"If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got"
Henry Ford - founder of Ford Motor Company
So you're on a mission to create a voice-over demo that turns heads. And so you should be! However, a great demo isn't just about the flashiest reads. It also needs to reflect current trends and build trust with your potential clients, all while allowing you to rise above the competition and prove your adaptability.
So how do you create the perfect recipe to bring the best results?? Let's take a look...
Know Your Jam:
First off, what's your thing? Commercials? Narration? Character voices that could rival the great Robin Williams? Find your groove and own it. One idea, one demo! Anything else can muddle the message you're sending. Let those people listening know that you understand your voice and that you're not just throwing everything you can onto a demo and hedging your bets that something will stick.
Mix up the reads, but NOT the genres. You want them to be certain that when they pick you, you're 100% in the zone they're looking for.
If you're particularly clever and have a foot in a few genres do a demo for each. My personal opinion (from sitting in 35 years' worth of casting sessions) is that even Promos should have their own place to shine.
Get The Right Scripts:
Pick scripts that showcase your vocal gymnastics. Go loud, go soft, go wild – just make sure you flex those vocal muscles and leave 'em wanting more.
Include scripts that demonstrate your ability to handle different emotions, accents, and pacing. Think about all the types of reads you have. Sultry, excited, man on the street, retail, Dad next door, heavy retail, and so on and so on, then write or find scripts that will lend themselves to that style and make them your own.
Your scripts need to give you the chance to showcase your versatility in the best possible light. The scripts should also leave themselves open to easy editing as you're gonna want to cut them down to create your demo once you're done and are thinking about the sound of your final edit.
Tech Check, Mic Check:
Time to record. Choose a time with no distractions, no pressures and when you're voice is at its best (usually the morning).
Avoid the temptation to spend hour upon hour cutting parts together word by word. As well as representing what you are capable of, your demo must also be repeatable. i.e. when you walk into a studio and they say "Give us the read you did for "brand x" on your demo", you need to be able to reproduce it with minimal fuss, otherwise, you won't be going back to that studio any time soon.
Your gear should also be ready to go. Don't get caught with a mic that's not up to scratch, or a room full of reflections, headphone bleed, and weird background noises. A clean demo is a happy demo.
You may also find it helpful to have someone who knows the business and resonates with you, to help you with your demo. What sounds great to you in your head, may not be so impressive to someone else, and a second opinion at the very least can be invaluable.
Produce it up... But don't overdo it
Slick production is great, but when it comes to your demo, less is more. Even for a Promo demo, your voice MUST be the star. Anything else becomes a production demo and not your VOICE demo.
A few royalty-free music tracks and a sprinkling of SFX (only if they're absolutely necessary) are more than enough to give some colour and feel to your hard work. Don't overdo it, you'll only get people distracted from what should be the centrepiece of your demo... Your Voice!
This is your time to shine, amigo.
Time for the final edit. Pick the best 5 to 10 seconds from each script, and cut them into your final demo.
Order is king and you have to start strong. You have about 5 seconds to grab the attention of those listening before they have more or less made up their mind about you. And from there, you want to try and keep their interest by throwing up different styles and tempos.
Kick things off with a track that not only grabs attention but also reflects current trends and (if at all possible) is recognisable as something that's been on air and they might recognise. This last step is the least important, but if you can nail ALL three of these factors, you're getting off on the right foot. From there keep the energy flowing with a variety of vibes, and end on a note that makes 'em hit replay.
Stay Fresh, Stay Fly:
Like fashion, the voice-over trends are constantly changing. Update your demo like you'd update your wardrobe. You don't want to be caught wearing last season's styles. Just like fresh fruit and veggies, a fresh demo is much better for you.
Some say once every two years, others say longer. I would suggest that two years is the average lifespan of a good demo. By then things have changed and it's time to modernise your sound.
I heard a great story just the other day about a demo that landed on the desk of a Copywriter friend of mine at one of the big international agencies. "Only the best" was what was promised in the blurb accompanying the files. When he played the demo it featured a spot for Datsun, a car that last rolled off the production line in 1982!! Needless to say the delete button was pressed shortly after and that artist will be waiting a while to get back into this person's inbox.
Demos are a difficult beast, but get it right and they have the potential to get you known and working more often in no time. Get it wrong and it may cost you more than the time wasted doing it in the first place. Lost jobs and missed opportunities can add up quickly.
To mix up the perfect demo, own your style, mix it up, and let your vocal magic do the talking. Make sure it's current, and on-point. A demo isn't just a recording – it's your ticket to making waves in the vast ocean of voice talent. So go ahead, let your voice be the headline act that everyone's talking about!
Darren "Robbo" Robertson is a freelance audio engineer and radio imaging producer. He is also available to help you with your next demo. From scripts to recording and production. Given he still works closely with many of Australia's (and the World's) top Advertising agencies, he's well-placed to help you make your next demo stand out. To find out more about his services see the Voodoo Sound website.