Though we hear their work in podcasts, cartoons, audiobooks and commercials, it’s surprising how little we know about voice-over artists. For folks like lifelong performer and voice actor Jason Marsden, in Nashville, the job means being a part of a community of performers who love their craft and want to share their love of performing.
“It’s more than impressions and funny voices,” says Marsden. “You have to be able to perform.”
When he was a child, Marsden participated in a 12-week, all-ages acting workshop at Del Mar Media Arts, an acclaimed voice school based in Irvine, Calif. He was immediately signed by an agent and went on to voice various television series, feature films and video games. Though fans might recognize him from his live-action roles in sitcoms like Full House and Boy Meets World, they’ll also recognize him as the voice of Bart Allen/Impulse from Young Justice, Haku from the English-dubbed version of Spirited Away, and as Goofy’s son Max Goof in 1995’s A Goofy Movie.
In 2013, Marsden moved to Nashville from Los Angeles, and he continues to do voice work for various projects while hosting the Mars Variety Show, a web variety show that showcases local performers to viewers around the world.
Even during as distressing a year as 2020, the voice-over industry managed to remain relatively unscathed. Unlike other businesses that struggled to make the transition to working at home, some voice actors were already recording lines in their homes and studios rather than traveling out of state or working on crowded sets. But voice actors still faced difficulties during 2020. Those who primarily worked with industries that were severely affected during the pandemic, such as the automotive industry, might have found themselves unemployed. Without a stable source of income, voice actors turned to online freelance services like Fiverr to sell their talents at often inexpensive rates.
James Arnold Taylor, veteran voice actor and California native, recently moved to Nashville and continues to work from his home studio. As a young child, Taylor was inspired by legendary voice actors such as Mel Blanc, who voiced the likes of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and Porky Pig during the Golden Age of animation. Now an accomplished professional, Taylor is delighted to hear when others in the trade cite him as an influence. For more than 30 years, he’s voiced numerous roles from feature films, television shows, commercials and video games. You might recognize him as the voice of Johnny Test, Obi-Wan Kenobi in various animated Star Wars adaptations, and Ratchet the Lombax from the Ratchet and Clank video game series. He is the creator and host of the podcast Talking to Myself, a one man show in which he discusses films, pop culture and the voice-acting business.
“The beauty of voice acting is getting to be all these wonderful characters, just using your voice,” says Taylor, “but also seeing what the animators can do and create amazing worlds that I’d never been able to do as an on-camera actor.”
While voice acting is most synonymous with animation and video games, there are other facets that revolve around everyday life. For Christi Bowen, whose work includes electronic learning, corporate training and corporate narration, voice acting is a creative outlet.
“Every day is a new day and something completely different, which I really enjoy and thrive off of,” says Bowen, “because you never know what clients are going to reach out to you or your agent, sending you an email that you booked a job.”
Bowen’s training began while enrolled at the University of Florida as a campus radio DJ. She also got experience producing commercials for local businesses. Following graduation, Bowen went on to help produce feature films and public service announcements before embarking on a full-time career as a voice actor.
Since Marsden, Taylor and Bowen got their start, entering the industry has become slightly more accessible due to the advances in technology. Instead of flying cross-country for auditions, aspiring voice-over artists can simply upload their portfolios online — a YouTuber, for instance, could launch a successful voice-over career after posting a video highlighting the different voices and impressions they can do.
There are still factors that a fledgling voice actor needs to take into account if they want to succeed. Skills such as a comprehension of editing tools and developing personal branding are crucial for success. Seasoned voice-over artists have made guides in the form of podcasts, videos and more, teaching how to succeed in the industry. Luckily, the Tennessee Voice Over Exchange is here to help local aspiring artists.
Co-founded by Bowen and her colleague Chris Thom in 2012, T-VOE was established to help anyone interested in voice acting, whether they are seasoned professionals or newcomers. On the third Tuesday of every month, members meet virtually via Zoom and acquire and develop skills that will help them in their career, from coaching to branding and maintaining social media presence. With T-VOE, Bowen aspires to help voice actors adapt to an evolving industry and show how much of a positive impact they can make with their work.
“If you really stop and listen,” says Bowen, “voiceover and voice acting is everywhere.”