Fees: Figuring What To Charge
For Your Voice-Overs / Part 1
By James Alburger
The money side of voice-over is something many voice actors are reluctant to discuss - perhaps because of a fear of competition or perhaps because they feel their financial arrangements should be kept personal.
This makes setting a price on talent often confusing and difficult. So, here are a few thoughts on the subject for your consideration.
If you are just starting out, you won't be in the union - and you probably shouldn't consider joining until union membership becomes absolutely necessary. But just so there is nothing left out, let's start with union talent.
If you have an agent (and most union talent do), the agent’s commission is normally added on top of the union scale talent fee, as are other union fees. If you are very good, and in demand, your agent may be able to negotiate a talent fee "above scale." But rarely will union talent work "below scale."
AFTRA's web site has lots of interesting information about union rates. And although union talent fees may not be appropriate for someone starting out, the information is still valuable. Bottom line: if you're a member of AFTRA, you pretty much know what you will be earning for every session you work.
NON-UNION, WITH AGENT
VO pricing for non-union freelance talent is a different matter entirely, and is something that will be unique to each community.
If an agent represents you, the agent will take care of the pricing and will handle negotiations. Even when one of your personal contacts inquires about your fee, you should refer them to your agent. This does two things:
As non-union talent, your agent may be permitted to take a much higher commission than if you were union talent. Some agents will add their commission on top of your talent fee, but many will take the commission off the top of your fee before you get paid.
In California, for instance, an agent can charge a commission of up to 25% of the talent fee for non-union talent, whereas they are limited to 10% for union talent. Agent commissions may vary in different states.
WITHOUT AN AGENT …
If you are freelancing without representation, it's a bit tougher to set your rates.
The more skilled you are as a performer, the more likely you will be able to demand a higher fee - especially once you have established a name for yourself and are confident with the work you do.
Consider any recent work for inclusion in your demo. But make sure it’s good enough in both recording and performance quality.
Keep in mind that local radio stations will often give away production and voice talent for free just to get an advertiser to buy time on their station. Thus, many independent producers will offer to do the voice work themselves in an effort to save a few bucks.
Your challenge as a voice artist is to offer a service that is superior and more effective for the client than what they can get from a radio station or producers who do their own voice work.
Can you justify your fee? This gets back to your abilities. If you market yourself with professional print materials and a dynamite demo, you’d better be able to meet the level of expectations when a client books you for a session.
If you give the appearance of an experienced pro, but can't deliver, word will spread fast and it may be a long time before you can overcome a negative image. The challenge in setting your fee is to match the fee to your abilities and still be within the range of other freelance talent, without creating an impression that you will "work cheap" or that you are "overpriced."
Consider your market. Non-union talent fees vary greatly from market to market. To set an appropriate fee for your talent, you'll need to find out what other voice actors are getting paid in your area.
And always remember that the most important factor is your ability as an actor. Of course, you must have a great sounding demo. But you need the abilities to match. Don't ever think you know all there is to know about working with voice-over copy. Continue taking classes and workshops, read books and practice your craft daily.
Next, Part 2 examines pricing for specific types of work.
James Alburger is an Emmy Award-winning voice talent, coach, engineer, producer, director, and author of “The Art of Voice Acting.” He and business partner Penny Abshire offer many voice-over services through VoiceActing.com, including workshops and seminars. They are also co-producers of the annual VOICE industry conference.