creating the perfect voice over demo

I get asked all the time about producing voice over demos. I certainly have produced more than my share and its a lot of work for one minute’s worth of voiceover, job-getting magic. But you’re impatient and you want the golden ticket NOW.

Well to answer all the voiceover newbies, here’s the magic answer:

You’ve got 20 seconds, if you’re lucky!
Now get in line, cross your fingers and say a prayer.

You’ve just sent in your voice over demo for a possible voiceover job….along with anywhere from 5 to 200 other voice over talents.

In 20 seconds (usually less) a producer is going to toss your demo into the :

“keep for review pile” (which will get whittled down again until the producer picks “the” voice talent) or
“throw in the garbage” file.

Anyone in voice-overs (even the so-called “big names”) know a voice over talent is going to get rejected more often than they get hired…the numbers are not in the talent’s favor no matter how talented.

Since most times the voice actor is not likely to be auditioning in person (especially outside the big 3 U.S. markets) you (the talent) have only one tool at your disposal to represent your enormous talent, range, creativity, charming personality, client-friendly demeanor, multi-faceted character repertoire and stunning good looks (in the eyes of the listener). That tool is your voiceover demo.

And now you’re only getting 10 seconds…this better be good.

A 10 second demo?

No, I was just kidding. The industry standard is one minute for the length of your voice over demo with segments of spots ranging anywhere from about 6 seconds to 12 seconds depending on the content. The point is that whatever the producer hears in the first 10-15 seconds will determine whether your voice has the exact (or very close to exact) quality the producer is looking for.

What is that quality? Only the producer knows (it’s very subjective) so all you should worry now only about showing your best work as professionally as possible.

Generic or customized?

Every voice artist should have at least one strong generic demo to be able to present to a prospective client (at the moment, the most favored demo format is an MP3 for e-mail and a CD for snail mail….and yes, the CD should have a professional look to it, not a Sharpie scrawl of your name across it).

Some folks create generic demos based on category…a generic commercial demo, a generic narration demo, a generic character voice demo and so on. Tailored demos simply mean the producer has a demo script he/she wants you to voice; if you are asked, do it.

How do I determine voice over demo content?

Assuming here we’re talking about creating a strong generic demo (not a category voice demo) the recommendations here are:

• The best or most widely heard of any spots or narrations you’ve been paid to create (this should include straight reads as well as character voices). Preferably you want the fully produced cuts on your demo, not the dry reads unless that’s how they were produced.

• Any tailored commercial, narration or voice imaging demos that you felt really presented your talents well.

• Determine your best work from all your categories (commercials, narrations, voice imaging, on-hold, audio books etc.). Then consider the type of work you’re most often hired or considered for and include best of all those segments mixed as you think works best.

When you’re done producing your voiceover demo….you’re not. Play it for other people in the business, get their opinions, and tell them to be cruel, put it up on some voice over bulletin boards that encourage member-to-member critiques. Take all the info to heart (but not personally, the critiques are about “the voice”, not you) and make the changes that you think make the most sense.

What’s in that first 10 seconds?

Your money voice. Every voice artists has one, some have a few. The money voice is either

• That voice that seems to bring you the most work/that you’re most known for OR

• The voice that you can do well that seems to be in vogue among those who are hiring (at the moment, it’s the sort of conversational, everyman voice as opposed to the big-balls announcer voice).

Now the truth.

Voice demos are close to the apex of and imperfect science. It is an ever-evolving tool and one for which your lively hood depends…but no matter how good it is, your demo is useless if no one hears it. That requires marketing.

And that’s a subject for another day.

Hope this helps.

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6 Responses to “creating the perfect voice over demo”

  1. Peter, Brilliant comments. Very insightful and helpful. Be well, Bob

  2. Bob: If you start calling me brilliant my wife is going come over and lash you with a wet noodle (or noodle you with a wet lash, I always confuse the two) but never mind, it won’t be pretty 😉 She’ll tell you I’m hard enough to live with let alone encouraging me. Thanks for the kind words. For those of you haven’t run across Bob’s Voice Over Blog (much more famous and technically superior to my own, you can find it here

  3. You really make this VO business sound like something I should be doing. I’m in the process of researching the equipment needed to be a PT VO stud!

  4. A VO stud?

    Well when you find THAT catalog, please let me know! :))

    Best always,

    – Peter

  5. Mr. O’Connell,

    I’m with a talent agency and I understand that I’ll get rejected more than booking a V/O job… my frustration is not knowing why I wasn’t booked… I have had individuals in the industry and individuals who are not in the industry listen to my demos and all I hear is you have a great voice… no one can tell me what I need to improve on. I even wish I could get some feedback from my agent (i’m Not sure if that’s normal or not) I just need the someone to push me in the right direction… I’ve been to the V/O classes and seminars it all seems like a waste of money… what can I do?

  6. Hi Corey,

    My apologies for my delay in getting back to you.

    A couple of ideas for you:

    – You should absolutely approach your agent about feedback on your demo. Remember, the agent works for you! It behoves you both to have the best possible demo (assuming you respect the opinion of your agent).

    – If you’ve worked with some sharp teachers, they should welcome your request to review your demo with you. You’re not asking them to produce a new demo for you but rather asking their professional opinions. And hey, everybody like to offer their opinions.

    As far as getting feedback back on your auditions, some agents are helpful about that and some aren’t…they ARE fairly busy and they can’t go over every audition. One idea – and I don’t know if it will work – is to call and talk with your agent about one or two auditions that you thought you nailed. Email him/her the audition and its specs and talk it through.

    Just know the answer might be…you did nothing wrong. Sometimes its as simple as yours was not the voice that the producer’s subjective ear heard in her head. It’s a truthful but frustrating reality.

    I hope this helps.

    Best always,

    -Peter

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