Voice-acting tips from
"The Art of Voice Acting Workshop"


A common question from those just starting out in voiceover is how to set their talent fees. The money side of voiceover is something many voice actors are reluctant to discuss, perhaps because of a fear of competition or perhaps because they feel their financial arrangements should be kept personal. This makes setting a price on talent often a confusing and difficult thing to do for someone just starting out. So, here are a few thoughts on the subject for your consideration.

If you are just starting out, you won't be in the union - and you probably shouldn't consider joining until union membership becomes absolutely necessary. But just so there is nothing left out, let's start with union talent. The performance fee (scale) is set by the union, AFTRA (or SAG), so you as the voice artist have little to say about how much you will actually earn from a session. If you have an agent (and most union talent do), their commission is normally added on top of the union scale talent fee, as are other union fees. If you are very good, and in demand, your agent may be able to negotiate a talent fee "above scale", but rarely will union talent work "below scale". The union's web site, www.aftra.com has lots of interesting information about union rates, and although union talent fees may not be appropriate for someone starting out, the information is still valuable. Bottom line: if you're a member of AFTRA, you pretty much know what you will be earning for every session you work.

VO pricing for non-union freelance talent is a different matter entirely, and is something that will be unique to each community. If you have representation by an agent, they will take care of the pricing and will handle negotiations for you. When one of your personal contacts inquires about your fee, you should refer them to your agent. This does two things: 1) it takes the heat of negotiating your fee off of you, and 2) creates a much more professional image for you as a performer. As non-union talent, your agent may be permitted to take a much higher commission than if you were union talent. Some agents will add their commission on top of your talent fee, but many will take the commission off the top of your fee before you get paid. In California, an agent can charge a commission of up to 25% of the talent fee for non-union talent, whereas they are limited to 10% for union talent. Agent commissions may vary in different states.

If you are freelancing without representation, it's a bit tougher to set your rates.

Assuming you are marketing yourself, without an agent, here are some of the factors that will affect how you set your fees:

  1. Your experience and abilities: How good are you at setting character quickly, finding the right interpretation, seeing the big picture, working as a team player, taking direction, etc? The more skilled you are as a performer, the more likely you will be able to demand a higher fee - especially once you have established a name for yourself and are confident with the work you do.
  2. Prior experience and clients: Have you already done some work for a few satisfied clients? If so, their names may help to establish credibility and thus help to justify a higher fee. Be sure to consider any recent work for inclusion in your demo - but make sure its good enough in both recording quality and in performance quality.
  3. The client's budget: If you're freelancing, and non union, you'll need to be flexible and decide if you want to work for a minimal fee (which is all that many small or independent producers are willing to pay). Keep in mind that local radio stations will often give away production and voice talent for free just to get an advertiser to buy time on their station, and many independent producers will offer to do the voice work themselves in an effort to save a few bucks. Your challenge as a voice artist is to offer a service that is superior and more effective for the client than what they can get from a radio station or a producer who does their own voice work.
  4. Can you justify your fee? - This gets back to your abilities. If you market yourself with professional print materials and a dynamite demo, you had better be able to meet the level of expectations of your client when they book you for a session. If you give the appearance of an experienced pro, but can't deliver, word will spread fast and it may be a long time before you can overcome a negative image. The challenge in setting your fee is to match the fee to your abilities and still be within the range of other freelance talent, without creating an impression that you will "work cheap" or that you are "overpriced".
  5. Consider your market: Non union talent fees vary greatly from market to market. In order to set an appropriate fee for your talent, you'll need to find out what other voice actors are getting paid in your area.

Your training is of less importance than your abilities as an actor. Of course, you must have a great sounding demo, but you need to have the abilities to match. Don't ever think you know all there is to know about working with voiceover copy. Continue taking classes and workshops, read books and practice your craft daily.

As for setting actual rates, different people handle this in different ways. There are two basic categories of voice work: short form and long form. Short form includes primarily radio and television commercials (projects under 1 minute or so); Long form is usually anything longer than one minute, whether its a character part for an animated film, or a narration for a corporate training tape.

Most voice talent set their fee for short form projects based on whether it will air on radio only, TV only, or a combined air play. Radio is usually the lowest rate, TV a bit higher and combined airplay a bit higher still. Some freelancers will charge one fee regardless of the media. For example: the talent fee for a commercial airing on radio only might be $100. If the spot is airing on TV only, the fee might be $125 (TV tends to reach a larger overall audience). If the performance will be used for both radio and TV, the fee might be $150 (the basic radio fee plus 50%). This formula is just an example, but you get the idea. Another aspect of air play is how long the commercial will be running, and if it has the potential for being used again in six months or next year. Freelance voiceover work is almost always paid on a "buyout" basis, which means you only get paid once and there are no residuals (as with the re-use of a spot with union talent). You'll need to decide on what is a reasonable fee for your work and if you should charge a higher fee if your performance is going to be used for a long period of time.

Fees for long form projects can be handled in several ways: Some talent prefer to book by the hour, usually with a one hour minimum and a certain fee per hour (or half-hour) after the first hour. This is the way AFTRA sets their fees. Other talent book long form projects on a per-page basis, with a set minimum page for, say, 5 pages, then a per page rate for each additional page.

It's not practical to give any specific numbers in this article, simply because every market is different and there is a tremendous range in talent fees for non union, freelance voice talent. For example, in San Diego, the average talent fee for a non union voice actor is approximately $100 for a commercial. However, the actual range for voiceover talent fees will vary from a low of around $40 to well above union scale.

So, how do you find out what the numbers are in your area? If you have representation, your agent should be able to give you some insights so you know the fee being sought on your behalf. If you don't have representation, you have some work to do. You can start by talking to the studio where you had your demo produced. (You did go to a studio didn't you?) Most recording studios in your area should have some idea of what voiceover talent fees are, assuming that they do voiceover sessions. You can also put on your detective hat and do a little research by calling your local talent agents to get an idea of rates in your area. Don't be surprised if some agents won't talk to you about rates, unless you appear to be interested in hiring someone. Agents are in the business of booking their talent, not in helping you figure out how to price yourself so you can compete with their talent.

Regardless of how the talent sets their fee structure, some producers may base what they will pay on a totally different set of standards. The best thing to do when talking to a talent buyer about a project is to avoid any mention of your fees at all. Get as much information as you can about the project. Make every effort to get them to give you an idea of what they want you to do, how much time might be involved, and what their budget is. You may discover that they will be willing to pay far more than you would have asked. On the other hand, you may also discover that their expectations are way out of line for what they are willing to pay. At that point, its up to you as to whether you want to take the job for the experience - or not.

It is a good idea to have a rate sheet handy for your own reference once you have decided on your fees. But I don't recommend making it available to prospective clients without a good reason. As freelance voice talent, you may find it necessary, or desirable, to take a job for a fee that might be either much lower or much higher than the rates you have set. However, I don't recommend doing any session work for free. Regardless of the project, there should always be some sort of compensation. Keep in mind that your performance has value and the perceived value of you as a voice artist by those who might hire you will be partially established by your fee. If a producer wants you to give them a quote you can always type up a specific proposal for them, but only after you have the information you need. As tempting as it may be, volunteering your rates at the beginning of a conversation when the person calling asks you "how much would you charge to . . ." can often result in your NOT getting the job. Only quote your fee when you have enough information to make a decision as to the value of your time and energy.

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