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Should you ever volunteer to do voice-over for free?

Edge Studio

Here at Edge Studio, we’ve long made the point that a well-trained voice artist is already experienced when he or she produces a demo and enters the VO job market. Our course plan covers a wide range of script and directorial situation in the student’s particular genre(s) or specialty, with comprehensive coaching and realistic performance situations, and what’s more, we provide experience in business development and other aspects of our field.

Still, when starting your voice-over career, additional experience is almost always a plus. (In fact, it’s a plus throughout your career!)

One way to add to your experience is volunteer work. But should you volunteer to do voice work for free? There are pros and cons, so read on…

Both schools of thought are valid. There are reasons to provide free services, and there are reasons not to.

Why you should not volunteer your services for free.

  • While professional-caliber clients understand the need to pay a professional wage for professional work, there are lots of prospective clients who claim “poverty” when they in fact could pay and pay well. Some of these lowballers ask you to cut your rate to the bone, or even work for “the experience.” While this may be tempting to someone starting on their VO career, be extremely wary. As we said, if you’ve been well trained, you have experience. Giving it away or cutting your rate starts a race to the bottom — not just for our industry as a whole, but for you. Once you have cut your rate for a client, it’s often very hard to raise it and retain them. Meanwhile, your time is t*****p on them, rather than on pitching more productive clients.
  • Even if they are non-profit, that doesn’t mean you must be. They do have a budget. Think of all the major charities that are non-profit. Forbes’ list of the largest U.S. Charities in 2016 showed the 100 largest processed annual revenue ranging from $183-million to almost $4-billion. Surely some in that category can afford to pay for your time. (And to bolster your confidence further, we haven’t found that any of these major charities are not willing to pay fairly for talent.)
  • Even a small non-profit or humanitarian service that is truly on a low budget can probably afford your services. It’s a matter of priorities. A locavore food co-op or pet adoption service must pay their rent, gasoline and light bills, and their suppliers are not cutting those prices just because they do good works. You don’t necessarily have to cut your rate, either. Most organizations have other expenses that are discretionary. If the project is important to them, maybe they can find a way.
  • If, as a professional, you can do the job more efficiently, reliably and/or productively, you might save them money – or even increase their receipts.
  • If it’s a regular assignment (e.g., weekly at a certain time), it could interfere with your work for a paying client. Losing money on a job is one thing. Losing out on a paying job because of a schedule conflict is another.
  • Pro bono work might be nice to have on your resume, but if it’s the only client on your list, it might be better not to include it … at least for now.

When to consider volunteering your services for free.

  • Some charities really don’t have flexibility in their budget, and yet they, too, are worthy of your consideration. For example, consider recording newspapers or reading aloud to children at your local library. They have a budget, of course, but probably a small one that’s relatively inflexible. They may not be able to scrape together spare change from this part and that part of their operation, at least not the way a local entrepreneur might be able. Their sole alternatives might be to do the project on a volunteer basis, or skip it.
  • If it’s a regular assignment, it may reinforce your time management skills and further a strong work ethic. You know yourself – would this help your traction and motivation?
  • Potentially a volunteer job might lead to a paying client via word-of-mouth. Or this might be the one case where you might actually get paid work later after working for free just this once. (Usually you should take such promises with grain of salt.) The potential might be small, and it depends on the milieu you’re in, but ….
  • Besides the potential for performance experience, there’s an additional upside: The experience itself – the good feeling you get from helping others.

Just be sure they’re not helping themselves to your generosity, and that you’re helping yourself, as well.

For a list of various organizations that seek volunteer voicing services, see our Resources for Voice Actors and click on the various Volunteer Work categories. Use it as a thought starter – the specific organizations listed there surely have counterparts wherever you are, and with Internet communications, many can be served remotely.

Edge Studio proudly donates its time and facilities to charities and other organizations dedicated to making positive changes in the world. We are interested in hearing from voice talent who can also donate a bit of their time to these efforts.

Do you have a comment or suggestion? Please send to [email protected].