What to Tell and What to Show… Choose Carefully

January 16, 2010

n larger markets such as NYC, Los Angeles, London, Paris, Berlin, Rome, when a voiceover talent speaks with an agent or casting director, great emphasis is placed upon one’s former training and performance credits. It’s almost as if it is assumed that whatever one’s credits are any given time, whatever one’s main training activities have been up to a point in time, that is who you are and what you can do (forever and ever…without room for any other type of expertise until another type is proven in the future) and this is can be, to a talent, very limiting.

This always has struck me as extremely odd. Example: When I first decided, upon invitation from a major jingle producer, to enter the field of studio singing (singing and acting were my first career, having toured for seven years as a major headliner including as an RCA Recording Artist with tours with Tony Bennett, Broadway musicals, jazz groups, etc.) that I was “just a singer.” Then, I expanded my recording studio work to include voiceovers. I had to prove myself. No one knew of my vast acting training or background. You are “only as good as today’s job,” as an old showbiz saying goes. It took me over one year in the recording studios as a singer to establish myself as a voiceover talent. I proved myself. Thirty years later, voiceovers continue to yield a large part of my (and my family’s) income stream.

Sometimes it is better, when going after a voiceover job, to just keep one’s past in the background as much as possible if you’ve little or no voiceover credits and to present yourself as a voiceover performer leaving your past behind. You were an office worker? Don’t mention it. You were a college teacher? In many circumstances, agents might think of you as dull.

When you’re new, do not ever emphasize the “I’m new and green” part of yourself. Would you trust a physician who greeted you in her office by saying, “Well, this is my first month of having an office and I’m nervous, but sit down and tell me what’s bothering you.”

Would you trust a plumber who told you this is the first job he’s ever been sent on? It may be his first job, but he doesn’t tell you that. He simply (we hope) fixes the faucet, and you pay him.

Present yourself and you voiceover demo (s) as who you are now. Your demos speak for you. We hope it’s a good voice!

As a voiceover trainer, like most of my colleagues who teach voice skills, we counsel students not to be “overacting,” not to be too “stagey.” Theatre tends to reach out to the back row of a large auditorium, tends to encourage speaking loudly, tends to be “over the top,” while voiceovers and television and film are “smaller, more intimate deliveries. If you come from theatre and drama training, you may need to scale yourself down and adopt more of a voiceover manner of delivery. That was my experience when I was a newcomer to voiceovers.

On this subject, the same generally holds true with commercial and TV actors who want film roles. Casting directors tend to look down on them. Be quiet about commercial credits when auditioning for films. It’s best to have two resumes…one strictly film work and the other TV  and commercial work. You’ll need more than one type of headshot too. A film headshot is very different from a commercial headshot. This topic is off the main subject of this article, but you’d be well served to investigate this prior to hiring your photographer.

Some teachers maintain one needs more than one voiceover demo. I subscribe to this theory. I believe a voice talent is well served by having a commercial demo, a corporate and medical narration demo, an audio book narration demo, and (if within an actor’s capabilities) a character voice demo. You may not be able to afford all of these at the same time. If so, the narration demo comes first. In today’s market, commercials are the least of what’s hired. Too many are voiced by celebrities. Too many are voiced by on-staff radio and TV voices. Even store owners voice commercials. And the ‘pay to play’ websites today have commercial voiceover jobs that usually pay very few dollars.

Of course, if you are at the stage in your development where you have several booking agents, they of course will want you to have a commercial voiceover demo and a narration demo.

But if you can pay for only one demo at first, and you’re unsigned to agents, make it a corporate narration demo. Of course, you and your teacher (demo producer) may decide on that first demo as a “pot pourri” mixture consisting of a number of different types of projects. That’s ok too.

Some of my students want me to create a movie trailer demo for them. I do not advise this unless the student plans to be in Los Angeles where most of this work is found. A cartoon voice demo is advisable only if you’ve sources of work for this already and are really good at these voices. A radio TV promo demo is advisable only if you have potential job sources in this field. Many stations use staffers.

To hear a wide variety of voiceover demo work, I suggest visiting the websites of top East and West Coast U.S. agents (If you are a non-American based talent, also listen to demos on websites of agents in London, Paris, and so on). This is an excellent way to get a flavor of what top agents look for in demos. On the “pay-to-play” voiceover booking sites in the U.S., there are some demos from experienced professionals, but many newcomers are on these sites as well. Choose wisely when trying to find a model for your new demo.

And newcomers: Be cautious about what you pay for that first demo and with whom you choose to study. It’s not always wise to “buy into” a teacher or demo producer just because they reside in Hollywood or New York City or London. So what? There are good and bad teachers and producers (*and out of work actors who turn to teaching and producing) everywhere.

Compare and contrast what you get for your dollars! Investigate the person’s career dimensions and experience. If the price is enormous for services, is this hype? Are they worth it? Why? Don’t just take “word of mouth.” Many have reps who are paid to plant notices on the web and tout their services and book their tours! Is your travel expense worth it when you could learn just as much or more and get a fine demo produced in your own home territory? Are they selling a ‘spa vacation experience’ along with a seminar? The kick-backs are enormous to the person heading up these events. Do you want to spend money on hotels or training?

Food for thought…chew it up or spit it out.

A Little About Bettye Zoller

Bettye Zoller (AFTRA, SAG, AGVA, AF of M) is one of America’s leading voice, speech, acting, and voiceover coaches. A trained educator through the doctorate, she’s served on major university faculties worldwide and accepts guest professorships, speaking and symposium appearances, and workshop appointments by invitation. All information regarding her appearances and educational events is on the homepage of her site, http://www.voicesvoices.com. She is the recipient of ADDY, CLIO, GOLDEN RADIO, and AUDIE awards for her voiceover and production work over three decades. She is a Simon and Schuster audio book author, producer, reader, with 14 published works. She creates demos and audio books in her Dallas Recording Studio and consults in person and by phone. She also presents webinars year-round. See listing on site.

(side note by M.Taji … This marks the first contributed article by someone other than myself to Taji’s Voice Emporium. Thanks Bettye!)

1 Comment

  1. Thank you Taji for publishing my article and, once again, it is done beautifully…the graphics,the typesetting, your newsletter is beautiful. You take such care with everything you do. I am very honored (I did not know this till now…) to be your FIRST article contributor. I shall write more for you. Promise. Hope this was of interest and help to your readers.
    Bettye Zoller