The first documented voice on tape dates back to the 1860s; taken by Parisian Librarian, Edouard-Leon Scott de Martinville, on a phonautograph the recording consists of a woman singing Clair de le Lun. From there, voice on tap evolved from a single recording to an entire radio broadcast. However, the art of voice-overs, as they are known today, began in 1928 with Disney’s Steamboat Mickey animation. Since then, voice-over acting has grown into a multi-million dollar industry spanning TV commercials, radio advertisements, network broadcasts, and motion pictures.
While the reach of voice-over acting has increased since 1928, the diversity of those behind the microphone has not. Voice-over acting is still a predominantly white-dominated field: 56.7% of voice actors are white while only 13.7% of voice actors are Black or African American.
The racial disparity in voice acting can be attributed to misconceptions surrounding the craft and a lack of proper resources and voice-over education. The scarcity of diversity in the voice-over industry not only influences the job market it also deters Black youth from pursuing a career in voice acting.
Many prominent Black voice-over talents have made it their mission to speak out on the lack of diversity in their industry. Some have used their platform to highlight up-and-coming Black voice talents while others have created programs and seminars to teach and educate the new wave of talent. One of the most notable voice talents to use their position in the industry for good is Seun Shobo, aka the BrandMatser.
Nigeria-born, now LA Based talent Seun Shobo is a man who wears many hats: he is a brand consultant, digital marketer, inspirational speaker, author, business owner, and a premium voice-over talent. While juggling that many titles may be daunting for some, Shobo welcomes the varying responsibilities and strives to differentiate himself from others in the industry.
“For me, the focus has always been creativity. Most of us are multipotentialits, you know we have so many gifts that we have been given, but for me, the goal has always been to do it differently. Whatever I’m doing let me do it differently. I’m a spontaneous and creative person so the idea is to always put a little bit of creativity in there… I never knew that at some point I would be an author, but from my experience in the voice-over career, I was able to document my experiences and put them together in a workbook because I’ve never seen such before.”
Shobo’s passion for voice acting began in childhood and continues to grow to this day.
“While I was still younger, about nine or ten, I remember everybody was asking for Spiderman toys and Superman toys I was just always on the radio. I would pick a cassette and put it into the cassette player and press record with my cousin. We would just be talking all sorts into the cassette and we would play it back. Then we would do stuff that you would call podcasting today, and we would also mimic ads”.
While his family was encouraging of his gifts, the outside world was not. Coming from Nigeria, a more traditional country, Shobo felt pressure from teachers and peers to forgo the creative path and study engineering.
“The perception then was if you’re not doing sciences you’re not smart, which was never true. I don’t know where that myth came from, but that was the perception. I tried sciences and I wasn’t bad but I always knew everything about me was always creative.”
Since pursuing a career in professional voice-over Shobo’s voice has appeared in many of Nigeria’s top documentaries and advertisements, such as the renowned SkyBoxing ad. Recently, his work has gained worldwide recognition and earlier this year Shobo became the first Nigerian to win the Outstanding Global Voice Arts Influencer Award at the Society of Voice Arts & Sciences (SOVAS) Award Gala. Other renowned voice actors to be recognized by this society include James Earl Jones (Mufasa), Peter Cullen (Optimus Prime), and Nancy Cartwright (Bart Simpson).
Shobo’s role as a premium voice-over talent has also opened the door for Shobo to share his expertise with the rest of Africa. In 2017 Shobo opened the Voice Over Academy Lagos which is a learning center dedicated to curating and developing African voice-over talents. Through workshops, seminars, and peer-reviewed learning the Voice Over Academy is able to produce and market top-of-the-line talent.
“I wanted to change the mentality of voice talents in Africa and I wanted to change the narrative about Africa. I wanted to give African voice actors a space on the global map. We wanted to let African talents know that no matter the language whether English, Yoruba, Hausa, Igbo, Zulu, or Swahili whatever the language is put it out there and let the global market see what Africa has to offer.”
Over 700 students have graduated from the Voice Over Academy and alumni can be found working all over the globe including in South Africa, England, France, and the USA. Shobo said that through the Voice Academy, he hopes to close the racial disparity in voice acting and become “the preferred reference point for excellent voice talents across Africa”.
In the upcoming years, Shobo hopes to grow the reach of the Voice Over Academy and begin to train the African diaspora; African-Americans, Afro-Latino’s, and Carrieben’s. Along with the expansion Shobo has plans in place to build a voice-over village in Nigeria. The voice-over village would stand on 5-10 acres of land and be used as a creative retreat and meeting center for those in the voice-over industry.