Training With a Coach

Going With a Personal Voice Coach

Studying with a voice coach can help you assess your talent and develop your skills. Having a coach is the best preparation and nourishment that you can invest in to build a solid foundation for your voice acting career. A voice teacher can instruct, mentor, and prepare you for a lifetime of using your voice to make a living.

Training comes in different shapes and sounds. Although a professional coach can guide and train you and your voice, training also involves what you do during your own time to improve your skills.

Although studying with one coach to master the basics is to your benefit, each coach has his strengths in certain areas. In voice acting, you can choose to take lessons with a variety of coaches depending on what you want to study.

The following sections explain in greater depth the different ways a voice acting coach can help you develop, how different classes operate, what you can do to choose the right coach, how to hire a coach, and how to make sure your lessons are productive.

Understanding How a Coach Can Help You

Voice coaches can teach you everything you need to know about technique and the ins and outs of the business. They can also provide much needed encouragement and help you to set goals that are possible, beneficial, and exciting.

A voice coach can provide you with objective guidance you wouldn’t otherwise have. You can think of your coach as an additional set of eyes and ears with the added benefit of those eyes and ears being trained. Your coach can point out things to you that you may not be aware of, identify areas where you may be holding physical tension that affects your performance, and also instruct you on how to correct those things.

No matter your skill level, a coach can help you in the following areas. You may have strong skills in one area and don’t need much assistance. If you hire the right coach, he can help you with them or just the areas you need assistance.

Even if you decide not to use a coach for an extended period of time, you can use these same exercises to develop your skills.

Warming Up Your Voice

Before using your instrument in all kinds of wonderful and wacky ways, your voice needs some special attention. Warming up your voice is crucial to giving a performance that sounds good and feels pleasant. Your coach can show you a variety of vocal warm-ups that can engage your resonators (nasal passages, also known as the mask of the face) and articulators (tongue, teeth, and lips).

Some different vocal warm-ups you may do include the following:

  • A soft, low hum spanning only a few notes at a time can kick in your resonators.
  • A facial massage while humming can help loosen up your facial muscles and relax them.
  • Yawning, believe it or not, is also a great way to prepare. Yawning helps to loosen your jaw and creates more space for you to breathe. After you have a nice loose feeling, you can start to expand the range (pitch) you’re covering with your voice and try different, more elaborate exercises.
  • Saying tongue twisters can release tension in your tongue. The tongue is the most powerful muscle in the human body, and it needs to be relaxed in order for you to articulate smoothly and without tripping on your words. Tongue twisters are a favorite of voice actors. You can find numerous tongue twisters online or recite nursery rhymes.
  • Breathe properly can set you up to complete a phrase and allow you to be heard. In addition to breathing well, your breath needs to be supported, and you use your diaphragm to support your breath. Your coach can help you develop your breathing techniques with different exercises. As you master breathing techniques, you can deliver your lines more comfortably for longer durations with greater tonal consistency.

 You can do breathing exercises that are as simple as breathing in for a few seconds, holding the breath for a few seconds, and then releasing the breath on a hiss, counting out the beats while snapping your fingers. Think of yourself like a full balloon. The hissing should feel slightly like you’re deflating. Time yourself as the breath is released until no more breath is being expelled. After a while, you should be able to take a nice deep breath and let it out for a longer duration. Refer to the earlier section, “Breathing: Focus on your diaphragm” for advice on how to breathe.

Using Your Entire Body To Perform

When voice acting or singing, you’re using your entire body to perform. You need to stand in a comfortable manner that properly aligns your vertebrae, with your feet shoulder-width apart. If you’re in a sitting position, you may assume the posture of a chorister in rehearsal by sitting on the edge of your seat creating a 90-degree angle, feet touching the floor. A comfortable standing optimal position for voice acting means that you don’t slouch, hold tension anywhere, or need to compensate in any way.

Your coach also helps you maintain good posture, both when standing and sitting. You do most of your work as a voice actor from a standing position in proximity to a microphone, so you need to know how to stand in order to get the best possible performance from your voice.

  • Develop these additional skills: These are some more technical voice skills your coach can help you develop and perfect. He can provide an array of exercises to help with these skills.
  • Intonation: Intonation is how your voice sounds in terms of how it rises and falls as you speak. You can think of intonation as how your voice cadences at the end of a sentence, when you ask a question, and so on. As an example, most people’s voices go up in pitch when they ask a question. Intonation can vary between cultures and may affect how the listener receives what the speaker is saying.
  • Phrasing: Having good phrasing means you’re able to get through sentences in a script with ease, making the most of your breath, support, and tone in order to technically and artistically communicate the text well. A phrase can consist of an idea or fragment of a sentence or it can be an entire thought. Punctuation is important to consider as a guide to help you determine how you observe phrasing on a per phrase basis.
  • Fluctuation: Fluctuation is how your voice can go up and down at will. This differs from intonation because fluctuation refers to the mastery of a vocal range and intonation refers to speaking in a certain manner, such as having your voice go up in pitch when asking a question. For example, fluctuating your voice means that you’re able to bring your voice up or down in pitch, kind of like singing up and down a scale. If you have a wide vocal range, you can hit a wide range of tones. If your vocal range is limited to less than an octave (think of a musical scale representing one octave), you can practice to maximize your range and make it work for you.
  • Elasticity: Elasticity is in direct correlation with how well you have prepared your voice to perform and determines the ease in which your voice fluctuates or leaps around. That’s why warming up your voice is so important, like we discussed earlier in this section. Warming up the full extent of your range provides you with confidence and the ability to experiment, play with, and shape your voice. This is a very important aspect of voicing for people who do character voice work. Keeping your voice well-hydrated by drinking plenty of water helps significantly in this area. Always have a bottle of water handy wherever you go and be sure that you’re well-hydrated before attending a recording session or using your voice.
  • Versatility: How far can your voice take you? Versatility refers to the different ways you can use your voice and your ability to change how it sounds. For our purposes, versatility takes into account your vocal range, timber (relates to the tone color or tone quality of your voice), tone, enunciation, and other vocal qualities. A voice actor who can read for a variety of applications or characters may be considered versatile. Some people, for example, are good at home recording commercials and can also do animation voice acting. Although these fields may seem polar opposites, a versatile voice actor can work in very different fields of voice acting and be very successful.

When you’re ready, your coach can encourage you to record a professional voice-over demo. A voice-over demo is a brief sampling of your capabilities that demonstrates your personal style, brand, and highlights your natural talents. Chapter 6 explains what a demo is and Chapter 8 walks you through how to record your own demos.

Knowing your options for voice lessons

If you decide to hire a coach, you have several options for taking classes. Your classes may vary from once a week to every couple weeks to once a month. The class length depends on what you’re able to commit to and whether or not you’re traveling to see your coach. Most voice actors tend to schedule their lessons for one hour in duration, scheduled once a week. During this time, your coach can instruct you on how to use your voice and introduce new concepts and skills while polishing areas you’re already skilled in.

Because voice acting has many components, you may have lessons that are more technical in nature where you work on technique and other lesson that focus on the more fun, artistic side of things. Your coach can likely start with the basics that include fundamentals such as breathing, phrasing, diction, and so on. The voice is a versatile instrument and performs beautifully if the core skills are in place. Even though you may think all you’re doing is talking, voice acting demands an entirely different level of commitment and attention to detail. Being a word painter requires work!

Some of these educational encounters are shorter in duration. Coaches who teach a very specific form of voice acting hold intensive weekend workshops drilling a particular skill or set of skills. You also may find that you have an affinity for a particular course of study in voice acting. A coach can help you specialize in certain areas, such as the following:

  • Accents: If you want to master a particular accent or dialect and broaden your horizons as a voice actor, you can seek out training from someone who specializes in this area. Accents can be a lucrative piece of the pie, so mastering a few of the standard accents is a good idea, particularly a neutral accent (or unaccented) speech and a British accent. Your coach can introduce you to the International Phonetic Alphabet and accents in general.
  • Audiobook narration: If you want to be an audiobook narrator, study with someone who has experience in that area and has narrated titles that you can purchase in stores.
  • Commercial work: If you want to have your voice heard on television or radio commercials one day, taking lessons from someone who has built his or her career voicing broadcast television commercials and understands the ins and outs of advertising is to your advantage.
  • Video game voicing: This kind of acting is different from voicing for animated cartoons.

Basically, if you have an interest in a field, make sure that you seek out a coach who has experience in that field.

Picking a Voice Over Coach

Your voice is your instrument and is also the main component of your business. That being said, selecting the right coach for you to study is a decision that will directly impact the outcome of your goals. We assume that you’re a working professional or are on the brink of starting as a novice voice actor who wants to study with a coach to aid in the preparation of recording a voice-over demo and develop and improve your skills.

Although a great deal of your success is reliant upon your actions and level of dedication, studying with the right coach can play an equally important role in determining how successful you are in this field.
Considering individual or group instruction
Figure out whether you want one-on-one instruction or group instruction. Here’s a quick overview of the pros and cons to these types of instruction:

Individual instruction: When you study one-on-one, the pros include the following:

  • You get more personalized attention. Being in a class of one has its benefits, including that your coach can focus solely on you and your voice. You can accomplish more working privately with a coach than you would in a group setting.
  • You have an individual instruction plan. When you study privately, your coach can plan lessons just for you that are specific to your needs and your goals. Each lesson will afford you the opportunity to learn, experiment, and improve as a voice actor, given the individual attention you’re receiving.
  • You receive a custom experience. Working with a coach one on one isn’t only a wonderful way to accelerate your learning, but it’s also the best way to receive a personalized education. You can ask all the questions you want about things you’re most interested in and may also be able to choose scripts or texts to work from.
  • You get more microphone time. Mic time is something that all voice actors crave when taking lessons or being coached. There is no better way to maximize your time at the microphone than to study privately with your coach.
  • Your coach can provide a personal consultation. Being the only student in a class opens up opportunities for your coach to be honest with you about things you need to improve upon or celebrate areas that you have excelled in. You have time to consult with your coach and ask career-related questions, demo-related questions, or seek tips for how to book auditions that come your way.

Some cons include the following:

  • It’s more expensive. As the old saying goes, you get what you pay for. Studying with a coach privately will cost more than studying in a group setting. You’re paying for the individual attention, which costs more.
  • You may have to travel. Some of the best voice acting coaches are located in metropolitan centers, such as Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago. You may also find that a voice acting coach doesn’t live near you. If you want to study in person, you may have to travel.
  • You have fewer people to obtain feedback from during a lesson. Sometimes hearing the thoughts of others who have different perspectives is valuable. When you study one on one, you have only the coach’s feedback to go from as opposed to multiple insights from a number of people.
  • You may feel isolated. When it’s only you and your coach, you may feel a bit isolated in the sense that the only voice you’re hearing is that of your coach. You may also be someone who prefers to work in groups and likes to be part of a team.
  • You have nowhere to hide if you didn’t do your homework. If you want to truly succeed, you need to do your homework. A coach will know if you haven’t practiced, which can reflect poorly on you as well as set you back in terms of progress.

Group Voice Over Classes

Group instruction: Studying in a group provides you with a unique setting to develop your skills. That being said, group instruction has its own pros and cons as well. Some pros of studying in a group are:

  • You can give and receive more feedback. Feedback is a helpful tool for improving your reads or performances. Giving feedback is a useful exercise because you need to be listening attentively and objectively to give good feedback. Listening is one of the chief skills you’ll need as a voice actor because professional voice actors, believe it or not, do more listening than talking.
  • You can watch others perform. Observing others perform or take direction is a great way to scoop up practical tips that you can then apply to your own performances or technique.
  • You potentially have a lower cost to participate. If you’re just exploring voice acting and want to invest only a modest amount at first, a group lesson may be a good fit as is auditing a class.
  • You’re introduced to other voice actors in your area. Meeting other voice actors is important because they understand you! Voice actors work in a very specialized area, so you can turn to each other for support and help.
  • You can get a feeling of community. Being surrounded by people who know what you do and are encouraging of you is a must.

Fellow voice actors are generally some of the most welcoming and helpful people you’ll ever meet in a business setting. Get plugged in to your local voice acting community. 

The cons of studying in a group are as follows:

  • * You get less personalized attention. If you’re looking for someone to hang on your every word and make the class all about you, a group class isn’t right for you. Remember that the instructor needs to divide his or her time among other students to be fair to all in attendance who paid to take the class.
  • * Other people can see you perform. If you’re shy and are worried about how you look and sound, this can be problematic.
  • * You get less microphone time. Mic time is very important for training sessions. You really can benefit from your performance with mic time. The more time you have at the microphone and the more work you have to review after the fact, the better.
  • * Material may not be altogether at your skill level. This issue can happen from time to time if who sign up for workshops geared toward a different level than you are. If you have any experience whatsoever, you may want to consider intermediate or advanced-level courses.
  • * You may achieve less than you would if instructed privately. When you’re in a group setting, the instructor can’t stray much from the curriculum to accommodate voice actors who are at different skill levels because the instructor needs to focus on teaching what he advertised.

Your choice is ultimately yours. Starting out with group coaching or attending a weekend workshop for beginners and aspiring voice actors is a great way to test the waters before committing to private lessons or lessons of any kind.

Knowing What to Look For

When you start to look for a voice acting coach, you want someone who leaves an imprint on your perspectives, goals, and potentially the direction you take in your voice acting career. Coaches have the ability to inspire or to deter, depending on how you interpret their methodology, or bedside manner if you will. As a result, you need to select the best fit for you as a student for voice acting to succeed.

When you start your search, you need to consider a few important points about your potential coach:

* Experience level: When looking for a coach, look for someone who has been working in the industry for more than a decade and has a wide array of clients. Some coaches may have enjoyed a successful voice acting career for a long time and have decided to turn their attention to teaching in their golden years. If the coach has a website, look at it to see a partial client list or roles that the coach has performed. Do what you can to research the coach’s educational background.

* Fee: The fees that coaches charge vary depending on their level of experience and the amount of time you will be spending with them on a per lesson basis. If you’re studying to learn something very specific, you’ll likely pay a premium for that information and guidance. If you’re studying in a group versus one-on-one setting, group lessons may cost less than if you were having a private lesson. Each coach reserves the right to charge what she feels her services are worth and will bundle lessons in either a curriculum or month-to-month basis. Ask the coach if you can study once or gain an evaluation period with her before you commit to ongoing study.

* Your niche: Figuring out what you want to study or improve upon is half the battle when finding a coach. Coaches who work in the niche you are focusing on will be a better fit than working with someone who is an amazing voice coach but specializes in a different area of voice acting. When you can, find a coach who has been acknowledged as a top performer by his or her peers and other industry players, perhaps even award-winning. If you want to work in audiobook narration, for instance, try to find a working narrator who has received awards such as an Audie or a Golden Earphone. If you want to work in commercials, look for coaches who served as the voice of an award-winning campaign and can lay claim to an Addy, per se.

* Personality: Life can be a lot easier if you get along with and respect the person who is coaching you. You need to be able to take constructive criticism from the coach without feeling threatened or discouraged. Finding an encouraging coach is a must. Make sure the coach is able to encourage and still be objective and honest.

* A coach’s voice demos: When considering whether you want to study with someone, listen to his or her current voice samples. Many coaches are still working voice actors and have a few demos on their websites that you can hear. Their demos can tell you a lot about what you can expect of their talent and also how they may direct you in producing a demo at some point. Studying with a coach who has voice samples in the area you wish to work in also can give you a greater appreciation for the work she has done and validate her abilities in this niche of voice acting.

* Close to your home: If you want to study with someone in person, location is a significant consideration when choosing a coach. If you live in a metropolitan city, you’re in a better position geographically to study with a coach who leads a peer group. Centers with a wide array of voice acting coaches to choose from include cities like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal. Keep in mind that if you want to study in person with a coach who lives far away, you may need to travel unless the coach offers services over the phone or by Skype. Some people are willing to travel a fair distance (sometimes up to eight hours) to train, but doing so isn’t practical for everyone nor is it desirable at times.

Finding the right voice over coach

A coach who can open you up, develop, and refine your skills is available for every person. Finding these individuals and having the ambition and humility to become a student of voice acting is the real challenge. If you know your criteria (we help you figure out what you want in a coach in the previous section), you can actually start your search.

To uncover the coach that’s right for you, use these tips:

* Ask your colleagues about their experiences with a particular coach (one with whom they study on a regular basis). Get the inside scoop from them on why they love studying with their coach. They'll have specific reasons why they chose and continue to work with that individual.
  Don’t just ask one of the coach’s students; ask several. Each person has his or her own unique reasons for studying with that coach, and you may also find that students in a given studio share similar thoughts on why studying with a particular coach has improved their performance.
* Read written reviews or testimonials from past students. Nothing is more telling than feedback, whether good or bad, from people who have actually studied with a coach you’re considering. You can find this information by visiting the coach’s website, doing a search for the coach’s name, or visiting a chat room or forum.
* Find out whether the coach’s students are booking jobs. One sign that a coach is helping his or her students is if those students are booking voice acting jobs, landing agents, or continuously crediting part of their success to a particular coach. Good coaches also keep their eyes and ears open for opportunities that can suit their students. People who study with these sorts of coaches are quick to share that information and often do so via social media.
* Listen to podcasts or watch videos of their work. You can easily find information online that can serve as a soft introduction to a voice acting coach before reaching out to connect. Many coaches participate on the Voice Over Experts podcast (which you can find in iTunes) or donate articles and expertise to the community.

After you narrow down your search to a couple, have a phone consultation or interview with each one to see if you get along. You can also ask any questions that you may have about the coach’s teaching style and whether or not the coach feels she would be a good teacher for you. If auditing is an option, attend one of the coach’s workshops and sit in to observe how she interacts with students. Above all, make sure you feel comfortable in the presence of your coach and that you trust her. Your voice is a very personal thing and not just anybody should be shaping it. Be selective in this regard and use all the information you have gathered before making a decision.

Starting off on the right foot with your coach

You find a coach, and you’re excited about starting this relationship with the hopes of developing your voice acting skills. When you hire the coach, keep these points in mind as you start your official relationship:

* Be true to your commitment. Treat this relationship as you would the same professionalism shown to your doctor, accountant, and so on. Make sure that you clearly understand the structure of your lessons, set reachable goals, and if applicable, determine how long you will be studying with the coach. Will this be a long-term relationship or are you planning on studying with him for a set period of time? If you’re unable to make it to a class or need to reschedule, be sure that you understand your coach’s policies and how he treats absences and how he compensates you for lost time if he is late or ill. Knowing what your coach expects of you professionally is very important.

* Be a good student. If you want this relationship to prosper, you need to put in some effort and give your coach reason to look forward to each class. Show up on time and be prepared to work. In between sessions, review what your coach has taught you and work on specific things you discussed in previous lessons. Applying your coach’s advice and demonstrating your ability to follow instructions can go a long way in maintaining a good rapport with your teacher in addition to improving your skill and talent as a voice actor.

Getting the Most from Your Training Sessions

You want to make sure you consistently apply what your coach has instructed you if you want to improve your skills. Take what your coach has presented and find a way to interpret it and make it your own. In this section, we look at ways to maximize your lessons and ideally improve your chances of getting hired for work in voice acting.

Doing your homework

Remember what it felt like in school to have your teacher walk by to check the previous night’s homework assignment only to find that it wasn’t completed, perhaps not even started? The same thing happens in the arts when you don’t practice. A voice acting coach will know if you’ve been working on what he assigned by your performance and skill, so make sure you dedicate time to do your homework. Review your lessons and apply what your coach taught. To help you, many teachers will make an audio or video recording of your lessons for you to refer to when practicing at home.

Practicing is always a good idea. When you’re studying one on one with a coach, you need to have done your homework. Practicing allows your coach more freedom to move ahead with introducing new concepts and pieces of copy for you to try.