Voice Acting And The History In A Nutshell


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Voice Acting And The History

You might have heard about these words a couple of times and you always wonder what exactly they stand for and what they are about. Some questions people ask themselves are:

  1. Who is a Voice Actor?
  2. What is voice acting?
  3. What is the history of voice acting?
  4. What are the challenges faced in voice acting?
Voice-Over Actors (Part 1: Intro to Voice-Over Acting)

Definition Of Voice Actor

A voice actor is a person who has the capacity to do voice-overs. Simply put, it is when one is able to provide a voice to be used as part of an audio file.

There are a lot of ways in which one can offer their voice. It can be in a video game, in a cartoon and most commonly for commercials that are used for promotional and marketing purposes. Voice acting might sound like something really small, but in the world, we live in it has been growing at a rather fast pace and it is all-encompassing.

Voice Acting Categories

  1. Voice over narrators- These are a type of voice acting that focuses on the narration of audiobooks, documentaries, explainer videos, educational videos, business videos, medical videos and act as audio tour guides.
  2. Voice-over artistes – This type of voice acting can be generalized as every other voice acting type summed under one umbrella but it’s good to note that you can hear them mostly on telephone prompts (IVR) and they are the same ones that are heard welcoming people to a website or guiding road trip as a voice on the GPS.
  3. Voice over Announcers-This is the type voiceover that can be heard introducing segments of live television or radio broadcasts such as; award shows, talk shows, continuity, promo, and sporting events.
  4. Voice over Actors – These can be heard mostly performing in animated movies, TV cartoons, radio dramas, ADR, video games, puppet shows and in foreign language dubbing.

Voice Talent is a general term for all the above-mentioned types of voice-overs. It is a term that is usually used by agencies and companies which deal with looming for voice talents to do some type of voice over job for a client or for them.

As you have seen, the voice acting really varies from job to job. The different job descriptions would expect you to be a voice narrator and others would want a voice announcer, it really depends on the work that needs to be done. There are different job descriptions that always need voice overseas and they can range from voice over films, TV commercials, radio or audio dramas, video games, audiobooks, live streams to promos, trailers, podcasts, and more areas.

Since a voice actor can only be heard and not seen, it is always advised that the range in the voice of a voice actor has to be really huge.

Definition Of Voice Acting

  • Voice acting entails a performers’ capacity and prowess in interpreting someone else’s words. In different countries voice acting really varies, for instance, in the UK, the BBC has a long-standing history of using voice actors for radio dramas, documentaries, and films which have led the UK to be recognized as a country where voice acting is a specialized dramatic professionally. The craft is supported by the British Actors union EQUITY. Many working voiceover artists are members. Similarly, in the USA, SAG/AFRTA supports American voice actors.
  • Always remember though that not all voice acting is the same and not every voice talent can perform all the many types of voice over required. Also to be a voice actor, one requires a lot of practice and input in one’s craft before they are seen as professionals who can handle any form of voice acting. 

With that said, we will go further and look at the history of voiceovers and voice acting and see how far it has come from and how far it is going.

The Genesis Of Voice Acting

  • A little history about voice acting and voice-over state that the first-ever voice over was created by Walt Disney for the famous cartoon Mickey Mouse in “Steamboat Willie.” It is believed to be the first-ever but in reality voice, acting was first experienced in 1900! This historical first belongs to Reginald Fessenden, a Canadian inventor. He was thrilled with Alexander Graham Bell’s new device, the telephone, and set out to create a way to remotely communicate without wires. The beginning of “Wireless!”. “In 1900, while working for the United States Weather Bureau, Fessenden recorded the very first voice over:  reporting the weather. It is generally accepted that he was the first voice on the radio. In Boston, in 1906, during the Christmas season, he recorded an entire program of music, Bible texts, and Christmas messages to ships out at sea.”
  • So what exactly is voice acting you may ask, for a very long time, we only had traditional means of communication and being able to pass a message at one go to many people needed one to call a meeting at a particular venue by word of mouth to have everybody in one sitting to pass the information? With time the introduction of radio came into existence and I can say that it was the very first ever technological communication development that was ever experienced in the history of communication. As we all know Radio only works through voice and since there were a lot of programs that people would listen in for on the radio we can proudly say that the first-ever voice acting was experienced on radio. Actors would have their voices featured on different programs but you would never get to know who they were unless you knew someone by their voice. The only exception was for eponymous Mel Blanc, a radio personality and comedian, who became known as “The Man of 1000 Voices” for his versatility and is the voice on many cartoons that were made and distributed by Warner Brothers.

Problems Faced In Voice Acting

Many articles online portray the life of voice acting as if actors are basking in their recording studio. It can be true to some extent — such as when a voice actor’s name is on the map. And mostly it is false, as no business is dead easy.

Sure, voice over job is a lot of fun. But it also requires voice actors an ability to deliver a performance using only your vocal cords, a mastery of craft that requires a huge arsenal of talents, and a readiness and willingness to work at the drop of a hat.

Reality check, let’s take a look behind the scenes of the amazing voices we hear over the radio.

DON'T Get Into the Voice Over Business! (...until you've watched this video)

1. It’s more than just sitting and speaking

Let’s admit it, it’s usually the initial picture when we try to imagine how voice actors do their job — sitting in a booth for a couple of hours, effortlessly reciting the script to a microphone. Not to mention the burden of having to trudge off a casting agency just for an audition uncertain to lead into a paid job.

Nowadays, to produce a dope voice-over recording still take in countless errands and tools, and yes — some traveling for some cases, added to the process of narrating the script. From mastering the vocal direction, simulating the character, prepping the equipment, editing the recording, and submitting it to the client, to revisions that involve conversing with the client. A voice actor who has worked overnight for a 4000-word script might feel exhausted when it’s time to polish his work. 

2. Voice Actors are always on call

Whether actors are at his home studio or out of town for some beach party, some of them are still contactable by clients. At worst, sometimes clients need an urgent revision so voice actors sometimes allow work during a vacation so they have an on-the-go recording equipment to work a project right off the bat to help clients chase the deadline.

When at home, least chances of delay could just be like waiting for the leaf blower guy to leave your street.

3. Voice Actors Can be put on standby-No Pay

There are two scenarios for this. Mostly freelancers, voice actors’ status is called “avail” when they do not have a project to work on at the moment and of course, they are not paid for the avail days unlike corporate employees are.

Another case is when actors agree to reserve a day or two for a recording session. During that time, no one else can book them until they have been released from the project commitment. To add insult to the injury, there are clients who will reserve them like that and just let go of them if they are no longer needed.

4. Unless you are famous, your income has crutches

If actors are non-celebrity, voice acting is not an easy profession to make an instant and steady living. Contrary to popular belief, voice actors are not an instant millionaire.

An average voice actor takes many years of experience before they can have an annual income of at least $90,000. For starters, the lowest to get is $14,500 per year. 

So considering the expansion of the voice-over the market, competition is sky-high. The easier and more accessible things have become because of internet advent, the more people entered the industry, and the rest is history. Ironically, it is to some extent, rather more challenging today despite the help of technological advancement to extend your profile exposure.

5. It’s not true that voice Actors’ face is not always shown

A common misconception not just to non-actors but to voice actors themselves is that vocal cords are the only asset involved in voice acting. In reality, voice actor’s facial expressions are valuable both to them and to the clients. 

For them to actually be able to hit a stellar voiceover performance, the engagement of the facial expressions and body language are 2 main ingredients.

To clients whose voiceover genre is animation or video games, believe it or not, some of them install a kind of performer surveillance camera in recording studios to capture movement they can use as a reference to animate their characters. Voice actor’s natural gestures as they bring the characters into life play an important role in the visual aspect of the product.

6. Voice actors lose clients, and sometimes the pay

It is possible that your client decides to take a new direction or found a better fit for their voice over project. It can also be that you have habits that make you incompetent which disappoints your client. And so is the dark side of voice acting. 

Whether the reason comes from the voice actor or the client, the action item that should be focused on is how to avoid and deal with it.

7. Just like the clients, they stick around

Voice actors also experience being put in hang, affecting their productivity, working pace, turnaround rate. Some clients send out private auditions in an online casting site to multiple talents of their pick and come back after a week or a couple of weeks. Voice actors then submit their audition and do nothing but wait for the client’s go signal to work on the official project. 

Clients also have their busy schedule and it creates a barrier to their real-time communication with the talent. Often when they get late feedback from their people, they chase the same talent to work on revisions. On the actor’s part, they have no choice but to extend their service to their client even it it’s out of their schedule.

8. Some actors are hired just for breathing

Sean Kenin, who pops up on Family Guy as the cackling, hyper “Tiny Tom Cruise,” is known in the business as a mimic. He can approximate well-known performers right down to how they sound when they’re gasping for air.  

Kenin is a living proof that some voice actors can be possibly hired just for breathing, grunting, different shades of dog barks, wind breezes, laughing, and more. 

This is not a problem at all, but it can be a liability to expanding an actor’s skill set and getting more opportunities and can damage voices.

9. Vocal fatigue strike amidst a big project

Vocal or voice over fatigue is a little acceptable but not during an ongoing big voice over a project. It’s a total mess if the actor’s voice becomes hoarse when you’re halfway on finishing a long script.

They are likely torn to throwing in the towel and informing the client about the trouble, or fighting tooth and nail to do the impossible. 

10. Replacing an injured microphone

Having a damaged recording equipment is equally burdensome to losing an actor’s voice. Unless the actor is really planning ahead to upgrade their equipment, it’s costly and frustrating to invest in a new one because of an unwanted mishap.

The career of a voiceover artist is not a single predictable path. It is full of challenges, and there is no way to absolutely guarantee that your voiceover career will be a successful one.

As an aspiring voiceover artist, you will definitely want to build a long sustainable career loaded with lucrative financial rewards and personal satisfaction. There are plenty of artists who have shaped their dreams in this industry. But, unluckily, there is another side of the story, as thousands of artists are deprived of this success.

For you, the advancement in technology is a boon, but it also shrinks the number of opportunities that voiceover talents have to spend time together, sharing, learning, laughing, and being exposed to new ideas and perspectives.

Frankly here, many lines of businesses needed or still need apprenticeships to teach and guide the required skills, expertise, and knowledge. Beginners to a different line of markets such as carpentry, bricklaying, and plumbing worked alongside veterans or masters in their field to learn the art. It took them many years to call themselves professionals in their respective line of

here is no similar system in voiceover industry, but still many successful top artists today had mentors who showed them the road to success

These days, you will find thousands of people who rate themselves as top professionals in voiceover industry. But, I am not convinced with this accuracy. On one side, I find many voiceover talents who have achieved their goals, and on the other side, there are many who are still struggling.

So, what is it that allows some voiceover talent to achieve their goals, while others continue to struggle?

The answer to that question may be somewhat indescribable, but still there are many voiceover talents who have already solved that puzzle, and created a niche for themselves in this field.

And during their successful professional journey, they too have faced many of the same questions that you may have. For example;

  • What can I do to ensure my achievement as a voiceover talent?
  • How do I get an agent?
  • What’s the best way to promote myself?
  • Do I need a mentor?

3 thoughts on “Voice Acting And The History In A Nutshell”

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