Your Voice Could Be the Next Great Thing in Computing

her_loading_helixA headline to a post written by Backchannel Editor, Jessi Hempel, reads, “Voice is the Next Big Platform, and Alexa Will Own It.”

Hempel writes about the maturing of Amazon’s Echo in the coming years. How we’ll access information using our voice and not the keyboard, touch screen or other input devices we rely on now. Speak it, and it will come. Think Star Trek’s Computer on the Next Generation Enterprise, Theodore Twombly’s assistant Samantha in the motion picture Her, or the HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

It’s Not What You Say, it’s What You Hear

Part of the excitement of using voice input are the voice responses from the device. Retrieving requested information and executing tasks on demand is a natural extension of how we live with computers. The voice feedback should sound natural and genuinely human.

What We Have Now

If you own an iPhone, Siri responds when you utter a request. Asking Siri to do the same thing multiple times might give you a variety of verbal responses, but the intonation of the same response sounds the same from the first instance to the next. Changes in vocal texture are missing, and they’re what’s needed to make the experience more comfortable and life-like.

Could This Be the Next Big Thing for Voice Actors?

Imagine being booked to record thousands of phrases multiple times. Each time you repeated a phrase, it would contain unique vocal qualities. Then, intelligent AI programming, using natural language processing, would use your words to build responses on the fly. Voice stress, breathiness, pace, and volume would be part of the reply computation.

Maybe you would audition your voice from one company to another. Companies, like Microsoft, Google, Apple, Amazon, and others, could catalog voices and make choosing a specific one an option when buying a device like an iPhone or Echo.

You wouldn’t pay to have your voice hosted, but would receive a royalty payment whenever a client selects it as the voice for their new device. Perhaps in the future, there will be a need for a new type of agent who focuses only on voices for vocal response.

It’s Happening

Last year I was invited to record thousands of phrases for a cutting edge company working on delivering a unique voice to vocally challenged people. VocalID is transforming digital speech replacement with human vocal characteristics. Their charter is to bring speaking machines to life. They’re doing that by matching vocal efforts of people who don’t have the ability of speech with those who do and using special software to meld the two. The result is surprising.

What’s next?

Vocal banks may become a new opportunity for voice actors. More devices and situations for vocal feedback are coming. The companies working on AI and voice interfaces, like those mentioned above, will create more needs for vocal feedback and your voice may be part of their roster.

© 2017 J. Christopher Dunn

5 Ways to Share Your Voice-Acting Talent

Reading is at the center of what voice-actors do. Being able to read well, add vocal color, and apply the right amount of emotion is what makes words pop from the page. Not everybody has this talent, but most people appreciate somebody who reads well. Here are five local possibilities to share what you love to do professionally with people in your community who will truly appreciate it.

1.  Community Theater

Shortly after I made the decision to be a full time voice-actor, I joined a community theater. The cool thing about this particular troupe is that it’s all audio. We perform original material monthly in front of a live studio audience  and once a year, we reenact old radio dramas. The performances are recorded for later broadcast on the local radio station. Being involved with community theater is a great way to stretch your voice-acting abilities. Check out your local theater and audition for their next play. Start with a small part and make it your own.

2.  Library

Libraries are constantly looking for talented volunteers to enrich the experience of people who use their services. Most have story hours for young readers and I’ve heard of a few that offer readings from best sellers and newly arrived titles during the evening. The next time you visit your local library, ask the librarian how you can get involved. The key here is to use your voice, so make it clear that’s how you want to volunteer.

3.  School

If you have children, you know the joy of reading to them and watching their face in amazement as they listen to every word. Show your support for children’s literacy and take that reading opportunity a step further by reading at your local school. Youngsters who don’t have parents that take the time to read to them will truly appreciate your time. Talk with your kid’s teachers or the school principal to find out how you can become involved.

4.  Church

Take your enjoyment of church from the pew to the pulpit. Offer to read from the good book or deliver the sermon. Find an opportunity to engage the congregation in your delivery of the spoken word. After service classes are also a good bet. Sunday school and adult Bible classes may be great opportunities for you to get involved.

5.  Read for Those Who Can’t

My grandma lost her eyesight to Macular Degeneration. Before that, she was an artist, seamstress, quilt maker, a lover of crosswords and an avid reader. After losing her sight, she appreciated having somebody read to her. The newspapers, magazines and books that she previously loved to read became available once again. Bedridden patients in hospitals, hospices, and long or short term care facilities will appreciate your willingness to read for them and find your visits enjoyable.

I’m sure there are other opportunities for you to get involved with your community, using your talent as a voice-actor. I’d love to hear about your experiences.