Yin and Yang of Voice Overs:
Coping With Contrary Forces
By Paul Strikwerda
Some psychologists say that the fact that we humans are able to hold two diametrically opposed ideas in our mind at the same time, is a true sign of intelligence.
Part of me wants to believe that this is indeed correct.
The other part thinks it’s utter hogwash. Does this theory imply that we have to develop a split personality in order to be perspicacious?
Well, I’m more than torn about that, too.
On one hand it seems kind of dim to define intelligence in such a limited way. On the other hand, aren’t most eternal truths simple and succinct in nature?
I recently celebrated the official launch of my company, Nethervoice, one year ago.
To mark the moment, I started to reflect on the dichotomies of freelance life. I make a living as a full-time voice over professional.
Day in day out, we’re dealing with seemingly contrary forces that are interconnected and interdependent, that - somehow - give rise to each other.
Taoists already know what I’m talking about: the ancient concept of Yin and Yang.
Here are examples of concepts that seem mutually exclusive or at least contradictory ...
1. SPECIALIZE or GENERALIZE?
Marketing gurus tell us that you can’t be a Jack of all trades.
Don’t do what everybody else does. Find your niche. Create, don’t imitate. Lead, don’t follow. Distinguish yourself.
Here’s the problem:
By narrowing your niche, you could be narrowing your market, and you run the risk of becoming a one-dimensional, one-trick pony.
However, if you don’t differentiate yourself from the rest of the pack, you could become a dime a dozen.
Why should a client hire Mr. or Mrs. More of the Same?
This is your challenge: you have to find your own voice and be flexible. Great inventors come up with a product that:
2. FAMILIAR or FOREIGN?
Most people embrace the the familiar and fear the unknown.
But if you wish to grow on a personal and professional level, you must step into unchartered territory and invite the unpredictable.
During one of my voice over coaching sessions, I asked a rather stuck-up student to read part of the Declaration of Independence … in a pirate voice.
I ran into resistance from the get-go.
“Why not?” I asked.
I said: “You want to be a voice over actor, don’t you? Actors have the ultimate excuse to be ridiculous. How are you ever going to expand your range, if you’re not willing to try something new? Were you one of those kids that only ate Mac & Cheese?”
BIG BAD FANTASTIC
Well, I didn’t really say that last thing, but it crossed my mind.
Reluctantly, my student became Bad-Rum Ronny and started:
HEY GINA ...
And just as he was getting more comfortable with his new found identity, I said: “That was fantastic! Now, please take it from the beginning, but this time, I want you to be a female pirate. Pretend you’re Johnny Depp’s big sister…”
My student looked at me as if I had lost my sanity.
“Oh, come on,” I pleaded. “The Founding Mothers would be so proud of you. And if you do it, I promise to write about it in my blog.”
That apparently worked, because this time he sounded more like Geena Davis in Cutthroat Island.
PLAY SAFE, STAY STUCK
Some people avoid taking risks because they’re afraid of what the world might think of them.
But playing it safe won’t get you very far.
One day, you’ll have a client that will ask you to do something you’ve never done before. Something that might scare the living daylights out of you.
Do it anyway. You have to be comfortable with who you are, in order to allow yourself to break out of your comfort zone.
In other words: be comfortable being uncomfortable. It means you’re growing!”
3. ACT NATURAL
As a professional performer, this is another oxymoron you have to live with. You have to learn how to be natural in unnatural situations.
It comes in different variations:
It’s great advice, but nobody ever tells you how to get there, right?
It all goes back to the Four Stages of Learning, a theory posited by psychologist Abraham Maslow.
He coined four psychological states involved in the process of progressing from incompetence to competence in a skill:
All of us go through these phases when we’re learning how to drive, how to type and how to walk.
Only when we’ve reached the level of unconscious competence are we able to Act Natural.
In a world that revolves around instant gratification, quick fixes, easy answers and immediate results, this is a very unpopular 4-step process.
We want it all and we want it now! Why is it so hard to find gratification in delayed gratification?
4. EXPERIENCED or EXCITING?
Do the following scenarios ring a bell?
It’s an impossible situation, isn’t it? Here are a few more stereotypes:
This black-and-white thinking is nothing but a distortion of reality.
Do not fall for these false dilemmas. Challenge them instead.
You might have years of experience, but does that mean that you have lost your Mojo? Is a beginner by definition always new, fresh and exciting, or is he just a copycat? Are clients paying more because your rate is higher, or is it more expensive to hire an amateur?
A BALANCING ACT
As a voice actor, you have to be able to deal with two diametrically different ideas at the same time.
Don’t worry. You’re intelligent. You can handle it!
Let me leave you with some more freelance Yin and Yang:
ABOUT PAUL ...
Paul Strikwerda is a 25-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. He also publishes an informative and entertaining blog, Double Dutch.