Jessica Osborne’s love of gaming and tabletop roleplaying helped her break into the world of video game voice acting.
She’s here this week to tell us all how she got started and landed her first major role in SpellForce 3. Plus, she offers some practical tips on how YOU can get started as a voice actor or voice-over artist too.
Watch the interview above (or on YouTube), or keep reading for the text transcription*:
*Text has been edited for readability. Check out the full video for all of the candid, uncensored banter!
Q: To begin, can you tell me a little more about yourself? Where you are, your hobbies and interests, etc.
A: As is the case with a great many voice actors, I am a big old nerd. I go by Jess or Jessica. I am out of sunny Arizona, so I’m a little bit adjacent to California, where many of the voice acting industry tends to be.
I “moonlight” as a voice actor. I have a day job in a completely different industry, but I manage to make them both work.
When I have spare time, I’m into tabletop role-playing games. There’s lots of room for role-playing there, naturally, and doing weird voices and things. I’ve also designed a game or two. I have a few that are like on the back-burner, haven’t been released yet, but I have one that’s been published on itch.io.
I also play a lot of video games, like many of us.
Q: Out of all of your nerdy hobbies, how did you decide to start moonlighting as a voice actor?
A: It was one of those things. I always loved voice acting, and I was one of those nerds who knew every voice actor in every single thing and could name them the minute I heard them. My ear was just tuned to that stuff, and I loved it. I always wanted to do it, but I was also a very shy kid and didn’t want to get into theater or deal with any of that, so I wasn’t sure how.
Fast forward many years later when I’m just playing games. A little game that surely nobody has heard of called Skyrim. I sunk a lot of hours into it. Then, I started getting into mods for it because I play on PC and realized, “Oh, you can make it prettier. You can add content. What is this?”
So I dug into some of those, and I found a mod called Interesting NPCs. It added a whole bunch of cool NPCs and quest content. It was very good, and voice acted. I thought, “How how did that happen?” So, I went looking around online, and I found the mod author Kris Takahashi’s blog for the mod and realized he had casting calls.
There I was, thinking, “Wait, anybody can just audition for this?” I happened to see a role there that was open, and I was like, “I can do an orc voice. Sure, why not?” So, I auditioned, and he reached back out to me and said, “Hey, you sound pretty good. Let me get you a new mic. Let’s do this!”
I had like a crappy desktop mic, one of those little $20 things you get at the store. So, he recommended a mic to me, and I got myself a Blue Yeti, which is half the people that stream or game or do podcasts. It’s the go-to mic for a reason. It’s really good.
So, I got that, and I started doing more characters through that mod. I’m all over that mod, and it still brings me other mod work. People hear me and that they’ll say, “Hey, I have an elf. Can you play it?” So, more and more, I got sprinkled throughout the Skyrim and Fallout mod community doing voices for NPCs and companions and things.
Mind you, that’s all free work because it’s fan content, but it was good practice and a good way to get out there.
Q: So, now you have your Blue Yeti mic. You’re ready to go. What was that first experience like?
A: It was pretty much, you know, he gave me the lines. It was just a piece of his blog that he linked me to where the lines were. I recorded them and sent them back. Then, he’d come back at me with some direction later. It was very asynchronous. I would re-record, and once we were both happy with it, he took it and did all the editing from there.
But it was pretty much just my mic right here at my desk. I record in a nice quiet room. And that’s it.
I go back and listen to them now, and I cringe because I can hear how big a difference in quality it is.
Q: What kind of mic are you using now?
A: I’ve retired the Yeti. Gave it away to a friend. I have several mics now because I can’t help myself, but what I’ve been recording on most recently is a shotgun microphone. It’s pretty good for killing room sound.
I have a Blue Spark, which is like the Yeti’s fancier big brother and sounds really, really nice. I use that in my actual “studio,” we’ll say with air quotes because it’s my closet.
Most voice actors, I think, when you’re looking for a home, you’re going to look for one with a nice closet because that will be your recording booth.
Q: What’s it like hearing your own voice on screen for the first time, on some face that is not yours?
A: It’s interesting. When I’m recording, I know it’s me, and when I listen back, I’m like, “Oh god, that just sounds like me. Who’s ever gonna believe that’s a different voice?”
But when you see it on screen, matched to a character that is not you, and you hear it, the sense of immersion comes together. I don’t even think that it’s me. I’m just thinking, “Oh, what a cool character.”
It kind of depends too. If I’m recording in my normal voice, it’s a little easier to recognize myself, but if I’m putting on a voice for a different character or an accent or something, the suspension of disbelief goes a little further. But it’s always fun.
Q: Let’s say folks are playing with Fallout or Skyrim mods. Do you have any favorite characters that they should look out for?
A: One of my favorites to record, just because the character was so nicely written, was a companion mod called Hope Lies for Fallout New Vegas. It had a whole storyline tied around this one companion character, Hope, who was this sweet little girl from Texas. She had a shotgun and was just on this good little quest. It was very fun. She was just a nice person, and it was nice to be someone who was kind and open and just play that role.
Q: On from that first gig, how did your voice-acting career proceed from there?
A: So, the fun part is the video game and the mod VO. The less fun but super necessary and super valuable part is doing things like commercial or advertising VO.
As a designer and former advertising agency Art Director, I happened to luck out and work in the space where a lot of those videos were happening. I would usually just pinch-hit and do the VO for our projects.
It was mostly about taking opportunities wherever I saw them. For mods and video game things, honestly, just looking around and auditioning. Casting Call Club, looking around on Twitter, word of mouth, like I mentioned. I would get a lot of mod authors who would hear me in these other mods I was already in and reach out to me directly. I got a lot of those, which led to the coolest and most fun project I have worked on ever.
Enderal was a full conversion mod for Skyrim that turned into a completely original game. I did a couple of roles in there, and the writer on that mod ended up going and working for another game studio, and he contacted me to say, “Hey, I work here now. I would like you to audition for this character. You up for it?” I was like, “Wait. What? Yes, obviously, yes.”
So I did, and I got it somehow. This meant taking a little plane out to LA and recording in an actual studio, and I’m still sort of baffled by how it all happened. And I got to do it twice over because they made an expansion for that game, and I had to reprise the character role.
It was a couple of days of recording and being live directed, which was new because most mod projects are all self-directed. You just record and send your stuff off and hope that they’re cool with it.
Q: So, give me a play-by-play of that in the studio. What’s that look like?
A: So, the production company was actually in the UK, so they were phone patched in. I would hear my director in my earphones, and the sound guy who ran the studio that I was recording at was just there outside of the booth doing all the interface stuff.
We just went line by line. Video game VO is a big old spreadsheet of lines with no context,f and you have to rely on your director to tell you what’s going on. So, we just knocked through all of these lines. They were at least in narrative succession, so I could kind of get the gist of what was happening as we progressed, but I didn’t have a full script in front of me. I just had my lines. So, they would say something like, “You’re about to face down with a big monster. Take out your sword and say the line.”
I sort of knew what to expect because of research I had done and interviews I listened to on the process, but once you’re in there, you’re thinking, “I’m playing pretend, and I have to be really good at it.”
No lie, doing tabletop role-playing is a really good way for a baby VO to practice.
Q: Did you have any formal training too?
A: No, which is a big hit to the confidence sometimes, but I assume that if people are hiring me back, I must be okay.
After we were done with the sessions, the director and the sound guy both paid me good compliments. They asked, “Have you done a lot of this?” and I was like, “No, this is my first gig.” He said, “You should do more.” So, cool, alright, I’ve got my validation for the next two years—time to get to work.
Q: So, what does voice acting work for you look like since then?
A: It is still very part-time because I gotta pay the bills. So, the day job must stay until it becomes enough that I don’t need it. Honestly, it’s just auditioning for things that I see. I hunt on Twitter for casting calls, taking a ton of classes to get better at the craft, meet others, and find a coach.
Eventually, there’s a point at which you need to have a demo. The fact that I got a gig that was paid and in a video game before ever having a demo is honestly kind of shocking and very not normal. I still don’t have demos yet, but I’m working on that currently.
You generally want to have a couple of demo reels. You’ll want one for commercial and one for interactive or animation. That shows your range and your capabilities, and your “wheelhouse.”
A lot of casting calls that go out are not “Hey, here are some lines to read.” They’re like, “Send us your demo reel.” This is why it becomes important. But demos are expensive to produce, so it’s also important not to rush into them or do them before you’re ready because you’ll have to redo them later if you weren’t at your best.
Q: I wouldn’t have guessed that. Why so expensive?
A: Generally, they’re going to be directed, so there’s a director involved. You don’t want to try and self-produce because your demos are your one shot at getting into an agency or getting into any place. They have to be the best of you. The absolute best.
Someone is probably writing the lines for you because it needs to be original content. You can’t just do impressions or crib from other stuff. Then, you need an audio engineer to do the editing and cut it together, like a producer, to make it sound like it was clips pulled from stuff you’ve done.
It’s a whole production process, and they are a little bit costly as a result. You’ve got like three or four people involved for one minute of audio.
But again, it’s best not to just jump in and do them too quickly. If you do a demo and then take a bunch of classes and have gotten much better over time, that demo will not be a representation of you anymore. It’s going to make you so sad.
Q: At what point would you say would probably be a good place for someone to look for a coach?
A: If you have done it enough times and you feel like you love it enough to keep at it, that’s probably a good time to start getting a coach. You’re only gonna get so far by practicing on your own or self-directing or studying or watching videos. You need someone to listen to you perform, give you actual feedback, and coach you toward your strengths. They help you see where you need to improve.
Q: When you’re looking for casting calls on Twitter, for example, how are you doing that? What are you looking for?
A: I usually just search “VA Casting Call,” and I will put in, you know, “female or feminine” just because my vocal range is what it is. As much as the people in the industry are super-duper, liberal, and open, and nobody cares about gender or anything, roles are still pretty gendered. So, you have to accommodate that, and my voice happens to sound fem unless I’m playing a little boy.
So, I search for roles that fit. Then, if those roles or those casting calls have auditions where they have lines that I can read and record and send, I’ll do it. If it says, “Please send your demo reel,” I’m like, “Well, dang it, okay.”
Q: I know you also have your day job, you stream on Twitch, and now I know that you designed tabletop RPGs. What portion of your time are you putting toward voice acting, either practicing or recording?
A: Technically, the stream began as a vehicle to practice the VO a little bit. I stream otome games, which are visual novels aimed at women. They’re so fluffy, and I love it, but that means there’s a lot of in-character reading to do because, in most of those games, the heroine is not voiced. So, I read the narration, and then I do a [character] voice whenever the heroine speaks.
I’m doing that for three hours, three nights a week, so that is a piece of practice for me. But, it’s also a way of sharing these wonderful games and stories with folks.
Apart from that, I take classes. I’ve been hitting the VO classes very hard and hunting for a coach so that I can work on getting my demo built up. Basically, until your coach tells you you’re ready to do a demo, probably don’t do a demo.
So, it’s a lot of workshop classes which are like eight to ten people. They’re usually very small. They can give you good feedback. And most of the people running these are professional voice actors currently working in the industry, so they can give you the “real real” of what’s going on out there.
We read lines; they critique, we read lines some more. You just get in that practice practice practice practice.
Q: Do you have any classes that you’ve done that you would recommend to other people if they’re interested in getting better too?
A: I’ve been super happy with the classes at Real Voice LA. Not sponsored in any way, shape, or form. It’s just that out of all the classes I’ve taken over time, theirs have been both the most welcoming, comfortable, and I think the most useful. I’ve felt like I’ve actually really gained experience from doing a few of those workshops.
It’s good learning, good networking, and everybody agrees there’s no judgment there. We’re all getting together and doing our best, and everyone’s very kind.
Q: I take it you’re not a shy person by nature?
A: I extremely am. I just fake it.
Q: Okay, how? Because I feel like that’s gotta be a huge obstacle for people.
A: The more you do, the easier it gets. I have also found, and I’ve seen others in the class do this. If you feel self-conscious, especially on Zoom since you get to see yourself, turn off your camera while you read.
Most of the time, the instructors don’t mind that because they’re listening rather than really looking at what you’re doing. So, if you’re super self-conscious and you just don’t want people to see you making the insane faces that you make while you say these lines in a wacky voice, turn off your camera and just go for it! Or, hide the Zoom interface, so you don’t have the feeling of people watching you.
But yeah, it’s never easy. The anxiety will always be there, but at some point, you’ll fall into it, and you’ll just be doing what you do, and it won’t be as much of an issue.
It helps to think about when you’re watching these actors do their work; you’re not thinking, “God, they look goofy.” You’re like, “Dang, that’s cool.”
Q: Side quest. Tell me about your Tabletop RPG!
A: For a while there in 2018-2019-ish, streaming tabletop RPGs became all the rage. I was on several streams that were popular at the time and played a lot of games. I even did some myself.
I had a couple of little ideas of role-playing games I wanted to write that told a certain kind of story. I had this little pitch line in my head for this game concept, so I jotted it down, stuck it in a spreadsheet, forgot about it for a day or two, and then came back to it and periodically started adding concepts over time.
I ended up with a little card-based tabletop game called The Land Whispers, basically about going off into the wilderness unsettled and making a home there. If you’re familiar with The Quiet Year or For the Queen, it plays similarly to those. You pull cards, get prompts, then you answer those prompts and form a story that way.
Mostly, I just want a game where I can just chill out, not go on adventures, not fight stuff, and just hang out. I was kind of like, “I don’t know if anyone would be interested in this, but I’m gonna make it anyway and see what happens.”
Q: And then what happened? How did it do?
A: It’s done pretty well! I mean, for me, not really advertising it or promoting it very much at all, it’s done decently sales-wise, and a lot of folks have had it in their hands.
We’re going to be streaming it on Roll 20 next week, so that’s fun. So yeah, it’s done fairly well.
Q: Back to voice acting. It’s come up a couple of times, but just to get the specifics of it. What is your voice acting setup at home like?
A: If you’ve got a decent-sized closet that you can empty out, line it with acoustic foam. You can find that stuff all over the internet. Just pick whatever suits you best. Then, I just have a little stand in there for my laptop that I have an interface hooked into. The microphone is set up in there with an arm. I’ve got some little battery-operated touch lights, so I’m not sitting in darkness, or just get some sort of lamp that doesn’t generate a lot of noise, so you’re not stuck in the dark in a closet.
Since I moved into this house, the closets are not super ideal because they have a pre-designed system inside them that I’m having to workaround. So, I have a rack with a sound sheet behind it that I have behind me to give myself a little more space to work with.
You don’t have to blow a ton of money on a setup, but you do have to make sure you know your general space is quiet too. Get some moving blankets if you don’t want to sink money into like the foam. Moving blankets are great—just stuff to deaden the sound.
If you’re lucky enough to have a walk-in closet and it’s just filled with clothes, that works too. Anything that will keep the echo from happening or the sound from bouncing around the room.
Q: In your own voice acting experiences, what would you say has been your most triumphant moment and also your most challenging moment?
A: Honestly, getting to do that gig where I got to fly out and being well complimented was pretty much the high point.
The most challenging is right now being at that stage where I’m like, “I know I need demos because that is going to block me from getting any further.” That part can be kind of discouraging because you never really feel like you’re ready. But, at some point, you have to do it. So, it’s a matter of pushing yourself as far as you can and taking those extra steps. Breaking out of the shyness in some cases.
You’ve got to cold email some people and ask, “Are you accepting coaching? Can you teach me?” and do stuff like that to really make headway. That’s tough. There are days where I feel like I know what I’m doing, and then there are days where I feel like I should just stop this. It goes back and forth, and it’s just how it is sometimes.
Trying to book auditions is an easy way to get discouraged if you think about it too much. Quite honestly, the best thing I’ve ever heard is: “It’s not that you were rejected. It’s that you weren’t selected because someone else was a better fit.” You weren’t the right voice for the character in the casting director’s mind, and that’s totally fine.
Q: Final wrap-up: What is the one biggest piece of advice you have for someone who is brand new to video game voice acting and wants to get their first gig?
A: Play mods. Look into ones that are casting an audition, or just look online for indie projects that are auditioning. Chances are pretty good that the stuff you start out doing, you’re going to be doing for free. But don’t let that go on too long, or you’re not really going to get anywhere.
There are always people running YouTube projects or small indie games or mods for existing games that need voice acting. Just find those projects and audition.
Search on Twitter, search online. If you already play them, you’re heading a step in the right direction. Look for the ones you like and see if they have roles open.
Another big thanks to Jessica Osborne for giving us the lowdown on how to become a video game voice actor, and sharing all of her sage knowledge on the best ways to get started and get better!
If you’d like to follow Jessica’s many endeavors, check her out on all the places!
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/littlecuppajo
- Twitch: https://www.twitch.tv/littlecuppajo/
- Jess’s TTRPG (itch.io): https://littlecuppajo.itch.io/thelandwhispers
If you enjoyed this interview, please leave me a comment below and let me know what you loved most! Your feedback helps me create better content and turn this little blog into something you’ll really love. So, thank you in advance!