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RATES
Are Your Voice Over Rates Too Low?
Think - Maybe It's Your Own Fault

By John Melley

Voice Talent & VO Business Coach

This may ruffle a few feathers, but let me start it off by asking a question:
Do you hesitate, or feel a slight lump in your throat, when responding to the question: "So what are your rates?"
C'mon ... we've all felt it at one time or another. If you're a member of AFTRA like I am, rates are set for certain productions and you just say those are the contracted rates when people question you. (By the way those rates are minimums. You can ask for more.)

If you're not in AFTRA you don't have that "crutch" - and then there are freelance projects that fall outside collective bargaining, plus projects like script writing, production/editing and consulting that aren't even part of an agreement.

So you're on your own.

WHY THE HESITATION?

Like I said, we've all felt that hesitation about rates at one time or another, but WHY?

Why do we feel at all self conscious about stating what we want to make in exchange for providing our gifts and talents that will help a client grow their business, sell a product or bring their project to life?

I believe you shouldn't feel that way as long as you know you are providing your best service and performance to your client - and you live up to your agreements.

I think a lot of the hesitation comes from our background, our personal experiences with money, family, friends and societal/cultural attitudes and conceptions about money.

WHAT I MEAN ...

Let me share a story I heard from Rabbi Daniel Lapin last spring at a conference.

He was discussing societal attitudes about money and how the use of language can subtly influence us. Here was an example:

How many of us have heard someone say they "Want to Give Back"?
The concept of giving back is interesting. "Giving Back" implies that you've only been taking and that you're finally getting around to offering something in return.
Rabbi Lapin asked us to hold up a $ Dollar bill and then asked us if we mugged somebody in order to get it.

Granted, it was a bit of an exaggeration, but he made a good point. We provide a service that someone has agreed to pay us for. There has been a fair exchange, and if you treat your clients right you'll leave them feeling they got more than their money's worth.

DONATING VS. GIVING BACK

Please understand I'm not saying anything against donating and supporting organizations and causes that are important to you.

That is a GOOD thing to do because it is something we CHOOSE to do with our money.

What I'm trying to point out is the language we use matters. "Donating" and "Giving Back" may be the same side of the coin for some people, but I think there is a difference for the reasons I mentioned above.

BAD RAP FOR BUSINESS

Pop Culture and news also have an impact.

Business in general has been portrayed very negatively in the media over the last few years and our political leaders on BOTH sides have seized upon it for their own uses.

Yes, there have been some scumbags taking advantage of people, and we ought to lock 'em up and throw away the key.

But we all know most of us aren't "too big to fail." We want to put food on the table, pay the bills, take care of the kids, save for the future and yes, we have dreams of things we'd like to do, places we'd like to go, things we'd like to have.

There's NOTHING wrong with that! 

BUT 'THEY' WILL SAY ...


But it all has an impact. It provides the backdrop for comments you hear from family and friends like, "Oh, well he/she owns their own business, they must be rich."

And questions like:
  • "How much did that cost you"?
  • "You charged HOW MUCH for WHAT"?
IT'S OUR CHOICE

We're on this Earth for a short time to LIVE! Money is simply a tool for us to do that. We all want to be rich.

Want proof? People spend $ millions every day on lottery tickets hoping to become rich. We  are working in a field that isn't run of the mill.

We choose to work in Voice Over following our dreams. We do it in addition to our other job(s) until we can do it full time.

Most people won't do that.

I had friends tell me to "Hang it up and come have a beer." I'm glad I have the career I have now instead of those beers I could have had then.

PROTECT YOUR THOUGHTS

Be vigilant about the thoughts, comments and perceptions the people around you have about money and how they might impact your mindset in building your business.

Go for it!

Do you have examples of people making comments about your rates? Do you hesitate when quoting an amount for a project? I'd love to hear your comments (below).
----------------
ABOUT JOHN
John Melley is the Commercial Production Director for CBS Radio Bostonís award winning Mix 104.1 (WBMX), and a nationally recognized voice over talent, having performed voice over for Irving Oil, Hewlett Packard, United Technologies Corporation and countless others. He is also a marketing consultant for business owners, specializing in coaching voice talent to grow their businesses. He believes a rising tide lifts all ships and helping other voice talent benefits the entire voice over profession.


Email: john@johnmelley.com
Web: www.johnmelley.com

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Comments (5)
Caroline Beverley
2/20/2013 at 5:20 AM
Rates for voiceovers can be low and in general clients donít understand why you have to charge anything for a 30 second read (because it only takes 30 seconds to record!).

BUT we donít do ourselves any favours and itís not just the clients that are taking advantage. Traditionally if a client requires a voiceover for a project they will:

1. Be supplied with samples from media agency that is putting the project together to choose from, that has been supplied to them by a voiceover agency (paid for by the client).

2. Place an ad in press and some websites (paid for by the client)

3. Place an ad on a website such as voices123 (paid for by the voiceover artist WHAT!)Ö

Öand this really bugs me. Websites that charge a subscription just to be a member at around $300 per annum are just undervaluing the voiceover artist and are taking advantage of.

Yes, if you are fortunate enough to be chosen the client will pay you but it could take 100 auditions to secure one job and there are no guarantees. The people I feel sorry for are the voiceovers that donít have a very good voice and will never in a million years get a job, yet they still waste their money paying for the subscription and there is no-one to say STOP and give them honest advice. Also these type of websites can have staff that are voiceovers themselves and audition for the same jobs and to me this is totally unethical.

It should work that clients pay to advertise their job on the website and people apply/audition for the job (as with any other job). VOICEOVERS SHOULD NOT HAVE TO PAY TO AUDITION. Sorry for shouting!

There are websites that allow you to audition for free then they take a commission for giving you the lead and this is a much better way. Itís more like having an agent.

If you sit down and work out how many auditions you have produced for the amount of actual work you do, you would turn your computer off and get a cleaning job.

I love doing voiceovers, itís my life and I love itÖ itís just a shame that sometimes we are taken advantage of!

Thanks for listening

Caroline
http://www.cmbvoiceovers.com
John Melley
2/17/2013 at 4:55 PM
Hi Tim-

Thanks for your comments (above) in response to my article regarding "Rates Too Low?" on the Voice OverXtra site.

John Florian from VOXtra forwarded your information to me. I have some thoughts I'll share with you here and also post them on the VOXtra blog. I have also attached a copy of an article I wrote a while back that you might find interesting.

Yes, it's a "chicken/egg" question on rates for new voice over talent. Most talent look at voice over from a clean slate.

You need to ask yourself a few questions. Honestly answering them can help you determine your comfort level with your rates. I have found that most discomfort about what people should charge comes from being unsure of something, be it experience, level of comfort with the material (do you know anything about the subject matter you're recording) or attitudes about money, etc.

So ask yourself: Do you have enough VO Training to deliver a good performance of the material you're being asked to record?

Can you deliver it to them as promised?

Why did the client pick you? (This is key. Did you audition and were you selected from a group of auditions? Was it your style and do you have the "sound they're looking for"? Or were you selected because you gave them the best bid?)

Was a budget discussed prior to recording? Was there negotiation on rates beforehand?

If you can confidently answer "Yes" to those questions, then charge something you're comfortable with knowing you're new, but don't plan on staying there too long.You can get trapped.

This can become a problem especially if the same client comes back to you for another project and they expect a similar rate. It's only natural for them to do so. You'll need to up your rate or else you'll end up resenting the work. (Kinda what I'm hearing in your narration project.)

I'd stick with what you quoted for them on the narration project and do it for what you agreed to, but at the same time, I don't see a problem with saying something after they've approved your work and give you a compliment on it. I'd say something like: "Thanks. I enjoyed the project and learned a lot from doing it. I must say it took quite a bit more than I expected. I'm new to voice over and editing so I'm learning what different projects take in terms of time. I'd love to be considered for other projects, but I'll have to be more realistic in the amount of time it takes when I quote you a figure. I hope you can understand that."

Pricing can be a great positioning tool. Higher prices impress people. "Gee they must be really good." Here's the caveat. You've gotta be able to back it up. If you charge a higher fee and you deliver a so-so performance, you're cooked - and rightfully so.

Finally, to put a completely different spin on this: If you've had any work experience you're probably knowledgeable about something. You bring that knowledge and experience with you. Don't discount that.

What am I saying? If you're an expert in candy making, (or whatever background you come from) then consider doing VO projects in that arena. In that world, people won't question you and you can get the rates you want because you're already an expert and you're expanding your product offering. Then you leverage the voice jobs form those projects and build your rate base for other types of projects from there.

I hope this helps! Keep in touch, Tim.

Sincerely,

John
www.JohnMelley.com
John Melley
2/17/2013 at 4:20 PM
Hi Jim Conlan-

Thanks for your comments in response to my article above. I have some thoughts I'll share with you. I have also included a link to an article I wrote a while back that addresses your "Commodity" concern directly. It offers ways you can overcome that perception.
http://www.JohnMelley.com/docs/Special_Issue_Are-You-A-Commodity.pdf

I agree with you that a lot of Voice Over has fallen into "Commodity" thinking. This concern is one I that hear and read quite a bit on VO sites and forums and in conversation with colleagues.

I'm probably about to kick over the beehive on this, but people want my opinion so here goes ...

Some of the Pay to Play sites, Voice Bunny and "Fiver" have really done us all a disservice. But to be honest, it's part of a bigger problem affecting more than just those in creative endeavors. I believe it's one reason why the unemployment rate is still very high and why it will stay there for a long time until something changes. Frankly, we're all partly to blame.

In my opinion, we're at a place in our country's history where a lot of people want their cake and to eat it too. We want to be able to buy our products for next to nothing at Big Box Stores. And at the same time we want to have retirement plans and health care and a high standard of living. All nice things to have. A good amount of those things are enforced through employer mandates. (Yes, I'm dancing on the edge of politics here, but it's reality.)

Normally these costs are passed on to consumers. Any business factors what its costs are in establishing prices for their products and services and to turn a profit. The problem is people don't want to pay the price for things that it takes to support the standard of living we all want. So to avoid the costs, they get them made/performed elsewhere, or get people to agree to perform those services at "commodity" prices.

At the same time, people HOWL when jobs are shipped overseas in order to keep costs down so they can charge the prices people want to pay.

I can say this from the firsthand experience of my family having owned a retail greeting card/social printing business for many years. (It's been closed for more than a decade now.) It's an interesting dichotomy.

Entire businesses are created by aggregating talent pools and getting each of us to compete against each other - which is fine - but when we only compete on price and nothing else, that's where the problem starts.

On the flip side, I've found through targeted marketing and some strategic planning that you can still work with people who value your talents and will pay you what you would like to earn.

It's about finding the right "WHO" to work with and positioning yourself in such a way as they see you as the expert and "go-to" person for the products and services you provide.

But you're correct, all of what I mentioned about targeting, etc. would be simpler if we weren't fighting a "mindset" of "cheaper is better."

I hope you enjoy the attached article and that you find it helpful. I welcome your thoughts and wish you every success. Here's the link:
http://www.JohnMelley.com/docs/Special_Issue_Are-You-A-Commodity.pdf

Sincerely,
John
http://www.JohnMelley.com
Tim McKean
2/13/2013 at 1:04 PM
I'm new to voiceover work and thus do not have a lot of context to what a job should cost. I know how much I would like to make, but I also know that if I ask too much I may lose the job and at this point gaining clients and experience seems to be the priority.

At the same time I'm working on a presentation narration project that has turned out to be much more work than I expected and I am hesitant to go back to the client and ask for more money.

I'm sure that with time I will learn to better gauge how much work a project will take, and this bid more appropriately.

Love to hear your thoughts on tips for those of us new to this line of work.

Thanks for the great article.
Jim Conlan
2/13/2013 at 10:22 AM
Thanks, John. I think there's a trend in almost every creative business these days towards commodity thinking. The internet has fostered the mindset that you can get almost anything for free. This has discouraged many extremely creative people, and is causing them to give up, because they can't make a living anymore. I wonder if it's enough to ask what you're worth if the answer matters to no one except yourself. Too bad that, unlike musicians, voice talent can't just do it as a hobby. I hope, John, that your article sparks a dialogue on this subject.
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