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Commercial Demo Evaluation – Rule Summary

This is a summary from Rules for Commercial Demos. If you want your demo evaluated, read these rules. You can order a demo evaluation or demo at the bottom of this page.

MOST IMPORTANT‼

  1. Radio folks: Do NOT include include anything related to a radio station!
  2. Your first track/clip must have a real person speech pattern in the first three seconds.
  3. Each clip must sound like it could have come from a collection of actual commercials of your voice only.

You need a minimum of three short commercial-only clips that contrast with one another, no voice fading or silence between clips. We suggest NOT trying to create a full demo until you have three great clips that are authentic and different from one another.

👉 ORDERING AN EVALUATION

You MUST read all the way through the post below before ordering an evaluation!

A $7 part 1 preliminary evaluation (click here to order) in most cases should provide enough suggestions to lead to a significant improvement in quality, and help you understand some of the types of issues and improvements possible, as well as avoid key issues that can cause immediate rejection. 

Plus, crucial issues will be noted. However, not every instance of an issue will necessarily be pointed out, though no particular type of issue will be ignored. For example, we may point out a mis-articulation but not point out ALL mis-articulations, particularly since some slight misarticulations are allowable on most demos.

We have read many agent evaluations of demos over the last 15 years, and agents rarely agree or provide identical feedback on the same demo! Agent evaluations are based on the clients, scripts and talent they work with most frequently at their agency, as well as their personal biases. Note that it has become rare for outsiders to any agency (not already repped at the agency) to receive much specific feedback on their demo.

An $10 part 2 summary evaluation can provide answers to questions, as well as suggestions for how to better present your brand voice, improvements in contrast or music selection, a quality rating, performance improvement notes, and more detailed feedback overall. 

After receiving your preliminary evaluation, if you wish to resubmit your demo with (or without) changes for the more complete summary evaluation, including answers to any questions you may have, click here to order.

First, here are two demo samples. Eash is the first demo produced for two non-professional talent, mixed for them at the School of Voiceover. Scroll below the Audio Samples to learn what you need to know to create your own demo. For more detail, read Rules for Commercial Demos.

Demo Audio Samples:

Female Demo Sample

Click above to listen.

Click image below to enlarge.

Neither of these recordings is intended as an example of a “perfect” or somehow flawless demo. These are simply the most recent male and females demos we produced at the School of Voiceover at the time of this writing. Each is a collection of decisions that could have been made differently. Each has flaws—some well hidden, some slightly obvious. We typically narrow any demo down to 2-4 versions before settling on a final version.

Male Demo Sample

Click above to listen.

Click image below to enlarge.

The images above are what the audio looks like in Audacity after mixing tracks together with their sound effects (lengths are in seconds, and were added graphically). These were produced for non-professional talent still taking classes, who have yet to contact their first voiceover agent.

The first thing to note is that the fifth female track—Neutrogena—at nearly 19 seconds long, stretches the rule about avoiding extra-long tracks. But listen to it: the commercial has a lot of variety, and talent show great range in the different sections of this single clip. The point here was to showcase the talent’s ability to cover a wide range in a single performance as that is one of their strengths. And four standard-length tracks precede it.

Also, the Female sample has three clips in the Beauty & Personal Care category, also stretching the rule about similar clips. Of course, they are all separated from one another, and are not identical subcategories (hair color, mascara, facial cleanser, respectively). The point here is that this category is where the talent is likely to be competitive. Excluding the extra-long clip, the average length of clips in the female sample is a typical/desirable 7.3 seconds.

Clips for the Male talent follow the rules more closely—the longest clips 11.35 seconds, the shortest, 1.8. But again, there are three in the Liquor category, and two in the Automotive category, stretching the category rule. In this case, these showcase where we think the talent will be competitive—and, the talent is a bartender.

Read on to learn what you need to know when producing your own demo:

 

VOICEOVER DEMO BASICS

I will use the term clip interchangeably with track to mean the same thing: an individual commercial on your demo.

1. COMPRESSION/LEVELS/CLIPPING:

Running compression will help on all these steps

1.1 Adjust voice separately—before adding music or sound effects! These steps apply to your voice BEFORE adding anything to the mix, AND apply to the overall mix.

1.2  Levels should be near maximum: An extremely small amount of clipping is sometimes desirable (some music is provided already clipped, for example) but should not be noticeable! Sound quality should not be sacrificed. Voice should not fade in or out.

1.3  Even, Consistent Levels from track to track Apparent and actual volume levels from clip-to-clip must be similar—the overall level shouldn’t get or feel significantly louder or softer. If something “feels” faint or faded and other approaches don’t help, try increasing levels to the point you have more clipping. This does NOT mean talk louder! Speak intimately or softly wherever appropriate, but increase the gain/amplitude—to make the quiet parts louder. Compression is the easiest way to do this

1.4 Compression: voice before adding music: Oversimplified, compression makes soft parts louder. Run compression on each vocal track individually before adding music or sound effects (you can also make manual adjustments), generally at a ratio greater than 3:1 (or run it more than once at 2:1) ). To do this, select/highlight your audio, and (if you’re using Audacity) click the Effects menu and choose Compression. Here are some suggested settings (set compression based on peaks, and a ratio higher than 3:1 are the main suggestions). You do NOT need to run Normalize or Amplify after running compression:

2. CLIPS: Length/Spacing/Number

2.1 Clip Length: A typical demo clip is 6-11 seconds long. Yes, they have gotten shorter over the years. A few alternate clips (interjections) can be 1-3 seconds (in between longer clips).

2.2 Overall Maximum/Minimum: If you already have a FULL commercial demo, it should be less than 65 seconds. As long as a demo is not over-long, shorter than :55 is not necessarily an issue. If your resume does not mention significant recent voice over work, your demo is not expected to reflect work that you have done and it is understood that you are introducing yourself to the industry. For reference, recent survey of pros found their demos were average of 61.1 seconds, long and the average number of tracks was 6.7. If you are new, we suggest providing 3-4 clips in total.

2.3  No space/No silence: No noticeable silence or sound effects between tracks. No space between clips, or less than 1/20 second.

3. MUSIC

3.1 Style: Music should of the typed commonly used in commercials. Go here for music suggestions.

3.2 Blend: Music should not take attention away from the voice too much. For example, music with a strong, loud beat often doesn’t work well with voice (though you could go through and quiet each beat manually in post-production, this is usually not recommended).

3.3 Fade: It is not necessary as a rule to fade music in or out, though sometimes it will not work unless you do.

3.4  Begin/End: No music before or after voice. Details:

3.4.1 Beginning 1/10 prior to voice can be okay, but is rarely necessary unless trying to improve the blend with the previous take.

3.4.2 Ending: First, try it with no fade. Try ending music before voice, as well as approximately ending the same time as the voice. If using a fade, first try having it end before the voice—having only voice at the ending. This helps highlight the voice, and generally makes connecting to the next take easy. If fading out after the voice, try having it overlap with the next take—having the next take start while the previous take’s music is fading out.

4. MP3 FORMAT: There is no expectation that you provide an ultra-high quality format. The sample demos above, for example, are in MP3 variable bit rate mode, with fairly low quality settings—set to vary from 65-105 kbps. (What this means—variable—is that where needed the quality will be a maximum of 105 kbps, but as low as 65 kbps if the algorithm “decides” a portion of the audio will sound adequate at a lower quality setting.)

SCRIPTS

You don’t want to use over-used scripts (old scripts found all over the internet), iconic scripts (everybody-knows-them famous, like the “most interesting man in the world), or scripts that are too old.

An easy way to get appropriate scripts is to listen to voice over demos, find talent who are similar to you, and transcribe the spots you think are the best fit for you. Listen to talent at LA and NY talent agencies and you are most likely to be listening to fresh scripts. You can change dates, places, product names—whatever you wish when editing scripts that you transcribe.

MUSIC & PRODUCTION

It needs to sound like music that has been used in a commercial. The easiest way to find and license this kind of music is to search Audioblocks music by combining moods and genres, and a sign up for a cheap one-month Audioblocks membership to license and download all the music you like. Listen to clips of yourself on repeat while you listen to various music options to determine what might go best with your chosen voice over performances. Use a free browser plugin such as Volume Master so you can turn the music volume up or down while it plays in your browser and only download the music that you like best.

PRODUCTION: Less is more! Do NOT show off production skills at all, that is one the most obvious signs of a non-professional commercial demo, or that you have a radio production background. Yes, I have had agents specifically call out over production as a reason to not continue listening! This is about your voice, not the production behind it.

CONTRAST

Each clip must contrast with the one before and after it.

The voice should come through more prominently than the music/sound effects (SFX), but the music/SFX should be “present” enough to add emotion (music should be neither too loud nor be so quiet as to be barely noticeable).

Contrast simply means that two clips in a row don’t seem the same. BUT! Use your best, most authentic performances. Don’t simply plan “variety”—use the highest quality acting from your performances/recordings.

However, if there is sufficient difference between the clips, any specific similarities can be overlooked. They need to FEEL different, not necessarily follow exact rules. But, here are the rules for achieving CONTRAST:

Category (topic type)

Avoid two in a row about cars, makeup, healthcare, etc. In general, you should only have ANY topic once or twice overall, three times max. However, if we can NOT tell from the words chosen what category the clip is, it doesn’t matter where you place clip as far as category is concerned.

Emotional style

First, avoid stylistic repeats, such as avoid two energetic in a row, two serious in a row. If there are other significant differences between styles, this is allowable, however.

But mainly: YOU need to sound like you are talking about different topics, sharing different emotions, not identical topics/emotions only with different words. This is tough for new talent, you will tend to sound the same on everything until you get better.

Music

The style and energy of music needs to contrast from clip to clip.

HOME STUDIO QUICK FIX

If your home studio isn’t quite as good as you’d like, be sure you limit how much your voice echoes back to the microphone by making sure your mic is pointed at the quietest portion of your space. For example, that means if you put acoustic baffling in a corner, stand in the corner and face OUT, so the microphone is pointed INTO the corner. If you face the corner, the microphone will be pointed behind you into the noisy room!

Voice Capture Box. Everyone should do this: Put some sound deadening material (e.g. a towel or blanket) in a shallow box, put your script in the box, and put the box on your copy stand. That way your voice will be partly deadened before it can echo around the room because you are speaking into the box.

SPEECH

Group words together into clumps. Don’t space them all out from one another.

This is what we call a cadence issue: We speak naturally in clumps of words. Well-known example: “Know what I mean” sounds like “no-whuta-meen” in common speech. That does NOT mean you should have bad articulation, but words must blend together as they do in natural speech.

Spacing out sentences/phrases from each other with long pauses is the same problem. Ideas connect and flow in natural speech. Sentences shouldn’t feel like individual performances recorded separately, like lines in a poem.

Example Script: Studies indicate kids who learn music excel in reading, science and math.

Avoid the feeling of of a run-on sentence. It should NOT sound like you’re rushing to the end of the sentence “Studies-indicate-kids-who-learn-music-excel-in-reading-science-and-math.”

Here is an one possible grouping: Studies indicate—kids who learn music—excel in reading—science and math.  This does NOT mean add pauses!  It means that “studies indicate” should flow together slightly, and “indicate kids” should not flow together quite as much..

Also, do not isolate words for emphasis. It should not, for example, sound like “Studies indicate Kids. Who. Learn. Music. excel in reading, science and math. “

Articulation and Accent

You must articulate accurately, but still sound natural.

Example Script: “I am going to downtown.”

Relaxed speech version: “I’m going tuh downtown”.

The trick is to make the cadence and emphasis FEEL like “I’m going tuh” but actually articulate all the pieced accurately. When you try too hard, it sounds like “I. AM. GO-ING. TOO” Be accurate, but sound casual.

Sounding the Same All the Time

This is a tough one when you’re new. Tip: Rank your performances by authenticity—only use your best acting. Don’t just try to “sound different”—you’ll simply sound fake and end up using your worst acting instead of your best by trying for “variety”. You should “cheat” on this a bit by concentrating on having contrast between your takes on your end product (scroll up to “‘Contrast’ defined.”)

Get Your Demo Evaluated

Because many people ask for demo evaluations, if you want us to evaluate your demo, your demo clips MUST follow the rules. We do evaluations at a very, very low cost, but since most people do NOT follow the rules before sending a demo, we charge $1.99 for a step 1 preliminary evaluation— 1️⃣ click here to order a preliminary evaluation, (but first read this page) which takes 1-3 days, but often much faster.

After receiving your preliminary evaluation, if you bring your demo into compliance (or if it is already in compliance), step 2 is a summary evaluation. 2️⃣Click here to order a summary evaluation for $7.99. This will touch on your brand voice and money voice, point out performance flaws and how to fix them, and give reasons and suggestions for improvements as well as provide an overall rating. If you did not order a Step 1 preliminary evaluation first, you will be refunded $5.99 and given a preliminary evaluation instead. (If you want detailed followup such as a detailed practice program, production or music-matching tips, we can provide that as well for an additional cost).