What is voice over - voice talent inside booth
What is voice over - voice talent inside booth
Sep 2, 2020
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What Is Voice Over? What do Voice Actors do?

You might think of “voice over” as another term for “voice recording,” but the truth is that not all voice recordings are considered voice overs.

Voice overs can more accurately be described as voice recordings with certain characteristics.

While a radio interview could be called a voice recording, it wouldn’t make sense to call such content a voice over.

Voice actors work on a wide range of projects including TV shows, video games, audiobooks, and more.

In addition to entertainment, voice artists also provide recordings for other kinds of content such as e-learning, public service announcements, and corporate videos and presentations.

In this article, I’ll cover the differences between voice overs and other types of voice recordings along with a short history of the field.

I’ll also describe the current state of the voice acting industry and what skills and equipment new voice artists need to reach their professional goals.

Creating a voice over might sound as simple as recording yourself on your phone or computer, but voice actors are actually trained professionals, and they use high-end equipment for the best possible sound quality.

With that being said, decreasing equipment prices combined with ongoing growth in relevant fields has made becoming a voice over artist more accessible than ever before.

 

What is Voice Over?

What is voice over - voice actor using reflexion filter

As mentioned above, all voice overs are voice recordings, but simply recording your voice doesn’t make you a voice actor.

While voice overs come in many shapes and forms, there are a few key characteristics that separate them from other types of recordings.

The most obvious difference is that voice overs are recorded by professionals who are paid for their work.

Professional voice artists take their work seriously and devote time, money, and energy into improving their vocal skills.

Whether you’re listening to a dramatic voice over in a movie or TV show or an informative one at an airport or train station, the person speaking was likely compensated for their work.

A professional voice actor hones his or her craft by developing speaking styles that match the desired tone and sensibility of the subject matter.

Of course, they also need to build fundamental skills such as clarity and versatility regardless of their unique style.

Morgan Freeman and James Earl Jones, for example, bring a distinctive tone to each of their projects.

Their voices are immediately recognizable, which makes them a great option for movie trailers or TV shows that need voice over work.

Another crucial distinction is that voice actors aren’t visible in the way they would be when giving a speech or lecture.

A public announcement is no longer a voice over if it is displayed on a screen, and voice overs in films and TV shows need to be delivered by someone off-camera.

This gives voice actors less to worry about, but it can also be more difficult to speak dramatically (or comically) when sitting in front of a computer screen instead of being on camera.

 

When Did Voice Acting Start?

What is voice over - a simple home studio set up

Voice overs only became a practical possibility after we developed equipment for recording and playing back voice recordings.

“Steamboat Willie,” an early Disney cartoon created in 1928, is one of the earliest examples of a voice over in mass media.

Most Americans recognize this as the first popular cartoon, and it was a key step toward the massive animation industry we know today.

That said, voice actors had been hired for informational purposes well before they began to appear in cartoons and films.

Reginald Fessenden, the first voice actor and possibly the first radio broadcaster, gave a weather notice from the coast of Maryland in 1900 – 28 years before the release of “Steamboat Willie.”

That said, home radios weren’t commonplace until much later, and the recording was only sent to a single recipient, so it’s easy to see why “Steamboat Willie” is the first voice over in popular memory.

“Steamboat Willie” was arguably the first well-known voice over in American media.

 

Since 1900, voice overs have only grown more common due to a number of factors.

Modern equipment makes it easy for actors to record and transmit their voice to anyone in the world on a relatively small budget.

For many years, only dedicated studios could produce professional-quality recordings, severely limiting the field’s potential and making it difficult to break into.

Today, even freelancers can create amazingly clear recordings on a limited budget.

Similarly, the rapid growth of the entertainment industry, coupled with more efficient animation techniques, increased demand for professional voice actors.

Many of the most famous voiceover artists are known for their work on video games, movies, and TV shows.

Along with the growth of entertainment, the expansion of voice acting has also been driven by improvements in technology and a demand for voiceover work in burgeoning fields.

While the voiceover market is now intensely competitive, it’s clear that voice acting is more accessible to new and unrecognized talent than ever before.

 

What Do Voice Actors Do?

What is voice over - voice actor recording

In 2021, voice actors work on a wide range of projects and at different scales. 

Some voice actors are known specifically for their voice work, while others develop a reputation as conventional actors before branching out into voice overs.

Actors who are still looking to break through may have a day job while recording professionally on the side.

It can be challenging to get full-time work as a new voice artist, and freelancers often move from one project to another with little continuity. 

Voice actors are split among a variety of fields, and the market is continuing to adjust to the growth of new types of media.

A 2019 report found that voice over work for e-learning grew by 10.4 percent, while work on internet videos increased by 13 percent. 

If you think you have a good voice, finding a field that isn’t receiving much attention can be a great way to get your name out there.

While some TV and film voice artists earn millions of dollars per year, you don’t need to work in entertainment to have a successful career as a voice actor.

More and more voice actors are moving away from conventional agencies to pursue voice over work as freelancers.

Freelancing is sometimes unpredictable, but it can also be highly lucrative and it gives voice artists more flexibility than ever when it comes to applying for and working on voice acting projects.

This matches a larger trend in the American economy, which created six million gig economy jobs in the ten years from 2010 to 2020.

The coronavirus pandemic could further transform the market in unpredictable ways, but it’s clear that the gig economy is here to stay.

Due to the variegated nature of voice acting, professional voice actors cultivate different types of skills.

For example, a radio commercial announcer will need to be able to speak at a fast pace in order to get through an entire voice over in a short ad slot.

In contrast, the same actor may also record a public service announcement while focusing on enunciating clearly and calmly.

Finally, dramatic and comedic work will require the same voice skills that are relevant in live-action films and TV shows.

Professional voice actors focus on developing the most important skills for the particular fields they’re working in.

Of course, every voiceover artist relies on some fundamental vocal and technical skills that transcend any individual kind of voice work.

Dubbing is another common form of voice acting in which an actor records a script for an onscreen character that is then synched to the lip movements of that character (otherwise known as “lip-sync”).

This is a common practice for content that was originally created in another language and/or animated movies.

Content localization often involves hiring new voice actors to record lines in new languages along with scriptwriters to provide a natural translation.

Many voice professionals need to develop their range in order to be marketable for different opportunities.

Working on a wider range of projects makes voiceover artists more likely to find well-paying voice acting jobs and make a name for themselves in the field.

An artist might record voice overs for any of these forms of media:

Commercials

Many voice actors work on TV commercials, online ads, radio spots, and even movie previews.

Depending on the kind of content involved, promotional work may be dramatic, comedic, informative, or more conversational in tone.

Clients will look for an artist whose voice matches the style they have in mind as well as the message and values of their brand.

Similarly, different ads can run from as short as a few seconds to as long as several minutes.

The advertising industry had seen a decade of consistent growth until the coronavirus pandemic hit in 2020, and it’s expected to keep expanding in the near future.

TV, Movies, and Video Games

Entertainment work can be incredibly lucrative for professional voice over artists, and it also gives them a chance to be more creative.

Like conventional actors, voiceover artists have the opportunity to explore their range and perform in both dramatic and comedic contexts.

With that being said, entertainment projects can also be very competitive, and this is a tough field for novice voice actors to break into.

Audiobooks

Audiobooks are becoming more and more common every year, and most popular books are now available in an audiobook format.

Like other forms of media, books can range from informative and technical to comic and dramatic, so different voice actors are naturally suited to different types of audiobooks.

In many ways, recording an audiobook is similar to other kinds of projects including narration for various forms of content such as TV, movies, and video games.

Narrators are typically responsible for conveying a story without acting out a particular role.

Skilled narration artists know how to match the style of the script they’re reading and keep their audience interested in the content.

E-learning

As mentioned earlier, e-learning is another rapidly growing field that often requires clear voice overs.

The industry is expected to nearly double in size from just 2019 to 2026, opening up countless new opportunities for skilled artists.

E-learning is another area that relies on narration to communicate course material and create an aural connection with what the students are learning.

This is particularly helpful for auditory learners who learn best by hearing something rather than by seeing it or writing it down.

These are some of the most well-known voice acting opportunities, but voiceover artists might also be involved in other projects including:

Among many other applications.

Some of the most well-known (and well-compensated) recent voice actors include Dan Castellaneta (Homer Simpson), Billy West (Fry), and Mark Hamill (the Joker).

Stars in popular animated shows like the Simpsons, Futurama, and Family Guy often earn tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars per episode.

 

What Equipment Do Voice Actors Use?

What is voice over - condenser mic headphones and recording software

Voice acting equipment varies just as much as the work.

Freelance voice actors often invest in their own equipment and work from a home studio.

Basic recording equipment is relatively inexpensive today, very much within reach compared to just a decade ago.

Rookie voice actors can easily buy a new microphone, headphones and a sound card (or “interface”) for less than $1,000.

Professional-grade equipment however can go well into the tens, if not hundreds of thousands, depending how far you want to go…

Microphones are arguably one of the most important pieces of equipment for voice actors.

Mics are available at various price points, and new voice actors may upgrade their mic (often from a USB microphone to an XLR mic) after some career development.

Many of the best options cost several hundred or even some thousands of dollars, while budget mics are available for less than $100.

Headphones offer great audio quality for voice actors who need an isolated listening experience to identify any imperfections.

High-quality headphones can run from under $100 to $400 or $500, particularly for studio-grade models.

The two most important concepts a voice actor needs to understand and implement in order to produce broadcast-quality recordings are soundproofing and acoustic treatment.

Sound proofing is the concept of minimizing exterior noises from entering the recording space.

This is accomplished by applying specialized, heavy barriers on or inside the studio walls.

Studio windows are often double glazed and specially designed to prevent outside noise from coming in.

Acoustic treatment is also essential in order to achieve audio that is “dry” or echo-free.

When a person speaks inside an empty room, the sound wave they produce bounces off the walls and creates reverberation.

To avoid this, the recording space is covered with specially designed acoustic panels.

These panels are designed to absorb sound waves, and different types are placed strategically depending on the frequencies they are meant to absorb.

Isolation shields are inexpensive solutions that help absorb sound waves, but are often not enough.

Professional voice actors usually use isolation booths.

These are equipped with both sound-proofing and acoustic treatment and are extremely effective in getting a balanced, dry sound.

Here’s a short tour of a WhisperRoom booth from the NAMM 2020 convention:

While most professionals work from their home studios nowadays, sometimes they will venture out to record at commercial studios.

This is particularly true if they’re working for a big-budget movie or show, or if they need an engineer to help with complex post-production tasks.

Recording studios dedicated specifically to voice overs (as opposed to music, for example) are available in many American cities.

Investing in high-quality equipment is important for every voice talent regardless of their experience level.

Hiring managers will often throw out auditions with background noise, poor quality, and other recording issues regardless of the voice actor’s underlying abilities.

What Skills Do Voice Actors Need?

What is voice over - female voice actor holding microphone

Unsurprisingly, the top priority for voiceover artists is to improve their skills and develop their range as a professional voice over artist.

While having a naturally great voice gives voice over artists a head start, even the best voice actors are constantly building on their natural talent in order to reach their full potential.

Speaking clearly is a fundamental skill for any voice actor (or conventional actor), and our normal speaking voice isn’t always well-suited to the recording studio.

Maintaining clarity while emphasizing the right syllables and providing a suitable tone can be surprisingly difficult.

Voice actors of all skill levels work with vocal coaches to improve their clarity and build other critical skills.

Clarity is particularly crucial for voiceover artists because it’s important in every single recording.

Whether you’re doing voiceover work for an e-learning class, a corporate training seminar, or a video game, the listener needs to be able to make out what you’re saying.

It’s easy to lose clarity when you’re worried about other aspects of the recording.

Coaches are especially helpful when it comes to improving your mindset and finding ways to speak clearly in a variety of contexts.

Flexibility is another important skill when it comes to nailing auditions and building your reputation as a voice actor.

The wider range of projects you can work on, the more like you are to find voice acting jobs and develop your career.

You’ll also be able to craft a more unique and engaging demo reel when you can demonstrate a greater variety of talents compared to the competition.

New professional voice actors often aren’t used to the process of quickly reading a script and performing it without prep time.

Cold reading refers to the process of recording a script without having seen it before the session.

Skilled cold readers sound completely prepared even when they’re recording a script while reading it for the first time.

Finally, consistency is a fundamental aspect of professional voice acting.

Recording a script a single time is one thing, but performing the same lines over and over can be very different.

Voice actors are often asked to do multiple takes until they get the result the client is looking for.

Like taking multiple pictures to make sure one comes out perfectly, recording several takes of the same script is a common practice even if a client doesn’t want any particular changes.

The best voice actors can maintain the same tone, clarity, and emphasis whether they’re working on take #1 or take #100.

Many people also work as freelance voice actors, which comes with its own set of challenges on top of those presented by conventional voice acting.

Like freelancers in any other field, freelance voice actors need to develop a thick skin when it comes to rejection.

The important thing is to continue persevering even if they’re having trouble landing voice acting jobs.

Similarly, marketing and networking skills are vital for voiceover artists who want to get their name out there and maximize their chances of building a sustainable career.

How Much Do Voice Actors Make?

What is voice over - woman hands cash to another person

Voice acting pay varies widely from one project to another.

Professional voice over rates depend on quite a few parameters, usage being the most substantial one.

Famous voice actors can earn millions of dollars per year, and some famous TV voice actors even make hundreds of thousands per episode.

Of course, this isn’t representative of the average voice actor’s experience, but you don’t need to earn millions to have a successful career.

As a self-employed voice talent, your pay will ultimately come down to which contracts you’re able to land and how much your clients are willing to pay.

Novice voiceover artists often take some time to learn the ropes on relatively low-paying contracts before building a reputation and moving on to more lucrative ones.

Those disparities make it uniquely difficult to estimate the median or average salary for professional voice talent.

ZipRecruiter, for example, places the national average at $76,297 per year.

With that being said, they list the 25th percentile as just $23,000, meaning that 25 percent of voice actors earn less than that per year.

On the other hand, the top 25 percent make more than $111,500, with a full 10 percent above $199,000.

The large salary gap between professional voiceover artists is one reason why novice voice actors are cautioned against quitting their day job until they can generate a sustainable income from their voice work.

Voice actors can only work for a limited number of hours per day before straining their voice, so it’s usually not realistic to approach voice acting as a 9-5 or full-time job.

 

How Big Is the Voice Over Industry?

What is voice over - voice over conference

Given the diverse nature of the voice over market, it’s tough to come up with a conclusive estimate of the size of the industry.

One estimate is that the global market is worth roughly $4.4 billion, with North America leading the world in terms of both growth and current activity.

As described earlier, much of the industry’s expansion can be traced to growing fields like internet videos and e-learning.

Radio work, on the other hand, makes up less than one percent of the market.

Animation for videos that are 20 minutes or shorter make up just over 50 percent of all voice acting activity.

Voice acting has grown dramatically over time, and there’s no reason to think this trend will slow down anytime soon.

The field has been forced to adapt to customer preferences, technological developments, and other factors since its inception, so it’s impossible to predict what it will look like in five or ten years.

Here at Voice Crafters, we work with amazing voice actors who have a diverse range of talents.

We pre-screen all of our talent, so you can rely on us for a professional result – every time.

 

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