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To achieve success as a self-producing voiceover artist, you need to be much more than a good recording engineer.
Do you have a great voice? Maybe you’re not the world’s best singer, but you might still have a good speaking voice. Couple that with a home studio, and you could consider a sideline as a self-producing voiceover artist. Making money as a voiceover artist used to mean living in a big city, mailing out demos, and sitting in traffic in between auditions. As with the music industry, though, affordable recording gear, home studios, and the broadband Internet have reshaped the job. A work-at-home mum in Manchester can record a phone greeting for a travel agency in Rome; an actor in New York can narrate a video for a tire company in Russia.
There are now more opportunities in the voice-over industry than ever before, but competition has never been so fierce, so, in this short series of articles I’ll set out what you need to know to get started as a home-studio voice-over artist, and turn it into a paying job.
How Do You Make A professional Voice-Over Demo?
An impressive voice over demo will lead casting directors to hire you for voice over projects and help launch your voice acting career. Almost every professional voice actor has a high-quality demo that exhibits their strengths and works to establish their personal brand. Here, we’ll explore how to produce your first voice over demo and, as a result, how to strengthen your chances of getting hired for the best voice over jobs.
What is a Voice over Demo?
A voice-over demo is a short audio clip that best showcases your voice acting capabilities. It is essential to record a voice over demo in order to attract prospective clients who are seeking the precise vocal qualities that you possess. A voice-over demo is like a business card, headshot, and résumé all wrapped into one.
Why Do You Need a Voice-Over Demo?
The voice-over industry is immensely competitive. In order to land the roles you want, it is crucial that you do all you can to stand out as a voice actor. A strong voice over demo will help you achieve exactly that. They are an essential marketing tool in order to individuate yourself in a crowded industry. If you don’t have at least one voice over demo online and readily available for prospective clients to listen to, you’re very likely to lose out on valuable work.
However, you should never settle for creating just one demo.
The truth is, when you offer several samples of your work through a variety of voice acting demos, you set yourself apart from others and give clients a sound to remember you by and allows you to demonstrate your versatility as a voice actor. In some cases, a demo can also serve as an audition for a job, although the majority of clients will incorporate script excerpts into their voice over job postings that they will request applicants read as part of their audition.
What Is The Ideal Duration of a Voice over Demo?
Your voice over demo can range between 30 seconds to 5 minutes, depending on the type of demo. However, the ideal length for a demo that features multiple spots is 60 to 90 seconds, so that the listener has ample time to appreciate your voice and what you can pull off. Anything shorter than 30 seconds runs the risk of not granting you enough time to fully demonstrate your capabilities.
In terms of understanding when demo length should vary, consider that commercial demos that showcase your skills performing radio and television ads should last around one minute. However, an audiobook demo will likely be longer, up to four or five minutes, in order to demonstrate your ability to stay in character for extended passages in a story, or possibly to provide voices from different characters in a section of dialogue. It makes sense to settle on a shorter demo, however, if you’re not planning on recording a compilation of spots and instead hope to portray a compact read of a 30-second commercial.
If you plan on uploading your demo to an online marketplace, you might want to keep it within the one minute margin, which equates to about 1 megabyte (MB). A 1MB file loads considerably fast and sounds crisp.
Your goal is to get as many people as possible to press play and listen to what you can do.
Sample Demo Structure
A standard demo that’s a minute in length should include about five spots, which are between five to fifteen seconds in length, give or take.
Here’s a blueprint for a standard 60-second demo:
- Spot 1: 15 seconds
- Spot 2: 15 seconds
- Spot 3: 10 seconds
- Spot 4: 10 seconds
- Spot 5: 5 seconds
Working with Short Attention Spans
Why should most demos be 30 to 60 seconds long? Well, most people, including your prospective clients, have shorter attention spans now than they used to. These diminished attention spans are then exacerbated by the fact that clients are skimming through numerous auditions in search of the right voice for their project. If your demo doesn’t grab your listener immediately, the opportunity is lost.
You want to instantly grip your prospective client’s attention and keep it firmly in your grasp, while succinctly demonstrating all that you’re capable of doing. If you ramble on for a long time, your listener’s interest will wane. As a result, you lose out on being noticed and contacted for an audition.
The skill to communicate in such a way that the listener both cares about what you’re saying and is able to retain the information and act upon it, is the primary goal of a good voice actor.
You’re battling for space in the listeners’ minds. If you want to get even the slightest piece of a client’s attention, or, ideally, their undivided attention, what you’re saying and how you’re saying it both need to be worth their while.
How Should Your Ultimate Voice-Over Demo Turn Out?
There are two main priorities in voiceover work: the message that you’re being asked to convey; and invisibility, by which I mean you never want people to notice your voice. This might sound counter-intuitive. After all, why not make your voice sound great? Well, you need the listener to focus on the message your client is paying you to get across, rather than your voice itself, so it needs to sound natural.
Even if you’re mixing yourself, it’s better to add EQ and compression-only when you can hear how it will sit with the soundtrack or special effects. Ultimately, it comes down to knowing what your voice will be used for and making a judgment.
Why the difference in approach? Lots of my e-learning and corporate jobs are done for production houses that will be adding other voices to the mix. Ironically, if I record my voice via a great mic and preamp, and add some nice processing, it can end up standing out from the other voices, drawing attention to itself. The production house will see this as me causing them a problem, even though my recording sounds better than the others
What Types of Voice-over Demos Can You Create?
There’s no limit to how you can apply voice-over. There are countless avenues of work in voice over that you can pursue and record voice over demos to showcase your skills in.
Here are some other fields that may be of interest to you
- Live announcement voice over
- A multilingual demo showcasing the different languages you speak
- Celebrity impressions
- Emotion-oriented demos (showcasing your ability to read in different vocal styles)
- Tour guide for places of interest, local attractions, and museums
- Age-specific voice demos
- Movie trailers
- Jingles and musical work
- Digital video ads
If you’re interested in any of the aforementioned areas and would like to hear what a well-produced demo for any of them can sound like, peruse the demos on the voice acting profiles for some inspiration.
Once again, and this cannot be stressed enough, avoid the prospect of copyright infringement by using fictitious movies, names, places, etc.
Now that you’ve got a sense of what it takes to record a demo, as well as the kind of demo that will show off your range and make your voice shine, it’s time to talk about what it takes to actually record your voice.
How Do You Create A Professional Voice-Over At Home By Yourself?
One Head, Many Hats
You start off each job as a producer, consulting your client and getting briefed on the project at hand. Then you become an engineer, dealing with recording gear and software, setting the mic position and levels. Next, you step up to the mic as an actor, bringing the script off the page and connecting with the listener. Meanwhile, the director in you sits behind the metaphorical glass, making sure the actor doesn’t mispronounce a word or stumble through a passage of text. Then you’re an editor, cleaning up the best take and sending the resulting audio to your client. You need to be able to perform all of these roles to a high standard, and the better you are at each, the more your business will prosper
If you’re at all uncertain about clients expectations, whether about the performance, or about technical and organizational issues such as file formats or payment procedures, save yourself time and a headache by clearing up all doubts beforehand, and don’t hit the record button until your client has given you the green light by email. With that sorted, you can more easily don your other hats and get on with the job.
The engineering role will probably be the most familiar to regular SOS readers, and the issues of technical quality for digital audio in voiceover work are no different than they are for any other recording session. The key difference is that some clients will expect you to deliver 48kHz files instead of the 44.1kHz ones that are usually used in the music business. The 48kHz sample rate ensures that there’s an integer number of audio samples for each frame of a standard 24 or 25 frames-per-second video recording.
As the engineer, your key job is to select and set up the recording space, choose and position the microphone, set levels and make sure you’re recording a good, clean signal at a healthy level. Like music, the louder the signal you want to record, the less audible the noise floor, but you don’t want to have to speak louder than sounds natural, and you don’t want to overcook things when tracking: any distortion will be very noticeable on an exposed voice part, and an otherwise great take with digital clipping won’t be acceptable. If you notice clipping only when you start editing, software clip restoration tools might help to make the take usable, but it’s not going to be perfect. Remember that although you may have needed to record ‘hot’ on analog tape and older 16-bit digital recording systems, modern 24-bit A-D converters can accommodate a much wider dynamic range, so you no longer have to track so loud: you can leave much more headroom.
Finally, as you complete more work, you can end up with a lot of different files from your projects, so good ‘housekeeping’ of your sessions and recordings is a must.
A great performance recorded on mediocre gear will always sound better than a mediocre performance recorded on great gear. By preparing well, before the session, you’ll find it far easier to relax and focus on the message and the listener. As a producer, it’s important to be clear what the expected format is for the final audio file. Although there are certain ‘standards’, your clients’ expectations will vary. Read through the script, look up any questionable words and check their pronunciation. If you don’t know how to pronounce the name of a person or city, try searching YouTube for news reports on the subject.
When you come to actually record your voice, try to think of the mic as the ear of your listener. Picture your listener, have an opinion and read the script as if the words were coming to mind that instant. The distance between your mouth and the mic should be about the same as the distance between your thumb and pinkie when making a hang-five gesture. Just make sure that you use an American English or UK English (or another language!) version as appropriate. (Remember, while you have your engineer hat on, to take account of this when setting levels.) Always use a pop shield, and I’d suggest trying to work slightly off-axis, as talking to a point just to the right or left of the mic will prevent bursts of air and drops of saliva ruining your recording. I’d also recommend wearing headphones over one ear only, as this allows you to judge volume and listen for clipping and plosives on the recording, while also hearing your natural voice, which makes it easier to focus on that message we talked about.
It’s a good idea to record with one ear free from your headphones, as this helps you to deliver a more natural performance. When recording solo, I find the role of director the hardest to play. How can you lose yourself in the moment if you’re on the lookout for mistakes? If you stop each time you mispronounce a word or use the wrong intonation, your spoken-word recording will sound choppy and unnatural. It’s for this reason that I’d recommend to record each job twice. The first time, you push the director out of the room and focus on the message. If possible, you even let the soundtrack of the video you are narrating a play quietly in your headphones, and you don’t stop for mistakes any more than you would if you were telling a story to a friend. During the second take, you let the director back into the room, to make sure you pronounce everything correctly and emphasize the correct information, though you still try to keep the performance honest and natural.
Because you’ve prepared properly, the first take is often the one you end up editing and sending to your client. The second is simply there as a safety net, in case you need to replace any mistakes while editing. It’s much better to capture such drop-ins during the same session as the main performance, as you can be sure that the mic will be in the same place and your voice will have a similar character in both takes.
As editor, you need to turn the raw recording into the final version of the file you’ll be sending to your client. Editing during a recording session can be problematic, and particularly so if you’re recording in a domestic environment. How can you expect to hear the drone of the dishwasher ruining your recording if the dishwasher is still running as you edit? You’ll look in more detail at setting up a voiceover recording studio next time, but for now, if recording in a separate room or isolated booth isn’t an option, at least try to edit the file the following morning (or maybe at night) when there’s less noise around, because hearing your recording with a fresh ear and in a quieter environment will help you to make better editing decisions, and will reveal noises that slipped your attention earlier.
Background Room Sound
A better, more natural-sounding way to clean up a voice recording, though, is to paste in strips of ‘silence’ that showcase your home studio at its best. To do this, wake up early (i.e. when your house is quiet), turn on your gear and set your levels for a normal job. Then record a full minute of silence at whatever bit depths and sample rates you’re likely to be using. Repeat this process for each different mic you use, and save each file in a folder titled Room Tones, or something similarly suitable
Congratulations! You should now have a finished voiceover recording. Save a final copy with the extension _master and use this version to save another copy in the format requested by the client. But don’t think your job is done when you hand everything back to your producer-self. Running a profitable home-based voiceover business takes more than building and equipping a home studio and recording and editing audio files. You still have to design a web site, launch a marketing campaign, and secure new clients.