Trying to land your next—or first—voiceover gig? Proving your worth as a voice actor lies in a diverse, well-executed voiceover portfolio that shows off your voice, range, and unique talents. It should include demo reels in various genres, a strong bio, and a description of your voice.
Your voiceover portfolio is your résumé, business card, and proof of concept all in one—and there are certain elements that can help you stand out in an increasingly crowded field. Here’s how to put together a portfolio that hits all the right notes.
Before you can think about the overarching structure of your portfolio, you need to understand the art of the voice acting demo reel—a compilation of recorded clips that show off your voice in a specific VO medium.
“What [a demo] really needs to do is encompass your signature sound,” longtime demo producer Marc Graue says. He won a lifetime achievement award at the 2021 Voice Arts Awards, and has been coaching actors and producing VO demo reels out of Marc Graue Recording Studios for decades. According to Graue, these are the most common types of voiceover demos:
- Commercial: The bread and butter of VO demos, commercial voice acting clips show off your ability to read copy for advertisements and marketing materials.
- Narration: These clips usually fall into two categories—an “explainer,” which is a straightforward, corporate-style breakdown that plays over a video; and an “in-show,” which is the kind of upbeat narration that plays over reality TV, documentaries, and web videos.
- Radio: These clips showcase your ability to both host and introduce radio spots.
- Promo: Similar to commercial work, this reel includes quick promotional sound bites that play on affiliate networks and streaming services.
- Animation: More character-based and dialect-heavy, an animation demo reel is your ticket to providing voices for animated film and television, as well as anime dubbing.
- Video games: This work is focused on creating characters for video games.
Voiceover agents, particularly in the crowded Los Angeles and New York markets, are looking for demo reels that last an industry-standard 60 seconds, leaving room for roughly six clips per demo. “If it’s for video games or animation, you can get [away with] stretching to a minute and 20 seconds,” Graue says.
“A voiceover demo reel should demonstrate your vocal range and show off your unique skill set and personality—what you bring to the table,” says VO actor Steph Lynn Robinson. “You want it to highlight your strengths and all of the areas in which you are most marketable.”
To achieve this, the first clip needs to hook your listeners. “The myth that goes around is [that an agent] will only listen to the first six or eight seconds of your demo. If it’s bad, that’s true,” Graue says. But if your first clip grabs the listener, you then need to guide them from clip to clip as smoothly as possible. Don’t think of your demo structure as a series of unrelated samples, but more as the way a film or television script guides the reader down the page. “The key is forward momentum. If you lose their attention, you’re gone,” he adds.
Part of that process is making sure your demo is tailored to a single medium. Don’t mix and match clips; send a commercial demo to a commercial agent, an animation demo to an animation agent, and so forth. “It’s giving [the listener] exactly what they want from the get-go,” Graue says. “You can’t say, ‘Well, listen to the third spot,’ because [an agent] won’t do that. You have to, right out of the shoot, grab their attention.”
When in doubt, arrange your clips in the following order:
- Your highest-profile samples: If you do have professional clips ready to go, start with your most recognizable work. If you’re just starting out, skip to the next step.
- Your best samples: These should be the clips you’re proudest of and that you feel sound the best. (If this also happens to be your highest-profile work, great!)
- Samples that show off your range: Demonstrate how far beyond your “brand” you can stretch yourself.
Of course, the audio quality of your demo reel is paramount. Working with a professional producer can eliminate most common recording pitfalls, such as background noise, hissing or buzzing, choppy editing, or abrupt noises that don’t belong.
Your voiceover portfolio is a collection of all the demos you’ve created that demonstrates your versatility. “Most people that you see that have been in the business or are really doing this seriously have separate demos for each [medium],” Graue says.
Create a personal website so you can house all of your demos in one place. You can also make a profile on a platform like Voice123, which allows you to not only store your demos, but also to filter and search for voiceover auditions and jobs based on your personal preferences and skill set.
The key to a quality voiceover portfolio is diversity and range. If your strong suit is creating characters for animation, put your animation demo front and center, but also have a commercial or narration demo in your back pocket.
“An agent loves a utility player,” Graue says.
“A potential buyer or agent can say, ‘What we’re looking for is similar to what you did in that narration, but we want something a little drier or a little more exciting,’ ” he continues. “In that case, your portfolio is what you’d have on a website to go to, showing your voice in different styles and different genres.”
If you’re hosting your demos on a personal website or casting platform, there are specifics to keep in mind outside of your samples. Fill out your profile with a bio, your past professional experience, additional skills, and descriptors of your voice.
Many casting sites allow clients to filter results based on what they’re looking for, so it pays to be as descriptive as possible. Include your age, gender, and location, as well as strong adjectives that represent your voice as it comes through on recordings: “friendly,” “warm,” “rich,” “conversational,” “funny,” “trusted,” “knowing,” “honest,” or “tough,” for example.
For anyone looking to create their first samples from scratch, VO actor Linnea Sage recommends “choosing three to four commercials you gravitate toward across different tonalities and energies,” writing down the copy, then renting a sound booth by the hour to compile them.
Working with coaches and participating in classes and workshops are ideal ways for a beginner to not only identify their strong suits and learn basic skills, but also to assemble clips for their first demo reels. On average, classes and workshops cost between $150 and $2,000, with the addition of demo production bumping it up to the higher end of the range. But it’s an investment that most experts agree is worth it.
“The selection of your demo team is super important when it comes to producing a great product,” says VO coach and casting director Lau Lapides. “You want to make sure that it’s both professional and industry-standard, which means your coaches, producer, and engineer should know and understand fully the best practices of today’s VO market rather than [the market of] 10 years ago.”
“Get a little coaching, and then save up the money to get a quality demo,” Graue advises. He notes that, as a new voice actor, your first demos will likely be your calling card for at least five years, so it’s important to begin with a strong foundation. As self-produced demos become more common, agents have gotten better at identifying the hallmarks of non-professional portfolios.
“Without even realizing what you’re doing, you’ve created a negative impression,” Graue says of rushing through a demo without consulting a professional. “An agent, or even a buyer, is going to be more interested in you if they think you are a working pro.”
VO casting director and producer Kate McClanaghan counts self-producing among the most common early career mistakes. That list also includes:
- Using auditions as demo clips
- Mixing different VO mediums on the same demo
- Submitting your cheaply made, “good enough for now” demo to agents and producers
- Writing your own VO copy
“You're selling yourself with your demos, so you need to know that the product is absolutely top-shelf,” Graue says. “If you feel that way, that’s going to come across to whoever you’re talking to.”