Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Zak Miller Remembrance

Zak chilling on his porch. Image via Facebook
SunSpots Productions is grieved to announce that our friend and former Florida studio manager, exceptional producer and versatile voice talent, James “Zak” Miller has passed away after a sudden heart attack.

Zak was there at the beginning of our Florida studio. He was discovered working on the radio in the Orlando market by SunSpots Chief Engineer, Jay Patrick. Zak helped us build the Florida SunSpots Productions studio through hard work, long hours and his enthusiasm for the craft. What was it like in those early SunSpots days?

“Being on the ground floor of SunSpots was a very exciting time. To be a part of the growth and formation of a company like SunSpots with the ideals and approaches to the industry will always remain a special memory. To be able to raise the industry standards and what is and was expected from a production studio and talent agent was a great feeling. SunSpots changed the way I approach life, business and relationships.”
- Zak Miller

He was incredibly efficient behind the console making clients happy with his editing skills and friendliness. He made it a point that every session was creative, productive and most importantly, enjoyable for clients and voiceover talent alike. As a talent himself, he knew how to get the best performances from voice talent. He always knew where to push and where to hold back keeping positive results in mind.

Zak became an expert with ISDN and digital connection technologies and would offer his assistance with talent and studios that were new to real time studio to studio recording. Even after leaving SunSpots, he could still be counted on to help other voice talent set up their studios and problem solve technical issues.

Often at the end of a long day the staff would gather outside around his pickup truck to share some adult beverages and chat about the ups and downs of the day. He would hold court with tales of clients, talent, technical issues, hobbies and memories of his brother, Tom, who had died a few years earlier.

Zak at the beach. Image via Facebook
He told me that he’d reconsider his position with us when his daughter, Jade, turned 18. When she did, he decided to go out on his own doing voiceover work and production. We were disappointed, but knew he really wanted his independence to live his life his way and not drive an hour to work as well. So he moved to the place that brought his spirit joy, the beach. He was able to surf and voice when he wanted. Even though he left the company, he still remained on our talent roster and a favorite of many clients.

Zak was a giver. Whether he was teaching kids with autism learn how to surf or helping a friend install a ceiling fan, he was there. He was one of the hardest workers I’ve ever known. He worked in the rain spreading sand to avoid flooding at the Florida studio during a tropical storm. He’d get splattered painting walls in the studio building. If you needed something, whatever it was, he’d get it done.

"I’ll never forget the time that Janet (SunSpots Co-Owner), fellow voice talent Jaz Adams and I spent the day piling sand around the building to keep 'Lake Cassidy' from flooding into the studios!” - Zak Miller 
(Lake Cassidy was what we called a large area of ponding water that appeared after big rains.)
James “Zak” Miller was a vibrant, generous soul with a contagious smile and a positive attitude. He will be sorely missed by so many friends, his former coworkers at SunSpots, talent and studios around the world and by his family. We’re all broken hearted by his sudden death. If there’s a heaven, he’s catching long rides and big waves with his brother. 

Zak Miller surfing. Image via Facebook.
Mahalo Zakfoo!

Thomas Rohe
SunSpots Productions

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Last Day To Give in 2015

Little girl holding cardboard thank you sign.
photo via Pinterest
You've got just a few hours left to get your tax credit for charitable deductions for 2015 and we thought we'd share some of SunSpots staff members favorites.

However, first it's good to find out who the best charities are. Who are the ones using their money for the cause they support and not staffing or advertising? Who does the most with the money they bring in? Charity Navigator is a superb resource for investigating and rating charities of all sizes. Visit their site and search for your favorite charity to see how they rank.

Wounded vet in wheelchair in front of his house.
I discovered that one of the most visible veteran's charities, the Wounded Warrior Project, didn't score as well on Charity Navigator as lesser known organizations that help vets and their families. That's why I personally give to  Homes for Our Troops, which helps build and/or retrofit homes for service men and women who've been injured in Iraq and Afghanistan. Here's Home for Our Troops web site. Check them out. They may not have major celebrities singing their praises, but they are doing the good work for vets and their families who need it most. 

Many of the SunSpots crew are dog and cat owners and support the national missions of the ASPCA ( Though they're effective ads, even Sarah McLaughlin admits she has a hard time watching those she did the music and voiceover for. They're powerful, touching, compelling messages and we're behind the good they do for all animals.

Buzzy the studio dog at SunSpots Productions Asheville studios.
Buzzy at SunSpots Productions NC studios near Asheville
Locally (we have studios near Asheville, NC and Orlando, FL), the two Tom's of SunSpots are both fans of Asheville, NC's Brother Wolf Animal Rescue. Our studio dog, Buzzy came from Brother Wolf in 2010 and is snuggled up against my right side as I write this. Brother Wolf has been recognized in 2015 by readers of Mountain Xpress as the #1 Volunteer Opportunity, #1 Animal Shelter, #1 Activist Group and #1 Nonprofit Organization in the Asheville area. Congrats to them and their unwavering compassion for all animals great and small. I'm also a fan of the South Lake Animal League in Groveland, FL.

Karin, one of our voice talent coordinators who works remotely from Michigan, offered this when I asked her about her favorite charities:
This year, my daughter’s first grade class adopted a little boy for Christmas through the Salvation Army's Angel tree program. The child they adopted was 6, just like them!  My daughter was really motivated to raise money for the class to buy gifts and necessities (coat, shoes, clothes) for their adopted friend.  She drew pictures and sold them to our neighbors for donations! I love that she thought outside of the box as to how to help someone in need. Not only did she donate money, but she got our neighbors excited to be involved in helping a little boy in need! 
Like Karin, Tom K. in Asheville, is also a supporter of the local Salvation Army.

Karin loves her local chapter of Toys for Tots. She and her daughter were visiting their area ToysRUs and discovered the Marines had already landed!
We went in one day to almost bare shelves!  The workers said the Marines came in and went wild buying toys for local kids :) Love that we were able to see this is charity in action!
Happy kids receive boxes from Samaritan's Purse
Happy kids with their Samaritan's Purse shoeboxes
Our brand manager, Barbara, introduced me to the fun of filling a shoebox for kids around the world with the charity, Samaritan's Purse. Was a blast trying to pick out toys and necessities for kids of different ages that would fit in the boxes. Last year our boxes went across the globe to Burundi. Seeing the kids smiling faces as they opened their boxes was worth fighting the crowds at the Dollar Store before Christmas. You can donate directly with them today for the tax deduction or wait till next year and fill some shoeboxes with treats. (Filling the boxes is more fun!)

Curious seal pup at the Marine Mammal Center in CA.
Seal at the Marine Mammal Center
Shannon suggested The Marine Mammal Center as one of her favorite charities. She's a life long animal lover...of all kinds! Here's what the The Marine Mammal Center describes as their mission:
Our mission is to expand knowledge about marine mammals—their health and that of their ocean environment—and to inspire their global conservation. Our core work is the rescue and rehabilitation of sick and injured marine mammals.
She's also a supporter of the Natural Resources Defense Council who work to save the planet from being "smooshed". (My word, not hers.)

Others mentioned were locally based church groups near parents such as the Lake Jackson TX Church of Christ (...they're having a tasty pulled pork dinner on 1/6!), St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Woodworth, IL and the Biltmore Church of Christ in Asheville, NC.

Another favorite is the American Humanist Association (we're a varied staff ;-) ).

Hope this gives you some last minute inspiration to research and donate to your favorite charity. Hurry though, you've got just a few hours to make the deadline for a 2015 tax deduction.

Have a Happy New Year!


Thomas Rohe
SunSpots Productions

Monday, May 18, 2015

The real story behind Mad Men's finale or how Don Draper saved Coca-Cola

Peace and Harmony

"I'd like to teach the world to sing...", it's a song many boomers know from their youth. The Mad Men finale suggested, via Don Draper's smile while on the hilltop in his mediation class, that he had created the Coke commercial. Just what Don needed to restart his life; a dash of Ad Man nirvana!
Mad Men's Don Draper meditating about Coca-Cola
Don's smile and the Coca-Cola ad gave us a positive feeling after a finale that seemed rushed and incomplete. I'd hoped it'd been a two hour show to add some finality and give us a bit more than a few seconds or minutes with each character. (Though yay for Peggy's new love!)

Don's breakdown at the retreat seemed to renew him and led viewers to believe he was inspired to return to McCann-Erickson Advertising Agency in New York and create some timely branding for Coca-Cola (One of his goal accounts). The message in the spot was what was needed in a post-60's America, especially after the turmoil and violence from the late 60's, not only in the USA, but around the world as well.

The Real Story about the Real Thing in 1971...

What's the true story behind this Mad Men moment?

From the Coca-Cola Company:
"I'd Like to Buy the World a Coke" had its origins on January 18, 1971, in a London fog. Bill Backer, creative director on the Coca-Cola account for the McCann Erickson advertising agency, was flying to London to meet up with Billy Davis, the music director on the Coca-Cola account, to write radio commercials with two successful British songwriters, Roger Cook and Roger Greenaway, to be recorded by the New Seekers, a popular British singing group. The heavy fog in London forced the plane to land in Shannon, Ireland. Passengers had to remain near the airport in case the fog lifted. Some of them were furious about their accommodations. By the next day, Backer saw some of the most irate passengers in the airport cafe. Brought together by a common experience, many were now laughing and sharing stories over snacks and bottles of Coca-Cola. Backer wrote of the scene: "In that moment [I] saw a bottle of Coke in a whole new light... [I] began to see a bottle of Coca-Cola as more than a drink that refreshed a hundred million people a day in almost every corner of the globe. So [I] began to see the familiar words, 'Let's have a Coke,' as more than an invitation to pause for refreshment. They were actually a subtle way of saying, 'Let's keep each other company for a little while.' And [I] knew they were being said all over the world as [I] sat there in Ireland. So that was the basic idea: to see Coke not as it was originally designed to be -- a liquid refresher -- but as a tiny bit of commonality between all peoples, a universally liked formula that would help to keep them company for a few minutes."
Hilltop Singers in Coke Ad
The Coca-Cola Hilltop Singers in Italy
When he finally arrived in London, Backer told Billy Davis and Roger Cook what he had seen in the airport café. After he expressed his thoughts about buying everybody in the world a Coke, Backer noticed that Davis's initial reaction was not at all what he'd expected and asked him, "Billy, do you have a problem with this idea?" Davis slowly revealed his problem. "Well, if I could do something for everybody in the world, it would not be to buy them a Coke." Backer responded, "What would you do?" "I'd buy everyone a home first and share with them in peace and love," Davis said. Backer said, "Okay, that sounds good. Let's write that and I'll show you how Coke fits right into the concept."
Read more and see the original video here:

Thanks for the memories Mad Men and Women! 

Thanks to the outstanding performers, artists, writers, directors...everyone involved on the set and behind the scenes at AMC's Mad Men. It was well worth the ride.


How soon before "The Adventures of Don Draper - Ad Man"? - Tom

Main Cast of Mad Men
Main Cast of Mad Men

Thomas Rohe is President of SunSpots Productions. He's the former professionally named, Tom Cassidy, whose career was sidetracked by a dental injury causing lingual dystonia. Today he "speaks" online leading SunSpots web presence and keeping his dog, Buzzy, amused. 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

5 Great Gift Ideas for Mother's Day

Mother Tattoo image

Mother's Day is soon!

We've put together some gift ideas for your special Mom. One even includes a voiceover idea!

No matter Mom's age she'd love a visit to a local spa with massage, hot stone treatment, an herbal bath and more. Plus a glass of her favorite wine. That'll make the day really special! How to choose the right spa treatment.

Too much money for a spa? Doesn't take much to create a beautiful annual/perennial basket for her porch or a sunny window. Find plants that don't grow too large and pack it full of color! It'll last much longer than any cut flowers. Ideas for container gardens.

Is Mom a book lover? She can put hundreds of books and magazines on a Kindle from Amazon. The Kindle even comes in versions that are perfect for the beach with no glare screens! Here's the less pricey version: Kindle Paperwhite, 6" High-Resolution Display (212 ppi) with Built-in Light, Wi-Fi - Includes Special Offers

Give her the gift of time. No, not a watch. What about chores at her place? Maybe detailing her car? Cleaning her floors? Doing yard work for her? Helping pack up goods to give to a charity. You'll help her out (giving her more time for that spa visit) and have some quality bonding too.

Here's one we bet she doesn't have, a Personalized Voiceover Alarm Clock! Imagine having Mom's child's voice wishing her goodnight or starting her quiet Sunday morning with something like this...

You could have a professional voice talent from SunSpots Productions record special messages for her! (Of course we can do that!)

There's a few imaginative ideas to give Mom a very special Mother's Day this weekend! Happy Mother's Day to all those Moms doing their best and loving their children of all ages.

Happy Mother's Day from your friends at SunSpots Productions!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

2015 Oscar Nominations Announced

Here's the list of nominees for this year's Oscars. How many of the films have you seen? I think the Theory of Everything will win best picture and Rosamund Pike for Gone Girl gets best actress. We'll see...good luck to them all! - Tom

The Theory of Everything
The Theory Of Everything
Best Picture:
American Sniper

The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
The Theory of Everything

Best Actor:
Steve Carell, Foxcatcher
Bradley Cooper, American Sniper
Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
Michael Keaton, Birdman
Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl
"What are you thinking?" Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl
Best Actress:
Marion Cotillard, Two Days, One Night
Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything
Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon, Wild

Best Supporting Actor:
Robert Duvall, The Judge
Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
Edward Norton, Birdman
Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
J.K. Simmons, Whiplash

Best Supporting Actress:
Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Laura Dern, Wild
Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game
Emma Stone, Birdman
Meryl Streep, Into the Woods

Scene from The Grand Budapest Hotel
Best Directing:
Alejandro González Iñárritu, Birdman
Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher
Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game

Best Animated Feature:
Big Hero 6
The Boxtrolls

How to Train Your Dragon 2

Song of the Sea
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

Edward Snowden in Citizen Four

Best Documentary Feature:
Finding Vivian Maier

Last Days in Vietnam
The Salt of the Earth

Best Foreign Language Film:
Ida (Poland)
Leviathan (Russia)
Timbuktu (Mauritania)
Wild Tales (Argentina)

Best Adapted Screenplay:
Jason Hall, American Sniper
Graham Moore, The Imitation Game
Paul Thomas Anderson, Inherent Vice
Anthony McCarten, The Theory of Everything
Damien Chazelle, Whiplash

Best Original Screenplay:
Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris and Armando Bo, Birdman
Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Dan Futterman and E. Max Frye, Foxcatcher
Wes Anderson and Hugo Guinness, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Dan Gilroy, Nightcrawler

Birdman Poster with Michael Keaton

Best Cinematography:
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Mr. Turner


Best Original Song:
"Lost Stars" from Begin Again
"Glory" from Selma
"Everything Is Awesome" from The Lego Movie
"Grateful" from Beyond the Lights
"I'm Not Gonna Miss You" from Glenn Campbell...I'll Be Me

Best Original Score:
The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Imitation Game
Mr. Turner
The Theory of Everything

Scene from American Sniper

Best Film Editing:
American Sniper

The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game


Best Production Design:
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Into the Woods
Mr. Turner

Best Costume Design:
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Inherent Vice
Into the Woods
Mr. Turner

Best Sound Editing:
American Sniper
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies


Best Sound Mixing:
American Sniper


Best Visual Effects:
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Guardians of the Galaxy
X-Men: Days of Future Past

Best Makeup and Hairstyling:
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Guardians of the Galaxy

Best Short Film (Live Action):
Boogaloo and Graham
Butter Lamp
The Phone Call

Best Documentary, Short Subject:
Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1
Our Curse
The Reaper (La Parka)
White Earth

Best Short Film (Animated):
The Bigger Picture
The Dam Keeper
Me and My Moulton
A Single Life

Read more: 

Monday, January 13, 2014

They're Alive!! (The Voice Talent that is...)

You Want Your Voiceover Now

Say you're a creative director at an ad agency and you've got some broadcast audio to produce. As usual, you're on a tight deadline. The client wants it right away and your boss wants it even sooner and...everyone wants it done cheaply.

You look online and find the talent you want either directly or through some service. You want to direct the session live and get the audio immediately. Well... "I offer 24 hour service", says one talent. Another says, "I can hook up via Skype and we can see each other, then I record and you listen. Then I'll edit some files together and send those to you in a few hours...if my internet is stable."

You know where this is going, don't you?

The SunSpots Difference

What SunSpots Productions offers is immediate, high quality audio interaction between you and the voiceover talent and supervision and recording by professional audio engineers. Want to hear take 4's intro married to the end of take 9? Done. Need to choose music and sound effects during the session? Done. 

Our thing, if you will, our reason for being, is to provide you with the most professional creative audio experience you'll find in real time and affordably. Wherever you are, we can connect. We can conference call to bring your other creatives and client (if you dare) in to the session too.

Will you save money elsewhere? Yes, you will save money initially. Will you get the product you want? If you need it fully produced today with multiple regional tags and multiple voice talent performing...probably not. And you'll be throwing good money after bad as you recast or regroup or reevaluate that creative director position you fought so hard for.

I Want it Cheap!

(Hey I wanna be thin...)
Quality doesn't come cheap. Neither does it have to cost a fortune. When you're working with a team like SunSpots you know you've hired the right voices and right producers at the right price, to make your product sing or talk or giggle or do whatever it's been written to do. 

SunSpots Productions Voice Talent Noah Schnacky
Noah Schnacky, a real, live talent in session.
Think about that.

Real time direction. You are interacting one on one. 
Multiple talent available in real time from almost anywhere in the World. 
Music customized for your specific project.
Sound effects of all kinds, even the ones that sound like...well you know...
And turnaround? C'mon. Depending on the project it could be back to you within the same hour that we recorded your voice talent. 
Yes, our audio engineers are just that damn good.

We've been working with clients and talent live, in real-time sessions for nearly 20 years. With a hundred thousand recordings under our digital belt.

Call us at 800-355-SPOTS(7768) so we can start some creative audio fun, all in real time, right now.

To Happy Sessions!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Actor Lake Bell talks about her voiceover film "In A World" on NPR

Lake Bell and co-star Fred Melamed are in Bell's film "In A World" which played nationally last year.  They both were featured on NPR's Fresh Air with host Terry Gross discussing the film, the male dominated voiceover world and the master of the male voice-over, Don Lafontaine.

Here's an excerpt from the interview on what drew them to voiceover work:

Bell: "I always wanted to be an actor, [and] I guess it seemed like the ultimate acting to me. You know, the idea of blind voice was very alluring — because in a way you weren't judged by what you looked like, you could be any character and create any characterization. ... It's the only medium where you can be anyone, any social [level], any nationality, any gender, for that matter."
Melamed: "I always felt, frankly, I couldn't stand the way I looked, and voice-over was an opportunity to play anything. ... [Voice-over acting] has always been my waitress job. I got out of drama school in 1981 ... and I've never had to have another job outside of being a performer. ... And it's strictly because I do voice-overs that I was able to tough it out through the periods [when] there was scant work, which is something that happens to all actors."
Read more and hear the entire Fresh Air episode.

Funny or Die's Don LaFontaine "tribute"...IN A WORLD.....

Being able to play so many roles behind the mic is what draws many of us to the voiceover business. How about you? What made you decide to make the leap from normal job to getting paid for speaking for a living? Sometimes, speaking funny for a living. Even better, making an enormous living as a voice actor.

For me, it was the natural progression from goofball dj and radio salesperson creating spec spots for clients and local theater acting gigs to being lucky enough to play behind the mic on an international level.  
Tom "Cassidy" Rohe

Monday, October 14, 2013

Voiceover world is rocking with SunSpots changes

Subscribe to our Email updates

We've got many irons in the fire, things in the works, monkeys with wrenches (good lil monkeys with tiny wrenches) and many changes coming to SunSpots Productions in the coming weeks. We'd like you to be a part of it all whether you're a voice talent, agency creative or voiceover and advertising fan. 

Speaking of that a new logo below that keeps popping up around the web and Faffcon? Yessssssss it just might be. See, changes happening right before your eyes! Bazinga!

Just enter your info in the form below and hit "Sign Up" so you can keep up with new voiceover talent who've joined our roster of pro voice actors, talent news, ad industry updates and more.
Items with check marks are required, the others, it'd be nice if you did input that data, so we can see where on this big blue marble you're located. You can always opt out easily and of course, your email address will never be sold or used for diabolical purposes. 

Thanks, talk to you soon!
Jefe de Webby
SunSpots Productions

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Susan Bennett - The Voice of Siri

SunSpots Voice Talent Susan Bennett
"Siri, who's the voice of Siri?"
"Susan Bennett!", Siri replies with a wink.

And Susan recently confirmed it as true to reporters at CNN. " seemed like everyone was clamoring to find out who the real voice behind Siri is, and so I thought, well, you know, what the heck? This is the time."

Susan's an active voice talent with SunSpots and we were thrilled when she let the iPhone voice mystery out of the case. Her announcement was a response to a video on that gave viewers the impression that someone else (voice actor Allison Dufty) was the voice of Siri. That's what prompted Susan to speak up. It's become such a national news event that she voiced David Letterman's Top 10 "Things you don't want to hear on your iPhone", on Monday, October 7th.

The Siri Recording Sessions

She recorded bits and pieces of sentences and phrases in July 2005, spending over 4 hours a day working out the various verbiage that editors would later edit to create the now familiar semi-synthesized sounding voice.

Story from CNN

By Jessica Ravitz
SANDY SPRINGS, Georgia (CNN) — For the past two years, she’s been a pocket and purse accessory to millions of Americans. She’s starred alongside Samuel L. Jackson and Zooey Deschanel. She’s provided weather forecasts and restaurant tips, been mocked as useless and answered absurd questions about what she’s wearing.
She is Siri, Apple’s voice-activated virtual “assistant” introduced to the masses with the iPhone 4S on October 4, 2011.
Behind this groundbreaking technology there is a real woman. While the ever-secretive Apple has never identified her, all signs indicate that the original voice of Siri in the United States is a voiceover actor who laid down recordings for a client eight years ago. She had no idea she’d someday be speaking to more than 100 million people through a not-yet-invented phone.
Apple won’t confirm it. But Bennett says she is Siri. Professionals who know her voice, have worked with her and represent her legally say she is Siri. And an audio-forensics expert with 30 years of experience has studied both voices and says he is “100%” certain the two are the same.
Bennett, who won’t divulge her age, fell into voice work by accident in the 1970s. Today, she can be heard worldwide. She speaks up in commercials and on countless phone systems. She spells out directions from GPS devices and addresses travelers in Delta airport terminals.
Until now, it’s been a career that’s afforded her anonymity.

Full Interview with CNN:

But a new Apple mobile operating system, iOS 7, with new Siri voices means that Bennett’s reign as the American Siri is slowly coming to an end. At the same time, tech-news site The Verge posted a video last month, “How Siri found its voice,” that led some viewers to believe that Allison Dufty, the featured voiceover talent, was Siri. A horrified Dufty scrambled in response, writing on her website that she is “absolutely, positively NOT the voice of Siri,” but not before some bloggers had bought into the hype.
And there sat Bennett, holding onto her secret, laughing and watching it all. For so long she’d been goaded by others, including her son and husband, to come forward. Her Siri counterparts in the UK and Australia had revealed their identities, after all.
So why not her? It was her question to wrestle with, and finally she found her answer.
“I really had to weigh the importance of it for me personally. I wasn’t sure that I wanted that notoriety, and I also wasn’t sure where I stood legally. And so, consequently, I was very conservative about it for a long time,” she said. “And then this Verge video came out … And it seemed like everyone was clamoring to find out who the real voice behind Siri is, and so I thought, well, you know, what the heck? This is the time.”
The Siri surprise
The story of how Bennett became this iconic voice began in 2005. ScanSoft, a software company, was looking for a voice for a new project. It reached out to GM Voices, a suburban Atlanta company that had established a niche recording voices for automated voice technologies. Bennett, a trusted talent who had done lots of work with GM Voices, was one of the options presented. ScanSoft liked what it heard, and in June 2005 Bennett signed a contract offering her voice for recordings that would be used in a database to construct speech.
For four hours a day, every day, in July 2005, Bennett holed up in her home recording booth. Hour after hour, she read nonsensical phrases and sentences so that the “ubergeeks” — as she affectionately calls them; they leave her awestruck — could work their magic by pulling out vowels, consonants, syllables and diphthongs, and playing with her pitch and speed.
These snippets were then synthesized in a process called concatenation that builds words, sentences, paragraphs. And that is how voices like hers find their way into GPS and telephone systems.
“There are some people that just can read hour upon hour upon hour, and it’s not a problem. For me, I get extremely bored … So I just take breaks. That’s one of the reasons why Siri might sometimes sound like she has a bit of an attitude,” Bennett said with a laugh. “Those sounds might have been recorded the last 15 minutes of those four hours.”
But Bennett never knew exactly how her voice would be used. She assumed it would be employed in company phone systems, but beyond that didn’t think much about it. She was paid by the hour — she won’t say how much — and moved on to the next gig.
The surprise came in October 2011 after Apple released its iPhone 4S, the first to feature Siri. Bennett didn’t have the phone herself, but people who knew her voice did.
“A colleague e-mailed me [about Siri] and said, ‘Hey, we’ve been playing around with this new Apple phone. Isn’t this you?’”
Bennett went to her computer, pulled up Apple’s site and listened to video clips announcing Siri. The voice was unmistakably hers.
“Oh, I knew,” she said. “It’s obviously me. It’s my voice.”
It certainly does sound like Bennett. But proving who supplied the voice of Siri isn’t easy. It’s not like Steve Jobs sent Bennett a thank-you note, or a certificate to hang on her wall.
There are others who vouch for her. But the tech world — and specifically the text-to-speech, or TTS, space — is a complicated business, one that’s shrouded in secrecy and entangled in a web of nondisclosure agreements.
Bennett is not bound by such restrictions, which is why she’s talking. But the industry has a vested interest in keeping their voices anonymous.
“The companies are competing to create the best-sounding and functioning systems. Their concern is driving revenues,” said Marcus Graham, CEO of GM Voices. “Talking about the voice talent, from their perspective, is likely seen as a distraction.”
Bennett’s attorney, Steve Sidman, can’t breach attorney-client privilege to share documents and contracts, but since he began representing Bennett in 2012 he’s been intensely aware of her connection to Siri.
“I’ve engaged in substantial negotiations — multiple, months-long negotiations — with parties along the economic food chain, so to speak, that involved her rendering services as the voice of Siri,” he told CNN. “It’s as simple as that.”
Graham won’t divulge details about any deals he made back in 2005. But he has worked with Bennett for 25 years, has recorded “literally millions of words with Susan” and has installed her voice with clients across the globe. He knows her voice as well as anyone, and he doesn’t hesitate when asked if she and Siri are the same.
“Most female voices are kind of thin, but she’s got a rich, full voice,” he said. “Yes, she’s the voice of Siri. … She’s definitely the voice.”
A ’100% match’
In October 2005, a few months after Bennett made those recordings, ScanSoft bought and took on the name of Nuance Communications. Nuance is the company widely accepted to have provided to Apple the technology behind Siri.
When CNN contacted Nuance to try and confirm Bennett’s identity as a voice of Siri, a Nuance spokeswoman said, “As a company, we don’t comment on Apple.”
Apple, too, declined to comment.
So CNN took the investigation one step further by hiring an audio forensics expert to compare Bennett’s voice with Siri’s.
Ed Primeau, of Rochester Hills, Michigan, has been doing this work for three decades. He’s testified in courts, analyzed “hundreds, if not thousands” of recordings and is a member of the American Board of Recorded Evidence. He spent four hours studying our “known voice” — in this case Siri — with the unknown voice of Bennett.
“I believe, and I’ve lived this for 30 years, no two voices are the same,” he said, after finishing his analysis of the Siri voice and Bennett’s. “They are identical — a 100% match.”
To reach his conclusion Primeau created back-to-back comparison files, lifted and listened to consonants and reviewed deliveries. He took the hiss off the Siri sound, created in recording from a phone, and dropped it into Bennett’s file.
After studying Bennett’s normal speaking voice, he was about 70% certain of the match. But once he had audio of her saying the same words as Siri, he knew his work was done. Even so, he said he asked a colleague for a second opinion.
“I understand the importance of accuracy,” Primeau said. “Rest assured: It’s 100% Susan.”
How CNN got this story
This isn’t the sort of story I’d naturally go after. Technology is far from my beat. In fact, the first time I ever spoke to Siri was on my work phone — the kind that’s plugged into a wall jack and has a tangled cord attached to the handset.
Bennett was a voiceover artist I was interviewing for a CNN special project on the world’s busiest airport — Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International — scheduled to come out next month. I was tracking down the airport’s voices, and she, a voice of Delta terminals, was one of them.
In the course of our phone conversation, I asked her to rattle off some jobs she’s had over the years. She gave me a quick and general rundown and then added that she’s done a lot of IVR work.
“IVR?” I asked.
“Interactive voice response,” she answered. “The sort of thing you hear on a company’s phone system.”
For reasons I can’t explain — I was still struggling to understand my first iPhone — I blurted out, “Hey, are you Siri?”
She gasped. And then I gasped.
“Oh my God,” I said. “You’re totally Siri, aren’t you?”
What followed was a short, panicked flurry of non-denials and non-confirmations, and a promise from me that I wouldn’t do or say a thing.
That was months ago. About two weeks ago, after the confusion over the Verge video, Bennett reached out to me. She was ready to speak as herself and set the record straight.
‘My career as a machine’ (Listen to Susan Bennett's SunSpots voiceover demos.)
As a child, Bennett’s favorite toy was a play phone-operator system, a big red block with a receiver and lines she could patch in to help imaginary callers make their connections.
Years later, while singing jingles, she was tapped to be the radio and TV voice of First National Bank’s “Tillie the All-Time Teller,” the first ATM machine. Though that was about 40 years ago, she can — and does — still break seamlessly into the high-pitched song.
“I began my career as a machine many years ago,” Bennett said. “I’m sure that you hear my voice at some point every day.”
But the way she is heard was a surprise even to her.
SunSpots Talent Susan Bennett
Music and singing had always been a part of Bennett’s life. At Brown University, she sang in a jazz band and also with another group at the Berklee School of Music. After graduating, she toured as a backup singer with Burt Bacharach and Roy Orbison. Today, she and husband Rick Hinkle — a guitarist, composer and sound engineer — still play in a band, mostly at private events.
She fell into voiceover work by chance in the 1970s when she walked into Atlanta’s Doppler Studios for a jingle job and the voiceover talent was a no-show. The studio owner looked around and said, “Susan, come over here. You don’t have an accent. Go ahead and read this.”
She did, and a new career path was born.
Bennett wasn’t always accent-free, though. She was born in Vermont and grew up all over New England. Her voice — dropped Rs and all — was “SNL”-skit ready. Can she imagine Siri as a New Englander? “Neva! Neva!”
A stint in upstate New York helped her lose the accent. By the time she arrived in Atlanta in 1972, with her first husband, former NHL player Curt Bennett of the Atlanta Flames, she was ready to fight off the Southern twang. She fell in love with Atlanta and, after that marriage ended, stayed.
Even though her voice can be heard everywhere, she’s enjoyed being out of the spotlight.
“You have a certain anonymity which can be very advantageous,” she said. “People don’t judge you by how you look … That’s been kind of freeing in a lot of ways.”
‘Part of history’
The idea of coming out as the voice of Siri was one she pushed aside. It probably wouldn’t
have even occurred to her if not for the goading of others, including her 36-year-old son — whom she, and he, jokingly refers to as “Son of Siri.”
“Her voice has been everywhere throughout my life. I’d call my bank while I was in college in Colorado, and it was my mom telling me I had $4,” said Cameron Bennett, a photographer in Los Angeles.
He first found out she was the voice of Siri while watching an iPhone 4S commercial on TV. There, on the screen, was director Martin Scorsese talking to his mother. When Cameron bought the phone himself, she began barking at him through its GPS feature, prompting him to yell, “Mom, stop!”
“She’s part of history,” he said. “It was funny trying to explain to her how big it was. She uses her cell phone for 8% of what it can do.”
When Bennett upgraded her phone and first talked to … well, herself, she says she was a little horrified. It was weird, to say the least. But she was blown away, she said, to play a part in such a technological feat.
Being the voice of Siri, though, doesn’t mean she’s immune to the sorts of frustrations others sometimes have with the technology.
“But I never yell at her — very bad karma,” Bennett said. That said, she knows not everyone is as gracious: “Yes, I worry about how many times I get cursed every day.”
Now, though, with iOS 7 she is passing the telephonic torch to a new Siri. Bennett would be lying if she said she wasn’t a bit disappointed, but in her field of work she’s learned to expect evolution — and even revolution.
As technology improves, and the concatenation process becomes less robotic and more human, Bennett thinks anything will be possible.
“I really see a time when you’ll probably be able to put your own voice on your phone and have your own voice talk back to you,” she said. “Which I’m used to, but maybe you aren’t.”
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Congrats Susan! 

Understandably, she's a bit busy right now...very busy, but you can still listen to Susan Bennett's voiceover demos at SunSpots and get information about booking her for your audio projects.