Lockdown in a Vocal Studio with Joep Hegger

The interview was transcribed and adapted into an article by Ryan Mitchell

The Lockdown Economy: Interviews by think tank AlterContacts.org with real entrepreneurs sharing insights, challenges and successes during the COVID19 global pandemic to inspire, motivate and encourage other entrepreneurs around the world.

In this interview recorded in June 2020, Julia Skupchenko meets Joep Hegger, the founder of The Vocal Coach, a voice coaching studio for public speaking and singing in Amsterdam and Berlin. He shares how he had to quickly adapt his practice to be available online. The physical studio was shut down as soon as the lockdown was announced and the trips to Berlin were out of the question. Singing classes were no longer possible because of the sound delay. Joep continued to do one-on-one online sessions for public speaking. He was surprised to find a new stream of clients looking to learn about vocal health. For many people doing many video calls every day because of lockdown became a real challenge and led them to explore vocal coaching. Right now he is working on a series of free video classes that cover the basics of vocal training.

The Vocal Coach, the name is fairly self-explanatory, but I would like to know more so tell me what do you do, who you do it with and what’s the business?

Joep: Well the business was founded in 2013, I founded the vocal studio in Berlin and I started out doing vocal exercises, vocal improvement things for singers, but fairly soon it became available to public speakers as well. There kind of really was nobody who offered hands-on vocal exercises for public speakers specifically around the topics of vocal sound; “How do I analyze what kind of vocal sound I need”, “how can I improve or change that” and that went so well that I came back to my home country of the Netherlands and found the second studio in Amsterdam. Since then I’ve been working with public speakers, singers, people interested in vocal health, that sort of thing, one on one, small groups, larger groups… that’s the business.

Do you see a lot of people, actually a lot of public speakers especially thinking that they need it? So is it something that you have to educate them about or do they just feel it and they just come to you?

Joep: Well that’s a good question. The field of vocal research is fairly young, so the knowledge that the voice is something that you can do something about or assess the value off at all is fairly new. That is a thing that I have to really educate people about, it’s true. Luckily enough on the sidelines, there’s been research going on about how much the voice matters in terms of value creation for anything voice-related like sales, presentations, things like that, so there is some awareness but it’s starting to become more mainstream. I do have to educate most people that I work with still honestly

I guess the TEDx and TED Talks that are about how you have to hold yourself on stage, and how they have to speak, really help in sort of reaching out to the mass of public speakers. There are a lot of public speakers, I can tell from LinkedIn, almost every other person is a speaker so there’s quite a big market for you isn’t there?

Joep: It’s true, and since that whole culture became a little more popular during the last ten years I also see a bigger awareness of what a good voice can do. It’s beautiful to see that more people are getting interested.

During the lockdown did you feel any difference to your practice? I know that you do classes in person. Was it possible during the lockdown, what did you do differently?

Joep: Well due to situations in my family I wanted to be extra secure, so I just shut down the studio immediately. Online lessons were available, but they were only available for speaking because in singing as you know it’s pretty important for me to be with you with the music, with the client and that was not possible. We don’t really notice it so much right now in this interview, but we do have a delay of about half a second and that is way too much for accurate singing. So that’s something that wasn’t available for my clients unfortunately for the most part of those three months that the studio was closed it’s opened up again but the main thing that I did was online one on one coaching in the public speaking, and vocal health topics did continue.

How did the lockdown itself affect you because of course you had to stop part of your business and the other part was a little bit in the air. I’m sure that the speakers were a bit less likely to go in practice because they had other issues on their plate. What was the situation or what was your feeling?

Joep: Well my feeling was really twofold; around the singing and vocal health there was massive insecurity around with clients around the topic of spreading really because there were these signs that the singing could be a kind of super spreader practice, like much worse than speaking. Luckily that’s been downgraded so we know now that singing is about the same in terms of risk as speaking but at the beginning that was not really the case and being a singer myself, it was giving me some sort of uncertainty personally. On the other hand, I was able to assist many speakers with this very thing that we’re doing right now, so online speaking you know for many people it was a massive challenge, I got messages from old and new clients being like hey I experienced so much more pressure on my voice and can we do something about that, so for me as a professional I dove much more into vocal health as a topic than before, and I learned a lot so that’s great.

So how was your business going before January in terms of number of clients, number of sales so to say, if you look at it from January onwards did it change a lot or balance out?

Joep: Well it did change a lot, I went from doing workshops with ten to thirty people to doing none of those because of the risk right so that that just entirely stopped and people are still reluctant to organize things like that. So that was a massive shift from doing a group activity and one-on-one coaching, to going back all the way to almost exclusively doing one-on-one coaching.

Do you think in the next weeks or maybe months that people will want to resume group sessions and group workshops?

Joep: Well I have some requests coming in so I do feel that people are confident that things that include many people, or multiple people at all, in one room can now take place again in the physical world rather than the online world.

In terms of the competition that you experienced during the lockdown was it more than usual because the online world has become overpopulated with all sorts of offerings, maybe you’ve experienced that as well so what was your strategy, how did you deal with it?

Joep: Well I rapidly dropped singing for the time being. I was like I can open the studio once it’s back in, a lot of what sets me apart as a music coach has to do with what we can do in a room, not so much you know- I have very good colleagues who are focusing much more on only vocal technique for singers and that is something that is possible to do online. So there I was feeling the competition was raging and I had to confess that really in the online world that’s not my biggest strength, In the online world I excel as a public speaking coach and that’s where I experienced less competition. My specific expertise is not that widespread amongst the presentation and the vocal coaching world so there it was actually easier in terms of competition.

You said you were in touch with your customers or your customers reached out to you saying that they want more coaching on how to speak properly so that they don’t hurt themselves, was there any more contact with your clients?

Joep: Yeah in the first three weeks of the lockdown I did. I reached out to my clients saying hey. Of course, the studio was closed, I work in Berlin too part-time, you know I’ll go there every now and then to keep in touch with my Berlin studio. That wasn’t possible anymore, I wasn’t able to go to Berlin at all, and so I reached out to them being like hey do you need anything, you know like how are you, how are you dealing with the situation, are you good, can I be there for you as a coach or do you perhaps just want to tell me something so I did do that. It was very beautiful to see what people were sharing

What was maybe the common denominator around all your calls with the clients, something that maybe they all said to you about their condition or about the fact that you called them?

Joep: A sense of human gratitude. I did feel that people got to value communication as such and inter-human communication, like the human level of communication; so lacking embracing, lacking touch, lacking the actual sound and feel of another human in a room, people realized what that means. One thing that I did get back was that hey it’s great to actually just talk to another human and be reminded of how much I value this inter-human connection.

Yes, that’s a beautiful sentiment. And going forward, what are your big plans for the next few months?

Joep: Well it wasn’t at all a lie that vocal action in rooms can be a super spreader because most of these events were hosted in relatively poorly ventilated small rooms. So one of my main objectives for the next few months will be to get the group activities like my choirs, like the workshops, back on track and also indoors because in the fall, of course, it’s going to go colder again. So, managing space is really going to need research; where I can host workshops effectively but also healthily to actually eliminate the risk of spreading this virus when doing my vocal work with people in a room. That’s the main objective, to learn about what that entails; to learn about ventilation, to learn about the other factors that a healthy room entails, and also to communicate that with clients. Apart from that, it’s going to be giving space for basics to be available online anyway; the first 15 minutes or half an hour of any one-on-one session or workshop are pretty general information, that I think like not many people know but it’s kind of like the basis of my work. The real work that I do as an entrepreneur, as a specialist comes after that, but these basic tips, these basic takeaways on vocal health, on vocal usage and vocal improvement for both public speakers and singers, are things that I want to put online. So, I’m working on a short video series that explains that and I’m working on getting that published in an e-book. That’ll take a bit longer but so I’m working besides just the whole room thing, and working on those aspects to give people something to work with by themselves, especially for the people that still are a bit reluctant to go outside and you know to be back in the public life for real.

Maybe you can tell a few words about what the basics are, because I’ve been to your classes so maybe I understand what the basics are, but for people who haven’t been to your classes.

Joep: The basics are what do I want to do about my warming up, what does warming up mean, or rather to take one step back; what does vocal improvement entail? What is changeable and how far is my voice something that I have to just deal with, and my vocal health is something either good or bad. If I experience after a long day of Zoom calls like a sense of enough activity in my actual vocal action, in my communication, and a sense of a sore throat for instance, what can I do about it like what percentage is up for change. So that’s something I want to start with and then go into the basics of how do I warm-up and cool down my voice, how do I change the basics of my vocal sound to best fit my vocal need. It can be a public speaking thing, online-offline, or like singing a song and then go into the basics about how to implement that into the material.

How to actually use it, you mean actually use it with techniques?

Joep: Yeah because I’m seeing a lot of colleagues do similar things online but I’m missing that last link, or rather I’m missing the first and the last link, so as a total individual who doesn’t know anything about the voice, knowing what vocal work actually is or what it means, what you can change and how you can do that, that’s a link that I’m missing. The other thing that I’m missing is how can I implement that easily, and I’m not going into great depth about that because that’s what my main work is about and I want this to be a free series. But it’s going to be inclusive enough that all the basics will be there so that vocal users out there can start working and for most people that are actually going to be enough, I’m guessing.

You will see because maybe that would be just the right piece, the right step between them thinking about what to do with their voice or thinking ‘I need a vocal coach’ and ‘I need that vocal coach’ so maybe that will be the majority of cases.

Joep: Yeah, I’m hoping that of course people will get educated about that, the voice is something that you can change, and professionals like myself are available for one-on-one or group support of course. So, I am hoping that people will know what reaching out to a vocal coach means.

And what they can get from it surely because to be able to know how to use your voice is quite a joy and I highly recommend Joep personally, of course, because he’s my vocal coach as well. So, thank you very much Joep for sharing your story. It was quite interesting to hear about a very unusual profession.

About the Guest

About the Guest Vocal technique, aesthetics, and media graduate Joep Hegger founded The Vocal Coach, voice studio for Singing, Public Speaking and Vocal Health in Berlin in 2013. He opened the second voice studio in Amsterdam in 2017. Joep is currently working on a book and video series on the basics of vocal value and improvement. The Vocal Coach. To most people, the voice remains a mystery — a shame, since public speakers draw at least 30% of their value from their vocal quality, a number that for singers is evidently much higher. The Vocal Coach draws from recent research to make insight in, and efficient improvement of the voice accessible to anyone. Learn more about Joep Hegger and The Vocal Coach on

https://thevocal.coach/

The UN-registered nonprofit social initiative that helps small businesses and self-employed professionals to overcome the challenges of the pandemic.