Tips for a Killer VoiceOver Demo
Your voiceover demo, or samples of the work you do, is crucial to your getting booked and building your profile.
Your demo is almost always the only way you can introduce yourself and your skills to studios, producers, agents and any potential employer.
So How Will You Make a Great VoiceOver Demo?
Think of it like this.
You’re baiting a hook to catch a fish.
Your voiceover demo is the bait that will catch you that big voiceover fish; a producer who will cast you for that great job.
But if the bait isn’t tasty enough to catch the right kind of fish, you’re in trouble.
Sure, the fish might have a sniff, see what’s there. But if at first sniff, nothing interesting stands out, they’ll most probably just glide on by, not even bothering to linger.
The content in a voiceover demo, it’s rhythm and how it’s structured is the key to your success, but I’m constantly surprised at demos I hear that just don’t cut it.
I had a 3-minute demo (too long) sent to me recently that was a sample of poetry, character voices and accents, audio book narration and some commercial reads.
The thing is, this person was actually pretty good, but the demo was poorly executed.
And sample number 5 on the demo was actually a bookable commercial read. That read needed to have been the first sample heard in a solid commercially focused demo and sent to those who are looking for voices in the commercial area.
Asked why he structured it that way, he said he wanted the listener to hear variations and variety.
Okay, that may have been what he wanted, but what did the potential booker hear?
Worst Voiceover demo Mistakes
- Overloaded Demo
- Boring content
- No understanding of what you’re best at
- Not clear about where you’d fit
- Demo not targeted correctly
So, let’s have a look at some of those things that can go wrong and work through how to remedy that.
When you load your voiceover demo with examples of everything, in an attempt at showing versatility, you are putting way too much bait on the one hook.
Do this! Work out, with a coach preferably, what it is about your voice style that a casting person would ‘buy’.
Work with your coach on different kinds (or styles) of scripts to find out which one’s you’re naturally good at.
Are you best at conversational delivery, good at stylized announcer scripts, got a great bright voice suited to promos, energized or retail reads?
Are you great at story-telling, solid at information or instructional delivery, stunning at jumping into someone else’s shoes?
Could you be an audio book narrator? Do you have great skills for character voices?
But the thing is, unless you present a demo that solves the casting person’s problem, which is, “who will we book to do this job?”, by overloading, you’ve done these things:
- wasted an opportunity to show variety and versatility for the work they cast.
- Showed that you are unclear about what kind of voice actor you are, and worst of all
- Annoyed them. As in, you made them do the work, trying to imagine what you’d be good at, or where you’d fit
When you present a demo that’s just full of stuff, all it says is that you don’t understand the structure of the industry. You will appear unprofessional and appear as though you don’t know what you’re doing.
Think about doing this!
Targeting Your Voiceover Demo
Targeting your voiceover demo is crucial. These days there are so many different areas of voiceover and the work comes from different sources.
- Commercial voiceover, including Promo for radio, television or online
- Non-Commercial, Corporate, Medical, or Industrial
- Audio Book narration
- On-Hold Messages and Interactive Voice Recording (Voice Prompt Systems)
In each of these categories, the work is very different in style and the scripts are structured differently.
The person casting wants to hear samples of the kind of work they make. So, target your demo or demos to whoever that is.
If it’s a Sound Studio that works with Advertising Agencies, or a Radio Station with their own client list, make sure your demo is a short example of your range and abilities with ‘commercial’ scripts.
Create short audio samples that are preferably not longer than 15 seconds, although if the script is knockout and so is your read, then up to 25 is okay, but it better be good.
You never need to put the whole ‘ad’ on a commercial demo. You’re not selling the product.
You’re selling your ability to deliver a message.
Demo length can be between 90 seconds and 2.5 minutes, but if it’s at the top end, it would need to be a variety of very entertaining, engaging and satisfying reads.
On the question of production music or sound effects for your demo. Mostly what you are trying to do is convince the listener that you are a working v/o actor, so working with an engineer or producer to build what sounds like samples of professional work is ideal. In the commercial world there is usually sound production and/or sound effects (SFX) on every spot.
Order is really crucial on a commercial demo. Begin with your best work, or the best, most interestingly scripted, followed by another great read, that is very different in either pace, energy, intention or volume.
Play around with the order until you feel that it has the right rhythm. You want it to create an impression and leave the listener wanting to be in the room with you.
Don’t forget, it’s okay to just have one great voice style. It’s not essential that you’re wildly versatile to get work in voiceover.
If you are really great and your samples reflect that, you’ll get booked.
The big difference between this work and Commercial work is this.
Firstly, your audience is captive. They either want to listen, or are compelled to as part of their work, or their need to know, such as a medical read explaining what will happen in their knee operation.
The scripts will also run for much longer than an Ad. It’s not unusual for e-learning, medical or any instructional or corporate video to run for up to 20 minutes or more. These reads require a lot of ability to quickly understand:
- the message and information in the script,
- who you’re delivering to, and
- what your listening audience needs to learn or understand.
The demo or samples can be longer than for a commercial demo. I would say up to 35 seconds for each piece. You may only need 3 different kinds of script to show ability delivering these different script styles.
For instance, you may find that a purely information driven script, such as something for the OH&S department, works well next to something that is instructing the listener on how to navigate an online program or website, or change a tyre.
You may also include something that takes the listener on a journey of the company’s products, mission, people or history.
You may be voicing the introduction to an event or conference.
When you target these demos, you can send them to Sound Studios who often work with larger companies on their audio/visual material.
You can also target companies who have internal Communications Departments. Just make a phone call and ask who to send a voice demo to. Sure, it means cold-calling but I’m often surprised at how many voice actors don’t do this, and equally surprised at the work voiceover actors who do make those calls get.
These demos don’t need to have production (music or sound effects) applied to them. So just a good ‘cold voice’ recording, as long as the quality is excellent is fine.
Audio Book Narration
This rapidly growing area for voice actors to get work in will require an initial submission from you. You’re able to send a short reading that you’ve recorded on your phone. The producer wants to hear you ‘inhabiting’ the book.
They want to hear you, not just reading the words, but honoring the author’s intention. They want to hear you really ‘telling’ the story.
Beware of these mistakes when sending an audio audition.
Don’t talk too loudly.
Remember that your audience is probably listening through headphones or ear pieces, so no yelling. Think of it as an intimate engagement. You are just talking to one person.
Don’t speed read.
If you truly are telling a story, the listener needs to be able to visualise characters and environments. If you’re reading too fast, they’ll never be able to create pictures in their head and never engage with the story.
You also need to be able to work out where to slow down and where the pace can be picked up. If you read at the same pace, we’ll all go to sleep.
Don’t ‘read’ the story, ‘tell’ the story.
Once you’ve submitted an initial sample, if you have their interest, you may be asked to audition for specific titles that they feel you may be suited to.
If you are both a voiceover actor who is great at character voices, as well as a brilliant sight reader who can inhabit story, then animation may be for you.
It depends on where you are in the world regarding how much work there is. And, like all areas of voiceover it’s hard to get traction and just as difficult to get in front of producers to show them what you have.
If you’re represented, you’ll benefit from casting notices they’ll be sent by animation producers.
If you’re a non-represented working voice actor with loads of character ability, find out which studios are doing the animation auditioning and/or recording and hopefully you’ll be able to signal them that you want to work in this area.
It’s tricky to break into animation. Find a coach who works, or produces and/or directs talent, in this field. That’s your best shot at finding out the information you need depending on where you are in the world.
It can take time in voiceover to build a profile and reputation.
This is also not an easy area to get into. Many documentaries that are produced use high profile actors. It’s also still quite a heavily male dominated area. However, there are opportunities for those of any orientation who have great narration skills.
Good documentary voices never make it about their voice. They always make it about the ‘story’. When that happens, the voiceover performer just seems to disappear. At least, you aren’t consciously ‘listening’ to a voice.
However, one thing you’ll notice is that they always have very beautiful, modulated and warm voices. If you listen to doco’s you love, you will probably hear that the narrator is working in a very even reading style. Instead of a lot of high and low notes, they work with variations in their story telling to get the meaning into the read.
If you believe you have these skills listen anew to doco’s. Search them out and study the techniques.
On-Hold Messages and IVR
If you want to do this work, okay, but most of this work is for small companies and is usually very low paying.
However, if you’re represented or have a profile as a voice artist, you might be fortunate to pick up a job voicing the whole phone prompting system for a large organization such as a bank, a service or utility provider, insurance or phone company or any number of large businesses that have now gone to automated systems.
This is where you can make good money, because you will be regularly updating and/or adding new prompts. Often these jobs can last for many years, with you being called in a few times a year to work for them.
However, mostly small companies just want a hello and welcome message, or a ‘please hold the line’, ‘your call is important to us’ etc. Not very exciting, and actually doesn’t take a lot of skill either, which is why it’s low paid in the small business area. It is higher paid for large companies though because of the huge content and the fact that it’s national.
Preparing to Launch Your VoiceOver Demo
So, armed with a bit of knowledge and perhaps more of an idea about what to do, you now need to find out what to do first.
For that, you do need to find someone who can help you discover or refine what you have that will get you work. Find a good coach in your area. They must be either a working voiceover artist or someone producing talent.
Work with your coach to find scripts that are samples of the kind of work you could get and target those who are casting or looking for voices that do what you do.
There’s no short way to a voiceover career, or even a job doing a voiceover, but unless you can present yourself as someone who knows who they are (as a voice actor) and what they’re doing (in a studio or self-producing) it’s going to be pretty tough.
If you truly believe this is for you, go for it. Research as much as you can. Don’t just listen to work you hear out there, listen to voiceover demos on agent’s websites, trawl YouTube for voice actors sharing what they do.
Find ways to find your own way in.