Voice Over - What It Actually Is

There are some skills which tend to remain in the background where the entertainment industry is concerned. People like drummers and bass players in music, special effects crews and focus pullers in film… There are many professions which don’t really get talked about too much.  One of the most versatile types of these people is the voice over artist.

Voice-over is often overlooked as a career choice because we rarely actually get to see the people behind the voices we hear on the radio, in TV ads, in films (especially animated) and other media types which contain snippets of the human voice.

Voice over recording is actually a very specific skill set, and as with anything, it requires some time to hone the skill needed to be a voice actor.

What is Voice Over Recording?

The dictionary description of a voice-over (or VO for short) is literally – “the voice of an unseen narrator speaking (as in a motion picture or television commercial)”. Voice-over refers to any recording of a person’s spoken voice not seen, used in media. It could be an ad on the radio, an ad on TV, a background voice in a film (or a voice recorder after filming is done on a film set), a language change to a film or it could be done live such as in United Nations meetings.

Types of Voice Over

There are a few different, main types of voice-over which you will find across the spectrum and these are as follows:

Narration – Narration is one of the most common VO types and refers to the recording of audio information such as an audiobook. It commonly comprises of either a single reader or multiple readers dictating an actual book or article, which is going to be loaded onto the internet to be sold or used as an audio-based copy of a hard copy item. It is also often used for educational e-learning purposes such as a university or school lectures and classes. Narration for e-learning is sometimes done for companies wanting to impart information on employees without the need for long meetings and introductory classes, either for the purpose of teaching or informing about a new product line or introducing new members to the company culture. 


Commercial – Commercial Voice over recording is done for the purpose of selling products or informing the public about a new product or service as an advertisement. A company will write a script and a voice over artist will be required to apply a selling technique such as a hard or soft sell to the script. These scripts require a base knowledge of sales types for VO, and will sometimes be added to a music track especially if the VO is being used for a radio AD. 

Dubbing – Dubbing is the process where a voice actor is required to read a script whilst watching a piece of film or TV, in order to translate the language in which the original piece was done. This requires some skill as the movements of the mouth of the character on screen have to match the new script and the voice artist will have to read and watch simultaneously. More often than not, dubbing is done by more experienced artists who are well practised in VO script reading. 

UN dubbing – UN dubbing is a very specific type of dubbing which gains its name from its original use, which was to translate speeches done by dignitaries from the United Nations who may not have been fluent in English. It now also refers to dubbing which is done when a speaker who is on screen being translated by a speaker off screen, most commonly used in documentary film or newscasting. Often you will still hear the original speaker’s dialogue still playing softly in the background as the preferred language is played over it. 

ADR – Automatic dialogue replacement is a process where additional dialogue is re-recorded for actors who may not have been able to record dialogue properly on a film set on the day that the visuals were recorded either due to external factors like explosion effects or other sounds, or bad recording quality on the day. This is recorded with the original actor as often as possible, but sometimes is recorded with a VO actor who can mimic the original voice.

IVR – Interactive voice response is the process of taking short sentences such as  “if you know the number of the extension you need to dial, please do so now” and using them for an automatic response system, most commonly used in large corporations, chain stores, or  for government departments. 

Character Voice Acting – The most interesting and sought after of voice over work, character voice acting involves a long script being used for either a film or game, where an actor is required to actually act a part which will then be animated. Being on one of these can be incredibly lucrative for voice actors, and some actors (such as Mark Hamill) have made much of their career based around character acting for VO. To do these jobs requires an extensive amount of knowledge in voice-over and also in character acting, and more often than not experienced actors are used for their specific vocal qualities. 

This is a base overview of what voice-over recording is and where you will find the most common uses for voice acting. In the next few months, we will be going into some of these more in-depth with a focus on how to start a career as a voice actor and what you should look out for, as well as presenting you with an overview of techniques for voiceover actors.

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