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Do Voice Actors Have To Memorize Their Lines?

Apr 29, 2024
Do voice actors memorize their lines?

To memorize or not to memorize, that is the question. 

One of the most common questions actors get asked is how they memorize so many lines! Answers vary, but in the words of Bill Nighy (paraphrased): “you just sit there and bang it out until it seems to stick.” 

So what about voice actors? Chances are you won’t have the hours and hours of repetition necessary to “bang out” lines between booking a gig and recording the voice-over. And why bother? You’re not in front of the camera!

From prompters to paper clips

Voice actors, whether they work at home or in a dedicated studio, aren’t bound by the same limitations as stage actors. In a recording studio, there’s no obligation to be “off book” as it’s standard to simply read a print-out of the lines hanging from a paperclip next to the microphone—or something more high-tech, like a prompter, laptop computer, or tablet.

Memorize the lines anyway? You might not have time. 

I can’t stress how many times I’ve gotten gigs on short notice with no time to study the lines. Imagine getting a phone call after lunch asking you to come to a recording studio the next morning at 11:00 am to record voice-over for a commercial. Memorization on such short notice isn’t very realistic. Maybe you could physically memorize some or all of the script, but what if you’re also recording today after lunch? 

Forget memorization and master these skills instead:


voice actor with mic


1. Read through the lines, and mark out the beats

If you have the opportunity to see the script before reaching the studio, it never hurts to see your sides– the part(s) of the script with your lines– in advance. At the very least, you can read through it a few times to get an idea of its rhythm and flow. 

Whether you’re working from home and need to record immediately after receiving your sides or you’re just seeing your lines for the first time when you arrive at the studio, it’s a good idea to mark the moments where you have an emotional or psychological shift, such as a realization, reaction, action, or other event that could affect your pacing and tone. 

By marking these invisible “beats” in your sides, you’ll be able to recite your lines convincingly–as if you’d memorized them all along.

2. Experiment

It’s important to experiment in order to find the right voice for different contexts, whether it’s a song, cartoon character, or commercial. Chances are you didn’t have a lot of time to prepare and very rarely will anything from the first take make the final cut, so just dive into the work and see where your experimentation leads you. 

For certain types of commercial material, you may find that there are specific approaches that work every time, while for fictional characters it often takes complete lack of inhibition to find the right voice. 

There are scores of examples of this: for example, in an interview with Conan O’Brian, Dan Castellaneta explains that he changed the voice for Simpsons’ character Homer over the course of the show’s early episodes. Homer started with a very deep Walter Matthau-esque voice, but Castellaneta discovered that Homer’s emotions changed so rapidly that it was hard to make those leaps into shouts of fear and excitement and he adjusted the position of Homer’s voice in his throat to find a sweet spot from which to make those vocal leaps. And the result is history! 

3. Treat every take as the “last”

Voice acting and singing both require recording multiple takes, and that means giving each take 100% of the emotions and energy required, whether it’s the 1st or the 10th. By giving your all, it ensures that you’ll probably do fewer takes—saving both time and money and benefiting your reputation.
Of course, it’s important not to strain your voice in the process. But that’s part of being a voice actor: living in the moment while also being in control. 

4. Think ahead

Whether you have a great memory and can remember entire lines with very little repetition, or you are just really good at acting while reading aloud, it’s important to think ahead.

A lot of people fear tongue-twisters, but oftentimes people are so focused on the word they’re currently reading or singing that they forget what the next word is—yes, even when it’s right there on the page! 

Thinking ahead means actively thinking of what the next few words are and is a skill that voice actors must develop to be able to masterfully recite lines which they may have seen for the first time within minutes of recording. 

With practice, this will become second nature and a powerful tool in your arsenal of voice-actor skills.

What if I DO have time to memorize? 


notepad with pen


Happy is the voice actor or singer with time to prepare! For those gigs where you do have ample time for preparation, these are some of the oldest tricks in the book:

  1. Repeat your lines until they’re memorized. It’s the oldest trick in the book and comes in many variations. Whether you prefer to learn the lines with or without emotions at first is up to you.

  2. Use flashcards or other memory aids. Find what works for you.

  3. Record yourself reciting your lines and play the audio on repeat while you sleep.

  4. Practice with a partner. This is like singing with a piano: it tests whether you really know your cues.

  5. Create mental images of the scene and the characters.

Take Your Place Among High-Performing Voice Actors

We’re constantly peeling back the layers of what it takes to become a successful voice actor. One of the biggest strengths of human talent is the ability to jump in and record compelling, outstanding voice-overs on short notice, and that’s something AI can never replace. 

With passion, tenacity, and drive, your voice-acting career could be right around the corner, and we have all the knowledge and resources to get you started. Ready to make your voice acting dream come true? Contact A VO’s Journey Elite Academy today, and let us show you how to start and grow your voice-over business.