VO

VO Atlanta and the Meaning of Life

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Personal, Promotion 36 Comments

Gravy for the Brain, what kind of name is that?” asked my friend with a puzzled look on his face. We were both at the VO Atlanta conference, and I wasn’t paying any attention to him.

I was staring at an email from a new client I had been grooming for weeks. He finally reached out to me with a project, just as I was ready for four days of professional schmoozing. I love my job, but I didn’t want to go back to work. Not in Atlanta.

Normally I’d be up for a challenge because I always saw myself as the invincible superman. I could do it all: socialize into the wee hours of the night, get up first thing in the morning for some fitness training, attend a few workshops and presentations, and do it all over again after lunch. Then I would step into a studio and knock out a few scripts. No biggie.

But this time was different. My cardiologist had advised against going to Atlanta because I just started a new medication and he wanted to monitor me closely. However, I knew I had to be at this gathering. It was the goal I had set myself when I began my recovery about a year ago. I’d committed to leading a workshop and a Breakout session. This was going to be my moment to return to the VO community and be there for them after they had been there for me when I had my stroke.

The only way I could possibly handle the conference was by vigorously pacing myself. This included not doing this rush job for a new client. I had to heed the advice I give my students: “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you must.” That decision cost me seven hundred dollars, but it gave me the space and the energy I needed to take care of myself. After all, you can’t give what you don’t have.

So, I turned to my friend to address his question.

TOO MUCH INFO

“You’re right: it is a bit of an odd name, Gravy for the Brain. It doesn’t sound like a resource for voice talent, does it? Someone once told me the expression comes from the movie Conspiracy Theory but that doesn’t explain anything.

“I just looked it up in the Urban Dictionary,” said my friend pointing at his mobile. “It’s defined as the way your head feels after a long night of drinking and/or doing drugs.”  “I’ve got to tell you,” I said, “last year when I came back from VO Atlanta, it felt like I had gravy brain. Not because I had had too much to drink, but because I was in information overload. It took a while for me to process the experience. And here we are again, ready for more.”

Kay Bess

Keynote speaker Kay Bess

We walked to the Grand Salon for the conference opening and keynote speech by Kay Bess. “We distinguish ourselves, by being ourselves,” she said. Profound words that moved me deeply. I feel that being ourselves is one of the greatest gifts we can give this world. There’s only one problem. It does require that we have a sense of who we are, authentically speaking. I don’t know about you, but I’m still figuring that one out.

WHO AM I?

I sometimes wish we would come with an instruction manual we could give to friends, family, and colleagues. “Look, this is who I am. This is what floats my boat. Here’s how I rock and roll.” Instead, we’ve been given a lifetime to work things out, and if you believe in reincarnation, it’s several lifetimes.

I see becoming who we are meant to be as one of the great endeavors of our time on earth. It’s challenging because all of us play many roles in life. For instance, I am Paul the father, the husband, the patient, the son, and brother. I’m also the voice actor, the blogger, and punster. In different contexts I feel like a different person and act accordingly, so will the real authentic Paul please stand up?

On the subject of authenticity, here’s some free advice. If you’ve been to VO Atlanta, please don’t use anything you have learned in all the sessions you attended. Just don’t. Every other talent is already going to do that. If you wish to be authentic, do something out of the ordinary that no one else would possibly try.

Surprise the world. Be an original. Create. Don’t imitate. The field of people being and doing more of the same is growing by the day. That’s not your field. People who play it safe by taking the beaten path are blending in with the masses. You want to stand out, don’t you? As far as I could tell I was still the only person wearing clogs in Atlanta. Even though I didn’t socialize as much this year to conserve my energy, I think most people knew I was there. Total cost $19.99.

WHAT ELSE DID I NOTICE?

A few more random observations, some positive, others not so much:

– When you stick your head into a workshop for five minutes and decide it’s not for you, please don’t mock your fellow-presenter in public. It’s unfair and unkind to judge someone based on a snippet of info taken out of context.

– On the other hand, calling the CEO of a competing and highly unethical Pay to Play “That Idiot from the North” is allowed. The man is fair game.

– If you’re a prominent member of a worldwide organization of voice talent that’s dedicated to ethical conduct and fair rates, why would you have a profile on Fiverr and be proud of it?

– Doing voice-overs is sexy! Next year we should have a few after-hour X-rated sessions for narrators of erotica. Pseudonyms required.

– If you’re looking for the guy who used a sharpie to draw a mustache on J. Michael Collins in one of the elevators, look no further.

– I wish Voice123 CEO and spin doctor Rolf Veldman would have taken part in the karaoke. I had the perfect song for him: “Sorry seems to be the hardest word.”

TEARS AND MORE TEARS

VO Atlanta 2019 was an emotional experience for me. If you were there, you know that my eyeballs were leaking regularly. A big thanks to all of you who told me how relieved you were that I’m not dead. I must say I’m with you on that one. Thank you to all of my Guardian Angels who kept an eye on me throughout the conference. You know who you are, and so does my eternally grateful wife.

A special thanks to those who were at my workshop. One of you signed up at the very last minute after talking to me in the corridor. How sweet is that? One last thank you to those who came to play with my Stinky Sock and gave me a standing ovation. It’s gone straight to my head, and now I am impossible to live with. What else is new?

SURPRISING BONUS

Well, did I tell you I got to stay in Atlanta for one more day? Here’s what happened. My flight to Lehigh Valley International Airport was overbooked, and Delta offered those willing to give up their seat a hotel room and an $800 gift certificate. So, days ago I had lost $700 because I didn’t do the voice-over job I told you about. I ended up having eight hundred bucks to spend at Amazon. Life is fair after all!

As you can tell, the conference is over, but I am not over the conference. It’s been my second best experience of the past twelve months. What’s the very best experience, you ask? For that we have to go back to the night of my stroke. I was flown to the hospital in a helicopter, and a doctor was looking at a CAT-scan of the inside of my skull.

Things were serious. If the stroke had wiped out most of my brain, I would probably not survive. I can remember briefly regaining consciousness on the stretcher. I could hear my wife ask the surgeon about my chances. I’ll never forget what the doctor said:

“I think your husband isn’t going to die. Luckily, most of his grey matter is intact. In other words:

He is too brainy for the grave.”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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The Problem with Podcasting

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Journalism & Media, Social Media 56 Comments

PodcastingSome called it “The little box that changed everything.”

That tiny box made its debut just a few weeks after 9/11.

In September 2014, just before its 13th birthday, the iPod Classic was no more.

I’m not sure how long other digital music players will last, but I do know one thing.

Podcasts are here to stay, and one of the reasons may surprise you:

Cars.

This year, about half of all the cars will be digitally connected. By 2025 that’s going to be one hundred percent. (source)

Connected cars are music to the ears of the audio streaming industry. Over forty percent of all radio listening takes place in cars. (source)

Car-based listeners love to listen for long stretches of time, if only to survive their daily commute. They are the ideal captive audience for podcasters. Especially because we’re living in the age of on-demand everything. Just as millions and millions are using Netflix and Amazon Instant Video, people want to stream their audio as well.

NOT FOR ME

I’ll be honest with you. With a home studio, I have the best commute in the world, and I spend very little time listening to podcasts. I’d rather read an article, than listen to forty minutes of blah-blah-blah. An article or blog post I can scan in a short amount of time. I search for keywords, and skip the fluff.

Done. On to the next one.

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

No thank you.

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

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

On occasion I will listen to shows like This American Life, Fresh Air, or RadioLab. All these programs are professionally produced, and they make doing the dishes or yard work much more pleasant. But I really can’t stand podcasts that take way too long to get to the point.

MARKETING CONTENT

Podcasts are often mentioned as glorious examples of content marketing. That’s a strategy to attract and engage an audience by means of storytelling. The ultimate goal is to influence behavior. 

But what if there’s no content worth marketing? Then podcasters are just filling dead air. For what purpose? And why do I find so many shows so utterly annoying? 

I usually blame it on the self-absorbed host who often doubles as the producer and sound engineer. A deadly combination. The typical podcast jock loves to hear him- or herself talk.

After a ten to fifteen minute introduction where the presenter shares the most boring details about his private life, we might get an idea of what the show is all about.

Or not.

By that time they’ve completely lost me.  

Some shows bring in guests, for one purpose only: to give the host something to play off of. Or – even worse – to confirm the presenter’s bias. How can you tell?

For one, the host doesn’t listen. Why should he? It’s his show, so he does most of the talking. And when he doesn’t, he feels the need to constantly interrupt. His questions are closed, and without a critical producer, they lack originality and depth.

What makes it even more painful to listen to, is the fact that many amateur podcasters think they’re funny. They’re so funny that they laugh at their own jokes.

Because no one else does. 

Podcasters will often present their opinions as facts. Facts that no one is ever going to check or challenge. There is no editor-in-chief to make sure that the stories told stand up to scrutiny.

Why not? Because no one cares. 

In one ear. Out the other.

At least the printed word has some appearance of authority. It’s in black and white, and it has staying power. People can come back to it. Check the facts. Look at the sources, and leave comments. That’s why I prefer blogging.

ARE YOU A PODCASTER?

If you’re thinking of hosting a podcast and you want me to listen to you, you have to do me a few favors, okay?

Don’t make the show about you. If you want to please yourself, try masturbation. I’ve heard some good things about it. 

If you want people to tune in, make it about your listeners. Find out what’s relevant to them. What are they talking about? What problems do they have? Give them a reason to spend twenty to thirty minutes in your company. And unless you’re really, really good, don’t make it any longer.

I have a life.

And don’t do it just for my sake. Do it to appeal to a new audience. 

A recent article in Mind/Shift talked about the increasing popularity of podcasts in high school. Teachers are using shows such as Serial and This American Life to teach learning through listening, and kids love it! Asked about Serial, One of the teachers is quoted as saying:

“Narrator Sarah Koenig’s quick shifts in tone and perspectives — we spend three minutes with a lawyer, say, then with a former classmate and then a detective — is especially appealing to teenagers who bore easily.”

But there’s more you can do to make your podcast more appealing.

I don’t need to know that the dog ate your breakfast, or that your daughter dyed her hair purple. Get to the point quickly. No endless sign-on music. No bombastic introductions.

Be real. Be authentic. Be you.

Secondly, if you feel the need to give me advice, at least make it entertaining. Don’t preach. If I want a sermon, I’ll go to church. If I need a lecture, I’ll subscribe to iTunes U.

WHAT TURNS ME ON

Do you know what I find very entertaining, and even slightly sexy?

Intelligence!

A unique point of view. 

These things are hard to find in the mainstream media. Everything is dumbed down to appeal to the lowest common denominator. That’s the target group the advertisers are aiming for. 

With podcasts you don’t have to lower yourself to that level because you don’t do this for the money. You have no shareholders to please. Instead, you have the freedom to produce content that matters. 

I’d love to hear guests on your show, as long as you realize that they know way more about a subject than you do. So, give them space to talk. Listen carefully. Use their answers as the basis for your next questions. Don’t just go down your list. You might miss the most interesting aspects of their story. 

If you only ask questions about what you think you know, you might as well interview yourself. Make it about your guests. And get this:

An interview is not a discussion between equals. It is not a debate. You are simply a facilitator. Create some intimacy, instead of confrontation. Help people open up. 

When you truly connect with your guests, you will connect with your audience.  

HIGH STANDARDS

My rant is almost over, but not quite.

Please use quality equipment. We live in the digital age, and we can hear the difference between a crappy microphone and a good one. And be sure to edit your show. Better still, let someone else edit it. No one likes to cut into his own flesh. 

Give us the best you have to offer. That alone will make you stand out from the competition.

And finally, listen to your listeners, especially when they tell you things you don’t like to hear. If you don’t listen to them, why should they listen to you?

In a way, listeners are like your clients. They expect value, and they want to be heard.

Now for some good news, and a bit of bad news.

The iPod may eventually go away, but podcasts are here to stay. If anything, they’re getting more popular.

It’s never been easier to produce a podcast, but because so many people are doing it, it’s never been harder to create content people like to listen to. More and more podcasts are professionally produced by an entire team. It’s like a radio show, but cheaper.

So, if you’re a podcaster, I have one final word of advice:

Up your game!

Make me want to listen to you.

And one day, I just might.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS As you can see from the number of comments, this story caused quite a stir. Click here to read my reaction.

photo credit: Kafelog Vs. Nua via photopin (license)

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