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Industry

About Voice-Over


By Al Black | 13th September 2019

When people ask about what I do for a living and say 'voice-over', a dazed look of befuddlement immediately crosses their faces.

'Y'know, the voice you hear in radio commercials or the voice menu you get when you call a bank?', I add to provide context. 

With this, their face opens up, eyes bright with curiosity. 'Oh wow, I didn't even know that was a job; how does that work?'. 

'Well...'. 

And so the conversation begins. 

I've had this conversation, so many times it feels like improvising on the script of a famous play. In general, people don't realise that voice-over is everywhere and because it's ubiquitous, they don't think about it. 

I've written this article to help answer the most pertinent 'voice-over' related questions. Whether you want to learn about what a voice-over is, how to become a voice-over artist or to find out more about the production process of booking and recording voice-over—the answers lie ahead. 

To keep things simple, I've divided the article into sections. Feel free to skip to what's most relevant to you.

 

  1. What is voice-over?

  2. Where is voice-over used?

  3. Is voice-over a growing industry?

  4. Who are the industry leaders?

  5. Who are the voice-over artists?

  6. How do you become a voice-over artist?

  7. What is the process of getting a voice-over recorded?



1. What is voice-over?

Female voice-over artist behind the mic

Is it just someone talking, right? Yes and no. 

First, a quick point on grammar: Voiceovervoice-over and voice over are spellings used interchangeably by people working in the media production industry. There is no categorically right or wrong way of spelling it. Throughout this article, we will use the hyphenated spelling: 'voice-over', preferred by various dictionaries, including the Collins Dictionary, which refers to 'voice-over' as: The voice-over of a film, television programme, or advertisement consists of words that are spoken by someone who is not seen.

RELATED: Learn more about voice-over definition and spelling

So yes, whilst a voice-over is an unseen narrator, 'someone talking', it's ordinarily a trained speaker, for example, an actor, broadcaster or comedian. Their voice is essential to their work, and through their voice, they communicate ideas, sell products, explain how things work or entertain folks. 

Whilst anyone can record a voice-over without the proper training, it's unlikely audiences will want to listen! Most of us don't exercise our vocal muscles, and our voices can sound flat and monotonous. It takes many years of daily practice to strengthen the voice. 

Mastering the art of voice-over is about making one's voice textured, genuinely exciting and engaging. A voice that adds value to the audience experience and keeps people's attention is marketable, and businesses will pay handsomely for a professional voice-over artist to represent their brand. Top brands know that whilst it may be cheaper to voice it yourself, it can have a detrimental effect, turning an audience off your message completely. 

In our blog: Inventing Authority: The Art of the Documentary Voice-Over we took a look at how voice-over made its way into popular culture. First starting in Radio, TV and Film, but it's now much more ubiquitous and we'll look at a variety of its uses in the next section.  

 

2. Where is voice-over used?

voice-over uses

Many mediums use voice-over for teaching, selling, informing and entertaining audiences around the world. 

Below, I look at some of the most common uses. Click the links to listen to professional samples recorded by full-time voice-over talents.

 

    • Advertisements & Promos radio, TV and internet promos frequently use voice-over.

    • Audiobooks & Dramas well-spoken narrators are always needed for audiobooks, dramas and stories.

    • Characters voicing characters in animated series and video games

    • Corporate & B2B corporate videos, b2b promos and presentations all use voice-over to lend authority to the message.

    • Education and interactive eLearning and virtual reality courses for adults and children alike

    • Explainers for product and website videos all use professional voice-over artists.

    • Museum and Tourist Guides we all love to explore, and audio guides are often voiced in several languages.

    • The News, many news stories use voice-over provided by the journalist or broadcaster.

    • Passenger Announcements safety and scheduling announcements on trains or in-flight

    • Satnavs and GPS devices, many car navigation systems, and GPS apps use voice-over.

    • Telephony professional voice-over is used in IVR (the menus you go through when you call a big company), on-hold marketing and voicemail greetings.

    • Toys & Electronic Games some of the most entertaining gadgets or children's toys use voices to engage and amuse

    • Movie or Game Trailers trailers build anticipation for upcoming entertainment releases, and a voice-over is intrinsic to emotional engagement.

And so much more! Explore more mediums here >

Voice-over applies to every industry in one way or another, so why do so few people understand it? 

Well, I hope to change that.

 

3. Is voice-over a growing industry?

voice-over industry

The short answer is yes. 

At Voquent, our team has decades of experience in the industry, and we launched Voquent.com in 2018 after extensive research. We wouldn't have founded Voquent if we didn't see the industry growing fast. 

Right up to the early 2000s, getting a professionally recorded voice-over was relatively expensive. Voice-over talents were in limited supply, and demand for their service was high. 

Find Voice Talents by region, country or city location

Of course, the explosion of the internet, faster computer processing and mobile technology have changed all of that forever. While many recordings still occur in specialised voice-over studios, most voice-over is recorded in-home studio environments. 

Most voice-over recordings do not need to be directed live by the client and do not have complicated time-syncing or lip-syncing requirements. So, recording from home is fast becoming the standard.

Many clients don't have the budget to pay for higher-end studios anyway. The explosion in cheap technology has given large numbers of people a lucrative voice acting career which traditionally would only have been open to experienced broadcasters, actors or entertainers. This surge in the number of voice-over artists and the proliferation of online casting platforms has reduced rates. However, on the flip side, the number of opportunities has grown thanks to reduced video production costs and tech giants like YouTube, Instagram, and audiobook apps.

All this combined has driven the cost of hiring a professional voice-over talent providing fresh opportunities for businesses to reach truly huge audiences via the web and social media. 

Indeed if they localise the voice-over into other world languages, they can reach the entire world.

Pre-YouTube, to reach a big audience, you had to advertise, and the main routes to the public were via radio or TV. It was so expensive that businesses generally rejected this kind of advertising. Now everything is connected, and advertisements can be targeted at micro-regions to viewers with specific interests and matching detailed demographics—Game-changing for the small and medium-sized businesses that can benefit from this. 

Almost all content is public, and fair usage fees for broadcasting content on social media is a vast topic (more on this in section 7). Every website contains video content. And with a lot of videos using voice-over, it's not surprising the voice-over industry is growing incredibly fast. Even the general-purpose freelancing sites like Upwork and Fiverr have jumped on the bandwagon with a category specifically for voice-over. 

 

4. Who are the industry leaders?

There is a multitude of companies involved in the production of voice-over such as:

  • video production companies
  • marketing and branding agencies
  • communication agencies
  • translation agencies
  • video game developers
  • animation studios
  • recording studios
  • book publishers
  • training consultancies
  • contact centre services
  • and many more!

All these companies add value. Whether they are coming up with the concepts & scriptwriting—the creative—or producing and publishing the content, who the voice-over industry leaders are, will depend on your perspective. If we focus primarily on the companies that represent voice-over talents and produce audio recordings, there are four main types of companies:

  1. General Freelance Peer to Peer platforms

  2. Voice-Over P2P platforms (Pay to Play sites)

  3. Studios / Agencies/ Production Companies

  4. Exclusive Voice Agents

We discuss the different types in more detail in our 101 Top Voice Over Websites guide.

From the perspective of voice-over talent, the industry leader is dependant on the style of voice-over work they specialise in and where they obtain the majority of their opportunities. 

Amateur voices will often use the general freelance sites to build up their experience first. More specialised online voice-over casting platforms are usually the next step for voice-over artists with more experience and better home studio equipment. Many of these sites require the voice-over talent to pay a subscription fee for the opportunity to audition for jobs. But this isn't necessarily the path every voice actor takes. 

Many voices train first as actors and get exclusive representation with an acting agent. Indeed these actors may not do any voice-over work until establishing themselves as actors. 

For example, Keanu Reeves rarely did voice-over jobs but was explicitly cast for his 'sci-fi' kudos for Cyberpunk 2077

The general freelance sites and casting platforms are great at connecting individual voice artists with producers, but they aren't the best at organising multi-voice or multi-language projects. They generally work by asking customers to post a job, and voice-over artists must submit auditions before the customer selects the one they like best. Some jobs can attract hundreds of auditions. With 50% of voice-over artists reporting they have to audition for 51+ jobs to get chosen for ONE gig - that's a lot of unpaid work! 

For customers looking for more than just one individual artist for a specific project or additional translation or accessibility services such as script translations, audio post-production or subtitling services, their needs are usually fulfilled by the tens of thousands of production companies, studios, and creative studios or translation agencies the world. 

Typically there is an industry leader in critical locations such as London, LA or Singapore, but who a customer chooses to work with may also depend on what other services are needed. 

For example, here at Voquent, one of our primary services is translating audio and video content in any language. And we also make content accessible to the deaf or visually impaired. Our specialism is post-production, where the customer is handling the creativity. This makes us a good partner for translation companies and creative agencies alike. 

Also, check out our guide to 161 voice-over agencies worldwide to find voice-over agencies in 35+ countries. Some of which are the industry leaders in their location. 

 

5. Who are the voice-over artists?

You will probably already have heard of famous voice-over actors like Don LaFontaine (the original movie trailer guy) or Jennifer Hale and Nolan North (voicing characters in countless video games). 

At Voquent, we represent thousands of voice-over talents - all of them non-exclusively. So, we may book them directly or via their agent. Most of them you probably won't have heard of by name. But you may recognise their voices from adverts, audiobooks, animations or games you've played. Use the links below to listen to voices:

 

6. How do you become a voice-over artist?

 If you have hands, you can paint a room, but will you get a job as a painter and decorator? Being able to hold a paintbrush helps with decorating, and equally, having a 'nice' voice is a good start for a voice-over. Anyone can get behind a mic quickly enough, but becoming an expert voice-over talent that customers are willing to pay requires lots of practice. Don't kid yourself that customers will be vying to work with you. 

In reality, it's a competitive business. Standing out requires a mixture of luck and consistent effort. Only a small minority work full-time as voice-over artists. Many use voice-over work to supplement their income and work for a decade or more to build up their network of customers before going full-time. Here's a quick summary of the steps involved in becoming a voice-over artist. 

 

Step 1 - Get professional vocal coaching

Invest in professional coaching. Unless you're already a regular public speaker, broadcaster or singer, it's unlikely you give your voice the daily workout it needs. Your vocal cords are muscles, and if you intend to use these muscles every day in your work, you need them in optimum condition. Like an athlete, you need a daily regime of exercises, and we'd always recommend finding a local voice-over coach in your area for some 121 sessions. 

How to Choose the Best Voice Coach for Voice Acting Work

 

Step 2 - Record a showreel and demos.

Pre-recorded demo samples or a showreel mix is vital to securing voice-over work. It's the best way for customers to preview your capabilities. If you don't have any samples, how will anyone trust you can do the work? 

Whilst you need samples, please don't rush into getting them before you're ready. There's no point paying good money for a professional showreel if your instrument—your voice—is sub-optimal. 

Many companies offer expensive showreel production services, but you arguably don't need them when you start. 

Scripts are available for free online. Rehearse and record them yourself. Get feedback from a professional coach and perfect your performance. Then book yourself into a studio, record the scripts and find an audio engineer to mix and master with music and create individual samples for your Voquent profile. 

Remember to keep hydrated and do regular vocal warm-ups to keep your voice fresh.

 

Step 3 - Build a home studio

You don't need a home studio to get voice-over work, but with no home studio, it's more challenging to handle last-minute requests, and you will have the added expense of booking a local studio, which can put clients with tight budgets off working with you. 

You can set up a home voice-over recording studio relatively cheaply. We've posted some helpful blogs which detail all of the equipment you will need. 

How to Make a Home Studio - 9 Crucial Things You Will Need

 

Step 4 - Freelancing 

Start small. Don't immediately go out to voice-over agencies with your demo samples or showreels and expect them to care. The top agencies get dozens of voices contacting them daily, and many of these voices will have much more experience than you. 

First, put yourself out onto some of the freelancer websites and non-exclusive agencies, like Voquent. Offer to do voice-over work for a fee you are comfortable with and look at it as training. It's a great way to get a diverse range of low-budget opportunities to build up your vocal abilities and learn how to work with customers. You'll probably be auditioning for lots of jobs to win a single gig to start with, but this is a superb way to grow your abilities and industry savvy. You should also join some of the voice-over networking sites and groups on Reddit, LinkedIn and Facebook. 

YouTube Voice Over - Making Money Narrating YouTube Videos

 

Step 5 - Grow your network.

After 1-2 years of freelancing, and as you build up your confidence and experience, you can start investing more in your business. You may decide to upgrade your equipment, record higher quality demo samples, create a website and market yourself on social media. It's also worthwhile creating profiles on the voice-over casting platforms (P2P sites). It's all part of your marketing.

You should also reach out to local voice-over agencies and voice-over websites about getting represented non-exclusively. You will likely still be working part-time at this stage, but you will need to increase your rates to account for your additional marketing and equipment costs. Check the industry rate guidelines in your region and work at the lower end. 

Keep working consistently. Grow your network of customers, and you could go full-time. 

Getting an agent is not a silver bullet - always be in control of your destiny. 

 

7. What is the process for getting a voice-over recorded?

Getting a commercial voice-over recorded is almost always at the end of a lengthy production pipeline that may look something like this:

  1. The client decides on the desired goal of the campaign.

  2. The client prepares a request for proposals (RFP) and sends this out to creative agencies to bid.

  3. The client shortlists creative agencies and invites them to pitch. There may be some budget available for the agency to spend on a draft creative at this stage.

  4. The client chooses an agency and sets a budget for the creative and production (including the voice-over).

  5. The creative agency does scriptwriting and storyboarding.

  6. The creative agency subcontracts a video producer, production company or other creatives.

  7. The production company or creative agency will start casting for voice-over artists. Which platform or company they use may depend on the available budget. They may post a job online requesting auditions of their script, or they may pre-select a voice based on demo samples they hear on a site like Voquent.

  8. The voice-over company or freelance voice-over artist will need to be available at short notice. The voice-over is usually the last element of the project, and a hard deadline will be approaching fast!

Things can get even more complicated, mainly where consultants or external casting agencies are used. It's normal for the above process to play out before contacting any voice talent, but sometimes they may be cast before any creative starts.

Once the creative is completed in the primary or source language, translating the voice-over to other languages will typically include the following steps.

 

 

Voice-Over Process

1-Transcription 

Clearly, transcribing the audio/speech to create a script is only required if no script is available. However, even if the text is available, if the voice-over is being synced to video or has other time constraints, it's recommended to time-stamp the scripts before translation to reference the translator, voice talent, and engineer the session. 

2-Translation 

The translation must be done creatively (transcreation), observing any time constraints in the source. The translator needs to remember it's a spoken script, so it should not be literal and easy to read aloud naturally. They may also need to condense the translation to fit within the existing timing of the video. Learn more about script translations >

3-Casting 

Before casting voice actors, a brief stating the gender, age, accent/language, and tone of the voice-over required should be agreed upon. If it's a commercial project, auditions may be needed from all suitable voices. Suppose you're working with an agency like Voquent. In that case, they will recommend voices based on the available budget and recording requirements but always bear in mind that most voice-over talents are freelancers and ultimately will decide whether they want to do the job or not. After reviewing the samples or auditions and shortlisting voices, it's time to schedule the recording dates. 

4-Recording 

Booking the voice-over talents and studio time is the next step. When the voices are recording from home studios, it's usual for the agency or producer to direct the session live via Zoom, Source Connect or similar.

Live direction is essential to avoid costly re-records. Learn more about Best Practices for Live Directed Voice-Over Sessions >

5-Post-production 

After completing the studio sessions, the audio is rendered out as a .wav file from the studio. Then it's time to clean up the audio. Editing the voice-over includes removing all mouth noises, clicks, pops and sometimes chopping up the audio into multiple files, labelled as per the script. Suppose the audio is for a video or other content such as an eLearning course or presentation. In that case, we may schedule additional resources to sync it up or mix it with music.  Learn more about voice-over post-production services >

6-Amends / Delivery 

The end client will review the audio, and if script revisions are made, a pick-up session with the voice talent is the next step.  It's essential to decide who will take responsibility for the cost of re-records, and our recommended approach is as follows:

The customer is responsible for

  • approving script translations
  • proof-reading and editing the script before recording
  • ensuring translation can be read naturally within time constraints
  • re-recording mispronounced terms (no glossary)
  • confirming the style and tone if live directed
  • cost of re-recording script changes or amends

The artist & agency are responsible for

  • mispronunciations & mistakes (general speech)
  • mispronunciations of terms (if glossary provided)
  • performance doesn’t match approved demo-sample or audition
  • poor recording quality & extraneous noise
  • not recording to time constraints (if required)
  • an apparent mismatch between final delivery and original brief

And that’s it! I hope this has helped demystify the dark and arcane voice-over industry for you. 

It’s not as complicated as it might seem, but it certainly isn’t like anything else!

 

Voice-Over


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Al Black

Al Black

Al has over twenty years of experience in audiovisual translations. A Voquent co-founder, he has produced tens of thousands of voice-overs and translations for education, advertising and entertainment projects.

About Author

Al Black

Al Black

Al has over twenty years of experience in audiovisual translations. A Voquent co-founder, he has produced tens of thousands of voice-overs and translations for education, advertising and entertainment projects.






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