You recorded a Demo. Now What?
Congratulations! You recorded your first voice over demo...now what do you do?
Presumably, getting this far has taken you years of performing on stage, on camera, private coaches, acting, improv, scene study, singing classes, the works! Not to mention finding the right demo producer to create this masterpiece that showcases you. All of which is an investment in your career. Perhaps you're an experienced actor, but new to voice over and you just recorded your first demo. There are many avenues that converge here at this intersection. How you navigate the road from here depends on you. This guide may offer some help.
To clarify, it is not a requirement to have representation to be a successful voice actor, much like you do not have to be part of a union to make a successful career as a voice actor. However, if you would like to work in television and film, those opportunities are most likely only going to come through a reputable talent agency and will most likely require you to be part of SAG-AFTRA. I say "most likely" because until the turn of the century and the adoption of the internet, that was the case. There are several branches of the voice over tree where freelance voice over artists succeed without representation. However, generally speaking, if you've ever taken a voice over class, you probably heard something like, "After you record your demo, then seek representation." In that case, I say, do your window shopping before you first demo is even recorded.
Sure, there are success stories like Don LaFontaine who was working on the 1964 western Gunfighters of Casa Grande, when he had to fill in for an unavailable voice actor in order to have something to present to MGM. After MGM bought the spots, LaFontaine was a hit and began his career as a legend in voice over. Granted, his time at the studio prior to his acting career gave him the advantage to jump when an opportunity presented itself. But by then, Don had absorbed all the knowledge he needed for the booth to swing for the fences.
For the majority of working actors in LA and NYC, you will require an agent who will act as the buffer between you and your clients which include ad agencies, recording studios, casting directors/directors, producers, etc.
Where do I start looking for a Talent Agent?
You knew this day was coming, but now you actually have to put yourself out into the world. This is why I recommend planning your path before you even start mixing the concrete. The Voice Over Resource Guide lists agencies in New York and Los Angeles, but what about all those agencies in-between?
Chances are, if you're just begging you don't have many notches on your belt at this point. And no, sorry, your MP3 recordings from class - do not try and be clever and create your own demo reel. It will stand out, and not in a good way. First impressions, make a lasting impression.
SIDE BAR: If you have recordings from your classes - which you do because you took at least more than one voice over class. Upload those puppies to your iTunes music, sync them to your iPhone, get in the car, play said recordings and self-direct yourself as if you were a casting director listening to auditions. What do you ears hear? Is this a REAL person? Do you believe in what's being said? Or just is it just some put on voice that doesn't sound real and is actually kind of annoying.
Let's be honest. The odds of your fresh, new demo knocking the socks off a top talent agency in a major market like Los Angeles or New York (without a referral) are pretty slim. Not impossible! Chances are you're not ready at this stage. Your demo might get their attention with a referral, they might invite you to come over to their beautiful studio in Los Angeles, they might even ask you to read for them, and then they might ask you to have a nice day. Welcome to show business. Get used to it.
I'm not here to discourage anyone from following their dreams - or obtaining representation but, I will tell it like it is for those who have the guts and determination to follow their heart and do what they love so they never have to work a day in their life ever again.
This blog isn't here to bum you out about the endless amount of effort it's going to take before you get the chance to wow a top agency in a major city that's flooded with talent. This blog is here to help guide your path to success, whatever that means for you. Specifically, to find an agency that's willing to take a shot at representing you and giving you the opportunity to prove you've got what it takes to be in this business. Before that, we have some homework to do.
What Does the Talent Agency Need from Me?
The days of cold-calling agencies is over. Nor can you email talent agencies, "Here's my new commercial demo! Listen to how great I am! Represent me, please!" I mean, you could if you want to waste your time and be remembered as an unprofessional neophyte. Look it up. First impressions, remember?
Every agency will have their own very specific requirements for submitting your information for consideration. Did I specify, specific? Get used to this, it's a concept called, following instructions. If an agency only accepts submissions sent by mail (you know, stamp licking), do not email your cover letter, resume, and demo. Prove that you know how to follow specific instructions and do what is asked of you.
Have the following general information ready:
Home studio setup
Second to the Voice Over Resource Guide's list of reputable talent agencies, there's always Google. My recommendation, start alphabetically, by state:
"Voice over (talent) agencies in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona..."
This search can also be broadened beyond the United States, should you consider representation world wide.
CAUTION: Be aware of agencies requiring you to pay for their services. Those aren't talent agents. Those are scams. Yes, agents collet an agents fee off the top of the work you book - but they do not charge you for their services. That's a manager and a whole other blog.
Everyone has an Agent but ME!
Not true. Whether you're just starting off, or you're an experienced actor new to voice over, you may not have an agent representing you for voice over, or you may be having difficulty acquiring said representation leaving you feeling hopeless, never to succeed because no agent will represent you. If you've done your due diligence to garner attention from a reputable agency and taken advantage of the opportunities available to you to get to know a particular agent/agency then it may be time to consider how to sweeten the pot and attract more bees! In the kitchen the expression goes, 'A watched pot never boils.' There's always something an actor can be working on to better their craft that will turn the heads of a casting director, or agent. Whatever your field of interest is in voice over, get to know it inside and out. Make it so that you are so busy perfecting your skills, constantly acting, that your tools stay sharp as a tack for that moment the agent does come your way.
What should I do with my Demos?
You should be very proud of the work you have done. Show it off, but don't brag. With the advent of social media and the internet, the possibilities of where you can showcase your work are endless. If you have your own website, "demos" should be visible, if not front and center on your homepage. Whatever method you chose to display your demos, be sure it is simple, convenient and easily accessible - not five clicks into your website, or only by downloading a file. Use your best judgment and expect both praise and critique.
What shouldn't I do with my Demos?
Show it off, but don't brag. Be weary of critiques and criticism from both those not familiar with the voice over industry (friends/family) and those who are and are not active demo producers or industry professionals. There is no one way to produce a demo. Each genre of voice over has its own standards in demo production and even then industry standards are constantly evolving with time. The last thing you want is doubt in your new masterpiece. Remember they too have a shelf life. Don't let your demos go stale. Keep them current. See below.
When should I record a NEW Demo?
Similarly to when you asked yourself if you were ready to record your first demo, now it's time to reflect on your growth. Ask yourself, does this demo accurately represent me and my talents as of today? Also, is any of the demo content dating itself past its prime. Typically demos begin to date themselves around three to five years.
Who should produce my next demo?
This is an artists personal choice. You need to find a producer who you feel comfortable discussing the intricacies of your demo with. Copy that is specific to you, the number of spots, the length of the demo, the SFX and music, etc. Since this is not my area of expertise, I recommend you use your best judgement while shopping around. Ask your fellow actors with demos you've heard and really like, do your research and don't be surprised if it costs you anywhere from $1,500 - $2,000. A professionally produced demo is worth its weight in gold over your buddy with Garage Band, who is in a garage band.
Okay, but what if I haven't actually recorded a demo before?
Far be it from me to presume I know what direction your voice over career is going because that will determine the demo you want to pour your time, effort, and finances into producing first. If you're interested in narrating audiobooks I certainly don't recommend that you start with an animation demo. However, I can speak to traditions and traditionally speaking, talent agencies want proof that you are an outstanding actor - which translates to a professionally produced one minute commercial demo. Why? As vibrant and colorful as your zoo of characters and creatures may be for your animation or video game demo, they don't tend to highlight your natural speaking voice in all its real, conversational glory. That said, once your commercial demo is done there's nothing stopping you from growing your arsenal of expertise with a demo for: animation, promos/trailers, video games/interactive, creatures, audiobooks, narration, etc.