When we try to please everyone – we generally end up pleasing no one. Some actors try to be all things to all people and that’s a dreadful mistake. A demo is like a resume. If you are applying to a large corporation you certainly won’t list ALL of your work experience on your resume.
Would that Fortune 500 Corporation really be impressed that you were a part-time stock boy at Circuit City when you were in college or that you flipped hamburgers at McDonald’s when you were in high school? They aren’t interested because it’s not relevant to the job you are applying for.
They’ll want to know only what experience and education you now have that will make you a valuable employee for their company. So you put only the things you are best at on your resume – only the things where you shine the brightest.
The same is true when you’re deciding what should be on your commercial demo. You’ll want to include a range of acting styles that showcase you in the best possible light. Producers want to hear a diverse range of what you can do with your voice but each sample should be within your focused core. Keep in mind that the samples on your demo don’t have to be spots you have voiced that have actually aired – producers are much more interested in what you can do for them right now rather than what you have done in the past.
Your demo has to be good enough to get through to a decision maker. It has to be completely professional and completely correct and appropriate for the part they are looking to cast. There has to be something about your demo that calls out to them – “That’s the voice!”
When making the decision about what sorts of things to put on your demo, ask yourself these three questions:
THAT MAKES ME TRULY UNIQUE?
As a voice acting teacher, coach, and producer, I receive calls almost daily from people who want to break into voice over and particularly from those wanting to get into animation. Invariably, the conversation goes a little like this:
“Oh, yeah, I can do a great Porky Pig, Donald Duck, Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound – etc, etc., and I can duplicate all the voices on my favorite video game.”
My reply has to be, “That’s great! But they already have very good people in Hollywood doing the voices of Porky and Donald and all the rest. And those voices you can imitate on the video games are already being done by other actors. What have you got that I haven’t heard before – that’s original?” I’m not trying to be mean with this statement, it’s just a fact in the voiceover business. I want to hear demonstrations of your voice that are uniquely YOURS – not a duplication of a voice or character someone else has already mastered. If I want that voice – I’ll call them!
When preparing for your demo, there must be a moment of truth – when you put your ego aside and are brutally honest with yourself. Say you’re thinking of including a spot using a sexy, sultry (melted chocolate) voice because you’ve always wanted to do a voice like that. You have to ask yourself these questions when considering this for your demo. First, “Is this one of my strongest characters (voices), and one I do extremely well?” And second, “is it a character or voice I could actually see myself being cast for?” If the answer is “no” the second question is, “Then why would I want it on my demo”? If you can’t see yourself ever being hired for your sexy sultry voice, then don’t put a sample of that voice on your demo. There are many voice actors out there that do a sexy, sultry voice extremely well. So let them! A demo should present your best and strongest characters.
If you don’t do a strong character for a hard-sell car commercial – don’t put it on your demo
If you don’t do a warm and fuzzy, compassionate character that is truly believable – don’t put it on your demo
If you don’t do a “movie trailer” voice that you can re-create at the drop of a hat – don’t put it on your demo
The next step to deciding what should be on your demo is to identify your strengths. Producers and agents are listening for something new, fresh, attention-getting and marketable. To make sure you have what they are looking for you must sit down and honestly look at what you can do with your voice that makes you unique. Find the most exaggerated thing that breaks you away from the listener’s level of expectancy. You want to hit them, grab their attention and keep it!
Perhaps it’s your ability to change the pitch of your voice and create some interesting characters. These could be sounds like tiny or small; high nasal; de-nasaled (stuffy nose sound); mushy, or bright & cheery – usually accompanied by a smile; friendly; breathy; throaty; raspy; or big and booming. Maybe you do a very believable child’s voice or a dead-on nerd. Maybe you can create some interesting characters with different forms of mouth work (such as talking out of the side of your mouth, talking with pursed lips, or talking with gritted teeth, etc.) If you can use these characters and styles in the context of a commercial – then you’ve got something that will grab a producer’s attention.
Maybe it’s the sense of rhythm you use for your unique voices. Can you do speak very quickly and still be understood? (Remember the FedEx guys of years ago – he spoke at least a mile a minute and he was definitely unique!) How about a staccato rhythm like William Shatner, a smooth and melodic rhythm like James Earl Jones, or a combination of varying speeds? Even a monotone can be interesting if it’s done with attitude.
Can you do a variety of accents and dialects extremely well? And I mean extremely well. If so, they can be used to your advantage when you are discovering your uniqueness. One word of caution, if you aren’t sure how authentic your accents and dialects are – ASK someone who can listen and give you an educatedopinion. If it’s not completely accurate and if you can’t reproduce it flawlessly for a long period of time – do not put it on your demo.
CERTAIN DEMOGRAPHIC OR AGE GROUP?
Do you have a “compassionate senior citizen” character who could speak to an audience concerned about escalating health care cost – or a loud or “edgy teenager” who is very excited about the latest video game or his iPod? How about the “guy next door” talking to his neighbor about tax preparation or car repairs – or a “mom” talking to her best friend about the safest mini-van for her family? All these characters are part of a demographic or certain age group. If you have the ability to find a strong voice for any or all of these groups – you can make yourself a very marketable commodity!
You don’t want anything on your demo that you can’t duplicate within 3 to 4 takes. In other words, if it takes you 24 takes to get to the right delivery during your demo production session, odds are it will probably take that long to get it right again. When you are booked for a session (from that demo spot) I guarantee that you won’t get 24 takes to get it right. You’ll be expected to take it to where it needs to be in no more than 3 or 4 takes. Period. Agents and producers don’t appreciate your misrepresenting yourself – they will remember that you did and it’s not a reputation you want.
Your demo should be all about YOU – your personality, your uniqueness and your talents. This brings up the question of dialogue spots. As a producer, I like to hear how a voice actor can interact with another performer, so a dialogue spot on a demo is important to me, and usually one is plenty. It’s a good idea, however, to do this dialogue with a performer of the opposite sex so that your voice is completely recognizable from theirs.
Where do you find copy for your demo? There’s an exceptional resource on the internet where you can find some very good copy for demos. Go to www.edgestudio.com. For a very small fee, you can review and download as many of the scripts as you like (there are thousands!). If you are in the San Diego area, we have books, and books, and books of scripts to chose from at The commercial Clinic. You can set up an appointment and come here to look through them if you like. You can also find some wonderfully juicy copy in magazines – print ads! You may have to adjust it a bit to make it sound more conversational, but it’s an excellent place to start.
Much as I would like to be able to tell you exactly what should be on your demo, it’s just not possible. Each of you is “one of a kind” and each and every demo will, and should, be completely different . The best rule of thumb when you are making the decisions on copy (and voices) for your demo is this: Each voice should be one that you can get to quickly, one that conveys a sense of authenticity and believability, one that you can maintain for a long period of time and, most importantly, one that is unique enough to make you stand out from the rest of the crowd.
If you have any questions about demos,
Penny is the Creative Director of The commercial Clinic in San Diego, California, an accomplished voice artist and acting coach. She and James Alburger teach The Art of Voice Acting Workshops together. Her book, “The Art of Voice Acting Guide to Producing your Demo and Marketing Your Voice” is scheduled for release this year. You can visit Penny’s personal website at www.pennyabshire.com
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