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Voice Over vs Dubbing – The Complete Guide

Marketers and content creators are constantly looking to expand their global reach and appeal. Thankfully, the world is getting smaller, opening up new marketing possibilities. Rapid advances in language technologies, notably voice-over and dubbing, are the wind behind these new possibilities. But what is the difference between dubbing and voice over?


Voice Over: Definition and Meaning

Voice-over (VO) involves using an off-camera voice to describe events, narrate a story, provide a backstory, or add context to video content. Traditionally, TV, radio, theater, and film productions used voiceover to explain a character’s inner thoughts. Today, we use voice-overs in commercials, instructional videos, documentaries, etc. 

Professional voiceover narrators bring voiceovers to life. However, these narrators don’t embody a character. Their job is to act as audio tour guides and convey their client’s message and emotions to the target audience. 

Promotional and commercial voiceovers persuade potential clients to consider a certain product or service. They create awareness and excitement around a brand, particularly during event promotions and product launches.

Voiceovers maintain some language elements of the original materials, and viewers can still hear the voices of the original actors.


Dubbing: Definition and Meaning

Dubbing involves substituting the primary voice in a motion picture with a new voice in a secondary language. This is to make foreign content accessible to multilingual audiences. 

In dubbing, the voice and language change, but everything else remains the same. The timing, lip movement, emotion, and tone all retain their initial character. The dubbing artist imitates the original actor’s mannerisms and nuances in delivery with great precision so that the content doesn’t quite literally get lost in translation.

In dubbing, viewers can’t hear the voices of the original (voice) actors. Everything other than the pictures is localized, depending on the type of dubbing that’s taking place.


Full lip sync dubbing

The dubbed audio tries to match the original actor’s lip movements as accurately as possible. This may necessitate significant tweaking of the original dialogue for the original lip movements to work in the dubbed version.


Time-synced audio dubbing

The focus here is more on the length of each line of dialogue than the lip movement. The dubbed lines have to be the same length as the original speaker’s. Matching the lip movements is not a priority. It requires minimal tweaks of the original dialogue for time-synced dubbing to work.


Non-synced dubbing

This form of dubbing stays faithful to the original dialogue by removing the need for time or lip movement synchronization. Translators don’t have to alter the length of the translated lines for synchronicity.


Why Do Dubbing and Voice-Over Services Matter

In both dubbing and voice overs, creators work with language and cultural experts to localize their content. The professionals don’t necessarily translate the original message word for word, but they replace a few words to make the content appropriate for the target market. 

These services are vital for businesses because language is a big part of a buyer’s decision-making process. It’s always easier to appeal to audiences in their native language. You can remove all the cultural barriers to global expansion through voice-overs and dubbing.

In other cases, the audio in a motion picture may not be audible or clear enough. This could be because of a faulty microphone or accidental background noises. Dubbing or a voiceover may help get the inaudible message across accurately. 

Ultimately, a dubbed video or one that features a voice over keeps foreign audiences interested. It creates an emotional connection with the audience that makes them more engaged and more responsive to your brand.


The Main Differences Between Dubbing and Voice Over

Many people use dubbing and voice-over interchangeably. But despite this, the two have many differences that make either one stand out more than the other.


1. Lip-syncing

Let’s say you have an existing video or animation in a primary language that you need to translate into a secondary language. 

If you opt for dubbing, the duration of the dubbed version has to match the original version. Most importantly the soundtrack must be in sync with the lip movements, emotions, intonation, etc. of all the actors in the original video. The actors in the video and the voice artist in the dubbed version have to be in harmony with each other.

If you opt to do a voice over,  you don’t have to worry about synchronization. The translated version only needs to match the content and duration of the original video. In other words, the beginning, the end, and all scenes in between should match up for both versions.  The narrator, however, is free to use the words, pace, and delivery style of his choice.


2. Cultural Adaptation 

There are limitless cultural adaptation possibilities in dubbing. Voice artists have the freedom to incorporate cultural allusions, regional accents, humor, colloquialisms, and references. Translators don’t only translate the conversations but also the original context, cultural references, and intended spirit. This makes the content more relatable to the audience. 

Voice overs, on the other hand, offer limited cultural adaptation possibilities. Here, the voice artists explain the original message in the target audience’s native language. Their main focus is to preserve the context and spirit of the original script, not necessarily the dialogue. Narrators may or may not make cultural references or allusions while they’re at it.


3. Intended Use

Dubbing artists create a natural illusion that the original actors in a video are speaking in the viewer’s language. That’s all. They don’t provide any new information or complement the original audio in any other way. For this reason, dubbing is mostly used in movies and TV shows purely for entertainment purposes.

Voice overs replace the original dialogue in a video with a localized, educational narration. Voice-over narrators aren’t tied down by the tone, emotion, or timing of the original actors. They aim to offer the viewer an additional layer of information or clarify concepts. That’s what makes voiceovers perfect for documentaries and instructional videos.


4. Consumer Appeal

For video commercials, dubbing helps project the screen actor’s tone and emotions. It retains the original artists’ full range of emotions, tonality, and technical richness. But that’s all there is to it. The dubbing artist is less free to be more promotional than the screen artist. 

Voiceovers do a lot more than that. On top of projecting the actor’s tone and emotions, a professional voice-over artist is free to use voice styles of choice. The artist can choose to be funny, authoritative, persuasive, cautious, etc. 

That makes it easier to deliver the intended emotional effect and create a buzz in the target audience. The artist also offers complete clarity to influence purchase decisions.


5. Loss of Impact

Dubbing necessitates the entire scrapping of the original audio. This is to ensure that the dubbed version matches the screen actors’ lip movements to perfection.  

The original audio is lost as a consequence and with it, a large portion of the original emotional impact. This is made worse by the need to adjust the original dialogue for time or lip movement synchronicity. 

Voiceover involves overlaying a new audiotrack on the original audio. The original dialogue, sounds, and narration remain audible underneath. Retaining the original voice performances allows for the retention of the original emotional impact too. The viewer gets an immersive experience as a result.


6. Cost-effectiveness

Voice overs are more cost-effective than dubbing. All you need in your voice over narration team is a translator, a subject matter expert, and a voice over artist. You don’t even need the special interpreting equipment that is usually involved in these cases.

Dubbing, on the other hand, can be quite expensive. For starters, you’ll need to hire a voice actor for each one of the onscreen actors in your video. You will also need great expertise and technical lip-synching equipment to tie everything together nicely. 

The need to tweak the original script for synchronicity precipitates new language problems. And, fixing these problems can be expensive in terms of both time and money.


Wrapping Up

The difference between voice over and dubbing lies in their execution and intended use. Voice over is suitable for informational content, especially for viewers with superior intellectual abilities. The content can be anything from corporate training, e-learning videos, documentaries, news segments. 

Dubbing, on the other hand, is perfect for translated films, web series, and TV shows. Dubbing gives viewers a more immersive and seamless viewing experience, so if that’s what you’re after, you should give it a go. 

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