Edinburgh voice-over technology innovator aims to be big noise

Jaime E. Love

Voice Distillery founder Tess Whittaker

Voice Distillery founder Tess Whittaker

Name: Tess Whittaker (although my voice acting name is Teresa-May Whittaker).

Age: 50.

What is your business called?

The Voice Distillery.

Where is it based?

We are members of the Business Innovation Zone at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh, and have received a lot of support from them, including an Innovation Fellowship grant which helped fund our product development.

What does it produce, what services does it offer?

We see ourselves as ‘Spotify meets LinkedIn for voices’. We believe we are the only company that uses machine learning for voice-over audition shortlisting and provide an innovative, AI driven, online casting service for voice-over artists and those seeking a voice.

The voice-over industry has been valued at around $4.4 billion dollars and has undergone huge changes in the last 15 years. The advent of good home recording studio facilities created new opportunities and access to anyone willing to buy the equipment and learn how to use it. Additionally, a huge rise in the need for online content to be produced at speed meant there was a big demand for voices.

Online casting platforms and ‘pay to play’ sites, where the voice actor pays a subscription fee to access and audition for voice jobs, allow content creators to draw from a large pool of voiceover talent. But this means content creators can be inundated with hundreds of auditions for a single job that need to be screened by human judges.

Based on a content creator’s vocal brief, our technology will automatically shortlist all auditions submitted to our platform for that particular casting.

Content creators only need to listen to the highest-ranking auditions out of those submitted. The tech can additionally provide feedback for the voice-over artist on all custom auditions submitted.

Our technology is patent pending and we have built a user interface that is both efficient and intuitive.

Our vision is to become the most trusted voice casting platform by providing an affordable and educational marketplace for voice-over artists to excel in, and an innovative tech platform which enables content creators to find the perfect voice in record time.

To whom does it sell?

We believe voice-over artists should not pay to see or submit auditions. Our free service will ensure we have the largest talent pool amongst our competitors.

We use a commission-based business model for generating revenue – a traditional format that is well understood within the creative industry.

We charge content creators a 20 per cent fee based on the project’s budget, once one of our voice-over artists has been chosen to voice their project.

Voice-over artists will be offered an ‘audition feedback service’ for a fee so they can learn and develop from submitting auditions.

What is its turnover?

We are currently in the post prototype/pre commercialisation phase and have several very exciting trials planned for the spring and summer of this year, which will help us tailor our services as well as gather feedback and testimonials.

How many employees does it have?

We have a fabulous tech developer on our payroll as well as a few very talented freelancers.

When was it formed?

The business incorporated in March 2020. Starting a new business at the beginning of a global pandemic was rather challenging but we adapted quickly – not only to working remotely but also to big industry changes as a result of Covid-19.

Why did you take the plunge?

We had what we felt was a great idea, an experienced team and saw a gap in the market and had the support of QMU, who believe in our concept.

What were you doing before?

As is typical in any early start-up company, I am still working in my previous career as a freelance voice-over artist. This is something I don’t envisage changing too much as I do think having my feet firmly placed on this side of the creative process is crucial to the development of TVD .

How did you raise the start-up funding?

We received a SMART grant award in 2020/2021 which also required some private investment match funding that was secured via friends and family. We are currently looking for a pre-seed investment of £200,000 in order to further develop our technology.

What was your biggest break?

For me, personally, it was getting to the final of the ‘AccelerateHer’ awards in 2021. It was a fantastic experience and the networking and support opportunities that have come out of it continue to be incredibly helpful.

What do you most enjoy about running the business?

The ideas process and problem-solving aspect is really enjoyable; merging academic knowledge and expertise with commercial need and ‘know how’ always excites me!

What could the Scottish and/or Westminster governments do that would help?

There is a huge gender funding gap that urgently needs addressing. Statistics suggest we are moving backwards rather than forwards. I was privileged to be asked to a focus group meeting at QMU, where opinions on plans for a female business hub in the proposed business centre there were being sought. It was the most exciting and inspirational meeting I have attended for years! I wish bigger decision makers were privy to these meetings as I’m sure they would be just as inspired by the community-led focus the female entrepreneurs demonstrated at the meeting.

How do you relax?

I’m owned by five Husky X dogs! Any activity that involves them, then I’m happy! I can’t say it’s relaxing, but any spare time is taken up with providing ground search and rescue support for local missing dogs. Reuniting a missing dog with its owner is unbelievably rewarding and I’m lucky to work alongside some truly exceptional canine experts in this very specific yet vital field.

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