By Stephanie Ciccarelli
We’re pleased to present you with this amazing voice-over glossary created by Marc Cashman of Cashman Commercials!
This glossary of terms used in the field of voice-over, or voice acting, could be one of the most comprehensive compilations of terms available.
It has been distilled from many sources (see bibliography) and is fairly up-to-date.
A few words and phrases may be arcane, but Marc wanted the glossary be as inclusive as possible. If you find some definitions lacking in scope and/or specificity, or if you feel that some terms have been left out, we encourage you to email suggestions or suggested revisions. If they help clarify the definition they will be incorporated into this glossary.
GLOSSARY OF TERMS USED IN VOICE OVER
AFTRA: American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. A union for Radio and TV actors and voice actors.
account: An advertiser, also referred to as a client.
account executive: The person at the ad agency who serves as a liaison between the agency and the client.
ADR: Automated Dialogue Replacement in a film. A process where actors replace dialogue in a film or video.
ad lib: A spontaneous spoken addition or alteration to a written script.
agent: A person or group of people who represent talent and bring them into their facility to audition, or arrange for an actor to audition for casting directors and producers.
air: Also known as airtime, it’s the media time slotted for a commercial, hence on the air.
air check: A recorded portion of a radio program for demonstration purposes.
ambience: The continuous SFX behind voice-over suggesting the monologue or dialogue in a specific setting, like a hospital, restaurant, retail store, gas station, etc.
analog: The old way of processing and recording sound on tape.
animatic: A rough version of a TV spot, usually with storyboard images set to music and voice-over, for client presentation of a concept.
announcement: A commercial or non-commercial message. Also referred to as a spot.
announcer: The role assigned to a voice-actor that usually has non-character copy. Abbreviated as ANN or ANNC on scripts.
articulation: Clear enunciation.
attitude: How the character feels about a certain product, or how an actor comes across in general.
audio: Transmission, reception or reproduction of sound.
audition: A non-paying, trial performance for voice talent where voice-over copy is read. Usually takes place at an agent’s office, an ad agency, a casting director’s office, or a production company’s studio, and usually the best actor is selected for the final jobâ€¦usually.
availability: Literally, the time an actor is available for a session. Advertisers or producers will call an agent to find out about an actor’s availability.
back bed: The instrumental end of a jingle, usually reserved for location, phone numbers, legal disclaimers, or any other information the advertiser needs to add.
background: Known also as background noise, it’s what’s placed behind the voice-over. Mainly music or sound effects.
balls: A deep, resonant sound.
bed: The music or SFX behind or under an announcer’s voice.
billboard: The emphasis given a certain word or phrase in a script. Usually, a rectangle, or billboardâ€ is drawn around the client name and/or product.
bleed: Noise from the headphones being picked up by the microphone or from other ambient sources, like other tracks.
board: The audio console from which the engineer operates. The audio engineer has faders that adjust the volume and mix the various elements in a Radio spot. Also known as a console.
booking: A decision and commitment on the advertiser’s part to hire you for a session. The client calls the actor or actor’s agent to book an actor for a job. Your agent would say, You have a booking at 1PM tomorrow.
boom: An overhead mic stand.
booth: An enclosed, soundproofed room where voice talent usually works.
branching: Recording one part of a sentence with variables within that sentence as a means of customizing a response. Often recorded for multimedia games and voice mail systems. Also known as concatenation.
break up: When vocal audio becomes distorted and unstable, usually caused by equipment problems or telephone line interference.
bump: Either to remove a person from a casting list, or as an additional amount of studio time in a session. Also known as a bumper.
butt-cut: When sound files are placed together tightly, particularly for a V-O demo.
button: A single scripted or improvised word, phrase or sentence at the end of a spot that clinches the commercial without introducing additional copy points. See sting.
buy: As in That’s a buy.â€ Also known as a keeper. It’s the take the client selects as the best. Buy also refers to the amount of money spent on the media time for a commercial spot or campaign.
buy-out: A one-time fee paid for voice-over services on a commercial. Common in many non-union situations and industrials, as well as CD ROMs, dubbing, looping and A.D.R. work.
cadence: How breaks are placed between words.
call-back: A second shot at an audition. One step closer to booking the spot.
call letters: The letters assigned to a Radio station by the FCC. Stations east of the Mississippi River have call letters starting with W, while stations that are west of the Mississippi have names starting with K.
call time: The time scheduled for an audition.
cans: Another word for headphones.
cattle call: An audition where hundreds of people try out for a part on a first-come-first-served basis.
CD-ROM: Compact Disc-Read Only Memory.
character: The person an actor is cast as in a spot.
Class A: National network commercial usage.
cold read: An audition where an actor is given no time to rehearse.
color: Subtle speech nuances that give texture and shading to words to make them interesting and meaningful.
commercial: Also referred to as a spot, it is a pre-recorded message which advertises a product or service. Sometimes abbreviated as COMML.
compression: Reduces the dynamic range of an actor’s voice. Engineers apply compression to cut through background music and sound effects.
conflict: Doing two commercials for the same kind of product. An agent will clarify with the client whether doing a specific spot would put an actor in conflict.
console: A large desk-like piece of equipment where the audio engineer monitors, records and mixes a voice-over session.
control room: Where the engineer and producer (and many times, the client) are located. This is usually a separate room from the booth.
copy: Also known as the script. It’s the text of a spot.
copy points: The specific benefits of a product or service, placed throughout the script by the copywriter.
Creative Director: The person at the ad agency responsible for the work of all the other creatives.
cross talk: When copy spoken into one actor’s microphone is picked up by another mic. The sound is said to spill over or bleed into the other actor’s mic.
cue: An electronic or physical signal given to an actor to begin performing.
cue up: Matching to time and speed, lining up an actor’s voice to the visuals or music.
cut: A specific segment of the voice-over recording, usually referred to during editing.
cut and paste: The act of assembling different takes into a composite, edited whole.
cutting through: When a voice slices through,â€ or doesn’t get drowned out by music and sound effects.
DAT: An abbreviation for digital audiotape, high-quality audiotape used in sound studios.
dead air: When a voice-over pause is too long.
decibel: A unit for measuring the intensity of sound. 0 would be no sound, 130 would cause acute aural pain.
de-esser: A piece of equipment used to remove excess sibilance.
demo: A demonstration of an actor’s voice talent. A 3-D calling card, representing the actor when they cannot be present physically. Also, a format used by ad agencies to present an idea to a client. An actor is paid a demo rate to perform a demo session. These demos are usually not broadcast, but if they are accepted as is, the demo is upgraded to a session fee.
demographics: The components that describe the target audience. This is done by age, sex, income, education, etc.
dialogue: A script calling for two people talking to each other.
digital recording: A process where sound is converted into numbers and stored on a DAT or computer hard drive.
director: The person responsible for giving an actor voice-over direction in an audition, session or class.
distortion: Fuzziness in the sound quality of a recorded piece.
donut: A section of a spot that will usually feature another voice, usually an announcer. Many times it’s the section of a jingle that showcases an announcement.
double: A term for a two-person spot, or dialogue.
drive time: The most frequently listened to times on the Radio. Morning drive refers to the hours between 6AM and 10AM, evening drive refers to the slot between 3PM and 7PM.
drop off: Not ending strong at the end of a word or phrase.
drop out: A minute moment of silence inside a recorded word or phrase.
dry mouth: A condition where your mouth has little or no saliva.
dub: Also called a dupe (as in duplicate), it’s copy of a spot or spots on cassette, DAT or CD. The verb to dub, or dubbing is the process of transferring recorded material from one source to another.
dubbing: This dubbing is the process of dialogue replacement in a foreign film, as in dubbing a French voice into English.
earphones: Also known as cans, headphones or headsets. Worn during the session to hear your own voice as well as cues and directions from the engineer or producer. Also used to converse with the client during an ISDN or phone-patch session.
echo: A repetition of sound.
editing: The removal, addition or re-arrangement of recorded material. Voice elements can be spread apart, slowed down, speeded up, clipped, eliminated, etc. to achieve the final take.
EFX: Effects. Another term for SFX.
ellipsis: Three periods in a row that usually signify a pauseâ€¦
engineer: The person who operates the audio equipment during the voice-over session.
equalization: Also known as EQ, it is used to stress certain frequencies, which can alter the sound of a voice.
eye-brain-mouth coordination: What every good voice actor has to have. It is the ability to liftâ€ the words off a page effortlessly, without omitting, adding or stumbling.
FCC: The Federal Communications Commission. Created in 1944 to regulate all interstate and foreign communications by Radio and TV.
fade: To increase or decrease the volume of sound.
fade in/fade out: When you turn your head away from the mic or towards it.
false start: Situation where a talent makes a mistake within the first line or two of copy. The take is usually stopped and sometimes re-slated.
feedback: A distorted, high pitched sound, usually emanating from headphones or speakers. Many times caused by problems with the console or headphones getting too close to the microphone.
filter: What engineers put on a mic to make an actor sound clearer.
fish-bowl effect: When the actor in the booth cannot hear what the engineer or producer is saying, or vice-versa.
fluctuation: How often a voice goes up or down, also known as inflection.
Foley: Also known in the business as a Foley Stage, this is a special sound stage used for source sound effects. Used to record up-close sound effects for film or video, where the Foley artists match sound with picture, such as walking, running, doors opening or closing, glass breaking, shots firing, etc.
franchised: Term applied to talent agents who adopt AFTRA guidelines.
front bed: The opposite of the back bed, where the announce is at the beginning of a jingle.
gain: The volume of a voice, or a fader on the console.
gig: A job. A sig gig is a union job.
gobos: Portable partitions positioned around the actor to absorb or reflect sound, or to isolate the actor from another on-mic actor.
good pipes: Description of a talent with vocal strength, authority and resonance.
go up for: To audition or to be considered for a job. I’m up for a Ford national,â€ means that an actor is in contention for a national network commercial for Ford.
hard sell: Approach used for high volume retail clients. One producer refers to hard sell as: I’ll stop shouting when you start buying!â€
harmonizer: Also referred to as a Munchkiniser, it’s a piece of equipment designed to change the pitch of the voiceâ€”usually upward.
headset: A set of headphones. See cans.
high speed dub: A copy of a tape or CD made at several times normal speed.
highs: The high frequency sound of a voice.
hold: When a potential client likes an audition enough to hold some of an actor’s time for a possible booking–a step before the booking. Usually the client is deciding between a couple of voice-acting candidates and wants to cover their bets.
holding fee: The money an actor receives if the client wants to hold a spot for airing at a later date.
hook: Starting out on a high note on the first word of a spot to grab attention and immediately dipping down. Also used to describe the chorus section of a song.
hot: Term used to describe a mic that’s on.
house demo: An agency’s demo, the condensed version (each actor has only a one minute demo) of their roster of male and female talent.
in-house: A production produced for the client in the client’s own facilities.
in the can: A phrase connoting that a part of the copy or the entire spot is acceptable and done.
inflection: The raising or lowering of voice pitchâ€”a way of reinforcing the meaning of a word by changing the way it is said. See also fluctuation.
ISDN: Integrated Services Digital Network. Special high-quality lines that allow voice recording to be digitally transmitted from one recording facility to another.
jingle: A musical commercial.
laundry list: A string of copy points–adjectives or prices and items in the copy. Sometimes a list of benefits of the product or service. The object for the talent is to read them with various emphasis so they don’t sound like a list.
lay it down: Another phrase meaning let’s record.â€
lay out: Don’t speak, as in Lay out while the music plays in this section.â€
level: To set a voice at the optimal point. When the engineer says, Let’s get a level,â€ the actor will start reading the copy at the level they’ll be speaking throughout the spot.
library music: Pre-recorded music that producers use when the budget doesn’t allow original music. Each piece of music requires a fee to be paid, usually on an annual basis.
lines: The copy that’s read by the voice talent. To run lines is to rehearse a dialogue with another actor.
line reading: When a producer explains to a voice talent how they want a line read by reading it themselves.
live mic: The mic is on and can pick up everything said in the booth. That means everyone in the control room. See hot.
live tag: The copy delivered at the end of a spot, usually by a staff announcer at the Radio station.
local: Refers to the union in a particular locale. Usually accompanied by a number, i.e., AFTRA Local 47.
looping: The older technology of recording background sound effects and noises for TV or film. Done in post-production after the show is recorded.
lows: The low frequency of a voice.
major markets: Refers to the Big Threeâ€: New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. These markets pay the most in voice-over work.
marking copy: Placing different marks above, below, around, in between and circling words on a script. Best done in pencil, because direction or emphasis may change.
master: The original recording that all dubs are made from.
mic: A common form of the word mike, as in microphone.
milking: Stretching words out and giving them as much emphasis as possible, as in Milk it.â€
mix: The blending of voice, sound effects, music, etc. Final mix usually refers to the finished product.
monitors: The loudspeakers in the control room.
monologue: One-person copy. Also referred to as a single.
mouth noise: The clicks and pops a microphone picks up from a dry mouth.
MP3: The name of the file extension and also the name of the type of file for MPEG, audio layer 3. Layer 3 is one of three coding schemes (layer 1, layer 2 and layer 3) for the compression of audio signals. Layer 3 uses perceptual audio coding and psycho acoustic compression to remove all superfluous information (more specifically, the redundant and irrelevant parts of a sound signal. The stuff the human ear doesn’t hear anyway. The result in real terms is layer 3 shrinks the original sound data from a CD (with a bit rate of 1411.2 kilobits per one second of stereo music) by a factor of 12 (down to 112-128kbps) without sacrificing sound quality.
multiple: Refers to script with three or more characters in it.
multitrack: A machine capable of recording and replaying several different tracks at the same time.
music bed: The soundtrack that will be placed behind the copy, or mixed in with it.
non-union: A voice-over job that is paid off the books, under the tableâ€”not through the union. A non-union shop is one that is not a signatory to SAG or AFTRA.
off-camera: A part where an actor supplies only their voice to a TV spot or video presentation.
on mic/off mic: Either speaking or not speaking directly into the microphone. An actor is always on mic when recording, unless shouting, and then turns his head slightly to speak off mic.
outtake: A previous take that hasn’t been approved and accepted.
overlapping: When an actor starts his or her line a moment before another actor finishes theirs.
over scale: Any amount paid over the minimum wage set by AFTRA or SAG.
over-the-top: Direction that makes the copy sound larger than life, requiring the actor to overact.
pace: The speed in which an actor reads copy.
paper noise: Sound that the mic picks up as you move your script. Set it on the mic stand and leave it alone. If you have two pieces of copy and no stand, hold one page in each hand. If you have more than two pages, you may stop, place the next page in front of you, and continue. The engineer will accommodate you, as they don’t want to have to edit out paper noise.
patch: To make an electrical/digital connection for recording and/or broadcast. Also referred to as a phone patch or land patch.
paymaster: A payroll service that handles talent payments for the producer.
phasing: When sound reflects or bounces of certain surfaces and causes a weird, disjointed effect in the recording.
phonemes: The small units of sound used to make words.
phones: A short word for headphones.
pick-up: Re-recording a section of copy at a certain point. 90% of your read may be a in the can, but there may be a phrase, sentence or paragraph that the director feels could be done a bit better, clearer, faster, slower, etc. The director tells you exactly where they want you to pick-upâ€ your line(s)â€”where to start from and where to end at. Read a sentence or phrase before the pick-up starting point, as well as the ending point. This is done to help the engineer better edit the pick-up, matching phrasing and levels.
pick-up session: An additional session to complete the original. There may be copy changes or character changes in a spot before it finally airs. This is usually due to the client changing their mind before they commit the spot to air.
pitch: The musical level at which a person speaks.
placement: Where the mic is positioned when an actor is reading.
playback: Listening to what has just been recorded.
plosive: Any consonant or combination of consonants that causes popping.
plus ten: Refers to the contractual agreement in which the producer agrees to add an additional 10% to the actor’s payment for the agent’s commission.
pop: When voice sounds are registering too hard into the mic. Usually caused by plosives.
pop filter: A foam cover enveloping the mic or a nylon windscreen in front of the mic. Mitigates popping. Also known as a pop stopper.
post-production: Also known as post. The work done after the voice-talent has finished recording the session. This includes mixing in SFX and music.
pre-life/pre-scene: The previous history an actor invents for his character.
producer: The person in charge of the voice-over session. Many times the producer is also the director.
promo: A promotional commercial spot used by TV and Radio stations specifically to increase audience awareness of upcoming programming.
protection: Also known as insurance, this is an additional take requested by the producer to insure that they have a back-up of a take they like. Usually phrased as, One more for protection.â€
PSA: Public Service Announcement. Commercials produced to raise awareness of current issues, such as smoking, drug abuse, pollution, pregnancy, etc.
punch: Reading a word or line with more intensity.
punch in: Sometimes referred to as a pick-up, it’s the rejoining or continuation of a piece of copy. The engineer will punch in a pick-up at a certain point in the copy, to help with editing later on.
read: The style of reading an actor presents as a voice talent, or your performance, as in That was a good read.â€
real-time: An event that takes as long as it actually takes, as opposed to high-speed.
released: Being dropped from consideration from a voice-over job. It’s one of two results from being on hold.
residuals: Continuing payments an actor receives every 13-weeks their spot airs. Also referred to as 13 weeks per spot per cycle.
resonance: The full quality of a voice created by vibrations in resonating chambers, such as the mouth and sinus areas.
re-use: What actors are paid when their spot is re-run. It is usually the same amount they received for the first 13-week cycle.
reverb: A variation of echo. It’s an effect added to your voice in post.
room tone: The sound a room makes without anyone in it.
rough mix: The step before the final mix. This is when the producer and engineer fine-tune levels of voice, music and sound effects.
run-through: Rehearsing the copy before recording. Like a dress rehearsal.
SAG: Screen Actors’ Guild. The union for film actors and performers.
safety: This is a re-take that the producer or client wants to make sure that if there’s something technically wrong with the take they like, they have a back up. Let’s do one more for safety,â€ is a common phrase. See protection.
S.A.S.E.: Self-addressed stamped envelope.
SFX: Shorthand for sound effects. Also seen as EFX.
scale: The minimum, established wages set by SAG and AFTRA for working talent. Double scale or triple scale refers to these wages times 2 or 3.
scale plus 10: Refers to the extra 10% paid to the actor’s agent on a job.
scratch track: A rough audio or video track that a production company or ad agency may put together for an actor to read to. See animatic.
series of three: Term used to describe a set of wild lines to be recorded, done in a set of three. Each read should be varied slightly.
session: The event where a talent performs a script for recording purposes.
session fee: Payment for the first commercial within the session. If an actor does two spots, they get a session fee plus payment for the other spot. If the same actor does a tag, they get a separate tag fee. And if they record only two tags, they get paid session plus one tag.
shave: To pare down your read, as in, Can you shave three seconds off that read?â€
sibilance: A drawn out or excessive Sâ€ sound during speech. Some sibilance is joined with a whistle. This is a very annoying sound, which some engineers mitigate with a sound tool called a de-esser.
sides: Commercial scripts for video, where the action is in the left column, the dialogue on the right, or animation.
signatory: Someone (usually a producer or ad agency) who has signed a contract with SAG or AFTRA stating that they will only work on union jobs and promise to pay talent union scale.
signature: The specific quality of a voice that makes it unique.
single: Also known as a monologue, or one-person copy.
slate: Announcing a name and/or a number before a take, usually paired with the character the actor is playing. The slate helps the director and engineer identify and keep track of the actors and the various takes. Most slates are announced by the engineer, but sometimes the actors slates their own name.
spec: Volunteering your services and postponing payment until a project sells. The popular definition is working for nothing now on the promise of getting more than you deserve later on.â€
spokesperson: Also referred to as spokes. A voice actor who is hired on a repeat contractual basis to represent a product or company.
spot: A commercial. Originated from the days when all commercials were performed live, in between songs played on the radio. The performers were on the spot.â€
stair stepping: Having the pitch progressively rise up or down as a means of defining phrases. This technique is especially effective when reading laundry lists.
stand: Where copy is placed in the booth.
station I.D.: A short sound bite where the call letters of the station are announced or sung.
steps: Increasing the energy on a long list of adjectives or superlatives.
storyboard: The art director’s and copywriter’s conception of a TV spot, drawn on a large board for presentation to a client. The talent gets to see what the on-camera actors are doing in the spot. See animatic.
studio: The facility where all recording and mixing for a commercial takes place.
sweeps: The TV and Radio ratings periods when the total viewing or listening audience is estimated, thereby determining advertising rates. These occur in February, May and November.
sync: Matching a voice from a previous take. Also refers to aligning tracks to start or end together.
Taft-Hartley: This labor law protects an actor from having to join the union for their first job. She has to join AFTRA if she’s hired for another union job within 30 days.
tag: Information placed at the end of a commercial containing a date, time, phone number, website address, legal disclaimer, etc. A different announcer sometimes reads the tag.
take: The recording of one specific piece of voice-over copy. All takes are numbered consecutively, usually slated by the engineer.
talent: A broadcast performer, entertainer or voice-over artist.
talkback: Refers to the button connected to the microphone in the engineer’s console. It allows the engineer or director to talk to the talent in the booth.
tease: The introductory line used to promote interest. Promos are sometimes referred to as teasers.
tempo: The speed at which copy is delivered.
tight: Not a lot of time to read, or referring to a script that has a lot of words and not much time to say them in, e.g., This is a really tight :60.â€
time: Literally, the length of a spot. Most Radio spots time in at :60, TV spots at :30.
time code: A digital read-out on the engineer’s console referring to audiotape, videotape positions. Used in film dubbing.
tone: A specific sound or attitude.
track: Either to record, or the actual audio piece. We’re ready to track,â€ as opposed to Listen to this track.â€
trailer: A commercial that promotes a film or video release.
undercutting: Dipping down in a sentence and throwing a portion of it away.
units: The number assigned by AFTRA and SAG to cities throughout the U.S. Each city varies in their amount of unit value by their population. This directly affects the amount of money an actor receives in residuals.
use fee: An additional fee paid to the performer when their spot is actually aired.
value added: Refers to words in a script that give the impression you’re getting more than you paid for. Plus, free, new, improved and extra are examples.
voice print: The vocal equivalent of fingerprints. Can be seen on the monitor of any computer using a ProToolsÂ® or similar sound tool.
V-O: Short for voice-over. Also seen as AVO (announcer voice-over). It’s the act of providing a voice to a media project, where the voice is usually mixed over the top of music and SFX. Voice-over was the term originally used to describe an announcer’s voice on a television spot, referring to the process as voice over picture.â€ The more accurate term now is voice acting, which is the art of using the voice to bring life to written words.
VU meter: A meter on the engineer’s console that indicates the level of sound passing through the board.
walla: The sound of many voices talking at once, used as background sounds for a party or restaurant. Originally, it was thought that saying the words walla wallaâ€ over and over again in the background would simulate good sound ambiance for a crowded scene, but the prevailing view now is that actors doing walla should converse in the way they would normally do so in that situation.
wet: A voice or sound with reverb added to it.
wild line: A single line from a script that is reread several times in succession until the perfect read is achieved. It’s considered wild because it is read separately from the entire script. Often performed in a series of three, where the actor reads the line three times in a row without interruption. Each line is read slightly differently, unless otherwise directed.
wild spot: A flat fee for a spot that airs for an indeterminate number of times within a 13-week cycle. Can be local, regional or national.
windscreen: A pop filter, or pop stopper.
woodshed: To rehearse or practice reading copy out loud. From the old days of theater where actors would have to rehearse in a woodshed before going out to perform.
wrap: The end, as in That’s a wrap.â€