The Demo Behind the Demo

Posted in For Beginners, For Pro's by Administrator on the September 10th, 2009

By Jim Conlan
Copyright Jim Conlan, Voice Overs 2009
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Never before have newcomers to the voice-over industry had so much helpful information in putting their demos together. There’s lots of great advice out there on how to match your style to the work that’s available – and how to engineer your demo so it sounds national from start to finish.

But (you knew there was a “but”) there’s one aspect of putting together a great demo that I think needs more attention. I call it “the Demo behind the Demo.” When you submit your demo, the unspoken agreement between you and the voice seeker is that if they hire you, you’ll be able to perform as brilliantly and effortlessly as your demo suggests.

In my work with newcomers, I find that their eagerness to jump in the water sometimes outweighs their readiness to perform. They want to get that demo done and start marketing it as soon as possible. That’s OK, but I like to ask them these three questions to make sure they’re ready.

- First, did the voice tracks you’ve recorded for your demo require a lot of editing?
I’m not talking about the occasional lift from another take, or a pickup that will turn a great read into a showstopper. I’m talking about the cobble job that disguises the fact you couldn’t get the phrasing right, or the timing, or you kept stumbling over the same phrase all morning. Practice until your basic delivery is good in every respect – then work on making it awesome.

- Second, if you’re hired for a job, can you perform as well as you sound on the demo without coaching?
I’ve had a lot of nervous clients tell me they wish they could bring me to their first gig. I make sure they have enough practice under their belts that they have loads of confidence in what they do. Granted, there are times when you’ll be hired to do a job outside your core expertise. Even then, you should still feel good enough about your skills that you can tackle it with confidence.

- And third, can you deliver on demand – how the client wants it and when the client wants it?
How the client wants it is often the hardest part to master. How can you predict what the client will really want? You need to be sure enough of your skills to handle the script, then be open enough to take direction. If you’re not sure what the director is asking for, ask questions. Astonishingly, we directors are not always great communicators. Regarding when the client wants it – you won’t often be told to “get it done when you can.” Although there’s often some flexibility to the recording schedule, you need to be able to commit to a session time. If you find that recording schedules are interfering with your “real job,” you may have some tough career choices ahead of you.

I believe that putting together a great demo is a Truth-in-Advertising issue. You need to develop enough expertise and confidence to actually do what your demo implies you can do… not what some magician-engineer or voice-over coach has made you sound like you can do.

In my introductory class, I ask people if they play a musical instrument. If any do, I ask, how well? Good enough for your own amusement? Good enough for friends and family? Or good enough to get up on stage and get paid for it? Our approach to becoming a professional voice-over talent should be the same. It takes years to become a professional anything. Why should voice overs be the exception?

If you take the time to prepare fully, you’ll provide voice seekers with more than a great-sounding demo. You’ll give them the services of a real pro who will get the job done just the way they expected it.