Will AI affect the future of voiceover?

A question which has been debated many times in recent years! AI voices used to be clunky and robotic. Voice actors weren’t worried. Now they are becoming more sophisticated, more realistic, more authentic. For the client who wants a cheap, quick vocal to go over a video – why pay a voice actor to make a bespoke recording, when AI is quick and cheap?

AI technology is improving, becoming more and more like the real thing. And a lot of companies will try AI voices at some point – it saves time and money. But in the same way that CDs threatened the existence of vinyl, over time people will yearn for authenticity. Vinyl eventually made its comeback. Not only for old timers like me but also appealing to younger generations who were born into a world of CDs.

Then there were those who never turned away from vinyl, and there will be businesses who always want a real person for their voicework.

  • Some mediums, like voiceover for meditation, will always be better with a real person. There is no soul or spirit in an artificially generated voice. Any teeny distraction would ruin the experience.
  • A brand voice must be distinctive, exclusive; a voice that doesn’t appear in competitor campaigns, an artist who works alongside the company in an ongoing partnership that develops over time. AI will never give that.
  • For smaller jobs, AI can serve a function. Sometime audio is needed for no other reason than the business being able to tick a box to say their marketing materials are inclusive. There may be little thought about the voice other than whether it’s male or female, has a particular accent, is formal or casual, happy or sad. AI will be able to deliver.

The human voice is unique

AI can be programmed to sound emotional – to deliver copy in a happy, sad, carefree, cautious way. But the human voice has a unique power to connect with language. Every human is unique and every voice actor will bring their own interpretation to a piece of copy, and connect with it in different ways.

When a production company is casting for a project, they might shortlist half a dozen voice artists who provide samples that fit the bill. Any of them would be ‘OK’. But sometimes there’s a special one that stands out. The others sound great… until you hear that one. “Wow!! Now THAT’S how the copy should be read.” It’s a performance that not even the person who wrote the copy could give. It’s a performance that’s unknown until that one unique voice artist interprets, connects and delivers that copy in a way that no one else did.

Perfect isn’t always engaging

You might have watched a singer with a great voice who hits all the right notes, in perfect timing, or a dancer with perfect poise and flexibility, performing a complex routine with 100% accuracy. There is absolutely nothing technically wrong with the performances. But sometimes it doesn’t capture your imagination; the performance doesn’t draw you in. But when a performer connects emotionally with a song or dance, you get goosebumps and can’t take your eyes off them.

And it’s that connection that will ensure voice artists continue to work no matter how realistic AI voices become. In the short term companies will want to try out cost-saving technology, and we may see less VO jobs in certain genres. But before long people will realise that something is missing from those commercials, corporate videos, training courses – something they can’t really put their finger on, but that impacts the level of engagement with the message they are trying to get across.

Final thought

In the world of voiceover, engagement with the message is the key. As someone very wise once said: Just because you can hear it, doesn’t mean you are listening.

Photo by Possessed Photography on Unsplash