Vox Daily The Official Voices.com Blog

Producers Respond To Open Letter on Voice Over Demos

By Stephanie Ciccarelli

February 3, 2009

Comments (5)

Audio engineer at deskIf you're one of my friends on Facebook, you may have run across a note I wrote entitled "An Open Letter to Voice Over Demo Producers" where I posed a number of questions that had to do specifically with the norms, best practices and so forth of producing demos for promotional purposes for voice over talent.

I received two, quite detailed responses from two gentlemen who produce voice over demos in the United States, and the answers to some of the questions may surprise you!

First read my questions and then the answers supplied. After that, let me know what you think by leaving a comment.

The Original Letter as posted on Facebook

Greetings:

For those of you who have been following the debates on VOX Daily pertaining to brand name usage in demos, copyright and so forth, you can appreciate why I've written this letter.

I feel as though we have been left with more questions than answers and the purpose of this note is to get answers to those questions, and if at all possible, some closure.

See these links if you haven't been following the debates:

http://blogs.voices.com/voxdaily/2008/11/3_things_you_may_not_know_about_audition_scripts.html

http://blogs.voices.com/voxdaily/2008/12/voice_overs_tough_legal_questions_answered.html

Demo producers, these are questions that need to be addressed. Please be honest. If I'm out of line, let me know, but from where I stand these questions are relevant and the information yielded from this discussion would be of great benefit to the people whose demos are being produced in facilities around the world as well as those who are trying to enter the business of voice-over.

I also believe that the answers may prove beneficial to you!

OK, here we go:

1. Why is it (or is it not) acceptable to use brand names of companies a talent did not work for in voice over demos?

2. Do studios and or agencies have (or need to have) express written permission for using scripts from campaigns to brand their clients' voice over demos with?

3. Do studios pay a royalty fee to use these scripts?

4. Why is it assumed by a number of professionals who craft demos that people outside of our industry and its vertical markets are aware that demos are merely samples of what a voice over artist could do and not necessarily who they have worked for when the growing number of people who are hiring talent are not within the entertainment industry and wouldn't know the difference between a demo and the Real McCoy?

5. Do studios consult talent as to their level of recording / editing / mixing capabilities before cutting a demo to determine if the voice talent could replicate the production work on their own? If so, and if the talent is not nearly as capable as their demo makes them out to be (knowing that this is how they will attract business when they work from home), is it wise to produce a demo for them and could the demo itself (unless the talent always records their work at a professional studio) be considered false advertising on behalf of the voice artist?

6. Do some studios create custom copy for their clients when producing their demos? If so, how much of an extra cost is there for that service?

7. How much should it cost on average for a proper demo to be produced? Please provide a breakdown of what the fee includes (i.e. studio time, engineer, director, copy writing, etc.). Obviously some studios can charge more than others simply because of their reputation, location and or added value services, but if you had to draw a line in the sand, what is the least expensive price that could be quoted that would still cover the costs of producing a legitimate voice over demo that is reasonably affordable yet also makes the studio a decent profit for their time and resources?

8. Are there some of you out there who have best practices and guidelines that you follow? If so, share them so that we may learn more about what is the norm and be able to tell the difference between an honorable business and one that is only out for money.

9. What do you feel would make the business of voice over demo production more transparent?

10. Do you feel that there is an opportunity to bring demo production to the next level or are you happy with where your area of the industry is at? If you have a vision for what you hope to see, please share.

Thank you for considering these questions and I look forward to hearing from you.

Best regards,

Stephanie Ciccarelli
Co-founder of Voices.com

~~

Following that, I received two responses, including one from Juan Carlos Bagnell (SomeAudioGuy) and David Sobolov.

I've posted the questions and answers interview style to keep everything in context. Enjoy.

VOX: Why is it (or is it not) acceptable to use brand names of companies a talent did not work for in voice over demos?

DAVID SOBOLOV: We're producing non-revenue generating examples of our client's voiceover performances. Unless that client's resume falsely lists the spots we record, it's generally understood that the demo is meant to demonstrate the talent of the performer, not act as a resume of which products they've endorsed.

JUAN CARLOS BAGNELL: Well, I feel there's an expectation. People largely communicate through media references. People identify themselves by labels and cars and gadgets. I find as I stray and come up with "dummy" brands, more thought and attention is paid to the fact that the listener doesn't recognize the brand than the quality of the read. In the final edit though, I try to focus on the qualities of the person, rather than brand names, sometimes even working to eliminate as many brand name drops as I can.


VOX: Do studios and or agencies have (or need to have) express written permission for using scripts from campaigns to brand their clients' voice over demos with?

JCB: Yes. Which is why I write my own demo copy for clients.

DS: I suppose, if it got right down to it, the copyright holders of the products or services featured in the demo could send 'cease and desist' letters, but it's highly unlikely they would. The demo gets their name brands out in to the world for free, and the demo itself is not being sold for profit. Not much damage there to litigate.... except the income of the demo producer. All we'd have to do is honor a cease and desist letter for a specific product and eliminate it from future demos. I've never received one.


VOX: Do studios pay a royalty fee to use these scripts?

DS: No. The advertising agencies barely have time to take care of the business sitting on their desks... there's no way they'd devote time and resources to policing the use of their scripts on voice demos.

JCB: Iffy. As this is not an actual product, I would initially argue no, but as money IS being exchanged I also feel credit to the actual writer is in order.


VOX: Why is it assumed by a number of professionals who craft demos that people outside of our industry and its vertical markets are aware that demos are merely samples of what a voice over artist could do and not necessarily who they have worked for when the growing number of people who are hiring talent are not within the entertainment industry and wouldn't know the difference between a demo and the Real McCoy?

JCB: It's not my job to educate advertising "professionals". Even the name of what we're discussing should be indicative of what you're receiving, "Demo" which, I've always held, is short for "demonstration". Also, why would/should a producer care? The voice they're hearing is still the same voice. Are we now saying you shouldn't be allowed to work on things, unless you've already been working on things?

DS: The demos are not intended for use by people outside our industry... they're not meant for a non-industry 'consumer.' If someone outside the industry doesn't understand the nature of what we're trying to achieve, it's not a huge concern. Demos shouldn't be produced as vanity projects or for the general public... they're meant to get the voice performer work. It's like worrying about whether or not someone watching CBS in Iowa thinks all the programs they see on their tv originate in their town... If they ask, you just explain how things works.


VOX: Do studios consult talent as to their level of recording / editing / mixing capabilities before cutting a demo to determine if the voice talent could replicate the production work on their own? If so, and if the talent is not nearly as capable as their demo makes them out to be (knowing that this is how they will attract business when they work from home), is it wise to produce a demo for them and could the demo itself (unless the talent always records their work at a professional studio) be considered false advertising on behalf of the voice artist?

DS: A voice demo that features production values above voice talent is a horrible demo. These are marketing tools for a VOICE, not to showcase how good the production is. And, frankly, if they're looking for work from home they need to invest in decent equipment if they want to have a viable career.

JCB: I only take full demos (a demo produced fully from scratch) from referrals (other demo clients, casting/talent agents, coaches), and if I think our personalities will work well together. If I make someone sound better than they are, or if they plain aren't ready, it's instantly bad advertising for me. I don't consult on technical expertise. If they come to me for a demo, I feel it's because they want me to produce it. I want them to be solely COMPLETELY focused on their performance.


VOX: Do some studios create custom copy for their clients when producing their demos? If so, how much of an extra cost is there for that service?

JCB: Yes and depends. I always write original copy for demo clients. I find it's the only way to really personalize the demo to the performer. My job is to draw out the qualities they want to sell or market, so I consider the writing all "part of the service".

DS: Yes, I do create custom copy for character demos in consultation with the voice artist. There's no extra charge for that service.


VOX: How much should it cost on average for a proper demo to be produced? Please provide a breakdown of what the fee includes (i.e. studio time, engineer, director, copy writing, etc.). Obviously some studios can charge more than others simply because of their reputation, location and or added value services, but if you had to draw a line in the sand, what is the least expensive price that could be quoted that would still cover the costs of producing a legitimate voice over demo that is reasonably affordable yet also makes the studio a decent profit for their time and resources?

DS: My price is $1000 which includes 2 hours of rehearsal (coaching / character prep), 2 hours in the studio, and my private editing and production time. In Los Angeles, I'm right in the middle of the pack price-wise. I'd say, as a general rule, if someone charges you less than $600, they probably aren't devoting enough time to give you a professional demo.

JCB: Again, it depends. I really only discuss rates and cost with clients, though most demos come out to around $1500 if it's totally from scratch.


VOX: Are there some of you out there who have best practices and guidelines that you follow? If so, share them so that we may learn more about what is the norm and be able to tell the difference between an honorable business and one that is only out for money.

JCB: I can't really say. I would hope that I act honorably, LOL. I wouldn't say it's "bad" but if a company is taking all demos clients without discretion, that could be a warning sign. I would also think that if the actor has to do all the leg work (pulling copy, selecting music), or there's little communication about the edits, then you don't really have a demo producer, you have an editor.

DS: If a producer throws you in a studio with no preparation, that sometimes produces a 'fresh' performance... but if they also send you out the door WITH your finished demo... they're ripping you off. It takes time and attention to produce a viable marketing tool... fast and dirty doesn't cut it. I give my performers all the studio time to craft their performances. Editing comes later. Another rule of thumb for me... for commercial demos I use copy that's at least six months old.


VOX: What do you feel would make the business of voice over demo production more transparent?

DS: It's a lot like acting schools and casting director 'showcases' --- there are a lot of people out to rip actors off. Look up the producer on the IMDB... make sure they're a currently working professional and make sure they offer you samples of past demos to listen to. They demo producer should be willing to answer any question you ask.

JCB: I don't really think it should be more transparent. One of the biggest issues I have working with actors right now is they all seem to be "partly educated", doing things because they were told that's how you do things, but without any real consideration as to why they do those things. Demos are a crucial tool for a voice actor, and shouldn't even be considered without a wealth of experience. So many people rush to slap some samples together, and it can really harm their careers. I feel part of that performer's journey is learning the lay of the land from producers, casting, agents, coaches, and other voice actors. These experiences are crucial. The journey of a performer should be measured in decades not weeks.


VOX: Do you feel that there is an opportunity to bring demo production to the next level or are you happy with where your area of the industry is at? If you have a vision for what you hope to see, please share.

DS: My vision is for demos to not be cookie cutter productions. Each one should use fresh copy... a variety of music beds... and let the performer showcase their unique talent rather than be squeezed into a template the producer uses for every performer to do things fast and cheap.

JCB: I'm very happy right now with my demo business. I only work with people I like, I stay pretty busy, and I'm paid well to do it.

~~

Any Comments?

First off, I'd like to thank both David Sobolov and Juan Carlos Bagnell for taking the time to answer my questions and for sharing their views.

Now, it's time to discuss!

Whether you are a demo producer who would like to give their perspective on the questions asked or are someone who has follow up questions about demo production, you are welcome to leave your thoughts as a comment below.

Looking forward to hearing from you,

Stephanie

Image via Chet Yeary II's photostream on Flickr

Related Topics: agents, audio recordings, David Sobolov, demos, industry, Juan Carlos Bagnell, Los Angeles, SomeAudioGuy, TV, United States, voice over, voiceovers


Comments


    Great discussion for new people to the Voiceover Industry! (Even experienced voice actors... It's always good to hear the opinions of the people on the other end of it!) But, very cool responses from these 2 producers! Thanks for sharing Stephanie! Wishing you all the best!, Heidi S.

    Posted by:

      Great topic and responses!

      I've been asked to produced demos a few times over the years, which I don't do. I've never felt comfortable with it.

      If someone is just starting out in the voice over industry - it's a great idea to get advice, tips, coaching and classes. The more the better in those areas. But I do not think it's worth the cost for a new talent to go to a professional studio and record a demo. I believe it would be much more beneficial for the person to invest in home recording equipment. With which the person can practice and improve.

      Unless that new talent is picking up large in-studio jobs (which seems rare for new talent), they won't even be able to accept a job because they don't have a studio to record in.

      This isn't to say there is no place for getting a voice over demo produced by a professional studio. I just think that it's for the experienced talents who have a personal studio but need their voice produced...Not for new talents.

      -Jason
      McCoy Productions
      Voice Over : Imaging : Audio Production

      Posted by:

        Hi, all. Although I’ve already answered some of these questions on another thread, as a long-time producer of demos, I will supplement what I’ve already said with some answers here.

        1. Why is it (or is it not) acceptable to use brand names of companies a talent did not work for in voice over demos?

        DP: Though the actual name of the company doesn’t occur as often as one might think, this is acceptable because the demo is not selling the company’s product, or a competing product, or interfering with the company’s business in any way. Copyrights are not designed so that no human can ever say “I’m lovin’ it” unless paid by McDonalds to say it. They are designed to protect the copyright owners from “harm” – harm in the legal sense, which means lost business. Nothing we are talking about here would cause legal harm.

        4. Why is it assumed by a number of professionals who craft demos that people outside of our industry and its vertical markets are aware that demos are merely samples of what a voice over artist could do...

        DP: Stephanie, we could formulate the question from the other side: Why is it assumed that our industry should not have norms and standards, regardless of whether outsiders are aware of them? All industries (as far as I know) have customary ways of working that might trip up newbies. The fact that they are customary means that they serve a purpose, and that the cost of some misunderstanding by novices is less than the benefit of working in established ways.

        5. Do studios consult talent as to their level of recording / editing / mixing capabilities before cutting a demo to determine if the voice talent could replicate the production work on their own? ...

        DP: If the talent is selling his production skills instead of his voiceover skills - when he has few production skills - he is misrepresenting himself. He is not helping himself in the long run. Most voice artists working from home, should, in my opinion, be supplying raw voice tracks. If they are selling their studio time and production skills as well, they need to make that distinction.

        6. Do some studios create custom copy for their clients when producing their demos? If so, how much of an extra cost is there for that service?

        DP: We do that all the time at Colors Audio. It’s included in the flat rate for the demo. And we customize the other copy.

        7. How much should it cost on average for a proper demo to be produced? ...

        DP: The value of something is a number agreed upon by the buyer and the seller. This question seems to assume that there is a fixed, “righteous” price for something, instead of variable demand at varying prices.

        I do charge a very low rate for demos as an “investment”. I am hoping to help bring another voice talent into the local market, which helps not only her but the local economy, including me. On the other hand, some studios lure in talent with a low price, then throw the talent into a cookie cutter. She ends up with a cheap and undifferentiated demo. My advice to talent is to look for a studio that is willing to help you. Listen to the demos they have already produced: are they all different, highlighting the unique aspects of each actor? It should be obvious that a demo showcasing your distinctives is a better tool for getting you hired. Only you can decide whether the extra money is worth it.

        Thanks again for the stimulating discussion!

        Posted by:

          I've produced voice over demos in Los Angeles (the center of the world of voice overs) for 15 years so I have a pretty good handle on the standard. Here are my ideas:

          1. Why is it (or is it not) acceptable to use brand names...

          In Los Angeles it is standard industry practice to use brand names when producing demos... It is in no way seen as implying that you actually booked that job. Even pros with a large body of work will add new spots to their demo using brand names to show how they would perform in that new market. The November issue of Ross reports has an article on voice overs and the article says use real brand names. Fake brand names are distracting to listen to and instantly imply that your an amateur. So use real brand names.

          2. Do studios and or agencies have (or need to have) express written permission for using scripts...

          Theoretically , yes. Practically, no. If I tried to obtain permission from advertisers I'd spend all my time doing that and get no results for my efforts. And if you asked they would automatically say "no." to enforce their copyrights. So the copyright issue is winked at (or probably ignored) by the ad industry. We're actually providing free advertising. I think this is similar to the appearance of a box of Cheerios in a movie. At one time it was considered incidental and free advertising. Now the advertisers PAY THE MOVIE PRODUCERS to include their products in the movie. Hey, that's it! I should get the advertisers to pay ME to use their copy! Brilliant!

          3. Do studios pay a royalty fee to use these scripts?

          See above answer and my brilliant new revenue stream!

          4. Why is it assumed that demos are merely samples of what a voice over artist could do and not necessarily who they have worked for when the growing number of people who are hiring talent are not within the entertainment industry...

          If people are hiring talent then they ARE in the industry and they need to educate themselves regarding industry standards. Demos are a DEMONSTRATION of your voice over ablities. If a voice talent from Deer Lick Kentucky has a voice over demo with national commercials on it a listener would have to be extremely naive to believe that talent performed those commercials. (no offense to Deer Lick KY)

          5. Do studios consult talent as to their level of recording / editing / mixing capabilities before cutting a demo...

          The demo indicates the ability of the talent to perform in a professional studio while being directed by a competent voice director. (after all, that's how it's created) It is NOT meant to demonstrate the talents production abilities(recording, editing, mixing). This is a totaly seperate subject. In the brave new world of online voice overs, I think the talent's production ablities, equipment, self-direction, etc. are demonstrated when they produce their custom auditions. Clients should always insist on a custom audition to evaluate the final product of the voice talent which will combine broadcast quality production, a good level of self-direction in interpreting the copy, and the actual pipes and ability to express the ideas in the copy.

          6. Do some studios create custom copy for their clients when producing their demos? If so, how much of an extra cost is there for that service?

          For commercial demos I'll edit the original copy down to a shorter version to give it more impact in the smaller time frame required for a demo. For animation demos I create an original script in consultation with the client. This is part of the service.

          7. How much should it cost on average for a proper demo to be produced?...

          First of all remember: you are not just paying for studio time when you have a demo produced. You are paying for an industry professional who has the ears and sensitivity to listen to you and bring out your best talent while matching the material that you record to the marketplace. I charge $1000.00 to produce a demo. This is in the middle of the rates in Los Angeles. This includes a two hour rehearsal session where I say "the rules are... there are no rules" That means we brainstorm different ideas, read through a variety of copy, try different vocal attitudes and reach an agreement on the best copy for your style.

          I then write a script using real brands which I email to you to look over (but not over-rehearse!) We the proceed to the recording session where we record multiple takes of each spot with careful notes and direction between each take. From this I proceed to editing where I pick the best performances from the various takes and add music and sound effects to create 8-10 spots. These are then "butt-spiced (an old tape term), meaning no cross-fades... one spot just jumps to the next. The order is important to demonstrate as much variety as possible at the front of the demo.

          For the work and expertise involved $1000 is fair price. For much less than that you won't be receiving the personal attention you need to make your demo unique. The price might be a bit lower in smaller markets.

          8. Are there some of you out there who have best practices and guidelines that you follow?...

          I always have my demo clients read copy before starting a demo to see if they have they have the performance "chops" to compete in this industry. There's a wide spectrum of work out there so you don't have to be Don Lafontaine to get involved but you do need to be prepared and professional to work. Remember: the demo gets you an audition, the audition gets you jobs. Don't present anything on the demo that you can't easily replicate in real world recording sessions.

          I teach classes and do private coaching, so if a client isn't quite ready, I'll refer them back to classes or coaching to sharpen and define their skills.

          The biggest danger to beware of is a producer who doesn't spend time defining who you are and customing the demo to your needs. If someone hand you copy in the first session, has you read, edits this material and hands you your demo on the way out the door you're getting ripped off.

          The demo is your represention in the industry, much like the headshot is to and actor. Get a quality demo. It's a small investment to make to participate in this wonderful industry.

          10. Do you feel that there is an opportunity to bring demo production to the next level...

          With the improvement in equipment and abilities over the last few years, demo production has reached a very high standard. Good demos are broadcast quality and the spots could be aired tomorrow by the advertisers and the consumers probably couldn't tell the difference. In L.A. many demos producers DO produce real commerecials that are nationally aired.

          So don't waste your time or money. Go to a pro and get it done right the first time. You'll be glad you did.

          I have much more information about demos and the voiceover industry on my website if you click on my link below.

          I hope this helps everyone!

          Posted by:

            Thank you so much for this information, very helpful. I just finished writing my own children's story to use on my demo so that I would not have any copyright issues. I'm glad I did, but I can see now it was not entirely necessary.

            Debbie Lombard

            Posted by:
            • Debbie Lombard
            • February 5, 2009 9:23 AM

Leave a Comment



Recent Articles

SpeechMasterPro Helps Pros Speak Better

When Famous Actors Voice Video Games

Why Voice Trumps Music When Calling Customer Service

How Analytics Levels The Playing Field

Press A Button, Silence Someone's Voice

Does Environment Affect Vocal Performance?

Optimus Prime, Sheriff Woody & What Makes A Character Great

Should you Ello?

Do You Dread Public Speaking? Try These Exercises!

Vox Talk wants YOU!

   

Radio Advertising Center

Radio Advertising Solution Centre

Explore a new resource hub covering all aspects of planning, scheduling and launching successful radio advertising campaigns.

Radio Advertising Solution Center

Subscribe by Email

About Vox Daily

Vox Daily offers a daily dose of voice acting news, articles, tutorials, interviews, intelligent conversation and business ideas for voice talent and voice actors.


Follow Us

   

Our feed & social options update you with special offers and news as it happens.

New YouTube Video

Watch videos on YouTube