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David Ciccarelli, Voices: “AI and voice-over are becoming more intertwined”

Advancing audio technology, such as AI, is becoming more integrated in the voice-over industry. This presents just as many new opportunities as there are challenges.

The discussion over the ethics of AI generative audio content and voice-over clones is growing. That conversation must include cybersecurity measures. Without it, professionals and businesses alike could face major data breaches.

The best VPN and top antivirus software might be insufficient. Especially considering the constant changes AI technology is bringing to the recording industry. Agencies and businesses seeking voice services from professional voice talents should connect with trusted platforms that use proven cybersecurity methods. Voice-over professionals should follow suit.

For more insight into the importance of secure communications and data protection in the digital age, we spoke with David Ciccarelli, CEO and Founder of Voices – a marketplace for professional voice-over talents to connect with clients around the globe.

Can you tell us about the history and founding of Voices, and how the company has evolved?

Of course! I started my career as an audio engineer. After graduating from the Ontario Institute of Audio Recording Technology, I opened a recording studio in London, Ontario. On my birthday, a press feature in the local paper brought some awareness to my studio. A surprising coincidence that led to businesses reaching out. They were looking for audio services, such as audio for a commercial or a phone recording system. It was also through this press feature that I met my wife, Stephanie. She was a singer at the time and came in to record songs to add to her repertoire.

I started receiving inquiries for voice-over and audio services. But I needed someone to be the voice. I asked Stephanie if she was willing to provide the voice-over work. I would handle the recording and production. We ended up making a great team. Seeing success in the local community convinced us to move our presence onto the internet. The internet was rapidly growing at the time.

We had no formal coding background. After reading a few books at the library, we built ourselves a website. Once the website was up and running, we started getting attention. Interested voice actors wanted to be featured on our website. Then, with a robust repertoire of voice actor profiles on our site, we started receiving inquiries from ad agencies and businesses. They needed voice-over artists for their creative projects.

It was then that we saw the potential to become a marketplace. A place to connect businesses with talent in an industry that had yet to go digital. We went from doing the voice-over and audio production work to building a unique venue. One where voice talent and creatives can connect and do their best work. Now, more than 15 years later, Voices has over 4 million voice talents on our platform. We have worked with a range of clients. This includes major companies, advertising agencies, small businesses, and more.

Introduce us to what you do. Can you speak to the role of technology in the voiceover industry? And how does Voices.com leverage new tools and platforms to better serve its clients and talent?

The voiceover industry has undergone a significant transformation over the past decade. With technology at the heart, driving that change. It has completely revolutionized the creative’s workflow. It has opened many opportunities for voice-over artists. Technology has enabled remote collaboration. It has allowed voice talent to consider jobs without location barriers.

At Voices, we place technology at the heart of our operations. We are a fully cloud-native platform. We value agility and versatility to develop and commercialize innovative products and services. Our scalable infrastructure operates at peak performance levels to ensure seamless operations, even during periods of high demand.

Moreover, we leverage the latest developments in data science to improve how we connect clients with top-tier talent. VoiceMatch, our proprietary matching algorithm, uses data science technology to match clients with voice talent that are most qualified for the job. It also helps voice talent find jobs that are best suited to their skills. These data-backed personalized suggestions provide our customers with tailored recommendations. One's that lead to successful outcomes for both clients and talent.

Can you discuss some of the biggest challenges facing the voiceover industry today?

Like many other industries, AI is bringing up challenges within the audio and voice-over field. AI voices, also known as synthetic voices, have existed for a while. But, more people are taking an interest in generative AI. AI voices and what it means for the voice-over industry have become more and more of a hot topic.

I find that voice actors have approached this topic with curiosity and concern. That concern isn't misplaced. They're worried that AI voices will displace their livelihood. That their natural voices will get used, without consent, to create AI voices. All this without proper compensation or approval of what their voice is being used for.

Some voice actors are curious about the opportunities a voice clone might bring. Having a clone of their voice could allow them to take on work when they are unable to work, like when they're sick. Voice clones may also be useful for jobs that aren’t economically feasible. For example, a project requires hundreds of thousands of words to be recorded, such as an audio reading of a textbook.

AI and voice-over are becoming more intertwined. I believe this intersection between the two is worth exploring. To approach this area in the right way, there should be heavy consideration given to an ethical approach. One that respects the boundaries and personal morals of voice actors. To explore AI voices in the right way, organizations need to recognize the Three C’s. Those are consent, credit, and compensation.

Consent: Voice-over talent needs to give explicit consent for a client, platform, or company to clone their voice. They should also consent to how their voice will get used. They will want to ensure their voice gets used in ways they deem appropriate. Also, the words that their clone needs to say will align with their personal values.

Credit: Voice talent should get recognition. They should get credit for their work and their cloned voice.

Compensation: Voice-over artists should get compensation for the use of their voice clones. This arrangement might be on a per-project basis. Or, if providing a voice for one company, payment on an annual contract.

As long as decisions get made with these guiding principles in mind, the voice-over industry will stay on the right track.

Can you speak to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the voiceover industry? How did Voices.com adapt to the new realities of remote work and virtual collaboration?

COVID definitely changed the way we work across the board. One notable trend we found during the pandemic is that freelance talent is on the rise.

For workers across all industries, the pandemic has forced us to completely re-imagine the traditional working model. It led workers to re-evaluate their priorities and values in their professional life. Work-life balance and flexibility have become greater priorities. The shift to remote work showed us we can be just as productive at home as in the office.

Because of this, we saw a jump in people exploring self-employment and freelancing during COVID. We found evidence of this on the Voices platform. Between 2020 and 2021, jobs posted on the Voices platform grew by more than 40% year‑over‑year. The number of registered voice talent on our site increased by 220% year‑over‑year. As an online marketplace, we’ve always enabled remote collaboration. During the pandemic, we were fortunate to continue helping voice-over artists secure work, even during the lockdowns.

For our employees, we quickly pivoted to work-from-home for a couple of days. We were uncertain about how everything was going to play out. But I was pleasantly surprised at how well we managed.

As pandemic restrictions lifted, we made updates to our office space to accommodate hybrid working. We added new technology that enabled virtual collaboration. For instance, meeting rooms with video conferencing features are built into the room. Overall, becoming a remote-led organization has greatly benefitted us.

Can you discuss some of the emerging trends, difficulties, and opportunities in the voiceover industry?

Last year, we released our 2023 Trends Report. It found that audio routines are becoming even more of a staple in the daily routine. People are reaching their capacity for video content and are shifting to audio. One of the benefits audio content has over video is its convenience and portability. You don’t need to stare at a screen for an audio experience. This makes it a convenient form of media to consume while on the go or while multitasking.

This is great news for voice-over artists. As the popularity of audio experiences grows – including podcasts or audiobooks – advertising money will follow. That brings more jobs and more projects to the market.

One thing considered both a challenge and an opportunity is the rise of AI voices. Over the past year, we’ve experienced a surge in demand for projects in the voice assistant category. An astounding increase of 440% year-over-year. As the audio industry and generative AI space grow, there could be ample opportunity for voice-over artists. The challenge is to make sure that voice cloning gets done in a way that’s fair for the voice artist.

In your opinion, what are the most serious threats affecting the eCommerce landscape?

As far as security, phishing threats are becoming more frequent and more convincing. These threats use social engineering to trick victims into making security mistakes. The goal is acquiring sensitive information or money. We see this a lot in businesses big and small. Workers will receive phishing emails.

One's where bad actors pretend to be a figure of authority in the company, such as the president or CEO. The email will often contain a sense of urgency. It will make it seem like an important task needs their immediate attention.

What I find particularly dangerous is that email phishing scams appear to come from a figure of authority. Many times the requests seem plausible enough. Which reduces the number of red flags these emails give off. For someone that doesn’t know how to spot these threats, they might be at risk of falling for them.

Ongoing cybersecurity education will benefit individuals and organizations. It will protect them from security threats.

Talking about staying safe online, what security tools do you consider crucial?

Today, security is among the most critical factors in running a successful online platform. At Voices, we're serious about the security of our systems and data. We have implemented state-of-the-art technology to protect our platform from bad actors. We have a fully deployed security program to ensure compliance with security regulations. This includes GDPR, PIPEDA, and others.

Some of the processes and tools considered crucial are:

Risk Assessment: We conduct a comprehensive assessment to identify potential cyber risks and vulnerabilities specific to the online business. This involves evaluating the existing infrastructure, applications, data storage, and possible threats.

Continuous Monitoring and Testing: We use trusted systems for continuous monitoring and threat detection. Tools like intrusion detection systems along with security information and event management (SIEM) systems. Also, conducting regular penetration testing and vulnerability assessments.

Secure Infrastructure: We have implemented appropriate security measures for the cloud and on-premise infrastructure. This includes firewalls along with intrusion detection and prevention systems. To mitigate vulnerabilities, we use secure network configurations and regular software updates and patches.

Data Protection: We have measures to protect sensitive data. For example, encryption for data in transit and at rest, secure backup and recovery procedures, and access controls. All to make sure only authorized individuals can access and manipulate data.

Incident Response Plan: We have effective plans to respond to and recover from cybersecurity incidents. This includes establishing incident response teams and defining escalation procedures. Also, regular testing and updates to the plan to address emerging threats.

Employee Training and Awareness: We conduct regular training and awareness sessions to educate employees about cybersecurity risks. Training includes safe online practices and the importance of adhering to established security policies and procedures.

It's important to remember that cybersecurity education is an ongoing process. Training programs should get regular updates to address emerging threats and changes in the online environment.

In your opinion, what does the future of the voiceover industry look like?

I know I’ve mentioned AI a few times already, but it’s definitely the primary driver of change in the voice-over industry. We’ll see more creatives incorporating AI voices into their workflow in the future. We recently surveyed professionals in creative positions. It included creative producers, marketers, and designers.

Over 40% percent of creatives already tried using AI voice or text-to-speech software to create a voice-over recording. 60% would consider using one in the future. For those that have used an AI voice, we discovered speed was the top reason for getting an AI voice. People wanted a voice available for an instant download. Some have also tried using an AI voice as a sample, proof of concept, or placeholder in the project. At least until their final audio gets recorded.

That said, I think we can see AI voices start to become a tool in a creative producer’s workflow. Our AI in the Creative Industry Report found that 85% of creatives believe AI can enhance human creativity. In the world of voice-over, it’s not too far out there to imagine creatives experimenting with different styles of AI voices. It's to see which voice fits their project best before committing to a recording with a human voice.

And finally, what’s next for Voices? How do you plan to stay ahead of the curve and continue innovating in the years to come?

We’re starting to work on a proof of concept to offer AI voices on our platform. We are very much in the early stages and are still figuring out how all this will come to life. In the long term, with enough interest from software developers and other stakeholders, we hope to provide a platform for clients to access AI voices created by professional voice talent.

As we make our way forward in this area, we’re keeping an open conversation channel with our voice talent and clients. Whatever our next moves are, we’re making decisions with our community in mind. We're keeping with our values, including the Three C’s, to guide us.

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