Are you a “voice actor,” a “voice talent,” a “voiceover” or what? Part 1 of 2.
Nov 13 2017
NOTE: This is the first post in a 2-part article. Click here to read part 2!
Some time ago, we discussed the issue of how to spell “voice-over,” and concluded that, except maybe for Search Engine Optimization reasons, it doesn’t much matter, as long as you’re consistent. And that the SEO reasons are diminishing and secondary.
But what about “voice actor” and these similar descriptions of people at the mic? It’s more than a question of spelling. Is there a functional and/or industry distinction between a “voice talent,” “voice actor,” “voice-over artist” and other variations? Does it matter what you call yourself and what you do?
Yes and no.
There’s no hard dividing line between any of these terms. Each is just a slightly different shading of the others. Yet, each has certain connotations, which might be important to you and/or to potential clients. Consider it a matter of “positioning,” in a marketing sense, or as your personal mindset. Or both.
Announcer. This is on the list because it’s the traditional term, still found on many scripts. But, although a traditional “announcer” style involves certain qualities and skills (and is not necessarily bombastic or stylized), it’s not what professional casting people generally want today. They usually want more than a perfect voice and clear speech. They want authenticity (which we’ll talk more about, below.) Unless your target is broadcasting or stadium PA work and such, calling yourself simply an “announcer” limits your employment opportunities.
Voice-over. As noted, “voice-over,” “voiceover” and “voice over” mean the same thing. Whatever way it is spelled, most often it refers to the voice script or the process or industry of spoken-voice recording where the voice is not spoken on-camera. (This includes the many genres where there is no camera, or where – as in dubbing and animation – the voice is added separately).
More pertinent to our discussion here is when the term “voice-over” refers to the person doing the voice-over. (For example, “Although she had a successful career as a stage actor, she preferred work as a voiceover.”) While a relatively rare usage, this is how VO talent is referenced by some respected professionals, including some books. (Where it might be most often spelled as one word, no hyphen.) One reason it’s not our preferred editorial style is that its multiple meanings can be confusing. A reader or listener will catch on to the intended sense after a few uses, and we suppose has some logical basis … after all, if your voice is heard as the voice-over, you are the voice-over, right? But that seems a bit of a logical stretch, and somehow equating the script with the person also seems somewhat impersonal.
Voice-over talent or voice talent. When referring to someone who performs voice-overs, this is more to our liking. Its meaning is clear, and it flatters the performer. (Of the two, depending on context, we prefer “voice-over talent,” because that rules out singers, mimic stand-ups, vocal sound effects, etc.)
The job does require talent (not everyone is suited to voice-over work), and the word “talent” is commonly used for all kinds of performers – from musical soloists to circus acts. It has a positive connotation, but if we must find fault with it (only for discussion’s sake), we might say it smacks a bit of innate talent, the sort of thing delivered in a “talent-scouts” competition, not always reflective of the extensive, often deep training that underlies talent in our profession. A VO professional understands what goes into expert VO delivery, but some clients might not.
(A further issue is: “What is the plural of “voice-over talent”? For example, is it “some talents prefer” or a collective “some talent prefer”? Further down, we use the latter form, but it may be a toss-up. Just be consistent.)
Voice-over performer. This seems similar to “VO talent,” but puts the emphasis on performing. Clients in some genres might think they don’t want a “performance,” only a read or narration. In fact, in many genres, the voice-over talent should not even be noticed – the product, subject matter, or visual scene is the star.
Again, VO pros know that all reads involve performance in a sense, but some clients may not. Or some people might (mistakenly) think that “performance” means “artificial.” So we reserve this term for situations when the script clearly calls for a character, obvious emotion or some sort of “showmanship,” or where we’re discussing technique.
Voice-over artist. While this is often yet another suitable synonym, it carries some of the same baggage as “performer.” It also seems a bit high-falutin’, putting the focus on your artistry, rather than the client’s need. Still, if the job entails great vocal originality and exploration, and your client appreciates that, it might be spot-on. (Incidentally, “voice artist” or “vocal artist” would be ambiguous without context. Especially, a “vocal artist” might be a singer.)
Voice actor. This tends to combine all the above desired qualities, in a way that gives the talent the full respect they deserve. Actors have training. Actors are skilled at expressing all sorts of emotion, at all emotional levels. Actors are versatile, by definition. Actors can take direction.
But what if you have no formal acting training? What if don’t even want to become an “actor” per se – that is, if you don’t want to do audiobooks, or characters, or animation, and you’re not interested in other sorts of acting work. What if you’ve never taken an acting lesson?
We understand, and we take your point. As we said, there is no absolute line between any of these terms, and it depends on various factors. But next week, we’ll explain why “voice actor” might be the best choice, even if “acting” isn’t for you.
Click here to read part 2! We prefer to call voice-talent “voice actors,” because you are.