Today we’re discussing how Ryan Reynolds’ voice outperformed his face in an advertisement split test, how ‘robo voices’ are popping up everywhere, what could happen when artificial intelligence comes for audiobooks, how changing the sound of your voice could literally change your life and the Vox Talk community spotlight.
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Hi there and welcome to Vox Talk, your weekly review from the world of voice over. I’m your host, Stephanie Ciccarelli from Voices. In today’s show, you’ll hear all about Ryan Reynolds’ voice outperforming his face in an advertisement’s A/B test, how robotic voices are taking new ground, that artificial intelligence keeps creeping into the audiobook space, how a physical change to your voice can create some very real consequences and we have another special guest in the Vox Talk Community Spotlight.
News 1: Ryan Reynolds’ Voice Outperforms His Face in Ads
If you’re primarily an on-camera actor, should your voice outperform your face? Would you even want to know?
AdWeek reports that although Ryan Reynolds is a frequent face in ads for the brands he owns and movies he stars in, some of the most celebrated work from his agency, Maximum Effort, has barely featured the actor at all.
And as they say, maybe that’s a good thing.
In a new video shared by Reynolds and hosted on AdWeek, we learn about a comparative analysis of two ads made to promote MNTN, the connected-TV company that recently bought Maximum Effort Marketing and brought Reynolds on as Chief Creative Officer.
As AdWeek puts it, in one spot, you’ll see Ryan Reynolds extolling the virtues of MNTN as a performance marketing platform. In the other, Reynolds is heard narrating the spot but never shown.
The video was targeted to people working in marketing. The metric they used to determine success was click-through rates.
To cut to the chase, the ad featuring only Ryan Reynolds’ voice performed better than the on-camera advertisement.
If you’d like to watch the video on AdWeek where Imani Clark, a customer success specialist at MNTN gives Ryan the results (poor Ryan!), you can find it in the show notes for this week’s episode of Vox Talk.
News 2: Rise of the Robo Voices
Are the voices you hear on TV and in films actually human voices, or are they robots? Will dubbing go by the wayside in favor of AI voices? How can you know for sure?
According to the Wall Street Journal, highly sophisticated digital voice manufacturing is coming, and entertainment executives say it could bring a revolution in sound as industry-changing as computer graphics were for visuals. New companies are using artificial intelligence to create humanlike voices from samples of a living actor’s voice—models that not only can sound like specific performers, but can speak any language, cry, scream, laugh, even talk with their mouths full. At the same time, companies are refining the visual technology so actors look like they are really speaking.
WSJ goes on to say that as streaming services export American fare globally and foreign markets send their hits to the U.S., dubbing is a bigger business than ever. But the uses of synthetic voices extend well beyond localizing foreign films. AI models can provide youthful voices for aging actors. The technology can bring back audio from celebrities who have died or lost the ability to speak. And it can also tweak dialogue in postproduction without the need for actors.
AI has been used in a variety of productions of late, including the recreation of celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain’s voice for a brief moment in the documentary Roadrunner and in the recreation of actor Val Kilmer’s voice in a two-minute recording made with the London AI firm Sonantic for an online demonstration of their technology. The AI-generated model made for Val Kilmer, who lost his voice to throat cancer, sounded so real that it moved his own son to tears, says Sonantic CEO Zeena Qureshi.
While the technology is there and can of course be used as a tool for good, all of this raises serious ethical questions, of which our community is keenly aware.
Should someone’s voice be recreated or used without their consent? Do audiences deserve to know whether the content they’re enjoying is voiced by a voice actor or a synthetic voice?
Do companies really think no one will notice the difference?
To read the Wall Street Journal article in full, visit the show notes for this episode.
News 3: AI and Audiobooks
Just when you thought audiobooks were safe from synthetic voices, here comes another bit of news, this time from Publisher’s Weekly.
New technologies are shortening audiobook production cycles and the costs to create them. Ever heard of AI-enabled automated audiobook creation? If not before, today’s the day.
Publisher’s Weekly notes that over the past decade, audiobook sales, driven by digital audio, have exploded. Sales in 2020 exceeded $1.3 billion, up 12% over 2019. The percentage of Americans 18 and older who have listened to an audiobook is now 46%, up from 44% in 2019. One thing hasn’t changed, however: the arduous production process for audiobooks.
Publisher’s Weekly goes on to say that today’s focus on the AI-enabled auto-narration of audiobooks is fostered by the same technology that taught Siri to speak and Alexa to listen. Underneath digital voice audio is text—text converted to speech. Siri knows stuff because Siri is reading from Wikipedia. Google’s Assistant easily accesses the text of millions of books scanned and indexed via Google Books.
While people are willing to listen to AI voices like Siri or Alexa for short periods of time to obtain information, what proof is there that we’ll have a collective appetite for auto-generated long form narration that’s purpose is to entertain?
Will AI voices ever be indistinguishable from human voices?
Bradley Metrock, CEO of Project Voice and of Digital Book World, who is quoted in the article, sees AI voices narrating audiobooks sooner than most. Metrock says, “With the current crop of high-end synthetic voices, 95% of people would not recognize that they’re artificially generated.” The kicker? Metrock says that in 12 to 24 months they’ll have reached human levels?
What do you think? Would you listen to an audiobook narrated by a synthetic voice? Join the conversation in the Voices Community Forum.
News 4: Change Your Voice, Change Your Life?
You may have known that your voice is a musical instrument. We say that all the time in the business, but did you know that the voice is the only one that is both a string and a wind instrument?
I came across an interesting article in Scientific American, one that explored how our voice is intrinsically linked to who we are and how it also affects how others relate to us.
This article mainly looked at people who wanted to change their voice because of some reason they had and what those affects were after the surgery for them and their loved ones. So the article is called “A Change to the Sound of the Voice Can Change Your Very Self-Identity.”
Paris-based Jean Abitbol, an ear-nose-and throat physician, phoniatrician and craniofacial surgeon describes, within the confines of this piece, what has happened to some of his patients.
Without getting too much into the article, because I believe that it is definitely an article that you will want to read, perhaps even share others, a change to the sound of your voice is more than just physical. This isn’t just a surgery. As the article says, this is an emotional surgery. It’s not an appendix, it’s not just going to get sewn back up and no one notices that it’s gone. This is your voice. This is very much a way that you communicate, and how express yourself and how you connect with others.
As voice professionals, I know that you probably are all thinking this already, that you know, why do anything to your voice unless there is an absolute medical reason to do something. I think that we just need to remember that the voice is more than just a moneymaker, it’s really part of who you are. So, you can find a link to this article in the Vox Talk show notes for episode 96. Again, that article is called, “A Change to the Sound of the Voice Can Change Your Very Self-Identity.” You can find it on Scientific American.
Vox Talk Community Spotlight: How 5K Pandemic Walks Sparked a VO Business
Stephanie: Having a supportive spouse can make all the difference for any entrepreneur, but especially for creatives working from home and especially during a pandemic. Lawyer turned voice over artist Gavin Muir from Peterborough joins us in today’s Community Spotlight to share about his journey. Welcome, Gavin!
Gavin: Thanks, Stephanie. My name’s Gavin Muir, and I am a voice over artist, musician and audio producer. I’ve been with the Voices.com community since mid-May of this year, so I’m still relatively new but I’m consistently getting busier in terms of bookings, lots of short lists; I’m seeing a lot of traction so I feel I am doing the right things and getting noticed for them. This is a very supportive community and for that I’m thankful. I have a pretty varied background. Shortly after meeting my wife in 2013, with her support I decided to walk away from a 13-year career as a lawyer as I wasn’t finding it fulfilling. Music and theater have always been very important to my life and I’ve always relied heavily on my voice for that. Even as a lawyer one of my greatest strengths in the courtroom was my ability to tell a story and use my voice to my advantage. A career in voice over has always been a dream. To make that dream a reality though, it took the coming of the pandemic and the lockdown starting in March of 2020. Once that happened, I found myself at home with four boys all elearning at the same time. My wife was working up at the hospital in mental health. We were going a little stir crazy, so my wife and I started to take longer walks after we got the younger children to bed and it was during those walks that we started exploring the idea of putting together a studio for me to do voice over, and Gavin Muir Voice, my business, was born. Since then I’ve had so much support. KawarthaNow.com did a wonderful profile on me locally, the support of the Voices.com community and you, Stephanie, for this opportunity to speak on Vox Talk. So these are exciting times and I hope my story inspires others.
Stephanie: Thank you, Gavin! To read the article that led to today’s story in Kawartha Now, be sure to check out the show notes for Vox Talk episode 96.
All right, that’s how we saw the world this week through the lens of voice over. Thank you again for joining us! I’m Stephanie Ciccarelli from Voices. I really hope you’re subscribed - it would mean the world to me if you would do that. You can find us anywhere you get your podcasts. We’d also love to hear from you on social media, and if you have any stories that you’d like to share with us that you might want to send into Vox Talk for consideration, you can send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you again for listening, and we’ll see you next week!