Are you a voice artist, or looking for one? Then, there’s no doubt you can’t overlook the voice over demo reel; whether you’re an up-and-coming VA or searching high and low for that elusive vocal marvel, it should be a priority.

Simply put, a voice over demo reel is an artist’s calling card. It’s the living proof of their talent and their previous work. It’s where they showcase past successes and have an opportunity to wow you with their versatility.

Today, we’re going to take a closer look at the portfolio as the visible side of a voice over business. Knowing how to set up a demo reel in an attractive way that puts your best side forwards serves double duty:

  • It’s a cornerstone of any good voice over artist’s business. If you don’t have it, it’s very likely that you’re not getting work, or you’re being offered sub-par jobs with low rates.
  • If you’re a client, this is just as important. It lets you know whether the vocal artist can truly walk the walk. Everyone talks big game online, but listening is believing when it comes to a prospective voice over hire. If the vocal talent’s done their due diligence and managed to present themselves correctly, you’ll already know what you’re in for. If not, then you can take your chances, but I’d recommend walking; there’s plenty of people who have done the bare minimum to convince you they can deliver. You should settle for no less.

Let’s take a deeper, more incisive look.

What is a voice over?

A voice over is a production technique where a recorded voice is used in media. Think about all of the cases across mediums where the speaker is not present on camera; animation, narration in movies or explainer videos, audiobooks, dubbing – all use voice overs to great effect!

A big part of what happens when recording voice overs is called voice acting. Any moment when a vocal professional has to play a character or a role can be thought of like an acting performance. Even narration for cut-and-dried corporate videos has to conform to certain standards and strictures. If the team behind the scripts has done their job, the voice actor will have plenty of well-set marks to hit.

Recording a professional voice over is done through a high-quality microphone in an insulated environment. Home studios, studios, or soundproofed booths are generally the way to go. The idea is to get a clean sounding, crisp recording that doesn’t have any outside interference. This is easier said than done, as any voice over pro will tell you. Getting recordings ready for a voice over demo reel isn’t exactly a walk in the park!

Aside from minding their equipment, recording software, and recording environment, voice pros have other concerns; taking care of and maintaining their voice, providing error-free recordings, minimizing the influence of outside sounds on their work and more!

To top it off, most voice pros are freelancers. That means that they have to be their own manager, PR rep, editor, coach, and promoter! That may not apply to the lucky few who work with specialized agencies, but it’s true in a general sense.

The above also means that voice pros need to be the ones responsible for creating a persuasive demo reel that will get them those coveted jobs.

voice over demo reel you must have

The importance of the voice over demo reel

Not everyone is lucky enough to belong to a voice acting agency. Finding, getting, and maintaining jobs is often the sole responsibility of the voice over artist. That means finding the appropriate jobs for their vocal style and auditioning for them. After that, they’ll have to follow the directions of their employer and provide an arresting performance that tickles their fancy.

This process cannot start without a voice over demo reel. Unless you’re thinking about reaching out to a voice pro due to word of mouth, they need to have something to show for their work. If the pro has put in time into furthering their career, chances are they have their vocal CV in order. It also means that they’re diligent and organized with their work.

This means that a demo reel must be composed of a good selection of the voice pro’s talents. If you’re thinking about making your own, listen up! Having that Lays commercial you did for a radio spot in 2006 is all well and good. But don’t think that just having a couple of your proudest jobs on display is going to be enough to get you over the line. Your voice over demo reel needs to portray your full range, showcase your versatility, and convince employers that you’re right for the job.

Seeing the voice over demo reel from the employer’s side of things

If you’re employing vocal talent, there are also a few rules of thumb to keep in mind when searching or selecting prospects. Most are the same as above: go for pros that have a showcase of their range and talent. Even if you’re looking for an extremely niche performance, this applies. Why? Several reasons.

Pros must prove that their best performances are not some flash in the pan. Even if they’ve shown you, they can do your kind of “radio voice”, it’s better if they’ve repeated it across time. Everyone has good days; everyone has bad days. Voice pros should turn in great work every time, or at least most of the time. This point is all about consistency.

Having a voice over demo reel showcase versatility is also a good thing even if you’re not looking for it. I can’t tell you how many performances I’ve seen where the pro’s hidden talent took things in a new direction. Knowing the full range of a pro’s vocal talents could be a hidden boon for you. Maybe it will inspire you to make changes to your original; perhaps it could get things going towards another creative path; maybe seeing something in the pro’s voice over demo reel could catch your eye and inspire you! All in all, don’t fear variety. It generally brings new, unexpected things to the table.

Be mindful of the overall quality. A great reason why going over a wide selection of jobs is that it will give you an idea of the pro’s recording standards. Have they always worked in a tidy, organized manner? Have they been observant of maintaining rigorous quality standards? Did they put their heart into all of their work, or do they have standouts, but put out stuff that’s generally mediocre?

Another note on quality

Quality is not just one of these marketing bywords that have lost all meaning. It’s proof of professionalism and commitment. Voice overs generally leave very little room for error, no matter if the client is big or small. Do you think it’s more or less likely that an audiobook will be successful if you hear a dog barking in the background during pivotal scenes? What about a vocal for an explainer video that sounds like it belongs in 1920s radio? Or even a voice over that sounds like it was recorded by someone sleepwalking in an empty bathroom?

A good voice over demo reel will work as a cross-section. No matter where you cut, things should be the same quality. But, as we know, things rarely work that way. That’s why the reel is more of a timeline where you can see what’s the general feel and overall effort a pro’s put into their work.

Still, that’s not all, as nobody showcases bad work. The following section will briefly get into what you should consider when looking up pros online. It will help you maximize your chances of working with someone that provides good, hassle-free services.

You should also check out our guide on good voice acting to inspire you further!

voice over demo reel for voice actors

Ways to make it easier on yourself

What I’ve described in the above points is what should be the norm out there. And yes, I’m not saying that a very big selection of vocal pros is not already doing this. But, unfortunately, with lowering rates and the growth opportunities afforded by the internet, unprepared people are trying to step into the voice acting game. As with translation, copywriting, or plenty of other professions, many are passing themselves off as more prepared than they actually are.

The problem for employers is that there are not many ways to tell apart what’s what without somebody walking them through it. And this is not a slight against talented amateurs and upstarts everywhere, quite the contrary. Everybody’s gotta start somewhere. But it doesn’t mean that they should lie about their inexperience or pad out their resume.

The easy options? Just go with voice over agencies or voice-centric hubs. They’ll minimize your chances of getting shortchanged. The good thing about both of these platforms is that the talent is curated, and extensive portfolios are very strongly encouraged.

Simply put, they’ve taken provisions, so you don’t have to. It can be exhausting to sift through endless, samey-sounding streams of audio without really knowing what you should look for. The idea is that these agencies and talent hubs have round-the-clock QA staff for this sort of thing. They listen and evaluate whether the material’s good enough, and then they put it up online.

In short: bad performances don’t slip by ‘em. That’s why you can spend your time finding the vocal style you like from a list of talent instead of worrying about other concerns.

Final thoughts about the voice over demo reel

Don’t take too many chances when hiring vocal pros online! If they’ve done their due diligence and care about their work, they’ll have a stellar voice over demo reel waiting for you. If not, then take no chances. It’s better to go with prepared, ready-to-go pros that don’t have a problem showing you a wide range of their work.

You’ll be glad you took the safe route!