When you watch a movie, see a commercial, or talk to an automated customer service system on the phone, chances are there is some sort of disembodied voice informing you about the product or company. These are called voice overs, and they’re a staple of the media industry.
But what exactly is voice over? And how did it become so pervasive in our lives? In this article, we’ll explore the history of voice over, and explain how it works in a variety of different contexts.
While the terms voice over (VO) and voice acting are often used interchangeably, there are some key differences. VO involves reading words off a screen, while voice acting often requires taking on a character and conveying emotion. Regardless of the specifics, both types of voice work are important to our daily lives, as evidenced by the wide range of uses.
The earliest examples of VO can be seen on the radio, where newscasters would read reports such as weather forecasts. As the technology behind filmmaking grew more advanced, VO became commonplace in movies, particularly in the 1940s. Disney’s classic cartoon, Steamboat Willy, was among the first animated films to incorporate VO, and Mel Blanc became one of the most famous voice actors of the era. By this time, non-animated films were also beginning to take advantage of VO, especially in the film noir genre.
Documentaries are another area where VO is very popular. Sir David Attenborough and Morgan Freeman are both well known for their narration of nature and other documentaries, but there are many others who do a great job. Voice over is also very popular in the form of audio books, with Jim Dale a famous example.
As a general rule, a good voice over should sound natural above all else. A great voice actor will be able to read a script while sounding completely unscripted, and even add a touch of personality by varying their tone or energy level in certain sections. This is why it’s important to practice before recording; read through the script several times, and try different ways of pronouncing words that might prove difficult. Practicing vocal stretches and doing some face-opening exercises can also help.
Ultimately, it’s up to the individual aspiring to be a voice over artist to decide where they want their career to lead them. Some may find that they have a particular specialty, such as animation or video games, while others will focus on commercials or narrative projects. No matter what the niche, it’s essential to develop a portfolio of demo reels that can showcase the talent and skills required for the work they are interested in.
In order to start looking for VO jobs, it’s helpful to compile a list of reputable agents. You can do this by asking other voice actors for recommendations, checking with local agencies, or searching for agents on the SAG-AFTRA website. If you’re just starting out, it’s best to wait before seeking representation; most agents prefer clients with experience. However, if you don’t feel ready to commit to an agent yet, you can create your own demo reel by recording a few commercials and other clips that will make up your sample.