How well do you know your Voice-Over Jargon?
Okay, but how well do you reeeeeaaaallllyyyy know it? The stages that a recording goes through to end up with the final audio can be numerous. Pieces of voice-over jargon like Buy-Out and ADR can make your head spin if you are not intimately familiar with this industry. There can be a multitude of jargon and lingo on the path to attaining your perfect voice-over, it can become a bit much if you aren’t an expert…
So, let’s make you an expert.
Voice-over, like all forms of production, is far from simple. It is a layered, living, breathing goliath, with the many different cogs all to take something from a script to a final performance in your project. Writing, recording, editing, producing, delivering; these are all basic elements to which we can attribute to the process of voice-over production – however, these are still far too generalised terms to fully explain what is happening behind the scenes of each stage of assembly.
This blog attempts to demystify the most common jargon and will clarify to you what goes on under-the-hood. This way you can remain in the loop and can make doubly sure that you are using and paying for elements you actually want and care for.
We are also working on a definitive list of terms you need to know, stay tuned!
Let’s take a look at the top 13 terms YOU need to know:
1. BSF (Basic Studio Fee/ Basic Session Fee)
This is jargon that cannot be ignored. The Basic Session Fee is exactly what it sounds like. It is the base cost that is paid to the voice actor for the time that they spend in the studio session. This does not literally translate to a fixed rate based solely on time, of course. And this fee will vary from artist to artist. An actor with more experience, or a project for a more prodigious client, will demand a higher fee, than someone who is new to this industry or for a less established business.
What is important to remember with the BSF is that this is arranged before the booking. A BSF may be a minimum set rate or is made in accordance with the duration of material or the word count of the script. You can explore BSF in greater detail here.
2. Rights/ IP (Intellectual Property)
This basically means “I own this” on the marketplace of ideas, products/brands and inventions.
There is some contention as to how this extends to one’s own voice, but it is certain that the use of one’s voice in a commercial capacity, particularly in the case of electronic devices or toys is definitely the Intellectual Property of the artist unless these rights are purchased in whole under contract by a customer.
The ownership of your own vocal audio performance means that it must be licensed from you, making you, the artist, privy to certain assurances. i.e. that you will be remunerated for its use, and reuse when expired because your performance belongs to you.
3. Usage/Licencing Fee
Another important piece of voice-over jargon for the business side of things. This refers to a business’ access to the rights to use voice-over audio over periods of time. If a voice is licenced for a period of two years, for instance, the recurring usage of that voice in the project after that agreed upon time period will require renewal. This renewal will remunerate the performer again for their extended services, as a continued proponent to the extended success of the project. This is relatively common for ventures that have larger audiences.
There is a trend for customers trying to own the audio usage rights in perpetuity, but we always recommend against this. Any respectable business should in turn respect the rights of the artists they are hiring. Learn more about usage fees.
Another “business” term! This one is simple, though. If you do not wish to renew a licencing fee for a performance, you can obtain a buy-out. This basically gives you absolute rights to the voice-over performance in the project, in perpetuity.
This means the audio is yours, to do with as you wish, for all time. This can be useful for educational or internal videos, with small, specific, professional audiences; however, this can come with some ethical concerns of exploitation if handled improperly, as we discuss in this article here!
5. Microphone (Yes, this is a big one)
While a microphone may not seem like voice-over jargon, the elements that make up the specifics of these mics certainly is.
To break things down, first and foremost, you want to have an XLR Microphone. This essentially boils down to the way the microphone connects to an interface being superior to some plug-in-and-play microphone that may connect to your PC via a USB. These are, in essence, a necessity for high-quality audio production and will definitely be a go-to in any voice-over recording space. To use one, you will need a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) which you can see further down our list of explained jargon and an audio interface. Read more about XLR mics.
Beyond this, there are all sorts of mics on the market but the two that concern us are Condenser and Dynamic Mics. A Condenser mic is highly sensitive, with a thinner diaphragm, capable of picking up tremendously low volumes and high frequencies, in detail. This is an excellent microphone for voice recordings as it is going to record every nuance of the voice actors performance.
Conversely, a Dynamic microphone is less sensitive. It is not as detailed or precise in regard to the, with faint noises and quieter frequencies being unlikely to be heard in recordings. While this may seem like a quantitative downgrade, this is not necessarily the case, as there are benefits to a less sensitive mic. Dynamic microphones tend to be used in live music and broadcast situations for their more ‘robust’ sound.
While studios have top-of-the-line acoustic treatment, with only sounds that are to be recorded being picked up by mics (great for a condenser mic), a home studio may have less efficient treatment. This may cause a condenser mic to pick up lots of extra background noise (no one wants to hear their neighbours going through their taxes in their voice-over recording!). A Dynamic mic could provide a clear benefit here, as it only picks up voices closer to it. It does, however, have a different sound character, and it may not be appropriate for a client. A Condenser microphone is generally better. Learn more about Microphones for voice-over use.
6. Pop Shield
Ever wonder what the Pop Noise is in a recording? We don’t hear them when talking in real life, so what gives?
Well, the reason you hear this is because of a thing called “plosive” sounds; these are essentially the blasts of air that occur when someone says a B or P or some other plosive sound into a mic. This can be a particularly nasty incident when using a Condenser mic, as they are more sensitive.
The counter to this problem is the Pop-Shield.
A Pop-Shield or Pop-Guard is a pretty simple device but is absolutely essential in the voice-over business. It is just a, typically circular, piece of nylon that sits in front of the microphone. The sound high-end sound frequencies travel through the nylon and remove any of the plosives as it travels through, with a very small amount of quality sacrificed in the process.
Think of it like a sieve but for sound (In fact you could use a sieve, but we don’t advise it!)
7. Audio Interface
These handy little devices are pretty much a must if you are planning on taking any audio-based work seriously, voice-over included. The essential role that these devices play is to be the conduit through which all your input and output connections will run. Professional microphones, instruments, speakers; all of these will run through the Audio Interface into and out of your PC to record and reproduce sound. This is a necessary piece of equipment for using any of the mics with the XLR connectors we discussed earlier.
In addition, any quality Audio Interface with an XLR input and phantom power will come with an integrated Pre-amp which will serve an important role in voice-over production. The pre-amp amplifies the the electrical signal from the microphone prior to being converted into a digital signal. This ensures that less digital noise or interference is converted into a digital signal and recorded. Read more about this.
8. DAW (Digital Audio Workstation)
The centre of command. The DAW is the pivotal hardware/software element that pulls everything together. The functions of the DAW are primarily to record, edit and mix sound for the purposes of processing for audio productions. This is a vital element to the voice-over.
DAWs can be acquired in standalone and software forms. While there are instances where an isolated unit for the DAW would be useful, it is more typical to just utilise a software DAW. The basic design is usually formed of a multi-track, timeline and editing tools to manipulate the audio appropriately. You can learn everything you need to know about DAW’s here.
9. Frequency, EQ (Equaliser) & Compressor (3 terms for the price of one!)
This is where the voice-over jargon gets a little bit science-y. Sound moves in waves; these waves are structured as waveforms which move through the air to reach our ears and produce heard sound. The amount of ‘waves’ within a set time, in the form of the peaks and troughs visible in the image below, is referred to as frequency. This is measure in Hertz (Hz).
You can learn more about sound frequency here.
An EQ is a plugin for your DAW that allows you to alter the volume (technically known as amplitude) of selected ranges of frequencies. This provides you with the ability to cut (lower) and boost (raise) the various frequencies in the audio clip. In voice-over, this can be necessary when editing a clip, which will result in a superior end product when done correctly. Proper (and minimal) use of EQ when recording will allow pre-emptive adjustments to be made in preparation for editing.
In essence, the more you think about this prior to editing, the less work you have during the edit.
Compressing audio is a useful tool that can sparingly be employed in voice-over recording. The act of compression is, put simply, to make the loudest sounds quieter and to make the lowest sounds louder (reducing the dynamic range). By bringing these sounds within the same realm of volume, the clip will sound less variable (dynamic) and more even to the ear.
After all, imagine hearing a whisper and scream in the same audio track. If the sound is not compressed, then the difference in the dynamic range would be unsettling.
On the flip side, one should be careful not to over-compress or it risks the audio sounding pinched with the peaks in the waveform flattened out completely. If you’re not sure how to use a compressor, then it’s best to not use it.
10. File Formats
There are many different audio file formats. They can be categorised into two types; Lossless and Lossy. This all comes down to file size and data compression; Lossy files, such as .MP3 files, delete seemingly insignificant elements of the audio data to create smaller files.
On the other hand, Lossless files do not delete these small elements of data, they remain fully intact, with no (or very little) data being lost. 24-Bit 44.1kHz Wav files are a good example of lossless files.
For the layman, this is not a particularly big deal. The data loss in a Lossy file is not going to make an audible impact on them. The average person probably won’t tell the difference. However, in professional voice-over for video games or commercials, this becomes a very important consideration.
For production purposes, keeping files in Lossless formats is best practice. This is because they will be able to be reopened and edited again and again. You can learn more about file formats here
A bit refers to a basic unit of information in digital communications and computing. Bitrate is the number of bits transferred over a period of time. For the purposes of voice-over, a higher bitrate generally means a superior audio quality, which then means a better sound for the listener. Most professional recording studios will record in 24-Bit or even 32-Bit, but 16-Bit is still commonly used for the voice-over. 16-Bit is the quality used on professional audio CDs.
There are arguments against too high a bit rate. Low-quality headphones and speakers will not make use of these improvements, and a high bitrate can be bottlenecked via streaming services. However, it generally makes sense to stick to the higher end of the bitrate options available and making choices about output bitrate depending on your distribution method and file formats.
12. ADR (Automated Dialogue Replacement)
ADR can be a long and arduous process for anyone who is not experienced in this field. This process boils down to re-recording audio lines to match the original actor’s mouth movements. This is intrinsically difficult, as the actor’s original speech patterns can be unpredictable in speed and delivery.
The general setup will have a voice-over artist watch the film, while they perform the ADR over the original performance; to ensure the new voice matches the original, as closely as possible.
This can be significantly difficult for actors working remotely as their studio will need to be prepared to afford this type of work.
Getting experience is paramount for ADR voice-over work. It is a common practice in Hollywood blockbusters and learning ADR technique is certainly something any aspiring voice-over artist should watch out for.
The act of dubbing over a voice-over is basically a language replacement technique; usually performed in service of translation and localisation purposes. However, there are instances where this can be used in a film’s original language. This removes technical faults and provides better quality audio than was available on set.
When a dub is employed, similarly to ADR, it is more complicated than simply just speaking the translated lines. The dub’s timing must be in synch with the mouth movements of the original performance. Therefore, the script must also be written to match the timings of the original.
So, all in all, that is our list of the top 13 pieces of voice-over Jargon for 2021. This list is just our take though, we would love for you to give us a heads up on what is on your list. Have your say and tweet us your #1 terms! Tweet us @Voquent
This is just the beginning. Soon, as-if-by-magic, we are going to build a massive directory of voice-over terms. Stay tuned!
- Writer: Michael Sum
- Editor: Al Black