Maybe you’ve seen a “behind the scenes” clip of an actor recording audio for a Pixar movie or an author reading their audio-book and thought, “That doesn’t seem that hard.” But how do you become a voice actor? Voice acting, though often less physically strenuous than sprinting in an action movie, has its own set of difficulties, techniques, and styles. In this article, we’re going to define the role of the “voice actor” and how it factors into the Entertainment business well beyond the sound booth.


First, let’s define voice acting

It’s not just sitting on a stool and reading a script. The role of the voice actor can factor into almost every corner of Entertainment.


What is a voice actor?

A voice actor is a performer who uses their voice in recordings known as “voice-overs” that can be utilized in a variety of mediums ranging from TV, features, radio and commercials, and more. Within this medium, actors distill their performance to the nuances of their vocal register and range — playing with inflection, tone, and pitch to craft a performance fitting of the chosen medium.

Types of Voice Acting:

  • Film and TV (both animation and live-action)
  • Radio and commercials
  • Video games
  • Podcasts and audiobooks


What is voice acting for TV and film?

It’s more than just cartoons — but let’s start there. When it comes to being a voice-over actor for animation, it’s all about embodying a character. Actors within this arena often ask themselves core questions to “get into the voice” of the role they’re playing (“Who am I?” “Where am I?” “When is it?” “Where have I just come from?” “What do I want?”).

You may recognize these prompts if you’ve ever taken an acting class. From there, the performer will play with the voice tone to fit the age of the character or any other identifiers that makes this role unique. 

Tom Hanks and the stars of “Toy Story” are an example of more famous voice actors

Scratch Audio

The deeper you go within the voice-over world, the more you may hear the term “scratch audio.” This refers to the temporary audio recorded either by the voice actor or a non-actor from the production team.

The purpose of scratch audio is to assist the animators in timing their shots to the eventual voice-over performance, with all “scratch audio” tracks being re-recorded for the final product.

Animated and Live-Action Dubbing

In addition to voicing characters for the latest Illumination movie, voice actors can expect to find opportunities within the world of dubbing both live-action and animation foreign features.

Most of the time this is done by either “sound-a-like” actors of the original material or celebrities with name recognition that can help give a foreign film a box office boost with the addition of their vocal talents. For example, the English-speaking dubbed version of Hayao Miyazaki’s Ponyo with Tina Fey, Cate Blanchett, and Matt Damon. 

Brina Palencia demonstrates what is voice acting for dubbing a popular anime

Other ways voice acting appears in live-action

All voice-overs utilized in live-action must come from an off-screen character, usually as a form of narration. It’s important to distinguish a clear difference between voice-over in live action film and ADR.

ADR stands for “automatic dialogue replacement” and often is needed when a live-action movie or TV show failed to record an actor’s lines properly while on-set due to a variety of reasons. 


Voice acting for radio and commercials

Perhaps you’ve heard Alison Janney’s voice tell you about Kaiser Permanente, or recognize Jon Hamm’s tone describing the newest Mercedes-Benz. Voice-over acting in commercials, similar to TV and film, is all about performing with an intonation that makes your performance memorable.

However, the technique for radio and commercial voice acting varies, especially if you’re not already an established actor. We’re going to go into more depth on both below. 

Radio Voice-over Acting

Due to radio commercials being a tighter period of time to get the message out, voice actors within this space are often encouraged to speak quickly and with clarity. This is where you’ll often find conversation between two nameless characters that feels more like patter than a laid-back chat.

Though there’s still elements of finding a “character” to the role of the voice actor, the style of radio voice-over acting tends to lean toward being a general “Everyperson” so as to not pull focus from the commercial’s messaging.

Commercial Voice-over Acting

This style of voice acting is similar to radio but is slightly more at ease, though still professional and polished. Most often in commercial voice-overs, the role of the voice actor is to play “narrator” to the live-action commercial itself. 

Another way to consider voice actors in this space is the unofficial “spokesperson” for the product. For celebrity endorsers, it’s utilizing their most memorable qualities in their voice to provide an unspoken endorsement. 

Will Arnett exploits his appearance on “Conan” to show the audience what voice acting is.


What is voice acting for video games?

We’re a far cry from Frogger. As technology has advanced, so too has the storytelling style of video games extending well beyond simple point-and-shoots. Many celebrities have lent their talents to video game voice over acting, but the draw of video game voice-over actors is less name recognition and more to create the verisimilitude of a believable, relatable character. 

When voice actors perform in video games, they’re required to go well beyond your typical script.

Since video games are a storytelling style that’s user-dictated, voice over actors can expect to record any number of lines for any given “scene,” as well as reaction sounds that will be prompted by the player’s actions.

Because of this, actors in this space often speak to the strenuous work required to get it “right” and the competitive nature of getting these roles at all. 

YouTuber Anthony Padilla ponders “What is voice acting” for video game actors


Voice acting for podcasts & audiobooks

Voice acting for podcasts and audiobooks depend on the performer’s connection to the material. Let’s start with podcasting: a voice actor for a podcast can take on any range of styles, depending on whether they’re hired to read a pre-written scripted podcast or whether they’re hosting a more improvisational conversation show.

For scripted podcasts, the style and technique mimics that of video game, TV and film voice acting, where getting into “character” is key. 

For conversational podcasts, the metric for success is looser, where the more important qualities are clarity, control, and audio quality. Usually, podcast hosts are wanting to inject energy into their audio performance to rally and engage the listener.

Although, there has been a trend in “boring on purpose” podcasts meant to lull the listener to sleep. In these cases, the content of the podcast itself and the performance of the voice actor is secondary to the goal of achieving this.

When voice acting for audiobooks, the voice actor’s role is to simply bring the material to life. If you’re a voice actor hired to read another author’s material, your goal is to make the text as clear as possible for the listener.

This style of voice acting is less about “acting” and more about the diction of enunciating your words.

When reading your own audio book that you wrote, the goal is to speak clearly and emotionally, connecting the reader to your process of writing the book.

Voice acting tips with “How Audiobooks are Recorded” by VOX on YouTube


How do you break into voice acting?

And where to audition for voice acting? The first step is to know what your “genre” is within the previously mentioned types of voice acting work. The second is to start practicing.

For decades, breaking into the world of voice acting required access to a professional-grade recording studio if only to record a “reel” to show to potential employers.

Within the last couple decades, access to high-tech at-home recording equipment has become increasingly easy, making this initial step more accessible for newcomers. Couple this with the advent of podcasts and it’s a simpler one-two punch for getting your foot in the door than ever before.

Though big feature film roles are still more commonly handed to celebrities with name recognition, there’s still plenty of opportunities for the entry-level voice actor to get in the mix.

Aspiring voice actors may want to seek the guidance of a “Voice Coach,” take “voice-over classes,” and assemble material that will ultimately be a “demo reel.” Unlike a live-action demo reel, the voice over reel doesn’t have to include clips where you’ve been professionally hired as a voice over actor.

Voice actors can record themselves “dubbing over” previous work, or simply showing off their range in their home studios. “Range” is the key here, and the measure of a strong voice over reel depends on how many different “genres” of the many voice acting styles you can demonstrate.

YouTuber Brizzy Voices details how to get into voice acting.


How much do voice actors get paid?

For a beginner, entry-level voice actors can expect to see an average salary of $25.96 an hour. However, that hourly rate can range from as low as $15/hour to $102/hour, depending on the project and the actor’s experience and skills. 

Within audiobooks and scripted podcasts, it’s not uncommon for voice actors to be paid by the word. For example, a voice actor reading a work that has 4,500 to 6,000 words can expect to be paid $750 to $1,000. Within commercial voice-over work, actors can expect to be paid an average $500-$750 for recording a 2-minute “spot” that will run for several weeks. Within video games, voice actors can be paid an average of $200-$350/hour.

Within every instance of voice acting, salary is dependent on the experience, skill, and name recognition. Famous voice actors like the cast of The Simpsons may be paid $400,000 an episode.

For a movie like Shrek, the voice cast ultimately negotiated an average salary of $35,000/hour for the subsequent sequels. 

“Shrek” stars Eddie Murphy and Antonio Banderas discuss voice acting in the movie

Up Next

Making Your Podcast Sound Great

A strong first step for any aspiring voice actor is to put their voice out there, and there’s no better or easier way to do this than by starting your own podcast. But how do you make it sound professional-quality with an amateur’s budget? Click on our article below for the best podcast recording software to pump up your future show.

Up Next: Best Podcast Software →
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  • Julia Mayfield is a writer/comedian from North Hollywood with a Bachelor's Degree in Film Studies from Chapman University. She's written for shows airing on Disney, Netflix, Nickelodeon, Amazon, and more.

1 comment

  1. I LOVE being able to see how people make VOICE ACTING as their job, I would LOVE to be a voice actor!!!!!

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