The Human Touch: Why Voiceover Artists Outshine AI Voices

human voices bring authenticity to voiceover, Liz Drury voice over artist

In today’s rapidly evolving digital landscape, the debate between human voiceover artists and AI-generated voices is gaining momentum. While AI voices promise efficiency and speed, do they truly match the authenticity and emotion of a human voice? Liz Drury, a seasoned voiceover artist, delves into this debate, shedding light on the unique qualities that make human voices irreplaceable and how human voices bring authenticity to voiceover.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last 6 months, you can’t fail to have noticed that newspapers, blogs and social media feeds everywhere have been full of news and comments about artificial intelligence, or AI.

Many people have tried out ChatGPT and asked it to write posts, articles, stories and even poems with mixed and sometimes hilarious results. People are quickly realising that they will only get something useable out if they have put detailed information in, and a new market for ‘done for you AI prompts’ is emerging. That’s another story, though; the purpose of this blog is to look at AI voices and why you might still want to use a real human…

AI voices have been available for a while, but they’ve generally sounded a bit robotic – think about the sat nav in your car, or Siri, or Alexa – sure, they sound human, but nobody would ever mistake them for a real voice. These AI voices are, of course, based on real people, and the voiceover artists behind them spent hours in the studio recording sentences that could then be broken apart and reassembled into other words and phrases. The new AI voices are being produced much more quickly using deep learning, and now a voice can be cloned from a much smaller sample.

The advantages of an AI voice are that it doesn’t get tired like a real human – it doesn’t need to take breaks or go on holiday, and it never gets ill. It never has to stop in the middle of a recording to cough or sneeze, and there are never any annoying mouth clicks or stomach grumbles to edit out, which makes the recording and editing process far quicker.

However, something that is still missing from these cloned voices is real emotion. As humans, emotion is how we connect with each other, and when the voice we are listening to seemingly has no emotion, we find it a bit unnerving, and we tend to switch off.

Although the new AI voices are definitely getting better at sounding human, and we may find it hard to ‘spot the fake’ when listening to a short recording, we can usually tell when we listen to a longer narration. This is problematic for audiobooks and e-learning courses, for example, where listeners/learners are listening to many hours of audio.

As humans, emotion is how we connect with each other, and when the voice we are listening to seemingly has no emotion, we find it a bit unnerving and we tend to switch off.

There is a natural variation in our speech patterns. We don’t always say things exactly the same way – humans are inconsistent, but machines are not, which is probably why we can tell when we’re not listening to a real person. It will take a lot of work to create a narration that sounds properly human if you have to edit in variation – and breaths! A narration with no breath sounds very unnerving, and listeners are unconsciously waiting to hear breathing and find it odd when there is none.

I work for several e-learning companies, and my clients are telling me that you still can’t beat a real human voice. In fact, one had tried an AI voice but found that their learners just weren’t immersed in the learning environment. The AI lacked articulation and didn’t always get pronunciations right. A real voice keeps the learner focussed on the actual learning, rather than wondering if they are listening to a real person or not, and listening out for the next mistake!

Talking of mistakes, something that an artificial voice definitely can’t do right now is spot mistakes in a script. There have been a number of times when I’ve spotted typos in scripts that totally change the meaning of a sentence, and clients have always been really grateful when I’ve pointed it out. An AI voice will just spit out what it’s been given.

It’s a similar story with scripts that have been translated from another language. The translator may have done a good job – but there are always little words and phrases that aren’t quite right – and that only a native speaker would spot. You need a human to pick up these nuances that make the difference between the audience knowing they are listening to something that has been translated and not realising it was originally in another language.

Imagine if the script had been fed into a computer and converted to speech, and it wasn’t properly proofed afterwards – it could be embarrassing at least and dangerous at worst. I’ve voiced important things like health and safety videos and instructional videos for medical clinicians – you definitely don’t want those to be wrong…

A machine will not collaborate with you. It will only do what you tell it to do. A real voiceover artist can offer helpful input to make your project the best it can be. A real person can be creative in ways that machines cannot.

At present, AI voices do not understand context. As we all know there are many words in the English language that are pronounced differently depending on the context – are you reading a book, or going to the town of Reading?

I’ve been talking to some of my clients recently about their thoughts on AI and there’s a general feeling that if you want a quality product then you are better off using a human. Companies that care about their brand and their image, will want to use a real person. One production told me they felt that using AI for voiceover was the start of a slippery slope and would take away from their professionalism. It might be more expensive to use a voice actor, but it’s the difference between buying something cheap and mass-produced, and something that has been lovingly hand-crafted (voiced) specifically for their project. Human voices bring authenticity to voiceover. Companies that want to be thought of as high-end and charge premium prices for their products or services, will prefer to use real voices – and those are the sorts of companies I would rather work with anyway!

If you’d like to work with me – or if you’d just like to have a chat about how a (real) voiceover artist might help your business, you can find me at www.lizdrury.co.uk or drop me an email to liz@lizdrury.co.uk

To find out more about our services and how we can support your business