Is a Rip off?



I first discovered Masterclass in 2016 during the height of my ‘House of Cards’ hysteria.
The hit Netflix drama was in its 4th season, and we were all riding high on its incredible quality and at Kevin Spacey’s award-winning performance.

At the time, Spacey was a respected actor who had taken to his first Netflix series like a duck to water.
He was all the proof Netflix needed that a series could be made to the same quality standard as a movie.
House of Cards was a show that helped change the minds of those who thought that TV shows would always be the ugly stepchild of film.

Masterclass hit the internet in May of 2015 with three classes and $4.5 million in initial funding.
Masterclass is much like any of the other education sites available online, except unlike those sites, Masterclass creates and films all their courses in-house.

Where other sites allow teachers to come to them with their own materials and videos, Masterclass recruits famous talent across multiple sectors and films the courses themselves.
They rely on the name recognition of their teachers to sell their courses either individually, or through their online subscription model.
With one of the first courses avalable on the platform, Kevin Spacey and his acting course seemed too good to be true at the time. I couldn’t believe that only $90 separated me from attending a class taught by Spacey. It was a great concept, and I enjoyed the course a lot.

“Masterclass is bringing Netflix quality to the $100 billion e-learning industry.”

As much as I enjoyed the acting class taught by Spacey, I would only be one of a few people to take the class.
Spacey’s course was pulled off the site in 2007 after sexual assault allegations were made against the actor.

Although in saying that, the course is still technically live on the site because they can’t cut access for anyone that already paid for course.
Masterclass sent me an email at the time offering me my money back, but I never replied, so I still have access to one of the first and best courses on the site, in my opinion.

The site was designed to allow any of us to take a class with our choice of dozens of famous professionals, a very exciting concept for many. However, the site has come under a lot of criticism in recent years for the material students are taught once they sign up to learn.

When is a Class No Longer a Class?

Started in San Fransisco by David Rogier and Aaron Rasmussen, Masterclass was an attempt to bring “Netflix quality to the $100 billion e-learning industry.”

According to the Hollywood Reporter, celebrity instructors are paid over $100,000 once they sign-on, and are given 30% of the royalties generated from course sales.
But despite the high cost, critics are doubtful that students are learning enough unique material about the craft they’re signing on to learn.

An article published by The Verge referenced several of Gordon Ramsey’s cooking classes that were almost identical to those published by Ramsey on his YouTube channel and are available to the public for free.

Others say that while the classes available on Masterclass give you inspiration to pursue the skill you’re trying to improve, they don’t provide any actionable knowledge on that skill.
An independent filmmaker and actor Clark Coffey said of Werner Herzog’s class that it doesn’t teach you how to make a movie, rather it tells you whyyou should make one.
In my experience, I’ve found this to be largely true.

Kevin Spacey’s Masterclass allows you to watch acting students deliver monologues, then listen to Spacey give them acting notes. This is inspirational, and if you’ve ever had acting training before you’ll know what he’s talking about and may be able to extrapolate his notes for your own technique.

The second class I took was Christina Aguilera’s class teaching voice.
This class is a definite example of one that focuses on inspiration rather than technique.
Aguilera assumes you can already sing and tells you stories of her time on the road. She tells you about the honey she kept side-stage while touring and the importance of looking after your voice and your health.

A practical addition to the Aguilera course is a scales exercise you can download onto your computer and use every day to strengthen your voice; although using scales is frowned upon by a lot of vocal teachers today.


What Masterclass Really Is

Masterclass was a fantastic idea, and is the only platform through which regular people will ever have access to one-on-one lessons with the famous professionals they admire.

All other online courses can provide knowledge and skills, but can’t deliver on the celebrity angle.
The power of “celebrity” is what Masterclass is selling, and it’s the only advantage they have to keep them in business.

While the teachers have a lot of credibility, the material taught in the courses won’t do much to give you a career similar to that of the teacher.
The material is much more focused on inspiration rather than technique, and there are several reasons why that might be the case.

Firstly, these professionals aren’t teachers; they’re just really good at what they do.
Just because I have a skill in something, it doesn’t mean I also have the skills to pass it on to you. Teaching is its own skill, which is something that’s often overlooked.

Secondly, a lot of people who are famous for what they do don’t know why they became famous.
Incredible filmmakers and writers became who they are by going out into the world and creating what they wanted to create; very few set out to become famous. Rather, they just wanted to make a living doing what they love.

While we (the general public) are able to pull apart a directors work and see the unique choices they’ve made in their art that sets them apart, they themselves may not have the self-awareness to see what they’re doing that makes them so respected.

Christina Aguilera is famous because of her powerhouse voice, and the management team that books her tours and markets her music.
Sitting her down in a chair and putting a camera on her isn’t going to pull out a magical secret she’s been holding onto all this time.

Lastly, while $100,000 is a lot of money, it’s not enough to buy a winning secret.
Some of these professionals do have a secret to their success, they discovered it years ago, and it’s been making them a lot of money since. That professional wants to continue making money, so they’re not going to just give it away.

They’re also not going to tell the ugly truths behind what it takes to make it to the top.
The Masterclass delivered by former Disney CEO Bob Iger isn’t going to describe to you the people he stomped on to get to the top.
It’s not going to describe negotiations where he dressed down Fox executives until they reached an agreement, or that time he slapped a Marvel director for going against his vision. Those are the decisions that (may have) contributed to Disney’s success, but they’re never going to make it into a Masterclass video.

Instead he’s going to sit in a chair and tell you to never give up on your dreams, and you’re going to feel inspired.

*(I have no idea whether Bob Iger has ever slapped anyone, but after 15 years of growing Disney’s market cap by over $200 million, it’s a pretty safe bet to make).

So if you’re planning on signing up to Masterclass, do it knowing the truth of the product.
These classes are chances for you to be inspired by your heroes. But once you’re done being inspired, go and take a class from a non-famous person that actually knows how to teach a skill.
Once you’ve done that, you’ll be on your road to real success.

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I’m a well travelled writer who loves nothing more than a well polished video game, an expertly crafted sandwich, and a hot mug of Milo.


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