Is Masterclass worth it? And who is Masterclass for?
In this Masterclass review I share my thoughts about this online education platform for creative professionals. I also offer tips to help you determine if you should sign up in this 2020 Masterclass review.
- ✓   Affordable
- ✓   Includes succinct materials
- ✓   Produces high-quality video
You can also watch a Masterclass course preview.
This post contains affiliate links meaning I earn a small commission if you sign up to Masterclass. I only ever recommend services I use personally.
Now in this 2020 Masterclass review, discover:
- What is Masterclass?
- Who is Masterclass For?
- What is a Masterclass Like?
- Masterclass Price
- How Masterclass Works
- What Masterclass Should You Take In 2020?
- What Are Masterclasses Like?
- What Are Some Great Classes Available On Masterclass?
- Steve Martin Masterclass Review
- Malcolm Gladwell Masterclass Review
- Neil Gaiman Masterclass Review
- David Lynch Masterclass Review
- The Community
- What I Liked About Masterclass
- What I Disliked About Masterclass
- Masterclass vs The Great Courses
- Masterclass vs CreativeLive
- Masterclass vs Udemy
- Masterclass for Writers
- Are Masterclass Classes Worth It?
- Questions About Masterclass
What is Masterclass?
Is it the Timeline Theatre production by Terrence McNally where legendary soprano Maria Callas teaches a master class on opera singing?
What I am talking about here is the San Francisco based online education platform for creative professionals. Entrepreneur Aaron Rasmussen and film editor and director David Rogier started Masterclass in 2015.
Of course, you don’t have to travel to San Francisco to take a Masterclass.
You can watch Masterclass courses using your computer or phone and consume the materials at your own pace. Just open the online class and get started.
As a student, you can learn writing thrillers from the James Patterson masterclass, the art of comedy from Steve Martin, dramatic writing from David Mamet, screenwriting from Aaron Sorkin, acting from Helen Mirren and Samuel L. Jackson, directing from Ron Howard, and dance music from Armin Van Buuren.
An aspiring chef can even learn how to incorporate sea urchin and white truffle into scrambled eggs with chef Gordon Ramsay. The list goes on. It is a great online learning experience from top creators you would not normally have access to.
Of course, you don’t need to travel to San Francisco to take a Masterclass.
You can watch Masterclass courses using your computer or phone and consume the materials at your own pace.
It is a great way of learning online from top creators you would not normally have access to.
Who is Masterclass For?
Masterclass is for writers, photographers, chefs, artists, musicians, painters and creative professionals. It’s ideal for students who are happy to learn at their own pace using a computer.
Unlike Lynda or Treehouse, Masterclass is suitable for writers, musicians, artists and creative professionals.
This is an interesting niche.
Many of the other online courses I’ve taken help students learn business skills like marketing or more practical skills like coding or web development basics.
Masterclass isn’t ideal for people who thrive in classroom environments and prefer a more hands-on approach from teachers.
(More on that later in this 2020 Masterclass review)
What is a Masterclass Like?
I took several Masterclasses.
Each video averaged between five and 10 minutes, which was digestible enough for me to watch at lunch.
I’ve admired Martin’s comedy and films over the years and took his class first. He condenses everything he has learnt about the craft of comedy and draws on many anecdotes from his colourful career.
That’s a lot of insights, as he’s 72!
In the real world, it’s difficult to get access to quality materials like this.
Steve Martin’s Masterclass course contains 25 lessons. It took me several weeks to get through these for this Masterclass review, but that’s only because I took a break when I got the flu.
The recommended background reading was helpful, particularly Martin’s autobiography. However, I got less value from the community. (More on that later in this Masterclass review)
A Masterclass costs €70 or $90 and comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee for unhappy students.
If you’re taking more than one Masterclass, I recommend buying the All-Access Pass for €150 or $180 per year.
You’ll save several hundred dollars in the long run.
However, remember not all Masterclasses will be relevant.
If you’re wondering does Masterclass offer a free trial? They offered a trial up until August 20th 2018. This is no longer available so your best option is the All-Access Pass.
How Masterclass Works
A Masterclass course typically contains 25 video lessons, each of which is five-to-ten minutes long.
In some cases, the teacher speaks straight to camera. In others the instructor works with their students’ efforts in front of the camera. Some video lessons also include extracts from the teachers’ works.
You can take a Masterclass online at your own pace, watch them on your computer or phone using the Masterclass app.
Each Masterclass comes with background material, downloadable worksheets and reading lists to peruse. You may just find your new favorite story.
The class workbook helpfully summarises the key points in each video. Plus the workbook provides additional reading materials and provides space to write notes. Although Masterclass doesn’t offer a membership for lifetime access, they always allow users to access the workbooks to each of the courses they have taken.
What Masterclass Should You Take In 2020?
If you’re interested in studying online, you probably already know which Masterclass courses to take.
A writer, for example, should take the following on Masterclass:
- James Patterson Teaches Writing
- David Mamet Teaches Dramatic Writing
- Aaron Sorkin Teaches Screenwriting
- Malcolm Gladwell Teaches Writing
You’ll get tips and advice about writing your story, and you will hear in Malcolm’s lecture that your story will surely change as you continue to develop it. After these classes, writing thrillers will no longer look like a feat.
Meanwhile, a musician is more likely to take “Deadmau5 Teaches Electronic Music Production”, “Herbie Hancock Teaches Jazz”, “Christina Aguilera Teaches Singing”, or “Usher Teaches the Art of Performance.”
If you’re still unsure about what Masterclass to buy, ask yourself, “Do I like this teacher and his or her materials?”
What Are Masterclasses Like?
First, I took “Steve Martin Teaches Comedy” first because I wanted to learn how to inject more colour and comedy into my writing. I’ve no desire to become a stand-up comedian but I’ve always admired Martin!
Next, I took David Mamet’s Masterclass because I was interested in learning from a dramatic writer and Mamet is writer’s writer.
He is a more direct teacher than Steve but just as knowledgeable. In the first video, Mamet revealed this gem for screenwriting:
- Who wants what?
- What happens if they don’t get it?
- Why not?
I’ve watched most of Aaron Sorkin’s shows and films over the years and was more than happy to watch him reveal how he writes.
Later, I completed all of Malcolm Gladwell’s Masterclass. More recently, I took Neil Gaiman’s Masterclass and David Lynch’s Masterclasses.
As you can see, I took most of the Masterclass writing classes as this is where my area of interest lies.
What Are Some Great Classes Available On Masterclass?
Depending on your interests, there are loads.
Over the past few years Masterclass has broken out into other areas beyond writing and the creative arts.
For example, American tennis sensation Serena Williams teaches tennis as part of her Masterclass. Academy award-winning Hans Zimmer teaches film score.
Werner Herzog and Martin Scorsese teach filmmaking. Annie Leibovitz teaches photography. Chris Hadfield teaches space exploration. Garry Kasparov teaches chess. Stephen Curry teaches basketball. Herbie Hancock teaches jazz—and herein lies one of the other issues with Masterclass.
It’s hard to imagine a student will have an interest in all of these Masterclasses, no matter how great the topics are.
So while I found the writing classes useful, I’m unlikely to learn country music from Reba McEntire anytime soon, no matter how talented she is.
If you’re a writer, consider how well you know James Patterson’s works and if you want to write thrillers before you sign up to his class.
While you could take the “James Patterson Teaches Writing” Masterclass without knowing much about his books, you will learn far more if you’ve read some of his thrillers.
Now, here is a review of some of my favourite Masterclasses.
Steve Martin Masterclass Review
I took this Masterclass at the end of 2017, before writing this review.
I was familiar with Martin’s comedy. I’ve read his autobiography Born Standing Up and watched a lot of his stand-up shows.
Martin was a teacher I could learn from.
In his Masterclass, Martin talks about how to find your comedic voice and how he writes and delivers jokes.
It was fascinating to hear Martin talk about his early days in comedy and how he got started. The comedian also provides several practical takeaways. For example,
“Don’t be intimidated starting with nothing. In fact, if you start with nothing, the workaround can lead you to originality.”
Martin’s workshop includes materials from aspiring comedians and turns some 5/10 jokes into 9/10 laugh-out-loud jokes.
This Masterclass was a fun insight into how the comedian Steve Martin approaches comedy writing. He also reflects on his career on stage and screen.
Each lesson was relatively short, included supporting PDFs and reading materials, and next steps. Martin is an engaging instructor too. If you take this class, I’d recommend reading his book Born Standing Up so you have some context to what he teaches.
My biggest takeaway from this Steve Martin Masterclass was how he learnt to make peace with his failures and successes. He says:
“It was only until the late 80s, I kept thinking I was going to go away. But I never went away. So why am I wasting all that grief? I survived somehow by the skin of my teeth. Some of that is luck.”
I recommend taking this masterclass if you want to improve your comedy writing skills or are a fan of Steve Martin’s work.
Malcolm Gladwell Masterclass Review
I took the Malcolm Gladwell Teaches Writing Masterclass almost as soon as they released it earlier in 2018.
I write a lot of non-fiction and am a big fan of Gladwell’s work including his books Blink and Outliers.
The Malcolm Gladwell Masterclass is structured similarly to Steve Martin’s. I learnt a lot about how Gladwell approaches his research and how he markets his writing and books. (Tip: don’t over-rely on Google!)
My biggest takeaway is what writers put out into the world doesn’t belong to them once they press publish:
Gladwell said he found himself in a curious position whereby the book’s ideas and arguments were often misconstrued by others.
“Once you’ve written something, it no longer belongs to you. It belongs to your readers. When your readers buy your book, they really buy your ideas and your ideas become theirs.”
I recommend taking this masterclass if you want to improve your research and non-fiction writing skills.
Neil Gaiman Masterclass Review
I started taking this writing Masterclass class earlier in 2019.
Amusingly, it’s set in a secluded cabin in the woods.
What better place to write a great novel than holed way from society with no interruptions?
Ok, so that’s not real life, but I enjoyed the look and feel of this class.
Anyhow, in the first lecture, Gaiman sums up exactly why I like Masterclass.
Gaiman is a professor of the arts at Bard College in New York, where he lectures about writing. Gaiman teaches 24-26 students a year which he “loves”.
However, through Masterclass:
“I can say the same things that I would say to them to millions of people. I know there are millions of people who want to write because they come to me and they ask me…I try and answer those questions on Tumblr and on Twitter and on my blog. [Masterclass] just seems to me like an incredibly efficient way to say everything I have to say to everybody.”
Neil Gaiman Teaches the Art of Storytelling contains 19 lectures that cover everything from writer’s block (a myth!) to editing to the rules for writers.
The classes average between 14 and 25 minutes long. They also come with downloadable PDFs, writing exercises and supplementary reading materials.
For example, one exercise offers the following task to students:
“Choose a page of writing you did recently—or use the story you rewrote in the first writing exercise of this chapter—and condense it by at least a third. If necessary, rewrite it completely, imagining a more economical way to tell the story.”
If you want to write a novel or hone your storytelling or just enjoy Neil Gaiman’s baritone voice and ideas (what writer doesn’t?), start here.
David Lynch Masterclass Review
In 2019, Masterclass released this course with David Lynch. This new Masterclass average between fifteen and twenty-five minutes in length.
Although I’m not a filmmaker I was interested to hear where Lynch, director of films like Eraserhead and Mulholland Drive, gets his ideas from.
David Lynch’s Masterclass is shot in a film studio that looks like a little like one of his offbeat films (with creepy music and all).
Lynch is an upbeat teacher with an intriguing insight into the creative process. Lynch’s Masterclass is broken up with snippets from his films and TV shows and art.
He covers topics like:
- Catching Ideas
- Creativity and the Writing Process
- Staying Through to Your Ideas
David Lynch Teaches Creativity and Film’s had less downloadable materials and PDFs than other Masterclasses.
However, I particularly enjoyed his bonus lecture about the power of transcendental meditation, even if he was short on specifics about how to get started with this practice.
Masterclass emphasises the community aspect of its online learning. They’ve created a Hub where you can engage in discussions and ask questions about the classes with fellow students. You can also post some of your work.
For example, one student posted his lesson notes and take aways from David Mamet’s rules for screenwriting.
Although I spent little time in the Hub, it’s a good resource for students who value learning from other students too.
I joined Masterclass in October 2017. Since then, the team has rolled out a number of improvements to the Hub.
Masterclass also features office hours.
Here, students can ask their teachers questions. For example, one student, John Zucker, asked Martin how to find your voice and received a reply.
Unfortunately, most of the Masterclasses have only a few replies. However, nothing is stopping you from recording a question, uploading a video or even writing in.
Now for the pros and cons of Masterclass.
What I Liked About Masterclass
While writing this 2020 Masterclass review, I felt inspired to watch many of these great professionals talk about the creative process, their techniques, their art, books and more. In some cases, they were condensing a lifetime’s experiences.
Masterclass videos are also produced first-rate in high-quality.
They are shot in high definition and tightly edited. If you’ve taken online courses, you know the quality of lesson materials varies. That’s not something you need to worry about here. Masterclass is aiming to become the Netflix of e-learning.
Masterclass regularly adds new materials from people at the top of their game, such as “Malcolm Gladwell Teaches Writing”, which I immediately added to my watch list.
They did, however, remove “Dustin Hoffman Teaches Acting”, a masterclass in which this Oscar winning actor gives you all of his best acting techniques. I’m no actor, but academy award-winning Dustin Hoffman would surely have had something good to say.
Some of the best Masterclass courses for writers include:
The best part?
Each class and lecture is unique to the instructor’s techniques and methods. Margaret Atwood, for example, includes a speculative fiction case study of the story A Handmaid’s Tale, while Dan Brown includes a character case study of the Da Vinci Code.
I also liked the Masterclass App for iPhone. It was easy to use and I was able to save lessons as favourites, adjust the playback speed and watch them over a cup of coffee at lunch.
Later in 2020, I also plan to take David Sedaris Teaches Storytelling and Humour, a recent Masterclass release.
Compared with other creative courses, Masterclass is also affordable.
For example, you can spend thousands of dollars on an MFA. Or you can spend several hundred dollars taking online writing classes. With Masterclass, you can start learning for as little as €70 or $90.
What I Disliked About Masterclass
The creators of Masterclass are going after a wide audience.
In some cases, I felt like the teachers were speaking to many people with different interests. Some of the classes felt like the teacher was riffing on the topic.
I’ve taken several in-person writing classes and, although I’m a believer in the power of online learning, it’s difficult to replace the one-to-one feedback you can get from a teacher in a classroom environment.
Unlike some online courses, Masterclass doesn’t allow users to download the video lessons.
Still, for just €150, I can’t complain.
Takeaway: Masterclass is a complement to, rather than a replacement for, other kinds of learning.
Masterclass vs The Great Courses
The Great Courses offers college-level courses from noted professors and lecturers. I’ve taken several of their courses over the years including:
- How to Listen to and Understand Great Music
- Great Masters: Beethoven–His life and Music
- The Meaning of Life: Perspectives from the World’s Great Intellectual Traditions
I took these classes as I was researching my book The Power of Creativity and wanted to learn more about Beethoven (he’s featured in my book).
The Great Courses also offer several writing and storytelling courses.
Like Masterclass, you can buy individual Great Courses from their site for approximately $39.99. They also offer a dedicated app.
Unlike Masterclass, you can also purchase from Great Courses as part of your Audible subscription.
Masterclass features celebrity instructors and creative professionals like Neil Gaiman.
The Great Courses, on the other hand, features lecturers and academics who you probably won’t know.
Great Courses is more academic in nature than what Masterclass offers.
Their courses are also much longer. A typical Great Courses lecture is 35 to 40 minutes. I purchased one course from them that was over 35 hours long!
A Masterclass lecture on the other hand is usually around five minutes long while the entire class takes an hour or two to complete.
Masterclass vs CreativeLive
CreativeLive is an alternative to Masterclass for bloggers and entrepreneurs.
Masterclass also covers topics like DJing with Roger Sanchez and cooking with Gordon Ramsay, which you’re unlikely to find on CreativeLive.
For more, read my CreativeLive review.
Masterclass vs Udemy
If Udemy is the supermarket of online courses, Masterclass is the Michelin restaurant.
Udemy offers bargain priced courses that cover everything from entrepreneurship to psychology to writing nonfiction.
Anyone can create and sell and Udemy course. This means their materials vary in quality. Udemy also regularly discounts its courses, much like a supermarket.
For example, I searched for writing classes on Udemy and found several dozen heavily discounted from $99 and $199.99 to €11.99.
Masterclass on the other hand features only celebrity instructors and rarely has a sale. They cover fewer topics than Udemy but the quality of their materials is higher.
Masterclass for Writers
If you’re a writer, Masterclass is an ideal investment in your craft. You get access to dozens of hours of training from writers across genres and industries and the library of courses is regularly updated. I typically take one new Masterclass for writers course every three months.
It’s aimed at creative professionals and breaks its classes up into several areas including: music and entertainment, culinary arts and sports and games.
They also have a dedicated section for writing classes.
At the time of writing this 2020 Masterclass review, this section includes 12 writing Masterclasses. These are
- Neil Gaiman Teaches the Art of Storytelling
- Dan Brown Teaches Writing Thrillers
- Margaret Atwood Teaches Creative Writing
- R.L. Stine Teaches Writing for Young Audiences
- Malcolm Gladwell Teaches Writing
- Judy Blume Teaches Writing
- David Mamet Teaches Dramatic Writing
- James Patterson Teaches Writing
- David Sedaris Teaches Storytelling and Humor (my next course for this review)
- Joyce Carol Oates Teaches the Art of the Short Story
- David Baldacci Teaches Mystery and Thriller Writing
- Billy Collins Teaches Reading and Writing Poetry
With an all-access pass, you’ll have more enough top writing classes to last the entire year.
Are Masterclass Classes Worth It?
Over the past 10 years I’ve taken writing classes in a traditional classroom environment, participated in weekly writing groups and taken several online courses on topics like blogging. I even studied journalism in college.
In other words, I’ve tried lots of different kinds of online and offline learning classes to enhance my planning method and writing process. Each style has pros and cons. What you get out of them depends on how much time and money you can invest and what kind of learner you are.
I recommend Masterclass to writers and professionals who utilize the creative process but are on a budget.
Pick one course from Masterclass.com and see if this method is right for you. The All-Access Pass is useful if you plan to take more than one class this year, though it is a yearly subscription and does not give you lifetime access. If you don’t like Masterclass, just take advantage of their 30 day money-back guarantee.
For a modest amount, you can invest in your craft and learn from current experts and Hollywood icons without investing thousands of dollars in a fancy MFA.
Masterclass also is useful for creative professionals who are further along in their careers but want to keep up by learning from masters of their professions.
Whether you are a chef looking for new ways to use white truffle, part of a band of musicians interested in dance music, or a writer seeking a lecture on writing thrillers, Masterclass has a variety of courses to offer, each with a workbook for your benefit.
Want an ebook by bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell, James Patterson, Steve Martin or David Mamet? If you join Masterclass, I’ll send a book via Amazon.com straight to your inbox! Opt in below to find more information.
Got questions about this 2020 Masterclass review? Ask me below.
Questions About Masterclass
Can I watch Masterclass on my TV?
Yes. Use a Google Chromecast with the Masterclass app or the dedicated Apple TV app.
Can I watch Masterclass on an Apple TV?
Yes, Masterclass has a dedicated app for 4th Generation Apple TV devices.
How long is each class?
Some of the older Masterclass lecture lasts five to ten minutes. A class lasts one to four hours. You can adjust the playback speed of a lecture. The newer ones, like Neil Gaiman’s, are longer. One lesson I took was approximately 30 minutes.
Any master classes for writing for children?
R.L. Steine teaches how to write for young audiences.
Does Masterclass offer classes in basic programming or coding?
No. They emphasise softer creative skills like writing, music, cooking and so on.
Why is Masterclass so expensive?
Arguably, it’s not. An All Access Past for 2019 cost me €150. Many online classes cost between €297 and €2000. I intend to renew in 2020.
How can I cancel Masterclass?
You can cancel via your account settings before your All Access pass expires. They also have a 30-day refund policy.
How can I get a Masterclass discount?
Masterclass doesn’t offer discounts. However, I will give you a free Kindle book by a Masterclass instructor of your choice if you sign up.
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Masterclass Review: Summary
- Production quality
- Relevance of course materials
- Ease of use
Masterclass 2020 Review Summary
Masterclass is worth it if you want to learn from creative professionals at the top of their game, at a pace that suits you. The materials are first-class and you’ll learn a lot.
- Offers access to top-level creators, writers and artists
- Includes succinct materials
- Produces high-quality video
- Posts new courses regularly
- High-calibre instructors
- Excellent Masterclass mobile app
- Not all classes are relevant to everyone
- Technical students should stay away
- Community forums are hit and miss
- Students need an affinity with their teacher