Updating Your Demos

When was the last time you reviewed your demos? Do you still have that Mickey D’s commercial you voiced 10 years ago on your Television Commercial demo? We’ve got news for you. Your voice has changed!

Living Up To Your Demos

Your voice-over demo is truly your calling card. The demo, while not necessarily representative of work you have actually done, is representative of what you’re capable of doing.
Although many voice acting talents have professionally produced demos, not nearly as many are able to replicate every subtlety or element on their samples when called on to do so. What happens when the voice-over demo promises more than what a voice actor can actually do on his own, unassisted by producers, directors, or coaches?

So you can replicate what you produce, keep the following tips in mind when recording your demo:

  • When recording a voice-over demo with a coach or studio, keep the production elements minimal depending on the demo type, especially if you aren’t particularly skilled in this area.
  • Present your abilities with dry voice samples (no production elements, only the voice). Dry voice is typical of narration and audiobook demos as well as GPS, telephone, and other types of voice-over work. Another benefit of dry voice is that people can immediately hear the quality of the recording and also focus on your voice as the sole instrument in the mix.
  • Invest time in the art of direction. Study, watch others, and make choices, not guesses.
  • Be consistent with your vocal regime. This includes warming up, maintaining dental hygiene (the last thing you want is food stuck in your teeth, which can produce excess saliva and impact the way you speak), being well-hydrated, and allowing your voice to act as a vehicle for the written word. (Maintaining good dental hygiene is also important to avoid the extreme where you may lose some teeth and need dentures or implants, which can affect your voice’s sound.)

Evaluating Demos for Updating

Your demo, especially if someone produced it in a professional recording studio, is a thing of beauty and deserves to be shined up every now and then. But when is that time? If your demo represents what you can do and only needs a bit of tweaking here and there, just remove spots that aren’t working anymore and replace them with some new spots or a sample from a more recent job you’ve done.

In this section, we explore the telltale signs that your voice-over demo, or a given spot on a voice-over demo, has reached its expiration date.

Staying Current and Sounding Fresh

Just as models and actors need to update their headshots each year, a voice talent needs to update their demos.  As we age our voices change. Updating your demos will keep your voice sounding fresh, current, and accurate.

Men and women’s voices age differently. For instance, a woman’s voice continues to mature year over year until she’s in her 40s. That’s an awful lot of vocal change over the course of her career.  Then as hormonal changes start to occur in her 50s her vocal resonance will change once again.

Men on the other hand have little perceptible change in their voices after puberty. However, personal habits such as drinking or smoking can cause damage to the throat, tongue, teeth and mouth altering the sound of their voice.

If a client finds your Profile or website and wants to hire you based on a demo of your voice from ten years ago, or even five, it's possible that they won’t be happy with the end result.

If you know your voice has changed, it’s vitally important that you showcase demos that reflect all the subtle nuance of your voice as it sounds now.

In addition to natural vocal changes, there are other things to consider as well that could date your work or make you seem out of touch with current times. Avoid these 3 demo pitfalls:

Dates and Times

Whether you’re in your 20s or 60s your demo will not endure if they have you mentioning dates and times. This is particularly true for demos concerning car commercials, movie trailers, concert tours, or political campaigns. If you voiced a spot that includes phrases like “New in…” or “In theaters...” consider editing the date out of the spot, especially if it’s two years or older. Or, better yet, update it with a new commercial.

Generally, if a product is mentioned to be older than two years, try to edit out the date or leave the dates out altogether when recording initially. For instance, if you have a commercial read in your demo about a model of a car that was new in 2005, take some time to update that demo.

Popular Culture References

Pop Culture refers to the collective entirety of ideas, perspectives, attitudes, memes, images and other generational phenomena. Avoid using spots on your demos that refer to debuts, reunions, or that use popular catch phrases from a specific era (unless of course, your demo is specific to that era!). If you have an animation demo packed full with impressions of cartoon characters that young adults (25-35) wouldn’t be familiar with, it is best to stop promoting that demo or at least create an additional demo featuring more current characters to show versatility. You could also get creative and alter those characters to produce something original and one-of-a-kind. Ultimately, make sure your demos contain relevant, up-to-date themes.

Period Music and Sound Effects

Music beds have the ability to enhance a demo greatly but you need to be careful about the style of music you select. It contributes significantly to its relevance, or lack thereof, much in the same way that pop culture references can. So unless your spot is a parody, avoid the use of grunge music or cheesy synthesizers! In the same vein, sound effects get better and more sophisticated with each passing decade and can negatively affect the quality of your demo if it contains effects that mentally send the listener back in time.

A demo can be like a time capsule, so avoid some of these common drawbacks that make them outdated or no longer relevant. The spots can be edited out and replaced with newer content or they can be archived as a learning tool to see how your skills have improved and how your voice has changed.

Showcasing Your Work in the Digital Age

If you’ve been in the industry for 25+ years, then you likely have a pile of compilation demos that showcase your best spots in a variety of voice-over niches.

This is a throwback to sending demo ‘reels’ to voice-over agents which is no longer the way of the world. Don’t get us wrong, agents definitely do have their place in your career, but if you’re marketing your services online, each niche should be edited into separate digital files, such as MP3 files no longer than 60 seconds.

Why so short?

The average person using the Internet is growing more sophisticated and looking for quality information and top of the line services. Likewise, potential clients who are looking for talent online want targeted demo content.

If they don’t hear what they’re looking for within the first 15 seconds they’ll move on to another demo - or worse, another talent. Since the goal is to keep them on your website or Profile, make the most of it.

They are coming there to consider hiring you for a specific spot rather than an all encompassing need so make sure you have demos that are clearly labelled (Audiobook, Educational, TV Commercials, Radio Station IDs, Impressions, etc.) and then add a short description that introduces them to what they will hear (specific characters, accents, brands, etc).

Using Real Work: A word of caution

While some clients are encouraging of their voice talent promoting work they’ve done for them, some are the polar opposite.

If you’re updating your demos with actual work you’ve completed for a client, make sure you have their permission to publicize it online. Even if you haven’t signed an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) you should still ask to be sure.

Bear in mind too that while not every client is comfortable with the material being used online, they may allow you to use it for your agent's reel because it’s not available to the general public. So, be clear about what, where, and how you intend to use the work and they will be clear about what usage rights they can extend to you.

Whatever you do, never ever use an audition spot on your demo. Doing so is copyright infringement and can get you into a heap of hot water. The client always owns 100% of the rights to the audition script and if the talent who did record the spot comes across your demo, it may be considered as misrepresentation because you didn’t actually do the work.

Play it safe. Always promote work which you’ve received permission to use or create original demos using royalty-free scripts. Another option is to hire a copywriter.

Getting Permission to Use Work

If you find that something you’ve recorded fits the bill for any of your demos, make a note of it and be sure to ask the client for permission to use part of that project as a segment in your demo for promotional purposes. The holder of the copyright is ultimately the person you want to consult. If it’s not the client you worked with, he or she can look into finding out whether you can use it by going to the client with your request.

Most clients will be fine with this, but you do need to ask. Voice actors we’ve worked with have asked us if they could feature voice-overs they recorded for us on their website or in their demos, and we’ve always said yes. Some of our commercials are hosted online, and voice actors who’ve worked as narrators on our videos are also able to promote the video as a sample for their prospective clients to consider.

Whatever you do, don’t use auditions as spots on your demo or as stand-alone demos to promote your voice. Not only is this misrepresentative of work you’ve done, but also doing so without permission could spell trouble for you in the long run. If you ever want to use an audition on a demo, which at times may be appropriate, you need to ask the client and obtain permission.