Voice-over performers are the "invisible" actors. They use their voices
to act for the purpose of entertaining, informing or persuading.
Voice-over performers read scripts, assuming the roles of characters other
than themselves. This may mean playing anything from a talking rabbit for
a cartoon to a believer in a particular product for a television commercial.
Voice-over performers turn up in the most surprising places, although audiences
usually don't realize there's a performer behind the voice they're hearing.
Commercials, animated cartoons, narrated movies and documentaries, message
systems, dubbed foreign films, public service messages and audio multimedia
entertainment all depend on voice-over performers.
Basically, voice-over work can be broken down into three categories:
Prelay involves creating new voices for animated characters --
it is one of the fastest-growing segments of voice-over. Prelay is needed
for animated television, movies, commercials and CD-ROMs. With prelay, voice-over
performers follow the storyboard -- the sequence of events in the story --
and create the sounds and voice to fit.
Creativity is especially important in this category. "If you're creating
a character voice, you have to have a few in mind before going into the studio
in case the director doesn't like your first voice," says voice-over performer
Cathy Weseluck. "Also, you've got to be creative to go with the story. For
example, if your character trips over a log, what kind of noise would he make?"
Audio digital reproduction (ADR) is used if there's a problem with
the audio track (the voices) in a movie, or for the purpose of dubbing foreign
films. With ADR, a voice-over performer copies the voice and follows the lip-synch
of a movie star, reading over the parts of the script that have been damaged.
Dubbing involves many of the same skills, except the performers don't have
to copy the voices of other actors and they read the whole movie script for
"It's really complicated, because you don't just act the part of the character
you're playing," says voice-over performer Jim Winterson. "You have to act
the part of the actor playing the character."
Narration is the most general category for voice-over work. Basically,
voice-over narration is any situation where a voice is heard but no person
is visible. You might hear voice-over narration while watching commercials
or documentaries, while listening to public service announcements or voice
messaging systems, or by dialing the wrong number on your telephone ("We are
sorry, your call cannot be completed as dialed").
Most voice-over performers find work in a combination of these categories.
The skills needed for any one of these areas are similar: a good speaking
voice, a talent for acting and, most importantly, an ability to interpret
the script the way the writer and director want.
"Voice isn't everything in this business," says voice-over performer Brian
Arnold. "You have to be able to pull the words off the page and make them
come to life. It's all a matter of interpreting and even improving on what
the writer intended."
Most voice-over performers work alone in a sound studio. Finding voice-over
work, however, demands strong networking skills.
"The competition is really stiff, so you have to get out there and promote
yourself to different producers and advertising companies," says Winterson.
Voice-over performers can work odd hours. If they're working on movie or
recording commercials, some of that work might be done at night or on the
weekends. This career demands flexibility.
Because these performers use their voices as their primary work tool, it's
the most important physical requirement. People with physical ailments or
disabilities are able to work in the field, provided their voice is up to
Like most areas of the entertainment industry, voice-over acting is an
up-and-down profession. People in this industry work from contract to contract,
and even the best performers say their work schedules are unpredictable.
"In this field, when it rains it pours, and when there's a drought it gets
bone dry," says Weseluck.
"All in all, I see it as a very closed community," says David Hirt, a voice-over
performer in Georgia. "It's hard to break into and tough to stay in once you're
"Hours are very unpredictable," Hirt adds. "You can work 20 hours one day,
then not get anything for a few weeks. Sometimes equipment breaks down and
that puts everything on hold."
You'll have to invest some time and money in your pursuit. Susan Berkley
is the president of a voice-over company based in New Jersey. "It requires
an investment on your part in terms of having to make a demo tape, get training,
duplicate the tape and be organized," she says.