Above you can see two sets of macaron batches. These are my pictures from when I was practicing and then perfecting my technique. Can you tell which one is bad quality?
If I told someone that I make macarons despite not having sales or proof that I know what I’m doing, and they wanted to buy some from me, what do you think would happen if I took their money and gave them the poor batch?
There’s a reason quality matters. And in voice over, quality demos and quality recording DO matter!!
We all want critiques of demos, especially those of us starting out. The problem is, too many get demos made when they’re not ready. And what’s most heartbreaking is that the talent don’t realize how bad they sound until it’s too late. What do I mean by that? Well, there’s two ways.
First, you make a demo when you’re not ready and then ask for professional voiceover talent to critique you. When results aren’t good, it’s too late to get your $$$$ back.
When reactions aren’t positive your self-esteem drops or your inner diva explodes and you post insults and complaints on social media (which by the way are on the internet forever even if you “think” you deleted it).
Second, you make the demo thinking it’s good enough to get you work or signed with a big agent.
Sadly, you send the demo out and hear nothing. Zero. Zip. Nada. Or, an agent or producer dedicates time out of their busy schedule to tell you that you not only need to get more training but you need to have the demo redone which will more than likely be more expensive than the first demo. If you get angry and respond with an insulting email your name will be put on a blacklist and then passed around as a warning to other agents and producers. Then there’s something else. Believe it or not, some studios have a collection of bad demos that they keep on hand and after hours or on breaks. They play those demos for friends or clients and everyone pokes fun. By the way, I’ve heard some of these demos. I don’t believe in making fun of others. While it’s safe not being there to hear the ridicule, your name gets out there and stays in their memory. Trust me when I say it’s rare to have another opportunity to get your next demo heard, even if it’s better. That’s where you need referrals.
Not long ago I saw two new voice over talent post their demos online seeking “honest” critiques. But as days went by, I noticed hardly anyone posted. I took a listen for myself of both demos, one from a man and one from a woman. Both wanted to be in animation. Alas, the demos were bad. Really bad. One demo had awful recording quality and horrible editing but the voice had potential. The other demo had good quality but the acting was terrible and the voices sounded all the same, no uniqueness whatsoever. I debated whether I should put my 2 cents out there and in the end I decided not to say anything. Why? Well, in the end, my opinion is just an opinion. I’m not a super-established talent. I’m not a powerhouse agent. I’m not a producer or director or casting specialist. Those are the critiques you want. Their opinions are what will shape your potential future in VO.
Another reason why I didn’t want to post my thoughts is that years ago, a talent from another country connected with me on LinkedIn for the purpose of networking (I rarely accept connections with other VO talent on LinkedIn now because of this situation). The talent was excited for the connection and politely asked if I’d critique his demo. I had some time off from a session so I generously spent that time listening to his demo and taking notes as to what I felt worked and what didn’t work. It was an animation or video game demo and it was long, like 2 minutes. After 30 minutes I sent my response to the talent with my honest thoughts based on all the knowledge of what makes demos stand out that I received from some of the biggest agents, producers, etc; in VO. I explained his demo was too long, the voices didn’t sound different, the sound effects were faint and in most cases didn’t even fit with the dialogue. But like on a true positive note I said he had massive potential and that was no lie. I ended the letter by encouraging him to keep training and learning.
Days later he responded saying something on the lines of, “Well, thanks for your email. I don’t get what your saying because I’ve had big agents tell me they want to sign me and celebrities say I’m going to be huge someday. I guess you’re entitled to an opinion, though.”
When I showed the email to a famous voice over friend I was told that this talent was after an ego boost and not an honest critique. That made me mad because I volunteered my time for free thinking my opinion would be taken seriously. Since then, I have very, very strict rules about accepting other VO talent on LinkedIn and I’m EXTREMELY careful about responding to messages from new talent or those seeking to “get in” to voice over.
If that man has received work and agents with his demo, then good for him.
For those who are wanting to enter and succeed in this business you need skills, quality, proof of your abilities, luck, hard work, endless training, luck, networking, a positive attitude, luck, oh — did I mention luck?
One of those really, really bad demos that I heard had static, distortion, poor editing and MUCH, MUCH, MUCH, MUCH, MUCH, unnecessary talking such as: “So this is my hero voice which I know is already used in your shows by (famous name), but I can do it better. I truly am the next (famous name) and I have the acting chops to prove it. Here it is: ‘I’m not afraid of you! I have all the power now! Die you hideous monster! Diiiiiiiiieeeeeeeee!!!.” That last part had so much static and distortion due to incredibly poor microphone technique.
Not only that, it was just one poor example on the demo. I had heard of this person by name but didn’t know him personally. The people who played it for me told me quite a few disturbing stories regarding very unpleasant encounters with this individual who is now blacklisted.
Don’t think that the more money you spend the better quality. It’s not about that at all. The quality comes from you first. How well you know the genre you want to market yourself is essential.
Want to work in commercials? Watch them on TV or the ads on YouTube or Hulu.
Want to work in animation or anime? Watch them where you can find them. There’s no excuse not to do so anymore, thanks to the internet and Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, etc.
Want to work in audiobooks? Yes you definitely need to listen to many because with this one the pace, the voice changes per character, the vocal quality and the energy are different with every actor. It’s true that you can listen to lots of celebrities, but you’ve also got amazing talent like Scott Bricks who specializes in audio books, or Pat Fraley, another outstanding talent who is also very, very strong in animation (remember Krang from the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon?).
Now, some other factors to consider depend on the following:
Are you writing your scripts for your selected genre?
Did you hire someone to do it for you?
Or did you choose a producer who included scripts in the demo package?
Do you have enough spots that don’t repeat a style or character voice/archetype that you’ve already included?
Are the spots paced accordingly to fit in the span of 1 minute if not less?
Is the music or sound effects appropriate for each spot?
Are music and sound effects even necessary, or overkill?
Consider those details and many more. If your producer has samples from past clients then listen to them and judge with your ears. Keep in mind that your goal is to catch the interest of the listener in a span of 6-10 seconds.
These days demos should not last more than 60 seconds so you want to be sure whatever material you have is varied and not the same. I can’t tell you how many demos I’ve heard this year alone that sounded all the same when it came to video games and animation. In fact, if video games is really an area you want to approach, here’s an article about the value of video game demos. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/actors-reels-video-games-survey-mark-estdale/
Last and most important: DO NOT get a demo made if you’re not ready. Know what you’re getting into and the competition you’re up against, then make it happen by being you and not copying someone else’s style or read.
I wish you all the best!