Just want to know what to do to produce your own clips? Click here or scroll down.
If you want your demo evaluated by us, YOU MUST FOLLOW these rules. We will evaluate how well you follow these rules.
What to Consider Before Doing a Demo Reel
Are you under the assumption you must have a certain kind of demo in order to “be a voice talent”? If that’s all you know—you probably don’t know enough. Do NOT get your advice from the people who sell demos—or the people they’ve sold them to, or “general internet forum advice”.
Generally, anyone telling you “make a good demo” is leaving out a lot. Some folks make a fulltime income from demos that are little more than “Hi, my name is [name] and I will do [area]-accented voiceover for your commercial sot or educational video….” etc. Getting a “better” demo often has little relation to making “better” money.
1. What’s It For?
- Has someone in the industry that you are NOT paying money to asked you for your demo? Sometimes the “ask” is actually a way to get you to buy demo services from someone, “We’d love to add you to our roster if you would provide an updated demo (and by the way you can pay us to update your demo for you.”)
- Are you posting it on an online marketplace like Upwork, Voices.com, Fiverr or Casting Call Club?
- Your finished demo will generally need to be playable as a video these days, either with a still picture or moving images (e.g. stock video clips). It will also need to be available as an audio-only mp3 file. Click here for a sample of a traditional VO demo that has been converted into a VO “Sizzle Reel”.
- Are you updating an existing demo?
2. Is Your Studio Good Enough?
Have you attached enough to the back of your microphone? If you don’t have at minimum a folded fuzzy bath towel on the back of the mic, your studio isn’t as good as it could be. ON the back of the mic is Zone 1—the most important space in your studio, acoustically speaking, and a space you have a lot of control of.
Most agencies now require you to be able to work remotely, so you need access to a studio or your home studio needs to be good enough. You don’t have to solve your studio issues today, but putting a lot of effort into a demo is a waste of time if you don’t have anywhere to record from.
3. Acting Quality
None of the effort is worth it if you can’t produce good acting working on your own. This is difficult and confusing. You may know a lot and have taken training and been produced—but that doen’t mean you’re good at producing yourself. Generally make sure you are speaking in groups of words—chunks or “clumps”, and don’t punch any words. Punching is for sports announcers, promos, and radio DJs, not for professional voice talent.
4. Choice of Scripts
If you’re not sure what to include, a mixture of not-too-famous commercials—a commercial demo—has been best, traditionally. And that’s still a good approach today. But with the rise of marketplaces vs agency work, including some educational narrative on your demo (as for e-learning videos) is your best option if you will be posting your demo on a marketplace.
5. Production Quality
Even if your studio is good enough, you still have to set the gain on your mixer correctly, position yourself properly on mic, deliver finished audio that is within an appropriate RMS range, connect tracks together appropriately, etc. Scroll down to learn more about the basics of demo production.
6. MOST IMPORTANT‼
- Yes, we can help you make a demo, but NO this article is NOT to get us to help make your demo! This is YOU making your demo. These are tips for YOU to follow. You choose clips, you put them together, etc. If you want our help, or to have us to choose clips, edit audio together, etc. contact us.
- Radio folks: Do NOT include anything related to a radio station!
- Your first track/clip must have a real person speech pattern in the first three seconds.
- For demos that are primarily a collection of commercial clips (most common) each clip must sound like it could have come from a collection of actual commercials of your voice only.
Generally, one or 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 (more than three clips) demo until you have already produced a demo with three great clips that are authentic and different from one another. Clips are short! 5-11 seconds. Read more about that below. Just produce one great clip before attempting three.
Here’s a sample of a voice over video format—the “sizzle reel”:
👉 ORDERING AN EVALUATION
You MUST read all the way through the post below before ordering an evaluation!
A $11 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. Allow several weeks to receive your evaluation.
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.
Here is the “What to do” section:
Let’s start with two demo samples. Each is the first demo produced for two non-professional talent, mixed for them at the School of Voiceover. Scroll below the Audio Samples . For more detail, read Rules for Commercial Demos.
Just want to start with a quick overview of the guidelines—what you need to know to create your own demo? Scroll down or click here. Otherwise, start by listening and reading the notes on two recent demos:
Demo Audio Samples:
Female Demo Sample
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
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 how all tracks are heavily compressed—lots of blue, very little gray—low RMS. As we point out under Basics 1.1 and 1.2 (below) you need to max out your levels a bit, starting with compression to lower the RMS (increase the loudness).
Next, notice 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
Want to hear and see demo samples? Scroll up to here. I will use the term clip interchangeably with track to mean the same thing: an individual commercial on your demo.
Make your voice loud BEFORE adding music: You MUST use compression to achieve maximum amplitude (loudest moments at peak), and make quiet parts louder.
RMS is a kind of measure of the overall energy of sound. You can think of it visually as the ratio between the colored part you seen on screen (the sound) in your DAW (such as Audacity), and the background. The more sound there is covering up the background, more sound energy there is.
Here is a copy of the image from one of the above demos, for what compressed audio should “look like”:
Each clip should be under 12 seconds; no “stand alone” music—no music before or after voice; words and music must be COMMERCIAL, this is an evaluation of a commercial demo (how to measure RMS in Audacity).
Running compression at more a ratio greater than 3.5:1 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.
1.1.1 Make voice loud—maximum level/0dB AND loud RMS/high compression ratio
There should be no visual “gap” between music peaks and the top of the track in your software. Many of your peaks should be at or very near maximum (0dB). Minor clipping is expected once music is added to voice.
1.1.2 Voice should not fade in or out unintentionally.
1.2 Track levels should be at maximum. RMS 10-14
Any overall RMS below 14 is good, though opinions vary. The main part of a specific take, excluding any fades (and minimizing vocal and music quiet parts if needed) should be below 12.
There is no limit to compression/RMS—as long as it sounds good, it’s okay for a demo. In practice something a compression ratio between 4:1 and 12:1 is typical for voice compression. You can measure RMS in Audacity via the Analyze Menu > Measure RMS. (If you don’t see “Measure RMS”, enable it via Analyze > Add / Remove Plug-ins… to open the Plug-in Manager dialog. Enable “rms” which will appear as “Measure RMS”.)
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 5-11 seconds long. Yes, they have gotten shorter over the years. A few alternate clips (interjections) can be 1-3 seconds (in between longer clips). However, your first clip on a multi-clip sample must be 6 seconds or less! Why? If an experienced industry insider is still listening, after a few seconds, you must show them what else you can do. Hook them with the first three syllables and first three seconds, wrap up, pull them into the second clip. An exception might be if the first clip shows a lot of range within it, but insiders still think “I get it, what’s next?” after a few seconds. Shorter is better.
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.
3.1 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: Any format you care to submit in is fine. Submit by email. 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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 $7 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 $10. 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 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).