Right off the bat: setting rates is difficult. Why? Because creatives are rarely either creepy money-mongers, or astute business folk. But you have to be—and sometimes both. Remember we said you’re the CEO and the entire staff complement of your company of one? You’re also the financial manager, the accountant, and the salesperson. As a voice-actor, you have little choice other than making the transition. For those who are curious and go online rates-hunting, chances are good you’re going to get hit by a freight train of bad information and poor business advice.
When it comes to setting rates, let us get one thing out of the way immediately: You’re competitive because of the work you submit, the jobs you submit for, and how easy you are to work with—NOT the low budget quote. As a professional voice practitioner, a low budget quote is likely to make a client think: where’s the catch?
There are industry standards, and you should adhere to those norms. Do some research and figure out what you should be charging for radio vs. tv and consider market size and length of cycle. Get all that information up front. It’s not unprofessional to know where your “product” will be used. They’re getting paid for using you, you should be paid accordingly for your time and talents. Also, you could offer estimates for your work. If it’s a long narrative piece, give them a break on volume. But build in plans and rates for revisions. As far as getting paid on time: submit your invoice, follow-up in a friendly manner if it’s not paid on time, follow-up again, and prepare to elevate matters if necessary. If you involve an attorney while trying to collect on outstanding invoices, make sure the amount you’ll recover is worth your time and the burned bridges that may result. You have to get paid, but the sad reality is that sometimes, jerks will get their way and slither away from their responsibilities.
If you’re a newbie who’s thinking: “I’ll offer my services for free to get practice,” don’t. Keep in mind the business you’re getting into isn’t looking to teach you, or interested in putting up with you while you learn. That’s not how this works. Setting rates should involve taking everything into account that you’ll do as a business, such as your
- Equipment costs
- Overheads (your own costs from medical, family, taxes)
- Per capita income of the country of the client
By the same token, a voice-actor—out of the fear of underquoting—may overquote and end up quoting him or herself out of the job altogether. There are numerous forum posts by voice-actors who grumble that they didn’t get a job because ‘someone must’ve done it for free’. An equally bad idea is telling a client: “I’ll charge you $ —- because your budget is so low.” Consider this: The next time you’re in a restaurant ordering a steak and the chef comes out to tell you that the steak will only cost $ —- because people are cheap and won’t (or can’t) pay for quality food, you’re likely to be somewhat disgruntled with the chef.
Offline voiceover rates are what they are because there are so many variables in the cost equation: there’s your own commuting time to the studio involved, the fact that you might be recording in an expensive studio in an expensive city; there are intermediaries like agents or producers involved, and every time there’s another person or compounding situation, that person services or the circumstances involved have to be paid for. That’s why, as a rule, online rates are cheaper.
Here’s another variable in the cost equation: Unions. Unions aren’t present in every country, but they certainly are in the US and the UK. Unions are a collective that charge a membership fee, but undertake to set standard fees for work done and protect their members accordingly—also legally in the case of non-payment. Union rates are usually higher than non-union rates. As an explanation:
- Union rates are predetermined and apply to everyone in the union, while non-union rates are individual choices. Union rates are most often set as minimums, not maximums.
- There are times when you’ll be paid more by setting your own minimum or maximum rates. For example: when you set up a contract with a client who comes back over and over again, or the client agreed to pay you more 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 doesn’t. Remember the online environment promotes an open market.
- Union and non-union jobs have always been two separate markets. Non-union work is more visible and attractive today when compared to 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 standard is being set by the individual professional voice-actor, who has the business savvy to know what they can charge.
(for more info about unions, see Section 10).
If you would like to see a list of averages for voiceover 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 electrical equipment and tools?
Decide what you should be charging for yourself to make a living. Clients, honestly, do not care what hoops you jump through to get something done. They just want to feel smarter and better off 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 voiceover in another country is not always going to understand what the voice-actor has to charge and why. With the actors having this power to teach clients what acceptable rates apply to quality voice work, the responsibility you have is not to abuse your position by setting unrealistic rates. The owner of a small radio station in India is unlikely to be able to afford the union scale rates of a voice-actor in San Francisco where the cost of living is probably three to four times higher.
What you quote when you’re auditioning online teaches those hiring you what to expect in the future. Use that power wisely. 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.
Here’s an incredibly valuable resource. It provides a significant opportunity for everyone in the business to learn about fair rates. The Global Voice Acting Academy team built an industry standard rate guide to help anyone interested in the voiceover industry to find out how to get the best out of every business relationship.
Check the Global Voice Acting Academy Rate Guide and SAG-AFTRA scale. Invoice immediately after the project is complete. Clearly state on your invoice that there is a finance charge after 30 days. Follow up politely if they are unpaid after 30 days and be persistent.
This guide is for voice-actors as much as for voice seekers or anyone else interested in doing business with a professional voice-actor. While you’re likely to find the guide useful, remember that to get the most out of it, you should apply it to every business transaction you do. You can also come back to it for reference as needed; the GVAA team will keep it updated. Also keep in mind that the guide is heavily weighted in favor of American rates and that these will obviously differ widely depending on where you are in the world.
Online casting has also impacted the way rates are set. VoiceBunny, for example, determines its prices on the basis of the amount of work involved, not on what the recording is going to be used for. The GVAA, on the other hand, does calculate its rates accordingly.