voice-over blog

Are Your Ears Driving You Crazy?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Personal 11 Comments

Man covering both earsSome movies go deeper than others.

Especially movies about submarines.

The Hunt for Red October and Das Boot are two of my favorites, but since Netflix came out with The Wolf’s Call, I love the genre even more.

Of course this only has a little bit to do with me being able to take my new Dolby Atmos® sound system to its limits.

The Wolf’s Call (Le Chant Du Loup) is about Chanteraide, a French submarine technician known for his “Golden Ears.” With just a few seconds of audio, he can detect the make, model, and nationality of another vessel. In times of a nuclear crisis this is a good ability to have.

I’m not going to spoil the movie by telling you the plot, but if you like tense scenes in small quarters and the future of civilization being at stake, I have a feeling you’re going to enjoy this French production.

I watched the movie while no one else was in the house, and the realistic 3-D surround sound effects put me right in the middle of the action.

In a way, the main character of this movie reminded me a bit of myself. I spend most of my days in closed, darkened quarters, listening carefully to my students, my colleagues, and to my own voice.

My ears are used to picking up every sound, every pop, every crackle, every bit of mouth noise, every breath, every sign of high frequency sibilance, and low frequency rumble. 

I wouldn’t be able to do my job without my “golden ears,” but here’s the problem:

I CAN’T TURN THEM OFF!

Perhaps it’s just me, or perhaps it’s a side-effect of what I do for living. Having worked in radio and doing voice-overs, my ears have become super sensitive. Some may call it professional deformation, a physical or psychological condition stemming from years of working in the same profession.

Here are some of my annoying symptoms:

– I’m avoiding big movie theaters because I usually find the sound too loud (especially the trailers). And when I go to see an IMAX blockbuster I bring ear plugs.

– I’m staying away from social situations where loud music is playing, and people have to yell to make themselves understood (e.g. the annual NYC VO Christmas Meetup).

– I don’t go to restaurants where the music is loud or live. Americans named it the number one most bothersome aspect of eating out. According to Zagat’s 2018 survey of dining trends, loud music outweighs the usual suspects of bad service and high prices.

By the way, there’s a handy app helping you to monitor sound and find quiet eating spots called SoundPrint.

– I hate fireworks. It’s become legal in Pennsylvania to buy a wide variety of noisy firecrackers, Roman candles, and bottle rockets. However, it’s illegal to set them off within 150 feet of an occupied structure. Of course no one cares.

This year the fireworks noise in my neighborhood started weeks before July 4th, and it’s still going on. Every time I hear a loud bang, it startles me, and my heart rate jumps through the roof.

KILLING ME SOFTLY

But it’s not just the volume of the sound that bothers me. Lately, I cringe at softer sounds as well. For example, I find the smacking noises of people eating close to me thoroughly annoying. Someone gulping loudly on a beverage disgusts me. I loathe people chewing gum with their mouth open.

The other day, I was sitting next to a guy in a hospital waiting room who was exhaling very audibly through his snotty nose. I had to sit elsewhere and ended up next to a man who put his earbuds in, and began listening to booming hip hop. Aargh!

Of course there were tons of kids playing beeping games on their irritating tablets, mothers talking trash on their cell phones, and TV’s blasting the latest terrible news. It’s the ideal environment for healing to take place, don’t you think?

LOSING HEARING

The trouble is that we’ve created a noisy society where people have grown accustomed to a certain decibel level and have learned to tune out unwanted sounds. Or -in case of a younger generation- they’ve lost part of their hearing and they don’t know it.

I’ve noticed this when coaching teenagers and people over sixty. When I point out some of the noises I hear in their audio, they are incredulous because they don’t hear what I hear. It’s not because they won’t, but because they can’t! I have to show the pops and clicks on the soundwave to them, otherwise they don’t believe me.

Anyway, my ears seem to be fine, and what I am experiencing may be the result of selective sound sensitivity syndrome, or misophonia (literally: hatred of sound). It’s a disorder in which certain sounds trigger emotional or physiological responses that some might perceive as unreasonable given the circumstance. According to WebMD…

“Individuals with misophonia often report they are triggered by oral sounds — the noise someone makes when they eat, breathe, or even chew. Other adverse sounds include keyboard or finger tapping or the sound of windshield wipers. Sometimes a small repetitive motion is the cause — someone fidgets, or wiggles their foot.”

BETWEEN THE EARS

According to recent studies, misophonia is a brain-based disorder. Researchers point to a disruption in the connectivity in parts of the brain that process both sound stimulation and the fight/flight response. It also involves parts of the brain that code the importance of sounds.

Just to be clear: misophonia is not a psychiatric disorder. It is a complex sensory disorder that impacts the brains ability to process information.

I can tell you this: having had a stroke certainly disrupted my brain in a major way. It still reaches sensory overload pretty quickly, and has trouble processing information. That’s why it’s not safe for me to drive a car. At the same time, I also believe my ears have been trained to be sensitive to sound and to detect anomalies.

In other words, it’s a blessing as well as a curse.

If you recognize this sensitivity to sound and you feel comfortable sharing this with the world, please add some comments below so people like me know we’re not alone.

If you have some of the same symptoms, you might want to check out Misophonia International, a resource website developed by two sufferers of misophonia. In the U.S. there’s also the Misophonia Association, an organization revolving around education, advocacy, research, and support.

I think I’m coping with what my ears tell me by using an avoidance strategy. If I have to go to public spaces that are known to be noisy, I take my headphones and listen to my favorite podcasts, such as the VO Boss and the VO Meter. It’s my way of tuning out the environment.

On other days, I just have to watch one of those fabulous submarine movies.

How about Down Periscope or Operation Petticoat?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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What’s Luck Got To Do With It?

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

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

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

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

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

CREATING CHANGE

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

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

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

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

GOOD FORTUNE

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

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

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

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

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

HAVING A KNACK

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

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

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

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

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

FEELING PRIVILEGED

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

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

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

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

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

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

ACTIONS AND RESULTS

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

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

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

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

Tim and I need to talk.

I’ll have that conversation with him tomorrow.

Wish me luck.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Do You Want To Scratch My Back?

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

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

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

It stinks, doesn’t it?

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

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

THE WAY TO GET WORK

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

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

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

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

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

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

A MORAL MAZE

Not so fast!

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

Look at the definition of bribery:

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

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

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

Here’s my bottom line:

A referral needs to be earned, not bought.

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

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

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

A REFERRAL STRATEGY

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

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

I’ll give you four options to choose from:

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

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

My next question is:

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

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

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

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

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

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

REWARDING REFERRALS

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

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

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

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

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

Pay it forward.

That’s the key to making the right referrals!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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

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Dealing With Your Deepest Insecurities

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

Caitriona Balfe

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

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

What’s the second biggest blunder?

Mistaking social for selling.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s that?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Times continued:

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

My student nodded and I went on…

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

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

When a voice actor is struggling, I often wonder:

Are they self-conscious, or content-conscious?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And you know what?

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

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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

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5 Reasons Why You Should Never Become A Voice-Over

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Pay-to-Play 82 Comments

voice talentSo, after my last blog caused quite a ripple effect throughout the VO community, I’m adding some fuel to the fire with what you’re about to read. When it was first published I managed to piss off a great number of people, and I’d love to do that again. That’s why I’m republishing the story below.

If you’re looking for fresh content this week, you’re invited to check out a new category on my website: Reviews

Over the years I’ve reviewed voice-over gear, and I wanted to create a place to bring these articles together. But prepare yourself: I’m going to branch out to other products I have tested, unrelated to voice-over. Click here to get to my first new review. I’m not going to tell you what it’s about. If you’re interested, you’ll find out. Alternatively, keep on reading about…

5 Reasons Why You Should Never Become A Voice-Over

by Paul Strikwerda

 

“Millions of dollars paid out to voice actors globally.”

“Audition for your dream job now.”

“Instant access to amazing opportunities.”

“New job postings every day.”

It sure sounds tempting, doesn’t it? Especially when you’re young, idealistic, and impressionable. It’s the way online casting sites throw out their net, hoping that loquacious people will bite.

Well, bite they do, and day after day an ever-growing army of hopefuls is eagerly looking at their inbox, waiting for the next “amazing opportunity” to arrive. It comes at a price, though. 

If you’re taking part in these online cattle calls, be ready to be milked!

Of course these casting sites won’t tell you that you have to spend between $349 and $399 per year to take part in a crapshoot. They’ll feed you success stories about people who claim to make a six-figure income by winning audition after audition. Anecdotal evidence always trumps independently verified numbers, right?

Believe me: People believe what they want to believe.

So, today I’m not going to give you the golden formula to online voice-over success. Sorry to break the news, but it does not exist. Instead, I will give you a few reasons why you probably should stay clear of this business. I’ll start with the most important one. 

1. The world doesn’t need you.

Yes, you’ve heard me.

We have enough people talking into microphones, thank you very much. 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.

2. There’s no money in voice-overs.

The cost of living goes up every year, while voice-over rates are in steady decline. That makes sense, doesn’t it? Even the union can’t stop it. Thanks to online casting services and ignorant amateurs, your voice has become a commodity, sold by the lowest bidder to the cheapest client.

VO has become a game of averages, and here’s how it works.

The bottom feeders choose lowball sites like Elance, Fiverr, and freelancer.com to sell their services for beer money. The top end of the market consists of A-list actors making millions voicing cartoons and commercials. If you’re average, you’re forever stuck in the middle. You have enough integrity to leave the crumbs to the idiots, but you won’t get the big gigs for the big money.

Don’t be fooled by voice-over veterans posting on Facebook how well they are doing. Some of them confided in me that they’re just keeping up appearances. No one wants to hire a loser, so you’ve got to tell the world you’re still an important player. Yay for social media! Everything people post is 100% true. 

3. You are a social being.

Unless you enjoy going to expensive conferences to hear VoiceVIP’s talk about themselves and plug their books, you’re pretty much on your own in this business. I mean, who likes being locked up between the four carpeted walls of a 3.5’ by 3.5’ whisper box all day long?

You have no one to talk to but yourself, and you’ll never see a response from the people you’re supposedly entertaining. If acknowledgment is what you’re secretly longing for, go to a nursing home and read to the residents. Tell stories to kids in the cancer ward. It will make their day, and yours!

The sedentary lifestyle of a typical voice-over is unhealthy for the mind, body, and soul. If you’re an extrovert, you crave contact, and you thrive in the company of others. I can tell you right now that you will curse the day you decided to isolate yourself from the world, just so you could narrate some third-rate novel for a royalty share that doesn’t even pay this month’s water bill. 

4. You’ll spend at least 80% of your time trying to get work, and 20% doing the work.

Voice-overs spend a lot of time being busy without being productive. How rewarding is that? Regardless of what voice casting sites want you to believe, most jobs you audition for will go to someone else, and you’ll never know why. Don’t you love it?

But what about agents, you may ask. Once you have an agent or two, things will get better, right?

No they won’t.

The pickings are slim, and these days, all the agents in North America will send the same bathroom tissue script to every talent with a potty mouth. That really makes you feel part of an exclusive club, doesn’t it?

5. It may take many years before you see a return on your investment.

A voice-over career cannot be bought. It has to be conquered. Slowly.

You may think you’re going to be successful because of your unique sound. Dream on! The only way you’ll stand a chance is if you stop treating your pipe dream as a hobby. This means you’ve got to invest in professional gear and in a quiet place to record. Then you have to get yourself a few top-notch demos, plus a website to tell the world what you’re doing. And this is just the beginning.

Having all of that in place is no guarantee that you’ll make any money with your voice. Thousands of people all over the world are doing exactly what you do, and they are giving up within a year. The only money they’ll ever see is when they’re selling their stuff on eBay. At a loss. 

When you really think about it, you have to be a fool to become a voice-over.

I was foolish enough to choose that as my career, and guess what?

I’ve never been happier!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS If you believe I’m being negative for no reason, you should read 5 awful things nobody tells you about being an actor. Then we’ll talk, okay?

photo credit: Sound Design: ADR Recording via photopin (license)

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Common questions and the answers you don’t want to hear

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Freelancing, Gear, Internet, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play, Personal, Promotion, Social Media, Studio 35 Comments
Paul Strikwerda at the beach

the author, enjoying some fresh ocean air

Every couple of weeks I make the social media rounds on the various Facebook voice-over groups to see what’s new. The answer:

Not much.

In fact, most of what’s going on is an endless regurgitation of familiar topics, and Me-Me-Me marketing we love wasting our time on: How much should I charge? Where can I find work? Will you critique my demo and my new website?

In an effort to nip these dreadfully boring and superfluous conversations in the bud, I’m going to cover some returning questions rapid-fire style, so we can all get on with our work.

I want to get started in voice-overs, but I have no experience, no equipment, and no money. Where do I begin?

Are you serious? You sound like the guy who wants to be an Uber driver, who doesn’t know how to drive, does not own a car, and has no money in the bank. How’s that going to work?

My two cents: Get a job. Put some money aside, and work with a coach to find out if you’re even remotely talented before you spend big bucks on a studio, gear, demos, and a website.

It sounds like I need a lot of money to break into this business. Why is it so expensive?

Compared to what? Ask a New York cab driver how much he paid for his medallion. What did the pianist pay for her Steinway? How much debt did your doctor take on to get her degree?

You can’t be invested without making an investment. If something is worth it, you’ve got to pay the price. And if you’re serious, you can equip your voice-over studio for under a thousand dollars. Click here to find out how.

I just got started as a voice-over. I’ve been auditioning for over three months and haven’t booked a single job. Nobody ever told me it was going to be this hard. I’ve got rent to pay.

Your coach should have prepared you for a harsh reality. Ninety percent of trained actors are out of work. The ones on the A-list get booked again and again. It’s not much different for voice actors. Your job is finding jobs. Over and over and over again. So, stop lurking on social media and start marketing yourself!

I signed up for several Pay-to-Plays. Posted my demos. Nothing’s happening. Is this a scam?

A P2P is the lazy way to get into this business. You pay your membership fees, you post a few homemade half-baked demos, you do a few lousy auditions with your crap equipment, and you expect magic to happen? Don’t blame the system. You are delusional.

My neighbor is driving me crazy with his mad dogs, his leaf blower, and his lawn mower. Right now I want to kill him.

Do you expect the world to stop just because you need to meet a deadline? You advertise yourself as a professional, yet you have no dedicated, isolated recording space. That’s a problem. Costs come before revenue. Stop moaning and get a double-walled booth. If you’re any good, it will pay for itself many times over.

This new client hasn’t paid me in months and won’t respond to my emails. Help!

Who have you been working for? Did you do your research to find out whom you’re dealing with? Did you watermark your audio? Did you ask to be paid upfront? Not every client can be trusted so you have to protect yourself. You either lawyer up and threaten legal action, or write the unpaid invoice off as a business loss. Remember: even if small claims court rules in your favor, it’s not going to collect your money. That’s on you.

I’m not making enough as a voice-over. What am I doing wrong?

You’re not alone! In this business, there is no guaranteed return on investment, and with what you’re charging, are you surprised you’re not making enough? It’s a self-inflicted wound. Low rates are the sign of a desperate amateur. Who wants to work with a desperate amateur?

Be better, not cheaper.

Sitting in front of a computer all day long is hurting my health. I hate it!

No one is forcing you to do anything that’s detrimental to your health. In order to take care of your clients, you have to take care of yourself. Exercise, do yoga, move around, choose a healthy diet. Sit up, hydrate, get a supportive chair, and a wrist rest. Don’t forget your emotional health. Surround yourself with supportive people. Get a life outside of your studio! Your work is just a means to an end.

Being a freelancer is hard work. I thought it would be fun to be my own boss, but I’m starting to change my mind.

No job in the world is 100% fun all the time, no matter what some Instagram posts may tell you. What you see and what you hear – the end result, may sound and look like fun, but you don’t see the effort necessary to make it happen. If you do your job well, you make it seem effortless.

If your level of fun is the only criterium you use to evaluate your job, you’re never going to be satisfied.

Now, if you’re not happy with how things are going, know that nothing is going to change unless you change. Keep in mind that as long as you keep on blaming others for your misfortune, they have to be the ones that have to change in order for you to be happy.

That ain’t gonna happen.

Allow yourself to make mistakes. Allow others to make mistakes. You don’t have to spoon-feed every newbie begging for free advice. They’ll end up being lazy, ungrateful, and dependent.

Give yourself time to become good at what you do. Learn from the experts. Invest your earnings to further your career. Value what you have to offer and price accordingly.

And beginning today, start figuring out ways to get visitors to your web pages, instead of interacting on other people’s groups and sites, boosting their SEO. 

What do you say?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Who’s Afraid of Voices dot com?

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

David Ciccarelli has done it again. We can’t stop talking about his business meddling with our business.

Just look at how many times you see the Voices dot com (VDC) logo pop up whenever someone inadvertently creates a hyperlink to the Canadian website. Hurray, another field day of free publicity for the most pervasive and obnoxious company in voice-over land!

For those who don’t know what the buzz is all about (where were you?), here’s what happened.

On February 25th. Voices dot com announced they’re going to offer synthetic voices to their customers thanks to a partnership with VocaliD. That’s a Voice AI Company (artificial intelligence) in Massachusetts that creates customized digital voices to make sure not everyone who needs an artificial voice sounds like the late Stephen Hawking. These days, VocaliD is making voices for all sorts of things that talk.

Why this partnership? The idea is that new computer-generated voices are going to be based on recordings from VDC voice actors and then converted into synthetic speech engines. This way, a brand can select its own unique voice for their applications.

BIG SURPRISE

When the news just broke, voice-overs responded with shock, fear, and disbelief. Why would VDC be competing with itself by giving clients the option of picking a cheaper artificial voice over a real voice? Is VDC even allowed to use the samples in their voicebank without permission from the talent? Will this put voice actors out of business? Is this yet another nail in our coffin?

Here’s what I think.

First of all, no one should be surprised by this partnership deal. VDC-CEO David Ciccarelli has been consistently clear about his agenda. Like Dr. Evil in the Austin Powers movies, he wants one thing: world domination. He wants his company to be the number one resource for voices on the planet.

Remember that VDC wasn’t founded to make sure all these lovely voice actor people have something to do. Ciccarelli’s main purpose is to turn a profit and to make his company more valuable each and every year. In that respect, strategic alliances like the one with VocaliD make perfect sense. It opens up a brand new market.

SMART SPEAKERS

More and more devices and applications use artificial voices to communicate with their users. It’s much easier and cheaper to make a computer say anything you want for as long as you want. You don’t have to pay extra for retakes or have to hold the clammy hand of inexperienced talent. The public is already accustomed to interacting with these fake voices. Amazon alone has sold more than 100 million devices with Alexa on board.

Now, can VDC simply repurpose the recordings in their voicebank and have VocaliD use them to create synthetic voices without compensating voice talent? Read Article 6 in their Terms of Service:

“any (non-union) work submitted through their platform is subject to the following, “… the Talent assigns to [Voices Dot Com] all right, title and interest, absolutely, to the copyright and other intellectual property in or relating to the Talent’s Non-Union Work Product throughout the world, free of all licenses, mortgages, charges or other encumbrances, unless agreed otherwise by the parties in writing.”

In other words: once you’ve uploaded your audio to the VDC server, you no longer own your recording. VDC does. As WoVo president Peter Bishop put it:

“It is clear that any work submitted to Voices Dot Com can be reused in a manner which VDC deems appropriate, with no further consideration of the talent.”

VoiceOverXtra’s John Florian asked David Ciccarelli for a reaction. He said that the company’s archived recordings are off limits to VocaliD. His vice president of marketing, Alina Morkin, added:

“Voices found on files on our system, whether that’s from a demo file, an audition file, or any other file, will not be used to develop a new synthetic voice.”

To that I say: How do we know we can rely on VDC? What have they done lately to earn our trust? Why does VocaliD need to enter into a partnership with VDC? If they’re looking for fresh voices, there’s nothing preventing them from posting a job on the platform and take it from there. 

If you’re a VDC member and you find this new development as unconscionable as I do, you have a choice to make. Are you going to leave or are you staying? That’s where your power lies. Companies like VDC can only exist because their 500.000 purported users keep them afloat. The paying members are in fact enablers who support a business model that turns your voice into a commodity and takes away your rights to fair compensation.

Don’t you deserve better than that?

BUSINESS MODEL

I’m not saying it’s wrong for VDC to turn a profit. VDC is free to start partnerships all over the world. But what VDC is doing all over again, is selling out the very talent that helps them be in business in the first place. To that, I strongly object.

Let’s address the fear for a moment. Are you afraid that you won’t make any money without VDC? Perhaps you shouldn’t put all your eggs in one rotten basket. If you feel you must go Pay to Play, there are plenty of alternatives. Better still: find your own clients and make sure potential clients know where to find you.

Do you fear synthetic speech is going to put you out of business? I don’t see that happening, yet. It is and will be used for some of the jobs that are now handled by a human. The boring, repetitive jobs. But there’s plenty of fun stuff left that needs a personal touch.

But there’s another reason why I don’t think the synthetic VDC voices of VocaliD will soon be reading audio books to me or will feature in a national commercial. Why? Because frankly, they sound like… synthetic voices. I can’t imagine any major brand going for that. What do I mean?

Click here or click here to listen to some samples on the VocaliD website (be sure to scroll down).

Am I right?

NO BIG DEAL

In the world of AI voices, VocaliD is small potatoes. The real threat comes from the big guns. Companies like Microsoft and Google (click on their names for examples). Their AI voices sound more and more natural every year. Adobe’s VoCo text to speech synthesizer is described as “Photoshop for the voice.” Some of the demos I have seen are pretty scary.

Do I feel threatened by these developments?

In my experience, those driven by fear are often insecure about their own abilities, and perhaps need to up their game to play at the highest level.

What worries me more than the shenanigans of companies like Voices dot com, are the hordes of voice actors who are going along with it without blinking an eye.

Those are the voices that could really use some artificial intelligence!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
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Promoting Yourself the Nethervoice Way

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Internet, Journalism & Media, Promotion, Social Media 6 Comments

silouette of man with bull hornLast week I wrote about the fallacy of ME, ME, ME marketing. One of my readers emailed me and said:

“You’re very good at telling me what NOT to do. Please write about the best ways for me to promote my business.”

For that, I want to go back to an email conversation I had with one of my British colleagues.

Here’s what we talked about.

Q: Many people rely on just having a website and an internet presence on Twitter, Facebook or on a P2P site to do their marketing for them… does this work? And if not, why not?
 
Let’s take a step back and talk about what I believe marketing to be:
 
Any activity that helps you find clients and helps clients find you.
 
Marketing is about understanding your clients’ needs and connecting your product or service with customers who want it.
 
Effective marketing is a compelling, engaging conversation. It’s about building profitable relationships and creating an amazing experience around your brand, product, or service.
 
If you succeed in these three areas, your marketing works. It’s as simple and as complicated as that.
 
Having an internet presence in and of itself is as useless as hanging up an expensive billboard in the middle of nowhere. In order to be effective, you have to make sure people find your needle in the online haystack.
 
It’s not enough to have an online profile on a P2P site or on Facebook. That only benefits the P2P and the world created by Mark Zuckerberg. You need to drive traffic to a site that you own and control.

Q: What is the most effective tool to market yourself? Blogging, Facebook, Tweeting?
 
My blog has proven to be my most effective instrument in my marketing toolbox, and I’ll tell you why. You can offer the best product nobody has ever heard of and never make a penny. In order for people to buy from you or hire you, they have to find you, get to know you, and learn to trust you. That’s exactly what my blog has done for me.
 
Today’s search engines have become much smarter. Quantity is no longer king. It’s about quality and engagement. Relevance and social interaction are now built into the algorithm that determines how your pages are ranked and thus found.
 
Most experts agree that one of the best ways to boost your SEO is to offer fresh and quality content. Most websites are pretty static. Once it’s up, not much changes. That’s why blogs are so effective. Every day or every week you get a chance to connect with your followers and attract new readers by sharing something of value.
 
Q: To be effective, how much time do you estimate it is necessary to spend on marketing?
 
It’s a running joke among freelancers that we spend 80% of our time finding the work and 20% doing the work. Marketing never stops. Look at the big brands. We know their logos and slogans by heart. Yet, they continue to bombard us with messages. Award-winning colleagues whom we think of as “established” never stop marketing.
 
B.L. Ochman, president of What’s Next said it best:
 
“Marketing is everything a company does, from how they answer the phone, how quickly and effectively they respond to email, to how they handle accounts payable, to how they treat their employees and customers. Done right, marketing integrates a great product or service with PR, sales, advertising, new media, personal contact. In other words, marketing is not a discipline or an activity – it is everything a company is – at least if the company wants to be successful.”

Q: Are there other ways to market yourself other than online?
 
Marketing is never an either/or. It’s doing this, that and a whole bunch of other things in order to influence perception. If marketing is not integrated into everything you do, you’re not doing it right and you’re not doing enough.
 
Q: If you have limited time/resources… how do you choose the best marketing tools for you?
 
The best form of marketing is delivering a stellar product or service. Clients are your best credentials. If you exceed their expectations, they will do part of the marketing for you. Remember: tooting your own horn is necessary but suspicious. What others have to say about you is perceived to be more credible than all the things you will ever say about yourself.
 
Q: How do you ensure that you are constantly reaching new people and not just preaching to the converted.
 
Ask yourself this question: What greater community am I a part of?
 
Most voice-over professionals are:
 
– Actors & artists

– Self-employed

– Underemployed

– Freelancers

– Solopreneurs

– Small business owners
 
As a narrator and voice actor, I’m also in touch with:
 
– Linguists & translators

– Sound engineers

– Bloggers

– Writers

– e-Learning specialists

– Advertisers & Social Media specialists

– People in the entertainment industry
 
Blogging is a form of content marketing. If I only were to write my blog for a relatively small group of voice-over colleagues, I would be preaching to the choir. That’s why I make sure to write content that appeals to all the groups mentioned above. That way, I widen my circle, instead of preaching to the choir.
 
Q: Is marketing yourself the same as bragging?
 
No, it’s not, although it often comes across like that. My advice may sound a bit like a contradiction in terms: If you want to highlight what you have to offer, don’t make it all about you. A blog or brochure is not a public diary about your personal trials, tribulations, and triumphs.
 
Here’s the challenge: you have to show people what you’re made of, but avoid the ME, ME, ME-stories. That book is usually very thin and gets very old.
 
Focus on your market. Find out what their frustrations are and offer practical tips, and remember this: Educate without lecturing. Come across as an expert, but not as a know-it-all.
 
Q: As soon as you have an online presence, you are vulnerable … how do you protect yourself from spam and junk?
 
Never put your email address on your website. It’s an open invitation to spam bots. Use a spam-protected contact form instead. Use an email program with a solid spam filter, or buy one. Make sure your anti-virus software is up to date. Install anti-tracking software. I also check every new subscriber to my blog against a list of known spammers.
 
Q: How would you compare the impact of automated tweets, updates, responses, and postings etc. against individually composed postings?
 
Small businesses have a strong competitive advantage over huge corporations. They can deal with (potential) clients in a very direct and personal way. Because voice actors embody their product, that’s their unique selling point.
 
Mass emails, tweets, and newsletters can be deleted in seconds. Personal messages, letters, and faxes are harder to ignore.
 
Ultimately, effective marketing is directed at key individuals. Cater your message to their needs and you’ll be more successful. Remember: marketing is not a sales pitch. It is highlighting a service.
 
Q: In an overcrowded marketplace, how do you ensure that you stand out from the crowd?
 
I am going to brag now, but only because it’s based on feedback from my readers. The number one reason readers come back to my blog is that they find content that is relevant and helpful, told from a unique perspective.
 
If you want to appeal to a wide audience, you have to have a unique point of view. I’m not telling my readers how great I am. I’m simply showing them how they can be more successful if they follow some of my suggestions. In other words: I am not asking them to buy something from me. I’m giving them something useful.
 
If you try to be everything to everyone, you end up being nothing to no one. I highly recommend finding a niche and emphasize your specialty in your marketing messages. In my case, I market myself as “The Ultimate European Voice.” I realize that sounds rather pretentious, but for someone living and working in the United States, my European-ness is one of my unique selling points.
 
More and more clients don’t necessarily want a British or North-American English speaker for a global campaign. Because of my more “neutral” English accent, international companies are interested in my services.
 
Q: For people who may not be technically minded … do you think it is worthwhile employing someone to do your internet marketing for you?
 
Technology is a tool that sometimes stands in the way of true communication. There has never been a generation in the history of this planet that has been more connected, yet millions and millions of people miss a real connection.
 
Technology enables us to send a mass email or newsletter to everyone in our database. It’s as sad and ineffective as cold calling. You’re playing a numbers game, thinking: The more people I send stuff to, the more likely it is that someone will respond.
 
I always get the best responses from personal contact. I have no marketing guru to run my “campaign”. The reason is simple.
 
No one is as motivated and dedicated to my business as I am. No one is willing to work as hard for my business as I am. That doesn’t mean I don’t ask for help.
 
We all have our strengths and I do feel that when I look at certain websites, some people should have used a web designer, a copywriter, or a professional photographer. First impressions are vital!
 
However, it does pay off to learn how to maintain your own site. Otherwise, you end up paying your webmaster (or mistress) for every small change or update.
 
Q: Talk a little about keeping the balance right … e.g. marketing versus actually doing the job. Is it possible to do too much marketing?
 
As I said earlier, doing your job to the very best of your ability is one of the best forms of marketing. If you approach it that way, there is no real separation between the two.
 
There is a risk of overdoing it, though. I’m not going to name any names, but one voice-over coach regularly plasters the internet with promos for seminars, classes, and the whole shebang. It’s overkill and it’s counterproductive.
 
If you yell too loudly and too frequently (especially if it is more of the same), it becomes annoying and people will start tuning you out.
 
Q: How do you think marketing will develop over the next five years? 
 
I’ll have to take out my crystal ball for that one. On one hand I see that marketing is becoming more and more mobile technology driven. YouTube is quickly becoming the number one search engine. Social proof is rapidly replacing expert advice.
 
If you wish to make a dent in the marketing universe, you need to learn to play the technological game, create visual content and attract, grow, and serve a considerable online following.
 
On the other hand, it is critically important to always remember that you’re talking to real people with real problems that need to be solved. It’s impossible to meet their needs with a mass email. Marketing can be the beginning of a connection, but it’s only a first step.
 
Let me put it this way. Creating an appealing window display is one thing, but no level of technology can force people to come inside, let alone become a (return) customer.
 
Q: Joining the dots … and creating a seamless approach to marketing – creating your own look, logos, fonts etc. Are they important?
 
Now we’re entering the realm of branding: the marketing practice of creating a name, symbol or design that identifies and differentiates a product from other products.
 
With thousands of voice-over talent entering the market each year, differentiation is essential. Having a picture of a microphone on your website is anything but unique. What clients are looking and listening for is personality.
 
Things like a recognizable logo, a catchphrase, and a consistent color scheme have to reflect your personality and your niche.
 
I don’t have a logo per se, but I consistently use a picture of me, holding a bunch of orange tulips. On a subconscious level, people still associate tulips with Holland, and as a native Dutch speaker that’s a good thing. Orange also happens to be the Dutch national color. Then there’s the pun “tulips” and “two lips” which for a voice-over professional is a nice association.
 
Q: What is the most important thing you have learned about marketing?
 
Three things:
 
1. Marketing is like sowing seeds. You can’t force those seeds to come up overnight, grow into trees, and produce fruit. Marketing is an organic process that requires persistence, patience, and love for what you’re doing.
 
2. It is pointless to market a bad product because it won’t sell.
 
3. Even the sharpest tools in the shed get dull after prolonged use. Keep on learning to refine your skills.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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The Fallacy of ME, ME, ME Marketing

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Internet, Journalism & Media, Personal, Promotion, Social Media 4 Comments

selfie with microphoneQuestion on Quora:

“Is it okay to post pictures of yourself on Instagram? Would people think I’m too much into myself?”

Top answer:

“Since 99.99% of Instagram users have chosen to make evident how in love they are with themselves, you’ll fit right in.”

I had to think of that when one of my colleagues jokingly posted on Facebook that he was sick of seeing selfies of voice-overs in their studios. You know, these stereotypical posed pictures of smiling people in sweatshirts that always feature a microphone.

This led to a heated debate about narcissism and the perceived benefits of plastering your face all over the internet. Here’s what I want to know: are these selfies just a big ego trip, or an effective way to show your customers who you really are?

WHAT’S YOUR GOAL

Before I answer that question, let’s take a step back. Why would you as a small business owner use social media in the first place? It’s a time suck, a distraction, and as soon as you think you’ve figured it out, Zuckerberg and company change the algorithms.

For most freelancers, having a social media presence is part of their marketing strategy. The purpose of marketing is no mystery. It’s all about influence and perception. In a nutshell, here’s what effective marketing should do:

– Tells the world that you exist, and educates your audience about what you have to offer
– Helps your customers understand why your product or service is better than, or different from the competition
– Builds authority, credibility, and trust. It shows that you’re a pro running a reputable business
– Develops a relationship with your market: communicates with customers, and turns clients into fans
– Improves and reinforces brand awareness
– Grows your business by extending your reach and increasing your sales

Successful marketers influence how their product or service is perceived. They win people over by convincing them they have something special to offer that meets their needs. The ultimate goal is conversion: turning a prospect into a buyer.

How do selfies fit into this picture?

YOU OR THE CLIENT

We seem to have at least two schools of thought. I call them egocentric marketing and customer-centric marketing. An egocentric marketing campaign revolves around “Look at ME. Look at what I did. Look at what I’m doing.” It’s for people who mistake their own enthusiasm for what will motivate their potential customers.

Posting pictures of yourself and about yourself only works if you’re an interesting person leading an interesting life and if you already have a following that’s interested in you. Think of actors, musicians, models, celebrity chefs, politicians, and other public figures.

Let’s be honest: most of us aren’t that interesting, especially in a dimly lit studio with a big mike in front of our face. Unlike on-screen actors, voice actors don’t go on different sets in exotic locations. There’s no costume department clothing us, or makeup department carefully camouflaging our pimples. If we ever leave the house for work, it is to visit another dimly lit recording studio with more mikes, cables, and headphones.

Customer-centric marketing is based on the idea that if you wish to win people over, you have to stop talking about yourself and start listening. Based on what you hear, you provide content that addresses your customer’s fears, problems, and needs. It’s not about you. It’s about them. Customer-centric marketing is not only about increasing exposure. It’s about providing value for your viewers and followers.

WHO’S YOUR TARGET

The problem is that I don’t think many Instagrammers have identified a target audience before they start posting pictures. They don’t even have a business account. A personal account is used to post anything and everything. Snapshots from family trips, pictures of the pets, lunches, dinners, and the occasional picture of mama or papa doing voice-overs. All of this goes out to clients, colleagues, friends, family, and the one billion other people on Instagram.

There’s no distinction between the personal and the professional.

The question I asked myself before I became active on social media was this: Do I want to make my private life public, and if so, for what purpose?

Perhaps this is a generational thing. The younger generation has no trouble sharing their private lives publicly. The more views, the better. Self-esteem is linked to likes. A young colleague told me: “I want my clients to get to know me. If they see what I am like, they’ll remember me. If they remember me, there’s a greater chance that they will hire me.”

In contrast, I want to protect my privacy. The only time I open up about my personal life on this blog is to illustrate a point, or when I want to share something that I feel is relevant to many of my readers. That’s the reason you know about my stroke. I wanted to increase awareness through my experience.

My intended Instagram audience consists of colleagues and other freelancers. That’s why you won’t find any vacation photos, pics of alcoholic beverages, or silly selfies. Most of my posts are pictures with quotes from this blog. My goal is simple: to make people think. They don’t have to agree with me. I just want them to consider what’s written. It helps me be a trusted voice in an ongoing conversation.

I can hear you think: “That sounds very idealistic. Why would that be beneficial to your bottom line?”

Well, through these posts people get to know me and my ideas. And if they like what they see, they might go to my blog and sign up for coaching sessions. It gets me invites to interviews and podcasts, I’m asked to write guest posts, do presentations, and conduct workshops. It’s free publicity! People end up buying my book and start referring me to clients who need a European, neutral English voice.

There’s a lot that you can do when using social media to spread the word about your business. LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram give you an opportunity to highlight different aspects of what you have to offer. Different formats require a different approach.

What you do is up to you, but if you wish to make the switch from egocentric to customer-centric marketing, I leave you with the advice of one expert:

“It’s okay to be proud of your work, but turn your brags into benefits!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Mind Your Own Business

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

Gerald Griffith

Gerald Griffith, the charismatic creator of VO Atlanta, is a clever cookie. He wants to give the attendees of this conference what they want. How does he know what they want? It’s simple. He’s not afraid to ask. It’s an approach many small business owners (such as VO’s) could learn something from:

1. understand your clients, and
2. ensure that what you’re offering meets or exceeds their needs

Result: Happy, returning customers!

So, over the past seven years, Gerald has been polling his audience trying to find out what kinds of topics they’d be interested in. Doing so, he noticed an inexplicable trend. Gerald:

“The pattern is the same. There’s a lot of demand for tech and business, but those are the most poorly attended sessions.”

This year it’s no different. Griffith:

“When I review the current block of workshop bookings (same holds true for breakout sessions in past years), guess which ones DO NOT show up in the top three? Technology and Marketing.”

For this blog post, I’ll leave the tech talk to the experts, but business and marketing are definitely my cup of tea. Full disclosure: I’m a presenter and panelist in these areas. So, why would people indicate they want more of these sessions, and yet not show up for them? It doesn’t make sense, does it? What’s going on?

STRANGE BEHAVIOR

First off: polls are opinions, not behavior. People vote with their feet. It’s the problem every pollster has to face: human beings say the socially acceptable thing, and do another. But there’s more.

Advertisers realized a long time ago that most people decide with their heart, not with their head. Business-oriented sessions tend to appeal to the analytical, left side of the brain. Some attendees falsely believe business segments are boring and filled with dry, factual information. In contrast, a hands-on workshop about getting into character animation led by a brilliant man known for voicing a pig, has way more emotional pull.

Now, if you had a choice between work and play, which one would you choose? The truth is: most VO’s -me included- are more interested in the fun aspects of their job than in running the numbers. Bookkeeping is considered work. Making phone calls is work. Social Media can be a chore. We’d rather talk about microphones and gadgets than about our bottom line.

In my experience as a coach, many VO’s don’t want to face financial reality. They call themselves voice-over artists, not entrepreneurs. They prefer to stick their head in the sand while complaining about rates going down.

STRANGE IDEAS

What’s also keeping people from signing up for business sessions is a particular mindset, summarized in these two maxims:

“If you build it, they will come”

“Do what you love and the money will follow”

These two ideas are part of the reason why about one-fifth of business startups fail in the first year, and about half go bust within five years. Only about one-third make it to ten.

Let me ask you this. If you build it without telling the world about it, why would people come? They don’t know you exist. And if they do know you exist, why should they come to you and not to someone else with a pleasant voice?

What makes you so special?

Go ahead and build it, but there’s no guarantee that they will come! Now, what about passion? Is that enough to make the magic money fountains flow?

I know plenty of people who hate what they do, and yet they make a boatload of money. I also know people who love what they do, who are struggling to make ends meet. Investing in yourself by signing up for sessions that will help you improve your voice-over skills is not a bad idea. However, you can offer the best product in the world, but if you don’t know how to sell it, the money will not follow. And in VO, you are your product.

FAILING BUSINESSES

Take a few minutes and Google “reasons why small businesses fail.” You’ll find that most authors are in agreement. Small businesses don’t fail because new entrepreneurs aren’t creative, passionate, or skilled enough. It is because their owners do not run them like a business. A business needs to be properly funded. Many freelancers don’t spend enough money to put themselves out there, and they don’t make enough money to stay there.

Secondly, failing businesses are offering something no one is looking for because it’s already available, usually of better quality and at a lower price. If you’re thinking of starting your own business, you have to find your place in the market by providing something only very few can offer. That’s your niche.

As a voice talent, it’s not enough to say: “I am special because no one sounds like me.” Believe it or not, there are people who sort of sound like you with more money, more experience, better equipment, a quiet recording space, a nicer website, a harder working agent, better branding, greater marketing, and an amazing social media presence. Anything they’re not good at or don’t like to do, they hire experts for. Those who want to do it all by themselves end up working eighty hours a week wondering why they ever wanted to be their own boss.

If you don’t want to belong to that fifty percent of small businesses that close within five years, you have to stop treating your profession as a hobby, as something you do because it sparks joy only. Owning a small business is challenging, frustrating, and exhausting, as well as exhilarating.

Here’s the good news: learning how to run a freelance business is a rewarding journey, and in our community you’ll find excellent tour guides to show you around. Many of the best are coming to VO Atlanta from March 28 – 31.

THE EXPERTS

Learn from Marc Scott and Tracy Lindley about marketing, about sales and money management from Bachelor no more Tom Dheere, about branding from Gabrielle Nistico and Celia Siegel, about using Twitter from Heather Costa, and create an action plan with Natasha Marchewka. These are just a few of the presenters coming to the Hilton Atlanta Airport Hotel. Click here for a full list.

Paul Strikwerda presenting at VO Atlanta

The Stinky Sock Session

On Friday 3/29, I’ll be leading an X-Session from 1:30 to 4:30 PM called “Six Steps To Turning Your Business Around.” It’s not a lecture, but an interactive workshop open to no more than twelve people. The next day I’d love to meet you at my Breakout Session, “Winning Mindsets to Take Charge of Your Career” from 4:45 to 5:45 PM. Find out why people started calling this the “Stinky Sock” session you’ll never forget.

THE FUTURE

In this volatile, crazy voice-over business, many are called but few are chosen. When doing my presentations, I often look at my audience and wonder: who will be here next year, five years from now, and in ten years? Who will have given up, and who has staying power?

I don’t have a crystal ball, but I do know this: having a remarkable voice and knowing how to use it is not enough. The ones enjoying sustained success are very likely to give you this piece of advice if you want to do well:

Mind your own business!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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