Got your demo?
Jul 16 2014
Tell someone in the entertainment or production business that you’re a voice artist, and the next words you’ll hear are, “Got your demo?” Among knowledgeable people in a position to hire you, it happens close to 100% of the time.
This scenario used to be sort of frustrating for talent. After all, few voice artists could carry a tape, cassette or CD everywhere they went, let alone afford to hand them out like Halloween candy.
How lucky we are nowadays. You can simply give someone your business card, which should have a simple URL for reaching your demo(s) online.
That’s if you have a demo. If you don’t, the request for one can feel more frustrating than ever. But fight the urge to produce a demo before you’re ready.
Buck up, s**k it up and stick to your plan to record a professional grade demo. Instead of hearing demo requests as a frustration, hear them as an opportunity to aim for. Now.
The window of opportunity is a fairly narrow one, because when you are ready to produce your demo, that’s the time to do it. Releasing a not-ready-for-prime-time demo can k**l a budding career, but not producing it when you are ready is obviously also not career enhancing.
1. You absolutely need a demo. Even with extensive training, obvious aptitude, innate VO performance skills, a distinctive natural voice, and everything else that goes into the making of a great voice artist, it’s all for naught until someone hires you. And, unless that prospective client is your cousin or something, consider the situation from their point of view: How much of a pro can you be if you don’t even have a demo? Even if that person is your cousin, or a studio owner, or whatever, they will probably need to refer you to their client or a partner in the hiring decision. What do they say to that person? “Trust me”? That hardly puts them in a businesslike situation. They need a demo. So you do, too.
2. Don’t produce your first demo yourself. As lawyers say, it’s a bad attorney who has himself as a client. Get the benefit of objective insight and a fresh set of ears, by working with a knowledgeable demo coach.
Notice that word: a demo coach. Some people know voice over. Some people know the VO business. Your demo coach should know both — how to get you to do your best voice work, and the state of the VO industry as it stands today (and is headed tomorrow). As with any coach, choose a pro whose judgment you trust and who you enjoy working with. Someone who is truly encouraging and constructive in directing your performance and plans, yet who is also candid in the advice they give.
3. Don’t get sidetracked. Preparing your first demo is a big, important project. Exactly the sort of thing that many people tend to put off until “tomorrow.” Cleaning the garage is important, but not more urgent than this. Painting the bedroom is not going to enhance your budding career. Even mowing the lawn can wait, if you haven’t done your VO practice and demo prep for today.
Prepare two schedules. One is a macro schedule, worked out with your coach. At the far end is your intended demo production date. Between now and then, there should be waypoints, such as genre evaluation, script development, marketing materials and strategy, etc. You can adjust the schedule as you go, but have one.
The other is a daily schedule. As a VO pro, you already practice and do vocal exercise 15 minutes a day, right? (Right?) Add demo development tasks to that schedule. Make everything bite-sized. Write one script. Record a track. (Recording your demo tracts at different times will help them sound more like real jobs, which rarely sound exactly alike.)
4. Pursue tasks in parallel. For example, the “marketing materials and strategy” mentioned above. Some people find themselves equipped with a spanking-new demo … and nothing else. How frustrating is that, to have a demo ready to send, and no marketing materials to send it with! So include that stuff in your daily schedule. Business cards, packaging (see below), stationery, cover letter(s), graphics (and maybe building a relationship with a graphic designer), reproduction plans, etc.
5. Good news! You don’t have to spend a lot of time designing a CD cover. Because CD’s have become pretty scarce in the past several years. Demos are now distributed by email, URLs, and thumb drives. But, you never know. Someone might ask for a CD. If you have a current demo in a CD case ready to give them, that’s going to make you that much more distinctive a professional. So you might want to have a few on hand, with a plan for how you will replace and update them now and then in limited quantity.
Branding is a funny thing. Sometimes a really creative idea will get you noticed, but won’t get you the job. For example, a “microphone” shaped (or printed) drive will distinguish the drive from one full of spreadsheets, but what does it tell the recipient about you, and (more importantly) what you can do for them? To hone our thumb-drive example: if your name is “Smith” and you have a really distinctive “comfortable” mature, friendly voice, which gimmick better expresses your sound (and thus your benefit) — an anvil? Or a nice worn, comfy shoe?
Remember, you don’t gotta get a gimmick. If a great idea doesn’t come to mind, stick to basics, and focus on the more important goal.
6. Know how you will customize your demo. With demos sent by email and copied onto thumb drives, it’s easier than ever to customize a demo to precisely match the prospect you’re sending it to. It might be a simple change — like putting certain content or style as your first or second cut. Have a plan for when and how you will do this. In some contexts (e.g., your website), you‘ll have a more “generic” demo. Or demos — it’s often the case that talent segments their stuff so prospects can go to precisely the subgenre or style they’re interested in. This is something to work out with your coach.
7. When it’s time, it’s time. To adapt a statement from those old wine commercials voiced by Orsen Welles, “At Edge Studio, we will produce no demo before it’s time.”
But when you’re ready to pull the trigger, pull it! Many qualified voice artists keep putting it off. Maybe they don’t have the rest of their act together yet. Or they subconsciously (and rather irrationally) fear failure. Or they figure, “one more clip and it’s perfect.”
This is known as the “Ready, aim … ready, aim … ready, aim” syndrome.
The solution, as we’ve tried to outline here, is to get ready now. Set your goal and remember what you’re aiming at. And when you’ve reached that point … when you’re qualified and prepared to produce your demo, do it. That’s the only way you’ll set the industry on fire.