As I wrote in a previous entry, I generally don’t provide personal advice about one’s voice-over career. If I can answer a question quickly, such as referring someone to a teacher or a previous blog entry that answers the question, I am more than happy to do so. However, I usually don’t have the time to provide in-depth advice in my responses to people.
The comment below was left on my blog. On the surface, Carol’s question might look like it requires only a quick “yes” or “no” answer. As I read each word, I realized a quick answer would be a dis-service to Carol. Furthermore, my views may be helpful to other people. Therefore, with Carol’s permission, I didn’t publish her remarks as a comment on another entry and am instead featuring it in this entry.
Hi Karen, Love your practical and ethical information. I am a newbie to the VO area, having just taken an Intro to VoiceOvers at local community college given by Mike Elmore. During the class he recorded each of us reading a script (just a few lines) and I got an email from him saying he was very impressed. Then I got a call from Levi Morgan of Voices For All, saying the report he got from Mike was glowing and encouraging me to take their in-person 3-day workshop.
Since I have nothing to compare it with, I hope you could comment on whether this would be a good way to break in. Bear in mind that I am a retired RN, looking for some fun and creative as well as possibly lucrative work.
Their course includes private coaching (they only accept 15 students four times a year), full narration & full commercial demos, mixing & mastering a demo for me with music, editing & sound effects, a marketing plan, home studio manual, workbook, classes on every aspect of the business, my own website with the demo (lifetime hosting), support for ProTools, lifetime coaching support, plus my airfare & lodging while in Albany.
Inclusive is $3199. I can afford this, and love the idea of being able to work out of our RV during summers which he said I could (no soundproof studio….) I’d love your honest feedback before making a decision, which I need to do quickly if I am to enroll in the May class. Thanks so much! Carol
Carol, thanks so much for your nice comments about my web site. I’m glad if anything I have written is helpful to you. You asked for my opinion, so this is it: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. I would look elsewhere for my voice-over training.
I could have just left it at that, but I wanted to explain my reasons for disliking this package deal.
DISCLAIMER: Everything that follows is MY OPINION since I didn’t delete the names of the people involved. I know nothing about them or their company and therefore reiterate that I am only offering an OPINION.
First of all, after recording only a few lines in your introductory voice-over class, you are not ready to make a demo. You have realized that you need more training.
Let’s look at this offer more closely:
- private coaching (they only accept 15 students four times a year)
It’s a marketing tactic to make something seem like a limited-time offer and therefore more desirable. I’ll talk more about the private coaching in a minute.
- full narration & full commercial demos
During a 3-day workshop? If you only have undertaken a few hours of copy interpretation and voice direction, you are not ready to produce a demo. Producers and directors want you to walk in the door and be able on the first try to sound exactly like a particular segment of your demo. If you can’t instinctively create that sound on your own, you are in for a frustrating time and loss of clients.
Producing 1 demo in 3-day workshop is ambitious; producing 2 good, strong demos is unrealistic, especially in a group setting. Furthermore, I would suggest that you concentrate on making 1 excellent, competitive demo after undergoing appropriate training. Most people start with the commercial demo as it is easier to start booking jobs. I’ve heard the saying “scattered thinking leads to scattered results”. Any person who has started a business can attest to its truth!
In comparison, Susan Berkley usually promises in her 3-day bootcamps to produce only 1 spot that could go on your commercial demo.
- mixing & mastering a demo for me with music
- editing & sound effects
The music and sound effects used with each script should enhance it while not drowning out the voice. These elements should also sound current and appropriate to the script.
- a marketing plan
You will need to develop your own marketing plan based on your vocal characteristics and your interests. If you need ideas, check out this blog entry and this one, among others in the Marketing category on my blog. I cannot recommend too highly the book Get Clients Now referenced in that second post.
- home studio manual
This information is readily available in Harlan Hogan’s book The Voice Actor’s Guide to Home Recording and Pat Fraley’s The Gypsy’s Guide to Professional Home Recording Workbook and Companion CD. While you’re on Pat’s site, be sure to download his FREE lessons!
A workbook is provided with most workshops and therefore is not really a selling point.
- classes on every aspect of the business
If I wanted an overview of the industry, I would read a book. In fact, I always suggest that people start with a book on my recommended reading list. Once I begin working with a teacher, I want to develop a specific skill, not gain some broad knowledge.
If you want to gain broad knowledge from a variety of well-established voice-over teachers and talent, I encourage you to attend the upcoming Voice Over International Creative Experience (VOICE 2008). In addition to the workshops presented, you have the opportunity to network with other voice talent and ask their recommendations on teachers, equipment, etc. A DVD set from last year’s inaugural conference is also available. You could buy the DVD from last year and attend this year’s conference at a cost lower than the 3-day weekend under consideration.
- my own website with the demo (lifetime hosting)
Having a demo hosted on another site is better than not having it on-line. Otherwise, this option is not important. A personal web site is going to be part of your cost of doing business, and web hosting is very inexpensive. Don’t be swayed by the thought of “lifetime” hosting. If the company goes out of business, its lifetime is over.
- support for ProTools
Do you use Pro Tools? You may be like many voice talents who prefer to use other programs for sound editing, making this option unimportant. Besides, how do they define “support”? Are they promising to answer all of your questions at no charge, set up your configuration, etc.? Be aware that you can ask questions on numerous forums and get answers from recording engineers in addition to voice talent.
- lifetime coaching support
What exactly do they mean by this promise? What kind of coaching is promised? Are you allotted a time period every month for the time the company is in business? Do they coach you on voice-over, production skills (since they also promise Pro Tools support), or something else?
- plus my airfare & lodging while in Albany
Your airfare and lodging would cost something. In order for the company to make money, they have to make up that cost somewhere. I suspect that they are making money by producing carbon-copy demos for their students.
Maybe these people know something that the rest of us don’t. Like I said, I know nothing about them or their business. For me, the value of this comprehensive offer is questionable at best.
Specialized training in voice-over represents a serious commitment of time and money. To ensure that both are utilized effectively, here is a list of questions that I would ask before selecting a prospective voice-over teacher and/or demo producer.
1) How did you learn of the teacher? Did you search the Internet for local teachers and/or read the archives on voice-over forums such as VO-BB.com, Voiceoversavvy.com and the Yahoo VoiceOvers group? Many voice coaches are listed in the Voices.com Voice Over Coaches Directory. It’s the Information Age, and anyone with a computer has access to it.
Voice-over teachers who are in demand have no need to contact you; it’s the other way around. I am wary of this instance because the teacher contacted you. I would be suspicious that Mike receives a referral fee for students that he sends to Levi or, without disclosing it to you, is actually employed by Voices For All.
2) What do former students say about the teacher? Are they actually getting work after studying with this teacher?
In this instance, testimonials are listed on the company’s web site. You can also check the archives of the voice-over forums and/or ask new questions in those places to gain additional insight about a teacher or company’s reputation.
3) Will you receive individual or group instruction?
Group instruction can be beneficial and cost-effective. Before producing my first demo, I was coached in a group of 6 people who met for 8 2-hour sessions. We only studied commercial copy. The group was small enough that we each had plenty of personal instruction while being able to learn from the direction given to others. We had to practice between sessions and listen to ourselves on a recorder.
Nothing can take the place of individual instruction. I left Susan Berkley’s coaching program because I wanted more personal instruction than was offered in her program. I now study with Nancy Wolfson and have 50-minute sessions that all are focused on copy interpretation and delivery exclusively for commercial scripts. When I finish with the commercial side, we will focus on narration.
4) What is the duration of each class?<
5) What topics are covered in the sessions?
I was concerned about this offer because it includes “classes in every aspect of the business”. You should expect a detailed synopsis of any voice-over workshop. Granted, some people are fabulous copywriters who can make any class sound enticing. Still, you should have some expectation of the topics to be covered and the length of time devoted to each.
6) Has the teacher ever performed voice-over work?
What credentials does the person bring to the table? If I am taking a class, I want to know that the teacher has had success in implementing the skills they are teaching. I also want to know that the teacher is knowledgeable of current trends.
Demo production leads to its own set of questions. Your voice-over coach and demo producer may be the same person or different people.
7) If a demo is to be produced as part of the coaching, how many classes do you take before the demo is produced?
You want to know that you are committing to a finite amount of time or a finite number of sessions.
8) Can you listen to other demos produced by this producer?
Listen to voice talent demos on Voicebank.net and compare them to those from your prospective producer. Are they comparable in production quality and length?
9) What is the break-down of cost between the coaching and the demo production?
Teaching and demo production are 2 separate skills requiring different amounts of time. Unless a specialized demo is produced as part of a particular workshop, I would expect that commercial and narration demo production would cost an amount equal to the cost of the training. After all, the producer must prepare scripts suited for the talent’s unique voice and style, direct the studio session(s) and instruct the engineer about sequencing, timing and musical selections.
10) How are scripts selected for the demo?
Are your scripts the same or different from those used on other demos? Your demo should be as unique as your voice, and it should be a showcase for your voice. You don’t want to use scripts from a database or that could sound dated in any way. If you use the same scripts used on demos for other talent, you all lose.
I hope this detailed analysis of a package coaching/demo deal and the list of questions is helpful to you in deciding which training opportunities to pursue. In the end, you are in control of your time, money and career, and only you can decide which way to proceed. Best wishes for your success!