This week, let’s discuss rates when bidding on voice over work.
OK since rates are perhaps one of the most debated subjects in the industry, this may be somewhat of a touchy topic. In this post I will try to lay out a reasonable discussion of rates and, with luck, avoid getting flame sprayed by my peers.
Let’s spend a few minutes talking about your rates for voice over. How do you determine what to charge?
Tread carefully! Here there be monsters!
The topic is touchy, because one side of the debate believes that every VO artist, regardless of their level of experience, should charge professional rates such as those negotiated by collective bargaining groups like SAG-AFTRA, while the other believes it is perfectly acceptable for new artists entering the world of voice over to work for reduced rates based on their experience. In all honesty, there are some salient points made on both sides of the argument and there is really no definitive answer to the question.
First, one of the main points made by the “professional rates” group make the case that artists accepting reduced rates for their services drive the rates down for the entire industry. They have a point, to a degree. If client A can get their project voiced for $100 (and that is not really an exaggeration) why should they pay someone $1000 to do it even when the VALUE of the project is $1000? Well, since every business is IN business to make a profit, they probably wouldn’t…or so the thinking goes. In reality, what happens is the number of clients willing to pay professional rates for work is certainly reduced, but not to zero. We’ll talk more later about how you should think about calculating rates, and what considerations there are, but suffice it to say that “bargain basement” VO rates will drive the average rates for the entire industry down.
Rates for the inexperienced
The “New artists can’t charge those rates” crowd ALSO has a point. Consider a client willing to pay top dollar for services. How likely are they to take a chance on an artist who is just getting started in the business and who they can’t feel reasonably confident can deliver consistently? New artists are competing with well-established and experienced artists for this work. Without a body of work, and the experience from doing it, these new artists will always be new artists and will never be able to compete with the “Big Boys”. There has to be a compromise.
An exercise in hiring
Imagine you are the hiring manager for a firm, and you are looking for a design engineer to fill a critical spot in your company. You post a job requisition online and begin receiving resumes, maybe you get 100 or so (not at all unusual). You review the resumes and decide on 20 people to interview. After the interview, you have whittled it down to two promising candidates who both meet all your qualifications and interviewed well. One is an engineer with 20 years’ experience, several patents and an impressive list of successful design programs. The other graduated from a well thought of engineering college 2 years ago, has limited experience and only one successful project under their belt. They are each seeking the same salary.
Which engineer are you most likely to hire?
I’ve been there!
Having been in this position in my “day job” several times in the last 20 or so years, I can tell you from experience that all things being equal, the experienced engineer will get that job 99 times out of 100. There is, in this example, a much higher level of risk with the less experienced applicant. Organizations don’t like risk. And neither do VO clients.
But, what if that less experienced engineer was seeking a much lower salary than the more experienced engineer? The odds of them being selected for the position go up dramatically! The cost or “investment” in that employee being lower reduces the risk dramatically, and companies are more willing to take the chance, because while the (for all you risk nerds out there) probability of realizing the risk remains the same the consequence is reduced because of the lower salary. The investment loss is less. If the risk is low enough, it is worth taking it for a fresh new person with limited experience.
Lower rates MAY compel a client to “Take a Chance”
By seeking a lower salary, the less experienced applicant makes himself more attractive to prospective employers, but at the same time WILL drive the average salary for an engineer down as well.
Of course, average salaries for engineers are determined by years of experience and are usually set for entry level, mid range and expert levels. Not really so with voice over rates.
But, you are NOT a design engineer
Voice over rates tend to be what they are regardless of experience level. I have searched and cannot find and “entry level” voice over rates. All of the rate guides I’ve found so far are based on several factors related to the JOB. In establishing “standard” voice over rates, no consideration is given for the experience level of the artist.
But let’s start out with an elephant in the room: There really ARE no “standard” rates for voice over, just rate “guides”, and unless you are a member of the union, each artist is free to charge whatever they wish for their services. In truth, even if you ARE a union member, joining the union is really just that decision (in a long line of decisions for your business) relating to how you set your rates; in essence joining the union, and agreeing to abide by charging union rates, is a rate setting decision by itself. So, setting aside all arguments on either side of the debate, remember that this is YOUR business (and it IS a business) and it is completely up to you to decide what your time, effort and investment in your business is worth to YOU. Study the rate guides, but then set your own rates.
In part, calling something a “standard” rate is disingenuous because the rate guides all make distinctions based on the job, and there is hardly a “standard” job. The voice over industry is so varied with numerous genres and sub genres, so that each voice over job is nearly unique from all others. But…and this is a BIG but…there are standard aspects that should be considered when determining what rates to charge your clients.
What are these considerations?
The first consideration is: What type of work is it? An audio book’s rates are going to be far different than an explainer video, or a radio or TV commercial. Is it a long form narration? Short? Somewhere in between? Is it for eLearning, animation, documentary? You see where I am going here…you have to determine what type of work it is first to establish a baseline. A 3-hour audiobook and a 3-hour documentary are going to have different values, even though they are both 3 hours long.
Next, what is the application? Will this be paid placement? Radio? TV? Local? Regional? National? International? Will it be used corporately just for clients? Employees? On the client’s website? How the client intends to use the work is important in determining the value of the work. You should never work for $100 on a project that can reasonably be expected to net the client 10’s of thousands. Usage is a key consideration.
Length of usage
Length of time is also a key consideration and goes to the same idea as usage. How long does the client intend to keep using the piece? Something that will run for 2 weeks, versus something running for 13 weeks, 6 months a year or (GASP!) in perpetuity will derive different value and different rates.
It’s really not a simple question
You can get a good idea of how complex pricing for voice overs is, by reviewing the Global Voice Acting Academy (GVAA) Rate Guide online. They do a really great job of breaking rates down by type, usage and time there. But if you have been doing this a while you’ll notice that as thorough as they were in putting this together, it is not completely comprehensive. You ARE going to need to bid on jobs that fall somewhere in between the rates given.
GVAA is what I use to establish a baseline for the rates I quote, but there are other rate guides you can consult. Here are a few I’ve found:
- Gravy For the Brain (you may need to be a paid member to view these)
- The Voice Realm
- Edge Studio
As you can see if you peruse the rate cards on these different sites, you’ll notice a difference between Union and non-Union rates AND that they don’t all agree all the time. That doesn’t mean they are not good references, just that, as I mentioned earlier, there really aren’t any “standard” rates in this business.
The most dangerous consideration
One other consideration that MUST be mentioned is: The client’s budget. While I do not suggest that the value of your work is determined by the client’s budget, I will point out that if the client has a budget of $100 for a job that should command $1000, spending (wasting?) your time auditioning and bidding far over their budget should be carefully considered. It’s possible your time might be better spent auditioning for work that is more in line with the value of the project. However, I encourage you to bid fairly and ethically on any job you audition for, even when it exceeds the clients stated budget.
BUT – Only you can determine your own value
All of that said, at the end of the day YOU have to set your own rates. Do you have a responsibility to the industry as a whole to keep rates from dropping across the industry!? Of course, to some degree, you do! If you ever want to book those high dollar jobs, working for pennies now will only serve to significantly reduce the number of them available to you later, and you’ll be competing with the BEST in the industry. Keep that in mind when you bid!
But you ALSO have a responsibility to you, your family and your business. It doesn’t do much good to take the moral high ground if you are going to get kicked out of your apartment, or have to scrounge for food. The case can be made that if you are incapable of booking jobs at professional rates, you need to find another career or work to improve your craft instead of taking the low paid jobs just to eek by. And that’s not completely wrong. But I submit this: There are always going to be people who either don’t really KNOW the value of the work you do, or how much time, sweat and money you have invested in the business or are just too cheap to pay professional rates. SOMEONE is going to book those jobs, why shouldn’t it be you?
I agree, somewhat, with that sentiment. You have to value yourself – not determine your value based on what others tell you – AND you have to feed your family. But a word (OK several words) of caution if you decide to pursue these jobs.
Proceed with caution!
First, and foremost, those people who legitimately don’t know or understand the value of what we as voice artists do are NEVER going to learn that way. We also have a responsibility to inform clients what the true value of what they need actually is. The people who know the value and are too cheap to pay it, are never going to pay reasonable rates. But you truly never know which is which unless you’ve worked with them before.
Don’t become the VO thrift shop
Secondly, you come to be known as the “Dollar General” of voice over. Not just by clients, but also by colleagues in the industry. One of the things we strive for in this industry, as in many others, is repeat clients. It is going to be virtually IMPOSSIBLE to raise your rates with a given client for future work. Not only that, but some amount of work will eventually come in the form of referrals from colleagues, if you are Dollar General, no one is going to recommend you! And after all, you DO want to be able to feed your family so if you are consistently working for below average rates, then you are going to be working twice as hard for half as much. So be very careful if you decided to go down this road.
There is only one person you have to answer to about your rates (well, two if you’re married)
When all is said and done, the only person who can set your rates or decide on how much you are willing to work for is: YOU. No one else can tell you what to charge for your service, but I sincerely hope this has given you some things to ponder when setting rates for your business, keeping in mind a responsibility to the industry as a whole as well as yourself and your family. My suggestion is for you to study the rate guides and put together a similar rate card that fits you, your experience and your business model and will help you reach your goals to become successful in this business. Like so many areas of life, there really is NO one size fits all solution to what you charge for your services. Figure out what you have invested in your business, determine the value of your time and talent and then set your rates accordingly. If you feel that your ability won’t command professional rates, then find a coach, find a mentor and IMPROVE your ability. Then bid according to the rates you’ve set yourself, and whatever you do: DON’T undervalue yourself!