What Does a Great Voice-Over Demo Cost?

Answer: Much More than You Think

I was speaking on the phone Friday with an interesting prospective client when the subject of (voice-over) demos came up. The prospective client had a handful of different commercial, promo, etc. demos. What he did not have yet is a tremendous amount of experience so I assumed that the demos were just that, “demos” and not “actual spots”.

The funny thing is I liked all the demos, which is a rarity for me. When I finally asked, “Who produced the demos?” he went on to rattle off five different productions companies each responsible for producing a single demo. When he finished off the list, I smiled.

Why? Because he figured out, perhaps by accident and/or stroke of good luck, that no one place is equipped to produce demos from scratch for all the different subsets of voice-overs, including but not limited to commercial, promo, trailer, narration, imaging, animation, political advertising, etc.

In my experience…

Before I begin and possibly ruffle some feathers, I should start by saying I have a lot of experience with demos. Not only have I heard tens of thousands, booked hundreds of voice-over jobs directly from them and personally produced over a thousand myself, I have also shared offices with recording studios. Therefore, I am pretty familiar with what an excellent facility and audio engineer are capable of accomplishing. I also know the hours needed to produce a demo from scratch and what demos should and should not cost.

Here’s where my point of view may get unpopular…

Did you know 95% of all demo makers are only capable of producing one subset of voice demos, usually commercial, and there is still a great possibility of incredibly varied results?

For instance, let’s look at commercials. The majority of really good commercial engineers are the following:

  1. Regional and 85% are based in New York, Los Angeles or Chicago
  2. Focus primarily on TV or radio, but not usually both
  3. Routinely charge $200 to $600 (USD) per hour
  4. As a result will cost $2000K (USD) at the bare minimum for a one minute demo.

So, who is producing commercial demos costing somewhere in the $1000-1500 range? I am not sure. I do know that the producer doesn’t have a lot of relevant engineering experience unless that experience is producing demos.

“It’s complicated”

Promos and trailers get even more complicated, so let’s start with trailers. Let’s start with the fact that very few people have actual experience mixing trailers. I am guessing maybe about 100 people nationally are skilled at mixing trailers, and 95 of them are in Los Angeles. While promos have significantly more experienced mixers, 99% of the production is based in five cities NY, LA, Washington, Atlanta and Denver.

What does this mean? Unless your trailer mixer is based in Los Angeles and/or your promo mixer is from one of the five above-mentioned cities, your demo is likely going to be substandard by comparison.

Talking costs

Given those facts, here are my guidelines to what a “real” demo should cost factoring in the following assumptions:

  1. You want the demo to sound national in nature
  2. You are producing the spots from scratch
  3. Each demo is roughly a minute
  4. You are not recording from home
  5. You are not getting a favor from the engineer.

Also, I’m not including animation on this list as effective animation demos can vary wildly and may or may not need significant production.

  1. Commercial: $1500-$3000
  2. Promos: $1500-$2500
  3. Trailers: $2500-$5000
  4. TV narration: $1500-$2500
  5. Imaging: $1000-$1500
  6. Political: $1000-$2000

Now, I know there are exceptions to every rule, but the exception is not the rule. I have often taken advantage of some of these resources throughout my career. However, the fact is the costs above are what the majority will likely cost given the five assumptions I made. Are those costs daunting? Of course and they should be because time and energy have real costs.

For everyone buying demos for significantly cheaper than that I say, “Buyer Beware”. My advice, instead, is to save up your money and do it right the first time.

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