Podcasts Vox Talk Why You Shouldn’t Be Afraid of AI Voice in Media with Oscar Sanchez
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Why You Shouldn’t Be Afraid of AI Voice in Media with Oscar Sanchez

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Stephanie Ciccarelli
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AI is everywhere, even in the world of sports! Veteran broadcast professional Oscar Sanchez shares a practical, exciting and hopeful outlook for voice talent who are concerned about AI and its implications. Discover opportunities that make your life easier as a voice talent because of AI, a good argument for having your voice turned into an AI voice and why it’s important to take advantage of technology to further your career.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:
Hi there and welcome to Vox Talk, your weekly review from the world of voice over. I'm your host, Stephanie Ciccarelli from Voices. Are you worried about AI voices in broadcast? Oscar Sanchez, an Emmy-award winning executive producer and broadcast operations expert, joins me from his studio in Miami to discuss AI voices and their impact on the world of radio. In his role at CONCACAF, Oscar provides strategic direction of production, broadcast operations, and media distribution of live global soccer programming for industry-leading global FIFA confederation and governance body serving 41 member associations. He also manages and negotiates media rights and contracts for major networks, including FOX, Univision, ESPN, Verizon, Televisa, CBS, and more. Having produced over 5000 live events with 25 years of industry experience, Oscar serves as a mentor to thousands of followers on LinkedIn. Oscar, welcome to the show!

Oscar Sanchez:
Thank you for having me, Stephanie. I'm really excited to be here with you and I have been following the work that you guys are doing and I'm so excited to be here because I think Voice is the power that we all have, luckily, and more and more, even with technology, those that don't have it had the chance to express what we think and what we have. So I cannot be more excited of being here.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:
Oh, we're so happy you're here too. And I love your updates on LinkedIn. Seriously, everyone go follow Oscar on LinkedIn. Just pause the show right now. Go do it. It's well worth your while. And I happened to see a status update that you made recently that had to do with AI Voices and just kind of the disruptive force that they're becoming in the industry. So just to talk about that with you today. So Oscar, AI Voices are everywhere. And from your perspective, where is the technology at now and where is it going?

Oscar Sanchez:
I think the technology, Stephanie, is around us when it comes to AI. Voices, just like everything else in the broadcast world. Meaning that right now we have all the speakers at home, we have all the voices that talk to us when we're in public transportation, when we are at airports, when we go to a government or a facility. Some of those voices are AI. Now, so they are around us. And the process has been accelerated due to the coverage situation because in many other areas of our industry, what we used to think that this is going to happen in 2024 and 2025, when coverage happened, everything was like, oh no, it needs to happen now. And the process has been accelerated in that area as well.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:
Yes, it has. It's wild. Like just watching the technology, even just a couple of years ago I was at the Voice Conference and they were talking about the AI Voices and all kinds of different things and in 2019 it still kind of felt like it was a bit clunky and it wasn't the voices that were starting to even hear today. And I know that it's creeping into broadcast and that's something that's actually quite near and dear to a number of our listeners’ hearts because they work in broadcast, they may feel threatened by AI voices and what's going on. So, from your perspective, how much AI voice do you think is being used in broadcast right now?

Oscar Sanchez:
I think it's used. It is not, and let me use the word not “bad” quote unquote. As many could imagine, it has been accelerated. And for instance, more and more companies are trying to use AI voices for their demos because if I am putting together a demo, I can use an AI voice, send it to my pitch it to my client, and then when the time comes, I can select the right voice that could be directed as I wanted to be on that commercial, for instance. But it's increasing because let's be clear, it decreases cost in many instances. It decreases cost, for instance, and I think we're going to go on that topic as well. It's cheaper to have an AI voice doing radio at 3am when the audience is not as large than having a person at 3am or doing all the night shift. Is it the same? No, it's cheaper. Yes.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:
Right. So we were just thinking about this earlier, but obviously the AI voice is being used in certain ways in radio and in broadcast television. I'm sure some voices that we don't know are actually AI, but they are. So yeah, AI voice is definitely everywhere. I totally hear you on a disc jockey at 3am, possibly being more cost effective for overhead and just your staffing purposes to have an AI voice. But where else is it used in broadcast and where is it most often being applied?

Oscar Sanchez:
It is used a lot on the video game world right now because we need to start normalizing that the video games, all the streaming part of that site and even the games themselves are part of our broadcast world. So there it is. Super use. When they are constructing or building a character, depending on the budget that they have, they are using AI voices that react to the situation. For instance, the AI voice could be from two different sources, could be something created by the deep learning, or could be something that is created based on the voice of a character. I mean, if you have a hockey game, you have all the traditional hockey voices, so you pre-record those and they are going to react automatically to the situations in your video game. That's one of the areas that it's happening more and it's evolving still. It's not perfect yet and it will take time to be as where everybody wants.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:
Right. I think that we're still in that phase where the AI voices are still distinguishable. People know, oh, this is probably AI or that's a real voice, but they are getting better all the time. So I know you're familiar with this story as well, but for the benefit of our audience, in December 2021, on a past episode of Vox Talk, I covered a story about Andy Chanley, a career radio personality whose voice was used to create an AI DJ called Andy. And so it's not just his name being Andy, but it actually stands for Artificial Neural Disc Jockey. And while there's a heartwarming human interest angle to the story and for anyone who wants to go watch the Reuters video, you definitely can. It is a lovely story. Voices like the one that Andy Chanley helped develop though, are creating a disruptive force in the industry. So what are your thoughts on AI DJs and what do they bring to the table and where do they fall short?

Oscar Sanchez:
Andy’s story is the best example of how things are going to evolve or are evolving. AI DJs are consistent. They could be cheap depending on how you are investing your money. And they are flexible because the scheduling part is not complicated. You can bring a guy for a show anytime during the day, just like we were talking. Where do they fall short? I think voice is one of the powers that human beings have to be able to transmit and to share feelings, to be empathetic at certain moments. And that's where the technology is not there yet. So speaking with some friends that are professionals on directing voices for commercials, voices for different products, on movies and everything, you can use an AI voice for something that you are planning. However, when you want to achieve something based on your script or your goals, you still need a human being. Because you can ask that human being to have certain feelings that the AI cannot yet. It's not that all AI have it yet. So if I am asking you, ‘Stephanie, you need to sound a little bit happier.’ But that little bit is not precise. It's not a number yet. You can input the number on the AI, but it's not going to be the same way or not going to be the same sound. That you're going to project us as a human being and that's where still AI is well insured.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:
Yes, I can see that. Just as a person who has been trained classically in voice and just having all the issues of where do you place your tongue and how do you do all these different in the mask of the face, you want to put the sound here. It just seems to me like there's a lot more that goes into just figuring out the right way to even make the sound, let alone try to punch something into a computer saying oh, level two happiness. What does this mean? Right? I don't know. There's so much more nuance. And also the human who is reading the copy, they can infuse their own memories and emotions and basically their own inspiration for what they're doing and it will be unique and different every time. It's like anytime you go see a theater production on stage, every show is going to be different in some way. It's not mechanical. It's not something that you can engineer and reproduce to be the exact same. Because depending on who the audience is, what the mood is, like, what you had for dinner that night, any number of factors can actually go into creating a performance. And AI doesn't necessarily have all of that at its disposal.

Oscar Sanchez:
Absolutely. And just think about the situation: You're driving, and there is a very sad incident that happened in the world two minutes ago. So the last thing that you expect is that the DJ that is on the radio is super happy, not aware of what is happening. It's not able to address what you just read on Twitter or whatever. Well, you're driving, you're not reading, but somebody just told you. So I think that is an area where still we human beings and the voice professionals can take advantage of this. And I know it's complicated and I know the industry is changing a lot and you can feel threatened and you can feel that your work is going to go away. But I think we have two options. You refer to the Post and LinkedIn. You can beat the grumpy old troll just like Dora the Explorers series, and be on guard and be, hey, no, you cannot do this in this company. We're going to work together, but you're not going to stop AI. AI, it's here and it's going to stay here forever. Things that you can do, you can embrace it, you can learn how to work with it because it could become a passive income source for you. Because if you are a professional voice, just like a singer gets money out of every time their song has been played, you can get money out of every time your voice or your characteristical voice is used to be part of an AI project. So I think we need to embrace it and need to be, I mean, aware of what it is. Because not everybody I think we all think there will be a robot in the studio doing what I'm doing, and still we're not there yet.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:
Yeah, the robots have not yet come for you, is what we’re saying. There's still some hope we can keep going. But I know that in our conversations leading up to this conversation, we've also noted that it isn't just the on-air talent who's being replaced necessarily with AI for certain things, like commercials. And I don't even know what imaging would sound like. I don't think that would be really good. But anyway, it's not just the voice people. It's not just the announcers or that it's other people, too. So can you tell us more about how AI and automation is affecting other roles in broadcast?

Oscar Sanchez:
I think it's everywhere when it comes everywhere, because right now you don't need the technology’s evolving so much that we might not need Geoff, because all the boards and all the work is happening automatically. You have the boards pre set up and our voices and our recording is going to be directed. It is happening a lot on its audio, it is happening on video control, it is happening on sports. You can tell that AI is doing the highlights of your favorite sports that you will see on Twitter or on any other social media. And it's automatic. You just need to input what you want in those highlights and the AI is going to adapt to those inputs and it's going to cut the highlights of your hockey games or your Canadian football or your American football, whatever.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:
Oh, sorry, that was like a really visceral kind of way of… but what about curation? What about someone picking something because it makes sense in context. How do they notice

Oscar Sanchez:
That's the other point, Stephanie. However, the part here is highlights, for instance, is very repetitive. In a soccer game, which is what I do a lot is you always want the teams coming out of the locker room. You want the initial whistle of the referee. You want every goal and maybe a card, and you want the half time whistle and the full time whistle. The technology is doing it automatically. There are three, five companies right now doing that and you will be surprised that I can put you the highlights of one package of highest done by person and one has been done by AI and you cannot tell the difference. And you might think that the AI is better. Where do people play a role in this? Stephanie, I think the key is curating, just like you just mentioned. What inputs do you put in those technologies to cut the highlights? What inputs do you create? Is it that the editors are going away? No. Maybe the editors will play a different role instead of being more curators, more people that determine what are the processes to get to those points.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:
Wow, that sounds like almost an entirely different skill set, though. Is it? Do people have to learn how to be more strategic perhaps instead of just doing their role?

Oscar Sanchez:
Yes, definitely. And probably. I think we all need to learn to do something that we usually are not bought for. You need to be a great nine to five employee and you need to do A, B and A plus B plus C to achieve D. But we're not usually thought to think about how to improve and to create strategies to get to D in a different way or to Tweak. So I think we all have the responsibilities and that goes back to what we were discussing in terms of adapt, embrace, look for opportunities, is put your processes in paper, sit down five minutes, more minutes and put them on paper and you will know that that knowledge that you have been accumulating through the last five years or 20 years of your life is valuable and it's going to have a value when it comes to evolve within your career. And that applies to voice as well. Stephanie it's like, how can I be a better voice? How can I adapt? How can I take advantage? For instance, I think one of the areas where voices have been benefited the most in the last ten years is in the disruption that happened to location. You can be a great voice right now and be able to record almost instantly for commercials, for movies, for Radios that are in Australia or that are in Los Angeles and you are in Canada, or if you speak Spanish, for chosen Spain. So I think that's one of the biggest benefits that technology has brought to the area of voices that didn't happen 20 years ago or 30 years ago. 30 years ago, we needed Stephanie to record, send the tape, or send whatever format we had and wait for at least a week to get it on there. And if it definitely didn't hit the recording, we needed to go back and the process was released. Technology is helping us a lot and it's giving us bigger opportunities, just like not only on the broadcast side in general, but also on the Voicing side, which is really important.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:
I like what you said about all that you've done so far in your career is not a waste. You've been in for 25 years or whatever it is, and everything you've learned, the skills that you have, they're transferable. It's just you've got to find a way to adapt, as you said, and embrace what's going on. I think that's a big message for our audience because it's kind of like AI voice the final frontier. These are the poor talent who are worried about their jobs. So it feels like the atmosphere has changed a lot over the past couple of years. I think. I don't speak for everyone in the industry, but it certainly feels like it was like, Oh, that'll never be good enough. But wait a minute, it's getting a little better. Still not passable. Wait a minute. That actually sounds like it's real. So I have not yet been to see Top Gun Maverick. I don't know if you have, but you have. Okay, so you know so how did Val Kilmer's AI voice come across in that film? I know that they were using the voice that was created for him.

Oscar Sanchez:
Yeah, what I read is they took different samples of his voice throughout history and they created and curated, based on those samples, something for the movie. It's impressive. I think it's where technology is going. It's a great opportunity when you think about it, Stephanie, because we're thinking about, in this case, a fictional character in a movie, but what about the people that lost their voices for certain reasons and could have the opportunity to communicate? I don't know you, but if you are in the audience and if one of your loved ones lost their voices and you get the opportunity to hear that I love you again or that I care about you. Thank you. Even though it is through a computer, it's going to make you cry or move your feelings or something, and it's going to give us a better opportunity for communication. So it is that the possibilities are endless. I think we need to, Stephanie, embrace it. Also be transparent. If you are an employee that are thinking on using AI, talk to the people, talk to your DJs, talk to your actors, to the people that provide voices to your projects, because the first thing that they are going to if they feel that you are hiding something, they're going to feel threatened and they are going to be not happy about that and they're not going to help you and it's going to be more complicated. However, if you keep them informed through the process, the things could go better and they could even help you develop what you're trying to achieve. ‘Okay. Yes. Don't worry, we're not going to fire you. We're going to get you a better shift. But we want to avoid having somebody at 3am in the morning to say, ‘Welcome to Radio Blue. This is the Oscar at 3am in the morning and I hope you're having a good time.’

Stephanie Ciccarelli:
Yeah. And that's not hard for an AI voice to say, obviously. Right. But I really do appreciate the whole idea of the employer using this as an opportunity to walk alongside their employees and say, ‘we're going to be embracing this technology. We want you to come along for the ride.’ It's kind of like, are they going to be part of the journey with them or not? And one of the best ways to get buy-in is to help someone understand how it will actually help them. So I guess these AI technologies, they could be augmentative. Like they could help someone to actually do their own work better or to scale what they're able to do. So when you realize that this is going to make me a better professional or it's going to save me time, maybe I won't have to stay late after my shift and cut all these spots because I can go home and have dinner with my family and that matters more to me, then that could really be what helps people understand why this technology is helpful and also to appreciate that it isn't them as people that are being thrown to the wayside. It's more or less just, this is the way the technology is moving. Obviously, we want to be using your voice and we'll create this voice AI voice of you or whatever it might be. But that's a whole other thing. So I know in our questions here, I also did want to ask you, since it is here to stay, should other voice actors consider doing as Andy Chanley did and work with someone to build their own AI voice?

Oscar Sanchez:
Definitely. Because that goes back to the concept of passive income. It talks about how you care for yourself. I think the best part that a voice talent has is that the best tool they have is their voice. But it's also a curse in certain ways because you need to take care of it. You cannot do the same things that others do, going out and coming when it's super cold outside and without protecting your throat or stuff like that. So I think that gives you the flexibility. Can you build your own personality? Can you be at the beach in the Caribbean while you are running the show on a radio? Your voice or your AI voice is running a segment in a radio in Vancouver or in Detroit or anywhere in the world. That is doable, it's possible, but that goes along with the concept of let's build that personality. Stephanie, it's you as a voice professional actor, DJ or whatever, you can build that personality and take advantage of AI and imagine you'll be sitting and you'll be hearing your commercials or you'll be hearing your voice in a commercial that you never recorded, but it's based on your character and you are earning your money out of that. So that's where the industry should be is going and that's where the people, the professionals in this area should try. It's one of the ways that they should try to take advantage of.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:
Those are excellent thoughts and I know a lot of talent have been kind of wondering about this area. There are services out there that are working on individual voices for talent and that sort of thing. So, yeah, it's definitely an area to explore. And I know that in future episodes of Vox Talk, we're going to continue on this AI vein and talk more about those details as they occur to us. But Oscar, this has been a wonderful conversation. I'm so glad that you could join us today.

Oscar Sanchez:
Thank you, you're a great host. Trust me. It's great to have a host, but it's so easy to talk to.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:
Oh, well, that is so kind of you to say. And I want more people to know you, Oscar. So before we go, how can they learn more about what you're doing and follow your work?

Oscar Sanchez:
Thank you, Stephanie. I'm on LinkedIn publishing, trying to publish everyday. I think I have a lot of work in my daily life, but I think writing and publishing, it's like a peace point for me because it's like putting my mind in something else. I'm on LinkedIn. You can find me there at Oscar Sanchez Rivera. And I'm usually sharing information about the broadcast industry, sharing information about talking about how can we take advantage of technology, how can we better colleagues with our colleagues, how can we improve and how can we try to be an industry? Because sometimes we are too segmented and we are trying to. And we are there. We together, strong force, and we take command and share the information, many information that people need for their lives and most important, telling stories, Stephanie, because at the end of the day, that's what we all do. So if you want to look for me there, I'll be there. If not, I'll see you around. Or I'll hear you around, which is more important.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:
Wonderful. Well, thank you, Oscar. We'll talk again soon.

Oscar Sanchez:
Thank you, Stephanie.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:
And that's the way we saw the world through the lens of Voiceover this week. Thank you for listening and for following the show. A big thank you to our special guest, Oscar Sanchez, for sharing his time and insight with us today. If you enjoyed this episode, be sure to share it with your friends. One of the best ways to let us know that you appreciate the show is to drop us a line by emailing [email protected] or joining the conversation on social media for Voices, I'm your host, Stephanie Ciccarelli. Vox Talk is produced by Geoff Bremner. Thank you for listening, and we'll see you next week.

Stephanie Ciccarelli
Stephanie Ciccarelli is a Co-Founder of Voices. Classically trained in voice as well as a respected mentor and industry speaker, Stephanie graduated with a Bachelor of Musical Arts from the Don Wright Faculty of Music at the University of Western Ontario. For over 25 years, Stephanie has used her voice to communicate what is most important to her through the spoken and written word. Possessing a great love for imparting knowledge and empowering others, Stephanie has been a contributor to The Huffington Post, Backstage magazine, Stage 32 and the Voices.com blog. Stephanie is found on the PROFIT Magazine W100 list three times (2013, 2015 and 2016), a ranking of Canada's top female entrepreneurs, and is the author of Voice Acting for Dummies®.
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