Cliff Zellman

Win a One-Year VoiceZam VO Demo Player Subscription

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Promotion 83 Comments


We live in an impatient world, filled with distractions.

Our plates are getting fuller. Attention spans are getting shorter. Decisions are made faster.

The other day, I was using my “old” computer on a slow internet connection, and I was ready to throw a brick at it because it took forever to load a simple web page. Only a few years ago, I felt lucky to have such an amazing connection.

Technology has turned us into spoiled brats. We demand immediate access and real-time interactivity. We want direct control and hate to waste any time waiting. The voice-over world is affected by it, too.

If you don’t respond to that audition right away, you might as well forget it because every Tom, Dick or Harry is rushing to that online cattle call. Wait two minutes and there are 30 people ahead of you. How did that happen?


Like most people on the planet, our clients live by the law of least effort. They want to get a quick sense of our sound and say Yea or Nay. They don’t want to beg you to send them a demo or spend hours listening to an endless mix of sweetened soundbites.

Software Engineer Bob Merkel used to be a producer at an advertising agency. Part of his job was to find voice talent to match their scripts. He spent hours weeding through talent. Listening to their demos was like having to read an entire magazine. All Bob really wanted, was to flip through all the articles to see which one he was interested in.

That’s when he started dreaming of an audio player that would allow him to fast forward within a demo. At that time, it didn’t exist.

In early 2002 he started writing the first system application for his idea. In September of ’08 he was granted a patent, and the VoiceZam Voice-Over Demo Player was born. It’s a player that offers more than a way to put audio on a website. Here’s colleague Chris Mezzolesta:

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that this is not an independent review. It’s a promo and Chris is trying to sell a service, just like most of us VO’s do each and every day. So I decided to check in with a few industry experts and find out what they think of Merkel’s brainchild.

Cliff Zellman is the mastermind behind Done By Six Productions. You can read about him in my story “Factory Demos: Fatal First Impressions.” Zellman:

As a casting director for RadioVision in Dallas Texas I am always open to hearing new voices and fresh deliveries. On a potential hire’s website, I appreciate the speed and ease of use the VoiceZam player provides. When I see a VoiceZam player, I know I am dealing with a professional, as I believe Bob Merkel (great guy) vets each user before issuing them a player. The quality of the player is excellent and the load time is non-existent. It’s that fast.

One of the benefits of using a VoiceZam player is the availability to hear many selections from a voice talent within one application with an easy to navigate menu system. Sometime I will hire someone not for what I am currently seeking, but rather a voice or character I can use in the future.


Voice Talent Tom Test started using the player in early 2013.

I am very versatile, which is a “problem” with a traditional linear-playing demo.  The talent seeker might find exactly the read they need on my 7th clip out of a dozen, but might not stick around long enough to get to it out of impatience. VoiceZam (VZ) makes it so easy to skip from track to track, it is MUCH more time-efficient for the listener AND as a result gives me a better shot at showing off the entire range of my reads.

I demonstrated it to one of my top agents here in Chicago, and he was very impressed. He’d love to have VZ on the agency’s website.

Voice-Over Anthony Gettig has been using VZ for almost a year:

My clients really dig it. Being a data driven guy, I am tickled with VoiceZam! The analytics (Zamtistics™) let me see who listened to my demo and from what Internet connection. I can usually deduce from that where they are from. VoiceZam lets you create a “ZamLink,” which is a specially crafted URL that you can copy and paste into an email or image link. When the person receiving the message clicks on that link, it shows up the Zamtistics. I see this and can then follow up with the prospect.

Early adopter Dave Courvoisier has a link to the VZ player in his email signature and has embedded it in his blog. Courvoisier:

As you know, I have a ready interest in new trends, techniques, gizmos, apps, and software development. I found Merkel’s product to have a high degree of sophistication, innovative design features, and a no-frills web site that supported the product.  I eventually had the opportunity to talk to Bob a lot about the genesis of VoiceZam, and realized it grew out of his considerable experience with voice talent, agencies, advertising, and the corporate business world.  I became convinced that he had developed a truly new “take” on the linear model of playing demos. My experience is that the product is genuine, robust, configurable, and meets its PR promises.


Not everyone is as enthusiastic. Recently, Courvoisier blogged about VoiceZam, and one of his readers commented:

If only you buy this one more product, your voice business will be a success. No. VoiceZam is a solution without a problem.

Cliff Zellman brings up another point:

The only drawback I see as an end-user is the absence of a pause button. Very often during audition playbacks, I like to pause the audio and discuss, then continuing from there, only to pause and discuss again. Once the VoiceZam player has this feature, a simple pause button, it will be the player of choice for VO talent seekers. I really hope to see it added soon.

Joe J. Thomas commented:

I’m really hoping that whoever listens to my demo the first time listens all the way through. After all, it’s only :60-:90 – If I can’t hold their attention that long, I’m in the wrong biz!

Joe also mentioned pricing. Many audio players are free. Even though VoiceZam just slashed its fees in half, premium service is $8.95 a month. If you want statistics, add $4.95. That’s more than most people pay for hosting an entire site. Tom Test also made a really good point:

VoiceZam is not magic. It won’t do much good if the talent doesn’t do any sort of marketing to drive people to their site.

So, is the VoiceZam player a luxury or a necessity to keep up with the times? Has the voice-over world been waiting for this solution? Bob Merkel:

The question, “Is this really something they’ve been waiting for?” is interesting. My answer is “Absolutely!” because I see the value it brings to all parties. The closest analogy I can use is when the iPod was introduced in the early 2000s. It would be have been difficult for a music enthusiast to answer the question “Is the iPod something you’ve been waiting for?” After the normal music playback method of stereos and CD driven boom boxes, it took a lot of time for people to understand the new paradigm of digital songs you could hold in your hand. But once they got it, the way music was presented, changed forever.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Factory Demos: Fatal First Impressions

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Promotion, Studio 15 Comments

You know what they say about first impressions and second chances.

As a voice-over, a demo is often your only chance to make that first impression. It’s your business card, resume, portfolio and audition all compressed into one 60-90 second package.

A great demo is the result of the combined expertise of those behind the mic and behind the glass. If done right, it condenses years of experience into a minute or more of magic.

A professional demo does not come cheap, but not having one could be an expensive mistake.

There’s one thing it should not be:


If that’s a given, then why are so many demos completely underwhelming and unmemorable?

Audio and production professional Cliff Zellman thinks he knows the answer. He has been hiring talent for over 35 years, and receives between 12 to 15 demos a week. He’s heard everything. From the best of the best to the worst of the worst.

As the Voice-Over industry began to change, Cliff noticed what he calls a detrimental shift in the way VO demos are created. A shift, he says, that does not play well for the VO Artist.


Emmy Award Winner Zellman, who has a degree in Audio Engineering, is referring to a few things. 

First of all, he receives demos that have been slammed together after a “talent” has taken some entry-level voice-over class. You’ve probably seen the ads for those trainings. They always end with the words “demo included.” These demos are usually stitched together from old scripts and they’re overproduced to mask someone’s level of incompetence and inexperience. 

Then there are demos that will tell you more about the single-mindedness of the director, than about the versatility of the voice talent. Zellman told me he often wonders:

“Whose demo is this really, the VO artist’s or the director’s? There’s no variety. The copy is uninspired and the music is outdated.”

Demos from a third category may sound terrific, but Zellman says:

“I have been disappointed more times than I care to remember because the talent could not reproduce the level of competency I heard or that I require. And they give me no indication of what their audio will actually sound like.”  

In other words, each line of the demo was spoon-fed by the director and recorded and sweetened in a million-dollar studio. It’s false advertising, because the talent can not deliver the same quality in a home studio setting.

Cliff has a name for all these demos. He calls them “Store-Bought,” and warns they are a big risk to buyers.

Cliff Zellman


Having listened to way too many of them, Zellman started asking questions:

“When a talent leaves the booth after three or four grueling hours of a store-bought demo session, did they do their best? Were they relaxed? Were they intimidated? Is one session really ample time to allow the talent to shine?

And when they leave the studio, what do they have, really? An audio file. No real world education, no new knowledge of microphone selections, what works best for them in their environment with their voice. They are not receiving the collective years of experience and success of multiple directors… Just one person’s ability or inability.”

And out of his frustration, an idea was born:

• What if he could get the best directors and voice-over coaches in the nation under one umbrella?

• What if one voice talent could pick six of these coaches and work with them via Skype for six one-hour sessions in his or her home studio, using six different microphones?

• What if the result of these sessions would be professionally edited and mixed by an award-winning master digital music editor to create one outstanding 60-second demo?

This is precisely the concept behind Zellman’s latest endeavor: Done By Six Productions. (click on the name to visit the website) 

He calls it “The Industry’s first Online, Menu-based Voice Over Demo Production Company.” 


I have to warn you. It will take more than a dream and a credit card to get access to Zellman’s roster of experts. He explains:

“There is a vetting committee of four or five industry professionals. If someone is NOT ready, we will be happy to suggest a coach that can help with their gaps.  When the coach says they are ready, we re-evaluate. We are a team created to actually HELP the voice talent succeed… not a factory.

This is also why Done By Six REQUIRES a talent to have a professional website, an approved home studio, knowledge of delivery methods and previous VO experience. We exist to elevate, not to hold hands.”


At this time, talent can choose from a list of 39 seasoned professionals who cover all areas of the voice-over industry. People like Marc Cashman, Roy Yokelson, M.J. Lallo, Peter O’Connell, Dan Friedman, Randye Kaye, Doug Turkel, Amy Snively, and even the writer of this blog.

When I first heard about the concept, I thought:

Six directors for a 60-second demo. Isn’t that overkill? Aren’t six different coaches going to give conflicting advice, thus confusing the talent? Zellman:

“ABSOLUTELY NOT. It is a “real world” experience. When one goes to college, they don’t have the same professor for four years. Six directors will produce 60 seconds each. Each 60 seconds can be used as a full spot demo as well. 360 seconds will pretty much ensure that there is quality sections within each read.

Remember, we are NOT working with newbies. A talent is already used to working with different directors. Otherwise, why would someone attend a seminar with Pat Fraley, then Marc Cashman, then Myself, then Peter O’Connell et cetera. Conflicting advice opens doors! If everyone would bet on the same horse, the race would be boring.”


When talking to Zellman, I mentioned that one of my colleagues had recorded a demo he wasn’t happy with. The pacing was off and the music was dreadful. He asked the producer for the dry audio so he could go somewhere else for a remix. Even though he had paid for his demo, the producer refused to give him the building blocks. And so I wondered: if a demo is produced by Done By Six Productions, who owns the audio? Cliff Zellman:

“The talent owns it! All dry files are already in the possession of the talent on their computer. I think any demo producer that doesn’t “gladly” give all dry audio to the talent is a paranoid fool and a charlatan. I am not looking to “lock-in” someone. I WANT them to spread their wings! Let them grow. Let them edit… let them punch-in!

I especially do not want the responsibility of being the ONLY one to help a talent. That’s ridiculous and I know demo coaches that feel very differently. I totally disagree. This is THEIR future, not mine. I am here to help, not control.

As far as music, I sublicensee it to the talent for this specific project. If a director has music in mind, cool. If not, all music used will be mixed into the production. If a talent wants to get creative in a few months, change up things on their own, I say YES!  They are one step closer to mastering this profession. Again, we are to HELP, not control.”

PS What happens if the voice talent isn’t happy with the end-result?

CZ “As long as they are in possession of the mics, every director I have spoken with agrees to an additional session of up to 15 minutes (or within reason).  Some may stick to 15 minutes sharp, others may be more liberal. If things get out of hand, I will step in, take responsibility and make sure the talent gets what they need. If I receive multiple complaints/concerns with a director, I remove them from the roster. Simple as that.”

Speaking of microphones, each talent receives a flight case with six of the industry’s most popular microphones: the Neumann TLM 103, the Sennheiser MKH-416, the AKG Perception 220, the CAD E100S, the Audio Technica T2020 and the Harlan Hogan MXL VO: 1-A.

This is the perfect opportunity to test these microphones in your own studio. It also ensures that each segment of your demo will sound differently. Shipping and insurance is part of the price of the package.


But there’s more. Included in the demo-package is a free 2-month subscription with VoiceZam.

VoiceZam is a new way of showcasing voice-over demos that gives clients and agents an opportunity to skip through the individual tracks of each demo. The user can also track who’s been listening to their demos. Cliff Zellman:

“I LOVE VoiceZam. My time is VERY valuable. I appreciate the speed, playback quality and ease of operation. I have had lengthy conversations with Bob Merkel (the man being VoiceZam), even to the point of offering him ideas and strategies at no consultation fee.

VoiceZam shows a professional attitude and a certain amount of savvy. I know if I go to a talent’s site and I see a VoiceZam player, there is a very good chance I am dealing with a solid pro.”

By the way, the VoiceZam image is just a picture. If you want to get a feel for how VoiceZam works, go to Bob Souer’s site and try it out. 

PS Why just focus on demos? You have a great line-up of coaches. Why don’t you offer more coaching services?

CZ “In time. Many new start-ups fail by trying to do too much too soon. Every Done By Six director is a potential coach. I know each of them personally and professionally. I know their strengths and weaknesses. Between the members of the vetting committee, we can steer the talent in the right direction. One of the benefits of being a Done By Six Director is the possibility of being selected as a coach. Once a coach is suggested by Done By Six, it is between the coach and the talent… for now.”


Go to any supermarket and you’ll find shelves filled with factory-baked breads. They may be packaged a bit differently, but you know that most of them are low on nutrition and they all taste the same.

I usually buy my bread at the local Farmers’ Market from an artisanal bakery. They have a huge variety made from different grains, nuts and herbs. The ingredients are high-quality and the bread is baked with love. I can taste the artistry and dedication that went into the making of the bread. It’s a taste that lingers on.

If voice-overs are your bread and butter, what type of taste test are you serving your clients?

Are you feeding them stale, factory-baked bland bread with margarine, or fresh, wholesome, hand-made bread, topped with real butter?

If you only had one chance to make a first impression, what would you rather serve?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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