In a World …

Since I made the decision to resign as International Living’s Ecuador Coastal Correspondent back in March, I’ve been ramping up the attempts to find more freelance work. I’m still writing articles for IL’s magazines and website about places we have lived and visited – in fact, look for a Feature Article I co-authored due out in the May issue – but I’m looking to broaden my subject matter when it comes to writing.

I’m now officially a “freelance writer”. What is it like being a freelance writer? Well, for one thing, you spend a lot of time like I did just now – staring into space and desperately trying to think of something to write. Then when you have it – you’ve glimpsed the Divine and are ready to pin down Truth with your well-chosen and inspired words, fingers dancing magically across the keyboard – only to look up and see that you have just produced the literary equivalent of a Nickelback song.

So you try again, and again, and again, until sometimes the miracle happens: you write something that makes you tingle when you look it over, and there’s an overwhelming feeling of rightness and joy.

Of course, then you send it off and some editor chops it up like a one-armed sushi chef on crack.

Since that doesn’t seem like enough abuse to put myself through, I’ve also started to branch out in the wild and wacky world of freelancing, and try to develop a talent I haven’t used for a while – my voice. Or to put it in terms of the business:

Coming this Summer ….

As you may have noticed, I have a naturally deep, resonant voice – but I can also mimic a variety of tones, styles and accents. It all began back in the 70’s when I was a DJ at a college radio station – I wasn’t attending at the time, I just showed up one day visiting a friend who worked there, and was offered a spot doing the morning jazz show. No one bothered to ask if I was a student.

It was a simpler time, I guess. Next morning after a brief introduction to the finer points of running the board and turntables (hit this switch, talk into this thing, no dead air), there I was saying “That was Jimmy McGriffs “Big Booty Bounce” from his Red Beans album”

I was hooked. A few years later, I got my FCC license and started working for WXVA-FM in Charles Town, WV. Once again, through being in the right place at the right time. It was the early 90’s, and I had a consignment shop for children’s clothing downtown (KidStuff), and was VP of the Merchants Association. As such, I was sometimes interviewed by the local radio. Then I started a Main Street initiative in town, so there were more interviews

Their morning talk show host soon discovered I could be relied upon to show up and talk more-or-less coherently on a variety of subjects, so I became her Terri Garr – if someone cancelled out, I was the go-to guy.

When they found out I had experience running the board, I was offered a spot as back-up DJ. I recorded ads and PSA’s, and would sometimes sit in the studio to keep the ads and news running during live remotes from high school sports events, as well as working the board as an on-air personality.

I enjoyed it very much, and would sometimes try little things just to see if anyone was listening. For example, more than once I introduced the weather segment in a bright and chipper voice, “Today’s Accuweather FuckAss…” . I just loved the thought of someone driving in their car saying to themselves with a frown, “Did he just say …? Nah!”

I also remember doing the intro “Here’s George Benson with “Turn Your Love Around”, which I must point out is technically illegal in this state.” It was also fun to throw in fake advertisements like “This portion of the show brought to you by Degenerate Mills, makers of Tasteless Garbage. Square little O’s of sugar-coated roughage”.

The only downside is that pay at local radio stations is so low you could trip over it. With family and other financial needs I had to move on, which led ultimately to the network engineer stuff.

As I mentioned in a previous post I have also been in a variety of local bands, where I learned more about working soundboards, and accumulated more equipment. As a result, I currently have a well-equipped digital home studio, where I can record and edit quality products, and deliver them in the clients preferred audio format.

Home Studio
High-quality mic, with sound shield and breath guard

Got the tools, got the talent – the money must be rolling in, right?

Wrong. So far, all of the money is rolling the other way. It is turning out to be a difficult field to break into, with quite a bit of competition. So far I’ve signed up with four different “freelance job sites”, two that offer jobs for both voice work and writing, one that is just voice overs, and one that is just for writers. I’ve ben unimpressed with all four.

In the last 45 days I have applied for 33 jobs with a web site called Upwork. As with all of these, you create a profile first listing your qualifications. With this particular site there is no sign-up fee. However, they handle all payment, and keep 20%. The problem is, from those 33 applications I have 29 no responses, 3 attempts to send me a virus, and 1 person who actually sent me a contract.

However, said contract stipulated that I would write e-books of no less than 10,000 words on topics she would assign. I would do all of the research and writing, and be responsible for no copyright infringements or plagiarism. She would then publish the books under her name, with me giving up all rights to the material and any royalties, and forbidden from ever referring to any part of it as my work. For this I would be paid the lordly sum of one penny per word.

I graciously declined. Now I’m getting email from Upwork that they can “enhance my visibility” if I agree to pay $10/month. No word on whether this includes an enhanced delivery of trojan viruses.

Another site, Fiverr, also is free to join but requires 20% of your paycheck. There seems to be little danger of that, because it is entirely passive. Buyers look for Sellers, there are no open job postings. I have been approach by two different Buyers, but they both described themselves as Chinese nationals, who weren’t allowed to freelance by the site rules, and wanted me to be their front so they could Sell.

Fiverr Profile

WritersWork, which you see advertised in FaceBook a lot, is apparently named ironically. They market it as a place to get freelance writing work and improve your skills. They do not take a cut of your pay, and charge only $50 to join. It is only after joining that you have access to the site, and see how cheesy it is. You build your own profile through a crappy web interface that doesn’t even allow you to upload pdfs of your work as samples. They want you to write things using their web tool. The much-touted “job marketplace” is a bad Trivago imitation, merely pooling jobs from other job search engines. Worse, most of the jobs you click on come up “No longer available”.

As far as I can tell, it is basically a scam to get you to write things on their web site, thus increasing their own SEO, more Facebook timeline appearances, and netting more $50 fees.

That brings us to the one where I’ve spent the most time, Voice123. As you can guess, it is purely voice over and voice talent work. Your fee is all yours, and you can indeed join for free. Unfortunately, at that level you do not get automatically matched to jobs, don’t get much support, and don’t get access to as many invitations. You currently share that pool with 30,000 other people looking for work.

I joined the mid-level for $395/year, which entitles me to show up more often in search results of buyers, get more invitations and better support. There are just over 1900 of us to choose from, but the invitations do come in daily. In the last 45 days I have auditioned for over 220 gigs, ranging from a tag line to creating a 150,000 word audio book.

With all of those auditions, only about 80 of them have actually been “reviewed” by the clients. I had one person say they would get back to me (and didn’t), one ask for an additional read (and never responded after it was sent), and one say thanks but we went with a different voice.

There is a “Platinum Level” with only 58 members that may be scooping up all of the good jobs, but the price to join – better sit down – is $1500 per quarter! That’s right, $6,000 per year. Think I’ll hold off on that for now.

I just realized I forgot about a fifth website – Voquent. That one was recommended to be by a contact in LinkedIn, and is free to join. I created the profile, uploaded samples, and never heard anything from them again.

Finally, the most perplexing bamboozle also came from LinkedIn. I answer an innocuous ad asking for people to donate about 30-minutes per month of recording time for a non-profit that helps teach young people about the broadcasting business, called Blackberry Radio. I thought what the heck, it would give me some current job experience I could point to. I made contact, and was told they had wonderful plans for me. I would be the morning host of Blackberry Lite Radio, on the podcast from 7am-11am Monday through Friday.

Each week I would get 12 spots to read of between 10-30 seconds each. I send them in, and they have their students put them together in the shows. They would help promote me, I might get invited to events in NYC, and other types of warm smoke were blown up my ass.

Then came the hook – of course, we are a non-profit, so you need to join as a member before we can put you on the air. A mere $50 for one year, and it is for a good cause. Naturally I was skeptical, especially since he wanted me to pay it to his personal Venmo account. But I looked it up online, and there was indeed a Blackberry Radio, it did the things he said, and there is a Blackberry Lite Channel.

So after making it clear I would be donating on the website rather than his Venmo account, I got a contract to sign, and my first list of tags. I recorded them and sent them off, and they did not appear on the show.

I emailed the gentleman, and he replied with a lengthy phone call telling me, not to put too fine a point on it, that the file I sent him sucked. To be fair, he was right. I did them way too peppy, and with the “AM radio voice”. I realized it myself when I was listening for my spots – the style of music they were playing called for a more laid back approach.

I assured him I could do it the way he wanted, and fired back the new recordings. Here one of them:

Blackberry Lite Radio

Again, nothing showed up online. I sent two more messages asking if anything was wrong, and received a reply that the last set was perfect, they would be sending me more to do right away, and I would be on the podcast right away.

That was over a month ago, when I was told “Waiting on new station imaging to create everything around you”.

Right. Still no DJ on the podcast, still no new text to record, and he no longer replies to my emails or text.

What’s baffling is it seems like such a waste of time and effort for a $50 donation.

But what do I know? Maybe it is taking so long because they are building something great, and any minute now my name will be up in lights. But I’m not holding my breath.

So to sum up, my experience In a World of freelance voice over work has eaten up about 100 hours at a pay scale of approximately minus-$10/hour.

I guess it is true what they say about Show Business – there really is No Business. I know.

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5 Comments

  • Mary Riley says:

    Painful as your journey may be …I applaud your efforts to break the “rut” that you were in. I of course wish you the best and wish I knew someone or some organization that needed your skills.

  • Eddie Brock says:

    Great decision, One should work after retirement if he / she is willing to do so.
    I appreciate your journey and wish you best of luck for your future.

  • Janis Bokar says:

    Wishing you the best of luck..and “break a leg” as show businesses state. You have a terrific voice and am sure this is just a dry spell ..as you never know when someone is listening …and then you can say “the rest is history”, keep on keeping on!

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