Voice-Over vs. Dubbing: Two Sides of the Same Tone

If you've ever watched an old noir film—the ones where the troubled narrator rambles on about his dire circumstances in worried existential grief—then you’re probably familiar with voice-over. Employed through various ways in cinema, for which it’s garnered iconic in pop culture today, the technique actually has a more common, practical use in day-to-day news and radio.

When an interviewee speaks a foreign language, production companies typically use voice actors to record over the original audio. This way, the viewer hears the interviewee in the background speaking his or her language, while the voice actor interprets. In most cases, the volume of the voice actor is much louder and lags seconds behind the original audio track. This voice-over technique is useful because it allows the viewer to both hear and understand the speaker’s words at the same time. This is typically referred to as UN-Style voice-over.

Another audiovisual process is called dubbing. Not to be confused with the electronic music genre (yes, that one), dubbing is when all the elements of sound are mixed including the original production track with any additional recordings; joined together, they make a complete soundtrack. In the video production world, the phrase “dubbing” is used when the original speaker’s audio track is replaced entirely by the voice actor’s. Contrary to voice-over (UN-Style), which preserves the original track underneath the voice actor, the dub must be carefully timed and synchronized to match the speaker’s lips, meaning, and even intonations.  To be more specific, this is often referred to as lip-sync dubbing. As imagined, this process is arduous and lengthy; oftentimes, the voice actor is required to work with editors in a studio re-recording segments where the audio and visuals struggle to match.

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