should make this blog post required reading.
Paul Strikwerda says
I’m afraid that stories on how to be unpopular aren’t very popular, but I’ll take the compliment!