voice-over conference

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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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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Why I Didn’t Like VO Atlanta

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, International, Personal, Promotion, Social Media 16 Comments

Paul Strikwerda at VO AtlantaYes, it’s totally true. I didn’t like VO Atlanta.

I LOVED it!

Sorry for the clickbait headline, but I couldn’t resist. My clogs sometimes take me places I have no business going.

Before I get into anything else, imagine this…

You just came back from a spectacular four-course dinner at an amazing restaurant.

The atmosphere was incredible. The waitstaff treated you like family. The cuisine was exquisite. You even took pictures to show the rest of the world what they’d missed.

Days after your experience you can still taste the food, and you can’t stop telling family, friends, and colleagues about it.

And guess what?

No matter how enthusiastic you are, and how great the meal looks in all the pics, people just don’t get it! They never will, because they didn’t share the experience. It’s frustrating, but you can’t blame them because that’s how things are.

Words are just words, and photos of food are two-dimensional. They have no taste, texture, or smell. In spite of many technological advancements, we still can’t bottle the positive energy that’s palpable in a room, and sell it on eBay. No drug will ever replicate or replace a hug. And that’s the way it should be.

Here’s the truth. Some, if not all of life’s best moments are literally beyond words. And this is what makes them so inexplicably precious, personal, and powerful.

So, I’m not even going to try and explain to you what it’s like to have been at the world’s largest gathering of voice-over professionals, a.k.a. VO Atlanta. It’s just as futile as telling you about that amazing dinner. But I will tell you this:

This year, VO Atlanta was not merely a Conference. It became a Movement!

For a movement to gain momentum, people have to be moved, and be willing to move. There was plenty of both from the early hours of the morning until… the early hours of the morning (those who took part in the Team Challenge often didn’t go to bed until 2:00 AM).

A movement has to have a common cause. Well, no matter where the attendees were from, all of them came to help strengthen and raise the professional bar for voice actors and voice acting. In my mind, this involves a number of things:

– an open mind, and a joyful commitment to lifelong learning
– a celebration of diversity, equality, and kindness
– a readiness to set higher standards and rates for our profession
– a continuous and selfless contribution to our community

Take any panel, any presentation, or any X-session… these four elements were markedly present in every room, and they made this conference a transformational experience for so many.

Now, you know me, don’t you?

I’m often critical and sometimes cynical of certain developments and players in our industry. I can smell a scam from miles away, and when I feel an emperor is wearing very few clothes, I will tell you.

I also know that one cannot orchestrate authenticity. It is impossible to fake friendship and sincerity. No matter how well any conference is organized (and believe me, VO Atlanta ran like a well-oiled machine), it ultimately depends on the people who attend, to pour their hearts and souls into it.

And that’s exactly what they did from the get-go. Together they made this conference a safe place to share, be vulnerable, try new things, feel empowered, as well as a space to learn, grow, laugh, cry, sing, act, admire, and dance.

In many ways, this is extraordinary. Why? Because the so-called real world doesn’t seem to work that way. To many, that world is a dark and fearful place, filled with people who are out to get us, instead of support us. It’s a dog-eat-dog, survival of the fittest society, where a ME-ME-ME mentality often prevails over a WE-frame of mind.

Being at VO Atlanta gave me hope that there is a different reality, and a different future for the voice-over work we love so much. By all accounts the segments of the market we contribute to are growing: eLearning, audio books, explainer videos, cartoons, documentaries, gaming, virtual reality, and so on.

Somewhere, someone is looking for your voice, and it is part of your job to make sure that this someone finds you, or you find him (or her). If you don’t know how, perhaps you should go to a voice-over conference and find out. In the afterglow of VO Atlanta, colleagues have already reported that using what they’ve learned only a few days ago, has paid off big time.

There was something else I noticed.

Faced with bold moves from self-absorbed, predatory companies that seek to devalue our talent and our training, a new awareness is growing that we have a choice to whom we lend our voice. Yes, we want to work, but not at any rate, and not for companies that demand more and more for less and less as they triple dip into a client’s budget, while denying us our fair share.

I felt a strong resolve in Atlanta to fight the commoditization of our work, and a deep desire to come together and show what we are worth. At this moment we have ethical agents, brilliant software developers, and SEO-specialists on our side, who are coming up with new, intelligent platforms to showcase and sell our services.

Online voice matchmakers such as Voice123 and Bodalgo are listening to us, and are coming up with smart, exciting features that benefit clients and voice talent alike. The World Voices Organization is growing every day, providing invaluable support and leadership to its members and our community at large.

Paul Strikwerda, presenting at VO Atlanta

Paul Strikwerda presents

Colleagues with years of experience share what they have learned with humor, wit, and wisdom. People whose voices you’ve grown up with suddenly sit next to you in the bar, and strike up a conversation. And guess what? They’re just as interested in you, as you are interested in them.

At first, VO Atlanta can be a bit overwhelming, but boy does it feel good when we eat, drink, and dance together, and colleagues from all over the world become fast friends. And speaking of friends, you may remember that I do my best to keep my personal and professional Facebook contacts separate (click here to find out why). That’s why I have a Nethervoice Page and a personal Profile.

However, if you’ve been to VO Atlanta this year, and you feel that we’ve connected in a meaningful way, I now warmly welcome you to my virtual living room, because I consider you my friend!

I hope we will meet sooner, but if not, I can’t wait to see you again in 2019!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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PPS If you are a current, or prior, attendee of VO Atlanta, you’re eligible to register as part of a super-early bird registration which saves you $150 on the conference registration for 2019. This offer expires March 18th. Click here to register.

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Meet Me In Atlanta

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, International, Promotion 10 Comments

https://www.womensmarch.comLast week, thousands of people went to an inauguration, and millions marched for women’s rights.

There is strength in numbers, and power in groups of people. 

Even though I can see the point of bonding together for a common cause, I have an admission to make:

I hate being in the middle of a huge crowd.

Crowds are noisy and smelly. Somehow I always end up next to a loudmouth man-child who hasn’t used deodorant since puberty, or a Southern Belle who just bathed herself in Curve Crush By Liz Claiborne. For the lucky uninitiated: that’s a perfume I utterly detest. 

Crowds infringe upon my sacred personal space, and they test my patience more than I can bear. They move according to the slowest common denominator, and they rarely go to where I want or need to be.  

My nightmare scenario is being stuck indoors when a fire breaks out, and everyone is running for the nearest exit as they’re screaming their heads off. Of course only one exit is open, and the mob trapped inside starts trampling one another to escape the deadly fumes. Just thinking about it makes me nauseous. 

BEING ANTI-SOCIAL

Does all of this mean that I suffer from social anxiety, or that I’m anti-social? I don’t think so. My fear might have to do with a natural need to be safe. I prefer having meaningful conversations in quiet corners, rather than losing my voice yelling over the masses to reach a friend. 

In the past I have described myself as a “reluctant extrovert,” and I still feel that way. I’d rather spend three hours with someone one-on-one, than fifteen minutes in a large group. I feel lost in a crowd, and I don’t want to be lost. 

Why am I even bothering you with this pitiful confession? It’s because I’ve used my unease with crowds as one of the reasons to stay away from voice-over conferences bringing together hundreds of colleagues from different countries and continents. Today I am happy to tell you that this is about to change.

MAKING AN APPEARANCE

Over the years, literally hundreds of readers have asked the same question: “Where and when can I meet you?”

Those of you attending VO Atlanta from March 9th -12th, will finally have a chance to run into me, as well as over 550 colleagues from 35 states and 15 countries who have come to enjoy over 150+ hours of top-notch programming. It’s the largest annual voice-over event for our community.

This year’s keynote speaker is Bill Farmer, and some of the other speakers are Dave Fennoy, Elaine Clark, Celia Siegel, Joe Cipriano, Johnny Heller, Jonathan Tilley, Lori Alan, Scott Brick, Anne Ganguzza, and David Rosenthal.

There are sessions about audio books, business and marketing, gaming and animation, narration and eLearning, performance and improvisation, and promo & imaging. There are also workshops (labeled as X-sessions), as well as a Spanish, and a youth program. You can see the full program on the conference website.

ETHICS PANEL

On Saturday, March 11th at 7:30 pm, I’ll be on a panel led by J. Michael Collins, discussing Ethics for Voice Actors and Demo Producers. Speakers are Rob Sciglimpaglia and Cliff Zellman, and the other panelists are Dave Courvoisier and Bev Standing. If you’re a subscriber to this blog, you know that I have written extensively about some of the moral guidelines voice talent and clients should live by, and I can’t wait to hear what others have to say.

Now, I didn’t want to come to Atlanta just to be on a panel, so you’ll be able to track me down from day one. The welcome reception starts Thursday 3/9 at 5:00 pm, and I really look forward to meeting you in person! I have only one request:

Gentlemen: please use deodorant, and ladies: leave your bottle of Curve Crush at home, and we’ll survive the crowds together. 

See you in Atlanta!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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