In much the same way that an artist would have little luck applying for a job without a portfolio of their best work, most seasoned voice actors ought to have at least one demo on hand that demonstrates their abilities to potential clients. Demos can tell a casting director or an agent very quickly what type of an actor you are, if your voice type matches the kind of projects they cast, and just how much you’ve honed your craft. They’re extremely valuable assets to have if you plan on taking further steps towards a professional career in voice over.
Before getting into details, I do want to say that creating a demo reel is something that should take a lot of work and effort. It should convey only the very best of your abilities at the time of it’s creation and it should be professionally produced. Because of this, I strongly recommend waiting until you have at least some working experience under your belt before producing a professional demo reel. While demos can help you get additional work, a bad demo can go so far as to prevent you from working for years. Make sure that you understand what your strengths and weaknesses are, have a plan of where your voice fits best in the industry, and always be on the lookout for feedback on how to improve. Taking classes early on in your career can be very helpful as well, but if those classes promise to send you away with a professional demo (regardless of your experience level) they are more than likely a scam. I know it’s hard, but wait.
When you start to feel comfortable as a voice actor and have begun booking work, you’ll very naturally find yourself in a reasonable place to devote the time, energy, and money to producing a quality demo reel that will not quickly be surpassed by your abilities. At this point, you’ll want to sit down and decide what kind of demo you plan to create. Many actors have at least two or three demos on hand at any given time to display the various kinds of voiceover that they are able to do and you may need to produce more than one at this point. For example, I have a character demo that is dedicated to my video game and cartoon voiceover work, as well as a separate demo for commercials and explainer videos. Some actors have more reels that are dedicated narration, accents, video games exclusively, and more.
Before setting foot in the booth to record your demo, make sure you have a script that is one hundred percent ready. Get input from writers. Your lines can come from existing scripts, ideally if they’re from jobs you’ve already recorded for clients, but if you decide to write your own (which I recommend,) a writer will be your best friend in getting the best result. Most actors I know also record practice lines for their demo and go to mentors or directors they know personally for feedback on the the voices and deliveries for each line. Recording these sample lines also gives you the chance to hear a draft version of your demo and decide if the length is appropriate or if the order fits. Professional demo production can get expensive, so whatever you can do to minimize the possibility of revisions and extra recording time, the more money you save and the better product you end up with.
There are varying opinions on how long a professional demo reel should be, but I’ve heard many who feel that they should never be longer than a minute. Depending on who you ask, some may be more relaxed about this standard than others, but I would not recommend going longer than ninety seconds at the longest, at least until you've gotten established. Sixty to ninety seconds is more than enough to demonstrate at least seven to twelve examples of your vocal range, which is plenty to give an agent or casting director an idea of whether or not they would want to bring you in. If they see qualities they like and they need anything more specific than what you’ve demonstrated, they’ll usually call you in for a custom audition anyway.
One thing that is rarely contested is that your demo should always start with your best sample, and nearly always followed by your second best. This is because most casting directors and agents will decide within the first ten seconds of your demo if they think the rest of the demo is worth listening to. If they don’t hear what they’re looking for right away, they will not stick around to hear the rest. It’s also recommended to end with whatever sample is your next best. A lackluster ending to a demo is a poor impression to leave.
Finally, even if it’s something you’re excited about, a demo is one of the worst possible places to try out the latest voice you’ve been working on. The same goes for weird or hard to perform voices that you can only maintain for a short period of time - which often includes extremely high, low, or raspy voices. Remember, demos are an example of work that you can do well and consistently if you are hired. Good demos can be utterly ruined by a single voice that an actor hasn’t fully nailed down, and more than one person has shot themselves in the foot when they were hired for a four hour session with a voice they could only maintain for about twenty minutes.
Now with all that said, I absolutely recommend checking out this video a friend of mine made summarizing a lot of common tropes that seem to plague a lot of unprofessional demos that currently flood the market. A lot of this comes from how the lines are written and delivered, which in the hands of an inexperienced actor, can be downright painful or even laughable to listen to. These demos won't get you work and with luck, they won't get you blacklisted either.
Now, that video or any of these warnings aren't intended to scare you before you've sat down to create your own demo. The important thing is simply to be thoughtful in your choices so you end up with a final product that will be able to help you keep moving forward, rather than one that might hold you back.
As much work as it is, creating a demo is a tremendously exciting and rewarding process. It’s a very short but clear demonstration of the abilities you’ve worked hard to develop, so don’t be afraid to take the time you need on your’s and ask for advice to make sure that we’re hearing only the best of what you’re capable of. Besides, the best outcome of producing a demo is a final product that you can be proud of long after it’s finished.
If you're curious to hear some examples, check out a few of my favorite demos below:
Character: Kimlinh | Xander | Zach
Commercial: Amber | Karen | Edward