Setting Your Voiceover Rate Card

Dave in South Florida writes:

I am having a challenge with putting together a 'rate card'. In many of the potential jobs I have auditioned for, they ask for a rate card. I am fairly new at this (obviously), non-union at this point, I am wondering how I can figure out what a fair fee is per word, per page, per hour, etc. Is there anywhere on the Internet (or elsewhere)view a sample rate card????  By the way, I am of the belief that a truly successful person helps those around him succeed, and am grateful for sharing your answers to the critical questions that come your way!

Here's James' answer:

Thanks for writing, Dave. Your question on setting rates is a tough one to answer for several reasons. As a professional voice talent, you definitely want to make sure you are fairly compensated for your work. As you know, the trick is meeting the client's needs while staying within their budget, but without setting a precedence of "low-balling" your talent fee. Part of the problem is that many potential clients are uneducated and come from a generation of "price-shoppers". They'll often shop for the cheapest voice talent without understanding the value of experience, training, and professionalism from a voice actor. Setting yourself up with a USP of low-price for voice talent is not a good idea, either for yourself, or for other voice talent. If you set your price too low, you'll get the reputation of "working for peanuts" and it will be very difficult to increase your fees later on.

Another problem with setting talent fees is that different talent live in different areas with different standards of living. Because of this, some talent feel they can charge less because their overhead is lower, or simply because they want to get their foot in the door. Although their low price may get them some work, their level of professionalism will be questioned as their career advances.

The unions AFTRA and SAG were established, in part, to establish a standard of compensation and working conditions for performers, including voice artists. You'll find AFTRA minimum scale talent fees at www.aftra.com.  For experienced freelance voice talent, these rates are a good starting point for negotiation. For someone just starting out, it may be necessary to make some adjustments taking into consideration the level of experience, training, and prior voiceover work.

I have two recommendations: First, never ever state your talent fee until you interview the client personally to understand the requirements of the work you will be doing. Once you have an idea of what's being asked of you, you'll be able to make an intelligent and educated decision as to what you can ask for in the way of compensation. You'll be able to estimate the amount of time it will take to record the work and include any costs you might incur as part of the session. If you just provide a blind estimate, you could easily be working for less than free. My second recommendation is to make a few calls to recording studios, video producers, and cable & television stations in your area. Get to the production department and ask if they work with freelance voice talent. The purpose of your call is two-fold: 1) to introduce yourself as a local talent, and 2) to do some research on what they are used to paying for voiceover talent. It's likely that they may bring up the issue of your talent fee. If they do, you should turn that around by telling them that you are very competitive and your fees are based on the kind of work you do. Then, immediately follow-up by asking what they usually pay for a typical project.

In general, here's how typical talent fees are handled:

1) Radio/TV commercial: fee is on a per-spot basis - non-union talent fees are buyout for unlimited use. Some talent will charge 1.5 times the radio fee for television, or if the VO track will be used on both radio and TV.

2) Narration: fee is commonly based on a page rate. Some talent include studio time as part of the fee, while other talent will consider studio time an additional expense which is passed on to the client.

3) Animation/Character: fee is usually based on a session rate of a minimum 4 hour session for up to 3 voices. Adding a 4th voice moves the fee into an additional 4 hour session.

4) Telephone messaging (MOH, IVR): fee is based on either a page rate or a per-prompt basis.

When quoting a fee based on a page rate, I suggest having a standard for the page layout. We use 12 point Arial, double spaced, with 1" margins all around. If a script arrives in an email, or other format, it's usually pretty easy to copy/paste it into a Word document that can be re-formatted to the standard. This makes it easy to provide an accurate per-page quote.

I hope this is helpful.

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