voice-over

The Wind Beneath Our Wings

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing 5 Comments
Paul Strikwerda & Pamela Taylor

wedding day, photo by Kevin Horn

This blog post is dedicated to my wife Pamela.

 

Some fifteen years ago, I walked into the office of my very first U.S. casting agent.

I was absolutely thrilled, but I didn’t realize that I was about to make a big mistake.

The walls were filled with posters of all the blockbuster movies the agency had been involved in. Signed thank you notes from famous directors decorated the hallways. Old awards were gathering dust in the renovated warehouse-turned-office that oozed sleek, expensive minimalism.

“Our voice-over director will see you shortly. One of her sessions is running late. Would you care for some coffee?,” asked a secretary.

Ten minutes and a perfect cappuccino later, I was handed an audition script. It would take a little longer, I was told.

“No need to be nervous,” the girl said. “I’m sure you’ll do just fine.”

It’s strange how these things work. When I walked in, I was feeling great. I knew I could nail this. But as soon as she mentioned nerves, I felt like a kid waiting outside the principal’s office, wondering what I had done wrong.

GETTING STARTED

It was my first year in the States and I was green. I even had a Green Card to prove it. I didn’t really know anybody, and nobody knew me. That’s why I had brought a friend along for the audition.

I just needed some backup, a second opinion if you will, to make sure this place was legit. Too many people were being taken for a ride by shady characters posing as casting directors, and I didn’t want to become one of them.

This friend happened to be nosy. Very nosy.

If you were to invite him to your house, he would read the back of the postcards that are hanging on your fridge. He would open up a family photo album without asking permission. I once caught him checking out a closed bedroom on his way to the smallest chamber in the house.

So, while I was learning my lines for the audition, you can imagine what my friend was doing. When the secretary was away to get the coffee, he went over to her desk and looked at some of the contracts she was working on. When she came back, he grilled her about the business, as if this was an episode of Shark Tank or Dragons’ Den.

I tried to give him the Cut it out, You’re not helping me-look, but to no avail. He acted like a pit bull sniffing a hot trail.

It got even worse when we finally met the voice-over director. Initially, my friend was wise enough to let me do all the talking. But when I went into the vocal booth to record my script, I could see him distracting her with all his inappropriate questions.

When the session was over, I heard in my headphones: “Paul, we need to talk…. in private. Ask your friend to go back to the waiting area and tell him not to snoop around.”

ONE ON ONE

“Let me level with you,” the casting director said when we sat down. “You have talent. You have experience and I love your accent. I don’t think we have anybody that can bring that European sense of sophistication to a read. In short, we’d like to represent you, but on one condition.”

I knew what was coming, and I knew she was right.

“Don’t ever bring your friend to this office again. I can understand you’re new to this country and you needed some support, but seriously… I almost kicked the two of you out. He was asking all sorts of questions about how much you would be making and how many jobs we would offer you each month. It was obvious that he knew nothing about the casting process, and we hadn’t even taken you on board.

Let me be clear. Contrary to what your friend seems to believe, there are no guarantees in this business. We can send you auditions, but YOU have to book the jobs. We don’t control our clients. If they ask us to recommend five voices for a project, we give hem five voices. You might be number one on my shortlist, but that’s irrelevant. You’d be surprised how often a client picks the voice I personally find least suitable. It’s all very subjective, and you have to be okay with that. By the way, did you bring some recent headshots?”

We talked for another ten minutes, we shook hands, and I left.

“It’s up to you, but I would never do business with these people,” said my nosy friend when I came out of the meeting. “I got the weirdest vibes off that casting director. You should have seen the way she looked at me. All I did was ask some simple questions to make sure the place was kosher. What’s wrong with that?

Of course it’s up to you what you want to do, but I think you should explore other options. One day you’re going to thank me.”

He was right. I did thank him for teaching me a valuable lesson that day. I also told him that I had signed with the agency. Two months later, he went his way and I went mine. Recently, someone told me he’s now an investigative reporter at some magazine I’d never heard of.

SUPPORT SYSTEM

Our choice of friends says a lot about who we are as a person and as a professional. In order to be successful in any business, it’s important to surround yourself with people you believe in, and who believe in you.

I don’t mean people who think that every word that comes out of your mouth is pure gold. That role is reserved for proud mothers and misguided fans. You need people who look out for you in a discreet, intelligent way. Preferably, people who know the territory. There’s nothing as useless as the advice coming from the mouth of a person who doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

And let me tell you something else.

The most important friend you and I will ever have, is the person we choose to live our life with. First and foremost, this friend needs to be comfortable with uncertainty. Although attitudes are gradually shifting, most people still prefer the predictability of a steady job (and income) over the freedom and fluctuation of a freelance career.

If you’re living with a voice actor, you know some months are slow and others are crazy busy. You probably know how much money goes out every month, but you never know how much money will be coming in. That makes it hard to plan ahead. The perfect partner for a voice actor has a steady job with benefits. This is especially important in the beginning of a career.

Because of the ongoing uncertainty, this partner also has to be incredibly patient, flexible, and understanding. Ask any established talent, and they’ll tell you that a voice-over career is not a sprint but a marathon. If you’re still in business after the first three years, you’re either a fool or you’re beginning to get somewhere.

Not everybody can and will hang in there while you’re trying to make it in a field that’s becoming increasingly competitive. You need to sow a lot of seeds, and the harvest might be years away.

BENDING OVER BACKWARDS

Talking about flexibility… I can’t tell you how many times we have had to change our family’s plans at the last minute, because some client needed me to record a script pronto. At times I wish I had the audacity to tell that customer:

“You can’t do this to me. I have a life, you know! When you called this Sunday morning, we were all wearing our bike shorts, ready for a ride.”

Instead I keep quiet, go down to my studio, close the soundproof door and start recording that darn, poorly written script about the importance of family time. When the client says “Dance,” I dance. Meanwhile, the family goes on a bike ride without me.

If you’re not ready to roll with the punches and take life one day at a time, you’re not ready to start a serious relationship with a voice actor. And if you are, you must be a saint!

People with a steady job often have a hard time wrapping their brains around what it means to be self-employed. I’m lucky to be married to a professional musician. She understands that if someone offers you a good gig, you take it. If you don’t, someone else will, and they’ll start calling that person next time.

EMOTIONAL ROLLERCOASTER

On paper it sounds great. Today’s voice actor stays home all day, recording short commercials and promos that bring in more money than most people will make in a month. It’s easy to forget that getting the work takes up far more time than doing the work.

Every audition brings new hope. “What if I get picked to be the next voice of ….?” (name a big brand name). “I’d finally have some income I can count on, and the recognition I’ve been secretly longing for.”

Of course you’ll never hear back about the role you thought was made for you, and when you turn on the radio three months later, you hear a complete idiot mess up the lines you auditioned for because they chose him over you. That morning, you will hear that stupid commercial over and over and over again. This will make your day. I guarantee it!

But you’re never going to take your frustration out on the one you love most, right? You always manage to stay calm, composed, and positive. You never take things personally. It’s only your voice they’re evaluating.

Instead, you send a quick email to congratulate the lucky bastard who landed the job, and you put on a fake Facebook smile because it’s so wonderful to be able to do what you love and get paid for it. Meanwhile, you don’t know how you’re going to pay this month’s health insurance premium, or how to fix the fridge that just broke down.

At that point you need a soft place to land. You need someone who has your back. Someone who doesn’t think you’re a failure. Someone who says:

“I love you. Let’s go for a walk. It’s a beautiful day.”

SWEET SUCCESS

Other times you do get lucky and you hit the jackpot. You get tons of work and you need the house to be quiet so you can finish your recordings. Who’s there to make sure you can work in peace? Who’s taking over your household chores so you can finish editing that never-ending audio book?

When things go really, really well, and your voice is heard all over the nation; when hotshot agents who always ignored you all of a sudden know who you are; when you yourself start believing that you’re the Big Kahuna now… Who’s there to celebrate your success, and keep you grounded?

When you’re too big for your boots, who will gently put you in your place? Who will tell you that there’s more to life than talking into a microphone, or being adored by countless fans? Who’s going to be there for you when the applause fades away? With whom will you share and develop other interests?

I guess it boils down to this:

WHY are you doing what you’re doing?

Does it make any sense if you can’t share your setbacks or successes with someone?

Mind you, even though I am happily married, I’m not advocating the advantages of matrimony per se. I am simply in favor of surrounding yourself with a couple of close friends who can keep you sane in a weird and complicated world. People with whom you can let your guard down, be vulnerable, and be yourself.

It’s about time we give those friends the credit they deserve.

They truly are the wind beneath our wings.

Paul Strikwerda @nethervoice

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4 Ways To Get From Good To Great

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Personal 11 Comments
the author singing in a choir

The author singing in a choir

Being a successful voice-over.

It has a little bit to do with having pleasant pipes, and lot with other factors. Some of those factors can be influenced. Others are beyond our control.

A few weeks ago, one of my students had an interesting question for me. Professionally speaking (pun intended, always), she was doing okay. Clients loved working with her. Business was getting better every year. Yet, she felt that something was preventing her from reaching that proverbial “next level,” and she couldn’t figure out what to do.

“Paul,” she said, “I’ve read all the books on voice-over I could find, including yours. I follow the best bloggers. I listen to podcasts, and I watch videos on VO. What am I missing? I seem to be stuck doing the same thing the same way, getting the same results. How do I move forward from here?”

“What you’re really asking,” I said, “is how to get from good to great. Am I right?”

“Absolutely.”

“Well, the first thing you have to realize is that growth is a gradual process. You don’t expect a seed to bloom the next day, do you? We all grow in different ways at different speeds. 

People can teach you new techniques, but it may take a while before those techniques become second nature. However, at your level, techniques are usually not the issue. Other things are holding you back. One of the main obstacles to growth is familiarity. You said it yourself.”

“What do you mean?” my student asked.

“You can call it coasting, if you like. You just told me that you were stuck doing the same thing the same way, getting the same results.

Secondly, you seem to be looking for inspiration and guidance within your field. Again: you’re focusing on the familiar. You already know how to interpret a script. I think you can handle a microphone. You don’t better yourself by doing things that are easy and predictable. That’s like working out without weights.

If you really want to grow as a person and as a professional, you’ve got to look elsewhere. That’s where the challenges will be, and challenges will help you grow. Now, here’s the amazing thing: growth in one area of your life will positively influence growth in other areas of your life.”

“Any suggestions as to what I should do?” my student asked.

“Plenty,” I said. “Here’s one:

1. Start leading a healthy life.

A year ago, one of my students was in bad shape. He was overweight, he sat in his recording booth for long periods of time, and his diet had way too much sugar, fat and salt in it. It affected his mood, his self-image, and his self-confidence. I could hear it in his voice. His breathing was very shallow, and he sounded insecure.

One day, he decided he had had enough, and he joined a gym. He exercised at least five times a week, and started shedding pounds. In the kitchen he began using fresh, organic ingredients, and he filled his plate with fruits and vegetables. Within two months, he felt more energetic and alive, and people told him he looked better.

His renewed energy and enthusiasm could be heard in the way he spoke when the mic was on, and when the mic was off. Because he felt better, he performed better, and he began booking more and more jobs. For him, leading a healthy lifestyle was the key that brought him to the next level.

Here’s another thing you can do:

2. Learn a foreign language.

Forget tongue twisters and other vocal exercises. Start studying that language you’ve always wanted to learn! A new language is a doorway to a different culture. Every language has its own rhythm and melody. You’ll even start thinking differently when speaking a foreign language.

Becoming bilingual benefits the brain. It improves cognitive skills that don’t even have to do with language. Bilinguals are better at solving puzzles, better at staying on task, and being bilingual can even delay the onset of Alzheimer’s.

One of my students decided to learn Italian at a later point in life. It took her a couple of years, but after a few vacations near Florence, she was almost fluent. As a bilingual voice talent, a whole new market opened up. She claims that she feels much more flexible, vocally speaking, and that it has become easier to do all sorts of accents and character voices.

But there’s more you can do to take your career to the next level:

3. Join a community theater or improv group.

Voice-overs are usually so stuck to their scripts… they have a hard time letting it go, and letting it flow. When you’re forced to memorize your words to perform on stage, you not only train your brain. You also learn how to speak your lines, instead of reading them. It’s also a very physical experience.

Rather than talking into a microphone, you get to inter-act with real people who re-act to what you’re saying. You get instant feedback on how you land your lines, not only from your fellow-actors but from the audience. You have a whole new way of getting into character.

Improv classes are a great way to learn to loosen up, and become conversational. Name one client who doesn’t ask for a “conversational read”?

I remember an audio book narrator who was stuck in his studio most of the time. Some people thought he was anti-social. When he finally joined an improv group, he made new friends who thought he was witty, funny, and charming. Two years later, the introvert has become quite extroverted, and his loyal listeners love the way his audio book characters bounce off the page like never before.”

“Those are some great suggestions,” said my student. “Is there anything else you’d recommend?”

“Well, how about you…

4. Take singing lessons, and join a choir.

Voice-overs talk for a living, yet too many of them have no clue how to use their voice. Their range is limited, their diction is off, and after half an hour, vocal fatigue sets in. Using your voice means using muscles, the thyroarytenoid muscles and the cricothyroid muscles to be exact.

Taking singing lessons is like going to the gym for your voice. You’ll learn effective warm-ups, proper pronunciation and projection, and you’ll train the muscles needed to produce sound. After a while, your voice will become stronger, clearer, more resonant and more flexible. Your listening skills and timing will improve, and you’ll be able to infuse your scripts with musicality.

On top of that, you’ll have yet another reason to get off your behind, and rehearse with your choir. There’s nothing like the sweet sensation of voices blending, creating harmonies and melodies that soothe the soul.

The main thing to remember is that everything is connected. The change you make in one area of your life is likely to affect other areas of your life.

Whatever you decide to do, you are the goose with the golden eggs, so you had better take good care of yourself.

Step out of your comfort zone, but be patient. It might take a while before you see the payoff of your pursuits.

Eventually, things will fall into place in a most surprising and delightful way. 

Take it from me, the exercising, multilingual, singing amateur stage actor!”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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I’m Still Here!

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Personal, Studio 76 Comments

There’s not much I remember of Monday, March 26th, but it’s a day I will never forget. 

In the late afternoon while at work in my studio, I suddenly and inexplicably began to feel light-headed. My legs became weak like rubber, unable to support the body they held up. Then I blacked out for who knows how long. It felt like minutes, but it could have been for hours. When I regained consciousness, I found myself on the floor, painfully twisted like a pretzel, gasping for air. I tried to get up on both knees but couldn’t. It was as if my brain’s messages didn’t reach my muscles. I’d never experienced anything like it in my life. 

The phone rang several times. My arms reached to the desk above, hoping to grab it. No matter how hard I tried to lift myself up, I had no strength to do it. It was infuriating and terrifying at the same time. After a while a text message came in, and I desperately wanted to answer it. I grabbed my desk chair, hoping to climb up on it, but it rolled away from me. 

Something told me that whatever was happening to me, was serious, and I needed to contact the outside world without delay. Then I remembered that I could simply ask Siri to call my wife by shouting instructions at my iPhone. But when I attempted to form words, I noticed something very alarming. My tongue felt swollen and useless. My slurred speech sounded like a drunken sailor. What the heck was going on? 

While I was lying on the floor, I noticed that my breathing had become very shallow. I had no idea for how long I had been down. The lightheadedness got worse by the minute, and suddenly it dawned upon me that I was using up all the oxygen in my seven by seven, hermetically sealed, and unventilated voice-over studio. I clearly needed help, but who could possibly rescue me? 

My wife was at a borough council meeting that night, and she wasn’t scheduled to come home early. Screaming to alert the neighbors was pointless, since I was in a solid soundproofed space I had designed myself. I remember trying to open the heavy studio door, which under normal circumstances takes a lot of strength. An industrial metal door closer keeps it firmly shut, and to make matters worse, my unresponsive body was leaning against it. 

I felt trapped, and it quickly dawned upon me that if no one came to liberate me, I would soon use up all the oxygen, and suffocate in my own studio. 

At borough council, my wife was concerned that I didn’t show up for the meeting I’d said I would attend, and that I did not answer my phone. A few weeks earlier she had found me face down on the kitchen floor after I had thrown out my back and was unable to move. Six hours later an ambulance crew had to pick me up off the floor and take me to the nearest hospital. With that in mind she called our friends who lived nearby and had a house key, asking them to check in on me. Since this was a council meeting, the police and fire chiefs were present, and they promised to send a few guys over for a welfare check. 

Knowing that crying out for help would be futile, I began to bang a loud SOS on the walls of my recording space in the hopes somebody would hear me. It took all the strength I had, but suddenly and miraculously, the back door opened, and I heard voices. Neighbors Scott and Danny had arrived, but they had no idea what had happened and where to find me. In one final attempt I pounded the loudest SOS on the studio door and it worked. My friends came running down to the basement where my studio is located. 

At first they couldn’t open the door because I was lying against it, so I had to roll myself away from it. As the fresh air was flowing in once the door opened, I took the deepest breath I had ever taken in my life. I remember Danny, who is a trained nurse, bending over me, saying: “The left side of his face is drooping and he’s unresponsive. He might have a stroke!” At that point police officers and firemen came in, ready to get me out of my miserable situation. 

What happened next, I don’t remember very well. They got me out of the house and to the nearest hospital to stabilize me, and find out what was going on. A quick scan confirmed that I had indeed suffered a stroke caused by a blood clot in the right side of my brain. To avoid further brain damage and possible paralyzation, it was imperative to get me to a stroke center as quickly as possible. That’s when the medevac team was contacted. 

A helicopter landed on the helipad at a nearby high school, and within minutes I was airlifted in a cacophony of engine rumble and intense vibration. At the stroke center a specialized team was anxiously awaiting my arrival, ready to physically remove the blood clot using a procedure called mechanical thrombectomy. Doctors threaded a catheter through an artery in my groin up to the blocked vessel in the brain. A stent opened and grabbed the clot, allowing doctors to then remove the stent with the trapped clot. 

Get this. During the operation I actually woke up out of my sedation, and I felt the stent going in, grabbing something inside my head. As I stared at my smiling surgeon’s face, there was a moment of sharp pain, followed by intense relief as I drifted away. The next thing I remember is waking up in the ICU, being welcomed back into the world by my wife. For the next two weeks, I would be attached to a network of tubes leading to beeping equipment measuring any type of vital sign. 

I was weak, I was dizzy, but I was alive. Thank goodness I was alive!

What happened next was even more miraculous. As soon as I shared my hospitalization on Facebook, hundreds of people started reaching out to me. Every day I received encouraging, heartwarming messages from all over the world from friends, colleagues, and family members. Some mornings, the nurses caught me using WhatsApp to talk to my sister in the Netherlands, Facebook Messenger to connect with a colleague in Spain, and email to let a client know I couldn’t narrate a script just yet. 

While new medications were slowly stabilizing my situation, I want to tell you that there’s nothing like the positive power of kind, caring people healing what was broken. I felt strengthened, supported, uplifted, and energized. Soon I would be walking the hospital halls in my yellow slipper clogs to the amusement of staff members. I began climbing stairs, regaining my balance, and finding my bearings. Paul Stefano, Trish Basanyi, Uncle Roy Yokelson, and Mike Harrison came to visit, bringing good cheer and yummy treats. 

Friends started cooking for my wife who spent most of her time by my side, keeping track of all the information and advice from neurologists, cardiologists, and other health care experts involved in my treatment. She was the one I leaned on, literally and figuratively, and I count my lucky stars to have her love in my life. 

So, how am I feeling now, a little over two weeks after I had my stroke?

Right now, the biggest challenge to my recovery is… me. I want to get back on my feet as soon as possible, doing all the things I’m so used to doing, even though I might not have the energy and coordination to do them. I have to learn to pace myself and say no. I also have to come to terms with how I handle stress caused by pressure I put on myself, and pressure from others. But based on what has happened, people are surprised to see me in such good shape. I attribute that to two things. The day after my operation the doctor told me: “It’s important to keep a positive outlook. He’s absolutely right. I truly know that being negative is a luxury I can’t afford. 

The second thing is the importance of having a support system. That’s precisely where you came in, and I am so grateful for that. To you, it might have seemed like a few kind words on social media, or a card with an encouraging message. To me, it made all the difference, and I can’t thank you enough for that!

The consequence is that you’ll be stuck with snarky, lucky me for a while, using this blog to dish out my weekly commentary on the wonderful world of voice-overs and life as a freelancer.

Are you sure you can handle that?

Really?

I know I can, because I’m Still Here, and I’m not going anywhere!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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The One Voice Awards: More of the Same, or Setting a New Standard?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, International, Promotion 12 Comments
Peter Dickson & Hugh Edwards

Peter Dickson & Hugh Edwards

Oh no, not another voice-over award!

That was my initial reaction when I heard about the British One Voice Awards, coming to you at the end of April, courtesy of the people behind Gravy For The Brain Ltd.

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know I’m rather ambivalent about artistic contests promising people a chance at winning some shiny object to brag about, and charging them for it. Could this be any different? Besides, I thought there already was a British award for voice-overs.

For the past twenty years, the U.K. has had the VOX Awards, celebrating “the best creative audio talent in the media and broadcast industries across 10 categories.” Circa 2013, the organization behind these awards was VOX National EventsLast November, VNE was acquired by Bubble Communications, a global PR, marketing, and events agency.

MORE OF THE SAME?

So, how do the One Voice Awards (OVA’s) try to set themselves apart from VOX, and other VO award shows, such as the Voice Arts™ Awards? First of all, the OVA’s are the culmination of the One Voice Conference in London that brings together VO artists industry-wide for four days of workshops, talks, networking, and lots of practice. 

Inspired by the setup of voice conferences in the U.S., creators Hugh Edwards and Peter Dickson have said they want to set a new standard for what a U.K. voice acting event should be.

Secondly, these awards are not open to any employees or relatives of the One Voice Conference team, or Gravy For The Brain Ltd. None of them can be nominated, nor win one of their own awards.

The OVA’s team writes:

“The One Voice Awards have integrity. Our doors are not open for corruption as the awards are independently judged by an extensive panel of industry leaders, anonymously.

The One Voice Awards doesn’t take advantage of nor monetise voice artists, therefore, the awards actually mean something. They’re free to enter. We do not believe in triple-charging you (submission fee, attendance fee & award fee) for winning an award that you deserved to win.

We are celebrating excellence wherever it lies across our incredible community. The One Voice Awards isn’t just about giving yet another award to big names, or those who can afford to put themselves in the running to win industry awards.”

BUILDING A BETTER MODEL

Reading these words, I felt gratified, because it seems Edwards and Dickson are addressing some of the very things I have pointed out regarding the Voice Arts™ Awards. When I asked Edwards about it, he had this to say:

“Not only do I subscribe to your blog, but also to your point of view. I think that they are the same viewpoints because we both believe in fairness to people. I also realise that we have an uphill battle to climb with perceptions of awards in general though. Some awards organisations manage it, some do not. My opinion of the whole thing is that integrity is absolutely key. I think that it’s very difficult to dissociate the monetisation and profiteering that happens with other awards that go on, with the benefits that awards can bring to people.”

Over fifteen hundred hopefuls entered the One Voice Awards, and a panel of judges narrowed this down to ninety-six finalists across thirty-one categories. Some VO’s were shortlisted in more than one category.

Hugh Edwards: “There is a reason why in some cases there are only three shortlisted nominations and in some seven in this year’s OVA’s: There were only three in that category that came up to a certain standard (and we are not profiteering to just let people buy table spaces to make up numbers), and in the other case of seven, some were tied in their excellence and there was nothing between them – and in this case we are not going to take away that achievement from someone by arbitrarily selecting one out of three to be removed from the list because it’s important for those voice artists to be recognised for their achievement.”

CHEAPENING THE INDUSTRY?

Some people in the VO business are afraid that because anyone can submit audio samples, and anyone can come to your conference, this opens the floodgates to amateurs who will cheapen the industry. What do you think?

Hugh Edwards: “I completely understand those concerns, and I’ll address them both individually. Firstly to the point of anyone being able to submit themselves to the awards, and even before that, the idea of self-submission which has been raised to me before too. I think many people think that the larger awards bodies, such as BAFTA, the Oscars, the Emmy’s and so on, look to the industry and choose the films/projects that should be submitted themselves, but this is not the case. Even with those huge awards, it’s the production companies who produced the films who submit their films for consideration to the awards, exactly in the same way that the One Voice Awards do – there is no shame in this, and clearly, we do not have some kind of ‘magic eye’ that can see across the talent of anyone who voices in the UK!

Then, with regards who can submit audio clips, it’s quite clear that having the awards open to everyone is the only fair way to do this – and if this were not the case, who would police who is a ‘non-amateur’ voiceover artist? Who would determine the requirements set to determine who is ‘professional’? BAFTA, for example, does not restrict anyone who creates a game from that game being submitted for consideration in the game awards, before proving that they have already developed 5 successful titles – no, the only criteria is that the work is excellent, and that’s the only way it can fairly be run.

If you take that one step further, with over fifteen hundred submissions, yes we did receive some work that was not up to current professional standards expected in the industry today, but this work quickly fell to the bottom of the pile, and the cream of the crop rose to the top, as you would expect it should.

So, the only negative consequence to opening the submission doors to everyone, is that it means more work for us to listen and judge everything, but it means only positives for the voice community, as the final shortlisted nominations are genuinely the best of the best, and far from being ‘amateur’. Remember: we believe in being fair to everyone involved, and no one should be restricted from entering.”

THE EVALUATION PROCESS

There’s no information online about selection criteria or judges, so I asked Edwards about the judging process.

Edwards: “To have belief in the validity of the judging process, you need to be able to see inside that process. We have started the dissemination of this to the public and will be unveiling it fully at the awards. However, we have built our system from the ground up (actually based on how I cast voice talent, interestingly!) and it has the following criteria:

– All submissions are listened to;
– All submissions are anonymised (so that judges are not swayed by ‘friendship’ voting);
– The identity of the judges is secret (to protect any ‘corruption’ attempts);
– None of the judges are aware of who any of the other judges are (to protect ‘collusion’ voting);
– None of the judges can see any of the other judges scores (to prevent any ‘historical’ voting).

The idea is to protect the integrity of the awards so that it is uncorruptable.”

Hugh Edwards

Hugh Edwards

CONFLICT OF INTEREST

What has been done to prevent potential conflict of interest?

Edwards: “Our system is a software-based one, and we can see exactly who has voted for what, and when. There is one judge who is a voice artist, who entered into, and was shortlisted for one category, and through mutual agreement she abstained from voting in that category, and we have proof of that. All other judges were entirely independent.”

When judging artistic contests, there are objective and subjective criteria. Sound quality for instance can be objectively established, but script interpretation can be a matter of individual taste. How do the OVA’s deal with subjective judging?

Edwards: “The way to fix this (as we have) is to provide a top-level spread of senior judges from across a broad range of industry, as well as including some senior level voice artists – the hirers and the do’ers. Our judges are experts in their field, made up of: five senior-level Voice Artists, a senior-level Voice Director, a senior ADR Director/Mixer for film and TV, the CEO of a Voiceover Agency, a Head of a Network Radio company, two Heads of Creative from advertising agencies, two senior Studio Engineers and two Heads of Creative from television companies.”

A PRIZE FOR BLOOPERS?

Some of the OVA’s categories are pretty straightforward: male and female voice-over artist of the year, best character performance in animation, best audio books performance in fiction and non-fiction. There’s also an award for best demo reel performance, and for best outtake of the year. I think that awarding a prize to the best demo reel is like having an award for the best headshot, or demo tape of an aspiring rock band. And do the best bloopers really deserve a prize?

Hugh Edwards: “The demo reel category is actually as much for the demo creators as it is the voice artists. They deserve that recognition as well. There are some great demo producers out there, but there are also so many sharks doing shit work in the demo industry that we wanted to show excellence in this area. I think that category is valid to be honest – it’s an area of the industry that is widely seen, widely charged-for and widely used so it shouldn’t be restricted. The bloopers one you may have a point on, but it is there to provide comic relief throughout the awards ceremony and lighten the proceedings to help make it an enjoyable experience. I will re-evaluate it once this year’s OVA’s are done.”

THE CYNICS AND THE SKEPTICS

I’ve been in touch with a number of UK colleagues, and I got the impression that not every talent is going crazy over these awards. Some have suggested that you’re taking advantage of newbies. Some of the more experienced voice actors don’t want to come to the conference because they fear they’ll be perceived as amateurs. 

Edwards: “I’m pretty shocked by this suggestion, as it is in our company ethos to do the exact opposite. I can only presume that whoever asked this has not actually seen inside (I’m presuming they mean) Gravy For The Brain (GFTB). Look at other training companies in the UK and the USA and you will see average prices for day-training courses between £200-£300 – that’s for one topic, one subject, one coach. Multiply that up by the number of courses you would need to get up to a professional level (e.g., a beginners course, an advanced course, some professional mentoring sessions, for example then, an audiobook course, a course on how to setup and run a studio and edit, a course on voicing commercials, a course on getting your business, marketing and branding right etc), and you’re well into the thousands of pounds.

At GFTB we charge £39 a month (often discounted to £29) for literally everything you will ever need, with no signup fee, no cancellation fee, and no minimum term. So if you’re a ‘newbie’ and you want to be with GFTB for 3 months, at which point you could have taken 16 courses, watched 35 hour-long webinars, received the 12 live mentoring sessions we would have run in that time, used our CRM, had your home studio checked out, and much more….that would have cost you £117 – which is less than half the price of most single-day-long courses out there. 

I would go as far as to say we are one of the only voiceover training institutions in the world that is not taking advantage of the new talent in the industry.”

Thanks for that mini-commercial. Now, what about the second point?

Edwards: “With regards to the questioner’s concern that “experienced talent may not want to come to the One Voice Conference because of a fear they will be perceived as amateurs“, we should take a look at the biggest voiceover conference in the world: VO Atlanta. I was at the (excellent) conference this year and last year, and was in the room when the organiser asked the delegates to hold up their hands if they were a beginner; it was about a quarter of the room in each case. I’ve seen our attendee list for One Voice (where we’re just under 2/3rds of the tickets sold, with 5 weeks to go), and based on the attendees I know personally, I would estimate that this ratio is about the same. About a quarter of the attendees are beginners, and the rest are not.

One of the things I love so much about the US conferences, big or small, is that there is a feeling that everyone in the voiceover community is in the community together. Just look at WoVO (World Voices Organization) in the States: What they are not doing is complaining about all the ‘newbies flooding the industry’, instead, they are using their experience and knowledge about the industry to help the industry as a whole, including the beginners. 

What’s frustrating about this comment is that in a few small pockets of the UK community, there is a feeling from some of the more senior artists of negativity against the newcomers to the industry. I find it frustrating because they were newcomers too once, and someone helped and trained them at some point. They have had their careers, and they are probably still doing well from it. I’m not sure if it’s fear of change on their behalf, a fear that the industry is being too far diluted, a fear that their incomes will be taken from them. But change to the industry has already happened, and will always happen. It’s going to change further, and surely the best way to deal with this is to embrace that change and move with it.

The newcomers to the industry are the voices of tomorrow’s industry, and we all co-exist together. We will always support the newcomers as much as we support the intermediates and the advanced VO professionals, but you most definitely should not be perceived as being an amateur for attending a voice conference that celebrates everything about excellence in the industry. 

I mean, we have the woman who voices the Oscars and the Superbowl there for goodness sakes – the two biggest VO gigs in the world – does that sound like amateur hour to anyone!!!?? It certainly doesn’t to me!”

One Voice AwardsTHE VALUE OF THE PRIZE

And finally, is winning a One Voice Award really a credit worth having?

Edwards: “Let’s take the Oscars as an example. Obviously, the winner of Best Picture at the Oscars has huge benefits to the sales and marketing of that particular film, and also to the studio as a whole, and it also benefits the other people who have worked on that picture. Importantly though, being shortlisted for the nominations is also incredibly important to those productions/studios/staff, and you will often see them use the fact that they are nominated (but didn’t win) in their marketing and PR. The same is true for voice artists.

Yes, the winners of the awards will be able to put that on their marketing and PR, but the nominees can as well. It’s not just about people liking shiny things, it’s a line drawn in the sand to say that this voice artist stands out above their peers for excellence in their category, and that reflects then throughout their career.

In the end it’s all about integrity. Once the industry becomes aware of how we are doing things to protect the integrity and why we are doing it, I suspect that its value will grow and grow. Our plans for the OVA’s and actually the entire conference extend beyond three years even as of now, so we are committed to this for the long term.”

The One Voice Conference is held between 26 and 29 April, and the Awards gala is on the 28th, hosted by Peter Dickson (click here for a full schedule). Joe Cipriano is the keynote speaker. Randy Thomas, J. Michael Collins, Peter Bishop, Marc Graue, Graeme Spicer, Jon Briggs, Trish Bertram, Anne Ganguzza, Armin Hierstetter, and Brian Bowles are among the presenters.

Are you going?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Celia Siegel’s Voiceover Achiever

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

Celia Siegel Voiceover Achiever“Brand Your VO Career. Change Your Life.”

That’s the somewhat ostentatious subtitle of Celia Siegel’s book Voiceover Achiever. It’s an illustrated, conversationally written step-by-step guide to branding your voice-over business, by one of the most amiable experts in our industry.

Will your life change after reading this book? It depends on how you’d answer the following question:

Can you get slim from reading about weight loss?

Or, to put it differently:

Are you an active, or a passive reader?

We all know people (perhaps intimately) who have tons of self-help books in their Billy bookcases that just collect dust. I call them shelf-help books, because that’s what they are. They’re the useless property of passive readers who are all talk and no action. In my estimation, about eighty percent of non-fiction fans fall into this category.

Active readers, on the other hand, absorb and embrace the information like a sponge. They make notes, they do the exercises, and start applying what they’ve learned immediately, and consistently. If that’s you, Celia’s book has tremendous potential to help you transform your business, and even your life. Whether you’re a voice-over, or otherwise self-employed.

And here’s the remarkable thing: Celia does it all in under 130 colorful pages, many of which feature large illustrations.

WHO NEEDS BRANDING?

But why buy a book about branding? I assume you have talent, training, equipment, connections, and even some business skills. You run a small shop. You’re not a company like Coca-Cola or Apple. Do you really need to boil down your essence into some smart slogan and a logo? Celia Siegel:

“The big question in our industry used to be: Do you have a beautiful voice? Do you know how to act? Those are still important. But they’re no longer enough. These days the question is: Are you brandable?”

Here’s the gist of it: In a cacophony of voices, you want to be found and heard. You want to stand out. You want to distinguish yourself from the rest by highlighting what makes you different, and more desirable. That’s what intelligent branding does. And since you personify the service you’re offering, you’ve got to start thinking of yourself as a brand, by -in Celia’s words: “being loud and proud about who you really are.”

That sounds great, but here’s the not so easy part. A brand is not something you can bottle and sell at a supermarket. It lives in people’s minds. A brand is the result of many implicit and explicit associations and perceptions of a product, a service, a person, or a company. It’s what turned brown, carbonized sugar water into a billion dollar business, and Oprah Winfrey into one of the most influential and wealthy people on this planet.

Now, here’s what you need to ask yourself: How can you create and control these associations that set you apart, and help your business perform better? That’s precisely what Celia Siegel does for a living, and her book is loaded with examples of voice talent whose niche she’s helped define.

Chapter by chapter, Voiceover Achiever takes you through the process she uses with her clients, helping you identify what makes you unique, and showing you how to tell the story of your brand through language, visuals, and different media. If this sounds like a daunting task, think again. Celia writes the way she speaks. She keeps it light and playful. She clearly knows her stuff, but she’s never stuffy, and at no point does she come across as a know-it-all talking down to noobs.

TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING?

As you can tell, this is not a boring intro into branding. It is a book about Celia, Celia’s business, and Celia’s clients. That’s its strength, and its weakness. Examples from the same talent are reused throughout the book, and at times I got the impression that I was reading a long testimonial. All those testimonials are from voice-overs, and not from agents, or from people who are searching for voices for their projects.

I’m glad the people who hired Celia are happy with their new image, but what about the professionals they wish to reach? What’s their feedback? I want to know to what extent business has increased after Celia’s intervention, and how much can be attributed to branding.

Here’s another question: How much are rates part of branding? If we’re in the business of controlling associations and perceptions, the price of a product or service definitely influences how it is perceived. That’s why some people prefer a Rolex over a Seiko, even though the much cheaper Seikos are just as good at keeping time. There’s no mention of rates in Siegel’s book.

A MATTER OF IMAGE

Some of the images in Voiceover Achiever feel like fillers, just as the twelve empty pages of Brand Journal in the back of the book make it look more substantial than it is. I wish there had been more content, instead of pictures of lollipops, unicorns, and bicycles that seem to have come out of a kids magazine.

While I appreciate the examples of websites that have had the signature Siegel makeover, I would have loved to see a before and after, revealing some of the no-no’s of branding. Celia also doesn’t mention A/B testing and other methods as a way to find out what clients most respond to.

Teaming up with a “Brand Buddy” as suggested by Siegel (a fellow vo-talent embarking on his or her own branding journey), might not be ideal. As a sounding board, a colleague could be just as clueless as to what works and what doesn’t as you are. If, on the other hand, you need someone to hold you accountable and keep you on track, a Buddy could be very helpful. 

CULTURAL DIVIDE

As a European living and working in the U.S., I’d like to know to what extent branding is context dependent, meaning that a different market may require a different message. In the Netherlands where I was born and raised, humility is considered a virtue, and superlatives frequently found on American websites, are often seen as bragging and off-putting.

I also don’t agree with some of the advice Celia’s giving. She recommends using a personal Facebook profile for business purposes, and I do not. It’s actually against the Facebook Terms of Service (for more about that, click here).

Siegel writes about website design:

“If you’re doing it yourself, I suggest a one-page, endless-scroll website, the simpler the better.”

From an SEO-perspective, websites that use pagination (spreading content over a number of pages) do much better because Google Analytics and other sites measuring statistics count page clicks. Visitors to infinite scroll sites don’t click. Clicking lowers the bounce rate, and increases engagement.

MAKING SOME NOISE

When it comes to spreading the message, I agree with Celia: You have to remind people that you exist. If you want to stand out, it’s no enough to be outstanding. That’s where her book moves from branding to marketing. Siegel explores social media such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram. She lists the benefits of using stickers, branded E-cards, banners, newsletters, and networking. However, there’s no mention of blogs, podcasts, or videos. That’s a big omission in a time where YouTube has become the second largest search engine, and blogs such as this one are huge drivers of website traffic.

I also would have liked to see a few paragraphs devoted to brand protection. Your brand is your intellectual capital, and national and international trade mark registration should at least be discussed. At the same time it’s important that you don’t infringe on someone else’s intellectual property by using names, tag lines, or images that are already in use by existing brands. It could cost you dearly (more on that when you click here).

Last but not least, instead of empty Branding Journal pages, I would have loved a list of recommended resources such as graphic designers, website developers, copywriters, copy editors, SEO-specialists, illustrators, social media experts, and other people who can help you tell your story, and spread your message.

SUMMING UP

Voiceover Achiever covers a vital aspect of our business that, until now, has not been written about in much detail. As such it is a welcome and wonderful addition to the growing list of books about the voice-over industry (click here for a list of other books). Better still, anyone running a freelance business can benefit from Celia’s experience and expertise. However, please keep the following in mind:

No amount of clever branding can cover up a bad product or poor service. It may take years to build a reputation, and it can be destroyed in a matter of minutes.

Before you buy this book (and I really hope you do), ask yourself:

Am I an active or a passive reader?

Here’s the bottom line:

This is not a must-read book.

It’s a must-DO book.

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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Entitled Wannabees Need Not Reply

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Book, Career, Freelancing, Personal 38 Comments

man with microphoneOkay, this is for the last freakin’ time, so pay attention.

No. I will not introduce you to my agents.

I refuse to evaluate your kitchen table demo, and critique your dime-a-dozen website.

You don’t get access to my network of contacts which took me years to build.

You cannot pick my brain over a cup of coffee. Who do you think you are? A zombie?

In fact, I don’t even know you, and it is clear that you don’t know me.

Why didn’t you do your homework before you assumed that I would gladly share my thirty-plus years of experience with you? Is that how you intend to operate your business? Taking advantage of people left and right?

In case you’re wondering: I will never send you any work. My voice is for rent. I do not hire anyone, and I won’t put in a good word for you either.

Let me ask you this.

Would you recommend someone you know nothing about; a rude, obnoxious person who thinks it just takes a few free tips to be able to do what I do?

It shows such ignorance and disrespect. I don’t even know where to begin. But here is where it ends. I have better things to do with my time.

There’s a reason why I am busy. I have scripts to narrate. Edits to make. Invoices to send. I need to feed the social media monster, and prepare a presentation.

I also have students to coach who actually pay me for my time and expertise. Imagine that!

Whatever happened to helping a beginner out, you ask. Why am I being so defensive and greedy?

I’ll tell you why.

I’m not defensive. I am protective. I’m protective of the brand that took me years to build, and the knowledge I have accumulated along the way. I value what I have to offer, and so do my clients. Does that make me a selfish money grabber?

Here’s some news for you: I run a for-profit business.

There’s a mortgage to pay, a house to heat, and I drive a thirsty car that loves a full tank. I just ordered new business cards, my computer is on its last legs, and I must make sure there’s enough money in the bank to survive the inevitable dry spells.

I ask you: Who’s going to take care of that? The cheapskates at VoiceBunny, Fiverr, and Upwork, or the scoundrels at Voices dot con?

No way José. They don’t care whether I turn a profit or not. They just care about their bottom line.

You seem puzzled. Why?

Because you’re clueless! You don’t know what it takes, and you don’t have what it takes to run your own business. You may not like your current nine-to-five job, but let’s face it. If your supervisor wouldn’t tell you what to do and when to do it, would you get anything done? And I don’t mean the fun stuff. We all like doing the fun stuff.

Would you, of your own free will, get out of bed and work a twelve-hour day? Would you like to be solely responsible for all advertising, marketing, sales, client acquisition, distribution, accounting, quality control, and customer service, while you create all the products for your company?

You may say that’s unrealistic, but guess what? This is what many freelancers do. Every day. Without any job security, paid sick leave, company-sponsored health insurance, pension plan, or other benefits.

Do you still think that doing voice-overs is about raking in the big bucks by talking into a microphone? Yeah, right. And every idiot with a camera can pretend to be professional photographer. I should buy you a baton, and you could start conducting a symphony orchestra (after you’ve picked someone’s brain over coffee, of course).

Take it from me: if doing voice-overs were that easy, everyone would be famous making a fortune from home because they have such a glorious voice…

Let’s experiment, shall we?

Try reading and recording this blog as if the words just entered your mind. Make it conversational without slurring the lines, without popping your p’s, or taking loud breaths. Give it some energy and character but don’t sound disingenuous. Say it as if you mean it, without overdoing it. In other words: don’t sound like someone pretending to be a voice actor.

Do you even have the space and the equipment to do that?

Can you put down a take without making one mistake? Can you do this faster, slower, higher, lower, warmer, cooler, seductive, instructive, informal, judgmental, frustrated, deflated, sedated, or elated?

I thought so. You’re not even close. And yet, you want me to help you break into a highly competitive business in exchange for a cup of Joe? I feel offended!

Listen, if you want to read up about voice-overs, I’ve written over three hundred articles you can access for free on my website. Buy my book. Do your homework. Take some training. Join an improv group. Build a studio. Read out loud every single day.

Show me that you’re serious.

Once you’ve done all that and you still want to pursue a career in voice-overs, drop me a line.

I might even buy you a double espresso.

You’re gonna need it!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Surviving the Gig Economy

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing 9 Comments

spinning platesIn about ten years, contract workers and freelancers are expected to make up half of the U.S. workforce.

Let that sink in for a moment.

Forget full-time positions. Goodbye job security and legal protection. No more benefits. No pensions or health insurance. No sick leave. Nothing.

Working without a safety net is rapidly becoming the new normal. 

Not everyone is cut out for it. It takes a special type of personality to run one’s own business, because the best equipment is useless without you having the right mindset.

Today I’d like to share a number of attributes I believe to be the trademark of any successful solopreneur. If you want to make it on your own, you have to be…

CREATIVE

I don’t necessarily mean “artistic” when I say “creative.” I’m thinking more in terms of the ability to create opportunities. Being your own boss means coming up with a concept for your business, and turning that idea into reality. No one will tell you what to do or how to do it. As the Chief Creative Officer, you have to take responsibility for every part of the process. It’s a daunting, never-ending task, and the outcome is by no means guaranteed. That’s why successful solopreneurs have to be…

OPTIMISTIC

Go to any bank for a loan, tell them you’re self-employed, and wait for the reaction. I bet you’ll see some raised eyebrows. Freelancers are considered to be unstable which is often mistaken for being unreliable. If you don’t have a hopeful and positive outlook, you’re going to have a tough time dealing with rejection and uncertainty. Without optimism, it’s easy to give in to recession depression, and eventually hang up your hat. You’ve got to believe that your business has a future, and that clients will come. Even if other people don’t see potential, you have to have vision. You also have to be…

NURTURING

A business is like a flower bed. If you don’t give it the proper care and attention, it has no potential for growth. You cannot approach it as a hobby because it will bankrupt you. You’ve got to be “All in, all the time.” People who are transitioning from a corporate nine-to-five job are often not ready for that. Because a business can easily eat up all your time, it’s important that you nurture yourself too. You are the goose with the golden eggs. You can only take good care of business if you take good care of yourself. One way of doing that, is by being…

FLEXIBLE

The final measure of fitness is flexibility. It’s the ability to move muscles and joints through a whole range of motions. Psychologically speaking, the most flexible person will have the most choices and will be able to achieve more. Huge corporations find it almost impossible to change course. Flexible freelancers adapt, change, and can bend without breaking. They also have to keep on…

INVESTING

Your product will only be as good as the tools you use to make it. You are one of those tools. That’s why it is essential to keep on investing in yourself. Sign up for trainings. Participate in meetup groups. Read the latest literature. Invest in building a supportive social network. A successful solopreneur never stops investing. S/he is also…

DISCIPLINED

The freedom of owning your own business can easily become a trap. With no one to hold you accountable, it is very tempting to spend a lot of time doing the things you like whenever you want. Those who run a successful business often start the day by doing the things they don’t like but that need to be done anyway. They delegate things they’re not good at, and that take up too much time. Being disciplined also applies to the way you manage your money. Successful solopreneurs have a strong work ethic and they…

EXCEL

In a saturated market, one of the best strategies for success is to excel in what you do. Here’s the problem. So many people are trying to become better quickly, and they forget how long it takes to become good.

However, it is not enough to be good at what you do. You have to express yourself in ways in which you are heard. You’ve got to master marketing to reach customers and colleagues. They’ll be more open to your message if you have a clear…

NICHE

Find a specific area that defines you, but that does not limit you. Your niche is the raison d’être for your business (the reason your business exists). It’s the focus of your attention. If you’re not clear what your focus should be, you’re like a ship, drifting at sea. Clients will have a hard time differentiating what you have to offer from your competitors. You’ll have a hard time selling it to them (and to yourself). In essence, you need…

CONTROL

As a solopreneur, you control the course of your business. You control your professional standards, your services, your rates, the hours you’re willing to work, the flow of money, and the way you communicate. Are you ready for that responsibility? Not only that, is this something you’d embrace and enjoy?

All of this points to the last attribute I’d like to bring up. It’s having an…

ENTREPRENEUR MENTALITY

Some have described it as the “ability to see something in nothing.” It’s the urge to take matters into your own hands and to take calculated risks. It’s about being proactive, passionate, patient, and persistent. Entrepreneurs have to overcome obstacles, absorb losses, and gradually grow their business. If you don’t treat it like a true business, it will never be one.

And finally, all of these attributes will make very little difference if you lack one specific mental quality.

What is it?

Take the first letter of each attribute, and you’ll find out!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Act Like A Pro

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

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Bored Stiff

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Personal 10 Comments

The author behind his microphone

I’ve been behind the mic since I was seventeen. By the look of my grey hair, you can tell that’s a pretty long time. Thirty-seven years to be exact. 

“Does it ever get old” someone wanted to know. “This voice-over thing you do.”

“Well, ‘it’ doesn’t get old, but I certainly do,” I replied, not knowing that I had spoken too early.

An hour later I got this really boring script about ladders, and I changed my mind. It was poorly written, poorly translated, and I had no idea why they had selected poor old me to narrate it. Yes, it was money in the bank, but in reality I would rather go back to bed. 

Let me explain something to you. 

I have no particular fondness for ladders. Walking under them brings bad luck, and many of them wobble in a most disconcerting way. Ladders are ugly and dangerous. Just because they take you to the top, doesn’t mean they’re special. They’re just a few steps up from step stools. One of the reasons I became a freelancer is because I wasn’t good at climbing the corporate ladder. So, why out of all people, should I have to sing their praises? 

It’s for the same reason they talked me into voicing videos about agricultural insurance, miracle car wax, and motorcycle repair. It’s part of the unavoidable, unglamorous, unexciting work voice-overs do every day in dimly lit chatter boxes. 

I must admit: that part of the job does get old and boring. Especially if one has to edit, separate, and name hundreds of files per specific client instructions that make it impossible to do this semi-automatically. Of course the client conveniently “forgot” to mention it at the time of the booking.

Come to think of it: that gets old too. You know, clients trying to take advantage. The other day one of them sent me a message saying that I had “forgotten” to read one paragraph. Of course they would need it right away. The thing is, that mystery paragraph was never in the original script. It was a last-minute addition. 

Now, I know that some colleagues would forgive the client for this “mistake,” and record the five or six extra lines pro bono. In my book, however, more words means more money. It’s not that I am greedy. I just happen to run a for-profit business. With the Arctic temperatures we’re experiencing, someone’s got to pay the heating bill!

If you were to ask a contractor to paint your kitchen as a courtesy, right after she’s finished with the living room, do you think she’d do it? Would an Uber driver take you to the town next to your agreed destination, and not charge you for it? Of course not. Then why do some people expect they can get a voice-over to record a few extra lines at no charge? 

“Well, the other guy we hired did it.” 

“Then why didn’t you ask him to do it?”

“Because he sucked.”

It’s the same old story, and it makes me yawn every time I hear it. 

If you’re getting your feet wet as a VO, trust me. There are parts of this job that are “just work.” Work you may hate. For instance, you’ve signed up to narrate a 400-page audio book, and with every chapter you get this nagging feeling that it’s not getting better. In fact, it’s going nowhere. You start wondering how this piece of pulp ever got published. Then you find out this is a vanity project by someone who should have kept his job at the department of motor vehicles. 

Argh!

One of the most boring jobs you can get in this business involves speech synthesis. It’s the artificial production of human sounds by computers. The text-to-speech software “runs” on thousands of snippets of sounds (phonemes) recorded by voice-overs. Recording sessions can go on for months and are notoriously tedious (just ask Susan Bennett, the voice of Siri).

Once the engineers have what they need, they can use the program to simulate speech for apps, navigation systems, or virtual assistants such as Bixby and Alexa. Amazon now has a database of synthesized voices that is rented out to developers in need of voices for their applications. 

Here’s the kicker. As a voice-over you only get paid once for the database you helped create. That’s it. A colleague of mine heard his voice in at least twenty applications varying from computer games to language courses that were created artificially, and he’ll never see a penny. 

Since he recorded his phonemes, technology has moved even further. 

Did you know that Adobe’s Voco (the Photoshop of speech) only needs about twenty minutes of recorded target speech to generate a sound-alike voice, producing sound patterns that were not even recorded?

Watch this (and try not to be bored):

Perhaps they should have Voco read that terrible self-published novel I mentioned earlier!

Anyway, thanks to modern technology, the most boring parts of voice-over jobs might be behind us. If we can get machines to say anything we want them to say, why use humans? Computers can work without a break, and don’t require a SAG-AFTRA contract. 

In a strange way, that’s music to my ears. 

I might lose a few dollars, but very soon people like me won’t have to talk about ladders anymore.

How exciting is that?!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS If you’d like to hear an audio version of this story, be my guest:


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