Navigating NFTs in voice-over is like untangling Christmas lights; you think you understand the basic concept, but working through it is infuriating.
Over the past year, Non-Fungible Tokens (more on this in a minute) have gained a great deal of traction online, most recently in the voice-over world. These children of the Crypto-currency may have a significant impact on the future of ownership and AI voice-over. So, whether you have been an expert for months or just gotten involved because you saw everyone getting angry at Troy Baker on Twitter – let's dive into the world of NFTs.
What is an NFT?
That is the question. To answer this, we will need to break down what Non-Fungible Token even means – so let's start with fungibility.
A fungible item can be replaced or swapped out for another version of the item, acting like an absolute equivalent. The value of a dollar is the same as the value of any other dollar, making it a fungible commodity.
So, for an item to be non-fungible, it would have the be and act dissimilar from another version of itself. The first dollar you ever earned likely carries sentimental value that is not simply replaceable –it holds a personal value that cannot be transferred to a different dollar. Swapping this item with another is not representative of equal value; it carries intangible value beyond other iterations. It is irreplaceable and unique; it is non-fungible. Which is where NFTs divert from standard cryptocurrencies which are inherently fungible.
For example, purchasing one version of a mass-produced replication of the Mona Lisa painting is no different to any other copy. Its value is ostensibly identical to any other iteration on sale. This is a fungible token. Although, if you were to own THE Mona Lisa, painted by Leonardo DaVinci himself, it suddenly becomes priceless. No matter how identical the copies may be, they will never be the Mona Lisa. There is an intrinsic value holistically carried by the item because of the circumstances of its association to the painter, making it unique, irreplaceable, and non-fungible.
Okay, so that is reasonably straightforward. So, what is an NFT?
In the digital age, fungibility means less than ever. Whether a game, book, image, or film, in a world of infinitely reproducible digital assets, any asset is definitively indistinguishable from another. There is no holistic value to an “original” piece of art, as there is no physical aspect to an image. Any copy of a digital painting is fungible, as each version of an image on a screen is just lighting up pixels in a specific way that matches the artist's idea.
This is where NFTs come in.
An NFT is a virtually distinct copy of an item (a token) with a limited supply that increases the token's value on the virtual marketplace by creating an artificial scarcity. The uniqueness of these NFTs is managed, authenticated, and monitored by blockchain – a database of records that stores receipts and ID codes of online tokens that verify authenticity.Value is in the eye of the beholder, this 1st Edition Pokemon Charizard card is worth upwards of $300,000.
TL; DR: In essence, NFT technology allows one digital product to hold some remarkable value over another, ostensibly identical version. It's like the difference between a random Pokémon card versus an original 1st gen print of a Shiny Gyarados.
What do NFTs mean for voice-over?
NFTs aren't restricted to images; sounds and AI voice-over can be NFTs. Sound clips can be verified via the same process as any other non-fungible token using the blockchain. Inauthentic copies can be cross-referenced with the data in the blockchain to help the voice provider keep track of the content they contribute to.
At least, in theory.
The current debacle surrounding Troy Baker's endorsement of NFTs has little to do with images. As demonstrated by VoiceverseNFT's Twitter thread on the topic, the discussion is centred on AI voice-over and finding a “decentralised solution” to actors creating tools for anyone to utilise their voice through voice generation. So NFTs further extend the growing concerns of voice cloning debates
So, let's examine some of the core issues surrounding NFTs.
Problem 1: Making voice-over inaccessible
NFTs may have drastic potential for voice-over artists. With the emergence of AI voices, the scalability for top voice actors to export their speech to countless projects is limitless. Troy Baker and Nolan North are tremendously recognisable; these actors are often referred to as benchmarks in casting, e.g. “I want someone who sounds like Nolan North”.
So, what if they could get these prolific voice actors at the click of a button? In theory, that is the idea. Of course, top jobs will always need firsthand, tailor-made voice acting performances – jobs that the leading actors usually catch in the industry. But most voice-over artists exist in commercial projects, less glamourous than multimillion-dollar games, but the bread and butter for most professionals.
AI voices, verified and certified through NFTs, bolsters the ability for a small fraction of top voices to provide voice-over to all projects. The potential harm for up-and-coming voices' careers is astronomical as the work that would usually be attributed to the first rung of the ladder would be eaten up by those at the top.
Essentially those at the top could be seen as pulling the ladder to success up behind them and making a voice-over career harder for the next climber.
Problem 2: Stealing from the Artist
While the very concept of NFTs is to protect artists through traceable verification of their digital property, so far, it has been more guilty of the exact opposite. Growing trends in people stealing digital art images and minting them as a non-fungible token that they own are troubling.
Images featuring the likeness of famous YouTubers and celebrities have been taken, altered, and then enshrined as NFTs to be sold. While these tokens are problematic, the idea that an NFT's worth is derived from a subjective holistic valuation means that there may be intrinsic value to stolen content, provided someone is willing to buy it.
If this prospers, the possibility for voice cloning and deepfakes to be minted as NFTs is guaranteed– encouraging the sale of illegal copies. The only recourse would be for an artist to coin their content in a non-fungible token format first to protect their content. Although, this contribution proliferates the trade of NFTs, which increases the value in the trend toward illegitimate NFTs.
A Classic Catch-22!
Problem 3: The Environment
NFTs are not good for the environment. Simple as that. The recent gear toward mass adoption of blockchain and crypto technology has proven disastrous for energy consumption. The cost of running server farms and mining through graphics cards is not just limiting supply for gaming PCs; it's also responsible for very high greenhouse emissions. Yikes.Admittedly, various organisations are moving toward carbon-neutral products; however, as it stands, these are genuine concerns to have in 2022.
The Voquent Audience Speaks!
Okay, I have exhausted my knowledge. So now it's your turn! We put out a tweet on our Voquent Twitter Account – (quick plug) where you can follow and connect with us for all things voice-over (plug over) – and this is what you had to say.
It's fair to say that the Voquent community are not pleased with the state of NFTs in the voice-over industry. Over 75% of the Voquent audience have concluded that NFT's are the worst. A significant majority of respondents that highlights the anxiety that many voices feel in the face of the challenges that this trend brings forward.
Ki brings up some interesting points regarding the legal limitations of NFTs. In the current climate, there are little-to-no guarantees or assurances that come with NFTs; if the blockchain servers are taken offline, then the receipt and evidence that your NFT is certified by are also gone. Even if this is unlikely to happen, you might find that your “ownership” means very little in any court without any legal contract to back you up.
If you want to protect your intellectual property and voice-over, always look to established legal procedures. We will look into the best ways to protect your voice in a later blog.
P.J Roscoe echoes what a lot of us were thinking recently! NFTs are confusing (I knew nothing about them until it all came to a head). About a fifth of our audience also concur with this sentiment – confusion is rampant wherever decentralised currencies and crypto are concerned. I hope that some of you had the opportunity to learn from this blog.
In recent weeks, plentiful organisations have jumped on the bandwagon with SEGA and Konami selling NFT gaming content – there are those with optimistic perspectives. So maybe the future for non-fungible tokens is bright. The Jury is out.
However, it's undeniable that NFTs are looked upon unfavourably by the wider voice-over community, with Voquent's outstanding talent directory feeling particularly unsettled by the potential damage that these tokens could represent for the industry. Despite endorsements from top talent, it is the everyday voice-over artist at risk. Building upon concerns regarding AI voice-over and Voice cloning, NFTs need to do better in showing their potential to benefit voices in an honest and accessible way – if that is even possible.
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