I’d like to start by saying that this article is long overdue…Over the past few years, I have discovered a new way of connecting to people that eliminated many of the problems we’ve faced by time and space-online virtual conferencing. Let me share my story:
My field of expertise, which is vocal instruction, requires that I make myself readily accessible and available for the needs of students striving for perfection. Most vocal coaches, or coaches of any type for that matter, set up shop in a teaching studio, music store, or even a corner office of their home. Yes, this includes myself as well. The after-launch protocol usually includes posting ads, listing the “teaching” business in the local phone book, and making local appearances, all for the sole purpose of driving attention to the teaching business. Local music instruction is an extremely valuable service for the surrounding 10-20 mile radius. But what if there were a way to expand your business to cover 57 million square miles (roughly the amount of land mass of the earth) all within the comfort of your own home? Would you do it? Or better yet, what if there were a way for a student to study with a teacher that lived on the other side of the earth, without the aid of three grand, a two-week vacation and priceline.com?
A friend of mine pondered the same question a few years back and invited me to answer this very question. This question was brought upon by our notoriety and success and led me down a road I had never thought to take…let me step back for a moment;
My notoriety as a vocal coach came out of nowhere in 2004 (roughly eight years after I started coaching), simply because of my insatiable thirst to help others learn the fine art of voice. I started teaching more, decided to write a book, and started a website and then things kind of took on a life of their own; let’s just say I started attracting a little bit of attention as time progressed. Within two years of launching my site, I was an author of several books, and had made several appearances on shows like Discovery Channel’s MythBusters. Needless to say, this spread my notoriety much further than the little town that I live in.
After my first TV show and first book were released, I began to receive many emails from singers around the world, asking me question after question…I was happy to help, but there are just so many hours in the day. I soon discovered I was basically giving “free” lessons via email to an over-abundance of hungry learners. I have a soft heart and tried to keep up with every person’s questions, but it was becoming overwhelming and I couldn’t continue spending hours as a free advice columnist. So I’d ask my hungry pen pals, “Why don’t you just schedule a lesson with me?” Surprisingly enough, most responded pleasantly, telling me they would love to have one-on-one lessons with me, but considering they lived hours or continents away, it just was never going to happen.
Sure, I’ve had singers fly in from around the world from places such as Taiwan and France, but these were a chosen few. And who can blame them. Flying is expensive! There had to be another way. So, before I had even answered the question my comrade had presented, he answered it for me. He said “Ever heard of Skype?” I hadn’t at the time, so he quickly introduced me. Apparently Skype was a new free online program that allowed you to talk with people over the Internet. You could even see them too! So, I signed up for my free account, dug my web cam out of the closet, and proceeded to chat with him online in real time via audio/video conferencing. WOW what a neat idea. He said “wouldn’t it be neat to use this to teach voice online?” I agreed and was super excited about the whole prospect…Thirty-seven minutes later, we hung up, I ate lunch, and then I tossed the online conferencing idea in the “to-do” list in the back of my mind.
Fast-forward a year later. I figured my buddy was going to explode on the “online” scene, and though I wanted in on the action, I was honestly too lazy to pursue it. I’ll admit, I am a late creeper with technology, and this Skype thing kind of scared me. One day, I asked him, “How goes the online biz?” Turns out, he canned it too. In fact, he said, “Hey, can you help ME get it together? I really want to teach online”. Unfortunately, I was the wrong guy to ask for help. I guess we were both just too skeptical about the whole “online teaching” thing. We were both questioning the process- “would it really work, would someone want to study through a virtual camera, would there be connection problems, latency, dropped calling, etc. So it seemed we both threw in the towel and were waiting for the other to take the lead. Oh well, so much for that idea. But a funny thing happens when you are destined to accomplish something and give up on it. Things keep popping up in your life that lead you back on track…
I had continued receiving emails from people wanting their ‘vocal’ questions answered, to which I replied, “book a lesson”…Right after my conversation with my friend about our failed idea, I started receiving some unusual replies to my “book your session” answer, “Okay, I’ll book a lesson. Do you teach online?” I kept saying no, but those same replies kept pouring in. So what did I do? I caved, I lied, and I said YES. I even remember the first time I said yes. I was scared silly. Will it work? Will they be happy with their online lesson? Too late to worry now, time to jump off the deep end.
So he booked a lesson, we setup a time, and we both signed into Skype and gave it a whirl. If I can sum up that first lesson in one word, it would be “Freedom”; I have discovered the freedom to teach anywhere and everywhere and anytime I choose, all by using a computer and web cam! I believe that first lesson went on for about 90 minutes although I strictly told my client that it was a 45-minute session. Don’t worry, I didn’t charge him double, I offered the extra time all because I was so excited to use this new tool. (Hey but there are ways to charge by the minute, but that’s one of my secrets. So much for a secret, I never use it, haha.) The lesson time flew by, I had a ball teaching, the student was thrilled, and since that time, we had at least several dozen lessons together. No doubt about it; I was hooked; I had finally found a workable answer for all of my email students:
“I live too far away”.
“No problem, I teach online!”
A new era was born.
This was in 2007. Now the majority of my lessons are online. Why? The accessibility and ease of online lessons cannot be beat. I don’t have to leave my house, and they don’t have to leave theirs. Do online lessons work? Hmmm, ask singers of bands like Dream Theater or Thriving Ivory. Both have studied with me via web cam and both have told the world how it has helped.
Hear me now. Online instruction IS the wave of the future, although I know some of you are probably still not convinced. Heck, it took me over a year to become convinced. People are still worried if online instruction is as good as the real thing. Well, there is nothing as good as the real thing (in-person) but this comes pretty darned close. I know concerns arise such as will you be able to see or hear the person, and will there be any latency issues (lag in time). The answer is Yes and No. Yes you could have audio/video/latency issues, but if you have a high-speed connection, whether it is a cable connection to your PC/MAC or an air-card for your laptop, a decent web cam, microphone, and headset, then you should be good to go. (Psst-I’d focus more on the quality of what is being taught as opposed to the technological side. But finding the right coach is the subject of another article.)
Bottom line; technology is getting better every day. Thanks to programs like Google Chat, you can jam live with your instructor in almost seamless real time. There are other programs besides Skype that work well too such as MSN Messenger, Oovoo, Tokbox, etc. And with each passing day, the technology gets better and better.
So if you are wondering if online lessons will work for you, I’ve done told you my answer- online instruction IS the wave of the future. In fact, I believe in it so much that I, along with several partners, have created an online teaching platform at rocksource360.com, where musicians can study guitar, bass, voice, keys, drums, etc. with real rock stars. Every rock star we bring on board has come to me with the exact same concerns, and as soon as I show them how seamlessly online teaching works, they are hooked for life, just as I was. If you want to expand you music career, you need to invest in yourself, so I urge you to find you an online coach and invest in your future!
Author of ‘Raise Your Voice’ and ‘Online Teaching Secrets Revealed’