If you’ve seen a movie, watched TV or played a video game in the last 20 years you will have heard Redd Pepper’s exceptionally dulcet tones. He’s the “ONE MAN...” man. He’s the “COMING SOON...” man. He’s also one of the most prolific, best and professional voiceover artists in the world. Redd chatted to us about how he got to where he is today and, if you've got a silky voice, how you too can break into the voiceover industry.
I was 15 when my voice decided to break, I was coming down the stairs and said “GOOD MORNING” and my mum cracked up laughing. She goes "oh you think you're a man now!" I was like "well I kind of sound like it, don't I?!" Woke up, cleared my throat and it went right down there. Then it was all over the place before it eventually stayed down. As a 15 year old you’re not supposed to have a voice like this, so everyone would comment on it.
I left school and went straight to help Mr McDonald's then did some security work. Sitting in a building with a dog for twelve hours then walking around a building at night, looking at check points and stealing pens. I got fed up walking around with the dog so thought I'd like to be a fireman, did the training and joined the London Fire Brigade. It was quite a harrowing job and I didn't like it so I thought I'd get out of there.
It wasn’t till I was a tube driver that I was picked up by a television executive. I used to get really bored, so between Oxford Circus and Regents park on Halloween, when I had been driving for six hours, Ithought I’d have a bit of fun. I decided to stop the train at about ten o clock in a tunnel and turned the lights off so it was complete pitch darkness, picked up the public address system and said "This is your driver speaking. OR IS IT?! MUA HAHAHA."
I got disciplined for that, as a few ladies didn’t really like it, but it was fun! I was just doing the regular “mind the doors” stuff when a guy jumped off the train and started running towards me. I thought there was an emergency the way he was running. I opened the window and said "what's up?" and he said "you've got an amazing voice." And I said "er OK" and thought he was hitting on me.
Instead he gave me his card and told me I could do voiceovers. At the time I was like "what the hell is a voiceover” but he offered me a fat load of money to come in for one hour per week.
I didn’t think it would last so I was juggling my underground shifts with my voiceover job, which really didn't work so well. I was calling in sick a lot and not doing a good job, until I started believing in myself and I've been doing this for twenty years now.
The first bit of voiceover work I ever did was the Sci-Fi channel, just making the regular announcements in between programs. People heard me and wanted to use me for more things, and I didn't have an agent at the time so I got one and work started coming in.
Movie trailers are only a part of what I do. I loved doing Smokin’ Aces, I remember that because the trailer was just so cool. And Mr Bean’s Holiday was great, because I got to play with the audience: it starts off all serious and then suddenly you realise it’s a Mr. Bean movie. But these days a lot of movie trailers like loads of movement and then, at the end of it, you may say "THE BOURNE IDENTITY" and that's it.
There was an actor who used to do the Green Giant catchphrase and I recently did an advert for them. You know, “Ho ho ho… green giant!” That was an honour for me! To be asked to do that was amazing. I loved that.
There isn’t really a typical day, but the morning is always mine. I get up at like 5.30am every morning, I eat like five bananas (I'm serious about bananas) I'm in the swimming pool by six, I do about thirty or forty lengths, and the first voiceover can be any time between 9 and 11 in the morning. Sometimes earlier, but I usually like to be doing something before eleven so I'm fresh. It'll be different studios all over the place, one for the day, one for the week, sometimes six every day five days a week - you're never guaranteed anything. It’s always different.
Want to get into voiceover work? Here are Redd’s Big Tips:
1. It’s not just saying words - it’s acting. When people think of me, they think of “IN A WORLD…” or “ONE MAN…” but I have to do quite a variety to stay relevant. Cockney, posh, sensitive documentaries, Sport Relief, Comic Relief, Legoland - you need to know when to take the bass out of your voice, when to go higher, whether it’s horror or comedy. Some people in the industry turn up, say the lines and leave. But that's not good enough. If you're not professional about the whole thing, it's a small world and people will talk.
2. It's good when people realise what you can do, and it's good to have a variety of different voices. When people think of me, they think of the "ONE MAN..." movie trailers, but I can do loads of different accents and tones... But you have to use that experience in the studio, while executives are there, to demonstrate your range while messing about in between takes. So I sort of casually do different voices, or I go higher, and it surprises them and they suddenly know I can do other stuff, so they call me for more work.
3. In the real world, you need to have something to back you up other than voiceover work. I'm very, very fortunate. There's probably only a handful of us who have a permanent job doing this, but if you have the voice, it's a great thing to do part-time. Whether you’re a student, an actor or – to be honest – doing just about anything. If you've got the voice and one person of importance who really likes you, then you're in… but keep your options open.
4. You gotta network, you gotta get out to the parties and go “HA HA” and “HEE HEE” and let people know you're out there. You never sit back and think you've made it because it doesn't work like that - it's a tough industry and, like I said, there's a new voice every day. It's a simple job, but it's never going to last forever unless you put the work in as well.
5. Don’t cut corners. You have to sell yourself, so none of this "I'm not gonna spend money on a studio just to record my voice, I can do it on my iPhone" - forget about it. Directors and producers have finely tuned ears - they want to hear clarity rather than crackling, trucks beeping, or your mother doing the dishes behind you. Just your voice.
6. Research, research, research. Sit down listen to the adverts, listen to how the performers are delivering for whatever it is - it could be crisps, whatever. They speak as if they're not reading and they sound like they believe in the product. You could say Walkers crisps are the best crisps in the world, but you need to sound like you eat them everyday. That you're Mr Walker. That's the skill. That takes time, you gotta learn that. It's not just having the voice.
7. Create an audio showreel. If you've got different accents that's great, similarly if you can go really high or low then show them that. Be natural, don't force it because if you lie about what you can do because you'll get to a studio and you'll be expected to do what you did on your tape. And if you can't, then that doesn't look so good... it's a small world so don't piss people off because the work could just dry up.