The Creep of Artificial Voiceover

A little rant about artificial voice.While researching my recent musing about long copy, I came across an interesting discovery. Googling “Long copy voiceover” produces a lot of the expected results, like tutorials, blogs, and voiceover ads. A few results, however, were for products. Those products? The voiceover artists of the future.

Meet ROB-PAULSEN-3000 (Not really)

NaturalReader, for example, is a product made for long copy voiceover. Its “natural-sounding voice” does all the work for you without hiring those pesky voiceover artists that do this for a living. To quote one review from MiracleTutorial:

The video above is a bit more then 3 minutes, so count on it that you pay at least $200.00 for a real voice to cover a video like that. I bought the package of two voices for only $69.50…

Wow! $69.50 for voiceover than almost sounds natural. Almost. It’s definitely worth noting that  it doesn’t quite sound natural. It sounds like a robotic imitation of a voice. To be fair, you might miss it for a few seconds, but if you are paying the slightest bit attention, it becomes rather clear that it is not a natural voice.

It is natural enough, though, to rag on voiceover people about:

Soon, you will no longer hear the difference and real voice-overs make mistakes too. I worked with quite a few of them in the past and a common problem is that they can sound like they are reading text instead of talking spontaneously.  NaturalVoice voices are not reading, they speak, be it in their own funny way, but they have a bright future ahead. So, investing in software like this will help us all in the long run.

That’s right, folks. You don’t want to hire voiceover artists! They just sound like they’re reading. This software really feels the text and uses emotion.

I’ve talked a bit about my problems with Fiverr and how it is “killing the industry” but to be completely honest, it’s not the only thing. Programs like this, as they get more and more sophisticated, might just end up being the future of voiceover. And that, my friends, is entirely a shame. The same technological boom that puts voiceover studios in people’s own homes may also be inevitably creeping toward making those studios obsolete.

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Maybe it’s fortunate Jean Vander Pyl never lived to see a robot replace her as the voice of a robot.

The reviewer even has the cojones to bring this up in his review:

I agree there is an ethical problem in a sense that you take away jobs in the voice-over industry, but that is happening in many fields.  I created realistic illustrations for ad agencies many years ago, and I was moved aside by Photoshop.

Yes, but designers can use Photoshop as a tool. I don’t see how voiceover artists can “use” NaturalReader.

I’m not going to jump on the “Voiceover is a dying industry” train I sometimes hear, but I will say that as voiceovers become easier to come by, people who produce quality work will be harder to find as the others abandon the harsh competition from the artificial side of the industry.

Until then, at least, I will take pride in my work. Humans can do that, you know.

About 

Sam Swicegood is a Voice Actor from Baltimore, MD, now living in Cincinnati, OH. He is an accomplished radio host, marketing professional, and freelance writer.

4 Comments
  1. Wow. I had no clue this was going on. Technology is evolving way too fast than other industries. If we would of focused solely on cures for things instead of this stuff think of where we’d be. I hope movies aren’t voiced over one day…that’d be scary.

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  4. If it’s not one thing, it’s another. The truth is that technology has always been about reducing the need for the most expensive and difficult to control cost variable; people.

    As we continue to lower the bar everywhere, it is quite inevitable that text to speech will wind up replacing the bottom third of all available work for voice talent. Interestingly enough, it would seem that it is this bottom third that about 80% of all individuals participating in voice over are vying for.

    As someone who has hired many talent in my life, it’s not hard for me to imagine that within 36 months or less, text-to-speech will get to the point where it can easily replace a large portion of the work currently being done by voice talent, but not the better corporate narration, e-learning, games, commercial work, animation, etc.

    It will put the people competing on eBay and fiver and guru, and those who are overly concerned with the competition they get from those spaces, out of business.

    I will still concern myself with the competition at the top of the scale, and work to develop advocates, as well as continue to keep my skill sets and relevance as high as I can.

    I do recommend that many voice talent would do much better by looking into opportunities in welding. I’ve been advocating this for years and more recently, I have noticed Mike Rowe (Dirty Jobs and voice over talent) is also recommending welding as a profession to consider.

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