Understanding the terminology of voice acting will enhance your proficiency and confidence, from the first audition to the final booking. Here we cover the most commonly used terms. Of course, directors have different ways of communicating, so the voice actor must be on his toes. Knowing the terms is helpful, but directorial communication is not an exact science and it is incumbent upon the voice actor to figure out the director’s language.
Adjustment: Guidance given by the director to redirect the actor’s performance. Also, a modification an actor makes in the playing of the material.
Ad-lib: Improvised lines that are not in the script, but are purposely spoken in the spirit of the script.
ADR (Automatic Dialogue Replacement): See “looping.”
ANNC: Stands for “announcer” and refers to the part in a script to be read by the voice actor.
Announcery: Referring to the melodramatic performance style characteristic of announcers from the early broadcast era.
Arc: Even a 30-second commercial, has a beginning, middle, and end—a storyline. The arc refers to the voice actor’s interpretation of the emotional stages that accompany the storyline.
Beat: An internal thought that causes the speaker to pause before continuing to speak.
Billboard: To highlight a specified word or phrase within the script while staying within the tone of the overall performance.
Cold-reading: An audition in which you are asked to read from a script you are not familiar with, generally with little or no time to prepare.
Conversational: A direction often followed by “non-announcery” and meaning to speak naturally, as in everyday conversation—without fanfare or embellishment.
Copy: The script.
Director: The person responsible for the vision of the project. The director oversees the voice actor, audio engineer, music composer, and sound designer.
Inflection: The indication of a specific meaning by emphasizing a higher or lower pitch as you end a word or phrase.
ISDN (Integrated Services for Digital Network): is a set of communication standards for simultaneous digital transmission of voice, video, data, and other network services over the traditional circuits of a telephone network.
Level: When the voice actor is asked for a level, it means to read the script into the microphone at the full volume you intend to use during the performance. This is required to calibrate the overall equipment sound levels prior to recording.
Line Cue: The last portion of the last line before your cue begins.
Looping: The recording or re-recording of dialogue (on or off-camera) for a previously filmed scene.
Moment Before: A motivational cue that gives the actor (character) a reason to speak.
Pick-up: To re-record an isolated line or phrase to remedy a vocal flub or technical glitch. Also to create alternate choices.
Post-production: The final step in film or video creation. It follows the pre-production and production phases. Recording voice actors (narration, ADR, sound overlays) are part of the post-production phase.
Popping: A plosive speech sound caused by a sudden burst of air into the microphone, most notably on words beginning with P but frequently occurring with T, K, D, G, and B.
Problem-Solution: A common type of commercial script, where the message appeals to the consumer by solving a problem.
Punch: To highlight a word or phrase with a notably sharp and emphatic tone.
Punch in: A recording technique whereby a portion of the performance is overdubbed onto a previously recorded take, usually overwriting the sound originally recorded.
Read: The overall performance quality of a script or portion thereof.
Real person: The voice actor plays the role as if he is the actual user of a product, expressing his personal point of view.
Spokesperson: The voice actor plays his role as an authority speaking on behalf of a product.
Residuals: Compensation paid for use of a performance beyond the session fee or initial compensation. Residuals are based on specific usage parameters governed by contract or union rules.
Safety: A backup performance, recorded after the director feels he has captured everything required to complete the session.
Session: The time spent recording the voice actor, starting from when the actor reports (call time) and ending when the director/producer calls it a wrap. The actors pay is referred to as a “session fee.”
Smile: Literally smiling as you perform the script. Speaking with an actual smile usually triggers a warm, friendly tone of voice.
SOT: This stands for “sound on tape,” and refers to language or sound (taken from the program or film content) that is woven into the script but not spoken by the voice actor.
Take: A single performance of a script or section of a script. Takes are numbered and organized by the recording engineer and notes are kept on the attributes of each take.
Tempo: The ebb and flow of emotion as the voice actors perform the storyline of the script. Tempo is not all one speed. In voice acting, the metronome swings to serve the intention of what is being said moment to moment.
Three-in-a-row: Performing a line or phrase three times, purposely varying the attitude and intonation to create alternate versions. Also, reading the same line at different speeds but otherwise maintaining the same intonation throughout.
Trigger: An emotional or physical signal that sparks an emotional impulse in the actor.
VO: Shorthand for voiceover. In a script, VO is used to indicate the parts to be read by the voice actor.
Zephyr: A highly regarded electronic device used to make your recording studio universally compatible for connecting with every popular ISDN codec for full-duplex, 20kHz stereo audio.
Joan Baker and Rudy Gaskins are the co-founders of That’s Voiceover!, an annual career expo, and the creators of the newly formed Society of Voice Arts and Sciences and the Voice Arts Awards. Follow them on Twitter @JoanTheVoice and @RGaskins1, and like them on Facebook: Rudy Gaskins At Large and Joan Baker Live. Follow them on Twitter: @JoanTheVoice and @RGaskins1, and like them on Facebook: Rudy Gaskins At Large and Joan Baker Live.
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