Recording your voice-over demo is one of the biggest steps you can take professionally to move ahead in voice acting. Most people feel comfortable making a demo after they’ve gone through some training, and often work with a producer to help shape the best sample of their voice as possible. Last week, we discussed why demos are essential, and this week, we’re covering the things to consider when recording your demo.
Making a voice-over demo is a very personal, artistic, and technical process. You can go about doing this on your own, but we advise that you consider the possibilities of having a demo produced for you professionally. Your voice-over demo can be your ticket to success and often serves as the first impression of your voice to a prospective client.
Your demo takes a lot of careful planning and, ultimately, should cater to your strengths as a voice actor and producer. When recording your own demo, take into account some of our best tips. Whether you are looking to go the DIY route, or choose to invest in hiring a pro to help you, the following will help you prepare and shape a demo that will guarantee you success in your voice acting career:
Figure out what to record
Map out what parts of your demo you’re best equipped to handle on your own. Focus on the length of each spot, ways that you can quickly indicate where you may need to edit the session, and prepare for additional tracks, such as music or sound effects. You also want to pay attention to the ordering of each spot to ensure that it flows well from one spot to the next.
Produce specific elements
A demo has more to it than just your voice over recording. Tracks for music, sound effects, and additional voices can come in handy during post-production. If you consider yourself to be a technical individual, you will enjoy producing the demo and having fun with the bells and whistles. If not, you may want to partner with a studio or a friend who’s a proficient audio engineer to help you with the technical recording aspects.
You may even want to try creating your own sounds instead of relying on premade sound effects. As with all things, use good judgment when deciding whether you should purchase professional sound effects, music beds, and so on, versus creating them yourself.
Be careful about music selections
Music often sets the tone for a voice-over demo and helps to establish your personal branding style. But don’t let styles of music that have been shelved for too long give clients the wrong impression of your production or music selection skills.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Does the music sound retro in a bad way? Is the music from the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, or early 2000s?
- Are the sound effects in line with what you would expect to hear today?
- Are there cheesy synthesizers in the background?
- Does the music selection support the essence of the spot?
- Is the spot supposed to sound retro as in a parody spot or throwback?
There are exceptions to the rule where certain spots need to have an aged or vintage sound. You may find these sounds to apply to game show spots, old time radio drama, or the stereotypical announcer read from decades ago. In those instances, you can get away with using those elements because they support the spot in general and contribute to its authenticity and overall effectiveness.
As well, remember that, alternatively, music generally isn’t used in demos representative of audiobooks and narration. Other markets of voice-over work that don’t necessarily include music are interactive and talking toys. Typically it’s just the voice that’s required so as not to hinder someone’s ability to hear the message being delivered. Know when to add music, and when to steer clear of it.
Find royalty-free music
If you use music in your demo, royalty-free music is music that is sold relatively inexpensively, which can be licensed for use by people, such as freelance voice actors and producers for their productions. You can use this type of music in your productions without having to pay recurring fees (paying money each time the music is played). Music beds are great for using underneath your voice-over to accompany the read. You can purchase them either as a single track or as a package with variations on a theme. You can also purchase royalty-free sound effects to use in your demo.
As with anything, purchase the music from a trusted source with licensing agreements, which you can refer to and save for your records after purchase. Be sure to visit sites such as www.audiojungle.net and www.istockaudio.com for such resources.
Avoid dates and times
Dates and times, particularly as they concern cars, concert tours, and political campaigns, drastically limit the potential for your demo to endure. Marking a date will almost always give your demo a shorter shelf life, unless the date is referring to an historical event, such as the re-enactment of the Battle of 1812.
Generally, if a product is mentioned to be older than two years, try to edit out the date or leave the dates out altogether when recording initially. For instance, if you have a commercial read in your demo about a model of a car that was new in 2005, take some time to update that demo.
Check your work
Regardless of your producing skill and abilities, make sure you run your demo by a few seasoned sets of ears before sharing it with the world. Getting feedback to check your work in these ways is helpful:
- Ask your peers for their opinion. This option may be good if your peers have experience in the field. Plus, it’s free.
- Receive a demo review from a voice coach. This option is probably better, especially if the voice coach has a strong casting or agency background. These people have their fingers on the pulse of the industry and know what sounds good, what doesn’t, and how you can make your demo offering even better. You don’t want to send out demos that fail to meet contemporary standards or present a diluted version of you and your abilities.
- Join a voice-over forum or networking group. This option is also free, and you may find a thread that addresses demo reviews, specifically. In such cases, members are invited to share their demos to gain feedback through peer reviews. One caveat is that not everyone sharing an opinion is listening with the ears of a casting director or someone who genuinely wants to help you.
Budget your production money
Should you be working with a professional producer on a demo, you can expect to pay in the neighborhood of $1,000, or more, which may include a couple hours of rehearsal and coaching, a couple hours in the studio, and the producer’s private editing and production time. If someone is charging less than $600 to do your demo, be sure to take caution. Most demo producers advise you to look elsewhere because anyone charging less than $1,000 probably isn’t devoting enough time to give you a real professional demo that you can market.
If you’re recording your own demo, you need to have a proper studio set-up and the right software and editing tools to get the job done. You also need to find music that you can use, which has an associated cost, unless you’re able to compose and or perform your own music.
Also, think about your time as a factor in cost. How long do you anticipate spending on the process? Remember that it takes twice as long to edit a recording as it did to record it. Your time is valuable, so don’t forget to budget for it. The average cost of recording your own demo, when you factor in your time spent on copywriting, music, voice-over recording, editing, mixing, and mastering, can be up to $1,000.
If you’re going to take production seriously, set your sights on creating solid production value that takes your audience on a journey through varying sounds. Doing so will ensure a professional demo that will highlight your skills and experience, and that will get you the job.
About The Authors
Stephanie Ciccarelli and David Ciccarelli are the founders of Voices.com, the largest global web hub for voice actors. Over the past nine years, Stephanie, David, and their team have grown Voices.com from the ground up to become the leader in the industry. This article was originally published in Voice Acting For Dummies and has been republished with permission from John Wiley and Sons, Inc.