A voice-over (also known as “off-camera” or “off-stage commentary”) is a recording of someone's voice. There are multiple purposes for voice-overs. Generally these are divided in the following categories:
This the original or first way a voice-over has been used. It gives an on screen character, for instance a animated character, a voice and personality. Creative usage: a good example for this kind of voice-over is a character talking to him/herself or recapping a past occurrence.
This stands for all the non fictional ways a voice-over is used to tell a story. A good example for this is the beautiful and expertly used voice-over of David Attenborough on the documentary Earth. Also nice to note that the very well known profession of sports narrator is also considered a descriptive voice-over. Also belonging to this category are instructional video’s like music lessons or public service announcements.
This is predictably the most used kind of voice-over. Television commercials (TVC) and radio commercials (RC) alike use voice-overs to sell their products.
This kind of voice-over often fully replaces existing on screen dialogue with a different language. The difficulty is lip syncing the different languages as closely as possible. Interactive Voice Response (IVR) usage: this is also a well known usage of voice-over although it could be argued that it is a voice message instead of a voice -over. The voice-actor for a IVR states the options the company in question offers as clearly as possible thus funneling the client towards the right service personnel with the appropriate knowledge. Another usage is an on-hold message or audio prompt, which tells the customer how long there is to wait or where information is to be found.
Here the voice actor is presented centerstage and reads out and interprets a book, fictional or non fictional. There are multiple ways of presenting a book, but especially fictional books often use the (slightly) different voice usage per character way.
The first voice-over is considered to be Reginald Fessenden. He was a scientist who, after working for Thomas Edison, invented radio and made an transatlantic communication in december 1906. After that came Walter Disney, who brought to life a cartoon character you might know, Mickey Mouse, in 1928. Other very notable voice-overs are Mel Blanc, who personally dictated the market for Warner Brothers for a decade and is known as “The man of a 1000 voices, and of course Don LaFontaine, the voice-over brought a lot of change with his style and flair, most notably with the line “In a world …”.