Paid Upfront

Working online involves situations where your gut instinct tells you, “I had better get my money now, before I do this job.” Where does this instinct come from? It does not matter. Gut instinct requires no education. It can be considered your “survival instinct”, too. Do you remember how every time that agent called you, and you went to a casting director’s office, you had this understanding that speaking out of turn would lead to the casting director calling the agent on you, and that might ‘get you in trouble’? Well…Forget about ‘those times.’ Welcome to the Internet, where you get to act as your own business and take 1000% responsibility for everything that happens to you.

First rule of thumb: Trust your gut instinct, and I do mean ‘your gut instinct’, when it comes to working with people AFTER that email stating you are hired. I say this because one of the most uncomfortable situations to be in is when someone starts to get a bit ‘greedy’ with your services, and when you feel that happening, your gut may be telling you to stop and say, ‘I am sorry. I am going to need to be paid upfront to continue.’ The situation always seems to play out the same exact way, and this is where voice talent must remember they are a business, and not a doormat:

  1. Audition happens.
  2. Email comes back, “We love it! But can you try reading this way doing the following… (insert advice)”
  3. You think of that as a ‘callback’ if you will, and you submit again.
  4. Client writes back, ‘Almost! Can you try it this way? The client likes your voice, but wants to make sure you are right for the job.’

…and that is where you hit the brakes. You may be working with someone who thinks, as many people do, that websites are free OR has no intention of paying. This is where the voice talent has to calmly express (not dramatically) his or her business-end:

  • Ask the person for an email address, or client name, before continuing. You are now about to submit a third recording for a job you do not even know, if you have booked! It can just be a simple, ‘Hey, I never got your name and email. We should stay in touch!’
  • When you get that info, look the person up! It is ok. You are protecting your business, and businesses research each other online.
  • If the results of your search come back uncertain, or give you a bad gut feeling; before submitting anymore recordings, ask for payment upfront, and state why, politely.
  • Try: “Hi, I am sorry, but I have been re-recording auditions. Would it be possible to confirm that I have been hired, or be paid upfront for this work to continue?”
  • There is nothing wrong with you having a policy to protect your own business. Just be mindful that your policy does not read as, “I think you are stealing.” Accusing anyone of anything is the fastest way to kill a deal.

The best time to ask for payment in advance is strictly when you find someone is beginning to ask for more of your ‘time’ than you have available, and you sense someone is attempting to take advantage of you. Below, I am going to list the most common reasons voice talent have expressed they have asked for payment in advance. By no means are the statements below accusing anyone of anything:

  • Working with clients not from your country, and cannot find business info on client
  • Working with party DJ’s, who need sound clips.
  • Working with clients who alter deals after they have been agreed upon.
  • Working with someone who suddenly becomes high maintenance when simply communicating

Perhaps the greatest example of ‘when you should get payment in advance’ took place in late 2009. You can read about that here. The grandest positive that came from such a story was that it displayed just how small and tightly knit the online voice over community has become over the years. :)



  • Marc Scott

    April 24, 2012 at 4:17 pm Reply

    In all the years I’ve been doing this I’ve had exactly one client rip me off. Some may say I’m fortunate. I just like to think that I’m selective about my work and most voice seekers are actually honest people looking for a service.

    Nevertheless there are people who will try to take advantage of you. You do have to be smart and you do have to be prepared to have uncomfortable conversations.

    My advice is don’t get confrontational from the beginning and don’t assume the worst. Sometimes it really is just a simple misunderstanding.

    Thanks for the great post. I’ll be sharing it.

  • David LaBonte

    January 1, 2013 at 3:24 pm Reply

    Hi, Just my two cents! I always make “payment upfront” clear when submitting auditions…but I do that with a caveat…In the remarks section…”Full Payment is due prior to the release of the audio. (I do make exceptions for established producers/Agencies/Broadcast outlets… so ask!) Honestly my experience has has been established clients have no problem with this requirement in fact expect it…and in the case where I make exceptions it’s an Ad Agency or Broadcast oulet that just isn’t set up to do business that way (they are usually apologetic and then negotiate something that is acceptable to both of us). Have I lost out on some jobs because of it, highly likely..but I look at it in the light that I’ve ruled out potential problem clients. So to Stevens’ question to Marc…for real professional outfits asking for your money before delivering the audio is business as usual….NOT CONFRONTATIONAL. Steven I think your diplomatic solutions are helpful to many and help create a professional atmosphere…as always thank you for helping so many!

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