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Voiceover Training 101 By Benjamin Lindsay

Voiceover actors have been employed entertainers since the dawn of radio dramas, even predating screen actors in the talkies. But advances in technology and a surplus of outlets for voiceover actors has seen heightened interest in recent years, and with good reason! There’s no better time than now to venture into the many possibilities of voiceover acting.

With this Backstage guide, we’re going to break down for you exactly what it takes to become a voiceover actor and what you can expect as a green actor going into this exciting, ever-developing field.

What is a voiceover actor?

Interested in becoming a voiceover actor? The first step here is to define what differentiates voiceover actors from other performers in the industry, and it’s simply this: Voice actors provide their voice talents for animated TV, audiobooks, movies, documentary television and film, commercials, video games, and multimedia.

While being a voice actor certainly shouldn’t deter you from crossing over to screen acting or vice versa, there are substantial differences between the two crafts that you should know out of the gate. Though they can inform one another, the training will differ between each craft, as will the exact skillsets required. A professional voice actor will also have a variety of tools and pieces of equipment that simply aren’t necessary for screen actors (see: an in-home sound and recording studio).

What kind of projects hire voiceover actors?

Voice actors provide their voice talents for animated TV, audiobooks, movies, documentary television and film, commercials, video games, and multimedia.

Animated TV

If you were to point to the most common form of voiceover acting, it would likely be animated TV. Think of children’s programming series on networks like Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, and PBS; there’s a voiceover actor behind each and every one of those lovable, colorful characters. And that’s not to mention adult offerings like “BoJack Horseman,” “Bob’s Burgers,” and “Family Guy,” all of which employ some of today’s most sought after voice actors week in, week out.


Audiobooks have always been an incredible resource for road trips or a day spent cleaning the house (not to mention being an inclusive instrument for the visually impaired), but they’ve especially seen a recent boom in prevalence thanks to outlets like Audible, where a great digital novel is just a click away. There are times when a book’s author will read for the audiobook herself, but the medium has also taken on a life of its own, often employing voiceover actors to play various characters and to really enliven the drama and action.


Voiceover talent is of course tapped for major animated releases like Pixar’s “Finding Dory” or Disney’s “Moana,” but with astounding advances in CGI and green screen technology in film, it’s also become commonplace for voice actors like Andy Serkis to be cast as CGI characters, as seen in “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” among many others.

Documentary Television and Film

Yeah, yeah, yeah, we know that Sir David Attenborough of “Planet Earth” and “Planet Earth II” is your favorite documentary narrator, and we don’t blame you. But what about the hundreds of other documentary films and series out there? From the prestige to the pulpy––as if Investigation Discovery’s melodramatic gotcha narrations aren’t a delight!––it takes an expert voice actor with a measured cadence, exquisite pronunciation, and dramatic chops to really sell a doc as it’s laid out on screen.


Think about it: When’s the last time you saw a commercial without a voiceover? In selling a product or service, one of the most effective ways to get a message across is to overlay an ongoing scene with a voiceover providing additional information, and guess who provides those voiceovers? That’s right! Professional voice actors.

Video Games

In certain circles, the biggest video game releases in a given year are just as buzzy and eagerly anticipated as the year’s biggest blockbusters––and the voice talent behind these gamers’ beloved characters is just as revered. There have been bits of contention this last year with a strike from video game voice actors, but one thing is certain: This field and this profession is not going anywhere.


And that brings us to perhaps the most exciting frontier in voice acting: multimedia entertainment. We live in a time where VO and VR are collide; as virtual reality capabilities are expanding their influence on the gaming industry, so, too, do the opportunities for voiceover actors everywhere. While VR is just one frame of the ever-expanding multimedia entertainment umbrella, it’s the one to keep an eye on with regards to VO.

What terms should I know?

As a field of study, voice acting also comes all-new terminology that you should be familiar with before first stepping into the studio. Having the prior knowledge of what’s what will allow for smooth sailing from the onset both in terms of communication and in confidence. Check out our glossary guide with pertinent voiceover vocabulary below, as compiled by “That’s Voiceover!” founders and Backstage Experts Joan Baker and Rudy Gaskins.

  • Adjustment: Guidance given by the director to redirect the actor’s performance. Also, a modification an actor makes in the playing of the material.

  • Ad-lib: Improvised lines that are not in the script, but are purposely spoken in the spirit of the script.

  • ADR (Automatic Dialogue Replacement): See “looping.”

  • ANNC: Stands for “announcer” and refers to the part in a script to be read by the voice actor.

  • Announcery: Referring to the melodramatic performance style characteristic of announcers from the early broadcast era.

  • Arc: Even a 30-second commercial, has a beginning, middle, and end—a storyline. The arc refers to the voice actor’s interpretation of the emotional stages that accompany the storyline.

  • Beat: An internal thought that causes the speaker to pause before continuing to speak.

  • Billboard: To highlight a specified word or phrase within the script while staying within the tone of the overall performance.

  • Cold-reading: An audition in which you are asked to read from a script you are not familiar with, generally with little or no time to prepare.

  • Conversational: A direction often followed by “non-announcery” and meaning to speak naturally, as in everyday conversation—without fanfare or embellishment.

  • Copy: The script.

  • Director: The person responsible for the vision of the project. The director oversees the voice actor, audio engineer, music composer, and sound designer.

  • Inflection: The indication of a specific meaning by emphasizing a higher or lower pitch as you end a word or phrase.

  • ISDN (Integrated Services for Digital Network): is a set of communication standards for simultaneous digital transmission of voice, video, data, and other network services over the traditional circuits of a telephone network.

  • Level: When the voice actor is asked for a level, it means to read the script into the microphone at the full volume you intend to use during the performance. This is required to calibrate the overall equipment sound levels prior to recording.

  • Line Cue: The last portion of the last line before your cue begins.

  • Looping: The recording or re-recording of dialogue (on or off-camera) for a previously filmed scene.

  • Moment Before: A motivational cue that gives the actor (character) a reason to speak.

  • Pick-up:To re-record an isolated line or phrase to remedy a vocal flub or technical glitch. Also to create alternate choices.

  • Post-production:The final step in film or video creation. It follows the pre-production and production phases. Recording voice actors (narration, ADR, sound overlays) are part of the post-production phase.

  • Popping: A plosive speech sound caused by a sudden burst of air into the microphone, most notably on words beginning with P but frequently occurring with T, K, D, G and B.

  • Problem-Solution: A common type of commercial script, where the message appeals to the consumer by solving a problem.

  • Punch: To highlight a word or phrase with a notably sharp and emphatic tone.

  • Punch in: A recording technique whereby a portion of the performance is overdubbed onto a previously recorded take, usually overwriting the sound originally recorded.

  • Read: The overall performance quality of a script or portion thereof.

  • Real person: The voice actor plays the role as if he is the actual user of a product, expressing his personal point of view.

  • Spokesperson: The voice actor plays his role as an authority speaking on behalf of a product.

  • Residuals: Compensation paid for use of a performance beyond the session fee or initial compensation. Residuals are based on specific usage parameters governed by contract or union rules.

  • Safety:A backup performance, recorded after the director feels he has captured everything required to complete the session.

  • Session: The time spent recording the voice actor, starting from when the actor reports (call time) and ending when the director/producer calls it a wrap. The actors pay is referred to as a “session fee.”

  • Smile: Literally smiling as you perform the script. Speaking with an actual smile usually triggers a warm, friendly tone of voice.

  • SOT: This stands for “sound on tape,” and refers to language or sound (taken from the program or film content) that is woven into the script but not spoken by the voice actor.

  • Take: A single performance of a script or section of a script. Takes are numbered and organized by the recording engineer and notes are kept on the attributes of each take.

  • Tempo: The ebb and flow of emotion as the voice actors perform the storyline of the script. Tempo is not all one speed. In voice acting, the metronome swings to serve the intention of what is being said moment to moment.

  • Three-in-a-row: Performing a line or phrase three times, purposely varying the attitude and intonation to create alternate versions. Also, reading the same line at different speeds but otherwise maintaining the same intonation throughout.

  • Trigger: An emotional or physical signal that sparks an emotional impulse in the actor.

  • VO: Shorthand for voiceover. In a script, VO is used to indicate the parts to be read by the voice actor.

  • Zephyr: A highly regarded electronic device used to make your recording studio universally compatible for connecting with every popular ISDN codec for full-duplex, 20kHz stereo audio.

What training do I need?

Unlike stage or film acting, it’s rather unheard of for aspiring voiceover actors to pursue a higher education BFA degree exclusively to learn more about the craft of voice acting. But that doesn’t mean the skills can be self-taught. Even if you’re an adept self-starter and if you have the proper equipment required to succeed in the field, it would be to your detriment to not seek the counseling of an acting and/or voice coach. So how do you go about finding the right coach for you? It’s worth reaching out to fellow actors for a recommendation or referral, but do your own research and see who offers what you’re looking for. Then upon meeting, go with your gut and see if you two mesh.

“Two fundamental qualities to look for in a coach are experience, and someone who understands the current and potential state of the voiceover industry,” says voiceover actor, filmmaker, and Backstage Expert Jamie Muffett. “Most coaches will offer a consultation session, so it’s wise to meet with more than one and compare their assessments. There should be some consistencies in their feedback. A coach who seems to be wildly at variance with the majority is likely to be someone overly-complimentary who is just looking for clients, or who thinks being overly-critical makes them seem more legitimate. Be wary of both.”

You also shouldn’t worry about necessarily connecting with a voice coach in your area. In-person sessions are always preferred, but it’s more important to link with a quality teacher rather than a convenient one. This is the kind of coaching you can do online. Besides, many voice actors on the job are working remotely to begin with, so you might as well get used to it!

Muffett continues: “Don’t choose a coach who tells you what you want to hear. This is an immediate red flag. An honest coach will tell you things you absolutely do NOT want to hear. This could be anything from pointing out areas in your voice or delivery that you need to improve, or explaining the realities of the industry. It might even be as major as adjusting your imagined timeline or roadmap to success.”

The right coach will teach you how to properly deliver your lines, how to emote effectively, how to create characters, how to maintain voice health, and then how to create a quality demo reel or audition side that will help you book your next big gig.