Since 2006 Guy Michaels has recorded over 2000 professional voice-over demos for voiceover artists worldwide. As a pro voice actor and producer himself, these days the service is remote only and he works solely with professionals with their own high-quality studios. In this guide he covers some essential tips for producing your own demo reels and how make the right investment for your voiceover career.
RECORDING A VOICE-OVER DEMO
- Voice-over demos are an essential tool
- The Development of the voiceover demo
- What should you check when looking for a voiceover demo producer?
- Demo production process
- Final thoughts
Voice-over demos are an essential tool
Even with the rise in demand for custom auditions in the voiceover world, there’s one set of tools a professional voiceover artist cannot do without: VOICEOVER DEMOS!
A photographer selling their service cannot function without a portfolio and the voice over demo acts in the same way for the voice actor. It’s the easy-access showcase of their voiceover talents.
At the point of writing this, I’ve been involved in voice over demo production for nearly 17 years. But, my opinion on the need for a professionally produced demo has changed dramatically in recent years. If you were to ask me about recording a DIY voiceover demo maybe 3 years ago I would probably have made some joke about an actor taking their headshot with their phone and using it to try to get paid acting work. However, today and not as a result of Covid but certainly influenced by, my opinion has shifted nearly 180 degrees.
The thing is, when you are booked as a voiceover artist nowadays, there’s generally more chance that you will be expected to record the job yourself and not in a plush city studio. Therefore, if you are touting your services based on your super-polished set of professional voice reels, the client is likely to be a little disappointed if your home studio quality fails to match that of the demo producers’.
They’ll be booking you perhaps based on your slick, clean and punchy demo but then you send through your audio and it’s well……a little noisy and certainly, in the majority of cases, not recorded to a truly professional standard.
This is a problem.
In the UK, it brings to mind the Trade Descriptions Act. Unintentionally, you have misled your client.
Of course you must, as the home studio voice actor, aim to improve your recording quality but this takes time and skill and a highly developed ear (or two). There is often a chasm of difference between the pro demo you have invested in and the results of your mic+interface+laptop in the cupboard set-up at home.
So I’ve changed my mind. The DIY voice over demo does have a place.
Don’t get me wrong. It still makes sense to have a pro voice over demo, but because you are now selling your recording quality along with your vocal talents, it’s desirable to have something you can give potential clients so that they know what to expect when booking you for a voiceover job.
A note for aspiring voice actors: In my hopefully somewhat educated opinion, aspiring voice actors often get sucked in to the mindset of extensive expensive coaching for months. Only when their ‘coach’ deems them ready are they ‘allowed’ to start on their voice over demo reel. Yes, voice acting is a discipline but it is certainly one you can learn ‘on the job’. Coaching may help you but be careful that it doesn’t become the crutch that ultimately gets in the way of you taking steps and earning money. Think instead of your voiceover career as being one that is tied to continual professional development. Always be learning.
The Development of the voiceover demo
My first voice over demo, recorded at drama school in London in the nineties was utter rubbish. Not just in terms of my lack of skill or understanding of what the industry needed but in terms of what kind of material was used. I can’t bear thinking about it and would certainly never listen to it but I do know it had a toothpaste commercial, some Shakespeare and me approximating an Irish accent.
What? Exactly. Or Who? Who was it for? No-one. No-one, even back then, would want to hear that mess of a mix.
The professional voice actor needs different demos that are targeted to specific areas of voiceover work. No matter how we label these, we must consider the target audience and as I have said hundreds of times before ‘no-one in the corporate world is interested in your Winnie the Pooh‘.
Professional voice actors often have a series of demos so that they can target potential relevant clients and you should do the same.
Saying that, don’t feel that you need to tick every box. There’s no point in having loads of different reels in different styles if these styles are not your own. What comes most naturally to you? For commercial demos, for example, what kinds of products or services are more closely associated with your natural voice?
For the strong foundations of a voiceover career that can build and sustain, this way of thinking is a great starting point. I’m not suggesting that you won’t work in multiple markets but be careful that you don’t try to be everything to everyone. Focus your brand when recording a voice-over demo instead of diluting it.
There’s also a very big box to tick with a commercial demo and that is to showcase your ability to sound natural or, as is so often directed, to give a conversational read. Easier said than done!
I can do lots of silly voices and accents
I’ve lost count of the amount of demos I’ve heard where the voice over actors are using numerous accents, character voices and trying to be as ‘wacky’ as possible, all crammed into a 90 second voice reel. Although immediately impressive, I’m always left thinking ‘but who are they?’. Remember, as we talk about in The Recorded Voice programme, your voice is more unique than a fingerprint. There is only one you. Be you when recording a voice-over demo.
In the main, here I’m referring to the Commercial and Corporate voiceover reels. Compared with other areas of voice over work, these often require simply your own voice and if you are the right voice for the project, you’ll get booked!
You’ll find that the world of voice overs is full of experts but often these experts have themselves just taken the first few steps to establishing their careers. My advice is to take all advice with a pinch of salt and find your own path. Bruce Lee said it better:
“Research your own experience. Absorb what is useful, reject what is useless, add what is essentially your own.” BRUCE LEE
One final thing on the development of voiceover demos is the movement towards shorter demos. When you are producing your voiceover demo, just remember that the law of diminishing returns kicks in pretty quick and absolutely ‘less is more’ in terms of the listener’s interest. Remember that generally a VO demo is audio only and there are no moving images or anything else to keep the audience’s attention.
You can of course, go beyond just an audio compilation if you have access to a number of videos you have voiced. Then you could put them together as a video showcase but most voiceover demos for voice actors are audio only.
What should you check when looking for a voiceover demo producer?
Ready to record a voiceover demo? Go ahead and google ‘voicereel producer‘ or similar.
You’ll notice that there are literally hundreds of voice over demo producers or studios offering the service. How to choose?
Well if you are willing to pay for the service, to invest in your career then you’ll want expert direction, top-quality production, script advice, general career guidance and to feel safe in the knowledge that the end-product ‘the shiny new voicereel’ will be worth it.
Around a decade ago it seemed that new voiceover demo producers were popping up everywhere. Perhaps it really is that simple. Buy a microphone, microphone stand and all the associated gear and then start selling your service as voicereel producer. Fair enough, there’s nothing stopping you.
Just this morning I’ve noticed a student of mine who started in voiceover as a total beginner under a year ago, now offering his services as a producer. There’s nothing stopping him of course.
What’s their pedigree?
Question whether the experience of the producer is learned and earned or simply a regurgitation.
As the voice actor, not only parting with substantial cash but wanting to create a professional quality product that will give you the confidence to take you career to the next level, it’s a risky business to simply book a voicereel producer…..without checking.
Ask around. Listen to a few examples, the final pro voiceover demos that they have produced. Do they have voice actors as clients who are actually well established? Perhaps that would give you more confidence in booking them.
Consider their background, experience and read testimonials. Is it a professional studio and is it really any better than what you have access to already?
If they are an audio engineer only, will they be able to give you the essential guidance and specific script direction? If they are just a voiceover artist or actor, can they really produce a demo at pro quality? Creating a recording space and learning how to use audio software do not automatically equate to professional voiceover production.
I’ve heard examples of a ‘professional demo’ that have audible background noise, plosives and mouth clicks, dynamic inconsistencies, an unintelligible voice due to over-production/too much music/sound effects and worse. “What? You paid for this?”
So, be careful. If you are new to voiceover then it could be that you have not developed your ear as yet to tell the difference between ‘plug in, hit record and hope for the best‘ and the pristine production of a highly crafted masterpiece.
Recording a voice-over demo requires more than just a microphone, a voice and some scripts. For it to function as the ultimate marketing tool for any voice actor, there’s much to consider.
The Demo Production Process
Once you are clear on the purpose of the demo, the target audience and your strengths, you can begin to collate script ideas. We’ve plenty of sample scripts in our voiceover script library.
Once you have the scripts, you’ll probably need to do some cutting. Remember what I said about keeping them short and snappy.
Definitely practice with the scripts but be careful not to overdo it. I’ve produced many sessions where the voice actor has over-rehearsed or, even worse, worked with a coach who has dictated to them how to inflect each and every word. A nightmare!
It is so easy to get stuck in a comfortable pattern with each script, so it is a bad idea to over-rehearse your voiceover scripts. Be very familiar with them but ultimately remain flexible for the recording session.
‘Voice acting’ although generally a recorded medium has to feel ‘live’ in order to connect with the audience. Otherwise let’s just get A.I. to record for us!
Remember also, that in the main, when recording a voice-over demo you should be aiming for variations in energy but not resorting to accents and silly voices in the vain attempt to make the demo interesting for the listener.
I remember running a workshop on ‘finding your natural voice as the voice actor’ and one of the attendees (a theatre actor of great experience) said if you’re saying we shouldn’t be doing accents or character voices on a commercial voicereel, then how can we show variation?
Well I would argue, that you can most certainly show vocal range through pitch, pace, pause, tone, intention, attitude and more without resorting to ‘silly voices’. Yes, of course if you have a very good ear (and mouth) for accents and can perform a wide range of character voices then save these for the ‘character demos’.
You’ll have plenty of opportunity to show them off for the worlds of gaming, animation and audio drama etc. But, for your commercial voice, stay close to the real you.
Recording a voice-over demo requires serious focus and commitment
When it comes to the recording day, make sure you are well hydrated and well-rested. You want to give it your best. If, of course, you are tackling the recording in a DIY fashion, then you could easily spread this process over a few days. But set yourself a deadline for the final thing!
Check levels, take a calm breath, centre yourself and then go for it. Focus on the audience. Who are you talking to (or with)? What effect do you want to have upon them?
Take direction. Whether that’s from the professional producer/director or from yourself upon listening back to takes. Record quite a few takes and if you are producing yourself, leave it a few hours or even a couple of days before you then attempt to choose the best takes and edit. You’re gonna need fresh ears when it comes to making those choices.
When I’m producing demos, I never do it all in one sitting. We record, I leave it all alone then then come back to the takes for the edit, the production and then after another break or two, I work on the final product – the thing that will get you the paid voiceover work you’re after!
In conclusion, the DIY demo route is not for everyone. You might just not have the skill level yet but bear in mind what I said about the full service you are offering to the potential client. Work to improve your recording quality to stay competitive as the movement towards home-studio domination continues.
As to the DIY demo, if anything it can simply be a great exercise that will force you to improve upon your recording quality and develop your ear and performance skills. Use this process to get to grips with your editing software, listen closely for flaws in your recording quality and environment and find your commercial voice.
The perfect demo
My advice would be to think of your demo (or demos) as a snapshot of that moment in time. It’s you with your level of experience, your interpretation skill and your own voice as it sounds at the age you are. Demos have a shelf-life so you’ll always need to be re-recording, refining or using recordings from real jobs to keep them fresh and relevant.
The next time you are thinking of recording a voice-over demo, just stop for a moment and consider all of the above. They are big investment in terms of time and money but so important to the development of your career as professional voice actor.
Voice over industry jobs | Voiceover Kickstart
Types of voiceover work | Voiceover Kickstart
How to improve voice over skills | Voiceover Kickstart
How to start a voice over career in 2022: a definitive guide | Voiceover Kickstart
If you were interested in my remote voicereel service, you can find out more at Professional VOICE REELS | Worldwide Remote Service (voice-reel.com)