The Voiceover Financial Limbo Dance
Chris Wagner

You’ve heard of and probably seen the Limbo.  It’s the ‘under the stick’ dance where people line up and dance under a stick and each go-round, the stick gets lowered one notch at a time. It’s fun, exciting and always the hit of the party. 

Just recently I received an email with another version of the Limbo. This one involves all the folks in the non-union Voice Over world.  The email pointed me to eBay - specifically an auction for voice over services.  What a deal!  You can purchase a :60 commercial for only $25 or book narrations are listed at $5 per page.  Oh, the amazing world of the Internet!

Now, I have no issues with eBay, it is a fine company and I have done quite a bit of buying and selling with them.  The issue I have is with the ‘voice talents’ who want to undercut everyone else in the industry.  It’s the ‘Voice Over Financial Limbo Dance’, it really is!  What they don’t understand is that when you advertise you will do a VO job for $10 or $25 you bring the rates down for everyone.  It’s a competitive enough business as it is, without having to deal with a client saying “Well, I can get that done by another talent for $5. Can you match that?”

The next thing I expect to see, as more people try to break into the voice over business, is ‘studio’ tents at swap meets, recording at deep-cut rates. Or people set up on the side of the road with some recording equipment, selling flowers, vegetables, and oh, yeah, "Would you like a custom phone greeting with that"?  Or how about the classic - a cardboard sign stating:

Will Read Your Commercial
 for Food

No matter how desperate you are to get work in this business, don't sell out your long-term earning capacity, or that of your fellow voice actors, by offering your talent at bargain basement rates.  Once you start low-balling your talent, it’s nearly impossible to move up out of that financial basement.  It also makes it harder to get an agent. Hey, if you don’t think you’re worth the money, they won’t either. And professionally speaking, it’s a turn-off for most clients to read your rates on your web site with a note at the bottom of the page stating something like, “Don’t like my rates? I’m ready to negotiate”!  Look, it's a much better idea to set some reasonable rates, compatible with the voice industry, and stick with them.  It’s an issue of psychological value, and you have value! You must be confident in that for your clients to feel the same way. 

There have been people who ask me to do voice over work and as we get to the money talk, if they aren’t willing to pay my rates, we simply don’t do business.  Every business operates this way – there are rates, they can be somewhat negotiated, but if they want your voice and your rates are reasonable, there’s no reason for you to fold on your price. Remember, your voice is the product you market. It’s not a tangible product like a widget or a hot dog or a car. But your voice definitely helps your clients to sell their widgets, hot dogs, and cars.

 “But I’m just starting out,” you say, “and I have to ask for less for my spots. Right?” No! Wrong. You don’t have to ask for less.  You are a professional voice actor, delivering your best first-rate performance on your very first job, and on every job after that. Of course you’ll learn and grow into a seasoned actor as you work more. That’s true in every career.

Everyone starting out in any profession, no matter how much training they have, is expected to also learn on the job. Unless your goal is to offer your voice work for the lowest possible rates, you’re way better off to quote your standard rate right from the start.  In the Limbo they only lower the bar as the dance continues - they don't raise it! Once you set low rates - don't expect clients to look kindly upon you raising them dramatically. Generally speaking, businesses who hire you are less concerned with your experience level than with "Can you deliver?"

 By acknowledging your own professional status, continuing to study the craft of voice acting, and giving your best performance on every job, you’re entitled to set your rates at a fair competitive edge starting with the very first job. This way, you'll have self respect, client respect, and the respect and gratitude of your fellow voice actors for not degrading yourself and everyone else. By doing so, you’ll wind up having more work, you'll continue to get interesting jobs and you won't wind up trying to squeeze under that Limbo bar as it moves lower and lower.

Chris Wagner has been in the Voice Acting business since 1987, he also works for Sun Microsystems, Inc. as a Knowledge Engineer, and a primary voice talent for Sun’s educational and marketing departments.  Chris is originally from San Diego and now resides in Denver, Colorado with his wife, two sons and their dogs. Chris is the web designer for our hosting service. hosts websites for voice talent and specialty performers. An excellent example of a simple one-page voice talent site with demos is If you are looking for a website host or designer. 

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