The Voice of the Guangzhou Metro: Brandy Spohn

By Kirby John Carney, March 11, 2024

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If you’ve lived in Guangzhou for any extended period, you’ve definitely heard her. You may not have met her, but you’ve definitely heard her. Why? She is the English voice of the Guangzhou metro line. Whenever theres an announcement of arrival or departure, her voice fills the air.


Originally from Georgia, US, Brandy Spohn began her journey in China in Shunde in 2006, following a roommate’s decision. “I made my way to China by accident,” Brandy shares with us during an online chat. “Happy 18th year.” What started as an accident turned into a fortuitous twist of fate. In 2009, she moved to Guangzhou, where she has since made her home. It was here that she met a teaching agent who asked her to read a Russian to English dictionary in a makeshift studio, and from there, her career snowballed. Initially, the jobs were merely reading, but later, they expanded to dubbing cartoons. She recalls one particular job where she dubbed a Pokémon imitation. “It was a little fat round ball, and he went, “Chocho, chocho, chocho.” And I just repeated that for literally three hours. And I thought to myself, “Holy shit, I’m getting paid for this. I love this job.’”


Despite the job being fun and fulfilling, it was not without its challenges. In the beginning, Brandy’s Chinese was rudimentary at best, and her directors faced a similar issue with English. She recounts how their instructions often got lost in translation: “They’ll say, ‘Can you do this a little happier, a little happier, a little happier?’ And I’ll put a big smile on my face and I’m like, ‘Okay, let’s go.’ And they’re like, ‘No, that’s not it.’ I’m like, ‘What do you mean? I'm doing as happy as I can.’ And then I’ll do something that's more soft and warm. And then they’ll go, ‘Yeah, that's the sound.’” Despite the cultural and linguistic barriers, she has managed to secure numerous jobs.


Brandy has been recognized by friends for her work, notably on two occasions recently. Once by a friend who overheard her IELTS and another time by an ex-boyfriend who couldn’t escape hearing her voice on the Guangzhou metro — a form of petty revenge for Brandy, who took pleasure in his complaint. While her metro announcements are her most famous work, they have sometimes backfired. She dislikes streaming on Douyin because her fan base mainly consists of 20-year-old boys who repetitively ask her to recite metro lines. She has also been banned several times from the platform and mentions that she has almost given up streaming there.


Instead, she prefers Hello Talk, where she has 20,000 followers, making her one of the top English language teachers on the platform. She started this during the lockdown period and quickly realized that users were looking for free language exchanges rather than paying for teaching. Despite her popularity on the platform, she hasn’t found many voice acting jobs through it and views it more as a hobby than a legitimate business venture.


Brandy admires voice actors like Nancy Cartwright for their versatility in portraying multiple characters. “Voice acting is not about your voice at all,” she asserts. She explains that everyone has their unique “money voice.” Brandy’s niche is voicing young boys who are quirky and happy. “You don't have to do accents. You don’t have to make cartoon voices. If you’ve got that deep, booming voice, do deep, booming jobs. If you’ve got a little high-pitched, crazy voice, do cartoons,” she elaborates. She references actors like Dwayne Johnson and Ben Affleck, who consistently play similar roles because their physique and acting style suit certain performances.


After many years in the industry, Brandy noticed the lack of support for new voice actors, with information like hiring prices often kept secret and many agents lacking in transparency. With that in mind, she opened Lucky Pig Studio. “I wanted to create a place where I could train people, pick the jobs that I wanted to do, and really help out.” The studio faced significant challenges and nearly closed for good last year, but Brandy says it is getting back on track, even facing one of the most challenging jobs of her voice acting career. “10,000 words,” she says dramatically, explaining that this client constantly makes changes and requests for re-recordings, highlighting the difficulties of running a freelancing studio subject to client demands and challenging projects.


The studio has allowed Brandy to find another one of her passions: directing. “I really love directing. The director’s job is to take what the producer wants and what the actors can do and put them together.” She relates it back to a type of teaching. She describes a time when she worked with kids. She told them to imagine their mum not giving them a piece of candy that she promised them. She asked them how they felt. She told them, “Don’t say you’re angry, use the anger at your mum and say the line.” She tells us that the kids understood this and managed to excel at the project.

[Cover image via Brandy Spohn]

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