*In recent years, the voiceover industry has grown exponentially for African Americans, people of color, and women. For decades, the voiceover business offered restricted access, limited resources, and scant support for people of color. Formerly dominated by white males, little was known about the secret society of the voiceover business and how to get into it.
As “the browning of America” has progressed, brands and products could no longer ignore the nation’s growing multicultural and multiracial population in America. Many corporations and advertisers had to reposition their brands and products for the global community and economy. It was only a matter of time that inclusion and diversity would take hold and impact this industry like so many other areas of the entertainment business.
For example, some voices are now synonymous with a specific product or brand, much like the identifiable baritone voice of Academy Award-nominated actor James Earl Jones, who is often referred to as “the voice of God.” Jones is well known for the distinctive voice of Darth Vader in the Star Wars franchise and Mufasa in Disney’s The Lion King. Other examples include Academy Award winner Morgan Freeman, who in 2010 replaced the voice of television icon and newsman Walter Cronkite for the introduction of CBS Evening News, among numerous other distinguished works; and multiple Emmy Award winner Keith David, who is one of the most recognizable voice actors on the scene today with a memorable and distinguished list of credits including Goliath from Gargoyles to acclaimed filmmaker Ken Burns’ series of documentary titles including: Jazz, Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Jackson, and Jackie Robinson, among others.
Though some challenges still exist, today’s voice actors of color are taking part of the expansive landscape of the voice arts industry with lucrative contracts and opportunities in television and radio commercials, advertising spots for movies, video games, animations, audio books and more.
The voiceover industry’s evolution in terms of diversity as well as a vision to support that evolution are what inspired Joan Baker, the author of the Secrets of Voice-Over Success and one of the leading African American female voiceover actors in the country. Baker, along with her husband, Emmy Award-winning producer Rudy Gaskins, are the co-founders of the Society of Voice Arts and Science (SOVAS), and That’s Voiceover! Career Expo. The husband-and-wife team will present this annual all-day career expo on Saturday, November 17, at the Sheraton Universal Hotel in Los Angeles.
The 12-hour career expo will be hosted by Baker and two-time Emmy Award nominee Bob Bergen, who is the voice of Porky Pig. Voiceover legend Nancy Cartwright, the voice creator of Bart Simpson of the long-running animated series “The Simpsons,” as well as leading casting directors, talent agents, voiceover coaches, and voice actors, are among the many industry insiders scheduled to participate. Baker and Gaskins will also introduce a new platform to this year’s conference, dubbing for Japanese anime, which is one of the hottest genres in the voiceover business.
“Beginners and seasoned professionals are anxious to learn more about Japanese anime and how to access it,” says Baker. “I don’t know any other conference that features an animation or dubbing panel; it hasn’t existed. Rudy and I broke into the market when we developed a partnership with Anime Expo, which has more than 10,000 fans that show up at their stadium in Los Angeles. Anime Expo dominates the market on animation. We have partnered with them, and they are presenting a demonstration of animation and dubbing at That’s Voiceover!.”
According to Baker, That’s Voiceover! is uniquely different from other voiceover conferences and seminars. “I have not been to every single conference. However, I have been involved in numerous voiceover events in the past, that still exist, and from what I see, what I read, and what I hear, the difference between That’s Voiceover! and other platforms is that our conference is based on people getting employment, people making a living, and exposing people to exactly what you have to do to move your career forward.”
“Other conferences focus on teaching, which is fine,” Baker continues. “It’s a way to get students interested; and it’s a way to get people interested in learning the craft. That’s Voiceover! is a real-world experience. We are dealing with people who are not just voiceover talent, but unbelievably seasoned voiceover experts with a lot of experience, who have a lot to talk about and a lot of wisdom to share. That’s Voiceover! is a global event.”
The two-day event will culminate with the 5th Annual Voice Arts Awards, which will be held November 18 at the Steven J. Ross Theatre at Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank, CA. The SOVAS will honor Sigourney Weaver, two-time Golden Globe winner, with the Icon Award; Rosario Dawson, actress and political activist will be presented with the Environmental Awards; and Van Jones, news commentator and author will receive the Muhammad Ali Voice of Humanity Award.
Baker knows her business inside and out. An acclaimed voice actor, Baker is the voice behind some of the most recognized narrations and promos for documentaries, including the Telly Award-winning film shorts “Causing The Miraculous” and “The Power of Saying Yes.” She was the narrator for a documentary about the establishment of the William J. Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Arkansas, which is now part of the library’s permanent display. Baker was also the voice behind a six-part promo campaign for the Muhammad Ali Center that ran during the 2004 Olympic Games.
Baker has voiced numerous television projects, including three years of Showtime’s “Red Shoe Diaries,” which made her one of the first women to be hired for voiceover work for the cable network. She was also the voice for Sony Music’s national promo campaign for the multiple Grammy Award-winning album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, which led to other projects in the recording industry, including Mariah Carey and the soundtrack for Grammy award-winning composer T-Bone Burnett’s The Lady Killers. Other noted projects include television and radio spots for Broadway’s “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” and the Museum of the Moving Image’s Salutes to Will Smith and Julianne Moore. She has also ventured into the gaming industry and is a regular character on “Grand Theft Auto” editions III through VI; and she is the lead female voice of the English version of the Japanese anime series “M.D. Geist” and “M.D. Geist II.”
Over the years, Baker, who frequently worked with Fortune 500 companies to train its senior-level employees, has also trained people in other areas of business. “I help people connect to their truth and express it,” says Baker “I help people to open up their inner life. When you do that, you’re going to be uninhibited when you speak. You’re going to be connected to your humor, your spirituality, and you’re going to be connected to your heart, which makes you more candid and more authentic. When people connect to their truth and express it, people are going to get the response that they intended. When you are not connected to your truth, you don’t speak with intention.”
“As voiceover talent, we are selling products,” Baker continues. “If those products are flying off the shelf, we’re doing our job. In corporate America, that translates to selling ideas, or persuades people to accept your ideas.”
Ten Reasons to Attend That’s Voiceover! 2018
In this inaugural edition of the Voice Arts Series, Joan Baker shares ten reasons why actors, broadcasters, and other professionals and students should consider attending That’s Voiceover! Career Expo.
1. Friends are welcome. Many conferences can be intimidating when you’re first learning. I think people sometimes feel more comfortable when they’re bringing someone with them. Some people breaking into and some people in various stages of navigating a voiceover career are often intimidated by networking. Some voice actors bring along a friend to share what their careers are about. Often, the friend is not looking to become a voice actor, yet they all say the same thing: “I had no idea how interesting and far-reaching voice acting is. The experience was entertaining, and I thoroughly enjoyed learning what the industry is all about.” The feedback from the friends is often encouraging and inspiring.
2. Networking and professional development. At That’s Voiceover! you may have the chance to audition for jobs and other career opportunities. Many attendees walk away with contracts with talent agents, and bookings for jobs with networks and ad agencies. That’s Voiceover!’s focus on job creation results in an environment where the educational panels and presentations are supercharged with relevance. It’s not just wishful dreaming; it’s real.
3. Inspiration and motivation. No matter what your field of work may be, everyone needs regular infusions of inspiration. As the longest-running voice acting expo in the world, That’s Voiceover!’s team of experts have learned what it takes to provide that experience, and there’s honestly nothing else like it. And it’s an experience you can apply to your life and career.
4. Gaining new perspectives. That’s Voiceover! Career Expo is about being a part of the global voiceover world, meeting people, networking, sharing ideas and opening yourself to a new point of view. It’s the ultimate investment one can make, whether creating a voice acting career or reinventing the one you have.
5. Investing in yourself. The more profound reason for attending That’s Voiceover! Career Expo is that it’s about showing up for your life. The event is a touchstone, a catalyst for your dream. Showing up is a measure of how deeply you want to succeed and how far you’re willing to go to achieve your dream. There are a million reasons one can come up with for not showing up. These same reasons persist in all aspects of a person’s life. It’s the difference between talking about being fit and taking on a fitness program as a lifestyle change. Showing up for That’s Voiceover! will be life changing in unexpected ways.
6. Immersion in the world of voice acting. That’s Voiceover! is predicated on creating a microcosm of the world of voice acting. Everything we do is filtered through a prism of job creation and living what you do. That means highlighting the perspectives and experience of not just voice actors, but top creative directors, casting directors, talent agents, producers, copywriters, marketers, and advertisers. Voice actors are part of a larger puzzle; and we bring all the pieces together.
7. Jobs. Jobs. Jobs. The sponsors and on-site exhibitors are potential opportunities for work, not to mention an in-depth resource for relevant information. Keep in mind that sponsors are large and small businesses that do marketing as any business must. TV, radio, Internet, you name it! Sponsors are there because they have something to sell, but so do you as a voice actor, agent or casting director. That’s Voiceover! is a place where all the players get to interact in a fun and experiential way, that takes the day-to-day drudgery out of the process. Everywhere you turn, there is fertile ground for planting new seeds.
8. Information from experts. There is no better place to hear a diversity of perspectives from top, successful talent who live this business every day of their lives. They breathe it, sleep it, and generously pass it on as a way of giving back, but also as a way of staying connected to the very community of which they are an integral part. As a result, attendees learn valuable, even unexpected lessons that powerfully impact their careers.
9. A look at cutting-edge technologies. Voice acting encompasses every aspect of human communication. It’s ubiquitous in our lives. The use of voices in artificial intelligence is only just beginning, and voice actors are right there in it. The idea of creating computers that can think and express emotion is coming fast. That’s Voiceover! represents the community of people who will be at the forefront of pushing these technologies out into the world.
10. You could be the next voiceover star. I could go on and on with good reasons for choosing to attend That’s Voiceover!, but I’ll leave with the notion of satisfying one’s curiosity. Voice acting needs all types of voices, just as film and TV acting needs all types of characters to create an authentic world. If you’ve ever thought that voice acting might be for you, That’s Voiceover! is a fun, professional and comprehensive environment to learn all you need to know to make smart, effective steps toward a career. And for those voice actors whose career have hit a wall, for whatever reason, That’s Voiceover! is where rejuvenation begins.
For more information on That’s Voiceover! Career Expo, please visit www.thatsvoiceover.com, and to learn more about the Voice Arts Awards, please visit www.sovas.org.
Gwendolyn Quinn is an award-winning media strategist and consultant with a career spanning more than 25 years. She covers entertainment, travel, and lifestyle news. Quinn is a contributor to NBCNews.com/ NBCBLK.com, Black Enterprise, and Huff Post. She is also the creator of the “Inside Broadway” column, “A Conversation on Creative and Culture” series, “The Playwrights Series,” “The 365 Black Music Series,” and “The Voice Arts Series.” Quinn is also creator of “The Top 25 African American PR Millennials to Watch.” She is the curator of The Living Legends Foundation’s “The State of Black Music and Beyond” series. Quinn is a voting member of the [New York] Drama Desk.