Whenever I meet someone for the first time, let’s say at a networking meeting, and I tell them what I do, I often get one of two reactions. Either my new acquaintance will say, ‘oh you’re one of those people who talks on adverts or cartoons’, or they’ll say ‘voiceover – what’s that then?’
In both cases, after a five minute chat, they are always amazed by the variety of things voiceover artists get involved in – and it’s definitely not just commercials and cartoons. In fact I do very little of either of those genres of voiceover, so I thought I would put together a quick overview of the world of voiceover.
Voiceovers are used on TV and radio adverts of course, but these days there are even more options for advertising. Some of these options include: pre-roll on YouTube; Spotify and other such platforms; and before, during and after podcast episodes.
These tend to be videos that promote a company and often sit on websites, or may be used at conferences or exhibitions – either shown on a big screen, or a monitor on an exhibition stand.
These are usually very short videos of 1-2 minutes that explain a business, product or service. They are often animated and are used on websites or social media.
IVR stands for ‘interactive voice response’ and you will have come across these systems when calling your bank for example. You interact with a recorded voice that asks you to enter your details, or say what you’re calling about.
Other recordings that voiceover artists make for telephone systems include voicemail greetings, on-hold messages, out of hours messages, and auto attendant messages (which are those recorded voices that ask you to press 1 for sales, 2 for accounts etc).
Many training courses take place online these days, and e-learning is a genre of voiceover that I work in a lot. Many different industries use e-learning to train and upskill their staff and I’ve recorded courses for hospitality, healthcare, food, transport, education, IT support, retail, the charity sector and more. E-learning was a growing field anyway, but the pandemic has just accelerated remote learning and more online courses than ever are being produced.
This ranges from nature documentaries such as those narrated by Sir David Attenborough, to reality TV shows such as ‘Love Island’ or ‘Big Brother’. The voiceover pulls together what’s happening on screen but should never be obtrusive or take away from the visuals – the pictures should do most of the talking.
Voice of God
This refers to the disembodied voice you hear at events such as conferences, awards ceremonies, or theatre productions. The voice will tell you to rake your seats, remind you not to take photos, announce who has won the next award and so on. Voice of God announcements may be pre-recorded or done live.
This ranges from cartoons, to animé, to full length films. Sometimes voice actors will play a number of characters in a single show, which requires great versatility in being able to create different voices. The Simpsons is a great example of this.
Video games may have dozens of characters, and similarly to animation, voice actors may be expected to play a number of roles. Depending on the genre of the game, working in this field can be quite hard on the voice with all the screaming, shouting and death sounds that are required!
While other countries have always had a lot of dubbed programmes and films, here in the UK we have generally consumed content that has been produced in English. However, this is changing due to the rise of streaming services such as Netflix which are content hungry beasts. We are now seeing foreign programmes which have been dubbed into English on our screens. Dubbing, and lip synching is a very particular skill and takes practice to do well.
ADR stands for automated dialogue replacement. This is dialogue that is recorded for a film, after the film has been made. The audio recorded at the time of filming may not be of sufficiently good quality, especially if it was a noisy scene, so the actors record the lines again in the more controlled environment of a studio. It can also be used to record the background noise for crowd scenes and may involve a number of actors.
Just about every genre of book is now available in audio format and thousands of audio books are recorded each year. These range from novels with dozens of characters which the voice actor needs to make distinct, to biographies, poetry and non-fiction books of all types. Audiobooks are very time consuming projects to work on. There are voiceover artists who work solely in this sector, but it’s not my favourite thing to do!
You’ve probably taken an audio tour of a museum or an art gallery at one time or another. These guides take you around the site and tell you stories of the objects or pictures you are looking at. I’ve also recorded a number of walking audio tours for various historic places around the world, and these are among my favourite projects because they are always so interesting.
There are also recorded commentaries on bus tours or boat trips.
This includes radio plays and series’ such as ‘The Archers’.
Voiceover artists may be asked to record intros and outros for other people’s podcasts, to give them a professional finish.
These are the voices you hear between programmes on television or radio, telling you what’s coming up next, or promoting a particular show or series. Continuity announcing is done live and definitely not for the faint hearted!
Stations and channels may also have a brand voice that gives them their identity. For example a voice on a radio station that tells you which station you are listening to.
Some toys and games may speak to you, and there are apps that have sound embedded within them too.
If you’ve ever been on the London underground you’ll have heard the famous ‘Mind the Gap’ announcement. This was recorded by voiceover artist Phil Sayer, who sadly passed away a few years ago. You can hear plenty of other voices too on platform announcements, trains, tubes, buses, trams and ships all over the world.
The messages that supermarket checkouts speak to you have been recorded by a real person! Including that really annoying one about an unexpected item in the bagging area…
Although we think of artificial intelligence as being robotic voices, they have been made using recordings of real people. For example Siri, Alexa and the voice of your SatNav are created using sounds that a real person made.
That was a very brief run down of the kinds of work voiceover artists may get involved in – and I’ve probably missed some! Basically any time you hear a recorded voice, it has been recorded by a real person in a studio at some time. As you can see, it’s actually a very varied profession, which is what I love about it.