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Voice Over Demos: Do's & Don'ts
To Catch An Agent's Attention

By Lani Minella
Voice Actor & Coach

Demos are a necessity to get an agent, since most clients don't search demos to find a specific need for a certain gig.
 
If they do, that's insane and bad for us voice talents who can't put everything we do on a 1.5-minute demo.
 
For example, if they are looking for a suave French spy and you don't have it on your demo, they won't presume you can do it.
 
SOME HELPFUL ADVICE
 
That said, since I often get talent sending me demos or links to theirs as a way to get into my talent pool, let me try to help with a few helpful insights.
 
1. Demos have limits. You could be a lot better and have more potential than what I hear on your demo. Demos can be self-limiting.
 
Or worse, they can turn someone off if done poorly. And if done well, you better be able to deliver the goods instantly. You don't get rehearsal time and do-overs in a session.
 
2. Demos don't reveal all. I can't tell how long it took you to perfect the voices or get your takes right, or how directable you are, or what kind of persona you have by listening to your demo.
 
3. Don't rush out demos. If you took a class or two and spent substantial money which might have included getting a produced demo in the end, you may or may not be able to live up to your demo when faced with a real job.
 
Better put, if you don't have good enough voice control, or you can't stay in character, or you can do a voice but you can't act, or you aren't accurate when cold-reading copy, maybe you should concentrate on perfecting and expanding your abilities before rushing out and slapping a demo on as many desks as you can.
 
4. Start with a bang. Start your demo off with a bang. Catch attention in the first five seconds.
 
Don't go back and forth between two voices and try to do voices the industry wants.
 
And don't do impersonations that you label unless you are 100 percent spot on. If your Elvis Presley voice produces an interesting character, play with that instead of saying "Thank you. Thank you very much," as a bad Elvis.

5. Watch the clock. Keep your demo no longer than a minute and a half, and if you can't supply totally different good choices to fill that time slot, don't try.
 
Leave people wanting to hear more instead of leaving them thinking, "Yeah yeah, heard that voice already."
 
6. Beware of imitations. If you're a guy and don't sound like Sam Elliot, don't put western cowboy voices on your demo.
 
And if you're a girl, forget being another one of the hundreds doing a wicked witch, "I'll get you and you're little dog, too."
 
Try to do something different, or if it's one of the latter, or even a pirate, say something funny and clever.
 
If you make a client chuckle while listening, you get bonus points and they'll think you're fun to work with.
 
7. Seek inside help. Unsolicited demos sent to anyone, especially agents, seldom get listened to.
 
And if all you do is email someone saying, "Go to my link. I'd love to be part of your talent pool," they'll see your email as cheap spam.
 
They'll be thinking, "The nerve - like I have nothing better to do than go to your site, when you obviously didn't do anything to personalize your email or find out anything about what makes me or my agency tick."
 
Usually, the way to get an agent to listen to your demo is to have a buddy who is already repped by that agent to introduce you with plenty of kudos.

8. Production quality counts. Production value can matter with a demo. You don't have to pay top dollar to get an engineer to do it for you, if you know how to cut and paste background music or just a taste of different sound behind each of your clips.
 
Make it sound like it was taken from an actual production instead of you sitting in front of your mic at home. If you can't change the music, leave it off.
 
By putting one track under all your change-ups it proves once again that it's not from a perceived production.
 
9. Commercials. Always do national tag lines or spots - nothing sounding local with a city or local location mentioned.
 
If your mic sounds decent and you put a bit of music behind "Today shop at Sears," no one will know you didn't actually do that spot.

10. Separate by category. Do as many separate demos as you want by category: commercials, promos, animation and characters, game demos, interactive voice responses (IVRs), tutorials, narratives and documentaries, dialects, audiobooks.
 
Keep them short and sensational rather than long and mediocre.

11. No stories. Unless you're doing an audiobook demo, try not to tell a story like: "Once upon a time there was this frog, 'ribbit, ribbit,' who met a fairy, 'Goodness me, a frog!'"
 
For character demos, slap totally different sounding stuff together in five- to 10-second increments. And if you don't have a lot of characters, make a 30-second demo.

ABOUT LANI ...

Lani Minella is president of Audiogodz Inc., which since 1992 has provided a one-stop shop for voice acting, directing, casting and writing with over 500 titles from computer games to animation, commercials to documentaries, and audiobooks to tutorials - and even the voice of the Prius navigation system. In voice acting, her four octave range covers any age, gender, creature or dialect, and she has wide diversity of expertise as a casting director, game designer, creative director, copywriter, on-air talent and stage and screen actor.

Email: lani@audiogodz.com
Web: www.audiogodz.com
Voice Over Coaching: www.audiogodz.com/classes/coaching.php

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Comments (11)
Klaus Stricker
9/14/2016 at 1:44 PM
Great advice all around.
Thank you.
I am just getting started in the voice over business.
Maxine Dunn
10/21/2011 at 2:59 PM
Brilliant article from a brilliant actor! Lani, thank you so much for writing this and sharing your insights, wisdom, and knowledge with us. I don't do gaming/character voices, but your article's key points can be applied to any genre of voice-over.

In 15 years of doing voice-overs, I've never sent an unsolicited demo. Doesn't make any sense to me. Why send something to someone who doesn't know you, who you haven't taken the time or courtesy to learn about, approach, or connect with, and who probably receives hundreds of demos? I think making contact first and discovering submission guidelines (for agents) first is key. It also shows respect for their time and standards. If agents were spending all day wading through unsolicited demos, they’d never get any work done for the clients they do represent.

Thanks again for a great article! And thank you for inspiring us all with your amazing body of work.

Warmly,
Maxine Dunn
Pearl Hewitt
10/19/2011 at 1:15 AM
Hi Lani,

Wow! You said so much in such a short space of time and all of it made sense to me. You've inspired me to create a proper character voice demo now. At the minute I have it listed as an audiobook demo but I really need to rework that and use different samples from other books. It plays more like a long-winded character voice demo instead. If I shorten the pieces it should sound pretty effective.

Thanks for your insight and advice. I will take what you've written to mind and reconsider what I currently have.
Lani Minella
10/17/2011 at 10:43 PM
Thanks to all for the lovely comments. I do try to tell it like it is, and BP, I am not an agent so I'm not on a high horse...I just know the system from having seen it from both sides.

You are right that people should have open minds and consider every talent a "potential source of income"...but they don't.

As a matter of fact, I've been turned away from an agent in LA because when I told them and showed them my versatility, ability to cold read and act really well and even talk between several characters and not fall out of voice, and I said "I get the job done well and faster than most because I don't make many mistakes etc." They said, and I quote, "Thanks for telling us that because you are exactly what we DON'T want. We make more money sending out one trick ponies who make more mistakes who require more pickup sessions."

THAT REALLY TELLS IT LIKE IT IS WITH A LOT OF AGENTS.

It's a crying shame that it's not talent that gets the job sometimes, but who you know and that other casting couch crap.

I went to your site BP, and you have great demos, but of course, nothing showing character acting that games need (which is what I cast), so there's a case in point about how someone may indeed be full of talent that demos might not contain.

And yes, there are a lot of courses and classes and demo production houses out there that should be burned at the stake. LOL

Again, best of luck to all and let's all try to help each other negotiate our obstacle courses.
Bobbin Beam
10/17/2011 at 11:02 AM
Excellent and comprehensive article, Lani. "Release no demo before it's time." The only bit of advice I would add would be to watch out for the "demo mills" and don't waste your hard-earned cash and precious time. Do your homework.
Bob Jordan
10/17/2011 at 10:11 AM
Eleven great tips for success ! Thank you for sharing, Lani. Very valuable information for those who want to succeed.
Roy Wells
10/17/2011 at 9:08 AM
I agree with BP, 100 percent. In fact this weekend I sent out a whole bunch of unsolicited demos, and if they're not listened to, well a good opportunity for both of us will be lost.
Randye Kaye
10/17/2011 at 8:58 AM
Lani - if I had a dime for every student who walks into a coaching session with a demo that was produced before they had the skills to work - or one for each person currently in training who is in a rush to "get it done already" - I could certainly buy you a latte at Starbucks for writing this beautiful article!
Thanks for great advice I can tweet about!
Randye
Amy Taylor
10/17/2011 at 8:48 AM
Yes, Lani! As always, your advice is spot on. Thanks for this in-depth peek at the agent's point of view. We should all bookmark this one!

Amy Taylor
BP Smyth
10/17/2011 at 3:18 AM
Lani,

For the most part your advice is pretty decent. But I'd like to take issue with your #7 subject matter. In today's market of the "hurry up and wait" attitude of most clients and talent agents, you (the agent) are lucky to get unsolicited correspondence and demos. Look, you are looking for money makers, right?, and if you should stumble upon one, it's good for both you and the Talent, right? So what's the big deal about being an "unsolicited" presenter of talent. My advice to you is don't be in such a hurry to discard a talent that could bring you big bucks!!

No one really cares about what makes your agency "tick." What really matters is can this voice talent make money for me? And, to the talent, can this agent provide me with some auditions and potential work? It works both ways, you know. This is a "business" and like all businesses...we are all in it to make money, period!! So, both sides in the food chain need to get off their snobby "high horse" of ridiculous procedures regarding solicitations.

By the way, if you want to hear some really good voice-over demos please visit my website: www.BPSmythVoice.com maybe we can do "business" together. :)

Sincerely,
BP Smyth, Narrator


Bettye Zoller
10/17/2011 at 1:48 AM
I just have to say I read Lani's stuff online long time ago, and for those who don't know, she's a pro longtime and pioneer in the voice biz plus more. She's a legend. And wow you are still cookin'. I photocopied an article you did probably ten years ago and still use in my seminars, giving you credit of course. Love your article here.This article is RIGHT ON. Thanks LANI. Hey, want to hear from you and connect with you. Or phone me. Email me off line. All best. And do more articles here!! Bettye
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