https://debbieirwin.com/2022/01/17/8-myths-about-narration-voice-over/There is nothing quite like being casually tossed acronyms or other voiceover terms you’ve never heard of before. The logical advice is to speak the truth simply, say you don’t know what the acronym means, and ask for an explanation. The more painful reality is that not knowing your terminology can be seen as unprofessional. There are untold lists of acting and voiceover lingo online, but let’s do more of a deep dive. Where do some of these seemingly unrelated terms come from? As strange and random as they seem often, they make a whole lot of sense when you know where they come from. So, instead of keeping a long VO lingo list handy for every conversation with a voiceover veteran, let’s see if context can make it more straightforward.
AD LIB or Improvise
If you’re a word junkie, you’ll enjoy this. The word ‘ad lib’ comes from the Latin ‘ad libitum’ or ‘at one’s pleasure’ or, more colloquially, ‘as much as you like.’ Adlib also sounds a little bit like ‘at liberty’ or ‘at your liberty.’
‘Improvise ad lib’ sounds like it’s saying the same thing twice, but it would initially have meant ‘improvise as much as you like.’ At some point, we started simply saying ‘ad lib’ to mean riff. Adlib a few lines. And the words became synonyms for each other. A director might ask you to improv (short for improvisation) a few lines, but improv is an entirely unplanned performance. English is interesting.
COLD READ: When You Have Little or No Time to Rehearse a Script
Cold reading, sometimes called ‘sight-reading,’ is when you perform a script that you have had little or no time to rehearse. Sight-reading is a term that is usually used by musicians and comes from the Italian “prima vista,” meaning “at first sight.” Cold reading is not specific to voiceover artists. Actors, magicians, and psychics all use a form of cold reading.
The opposite, hot reading, is a technique primarily used by stage magicians and psychics. They gather background information on a subject or person, then use that information to inform their performance. For a voiceover artist, a cold read typically means we haven’t had time to review or rehearse the script. It can be stressful for a performer (particularly one who is new to the industry), or fun– if you like a challenge! Mastering cold reads is a skill that every voice-over artist should develop
CANS, PHONES or Headphones in Voiceover Lingo
‘Phones’ is obvious; they are headPHONES, after all, cans less so. Canford headphones didn’t exist before the term “cans” took hold, though it would have been a simple explanation. It may have something to do with the two cans and string communication method, or maybe it’s their shape. Earlier headphones were made of metal and were more than a little can-shaped.
Long story short, I have no idea why ‘cans’ means headphones, but it does. If anyone knows the origin of this term, please let me know
COPY, the Script
The word ‘script’ comes from the Latin scrībĕre, which means ‘to write.’ The term ‘copy’ was initially used by newspapers, journalists, and textbooks. Words designed to be reproduced and copied (but not in the plagiarism sense) became copy and from there, we got copywriting. ‘Copy” is traditionally used in advertising, ‘text’ is used for marketing and advertising. You are less likely to be given ‘copy’ for tv shows or audiobooks. The copy has become a synonym for script in the commercial sphere.
What are audition sides? A selected portion of a script that’s provided to an actor for an audition. This excerpt could be an entire scene, or just part of one. Depending on the project (theater, film, TV, and commercials), sides can also include more than one section of the script for an actor to learn.
SPOT or Commercial
A ‘spot’ refers to a commercial or something taking up a ‘spot’ in a program lineup. It can also refer to something that isn’t technically a commercial, such as a public service announcement (PSA). It’s a jargony term that you are unlikely to encounter outside the advertising realm, but it does make sense. The time slot or spot of a commercial is essential. A 30 second Super Bowl commercial can cost millions of dollars, which often makes the price of airing the ad higher than making it.
EFX, SFX, or Sound Effects
EFX (sometimes called FX) is shorthand for effects. It sounds similar phonetically e-f-ex, or ef-ex, much like l8ter. SFX used to stand for Special Effects but had evolved to also mean Sound Effects and would generally refer to sounds outside of speech or music.
Voiceover Lingo DRY AUDIO or No music or SFX
‘Dry audio’ is raw and unprocessed; it won’t have any music or SFX. ‘Wet audio’ has been processed and mixed. A wet and dry knob lets you mix the dry and wet audio when working with effects. The more effects you add to the dry audio, the ‘wetter.’
SLATE or Say Your Name
A slate, or the act of slating, is a voiceover artist’s introduction at the beginning of an audition. It’s usually a brief intro without a lot of rambling or niceties. On-screen actors often include their height and other physical details that might not be apparent in their demo video. There are pros and cons to slating; mostly, it’s a judgment call, if you haven’t been given a clear directive. I’ve seen castings where the inclusion of a slate got an audition deleted (if it wasn’t asked for), and others where it was explicitly requested. In my own experience with casting, less is more. Your name should be in the audition file, so I don’t need you to repeat it.
The term slate most likely comes from clappers. Those black and white chalkboards you often see snapping together at the beginning of a scene. Originally made of smooth slate, they differentiated takes and helped with synchronization. Saying ‘go ahead and slate’ is like saying ‘add the title card,’ all the information that once would have been represented in chalk.
Understanding Voiceover Lingo
That’s eight VO terms and where they come from to the best of my researching abilities. A massive voiceover myth is that it’s all about having a good voice, and that’s a tiny part of a big story. It’s about knowing the terminology, understanding the technical requirements, and bringing your acting chops to the mic (there’s another term– ‘chops’! Having a good command of the language unique to this industry will help you as you market yourself and work with your clients.
New slang, jargon, and acronyms can be overwhelming, but if you are new to the industry, learning in bitesize chunks keeps it interesting and makes the process more fun and less arduous. A lot of this is learned by doing, but the more you know, the quicker you’ll develop into a VO pro. And as every voiceover talent knows, a good story helps with information retention.