Demos: Toss The 'Cookie Cutter' ...
Favor Your Vocal Strengths & Niches
By Bettye Zoller
Voice Actor & Coach
In recent years, Iíve become increasingly aware of the urgent need for voice over performers to stop paying hard-earned money for the ďcookie cutter, one-size-fits-allĒ demos - and to preach (yes, it feels like preaching sometimes) the value of the ďpersonal demoĒ - a vocal sketch of a personís individuality, age and strengths.
I also have come to favor the special niche demo, such as the medical narration demo, the political spots demo (if the performer has good reasons to market in these special areas).
And as many of you are aware, the audiobook demo is very different from other demos, but thatís outside the scope of this article.
MANY EXAMPLES ...
Just today, thinking about writing this article, I received an email from a mother: She asked about producing a voice over demo for her talented son, a 10-year-old actor with on-camera credits.
Earlier this week, a bilingual talent inquired about the best way to showcase her talents. Sheís also a studio singer. (Studio singers need demos too, by the way.)
Bottom line: Each person needs a demo that is a showcase of specific vocal and acting abilities.
The type of demo that I feel does a disservice to performers is the colorless, drab, "cookie-cutter" - particularly, the 60-second demo (without a longer version of it) where quick snippets of dialogue whiz by at lightning speed.
When the brief minute is over, Iím clueless about who this person is Ö really is Öbecause all Iíve heard is a male or a female voice chattering away.
I do not subscribe to the philosophy of some producers and agents that ďa one-minute demo is all you need.Ē
While a one-minute demo may be all thatís permitted on many agentsí websites or on some pay-to-play sites, that doesnít eliminate the value of having more versions of a demo than only the one-minute kind.
SHOWCASE YOUR SKILLS
Your demo is your showcase to the world!
A fashion designer doesnít show only one dress. An artist doesnít show only one painting.
I prefer the "showcase approach." Show us what youíve got! Let each listener choose which version (s) they want to hear.
WHAT I DO
My demos range from 2 to 2 Ĺ minutes in length, contain a wide variety of script choices, all carefully chosen to reflect my clientís persona.
I provide both a 1-minute and a 90-second edit of the long version.
An exception to this formula might be creating a demo for a newcomer to voice work, a novice, who simply does not have the scope or development needed to sustain a longer demo.
If your demo is more than two or three years old, you may not have long and short versions of it.
Your demo may sound out of date. Have you changed or grown? Times have changed!
Most voice over coaches generally agree that a demo has a shelf life. Most shouldnít be used for more than 12 to18 months.
Hopefully, youíve grown! Redo your demos periodically! Itís a routine business expense.
THE DEMO PROCESS
Assess your individual abilities before choosing demo scripts. Next, receive coaching and rehearse.
And talents have options for this process. For instance, I work with talents in my Dallas studio, but also coach by phone and webcam.
If the talent has good recording capabilities, itís easy for them to record the spots after coaching, and I then assemble those into a demo in my studio. No travel required!
Examples of individuality:
NOT TOO OLD!
And a word to the wise: Avoid AGEISM.
A voice performer of a "certain age" does not necessarily need to only voice jobs in that chronological age group.
One of the busiest ladies I know is in her sixties and voices childrenís roles! I also voice females of all ages!
The voice really is adaptable and knows no age if the person is a skilled voice actor.
SHOW YOUR CHARACTER(S)
I prefer a separate character demo, and only after hearing a voice talent's renderings of various voices.
Most important, does the talent truly have avenues in which to market him- or herself as a character?
Always keep in mind who will hear your demos!
Just because you are a fan of cartoons is not a reason to create a character demo.
If youíve not done so, listen to a recording of our recent webinar with the fabulous voice of Porky Pig, Bob Bergen!
Young people need voice over demos that capture unique qualities.
When I have occasion (in a workshop) to play demos Iíve created for youngsters, itís enjoyable to hear just how unique each child truly is.
Keep in mind, parents, that childrenís voices will change. Girlsí voices change - not only - boys with puberty.
Donít expect a childís demo to last after the child changes. Expect periodic demo redo sessions.
A demo for a child is a worthwhile investment if you and your agent (s) feel itís warranted.
People skilled in more than American English need two demos: One in the native language (mother tongue) and the other in American English.
The producers and agents whom Iíve queried on this topic seem to agree: Never think high school language lessons will suffice for the second language. Only native speakers of a language should seek these demos.
Choose scripts carefully: If your producer seems unskilled in knowing who you are as a voice ... if the demo scripts are not carefully chosen with your voice in mind ... be careful about expenditures with this producer.
And stay away from "quick demo fixes" with little or no advance preparation for the recording session. A cookie-cutter demo will likely result.
WHAT'S THE RUSH?
Are you being rushed through? Is the producer or school producing demos for so many people that you feel like just one of a crowd? Run, donít walk.
Who will be producing your actual recording session? Do you know?
Insist on individual attention. Insist on rehearsal and voice coaching.
FOCUS ON YOU
Reveal to your producer WHO YOU ARE. Be prepared to show voices, approaches and the skills you possess.
What is your background as a performer, and what previous training have you had?
Make a list of abilities to use when you confer with your producer.
Next, listen to the producerís assessment of your individuality.
Do you agree? Do your homework!
And keep in mind that VoiceOverXtra's Archives contain many wonderful articles and podcasts on this subject.
Happy demo experiences, and all best wishes for your continued success!
ABOUT BETTYE ...
Bettye Zoller is one of the nation's best-known voice, speech, acting, and voice over coaches, and is a winner of ADDY, Clio, Golden Radio and Audie Awards. She holds advanced degrees from three universities, has served on university faculties for 30 years and presents workshops sponsored by Women in Film and Television. She is a professional audio engineer and producer, and a Simon & Schuster audiobook author and reader. Her VoicesVoices recording studio and training facility is in Dallas, but she also teaches by invitation worldwide, in addition to monthly webinars and online courses presented by VoiceOverXtra.
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