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What are the different types of voice over demos?

Demos, reels, showreels, samples or examples, whatever you call them (it should be demo or reel by the way), a voiceover artist needs some. Why? So prospective clients can hear your voice, hear your recording quality and see if you might be right for the job.

Photo by Denise Jans on Unsplash


I'm not going to go into too much detail here about how to create a voice over demo reel as it's a topic all of its own. But there will be useful information and a few tips scattered throughout that will be helpful if that's what you're planning on doing.


Let's get into it.


Commercial reel

This one, as the title suggests, contains commercials, adverts, ads. They can be for TV or radio, but it's best to not even think of where the ad might sit, then you won't be restricted if you're writing the scripts for it. All reels should show as much range as possible, in terms of voice but also content. It could be a product, a service, a charity, a business - but they must all be different. My first ever commercial voice over demo had 3 charity ads on it! They were all different styles but it's no good if a casting director for a car advert has to listen to 50% of a reel that's irrelevant to his needs.


The trend for commercials right now (and a lot of other genres) is for real voices. When you're selling, you need the audience to be able to relate, so it's not really the place for an evil orc character.


The companies included on a commercial reel should be genuine ones - not Dave's Autos, no matter how good they are.


For illustrative purposes, here's mine. You can hear all clips vary in tone, style, mood, topic, service/product and music.

Something really great I learnt was about including one clip that will make the listeners ears stand up. Whether that's through a comedic script, a zany read or something else, there should be one that really stands out. Obviously all the ads should stand out for their own reasons, but that one clip is to let loose on, have some fun.


The strongest clips go first and last - people have a habit of skipping through the middle bits.



Promo reel

This is a bit similar to the commercial demo but it's for promos. They still appear in between shows on TV or radio, but they tell you about upcoming programmes, not products or services.


The range of voices on a promo reel can be quite varied. Just think about the different types of TV show there are - crime drama, comedy, kids, home renovations, reality - there's not one voice that would be suitable for all those. Imagine the deep and gravelly tension building voice promoting Peppa Pig. The voice has to match up with what it's talking about.



Corporate reel

When I first started out, I was confused as to the differences between a corporate narration reel and a narration reel. I would fall asleep every night screaming "IT'S ALL NARRATION!!" But then I found a great piece (I can't remember where) that simply said you're talking on behalf of a company. That can be for businesses of any size and it can be both internal and external.


Businesses have a lot of information they need to communicate to people. Internally this could be in the form of instructional videos on how to use a new system; health and safety training guides; on boarding audio files. Anything you might hear inside a company.

Externally it could just be a video on a company website, explaining their plans for the year. Or it could be a presentation at a business event. (Note the use of the generic term "business event" to show I really know what I'm talking about). Whatever it is, remember to be the company spokesperson.


Again, there should be as much range as possible. It doesn't just have to be I AM A BUSINESS MAN AND I TALK BUSINESS STUFF.



Narrative reel

This is the bread and butter for a lot of VOs - it's reading in a natural voice. Lots of these reels are done in a documentary style (think voiceover on a TV show about a historical event or crime), but they can also include excerpts from books, it could be Youtube videos and well, anything that's reading and not one of the other types of reel <insert lol emoji>.


Applications can be TV, radio, video, gaming (yes, some games have narrators!)


Explainer reel

I'm including this one here as it's a tangent from other voice over narration demos. And that's the point I want to make - with demos, there really are no limits. But I'll get to that at the end of the blog.


Explainer videos are extremely popular at the moment. In fact, according to a report by Wyzowl, 72% of videos produced are explainers. That's A LOT and A LOT of them have voiceovers. They do exactly what the title says - they explain things. They're usually relatively short and used to show a company's product or service in a way that's both engaging and easy to follow. Oh, I nearly forgot, they're animated. If you've ever seen a video that started with "This is Bob.", that's an explainer.


This reel should be kept interesting and fresh by avoiding cliches, like the above example. Although it's a great way to immediately connect with an audience by making the character real and relatable, someone who's listened to 200 demos might appreciate one that doesn't mention poor old Bob.


I purposely included names in a different way, with the second clip on my reel.

And remember the tip from earlier where I said to include a clip that would stand out? Yup, that's clip 2, talking about cats doing their you know what.


Explainer video voice overs aren't always friendly and bubbly, so don't forget RANGE RANGE RANGE.



Gaming reel

This is one of the voice over genres that I haven't yet made a reel for. I've done work in the area but got the jobs through auditions. However, it's on my list because I know it's going to be an amazing amount of fun.


If you play video games, you'll know the characters can be anything from ghosts to cars to elephants to...people. But whatever they are, on this reel, they should be acted and not over the top caricatures.


Games these days are huge experiences and some play just like watching a movie, so the reel should reflect that. It needs atmosphere, drama, it should be cinematic with a gripping storyline - yes, a storyline - there shouldn't be any individual clips here. All the characters on a video game demo reel should be different, further the story and definitely not just thrown in to show off a voice.



IVR reel

Name a company that doesn't have a phone. Exactly. That's why it's important to have one of these reels.


If you don't know what IVR is - there's an explanation here. Or just carry on reading.


IVR stands for Interactive Voice Response. You'll have heard it when you phone a company and a voice makes you press buttons. It's commonly called an IVR reel but can and will include greetings and on hold messages. Personally I think it should be renamed to telephony reel, but maybe that makes it sound old fashioned.


The way I like to think about this demo is: if someone is calling and they get put on hold, they don't want to be sold to, they don't want to be shouted at. They probably don't want to be talked at at all. You'll find a lot of neutral and natural voices on these reels - polite and empathetic.


This reel can be pretty short, as long as it still shows some range and has different types of phone message in there. A greeting, an informational clip, an apology, an interactive clip, maybe a sales message and a goodbye.


Animation reel

Another demo I've yet to make but one that I absolutely will. I enjoy being silly and making strange noises and this is where I can do exactly that.


Let me repeat. Being silly. Making strange noises. Those words alone should make anyone interested in doing voice over for animation.


Think of some animations you know - maybe cartoons like Spongebob or claymations like Wallace and Grommit - lot's of those characters are like uh totally wild maaaaan.


Almost the opposite of the characters in a gaming reel, these are exaggerated, over the top and zany. Expect something loud and proud.


Again, there should be a good storyline keeping the listener engaged all the way through. If it grabs them at the start, they're more likely to listen to the whole reel and see exactly what the VO can do.



E-learning

People don't just go to school or uni to study these days. Anybody can study anywhere, anytime thanks to computers and electronics and stuff. (I laughed when I wrote that). It can be free courses, paid courses, courses at work, the list is long. Despite being a huge genre, I think it's one people don't really think about unless they've used it.


E-learning modules can often be extremely long winded but the job of the voice artist is not only to teach but to engage and that should be shown on this reel. Saying that, e-learning voiceover can be totally different to what your first perception might be. I've worked on projects where I've played characters in scenarios that will be within the lessons, so it's not all 8 hour long scripts!



Summary

I mentioned up there somewhere ^^ that with demos, there really are no limits. Taking the narration example, you could have a reel that solely focuses on explainers. Wait. We've done that one.


Lets use the commercial demo example instead. Here's a scenario: you're going for a voiceover job for a car ad. The new Volvo. You send your reel, but it doesn't have any car ads on it. Now that might not matter to the casting director, but it would give you a great chance of landing the job if they knew how your voice sounded in an appropriate setting. Make a car commercial reel. Make an explainer reel for charities. Make a corporate reel for startups. Make a reel for the guys who breed the fish that nibble the skin off your feet in those strange skin nibbling fish salons.


Remember to get as much range into your reels as possible. Even if you're making the feet fish demo, what's right for one client might not be right for another. Show them how versatile you can be.


A question that's asked a lot when voiceovers start out is how long should a voice over demo be? It always used to be 2 minutes maximum, but recently that's coming down and a lot of voice artists are shaving that time in half. My commercial reel is about 90 seconds, whereas my explainer reel is just over a minute. My IVR demo is 54 seconds. The fact is, hirers don't have all the time in the world and the world we live in is driven by instant gratification.


So keep them nearer to 60 seconds if you can, but DEFINITELY DEFINITELY under 2 minutes.


Making a voice over demo is one of the most rewarding things I've done in my life and I hope to be able to do some how to's on that soon. From research to script writing and from choosing music to editing and mastering, there's something special about seeing the whole creative process through from start to finish.


Other types of reel I've seen on my travels and which I'll keep adding to:

Podcast

Virtual reality

Child

Accents

Jingles

Singing

Poetry

Continuity

Trailer

Toys & games

Medical

Audiobook

Transportation


If you have any questions about reels, then feel free to drop me a message.

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© 2020 Martin Whiskin