A voice over actor’s calling card is their demo – a compilation of spots in a particular style or genre of voice over that highlights the range, attitudes, and expertise of the actor. Just as any business professional with a portfolio of their work, a voice over actor is wise to re-examine their demo portfolio to make sure it is fresh, relevant and professional, showcasing what they can bring to the table for their clients.
Because this is an important extension of your VO brand, cobbling together demos on the cheap doesn’t cut it. Savvy creatives, casting directors and producers can hear it right away and will reject out of hand anything that makes the job of casting more difficult. The best, most successful demos that lead to booking work follow industry standards and assist production by expediting casting. In other words, the more professional the showcase, the better the chance of being hired.
As casting director, Kate McClanaghan says “Producing a “demo of a demo” or rationalizing your “good-enough-for-now” recording only reflects poorly on you and tells talent agents and producers you’re a novice or just not committed.” Be sure your demo portfolio is an asset, not an obstacle for your business.
Mistakes To Avoid When Recording Your Demo
So now you’re ready to record your demos, or refresh your existing demos with a new genre, what are some of the mistakes to avoid?
A big first mistake is not getting enough coaching to be demo ready. You want to have studied and or worked in a genre enough to compete with the pros who work in it every day. If you are not sure of your skills, be sure to work with a voice over coach and get an extra set of ears to hear your work and evaluate if you’re at that level. Recording a demo before you’re ready will be about as useful as setting your money on fire.
Unless you’ve been a copywriter in an earlier iteration of your life (I have – but I still hire out the copywriting to a professional on the select demos I produce), don’t write your own material. Look for a demo producer that provides professional copywriting. Keep in mind you’ll be submitting your demo to buyers who work with copy daily and poor or stale writing will be a big turn off.
Self-directing and self-producing are other moves to avoid. Like a good director in a film or on stage, a good demo director will be able to help pull out your best performance, that extra set of trained ears brings a next-level kind of experience to your table. One worth every penny – and unless you’ve been a hot-shot sound engineer or radio producer in your other past life, again, you will not sound as good as your competition and will be thought of as sloppy or a novice.
I produce voiceover demos in several genres and happily am sought over in the industry for my work. But don’t take it just from me. Listen to the words of my colleagues, also some of the other best voice over demo producers out there:
Advice From Three Top Voiceover Demo Producers
J Michael Collins – JMC Demos:
How often one should listen/re-evaluate one’s VO demos?
It depends on the genre, but 1-2 years is a good rule of thumb to at least have a listen for relevancy. A good producer can help extend a demo’s shelf-life, but beyond 3 years or so you’ll probably need at least a refresh.
What are the must-have demo’s (3-4) that should be in every VO actor’s portfolio?
Assuming you play in these genres, Commercial is still king, and these days E-Learning and Corporate aren’t far behind. Agents & high-end buyers like “sexy” demos as well, such as Promo, TV Narration, or Imaging.
How long should a demo be for each genre?
That varies. I’m not of the rigid school that a Commercial demo MUST NOT be longer than a minute, but if you are over 1:15 it’s starting to drag. Narration demos can easily be ninety seconds or so. Anything over two minutes is too long.
How often should you refresh?
Again, depends….Political demos every year or two. Commercial every 2-3 years, same with Promo. Others maybe 3-4 years. Again, a good demo producer can write for a long lifespan as much as possible. One more reason you should always hire a producer who writes custom content.
For people new to the business, what skills are you looking for in them before you consider them to be demo-ready?
My definition of demo-ready is whether they are capable of booking market rate work. Some people think you shouldn’t do a demo until you’re ready to drop it on Atlas’s doorstep. I think that’s nonsense. There are talent who are capable of booking online and getting attention from regional and small market agents who might not be ready for the majors yet. They deserve a great demo, too. BUT, you have to have a reasonable expectation of seeing ROI before I’ll consider working with you.
Anne Ganguzza – Strategic Target Market Demo Production:
What are the most-have’s in every VO’s portfolio of demos?
A demo for every genre you intend to work in – this allows you to strategically target market to your buyer by connecting the dots for a (hopefully) long and successful working relationship. I also recommend having every spot of your demo visible (and searchable) on your website to allow for great SEO return – there are many demo players out there that can accommodate this. Finally make sure that your demos are downloadable and named appropriately to make them easily found on your potential buyers desktop!
Should you go to one demo producer for all your demos?
Not necessarily – You should absolutely go to a demo producer who specializes in your genre – this will be the best showcase for your voice and acting abilities. This also is an assurance that the content – i.e. copy, music, and SFX – on your demo, will be current and relevant to the genre. Choose different producers based on their unique abilities that will serve you in the best possible way.
Is it ever ok to cobble together your own demo from work you’ve done?
Only if it is evident that they are pieces of work that you have done that were produced separately – this usually works sufficiently in a video demo that works in conjunction with professionally produced demos. In most cases, professionally produced demos will provide you with the potential of showcasing a wider breadth of capabilities than just the spots you have been booked for in the past.
Is there ever such a thing as too many demos?
Never! Unless they are presented in a way that makes your brand confusing and/or conflicting.
For people new to the business, what skills are you looking for in them before you consider they are demo-ready?
Talent should be able to reproduce the acting and reads in their demo on their own, without being directed. They should have enough training to be able to make good acting choices. Too often, when a demo is produced too quickly, or before the talent has had adequate coaching, this is not the case. Producing a demo too soon does not do anyone any favors – the talent OR the producer. Talent should understand that their true “vocal resume” is NOT really comprised of just a singular demo mp3 – it is a culmination of their voiceover “journey” – this includes their training and everything else that has led up to the final product.
Eric Romanowski – Ear Blowing Audio Productions:
What do you think are the most important demos in a VO artist’s arsenal?
For most talent, it’s a commercial demo. That being said, it’s not a one size fits all industry. Some talent do a majority of Promo work, while others might be doing more animation. But time and time again, I hear agents say that you can be booked for other areas of VO just from a solid commercial demo. The second demo will vary but more than likely narration (or animation for talent going after that line of work.) No two careers are the same.
How many is enough? Are there ever too many?
If you’re just starting out, start with a couple of demos, maybe 2. Then as your career grows, your demo arsenal will as well. Don’t jump in headfirst with 5 demos – that’s a huge investment. I’m a firm believer in fewer, STRONGER demos. Having 10 demos is great, but if only 2 are competitive, you have spread yourself too thin and are defeating the purpose of the demo. Yes, you can have too many. Sometimes I see people with Commercial demo A and Commercial demo B. Pick the best, remove the other.
In evaluating whether your demo needs a refresh or a redo, what should a demo be doing for you?
A demo should represent your ability as a talent. If it’s not, it might be time for a refresh or complete overhaul. If a talent has been coaching extensively and has improved a bit since recording the demo, it’s time for an update. Trends change, so if your demo lacks current trends, it’s time for an update. If it sounds dated or reflects brands that aren’t current, you guessed it – time for an update. If it doesn’t showcase versatility or maybe wasn’t produced as well as you had hoped, it’s …well, ya know.
How often should you refresh a demo? How often should you get an absolute new one?
Not a cut and dry answer to this, but I think asking yourself a lot of those questions from my previous answer will help. A rule of thumb I use: is the demo still relevant? Is it referring to an artist that’s no longer big? A product/company that no longer exists? A show that got canceled? Is it a good representation of the current state of VO? Keep the demo fresh…as much as you can. Sometimes a refresh is all it takes if you got the demo done 2 years ago. If it’s been 6 years…probably time for an absolutely new one.
Do you always coach a VO before producing a demo with them? (If so, please say why)
When I produce a Commercial, Promo, Narration, or Affiliate demo – I refer my clients to other coaches I trust, especially if they haven’t coached in a while. I coach Imaging and if they’re working pros, I typically don’t need to, but for newer clients, yes. That’s something I always elevate prior to starting. If they haven’t coached in a few years, I always stress the importance of brushing up prior to investing in something as important (and expensive) as a demo. If they’ve been working with a well-respected coach prior to reaching out to me, then no, not mandatory. Of course, I do have to feel comfortable with where they’re at in order to take on the project. I have no problem turning away work so if I think they still have more coaching to do, I will let them know. You will get out of a demo…what you put into a demo.