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Got Voiceover Demo Woes?

My day started normally enough. Have coffee. Answer emails. Record auditions. Make a woman cry. Hold on, let me explain. A voiceover actress requested my thoughts on her demo…and burst into tears the moment I gave them.

Most people who connect with me about a career in voiceovers think they can handle criticism. Often, however, when I (and other voiceover coaches) give the aforementioned advice, it’s often met with tears, defensiveness or indignant sass. Everyone wants to be that person who has a stiff upper lip, but few actually are.

Oh my darling hopeful voiceover actors. Come, sit, and let’s have a heart to heart. I want to use this morning’s phone call to illustrate some important thoughts about the voiceover industry. If you ask me (or any other VO coach) to critique or give you thoughts on your voiceover demo, I’m not bashing, criticizing or attacking YOU. I know it might feel that way, but hear me out. When you seek my advice about your voiceover career, I am doing my best to be as objective as possible.

Now, let’s address the elephant – Gabby you are a voiceover demo producer and coach, therefore you are biased! Of course, I am. No argument. However, in the bazillion years I’ve been doing this, I’ve learned that most quality demo producers, (the creators of demos that mutually respect one another, personally and professionally) share a common standard. We (the industry-backed demo producers) all follow a similar set of rules.

These rules are not the debatable subjective parts of your voiceover demo that will yield a different opinion no matter who you talk to. They are the objective, measurable, industry-driven norms. I view them as follows:

1. Copy selection that is relevant, and custom selected for you, the voice actor.

2. Production music, SFX and audio design that is modern and in-line with current audio trends.

3. Quality of the recording, the proper mic selection, and a lack of plosives mouth noise, clicks, pops etc.

4. The proper use of EQ and post-production for maximum enhancement of the voiceover.

5. :60 in length (up to 1:30 seconds depending on type).

6. An Industry-specific, market-specific, buyer-focused presentation that showcases one genre of VO.

7. The appropriate amount of vocal range and versatility based on said genre.

8. Directorial and performance choices that are relevant, current and in-line with industry trends.

9. Acting skills & storytelling merit - the actor’s ability to draw me in so I want to hear more. (Yes, this could be considered subjective.)

My friend Anne Ganguzza is fond of say; “every demo has a story and I need to know the story before I can give my opinion.” Anne is my beautifully articulate & P.C. other half – the Yin to my gothic and bleak Yang. And while I too try to understand the creative process behind a demo I’m asked to critique, I am also very aware of the contraindications. The signs that a demo has no story are typically as follows:

Did you write/supply your own copy?

Who, specifically (what buyer) was this demo built for?

What is the marketable message you are trying to send?

Take a moment to ponder these questions. If you just said ‘uh oh’, your demo very likely suffers from some fundamental problem. So how does this happen?

For starters, many fledgling voice actors are trying to rush the process and create a demo too quickly and without adequate training. And there are far too many predatory voiceover companies who will eagerly take your money. I also see a lack of due diligence in the research department. Make sure the person making your demo is a well-respected demo creator with loads of experience. And for the love of Don LaFontaine – make certain your demo has a specific, strategic, plan and purpose. The producer you hire is here to help you, educate you, and assist you in your career goals. However, you must be the captain of The S.S Demo.

When you work with voiceover demo producers and voiceover coaches, you owe it to yourself to have a goal, create a plan and go about obtaining specific, measurable results. You must be the master of your own demo destiny.

So does having a poor demo mean you are starting over? No. You’ve worked hard. Does a negative demo review negate your skills and or what you’ve been taught by another coach? Nope. No one can take away what you learned from your efforts, classes, training, and coaches thus far. You took math every year in school. Did new material negate what you learned the year prior? No. You added onto existing knowledge and enhanced it by learning deeper more effective ways to problem solve. YOU GREW, SO DID YOUR SKILLS – SO TOO DID THE LEVEL OF EDUCATION OFFERED TO YOU.

So when you are told that your first, second, maybe even third demo needs work, you should not be surprised or emotionally scarred. In fact, your reaction should be; ‘yes, yes it does.’ You should be stunned when you’re told your demo is perfect and that you shouldn’t change anything! Those days are Sasquatch riding a unicorn rare.

Demos are a work in progress, voice actor websites are a work in progress – YOU are a work in progress. But you can also be a masterpiece at the same time! One person’s critique, comments, or thoughts should not result in tears. Good Lord, what state would NASA be in if every scientific failure led to crying? I guarantee you the guy who miscalculated the Mars Rover landing did not sulk away and become a Little League coach because ‘math is hard.’

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