“THERE are thousands of different ways to describe a person’s voice, but it’s all so subjective,” explains Tess Whittaker, co-founder of The Voice Distillery – a start-up firm that utilises cutting-edge software to pinpoint the suitability of voice-over artists for particular projects, saving time and effort on the often laborious auditioning process.

Ms Whittaker, 49 – a professionally trained actress, voice coach, voice-over artist and Speech and Language Therapist – is one of four co-founders of the Musselburgh-based start-up.

After launching in 2019, the company’s innovative concept is currently making waves in the voice-over sector – with Ms Whittaker being nominated for a major business award and also being approved for various grants and funding.

“The Voice Distillery software looks at how we can scientifically capture or describe elements of the human voice in more of a systematic way, and how we can we map acoustic features with the voice,” she explains. “To be able to scientifically pinpoint what a ‘warm’ or ‘authoritative’ voice sounds like is super exciting to me.”

The ultimate purpose of this software, Ms Whittaker notes, is to offer a more convenient time-saving model for content creators when casting voice artists – and also give voice-over actors a better chance of being considered for projects.

“Our software automatically ranks audition samples according to the content creator brief. This provides a faster, more targeted shortlisting system that avoids listener bias. We can then present to the client the top ten voices, rather than them having to listen to hundreds of auditions which can be quite numbing,” she says.

“As it currently stands, voice-over artists are getting a really rough deal in the industry. They tend to have to use pay-to-play platforms and fork out to have the privilege of auditioning.”

To address this issue, The Voice Distillery does not charge artists, instead taking around 20 percent commission from the content creators if a voice from their curated list is selected.

Despite being in its infancy, The Voice Distillery has attracted ample attention, with Ms Whittaker recently making it through to the finals of the 2021 AccelerateHER Awards – a celebration of female founders and their potential to grow businesses internationally.

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She has also helped the firm secure funding through Business Gateway and more recently received a SMART:SCOTLAND grant from Scottish Enterprise.

These funds have been ploughed into the company to create the innovative software prototype which the team of six staff are currently perfecting.

For Ms Whittaker, a seasoned voice artist herself, the project was born out of a desire to help fellow actors – an ambition triggered after she experienced a life-changing accident. “I dislocated both my knees after falling down stairs,” she recalls. “I spent a year doing daily physio and it was very much a time of re-evaluating what I could do.

“The dedication of the Western General was so inspiring – it just made me think of how I could help other people with my background in the same way that a physio therapist can. 

“That’s when I thought of becoming a Speech and Language Therapist – and decided to go back to university aged 40,” she laughs.

While at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh, Ms Whittaker met The Voice Distillery co-founders Professor Janet Beck (speech and language therapist), and Dr Felix Schaeffler (speech scientist). The fourth co-founder is Dr Matthias Eichner – an expert in machine learning and digital signal processing.

With a Business Gateway already located on campus, Ms Whittaker and the team soon established the company with ambitious goals to revolutionise the voice casting industry. 

Ms Whittaker, whose vocal talents have been sought by organisations including Nivea, Royal Mail and HSBC, admits the voice-over industry has dramatically evolved since she began her acting career.

“The tech has changed massively,” she says. “Most people now are working out of their homes, and certainly now with Covid-19 about 99 percent are working from home recording studios.

“This has meant that they’ve had to learn the job of a studio engineer which poses its own challenges.”

Alongside co-running The Voice Distillery, Ms Whittaker continues to work as a voice-over artist. “What I love is the fact that I can have my business and analytical mind with The Voice Distillery, and then I can go into the voice room,” she says.

As for the prospects of The Voice Distillery, Ms Whittaker believes there are ‘lots of different avenues’ to venture down.

She says: “With our tech it will be really exciting to apply it to different languages, which is another possibility.

“Can we apply it to the singing voice? There’s lots of scope.”

www.voicedistillery.co.uk