I recently took part in a (Lonestar) voice over panel with an anime animation coach and a dubbing ADR coach. They were excited to tell me in a chat afterward that they both had been booking eLearning voice overs of late because of gamification. A section of the voice over industry that might not have overlapped with their voice niche earlier, has opened up. It got me thinking about what other areas of voice over might be expanding, what other roles and opportunities might be available for a voice over artist.
In my last two posts, I wrote about my discussion with Connie Malamed, instructional designer, coach, and all-around giant about the directions and trends in the eLearning industry as well as the impact of AI. In this article, I’m going to discuss the expanding creative directions for voice over artists. How to take advantage of new developments and how to beat the AI nemesis (I’m mostly joking about that last one, but also, I’m not) with the advice of Connie Malamed peppered throughout. As she put it, “The industry is evolving. People are learning more about how people learn. Instructional designers are learning more about how people learn.”
How Do Voice Over Artists Factor Into the eLearning World?
As a professional voice over artist, I am completely 100% biased towards professional voice over in eLearning. Thankfully Connie and I are of one mind on this issue. She explains, “because when you use someone in-house unless they happen to be extremely skilled at it, your product just sounds bad, it really does,” and I agree. “Sometimes people have zero budget. What are you going to do right? But I have used in-house, maybe 50% of the time, and when I listen to it, it’s extremely disappointing.”
With the rise in work from home models (demanded by employees and encouraged as a cost-saving model by leaders) eLearning is only going to expand and grow. “More people are producing videos for professional education. And more people realize how boring a talking head is, I mean after a couple of minutes you just leave. You need professional voices to do the voiceover for the B roll.”
This is exciting feedback. Personally, I anticipate voice over will become something more top tier than it might have been without AI and text to speech. What does that mean for voice over artists? An increase in the need to hone their craft. Whether for good or for bad. Amateurs who simply ‘read the script’ without imbuing thought and emotion into it, will be replaced by simple text to speech. To dodge the AI bullet heading our way, actors, writers, and voice over artists will have to become more creative, more adaptive, and also, more contract and business savvy.
AI in Audiobooks and eLearning Voice Over
Very few textbooks have been turned into audiobooks so some argue it’s a sector of the industry that can benefit from AI and text to speech. I disagree. People think that textbooks and educational books often require less acting and more reading, so it’s a place where they may see an AI’s dry, slightly monotone delivery might not be as noticeable.
However, textbooks need professional voice over to help bring that material alive. Textbook audiobook work I’ve recorded in the past few years has been anything but dry. The biology, data mining, and history textbooks I recorded all had a very chatty, podcast-NPR feel to the delivery.
Text to Speech and Voice Over Rights in Perpetuity
A big issue in the voice over community is companies who want a voice over artist to record for text to speech and sign off on rights in perpetuity. A lot of voice over artists are leaping in with both feet and taking advantage of the text-to-speech and AI jobs. To my mind, this is short-term gain, long-term pain. The question becomes whether you want a job or a career. A job might pay off in the short term but in the long term, there are more implications.
Sure, AI voices currently sound robotic, and maybe a voice over artist isn’t concerned about selling off the robot version of themselves because they can still work on projects using their acting skills. However, looking to the future, there is a risk that AI progresses to the point where that recording you did five years ago can be used for a more authentic sounding AI. One that might make your work redundant.
So, when thinking of licensing your voice for AI, usage, length of time, buy-out, or royalty share are all things we need to look at very closely. Reputable companies will create agreements for use of the AI model of a voice actor, with their permission, and without retaining ownership, either for a respectable single-use buyout or for royalty share.
They are the next generation of AI companies, ones that don’t want a reputation for ripping off artists, who are themselves, looking to the long term. There is also potential for voice over artists to license their own AI voices, perhaps dubbing more emotionally complex lines at an additional cost.
How to Be Adaptable and Ready for New Opportunities
In the first article of this three-part series, I spoke with Connie Malamed about the pandemic and how it affected the rapid expansion of online vs in-person training as companies saw the many benefits of eLearning. It’s one of the reasons why I wanted to talk to Connie because she has such an insight into that particular sphere.
Much like traditional, hand-drawn animators had to learn to work on computers when CGI joined the chat, a voice over artist needs to spot where the industry is leaning and adjust. And let’s not forget hand-drawn animation never died, it just moved. Anime is largely traditionally animated, revered for its artistic feel, and growing in popularity around the world. Lots of voice over dubbing jobs!