It’s easy to be in a little bit of a panic about how AI will change things. Voice Actors in particular are wondering about the impact AI voices will have on the Voice Acting industry as a whole. It’s understandable to be worried, but let’s take a step back and look at the world of AI in Voice Acting from a few different angles.
What does this new-fangled doohickey even sound like?!
I’ll admit that I panicked a few weeks ago when a client reached out saying they loved my voice, but didn’t have the budget to work with me. Could they clone my voice in an AI app so that my voice could narrate their scripts, they asked?
Before running around in a blind tizzy, I looked at the AI app, and more importantly, listened to it. My jaw dropped. I wrote a blog post three years ago about an AI app that was marketing very aggressively, and clearly, the industry has progressed by leaps and bounds since then.
Won’t cost much, just your voice
This particular company sells memberships that offer clients the ability to use their AI voices for a certain amount of text every month. For a higher fee, the client has the option to clone a voice so they can use that voice to narrate their scripts. It seems like the client has to have “permission” to clone the voice, but it’s hard to know what that actually entails. Is it a checkbox that says, yes I have permission to use the voice, or is there something more comprehensive? Let’s hope it’s the latter, but I couldn’t confirm from the website, and this “permission” has big implications.
It might be tempting for some of you to clone your voice so you can hear what you sound like, but be careful because once you put your voice in an AI app, you’re in their database. Unless you have a very clear and solid relationship with that company, you don’t know how and where your voice will ultimately be used. It can be reproduced endlessly. You could wake up one day and hear yourself talking about a super sexy subject, like, oh say…hemorrhoids!
I told this client that I did not give my permission to use my voice in the AI app, but the reality is that those of us who have our voices out there in the public domain are at risk of theft from AI companies.
Aside from not being paid for the use of our voices, cloning comes with the potential for truly nefarious uses. Imagine being accused of a crime, and then hearing yourself at the crime scene? Or even “confessing” to the crime? This new toy definitely needs to be regulated and until it is, you should think twice before having your voice cloned.
Nothing beats original flavor
Dark fabulations aside, the AI voices I heard were surprisingly lifelike and yet, they were predictable. While they were engaging, had breaths, and were absolutely realistic, they all tended to have one tone throughout the script, and that makes them generic.
See, AI voices don’t have what we have: Personality, point of view, emotion, experience, and the technical things we do when we express those things. Variation in pitch, tone, pace, pauses, hesitations and what I call “life noises”: the little ums, ahs, and all that stuff we do in real life.
What they lack therefore, is the secret sauce clients want from the actors they hire: The very thing that helps them create a connection with their audience, and, in the commercial sector, that connection helps them sell.
The best part for Voice Actors is that clients can’t direct an AI like they can direct a human. And believe me, clients LOVE directing humans. So if you’re truly worried, make sure your clients have the opportunity to direct you. Let them experience the value of working with you.
Be weird, be different, be everything a computer can’t be
The trend of the marketplace is not to be “even-toned” throughout a script. It’s personality, individuality, being unique, messy, unpolished –all things that the AI isn’t. All the things I teach my students to bring into their reads; all the things that clients want, and all the things that book work.
Your personality, your point of view, your emotions, your experience are not generic. YOU are the magic ingredient that gives you leverage in the marketplace. The key is to be able to bring that into your reads. That takes dedication, practice and a lot of patience. (Coaching, too.)
Changes are a-comin’…
Still, AI is altering the workspace. Companies that have a lot of informational content –like eLearning or voicemail or technical narration– now have a low-cost option for voices. That said, we may find that the entities who are turning
to AI voices were either never profitable (hobbies) or simply never cared to hire humans to voice their work in the first place (and just didn’t). So it’s entirely possible that the main sectors that will hire AI voices en masse were never going to use humans anyway.
Furthermore, when I survey my own clients, those who are using AI only use them internally, and they don’t like them. It turns out that most serious brands prefer working with individuals of the human race. That doesn’t mean Voice Actors in an information-heavy sector won’t feel the impact of these voices. They may. That’s why it’s important to have multiple niches and have clients coming from multiple sources.
Working with AI, not against it
The flip side is that there’s an opportunity to make money by working with AI voices, too. There are licensing fees and other ways we can profit –we just don’t yet know all the ways in which we can capitalize because the AI voices haven’t been used for long enough, or on a large enough scale. In time, we’ll come to understand all the different ways we can profit from AI voices as well.
Innovation eventually leads us back to our humanity
For those of you who fear much deeper impacts and implications, think back over the innovations that have changed our lives. There’s always a point in the journey where the innovation pushes us to be more human and have more humane values. The invention of the car led to seatbelts, traffic signs, and speed limits, after all.
Inventions and innovation have a sneaky way of forcing us to face ourselves and determine what’s important to us. Who knows? AI voices and other AI generated content may eventually become outlawed (the potential for criminal activity is rather alarming, so that’s my vote).
That said, even if it gets dark for a little while, I do believe that we will always choose humanity. We have to, to survive.
Right now we’re fascinated, curious and afraid because it’s all brand new, but I think over time, AI will find its rightful place in our lives. I think it’s going to free us from time-consuming tasks, and, we may end up spending more time manning –and working with– AI than being obliterated by it.
As far as voice actors are concerned, I think we can safely say that the days of being generic are over. The days of just reading are over. We have to bring more humanity to what we’re reading. That’s what’s going to help us retain our jobs.
And when in doubt, always remember: the job is not voice reading, it’s voice acting. AI is doing the job of voice reading. Focus on taking your voice acting to the next level. Study your craft, work with a coach, do the work to bring all your uniqueness into your reads.
And that’s my two cents about that.
Want some VO advice you can hang your hat on and act on TODAY? Don’t do it alone, piggy back on my success by joining my “Everyday VO” newsletter here to get exclusive tips from me, so you can do VO the Clever Way, Right Away. My name is Lili Wexu. I’m an actress, a voice talent and an author. To learn how to make $$$ in VO, read my e-books about Voice Acting & Announcing