We’re reaching out to some popular creators to get their best tips and tricks for success and better understand the ups and downs of life as a trailblazer on the internet.
This week, we spoke with SungWon Cho (@prozd), a voice actor known online for short-form skits about voice acting, board games, video games, anime, internet culture, fandom, and life in general. Although Cho has a presence across multiple platforms—like Twitter, TikTok, Instagram, Twitch, and Tumblr—his main social channel is YouTube, where he has over 3.86 million subscribers.
Cho is a seasoned voice actor featured in a variety of popular video games and TV shows like Adventure Time: Distant Lands, Pokémon: Twilight Wings, Borderlands 3, God of War: Ragnarök, and Anime Crimes Division. However, he found internet notoriety on a whim many years ago.
He first went viral through self-dubbed “audio shitposts” on Tumblr, viral Vines (like his infamous skit about video game side quests), and YouTube videos capitalizing on pop culture moments, like his 2014 viral cover of Frozen’s “Let It Go” sung in the voice of Goofy.
Known for an infectious blend of satire, blunt honesty, and nerdiness, Cho managed to maintain longevity, cultivating a dedicated audience for around eight years and monetizing off of sponsorships and ad revenue. Cho has a reputation for speaking his mind about the hypocrisies and pitfalls of the internet landscape, giving voice to what many creators might be thinking but are too afraid to say.
In an interview with Passionfruit, Cho described this knack for honesty and his desire to avoid being a “phony” to his loyal fanbase. He also discussed his approach to avoiding bad sponsors, his preferences for YouTube over TikTok, why he’s avoided managers throughout his career, negotiating fair wages, parasociality, boundaries with fans, and more.
The following interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Why are you focused mainly on YouTube versus other apps?
Quite frankly, YouTube pays the best. TikTok I dabbled with at my reluctance. My wife was like, “You need to do TikTok. TikTok is what the kids like these days.” I tried it, and I had some fun with it, but, uh, quite frankly, their monetization is absolute garbage—which is surprising considering how successful that platform is and how many views it gets. YouTube, at least for me, still pays fairly well in comparison to everything else, and that’s the platform that I personally am on the most often. … So, I guess I’ll just be on it until it eventually crumbles to pieces or whatever.
How do you monetize, and what have you found works best for you personally?
For YouTube specifically, it’s ad revenue and sponsorships. That’s basically it. I’ve learned that what works best for me is sponsors that are willing to be made fun of because the ones that either I don’t get along with or fall through are brands that don’t get what I do. They just basically want a commercial or they want me to be a phony and, you know, say things I wouldn’t normally say.
What’s been very important for me as a person online is that I don’t lie to my audience. For example, if there’s a product I’m being sponsored with, I usually won’t say stuff like, “Hey guys, I love this product so much.” … Instead, I’ll say, “This video is sponsored by blank,” and I just give them all the information. But I don’t pretend that I’m personally like their biggest diehard fan.
I have found that the most successful partnerships have been ones where the product is willing to, you know, have a sense of humor about itself. If I poke fun at the product, the audience responds well to that, and often it’s the best way to go about it.
Do you have any tips for brand negotiation or making sure you’re getting paid fairly? Is that something you ever struggled with throughout your career?
Nowadays my agent does all the negotiation, which is nice. But back in the day when it was just me, it definitely was kind of a struggle to make sure I was being paid fairly.
I think the most general information or tip I can give to people is: Find out what their budget is first before giving them a quote. It’s always this sort of game of chicken, of like, they ask you, “What’s your rate?” And you go, “Well, why don’t you just give me an offer first, and then we’ll go from there.” You don’t want to be in a situation where a company approaches you, and you give them something that’s way below what they were expecting. Try to get them to offer first. … That can kind of adjust your expectations for what to expect. It sounds simple, but I think that kind of situation can be intimidating for people.
How have you approached talent management throughout your career?
The only management I’ve had is with my current agency, CAA [Creative Artists Agency], and that was through my agent, Peter, who knew of me through my work online and directly offered to represent me. Before that, I actually was just doing everything myself. I wasn’t actively looking for management, especially for the online space. But, with that said, they’re a huge help.
I’ve never really had a manager because my agent’s primary job is negotiation. They don’t necessarily tell me at all what I should do because I feel like I would respond poorly to being told what to do. I’ve told this story before, but YouTube used to offer a manager that you could like meet with and they would give you advice. I met with this manager, and they just did not understand at all what I was about.
I’m—uh, hmm—stubborn might be the right word. I’m not out to maximize every single thing to be the biggest, most successful internet person. I think what’s important to me is sticking to myself, being true to myself, and not doing stuff that I don’t want to do. So, as far as a manager goes, I always sort of manage myself. My representation is more so for helping me with all the tricky financial stuff that I just don’t want to deal with on my own anymore.
What work have you considered giving to other people to lessen your workload as you’ve grown in size and popularity?
Within the last couple of years, I finally hired an editor. I had actually been editing my own videos for a very long time. … My agents take care of the negotiation. My editor currently is also my assistant, so they help me with, you know, day-to-day tasks and things like that, which has been very helpful. So, for me, it’s something that for most of my life I didn’t have, but in recent years, especially with the voice-over [work] becoming more and more a part of my life, it’s been helpful because I just have less time compared to before.
How has your voice acting career meshed with your content creation career?
I feel like the pros and cons have equaled out. I think a lot of people assume, “Oh, so and so has a big following. That means they’re gonna get a lot of voice-over rules that way,” and I actually think the opposite is true. I think a lot of people have perceptions about you. … Like, “Is he just getting cast because of his name?” A lot of people don’t realize that I’ve been doing voice-over for like nine years now. It predates my YouTube career. … But I think that the majority of my audience has been following me long enough, and also, I think I demonstrate in my videos that I have the acting ability. … In terms of positives, I mean, I think it helps with networking, getting to meet people and stuff like that. But, honestly, it kind of gets in the way more often.
How do you interact with your fans?
I’ll be frank, I don’t really respond a whole lot because I try to keep a healthy distance. Not a wall, because I don’t want to block people off, but there’s the whole parasocial sort of phenomenon of people who know all about you because they watch all your stuff and read all your tweets and stuff, but you don’t know who they are. I don’t want people to have a false impression. … I think it’s very harmful when online personalities pretend like, “Oh, you’re all my best friends.” … It leads to false expectations and a false sense of closeness.
I think the closest I get to sort of communicating with fans is through Twitch. I will casually chat, and that’s nice. … But I don’t do Twitch a whole lot, so it’s a very small part of my online time. Also, I don’t have that big of a Twitch audience. … I feel like if Twitch ever took off to the level that YouTube is for me now, I would probably distance myself more.
It’s also for personal safety, you know? I try to be very private about certain aspects of my life. I think having a healthy distance is very important as you grow online because oversharing or having people not understand boundaries can be hard.
Why do you think you’ve survived the tumultuous internet landscape for so long?
I think, honestly, it’s just because I’ve stuck to what I like to do. I think people also respond to my blunt honesty, I guess. Like, I really just try to not be a fake persona. … Some people really don’t like me because of that. I don’t view myself as a controversial person at all, but, you know, I feel like some people just get annoyed with me.
In terms of longevity, I can attribute it to just not chasing trends, and not feeling like I have to go about things a certain way to stay relevant. YouTube has always been the sort of happy accident for me. I’m very grateful for it and I enjoy it, but if it goes away, it’s like, “Well, cool.” That was not my dream, you know. … I’m very grateful for people still checking my stuff out, and I’m glad people are entertained, and I’m also a little surprised as well that I am still around. People tell me it’s, again, like I said, just me sticking to being me and not chasing trends.
Are you a creator with a story to tell? Email [email protected] for a chance to be featured in an upcoming newsletter.