OTM ESSAYS
 

Written by Michael Daingerfield

ESSAY 4
THE VOICE-OVER DEMO

The biggest stumbling block for people to get into the voice-over business is having to produce their own voice-over demo.  And I think I’ve figured out why that is.

Recording a voice-over demo - whether it be your commercial, animation or narration demo - is like producing your own mini album.  You have to start by creating the content - typically for your commercial and narration demo - you’re going to use scripts for commercials and documentaries/corporate videos that have already aired.  You pick the scripts that best resonate with your personality, brand and delivery.  For Animation you’re typically going to write some kind of sketch that puts all of your characters into some kind of story.  (what so now I have to be a writer?)  Well essentially yes for the animation demo - because you’re going to want the characters that you choose to showcase on your animation demo to say the things that would make sense for them to say - lines that would be in their wheelhouse.  If you pick other scripts or lines written by someone else for your original characters to say it probably won’t fit.  Or if you voice lines for your characters that have already aired on television - then the listener is left with the question of “Is this person doing an impression of this character or is this their version?”  And you don’t want those types of questions coming up for the listener.

Once you have the content you now have to rehearse - just as a band would before they go into record the big album.  This takes time - you’re best bet here would be to record yourself voicing your demo material and listening back to get a good feel for what you’re trying to accomplish - and is that coming through in the read?  Are you showcasing yourself the way you want to.  The more prepared you are the better - you don’t want to go into the record not knowing your material - you want to make sure it’s been played out in every scenario so that when you get direction by your demo producer you can nail it in one or two takes.

Next is the record.  This is always an exciting day - because you really are testing yourself - you’re paying good money to essentially have a professional recording session - you’re saying to the voice-over universe that you’re ready to enter the market - that you should be paid to do this work.  A great statement to make and when you’re ready, nothing feels better.

Once the record is complete the demo producer and engineer will take all of your takes and put together the best of the best from the recording session.  Anticipating the final product can be difficult because you can’t wait to hear the final result.  When you get the demo - listen to it at least 5 times before thinking too much - just let it all sink in - a lot of thoughts will be popping up in your head as you listen - take notes - but don’t judge until you can be objective.  It’s also a good idea to send the demo to some friends and family as well - make sure you send it to some voice-actors in the business too - as they will have a good perspective to give you and will undoubtedly give you some good notes before you make the final edit.  Once it’s been listened to by at least 5 people - speak to the demo producer and ask him or her to make the final edits.

Then comes the marketing component of the process - what image is on your cd cover and the cd itself?  It should be an image that represents your personal brand in some way.  Don’t just go around handing people blank cd’s with your name written on it in magic marker and expect anyone to hear it.  The packaging can sometimes be why someone listens to it - period.  So take advantage of another opportunity to impress someone so they’ll take you seriously even before they’ve heard your stuff.  If you can afford it (even though there are a lot of free options on-line) you’ll want to create a website that showcases your voice demos - and you will parallel the branding you had on the cd with the website.

The purpose of your demo whether it’s your commercial, animation or narration demo is to say “I’m ready to go - I get how to do this - bring me into the studio NOW - I will bring interesting choices to my reads - be easy to direct - and then get the heck out of there.”  This is what you want people to feel once they’ve heard your demo.  You certainly want them to be impressed.  The worst reaction you can get is lukewarm - because it’s not enough for them to take action.  Remember the people that are listening to your demo already have a busy work life - if they’re an agent they have at least 50 or a 100 other clients that they’re currently working for and doing their best to earn an income.  If it’s a production studio - depending on what city you’re in - they potentially have over 500 names of voice-over talent on their rolodex - so if you aren’t standing out in some way, they just don’t have the time or energy to give you a chance.  If it’s for animation casting - it’s pretty much the same story - they listen to auditions and voice samples all the time - is your demo going to stand out from the rest of the talent that they regularly bring in for auditions? What range are you demonstrating that will make them have a closer listen?  

I understand - you’ve put your demo together - you’ve put it all on the line - you’ve spent good money producing it - and you feel entitled to be heard - to be rewarded for your hard work.  WRONG.  It only comes down to whether or not your demo is great or not.  You have to put those emotions to the side - remember this is a business - a multi-billion dollar business of advertising - cartoons - and documentaries.  And if you’re not showing the people that make the decisions that you should be in this business, then they will look past you.  Remember the people that you submit your demo to - have their necks on the line as well - Agents, Studios and Casting all have to answer to someone in this business - so you have to be good for them to get behind you.

For me this is all about your own ability - because some people can fake a great demo - but then they get called in for the audition or worse the booking and they can’t pull it off - that’s one sure way of not working again for that studio.  Your ability has to back up the demo - because once they get to know you - they will remember your skill from your auditions and your work - not your demo.  

I think in the end - most people don’t stick with it long enough to get good - because most people know how good they have to be to enter the voice-over business - and most people can recognize when they have a solid amount of skill at something - and without the confidence of knowing that they’re good enough - they don’t approach doing the demo.  Unfortunately there are no short cuts in voice-over - this is a difficult skill to master - but with the right training - practice and belief - you can do this - and there’s definitely room for new talent.  If you take yourself seriously and respect how good you need to be - people (the right people) will see that.  Too many people think that voice-over is just about getting a demo out there and then the work will come in.  It’s just not the case - if it was there would be a hundred times the amount of people doing it.  Your demo has to be great to be well received - but your skill has to back it up.  Spend the time getting good and the rewards will come.  Until next time - stay on the mic and I’ll see you in class.