What Is Voiceover? An Intro to the Medium

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If you’ve used a virtual assistant such as Siri, watched a documentary, or played a video game, chances are you’ve listened to voiceover. It’s a versatile production technique that can be used for both creative and practical applications in film, television, radio, and theater, among other channels. 

Want to learn more about voiceover as an art form? This guide will answer all your burning questions about all things voiceover. We’ve also included some voiceover examples to give you an idea of the medium’s broad scope.


What is voiceover?

Woman recording voiceover in a studioGeorge Milton/Pexels

Voiceover is production technique in which a vocal performance is recorded in a studio and later added into a project. While it’s most commonly used in film, television, and radio, voiceover has evolved over time to include audiobook narration, podcasts, social media videos, and commercials

The voiceover recording process is fairly simple, whether it’s narration for a documentary or a full performance meant to accompany an animated character. The voice actor gets the script and records their dialogue on mic in a studio, often with the help of a director and technical producer. 

Where voiceover gets complicated is in the details. Capturing high-quality voice work involves a deep understanding of recording software, microphones, and acoustically appropriate recording spaces. The performance itself is also much more than just speaking into a mic. Even though voice actors don’t physically appear in live action, they still have to sell emotion, be believable, and execute the director’s vision through voice alone.

The history of voiceover?

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In 1906, inventor Reginald Fessenden essentially discovered AM radio when he broadcast his voice to ships at sea from Massachusetts. Fessenden’s early attempts at radio broadcasts ushered in the beginnings of voiceover as we know it today. Throughout the early 1900s, voiceover was primarily used in radio; this medium was pushed to new heights in 1922 with the formation of the British Broadcast Company, a private broadcaster that eventually became public and proved pivotal in enhancing the world’s interest in radio through coverage of global issues. 

With the popularity of radio came radio dramas, a major step forward for voiceover. A predecessor of audiobooks and fiction podcasts, these voice-only serials became a massively popular form of storytelling between the 1920s and 1940s. In 1938, Orson Welles proved the power of an effective voice performance when listeners believed his radio production of H. G. Wells’ “The War of the Worlds” to be real. 

Animation, largely thought of as the premiere medium for voice acting today, entered the voiceover arena in 1928 with the release of Disney’s animated short “Steamboat Willie.” One of the first cartoons to synchronize sound with images, the pivotal film saw Walt Disney himself providing the voice of Mickey Mouse. The film opened the floodgates for animation as a voice actor’s playground. Thanks to additional help from the “Looney Tunes,” animation in the 1930s and 1940s proved that voiceover was its own industry where specialized voice performers could thrive. 

The 1940s and 1950s also saw many films utilize narration in their stories, particularly within the noir genre.

How voiceover has evolved over time

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In the 1990s and early 2000s, it became more common for A-list celebrities to take voiceover parts in animated films, such as Robin Williams in “Aladdin,” Cameron Diaz in “Shrek,” and Brad Pitt in “Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas.” 

“No hair and makeup necessary, not a personal trainer in sight and a four-hour work day: these are just a few of the enticements luring A-list actors...to headline animated features,” the New York Times wrote in 2003 of the trend. This largely remains true today, with Kristen Bell leading the “Frozen” franchise, Chris Evans taking over the voice of the titular “Toy Story” character in “Lightyear,” and Chris Pratt playing Mario in “The Super Mario Bros. Movie.” 

However, wide-spread access to the internet and more readily available (and affordable) technology has opened voiceover to anyone who wants to get started. Voiceover narration is a staple of social media content creation, especially on TikTok, YouTube, and Instagram. It’s never been easier to start your own podcast, a platform for both nonfiction and fiction voiceover. And although it’s no longer confined to just radio, advertising still primarily uses voiceover to sell products—whether it’s a YouTube ad, movie trailer, or social media overlay.

Types of voiceover work

There are several types of voiceover work today, including: 


Voiceover for animation can be found in film, television, and commercials. Because animation is a medium, not a genre, animation voiceover covers a wide range of projects, from children’s shows such as “Paw Patrol” to adult animation such as “Rick and Morty” and dubbing on anime series such as “Death Note.”  


Audiobooks remain one of the most popular and fastest-growing publishing formats. In fact, it’s projected to continue to grow and become a $19 billion-dollar industry by 2027. Its growth is expected to give rise to increased demand for voice actors, who help make the narrative more engaging with their vocal talents. 


In commercial voiceover, a voice actor is tasked with promoting a product or service. You can hear commercial voiceover in various formats, such as radio ads and longer advertisements featured on YouTube. 

Video games 

Voiceover is key to immersing players in the world of a video game, to the small grunts and sniffs of a character walking across terrain to full-on performances in cutscenes.