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
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.
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.
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!