If you’re a business owner that depends on content marketing to reach and convert an audience, you have probably considered investing in the creation of branded audio content at one point, and with the driver of most audio content being voice, you might have also considered hiring a voice actor. For business, finding the right voice to represent your brand is of paramount importance. This is because hiring a voice actor isn’t a simple expense, rather it is a long-term investment. In one sense, voice is the first medium of interaction between a business and its client, and as such, the role of the voice is to imprint a lasting first impression that builds trust and engagement.
Human Vs. AI?
These days, there are mainly 2 options for businesses to go to for reliable voiceover work: they can hire a freelance voice actor or use an AI voiceover. Businesses can get connected to freelance talent through voiceover marketplaces like Upwork or Freelancer, or generate AI voiceovers through text to speech (TTS) software. The rising challenge then becomes one of choosing between these two routes.
Until only a few years ago, the very act of comparing a real voice actor with an artificial voice actor would’ve been met with great speculation and raised eyebrows. Back then, our only experiences with the fledgling technology that was speech synthesis were conversations with Siri and awkward customer support robots. Even today, one might be doubtful of the capability of an AI voice. However, recent advancements in speech synthesis technology has now allowed for the generation of human-like voice that is nearly indistinguishable to natural speech, even in a side-by-side comparison. Of course, this is not to say that voice acting can/will be completely replaced by AI. After all, voice acting is a delicate art that requires a uniquely complex timbre and rhythm that can take years of practice and fine-tuning to master. But if we are talking about a recurring, sustainable audio content strategy, there might not be a more accessible medium than AI voice. Here are a few reasons why.
The clearest line of comparison between a freelance voice actor and an AI voice can be drawn in costs. According to Voices.com, the three deciding factors that influence freelance voiceover costs are an actor’s hourly rates, length of script, and whether or not the voiceover will be broadcasted commercially (Radio, TV, Internet ad). The average 5 minute voiceover can cost $499, and if broadcasted on local TV for a minimum of 13 weeks, there is an added cost of $749. These costs can grow to $1,249 for a 45 minute piece, and $7,499 for a national TV ad.
In comparison, AI voices have a far more accessible price tag. Free TTS platforms offering a variety of different voices are widely available in the internet, and the most expensive offerings are usually limited to freemium plans ranging from $17.49 per month to $49.00 per month. Similar to the traditional freelancer route however, the quality of a particular AI voiceover can increase in proportion to cost. This can be explained by the different methods used in the synthesis process: while many common TTS engines use decades-old technology, there is a growing collection of TTS platforms that differentiate themselves with advanced techniques such as the Deep Neural Network (DNN) approach, which in turn generates substantially higher quality synthesis. We’ve explored the different TTS methodologies in a previous post.
There is also a clear distinction when it comes to the complexity of the process involved in working with either a freelance actor or an AI voice. Both formats obviously require a preliminary creative stage of ideation and copywriting, but although P2P marketplaces have largely democratized access to freelancers, finding the right voice actor and working with someone productively is a completely different issue. Let’s do a step-by-step breakdown of the process.
Step 1) Selection
You have to go through the process of choosing the right voice actor for you. This usually involves sampling through numerous voice profiles, each with its own unique selling point. Thankfully, many marketplaces nowadays offer category-based catalogues to simplify your search, but many a times each individual freelancer profile can contain a variety of samples for you to go through.
Step 2) Negotiation
Once you’ve chosen the right actor, you will have to negotiate a rate. As stated before, rates are dependent on numerous factors and can vary by scenario. The availability of a voice actor is also dependent on both the demand of the particular freelancer, and his/her corresponding schedule.
Step 3) Work
After discussing a fair rate, the voice actor will collaborate with you to make sure that the output is up to your standards. This stage can involve numerous reedit requests and re-recordings to customize the final voiceover, and usually takes days of communication and planning.
With an AI voice, there is no need to work with anyone but yourself. You still have to sample through a few voice profiles, but this stage would only take at most 5 minutes, with collections organized by diverse parameters such as tone, emotion, age, gender, use-case, and other filters that allow you to make a smart search. And it goes without saying that voice actors are available to use at your whim 24/7, and there are no rates to discuss.
In terms of customization, modern-day TTS platforms offer countless specs and tools that allow you to seamlessly make edits to your voiceover. You can add emphasis to particular words in a sentence, modify speech speed and even change the emotional tone of a voice. If there are specifically complicated terminology or pronouns to pronounce, you can easily train your voiceover interface to correct its pronunciation. The possibilities are vast, and continue to grow.
Scalability & Localization
As the scope and scale of your voiceover operation grows, so does the applicability of an AI voice. When automating enterprise call centers, producing localized e-learning content, or giving hundreds of unique voices to NPCs in a virtual game, relying on a freelance voice actor can introduce large roadblocks. Any large-scale voice project would require hundreds of hours of collaborative work, studio sessions, and numerous voice actors to complete. In stark contrast, an AI voice can be almost immediately tested and deployed, and would only require a few hours of custom modifications to implement.
The creation process for a voiceover through the freelancer method becomes even more complicated and inaccessible as localization gets involved. While, both methods require preliminary translation work, in this particular area of comparison, the freelancer method becomes limited by its very humanity.
Imagine you’re creating a corporate training course. For that course to be widely accessible to international viewers, you’ll need to produce that course in a variety languages other than the primary dominant language. For each language added, one has to go through a completely new and separate selection and production process — working to find, vet, negotiate, and collaborate with a new voice actor each time.
In summary, both the freelancer and AI routes are viable options, each with its own advantages. Freelancers are understandably still the norm in dramatic fields that require creativity and careful artisanship. But AI voice can serve an invaluable complementary role, filling in the technical gaps, and democratizing access to voiceovers for projects that the traditional freelancer route wouldn’t be able to accommodate. As such, if you’re looking for a voiceover that is easily customizable, infinitely scalable, and effortlessly natural, an AI voice actor could be the right fit for your next project.
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Related blogs you should read:
– How to Create a Professional Voiceover in 5 Minutes
– How to Save 90% of Your Budget on Voiceover Content