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Voice Over Beginner: Be 'Ready'
Before Recording First Demos

Dan FriedmanBy Dan Friedman
Voice Actor / Audio Engineer / Producer

I received a call from a young lady who wanted to make a voice over demo.
I asked her if she had ever done voice overs before. She replied, "No."
I told her that I could make a demo for her that would make her sound great; however, I would not do so without at least knowing what her current abilities were.
I offered her a training and evaluation session where I would have her read some scripts, determine her abilities, and offer direction and advice to help her get started in the business.
If it turned out that she was ready, then we could talk about making a demo.
She was not interested.
I explained that it would be a bad idea to immediately make a demo since she had no experience.
To do so would simply set her up for failure. The demo would misrepresent her, making it appear as though she were an accomplished voice talent.

If and when she got a job from this demo, she would likely struggle and possibly fail miserably in a real recording session.
"That situation could end your career before it even got started," I told her.
The young lady explained that with her "experience" (she was fresh out of college from what I could ascertain) and "background" (as a singer) she would be fine. 
"This won't happen to me," she said.
She also told me that since she has Pro Tools at home she would just make her own demo.
I wished this young lady good luck.
I told this story to my wife, and she said, "If the girl wants a demo, you should just make her a demo."
I know where my wife was coming from. If someone wants something and is willing and able to pay for it, why not give it to them?
I told my wife that by doing so, I would be misrepresenting this girl and setting her up for failure. 
I would also be compromising my own integrity, as well as the integrity of an industry already suffering from an influx of amateurs who have no experience but have been told they "have a nice voice."
I take the voice over business seriously, and I believe I have a responsibility to set the talent bar high.
If you want to work as a voice over talent, go for it! But work at it.
Invest some time and at least some money by taking a workshop, reading some books about the industry, listening and practicing.
By the time you are ready to make your first demo, you should have been doing voice over on your own for quite some time. In other words, you should have been practicing.
How long do you need to practice? Only your ears and the ears of others can tell you.
You should be able to convey the messages of a script - both written and unwritten - effectively with no editing required.
Making a demo is a critical part of your career. It is your business card and your resume.
When you submit a demo, you are applying for a job. In most industries, if you lie on your resume and the lie is discovered, you would be fired.
Similarly, if your demo misrepresents you and your abilities, you are putting yourself at risk of being fired from a job.
Furthermore, you are putting your reputation at risk, which could prevent you from getting future jobs - even if you’ve decided to put in the necessary practice time.
Misrepresenting your abilities can be a serious burden on your desire and even your ability to have a career in voice over.
Unfortunately, I receive great sounding demos frequently from "talent" who fall short of expectations when put to a live-session test read. These people almost never get a second chance.
The bottom line: If you want to break into the voice over industry, be patient and practice.
Record yourself and listen. Have others listen as well.
Train your ears and your voice. Spend time with working voice over industry professionals.
Do not set yourself up for failure and frustration. Do not make a demo until you are ready.
One additional message for engineers, producers and directors: help yourself, help the industry and help the talent, both new and experienced.
Do not make demos for people who are not ready. This may save you and many others, time, frustration and money down the road.
Furthermore, and more importantly, it raises the talent bar for the industry as a whole, helping to ensure that only truly talented professionals are working beside you. 


Dan Friedman is a voice talent who began his career as an audio engineer in 1994, working with live sound and then in radio and recording studios. He has been a producer with ProComm Voices for over 10 years and, since 2005, a voice talent with a growing list of clients, including radio and television campaigns. His comprehensive book, Sound Advice - Voiceover From An Audio Engineer's Perspective, provides an excellent foundation for understanding voice over audio and equipment.

Sound Advice book: Click Here

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Comments (9)
Jay Lloyd
11/9/2011 at 6:13 PM
She surely does not realize what a favor you did for her! Her attitude will require deep pockets and the end result will still be failure.

Guys like you should keep that famous "Announcer's Test" know the one I mean. Before the "demo session" you should hand it to the aspirant and ask them to read it; secretly record it. Then play it back and ask them if they REALLY think they're ready to spend money to launch a career that just isn't possible. That should be good for our industry, the aspirant and his/her demo targets. Acting teachers ask you to do the strangest things ("Assume the position of a table and tell us your secret thoughts") that will make everything else you're asked perform a piece of cake. Right on, Dan! Good Job!
J. Russell
11/9/2011 at 2:22 PM
Mr. Friedman,

I totally agree with you. Several years before I retired from "my real job," the job I worked at 40-60 hpw and provided a steady paycheck, I got interested in VO. After purchasing the latest, greatest and fastest computer available at that time, the latest home recording software, etc., I soon learned how inadequate my training and skills really were.

During the last fifteen years, I have spent lots of time with voice coaches and training, built my own recording studio and learned how to present my voice. Early along I presented free classes to others wanting to learn how to podcast or new bands wanting to cut a demo.

I learned more from these people than I could teach them: If you ain't done your homework, got the necessary training, and most importantly, spent the time training and practicing you are dooming yourself to failure.

I never wanted to be a six or seven figure-a-year Vo artist. All I ever wanted to do was burn some CDs of tales for my grandchildren. After retiring I now record about six audio books each year under an alias. I don't make a lot of money, but I am happy.
Comparing the first CDs I burnt for my grand-children against the CDs I have given to my great-grandchildren I absolutely cringe. My first attempts, without training were abismal crap.
Cliff Zellman
11/9/2011 at 12:47 PM
Ah, the "store bought demo" I get them every week.
Right on Dan, it's about reproducible talent, ability and skills, not simply being told what to do.
Every audition should be approached as if it is the final product. Quite often, some of my pros auditions become the read. We like that.
Dan, you nail it every time. How did you get to be so cool? (No need to answer that.)
Elizabeth Holmes
11/9/2011 at 12:10 PM
As always, thank you for your wise perspective Dan!

Studio engineers can help voice talent, a lot, just by being honest. The best (and most embarrassing) lesson I've received to date about my own readiness to do voice overs was from the first person I hired to do my demo. He treated me like a pro! Unfortunately, at the time, I *wasn't* a pro. So when I couldn't perform to the standard required in the time we had available, I realized I needed a *lot* more practice. It was a sobering lesson that I'm glad happened in a private session, instead of at a client's. It took a lot of guts for him to do that, and I still respect him for it.
Paul J. Warwick
11/9/2011 at 10:23 AM
Wise words indeed! I could add the explanation of "demo" being the shortened version of demonstration, but with predecessors such as Dan and Bettye (whom I've webinared with through VoiceOverXtra, I shall defer.
Randye Kaye
11/9/2011 at 10:06 AM
Bravo! Beautifully put - and so were the comments so far, so I won't repeat. Just - yay. Now if we can get the starry-eyed to believe it...
Dan Lenard
11/9/2011 at 7:23 AM
An excellent example of "American Idol" Syndrome. Some people simply don't hear themselves and then refuse to listen to others when they actually take the time to listen to them, or offer good advice.

"You've got to have a dream" - so says Bloody Mary in "South Pacific," but dreams don't come true by shear will power. There has to be substance to your skills, not your desires. While some people have natural talent, without preparation, training, honest self-reflection, along with that "dream," you indeed are balancing yourself on the head of a pin.

Is that enough metaphors? Lol

Wise decision Danny .
Amy Taylor
11/9/2011 at 6:56 AM
"Sound Advice" indeed, Dan :) As a newbie, I would've jumped at the offer of a training and evaluation session! That's the thing - those who really want it are willing to do what it takes to achieve whatever it is that they want. It doesn't come with the snap of your fingers. Today, people want instant gratification and it doesn't work that way. Great article!
Bettye Zoller
11/9/2011 at 12:48 AM
Every day I speak with someone about a demo they want to create and echo these exact words. I've been doing so for more than two decades now. I tell them that people say I create "good demos." I respond that while I am an audio engineer and longtime voice coach and voice over professional, the reason my demos are "good" is that my clients are "good." They are familiar with what copy we are doing on the demo. They are rehearsed. They have chosen copy pieces with my counsel and voice coaching. And most important, the demo reflects their persona, their niche, their voice type and particular ability be that announcer, comic flair, elderly, young teen, macho man, newscaster, whatever.

Yes. Right on. Counsel everyone not to spend money with anyone without being thoroughly counseled and rehearsed and to be particularly wary of those high dollar prices people charge. I get lots of those demos in to remake regularly. A demo need not cost thousands!! And strings attached such as "come to our school to study in the East for only ____thousand extra." Run, don't walk away. It's a SCAM. There's a sucker born every minute. Don't be one. And stay away if they say, "You have a GREAT voice and should do this. Stay away if they offer a "free night" and then try to sucker you into a program.
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