Back in the Netherlands (where I was born), the fathers of my two best friends both worked in the same chemical plant.
I was eight or nine years old, so I wasn’t sure what the plant was producing. We did notice nasty clouds of yellow smoke coming from the chimney day and night. The stream behind the main building was smelly and bereft of life. My parents always warned me not to play there.
Then, a local journalist, suspicious of what was going on, went undercover for a year, and with the help of an environmental group, he discovered that this plant was dumping dangerous chemicals left and right to save money. That money, by the way, went straight into the coffers of the two brothers who owned the plant.
The news of the pollution shocked and surprised the community, but it turned out that many employees knew all along what was going on. They said management had told them the dumping was necessary to keep the plant competitive, and that mother nature could handle it.
How did the fathers of my friends respond? Very differently! One said that what this plant was doing was despicable, and he could no longer work for a factory that poisoned the environment for the sake of profit. So, he quit.
The other wasn’t happy about the pollution either, but said he needed to make a living. His family depended on his job, and he couldn’t afford to give it up. “Don’t make me feel guilty for staying,” he used to say to critics. “Do you want my family to starve? There’s no pride in poverty!”
While the father who quit went on to start his own business, the one who stayed died within a year. Doctors said his cancer was probably linked to the chemicals he had been dumping on a daily basis.
A UNIVERSAL EXPERIENCE
This story of choices and the consequences of those choices is by no means unique. All over the world, at any hour of the day, good people do great work in bad organizations. They know the organization is bad, and yet they stay. Why? Because it pays the bills, and they have no other job lined up.
You see, the father who left the chemical plant had a small side business going on in his spare time. He had developed a line of biodegradable cleaning agents, and with the help of an investor he was able to launch his own brand which eventually became a household name.
I was reminded of this saga after reading some of the responses to my last blog post entitled A Deal With The Devil, about voices dot com acquiring Voicebank. In it, I think I’m pretty clear:
It is time to choose sides.
Either, you’re part of the solution, or you’re part of the problem. As long as you keep investing in a company that does not have your best interest at heart, you keep that company in business. So, if you want voices dot com to stop poisoning the voice-over well while it is grabbing a larger share of the market, you have to act, and you have to act now. It’s in your own interest, and in the interest of your community. That is, if you feel part of that community.
Perhaps there’s the rub.
To me the word collegial means “relating to, or involving shared responsibility, as among a group of colleagues.” It means standing up for common interests, and having each other’s backs. It refers to a friendly spirit of cooperation. As far as I’m concerned, we have a common goal:
To deliver the best service, to increase our standards, and to ensure that we’re getting paid a fair and decent rate.
BROTHER AGAINST BROTHER
Clients love to have us fight among ourselves, especially about what we charge. They’re trying to drive a wedge between those who sell their talent for less, and those who refuse to devalue what we have to offer. It’s up to us to play that game or not.
No matter where we stand, all VO Pros are small business owners, and it’s a no-brainer that the higher our rates, the more we make. The more we make, the more we can share and grow. So, it’s in our best interest to do whatever we can as a group and as individuals to educate clients and newcomers, and charge a decent rate for decent work so you and I can make a good living.
People have asked me to explain what I mean by a “decent rate,” and “making a good living.” That’s a good question.
My definition of a making good living is going to sound rather technical. It’s to make enough money to cover a family’s needs, to achieve financial independence while maintaining housing and food security, and have enough resources for health care, child care, education, transportation, savings, taxes, charitable giving, vacations, investments, and provisions for retirement or home purchases that build wealth, and ensure long-term financial security. A decent rate is a rate that allows you to realize these goals.
Is that something you’re interested in?
MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS
You may believe it’s none of my business what you or other people charge, or to which Pay to Play you want to belong, but I believe it is everybody’s business, because we don’t operate in a vacuum. We’re all connected, whether we realize it or not. The movement of the markets is the result of many, many individual decisions.
Some readers thought it was incredibly rude of me to suggest that someone who’s okay with doing low-budget jobs, finds another line of work. Well, I think it is rude to resort to predatory pricing to undercut the competition by cheapening the value of our services. People who are willing to work for less than minimum wage or in some cases for free just to get exposure, should seriously consider another career before going broke trying to break into the business.
“But Paul, I can’t afford to leave voices dot com. I have to eat. My family has to eat.”
Well, I’ve been freelancing for most of my life, and I’ve discovered that it doesn’t have to be either/or: either we starve asking for a decent rate, or we eat while charging a rate that’s not so great. It’s a false dilemma. It’s also bad business as a freelancer to make yourself dependent on one or two sources of income. You’re supposed to be an independent contractor!
Every time someone gets hired for a reasonable rate, they prove that clients are willing to pay good money for good work. It’s a matter of identifying one’s strengths, and targeting clients looking for someone with those strengths. If you’re not doing so well financially speaking, you might be looking and booking in the wrong places. But if you’re good at what you do, you compete on much more than price. You compete on added value!
Remember what I tell my clients?
My added value is always higher than my rate.
YOU DESERVE MORE
There’s no pride in settling for less than you deserve. If you feel you’re not getting paid what you’re worth, hire a coach to help you improve and grow your business. That’s where you should spend your money. Don’t spend it on a hefty membership fee that gives you the privilege of auditioning for low-paying jobs that may go out to hundreds if not thousands of other “privileged” members.
Now, let’s be honest. If you feel that voices dot com rates are as fair as their business practices, I want you to explain why it would be beneficial to a freelancer to leave money on the table, and why it’s okay to play a part in the overall decline of voice-over rates. Explain to me why it is fine for a non transparent company like voices dot com to turn voice actors into a commodity, and keep most of the money for managing a job (whatever that means), and handling your payment. I dare you!
The people who decided to stay with “Voices,” have told me they are aware of what’s going on, and they don’t necessarily approve. If that’s the case, I challenge you to get a spine, raise your voice, and contact the CEO, David Ciccarelli. Tell him exactly how you feel, and give him a chance to respond. Companies can change course under pressure, and Ciccarelli knows that without voices, there is no voices dot com. Let’s see if the company you still trust, is trustworthy, and open to feedback.
Here’s what I’m wondering, though: Do you have the guts to speak your mind, or will you continue to whine about people who you think are trying to make you feel guilty (thereby making them the problem, and not voices dot com)?
BACK TO HOLLAND
Meanwhile, the chemical plant in the Netherlands I was talking about denied the allegations, and tried to discredit the journalist who had exposed their practices. The government launched an independent investigation, and did indeed find that the chemical company had been poisoning the environment for years, putting an entire community at risk.
The company was ordered to pay a huge fine, clean up the polluted property, and change their production process. The brothers who owned the plant said they could not afford to do that, and when the government forced them to, they declared bankruptcy. Hundreds of people lost their jobs.
Rumor has it that the two brothers moved to Switzerland, where they live a life of luxury.
Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
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Greg James says
Hi Paul — deal me in…I’m with you. Ironically, I just wrote about this last night on my own FB biz page: https://www.facebook.com/notes/greg-james-professional-voiceovers/scumbags-dot-com/1402069123240516/
Pardon the title of my piece, but I come from a tradition of plain-spoken folks who call “B.S.” on people when it’s necessary.
Paul Strikwerda says
Hi Greg, I just shared your strongly worded story on the Nethervoice Facebook page. You call a spade a spade, and rightly so. Our blood is boiling, and we’re not going to take this anymore. Keep up the pressure on VDC!
Jason Lechak says
Well, I have nothing positive to say about that company, even though I have not misplaced my hard earned money in their coffers. That’s about as polite as I can put it. I have been building my business from the ground up, talking/networking with people in person and online, for starters. I have no use for that company in my marketing packages, and will always have something better to do than to interact with that company. Even shoveling horse manure is more productive than dealing with that company. Ok; have a fabulous weekend Paul!
Paul Strikwerda says
Duly noted, Jason. I share your sentiment, but that should come as no surprise!
Kent Ingram says
I’ve been out of the loop for awhile, Paul, but blogs like this one put me right back in the middle of it! Thanks! I quit all of those P2P’s about 2 years ago. They did me no favors, that’s for sure. I’m seeing more of an organized, almost union-like movement happening with VO talent, which may be long-overdue. When I’m able to get back to it, I’m encouraged that the environment will be much better than the one I started in.
Paul Strikwerda says
That must have been a rude awakening, Kent. It is true that negative news and threatening developments seem to galvanize people. In that respect, voices dot com has done our community a great service. Now we have to reach other people like you who have been out of the loop, or were never in it. That’s why I am extremely grateful for all the times my stories have been shared and talked about. John Florian of VoiceOverXtra has just published his third installment of responses to the VDC acquisition of Voicebank, and Nethervoice is in it with a quote. Lets keep up the pressure on VDC, and come together as a community to demand decent rates, as well as transparent business practices!
Dave Wallace says
It’s interesting that you describe this as a “union-like movement,” Kent, because that’s one of several reasons I joined the union a few years ago. I noticed that, even among my non-union colleagues, there was a lot of “union-esque” talk. Things like talking about the need to stand up for fair rates, not harming your fellow performers by undercutting them, sending a message to low-balling clients that we won’t work for certain sub-par rates, adjusting our rates by asking specific questions about a project’s usage, outlining terms of the recording in contracts…it’s certainly not the only reason I joined (the biggest one was simply that I was LA-bound and wanted to do work that was union), but one of the other significant reasons for my joining was that I thought to myself, “Well, there seems to be a lot of collective, union-style thinking on the non-union side anyway, so I might as well join the actual union.”
I do hope that these recent developments will help make it more clear to people why some in the acting community believe in the necessity of a union for actors. I’ve seen a number of people say, “Actors don’t need a union anymore, labor unions are the product of bygone era.” It’s around this time that I mention that some of the things going on in our industry today–like the VDC situation–are the exact kinds of things that prompted the creation of unions in the first place. I would actually argue that us actors need a union now more than we have in the past several decades.
Now, don’t get me wrong, this is not an endorsement of how the union has handled these issues. Quite the contrary, they’ve been embarrassingly out-of-touch on an alarming number of occasions (enough for many to have either gone non-union or fi-core). Certainly this is true on the VO front, but after getting out here to LA, I’ve discovered it to even be true a little bit on the on-camera front. I won’t lie, it can be pretty discouraging at times. When somebody says that they’re non-union or fi-core, my response is never, “*Why* would you want to do that?” I can think of *plenty* of perfectly understandable reasons why that I completely sympathize with, not the least of which is how uniformed the union’s leadership is about what the modern VO industry has become. A union isn’t exactly effective if its management doesn’t fairly represent the members.
However, I believe it’s an important distinction to make between the union and the union’s leadership. For all of the union’s woes, I would never say that the union itself should be done away with. The union–at least when it’s doing its job–is an advocate for actors, which people like VDC are attempting to mercilessly wipe out. So rather than doing away with the union, I would simply say that the current leadership of the union needs to be replaced by people who have their fingers on the pulse of this industry…which I believe is eventually what will happen, but I’m also of the belief that things are going to get worse before they get better.
In any event, I could go on for days about what I wish the union would do differently and the specific steps I’d love to see them take. My point is, while union membership isn’t the best solution for everyone, in the years since I’ve been doing VO (I started in ’09), I’ve noticed voice actors talk of “banding together” more and more, regardless of where they stand on the union. So, regardless of whether the union gets its act together or not, I am at least glad to see that there is a growing consciousness about the need for voice actors to approach these issues as a united community. Like Paul said, without voices, there is no “Voices.com,” and it’s nice to see more and more actors realizing this.
Kent Ingram says
History has proven that such collaborations put an end to abuses by the hiring entities. As I said, I sense the VO world changing for the better.