Questions About Demos

Two readers wrote to us with questions about VO demo production:

First, from Rina:  

A few of my friends and myself are planning on working on producing demos in the near future, and we got stuck on the topic of music inclusion. For demos, it's  assumed you'll have music? How are we to credit the music used in the demo, or are we simply not supposed to use music from outside sources?

First, a few things about demos: I assume you and your friends have developed some excellent acting and performing skills, and that you've had some training in  voiceover. I say this because your demo needs to be as good as it can possibly be. It is your calling card, your portfolio, and your best first impression as to your performing abilities as a voice actor. Producing a demo is not something to rush into just to "get it out there." With most talent buyers you only have one  chance to make a good first impression, so it needs to be a good one.

As for including music in your demo: It is absolutely essential - and, no, you don't need to give any credit for the music used in a demo! Your demo needs to sound as  much like a real-world production as possible, which means music, sound effects, vocal processing . . . whatever is needed to give the demo production value so it  sound like the spots may have actually aired, or the narration was part of a legitimate project.

There are some things to keep in mind, however, when it comes to production value. First, sound effects are generally public domain, so once you've purchased a sound effects CD you can use the effects with no further charge (royalty free). Music is different, though. Music is covered by US copyright laws, which restrict its use for broadcast, commercial productions, and even non-broadcast uses (like demos). Technically, even though your demo is not a "for sale" type of production, it is a  marketing tool for the purpose of generating revenue (getting you voiceover work), and thus can be considered a commercial project. That means any use of music in your demo technically needs to be cleared with permission granted for you to use the music. Don't worry, though, it's not as bad as it sounds.

There are literally dozens of music libraries that produce music specifically for use in commercials, film, TV, and other productions. Some libraries license their music on an annual basis, while others license for unlimited use with the purchase of the CD - these are known as "buyout" libraries. Their CD's are more expensive than a CD from your favorite band, but you are paying for the licensing rights as part of the price. An Internet search for "music library" will bring up all sorts of resources.

There are several reasons why you DON'T want to use music from retail CD's in your demo: 

  1. You're in violation of US Copyright Laws if you do, unless you get permission from the copyright holder - and that can be very difficult to do.
  2. Using familiar pop music in your demo will detract from the purpose of the demo - demonstrating your performing talent. You want talent buyers to focus on your voice, NOT that cool tune they recognize in the background.
  3. Retail music will rarely set the proper mood or attitude needed for a commercial or narrative project. Music libraries are designed to set mood and tone for a production.
  4. You absolutely don't want a vocal behind your voice track - that's just bad production.

OK, with all that said ... will you get in trouble if you use retail music in your demo? Probably not, but is it really worth taking the chance? And if you are producing your demo by yourself, do you have the production and editing skills necessary to give your demo the professional sound and quality needed to actually get it listened to for more than 3 seconds? If you're not an experienced studio engineer who understands demo production, my recommendation is to find a good demo producer and studio to help you. Go ahead and put together a practice demo on your own, if you like. You'll get some good experience learning about audio production and different ways to deliver copy, but unless you've got a few years of studio experience under your belt, I'd recommend you think very hard before distributing your home-made demo. As voice talent, your job is to focus on creating the best possible performance. The last thing you need to worry about is dealing with audio levels and the balance of voice to music - at least until you have the experience to be able to do that.

From a VO discussion group, Kathryn writes

I'm new to the group and not sure about anything in this business. I am hoping to try to get into doing voice over work. I have some voices I can do that I think could maybe be for a cartoon character or maybe some other voices as well I'm going to work on. I guess I need to make a demo tape but from there I'm sort of lost. If anyone reading this could help me understand or tell me what to do next or how to go about what I'm doing it would be a great big help!

Thanks so much,


I'm afraid you've got it backwards, Kathryn!  Don't be in too much of a hurry to produce your demo! Your demo is the calling card that demonstrates your
ability as a voice actor - and it can't be just good - it must be great! So to get to that level you will need to study acting, character development, and performance techniques BEFORE you produce your demo. Just being able to "do" a few voices won't get you very far in the world of voiceover. You need to develop versatility, consistency, quality, and an understanding of how the business works. And to do that you need some training.

Start by reading some books on voiceover, then look for a workshop or class in your area. The website has one of the most comprehensive listings of voiceover coaches available anywhere. You'll also learn a lot by participating in this and other discussion groups.

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