Amazon’s Kindle 2: It’s a real voice after all?

The brouhaha over Amazon’s Kindle 2 has settled since the online mega-store reached a compromise with the Author’s Guild regarding text-to-speech.

It turns out that the Kindle 2’s digital voice actually belongs to a real, live dude — voice-over actor and singer-songwriter Tom Glynn, although there’s definitely technology involved as Glynn explains in a recent interview with Engadget.com:

The Kindle gig is an off-shoot of my work for the speech recognition company Nuance, who developed text-to-speech, or TTS. I record a massive amount of fragments and random sentences, and they’re able to chop them up in a way that allows my voice to speak whatever is written down — that’s an over-simplification, since I don’t understand all the intricacies of how it works. Through TTS, I’m also the voice of the National Weather Service and the Phoenix Airport, to name a couple. I love technology, so I think it’s pretty cool. It’s not the same as when I do the voice for United, Bank of America, and so on — that’s not ‘TTS me,’ that’s actually me saying those things. But the Kindle has a whole new version of TTS that we recorded last year, and I think it sounds really good compared to some older TTS systems I did in the past. The technology has come along way but it’s obviously not the same as someone actually reading the text or book.

Glynn lives in Boston, MA and has been a voice actor professionally for 15 years. “I love the nuances of the spoken word, inflection and diction,” says Glynn. “Some people think voice-over is just about having a good voice, but there’s really a lot more to it than that — it’s a craft you have to study and practice just like anything else.” He started about voicing “radio and TV commercials, instructional videos, and audio dramas,” and was eventually “asked to audition for one of the original companies that created speech recognition.”

Glynn adds, “They liked my more conversational style, as opposed to the old announcer-type, so I ended up becoming their ‘go to’ voice for a lot of the systems they created. As a result, I’m now the voice you hear whenever you call United, Bank of America, Apple, CVS, and many others. You’ll also hear me on some GPS systems.”

“I do all of my voice work from my own studio,” Glynn says. “And when not doing voice work I’m usually playing guitar or piano — I’ve played both since I was a child. A broadcasting teacher told me years ago that I’d have to choose between broadcasting and music, but I ended up doing both this whole time. The voice work allows me the flexibility to play and create music, which is available on iTunes [and you can also listen to tracks via his MySpace page], and some newer acoustic tracks are available at TomGlynn.com. The songs are played in three hundred Caffe Nero coffee shops in Europe — that’s their version of Starbucks — and Performing Songwriter picked my latest CD as one of its top Indie picks for November 2008.”

As for what he thinks about the controversy over the Kindle 2, Glynn says, “I don’t have a particular opinion on it. I certainly see their point of view — but nothing compares to having a real voice actor read an actual audio book to you, so I almost see them as two different things. I see my TTS voice as more functionality, and a real audiobook as sheer enjoyment.”

Continue reading: Tom Glynn, the voice of the Kindle 2.

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