The VoxpertiseŽ Quarterly Newsletter
Talking Shop, p. 2
Talking Shop Archives
Feb, 2011
Vol IV, Issue I

The Quarterly Quote

Lesson in Leadership #10


"Never let your ego get so close to your position that when your

position goes, your ego goes with it."  Too often, change is stifled by people who cling to familiar turfs and job descriptions. One reason that even large organizations wither is that managers won't challenge old, comfortable ways of doing things. But real leaders understand that, nowadays, every one of our jobs is becoming obsolete. The proper response is to obsolete our activities before someone else does. Effective leaders create a climate where people’s worth is determined by their willingness to learn new skills and grab new responsibilities, thus perpetually reinventing their jobs. The most important question in performance evaluation becomes not, "How well did you perform your job since the last time we met?" but, "How much did you change it?

Colin Powell


A Method to the Madness


CD Demos

Demos and Strategy

I must assume that if you are reading this newsletter, you want work narrating audiobooks or documentary films.  To do that you will need a demo for people that confirms your creative and technical ability, and that identifies your dominant vocal qualities, plus the genres you might do well in. But before you rush to record something and post it to your website or the Audiofile reference guide, stop in the name of literature! You had better be sure you are in the ballpark of readiness to record a book.  If your demo sounds a lot better than you can actually deliver, you risk annoying an employer when they realize they have been duped into bringing you in, or at worst, booking a job from your demo, then being fired on the first day when you can’t deliver.  I’ve seen it happen, and it ain’t pretty.

Now, assuming you’ve done your homework, and have honed your ability, do you have a plan; starting with a clear idea of your vocal identity? Do you know your vocal age range, your best genre matches, vocal qualities and particular strengths (and weaknesses)? If you are starting the process of making a demo, it is essential that you assess yourself and your potential market. Remember, the point of a demo is to project your confirmed ability and vocal type into a marketplace of genres and types. Your voice on the selected material should create a vocal “footprint” employers immediately recognize. Trying to be all things to all people is as detrimental to an actor as it is to a company with a product to sell. This is marketing 101. Establish too many footprints and you muddle your brand. I need to be able to walk away from hearing your demo and have a manageable set of clearly defined impressions left in my memory. Including too many different genre excerpts on a demo, risks blurring the imprint (unless your identity is like Merrill Streep's, with her many accents). Most actors, I find, fail to consider the marketing/branding implications of producing a demo and it is hugely important to getting you noticed.

What’s Your Vocal Identity?

Let’s talk strategy. Before you do anything else, I suggest you focus on your vocal identity, i.e., what you sound like. That is, your vocal age range, and the combination of qualities that allow me to understand who you are quickly. Are you conversational, lyrical, charactery? Are you best with high intimacy or a more distanced POV? Do you voice the opposite gender or children particularly well? Or, do fabulous multiple character scenes? Is suspense your forte (external action) or relationships, psychology (internal action)? Are you good with comedy, irony or satire? Is your voice sultry, mellifluous, every day accessible or quirky? Can you be a voice of authority? Are you best with 1st or 3rd person POV? The point is once you know who and what you are then you can choose material that will showcase those qualities.

Choosing Material

When it comes to choosing material, be strategic here, too. Firstly, choose something contemporary, written within the last 15 years or so (unless your are going for historical fiction). Why? Because the older stuff has likely been recorded already and has the feel of its bygone era, which to us sounds dated, anachronistic. Choose an easy to understand section from a well-written book. I listen to your excerpts out of context: if I can’t quickly understand who’s who and what’s what, I may be inclined to blame your narration for why the material is confusing.  Also, don’t chose a book that someone won “Best solo narration” for—do you really want to be compared to someone who got top accolades for the very same piece? Determine where you have the best fits, and use those genres and writing structures. If certain styles of writing present a challenge for you or are a stretch, chances are there are other narrators out there who have a natural fit (do you really want to compete against someone who effortlessly fits a certain style, when you don’t?).

Also, take note of what subjects and/or genres are “hot” in our collective cultural consciousness and see which ones fit you. Middle Eastern politics, artificial intelligence, chefs and cooking, vampire romance, Amish romances, geopolitical thrillers, immigrant experiences, confessional memoirs all have recently been popular. Match your voice type with those kinds of current topics/genres.  Ride the wave: hearing you read a kind of subject matter or material associates you with it subconsciously in my mind, making you come to my mind when I have to cast it. So, choose material that is currently of interest and make sure you nail it. Remember not to get complacent: When that area of interest cools down and there is less out there to record, make a new footprint of hot titles with a fresh demo. This applies to the veteran as well as the novice: if work has slowed, you may need to more clearly define your vocal type and re-direct producers’ attention to what you want them to notice.

An Outside Ear

You may need a director of trusted friend to help you match yourself with material, and then listen for quality in the recording. The outside ear can be more objective than you can be about yourself.  (And, just because you love Martin Amis, does not mean you should use his writing on your demo; this I know from personal experience.  Choose material highlights your strengths.) Remember though: a director can help match you to material and guide your performance, but you must be able to deliver the desired results.

Content Specs

4-6 individual excerpts, one 5 minutes in length, the rest 2.5 minutes each should do it. The first 20 seconds are the most crucial, and establish your vocal qualities and the ability to draw in a listener and engage them. Make sure you start strong. But I’ll also be listening for your skill creating a visual image, tying information together, releasing the POV or emotional content and voicing characters in dialogue. If you don’t do that in the first piece, truthfully, I may not bother clicking on the rest. If you show skill, the remaining excerpts will confirm what you present in the first, and establish consistency and variety. We want to hear excerpts in both 1st and 3rd person point of view, and if you are going for fiction, you should include dialogue with multiple characters and both genders. That said, never rush to demo, you’ll only waste your money and could shoot yourself in the foot(print). If you need help, don't hesitate to call. I am almost always available to help with recording and if I am busy, you can use one on the Voxpertise in-house directors, engineers or professional associates. 

Ladies and Gentlemen...start your engines!

Feb, 2011
Volume IV,  Issue I
Copyright 2011 by Robin Miles