If you are just getting started in the voiceover industry and want to book consistent work, you are going to need a marketing tool that can showcase your voice in different styles and scenarios. This vocal showcase, or demo, is considered to be your "calling card" - essentially it is your voiceover resume or portfolio. And without it, it can make getting work pretty difficult. A great demo showcases how your voice will sound in a variety of ranges and styles per genre. And oftentimes it’s also how you make your first impression with agents, clients, and producers. With that being said, your demo should be in a word, stellar. Nothing less. It should reflect your strengths and abilities, all while being in line with current market trends. A good demo producer should know what content and styles are current, relevant, and what the market is looking for, as well as help you create a series of spots that showcase your abilities in those areas. In this fourth article in the How to get Started in Voiceover series, we take a look at important things to consider when looking to record and produce your first voiceover demo.
This isn’t a DIY
You might be tempted to create your own demo. Please DON'T - For a number of reasons:
A professional demo producer will know the industry better than you will. They know the industry trends and market. This is all they do, and you are paying them for those years of experience. As a beginner, you will not have the knowledge, experience, or ear to produce a demo and should rely on a professional perspective when it comes to recording spots that will get you noticed.
A good coach will let you know when you are ready to record your demo. They will know if you will be able to deliver the same performance and quality that is showcased on your demo consistently. They are objective and can hear when you have the skills to back up a demo. A coach may also be a demo producer.
Ideally, you as the talent should only be focused on your performance. Don’t split your focus trying to create relevant content, engineering your sound, and trying to deliver the goods while self-directing. It just doesn’t work as well.
This is your calling card, your first impression. Your demo needs to be a shining example of awesomeness. Take advantage of having a professionally trained producer that can hear the subtle differences in a read that vary between just OK and amazing. You never get a second chance to make a first impression.
Commercial or Narration or ???
If you are a newcomer to this industry, I highly recommend focusing on one genre to start with when producing your first demo - there are many different genres to choose from, both broadcast and non-broadcast based. Focusing on too many genres at once may be counterproductive when you are just starting out and trying to learn the fundamentals of performance Back in the day, it was traditional to always record a commercial demo first. Agents especially look for a commercial demo from talent as that is the genre that they typically work in. Today, with the advent of so much technology, the landscape has changed a bit. There is more opportunity to self-market, and reach specific and targeted clients, to allow you to really carve out a niche for yourself. Commercial is not the only market out there - as a matter of fact, it is one of the smaller markets out there - and the most competitive. The non-broadcast narration market makes up about 85-90% of the work out there, so options for genres such as Corporate Narration or eLearning may appeal to you first. I have lots of students who start with narration genres and then come back for commercial once they have established their initial presence.
Don’t get me wrong, if you want to work in the commercial market, you need a commercial demo. The same is true for any genre, you need to have a target-specific demo in that genre if you want to try and get work from that market. It just makes marketing sense. A spot (and read) for a commercial demo where you are trying to sell something is vastly different than a spot and read for an eLearning project, where the sole purpose is to teach.
Not all DEMO producers are created equal. Just like finding a great coach, you should do your research before you sign on to any particular producer. Listen to samples of that producer's work and ask yourself a few questions. Do they have a specialty? Or do they produce any and all demos? Can you listen to DEMO’s they are currently producing? Do they have a reputation in the industry? What are their testimonials saying? Are the DEMO’s geared towards the potential buyers? Do you get a sense of the actor’s personality and vocal brand when you listen to their demos? This may seem like a lot of questions, but a quality demo is a substantial investment. You want to make sure you get your money’s worth. A demo shouldn’t be just another feather in the producer’s cap, it should be focused and custom-tailored to who you are and what you want to accomplish.
Reality Check: Be wary of demo "mills" or producers who try to sell you a "one size fits all" demo package or multiple demos at once. Remember in my second article in this series on coaching, we talked about the importance of coaching first in your genre and making sure you are ready to produce a demo. This is especially important because each genre of voiceover has a specific purpose and speaks to a different audience. Performance techniques and vocal foundations should be solidly practiced and mastered so that you can reproduce the sound that you represent on your demo. There is nothing more frustrating (and damaging) than being directed to a certain read for your demo, and then not being able to reproduce it for your client once you are on your own.
Cost of Doing Business
For a quality demo, you should expect to spend $1800 - $2500 on a top-notch, professionally produced, industry-standard DEMO. Keep in mind that you are paying for the producer's years of experience - someone who knows the industry and genre you’re targeting, can extract the absolute best performance from you, and produce a demo that will help you stand above the crowd. Because a professionally produced demo is the expectation in the industry, your clients will know if you cut corners when they listen. They can hear a homemade demo from miles away. You can’t afford that if you want to make Voiceover your career. Be smart, put your money where your mouth is.
Content is King
Your producer should work with you and create custom scripts for your demo, specific to the genre you want to market to. There should be no "General" demos here. For example, you should not produce an all-encompassing voiceover reel with both commercial and narration spots. In that same vein, you should not produce a narration demo with all types of narration spots, i.e. documentary, eLearning, corporate, audiobook, medical, etc. Each demo should be genre-specific to be the most effective marketing tool for your business. And each spot in each demo should highlight and showcase your specific abilities, be compelling to the buyer, and effectively highlight a current and relative market. Depending on the style of the demo, the length can be anywhere from one minute to two minutes. But don’t get too hung up on length. A good producer will know how long it should be to effectively demonstrate your capabilities and market your skills. You want your content to showcase a range of abilities, and at the same time not be so broad that your client doesn’t get a sense of who you are.
Reality Check: Be wary of any producer who asks you to write your own scripts for a demo. If you are new to the industry, it is improbable that you know the market well enough to establish current and relevant content that should be on your demo, especially content that would showcase your vocal and acting range. This is one of the many reasons you hire a professional producer.
When you record your DEMO, your producer should be directing you while recording. Or you will have a separate director working with you. They will be giving you feedback, specific direction and keeping you on your toes. Be coachable. Learn to take direction. Adjust to the direction that your producer is giving you. It may be subtle small things like phrasing or clarity. But it could also be a different interpretation of the copy altogether. Be open to trying different things. Don’t fall into the trap of practicing your demo scripts so much before your session that you can only hear them one way. Remember, you’re paying for a professional ear so-to-speak. Your director wants to get the very best performance from you possible. This will also serve you well down the road, as clients can very often change direction in the middle of a session. Being directable will make you a hirable for more jobs from your client down the road, as well as referrable!
A great demo producer will consider your vocal brand when creating your demo. Every spot should point to who you are and where your voice fits in the industry. An ideal situation would be if you spent a bit of time with your producer so they can really get to know your voice and your abilities. If your coach also produces demos, it's a great way to segway into a wonderfully vocally branded demo, as you will have spent time together to establish a relationship where this can happen organically. A clever, flashy, and funny demo is fine, as long as it accurately reflects your abilities, your strengths, and can get you work.
Think of hiring a demo producer like hiring a guide when you go hiking in the backcountry. You want someone who knows the way, knows the terrain, and if there are any new pitfalls or obstacles. You want them to be able to anticipate your needs and consider your abilities. A great guide will be able to highlight amazing features you might have otherwise missed. They would be able to help you enjoy the journey and get you to the end of the trip grateful and satisfied. A good demo producer will be able to create the same experience. After all, they want you to talk about how great the experience was. After you get your demo, well then the next is up to you. Don’t let your demo just sit on the shelf, you have to put it to work.
Up next: How to Get Work!
Much love and Keep on rockin' your health and your biz!
About the Author: Anne Ganguzza is a full-time voice talent and award-winning director and producer who works with students to develop their voice over and business skills - including VO demo training and production. She specializes in Conversational Commercial and Narration styles, including Corporate, E-Learning, Technology, Healthcare - Medical, Telephony, and On-Hold. Located in Orange County, CA, Anne offers private coaching and mentoring services to students in person and via Skype, ipDTL or Zoom.