Voices.com 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.
OPPORTUNITIES AND CONCERNS
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 is a scary notion to the owners of voices of the human kind.
The VocaliD partnership is also re-igniting worries about the growing dominance of VDC in the non-union and union online marketplace (see controversial entry to the agency-union market) - and lingering dislike by a segment of voice actors of what they see as non-transparent "management fees" that VDC takes when paying voice actors for jobs booked via VDC.
Now, 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.
And former WoVO President Dave Courvoisier charges that it's "unethical and a conflict of interest for VDC to claim to represent humans in a VO marketplace while concurrently feeding off those human voices to create a parallel and competing synthetic voice marketplace."
VocaliD SEEKING DIVERSITY
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.
KEPT RIGHTS TO RECORDINGS
Voice actors who recorded for the earlier VocaliD project did so under these terms:
To that, voice actor/blogger Courvoisier warns: "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 that prompts WoVO's Bishop to wonder if VDC's "massive cache" of voice-over recordings will be put in play to develop AI.
"Does VocaliD now have access to this cache?" he asks.
AND VDC ANSWERS ...
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.
NEGOTIATING SYNTHETIC VOICE JOBS
Morkin also describes VDC's process for jobs involving synthetic voice:
SO - WHAT'S NEXT?
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.
ALSO SEE THESE HELPFUL VOICE OVER CAREER ARTICLES
Your Daily Resource For Voice-Over Success