[original post at this Reddit.com link](*editors note: this is for animation and cartoon demos mainly)
I used to be a casting director specializing in cartoon and video game casting in Vancouver.
I noticed you said you didn't have any money for coaching or a better demo. Unknown if this will help, but I can at least tell you what we looked for in quality voice demos from new actors when I was doing it:
1) Demo should be 2 to 3 mins MAX (If you don't have that many voices you can pull off, shorter like 1 minute is better - and no filler - only your BEST work should make the demo). It's got to be short enough that we won't get bored listening to it (I never had time to listen to a 5 or 10 minute demo anyway!). The other reason it's short is so it can fit into an .mp3 that you can email. That'll be about 3-4 Mb's, any more than that and you'll clog my email inbox!
2) Open the demo with simply your name and identify what type of demo it is and perhaps even the year. So, "John Smith, animation voice demo 2014", If you were doing commercials, you'd say that instead etc. And do it in your regular voice (no "put on" voices). This way if the .mp3 file gets mislabeled somewhere along the way, someone can click on it and at least know what it was.
Note: this is an animation demo, so you want to do a few different voices to show your range and versatility. The reason this is important for ALL voice actors is because its cheaper for me to hire you to play 3-4 characters in a cartoon (your "main" character plus some background guys) than it is for me to bring in 4 different actors to cover all the individual roles. So if you have range, you have versatility, so if you save me money, you're more likely to be hired! So...
3) Open with a reading in your own natural voice. The first thing I'd want to hear is what you sound like normally.
4) Next, do 2 to MAYBE 6 additional readings (remember its still only 3 mins long) in all the other voices you can do. If you have a "Jack Bauer / Army General" voice, let's hear it. If you do "mad scientist", "old man", "reptilian/animal" type voice, or any number of other "characters", let's hear them.
Remember range is key (side note: sometimes even if we had someone's demo that did NOT have the voice type I was looking for, they might still show me enough range that I think they could pull something else off, so they may get an audition anyway).
Each of these should be ~20-30 seconds, as I need enough material to hear what you can do with a character. Something only 10 seconds just isn't long enough, and longer than 30 seconds I don't need to hear and you're wasting my time.
5) Note that if you're working on voices but they're not yet good, don't bother putting them on this demo (you can always release an update later when you've perfected something). If I hear something on the demo which doesn't sound good enough, you may make me question your ability/choices overall, and that would be bad. Only put on things you know you can do well.
6) One more note about voices: if you can do a child's voice, get it on your reel! Typically adult men can't pull this off so I'll mention it just as a point of reference: Who are the main character of most children's cartoons? Children! Between the ages of 8-18 usually. If you can do a realistic young child's voice (young boys for men, both young boys and girls for women) you'll be huge in animation because of the simple fact that we don't want to hire REAL children. Think of the Simpsons, Bart Simpsons voice (voiced by a woman!) hasn't changed in in ~25 years. If we hire real children (for lead roles that is, they can still do one-off's), their voices will change as they age, which just doesn't work on a animated series which may run 4 or 5 years or longer.
7) Finally, if this is a blind submission (ie: you don't know the agent/casting director), it may be prudent to end the demo with you saying how to contact you, give email + phone number. This is again in case your demo is separated from your paperwork (or your .mp3 is passed around to other casting directors, which would be awesome!) they can still reach you.
I think that's about it. If you already knew all this, I apologize for assuming, but just thought it could help you make up your own new/fresh demo (since I believe you mentioned you have a home studio?). Good luck to you!
Edit: I want to apologize to uglydork for quasai-hijacking his AMA here. T'was not my intention! There's just been so many people commenting and asking questions, I wanted to give a few more answers in the event it can help anyone else out. Thanks to uglydork for allowing me the use of his AMA!
Edit 2 Also, I forgot one more thing I could add:
8) Editing your demo: If you know NOTHING about audio editing, that's ok. What I recommend, as a timeline of your demo, is doing your introduction in your own voice, then 2-3 seconds of dead air, then the first reading, 2-3 seconds of air, then the next etc.... don't put them back to back because I need to see a definitive beginning and end to each voice you do so I'm not confused as to why you just switched voices, and don't put more than 3 seconds of space between each or else I'll think the demo was over and close it prematurely. So 2-3 seconds in between each reading is about enough to put definitive space in between segments, but it's fast enough that my mind won't register it ended to go close the .mp3.
And for those of you who PM'd me asking how you could edit your demo, there is a cool FREE audio recording and editing program I've always liked called Audacity (http://audacity.sourceforge.net/). It's open source so it's not illegal to download or anything. It's basic by any standards, but still has more features than something like Windows Sound Recorder. It allows you to edit a bunch of your clips into one main clip, and export it out to .mp3. It probably has a help section that discusses basic editing, I'm not sure I haven't touched it in a few years myself...
Finally, I know I sound like Billy Mays saying "Oh it's so easy to cut a demo right in your own home, just do this..." etc etc. I don't mean to make it sound EASY. This is your first demo, IF you manage to get an agent with it, they'll likely arrange for you to go into a REAL recording booth and do another, higher quality version that they can use to impress casting directors like me haha! No matter how good of equipment you've got at home, it will still likely sound like you recorded it at home... My advice for recording at home is mostly just for starting out. You can't get an agent without a demo, but you (likely) can't afford to pay for a professionally recorded demo until you've got the agent etc... chicken and egg thing... So I'm just trying to give you the beginning of the egg I suppose... It will take a lot of hard work and practice to perfect any characters you try to create, and even though it's cartoons, we want them to sound realistic, in the sense that it's believable enough that a viewer is not taken out of the immersion of the program. It is a very difficult skill to master, so please don't take my above notes as suggesting it's easy to become a famous voice actor. With that said, if you can afford the time and you enjoy it, I say go for it! Because somewhere out there, there's some little kid who needs to experience the imaginative worlds that cartoons provide them. That's a pretty important task in my opinion haha!
Edit 3: Just to be clear, the above notes are for animation demo only. A demo you make for cartoons/video games is VERY different than something you'd do for commercials, or narration (like Morgan Freeman documentary is what I mean by that), audio books etc. All those have different types of demos. My experience was all animation & cartoon based...[sic].
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