OTM ESSAYS
 

Written by Michael Daingerfield

ESSAY 6
THE HISTORY OF VOICE OVER

To really understand voice-over you have to go back to the very beginning.  Here’s a brief look at how it all started.

Voice-over is essentially still in it’s infancy if you compare it to acting.  Acting has been around for over 3000 years - performed in outdoor amphitheatres in Ancient Greece around 1200 B.C.

Performing voice-over for a living really didn’t start until the 1930’s - if you look at Mel Blanc’s IMDB page (one of the greatest voice actors ever) he started voicing characters in 1937 - and most likely did it before then as they couldn’t access the credits for IMDB. 

So that’s a total of about 80 years since Mel was performing in front of a microphone as a profession.  That’s about 2 percent of the time that acting has been around - so voice-over is still truly a baby.  In the last 5 - 7 years with the shift of everything going on-line - this will be looked back as one of the major shifts of voice-over in it’s history - enabling people to record in their home studio for clients/work all over the world.  And you are all a part of this - so best to start now - get in on the ground floor as they say - because in another 10 to 20 years who knows what other major shift is coming in technology and you certainly don’t want to be left behind.

Let’s look at when the microphone was invented: 

In 1876, Emile Berliner invented the first microphone used as a telephone voice transmitter. At the U.S. Centennial Exposition, Emile Berliner had seen a Bell Company telephone demonstrated and was inspired to find ways to improve the newly invented telephone. The Bell Telephone Company was impressed with what the inventor came up with and bought Berliner's microphone patent for $50,000. 

(Photo left) Emile Berliner sits in front of his carbon-button microphone. In certain configurations, carbon-buttons can behave as if they have built-in amplifiers, not only converting sound into voltage but also increasing the strength of that voltage before it leaves the mic.  The crude transmitters of the teens and '20s required high-input signals in order to function. Vacuum tubes were new and not in widespread use, and transistors were far in the future. So powerful carbon-buttons were a must.

Let’s look at when the first radio transmission was broadcast:

Guglielmo Marconi was the first scientist to achieve successful radio transmission.  In 1895, Marconi built a wireless system capable of transmitting signals at long distances (1.5 mi./ 2.4 km). In radio transmission technology, early public experimenters had made short distance broadcasts.  Marconi achieved long range signalling due to a wireless transmitting apparatus and a radio receiver claimed by him. From Marconi's experiments, the phenomenon that transmission range is proportional to the square of antenna height is known as "Marconi's law."  Marconi's experimental apparatus proved to be the first engineering complete, commercially successful radio transmission system.  

In 1896, Marconi was awarded British patent 12039, Improvements in transmitting electrical impulses and signals and in apparatus there-for, for radio. In 1897, he established a radio station on the Isle of Wight, England. Marconi opened his  "wireless" factory in the former silk-works at Hall Street, Chelmsford, England in 1898, employing around 60 people. Shortly after the 1900s, Marconi held the patent rights for radio.

Let’s look at when Animation began:

In 1914, John Bray opened John Bray Studios which revolutionized the way animation was created. Earl Hurd, one of Bray’s employees patented thecel technique. This involved animating moving objects on transparent celluloid sheets which were then placed over a stationary background image and then photographed to generate the sequence of images. This as well as Bray’s innovative use of the assembly line method allowed John Bray Studios to create Col. Heeza Liar, the first animated series.  In 1915 Max and Dave Fleischer invented rotoscoping, the process of using film as a reference point for animation and their studios went on to later release such animated classics as Ko-Ko the ClownBetty BoopPopeye the Sailor Man, and Superman.

And finally let’s look at when commercial voice-over began:

The first radio broadcasts aired in the early 1900s.  However, it wasn’t until 1919 that radio stations began to broadcast continuously, similar to what we know today. In the United States, on November 2, 1920, KDKA aired the first commercial broadcast. As more stations began operating on a continuous basis, station owners were increasingly faced with the issue of how to maintain their stations financially, because operating a radio station was a significant expense.

So, in the grand scheme - what we do - in terms of speaking or performing into a microphone is not much older than a 100 years.  It begs the question of where does voice-over go from here.  What I am truly grateful for is the fact that they (at least not in my lifetime) will never be able to replicate the human voice.  You’re seeing all kinds of CGI/Animation replication of the human body and physicality in movies like Avatar etc.  But it’s my belief that the voice - as it comes straight from the soul - can never be manufactured by a computer.  No matter how advanced DAVE.

Thanks for sticking around for the history lesson - it’s always good to be well informed. As I said before to know voice-over you have to know all of the elements and technology is certainly a huge component of what we do.  Until next time - stay On The Mic and I’ll see you in class.