If Stefan Johnson could give one piece of advice to his younger self, it would be: start now.
“I would tell anyone to start now. You’ve got an idea, you wanna do something, start now. I am lucky to have experienced success and reached a comfortable point — but if I would have really started at 18, after that initial interest formed for me, I can’t even dream where I would be right now.”
That “initial interest” came from Stefan stepping behind the microphone in high school with the morning announcements. He further discovered voiceover while at broadcasting school at the Ohio Media Center, but at the time was more focused on performing with his pop-punk band in Cleveland.
“We were gonna be rock stars. And then, long story short, life happens!”
He ended up at a great job, but realized he wasn’t doing anything he truly loved. Then, the voiceover industry started to call his name again. He decided to run with it, and in addition to training, coaching, building his studio and marketing himself, he also began building his social media presence.
Stefan’s brand, Voiceover Evolved, represents his versatility and constant growth within the world of voiceover. He needed something fresh and exciting to reflect his success and continue building momentum. The process of building his brand was a wonderful collaboration.
Stefan discusses his journey to millions of followers on social media, the incredible opportunities he’s seized as a result, and what drives him now in the following Q&A.
What does your brand Voiceover Evolved mean to you? How has it impacted your business?
When I sat down with Celia and started thinking about what I wanted for my brand, I knew I wanted something to reflect my social media presence, my on-camera work, and of course my voice acting presence — essentially something that would label me as “not your typical VO actor.” Voiceover Evolved really stood out to me because in my eyes it represents what to expect from a modern voice actor, and reflects my journey of molding myself to be a multifaceted talent.
I’m someone who’s going to take their knowledge of the old guard and apply it to the current situation. You have to evolve with your brand. So my brand really just really fits my goals to a tee. It’s helped communicate the confidence I already had in a more forward facing way to potential clients.
You have a hugely successful presence on social media, with nearly 8 million TikTok followers and millions more across Instagram, Facebook, and Youtube — what sparked the idea to do food reviews and what have been some of the coolest opportunities you’ve gotten as a result of building such a successful following?
I’ve always kind of tentatively pursued wanting to be a content creator, but never took it seriously because it’s a lot of work. I was busy between starting my voiceover career and my music. During the pandemic, a lot of things took off accidentally. Everyone was talking about this little app called TikTok. I finally made an account, and decided I was going to start making some content to try and make my friends and family laugh. I started off making music parody content, which did well and was gradually gaining momentum. One day, I decided I was going to make a video about my top five favorite breakfast sandwiches with funny commentary here and there. I woke up the next day to a million views.
I thought, “Okay, this is something.”
I made a follow up video rating french fries — another quick million views before even the end of that day. There was obviously a piece that people were really connecting to within the food content, and I took off running from there. At the beginning, I think what I was doing felt new and fresh because I was narrating my own videos and throwing in some off-color quips, so there was a funny juxtaposition between the tone of my narration and the words I was saying.
Over time, it’s progressed from that comical narration to doing more in-depth food reviews, and I’ve been flown out to places like L.A., New York, and Vegas just to review people’s food. I’ve had the opportunity to work with Kevin Hart’s Studio, to work with Jerry Springer, to host TV shows, internet streams, and to connect with people who I’ve idolized. I’ve got certain rappers, athletes, singers, in my contacts now — which has been such a surreal experience. Every day I kind of wake up to some experience that makes me want to pinch myself.
At the end of 2023, I was the NFL’s creator of the week, which was booked through the CSM team— I had the opportunity to attend the Browns game as a VIP guest and create Youtube content for the NFL. The Cleveland Browns and the NFL inviting me to collaborate is something that I never thought in a million years that I’d have the opportunity to do. It’s a humbling moment knowing that one of the most watched organizations in the country has eyes on you.
How does your approach differ between VO work and on-screen acting?
With the on-screen work, I had to learn as I went. As my online presence started to build, I was getting opportunities I couldn’t pass up. When Kevin Hart’s Studio reached out to me and wanted to fly me to LA to be a part of four Gillette commercials that they were working on, I had to learn how to be on screen in a professional sense. From my first on-screen gig, I was working with actors who really live that life, so I knew I had to commit to getting some real training — and did so at the Jessica Hood School of Acting. Now, I feel like I have a foundation in acting techniques and improv, and am continuously sharpening the iron to keep improving.
A lot of movies film in Cleveland, and I got the opportunity to be in Cherry with Tom Holland when it was shooting here. It’s a Russo brothers film, and they’re known for having their actors improv. All of the sudden, I’m bouncing lines off of Spider-Man himself and improv-ing alongside him. It was just wild!
So that was the biggest difference, especially in the beginning, of just knowing I had to get serious about honing my skills there as I didn’t have the same foundation I did with voiceover.
With such a broad scope of work, is there a project that resonated with you or that you were most proud to be involved in?
I’m a massive wrestling nerd. So when I got the opportunity to voice a promo for the WWE, that was very exciting. I auditioned for it and then had to try to forget it because you don’t want to rack your mind over it. Literally an hour after I sent my audition, my agent called and told me I booked it. It went to air about a month later and that was really a “Wow, this is happening,” moment for me.
Around that same time, an audition came through for this Scott Pilgrim secret anime project that nobody really knew about. Now, I’m a huge fan of the original Scott Pilgrim movie, so I was excited to audition. Again, I did the whole shebang, said forget it, and moved on. About a month later, they reached out, “Stefan, they want you, they want to record about 10 episodes next week. Are you available?”
YES, I was available! Now, I’m part of the Scott Pilgrim ecosystem which is amazing. Hear Stefan as the announcer in Scott Pilgrim Takes Off on Netflix.
You’ve found so much success across the entertainment industry. What keeps you motivated? Where do you have your sights set now?
My biggest ability is my visibility. I feel very lucky that in the last couple of years, I’ve been able to kind of take a step back from goal setting and just be open to the abundance of opportunities that are presented to me. As long as I keep creating content, people will know what I do and they will reach out to me. Because of my videos, I’ve gotten so many offers for voiceover work, and have been able to accomplish a lot of my goals.
One thing that I’ll be reaching for in 2024 is the movie trailer. I’ve done movie trailers for indie films here and there, but I haven’t done a feature film box office movie trailer yet. Otherwise, what motivates me is that I’m in a position where I can take care of people — my wife, my mom, my family, my friends — if they need things, I can take care of people comfortably. So I have a goal to stay in that position. I know that if I just keep myself visible, anything else I want out of life will happen.
I have the genres that I gravitate towards, but I’ve learned that you can never say never. I used to say that live announcing wasn’t for me — but Forbes reached out to me this past year when the 30 Under 30 summit was in Cleveland. They offered me the live announcing role, and I sat there and stared at that email for 24 hours — I was scared! I’m a big advocate of training, and I knew I wanted to properly prepare for such a big event. So I reached out to Randy Thomas, who has been the voice of the Emmys, the Oscars, she has done every big award show. I worked with her for about two months sharpening my skills. She gave me great tips and even helped give me advice during the event itself. It was an amazing experience and went off without a hitch. So staying open to opportunities that I might have once said I couldn’t do is always important.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced? On the flipside, what is the most rewarding part of the work you’ve done?
The biggest challenge about being in this industry for me has been getting comfortable with the level of interaction required. I’m an introvert by nature. I’m a very shy, private guy. It’s not always easy to put myself out here, whether it be in front of the camera, behind the mic, or at in-person hosting gigs. You have to be in the middle of the people, you have to smile, you have to shake hands, you have to be personal, and that has been something I’ve had to grow more comfortable with.
It’s most rewarding to see the effect I can have on people by making these goofy food breakdown videos and food reviews. I get DMS almost daily where people say:
“Hey, I’m going through a tough time right now. Your videos have been the only thing that could bring a smile to my face.”
“My father just passed away, and me and him used to watch your videos all the time. And I’m going through your profile now, just reminiscing about my dad and how we used to watch your stuff.”
I may or may not have cried here and there, reading messages like those. It’s one of the things that keeps me going: to know that I can make a 60-second video and bring joy to someone’s life, or give someone a bonding experience with their father from a video ranting about potato chips. It’s a huge push to keep doing what I’m doing.
What is your favorite part about being on team CSM?
I love that you all constantly push me. I am comfortable right now, but I will get that text or email from one of the team just checking-in if I haven’t been super responsive, and reminding me of my goals. That attention to detail means a lot. Celia is someone who actually takes that time out to say, “Hey, we need to push you further.” I love that.
What’s in your booth: Things Stefan Johnson can’t record without
I keep things pretty simple in my booth, but there are a couple of things that I always have on hand.
- A Vicks vaporizer. I have seasonal allergies and I’ll catch a cold in a heartbeat. You put it on your face if you’re congested and the hot vapor will clear you right up. It makes a massive difference that you can feel right away.
- A mirror. I use a mirror if I’m recording content, I need to make sure I don’t have any schmutz on me! In the booth, if I have to give a smiley read, I want to see myself smile, you know? Actually seeing my face and committing to those expressions when I’m recording does make a difference.