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.

Okay…
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.

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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:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/industry-news/marketing/how-much-is-the-right-voice-worth-to-an-advertiser/article27376628/

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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 voices.com
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 voices.com 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 voices.com 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:
https://soundcloud.com/clarke-w-191482132/interview

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:
https://twitter.com/voiceovercanada

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Secrets of an Agent Man: The Urge to Purge

Sometimes I feel like PN Agency is the equivalent of Hotel California – you can check out anytime you like but you can never leave. Percentage-wise, we actually do not have that many talents who have left the roster. There are a few who went union or moved out the city/country. There were a few who got too busy with other aspects of their lives/careers. And yes, in a few instances, we’ve had to let people go because they missed sessions or were generally unprofessional. But, on the whole, once people get on the roster, they generally seem to stay there.

Of course, on any roster, you have a spectrum of voices – in terms of ability and how much work they get. Talent is obviously a big factor in your earning potential but other factors come into play as well. Is a person generally available? We have some creative voices who have very busy schedules outside the voice over world. We still keep them on board because they are good at what they do but they just don’t get that much work because we can only submit them for things that fit that tight schedule. Now, if you’re only available every 3rd Wednesday, you’re probably not going to stay on the roster unless you have some incredible vocal skill that no one else has.

On that note, there are niche voices who have their place on our roster but they have to get used to the idea of the work being quality over quantity. The woman who sounds like a 12 year-old girl is valuable, as is the older “European sounding” gentleman but neither can expect a plethora of casting calls in any given year.

But what about the voices who simply do not get much work? It’s not a question of talent per se because we would not have brought them on board in the first place if we didn’t think they had talent. But sometimes it just doesn’t work – and not because of anything you can put your finger on like a disagreeable personality or an opiate addiction. As an agent, I’ve had a number of experiences with talents where I’ve asked myself – why can’t I get her more work? It doesn’t cost the agency any money to keep a talent on the roster but there’s obviously not much point in someone taking up a roster space if he/she is not booking gigs. And that’s the toughest moment as an agent. How long do you stick with a talent?

There are no easy answers to this. I know some agents who do an annual purge: parting ways with 8-10 talents who just aren’t getting gigs. Others just wait for talents to leave or seemingly don’t mind having a large roster with a mix of people who book all the time and those who only book every lunar eclipse. I have never done a purge – but I’ve sure thought about it (rubs his hands with a devilish smile).

I’m curious to open this up to other agents? Do you do periodic purges of the roster? If so, all at once, or a couple of talents here or there? Is there a set time frame you give talents in terms of evaluating how they are doing on the roster?

And I’m also curious about the talent’s perspective: how long do you give an agent before you move on? What reasons would make you decide to move on besides just not getting enough auditions/work?

Feel free to answer in the comments section but I’m also going to throw this out on social media and see what people have to say.

UPDATE: Voice Over Xtra turned this blog post into a piece on their site. There have been a number of interesting comments at the bottom of the post. Have a look:

http://www.voiceoverxtra.com/article.htm?id=B0RH2XWI

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: https://twitter.com/voiceovercanada

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The Rating is the Hardest Part

I was interested to read this piece on the Voice Over Herald website that advises voice talents to post a rate card on their web page:
http://www.voiceoverherald.com/why-you-should-post-your-voice-over-rates-online/

I definitely have an opinion on this but the preface to this is the strategy of a talent agent may be different than an individual voice talent. That said, here are my thoughts:

As an agent, I work on commission. I work for talent who expect me to negotiate, based on a number of factors that can include the usage of what’s being recorded (broadcast or non-broadcast; if broadcast, is it national or regional or local etc.), the length of the audio (if a narration), whether it will be on the web (and if so, where), the length of the session, whether this an ongoing job etc. But the main point is – they expect me to negotiate. A rate card locks you into a narrow set of rates before having all of the above information. It also limits your freedom to work with a wide spectrum of budgets and circumstances.

I certainly agree with the columnist that one shouldn’t charge more to one client than another for the exact same thing. But I disagree about posting the rate card. Perhaps there are some clients who would listen to a voice on a site and like it enough to want to know the price but then leave the site in a huff because there are no prices, but aren’t they few and far between? If someone likes a voice, I think they will take some minimum steps to potentially engage the talent – like dropping them a line to discuss rates.

And I think it far more likely that a rate card might “scare” some people off. The writer worries about those clients leaving the site because they can’t find rate info but how will he know about all the potential clients who have “only” $400 for that radio spot and the rate card says $500. So, they look at the rates and walk away, not knowing that there is room for negotiation. I think the pool of clients potentially walking away because the price doesn’t work for them is larger than the group who would leave the site because there is no pricing.

Or what if it’s a cool project or a charity where you might consider doing the job for a lesser rate. How are they going to know that from looking at a rate card on the site that states everything in black and white?

And most importantly, as I say above, you take yourself out of the negotiation process by already giving your price, given that there are so many variables when it comes to costing out voice jobs. This is a form of acting and the entertainment & broadcast industry has dictated for decades that the way pricing is done with acting & performance is different than a standard transaction at the grocery store. So my advice is: you have chosen to play in that arena so play!

Have a ballpark rate card that you keep internally which allows you to be consistent from client to client but don’t lock yourself into rates by posting it on-line. Try your best to quote on a project by project basis, once you have all the information about a potential job.

You might also want to read my post on Top 10 Tips to doing a Successful Voice Over Deal here:
http://www.voiceovercanada.ca/?p=420

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: https://twitter.com/voiceovercanada

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Erin Davis

Erin Davis is a Toronto radio legend. She has been #1 in the market for a long time now and I was excited to meet with her and her husband/manager a few weeks ago about joining PN Agency. She came on board the voice roster shortly after that and we were just getting going with auditions and sessions when tragedy struck their family earlier this week. Erin’s daughter Lauren – herself a radio star, in Ottawa – did not wake up on Monday morning. She leaves behind her husband and a 7-month old son.

I have no words to comfort them and just can’t imagine what they’re going through right now. Everyone in the Toronto radio and voice over community is saddened by the news. I leave it to Erin to speak for herself:

http://www.erindavis.com/erin-s-journals/may-11-2015/just-thought-0

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