The Voiceover Demo

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Getting It Right the First Time

As you already know, a great voice demo is essential to getting voiceover work in the mainstream; that is, radio and television.  Creating a demo is a huge undertaking and the end result must be right.  For those of you who really want to be working as a voice artist, who feel ready to make a demo or …or feel their demo is letting them down, read on.

First, I do have to say that I hear far too many demos that have been made before the voice artist is ready.  Sometimes the demos just say ‘inexperienced person with nice voice doing nice job’, but I’m not sure they know enough about what they’re doing. Sometimes the response is, ‘great voice but there’s nothing that I could send as an example to cast this person with’, because the material on the demo either isn’t ‘right’ for that voice or the samples are too short, not examples of ‘advertising’ or ‘broadcast quality’ scripts.   Some demos are just a hotchpotch of average scripts and far too many character voices and accents.  It’s a pity, because time and money has been invested.  The fact is, many of them completely miss the mark as far as getting work is concerned, even though sometimes it’s evident that the person has potential.  But potential, unfortunately, probably won’t get you a job.  What will, is a great performance by a voice artist that says,  ‘you can trust me’.

So, before you do launch into making a demo, make sure you understand the industry, where you’d fit in and what kinds of scripts you’d likely be cast for.  If you need to discover these things, then you must get some coaching.  However, if you feel you are ready then you need to know these things.  The demo must reflect your personality, your voiceover personas, your knowledge of voiceover performance and your skill and understanding of scripts styles for the work you’re good at.

I’ve bolded that previous phrase because it’s this aspect of demo-making that seems to be the hardest to understand by many new-to-the-gamers, that is, knowing what you’re good at and reproducing that style or those styles on the demo.  If you’re a novice, you need to do the studio practice, to start perfecting what you already have… and to find out what’s possible in the studio.  If you’re committed to working as a voiceover artist then, no matter where you live, make sure you find a great coach, working in the industry, who’ll give you the right kind of guidance for making your demo.

What Does a Demo Consist of?

Traditionally, a voiceover artist creates a ‘compilation’ demo, which contains examples of broadcast work they’ve done. These demos usually run at between 2 and 3 minutes, which may mean that you could have between 8 and 12 different tracks.  If you’re really versatile this is not too many tracks, but if you have only one or perhaps two really good styles, you may find, at this length, that there’s too much repetition.

Your compilation must only ever showcase quality scripts, nothing mundane please.  I know not every script is ‘high art’ but there are some really fabulous, creatively written, funny and entertaining scripts out there.  If the script is dull, your demo will be boring to listen to.  You’re trying to let the listener know that you’re a highly creative individual, who can deliver an outstanding job. That’s never going to be evident if the scripts are boring.

But while it’s great to start with this kind of compilation demo, it’s not uncommon for an entrée demo to be only 90 seconds to 2 minutes long.  If it just contains four reads all running 15-20 seconds and they’re all fabulous, then you’ll get a job.   You’re not required to be incredibly versatile to be a voiceover artist but you do need to know what you’re best style or styles are.

Of course, when you’re starting out, you need to create a demo containing work that you are completely confident replicating in a studio.  Never put something on a demo that has taken you a long time to achieve.  Use stuff that you are comfortable with.  Once you know what you’re good at, you need to plan the content for the demo.  Whether you work with a coach on this part of the process or not, it involves the same things.

  • Finding the Right Scripts

This is really crucial.  For instance, if you’re really good at announcer style, then listen to television or radio, record the commercial breaks and see if you can find really ‘interesting’ announcer sscripts that work for you… and steal the copy.  If you have a hand-held recorder, it’s easy to record the breaks… or if you own an iphone even better.  Anu by the way, there’s never any problem with ‘borrowing’ copy.   For the purposes of a demo, there are no copyright or intellectual property issues.

  • Choosing the Right Order for the Demo

Never underestimate how important this is.  A demo needs to have a personality and a rhythm of its own; one that’s unique to you.  The general rule for order is, the stand-out read, that will get you the most work, goes first.   Next, something that is excellent but quite a departure from that first one, to let the listener know that you understand technique.   Then move through your other work, ending on something that is either your strength again or something that just has a natural this-is-the-end-of-the-demo-ness about it.  The rythm is always about the order, so shift the order around until it feels right.  You’ll know when!

  • Sound Scapes and Production

Generally, the less bells and whistles the better.  The listener wants to hear your voice, your performance, your version of a script; and sometimes a lot of production can really get in the way of that. However, sometimes certain scripts or stories benefit from Sound Effects (SFX) or atmosphere, or sound tracks of some kind.  Remember less is more in this case!

When you work with a coach, all these decisions will be made in consultation with he or she.  Trust the guidance you’re given, but be involved with your demo.  You must be absolutely thrilled with it.  If you’re not, you’ll never send it anywhere.

These days it has also become more popular to create smaller targeted voice demos for different purposes.  Creating short demos that feature your work in a certain style, saves time for the client or the casting person,  because it allows whoever who is searching for a voice for a specific job or style to go directly to a facsimile of what they’re looking for.

Another reason targeted demos are now so popular, is because the nature of the work has broadened.  For instance, now I do a lot of IVR work.  But I would never put an example of an IVR, voice prompt or on-hold message on my main compilation, too mundane.  Instead I have a 1 minute long demo that just features this kind of work.  I similarly have shorter demos that present versions of other specific kinds of work, like narration, corporate, and retail.

So, the demo remains the most powerful tool the voiceover artist can ever have.  It will grow, change and evolve as you build your career, fill niches or create them.  Your demo is so crucial.  Never let too much time pass before attending to its content.  And always get copies of work that you’ve done to make it easier to make a new demo or add to an existing one.  Especially, listen out for scripts on air that you think you could do a cracking version of.  Tune in daily to television and radio and, as always listen for where other voices are.  They’re everywhere…scary!!!  But good scary if you’re a voiceover artist.