Whether you are an experienced voice actor or just starting, a voice coach can help you reach the next level in your career.
However, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the number of voice coaches you can find after a brief online search. So, how do you choose the best coach for your voice acting work?
The first step is to define your goals as a voice actor. For example, if you are just launching your career, you may need someone to guide you in microphone techniques and recording a demo. If you’re looking to expand your horizons, you may want someone specializing in genre-based coaching such as commercials, character work, or specific B2B industries. If you are auditioning for a particular job, you may want an accent coach to help you gain authenticity.
Like all good mentors, voice coaches tend to focus on sharing what they have learned themselves in their career and the skills they’ve built to achieve success. Therefore, they may have excellent advice in one area but less to offer in another aspect.
After you’ve narrowed down what you hope to gain from a vocal coach, your next step is to identify who will help you attain that goal. You don’t need to limit yourself to in-person sessions. Even before the coronavirus pandemic, top coaches were taking advantage of technology to help clients outside their local area.
You’ll find a wide array of excellent remote learning opportunities for both one-on-one and group voice acting classes. Check out different coaches’ websites and social media pages. Also: make sure to read their blogs and any testimonials from clients!
Now you’re ready to narrow down your choices further. Most voice coaches offer a free or paid consultation session, so your next step is to meet – virtually or in-person — with several coaches to find the right fit for you.
To offer you guidance in making this critical part of the process, we’ve interviewed eight of the industry’s best voice acting coaches. We asked them the same questions you should ask in a consultation, and we are sharing their responses with you.
Q: What makes your voice coaching business different?
Each of the coaches stressed their years of experience in the industry, and they also shared a desire to personalize their approach to help students achieve their goals.
“When I work with clients, there is no agenda,” Mindy Pack of Mindy Pack Vocal Studio told us. “My focus is getting the voice to balance and function so that the artists I work with have the freedom and flexibility to do what has to be done in order for them to have the ultimate success in their careers. I never want a client to be limited.”
Tanya Rich of RichCraft echoed this theme by stressing that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to vocal coaching. “As an empathic teacher, I am able to tap into that individual’s inner workings, so to speak, and use that to help them improve,” she said.
Pictured: Mona Shetty. Twitter: @monashetty
Mona Shetty of Sound and Vision India shared that an aspiring voice actor should choose a coach based on the body of work they admire. “In our case, the fact that we give a lot of studio time and practical experience coupled with exercises and techniques makes it more valuable for students who are looking to get into the field of voice acting.”
Shetty added that she shares liberally from her practical experience, passing on experiences and tips that were beneficial to her career as a voice actor.
David Coury, who is vocal director at the Howard Fine Acting Studio and has his own private coaching practice, told us that his initial strategy is to help new students discover more about the voice they use every day. “I teach you how to access all that unused voice and how to recognize ‘you’ in any script, in any given reality — to put your signature on any script,” Coury said.
Q: What qualities should an aspiring voice actor already possess?
The job of the voice actor is to deliver words authentically and engagingly. What skills should you already have before you reach out to a coach for guidance?
Voice-over producer and coach Marc Graue told us that the ability to read out loud and read well is at the top of his list of qualities he looks for in a new student. “As silly as that sounds, there are quite a few aspiring VO talents who don’t [read well]!” he shared with us. Graue also noted that a voice actor should have the ability to “break down the copy, so you know who your audience is.”
Pictured: Marc Graue. Twitter: @marcgraue
Although it may seem counterintuitive, listening is a critical part of vocal work. “A decent voice is a start, but your ears are equally important,” Rich pointed out. “If you cannot hear, you cannot change.”
Charm, a willingness to play, and a love of learning are top qualities Nancy Wolfson of Brain Tracks Audio seeks in a new student. She added that she also appreciates a “hunger to explore the fun nuances of language, emotion, and business.”
Voice Over business and marketing coach Elizabeth Jobling told us that she looks for students who possess tenacity, drive, and a sense of “competitiveness to be the best versions of themselves.” She added that aspiring voice actors must educate themselves about the industry. “This [business] is not for the faint-hearted,” she explained.
Q: Is it essential that your students have any previous experience — such as acting or singing — before booking you as a voice coach?
If you’re new to the industry, don’t think you need to have completed a series of VO jobs before you can hire a coach. All of the experts we interviewed said that previous experience was not required.
“Some of my most successful students have come from totally unrelated disciplines such as law and sales,” noted Gary Terzza of VO Masterclass.
Pictured: Tanya Rich. Instagram: @tanyarichvo
Sometimes previous experience can even hinder your success with a coach, according to Rich. “For example, theatre actors can find it hard not to project their voice,” she said. “Voiceover relies on muscle memory, and we have to sometimes totally strip away any pre-learned techniques.”
Q: What critical vocal skills should your students develop first?
Your tool as a voice actor is your voice. So, our coaches emphasized: practice, practice, practice.
“Bringing words to life is what voice-over artists do, and learning to own a script and make the text yours is half the battle in VO,” said Terzza. “Practicing this at home is really important, and you don’t even need a microphone.”
Shetty suggested that learning to sing can help the voice actor. In case you’re worried about being tone-deaf, she added that it doesn’t matter if you are a good singer or not. Shetty also recommended pranayama, the practise of breath control in yoga, as a way to improve vocal control.
Pictured: Gary Terzza. Twitter: @VoMasterClass
Several of our coaches commented on being truthful about your experience — or lack of it — with your coach. And your coach should return the favour. Graue put it this way — “The whole purpose of coaching is to learn, not to show off, and, at the same time, the coach should never be judgmental but helpful.”
In discussing the student-coach relationship, Coury said, “I tell all in their first session, ‘You won’t stay the same, and you definitely won’t get worse, so there’s only one other option here.'”
Q: Are there any specific types of voice-over projects you think an aspiring voice actor should start with?
Our experts’ responses to this question reflected the need for students to view their voice acting as a business and themselves as entrepreneurs.
For example, Wolfson said the best voice-over projects are the “ones that pay properly.”
Calling them “the bread and butter money within the industry,” Jobling said that corporate jobs are an excellent place to start.
Pictured: Nancy Wolfson. Twitter: @NancyWolfson
Coury suggested that “commercials and explainer videos are helpful to start with because you learn the fundamental VO lesson — your voice must sell!”
Circling back to our first step of defining your goals as a voice actor, Graue said that the early projects you choose depend on where you want to go in your career, “Commercial, animation, video games, narration, promos, imaging, etc. — a good coach will help point you in the right direction,” he commented.
Q: How do you help students with their marketing and the business side of being a voice actor?
As a coach, Jobling does not limit her work to only the voice: “I focus on the business and marketing elements — from taking direction to auditioning to direct marketing and editing… Templates, plans, and reasons for doing things in the order you do them are vital,” Jobling explained.
Pictured: Elizabeth Jobling. LinkedIn: @elizabethjobling
Terzza said, “We look at how to use the online platforms such as Voquent and Voice123 effectively, guiding beginners through the labyrinth of pay-to-play and freelance sites. I also explain how they can market their talents directly to production companies and other potential customers.”
Shetty’s company is developing a new platform for voice actors to showcase their skills. “Until then, we tell them how to approach producers and directors and keep providing tips on the business side of things,” Shetty said, “We also call our students for group dub and Walla sessions so that they get the feel of how these dubs are conducted.”
Q: How important are audio engineering skills to succeed in the industry?
Now more than ever before, knowing how to use technology is an essential component of the voice acting business.
“I think that the more you can do on your own, the better you will be,” Pack said of audio editing. “Having that control and not relying on anyone to meet deadlines is empowering.”
Pictured: Mindy Pack. Instagram: @mindypack
Wolfson shared that engineering skills are critical in all genres and markets of voice acting, but the level of the skills you need depends on the genre. “Audio drama? Massive. Commercial? Kindergarten skills – a good kindergarten for smart kids, but(still) kindergarten,” she said.
Coury warned aspiring voice actors against getting “caught up in the business of VO before they know what their own voice can do.”
“Don’t start by buying an expensive microphone or recording an expensive demo,” Coury stressed. “Both will only amplify what you don’t yet know. And remember, a voice that stands out can always make a mic sound more expensive.
Q: Do you provide specific advice about rates or unions to your students?
Knowing how much to quote for jobs is difficult for any entrepreneur. Voice acting is no exception.
Factors that influence the rate you charge include:
- your experience
- your education and training
- your studio space and equipment
When you are starting out, you might feel the temptation to offer “low ball” rates to get an edge on the competition. However, this tendency can backfire later, according to the coaches we interviewed.
“I strongly advise [students] on not doing things for free or on the cheap,” said Rich. “Because if you start doing that, you can have real issues in the future with regard to getting a proper fee.”
Wolfson said that she relies on her experience in the industry to advise her students on rates. “I know rates and know how to teach you how to know rates,” she said.
After you’ve interviewed several coaches and compared their responses, your decision may come down to who feels like a good match for you. Are you confident that this person has a genuine interest in helping you meet your goals as a voice actor?
Most coaches charge a fixed rate for their services. “I think that clients should shop around and interview coaches to make sure they are the right fit for what they are wanting to accomplish,” Pack added. “With the way online lessons are, you can always find someone who can work within your budget.”
Pictured: David Coury. Twitter: @DavidCoury
Although the pandemic has been devastating for many aspects of the performing arts, the forecast looks promising for voice acting. The higher demand for e-learning and educational videos are part of what is fueling this trend.
According to an article in the NYU Dispatch on VO trends, the e-learning market, which relies heavily on voice actors, is expected to grow to more than $200 billion by 2024. The article also states that the VO industry has increased demand for different dialects, accents, and age groups.
If you’re serious about furthering your career as a voice actor, working with the right coach can provide the insights, tools, and motivation you need. “The secret to standing out in voice acting is a belief — your unabashed, unflinching belief — in yourself based on your ongoing work output and your unabashed, unflinching belief in the project at hand,” according to Coury.
“No one can ever be you. Now, can you be you?”
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Writer: Al Black