Voices for SatNav Systems

a to z done

When it comes to navigation, I consider myself very lucky. I was born and raised in London, and that meant that if I was ever about to embark on a drive without knowing how to reach my destination, I could look it up in my trusty A-Z.

Armed with the most basic of map reading skills, I could easily get myself all the way from my home in North West London to…well, any telephone box where I could call my Dad and ask him for some directions. To a new motorist, the humble Dad appears as a super computer, able to calculate how to get from any point in space to another with the minimum of effort.

Such super  powers were first observed by the son of Mr Thomas Tom who, after a flash of inspiration whilst once lost on the A41 heading for Swiss Cottage, decided to build a machine so that nobody would ever again have to suffer the same fate.

This is all, of course, complete nonsense. Well, apart from the bit about my using an A-Z, but the point is in those days you simply would not have dreamed of getting into a car without first having a very clear picture of exactly how to get where you were going.

And how our times have changed.

Not only do we now jump into our vehicles without thinking, but more over we’re actually prepared to put all of our faith in a machine that we know has often failed us in the past. It’s taken us on motorways when we knew that the A roads were better. It’s asked us to turn left after 300 yards when the exit in question has been closed up for roadworks and the diversions have been created by evil masterminds from the planet Bastard. It constantly waits until the last possible second to tell us which exit on the roundabout it actually means and all of this only after it condescends to pick up a frickin’ signal.

But we love them. We have them in our phones or we buy dedicated hardware and then, as we choose to with all other pieces of sophisticated hardware, we get to personalise them. Because let’s face it – a small box on your dashboard that can pinpoint your position from space is all very nice, but wouldn’t it be so much cooler if we could get..oh, I don’t know..Darth Vader to tell us how to reach our destination?

Responding to this, many celebrities did indeed lend their voices to our SatNav systems and a few years ago, I was asked to create a number of celebrity impressions for a company who simply couldn’t afford A list celebrities. Or B list. Actually to be fair, I don’t think the alphabet even came into it, but the job was fun, so I did it.

There are around 80 prompts in total and they fall into one of three categories. In the first group are the phrases that you cannot embellish in any way. They’re the numbers and units, like ‘fifty’ and ‘yards’. The second group gives the voice artist a chance to have a little more fun. We can add the odd word here and there but we can’t overdo it. So ‘Turn left’ in the voice of Yoda could become “Left turn you must” – you get the idea.

The last group is the most fun. With these you can have as much fun as you like. As long as the core of the message is in there somewhere, then go nuts.

Now the site for whom I originally recorded these voices has since closed down, and that’s probably because it’s now easier than ever to purchase the genuine celebrity, rather than an impression, and if they’re the same price, why wouldn’t you?

That being said, this week, I found myself in conversation with a company that specialise in providing the genuine voices and they put it to me that it’s a good idea for them to have someone that can do impressions on standby. It hadn’t occurred to me that the world of Sat Nav voices would require what’s known as ADR – the technical term for re recording dialogue when the original recording is not usable – but apparently it is, so let’s hope it’s another string that I can add to my bow.

For now, here are some of the voices that I recorded – I hope they make you smile.