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Bart Vleugels: Giving Words Wings

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Dutch, International, VO Atlanta2 Comments

Bart Vleugels

The news is out. VO Atlanta 2020 has been postponed.

In light of the rapid spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, this was the only smart decision CEO Gerald Griffith could make. Nevertheless, it’s a huge disappointment for those who were already packing their bags, me included.

The good news is that a delay is not a denial. Once COVID-19 has been contained, and we no longer need to practice social distancing, VOA 2020 will go ahead.

For now, the entire voice over community will get full access to the 2019 panels, keynote, and sponsored sessions for FREE. Gerald said: “We’re all in this together, right? and my commitment to connecting the community is more than lip-service.”

I don’t know about you, but I remember my very first VO Atlanta.

I wasn’t sure I was going to like it. So many people. So much to choose from, from the moment you get up, to the moment you go to bed.

And when you finally do fall asleep, you dream of voice overs all night long. 

This reluctant extrovert was nervous and unsure he would fit in.

That all changed when I found out there was one other Dutch speaker at the conference. Originally from Belgium, his name was Bart Vleugels. “Vleugels” means “wings” in Dutch. Hence the headline.

Bart, as you will find out, is a fellow-introvert who was like me: way out of his comfort zone amidst those crazy outgoing, enthusiastic Americans. We sort of survived the conference together, and we liked it so much that we came back, year after year.

Since I’m interviewing every Dutch-speaking participant who’s coming to this year’s rendition of VO Atlanta, I’m rolling out the red carpet for Bart. The man who gives words wings. 

Bart, how did you get started in the business, and for how long have you been a voice-over?

Like a lot of other VO talent, it all started at a radio station. In fact, I built my first station. It had a range of a miserable 50 meters, courtesy of Radio Shack. It was a “radio station in a box” and I called it Radio Bonanza because it was the only instrumental track I had that I could talk over… I was 14 at the time. I volunteered at a local pirate radio station for awhile and became a DJ soon after.

I took a break in the late 80s to go to the USA as an exchange student. That’s when I REALLY fell in love with radio. That American sound, hitting the post during the intros, it all sounded so cool. I did some more DJ’ing at 2 radio stations in Belgium after returning from the US and during my (then mandatory) military service. I went back to the USA in 1993 to study broadcasting in college.

My very first paid voice-over job was in 1996 when I voiced and produced liners and station IDs for a station in Belgium. If you want to know what I sound like, here’s one of my commercials:


What do you like about your work and the business you’re in?

What’s not to like!? I’m beyond an introvert, so the booth is my happy place and sanctuary. I like the opportunity to interpret and deliver the words that somebody else wrote. I enjoy trying to get in the writer’s head and bring those words and emotions to life. I love giving alternate takes. I like to provide a service to clients that reaches beyond what they expect.

I like VO because the business moves very fast: Audition, get job, do job, get paid. Get in, get out. Boom. Pow. Bye. Next. Multiple jobs a day and they’re never the same. Gotta love that variety!

What has changed since you made your very first recording?

From a technical standpoint, it’s incredible what we can do now compared to 10 or 20 years ago. Remember SAW and SAW+? Actually, I’m old enough to remember splicing tape on a reel-to-reel. We needed big studios and bank loans to have a “studio”. But now… Being able to walk into my booth and do a session one-on-one with a producer half way around the world? Unbelievable!

I have changed as well. I was just a kid when this all started. I grew up. I learned humility, patience, respect.

What do you specialize in? What makes you unique?

We’re ALL unique in our own way. For me, I’m a dual citizen who speaks Flemish and English with a studio in Oklahoma City. Not too many of those? As far as my voice quality and tone, I’ve learned from previous VO Atlanta conferences that our voices are unique to ourselves. Nobody can sound like me. So I’m running with it!

I’m proud to say I’ve been a ProTools user since 1996, back in the ProTools III days. I like Protools, I’m used to it, I’m fast with it. My specialty is translation and then narrating my own translation. Every month I receive an English safety video, accompanied with the script. The client wants it translated into Flemish, and then narrated and sync’ed in Flemish as well. I LOVE that I can provide both services.

What do you find the most challenging aspect of your work, and why?

For me personally it’s Marketing. As I mentioned before, I’m the quiet type. So, getting on social media and actually posting something doesn’t come natural for me. I admire people like yourself Paul, who feel comfortable in sharing your ideas and feelings in a blog or podcast. I grew up with parents who made it perfectly clear not to gloat or show off when I did something good. I’m still trying to find that happy medium where it’s OK to be proud of something, and share that with the world without sounding like a know-it-all or become the “look at me!” type.

What would be your dream VO job?

I really enjoy e-learning projects and the long format jobs. But don’t ask me to read a book. I’m so in awe of book narrators who can go hours and keep track of the characters, accents, etc. Such artists! In second place would be radio imaging. That’s how I started and I really enjoyed not only being the voice of the station, but also doing the production with all its whooshes, hits, zaps and zings! And I’m still dreaming of hosting a radio show/podcast where I’m doing a US Top-15 or Top-20 countdown in Flemish, but all done from the US. Almost like a weekly Entertainment Tonight/Countdown show.

What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?

There’s a Belgian expression: “Belgians are born with a brick in their stomach”. It basically means they don’t move. You pretty much are born, grow up and probably die in the same town. I’m proud that I had the courage at 17 to get on a plane and go somewhere I had never been before. Go to school and experience an entire year as a high school kid and as a member of a family, not a tourist. It was a great experience and it built the foundation for the reasons I live in the US now.

What’s an important part of your life you want people to know about, that doesn’t necessarily have to do with voice-overs? 

I’m proud that I became a US citizen 10 years ago. I love it here so much. And I get to vote (and serve on a jury) now!

Also, just like Serge (Belgian VO talent living in Texas) I’m active with fostering dogs. My wife and I have been fostering for almost 8 years now. It’s so much fun to see the different personalities each dog brings to the crate.

Why are you coming to VO Atlanta, and what are you looking forward to most?

This will be the third consecutive VO Atlanta conference for me. I will be surrounded by people who LOVE what they do: Professionals who, even though we all do the same thing, understand that we’re not competitors but partners!

It’s one thing to go to a conference because your boss says so. But VO Atlanta: The atmosphere, the vibe, the smiles, the familiar faces, the new connections, the learning, but especially the PEOPLE,… It’s a 3-day pep rally!!

And I can’t wait to see you and those Dutch clogs of yours again!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Serge De Marre: The Flemish Phenomenon

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Dutch, International, VO Atlanta2 Comments

Serge De Marre

It happens at least once a month.

An English speaking client comes to me for a Dutch voice over. She sends the script over, and I immediately know it’s not for me. Why?

The text is not written in Dutch (spoken in the Netherlands), but in Flemish, the dialect of Flanders, a region in neighboring Belgium. It’s like sending a script for the Brazilian market to a Portuguese talent, or something in Castilian Spanish to a Mexican voice over. Linguistically it’s close, but it’s still a mismatch.

Just like Danes and Swedes understand one another, the Dutch and Flemish can converse without problems. However, there’s a very clear regional difference in accent and vocabulary that sets the speakers apart. So, if you’re an agent looking for a Dutch speaker, always ask the client whether it’s for the Dutch or the Flemish market.

To complicate matters, some Flemish voice overs will advertise themselves as Dutch speakers, and that’s because Flemish isn’t an official language. It’s a variant of Dutch. 

If you’re interested in what Flemish sounds like, you should come to VO Atlanta (March 26 -29), and strike up a conversation with voice talent Serge De Marre. It’s his first VO Atlanta, so make him feel at home! A few days ago, I had a chance to catch up with him. 

Serge, how did you get started in the business, and for how long have you been a voice-over? 


About 20 years ago I accidentally reconnected with an old school friend. He worked at a local radiostation in a small town in Belgium. I just got out of a relationship and to cheer me up, he dragged me to the station so “I could keep him company” during his radio show. I enjoyed the whole behind-the-scenes experience, and after he finished his show, he put me behind the microphone and we recorded a short demo. 

A couple of weeks later I got a call from the station manager: “Hey Serge, I listened to your demo and I really like it. One of our hosts is leaving, are you interested in his weekly slot?” It didn’t pay very well, but I was so excited!

In the years after, I worked my way up and got a show on Belgium’s biggest commercial radiostation Qmusic. Meanwhile, I was also doing voice overs on the side. In 2010 my husband’s employer wanted to relocate us to Washington, DC, and we decided to say yes to the adventure. Initially, his assignment was supposed to last for only two years, but 10 years later we are still in the USA. 

Job wise, this transition was tough for me. In normal circumstances I would’ve gotten a visa that’s linked to my spouse’s. But because our same-sex marriage was not recognized at the time I couldn’t get a visa nor a work permit in the USA. I did find a workaround and was able to get a journalist visa so I could work as an on air reporter for a Belgian tv channel. Here I am, reporting on a tornado.

Thanks to a Supreme Court decision in 2013, same-sex marriage was finally recognized in the USA and I was able to apply for a work permit and a green card. I started investing in my voice over business: bought a booth, polished my English with a dialect coach, and contacted Nancy Wolfson for private VO coaching sessions. I even expanded my business, and now I am also voicing in Neutral English.

What do you like about your work and the business you’re in?

I love, love, love that I’m able to create something magical out of the words written on a piece of paper. 

I love when clients are really excited about me bringing those scripts to life.

I love that I’m my own boss. 

I love that every day is 100% different. No gig is the same.

I love brainstorming with the many interesting and enthusiastic people in this business.

I love that after 20 years of being in the voice business, I’m still learning every day. Not only about the business itself but also about the companies, brands, and products that are out there. The other day a client contacted me to voice a corporate video for a drone that kills insects in green houses. How fascinating is that?!

What has changed since you made your very first recording?

Me. I have changed. I used to think that it was impossible to make a decent living with voice overs. For a long time, I saw the voice over business as a side business, but there is so much work out there. One day it just hit me. I decided to go for it full time and just do what I like and what I am good at. 

You know… everything changes once you start focussing on your goal. I learned that many years ago when I was working at a local radiostation, and I had this dream about having my own show on a national station. I just worked towards that goal and it happened. But I had this blind spot about voice over for a long time. I just didn’t think it was possible to make a living as a fulltime Flemish voice. You just have to persevere. Eventually, you’ll find your way.

What do you specialize in? What makes you unique?

Here’s the thing. My voice is what it is. You either like it or you don’t. The same goes for so many other voices, so there’s not much unique there. The difference with those other voices is that I offer an amazingly smooth experience. I am very flexible. I have a quick turnover. I am trustworthy and honest. I wanna make my clients happy, I go all out. 

Sometimes things are out of your control. Luckily, it hasn’t happened very often, but I will get really upset when my clients aren’t happy for whatever reason.

This one time a studio booked me after hearing my audition. We recorded several tv commercials during a 3 hour live directed session. The client and studio were beyond ecstatic with my work. A couple of days later they told me they’d decided to go with a different voice because corporate headquarters thought I sounded “too different from to the original French voice” that they never let me hear. This was a complete surprise to me. They were very apologetic though. This wasn’t something I could fix but I still was upset for a couple of days. (laughs)

What do you find the most challenging aspect of your work, and why?

Working with clients who only know what they don’t want, and don’t know what they do want is a challenge I love to accept. Or clients that give you contradicting instructions: “Give me a dynamic, happy but serious read.” My years of experience will handle these situations perfectly by just asking a lot of questions and narrowing down the things they don’t want. These situations are always a challenge but eventually we’ll get there.

What would be your dream VO job?

Wouldn’t it be nice to just sit in your booth all day and do nothing but voice work? In my dreams I’d have a sales manager. Someone who’d pick up the phone and replies to my emails. A marketing guy who’d update my website and social media. Someone who negotiates fees for me and sends invoices. You have to have goals! One day… who knows. (laughs)

What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?

I’m proud to be working again for Qmusic, the Belgian radiostation I left in 2010. I’m now their station voice. Those recording sessions are always a lot of fun.

I’m also very proud of getting into the International English voice over market. Who would’ve thought, 10 years ago! 

You know… I’m actually very proud of everything I’m doing today. In elementary school as well as in high school, I was a below average student. Teachers used to tell me that I was a lost cause, and just not smart enough. “You’re just too dumb and I don’t know what is going to become of you” is a sentence I heard many times, and I believed it!

Look where I am now! I’m very proud of what I’ve accomplished.

What’s an important part of your life you want people to know about, that doesn’t necessarily have to do with voice-overs?

Ha! Professionally? I’ve interviewed and met many celebrities. Actors Jim Carrey and Angela Lansbury, Ellie Goulding, James Blunt, Birdy, Jim Kerr, Taio Cruz, Bryan Adams, Phil Collins… to name a few. This was for Qmusic radio and a tv station. It shows how much my producers and bosses trusted me with my expertise and talent.

On a personal level.. When I moved to the USA and didn’t have a work permit, I volunteered at the Houston SPCA and fostered over 40 puppies. No, not all at once! (laughs) This was over a period of 4 years. That was so much fun! I also photographed a lot of the shelter dogs, so we could put up their picture on the SPCA’s website and get them off the adoption floor quicker. 

Why are you coming to VO Atlanta, and what are you looking forward to most?

Learn, learn, learn. I’m looking forward to meet with other people in the business and hear their experiences. There’s so much I can learn from not only the X-sessions, but also from other voices.

And maybe I might get a new client out of it? Who knows?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

 

PS I’ll be at VO Atlanta for two panels and two presentations. On March 27th at 9:50 AM I present “The incredible power of words.” The next day it’s time for my X-session “Boosting Your Business with a Blog” on March 28th at 9:30 AM. Click here to register.

Through March 10th you get 25% off select sessions by using the coupon code MARCHMADNESS25.

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The Versatile Voice Holland Loves to Hate

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Dutch, VO Atlanta2 Comments

Tuffie Vos

Anyone who has ever taken the train in the Netherlands, knows the voice of Tuffie Vos, and has cursed her at least once or twice.

That’s understandable, because her public announcements usually bring bad tidings. Things like sudden platform changes, derailments, delays, and more delays.

The video in which she was exposed as the voice behind these announcements went viral, and made her the object of ridicule and vitriol. Undaunted, Tuffie went on national television to read some of the nastiest comments with humor and poise.

No matter what you throw at her, Tuffie always gets the job done. She’s been one of Holland’s top talents for years, even though VO isn’t her main thing anymore.

Tuffie’s got big plans, and that’s one of the reasons she is coming to the 2020 VO Atlanta conference (March 26 -29). A few days ago, I spoke with her. 

Tuffie, how did you get started in the business, and for how long have you been a voice-over?

I started as a voice-over when I was 15, exactly 40 years ago this year.

At that time a brand new voice agency needed young voices. There were none. My mother (Dutch Radio & TV personality Tineke de Nooij, PS) already worked for that agency as a voice. In those days, only 8 voice overs in the Netherlands were doing all the work.

Three of them were women, and they were all over 40. I was the first young female voice, and this did not change for almost fifteen years.

What do you like about your work and the business you’re in?

I love the independency of this business and the creativity of the work. I have never ever worked for a boss in my life. When I started, it wasn’t even considered to be a real business. It was a side hustle for actors, singers, and radio dj’s.

I still approach the business that way, because it’s only part of what I do, professionally. I also studied singing, and I am a spiritual teacher as well.

I truly believe that succes is always a result of putting a lot of effort in what you do, while staying focused. My voice is my talent, my gift, and I’ve always worked very hard to develop it. The same is true for my reading skills and my acting. I am good at what I do, and I love it. You may call yourself privileged if you can make money with something you really like doing.

What has changed since you made your very first recording?

The whole world? 🙂

In the eighties there were only a few big studio’s, and it all was tape-recorded. A sound engineer needed to cut the tape and glue it back again if you’d made a mistake. This would take a lot of time and everyone in the studio had to wait for him to repair it, while the client payed a big amount of money for the studio. That’s why it was very important that you didn’t make a mistake! Nailing the read quickly, became my professional trademark. If I see a text, I immediately know how it has to sound, and I can produce what I hear in my head right away.

What do you specialize in? What makes you unique?

I see myself as a voice artist. I can do any genre. I blend in like a chameleon. These days, voice-overs primarily do the same thing again and again. The same style of reading, the same accents, the same melody and rhythm, the same tricks, the same sound etc. It’s just one way of delivery. Thanks to my experience and education I can “soundshapeshift” into any role or genre. Commercials, documentaries, games, IVR, news anchoring, E-learning… There is nothing I haven’t done.

What do you find the most challenging aspect of your work, and why?

In the last ten years the business has changed so radically, that I have no idea where it will go in the future. There is an overwhelming number of voice overs at this moment in a relatively small professional field. Sometimes, they’ll do the jobs for a quarter of my fee, which already has been slashed in half compared to what it used to be.

Nobody seems to be aware of how our language or a voice over should sound anymore. As a result, quality and professionalism is not heard or acknowledged anymore. This development has frustrated me for a while now. I had to find and fight my way back, take my place, own it, and make choices. Since I did that, I’m once again very happy with the business. And with myself.

Related to this is another challenging part of my life: my medical issues. It’s the dark side of being independent, and not having a steady job. In 2003 I was diagnosed with a bone tumor behind my eye. From then on until 2014, I’ve had twenty surgeries in my eye. I was glad to have paid high insurance premiums in my twenty working years!

In 2012, I got a new, titanium eye socket. Since that time my double vision has become so bad that I can’t read long scripts anymore. To be totally honest, reading has become a cruelty. It has been quite a process to acknowledge to myself that I am no longer able to do this part of my work anymore. I’m talking about long form narration, like 4 hours of E-learning, recorded in 4, 5 hours because I never make a mistake, are history. After 15 minutes I start making mistakes in every sentence, twice. It’s not working.

What would be your dream VO job?

Well, what I’m actually dreaming of today, is to find my way back to my first love, commercials, and find a few nice clients to build up a long term friendship. To have a creative blast with them on a steady basis. 

My biggest dream is to have an account in the U.S. I want to produce something really good, and the product to be a big succes. I have experienced that a few times in my career, and I still get a great kick out of that.

What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?

At the end of the day, I think it’s being the voice of the public announcement system of the Nederlandse Spoorwegen, the Dutch Railways. When we started this project, the sound engineer and I put a lot of time and effort in how this announcement had to sound and what the experience would be of people hearing it, while listening to bad news. The sound needed to be soft, high-pitched, and friendly. When all the puzzle pieces were put together (which took days of recording), it had to have a natural flow, and still sound like a real human being (even though it’s computer-generated, PS). The system still works great after 24 years.

What’s an important part of your life you want people to know about, that doesn’t necessarily have to do with voice-overs?

Much more than a voice-over, I am a spiritual reader, healer and teacher. I’ve been doing this for over 30 years now. I’m also slowly building up a new life as a jazz singer. I picked up singing three years ago after I got burned out.

I hadn’t sung since I graduated from the conservatory, 22 year ago. This is who I really am. My voice is the mirror of my soul. It brings a lot of joy to my life to make music and heal people.

Why are you coming to VO Atlanta, and what are you looking forward to most?

I’m ready for new adventures and challenges in my life! Since my children are officially grown-ups this year, I’m preparing to live in New York to dive in the jazz scene for a couple of months a year. This has been a dream of mine for a long time, particularly in my younger years. It would be nice to find connections with recording studios and agencies over there. Even information from voice-overs colleagues about how the business works in the USA, is valuable. So, a lot of networking and research I suppose, just to find out how things work over there.

When I stay in New York I don’t want to bring my Apogee travel kit and stress myself all the time in my closet being covered with blankets, but I want to rent a professional sound studio there once or twice a week. I do the same thing here in Amsterdam with longer VO jobs.

I’m looking forward most to the workshop Nail your commercial reading I signed up for. Also hanging out with you guys, and singing with Machteld on the last night jam will be fun.

We’re going to have a ball together!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

 

PS I’ll be at VO Atlanta for two panels and two presentations. On March 27th at 9:50 AM I present “The incredible power of words.” The next day it’s time for my X-session “Boosting Your Business with a Blog” on March 28th at 9:30 AM. Click here to register.

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From Volunteer to Voice Over Dream Job

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Dutch, International, VO Atlanta1 Comment

Jolanda Bayens

At many occasions where Fred Rogers was asked to speak, he invited his audience to be quiet for sixty seconds. He said:

“I’d like to give you all an invisible gift. A gift of a silent minute to think about those who have helped you become who you are today. Some of them may be here right now. Some may be far away. Some, may even be in Heaven. But wherever they are, if they’ve loved you, and encouraged you, and wanted what was best in life for you, they’re right inside your self. And I feel that you deserve quiet time, on this special occasion, to devote some thought to them. So, let’s just take a minute, in honor of those that have cared about us all along the way. One silent minute.”

Today, I am going to introduce you to my remarkable Dutch colleague Jolanda Bayens, who will be joining me at VO Atlanta (March 26 -29). As you will find out, she has a very special person who has always encouraged her, and helped her become who she is today. We’ll get to that in a minute.

Jolanda, how did you get started in the business, and for how long have you been a voice-over?

In the past, I was a nurse, specializing in terminal care. After my studies I worked at a hospice, and later in home nursing. I fell and broke my pelvis in three locations. A few years later they discovered I had a condition that caused my bones to break very easily and significantly. I was declared unfit to work because the fractures didn’t heal properly. 

I enjoyed taking care of my children, but I missed a working environment. After trying out different things, I ended up as a volunteer at a commercial radio station where they trained me to write and read news bulletins. Over time I took on other jobs such as doing interviews, producing promos and jingles, as well as voicing commercials. I practiced so much!

In 2002 I sent a demo to a producer of commercials, and within a week I had booked a national spot. From then on the ball started rolling, and it has never stopped. A year later I was asked to read the news for a Dutch press agency. Shortly after that they asked me to present the traffic info. That’s how it all started.

What do you like about your work and the business you’re in?

I love working uninterrupted in my voice over booth, laughing about my own mistakes and spontaneously recording silly things. In my opinion, the business has become a lot harder in recent years. I also notice that young directors often prefer a beautiful, sultry voice instead of paying attention to correct pronunciation, accent placement, et cetera.

What has changed since you made your very first recording?

In the beginning I often had to go to a studio to record. These days that seldom happens. Most of my jobs I record at home. I love working from home, but I miss seeing my colleagues.

What do you specialize in? What makes you unique?

My versatility is my speciality. I particularly like that my voice has a wide range, from low to high. I’m also able to quickly access feelings, and emote them through my voice. On top of that I love playing with the Dutch language, and I know almost instinctively how a sentence needs to be spoken.

What do you find the most challenging aspect of your work, and why?

My biggest challenge is to make and maintain connections, and to sell myself. That’s hard for me. But it’s part of being an entrepreneur, so I have to do it.

What would be your dream VO job?

That’s a tough question. I’ve already had the opportunity to do so much. I don’t think there’s one genre of VO I haven’t done already.

What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?

I’m proud of everything I have done so far. Especially because this work gives me so much joy and satisfaction. It’s a puzzle piece of my life that just fits. I’m also very proud of voiceovercollege.nl. It’s a training institute for voice overs of which I am the founder and lead trainer. I teach courses in the Netherlands as well as in Belgium.

voiceover college

My approach is quite unique because I look at people in a holistic way. I don’t offer tricks that promise to give every student perfect pipes. I make people aware of who they are and all the things they can do with their voice. I’m very proud that a number of my ex-students are now enjoying a great career in voice overs. 

What’s an important part of your life you want people to know about, that doesn’t necessarily have to do with voice-overs?

To cut a long story short: when I was three and a half years old I was adopted by the Bayens family. I had been gravely neglected as a child, and the only thing I could do was throw temper tantrums  and swear in a strong Amsterdam dialect.

My mother spoke impeccable Dutch. Every day she’d read to me for hours, and sing children’s songs one after the other. That’s how she taught me to speak correctly without any regional accents and without cursing. I adopted her way of reading to people. Thanks to her, I am a voice over. Unfortunately, my adoptive parents passed away before I started doing this work, and that’s a shame.

Why are you coming to VO Atlanta, and what are you looking forward to most?

My main reason for coming to Atlanta boils down to one word: curiosity. I’ve never really been to a voice over conference. I’d love to just take everything in, and meet people. I’d like to learn from others and I hope others will also learn from me. I’m interested in the differences between voice overs from all over the world. 

I find it kind of thrilling to be by myself in a very different place, surrounded by people I’ve never met. But, as my husband tells me:

“Just go for it!”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS I’ll be at VO Atlanta for two panels and two presentations. On March 27th at 9:50 AM I present “The incredible power of words.” The next day it’s time for my X-session “Boosting Your Business with a Blog” on March 28th at 9:30 AM. Click here to register.

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The Dutch are Coming!

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Dutch, International, VO Atlanta4 Comments

Machteld van der Gaag, photo credit: Mart Boudestein

This year I have another reason to be super stoked about VO Atlanta.

I won’t be the only Dutch game in town!

Three of Holland’s finest voice talents will be joining me: Machteld van der Gaag, Jolanda Bayens, and Tuffie Vos.

You’ve probably never heard of them, and that’s about to change. In the lead-up to the conference (March 26 – 29) I’ll be asking them the same questions, but you’ll get very different answers. You’ll find out what voice-over life is like in one of Europe’s smallest and most affluent countries.

Do the Dutch have the same struggles? Do we have more in common than what separates us? What do they expect to get out of VO Atlanta?

Let’s start with powerhouse Machteld van der Gaag. The last time I talked to her, she was on her bicycle, going to a gig in Amsterdam. 

Machteld, how did you get started in the business, and for how long have you been a voice-over?

I accidentally stumbled into the business in 1994. That’s when I had my first voice over on national TV. I was a copywriter at that time, and I imitated the voice talent who didn’t show up to the recording. The client liked what I did and said: “Why don’t you record the script?

I only started calling myself a ‘voice-over’ about 15 yeas ago. I was on both sides of the mic, as a copywriter I hired many voices, and as a voice I recorded quite a lot of my colleagues’ writings. 

What do you like about your work and the business you’re in?

Like? I LOVE it! Mostly the diversity. No day is the same, no project is the same, and you’re never done learning. Every day means a new beginning, new skills you can learn, try out, use again. And the people who work with voices are usually pretty nice folks too. It’s just your own little private party in your recording booth, every day! 

What has changed since you made your very first recording?

Oh my. Everything. I’m a dinosaur really. I go back to big sound studio’s with 1/4 inch small tape. Cut and paste, literally. U-matics. DAT cassettes, CD’s… and then, the digital revolution. And the internet. The world opened up. This enabled voices like me to set up a studio at home, ready to produce broadcast quality recordings. This changed everything. It also meant that I dared to give up my copywriters work and fully concentrate on voice over projects.  

What do you specialize in? What makes you unique?

My voice is young, versatile, and my diction is clear. I’m quick, I easily take directions – probably because I have directed hundreds of voices myself when I was a copywriter. But what really makes me stand out, is that I am lucky enough to work in three languages, two of them native (French and Dutch) and one near-native (English). My journey has led me to specialize in mostly commercial projects, but I feel there’s many more fields I’d like to explore, as long as clients give me a chance to shine.

What do you find the most challenging aspect of your work, and why?

The technical aspect for one. That’s my weak spot. I was lucky enough to record mostly with a great sound designer behind the wheel, so I could concentrate on my craft. I manage, but I regularly need a little help from my technical friends if I hit a bump in the road. The second aspect is the marketing and the admin of being a small business owner. But, as in other areas, the tools are getting better and better. 

What would be your dream VO job?

I guess it would be something regular. Like weekly. I have been the voice of a brand for 15 years now, but they only air commercials 2 or 3 times a year. I love all my scattered projects, but a regular gig would be a dream to me. 

What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?

This was quite recent. I had voiced a TedX promo, in my Transatlantic American accent. My American voice /accent coach was attending that event, but didn’t know I was the Voice Over. When I told her, she couldn’t believe it. She thought she heard an authentic American speaker. I still don’t completely believe her, but if she did mean it, that would make me real proud.

What’s an important part of your life you want people to know about, that doesn’t necessarily have to do with voice-overs?

Five years ago, I started singing in public. That had always been a dream of mine, but I never trusted my singing voice enough to do something with it. Now that I have been performing for five years, I feel the next step needs to be made: recording my singing voice, which scares the hell out of me, but hey, how scary can a mic be ?  

In 2018, Machteld entered the prestigious Concours de la Chanson Alliance Française, a competition dedicated to the performance of French songs. Much to her surprise, she walked away with first prize!

Why are you coming to VO Atlanta, and what are you looking forward to most?

I think I’ll probably stand out as the gawking, happy faced Dutch girl who will just get excited by everything and who wants to meet everybody. So basically, meeting colleagues (so many!!! the voice over community in the Netherlands is of course way smaller!), sharing experiences, learning about techniques, discovering new ways of using my voice (games and animations, which I’m not doing yet)… And I heard there’s an open mic!

But seriously, colleagues have repeatedly asked to come to Atlanta, but now, I’m just so excited I’m going in the first place.

Nothing can disappoint me! 

I can reveal that Machteld is planning a small surprise at VO Atlanta. If you’re in the neighborhood, keep your eyes and ears open!

You can follow Machteld on Facebook and on Instagram.

Next week I’ll be talking to VO Jolanda Bayens, founder of the Voiceovercollege, where she’s training the next generation of Dutch and Flemish voice talent.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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The Voice-Over World Needs More Rejection.

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play14 Comments

Words are powerful things.

They can inspire us, they make us laugh, they melt our hearts, and they entice our souls to jump for joy.

Words can also scare us and scar us. They can intimidate, discriminate, and humiliate.

The sound of certain words alone, can petrify people. Try this, will you?

Say the following words out loud, and let them sink in for a moment:

Terror
Horror
Pain
Death
Disaster

Did you feel the effect?

Although they are nothing but letters arranged in a specific order, they sound dark and ominous because of all the things we’ve learned to associate with them. The terror of 9/11, the horror of the Holocaust, the pain of suffering, the death of a loved one, and the disaster of losing a home in a fire.

We all carry these uniquely personal connotations within us, and -invisible to the outside world- they resonate whenever we hear these words. Here’s where things get interesting.

Although you may think that we share some of life’s ups and downs because they are part of being human, all of us experience these highs and lows in our own way. These experiences color what we associate with certain words. This explains why people can use the same words, and yet mean and feel very different things.

For instance, the word “Dutch” means something different to me than what it means to you. I was born in the Netherlands and grew up there. Dutch is part of my DNA. If you’re an American, the first thing you may think of is Pennsylvania Dutch, or a fun game of Double Dutch.

Take the word “relationship.” There’s the definition from the dictionary, and then there’ s our experiential definition, infused with memories, and expectations. We emotionally respond to the latter, not the former.

There are many scary words in our language, the scariest being the word “NO.”

A close second is the word “rejection,” which basically means the same thing. Today, I’m going to zoom in on that word, because I believe the voice-over community needs more of it.

What?

Yes, you’ve heard me.

We need more rejection. And before you reject that idea, please hear me out.

For newcomers trying to make a name for themselves in this competitive business, rejection is the worst that can happen. They’ve (hopefully) invested a lot of time and money in training and equipment, and feel ready to start playing the game. Subconsciously, many are convinced the world owes them. Why?

Well, when you make a serious investment, you should expect a decent return, right? That’s only fair.

Unfortunately, there is no fair in voice-over casting. There’s talent, training, experience, luck, who you know in the business, and subjective selection. None of them will guarantee any work.

So, when a novice starts auditioning for everything under the sun, and lands exactly zero jobs in three months, it feels like a slap in the face. Over time, they may start suffering from a gloomy condition I call rejection dejection, a feeling of failure caused by perceived incompetence.

Now, if that’s the result of rejection, why do I believe we need more of it? I’ll tell you.

1. People set themselves up for failure, and they deserve to be rejected

If you were ever in a position to cast a project, you know what I mean. You can throw at least half of the submissions out because the audio quality is appalling. Snowball microphones, egg crates, and leaf blowing neighbors can’t compete with pristine professional audio from someone who knows what s/he’s doing.

A quarter of auditionees don’t read the specs, and can’t be bothered to follow instructions. A quarter sounds fake and inauthentic, and many don’t know how to price their services. They’re either too cheap to be taken seriously, or too expensive to be competitive.

How do I know this? Because I’ve made all these mistakes! I simply didn’t know what I didn’t know without knowing it. The other day I was listening to some of my old auditions, and I was embarrassed. No wonder I didn’t book anything. But did I go on Facebook to moan and groan? No way! The only thing I could do was up my game, and rejection was the kick in the pants I desperately needed.

In short, rejection separates the wheat from the chaff, and can give people a strong incentive to learn and grow up.

2. We need to reframe rejection

The discussion about rejection almost always focuses on the poor, powerless voice-over, being a victim of the whims of a demanding, mysterious client. I’m not falling into that trap of misery and self-pity. Over the years I have turned the tables, and have come to see myself as the one doing the rejecting. It’s quite simple:

On any given day, I receive invitations to audition, and projects to record. Most of them I reject. I believe that quality, not quantity, is the secret to winning auditions. The client does not pay me to learn on the job, so I will only accept projects I know I can handle in terms of my skills and the time I have available.

I also reject projects that advocate unethical practices or promote products I cannot stand behind. For instance, I don’t want to be associated with the weapons trade, climate destruction, human rights abuses, the meat processing industry, and political parties whose ideas I cannot support. I know this has cost me work, but having principles comes at a price.

Lastly, I reject working with clients, corporations, or businesses that have been shown to act unethically. A particular Canadian Pay to Play comes to mind.

What’s the result of all this rejection? It’s the fact that I do work I can be proud of; work that makes me happy. If that’s something you want, I advise you to warmly embrace rejection!

3. We need to reject low rates, cheap clients, greedy Pay to Plays, and lowballing “colleagues”

Audio books are booming, video games are making billions, streaming services are producing more and more original content, eLearning is in high demand… I’d say the opportunities for voice-overs have never been better. That’s why so many want to give it a try.

In spite of these opportunities, many colleagues I talk to are finding it harder to get decent work for decent pay. Some of them end up doing more for less because the cost of living is going up and bills need to be paid. Agents dealing with clients tell me that it’s harder to negotiate a good rate, and that almost every client wants an unlimited buyout without paying for it.

Meanwhile, new voice casting services are opening their virtual doors, hoping to do good business with low rates and high commissions. It seems the gradual commoditization of our industry is in full swing.

The big questions is: how should we respond to that?

I think the answer lies in …. you’ve guessed it: rejection.

Be proud of your pricing, and reject rates that are insultingly low. Reject companies that triple dip, and leave you with less. Reject undercutting “colleagues.” Educate them, just as you educate your clients about fair fees.

Reject the lowballers that say: “One bird in the hand is better than two in the bush.” That’s based on shortsighted, egotistical thinking. It’s not a way to carve out a sustainable career that can feed a family.

Reject the notion that your decisions do not make a difference. Every time you quote a project or you accept a fee, you send a signal to the market: “This is what I believe my work is worth.” The only reason clients are getting away with paying pennies, is because people agree to work for pennies. No one is forcing them at gunpoint.

Now, you may have all kinds of reasons why you feel you have the right to work for a low rate, but I’m not interested in reasons. I’m interested in results. And the result is that for many it’s become harder and harder to make a living as a full-time voice-over.

Do all of us a favor and stop competing on price. It’s a game you will lose, because there’s always an idiot willing to do more for less, and go bankrupt in the process.

Show some self-respect, and show some respect for your craft and your community. Start competing on added value. Prove to the client that you’re worth what you’re asking.

Because if you do things right, your added value will always be higher than your rate!

Now, if that’s an idea you reject, I’m afraid can’t help you.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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All Talk and Nothing to Say

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Internet, Journalism & Media, Personal6 Comments

Five years ago I got in serious trouble with some of my readers.

“What else is new?” you may ask.

Did I write about amateurism in voice overs, insultingly low rates, or about greedy Pay-to-Plays?

Nope.

The topic was podcasting, or rather my ambivalence toward podcasts.

To be honest with you, I’d rather read an article than listen to forty minutes of blah-blah-blah. I can scan an article or blog post in a short amount of time. I search for keywords, and skip the fluff. Done. On to the next one. I think I’m too impatient for most podcasts.

Since I wrote the story in 2015, the number of VO-related podcasts has increased considerably, and I have to admit that many of them are a joy to listen to.

I’ve been interviewed by a multitude of hosts, and my experience has always been very positive. Yet, there are only a handful of podcasts I regularly tune into, and they’re seldom about voice overs. Why?

I think It’s very important for a well-rounded VO (and I’m not talking about our waistline), to step outside of our blah blah bubble, and skip the talk about which microphone is best and how to get an agent. There’s a whole wide world out there filled with information and inspiration. Constant navel-gazing isn’t going to help us learn and grow as a human being. 

This week, a Dutch podcast forum asked me about my experiences with podcasts. Do I have any faves, pet peeves, or tips? 

This is what I wrote.

 

Let me start my story with a confession.

My roots are in radio.

That’s both a blessing and a curse. It means I can no longer listen to podcasts with an open, carefree mind. I listen the way a music critic listens to a concert. With super critical ears. Luckily I can turn the darn thing off as soon as I get bored. 

In addition you should know that I’ve been a voice over for more than thirty years. This has made me allergic to badly written scripts, stupid slips of the tongue, loud, distracting breaths, and poorly recorded audio.

I’ve also made a living as a journalist, presenter, and media trainer. I know a little bit about interviewing guests. How to do it, and how not to do it.

All of the above means that many podcasts are just not my thing, even though I love the medium dearly. My favorite podcasts offer theater between the ears allowing my imagination to run wild. When I’m listening, I’m not distracted by flashing images on television which makes it easier to focus on the content.

I love the freedom podcasts give me. I usually listen when I have boring things to do like the dishes, yard work, house cleaning, long drives, or running on the treadmill. What do I listen to? Mostly radio shows.

PODCAST FAVORITES

This year marks my 20th anniversary of living and working in the USA. To stay connected to what’s happening in Holland (where I’m from), I listen to a show called Met het oog op morgen, (Keeping an eye on tomorrow). It’s a daily roundup of news, current affairs, and background stories.

As a former newscaster I’m always on the lookout for people who can interpret what’s going on in the world today. I want to know what motivated this person to make that statement, and what the implications are. That’s why I often tune in to the Brian Leher Show on WNYC, a New York City-based public radio station. Brian is a progressive interviewer who has an uncanny ability to ask pointed questions in a friendly and respectful way.

When I want to know more about art, literature, and music, I turn to Fresh Air, a legendary talk show with Terry Gross. Terry is considered a national treasure in the US, and for good reason. She’s been on national radio since 1975, and her show can be heard all over the United States. She’s known for her empathic, intelligent way of interviewing her guests. 

For philosophy and science I listen to Radiolab with Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich. Jad composes the experimental music which is like a running commentary on the theme of the show. Apart from interviews with people such as neurologist Oliver Sacks, conversations between the hosts are also part of the program. Radiolab is exquisitely immersive and never fails to make me think.

PROBLEMS WITH PODCASTS

There are very few “real” podcasts (as opposed to regular radio shows) I can listen to without cringing. Usually, that’s because of three things:

1. Amateurs “playing radio.”

Bad audio quality is the first clue. The recording space is often too noisy, everyone is miles away from the microphone, and guests are mumbling their answers. After hearing the first twenty seconds I ask myself: “What on earth am I listening to?”

Podcast producers who actually know what they’re doing realize that they have to compete with “real” radio programs. Award-winning podcasts have a team of researchers, editors, script writers, and sound engineers that take their job seriously.

In the next few years the difference between hobbyists and professionals making podcasts will increase dramatically. The consumer will have even more to choose from, and won’t have to settle for kitchen table productions.

2. Hosts that are overly self-involved.

Podcasts seem to attract people that like to hear themselves talk, but who have very little to say. I’m thinking of the unfunny folks who believe they’re God’s gift to comedy, and who have trouble getting to the point. I call them “self-arousers” because the sound of their own voice makes them horny as hell.

The best interviewers don’t make themselves the star of the show but focus on the guests. They don’t stick to a list of pre-cooked questions. They listen carefully to the answers and follow up. This is not an easy thing to do. You’ve got to get people talking, you’ve got to learn to keep your mouth shut, and you have to jump in at the right moment with the right questions. 

3. Weak content

Before you read the next line I’d like you to do a quick experiment while recording yourself. Choose a topic you’re interested in at the moment. Have a stopwatch ready, and when you press START, talk for one minute straight offering relevant information. No hesitations, no filler words, and no ums.

Ready. Set. GO!

Most people who do this experiment notice how hard it is to fill just one minute fluently, while keeping the audience engaged as they’re trying to make sense.

I often tell my students:

“If you want people to be interested, you have to be interesting. Your topics and your guests have to be interesting.”

Too many podcasts are of the category “much ado about nothing,” hosted by lazy, self-absorbed hosts that allow their guests to yammer on and on and on.

If you’re reading producing podcasts, you know it requires quite an investment to produce an outstanding show on a weekly basis. That’s why it is almost impossible to listen to your own shows with impartiality. It’s also the reason I recommend you get yourself a feedback group of people who know what they’re talking about. Do not ask family and friends who will love everything you say and do, no matter what.

You need the critical ears of those who will tell you what you don’t like to hear.

The ears of people like me.

People with roots in radio.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Incompetent and Overly Confident

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Freelancing, Personal, Social Media16 Comments

Let me begin with a simple but loaded question.

Why do so many voice overs on social media seem confident, yet ignorant?

I’m not making this up to bash newbies, if that’s what you think. Age and experience have nothing to do with it. I’ve seen seasoned colleagues make ridiculous claims, and I’ve observed youngsters parade their lack of knowledge in public without an ounce of shame or self-awareness.

Unfortunately, ignorance isn’t limited to our tiny voice-over bubble. Many people go through life being blind about basic facts. It doesn’t prevent them from commenting about things they know nothing about. It’s a free country! These people have careers, they raise children, and some of them even vote.

Do you want examples? Here are a few factoids from surveys that will make your jaw drop.

COMMON MISCONCEPTIONS

Only 45% of Americans can tell you what the initials in GOP stand for. Some believe it is short for Government of the People or God’s Own Party.

25% of Americans don’t know the country from which the USA gained its independence. Answers varied from France to China.

30% have no idea what the Holocaust was, and half of Americans believe that Christianity came before Judaism. These people are also convinced that Christianity was written into the Constitution.

Mind you, it’s not just the big stuff people have no clue about. I once asked a music student jokingly:

“For whom did Beethoven compose “Für Elise?”

She had no idea.

Now, here’s the real kicker. When asked these questions, those who were obviously incompetent did not see themselves as such. This isn’t weird. It’s very human, and it’s confirmed by an experiment among students who were doing a test.

When they handed the test in, they were asked how well they thought they did. Their answers were later compared to the actual results. Here’s what the researchers found.

The bottom performers in that test were almost as confident about how well they thought they did, as the top performers. In other words, they were blissfully unaware of their own lack of knowledge.

THE DUNNING – KRUGER EFFECT

In psychology this is known as the Dunning-Kruger effect, named after Cornell psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger. It’s a type of cognitive bias in which people believe that they are smarter and more capable than they really are. 

The explanation for this phenomenon is simple: people are too ignorant to recognize their own ignorance, and so they don’t see where their knowledge ends.

Why is this a problem, you ask? All we need to do is present the ignorant people of the world with the facts, and they’ll get off their high horse and accept that they’re wrong. End of story.

If only it were that easy.

By the way, for the sake of this discussion when I say “facts” I’m referring to information confirmed to be true according to objective scientific standards.

We can verify what GOP stands for, and from which country the USA gained its independence. It’s not a matter of opinion.

The real problem is not that people are not as knowledgeable as they think they are. To be honest: all of us live under the shadow of our own ignorance. The problem is that our misconceptions are a serious barrier to us learning anything new and accepting expert opinions. 

As the Zen master said:

“How can I fill your tea cup if it’s already full?”

I run into this problem when giving feedback as a coach.

ACCEPT FAILURE

For people to accept the feedback, they have to accept failure and be open to new information. Let me give you an example. One of my older students didn’t like what I had to say about the quality of his audio. His equipment was top-notch, but his recording space was terrible. All of his recordings had a low rumble and flutter echoes. 

He wasn’t booking anything, and yet he was intent on showing me how much he had spent on his microphone and preamp to prove that I was wrong. Good gear couldn’t lead to bad audio, he thought.

At my request he visited an audiologist, and found out he needed a hearing aid. Once the device was in place, he called to apologize. He had listened to his recordings and heard some things he’d never heard before, proving my point.

Here’s what I had to learn. Telling people they’re wrong puts them on the defense, allowing them to turn me into the bad guy. Facts can be denied and intentions can be questioned. Experiences on the other hand, are harder to disprove.

So, instead of telling my students what they’re doing wrong (creating resistance), I now give them assignments to help them assess their expertise of lack thereof, and I have them research ways in which they can improve. This way, they own the feedback as well as the solution.

It’s easy to forget a fact, but people will remember an experience.

The other problem with the Dunning – Kruger effect is that it leads to people making bad choices because they reach the wrong conclusions while thinking they’re doing okay.

AT THE SHOOTING RANGE

Dunning and Kruger went to a gun shooting event and asked gun enthusiasts to fill out a ten-question firearm and safety knowledge quiz used by the NRA. It turned out that the gun owners who knew the least about gun safety overestimated their knowledge the most.

I don’t know about you, but this scares the hell out of me. To take it one step further, people have pointed at the behavior of our Commander-in-Chief as a prime example of the Dunning – Kruger effect.

Those who are suffering from Dunning – Kruger have trouble measuring themselves against real experts because they’re so confident they are right. I mean, why should a know-it-all turn to other sources for advice?

What makes it worse is that overly confident and narcissistic leaders tend to surround themselves with YES-men and women who are too afraid to criticize their boss for fear of repercussions. This lack of feedback makes a leader even more convinced that he’s doing a perfect job.

One last thing. Someone displaying signs of the Dunning – Kruger effect has trouble taking responsibility when things go haywire. How can someone unable to make mistakes possibly do something wrong? Instead, they point the finger at others.

ALL ARE AFFECTED

Now, before you tell me I’m turning this blog into a political diatribe, I think it’s important to look into the mirror and admit that all of us show signs of the Dunning – Kruger effect. No matter how much we think we know about a topic, our knowledge is finite, whereas what we don’t know is infinite.

There are simple biological limitations to what we’re able to know as well. Our brain cannot remember everything. It does not need to remember everything because we can find most information online. Some have called this the “Google Effect,” the automatic forgetting of info that’s available on the world wide web.

We should also realize that the ill-informed don’t necessarily know less. They’re not stupid. They just believe things that aren’t always rooted in facts. People will endorse erroneous information if it fits their opinion. They also know more about different things that may or may not be relevant or deemed important.

One of my cousins is not the sharpest tool in the shed, but he can blindly identify the make and model of a car, simply by listening to the noise the engine is making. And if he listens a bit longer, he can tell you what needs to be fixed (he grew up in a body shop).

I also know people who are extremely knowledgeable in one area of their life, but please don’t ask them to make eggs over easy. The kitchen is going to be a mess.

Having interviewed some of the best brains in the world, one thing became very clear to me. Knowing a lot doesn’t make someone smart, or kind, or more understanding.

METACOGNITION

Is there a way to counter the Dunning – Kruger effect? As you can imagine, arguing with people who experience the Dunning – Kruger effect is frustrating. They will often become more entrenched in their beliefs. So, lets’s start with ourselves.

One way to overcome the effect is to develop what psychologists call metacognition. It is the ability to think about one’s own thinking and behavior. It’s a skill that helps us recognize how well we are performing. I’d say this is an essential skill for the self-employed.

How do you develop this skill? Well, by doing what you are doing right now. By reading this story you’re hopefully learning to recognize the symptoms in others and in yourself. Every change we wish to make has to start with us being aware of what needs to change. As long as we’re in denial, treatment is futile.

Another way of dealing with the Dunning – Kruger effect is to accept that we don’t need to know everything about everything. I find not having to know everything very liberating and humbling. What’s more, it has opened me up to a whole realm of surprising possibilities.

Because of this blog, I get a lot of questions from readers like you. How much should they charge for this project in this country, what’s the best microphone for a high female voice, should they join the union or go Taft-Hartley?

I’m no longer afraid to tell them I don’t have an answer. It doesn’t diminish who I am. I’d rather be open about my ignorance than arrogant about my perceived knowledge and steer my readers in the wrong direction.

I’m also willing to accept that not everything I write, or all the things I think I know, are shiny pearls of wisdom. These days, I restrain myself more and more from commenting on social media (much to the relief of many).

Knowing my limitations also means I can start working on the knowledge I lack, if that’s important to me.

There’s always more to learn.

In short, I’ve become very confident about my ignorance, and I’m totally okay with that.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Are You Still Competing On Price?

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Internet, Money Matters, Uncategorized6 Comments

Philipsburg Mall

In Philipsburg, NJ, the town across the river from where I live, a familiar ritual is taking place as we speak.

A shopping mall is closing.

Built in 1989, the Philipsburg Mall once featured one hundred stores and a four thousand-space parking lot. Today, this enclosed, 577,000-square-foot concrete structure is almost empty, and ready for the wrecking ball.

It’s part of what the experts have coined the “retail apocalypse.” Studies show roughly one in four malls across the USA are expected to close by 2022. This week, Macy’s announced the closure of twenty-eight locations. Pier 1 Imports said recently it would be closing nearly half of its stores.

Overall, 2019 was a terrible year for US retailers. Coresight Research announced 9,302 store closings, and that’s a 59% jump from 2018. In fact, it’s the highest number since they began tracking data in 2012.

AMAZONING

To explain this phenomenon, the same experts point to a trend they call the Amazoning of America. It’s the idea that malls and individual retailers are being pushed out of business by online giants like Amazon Prime and Alibaba.

Others are pointing to a changing economy where the middle class that used to shop at stores like Sears, Bon Ton, and Macy’s is struggling and is looking for cheaper alternatives.

The people who have trouble making ends meet now shop at the Dollar Store. After opening 900 stores in 2018, Dollar General opened 975 stores in 2019, making it the top retail company in terms of expansion. Discount chains like Dollar Tree, Family Dollar, Aldi and Five Below were in the top five for opening stores in 2019.

Yes folks, the U.S. economy is doing better than ever before!

To counter lower revenues and high rents, regular retailers purposely understaff their stores, and stock less or older merchandise, leading to a poor shopping experience. Good luck trying to get help in a department store these days.

With this in mind, it’s easy and convenient to point fingers at the economy and Amazon for the retail apocalypse. We don’t control Amazon, and we have no influence over something as abstract as “the economy.” If you can’t control it, you cannot change it.

Or can you?

BLAME BAZOS

Someone in my neighborhood was complaining about all the distribution centers being built in my region, the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania. “They take up farmland, they lead to an increase in truck traffic damaging our roads, and they’re just plain ugly,” the man said. “I blame Jeff Bezos!”

But what if Bezos wouldn’t have as many customers? Would he still be renovating his $23 million Washington mansion with 11 bedrooms and 25 bathrooms? What would happen if all of us would start shopping locally again, instead of online? Would developers still be building all those distribution centers?

The way I see it, we as consumers have tremendous influence on our economy. The way we spend money is our superpower to bring about positive and negative change.

It is our behavior that is killing shopping malls, bankrupting family businesses, and is giving the Five Below’s of the world billion dollar profits while their cheap Chinese trinkets are polluting the planet with plastic.

We choose the behavior, and we are responsible for the consequences.

As long as people don’t get that and blame outside factors for unwanted changes, we won’t be able to solve the climate crisis, the increase in racism, gun violence, and a whole string of other worrisome developments in our society.

To bring it back to my line of work… many of my voice over colleagues are complaining about rates getting lower, and clients getting cheaper. They blame the free market for their woes.

“It’s what the marketplace dictates,” they say. “A job that used to pay $2500, now pays $250. I can’t change that. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”

VALUE PROPOSITION

I strongly disagree. Getting paid $250 for a $2500 job is the result of your inability to make an appealing value proposition to your client, and your ineptitude to negotiate a decent deal. It reeks of desperation and a lack of professionalism.

Just as the success of Amazon (and all its consequences) is the result of millions of individual purchase decisions, the lowering of our rates is the result of thousands of freelancers deciding to settle for less. No one is forcing them, and yet it sends a clear signal to our clients:

“This is what I believe this job is worth. Why pay a penny more?”

Look, I get that there’s a market for the Dollar Store, but why not leave that market to the freakin’ freelancers you find on Fiverr? They obviously can’t compete on value, so they can only compete on price. Let them dabble as they babble pretending to be a pro.

In this new year I challenge you to decide who your clients are going to be. The cheapskates who are the most demanding and demeaning, or the ones who value and respect you professionally and financially? This means drawing a line in the sand by being clear about what you no longer wish to accept for yourself and your community of colleagues. 

It may also mean raising your standards as well as your rates, because clients with bigger budgets expect you to give them their money’s worth. This is where the small shop owner beats the strip mall and the online retailer.

A DIFFERENT TOWN

Across the bridge from Philipsburg, lies the town of Easton, PA. It’s where I live. Easton is a town that warmly welcomes entrepreneurs. We don’t have a retail apocalypse. We have a retail resurgence!

Every month we celebrate the opening of new stores, businesses, and restaurants. People who are sick and tired of skyrocketing New York rents are coming to Easton. For what they’re paying for a tiny NYC apartment, they can buy a historic home or a penthouse overlooking the Delaware river.

The Easton Business Association is a free organization where all members help each other succeed. Together with the Easton Main Street Initiative, shop keepers, restaurant owners, and service providers come up with events that bring thousands of people to the downtown area. Every fourth Friday there’s Easton Out Loud with music, food, drinks, games, and activities for the whole family. 

You won’t find big box stores in downtown Easton. Instead, you’ll find flower shops, bakeries, gift shops, antique stores, vintage clothes shops, art galleries, independent book stores, cafés, pubs, restaurants, and breweries. And did I mention a fabulous Farmers’ Market?

Festivals such as Bacon Fest, Heritage Day, the Zucchini 500 races, and the Peace Candle Lighting bring huge crowds to Easton. All these events are sponsored by local companies and are run by an army of enthusiastic volunteers of all ages. 

In my town you will find unique things made by local artists and artisans you won’t be able to buy on Amazon or even Etsy. When I needed a set of walking poles, Adam (the owner of the Easton Outdoor Company), took over an hour to make sure I picked the right pair, and he taught me how to use them. That’s not an experience you can get online or even at Dick’s Sporting Goods.

COMMUNITY & CONNECTION

What Easton offers more than anything, is a sense of community and belonging that has disappeared from so many towns and cities. It comes from store owners who care about their business and their customers. From people who take pride in what they produce. From people who don’t see new stores as their competition, but as an opportunity to work together to attract more business. After all, visitors like having more choice.

Now, remember that all these stores exist and flourish in the age of Amazon. They don’t compete on price. They compete on giving the customer high-quality and often unique products, pies they can taste, flowers they can smell, and clothes they can try on. These shops offer stellar customer service, and an experience that makes you feel you’re among friends. These ingredients are the warm and fuzzies you’ll never get from a website, no matter how sophisticated or cheap it may be. 

So, in 2020 I want you to stop whining about sliding rates, and focus on how you are going to give your customers an experience they will always remember and are happy to pay for. Let me give you one hint:

You’ll never be able to distinguish yourself as long as you’re part of someone else’s store charging someone else’s prices.

Their roof. Their rules.

The shop owners at the dying Philipsburg Mall noticed that the Real Estate Investment Trust that owned the property treated them as commodities. They didn’t innovate and invest to bring back customers. Right now, the roof is leaking, repairs aren’t being made, and the parking lot is filled with potholes.

Some people believe the owners are driving the mall into functional obsolescence. The land under the mall, however, has value. 

It’s perfect for yet another ugly distribution center. 

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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5 Things You Should Stop Doing Right Now

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Freelancing, Social Media, Studio8 Comments

Are you a nail-biter, a chain-sitter, or an overeater?

We all have bad habits we want to get rid of.

If you’re a serious voice talent, here are a few things I suggest you let go of in 2020. 

1. Spending money on new equipment while you’re still in a bad recording space.

Yes, I know you’ve been eyeballing that new microphone for the past six months now, but will it stop the neighbor’s leaf blower from blowing, or the deep rumble of the school bus from making a guest appearance in your auditions? Will it magically tame the flutter echoes in your improvised booth, and make you sound like the next movie trailer man (or woman)?

Not in a million years!

The number one thing that held me back from being successful as a voice-over, was the absence of a dedicated and isolated recording space. Once I built my own booth, I had the freedom and confidence to go after every job I felt I was suitable for. Last year, almost every production I’ve been involved in began in my home studio. It has paid for itself many times over.

Treat the space first. Then treat yourself to some shiny new equipment. If you must. 

2. Expecting the keys to the kingdom on a silver platter.

I’m a member of many social media groups dedicated to voice overs. A majority of these groups are supposed to be for professional voice talent. Yet, every single day I see amateur questions that have been asked and answered hundreds of times, coming from people who are too lazy to do their homework. In the age of the Internet no one can claim ignorance, so:

Stop playing dumb, people! It is embarrassing. 

It’s not that our community isn’t willing to share. If anything, the VO-universe is very giving to those who demonstrate relentless commitment and extraordinary talent. But I refuse to help people who want to pick my brain out of a false sense of entitlement, and a simplistic idea of what it takes to make it in this business.

So, dear colleagues: Stop giving free rides to those who don’t feel like learning how to drive. If you keep spoon-feeding a child, it will never learn how to eat by itself. 

3. Complaining without taking responsibility or action.

“The book I’m narrating is awful. The author is impossible to work with. The deadline for this project is unrealistic. They expect me to record a complete rewrite of the script for free…”

First of all: Stop whining!

Winners aren’t whiners. 

You’re a freelancer. You are free to work with anyone you want. Nobody is forcing you to narrate a crap novel about a topic no one’s interested in for a ridiculous royalty share. You don’t have to collaborate with a disrespectful writer who pretends to know more about voice-over narration than you do. If a deadline doesn’t work for you, then don’t agree to it. Never record a complete rewrite at no charge. Your time and your talent are valuable.

If you feel this particular pay-to-play you’re a “member” of, is greedy and unethical, don’t keep it in business by renewing your membership. Don’t tell me your livelihood depends on this one company. It’s bad business to put all your eggs in one rotten basket.

If you want quality clients, start doing the legwork yourself. It’s part of being a pro!

4. Working for less than you deserve. 

No matter what freelance business you’re in, there’s a quick and easy way to get rid of clients that treat you like dirt, and pay you accordingly:

Price for profit and raise your rates!

It’s not that complicated. Every time you accept a job for less, you send a signal to the market about your worth, and the worth of your colleagues. Clients aren’t stupid. They love getting more and more for less and less. We all do. But most people also understand that there’s a link between value and price.

Price is an important indicator of professionalism and quality. 

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: When it comes to voice-over fees, you’re either part of the problem, or you’re part of the solution. As soon as you start competing on price and out of fear, you’re doing yourself and your community a huge disservice. As soon as you start competing confidently on added value, you’re teaching your clients about the worth of (y)our work. 

By the way, here’s something else you should stop doing in the new year:

5. Making assumptions about your clients.

So many colleagues tell me:

“If my quote is too high, I’m afraid the client won’t be able to afford me, and I’ll lose the job.”

Let me ask you this:

“How do you know what a client can or cannot afford? Did you talk to their accountant? Let’s say you didn’t get that job because of your higher bid, what did you lose?” You can’t lose something that wasn’t yours in the first place. Secondly, you’ve actually gained time to pursue or do a job at a respectable rate.”

Last year I’ve said “no” to more offers than in any year of my entire career, and this was one of my best years on record. I’m not saying that to impress you. I’m saying that to empower you.

Don’t ever pretend to know what your client is thinking of, or hoping for. You’re not in the mind reading business. You’re in the script reading business.

Never assume. Always ask.

Having said that, I won’t assume what things you’d like to stop doing this year.

If you like, please share them in the comment section.

Don’t let me stop you.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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