Voiceover Showreels

For a pro voiceover one of the most important marketing tools is your VO showreel(s). This is where potential customers will hear your voice and decide whether your tone is what they’re looking for to represent their product or service. So whether you’re new to the voiceover industry or an old hand it’s always worth spending time – and even money – on making sure that you are being branded as well as possible with what you’re sending out or putting online to showcase your talents.

I’ve been a professional producer for 15 years and have listened to hundreds of showreels over that time and cast people for jobs based on them, most have been successful castings, but some I’ve felt have been mis-represented by their reels: I have on a few occasions cast a VO based on their showreel and been disappointed at the results, flip that over and how many VOs have I not used because their showreel was sub-standard? So today I want to think about what makes a good reel from a producers point of view in order that you can hit the spot when you’re next considering your showreel.

If you are new to voicing a showreel is as important a part of your initial set-up as a microphone, but you need to do it right. I would strongly advise against just sitting at home writing your own scripts and recording. There are a number of studios and companies who will spend a day or two with you coaching you on technique and teaching you some of the intricacies of the job and will put a reel together with you at the end of it. This will not only give you a produced reel, but give you a kick-start into voicing and hopefully break any bad habits before they get too imbedded. Ask around other VOs and see who they have used for this coaching/showreel service and listen to their results before you book anything. Make sure you like the general sound of the output. I would advise using a coach who is still actively producing, as technologies and fashions in voicing change and you need something that sounds current if you’re going to compete.

I always prefer to hear ‘live’ jobs. Hearing how you sound on actual campaigns and audio for real clients lends a weight to a showreel that ‘made up’ jobs just don’t. It proves that you are being used by other companies and agencies and that you can take direction and can work well in the field. If you have no live jobs don’t bluff them. I once received a showreel from a new VO with lots of big names in their reel, but unfortunately I knew the VOs who had done the real campaigns. Guess who I never hired? Whatever stage in your career you’re at it always worth asking a producer if you can have a copy of a finished job if you think it’s going to turn out well so you can use it on future reels.

Your reel needs a variety of reads on it. Not just in terms of characters or accents, but also vary the pace of the read, the tone of voice and distance from the mic. You’re trying to prove that you know what you’re doing, that you command the booth and that you know how to bring to life whatever turgid rot you’re given to read.

Reels should only be a maximum of a minute and a half long. People just won’t listen to more than that. So you will probably need a few reels doing. You may want a general one, but if you work in a variety of areas you will need more specific reels for each of these as well. Comprod is a very different skill set to television documentaries, and TV documentaries is very different to game characters. If I need a VO to read a disclaimer I don’t care how convincing you are as Eeyore, so send me a different reel.

How often do you put together a new reel? The short answer is ‘as often as necessary.’ If your reel isn’t getting you as much work as you’d like, do a new reel. If your reel has dates in it more than a couple of years old, do a new reel. If you’ve been sending out a same reel for what seems like ages, do a new reel. It isn’t always the most enjoyable part of your job, but it is an investment of time and money as it should be getting you work. If you value your career you have to treat your showreel as a premium item.

So having considered what we put on the reel we need to think about putting it together. Here I’m going to tell you to get a professional producer to do it for you. As I’ve said I’ve heard hundreds of reels, and the quality of the audio has varied massively. I know that when I listen I shouldn’t be listening to the production standards, I’m listening to the voice. But as a producer it’s really hard listening to a reel that sounds like it’s been filtered through a tramps sock. There are other implications as well. Firstly if I’m looking to do any kind of remote work (self-record, ISDN or other) I need to know that your home set-up is sufficiently good for my needs. A badly produced reel makes this harder to judge and therefore I’m less likely to hire you. Secondly, if second-rate audio is good enough for you to send out it implies that you don’t care enough about the quality of audio that represents you – and as you’re in the audio business that’s a huge problem.

Even if you regularly produce audio and are very competent with production I would still recommend getting a pro to produce your showreel. At the very least get a third party to do it for you (Let’s be honest here – I want you to give me a call and get me to do it for you). Having voiced everything that will be on your reel you have an emotional investment in the material, which others don’t share. A certain job you did may have been a personal triumph for you, but it may not be your strongest read to a third party who doesn’t have a clue about the history of the session – and your potential clients are all neutral parties who don’t know the history of any of your reads. Third parties can judge the end result, not the non-existent back-story and give you an objective opinion on what makes your showreel as strong as it can be.

So here’s the selly bit. How do I fit in with this? I may be able to produce your reel for you – I have produced reels for a many voiceovers and actors over the years. I am a very competent producer with lots of tricks up my sleeve, but I’m not a voice coach, so if you’re a newby there are better people than me to put together your first reel. But if you’re beyond that first stage you could do a lot worse than get in touch with me and let me put something together for you. See? That didn’t hurt did it?

So to end with an example of a fantastic reel. This is by the late lamented Mike Hurley and it breaks all the rules in the book. If you want to know why, then give me a call.

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