Paul Strikwerda

Paying The Piper

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, International, Journalism & Media, Pay-to-Play, Personal, Promotion 16 Comments

Chinatown, Philadelphia ©paul strikwerda

“May you live in interesting times.”

It’s a well-known Chinese curse, and for me, the past two weeks have been very interesting to say the least. I must indeed be cursed.

It all started with my outrageous blog post Divided We Stand. In it, I talked about a few topics the voice-over community doesn’t quite agree on: WoVO (World Voices Organization), the Union, our rates, and Voices dot com (VDC).

At the eleventh hour I decided to add The Voice Arts® Awards (VAA’s).

Out of all those topics, what do you think people picked up on? Fair rates? How the Union treats VO as an afterthought? How VDC is trying to monopolize our industry?

Nope!

Let’s put it into context.

The longest strike in SAG-AFTRA history had just ended with a less than ideal deal. VDC took over VoiceBank, and announced it was going after union jobs. VO rates are plummeting. And what were we getting fired up about?

A few shiny statuettes! And it’s all my fault!

If it were not for me and my wicked ways to get hits on my blog, we’d all be happily schmoozing at Lincoln Center (the location for the VAA’s), enjoying an abundance of excellent food AND an open bar at $200-something per person.

But no. This begrudging, predictable party pooper had to rain on everybody’s parade. What a bitter, bad sport he is! This Debbie Downer must hate all things that create community, and he’s probably out on some personal vendetta against the organizers.

Now, hold on one second…

TRUTH OR DARE

It’s obvious that my piece hit some raw nerves, but did I divulge things in my blog that were uncalled for and untrue?

Based on the many responses in the Voice Over Pros Facebook group as well as other comments, people proved my point. As a community we are divided about the VAA’s. Is that a terrible thing? Not at all. There is strength in diversity. It certainly makes life more interesting.

Here’s another fact I mentioned in my piece: you have to pay to participate in the VAA’s. Isn’t that true for many award shows, people asked. Absolutely. That -by the way- doesn’t mean such a show is inherently good, bad, or even relevant. Did I ever suggest that people had to pay to get nominated? Never! Is charging an entry fee the only way to preselect participants? Certainly not.

Are there other costs involved for those who end up being nominated? Of course, and if people believe these expenses are a solid investment in their career, they should go and have a great time (and I don’t mean that in a cynical way).

One of the colleagues I quoted said that the things that had sold him on the 2016 show did not materialize. The other colleague felt it was disingenuous to “honor the dubious distinction of buying temporary adulation and ‘stardom.’ “ Those were real quotes from real people.

What am I getting at? As a former journalist I know the importance of getting my facts straight. If you don’t like ‘em, challenge the facts, but there’s no reason to attack the person, and his/her perceived motives.

FALSE DICHOTOMY

Here’s what really bothers me. The VAA’s are portrayed as something utterly positive. Those who sing their praises are portrayed as the good guys in the industry. The people who don’t, are labeled as being negative. Those who dare to be critical are accused of badmouthing, and are unfriended and blocked from certain groups. Is that how we have dialogue in our community? Are we that insecure, that we can’t handle a bit of feedback?

And here’s another thing that’s not sitting well with me. Criticism of these awards is seen as criticism of those who enter and organize this event. Why the need to make things personal? Can’t we have our reservations about a game, and still like the players? Some have suggested that the people who question the merits of the VAA’s must be jealous or bitter. I can only speak for myself, but I’m neither bitter nor jealous. On the contrary.

CRITIQUE IS NO CRIME

No organization is perfect, and if it wishes to better itself, it can’t just be surrounded by cheerleaders. You need supporters, as much as you need contrarians. You need like-minded people on your team, as well as those who can point out imperfections. Otherwise you end up like those CEO’s on Undercover Boss who are only told what people think they want to hear, until they speak to their employees in disguise.

And speaking of disguise, I have received a number of emails from colleagues who say they agree with my analysis, but refuse to go on the record. The quotes I used in my piece were anonymous on purpose. Some are afraid to speak out, fearing it might have a negative impact on their career. It takes years to build a reputation, and seconds to tarnish it.

Heaven forbid you become known as someone who is opinionated, and who dares to challenge some of the heavy hitters in our industry. It’s better to stay under the radar, smile, and pretend all is well. He who pays the piper calls the tune.

No matter where you stand in this discussion, no one should feel intimidated, and fear for his or her career for speaking one’s mind.

FINDING COMMON GROUND

If you’ve been critical of my assessment, I want to thank you for engaging in a dialogue. I don’t think less of you because we’re not on the same page as far as this topic is concerned. Frankly, we have bigger fish to fry. I respect your choice to support and/or enter this competition, and I hope it was worth it. Perhaps we can agree on the following:

Different people define worth in different ways, based on their experiences, their expectations, and their priorities.

That’s why in the same thread one award-winning colleague says he can “unequivocally quantify the extra earnings directly attributable to relationships and bookings resultant from the VAA’s at well into the six figures and counting,” while another states:

“I have been a pro VO for 23 years and collected various awards over the years (that production companies entered into, not me) and they never, ever got me any gig. Not one. Never, ever, a client told me they casted me because I had an award. Ever.”

Is one right, and the other wrong, or can both exist at the same time? If you accept that last premise, you also have to accept that the value of a win varies per person. Isn’t that true for any award show? Of course it is. I never contested that. It’s especially true for a show very few people outside the voice-over bubble have heard about. It also means that as a promotional tool, the value of winning an award is uncertain. Is that me being derisive, or is that just the way it is?

Awards are by definition selective and exclusive. It’s never a level playing field.

Again, this is not a specific flaw of the VAA’s, but it’s a problem with most award shows. You don’t excuse or fix a problem by pointing out that others are struggling with the same things.

For instance, for years, the stunt people have lobbied for a special Academy Award. The powers that be, decided that those who often risk their lives (and sometimes lose it), are not Oscar-worthy, but those who compose a silly song may walk away with a statue. Is that fair and reasonable? You tell me!

HOLLOW HYPERBOLE

The voice-over announcing the 2017 VAA’s, said:

“Tonight, we honor the leading international talent in the voice-over industry. We recognize the greatest voice actors who impact our ears, our lives, our world.”

Really? 

If your publishing company, agent, distributor, radio station, or network wants to enter your work, you’re in luck, and you’re a contender to be among “the greatest.” If they’re not interested, or they don’t want to pay the entry fee, you won’t be considered, even though you might be mega-talented.

The VAA’s were created to provide international acknowledgement of the extraordinary skill and artistry that goes into voice-over acting. Apparently, it’s easier for some people to be acknowledged than others. One commentator remarked:

“I work every day on some cracking radio and the odd TV ad, but mostly, like today, I will go and voice 10 explainer videos for one of the UK’s largest supermarket chains. And you don’t get awards for that I’m afraid. You don’t even get a discount voucher for the shop.”

STRANGE CATEGORIES

And why is there a special VAA for podcasts and not for radio dramas? To me, radio dramas are about voice acting. The podcasts are about people talking about voice acting. And on that note, do the Oscars have an award for the best acting demo reel? Would the Country Music Awards ever award a demo tape sent in by an aspiring singer? Then why on earth are we recognizing demo reels at the VAA’s?

Some have argued that the cream will always rise to the top. I don’t agree. Turds tend to be pretty lightweight too. At any award show, only the people who enter and pay have a chance to be measured and rise. And if the competition in a particular category isn’t very strong, it’s easier for mediocrity to take top honors. In the land of the blind, the girl with one eye is queen.

Some have also suggested that the purpose of these VAA’s is not to boost one’s career, but to celebrate it. If that’s the case, why sell these awards as a marketing opportunity? Why not organize one big VO party for equals among equals? Skip the speeches, the celebs, and the shiny objects. Go straight to the dance floor and have fun under the disco ball!

NEW INSPIRATION

To make the VAA’s more beneficial to our community and beyond, we need a different model.

It’s one thing to point out weaknesses, but another to come up with concrete suggestions for improvement.

This might surprise you, but I’m not entirely against competitions. My wife’s piano and flute students take part in them. It gives them something to prepare for, and an opportunity to get valuable feedback from experts. This feedback is used to reinforce good habits, correct bad ones, and help kids grow as a musician. It’s always about the music, and not about the applause.

In Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley where I live, the Freddy© Awards are to high school musical theater what the Tony Awards® are to Broadway. Each show is rated by a number of evaluators, and every high school receives extensive feedback on all aspects of the production. This feedback is then used as a teaching tool in the drama departments.

In other words, even if you’re not nominated or a winner, you will be able to read your evaluation, and benefit from it. Wouldn’t it be great if the Voice Arts® Awards would do the same? Unfortunately, that’s not the case. This is how it’s done:

“In each category, each judge shall rate each entry on three indices. These indices vary by category and are listed below. For each index, judges enter a score from 1.0 to 10.0, where 1.0 is valued as “very poor quality” and 10.0 is valued as “perfection” in the personal standards of the judge.” 

What is there to learn if your performance is summarized in an abstract number?

NEW VOICES

Another model is the international opera competition Neue Stimmen (New Voices). I know about it because I voice the semi-final and final videos for this event.

After a lengthy preselection, all competitors take part in a week of open masterclasses where they work under the instruction of renowned artists to improve their vocal performance, musical expression, song interpretation, stage presence, and skills such as self-management, networking, and interview training. In other words: the actual competition is only a part of the program. It’s as much about coaching and career development. Even those who don’t win, walk away with an invaluable experience.

What about expenses and prizes?

For those entering the final round, Neue Stimmen reimburses travel expenses and board and lodging (up to a certain amount). The two winners receive a cash award of €15,000 each, and an opportunity to pursue a career as an opera singer. The second and third prize winners receive €10,000 and €5,000 respectively. To give you an idea, 1,430 contestants from 76 countries registered to take part in this year’s event. 39 talents qualified for the final round, and 16 female and male singers participated in the semifinals. Now, that’s how you get the best of the best!

I’m not suggesting we turn the VAA’s into an opera competition, but there’s a reason why out of many singing competitions, Neue Stimmen has produced most careers. I like the fact that there’s a focus on extensive feedback, artistic growth, performance, and career development. Oh, and no one has to pay for his or her prize.

DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVES

I hope we can agree that there are different ways of looking at the Voice Arts® Awards. To me, they were best summarized by two colleagues. One of them said:

“Human beings are very simple creatures. Most of them are impressed with shiny things and pay attention to those that have them. That isn’t just in voiceover, that’s in life in general. You can either decide to work with that principle, ignore it altogether or work against it.”

And another stated: 

“The real reward is the remuneration for your work. The recognition you ultimately need is from your clients who put food on your table and pay your mortgage who’ve never heard of these ceremonies and conferences. I get the impression that some people are too busy enjoying their pop-shield selfies and frantic tagging at events to ask themselves the honest questions.”

What can I say? 

We live in very interesting times.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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What The Heck Am I Doing Here?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Personal 19 Comments

The Bachmann Players. Click to enlarge

Is it okay if I’m a bit personal today?

You’ve probably read my blog before, but if this is your first time, you should know that I’m an expat. I was born, raised, and educated in the Netherlands. After a career in broadcasting, I moved to the United States at the end of 1999. To be honest, I never imagined that I would end up here.

As an anglophile, I could see myself living in the UK, and working for the BBC, which I did for a while. But had you suggested that I would move to the States at the age of 36 and start a new life, I would not have believed you. Now, in 2017, there are still times I can’t believe I live in this town in Pennsylvania called Easton. I have an American wife and an American daughter. I even became an American citizen.

THE HOME OF HISTORY

Easton, by the way, has an interesting history. It was one of the first three cities where the Declaration of Independence was read out loud for the very first time. Every year on Heritage Day, thousands of people flock to Centre Square to witness a reenactment of that declaration. I became part of an acting troupe called The Bachmann Players, dedicated to bringing colonial history back to life, mainly through theatrical productions in the historic Bachmann Publick House.

Easton also has the longest-running, continuously operating outdoor farmers’ market in the nation, now in its 265th season. As one of the announcers, my voice reaches most of downtown every other Saturday, as I continue a tradition that started in 1752. Organic produce, anyone?

Most days, I am very comfortable with my decision to leave Holland behind. I love my community, and they often give me the feeling that it’s mutual. On other days, I’m not so sure I made the right choice because I don’t know if I truly understand my fellow citizens.

WHERE AM I

I’m still trying to figure out the American psyche, if there is one. I live in a divided nation that calls itself a melting pot, but I don’t see a lot of melting going on. Being used to the Dutch multi-party parliamentary system where compromise and cooperation is the name of the game, I’m now absorbed by a world of Republicans and Democrats, where conflict and confrontation are the operative words.

Even though America likes to be known as “The Land of the Free,” and “The Defender of Democracy,” people in my neck of the woods don’t seem to give a damn. On one hand they enjoy parades with veterans, boy scouts, and Sousa marches, and they fly the flag every day of the week. In schools and council meetings, Americans faithfully recite the Pledge of Allegiance. But when it’s time to vote, most of them stay home. Some seem more motivated to get their morning cup of coffee, than make the short trip to the polling station. They’ll never miss a football game, but they think it’s okay to skip election day.

To give you an idea, turnout in my Borough in the 11/7 election was 16.88%. Out of 4,704 eligible voters, only 791 people voted. On social media some people called that “a great result.” I have to admit, it was an improvement over the May primaries where only 10.33% voted. Countywide, fewer than one out of four registered voters turned up. I’d say that’s pretty pathetic.

INSULAR MINDSET

People don’t seem to care about the things they take for granted. I’d love to take them on a no-expenses-paid trip to a number of totalitarian countries, to give them a sense of what life is like in a dictatorship. But according to the State Department, only 36% of Americans own a passport, and that makes things difficult.

This also means that 64% of Americans has never left the country. In 2012, the average American received about 12 days of vacation (but used only 10), so even if they’d feel inclined to travel, they wouldn’t get that far. In contrast, most Europeans receive between 25 and 30 days of vacation a year, and they use every single day. What does this mean? For one, I’m no longer surprised that most Americans aren’t able to find the Netherlands on the map, or any other exotic country for that matter. Just so you know, to certain Americans, Canada can seem pretty exotic.

WELL-ARMED

Another thing I fail to understand, is America’s love affair with guns. They call it the “gun culture,” as if the National Rifle Association is a cultural institution. To handle a weapon in Holland, you’re either part of law enforcement, or you’re in the military (and no one wants to be in the military anymore). In the United States, even the mentally ill can go to Walmart (thank you Donald), and get their hands on a firearm. They even come in pink for the girls.

Then we all act very surprised when a disturbed person shoots 20 children between 6 and 7 years old in Sandy Hook, another idiot kills twelve people in a movie theater in Aurora, yet another murders 58 in Vegas, and a Texas gunman kills 26 people attending a church service. No doubt they’re all part of the “well regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State,” mentioned in the Second Amendment. Please send your thoughts and prayers, people. That will do the trick.

DEVELOPED NATION

Of course I could ramble on about the American healthcare system. It’s the most expensive and least efficient in the world. The American diet and sedentary lifestyle has become one of the leading causes of death. I could talk about the failing education system with overcrowded, underfunded schools, and uninvolved parents, where teachers have to buy supplies for their students. I could mention America’s tendency to treat symptoms but never the cause, as demonstrated by the highest incarceration rate in the world. The U.S. represents about 4.4 percent of the world’s population, but it houses around 22 percent of the world’s prisoners.

I could go on and on and on, and you would be wondering when I’d make the transition to talking about my work as a voice-over. That’s not going to happen today. Today is personal.

“Well, if you don’t like it, why don’t you go home?” some friendly folks on Facebook suggested. “We don’t need you.”

WHY I STAY

Here’s the thing: my little town of Easton (the Borough of Wilson, to be more exact), is my home.

It’s also the home of Porter’s Pub, Black & Blue, and Two Rivers Brewing. You’ll run into Earl Accordionist on your way to Mercantile Home to see Ron and Ken. At The Quadrant they’ll make you an amazing Righteous omelet, and when you’re done, you go up one floor to buy a used book. You can see a Broadway show at the 90-year old State Theatre, and go to an open mic night at Connexions Gallery. It’s a town where Mayor Sal Panto and State Representative Bob Freeman know who you are, and where you can run into Larry Holmes, whose left jab is still the best in boxing history.

Easton is the two-river town where the Lehigh and Delaware rivers come together. It’s where thousands of bacon lovers meet, and where Crayola crayons were created. Easton is the place where New Yorkers go when they’re tired of living in New York, and where you can find one of the best chocolateurs on the planet, a jovial Belgian who goes by the name of JP. In a few weeks, we’ll light the 106 foot (32 m) Peace Candle, said to be the largest non-wax Christmas candle in the country.

So, whenever I get a bit cynical about this new nation of mine; this land of unlimited opportunities, crazy dreams, and stunning natural beauty, I think of where I landed.

I think of my beautiful wife and daughter.

I think of Easton.

I think of the fact that I can do what I love, and I love what I do.

And I’m elated to be alive.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Divided We Stand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Rates: how much or how little to charge

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

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

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

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

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

3. Union membership

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. WoVO

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

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

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

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

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

5. Voices dot wd

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

The pressure is on!

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

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

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

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

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

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

BONUS: The Voice Arts® Awards

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

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

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

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

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

Another colleague wrote:

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

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

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

What you are reading here is just my opinion,

and my opinion is always up for debate!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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The Vital Voice-Over Skill We Never Talk About

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Personal 10 Comments

It’s no secret.

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

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

It’s listening.

Do you hear me?

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

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

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

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

TOO MUCH NOISE

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

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

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

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

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

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

PAYING ATTENTION

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

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

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

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

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

Lesson learned.

FOCUS AND INTENT

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

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

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

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

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

BE

HERE

NOW

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

Close your eyes.

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

Say to yourself in a soothing voice:

BE

HERE

NOW

 

BE

HERE

NOW

 

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

Be gentle. Be patient, and be quiet.

LET THE WORDS SPEAK

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

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

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

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

THE QUIET CONDUIT

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

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

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

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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You Too?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Journalism & Media, Personal, Social Media 12 Comments

Police line upThe “aholification” of society, otherwise known as the increase in the number of a-holes in the world.

That was what I was going to rant about this week.

You know, the people who just don’t seem to care about anyone but themselves. The people without manners. The loudmouths. The whiners. The bullies. The bullshitters. The people who treat the world as their trash can. The folks who cut you off as they weave toward the next stop light. The ones who always skip the line because they’re so important. The people who love to criticize but never contribute. The ones who believe the world owes them everything, and the rules don’t apply. I’m talking about the blamers, the willfully ignorant, and the folks who hide behind screens as they troll their way into social media with poisonous pens, racist ideas, and bad spelling.

HORRIBLE HARVEY

Then the Weinstein scandal broke, and I had to add a whole new group to my list: the pigs, the perverts, the abusers of power, the ones preying on vulnerable and impressionable people, the horny sickos in bathrobes, the catcallers, the womanizers, the humiliators, the guys who think a short skirt is an invitation, and the men who can’t keep their hands in their pockets. I’m talking about the Players, the creeps, the sexists, the intimidators, the ones who pretend not to understand the meaning of the word NO, and those who believe that money and power can buy decades of silence.

As a man, I am utterly horrified and shocked by all the #MeToo messages, and sickening stories of sexual harassment and abuse. Judging by my Facebook timeline, a-holes are everywhere! They hold respectable positions: teachers, doctors, therapists, members of the clergy, managers, casting directors. Some just have a bit more money and influence than others. Many of them are friends of the family, and helpful neighbors. The question is: would you recognize a sexual predator if you saw one?

FIND THE BAD GUY

Years of television typecasting has taught us how to spot a criminal, right? There’s the unibrow. The scarface. The ever-present five-o’clock shadow, clothes that don’t fit, and -in some cases- the British accent. Reality is very different. I bet you wouldn’t be able to pick a pervert from a police lineup. Fathers of five look too normal. I met one of them once, and I was utterly clueless. Here’s how it happened.

When I was seventeen, I got an opportunity to produce and present youth radio and television programs for a national broadcasting company. It was the chance of a lifetime, because all the teens that were chosen would be coached by industry veterans. Some of our coaches turned out to be minor celebrities with major attitudes, but my favorite teacher was a jolly guy in his sixties. Let’s call him Hans.

Grandfatherly Hans had been a producer of beloved children’s programs for years, and he knew everyone in the business. I learned a lot from him, and as we got closer, I asked him if he missed being involved in the day-to-day production of TV shows.

“I never really retired,” he told me. “I run a small production company out of my home, making low-budget movies. Come to think of it,” said Hans, “I wanted to ask you… would your girlfriend be interested in doing some acting?” At the time my girlfriend was in the same coaching program I was in, and apparently, she had caught his attention.

TAKING THE BAIT

When I told my girlfriend about the acting opportunity, she was flattered, and she thought it might be a good experience to work with a renowned producer. One quick screen test later she was learning her lines, and within a month she heard that the first shoot would be on a remote location. “How do I get there?” she asked, because she was too young to drive a car. “Don’t worry, I’ll take you,” said Hans. “It’s quite a drive, but I have a fast car.”

At this point you probably hear the sound of a million alarm bells going off, but this was years and years ago, and we were quite naive. Hans loved everybody, and everybody loved Hans. His professional reputation was stellar, and there was no reason to doubt that his intentions were less than honorable. He always told us that he “wanted to pay it forward,” and pass his knowledge and experience on to younger generations.

Little did my girlfriend know that she was on her way to a porn shoot.

What really happened during the drive I still don’t know, but after an hour of grooming, patting, and sweet talk, it became quite clear that the budget for this production wasn’t going to the costume department. My girlfriend was furious, and at a stoplight she started screaming her head off. Drivers in other cars took notice, and an embarrassed Hans offered to turn around. What a gentleman!

THE OFFICIAL DENIAL

When we told the head of the coaching program what had occurred, he said my girlfriend must have misread Hans’s intentions. It couldn’t possibly be true. After all, “nothing happened.” Those were his words. Later on, we learned that they were old pals looking out for each other. Sounds familiar?

If you’ve ever been in a similar situation, you know that there is no such thing as “nothing happened.” There’s the shame, the embarrassment, the violation of trust, the anger, the disbelief, the self-doubt, the cover-up, the nightmares, the bitter taste of betrayal.

Back then there were no hashtags, no social media, and no reporters interested in the story. Today is different! Thank goodness so many courageous women are speaking out against the a-holes who are now on notice. They will be named and shamed in public. Their reputations will be ruined. Their families will be torn apart. Their businesses will pay a hefty price.

If that’s what it takes to create a safe, respectful society, so be it.

It won’t happen overnight, but all the Weinsteins of the world should know this:

Karma has no deadline.

If you knowingly and shamelessly dig yourself into a hole, Karma will come and find you!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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The Agony Of Ignorance

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Personal 41 Comments

Rocking the mic?

Can you believe the stuff people put on t-shirts these days?

This morning, one of the guys who looks like he lives in the gym I go to, had this slogan printed all over his colossal chest:

“If it’s not hard, you’re not doing it right.”

What kind of message is that? It’s along the same lines as “No pain, no gain.”

Do people actually believe that stuff?

You see, I have the exact opposite experience. When I’m doing things right, everything seems to flow naturally, and nothing is hard or painful. Granted, it has taken some hard work to get to that point, but when I’m in the zone, things are surprisingly easy.

If you happen to share that experience, take it as a sign that in certain areas of your life you may have reached a level of what experts refer to as “unconscious competence.” You’re not even aware that you’ve become pretty good at what you’re doing. It feels like driving a car. In the beginning it was frustratingly complicated. Now, you don’t even have to think about it. 

“So what do you find hard in your business?” one of my workout buddies wanted to know, as we were doing our exercise routine. “You’re a voice-over, right?” 

He was not the one wearing that silly t-shirt, by the way. 

“At the risk of sounding brash,” I said, “it’s not so much the work I find hard, but the people I have to deal with every now and then. Particularly the people who think they’re the best thing since sliced bread. Maybe it’s my age, but there are at least three things I can’t stand:

Ignorance, pretentiousness, and a sense of entitlement. Especially if all these qualities reside within one person.”

“We must be working with the same people then,” laughed my friend, as he was programming his treadmill. “I’m a professional photographer, and you wouldn’t believe how many people think they can do what I do without having a clue.”

“That’s the trouble with ignorance,” I said. “People don’t know what they don’t know, but it doesn’t stop them, does it?”

“Agreed,” said my buddy, “but here’s what I don’t get. Everyone understands that playing the violin is not something you can learn overnight. However, every ambitious idiot with a camera believes he’s the next Annie Leibovitz. It ticks me off.”

I wanted to tell him that I saw the same thing in my line of work. Give a monkey a microphone, and he thinks he can be the next Tom Kenny. 

“Ignorance isn’t always bliss,” I said, as I increased the speed on my treadmill. “Usually, ignorance is a pain in the neck, and I find it very challenging to teach ignorant people who think they know it all. I mean, if they supposedly know what they are doing, why do they want me to be their coach? It doesn’t make any sense.”

“I have no problem with beginners who come to me, and who are aware that they have a lot to learn,” said my photographer-friend. “Everything you teach them is new and exciting. I admire kids with an open mind. They remind me of the time I got started. That’s why I love being a mentor.”

He wiped the sweat from his forehead, and said: “Is it just me, or are today’s kids a bit full of themselves?”

“Quite possibly,” I responded. “Parents are quick to praise, and hesitate to criticize, so as not to damage the delicate self-esteem of their offspring. I’m all for raising confident kids, as long as they know their strengths and their limitations. In my class they’d never get a trophy, just for showing up.”

I took a sip of water, and continued:

“Now, there’s another type of ignorance I’m allergic to.”

“What might that be?” asked my friend, as he was walking uphill on the exercise equipment. 

“It’s the lazy type of ignorance. You know… quasi-ignorant people who are looking for a big, fat, silver platter. I just got an email from someone who asked to pick my brain about casting sites and voice-over rates. I politely suggested she do a Google search first. 

“What was her response?” asked my friend.

“Oh, I never heard back from her,” I said. “But on Facebook she told all her fans that I was the most unhelpful person in the voice-over community. To be honest, she didn’t use the word “person,” but the term she used starts with a “p” and it rhymes with chick. 

“Some people think I’m rather obnoxious,” said my buddy, “just because I refuse to give them the answers they are fishing for. Of course I want to help, but I tell my kids: ‘You won’t learn anything as long as I spoon-feed it to you. The things you discover yourself tend to stick much better.’

I want my students to make an effort. I want them to fail, and I want them to overcome the biggest challenges. Otherwise they’ll attach no value to what they have learned, and they’ll have no respect for the business. 

There’s no gratification in arriving on the top of a mountain in a helicopter. But when you start at the bottom and climb your way up, the journey itself becomes meaningful. And when you’ve finally reached that peak, you feel on top of the world!”

“Are you sure you’re a photographer?” I asked. “That’s a darn good metaphor you just used. I might steal that one for my blog.”

“You go right ahead,” he said. “I used to do a bit of mountain climbing when I was younger. I have the pictures to prove it. And a few scars. But what about you? Are you a climber?”

“Oh no, I’m from The Netherlands,” I answered. “There are no mountains in our tiny Kingdom below sea level. Holland is as flat as a pancake.”

“In that case, I have the perfect exercise for you,” said my buddy, as he pointed to the StairMaster.

“I believe this baby has your name on it,” he smiled. “Come on! This thing is the perfect way to get nowhere fast. Try it.”

Reluctantly, I climbed onto the steps, and started my ascend into nothingness. 

“I hope it’s not a metaphor for my career,” I said, gasping for air. “This is really hard!”

“Well, you know what they say…” said the photographer with a big grin.

“If it’s hard, it means you must be doing it right!”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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photo credit: 50 of 52 via photopin (license)

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The Concise (and incomplete) Voice-Over Book List

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Book, Career, Freelancing, Journalism & Media, Money Matters, Social Media 4 Comments

Man reading bookStop reading my blog!

Well… at least for a week or so. Then I expect you back where you belong. But let me ask you this:

When is the last time you read a book? A real book?

If you’re like me, you are so used to staring at poorly written scripts, and when you’re done, you turn to social media. That’s where you live your life in fleeting paragraphs, funny photos, shocking videos, and concise comments meant for people with the attention span of a peanut.

Here’s the good news: You don’t have to be one of those people! You’re much smarter than that. You can read entire chapters in one sitting. 

This week I challenge you to do what I ask of all my voice-over students: Deepen your knowledge. Broaden your horizons. Learn how to run a profitable freelance business. Be inspired by the pros. Find out how to free your voice, and how to build a home studio.

Go beyond the heartfelt but very limited advice you get on Facebook, Reddit, LinkedIn, or whatever platform you prefer. There’s so much to take in, and as a freelancer, you must take time to work ON your business, and not only IN your business. 

Below is your starter kit. It’s an incomplete collection of books covering many aspects of a voice-over career. Clicking on a title will magically take you to an online store. Should you order that title, this store will send a few pennies my way. I consider it my tip jar.

THE NETHERVOICE-OVER LIST OF BOOKS

The Wealthy Freelancer, 12 secrets to a great income and an enviable lifestyle by Steve Slaunwhite, Pete Savage, and Ed Gandia.

My So-Called Freelance Life: How to Survive and Thrive as a Creative Professional for Hire, by Michelle Goodman.

The Freelancer’s Bible: Everything You Need to Know to Have the Career of Your Dreams – On Your Terms, by Sara Horowitz and Toni Sciarra Pointer.

Become Your Own Boss in 12 Months: A Month-by-Month Guide to a Business that Works, by Melinda F. Emerson.

The Money Book for Freelancers, Part-Timers, and the Self-Employed: The Only Personal Finance System for People with Not-So-Regular Jobs, by Joseph D’Agnese and Denise Kieran.

There’s Money Where Your Mouth Is: A Complete Insider’s Guide to Earning Income and Building a Career in Voice-Overs, by Elaine A. Clark.

Voice for Hire: Launch and Maintain a Lucrative Career in Voice-Overs, by Randy Thomas and Peter Rofe.

More Than Just A Voice: The REAL Secret to Voiceover Success, by Dave Courvoisier.

V-Oh!: Tips, Tricks, Tools and Techniques to Start and Sustain Your Voiceover Career, by Marc Cashman.

Voice-Over Voice Actor: What It’s Like Behind the Mic, by Yuri Lowenthal and Tara Platt.

The Art of Voice Acting: The Craft and Business of Performing for Voiceover, by James Alburger.
You Too Can Make Money In Voice Overs, by Sharon Brogden.
Step Up to the Mic: A Positive Approach to Succeeding in Voice-Overs, by Rodney Saulsberry.

Rodney Saulsberry’s Tongue Twisters and Vocal Warm-Ups: With Other Vocal-Care Tips, by Rodney Saulsberry.

You Can Bank On Your Voice: Your Guide to a Successful Career in Voice-Overs, by Rodney Saulsberry.

The Voice Over Actor’s Handbook: How to Analyze, Interpret, and Deliver Scripts, by John Burr.

Voice-Over for Animation, by Jean Ann Wright and M.J. Lallo.

My Life as a Ten Year Old Boy, by Nancy Cartwright.

Scenes for Actors and Voices, by Daws Butler.

Daws Butler, Characters Actor, by Ben Ohmart, and Joe Bevilacqua.

The Magic Behind the Voices: A Who’s Who of Cartoon Voice Actors, by Tim Lawson and Alisa Persons.

Did You Grow Up with Me, Too? – The Autobiography of June Foray. 

Mel Blanc: The Man of a Thousand Voices, by Ben Ohmart.

That’s Not All Folks, by Mel Blanc. 

VO: Tales and Techniques of a Voice-Over Actor, by Harlan Hogan.

Secrets of Voice-Over Success: Top Voice-Over Actors Reveal How They Did It, by Joan Baker.

Accents: A Manual for Actors– Revised and Expanded Edition, by Robert Blumenfeld.

The Actor Speaks: Voice and the Performer, by Patsy Rotenburg.

Freeing the Natural Voice: Imagery and Art in the Practice of Voice and Language, by Kristin Linklater.

Set Your Voice Free: How To Get The Singing Or Speaking Voice You Want, by Roger Love and Donna Frazier.

Sound Advice: Voiceover from an Audio Engineer’s Perspective, by Dan Friedman.

Home Recording Studio: Build It Like the Pros, by Rod Gervais.

Acoustic Design for the Home Studio, by Mitch Gallagher.

Voice Over LEGAL, by Robert J. Sciglimpaglia Jr.

 

I could have added my own masterpiece, Making Money In Your PJ’s, to the list, but I’m too modest to even mention it. Besides, as a regular reader of this blog I fully expect you to have one or two copies on your bookshelf.

If you’d like to add other recommendations to my list, please mention them in the comments.

Now, stop reading this blog.

Find a quiet corner.

Gently attach a “Do Not Disturb” sign to your forehead, and start turning pages.

Enjoy!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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The Trouble With Giving Unwanted Advice

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing 26 Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But America has more trust issues.

FLYER OR FIVER

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

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

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

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

I guess it takes one, to know one.

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

THANK GOODNESS

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

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

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

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

NO CRITICISM ALLOWED

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

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

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

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

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

TALKING TO A WALL

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

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

Closed minds make the worst students. 

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

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

EXPOSING IGNORANCE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And by the way…

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

I must be a very naïve and strange person!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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

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Voice-Over Newbies: You Have Been Warned!

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Gear, International, Internet, Money Matters, Studio 24 Comments

Today I’m going to jump right into the topic of this blog.

No teasers. 

No anecdotes.

No mysterious introductions.

Right now I want to take a few minutes to talk about the pitfalls of a voice-over career. Now matter how many times you’ve dreamed about becoming the next Tom Kenny or Nancy Cartwright, you should never jump into the ocean if you don’t know how to swim. Too many hopefuls are drowning, and I don’t want you to be one of them. 

Here’s what you need to know.

NUMBER ONE

Most people tend to underestimate what it takes to become a full-time, for-profit voice-over. Why is that? Because the job of a true pro is to make it sound easy, spontaneous, and seamless. The best actors distinguish themselves by their ability to fool everyone into thinking that they’re not acting. Just because it sounds easy or looks easy, doesn’t mean it IS easy. 

So, pitfall number one is underestimating the difficulty of having to be natural in an unnatural situation. It requires a special ability to sound authentic even if you don’t believe a word of what you’re saying, as well as the skill to sound sincere, conversational, and real, as someone else is putting weird words into your mouth. To be honest: most people can’t do it.

NUMBER TWO

Pitfall number two is the technical aspect of this business. The number one reason most auditions get rejected is bad audio. You may have the perfect pipes for the job, but if you’re talking into a cheap microphone with a lot of self-noise, you lack basic microphone technique, and your recording space is not isolated and acoustically treated, you’re wasting your time. 

That expensive demo you just recorded in this great recording studio is worth nothing if you have no way of producing clean and professional audio recorded in your home. 

NUMBER THREE

Let’s boil it down to one word: professionalism. It’s easy to do this as a hobby, but as soon as you advertise yourself as a voice-over professional, things get serious. That label creates expectations, and rightly so. Clients hate it when they need to hold your hand. That’s not what they’re paying you for. 

As a pro you have to know how to run a freelance business with you being the CEO, the CFO, the head of marketing, advertising, and sales. You run the bookkeeping department, and you’re the audio engineer, as well as the featured talent. Plus, if you’re online, you’re running a global business!

Too many beginners are trying to figure things out on the fly, without any preparation or training. Why on earth would they do that? It’s asking for trouble. 

NUMBER FOUR

The next pitfall is a big one: money. You’ve got to spend money to make money, but you didn’t need me to tell you that.

While it is possible to get started as a VO with a simple recording set-up, please remember that you’re competing with people who have been doing this for years. These are people with a soundproof studio, a really nice microphone and preamp, and a website that attracts clients. It all adds up. On top of that, you have to stay afloat financially, while you are building your business. Your bank wants you to continue to pay your mortgage, and you do want to keep your health insurance, don’t you?

Secondly, while the cost of living goes up every year, voice-over rates have been going down at a dramatic degree. If you want to do this for a living, you can’t rely on doing the odd job here and there, unless you have a partner who can help you out, financially. You need to make sure that you have a consistent flow of projects coming your way, and that’s easier said than done – even for voice-overs. My advice: have a cash cushion that will help you stay afloat for… a few years.

Lastly, too many newbies quote or accept a job, even when they have no idea what to charge. Can you imagine a baker or a florist running her store that way? Clients love getting a bargain, but do you really want to contribute to the problem of sliding rates?

NUMBER FIVE

This is another big one: time. We live in an impatient world. Very few people experience overnight success. You can’t buy your way into a voice-over career. It needs to be earned. Slowly. The people who are at the top of their game are not the people that just started doing voice-overs. Most of them have been at it for years. 

VO is not a get rich quick – I can do this part-time scheme. The only people who can do this on the side are A-list actors who don’t depend on VO for a living. Ironically, they are the ones collecting all the awards.

Again, most people underestimate how long it may take before their voice can be the main source of revenue. For many, it will never happen. That’s not me being mean. That’s me warning you based on decades of experience, and on input from people like you. 

NUMBER SIX

Next on the list is increased competition. In case you hadn’t noticed, you’re not the only one who thinks he can do a mean Morgan Freeman impression, or talk like a movie trailer man. We have plenty of those folks in our ranks, and the role of Morgan Freeman is already taken by… Morgan Freeman. 

If you don’t have a specialty or a niche, it’s going to be tough to make your mark because you’re basically redundant. Technology has made it a lot cheaper an easier to get started. You don’t need to be close to a studio to do your work. That means that every frustrated teacher, every burned-out retail clerk, and every unemployed actor (which happens to be the majority) is now your competition.

But wait, there’s more. Much more!

NUMBER SEVEN

If you want to hear a number other things you should look out for, I invite you to listen to Jamie Muffett’s VO School Podcast

You’ll find it on SoundCloud, iTunes, Google Play, and a few other platforms. Jamie is producing and hosting this podcast in collaboration with Backstage Magazine

In the latest episode, agent Erik Sheppard and I talk candidly about the many schemes you shouldn’t fall for when starting in this business. 

Please join us, and don’t tell me I didn’t warn you!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Calling it Quits

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

There.

He said it.

And I happen to agree with him.

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

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

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

And for newbies he dropped this bombshell:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s a quick checklist:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can’t organize or prioritize.

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

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

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

You’re working too much for too little. 

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

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

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

FACE THE FACTS

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

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

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

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

UNKIND WORDS

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

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

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

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

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

They decided to quit quitting.

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

It’s going to be a crazy ride!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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