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The VO Boss podcast blends business advice with inspiration & motivation for today's voice talent. Each week, host Anne Ganguzza shares guest interviews + voice over industry insights to help you grow your business and stay focused on what matters...

Feb 27, 2024

This week Anne and Tom Dheere discussed the landmark agreement between SAG-AFTRA and Replica Studios. They discuss how this deal will shape the compensation, usage rights, and ethical considerations of voice performances in the age of AI. They look at the details of this complex partnership, examining the potential ripple effects for both union and non-union talents. They emphasize hinges on the necessity for voice actors to stay informed and proactive in the face of advancing technology that could redefine our industry. They confront the pressing issues that voice actors encounter, such as leasing AI technology and the critical need to secure royalties and licensing fees. The BOSSES cover the intricacies of fair AI voiceover rate structures and underscores the urgency for collective bargaining and new legal frameworks.

00:01 - Intro (Announcement)
It's time to take your business to the next level, the boss level. These are the premier business owner strategies and successes being utilized by the industry's top talent today. Rock your business like a boss, a VEO boss. Now let's welcome your host, Anne Ganguzza. 

00:20 - Anne (Host)
Hey everyone, welcome to the VEO Boss Podcast and the Real Bosses series. I'm your host, Ann Ganguzza, and I'm here with my special guest, co-host Tom Dheere. Tom, I'm so excited to have you back, yes thank you so much for having me again this has been so much fun. 

So, tom, there's been some news in the industry and I think all bosses should always be following up and be current on news that's happening in the industry, because it directly affects our businesses and so there has been a groundbreaking agreement between SAG-AFTRA and Replica Studios, which is an AI company, and I think we should talk about this and how it affects us and how it affects our businesses. 

01:01 - Tom Dheere (Guest)
I agree. Now just to get disclaimers. One I am a SAG-eligible member. I am non-union, so I am not a member of SAG-AFTRA. So I was going to say I don't have a horse in the race. But all voice actors, regardless of union status, has a horse in the race of what's going on in both the union ecosystem and the non-union ecosystem, because they all have a major effect and influence on each other. So I am a member of NAVA, the National Association of Voice Actors. 

01:29 - Anne (Host)
Myself included Yay. 

01:31 - Tom Dheere (Guest)
And we know that NAVA, including providing health insurance and education of the industry, is also a major advocate of making sure that voice actors are both safe from predatory AI practices but also are empowered to embrace AI to move our voiceover business forward if we feel that it aligns with our value system and our business model. 

01:52 - Anne (Host)
And Tom, I know you and I both we have taken time to educate ourselves within the AI industry and about synthetic voices, and I think we are hoping to encourage others to do the same so that they can make smart, educated decisions, and this is going to be part of that very important discussion. So, absolutely, myself, I am non-union. However, things that happen in our industry this can be setting a precedent for how I'm going to say how AI companies work with voice actors, as well as how consumers view AI and synthetic voices, and I think one thing I remember Tim Friedlander mentioning in one of his discussions was that, if nothing else, it's really started to bring awareness to not just our community but everyone out there of what sort of impact synthetic voices and AI can have on our industry, on our voices and our rights, our intellectual rights, our intellectual property. So talk about what you know of the agreement. 

02:54 - Tom Dheere (Guest)
Okay, so the first thing I'll say in regards to that is about late 2021, I took a meeting with replica studios to talk about their voice cloning process, and I'm pretty sure you've talked to them too. 

03:06 - Anne (Host)
Yes, I actually interviewed them on the VioBoss podcast. So, bosses, make sure you listen to that one. 

03:10 - Tom Dheere (Guest)
Exactly, and different AI production companies have different business models. They have different reasons for entering the industry and how they go about their business. What replica studios does is they work, at least right now, in the video game bubble, which is they work with voice actors to create very specific performances. So, like I think I auditioned for the part of, like the crazy old West speculators there's gold in them, not huge Like. I'd submit it to be considered for one of those. So, and if you do get that, you get paid, and that performance can only be used for that performance, both on a technological level, because they can't turn your crazy mining prospector into an astronaut voice or another voice Now. 

03:54 - Anne (Host)
is that because that's established with the company? Are you talking about all companies? 

04:00 - Tom Dheere (Guest)
or I'm talking about Replica. 

04:01 - Anne (Host)
Okay, replica, okay. So Replica has an agreement in place where, if you create a voice with them and it is used for a video game, it can only be used for that particular video game in that particular instance and they cannot make additional dialogue or additional games from that voice or. 

04:19 - Tom Dheere (Guest)
It is my understanding. Also, I watched the Navas wonderful but two hour long question and answer thing. So forgive me if I misquote. 

04:28 - Anne (Host)
No, everyone should be watching that as well, oh absolutely. 

04:31 - Tom Dheere (Guest)
It's on YouTube. Go to the Navas website and there's a link and you should definitely watch it. It was fascinating, Cause you learn not only about AI, you learn a lot about how Sagrafftro works. Cause Zeke talked in severe detail wonderful severe detail about how bargaining works and contracts work and agreement works, and all of that. But historically, replica would use your voice as a placeholder during production of the video game, as opposed to using your voice to be cast in the video game. Smaller roles. 

04:57 - Anne (Host)
Yes, yes, when I interviewed them, that was their process and you were paid. You were compensated on it. Not a character, a video game character, but a character. How many characters were used? You get paid on a character basis in a monthly contract. 

05:11 - Tom Dheere (Guest)
Right, and that one character could be used as a placeholder in production in multiple video game production companies making multiple video games and smaller roles could also be used by that and you would get compensated for that. So this agreement Sagrafftro agreement with Replica basically just sets up the relationship how Sagrafftro members can work for Replica studios and they have set up a studio per hour rate you know of the actual performance and then they have set up the usage or licensing of what happens when your voice is used and how long it's used for and what the compensation is. I think it was per 300 lines or something like that and then there's incremental payment. Zeke made some very, very interesting points, because one thing that a lot of people have been saying is like why isn't Sagrafftro fighting AI? Why aren't they trying to ban AI? And he said that. To paraphrase, he said they had a choice they could either try to prohibit AI or they could try to regulate AI. 

06:10 - Anne (Host)

06:11 - Tom Dheere (Guest)
And he and Tim agreed that they are five to 10 years too late for prohibition of AI, even if they wanted to prohibit it. So, as a result, their only recourse is to get involved with regulation of AI. 

06:23 - Anne (Host)
I think we should reiterate that, Tom, yes, rather than prohibition of AI, which, look, technology happens with or without us, right? And so prohibition of AI could have been really difficult, really really difficult to enforce and probably would have, I think, destroyed the industry, to be honest with you. 

06:38 - Tom Dheere (Guest)
That's what he said. That's exactly what he said. 

06:40 - Anne (Host)
Therefore, again, we don't have a choice as members of the industry, we don't really have a choice. I mean, we either fight back and quit or we evolve and we work with it. And I think that it's admirable of a company because right now I wanna talk to you about there's no regulation for companies right now, and it's interesting because I just interviewed Auskirkowski from DeepDubb AI, another AI company that does dubbing and localization of voices, who are also very much in the fair transparency, compensation to the voice actor, and there's something to be said for companies that say right, that they are fair and transparent and compensatory. Is that a word? 

07:21 - Tom Dheere (Guest)

07:22 - Anne (Host)
Compensatory. Thank you For voice actors in the industry, but it's also another thing because there's no other regulation. They say it on their website, they say it in their policies, but there's nobody enforcing it. So I think for Replicca to come forward to SEG-AFTRA and make themselves accountable, at least to an organization that directly deals with our industry in such an impactful way, I think that that was great. Now the nitty-gritty of the contract. I've not been privy to see that. However, what makes me a little bit nervous is that, first of all, we're voice actors. We know voice acting. 

Replicca is an AI company. They know AI, and so I know from working in technology for 20 billion years that there's a lot of misunderstanding. People that don't understand the technology can be talked into things. Possibly they can be coerced into agreeing to things that may or may not serve them in a positive light. However, at some point you've just got to put faith in a company that they're going to be ethical and transparent, and I think this was a good move, and I guess possibly there's loopholes in the contract, but I do believe we're working towards something that's positive in the industry. 

08:33 - Tom Dheere (Guest)
Here's one thing I've been talking to a lot of people about. Is that? Well, for one thing to your point is that there is no federal legislation to hold AI companies accountable for artists IP right now, and Nava has been working with Capitol Hill and there are multiple bills in the works If you go to the Nava website it has links to show you the legislation that they are working on which is great. 

There are a lot of people I've been hearing in the voiceover industry saying all AI companies are, by definition, unethical. These, I think, are also a lot of the same people that have been saying for 20 years that all pay-to-play sites by definition are unethical. Neither of those are true. They're patently false. No matter where you go in any industry, in any sector of any business all over the world, a certain percentage of the people involved are going to be unethical. 

09:26 - Anne (Host)
Bad actors, bad actors, bad actors. 

09:29 - Tom Dheere (Guest)
Every industry. The voiceover industry is no different. So that means a certain percentage of people who are voice seekers on pay-to-play sites are going to be predatory and will try to rip you off, and a certain percentage of voice actors on pay-to-play sites will underbid, underbid, undercut, which damages the industry. Same thing with AI. There's no difference. It's just that people are going to be how they're going to be, so all you can do is bring your value system with you. It's like a bad client, yeah, and we all have bad clients. 

09:56 - Anne (Host)
And it's something that I'm always talking about. Right, it's one of the reasons why I have my voice in AI series, with over like 35 interviews with AI companies is to educate yourself, and that was really the basis for myself. Educating myself about the industry is just talking, and one thing I think that is so important is that we have a dialogue with these AI companies, we make it known and I think Nava is just doing wonderful work in helping that to happen and for really fighting for voice actors on behalf of the organization and I think that all of us just need to educate ourselves on what is happening and, just like a bad client like I educate myself on a client. There are telltale signs when I can get a feeling about a client, if they're going to be a bad client or going to be difficult to work with. And I think AI companies are no different, and I think, first and foremost, companies that are out in the forefront of the industry today and there's a lot of AI companies or a lot of little tiny ones that have popped up and not survived, but the ones that are there in the forefront, the larger companies I think that they are responsible for providing an ethical ground, Because I don't think that consumers first of all will stand for companies that are not ethical in their treatment of humans, because it becomes like this whole thing. 

I mean again, we're also a product of or a slave to the industry in which we work, right? So if consumers are wanting synthetic voices, or if synthetic voices will provide a space in the market, will provide something of value to a market, and Oz said to me the other day he said well, normally there would be all of this content that wouldn't be dubbed, that wouldn't be created, because it's simply the process of doing so takes such a long time and it's kind of like the audiobook genre and the audiobook AI companies that we're trying to make audiobooks with synthetic voices, and so there is a lot of content out there that won't get produced simply because it is a process to do with a voice actor, now that a voice actor isn't desired or better. However, there's some content that it may not be as necessary to have a human voice. 

12:08 - Tom Dheere (Guest)
Yes, and I'm pretty sure we've had these conversations before in various circles that there is some content, like a product manual, that would never get narrated by a human because of you know, there's just so many of them and it's not cost effective. But an AI can do that. Our good friend, karen, vice president of NAVA, uses the example of no human can narrate the New York Times overnight, and those who are visually impaired have just as much of a right to enjoy the New York Times with their morning cup of coffee than any other sighted person Absolutely. 

12:43 - Anne (Host)

12:43 - Tom Dheere (Guest)
AI can help provide that service. It's where you get into other areas. And actually there are people who because I've had conversations with people who say, nope, that's still not art, that's still taking jobs from people. That is still unethical. There is a certain percentage of the population that there's just going to be no talking to. 

So it's like okay there's going to be no convincing. And if that's their value system and they think AI is an affront to art and an attack on art, and with some of the bad actors and predatory companies, yes, it absolutely is. But this conversation and it's not really about art, it's about technology Technology always wins. It always wins. Now, when I say that that doesn't mean well, we should all surrender and sell out and clone our voices and get paid a nickel, you know five cents on the dollar and just eat dog food and live in a hovel because we can't thrive as artists in the voiceover industry and get paid rates that are commensurate with the industry standard. 

But there are ways to navigate the industry, whether you are pro AI, anti AI or can't be bothered with AI and have the potential to still be able to thrive as a voice actor. And this agreement with SAG-AFTRA and Replica is a major step, major, major step in that direction. Because, as you also know, the rate structure for compensation for AI whether it's to have your voice cloned or some other service where they're gonna synthesize your voice just for their website or just for this bit of software, much less getting it put on a website where anybody can subscribe and use it. It's still the Wild West. Now, with SAG-AFTRA, they are providing, thank goodness, the beginning of some sort of rate structure that we can all start to work with and find out if it's a viable one. 

14:31 - Anne (Host)
I'm so glad that you brought that up, because that is still we talk about. The Wild West rates have always been a Wild West right, especially for non-union. So what's really wonderful is that, yes, if SAG-AFTRA is getting involved. And of course, I've been telling the GVAA to get on with AI rate structures because, again, how much do you charge or how much should you get paid? And of course, now you're actually doing like a royalty share really with a company that produces that voice, because you cannot produce your own AI voice, I mean literally you have to lease an engine to do that or work with a company for them to produce it, and then ultimately, they're the ones. 

Let's see if they have an interface that allows you to go in there and do a text to speech or a speech to speech generation of those files. You're still leasing that engine that does that, and that is something that you do not have control over. I mean, that is not your studio, and so, in reality, you have to pay for the rights for that studio to produce that audio. That's what I think about it, and I think about it as being it's more than just a studio to produce that synthetic voice or those audio files. It is the studio and it is also pretty much kind of the voice actor in a way. 

It's like a percentage of you that is being used and so we can't possibly get paid what we're probably used to because we were used to controlling that ourselves. And it can only help the more people that get involved in this discussion, because I will tell you that a couple of years ago, when I started interviewing companies and we started talking about rates, there were no rates set and in fact nobody really wanted to like even comment on a rate. There were some people that flung out oh 10%, Voice actors would get 10%. And voice actors heard that and got completely insulted, not understanding the technology. 

Now I say well, who says 10%, why not ask for 50%? Right, it's my voice and their engine, so why not start at 50%? It seems reasonable to me, Any good negotiator, right, If you're going to work with a company and you're going to have an agreement on a rate structure or a fee schedule, you can always negotiate. And so if SAG-AFTRA is working with rates and we've got other companies that are setting the rates, this is the thing when the company set the rates. It's kind of like who says the number first, right, they win right. 

Or you know what I mean. If I ask what's your budget? Right? That's the proper way to negotiate, right? You don't say the number first, but if you set it, I feel like we have some footage. We have some ground to discuss and talk about what would be a fair compensation. Because, again, we want our voices to be valued. And again, this whole agreement with at least replica saying we're willing to step up to the plate and we're willing to be held accountable by an organization right For fairness, transparency and compensation for actors to get paid for their value. But what is that value? That's the question in terms of a synthetic voice. 

17:34 - Tom Dheere (Guest)
Right, right, voice actors are in the business of licensing our art. That is what we've always done. That's always what we've done. We're the artist in the booth, yeah, which is our session fee, and then, if it's a broadcast commercial, union or non-union, then we license that performance, which is the usage fee. There is zero difference between that and what the SAG-AFTRA replica agreement is. They will get paid a certain amount for being in the booth and then they will get paid for the use of that. So, union or non-union, you're in the business of licensing your art. This is just more of a codification of it in relation to the. I don't know if you'd call AI a genre, or I don't know what you well pay to places in a genre either. It's a portal, I guess, because I've always said there are three portals in the voiceover industry for casting opportunities representation, online casting and self-marketing. Maybe this is the fourth one? Yeah, maybe. 

18:30 - Anne (Host)

18:31 - Tom Dheere (Guest)
Maybe it's like a three and a half one, but we want to license our art. Look, unless you don't and if you don't, then you work for the seeing eye here in not here in New Jersey, but across the water or you do stuff for learning online. Yeah, and you narrate stuff pro bono, which there is a place for. That that's art too. It's just you're not licensing your art, you're donating your artistic ability to do that. 

18:53 - Anne (Host)
And when you do that, by the way, it's kind of scary because anytime, like our podcast, like this podcast here, or anytime I put my voice out there, out on the internet, right now there's no regulation of it and so, theoretically, bad actors, companies that are not ethical, could be taking that and making voices, which they probably have, I would assume that. 

I guarantee it I guarantee that, if you're known in the industry at all, you've got your voice out there, that your voice. 

And we've seen that also where there have been some companies, unethical companies that have been producing voices or taking, you know, scrubbing the internet for voices, and that is something that is unfortunate. However, it's something until there are regulations, laws in place, that I mean. Gosh, how many times we talk about it, like with our phone, have they been listening? Have they been recording? Absolutely, and so that data is theirs. They can use that to develop anything. But at least now I think that, yeah, we're kind of backpedaling, but we now need to at least make our voices heard and the more organizations that can help us to do that right SAG-AFTRA, with this agreement with Repuka Nava helping us talking on the podcasts about it, and you and I being open and transparent saying, hey, I have a synthetic voice. I have a synthetic voice partially because I was educating myself on how voices got created, what companies I would want to be working with and really, until I take those risks, I don't know and I'm not educated. 

20:21 - Tom Dheere (Guest)
Right, and being a voice actor is a risk in itself. 

20:23 - Anne (Host)
Sure is. 

20:23 - Tom Dheere (Guest)
Because it's such an unpredictable, chaotic, no guarantee of any income ever kind of industry. And also I've been doing online auditioning since 2006. Right, so I guarantee I've had multiple auditions stolen and I'm sure my voice has been cloned in some capacity many, many times, just like every website you've ever been to or ever will go to has been or will be hacked, and our social security numbers are all over the place, and it's terrible and there's really not much we can do about that. Retroactively moving forward, we do everything we can to protect our intellectual property and engage in safe practices. So auditioning for some text to speech thing on a pay to play site, I think is a terrible idea. 

Scheduling a meeting with a AI production company and asking questions about how do you operate? Sure, what is your compensation structure? Sure, what's your licensing structure? Can I see an example of your agreement so I can take a look at it or send it to an attorney to review it? Even if you don't want to clone your voice, I strongly recommend doing that so you can just have an understanding of what the industry is, because this is going to be more and more a part of the industry and there will eventually come a point where there will be legitimate ethical casting notices on pay to play sites. In regards to AI, which Nava has done a great job with Voice123, for example, to help curb that tidal wave of felonious casting notices that was proliferating the Voice123 site until they had a conversation and said, if okay, so if clients want to post a text-to-speech casting notice, they have to answer these questions and really answer them. And then all those casting notices vanished literally overnight. So that tells you something. 

22:01 - Anne (Host)
It does. 

22:02 - Tom Dheere (Guest)
So the VO bosses, the bosses out there, need to know how to protect themselves, while at the same time understanding that this isn't going anywhere. But that's not necessarily a bad thing. Ai is a disruptive force, just like the light bulb disrupted the candle maker industry. And who gave a darn about the candle making industry, except for the candle makers? Yeah, very true, so you know what I mean. This is a part of the industry. You got to learn to embrace, adapt evolve and grow or you're going to get left behind. 

22:29 - Anne (Host)
Absolutely, and you need to educate yourself about how the industry is evolving and again, you will be left behind if you are not educating yourself. So, bosses, go out there and sign up for Nava. I cannot recommend that anymore. Nava is doing wonderful things. Listen to the VO Boss Voice and AI series. Listen to Tom and I talk about it. We have a couple of episodes We've already talked about it on the VO Boss episode and really just read everything that you can familiarize yourself with, everything that you can, so that we can move forward and have successful businesses along with this disruptive technology. 

Because if it's not AI, it's going to be another disruptive technology, and I'd like to challenge any boss out there and ask them if they are not using some form of AI to help their business right now and being hypocritical and saying, well, you can't use my voice, but yet they might be using I don't know chat, gbt to do something to make their business run more efficiently. So there are multiple AI opportunities out there that you can utilize that I think are wonderful to help your business run more effectively, and Tom and I just made do an episode on those. That's not a bad idea. So, all right, guys. Well, tom, this has been an amazing discussion. I'm sure we could talk about this forever, but thank you so much for joining me again. 

And, bosses, I implore you, if you want to take a moment and imagine a world full of passionate, empowered, diverse individuals giving collectively and intentionally, you too can help to create a world that you would like to see and make a difference. Visit 100voiceshoekerorg to learn more. Big shout out to our sponsor, ipdtl. You, too, can network and connect like a boss. Find out more at IPDTLcom. Have an amazing week and we'll see you next week. Thanks, guys, bye. 

24:21 - Intro (Announcement)
Bye yeah.