Demos are considered a necessity to primarily 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 min demo. Clients aren't visionary so 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.
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 bullet points.
1. You could be a lot better with more potential than 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. I can't tell how long it took you to perfect whatever voices or get your takes right nor how directable you are nor what kind of persona you have by listening to your demo.
3. 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 maybe you can't stay in character, or maybe you can do a voice but you can't act, or you aren't accurate 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 your demo off with a bang. Catch attention in the first 5 secs. Don't go back and forth between two voices and try to do voices the industry wants. I go over this in coaching, but for now, just don't do impersonations that you label unless you are 100% spot on. Otherwise 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. 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 them thinking, "Yeah yeah, heard that voice already.,"
6. 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. 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," that treats your recipient like cheap spam and 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."
THE ONLY WAY YOU CAN USUALLY GET AN AGENT TO LISTEN TO YOUR DEMO IS TO IF YOU HAVE A BUDDY WHO IS ALREADY REPPED BY THAT AGENT INTRODUCE YOU WITH PLENTY OF KUDOS.
8. PRODUCTION VALUE CAN MATTER WITH A DEMO. 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. MAKES 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, 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. Do as many separate demos as you want by category. Commercials, Promos, Animation and characters, Game Demo, IVR, Tutorial, Narrative & Documentary, Dialects, Audio Books. Keep them short and sensational rather than long and mediocre.
11. 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!"....unless it's for an audio book demo. For character demos, slap totally different sounding stuff together in 5-10 sec increments and if you don't have a lot of characters, make a 30 sec demo.
12. I'm happy to go over more of this in detail and offer private coaching at a very reasonable cost with a money back guarantee. But the above info is worth a lot more than any price tag, so I hope it helps. Best of luck.
Joe of course you are entitled to your opinion and I respect that. I also have decades of experience and have tried many avenues, methods and pathways to get represented. If you could hear what I hear from other casting directors or agents..... it sounds something like this, "See that cardboard box over there? That's where the demos go" or "I am so sick of being swamped with demos that suck I don't feel like listening any demos much anymore, especially unsolicited." or "I don't care if someone sends me a great demo, unless they are completely different than someone else I have, I have to show loyalty to the people in my posse first." Why not be truthful and try the honest approach once and see how it works? Because a real professional agent would appreciate someone admitting that demos really DON'T tell you how effective a performer someone will be, if they will be liked or directable by clients, if they can read copy without messing up and wasting a client's time and money, or if they'll be willing to try things outside their comfort zone to further widen an agent's chance of landing the gig. Maybe you'd like to ice the cake a little and add "I go way beyond my demo and bring a whole new set of tools and creative magic that no one else does. I just need to know how to best prove it to your agency."
If you think that's like an insurance agent saying " you don't want to buy insurance, do you?" I think you might reconsider. If that's the case, then a person's demo is probably really just smoke and mirrors anyway.
Lani, I'm sorry my objection to your suggestion of how to present yourself to an agency wasn't very clear. I absolutely agree with you about being perfectly truthful and asking for suggestions on finding out what they need from you to give you representation.
My point was about salesmanship... and at this point, one is trying to sell their talent to an agency. The first rule in sales is; "No negatives!" I think there are better ways to accomplish your suggestion than to tell them that talent demos are, by nature, flawed. You've just given them another reason to not listen to yours.
Instead of a negative comment, how about telling the agency that you respect their expertise and would love to know what they need most in their stable of voices? They might even let you do an audition specifically for them, in the style they're looking for.
When I was first starting out, I would offer a "freebie"... one voiceover (local radio or short non-broadcast only) at no charge. It was win-win. I'd usually get a shot with a new client, they'd get a free VO (usually a pro-bono they were committed to), and I'd get another piece of new material for my next demo. Most of the time the client was so pleased they would pay me the going rate, anyway.
This is a great thread you've started, and I'm fascinated by the diversity of responses. Thank you.
Let's talk. I'm not sure how much it will help, but I will send your demo to my agent and a few others in Chicago -- something I don't do for everybody. I'm pretty biased, but I think it sounds damned good.
Well blinkin' 'eck Darren...! Wanna do it for me too??
I'm in London (the one in England) & gagging for more A-mmmer-i-can clients :D
Sorry, but this deal is just for Cecil. The reason I think his demo sounds so good is because I produced it. I was unnecessarily coy about that before.
This is my first time writing in this forum. Being a producer of voiceover demos in the Chicago area, when this dropped into my email, I had to check it out. I'll join the chorus: a lot of good advice here. Wow... Some of your examples... Elvis... "I'll get you and your little dog too"... cowboy voices...?? Lord, Lord... People actually, actually recording material like that should be ejected from the VO biz, and then summarily executed. If they really have so little idea of what the heck the business is about, they deserve all the misery that comes to them.
Of course the truly evil criminals are the folks selling demos to those and other gullible people. I've heard dreadful stories about the "Voices For All" people. I don't know how they sleep at night. One older guy with an INCREDIBLY strong Chicago-area dialogue called me shortly after paying $3,000 for a Voices For All demo. [Sad, accented voice:] "Man," he told me, "my wife is gonna kill me." He wanted my advice. All I could tell him was to market like hell to local businesses, and good luck.
Thanks for sharing your advice, Lani! Solid, good stuff. As another honest, no-nonsense, won't-take-your-money-if-you-suck demo producer, it's very good to hear.
..hmm, & the inverse of that... I wonder how many VOs have "sacked" clients for being far too bullsh*tty to bother dealing with... I guess that's another thread! :D
Good play-'em-as-I-got-'em shoot from the hip, & any-other-cliche-I-can-throw-in, stuff here. I'm in with a good crowd...
Wellll, I did it. Just a few weeks ago.
I know I know, who has the luxury of throwing away work.. I certainly don't. But the BS-o-meter was peaking badly & I had to ask myself if I could handle the interpretations long term. It was a long-distance affair with abominable comms. I slept on it, & decided it would be bad for my blood pressure.
I like things to be very above board, clear, & you develop a pretty keen instinct I'm sure you'll agree. Hmm, perhaps it *was* partly a case of principle, a la your treading water analogy. I felt quite relieved tbh. & a little bit sorry for him... ?? Does one want to be a carpet, is the question. How much license do you allow...??
Thanks for posting this discussion Lani!
I always learn something new and practical when I read your posts.
I just wanted to say a little something about Lani. I have worked with her, been coached by her, and impressed by her. She has a genuine love of what she does and really knows what she is talking about through experience. I am not the seasoned professional I would like to be yet, however, I can tell you that through my discussions with Lani, I am much closer to that goal than I would have been on my own. If you afford yourself the opportunity to be coached by her, you will not regret it. I love her passion, special insight, and sincere desire to help others make it in the industry.
Thank you Lani for all you do!
Celebrity Voice Impressionist / Voice Actor