Voiceover demos can be overwhelming, and a more significant undertaking than many beginner actors anticipate. It’s your calling card and audible demonstration of your skills and abilities, and arguably the most vital part of any marketing plan. If a VO talent doesn’t have a great demo reel, that strongly suggests they don’t have the range, skills, or audio equipment to get a job done right.
We all wish we could just click record and speak into the microphone, but even seasoned VO artists need help navigating the turbulent water of marketing and branding. Your demo says so much about who you are as a voiceover artist, and they should do your talent justice. Before stepping into the booth, there’s a lot of legwork and intelligent decision-making that needs to be done. So let’s talk about demo basics.
What is a Voiceover Demo?
A voiceover artist demo is like a CV, a portfolio that showcases our VO abilities. Demos are usually 60 to 90 seconds max (except for audiobooks), with 5 or 6 segments sampling your styles. It can be a compilation of paid-for work you have already done for clients, or (and more likely) it is a tailored showcase of your voice, made just for you.
Why pay for a professional demo when you can cobble one together with existing work? VO done for clients isn’t always the best representation of our skillsets. Paid for spots are great, and if you think it shows you at your best, you can include them, but most of the time, client work isn’t going to showcase your skills in the best light possible.
Does a Voiceover Artist Have To Have a Demo?
Suppose a voiceover artist hasn’t invested the time, energy, and money into producing a good demo. In that case, they either don’t take their job seriously or lack the skill set to record a quality voiceover. A demo should reflect a voiceover artist at their best. We get to pick the script or have it written especially for us, with as many takes as we need to make it perfect. A sub-standard demo is a no-go, it’s an essential representation of a voiceover artist’s overall skills. Making a demo can be hugely stressful and challenging. A demo should accomplish many things in one go:
- Showcase a voiceover artist’s range
- Demonstrate quality production and audio
- Reflect current trends
- Be original and memorable
- Be authentic and true to the VO artist’s style
No small feat! At its most basic level, a demo should at least sound good. And we’re not talking about the delivery- we’re talking fundamentals. How does the quality of the audio itself sound? The greatest voiceover artist in the world can’t work with a bad microphone.
Where to Start?
A good voiceover coach will help you decide where to begin and how best to showcase your talents. Most voiceover artists specialize in certain areas, so you’ll want to find the best coach for you. Listen to any prospective coaches’ demos to see if you like what they have put together for themselves.
An honorable coach will let you know when you’re ready and won’t rush the process. Of course, you’re chomping at the bit to get out there and find work, but a lousy demo can be worse than none at all. Together you and your coach need to see where you excel and which areas need work before getting into the booth to record your demo. They might even uncover unexpected talents or niches that your voice fulfills. Listen to their advice, but don’t be tempted into areas of the industry that you don’t enjoy. An audiobook demo might land you the job, but that only helps if you want the job. A coach can help you work through the terminology for a medical demo, but they won’t be with you when you have to unpack and deliver the script for a real job. Don’t spend time and money on a demo unless you can create those quality reads on your own or create a demo in a genre that doesn’t excite you.
A demo can’t be all about you. It needs to be about the businesses, directors, and overall market you are trying to break into. It’s an advertisement, not a passion project or a demonstration of pure artistry. A voiceover artist needs to manage the line between art and marketability, you want to believe in your demo, but you also want others to believe in it.
Types Of Voiceover Demos
- Commercial Demos: A popular style of voiceover and a very popular first demo for new voiceover talent. Commercial voiceover and narration demos can showcase a wide range of styles. It can also demonstrate how your voice sells, whether a hard sell or a soft sell; persuasive selling is an essential skill set for any commercial voiceover artist.
- Narration Demo: A narration demo is a more descriptive voiceover style; it’s the storyteller’s home ground. A great storytelling voiceover artist can paint a picture with words. The narration is less about persuading and more about performing.
- Audiobook Demos: A voiceover artist should never say they can voice audiobooks unless they know what they are getting into. Audiobooks are tough on the vocal cords, and they demand long stretches in the booth and a mixed skillset. Characters and acting ability are a must for a budding audiobook VO.
- Documentary Demos: Documentary voiceover narration is about engaging the audience, enhancing, and setting a mood. Each cut should invoke a distinct feeling. Gritty with a raw rumble, smooth and sultry, conversational and friendly, or the soaring awe of nature at its finest. Documentary narration is like a warm, cozy blanket or blast of ice in the face, all felt through a vocal delivery.
- eLearning Demos: an eLearning demo needs to be engaging and showcase an ability to perform to a wide range of audiences. Online courses have a lot of potential for coverage. They can involve learner interaction, characters, gamification, and severe or light subject matter. They do the double duty of entertaining and educating. An eLearning module demands a fine-tuned sense of pacing. Educational scripts often require the voiceover artist to slow down when it might seem intuitive to speed up.
- Medical Demos: Medical voiceover is a unique niche of mine, and it’s exceptionally specialized. A medical demo needs to showcase fluency with medical terminology and honed comprehension of complex terms. And the ability to connect with audiences that range from children to medical professionals.
- Animation, Character, and Cartoon: snarling creature sounds. Nefarious villains. Dashing heroes and heroines. The walla-walla of background characters. Animation, character, and cartoon demos are fun, but they also need to showcase a range of impressive acting abilities. Ideally, each cut should sound utterly different from the last, clearly differentiating each character and embodying them through sound.
- Other Niche Demos: you might want to showcase different skills outside the traditional demo reels. For example, I have a British accent and a celebrity sound demo, and these are entirely up to you. Maybe you have a honed motherly sound or a range of nefarious-sounding characters that you want to show off. Go for it. Demos should also be fun and personal to your skillset.
How Many Voiceover Demos Should A VO Artist Have?
The more demos you have that accurately showcase your skill, the easier you’ll make it for clients to hire you. A potential client can effortlessly listen to a demo and get an idea of your proficiency in a particular area of voiceover. For example, if you only have a commercial and eLearning demo, a client won’t know if you can manage the technical jargon for a medical spot and will move on to the next candidate. So how many demos should a VO artist have? One demo, with about five spots for every genre you’ve mastered. I’ve also found it helpful to have demo compilations for vocal styles- authoritative, soothing, motherly, etc. Importantly lousy acting doesn’t land jobs, don’t be tempted to rush out every style of demo of the assembly line. Put 100% into one demo rather than 10% into 10 demos.
As you progress in your career, you will build up more of a demo portfolio. It’s a part of the business, so don’t expect to ever ‘be done’ with your demos. They’ll need to be updated to reflect current trends and new skillsets. A newbie to the industry might struggle to produce a variety of styles (energetic, serious, conversational) that provide contrast and an array of skills for one genre. That’s why it’s essential to work with a coach before outlaying your money on a demo.
Even more types of voiceover and narration demos:
- Voice of God and Live announcements
Avoiding Scams, Sometimes It’s Easier Said Than Done
It’s frustrating, but there are a lot of scam coaches out there. They promise the world and deliver very little. Find someone reputable who is established in the industry. A coach should also have experience in the industry. If they have only been working as a voiceover artist for a couple of years, there is a good chance they won’t have the insight that you need. Facebook, LinkedIn, and other online communities can offer guidance if you feel lost in an ocean of likely coaches that sound too good to be true. If you’re considering a potential coach, give their name a quick google search as a first step.
As a second step, ask to speak with them for a few minutes to see if your connection with them feels authentic. Ask questions and speak with other students. Do your homework. You’ll always be better off.