The best voice overs leave audiences with a sense of exhilaration and emotional connection. Mostly, that’s due to the power and pathos of the performance. But sometimes music contributes a good measure of what makes a vocal turn shine. The best voice over music is an elegant complement to what’s being said, making the whole more than the sum of its parts.
With this make-or-break power, you’d better choose carefully when adding music to voice overs! In fact, you should also think very hard about what voice overs you graft onto your music as well?
What? Yes, in this give-take relationship between voice overs and music, it’s not always clear what needs to come first. Maybe you’re adding voice over music to a film, and that’s A-OK. But what happens if, for example, you need to add a voice over to a musical line or song? The lines can become somewhat blurrier!
So, in this article, I’ll go over some guidelines for when:
- You’re adding music to a film-style voice over and you need to keep it simple, non-invasive, but make the most of it.
- You have a piece of music or media you would like a sample or voice over for.
Pay attention, because the idea is to be on the ball instead of dropping it when it comes to voice over music! If you do it right, though, you’ve got a recipe for success on your hands!
If you prefer to watch a video instead, click here:
This post has been updated in October 2021.
Some voice over definitions
Voice overs are pretty confusing for some people. Luckily, they won’t be for you after we’re done with this article!
The confusion usually stems from the tendency to conflate what’s essentially a production technique with a story device in film and audiovisual media.
Voice overs are a production technique where a vocal performance is recorded, edited and used in film, music, video games, audiobooks, etc. Any medium where the vocal performance was not recorded onsite is basically making use of the power of the voice over. And you can bet your lunch money that this production technique is used for a lot of stuff. Our ‘Turn a Voice into Business Through Voice Acting Training‘ article offers an in-depth look into voice overs. Here’s a partial list of what they can be used for:
- Voice over films
- Voice acting for animation shorts or films
- Toys and games
- Vehicle and transportation
- TV shows
- Movie Trailers
- Radio or audio dramas
- Video games
- Live events
- Awards shows
- A phone message and IVR
- Dubbed foreign voice over language films
- Voice over music
- Voice over podcasts
So, to avoid confusion, we’ll go with the “voice over films” and “music” categories. The first deals with film narration, and, confusingly, also gets called “voice over” or “voiceover.” So, it’s important to distinguish between the technique and the dramatic device.
Moving onto film voice overs
Name your favorite. I’m sure you have one, come on! Everyone’s got a favorite narrated scene or film ending. It’s where everything comes to a head, and characters can face their comeuppance, redemption, or some surprising twist changes the way we perceive the movie.
Now, try to go back to this scene in your mind’s eye. Remember where you were, how the words made an impact on you, their content and tone. Now go slightly deeper and remember if there was any score in the background, even if it was subtle. Chances are that unless the film was aiming for a minimalistic style, there was some music there.
I’ll go over some examples with you so you see how voice over music can enhance the impact of a twist or scene for the audience.
Voice over music for the twist: The Usual Suspects
I hope you’ve watched this great, great movie. If you haven’t you’re about to have the twist spoiled, so I advise you to get on Prime Video and treat yourself! You’ll thank me later!
For those of us that have watched one of the greatest thrillers of the 90s, here’s the ending scene.
Now, there’s one YouTube hyperbolic title that may not be undeserved! While it’s a toss-up whether it’ the “best scene ever”, it certainly caught audiences and critics off guard. But why has it retained so much staying power?
Have you paid attention to how the music builds the tension gradually while we get closer and closer to piecing the mystery together? As we build towards the reveal that’s been sitting under our noses, the dread slowly crescendoes with heavy string arrangements. And as getting the collar on the perp eludes U.S. customs agent Dave Kujan, the soundtrack turns elegiac and mournful. We’re led on an emotional rollercoaster through the combination of a good script, a good voice over, and a Hitchcockian score that hits all the right notes.
When all cylinders are firing like this, you’re onto something. Memorability is generally about the interaction between different factors, and they all have to be on point. On a top-caliber film like “The Usual Suspects”, everyone brought their A-game, and it shows in the final result. This is one that people will still be talking about in 50 years’ time!
How does voice over music work?
Have you ever heard of programmatic music? Well, maybe not of it, but you’ve absolutely heard it. You can check our article on the subject, where the following point originates from:
Programmatic, or program, music refers to music that exists to tell a narrative. The term commonly refers to the background orchestration in stage dramas, such as plays. Most definitions, however, exclude singing that’s integral to production plots, such as the vocals in an opera or musical.
When programmatic music is integrated in such a way that it complements the events and emotional content happening onscreen, you can bank on the results! The resulting chemistry between all of the production elements can elevate a scene from the mundane into the spectacular!
And, mind you, this does not apply “just” to voice over in film. If you’re going to be applying music to any of your voiced content, with or without dialogue, you should always choose adequate music! Even if you don’t have to score a Hollywood blockbuster, music has to be fitting and serve the needs and objectives of your project.
If you’ve got time, I’d recommend watching this primer video on how to mix music with voice over successfully. Whether you’ve got dialogue-heavy scenes ahead of you, or just one voice doing all the talking, it’ll have you covered for different rules-of-thumb and production hacks!
What if you’ve got different voice over music needs?
That’s even simpler, thankfully! Maybe you’re a hip hop, R&B, rock, EDM, or other types of musical producer or recording artist. Maybe you want to spice up your tune with some deep, heartfelt voice over; maybe you want to sprinkle in some funny, lighthearted comedic rants between your flow; perhaps it’s all about creating a dramatic dialogue that heightens the effect of the music.
Your reason might be one of these, and maybe none of the above. What you’re going to want to do, though, is hire the services of top-rated talent to voice your music, or produce your content yourself. Both of these have advantages and drawbacks. In the first case, it’s going to be about finding the right voice for your project, that pro whose delivery you fall in love with and who “gets it.” There’s also the slight issue of payment and all that jazz. You bet good services don’t come for free, but what they lack in currency retention, they make up for in allowing you to keep your peace of mind.
The other is in-house content production. I’m not personally for nor against it. You just have to take care to do this well, because for sure it’ll come with its own set of challenges. If you’re already into music production, then you probably know how to record voices. The only issue remains in seeing how you fare finding amateur talent that can adjust to your goals and project scope. If you’re doing something small, sure, maybe going with that friend who knows how to enunciate might go well. But, if you’re thinking bigger, then you may want to hold that thought and bet bigger.
When voice over music requires you to think bigger
My recommendation is to try out voice acting agencies or voice hubs. Both curate their content, so you can bet on finding vetted talent that has to respond to higher scrutiny than on other platforms. What I mean by this is that there’s a QA team liaising between the client and the voice over artist. While you’re able to see their portfolio and hire them on the spot, their job has to pass muster before they deliver it to you.
That serves a dual purpose:
The QA team assesses that the work if on acceptable quality depending on the project’s goals and the client’s indications.
It minimizes the number of revisions and guarantees that the client (you) is receiving a work of acceptable standards. You don’t have to worry about your indications not being understood, or the performer turning in weak work.
Of course, we offer creative services on demand at Bunny Studio, and vocal services are our bread and butter. If that floats your boat, and you want to add voice to your movie, video, art project, or music, you’ve got a vast library of top-tier vocal talent to select from.
Moreover, you don’t even have to hold auditions! You can just select your preferred type of vocal talent, their age range, gender, even vocal qualities, and it’s off to the races!
I hope you’ve enjoyed this small trip down music voice over lane. While there’s a lot more to cover, which I will probably do in a future article, we’ve gone over the main points. Music in conjunction with voice over is a great tool for maximizing emotional engagement and intensity. It’s also a way to subtly place your audience in a space of your design, instead of allowing their minds to wander.
Music can be of equal importance to voice performance, or it can be an add-on that’s there for effect and evocation. Whatever your intention, you know the drill: go for vetted, A-list professionals when voicing your content. If that’s the way you go, then you’ve already got one foot in the door!
The other is going to come through your own discernment, passion, and hard work. We’ll be here to do our part! Find the right voice with Bunny Studio!