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The shift to music and sound effects libraries on compact discs has been too much of a good thing for commercial producers. The solution has been computerized databases that search music selections by various "fields," such as tempo, mood and pitch.

Now a British post-production house has applied the same principle to voice-over talent.

Lloyd Billing, owner of Tape Gallery in London's Soho district, has devised a Macintosh-based program that plays audio clips and displays a picture of the voice-over artist along with their agency, voice type and a list of previous commercials.

The database contains files on 127 voice-over artists with a total of 920 voice clips, and it is increasing at a rate of two clips per day. Clients can list themselves for an annual fee of $92, with a charge of $16 per audio clip.

"I'd gotten tired of having to flip through hundreds of reels looking for the right voice talent for different commercials and projects," Mr. Billing said.

Clients' voices are categorized for searches in fields such as voice basics (narrator, cartoon, upper and lower class-this is England, after all), style types (aggressive, fast-talker, quiz master), soundalikes and comedians.

Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is still the most popular characterization, despite being out of office three years.

Since many European ads keep the same visuals while adapting voice-overs for various countries, Mr. Billing wants to take the idea international. He is negotiating with German and U.S. shops to exchange audio clips and files. At the same time, the database will be made available on CD-ROMs.

London-based software marketer Berezea Associates is testing software packages that would allow easy searches of the database using either PCs or Macintoshes.

Mr. Billing said marketing will begin with the company's current clients and gradually expand to other studios and agencies elsewhere in the U.K. and, eventually, other parts of Europe and the U.S.

The idea of computerizing a searchable talent database is not untried. The audio CD concept was pioneered more than two years ago by Ron Rose Studios, Detroit, and most recently implemented by Cat's Paw Productions, an Atlanta-based post-production shop.

Cat's Paw owner Doug Paul distributed 4,000 audio CDs featuring 72 artists introduced by an audio clip from Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell. But he is less sanguine about Mr. Billing's chances.

"The idea of a talent database isn't new either," he said. "The problem with it is that it's very software- and hardware-dependent, whereas a CD player is something everyone has in their office. Having said that, though, I have to add that I think CD-ROM will be the way of the future. It's just that this business moves slowly ... It will go to CD-ROM in the future, but not until after the year 2000."

Richard Skews coordinates Marketing Technology.

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