What are Voice-Overs?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 04 December 2018
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Voice-overs are a disembodied voice that is used as a tool in radio, film, theater, and advertising. They have a number of functions, from educational narration to a vehicle for plot information. In some cases, the voice is provided by an established character from the performance, and in other instances it is performed by a specialized actor who focuses his career on his voice. Many people are familiar with the basic concept, since it is such a common device in performance media.

Often, a voice-over is used to provide narration. Many educational films provide an off-screen narrator who explains what is going on or provides interesting facts. This allows viewers to focus on the events on screen without being distracted by a visible actor. Commercials also use this technique, with a voice extolling the product being advertised while its myriad delights are displayed on the screen.


As a plot device, this device can be used in several ways. In some instances, it is provided by a third party narrator, as in the case of the Stage Manager in Thornton Wilder's Our Town. The narrator provides information and commentary on what is going on without being directly involved, establishing basic facts for members of the audience. A voice-over may also be voiced by a character, who may provide commentary on scenes that he or she is in, in addition to discussing events that he or she is not present for. The tactic of asides and comments directed at the audience is very old. Shakespeare, for example, regularly included commentary from his characters that was intended for the audience.

Some styles of film and radio are strongly associated with voice-overs. In film noir, for example, narration by either a major character or a third party is extremely common, as seen in countless films that open with a gravely voice painting a dire picture. Many educational programs use them to convey information as well. Animated films also use the technique to give their characters voices.

A specialized voice actor can sometimes become quite famous, as was the case with the announcer on many American movie previews. Although most people don't know his name, which happens to be Don LaFontaine, his voice was instantly familiar to many before his death in 2008. Other mainstream actors may agree to guest star as voice actors, as often happens in animated films with voice casts who are better known for their on-screen work.


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Post 11

Great post about "What are voice overs?" They definitely are fun to do. When you do a voiceover, you get the chance to be a star without that certain star look. Many people could be listening to you every day, but you don't get the paparazzi effect where you get smothered by many photographers trying to get your picture because voice over artists are the secret squirrels of the acting world. They have money and fame without the stress and strain.

A voice over artist would never attempt to shave their hair off thinking that this would disperse the press.

Doing voiceovers is anice job! However, it's not as easy as everyone thinks. Editing can be a drag when you just want to do voices. But overall, it's a good job.

Post 10

Many animated movie directors hire famous actors and actresses to do the voices for the characters. Sometimes, I can recognize their voices before reading the credits. At other times, the actor gets so into character that there is no way I can guess who it is!

Post 9

@cloudel: Wow, that would be startling! I live in a city where a lot of big ads with voice overs are filmed, so the commercial voice overs in my local programming don't really differ much.

I heard not long ago that there will be auditions for voice overs at my local mall. This gives ordinary people like me a shot at voice over opportunities that I would never have access to on my own.

I can't afford an agent, and I have no idea how to promote my own voice. It will be so neat if I get chosen at the open audition!

Post 8

My friend managed to build a voice over career. This was great for him, except for when he got sick.

In the winter, he seemed to always catch some sickness that led to bronchitis, and he would lose his golden voice for a few weeks. If any opportunities arose to do voice overs during that time, he had to decline them.

Post 7

It's always jarring to me to hear a couple of very different voices narrating during commercial breaks. As one ad passes and another comes on in its place, if the narrator's voice is very different from the one on the ad before, it startles me a bit.

The clearest example of this is when I'm watching my local news. There is a mixture of ads from national companies that are obviously recorded professionally and ads that feature people from just down the street with extreme Southern accents.

If a national ad goes off and is followed by a local ad for a car dealership featuring a very loud narrator with a Southern accent doing the voice over for the commercial, I jump a little. The contrast in voices is shocking!

Post 6

What kind of equipment do I need to record voice overs in my own home? I tried doing one with my normal computer mic but it sounded terrible, like a movie playing two rooms over.

Clearly, I need to get a better mic and maybe a different audio editing software. What is the equipment that the pros use and how much can I expect to spend on everything?

Post 5

I have a pretty deep and strong voice and I have always thought that I would be good at doing voice overs. How do I find work like this? Do I need to have training or a degree or do I just make a tape of my voice and start shopping it around?

Post 4

I have a very deep and strong voice and I have considered doing voice over work before. The only problem is that I have no idea how to find a job like that. I can't just pick up and go to LA and start doing trailers.

Does anyone know where I can find voice over jobs? I know they must exist, and with recording technology what it is today you could do them from just about anywhere.

Post 2

@nony - I agree. I think that a professional voice over will add value to any piece of work, whether you are talking about a finished film or a small budget film.

If you are a small budget filmmaker, you may not have the resources to add professional voice over to your movie, but I have found places on the Internet where voice over talents sell their services for independent film makers at a fairly low rate.

These people bill their services on a minute by minute basis, or even a half minute in some cases. They’ll charge a small flat fee for that minute. As a filmmaker you may need more than a minute, but the narration only occupies part of the movie, not the whole length.

So you could still wind up with getting professional narration on a budget.

Post 1

I greatly miss the voice of the late Don LaFontaine. He was the great voice over talent whose voice you have probably heard in hundreds of film trailers or commercials.

He had a deeply rich and sonorous bass voice and it brought gravity to the film. He no doubt made millions of dollars for that golden voice of his, yet sadly he passed away in 2008. He will be greatly missed.

If you have the right voice, you can definitely make a lot of money in this business. The right narrator’s voice brings authenticity and realism to your story; it is part of what makes the narration gripping in my opinion.

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