Lately, I’ve been receiving feedback from working and prospective talent that has caused me a bit of concern. Based on feedback I’ve received from talent in the New Orleans area, I figured I’d toss out some food for thought. Like many smaller tier markets, New Orleans does not have as many training resources as do larger markets like Dallas, Atlanta or L.A. Smaller markers typically don’t have the same depth of professional VO talent to offer vetted recommendations. Accordingly, you must be extra careful in choosing your training resources, as less than scrupulous “coaches” often perceive smaller markets as happy hunting grounds for the uninitiated.
Bottom line…there are a growing number of unqualified people hanging out their coach/agent/demo producer, etc. shingles. I believe that this is primarily attributed to technological shifts in recording, audio delivery and casting over the past several years. There are simply more opportunities, easier access to said opportunities and more people wanting to carve out their piece of the VO pie. The less than scrupulous “coaches” know this and slyly prey on your limited ability to adequately vet their skills (or lack thereof). They often talk a big game and make empty promises about earning potential. They like to dazzle with you B.S. laden marketing and look at you as only as a source of revenue…not as a talent that they can guide. Whether they are local, or “experts from afar” that travel to town for weekend workshops, you must be vigilant in choosing wisely. Following these simple steps will help you to insure that you aren’t being sold snake oil that can delay or derail your progress:
- Always ask to hear and see produced samples of work your coach has voiced over the last few months. They should be consistently working on projects of a reasonable caliber…and should be posting that work on their website. If they earn their living doing this, then they should have a deep repository of work for buyers to review. Showcasing our skills is how we earn our next gig. What…you say that you found a coach that doesn’t have a website that showcases their current work…or at least solid sounding demos? Red flag!!! **Note: There are very skilled coaches who are not voice talent. However, they’re usually former agents from agencies with large VO departments, ad agencies or are seasoned producers. These “non-VO talent” coaches usually live and work in L.A. or NYC and have a solid reputation that can be easily verified. If you want to work with someone in the Gulf South, then I suggest that you stick with a coach that earns their living as a professional VO talent;
- Ask for at least three references of students that are “working” VO talent. They should vouch for the coach’s technique and guidance. You should also ask to hear their demos. If they say that the coach in question helped them develop their sound, then great. If the demo was produced by the coach, then that should give you an even better idea of their proficiency. If the coach is worth their salt, then they have guided at least a few folks into working consistently in VO;
- Reach out to the reputable talent agencies in town. I suggest looking up SAG/AFTRA franchised agencies first. Ask who they recommend. Believe me…good or bad, the agents typically find out who is on the level, as well as those who have built reputations as charlatans. Agents are there to look out for the best interest of their talent and are usually careful to not put their reputation on the line with a bad recommendation;
- If your coach said that they have “won awards”, then ask to see a list of these awards. There are only a small handful of awards that the VO industry generally recognizes as bona fide indicators of professional proficiency (e.g. The Voice Arts Awards & ADDY Awards). Primarily, quality awards and recognition are given out by organizations in L.A. or NYC (or at larger conventions). All that being said, I know very few successful talent who tout themselves as “award winning” or who care to even chase that distinction…they let their work speak for itself. If the awards they received are given for anything other than “voice over”, then their shiny trophy doesn’t speak to their proficiency as a voice over coach (and that’s what you’re payin’ them for…right?)
- Voice coaches/consultants are there to aid in your talent development and to help you build a functional grasp of the industry. Once again, they are typically successful talent. If any of them hang out their “agent” shingle…especially if there’s a fee involved, then you have yourself one of the classic “red flag” situations. If they ask for a subscription fee for their foundation/organization/club/etc., then you should be very cautious. However, please don’t mistake this for a “tuition”. Some reputable coaches do offer workshops or classes over a prescribed amount of time, or a set number of classes, for a flat fee. Also, beware of “demo mills”…people that are delighted to produce a demo, regardless of your aptitude. Sometimes, these are tethered to a workshop, wherein you take a few classes over a weekend and then they record you at the end of the workshop. Granted, a number of quality VO coaches will consult on or produce a demo for you. However, their primary goal is typically to provide instruction. No reputable demo producer will craft a demo for you unless you are ready, or were referred to them by someone that they trust.
Blurring the lines between coach, agent, demo producer, etc. has always been one of the classic hallmarks of a person or service that needs to be vetted. I’m not saying that they are unscrupulous. I’m just saying that you need to go through steps 1-5 and make sure they are above board
Finally, any reputable coach or consultant knows when to say the magic words “I don’t know”. The best of the best coaches and consultants I know are all pretty comfortable staying in their lane of expertise. If you inquire about some aspect of training or a genre of voice over that is not in their wheelhouse, they should be straight with you. They should also have referrals at the ready to pro’s that can help you…or at least the name of someone that could can provide a referral to a reputable pro.
Whether you choose to work with me or any other pro, I suggest that you ask around trust your gut. Your time, money and talent are all too precious to entrust to someone who has not demonstrated that they understand the industry and how to help you succeed.
Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions. I’m always happy to put in my two cents if it helps you get to where you want to go. 🙂