By Dan Friedman
Arguably, the most asked question in voiceover after, “how do I get into voiceover?” is, “why do voiceover demos cost so much?” Or, some variation of that question. Naturally, when people hear the price, usually upwards of $1000, they balk and begin asking the wrong questions, such as, “Can I make a demo myself? Does that include coaching? Why does it cost so much?” Here are some answers to these questions. Can I do it myself? No, you can’t or shouldn’t. Does that include coaching? No, it doesn’t and shouldn’t. Lastly … why does it cost so much? Keep reading.
Let’s begin with another question, do you need a demo? Maybe not. If you are not looking for agency representation, not looking to work with production houses and plan on going about your voiceover business solely through your own network or through P2P sites, then truthfully, you may not need a demo. But, if you have any desire to move beyond that level of work and really compete with the best in the industry then, among other things, you will need a demo … and these days, it will have to be great.
The first thing that goes into any professional demo is relationship. Demo producers, who are often coaches, need to get to know you and you need to get to know them. This takes time, and as the saying goes, time is money. If you don’t have the skills to compete in this industry, there would be no point to making a demo until your skills are at a competitive level. Responsible and professional demo producers will want to spend time with you, get to know you (at least a little bit) and determine the best path forward. This is why coaching is essential and not included in the cost of a demo. Like all relationships, things take time to develop. It can often take a long time to get consistently good performances from an aspiring voice actor that are demo worthy. Other times, it may not take much time at all. But, in the beginning, neither the demo producer nor the voice actor knows how much time will be needed.
Next, equipment and environment. Yours probably sucks. Sorry to say it that way. But, especially if you are making your first demo, it is likely true. One of these two categories will invariably fall very short of what is needed. Most voice actors will never need the amount of equipment required to do full audio production. It begins with a quality microphone, preamp, interface, cabling and headphones. But also requires a multi-channel DAW with real time listening capabilities, a variety of effects processors to create and manipulate sounds (the good ones come at a cost,) the computer capacity to handle large sessions and a large number of sessions, probably multiple subscriptions to music libraries or related services, professional (accurate, not necessarily pleasant) studio monitors (speakers) and that is just the equipment. You also have to know how to use it.
The environment is an entirely other issue. An accurate listening environment is critical to a good production. Headphones alone are not a good listening environment. They serve as just one point of reference. Your booth, your closet, your basement, your spare bedroom … none are likely good listening environments. You may not know it, but your car is probably the best listening environment you own (and even knowing that is worth something.)
Having the space in which to work and listen with accuracy is a necessity and frankly, a luxury. Sound exists in space. It needs space to develop, move and excite the air molecules in a room. People who have this kind of space and have treated it for proper acoustics are either, a) already utilizing this space as their business or b) aren’t concerned about the cost of a demo. Why is this important? Because your audio won’t be heard on one device. It will be heard in multiple ways, on multiple devices, in multiple rooms and hopefully, by many people. Having your demo produced in a professional listening environment helps to ensure your demo will always sound the best it possibly can under most any circumstances.
Time. It takes time to make a demo. It takes time to write, develop and edit scripts. It takes time to record and direct the session. It takes time to edit the recording. It takes time to find music and sound effects. It takes time to create soundscapes and audio environments, balance levels, make comparisons that lead to choices all in an effort to bring the production to life. What takes the most time? Experience.
You do not hear the way I do. This isn’t a brag. You just don’t. Nobody does. Nobody shares ears and therefore nobody hears or processes what they hear in the same way anyone else does. Speaking only for myself, and I’m not trying to sell you here … I have listened to thousands of voices and worked on thousands of voiceover sessions as talent, director, producer, coach, recording engineer and mix engineer. I have heard thousands of auditions submitted by different talent all fighting for the same job. I have heard thousands of different recording environments and hundreds of microphones and microphone/preamp combinations. I have made comparisons, assessed sounds and performances, listened to hundreds (if not thousands) of other coaches, producers, and directors in sessions. I am a singer, have taken years of acting classes, studied journalism, hospitality and fine art, all of which have helped me as a voice industry pro. Graduated among the top of my class in recording school. Most recently, I became a certified voice coach in Roger Love’s Voice Method. I coach and have been coached by many of the best. I have been taught how to teach and I have learned how to learn. All of this to say, I have a frame of reference and a perspective that you can’t match.
Now, maybe you’re thinking, “But Dan, I’ve been listening to cartoons and commercials my whole life too. Isn’t that worth something.” It absolutely is. But at this point you are just going to have to trust me on this … not the way I have or, the way many other VO industry pros, reputable demo producers, coaches and agents have. I have been listening to audio production with that specific focus and intention for more than half of my life. I’ll be 50 in two days. While studio time is measured and billed in hours, when paying for a demo, you aren’t really paying for the hours. You are paying for the years.
While not all demo producers/coaches are alike and their experience and specialties may differ, producing a professional demo includes the basic elements I’ve discussed: relationship, equipment, knowing how to use that equipment, environment, time and experience. All of this has value. Oftentimes, demo producers work with multiple people who handle different aspects of the production which can add to the cost. The demo producer may hire a writer or engineer because that is not part of their skill set, or they simply don’t have time to do it all. Geographic considerations (where you or the producer is located), availability and individual business models will also affect cost. So, why do voiceover demos cost so much? When taking all of these factors into consideration, its a bit surprising demos don’t cost more.
No matter who you work with on your demo, do your research. Communicate. Listen.