Saturday, May 10, 2008

Voice Talent Advice #5 - Voice Over Demo

So, you’ve been practicing the breathing and warm up techniques. You’ve also been practicing reading aloud anything you can get your hands on, including advertising copy in magazines and newspapers or any radio or tv copy you can find. Is it time to make a demo? Only you can truly answer that question. Do you feel confident? Have you been taking classes or at least practicing reading to others?

When you feel you’re ready to try a voice over demo, find a reputable studio with an engineer who produces a lot of commercial and corporate work. This voice over demo will be your major selling tool and you want to get it right. You want it to be as professional as possible. If you want to rough out a voice over demo on your own recording equipment or on paper beforehand to take with you to the session, that’s fine. It might be helpful for both you and the engineer. But don’t do a first time, beginner, homemade voice over demo and start trying to get an agent with it. Some might listen, but they’re going to send you for a professional voice over demo before they start representing you for voice work. If you’re working on your own in the voice over studio without a coach to direct you, be sure you work with a very experienced engineer and someone with whom you have a good rapport. These guys, who have been engineering for many years, have heard it all and can give you valuable guidance, but, you don’t want to be completely intimidated by them either!

As a beginner, you may just want to make one generic voice over demo to start. Try including a variety of styles that you do well and use commercial and corporate narration scripts if you feel your voice would lend itself well to the corporate world. But the first voice over demo you should create is definitely a commercial voice over demo.

After you have some actual work under your belt and have acquired copies of actual spots you’ve done, you may want to create separate specialized voice over demos which will be edited from actual work. Keep the demo SHORT – 1 to 1 ½ minutes or less. Most directors and producers make a decision in the first few seconds – much as we’d all like to think they listen all the way through to hear all that we can do. That’s assuming, of course, that they even take the time to listen at all. Sorry, it’s a tough world. Unless they’re casting something at that very moment or you have been referred by someone they trust, your CD, cute as the label is, probably won’t get heard if you randomly drop it off or mail it. This is why your marketing efforts will be so important - more about that in another post. As for the snap judgments when agents, casting directors or producers do listen to voice over demos, try it yourself. Visit a voice talent web site and just cruise through the voice over demos. At first, you might listen to each demo all the way through. Then, you’ll find yourself, hearing the first few words, and feeling like you’ve got the essence of that particular voice and you’re ready to move on. Imagine you're in a time crunch and have to find the right voice fast! And imagine you have 20 - 200 demos to listen to! You can see why it's actually very unlikely that your whole demo will be listened to by a producer who is very busy. This is why you will want to put your best stuff first on the demo. By the way, listening to other professional voice talent demos is a great way to learn what you’re going for – and what you want to avoid.

Be sure to find out what the studio will charge for your voice over demo. Some studios offer a special rate to talent producing a voice over demo. Others will not. You will have to pay for studio time, editing, effects, music, and duplication. Studio time varies, but can run around $100 + per hour. Some studios offer “demo packages” where they help you select copy, direct you, and then edit the finished product. These are great if you make sure to find a good one and you’ve got the cash to spend. They’ll run you $1,000 and up! You will probably be recording in the studio for about 1 hour and then the editing process, with the addition of sound effects and music, may take another couple of hours or more. This is why you want to be as prepared as possible! If you find a good voice over coach, it would be helpful to have him or her attend the session to help direct you if you’re working at a local studio who doesn’t offer a demo package. You will need to budget some payment for the coach as well. One of the most excruciating things for a performer can be trying to create that perfect voice over demo. It’s hard to be objective and hard to know what to cut. An experienced “ear” can be a tremendous help.

You’ll want a CD or two of the finished demo at minimum. If you have an agent or are seeking an agent, you’ll need to either drop it by or send a copy to them. Most everyone uses CD’s exclusively these days - either that or an MP3 sent via the internet. Many agents and internet listing services request that you mail a CD as they are concerned about opening attachments. You’ll have to either have professional CD labels made or create your own with special software on your computer. But don’t just take a marker and write your name and number on the CD. You may not have the fanciest label, but it should be a professional looking, easy to read label. You can either have many copies of your CD voice over demo made by a studio or web sites that specialize in making copies of CDs or you can burn them yourself as needed from your master if you have the required computer skills and equipment. You probably don’t need a huge quantity of your voice over demo CDs on hand as you may find the need to “tweak” the voice over demo as soon as you actually do some work or to meet the requirements of your new agent.

Next time, more about voice over agents!

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