Saturday, August 24, 2013

"Voiceover" does NOT equal "audiobook narration"

A newly posted article on The Atlantic website backs me up on one of my pet peeves: the conflation of "voiceover" with "audiobook narration". The two are leagues apart, yet so many "reliable sources" on the Internet treat the two as if they were the same thing.

Here's a pointed quote from the article (written by an author who was considering options for the creation of an audiobook version of one of her works):
"The voices of the performers the audiobook company asked me to choose from sounded, if not robotic exactly, more like the Hertz NeverLost lady than Meryl Streep."
This quote hits it on the head: Somebody who can provide the voiceover for a 30-second blurb to sell Big Gulps at Seven-Eleven does not necessarily have any idea how to narrate and produce a long-form narrative work in audiobook format. (An athlete gifted in the 100-meter dash would not necessarily be able to credibly compete in a marathon without properly training for it.)

I am NOT saying that a "voiceover artist" could not do a good job with audiobook narration, but experience with one does not automatically transfer to the other.

BTW, another standard conflation is this: the powers-that-be also seem to think that anyone with a Screen Actors Guild membership card can automatically narrate audiobooks. Some no doubt can, but one does not automatically give the other.


Edit Sept. 7, 2013: It appears the folks at Brilliance Audio (who have obviously been in the audiobook business a LONG time) agree with drawing a clear distinction between "audiobook narration" and "voiceover". On their "Careers at Brilliance Audio" webpage, they give this succinct instruction to those who would send them audiobook narration audition materials:
We are not interested whatsoever in voice over or commercial work examples.
I'm supposing theirs to be the voice of experience, to which I defer.


  1. Most in the voice over industry would classify audiobook narration as a type of voice over. You seem to be classifying "voice over" as "commercial voice over," which is only one of many different flavors, just as audiobook narration is. Others include animation, interactive, promos, trailers, IVR... So, you're right in the sense that audiobook narration is not the same thing as commercial voice over. But it IS "voice over;" just a different form of it from what you seem to be defining it as. No doubt requiring a different skill set from commercial VO, but both are part of the VO industry.

    1. Hi Kyle,

      Thanks very much for your comment, and so expeditiously posted after my original blog posting! I very much appreciated it!!

      To break this down a bit, it appears that there are (at least) three separate things that are being discussed here:

      (1) the formal definition of "voice-over", as maintained by the official arbiters of the English language, which is clearly as I portrayed it in my original posting.
      See, among several others, Merriam-Webster's definition [], and the current Wikipedia article on the topic [].

      (2) the common-usage definition of "voice-over", as it is evolving in day-to-day usage, particularly by people involved in industries which use the term.
      This may be evolving in the directions that you portray. However, no less of an authority than Scott Brick (arguably the world's most famous and successful audiobook narrator), on his website's homepage [], makes the clear distinction between his three lines of work: "writer", "voiceover actor", and "audiobook narrator". In his common usage, clearly he holds voice-over work to be separate and distinct from audiobook work.

      (3) the results (positive, negative, or neutral) of lack of a clear delineation between the various spoken-word art forms currently being practiced.
      I think we both agree that there is a need to distinguish, both in language and in practice, between short-form work (as used in commercial ads, or by Don Pardo introducing an episode of "Saturday Night Live", or [brilliantly] by Martin Sheen over the opening scenes of "Apocalypse Now"), and long-form narration work (as used in the old days by folks like Homer, and in more modern times by those of us who narrate audiobooks).

      The author of the recent article in The Atlantic [] (which prompted me to start this conversation) attests to the problem: that (in her opinion) the artists sent to her by the audiobook division of her publisher all seemed quite capable of the kind of short-form spoken-word artistry that's good for selling cars, but not a one of them had the capacity to suitably narrate a long-form work of modern literature (her book). The author's experience adds confirmation to what my ears have been telling me for years: that a significant slice of the artists and executives involved in the audiobook industry do not recognize any difference between short-form voice-over work and long-form audiobook narration. And if the common-usage definition of "voice-over" is evolving as you think it is, then the ambiguity of the terminology may partly be exacerbating the problem.

  2. Hi, I was simply checking out this blog and I really admire the premise of the article On Voice Over Artists and this is really informative. I will for sure refer my friends the same. Thanks

  3. Totally agree with the OP though. Was listening to a couple Big Publisher audio books lately, and the "readers" sound very choppy and over enunciate every word when reading narration. They tend to be SLLLLLLLOOOOOOOOOOWWWWWWWWWWW! as well.

    Speaking clearly and crisply is essential. But it shouldn't feel like the person is reading -- which I hear all too often. A lot of the times I get the impression that the narrators are more worried about flubbing a word than getting the rhythm of a sentence down.

    I know a novel is a long haul, but c'mon. You can just reread a line you flub. It isn't a huge deal. And besides, you should be used to that because that's how TV, film, and radio that is pre-recorded all works.

    I'd much rather hear a novel read at a brisk pace, keeping the energy and rhythm of the words flowing, rather than a lecture -- BEULLER? BEULLER? BEULLER?