Setting Your Voiceover Talent Fees
As Voice Talent Just Starting in the Business

This month, we tackle the often challenging question of what to charge for your voiceover talent. Here's a question from Laurie of Seattle:

I am new to the voice acting field,  and have enjoyed your book and online information very much... thank you for being so willing to be available to help those of us just starting out! It is so appreciated...

I have a question I was wondering if you would mind answering for me? As I plan to be a freelance, non-union entity for awhile while I gather experience, I'd like to know what exactly to offer as a fee schedule for commercials and industrials. Since I realize my range is still limited ,compared to more experienced talent, I want to be fair in what I charge without over-pricing, or undercutting myself. Can you give me any advice? I read what you said in your book about non-union rates being between $50 and 250, but can you break that down for me as to what to charge for what? Thank you so much for any help you can offer!

Laurie A. - Seattle, Wa

Here's my response:

For non-union talent, pricing can be a bit tricky. We had a lengthy discussion about talent fees recently at the last class of one of our 8-week workshops. The essence of the discussion was that the fee a VO talent charges for their work is directly related to the confidence that individual has in their ability to perform at a professional level. To put it another way: Let's say the current AFTRA union rate for a local radio commercial session fee is $200. If, after learning your craft and producing a high-quality demo, you believe you can perform at a level of competence equal to similar union talent in your area, you might consider basing your talent fee at or near AFTRA scale. However, if you believe that since you are just starting out in this business you aren't worth the professional fees other voice actors in your area are earning, then the talent fee you set for yourself will perfectly reflect what you are worth. Keep in mind, though, that if you are charging $200 as your talent fee, you will be expected to perform at that level of professionalism and competency.

OK, I know that sounds vague, but the point is you're experience in the business has very little to do with your ability to perform at a professional level. I've seen people come out of a workshop, and 6-months later, they're performing at a level easily equal to voice artists who have been doing this for years. The easy thing to do is to price yourself comfortably low, thinking that your low fee will attract more business or is "fair" because of your inexperience. But if you set your fee low, then what will be the perceived value of you as a performer to those who are booking VO talent? I know of one voice-actor who charges only $25 for a dry voiceover read :60 commercial. Is he worth $25? Absolutely! Is he worth more than $25 - and even more important - will he attract clients who expect a $100 - $200 performance? Probably not. This $25 performer has built his entire business on the premise that he will be able to cater to extremely low budget clients, with the expectation that he will make up in volume what he is discounting in fees. He's also living in a part of the country that has a fairly low cost of living - definitely not in LA or NY. And, in my opinion, from the sound of the demos on his website, his talent fee is perfectly placed for the level of performance he provides.

Another thing to consider is the percentage of your talent fee that you actually get to keep. For example, if you're in an average tax bracket, you can expect to see roughly 50% of your talent fee be dedicated to taxes, insurance, marketing, and other things that reduce your profit. So, if your talent fee is $25.00, you're really only making about $12.50. What is your time worth? What is your talent worth to your clients? And, what is the perceived value you want your clients to have of you as a professional voice actor?

OK, so let's say you realize you have little or no experience doing voice work, but you are eager to get some experience. Do you give your talent away at bargain basement prices just to get the experience? Or do you charge a reasonable, competitive fee for your serivces? That's not necessarily an easy question to answer. I've done it both ways, and my favorite way to describe doing spots on spec, is a quote from the great Mel Blanc: "Spec is defined as doing something now for free with the promise that you'll be paid more than you're worth later on. Spec is also a small piece of dirt!" I stopped doing voice work on spec quite some time ago, however, I will provide free auditions - but that's another subject.

One very nice aspect of voiceover work is that absolutely no one needs to know that you don't have any experience. If you have studied your craft and believe you can perform at a professional level, you'll most likely do just fine. And to make sure you are performing at a professional level, you'll want to continue learning the craft by taking workshops, studying what other voice actors are doing locally, reading other VO books, and perhaps even traveling to an out-of-town seminar to learn new skills and polish those you already have.

It is impossible for me to tell you what you should charge for a specific type of VO work. The Seattle market is completely different from San Diego, or Chicago, or Tucson. In order for you to set your individual talent fees you'll need to do some research in your market. As you contact potential clients be careful that you do NOT submit to the temptation to explain your services and what you charge. The moment you mention a dollar amount, you immediately set the tone for the rest of the conversation. If your fee is too high, your prospect will back off or end the conversation. If your fee is too low, your prospect may go ahead and book you immediately - however, you won't have any room for negotiation AND the next time that client calls, they will expect the same fee from you regardless of the project. I recommend that you first learn as much about the project as possible before even addressing the issue of compensation. If your conversation begins with the question "what do you charge for a radio commercial voiceover?" you'll need to move away from that issue by asking things like: how many spots; how long will you be needed (a one-page :60 commercial can easily take anywhere from 10 minutes to more than an hour of your time); where will the recording be done (travel time and mileage costs may be a factor here); and what is the ultimate use of the recording (radio, TV, Internet, corporate, etc.). You need to know these things and more before you can even begin to quote a price.

At some point during the conversation, it will be appropriate for you to ask the question "what is your budget for voiceover talent?" This puts the ball in their court and you are not yet committed to a specific fee. You can also mention that since you are non-union, you have some flexibility with your rates, but you can't quote a price until you know what you will be doing. As non-union, freelance voiceover talent, you have the luxury of negotiation that is usually not afforded to union voice talent. Only after interviewing your prospect will you be able to make an educated decision to 1) decide what you will charge for your time and professional services, and 2) decide whether or not you even want to do their project. When you find out that your prospect wants you to record three :60 radio commercials, and they've only got 1 hour of studio time booked and a total talent budget of $200 (for you and the other two voice talent), you may decide its just not worth it. Or you may choose to do the project for the experience, a credit line, and a copy of the final spots. But you've made an educated choice.

Here are a few tips for finding out what the talent fees are in your market:

Begin by researching AFTRA Union rates, which are posted on-line at www.aftra.com.

For local non-union talent fees: when you are pitching yourself to video producers, radio stations, and other VO talent buyers, you should ask if they book union or non-union voice talent. If they say they do book non-union talent, you can simply ask the person you are speaking to what their usual budget range is for voiceover talent. Most will be happy to give you a price range of what they pay. You may discover that many talent buyers have a common fee they pay. For example, the going rate for voicing a :30 TV spot in San Diego at one time was $100.00 regardless of which TV station was producing the spot. Cable TV producers paid a talent fee of about $40.00. After making a few calls, you'll learn what the questions are that need to be asked, and how to ask them.

The bottom line for setting your talent fee is two-fold: First, to be competitively priced in your market, you need to know what other VO talent in your market are being paid, and Second, you need to have the confidence and ability to perform at a level of professionalism expected from voice actors who are paid those fees.

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