Nethervoice

Help! I Want My Child To Be a Voice-Over

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Personal 5 Comments

Skyler & her dad

It started some six, seven years ago, when one of my agents put out a call I’d never had before:

“If you have a son or daughter who’d like to audition for a commercial, please get in touch as soon as possible.”

Now, I’m not one of those dads who’d like his offspring to follow in his footsteps, but my daughter Skyler had shown some potential.

As a baby, we took her to New York where she modeled for a Fisher Price catalogue, and everybody commented on how easy-going and cute she was. I had to agree, and not just because I was her father. I looked around the dressing room. Compared to all those whining model-babies with their whining model-mothers, Skyler was an angel.

Like me, she was an early speaker and reader, she was musical and outgoing, and she did well in the company of adults. And like me, she had a mind of her own.

When she was two years old, she began reading the letters and numbers on license plates in our neighborhood. A year later I took her shopping at Target, and a green plant had fallen off the shelf, making a mess in the middle of an aisle.

When she spotted it, Skyler exclaimed: “Look Daddy… aRUgula!”

A sweet old lady came up to us and asked: “How old is your daughter?”

Before I could respond, Skyler said: “I am THREE years old,” holding up three fingers.

The lady said: “I’ve never seen such a thing. A three year old who knows what arugula is…”

“It’s my favorite vegetable,” answered Skyler with a smile.

As a toddler, Sky loved to sing and dance and didn’t care who was watching. At Musicfest in Bethlehem, folk singer Dave Fry performed, and asked if any kids would like to join him. Guess who was the first one to run to the stage?

When a magician was doing a show at our library he needed an assistant for one of his tricks. I don’t have to tell you who volunteered. Until her shy teenage years, my daughter was up for anything.

So when my agent was looking for a kid to audition for a commercial, I asked ten-year old Skyler if she was game. She looked at the script and said she’d give it a try. Prior to that moment, she had never recorded anything other than a few improvised songs about an imaginary creature called “Meep.”


When Skyler began to cold-read the script, it became immediately clear that she had no idea what she was doing. That wasn’t her fault, because I hadn’t prepped her. She read the conversational script in a monotone murmur, as if she was reading in class.

Gone was the spontaneous, playful child I was hoping to hear. She had no idea she was expected to speak the lines as a kid telling peope about Food Angels in no more than thirty seconds. What made it even worse was the fact that she couldn’t stand still in front of the microphone, and I could hear every breath and bit of mouth noise a child is able make.

When she was done, she looked at me with a very proud smile, and it seemed like she was ready to walk out of the studio after a job well done. “Not so fast, Sky,” I said. “We need to work on a few things before I can send this to my agent.”

“What do you mean?” she asked. “I read every word on the page. What’s wrong?” “Well, that’s the problem,” I said. “You READ the text but this is meant to be SPOKEN, as if you’re making it up on the spot.”

“But I would never say it that way,” said Skyler. “These words are weird.”

I looked at her and said, “I completely understand, but the trick is that you have to make them your own, even if you would never talk like the girl in the commercial. Let’s practice a bit, shall we?”

Her next take was a lot more animated but completely overacted with unnatural highs and lows. She looked at my expression and said: “I did what you wanted me to do, but I guess it’s still not good?”

“It’s more lively, and yet it doesn’t sound like the Skyler I know.”

She frowned.

“So dad, you want me to pretend I’m someone else, and you want me to be myself? That doesn’t make any sense.”

I bit my lip.

“Sweetie, I’d love it if you could bring a bit more Skyler into that character, if you know what I mean. And please, stay in front of the microphone. Don’t touch it. It’s very expensive.”

“Okay, I’m going to try it one more time, and then I’m done, alright?”

“We’ll see about that,” I answered, hoping she’d be right.

She wasn’t.

Eventually we went over the script line by line, and every time she tried it, she lost more of her confidence and energy. What was supposed to be a quick and fun father-daughter thing, turned into an hour filled with frustration.

I could see Skyler was ready to give up and start crying.

“You know what we’re going to do, Sky? Let’s take a fifteen-minute break and do one more take. That’s going to be the last one, I promise.”

When we came back to the studio she stopped me. “Dad, I’d like to do this myself. Can you please wait outside?”

“Of course,” I said. “You know what to do to start the recording, right?” She nodded.

Thirty minutes later she walked out. Exhausted, but satisfied.

“Papa, I’m going to go up now. Have a listen. If you think it’s any good you can send it over. If it’s not, just delete everything. I’m done.”

No matter how it would sound, I was proud of her.

I said to my wife: “I think she’s learned a life lesson today. Just because something is hard, doesn’t mean you give up, and Skyler is no quitter.”

Weeks later there would be another lesson.

“Hey dad,” asked Skyler, “Did you ever hear back from that audition I did?”

“No honey. I didn’t, and that usually means they picked someone else.”

“Why?” Skyler wanted to know.

“Most of the time they won’t tell you, sweetie. You’ll only hear from them when you book the job.”

“So I’ll never know what I did wrong?”

“Here’s what’s important, Skyler. Even if you did your very best (which I know you did), they still may pick someone else. That doesn’t mean you weren’t any good. It could mean they decided they wanted a boy instead of a girl, someone younger or older, or someone with a different voice. Sometimes the director’s kid gets the job.”

“That’s not fair,” said Skyler.

“I know, Sky. But as long as you know you did the best you could do, you can hold your head up high and you just go on to the next audition, and the next one, and the next…”

I could almost hear her think. Then she said:

“Is that what you do all day, Daddy?”

“Pretty much, Skyler.”

“Well, I never want to do that!” she said emphatically.

Over the years my agents kept coming back with auditions for my daughter, but because she didn’t show any interest, I didn’t bother her with it. I had reconciled myself with the fact that she’d never talk into a microphone again.

Skyler’s seventeen now, and in a year she’ll go off to college. She loves Panic at the Disco, Coldplay, and Dan and Phil. She writes for and edits the school paper, and loves social media and hanging out with her friends.

You may remember that I’m one of the announcers at the Easton Farmers’ Market, the nation’s oldest continuously running outdoor market. I was scheduled to be there during Father’s Day weekend, and I asked if Skyler wanted to join me. She immediately said yes, and offered to make a playlist of songs we could play around the square.

When we put all our equipment together, the sun came out, and the crowds began to arrive. On a good day, thousands of people visit our market between 9:00 AM and 1:00 PM. When the first song was playing, I turned to Skyler and said:

“Are you up for some announcing?”

Skyler at the market

“Absolutely!” she said. “What do you want me to do?”

“Anything you like, sweetie. You pick.”

For the next four hours we alternated making announcements as a Father-Daughter team, and Sky turned out to be a natural! She slowed her tempo down so it would sound clear through the many speakers around the square. Her young, melodic voice brought a welcome spark to the market as did her fresh choice of music. “They’re playing all the songs I like!” said one of the shopping teenagers.

“Can you come again?” asked the market manager at the end of the day.

“I’d love to!’ said Skyler.

This Saturday, the Easton Farmers’ Market celebrates its 267th birthday with special activities and cake for everyone.

And right in the middle, promoting all the vendors, and introducing the music will be my beautiful daughter.

The girl whom I thought would never talk into a microphone again.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet: Subscribe, Share & Retweet!

Send to Kindle

What’s Luck Got To Do With It?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Personal 14 Comments

One of my friends -let’s call him Tim- is stuck in a nine to five job he hates with every ounce of his being. He’s seriously overweight, so that’s a lot of hate.

I’ve tried to be helpful by being a considerate, patient listener, but last week it became clear to me that Tim is very invested in staying miserable.

It may sound twisted, but having something to hate means Tim can blame his misery on something he perceives as being out of his control. If he can’t control it, he can’t change it. That’s the idea.

Here’s my prediction: as long as Tim keeps blaming others for his woes, he’ll never be happy. For him to feel better, other people or “circumstances” would need to change, and that is unlikely to happen.

CREATING CHANGE

Between you and me, if I had a magic wand that could suddenly transform people into becoming moral, thoughtful, compassionate, selfless contributors to society, I’d go to every prison, school, addiction center… even the White House, and I would wave that wand.

The truth is that we cannot make other people do or believe what we think is in their best interest if they don’t see it that way. It’s the reason why countries are at war, marriages break up, friendships fail, and why psychotherapists are still in business.

I think Tim could benefit from seeing a therapist, but remember, he says there’s nothing wrong with him. The rest of the world just sucks. As you can imagine, Tim hasn’t been fun to hang around lately, especially since he’s added another poisonous emotion to his repertoire: resentment.

Not only does he hate his job, he also resents the fact that people like me love what we do for a living. Sorry Tim, but I make no apologies. I enjoy dealing with clients from the solitude of my home studio. I’m happy to use my voice to educate people about new medical treatments. I’m thrilled to help companies and organizations share their message with the world. I wish everyone had a job as fulfilling as mine.

GOOD FORTUNE

I’m not going to give up on Tim, though. He’s a good man going through a bad time. Been there. Done that. What rubs me the wrong way, however, is the thing he keeps on repeating every time we talk:

“Paul, you’re so lucky. You’re so lucky to have a job like that. I wish I was as lucky as you are.”

Tim is telling me something he’s not saying. He’s revealing how he believes the world works. It’s something I’ve heard many, many times when I tell people about the joys of doing voice-overs for a living.

Those who call me lucky don’t see my success as the result of hard work, but as the effect of good fortune. The gods must be smiling upon me as I count my lucky stars. I simply showed up at the right place at the right time with the right people, and everything fell into place. My goodness, what on earth did I do to deserve this?

This notion is strengthened by the fact that people who are good at what they do, make it seem easy. Look at famous athletes or musicians. If you make something look or sound effortless, it must mean that what you do requires little effort, education, experience, or talent.

HAVING A KNACK

Talent is another tricky one. It’s something you’re supposed to be born with, so: lucky you!

Let’s conveniently forget how long it takes to shape a diamond in the rough into a precious jewel. You’ve got to nurture nature. I’ve seen insanely talented people get nowhere because they’re lazy and arrogant. I’ve also seen moderately talented people make it big thanks to hard work and an attitude of humility.

To tell you the truth: professionally speaking (pun intended) I don’t feel lucky. I feel accomplished.

Me being where I am in my career is the result of carefully planned and executed steps that started way back when. It is the result of my choices and my actions. That’s where Tim and I differ.

Tim sees himself as a victim of circumstances. He feels he has no choice. I see myself as the creator of conditions that pave the way to success. In my mind, I always have a choice, as long as I am willing to learn, be flexible, and take action.

FEELING PRIVILEGED

Looking back at my life, I think there were only two things that have stacked the deck in my favor that made me extremely lucky:

The country of my birth, and what family I was born and raised in.

Those two elements are part of the tragic unfairness of life. We don’t get to choose where we’re born and into what family. But it does not have to define our destiny either. Getting a head start doesn’t mean we’ll beat everyone at the finish line. Some rich kids end up in the gutter and some poor kids run multi-million dollar companies. Who and what is to blame and why?

We can’t change where we were born, and from what gene pool we came into being. The rest is pretty much up to us if we choose to embrace that responsibility. That involves making a choice between cause and effect.

Do you wish to lead your life like Tim, who is letting things happen (effect), or do you want to be the one making things happen (cause)?

If you’re convinced things are randomly happening to you, Lady Luck is your best friend. If you believe you are the prime instigator of change in your life, preparedness is your best buddy.

ACTIONS AND RESULTS

After years and years on this planet, I have a feeling that things don’t just fall into our laps, although it may certainly seem that way. I believe that we -consciously and unconsciously- are putting things in motion by what we do and fail to do.

All these things lead up to one moment where preparedness meets opportunity. Not by chance but by choice. That opportunity leads to other opportunities, and to something we eventually call a career. Connect the dots backward, and you’ll see what I mean. And if you’re still not convinced, start reading (auto)biographies of people you admire.

If Tim wants to be happy, Tim needs to change. He needs to stop blaming his food for making him fat. He needs to stop blaming his boss for making him miserable. Tim needs to let go of his anger, and turn resentment into appreciation.

If he wants his life to change, he has to change.

Tim and I need to talk.

I’ll have that conversation with him tomorrow.

Wish me luck.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet: subscribe, share & retweet!

Send to Kindle

4 Things I Wish I Would Have Known Before I Got Into Voice-Overs

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Gear, Money Matters 20 Comments

egg crate studioWhen you’re just getting your feet wet, there’s so much to do and so much to learn. It’s an exciting and confusing time. You have many choices to make, but which ones are right, and which ones are wrong?

Here are four things I wish I’d figured out ahead of time.

1. It doesn’t take much money to get started, but you can’t have a career on the cheap.

You already have a nice voice, an okay computer, and an internet connection. Now, run to Guitar Center and get yourself a USB microphone for under a hundred dollars and download free Audacity recording software.

Bam! You’re in business, ready to make the big bucks!

That’s what I was told by quite a few people when I became serious about doing this voice-over thing professionally. Until then I had had a career in radio and I knew nothing about setting up a home studio, getting voice-over coaching, marketing myself, and the thousand other things you have to pay for to begin a business. 

No one told me it was going to take at least three years and a small fortune before I would be able to support myself as a voice talent. They also forgot to tell me how I was to survive those first three years that were filled with uncertainty, stress, and lots of ramen noodles.

Here’s a hard truth many hopefuls don’t want to hear:

2. You must invest to compete with the best.

When I share this with aspiring talent, they say I’m just an old-school party pooper who wants to scare off the competition.

They say you don’t need a seriously soundproofed recording space. Just build a booth from pvc pipes and put up some moving blankets. You’ll never be interrupted by a barking dog or the low rumble of the garbage truck.

They say you simply sign up for Fiverr and Upwork, and the money will start coming in.

They say you need no expensive training. Everything’s online and it don’t cost a dime!

They say you can easily put your own demos together and build a website from a free template…

…and then they complain about not getting any work (other than the “passion projects” they’re doing for free).

Let me ask you this: would you hire a wedding photographer who proudly proclaims he only needs a smart phone to capture one of the most important days of your life? Would you trust a physician you found on Fiverr? Would you allow an amateur electrician to redo your electrical wiring?

NOT FAIR

Some will say these are unfair comparisons. After all, voice acting is not a profession that requires an academic education, vocational training, or some kind of official accreditation. They believe it’s experience based. You pick it up as you go along.

Yes, experience comes into play, but also talent, training, specific skills, and equipment. I’ve encountered too many people with considerable experience and very little talent. Many of my students have tons of talent but very little training. Some of them are quite skilled but they don’t have professional equipment to compete in a crowded market, let alone an expensive dedicated recording space. 

Especially in a business as unregulated as ours, the ongoing investments we make are part of our credentials. Remember: the very first thing that will make you lose an audition is poor sound quality. The second thing is your inability to interpret and narrate a script, sounding clear and natural.

Please do yourself a favor and seek expert advice. Don’t just believe any Tom, Dick, or Harriet, because it’s become a hobby for people to flaunt their ignorance in public and be proud of it. This is what I have learned:

3. The quality of advice depends on the quality of the source. Ninety percent of online chatter is just noise.

When I began to explore becoming a VO, I was like a sponge, soaking up as much info as I could. Here’s the problem: I didn’t know what I didn’t know, and I was unable to separate the wheat from the chaff.

I was brought up to believe that most people have the best of intentions, and I should give them the benefit of the doubt. After being burned more than once, I’m not so sure I believe that anymore.

Sure, there were plenty of nice guys and gals who wanted to help an enthusiastic beginner. But when it comes to depth of knowledge, I quickly learned that many helpful colleagues were surprisingly shallow, and they were giving terribly uninformed advice.

These days I often wonder: who is more ignorant? The person asking the question, or the one answering it?

Before you accuse me of bashing newbies again, I hope you’ll agree that my observations on online advice probably apply to most public exchanges, regardless of the topic. Just look at the Facebook page of the town you live in. Lots of opinions based on an embarrassing lack of factual and experiential knowledge.

That begs the question: whom can you trust in the wonderful world of voice-overs?

My rule of thumb: if someone hasn’t run a profitable voice-over business for at least three years, ignore their advice. After all, you would never ask a newlywed about the secrets of a long-lasting marriage, let alone a bachelor.

ARE EXPERIENCED PROS ALWAYS RIGHT?

Having said that, I must admit that there are many voice-over veterans I disagree with as well, because they are stuck in their ways. You know, the gear snobs who say that any microphone under $500 can’t be any good. It has to be Neumann or a 416. Then there’s the idea that you’re not a first-tier talent if you’re not a member of the union. Really?

I recently got into an argument with a seasoned pro who insisted that I shouldn’t take a vacation without bringing a mobile recording kit. This, after I told him I had sold my Apogee travel MiC. “But what if your client needs you?” was his argument. “You don’t want to lose a client, do you?”

I told him that on vacation my family needs me more than I need a client. I always tell my returning customers when I’ll be away, and when I’ll be coming back. Fortunately, most of them are in Europe and they understand the importance of taking time off to recharge the batteries. It’s those work-obsessed Americans that live in a no-vacation nation who think they always have to be available. It’s a recipe for burnout, which brings me to my last point:

4. Your health cannot be bought or sold, and it can make or break your business.

You are the personification of your product. You embody the service you are selling. You are IT, baby!

No matter at what stage of your career you are, if you don’t take care of yourself, you’re not protecting your most important asset. That’s why I see vacation as a form of preventative healthcare. It’s sacred time for the mind, the body, and the soul. It reminds us why we are doing what we are doing.

However, you need more than vacation to keep your engine running.

When you go to voice-over conferences, be ready to see lots of people who are out of breath and out of shape. They live a sedentary life, talking to imaginary people in a soundproof box you wouldn’t want to put a prisoner in. The uncertainty of freelance life, not knowing when the next job will fall into your lap and the next check will arrive, causes constant stress.

You’re isolated from the world, literally and figuratively. If you’re a social person longing for watercooler conversations, it’s a nightmare. “But it must be so much fun,” a friend of mine said. “Setting your own hours, being your own boss, all the freedom… You get to do what many dream of, and you’re even getting paid for it!”

I didn’t tell him that at that very moment I was waiting on a client who owed me a considerable sum. My rent was due, my car needed inspection, and my computer was on its last leg. I was living the dream, alright!

What I didn’t know was that years later I would face the ultimate test, as far as my health was concerned. I nearly died of a surprise stroke I had in my studio. It took months of recovery before I had the energy to start working again, and I still don’t have the stamina I once had. My voice is gradually coming back, but it will never be as strong as before. I’m not allowed to drive a car yet, and my heart’s rhythm continues to be out of control.

I am not sharing this with you so you’ll feel sorry for me. I’m sharing this to stress that life is as fragile as it is precious. Just as you invest in your continuing education, your studio, and in your marketing, please invest in leading a healthy, balanced life.

Get out of that studio. Move more. Choose quality food over quantity. Stay hydrated. Surround yourself with positive people who support you. Be kind to them and to yourself.

Begin today.

That way you’ll never have to tell me:

“If only I had known…”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS photo courtesy of Carlos Alvarez

PPS Be sweet: Subscribe, share & retweet

Send to Kindle

Does Money Make You Uncomfortable?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Money Matters 7 Comments

hamburger“Why are you so expensive?”

The question came out of nowhere. I was talking to a client about a job he wanted me to do, and he verbalized what many customers are thinking when they hire a voice-over:

“Why should I pay you over four hundred dollars for three measly minutes of audio? It’s outrageous!”

“Why are you so expensive?”

How would you react to that question? Would you start doubting yourself? Would you apologize for your fee? Would you say: “Well, if it’s too much, perhaps we can agree on a different amount?”

The truth is this: money makes many people uncomfortable. Especially those who have chosen to do what they love. Creatives like musicians, writers, photographers, and yes, voice-over artists. If you are fortunate enough to enjoy your dream job, the wonderful work itself should be rewarding enough, shouldn’t it?

For years, the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam’s Carnegie Hall, didn’t pay young musicians a penny for playing lunch concerts. Not even travel expenses were reimbursed. Meanwhile, the ushers, sound engineers, and other staff members making these concerts possible were receiving a salary. How could that happen?

The Concertgebouw said it was giving artists a unique opportunity to gain some experience and get exposure. The same reasoning was used by schools “hiring” musicians for educational concerts, by pubs, churches, charities, and even TV shows. This went on for years and years. Why?

Because the artists agreed to it, thus teaching clients how to treat them.

Many had to give up their dream career because exposure doesn’t pay the bills.

JUSTIFYING YOUR FEE

As a for-profit freelancer, you have to answer the question “Why are you so expensive?” on at least two levels. First, you owe yourself an explanation. Secondly, you have to explain it to your client.

Before you do that, you have to realize that most questions are based on unspoken assumptions. If you buy into these assumptions, you buy into the client’s way of thinking, which is not such a smart thing to do.

Let’s unpack.

The question “Why are you so expensive?” has three elements. WHY, YOU, and EXPENSIVE. The word WHY demands justification, immediately putting you on the defensive. Do you wish to go there?

Here’s the thing: if you are comfortable with your rates, there is no need to defend them. The moment you feel unsure about your prices (and your self-worth), you’re more likely to lower your fee at the first sign of resistance.

In the beginning of my career, I was afraid to lose jobs because my fees might be perceived as too high. As soon as a customer uttered the magic words “we have a limited budget,” I believed them, and I lowered my price. Big mistake.

These days I know that there is no way of knowing how much a client -big or small- can or cannot afford. I do know that I cannot afford to work for low rates. Here’s the kicker: low fees are often seen as a sign of inexperience and amateurism. Charging less may actually result in not getting hired!

Bottom line: stop being so desperate. Have some dignity. If you are running a for-profit business you must be okay to walk away from a bad deal. Let others record that lengthy, self-published, shitty novel for $75 per finished hour thinking they have landed the deal of the century. You can’t convince stupid. Stupid has to learn from experience or repeat the same mistakes over and over again.

THE REAL DEAL

This brings me to the YOU in “Why are YOU so expensive?”

The question behind the question is: Compared to whom? The unspoken assumption is that there are others who are willing to do it for cheaper. That may be true, but you have to realize that the client is talking to you for a reason. You are not a dime a dozen. You sound like a million bucks and they know it.

Your voice is used by multinationals, world-famous brands, and well-known organizations. You need no hand-holding and no sound engineer to fix your audio. You’re easy to work with and you always meet your deadlines. That’s worth something. A lot, actually.

And if you’re a voice talent that’s just getting started, you know you have this fresh voice no one else has. You have a solid studio with decent equipment, and you’re a natural at making the words in the script dance off the page. You listen to your clients, and you give them what they need without an attitude. You may be new to the business, but you are a pro!

DEFINE EXPENSIVE

A wedding photographer I used to work with got this question all the time: “Why should we pay you a fortune for a few hours of your time?”

She learned that the first thing she had to overcome was the costumer’s ignorance about pricing and ignorance about what’s involved in doing the job. Most people had no idea of the going rate, so they had no way of telling whether someone was expensive or not. They just heard a number that seemed high. They made a mistake many beginning freelancers make:

Thinking that what you make is what you take home.

They did not realize that the fee for a photo shoot paid for professional cameras, lenses, lights, a shooting assistant, computers, editing software, a website, advertising, accountant’s fees, taxes, memberships of professional organizations, insurance, continuing education, a retirement plan, transportation, a photo studio, time spent looking for work, doing the books, editing photos, et cetera. Whatever is left has to pay for rent or mortgage, groceries, utilities, childcare, vacations, charitable donations, and many other expenses.

CLUELESS CUSTOMERS

Believe me: your clients have no clue about your cost of doing business, and they do not care.

However, if you don’t build these expenses into your fee, you will go broke. All the talent, skill and experience in the world is not going to save you if you’re not turning a profit.

So, the next time someone asks you “Why are you so expensive?” think twice before you answer.

Personally, I am comfortable with what I charge. I think it’s more than fair, and I deserve it.

When people ask me why I charge what I charge I tell them in a friendly but self-assured way:

“That’s my rate,” and I leave it at that. And you know what? Nine out of ten times, they accept it, and that’s understandable.

I mean, I don’t go into a restaurant challenging the chef why he charges $35 for the main course.

It’s simple.

If I don’t want to pay that much, I should eat somewhere else.

There’s fine dining, there’s fast food, and anything in between.

What are you cooking up for your clients?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet: subscribe, share and retweet!

Send to Kindle

Do You Want To Scratch My Back?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Money Matters, Personal, Promotion Leave a comment

handshake with moneyIf you’ve been active as a voice-over long enough, you know one thing:

Finding a job usually takes much longer than doing a job.

It stinks, doesn’t it?

Let’s be honest. We all love doing the work, but we hate getting the work. That’s why we’re willing to pay online companies good money to send us leads. Every morning we simply open our inbox, and there they are: golden opportunities that are sent out to hundreds, if not thousands of hopefuls just like you. Welcome to the land where $249 a pop is the new normal!

FYI: if you can book five jobs out of a hundred auditions, you deserve a spot in my Hall of Fame. Just remember that no one is paying you for those ninety-five unsuccessful auditions that took hours and hours to record. But auditioning is such great practice, isn’t it? You’re definitely getting better at not being selected.

THE WAY TO GET WORK

What else can you do to get clients? If you like bothering people who don’t want to hear from you, try cold calling. Especially in winter. I know how much you love being interrupted at work or at the dinner table by some stranger, so why not do it yourself?

You could also build or buy a mailing list and start emailing people unwanted newsletters touting your accomplishments. No one has ever done that before, right? That’s why the spam folder was invented.

Perhaps an agent could jump start your career. Agents know people who know people. And they’ll only take you on board once you’ve landed the jobs you were hoping to get through them. Isn’t that ironic?

So, how about this? Your colleagues have contacts. Lots of them. Why not ask your VO friends to recommend and refer you to their clients? It doesn’t cost you anything, and sharing is caring! You don’t even have to be polite about it. Just ask. We’re all in the same boat.

PS If colleagues refuse to refer you, you can always raid their LinkedIn connections and Facebook friends, and spam them asking for help. Make sure to sound like a desperate dabbler.

You may shake your head in disbelief, but that’s how pretty much every week I am approached by people I don’t know, looking for jobs I don’t have. Yesterday, I received a short email from a colleague offering me 10% of whatever she will make, if she lands a job based on my referral. This could be a goldmine, people!

A MORAL MAZE

Not so fast!

There is a good reason why professionals like lawyers, realtors, accountants, and therapists have adopted codes of conduct, specifically prohibiting them from taking payment for referrals. It is considered to be unethical.

Look at the definition of bribery:

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

Do you really think you can buy my opinion and influence my behavior by offering me a bounty? Is that how you think I operate? Give me one reason why I shouldn’t feel insulted!

If I were motivated by money, I wouldn’t even be in the voice-over business. Take it from me: You will never do your best work for the love of money. Your best work is always a labor of love and never the result of greed.

Here’s my bottom line:

A referral needs to be earned, not bought.

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

Before I tell you what I receive in return, you must know that I take my referrals very seriously. You see, the fact that I will recommend a specific person reveals as much about me as it does about the person in question.

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

A REFERRAL STRATEGY

For starters, never refer a person you don’t know. When you’re thinking of recommending someone, I want to ask you the following question:

How do you know that this person is good at their work?

I’ll give you four options to choose from:

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

The answer to the question “How do I know that someone is good at their work?” is called a Convincer Strategy, and depending on the context, most people will have more than one answer.

My next question is:

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

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

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

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

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

By the way, we all use the above criteria in different situations, but most of us are not aware that we do.

REWARDING REFERRALS

Referring people can be very rewarding. It’s an essential part of being in business and staying in business, as long as you do it for the right reasons.

Let’s say you landed a gig as a result of my recommendation. In that case I demand that you pay me back… by doing the best job you can possibly do. As one of my teachers used to say:

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

Secondly, don’t send me any money or gift cards. You booked the job because you ticked all the right boxes, and you deserve it. I don’t take any credit (or cash) for that.

And please, if you insist I deserve a percentage of your fee, take your ten percent and give it to a worthy cause.

Pay it forward.

That’s the key to making the right referrals!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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

Send to Kindle

Dealing With Your Deepest Insecurities

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Personal, Promotion, Social Media 4 Comments
Caitriona Balfe

Caitriona Balfe

What’s the biggest social media mistake you can make?

It’s this: not using social media to your advantage.

What’s the second biggest blunder?

Mistaking social for selling.

One of my older students admitted that she was intimidated by social media.

“Paul,” she said, “I don’t know where to begin, what to do, or how to do it. A year ago I didn’t even own a smartphone. Now I’m supposed to be on it all the time. I hate talking about myself. Bragging about my accomplishments makes me uncomfortable. I’ve never taken a selfie in my life, and I don’t even know why people would be interested in me.”

“That’s perfect,” I replied. “You know why? Because it’s not about people being interested in you. It’s about you being interested in people. Being on social media is about making connections. The best way to do that is by interacting with people you’re genuinely interested in as a person, not as a prospect.

In the beginning, you don’t even have to post anything. Simply start by liking things you like, and by making some friends you have a connection with. Giving other people sincere compliments is a lost art, and visiting places like Facebook are ideal to rekindle that art.

When people share milestones, congratulate them. When they feel down in the dumps, let them know you’re thinking of them. When they have a question you know part of the answer to, share it with them. The key is to be a helper. Not a complainer.”

Two weeks later we had our next session, and I asked: “How’s that social media thing going?” She smiled and said: “Well, I took your advice to heart, and something unexpected happened.”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“When I reached out to people, they actually wanted to connect with me.”

“You sound surprised,” I said. “Why is that?”

“To be honest, I didn’t expect people to be interested in me.”

“That tells me more about how you think about yourself,” I responded. “Let me ask you this. Do you believe clients could be interested in what you have to offer?”

She took a deep breath, sighed, and said: “Maybe.”

“That doesn’t sound very convincing,” I said. “Before you convince a client you are right for a role, you have to convince yourself. A competent voice without confidence isn’t going to win auditions. We’ve got to work on that.”

“I thought social media wasn’t about getting clients,” she answered.

“You’re right,” I said, “but in our business, it’s sometimes more important who you know, than what you know. I get many of my voice-over jobs through referrals from colleagues who have never seen me in real life, but they know about me because we connected. People will never refer someone they don’t know or don’t like.”

“So, what you are saying is that selling should never be the purpose of social media, but it could be a nice side effect?”

“Right! The point is that you want people to get to know you, but not in a salesy, “pick me” kind of way. That’s one of the reasons why I tell a lot of stories in my blog. I’m not selling. I’m just telling stories. You see, you can always argue with an opinion, but you can’t argue with an anecdote, because…. it’s just fiction. People forget facts, but they will remember a good story.”
 
“But what if people don’t like your stories or your opinions?” my student asked. “Don’t you have a problem?”
 
“If that’s the case, I don’t have a problem, but my readers do!” I said, jokingly. “Listen, I do not post on social media or write a blog to get some kind of validation or recognition. I’m not looking to make enemies either, but I’ve learned that you can’t please everyone without betraying yourself.
 
Although I’m proud to have so many subscribers, I’m not writing to gain thousands of followers. Making a thought-provoking contribution to my community is much more important than increasing the number of visitors to my website.

Here’s the point though: these things seem to go hand in hand. As long as I have interesting stuff to say, people seem to be interested in me. This does help my Google ranking and that’s not something you can buy. It’s something you have to earn.”
 
“Do you see any downsides to using social media?” my student wanted to know.
 
“Seriouly, it’s a monster waiting to be fed,” I said. “And it’s always hungry for more. Being on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest and what not, will eat up your time without much to show for. Our society favors instant gratification, but making a dent on social media takes time. It’s for those who are patient, persistent and consistent
 
If you have low self-esteem, and you have a deep need to be accepted, social media can be a cruel place. My friend’s daughter came home in a terrible mood because her latest Instagram post only got twenty-five likes. To her, it felt like the end of the world because she thought she had lost the popularity contest.

My student looked at me, and sighed: “Children… they’re so vulnerable and impressionable.”

“Almost as much as voice actors…” I said.
 
“Now, listen… when you’re ready to put yourself out there as a creative professional such as a voice-over, it’s probably best to lose these three things:
 
– your desire to please
 
– your need for praise, and
 
– your urge to compare
 
Comparing yourself to other, more experienced talent, will make you as miserable as the characters in a Victor Hugo novel. Please compare yourself to yourself and be happy for those who seem to be doing well. Remember that on social media people are trying to show their best, socially acceptable selves, and not necessarily their true selves. 
 
The need to be praised makes you dependent on the approval of others. I hate to break it to you, but that approval is something you have no influence over. Of course you want to do well, but you want to do it for the music. Not for the applause.”

I opened my iPad to an Irish Times interview with Outlander leading lady Caitriona Balfe. She recalls a valuable lesson she learned from an LA acting coach. He was…

“talking about releasing and destroying the need of whatever ‘it’ is. Whether you’re going to go in and audition, and you’re so nervous because you want people to like what you’re about to do: release and destroy the need to be liked.”

The Times continued:

Balfe learned to give herself permission to let go of those things that tie us all in knots, to move on from feelings. “It’s something so simple and so silly, but it works for a myriad of reasons. Whatever it is … just to walk away, to let go of that.”

My student nodded and I went on…

“In my mind, the desire to please has us focused on the wrong things. People-pleasers are constantly wondering: How am I doing? Am I messing up? Will they like me? I, I, I… Me, Me, Me…

As (voice) actors it is our mission to serve the script. We are a conduit. Our body is a vessel to communicate meaning. It’s not about “I hope they like me.” That’s a needy, egocentric approach. If we do our job well, our performance allows the audience to emotionally and intellectually connect with the text.

When a voice actor is struggling, I often wonder:

Are they self-conscious, or content-conscious?

It’s usually the former, and as long as they’re too busy dealing with their insecurities, they’ll never be able to immerse themselves in their read or in their role.”

“I think I understand what you mean,” said my student. “But how do I get there?”

“The way I see it, there are at least two elements that will take you there. One is preparedness. It’s the ultimate antidote to nerves. Good practise will prepare you. Once you know what to do, you can focus on being in the moment and getting the job done to the best of your abilities. It’s the difference between playing notes and making music. To make music, you need to know the score.

“What’s the second element?” asked my student.

“It is conviction. It’s having faith in your talent and your abilities. It’s something I can’t teach you, but it comes a lot easier when you’re well-prepared. In her interview, Caitriona Balfe put it like this:

“(…) a lot of it is just having the f***ing balls and grit to stick around and be persistent in the face of a lot of rejection. But I think that also comes from having a belief that if [there is] something you love to do so much, something that feels that it comes naturally, that in some way it has to be what you’re meant to do.”

My student’s face lit up like a Christmas tree. I continued:

“As your coach, it’s not for me to tell you what you’re meant to do. That’s for you to know, but I do know this.

If there’s enough of a voice-over fire burning inside of you, you stand a decent chance of having a long, rewarding career.

And you know what?

I’ll be the first one on social media to follow you, and cheer you on!”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS If you want to know how Caitriona uses social media, read the last paragraph of her interview.

PPS Be sweet: subscribe, share & retweet

Send to Kindle

Paul goes Podcasting

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Journalism & Media, Personal, Promotion, Studio 2 Comments

pro audio podcast logoThis week saw the release of a podcast I recorded with the Pro Audio Suite team.

I don’t have time to listen to a lot of podcasts myself, but this is one I rarely miss, because the hosts know what they are talking about.

They are also good listeners, as I found out when I was a guest on their show.

What makes this podcast different from other podcasts? It’s produced like you were listening to a real radio show.

As you will hear, we cover a lot of ground in this interview, and I’m inviting you to be a butterfly on our wall.

Click here to listen.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

 

Send to Kindle

VO Atlanta 2019: The Lost Album

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Journalism & Media, Personal, VO Atlanta 14 Comments

Dutch clog slippersFor many voice-overs, the 2019 edition of VO Atlanta was unforgettable. The cameraderie, the learning opportunities, the emotions, it was all a bit overwhelming. 

But, life goes on, and memories start to fade. There are new gatherings to go to, new projects to voice, and new memories to be made.

Thinking back to my time at VO Atlanta 2019, it was the year I had to stay under the radar. Still recovering from a stroke, I needed to keep away from the crowds and preserve energy for my presentations. 

Still, I managed to take a few snapshots here and there, and I filed those photos away until I found them again the other day.

Watching the slideshow you’re about to see brought back many precious moments. Whether you were at VO Atlanta, or you’re thinking of going in 2020, I’m sure you’ll recognize some familiar faces. A big thank you to Jon Ciano for taking the pictures of my Stinky Sock Breakout Session.

Be sure to watch the photos on full-screen in HD.

Enjoy!

VO Atlanta 2020 will be held from March 26-29. The theme is “Envision.” If you can’t wait that long, sign up for the Summer Intensive, a training weekend with Kay Bess, Joe Cipriano, and Cliff Zellman. Dates: August 16 – 17.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS After watching the slide show some people  asked me what camera and lens I use. It’s a Sony a5100 mirrorless camera, with a Sony SELP18105G 18-105mm f/4.0 G OSS lens.

 

 

Send to Kindle

Peanuts and Monkeys

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Money Matters, Promotion 5 Comments

Peanut & MonkeyI don’t know about you, but I’m astonished at the growing number of people responding to no-budget and low-budget voice-over jobs. It had me wonder:

Who are they? What drives them? How do we make them stop?

Some colleagues suggested I shouldn’t take these lowballers seriously. They’re ignorant hobbyists at best, and their actions have no impact on us professionals.

I disagree.

BEING WORTHLESS

It’s insulting and upsetting when both client and talent find the contribution of a voice-over of so little value that no money changes hands. Meanwhile, the copywriter and sound engineer get paid, the animator receives a check, and the guy who hired them to create an ad campaign has a full-time position with benefits.

What’s wrong with this picture?

If the company is too cheap to pay a pro, why don’t they ask Keith from accounting to do the voice-over? Why do they have to post a job in a Facebook group for voice-overs? It’s simple: because they know that Keith in accounting is a klutz, and there’s always a hopeless hopeful VO with a sliver of talent who’s willing to do it for nothing.

I’m sorry, but I’ve worked too long and too hard to be giving my voice away. Even if I were getting my feet wet, I’d have enough respect for myself and my colleagues to insist on being paid good money for good work.

So, why are some budding voice-overs willing to work for free? Beginning plumbers don’t do that. Newly graduated chefs don’t put a zero dollar menu together. Young teachers make less, but they get paid for doing their job. What makes us voice-overs so special that we deserve not to be paid?

A TYPICAL JOB OFFER

To get some perspective, let’s pick a real gig that was just posted on Facebook. The job is for a “nonprofit small low power Christian radio station” and was described as follows:

“A concept piece mentioning a new name and slogan along with some catchphrases. It’s like a sizzle reel in tv terms. Unpaid but appreciated.”

Someone who wants this job responds (and I’m not going to pick on the grammar):

“I could use the exposure and experience being new to professional.”

Just imagine all the exposure a small nonprofit low power Christian radio station can bring! I think you’ll need the intervention of a higher power to make all that exposure work to your benefit.

Speaking of exposure, try going to a restaurant telling the owner: “I’m not going to pay you today, but I’ll make sure to say nice things about you on Instagram.” Unless you’re Kim Kardashian, Paris Hilton, or Kylie Jenner, I don’t think you’ll be getting very far.

As someone who has been using his voice professionally since he was seventeen, I can tell you that, unless you’re a flasher, exposure is highly overrated. It doesn’t pay the rent and it can’t feed your family. It’s a transparent trick to make you believe you’re getting something in exchange for volunteering your services.

Some high-profile jobs may give you limited exposure, but these jobs usually go to A-list celebs and come with a nice paycheck. Keep in mind that voice-overs are the Invisibles of the industry. By definition, our role is mainly supportive (the exception being audiobook narration which I think is underpaid). We have to make up our own awards shows in order to get some recognition… from our peers.

So, if you’re looking for exposure, you’ve chosen the wrong profession. Don Lafontaine was arguably the most famous voice-over artist of his time, but very few people knew who he was until he appeared as a sidekick in a Geiko television commercial. Notice that he’s introduced as “that announcer guy from the movies.”

WHAT EXPERIENCE?

Will working for free give you the experience needed to book more paid jobs? It totally depends on the experience. I vividly remember an angry young conductor kicked out of a competition. He wanted to know why he hadn’t made it to the next round. He told the jury: “Compared to all the other contestants I’ve had much more experience. Why are you letting me go?” The chairman of the jury told him: “Your experience must not have been very good.”

Some experiences simply don’t translate. Just because you’ve worked as an announcer for a radio station or you were a teacher or a minister doesn’t mean you have the chops to be a successful voice-over. Having extensive experience as a voice talent doesn’t necessarily get me hired. Most clients aren’t interested in what I’ve done for other people in the past. They want to know:

What can you do for me today?

Will experience help you finally land an agent? Agents get interested once they know you can make them money. Doing jobs for free tells them you’re desperate instead of marketable. In my opinion, the experience you need as a budding voice-over is the experience of working with a good coach who’s not afraid to say what you don’t want to hear.

BEING A PROFESSIONAL

Let’s get back to the reason one of our colleagues thought he’d be a good fit for that no-budget Christian radio station job. He wrote:

“I could use the exposure and experience being new to professional.”

We’ve covered exposure and experience. Let’s get to the “professional” aspect. According to one dictionary, a professional is “engaged in a specified activity as one’s main paid occupation rather than as a pastime.”

So, if you’re doing something professionally, it can’t be a hobby, and you have to get paid. In addition, voice-overs are small business owners. The IRS says:

“A trade or business is generally an activity carried on for a livelihood or in good faith to make a profit.”

In other words:

WORKING FOR FREE IS UNPROFESSIONAL

A GOOD CAUSE

But what about working for charities? Don’t they at least deserve a discount? Before I get into that, let me be clear: the VO jobs I see posted in Facebook groups are sometimes for nonprofits but not for charities. Every charity is a nonprofit, but not every nonprofit is a charity.

As professionals we have to stop making assumptions about how much we believe a potential client can or cannot afford. They’re not going to tell us so we will never know. Just because it’s a nonprofit or a charity, doesn’t mean there’s no budget for PR. I know because organizations like Charity Navigator keep track of how much of a charity’s budget goes to fundraising campaigns.

Charities like the Cancer Survivors’ Fund, the Autism Spectrum Disorder Foundation, and the Kids Wish Network spend more than 50% of their budget on fundraising activities (source: click here). That isn’t necessarily a good thing, but don’t tell me all charities have no money and deserve a break.

Many CEO’s of charities make six-figure incomes. In 2015, the CEO of the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center made $3.6 million, and Wayne LaPierre who heads the nonprofit National Rifle Association was reported to make $4.6 million. These are extremes, but Charity Navigator says that among the charities they’ve evaluated, the average CEO salary is $150,000 (source: click here).

THERE’S A DIFFERENCE

What’s my point? Not every charity is created equal. Many are huge, professional organizations with big budgets for promotion. If there’s money to pay a CEO a decent salary, there is money to pay a voice-over a decent fee. Now, if you wish to support that charity because you connect with the cause, don’t discount your services. Make a tax-deductible donation after you get paid.

What baffles me most about those willing to work for (next to) nothing is the fact that they seem to be beginners. Perhaps I’m weird, but when I started out, I needed all the money I could get so I could invest in my career. I had to buy decent equipment, a good website, and I saved up to create a quiet recording space. Plus, I had to have a roof over my head and some food on the table.

I couldn’t afford to work for free, and I still can’t.

Here’s the thing most lowballers won’t admit: it takes real talent to book a top-dollar job, but it’s pretty easy to book a gig when you’re charging very little or nothing.

Once clients are used to your low rates they won’t be willing to pay you full price, and your colleagues will have a harder time negotiating a better deal. Why should clients pay more if they can get it for less (especially those for whom “good enough” is good enough).

Charging peanuts means you’ll never have the life you’re hoping for, and you’ll have less money to give to that charity you say you wish to support.

The moment you start charging a reasonable rate, you create expectations. You have something to prove. You tell the world:

“This is what this job is worth!

This is what I am worth, professionally speaking.”

If what you bring to the table has no added value, you’ve nothing left but to compete on price. But…

if you’re any good at what you do, people are willing to pay for it, and the benefit of hiring you outweighs the cost every single time.

Even monkeys can figure that out.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet: Subscribe, Share & Retweet!

Send to Kindle

The Deaf Leading the Blind

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Gear, Personal, Social Media, Studio 6 Comments

Blindfolded archerAfter reading my last two articles, here’s what some of you wanted to know:

Do I make all this stuff up to scare newbies and make them look bad?

Before I address that, let’s explore the suggestion behind this question.

Number one: blaming the messenger is a cheap attempt to deflect attention from an unwelcome message. This is a tactic as old as mankind. If you feel you can’t win the argument, try to discredit the source, like:

“I’m uncomfortable with what Paul is saying, so I’ll accuse him of lying.”

Number two: why would I make stuff up? Every time I put myself out there as a blogger, I risk my reputation. The moment people would catch me in a falsehood, it’s game over. As a former journalist, I know for a fact that years of truth telling can be nullified by one stupid lie.

Once exposed, no one would ever want me to present at a conference, interview me for their podcast, read this blog, or buy my book. Clients that got wind of it might not want to work with me anymore.

Honestly, to lie would be a liability.

Lastly, why would I have to make things up if you can easily find them in open Facebook groups? If anything, social media is ideal for spotting public displays of ignorance. I’ve just combed through pages and pages of voice-over related nonsense to bring you the best of the worst. Before I get to that, here’s what you need to know.

You’re about to read literal quotes. I’m not paraphrasing anything, or correcting spelling. To protect the identity of the authors, I’m not going to name names. However, you should realize that this is my personal selection, specifically chosen to emphasize a few trends that worry me, namely:

1. Social media offer a seemingly equal playing field to pros and hobbyists. If you’re new to the business and you don’t know anybody, you can’t tell whom you can trust for advice. You might get solid information, or someone might be taking you for a ride.

2. Too many (amateur) doctors are prescribing cures before carefully diagnosing the patient, unhindered by a lack of common sense, knowledge, and experience. Anyone’s an expert, and quite often, the deaf are leading the blind. As usual, the quality of the info depends on the quality of the source.

3. Many Facebook groups have no barrier of entry, and any nobody can pretend to be somebody. I’ll say that again: any nobody can pretend to be somebody. Some critics claim that half of all Facebook accounts are fake. Ask yourself: do you know for sure that the Facebookers you’re chatting with are who they say they are?

In some groups, the people recruiting voices for their next project have started adding “must be 18+” because many of the submissions turned out to be from kids who were just fooling around.

4. There is no Facebook police, and too many group moderators are allowing anyone to say anything… they agree with. In my experience, it’s permitted to sing the praises of an unnamed, unethical, greedy P2P, but any criticism is quickly censored as “being negative.” In the same spirit, the moderator will allow rave reviews of newbie demos and websites (even when they’re crap), and will delete more honest assessments because they’re seen as “mean.”

An aspiring VO exclaimed:

“I’m going to leave this Facebook Group mainly because I’ve received nothing but negative comments since I’ve joined and I really only wanted to learn how to be successful and instead recieved so much hate.”

Thankfully, someone responded:

“I searched for your name and you’ve gotten one troll reply and about 30 helpful ones. It’s not hate if people don’t agree with you. It’s constructive criticism and at the end of the day only YOU choose what to take away or leave behind from any advice you get in life. If people keep taking things personally, then sorry but the VO business is not for you.”

As expected, people have lots of questions about breaking into the business. The scary thing is that so many Facebookers are ready to give advice without knowing anything about the person asking for it.

Let’s say you’re a car mechanic. Would you start working on a car before finding out what’s wrong with it? That’s pretty dumb, right? So, speaking of ways to get into the VO business, here’s what someone recommended:

“You have to move to los angeles to become an actor am i right regardless if how much fame or money you have or how many friends one gets in life? its easy for richard horvitz to be an actor if hes from there regardless how many friends he was with a pro actor or athlete right?”

That was particularly helpful, wasn’t it? Moving on to the next question:

“Been voicing anime since I was little but wanting to do it professionally; how to get started is my question.”

Here’s the answer:

“First creat a few demos”

Response:

“How to do that and not make it sound terrible?”

Answer:

“I think the first step is just put yourself out there, make your presence known so, maybe take some unpaid jobs first, build a report of people that will recommend you and go from there.”

Here’s another brilliant suggestion:

“First things’ first: got a good mic? then: record something and upload it to soundcloud.com then put url link here.”

Someone else chimes in:

“I was always told to reach out to radio stations. I’m friends with a few professional voice actors.”

My two cents? First of all, don’t move to LA yet. Get some training first and see if you have any talent. Secondly, don’t “creat” any demos if you haven’t demonstrated anything. Once you’re ready for those demos, hire a professional to create them with you. By the way, don’t put yourself out there (whatever that means) if you have no website, no sound samples, and no recording space. It’s like opening a shop with empty shelves. Lastly, stay out of radio stations. They’re breeding grounds for frustrated announcers.

Unsurprisingly, many questions on Facebook are about home studios and recording equipment. We’d rather spend hours debating the pros and cons of using a USB microphone, than talk about how to market our business. Here’s a selection:

Q. “What’s the best mic that I can buy for under $100?”
A1. “Blue snowball is good.”

A. “You can get the whole set up for about $200 and it’s totally worth it. You can see my mic and interface recommendations at XYZ.com Also, I’m selling my condo.”

A2. “You should able to go into a music shop and ask them if you can test their mics.”

A3. “I started with a Rode NT USB. A simple noise reduction pass is all you need and the set up is a fraction of the cost of XLR if you’re starting out on a budget.”

A4. “The Kaotica Eyeball is the only thing you need. It turns anywhere you are into your own sound studio.”

Let me break that down for you. Forget snowballs. Blue balls are particularly painful. $200 is not going to get you all you need to compete. Please don’t test microphones on the noisy shop floor of your local Guitar Center. Try them out in your recording space. Invest in a condenser mic and soundproof your studio. A plugin isn’t going to keep out lawn mowers and leaf blowers.

New question:

Q. “I don’t have a studio. How do i record when the neighbors kids are so loud i can hear them with the window closed?”

A1. “Tell the kids to shut up.”

A2. “You could try to build a little pvc/moving blanket fort… it will help.”

A3. “Upturned mattress and blankets all over will get you where you need to be once you get as far away from the kiddies as possible. Then a blanket over your head with your mic.”

Mattresses and blankets may help tame the boom in the room, but you need to decouple walls and add mass to keep the outside sounds out. FYI that’s going to cost you a pretty penny, but a VO without a home studio is like an Uber driver without a car.

A few more booth questions:

“Does anyone else use their macbook webcam mic? Do you find that sometimes your audio is inconsistant when you record? Somedays I sound clear and crisp, others I sound like I’m talking in a tin can. (I’m using Garage band to record)”

“So, I’m planning on making a cheap diy mobile sound booth on a pallet, and I’m wondering if you guys have any tips on what the cheapest materials I could use.”

“I have used fibre egg crates for sound absorbing material, they work great.”

“So I have a square closet that has a lightbulb hanging from the ceiling. I would probably want to put some soundproof material under the door because that’s the only part I can think of that would need it. I know that a lot of people start out with using a closet because it’s usually the most natural soundproof room.”

“Mine booth is a decommissioned shower stall. I used $5 moving blankets on all 4 sides as well as top and floor. It sounds as good as any booth in Hollywood I’ve ever used.”

He continues:

“Moving blankets for the walls, ceiling, and floor if you have hard floors. Then toss a heavy blanket or comforter over the top moving blanket and put a heavy blanket up behind you. That’s as good as it gets without being a whisper room or studio bricks or something else nearly soundproof.”

Another person says:

“If you’re trying to keep it on the cheap, generic Walmart mattress toppers are between 1-2 inches thick and are usually around 10 bucks for a twin/full size mattress.”

What’s the common denominator? People trying to create something on the cheap. Here’s the thing: if you compromise on sound quality, you compromise your career. You don’t need to invest in a Bentley to travel from A to B, but you need a reliable means of transportation to get anywhere. And egg crates are just a fire hazard.

What surprised even me, are the number of “passion projects” peddled in Facebook groups. “Passion project” turns out to be a euphemism for unpaid slave labor. Here’s a sample:

“Hello everyone! I am in need of a few voice actors for my Sonic Boom Stop-Motion Episode 2 Project. This is NON PAID and I need the roles filled in as soon as possible!”

“I am currently in production of the first season of an all audio sketch comedy show. The project isn’t compensated however there are other benefits we will provide and avail to you if you are selected and interested.”

“I’m helping for casting for my mates unpaid Doctor Who Audio Series. (Unpaid) I am still looking for male voice actors for my Return to Wonderland motion comic book series.”

“Looking for a female VO for a Halo themed audio book. Project is unpaid currently as it is a copyrighted IP, but a copy of the completed work will given, and when it is live VO’s will be paid out first. The previous VO is having to be replaced due to some audio issues.”

“[Non-Paying] Any lady vocalists/singers interested in trying their hand providing vocals for original tunes?”

“Hey guys, need a voice actor for 4 roles. One for a robber, a female bank clerk (can also be voiced by male), and 2 male cops. Ill post the script below. This is a non paying gig, but may be a paying gig in the future.”

“Doing a freebie for a friend and was wondering if any of you would voice a short commercial? It’s for a “amateur” wrestling show. Its non paying I just need someone who wants to voice something for local tv.”

“Im looking for a few people to do some narrations for a youtube series. The Theme is Children’s Stories and I hope to make a fair few episodes of it so may have returning narrators. Unfortunately its unpaid but it will be able to bring out the budding little actors who are starting out in the art of voice acting as well as the pro’s that don’t mind doing it for a little fun.”

You’d be surprised how many people respond to these passion projects. The desperation to start yelling something into a microphone is real.

Here’s my rule of thumb: If you’re good enough to be hired, you’re good enough to be paid. Period. Working for exposure is something only strippers do. Someone commented:

“Chances are if they can’t afford to pay, they don’t have a big enough platform to offer significant exposure anyway. And if they do have some MASSIVE platform, they should be paying.”

Plus, you’ve barely started to get your feet wet, and you’re already teaching clients they can get something for nothing. This is a comment from one of those clients:

“As a content creator I can tell you all 99.9% of us would love to pay everyone we work with on every project. But if I spend all my budget on talent what am I to do about promoting my project? If one is getting into this field looking at it as a job then you’re doing it wrong. This is the business of independent contractors.”

In other words: freelancers can’t expect to be paid? Well, there’s a new concept!

There’s another myth out there, namely the myth that doing auditions is such great practice. It’s not. Here’s what I believe:

You practice to audition. You don’t audition to practice.

In order to get the job, you have to demonstrate that you can do the job. Some half-baked attempt is not going to work. It will leave the client with a bad taste in his mouth, and the next time he hears your voice he’ll move right on to another talent.

Oddly enough, those applying for unpaid jobs complain elsewhere that they have no money to move their career forward. Here’s one of them:

“So, as an aspiring voice actor myself, I have made one demo in the past but it wasn’t easily accessible. Now i’d like to make another one but I’d like some help.

Nevermind just found out 1100 bucks for the classes and then the demo. That’s aloooot of cash.”

Between you and me, that’s not a lot of cash for voice-over training and a demo. I would be very suspicious of anyone offering such a package for a little over a thousand bucks.

Finishing up, let me reiterate that it’s not my intention to shame anyone or make fun of anyone new to the voice-over business. You are very brave, and I am giving you these examples as a warning. Quite often, Facebook is the worst place to seek advice for those who don’t know what they don’t know.

Be smart, and do not allow yourself to be taken advantage of by people who prey on impressionable beginners.

Do your homework before asking any questions. Show the world that you’ve made an effort to find a solution before bothering the group. Don’t beg for jobs. Don’t comment on things you know very little about. Be open to feedback. Save up so you can invest in coaching, equipment, and a recording space. And above all: give yourself time to become good at what you want to do, and have fun.

I had fun responding to a Facebook question recently:

“I’m looking for a high soprano for an album I’m very close to finishing. It’s a various artists album, with some Asian and Celtic influences. Please PM me if interested.”

I responded:

“You’re looking for stoned soprano?”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet: subscribe, share & retweet

PPS Working from home, a blessing or a curse? Click here to hear me talk to the guys at the Pro Audio Suite Podcast.

Send to Kindle

Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!