Image Description

Voice-Over Elements & Techniques

This lesson is a part of an audio course Introduction to Voice-Over by Joe McNeil and Allison Moffett

Welcome to Lesson 4 “Voice-Over Elements & Techniques”. In this lesson, you’ll learn the components of a voice-over read and some techniques that apply to voice-over in general.

Just a quick reminder, a voice-over performance is often referred to as the read.

Let’s begin with some of the basic elements of a voice-over read:

  • Energy—this means the energy level of the performance, or read. Some VO reads are high energy; others are not. The energy of the read depends on the context. A radio commercial for a holiday weekend car sale is often high energy, whereas a training program for a corporation might be more medium energy.
  • Speed or pacing—how fast the read goes. Thirty-second radio commercials have to come in just under 30 seconds, so the reader must be placed accordingly. Other types of VO often don’t have specific time requirements, like narration or video game parts. The pacing depends on what works for the context. For example, a training program with a lot of complex information might be paced more slowly to allow the listener to absorb what’s being said.

Our next element is:

  • Inflection—this means the pitch pattern of the read, that is how much your voice goes up and down. Too much inflection can be distracting and is sometimes described as “sing-song”; too little inflection can make the reader feel “flat.”
  • Rhythm—this is the rhythmic pattern that the syllables make. It can also describe how smooth or fragmented the performance is. Rhythms that are repeated too much can become distracting.

Let’s discuss some voice-over techniques.

Ending sentences. This might sound strange but there are a lot of different ways of ending a sentence. Sentences, where the pitch goes down at the end, are called declarative. It indicates a definite end. For example, this is a declarative sentence. My pitch went down at the end indicating that I’m making a statement. I’m not asking a question or about to go on and say anything else.

But what about this: “There are seven tasks you must complete.” In that case, I’ve used my pitch to indicate that I’m about to go on and tell you something else.

One thing to watch out for is whatscall the upsweep. It has become very common for people to end their sentences like this: (With upsweep) “I’m going to the store.”

Generally, the upsweep is not used in voice-over. Unless you’re playing a Valley Girl character, it’s best to avoid it.

Now let’s discuss…

Talking, not reading. Voice-over is the act of recording a script that you are reading. However, you’re not supposed to sound like you’re reading. You’re supposed to sound like you’re talking, naturally and comfortably. Whatever you’re saying, it’s not written down in front of you, you’re just talking in a way that’s appropriate for the context. If this sounds hard to do, that’s because it is. People naturally sound different when they read aloud than when they talk off the top of their heads. This is sometimes referred to as sounding “conversational.” It doesn’t mean conversation in the sense that you’re having a back and forth with another person. It means you sound like you’re talking.

And that brings us to this…

Connecting to your audience. You have to find a way to connect to your audience so you can talk to them. It’s a common technique to choose someone specific to talk to—your mother, your spouse, your boss, your dog. The choice of who you choose to talk to depends on the content of your script.

Let me give you an example. If you have a script explaining a great new management software that will help streamline a certain business, who might you, I mean you personally, talk to about that? Your mom? Maybe, but it might be more likely you’d talk to your boss about it and try to convince her to get it for your company. It doesn’t matter if you’d actually talk to your boss about such a thing or not. You know what it’s like to have a discussion with your boss about work-related issues and it’s that knowledge you’re bringing to your VO read.

You speak to your boss differently than you speak to your mom and you speak to your mom differently than you speak to your spouse, etc. This is the “everyday” acting we all do. We’re all slightly different people depending on the situation we’re in. You can leverage that to help give convincing VO reads.

And that leads to…

How you feel. Besides speaking to different people in different ways, we all also feel differently in different situations. How you feel comes out in your voice. If you’re happy or excited, you’ll sound one way. If you’re tired and worried, you’ll sound another way. Tuning in to your feelings is so important for voice-over. I always tell my voice-over students, decide how they feel first and their voice will follow.

Before we go on to our next lesson, let’s recap.

  • Some basic elements of voice-over are energy, speed (or pacing), inflection, and rhythm.
  • There are lots of different ways to end a sentence and how you do it depends on the context. If it’s not a question, it’s generally best to avoid the upsweep.
  • It’s important in voice-over to sound like you’re talking, not reading. This is sometimes referred to as sounding conversational.
  • Connecting to your audience is very important. Imagining you’re talking to a specific person can help.
  • It’s also key to tune into your feelings. How you feel affects how you sound, so you want to incorporate your feelings into your voice-over.
  • We behave in slightly different ways depending on the situations we’re in. You can use this “everyday acting” and apply it to your VO reads.

Thanks for listening! In Lesson 5, you’ll learn some of the basics of commercial reads.