Voice over Coaching with Alyson Steel
Alyson is a graduate of NYC’s High School of Performing Arts (from the movie “Fame”). She received her B.A. from Queens College while doing recurring work on the soap opera “Another World” as well as on-camera commercials. Alyson decided to go back to school and earned her MFA in Dramaturgy from SUNY Stony Brook. She then moved to Los Angeles and it was only then that the VO bug hit her and began doing extensive Voice Over work.
23:45 What's your background?
"I've gone to the High School Performing Arts in New York City, and was the last graduating class there before the school became La Guardia in New York City. Then I went to Queens College, and studied acting and communications. And then I got my MFA in Dramaturgy in Stony Brook University. And then I moved to LA, and decided to start doing everything on camera again, instead of doing background teaching part. And I decided, out of nowhere, you know what, I really want to do voice over, even though I sounded like this since I was four, and it didn't hit me until I was in my late twenties. I did everything wrong. I made a demo immediately, and I had a lot of raw talent, and just not being able to uphold that demo. Then I started honoring the profession by getting coaches myself, working with several people in the industry. At that time there's no internet, so I kind of do my ground work. From then on, I started with a small agent, larger agencies, so my reputation started working, you know, pretty soon after I made a demo, and got an agent."
21:14 What do you mean when you said you can't uphold your demo?
"What happened was I made this really cool demo, which I'll show you because it's so funny. And now everybody will understand 'cause that means I was really young. But it's a cassette. So I made this cool demo with this guy, Chuck Duran, who's still in business. It was about 3 and a half minutes long, you take commercial, promo, imaging mashed it all together at that time. And that's what demos were. He was able to really direct me very well, because I had a great performance, you know, through my acting background. But I wasn't able to uphold the reads because he directed me, and I was able to be directable but I didn't know how to get those reads back. Somebody said can you read back what you did? I wouldn't have been able to do it very well. A lot of people get into the profession without studying, making great demos but they're not able to repeat what they did in their demo. And then, you know, shell shocked, basically."
"I think that was one of the things when we first got started, you told me to wait 6 months to a year before making my first demo. I think that's really great and really grounding advice. Especially when you're excited to get in, in the industry, like "I'm on fire. I wanna go, first thing, to make my demo." And I love that, that's part of your story, you know like, "Hey I can speak from experience, that's not the thing to do." And then you said, honoring the profession. And I love that language. It's not a thing where in you go in, and just, you know, make this demo, and it starts happening really fast. There's coaching, and training involved."
"Exactly. And what you're asking at the beginning, what would be my first thing to tell a newcomer. Get a coach. Get a mentor. Get somebody who's gonna literally take you by the hand, and go here, walk this way, and be held by that person. That's literally the main thing. Get a coach."
19:07 What's your background as a coach? What do you love about coaching?
"So, you know, having time at graduate school, I learned to teach them at collegiate level. I enjoy teaching older people. Older meaning, yes I taught 12 and 13 year olds, I do well with them. I even, you know, coach my own kids, really young, when they were doing voiceover jobs. But I do prefer 16 and up, or 18 and up, just because that's when I started in high school, that sort of thing. I totally forgot the question."
Carrie: Your background as a coach.
"I had to teach when I was in grad school, and over the years, I honed in on how to teach voiceover. Just, I didn't start teaching immediately. I really waited years into my career as voiceover actor, to teach. I never really marketed myself as a teacher. It has always been unfurled, a lot of girls come from Yale, which I love. I adore that. And I thank you for that too. But I believe what makes me a good teacher is that not all teachers are good performers. Not all performers are good teachers. I think I have a good amount of both. It's the way I present things. I really like setting a great foundation for my students. I'll test them along the way without them knowing it. And so I infuse, I hope that my being engaging is infusing them with a lot of knowledge."
Carrie: Yeah. And I can attest for your coaching. Because you were my very first coach. Super. A great experience.
17:05 Do you coach beginners?
"I do. I coach beginner, intermediate, and people who are working, you know, well into the field, actually. It definitely feels different with each, and I evaluate differently with each person.
This is on the backpage of my website, and I really thought about it, I do like being somebody's mentor. I think that it's really neat. First of all, it's really a great honor to really walk somebody through the process, like, typically yourself, who was my first really great success. And just feels so heartwarming, and just incredible to be able to see somebody's career take off, and of course, we became friends, like you're soul sister to me. And I can see the trajectory of your path, and I still love that you come to me for things. And we work together, which is just beautiful. But it really does feel joyous for me to be able to push somebody to their next level. Again from beginner to people who are seasoned in the field."
15:51 What genre or genres of voiceover do you coach in?
"I coach, I always start with commercial with people. So commercial for sure, promo, narration. I can do animation, but I usually start very lightly in the animation field. And then I get them to my guy that I use as animation, you know when I need animation coach infusion. You know, I could do e-learning but I'd probably send them to you for that. You know, you wanna send the person, have them, really have a niche in their fields. For audiobooks, I do them occasionally, very occasionally but what happens if I'm doing two right now. I'll probably send them to somebody else's well. So I really try to stay in the politicals, commercial, infomercial, narration, promo. And then, smattering of the other stuff but it always start with commercial."
14:45 What is important for someone interested in voiceover, to look for in a coach?
"The important things to look for in a coach, are definitely, first of all, who are they. Are they the agent? Were they a former agent? Are they just primarily a coach? Who have they coached? Where did their students end up? Because then you're gonna know, are they working? Are they making money in the field? Are they just kind of nowhere in the field? So you really do get a feel of like where do they stand, what is the coach's main stay, like they coach mostly animation, mostly commercial, mostly you know promos. We all have our niches, right? Again, I will do a little promo with people, and send them to somebody else's well later on down the road. Definitely also, are they engaging, how do you vibe with them, do you feel like that your hands are being held along the way, that you're learning everything you possibly can in this field? Feels like you're taking care of, that you can just call, text or write an email and say "Hey I have a question", etc etc. That's what I would look for in a coach."
13:26 When should a voice talent start seeking a coach?
"When should they start seeking a coach? When they wanna get into the field, and say, this is it. I really wanna do this. It's kinda like going to any school. You say, I wanna go to law school, so you start learning about the law and go to school. This is the same thing. You learn about who the coaches are, their various reputations, and what they're known for, who they've coached, and you know, how successful some of their students might be, and you go from there."
12:53 What do voice talent learn when they're coaching with you?
"Voice talents learn from the ground, from the foundation of voiceover, and knowing all of the lingo, and all of the, you know, the technology, what's going on in the field, I start very foundationally. They don't even open... if they are new comer, that is. If they are intermediate days, it might be a little different, or advanced age.
But if they are brand new comer, they're gonna learn everything from the ground up. I like my students to know everything that's going on. Give them a great landscape. Make them feel as though they are in the water, but in a lifeboat being held. So that they can feel like, oh I am part of this world, I know what's going on, I have somebody who's a lifeline. And really feel like they're, you know, solid in the field so they definitely start with foundational stuff. Everything starts with foundation, and you go from there."
11:49 How long do you typically work with students?
"Great question. How long do I typically work with students. I work with students, I wanna say at least 3-6 months. And it depends on their rate. So for example, I have a student now that started with me in September but she's already on demo track. And she's already in the midst of making her demo. So she started with me every week for an hour, and she's already making her demo. Another student, similarly, is only doing half an hour a week, but she started in July or August, because it's only half an hour, but same thing, she's already on the demo track. Depending on, you know, what I really also recognize is, if a student can only afford, let's say 2 hours a month, I ask them to do half hours, so that we can meet, you have to meet with me, it forces them to be like, ok here I am. You get more out of it, ironically, than if it'd just be 2 hours a month. So, I wanna say about 3 months for an average newcomer it's around that time as long as I don't have to change accents. This other woman I was just talking about, she's on the demo track, she just got her first job. So you know, it took about 3 months. And she's now making her demo. But that's probably a good amount of time. You know, sometimes, it might be 4 months, sometimes, it might be 5 months."
Carrie: And just for our friends, we're recording this in December. Just so, you mentioned months, so that we can get how long you've been working.
10:12 How regularly do you recommend students work with you? Weekly?
"Yeah. It would be nice weekly. Again, like, if some of them are like "Oh my gosh, I can only afford 2 hours." And I'm like, buy a package and we'll just tick off the half hours. You know what I mean? I definitely want them to get as much bang for their buck 'coz it's expensive. Their biggest investment is gonna be me. It's not gonna be the equipment, it's not gonna be anything else. It's going to be the coach. So whoever you choose, you know, keep that it mind. So absolutely, I think, it's better to have a little bit of the time. Better to have little food at a time, than an entire Thanksgiving meal once a month. So better to just go half an hour weekly if you can.
09:15 What is your take on demos?
"What's my take on demos, do not do a demo until you're ready. Because that is shooting yourself on the foot as again, you know, my experience, I did the wrong thing. Learn from that. I've seen many unfortunate people who've done the same thing as well. You're taking money, and it's usually a decent sum of money, you want your demo to last at least 2 years, and you're investing it in that. But if you're not ready, or if you don't think that your reads are gonna hold for at least 2 years before you've become a little bit more experienced, don't do the demo yet. Again, maybe you have a lot of raw talent but you won't be able to reproduce what you did on the demo."
08:17 When should students make them?
"So, make the demo when your coach says "yes make the demo". Now, there's a caveat in that statement. You know, some coaches unfortunately, are trying to string you along as long as possible. You don't wanna be with one of those coaches, either. You don't wanna be with a coach who says "give me the money upfront, I'm gonna all do, you know, give me 5 thousand dollars, we're gonna have a couple of months of classes, and we're gonna do a demo." I would stir clear from that. You'd want to be with somebody who absolutely knows like you're on the right pace, you're at the right path, you're able to sustain a demo, you know, what you put out there."
07:36 Do you make them?
"I do. I make demos. And I pride myself on them because my students not only get agents, and work. But the demos come out really cool, and I do demos in a way that is interactive so it's not like anybody else out there that does them. And I've really honed in also making it a great learning experience for the student. They're doing it by zoom, this way, they're recording themselves, and it really, there's multiple layers of what they're learning, which will help them when they're doing real jobs. Like I said, the demos, because I do things a little counter-intuitively and very interactively, the demos come out super cool, very engaging and extremely, uhm, they're not generic. They're very different from a lot of other demos out there. But they get listened to, and people enjoy them."
06:43 Weird question. Do you have preferred demo producers that you recommend students use?
"That's not a weird question. It's a great question. I do use/prefer producer because the producer's the one mixing it and putting the music in, and putting the sound effect in, that sort of thing. And you wanna have a producer who knows a great balance, who knows demos. There was a few months ago when I was considering somebody else in the mix, in terms of who I can work with. You gotta have a great rapport with the person. I go back and forth with the engineer. We decide what order it's in, which can make a huge difference in terms of how you listen to it. And even, you know, I'd say, oh wait, put the sound effect there, that needs this, that needs that, and don't tweak it like that. Some producers are just like, no, let me do my thing. And other producers might be too loud, or the production part might not be loud enough, or they just don't have the feel of a demo. I have a friend who's great at producing radio shows, and then I asked him to send me a demo of what it sounds like in a commercial, and I never used him for that. It just that, he's not the right producer for that sort of thing. Excellent question. And when I started to think who else can I use in case I couldn't get my guy that I normally use. You know, I had to whittle it down to maybe to 2 people."
05:17 What is your involvement in the demos of your students?
"So as I was saying, my involvement with the demo of these students is very interactive. We create the demo with dry voice only. It might take one session, usually more, maybe, it takes two or three sessions. Then, we take all the files, send them to my engineer. And then my engineer and I go backwards and forwards, with you know, doing a little mixing, and magic spells. And then, we finally send it to the person. So I'm definitely involved in the whole process of making the demo.
04:42 Is a student ever done coaching with you? How do you help them determine next steps?
"You know, you're a great example. Is a student ever done? I would say that, to some degree, there are certain students that are like, now I like to study audiobooks so I send the student to the guy that I send for audiobooks. Another student was wanting to do animation again, so I sent it to my animation guy. Or again, I send e-learning to you. There's gonna be people out there, who can coach better than I can with certain things. So like, kind of the way you and I do some promo together. And I was like, go to this guy, go to this person, as well. And you'll get more and more out of it, as time goes on. Then, I'll even coach with other people, and go, oh I can share that with Carrie, so then we share information. But it's always nice to know if I'm still considered, you know, as somebody that you've reach out to, or the person to study with. Because it's nice to have that connection. It starts to become a symbiotic relationship. But yeah, you're done to an extent. But I guess, a teacher of mine used to say in high school, you're not done until for 20 years. I didn't ever considered myself a full teacher until I was on voiceover field for 20 years, which is an interesting thing I've still taught before then but same thing, I still have a connection with teachers, potentially. You know, it's always a practice, you're always moving forward. Or should I say, you're always learning. You're done, not done. Does that makes sense?"
Carrie: I think too, with you, in particular, you're always available. So even if a student maybe stopped getting lessons for a while but then have a question. There's... You always have that...
"Yes, you even asked me a question a few months ago, a year ago, about the unions, this and that. We had a talk. It's nice to be able to have that touchpoint with a person, and you're right, I definitely keep myself open for students for that. Absolutely. I think it's important to have somebody that you can go to."
02:21 Brag on yourself/your student. What is your greatest accomplishment in the industry, as a voiceover actor, voiceover coach? What are you proud of, what students are you proud of? No pressure to mention names.
"I'm not saying this but you are my greatest accomplishment as a teacher. I mean hands down when I say, and you are. You know, you quit your job within 3 months, you just skyrocketed. You have a great, you know, we have a great relationship. Teaching together, and getting work together. You are just not only a great mentee, protege, but a soul sister so you are my absolute greatest accomplishment in terms of teaching. There are other students who have become full time voiceover artists as well which is really neat to see them on rosters and working. Even older men like this guy, Jim. He's constantly working on audiobooks. This guy's like an audiobook king now. And that's just really really cool. It's such a neat feeling. So yeah, as the students kinda up and come, and making some even demos like now, and I can think of, like "Go! Go! Keep going!"
So that's always such a great feeling, coz you know like happy, tapping me on my back. For myself, getting really cool jobs that I love doing, or being on rosters that I enjoy being on. And you know, really cool commercials, that I'm like, "this is a fun one!" like those are great accomplishments.
When it comes up, it's like your number being "ting!" your number being called, so that's a nice "outta girl!" when you get something like, you know, one day, you get a truck driver, I did last week, it's so silly but it's the stuff you don't know you get to do. And then the next week, you're doing like some sexy voice for pajamagram, so they've had me on for like 10 years. Stuff like that is just a really nice satisfying feeling.
Carrie: Awesome. Thank you so much Alyson. This is huge, and super informative. And I really am excited for voice talent to get to know you, and see your personality, because I think vibing is so important too. So there's only so much you can get from reading a website so I think this is gonna really be helpful. So thank you so much.
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