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ETHICS IN VOICE OVER - PART 1
Ethics In The Voice Over Industry:
As We Grow, So Do The Problems ...
March 29, 2017

The VO Atlanta 2017 conference featured a panel on ethics in the voice over industry - a very timely topic for today's world. Panelist Paul Strikwerda recently followed up with more thoughts on this in a blog, and with his permission, we excerpt major points in a two-part series covering ethics in job decisions, pricing, coaches, demo producers, agents and online casting. Today, Part 1 ...


By Paul Strikwerda

Voice Actor

There is no doubt about it: The fifth edition of the recent VO Atlanta conference was spec-ta-cu-lar! .... I had the good fortune of sharing the stage with Bev Standing, Dave Courvoisier, Cliff Zellman, Rob Sciglimpaglia and moderator J. Michael Collins for a panel discussion on Voice-Overs and Ethics.

Because so many of you weren’t able to be there, and the topic is so important, I want to recap some of my thoughts on the issue. Let’s begin with my take on ethics.

MORALS, MONEY, and ME

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 ....

Even though the ethics panel largely focused on rates and business practices, ethics goes further than fees and codes of conduct.

In my case, personal ethics impact pretty much every business decision I make. My moral compass makes me ask questions such as:
  • Do I really want to work with this client?
  • Is this a product or service, political party, or philosophy I want to be associated with?
  • Is my business all about money, or can and should it be an instrument for social change?
IMPACT OF PRICING

During the panel discussion, moderator J. Michael Collins asked a number of thought-provoking questions, and here’s number one:
Do talent have an obligation to consider the impact of their pricing on the greater industry?
No one lives on an island. Whether we realize it or not, we’re all connected.

Perhaps I see it that way because I come from a very small country. In the Netherlands, the Dutch can’t easily escape the consequences of their actions. The behavior of one company or one person even, can affect society as a whole. 

In the labor market, voice overs belong to a rapidly growing group of independent contractors. I’ve always thought that this label was wrong. I prefer to call us interdependent contractors.

We’re all linked by common causes, and individual actions influence those causes.

What do I mean?

For one, all of us are training clients how to treat us. Every time we quote a job, we’re giving out a signal to the industry:
"This is what a job is worth. This is what I’m worth.”
If we’re telling clients they can get more for less, we’ve just helped set a standard, and made our job a bit cheaper.

Of course, you may not see it that way, because it’s part of human nature to downplay the impact individuals have on their environment. Millions of individual shoppers, for instance, neglect the fact that their plastic bags are responsible for the killing of marine life on a scale that’s unimaginable. But  -as a wise man once said - if you believe that individuals have no influence on the system as a whole, you’ve never spent the night with a flea in your bed.

AVOID POOR-PAYING CLIENTS?


Here’s Michael’s next question:
Do talent have a responsibility to avoid doing business with sites or companies who promote
As far as I’m concerned, there are many reasons to avoid working with certain companies. Perhaps they’re big polluters. Perhaps they use child labor. Perhaps they are run by a corrupt family.

You’ve got to do your homework to find out.

By working with those companies and sites, we keep them in business, thus enabling their practices.

Here’s the thing. I’m not going to tell you why and where you should draw the line. If you’re okay voicing a promotional video for a company that makes cluster bombs, that’s your choice. If you’re fine voicing a commercial for a fast food giant, go ahead - as long as you take some time to think about the ethical implications of what you’re doing.

In our line of work, a job is rarely "just” a job.

I will not lend my voice to video games that glorify gratuitous violence. As a vegetarian, I refuse to promote animal products, and as a non-smoker, I will never sing the praises of a tobacco product.

For that, I am willing to pay a price. Sometimes it is a hefty price, because throughout my career I’ve had to say "No” to quite a few projects that would have paid the bills for many months. My voice may be for hire, but my morals are not for sale.

So, do I think we have a responsibility to not do business with companies that rip us off? Absolutely!

We’re either part of the problem, or we’re part of the solution.

Tomorrow: Part 2 - Ethics in voice over coaching, demo producers, agents and online casting.
---------------
ABOUT PAUL
Paul Strikwerda is a 26-year veteran of the voice over industry whose Nethervoice service features German and Dutch voice overs, translation and evaluation services. Born in Holland, he has worked for Dutch national and international radio, the BBC and American Public Radio. Although 90% of his work is in English, Strikwerda also records in Dutch, German and French. Clients include Novartis, Johnson & Johnson, and the Discovery Channel. And he is author of the new book, Making MONEY In Your PJs: Freelancing for voice-overs and other solopreneurs, and publishes an informative and entertaining blog, Double Dutch.

Web: www.nethervoice.com
Double Dutch Blog: www.nethervoice.com/nethervoice

Making MONEY In Your PJs: http://makingmoneyinyourpjs.com

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Comments (5)
Leslie Ligon
4/3/2017 at 11:00 AM
I truly enjoy talking about ethics in many arenas. There are various ways ethics touch on the VO industry, and these issues most closely related to performers and those who hire them, are only the first ring. Other components of our industry - any industry - call for more scrutiny than is currently going on.

I'd like there to be conversation about the possibility of a politically safe way of reporting concerns within the very small circles of people with whom we have contact, and/or, work.
Paul Strikwerda
3/31/2017 at 4:54 PM
Thank you for recommending VoiceOverXtra to your students, Jim, and thanks to John Florian for allowing me to reach more readers through his platform. That way we'll all stay connected!
Paul Strikwerda
3/31/2017 at 4:52 PM
Jenny, as a former journalist I'm used to checking my sources. In the age of the internet, it's never been easier to do a background check. One of the first things I'll do is a Google search by clicking the "News" tab, then "Tools. Next I select "Recent," and "Past year" for the latest info.
Jenny Stanley
3/30/2017 at 9:36 AM
Thank you for this information! So much of it reflects my own set of values. While some reasons may be obvious, as to why one may not want to have a specific client, how does one figure out if a client IS supplying money for bombs or some other nefarious behavior? I'm looking forward to part 2 and further learning!
jennystanley.icanvoice.com
Jim Conlan
3/29/2017 at 10:50 AM
One of the reasons I recommend Voice Over Xtra to my students is the thoughtful comments of Paul Strikwerda. Once again you rise above the chatter and address the bigger picture: we are all interconnected. Whatever one person does ultimately affects every person. That's certainly true when it comes to pricing. We're all aware of the downward push on voice-over pricing. It's up to us to continue to claim, as Paul does, "This is what a job is worth. This is what I'm worth." If you have little regard for your worth, at least consider those of us who feel that we're worth what we charge.
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