If you're the smartest person in the room.....
The problem about having a weekly blog is that you have to come up with new stuff every week. This is made especially difficult when you have a holiday weekend like the 4th of July. On the plus side - got to spend some amazing quality time with our close family. On the negative side – panic stations for this week’s blog! BTW….I truly hope you all had an amazing but safe holiday weekend.
So, this week I thought to myself, “do all people who create blogs or podcasts suffer from content dysfunction?”. If so, go to the “HIMS” website where a private consultation with our online physician will help prescribe something for your CD issue…We may laugh, but this is obviously something that all those who write regularly face. And that led me to an “Aha!” moment about what this week’s blog should be about: Where should you get your advice from? Not for medical problems – obviously!
Ooooh. What a great question. In this day and age where everyone is an expert and will offer their advice at the drop of mic, it can be really difficult to wade through the bad advice, good advice, and the GREAT advice. I would like to insert my first caveat preemptor here: “I do not claim to be an expert. I do not claim to know all the answers. I do not have 10-20 years of experience in voiceover”. I want to be clear. The basis for my advice is not that I think I have a magic sauce that I want to sell people. Nope - this year, I will have spent 50 years on this planet. I have worked since I was 13 years old, first as a paperboy. Then a Nightclub DJ, customer service agent for the Home Shopping Club, Roofer, Server, food prepper, bus driver to eventually an Electrical Engineer. And now someone who performs voiceover as a successful side gig on my terms. I have a lot of life lessons which have taught me, usually through my mistakes (and I have made many of them), what is the right thing to do. More importantly, how to spot a conman (or woman) a mile away!
A coach should be an investment. You are likely to pay between $100 to $200 per 1-hour session for a good quality coach. I know in the last 4 years I have spent over $4K on coaching. And it was thoroughly worth it. You should become more successful because of what you were taught. But I didn’t start with the same coach. Nope, I went through 3 coaches before I found one that worked for me. That wasn’t money wasted on those other 3 coaches. Something was learned from each of them. More importantly, I learned that they weren’t the right fit for me. I suggest you always treat the first few sessions with a new coach as an audition for them. You should pay attention to how much they focus their time on you and your performances. Not how much they want to speak about anecdotes of schmoozing with movie stars and famous people. You are paying for their time and they should be providing a level of service commensurate with the money you are paying them.
Don’t be afraid to dump your coach of you think they are not the right fit for you. They won’t take it personally and if they do – who cares! Would you think twice about changing your plumber if they did a poor job? Of course not. Your coach should push you. It should be challenging. You should be learning things that make you go “wow” during every lesson. It is very important to remember that they should not be blowing smoke up your ass at every opportunity. If that is what you want, I will quite happily take your hard-earned cash and spend an hour telling you how great you are – the easiest money I will ever earn. No, some lessons should have you feeling dejected and as if you don’t know what you are doing. They should be tough but in a good way.
Who are the best coaches? Unfortunately, there is no one size fits all. I found that Nancy Wolfson worked for me. I have heard that Mary Lynn Wissner and Dave Walsh are pretty good too. I tried others and they just didn’t click with me.
The one thing that you need to do is research. A good coach will have the following three things:
1. A list of successful students that they have worked with. It is your duty to check that these students are indeed successful. Go to their websites. Check that they have proof of work they have completed recently.
2. Testimonials from other voice over actors that say the training led directly to success. Once again, try and see if the testimonials are from working voice actors. There is no point in hiring someone who has hundreds of great testimonials from beginners who then don’t earn a penny in the business.
3. A curriculum. This isn’t as important as the first two points, but I think I structured path of learning is important. It shouldn’t be made up as they go along.
Hold them accountable. Your audition like rates should go up. Your bookings should go up. Your confidence levels should go up. There is no point in spending money on a coach if you don’t get measurable success in return.
I personally recommend that anyone who runs their own business should have an accountability buddy. I know this is a bit of “buzz word” and trust me, I don’t believe in most of that stuff. This just makes sense to me though. The idea is to find someone in your industry who is at the same level or more advanced than you and reach out and ask them if they are willing to be involved in holding each other accountable.
For me, I chose someone that I clicked with at VO Atlanta back in 2019. Paul Schmidt was kind enough to be willing to be part of this with me. We talk every Monday and discuss how our business and personal life is going. It is very informal but we both get a huge amount out of the call because we know we have to be accountable to each other. If we say that we have a plan for the week then we will have to answer how that plan went the following week.
We are both at a similar point in our voiceover career and we help each other out immensely. Whether it is motivation when we are down, ideas on how to market ourselves better, or anything else we feel will help each other out. It is a call we both look forward to every week.
Work Out Groups
If you are not part of a workout group – then you are missing out. It is a great way to network with others in the industry. They are usually online or face to face groups that meet up on a weekly or monthly basis to practice scripts of different voiceover genres. They may also be arranged to discuss other things like the business side of VO. It is also a great way to get out of the isolation of being in the booth. Interaction with other crazy people who talk for a living is good for you!
They can introduce you to people that can help with your career. I know that I met an excellent voice coach at my local Texas VO meet-up. She is a trained opera singer who knows how the voice works and all the technical side of how we make noises. I reached out to her recently to see if she could help with some breathing exercises to overcome my bouts of performance anxiety.
Voiceover work out groups are just a great way for you to help those who are newer to the industry and to also learn from those who are more experienced than you. I have made great relationships with people I have met in these groups and have sent clients their way because I know I can trust them.
“If you are the smartest person in the room, you are in the wrong room”. I tried to find out who this quote comes from (obviously I am not the smartest in this room) and didn’t come up with a conclusive answer. But hey, who cares. It’s such a wise statement.
It’s so important that you have a mentor that is much “smarter” than you. This allows you to learn from them. Bounce ideas of them. Become a better voiceover actor because of them. How do you get a mentor? Great question! The easiest thing to do is find someone who you respect in the industry and ask them! The worst they can say is no. And you will be surprised at the amount of great people out there who love to give back to this amazing community. Another way is to join WoVo. They have a mentoring program where experienced VO’s will sign up to be mentors. You can join and ask one to mentor you.
I’ll leave you with wise words from one of my mentors. He is cantankerous old bugger but he says some wise things and he doesn’t care about upsetting people. “A coach should be able to prove their concept. Too many people are selling their services as a coach or Guru without any factual based evidence to back it up”. I paraphrase a little, but he has a very good point. This is a business. You should be seeing a measurable return on your investment from coaching. There is no point in saying you are becoming a better actor without any evidence of increased bookings to back this up.
So back to my content dysfunction. I spoke to my physician and she says it’s going to be OK. She says if I plan things in advance and visualize success then the pressure of performing won’t get in the way. Also, some blue pills arrived in the mail today. They didn’t help me finish this blog but my partner seems happier than usual!