Narration makes up a huge percentage of the work available for voiceover artists. And while there is a large amount of work available, this genre, like all the others, is still a very competitive arena. In order to stand out among your peers and attract clients, you need to make sure that you have a competitive demonstration of your narration abilities. So, making narration demos (or your calling card and entry point to work in this genre) is something you want to spend some time strategically planning.
What Kinds of Narration Demos Are There?
So first we need to get specific about what kinds of narration demos are used in the industry and what kind we need. Traditionally, a “narration demo” means some type of corporate narration demo. Or what we used to call an industrial demo pre-21st century. The types of communications you find within the corporate demo realm include internal and external-facing communications, mission statements, financial or annual report video summaries, internal meetings, and conference openers. Beyond that, as more and more companies rely on videos for all kinds of communications, we’ve seen the evolution of explainer videos, virtual reality narration, and e-learning, which in the current market all require their own demos.
Narration also describes documentaries, TV narration, and audiobooks. All very different animals. Documentaries and TV broadcasts both regularly use narration to underscore the action on screen, provide color commentary, or unfold the story being told. And of course, audiobook narration is pure storytelling – both for fiction and non-fiction works – and involves either a solo narrator or multiple narrators (often used for large casts or more theater or cinema-style projects or radio plays). Here too, each narration style needs a demo focused on that particular flavor of narration.
Should I Separate my Tracks or Keep them Mixed Together?
In a word, yes. Both. I know, but hear me out – you want to have as much flexibility to demonstrate your narration as possible. When you get your demos back from the producer, it’s a good practice for you to have the capability of presenting them in a mixed format but also to separate them out and send one specific cut, especially if you know exactly the kind of read your potential client is looking for. And because some narration demos need to be a bit longer to display your ability to craft a story, sending just one cut still gives them plenty to listen to without multiple tracks of something they’re not looking for to weed through to get to what they are.
Keep in mind that everyone these days, voice seekers included, unfortunately, seem to have less time and possibly less aural ability to hear a voiceover artist narrate something and be able to hear it in their script. So the closer you can match your demo to what is being cast, the bigger your opportunity to rise to the top of the pile of potential narrators.
What Narration Demos Clients Are Looking For
It’s not always easy to know the “perfect” sound that narration clients are looking for. But voice seekers are getting better at describing it. There are specific sounds or “tags” that we’ve come to think of as descriptors that are often seen in auditions or job specs, regardless of the genre, and narration is no exception. Like “real person”, “conversational”, “authoritative”, “inspirational”, “genuine”, “upbeat” – you know what I’m talking about.
But all those tags are still not a magic formula, since a “real person” narration will vary depending on the narrator and the listener. So while considering the tags, here’s what voice seekers always respond to. Your unique take on their material. You won’t be perfect for everything but you will be perfect for some things. Be you.
Your Wheelhouse & Beyond
While you’re deciding on your strategy for what narration demos to invest your time and money in, you need to keep your wheelhouse in mind and also consider where you’d like to see your business grow. Your demo is your audio business card, so to speak, and you want to make sure that it represents those areas where you excel and want to book more work. For example, if 20% of your narration work is in financial services and 30% is in automotive, you want to make sure those market segments are represented in your narration demo. And if you want to branch out into healthcare and medical narration, you need to know that too.
Be careful not to confuse market segments such as retail, manufacturing, financial services, aerospace, food and beverages, grocery, energy, entertainment, automotive, or oil and gas with genres of narration such as corporate/industrial, explainer or e-learning. While they both define the content of your demo, you don’t want to include explainer narration on an e-learning demo and vice-versa. Documentaries and audiobooks should each have their own demo and not be combined. (Although, healthcare and medical narration generally have their own demo that can include both).
Advantages: forgive me if I’m being Captain Obvious, but having someone write copy to fit you and your voice, your style, the markets you may want to get it to is a big advantage over ripping and reading scripts that are in the public domain. Some beginner voiceover people make this mistake, not realizing that these scripts are old and probably have been heard by the potential client many times. Whereas working with an actual writer will not only help you achieve your demo goal, it will help you stand out from the herd.
Disadvantages: it will be more expensive. But you get what you pay for.
The Production Mix
In almost every instance, you’re going to want to work with a professional demo producer on whatever demo you’re adding to your marketing arsenal. The production mix can be the difference between a demo being a professional demonstration of how you would sound on finished voice over projects and being amateurish. Most demo producers include music and sound effects and either is sound engineers or hire production out to a top-notch sound engineer. Not all demo cuts need a great deal of production. Actual elearning rarely has music under the narration, so doesn’t need hours of mixing to perfect. Explainers pretty much always do, however, and the choice of music is important. Unless you have a great deal of experience in creating spots like the ones you’ll include in your demo, it’s best to trust demo producers who can ensure your demo is competitive.