Pay-to-Play

The Most Embarrassing Moment of my Voice-Over Career

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Gear, Pay-to-Play, Personal, Studio 8 Comments

Crazy MinionThis week I decided to do something different.

Instead of telling you a story, or giving you some kind of Top Ten, I will answer three seemingly simple questions I get asked a lot.

I’ll start off with some career advice, then I’ll talk about gear, and I will finish with my most embarrassing moment in this business.

Why not save the best for last?

As a voice-over coach, I work with experienced people and absolute beginners. This is what many want to know:

How do I become a top-earning voice talent?

This is actually easy to answer:

By not becoming a full-time voice actor.

Just look at the evidence. I’m sure you’ve seen a few lists of the best paid voice-overs. Trey Parker and Matt Stone are usually on those lists. They are the creators of South Park, and they wrote The Book of Mormon musical. Matt and Trey are screenwriters, producers. directors…. and they do voices for the cartoons they created.

Seth MacFarlane, Harry Shearer, and Hank Azaria are also on that list. All three are multi-talented multimillionaires. Hank is a stage actor, director and comedian. Seth created Family Guy and co-created American Dad. He’s a writer, a producer, actor, and singer. Shearer hosts his own weekly radio show, and stars in many movies.

On July 10th, 2015, Minions hit American movie theaters. The voices of these cute yellow fellows don’t come from a professional voice actor, but from French animator Pierre-Louis Padang Coffi. In the Despicable Me movies, fellow director Chris Renaud voiced a few minions too. 

So, if your goal is to make a ton of money doing voice-overs, the sure-fire road to success does not lead to the VO studio, but to a film set, a Broadway stage, or to a comedy club. There are exceptions, but the people for whom voice acting is just something they do on the side (among many other things), tend to be the highest earners.

My advice: Get famous doing something else first, and before you know it, the voice-over offers will start pouring in!

What Equipment do you recommend for the voice-over studio?

First off, even the best gear sounds crappy in a bad environment. I strongly urge you to spend most of your money on creating a semi-soundproof and acoustically treated recording space before you blow it all on a Neumann mic.

When it comes to selecting equipment, I find that a lot of people go for familiar brand names without looking any further, and they spend way too much money.

When in 2012 I introduced the voice-over community to one of my favorite microphones, many colleagues said: “Conneaut Audio Devices, what kind of brand name is that?” Yet, I still believe that their E100S model is one of the best values for money. Click here to find out why. 

It is probably time for me to change the headline of this review, because the CAD E100S (retailing for about $350) has earned quite a reputation. Whenever someone asks for microphone advice, you’ll always find a happy CAD convert chiming in on social media, and for very good reasons.

Now, it takes a good preamp to make a microphone shine. Audient might not be the first brand you think of when it comes to voice-over gear. Yet, this British company is known throughout the recording industry for their pristine preamps. If you’re looking for a pre with top-of-the-line AD/DA converters, a monitor controller, and lots of connectivity, the iD22 ($599) is an excellent choice. I use it in my voice-over studio, and you can click here to read my review.

Audient iD14

click to enlarge

A few months ago, the iD22 got a little brother: the iD14. It’s a compact, robust, portable plug and play solution. At $299, this stylish all-metal powerhouse is hard to beat in the studio and on the road.

What was the most embarrassing moment of your voice-over career?

Let me preframe my answer by saying that I firmly believe that people make decisions based on the information that is available at the deciding moment. This information is always insufficient, and it is colored by many factors such as our emotions. Looking back, some of the decisions you and I have made may seem silly or stupid now, but had we known better, we would have made better choices.

Here’s one decision I later came to regret.

Back in 2009 I was launching my voice-over career in the United States, and I signed up for voices.com. That turned out to be a pretty good move, because straight away I started booking a handful of lucrative jobs.

A few months later, Voices held a contest called “The Ultimate Success Story,” asking their members to write a few words about how well they did using the online voice casting service. The grand prize was a $500 gift certificate to pro audio retailer Sweetwater.

I think you can guess what happened next: my glowing testimonial turned out to be the top pick. Last time I checked, it is still used for promotional purposes.

Why was winning the grand prize so embarrassing?

Well, right after claiming my reward, my luck on Voices ran out, and after a few years I started to dislike the whole Pay-to-Play model. As I wrote in my book Making Money In Your PJs:

“In 2013 I had a five-star rating, 5445 listens on voices.com (more than any other Dutch talent), and I landed a total of… (are you ready?) TEN jobs, earning me a whopping $2,740.89. God only knows how many auditions I have had to submit before being selected.

This can only mean one of two things. Either, I stink at playing the Pay-to-Play game, or I’m a talentless, misguided soul who should be doing something useful with his life.”

That year I left voices.com, and I never looked back. I no longer believe that a site like Voices benefits my career or my community. As I wrote in my article Leaving Voices.com:

“Today, I’d rather work for agents who have an incentive to send me quality leads with decent rates. There are no upfront fees. When I get paid, they get paid. When they negotiate a better deal, they make more money too. That’s only fair. I only pay when I actually get to play.”

Every now and then I still run into people who have read my prize-winning endorsement. They also know of my overall disenchantment with online casting mills. And when they bring up my old testimonial, I get very uncomfortable.

It is the unfortunate price I pay for my Sweetwater shopping spree!

But don’t feel sorry for me.

I may not make as much as Trey, Matt, Hank or Harry, but I’m doing quite alright. 

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be Sweet. Please retweet.

photo credit: Happy Meal Minion Toys via photopin (license)

Send to Kindle

As the Dust Settles

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play 34 Comments

Who would have thought a short piece on leaving Voices.com would hit such a nerve?

I certainly didn’t. 

If you’ve looked into the ongoing debate about Pay-to-Plays, you know my story didn’t really add any new info. Yet, it was widely read, shared and discussed.

As I am typing these words, this article has been seen by almost 1,500 people in less than a week!

Something’s clearly brewing…

Not everyone agreed with what I had to say, so today I just want to talk about a few points that came up as people started reacting to last week’s blog. Here’s one of the comments I got:

You really zoomed in on all the negatives in your story. That’s not fair.

Well, people don’t break up because they’re getting along just fine.

Voices.com does an outstanding job promoting their own business. I don’t need to do that for them.

You shouldn’t generalize your personal experience with Voices.com and present it as “the truth.”

I couldn’t agree more. That’s why I added the following PS to my story:

“Keep in mind that this blog is only a reflection of my opinion based on personal experiences. I encourage you to draw your own conclusions and invest in what you think is right for you.”

As a VO talent and blogger, it is my job to be outspoken. This blog is my platform to express my ideas based on my subjective perception of reality. I never pretend or aspire to bring my readers THE truth. By definition, a blog is based on opinions and not on undisputed facts.

Go find your own truth!

Having said that…

Read the rest of this story in my new eBook. Click on the cover to access the website and get a sneak peek. Use the buttons to buy the book.

Making Money In Your PJs cover

Send to Kindle

Leaving Voices.com

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Pay-to-Play 39 Comments

Breaking up is never easy. That’s what the song says.

In my case, it was a long time in the making and I didn’t shed a single tear.

Yes, she tried to win me back, but I was determined. Our relationship had run its course. It was time for me to move on.

Let me explain.

HIGH HOPES

2009 was the year I joined voices.com. I was naive. I was excited. I was determined to make it as a voice-over. “Voices” seemed to be the perfect place to hang out my shingle and conquer the world.

Today, I have a five-star rating, 5445 listens (more than any other Dutch talent), and I have landed a total of… (are you ready?) TEN jobs, earning me a whopping $2,740.89. God only knows how many auditions I have had to submit before being selected.

This can only mean one of two things. Either,

Read the rest of this story in my new book. Click on the cover to access the website and get a sneak peek. Use the buttons to buy the book.

Making Money In Your PJs cover

Send to Kindle

Why Pay to Plays will Implode

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Internet, Journalism & Media, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play 58 Comments

Read this story in my new book. Click on the cover to access the website and get a sneak peek. Use the buttons to buy the book.

Making Money In Your PJs cover

Send to Kindle

Picking Bodalgo’s Brain

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, International, Internet, Journalism & Media, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play, Studio 13 Comments

“I’m being offered $200 to narrate a 120-thousand word audio book. Do you think that’s a fair rate?”

“A client wants me to record a movie trailer for $150. Should I do it?”

Not a day goes by without someone asking these types of questions on Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+.

Sometimes I stick my neck out and I respond to these questions, especially when I get sentimental and remember the early days of my career.

I was young and unafraid and incredibly ignorant. Back then there was no Internet. Picking brains became my specialty.

On other days I’m not so sappy, as I remember the kind words of my business coach:

“If you’re a Pro, you know what you’re worth. If you’re not, go do your own homework! You won’t learn a thing if I hand you everything on a silver platter.”

He was right.

These days, getting info has never been easier. Search Google for voiceover rates. You’ll get about 5,600,000 results in 0.52 seconds. How’s that for starters?

MONEY TALKS

Bringing up rates usually spells trouble. Talent likes them to go up. Clients love paying less. Where to begin?

The Freemarketeers will tell you to leave everything up to the unregulated forces of supply and demand. After all, it worked well for subprime mortgages, didn’t it? The Interventionists fear a free fall for all. They want rates to be regulated.

Unfortunately, it’s not that black-and-white. Voice-Over rates reflect many variables, and unless you belong to a union or you have an agent, it can be tough to put a price on your pipes.

Enter a parade of Pay-to-Plays. You pay for the privilege of being offered the opportunity to audition and bid for projects, together with thousands of other privileged colleagues. Here’s the catch.

As a member, you often have to subject yourself to an agreed price range per project deemed reasonable by that site. Whether or not you choose to accept that range depends on your personal Price Floor.

A Price Floor is a point below which a product or service should not be sold, or else you’d incur a loss. I bet you anything that most people reading these words right now, have no clue what their price floor actually is.

Be honest. Do you?

A EUROPEAN PERSPECTIVE

If you’ve read my work before, you know that I have written about U.S.-based voice casting sites and their perceived influence on dwindling voice-over rates.

On January 8th, 2008, a new player entered the market: Bodalgo. Based in Germany, Bodalgo is the brain child of a man who once had a very boring job as the deputy editor of Penthouse: Armin Hierstetter.

Armin’s no dummy.

He studied the existing P2P’s carefully, as he set out to take the good and improve the bad to create something beautiful. Unlike similar sites, Bodalgo is available in German, Spanish, Italian and English (American and British).

Now, if you think that you can buy your way into Bodalgo, you are wrong. No matter the credit limit on your Visa Card, if you sound like crap, you can’t join the club.

Bodalgo caters to clients from all over the world, but because it’s based in Bavaria, it’s a gateway to the European voice-over market. This brings me back to rates. How does Bodalgo compare to its American counterparts?

I (PS) decided to check in with the boss: Armin Hierstetter (AH). Here’s a transcript of the interview.

PS I just saw a project posted on your site in the 100-250 USD range. It made me think: Is Bodalgo going in the direction of its American counterparts, or did I miss something? Has $100 always been the minimum?

AH In USD the minimum range starts at 100 dollars (the Euro has a 50 to 150 minimum range as – for example – a local radio spot in Germany is usually 50 to 55 Euro).

If jobs are posted that are budgeted too low (intentionally or not), Bodalgo contacts the voice-seeker suggesting what we believe is a fair rate. Sometimes the voice-seeker sees our point and is willing to raise the budget, sometimes not. If the voice-seeker does not agree on increasing the budget, the job simply does not get posted. Period.

Of course, we hear many times:

“What? You want me to pay 250 USD for a job that is done in five minutes? You must be insane, you [censored]”

Well, depending on my mood, I sometimes try to explain why voiceovers cost what they cost (knowing that with these types of folks it really does not help at all in most cases), or I simply press the delete button and go on with whatever I am doing.

PS Bodalgo’s been in business for a few years now. What’s your overall take on how voice-over rates are established and where they are going?

AH There are many factors when it comes to rates. Here are few of them (this is by no means meant to be a complete list):

Your voice:

  1. Experience
  2. Skills
  3. Uniqueness (most important if you ask me)

Your studio:

  1. Equipment
  2. Recording skills

Other factors:

  1. Currencies
  2. Inflation

I see a link between equipment becoming more powerful yet more affordable, and declining voice-over rates. Let me share three trends with you:

1. The costs for your own studio are coming down, so you can make this beneficial for your clients as well;

2. Because many talents build their own studios, there is much more competition which also leads to lower prices. That’s how the market works.

PS Sorry to interrupt, but clients are saving money due to the increase in home studios. They no longer need to pay for studio time, an audio engineer/editor and a director.

It is my impression that these savings are simply pocketed and not passed on to the voice talent. In the end, we end up doing more for less. Shouldn’t this give us some leverage to raise our rates?

Armin Hierstetter

AH I fully understand that voice-seekers already save a lot of money because they’re used to getting the finished audio from the talent without paying for a studio.

I want to be honest with you. I really think that’s one of the biggest mistakes talents have made for a very long time: They did not charge properly for the studio work, only for the rate as a talent. It will be VERY difficult to change this to an approach where talent charges their normal rate plus editing costs;

3. More and more people of the type “My friends all tell me I should host a radio show,” buy a Shure SM58 microphone and think that their laptop recording is God’s gift to the audio world. Untrained amateurs seem to flood the market.

What’s worse, there are many voice-seekers out there that listen to crap demos thinking they are actually good, because they don’t have a proper recording at hand to compare.

But one thing is for sure: Bodalgo will never start to accept amateurs. Yes, there are a few talents with Bodalgo that have just slipped through the net that might not have passed if I had been pickier the day I activated their accounts. Still, the level of Bodalgo’s talent is much, much, much higher than with any other Pay2Play site that we’ve come across.

PS What’s your advice on how to best play the game? Everybody loves to win an audition, but not at any rate. Do you expect voice-over rates to go up any time soon?

AH If you ask me, the reasons why rates should go up are purely to be seen in costs of living. If those prices would be stable, I’d say it’s fair to assume that our rates would stay stable as well.

With financial markets facing the issues they face at the moment, including all the effects like higher inflation, increased costs for energy, food, rent etcetera, I think that we’ll see rates rising over the next years to cover the rising living expenses.

PS Inflation correction keeps rates at the same level. Talent won’t be making more just because the number on a check is higher. If we wish to increase the amount of money coming in, we need to compensate for the rise in the cost of living, and add e.g. 10% to whatever we’re charging.

AH Well, U.S.-based talent benefits from the weak dollar when paid in Euros by Euro-Zone clients. The opposite is true for Euro-Zone-Talent paid in USD. U.S. clients will not accept higher USD prices just because of exchange rates. It’s really just bad luck for us Euro-Talents. 

So, to cut a long story short: Yes, I see higher rates over the next years. But this is only because everything else will go up in price as well.

PS So, how can we best prepare for the tough years that are ahead of us?

AH 1. If you have not done so already, invest in your own studio.

2. Buy the good stuff (like Neumann or Brauner for mics, for example) as it will serve you well many, many years. Personally, I would no longer waste money on analog equipment. I would solely buy digital stuff (like the TLM 103 D from Neumann).

PS Quality equipment is essential, but owning a state of the art camera does not make one a top-notch photographer.

AH I do appreciate that a cool mic does not make a great voice talent, but this is not where I am coming from at all. I am just a firm believer that successful talent simply needs both: A well-trained voice and great equipment to deliver high-quality audio. There are too many Samsung USB mics out there in my opinion.

I know, of course, that those top shelf brands are pricey. But when you look at what you (and your client) get for the money – it turns out to be an excellent investment.

3. LEARN HOW TO RECORD PROPERLY!!! It’s really, really, really (I mean it) horrible to hear how bad, bad, bad many of the auditions are recorded (hiss, bad miking, bad levelling, bad everything). Use proper headphones to proof-listen your recordings and be super critical about the work you deliver. [Armin insisted this should be printed in bold]

PS Can Bodalgo keep both voice-seekers and voice talent equally happy, or is that impossible?

AH That’s easy: Our main goal is to attract more and more voice-seekers that post sanely budgeted jobs. We want to provide them with the easiest solution available to find high-quality talent without paying any commission. That way, both sides will win.

PS Herzlichen Dank, Armin.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

Send to Kindle

Is voices.com playing a numbers game?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Internet, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play 15 Comments

On February 11, 2011, VOICES.COM released new numbers testifying to the success of the company.

There’s every reason to congratulate the owners, David and Stephanie Ciccarelli. They proudly announced “$39,290,580 in Total Earnings by Voice Talent at Voices.com.”

Some commentators concluded that the data in the report are a summary of this company’s past year in business, but Stephanie Ciccarelli states:

“These numbers are based upon the last several years of data we’ve collected at the site.”

What does she mean by that?

Voices.com has been in business since 2003, starting as “Interactive Voices”. In September 2006, Interactive Voices became voices.com.

The new report speaks of:

155,915 All-time number of jobs awarded to voice talent.”

In 2011, voices.com stated on their About-page that they are “creating 6911 job opportunities on average, each and every month.” My calculator tells me that this adds up to an average of 82,932 jobs per year.

How did voices.com arrive at 155,915? The verbiage “All-time number of jobs” suggests that they started counting from the very first day of business. Was that in 2003 or as of September 2006? Let’s do the numbers:

155,915 : 7 years = an average of 22,273 jobs per year (2003-2010)

155,915 : 3 years = an average of 51,971 jobs per year (2007-2010)

And what about $39,290,580 in total earnings? Is that also “based upon the last several years of data”?

PERSPECTIVE

It’s impossible to put these numbers into proper perspective if we don’t know what time period we’re talking about. That’s exactly the problem I have with most of the numbers coming from voices.com. I’m not saying that they are pulled out of a hat, but they lack clarity and context and they don’t always stand up to simple scrutiny.

The same can be said about their “Annual Report on the Voice Over Industry.” It is not compiled by an established, independent market research firm, but by the CEO of voices.com, David Ciccarelli.

As long as we cannot independently verify the numbers, or get a clear sense of the time period during which these data were collected, I choose to look at these reports as marketing tools, more than anything else.

AVERAGE FEE

Stephanie Ciccarell broke down the $39,290,580 in Total Earnings by Voice Talent at voices.com.

On average” -she writes- “a voice talent made $252.97 per job” using their service.

I haven’t been keeping track of the voices.com numbers over time, but it would be interesting to see whether or not the average payment per job went up or down since 2003, and if so, by how much.

Stephanie Ciccarelli concludes:

“10,000+ people have earned a respectable income from doing voice overs with Voices.com serving as a key part of their marketing strategy.”

Once again, the numbers are vague and note that the term “respectable income” is not defined.

Here’s one scenario:

Let’s assume a talent lands one job per week on voices.com at $252.97. That would bring in $13,154.44 per year.

The talent decides to use the voices.com SurePay escrow system, at a 10% fee per job, costing him $1315.44. This brings the gross income down to $11.839.00. Subtract 10% for expenses and we’re left with: $10,649.10. Subtract from that amount $1504 in self-employment taxes and we arrive at a grand total of $9,149.10.

Would you call that a “respectable” income?

The 2011 Federal Poverty Guidelines of The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services puts the income level at $10,890 for a one person household.

Of course this is a theoretical example. Some voices.com jobs pay a lot more and some pay a lot less. No professional voice-over talent should entirely depend on one source to generate leads and make a living. At the same time, not everyone will land one gig a week using voices.com. Stephanie did write:

“10,000+ people have earned a respectable income from doing voice overs with Voices.com.”

In his analysis of the report, colleague Peter O’Connel comments:

Taking the Voices.com figure ($252.97), as a P2P industry average – that figure, I believe, doesn’t reflect what the voice over customer market “dictates”.

I believe it reflects what the voice over customer market “can get away with” with the help of the pay to play (P2P) business model.

ADDING IT ALL UP

There’s no doubt about it: voices.com has become one of the market leaders in online voice casting. That role comes with responsibilities. Market leaders have the clout to be trend setters and “power pricers”.

Voices.com has become more than a neutral playing field where supply meets demand. It has developed into a game changer that can write the rules of engagement by dictating the terms and conditions.

One of those conditions is “a minimum project posting requirement for any job posted publicly and this amount is $100.” By the way, this doesn’t mean that a voice seeker can’t go any lower than that. Voices.com states:

“If your budget is lower than $100 then you may post a job privately using the Request Quote function within our search engine or you may email talent directly with your project details and budget.”

Critics feel that the Pay to Play business model is in part to blame for the steady decline in voice-over rates and professional standards. Peter O’Connell:

I don’t believe or financially support any service in which voice talent “pays to play” i.e. pays a subscription to receive auditions. I believe such services lower the rate expectations of potential clients because so many voice talents who swim in the pay to play pool low ball their rates out of what I feel is a kind of sad desperation for revenue of any kind.

The pay to play model negatively impacts the voice over business and its practitioners, in my opinion.

It has been suggested that if voices.com is really interested in their members making a “respectable income,” they should start by raising that $100 minimum rate immediately.

Secondly, as of 2015, voices.com claims it has a global network of over 125,000 members. I used to be one of them. I think the members should expect and demand a lot more transparency and accountability when it comes to numbers.

As voices.com so aptly pointed out: they did not make $39,290,580 in total earnings.

Their members did.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

Send to Kindle

The Story behind the Story

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Internet, Journalism & Media, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play 2 Comments

The voice-over market is a buyer’s market. Voice-talents are exposed; voice-seekers are protected. As voice-over pros, we want to work. We need to work. Sometimes we’re so happy to be picked out of a pile of 100+ auditions; it’s tempting to say “YES” when we finally get a break. But would we have done so, had we known the facts?

The World Wide Web has put me in touch with the wonderful, the wacky and the weird. Anyone can pretend to be anything on the Net. That nice guy you met online might very well be the next “Craigslist Killer”. Or he could be Prince Charming! How can you be sure?

THE VOICE-OVER AS P.I. 

I have a question for you: do you think you should have to play Sherlock Holmes if you audition for a job on a site like voices.com? Aren’t you paying the staff to do their homework to make sure you’re not connected to some creep?

If you’re a member of voice123, you might have seen the following disclaimer:

Legal note: Although Voice123 tries to establish the legitimacy of all voice seekers, you are responsible for conducting your own investigation into any and all claims made by prospective voice seekers, agents and/or clients. You assume all liability for use of any information you find through Voice123, LLC, or any of its publications.

Good luck, especially if the voice seeker is purposely hiding his or her identity! As we have seen in the case of the founder of Newspapers for the Blind, the voice123 team responded after members had complained about the way they had been treated. Make no mistake about it: at the end of the day, “You are responsible for conducting your own investigation.”

Here’s the good news: the Internet is not only a place for con-men and convicts. With so much information in the public domain, we might as well use it as a tool in our fight against the frauds, the fakes and the phonies. My story of Newspapers for the Blind is the perfect example. Before I get into that, I have an admission to make.

A GOOD CAUSE

When I was young, idealistic and hopelessly naive, I honestly believed that people involved in philanthropy must be good people. It never occurred to me to do a background check on a charity. What can I say? Even Steven Spielberg thought that Bernie Madoff was a nice guy…

After my story about Will May, some of you wondered: Is his organization a real charity?

On its website, Newspapers for the Blind (NFBT) says it’s a 501C-3 Corporation. This is a type of incorporation that is used to set up a charitable corporation, founded with the intention of providing a service to the community, rather than making a profit.

Incorporating a company makes it a legal entity, responsible for its actions in the community. This is important, because it removes a great deal of the responsibility from the person who is starting the company.

One source puts it this way: “If you start a 501(c)3 company, you want the legal liability for possible damages to be the responsibility of the 501(c)3 corporation so that your personal possessions are safe from creditors.”

FACT CHECK

So, how do you separate the chaff from the wheat? The IRS web site has a search engine that makes finding a registered charity a piece of cake. The Better Business Bureaus* have a similar function on their website. In both databases, Newspapers for the Blind does not come up as a registered charity, and I have asked the IRS and the BBB to look into this. I also checked the Maryland Charities Database (the state where NFTB is based). Again: nothing came up.

But there’s a catch: Elisabeth Leamy, the ABC News Consumer Correspondent warns:

“ (…) even if the IRS really has granted non-profit 501C-3 status to a group, that’s no indication of quality. The IRS doesn’t have the time or staff to really scrutinize those who apply for charity status. I once investigated a company that earned 501C-3 status. The IRS overlooked the fact that the founder was a convicted felon who kept most of the group’s money for himself and didn’t even register with the state as required by law.”

In her article “How to Identify a Fake Charity”, Jamie K. Wilson recommends we carefully examine a charity’s website and look for the following signs:

  • A board of directors numbering at least six people, with their credentials or regular job titles and place of employment listed
  • A permanent street address in the United States or your own country
  • A 501(c)3 statement
  • Success stories
  • An outline of this charity’s goals
  • Downloadable financial statements that detail where money has been expended in the past
  • Accurate statistics with verifiable and legitimate sources
  • Good writing, spelling, and grammar

 

She concludes:

“Any charitable website lacking two or more of these traits is suspect. That does not mean the charity is fake. On the contrary, it might be very new and very legitimate, but without a track record. However, fake charities generally lack at least two of the above items.”

Steven Lowell of voice123 had this to say about Will May, the founder and editor of NFTB:

“Truth is… if he is rough to deal with, and pays, that is one thing. You get your money and never work with the person again. But to pose as a charitable organization, then not pay, and pull the routine that the people who delivered work must be the problem, when he in fact hired them… It is not a better business practice, and to some extent, illegal. I am not up to date on laws governing posing as false charity, but he did promise payment, and never came through.”

WHO IS WILL MAY?

Again, using what is in the public domain, what can we learn about the founder and editor of Newspapers for the Blind? Let’s first see what Will May told us about himself on his 2010 LinkedIn profile:

Interests: I like to sail boats and fly aeroplanes

Groups and Associations: Chief Medical Examiner of the Lesbian Fighter Pilots Association

In 2013, his interests are still the same, but his Groups and Associations comment was no longer there.  His LinkedIn Summary consists of the following quote:

“I like to make money, so I can be ‘A river to my people.’ ~Auda”

May still lists himself as the owner of Nevis LLC. A Nevis Limited Liability Company is based in the Caribbean tax-haven of Nevis. For $1495 USD, you too could become the proud owner of a Nevis LLC. It has a few benefits:

  • Nevis does not impose corporate tax, income tax, withholding tax, stamp tax, asset tax, exchange controls or other fees or taxes on assets or income originating outside of Nevis.
  • The owners and managers are not registered anywhere, which provides for complete secrecy.
  • A Nevis LLC allows you to shield your assets from lawsuits, agencies, and financial creditors.
  • Owners can manage the company without becoming liable for company financial obligations or legal liabilities.

 

THE LAST TYCOON

Voice-over colleague Juliette Gray worked for Will May and never received a penny. She confirmed what I had suspected when I questioned where the money for Newspapers for the Blind was coming from. Juliette wrote:

“One long conversation I had with him he told me that he had put a lot of money himself into it and he was a retired real estate tycoon from NYC.”

This is confirmed by the information May listed in his 2010 LinkedIn profile under “experience”:

“Chairman of Wm. B May & Company- Real Estate from 1982  – 2006”

This is not your average local realtor. The William B. May Company once was the nation’s oldest real estate brokerage firm, and it has been in the hands of one family for four generations. The website of the New York Real Estate Institute states:

“William B. May’s impeccable reputation has been built on a singular philosophy of integrity, trust, full accountability and integrated service. To this day, we pride ourselves on unwavering ethics, steadfast client loyalty, and competitive endurance.”

In a December 2000 newsletter, the company boasts:

“With age comes wisdom. The development of 57th Street at the heart of New York City was what first put William B. May on the map in the late 1860’s. At that time, we sold property to the Carnegies, the Fricks and the Vanderbilts.”

Today, the company is no more. Only the brand William B. May has survived. The business concept is owned by Broker Services Holding, LLC and it is operated as a franchise.

On his  LinkedIn page, Will May concurs that the company as it had existed, ceased operations in 2006, after -as he put it- “a tumultuous take-over fight”.

A BLAST FROM THE PAST

Gabriel Sherman is contributing editor at New York Magazine and a special correspondent for the New Republic. Prior to 2006, he was the media reporter at the New York Observer. In April of  ’05, he witnessed the demise of the venerable family firm.

When I read his article  “William T. May Sues Agency On Century 21 Ads”, a few things fell into place. This is how it begins:

“William Talcott May is the co-chairman of the storied real-estate brokerage founded by his great grandfather in 1866 and inheritor of the New York real-estate dynasty that bears his father’s name, William B. May.

But when the 44-year-old eccentric bounded into City Bakery on West 18th Street on a recent Thursday morning, wearing a fire-truck-red Scottish kilt and a navy-blue wool sweater, his broad, leonine cheekbones streaked with charcoal-hued face paint, he looked more Braveheart than businessman.”

If you don’t have time to read the entire article, here are some of the ‘highlights’:

  • Mr. May studied economics at Duke University. He dropped out in 1982 after two and half years. At Duke, Mr. May was a member of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity, played rugby and co-founded the school’s polo club with 40 ponies he said his cousin won in a craps game in South America.
  • After leaving Duke, Billy May -as he was known- returned to New York and worked in William B. May’s brokerage business while managing some of his own buildings. On the job he was stabbed and shot by tenants.
  • As he was flying his private plane on 9/11/’01, he witnessed the entire disaster from 10,000 feet above New York Harbor. He told Gabriel Sherman: “I was on the radio to McGuire Air Force base in 20 seconds saying there had been a terrorist attack.”
  • In December of 2001, the FBI and police arrested Mr. May for leaving six fake bombs at the New Castle County Airport in an attempt to highlight lax security.
  • Between trial and sentencing, he served 31 days in solitary confinement. Mr. May received a felony conviction and four years probation for the incident.
  • Mr. May’s attorney at the time, Penelope Marshall, said in reports that Mr. May was not medicated for his bipolar disorder.

 

Sherman ends his report from 2005 as follows:

“Mr. May, who says he has already spent $1 million of his own money to stanch the attacks on his family’s business, said he will not surrender until his family wins its name back. “I’m like a one-man pack of wild dogs when I get angry,” he said.”

LESSONS LEARNED

You don’t have to be  a psychologist to realize that past behavior can -to a certain extent- predict future behavior. In the case of William Talcott May, knowing about his background made me understand where his Mr. Nice and Mr. Nasty type of behavior was coming from. I just hope that he doesn’t unleash his ‘one-man pack of wild dogs’ on me. I’m more of a cat person.

As I said before: I think that Newspapers for the Blind offers a terrific service. I sincerely hope that it will survive Will May’s erratic actions. Eventually, his karma will catch up with him.

INTERNET CASTING

As for our friends at the voice-over casting sites (sometimes known as Pay-to-Plays)… we realize that you don’t have the time or the resources to conduct extensive investigations. However, it would be very helpful if you would publish information on those individuals who have pulled a fast one, and share it with your members and with other voice-over casting sites. That way, scammers who are exposed on one site, won’t be able to set up shop at another site.

Instead, you have left it up to our trusted colleague Mahmoud Taji, to come up with a Scam-Alert for our industry. As much as I applaud his hard work, this should not have been left to the efforts of one blogging voice-over talent in Egypt.

As voice-seekers, we pay you in order to take advantage of your internet voice-casting service. We don’t want to be taken advantage of, because you choose to protect your voice-seekers from our phone calls.

Come to think of it… isn’t that how we used to do business? We simply picked up the phone and introduced ourselves to a prospective client. What would Sherlock Holmes call that?

Elementary, perhaps?

Paul Strikwerda ©2010 nethervoice

2013 UPDATE

It appears that the Newspapers for the Blind website is down or no longer available. The Newspapers for the Blind Facebook page has last been updated on March 21, 2010.

On his LinkedIn Profile, Mr. May still lists himself as the “Editor & Founder of NewspapersForTheBlind.ORG 

*The BBB Wise Giving Alliance has developed Standards for Charity Accountability to “assist donors in making sound giving decisions and to foster public confidence in charitable organizations. The standards seek to encourage fair and honest solicitation practices, to promote ethical conduct by charitable organizations and to advance support of philanthropy.”

Send to Kindle

Pay-to-Play: Dracula or Frankenstein?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Pay-to-Play 2 Comments

Mahmoud Taji is not only a Cairo-based Creative Director, he’s also a successful Arabic voice-over talent and blogger extraordinaire.

Taji recently relaunched his Voice Emporium, and on this site you will find thought-provoking articles, but also a very valuable Voice-over Directory of 231 casting websites and a Scam Alert for the Voice-over industry.

Taji is a man on a mission. A mission to create a monster. He writes:

“Let’s (for the sake of argument) say that you and I are partnering together on a business venture. We are going to build the perfect Voice Over Casting Site.

It’ll be a Pay-To-Play site… and it will be an amalgamation of the best parts of all the voice over casting websites that are on the market these days… so it’s a Frankenstein’s monster (remember Frankie was the doctor… his creation was the monster) consisting of the best from Voices.com, Voice123.com, VOplanet.com & Bodalgo.com.

What would it be like? What would it have?”

Of course I couldn’t resist the temptation. These are some of the elements my ideal Pay-to-Pay site would have:

  • Organizational structure: a cooperative. The site is owned and partially run by its members. Every member pays a relatively small membership fee to cover operational and promotional costs.

 

  • Decisions. Members have a huge say in how the site is run and who is running it. Every year, they receive a detailed account of the state of the cooperative. Members vote on major decisions and they monitor (and can vote on) the performance of the site manager. One person, one vote.

 

  • Earnings: the site takes 10% of the earnings of each job. This money will pay for staff salaries. What’s left after deduction of operational costs, salaries and overhead, will flow right back to the members at the end of each year.

 

  • Rates. The site and its members promote and practice fair trade: every project posted has a minimum budget based on industry averages (to be adjusted every year). That means that the minimum budget for an audio book will be higher than the minimum fee for a one page narration. No project shall be less than $250 and underbidding is unacceptable.

 

  • Accountability. Every single project posted will be accounted for. Members will know when the job was awarded and for how much. Voice-seekers who find talent on this site, must book the talent through the site. Demos will no longer disappear into a black hole.

 

  • Standards. In order to be eligible for membership, each prospective member has to agree to uphold and promote certain standards of ethical business practice and professional conduct.

 

  • Quality. Before being accepted, members are screened to ensure that they meet minimum professional criteria in terms of vocal and technical delivery. Throughout the year, auditions are monitored to ensure that quality is maintained. The reputation of the site rests on quality; not on rock-bottom rates.

 

  • Openness. Voice-seekers are expected to do business openly and honestly. They cannot hide their identity. This allows the voice-talent to conduct his/her own investigation into any and all claims made by prospective voice-seekers, agents and/or clients.

 

  • Specificity. Without a clear map, it’s hard to reach a destination: voice-seekers must clearly and specifically define what type of voice-talent they are hoping to hire. They must clearly outline the terms of the contract, listing and limiting the use of the end-product.

 

  • Auditions are open to any member; as long as this member fits the criteria for a particular project (see 8). This is left to the discretion of the talent.

 

  • Payment. Talent will be paid 50% of the agreed rate after a contract is signed, and the remainder upon delivery of the audio file(s).

 

  • Joint venture. Overall, this cooperative is characterized by quality, cooperation, transparency and accountability. It’s a place where professional talent is working with each other and for each other, rather than against each other.

 

Well, those are my two cents. I think Taji’s right. This ideal Voice-over casting site is probably going to be an intelligent version of Frankenstein’s monster; a patchwork of positive elements from existing Pay-to-Plays, combined with some brand new features. Is it a pipe dream? Not really. Revisit my article What Pay-to-Plays don’t want you to know” . You’ll find out that this cooperative model is used to run one of Holland’s most successful multi-billion dollar businesses.

TALES FROM THE CRYPT

One thing’s for sure. This imaginary Voice-over casting site is going to be radically different from the current Dracula-model, where competing voice talents are sucking the life blood out of each other by low balling, undercutting and underbidding on bargain basement projects posted by cheap, anonymous voice-seekers.

Read my lips: eventually, only voice-over virgins will fall for this scheme, and this model will implode when it’s held up to the light, just like the illustrious Count from Transylvania.

If you’d like to join vampire-slayer Taji on his quest for the best Voice-over casting site, wake up out of your slumber; bring your cloves of garlic and have your say today!

Don’t be scared.

He’s not going to bite…

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

Send to Kindle

Breaking Down an Audio Book Rate

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

Books and headphones

 “Attention Voice-Mart shoppers… in aisle seven you’ll find a fresh selection of promising audio book narrators, ready to read your epic three hundred-page novel for only $499.99. But hurry! Only today, they’ll throw in free editing. That’s right, a $299.99 value could be yours, absolutely FREE.”

The shrill sound of my phone woke me up out of a bad dream. So much for power naps!

Ever since I had helped my friend Fernanda with her website, she regularly calls me because she wants to pick my brain about the voice-over business. Her enthusiasm is contagious, and sometimes I feel almost guilty to be the one who has to bring her down to earth again.

The thing is, Fernanda is incredibly talented. I could listen to her voice for hours, and as it turns out, I’m not the only one. Not only is she blessed with amazing vocal cords; Fernanda has the uncanny ability to take you on a journey to a place where time and space no longer exist.

Her unique talent is only matched by her naiveté about the less artistic aspects of our work; minor details such as contracts, rates, self-promotion… you know, the boring stuff. In other words: she’s the ideal candidate to be taken for a ride. The other day it almost happened again…

Read the rest of this story in my new book. Click on the cover to access the website and get a sneak peek. Use the buttons to buy the book.

Making Money In Your PJs cover

Send to Kindle

What Pay-to-Plays don’t want you to know

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play 19 Comments

Imagine an international marketplace where buyers meet suppliers.

This business environment offers the broadest and most colorful selection of products from all over the globe. A fast and furious bidding process determines which supplier will sell to which buyer at what price.

Can you guess the name of this marketplace? Could it be eBay? Voices.com? Voice123, perhaps?

TEAMWORK

Let me tell you what’s unique about this particular auction environment.

Read the rest of this story in my new book. Click on the cover to access the website and get a sneak peek. Use the buttons to buy the book.

Making Money In Your PJs cover

Send to Kindle