Thursday, February 23, 2017

VO Atlanta 2017 Panelist Profiles: Paul Strikwerda

Today I interview Paul Strikwerda, voice actor, respected blogger, and a frequent commentator on issues of ethics in our industry. Paul will be appearing on my Ethics in Voiceover panel at VO Atlanta 2017.


Tell us about how voiceover became a career for you.


When I was seventeen, one of the public networks in the Netherlands picked me to produce and present radio and television programs by and for teenagers. A week after I got hired, I recorded a promo for my show. It was my very first voice-over. Fast forward thirty six-years, and I’m still in studios talking to invisible people as a disembodied voice. It’s weird, but very rewarding!


You are very well known as a blogger and thought leader in the industry. What inspired you to take on this role?


Writing has always been something I very much enjoy. When I came to the United States at the end of 1999, I needed an affordable and effective way to introduce myself to clients and colleagues. Blogging seemed to be the best way to boost my business. With close to 38,000 subscribers, I have a feeling that it’s working!

By the way, I never set out to become a thought leader. I did notice that as a European I bring a different perspective to the table. Every week I try my best to be informative and entertaining, and sometimes I push the envelope a little bit. Why? I think it’s the job of a voice-over to be outspoken.

I care a great deal about my community. My blog is also a way for me to give back, by helping people become more professional, and more empowered as a person, and as a freelancer.


Tell us about one job you are particularly proud of.


A few months ago, I recorded a romantic mini movie called “The Tale of Kat and Dog,” (https://youtu.be/VVhFOOl0ovo) for the Holland Marketing Alliance. In it, I voice an adorable little dog, taking an American girl on an unexpected tour of Amsterdam. Even though I‘m now a U.S. citizen, I’m really proud to promote the country that means so much to me in such a fun, lighthearted way. In my next life, I want to come back as that dog!


What one piece of advice would you offer anyone starting out in voiceover?


Funny you should ask. I just blogged about it last week. My advice has to do with carving out a niche. I always tell my readers and my students:

Find something that defines you, but that does not limit you.

In other words; you want to box yourself in to emphasize what sets you apart, but you want that box to be big enough to attract a wide audience. If you try to be everything to everyone, you end up being nothing to no one.


You are a panelist of the Ethics in Voiceover panel at VO Atlanta. What does Ethics in Voiceover mean to you?


In short, ethics are moral principles that shape our lives; beliefs about what’s right and what’s wrong. These beliefs guide our decisions, and help us make choices based on what we think is important and good for us, and for society.

In the context of voice-overs, a common ethical dilemma is the choice between money and morals.

For instance, would you record a political campaign ad for a candidate whose ideas you do not share, just because it pays well? Would you voice a pro-life video, even if you’re pro-choice?

Would you align yourself with a company that rips voice-overs off by asking you to do more and more for less and less? Is it ethical to undercut the competition by working for a bargain basement rate?

These are important questions that are rarely discussed, and I can’t wait to weigh in on these issues in Atlanta!

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

VO Atlanta 2017 Panelist Profiles: Bev Standing

In this second installment of my panelist profiles series, I talk to Bev Standing, prolific talent and advocate for industry standards.


Tell us how you got into voiceover.


I started out by taking a weekend voiceover workshop at VoiceWorx in Toronto. I took the course to simply keep busy at a very sad time in my life. From there, a few of us in the class decided we would look into Improv at Second City (Toronto) as recommended during the course. Five levels there led to taking acting classes and more VO workshops. Through the people I had met, I received a phone call asking me to audition for a radio imaging spot. I immediately went to a store and purchased equipment to create a home (closet) studio and the path was laid.


Your career has grown very quickly. What worked for you in growing your business?


A number of things that I've done seemed to have been successful, such as constant training and networking. The P2P sites I have done well on, but I have to say more importantly, my dedication to the craft and work ethic. I would work my full time job and then spend 3-4 hours every week night (and usually Sunday afternoons) auditioning and reading articles. Now that I am a full time voice talent, I still spend hours every week learning from my peers, blogs and other webinars etc. I have established a large client base and I do my best to stay in touch every so often, just checking in so to speak.


What advice would you give to someone just starting out in voiceover?


Research, research, research. Make sure you know who you are training with. Don't hesitate to get testimonials other than on the coach's site. Same with demo production. Look on the internet to learn about the equipment needed. When you're starting out you don't need a $1000 mic but in the same breath you do need a quality mic, among other items. So, home school yourself.  Google and YouTube provide tons of information. Listen to what everyone says, and then find what works for you. Research the P2P (pay-to-play) sites that are out there and understand their terms before signing up. If you do decide to use the P2P sites, make time to do the auditions. That's a great opportunity to practice all kinds of different reads, characters etc. It doesn't mean you have to submit the audition if you don't like it. It also allows you to get an idea of what your niche is. Most importantly, read aloud every day. The newspaper, a book, a magazine; anything.


Tell us about a job that has meant a lot to you.


Mostly recently I voiced for a small company that was nominated for a Voice Arts Award which was truly special, but honestly, the job that has meant the most to be was a TV commercial I voiced for Kraft. My Dad was an ad exec, and he had the Kraft account for years.  If he was alive today, he would have been thrilled. My childhood bear was the Kraft Crunchy bear that my Dad got for me. Yes I still have it.


You are a panelist on the Ethics in Voiceover panel at VO Atlanta. What does Ethics in Voiceover mean to you?


Honesty, to yourself and to others. 
Respect, to the industry and your peers
Quality not quantity
Knowledge - learn what you need to know

Add all these things together.

Monday, February 20, 2017

VO Atlanta 2017 Panelist Profiles: Cliff Zellman

As a preview of my upcoming series of panels at VO Atlanta 2017, I will be profiling
each panelist in the coming days, getting to know who they are and what they bring
to the table as leaders in our industry. We begin with Cliff Zellman, king of Automotive
VO, and a legendary demo producer.  

JMC: You have built a niche for yourself in the Automotive voiceover space. How did
that come about, and what makes Automotive different than other genres of voiceover?

CLIFF: I started off as a rock & roll / R&B audio engineer in L.A. After 20 years of 18 hour 
days, (and a new baby girl,) it was time to shift lifestyles.  I was offered a position in
Dallas with a young and aggressive ad agency specializing in Automotive. Wow! 
loved it. 

I love the idea of working on multiple projects a day, rather than 10 hours on the
perfect snare drum reverb. I love cars, I love directing VO’s talking about cars, and
I love the incredible technology I use everyday. After 21 years and over 20,000 
broadcast TV & Radio spots, I STILL love it! It’s like the best of video games. Maybe 
I’ll create one called Auto Sales Hero!

Retail automotive brings a different twist to the “typical" retail read, (if that even exists.) 
Success in VO for Automotive requires understanding the 14 essential points of an 
automotive script, what they mean and how to deliver them. Wanna know more about 
it? Drop me a line.

JMC: What advice would you have for talent just getting started?

CLIFF: First and foremost, learn your craft. Take acting & improv classes. 
Take music lessons, (piano for 6 months,) and don’t jump in too quick. That is a 
surefire way to fail. Learn audio! It can be done. Start slowly and read, read, read. 
Get a Sweetwater catalog and start to familiarize yourself with the tools of the 
industry. Seek out the best VO coaches and strategists. Learn where the VO events
are happening and consider attending. Think about what genre you’d like to specialize
in, (or at least start out,) and focus on that. Don’t ask silly questions on social media
when the answers can easily be found through Google. Be sure you are fully prepared
before accepting ANY jobs.

JMC: You are one of the leaders of the Team Challenge at VO Atlanta. What's that all 

CLIFF: Up to 9 teams, each creating a :60 radio spot for a client to be announced. All 
members must participate. Only music and effects from a supplied production library 
will be allowed. BIG prizes and MAJOR bragging rights, plus a whole lot of fun, 
new relationships built and an experience never forgotten! Every team is a winner, 
for sure.

JMC: One of your many hats is as a highly regarded demo producer. What goes into a 
great demo, and how does your process differ from other producers?

CLIFF: What makes a great demo? I’ll go into that more during our panel session, but 
my process is quite different than most. Each session, we record a full spot, (up to 8 
sessions.) Within each recording session there is direction, coaching, audio tips, funny 
stories etc. No time limit per session. I pull the ‘golden’ from each full spot to create 
the segments for the demo. We have a lot to chose from! I write scripts throughout the process as I better learn the artists strengths. Music and effects are carefully chosen and edited to best highlight the copy & overall performance. All sessions are performed at the talent’s home studio as we connect via ipDTL or SourceConnect. I also record on my end for safety. This insures the talent can deliver the same audio quality as in their demo. If the talent’s studio isn’t up to par, we work on that before beginning production. My demo process can take up to a month and a half! Oh my!  It’s ZERO pressure and totally fun! The talent is 100% involved. I also give you the full spots! It’s ALIVE!

JMC: You are a panelist on the Ethics in Voiceover panel at VO Atlanta. What does 
Ethics in Voiceover mean to you?


Again more on that during our panel, but in a nutshell,

1) Honesty.
2) A true understanding of your strengths and weaknesses.
3) Reproducibility.
4) Accountability.
5) A transparent business plan.
6) Candor.
7) Under promise and over deliver.
8) Being a point of inspiration.
9) Union compliance (If applicable).

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Good Faith

It's one of my bedrock principles to never speak out on a subject from a perspective of sanctimony or self-righteousness. No one's hands are entirely clean where the often dueling forces of profit and integrity intersect. All of our houses have corners where there is more glass than concrete, and in an exchange of stones no one would emerge unscathed.

Recently, however, it seems as though the numbers of wholly unqualified aspiring talent being sold expensive services designed to play upon their dreams and prey upon their wallets is reaching an all time high. Within the voiceover community, discussions of exploitative coaching practices, demo-mills churning out hundreds of cookie-cutter reels guaranteed to be dead on arrival, and middlemen looking to monetize every step of the casting process are proliferating as never before. Far more often than in the past I find myself replying to a request to listen to a demo or evaluate a series of auditions with words that, however diplomatically constructed, are likely to shatter a dream.

This March, at VO Atlanta, I will have the privilege of hosting and moderating the final featured panel discussion of the conference, which will be an exploration of Ethics in Voiceover, and what responsibilities talent, coaches, demo producers, and those who earn their living through casting have to one another. The assembled panelists are some of the brightest lights of integrity and honorable conduct in our industry, and I am looking forward to a deep and thoughtful discussion.

Between then and now, I would like to offer a simple thought on what message should be shared with anyone looking to get started in voiceover: Seek out good faith.

What do I mean by that?

Every individual or organization offering coaching, demo production, or casting services to talent for a fee has made a mistake somewhere along the way. We've all taken on someone we shouldn't have, as a result of being in a hurry, a mis-evaluation of talent, or a failure to do due-diligence. Casting sites sometimes permit jobs to cross their platforms that they shouldn't, with marginal budgets for major work that devalues our craft. In most cases, however, these are the exception to a rule of working both in the interest of profit and in the interest of seeing the person paying for whatever service is offered achieve a return on their investment. Most of us are acting in good faith, even if we don't get it right 100% of the time.

If you are considering investing in becoming a voice actor, or you are advising someone who is, I implore you to engage in a diligent evaluation of the motives of those with whom you do business. Do research....the internet never forgets. The people or companies you will ultimately invest your money with are certainly trying to make a profit from you. We all are. That is the nature of business. Ask yourself, however, whether that is their only motive. Does your coach, demo producer, or training organization have an easily-verifiable list of positive references who can demonstrate success after their training? Can they refer you to people they have refused to work with based on a low likelihood they would see a return on their investment? Does the casting site you are about to join think about the good of the greater industry, and how they can help you compete? Or do they undermine the talent they claim to serve, offering them up as scab labor when fellow talent are striking for better working conditions, and seeing talent and buyers alike only as profit centers?

Think long and hard about these questions before parting with your money, my friends. If you don't, it's likely you will never see those funds again.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

What Are You Doing to Move Your Business Forward Today?

Life is busy. Between having or building a career in voiceover, caring for family, spending time with friends, and general household responsibilities, it's easy to let little tasks or ideas that might help you grow your business slip onto a never ending to-do list, or disappear from sight and mind altogether.

The daily grind as a VO is challenging enough. Audition, audition, audition....market, market, market....and, if you're lucky, bookings, bookings, bookings. Add administrative and accounting tasks to that mix, and it's hard to think about the small things that might help you add revenue.

Lately, I've started keeping an organized list of the stray ideas or side projects I'm working on in order to make sure they don't get lost for eternity. Moreover, I've committed to doing at least one of them each day after my initial morning sweep of emails, client work, and auditions. It's helped me have a more productive start to my year.

What's on my list this week? Building an IMDB Pro page, (I've been incredibly remiss in never paying IMDB any attention, and I hardly have a footprint,) updating my master client contact list with new clients from December and January, working on my upcoming book, (which is almost done!,) creating a niche demo for Christmas-themed radio imaging, and looking at using additional Twitter screen names to drive client traffic. All this in addition to a sustained campaign targeting small and regional market agents for new representation in parts of the country where I'm not currently represented.

Most days, I'll spend about thirty minutes on whatever task I've chosen. Progress isn't always instant, but it is steady and the tasks ultimately get done. When they do, I have the satisfaction of having added one more small piece to the grand puzzle that sustains a thriving business.

So, what's on your list this week?

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Joy of Coaching, December Edition

The holiday season brings so many reasons to be grateful. As my family and I prepare to celebrate Christmas this year, I'd like to take a look at some of the incredibly talented folks I have had the chance to work with as a voiceover coach and demo producer over the past few months.

ELLIOTT LOWE  www.lowevoice.com

Elliott has one of those voices with the power to actually blow your hair back a little, (which would have been an issue if I had any hair to speak of.) Equal parts Don LaFontaine, Sam Elliot, and Tim Allen, Elliott combines classic rumble with the ability to find conversational tones that paint pictures in the mind. Whether you are looking for a promo to get your heart racing, or a calm, believable voice to tell your audience about your newest investment options, you can't go wrong with Elliott Lowe!

JIM ELLIS www.jimellis.us/voice-over.html

Jim is the consummate guy next door. With a voice age that defies definition, moving easily from late twenties to late forties, Jim has that neighborly presence that casting directors are going gaga over these days. His insightful ability to interpret a script, coupled with tones of credibility and authenticity, make him a perfect solution to the question: "Where do we find someone who just sounds real?"

KRYSTA WALLRAUCH krysta@krystawallrauch.com

Krysta is the definition of the word dynamic. From excitable girl next door, to supermom, to a voice of competence for your e-learning project, Krysta has a smooth but natural sound combined with genuine talent. From day one, Krysta made every script come to life, instinctively knowing where to add emphasis and where to back off. Already consistently working as a professional voice actor, Krysta has just scratched the surface of what will surely be a long and successful career. Hire her now!

ANGEL BURCH www.femalevoicetalent.net

I've really been blessed this year to work with so many naturally gifted talents, and Angel is one of the shining stars of the group. A true actor's actor, she jumps in and out of a myriad of characters in ways that will delight any listener. Highly proficient at classic and polished deliveries, Angel bursts to life even more when she gets to step outside of the corporate and predictable, and become someone else entirely. If you are looking for a finished product that will WOW any of your clients, and a fun time to boot, give Angel a call!

MELANIE GRANFORS voice123.com/melaniegranfors

Melanie is the talent you call when you want it done right the first time. Few coaching clients have ever been one-take-wonders as much as Melanie was during our time working together. Her strong and classic voice can cut right through any mix, taking you from the runways of Paris to the local coffee shop, to a house full of crazy kids, and beyond. An ideal choice for business narration or e-learning, Melanie also has the quintessential TV Narration delivery, bringing a national market presence to anything she touches. If you are looking for a true pro, Melanie is your voice!

ANTHONY POWELL www.anthonypowellinc.com

A former college athlete, vigor and authority define Anthony's sound, with a healthy dollop of competence and authenticity thrown in for good measure. A perfect fit for industrial narration, e-learning, and anything that requires a voice of strength, Anthony also slides comfortably into more casual reads, getting into character and becoming the friendly dad next door. Looking for a voice when your project means business? Anthony is your guy.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Customer Service as Your Career Grows

If you've ever read through my articles, or listened to one of my webinars, you know that I'm a devout proponent of a "The Customer is Always Right" attitude. I have always believed that success is in large part a direct result of the way you treat your clients, making them want to return over and over again.

As boilerplate advice, this should be an ironclad principle; but what happens when business picks up so much that you find less and less time to offer your clients the personal touch? How do you avoid becoming a victim of your own success, and creating a negative cycle that harms growth right as things seem to be coming together?

This is a challenging question, and a problem most of us would be happy to have. That said, it's a very real issue for talent with careers that are mature or maturing.

Your most valuable asset is your time. Keeping this in mind is the foremost element in finding a happy medium between customer service and opportunity cost. If you are booking regularly, the single most valuable use of your time is likely auditioning for new work or marketing to new clients. These are the activities that generate new revenue, and create the potential for establishing new long-term clients to power the growth of your business. Therefore, time spent servicing existing clients, though important to keeping them happy, is creating opportunity cost by taking you away from activity that has the potential to generate additional sales.

What this means is that you need to establish a minimum figure to define the value of your time. If your metrics tell you that one hour of auditioning or marketing is likely to lead to at least $300 in work, you would be ill-served to devote an hour of your time to servicing a client who is paying less than that. As such, there comes a point where you need to re-evaluate your rates, and even terminate client relationships that are potentially costing you money. A bird in the hand is certainly worth two in the bush, but if you have an established pattern of results that can be statistically demonstrated to yield X amount of revenue for Y amount of time investment, selling your time for less than that ratio is selling yourself short.

There is a false perception in our industry that buyers are exclusively cost-driven these days. While many are, just as many value quality over saving a few dollars, and are very likely to consider a reasonable rate adjustment to maintain access to a talent with whom they have an existing and positive relationship. Don't be afraid to tell your clients that due to increased demand you have to implement a price hike commensurate with how the marketplace is now valuing your time. Will you lose some clients as a result? You bet. However, the 75% who are willing to honor the value of your time will make up for that lost revenue, freeing you to spend more time generating new work at your new rates.

Your revision policies deserve some attention in this respect as well. Early in my career, I was happy to offer copious script changes and round after round of performance revisions to clients, often at little or no charge. I was thrilled to have the work, and when you only have a few gigs a week....or a month.....your time doesn't seem so valuable. Today, I'm sure to spell out clear revision policies for my clients. Live-directed sessions are considered final sale, and sessions over 60 minutes will incur an additional session fee. For jobs completed offline, I'm happy to offer reasonable performance revisions as long as they don't include wholesale direction changes.....it is our duty to get the job done right, after all. My price will also include one round of minor script revisions for non-broadcast work, or broadcast work that has not yet aired, (if it's already on the air and the script is revised, that's a new spot.) Clients deserve service and reasonable flexibility. That said, minor means minor. For a commercial, that's a line or two. For an industrial, perhaps a paragraph. For a training module, maybe a page. Anything beyond that, or any additional script changes, are billable, because they take me away from activities that will grow my business, and quite literally cost me money by using my time.

Your clients deserve respect, cordiality, and professionalism at all times. They deserve attention to detail, diligent work, and a reasonably flexible attitude that accommodates the eventualities that everyone encounters in this business. You, however, deserve to be fairly compensated for the time you spend making their product shine.......after all, your time is valuable.