sign up for our

Home Shop Subscribe Advertise Articles Directories Classifieds Calendar FAQs Contact Us Login

Demos: Toss The 'Cookie Cutter' ...
Favor Your Vocal Strengths & Niches
By Bettye Zoller
Voice Actor & Coach
VoicesVoices LLC
In recent years, I’ve become increasingly aware of the urgent need for voice over performers  to stop paying hard-earned money for the “cookie cutter, one-size-fits-all” demos - and to preach (yes, it feels like preaching sometimes) the value of the “personal demo” - a vocal sketch of a person’s 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 that’s outside the scope of this article.
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. She’s 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, I’m clueless about who this person is … really is …because all I’ve heard is a male or a female voice chattering away.
I do not subscribe to the philosophy of some producers and agents that “a one-minute demo is all you need.”
While a one-minute demo may be all that’s permitted on many agents’ websites or on some pay-to-play sites, that doesn’t eliminate the value of having more versions of a demo than only the one-minute kind.
Your demo is your showcase to the world!
A fashion designer doesn’t show only one dress. An artist doesn’t show only one painting.
I prefer the "showcase approach." Show us what you’ve got! Let each listener choose which version (s) they want to hear.
My demos range from 2 to 2 ½ minutes in length, contain a wide variety of script choices, all carefully chosen to reflect my client’s 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 shouldn’t be used for more than 12 to18 months.
Hopefully, you’ve grown! Redo your demos periodically! It’s a routine business expense.
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, it’s 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:
  • Perhaps the person sounds cultured or educated, good voicing upscale or expensive products.
  • A male actor may bring to mind a cowboy, rancher, or kindly grandfather.
  • An over-50 actress may showcase a variety of voices, from active businesswoman to older grandmother.
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 children’s 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.
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 you’ve 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 I’ve created for youngsters, it’s enjoyable to hear just how unique each child truly is.
Keep in mind, parents, that children’s voices will change. Girls’ voices change - not only - boys with puberty.
Don’t expect a child’s 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 it’s 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 I’ve 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.
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, don’t walk.
Who will be producing your actual recording session? Do you know?
Insist on individual attention. Insist on rehearsal and voice coaching.
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 producer’s 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!
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.
Your Daily Resource For Voice-Over Success
Tell Us What YOU Think!
Please Note: Since we check for spam, there will be a slight delay in the actual posting of your comment.
Your Name:
Your Email Address (will not be published):
Your Comment:
Your Comment:
Security code:     
Comments (2)
Gina G
6/6/2011 at 4:09 PM
Fantastic! It definitely gave me things to think about - like a separate German VO demo to my English one. Thanks so much!
Roy Wells
5/31/2011 at 9:28 AM
I loved this article! Bettye shows just how hard it is to create a demo that really does the job. I wish that I had her as an advisor years ago when I was a struggling NYC based actor.
Back to Articles
Inspiring interviews help your VO career
Get your bi-weekly dose here ... all things VO!
On Michael Langsner's Voice-Over Roadmap Podcast
Email alerts to new VoiceOverXtra articles