The Underscore

Composing music to be placed under voiceovers has unique challenges.

I spent 4 years recording voiceovers for advertising and I learned very quickly that finding the right library music is a skill unto itself. Clients want to hear the voiceover script clearly and feel the music, so a track that can be up in the mix without obscuring the voiceover is the one that will get sold. Generally, the more real instruments the better. Library music composers needs to be mindful of how a voiceover will sound with the music. The music can be impressive and engaging without being masterful and brilliant. A great melody can distract from the voiceover, so the solution may be to thin it out or have a different instrument play it. There’s no one size-fits-all decibel formula to use, as some voices may seem lower in volume but are more easily heard over music.

Test your track. Have a friend or family member overdub a script to your track. Play it back and see if your brain registers both the voiceover and the music, with the voiceover clearly understood. Think of an actual product that will be advertised using your track. Will the product be Ford 150 trucks or a hospital? Will the voice be a young woman’s, a burly man, a child? We usually don’t know this upfront but asking these questions can help you know if your track has potential for some kind of use.
The end. So many of the tracks I auditioned as a voiceover engineer had “jump out” endings, suddenly over-active lines or hits that interfered with the ad’s final sentence or tag line. Yes, there’s the ability to edit but a cymbal swell or a hit with reverb hanging over the edit cut can be too troublesome and will most likely lead to choosing a different track. The timing for an ad or tv track can vary by fractions of a second, and engineers love tracks that can be lengthened or shortened easily.