Addressing the AI elephant in the radio room

Randy Travis‘s song Where That Came From has made the Billboard Country Airplay charts. It’s been two decades between hits. The reason why this news is notable is that it’s probably the first artist approved, commercially released, AI song.

Travis suffered a stroke a decade ago and is largely unable to sing now. Where That Came From was originally sung by James Dupré (he is credited as the “vocal bed” on the single) with AI technology used to fuse Travis’s sound (which was collected over a 15 year span of his career) over Dupré’s.

The benefits, in this instance, is that everybody will get a piece of the royalties and streaming monies every time Where That Came From is played. Not so for AI overlayed vocals that have been used without permission. We are entering a whole new world here.
I bring up the AI voiced elephant in the room for a couple of reasons.
For those of you doing voiceovers, perhaps as a side hustle, alongside your on air role, or part of TV, podcast or games involvement, you will know that there used to be either a payment fee per hour, or per commercial / product. If you were the voice artist for Rebel Sport for example, you might get an additional amount for every different locational tag you had to do alongside the commercial’s main content. A political party campaign is also worth more because of the perceived alignment of your voice with a party. It won’t be long before all political advertising is done by AI. It’s impartial after all.
I’m teaching voiceover to two classes of teens and young adults aspiring to become actors. They’re loving it but, for the first time, I’m not sure how much to espouse its future work potential.

I’m also still mulling over Sam, the AI-powered voice that Mamamia has trained up on hundreds of hours of the media group’s podcasts. Sam means that Mamamia’s stable of 50+ podcasts can provide for ad clients host voiced (but AI generated) reads. It’s clear from the comments to this story on our Facebook page that Sam struck a chord with you too.

How does this now work for live reads? Do you still get paid per commercial, or, if you have allowed Sam, or something like Sam, access to many samples of your voice, is it a part of your contract that this just happens for clients who want ‘you’?

I don’t think I’m revealing any great industry secret in saying that most radio hosts would prerecord their live reads before their show. Part of the benefit for the client, even with a pre-record, is the adlibbed ‘good will’ that often is done by the client’s chosen talent above and beyond the script. With AI you will never get those sort of freebie extras again. You will get it read verbatim, spelling errors, funky pronunciations and all.

AI is getting better and better, so I do understand the excitement of Mamamia to be at the forefront of the ways this technology can save time.

For me though I see it as akin to the roll out of self serve check-outs in supermarkets. Good staff will no longer have jobs. Theft will increase. Expensive product will be mis-scanned at a cheaper price and the machine won’t be able to identify a feijoa.

What are your thoughts?

Jen Seyderhelm is a writer, editor and podcaster for Radioinfo
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