What Are Voice Overs?
Before we go into the detail of voice overs, the origin, and its applications, let’s look, in broad terms, at what it actually means. Here is a summary of the Wikipedia definition:
“Voice-over (also known as off-camera or off-stage commentary) is a production technique where a voice—that is not part of the narrative (non-diegetic)—is used in a radio, television production, filmmaking, theatre, or other presentations. The voice-over is read from a script and may be spoken by someone who appears elsewhere in the production or by a specialist voice actor.”
We see, then, that voice overs are spoken recordings that are made outside of the environment in which they are played. Voice overs, also sometimes referred to as voice acting, is now starting to be recognized as a career.
The origin of voice overs
You may be surprised to learn that the first voice over was performed in 1900. Canadian inventor, Reginald Fessenden, is credited with the first transmission of the human voice. On December 23rd, 1900, Fessenden succeeded in transmitting a voice message across a one mile stretch between two towers on Cobb Island in the Potomac River.
Fessenden is also acknowledged as the “father” of radio following his discovery of Amplitude Modulation (AM) as a means to transmit sound over long distances. In fact, he also carries the distinction of being the first voice on radio. On Christmas Eve 1906, Fessenden broadcast a Christmas concert consisting of music, bible texts and seasonal messages to ships in the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea.
Modern application of voice overs
There are two basic categories of voice overs:
. The voice actor narrates the script simultaneously with the action to which it relates. The speech it timed to coincide with specific events in the production. Synchronous voice work is the most common form.
- Asynchronous. The audio is recorded separately and then superimposed on the visuals. This is very common in the movie industry and is also now gaining traction in online video content.
Female Voice over talent are far more common than most people realize. If you were to analyze everything you have heard over a period of a few days, you may be surprised at the proportion of non-live audio that you encounter in everyday life. Let’s have a look at where and how voice overs are used.
- Movies are rarely made all in one step. The visuals and sound are almost always recorded separately. The primary reason is that there is far too much extraneous noise on a movie set that cannot be edited out or cleaned up. Voices would also be very difficult to capture cleanly and clearly when actors are moving about and, sometimes, facing away from the camera. Recording the audio separately also allows the editors to manipulate the sound effects and the synchronization of the entire audio track to give viewers the best possible cinema experience.
- It is common in many countries to translate the audio of foreign movies into the local language. This makes the best and most popular foreign movies available to local audiences at a reasonable cost. This is a lot more difficult to do successfully than one may think. Synchronizing the translated audio with the on-screen speaker’s mouth movement is important to a coherent final product.
- Advertisements and announcements on radio are generally all pre-recorded. Certain announcements may be made live during talk shows to maximize audience engagement.
- A large proportion of normal programming is also pre-recorded. The exception is live talk shows that are usually aired at peak time, i.e. during the morning and evening commutes and over the lunch hour. As much as 50% of a station’s content could be pre-recorded.
- Tour guides
- More and more tourist attractions are adopting pre-recorded audio guides for tourists. There are a number of benefits to this approach. Firstly, it replaces a human tour guide and reduces congestion at popular attractions. Secondly it eliminates human error and ensures that the tourist receives accurate information. And, lastly, tour guides are sometimes reputed to take advantage of tourists who have not done their research. The pre-recorded guide has a fixed price and protects the tourist.
- Training videos
- As our lives become more and more technology dependent, we are increasingly turning to the web for all our needs. Exacerbated by a pandemic, corporate training and personal development has also now transitioned to the web.
Entire training courses are now presented on various web based platforms. The audio and visual components of these courses are very often also produced separately and then merged through radio commercial production.
More often than not, the people who produce the material do not have suitable voices for the audio component. They’re looking for mature and authoritative voices that lend a professional tone to the course material. A quick look on Upwork will reveal just how much demand there is for voices to record training material.
- Web content
- Youtube has developed into a very popular platform for ecommerce. Thousands of people earn a living through affiliate marketing or explainer videos or direct sales of their own products. Others publish engaging and entertaining podcasts on general topics and attract advertising revenues.
Whatever the product or recipe, quite frequently the owner of the content contracts the audio to a professional voice artist to provide a polished audio track. In these cases, generally, the visual are produced first and the audio then has to be synchronized with it.
As with training videos, there is massive demand for well spoken native English speakers to provide the audio tracks for Youtube videos. North American and British accents are particularly in demand.
- Video games
- All the audio in video games is pre-recorded. This is usually done in sound bites. Various short phrases are recorded and these are then coordinated with specific on-screen actions and events.
The path a game takes is unpredictable and depends on the choices a player makes. You cannot, therefore, record an entire story. Appropriate snippets of dialogue are invoked by the game as it unfolds.
- Audio books
- Audiobooks have been around for decades. They are a very popular mechanism for making the written word available to the blind. They’re also very useful in language teaching, especially for second language learning. They can be used to introduce higher level vocabulary and reading material above the learner’s current proficiency level. There are a host of other benefits for both learner and teacher.
Commercial Production / General Audio Editing
Historically, voice overs have been produced by and for movies and businesses. The production of a voice over also known / dj drops track was akin to an operating theatre in a hospital. A squeaky lean recording booth with foam padded walls, a state-of-the-art microphone and sophisticated pre-amplifiers and mixing decks were the order of the day. Recordings were painstakingly edited and sound effects mixed in to create the perfect soundtrack.
The growth of web-based commerce, social media and powerful hand-held communication devices has changed all of that. Nowadays there are thousands of freelance voice artists that work from home providing voice overs for a variety of clients and purposes. Some of these freelancers have rather comprehensive recording setups but the vast majority employ rudimentary noise reduction measures and use very basic recording equipment.
There are a number of very good sound recording apps available that allow a freelance to produce recordings of a passable standard without any specialized equipment. There has also been a change in user expectations. Users do not necessarily expect the audio on a Youtube video or podcast to be studio perfect. The message is what is important.