Toiling without knowing the end result of your labour is almost like climbing a hill and knowing there is no summit. Fortunately, most of us know the outcome of our hard work and actions. However, for a few select individuals, it isn’t always possible to know the fruits of our labour – especially true if you are a voiceover artist.
We hear voiceovers so regularly in our daily lives that they seem to have blended into the fabric of our existence – a prime example being that of voice recognition engines. We all seem to be using them.
But have you ever stopped to think about the voice behind the search engine? Someone whose voice is recognised across the globe? What a great achievement! But what if the person behind the voice didn’t know what their voice was being used for? Or what if they knew, but couldn’t speak out…couldn’t tell anyone it was their voice?
Believe it or not, this is quite a common situation for voiceover artists across the globe. Trapped and silenced by the bounds of legal agreements – even the most recognisable of voiceover artists renounce claim for their world-famous voice recordings.
To put this into perspective – one of the most famous voices in the world, Susan Bennett – the original voice of Siri, was unaware of the result of her voice work until one day she heard her own voice speaking back to her. Susan had been contracted to record a series of phrases in 2005 but little did she know that she was training the voice of Siri! In fact, Susan only realised she was a global voice phenomenon after the launch of the iPhone in 2011.
It is hard to imagine what it is like to unknowingly have your voice heard by millions of people across the globe, but to reiterate, voiceover artists often record material without knowing the full end-use for their recordings.
Voice Talent Online, a UK voice over agency, also faced this very situation when it was approached by a top technology company to deliver a Voice Collection Project, a project aimed at providing thousands – in fact 375,000 audio files – all within an 8 week period. No easy feat, as you can imagine. But perhaps the most difficult part of this project, was not knowing the end results of the firm’s arduous labour, not knowing where and how all these audio clips would be used.
Perhaps the firm’s efforts will pave the future by training voice recognition engines. Or perhaps the mere 375,000 audio files will help voice recognition software to better understand the uniqueness of human speech? Or maybe, these audio files will be used to help future AI (Artificial Intelligence) to sound a little more human? Similar to Susan or Siri, Voice Talent Online may have to wait a while before it knows the exact end result of its labour.
But of course, not all voiceover provision is a secret affair. In recent decades, some voiceover artists have been gaining recognition for their work. Japanese anime is a key trending area where officially trained seiyuu- or voice artists – have the opportunity to shine. Japanese voiceover artists such as Ikue Ōtani, the voice for Pokémon character Pikachu, are well-known among the industry and their fans.
And the same applies for the voiceover artists from bygone eras. It seemed to be a well-known fact that Mickey Mouse was voiced by Walt Disney himself and we certainly know voice actors such as James Earl Jones, who was the voice behind Darth Vader in the Star Wars films. But is it possible that we only know about the work of these artists as their work contracts were less complex and perhaps those days are now gone?
So, what does the future hold for voice overs? Should we assume that anonymity in the voice over artist community is on the increase with the accelerating growth of AI? Well, the only thing we can say for certain is that it remains to be seen (or heard)!
The article is written by Simon Luckhurst, MD of Voice Talent Online. Voice Talent Online is a voice over agency, video translation and subtitling company in the United Kingdom that was founded 16 years ago.
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