How much are you worth? Why even a beginner can charge “experienced talent” VO rates
Mar 03 2015
How much to charge is naturally a very common question. Answers range from absurdly little to unrealistically large, and even those extremes are sometimes valid. If there’d been voice over in Adam Smith’s day, he’d have said it’s determined by the “invisible hand” of supply and demand. But is that a practical approach to use day-to-day, job-to-job? You know what and how much you can supply. But there’s an almost unlimited range of variables on the demand side. Apart from using a published scale (e.g., union scale) as a guideline, how do you know?
Factors that might influence the price of a particular job include:
- The size of the product market or advertising market
- What the client will bear
- Whether the client is worth having
- Is it truly a repeat-business relationship (not just a promise of one)
- How your work will be used, and where, and how often
- An intermediary’s specification (e.g., via a casting site or referral)
So rather than simply ask “how much should I charge,” the easier rule of thumb is “how much am I worth?” The answer to that question will enable you to rule out jobs and clients that are not worth your time, rather than have to try to calculate their value.
First, though, let’s get the “published rates” issue out of the way, because they’re at least a place to start.
For union rates, visit SAG-AFTRA, and click on “Contracts.” (You’ll also find additional information – such as “foreign royalties” — under other menu options.) These rates are the result of actual negotiation among professionals. (However, in some cases the website might not reflect the most currently negotiated rate.) Even if you’re not in the union, it is therefore a sound guide as to what sensible compensation would be. You might not be able to command such prices, or you might charge more, but at least if you approach these published rates, you’ll know you’re not selling out yourself or other performers.
For non-union talent, there’s the Edge Studio Voice Over Rate Card. This comprehensive rate schedule is intended as only a guide, indicating what less experienced, non-union talent charge on average. For each genre and usage situation, the Rate Card shows a fairly wide range.
Should you charge at the low end, or the high end? That brings us finally to the key issue – what are you worth?
FACT: You are not inexperienced. Some prospective clients, if they see that the paint on your shingle is barely dry, might propose paying you less. But if you’ve been well trained by professional coaches, and have followed a professional regimen of daily practice, you’re probably worth more than that.
Matching the pay level to the experience level is a full-time employment mindset. It makes sense that if an employer pays someone to work 40 hours a week while they learn on the job, make novice mistakes, produce inefficiently, etc., they shouldn’t earn the salary of a senior-level employee. However, a voice over job situation isn’t like that. If you’re professionally trained as a voice actor, with a truly representative demo showing professional-quality work, if you’ve been practicing daily, and have had a lot of hours at the mic in realistic recording situations, you are not inexperienced. With that level of training, you’ve already had more experience than some working pros, and you should be able to hit the ground running. If your prospective client doesn’t guess from your resume, and you don’t tell them, you might charge at least the mid-range pay scale and your client would be glad to pay it, for a professional job reliably delivered. In fact, they should be glad to pay it even if they do know they’re your first.
FACT: Clients expect you to bring up the subject. Don’t be shy. Failure to discuss pricing early-on suggests to a client that you are new at this. Why don’T they bring it up? They might be new at it, too. Or they might have gotten too caught-up in giving you their input. Or they might just forget. A few would-be clients have less-than-admirable motives, hoping you’ll get so invested in discussing the project that you’ll then accept it at any price. Or they just assume that you’ll work cheap and have no respect for your time. Or in very rare cases, they may not be planning to pay you at all. Best to let them know what you’re worth at the outset.
There are various ways to initiate price discussion. One way is to straightforwardly say, “My rate for this sort of job is $X*X per ____,” or “I can do this for $____.) Not necessarily at the outset, but state it once you have a sense of the project’s scope. Or give them a range you’re comfortable with, then suss out the details. Remember, it’s far easier (and more flattering to the client) to come down a bit on your price. Without cause for an increase, it’s awkward — maybe even impossible — to go up.
Another way is to ask, “What’s your budget for this?” It may seem a silly question … what client would volunteer that “my budget is a zillion dollars”? But actually, it’s a professional question that usually gets a professional answer. If you’re inclined to charge whatever the market will bear, you might be pleasantly surprised as to the market’s strength. It’s also a quick way to find out that the prospect has virtually no money, or is very naive. Sometimes you’ll need to educate them on what they need and how much it costs; sometimes it means wishing them a polite good-bye before you’ve wasted too much of your time. In either case, knowing what you’re worth enables you to choose your course of action with confidence, from a position of strength.
FACT: You provide added value. Experienced voice over talent adds value in several ways. Above all, your experience has taught you more than one way to perform a script. That means you can take all sorts of direction, whether the requested change is extreme or subtle, whether the direction is sensible or not. It also means you can provide a creativity factor that sophisticated clients expect. Look at it from the copywriter’s perspective: if you had written even the world’s most creative commercial ever, and then cast someone like Robin Williams, would you have expected to get back exactly what you heard in your head? Few jobs require such a level of invention, but you’ll often add some nuance of character, or inflection, or style that is particular to you. It may be why you won the audition. And it’s why you’re worth more than the people who didn’t.
FACT: You provide added services. If you work from home, provide professional-quality recordings, and don’t always submit your recordings “unprocessed” (dry, with no processing or effects, and with no editing other than to eliminate outtakes and errors), you’re not just a voice talent. You’re also – at some level – an engineer. And you deserve to be paid for any additional services you include. Can you always charge more? It depends. But you should try, and be prepared to walk away if you lose money on the back end. If you removed breaths from your audition, a naive client might expect your finished recording to sound the same. But if you did so, and maybe compressed, equalized and added whatever other processing made your work sound like a finished production, you should at least make your client aware of the added value they’re getting. And that you are worth more than someone who does those things badly, or not at all.
FACT: Low-ballers don’t necessarily get the job. Consider the situation at online casting sites, particularly at Voices.com and (for some jobs) Voice123.com. Research has shown that people who consistently bid at the low end of the scale are less likely to book. Why? Because the talent that most consistently win at these sites are dedicated pros. That fact is reflected in their audition performances, and in the technical quality of their recordings. From a client’s perspective, those factors are always more important than getting rough work on the cheap. A client might specify a range that dips into the low side, but a dedicated pro talent won’t mess with lowballers, and no client wants work they can’t use, no matter how little it costs. Both parties are worth more than that. Including you.