Facebook Unveils New Audio Tools

Facebook has announced a list of new audio tools for soundbites, in-app podcasts and live audio rooms.

The audio tools will feature audio quality enhancements, captions, speech translations, and sound effects.

The new tools follow the rise of podcasts, audio messages and the more recent fame of Clubhouse, which has attracted big names like Elon Musk.

SoundBites will be a new format for short-form audio, a little like TikTok for audio. The tool will let you change your sound via filters and other effects.

Facebook’s long-form audio will feature in-app podcasts, which means users won’t have to leave the app. An expanded partnership with Spotify will bring the audio player to Facebook’s app as well, allowing users to listen to both music and podcasts. 

Facebook expects its new Clubhouse-style Live Audio Rooms will be popular with Groups. Participants will be able to tip creators with Facebook’s digital currency.

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, suggests the tools will play a big part in the creative economy, enabling individuals and shifting power from traditional institutions to enable individuals to exercise their own creativity. But he also acknowledges the debate over the degree to which audio, particularly live audio, should be moderated. If misinformation is shared in Facebook audio rooms, should moderators shut it down? 

Facebook is currently setting up an Audio Creator Fund to pay users to create content for SoundBites and working on podcast features that will allow users to discover, share and listen to podcasts.

Will AI be the new path for voice overs?

Sonantic co-founders Zeena Qureshi and John Flynnfounders believe using AI technology to augment actors’ voices will be the new normal in less than 5 years.

The London based company has created what it claims is the first artificial intelligence voice models that sound genuinely human, and capable of expressing a wide range of human emotions, from fear and sadness to joy and surprise.

Sonantic records the voice actors’ performances and utilises deep learning algorithms to augment the data captured.

“The point of this isn’t to put voice actors out of work. Rather, it gives a readable, reviewable script to creators much earlier in the creative process, so they can listen to the dialogue, and change it much earlier in the process,” said co-founder Zeena Qureshi.

Sonantic suggests film and game studios will not be the only beneficiaries of this new AI. They believe voice over artists can also maximise their time and talent by turning their voices into a scalable asset, because the technology can use their voices to create different variations.

To demonstrate the technology, Sonantic have released a demo video (below) highlighting their partnership with games developer, Obsidian Entertainment.

Although, does this AI voice technology have serious ramifications in the world of deep fake?

Recently, three Tom Cruise videos were anonymously posted to TikTok from an account called @deeptomcruise. The videos were revealed to have been created by Chris Ume. 

Watch the breakdown of Chris’s deep fake technology below.

Audio description for the vision impaired

As a video producer, animator, or communicator, how do you share visual work with people who are blind, or have low vision?

Audio description

You’ve probably heard of on-screen audio captioning for the hearing impaired, however, audio description for the vision impaired is a little less common.

Audio description is an additional narration that paints an image of transitions, movements, gestures, props, settings, costumes and scenery woven between the dialogue. 

This is achieved by having an audio description on a separate audio track, where a narrator describes what is visually happening on the screen. 

If you haven’t seen an example before, take a look at this clip from the movie Frozen.

When to use audio description

A video only requires audio description if there is something that needs better visualisation.

For example, if the video simply shows someone delivering a speech, an audio description might not add any value however, if the video has graphics, or particular character actions that provide context to the scene, an audio description might be useful.

Accessibility

WCAG is a technical standard developed under the Web Accessibility Initiative of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

Australian Government agencies, affiliated organisations and contractors, are required to be compliant with WCAG guidelines.

WCAG has three levels of conformance when it comes to audio description: A, AA and AAA.

Common among all levels of WCAG is that an audio described version of a video can be provided either by enabling it using a button on a video player, having it on the video by default, or providing a completely separate video which is audio described on the same page or a nearby hyperlink.

Why should I use audio description?

Aside from WCAG requirements, today, more than 453,000 Australians live with blindness and vision impairment. 

This greatly impacts their ability to consume visual media like television and participate in cultural events such as sport, theatre, museums and galleries. 

Without audio description, a significant portion of the population is excluded from fully engaging with these activities.

Who is currently using audio description?

Following a $2 million funding injection from the Federal Government, the ABC and SBS have introduced an audio description service for audiences who are blind or vision impaired.

Audio description is available on selected programming on ABC TV, ABC ME, ABC TV Plus and ABC Kids. On SBS Audio description is available on selected programming on SBS (SD and HD) and SBS VICELAND.

Brand audio trends: how will 2021 sound?

How will next year sound? Here are four audio trends you should expect to hear in 2021.

Brand Voice

At the end of 2018, more than 1.35 million Australian households had a smart speaker in their home.

In 2021, industry experts suggest we will see a surge in the number of brands investing in voice technology to create a distinctive brand voice or voices. As such, brand voices will become increasingly sophisticated, blending real human voices with synthetic and AI resources. 

Sound UX and UI

User experience (UX) and user interface (UI), is largely dominated by visual or physical design. In 2021, audio UX will become part of this broader user experience strategy as an integral aspect of audio branding and digital commerce.

Security and speed is also becoming increasingly important, with brands like Mastercard, Visa and Amex adding sound to point-of-sale transactions to create feelings of safety and security.

360 Degree Audio

While 360 degree audio is commonplace in the movie and gaming industry, industry experts suggest 2021 will see a growing number of brands begin to create 360 audio to enhance digital brand interactions.

In fact, the foundations have already been laid with the technology in headphones, smart speakers and laptops, which create the feeling that we are being directly spoken to.

AI generated music

AI generated music isn’t new however, 2021 could see the technology head in a brand-new direction.

While AI projects such as Jukebox, have learned to produce original music in the recognisable style of famous artists, we may not see brands look to create music from the likes of Elvis Presley, but we may see AI music tailored to our preferences and potentially fit with our moods and contextual experiences.

Siri is listening in new Whitsundays tourism campaign

Queensland’s new ‘Wonders of The Whitsundays’, tourism campaign uses one of the world’s most recognisable voices – Apple’s Siri. Because, as it turns out, the voice of Siri, Karen Jacobsen, is a Queenslander, and in fact, a Whitsundays local.

How did Karen become the voice of Siri? She was living in New York, following her dream of becoming a professional singer when she auditioned for a voice acting job.

“A client was looking for an Australian voice-over artist. I read the brief, and I thought, “They’re describing me”. I got the job and I found myself in the studio recording for almost 50 hours for the text-to-speech voice recognition system.’ said Karen.

Playing on the rumour (or fact), that Siri is always listening to us, the radio ads use ‘real life’ scenarios like a conversation about a cancelled trip to Thailand and health tracking. 

Each scenario arrives at the same conclusion; that the person needs a trip to the beautiful white beaches and blue waters of the Queensland islands.

The tourism campaign aims to showcase the accessibility and affordability of the Whitsundays and to highlight the unique experiences the region offers.

The campaign will roll out first across Queensland and New South Wales, then Victoria. The campaign will also include TV advertising, digital display, out of home activity, content partnerships and social activity.

The campaign has (so far) resulted in over 13K quotes for travel and over 400 bookings to the region.

Listen to the ‘Wonders of The Whitsundays’, campaign spots here: https://bit.ly/2GRPCd6

Our top 5 greatest movie voice overs of all time

5. The Big Lebowski (1998) – Sam Elliot

Sam Elliot plays a cowboy named the Stranger in this cult Lebowski classic.

His stylised American cowboy character has also featured in other films like Bradley Cooper’s adaption of ‘A Star is Born’ and the terrible ‘Ghost Rider’ with Nicholas Cage.

4. Trainspotting (1996) – Ewen McGregor

The music, the oddball characters and the thick Scottish accent of Ewen McGregor as the narrator in ‘Trainspotting’ – what’s not to love about this film from Danny Boyle.

Plus, the “Choose life” monologue is simply a brilliant piece of writing.

3. Clueless (1995) – Alicia Silverstone

This Rodeo Drive inspired take on Jane Austen’s Emma features the voice of 90’s superstar Alicia Silverstone.

Director Amy Heckerling is said to have chosen Alicia to play the role after having seen her in an Aerosmith video.

2. Shawshank Redemption (1995) – Morgan Freeman

While it disappointed at the box office on it’s release, Shawshank Redemption has become a classic in its own right, in part due to the performance and narration from Morgan Freeman.

Since, Freeman has earned himself a reputation as the ultimate movie narrator.

1. Casino (1995) – Martin Scorsese

While not the voice, like the actors in our top 4, you just can’t go past Martin Scorsese as the master of the film voice over. His use of voice over is unparalleled; from Taxi Driver and Goodfellas to The Irishman.

In Casino, the narration is divided among the main actors and heard almost continuously throughout the film. It even features one character being murdered in the midst of delivering his own voice over.

What makes a great voice over?

When we think about a great voice over, the likes of James Earl Jones might spring to mind, because we connect with the actor rather than the technical aspects of the read. But if you don’t have the budget for Morgan Freeman, or Joanna Lumley, what makes a great voiceover?

We think the technical aspects of a great voice-over should consist of the following elements:

Clarity

Simply put, if the voice over recording is inaudible in any way i.e. too low, or ‘muddy’ or too high and distorted, it will be difficult for people to understand, so your audience will simply switch off. Always ensure your audio is recorded to the highest quality at the right levels.

Pacing

Pacing refers to the speed at which the voice over is read. A fast read, can sound over excited, giving the impression that the message is urgent, while a slow read may come across as disengaged. The best voice overs have a natural and deliberate pace.

Tone and inflection

Inflection refers to the change in the pitch and rhythm of your voice, while tone refers to the quality and strength of your speech. For example, lifting your voice upward at the end of a sentence would indicate a question, while moving it down would emphasize what you said.

Enunciation

Enunciation is derived from the Latin word enuntiationem, meaning ‘declaration’. Enunciation is more than pronouncing words clearly, it’s expressing them. An example of people with good enunciation, might be newsreaders or public speakers. Poor enunciation is seen in those who mumble, or mash their words together.

So, regardless of who your voice over talent is, look out for these elements when trying to understand if it’s a great voice over or not.

How to choose the right voice over artist

You might not think your choice of voice-over artist matters however, your companies ‘voice’ is just as important as every other brand decision you make because a voice-over will not only reinforce your brand’s personality but influence how people perceive your brand/business.

Here are a few tips to help you choose the right voice-over artist.

Who are you?

Your voice-over artist will essentially become the ‘voice’ of your brand, so it should reflect the personality, tone and style of your business. Do you want to come across as mature and reliable, or do you see your brand as young and carefree?

Who’s your audience?

It can often help to imagine how your target customer might look and sound, and look for those qualities in your voiceover artist.

If your customer base are twenty-something single females, then having a similar aged voice-over artist will set the tone and style. However, gender is interchangeable, and using the same demographic isn’t a hard and fast rule.

What are you saying to your audience?

Consider your message. Are you selling something, trying to tell a story, or sharing an idea?

Some styles of voice-over are more suited to a ‘sales’ delivery i.e. television or radio commercials. While this is effective for short, sharp deliveries, it can be inappropriate for a sensitive brand story or corporate message. Look for a pace and tone of voice that appropriately reflects your message.

Compare a range of different voice overs

If you have a broad customer base and are still unsure what your brand should sound like, listen to a range of different styles, tones and demographics. Ask yourself if the voice feels right for the message and what your audience might expect and relate to.