For years, Asheville resident Michael Capra thought a career in voice-over acting was wholly impossible.
Growing up in northern New Jersey in the 1980s, he quickly took an interest in the various audio work that he heard on TV and in commercials but noticed that one man seemed to get all the work: Donald Sutherland. To solve what was then life’s biggest mystery, the preteen Capra turned to the one person in his life who had all the answers: his mother.
“I asked her, ‘How do you get that job?’” Capra recalls. “She said, ‘I don’t know. Be Donald Sutherland, I guess.’”
In recent years, through a combination of hard work, determination, natural talent, coaching — and, let the record show, zero cloning or Face/Off shenanigans — Capra has broken into the formerly Sutherland-monopolized field. It hasn’t been easy, but he and a growing number of local artists are finding success in an industry that’s become a near-ideal fit for the work-from-home era.
Stephanie Morgan, who does voice-over work under the name Chloe Taylor, has become one of the local industry’s steadiest figures. But she got her start somewhat by accident.
Around 2007, Morgan — then the frontwoman of former local rock band stephaniesid — had just wrapped up a show when Jim Knuth, an engineer from local production house ProComm Voices, approached her.
The engineer explained that the industry was shifting away from the more traditional announcer’s voice. “He said, ‘We need someone who sounds more like your friend talking to you,’” she remembers. “And he was like, ‘Have you ever heard of voice-over? And would you like to learn more about it?’”
Within days, Morgan arrived to ProComm’s professional-grade booth, was given training and had her demo recorded. Such serendipity, she notes, “is absolutely unheard of. … I didn’t realize that at the time, but it was the right time and right place.”
Soon thereafter, she began doing bit parts for various clients, noting that it took a while “to get fully revved up” and “build trust in all kinds of ways.” Now, it’s her full-time job and includes teaching classes on voice-over, which is where Capra finally got his foot in the proverbial doorway.
Though Morgan stresses pragmatism in her courses, she keeps her ears alert for promising voices who could likewise find success in her field. In 2018, she was regularly sitting in with Capra — perhaps better known by his hip-hop artist moniker, Foul Mouth Jerk — and duetting with him in his band Evil Note Lab. The collaborations were a success and led to her recording with the band.
“She was like, ‘Man, you’ve got a good voice for voice-over. Have you ever thought about that?’” Capra says. “And I was like, ‘Have I ever? Um, yeah. Ever since I was a little kid. Why are you asking?’ I didn’t know that that’s what she did professionally.”
The timing was fortuitous as Capra had been looking into voice-over classes. Unlike other courses, Morgan offered helpful insights from her experiences on the business side.
“You can be as good as you want at anything, but if you don’t know where to apply for jobs, [you won’t be successful],” Capra points out.
According to Morgan, there are many sources where voice-over artists can find work on pay-to-play sites, including voices.com and voice123.com. On each site, an annual fee grants access to auditions, but a compelling profile and a demo of high technical quality are necessary to stand out.
Along with these resources, Morgan continues to work with ProComm as well as Fletcher-based production house SunSpots Productions. Meanwhile, her agents in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Colorado help land her additional jobs. And as her reputation in the industry has grown, she’s also cultivated private clients who contract with her directly.
“When I work on the [pay-to-play] sites, I do all the stuff myself. I do the editing. I do the quoting. I totally handle the client on my own,” Morgan says. “And when I work with a production house or with an agent, they send me auditions that are targeted to me, so it’s not a huge pool of people. And they kind of nurture my career in the sense that they know what I’m good at.”
While she’s done her share of funny voices, Morgan notes that her passion for the environment and human connection has resulted in her primarily getting hired for what she calls “really empathetic, connective narration.”
“It’s the best exercise in empathy I’ve ever gotten,” Morgan says. “I have to get inside the head [of the script writer] and be like, ‘What do they intend here?’ and deliver that unironically. I’ve got to fully get behind that or just say no to the audition if I don’t connect with what’s going on.”
As he began auditioning and building a portfolio, Capra started getting macho, tough-guy work like a Dodge truck commercial and voicing a nonplayable character in a Grand Theft Auto-type video game. But he was missing one critical piece to produce the level of quality that his clients desired.
Though he’s been rapping for roughly 30 years, Capra didn’t get a home studio setup until he started doing voice-over work. Initially, Capra set up a makeshift booth of plywood and egg crates. But he quickly realized the approach would not suffice in blocking out traffic from the busy highway he lives near, as well as other sources of noise pollution he’d never noticed before.
“Once I needed it dead silent to record things, I realized I’m actually in the flight path and the holding pattern of the [Asheville Regional] Airport because you can hear them turning circles,” Capra says. “And apparently I live in the lawn-mowing district that’s run by a gang of nefarious streetwise dogs that always seem to know when I’m recording. And the birds [are noisy,] so eventually I was like, ‘OK, I’m going to really invest.’”
In the interim, his friend Marisa Blake let him record in her home studio booth. A fellow vocalist, Blake started doing voice-over and on-camera acting in Washington, D.C., when she was 13 but says she wasn’t prepared for all the rejection that comes with the industry. About 10 years ago, after relocating to Asheville, she resumed acting and looked into voice-over again, thinking it would be a flexible, part-time job that she could balance with screen work. But she quickly learned that to be successful in voice-over, “it can’t really be your side gig,” and that having the right home setup was an essential component.
“You’ll want a super quiet space — closets are great for this if you are just getting started — a microphone and a preamp, recording software program of your choice and headphones,” Blake says. “And if you book work, you’ll want to be able to connect with clients in real time with Source-Connect, Zoom or a phone patch.”
Capra has since upgraded to a booth that he says “looks like a spaceship.” While he wasn’t counting on it taking up a third of his bedroom — the only place in his home where he could put it — the mere sight of it brings him joy.
“It would be awkward and intrusive, but because it looks so futuristic and cool, you’re like, ‘Yeah, that’s just what the place needed — class up the joint!’” he says.
Payment for voice-over work varies based on usage, and the rate card set by the Global Voice Acting Academy can prove essential in securing a fair amount. Compensation ranges from less than $100 for a “pickup” (i.e., rerecording part of a project) to $50,000 plus for a “mnemonic” gig, such as the “Got milk?” national campaign that’s used in perpetuity.
It took Blake five years to earn a living from voice-over, but she now counts a wide range of clients, including regular promo work for Cartoon Network and voicing an exhibit in the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Being bilingual has further expanded her offers and has led to narrating over 50 audiobooks, many of them by Latin authors, which she calls “a huge honor.”
“You really have to hustle to make it happen,” she says. “Once you have clients who know you and trust you, it gets easier. But it does take time and you are still an entrepreneur, so some months are going to be better than others, regardless of how successful you are.”
Like Morgan and Blake, Capra has slowly begun getting work that aligns with his core values. Earlier this year, he played the role of “Incarcerated Individual” in a PSA for the NFL Players Coalition’s Rikers Island project, which calls for the long-planned closure of the notoriously mismanaged New York City prison. As someone who’s had friends spend time in Rikers and has ex-convict friends in Asheville, the role had special significance for Capra, who was particularly motivated to sound genuine while reading the words written by an actual Rikers inmate. For now, such work remains part time, but he’s working toward making it his primary occupation.
“It’s great work, if you can get it,” Capra says. “Even the most irritating, difficult voice-over job is better than showing up to your job.”