by Trent Rentsch
While I’ve done my share of voice-over, in the past few years I’ve found myself on the other side of the fence, casting voices for a wide variety of audio and video projects. One of the more interesting casting projects lately entailed casting around 50 characters for a computer game called “Knee Deep.” It was our first game project, with a short turn around and thousands of lines of script, but before we could begin, my partner in crime, Chadd Pierce and I, coordinated literally 100s of auditions for the guys at Prologue Games to review. Then there were the “call backs,” as they narrowed their favorites down for second auditions, and THEN, the “real work” began… hours directing each of the chosen voice actors, along with Wes from Prologue. The process went on for a couple of months, as we squeezed our daily work chores between sessions. And, yes, we managed to get ourselves cast in a few parts as well, so we’d sometimes go from directing a session to being directed by Wes for our own. It WAS a lot of work, but it was also a blast… especially when we were invited to their kick-off party, and saw all that work come to life as the 3D characters spoke in the voices we knew so well.
Casting and directing voices has given me a new perspective of voice-over. I’ve discovered things in my own demos that would make me never cast, well, me. I’ve also learned the difference between a true voice professional, and those who… well, we’ll get into that. As you may be looking to grab a few more voice gigs (and I know precious few radio Creatives who aren’t), I thought I’d share some of my revelations.
It’s a Demo, Not a Movie of the Week
While there are exceptions, the majority of the demos I hear are too long. Not just a little too long, “War & Peace” too long. Often with some big “catchy build-up” to what I’m really listening for… well, maybe. I find that what I’m really listening for is buried somewhere in the middle of the demo, where the best voicework was inexplicably buried.
From a casting perspective, it’s both frustrating and discouraging. When the day is already long, the last thing any casting director has time for is a game of hide & seek. Give your name, then blow me away with your best read, then your second best, then your third… and by then, you’ve got me. Don’t throw every read you’ve ever done into a 10 minute piece; even if you hook me, I’m going to last, at most, a minute. Do separate demos for straight commercial reads, characters, narration and imaging… and send the correct demo for what the director is casting.
Short snippets of your very best work will get you noticed more than silly, rambling set-ups, and lesser work “ramping up” to the “good stuff.”
Audition for Fun and No Profit
In addition to your voice demo, you may be asked to audition anything from a few lines to the entire script. Some voice actors are reluctant to do that, especially the entire script. I get it; you might not know me from Adam, and your voicework could get “ripped off.” But more confusing are the talents who insist on being paid for the audition, no matter how short or long. “I provided a voice, I should be paid,” was the response from one “talent.” Uhm…
Here’s the view from the other side. My client would like to choose a voice from several talents. Often, they have little experience in judging voicework, and a line or two is not going to cut it; they need to hear the entire ad (yes, I see the irony, based on my demo comments). I’m not going to use your voice until we get client approval AND you’ve been notified and $$ has been discussed and agreed upon.
As for those who “always” get paid for auditions, you are among an elite lucky few. I’ve heard of huge projects that do, but they’re in the minority. As someone who has paid his own way to fly across country for a job interview, I find it odd that someone can’t spend 30 seconds of their time auditioning for a voice gig.
Putting the “P” in Professional Voice Actor
A few house-keeping duties that will keep you on top of the consideration list: Once you’ve auditioned, give it a few days, not hours or minutes, before you check in to see how the casting is going. Try not to take it personally if it takes a while to get back to you. I do my best, but there are only so many hours in the day, and there’s always another “all hands on deck” emergency to deal with. Patience and a good attitude go a long way to ensuring that you’ll be called on for future work.
Once you are cast, make sure you’re on time for directed sessions, and timely with the voice files that aren’t directed. Understand that there WILL be revisions and pickup lines (there ALWAYS are), and get them back asap, as they are always the last minute emergency items the production staff needs. And finally, once a price has been agreed upon, don’t come back at the last minute, demanding more money (unless the entire scope of the project suddenly becomes twice the size you were told it was going to be).
The competition for voicework is more fierce than ever. The most important thing you can do to get in front of the pack is to treat Producers as valued clients, not “just 150 lousy bucks when I usually get 250 a read.” The highest profile talents I’ve worked with are always there, ready to audition, ready to give it everything they’ve got, even when the budget wasn’t their “usual fee.” These are the people I can rely on… these are the people that keep getting the gigs.
The voice-over business IS a business, and a tough one at that. If you want to be a success, you’re gonna have to work, hard, and some things asked of you might not seem fair. But on the other hand, there are worse gigs, that pay a lot less. The “work” in “voicework” isn’t all about your voice.
Trent Creates words, voices, audio and music. His professional home is Krash Creative. You can send him your voice demo at: