The Internet Choir: Huge, crowd-based voice recording?
February 13, 2018 7:41 AM   Subscribe

I'd like as many voice recordings of a short, given phrase as possible - from all kinds of voices. Size matters more than quality. Does anyone know of a resource, platform, solution, method that makes this possible?

This is for an artistic project, that also has a commercial aspect. It is for a song, for a minor independent artist, that will use an "the voice of the internet", i.e. as many online people as possible, reading a phrase of 15 words. The song will be commercially available.

Most crowdsourcing platforms (like MTurk etc) doesn't seem to cater to sonic media content, only text and image. I've found online voice talent websites, they are great, but also faaaar beyond my budgets (and scope) of this project; ideally I want as many recordings as possible, in the hundreds or thousands, its the size/number that matters, not the quality.

I will of course ask the fans of the artist and surely many will participate willingly, but using a crowd-sourced, neutral "anonymous" source is artistically interesting and important to this project. I'd also like to do this as ethically and "right" as possible, so I'm open to observations, challenges and alternative solutions to this that I might not have thought about.

In theory for any participator, volunteer or paid, this is either as simple as visiting a website and reading into a widget, or sending a voice/video message on email / whatsapp / telegram / MMS. I can set this up, technically its no problem, but how do I reach "sizable crowds"...? And handle payment, if at all? Maybe there is a particular crowdsourcing platform, or something else, that might facilitate this, and handle delivery/payments?

Thank you for any insights and observations.
posted by gmm to Computers & Internet (7 answers total)
You're familiar with Eric Whitacre's work?
posted by at at 7:47 AM on February 13, 2018 [2 favorites]

MTurk should be able to work for this... Have you also considered mechanical voices such as the ones for various online dictionaries? You could string together the words you need with a little editing. Also 'the voice of the internet' makes me think immediately of Siri, Alexa, and/or Cortana.
posted by sexyrobot at 7:48 AM on February 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

This seems like the kind of thing many people would do for free. I would do it right now if you had an upload link.

Why not make that clear, handle the technical details yourself, and just circulate a notice via Facebook, Twitter (with a unique hashtag), here on MetaFilter Projects/Music, Reddit music subs (/r/wearethemusicmakers, maybe /r/samplesize)etc etc.?

Get a few shares/retweets and you'll have enough of a crowd to call a crowd in no time, though I think 'voice of the internet' would be a real stretch, for anything.
posted by SaltySalticid at 7:50 AM on February 13, 2018 [3 favorites]

How are you going to arrange the thousands of recordings?

It seems like it would be really hard to tell the difference between 100 and 1000 in the final product?
posted by gregr at 10:16 AM on February 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

Thank you everyone, very valuable input, I've marked you all bestest, this helps a lot.

I can't find a way to request audio from MTurk workers, but waiting to hear back from them on that. Virtual personas or voice synthesis is absolutely an option, especially for generating tons of slight variations, but not a great fit for the "aesthetic" of this particular project (but its a good backup idea if it turns out I need to "help" the participators a bit...)

I do expect many fans (and also non-fans) to willingly and happily do this for free, but would also like to be able to point everyone to a setup where they would be paid to contribute. And I'd love to see the difference between fans and crowdsourced task workers. And yes absolutely, "voice of the internet" is a far stretch...

I have good tools to handle, arrange and sync thousands of recordings, not worried about that part, thats just "work" (Wasn't sure if you were curious or just mentioning an aspect I might not have thought about, PM if you'd like details!). Very good observation that at some point the number won't make much difference towards the end result, and that number is probably faaaar less than 100, thanks.

Thank you, great mind of the internet :)
posted by gmm at 8:57 AM on February 14, 2018

I know for a fact that Mturk has been used for audio a very similar was one of the first uses of it, in fact. The people doing it sliced up a recording of 'bicycle built for 2' (ie 'Daisy' ie the song that HAL sings in 2001 ie the song from the flexidisk released by Bell labs in the 60s to demonstrate the first voice synthesis software (a copy of which was found in Stanley Kubrick's archive)) into a bunch of tiny pieces of random length (approx 1 sec) multiple times (ie the song was sliced up, then they took another copy and sliced that up randomly too, but with the slices at random locations) then they put all the slices on Mturk and paid people a dime to try to mimic the snippet they heard, and finally assembled them together (all the multiple copies layered together into something that sounds completely f*cking bonkers. (link also includes a link to the web-based audio tool they used to record thru mturk, so boom there it is. ;)
posted by sexyrobot at 2:57 PM on February 17, 2018

Thank you! And a follow up to help others searching for ways to do this, I also got a helpful reply from Amazon Mturk; its absolutely doable, but the audio capture mechanism has to happen on an external system (there is no tech in Mturk itself to facilitate this), and then some kind of confirmation/connection system to verify that the worker has performed the task.

However, separate from the Mturk process, I set up a simple webpage to capture the recording with a widget (and provided easy ways of sending mobile phone recordings), shared this page with fans of the artist and social media, and clearly people love to participate - so far have received several hundreds of recordings! Approx 75% participate through the widget, 25% through email and a very few through direct messaging, so clearly the widget would technically be enough (but the email/phone solutions are socially important). So in the end, won't need (or even have the capacity) to deal with setting up an MTurk solution.

There is a link to the project through my website listed on my profile. Thanks for all advice everyone.
posted by gmm at 2:45 AM on February 25, 2018

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