3 Things You Should Not Do with Voiceover Demos

Phil Sutfin (co-founder of ACM Talent Management), Erik Sanchez (Casting/Track Director at Sticky Audio Labs), and Jim Kennelly (producer at Lotas Productions) speak about “The 3 Dont’s of Voiceover Demos”

Three established professionals in voiceovers talked to Realtime Casting about those things in voiceover demos that often work against a voice talent.

Hil Sutfin Realtime Casting ACM

Phil Sutfin, ACM Talent

Phil Sutfin – Co-founder at ACM Talent Management
1. Don’t cheap out. Your demo is a calling card. Don’t cut corners on quality. Your demos should have all the bells and whistles to show your best. How much it costs may depend on where you live, but make sure if you are seeking to find an agent, make sure the quality of the demo echoes the market you are trying to work in. If you cannot afford to make a demo, wait until you can afford it. You will save money that way.

2. Don’t try to throw everything and the kitchen sink into a demo. Agents are looking for a signature sound. If you think you do everything, you had better know that everything you do is undeniably great. If not, it will only be a distraction. a former colleague once added, “Every one wants to think they can be every color of the rainbow, when they may do just as well serving one color of the spectrum.”

3. Don’t let your demo go stale. Keep your demo updated every year, if you can. If you have aged out of your demo, it is time to make a new one. That one demo you find perfect will not be the one you use forever. Make sure you update your demo as much as you can with new work, even if that means once a year. Fresher is always better. Why? Clients want to catch you in the moment when others are hiring you as well.

Sticky Audio Labs and Realtime Casting

Erik Sanchez, Sticky Audio Labs

Erik Sanchez – Casting/Track Director at Sticky Audio Labs
1. Don’t try and do too much. Allow the listener to hear the focus on your strengths as a talent, and not the weaknesses. If you can do one thing REALLY well, there is a possibility of having a career based around that one thing.

2. Somewhat related: Don’t save the good stuff for the end. Put your strongest work first. You stand a chance of keeping a person listening.

3. Subjectively speaking: The feeling I personally have is that if you are making a demo, choose well-known brands and concentrate on making the listener feel good about listening to you. Of course, there are exceptions, but the majority of the time (a voiceover demo) with depressing, serious, or sad spots just takes away from the “excitement of the ride of listening to a voiceover demo”. You want your voiceover demo to take the listener for a fun ride.

jim kennelly realtime casting rates

Jim Kennelly, Lotas

Jim Kennelly – Producer at Lotas Productions/ GM Realtime Casting.
1. Don’t make the demo too long. The shorter and more specific a demo the better. I need a demo that loads quickly and demonstrates exactly what style of voice I’m listening for, or my client is trying to find. Short and to the point. A :30 or :45 second sample is plenty. I make decisions on who to audition very quickly. I won’t listen to 2:00 minutes to find a little sample.

2. Don’t create a voiceover demo that cannot be sold to others. When I listen to a demo I’m thinking about one thing, “Can I sell this voice?” That’s it. And that’s exactly what you want me to be thinking. Voiceover is a business and we’re all trying to be successful.

3. Don’t leave your best work for last. Put your best voice up front. Put your “real” spots up front. Don’t make a producer search for a good voice and don’t waste anyone’s time. “First Impressions” are everything with your voiceover demo. Your voice demo is made for me to like your voice. You want your demo to make me send you a script and invite you to audition. Once you start to audition for me, I’ll quickly know if your demo accurately represents you. And hopefully, I’ll better understand your talent, your voice and how we can start working together.

About the blog contributors:
Phil Sutfin
Prior to co-founding ACM, Phil has been at the vanguard for the voice-over industry as both a talent manager and agent at International Creative Management. At ICM, Phil stood at the helm of one of the largest voice-over commercial departments in the country offering complete services in commercials, promos, narration, animation and celebrity endorsements. Most recently, Phil founded Flatirons Creative Management; a specialized voice-over management firm emphasizing innovations, personal attention and collaborative relationships between voice-over clients and industry creatives. As a talent agent, Phil founded the renowned on-air promotions department at SEM & M before directing the New York commercial division at ICM.

Erik Sanchez
Erik is a thirteen-year casting veteran and former talent agent whose stops have included Sound Lounge, and International Creative Management in Los Angeles and New York. Erik’s focus at Sticky is voice casting & directing for commercials, radio, promos, digital shorts and narrations. Erik enjoys rare expertise on both coasts including Toronto as well as extensive knowledge of new media and celebrity talent and negotiations.

Erik’s past clients include such brands as AT&T, Geico, Ford, Chrysler, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Gatorade, UPS, Dominos, AOL, Claritin and Kraft. His work also spans dozens of advertising agencies including BBDO, Leo Burnett, Y&R, Ogilvy & Mather, The Martin Agency, J. Walter Thompson, Droga, Digitas & MTV. Currently, he is working on a Celebrity Cruise Campaign and just finished casting the new Charter Communications TV campaign.

Jim Kennelly
For 30 years, Jim has been the director, producer and owner of Lotas Productions. He specializes in finding the right voice for commercial voice-overs, creative radio spots, documentary and corporate narrations and global communications. Jim didn’t always enjoy the safety of the studio. After graduating Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications, he traveled microphone in-hand on a documentary crew to the world’s hot spots. Jim traveled the world three times to cover political, social and humanitarian aid subjects. From Southeast Asia, to the Middle East and Central America, he was an eyewitness to society’s challenges.

In 1985, Jim returned to New York to cast, record, direct and produce at Lotas Productions. He is known for his thorough and inventive casting based on his clients’ needs. Jim enjoys a national reputation in the voice industry for his honest insight and positive attitude. Jim is an experienced professional with global credentials and has established himself as a trusted expert in the voice-over industry.

Is your voiceover demo effective AND efficient?

Producer and audio engineer at Lotas Productions, Dylan Tishler, shares information on what makes an effective and efficient voiceover demo

Is your demo effective and efficient?
One of the challenges in a voice artist’s life is getting opportunities to display your full skill set. Face-time is almost impossible and emails are easy to forget and delete. It is especially important, that when asked to submit your voice over demo, it contains good samples and is packaged well.

At Realtime Casting we are constantly trying to get into the heads of producers and understand how they work. Young producers are under a lot of pressure, and now that everyone has smartphones, casting and production comes together more quickly.

Here are some ideas make your voice over demo more effective and efficient.

Shorter is better

Specifically, try to keep it under 90 seconds. There are many reasons why shorter is better. First, when a client is listening to 20-30 demos the time starts to add up. (*Note: always assume no one has time). If 30 demos are two minutes long, that is an hour of listening! That may not seem like a long time, but some projects are cast and recorded in less than a day.

Second, most young producers are working from their phones. Shorter demos mean less data storage, which makes loading time faster. Think about it. When you’re on Youtube or Facebook how long does it take for a video or image to load, before giving up. For me, once I’ve seen some spinning “loading” icon for five seconds, I’m exhausted. I’ve already moved on.

Warning! Loading is hazardous to your success

Third, quicker loading time is even more important now in the wake of Net Neutrality, as Steven Lowell explained last month.


Technical stuff!
Don’t be the demo that takes forever (5+ seconds) to load. To ensure your demo loads fast the demo should be an MP3, 128kbps, mono or stereo. To my audiophile friends out there, I say this, “Don’t worry. Producers aren’t listening for sonic quality as much as the tone and character of your voice. When the recording session takes place, the quality will be great.”

Order is important
It’s good to show some variety in your reel. If you have a few different commercial “sounds”, try to showcase them all within the first 45 seconds. For example, an Olay spot and a Dove soap spot will likely both feature a soft, soothing, warm voice. You can use both of these spots in your demo, but it would be wise to not put them spots back-to-back. To a producer it may sound like the same thing twice, which is inefficient use of their precious time. Unless it’s absolutely you’re best work, try to put your longer samples towards the end. In crunch time, your client might only be listening to the first 30-45 seconds.

Isn’t it a pain getting a copy of a mixed spot back from your clients? This is one of the world’s great unknowns. If you’re fortunate and do have copies of spots that have aired, you should put those first. A producer might recognize the spot right away and remind them that yes, you are the real deal!

Keep a focus
If your file is labeled as commercial demo, try not to stray too far from that. It can be a little confusing to hear a Listerine spot followed by a few words in an Irish accent, then an IVR sample. Personally, I think you could sneak in a good narration sample, but I’d keep character voices and accents for a separate reel.

Present your demo to fresh ears

listening to demoIt always helps to get feedback from a fresh set of eyes or ears. This is true in almost any profession. Ask your friends, family, or peers. Sometimes I’ll work on a mix for a few hours to the point where I like it. Then I play it for someone and right away they think of an idea I never would have thought of by myself.

What I’m trying to say is that the spot you think you sound great on may just sound OK to others. And vice versa.

Some ideas for making cuts
Every spot is different so some of this advice may not apply. In general, beginnings and endings of commercials are solid, just like a well-written story. It’s often the stuff in the middle that is dispensable. For example, let’s look at this Tide laundry detergent script:

“When you find something you love, you want even more of it. And that’s why the new Tide Plus collection brings you more of what you love, like more freshness that lasts three times longer. And one cup of Tide gives you more cleaning power than six cups of the bargain brand. Also available in powder with Acti-lift Crystals. The new Tide Plus collection. What’s your tide?”

If you’re trying to cut this down, you could take out the third and fourth sentences, from “And one cup….Acti-lift crystals.” In commercials for consumer goods (especially P&G), there’s usually some line that explains the “technology” of a product … and it’s not crucial for your demo.

A demo is just like a résumé in that you want a potential employer to easily understand who you are and your voiceover ability.

resumeSo, take a listen to your demo. Is it easily accessible to producers on all platforms (phone, tablet, Windows, etc.)? Is it both effective and efficient for getting the work you want?