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Current Style Trends In The VO Industry - Come down from the mountain and talk to someone!

These days, there is more room for a much wider variety of styles than ever before in the history of the voiceover industry. With the emergence of the Internet and easy-to-use audio editing software, new markets are continually being created and expanded upon. Commercials, animation, audiobooks, and documentaries have been joined by podcasts, industrial and educational training videos, videogames, a wide range of telephony, and many others. But perhaps even more integral to this visible increase in opportunity is the fallen preeminence of the male-dominated "Voice of God," as it is referred to in the vernacular of the industry. Once the industry standard, the Voice of God has merely become one more voiceover style among so many others - others that are often much more effective.

This voiceover revolution has been brought about by changes in the advertising industry, and how they create relationships between their products and consumers. Combined with the arrival in the workplace of the flip-flop wearing, iPod listening, Facebook-checking Generation Y, it should be no surprise that voiceover marketplace websites have seen the light of a new direction. Holding on to the old voiceover norms of 10 or 20 years ago can only result in stagnant demos that sit collecting virtual dust in the barren recesses of these avenues for advertising your voiceover business.

Two big factors have influenced the advertising industry in recent years, according to Entrepreneur Magazine's Roy Williams. Internet browsing has trained the public to more quickly disregard empty words and message relevance has become more important than repetition. This has lead to a much greater emphasis on creating a "meaningful message."

Williams was able to nail down a pattern. He says if you want your ad to succeed, which ultimately means "get noticed," you're going to have to:

  • Talk about things your customer actually finds interesting.
  • Write your ads in a style that rings true.
  • Avoid heroic chest thumping, such as "We are the number-one..."
  • Close the loopholes in your ads - ambiguous claims make you seem dishonest.
  • Use specifics. They're more believable than generalities.
  • Remember that substance is more important than style.
  • Relate to the customer on their own terms.

While all these are important for the voice actor to remember, none may be as important to the way we do our job as number seven. The idea of relating to the customer on their terms is what has ultimately knocked the "Voice of God" off its pedestal and ushered in the era of the "next-door neighbor" voice.

These trends have brought about an entirely new set of job requirements for voice actors. First of all, the term "voice actor" has become common. The name itself invokes a certain style change. Very simply, the new wave of consumers are not as likely to heed the words of omniscient basses - who resonate at a frequency reminiscent of fire, brimstone, and their fathers - as they are to "everyday" people, who sound like friends with whom they can easily relate to and trust.

In addition, changes in the industry norms have allowed a level playing field with respect to style and gender. Whether she is the stay-at-home Mom or the ambitious businesswoman or even the excited college student, the female consumer longs to hear a voice she can identify with. As a result, more women are doing voiceovers than ever before.

That perfect, rich, velvety, "radio" sound is no longer the top order of the day. In fact, "textured" or even "damaged" voices have become quite desirable - if you know how to use them! Inevitably, it is more about what you bring to the table as an actor. In today's voiceover industry, the best coaches are focusing primarily on emotions, not the voice itself.

How do these trends impact other areas of the voiceover industry? After all, commercials only represent about 10% of the entire industry. "Real people" are showing up everywhere. Industrial and educational film producers want narrators that can speak to their target audiences like peers. Audiobook publishers working with female authors want female narrators. Animation producers want voice actors who can entertain.

Even the Help menu on the installation CD that comes with your all-in-one printer isn't likely to feature a thundering Charlton Heston-like voice saying, "Press power!" Instead, the narrator sounds like someone else that also bought that printer and needed a little help getting started.

Someone just like you.

Finding The Right Producer - Look before you leap....

This old saying can certainly be applied to getting started in voiceovers. "Looking before you leap" can involve making sure this is an industry you want to get involved in, understanding the basic fundamentals of getting started, and most importantly, understanding that you shouldn't try to do this alone.

Starting a voiceover career can be, and hopefully is, exciting, hopeful, and promising. For many newcomers to the industry, it is also a time filled with nervousness and perhaps a little anxiety. However, before you panic, be assured that this reaction is completely normal. Each time you begin something new the fear of the unknown and the pressure to succeed can be very strong.

This is why it is so important for you to choose the right producer to assist you in the creation of your first demos. Starting a voiceover career without a reliable guide is a daunting task for someone that doesn't know the ins-and-outs of the industry. You need to find someone who is accustomed to working with new voice actors. Someone who can help you get the most out of your voice and vocal delivery.

There are major obstacles in many different areas, especially at the very beginning of your career. Aspiring voice actors might have to redo, relearn, and just plain start over, as a result of getting less than stellar advice. Sometimes this advice comes from a person or company claiming to be a voice coach or producer when in truth, they are just out-of-work voice actors or recording studios trying to make a few extra dollars on the side.

Even worse than the inexperienced producer, is the voice actor who believes their basic knowledge of the voiceover industry qualifies them to handle the responsibility of launching another voice actor's career. Some of these people and recording companies talk a good game. But when it really comes down to getting a new voice actor pointed in the right direction with the most effective and necessary tools, they just don't deliver.

There is a distinct benefit to hiring a producer who specializes in working with new, and possibly nervous, voice actors as compared to a less experienced voiceover producer. The right producer will understand the issues that a first-timer may have. The right producer will be able to help a newcomer deal with the fears and insecurities that they may experience during their first visit to the studio. In addition, the right producer has a big bag of tricks to help you, the new voiceover actor, relax and relate to the script.

In fact, the right producer can incorporate his or her coaching and critique with elements of positive reinforcement and instruction. The right producer will understand the value of the recording session and will help you get the maximum educational and professional benefit from the experience. In essence, not only can the right producer get the best possible performance out of you, they can ensure that your time in the studio is a valuable learning experience as well.

As a new voice actor, you probably won't realize your full range and versatility during the production of your demo. However, working with an experienced producer can help identify the kinds of challenges you are ready to face. The right producer can gauge your abilities and guide you during the session. Even more valuable, an experienced producer will have a large script library on hand, and they can assist you in choosing scripts that are going to best showcase your voice and delivery styles.

When choosing a producer or recording studio to help you create your demo, it is vital to ask for references. Ask for the names and contact information of voice actors they have launched into successful voiceover careers and then, contact them. See what they think after talking to them. You might be surprised.

Next, always listen to demos produced by the studio you are considering working with. Be sure to listen carefully. Most budding voice actors are dazzled by the sound of a voice recorded on decent equipment with some cool music or sound effects thrown in. Although sound quality is important, it is just as important to take note of the flow, timing, cadence, and tempo of the recording. The right producer or studio is experienced in producing recordings that take all of these elements into account.

In a nutshell, the right producer will have extensive experience in the industry, combined with proven results (successful graduates and clients). That producer can help you deliver the best performance possible and will provide the confidence and assurance you need to begin a successful voiceover career.

Our VO Demo Philosophy Using Your Home Studio

Whether you have been working in VO for 6 months or 6 years you will always be improving. As a result, you should be updating your demos from time to time and creating new ones. In this day and age, every voice actor should have a home studio as the majority of work is done from home. This also allows you to substantially reduce the cost of freshening up your demo and make new ones whenever the need arises. Instead of having to pay a studio to record your demo, you can work with a reputable VO industry producer to direct you while you record at home and have an engineer do the post-production on your recordings. This is considerably more cost effective for you than recording at a professional studio.

Not only do we feel that it is important for our grads to create home studios, but more importantly know how to use them. VFA was the first company to offer training and support to our grads when setting up home studios. Unfortunately, we found that too many people didn't complete their studios and thus, did not learn how to use them effectively.

We recommend that as a VFA grad, you record your demos in your own home studio. You do this while being directed and produced via phone or video chat, by one of our producers. After the demo recording session, you send us the files and we perform the post-production magic. We include a demo prep session before the demo recording session to walk you through the process and make sure you're ready to record. By the time you are finished recording your demos, you'll have a solid understanding of how to successfully use your home studio for auditions as well as paid jobs. We feel so strongly about the home studio that we now offer a class that even includes all the equipment.

In addition, this method of creating your demo gives you the chance to practice and prepare as much or as little as needed before your demo session. Our only request is that you set up your home studio, go through our included Home Studio Assessment (HSA), and make your demo with us as soon as you feel you are ready. Our HSA means we work with you to ensure you have everything set up correctly, and the recording space sounds the way it needs to for professional quality recording.

Setting up a home studio can be done very inexpensively, and is essential for a voice actor wanting to find regular work. Having our grads create their demos at home, with one of our producers, will help ensure that students who complete the VFA program will be totally prepared to succeed as Professional Voice Actors.

Click Here for details about our newest class and demo package offerings...

Demo Critique - Grain of salt required...

Demo critique. Those words can either thrill you or, more likely, frighten you. Critics and their opinions are as common as snowflakes, just as unique, but they also melt away pretty fast too. Keep that in mind when you ask for opinions on your demo.

Let's cut right to the chase. Demos are subjective and so are opinions. Yes, there are important characteristics that every good demo must possess, but make no mistake, if you ask 10 people to critique your demo, you will get 10 different answers.

Why are we warning you about this? In a minute we'll get into the specific characteristics that your demo must possess, but first, heed our warning. Many a new aspiring voice actor has created their first demo and worked hard in the studio to record the highest quality demo they could, only to have some "industry expert or veteran" shoot it down and kill their momentum.

The first question you ask might be... "Well, don't I want to get other people's opinions on my demo?" The short answer is yes. The complete answer is... only if you can take their opinion with a grain of salt. A very big grain of salt. Demos are very subjective, and everyone wants to show you how much they know by telling you how to make things better. An opinion is not fact, and it may or may not have any relevance to your personal situation.

These opinions might be helpful to hear, but think about these questions...

  • Which artist was better? Monet or Renoir...
  • Which band is better? U2 or the Rolling Stones...
  • Which car looks better? Mercedes or BMW...
  • What food tastes better? Italian or Mexican... or Chinese... or Thai...

Get the picture? The answer to all these questions is ALL of them! It just depends what you like during that moment in time for that purpose.

The same goes with demos...

  • Should your demo fade or cut between scripts?
  • Should the background music be a little louder or a little quieter in relation to your voice?
  • Should there be lots of fancy FX or keep it simple?
  • Should the spots be a little longer or a little shorter?
  • Should your demo have 4 spots or 8?
  • Should you try to show your vocal variety, or is your strong voice so good compared to your alternative voices that you should mainly stick with that one?

The answer is not quite as simple as choosing your favorite band or car. Do you know why?

Let's digress for a minute and then we'll come back to that question. If you were to send us your demo to critique we could certainly give you our impression. But, what would our impression be based on? We would have no choice but to base our opinion on what we think other voice actors we know are capable of. We would figure out how we think a session in the studio would go with you, and the music library that we have access to, and a given VO job that we were thinking of. But there would be one very important thing missing from our critique. Our opinion would not be based on how the actual studio session went, or your personal ability at the time the demo was made.

Back to our above question...

  • Everyone has weaknesses and strengths.
  • Everyone has certain vocal characteristics.
  • Every employer is looking for a "certain" type of voice.
  • Every agent has their own ideas of what makes a good demo.

Maybe there is a good reason why your demo does not show the variety that we wanted to hear? Maybe you were just not yet capable of showing more variety at that point? Maybe there is a reason why the scripts are ordered and cut the way they are, based on your performances and on the way the studio session went as a whole? Maybe there is a specific kind of work that the producer of your demo thought you would be best for and as such directed you to make sure that you made a good impression in that light? Perhaps there is a good reason why some people like your narration demo better than your commercial one? Maybe at that point in time you are just better at narrations and so of course that demo sounds better to some people?

The point here is that we can give you our general opinion, but as long as the basics such as good recording quality and post production processing, good scripts for your voice and style, and a generally typical industry standard layout for your demo are employed, then we are simply telling you what we think based on a number of conditions that we could never fully understand or predict.

So what makes a good demo?

  • Good recording quality.
  • Appropriate music and FX behind your voice (this is subjective in and of itself).
  • High quality post processing and production.
  • Using one of the many industry accepted formats (script lengths and transition types).

In addition to these things there are a few other very important things that must go into your demo...

  • You must try your hardest to show what you are capable of at that moment in time.
  • You must make sure that your demo shows your strengths, even if that means keeping the variety to a minimum for now.

If your demo is made with these 6 things, then that is pretty much your best demo at that point in time. No matter what anyone says, if you can say that at the time of the creation of your demo you made sure that the six things listed above were utilized, then your demo is your perfect demo for you at that time.

Remember, especially if you are a graduate of VFA, this demo is only your first demo. If you listen to it even 6 weeks later and cringe because you think you could do so much better, then good for you! That means you have been honing your craft and it's time for you to begin your demo makeover (a very easy task for those with home studios). At the same time, if after 6 weeks you listen to your demo and you don't cringe, at least a little, then you might think about spending more time practicing your technique and evolving as a voice actor. Even a few months is a long time for an aspiring voice actor and most people should improve considerably in that time. If you do not, then you are simply not putting in the time required to make progress.

So, in closing, we want to once again caution you about taking other people's critique of your demo too seriously. Make sure that no matter what anyone might say, that you continue to market yourself and follow your plan for finding success. Yes, you will want to spruce up your demo to show your new, best capabilities. It is actually a requirement in this industry. You should always be improving and therefore updating your demo regularly. It is your resumé. Don't let that stop you from getting out there and finding some fun VO jobs as you continue to evolve. Hands-on experience is the best kind there is. So remember, this is your first demo, not your last. You can't get work without a demo, and there is much more to learn as a voice actor that you can only learn by being out there.

Good Luck!

When Is The Right Time To Record Your Demo?

When you're getting started in the voiceover industry, you want to put your best foot forward. You want to come out of the gate strong, showcasing all of your talents and skills. So you should work with a producer/coach to hone your skills and begin to maximize your versatility. Right? Right… And, the more training that you do to prepare for your demo, and the longer you wait to make sure you are ready, the more sense it makes. Right? Not necessarily.

Throughout your career as a voice actor, you will continuously be learning new skills, evolving and improving. If you wait until you feel that you have "mastered" voice acting before you make your first demos, you will be putting a major road block in the way of your success. Besides...

  • How will you know when that time comes?
  • When will you be "good enough" to record those first demos?
  • How will you ever be able to quantify when you are "ready"?
  • What will your indicator of that right time be?

If you are like pretty much every future voice actor, then you are getting into this business to "voice act". In order to even begin your career as a voice actor, there are some very important tools that you need to have before you can begin to go out and find work. Your demos are one of those tools. Without them, you cannot effectively enter the industry of professional voice acting. An invaluable part of your growth as a voice actor will come through actually working in the industry, working with clients and delivering the read that they are looking for. Without demos that show you are capable of doing a given VO job, there will be no way to get that job, and thus, no opportunity to learn through experience. The demo is one of the keys to further growth and evolution.

There are many voice actors out there who felt the need to wait quite some time before making their first demos for one main reason: They were under the impression that their first demo was going to be their only demo for a long time to come. They thought that they were going to have to make this expensive demo last for years and years, so they wanted to make sure it was going to represent them as well as possible. If this is your assumption, then think again. With a home studio it is very inexpensive to update your demo as you go and as often as needed.

Your first demo will not be your last demo. We don't care how long you have trained, practiced, and studied up to the point where you record the first demo as long as you sound professional and are ready. And you will continue to improve (and rather quickly) once that first demo is done, and for many years to come. If you speak to any national level voice actor they will tell you that they are updating and improving their demos all the time. The reason for this is that they are always learning, growing and evolving. Every time they acquire or refine a skill, they want to show it in their demo. And they should. An artist always wants to present their best work to date.

Enter the home studio. If you really want to make the most of your voice acting career, you must create a home studio. There are many reasons for this, not the least of which is because it will allow you to improve and refine your demos for very little money, any time you want. A home studio allows you a chance to practice whenever you want, audition for and produce paying jobs all over the world from your own home, and create new improved performances that you can use to update your demos all the time.

A dry, unprocessed track is all you need to send to a studio to create or update your demo. Now, we want to clarify that we are not saying that you should expect to fully produce your own demos right off the bat. Some people will get into post-production, and some will just record the dry tracks. This means that you can provide a commercial studio with all of the performances that you would like to add to or swap out on your demos, and then all the studio will need to do is the post production.

Post includes processing the reads, adding music and sound FX, mixing it all together, and mastering the final product. Sounds like a lot to the average person, but for a studio set up for this kind of work, it really is not too bad. This can make updating your demos very inexpensive as compared to going into a studio to record everything from scratch. VFA does this type of post-production for its grads all the time.

You want your first demos to showcase your abilities and versatility at that moment in time that you record them. With the assistance of professionals who can help you choose the right scripts to showcase your talents, to produce you in the studio, and to mix and master your first demos according to industry standards, you have a chance to go out and find paying work that will not only give you a nice paycheck, but also builds your resume, and gives you the needed experience to grow your voice acting business.

Yes, it is true that 3 - 6 months after you record your first demos, you will most likely wish to give yourself a demo makeover. With determination and persistence there is a good chance that you may already have some paid jobs under your belt, and a bio that has evolved along with your voice acting skills. That makes far more sense than waiting a year or more to do your demos and thus, putting your voice acting business on hold.

One related side note. Don't make the mistake of thinking that voice acting is all about your voice. We mentioned above that there are some very important tools needed to find success in voice acting. It's true that learning proper technique for using your voice and developing your ability to interpret a script are very important to your success. But...

  • What about marketing your business?
  • What about creating a support network?
  • What about putting a home studio together and learning how to effectively use it?
  • What about knowing how to conduct yourself as a true professional with proper etiquette?

All of these things are critical tools needed to grow a successful voice acting business. These are also tools that need time to evolve and be refined. For the most part, these are areas that cannot really reach their maximum potential until you are out there finding work and functioning in the voice over world. Yes, your demo needs to be good. It needs to be as good as you can make it at that point in time.

Spending time marketing yourself and working in the voice acting field, while practicing and honing your skills, instead of simply just training, waiting for the day you are "good enough" to do your first demo will surely put you ahead of the rest. Get that home studio up and running and prepare to get that demo made. There's a world out there just waiting to hear it.

Choosing The Right Scripts - Collaborate with a Coach

Today's voiceover marketplace is a place where cynical soccer moms get as much work as Budweiser-swilling dulcet-tones. Knowing where a voice fits into the ever-increasing pool of opportunity has become even more important than the quality of the voice itself.

Aspiring voice actors who confront this confusing reality alone, without the guidance of established professionals, can find themselves in trouble. Finding the right place for a voice and the right material to showcase that voice is not a simple exercise.

This all-too-common issue emerges most frequently in the form of flat, one-dimensional demos that leave an enthusiastic new voice actor scratching their head and questioning their ability. Script selection is as important as every other element in the demo production process. Industry trends dictate that success will come to those who are able to showcase their versatility and thus, range of marketability.

Without access to a large script library and a critical outside perspective that can help extract a wide range of characters and personas, demos will inevitably miss the mark. Once-eager and enthusiastic voice actors are often left feeling discouraged and confused as to why they seem to be forever auditioning others, perhaps less talented, are getting the jobs.

Once you step back, the problem becomes obvious. When first starting out, it is tempting to choose scripts you "like," instead of those that "like you." In one way, this can lead to a greater emotional connection to the material and thus help build a demo replete with "relatable" spots. However, it becomes obvious that the voice actor has showcased only one or two styles where four, five, or even more may have been possible. Working with a seasoned professional voiceover coach on demo script selection is a much more effective approach to demonstrating your abilities across a wider range of script types.

Self-sabotage is a much greater risk too, with potentially much more disastrous results, when picking scripts you "like" for your demo. Inadvertently venturing beyond your voiceover niche, due to a lack of guidance, can make you sound unprofessional and downright bad.

Imagine the train-wreck that would occur if Billy Crudup, who provided the voiceover for the MasterCard "Priceless" commercials, were to include a "Budweiser: Real American Hero" spot on his demo because he thought it was cool. Similarly, consider the catastrophe that would result if Nancy Cartwright, who voices the well-known cartoon character Bart Simpson, included a clip from Planet Earth, a documentary narrated by Sigourney Weaver, on her demo because she was passionate about nature. Bart talking about tectonic plates? Maybe not.

Like what you like, but demonstrate who you are. Consulting voiceover experts and choosing scripts that best market your range and ability will insure your long term success.

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