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Encyclopedia of Voice Over Terminology

By Joe Davis. Published Apr 25, 2023. Last Updated: May 29, 2023.
Filed Under: Terminology

Welcome to the Voice Over Terminology section of our website, a comprehensive resource designed to familiarize you with the language, jargon, and key concepts used in the voice over industry. As a voice actor or someone interested in the field, it's essential to understand the terms and phrases commonly used by professionals, clients, and fellow voice actors. This knowledge not only ensures clear communication but also demonstrates your expertise and commitment to the craft.

Important Terms and Concepts for Voice Over

In this section, we will break down the most important terms and concepts related to voice over, providing clear definitions, explanations, and examples to help you confidently navigate the industry. We'll cover everything from basic terminology, such as voice over, voice acting, and narration, to more specific concepts related to different types of voice-over work, including commercials, promos, e-learning, IVR, and animation.

Our comprehensive guide will also delve into the technical aspects of voice over, such as recording equipment, software, file formats, and audio processing terms. You'll learn about industry-standard practices, techniques, and tools, which will help you create high-quality recordings and work more efficiently in your home studio.

In addition to the technical side, we'll also explore essential concepts related to the business of voice over, such as demos, auditions, contracts, and rates. Understanding these terms will empower you to make informed decisions, negotiate effectively, and build a successful career in the voice-over industry.

To help you further refine your knowledge, we'll provide resources and tips for continued learning, including workshops, courses, webinars, and suggested reading materials. Our aim is to ensure that you have a solid foundation in voice-over terminology, so you can communicate effectively with clients, directors, and fellow voice actors.

We invite you to explore the Voice Over Terminology section and become well-versed in the language of the voice-over industry. With a strong grasp of key terms and concepts, you'll be able to better understand the nuances of voice acting, navigate the industry with confidence, and establish yourself as a knowledgeable and professional voice actor.

As a voice actor, it's crucial to familiarize yourself with the terminology used within the industry. This glossary covers some of the most commonly used terms in voice acting to help you better understand the language of the trade.

This term refers to you, the advertiser or client, in our partnership.

Ad lib
An unplanned or impromptu addition or change to a written script, ad lib comes from the Latin phrase ad libitum, signifying "at one's leisure." This term signifies spontaneous, unrehearsed speech or modifications to the script. It's important to note that while ad lib can be requested in certain roles, unnecessary or unasked for ad libs might not be appreciated.

ADR, or Automated Dialogue Replacement, is an exciting process in which actors replace dialogue in a film or video, enhancing the overall audio quality.

An agent is your steadfast ally, representing voice over talent, and arranging auditions for casting directors and producers.

AI, or Artificial Intelligence, is often used for text-to-speech voice generation, creating a seamless audio experience.

Air, also known as airtime, is the precious media time slotted for a commercial, a moment when you're truly 'on the air'.

Air Check
An air check is a recorded snippet of a radio program, showcasing a broadcaster's talent for demonstration purposes.

Ambiance refers to the continuous sound effects behind voice-over, suggesting a specific setting for the dialogue.

An animatic is a rough preview of a TV spot, blending storyboard images with music and voiceover, ideal for presenting a concept to a client.

An announcer is a voice actor with an authoritative and commanding tone, leading the narrative in a script.

This refers to a traditional method of recording and processing sound using magnetic tape. Analog denotes a continuous, smooth range of frequency or amplitude variations, such as in music or voice. It contrasts with digital methods, which represent information through discrete values.

Articulation is the clear and precise pronunciation of words. It is an essential aspect of voice-over performance, as clarity of speech ensures that the message is easily understood by the audience.

This term refers to the specific times when a voice actor is open for a recording session. Producers or advertisers may inquire about an actor's availability through their agent to schedule sessions accordingly.

Back Bed
The back bed is the instrumental end of a jingle, often reserved for details such as location, phone numbers, legal disclaimers, etc.

A bed is the backdrop of music or sound effects beneath a voice actor’s voice, setting the mood.

Billboard refers to the emphasis given to certain words or phrases in a script, highlighting key points.

Bleed is any noise, like from headphones or ambient sources, accidentally picked up by the microphone.

The board, also known as a console, is the control center where the audio engineer operates, adjusting volume and mixing various elements in a recorded spot.

Booking refers to the decision by the advertiser to hire a voice actor for a session, marking a step forward in your project.

A boom is an overhead mic stand, crucial for capturing clear and crisp audio.

A booth is a cozy, soundproofed room where voice talent works their magic.

Branching is the recording of sentence parts with variable elements, often used in multimedia games and voice mail systems to customize a response.

Break Up
Break up refers to vocal audio becoming distorted, usually caused by equipment issues or telephone line interference.

Broadcast License
A broadcast license gives you the permission to use the voice over for an advertisement, based on factors such as the medium, region, and duration of the ad.

A button is a catchy word, phrase, or sentence at the end of a spot that seals the commercial without introducing additional points.

A 'buy' is the take that the client selects as the best, and can also refer to the amount spent on media time for a commercial spot or campaign.

A buy-out is a one-off payment made to a voice actor for their services in a commercial or similar project. This payment model is typically used in non-union scenarios and various projects such as industrials and ADR (Automated Dialogue Replacement) work. Instead of continuous residuals, the actor receives a single payment for their work.

Call Letters
Call letters are unique identifiers assigned to a radio station by the FCC, guiding listeners to your station.

A character is a fictionalized person that an actor is cast to portray, bringing stories to life.

Class A
Class A refers to national network commercial usage, allowing your voice over to reach a wide audience.

Cold Read
A cold read is an audition where an actor delivers a performance with no rehearsal time.

Color refers to subtle speech nuances that lend texture and depth to words, making them engaging and meaningful.

A console is a piece of equipment where the audio engineer monitors, records and mixes a voice-over session.

Control Room
The control room is the hub where the engineer, producer, and often the client reside, usually separate from the booth.

Copy, also known as a script, is the backbone of a spot, detailing the dialogue and instructions.

Copy Points
Copy points are the key benefits of a product or service sprinkled throughout the script by the copywriter.

Creative Director
The creative director is the guiding force behind all creative endeavors on a given team.

Cross Talk
Cross talk occurs when dialogue from one actor's microphone spills over into another's.

CTA, or Call-to-Action, is the step that the client wants their customer to take after engaging with the ad.

A cue is a signal given to an actor to start performing, ensuring everything stays in sync.

Cue Up
Cue up refers to aligning an actor's voice to visuals or music in terms of time and speed.

A cut is a specific segment of the voice-over recording, used as a reference during editing.

Cut and Paste
Cut and paste refers to the process of assembling different takes into a polished, edited whole.

Cutting Through
Cutting through is when a voice stands out and isn't drowned out by music and sound effects.

DAT, or digital audiotape, is high-quality audiotape used in sound studios.

Data Scientist
A data scientist analyzes and interprets complex digital data, such as website usage stats, assisting businesses in decision-making.

Dead Air
Dead air refers to an overly long pause in a voiceover.

Decibel is a unit of sound intensity, with 0 being silence and 130 causing acute discomfort.

A de-esser is a tool used to reduce excess sibilance, refining voice over quality.

Deep Learning
Deep Learning structures algorithms in layers to create an "artificial neural network" that can learn and make intelligent decisions independently.

A demo is a recorded showcase of a voice actor's talent, serving as an audio resume.

A director guides the voice actor in an audition, session, or class, ensuring the best performance.

Distortion refers to fuzziness in the sound quality of a recorded piece.

A donut is a segment of a spot featuring another voice, often used for making an announcement.

Double refers to a two-person spot, or dialogue.

Drive Time
Drive time is peak listening hours on the radio. Morning drive is between 6AM and 10AM, and evening drive is from 3PM to 7PM.

Drop Off
Drop off is when the energy tails off at the end of a word or phrase.

Drop Out
A drop out is a tiny moment of silence within a recorded word or phrase.

Dry Read
A dry read can refer to a read with no music or background elements, or a style of reading presenting factual information without frills.

A dub, or dupe, is a copy of a spot on a medium like cassette, DAT, or CD. Dubbing refers to transferring recorded material from one source to another.

This type of dubbing involves replacing dialogue in a foreign film, such as dubbing French voice into English.

EFX, or Effects, create an immersive sound environment.

Equalization, or EQ, emphasizes certain frequencies to alter the sound of a voice.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is a U.S. governmental agency established in 1944, responsible for regulating interstate and international communications through radio, television, wire, satellite, and cable.

Fade refers to the gradual increase or decrease of audio volume, aiding smooth transitions in the sound landscape.

Fade In/Fade Out
Fade in/fade out refers to the audio effect of slowly increasing volume from silence to the desired level (fade in), or gradually decreasing volume to silence (fade out), not the movement of the speaker towards or away from the microphone.

False Start
A false start occurs when a voice actor makes an error within the first few lines of a script, typically resulting in a halt and reslate of the recording.

Feedback is an unwanted, often high-pitched, distorted sound that can emerge from speakers or headphones, typically caused by technical issues such as a microphone being too close to the output source.

File Splitting
File splitting involves dividing a single audio file into multiple distinct files, facilitating more manageable editing and post-production processes.

A filter, in sound engineering, is a tool used to enhance vocal clarity by isolating certain frequencies and reducing or eliminating others.

Fish-Bowl Effect
The fish-bowl effect describes a scenario where the voice actor in the booth and the producer or engineer are unable to hear each other due to inadequate audio communication.

Fluctuation, also known as inflection, refers to the variation in pitch or tone in a speaker's voice.

Foley is a specialized technique for creating sound effects to be added to film or video post-production. Foley artists work on a Foley stage, recreating sounds like footsteps, door creaking, glass shattering, to match the on-screen action.

A franchised talent agent adheres to the guidelines of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA).

Front Bed
A front bed refers to the initial segment of a jingle, typically featuring an announcement or introduction.

In audio engineering, gain is the level of audio signal amplification, impacting the overall loudness of the sound.

Gobos are movable sound-absorbing partitions used in recording studios to prevent sound leakage or isolate performers from one another.

Hard Sell
This term refers to an aggressive advertising strategy primarily used for high-volume retail clients, characterized by forceful and direct language. The phrase, "I'll stop shouting when you start buying!" is often associated with the hard sell approach.

A harmonizer, colloquially known as a Munchkiniser, is a piece of audio equipment that modifies the pitch of a voice, typically in an upward direction.

Also known as 'cans,' a headset is essentially a pair of headphones often used in audio recording and editing.

High Speed Dub
High speed dub refers to the rapid copying of an audio recording from one medium to another, performed at speeds faster than the standard playback rate.

Highs refer to the high-frequency components of a sound or voice, often associated with brightness or clarity.

A hold occurs when a prospective client reserves a voice actor's availability for a potential job offer, often when deciding between a shortlist of candidates.

Holding Fee
A holding fee is a payment given to a voice actor when a client reserves the actor's performance for potential future use.

A hook is a vocal strategy that starts with a high note on the first word of a script to capture attention, then immediately dips lower. It can also refer to the catchy chorus of a song.

Home Studio
A home studio, or project studio, is a personal recording space often set up to meet the specific requirements of an individual artist. These studios have become more common with the decrease in price of multitrack recorders, synthesizers, microphones, and personal computers. Many independent voiceover artists use home studios regularly for both personal and professional work.

In voice-over, this term refers to a technique of starting a spot with a strong emphasis on the first word to attract immediate attention. In music, a hook refers to the catchy chorus section of a song.

In recording terms, a microphone that is 'hot' is turned on and ready for recording.

House Demo
A house demo is a compact showcase provided by an agency, featuring brief samples from their roster of voice talents.

Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) is a set of communication standards that allow for high-quality digital transmission of voice, video, and data over traditional telephone lines.

A jingle is a catchy musical advertisement often used for branding or promoting a product or service.

This refers to the operation of a switch in radio broadcasting equipment to allow or halt the broadcast of a signal.

Kilohertz (kHz)
A unit of frequency equal to one thousand hertz (Hz), often used to measure audio frequencies.

This is a non-vocal sound that can sometimes be picked up during recording. It can be caused by an array of things, from touching the microphone stand to external sounds in the environment.

This is a common term used to refer to the controls on an audio mixer or other piece of audio equipment.

Kick Drum
In the context of music recording for voice overs, this term refers to the bass drum sound in a drum kit, which can be used for timing or pacing in a recording.

Lay It Down
"Lay it down" is a colloquial term in recording that essentially means "let's start recording."

Lay Out
To "lay out" in a recording context means to remain silent, such as during a music section of a recording.

Setting the "level" refers to adjusting the voice volume to an optimal point for recording. When an engineer asks for a level, the voice actor will read the script at the volume they'll use throughout the session.

Library Music
Library music is pre-recorded music that producers can license for use, often chosen when the budget doesn't permit the creation of original music. Licensing fees are typically paid annually.

Line Reading
A line reading occurs when a producer demonstrates to a voice actor how they want a particular line delivered by reading it out loud themselves.

Live Tag
A live tag is the final portion of a script, usually delivered by a station announcer, that concludes a radio spot.

Machine Learning
Machine learning is a subset of artificial intelligence that utilizes algorithms to analyze data, learn from it, and make informed decisions based on that learned knowledge.

Major Markets
Major markets, often referred to as the 'Big Three'—New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles—represent the cities that typically offer the highest compensation for voice-over work.

A master is the original recording from which all duplicates or "dubs" are produced.

Milking refers to the technique of stretching out words or phrases and emphasizing them for dramatic effect.

A mix is the harmonious blending of different sound elements, such as voice, sound effects, and music. The term "final mix" denotes the finished audio product.

Monitors, in a recording setting, are the loudspeakers in the control room used for audio playback.

Mouth Noise
Mouth noise describes the audible clicks and pops that a microphone can pick up from a speaker's dry mouth.

A "multiple" in voice acting is a script featuring three or more characters.

A multitrack device is a piece of equipment that can record and play back several different audio tracks simultaneously.

Music Bed
A music bed is the background soundtrack that accompanies or is mixed with a voice-over or other audio elements.

NLP stands for Natural Language Processing, a field of AI that focuses on interaction between computers and humans using natural language.

Non-Broadcast License
A non-broadcast license permits indefinite usage of a voice-over, provided it's not used in paid media such as advertisements. Examples of non-paid media include internal training videos, e-learning modules, podcasts, and so on.

Overlapping in acting occurs when one actor begins their dialogue slightly before another actor finishes their lines.

An "over-the-top" direction calls for an exaggerated or dramatic performance, requiring the actor to over-emphasize their acting.

Pace refers to the speed at which an actor delivers their lines.

Paper Noise
Paper noise is the sound made by paper movement picked up by the microphone. Avoid it by placing your script on the mic stand and not touching it during recording.

A patch is an electrical or digital connection established for recording or broadcasting purposes. Also known as a phone patch or land patch.

Phasing refers to a peculiar, disjointed audio effect caused when sound reflects off certain surfaces during recording.

Phonemes are the smallest units of sound that compose words.

A pick-up is the re-recording of a certain section of the script that needs improvement. The director will instruct the actor where to start and end their lines.

Placement denotes the position of the microphone in relation to the actor while reading.

A plosive is any consonant or combination of consonants that results in a popping sound.

Plus Ten
'Plus Ten' refers to a contractual arrangement where the producer agrees to add an extra 10% to the actor’s payment as commission for the agent.

A 'pop' occurs when certain voice sounds are registering too strongly into the mic, typically caused by plosives.

Pop Filter
A pop filter, also known as a pop stopper, is a foam cover or nylon windscreen placed in front of the mic to help reduce popping sounds.

Post-Production, or simply 'post', is the stage of work carried out after the voice talent has finished recording, including adding sound effects and music.

A 'punch' is a term used when an actor delivers a word or line with increased intensity.

Punch In
Also known as a pick-up, a 'punch in' is the continuation of a piece of copy at a certain point to facilitate future editing.

A quote represents the estimated cost of a job, typically provided by the talent.

A 'read' refers to the style of performance given by a voice actor or the quality of that performance.

Being 'released' refers to no longer being considered for a voice-over job after being placed 'on hold'.

Residuals are recurring payments an actor receives every 13 weeks for as long as their spot is broadcast.

Resonance describes the rich quality of a voice produced by vibrations in the resonating chambers such as the mouth and sinuses.

Re-use refers to the compensation actors receive when their commercial is rerun, typically equivalent to their payment for the initial 13-week cycle.

Reverb, a type of echo, is an effect that can be added to a voice during post-production.

Room Tone
Room tone refers to the sound a room makes in the absence of people or activity.

Rough Mix
A rough mix is a stage of mixing just before the final mix, where the producer and engineer fine-tune the voice, music, and sound effect levels.

A 'safety' is a backup retake, requested by the producer or client, in case there are technical issues with their preferred take.

SFX, or sound effects, are artificial noises used in productions to depict certain actions or events.

Scratch Track
A scratch track is a preliminary audio or video track produced by a production company or ad agency to guide the actor's performance.

Series Of Three
A 'series of three' describes a set of wild lines that are recorded in groups of three, with each read varying slightly.

A session refers to the recording event where the talent performs a script.

Session Fee
A session fee is the compensation for the first commercial within a session. If an actor performs multiple spots or tags, they are paid additional fees accordingly.

Sibilance is an elongated or exaggerated 'S' sound in speech, sometimes accompanied by a whistle. It can be mitigated using a sound tool called a de-esser.

In the context of commercials or animations, 'sides' refer to the scripts where actions are in the left column and dialogues on the right.

A 'signature' refers to the distinct quality of a voice that sets it apart.

A 'single' refers to a monologue or script meant for one person.

A 'slate' is the announcement of a name and/or number before a take, which helps the director and engineer track the actors and takes.

'Spec' refers to providing services without immediate payment, with the expectation of a potentially higher payout once the project is sold.

A spokesperson, or 'spokes', is a voice actor who represents a product or company on a repeat contractual basis.

A 'spot' is a term for a commercial, deriving from the era when commercials were performed live between radio songs, and performers had to deliver on the 'spot'.

SRT Files
SRT files are used to synchronize text to video using time codes.

Stair Stepping
Stair stepping is a technique of progressively increasing or decreasing pitch to define phrases, especially when reading lists.

A 'stand' refers to the place where the script is kept in the recording booth.

Steps refer to boosting the energy while delivering a long list of adjectives or superlatives.

Sweeps are the periods during which TV and radio audience sizes are measured to determine advertising rates, occurring in February, May, and November.

A 'tag' is additional information placed at the end of a commercial, such as date, time, phone number, website address, legal disclaimer, etc.

A 'take' refers to the recording of a specific part of a voice-over script. All takes are numbered consecutively.

A 'talent' refers to a performer, entertainer, or voice-over artist in a broadcast context.

Talkback is the function that allows the engineer or director to communicate with the talent in the booth via a button on the engineer’s console.

A 'tease' is an introductory line used to garner interest. Promos are sometimes referred to as teasers.

Tempo refers to the rate at which the script is delivered.

'Tight' refers to a script with a high word count and a short time frame for delivery.

Time Code
A 'time code' is a digital display showing the position of audio or video tape. It's used in film dubbing.

TTS, or Text to Speech, is a technology that converts written text into spoken language.

Undercutting refers to the practice of softening or discarding a portion of a sentence.

Use Fee
A 'use fee' is an additional payment made to the performer when their spot is aired.

Voice Print
A 'voice print' is a visual representation of a voice, similar to a fingerprint, which can be displayed on a computer using software like ProTools.

V-O or VO
VO, short for voice-over, refers to the provision of voice for a media project. It's often mixed with music and sound effects.

VU Meter
A VU meter is a device on the engineer’s console that measures the level of sound passing through the board.

'Walla' is a sound effect of many voices talking at once, typically used to create background noise for a party or restaurant scene.

A 'wet' voice or sound has reverb added to it.

Wild Line
A 'wild line' is a single line from a script that is reread several times until the perfect read is achieved. It is considered 'wild' because it is read separately from the entire script.

Wild Spot
A 'wild spot' refers to a commercial that airs for an uncertain number of times within a 13-week cycle and has a flat fee.

A 'windscreen', also known as a pop filter or pop stopper, mitigates popping sounds in speech.

To 'woodshed' means to rehearse or practice reading a script out loud. The term originates from theatre, where actors would rehearse in a woodshed before going on stage.

'Wrap' signifies the end of a project or session.

This is a type of cable connector used in the audio industry, including in voice-over work. It's used to transmit balanced audio from one device to another, such as from a microphone to a sound mixer.

A term that's sometimes used to refer to amateur or small-scale broadcasting, such as from a home studio. The term comes from 'broadcasting from your own backyard.'

While not a term unique to the voice-over industry, 'yelling' is a vocal technique that might be used in certain roles or scripts. However, it requires care to avoid damaging the vocal cords.

A 'zephyr' is a digital box that allows for high-quality, real-time recording and playback over ISDN lines, providing a crystal-clear, full-duplex communication between studios.

Understanding the language of voice acting is essential for anyone looking to succeed in the industry. This encyclopedia of essential terms will help you navigate the world of voice acting with confidence, ensuring clear communication with directors, producers, and clients alike. As you become more experienced and familiar with the industry, you'll likely encounter even more specialized terminology. Don't be afraid to ask questions and continue learning; expanding your knowledge and vocabulary is key to growing as a professional voice actor. With a solid understanding of these terms, you'll be well-equipped to communicate effectively and deliver outstanding performances in your voice acting career.

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