Dutch voiceover

Ten Lies Voice Overs Tell

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Promotion, Social Media 7 Comments

Pants on fireHow far would you go to get ahead in this game we call the voiceover market place?

Would you betray your pacifist principles and record a promotional video for land mines?

Would you flirt with the casting director?

Would you badmouth a colleague in the hopes of improving your odds?

As soon as money is involved, people are prepared to sell their dignity and self-respect to the highest bidder, and it’s Survival of the Slickest and every man for himself. Take no prisoners. After all, the economy sucks and it ain’t getting better any time soon. If it’s a choice between you and me, my friend, it better be me.

In an attempt to break into the business or simply stay afloat, people even start sinning against the Ninth Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness. What do they tell you in this business?

If you can’t make it, just fake it!

That’s why the almighty Internet is inundated with pretenders, posers, anonymous commentators and self-styled experts. In this day and age where the latest is the greatest, nobody bothers to fact-check anymore. It’s the ideal opportunity to be whoever you say you are. No questions asked. It’s in black and white. That means it’s reliable, right?

Now, don’t believe for one second that the people in our community are holier than the Pope. They are not. Some of them are spinning a world wide web of lies. Of course they don’t call it that. They see it as innocent embellishments of the truth. The means justify the ends. Meanwhile, they are walking around with their pants on fire.

Here’s my Top 10 of the most common lies people tell to get ahead as a voice talent:

1. Experience

Lie: “With years of experience under her belt, Carla can handle almost any project.”
Truth: Carla has been at it for five months; part-time, that is.

2. Training & Coaching

Lie: “Roger has studied with some of the world’s best coaches.”
Truth: He took an introductory course at the local community college.

3. Clients

Lie: “John has recorded voice-overs for some of the biggest names in business.”
Truth: John wishes he had recorded voice-overs for some of the biggest names in business.

4. Equipment

Lie: “Peter exclusively uses his trusted Neumann U87, arguably the best known and most widely used studio microphone in the world.”
Truth: Peter doesn’t even know how to correctly pronounce the name Neumann. He is the proud owner of a second-hand Chinese condenser he got off eBay for $65.

5. Home studio

Lie: “Heather records her voiceovers in her professional studio, guaranteeing you the highest audio quality possible.”
Truth: “Heather hides inside a bedroom closet and she has no idea why this mattress foam won’t keep the noise out. She wonders: Should I have used egg crates instead?”

6. Demos

Lie: It sounds like Thomas really voiced those national campaigns, doesn’t it?
Truth: The scripts were stolen from auditions that never worked out. An audio engineer friend helped him with the music.

7a. Languages and accents

Lie: “Jerome speaks Dutch and is available for your eLearning projects.”
Truth: Jerome was born, raised and educated in Flanders (Belgium) and speaks Flemish. Dutch and Flemish are just as related and just as different as American and British English. Substitute Dutch and Flemish for other languages and accents to expose other actors.

7b. Native speakers

Lie: “Maria was born and raised in Germany and speaks ‘Hochdeutsch’ or Standard German.”
Truth: Maria moved to the U.S. when she was seventeen and thirty years later, she stills lives in Dallas. Ever heard a German with a Texas twang?

8. Testimonials

Lie: “Jennifer was a delight to work with. Our company would not hesitate to hire her again.”
Truth: Jennifer never worked for “that company” and she is the author of this endorsement.

9. Head shots

Lie: We see a young, smiling face, staring confidently into the camera.
Truth: After ten years, Harry doesn’t look like his old headshot anymore. He’s become bitter and it shows. He also gained twenty pounds.

10. Believing that you won’t get caught

You see, people with real credentials have real experience and a real portfolio. They don’t have to hide behind vague descriptions and false advertising. The truth will always come out and when it does, it will damage a career that never was and probably never will be.

SPOTTING THE ROTTEN APPLE

You don’t have to be a detective to find the fakers. Liars usually do a great job exposing themselves. I was emailing one of my colleagues the other day, and he shared the following story with me:

“I’ve read your blogs regarding people that want to be a voiceover talent with interest. I have some ideas on people that are “posing” as voiceover talent and how to spot them immediately.

For example: a young lady recently posted on a LinkedIn forum complaining that she wasn’t being hired via sites like voices.com and how obviously the system was flawed, and that was the reason she wasn’t getting work.

I visited her website to find that (through the placement of national logos for Burger King and Nissan) she had implicated that she’d done voiceover work for national companies.

When I listened to her demo it was apparent that she had nowhere near the skill level of a national voice talent.

Furthermore – on her website there was a mention of a client that she claimed as her client, when in fact, it had been MY client for more than four years. A quick check with producers led me to find that this person had never worked with that company.

In short, she wasn’t getting work because she sucked as a “talent”. And yet, she couldn’t hear this, and was angry with the world because she wasn’t getting work.

What are these people thinking? Do they really believe they can fool an experienced producer or Creative Service Director?”

ACTORS ARE LIARS

People in our profession have a strange relationship with the truth. We get paid to pretend. The most convincing liars get the nicest paychecks, an Oscar and a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.

However, true talent, trust and integrity are the cornerstones of a successful career.

Trust must be earned.

True talent and integrity can never be faked.

Ain’t that the truth?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Did You Miss Me?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, International, Internet, Journalism & Media, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play, Promotion, Social Media 10 Comments

Paul Strikwerda self-portraitWise men say that one way to spot the difference between cultures, is by looking at how separate societies approach the concept of work.

As someone who has lived and worked in both Europe and in the United States, I feel comfortable making the following generalization:

In Europe, most people work to live.

In the Unites States, most people live to work.

By “most” I mean more than half.

Here’s the thing: I’ve never had more time off than during the thirty-six years I lived in the Netherlands. I was able to travel the world at a relaxed pace, and recharge my batteries. I had enough time to pursue one or two hobbies, and have a rich and balanced social life.

Once I became a U.S citizen, I learned that most people in America see even a short vacation as a luxury and not as a necessity. The odd American planning a trip outside of the country has one thing on his mind: how can I see and do as many things in as little time as possible? Kids are overscheduled by stressed parents working two jobs, and one of those jobs is to pay for daycare. 

I fully realize that I’m brushing with broad strokes, but what’s the end result of these two attitudes?

Countries where people work less like Ireland, Norway and Belgium, are more productive than the United States. In the most productive country on earth, Luxembourg, people work an average of 29 hours a week. On average, Americans put in 33.6 hours a week, only to rank fifth in the OECD list of most productive countries.

These findings support one of the conclusions of a story I wrote this year entitled “Are You Wasting Your Time Going Nowhere Fast?(click on the title to access the article)It’s a blog post about the difference between being busy and being productive. In it, I offer suggestions to increase your productivity as well as your bottom line, that will actually cost less time!

THE RAT RACE

No matter where you live, running the rat race can be pretty stressful. Some of my voice-over students get stressed out when they have to go into a studio to record. In “Don’t Drive Yourself Crazy,” I describe how you can keep that stress under control.

One of my most popular blog posts this year was “The One Thing That Will Improve Your Voice Acting Immediately.” What do you think it could be? Warm-ups? Tongue twisters? Sufficient hydration? No. No, and No! The other blog post that got a lot of attention was “The Vital Voice-Over Skill We Never Talk About.” It’s something that isn’t taught in voice-over school, and yet it could make or break your career.

Now, I have a question for you. If I were an investor on a show like Shark Tank or Dragons’ Den, and you came to me with a pitch to back your business, what would I be looking for? Enthusiasm? A unique product? The answer may surprise you. Read about it in “Would you Survive The Shark Tank?” 

MISTAKES AND FAILURES

Eighty percent of new businesses survive past their first year. However, half of all businesses no longer exist after five years. That’s a scary statistic, isn’t it? In “The Secret To Not Getting Hired,” I’ve summed up all the reasons why clients aren’t interested in working with you. Oddly enough, I also invite you to embrace failure as a way to grow personally and professionally. You can read about that in “Why I Want You To Fail.”

In “Being Wrong About Being Right,” I describe one of the biggest mistakes I made in 2017, and what I learned from it.

When you’re just starting out as a voice-over, it is so easy to make simple errors. Many of my VO-students tell me: “If only I had known…” I tell them: “If only you had read my blog!” The story about “The Seven Worst Mistakes Beginner Voice-Overs Make,” is a good start.

If there’s one thing I have learned in this unpredictable business, it is that success is by no means guaranteed. You can work your tail off and record audition after audition, only to face rejection, time after time. It’s frustrating, and that’s why I say: “VO’s Unfair, so, Grow a Pair!”

ATTITUDE ADJUSTMENT

Sometimes, people are their own worst enemies because they’re unconsciously sabotaging their success. In that case they might need a major attitude adjustment, such as the one I describe in What Are You Waiting For?and Be bold. Be brave. Be you.

Sometimes, you are not the problem, though. You’re just dealing with a terrible customer. Mine was named Elvis, and he was “My Worst Client Ever.”

Attracting clients has always been a major theme of this blog. In “The Key To Promoting Your Business,” I reveal what’s fundamentally wrong with the way many voice-overs (and other freelancers) market themselves, and what they can do about it.

Social media should play an important role in any marketing strategy, but you have to know how to play the game to get tangible results.

Facebook can be particularly tricky, and so many colleagues are still violating the terms of service. Because of it, they could be kicked off the platform. If that’s something you wish to avoid, please read “Facebook: Why You May Be Doing It All Wrong.” One thing you need to be particularly careful with, is posting pictures online. If you don’t do it right, “The Copyright Trolls Are Coming After You.”

2017 marked the year I finally took Nethervoice to Instagram. In “Help, I’m on Instagram. Now what?I talk about this experiment, and why I believe you should also give this platform a try. Let me also name a few things you should avoid in the new year.

STAY AWAY

Number one my list is spending too much money! It’s so easy to write check after check hoping it will benefit your business. Quite often, it’s better to save and make wise investments. In Becoming A Frugal Freelancer I’ll tell you how. This story alone could save you hundreds of dollars, pounds, or euro each year. 

Number two of things to avoid is working for low rates. In “Who’s Afraid of Decent Rates,” I urge you to stop blaming one specific group for the ongoing erosion of voice-over rates. You’ll be surprised to learn which group that is.

Number three has to do with the big rotten apple of the voice-over industry, known as Voices dot com (VDC). In their continuous effort to try to dominate the VO-market, VDC bought Voicebank with borrowed money, and it is rapidly turning well-paid union jobs into cheap managed projects. Read all about it in “A Deal With The Devil.” My question to you is:

“Are you part of the problem, or part of the solution?” 

As long as you keep investing in a company that does not have your best interest at heart, you keep that company in business. That’s why I’m telling you: “It’s Time To Choose.” Are you in or are you out?

NAMECALLING

The 2017 story that caused quite a stir on social media was “Divided We Stand.” Actually, it was an afterthought about a certain VO Awards show that prompted one commentator to label me a “racist.” Some of my critics thought this person went too far and said so in public. Others kept their mouth tightly shut. To me, that was more hurtful than the ridiculous slander itself. Einstein once said:

“If I were to remain silent, I’d be guilty of complicity.”

In the follow-up article “Paying the Piper,” I take on my critics, and I present ideas to make future award shows better and more relevant. 

SQUARE ONE

The last two stories I want to highlight bring us back to the beginning. It’s about our approach to work. A week or so ago, my colleague Paul Stefano posted on Facebook:

“Anybody else finding it hard to just stop during the holidays? Still frantically checking email for auditions, looking at casting sites and generally running at 90 mph. It’s as if all the energy it takes to do this business on a daily basis makes it really hard to hit the brakes!”

I responded:

“Auditions will keep coming in. Always. But precious moments with friends and family will never come back. If we don’t give ourselves the opportunity to enjoy these wonderful times, what are we really working for?”

Working harder and longer doesn’t mean we’ll be more productive. In fact, this blog was born when I dared to step away from my work for a while. I describe what happened in “Feeding Your Soul.” Little did I know that this blog would eventually attract an audience of 39K subscribers and counting!

READING LIST

If you do feel that your voice has earned a rest, and you wish to catch up on some reading, I warmly invite you to look at The Concise (and incomplete) Voice-Over Book List,” I compiled this year. As an author I will be adding another book to that list in 2018. What are your big plans for the new year?

For now I want to thank you for all your emails, questions, and comments. I hope to meet you in person at VO Atlanta in March where I’ll be doing a presentation, a panel discussion, and a break-out session.

May the new year bring you all the fulfillment and success you so deserve!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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The Turning Point

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Pay-to-Play, Personal 37 Comments

Voice-Over and blogger Paul StrikwerdaPotentially, this could be my shortest blog post ever.

It’s the story of how I got from doing okay, to doing quite alright, professionally speaking. 

Almost every week I get emails from readers, asking me to reveal the big secret to my so-called success. 

Why “so-called success”?

Well, everything is perception, and perception is everything. We all define success in different ways. 

Before I tell you about this secret, you should probably know a bit more about me. 

As a freelancer, I work in a highly competitive and increasingly crowded field: I’m a voice-over. I talk for a living. The other day I recorded an audio tour of a gorgeous area in the North of France. Today I’m pretending to be a medical doctor, telling physicians about the side effects of a new cancer drug. It’s a fun job with many pros and cons. 

As a player in the new gig economy I have a lot of freedom, no benefits, and very little protection. Weeks of underemployment are usually followed by a crazy busy period where I’m scrambling to finish every project I was hired to do on schedule. It’s feast or famine. 

A voice actor’s income can vary tremendously. Some twenty-second commercials bring in thousands of dollars, particularly if you’re an A-list celebrity, which I’m not. An hour of e-Learning or audio book narration may generate a few hundred bucks (before expenses and taxes). Most clients come and go. Very few stick around.

Although my work is not physically demanding, sitting still in a small, dark studio behind a microphone for hours and hours, isn’t exactly healthy. It’s also easy to feel socially isolated because my colleagues are all sitting in small, dark studios in different parts of the world. And I’ll be honest: at times the stress of being out of a job as soon as a project ends, can get to you. Work fluctuates, but bills keep coming. 

Even though I think I’m experienced and highly qualified, most of my days are dominated by the search for new clients, and by auditions. Every audition is a crapshoot. Like most of my colleagues, I try to read between the lines of vague specs and scripts, attempting to second-guess what the invisible client is hoping to hear. And most days I’m wrong, and someone else ends up getting the gig. 

Now, in spite of this sad story, I love what I do for a living, and I don’t think there’s anything else I’d rather do, career-wise. I’m not a good candidate for a 9 to 5 job. I can’t stand bosses who have risen to the level of their incompetence. I’ve had too many of them. I wouldn’t want to waste hours a day being stuck in rush hour traffic, just to make some corporation happy. I rejoice in the fact that I don’t have to go to endless staff meetings or mandated office parties. Been there. Done that. 

My accountant is also pleased because every year I make more money than the year before. There’s still no Lamborghini parked in my driveway, but I can live with that. And every time I book a new job, I realize that there are probably hundreds of hopefuls who are trying to figure out why the client picked that silly Dutch American with the European accent over them. 

I know… It baffles me too!

Taking all of that into account, how did I get from doing okay to doing quite alright?

Do I use a special microphone that turns my vocal folds into the Voice of G-d?

Are eager talent agents fighting to add me to their roster?

Am I friends with the movers and shakers of the voice-over industry?

I have to disappoint you. It has very little to do with all of the above. 

Sure, I use first-rate recording equipment. I have a number of great agents and a nice network of connections. But the thing that has made a real difference in my career is not something you can buy, and it has nothing to do with other people. So, what is it? 

It is a strong belief in the Law of Cause and Effect. The mechanism of action and reaction. Specifically, my preference to rather be at the cause-side of the equation, than at the effect. It boils down to this:

I see myself as the prime instigator of change in my life. Change through choice. 

I choose to be proactive (at cause) instead of reactive (at the effect). It’s the difference between sitting in the driver’s seat, and being a passenger. I like to hold the wheel and set the course. 

People who share this belief are go-getters. They take the initiative. They take responsibility. 

People who prefer to be passengers are usually more passive. They tend to be finger pointers and complainers, who often see themselves as victims. They’ll sue McDonald’s for making them fat, or for serving coffee that’s too hot.

Here’s a question you can ask to determine where someone stands: 

“Do you like to let things happen, or make them happen?”

Of course I know we’re not omnipotent, and that certain things are beyond our grasp and control. My attitude only applies to the things I feel I can actually influence, and the person I can influence the easiest is… me. 

I control what I put in my body, I control the size of my portions, and I decide how much I exercise. I don’t blame the fast food industry for my expanding waistline. To bring it back to my profession: I don’t blame online casting sites when my voice-over career isn’t where I want it to be. Instead I ask myself what I can do to increase my skill level, to promote my services, and to attract more clients. 

Being “at cause” means being accountable for taking or not taking the necessary steps to achieve a specific goal. 

That’s why as a voice-over coach I never guarantee results. I tell my students:

“As your mentor I don’t have magical powers that will result in you booking jobs. I will give you tools, but it is up to you to use those tools effectively and appropriately. You are responsible for your own results.”

On a superficial level my proactive philosophy may seem a no-brainer, but it’s not. It is a lot easier to blame and complain, than to take fate into your own hands. 

Being “at cause” means sticking your neck out. Taking risks. Doing the hard work. Making tough decisions. Going against the grain. 

It’s not an easy way out. Quite often, it’s an uneasy way in. 

The moment I decided to take charge of my career and be “at cause,” was a turning point in my life. The effects of that decision have brought me to where I am today. From being a spectator, to being an instigator. From doing okay, to doing quite alright.

And you know what?

You can apply this principle in any area, whether personal or professional. 

Now, if you’re still with me, you have noticed that this wasn’t the shortest blog post ever, and I apologize. 

I guess I could have condensed my message into three words:

Just 

Be

Cause.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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PS Last week, this blog reached 39K subscribers. I am beyond thrilled! If you enjoy my musings, the best compliment you could pay me is by pointing others to these pages. Thank you!

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How Not To Impersonate A Saint

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Personal 15 Comments
Intocht van Sinterklaas in Schiedam 2009

Sinterklaas

Becoming a professional is very much like growing up.

At some point we all have to lose our carefree, childlike naiveté.

Old beliefs about the trustworthiness of people disappear. Ideas we’ve cherished for too long, vanish as quickly as melting snow.

The tooth fairy is a lie, parents aren’t perfect, and reindeer don’t fly.

In The Netherlands, every child grows up believing in St. Nicholas, or Sinterklaas as the Dutch call him. In November this legendary bishop leaves Spain on a steamboat loaded with gifts.

His triumphant arrival in Holland is broadcast live on national television. Just like his rotund brother Santa Claus, Sinterklaas will go from town to town to meet as many overexcited children as he can.

The “Sint” (a Dutch version of “Saint”), always brings a big book in which he keeps track of the behavior of every child. In the olden days, nice children would be rewarded. The naughty ones would be punished by one of his helpers.

DUTCH BOXING DAY

In the weeks leading up to Saint Nicholas’ Eve, kids are expected to be on their best behavior. They put their shoes next to the chimney (or radiator), and leave some treats for Sinterklaas’ horse. Children also sing traditional songs before they go to bed. The next morning, they’ll usually find some sweets or a small present in their shoes.

On the evening of December 5th, the Dutch celebrate their version of boxing day. It is still the main gift-giving day in The Netherlands, and retail wouldn’t be the same without it.

In my family, most presents would be accompanied by a rhyme, making innocent fun of the receiver. Sometimes a poem would contain a clue as to where the present was hidden. Some gifts would be disguised in all kinds of creative ways, and the recipient had to guess what he or she was getting.

As a kid, I never doubted the existence of Sinterklaas. After all, he came to my school and he visited my house, year after year. Even when I started having some logistical questions about the distribution of so many presents to so many homes on one single night, I kept the faith. Like every other kid, I was afraid that the minute I’d start believing Saint Nicholas was bogus, I wouldn’t get any presents anymore.

All was well, until that dismal day Sinterklaas came to my Elementary school.

SINTERKLAAS GOES TO SCHOOL

I must have been seven or eight years old. All classes gathered in the gym, which doubled as an auditorium. I can still smell the pungent aroma of sweat and tears this dreary hall was notorious for. We kids were arranged according to our grades, and as we were waiting for the Sint’s arrival, a bespectacled young teacher started playing songs on an out of tune piano. Soon we all joined in.

After about ten minutes we’d come to the end of our repertoire, but Sinterklaas and his helpers were nowhere to be seen. It didn’t take long before docile kids turned into a restless mob of minors. The principal who’d been on the lookout, rushed back to calm the crowds.

“Kids,” he barked, “if you’re not going to be quiet and show some respect, Sinterklaas will be skipping this school. Now, is that what you want?”

“NO!” we answered in unison.

“So, are you going to be quiet?” he asked.

“YES!” we shouted at the top of our lungs. “We want Sinterklaas! We want Sinterklaas!” the whole room chanted.

At that very moment, a rusty, beat up compact car arrived at the gates. This couldn’t be the old man, could it? He was supposed to arrive on a magnificent white horse. Not in a Morris Marina. A few boys in sixth grade stood up to catch a glimpse of the bearded shadow that came out of the car. A single helper in black face called Zwarte Piet (or Black Pete) accompanied the tall man.

“It’s him,” the boys cried. “He’s coming! He’s coming!”

WHO IS THIS MAN?

“Children, children,” shouted the principal. “Remember our agreement. If you can’t be quiet, I will ask Sinterklaas to leave, and you can all go back to your classroom. Now, let us sing a song to welcome our distinguished guest.”

To many children, Sinterklaas was as close to a living legend as one could get. On one hand they would fear him, because he knew exactly what they’d been up to in the past year. On the other, they’d revere him because he was old, wise and dignified. His warm, deep voice and saintly demeanor was enough to turn the biggest chatterbox in the room into a shy and silent mouse.

As my heart pounded with expectation, the doors of the auditorium swung open, and in came Sinterklaas, wearing his traditional red cape and a rather faded mitre. He was holding a long gold-colored crosier. He waved at the children as his helper handed out traditional treats called “pepernoten.”

The second I saw the Sint, I knew there was something familiar about him. Of course I’d seen Sinterklaas before, but that wasn’t it. This was different. First of all, he was wearing thick rimmed glasses. No Sinterklaas I’d ever seen wore glasses.

Secondly, for a man who was supposed to be in his eighties or nineties, he walked remarkably fast and energetic. There was also something very wrong with his white beard. It looked like it had been quickly attached to his face with cheap tape. It seemed to have a life of its own, because the thing barely stayed in place.

As the Sint sat down on a makeshift throne, I noticed something else: his brown shoes. I could have sworn I’d seen those shoes before. But that could just be a coincidence, couldn’t it? Then the principal started talking. He asked Sinterklaas about his trip to Holland, and about his plans for the day.

That’s when it happened.

A DREAM DASHED

Instead of that deep, grandfatherly voice every child had grown up with, “our” Sinterklaas had a relatively high-pitched, young voice. To tell you the truth: He didn’t sound like Sinterklaas at all. Not even like a bad imposter.

I was utterly confused, and I wasn’t the only one. Something wasn’t right, but I still wanted to hang on to my conviction that this man was real. I tried to see in him what I wanted to see. Meanwhile, the girl next to me started crying, and said she needed to go the bathroom.

Then one of the bigger boys in sixth grade whispered something astonishing:

“Jongens, dit is Sinterklaas niet. Het is de dominee!”

“People, this isn’t Sinterklaas. It’s our minister!”

The rumor spread like wildfire through the gym. Soon enough, kids in each row repeated the same phrase:

“It’s the minister. It’s the minister,” until it reached a very uncomfortable looking principal.

I must say he handled it gracefully. He told us Saint Nicholas wasn’t feeling so well, and that he had to cut his visit short. The “old” bishop left as fast as he had come, without much ceremony. Later on, one of my friends claimed he’d found a fake beard in the bushes.

AN ODD DISCOVERY

When I came home that afternoon, the first thing I noticed was a pair of brown shoes on the doormat. I walked up to the study where my dad was working on Sunday’s sermon. He was wearing his usual thick rimmed glasses.

He looked up from his books.

“I’m not much of an actor, am I?” he asked rhetorically. “I’m really sorry.”

He waited a few seconds, and gestured: “Why don’t you come a little closer?”

“You know,” he said, “this morning I got a phone call from your school. The guy who was supposed to be Sinterklaas had fallen off his horse and couldn’t make it. Your principal practically begged me to fill in. I just couldn’t disappoint him.”

I didn’t exactly know how to respond to that. At that age I did not get the irony of a Protestant minister pretending to be Catholic saint. Then my dad continued.

“Paul, today I learned a valuable lesson.”

“What lesson is that?” I asked.

“I learned that just because you can, doesn’t mean you must.

Remember that,” said my father. “I knew I wouldn’t be any good, and yet I forced myself to go through with it. What was I thinking?”

He stood up from his desk and gave me a big hug.

“Papa,” I said with a trembling voice, “may I ask you something?”

“Always,” he said. “What is it?”

“Does this mean I won’t be getting any presents this year?”

“Of course you will,” my dad responded. “The whole school is well aware that I was just pretending to be Sinterklaas, but you know what? The real guy is still out there. Trust me.”

I so wanted to believe my father, but I couldn’t. Not anymore.

That day, my childhood (and the childhood of seven hundred other kids), had lost a bit of its magic, simply because my father couldn’t say no.

COMING HOME

Forty-four years later I look at an inbox filled with voice-over auditions (I’m a voice actor); opportunities other people think I should embrace. But when I look at them, I know I don’t want to be the guy with the fake beard and the brown shoes, arriving in a Morris Marina. And I think of my fathers words:

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you must.

The author and his father.

My dad ain’t no saint, but his words of wisdom are a gift I will treasure for the rest of my life.

Some three years ago, I left for The Netherlands, and knocked on my father’s door. We both knew this was probably the last time we would see each other.

In my father’s presence I once again became the boy I used to be, and we talked about the day my dad impersonated a Spanish bishop.

We laughed.

We cried.

And we said our goodbyes.

My dad died on January 10th, 2015.

This Saturday it will be my turn to play Sinterklaas for the families of the Netherlands-America Association of the Delaware Valley. The day after I will make a saintly appearance at Trinity Episcopal Church, in Easton, Pennsylvania, where I now live.

And so, the family tradition continues. 

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet.

photo credit: Sander van der Wel, Netherlands

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Divided We Stand

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Pay-to-Play, Promotion 36 Comments

free hugsIs the voice-over world one big love fest?

If you go to pretty much any VO-conference, you may get that impression. There’s a lot of hugging and endearing cheering going on. People speak of “my voice-over family,” and will introduce you to their “Sister from another Mister.” It’s all hunky-dory on cloud nine. Why is that?

Is it because voice-overs tend to be part of an inherently “nice” and unpretentious group of people who avoid conflict at all cost, or is it because all the “nasty” people stay away from these social gatherings? Perhaps the bad apples congregate at conventions we know nothing about, sponsored by voices dot double U dee (wd stands for world domination).

But seriously, not all is well in voice-over land, and you know it. As in any community, there is camaraderie and controversy. Not to stir the pot in any way, but there still are a couple of hot-button issues we shouldn’t sweep under the carpet. Let me name a few.

1. Rates: publish them, or keep the client guessing?

Out of all the topics, the greatest shift in thinking happened on this one. In 2012 I made the case for colleagues to publish their rates on their website. Why? Because in the twenty-first century, people want to know how much things cost. That’s the way they are wired. 

The nay-sayers argued that listing prices would hurt negotiations. It would scare away customers, and we’d make it easier for the competition to put in lower bids. Besides, there was no consensus as to what was considered to be a standard rate.

Fast forward five years. The Global Voice Acting Academy’s Rate Guide has taken our community by storm, and is widely used as a point of reference. It’s been sent to some Pay-to-Plays, and the latest version was edited so it could be presented to clients. More recently, UK-based Gravy For The Brain published a guide to voice-over rates typically charged by voice artists in the United Kingdom.

In short: voice-over rates are no longer a big mystery. More and more colleagues are publishing how much they charge. Still, a fair number of colleagues feel we don’t do our industry a favor by being open about our prices, and thus the discussion continues.

2. Rates: how much or how little to charge

Critics of rate guides almost always use the same argument: “Who are you to tell me what I should charge? Mind your own business!” Oddly enough, it’s usually people on the lower end of the scale who seem to be defensive, and I have trouble understanding why they respond that way. If you’re running a for-profit business, isn’t it helpful to know what the going rates might be?

Secondly, these rate guides are called guides for a reason. No one will force you to charge a decent fee for decent work. If you feel your voice-over isn’t worth more than a fistful of dollars, welcome to the Wild West where the deaf lead the blind.

But let’s put all of that aside. Why shouldn’t we have a rate debate? Why can’t we issue guidelines? Almost every professional organization on the planet deals with compensation. That’s just one of the things professionals talk about. Only amateurs don’t have to concern themselves with what they charge. And that’s perhaps the crux of the matter.

The never-ending influx of amateurs has weakened the position of professionals. That’s why pros are taking a stand, and say:

“You may want to work at any rate, but it is immoral and unwise to do so. If you don’t value what you have to offer, you cannot expect others to value it either.”

3. Union membership

This is another hot topic in the voice-over world. Some prominent voice-overs feel the answer to all our troubles is to join SAG-AFTRA (or if you live outside of the U.S., to join another union). We’d all be paid a fair amount, we’d get health insurance, and we’d be in a much better position to negotiate with the big players. United we stand!

The problem is that many voice-overs feel that SAG-AFTRA has been treating them as unwanted stepchildren, once removed. Compared to on-screen actors, we’re the invisible small potatoes. Who cares if we ruin our vocal folds, dying a thousand screaming deaths for some silly video game? We don’t deserve extra compensation for that, do we? (please insert sarcasm)

After the longest strike in SAG-AFTRA history, there’s a tentative deal on the table that includes a promise that companies will work with the union to “examine the issue” for the next three years.

Things like that make me scream, but I have to be careful!

In a recent article, the Washington Post concluded: “In a $24.5 billion U.S. video game market that has turned some voice actors into celebrities, they still aren’t treated with the same respect as actors in television and in movies.”

Did you know that video games don’t pay residuals, and a union-proposed bonus structure for voice-overs didn’t make it into the tentative contract?

On top of that, a lot of union jobs are now turned into non-union, and SAG-AFTRA has done little or nothing to stop that trend. Oh, and did you get the news that a certain Canadian voice casting site has introduced a platform for talent agencies to access SAG-AFTRA jobs? They’re also going after ACTRA and other performance unions around the globe. Did the union(s) speak out about that, yet?

All I heard was crickets, so let’s turn to another topic. 

4. WoVO

The World Voices Organization (WoVO) was incorporated on April 25th 2012, and it was launched a day later. WoVO is a non-profit international industry trade organization. Its mission is:

“to inform and educate members of the voice-over community and other business professionals about best practices, standards for ethical conduct, and professional expertise as it relates to the voiceover industry.”

WoVO is run by voice-over talent for voiceover talent, and I am one of its members.

Why do I list WoVO as one of the hot-button topics in voice-over land? Because there must be thousands and thousands of voice-overs in the world, and only about eight hundred or so are WoVO members. If WoVO-membership would be a no-brainer, this number would be much higher. Apparently, it’s up for debate.

If you are reading this blog, and you are not a member, what are you waiting for? 

5. Voices dot wd

In one way I’ve got to give it to the leadership of this greedy, unethical company: David C. has always been clear about his ambitions. He wants to be THE middleman in voiceoverland, taking a big fat cut from every party involved in every transaction on his site. This year, Morgan Stanley Expansion Capital gave him eighteen million reasons to demonstrate he can deliver.

The pressure is on!

David’s strategy is straightforward: gain the biggest share in the voice-over market by creating a streamlined system that’s simple enough for stupid people to use. The next step is turning his VO-services into a commodity by encouraging the lowest bidders to sell to the cheapest clients. 

How do you get voice-overs to buy into this scheme? 

1. Appeal to the laziest hopefuls by promising to deliver lots of leads via email. 

2. Have them pay an annual membership fee for the privilege of bidding on jobs they’re likely to never land; a privilege shared with over 200,000 other voice actors in 139 countries.

3.  Make it easy to sign on the dotted line. No talent needed. Just a credit card.

Why is this still dividing the voice-over community, you wonder? There are two hundred thousand reasons why. Without them, there would be no voices dot wd. 

BONUS: The Voice Arts® Awards

On Sunday, November 5th, people were flocking to New York to attend The Voice Arts® Awards Gala, known to some as the “Joan & Rudy show.”

There are voice actors who believe our profession needs these awards to provide international acknowledgement of the extraordinary skill and artistry that goes into voice-over acting. Others like me, question the value of these awards.

In case you didn’t know: the Voice Arts® Awards do not give a prize to the best performance in a specific category. They only nominate and award those who paid a significant amount of money to be evaluated. In other words: you pay to play. So, a phenomenal voice talent might never win an award because he doesn’t want to spend his money on some competition.

By the way, the costs don’t end there. As a nominee, you’d have to travel to the awards, pay for a hotel and meals, pay for a ticket for your partner, and if you win, you also have to fork over $350 for your trophy. Is that worth it? And get this. Even though all VO’s pay to enter the competition, only VIP’s get to walk the red carpet, and last year there wasn’t enough time in the show for everyone to accept their award on stage. One of last year’s nominees told me:

“I was sold on going to this show and spending about $2000 because I’d have my name and work announced (marketing!), and I would have my moment like all the other nominees (fun!). And I was robbed of both. Those were the two reasons for going to the VAA.”

Another colleague wrote:

“There are no stars in VO. We both know it’s not glamorous. A big party is fun when we’re all together. But to get together to honor the dubious distinction of buying temporary adulation and ‘stardom,’ seems to me to be so disingenuous.”

So, is the voice-over world one big love fest? Of course not!

You may not agree with half of what I just wrote, and that’s fine with me. As long as we keep on talking. Every time I make a contribution to this blog, I want it to be the beginning of a conversation. Never the end.

What you are reading here is just my opinion,

and my opinion is always up for debate!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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The Vital Voice-Over Skill We Never Talk About

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Personal 10 Comments

It’s no secret.

Voice-overs love to talk. Sometimes, they even get paid for it.

But there’s another skill that’s almost as important, yet we rarely speak about it.

It’s listening.

Do you hear me?

Here’s the weird thing. Early in life, we learn how to walk, talk, and color inside the lines. But did anyone ever teach you how to listen?

We’re instructed to sit still and shut up, or else…. One day, my Kindergarten teacher dragged me by my ear, and shoved me into a corner for incessant talking. To add insult to injury, she taped a huge Band-Aid over my mouth.

I’d love to run into her one day, and tell her how I make a living….

By the way, keeping one’s mouth shut is not the same as being a receptive, retentive listener. Listening is a lost art that begs to be rediscovered. Why? Because we’re so used to tuning things out, and for a very good reason.

TOO MUCH NOISE

I don’t know about you, but on any given day my brain finds it easier and easer to reach stimulus overload. That’s no surprise. Every minute of every waking hour we are bombarded with images, smells, sounds, and other sensations. They all cry out for attention like ravenous septuplets wanting to be breastfed, and it’s too much to handle.

If we’d give equal attention to all our sensory input, we’d go mad. Literally. So, our noggin needs to prioritize what it’s going to pay attention to, and for how long. The rest gets tuned out. While that’s a good thing, we do run into another problem.

As we are drowning in information, our attention span is getting shorter and shorter. In fact, I’m surprised that you’re still reading these words! What’s wrong with you?

You may have heard of this one notorious consumer study claiming that the human attention span has gone down from twelve seconds in 2000, to eight seconds today. In contrast, the average attention span of a goldfish is nine seconds!

I’m not surprised. Goldfish tend to be very good listeners. Although they are a bit slippery, they’d make great shrinks.

Joking aside, my point is that in order to be a good listener, we need to be able to focus on something or someone, and preferably for longer than eight seconds. Why is this particularly important to voice-overs? To begin with, it is vital to the success of our one-person, volatile business, to listen to our clients. We need to know what our clients need to hear from us to be satisfied with our work.

PAYING ATTENTION

One of my students was working on a project, and the client had asked her to give what he called “a decisive read.” “Say no more,” she said. “I know exactly what you’re after.”

A day later she delivered the audio, and guess what? The client was not happy. He called her up and said: “I asked you to sound decisive. I just listened to your recording, and you sound aggressive. I can’t use that.”

“I’m sorry, I really tried,” answered my student. “You asked for decisive, and this is what I thought you meant. How could I have known you wanted something different?”

“Well,” said the client, “you didn’t give me a chance to demonstrate. Before I was able to give you an example, you interrupted me, and said you knew what I was after. Make sure you really understand what the people you’re working with want. Don’t make assumptions. Just listen, and ask questions. Do you think you can do that?”

There was a long pause on the other end of the line.

Lesson learned.

FOCUS AND INTENT

So, the secret to being a good listener has to do with focus and intent. Give yourself permission to focus on someone for longer than eight seconds with the intent to understand (instead of the intent to reply). Be genuinely interested in the other person. Keep your ears open, and your mouth shut.

Resist the impulse to interrupt and fill in the blanks. Those blanks are YOUR blanks, and may have nothing to do with what your client is trying to tell you.

This may sound easy, but in this fast and crazy world filled with manufactured distractions, it’s hard for people to sit still and slow down the running commentary between their ears. That commentary is usually evaluating what we just did, or figuring out what we should do next. It is rarely in the moment.

For us to really listen, we need to be in the moment.

To me, the ability to be in the moment is an essential life skill. There are many ways to achieve this state of mind, and some are more esoteric than others. I like to close my eyes, and slow down my breathing. After watching a documentary about Spartacus-star Andy Whitfield, I added the following mantra to quiet my mind:

BE

HERE

NOW

As you are reading these words, give it a try.

Close your eyes.

Begin breathing more deeply and s l o w l y.

Say to yourself in a soothing voice:

BE

HERE

NOW

 

BE

HERE

NOW

 

Thanks for playing along! You may need to relearn what it’s like to be here now (I certainly did), and this could be a good start. Take a few minutes each day to center yourself, and practice being in the moment. It may take you a while, and that’s okay.

Be gentle. Be patient, and be quiet.

LET THE WORDS SPEAK

Now, there’s a second reason why as a voice-over you need to learn how to listen. This has nothing to do with the people around you, and everything with what’s in front of you: your script. No matter what it is, an eLearning module, a historic novel, or a commercial, this script is trying to tell you something. It has a message. It wants to be understood.

While part of your restless brain is still conditioned to skim the words, please take your time to take them in. Don’t tune out. Tune in! Find out how the information is organized, and how the ideas unfold in sentences, paragraphs, and chapters. Some scripts can be like jigsaw puzzles. They come to you in many pieces. The only way to put them together, is to have a clear understanding of the big picture.

As a listener, I can always tell whether or not a narrator knows what he or she is talking about. I can hear the difference between a rush job and a thoughtful recording. I know when a narrator is in love with him- or herself, or with the text. It all comes back to listening. There’s a reason why a well-known Turkish proverb goes something like this:

“If speaking is silver, then listening is gold.”

THE QUIET CONDUIT

Author and radio host Celeste Headlee wondered why people would rather talk than listen. She says that when we’re talking, we are in control. We are the center of attention. I think she’s right.

As a voice-over professional, I see myself as a conduit. It’s not about me. It’s about the message. And the only way to honor the words I am about to speak, is to let them speak to me first.

All I need to do, is be in the moment, and listen.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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The Trouble With Giving Unwanted Advice

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing 26 Comments

Thanks, but no thanks.We are a suspicious society.

Whether we realize it or not, most of us are trained to distrust people’s intentions.

Some fifteen years ago, my friend was driving me home at night. The United States was still new to me, and I had a lot of cultural adjusting to do.

At one point during our dark drive I spotted someone with car trouble by the side of the road. The hood of her Honda was up, and she seemed distressed. To my surprise, my friend drove right past her without blinking an eye.

“Are you crazy,?” I cried indignantly. “Why didn’t you stop to help the poor woman?”

“That’s a very bad idea,” my friend said. “For one, she might think that we’re coming to molest her. Two: Her friends could be waiting in the wings to mug us. Why don’t you take my phone and let the police know what’s going on. They’ll handle it.”

“Whatever happened to being a good Samaritan?” I asked.

“Forget that,” said my friend. “You can’t trust anyone anymore. This is America. People have guns, and they are not afraid to use them.”

I was flabbergasted. In the Netherlands where I came from, not helping someone in need could be interpreted as criminal negligence. In the USA it apparently was a liability. 

But America has more trust issues.

FLYER OR FIVER

A few years ago, Kyle MacDonald conducted a social experiment. He took to the streets with a stack of flyers and five-dollar bills. Much to his surprise, it was easier to hand out flyers than fivers. People didn’t seem to want his money because they believed Kyle had ulterior motives. After all, there’s no such thing as a free ride, right?

Suspicions about the true intentions of strangers are nothing new, by the way. Telling the story of the famous Trojan horse, the classic author Virgil coined the phrase Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes, often translated as Beware of Greeks bearing gifts. What he meant to say was this:

Do not trust an opponent who offers to do something nice for you.

This adds another element to the mix. That of an opponent. That’s because those who assume the worst, often see people they don’t know or understand as adversaries, competitors, or as folks they should be afraid of.

I guess it takes one, to know one.

Don’t get me wrong. There are some pretty scary individuals out there, ready to scam our grandparents, abduct our kids, and steal our identities. Radicalized, brainwashed fanatics will kill themselves and many others to glorify their G-d. We need to be vigilant, but we also need to put things into perspective.

THANK GOODNESS

Just because something bad might happen, doesn’t mean it will. Most of the time it doesn’t. Random acts of kindness are performed every day, and there are still genuinely kind and trustworthy people in this world who wish to help their fellow human beings out, no strings attached.

The voice-over community I am a part of is blessed with countless supportive Samaritans who are ready to assist you, whether you’re a veteran or a newcomer. They recommend colleagues to clients, and people get hired because of it every day. Including me. 

They critique each other’s demos and websites for free, they answer questions about rates, and they put their two cents in when asked about what audio equipment to buy. Just spend some time on Facebook and LinkedIn, read a few blogs, and you’ll pick up golden nuggets at no cost whatsoever.

Yet, I found out that free advice is not always welcomed and appreciated. Sometimes, it is treated with utmost suspicion. 

NO CRITICISM ALLOWED

The moderator of a particular voice-over Facebook group (which shall remain unnamed) made it clear that no one was allowed to be “negative” about cheap sites like Fiverr.com and VoiceBunny. “Everyone has to start somewhere,” was his reasoning, and “we should not discourage talent to sell their services on those types of websites.”

I am not going to repeat myself by telling you where I stand in terms of those sites. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know exactly how I feel. Here’s the thing, though. I sometimes see it as my mission to educate clients and colleagues. After all, I’ve been around the block a few times, and I have this strange illusion that some of my insights might be helpful. Especially to those who are just starting out.

So, when a member of this particular Facebook group made some comments about Fiverr, I couldn’t keep my big mouth shut. As it turned out, I wasn’t the only one. Soon, other experienced colleagues chimed in with valuable advice which was… not appreciated at all. It didn’t take long before the name calling began.

We were accused of being old-school, pretentious know-it-alls who did not understand where the new generation of voice talent was coming from. Perhaps we felt threatened by young talent? Is that why we told people to stay away from the bargain basement?

By the way, I got the same response to last week’s blog post entitled Voice-Over Newbies: You Have Been Warned, which was read over 10,000 times. “This was undoubtedly,” as someone put it, “my sad attempt to discourage the competition.” But let’s get back to the discussion about Fiverr.

TALKING TO A WALL

No matter how hard we tried to inject some logic and common sense into the heated exchange, people kept questioning our motives. They thought we just wanted to impress, or get some coaching clients out of the debate.

Then the moderator (who took part in the back-and-forth) had had enough. With the click of a mouse he removed the entire thread. That’s when I decided to remove myself from the group.

Closed minds make the worst students. 

Yet, I cannot put all the blame on the inexperienced, skeptical members of this group. When people regard you as an uninvited guest, it’s often better to stay under the radar, and I didn’t.

In my view, people are more open to advice from those they know and trust. I did not really know the people I was talking to, and they clearly didn’t trust me. There was no rapport, and that was mistake number one.

EXPOSING IGNORANCE

Secondly, people don’t like it when their ignorance is publicly exposed. They feel humiliated, and become defensive. Perhaps I had advocated my point of view as THE truth, which is never a good thing. Many roads lead to Rome. Some are just a bit longer than others. People need to learn from their mistakes, so, who am I to deny them a significant aha moment?

The thing is: opinions can be discarded. Life experience is harder to refute. 

Instead of blasting the Facebook group with my “wisdom,” I could have asked: “May I give a suggestion?” Putting it that way tends to removes resistance. 

Third, when people make an investment (e.g. in my services as a coach), they’re usually more invested in what is offered. For instance, I can tell one person something, and they respond with “Whatever.” I can say the same thing to a student, and they tell me it’s the best suggestion ever. Go figure!

The last piece of advice I would give myself is this: 

Don’t waste your time giving eye-openers to people who are willfully blind.

Too many beginners don’t know what they don’t know, and when a horse isn’t thirsty, you can’t get it to drink.

And by the way…

Whenever I see someone stranded by the side of the road, I still feel inclined to pull over and help.

I must be a very naïve and strange person!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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photo credit: Day 5, Ape Can’t Trust Man via photopin (license)

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Calling it Quits

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Money Matters 19 Comments

There.

He said it.

And I happen to agree with him.

My agent Erik has a YouTube Channel every voice talent should watch and subscribe to. It’s called The Outspoken. Erik uses this channel to answer questions, and to expose all the BS that’s going on in the voice-over world. Let me tell you: he’s got his job cut out for him!

A week or so ago, Erik posted a video with no-nonsense advice for voice-over newbies and coaches. To coaches he had this to say:

“I feel it’s irresponsible in today’s market to bring in and encourage new talent.”

And for newbies he dropped this bombshell:

“Your chances of making it big are close to… nil.”

That’s not the message most people want to hear, and yet they have to hear it again and again until it sinks into their stubborn skulls. And if you don’t take Erik’s word for it, listen to what one of your colleagues had to say. He just wrote me this email:

“Paul, I know that you’re a good source for the up and up on voiceovers and was just wondering: are voiceover actors getting obsolete? I have been doing this for well over nine years now; had my ups and downs, but lately it’s been on the downside. I was used to making thousands of dollars on the side doing this, but now it’s virtually nothing, so now I’m trying to reignite my IT career once again. It’s not something that I really like, but I do have a degree in it. I like doing voiceovers a lot more, but it is very slim pickens now. Just wondering if you knew anything going on in the voiceover industry that might be happening with voice talent.”

Well, a lot is happening, and it ain’t all good.

So many talented, hard-working people are having a tough time right now. Don’t think we’re the only group of flex workers that has trouble in this fickle gig economy, though. Freelance photographers, graphic designers, copywriters, event planners, fitness trainers, independent music teachers, -even therapists in private practice are struggling to find clients, and make ends meet. Some of them are ready to pull the plug. The question is:

How do you know it is time to hang up your hat?

Different people have different reasons. For some it’s purely financial. Others have trouble keeping up with the changing nature of their business. So, what are some of the reasons for wanting or needing to call it quits?

Here’s a quick checklist:

You’re not booking enough jobs, and you’re running out of money.

You have no bites on Pay-to-Plays, and agents aren’t interested.

You don’t know how to distinguish yourself from the rest of the pack.

You can’t afford to invest in quality equipment and/or coaching, and you have no money to outsource the things you hate doing.

You find it tough to market yourself, and to sell your services. 

You have a hard time motivating yourself. You’re bored doing the same thing over and over again. There’s no challenge, and no room to grow, 

You’re stressed out by the uncertainty that comes with so-called freelance freedom.

You can’t organize or prioritize.

You need a lot of hand-holding and spoon-feeding.

You’re feeling isolated and lonely. You miss daily, in-person interaction with colleagues.

You want to leave your work at work, but you can’t keep your personal life separate from your professional life, and your family is suffering.

You’re working too much for too little. 

You want it all, and you want it NOW, but after three years things are not improving. 

You long for a job with regular hours & benefits, and a predictable income.

Here’s my rule of thumb. If you’ve checked off at least five boxes, you have some serious soul-searching to do. No one is forcing you to make this voice-over thing happen. But you’re the boss, and it’s up to you how long you want to keep going at it.

FACE THE FACTS

If I’m totally honest, I believe that some seventy to eighty percent of people calling themselves voice-over talent have no business being in this business. They’re not cut out for it. They have very few skills, and almost no talent. Their chances of making it big are close to nil. All they can do is compete on price, which will be their downfall.

Now, listen. If you’re part of this group, that doesn’t mean you’re a hopeless, horrible human being. You probably have other talents in other areas. As I said in my article 5 Reasons Why You Should Never Become a Voice-Over…

“We have enough people talking into microphones. What this world needs is less talk and more action. We need teachers, doctors, nurses, and scientists. We need experts in conflict resolution, people who know how to fight global warming, and first responders to natural disasters.

If you want to make a real difference on this planet, don’t hide behind soundproof walls selling stuff no one needs. Get out there and start helping the poor, the homeless, and the ones without a voice. They need you more than Disney does.”

UNKIND WORDS

You may think that this sounds harsh, and that it doesn’t apply to you. After all, I don’t know you, and I don’t care about you. Well, that’s not necessarily so. I know too many naive hopefuls like you, who are being ripped off by unscrupulous characters and companies selling them a pipe dream that will never come true. I really don’t want you to fall for those expensive schemes. And get this…

If even pros with years of experience and an impressive portfolio have trouble booking jobs these days, you need to bring something very special to the table if you wish to compete at the highest level. You need to have a comfortable cash cushion to survive the first few years, and you must be strong and determined enough to withstand massive rejection.

If that’s you, then by all means: GO FOR IT! Prove Erik and me wrong!

You’ll become part of a select, supportive community of go-getters, risk takers, fast learners, and people who are sillier than the characters they’re paid to play. All of them have this in common:

At one point in their lives they made one of the most important decisions that propelled them to where they are now.

They decided to quit quitting.

If that’s something you know deep down you can do, you better fasten your seatbelt.

It’s going to be a crazy ride!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Should You Neutralize Your Accent?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career 15 Comments

©Paul Strikwerda“Voice-seekers are idiots. 

Well… some of them,” said one of my colleagues, known for her strong opinions. 

“Why is that?” I asked. 

“Because they ask for the impossible, especially when it comes to accents.” Her argument went like this…

Take your typical voice-over job listing:

Project: Short Video
Language: English
Gender: Both
Age: Middle Aged
Budget: Embarrassingly low (but it’s great experience!)

Here’s the 64,000 dollar question. Based on this description…

Should you take a few moments of your valuable time to record a demo?

If the answer is YES, what’s going to be your approach? How do you know what the client will be listening for? What exactly does she need to hear to hire you?

Here’s the honest answer:

YOU HAVE NO CLUE!

It’s the story of a man walking into a bar asking for “a drink.” The bartender randomly selects a bottle and pours a trendy macaroon-infused vodka. After one disgusting sip the man turns to the barman and says: “That’s not what I wanted!” The bartender responds: “How was I supposed to know? You could have been a bit more specific!”

The barman has a point. So, let’s see if we can be more precise in our imaginary job description by adding one word:

Language: English (British)

That’s a big help, isn’t it? The voice-seeker simply wants a UK-accent.

But not too fast…is there such a thing as a “British accent“?

As you know, the United Kingdom consists of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Even though there’s a great degree of uniformity when it comes to written British English within the UK, when a Scotsman from Aberdeen and a Cockney from London open their mouths, they sound like they’re from a different planet. Some might argue they actually are. Bottom line: a uniform “British accent” is as real as the Loch Ness Monster.

BBC

To get a better idea of the variety of British inflections, the BBC captured 1,200 voices of the United Kingdom, Channel Islands, and the Isle of Man, and made them available online.

All you had to do is click on a dot on the map, and it would take you to an audio clip of a regional speaker. Get this: some of the clips had to be subtitled! Even seasoned BBC listeners couldn’t always understand some of their fellow countrymen and women.

Unfortunately, this resource is no longer available. 

HER MAJESTY

But what about RP, you might ask. RP or Received Pronunciation is sometimes called “The Queen’s English” or BBC English. It is estimated that only 2 percent of UK citizens speak a pure form of RP.

Recordings show that even Queen Elizabeth has changed her accent over the past 50 years, and the BBC has long abandoned the policy of only hiring people for their posh pronunciation. Instead, you’ll find a wide range of accents at the Beeb, and these days, a mock 1950’s BBC accent is only used in comedy.

Voice-seekers wake up!

BBC English died a long time ago. You probably aren’t even looking for a British accent, but for a stereotype. A cliché. And if that’s not what you want, you need to be much more specific. John Cleese, Ricky Gervais, Russel Brand, and Sir Ian McKellen all have UK accents. But do they sound the same? To quote Monty Python: “Say no more!”

THE NEW WORLD

An estimated two thirds of all native English speakers live in the United States. The English spoken on the streets of Miami is remarkably different from the accents you’ll hear in the Deep South or in Vancouver.

Many of the nation’s newscasters tend to speak GA (General American) or ABE (American Broadcast English). Television journalist Linda Ellerbee, who worked hard to eliminate a Texas accent, said: “in television you are not supposed to sound like you’re from anywhere”.

So, is that what voice-seekers want when they ask for a North American accent?  Shall we pretend that we came out of nowhere and sound as neutral as the taste of tap water?

Should we, like Linda Ellerbee, lose our Southern twang and work hard to sound just like the Cronkites, the Lauers, and the Courics? Will that land us the job? Or should we look at our accent as an asset; something that distinguishes us from the rest of the pack?

Here’s the thing: why sound like everyone else? Why not bring some color to the grey masses? Geico’s gecko doesn’t speak ABE. And what about that “fabulous” Orbit chewing gum girl? These actors didn’t get the gig because they went for “neutral.”

Voice-seekers, please listen to me: you don’t want to have to weed through hours of auditions, but you have to help us out here. Tell us what you want in as much detail as possible. If you want us to sing it, you need to bring it. If you don’t give us a clear idea of the destination, how are we supposed to get there?

GOING NEUTRAL

Here’s by far the worst thing you could ever throw at us:

Language: English (neutral)

Who came up with that brilliant idea? What does “neutral” sound like? It’s like asking Bobby Flay to cook a flavorless meal. Can you imagine a casting director asking Kevin Spacey who is auditioning for a role, to play the part without personality? Would snowboarder Shaun White enjoy such worldwide appeal, had he chosen to stay Mr. Plain and boring?

It boils down to this.

An accent is a way of pronouncing a language. It is therefore impossible to speak without an accent. No one is neutral. And I’ll tell you something else: voice seekers are starting to realize that their voice of choice could have a dramatic impact on the conversion rate of their website. Here’s where it gets really interesting for people like you and me!

Ginger software makes a contextual grammar and spelling checker that enables writers to produce error-free texts. It’s geared toward people for whom English is a second language. Ginger asked video optimization firm EyeView to develop an introductory video for their homepage to increase the conversion of this page for visitors.

The conversion goal for the page was for visitors to click the Free Download button. EyeView had a choice to make. Would they go with a British narrator, or with an American talent? Would it even make a difference? What do you think?

THE EXPERIMENT

EyeView decided to run a test:  50% of the global audience saw the video with a British voice-over, and 50% saw it with the voice-over performed with an American accent. The result: globally, the British voice-over was 4% more effective at converting visitors into downloaders. The Catholic Church would be thrilled with this rate of conversion! But wait… there’s more! EyeView:

“For US audiences, the conversion rate for the British accent was 5.5% higher than the American one – above the global average. In Canada, the British accent still outperformed the American, but by a mere 1.5%.

Irish viewers watching the British version converted 12% more often than those hearing an American voice while the response of the Australians was even more extreme. Viewers “down under” converted 32% more often when pitched with Pommy tones than with an American twang.”

Only in the UK and India, the American voice-over outperformed her British counterpart. So much for “neutral”. And so far, Ginger has seen a 15% increase in the number of people downloading their software.

The next time you wonder whether or not you should do that voice-over job for $125, think of the tremendous impact your voice can have on the sales of a business. In these times of economic woes, an increase of 15% is a CEO’s dream. That’s surely worth more than a symbolic fee.

NYTimes bestselling author Bryan Eisenberg is an authority and pioneer in online marketing and improving online conversion rates. He was the key note speaker at the Search Engine Strategies Expo in London, a few years ago. His talk was called: “21 Secrets of Top Converting Websites. In his speech, the EyeView experiment was on the top of his list.

MY SECRET

When people ask me about my personal voice-over ‘secret,’ this is what I tell them:

Even though it’s fun to do all kinds of accents and characters, nine out of ten times clients hire me because I sound like me, and not like someone else.

That signature sound is a combination of my upbringing, my education, my travels, and my love for music and languages. My accent is the result of time spent living and working in the Netherlands, England, Israel, and the United States. It’s a blend of my biology and my biography. I can honestly say that I do my best work as soon as I stop pretending to be someone I’m not.

Allow me to accentuate one last thing.

Being me has one big advantage:

I have very little competition!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet: please subscribe & retweet!

THE EXPERIMENT
EyeView decided
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Competitions Are Not My Thing, And Yet They Are

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, International, Internet, Journalism & Media, Promotion 14 Comments

A Tale of Kat and Dog, A Holland Cool MovieCompetitions and Awards.

If you’ve been following this blog for a few years, you know I feel rather ambivalent about those things.

When I expressed my opinion about the Voice Arts™ Awards a few years ago, people took it personally. In the aftermath of the article, I received some very nasty emails, and quite a few colleagues unfriended me.

All of us survived the turmoil, and it appears the Voice Arts™ Awards are here to stay. Once again, colleagues will pay a non-refundable entry fee of up to $150 per entry to nominate themselves ($199 if you’re a company) in different categories.

Just so you know, all submissions become the property of SOVAS™, “to be used at its discretion, for the production of the ceremony.” SOVAS™ is the Society of Voice Arts and Sciences™.

If a category attracts fewer than four entries, “the organizer reserves the right to withdraw that category from the competition.” The participating entrant “will receive a credit towards future entry fees. No cash refund will be given.”

PAYING FOR YOUR PRIZE

If you’re thinking of entering any type of competition, you need to consider at least three things:

– Is the entry fee proportionate to the prize?

– Is the cost of entering worth the odds? 

– Does the prize give a credit worth having? 

Let’s start with the numbers. Winners of a Voice Arts™ Award can order an Award Certificate for $43, an Award Plaque Certificate for $160, and an Award statue for $346 (amounts include a handling fee, but there’s no mention of shipping costs).

Let’s say you’re competing with two entries, and you win. If you go for the statues, you’ll spend almost $1,000 ($150 + $150 + $346 + $346), plus food, lodging, and transportation. You may even lose some money because you’re not available to work while going to the ceremony. 

Ask yourself: Is that money well-spent, or would it be better for your business to use these funds to have someone design a new website? You could also spend it on coaching, on demo production, or on a marketing campaign. Would that ultimately give you a better return on investment?

IN THE SPOTLIGHT

To be fair, organizing these awards takes time and costs money. Sponsors can only cover so much. Yet, I don’t think a voice actor’s wealth should be an arbiter of talent. Why, then, must it function as a barrier? Why not lower the entry fees, and offer prizes people don’t have to pay for themselves, such as gear, representation, and coaching sessions?

I don’t think a voice actor’s wealth should be an arbiter of talent. Why, then, must it function as a barrier?

Now, the organizers hope to convince you that there’s more to winning than a walnut wood plaque, or a shiny statue. Your extraordinary talent will be publicly recognized in a business that’s built on invisible voices. 

The question is: Do we really need a competition to get recognition?

Some people who know our industry really well, feel we do. It’s not enough to be outstanding. You need to stand out. And if there’s no podium, why not create one? Whether you like competitions or not, it’s a given that winning a prestigious prize has never hurt a career. Others say that real stars don’t need a spotlight to shine. 

Here’s what I would like to know: will short-term recognition have a long-lasting effect? Could it increase someone’s market value? And who’s paying attention? Are we just throwing a party for ourselves, or will these awards generate publicity outside of what I call the babble bubble?

I’m not going to answer these questions for you, by the way. It’s your money, and I won’t tell you how to spend it. What I will tell you is this:

I’M A WINNER!

Much to my surprise, two projects I voiced were recently nominated for an award. Full disclosure: I didn’t submit myself, and I did not pay an entry fee. The only plaque I get, will be removed by a dental hygienist. 

A documentary I was part of, received the Audience Choice Award at the French Télé-Loisirs Web Program Festival in March. It’s a project for the European Space Agency, in which I play the role of an astronaut, documenting his life aboard a space station. Be sure to click on the English flag to hear my version: http://cnes-xch.lesitevideo.net/enmicropesanteur/

Then this message appeared on my Facebook timeline:

A Webby Award is an award for excellence on the Internet, presented annually by The International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences (IADAS). That’s a judging body composed of over two thousand industry experts and innovators. The New York Times called the awards “The Internet’s highest honor.”

Two winners are selected in each category, one by IADAS members, and one by the public who cast their votes during Webby People’s Voice voting. Last year, the Webby Awards received over 13,000 entries from more than 65 countries.

The nominated video I’m featured in is called A Tale of Kat and Dog, A Holland Cool Movie. Thanks to the Edge Studio, I was cast to be the voice of a rather charming dog who takes the viewer on a whirlwind tour of Amsterdam, while chasing after a ball. There’s also a bit of romance in the air!

This 17-minute movie presented by the Holland Marketing Alliance, is up against companies like Squarespace, BMW, Samsung, and Nike. In May we’ll find out if the experts picked it as the winner, but the public has until Thursday, April 20th to vote online. If you’d like to take part in that process, click on this link.

Of course I’d be thrilled if you would show your support for The Tale of Kat and Dog, but don’t do it because you know me. Take a look at the five entries, and vote for the one you believe to be the best.

THE FINAL WORD

Meanwhile, I have a couple of auditions waiting for me. Those auditions are really mini-competitions we take part in every day. And who knows… one of them might lead to a project that turns out to be a prize-winning entry. But that can never be the goal. Just a nice bonus. 

I’ve said it before: I’m in this business for the music. Not for the applause, although I have to admit that every once in a while it is nice to hear: “Job well done!”

Will winning a Webby change my mind about competitions?

Will it catapult my modest career into the voice-over stratosphere? 

This is the only answer I can honestly give you:

“My jury is still out on that one!”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please subscribe & retweet!

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