Double Dutch Blog

How I Became An Egotistical Bastard

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Social Media 43 Comments

For the past few weeks I have conducted a secret experiment. You probably haven’t noticed a thing and that was exactly my point.

Let me explain.

One fine day I was wondering what would happen if I’d stop publishing my blog and reduce my presence on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to a minimum.

After 21 days I got my answer:

Nothing.

That’s right: nothing happened.

No one emailed me to ask how I was doing. No one wanted to know why I hadn’t posted a new article in a while. Not a single Facebook friend checked in to find out how things were going (unless you count the barrage of birthday wishes).

What a relief!

If only I had done this experiment earlier. It would have saved me from the self-imposed pressure of having to publish something at regular intervals.

It could have stopped me from taking myself too seriously. And more importantly, I would have discovered how much time I had on my hands to do the things that matter most.

You see, as you and I go about our busy business, it’s so easy to get caught up in our work and forget to take care of the goose with the golden eggs.

I know the economy is in terrible shape. I know money is tight. But regardless of how hard we’re trying to stay afloat, there’s no excuse for putting ourselves last on the list. It’s the golden rule:

Love others like you love yourself

We personify our product. We embody our service. If we don’t take care of ourselves, our product suffers. That’s why all of us could benefit from a healthy dose of egotism in several areas of our life. To name a few:

1. PHYSICAL

That the United States has become a sedentary society should be no news to you. Friends visiting from Holland were shocked by the number of obese people they encountered while traveling. They said to me:

“We knew it was bad, but we had no idea it was this bad.”

In a study of over 17,000 Canadians, it was found that individuals who led a sedentary lifestyle were over 50% more likely to die from all causes, than their non-sedentary counterparts. This risk was not dependent upon age, smoking, or even physical activity levels.

I know I’ve become a desk jockey and I have gained a considerable amount of weight in the last few years. What’s even worse, I’ve come up with these stupid excuses to explain why I am in such bad shape:

“I’m not getting any younger so it’s only natural to put on a couple of extra pounds.”
“I need my computer to work. I can’t be moving and typing at the same time.”
“At the end of a long day I deserve a sweet treat or an ice-cold beer.”

Of course I know better. Ultimately, I am the boss of my own lifestyle. I determine how much or how little I move and eat. However, there’s a big difference between knowing what’s going on, and doing something about it.

That’s why I decided to be egotistical and bring my body back into shape.

2. INTELLECTUAL

Earlier on, I wrote about how bored I was by people recycling the same old topics in our field. It’s like still water but without any depth. Give it a few more weeks and it will start to reek and rot.

That’s why I have used the past month to catch up on my reading. I purposely steered away from anything having to do with my line of work. I am a firm believer in the stimulating effects of cross-pollination.

My second egotistical intellectual self-endulgement is music. Music is nourishment for the mind as well as food for the soul. I cannot live without it, and that’s why I started to spend more time improvising at the piano.

3. RELATIONSHIPS

As I mentioned before, dear friends from The Netherlands whom I had not seen in ten years, came over for a prolonged visit. I’m telling you: Skype, Facebook or any other type of social technology is a poor substitute for seeing people in person.

Don’t get me wrong: I am grateful for modern means of communication, but using them is a bit like watching the Food Network. We observe people preparing delicious dishes, but we’re missing essential ingredients. We can’t smell or taste what’s on the menu.

I firmly believe that the quality of our life is greatly determined by the quality of our relationships. Taking the time to strengthen those relationships is vital and invigorating. Besides, I got to speak Dutch for days, and the world is a different place when you’re speaking another language.

4. CREATIVITY

Taking time off allowed me to work on a book. As a professional narrator, I get paid to read other people’s work. In a way, that’s re-creation.

At the same time, I have a strong inner urge to create my own material. I won’t tell you what I’ve been working on, but once again it was born out of healthy egotism. Writing is a way for me to release what’s been brewing inside.

END THE EXPERIMENT

My 21-day silence has been remarkably beneficial, but does this mean that I will continue my experiment?

Hold your horses. I’m not a hermit.

My blog is read by thousands of people per month and the number is steadily growing.

Just as a composer should never stop composing while there’s still music inside of him, I will keep on writing. Even if these words end up being nothing but notes to an egotistical bastard.

Ultimately, it’s the quality of the music that matters.

Not the applause.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

photo credit: Skyler Simpson

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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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Are You Taking Kickbacks?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Money Matters 32 Comments

On August 1, 2007, serial entrepreneur and Boston-based tax accountant Lewis Weinstein quietly launched the beta version of ReferralKey, an on-line referral management system.

Some called it “LinkedIn on steroids.” Others feel it’s just another version of the traditional inbound marketing strategy.

How does it work?

Once you create a ReferralKey online profile showcasing your amazing accomplishments, you can invite others to join your network and start exchanging leads. Does the following viral email look familiar?

Are you taking on new clients?

If you’re taking on new clients, I’d like to include you in my private referral network to send you business leads through Referral Key. Please accept my invitation below. Thanks!

Best,

Person’s Name
Name of Their Company
City, State

It seemed like a good idea at the time, but there was one problem. It didn’t take off. Weinstein told the Boston Globe that professionals using the site felt it just wasn’t helping them generate enough new business. Weinstein: “The common response was, ‘I thought you were gonna send me referrals.”

A wait-and-see approach never works and Weinstein discovered that something essential was missing from his system; something that drives all human behavior: an incentive.

TAKING THE BAIT

You see, the average ReferalKey member wasn’t just going to refer a colleague or a friend on the basis of his or her merits or the existing relationship. Before they were willing to make a recommendation, they needed one question answered:

“What’s in it for me?”

Weinstein’s answer:

Cash, Omaha Steaks, L.L.Bean or Callaway Golf gift cards.

ReferralKey was relaunched in April 2010, based on the following principle:

“Grow your business by offering rewards to other people who send you successful referrals.”

This winning idea turned boring, unresponsive professionals into bounty hunters, ready to stake their claim and claim their steak. I just received an email from a colleague offering me 10% of whatever she will make, if she lands a job based on my referral.

RefferalKey even lets you track referrals to “ensure your relationships are reciprocal.” Yes, my friend, if you rub my back, I’ll rub yours and just so you know, I do keep score!

Do you like it so far? If you’re having any doubts, you’re not alone.

Chris Reimer is Vice President of Social Media at brand developer Falk Harrison. He writes in his blog:

“The first time I got an email with the subject line “Are you taking on new clients?” Holy crap, I was excited! You bet I’m taking clients! (what a hook). Ten seconds later, I felt the shame of spam, deflated, and just a little pissed. After receiving 100 of these emails? No one likes spam.”

Kathryn Delany is a web designer and Search Engine Optimization and Marketing Specialist. She writes:

“I have been sucked into the vortex of the Referral Key saga. I usually am very cautious about these emails. However, the initial invitation came from a long trusted colleague so I signed up. Sadly I followed the instructions on importing my LinkedIn Contacts, little suspecting that this site hijacks the list before you can choose who you would like to invite to your circle. As it ‘imports’ your contacts it automatically sends out the invitation to everyone on it!”

Chris Reimer concludes:

“Stop joining services that blast out marketing messages Uzi-style as ReferralKey.com does. The bad taste you are leaving in people’s mouths is not worth it.”

A MORAL MAZE

Apart from receiving downright annoying emails, I have a more moral objection. There is a good reason why professionals like lawyers, realtors, accountants and therapists have adopted codes of conduct, specifically prohibiting them from taking payment for referrals. It is considered to be unethical.

Look at the definition of bribery:

“An act implying money or gift given that alters the behavior of the recipient”

RefferalKey says it is based on “trusted relationships,” but if you’re meeting a need with greed, what does that really say about your definition of “trust” and “relationship”?

Do you really think you can buy my opinion and influence my behavior by offering me a bounty? Is that how you think I operate? I almost feel insulted!

YOUR TRUE MOTIVES

If I were motivated by money, I probably wouldn’t even be in the voice-over business. Take it from me: You will never do your best work for the love of money. You do your best work when you hold yourself up to standards no one else can or will match. Your best work is always a labor of love and never the result of greed.

Here’s my bottom line: a referral needs to be earned, not bought.

I owe a huge part of my business success to referrals, and I am frequently asked to recommend colleagues. For those recommendations I get paid big time.

Before I tell you what I receive in return, you should know that I take my referrals very seriously. The fact that I will recommended a certain person, reveals as much about me as it does about the person in question.

One can usually judge someone by the company he or she keeps. When you pass the name of a colleague on to someone else, you put your reputation on the line. So, how do you go about it?

When you’re thinking of recommending someone, ask yourself the following question:

How do I know that someone else is good at their work?

Here are your options:

  1. See – I need visual evidence (e.g. I need to watch them do their work)
  2. Hear – I need to hear them (e.g. listen to their demo)
  3. Read – I need to read about them (e.g. a review, a report, a website)
  4. Do – I have to work with them to get a feel for how good they are

In certain circles, the answer to the question “How do I know that someone else is good at their work?” is called a “Convincer Strategy,” and most people come up with more than one answer.

The next question is:

How often does a person have to demonstrate that they’re good at what they do, before I am convinced?

  1. A number of times – e.g. Three or four times
  2. Automatic – I always give someone the benefit of the doubt
  3. Consistent – I’m never really convinced
  4. Period of time – It usually takes e.g. a week, a month… before I can tell if someone’s really good

The last thing you need to be aware of is your frame of reference:

  1. Internal – No matter what anyone says about her, only I can tell whether or not she’s any good
  2. External – A source I trust recommended her, and that’s good enough for me

It’s very common for people to have an internal frame of reference with an external check, or the other way around. If your frame of reference is completely internal, no one will ever be able to convince you of anything. If it’s completely external, your opinion will be totally dependent on what others have to say.

Whether we realize it or not, all of us have different ways of convincing ourselves. If my frame of reference is pretty much internal and a person needs to consistently demonstrate to me that he’s any good by working one-on-one with me, systems like RefferalKey are useless.

It will only work for people with a more external frame of reference who are convinced by reading about someone, and based on that, give the person the benefit of the doubt. How big of a group is that?

QUALITY REFERRALS

Should you decide to give RefferalKey a try, ask yourself how well you know the contacts you’re about to invite and how well they know you. In other words: what is the quality and the depth of the referrals this system generates? Is it worth the risk of pissing people off with automated impersonal email messages?

Referring people can be very rewarding. It’s an essential part of being in business and staying in business, as long as you do it for the right reasons. If you landed a gig as a result of my recommendation, I demand that you pay me back by doing the best job you could possibly do. As one of my teachers used to say:

“If you look good, I look good, so you better make me look good!”

Secondly, don’t send me any money or vouchers for Omaha Steaks. You booked the job because you’re the best and you deserve it. I don’t take any credit (or cash) for that.

Take your 10% and give it to a worthy cause. Pay it forward.

That’s the key to referrals!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Please refer someone else to this blog by retweeting and “liking” it on Facebook.

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8 Things I Hate About You

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Internet, Social Media 80 Comments

It’s one of those mornings. I just put on my grumpy pants and I’m not in the mood to write a brilliant article.

I just need to vent about social media.

The non-event that triggered the outburst you’re about to enjoy, is at the top of my list:

1. Robotic requests to connect, befriend, recommend or refer.

You know what I am talking about. Automated messages such as:

“I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn”.
“You are a person I trust…”

Give me a break! Do I know you? Have we

Read the rest of this story in my new book. Click on the cover to access the website and get a sneak peek. Use the buttons to buy the book.

Making Money In Your PJs cover

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Is voices.com playing a numbers game?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Internet, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play 15 Comments

On February 11, 2011, VOICES.COM released new numbers testifying to the success of the company.

There’s every reason to congratulate the owners, David and Stephanie Ciccarelli. They proudly announced “$39,290,580 in Total Earnings by Voice Talent at Voices.com.”

Some commentators concluded that the data in the report are a summary of this company’s past year in business, but Stephanie Ciccarelli states:

“These numbers are based upon the last several years of data we’ve collected at the site.”

What does she mean by that?

Voices.com has been in business since 2003, starting as “Interactive Voices”. In September 2006, Interactive Voices became voices.com.

The new report speaks of:

155,915 All-time number of jobs awarded to voice talent.”

In 2011, voices.com stated on their About-page that they are “creating 6911 job opportunities on average, each and every month.” My calculator tells me that this adds up to an average of 82,932 jobs per year.

How did voices.com arrive at 155,915? The verbiage “All-time number of jobs” suggests that they started counting from the very first day of business. Was that in 2003 or as of September 2006? Let’s do the numbers:

155,915 : 7 years = an average of 22,273 jobs per year (2003-2010)

155,915 : 3 years = an average of 51,971 jobs per year (2007-2010)

And what about $39,290,580 in total earnings? Is that also “based upon the last several years of data”?

PERSPECTIVE

It’s impossible to put these numbers into proper perspective if we don’t know what time period we’re talking about. That’s exactly the problem I have with most of the numbers coming from voices.com. I’m not saying that they are pulled out of a hat, but they lack clarity and context and they don’t always stand up to simple scrutiny.

The same can be said about their “Annual Report on the Voice Over Industry.” It is not compiled by an established, independent market research firm, but by the CEO of voices.com, David Ciccarelli.

As long as we cannot independently verify the numbers, or get a clear sense of the time period during which these data were collected, I choose to look at these reports as marketing tools, more than anything else.

AVERAGE FEE

Stephanie Ciccarell broke down the $39,290,580 in Total Earnings by Voice Talent at voices.com.

On average” -she writes- “a voice talent made $252.97 per job” using their service.

I haven’t been keeping track of the voices.com numbers over time, but it would be interesting to see whether or not the average payment per job went up or down since 2003, and if so, by how much.

Stephanie Ciccarelli concludes:

“10,000+ people have earned a respectable income from doing voice overs with Voices.com serving as a key part of their marketing strategy.”

Once again, the numbers are vague and note that the term “respectable income” is not defined.

Here’s one scenario:

Let’s assume a talent lands one job per week on voices.com at $252.97. That would bring in $13,154.44 per year.

The talent decides to use the voices.com SurePay escrow system, at a 10% fee per job, costing him $1315.44. This brings the gross income down to $11.839.00. Subtract 10% for expenses and we’re left with: $10,649.10. Subtract from that amount $1504 in self-employment taxes and we arrive at a grand total of $9,149.10.

Would you call that a “respectable” income?

The 2011 Federal Poverty Guidelines of The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services puts the income level at $10,890 for a one person household.

Of course this is a theoretical example. Some voices.com jobs pay a lot more and some pay a lot less. No professional voice-over talent should entirely depend on one source to generate leads and make a living. At the same time, not everyone will land one gig a week using voices.com. Stephanie did write:

“10,000+ people have earned a respectable income from doing voice overs with Voices.com.”

In his analysis of the report, colleague Peter O’Connel comments:

Taking the Voices.com figure ($252.97), as a P2P industry average – that figure, I believe, doesn’t reflect what the voice over customer market “dictates”.

I believe it reflects what the voice over customer market “can get away with” with the help of the pay to play (P2P) business model.

ADDING IT ALL UP

There’s no doubt about it: voices.com has become one of the market leaders in online voice casting. That role comes with responsibilities. Market leaders have the clout to be trend setters and “power pricers”.

Voices.com has become more than a neutral playing field where supply meets demand. It has developed into a game changer that can write the rules of engagement by dictating the terms and conditions.

One of those conditions is “a minimum project posting requirement for any job posted publicly and this amount is $100.” By the way, this doesn’t mean that a voice seeker can’t go any lower than that. Voices.com states:

“If your budget is lower than $100 then you may post a job privately using the Request Quote function within our search engine or you may email talent directly with your project details and budget.”

Critics feel that the Pay to Play business model is in part to blame for the steady decline in voice-over rates and professional standards. Peter O’Connell:

I don’t believe or financially support any service in which voice talent “pays to play” i.e. pays a subscription to receive auditions. I believe such services lower the rate expectations of potential clients because so many voice talents who swim in the pay to play pool low ball their rates out of what I feel is a kind of sad desperation for revenue of any kind.

The pay to play model negatively impacts the voice over business and its practitioners, in my opinion.

It has been suggested that if voices.com is really interested in their members making a “respectable income,” they should start by raising that $100 minimum rate immediately.

Secondly, as of 2015, voices.com claims it has a global network of over 125,000 members. I used to be one of them. I think the members should expect and demand a lot more transparency and accountability when it comes to numbers.

As voices.com so aptly pointed out: they did not make $39,290,580 in total earnings.

Their members did.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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The Awedition

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Money Matters 12 Comments

“Not everything is what it seems to be,” said the King as he looked into the Court Jester’s mirror.”

Have you ever wondered what’s going on behind the closed doors of a casting agency?

What’s it like to be part of a nerve-wracking cattle call?

Would the casting director be one of those failed actors who has turned his bitterness for the business into a lifelong mission to humiliate terrified talent?

Would the waiting area be filled with intimidating, cutthroat competitors, exchanging stories of horror and faded glory? Or is all of that just a caricature, perpetuated in Hollywood movies about the trials and tribulations of aspiring actors?

Well, you’re about to find out!

Being the famous blogger I am, I was recently granted unprecedented permission to record one of my auditions for the enjoyment and continued enlightenment of my readers. Nothing’s more fun than learning from other people’s most embarrassing moments, right?

So, for once you get to be a fly on the wall, as I enter a casting agency at an undisclosed location near New York.

For those of you who’d like to read along, you’ll see that I provided a copy of the script.

Anything to please my faithful fans!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Landing jobs without auditioning: the Claire Dodin interview

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, International, Journalism & Media 7 Comments

When Claire Dodin was about seven years old, her mother built a theater in the attic of their apartment. Claire and her sister started putting on plays for her friends. Claire:

“It was such a happy time, and I decided I’d just have to play for the rest of my life!”

Fast-forward a few years, and you’ll find that Claire is as much at home in front of a camera as she is behind a mic. Born and raised in France, this actress, model, singer and voice-over talent moved to the UK before she made Los Angeles her home.

Bi-lingual, multi-talented and exceptionally professional, Claire has done well for herself. Her story is one of dedication, discipline and of following your dreams.

PS Let’s pretend that I’m a client and your agent had 30 seconds to describe Claire Dodin to me. How would your agent “sell” you?

CD I guess he would say that I’m versatile; I can handle pretty much anything, and can do several character voices including children’s voices. He’d probably tell you that I’ve voiced several jobs for Disney and the X-Box 360, and that I usually don’t need a lot of takes to please the clients. That’s why everyone wants to work with me again.

PS Percentagewise, how much of your career is taken up by voice-over work?

CD In the acting business things are always changing and moving. There can be months when all I do is voice-overs, and months when I’m shooting film after film and I don’t have much time for voice-overs. This always makes me sad because I have to pass on really fun jobs. There simply isn’t enough time to do everything. I have to turn down so much work, mainly due to lack of availability.

I would say that on average, voice-overs represent about 70% of my income and maybe 30% of my time. It always makes me laugh that it costs more to get only my voice, than to have me on camera!

Having said that, it can happen that a week goes by and there’s nothing, not one job offer. Then I start thinking that it’s all over and that I will never work again! It’s the nature of being self-employed. Nothing is ever set in stone. No one is ever entirely safe. You’re fashionable one week; the week after you’re not.

That’s why it’s so important that we value ourselves and feel an inner sense of security, and not let our job define who we are. Otherwise it becomes impossible to handle the stress. Luckily, a job always seems to come along when I need it.

PS Speaking of voice-over projects, what are you most proud of and why?

CD There are quite a few jobs I’m very proud of like the French-speaking FisherPrice cuddly bear who says things like “I love you, hug me…” Just thinking about it makes me smile. It’s the cutest thing ever! Or being on the Statue of Liberty tour in New York and being in the gardens of Versailles in Paris. I just love that my voice is over there! Next I want to be at the Taj Mahal! 😉

But the job I’m the most proud of right now is my Zombiepodcast in which I’m a series regular. It’s called “We’re Alive” and I play Riley. The scripts are fabulous and the production quality is amazing. It’s an honor to be part of it.

We have reached over 600,000 downloads with the first season! We’ve won the Gold Ogle Award 2010, the Communicator Award 2010 and we were a finalist for the Parsec Award 2010. The episode submitted for these, is one that is centered around my character, which makes me even happier! The second season has begun, and it’s free to listen to, so catch up with the episodes now!

PS Let’s talk about accent. Some people believe that -in order to make it as a foreign actor in another country- you need to get rid of your accent. Others believe your accent is what sets you apart. Where do you stand?

CD Well, I am not able to put on a convincing British or American accent, so I don’t even try. I believe clients would go for native speakers anyway, so it really doesn’t matter. When I get hired for an English job, they want my accent, because it sets me apart from everyone else. Sometimes they want a stronger French accent, which I can tone up or down. Sometimes, they just want a very clear English accent with a hint of French.

Accents are great, as long as the diction is excellent and people can understand it. That’s where many foreign voices fail: they are not clear enough. I only started booking work in English regularly, after years of working at speaking more clearly. It’s not as easy as it sounds.

PS Does another accent come naturally to you, or do you have to work with a coach to get it right?

CD I do work with a coach for accent reduction when a part requires it, but it is never for voice acting, always for on-camera. In the voice-over world, if they want a British voice, they’ll hire a British voice. Nowadays, it’s so easy to get a native speaker.

Accents do not come naturally to me. It’s very difficult if you were not immersed in foreign sounds as a child. In France, all TV programs and most films are dubbed. I pretty much never heard English sounds before moving to England. It’s different in other countries like Sweden or The Netherlands. That’s why the Swedes and the Dutch are usually much better at accents than French people.

PS Do Europeans have an advantage over Americans when it comes to foreign languages and accents?

CD Being European in America is certainly an advantage because there are fewer of us, and Americans love European accents. If you are an American in America, there are hundreds of other people who sound exactly like you, so it’s harder.

This is where personality is incredibly important, because in reality, there is only one of each of us. And we hear so much that we need to sound like this or this… In truth, what will make you book the job is YOU, your quirkiness, your own little things that most people are trying to get rid of. Keep them (but use the correct techniques)!

Being French in a foreign country has absolutely made my career. I was working as an on-camera actress in the UK, and people found me because they needed a French voice and couldn’t get one.

That’s how I landed my first jobs. Then I thought that maybe I should get an agent, so I sent samples of the jobs I had done. I didn’t have a demo at the time, and pretty much all the agents wanted to sign me and I started booking national jobs straight away. I think I recorded my first demo a couple of years later. I was very lucky. To this day, jobs still come to me. I don’t have to work very hard at getting them. I am in a very fortunate position. There isn’t much competition.

PS You have lived and worked in the UK and now you’re in LA. These days, we’re all connected via the Internet. Does location matter anymore?

CD Unfortunately, location still matters a lot. I’m hoping that clients will get used to ISDN, but today, most major clients want to meet up with the voices at the studio. This means that by moving to LA, I’ve lost most of the work I was getting in London. When I go back there for a week, suddenly I’ve got bookings every day in London studios. They haven’t forgotten me, but they want me there in person.

It’s the same in France, I know several people who would hire me regularly, but they want me in the studio in Paris. I imagine that it is the same for Los Angeles and New York.

Of course there are many jobs we can do remotely, but they rarely are high end. I once did a six months national radio campaign for the UK, and the client was happy to do it via ISDN for each recording. This was an exception, and I think it was because it was for radio. In the UK, most radio ads are recorded via ISDN. But for TV, you have to be in the room with them. I did record the Versailles job at my LA studio though, so sometimes it can happen if they really want you.

PS How do you get work, these days?

CD The reality of the business is that most voice-over talents audition every day. I’m in a very different position. The vast majority of the work I do, comes from direct offers via my agents, or directly from existing clients or new clients through referral/reputation.

It may sound strange to American voice talents, but I did not audition for any of the national commercials I did, video games, TV documentaries, high-profile jobs… That’s the way they do it in Europe: we get hired based on our demo or based on a recommendation from our agent or producers/sound engineers. I did however audition for the Fisher Price toys I voiced, but they paid me for the audition and then hired me. I also auditioned for the Versailles job, but they had specifically asked for me.

I think that the system works differently in America. Even established talents have to audition. That being said, I have many American clients that don’t ask me to audition either. I’m glad it works this way because I usually don’t have time to audition. When happen to I have spare time, I will record some open auditions, but this rarely leads to work (funny, no?). That’s the problem with open auditions: they don’t want You; they want A voice, and usually the cheapest one.

PS Do clients, agents, producers and directors have different expectations based on where they’re located? Do you approach an audition differently based on the country and culture?

CD Actually, everyone wants the best product at the best price as fast as possible pretty much everywhere. What may be different is the style of the voice-overs. For example, I find that promos and documentaries on US TV tend to have a “sensational” factor. In the UK they tend to be more casual/matter of fact. In France there’s also a distinctive sound for news or documentaries. The voice talent simply needs to adapt to the style of the country, but also to the medium and the client. Each job is different, which is part of the fun. For an audition, I try to find out as much as I can about the client and the target audience. That way, I can make a best guess as to what style is appropriate for the script.

PS This is a highly competitive business. Apart from talent and experience, what do you think is absolutely essential, in order to have an international voice-over career?

CD Obviously, to have an international voice career it is essential to speak English, so you can communicate with clients anywhere (pretty much everyone will speak some English). Apart from that, you just need the same qualities that will make you a successful national talent, as well as a good marketing plan so people abroad know who you are.

The internet is an excellent medium, but it’s not essential. I know voice talents who have booked major international campaigns through their local agent. By local, I mean: one of the top agents in one of the top cities. It still seems difficult to book high-profile work without one of these agents, and you can usually only sign with one of them if you live in one of the major cities. That would be Los Angeles or New York for America; London for the UK and Paris for France.

Of course there are rare exceptions. There are a few very successful voice talents who do not live in the major cities, but they used to live there at one point. They moved away, and kept their agents and clients thanks to an ISDN-line. I only know of one person who has always lived far away and who is hugely successful.

This will hopefully change in the future, as home studios are becoming as good as studios in the big cities. I think it will still take a while before major clients accept not meeting a voice talent in person. This is why Don LaFontaine had a limo, so he could quickly go from studio to studio to record several jobs a day. It would have been so much easier to have him in one studio and the other studios would connect via ISDN, but it didn’t work that way and he had to drive from place to place.

I wish things were different, but nowadays, the best jobs are still recorded in major studios in major cities.

PS What’s most overlooked by up and coming international talent?

CD Something that foreign voices often overlook is to have an English version of their website. I was once looking for an Italian voice, and all I could find were websites in Italian, which I don’t speak. Had they had an English version, I would have contacted them. But I couldn’t work out if they had a home studio etcetera.

Also, they should indicate their location on the website. I was looking to book voices to come to a London studio, and I didn’t know where they lived. I nearly booked a voice once; I was ready to pay for a ticket to Paris, when he told me he lived in a small town in France and it wasn’t possible to get to where he needed to be, fast enough.

Another voice that I thought was in London, turned out to have moved to Paris. So, keep the info on your website up to date. Location is a big one, not just for outside studio bookings, but so we know your time zone in case we want an ISDN booking or we need you for a rush job.

PS What do you tell people who think that voice-over work is easy money, and that basically anyone with a good voice could do this?

CD Ah, ah! It’s a tough question, I could probably write a book about it! Voice-over acting is an art and the voice is the tool. You might have a fabulous canvas, great paints and a brush, but how easy is it to paint something that will sell for a few hundreds or thousands of dollars and be exhibited in a museum? Hmmm… But if you work hard, learn skills and have talent, maybe you’ll make a living as a painter. Same thing for voice-overs. And a few gifted ones will make it to the top.

PS What technology can you not live without, and how has it helped you book clients?

CD The only technology I really need, is my computer for my emails and my phone so I can take bookings. That’s all. But, with my home studio I can record more jobs and make a better living. Some voice talents earn a lot more than I do, and don’t have one, so it’s not essential. However, other voice talents only work from home.

PS You work for clients on different continents in different time zones. On one hand you need to be accessible but on the other hand you can’t be available 24/7. How do you handle that?

CD Ah, ah! Another tough one! I don’t handle it; it’s a bit of a problem. I get called in the middle of the night (when I forget to switch the phone off), I wake up at 5am for an ISDN session and I sometimes record till midnight! I need to be better at saying “no” to clients and regulate my hours. But I’m weak when people are nice and need a favor. I try to schedule ISDN sessions with Europe starting at 8am, LA time. That’s the end of the day for them. It usually works.

PS How much did you map out your career? Did you follow a strict plan or is it more spontaneous, “go with the flow”?

CD At first I just went with the flow: voice-overs came to me not once, not twice but many times. This is when I realized that I should pursue it. Somehow, people knew I had a gift for it, even before I knew it. Then I started buying equipment to record from home. When my agent asked me to, I upgraded my equipment. When clients asked me to, I got the ISDN. I guess I always go with the flow. I don’t force things, they just happen when they need to, but I’ve got my ears open and I’m listening to the signs that tell me in which direction I need to go to.

That said, when I do something, I don’t do it halfheartedly. When I made the decision to work from my home studio, I practiced a lot to learn how to use the equipment. I listened to other voices and took advice from many people. I took classes etcetera. It took me a long time before I was able to make a quality recording.

When I upgraded to ISDN, I asked an engineer to come and install it for me, and install my sound booth so the sound would be good enough. I also bought a Neumann microphone. What’s the point of connecting to another studio if your own sound isn’t as good?
So basically, every time the decision to go to the next step was made following the flow, but once the decision was made it was thought out and I followed a careful plan.

Being disciplined is absolutely essential if you work from home. It’s too easy to do something else if you don’t have a boss checking up on you, making sure that you are putting the hours in. You have to do it for yourself and be very organized. For me, one of the hardest things is to keep track of the jobs recorded, the invoices sent, the invoices paid/unpaid etc… I find the admin part the hardest.

When I get really busy, I forget to reply to emails that aren’t essential, like companies asking me to fill out forms and send demos for future jobs. Sometimes I struggle to find the time to send invoices. That’s not a good thing. Staying on top of the paperwork is not easy. I’m dreaming of the day I’ll be able to employ an assistant to do these things for me!

PS What’s the best advice anyone has ever given you in this business, and how has it helped you?

CD The best advice I was ever given, as far as performance is concerned, was:

“It’s not about you. It’s about the person you are talking to”.

This changed everything. I stopped watching and listening to myself. I stopped getting nervous and I became so much better.

The best business advice I was ever given, was to set up a website. I had no idea how important it was, until I did it, and it boosted my career immensely.

PS Many thanks Claire, and bonne chance!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet: please retweet. Merci beaucoup!

My next blog is all about playing the lame blame game.

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Renowned German Scientist Apologizes

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Gear 19 Comments


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The Quest for the Best Voice-Over Mic

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Gear, Studio 1 Comment

Did you hear the joke about the three voice-over actors bragging in a bar?

“My condenser has phantom power,” says the guy with the spooky voice.

“My shotgun produces killer demos,” retorts the man in black.

“My ribbon has a suspended diaphragm,” snaps the girl in the Harlan Hogan baseball cap.

Waitress: “Anyone ordered a Blue Bottle?”

Unidentified customer: “No, I just got a Snowball.”

“Can I get some MixCubes on the side, please?”

Waitress: “Active or Passive?”

TICKLES

Hearing voice-overs talk is like listening to a Monty Python skit. It can be slightly surreal and silly. One thing’s for sure: many VO’s have opinions. Strong opinions, especially when it comes to gear.

Whenever people take themselves too seriously, I’d like to tickle them a little. If you ever plan on messing with the mind of a VO-pro, go to an online voice-over group and type in the following words:

“I am new to this business and I need your help. What’s the best voice-over mic?”

Unknowingly, you just released the beast. If you honestly believe that the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry is a big deal, wait until you get voice-overs started on their choice of mics…

You’ll soon discover that some VO-Pros suffer from a condition the psychological community calls “Microphone Envy.” So far, there is no sound treatment for this auditory affliction.

Here are some of the comments these hired voices might make about their precious sound catchers (in order to protect their identity, I decided to name all of them ‘Mike’).

Gear Geek-Mike: “My mic has a 32 mm gold sputtered thin Mylar capsule.”

Show-off Mike: “Mine has a retail value of $7,775. I got it for 7 grand on Ebay.”

Frugal Mike: “My cheap Chinese mic sounds almost like your pricey German one.”

Model Mike: “But I cut a deal with the Germans to endorse this microphone”

Macho-Mike: “Mine is bigger and better.”

If you happen to be in the market for a microphone, these message boards might not be the best place to solicit advice. In fact, I highly recommend not asking anyone for any recommendations. Period. Not online. Not in the shop. Trust me, you’ll sleep much better. Determine how much you can afford to spend and start doing your own homework instead.

Researching mics can be good fun. Why not fire up your laptop on a rainy Sunday afternoon, and listen to a few microphone tests. The fellows on this page always manage to crack me up… They’ll say something like this:

(test: courtesy of Nethervoice Sound Laboratories)

 

Remember though that a microphone is only one part of an audio chain and that different people will sound differently on the same mic. One colleague just bought a brand new and very expensive German mic. It was exactly the same make and model he had purchased fifteen years ago. In spite of that, the old and the new mic had their own, distinctive sound!

MY CHOICE

Many of you have asked me what microphone I use to bring home the bacon (not an easy thing for a vegetarian). I use an MXL VO: 1 A cardioid condenser microphone. It’s the first mic designed for voice-overs by veteran voice actor Harlan Hogan.

Not only is it very affordable; should you decide it’s not for you, you can send it back because it’s sold with a no-questions-asked money back guarantee.

The VO: 1-A has been tested against much more expensive industry standard voice-over microphones such as the Sennheiser 416, the  ElectroVoice RE20 and even the Neumann U87. Without exception, the reviews have been stellar. But what matters most to me is the fact that my clients seem to like what they hear (and I have some very picky customers!).

If you experience a sudden attack of “Microphone Envy,” remember this:

Writing about microphones is like ice skating about food.

It doesn’t really make sense. Just as you can’t get wet from the word water, you don’t know if a certain microphone is the one that will flatter your voice the most by merely reading about it or by staring at a picture. You’ve got to give it a spin and use your ears.

So, have you heard the one about the two voice-overs in a bar?

With tears in his eyes, the first one exclaims:

“Why did Don LaFontaine have to go before his time? It is so unfair.”

The other one thought about it for a moment, took a deep but silent voice-over breath, and replied:

“I guess God wanted his voice back!”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS This blog only reflects my personal opinion and I am not compensated in any way for featuring certain brands and/or products. It was written in 2009. These days, my microphone of choice is the Microtech Gefell M930 Ts. Click here for my review. 

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A Sundial In The Shade

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles 2 Comments

Taking the Oath“I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been subject or citizen”.

Together with 66 other people from 31 different nations, these were the words I spoke in Philadelphia on the last day of July, 2009. With it, a six-year process came to an end. In less than a minute, this subject of the Kingdom of The Netherlands became an American citizen. My first order of business: filling out a voter registration form.

Prior to the ceremony, I went to Independence Mall to walk in the footsteps of the Founding Fathers. The famous crack in the Liberty Bell was a stark reminder of the fact that at a certain time in history, these truths were anything but self-evident:

“that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness”. 

Looking at the world today, I was painfully aware of two things: for many, these truths are still not self-evident. For many others they have become so obvious, that they are taken for granted. Some have turned them into -as someone once put it- “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Crappiness.”

America’s most interactive history museum is only a few blocks away. If you’ve never been to the National Constitution Center, you’re in for an experience that will stay with you for a long time. This Center brilliantly manages to do what we as voice-over pros do for a living: bring words to life.

Every visit starts with “Freedom Rising,” a multi-media presentation that connects visitors to the story of the U.S. Constitution. To my surprise, this production was narrated by a voice-over actor who’s actually there in person,  serving as tour guide on a historic journey.

In Signers’ Hall, I came face to face with the man who once said:

“Tell me and I forget.

Teach me and I remember.

Involve me and I learn.”

It was Benjamin Franklin. I know he wasn’t speaking about our line of work, but as far as I am concerned, he hit the nail on the head. Unknowingly, Franklin was speaking about the Narcissists, the Professors and the Movers of our profession.

All of us have come across audio books narrated by people who seem to be so much in love with their own voice, they turn a travelogue into an ego-trip. The biggest turn-off in audio books: two lips of a narcissist.

The Professors on the other hand, haven’t learned the following lesson: people don’t like to be lectured. People prefer to be entertained and engaged. That’s why movie stars make more money than Yale academics.

The educational staff at the Constitution Center was obviously aware of that, when they hired Movers to shake thing up a bit. Movers are voice-over artists, who selflessly devote and dedicate themselves to the words given to them, and who use their voice as a vehicle to engage and move the audience. As a result, the listener is drawn in and drawn out; totally absorbed and involved.

Movers masterfully manage to infuse and energize dry letters on a page with meaning and emotion, bringing them back from the dead in a way a musician transforms scribbles into sounds. However, it takes a true artist to turn those sounds into music that touches the heart, feeds the soul and moves the mind. 

When I took the Oath of Allegiance, I became part of “We the people,” the people of a nation where Freedom of Expression is a constitutional right. The Citizen’s Almanac I received as a welcoming gift, describes it as follows:

“Americans can speak and act as they wish as long as it does not endanger others or obstruct another’s freedom of expression in the process”.

As voice-over artist, this freedom of speech guarantees that I can do what I love without fear of persecution or imprisonment. I can pursue my interests and happiness, as long as it does not interfere with the rights of others.

For that, I feel tremendously privileged and grateful.

Without it, all of us would be -as Franklin put it- “a sundial in the shade”.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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