Bob Souer

Why is doing voice-overs so difficult? Part 2

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Internet, Pay-to-Play, Promotion, Social Media 10 Comments

Click here for part 1

What do you think voice-overs do all day long?

Sit behind their microphones and record the most amazing scripts?

Make $5,000 for a twenty-second commercial?

Narrate yet another best-selling novel?

If you choose to believe Facebook, that’s what voice-overs do. They book, they record, and they cash in. Rinse and repeat.

Unfortunately, that’s a big fat lie, told to the world because no one wants to look like a loser on social media. We’re one happy family, everything is always great, and business is booming!

The truth is, some voice actors are doing really well, and many are not. Going into 2019, even the big names are asked to work for smaller budgets at full perpetual buyouts, while $249 seems to be the new normal for many non-union jobs. Jobs that would easily go for four or five times as much some years ago, perhaps even more.

If you’re just starting out, and your expectations are as great as your ambition, that’s probably not something you want to hear. But let’s be realistic for a moment.

Once you’ve told the world that you are now a professional voice-over, it stops being a hobby or a daydream. In fact, you’ve just opened up a business. Congratulations.

Are you ready to be a business owner?

Just to be clear: the IRS considers an activity to be a business if:

“that activity is carried on for profit if it makes a profit during at least three of the last five tax years, including the current year (…).”

As someone who has coached many beginning voice talents, I’ll be straight with you. Most of my students have no clue what it means to run a for-profit business in a market saturated with wannabes. That’s a huge part of what makes doing voice-overs so difficult!

Think about it. You may be a crazy talented chef in your state-of-the-art kitchen, but if you don’t know how to run a successful restaurant, you’re doomed to fail. If you don’t believe me, ask Gordon Ramsey!

Here’s where the comparison stops. A smart chef has a staff managing all business aspects of his establishment. That way, he can concentrate on the cooking. As a VO-pro you are on your own, wearing many, many hats. You’ve got to get customers in the door, set the tables, cook the food, clean up at the end of the day, and do the books.

On top of that, too many beginners don’t know what they don’t know. Between you and me, they just want to have fun talking into a microphone, and get paid for it.

I’ll let you in on a dirty little secret: most voice-overs spend way more time trying to get the work than doing the work, myself included (and I’ve been at it for over thirty years).

Like any business, you’ve got to attract customers. How do you do that when no one has ever heard of you (and no one cares to hear about you)? Have you thought about that?

Don’t tell me you’re going to sign up for a voice casting website, and expect them to get you work. That big unethical one in Canada claims to have a global network of over 200,000 voice-overs, and most of them speak English. By the time you open that casting email, you’re at the back of a long line of hopefuls who just received the same message. Chances are that the client won’t ever hear your carefully crafted custom demo. I mean, who’s got time to listen to over a hundred auditions?

And you pay for that “privilege”?

Don’t expect an agent to send you work either when you still have to prove yourself. The irony is: agents want you when you no longer need them. As soon as you have clearly demonstrated an ability to make them money, you become interesting. By that time you should already have a portfolio of returning clients giving your business a sustainable basis.

So, if you can’t rely on Pay to Plays or agents, what are you to do? Where do all these fantastic money-making voice-over jobs come from? Do you find them on Craigslist? Do they grow on trees?

Ultimately, finding work comes down to one person: YOU!

Here’s secret number two: it’s easier to have clients find you, than you having to find clients.

To get people’s attention, you’ve got to toot your own horn. That puts you not only in the business of providing voice-overs. You’re also in the business of self-promotion and marketing. Be honest: do you have expertise in those areas? Are you even comfortable telling people why they should hire you?

Let’s be more specific. Do you know how to design and maintain a kick-ass website that’s search engine optimized, and ready to withstand hackers? If not, do you know a reputable company that can build that site for you? Let’s assume you just spent thousands of dollars on coaching, professional demos, equipment, and a good recording space, how much money is left to get you an online presence? Include the money you pay to a company like SiteGround, to host your website.

Building a website is not just about finding an attractive template and some stock photographs. You need someone with serious copywriting skills to sell your services. Someone who can capture your essence and turn it into a brand. You also have to develop fresh content to give visitors a reason to come back to your website. How are you going to do that?

Then there’s your social media presence. Your brand new company has to be on LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, YouTube, and whatever the next big thing is going to be. Each platform has its own rules, algorithms, and format. You’ll have to learn how to shoot and edit decent home videos, how to take striking pictures, and how to write compelling copy that makes you stand out above the crowd.

A word of warning. Once you get started, you’ll soon notice that social media is a monster that constantly needs to be fed with fresh, relevant, and unique content created by YOU. This takes time. Lots of time. If you’re lucky, your content gets picked up. More likely, it gets lost in an ocean of mindless, self-absorbed chatter crying “Look at ME. Look at ME!”

Those who are young and full of energy are used to living life online. Their self-esteem is linked to the number of likes each post receives. To them, creating a social media presence is no big deal. I have coached quite a few people for whom voice-overs is a second or third career. They’re in their fifties or sixties, and to them building a website and being active on social media is intimidating and often frustrating. It’s not what they signed up for when they dreamt of being an audio book narrator.

They want to try it the old-fashioned way: cold calling clients. It’s the most masochistic way to spend your day. With people being sick of unwanted solicitation and robocalls, good luck trying to get past the screener before you can read your script to some teenager who is in charge of promotions. These days, more and more people refuse to answer the phone if they don’t recognize the number. If you love listening to voicemail and pissing people off, go for it!

So, let’s quickly recap. Why is doing voice-overs so difficult?

Last week I told you it is hard to sound natural in an unnatural situation, and to act as if you’re not acting. You need much more than a great voice to make it.

Today we talked about running a business, finding work, and self-promotion.

Next week I’ll add another layer: dealing with constant uncertainty.

Be certain to check it out!

Paul Strikwerda

PS Be sweet. Subscribe, Share, and Retweet!

PPS Bob Souer, one of the nicest people in the voice-over community, has had a tough year. He has asked for our help to turn a corner and move ahead. Through the years, Bob has supported many of us with his wisdom and insight. Now it is time we support him and his family. Please visit his GoFundMe page, and give what you can give. Thank you!

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How I Became Dear Abby

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career 45 Comments

Paul StrikwerdaSomething scary and awful has happened to me.

Because of the strange popularity of this blog and my appearance as an “expert” on several VO-shows and webinars, people are starting to take me seriously.

What am I to do?

All of a sudden, friends and foes feel the urge to retweet my nonsensical wisecracks, and care to comment on bizarre thoughts I share with you on Facebook. Some people even shower me with compliments and unhealthy adoration.

STOP THAT!

I already suffer from extreme self-esteem, and you’re not making it any easier for me to stick to my twelve-step program aimed at practicing modesty and humility.

My AA (Arrogance Anonymous) self-help group was just praising me for the progress I had made in that area. It was horrible. All of a sudden I felt exceedingly full of myself again, and their flattery threw me back several months.

Because of my growing reputation, folks from all corners of the earth believe I have the answer to all their voice-over questions. Who do you think I am?

Joan Baker? J.S. Gilbert? Bill DeWees?

I thought I’d share a few of their issues with you, and when you read my responses, you will soon realize that it’s pointless to contact me.

Here we go.

Q. Dear Paul, I’d like you to critique my demo. How much do you charge for that?

A. Mr. Friedman, it depends on the audio. If your demo is very bad, you can’t pay me enough to listen to it. If it’s any good, you don’t need my critique because it speaks for itself.

Q. Dear Paul, I want to get rid of my announcer voice. What do I do?

A. Dear Doug Turkel, I can see why this could be a problem for you. I suggest talk therapy, and be sure to keep it conversational. Once you’re rid of your radio voice, relaunch your business. When you do, you better make a big announcement!

Q. Dear Paul, can you tell me what James Cameron found when his submarine hit the floor of the Mariana Trench?

A. Contrary to popular belief, this was not a marine expedition. Mr. Cameron was actually looking for cheap voice talent for his upcoming productions. He wondered how low they would go, and I think he found some bottom feeders.

Q. Dear Paul, am I allowed to drink during the session if the client is paying for a “dry read only”?

A. Very funny. Yes, you may drink, but only from a Blue Bottle!

I have a good one for you: Are you allowed to shout in a Whisper Room®?

Q. Dear Paul, Marc Cashman charged me an arm and a leg to help me find my money voice. Is that okay?

A. Give the man some credit. He’s a genius, and he deserves every penny!

Q. Dear Paul, I have some emotional scars from a Nancy Wolfson tough love seminar. What do I need to heal from that experience?

A. A big hug from Bob Souer or Uncle Roy.

Q. Dear Paul, although I just started my voice-over business, I want to come across as a seasoned professional. What are some of the must-haves if I want to pull this off?

A. That’s easy. People are doing it every day. You have to have:

• a profile picture of you, hugging a microphone;

• demos that have been so doctored, sweetened, and spiced up that your voice needs decompression after the session;

• a YouTube video tour of your walk-in closet voice-over studio showing a surprisingly rich variety of naughty undergarments;

• knowing the answer to the question: “What would Don have done?” (No, not Don Draper);

• a Neumann TLM 103 because you can’t afford a U87;

• a website with a picture of you hugging a microphone;

• a friend request from Dave Courvoisier;

• a Facebook album with pictures of you holding various celebrities in an iron grip as they are forced to pose with you;

• a subscription to my blog;

• a real job.

Q. Dear Paul, please listen to my most recent audition. Should I put more egg crates on the wall to tame the reflections?

A. The audition was horrible. Your bathroom sounds just fine, but I think you are the one who needs more treatment.

Q. Dear Paul, you’re such a wordsmith. Can you come up with a snappy slogan for my VO-business?

A. What do you think of these?

“I can’t read your mind but I will read your script.”
“I’m always on speaking terms with my clients.”
“Speak for yourself, or I will do it for you!”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS My sincere apologies to all the colleagues mentioned in this article. You never wrote to me, and after this article I fear you never will.

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Hanging Up My Hat

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Journalism & Media 41 Comments

“I will give you my personal prediction on what will implode first: Blogs containing information that serves no one but the writer, and his/her inner circle without fact-checking.”
Steven Lowell

Paul Strikwerda NethervoiceThe dust has finally settled.

Give it a few months, and last week’s discussion will rise out of the ashes and begin a new life somewhere else.

Same topic. Different voices, perhaps.

Steven’s remark about self-serving blogs and bloggers did make me think about my vision for this blog. Believe it or not: I have one, and it goes like this:

The Nethervoice blog is a platform and playground for ideas, dialogue and discourse about things personal and professional related but not limited to voice-overs and freelancing.

That covers pretty much everything, doesn’t it? Now, let me also tell you what it is not.

This blog is not some grand podium built to glorify my personal accomplishments or to sell Mr. Strikwerda’s amazing pipes. Why would anyone want to read about that? Not me!

If you’re interested in the technical side of voice-overs, you have to look elsewhere too. Although I’m fascinated with the tools of the trade, I am not a gearhead or audio specialist. I don’t receive free products from companies, take them out of the box, dangle them in front of a camera and post it as a “review.”

It’s true, I did write a series about building my voice-over booth on a budget, but I did not seek or receive any compensation for mentioning products, manufacturers or stores.

This blog is not a source of fair and unbiased industry news either.

In essence, it is nothing but a blog revolving around one man and his ideas and experiences and a bunch of friends who like to chime in every once in a while. If you’re looking for objective, investigative journalism, you’ve come to the wrong place.

Just like a lot of other stuff you’ll read online or in the papers, my articles are usually a mix of subjective opinion based on personal selection and interpretation of data. If you’d like to fact-check my sources, all you need to do is click on a few links that are embedded in the articles.

Nobody has to agree with anything I write.

My readers are intelligent enough to understand that it would be foolish to generalize my personal stories and turn them into an overall verdict on the issue at hand.

I don’t consider myself to be an authority or expert. My opinion is one of many, and one quick look at Bob Souer’s blog roll will tell you that I’m certainly not the only blogger in this voiceover town. Of course I’m tickled to see that some people seem to care about what I have to say, but that’s as far as it goes.

I strive to inform, I attempt to entertain and yes… I also like to rock the boat every once in a while. As a voiceover professional, it is my job to be outspoken. I don’t feel comfortable standing on the sidelines.

Unlike Steven Lowell, I am not a paid spokesperson for a company. I don’t pretend to proclaim and promote an objective, universal truth. This is my personal platform and I can be as passionate and opinionated as I want. I represent no one but myself.

So, why do I take a day out of every week to write this blog?

The short answer: Because I feel like it.

The moment it becomes just another chore, I will stop and take up billiards or Bingo.

Here’s another reason: I love to write and I think I have something to say that  -at times- is moderately insightful and interesting. At least, that’s what my readers keep on telling me.

As you may know, most of my stories start out as simple Notes to Self. The series about building a voice-over studio is a perfect example.

It took me many months before I was ready to start building my own studio. During that time, I had compiled a wealth of information and I thought it might be useful to share it with you. Now it’s available as a booklet on my shopping page. Sharing is important to me.

Over the years, I have benefited so much from the kindness, knowledge and insights of friends and colleagues. I wouldn’t be where I am today, had it not been for their advice and encouragement. In a way, I am repaying my debt to them by publishing this blog.

Thanks to my writings, I’ve also made countless new friends from all corners of this planet. Many of them won’t publicly comment on my articles, but each and every week they email me with questions and observations.

As far as the future goes, I’m branching out. Most of you already know that I write on all things international for Internet Voice Coach. I also conduct interviews with colleagues across the globe. The Edge Studio asked if I would be their International Marketing Coach and I said “yes.” 

Recently, I started recording three-minute vignettes for the International Freelancers Academy on building your business. There’s also a book on the way.

I’m not telling you this to impress you. Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn if you think this is impressive or not. The fact is, I love my work and I love writing about it.

As long as I still have music in me, I will continue to sing my songs.

And if people think it’s just a bunch of blah-blah, they’ll find other blogs to read, and this one will eventually implode.

Perhaps that wouldn’t be too bad.

It’s always better to end with a bang.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Why you are boring me to death

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Pay-to-Play, Promotion 76 Comments

You’d think that voice-over pros always have something to talk about, but what happens when someone’s not feeding them any lines?

Would they still have something interesting to say, or would they be less vocal without a mic and a script?

Well, judging by the many voice-over blogs you can find online, we can’t seem to shut up.

And if we cannot talk, we must type.

Take me, for instance. You know I can’t stop yammering, and I am sure I’m not alone. Why is that? Is there really that much to blabber and blog about?

Yes, there isn’t!

MOO!

I’ve come to the conclusion that VO-Pros and cows have one thing in common: they are ruminants. Most ruminants have four stomachs.

The first stomach chamber (the “rumen”) is the chamber in which large amounts of food are stored and softened. Once it is processed, it is regurgitated and chewed and digested again in different chambers.

At the end there’s only one thing left: bullsh*t.

What I just described is the recycling of supposedly “hot voice-over topics” you and I like to ruminate about. Every year, the same issues and trends resurface, and they are milked and milked until there’s nothing left but utter claptrap.

Here is my shortlist of some of the most boring issues in our business:

  • PC or Mac?
  • Are Pay-to-Plays worth the money?
  • ISDN: must or rust?
  • Do real pros only use ProTools?
  • Headphones or no headphones?
  • Do you perform better while sitting, standing up or laying down?
  • Could a headshot help or hurt your voice-over career?
  • My mic is better than your mic.
  • Union or Non-Union?
  • Should I slate or watermark my demo?
  • Social Media: indispensable tools or magnificent distraction?
  • What did Stephanie Ciccarelli have for lunch?
  • How to succeed in voice-overs without really trying.
  • What would Don LaFontaine do?
  • Remedies for dry mouth and sore throat.
  • Harlan Hogan’s next big Porta-something.
  • Do egg cartons really help soundproof a room?
  • Joan Baker in a bikini.
  • Are celebrities stealing our business?
  • Is it “voice-over” or “voiceover”?
  • Why isn’t there an Oscar or an Emmy for Best Narrator?
  • Why Ted Williams?
  • What the heck is “neutral English”?
  • How many “followers” and “friends” does one need in order to be deemed relevant?
  • Don’t talk to me about reasonable rates. It’s just beer money.
  • When does self-promotion become spamming?

MEA CULPA

I will be the first one to admit that I have sinned by writing about some of these topics myself. That’s why I solemnly vow to not behave like a cow. For my own sanity and yours, I will seek out greener pastures and find more exciting things to write about, and I challenge you to do the same.

Rumination might be good for our bovine friends, but “obsessive or abnormal reflection upon an idea or deliberation over a choice” may lead to depression in humans, says Yale University psychologist Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, PhD. Rumination may also weaken thinking and problem-solving, and drive away critical social support.

In other words, by chewing over the stories of the past, we  might actually un-enlighten and isolate ourselves. That must be the last thing any serious blogger would hope to achieve.

Ruminating is not illuminating.

Now, chew on that for a while!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!

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