Thinking of Licensing Your Voice for AI? — Don’t End Up Like Ariel

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Before you decide to license your voice to an artificial intelligence (AI) tech company, there are many important considerations.

Especially given that AI voice tech is rapidly evolving over days rather than years. Singer Holly Herndon warns artists not to end up like Ariel—losing control of their unique voice.

Digital voice work includes narrating words for text-to-speech, synthesized voices, and AI voice dubbing. All of these applications are part of a rapidly evolving space that may soon impact artist rights from singers to voice actors, narrators, and anyone in the audio industry.

Getting compensated fairly for the use of your voice means being aware of how things are playing out.

Digital voice licensing and the usage of voices for AI are in their infancy as the technology develops. With just a few minutes of audio, AI can accurately re-create a voice—which poses challenges for anyone doing voice work. A great example of this is highlighting Barcelona’s Sónar Festival from 2022. Artist Mat Dryhurst stepped up to the mic, but what came out was the lilting voice of his wife, Holly Herndon. As Pitchfork puts  it, “when Dryhurst giggled, the sound was unmistakably hers, high and clear like a bell—and not, as far as anyone could hear, some kind of electronic trick, but as seemingly real as the sound of any human larynx can be.”

The performance was part of Herndon’s demonstration of Holly+, an AI that uses neural nets to swap one sound for another. Creating that means you could conceivably make Holly say anything, perfecting deepfakes and narrating audiobooks without actual input from the artist. So before you rush off to strike a deal with an AI tech company like Grimes’ outfit—stop and think about your business and what it takes to compete and thrive.

Voice work in the industry typically has two types of fees attached to the work. Session fees cover the cost of the time it takes to record the script, while usage fees take into consideration how long the client will benefit from the recording. Session fees can vary widely from artist to artist, depending upon their hourly rate. But usage fees are where you should be cautious.

Usage fees are a payment based on how clients plan to use the work. Stay far away from contracts that label the voice work ‘in perpetuity’ meaning “forever.”

They may come with a handsome upfront reward (much like Ursula’s promise to Ariel), but you lose control over how and where your voice is used. Setting usage fees for voice work should take into consideration local, regional, or national broadcast considerations, whether the voice work will be use internally or externally, and how large the company’s audience is expected to be.

Be sure that any terms you sign are clear about where your voice will be used, for how long, and if there will be any re-purposing of your audio files to re-create your digital voice. The human voice of Siri, Susan Bennett, unwittingly sold her voice to Apple, becoming a voice millions of people hear a day without any additional compensation from that. Don’t be a poor unfortunate soul like Susan Bennett.



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