Making a Demo That Rocks!
I consider Chuck Duran of Demos That Rock to be the greatest living demo producer out there, he’s literally the guy who makes it happen for many of us. I’ve been fortunate enough to have two of my demos done with Chuck, and I intend to do many more with him in the future.
I always tell my students when it comes to recording their first demo: wait until you’re absolutely ready – until you can perform, sustain and riff off every character on there. You need to be able to do it at a professional, competitive level because it’s your calling card, and it could make or break first impressions of you across the industry.
While I go deeper into this in my own class on Demos, it was also important for me to have a demo producer come into the studio to give my students first-hand, expert opinions and advice.
Chuck graciously accepted my invitation to come in and teach as part of Blumvox’ Special Guest Series, and this article contains some of the gems from that night. It was one of the most fun and informative classes we’ve had, and I hope you enjoy this interview-style excerpt.
In your opinion Chuck, when is someone ready to record a demo?
Once you get to the point where your chops are really really good and you can impress somebody, you’re ready for a demo. Sure, it might not be a Chuck Duran demo, maybe you don’t want to go that high just yet, but you might still be ready for a demo; something you can put out there to start your resume.
When you’re ready to get out there and start treading the waters and auditioning, that’s a good time. Maybe you’re not ready for a giant agency in Los Angeles, but there are other smaller agencies across the United States and all over the world that might take you on for local, regional work.
When you think you are ready to make a demo, you need to first find out if you’re ready. The best way to find out if you’re ready is if you’re coaching with somebody like Steve. No matter what level you’re at, ask your teacher, your coach. What do I mean? I mean “Hey Steve, can you listen to this, and tell me if you think I’m ready?”.
But beware! IF your coach also produces demos, be careful with their answer, okay? Find someone who doesn’t have a vested interest in making a demo for you (ie: profiting off you moving ahead). Ask someone who isn’t going to be biased in that way. Someone that has your best interests at heart.
WHO should you have produce your Demo?
Well if you’ve done what we’ve talked about here, and you know you really are ready to make your demo, then have it made by someone that actually does that.
If you make your demo on your own, it’s going to sound like you did. I always say to people, you could paint your own car, but everybody’s going to know you painted your own car! You’ll be stopping at red lights and people are gonna be like “Oh my god did that guy paint his own car?!” That’s exactly what’ll happen with a homemade demo. Everybody will know that it’s homemade, especially agents. So, have somebody that knows what they’re actually doing so that you end up with a really great starter demo. You owe it to yourself to at least start off right.
Can you get a good quality Demo no matter where you live?
Absolutely! That’s the beautiful thing about this high-tech world we’re living in now. I work more with people from all over the world than actual, LA-based talent. 5 years ago that wasn’t the case – almost everybody I worked with was local. Today 90% of the people I work with don’t live in Los Angeles. Those limitations are gone and that’s awesome.
What’s your process when you have a long distance client?
Well obviously they have to have a little home setup, and I check the quality on everything to make sure that they’ve got something that we can work with. I’ll usually direct them over Zoom, or Skype, and then they send me the files to be produced here. The cool thing about doing it this way is when people ask “Did you record this in your studio?” you can answer “Yes”. That tells people that you can work out of your own studio. That’s a plus. Sure I put the bells and whistles in and out on my end, but I do that all the time, whether you’re in my studio or your own.
What about Copy? Should they use their own or someone else’s?
Well you definitely don’t want to use “fake” copy on demos because again, everybody knows if it’s fake copy. The whole world’s going to be distracted by the fact that instead of “McDonald’s”, you said “McDougal’s”. Now your demo becomes a parody – not good. Choose real brands, real products, real services, and record them in the style that’s current, hot and active.
Having said that, don’t blatantly steal copy either. If you’re making a commercial demo stay on brand, but make sure the words are treated so that they’re original, and not a blatant rip-off.
Also, keep in mind that agents, buyers and casting directors will never listen to your demo and say “Wow, I wonder who wrote the copy!” They’re not looking for copywriters, they’re looking for voice actors.
Write your own, unique copy, but make it about real-world things that actually exist.
What if someone comes to you and says “I don’t know what I’m best at.” Do you have a way of advising them on where to start?
Absolutely, and I get emails on this every day. It’s confusing because depending on where you live the rules can be different. You might have an agent in Alabama who represents people that do narration. Here in Los Angeles there’s no agent that will pick you up for narration work, unless it’s for TV narration, like Discovery, or a Documentary.
There IS one thing that every agent out there handles though, and that’s commercial. No matter where you live, that’s the foundation of our industry. You’ll book a commercial way before you book anything animation, video game, or promo – that work is much tougher to get.
I always guide people with this: No matter what type of voice you have, look and see if your signature sound works in the area of commercial. If it does and you like it, then be conversational.
Commercials are the hardest because when you’re doing animation or video games, you can hide behind a character. In commercial work there is no character. You have to be the truest you that you could possibly be, because that’s the guy or gal they’re going to book. In commercial you have to be really true to who you are – it’s so important.
The commercial genre is the easiest and fastest way to kick start a voice-over career.
What’s your advice for somebody who’s ready to get into commercial?
Listen specifically to T.V. ads, and particularly during prime-time, between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. When people tell me they don’t have T.V. I’m like “Are you crazy?” That’s like showing up to school without a pencil or paper!
It’s so important to listen to what’s out there right now. What used to be popular 3 years ago, even in car ads, isn’t popular today. Things are changing rapidly. For example, one of the coolest things is that more women are booking T.V. spots than ever before. If you’re a girl and you don’t have an automobile spot on your demo, then you’re crazy, cause you’re not taking advantage of the explosion that’s happening there right now.
Also remember, we’re not talking about a tiny little business here. I know a guy who does regional spots for Toyota, and he makes 1.2 million a year. You are in a multi-gazillion-dollar business of your own and if you treat it like a business, it’ll pay you like a business. If you treat it like a hobby, it’ll cost you money – because hobbies cost money.
If you listen to the trends and what’s happening out there today, you’ll notice that everything is just real. Everybody sounds the way that they normally sound. When you take well-known actors and listen to their repertoire of commercial work, it’s always the same character: them! They’re being 100% authentically real.
So find out what your real is, I always tell people that’s the secret ingredient, the money-making thing that they’re looking for. What’s your niche? Your sound? It’s you. The most genuine you. The person that comes out when you’re having a conversation with your good friends and family and everyone’s having a good time? That’s your money voice.
How long do you think a great demo should be? Should there be different lengths for different types of Demos?
If you shoot for a minute you’re going to be very safe. Put it this way, if somebody doesn’t know how good you are in 30 seconds of presentation then you’re not that good.
Think of it like karaoke. You don’t have to be a vocal coach or a voice judge to know when somebody starts singing at a karaoke bar you instantly know whether they can sing or not. Now imagine an agent hearing a demo, or a buyer hearing an audition, or a casting director listening back on an audition. They instantly know if you have it or not. These people are listening beyond the sound of your voice.
In terms of length I would say a minute tops for commercial, but for narration you can go a little longer, though not longer than a minute and a half. Most agents want animation demos to be very short. Sometimes we can get away with 1:15. Same thing with video game demos, but no more than that for those.
The bottom line to remember is this; less is more. You don’t want duplicate voices over and over again. The purpose of a demo is not to showcase everything you can do. It’s simply to showcase that you’re competitive and that you can do this thing. All you need is enough to show people that you’re really, really good.
I know you’ve also worked with Bob Bergen several times, and he’s also contributed his wisdom here in class and in our Facebook community. Bob often says that your demo shouldn’t just be good, it should be brilliant.
Yes! It needs X-Factor. If your demo doesn’t have X-Factor its basically invisible – the kind of demo agents listen to for 6 seconds and then never go back to again. Your demo needs to be stellar because “good”, especially nowadays, means “invisible”.
So if someone isn’t at the point where they’d be making their demo with you, how would you suggest they shop for a demo producer?
That’s a really good question. There are some good and even great demo producers out there. I’m not the only one. Do your due diligence, there are many Facebook groups out there with people in them that are working, and they help each other out. That’s a good place to start. If you’ve got a great coach they should be able to recommend you to a good demo producer.
Here’s another thing when it comes to doing your own due diligence. Steve may say something, I may say something else and somebody else may say something totally different. We’re all right. There are multiple answers possible, what you need to know is that those answers are coming from a reputable source.
What suggestions do you have when it comes to preparing for your Demo?
Don’t do a demo unless you’ve been in some coaching. I can use Steve as an example. Steve says “Hey Chuck, I want to do a promo demo”. I say “That’s great man! But I would like you to coach with somebody, ok?”. So Steve went and got that coaching, and his promo turned out amazing.
Why get specific coaching first? It’s like a professional fighter who’s been fighting his entire life. He’s never going to walk into a ring unless he’s prepared. You will always need training, for any competition. Recording a demo that truly rocks is like preparing for the fight of your life. It’s the most important tool of your life as a voice actor. Nothing is more important. Make sure you have coaching specific to the type of demo you want.
Do your due diligence. Don’t just jump on anything. If you have to save up in order to get a better product then do it.
I’ve seen it happen a gazillion times. Somebody will research me to do their demo and then decide to go with someone else to save themselves $600. Then they end up with something that doesn’t yield what they want. Instead of saving themselves $600, they end up wasting everything they spent.
Eventually these folks come back to me, we work together, and things start going the way they want, the way they’re supposed to go. It’s not because I’m “cool” or “great”, it’s because I understand this business so well. This is not a hobby for me. My goal nowadays is not even to make money. I’m at a certain point in my career where the money is there, so everything I do is now is about “How can I help this person have success?” That’s why I always ask everybody “What’s your goal?” Whatever that goal is, we’re going to work backwards and we’re going to make sure that they reach that goal.
Even though it is a big investment, you can make that money back on your first couple of jobs.
Absolutely! Maybe you book an ongoing smaller job at first, but by the end of that year you’ve made $45,000 from that one ongoing job. That scenario happens way more often than somebody booking a big show. Don’t think that’s going to happen right away, although it might. Just today, two people shot me emails saying “I just booked right off of my demo!” They didn’t even have to audition.
These are just some of the amazing insights that Chuck offered that night in class. They hardly scratch the surface of the gold he shared regarding what to do, and (just as importantly) what NOT to do when making your demo, but hey, we have to stop somewhere! If you have a Teaching Series membership you can check out the recording of that 2 hour class, and all the other amazing special guests we’ve had so far, in the archives.
When it comes to your Demo, do it right, the first time. It’s your calling card, might as well make it a good one!
For more information on Chuck, find him at www.demosthatrock.com