Everything you need to know about voice-reels

Surely a producer can hear what I sound like on the phone. Why do I need a voice-reel?

A reel really helps to show that you are capable of delivering a finished product. It lets a producer judge what your voice sounds like in the right context and proves that you are capable of handling yourself in a recording environment.

Right, I've booked an appointment at a studio. What should I prepare? 

This depends on the type of reel. For a Commercial reel typically we're looking for six scripts showcasing different types of read plus a short piece of narrative to show what your undirected voice is like. The six scripts can be picked from TV or radio, but radio scripts tend to work better in an audio-only reel for obvious reasons so avoid TV scripts with sight gags. Listen out for products that you can genuinely imagine your voice selling. A good engineer can help you with suggestions in the session, but it is important to think about this yourself before you get in the studio - if you have a clear idea of what type of voice you are and what type of work you are looking to get then you are more likely to succeed!

Should a voice-reel be a collage of previous work, or should I focus on producing new material at my session?

I've often been asked to include bits of commercial work that has been on air in reels. Provided you've cleared it with the agency and it's not too old I wouldn't necessarily advise against as long as it sends the right message. In general though, you should try to make the reel as up to date as possible. A whole reel of paid work from ten years ago probably won't do you any good!

What happens in the average voice-reel recording session?

The average commercial reel recording session takes a couple of hours, sometimes a little more. You might expect to have a quick discussion about the scripts you've chosen with the engineer and then get straight into the recording. If the engineer is directing and producing the reel for you, you'll find It's partly an organic process as it will usually take a few reads for them to get a feel for what each you are capable of. You'll take direction, the engineer will give you advice on intonation, pace and emphasis. You might be asked to do a script in a number of ways, you might even drop a script if it isn't working. Depending on the scripts that you have chosen, you might be introduced to different mic techniques or be asked to read along with a music track to get the right feel.

Do I need to bring my own music?

Usually the engineer will provide the music.

I've got this amazing little clip from an audio drama I was in. Does it matter that there's another voice there?

I wouldn't tend to include this sort of thing in a commercial reel, but obviously a drama reel could potentially benefit from some recent paid work so it might be worth considering. Make sure you clear it with whoever you did the job for, and if in doubt ask the other actor if they mind you using a clip with them in it.

I would like to market myself as a versatile voice actor. How can my reel reflect this, without boring my listener?

Generally speaking, my advice for voice artists trying to get into commercials is not to go too far with the versatility angle. Hundreds of people can do a bad American accent; most producers will hire an American voice artist if they want an American voice. The variety in a commercial reel tends to come from the different types of approach you'll take to each script - it could be conversational, hard sell, seductive, blokey etc BUT It's still your natural voice that we're trying to sell with your reel. Anything you put on the reel has to be stuff you can do comfortably, and do well. If you get work from this (and that's the aim!) you need to be able to recreate everything you do on your reel at the drop of a hat if you get asked for it!

Should I experiment with different voices on my reel?

You certainly shouldn't be experimenting too much, no. If you're an impressionist for instance, and you want an impressions reel it will obviously contain plenty of different voices, but like the answer above - stick to your established, proven skills, experiment in your own time. For commercials I'd say definitely not. As a producer of showreels I've asked people to try out scripts or reads that they may not have thought of during the session, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't, but I'd never ask someone to try a different voice

What will a sound engineer do to edit my work once I've left the studio?

The exact details of what the engineer will do depend on the type of reel and the material. Generally speaking, for commercials they would be cleaning up unwanted breaths and mouth noise, applying appropriate eq and compression and any other effects appropriate to the script, adding music and SFX where necessary, making sure the timing of the read is absolutely perfect and mixing all these elements together into a finished product. In short, everything they would normally do to produce a professional sounding piece of work!

How long should my voicereel be?

Again speaking specifically for commercials, many engineers will mix the six scripts (generally 20-30 secs each but they could be anywhere between 2- 60 sec if the script and the read justify it) plus narrative (between 30 and 1 minute 30) and also produce a 60-90 second montage edited together from all the best bits of the finished material. This is a lot punchier and more immediate than listening to all of your scripts one by one, and it's often these montages that you'll see on voice agency websites.

Tim O'Donoghue is a Sound Engineer at the award-winning Angell Sound studio in Soho. He works on TV and radio commercials and test work for Angell Sound's ad agency clients, as well as virals, branded content, corporate work and even the odd bit of long form. In his spare time, Tim produces commercial reels for aspiring voice artists who are looking to get agents and for established voices who just want to freshen their reels up.

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