If you’re a creative person and you have the internet, you’ve likely seen ads for Masterclass, an online education platform lead by today’s leading industry stars. Visions of Gordon Ramsay, Chris Hadfield and Martin Scorsese light up the screen, luring you in to learn the secrets of their respective success, all in a whimsical, Hollywood style package. From cooking, singing, producing, filmmaking and beyond, Masterclass has you covered. You are learning from a master, all from the comfort of your own home. What’s not to love? As all things good in this world, the price tag. At $120 CAD per course or $240 for an all access pass, you can’t help but ask yourself:
Is it worth it?
Before we get into it, I’ll tell you a little bit about the reviewer, me, and the context for the courses I chose.
I’m a musician, writer and producer with two decades of experience in the music industry. I have a mild interest in filmmaking and a pretty solid understanding of music, producing and singing. In fact, it is what I do professionally. I decided to take three courses catered to my interests: Hans Zimmer teaches film scoring, Christina Aguilera teaches singing, and Werner Herzog teaches filmmaking.
I opted for the all access pass, which comes with a thirty day refund if you are not satisfied with the fruits of your chosen celebrity’s labour. Masterclass has not given me a free pass, discount or sponsorship for writing this: I’m giving you an unbiased review.
Here’s how it works.
After signing up and paying your fee, you are brought to the Masterclass homepage with a plethora of courses. The first one I chose was Hans Zimmer teaches film scoring. Each course contains video lectures that range from six to fifteen minutes long on average. They usually clock in between twenty and thirty chapters. It also comes with coursework in the form of a handy printable PDF, including room for notes and exercises you can do on your own after each lesson. There is also an online community known as “The Hub” which is an interactive work space for you and your fellow students. You can even submit video questions to the teachers themselves, and sometimes receive a video response.
Hans Zimmer teaches scoring
Zimmer was charming, wry and completely self aware in his teaching technique. He has insightful with a touch of pretentiousness, just to remind you that he is indeed the man behind some of the most iconic film scores ever written. He goes over gear, how to deal with directors, creating character themes using specific films as case studies, and how he begins every new project with a completely hopeless blank stare into space: something I can relate to. My only gripe with Zimmer was his incessant use of male pronouns to describe those involved in filmmaking. I get that this is a male dominated industry, but it is 2018 Hans, perhaps think outside the proverbial box?
His coursework was great, including exercises such as re-writing the score to a scene from your favourite film and sharing it on The Hub. Here you find a variety of skill and accomplishment amongst students. It feels fun and positive, not competitive or juvenile. Ultimately, if you are already scoring films at a professional level, you might find some of his information redundant, but it really is fun, Learning the secret behind Zimmer’s specific approach to scoring is a treat.
Christina Aguilera teaches singing
Aguilera’s course was next. She is articulate, thoughtful and easy to understand. This woman knows her stuff. As a singer myself with a relatively long history of performing and recording, I found some information useful and the exercises fun. There is even a tool that makes you a custom vocal warm up based on your range. This is one of the most valuable elements the course had to offer as some vocal teachers can charge the same amount for an hour of instruction as the entire Masterclass series. My issue here, like all courses, is that there is no immediate, direct feedback. Duh, it’s an online course. You could be singing incorrectly and never know. Regardless, I think it’s a great foundational course in what you need to know about singing both in the studio and on stage.
Werner Herzog teaches filmmaking
Finally, I took Herzog’s course. I have filmmaker friends, and I’ve written about filmmaking before, but I have never attempted to make a film before. I am an absolute beginner. Some chapters focus on the obvious, like watching good movies and studying the quintessence of storytelling through foreign language films. Others were more in depth and insightful on how to get a film made. Topics such as financing and navigating the business side of the industry are all covered. There is even a chapter on documentary filmmaking. As someone who is interested in filmmaking from the beginners perspective, I found this interesting, but did not actually do any of the exercises. Could I go and make a movie tomorrow? Probably not, but I do think I now have a basic understanding of how films get made.
So, is it worth it?
For less than the price of a university of college course, Masterclass gives you unlimited access to well produced, well thought out classes from the likes of Helen Mirren, Shonda Rhimes, Marc Jacobs, the list goes on. You can also purchase individual classes if your interests are not that vast. They are not perfect, and if you are new to online education there will be a learning curve. What it really comes down to is that they are really fun. You might not score an entire film right away, or write an Oscar-worthy script, but you’re that much closer. In the myriad of ways we waste our time online, this is something that actually feels good. For that reason, and for the sake of curiosity, Masterclass is worth it.