Audio Description

Audio Description

Using Your Voice to Bring Images to People Who Are Blind

Last December I had the great privilege of joining Rudy and Joan for the SOVAS “That’s VoiceOver!” series of sessions in Los Angeles. Specifically, they asked me to introduce attendees to a relatively new field of voice work—audio description. 

Audio Description or AD is a literary art form.  It’s a type of poetry—a haiku.  It provides a verbal version of the visual—the visual is made verbal, and aural (he points to his ear), and oral (he point to his mouth). Using words that are succinct, vivid, and imaginative, audio description conveys the visual image that is not fully accessible to a segment of the population—new estimates by the American Foundation for the Blind now put that number at over 31 million Americans alone who are blind or have difficulty seeing even with correction. And, of course, visual images are not often fully realized by the rest of us: sighted folks who see but who may not observe. Besides—it’s great for anyone who’s making a sandwich in the kitchen while the TV is on in the living room! 

It’s useful for anyone who wants to truly notice and appreciate a more full perspective on any visual event but it is especially helpful as an access tool for people who are blind or have low vision. Over the last four decades, I’ve written and voiced AD for thousands of arts events (performances—theater, dance, opera; media—feature films, nationally televised broadcasts, and streaming video; and myriad museum exhibitions) and I’ve also provided description at weddings, parades, rodeos, circuses, sports events, even funerals. 

When I teach AD at sessions around the world, I focus a great deal on the crafting of the language used—but 99% of all AD is written to be heard. That’s where SOVAS comes in—a voice talent trained in voicing techniques for AD is critical to the success of the effort to translate a visual image to the spoken word.

Nowadays, it seems as though we are on the cusp of AI dominance in all manner of endeavor. Speech synthesis is already employed by some companies who produce AD for broadcast television. I feel strongly that the appropriate voicing of AD is done with nuance, attention to the images on screen, and an understanding of the phrasing used in the writing of the description. Indeed, in 2021, the American Council of the Blind passed a resolution noting its “full support for … the use of human voices in the voicing of audio description for cinema and narrative video or streaming.” 

Can the spread of AI/speech synthesis be stopped or forestalled? Should it be? I decided to pose the question to a popular form of AI—Chat GPT. One might wonder how Chat GPT will evaluate its sister app’s usefulness—

I asked ChatGPT (Generative Pre-Trained Transformer): “Why is TTS inappropriate for audio description?” Its response reveals that AI apps are not necessarily supportive of each other! Read Chat GPT’s response: 

“While TTS technology can be helpful for converting written text into spoken words, it is generally considered inappropriate for audio description due to a few key reasons:

“TTS lacks nuance: TTS technology is not capable of providing the level of detail and nuance required for effective audio description. For example, TTS may not be able to convey the emotions or tone of a character’s voice, which is essential for understanding the story and characters.

“TTS may not accurately describe visual elements: Audio description involves describing the visual elements of a scene or event to provide context and understanding to the listener. TTS may not accurately describe these elements, which can lead to confusion or incorrect interpretation of the scene.

“TTS can be distracting: TTS technology can be distracting and disrupt the flow of the audio description. This can be especially true if the TTS voice is not natural-sounding or does not match the tone of the audio description.

“In summary, while TTS technology can be useful in many situations, it is generally not considered appropriate for audio description due to its lack of nuance, potential inaccuracies, and potential for distraction. Instead, trained human audio describers are generally used to provide high-quality audio description for media content.” 

AI apps are inevitable and will surely bring great advances to humanity. But—at least for the foreseeable future—an experienced and *human* voice talent is key to effective AD. And AD offers tremendous opportunities for voice artists—a way to do well by doing good.

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The Bar

The Bar

Dialects, Accents & Reaching The Bar

In the modern, Authentic Casting landscape of voiceover, where have you set your bar for submitting for a role (if given the opportunity) that, by spec, calls for voice/dialect that does not align with your everyday speaking voice, upbringing, ethnicity, etc.? 

Will you audition for a role with a voice/dialect spec which is not in alignment with your race?  (My answer:  I can think of no circumstances in which I would.  Exception being, of course, if I’m the single narrator of an audiobook and there is a character of a different race than my own, it would be my duty to voice the character.) 

Will you audition for a role with a voice/dialect spec which is not in alignment with your gender?  (My answer, again:  I can think of no circumstances in which I would.  Exception being, again, if I’m the single narrator of an audiobook voicing characters of all genders and races.) 

Same with many other cultures.  So, for a moment, let’s latch on to that exception– that of audiobooks.  You can be CERTAIN that when these duties come up in the course of narrating an audiobook, I do my absolute damnedest to be accurate and respectful. 

If I’m called upon or cast to voice dialects representing communities of people beyond those of my natural Bostonian and/or General American sound, or of other nationalities besides my Irish and/or Italian background, again, I do my absolute damnedest to be accurate and respectful (additionally there would need to be a great number of people in those communities who are aligned with my race for me to feel right accepting the job). 

That’s where my bar is set.  When I’m not the authentic choice, I BETTER be an extremely accurate steward of the community I’m representing with my acting skills – I, therefore, demand of myself to be an ACCURATE choice.  Furthermore, I share this bar-setting when getting started with my clients.  Many of my dialect clients have similar feelings and similar bar-settings.  Speaking now about dialects which are more easily justified in going after (take, for example, a Massachusetts-born American like myself, who has spent a great deal of time living in New York, choosing to learn a New York dialect) I would STILL find it extremely unprofessional to claim dialect skills on, say, an acting resume, which are not fully under control.  Needless to say, my standards for inclusion of a dialect on an acting resume are very high and require a high control level. 

Without valuing accuracy and control highly, folks can too easily create “caricature dialects” which, depending on the context, can wind up being too-short-a-distance to a disrespectful portrayal.  The accuracy of my own dialect performance is derived, as I’ve said, from a self-imposed insistence on great accuracy, based upon deep study, and born of a passionate appreciation and love for every culture for which I can deliver a dialect/accent (particularly those I cannot claim as part of my own heritage).  When asked, I always say the same thing:  it is my fervent belief that the inclusion of a dialect (or accent) on an actor’s vocal resume should ONLY be done when the actor is FULLY confident in it – significant study (whether it’s through coaching or some other means) is required. 

Once deciding to take Dialect Study upon yourself, you’ll be able to look forward to some great benefits (more on these benefits coming up in a future installment of contribution to The VoiceOver Community).  When you do embark, take your time and enjoy the process in building confidence.  Some dialects will come easily, some will be harder-won.  As an example, there is a single moneme (one tiny sound) which long prevented me from placing Australian on my own major “Active Performing” list — despite being able to do an Australian dialect, having done it AND having booked with it!  To this day, it’s not reeeeeeally a dialect which easily flows for me which is why you won’t see it on my most exalted list:  “Active Coaching”.  (Side note about Australian:  the dialect is definitely now on my “Active Performing” list – with the help of a coach, I did finally conquer that moneme.  I do and have worked on it with clients despite not advertising the dialect on my main lists.)  Point is:  patience is key in dialect study. 

And NO ONE does EVERY dialect.  Some of my heroes and gurus certainly do more dialects than I do.  Certainly I do more than most.  At the end of the day though, quantity should never be more important than quality.  

At least not where I sit.  Food for VO thought. 

Thanks, Marc Preston, for inviting me to contribute!

– Tom Antonellis

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Less Rear View

Less Rear View

Time management & forward momentum

As we kick off the expanded offerings at, I wanted to take a quick moment to thank you for being a part of The Voiceover Community.  Our members comprise a truly cool tribe of talented folks from around the world.  It’s always my objective to offer up as much value as I can in our neck of the webbernet.  So, thanks for being here…and for being the best part of The Voiceover Community! 🙂 

Today, I wanted to take a moment to address a couple of related topics…time management and forward momentum.  Back in drivers ed, we all learned the Zen of checking your mirrors while driving.  It is all about staying safe through maintaining situational awareness.  However, your focus and navigation should mostly be on the road ahead.  How does this apply to voiceover?  It’s very simple…stop looking in your rearview mirror!

I am referring to this rising paradigm of talent fixating on completed auditions, “short listing” and other similar results and metrics.  This holds especially true for pay-to-play and casting sites.  Yes, P2P sites can offer some value as a spoke or two on your marketing wheel.  However, P2P sites have attempted to inject a new paradigm into the discussion…a paradigm that many talent have grabbed on to as being a “thing.”  This would be the metric and term “short listing.”

What does short listing mean?  Basically, depending on the platform, it essentially means that you have made an initial “cut” of talent that the buyer eliminated from the casting process.  That’s more or less the definition.  Now, what does it REALLY mean?  Nothing of any real actionable value.  What is a better metric?  Casting!

P2P sites are built as a means of bringing buyers and talent together.  Yet, don’t forget that they are a business and are focused on their bottom line.  A paid subscription based site shares some functional DNA with dating and social media sites.  They inject elements into their platforms that keep you on the platform…interacting and paying your subscription fee.  One such tool implemented by P2P sites is the “short list” (or something similar, depending on the platform). 

Ultimately, this is a nebulous metric.  It will not give you any actionable information.  What good does it do to look back…to hypothesize as to where you fall in said “short list” of potential candidates for a gig, and why?  Why should you engage with a platform and burn time and energy looking back at a completed audition?  The process of auditioning is one where you prepare, deliver and then move on.  

“An actor is supposed to create a compelling, interesting character, that serves the text. You present it in the environment where your audition happens. And then you walk away. And that’s it. Everything else is out of your control. Don’t even think about it. Don’t focus on that.”

-Bryan Cranston

Always remember that your time and creative energy are resources that can be unintentionally squandered.  This often happens when you divert your focus from the road ahead.  Many of us have a hard enough time not being distracted by a shiny object or a SQUIRREL!  Stay aware of the value and management of your time.  Minutes and hours spent looking in your rear view mirror, are minutes and hours you could put into marketing, relationship management, skill development, etc.  Invest your time wisely.  Let the auditions live in the past and keep moving forward.  Stay enthusiastic about what is to come, instead of what could have been.  As always, those are just my two pesos.

Your friend and neighbor,


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