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VOICE-OVER INDUSTRY Enters Synthetic Voice Biz By Partnering With VocaliD - What Happens Now?
February 28, 2019

By John Florian

How soon before your clients are creating voice-overs with your synthetic voice?

It's happening now, of course, for text-to-speech, smart speaker and voice-first applications.

And the pace for this and likely broader uses has been quickened by the recently announced  partnership of VocaliD - a leading provider of synthetic voices - and the voice-over online casting powerhouse, Voices(dot)com (VDC)

A synthetic voice is created by a computer - an artificial production of human speech using source recordings by actual voices. And combining synthetic voice with artificial intelligence (AI) technologies lets companies and devices interact with consumers in unscripted computer-generated conversations.

But it creeps out voice actors who fear eventual transfer of many jobs to the synthetic world.

There's obvious reason for that fear: tech advances in this field are creating remarkably human sounds, with broad ranges of language, ethnic and emotional diversity.

You know Siri, Alexa, and the Google Assistant. And a simple Google search for "synthetic voice" yields pages of listings of companies developing ever more flexible and diverse options.

Becoming more popular, too, is "voice-first" - referring to a customer's first contact with a company being via an interactive recorded voice.


In a press release announcing the VDC-VocaliD partnership, VDC CEO David Ciccarelli says that "Voice AI isn't replacing talent. It augments and empowers them to meet the challenging demands of the digital voice revolution.

"The fact is, to create a synthetic voice," he adds, "source recordings performed by professional voice actors are required.

"We believe this is a tremendous opportunity for the thousands of professional voice talent looking to do what they love and continuing to serve as the voice of a brand."

Still, no matter how soon or wide-reaching that biz becomes, the synthetic voice poses a potentially scary competition to the owners of voices of the human kind.


The VocaliD name is familiar to the voice-over community.

Founded in 2014 by CEO Dr. Rupal Patel, VocaliD in 2015 invited voice actors to donate their recorded voices for AI projects that help people with speech disabilities - and many voice talents did contribute.

Today, a company goal is to expand the diversity (language, dialects, ethnicity) of synthetic voices.

"The universe of things-that-talk is growing, but the diversity of unique digital voice isn't," Patel notes in the VDC press release. "As daily conversations shift to voice-first technology, it is no longer enough that apps and devices can talk. They must also relate to their diverse audience."

And that diversity grows with volume of recordings to synthesize.


Voice actors who recorded for the earlier VocaliD project did so under these terms:
"Once you record your vocal content, your contribution is irrevocable and it may be used by VocaliD or its affiliates for scientific research, the development of products (including those intended for speech impaired individuals) and for other commercial purposes not yet known."
Voice actor/blogger Dave Courvoisier advises: "You will always do the right thing for your VO business by reading all ToS before signing away those rights."

The VDC ToS has a similar requirement: the assignment to VDC of all rights to a voice product.

And with the VocaliD partnership, Peter Bishop, president of the World Voices Organization (WoVO) - a trade group for voice actors - expresses concern in a press release that VDC's vast trove of recorded voices from earlier jobs might be used in creation of synthetic voices, without approval or payment to the original voice actors.

"Does VocaliD now have access to this cache?" he asks.


VoiceOverXtra asked VDC's Ciccarelli for clarity on that, and he says that the company's archived recordings are off limits to VocaliD.

"Absolutely not," adds Alina Morkin, VDC's vice president of marketing.

"Voices found on files on our system, whether that's from a demo file, an audition file, or any other file, will not be used to develop a new synthetic voice," she says.

Ciccarelli adds that the ToS claim to all rights to a product stems from a potential need to collect payment from a client. Eventually, the voice-seeker client retains all rights, he says.


Morkin also describes VDC's process for jobs involving synthetic voice:
"If a client would like to create a synthetic voice, the process will begin with a job posting - outlining the use, terms and other details. Voice actors may audition, or not, and quote what they would like to get paid to complete the project. 

"Once the terms of the job have been defined, and your consent has been provided, VocaliD will guide you through the process of recording your voice on their platform in order to build a synthetic voice avatar. VocaliD will deliver the synthetic voice to the client in the format specified and the terms negotiated in the statement of work."

For the short term, Voice AI appears to be a growing niche for voice over jobs - while at the same time, a worry. It might eventually radically alter the VO industry.

"Many voice talent view the rise of AI speech synthesis as a threat to the industry and their own livelihoods," Bishop observes. "I do not see the proliferation of AI speech synthesis as a benefit to the working voice-over talent."
John Florian is the founder/publisher of VoiceOverXtra, the voice over industry's award-winning online news, education and resource center, offering thousands of resource links, how-to articles, calendar of industry events, industry directory, webinar training and more. A former magazine editorial director/publisher, John is also a voice talent who merged those two career passions to create VoiceOverXtra in 2007.


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Comments (4)
Peter Hopkins
7/3/2019 at 6:05 PM
“In a press release announcing the VDC-VocaliD partnership, VDC CEO David Ciccarelli says that "Voice AI isn't replacing talent. It augments and empowers them to meet the challenging demands of the digital voice revolution.”

I also (used to) drive for Uber. That’s like when Uber told its drivers: “We’re lowering fares and onboarding more drivers to help you make more money!” Needless to say, nothing of the sort actually happened.

Peter Hopkins
Philip Banks
3/5/2019 at 2:43 AM
"Once you record your vocal content, your contribution is irrevocable" Not true. If it is contractual the elements of the (any) contract are agreement and consideration (money).

An agreement and/or contract can be challenged as unlawful or unreasonable. In certain cases the creator or owner of the right to use work will be given a clear choice.

"Mr Painter we will either buy your painting for $200 and do with it as we please OR we will take your painting and for every print we sell you get $5. Choose"

Option one the buyer takes the risk, option 2 the seller takes the risk. The agreement is lawful and reasonable.

Sadly, in the heady world of overs we call voice when presented with a real challenge we complain on social media, do our regular VO workout group, book 5 more VO conferences, read another self help book and post 30 motivational quotes on Twitter.

Sign up for my new training programme "How to ensure you are not digging your own grave" during which YOU'LL get plenty of mic time and approval in the hope that you won't notice that, as usual, you're not learning anything.

For more information contact...
Joe Loesch
3/3/2019 at 1:21 PM
This article leaves plenty to think about, John. This is a very well-done piece, clear and concise. Thank you.
Lance Blair
2/28/2019 at 3:43 PM
Thank you for the article. I voiced my concern on Twitter about talents not having control of their work with this new arrangement. VocaliD responded quickly and respectfully that they always request informed consent from all voice talents they work with and negotiate terms. They directed me to their FAQ page which spells this out. I hope this is how VocaliD go ahead in practice.
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