If you’ve read my book on getting started in voice over, you know I have two rules about voice over demos. They are:
Rule #1: Do not produce your own demo.
Rule #2: See rule number 1.
I don’t hold this opinion because I’m trying to sell demo production services. This post isn’t intended to be the wide end of a funnel enticing you to spend money with me. I’m telling you what I honestly think.
There are plenty of reasons for getting help with your demo, especially if it’s your first one in a particular VO genre, but in this post I’m going to focus on the big one:
Humans are usually not good at self-evaluation.
I think I’m a pretty good tennis player. But then I get on the court with someone who plays a notch above my skill level and it makes me realize how very not good at tennis I am. I can’t coach myself, because I can’t tell myself how to get better. If I knew how to get better, I’d be better!
A demo producer can provide new context and connect the dots in your performance in a way that you might not be able to hear. If you’ve got some training and work experience, that’s great. You have plenty of information in your head. But unless you can connect new information to the bigger picture of what you already know, you’ll miss out on critical moments of understanding. To avoid that, a little outside intervention goes a long way.
Your VO demos are a reflection of your current ability level. You want them to be as good as possible because they’re going to be heard by people who can help you reach your goals. Agents and potential clients are listening to new demos all the time. Yours has to be up to the competition and having someone else’s input can be the key to standing out in a good way.
Some of you might be with me on this, while others are seeing dollar signs flash before your eyes. Demo producers generally charge for their time, and it’s tempting to put that money to use in some other way, like for booth or gear upgrades.
But I think it’s important to know what you’re giving up should you choose to make your own demo.
The Value of an Outside Prospective
A good demo producer will help you define what you want to get our of your demo and find scripts to serve that purpose. They’ll organize the running order and cut away your less effective work so the best stuff can shine through. And most importantly, they’ll give you objective feedback to bring out your best performance.
It’s that feedback that’s the important part. We all make mistakes, but big ones can cost you far more than you’d think. Producers are there to help you make fewer mistakes, so you can present yourself like the pro that you are. Or at least you can sound like you’re a pro, without going so far as to make you sound 1000% more skilled than you actually are.
A knowledgable demo producer can also save you time so you can get your demos out there and start earning sooner. Working with an experienced partner can cut down on the humming and hawing that sometimes comes with figuring things out on your own. Good producers have efficient systems and techniques for building demos.
Another Reason To Hire It Out
If getting a great end product isn’t enough for you, consider that the more we have at stake, the harder we’ll work to make something happen. Duolingo, a language-learning app, commissioned a 2012 study of its user base done by Queens College and University of South Carolina. It revealed that success hinges on the student’s motivation. Know who benefited the most from the app? People studying in advance of a trip they had already paid for. People learning for casual interest gained the least.
The group who pre-paid for their airfare and accommodations had more invested in the task of learning how to converse in a new language. They imagined themselves far away from home, stuck in a foreign city with no way to communicate. It’s a powerless feeling. Learning the language of their destination allowed them to take some of that power back.
But comfort wasn’t the only determining factor of whether or not they completed the program. The act of paying for something made the task of learning more important, and the urgency motivated them to work harder. In short, they wanted to learn more than the casual learners.
Hiring a demo producer is a way to use your wallet to trick your brain into working harder to achieve your goals.
Choosing A Demo Producer
Not all demo producers are created equal. Never hire a producer who doesn’t have direct experience in the work category you’re going for. If I produced demos, I would never do an animation demo because I don’t work in that space. Experience matters in voice over. Go with someone with a proven track record.
How can you find a good producer? If you’re not brand new to the business and have some work history and training behind you, teachers and coaches are a good place to start. Working with someone who already knows you could be a great asset. My first demo was produced by my first teacher, who knew how to get the best out of my performance. Plus, teachers and coaches should be willing to tell you if you’re asking for help they can’t provide.
If you’re totally new to the business, the best way to find a good demo producer is to start with existing demos you like. Listen to voice talent in your age range and gender, then reach out to those actors and ask who produced the demos. Start with actors represented by agents, as they tend to have very professional-sounding materials.
This accomplishes two things at once: It gets you the name of a producer, and gets you a referral. You could also do this with agents. Many talent agency websites have their roster posted online, and a quick note to an agent asking where so-and-so got their demo produced not only gets you a referral, but introduces you to that agent. As long as your email is quick and friendly, you might get a reply. And who knows, maybe when you send your finished demo to the agent, they’ll remember you and give a listen.
Whoever you choose, their work history should be verifiable. If you can’t find them on iSpot.tv, IMDb.com or elsewhere online, at least ask for a list of former clients. Anyone who is proud of their work will gladly let you talk to people they’ve worked with before.
Searching YouTube or social media for a demo producer should be a last resort. Instead, rely on a recommendation from someone in the business.
Making your own demo is like painting your own house. Paint’s pretty cheap, so are brushes and rollers, and the job seems pretty straightforward. But if you’ve ever painted a whole house, you know it’s hard to make it look good. If you see a nice paint job and think, “I could do that,” it’s because a pro made it look easy. Same thing with voice demos.