Start a Career in Voice-over for Animation, Commercials, Video Games, Narration, Dubbing and Audiobooks!

OTM Essay 4: The Voice-over Demo

The biggest barrier for people to get into the voice-over business is producing their own demo. Let me tell you why.

Recording a voice-over demo – where it’s your commercial, animation, or narration – is like producing a mini album. You start by creating the content, for example: if you’re creating a commercial or narration demo you’ll use scripts for things that have already aired. Pick scripts that best resonate with your personality, brand, and delivery. For Animation, you’ll write some sort of sketch that showcases your original characters into some sort of story. You’ll put on your writing hat and write lines that make sense for them to say. Using someone else’s lines for characters you created probably won’t fit. You also don’t want to voice lines of characters already on television, because then the listener is left wondering “Is this an impression? Or their own version?”

Now that you’ve gathered your content you need to rehearse it. The Beatles didn’t improvise Abbey Road!  This takes time. Your best bet would be recording yourself voicing your material, listening back to get a good feel of what you’re trying to accomplish and what is coming through in your read. What do you hear? Are you showcasing yourself the way you want to? The more prepared you are the better. You do not want to go into a recording not knowing your material. You want to make sure you’ve played out every scenario. When you get direction from your demo producer, you should be able to nail it in one or two takes.

Now it’s time to record! This is an exciting day and you’re going to test yourself. You pay good money to have a professional recording session, saying to the universe that you are ready to enter the market, and should be paid for this work! It’s a great statement to make, nothing feels better.

Now that you’ve finished your session, your work is done – for now. The producer and engineer look at all of your takes and put together the best ones. This is a difficult stage, you can’t wait to hear the final result! 

After what feels like an eternity – the demo is complete! Now that you’ve got it, listen to it at least 5 times before making any judgments. Let it sink in. Thoughts pop into your head as you listen, make notes of them, but try not to judge yourself until you can be objective. It’s a good idea to show family and friends to hear their feedback. Make sure to send it off to some voice-actors in the business so they can offer you their perspective and give you a few notes before you make the final edit. Send it to at least 5 people before asking the demo producer to make the finals edits.

Now that you’re happy with your demo you begin the marketing process. When you buy an album, what do you see on the cover? You want the image on your “album” to represent your brand. Don’t just go around handing people blank CD’s with your name in magic marker and expect anyone to listen to it. The packaging helps people decide if they want to listen to it. You want to impress someone before they’ve even heard your stuff. If you have the money, create a website to showcase your voice demos – make sure the branding on your CD matches the site.

Your demo reel should say “I’m ready to go, I know what I’m doing. Bring me into the studio NOW, I bring interesting choices to my reads, I’m easy to direct, and when I’m done – I’m out.” That is what you want people hearing when they listen. You want them to be impressed. The worst reaction you can get is lukewarm, because that’s not enough for them to take action. 

The people listening to your demo have busy lives. If they’re an agent they’ve got another 50 to 100 clients they’re working for and doing their best to earn a living. A production studio potentially has over 500 voice-over talents on their rolodex (depending on the market size). Unless you stand-out, they don’t have the time or energy to give you a chance. What are you bringing to the table that makes them want to listen to YOU?

I know how it feels. You’ve got your demo, you’ve done the work, you put it all on the line, and sunk a lot of money to produce it. You feel entitled to be heard and rewarded for your efforts. WRONG. None of that means anything if you don’t have a GREAT demo. Set your emotions aside and remember that this is a business. If you aren’t showing the people calling the shots that you should be in this business, they look past you. The people reviewing your demo have their necks on the line: agents, studios, and casting all have to answer to someone, so you better be good enough for them to get behind you.

Some people can fake a good demo, get called in for an audition or booking, and totally bomb. That is a guaranteed way of making sure you NEVER work for that studio. Your abilities need to back up your demo, because one people in the industry get to know you, they remember you for your skills and not your demo.

In the end, most people don’t stick with it long enough to get good. A lot of aspiring voice-over artists never get the confidence to approach doing a demo and give up. There’s no shortcuts in voice-over, it is a difficult skill to master. With the right training, practice, and belief, you can do it. There is always room for new talent. Take yourself seriously and respect how good you need to be and the right people will recognize that. 

Too many believe that it’s all about getting a good demo and the work will just come in. That’s not the case, if it was there’d be a hundred times more people working. 

You need a great demo and you need the skills to back it up. Spend time getting great, honing your skills, practicing, and trust that rewards will come.

Until next time. Stay On The Mic – I’ll see you in class.

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