Nethervoice

A Deal With The Devil

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play 28 Comments

Thanks a lot VoiceBank. You just made a deal with the devil.

Yes, you desperately needed a facelift, and you needed more money to up your services. Your auditions had turned into cattle calls. But we trusted you. Our agents trusted you. And now you’ve betrayed us in the worst way by jumping into bed with the Ciccarelli’s

Selling VoiceBank wasn’t really “selling.” It was selling out.

Don’t tell me you didn’t know what you were doing. You knew about their business model, screwing talent at every corner, cheapening our noble profession. But you were horny for money, and you took whatever you could get. And thanks to the kind folks at Morgan Stanley Expansion Capital, I’m sure you got a pretty sum. 

By taking the cash, you have shown your true nature, VoiceBank. Likes attract. You even admitted it in the press release:

“From early meetings,” said VoiceBank CEO Jeff Hixon, “it was clear to me that our companies had much in common, including a similar vision for the future.”

And what might that future be?

* Strengthening an unethical, greedy middle man who charges a hefty membership fee (which will probably increase), and takes a 40 – 50% “management fee”?

* Bypassing agents who negotiate fair terms & fees for the talent they represent? Putting them out of business, perhaps?

* Turning more and more union jobs into non-union jobs?

* Speeding up the race to the bottom?

* Turning unique voice talent into a commodity?

Hixon continued:

“(…) this relationship with Voices.com will be an invaluable benefit for both Voicebank.net and our customers.”

One category is clearly missing in this statement, and it is telling. Hixon forgot to mention voice talent. You know, the people who put the “voices” in VoiceBank and voices dot com (VDC). These voices are outraged, stunned, and disgusted. They also know that one can do a lot with 18 million dollars of Morgan Stanley money, but one cannot buy quality or integrity. 

As a result of this acquisition, a hungry, hopeful mob of cheap, amateur talent will be released to clients and casting directors. Let’s see how much time a busy voice booker is willing to spend, listening to a never-ending stream of VDC crap auditions. Casting directors have already been bypassing VoiceBank, counting on agents to find the right voices. That’s not going to change now that the Canadians are in charge. 

Let’s see how many agents will cut their ties with VoiceBank, and double their efforts to make the most of their network of connections. Here’s the thing: the value of VoiceBank lies in the agencies and their roster. Take away the agencies, and you take away the value of the acquisition. The exodus has already begun. 

Let’s find out what SAG-AFTRA’s response will be. They’re already talking about it. Perhaps this is their chance to show the voice acting community that -at last- it is taken seriously.

What can you as voice-over do? Talk to your agent(s), and express your concerns and your support. Tell them you don’t want to have anything to do with the new and deteriorated VoiceBank. Ask them to pull out, and move on. If you subscribe to the weekly workouts, call to cancel, and tell VoiceBank why. Donate the money you save to WoVo and GVAA.

If you still have a profile on voices dot com (whether it’s free or not), ask to be removed immediately. If you seek a solution, you can’t be part of the problem. As long as you keep investing in a company that does not have your best interest at heart, you keep that company in business. It’s that simple.

The bottom line is this:

Voices dot com may now own VoiceBank.net, but it does not own you or me.

As voice talent, we cannot control companies, clients, or colleagues. We can only control ourselves. I left VDC a long time ago, and I survived. I have never landed a job through VoiceBank, and I’m still here. I have quite a few amazing agents, but if I had to rely on them to make a living, I’d be out on the street.

At the end of the day, I am my best agent. No one will do more to further my career than the guy who stares back at me in the mirror. I know I don’t control the winds of change, but I know how to adjust my sales. And no, that’s not a typo.

Out in my neighborhood I just walked passed a majestic sunflower. It had taken months to grow from a small seed into a radiant explosion of yellow. But today, something had changed. 

The giant flower became top-heavy; too full of itself, and now it is bending its small neck toward the ground.

It became a victim of its own weight.

In a day or two, it will all be over.  

You can bank on that!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Who’s Afraid Of Decent Rates?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Freelancing, International, Internet, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play 32 Comments

AfraidNewsflash!

The great rate debate is still going strong.

I’ve been writing about the erosion of voice-over rates for years, and every day, clients and colleagues are arguing privately and publicly about the value of our voices.

One thing is certain: that value keeps going down. Talk is getting cheaper and cheaper.

What’s going on?

Let’s begin with our clients. It’s so easy to blame clients for this downward trend, because they’re the ones paying us. However, I think it’s time to cut them some slack. So many of them are small players in a big, international market. Because that market is unregulated, and there are no universal prices, they have a hard time figuring out how much they can expect to pay for our services. That’s not really their fault.

A majority of voice-overs do not list their rates, hoping clients will contact them and ask for a quote. Those quotes may differ greatly because we need to take so many variables into account, and frankly, many of us don’t always know what to charge. Go to a VO Facebook group on any given day, and you’ll find someone asking for advice on price.

TURNING A PROFIT

Because I run my own business, I completely understand that my clients want to keep their costs low, and their revenue up. If you can get great service at a great price, why pay a penny more? I also understand that there’s a link between what you pay and what you get, no matter what industry you’re in. It’s foolish to expect top quality at a bargain-basement price, unless you’re benefitting from a liquidation sale.

These days, everyone’s online, and that complicates matters. It may seem that we’re all operating on a level playing field (the world wide web), which is not the case. It is anything but level, but try explaining that to an imaginary photographer in Latvia, who needs a few English voices for a website he’s launching. He’s offering $20 for 5 minutes of VO, which he believes is perfectly reasonable because he’s hired local talent at that price. He wants to know:

Why should I pay $250 for a 5-minute voice-over, if Olga in Riga is willing to do it for $20?

I told him: “Your job posting tells me that you’re looking for voice-overs with an authentic British accent. If Olga can pull that off, why not hire her? The reason you’re posting your job overseas is that ’20-dollar Olga’ has no idea what she’s doing. Her accent is clearly from Latvia, and not from London. And because it’s cold in the Baltics, she’s probably using a Snowball microphone, guaranteed to give that crap amateur sound the Fiverr crowd is so proud of. You pay for professionalism, or lack thereof.”

The photographer responds:

I understand that it might be hard for me to find a native British voice-over in my neck of the woods, but that still doesn’t explain the huge difference in rates. $250 for five minutes? I think people are just greedy.

I said: “Location makes a big difference. Let me give you an example. Why does a Big Mac cost $7.80 in Norway, and only $1.62 in India? Why doesn’t McDonalds charge the same price for the same product, regardless of the location? Because the price of a Big Mac is a reflection of its local production and delivery cost, the cost of advertising, and what the local market will bear.

The cost of living is much higher in Norway, and consequently, people make more. According to the CIA, the 2016 per capita income in Norway was $69,300 and in India it was $6,700. If I were a Norwegian voice-over artist and I would charge Indian prices, I wouldn’t be able to make a living. That has nothing to do with greed.

As a freelancer, you have to price for profit wherever you’re located, because that’s where you’re buying your Big Mac. It’s where you pay your bills, and your taxes. That’s why a UK talent charges more than someone in Latvia, or in India.

ONGOING ADDED VALUE

And let’s remember that a voice-over is not some hamburger you order at the drive-through. Every Big Mac should pretty much taste the same, no matter where you order it. It’s generic. Once it has been consumed, it has served its purpose.

Every voice is unique, and every voice-over artist brings special talents and experience to the table. Once recorded, that commercial, trailer, or eLearning course can be played again and again, adding value every time someone’s listening. That’s worth something. 

Last but not least, just because you’re paying $250, doesn’t mean the voice-over always gets $250. Some online casting companies like Canada-based voices dot com, pocket a considerable amount without telling you or the talent. If you want to talk about greed, talk about that!”

THE TROUBLE WITH COLLEAGUES

The Latvian photographer still doesn’t understand why he can’t hire a UK talent for $20. However, in my experience it’s much easier to talk sense into some clients, than to reason with certain colleagues (and I use the term colleagues loosely, because they’re acting anything but collegial). Most of my clients know how to run a for-profit business, but so many ‘colleagues’ seem to be clueless. They don’t know the difference between “selling,” and “selling out.”

Every time the issue of reasonable rates comes up, there are always voices saying:

“Who are you to tell me what I should charge? It’s a free country, and I can charge whatever I want!”

Yes, and I can sell my Subaru Outback any time for $300, but does that make any sense whatsoever? Why should I settle for a handout if the market value of my car is at least $3,000? How stupid do I have to be to practically give my car away to the lowest bidder?

By the way, this whole free country argument is a load of bull, used by imbeciles to defend all kinds of idiotic practices. Here’s the thing:

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you must, or that it’s wise. 

“But who cares if I sell my voice for five bucks? Mind your own business! I’m not telling you what to charge. My bottom line doesn’t affect yours.”

Is that really so? What would happen if half of all car owners would decide to sell their vehicles way below value? Tell me that has zero impact on the used car market!

If what’s happening at the bottom of the VO-market does not affect the rest, why aren’t voice-over fees at least keeping up with the rate of inflation? Why are rates across the board in a steady decline?

WE NEED EACH OTHER

In the grand scheme of things you may feel insignificant, and believe that your choices only influence your bottom line. But hundreds of these individual choices send a message, and thousands create a trend clever clients have picked up on. 

To put it differently: if you really believe that one, individual decision has no impact on the overall outcome, then there’s no reason to live in a democracy. You might as well move to North-Korea. But since you’re still here, and (I hope) you vote, you must believe that you can make a difference.

Your choice of what to charge makes a difference. It impacts our professional community, and the families that depend on it. 

You can either cheapen our profession and our community, or enrich it. You can build it up, or tear it down.

You can price like a predator, or like a professional. 

Or are you afraid to charge a decent rate? Are you afraid the client will reject you?

Are you not convinced that what you have to offer can command a fair price?

If that’s the case, here’s a suggestion: perhaps you should find another job.

A certain Pay to Play call center in Canada might be hiring very soon.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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PPS Below you’ll find links to some of the other articles I’ve written about rates and pricing

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My Worst Client Ever

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing 7 Comments

Nixon and ElvisElvis is alive!

How do I know?

Well, he lives in France, and he used to be my client.

Until I fired him.

You see, this French Elvis was a bad boy. Probably my worst client ever. He used to give me these scripts with way too much text, and not enough time to fit all the words in. Then he complained that I sounded rushed.

Elvis was one of those people who thought they had me on retainer. He would call me any day of the week at any hour, forgetting about the time difference between his part of the world and mine. Did he really forget, or did he just not care?

He always wanted things yesterday, and would pay whenever he felt like it. Most of the time he didn’t feel like it, and I’d have to remind him of the reminders I’d sent him. Then he got angry and said I should stop harassing him. I was the one who was causing problems, n’est pas?

Right before he needed me for another lousy project, he’d make a payment, and play all nice again with that silly accent of his.

He was one of those annoying guys who loved the expression “my friend” as in:

“Paul, my friend, you will do this for me, right?”

“My friend, I have lots of projects for you, so you give me a good price, no?”

After I had given him a discount and handed in my first recording, I would not hear from him for a year. Then he’d call me up in the middle of the night with an urgent job, trying to pull the same stunt.

Elvis, you two-faced Frenchman, you were never my friend, and you never will be. You’ve sucked up so much of my time and energy, and I hated every minute of it. While I was too busy dealing with your cheap antics, I could have worked for good clients at a great rate. Why did I put up with you for so long? Why did I allow you to push my buttons?

The easy answer is that I’m too trusting. I believe that most people are essentially good, and well-intentioned. I also believed that if I treated people nicely, they would return the favor.

Yeah. Right.

The truth is that there are too many Elvises in this world, who can’t wait to take advantage of the naïve, the newbies, and the pushovers. They are a minority, but they always spoil it for the rest of us. Because of them, we need rules, regulations, and a spine made of steel.

People like Elvis will treat you like a servant, and not as an equal partner working on the same project.

They think everything you do is easy, and can be done quickly, and -most importantly- cheaply.

Instead of paying you extra for extra work, they expect you to record those five script changes for free. And should you push back, they respond:

“I totally get where you’re coming from, but can’t you make an exception for me? It will never happen again. I promise.”

Beware of a promise from an Elvis! It’s just as disingenuous as the words “Trust me,” or “Don’t worry.” When some bad guy on TV utters these words, you know there’s trouble on the way, don’t you? Trust me!

Some Elvises have mastered the art of giving vague instructions. Left at your own devices, you start guessing what the desired tone and tempo of the voice-over read might be, and you press record.

Later that day, the Elvis gets back to you telling you everything you did wrong, and how could you be so dumb and inexperienced? You really should have done it this way, or that way…. A real professional would have known!

Apparently, real professionals can read minds!

The thing is: you can’t give clients what they want if they don’t tell you what it is. Countless marriages fall apart over this principle, and so do professional relationships.

Other Elvises are essentially micro-managing know-it-alls, who know very little. The more they get involved, the more time it will take you to finish the project. “Just let me do my job, and I’ll let you do yours,” you think. But no, they’ve got to be in control of every stinkin’ detail, driving you crazy with their calls and emails.

Some Elvises are accomplished liars. They hire you to do a voice-over “for internal use only.” Before you know it, it’s all over the web, and when you try to get a hold of them to ask for more money, they’re MIA, laughing all the way to the bank. Meanwhile, your colleagues show little sympathy, because you should have joined the Union, as they have told you a million times.

Thanks a bunch, fellows!

While it may hurt, there is some truth to what they’re saying. They are telling you the same thing your parents told you when discussing the birds and the bees:

“When you’re ready to do it, make sure you have protection.”

Nobody forces you to be in bed with a bad client. Nobody will make you work without a written contract or a down payment. No one says you have to take the abuse, and dance when the client says “Dance!”

It’s one of the advantages of being your own boss. There are no more mediocre managers or power-hungry executives who tell you what to do.

You’re on your own, and you decide what you will or will not tolerate.

So, do yourself a huge favor. Leave all those disorganized, penny-pinching, impossible to please, disrespectful, I’ll pay you whenever, lying Elvises for what they are.

Better still: Send them to Fiverr and VoiceBunny (and a whole bunch of other predatory voice casting sites I won’t name).

Let them deal with the Elvises of this world. Likes attract, so maybe they’ll get along.

As an attorney instructor once put it:

“The bad clients you don’t take, will be the best money you never made.”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS After reading this story, French colleagues told me Elvis declared bankruptcy, and his website has been suspended. You know what they say about karma, don’t you? Unfortunately, there are still people who never got paid. 

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What Are You Waiting For?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing 6 Comments

A big break? 

A small miracle?

Are you waiting for that one person to tell you you’re the best, and you should really do this?

It’s the daily drama of the wannabe freelancer. Lots of good intentions. Hopes and dreams galore. Always looking for the key that magically opens all doors. 

And when those doors remain closed, be ready for the surprise, the indignation, and the excuses:

“They told me I had talent!”

“They said there would be lots of opportunities.”

“I’m just a beginner. You can’t expect me to know all these things.”

Every new job has a learning curve. That’s a given. But advertising yourself as a pro elicits expectations. Clients expect you to have professional equipment. Clients trust that you have the basic skills to do the job you just bid on. Is that too much to ask?

Yes, there are lots of opportunities, and lots of people are going after those opportunities. People with more experience, better gear, and a better understanding of how things work in this business. They are your competition. Can you compete on more than price?

I have no doubt that you are talented. But talent is nothing but potential. A diamond in the rough looks quite ugly, and needs serious cutting and polishing before it can be sold. Do you have the time, the means, and the patience to listen, learn, and improve?

Do you have enough drive, or do you like to be driven?

You see, this is not a superficial thing. To get to most diamonds, you need to dig deep. Diamonds don’t polish themselves, and doors don’t magically open. Only saints can claim small miracles, and that big break is highly overrated. Some wannabe’s go broke, waiting for that break.

Intentions, hopes, and dreams are figments of the imagination. Clearly defined goals, a solid education, and a willingness to work harder than anyone else, are not. 

Here’s the real rub.

If you are waiting for someone or something, you’re doing it wrong. 

The key to being successfully self-employed lies in taking massive, positive action. Not because someone told you to. Not because you felt forced. 

You get out of bed because you have this burning desire to accomplish something meaningful, whatever it may be. 

Step by step.

Day by day.

So, stop whining. 

Stop waiting.

Start creating.

Your life.

Now. 

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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How To Attract and Keep New Clients

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Book, Career, Freelancing, Promotion 2 Comments

The SuperfreelancerOkay, I admit it.

I sometimes get annoyed by colleagues tooting their own horn really loud.

We may be living in the “Age of ME,” but it’s painful to see beginners and more experienced talent trying to construct some kind of image that’s supposed to persuade clients to hire them. Here’s the problem:

Too many freelancers are too focused on themselves, and it is costing them business.

The way I see it, successful solopreneurs have one job, and one job only: To be a Superhero.

A superhero doesn’t think about him- or herself. A superhero answers a call of someone in need, and uses special powers to save the day. Once the job is done, the hero leaves the scene to tackle another problem.

Now, the very best superheroes have at least one thing in common: they know when they are needed. Here’s what I want to know: How do they figure that out?

That’s a great question, and every sales person who has ever lived has asked that question many times. In order to answer that question, we have to take a step back, and answer another question: What motivates people to buy things?

Even though you and I are likely to have different clients with different needs, there are three factors that always play a role in every purchase decision. You might be selling a service or a product. It doesn’t matter. All buyers are influenced by the same three things:

Price, Benefits, and Perceptions

The price is what the customer pays in exchange for benefits received. It’s something your client has to give up in order to get something from you. Ideally, those benefits should outweigh or at least equal the cost.

Benefits are the positive effects derived from using your solution or service. It’s the pleasure people experience after getting rid of their inner emptiness, frustration, or pain.

Smart sales people sell benefits. Stupid sales people slash prices. Any idiot can close a sale by cutting the price (and go broke in the process). It takes brains to sell benefits.

Perceptions are the result of how people evaluate the benefits and price, the (initial) impression they get from your business, as well as the total experience of using your product or service.

In the end, perceptions matter most. Allow me to demonstrate.

EVALUATING VALUE

Let’s assume you’ve studied the market and you decide to charge $250 per hour for your services. Is that too much or not enough? Does it even matter what you think?

Client A will never hire you because she thinks you’re too cheap, and cheap equals crap. Client B will hire someone else because she thinks you’re overpriced. Client C will happily hire you because she believes your price is just right.

Your fee is just a number in a certain context. It is always evaluated in relation to something else. That “something else” is a matter of interpretation or perception.

People do things for their reasons. Not for yours. Get this:

An anonymous donor paid $3.5 million at a charity auction to have lunch with Warren Buffet, one of the richest men in the world. Is that too much for a few hours of conversation and a meal?

Hedge fund manager Ted Weschler spent about $5.3 million to win both the 2010 and 2011 auctions. To him, it was money well spent. Buffet ended up hiring him to manage an investment portfolio.

Perceptions are personal value judgments, and therefore highly subjective. This begs the question:

Can perceptions be influenced? Can we manipulate a client into buying from us?

Even though I believe that lasting change comes from within and cannot be forced upon someone, the fact is: people are impressionable. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be as open to social proof, and all advertising would be totally irrelevant.

Years of being a solopreneur have taught me that there are things you can do to get an interested client in your corner, as long as you play your cards right.

Here’s what I have learned:

1. First impressions are crucial

We all know that we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but psychologists will tell you that it takes us only a few seconds to form an opinion of someone or something. That’s why companies spend billions on packaging, and people spend millions on make-up, clothing, and cosmetic surgery.

If you can’t pique a consumer’s interest or instill a level of trust right from the start, he or she will move on to whatever catches the eye next. So, ask yourself:

What is the very first thing new customers see or experience when they stumble upon my product or service? Is it the landing page of my website? Is it a cover of a book or a brochure? Is it… me?

This first impression is the all-important hook. It sets the tone and tells prospective clients enough about your level of professionalism and style, or lack thereof. If anything, this is where you should spend most of your marketing money. To do it right…

2. Your message needs to be clear, convincing, congruent, and consistent

If you want to play the part, you have to dress the part, and embody the part. That might seem obvious, yet, so many business owners undermine their own credibility by sending out conflicting signals. A few examples:

A translation and proofreading service emailed me: “Your welcome to visit our website.” When I pointed this out to them, they blamed this slip of the pen on the intern.

If you don’t proofread your own material, why would my legal translation be safe in your hands?

The sign in the front yard said: “Quality lawn care at a price anyone can afford.” Meanwhile, weeds were growing everywhere, and most trees needed pruning.

The owner of the local health food store looked like she was terminally ill. She must be friends with that overweight director of the fitness center.

See what I mean? Actions speak louder than words. Remember the four Cs when you craft you core message. You have to be Clear, Convincing, Congruent, and Consistent.

3. You have to be responsive

What clients hate more than anything is to be ignored. It gives them the feeling that their business isn’t important to you, and you know what? I think they’re right. Time happens to be something we all have the same amount of. How we choose to spend that time, gives us an inside look into someone’s priorities and planning skills.

I’ve walked out of a fancy restaurant because the wait staff couldn’t be bothered to serve my table in a timely way. I don’t care if you’re known for the best food in town. If your service sucks, you’re screwed.

I read on your website’s Contact page that you’ll get back to me within 24 hours. I sent you a message three days ago and I have yet to hear from you. What other promises aren’t you going to keep? My project has a strict deadline. If you can’t meet your own, how can I be sure you’ll meet mine?

Being responsive also means: giving your client concise progress reports. It’s a way to reassure them that they’re in good hands. If you’re right on track, let your client know. If you’re experiencing an unexpected delay, you have to let your client know. Don’t wait until they send you an email wondering why they haven’t heard from you in days.

Communication is key, as long as you’re to the point. Anticipate and answer client’s questions. Be an open book. Stay in touch. Make it a breeze to do business with you. You want your clients to smile when they think of you. That will happen when you…

4. Go out of your way to be helpful

Not all inquiries lead to a sale. Sometimes what you have to offer is not what a client is looking for. In my case they might want to hire a female voice actor or someone with an older sound or a different accent. Does that mean that all my efforts were wasted? On the contrary.

If you cut off contact because you can’t make an immediate sale, you’re thinking about yourself and you’re thinking short-term. Everything is marketing. Any contact with a client, no matter how brief, is a golden opportunity to start building a relationship. A healthy relationship is a two-way street and takes time to evolve. It’s about giving and receiving.

So, how do you give to a client who doesn’t need your services?

It’s simple: Be a resource.

If you’re not right for the job, recommend a few colleagues who are. I’m sure they won’t mind. Show your expertise. Build some goodwill. You’re sowing seeds, and who knows when they might bloom? There are always new projects in the pipeline that might be a better fit for you.

Here’s the thing about giving, though.

Don’t just do it for future rewards. That’s not a gift. That’s a bribe.

Do it because it’s a decent thing to do.

It’s all a matter of perception.

Even superheroes are aware of that!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet.

PPS The above article is a chapter from my book Making Money In Your PJs, Freelancing for voice-overs and other solopreneurs. It’s available in paperback, and as a digital download. 

photo credit: A Is For Aquaman via photopin (license)

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Spoon Feeding Blabbermouths

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Money Matters 33 Comments

Let’s say you’ve made somewhat of a name for yourself in the VO-community.

Your weekly blog is doing really well, and colleagues want to be friends with you.

People you don’t know seem to value your opinion and start reaching out.

They write messages that begin with praise, and of course you’re flattered. At the same time you can sense where this is going. Inevitably, there will be a paragraph at the end of the email that goes like this:

“I admire your work and I respect your opinion. You must be very busy, but….
* What do you think of my demo?
* How much should I charge as a beginner?
* Which online casting service is the best?
* What microphone do you recommend?
* How do I get an agent? Can you introduce me to yours?
* Why is there a hum on my recording?
* How do I master my audio?
* I do tons of auditions but I never get hired. What am I doing wrong?

Any tips that could help me in my career are more than welcome!”

On one hand I’m happy that strangers trust me enough to ask for advice. On the other, it makes me a bit uncomfortable. I want to help, but I also have a business to run. Clients are waiting to hear back from me. There’s editing to be done. That guest post I’m writing isn’t finished yet, and on top of that I’m fighting a cold.

More importantly: Where does friendly advice end, and where does professional coaching begin?

Then there’s the issue of money. Even though my opinion is considered to be valuable, it is almost always assumed that my advice is free.

That bothers me.

NOT ALONE

As a voice talent, blogger and coach, I’m not the only one having to deal with this situation. Perhaps there’s something to learn from how other professionals approach this problem.

The following question was posted on a forum for IT professionals:

“Because I’m a programmer, people constantly ask me to fix their computer. How do you handle this situation? Do you make exceptions for relatives, friends and co-workers? Do you charge people for it?”

This is the answer that got the most votes:

“Here’s what you do:

• If it’s a Windows box say, “I only know how to fix Macs.”
• If it’s a Mac say, “I only know how to fix PC’s.”
• If it’s a Linux box say, “You’re a Linux user… fix it yourself!”

Here are a few other suggestions:

“Say you’ll fix their computer. Open their temporary internet files folder and then look totally shocked when you discover the obligatory hardcore porn images that are bound to be there. They probably will be too ashamed to ever ask you again.”

“I have an amazon.com wish list. I do genuinely like helping people, however I feel my time is worth something. Where accepting cash may not feel 100% appropriate, sending them my Amazon wish list has worked very well for me.”

“I give them a visiting card (made for this occasion) and I ask them to schedule an appointment to talk about the problem. End of the story.”

“My personal strategy is just to be very, very busy. Nine out of ten times they’ll find other help by the time I get around to it.”

“I tell them: “I am a programmer, not an administrator. You would not ask an architect to repair your roof, either. Of course, this works with almost everybody, except with my mom. Nowadays I just tell her to get a Mac.”

“My conditions are: First half hour is free, after that, it’s $100/hr. Reason: I like to help people but I don’t like it when I’m abused as free support. So if it really is “just a simple tiny thing,” then no problem, can do. But often “simply tiny problem” stands for “I have no idea what’s wrong; just fix it for me!” As soon as money is involved, they stop and start thinking if it’s really worth it.”

“I fixed her computer (the printer was unplugged!). Now, 4 years later, we’re married!”

Did any of these solutions strike a chord with you?

MY OWN ROLE

As I was trying to figure out how to best deal with requests from my fans, friends and followers, I realized one thing: I created this situation.

I always encourage my readers to respond. The opportunity to connect with people from all over the globe is one of the blessings of writing a blog. But some days it is a mixed blessing. With 38,266+ subscribers, I have to come up with a way to handle questions and comments effectively and efficiently.

Let’s start with blog comments. If you take the time to publicly respond to one of my articles, you deserve to be acknowledged. Quite often, your reaction will give me a chance to delve a bit deeper into what I’ve been writing about, or to clear up misunderstandings. The bottom line: if you care to comment, you can expect an answer.

As of this moment, there are 6,608 comments on this blog, and my guess is that half of them were penned by me in response to someone’s remarks. (the oldest article dates back to May 2009).

Now, what do I do with questions that reach me outside of this blog? Well, I start by looking at three things:

1. Who’s asking?
2. What are they asking?
3. How are they asking?

You’d be surprised how many people contact me out of the blue without even introducing themselves. Maybe they have a feeling they already know me because they’ve been reading my blog for a while. Still, why can’t we treat an email as a regular conversation? I’d never walk up to someone new with a question without introducing myself first.

One of the keys that can make or break a career is your ability to build relationships. Don’t expect to get information without a establishing a relation. 

NO BABY TALK

Secondly, I refuse to answer basic questions. It’s not my job to do someone else’s homework. Those who wish to make it in this field have to be proactive, independent and resourceful. If they can’t be bothered to do a simple Google search, why should I take time out of my busy day to do it for them?

Babies need to be spoon-fed. They’re helpless. Wasn’t it E.M. Foster who said:

“Spoon feeding in the long run teaches us nothing but the shape of the spoon.”

In my experience, the answers people find for themselves tend to stick much better than those that have been handed to them on a silver platter.

What I will do, is encourage people to search my blog. With over 350 archived articles, it is likely they’ll find what they are looking for. If I happen to remember a specific story that might be relevant, I often include a link. It reduces my bounce rate

DEMO CRITIQUE

Almost half of those who get in touch, want me to critique their demos and/or website. If the request comes from a colleague I’m close to, I am happy to give feedback. I know they’d do the same for me. If the request comes out of nowhere from someone I don’t know, I will charge a fee for my time and expertise.

I tell my readers all the time how important it is that they value their time and their work. I practice what I preach. Besides, free advice is easily ignored. When people make an investment, they’re much more invested in what they’ve learned because they tend to find it more valuable. 

The decision to charge money turned out to be a huge time-saver. Nine out of ten people hoping to get free feedback will literally drop off the planet as soon as they are asked to pay. Are you surprised?

TASTE TEST

There’s a reason why you can get free samples at your ice cream store. It only makes sense to give a freebie if it increases the chances of making a sale.

The only time I will critique a demo free of charge is when someone’s seriously thinking of hiring me as their coach. Listening to their audio will give me an idea of where they’re coming from and whether or not I want to take them under my wings. At the same time, the person submitting the demo will get a better sense of whether or not I’d be a good fit.

And finally….

A lot of the questions I get, cannot and should not be answered in writing. It would be as silly as teaching someone how to play the Double Bass over the phone. Helping a person with things like script interpretation, diction, breathing and microphone technique, needs a closer, more direct connection. It requires involved interaction over a longer period of time.

THE INNER GAME

You may have noticed that I like to blog about the more psychological aspects of our business. I write about fear of failure, finding your strength, overcoming rejection and so on. Because of that focus, some people turn to me with deeper, more personal questions.

In order to be a successful voice talent, I think it’s just as important to deal with our inner voice, as it is to refine what comes out of our mouth. One affects the other. This very personal aspect is too sacred and too intimate to be dealt with in writing. The spoken word and even silence, can convey infinitely more than letters on a computer screen.

In matters of the soul and of the heart, it’s far more important to actively listen, than to come up with answers. In fact, my personal opinion is irrelevant.

As a coach I believe it’s vital to help people connect to their own wisdom, instead of making them dependent on someone else’s ideas.

How do I facilitate that process?

By asking questions.

You’ve heard me.

Nine out of ten times, I’d rather give you an earful, than a spoon. 

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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photo credit: freeloosedirt via photopin cc

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Be Bold. Be Brave. Be You.

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing 6 Comments

skydiverLooking back at my writing of the past few years, I see that I spent a lot of time warning my readers:

“A voice-over career is not as easy as some people want you to believe.”

“There’s no success without sacrifice.”

“This business is highly subjective and unfair.”

“You’ll be competing against thousands of hopefuls.”

While some of you appreciate my “tell it like it is” style, others think I have a secret agenda. Recently, one of my critics wrote the following, after he had watched my video The Troublesome Truth About A Voice-Over Career:

“This video was made by an old-timer, unwilling to accept a changing industry, and the new competition it brings !!!”

I’ve heard that silly argument numerous times. Somehow, I supposedly feel so old and so insecure that I want to scare off the competition by telling them that they’re never going to make it. It’s either that, or people assume I’m recruiting new students for my VO-coaching by telling them how much they need me.

Well, let me set the record straight.

I’m not that old yet, and I’m certainly not insecure. I welcome any newbie who wants to give this voice-over thing a try, and I believe there’s enough work for talented, unpretentious people who sell their services at a fair price. I don’t advertise my coaching services, and those who want me to be their mentor have experienced that they need to go through several hoops before I take them on as a student.

Got that?

Now, what I’m about to say is not meant to scare you, but to open your eyes.

Whether you’re an aspiring voice-over or a veteran, if you doubt your ability to deliver what clients want to hear and pay you for, you have some serious soul-searching to do. If -for some reason- you feel inferior, incapable, or undeserving, you will be undermining your chances of success every single day.

In the tough world of freelancing there is no room for the unprepared, the needy, the desperate, or the faint of heart.

That doesn’t mean that I want you to be an overconfident, self-absorbed know-it-all. On the contrary. You do need the ability to recognize your challenges. You have to be open to learning new things, and a healthy sense of humility will serve you well. However, if you don’t believe in yourself as a professional, don’t expect others to take your word for it.

What makes humans so interesting is that our thoughts and feelings come to the surface via our behavior. In the way we walk. In the way we talk. In the way we respond to our environment. Some psychologists call those clues BMIR’s (pronounced “Beamers”): Behavioral Manifestations of Internal Representations.

Whether we’re terrified, or madly in love, we will give ourselves away by the tone of our voice, our body language, and by how we interact and react to the world around us. It’s natural. So, if deep-down you believe you’re “just a beginner” who doesn’t deserve to paid a fair, normal rate, your actions will reflect that belief, and your results will confirm it. Ever heard of a self-fulfilling prophecy?

If a script requires you to play the role of a confident academic, and those grey cells between your ears tell you that’s “just not you,” you’re in trouble. One of my students wanted me to help her with a script that required her to use a sultry, seductive voice. No matter how hard she tried, she just couldn’t do it. It turned out that she wasn’t comfortable with her own sexuality, and she thought the words she was hired to record were somewhat degrading.

“If that’s how you feel,” I said, “why on earth did you accept this job?”

“To be honest,” she replied, “I did it for the money.”

Rule number one: Don’t ever accept a job you feel you can’t be proud of, no matter how much it pays. If what you have to say goes against your belief system, people will pick up on that, unless you’re an amazingly talented trained actor who can fool his own mother.

No one forces you to say yes to a job you’re uncomfortable doing. That being said, if you wish to develop your range as an actor and be more marketable, you have to be comfortable being uncomfortable. You have to be bold, and be brave to take on a persona so you can serve the script to the best of your professional abilities.

Consider it a form of role play. It’s the perfect excuse to take on a role that might be far removed from who you really are. You can play the meanest villain in the universe, and get away with it without being arrested! You can be a tough business negotiator, closing a million dollar deal. The question is: how do you do that if you suffer from self-doubt?

Well, if you’re not the most confident person in the room, start by pretending you are, and see where the script takes you. If you need some inspiration, think of someone in your life who embodies certain qualities you’d like to emulate. How does this person walk, talk, and breathe? What would they be saying to themselves?

This does require that you give yourself permission to let go a little. Can you do that? Can you stop that critical internal dialogue, and focus on the external dialogue, if only for a moment? Chances are that you’re by yourself anyway, so no one is going to judge you for experimenting.

Once you’ve tried on this new persona, you might discover that you’re not half as bad as you thought you’d be. It can actually be fun! It’s like trying on a new style of clothes you never saw yourself wear, and find out that you look pretty good in them!

Let’s say you do this a couple of times, and you find that it’s getting easier to step out of your comfort zone (and by the way, a comfort zone is nothing but a story we tell ourselves). Here’s what will happen: not only will you start seeing changes as a voice actor. You may notice that you’re beginning to be a bit more bold and brave in your personal life as well. I’m not saying this will happen overnight, but it just might.

For the longest time I was socially shy. You’d see me hiding in a corner, pretending not to be there. It wasn’t fun at all. But one day, someone asked me if I’d be interested in playing a character in a variety show a group was putting on for a charity. The day I said yes to that opportunity, my life changed. I put on a funny costume and some make-up, and tried out a silly voice. The public loved it! This gave me a tremendous confidence boost. Now I don’t need those props anymore.

The trick is to put yourself in a position where you have to take a risk. Mind you, I’m not asking you to become a different person. I want you to discover a different aspect of who you are. Is that something you’re willing to try?

Then challenge yourself this week, by doing something you’ve never dared to do. 

Don’t pick the biggest thing in the entire universe. Start small and build from there.

Give yourself a chance to succeed, and watch yourself grow.

Be bold. Be brave. Be you!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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The Seven Worst Mistakes Beginner Voice-Overs Make

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing 3 Comments

You know what they say about hindsight, and it’s annoying.

Especially in retrospect.

The idea is that, had we known better, we would have done better. That sounds very reasonable in theory, but in reality, I find most people to be stubbornly unreasonable. Hindsight or no hindsight.

In many major decisions, logic seems to play a minor part: the choice of a life partner (or to stay single); whom to trust in business and in politics; whether to have children or not, to name a few.

If logic and reason would rule the world, no one would be overweight, or smoke cigarettes. There would be no littering, global warming, texting while driving, or unprotected sex.

Instead, we live in a world where people cannot control their most primitive impulses, their most unfounded fears, and their most irrational ideas. History repeats itself as fallible human beings fail to learn from the past. As countless psychologists have observed: previous behavior is a good predictor of future behavior.

Having said that, I really wish I had known a thing or two before I started speaking for a living. Here’s my top 7 of things I did, before I knew better:

1. Putting on a voice

Listening back to old recordings, I noticed that I was trying too hard to sound like a voice-over. I was imitating someone else, instead of being me. There’s too much effort. I spoke louder than I normally do, delivering a speech, instead of having a conversation.

Takeaway: There’s no one like you. Be effortlessly authentic. (click here for some tips)

2. Auditioning for everything under the sun

Once upon a time I believed in the numbers game. You know, the silly idea that the more you audition, the greater the chance you’ll eventually land a job. Forget that. If you don’t sound like John Wayne, Darth Vader, or Helen Mirren, don’t be a pretender. It’s embarrassing. Only take on what you know you can pull off, while developing your range.

Takeaway: Be selective in what you audition for. Play to your strengths.

3. Not delivering pristine audio

What’s the number one reason most auditions end up in the garbage bin? Bad sound quality! In hindsight, I took too long to get a professional recording space, and quality equipment. Once I did, my bookings tripled, because the audio from my home studio was just as good as the audio of my demos.

Takeaway: If you want to play with the best, you need to invest. Having a home studio is a must.

4. Approaching it like a hobby

You may have an amazing voice and great equipment, but that’s no guarantee that you’ll have a successful voice-over career. You must learn how to run a freelance business, how to manage your money, and how to toot your horn without annoying the heck out of everybody.

Takeaway: Being business savvy is often more important than having a unique talent.

5. Being reactive instead of proactive

Being a voice-over is not for those who wait and see, or for those playing the blame game. You’re in the driver’s seat, buddy! If you don’t steer your career, you’ll never know where you’ll end up. Successful solopreneurs are risk-takers, go-getters, and fast learners. They love to lead, and hate to follow.

Takeaway: Don’t let things happen. Make them happen!

6. Trying to reinvent the wheel

You may think you know it all, and can do it all, but you don’t know what you don’t know. It’s better to admit your limitations, than to be willfully ignorant. The self-employed wear many hats. Dare to excel in a few things, instead of being mediocre in many.

Takeaway: Do your homework, and ask for help. Outsource the things you’re not (yet) good at. (click here for more on this)

7. Not charging enough

I thought that low rates would get me work. It turned out that by charging less, I branded myself a desperate beginner. People didn’t take me seriously, and those who paid the least, were the biggest pains in the neck.

Takeaway: Any fool can undercut the competition and go broke in the process. Running a for-profit business starts with valuing yourself and your services properly. (click here for more on low rates)

 

Well, there you have it.

Now I can tell you “I told you so.” Not that it’s going to make any difference.

Some people don’t like being told what to do, and I understand that.

The most profound life lessons are often the ones coming from experience, and not from books, blogs, or well-meaning mothers.

But it might take you a few years to come to that realization.

Unless you have perfect vision.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
PS Be sweet. Subscribe & retweet!

PPS Here’s a quick summary of the main points.

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The Weight Of The World

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Personal 5 Comments

photo credit: © Paul Strikwerda

Last week, I did a webinar on blogging for members of The VoiceOver Network.

One of the things host Rachael Naylor wanted to know, was how I got from zero to over thirty-eight thousand subscribers.

Although I did not survey each and every reader of this blog, I do receive a lot of feedback from my “fans.” This gives me some indication as to why they return to my musings, week after week.

The one comment that comes back again and again, is that -even though this is a voice-over blog- people like that I write about more than microphones, making money, and the secret to winning auditions.

Ultimately, I see my work as a means to an end, and sometimes I feel more like writing about “the end,” than about the means to getting there. To illustrate the point, I ended my webinar by reading my blog post The Weight of the World, which -in light of the recent terrorist attacks- turned out to be terribly relevant.

After my appearance on the VoiceOver Hour, some of the students in the U.K. asked me if I could republish that particular blog post, because it really resonated with them. It had only been a few days since a suicide bomber had blown himself and twenty-two others up, during an Ariana Grande concert.

Last Saturday, terrorists struck again on London Bridge, killing eight people.

So, with great sadness and a heavy heart, here is The Weight of the World:

 

Paris. Kabul. Manchester. London.

On some days this beautiful planet is so full of hatred and hardship that I feel guilty writing about such trivial things as “work.”

It sure is fun to blog about freelancing, marketing, and microphone technique, but I have to ask: “To what avail?”

Does it lead to a deeper understanding of the human psyche?

Does it tell us why young, radicalized men stuff their luggage with glass and nails, before they blow themselves and innocent others to bits and pieces?

Does it explain why so many people still believe that violence is the only way forward to further a cause?

As a blogger, shouldn’t I be writing about those issues, instead of talking about home studios, auditions, and online casting companies? 

Whenever I ask myself these questions, I have to remind myself of where I came from.

Before leaving the Netherlands, I worked as one of those stone-faced newscasters informing the world of yet another tragedy. On air, I asked countless experts about the roots of evil, and I grilled politicians about their ideas on how to fix a broken world.

Day after day I reported on endless suffering and strife, and I was part of the sensationalist “if it doesn’t bleed, it doesn’t lead” gang, that determines what is newsworthy and what isn’t. On sunnier days I would be searching for that snippet of positive news we could end our program with, to remind the listeners that not all people are perverts, rapists, or suicidal religious radicals. 

Don’t get me wrong: I loved the excitement and the adrenaline of the newsroom. It gave me a steady income, a certain status, and a sense of purpose. A democracy can only function when people are able to make smart decisions based on hard facts, and I was in the business of providing those facts. My radio station also gave me a unique opportunity to hold the feet of the famous to the fire.

Yet, one day, it all fell apart when I noticed myself caring less and less about the horror stories I was covering. In the beginning I would blame my lack of response on the need to “stay professional,” meaning detached from the raw emotions that are part and parcel of every human tragedy. I was supposed to stay as neutral as our network professed to be, and not get emotionally involved. But it came at a price. 

I gradually developed a tendency to disassociate myself from all kinds of feelings. Positive and negative. That invisible screen I was using to shield myself from sadness in the newsroom, had become like a second skin. It protected me, and it numbed me at the same time.

Over time, I came to a frightening realization:

I had lost one of the very few things that separates humans from animals: the ability to empathize.

I’d seen this happen to veteran journalists who were trying to cope with the crazy demands of their job. Some became chain smokers, heavy drinkers, and lifelong cynics. Others filed for divorce. It was not a road I wanted to travel.

One day, after covering yet another disaster, I just knew I had reached my limit. Years of reporting had done nothing to change the world. If anything, the world had gotten worse. All I wanted was to get out of broadcasting, and do something useful with my life. Something exhilarating. Something inspiring. Something uplifting.

When I finally left the poisonous bubble that was the newsroom, it took me a while to adjust to a new reality. A reality that wasn’t nearly as violent as I had thought it would be. Slowly but surely I discovered a world filled with kindness and good people. It was as if someone had opened the dark blinds that had been filtering the light from the windows for such a long time.

I came to realize that the news I had covered for all those years focused on the exceptions; on the grotesque and the extraordinary. The thousands of planes that land safely every day will never be on CNN. It’s the plane that crashes that ends up making headlines. And if you add all those headlines up, it’s easy to get the impression that this world is rotten to the core. But it’s a deliberate distortion of reality, contrived to kick up the ratings. 

Reality is so much better and less sensational than the networks want you to believe. For most of us it is reassuringly unspectacular and ordinary. It revolves around friends, family…. and work. Ultimately, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to blog about work, even when evil forces are trying to fill this world with fear.

The question remains: how do we respond to those who want to scare us by causing panic, pain, and suffering?

How do we deal with the fact that -to quote Harold Kushner- bad stuff happens to good people?

All of us have to come to terms with this in our own time and in our own way. Life and death are mysterious teachers.

Let me leave you with what I think.

The only way we can learn to live with darkness, is to focus on the light, and to become a reflection of that light.

Whether we realize it or not, all of us were born with the ability to shine. 

Once we start taking that to heart, perhaps we can begin making this place a better world.

In Paris. In Kabul. In Manchester. In London.

Everywhere.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Protecting Your Voice

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Promotion Leave a comment

Your voice is your biggest asset, but are you treating it that way?

Do you really know how to take care of it?

If not, let me cut to the chase.

Vocal Health Educator Elissa Weinzimmer will teach you how to protect it in a special online class for voice talent. It’s a workshop about maintaining your vocal health, preventing problems, and dealing with issues when they come up.

This class takes place on two consecutive Wednesdays, June 7th and 14th, from 3 – 4:30pm EST. You can sign up by clicking on THIS LINK to join live, or receive the recording after the event. This is the first time I have ever recommended a class in this blog, and that should tell you something. It just think it’s that important!

If you don’t know Elissa, here’s an interview with, and an introduction to a coach who should be on every (voice) actor’s radar screen. 

Here we go!

Elissa Weinzimmer, vocal coach

Elissa Weinzimmer

 

Imagine for a moment that you’re young, and your voice is your life. 

You love it so much that you want to make a living using that voice.

You take every opportunity to speak, sing, and perform in public.

You dream of a career on stage, and you work very hard to make it a reality. 

And then, all of a sudden, you lose the one thing you trust and rely on most.

How would you feel?

This is not some sort of hypothetical scenario. This actually happened to vocal coach Elissa Weinzimmer. She told me her story, and today I’m going to share it with you. Here’s Elissa, recounting the events that took place some eight years ago.

“Simply put, I lost my voice in 2007. It was due to a combination of factors… I was really pushing to belt a solo in my a cappella group (USC Reverse Osmosis), and I was also drinking almost every day because I was trying to enjoy my remaining months in college (!). The drinking part was quite out of character, so it only lasted about a month before my body reacted. One morning I woke up, and felt like I had shards of glass in my throat. It hurt to swallow and speak. Later on that day, I spat up blood.

I rushed myself to the Ear, Nose and Throat specialist that week to have my vocal cords scoped, and I was told I had severe onset of acid reflux, and had experienced vocal “trauma” from overuse. I was put on vocal rest for a month… I had to walk around with a little notepad to communicate my thoughts. After that, I was sent to speech therapy. The whole experience was a major turning point for me. I stopped performing. I even stopped singing much in the car or the shower, places where I usually rocked out. Recently, I’ve started to call the seven years after losing my voice my silent years.”

When your voice is such a part of your identity, what did it do to you psychologically, when you could no longer rely on it?

“It was really emotional, of course. My confidence took a hit because I felt like I couldn’t rely on my voice. When I talk about it in yogi terms, I say that I spent years shutting down my fifth chakra, the center of energy in my throat. The fifth chakra is all about creativity and expression, so I felt stifled. Opening back up to my expressiveness has been a challenging but joyful process.”

How did losing your voice change a possible career path you had set out for yourself at that time? 

“Well, I’d spent most of my life believing that I was going to pursue a career in acting – that I was going to sing on Broadway. Interestingly enough though, a few months before I lost my voice I directed my first full length show, the musical Cabaret. So I was already intrigued and exhilarated by the idea of pursuing a career in directing. When I couldn’t rely on my voice anymore, it was a no-brainer that I would focus my efforts on directing instead. The idea to teach voice didn’t arise until a year or so later.”

Some people look at unfortunate events as blessings in disguise. Was losing your voice such a blessing, and in what way?

“Eight years later, I absolutely believe that it was a blessing. My story fits the archetype of the person who enters a healing or helping profession because of their own challenges. Losing my voice redirected my course in life, and I deeply love what I do now. So, in some ways I’m very grateful to have gone through the experience.”

What surprising things did you discover in the process of getting your voice back, and how has that changed you as a person, and as a professional?

“By the time I was ready to start reclaiming my voice I was already teaching voice to others quite a lot. It became clear to me that it was time to start walking the walk rather than just talking the talk. After all, it’s one thing to tell people to express themselves fully, and it’s entirely something else to be a model of that. I have to admit, a lot of my motivation for performing again was selfish – I needed to do it for me. Yet in pursuing my passion and my truth, I hope I offer a model that encourages other people to do the same in their own way. I believe the world will get really exciting when a critical mass of people start pursuing their true passions and desires, and I feel very strongly about being part of that movement.”

You have used a few methods to restore your voice, to strengthen your vocal folds, and to deal with vocal fatigue. One is called Fitzmaurice Voicework®. In a nutshell, what did you learn from using this technique that was new to you?

“It wasn’t what I expected. I encountered Fitzmaurice Voicework® in my theatre voice class when I was a senior at the University of Southern California. After I lost my voice I began to study the technique more deeply. Fitzmaurice is a beautiful and unique full body approach to making sound, but the exercises weren’t the thing that provided the biggest change for me. The huge change came from encountering a mindset shift inherent in that work: that instead of needing to have the best voice or a perfect voice, I could focus on having my voice.

I showed up at Fitzmaurice lessons wanting to get better and fix my voice. Of course that makes sense, I had spent my whole life up to that point trying to be a good singer and trying to make a good sound. But I learned that improving the voice is a paradox, because in order to get “better,” we have to uncover what’s already there. It’s not about adding stuff, it’s about peeling the extra junk away. In this new way of thinking I could let go of judging myself as good or bad/right or wrong, and I could instead ask myself: “What might this way of making sound be good for?” or “What might this way of breathing be right for?”

This paradigm shift changed everything for me. Once it sunk in, I was immediately committed to the idea of becoming a voice teacher, and sharing this way of thinking with others.”

You say the whole body is involved in creating sound. Many voice-overs lead very sedentary lives. They lock themselves up in a small, soundproof box, and sit all day, reading long scripts. What advice do you have for them?

“An ongoing struggle that I’ve had in my own vocal practice is to actually do my warm ups and take good care of myself. I will be the first to admit that that’s challenging! I have often felt like I’m not doing enough, and when I start working without warming up I feel guilty. However I’m lucky to be curious – fascinated in fact – with how the voice works and the connection between the voice and the body. At this point I’ve spent years experiencing and teaching warm ups and exercises. In the process I have come to believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that having a vocal practice works. Doing vocal warm ups and keeping ourselves in shape makes a difference.

So, for those of us who are really committed to using our voices as an instrument, I suggest this:

Get curious about how your voice works. We would never hop on a motorcycle without first learning how it works, so why would we ever presume to use our voice every day if we don’t understand it? Pick up a book and read. Joanna Cazden’s “Everyday Voice Care” is a great place to start. Create accountability and support. Sign up for a class. Go to yoga or the gym regularly. Create a practice.

Professor David Ley

Professor David Ley (left)

In 2012 you moved to Edmonton, Canada, to earn an MFA in Theatre Voice Pedagogy at the University of Alberta. That’s where you met one of your mentors, professor David Ley. One of the things he has developed is called the “Vibrant Voice Technique.” Tell me about it, and in particular how this technique could be beneficial to voice actors.

“Vibrant Voice Technique is based on this outside-the-box idea that David had to use a vibrator for your voice. He had a client suffering from extreme vocal fatigue. She’d been to the Ear Nose and Throat doctor, and she’d been scoped, but there was no damage. That being said, she was having ongoing difficulty making sound due to muscle tension. She had trouble giving herself a manual throat massage to release the tension, so David thought to himself… “Hmm, what’s small and vibrates?” The subsequent lightbulb moment led to a trip to the “love shop” to purchase a pocket-sized vibrator, and sure enough it worked!

Essentially, with Vibrant Voice Technique we use external vibration to reduce muscular tension, and enhance resonance. The technique can be incredibly beneficial to voice actors because it makes vocal exercises quick, easy, and highly effective. You don’t have to have a long regimen of exercises that you feel guilty about not doing. Quite honestly, Vibrant Voice is a shortcut to staying in vocal shape. So for voice actors who deal with issues of duration and overuse it can be extremely helpful.”

You’ve taught this technique to stage actors, on-camera actors, and professional singers. What’s the response when they found out they’re about to use a sex toy?

“There’s this very funny moment that happens when I say to someone: “I teach people to use a vibrator for their voice.” Almost always it goes like this: a blank stare, followed by a slow smile, then a vigorous nod. Sure the idea is surprising, but it makes sense to most people as soon as they think about it! Obviously many media outlets have capitalized on the sex toy angle because it’s sensational. Yet we continue to teach and do what we’re doing because the technique really works.”

Apart from being the managing director of Vibrant Voice Technique, you run your own business called “Voice Body Connection.” What do you offer, and who are your clients?

“Voice Body Connection is based in New York City where I live. The business is all about helping people tune into the connection between their voice and body (as the name suggests). My mission is to help performers and public speakers communicate with more confidence and ease. I work in many ways: I coach clients privately in person, and over the internet. I teach actors at a studio in New York called Anthony Meindl’s Actors Workshop. I also teach an online Speak With Confidence class for public speakers. 

In whatever format I’m teaching, the work starts with examining and shifting our mindset about how we communicate, and progresses to techniques and practices to create sound with more expression, and less effort.”

You also prep people for auditions. What are some of the common mistakes you help people correct?

“Well, I think the greatest challenge for a performer is that we’re usually given a script, and that maps out our impulses for us. It is so easy, when we’re being told what our impulses should be, to plan and make logical decisions about how we’ll perform. However the real goal is to allow impulses to bubble up creatively from our right brain, the same way impromptu speech pours out of us. So, the biggest thing I find I spend my time doing when I’m coaching people for auditions or performance, is helping them find a way to marry their own impulses with the impulses that have been provided in the script.”

Quite a few voice actors suffer from vocal fatigue. They got into the business because they loved to read out loud, and because they could do “funny voices.” Not everyone has had professional voice training. What advice do you have for an audio book narrator who records five hours a day, or for a voice actor who has to scream his head off while recording video games or cartoons?

“So, you’ve just brought up two issues: the duration issue (length of time doing the work) and the use issue (are we using healthy practices?). In either case, I highly recommend a warm up and a cool down.

Now, we’re doing the warm up not just to go through the motions. We’re doing it because it’s an opportunity to let our voice know: “This is how I’d like you to behave as I move through my work.” It sets us up for success. After you’ve done a warm up you can do whatever you want within reason – you can scream, cry, and make crazy sounds.

At the end of your session, you want to reset by doing a cool down. You’ve done a lot of work and potentially used extreme effort, so you want to come back down to a more healthy, neutral resting place. The primary reason actors get into trouble with fatigue is because they carry their overuse or misuse into the rest of their day or into the bar that night. So the biggest piece of advice I can offer is: Warm up and cool down! Even thirty seconds of humming will do.

Elissa Weinzimmer, performing "Home."

Elissa, performing her show “Home.”

And finally, back to you. Helping all these performers, don’t you feel the pull of the stage? Will you be coaching in the background, or is there a chance we could see you perform in public again?

“The answer to both is yes! I love coaching. I love helping facilitate people’s art. However, now that I’ve broken the seal, so to speak, I’m back, and I’m going to continue performing!

What do you mean?

I recently sang a cabaret show for my 30th birthday! It was an incredible experience. The theme of the show was “Home.” I’ve been moving around a lot over the last couple years, so it’s about finding home wherever I am. But it’s also about coming home to my voice. You can read about my three performances on a special website I just created.

LEARNING FROM ELISSA

Elissa has developed an online training on how the voice works, and she offers online voice coaching. She also teaches one-on-one sessions in Vibrant Voice Technique via Zoom (online), or in-person in New York City. Check out her website for details.

Her next class is specifically for voice-overs, and takes place on two consecutive Wednesdays, June 7th and 14th, from 3 – 4:30pm EST. You can sign up by clicking on THIS LINK to join live, or receive the recording after the event.

Your voice will thank you!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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