What is voice over and voice acting?

Let’s start with ‘What is voice over?’ This is something of a broad, collective term. In the UK and Europe especially, it’s often used both to describe the profession (“I’m a voice over”) and what voice actors produce (“I record a voice over”). It has also come to encapsulate the industry as a whole (the “voice over industry”). Within the context of the industry, you’ll frequently come across references to voice over work, voice over tips, voice over guidelines, and voice over narration

Originally, the term was devised to describe what a voice over provided: a recorded voice track accompanying visual imagery to offer either description or commentary, or simply descriptive commentary if there was no visual imagery – like during a radio broadcast.  Today, of course, voice overs are commonly used in movie trailers, documentaries, e-learning material, as well as in advertising and marketing – with or without visual imagery.

Two examples of viral voice overs:

  1. Coca Cola Commercials – Swedish DJ Avicii and Australian singer Conrad Sewell wrote and produced the original song, ‘Taste the feeling.’ The video received 40,815,616 views and soundtracked Coca-Cola’s 2016 UEFA Euro and Rio de Janeiro Summer Olympics ad campaigns.
  2. Documentary voice overs – Sir David Attenborough’s documentary narrations brought nature to life, inspiring millions to become more environmentally conscious.

Is voice over and voice acting the same thing?

Despite contextual similarities as noted above, in reality, there are differences. So – for the sake of clarity – they shouldn’t be used interchangeably. Voice over actors are sometimes referred to as off-screen announcers and narrators. Their focus is on narrating or giving a voice over to the content provided. Some examples of this kind of voice over are:

  • Audiobooks: voice actors read and record the complete book for distribution. 
  • Movie trailers: voice actors record a brief movie premise as a teaser to generate hype around the movie.

Voice acting on the other hand focuses more on characters. The kind that may appear in movies, video games, or TV shows. Some examples of this kind of voice acting are:

 What does a voice over actor do?

While voice over actors and voice actors are also used interchangeably, again the slight difference is that voice over actors record voice overs as opposed to voice acting. Often, this means voice over actors narrate stories that take viewers on an emotional journey. The most effective voice overs are easy to follow and relate to and passionate in the delivery. This means more is involved than simply describing different on-screen clips. (Consider Sir David Attenborough’s tactful narration of nature documentaries).

In addition, these voices often become synonymous with the brand they voice. Another example of this is the famous actor John Krasinski and Esurance. The brand wanted to set its insurance apart from competitors with vocal humor that appealed to everyday people. So, for almost a decade Krasinski’s distinct, vocal witty charm has been the defining feature of their voice overs. 

Voice acting 

Voice acting involves more than just reading or narrating scripted lines. It involves ‘acting’ skills and abilities to become scripted characters. It also includes creating and/or recording specific sound effects for a given character. For instance, Mel Blanc, the man of a thousand voices voiced some of his characters and their iconic sounds for almost 50 years. For instance: 

  • Bugs Bunny and his iconic catchphrase, “Ehhh, What’s up Doc?” while munching on a carrot.
  • Woody Woodpecker’s song, “Everybody thinks I’m crazy. Yesiree, that’s me, that’s me” in between his pecking sounds 
  • Tasmanian Devil’s notorious snorts, growls, and grunts mixed in with a few slobbering sounds.

What is dubbing?

Dubbing is more related to voice acting than voice overs as it involves more than narration. In dubbing, the original dialog is completely replaced with translated dialogue. Netflix’s hit show, Squid Game is one example of what makes a dubbed show popular. Much technical work and synchronization are involved to match the exact lip movements of the dub to the on-screen actors. Voice actors use their voice acting skills to portray the depth and emotion of the character in the respective language that the original content is dubbed into.

What are voice acting casting calls? 

Voice acting casting calls are similar to regular casting calls that ask for auditions according to certain requirements. Voice actors then submit sample audio reels or read custom scripts to audition for each casting call. Then, companies review the auditions or pass them along to external casting or directing agencies to find the appropriate voice actor. Usually, the aim is not to find the best voice actor, but to find the voice actor that best fits the production. In addition, from a production point of view, the voice over artist should capture all of the nuances of a story that make it unique. So be sure to read the directions carefully before submitting your audition! 

How can you grow your career?

The voice over industry is very competitive. That’s why, most voice over artists don’t rely on a single channel of income. Agents, websites, online profiles – these are all options to seek out voice over work. If you’re just starting out, why not begin with a free online profile before working your way up, or look out for special discounts offered to first-time members. This is a great way to get experience, gain exposure and start building a client base. 


Voice overs are narrated audio recordings that deliver a message. It works with the on-screen video content to capture the audience’s attention.

No. With a combination of acting skills, a versatile voice, and plenty of patience you can set yourself up for a satisfying career.

Learn more from our Ask the pros Section with professional voice actor Heidi Rew in the article: How to do a voice over.

“I’ve been doing this sort of thing for so long, but I still don’t know that I’ve got it. I just try to do my best. You start with the sound and make sure that it sounds like the original. And then, from there, you fill in the blanks with the acting. You have to stay true to the character.”