"...And Make It Real Creative!": Demo Dilemmas

and-make-it-real-creative-logo-3By Trent Rentsch

When I was a baby DJ, I remember the second thing I wanted to do (the first was to be the next Rick Dees. Yep, I’m that old…). I wanted to put together a “killer demo” and make some “big voice-over dollars” (see, kids, you didn’t invent that dream). Mind you, I had barely been in front of a mic at that point, live or in the production studio, but I had heard about a morning guy in Minneapolis who was catching a plane a few days a week after his show, and making about 20 times his on-air salary, voicing Agency spots in Chicago. It’s possible it was one of those radio Urban Myths, but it certainly got my attention.

To say I was cocky is something of an understatement. As a still in school Theatre major, I knew the world was dying for a voice “talent” with all the wacky characters I had developed (read: badly impersonated). If I got my demo into the right hands, I KNEW I could be the next Paul Frees (sigh… yep, I’m that old too). So, I snuck in the production studio late at night, and using all my new recording experience (I had learned how to turn on the mic and hit record on the reel-to-reel just that week), attempted to voice my “killer voice demo.”

No copies of the offense exist today, unless some glutton for punishment held onto one for comic relief.I ran across the last known copy a few years ago during a move, and literally threw the cassette in the garbage disposal. It never sounded better.

Needless to say, the response to my effort was, ah, LESS than I expected. Out of the 20 or 30 I sent out to Agencies, I heard back from 3… well, actually, one was a “no longer at this address” kickback, another was a victim of insufficient postage (obviously it weighed more than it was worth), so there was really only one actual response. One… with a one word response, “NEVER!”

Somehow, despite the lethal blow to my ego (which still carries the scar today), I managed to whittle myself a career in broadcasting and production, even managing to peddle my goofy little voice(s) from time to time. Actually, my current position has less need for my voice work than any job I’ve had in years. In fact, I spend more of my time going over others’ voice demos, looking for the right fit for whatever project we’re working on. Still, some nightmares never stop haunting…. A few days ago, while I was on one of the voice-for-hire websites, listening for fresh vocal cords, I found myself coming across MY old demo, over and over. OK, the voices were not mine, but the missteps and lack of quality caused a flashback that nearly made me want to rip my ears off.

As a responsible member of the Creative Audio Community, I’ve decided that it’s time to point out a few reasons that certain voice demos are never going to translate into paying (hell, probably not even NON-paying) voice-over jobs. Some are mistakes made by others, most I have made myself. In fact, now that I think about it, a few continue to be a part of my current demos. That said, why don’t you do as I say and not as I demo…

The “Attention-grabbing” sound effect opener. I’m not talking about a short zip or boom/pow on the open of the first spot; I mean some extended roar, wail, feedback, mic-pounding nonsense. A few weeks ago I ran into a demo that began with feedback, a whole lot of mic slapping, followed by, “HELLO? IS THIS THING ON? HELLO! HELLO!” It was cute… for about 2 seconds. At the 10 second mark, I gave up and moved onto the next demo. Something about that combination of extended noise, coupled with the admission that the “voice talent” wasn’t sure his equipment was working, didn’t inspire me to hire him. If you’re so uncomfortable with your voice that you fear it won’t grab a potential client on its own, and REALLY have to have a “snappy opening,” make it short. We’re listening for you… not your sound effects library. Of course, it also occurs to me that if you’re THAT uncomfortable with your voice, I wonder why you’d be putting out there in the first place…

The “Attention-grabbing” music bed opener. A variation of the extended sound effect mess, I’ve actually heard demos that start with a good :30 seconds of a commercial jingle before the voice-over started. Why did I wait that long before moving on? I thought maybe the talent had sung the jingle. Sadly, this was not the case, and all the jingle did was show how professional the jingle company sounded… and how unprofessional the voice talent was. The morale is the same as the sound effect debacle… we want to hear and judge YOUR voice, nothing else.

The Play-by-play “commercial demo.” Really? Really. Please, if you REALLY want to showcase your compelling voice for commercials, do NOT send and/or post a copy of you doing play-by-play for your local high school JV Girl’s Volleyball team. Just… don’t.

Worst… impersonation… EVER. Yes, your Peter Griffin impersonation knocks them dead at the bar, and your Mom thinks you “nail” Ray Romano, but you really need to do a serious A/B comparison of your attempts and the real thing before you add them to your voice demo. Don’t listen for what you want to hear… LISTEN. If it doesn’t make the cut, cut it. Oh, and if you’re going for both character and straight voice-overs, make the time to create a demo for each. When I’m filtering for “mature, smooth male,” I won’t be happy to be assaulted by your Scooby Doo.

There are other issues that pop up, but you get the idea. Keep your demo focused, short, and to the point… give us the best presentation of YOUR sound you can, without the nonsense. If I wanted George Bush talking through a megaphone, I’d hire him.

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