4 Words That Guarantee Voiceover Success!!!*

Voiceover Talent can earn "easy" money?

*Let’s be clear. There. Is. No. Guarantee.

You can be sure, however, that there will always be people who will try to convince you that they know all the secrets. And of course, for the low, low price of just $(fill in a number with at least one comma here), they will teach you everything they know, and you’ll be on your way to an easy, effortless million dollar career. These people aggravate me like you wouldn’t believe. At best, they’re well-intentioned, if a bit misguided. At worst (and I think this is more likely) they’re unscrupulous, misleading swindlers whose main goal is not to build your career, but to bilk your bank account. They do little, if anything, to benefit the voiceover community, while taking advantage of eager, starry-eyed beginners.

So just a few days ago I wrote an open letter to one of these nameless “experts,” and posted it in the Voiceover Friends group on Facebook, where it seems to have touched a nerve. Well, many nerves, really. Here’s the paragraph that got things started:

Dear voiceover “guru,”
Your non-stop, sales-y emails filled with high-pressure sales tactics and bold, ALL CAPS superlatives (which I find incredibly hard to believe) don’t make your workshops, seminars, webinars, teleconferences, coaching, training, programs, systems and secrets seem exclusive, they only make YOU seem desperate. (And WAY too eager to take money from people who don’t know enough about this business to know better.)

The inspiration for this was twofold: The first, obviously, had to do with yet another email from a self-professed voiceover “guru” to whom I alluded in the post. The second was yet another email from someone eager to get into the voiceover business (I get these emails all the time), who also received the “guru’s” sales pitch, and was looking for some direction.

Let’s Not Name Names

Right from the start, I want to point out that my intention is not to question the validity of the information that this (or any other) voiceover coach/instructor/teacher gives (read: sells) to their students, especially since I’ve never studied with this person. I’m only calling their sales tactics, their ridiculously over-priced training, and their promises of effortless voiceover success into question. I’m also not at all interested in identifying this person (otherwise I’d have named names), only in venting a bit about this particular problem as I see it. And it’s probably best that no one speculate (in print) about who I was referring to in my original post…a few people have written me to guess, and no one’s been right. That tells me that there are more “less-than-scrupulous” coaches out there than I thought. Unfortunately, it seems that promises of “sacks of cash being delivered to your doorstep” makes people take leave of their senses.

Anyway, within 24 hours of writing that post, more than 50 replies had been written, and they represented a wide range of opinions. I thought I’d share some of the more interesting and insightful ones here. I’ve asked everyone whose words appear below, and they’ve all graciously agreed to allow me to quote them here.

My friend, and fellow voice talent Zak Miller got the ball rolling with some very down-to-earth insights:

Zak Miller: Don’t get me wrong, coaches do have a place, but even with a coach Tiger Woods still hit over 1,000 golf balls a day by himself. Plus, when a coach comes to me and shows me the algorithm that determines why a voice is picked I will be their best student.
Bob Stephenson: I listened to a FREE webinar recently. The first 20 minutes were beginner’s stuff – the next 40 were why you needed this person’s NEXT BIG SEMINAR!! They’ve made millions and so can you!!….I didn’t listen the entire 40 minutes but tuned back in several times and they were still touting how THEY had the answers…I felt like I had wasted an hour of time I could have been marketing my skills and getting work.

I completely understand how Bob feels, and as I said to someone else recently: If your voiceover “coach” spends most of their time telling you about how they succeeded, you’ll only learn how they succeeded. Not how you can.

Grassroots Solutions

Some people have been extremely proactive in offering alternatives to the over-priced and over-hyped coaches of the world. Stephan James runs The NOLA Voice Talent Foundation, creating and providing affordable opportunities in voiceover in New Orleans and southern Louisiana.

Stephen James: I run weekly affordable workshops (under the non-profit Foundation) so that relative newcomers AND experienced voice performers continue to practice. “Perfect practice makes perfect.” I decided to form a non-profit for similar reasons – to support the voice-over community and to offer affordable opportunities. And I am loving every minute of it!

With decades of experience in all things audio, Cliff Zellman has taken another very proactive approach to sharing his expertise with the voiceover community. For more than four years, he’s run the Dallas Voice Acting Meetup Group and has hosted nearly 100 meetups. His approach to the catch-22 that new talent experience when putting together their first demo is one of the most reasonable and ethical approaches I’ve heard:

Cliff Zellman: I see a lot of them [voice coach sales pitches] are lead ins to “Let’s Do Your Demo.” BEWARE the store bought demo…I listen to dozens of demos a week. I can spot a store bought demo in 10 seconds. Who’s demo is it, anyway? The paid director’s? Or the actual talent & skills of the up & coming Voice Actor. A demo should represent a history of reproducible performances, not 3 hours in a booth, then go home and wait. The relative newcomer can (read: should) spend 6 months to a year recording themselves, while at the same time building audio skills by reading text (thanks Dan Friedman) practicing daily & getting critiques from many working professionals. Once competent in the huge number of skills required to compete, a mixer/producer can “do their thing” and put the VO’s work into a compelling and presentable production. To me, this is honest, this is ethical.

I was also pleased to learn that major L.A. voiceover talent could relate to this issue. Even Dave Fennoy, one of the most recognized voice actors in L.A., who is as humble as is talented (and he’s wildly talented) joined the discussion, with some very level-headed advice, and proof that we never get too good to benefit from some quality coaching:

Dave Fennoy: I’ve been a working VO pro in LA since 1990. I still go in for coaching to keep my reads fresh and current. Go with the coach with the best results instead of the biggest hype! I also have a VO workout group that meets every other week. Each person chooses copy and takes a turn in the booth. Everyone gets a few takes and after each, the other participants give critique and suggestions to make the read better. It’s cost-effective and it works…find your VO peers and begin your own groups. You’ll also be amazed at the psychological benefits in our very “lonely biz.” And Doug, I feel you about the “VO guru” hype. Some out there “teaching” just are not qualified. Let the buyer beware!

Some more level-headed perspective came from my talented friends Lee Gordon and Brad Venable:

Lee Gordon: And just because somebody engages in this style of marketing, does not automatically mean he or she is unqualified as a coach. But it does make you wonder why they feel the need to resort to the hard sell tactics.
Brad Venable: It kinda defeats the purpose of being a ‘guru’ if you scream to the heavens about how great you are.

So what was my advice to the eager voiceover newcomer? That there are plenty of skilled, qualified, experienced, generous and genuine voiceover and acting coaches out there (and I’ve worked with a number of them). They’ll provide you with realistic expectations and valuable information that you can use to create and maintain a real career in voiceover. Find those coaches, value the information that they share with you, and put it to good use. There are also scores of knowledgeable, experienced voiceover talent who have studied with these coaches, and who would be happy to share their experiences and make some recommendations. Just be willing to do a little research, and don’t sign up with the first coach who says you can “Save hundreds of dollars, if you register today!” The coaches who are worth studying with don’t need to use high-pressure sales tactics.

And remember that there are no simple secrets, no effortless systems, and no roads to guaranteed success in voiceover. And anyone who promises you those things in exchange for large sums of your money, is likely more interested in their success than in yours.

How have great coaches helped you? Share your experience in a comment below:

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Jeffrey Kafer October 11, 2011, 4:27 pm

    Never been coached or had a single class. Clearly I will fail.

  • Dan Friedman October 11, 2011, 4:28 pm

    I wrote a blog the other day about patience in voiceover. This certainly extends to finding good coaching. I understand the excitement to get a voiceover career going. But if you can simply be patient, take some time and ask 10 professional voice talent who to get coaching from… I guarantee some of the very same names will come up. That is how you know who to get coaching from and you’ll probably also learn who to stay away from. Also don’t ignore your internal “spidey sense” when talking to these people. In other words… be patient, ask questions and trust your instincts.

    Dan Friedman

  • Ed October 11, 2011, 4:55 pm

    Doug…and I thought it was just me who gets the countless solicitations for voice coaching! Guess not. To be sure, there are some incredibly reputable ones out there. I’ve been fortunate to work with several. And it’s good to tweek our craft. I suppose the key is to ask around. Most of the good ones don’t shout it from the mountain tops in CAP LETTERS!!!!!
    Great blog! Cheers.
    Ed V

  • Jim Kipping October 12, 2011, 9:51 am

    Didn’t need a coach to land Netflix, Sunny Delight, Golds Gym, Kreg Tool Or even Dish Network. Period. Want to learn, surround yourself with people in the industry that are successfull in the field you want to master. People that are actually doing it for a living, not telling people how to do it.

    As I tell the person who calls me and tells me they have been told they have a good voice and should “get into” voice over…. Just because I have a steady hand and like to watch doctor shows on tv doesn’t mean I will be performing open heart sugury this afternoon.

    • Doug Turkel - Voiceover Talent October 12, 2011, 1:17 pm

      Exactly, Jim!

      Getting into voiceover because you have a “good” voice will guarantee your success just as much as owning wonderful paint brushes will make you a great artist.

  • Jay Sawyer October 12, 2011, 12:28 pm

    This is generally a good BLOG, but where I have a question is you tell people what to stay away from, as anyone can nail a shingle out front and call themselves a VO “guru”. Everyone in this article says “…find a coach that works for you and works with you talents”. Well that’s GREAT but HOW do you discern the good from the bad and ugly? No one here listed the great or even reputable coaches. Bottom line, what source would you tell you newcomer to go to and be able to find the “good ones”? Isn’t that the bottom line, to be able to tell the good from the hype? Does your newcomer have to audit everyone’s class until they feel like they can get their moneys worth?

    • Doug Turkel - Voiceover Talent October 12, 2011, 1:02 pm

      Hi Jay,

      And thanks for stopping by. While I purposely did not include the names of any coaches (it’s far too subjective – a coach whose style works for me may not work for you) I did suggest that experienced voice talent are usually willing to share information about coaches they’ve worked with. Especially if you contact them individually. Also, different coaches may be a better fit for you depending on where you are in your voiceover career. (Dan Friedman makes a similar suggestion above.)

      Auditing classes is a tricky proposition, too. Newcomers may not know enough about the industry to accurately assess whether the class they’re auditing has information that would be helpful to them. (Which, unfortunately, makes them even more susceptible to falling for the hard-sell sales pitches of money-hungry “gurus.”) Again, the best way I can see around that Catch-22 is to contact some working voice talent and ask their opinions. Chances are you’ll quickly notice some common threads in their answers.

      If nothing else, newcomers can always sign up for a just a few classes with a coach to see if things “click.” (Though I’d strongly recommend against a beginner dropping thousands of dollars on an “ALL-INCLUSIVE WEEKEND WORKSHOP GUARANTEED TO TRANSFORM YOU INTO A WORKING PRO IN JUST DAYS!!!” or some such nonsense.)

      Just as in every other profession, there is simply no quick-and-easy way to learn this craft and build a career.

  • Cat Smith December 6, 2011, 1:26 am

    I’m not even going to get started on the free CD I received in the mail this week that was a 60 minute commercial followed by email after email from the coach who couldn’t understand how I could pass up the coupon she gave me for my first session.

    But rather, I’m going to share that this happens in classroom settings as well.  I was going to a studio regularly for classes before I knew enough to know that I could look elsewhere.  We would pay for an hour lesson in a room of 4-5 students and I swear half the session minimum was hearing how she did a job or what she was asked to do one time.  Then there was “when we get to your demo” mentions every time.  Basically, it was a lot of her talking about her for a lot of money.  If you get into this situation realize you have other choices and chose a class that actually offers something to learn where the focus is on you.

    Thanks for the blog!

  • Bettye January 5, 2012, 2:40 pm

    Great article here that I’ll share with my ‘Newcomers to Voice Overs two-day seminar in Dallas Jan 21-22 ($295 for the two days, includes co-teacher Steven James, NOLA VOICE FOUNDATION, four guest speakers, breakfast and lunch both days at hotel. Not your “typical” big money seminar, yes?) And the hotel price I wrangled was $95 per night and the rooms have full kitchens and mini grocery store in lobby! That’s my idea of saving money. Plus, we even offer free transportation to and from the Dallas in-town airport or their hotel if needed. Yes, I also am quite miffed by some of the seminar prices I’m seeing around the U.S. One day for $995? And two students I taught on scholarships (I often do help needy students each year) bragged that they were attending this. WOW. Sorry I let them attend free!) A voice demo does NOT have to cost $2500 or $3000. No it does not. I keep encouraging students not to buy into the “I’m a big Hollywood star” or “I’m in NYC” rip-off price. Do it closer to home and also, save all that travel money when possible. Of course it’s important to study with a variety of coaches in your first five years or so when you are getting started. But budget your training dollars wisely. The first thing every person interested in voice over work should do is make certain the voice is suitable, free of heavy accents or regionalisms (except for using these in cartoons etc.). Seeking a voice coach (apart from voice overs) is often wise. Next, ask for a coach’s credentials, credits, educational training, some sort of proof that he or she truly knows about his or her subject.

    All best to you and your blog is really useful
    Bettye Zoller

    And PS: I have the Dallas University Park Voiceover Meeting Group with 105 members and I train in the High schools and in summer Dallas Museum programs and in theatre divisions of colleges, often free or for little money. I try to give back every opportunity I receive.

  • KimG January 18, 2012, 1:33 pm

    I couldn’t agree more. I’m a not so starry eyed beginner looking for real answers on how to go about getting interviews and selecting an agent. I keep coming to dead ends with swindlers.  Wishing I knew a place to get solid advice.

  • Glenn Argenti April 23, 2013, 11:27 am

    Hey Doug, we used to work together at CCMiami. I have been interested in getting into VO work (I would specifically like to work in animation and games). So where did I turn for advice…you. I have always had a lot of respect for your work. I point out your voice when I hear it on TV to my wife. Thank you for your blog on the pitfalls of VO work. It was an eye-opener.
    Glenn Argenti