Most forms of media use some sort of voice over. If you are asking what is voice over, it is a piece of audio that is in a film, another type of video piece, or an audio piece. 

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This post has been updated in October 2021.

What is Voice Over?

In a film or other video or in an audio piece, any type of narration or voice that is heard but not seen is a voice over. Over 100 years ago, Walt Disney recorded one of the first voice overs for Mickey Mouse in Steamboat Willie. Though this wasn’t the first voice over, it was one of the firsts and certainly an impactful one in the art of animation and film. But Reginald Fessenden was actually the first one to do a voice over

in 1900 when he transmitted the first voice message in history. Six years afterward, Fessenden improved his technique when on Christmas Eve 1906, ships off the Atlantic coast used his equipment to broadcast the first trans-Atlantic voice and music transmission

This was big. This was world-changing. And though Fessenden was the first one to really voice something, Walt Disney is known for the first animated or film voiceover. That’s pretty big, too.

You can hear actors voicing pieces in numerous media and entertainment mediums. There are voiceovers in your video games, in TV show narrations, commercials, radio, podcasts, and more. They are even in talking toys and recorded announcements. This is an exciting area that requires a wide field of talent. Think of all the actors out there; voice actors are just as varied and also have great talent to share.

Gravy for the Brain shares some more great insight into what exactly a voice over is. Voice overs are narrations where the audience only hears the actor; they don’t see him or her. So even TV shows can have a voice over, think about Gossip Girl and How I Met Your Mother. You hear that narrator, though you never see them. It’s actually a very effective dramatic technique.

What is Voice Over for voice actors

A Diverse Field

This is a very diverse field and the range of talent is extremely broad. Some of the areas where you will hear voice acting work are:

  • voice over films
  • dubbed foreign language films
  •  animation shorts or films
  • tv programs
  • commercials
  • radio or audio dramas
  • video games
  • audiobooks
  • live events
  • awards shows
  • toys and games
  • vehicle and transportation
  • documentaries
  • a phone message and IVR
  • promos
  • trailers
  • training / e-learning
  • podcasts

As you can see, with the diversity of these genres, the talents of voice actors must be diverse as well. You will have to match the voice over artist to the project, just like you would an actor to a film or TV show.

Matching an Actor to Your Project

With all of these projects,  you may be looking for a vocal actor for your own project. But there is a lot to think about in choosing the right actor. Many of these talented actors have a niche,  maybe documentaries or animation, while others have a more diverse range of the work they do and the range of talent they have.

As far as your project goes, think about the mood and tone you wish to convey and what type of vocal work can do it the best sense. Do you want someone to voice your intro to your podcast about 1940s horror movies? Or maybe you have just completed a documentary on Southern gardening and want a narrator. These would be two very different voice overs.

The best thing to do is narrow the type of voice down as much as you can before you set out to find the voice actor. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Do you want a male or female voice?
  • Young or old?
  • Strong and bold or gentle and warm?
  • Do you want any dialect or accent (maybe a lovely southern drawl would go well with that gardening documentary)?
  •  Do you need a comforting voice or one that takes charge?

You can keep going with these questions, and the more you can narrow your desired sound, the easier of a time you’ll have finding that voice. However, if you come upon an unexpected voice that wows you, don’t be afraid to take it even if it’s not what you had in mind.

Another thing to consider is your audience. What will your audience be expecting? If you are voicing over a book, think about who will be listening and what voice they would relate to. For instance, if your book is a rom-com about 20 somethings, a fun young adult female voice would be much better than a stodgy older man’s voice.

The Art of Voiceover

When you are looking for that perfect sound for your piece, you want something that sounds natural. A voice that is part of the piece is desirable, not one that overshadows it or gets lost amidst the other parts of the project, but one that blends organically.

The above-mentioned article shares more about what makes a great voice artist and a great sound. A successful voice over artist should be able to make his or her voice sound natural above all else. Whether it’s for that Southern gardening documentary, an animated film, an intro to a podcast, or an audiobook, the actor should never sound like he’s reading from a script. The words should flow naturally and fit the context and/or the character of the piece.

Another key skill of a voice actor is that they should be able to work with little direction and take what direction they do get seriously. They should be able to interpret how the character should speak or how the narration or any other type of voiceover should sound. This innate talent speaks to the skill set of the voice actor.

Frequently Asked Questions about Voice Over

Should I hire a voice actor with no or little experience?

As long as you hear some demo work from the actor, you should be okay, especially if your budget does not allow for more experienced talent. You may want to audition the actor a bit more intensively if you decide to take someone with little or no experience.

What if the only experience is actual stage or film experience? 

This qualifies as experience in voice over. Many stage or film actors go into voice acting. Look at James Earl Jones or Kristen Bell. Stage or film experience is excellent for this type of work. By having previously worked on film or stage, these actors will understand adapting to a character and portraying their characteristics. They also have experience with taking direction and using their vocal talent.

My actor has experience in another genre of voice over. Should I still use them? 

If an actor can use their vocal talent in a variety of genres, that speaks to their talent range. Sure, go ahead and hire. However, if their audiobook recording sounds like a video game or the narration for that Southern garden documentary sounds like a podcast intro, you may want to find someone else. Some vocal actors excel so much in one genre that they should stay in that one and specialize there.

What is Voice Over in voice acting

How much should I pay my actor for voice over? 

This greatly depends on the project you are hiring for. If it’s a national ad, pay more. If it is staying local, you won’t need to pay the actor as much. Also, think about the actor’s background and experience along with your budget. Another factor is the amount of time the actor will work. Will your project be finished in one sitting, or will it take a few weeks or even months to finish? Does the actor just need a few minutes of reading, like for a commercial or promo piece, or more time, for an audiobook or documentary narration? And are you going to pay by the hour or by the project itself?

The bottom line here is that the compensation you pay your talent greatly depends on the project you are producing and your budget. Often, the old adage is true, you pay for what you get. If you can afford a professional, you may want to go that route so you can rest assured your vocal work will be voiced in a professional and experienced manner. Sometimes you can negotiate price, too. Just make sure it’s fair to both of you.

The Difference in Voice Over, Voice Acting, and Narration

Often these terms are used interchangeably, but they also have distinct differences. One of the main differences is that a voice over is more factual or scripted while voice acting is usually taking on a character with more emotion.

Narration is interchangeable as well but also does have some concrete meaning. Narration is commentary or telling of a piece. Some examples where you can find narration are things like a documentary, a narrator in a movie that is voiced over, or a fitness video. The bottom line here is that your narrator is telling a story. That story may be about how to work your abs for great results, but it’s a story none the less.

The difference is subtle, but when you are looking for the right vocal talent, it’s good to be aware of these subtleties. This will help you to find the best talent specifically for your project. The most general term is voice over, the others do have those slight semantic differences.

The Wrap Up of What is Voice Over

The more you know about voice over, the better you can hire the right talent for your voice over project. It’s important to know what voice over exactly is and what terms may be interchangeable. It’s also important to be able to define as specifically as possible what your end goal is and what you want to portray to your audience. The more you can narrow down the characteristics of your desired voice over, the better you can match potential talent to these characteristics. Good luck and it’s going to sound great!

Find the perfect voice today with Bunny Studio!