So you Want to Do VO? - Part 6: The Most Important Tool In Your Toolbox

In the last post, I showed you a couple of places to start practicing voiceover and allowing you to develop and refine your audio chain and production process so that it's as efficient as possible.

If you've been following my advice, you will have hopefully spent some time recording voiceovers for the various people requesting jobs in the fan film/ RecordThis groups. Hopefully you've learned what works and what doesn't work when it comes to recording, editing and sending the finished product out. And hopefully you've learned how to communicate with the various clients in a professional manner. Because the next step in your VO career is where those skills are going to start to come in handy.

But before we get there, we need to talk about the single most important tool in your voiceover toolbox.

THE DEMO

A demo is a small sample of your work that a potential client will use to decide if you're the right voice for the job. In very much the same way a headshot is for an actor or model, your demo is your calling card: It represents you when you're offline.

To simplify things as much as possible, think about it this way:

To make money, you need to land the job. 
To land the job, you need a good demo. 

In the money-making real world of professional voiceover, your demo has to be as professional as possible. It's critical to your success in this business.

Yeah, this seems legit.
A lot of books and websites (and coaches, and pros) will tell you that you should NEVER make your demo yourself. And ya know what? They're absolutely right. To a person with a trained ear - like a casting director or a talent agent - what you make on your own will sound home-made. And if later on down the road you decide that you need to re-do your demo and have it done professionally, the casting director you send the new demo to may remember your previous demo, write you off as an amateur and toss the new demo in the trash.

Take my word for it: producing your own demo can be detrimental to your future career.

Now, having said all that...

When you're just starting out, you're not going to have the money to invest in a pro demo, which can cost anywhere from several hundred, to several thousand dollars. So you may have no choice but to produce a demo on your own.

If this is your only option at this point in your budding career, at the very least do everything you can to make it as polished and professional sounding as humanly possible!

There are a lot of things to think about. Here are some pointers:

  • Your demo should consist of several examples of your particular voiceover style in whatever format you're aiming for, cut quickly together. 
  • Listen to the demos of working professionals. (in other words, people who are getting work.) Hear how quickly they're cut together. Speed is important. Edit your demo to be fast paced. You don't want to play an entire 30 second commercial, just a sentence from one, then cut to the next one, etc. 
    • Listen to the music used. It should match the style of the promo. It should be in the background, out of the way and definitely not interfere with the voice at all. You are promoting your voice, not the music.
    • There are a variety of places where you can find production music that will work for your demo. A Google search for "free production music" will turn up some good results.
    • Get some sample scripts of actual commercials. Edge Studio has a large assortment of scripts. Registration is free and once you log in, you can pick the category you like and grab as many as you want. Of course, if you've been doing work in the various communities I mentioned in a previous post, you should have more than enough content to put together into a demo.
    • Don't mix formats. If you're more interested in commercial work, then your demo should be all commercial style recordings. If you're looking to get into voice acting - doing stuff for anime and cartoons - then your demo should be all about that. 
    • If you're interested in working in multiple formats of VO, have a different demo for each one. For example, I have a separate demo for commercial work, one for corporate narration and E-Learning, one for radio station IDs and DJ intro's and one for phone messaging/ Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems. This way if I am auditioning for a corporate narration job, my potential client doesn't have to hear a bunch of DJ intros or hear me shilling for Ford trucks.
    • Your demo should be 60 seconds long. That's it. A narration or character demo might go a little longer, but not by much. 
    • You have an incredibly small amount of time to convince a casting director or potential client that you're the right voice for the job. Assume that for any particular job posting, the client may have to listen to hundreds of demos. They aren't going to be spending a lot of time on each voice. They're going to listen to a demo and decide within 5 seconds if that is the right voice they pictured for their job. 
    • With that thought in mind, you need to grab the listener's attention right from the beginning - put your absolute best stuff in the very beginning of your demo, followed by your second best stuff, etc
    • Don't record anything you can't pull off completely. A demo should represent the sum of your voiceover skills. Now is not the time to try out your newly learned European or New York accent. If it doesn't sound convincing, it's going to come across as amateur. And a client who is looking to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars (or more) on a national commercial is going to want a professional. Not an amateur.
    • For the love of God: STOP TRYING TO SOUND LIKE DON LAFONTAINE! If you've got that deep, basso profundo announcer voice: congratulations. Now, what else can you do with it?  A casting director can't swing a dead cat without hitting 5 people that are trying to artificially sound like "The Don." This style of voiceover is over-used and cliche. Instead, show your versatility. This will take you further than doing what you THINK they want to hear.
    • Always leave em wanting just a little more. In the chance that someone listens to your demo all the way through, you don't want to bore them. Keep 'em interested and entice them that if they want to hear more, they can go to your website. 
    • A trick to making your demo sound a little more "pro" is to have your voice processed differently on each clip. Things like compression, expansion and EQ should be different. You want it to sound like each clip was recorded at a different time, in a different studio, with a different mic and mastered by a different engineer.  If they all have the same EQ/ compression settings, it's a dead giveaway to someone who knows what they're listening for that the demo was home made.
    REAL IMPORTANT: Once you think you've got your home made demo sounding professional, have some professionals listen to it. Make sure that these people know what they're talking about. Don't just give it to your friends - they will all just say that it sounds fantastic and really professional. You don't want platitudes here. You want a tough-love, hardcore evaluation of the sound quality, your delivery, your tone, and your presentation. Listen to their advice. Make changes. Send it to them again. Repeat this until they tell you to go away.


    Beware of demo mills

    In every business, every industry, every niche... if there is money to be made, there is someone out there figuring out ways to take advantage of that. The voiceover business is no exception to this, and a perfect example is the so-called "demo mill."

    A demo mill is basically a slick operation that promises you that they will produce for you a top notch, professional demo. They will tell you exactly what you want to hear. "Oh you have a great voice! There is lots of potential here! With our professionally-produced demo, you can be making money right away!"

    Don't be fooled.

    Companies like this will do nothing but take your money and leave you with a demo that wont convince anyone who knows what to listen for. They are a waste of time and money that could be better spent on a proven voice coach.


    How to avoid a demo mill:
    Ask around. Talk to professionals. Talk to voice artists that are working (not just hoping for work.) Ask them who they used. Ask about costs. Shop around. Take notes.

    Don't just jump at some website that promises the world and can't deliver on it.  Demo mills take your money and crank out worthless junk.

    Consider yourself warned.


    The amount of time and effort you put into your demo is critical to your future success. The better you can make it sound, the better off you will be.  But remember: if you are producing it yourself, this only buys you some time. You will need to get a demo recorded by a professional in the future. Start planning for this.


    AND NOW FOR SOME TOUGH LOVE:

    A professionally produced demo is the key to your future voiceover success. However one final word of advice on this: don't get your demo produced too early.  If you don't get the training to learn the voiceover skills first, you're just polishing a turd. No matter how good you think you sound, an expert will see through the charade. Get professional training and learn the skills before you get your demo professionally produced. This is what separates an amateur hobby-level voiceover artist from  a voiceover professional.

    In the next chapter, we start making money by venturing into the murky waters of the freelance voiceover world.

    Stay tuned.




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    About Rob Marley - 
    A Los Angeles native, Rob is an accomplished voice talent, producer and writer, now living in the hill country of Austin Texas. For more information, visit his website at MarleyAudio.com