Hello Jon and Pete! Thank you for taking the time to be interviewed. We can’t believe it’s been a full year since you passed along the reigns to Excellent Talent, and we hope we have done justice to your 25 years of hard work at the helm. With that said, we know you both hopefully have had more time to dedicate to your voiceover careers and we’d love to learn more about how you got your start in this world, and what you are up to now…
Let’s start with something fun to set the scene. What did you both want to be when you were 10 years old?
Jon: I think I wanted to be an actor. I spent most of my time at school on stage – but on leaving realised I was never going to be good enough, so satisfied the performer gene in me by going into radio instead.
Pete: I wanted to be an actor too, or a songwriter. I’ve sort of managed both of those in that alongside my voice acting, I also run a choir and write music for them. I definitely didn’t want to be a footballer.
Pending the answer isn’t a voiceover artist….how did you get started as a voiceover talent and what are you both up to now in the VO world?
Jon: I was a Channel 4 announcer at the age of 22 – and with only 4 TV channels in those days, we were in everyone’s living rooms on a regular basis so we were already relatively familiar to a wide audience. I found myself an agent and my first job was to say “Scalextric” for which I earned a nice sum of money and thought this could be fun! I had already run the trails unit at the radio station where I began my career, when I was 16, so I was very used to writing copy and then voicing and mixing the whole 30 or 60 second package. I was taught how to make good promos at a really early stage of my career and that stood me in good stead for what was to come.
Currently most of my work is Voice of God (in other words Live!) but I also have a number of e-learning clients and regulars who have known me during my 40 years in the industry (good god is it 40!!?), who still feed me the occasional gig.
Pete: I got into VO through the very unusual route of being a VO agent. I graduated in 96 and didn’t have much of a plan beyond saving for drama school. Jon needed someone to run his new VO agency, so I helped him launch Excellent Talent (or Excellent Voice as it was then). After 3 years of running it, I decided that a career the other side of the microphone looked like a lot of fun, and I put a demo together.
It got rejected.
But my next demo got accepted, and I gradually made the transition from agent to artist, leaving the running of the agency in more capable hands than mine.
Since then, I’ve never looked back. I’m still working as a VO 22 years later and I still think it’s one of the best jobs in the world. Most of my day to day work is corporate videos, e-learning and radio commercials, but I also do live Voice Of God work, audio dramas and video games.
What was your first gig? Any memorable ones since then?
Jon: The first gig was as above for Scalextric (note not Scalectrix!) – but I suppose the memorable ones are the recording session that was subsequently used for Siri (recorded in my own booth at home and double tracked as back up by the studio in the USA over ISDN – so funny to think that it was recorded in my own home studio!) and the first session for The Weakest Link. The first sessions for those jobs which become regular are always memorable as you are trying to find the right sound for the first time. The first time I ever did Continuity for Channel 4 – the first time I presented a radio show on my own aged 17, or the first breakfast show we did on the brand new station BBC Radio 5 – all amazing events that have shaped my career substantially as a result.
Pete: My first job was for Essex FM – it was a radio ad for a nightclub and I had to sneer in a too-cool-for-school kind of way. My first agency gig was a corporate video, during which the director broke off from giving me a pre-session briefing with the words “oh, but what am I saying! You do this every day!”. I just nodded.
Since then, I think my most memorable moment was auditioning for the video game “PayDay: The Heist”. They were looking for authentic regional accents, and since I was raised in Sheffield, I gave them my best Yorkshire. Most of the lines were yelling at hostages in a bank to “Get down on the ground”, with the instruction not to spare the horses on the yelling. I got the gig, and blimey have I done a lot of Yorkshire shouting over the last ten years!
What did it feel like the first time you heard your voice on the radio or television?
Jon: I’m so used to it now it’s hard to remember – but I do remember recognising my own voice on the promos for BBC1 and BBC2 (which I voiced for 3 years in the 1990’s) from way across the other side of the room – and being mildly surprised while at the same time secretly chuffed!
Pete: Completely awesome. It actually still gives me a tiny thrill. Is that sad?
Most of my early jobs were radio ads on stations I couldn’t access (before the internet, like), so when we went away for weekends, I would force my wife to listen to local commercial radio stations in case one of my ads came on. How are we still married?!
Jon, of course you are most recognisable for being the first male UK voice of Siri. Do you have any weird or wacky stories about being recognised as ‘that’ voice?
Jon: Because it is very low bandwidth, people don’t generally recognise it as me – they just have a strange feeling that they’ve heard my voice somewhere before – that happens all the time. These days I just tell them I’m the voice of Dogs on TikTok – (another anomaly which has occurred from the original TTS recordings and happened during 2020-21) which amuses Gen Z no end.
How about you, Pete? Many may know you as “Hoxton” from the video game PAYDAY 2. Do you have any fun things you do to prepare for these more ‘character’ based roles?
Pete: Most VOs have a key phrase that enables them to jump back into the character. For Hoxton, it just involves a short bust of Yorkshire swearing, and them I’m locked in!
We know that you do more than voiceover. Both of you work as “Voice of God” announcers, and Jon you also moderate events and host several podcasts. What is a typical day like for each of you, trying to juggle multiple aspects within the industry?
Jon: Ah well – there is no such thing as a typical day – it varies hugely. Lockdown was a revelation as I finally had a regular schedule – every day was the same! I love the fact that I am able to switch from radio to TV, to coaching and training, to writing and podcasting to funeral celebrancy – ah yes that’s another side of my work… for another time! These days a lot of my attention is on a new company that I am a part of called Include Me. It’s a brand new consultancy that deals with CQ – Cultural Intelligence and is designed to assist companies with their Diversity and Inclusion requirements, It will help them start the conversations we need to have if we want everyone to have an equal chance at life and remove all forms of discrimination and division. It’s a step away from performing and my previous coaching and mentoring work has led me to the creation of the new company, which is very exciting.
Pete: Yes, as Jon says, there’s no such thing as a typical day. It’s one of the things I enjoy most about the job – not knowing what today may hold. (school-run and dog-walk aside). I might be voicing an e-learning about the hydraulic systems on Mercedes Benz cars in the morning, and auditioning to be an Orc with a cockney accent in the afternoon. I also create showreels for other voice-over artists (being uniquely placed as a former VO agent, as well as VO artist).
I enjoy the “live-ness” of my Voice Of God jobs – it gets the adrenaline going, and there’s a satisfaction in helping to oil the cogs of a machine that’s been months in the making. Plus I always meet interesting new people amongst the crew.
I’m also involved in my local amateur dramatics society, and my community choir is celebrating its 10th anniversary this month.
How do you feel the Pandemic has altered the way you work, in voiceover, and the other fields you are in?
Jon: I’m not sure it has altered the way I work – I think it has made me value face to face interactions more – but I was always someone who wanted to fill the day as much as possible – and so my answer to most questions or suggestions is “yes” – so long as the sentence doesn’t involve the word “bungee” or “parachute”. I think it has reinforced my view that plans are silly as you are not actually in control of your destiny – so make the most of today and live in the present as much as you can.
Pete: What Jon said. I’ve been working mainly from home for the last 22 years, so I count myself very lucky not to have been too badly affected by the lockdowns. My day to day life really didn’t change much at all.
The Pandemic crippled the events industry of course, so there was a good 18 months with no live Voice Of God work, and the less said about trying to conduct a choir rehearsal over Zoom, the better!
Can you offer 3 helpful tips for newbies trying to make it in the voice-over industry? Jon, do you have extra trips for those wanting to become presenters or wanting to start their own podcast?
Jon: Be yourself – don’t try and be what you think a voice over or a presenter is. Remember that there are not lots of people out there in “radioland” – only one person can hear you at once – so you are only ever talking to one person – it’s just a coincidence that there are 500 of them all sitting in one room when you step on that stage, and be nice to everyone you meet. Not every step is a ladder in your career, there are going to be a few snakes too – so be amazing to work with and you’ll always find employment.
Pete: Okay, firstly: get some training. There are lots of organisations offering this – ask around to see who people recommend – do some research on Facebook, and don’t give up your day job til you understand the industry!
Secondly: don’t do a demo til you’re ready. So many people spend good money on a bad demo, and casting directors and agents generally know if you’re a noob. After all – listening to VO demos is what they do every day!
Thirdly: if you’re trying to land agency representation – do your research, and make a personal approach. You’re proposing to be part of the agency’s team for years, even decades, so don’t spam everyone with “dear sir /madam”.
Who do you look up to in the industry? Do you have any business mentors?
Jon: I think anyone who has made a name for themselves in this industry is worthy of admiration. It’s a great business to be in but be under no illusions it’s tough and much harder now than when I started. Scrutiny on social media doesn’t make it any easier
Pete: Is it really cheesy if I say I look up to my big bro? Jon has given me so many brilliant opportunities over the years: the chance to launch a voiceover agency and help build it from the ground up; the chance to become a voiceover artist without having to give up my day job; and the chance to spend 25 years being part of a really successful business. Jon has always been full of ideas and inspiration, as well as foresight about where the industry is heading next.
Yep. Jon Briggs.
Oh, and that guy who does the voice of Spongebob Squarepants.
And, now on a more serious note….!
If you had a choice between two superpowers, being invisible or flying, which would you choose, and why?
Jon: Flying. Time is always at a premium and I would adore the chance to be able to see the people I love, who don’t live so close to me, by flying there and not contending with the godawful roads, bad drivers or vile public transport network!
Pete: Could I have time-travel please? There never seems to be enough time in the day. Plus, time-travel would be like a big “Ctrl Z” in life. Failing that I’ll go for flying. Ta.
You’ve been given a giraffe. You can’t give it away or sell it. What would you do with the giraffe?
Jon: I would teach the giraffe to play the piano and we would tour the world as a duo – entertaining heads of state and taking a residency in Las Vegas.
Pete: I would ride it across the Serengeti into a glorious sunset. Then I guess I would have to kill it for meat and sell its hide.
You find a time machine. What do you do with it?!
Jon: The sensible thing would be to dismantle it immediately as it is bound to cause more chaos than good – but in reality (such that there is a reality in a story involving a time machine) I’d go back and have tea – actually lots of teas – with my Mum one last time.
Pete: Oh cool! I do get to do time-travel (see above answer). I would visit my own past as an observer, and no doubt cringe at all the cringey bits. I would visit Rickmansworth in medieval times and see if I recognised any of it. I’d put a fortune on the Grand National in 1990 so I’d be minted. Also, I’d never be late for anything ever again.
And I’d go back to early 2019 and tell someone very special how very loved they were.