Music in Demos? Let the Debate Begin!

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I recently received a question from someone starting out who asked if music was necessary to include in a voice over demo.

As I got to thinking about it, music can either be a beneficial thing, a good thing or completely inappropriate depending on the type of work that is being represented in the demo.
What do you think?
Join in the conversation now by adding a comment.

What Kind of a Role Should Music Play in Your Demo?

While music is all around us, there is a time and place for it in terms of how you present yourself as a professional voice talent. One area where music tends to play a role is in the production of voice over demos.
Music, just like any other element in a production, is there to enhance the copy and add to the overall presentation in a relevant and aesthetically pleasing way.
As a rule of thumb, if you hear music in a final product advertised to the public, it’s safe to say that you could include music in your demo. Next time you find yourself hearing a voice over, be sure to note whether or not music accompanies it as part of your research.
Demos that typically have some kind of music in them include commercial, animation, promo, telephony, trailer, imaging and jingles.

When NOT to Include Music

A note of caution when it comes to demos for audiobooks and narration. Music is generally not used in demos representative of this sort of work as the final product rarely if ever has music in it accompanying the voice over.
Other areas of voice over work that don’t necessarily include music are interactive and talking toys.

What About Music in Auditions?

Auditions should be submitted as dry voice samples. This means that there aren’t any other production elements involved such as music, sound effects, processing of the voice and so on. In other words, the recording should consist of just your voice reading the copy.
Including music in auditions can be perceived as either overkill or in the eyes of some people, a way to differentiate from other talent submissions.

There are pros and cons to both. One pro is that being able to produce is impressive. One con is that sometimes a piece of music selected at the discretion of the talent may not resonate well with the client and they could potentially not hire that person because they didn’t like the music.

In any case, music is seldom if ever requested in audition situations. What they are evaluating at this stage is your ability to interpret the script and whether or not they want to work with you. Unless they expressly ask to hear produced samples or examples of produced work, stick with dry voice.

Something You Might Not Have Thought Of

When I was speaking at the Ontario Institute of Audio Recording Technology (OIART), I heard an interesting point made by instructor and sound designer Mark Vogelsang who said that if you are adding music to a production, for instance an audio drama, you need to be aware of how the music affects the voices in the recording. If the music has lyrics, Mark said that those lyrics function as an additional character with a speaking role in your production.

I hadn’t thought of it that way before and this makes perfect sense. I hope that you find this tidbit of knowledge to be both of interest and of use to you.

4 Tips When Including Music

If you include music, be sure that the music is:

  • Appropriate
  • Complementary to your voice
  • Mixed in properly
  • Royalty-free or music you have usage rights for

When Do You Use Music?

How does music factor into your voice over business?
Looking forward to your reply!
Best wishes,

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  • Howard Ellison
    January 18, 2011, 3:37 pm

    What seriously useful advice Stephanie, thankyou! Another piece to pin up on the gallery. For what it’s worth, I let a snatch of music punctuate dry demos in a medley. I would think it’s difficult to assess a voice talent over a loud bed of music, but lots of examples are like that!

  • Robert Leach
    January 19, 2011, 12:23 pm

    I have had clients, productions houses and agents insist non no music on demos. I guess the answer is to have a dry version and one with music.

  • Bruce N. Goren
    January 21, 2011, 8:31 pm

    All good points Pro and Con.
    Bond, James Bond, voice seeker – properly insists on custom demos a dry as his shaken, not stirred martinis.
    But for those of us with less than Hollywood iconic voices I think a little processing to create a signature sound is good marketing.
    When submitting a custom demo on very short scripts (a few words to less than 10 seconds) which can’t really be further excerpted, I use music and/or effects to add production value and as my audition watermarking.
    To me it seems safer than just handing over the dry element and blindly trusting. That’s no guarantee a short scripted, custom demo demanding voice seeker, (you know the gigs, 100 bucks for a seven word read – 250 submissions in two hours) won’t like the finished mix enough to rip you off! And no one will be the wiser.

    • Jonathan Strait
      January 11, 2018, 1:52 pm

      I like that tip! Thanks 🙂