Graham Bannerman is a presenter and a voiceover artist but he’s also been a TV agent. Having worked both sides of that particular talent coin he has a unique perspective on the world of TV presenting. Graham kindly agreed to answer our questions:
How did you get into the media in the first place? What was your first job?
I was that classic Tea Boy hanging around long enough until they gave in and gave me a job! I will be forever grateful to those kind people at Radio Orwell in Ipswich, who put up with the 18 year old kid who thought he could be a DJ.
I started my working life as a Tape Reclaimer, for younger readers this was where you had to stick bits of used audio tape together so journalists could go out and record using those massive Uher portable tape recorders…you would be in serious trouble if you left a bit of leader tape in the middle and the reporter missed the key moment of interview with the local MP!
After eventually getting on the air in Suffolk on an Easter Sunday in the early 80’s I really got the bug and was lucky enough to go straight from Radio Orwell to Radio 1 where I presented a Saturday Evening Show and made trails. Radio One was a turning point, I learnt so much about what to do and how to do it. Part of my job there was to be a trails producer and that’s where I came across some real giants of the Voice Talent world.
After Radio 1 it was off to my home county of Essex and the highly successful commercial radio station Essex Radio, where I stayed happily for 9 years one way or another…..and then it was the bright lights of TV!
You’ve had a number of different roles in TV. What factors made you change course?
You are right I have had a few different roles in TV, mainly around Continuity Announcing. I was on ITV for a total of 12 years, possibly too long as I perhaps got myself in to a very comfortable place and I think that if you are in the media business its sometimes good to take a swerve every so often. I ended up running the ITV Network announcing team when it started, and particularly liked nurturing new talent but I was also a great believer in mixing the new with the more experienced.
This role was what you could loosely call talent management and that was the route I eventually took when I decided it was time to move on by setting up my presenter agency. I had this idea that I could replicate the team approach in an agency, the only problem was there’s no team in talent and I quite quickly found out how tough it can be!
Having been an agent yourself what did you learn about the reality of finding on-screen jobs for talent?
I had a really good roster of talented people and I set off on my new mission full of enthusiasm. All I can tell you is that I have renewed respect for agents. You have to have super human reserves of positivity because you are going to hear the word “no” more often than you hear “yes please, here’s a lucrative contract for your client”!
My problem was I was living it too much through the eyes of my talent and I really wanted to do well so they would think I was the best agent ever. Sadly the reality is they are not bothered about that, all they want from you is the next top presenter job and lots of money. As a presenter/VO myself again now, I can understand that entirely – presenters have to put food on the table just like anyone else.
What I learnt was that it’s really not that easy. You need a brilliant contacts list so you can simply pick up the phone and get straight through to the producer or controller without them thinking ‘who on earth is this’. I honestly thought I could cultivate the contacts and I did ok but nothing compared to the more established agents.
On the subject of established agents it’s interesting to note that even some of these have ceased trading in the last few years, so it really is tight out there. The truth is that there are very few gigs, people are sitting tight, channels are very risk averse and there’s little money around. Agents have been squeezed out of the picture, apart from those looking after the very top artists.
My wake up moment was when I realised I would have to generate gross income of £300,000 to gain a profit of £45,000 per year (assuming a 15% commission). I know £45,000 looks a big figure but you have to consider the huge amount of leg work, phone calls, meetings etc you have to clock up to get to that point whilst also running an office. So from a business point of view it’s very demanding for a small profit.
What advice would you give presenters wanting to get an agent or find work on screen?
Honestly I would take the DIY approach.
People decide who to hire on so many factors but never underestimate the likeability factor (as Simon Cowell has often said). I know that sounds a bit simplistic but it’s honestly true, especially now when producers and channels can have their pick. You’ve got to be the most brilliant presenter ever for people to put up with you being a right royal pain in the……..!
The good news is that the web enables you to amplify these ‘soft’ skills and help others to get to know you.
What sort of work can a voiceover artist expect to get?
Well I’ve been a voiceover now for a fair while and I can honestly say I’ve done all sorts. This month it’s been everything from value pizzas, posh cars, and medicines. And that’s what I love, the variety.
Most of the work available to a voiceover starting out would be things like phone prompts, internet radio ads that kind of thing. As time goes on and you build a portfolio of work those bigger jobs come your way and you may find yourself in a posh West End studio being directed by agency people, I have to say though that those sessions are something of a rarity now as a lot of producers want you to record in your own studio.
Can anyone be a voiceover artist? Surely it’s just talking well?
It’s a lot more that just having a good voice. You have to have a distinctive quality to how you sound, not just being clear but something a little different for producers to hook on to. You also have to be part marketer, part recording engineer and then be able to deliver on cue. I think being a voice actor is valuable as well, if you’ve got that and a good voice….happy days!
Do you believe it’s possible to make a living from presenting and voice over work alone?
For presenting yes, but it’s getting tougher….and for purely voiceover work I would say no.
Presenters on TV need to have a speciality, telly loves experts and those experts do lots of other things apart from present. Radio presenters can make a full time living but only on the medium/bigger stations, a second income stream would be useful for the smaller commercial stations I would suggest!
As for VO work, I would say it represents about 25% of my income these days….valuable income and work I really enjoy, but I have other things I do to keep the money coming in.
Any unfulfilled ambitions?
Yes! I’d love to be a featured voice on a major TV show. You see it’s always good to have a dream in this business, keeps you going! I greatly admire the likes of Alan Dedicote on the Lottery, Marcus Bentley on Big Brother and Peter Dickson on X-factor, they’ve really put their stamp on those high profile shows, even though we never see them….that’s the mark of a good voice.
Thank you Graham – and producers, he’s ready for his prime time TV show! You can find Graham’s website with showreel HERE: http://www.grahambannerman.com