User: Siri, what are you wearing?
Siri: I can’t answer that, but it doesn’t come off.
Everyone knows Siri, right? I recently read an article about that iconic voice belonging to Susan Bennett. I was surprised to learn that Bennett spent hours recording every sound in the English language and didn’t get paid a whole lot of money. She might not have had a savvy lawyer.
Bennett is a professional voice-over artist and was contacted by a company to do some recording in 2005. This was six years before Siri was introduced on the iPhone 4, but at the time, Bennett didn’t know her voice would end up everywhere.
Nuance Communications hired her to record every possible sound in the English language. She did this by precisely recording nonsense phrases such as “Militia Oy Hallucinate Buckram Okra Ooze.” The sounds were then digitally stitched together to form actual words.
It took Bennett about a month to record everything. Four hours a day, five days a week. It sounds easy, but she states it was very hard on her vocal cords. Every word had to be read with the same pitch, same tone and same pace. She was so tired after speaking all day that she didn’t talk when she got home at night.
On October 4, 2011, a friend contacted Bennett after hearing the new iPhone voice. This was a surprise to Bennett, but she was proud of the way Siri sounded–she had a personality. She was disappointed that Apple had bought her work from Nuance and no one told her about it; she certainly wasn’t offered any extra money now that her voice was famous.
She did contact a lawyer, who read through her Nuance contract. The contract didn’t guarantee her any extra money, but it didn’t contain a non-disclosure clause with either Nuance or Apple (this is usually required of voice-over artists). So Bennett was free to publicly talk about her experience.
It took her two years to finally come forward and she is now a public speaker, talking about Siri and the story behind the voice. People she has met over the years do, of course, recognize her voice and believe she is actually Siri, and not just the voice.
Do you think Nuance should have contacted her when they sold her work to Apple? Should Apple have recognized her with additional money? There is no escaping that voice!