RE: How do they record the actors for voice response systems

Subject: RE: How do they record the actors for voice response systems
From: "Lippincott, Richard" <RLippincott -at- as-e -dot- com>
To: <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 2 Apr 2009 10:02:02 -0400

David Downing asked:

There's something I've always wondered about voice response systems, and
I was wondering if anyone here has had firsthand experience constructing
one and so could answer my question.

If you don't mind a "day late" answer from a guy on digest...

I used to work for a company that produced voice mail systems, and we
used live people to record the prompts.

We had a small (i.e. about the size of two or three cubicles stuck
together) recording studio inside our building (large enough for a
couple of people, too small to sneak in your band for a late-night free
recording session).

We would typically need new voice prompts on two types of occasions. The
first was when we offered new features that required new voice menu
prompts, the second was when we were selling systems to customers that
requested prompts other than our standard English.

For the standard English, we had one voice-over talent person we used,
her name was "Connie." She wasn't a full-time employee, but a voice-over
talent specialist that we'd contracted to use. We used to refer to the
voice-menu selections as "Connie prompts." (Usage: "This new feature
will require 200 hours of software development time, three new hardware
systems, and six new Connie prompts.")

When needed, we'd prepare scripts of all the new prompts that the system
required. Connie would come in, we'd give her the scripts, and she'd
spend as much time as needed in the recording studio until everyone was
happy with the results.

The recordings were then transformed to digital data that would be
stored on the system, and called up as needed just like any other type
of file.

She did, as you might expect, recordings of all the voice menu
selections as well as recordings of individual words (months, days,
numbers) that could be assembled on the fly into strings that would come
back as sentences.

One of Connie's talents (and thus the reason why she got the job) was
her ability to speak in a constant tone so that when the system would
play back a number using her snippits, it sounded reasonable...yet not a
monotone, either. She could also be consistent enough so that prompts
recorded literally years apart would still sound as though they were all
done on the same day.

The process was exactly the same for non-standard English prompts,
except it would be native speakers of the required language, not Connie.
Interestingly, there were occasions when the customer would request the
prompts in English but spoken with a local accent. Systems we delivered
to India were done like this. In that case, we'd contact our talent
agency to find us the appropriate voice.

That was several years ago, and I can't speak for what the company does
now. Maybe they've gone digital. On the other hand, my cell phone
provider uses my old employer's voice mail system...and it still sure
sounds like Connie to me.

Rick Lippincott
Technical Writer
American Science & Engineering
829 Middlesex Turnpike
Billerica, MA 01821-3907
978-262-8807 (direct)
978-495-2335 (mobile)
978-262-8702 (fax)

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