Video Killed the Radio Star

I remember the 80s when MTV debuted. It was huge. People sat for hours on couches watching videos. We didn’t turn on our radios. We didn’t play our albums. We got sucked into the video world. Radio began to feel the pinch. Advertisers switched to video channels. We put aside our imaginations about what a song should mean and we took the given video version of a song as gospel. A great video could make a bad song a hit. A bad video or (gasp) no video for a song meant that it did not make money.

Lately, I have been receiving a lot of messages about the online world of cake decorating. Some sing praises. Some hate it. Some think that people are being led astray. As with most things, there is truth in all of it.

Theory: online classes are hurting in person classes
Reality: true.

The advent of classes by Craftsy and all of the other online classes has been greeted with open pocketbooks and joy from decorators world wide. The simple truth is that many young decorators could not afford to take in person classes, nor could they afford the time and expense of traveling to do so. The online classes let someone gain exposure to techniques, instructors and methods that they would not receive without such courses.

Meanwhile, some folks who normally would travel to take a class now decide to stay home and “study”. They cannot justify taking a class with the big name instructor when they can get that person’s knowledge on their iPad for $20 or so. Can you blame them? It is this group of folks who are not taking in person classes.

There is a group of decorators with a huge stash of online classes, who also take all the in person classes they can. Every time a teacher posts pictures from class, I count how many folks attended. The numbers, for all teachers, have been steadily dropping. The teachers blame the video groups. The students blame the rising costs of the classes. The truth is, both. Some classes are probably priced too high. Some online sales are impacting the in person classes.

For my own experience, I have not filmed with any of the online schools. If you want to study with me, you must do it in person right now. While I have experienced low numbers in some places, I am finding that my student counts are climbing. Why? Because I have held my prices. Because I supply everything. Because I constantly come up with new classes. In short, because I am doing my job as a teacher. I am seeing numbers start to climb for other teachers, too. It doesn’t seem to matter if they have videos nearly as much as it does if they give a good price on a new or different project.

Theory: free tutorials and videos are worthless
Reality: sometimes

Oh, how I cringe when I see someone advertise a free or nearly free tutorial for something that is, quite bluntly, done wrong. It would not pass muster at a cake show and would be blasted at certification testing. Unfortunately, there are no restrictions for someone to put out a tutorial or video. Anyone can do it. Many “anyone”s are. I want so badly to tell people not to believe everything they see. Not to pay. Not to follow these folks. But I say nothing.

Why? Because I honestly think that people will think it is sour grapes…that I am afraid of losing students or something. I worry that I will get pulled into one of those online drama battles I see too frequently. No, thank you.

In this instance, I think it should be Buyer Beware. If you get something for free, you should expect that value to be worth just that. While sometimes it will be like Liz Marek’s recipes and be worth more than you can imagine…I think those instances are rare. Some of the bloggers out there legitimately want to help their fellow decorators. I find those easy to spot. Some are simply trying to gain fame. I find most of those equally easy to spot.

In a recent blog, I talked about folks who watch decorator Darla’s online class or attend her class, then make their own tutorial for sale based on Decorator Darla’s work. A new decorator asked how the newbies can know who to trust. What an excellent and perplexing question. I forget that you guys haven’t been doing this as long as me. I forget that you don’t know the folks on the teaching circuit. I recommend that you take a look at the ICES Approved Teachers list. Here you will find the well respected, internationally known and proven teachers. The list doesn’t cover everyone, but it is an excellent place to start.

Do a little research on those names. You will be impressed with what many of these people have done. They are the foundation of our industry. Then look to see who teaches at the major mini class events in the US. There is a strict screening process for those. If someone teaches there, you KNOW they know their stuff.

Does this mean that new folks cannot be trusted? Of course not. It only means that you need to do your OWN research on them. They have not been vetted by ICES or Cake Camp or whomever. There are some newer decorators that I think are outstanding teachers and demonstrators. There are some who are great artists, but have not learned how to TEACH effectively yet. Teaching is a developed skill just like decorating. One does not beget the other.

Theory: online classes teach as well as in person classes
Reality: false

I wish this could be true, but it just cannot be. The online instructor is speaking to a camera and a producer. They cannot see you furrow your brow when you do not understand. They cannot see you hold the piping bag at the wrong angle. They cannot talk you out of beating yourself up when your first attempt doesn’t look like theirs.

They can be excellent sources of information. I think of them like a documentary, explaining and showing all the process behind a project or technique. You can chat with someone, through the chat portal, but it will never replace live interaction with that teacher.

They are not, however, bad. The videos serve a valuable purpose for our industry. They expose people to numerous aspects of sugar art. It is likely that you might not try something but for that video. They help the person miles from classes learn…just not to the full potential possible. I am glad that people have this resource, but want everyone to understand that watching something is not the same as doing it.

Watching the Emmys the other night, Seth Meyers said that tv was like the late night booty call whereas movies were the dates. What?? He said that tv was available any hour. Movies, you had to plan to get to the theater at a certain time. They are very different experiences.

Online cake videos certainly are the late night booty call of decorating. You can be in your pjs at 3 am, stuck on a technique and can visit your friendly decorator through their online class or YouTube tutorial. How glorious ! The videos don’t judge you for being a procrastibaker. They just give you information.

Final Thoughts

Online classes are not a bad thing. While they are impacting in person classes today, I think that their use will fade over time and people will go back to studying with live teachers.

I think we are blessed in this industry to have so many options for learning. I think that the cream of the teachers will rise to the top and they will survive every new challenge. A great teacher is a great teacher, whether in an article , in a video, in a book or in person.



14 thoughts on “Video Killed the Radio Star

  1. Thanks for another great post Ruth! And thank you for being so generous with your class experiences for newer decorators like myself. Not only are you an amazing teacher with great classes, but it makes such a huge difference for folks like myself who cannot afford to pay some of the premium class expenses AND bring tons of supplies. I can’t begin to say how many times I’ve wanted to sign up for other classes only to struggle with being able to stretch my budget to sign up or realizing I simply couldn’t afford to and also bring everything on the supply list. Thank you, thank you!

  2. Interesting thoughts, Ruth. i believe all classes (online or otherwise) have it’s own place. It’s always interesting to see someone else’s method to accomplish a similar theme. Everyone has a different method/time saving tip that can prove quite useful. However, the good classes/videos are the ones that challenge popular beliefs or that inspire the student to aim higher and be a better decorator/designer. I also suggest that everyone should check out the teacher’s portfolio and quality of work and compare it against others. I have seen many, many mini-class offerings/demo offerings etc, that are clumsy, subpar and really were not vetted particularly well. Like everything else in this world, cake classes are buyer beware.

  3. I feel online classes hurt cake shows. I have experienced it for 5 years. I would rather be in a class then watching it on the computer. I save up my money to take classes. I can’t just fork out money the weekend of a show. We have to think wisely. I love classes, I love all the extra stuff I learn from other decorator’s in the class! ❤ You know I enjoy your classes Ruth~

  4. Let’s not forget the socialization at in person classes. Its always fun to meet other decorators and trade “war” stories. Sharing decorating tips with other attendees is added benefit. I’ve been decorating for almost 24 years and always come away from classes with new ideas and inspiration.

  5. I never comment on stuff usually but your thoughts struck a chord! I have purchased a few craftsy classes – I say purchased rather than studied because the two are simply not the same thing. I view them as videos, fascinating and fun but not education. I give myself a limit of $20 and buy when Craftsy is hustling!! I have noticed that my perception of the value of Craftsy in particular is diminishing because they are working hard to saturate the market and it has less to do with quality and more to do with trying to appeal to our impulse to shop. On the other hand I have enjoyed, appreciated and learned from every in person class I have taken. The costs are however huge and very difficult to justify for the hobbyist. So what do you do when you want to at least see how some of you really wonderful decorators do it and don’t have $1,000 to get to a show/class? You do the next best thing. Unfortunately, it doesn’t come close but, it may be the closest I will ever get. I don’t think in class should be cheaper so that people like me can attend, I get the value, it just won’t be me that can do it.

    • You never know, though. One day a teacher will travel near to you. Folks like Liz Marek will create books. Learning will continue. Take any method you can get. The most important thing is to hunger for the education. That will keep you striving. Keep you pushing yourself!

  6. Ruth, there is niche for each of these teaching modalities. I feel that the online classes are a Godsend to those people who live in rural areas who rarely if ever, have access to live cake classes. I enjoy the online classes dealing with difficult techniques such as Lambeth and Stringwork because I can watch them over and over again to get each step cemented in my brain. This has lead to a fascination with royal icing and I have already signed up to take Ceri Griffith’s over piping class in the fall. I will be following that up with Kathleen Lange’s Lambeth boot camp classes. So, viewing the videos have made me hungry for further knowledge which in turn has driven me to seek out live instructors to teach me more! That being said, I feel that live classes and internet videos can thrive side by side by fueling our thirst for knowledge. This will drive students into your classroom whenever your caravan travels close enough for them to get to their Cake Gypsy! ❤ ❤ ❤

  7. Excellent point made by all – especially the point of “teachers.” There are many talented people out ther but to be able to combine talent and teaching is rare. Some times it is really hit or miss. The online setting could make that person seem better due to some editing (and us rewinding) but spending a fortune for an elite decorator to teach you from his seat and never even comes around the room (makes you come to him) does not a teacher make. You need to be a good consumer and also know where the class expects you to start from – if you are taking an Australian Method class and have never covered a cake before or filled a pastry bag (yes – I have witnessed this) you might not want to take that class. That saying if you can do – teach – is wrong – teaching is it’s own skill not mastered by all. Talking to other decorators is how I have found some awesome classes by some not so famous people. Do your homework guys – love from a teacher turned decorator!

    • Carri… you are so right about not everyone having the ability to teach. Adults learn in an entirely different manner than children and not everyone understands that concept. I also agree that a teacher needs to be roaming his classroom… looking for ways to guide and encourage each student as they endeavor to follow his instructions. Just showing how to turn a gum paste petal or angle a piping bag is often times the tweak needed to help a student complete the project with elevated pride and a new found confidence!

  8. At first when the videos came out the price was very very low…I bought into it…watched a few of the videos but never tried it on my cakes…never got a chance to watch the others I paid for, lesson learned, when taking a hands on class I will always learn for I am in class…paid video I forgot about…always use what I have learned in person…

  9. I feel that at times you pay good money to take an advertised class and it was a waste of time and money. The teacher is not approachable or they really do not teach what was advertised. What can you do at this point, nothing really? On line classes are less expensive and you can replay at your wish.

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