Nethervoice

De Ezel en de Steen

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Dutch, Personal 4 Comments

New Hope, PA

New Hope, Pennsylvania. Dat was de poëtische naam van het Amerikaanse dorpje waar ik na mijn vertrek uit Nederland terechtkwam.

Het sfeervolle New Hope is gelegen aan de brede Delaware rivier, en staat na Hollywood in makelaarskringen bekend als Amerika’s duurste plaats qua onroerend goed.

Oscar Hammerstein had er een buitenhuis waar hij z’n bekendste musicals schreef en de jonge Stephen Sondheim inspireerde. Main Street is gevuld met dure restaurants, gay bars, galleries vol kleurrijke “kunst,” en winkeltjes waar je wierook, pendels en kristallen kan kopen.

In de zomer trilt het dorp van de honderden Harley’s die dagelijks door de straten denderen. Om elf uur ‘s ochtends wordt er buiten al Budweiser gedronken om de taco’s mee weg te spoelen die meestal in Cheez Whiz (kunstkaas) worden gedipt. Een beter voorbeeld van de verfijnde Amerikaanse keuken kan je niet bedenken.

Het was bijna Kerst. Ik had honderd dollar op zak, en kon zonder rijbewijs of auto nergens komen. Openbaar vervoer leek niet of nauwelijks te bestaan. Dat was iets voor gekke socialistisch landen. In Nederland had ik nooit een auto nodig gehad. Op mijn Brompton vouwfietsje reed ik overal naartoe, en ging verder met de trein.

Ik was in New Hope op uitnodiging van het Instituut voor Holistische Studies. Het was de bedoeling dat ik daar NLP en hypnose trainingen zou gaan geven. Dat klinkt heel nobel, maar eerlijk gezegd was ik eigenlijk op de vlucht. Ik hield het niet meer uit in Holland.

UIT ELKAAR GEGROEID

Terwijl het met onze trainingen in Utrecht steeds beter ging, verslechterde mijn verhouding met degene met wie ik de cursussen gaf. Mijn vrouw.

We hadden beide andere ambities op het gebied van eventuele gezinsuitbreiding, en we dachten verschillend over welke richting we met ons trainingsbedrijfje uitwilden. Mijn vrouw raakte verder intensief betrokken bij wat ik zag als een sektarische beweging die draaide om een charismatische leider die over bijzondere krachten scheen te beschikken. Hoewel ik mezelf spiritueel noem, kon ik daar absoluut niet in meegaan.

Toen ons huwelijk afbrokkelde werd het bijna onmogelijk om nog trainingen met elkaar te geven. Mijn vrouw vertrok naar het buitenland om zich te verdiepen in Universele Energie. Ze vond er het begrip dat ze van mij niet kreeg. Intussen boorde ik mijn contacten aan om te kijken of ik elders les kon geven. Dat bleek in Amerika te zijn.

Sinds mijn BBC tijd in Londen speelde ik al met het idee om Nederland achter me te laten. Ik vond het te klein en te kneuterig. En nu wilde ik weg uit alles wat me pijnlijk herinnerde aan de vele jaren die ik met mijn vrouw had gehad. Zou het in de VS niet lukken, dan kon ik altijd weer terugkomen.

WAT IS SUCCES?

Daar zat ik dus, met m’n twee koffers en een plastic zak.

De eerste levensles die ik in Amerika leerde had te maken met de definitie van succes. Succes is één van die woorden die iedereen in de mond neemt, maar niemand vraagt: “Wat bedoel je daar nou eigenlijk mee?” En omdat we allemaal uitgaan van onze eigen definitie is het makkelijk om langs elkaar heen te praten, denkend dat we het over hetzelfde hebben.

Zakelijk gezien was succes voor mij het wekelijks geven van trainingen aan groepen van tenminste twintig mensen op een professionele locatie. Dat waren mensen die aan het eind van het traject het gevoel hadden dat ze er meer uit hadden gekregen dan ze er financieel in hadden geïnvesteerd.

Mijn partner in New Hope vond ook dat ze een succesvol bedrijfje runde. Ze gaf één op één therapie in haar huiskamer, en af en toe een cursus aan hooguit een man of vijf. Als ze iemand van het roken afhielp was dat voor haar een succes. Dat is natuurlijk mooi, maar elke week twintig cursisten opleiden zet toch wel wat meer doden aan de zijk. 

Ik dacht in Amerika in een gespreid bedje te stappen, maar in realiteit kon mijn partner de huur amper betalen en dat had ze me niet verteld. Stilletjes gokte ze er op dat ik mijn Nederlandse succes in Amerika kon evenaren, en daar was ik niet op voorbereid.

THE AMERICAN DREAM

Allereerst was ik als toerist het land binnengekomen zonder een werkvergunning. Daar had ik in de haast niet aan gedacht. Ten tweede kende ik de kolossale Amerikaanse markt niet. Het mag dan het land van de ongekende mogelijkheden zijn, maar hoe boor je die in vredesnaam aan?

Voorbeeld: met een effectieve advertentie in een paar Nederlandse dagbladen kon je het hele land bereiken zonder dat het veel kostte. De gemiddelde Amerikaan koopt maar af en toe een krant voor de sportuitslagen en de kortingscoupons. Men gaat zeker niet op zoek naar NLP-advertenties. De meesten mensen hebben trouwens geen idee wat NLP is. Hypnose is iets voor een televisie show waar volwassen mensen als een kakelende kip door het beeld lopen.

Verder zijn Amerikanen geobsedeerd door werken en hebben ze weinig vrije tijd om trainingen te volgen. Ze nemen hun vakantiedagen niet eens op (als ze die al hebben) omdat ze bang zijn dat hun baan bij afwezigheid door iemand anders wordt weggekaapt. En als ze kunnen kiezen tussen de nieuwste breedbeeldtelevisie of persoonlijke groei, dan wint de televisie het meestal (de persoonlijke groei komt vanzelf wel door het vele zitten).

Eerlijk gezegd wilde ik na een paar maanden al weer terug naar Nederland, maar ik was bang om voor een loser te worden aangezien. Ik besloot toch te blijven, zeker toen mijn Amerikaanse partner ook in andere opzichten een partner begon te worden.

Wat was dat ook al weer over ezels en stenen? 

LANG LEVE DE HORECA

Omdat het met de trainingen voor geen meter liep en er toch geld in het laatje moest komen besloot ik plan B in werking te stellen. Ik vond een baan waar je geen werkvergunning voor nodig had.

Ik werd ober!

Binnen een paar maanden ging ik dus van een positie als trainer die me meer dan anderhalve ton per jaar opleverde, naar een plek waar ik letterlijk voor een fooi moest werken. Dat was wel even slikken. Oberen is overigens een nobel beroep. Negentig procent van de acteurs in New York en Los Angeles oefenen het met groot succes langdurig uit.

Ik wil niet opscheppen, maar als verdwaalde Europeaan viel ik beslist in de smaak. Allereerst hoefden ze me niet te vertellen aan welke kant van het bord het mes en de vork thuishoorden. Ook kon ik het witte wijnglas van het rode wijnglas onderscheiden. Dat alleen al maakte indruk. Met mijn talenkennis imponeerde ik menige gast, en jongere mannen en oudere vrouwen wilden me na een tweegangen menu graag als toetje mee naar huis nemen.

No, thank you. 

ROLLENSPEL

Voor mij was het kelner zijn een rol die ik speelde. Hoe beter ik acteerde, hoe meer geld ik verdiende. Het gaf me ook de gelegenheid om mensen te observeren, naar hun accenten te luisteren, en hun maniertjes af te kijken.

Ook leerde ik hoe ik bepaalde dagschotels kon verkopen door ze in taal te omschrijven die mensen deed watertanden. Ik leerde de kunst van “upselling.” Ik smeerde mijn gasten duurdere wijnen aan, verse kreeft, en kaviaar. En niemand verliet mijn tafel zonder toetje! Hoe meer geld ze uitgaven, hoe groter mijn fooi. Die training zou me later goed van pas komen toen ik weer voor mezelf begon. 

Intussen trainde ik mijn geheugen door het onthouden van de bestellingen van tientallen veeleisende gasten in een hectische omgeving (“Can I have the steak medium rare without capers but with a side of green beans and some dressing on the side? Make that ranch dressing. No wait, instead of steak I’ll have the chicken with mashed potatoes. Are the peas fresh or frozen?”).

Het was vermoeiend werk, lang op de benen staan, aardig blijven tegen ongemanierde mensen, maar ook een praatpaal zijn voor eenzame gasten.

“Kunt u de tafel voor twee dekken?” vroeg de oude man. “Het is vandaag mijn trouwdag, en mijn vrouw en ik gingen altijd naar dit restaurant om het te vieren. Dit was onze tafel.” Hij liet me een foto van zijn geliefde zien. “This is my Annie. She’s with the Lord now. A drunk driver took her from me on her birthday. She was the love of my life.”

Later die avond konden we nog even napraten. Hij wilde weten waar ik vandaan kwam en wat ik in Nederland had gedaan. Zijn ogen lichtten op toen ik hem vertelde over mijn radio- en televisieverleden. Het was alsof hij die wereld kende.

Bij zijn vertrek nam hij me bij de hand.

“Don’t stay in this place too long,” zei hij zacht. “It’s not for you. Call this place instead. I’m sure they’d love to have you!”

Hij duwde een visitekaartje in mijn hand.

MIKE LEMON CASTING, PHILADELPHIA

wordt vervolgd

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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The Neumann Killer Has Arrived, and it’s from Austria!

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Gear, Reviews 26 Comments

Austrian Audio OC18 (click to enlarge)

Any day I get to test a new microphone from a new company is a good day.

Today is even better, because I’m trying out the OC18, one of the signature models from Austrian Audio.

For those of you who’d like to skip to the conclusion, here’s my verdict:

The OC18 is more than a microphone.

It is a statement. A statement that puts Austrian Audio on the map. 

The OC18 is a sublime ode to tradition, to mechanical engineering, and to uncompromising craftsmanship.

As far as I’m concerned, the Neumanns, Sennheisers, and Lewitts of the world have been put on notice!

DEEP ROOTS

You may not have heard of Austrian Audio, but you’re familiar with its lineage. Ninety-nine percent of its employees come from the Akustische und Kino-Geräte Gesellschaft m.b.H., better known as AKG.

AKG itself is a subsidiary of Harman International Industries Inc. That’s the company behind Harman Kardon, JBL, Studer, Lexicon, and many other brands. 

In 2017, Samsung Electronics bought Harman in an all-cash transaction, valued at about $8 billion. 

After the deal was done, Harman wanted to cut 650 jobs across the globe to continue its focus on the infotainment and automotive sectors. One of the victims of this policy was AKG’s home office in Vienna. AKG production moved to Eastern Europe and the Far East. 

Anechoic chamber

On July 1st, 2017, a core team of former AKG personnel (management as well as engineers) emerged from the takeover, and formed Austrian Audio. This team was responsible for the development of most of the AKG products in the past twenty years. They made a deal with Harman to buy as much AKG equipment as they could, from office furniture to machinery. Even the anechoic chamber was part of the purchase. 

Right now, the people at Austrian Audio are focused on developing best-in-class, professional audio equipment. As we speak, they’re selling a new suite of hardware and software for audio analysis, testing, and measurement that’s based on the tools they use each and every day. In April they’ve also released two microphones that have recently made it to the United States.

CONTINUING THE TRADITION

These new microphones are based on the famous C12 capsule. According to experts, this is one of the finest and most complex microphone capsules ever made. The C12 is known for having very precise polar patterns throughout the entire frequency range (it could produce 9 different polar patterns).

The original C12 was hard to manufacture (it had a failure rate of 65%), and much of it had to be done by hand. During its ten-year run only 2,500 were made, which comes down to one a day.

Austrian Audio’s CKR12 capsule is traditional in terms of acoustics, but thanks to new materials and an innovative (and to be patented) production process, the assembly is much faster and easier. This no doubt keeps the price down.

Where most makers of C12 clones use a metal-on-plastic interfacing, the CKR12 capsule uses a black ceramic-on-ceramic interfacing of the capsule halves. Ceramic is stiffer and more temperature and humidity resistant. It also has a higher density, which improves mechanical isolation. This makes for a more modern, consistent, and reliable microphone.

The capsule is suspended from three flexible rubber grommets that serve as an internal shockmount. And did I mention that every microphone is 100% made in Vienna? Take a look.

The OC18 I got to test is a large-diaphragm capacitor microphone, featuring a fixed classic cardioid pick-up pattern. The more expensive OC818 features multiple patterns, dual outputs for recording its forward-facing and rear-facing capsules independently, and optional Bluetooth wireless control. The 818 is a marriage of tradition and innovation, but for my purposes it has too many bells and whistles. 

Both mics feature the proprietary handmade ceramic CKR12 capsule, and both models have a pad with -10 and -20 dB settings, as well as a high-pass filter. The Equivalent Noise Level (self-noise) is 9 dBA. In contrast, my very own Gefell M930 Ts has a self-noise level of 7 dBA, just like the Neumann TLM 103. The Sennheiser 416 has a self-noise of 13 dBA.

The OC18 comes in a sturdy carrying case with a mic clip and a spider mount, plus a foam windscreen. The body of the microphone is made as a single piece and has a distinct, stylish look which I find pleasing to the eye. Everything about this microphone tells you that this is a professional piece of gear. Are you ready to hear what it actually sounds like?

TIME TO TEST

Before I share a sample with you, there’s something you need to know. I’m not a musician or a sound engineer, but a voice-over. I’ve been using microphones professionally for over thirty-five years to record commercials, industrials, audio books, guided tours, and eLearning programs. I am going to evaluate the OC18 from that perspective.

Here’s what I look for in a voice-over microphone: 

  • minimal voice coloration (Does it make me sound like myself?)
  • tight pick-up pattern (cardioid or supercardioid)
  • excellent rear rejection
  • controlled proximity effect (bass boost)
  • low susceptibility to sibilance (shrill “S”-sounds) and popping
  • low self-noise
  • value for money

 

Secondly, a word of warning.

Evaluating a microphone based on what you see and hear online is an exercise in futility. If you’re in the market for a new mic, you want to know what it sounds like in your studio using your voice, your acoustics, and your preamp. You don’t need me or some bearded dude using his recording chain and booth, sharing some compressed audio you listen to on your computer speakers. It ain’t fair and it ain’t right.

Having said that, I know you’re getting more curious to find out what the OC18 sounds like in the limited setting of my VO studio. The audio you’re about to hear is “unfooledaround with” (meaning no compression or other sweeteners), and recorded with an Audient iD22 preamplifier. No pads were engaged.

For fun we’ll do an A – B test. The OC18 against my Gefell M930 Ts which I consider to be the best voice-over microphone I have ever tested.

Here’s microphone A:


 

And here’s microphone B:

For the connoisseurs, this was recorded in WAV format, 24 bit, 48,000 Hz and converted to MP3 so it would load quickly. Click here if you’d like to hear the samples uncompressed. I purposely recorded something in Dutch so you wouldn’t be distracted by the content (unless you speak that language, of course).

YOUR IMPRESSION

The question is: How would you describe the difference between mic A and mic B? Is it striking or subtle? 

Which one do you think sounds best, and based on what?

Is that your objective or subjective conclusion? 

At this point I can tell you that one microphone costs $699 and the other $1,647.73. Did you hear a $948.73 difference? More importantly, would a client be able to tell?

Leave your remarks in the comment section, please.

Technically speaking, the OC18 has pads and switches the M930 doesn’t have, but as a voice talent I have no need for them. My iD22 already has a high-pass filter and I’m not going to expose my mic to loud noises any day soon. 

Looking at my criteria for a good voice-over microphone, both mics convincingly tick most of the boxes. Based on specs alone, the OC18 is a clear winner. It’s an all-round performer which will do as well on stage as in the studio.

Considering you’re getting a stellar C12-based, hand-built capsule, the $699 price tag is beyond reasonable. Remember: a Neumann TLM 103 -always a crowd favorite- will set you back about $1,100. I have used the 103 many times, and to me the OC18 sounds more open, balanced, and clear, without being clinical. It is a very user-friendly microphone, even for beginners, and it’s backed by years of audio expertise.

Some critics have mentioned that the form factor makes it hard to place the flat microphone in a generic shock mount. Well, as you can see from the picture at the top of this review, I was able to put the OC18 in a Rycote InVision shockmount system without any problems.

SUMMING UP

Back in 2012, I think I was the first to introduce the voice-over community to the CAD E100S. While this is still a fabulous microphone that offers excellent value for money, there have been some quality control and corporate communication issues at CAD. That’s why I’ve become hesitant to recommend the E100S wholeheartedly.

The OC18 on the other hand, is a different animal. Yes, it’s from a new company, and it was just released. It comes from a small but incredibly knowledgeable and dedicated team that is sought after by other brands who hire Austrian Audio to test their products.

Next to their anechoic chamber, Austrian Audio has a climate chamber where they can simulate the entire life-cycle of a product in a compressed time frame. You bet they’ve subjected their microphones to the most rigorous of tests, before putting them on the market. 

Mark my words, the OC18 is going to be a worthy successor of microphones like the classic AKG 414. I’m sure it will find its way into many voice-over studios across Europe, the United States, and Canada. 

Austrian Audio is being distributed in the U.S. by Momentum Audio Sales in California. Many thanks to Director of Operations Reezin Lovitt, for providing me with a test model, and to Kent Iverson from Austrian Audio to make the introduction. If Sweetwater is your store, you’ll be happy to know that they have the OC18 in stock. Keep in mind that you can test drive several microphones from Sweetwater, and keep the one that makes you sound like your best self.

The opinions expressed in this article are my own, and as with any review on this blog, I did not seek nor receive any compensation for it. 

Oh…. I almost forgot.

Microphone A was the OC18 from Austrian Audio!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Een Zinkend Schip

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Dutch, Freelancing, Personal 2 Comments

Wat doe je als je merkt dat je op een zinkend schip zit? Laten we de boot SS Wereldomroep noemen.

Je hebt drie mogelijkheden:

1. Je geniet van de omgeving en hoopt dat alles weer goed komt;

2. je gaat in een reddingssloep van boord, of

3. je werkt extra hard om het vaartuig drijvende te houden.

Er is ook nog een vierde, meer radicale optie, en die werd gekozen door een beminnelijke collega met een lange staat van dienst. Hier is een hint: zijn werk was zijn leven.

Toen zijn baan werd wegbezuinigd sprong hij overboord en werd later teruggevonden, bungelend aan een brug.

De zachtaardige, stille man die altijd had gedacht dat hij onmisbaar was, was binnen een week vergeten.

Laat dat maar even bezinken.

MIJN GROTE KANS

De meeste mensen om mij heen dachten dat de ondergang van Radio Nederland nog niet zo’n vaart zou lopen. Ze genoten van hun omgeving en hoopten op betere tijden. Ikzelf koos voor optie drie, maar werkte achter de schermen hard aan nummer twee.

Stel dat Gerrit den Braber net zo enthousiast over mij zou zijn als Ilse Wessel. Wat voor deuren zou dat openen? Ik durfde haast niet te dromen. Zelfs mijn vrouw wist nog van niks. Eerst maar eens horen of ik een kans zou maken. Daarna zien we wel verder, was mijn redenering.

Het was 3 mei 1997. Ik lag na een late dienst nog wat uit te slapen toen mijn geliefde me een dampende kop koffie kwam brengen. “Alles goed?” vroeg ik.

“Ja hoor” zei ze. “Ik heb net even een wasje gedraaid en naar De Dingen van de Dag geluisterd.”

“Is er nog iets gebeurd in de wereld?” wilde ik weten.

in de Wereldomroep studio

“Jij zit ook altijd aan het nieuws te denken,” zei mijn vrouw met terechte frustratie.

“Ik weet het. Het is beroepsdeformatie. Ze betalen me om op de hoogte te blijven van al het wereldleed.”

“Over leed gesproken,” zei mijn vrouw. “Weet je wie er vannacht is overleden?”

“Geen idee,” zei ik. “Vertel.”

Gerrit den Braber.”

Ik verslikte me abrupt in de hete koffie en die spoot met een bruine straal over het witte dekbed.

“Het is maar goed dat ik net de was aan het doen ben,” reageerde mijn vrouw. “Ben jij okay? Je ziet eruit alsof jij een spook gezien hebt.”

“Ik denk dat ik net een teken van het universum heb gekregen,” antwoordde ik in shock. “Zeg… zullen we straks even praten over dat trainingsbedrijf waar we het al zo lang over hebben gehad? Iets zegt me dat de tijd rijp is om daar nu aan te beginnen.”

Het was mijn optie nummer twee.

PERSOONLIJKE GROEI

Het ambivalente van een freelance baan is dat het permanente onzekerheid koppelt aan een hoop vrijheid en verantwoordelijkheid. Hoe je daarmee omgaat is helemaal aan jou. De meeste mensen hebben baat bij voorspelbaarheid en structuur, en dat vinden huisbazen, banken en de belastingdienst wel zo prettig. Je weet elke maand precies wat er binnenkomt. Saai maar betrouwbaar. En zo achterhaald.

Soms denk ik dat ik als freelancer geboren ben, omdat ik altijd al alles zelf wilde doen. Ik kon slecht werken onder domme bazen die hun baan te danken hadden aan het Peter Principle. Je weet wel, de arrogante klunzen die waren bevorderd tot een positie waar ze te weinig voor in huis hadden. Daar liepen er in Hilversum te veel van rond. Keizers zonder kleren.

Als freelancer gebruikte ik mijn vrije tijd om trainingen te volgen op het gebied van persoonlijke groei en ontwikkeling. Ik kwam daarbij uit op NLP, maar niet bij het vuurlopen waar Tony Robbins-imitator Ratelband bekend door werd. Mijn tak van Neuro-Linguistisch Programmeren was minder hype en meer therapie. Ik was voortdurend op zoek naar “het probleem achter het probleem,” en naar het ontdekken van iemands ongekende vermogens

met NLP trainer Tad James

Toen mijn vrouw en ik in Nederland de Practitioner en Master Practitioner opleiding hadden afgerond, volgden wij in Costa Mesa (Californië) de trainersopleiding. Ons doel was om ooit samen cursussen te geven. We keerden een aantal zomers als assistent-trainers terug naar Amerika, en werden in Lancaster (Pennsylvania Dutch Country) ook nog opgeleid tot hypnotherapeut.

MEDIA MOE

Ik kon dit alles combineren met mijn omroepwerk, maar op het moment dat mijn eigen programma bij Radio Nederland de nek werd omgedraaid en mijn collega zelfmoord pleegde, bleef één zin maar door mijn hoofd spoken:

“Waar doe ik het in hemelsnaam toch allemaal voor?”

Bij de geëngageerde IKON had ik nog het idee dat ik de wrede wereld kon veranderen met reportages en interviews. Als mensen over al het onrecht in de samenleving horen, dan komen ze wel in actie, dacht ik naïef. Toch bleef de zeespiegel maar stijgen, bleven ploerten aan de macht, en werden mensen het meeleven en meelijden moe. 

Ze wilden afleiding en amusement. Bloot en spelen.

Voor mij was er maar één conclusie:

Educatie (al of niet via de media) leidt niet tot transformatie.

Als informatie echt tot gedragsverandering kon leiden, dan zou niemand meer te veel eten, kettingroken of roekeloos rijden. We weten tenslotte dat dat slecht voor ons is. Maar échte verandering komt van binnenuit, en NLP and hypnose waren manieren om dat binnenste naar buiten te krijgen.

SUCCES

met één van mijn studenten

Terugkijkend ben ik trots dat we ons trainingsinstituut binnen twee jaar op de kaart wisten te zetten. Onze eerste cursus had vijf deelnemers, de tweede tien, en het werden er meer en meer. Hoewel we het niet om het geld deden kwamen er mooie bedragen op onze bankrekening binnen, en dat maakte het voor mij makkelijk om Hilversum te verlaten. 

Bevrijd van de negativiteit en stress van het nieuws genoot ik er elke dag van om het beste uit mijn cursisten (en mezelf) te halen. Ik voelde me zo happy als het lachende mannetje op de Life is Good t-shirts!

Niets wees er nog op dat ik vlak voor de Kerst van 1999 huis en haard zou achterlaten om een nieuw leven te beginnen in een ver land waar ik eigenlijk niks mee had.

wordt vervolgd

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

 

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Het Mannetje van de Radio

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Dutch, International, Journalism & Media, Personal 12 Comments

Vandaag doe ik iets dat ik nog nooit eerder heb gedaan.

Ik schrijf dit blog in het Nederlands.

Wat is daar nou nieuw aan, zal je misschien denken, maar sinds ik in 2007 met dit blog ben begonnen heb ik altijd in het Engels geschreven. De meeste van de bijna veertig duizend mensen die mijn schrijfsels elke week toegemaild krijgen spreken die taal. Vandaar.

De laatste tijd heb ik wat meer contact met jullie, mijn Nederlandse collega’s, en daarom wil ik dit verhaal graag in mijn moerstaal vertellen. Als je me later op Facebook of Instagram tegenkomt, dan heb je tenminste een beter idee wie die Friese Nederlandse Amerikaan eigenlijk is.

Ga er maar even voor zitten.

THE AMERICAN DREAM

Ik weet nog goed dat ik eind 1999 op de luchthaven van Philadelphia aankwam. Mijn hele leven zat opgepropt in twee koffers en een plastic zak.

Een grote groep gillende meiden wachtte me hysterisch huilend op. Die waren natuurlijk niet voor mij gekomen, maar voor de jongens van de razend populaire band *NSYNC die in hetzelfde vliegtuig naar Amerika waren teruggekeerd. Hun grootste hit op dat moment was “Bye, bye, bye.

Na 36 jaar in Holland te hebben gewoond en gewerkt was het ook voor mij “Bye, bye, bye.” Wat ik achterliet was een gebroken hart, een bedroefde familie, fijne vrienden, en een droombaan als baas van mijn eigen trainingsbedrijf.

Het was maar goed dat ik toen nog niet wist dat ik binnen twee jaar opnieuw zou trouwen, vader zou worden, in een slepende vechtscheiding terecht zou komen, dat mijn dochtertje kanker zou krijgen en mijn derde vrouw moest leren leven met MS. Ik had nog geen idee dat ik bijna aan een beroerte zou komen te overlijden, en dat ik amper twee maanden daarna achter de tralies zou worden gegooid.

Amerika. Het land van de onbegrensde mogelijkheden!

Ironisch genoeg waren de Verenigde Staten het laatste land waar ik ooit terecht had willen komen. Ik had niets met de cultuur. Ik vond de meeste mensen maar dom, luid en oppervlakkig, en mijn taalgevoelige oren hielden niet van het accent dat ik overal om me heen hoorde.

Als ik al ergens naartoe had willen emigreren, dan was het wel Engeland. Het land van de stiff upper lip, Monty Python, Shakespeare en de BBC. Maar voor mij liep de weg naar het Verenigd Koninkrijk wel via Hilversum.

PUBLIEKE OMROEP

Mijn omroep avontuur begon toen ik als 18-jarige geselecteerd werd voor de tweede generatie van AVRO’s MINJON, de Miniatuur Jongeren Omroep Nederland. Ik studeerde in die tijd musicologie in Utrecht, en het leek me wel wat om later klassieke muziekprogramma’s te presenteren.

Bij de stoffige AVRO kreeg ik de unieke kans om alle aspecten van radio en televisie te leren kennen, daarbij geholpen door oude rotten in het vak. Ze zagen blijkbaar wel wat in me, want een jaar later werd ik gevraagd of ik samen met Tosca Hoogduin (“voor wie wil gaan slapen, maar nog niet kan”) een programma zou willen presenteren. Zo leerde ik ook producer Imme Schade van Westrum kennen die bekend stond als “de man achter Willem Duys.”

Tosca ontfermde zich als een moeder over mij, en als ze in de microfoon sprak, resoneerde de tafel in de spreekcel mee met haar diep doorrookte stem. Hoewel ze er in de studio nooit eentje opstak, werd de ruimte snel gevuld door de geur van sigaretten die ze uitwalmde. Wij raakten ons radioprogramma “Play it Again” kwijt toen een AVRO-baas op ons tijdstip een Sinatra show wilde presenteren. De man bleek voorzitter van de Nederlandse Frank Sinatra fanclub te zijn.

NAAR DE IKON

Voor mij was het inmiddels tijd om mijn maatschappelijke dienstplicht te vervullen, en dat deed ik bij de Interkerkelijke Omroep Nederland. Die periode begon dramatisch met de dood van Koos Koster, Hans ter Laag, Jan Kuiper en Joop Willemsen, vier journalisten die in El Salvador door militairen weren vermoord.

Paul (L), in een pij bij het afscheid van IKON radio directeur Barend de Ronden. Links Pia Dijkstra.

Dankzij de IKON werd ik ondergedompeld in de wereld van geëngageerde journalistiek. Ik produceerde, ik presenteerde, en ik ging als reporter de straat op. Als zoon van een Gereformeerd predikant en lid van een Gregoriaans koor, voelde ik me als een vis in het water in de wereld van de religie. Ik interviewde net zo makkelijk Eelco Brinkman, de verbannen bisschop Bär, of zijn baas kardinaal Simonis. Ook kreeg ik de kans om met schrijver Henk Barnard te werken. Henk was de man achter “Pipo de Clown” en “Ja zuster, nee zuster,” de televisie waar ik mee was opgegroeid.

Hilversum is maar een klein dorp, en omdat de IKON geen eigen studios had kwam ik vaak over de vloer bij de NCRV en de KRO. Op een dag was ik aan het monteren toen er een omroeper onwel werd in de studio naast mij. Zijn technicus stormde in paniek binnen en vroeg of er iemand was die in kon vallen. Het enige wat ik hoefde te doen was praten tot aan de pips.

Zo begon mijn carrière als freelance omroeper. Mijn stem was jarenlang voor de NCRV te horen, de KRO, de IKON en later ook de Evangelische Omroep. In het nieuwe omroepcentrum lagen de continuiteitsstudios van radio 1, 2, 3, 4, en 5 tegenover elkaar aan hetzelfde “plein.” Op sommige dagen riep ik op het hele uur om voor de KRO op radio 5, en op het halve uur voor de EO op Radio 2. Beide omroepen betaalden gewoon het volle pond.

Bob van der Houven zat in die tijd vaak voor de klassieke zender in de spreekcel. Als hij een lange symfonie draaide hadden we even tijd om in de kantine Ducktales to improviseren. Hij speelde de neefjes en ik deed Donald Duck. Het was het begin van een lange vriendschap.

EINDELIJK NAAR LONDON

Mijn Londense werkplek

Nadat de bevlogen Wim Koole met pensioen was gegaan trad Geerten van Empel bij de IKON aan als directeur. Geerten bood me de kans om een jongensdroom in vervulling te brengen: werken bij de BBC! Dankzij de vele coproducties waren de lijntjes met London kort, en kreeg ik zomaar een eigen bureau in Yalding House. Ik ging als producer bij het Religious Department aan de slag.

In die tijd woonde ik in de peperdure wijk Kensington, in de buurt van het huis van princes Diana. Een rijke erfgename verhuurde tegen een zacht prijsje kleine cottages aan BBC-personeel. Die cottages waren vroeger voor het personeel van de koningin.

Ik had destijds een bekakt Engels accent, en dat opende heel wat deuren voor me. Zo ging ik undercover bij de Britse tak van Opus Dei (een ultra-conservatieve groep binnen de katholieke kerk), ik nam muziekprogramma’s op in de Abbey Road studios, en ik lunchte met rabbi Jonathan Sachs, de chief rabbi of the Commonwealth.

Mijn sluitstuk was het maken van een uur durende Paas special op Radio One, de meest beluisterde zender. Dit programma, “A Damn Good Lie,” zou later de Sandford St Martin Prize winnen voor “excellence in religious broadcasting.”

EEN WERELDBAAN

Terug bij de IKON leverde dat alles een oer-Hollands “Whatever” op, en het werd me snel duidelijk dat ik die club een beetje ontgroeid was. Gelukkig was de Wereldomroep (RNW) op zoek naar iemand voor het programma “Kerk en Samenleving,” (beter bekend als “Kerk en Samenzwering”) dat vroeger door Pia Dijkstra werd gemaakt.

met technicus Rien Otterspeer

Omdat niemand bij Radio Nederland ook maar enige kennis van of affiniteit met het religieuze leven had, en we de paters in Afrika toch tevreden moesten houden, kreeg ik vrij spel. Dat pakte goed uit, want elke week kreeg ik post van enthousiaste luisteraars uit de hele wereld. Op een terugkeerweekend van missionarissen ergens in het zuiden, werd ik al snel omringd door blije broeders en zusters die mijn stem herkenden. Ik had heuse fans, en ze spraken allemaal met een zachte G!

Mijn eilandje binnen de Wereldomroep was mooi en ook kwetsbaar. Bezuinigingen waren op komst, en er gingen zelfs geruchten over opheffing. Het internet bleek onze grootste vijand te zijn, maar de bedrijfsleiding dacht dat wel te kunnen overleven. Ik probeerde intussen te overleven door mijn halve baan aan te vullen met omroepen en nieuwslezen, werk dat Jeroen Pauw vóór mij had gehad.

Radio Nederland zond in de meeste tijdszones uit, en dat betekende dat ik dag en nacht achter de microfoon zat. Het ergste was als er een collega ziek werd, en ik dubbele diensten moest draaien. Ik hoopte stiekem op brekend nieuws zodat ik makkelijker wakker zou blijven.

Die ervaring maakte wel dat je me op elk tijdstip een tekst onder de neus kon duwen die ik foutloos en met gepaste autoriteit uit kon spreken.

ADRENALINE MACHINE

De onrust binnen de Wereldomroep zorgde voor veel personeelsverschuivingen, en ik werd als freelancer ingehuurd voor de nieuwsredactie en presentatie. Ook leverde ik bijdragen aan de Engelse afdeling en BVN, de televisietak van RNW.

Er werden bekende Nederlanders aangetrokken om onze programma’s meer allure te geven. Ik kwam te werken met Joop van Zijl, Harmen Siezen, Noraly Beyer, Job Boot, en Hans Hoogendoorn. Het was een gouden kans om de kunst van hen af te kijken.

In m’n vrije tijd was ik actief in de NVJ en deed ik wat ik kon om de positie van freelancers te versterken. Verder gaf ik mediatrainingen aan kerkleiders die zonder knikkende knieën voor de camera wilden verschijnen.

De radio was en bleef mijn tweede thuis, en ik raakte verslaafd aan het altijd maar halen van onmogelijke deadlines, aan het werkend eten en het etend werken. Het was ongezond voor lichaam en geest, maar de hechte band met mijn collega’s en de dagelijkse adrenalinekick maakten veel goed.

MUZIKAAL INTERMEZZO

Na een lange uitzending vond ik het heerlijk om, als alle lichten waren uitgegaan, de concertvleugel op te zoeken die tussen de studios geparkeerd stond.

Op een avond improviseerde ik in het donker en zong ik zelfgeschreven liedjes, toen plotseling uit een hoek een bekende (en zeer verzorgde) stem klonk. Het was Ilse Wessel die net het laatste nieuws had gelezen.

“Wat klink je goed!” zei Ilse. “Ik had geen idee dat jij dit kon. Heb je daar nooit iets mee willen doen?”

“Ik heb vroeger wel met studentencabarets opgetreden en op bruiloften van vrienden gezongen, maar daar is het bij gebleven.”

“Nou,” zei Ilse, “als je het goed vind bel ik een vriend van mij die in de muziek zit. Ik vind dat hij je moet horen. Mag ik je telefoonnummer doorgeven?”

“Dat zou ik geweldig vinden, Ilse” zei ik. “Wat aardig van je!”

Ilse hield woord, want de volgende dag ging de telefoon.

“Meneer Strikwerda, met Gerrit den Braber” klonk een wat korzelige stem. “Ilse Wessel zegt dat wij elkaar moeten ontmoeten. Heeft u donderdag tijd?”

Zestig seconden later had ik een afspraak met één van de bekendste producers van Nederland.

Het was 2 mei 1997.

Ik kon het haast niet geloven

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Klik hier voor deel twee

 

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BEING BOSSED AROUND

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Journalism & Media, Personal 10 Comments
VO Boss team

Anne Ganguzza & Gabby Nistico

Voice-overs love talking into microphones. No surprise there. That’s why a number of colleagues have embraced the podcast as a medium to spread their message.

Truth be told, I have a love – hate relationship with podcasts. You may remember my story “The problem with podcasting” where I explain why podcasts are not my thing:

“I spend very little time listening to podcasts. I’d rather read an article than listen to forty minutes of blah-blah-blah. An article or blog post I can scan in a short amount of time. I search for keywords, and skip the fluff.

Done. On to the next one.

Am I going to listen to a forty-minute podcast to possibly pick up a few useful ideas?

No thank you.

But there’s another reason why most podcasts are not my cup of tea.

I have no patience for mediocrity, half-ass efforts, or for untalented amateurs playing radio.”

This admission unleashed a storm of hate mail the likes I had never experienced before. People called me an arrogant sun of a gun, a failed, jealous blogger, and all kinds of other names I don’t care to repeat in public. It was clear that I had stepped on some very sensitive, potty-mouthed toes.

LISTENING TO MYSELF

This hasn’t stopped me from appearing on podcasts. I’m always honored that people seem to think I have interesting things to say, but here’s what you should know:

I rarely listen back to my interviews. Why is that?

Honestly, I feel more comfortable trusting my thoughts to my computer than to an interviewer. You see, writing gives me time to organize my ideas, and rephrase sentences until I’m happy with my words. Being interviewed is a spontaneous process (especially when it’s live), and it’s much easier to fumble and stumble. Once your words are out, you can’t take ’em back!

I tend to self-analyze while I’m talking, and I lose my train of thought wondering what point I was trying to make. Sounds familiar? On top of that, my post-stroke brain is often foggy, forgetful, and disorganized. What comes out of my mouth tends to be a reflection of that.

So, when Anne Ganguzza and Gabby Nistico asked me to be a guest on the VO BOSS podcast, I had to talk myself into doing it. One of the reasons for my hesitation was connected to my struggle to control my feelings in public.

 

ACCESSING EMOTIONS

It’s ironic: right after my stroke I couldn’t access my emotions, no matter how hard I tried. I could sense they were waiting behind a huge wall, but I had no way of reaching them. I felt disassociated from what was happening to me, and my speaking voice was monotone and robotic. Only after many, many hours of speech therapy was I able to begin to infuse my words with some emotion.

In March of this year, during VO Atlanta, a miracle happened. I unexpectedly broke through the impenetrable wall, and the floodgates opened! Since then I’ve become this overly sensitive and sappy guy whose eyeballs start leaking while watching sad and sweet stories on TV. I’m particularly moved by people helping people who are down on their luck.

Those who are close to me say it’s a good thing that a man dares to be vulnerable and show some emotions. They wish more men would show that side of their personality. To me it feels like I have no choice but to tear up, and I’d like to be able to control my feelings a bit better.

One of the things I have learned during my recovery is that I can’t force anything to happen. It will happen when the time is right. Perhaps I will always stay this way, and you’ll catch me crying during a podcast. Perhaps I’ll get a grip and contain myself in the future.

MY VO BOSS MOMENT

So, here’s the interview with Anne and Gabby. The one I’m not going to listen to.

Will you do the honors?

A huge thank you to the VO Boss team for having me on the show, and thank you for listening to the podcast!

Can I please get back to my computer?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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The Confident Skills of a Sex God

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Personal 10 Comments

DSC00347Dear Prudence:

I am a bit of a prude, and that’s a problem. You see, I work as a voice actor, and recently I was asked to narrate a script that turned out to be very erotic. There were certain words in the story I just couldn’t pronounce. It was too embarrassing. The trouble is: I already committed to the project. What am I to do?

That voice actor could have been me, not so long ago. Do you want to hear the story?

Well, a client from an Eastern-European country approached me because he was looking for someone with a hypnotic voice. Since I’m also a certified trainer of hypnotherapy, I thought this was right up my alley.

The client explained that I would be recording a 5-session audio program that could trance-form a shy wallflower of a man into a confident guy who had no trouble approaching women.

Before I tell you more, there’s something you should know.

THIS IS ME

Many, many moons ago, I was that man: rather nerdy, and terrified of the opposite sex. Every time I liked a girl I got this burning feeling of “move away closer.” It was a strange mix of being fascinated and frightened at the same time. I never dared to take the first step, paralyzed by an intense fear of rejection.

Of course I blamed my parents. They weren’t very touchy-feely people, and they rarely showed their affection in public. When my dad tried to explain the principles of procreation, he did it in a way only a Dutch Reformed minister could illuminate the miracle of life: in technical terms. He might as well have read me the manual of motorcycle maintenance.

Even though Dutch society is often seen as liberal and open, I grew up with the notion that nudity was naughty, and that sex revolved around dirty deeds taking place behind closed bedroom doors. One should stay away from it as long as possible. And that’s exactly what I did. At age 20, the sex life of a missionary might have been more exciting than mine.

We all know that repression leads to rebellion and eventually the hidden hedonist in me won over from the conflicted Calvinist. These days everybody knows me as the uber-confident, outrageously charismatic chick magnet I am; the guy who turned down the lead in Fifty Shades Of Grey. I beat myself up over it, and I must say… it was quite enjoyable.

But seriously, I’m a big believer in the benefits of hypnosis, and I really want to improve the life of my fellow-man. So, when the offer of narrating a self-help program came to me, I said to myself: “Why not?”

THE POWER OF SUGGESTION

If you’re at all familiar with hypnosis, you know that it’s based on the power of suggestion. A simple phrase like “Imagine being in a beautiful place where you can totally relax,” will elicit a certain state in certain people. It’s nothing mysterious. Words have the power to evoke images, sounds, and feelings. Why else would so many people be hooked on audio books?

Most hypnotic scripts begin something like this:

“Sit in a comfortable chair or just lie on a couch or a bed with your hands resting in your lap or by your side. When you are ready, begin.

Draw in three slow deep breaths… and another … still another. Each time you inhale, focus on filling your lungs with clean fresh air. As you exhale feel all the tension leave your lungs and your entire body. You feel so good. Perfectly relaxed.”

Once the listener reaches a deeper state of relaxation, the idea is to bypass all critical thinking which increases the openness to, and acceptance of more direct suggestions. And so the self-help script I was working on continued….

“You can achieve anything when you use your own power of mind. You will find yourself sleeping better. When it’s time to sleep, you’ll dream pleasant guiding dreams about becoming the guy with all the girls around him, and it’s a great dream that you enjoy having regularly. This dream further empowers you to be the Sex God you truly desire to be. That’s because you are now the guy that all the girls love. You possess the qualities that women look for and want to have a sexual relationship with.”

At this point I could see where this was going, and the prude in me started to protest, but the script went on:

“As of this moment, you can successfully flirt a woman into a ‘more’ situation, and then provide the best nights’ entertainment, and an amazing night or weekend of shagging, and she will always beg for more.”

I beg your pardon?

I had to stop the recording, and wondered: “Am I really saying this? I would never use the word shagging. It’s vulgar. Do I really want to go on?

“10… going deeper, deeper and deeper…
9… more and more relaxed…
8… deeper and deeper, than before…”

The temperature in my sound booth began to rise, and I took my sweater off. It felt like there wasn’t enough air in the small space. What on earth had I gotten myself into?

“7… deeper still…”

After taking a deep breath, my inner voice started reading the words in front of me:

“Imagine that you are with a lover, in a hot tub, and you are still making love and feeling her pleasure because you are very sensitive, caring… slow when she needs slow, fast when she needs fast, deep when she needs deep, just stimulating the first 1” of the entrance near the G-spot, and sometimes throbbing and contracting to bring her greater pleasure, and you KNOW that being a gentle and caring lover is more important, and by practicing what you are doing with care and gentle warmth you enhance your own sexual talents, enhance your penis’ awareness of how to make love, and she can feel it and it thrills her.”

Here’s where I completely lost it. This wasn’t a hypnotic self-help induction. This was pure, unadulterated porn, and my awareness of it didn’t need to be enhanced. It made me utterly uncomfortable, and I had to ask myself one question:

“Do I want to be known as the Ron Jeremy of voice-overs?”

Of course not!

MIND OVER BODY

To make matters worse, my mind decided to convey this message to my muscles, and my lips responded appropriately by refusing to say the p-word. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t pronounce it.

It was as if I had regressed. That sometimes occurs when people are under hypnosis. My prude, Protestant self was penalizing me for what I was doing. I’ve had this happen once before, when I had to read a short story filled with brutal, gratuitous violence. It was too graphic. I just couldn’t do it.

The problem with this job was that I was working on session five. I had recorded the previous four, and the illustrious Uncle Roy Yokelson had already added hypnotic music, and mixed and mastered the audio. The finish line was in sight. I’d also signed a contract, and it would be silly of me to back down because of a stupid two-syllable word.

TAKING A BREAK

I decided to leave my studio and walk around the block. Once I had cooled down a bit, I zoomed in on the heart of the matter:

I was taking this way too personally.

These weren’t my words. This wasn’t my script. I was just an unidentified voice, whispering in someone’s horny ear.

“Get yourself out of the way,” I said. “Be a man, and do the job you were hired to do. You’re a voice actor. You get paid because you’re good at pretending. Now, get in front of that microphone, and finish what you started!”

These were almost self-hypnotic suggestions, and they did the trick. I was only a few pages away from completing this project, when I spoke the following words:

“Your subconscious now hears these special suggestions deeply and profoundly: I am sure and confident about myself. I know what a woman wants and I have the skills to deliver it. So, hold that image of successfully flirting with her in your mind. No Fear – No Intimidation. You walk tall and proud, shoulders back with total and complete self-confidence and purposely walk up to this woman who is everything you have always wanted and here she is in body and soul. You visualize being her lover, and her going absolutely wild with you and for you.

Your own mind reaffirms: I am a wild sexual tiger. Hear me roar.

LATER THAT DAY

A few minutes after I was done recording, my wonderful, gorgeous wife came home.

“How was your day, honey?” she asked.

“Fine,” I said with a smile. “Totally fine.”

She stared at me for a moment.

“What’s that look in your eyes,” she wanted to know. “Is there something on your mind?”

“Sweetie, you look absolutely amazing,” I said. “Let’s go upstairs.”

“Right now?” she asked.

“Right now!” I roared.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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The Essence of Excellence

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Journalism & Media, Personal 7 Comments

Some have called him the greatest performer of spoken word of our time.

His videos have brought YouTube viewers to tears. His powerful performances turned comic book addicts into poetry lovers.

In 2000, he won the individual championship at the National Poetry Slam in Providence, Rhode Island – beating 250 North American competitors. In doing so, he became the first-ever winner from outside the U.S.

His first published collection, Visiting Hours, was the only work of poetry selected by the Guardian, Globe and Mail newspapers, for their Best Books of the Year lists in 2005.

And yet, most people have never heard of him.

OLYMPIC MOMENT

All of that changed when Shane Koyczan recited his poem “We Are More” at the opening ceremony for the 2010 Winter Olympics held in Vancouver, British Columbia. The man who was born in the obscure town of Yellowknife in Canada’s Northwest Territories, wowed the world with his words.

Most footage of that performance is of very poor quality because the Olympic Committee regulates the rights to the original broadcast and we’re stuck with amateur video.

Here’s an extended and animated version of “We Are More” (click on Watch on YouTube).

The reason I’m writing about Shane today can be summarized in one word:

I N S P I R A T I O N

Most days I wake up on the right side of the bed and everything just flows. Some days I feel stuck in a rut and I catch myself doing the same things I’ve always done, hoping to get a different result. It never works, does it?

To some, living life on cruise control might be the ultimate goal, but as soon as I find out that my brain has secretly switched on the autopilot, I tell it to turn it off and start doing some stretching exercises.

A big part of me has this inner urge to always learn and grow and expand what I am capable of. In order to do that, I need to be challenged beyond my boundaries. It’s the best way to escape my cozy comfort zone. But where to go? Whom can I turn to?

I am always on the lookout to emulate excellence. If I want to be the best, I have to learn from the best. That might sound straightforward to you, but in our culture that is not necessarily the predominant philosophy.

ROLE MODELS

I never understood why medical researchers seem to spend more time studying illness instead of learning about wellness. During their training, doctors-to-be poke around in dead bodies, supposedly learning the secrets to saving the living. They spend most of their time around the sick and the dying, and some of them eventually become specialists in a particular disease.

The study of the dysfunctional is the norm, but it doesn’t have to be.

In certain schools of Oriental medicine, doctors get paid to keep the people in their care healthy. Their focus is much more on preventing the root cause of a problem, rather than on treating or alleviating symptoms. Instead of trying to find a cure for diabetes, they are teaching their “patients” (they call them “students”) about a healthy diet and an active lifestyle.

It is a well-known fact that Western doctors have more problems with drugs and alcohol, and a higher suicide rate than their patients. (source) Most Oriental healers practice what they preach and keep on practicing well into their senior years. In their culture, the wisdom that comes with age is held in high regard, instead of hidden in underfunded assisted living facilities.

FINDING FAULT

Like doctors, many professionals are trained to spend most of their time on sick systems, tracking and analyzing problems. Psycho-analysts come to mind, as well as lawyers, economists and -dare I say it- politicians. We have become masters at focusing on what’s wrong and finding someone or something to blame.

“Fast food and soda made me fat. I didn’t do it!”

What would have happened after 9/11, had we invested just as much money and brain power into building bridges between people, cultures and religions, as we have invested in beefing up homeland security? Or have we ignored the causes while we were busy trying to treat the symptoms?

Why not focus on creating beauty and cultivating friendships as we fortify our nation to prevent more death and destruction? How can we sow the seeds of peace and understanding if we spend all our money and manpower building more barriers and billion-dollar walls to protect us? Is that a sign of desperation or of inspiration?

CHOOSING POETRY

I admit it: I have my dark days. When I look for inspiration, I sometimes turn to poetry and to my favorite poet: Shane Koyczan. He’s called a spoken word virtuoso for a reason.

As a professional speaker, I admire the way he hammers his words in with heart and with soul. They almost burn into my brain. I’d love to emulate his mastery of language and moving delivery. His artistry is the challenge I am looking for. His depth is what I aspire to.

Shane speaks to me in a way few other people do. One moment he seems to tenderly touch his words with velvet gloves, only to start building a tremendous crescendo of ideas and similes and associations my mind tries to process intellectually but cannot, until what’s left is an overwhelming feeling of intense exaltation.

It’s almost a hypnotic induction.

A great example of his style is the poem “Beethoven”. Even though the quality of the recording leaves a bit to be desired for, it is a monumental performance.

Shane Koyczan still performs his work for sold out houses, but he has done something else. He created a new genre called Talk Rock with his band the Short Story Long. His unique mix of song and verse won him the “Best New Artist” award at the BC Interior Music Awards.

WORD POWER

Even though the poetry corner at my bookstore seems to be shrinking, the spoken word is alive and kicking. And I can’t help but wonder: what would happen if the world would feed itself with the art of poets, painters, dancers and musicians instead of with the language of hate, discrimination, intolerance, fanaticism and violence? 

I also wonder how we as voice-over artists can do our part to change this world through the words we speak.

If you ever need inspiration, just listen to Shane.

To me he personifies the essence of excellence.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS What inspires you? Who is your inspiration?

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Does Your Studio Leave You In Pain?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles 2 Comments

click to enlarge

A year and a half ago, it started.

Pain in my back and neck. Pain in my wrists. Pain in my right arm, and pain in my shoulders.

There was no mystery as to what caused it. I did it to myself.

Hours and hours of sitting behind a computer. Hours and hours of recording, editing, and yes, blogging.

Does any of this sound familiar?

Even if you think you’ll be okay, I’m here to tell you that a sedentary life will catch up with you in the worst way. You’ll gain weight, you’ll lose your breath support, your eyesight will worsen, and carpal tunnel syndrome is just around the corner.

As with many things in life, if you don’t pay attention, you will pay with pain.

I treated the pain I was experiencing as an action signal to radically change the way I work and the environment I work in. Like yours, my recording space is small, so my solutions had to fit into that space.

SIT OR STAND?

My number one priority was to get off my behind and start moving. The first item on my shopping list was an UPLIFT standing desk converter that transforms any desk surface into an adjustable height workstation.

A pneumatic mechanism adjusts the height, and heavy counterbalances support the weight of my equipment. It comes with an attached keyboard tray that lowers below the desk surface for a more ergonomic keyboard height.

So, if anyone asks: Do you record sitting down or standing up, my answer is an emphatic “YES!”

The reason I didn’t I get a regular standing desk was simple. The converter had a much smaller footprint and fits perfectly into my 7 by 7 foot voice-over booth. This leaves me with little work space, but I’m fine with that because my operation is pretty much paperless.

By the way, when out of my chair I stand on a textured anti-fatigue mat which relieves pressure on the legs and feet.

CATCHING A MOUSE

Because I’m short on desk space there isn’t much room to maneuver a mouse. That’s where a trackball mouse comes in. The cursor is moved by the thumb (or index finger, depending on the device) while the mouse itself sits still on the mat. Bear in mind that people are different and hands are shaped differently. What may work for me may not work for you.

After extensive research and testing at places like Best Buy, I bought the Logitech MX Ergo Plus mouse. Logitech claims that this device delivers twenty percent less muscular strain compared to a regular mouse. It also features a unique adjustable hinge for personalized comfort which was a huge selling point to me.

The mouse itself is rather large and heavy and rests on a solid magnetic metal base. That base allows you to put it on a twenty percent tilt to make it a more natural fit to your hand. I bought the Best Buy edition which comes with a plastic platform, giving you a thirty percent angle. As soon as I started using this mouse, my wrist and arm felt tremendous relief.

The trackball is buttery smooth and its speed can be easily adjusted via the Logitech Options software. That software also controls the function of the eight buttons. One of those buttons controls the cursor speed. Pressing the button right next to the trackball will make the cursor slow down for precision placement which is very useful when editing.

The functions of all the buttons can be easily reprogrammed to fit the application you’re using, thus creating time-saving shortcuts. In other words, in the audio editor Twisted Wave I can make a button do one thing, and when I’m surfing the web I can make the same button do something else. That’s incredibly useful!

The only thing I don’t like about the MX Ergo is the scrolling wheel. It does what it needs to do (it even scrolls horizontally), but it feels and sounds cheap. For a premium mouse that costs anywhere between $80 and $100 this is almost unforgivable, though not a deal breaker.

AN ERGONOMIC KEYBOARD

Next on my quest for a more ergonomic office environment was a keyboard. Traditional keyboards never felt natural to my big hands and fingers. Part of the pain in my wrists, forearms, and shoulders came from typing. I needed to find something that would force me to place my hands in a position preventing ulnar and radial deviation.

Ulnar deviation, also known as ulnar flexion, is the movement of bending the wrist to the little finger, or ulnar bone, side. With the right hand this is the movement you use when hitting the Enter key. Radial deviation, a.k.a. radial flexion, is the movement of bending the wrist to the thumb, or radial bone, side.

I ended up getting the Kinesis Freestyle2 Convertible Keyboard. It’s a low-profile, 94 key keyboard that is divided into two separate halves connected by a cable. This modular design allows the user to move the two halves in order to place the keyboard in an optimal position. I also added an accessory kit allowing me to create adjustable lateral sloping or tenting of the keyboard modules at 5°, 10° or 15° (see picture). Similar to the MX Ergo mouse, this makes for a more personalized and comfortable fit.

EASY ON THE EYES

To complete the process of making my desk area healthier, I had to tackle one other thing: my eyesight. Staring at a computer monitor or television screen all day long creates eye fatigue. It’s the type of eye strain that can give you headaches and dry, scratchy eyes.

One way to prevent that is to use bias lighting by putting a light source behind your TV or monitor. Doing that raises the average ambient light in the room and reduces the strain on your eyes, meaning you can watch television or work for longer without all the negative side effects.

Online you can buy a wide variety of kits for bias lighting, and many can be plugged into a USB slot and are dimmable. I have installed an LED strip behind our 55″ TV, as well as one behind my studio desk. My eyes are much happier now, and so is the rest of my body. Every little bit of change adds up.

Before I end this blog post, I’d like to do something I’ve never done before: give you a quick tour of the Nethervoice studio:

As I said before, what works for me may not work for you. We’re all built differently and we may have different needs. However, don’t wait to make adjustments until you’re in pain. If you ignore the signals, they will only get worse. It will probably require a substantial investment, but what’s the alternative?

Also, remember that adopting a healthy lifestyle and diet make a huge difference. You’re used to taking care of others. You can’t do that properly if you don’t take care of yourself.

Move more, eat less, stay hydrated, and have a positive attitude. You’ve heard it all before, but this time, make today the day you implement some meaningful changes in your life.

Your mind and body will thank you!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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How I Saved Over $1,000 On My New Computer

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Gear, Money Matters, Reviews, Studio 5 Comments

We’ve all had this experience.

After years of functioning fabulously, your computer tells you it can’t keep up with the times.

You see the spinning beach ball of death way too often, applications suddenly freeze, websites crash, and you can’t upgrade to the latest operating system.

I’ve had my trusted Mac Mini since 2011, and the once so silent computer wasn’t so silent anymore. As it heated up, the fans worked overtime, huffing and puffing right next to me in my voice-over booth. I almost felt sorry for the thing.

A few weeks ago my Mini made its last grand gesture of expiration: it crashed in the middle of a live interview with the Voice Over Body Shop guys, even though I had placed an ice pack on top of it. That terrifying moment was not something I wanted to relive with a well-paying client on the other end of the line.

Something had to be done.

MAC OR PC

In my small family we’ve had the Mac versus PC discussion a long time ago, and we’re done. My wife and I both have had a few Dells and they were a D-saster. The remote techs that were supposed to help were even worse than the lousy machines they were paid to support.

The moment Apple arrived in our household, sanity returned, and we never looked back. We now have iPhones, iPads, Apple TV, Apple desktops and laptops, and we’re living on the iCloud where all is well. And if it isn’t, we just call the friendly folks at AppleCare where they speak using words we can actually understand.

Last year, Apple finally updated the Mac Mini, and for a while it seemed obvious that I would just upgrade to the latest model. Then I started thinking (a dangerous habit of mine, I know).

CAMERA MAN

I don’t have many hobbies, but one thing I do like is photography. I enjoy going out in nature seeing the world through the lens of my mirrorless camera. I especially love taking pictures of people, particularly when they’re not posing.

Over time my photos have been used for social media campaigns, magazines, and websites. Last year one of my pictures landed on the cover of a historic novel. I’ve even won a photography competition with this shot:

click to enlarge

Just like voice-overs, photographers spend a lot of time staring at screens, editing. And that’s why I started thinking about getting an iMac.

iMac

Back in the days I owned one of the first fruit-colored iMacs in the Netherlands (mine was purple), and I’ve always loved the newer aluminum, minimalist design dating back to 2007. Plus, this all-in-one comes with a gorgeous 5K monitor. It is ideal for photo and video editing.

The cheapest 27” display with a 5120 x 2880 resolution is made by LG and costs around $1,300. What if I could get an entire computer for less than that? And if I could, would it be smart to have a huge iMac in the middle of a recording booth?

I asked my VO Facebook friends about it, and the responses ranged from “Don’t do it, you idiot!” to “No problem whatsoever.” Thanks, guys! Very helpful.

COMPUTER NOISE

Now, most of the computer noise usually comes from the fans that kick in when the CPU (Central Processing Unit) has to work hard. This usually happens when you run complicated programs involving lots of graphics. The more bits and bytes the machine has to process, the hotter it gets.

Thankfully, voice-over recordings require very little computing power so they’re not likely to cause overheating, as long as you don’t have a lot of other programs running at the same time.

Hard Disk Drives (HDD’s) are another source of noise because they have moving parts. HDD’s can make clicking and humming noises when the motor is spinning and data is being read or written. Computers with a Solid State Drive (SSD) are quiet because SSD’s have no moving parts. Although prices are coming down, SSD’s are more expensive than HDD’s.

When buying a new iMac you can choose between two different types of storage: Flash storage (SSD) or a Fusion Drive. When you go to the online Apple store, the three iMac models on virtual display all have 1 to 2 TB Fusion drives. Are they good options for the VO studio?

A Fusion Drive consists of two separate drives ‘fused’ together. It contains a regular (heat-producing) hard drive, with a spinning plate inside, and a solid-state drive. What Apple doesn’t tell you is that only 128 GB of that Fusion drive is SSD.

Bottom line, if you want a studio computer that stays cool and runs quietly, forget a Fusion drive and choose SSD instead. SSD’s offer better performance, boot up much quicker, and are not as power hungry. Nice features, but they come at a price!

FINDING A BUDGET FRIENDLY iMAC

A 2019 base model iMac with 16 GB of RAM and 512 GB of SSD would set me back $2,299.00. That’s way over my budget! What if could get an older computer that was in good shape for a lot less money?

The Apple store is selling reconditioned 2017 iMacs with 16 GB of RAM and 512 GB of SSD for a whopping $2,209. Not cool!

For the next couple of weeks I kept a close eye on eBay and saw that some 2017 iMacs had a more friendly price tag. I also looked at the reputable Apple refurb sites, as well as at Amazon Renewed. It took me a while, but I gradually narrowed down my options.

One day I decided to take a little detour and check out Facebook Marketplace. This ad caught my eye:


The owner turned out to be an IT specialist working at a Philadelphia university, and when I reached out to him, he couldn’t be nicer. Long story short, I made him an offer and his pristine iMac became mine in a Starbucks near Philly. Now, here’s the best part. How much did it cost me?

I’ll tell you!

I paid $1,260, saving me $1,039 by not buying from Apple. That meant that the iMac did not come with a one-year warranty, but to me the price difference was worth the risk.

MEMORY

Part of what makes Macs so expensive has to do with what Apple charges for memory upgrades. For instance, 32 GB of RAM costs $600 at the Apple store. Crucial sells the same amount of RAM for $134.99! The trouble is that for most Apple products, it’s a giant pain in the neck (if not impossible) to upgrade the RAM yourself… unless you own a 27″ iMac. That’s another reason why I chose the iMac over the Mac Mini. Watch how easy it is to install memory.

Speaking of upgrades, if you’re in the market for an iMac, I have a few suggestions. To create a sleek, clean look, the Apple engineers decided to hide all ports in the back like so:

This means that every time you need to reach one of these slots, you’ve got to turn this 21 pound (9.44 kg ) computer around, leaving scratch marks on your desk. That’s why I got the Rain Design i360 Turntable for iMac (see video below). Please note: if your computer is placed close to the wall, this turntable doesn’t work (obviously).

You’ll also notice another accessory, the Twelve South Backpack for iMac. It’s a small hidden storage shelf for things like external hard drives and SSD’s. In my case it holds an APRIME ineo 1TB USB-C Gen.2 Metallic External Solid State Drive. That’s my backup drive for Time Machine. I’ve also added a 1 TB Seagate backup drive for all my photos and videos.

Thanks to the Backpack, I can enjoy my 5K monitor without having to stare at all kinds of wires and drives cluttering up my desk.

And finally, I wanted to protect my investment with a Tripp Lite 8 Outlet Surge Protector Power Strip. What I like is that Tripp Lite will repair or replace any connected equipment damaged by surges, including direct lightning strikes, up to $75,000 for life (valid in the U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico only). Let’s hope I never need it.

USING THE iMAC

I’ve used my brand new, previously loved iMac for almost a week now, and as my wife will attest, I am in love with this beautiful machine! A bit too much perhaps.

I love how fast it boots up, how brilliant the screen is, and I marvel at the classic Jony Ives design. I no longer have to wait endlessly for pages to load and websites to connect. As a result, I can work faster and be more productive and free of frustration!

The fans have yet to kick in, and if they did, I didn’t hear them. It’s just the way I want it to be.

I am only left with one question:

Who wants a mid-2011 Mac Mini?

Come meet me at Starbucks and I’ll quote you a good price!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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PPS If you own a Mac and your fans are out of control, check out the following tools to reduce noise: HHD fan Control, SSD Fan Control, and smcFancontrol.

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Bodalgo Founder Launches voices.net

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, International, Internet, Journalism & Media, Pay-to-Play 4 Comments

Armin Hierstetter

He’s done it!

Armin Hierstetter, the brains behind online casting site BODALGO has launched a new site: voices.net.

It’s been months in the making, but do we really need another voice casting site?

Time for a quick interview.

1. What specifically prompted you to build voices.net?

It was a thought process over a couple of months. Online casting has not really evolved that much over the last decade. Sure, I tried to enhance bodalgo.com by adding bodalgoCall and bodalgoCRM, but the core functionality of all the usual suspects is still the same. So is the concept of all the ones that showed up in the last two years.

2. How does your approach and philosophy differ from other voice casting sites?

It’s not pay to play. And while other new sites to the industry claim that their online casting sites are neither, the reality is: They are. voices.net on the other hand will not take a single cent from the talents. It is the clients that need to pay in order to be able to use the service.

3. Why would they ever do that when they can cast talents online for free on so many other websites?

The major problem with most online casting websites: Way too many auditions for a job! And way too low quality of auditions in many cases (there are a few exceptions, though, bodalgo.com being one of them, I would think). But the major downside: A client has always to wait for the auditions to shuffle in before they get a feeling what to expect. All the p2ps are centered around the audition process. The matching process is not precise enough by design, so many talents get job offers and have the feeling a lot of opportunities are coming through. And when all of them audition, only a fraction will be really relevant to the client’s needs. That’s an issue.

voices.net will completely change that. Even before the audition process, a client can narrow down the selection of potential talents in a very, very sophisticated way that works in real time.

An example: Let’s say somebody is looking for a US English female voiceover for commercial. Also, they want a low pitched breathy voice that sounds mystical. With websites out there, they would have to post a job and hope for the best.

With voices.net, you will be able to first narrow down a selection of talents that exactly fit that description in a few seconds. And if after listening to a few demos you changed your mind and would rather listen to higher pitched demos, it is just a click away.

4. How is this possible?

1. All demos on voices.net are precisely tagged by the talents including language, gender, character and attributes (warm, confident, sexy, passionate, caring etc.). A talent can upload an unlimited number of demos. But: Each demo must only feature one specific recording. It is not allowed to mix different genres or different styles of a read in one demo as the tagging would not be accurate anymore. voices.net does a lot to educate the talents to follow those rules. In fact, I have pointed out quite in the face that breaking the rules will lead to the deletion of a profile. The quality expectations are really super high.

2. voices.net has artificial intelligence built in to determine the pitch of a talent. This is important, because you need to have the same standard across the board. Talents are asked to have a standard demo of their signature voice analyzed as a pitch reference which will be taken as a default value for every further demo uploaded. Of course, if you intentionally voiced a demo higher than your signature voice, you can adjust the pitch tagging manually.

This pre audition filter process takes less than a minute. By listening to most relevant demos, a client can then decide whether he wants to contact a single talent directly or invite a group of talents to audition. For the talent that means: In case of an audition you are not up against a few hundred but up against a pre-selected few.

Maybe it becomes also clear why it is therefore in the best interest of the talents to be as precise as possible when tagging the demos. If they are not, they will end up in the filter results with a group of other talents that are much more relevant. So they will not stand a chance. So you absolutely want to make sure that your tagging is spot on on order to be successful.

So why will clients pay for this? Because voices.net will generate better results in a shorter amount of time.

5. The name of the site is obviously a nudge to a certain Canadian company that has cornered a huge segment of the market. Are you openly challenging them? Do you expect any legal challenges from voices.com since your sites have similar objectives, or has that been sorted out?

Do I challenge them? No. In my book, vcom is mainly a platform for amateurs and bottom feeders. And for companies that do not know that a huge chunk of their budget does not end up with the talents but in the pocket of vcom. voices.net is a completely different game.

Regarding the website name: voices.net and voices network are registered trademarks in the EU. But even if that would not be the case: According to the EUIPO (European Union Intellectual Property Office), “voices” by itself is a descriptive term that cannot be trademarked under EU regulation. If you choose a name like this, you simply have to accept that others might use it well. That’s not what I say, that’s what the trademark office says. Fair enough if you ask me.

6. Voices dot com has spent many years and millions of dollars on CEO and online advertising campaigns. Do you believe your David can beat Goliath at their own game and if yes, why?

First of all: Online advertising hardly works anymore when your objective is to find new clients (not talents). Reason is partly because those ads, for a few years now actually, are clicked more and more by talents looking for platforms they can book jobs from instead of clients looking for talents. Actually, it is the talents that kinda ruin the campaigns that are created to get them jobs in the first place. It’s a bit ironic.

But for voices.net, this will not be that of an issue. voices.net targets top shelf clients that have very high expectations regarding quality. Those companies don’t google “hire voice talent” (which is far fewer searched for than some people think, by the way). Getting those clients excited about voices.net will work best if you actually go to them and present the magic personally.

Will that be easy? No. Not at all. But every of those clients will have a healthy amount of jobs all the time, so if you get only a few dozens of the bigger ones on board, you already have a great base to work from. And because the talents do not pay a cent, I do not feel the pressure to find clients at all costs. It will take time, but I am sure that the path is right.

And if it fails: Nothing to lose for the talents except the time to create the most compelling profile on the planet.

7. Is the investment in voices.net coming out of your own pocket, or do you have any backers?

It comes out of my own pocket. Talking about it: I find it a bit amusing that there is one site out there at the moment that was basically created with membership fees paid upfront by the talents. That’s a pretty interesting stunt I have to say: Building a website and promoting it with no financial risk attached. If it does not work, it was not your money. Not sure though, how all those talents will feel about it when it does not work out¦

8. Who runs voices.net by the way? Is it just you or do you have a team?

Just me. It’s always just me, nobody loves me! [laughs]

9. The only way to measure the success of your new site is by the number of good paying jobs available. You already run an online voice casting site that is sometimes criticized for not offering as many opportunities as e.g. voice123. Shouldn’t you just focus on growing Bodalgo instead of dividing your time and energy between voices.net and your site selling vintage game consoles?

I think how I divide my time is completely my business. The numbers of bodalgo have been growing constantly for a decade now. Yes, there are fewer jobs than with the big “v’s”. On the other hand, the quality of the jobs is much higher. And the number of premium talents much lower. And the membership fee is much lower. Do I need to go on?

What’s more: Talents tell me time and time and time again that they convert many clients into returning clients. They can do so because bodalgo does not “own” the clients. So in a nutshell: bodalgo is doing fine and will continue to do so. And remember: If I present voices.net to new clients that are despite the compelling concept not willing to pay for online casting, there is still the option to promote bodalgo to them. So now I have two great products to bring to the market. I see that as an advantage for the talents, too.

10. Can any voice talent -experienced or inexperienced- sign up for voices.net? Do you have a limit as to how many voice actors you accept? What are your acceptance criteria?

No, absolutely not! The bar will be set extremely high. First, you need to be a pro. Second, your audio quality must scream awesomeness. And even if you are an experienced talent: That might not guarantee that your profile will make it in the end (maybe because of sub par audio quality, maybe because of incorrect tagging of demos, etc). The goal is to identify the best of the best talents available.

I know that this approach will not go down well with everybody, especially when they are rejected, but when you want to create something insanely great, there is no chance to be everybody’s darling at the same time. I hope the talents will understand that and rather work on their skills than blaming me for “playing god”.

11. Best scenario: five years from now, where do you see voices.net?

The go-to place when you are looking for the best voice over talents in the world. For agents, producers, ad agencies, enterprises, casting directors, you name it.

Many thanks, Armin, and best of luck with voices.net!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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