*Let’s be clear. There. Is. No. Guarantee.
You can be sure, however, that there will always be people who will try to convince you that they know all the secrets. And of course, for the low, low price of just $(fill in a number with at least one comma here), they will teach you everything they know, and you’ll be on your way to an easy, effortless million dollar career. These people aggravate me like you wouldn’t believe. At best, they’re well-intentioned, if a bit misguided. At worst (and I think this is more likely) they’re unscrupulous, misleading swindlers whose main goal is not to build your career, but to bilk your bank account. They do little, if anything, to benefit the voiceover community, while taking advantage of eager, starry-eyed beginners.
So just a few days ago I wrote an open letter to one of these nameless “experts,” and posted it in the Voiceover Friends group on Facebook, where it seems to have touched a nerve. Well, many nerves, really. Here’s the paragraph that got things started:
Dear voiceover “guru,”
Your non-stop, sales-y emails filled with high-pressure sales tactics and bold, ALL CAPS superlatives (which I find incredibly hard to believe) don’t make your workshops, seminars, webinars, teleconferences, coaching, training, programs, systems and secrets seem exclusive, they only make YOU seem desperate. (And WAY too eager to take money from people who don’t know enough about this business to know better.)
The inspiration for this was twofold: The first, obviously, had to do with yet another email from a self-professed voiceover “guru” to whom I alluded in the post. The second was yet another email from someone eager to get into the voiceover business (I get these emails all the time), who also received the “guru’s” sales pitch, and was looking for some direction.
Let’s Not Name Names
Right from the start, I want to point out that my intention is not to question the validity of the information that this (or any other) voiceover coach/instructor/teacher gives (read: sells) to their students, especially since I’ve never studied with this person. I’m only calling their sales tactics, their ridiculously over-priced training, and their promises of effortless voiceover success into question. I’m also not at all interested in identifying this person (otherwise I’d have named names), only in venting a bit about this particular problem as I see it. And it’s probably best that no one speculate (in print) about who I was referring to in my original post…a few people have written me to guess, and no one’s been right. That tells me that there are more “less-than-scrupulous” coaches out there than I thought. Unfortunately, it seems that promises of “sacks of cash being delivered to your doorstep” makes people take leave of their senses.
Anyway, within 24 hours of writing that post, more than 50 replies had been written, and they represented a wide range of opinions. I thought I’d share some of the more interesting and insightful ones here. I’ve asked everyone whose words appear below, and they’ve all graciously agreed to allow me to quote them here.
My friend, and fellow voice talent Zak Miller got the ball rolling with some very down-to-earth insights:
Zak Miller: Don’t get me wrong, coaches do have a place, but even with a coach Tiger Woods still hit over 1,000 golf balls a day by himself. Plus, when a coach comes to me and shows me the algorithm that determines why a voice is picked I will be their best student.
Bob Stephenson: I listened to a FREE webinar recently. The first 20 minutes were beginner’s stuff – the next 40 were why you needed this person’s NEXT BIG SEMINAR!! They’ve made millions and so can you!!….I didn’t listen the entire 40 minutes but tuned back in several times and they were still touting how THEY had the answers…I felt like I had wasted an hour of time I could have been marketing my skills and getting work.
I completely understand how Bob feels, and as I said to someone else recently: If your voiceover “coach” spends most of their time telling you about how they succeeded, you’ll only learn how they succeeded. Not how you can.
Some people have been extremely proactive in offering alternatives to the over-priced and over-hyped coaches of the world. Stephan James runs The NOLA Voice Talent Foundation, creating and providing affordable opportunities in voiceover in New Orleans and southern Louisiana.
Stephen James: I run weekly affordable workshops (under the non-profit Foundation) so that relative newcomers AND experienced voice performers continue to practice. “Perfect practice makes perfect.” I decided to form a non-profit for similar reasons – to support the voice-over community and to offer affordable opportunities. And I am loving every minute of it!
With decades of experience in all things audio, Cliff Zellman has taken another very proactive approach to sharing his expertise with the voiceover community. For more than four years, he’s run the Dallas Voice Acting Meetup Group and has hosted nearly 100 meetups. His approach to the catch-22 that new talent experience when putting together their first demo is one of the most reasonable and ethical approaches I’ve heard:
Cliff Zellman: I see a lot of them [voice coach sales pitches] are lead ins to “Let’s Do Your Demo.” BEWARE the store bought demo…I listen to dozens of demos a week. I can spot a store bought demo in 10 seconds. Who’s demo is it, anyway? The paid director’s? Or the actual talent & skills of the up & coming Voice Actor. A demo should represent a history of reproducible performances, not 3 hours in a booth, then go home and wait. The relative newcomer can (read: should) spend 6 months to a year recording themselves, while at the same time building audio skills by reading text (thanks Dan Friedman) practicing daily & getting critiques from many working professionals. Once competent in the huge number of skills required to compete, a mixer/producer can “do their thing” and put the VO’s work into a compelling and presentable production. To me, this is honest, this is ethical.
I was also pleased to learn that major L.A. voiceover talent could relate to this issue. Even Dave Fennoy, one of the most recognized voice actors in L.A., who is as humble as is talented (and he’s wildly talented) joined the discussion, with some very level-headed advice, and proof that we never get too good to benefit from some quality coaching:
Dave Fennoy: I’ve been a working VO pro in LA since 1990. I still go in for coaching to keep my reads fresh and current. Go with the coach with the best results instead of the biggest hype! I also have a VO workout group that meets every other week. Each person chooses copy and takes a turn in the booth. Everyone gets a few takes and after each, the other participants give critique and suggestions to make the read better. It’s cost-effective and it works…find your VO peers and begin your own groups. You’ll also be amazed at the psychological benefits in our very “lonely biz.” And Doug, I feel you about the “VO guru” hype. Some out there “teaching” just are not qualified. Let the buyer beware!
Some more level-headed perspective came from my talented friends Lee Gordon and Brad Venable:
Lee Gordon: And just because somebody engages in this style of marketing, does not automatically mean he or she is unqualified as a coach. But it does make you wonder why they feel the need to resort to the hard sell tactics.
Brad Venable: It kinda defeats the purpose of being a ‘guru’ if you scream to the heavens about how great you are.
So what was my advice to the eager voiceover newcomer? That there are plenty of skilled, qualified, experienced, generous and genuine voiceover and acting coaches out there (and I’ve worked with a number of them). They’ll provide you with realistic expectations and valuable information that you can use to create and maintain a real career in voiceover. Find those coaches, value the information that they share with you, and put it to good use. There are also scores of knowledgeable, experienced voiceover talent who have studied with these coaches, and who would be happy to share their experiences and make some recommendations. Just be willing to do a little research, and don’t sign up with the first coach who says you can “Save hundreds of dollars, if you register today!” The coaches who are worth studying with don’t need to use high-pressure sales tactics.
And remember that there are no simple secrets, no effortless systems, and no roads to guaranteed success in voiceover. And anyone who promises you those things in exchange for large sums of your money, is likely more interested in their success than in yours.