Cast Away 2: It’s okay to ignore Casting Directors (sorry Casting Directors!)

Some thoughts on voiceover auditions…

I have always thought that talents should let the copy dictate their audition. That essentially means more or less ignoring directions they get either in writing or in person, though I realize an in person audition necessitates you walk that fine line between giving the read you think best reflects the writing but also showing that you can take direction from a director.

Too many times though whoever is putting together the Casting either doesn’t know what he or she wants or isn’t always the most articulate about communicating it. Or their directions/descriptions are just flat out confusing.

Casting notes I have received within the last year:

We are looking for a female voice who is kind of sarcastic and is between 20 and 30 years old. Voice reference given is Kathleen Turner. She will be 63 this June.

One casting recently asked for a fairly young male voice and the reference given was Wilfrid Brimley who may have had a long career dating back to his youth but is widely known for being in the movie Cocoon, which had a cast largely made up of senior citizens.

Our guy is between 25 and 35. His voice is familiar. Young, but with a deeper tone. This guy knows his shit. Wise beyond his years. He’s confident but casual. He’s the kind of guy that you listen to because he always has something interesting to say. And when he talks, you don’t feel like he’s preaching to you, you feel like he’s been around the block a few times and he’s speaking from experience. He’s not the usual ad guy VO, he’s fresh. He has gravitas. He sounds accessible and approachable, but also is an authority in his field. If he ever gave a TED talk, you’d definitely want to find a way to get tickets.

The above was for a 6 line corporate video – completely generic script.

Even if there is no voice reference, the age range is either too broad -20-40 – or absurdly narrow. 35-40. Does a 33-year-old sound that much different than a 41-year-old?

Even when they reference famous performers, it’s still isn’t that obvious. Many customer requests come in looking for someone who sounds like Tina Fey. I’m not sure many people would even recognize Tina’s voice unless she was imitating Sarah Palin or something. I think what they really mean is the female part calls for a funny/sarcastic/feisty read. Then they should just say that.

The unfortunate fact is that a lot of casting these days is like a game of broken telephone. There is the actual end client who then hires an ad agency who then hires a producer who then hires the casting director who then reaches out to agents to get home studio auditions. It’s amazing with that chain of command (and so many people involved) that by the time the auditions are turned around, that anyone has the correct language, let alone any other details right about the casting.

So, I always default to the idea that a talent should lead with the read they think best reflects the script. In other words, the read you want to do. Make that your first take on the audition you are submitting remotely or even in person. Then in subsequent takes you can try and interpret whatever direction you have been given but at least you will have led with the one that most likely feels/sounds best.

Oh, and of course I’m sure you already know that if you think you nailed the audition, odds are you’re not getting the gig. If you think it wasn’t your best, you will be probably be the client’s choice. Best to think of auditions as “batting practice”. Just another chance to get behind a mic and keep the chops warm. Try not to think about it the moment you leave the studio or press send on that audio file.

P.S. To clients: No, you’re not getting a Morgan Freeman read.

To keep up with the furious pace of the Voice Over industry and get a side order of radio tidbits as well, Follow Voice Over Canada on Twitter:


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Live from Toronto…it’s New York City!

I’m very pleased to announce that PN Agency has launched a roster of New York-based voice talents. The PN Agency business model continues to be representing talents in their own city, servicing clients in that same city. I wrote about this on the blog before which you can read here

Here is the promo email we sent to clients:

Dearest client:

PN Agency is excited to announce that we now represent a fine roster of non-union voice talents in The Big Apple.  That’s right – PNA New York City is live!

We are launching the roster with 25 New York-based talents – all with industry experience and all exclusive to PN Agency.    Why not crack open a tasty beverage and listen here:



As with our Toronto & Montreal rosters in those cities, our aim is to provide talented local voices to the New York advertising, broadcasting and multi-media communities.  Of course, if you are casting a voice and are not based in Toronto, Montreal or New York, you can choose any of our talents on any of the rosters.

We will be selectively adding to the New York roster in the coming months so please remember to drop in often.   Dress is casual.  

And of course, don’t forget about our talented voice over specialists in Toronto and Montreal as well.  We are always adding selectively to those rosters too.

Look forward to working with you soon!

With affection,


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Classic Videos: No Other Way To Say It

This is a fun video from writer/director Tim Mason about a voice over session that goes horribly wrong. According to Adweek Magazine, “The film was made by Hog Butcher, a content creation company made up of improvisers, comedians and writers from Chicago institutions including Second City, IO and the Annoyance Theater. Hog Butcher is led by veteran Chicago adman Ron Lazzeretti.”


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Why do most animation demos suck?

Some thoughts on animation demos…

90% of animation/character demos are pretty much flat out terrible. There, I said it. Let’s take a minute to let that sink in.

I think my number one problem with a lot of character demos is most of the characters are totally out of context, if you can even recognize them as characters at all. A lot of these demos sound like someone just trying to make funny noises or voices in their bedroom. I don’t mean the quality of the audio recording as much as the difficulty for someone listening in terms of placing these “character voices” in anything that would resemble broadcast material. It’s like the demo clips are taken from some kind of animation workshop where participants were encouraged to explore potential voices/characters but the listener wasn’t present during those workshops so is at a total loss to understand what the voice talent is even trying to do.

Another issue is the temptation to include impersonations of famous people or even well-known animation characters. A little of this can work in a demo if the talent has already shown a nice range but if you were hoping to land regular character/animation work by just impersonating people, it’s likely not going to work. If you listen to commercials or cartoons, the character voices you hear are still rooted in reality. They are more likely to sound like everyday people, just exaggerated a bit for comedic or dramatic effect. I have probably heard 100 voice demos with Sean Connery impersonations but have only gotten the request once in 15 years of running the voice agency. Ditto for Simpsons or Family Guy characters.

Another problem with a lot of character demos-and maybe I’ve buried the lead here-the talents often just aren’t very good at voicing unique characters. There is this mistaken impression that in order to do character work, you must be a master of all trades: funny characters, accents, impressions, age ranges etc. In fact, some of the most successful character voice actors are one or two trick ponies. As long as the trick is really good, you can find work. The woman on my roster who sounds like a 12-year-old girl doesn’t work every week but whenever that’s the casting call, she has a good shot at landing it. Same with the guy with the deep booming voice who is really good for villains or powerful leaders of fictitious planets. He couldn’t do an accent or play a wacky, stoned out surfer dude if his life depended on it, nor does he attempt to do so.

The general rule for voice demos certainly applies to characters too: do what you do well and don’t bother with stuff that is not in your wheelhouse.

A character demo is not like a commercial or narration demo. It is simply meant to show that you can do a few things and that there is some kind of actor there. Almost all character-based voice projects will require auditions. It is rare that a character project is cast just off voice demos. So, there is no reason to stress about having 100 different voices on your demo or worrying because you can’t do a character type. What characters you do choose to put on your demo should be easily identified in terms of type and/or situation and also remember that comedic commercials qualify as character reads too. No reason to put on some really wacky voice when you can just add a clip of a well-written commercial script that shows character.

To keep up with the furious pace of the Voice Over industry and get a side order of radio tidbits as well, Follow Voice Over Canada on Twitter:


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How much is the right voice worth to an advertiser?

Interesting overview of the voice-over industry from Canada’s national newspaper The Globe and Mail. It covers some of the pay-to-play stuff mentioned in my previous post and even includes a quote from PN Agency’s Todd Schick :)-

“Those who regularly hire voice talent – especially advertisers – want work done faster and cheaper. Just as technology has disrupted a number of other creative industries, it has changed this corner of the ad world as well.”

The full article below:


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Pay (and pay and pay) To Play

As the owner of a voice talent agency, I am often asked my thoughts on the pay to play sites like Voice 123 and
Do I consider them competition? Are they taking work away from agencies? etc. If you’re not aware of the pay to play model, it works like this: On-line casting sites charge the voice talent a yearly subscription fee to have access to voice project castings. The site does not charge the clients who are doing the casting – just the voice talents.

I have always looked at it that they are not always going after the same clientele. Every job on the pay to play sites is a home studio job. Despite the technology, we rarely encourage home studio sessions. We like the clients who book an actual recording studio and are there in person to direct the talent or at least by phone patch or ISDN. We don’t want to be running a voice agency just to send wav files back-and-forth.

We are about getting to know our talents personally-their abilities, their schedules and their personalities. We truly represent them, rather than just throwing them up on the website and having no real insight into their talents or character.

We represent talents in their respective cities and book them for work largely in their own cities (Toronto and Montreal…for now). We really get to know the recording studios, production companies, ad agencies and multi-media firms in these cities. It’s a real business relationship, not just a couple of emails through an online site.

When the pay to play sites launched, I could see two problems with the business model: 1) The clients who were hiring the talents were allowed to communicate directly with the talents off site, once a casting decision was made. That takes the pay to play site out of the equation and sets up a business relationship between the talent and the client where they may no longer need the site.
2) If your revenue is dependent on getting more subscribers (in this case, voice talents) the end result is the quality gets lowered in terms of who is on the site. It becomes quantity over quality if you want to grow the business at all. This sets up a situation where clients casting on the site have to weed through a lot of mediocre voices to find the gems.

It would appear that ended up seeing things the same way because as I understand it, they now facilitate all of the transactions between voice talent & clients and they are now taking what amounts to a commission and in some cases, acting almost like a production company by charging clients a project management fee. This is definitely a good way to grow revenue but it doesn’t seem to be going over very well with the voice talents who belong to the site.

Graeme Spicer of Edge Studios (and a PN Agency talent I might add) recently had the opportunity to take these matters up with CEO, David Ciccarelli. You can listen to that extended interview here in which David is forced to try to defend his company’s recent business practices:

It has also been covered extensively in the voice-over community already so I don’t feel the need to weigh in and I think the interview speaks for itself.

Let’s just say, I’m quite comfortable with the PN Agency business model where we will continue to really know the talents we represent, act in their best interests and development legitimate relationships with clients in the cities where talents live. Clients who are willing to pay generous rates for direct collaboration with talented voices!

To keep up with the furious pace of the Voice Over industry and get a side order of radio tidbits as well, Follow Voice Over Canada on Twitter:


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