- Where do I start?
I think I have a great voice for commercials and stuff. Where do I start?
The truth is, most people have a good enough voice to do commercials….but, if you’re planning on making a living at it right away, don’t quit your day job!
First, ask yourself this: “Is it something I really, really want to do?”, or has someone told you that “you have a nice voice and you should do commercials….!”
Be honest with yourself, because it’s going to take you at least a couple of years (realistically) before you make any real money at it.
I get tons of e-mail from people wanting to get into the professional voiceover business.
The fact is, you need more skills than just a great voice to make it in a career as a professional voice talent.
Acting ability is paramount, as is your reading skills, your personality, communication skills, ability to take direction and control your vocal range.
Add to that list an agent and demo reel and you have your work cut out for you!
Again, a great or unique voice is only part of the battle.
- What is a ``Demo?``
What is a “demo?”
A voice-over demo is a sample of your vocal range and style and it serves a couple of purposes.
First, you need a professional voice talent demo to get an agent – because that’s the first thing they ask for. The agent needs a demo to supply to various clients and you need a vocal demo for continuing shameless self-promotion.
Buyer beware! There are a ton of people out there selling dreams and I get upset when I hear “I paid $700 for this demo and I still can’t get an agent”.
99.9% of the time, it’s because they didn’t get proper training or an honest critique on their voice. They spent all their time and resources on the same script(s), getting the “perfect take.” They put it all together with slick production and studio tricks and come up with a great demo.
The prospective agent says: “Great demo! OK, just jump behind the mic there and read these scripts…..”
The end result is, they’re completely lost and can’t perform behind a different mic, in front of a different person reading a different script in a different studio. “If you can’t do it cold now, you can’t do it cold in the studio.”
Words to live by in this business….believe it!
Some people have a gift for reading copy cold, others don’t. Before you go spend money on your demo, get an honest critique of your voice from a qualified, experienced coach or professional voice talent like myself 🙂
The places you should look out for is the studios that offer the “All In One” packages that include the critique, coaching and demo production for one price.
Of course they’ll say “your voice is going to be GREAT” (with a little coaching, wink, wink) because they want your MONEY.
If they (the “all in one” companies) are offering a demo tape for a weekend course, it will be very basic and chances are the other students will be using the same scripts and production elements on their demo as well – thus “branding” your tape when prospective agents hear it.
Get references, ask former customers, have a listen to a few demos they’ve produced and inquire with other agents and artists about their reputation.
The same holds true for Casting Directors. Every time I see the professional voice talent business slow down – I see a marked increase in the number of Casting Directors posting their flyers offering demo production services and “Voice Over Workshops.”
Of the people you should look out for, Casting Directors can be particularily shifty – because they hold the power to get you the gig – in other words, they can and will use that power to get money from you.
Not all of them are bad, but when it comes to Casting Directors, be sure to get references first…..(they will always send you to their “favorite” voices so you want to ask people who have recently taken their course).
- Sound of a voiceover demo
What should my voiceover demo sound like?
OK, your basic Professional Voice Talent demo…!
Well, there’s nothing “basic” about it, really – there’s a great deal involved in making a proper VO demo. Before you do anything, you should have already done some basic training and you should be able to walk into a professional recording studio and perform the material on your demo without a problem.
You need to have a separate demo for each “format” of work you want to do voiceover in. IE: Commercials, Narration, On Hold, etc. Each demo should be a minute to 90 seconds in length. There should be 8-12 small segments of commercials tightly edited together.
Only put on your demo what you can perform comfortably. In other words, if it took you 12 takes to nail 10 seconds of your impression of Arnold Schwartznegger…..don’t put it on your demo. Accents? Only if it’s your mother tongue.
If a producer wants an Australian accent, they normally hire an Australian. The key is to not “force” anything; if you can’t pull it off in heartbeat, then don’t put it on your demo.
As far as sound is concerned….well, it should “sound” like you’ve worked in a few studios…therefore, it should “sound” archival. One clip should sound like a TV spot, the one next to it a radio commercial, the one after that an Infomercial…etc.
Try to avoid having more than two of the same “styles” run back to back so it doesn’t all sound the same. A professional recording studio should use a minimum of three different mics when recording to change-up the overall sound and give the illusion that you’ve worked in a few different studios.
Many people ask me “what sort of scripts do I need?” Whatever you want, really. Grab something off the TV; it’s being broadcast. Change a few words around…whatever.
It’s a voiceover demo – you’re not going to have a lawyer at your front door because you used a few lines off a shampoo commercial on the voiceover demo you’ve posted on Voice123.
Where you can get into trouble is using popular music.
I once heard a talent use a Frank Sinatra tune on his demo. Now, the likelihood of him being sued was tantamount to winning the lottery.
However, where he screwed up was using the Sinatra tune with his voice behind it, which was pretty average. You see, if a producer is using a Sinatra tune behind a real commercial, then that means “big budget” , because the rights to use the song on a commercial would be about $10,000. “Big budget” means…..”professional talent.”
“Professional talent” means the producer is using a casting agent, not wading through the festering heap of parrot droppings that is Voice123.
So, to conclude….if a producer hears a Frank Sinatra tune behind a really bad VO he’s going to quickly conclude that it’s a homemade demo.
That said, your biggest challenge producing a demo is not to misrepresent yourself.
While you’re here, have a listen to my demos.
I have a total of 14, because I’m capable of voicing in 14 different formats. Though 14 demos are a lot for the average VO talent, listening will give you an idea about what I’m talking about regarding different demo “formats.”
There are also many other sites on my links page where you can listen to dozens of different demos.
- Making a voice talent demo
Who do I get to make my voice talent demo?
You should take your time getting a producer and producing your professional voice talent demo.
First of all, as mentioned already, get your voice critiqued by a professional in the business and find out if you’ve got the chops to make a run at the voice over biz. Your producer will help you choose some scripts that enhance your range and style and decide what kind of sound effects and music beds you should have on each commercial.
You can usually find someone in radio who will produce your demo. Radio people not only have the experience in producing audio commercials, they also have all the sound effects, music beds and scripts at their disposal.
More often than not, they use the equipment at the radio station they work for so they don’t have any overhead, which means you only pay for their time, not for the studio. Again, buyer beware.
There are people in radio who will rip you off too. I know a guy who paid $2500 for his (average) demo – the producer was charging $250 an hour. I don’t care how good a producer is, if he/she is charging that kind of money – then they better be doing a “Los Angeles” job on your demo!
I would negotiate a “package” deal. Tell the producer you want 3, 1- minute demos Commercials, Narration and Character…..see what he/she says. For something good, expect to pay between $1000 – $1200.
I produce professional VO demos – but not for everyone.
You must first get a critique, pass that test….and then maybe I’ll consider producing a demo for you – if…..and only “if” I feel you’ve got the chops to recoup your costs in a short period of time.
- Learning voiceover skills
Can voiceover skills be taught?
I moved this content into the Articles and Reviews section of the website. You can click on this link here; your browser will open up a new tab.
- Voice talent agents and fees
Some voice talent agents have requested fees to be on their talent reel, website, etc. Is this the norm?
It depends on a few variables. Union agents don’t normally charge talent to be on their roster. Union rates are much higher – the agent makes enough on commissions to cover their promotional costs.
Here’s the scoop: as a professional voice talent, your agent charges you a fee (commission) on every single voice-over job they get you (usually 15-20%). If they think you are professional enough to be on their roster, then they’ll put you on it – no charge.
The only fees you should incur with a Union agent are the aforementioned commissions and costs for copying, editing or packaging your professional voice talent demo.
Non-Union is a different story. Quite a few Non-union agents charge a fee for a listing because they don’t have the built-in “network” to promote their voices like the union agents. Non-union agents have to work and dig more for their clients so their promotional costs are higher.
Plus, non-union agents have to deal with a lower “take” per job, than the union agents – so they have to make up for that by charging their professional voice talent fees for promotional and other services.
Paying for a roster listing can be good deal – or a bad one. Again, buyer beware.
Ask what you are getting in exchange for your listing fee and have a look at the product and roster they are sending out to their clients. It’s also a good idea to talk to other professional voice talent who are signed with the agent and get references.
- Pay-to-play (P2P) websites
What’s the deal with pay-to-play (P2P) websites like Voice123 and Voices.com?
I have written extensively on the subject of voice talent P2P (Pay to Play) subscription based websites. Many sites like Voices.com are scamming both clients and talent everyday This a link to a Voices.com review.
Here is a link to my Articles section where there’s a lot more information on the subject.
- Union or Non-Union?
For voiceover work, which is the best way to go, Union or Non-Union?
This is a tricky one.
Things have changed over the last 5 years and where the quality or professionalism of those working as professional voice talent in the union was better than non-union voice-over artists – it’s now 50/50 from my perspective.
Here’s why: The Unions have priced themselves out of the market and haven’t made the adjustment for technology.
Sites like Voice123 and Voices.com have blown the non-union VO Talent side of things wide open and in doing so, have made hiring VO Talent far easier for companies and ad agencies. The problem is, most of the so-called “Talent” on these sites is highly questionable.
On the technology side, just about anyone can set up a professional studio and sell audio; again, most of it out there is garbage. Garbage or not, there’s more of it, therefore there’s more for sale, therefore the Unions are taking it on the chin.
It’s simply cheaper and easier for companies to hire non-union VO talent these days, without being buried by the costs and paperwork associated with hiring union talent.
If you want to join the Union, forget about having your own studio or getting any other work outside of what you get from your Union agent. By the letter of the “Union” contract they can throw you in jail for doing so….(at least, they want you to “think” that way, post-brainwashing).
Yes, the calibre of talent in the Union is up there and goody for them to set up stuff like RRSP’s, Benefit Plans, Insurance Plans, Life Insurance, ect.
In most markets, the unions have most of the National commercial and animation work locked up. Finally, getting into the unions is not an easy thing to do. First, you have to prove that you’re a “professional voice talent” and then, if accepted, you’ve got to put out a fairly hefty entrance fee. For further info you can visit ACTRA, the Canadian union or AFTRA, the American union.
Also consider that being in the union means fierce competition in large numbers, many auditions, yearly fees and you’re not allowed to pick up any “non-union” gigs. People that do strictly non-union work usually find an agent and some ad agencies that hire on a regular basis.
They work all the time vs. being “flavor of the year” in the Union, making a pile of cash…..and then getting nothing for 10 years thereafter.
The basic difference is, in the non-union world, you get a “one time” fee for the voice work you do, and it’s lower than the union. Here’s how it works. A non-union voice artist goes into the studio to record a National TV ad for, say, $750.00 flat rate (be advised that non-union rates are very arbitrary).
If a union artist were hired for the same gig (agents usually negotiate a “double scale” rate) they would gross roughly $2000.00 for the same ad, in addition to regular residuals (about $900.00 gross per 13 week run) if the campaign runs for a fair amount of time.
Many union artists are still collecting money from commercials they did years ago, because it’s a lot cheaper for companies to re-run an old ad campaign than pay to have a new one produced. Non-union people just keep recording commercials and take the buy-out everytime.
They can also set up a studio, get an agent, set up a website…..walk down the street with a placard…..and they won’t get thrown in jail by the Union for doing so.
- What is (was) SAVOA?
What is (was) SAVOA?
Savoa was the very first “standards” organization formed for voice talent. You can find the article here.
- Software for recording voice-over
What’s is the best software to use for recording voice-over?
The subject of what’s the best recording software for voiceover and professional voice talent is a subjective one and is covered off in detail on my Articles and Reviews page here.