What Do You Listen for in an Audio Reel?

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Cathey Lizzio, CESD Talent Agency, Los Angeles; clients have recently booked the TV shows "Archer," "Star Wars: The Clone Wars," "The Cleveland Show," and "Transformers Prime" and the film "Kung Fu Panda"

We listen to all actors' demos sent to us, solicited and unsolicited, to decide if we want to represent a particular actor. When we listen to a demo, we usually want to hear some degree of versatility spread among a range of characters, accents, and even languages spoken. An example of the actor's singing abilities, in character or not, is also welcome. The actor may not always have a wide range of voices, but if one has a unique quality or a natural character to one's voice, we also take that into consideration. Keep in mind that in gaming, the buyers cast less for offbeat character and more for good acting and realism.

Acting ability is the key to an animation performer's success in traditional animation and gaming, now more than ever before. Buyers, which include casting directors, producers, and the creator of the project, demand quality, and given the sheer size of the voiceover market, quality is plentiful, so anyone new to animation must be at that high performance level or beyond. Specifically, quality applies to the production of a demo as well as the vocal and acting skills of a performer. How the actor interprets character and brings life, dimension, and creative possibilities to the part are vital aspects the creator of the character will recognize. Our buyers, let alone us, want to feel an excitement, confidence, and partnership with our clients. As agents, we always pass our enthusiasm on to our buyers with the utmost sincerity and belief in those we represent.

Stephanie Blume, Imperium-7, Los Angeles; clients have recently booked the TV shows "American Dad," "Kick Buttowski," "Motorcity," and "Napoleon Dynamite"

When I cast on animation projects, I look for acting ability, comedic/dramatic timing, and an interesting vocal quality. The order in which I am listening depends on the project, as every job is different. In most instances, I am looking for acting ability as opposed to the classic voiceover announcer, because some animation is going very natural. Of course, there is always a place for more-character voices, such as Looney Tunes. Ultimately, I would love a voiceover actor who can wear both hats. We like to stretch our actors and not typecast them into a specific genre.

I am often in the booth directing my clients. My style of directing is to let the actor first give me his or her interpretation of the character. I offer direction on the second take, and then, if we need an adjustment, I will ask for a combination of the first and second take.

As far as demos go, put your strongest character up front, as you want to make a great first impression. Keep it fun and interesting. Avoid sounding the same throughout; as there are so many demos being submitted, you want to stand out. Try to have a variety of reads—in other words, different character voices, accents, and even an impression thrown in.

One final thought: If sending a demo CD, follow up with an emailed MP3. It's better for the environment and can be shared instantly with associates. Additionally, websites containing voiceover demos and theatrical reels are very beneficial and a quick reference to your work.

Cynthia McLean, Sutton, Barth & Vennari, Los Angeles; clients have recently booked the TV shows "Archer," "Family Guy," "Futurama," "Robot Chicken," "Special Agent Oso," and "The Simpsons"

Audio reels are vital sales tools because agents post them on their websites and use them to pitch talent to casting directors. Normally, I only listen to a submission reel when someone in the industry who I trust refers a performer to me. If the first 10 seconds has captured my attention with an original, intriguing, fully realized character in the middle of an interesting action, I keep listening. However, if the first 10 seconds has featured music, an introduction, or someone other than the talent, then I generally do not continue listening.

Overall, we expect competitive talent to display in an audio reel strong acting, comedic timing, a wide range of vocal and performance ability, and the ability to make a character walk off the page into life.

John Erlendson, JE Talent, San Francisco; clients have booked the films "Finding Nemo," "Up," and "Toy Story 3"

Being in San Francisco, we are not in a market that is as deep for animation opportunities as, say, L.A., which has more choices. But we have been very fortunate to book people on the Pixar projects up here. Like anything else, we listen for acting. A lot of people can do great voices. They can be silly-sounding voices or little-old-lady voices, but the core of it in animation, just like it is in film, is strong acting.

When we review audio reel submissions from potential clients, our focus is on the acting ability of the performer. We try to determine if the characters are fully realized and if the talent's choices are grounded and believable. It isn't just about being able to sustain a character voice; it is about being able to create a multidimensional world in which the character breathes, moves, and lives.

It is difficult to give any hard-and-fast rules about the dos and don'ts of demo reels. It seems that for every possible rule there is an exception. I would say that the demo is your commercial. It is your one opportunity to impress a potential client with your best work. Get right to the point. Just like a commercial, a demo should have a hook that engages your listener. It should show representative examples of your work in short sound bites, and it should have a tag to remind them why they listened to you in the first place. Most times, I know within five to 10 seconds whether the performer is of interest to us, and that is why the opening bite needs to be strong enough to hook the listener.