Having the correct intonation and breathing techniques (let alone the talent) for a successful voice-over career is half the battle. You’d need to get acquainted with other aspects of voice acting that fall beyond the scope of your vocal delivery.
Should I Hire a Demo Producer?
This extremely important question will depend primarily on your financial possibilities. An already-established voice-over actor in independent circles aiming for higher targets may consider getting a skillful demo producer for the highest-quality voice-over reel possible in the least amount of time.
If you are starting with a limited budget, your best bet is to try a DIY demo reel. You’ll likely be applying for lower-tier productions at first, so the selection process should not be as demanding.
Steps to Do a Good Voice Reel
Let’s outline the procedure for making an enticing demo reel for your voice-over casting without further ado.
1. Find a character/actor to impersonate and a script
Often, project directors look for a specific vocal style. You could find many examples of voice actors that are representative of that particular style and attempt to emulate them to a degree.
Examples of respectable male voice actors you could imitate include:
- Morgan Freeman
- Seth MacFarlane
- James Earl Jones
If you are looking for female examples, you could choose, among others:
- Tara Strong
- Nancy Cartwright
- Jennifer Hale
On another note, there are dozens of demo scripts that you can find online. However, a bulk of these scripts are very underwhelmingly written, as they’re essentially drafted for practice purposes.
Try to use a script from an audition you already participated in (provided that the script owner permits it). You can also draft your own mini-script tailored to the vocal style you’re trying to convey.
Demo reels shouldn’t have to be too long. 60-90 second demos should be more than enough for the audition director to get a grasp of your abilities.
To build a sample portfolio, find various scripts to record demos for different types of auditions. You can also choose more than one vocal style.
Before you move on with the recording, try to practice your script as much as possible.
You can record these practice sessions for comparison purposes. You should not worry too much about the quality of the recordings for now. A simple recording taken with your smartphone should suffice.
After you’re ready, you can move on to the next step.
This is possibly the trickiest part of the process.
The first thing you must attempt to do is to find the quietest environment possible. It’d be even better if you had a separate soundproof room with insulation panels or foam/cork tiles for dampening external noise.
Next, you’ll need adequate equipment. You don’t have to assemble an entire studio, but there are some essentials you’d want to get for your recording, including:
- Microphone: Avoid built-in microphones and try to obtain a dedicated microphone for your recording sessions. Look into the list of some XLR microphones.
- Microphone mount: You’d want your microphone to be fixed into place and not shuffled around as you record, for this will ultimately create unevenness in the final product. A shock mount should also prevent your mic from picking up environmental vibrations.
- Pop filters: It’s inevitable for your microphones to not capture certain annoying sounds from your voice, such as plosives and fricatives. A pop filter installed in front of your microphone should help prevent most of these issues.
- Noise gate: While it may not be essential, a noise gate is very helpful for filtering out any noise below a certain volume threshold, such as that from your breathing.
- Headphones: Even if they’re of decent quality, you will not be able to detect all recording glitches with regular headphones. In-ear headphones tend to have a poor low bass response. Other earbuds are designed with boosted low-end or noise-canceling properties, so they may not be ideal for testing the quality of your recording. Find headphones advertised explicitly as “studio headphones“, preferably.
Lastly, you should choose a DAW or recording/editing software that you can understand and utilize with little effort. Audacity is a good alternative if you don’t want to spend money on a professional DAW. If you feel prepared to handle more complex DAWs, you could try out Adobe Audition or Avid Pro Tools.
Finally, it’s time to edit your audio.
Unless it serves the script, you should be capable of editing out any breathing noises. While much of the breathing is done away with through the noise gate and a proper breathing technique, you can take advantage of the wave editor to sift out any unwanted breathing sound that made it to the recording.
Another method for removing unwanted noise between lines is to start your recording with silence. You can record your room’s sound for about 10 seconds and replace unwanted noises with this sound. It’s not recommended to mute the gaps, for that will produce discomfort to the listener.
If you plan on using Audacity, there’s a handy “Envelope Tool” tool that enables you to select a section of the track and smoothly adjust its volume.
Another highly useful Audacity tool is “Noise Reduction”. You only have to grab a portion of the breathing sound and use that for your noise reduction profile. You can then apply automatic noise reduction to eliminate all similar sounds.
As a wrap-up, you may want to include a music track to complement the reel, especially if it’s for a commercial audition. It might help the casting director better understand how your voice would sound in an actual commercial. Try to use a track that fits the theme of the reel and adjust its volume so that it doesn’t drown your voice acting. The music can also help mask any unwanted noise in your voice recording.