Thanks to the wonders of the Web, there are millions of people in all businesses peddling their wares, including voice teachers. Since I’ve been teaching singing privately and in workshops for a long time, I’ve watched this form of education and advertising mushroom over the years. Part of me is fascinated by the ease that many people have in front of the camera, and part of me hears what’s being said and watches anyway, like someone who is not able to look away from a horrible train wreck.
Recently I began cold-contacting some video voice teachers who have many subscribers to their Youtube channels to ask questions. This is consistent with my history–if many people in my field are doing something, and I seem to be missing “why,” I ask “what do you get out of this?” Most of them were gracious with their time and honest in their answers, but some reminded me of “the olden days,” when voice teachers closely guarded their trade secrets.
There are some good voice teachers on the web, but in my opinion, they are few and far between. It is a great deal of work to make and produce a video voice lesson series, and most of the teachers I interviewed admitted that they have not seen much financial return for that work. They spend a great deal of time answering questions in the comments’ section, or get a Skype lesson or two out of it, but regular recurring students are a rarity. It seems to take about two to five years of making video lessons part of their regular work day, to start to get private students on Skype. My impression was that the number of students seeking Skype lessons does increase, which keeps income steady, although the retention rate is dismal.
I would venture to say that voice teachers who are already teaching accomplished singers or professional singers are not teaching video voice lessons on Youtube.
For some teachers, the advertising revenues from Google are greater than income from teaching. A mid-20’s instrumental musician/teacher I interviewed says that he has made about $600–$700 from Google in the ten years he has sporadically posted video teaching lessons. He reminded me of something I have read consistently–that the key for getting students or increasing advertising income is to post regular and inspiring video content. More experienced video lesson teachers taper off making the videos after they have the work they want, and let their old video lessons continue to pull in students.
Some are making video lessons because they have a burning need to be famous or have true narcissistic issues, which can usually be spotted a mile away.
From what I have observed, creating video lessons makes sense if you are trying to sell a book, educational material or fill a webinar, but it does not translate to more students unless they are Skype lessons.
There are two issues I have with many video voice teachers. And the fact that I have not made videos (yet) is not wasted on me….I get it. Those who have not done something easily cast stones. I know that things are different than when I began teaching singing 35 years ago and know that it is harder to navigate the market place. Or is it? After talking with video lesson teachers, I think that the same skill sets of ingenuity, creativity and hard work were necessary a generation ago as they are today. The difference is that academia is graduating many more musicians whose inbred qualities do not include those three attributes. Read Colvin’s Talent is Overrated
Yet there are two things that are often missing in most video voice teachers that I feel are the foundation of being a good teacher of singing.
1. Knowledge of how the voice is supposed to work is only a PREREQUISITE for all good teachers of singing. And now, thanks to voice science and the evolution of the species called “the voice teacher,” we have voice teachers who know the science of how the body is supposed to work in the production of sound.
YET in spite of this progress we still have voice teachers talking about doing something with nasal resonance, nasal cavities, support from the diaphragm and forward placement, all of which are SENSATIONS due to something happening efficiently elsewhere in the body, larynx, throat and mouth. I hear many video voice teachers talking science but it is often not accurate. (Kind of like using “facts” in a political debate–you never know what is accurate and what is not. Thankfully, voice science is pretty straight forward.) But the unsuspecting public gets pulled in.
And, if you happen to get your scientific facts straight, just because you know the accurate science behind how the larynx works, or just because you have figured out how it works in your own body and come up with your own terminology, it does not mean you know how to work with others because singing is such an individual act. You also need to be able to observe, sense and diagnose how and what is not working in another singer, much like a body worker or physical therapist. You need to understand a basic physics’ principal that where a tension is released, it must be picked up somewhere else in the body. Which means you need to observe and hear fine muscle movements with an eagle eye and ear. You need to understand how emotion (fear, anger, sadness, just to name a few emotions,) can be stored in the body and affect singing. And then know how to work with muscle groupings and the mind to help slowly release dysfunction and build up vocal function. And on top of all that, you must be, or have been, a good musician and/or singer yourself.
2. The greatest musicians and teachers are HUMBLE in the face of their art and the traditions from which they come. No voice teacher or musician or entertainer ever exists in a vacuum, however much they think they do. Many video voice teachers as a whole are not communicating anything other than that they have the answers and learned the answers themselves so they are the experts.
We live in a culture of Personality Worship. The problem is our cultural understanding of Humility. Sometimes the word is synonymous with being a door mat or mild-mannered. Humility, as an expert, comes from understanding you are where you are because of the work of others. It comes from knowing that the things you have “discovered” are indeed, worthy, but not because you have originated the idea. You might be the One to take an idea to the next level, but we are part of a web that reaches further than the internet, further than we can fathom. Becoming humble means you are in service to something Greater than Yourself and you are there to serve the student. How can one teacher be of service to everyone on the Web? It doesn’t work that way.
Video voice lessons are a great way for people to find out more about their own singing but the truth is, you learn to sing by singing. Which means that just about any video voice “tip” will be of help if it gets you singing or starting to practice more consciously.
I’ve found a few web voice teachers who are accurate, knowledgable, great singers, humble and have a great sense of humor. But let the buyer beware….they are few and far between.