September 10, 2023

What is voiceover? A complete guide for beginners

Read the comprehensive guide to voiceovers. From defining the art to crafting scripts to the best tools to use, here’s how to elevate your voiceover game.
September 10, 2023

What is voiceover? A complete guide for beginners

Read the comprehensive guide to voiceovers. From defining the art to crafting scripts to the best tools to use, here’s how to elevate your voiceover game.
September 10, 2023
Vivian Tejeda
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The world of media is filled with voiceovers. From a voice actor bringing an animated hero’s story to life to the narrations in your favorite YouTube vlogs, voiceovers help bring stories to life.

However, that’s not to say the art of voice acting is easy—it’s a specialized skill you can charge high rates for. 

With the onset of AI, the world of voiceovers is evolving quickly. This guide is a deep dive into the mechanics that go into mastering high-quality voiceovers, including examples for inspiration.

Voiceover definition and meaning

Voiceover, or VO, is when an off-camera voice narrates a scene or adds context. Voiceover has been around for ages—TV, radio, film, and theater have all used narration, commentary, or dialogue in some form to move a story forward. 

During the early days of radio, voiceovers were essential for setting scenes, describing events, and providing context because they didn't have many visual tools. 

As TV shows and filmmaking developed, voiceovers found a place in narrating stories, providing backstories, and expressing a character's inner thoughts. Voiceovers have improved in quality and versatility thanks to tech advances: things like clearer sound, better editing capabilities, and even the ability to edit and alter voices.

Voiceover vs. voice acting

It’s common for people to mix up “voiceovers” with “voice acting.” At a glance, they might seem like two sides of the same coin, but there are subtle differences between them. It’s true that they both use the voice as a tool, but their purpose and techniques are different.

Voice actor speaking into mic
Source: Pexels

Voiceover

The main purpose of voiceover is narration. It's the voice you hear in the background of a documentary that guides you through the story, or the sports commentator you don't see. 

Here are a few key differences to keep in mind: 

  • Purpose: Voiceovers inform the listener. News reports, commercials, and instructional videos are all good examples.
  • Character: Voiceover narrators don’t embody a character. Think of them more as audio tour guides. 
  • Emotion: Voiceovers can be emotive but tend to be tempered compared to voice acting. Clear communication is their main goal.

Voice acting

The goal of voice acting is to bring characters to life. It's the voice behind your favorite animated characters, video game personalities, or even the talking puppets in commercials. 

You can tell the difference between voiceovers and voice acting by: 

  • Character portrayal: A voice actor puts emotion, personality, and depth into a character.
  • Emotional range: Voice acting often requires a range of emotions, including happiness, laughter, anguish, anger, and sadness.
  • Script interpretation: Voiceovers and voice acting both follow scripts, but voice actors tend to interpret and add their own flair, which helps make the character more relatable.

6 types of voiceovers

Voiceovers come in many styles, each tailored to fit specific needs and the nuances of different mediums. Here's a look at some of the most common types of voiceovers you're likely to hear: 

Narration voiceover

Narration voiceovers are the guiding voices you hear in documentaries, audiobooks, and educational videos. Their main role is to provide context, weave a story, or offer insights, ensuring the audience stays engaged and informed with the correct information at the right time.

Commercial voiceover

Commercial voiceovers are designed to persuade—the voices behind the ads you see on TV, online, or hear on the radio. These aim to make a product, service, or idea appealing enough to make the viewer or listener take action. 

Promotional voiceover

Promotional voiceovers are a bit like commercials but are more about creating awareness than direct selling. They're used in product launches, event promotions, or company introductions to generate excitement and draw people's attention. 

Animation voiceover

Animation voiceovers breathe life into characters and stories. Cartoons and animated films often use voiceovers to give personality, emotion, and depth to an on-screen character—making them more entertaining. 

Dubbing

Dubbing means replacing the original voices in a film or TV show with new ones, usually in a different language. It's often used to make foreign films or TV shows accessible to other languages. 

Think how you’d adapt an Italian film for a British or American audience. The new voices attempt to match the original performance in terms of timing, emotion, and tone.

Radio and podcast voiceover

Radio and podcast voiceovers have a distinctive or engaging voice, as audio is the only way to connect with listeners. A voiceover might introduce a program or segment. You can also use it in advertisements or to provide narration in a documentary-style podcast. 

Interactive voice response voiceover

Interactive voice response (IVR) voiceovers are what you hear when you call customer service lines. They guide callers through menus, provide information, or direct them to the right department for a smoother customer experience.

How to write a voiceover script

Woman writing on a computer
Source: Pexels

1. Define your message and purpose

Start by pinpointing your end goal. Is it to introduce a new product, narrate a story, or guide a user? Say you're creating a commercial for a new coffee brand, your end goal may be: "To introduce the unique flavor of our coffee and encourage listeners to try it."

Excellent—you now have a clear starting point to help you draft a structured outline. 

2. Create an outline

Draft a basic structure for your script. It helps to think of it like a table of contents. For our coffee commercial, a simplified version of an outline might look like:

  • Introduce the coffee brand
  • Highlight its three unique flavor profiles
  • Share testimonials or reviews.
  • Call-to-action: Encourage listeners to “taste the difference”

Now it’s time to fill out your outline with what you’ll actually say. 

3. Write concisely and clearly

Keep your language simple and direct. 

Instead of writing, "Our coffee, which is sourced from the high-altitude regions of Colombia, offers a tantalizing tasty experience," simplify it to something like: "Taste our rich Colombian coffee once. Love it forever."

With voiceovers, especially commercials, simple is always better. It helps grab your audience’s attention and make your message more memorable. 

4. Consider the audio flow

When you imagine someone reading your script, it should sound natural and conversational. It's essential to avoid long, winding sentences. 

Instead of "Our coffee, loved by many for its rich flavor, is now available at a store near you," say something like: "Many love our rich coffee flavor. Now, it's at a store near you."

Audio flow matters. The smoother you can write your script, the better the result. 

5. Add emotion and tone

Infuse emotion to make your script engaging. Use descriptors or directionals like [excitedly], [whisper], or [with enthusiasm]. 

For our coffee ad, you might write: "[With warmth] Every sip takes you on a journey, [excitedly] right to the heart of Colombia!" 

6. Edit and revise

Revisit your script and read it aloud, or have someone else do it. Listen for awkward phrasings or redundancies. 

For our coffee example, if you've mentioned "rich flavor" multiple times, consider synonyms or rephrasing to avoid repetition. Always try for a polished, refined final draft.

Taking care of the smaller nuances while recording will save you a lot of time when it comes to editing. It'll be easier to cut and rearrange audio or adjust it for clarity with a quality recording. 

How to do voiceovers: Tips and examples

Whether you’re guiding an artist or creating a voiceover yourself, voiceovers are fun to make. Use the following tips and best practices to produce the best one for your story.

1. Practice and warm-up

Just like athletes stretch before a game, voice artists need to warm up. Start by humming,  singing scales, or reciting a tongue-twister. 

Humming along to your favorite song can relax your throat muscles, getting you ready for recording. It'll help with enunciation, which is key to voiceover narration. 

2. Understand the script and audience

Make sure you know what the message, tone, and target audience are before you start recording. You'd use a different tone if you were narrating a children's story than you would for a corporate training video. 

Imagine reading "Once upon a time, in a land far away..." with the same seriousness as "Safety protocols in the workplace are essential." It doesn’t have the same ring to it, much less the same emotional effect. 

3. Use proper mic technique

Your relationship with the microphone can make or break your recording. Stay about 6 inches from your microphone at all times. 

Avoid moving too much because you’ll cause volume inconsistencies. If you're emphasizing a point, don't lean in closer, just adjust the volume of your voice. And while hand gestures can help with your delivery, make sure you don’t bump the mic in the process.

4. Control your breathing

Breathing is everything in voiceover recordings. Take deep breaths from your diaphragm, not your chest. This ensures a steady airflow and reduces unwanted breathy sounds. 

If you have a long sentence like "The annual summer sale is back, with discounts up to 50% on all items," plan where you'll take a breath so you don't run out of air mid-sentence. This may take a few practice rounds to get right.

5. Master editing and post-production

Post-production is just as important as the recording when it comes to voiceovers. Remove any unwanted noises, adjust volume levels, and add effects if necessary.

To edit skillfully, you don’t need a recording studio, but you will need the right tools that help enhance the editing process. For example, with tools like Descript, if you accidentally record a loud breath, background noise, or a chair squeak, you can easily clean up the audio with Studio Sound

What’s cool about Descript is that you don’t need any other editing apps in your arsenal. Its dashboard provides you with all the video editing tools you need—including features like Overdub—to complete a project from end-to-end. 

5 key elements that make a great voiceover artist

Being a great voiceover artist is about more than just having a pleasant voice—it takes mastering a specific set of skills. Let's look at five standout qualities you need to have to create the best voiceovers possible: 

1. Versatility

A top-notch voiceover artist can easily switch between various tones, accents, and characters. This versatility allows them to cater to diverse projects, from animated films to corporate presentations.

Mel Blanc, often called "The Man of a Thousand Voices," showcased incredible versatility by voicing iconic characters like Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Porky Pig.

Check out an interview where he explains how he created some of his most iconic voices. 

2. Clear diction and pronunciation

Having clear articulation makes sure every word is understood.  Morgan Freeman, for example, has clear diction, making him a sought-after voice for narrating films, documentaries, and trailers.

You can hear Freeman's voice in this voiceover video from The Late Show With James Corden.

3. Emotional range

The right voiceover artist can convey a spectrum of emotions, from excitement and joy to sorrow and anger, which makes the content more relatable.

Actress Cate Blanchett showcased a profound emotional range in her narration for the documentary "Voyage of Time." Check out the trailer to get a feel for her voice and emotional range as a narrator.

4. Adaptability

A great voiceover artist must be able to adapt to different scripts, directors, and feedback. As a result, they can meet the specific needs of each project, whether it’s a dark and twisted character, or a fun and playful one. 

James Earl Jones has lent his voice to various genres, from the iconic Darth Vader in "Star Wars" to the wise Mufasa in "The Lion King."

5. Technical proficiency

Many voiceover artists now have home studios, which lets them record auditions or even final tracks without going to an external studio. Knowing the equipment, software, and acoustic treatment helps produce high-quality audio recordings from anywhere.

Tara Strong is a professional voice actor in animation and film and often shares insights into her technical setup and how she ensures optimal sound quality in her voiceover work.

Make great voiceovers with Descript

You don’t have to be Walt Disney or even a professional voiceover artist to produce good voiceover recordings. That’s what Descript is for. 

As an all-in-one tool for voiceover creation and editing, its automatic transcription tools, seamless audio editing using text, and intuitive dashboard make it easy to produce voiceover projects. With tools like Overdub, you can even create ultra-realistic voice clones to power your voiceovers. 

Dive in and experience editing magic with a free trial today. 

Voiceover FAQs

What does voiceover do?

Voiceover is a production technique that provides off-screen narration or character voices for movie trailers, TV, radio, video games, commercials, explainer videos, and documentaries. With it, creators can add depth, context, or characterization without having to appear on screen.

How much can a voiceover actor make?

As with most creative gigs, what you’ll make as a voiceover actor depends on your experience and industry. Beginners might make $20 for a small job, but established talent can earn hundreds to thousands of dollars. Professionals with national advertising campaigns or popular animated series can make even more.

How do I start doing voiceovers?

To start doing voiceovers, invest in basic recording equipment and software. You should practice reading scripts to hone your skills, create a demo reel showcasing your range and versatility, and begin networking or seeking out opportunities on voiceover platforms like Voices.com or Casting Call Club. It's also beneficial to take training or classes to better understand the voiceover industry's nuances and improve your technique.

Vivian Tejeda
Vivian is a content marketer who loves writing, creativity, and is obsessed with the art of storytelling. Her free time is taken up by learning golf, reading books, and touching grass.
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What is voiceover? A complete guide for beginners

Microphone on a computer

The world of media is filled with voiceovers. From a voice actor bringing an animated hero’s story to life to the narrations in your favorite YouTube vlogs, voiceovers help bring stories to life.

However, that’s not to say the art of voice acting is easy—it’s a specialized skill you can charge high rates for. 

With the onset of AI, the world of voiceovers is evolving quickly. This guide is a deep dive into the mechanics that go into mastering high-quality voiceovers, including examples for inspiration.

Plus it’s a fully powered editing suite that does everything you need to make a great podcast. If you know how to edit a doc, you’re ready to get started.
Descript makes editing audio as easy as editing text.

Voiceover definition and meaning

Voiceover, or VO, is when an off-camera voice narrates a scene or adds context. Voiceover has been around for ages—TV, radio, film, and theater have all used narration, commentary, or dialogue in some form to move a story forward. 

During the early days of radio, voiceovers were essential for setting scenes, describing events, and providing context because they didn't have many visual tools. 

As TV shows and filmmaking developed, voiceovers found a place in narrating stories, providing backstories, and expressing a character's inner thoughts. Voiceovers have improved in quality and versatility thanks to tech advances: things like clearer sound, better editing capabilities, and even the ability to edit and alter voices.

Voiceover vs. voice acting

It’s common for people to mix up “voiceovers” with “voice acting.” At a glance, they might seem like two sides of the same coin, but there are subtle differences between them. It’s true that they both use the voice as a tool, but their purpose and techniques are different.

Voice actor speaking into mic
Source: Pexels

Voiceover

The main purpose of voiceover is narration. It's the voice you hear in the background of a documentary that guides you through the story, or the sports commentator you don't see. 

Here are a few key differences to keep in mind: 

  • Purpose: Voiceovers inform the listener. News reports, commercials, and instructional videos are all good examples.
  • Character: Voiceover narrators don’t embody a character. Think of them more as audio tour guides. 
  • Emotion: Voiceovers can be emotive but tend to be tempered compared to voice acting. Clear communication is their main goal.

Voice acting

The goal of voice acting is to bring characters to life. It's the voice behind your favorite animated characters, video game personalities, or even the talking puppets in commercials. 

You can tell the difference between voiceovers and voice acting by: 

  • Character portrayal: A voice actor puts emotion, personality, and depth into a character.
  • Emotional range: Voice acting often requires a range of emotions, including happiness, laughter, anguish, anger, and sadness.
  • Script interpretation: Voiceovers and voice acting both follow scripts, but voice actors tend to interpret and add their own flair, which helps make the character more relatable.

6 types of voiceovers

Voiceovers come in many styles, each tailored to fit specific needs and the nuances of different mediums. Here's a look at some of the most common types of voiceovers you're likely to hear: 

Narration voiceover

Narration voiceovers are the guiding voices you hear in documentaries, audiobooks, and educational videos. Their main role is to provide context, weave a story, or offer insights, ensuring the audience stays engaged and informed with the correct information at the right time.

Commercial voiceover

Commercial voiceovers are designed to persuade—the voices behind the ads you see on TV, online, or hear on the radio. These aim to make a product, service, or idea appealing enough to make the viewer or listener take action. 

Promotional voiceover

Promotional voiceovers are a bit like commercials but are more about creating awareness than direct selling. They're used in product launches, event promotions, or company introductions to generate excitement and draw people's attention. 

Animation voiceover

Animation voiceovers breathe life into characters and stories. Cartoons and animated films often use voiceovers to give personality, emotion, and depth to an on-screen character—making them more entertaining. 

Dubbing

Dubbing means replacing the original voices in a film or TV show with new ones, usually in a different language. It's often used to make foreign films or TV shows accessible to other languages. 

Think how you’d adapt an Italian film for a British or American audience. The new voices attempt to match the original performance in terms of timing, emotion, and tone.

Radio and podcast voiceover

Radio and podcast voiceovers have a distinctive or engaging voice, as audio is the only way to connect with listeners. A voiceover might introduce a program or segment. You can also use it in advertisements or to provide narration in a documentary-style podcast. 

Interactive voice response voiceover

Interactive voice response (IVR) voiceovers are what you hear when you call customer service lines. They guide callers through menus, provide information, or direct them to the right department for a smoother customer experience.

How to write a voiceover script

Woman writing on a computer
Source: Pexels

1. Define your message and purpose

Start by pinpointing your end goal. Is it to introduce a new product, narrate a story, or guide a user? Say you're creating a commercial for a new coffee brand, your end goal may be: "To introduce the unique flavor of our coffee and encourage listeners to try it."

Excellent—you now have a clear starting point to help you draft a structured outline. 

2. Create an outline

Draft a basic structure for your script. It helps to think of it like a table of contents. For our coffee commercial, a simplified version of an outline might look like:

  • Introduce the coffee brand
  • Highlight its three unique flavor profiles
  • Share testimonials or reviews.
  • Call-to-action: Encourage listeners to “taste the difference”

Now it’s time to fill out your outline with what you’ll actually say. 

3. Write concisely and clearly

Keep your language simple and direct. 

Instead of writing, "Our coffee, which is sourced from the high-altitude regions of Colombia, offers a tantalizing tasty experience," simplify it to something like: "Taste our rich Colombian coffee once. Love it forever."

With voiceovers, especially commercials, simple is always better. It helps grab your audience’s attention and make your message more memorable. 

4. Consider the audio flow

When you imagine someone reading your script, it should sound natural and conversational. It's essential to avoid long, winding sentences. 

Instead of "Our coffee, loved by many for its rich flavor, is now available at a store near you," say something like: "Many love our rich coffee flavor. Now, it's at a store near you."

Audio flow matters. The smoother you can write your script, the better the result. 

5. Add emotion and tone

Infuse emotion to make your script engaging. Use descriptors or directionals like [excitedly], [whisper], or [with enthusiasm]. 

For our coffee ad, you might write: "[With warmth] Every sip takes you on a journey, [excitedly] right to the heart of Colombia!" 

6. Edit and revise

Revisit your script and read it aloud, or have someone else do it. Listen for awkward phrasings or redundancies. 

For our coffee example, if you've mentioned "rich flavor" multiple times, consider synonyms or rephrasing to avoid repetition. Always try for a polished, refined final draft.

Taking care of the smaller nuances while recording will save you a lot of time when it comes to editing. It'll be easier to cut and rearrange audio or adjust it for clarity with a quality recording. 

How to do voiceovers: Tips and examples

Whether you’re guiding an artist or creating a voiceover yourself, voiceovers are fun to make. Use the following tips and best practices to produce the best one for your story.

1. Practice and warm-up

Just like athletes stretch before a game, voice artists need to warm up. Start by humming,  singing scales, or reciting a tongue-twister. 

Humming along to your favorite song can relax your throat muscles, getting you ready for recording. It'll help with enunciation, which is key to voiceover narration. 

2. Understand the script and audience

Make sure you know what the message, tone, and target audience are before you start recording. You'd use a different tone if you were narrating a children's story than you would for a corporate training video. 

Imagine reading "Once upon a time, in a land far away..." with the same seriousness as "Safety protocols in the workplace are essential." It doesn’t have the same ring to it, much less the same emotional effect. 

3. Use proper mic technique

Your relationship with the microphone can make or break your recording. Stay about 6 inches from your microphone at all times. 

Avoid moving too much because you’ll cause volume inconsistencies. If you're emphasizing a point, don't lean in closer, just adjust the volume of your voice. And while hand gestures can help with your delivery, make sure you don’t bump the mic in the process.

4. Control your breathing

Breathing is everything in voiceover recordings. Take deep breaths from your diaphragm, not your chest. This ensures a steady airflow and reduces unwanted breathy sounds. 

If you have a long sentence like "The annual summer sale is back, with discounts up to 50% on all items," plan where you'll take a breath so you don't run out of air mid-sentence. This may take a few practice rounds to get right.

5. Master editing and post-production

Post-production is just as important as the recording when it comes to voiceovers. Remove any unwanted noises, adjust volume levels, and add effects if necessary.

To edit skillfully, you don’t need a recording studio, but you will need the right tools that help enhance the editing process. For example, with tools like Descript, if you accidentally record a loud breath, background noise, or a chair squeak, you can easily clean up the audio with Studio Sound

What’s cool about Descript is that you don’t need any other editing apps in your arsenal. Its dashboard provides you with all the video editing tools you need—including features like Overdub—to complete a project from end-to-end. 

5 key elements that make a great voiceover artist

Being a great voiceover artist is about more than just having a pleasant voice—it takes mastering a specific set of skills. Let's look at five standout qualities you need to have to create the best voiceovers possible: 

1. Versatility

A top-notch voiceover artist can easily switch between various tones, accents, and characters. This versatility allows them to cater to diverse projects, from animated films to corporate presentations.

Mel Blanc, often called "The Man of a Thousand Voices," showcased incredible versatility by voicing iconic characters like Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Porky Pig.

Check out an interview where he explains how he created some of his most iconic voices. 

2. Clear diction and pronunciation

Having clear articulation makes sure every word is understood.  Morgan Freeman, for example, has clear diction, making him a sought-after voice for narrating films, documentaries, and trailers.

You can hear Freeman's voice in this voiceover video from The Late Show With James Corden.

3. Emotional range

The right voiceover artist can convey a spectrum of emotions, from excitement and joy to sorrow and anger, which makes the content more relatable.

Actress Cate Blanchett showcased a profound emotional range in her narration for the documentary "Voyage of Time." Check out the trailer to get a feel for her voice and emotional range as a narrator.

4. Adaptability

A great voiceover artist must be able to adapt to different scripts, directors, and feedback. As a result, they can meet the specific needs of each project, whether it’s a dark and twisted character, or a fun and playful one. 

James Earl Jones has lent his voice to various genres, from the iconic Darth Vader in "Star Wars" to the wise Mufasa in "The Lion King."

5. Technical proficiency

Many voiceover artists now have home studios, which lets them record auditions or even final tracks without going to an external studio. Knowing the equipment, software, and acoustic treatment helps produce high-quality audio recordings from anywhere.

Tara Strong is a professional voice actor in animation and film and often shares insights into her technical setup and how she ensures optimal sound quality in her voiceover work.

Make great voiceovers with Descript

You don’t have to be Walt Disney or even a professional voiceover artist to produce good voiceover recordings. That’s what Descript is for. 

As an all-in-one tool for voiceover creation and editing, its automatic transcription tools, seamless audio editing using text, and intuitive dashboard make it easy to produce voiceover projects. With tools like Overdub, you can even create ultra-realistic voice clones to power your voiceovers. 

Dive in and experience editing magic with a free trial today. 

Voiceover FAQs

What does voiceover do?

Voiceover is a production technique that provides off-screen narration or character voices for movie trailers, TV, radio, video games, commercials, explainer videos, and documentaries. With it, creators can add depth, context, or characterization without having to appear on screen.

How much can a voiceover actor make?

As with most creative gigs, what you’ll make as a voiceover actor depends on your experience and industry. Beginners might make $20 for a small job, but established talent can earn hundreds to thousands of dollars. Professionals with national advertising campaigns or popular animated series can make even more.

How do I start doing voiceovers?

To start doing voiceovers, invest in basic recording equipment and software. You should practice reading scripts to hone your skills, create a demo reel showcasing your range and versatility, and begin networking or seeking out opportunities on voiceover platforms like Voices.com or Casting Call Club. It's also beneficial to take training or classes to better understand the voiceover industry's nuances and improve your technique.

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