Recently I wrote a post entitled “Invisibility and Voicelessness” about an amazing young man named Rich. He changed my life. He showed me how easy it is to overlook someone who can’t speak, whether you intend to do so or not. He taught me to look closer and really see people. I can’t thank him enough for that insight.
While doing some research for that blog post, I came across a company called VOCALiD. They create custom synthetic voices for those who have no voice of their own. They rely on volunteers to contribute to their Human Voicebank in order to create these custom voices.
I genuinely believe that everyone deserves to have their own unique voice. They deserve to be heard and taken seriously. It would be very hard to be taken seriously as an individual if everyone was forced to use the same voice. Your synthetic voice should be age and gender identity appropriate, and it should sound the way you imagine your own voice would sound. (In fact, if you anticipate the loss of your voice for some reason, you can record it now and then your synthetic voice would truly be your own!)
After talking to Rich, I very much wanted to contribute to the Human Voicebank. And the good news is that they really make it fun to do. I highly recommend it.
To start off, VOCALiD has you complete a profile. Then you are presented with a checklist, shown below.
They aren’t kidding about needing to be in a quiet room. I now understand why radio hosts have been recording from their bedroom closets since the pandemic started. It’s really hard to avoid traffic noise and televisions and barking dogs and lawnmowers, all of which will ruin your sample. I wound up having to go to Dear Husband’s office late at night and use a training room in the basement to get the sound quality I wanted.
The voicebank also requires that you use a headset microphone to record. Since I’m not a gamer, I didn’t have this equipment, so a dear friend ordered the one they recommended, from Turtle Beach, for me. (Mine is a white headset with lavender accents. Cute!)
The checklist says you can use Google Chrome or Firefox browsers to do your recording on your laptop or desktop computer, and I was happy about that, because I do love my Firefox browser. But on other parts of the website, it says you have to use Google Chrome. I wish I had seen that before starting, because I did my audition on Firefox, and 48 hours later they contacted me to say it failed, and urged me to please try again. Grrrr.
So I did my next audition on Chrome, and yay! It passed. Now the trick was to find the time to do the actual speech recordings, which can take about 3 hours, all told.
About 2 months later, I managed to carve out the time. And I was thrilled to discover that I wouldn’t be recording some tedious, generic script. After all, bored voices don’t hold much appeal. (If I had to read an economics text, I’d have come off sounding like the teacher on Ferris Beuler’s Day Off.) On the contrary, VOCALiD lets you choose from a list of topics that interest you, and then they provide you with a variety of scripts to choose from based on those interests.
Because of that, I recorded several TED Talks on topics that will probably inspire future blog posts, such as a talk by a lexicographer who urges us all to create new words when existing ones won’t do. The more words we have, the more opportunity we have to get our point across. Right on. Another TED Talk was about Positive Psychology, which talks about not focusing on how one is broken, but instead focusing on one’s strengths, and the best way to use those strengths to find meaning and happiness in your life. That had me smiling. At the end of each script, you are provided with a link to learn more on the subject. I appreciated that. A third one discussed how we’ll find life on other planets. Now I have my first bookmarks on Google Chrome.
In addition to the TED Talks, I also read a speech by Amelia Earhart about how much women appreciate science as it has come up with ways to benefit women, and she said she hoped that those women who choose to work would choose that field, because we have a lot to contribute. (Choose to work? Even though Amelia was a trendsetter, she was still a product of her times.)
From there, I read quotes from both Gandhi and Eleanor Roosevelt. Then I read the Preamble to the Constitution, a treatise on Pre-Columbian history, and Mark Twain’s “Advice to Youth”. I hope my recordings of that one will be acceptable, because it was hard for me to keep the laughter out of my voice when he said such things as this, about lying: “the young ought to be temperate in the use of this great art until practice and experience shall give them that confidence, elegance, and precision which alone can make the accomplishment graceful and profitable.”
I do love Mark Twain, but I’ve never tried to read him aloud before. Good God, his speech tied my tongue in knots. Fortunately, the voicebank software gives you the script one sentence at a time, and if you stumble over a sentence, you can record it again, without having to rewind to the proper spot. That was really helpful.
I found what I was reading aloud to be so interesting that the time flew by. Dear Husband apparently stuck his head in the door at one point to check on me, and I was so engrossed that I didn’t even notice. I may have to volunteer some more of my voice at a later date just to get to read the interesting samples.
But that brings up my one major complaint about VOCALiD voicebank. My voice was getting a little tired, and I looked up at the clock to discover that 3 hours had passed! Surely, I thought, I must be getting close to the end. One more script… and then another…
It’s my fault for not reading the fine print, but it seems that they need at least 1500 sentences to get an adequate sample in which you make all the sounds necessary to create a voice, but they’re thrilled to get even more. I finally threw in the towel at 1648 sentences and 3 hours, 35 minutes of recording. In fairness to them, you don’t have to do it all in one go. You can do 15 minutes here, 15 minutes there if you so desire. And you can stop at any point. But I didn’t want to have to go to DH’s office that many times. I probably hit the 1500 sentences mark at about 3 hours, and it would have been nice to know that. Just sayin’.
That said, donating your voice is a fun volunteer opportunity, and I hope you will consider contributing yours. When I think that someday someone with ALS, throat cancer, cerebral palsy or some other neurological disorder might create their very own synthetic voice by combining mine with a few others, it makes me smile. I love the idea of allowing someone to be heard.
Contributing to the voicebank is adding to the public good. But I should explain that VOCALiD is not a nonprofit. They do sell the voices they create. But they are the best source for a voice, and voices can be sponsored. I also hope that insurance would pay for it, but I have no idea.
I think of donating my voice the same way I think of donating blood. Blood banks charge for their blood, but without volunteers, people wouldn’t get the blood they desperately need. So capitalism is, unfortunately, the only available means to the end for those who need a voice. For me, the end goal is what makes it worth it.
“Sometimes we just need to be heard… There are times in life when being heard leads to being healed.”
― Steve Maraboli
Hey! Look what I wrote! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5