Irish-founded start-up behind Top Gun: Maverick tech acquired by Spotify

Sonantic, an Irish-founded AI start-up that brought Val Kilmer’s voice to life in the latest Top Gun film, has been snapped up by Spotify “to create high-quality experiences” for users.

Based in London, Sonantic was founded in 2018 by Irishman John Flynn and Zeena Qureshi. The two met at the Entrepreneur First founders’ programme, and then brought together their decades-long experience in speech technology to create an AI platform that could turn text into rich and realistic voices.

“We’re really excited about the potential to bring Sonantic’s AI voice technology onto the Spotify platform and create new experiences for our users,” said Spotify VP of personalisation Ziad Sultan.

“This integration will enable us to engage users in a new and even more personalised way.”

Spotify, which had 183m paid subscribers as of February, said that it has “identified several potential opportunities for text-to-speech capabilities” across its streaming platform and believes “high-quality voice will be important” to growing its market share in the long term.

It gave the example of the Sonantic platform being used to give users context about upcoming recommendations when they aren’t looking at their screens.

“Using voice in these moments can reduce barriers to creating new audio experiences – and open up the doors to even more new opportunities,” Spotify said in its statement.

Sonantic was contacted by the creators of Top Gun: Maverick, the sequel to the popular 1986 Top Gun film starring Tom Cruise, to build a custom AI voice model for Val Kilmer. The American actor has been rendered almost speechless because of throat cancer, but his voice was recreated for the film using technology.

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The start-up also has a partnership with Mercedes-Benz to enhance the expression of its Hey Mercedes voice assistant.

“We’re looking forward to joining Spotify and continuing to build exciting voice experiences,” Qureshi and Flynn said in a joint statement.

“We believe in the power voice has and its ability to foster a deeper connection with listeners around the world, and we know we can be better than ever on the world’s largest audio platform.”

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