Voice Acting

How to Choose Music for Your Voice Over Demos

Tara Parachuk | October 1, 2020

Voice over microphone positioned next to a keyboard and a computer screen

Music is an omnipresent aspect of many of our daily lives, but when it comes to industry standards in the voice acting arena, voice over music has a specific time and place. 

In this article

  1. The Emotional Heft of Music 
  2. Choosing Voice Over Music 
  3. 4 Tips for Choosing Voice Over Music: 
  4. Subtlety is key
  5. Know when to forego music altogether and do a dry recording
  6. Avoid music that will date your demo
  7. Use royalty-free music
  8. Choose Your Voice Over Music on a Case-by-Case Basis 

With the ubiquity of voice-activated devices and audio platforms in the modern world, it’s no wonder that we go about our days consuming a constant stream of audio content, living our lives to the soundtrack of our favorite music and podcasts. However, when you’re working as a professional voice actor, you ought to be detailed and discreet about the voice over music you use to accompany your vocal performance. 

In many cases, voice over music can overpower and detract from the actual vocal delivery in a recording. When you aren’t careful about the voice over music you select, then you run the risk of ruining the recording entirely, and losing out on a job.

Whether you’re recording a voice over demo, audition, or the final file for a job that you’ve been hired for, there are a few voice over music best practices that you should be sure to keep in mind. Read on to discover how your voice over music choices can impact the way your work is ultimately received.  

The Emotional Heft of Music 

Music is inherently emotional. Instead of appealing to our intellect, like so many other art forms, music elicits an immediate emotional response. American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was right on the money when he wrote that “music is the universal language of mankind.” 

Music also does a lot more than simply sound pleasant in the background of a recording. Depending on the type of music you pair with a voice over recording, you can alter the entire mood of a scene, or evoke a strong emotional reaction that wouldn’t have otherwise been possible were it not for the music. 

In fact, Voices content producer Randy Rektor highlighted the power that backing music and sound effects have to influence not just the ambience of an audio work, but its entire narrative. “Just by changing one audio file,” Rektor explains, “you can change the entire setting of a conversation, like placing the speakers in a coffee shop versus putting them in a fine dining restaurant.” 

Choosing Voice Over Music 

When strategically and professionally executed, the right backing music can enhance a voice over recording and make a performance stand out from the crowd. The role of voice over music isn’t to compete with a vocal performance but to subtly improve it by drawing out the emotion in the copy, and add to the overall presentation in a relevant and aesthetically pleasing manner. 

Here are four essential tips to keep in mind when you’re thinking of incorporating voice over music into your recording: 

4 Tips for Choosing Voice Over Music: 

Subtlety is key

The music that you edit into your recording shouldn’t crowd it with extra noise. Even if you’re aiming for an over-the-top climax or a poignant, tear-jerking moment, you should primarily use the vocal delivery to achieve this effect. 

The voice over music that you use should be complementary to your voice, but it shouldn’t be relied on to do all the heavy lifting. First and foremost, your voice over demos ought to demonstrate what you can bring to the table as a voice actor—not an audio engineer

Know when to forego music altogether and do a dry recording

Auditions should almost always be submitted as dry voice samples. This means that the recording will feature little-to-no supplementary production elements such as musical backing, sound effects, or vocal processing. When a client gets to hear how your voice naturally sounds, as opposed to being barraged by an overwhelming sonic mélange, then they will be able to focus solely on the quality of your performance and whether it meets their needs. 

It’s important to know that while some categories of voice over will ultimately be paired with music, such as TV commercials, animation projects, and movie trailers, there are other categories that very rarely use music. When you’re producing a demo for an audiobook or elearning course, then you should refrain from including any voice over music altogether. 

Avoid music that will date your demo

If you’re producing a new voice over demo that will represent your vocal abilities for years to come, then you ought to be wary about the genre of voice over music you choose. Styles of music can pass in and out of fashion pretty rapidly, and if the track you use is primarily associated with a particular era, you might find that the music instantly dates your demo beyond the point of salvation. 

While period music that evokes a bygone era can have this effect, you can run into the same pitfalls when you edit ultramodern tracks into your recording. The music may feel relevant and trendsetting today, but in the blink of an eye, it could be transporting listeners back in time to the one summer that style of music was popular. 

Use royalty-free music

Once you’ve decided that your recording will benefit from the inclusion of music, then it’s time to start searching for just the right track to enhance your piece. At this point in the process, it’s important that you make sure to use only music that you have the rights to. 

There are a number of online resources where you can find royalty-free music. Some stock music libraries offer free downloads, and others require you to purchase the rights to use the music in your recordings. Some of the best online music libraries for you to check out include YouTube Audio Library, Audio Jungle, Epidemic Sound, Storyblocks, PremiumBeat, Soundstripe, and Bensound, and there are plenty of others out there depending on what you’re looking for. 

Choose Your Voice Over Music on a Case-by-Case Basis 

There are a number of benefits to using voice over music once you know how to do it correctly. For one, voice over music can complement your vocal performance, it can tactfully add an emotional undercurrent to the content of the recording, and it can even show off your audio engineering expertise. 

However, there are also a number of circumstances where you’d be better off by opting to avoid using voice over music, and presenting your delivery in as simple of a fashion as possible. This is especially the case when you are submitting an audition or when you’re lending your voice to an elearning course or audiobook. 

Whether you are a talented voice actor or a professional in search of the voice for your next project, sign up for a Voices account to get access to a wide range of expert voice over services today.

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  • Avatar for Howard Ellison
    Howard Ellison
    January 18, 2011, 3:37 pm

    What seriously useful advice Stephanie, thankyou! Another piece to pin up on the gallery. For what it’s worth, I let a snatch of music punctuate dry demos in a medley. I would think it’s difficult to assess a voice talent over a loud bed of music, but lots of examples are like that!

  • Avatar for Robert Leach
    Robert Leach
    January 19, 2011, 12:23 pm

    I have had clients, productions houses and agents insist non no music on demos. I guess the answer is to have a dry version and one with music.

  • Avatar for Bruce N. Goren
    Bruce N. Goren
    January 21, 2011, 8:31 pm

    All good points Pro and Con.
    Bond, James Bond, voice seeker – properly insists on custom demos a dry as his shaken, not stirred martinis.
    But for those of us with less than Hollywood iconic voices I think a little processing to create a signature sound is good marketing.
    When submitting a custom demo on very short scripts (a few words to less than 10 seconds) which can’t really be further excerpted, I use music and/or effects to add production value and as my audition watermarking.
    To me it seems safer than just handing over the dry element and blindly trusting. That’s no guarantee a short scripted, custom demo demanding voice seeker, (you know the gigs, 100 bucks for a seven word read – 250 submissions in two hours) won’t like the finished mix enough to rip you off! And no one will be the wiser.

    • Avatar for Jonathan Strait
      Jonathan Strait
      January 11, 2018, 1:52 pm

      I like that tip! Thanks 🙂

  • Avatar for Sushitha
    October 3, 2020, 1:03 am

    I like that tip! Thanks ?

  • Avatar for Jack
    October 20, 2020, 6:12 am

    Thanks for an informative blog