Setting Rates

Setting rates as a voice talent involves the voice talent slipping into, ‘I am a business, not an artist’ mode. It is not always easy. For those who are curious, and decide to look online for advice, they may be hit with loads of bad information giving poor online business advice. I state this, before starting: Voice talent must grasp that they are now their own business.

It is true that working online has changed the way voice talent work and set rates, but this does not mean talent must be paid less. When it comes to setting rates, let us get one thing out of the way:  You are competitive because of the work you submit, the jobs you submit for, and how easy you are to work with…NOT the budget quote. A professional performance with a low budget quote can make a client think, “Where is the catch?”, or for the newcomer who thinks, ‘I will offer services for free to get practice’, keep in mind the business you are going to work for is not looking to teach you, or bear with you while you practice. It does not happen. Setting rates should involve taking everything you do into account as a business, such as:

  • Equipment costs
  • Overhead (your own costs from medical, family, taxes)
  • Per capita income of the country of the client
  • Profit

I cannot state enough that I have seen many discussions online that offer poor advice because the fear is that someone will under-quote to get voice over work. Voice talent, as a reaction to the fear of under-quoting, may charge too much, and they will never know it, but hold true to the belief “if I did not get work, someone must have done it for free”. An equally bad idea is telling someone, “I am charging you this because your budget was quite low”. Think about this: The next time you go in a restaurant and order a steak, if the chef comes out and looks at you and says, ‘The steak costs this much because I think most people are cheap and don’t know quality food’, you will feel attacked and leave the restaurant with a strong memory of the chef. Offline rates are what they are because every time you involve an intermediary, you involve a new person that has to be paid for the service they offer. So, if you did the work to get paid $1000 for online work, and you quote that price for yourself, and you get hired. What happens next?

  • You only pay taxes on it.
  • The money goes to you.
  • You decide what to do with it.

What is the trade off?

  • You have to go about the business of setting up how you will be paid, and that involves knowing payment methods, and having an organized business plan for invoicing, which I will write about next.

When it comes to ‘Union rates vs. Non-union rates’, let us be completely fair. Online casting is being used more for both union and non-union jobs. You may have noticed this, if you have been on any online casting site for more than 4 years. Still, regardless of “how they find talent”, the same facts apply:

  • Union rates are pre-determined and apply to everyone in the union, while non-union rates are individual choices unto that business entity.
  • There are times you will be paid more by setting your own rates; for example when you set up a contract with a client that comes back over and over again, or the client agreed to pay you more maybe just because of the time saved. Happier people tend to spend more money on things that make them happy.
  • Depending on where you live, and your own cost of living, being in a union can make a great deal of sense, but you may live in a part of the world where it does not make sense, financially. It does not mean you steal work.
  • Union and non-union jobs have always been two separate markets. Non-union work is more visible and attractive today, compared to ten years ago, due to online casting. The availability of professional talent for non-union work has led to a reshaping of an industry because a professional standard is being set by the individual professional voice talent, with the business savvy to know what they can charge.

If you would like to see a list of averages for voice talent rates, change your way of thinking. Try this:

  • Look at your own bills, and how much your career costs per month
  • How many hours are you putting in per job
  • What do you charge when they ask for you to re-record?
  • How much does it cost to “operate” : electric, equipment, tools

Decide what you should be charging for yourself to make a living. If you still want reassurance that there are rules to follow, take a look at this forum post on negotiating fees. Keep in mind that this is advice for you to run your business as a voice talent. Clients, honestly, do not care what hoops you jump through to get something done. They just want to feel smarter for working with you. If you know how much you cost, with confidence, they will buy into you. You are going to see many variations of rate cards because online casting is global. A client needing a voice over in another country is not always going to understand what the voice talent has to charge and why. With voice talent having this power to teach clients what acceptable rates apply to quality voice talent, the responsibility of the voice talent is to not abuse such power by setting unrealistic rates; for example, expecting the owner of radio station in Thailand, which has an average per capita income of just $4115.00 a year, to pay union scale because the talent lives in Los Angeles.

In a quick attempt to summarize: What you quote when you are auditioning online teaches those hiring what will be expected for the future. Use that power wisely. Voice over casting has gone global, and that must be accepted. Quote with integrity, and with the understanding that each budget quote teaches a client what they can charge next time.  All positive actions set trends that will be followed.

NEXT: PAYMENT METHODS

2 Comments

  • Angie Farruggia

    January 10, 2012 at 3:32 pm Reply

    Great advice Steven, started in the middle if this Guide …now I am going back to the beginning .Chapter 1.Thank you.Angie

  • Joe O'Neill

    May 30, 2013 at 12:53 am Reply

    Steve,

    Very informative website. I am a voice actor, but not an engineer. Don’t have the skill or patience to learn the skill of editing. How do I find a good one? And what is the going rate for a good one? Do editors work mostly on a fixed rate, or do they share revenue? What is standard split ratio?

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