Tell us a bit about yourselves...
Casey: I’ve been a New Yorker for 10 years now but hail from a small town near St Louis Missouri originally (yup, the whole “small town girl moves to New York to make it SHOW BIZ” cliche!). I majored in musical theater at Illinois Wesleyan University and spent 15 years in the theater biz, worked quite a bit regionally, done a couple of Off-Broadway shows and the 25th Anniversary National Tour of Les Miserables. I’ve been singing since I could make noise, playing piano since I could reach the keys, always loved writing, and was exactly the kind of little girl they call “bossy”. As theater is (for the vast majority of those of us in the biz) a genuinely terrible way to make a consistent living, I have worked a ton of weird jobs in the city to pay rent between gigs: passing out Disney fans in Times Square, tour guiding, experiencing a few excruciating days a la Anne Hathaway in The Devil Wears Prada while temping, and finally landing on teaching voice to both singers and speakers.
Weirdest theater fact: I have been either fake pregnant or handled a fake baby in no fewer than 11 different shows. I am a fake baby pro.
Coolest gig: The 2013 Oscars singing with the Les Miserables movie cast - after we sang and exited through the audience during the commercial break, I saw Meryl Streep cheering for us and Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner stopped us in the hallway to congratulate us. Completely surreal.
Julie: I’m a born Seattlite, but catapulted out just around graduation from UW after a year with 90 days straight rain. I have lived in Copenhagen, San Francisco, Dekalb, Illinois (while getting my MFA in Acting at Northern Illinois University.) After one season of Summer Stock in Maine, I landed in NYC about 6 years ago.
Fun Facts: I spent one June in Moscow Studying at MXAT (Moscow Art Theatre)- The Russian aesthetic in Theatre is far more craft oriented and far less dour than American’s believe. I now understand why they consider Chekhov to be a great writer of comedy. In the US we don’t always see how great passion, love and loss can and must still keep its sense of humor. That humour lives separate from if there is a happy ending or not.
So what is Vital Voice and how did you arrive at starting it?
Julie: Vital Voice Training is comprehensive voice, speech and communication training for anyone looking to find more power and flexibility in their speaking voice. Casey and I met in a class called Shrink Session about three years ago which I have dubbed “Affirmation Aerobics”. We really connected over similar thoughts and values surrounding voice and speech coaching--and frustrations about the messages women get about their voices. We finally decided to join forces and create Vital Voice Training. (That sentence would really be better illustrated as a montage of the 3-4 months we spent figuring out how to make our idea into a reality- as with all things some parts were more simple, some more complex than we would have imagined.)
Do you have a favorite part of running the business?
Without a doubt, the people we’ve met. We are continually blown away by the caliber of people who find us and work with us - women (and several men too!) who are genuinely changing the world with their work. To be able to support their voices and ideas, and to be able as coaches to reflect to them how badass they are, THAT is a gift. We come out of every session on such an inspiration high.
How did undertaking this project affect your personal life?
Casey: Having the responsibility of a baby business is causing me to continually evaluate how I allocate my time and energy - my husband has actually been getting his executive MBA right now while working a full-time job at a start-up, so both of us have been a bit, um, busy for the last two years. I’m learning the difference between “active recovery time” (doing the things I love--hiking, cooking, DIY projects, reading, etc.), and what happens when you let yourself get totally burned out and end up parked in front of Netflix and Facebook for hours wondering where the time went. I need both, but probably a BIT less of the latter . . .
Julie: Casey and I both are working multiple jobs as we build this business. You really have to learn how to prioritize. When it comes to relationships- making it clear that running your own business does NOT mean you are always available because your time is flexible- often it’s the exact opposite. My closest friends understand when I have to drop of the map for a while. After the first year or so, though, I realized I need to make more time for friends. Even the most understanding friendship wilts when months go by without any attention.
Do practices exist in your industry that you disagree with? Has this given direction to your business goals?
Definitely! The reality is that the whole conversation around voices - and particularly women’s voices - is so fundamentally flawed. Traditional speech coaching (or “elocution” as it used to be called) is based on the idea that there is a right way and a wrong way to sound. It’s not true. The entire model of the “right” way to sound is based on sounding like someone else- instead of realizing that true vocal power sounds different on everyone. There is a lot of results oriented work- varying pitch, pace and volume in a purely external way--which ignores the fact that when we get out of our own way and beneath our habits, our voices NATURALLY have those things. (Think about it- are you using the same tone when you talk to a puppy as you would talking to your boss? Have you ever had trouble with volume when someone was trying to shove you off the subway?- Likely not.) Connecting with the source of voice and speech habits means you have a bit more range in choices.
How is anyone supposed to learn how to communicate effectively when they have confusing and often DIRECTLY CONTRADICTORY advice -- i.e. “pauses make you sound smarter” (an actual sentence we just read in a blog post about public speaking) vs. “conversation is a tennis game, never let the ball drop”--thrown at them constantly? “Lower your voice to be taken seriously” - except don’t vocal fry (which is often a direct result of an artificially lowered pitch). “Speak up, ladies!”, but of course, don’t be shrill or shouty. It’s impossible to follow everyone’s rules for how you should act. If you’re trying to, you’re inevitably in your own head instead of being in the moment.
Most of the information that is out there (Five Easy Tips to Communication Success!) is either laughably simplistic - a friend of ours likened most internet advice to “Don’t bring your parents on your first date” - or weird blanket tips that could not possibly apply to every situation.
At the end of the day, we want to add nuance to these discussions and help our clients feel powerful while remaining true to themselves, their core values, and what is already working.
You work in an awesome shared office space called WeWork, had it been helpful?
Moving into WeWork has been one of the best decisions we made for our business - we are surrounded by other motivated entrepreneurs and small businesses (including many who fit right into our “ideal customer” demographic!). This has been incredibly motivational - not to mention that having that rent check to pay each month has pushed us to really get our product out there. I call it “Get Sh!t Done Land”.
Any embarrassing moments starting up VV?
That’s an interesting question- the short answer is “Yes”- but we try to let those go and learn what we need to learn from them. Those teachable moments usually stemmed at the beginning from translating how we work as artists to people who are more business-minded. We had to learn just how scary/weird it is for some people to talk about and address connecting with their body as instrument of communication - it’s intuitive and natural for theater people - and sounds, well, vaguely dirty to “laypeople”. Now we know more about communicating those concepts.
What is the key message you like to get across to your clients [and all people]?
There is no one “right” way to sound. Empowering your voice is not about changing who you are, it’s about giving yourself a range of options so you can make choices that serve you. Who doesn’t want options?
On a scale of 1-10, how much do you LOVE the movie 'In a World...'?
Hah! That’s the number one question we get asked. The fact that Lake Bell wrote and produced her own movie is completely badass! She might get a little preachy re: “sexy baby voice” - yes, it’s a vocal mannerism that sounds strange to a lot of people, but like every other vocal habit, it was developed as a social habit. SBV has served these women in certain environments or they wouldn’t use it in the first place, and you can’t shame them out of using it. But we’re glad that she opened up the conversation around using your whole vocal instrument.
Best guidance for women looking to start their own venture?
Just start--and realize that you don’t have to know everything beforehand (we live firmly by the philosophy of “Everything is figure-outable”) . . . It’s easy to be very protective of a baby idea and not put it out there until it’s “perfect” - realize that it’s never going to be perfect, but you can always iterate, learn, and improve.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help and counsel from people who know more than you do. The worst you might hear is “no”, and that isn’t the end of the world.
Know your value. You’ll hear lots of advice to just give your product away in order to build customers/experience, and that’s fine both at the very beginning and when you see a clear value in the experience or exposure. But be wary of being taken advantage of.
Casey: “Think of it! We could have gone on longing for one another and pretending not to notice forever. This obsession with dignity can ruin your life if you let it.” I have so many favorite quotes, but I am loving this one right now from one of my favorite novels: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society - it speaks to the heart of what I believe about maintaining one’s sense of humor, being true to yourself, and not taking what other people think too seriously.
Julie: My favorite of all time: "Really, Darling. Don't seek great reviews from small minds. They have neither the character nor the vocabulary for them."- El Konigsburg from Up with Jericho Tel.
Toast them with Mariette, Order Here.