Every Padawan Needs A Master
“It’s dangerous to go alone!” —The Legend of Zelda
I’ve written before about the importance of networking and community within the VO industry, including the role coaches can play in helping you reach your goals. I want to spend a little more time thinking about why taking the time for—and spending the money on—coaching can be so beneficial for a voiceover artist.
We live in a time where self-education has never been easier. There are literally thousands of online courses available, covering any topic you can think of and ranging from hobbyists sharing their opinions to accredited classes from prestigious universities. Heck, you can get a full college degree online without ever having to legitimately interact with professors or other students, for crying out loud! The learning industry has never been so independent as it is right now.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with independent online learning. I have taken many online courses over the years, and I will continue to do so as I find ones that I feel can provide value to my life. I think I’ve shared in a previous post how my initial education into some of the basics of the VO industry was through The Voiceover School, a completely online, go-at-your-own-pace program created by successful, working voice talents for those who are new to the world of VO. I learned so much valuable information from those lessons, simply by watching some videos on my computer. Yes, taking that course also granted me access to a private community of other voice talent, but the actual class modules themselves were all pre-recorded.
I’m a huge proponent for online education, as it enables so many people who, perhaps, are unable to access traditional in-person educational styles—for any number of reasons—to learn, grow, and develop themselves within their own contexts and in ways that work for their circumstances. The information disseminated through an online course is still good information. Often, those teaching an online course are experts in their field and have spent a great deal of time crafting their lessons.
The one major caveat I have in regard to self-education, however, is that it probably shouldn’t be your only method of gathering information and learning. The Internet provides us instant access to just about any piece of information we could possibly imagine. Just because we can access it, though, doesn’t mean we will fully grasp or understand the concepts we come across. Not to mention, we must be discerning about which information we choose to trust and believe. That’s why I think there will always be a place for real-life interactions with real-life teachers in real time. Life simply doesn’t happen in a vacuum, so why would anyone expect the learning process to?
Enter coaches! These are the people who have walked the paths you want to walk down, done the things you hope to do, achieved the dreams you’re currently striving for. These folks are your elders in the industry—regardless of whether they’re actually older than you or not. Ideally, these are people who have done the work, proven themselves capable, and found some measure of success in the VO world. In short, these are the Jedi Masters, the Mr. Miyagis, the Hogwarts Professors who have dedicated their lives and/or careers to this craft and are willing to pass down some of their wealth of knowledge to you.
What’s so great about working directly with these coaches? Well, for one, the direct feedback you receive is worth its weight in galactic credits, gold, and galleons. I can run through practice drills that someone has pre-recorded, but how do I know whether I’m killing it or killing it? I’m just a noob trying to find my way through a complex and competitive new landscape. A coach can help me do that and do it well. So often, it’s the little things that set voice talent apart from the herd, and a good coach can teach you how to recognize those little things and capitalize on them every time.
Not only is the constructive feedback ridiculously beneficial to becoming a more skilled voice talent, but the encouragement a coach can offer is just plain amazing. There’s nothing quite like hearing a seasoned voice actor respond to my read with, “That was perfect! Your voice is like a delicious butterscotch chocolate spread!” (Yes, that’s an actual comparison I’ve received!) The best coaches can help you both draw upon your strengths and grow in weaker areas.
Another huge benefit to working with a coach is that everything you receive, whether constructive criticism or praise, will be specific to you. A lot of independent learning options will be chock full of true and useful information, but, more likely than not, it will be generalized and can only go so far in helping you with your specific needs. When you’re working in direct contact with a coach, they can cater a session to meet you where you’re at. They can go at your speed and pinpoint the things that will have the biggest impact on your performance.
Lastly (and this is by no means an exhaustive list), working with coaches—notice the use of the plural there—helps you to build up your VO network. Remember, these are people who have been around the block in the industry. They have their own personal networks of connections with other voice actors, talent, and people looking to hire. While a coach is certainly not obligated to introduce you to their colleagues, oftentimes as you nurture a relationship, they are willing to do just that. As with any industry, a lot of success comes down to who you know.
When looking for coaches you may want to work with, keep in mind that not every coach will be a good fit for you. Just as in any other part of life, these are relationships, and there are some people you click with and others you don’t. It’s okay to book a session or two with a coach and then decide it’s not really working for you. Thank that person for their time and move on to another coach. Even if a coach isn’t “right” for you, chances are you’ll still learn something from working together.
Legendary voice actress, Nancy Cartwright, is a huge advocate for finding a mentor who can help you on your VO journey. A relationship with a mentor should be a symbiotic one. To paraphrase Nancy: A mentor can open doors for you, and you can offer them both a challenge and an opportunity to pass the torch. A coach doesn’t have to be a mentor—nor vice versa—but they could be!
So, if you, like me, are on your own VO journey, absolutely take advantage of the plethora of information just waiting at your fingertips. Attend workshops, enroll in classes, read books, blogs, and tutorials. Teach yourself as much as you can, and never stop pursuing growth. But take it from me, a good coach can—no—will do wonders for you. It may seem intimidating to reach out to a perfect stranger and ask them to invest in you but take the risk. None of us can achieve the rank of master without first being a padawan. Allow someone the opportunity to pour into you and help you achieve your dreams. There’s no reason to try to do it all by yourself. After all, it’s dangerous to go alone!
Until next time, friends, keep telling stories.
Looking for a coach? Here are just a few folks to start with:
Voiceover Artist | Storyteller