Your Calling Card: The Voice Over Demo
Starting Off Strong and Avoiding Common Mistakes
OK, you've trained in voice over, you may be working one-on-one with a coach, and you have a pretty decent home studio. Now what? It's time to offer your services as a professional voice talent.
The first thing to do is to create a demo of your work. Pick one genre to start. Most people begin with a commercial demo, as that is what voiceover agents primarily want from their talent rosters. If, however, you're primarily focusing on one of the many genres that don't typically involve agents, such as audiobooks or eLearning, then you may choose instead to record your first demo in one of those other areas.
Demos are the calling cards of the voice acting world. They showcase the VO actor's talent, range, and versatility within and across voiceover genres. Competition is stiff and standards are set high, so voice actors need to have high quality, professional demos. Here are some basic do's and don'ts to keep in mind:
1. One genre, one demo - each genre requires its own demo. Long gone are the days when a single demo mixed commercial, promo, and character tracks to highlight the talent's abilities. Agents and buyers want to listen specifically to examples of the type of work that they’re casting. Someone who only books voices for commercials is not going to listen to an audiobook demo.
2. Professional quality - this is not a do-it-yourself project. Go to an accomplished, vetted demo producer who will evaluate your voice, customize short scripts that show your range and versatility, and record and produce the finished piece. Not sure where to go? Start by asking for referrals from other voice actors whose demos you like, coaches, and studios where you’ve trained. Some coaches and studios offer demo production services, but carefully evaluate their work just as you would any other. Listen to the demos that they have produced and talk with the voice actors who’ve used them. Are they happy with the finished product? Was the producer easy to work with? Have they been able to book work off their demo?
3. Approximately one minute in length - each demo contains four to seven short scripts that keep the listener's interest with variety and range. For example, a commercial script will have a read that is conversational, another that is authoritative, a third that is caring and compassionate, a fourth that is full of attitude, etc. Oftentimes, agents or buyers only listen to the first few seconds to determine if they like the voice or think there’s talent there, and may skip ahead here and there to sample for range. Then, if they’re interested, they’ll listen to the whole thing.
4. Update demos as VO trends change - we've seen commercial trends go from the big announcer read to the the more personable conversational or "real person" read to the laid-back Millennial sound. Now with worries over Coronavirus, the trend is shifting towards more caring, compassionate reads, especially with medical spots. Even within these trends, styles change and demos need to reflect the current marketplace. Demos have an average two year life span, usually due to a combination of improvement in the voice actor’s skills or changes in their voice, and/or shifts in the market trends and the “sound” that’s currently in demand.
1. Don't record a demo before you are ready - train, train, and then train some more. Your teacher or coach will tell you when you are ready. You typically have only one chance to present yourself to agents for representation, production companies for inclusion on their rosters, or buyers for your services. Make that first impression when you can consistently deliver two different takes on a script within a few reads.
2. Don't waste your money on "demo mills" - these are scams that promise the would-be voice actor a few lessons and a "quality demo," all for a low, low price and produced within a very short period of time. Don't waste your money. You need more than a few lessons and these "churn and burn" operators take your money and deliver very little value. Worst yet, the demos they produce could tarnish your reputation for a very long time. All the listener knows is that the demo is supposed to represent your ability and professionalism, and if one or the other is lacking, so may be your opportunities to book professional-level work.
3. Don't present a poor quality demo - a professional demo producer will customize a demo that presents your voice to its best advantages. Prices range all over the board, but do your due diligence before deciding on who to hire. Listen to their previously produced demos for both content and audio quality and don’t cut corners. Even if you have a top quality recording space and can create tracks with music or special effects, the top VO talent will still urge you to work with someone who can objectively and expertly assess your vocal strengths and guide your recording session.
4. Don't hold onto old demos past their expiration dates – OK, demos aren’t stamped with a “throw out” date, but they can sound pretty outdated much more quickly than we realize. It’s not just that delivery styles change rather frequently, but our voices change over time, too, some more quickly than others. Voices deepen, may become raspier, or we may just sound wiser as we age. Life experiences creep in to color our vocal delivery, changing the way we see the world and how we express ourselves. Just like an on-camera actor’s headshots have to be updated every few years, our demos have to reflect who we are at that moment, not who we used to be. And while you may love an older demo, don't keep presenting it as current. Even if you’re Dorian Gray and never change, styles do and an outdated demo will stick out like a sore thumb to industry professionals.
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