What is a Voice Over?
One dictionary offers this definition; ‘In motion pictures and television, the voice of a narrator who does not appear on camera’. But voice overs are used in many more diverse and exciting ways than simply ‘the voice of a narrator’ and cover endless forms of media extending far beyond ‘motion pictures and television’; radio, theatre, telecommunications, the internet, video games, instructional videos, mobile phone apps, talking books, and documentaries all use voices to sell products, tell a story or give guidance.
What makes a great voice over actor?
Having a beautiful vocal tone will not make you a great voice over actor any more than having long, slender fingers will make you a great pianist.
A great artist will be able to read voice over scripts and come up with a few varying interpretations. What’s more, he will bring these interpretations to life in front of the microphone in the booth of the studio.
'You know how I feel about diamonds'.
The spin an actor puts on the above sentence will let the listener know instantly whether they have a taste for diamonds or they can’t stand the things.
The success of voice acting does not lie in class or accent. It lies in the ability to communicate subtleties normally hidden by words, and do so with clarity of thought and excellent diction. If this sounds like a difficult task, despair not; it is possible to train yourself.
Different voice types suit different voice over scripts
It is essential to know who you are in terms of your voice. Most potential employers and agents are more interested in your natural sound than the myriad of accents and regional dialects you have on your CV or voice reel.
It’s also important to know which type of commercials and commentaries will suit your vocal abilities. This will stop you wasting your time chasing jobs that you’re simply not right for.
Lastly, you should know how to identify the style of a piece you have been asked to interpret; there are a few main categories.
The aim of all commercials is to sell the listener a product or service of some description. How they do that is down to the words that are used and the performance of the voice over actor.
The Hard Sell
Speedy delivery with a hard-hitting style, the hard sell is normally used for selling furniture at discount prices or on two-for-one deals that ‘must end next Saturday’.
The Soft Sell
Sex sells! Seductive and sultry, the soft sell is commonly employed for advertising chocolates and perfumes.
The ‘Real’ read
The most natural sell of all is the ‘real’ read. This should sound like the average girl or boy next door and is used to sell hair care products, pet food, insurance and sanitary towels!
The Character voice
Wacky, zany and larger than life, the character voice is often the domain of anything aimed at children: toys and games, breakfast cereal and soft drinks. It also seems to be a popular choice for selling cleaning products.
The announcer is used by large corporate companies and speaks only in third person. It is used to inform the listener of how wonderful certain utility providers are; gas, water and electricity companies all tend to use the official-sounding announcer.
The spokesperson normally speaks in the first person plural and is also popular with corporations; 'At Bloggs Bank, we ensure blah blah blah'. Home improvement companies selling doors, windows and heating often use the spokesperson voice over.
The gossip is generally portrayed by a woman. She is overheard chatting to a friend and doesn’t normally speak directly to the audience. This is a useful tactic for many advertisers as it allows the woman to state opinions rather than facts.
Commentaries are also sometimes referred to as narration and accompany documentaries, films and audio programmes dealing with a variety of subject matters.
Voices used for financial films tend to fall into two main categories. Authoritative male voice overs (who may even verge on being arrogant) are used when the company is producing a report to shareholders. If a company is trying to sell a pension scheme or investment opportunity, a more soothing, reassuring tone is called for.
Consumer affairs are normally dealt with in an investigative manner and the voice over scripts associated with this style of programme normally require a subtly sarcastic tone. There is an age-old technique of relaying back how the investigation into a certain company was handled and what the response was.
We asked ‘Is it normal practice for your supermarket to stick labels over the best before dates of out-of-date goods?’
They said ‘It’s not what we’d describe as normal practice’.
A brilliant ploy on the part of the programme makers, as it allows the artist to inflect in a way that makes it clear the company is dishonest, but is not at all libellous.
The job of the wildlife narrator is to convince the listener that they were actually there when the footage was being filmed. They talk in a tone that would not alert the animals to their presence; quietly, close to the mic, and extremely gentle.
The educational voice has infinite patience. It has a calm and reassuring vocal quality without being patronising. It makes everything sound logical and simple.
Medical matters are usually dealt with by mature voices. The material will require a well-educated, modulated vocal tone that conjures up images of an approachable doctor with plenty of time to discuss the treatment available.
A good ability for pronunciation and an understanding of different languages is often useful when approaching a travel commentary. The feel of the voice over should be enthusiastic and have a sense of humour.
Sports people have the ability to switch from being calm and in control one second to absolute hysteria the next. Often sports commentaries have a nasal quality.
The domain of the well-educated working class voice over, the narration should sound well-informed and opinionated.
When delivering technical information, the actor must ‘see’ everything he is talking about. These voice over scripts work well with visually orientated people at the helm.
In more recent years there has been an emergence of youthful, ultra-trendy voices narrating documentaries on numerous subjects from cooking lessons to pop bands. They are usually relaxed with a sense of humour and often with a slightly superior tone.
The above is by no means an exhaustive list of the types of voice over scripts you may be faced with. When working in computer games or animation, for example, you will be required to provide a much more original and individual interpretation of the material. The aim of this article has been to answer the question ‘what is a voice over?’ and give you the tools necessary to identify the type of voice over jobs you might be appropriate for.
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