Is Technology Taking Over Voiceover?

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Actors, entertainers, voice professionals, and broadcasters all share the same thing: They rely heavily on their voices to advance their careers.

A voice is every bit of an instrument to them as an 18th century cello is to an orchestral musician, or a beloved old Fender guitar is to a traveling musician. It is uniquely yours, and it defines your sound, and your very brand, to the rest of the world. It doesn’t matter whether you’re on camera or on stage: Your voice is all you.

While this is obvious if you’re a marquee-gracing lead actor or a world famous tenor, it is just as valid if you’re starring in a local theatrical production, joining a network sitcom cast, voicing a regional ad campaign, or otherwise pursuing an honest, if not-quite-red-carpet career in acting, entertainment, theater, or media.

Catastrophic Impact
For most actors, losing their voice either through illness, accident or some other cause can have a catastrophic impact on their career no matter who they are or what they do. Unsurprisingly, the financial services market has responded with solutions of its own, and as a result it is now relatively common for a-list performers to take insurance out on their voices to protect themselves in case the worst happens.

Bruce Springsteen kicked the trend off when he bought a $6 million policy from Lloyd’s of London in the late 1980s, as did Bob Dylan and Rod Stewart. More recently, Adam Lambert, newly minted frontman of the iconic rock band Queen, insured his voice for $54 million in advance of a major – and consistently sold out – world tour.

Julie Andrews could have used insurance, as well, when surgery to remove vocal cord nodules in 1997 went bad and left her unable to hit notes in her traditionally effortless upper register. She continued her acting career, focusing mostly on roles that did not require her to sing, but any return to “Sound of Music”-type work was dashed.

Critical care insurance has also emerged as an alternative of sorts, giving actors and other performers a means of keeping the money coming in if their primary instrument is somehow silenced. In both cases, insurance can provide a certain sense of peace of mind, but it doesn’t do anything to replace a lost voice. For that, there’s healthcare.

Technology to the Rescue
Beyond insurance policies, the technologies and processes associated with returning at least some semblance of voice-based function to those who have lost it continue to advance at a blistering pace. Just as consumer technologies like computers, tablets and smartphones become ever faster, more efficient and cost effective, voice-assistive technologies are similarly becoming more capable and affordable for the audience that needs them.

For example, the Parkwood Institute’s Speech Language Pathology and Audiology team delivers cutting edge care to patients who suffer from a range of communication disorders. In one notable case, a stroke victim using a Dynavox Vmax device can easily maintain full conversations and serves as a mentor to other locked in patients.

The technology can also be affordable. Arsh Shah Dilbagi, a 16-year-old student in India, has invented a device, called Talk, that converts breath into words. He has been selected as one of the 15 finalists for the Google Science Fair 2014, and says his invention will help patients affected by a number of illnesses, including Locked-In Syndrome, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, and speech impairments such as Dysarthria. He says these devices affect 1.4 percent of the world’s population, and easy-to-implement, affordable technology can have a significant positive impact on the lives of those affected.

Talk uses a mouth- or nose-proximity sensor that converts brief exhales—or sniffs—into Morse Code-like dots, and slightly longer exhales, known as dashes, into a Morse Code-like communication medium. Using this breath-enabled Morse Code to build words, phrases and sentences, the device can be taught a fairly extensive vocabulary, which subsequently allows users to communicate in real-time using Talk’s synthesized voice.

It’s pretty advanced, impressive stuff that’s already making a difference in countless patients’ lives. At the same time, the technology hasn’t advanced to the point that the fidelity would support the same level of professional performance as someone who still has full vocal capabilities.

Robots Aren’t Taking Over
With that in mind, actors and other industry professionals need not worry that their jobs will somehow be taken over by emerging voice-replacement technology, as the technology itself still has orders of magnitude more evolution ahead of it. And even then, who would want to watch an electronic box tread the boards? As long as he’s able, I’ll take my Clint Eastwood straight-up, with no additional technology, thank you.

Regardless, assistive technologies like Talk open up new avenues for voice work, as all these devices and related applications and services will require unique professional voice and production capabilities to make them come alive. They also offer new alternatives for industry professionals who may suddenly find themselves voiceless and wondering what their next steps should be. Thanks to a new wave of creative technologists and therapists, there’s never been more hope or potential.

See a demonstration of Talk here.

Source: Voice Over Times

For more, visit www.voiceovertimes.com.

As Voices.com’s senior writer, Carmi Levy is responsible for engaging the company’s audience in innovative ways, and positioning the organization as a thought leader in - and well beyond - the voice community. As a technology analyst and journalist, his work has explored the transformative impact of technology on business and culture. He has published in a wide range of publications, including Yahoo Canada Finance and the Toronto Star, and comments regularly for CTV, the CBC, Business News Network, and the Canadian Press. He believes passionately in technology’s ability to create new opportunity. Beyond the keyboard, Carmi is an avid cyclist, an addicted photographer and a mediocre cook. Most importantly, he's husband to one very understanding wife, and dad to three very fast-growing teenagers. A rescued, incredibly loud miniature schnauzer named Frasier rounds out a house that never seems to sleep.