“Voiceover” might bring to mind the first-person narration in old detective films, or modern movie stars narrating documentaries about penguins. But it can refer to all sorts of off-camera narration, from commercials to product demos to TikToks.
Technically speaking, a voiceover recording is an audio track you layer over your video’s main soundtrack. Functionally speaking, voiceover is a way to help the viewer understand what they’re seeing, just like a book’s narrator guides the reader through the story.
What is a voiceover?
A voiceover—sometimes called off-camera commentary—is a post-production recording technique where an unseen voice, or the voice of a visible subject or character, speaks over the video’s main soundtrack to provide additional context or information, or to express unspoken thoughts. It’s commonly used in film, documentary, television, commercials, radio, video games, how-to videos, and other presentations.
Voiceover is most often read from a script, but it can also be improvised or pulled from previous recordings. It can be either narrative or non-narrative, and can be used to:
- Move a story along or provide pacing
- Explain something to the audience, especially what the images themselves cannot
- Comment on what’s happening on screen, i.e. commentary on a video clip or image
- Let the viewer in on a subject or character’s unsaid thoughts
How to record voiceover audio for your video
To produce a successful voiceover, be clear about what exactly you want to say and what it adds to your video. Then, to ensure the voice sounds as good as what it’s saying, create a proper recording setup. With today’s tools and a few DIY techniques, you can record voiceover audio from almost anywhere and end up with professional-sounding results. Here’s how to get started:
Write a script
If you need to get a source or narrator to convey specific information in a specific way, it’s a good idea to script your VO. Make sure that whoever is reading the script practices in advance, so that it sounds like natural, authentic speech rather than, well, reading a script.
Descript’s CEO, Andrew Mason, creates all of our release notes videos, and many of our video tutorials. All of those are narrated in VO. Here are his tips for writing a VO script that will result in an engaging, compelling video.
- Write for your audience. Review your footage, then outline the main points you want to make, then build on them to create a script. Keep your audience front-and-center at every step of the way. Include only the stuff they need to know. Don’t tell them anything they already know. Phrase everything in the way that’s easiest for them to understand. And write like you’re having a conversation with one of them.
- Write like you talk. Classic writing advice, but absolutely critical in writing voiceover scripts. When Andrew writes a voiceover script, he tries to “suppress the urge to edit out informalities or even what looks like filler words when I write them.” That stuff makes him sound more human in the video—and helps the viewer feel like they’re listening to a real person. Those things are important because they can’t see his face.
- Revise and reread. Then read out your script, make adjustments, and repeat until it sounds right. Again, focus on how you’d say things if you were talking to a real person. “Say every sentence aloud,” Andrew says. “If it doesn’t sound like something you’d say in conversation, change it.”
Create a good recording setup
Traditionally, professional voiceover performers recorded in sound booths, but times have changed. Today, you can record clean audio just about anywhere. Try the following techniques and tools to get as close to studio-quality sound as possible
- Record audio in the quietest environment possible. Keep in mind that the sound of your voice bounces off hard surfaces like windows and tiles—which you want to avoid. Try recording in a room with carpet, ideally one with soft furniture and curtains, all of which can absorb and dampen echoes. Or, even better, record in a closet. Turn off or move nearby electronics. Use headphones to help monitor your audio; listen for traffic noise, fan noise, or even the faint buzzing of a light.
- Use a dynamic mic. Look for a mic with a cardioid pattern, which is better at picking up what’s in front of it rather than what’s in the background. USB mics don’t perform well as XLR mics, which are pricier but produce professional-sounding audio and give you more control over recording levels. Point your mic away from noise, and away from solid surfaces, especially windows.
- Get close and turn down the gain. The most effective way to improve your speech-to-noise ratio is by reducing the distance between your mouth and the mic. Get close (not so close that it clips, but pretty close). Then turn down the gain—the decibel (dB) input of your audio system—as necessary to decrease noise.
Record and edit
Creating voiceover is easier with software that allows you to both record and tweak your audio in the same editing timeline. There are many video editing programs that allow this, some of which are easier to use and offer more features than others.
Descript works like a video word processor: you can edit video by editing text. It lets you either add a voiceover directly into your composition, add video onto your voiceover, or, thanks to Overdub, even type your voiceover into the timeline. Here’s how:
Record directly into Descript
The easiest way to create a voiceover is to record it directly into your editing timeline. (If you’re making a screen recording, just record your voiceover simultaneously with your video.) This way your audio clips end up more or less where they’re intended, and there’s no need to import files.
- Open a new composition or place the cursor in the script where you would like the new recording to go. Next click the microphone button at the top of the application window.
- To select your input device, click on the gear icon and then choose from the list of available options in the selection dropdown.
- If you don't want Descript to automatically transcribe your audio, uncheck the Automatically transcribe recording box — but before you do that, remember that in Descript you can edit your audio and video by editing the script. It's much easier than editing in the timeline.
- Next add your speaker label and, if applicable, the input channel of your microphone/input device.
- Once you’re ready, click the Record button and your recording should immediately begin.
Add video onto your voiceover
If you already have your video footage, record your complete voiceover in Descript, then drag and drop the video into the composition. Use the editing tools to line them up, cut back and forth between your video’s audio and your voiceover, or add music.
Type your voiceover using Overdub
Overdub lets you synthesize audio in your own voice by typing. After training the software with your voice, Overdub can generate standalone audio and can generate contextual audio that blends seamlessly into your existing audio, ideal for making editorial corrections.
Here’s how to use Overdub:
- Set up your Overdub Voice. You’ll get a notification when it’s ready; it takes between two and 24 hours.
- Once it’s ready, you’ll be able to attach your Overdub Voice to a speaker label inside any Descript composition.
- Now, any time you type text associated with that speaker label, Overdub will automatically generate the corresponding audio.
Pro tip: Overdub is designed for both editorial corrections in existing audio, and from-scratch audio creation for long-form narration voiceover. When generating sentences from scratch, Overdub tends to work best with shorter sentences. If you’re creating an Overdub sentence with multiple clauses separated by commas and you notice the quality suffering, try experimenting with punctuation, replacing commas with periods, for example.
Finesse as needed
Video quality is all in the details, so this is your time to make sure your voiceover lines up seamlessly with the action on screen. Listen for abnormal silences, strange sounds, speaking errors, or inconsistent pace, and try correcting these using your video editor. Use Descript’s text editor to cut out the parts you don’t like, or the parts you repeated.
“Depending on your audience, you may want to leave in some imperfections, little stutters or whatnot, to avoid sounding too robotic,” Andrew advises.
If your video’s soundtrack interferes with your voice, try making it quieter. With Descript’s Volume Automation feature you can add keyframes to audio and video clips that adjust volume over time.
If you ended up with background noise on your voiceover recording, try using Descript’s Studio Sound feature to clean it up. It uses AI and machine learning to eliminate noise like room echo.
Voice over tips
Here are a few ways to make sure you get the best voiceover recording possible:
- Be clear and adequately toned. Speak at a comfortable and even volume, and avoid mumbling or shouting. Consider the tone and mood of your production and how you’re coming across. If your video is instructional, sound confident; if it’s sombre, don’t sound overly excited, but avoid sounding monotone.
- Use proper pronunciation. Some of your viewers might not be familiar with your accent. Use proper pronunciation and enunciation, without sacrificing your natural rhythm.
- Speak naturally. We keep hammering on this, because it’s the difference between a hoky-sounding video and a warm, human tone. You want to sound like you’re talking rather than reading. To sound more natural, imagine you’re speaking with someone face-to-face, making the same facial expressions you would in a normal conversation. If you don’t sound natural, you may need to go back and rewrite some of your script.
- Pace is key. A changing pace can make your voice inconsistent, and distract viewers from your point. Find an appropriate reading speed so your audience doesn’t get lost or bored while listening.
- Do test recordings. Try a few test runs before settling on a take—even if it’s just the first part of your script. While you record, keep an eye on your audio levels, which should hover around -6 decibels (db). Test recordings can also help you get used to the sound of your voice, which, without practice, can sound awkward.
- Stop, wait, and say it again. With digital audio recording, nothing is set in stone. “When you make a mistake or don’t like the way you said something, stop recording, wait a sec, then say it again,” Andrew says. “It’ll be super easy to edit that stuff out when you’re done.” This is if you’re editing in Descript, of course. In other editors it can be the opposite of super easy.
- Watch your video while recording. A good voiceover is well-timed. Watching your video while you record can help calibrate the pace and tone of your speech, and can also cut down editing time. Your recordings don’t need to match up exactly to your video while recording—you can make minor adjustments later to make it all fit.
- Record room tone. Capture a few consistent quiet seconds from your environment before or after recording your voice. Depending on your software, room tone can be useful for noise reduction in post-production. Creating a bit of free space gives you padding to trim your voiceover and match it up with your video.
- Get feedback. Your impression of your work matters, but your opinion shouldn’t be the only one you rely on. Look for feedback on your video. “Show it to a few friends or colleagues who you trust will be honest,” Mason says, and take their thoughts into consideration.
Remember, recording voiceover is a performance. As with any performance, practice is key. With time, you’ll develop a workflow and techniques that work for you, and your comfort level will hopefully come through in your recordings. You might even develop a style that your audience becomes accustomed to, and comes back for. Have fun with it.