When you start what will hopefully be a prolific voice-over journey, you may sometimes be a little lost. Maybe you’re a voice-over pro trying to build your portfolio; maybe you’re trying to hire a pro and want to know what makes a good voice-over. A curated, common-sense selection of voice-over examples is probably what you’re needing right now to ease into things.
Voice-over examples are more than milestones to shoot for; they stand for what voice-overs can add to any project where they are implemented. Sometimes, having a bit of inspiration is all that’s necessary to get you over roadblocks and hurdles. There’s nothing wrong with basing a project on others’ previous successes either! We think there’s a saying about that somewhere.
“Will this type of voice-over work for my project?”
“What is a good type of voice-over I’m looking for?”
“How do I know if I’m doing a good job with a certain type of performance?”
A million questions like these can pop up into your head when getting started. Voice-over examples are a perfect way to attain some clarity and have some sort of guiding parameter; a beacon, of sorts.
This article was updated in June 2021
Voice-overs and their importance
We’re glad you asked! Voice-overs are a production technique where a recording is used as narration or dubbing in media. They can be used in conjunction with any audiovisual or audio-only media, such as radio or Spotify.
You probably remember them most as a narrative device used in movies or video games; the famous “voice of God” or the omniscient narrator is the first thing that springs to mind. In addition to their storytelling power, they’re also effective marketing and communication tools.
They can convey immediacy and create a human connection in a way that text cannot. This means that they can be used to represent you, your company/vision/idea in a way that’s direct and emotional. If bypassing the dryness of words and connecting directly with your intended audience seems like too much, we’re not done! Voice-overs aren’t exactly short on benefits, as you’ll learn.
They’re an excellent tool for learning and information retention. In a 1992 study, Richard Mayer and Richard Anderson established the effectiveness of multimedia learning. This means that people retain information better when seeing and hearing than with any of the two ways in isolation. This is a boon when trying to craft hard-hitting explainer videos or other similar content.
What about just audio, then? Does this mean that people won’t “get it” when listening to an audiobook or audio ad? Not so! It appears that there’s a significant overlap in learning in both reading and “just” narrative. While the evidence is not yet 100% conclusive in favor of any medium, experts agree that reading or listening are very effective learning tools. Purists may disagree, but it seems the benefits of audiobooks and audio-only learning tools is clear.
Let’s delve a little deeper!
Voice-over examples and distinctions
As you’ve been able to tell, voice-overs can be used for just about anything. Here’s where we finally get into the meat of the matter!
As you know, seeing is believing. We’re going to add that hearing is believing as well! Going through voice-over examples will be an effective way to learn about different popular categories and uses of this technique.
Voice-over examples also serve as a practical means to demonstrate their power through practical ways.
Film and video narration
Narration is probably the best-known voice-over implementation. That stately presence in movies always comes to mind; think Morgan Freeman’s avuncular delivery or the good-natured voice in a Wes Anderson film. The mainstay power of these narrations is such that it’s almost impossible to not hear them in our heads. Just thinking about them has that evocative summoning power.
Film narration has been used as long as the medium has had audio. It’s a great expository device and adds to the storytelling charm. When done wrong, though, its events can backfire, though!
One famous example is the 1982 cult sci-fi classic Blade Runner. Styled as one of the first examples of a futuristic cyberpunk noir, it’s remembered as a masterpiece. Its aesthetics, soundtrack, and story continue to stand the test of time.
The studio, though, believed that the story was hard to follow on its own. They famously pressured director Ridley Scott and star Harrison Ford to add a voice-over for additional clarity. The idea was to record dialogue that explained the story to the audience in the hard-boiled tradition. This went against Scott’s principles of “show, don’t tell” storytelling.
Harrison Ford was reportedly so unhappy with the idea that he committed almost no effort in recording sessions. He felt that the voice-overs dumbed down the story and over-explained things. Powerful, emotional scenes veered towards the maudlin when a voice explained what the audience was already seeing. Ford’s monotone, uninterested voice performance is almost an urban legend of its own. In later cuts of the film (including the one available on Netflix), this narration was justly removed.
The flip side
Wait, wasn’t this piece about good voice-over examples? Indeed, but sometimes seeing what not to do can help avoid pitfalls even master filmmakers and actors have been a victim to. Good film narration examples are fortunately easier to find. Our particular example can be found at 1:50 into that video.
One salient case is the 2002 Christopher Nolan debut, Memento. In it, a man with short-term memory loss attempts to resolve a crime he’s personally attached to. Guy Pearce’s disjointed, frantic narration adds to the disorienting condition he’s afflicted with.
This is a clear case of narration being used according to the conventions of a detective story. It’s also used to intelligently deconstruct the genre and intelligently lead us to distrust the main character. Through access to the character’s inner dialogue, we get lost in his own perception of reality; as we’re led further down the rabbit hole, doubt starts to seep in from every corner.
This is a prime example of using the power of narration to connect with the main character’s perspective. It’s also very noteworthy to point out that the idea from the film came from Nolan’s brother Jonathan. He wrote and narrated a short story called Memento Mori which also effectively showcases this technique.
How about video games?
Video games are also a narrative-led medium in their own right. Rife with examples and ideas adjacent to film. Still, in a medium where the doing is usually much more important than the telling, narration sometimes falls by the wayside.
This short primer on great narrators in games is a great way to get started. One of the examples mentioned is the Max Payne series, which relies heavily on hard-boiled tropes. (If you’re thinking we’ve got a whole lot of love for noir detective stories, you’re right.)
In the game, the action is cut by storytelling vignettes in graphic novel format. There, we get to hear the main character’s inner dialogue. This story is famous for going purposefully over the top with “gruff detective” clichés and making it alluring. Part of the charm is knowing that there’s a factor of self-awareness in there. The narration works as both a good example of storytelling and subtextual analysis.
Famously, the movie tie-in with Mark Wahlberg tried to use the same technique but wasn’t successful. What had a note of dark humor was played too straight in the movie; needless to say it wasn’t a hit with audiences or fans, despite the striking visuals.
Dubbing is another area where voice-over examples are greatly needed. According to Netflix, most audiences don’t watch content in the original language. They also claim that they’re attempting to make dubbed content less awkward. Recording a successful dub is part and parcel of a good effort to make content understandable to foreign audiences. This is also known as localization, where dialogue is slightly altered to factor for cultural differences.
A great example of this is the western dub of the anime Cowboy Bebop. Already rife with musical and cultural references, English was a great fit for this series. The English dub is so well-known that some fans, normally purists, prefer it to the original. That’s due to great, dynamic performances by the veteran cast that fits great with the westernized characters. Taking cues from martial arts and noir films, Cowboy Bebop also has a killer soundtrack that’s mostly in English. This is why some consider the English dub the most immersive experience.
As for bad dubs, anyone with a love for Asian Kung Fu cinema knows their way around more than one. We’ll let you be the judge.
The marketing side of voice-over examples
We’ve already established the bona fides of a good voice-over throughout. All of the qualities we’ve mentioned above do double duty where marketing is concerned.
Let’s do a bit of recap:
Brand recognition and humanization
There are many ways to achieve this, from the performance, the script or the idea side. When all converge into a unified whole, you know you’ve got a winner. You may be coming in at any part of the process, or be involved in all.
What remains true is that using the unique power of the voice to create emotional resonance has a lasting impact.
Watch this 2014 commercial. Trust us, we don’t want to spoil it.
All done? Quite the tearjerker, huh? Notice what the commercial itself did and didn’t do? With a “less is more” approach, it lets images tell most of the story. Then, when the voice comes in, it does it to punctuate the emotional content of the imagery and performances. That’s why when the commercial ends and the brand name pops in, the audience doesn’t feel cheated; they’ve already been taken on an emotional ride and feel rewarded.
That’s the power of a good commercial. Even though the audience knows they’re being sold to, they’re given something in return. When the commercial switches from narrative to branding, the sense of gratitude remains. More so if there’s a good product/message synergy, which is harder to manage than it seems!
We hope to have taken you on an interesting journey through these voice-over examples. You may want to find that one perfect hire. Maybe you’re interested in knowing what makes a good voice-over tick. Having some perspective about what’s worked before (and will continue to work in the future) can save you headaches.
We’re not exactly selling aspirin, but we do know that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!
That’s why, if you’re looking for the perfect voice, hit us up! Submit a project now and watch us get to work!