Things have been a bit quiet lately in my voiceover business. The nature of being a freelancer is that work always ebbs and flows, and the summer is traditionally one of the quiet times. However, things seem to have tailed off earlier than I would normally expect this year.
In the 10 years I’ve been working in this industry I’ve found that the work always comes back again, but a quiet period still makes me a bit nervous – and doubly so this year with all the talk about AI taking over…
So is AI really the reason why things are a bit quiet at the moment?
I decided to ask some clients that I haven’t heard from in a while a few questions to see if I could get to the bottom of what’s really going on. I asked if they were noticing a downturn in their work too, whether they just hadn’t had any projects recently that need voiceover, or if the projects they were getting weren’t suitable for me, and I also asked if they thought AI was having an impact.
Eleven people responded to me and the results were very interesting.
Some were noticing a similar trend of less work this year. Reasons cited include COVID, increasing competition from India and China where rates are lower, the increased cost of living in the UK, the war in Ukraine affecting the economy, and losing clients due to mergers/acquisitions (which could be due to all the previous factors).
A couple of production companies said there was a trend towards ‘narrative led’ videos which don’t require any voiceover, so they just hadn’t needed me lately. One said that recently they’d had a couple of clients ask for voiceover artists they’d used previously to help with brand consistency. They were also seeing very specific briefs that would only suit a small number of voiceover talent.
One of my e-learning clients said they were doing less bespoke work, and therefore had not needed any new voiceover for a while – but they would definitely be in touch again when they did. Another said that they’d had projects recently where the client wanted to do the voiceover themselves.
A couple of people said they had a lot of voiceover artists on their rosters or approaching them looking for work, and they thought could be that the market place is just overcrowded.
However, AI doesn’t seem to be a major factor in the downturn in work – at least not yet.
One client said he had a few customers using AI voiceover for smaller projects, but he’d found that prepping and adjusting the scripts to generate an acceptable audio file could take as long as having a human talent record them, so the profit margin was more or less the same.
Another felt that the AI voices she had looked at sounded bad, and were also difficult to use, creating more work for her. She said she didn’t have time to learn how to use the AI voice effectively so it was quicker and easier to hire a real person.
She wasn’t the only one to think that the AI delivery is not currently up to scratch. Another said he felt that AI generated audio still doesn’t have the natural nuances, tone and delivery of a real person, and he thought it could actually de-value a production. He had not used, nor was he planning to use, AI generated VO or presenters for his productions as he feel this leads a professional production company down a slippery slope.
Another of my e-learning clients said that although technology is improving day by day, and it would be easy to just use an AI voiceover in e-learning packages, nothing so far beats a real human voice. She felt that a human voiceover adds articulation that is extremely difficult to get with an AI voice and helps immerse the learner into their learning environment. Words are always pronounced correctly, so you don’t get the obvious mistakes that are difficult to avoid with AI, and this keeps the learner focused on the actual learning. Real voices can sound relaxing and encouraging, making her e-learning packages engaging and professional.
Another e-learning provider said that they would consider using an AI voice when budgets are squeezed, but this would be on the understanding that the quality of the finished product would be lower than if a real human narrated the content.
So it seems there are a number of factors creating the current quiet period, and AI is possibly not the main one – at least not yet.
I’m hoping that most of my clients feel like this one:
‘AI is certainly an interesting talking point in the creative world at the moment. We don’t use AI here for voiceover work, we still think you can’t beat the real thing.’