Friday, September 23, 2016

Are voice acting lessons worth it?

At some point in every budding artist's preparation for the leap into professionalism should come one question: "Are lessons worth it?" If you're writing a book, you have to consider paying for an editor (a costly but effective endeavor). If you aim to voice act professionally, you'll have to consider formal education.

So is it worth it? Short answer: yes.

...So, uh, I guess the article's over. Thanks for reading. Subscribe, share, proclaim your love for me, keep marriage proposals to less than 150 characters.

But you came for a more detailed answer, I'm assuming. The answer really isn't as easy as "shell out money, git gud." There are important benefits to voice over lessons, some precautions to take, and a certain mindset you'll need to have.

"Are voice over lessons expensive?"
Typically, yes. I haven't studied all of them in-depth, and different companies may teach various subjects for a wide range of prices, but you can usually expect to dish out at least $50 per lesson. For me, 1-on-1 coaching sessions focusing on a specific genre (I studied audiobooks and animation) were $140 a pop. I suspect that's on the higher end of the pay scale, but I was also working with top-of-the-line actors and coaches.

"Where can I find voice over lessons?"
I studied with Edge Studio, arguably the biggest voice over instruction company (and a prominent chain of production studios). They're physically based in Washington D.C., New York City, Connecticut, and Los Angeles; thankfully, you're not screwed if you live literally anywhere in between the east and west coasts, because you can just as easily take those lessons online.

Prominent voice actors Crispin Freeman (if you watch dubbed anime, you've heard him at some point) and Marc Graue also hold lessons from time to time, and it's always great to learn from the best. There are sites like Such a Voice that offer instruction, so start Googling for similar sites. Join Facebook groups like Online Voice Actors Actresses and Voice Acting Alliance, because sometimes people post class and workshop notices there, too.

"What's the difference between 'voice over lessons' and 'acting lessons'?"
That's difficult to pin down to one answer, because both terms encompass a large swath of subjects, but I'll try and break it down as best I can. "Acting lessons" could refer to anything from stage play to film to improv and may include subjects like stage etiquette, directing, script-writing, props and set design, makeup, etc.. By and large, "acting lessons" are designed to improve your core acting skills, which are, by extension, the core of voice acting.

"Voice over lessons" can also go over acting tips, but through my experience it's more focused on the technical aspects of voice acting - microphone technique, marketing, studio etiquette, the differences between genres - in general, trying to get you comfortable behind a mic. If you're looking to improve your character acting, look into animation- and video-game-based classes, but you can also find training based on an array of subjects, like commercials, audiobooks, telephony, e-learning, dubbing...the list goes on.

"How do I benefit from voice over lessons? Why can't I just practice on my own?"
You can (and should) practice on your own, but additional voice over lessons can put you several steps ahead of the starting line before the gun goes off. Many people learn their lessons the hard way, so ironically, even though they "started" before you, they spend more time trying to get off the ground because, quite simply, they don't know how.

It seems like such a little thing, but etiquette is actually one of the most important things voice over lessons can drill into your skull. You don't want to wind up burning bridges with potential clients and colleagues because you phrased a request the wrong way or marketed yourself where you weren't wanted.

"Exactly what benefits do I get from taking voice over lessons as opposed to practicing on my own?"

- Again, etiquette. The do's and don't's of a voice over career aren't always easy to nail down in one spot, but numerous classes, seminars, and articles can pound them into your head so you'll never forget them.

- Connections. Relationships are, through everything I've heard and experienced, the crux of marketing yourself. Satisfied clients tell other potential clients; friendly colleagues will recommend you; more experienced actors will give you advice when you need it. Although I technically think they weren't supposed to, a couple of my voice over coaches added me on Facebook and one gave me his email so we could stay in touch, and that has been infinitely useful.

- Knowledge in the other areas of voice over; marketing, audio editing, setting up a home studio, running  a business, etc.. Lots of coaches will occasionally do classes on these types of things, and it helps to have a direct line to them so you're not just watching YouTube videos on using Audacity and hoping you're doing it right. And on that note, one of the most important benefits to voice over lessons is...

- Q&A time. If you can't seem to find an answer to your conundrum online or in your personal life, having an experienced voice actor to speak directly to is a Godsend. Some of my 1-on-1 lessons were primarily just me asking questions and getting recommendations from coaches, and it did much to assuage my fears and uncertainties.

- KNOWING THAT YOU'RE READY TO PROCEED. This is also one of the most important benefits. When you're working directly with experienced pros, you don't need to wonder if you're ready to make a demo, or to work from home, or if your brilliant idea is actually full of crap; they'll tell you to your face. Trying to start something before you're ready can do horrible damage to your budding career. Obviously you will make mistakes down the road, but these guys are good enough to tell when you're ready to fly and learn the rest through experience, or if you'll hit the dirt.

- You can meet some interesting people. Edge Studio has some pretty big names as coaches. For awhile, Veronica Taylor (April o'Neil from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the original voice of Ash from Pokemon) was a coach, as well as Scott Burns (the voice of Bowser for awhile). I myself had an hour-long phone conversation with James "Jay" Snyder, aka Dan Green, who you may recognize as the voice of Yugi/Yami from Yu-Gi-Oh. I am proud to say I did not fanboy all over him.

"Are there any drawbacks?"

- Well, it's expensive. I dropped probably over $1,000 on lessons alone, not counting making my first demo, my home studio, and buying my equipment. (As previously stated, the sum total of my start-up was probably between $3,000-$4,000.) Different coaches may charge more or less, but regardless, it'll probably set you back at least a few hundred dollars, depending on how much you plan to get out of it. It's like a lot of other careers; you need to invest in classes/college.

- There tends to be slightly less focus on acting itself, as opposed to technique inherent to voice over. Now there is definitely a focus on acting, especially where animation/video game work is concerned, but it's probably not going to be as great of a focus as you might get from a film- or stage-acting class.

"Are there any scams out there?"
Sure are. The classes and coaches I've referred to are pretty trustworthy, but be wary of someone with no clear background, no reputation, and generally an unprofessional manner. Do some research before sinking money into them.

"How long should I expect to take lessons?"
The exact number is always subjective, depending on how fast you learn, how soon you can schedule classes, how much you practice, what genres you're studying, who thinks you're ready to make a demo, etc.. I spent probably a year, in which time I took one class in animation VO, six in audiobooks, and one of a bunch of other categories (i.e. home studios, marketing). Jay Snyder recommends at least five classes in each genre you plan on taking. If you really intend to make this work, it's not going to happen very quickly. Again, think of it like a mini-college - you need to put both money and time into it to make it work.

"But if lessons aren't necessary, is it realistic to move forward by myself?"
It is FEASIBLE, yes, and obviously many have done it - Steve Blum freely admits to having no acting or voice over background prior to doing Cowboy Bebop, wherein he played arguably his most iconic role, Spike Spiegel. However, you will need to really, REALLY, REALLY do some practice and research before making a demo or marketing yourself to prospective clients, and it's still a good idea to find some professionals and ask them if they think you're ready to move forward.

Subscribe to voice over blogs (like this one!), read all the articles you can find, attend webinars if they're free, submit voice samples to websites like Edge Studio's Feedback Forum, watch YouTube videos, and in general emulate the pros. Think twice about everything you do, because again, starting something before you're ready can dramatically set you back. Feel free to ask for feedback on any performance you do, and talk to those farther ahead than you to receive whatever advice they can give. Ask and you will receive; the advent of knowledge usually comes by simply asking.

IN CONCLUSION - Are voice over lessons worth it?
Yes, I recommend them - if you have the time and money. If not, it is possible to study on your own, but you are more prone to mistakes that can set you back, and it may be harder to tell if you're truly ready to take the next professional step. Either way, never just surge forward without due preparation, and NEVER market yourself as a professional when you're not certain you are one.

I hope I have illuminated this subject at least somewhat for you, and feel free to ask me questions based on my studying history and experience with lessons. Subscribe via the forms below or on the top-right of the page, and keep practicing!

For further insight on what attitude you'll need to start pursuing voice over, read this. For personal observations on the technical aspects of starting up, try delving into "Creating a cheap home studio," "5 reasons you shouldn't (and 3 big reasons you should) become a voice actor," and "How expensive is it to start voice acting?"

1 comment:

  1. Hmm... I'll have to look into some lessons or professional feedback for sure! I've been wanting feedback on my stuff for awhile since I'm not totally sure why I can't seem to be accepted into anything. Xp