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Pay: Lowballing Your Bids Hurts
Everyone - Peanuts Vs. Prime Rib
By David Radtke
Voice Actor
August 8, 2011
This isn't a detailed scientific study. This isn't even a controlled experiment. It's just an observation of a single occurrence.
And yet every voice actor in the industry has seen something similar.
They know this is going on and they know it's causing the slow decline of the voice actor's salary and the cheapening of our image as highly-trained professionals.

It's called 'lowballing" - the practice of bidding extremely low on a project in the hopes of landing the gig - and it really does hurt!

Here's the latest occurrence I stumbled across.

On a voice over job website (which shall go unnamed) a client (who shall also go unnamed) posted a job for a 1-hour narration. The budget listed was between $350 and $500.
About one week later, that same client posted another 1-hour narration job. But this time: a budget of $50 to $100!
Think about it from the client's point of view.

If you (as a voice seeker) post a job with a budget of, let's say $350, and then you get offers to do the job for as cheap as $50, wouldn't you then set the budget of your next job to only about $50?
I don't know about you, but I certainly would!

If everyone is willing to work for peanuts, then why would a voice seeker offer prime rib?

It’s really sad how so many spend the time and energy to become trained voice actors only to sell themselves way too short.
People in other fields spend years studying in college, then gain experience on the job.
These people usually can get paid pretty well. And if they work and study more, then raises, promotions, and more benefits come along.
But what does the working, striving, and constantly training VO actor have to look forward to these days?
If voice actors are always quoting a low price, then why wouldn't voice seekers start stating that their budgets are smaller than they actually are?

Unfortunately, those undercutting don’t realize the destruction they are causing. It may be beer money to them, but for many of us it’s a solid career just like any other.
This is one reason why I treasure my steady clients. We both have a professional understanding of what quality means and the value quality brings to the both of us.

For MANY projects, the voice over is just as important as any of the visual elements. And some projects don't even have the visual elements!
Your voice will help companies sell thousands and sometimes millions of dollars worth of their product or service. And they'll be laughing all the way to the bank at the great deal they got from the voice actor.

Come on, people! Why would anyone take our profession seriously when we ourselves are willing to accept table scraps as payment for professional jobs?
David Radtke is a voice actor, on-screen actor, musician, writer, blogger, graphic designer, website developer, father of two and ... WHEW! Isn't that enough? Nope. Give him time and he'll add something else (but he's pretty sure two kids is his limit). Also, he writes a highly informative VO blog, Voice Actor's Notebook.

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Comments (12)
Jeff Rumplik
8/18/2011 at 6:18 PM
Despite the fact that I still haven't had anyone call me from my Auditions, what you're talking about in this article is similar to what happened in the Car business. Discounts. Now, nobody buys a car for list price because everyone knows the dealer will sell as low as he can. The problem there, is you would think the dealers would get together and decide to only sell at a certain price. There's always someone who agrees to the whole plan, then goes back to the dealership and sells everything at the old price to get rid of them before the other dealers find out.

If you want Prime Meat, you've got to see the meat first. People don't want to pay for Prime rib to get Ground Chuck.

People with a following should get a higher price tag. Those of us struggling need to get a start.

It's like being an Actor (which we are), when we start out, we make barely enough and have to wait tables to make ends meet. As soon as we get a moniker on our name like "Oscar Nominee..." or "Emmy Award Winner.." then suddenly we can ask the big bucks.

Table sir?
David Menashe
8/11/2011 at 4:42 PM
There's a solution to this mess but sadly, the p2p sites are unwilling to implement it. They could quite easily prohibit bids under the seeker's price. If a seeker offers a budget of $500-$750 and an actor bids $200 or even $495, the system could reject the bid.

Something could be added to the terms and conditions of membership - in case an actor enters a bid of $500 but in his proposal he/she says, "The system won't allow my bid to be under $500 but I'll do it for $200 - please ignore the bid field."

Let's face it, most clients would run from someone like this anyway. But if the actor stood to lose their membership and their money, they'd be unlikely to lowball.
Joel Richards
8/10/2011 at 12:39 PM
Yes, but what price is *too* low? $50 for an hour is pretty obvious, I think, to anyone who's done any narration work. However, I think union artists might question if $500 is too low for an hour of finished of narration if the client is expecting you to do the editing and record in your own fully equipped professional studio. My prices are definitely within (or sometimes slightly above) that $350-500 range, yet I've had union artists cry foul when I insinuate my rates are that "low."

I think part of the problem with pricing is that we non-union actors are bundling our services (recording and basic editing, or sometimes complete mastering,) and union types see this as erosion of services.

I respectfully disagree with Karl von Loewe - at some point it is not about pride, but good business sense. I don't want to just pay my mortgage this month, I want to pay it every month. Price erosion is real. The disagreement is about how is this happening & how bad is it. And, more importantly, can we do anything about it?

Paul Strikwerda
8/9/2011 at 8:16 PM
Hi David, I might have given you a few pencils, but you used them to make the drawing.

Some people still don't get it that there's a relationship between price and perceived professionalism.

Let's remember that people derive more pleasure from a bottle of wine they believe is expensive, even if the wine turns out to be from a box.
Dave Wallace
8/9/2011 at 5:12 PM
Ha, whoops..."rates," not "rages." Perhaps my anger over low-balling clients is slipping through?
Dave Wallace
8/9/2011 at 4:57 PM
One of my VO mentors told me to NEVER low-ball. Even if it means losing a potential gig or client, it's much better to walk away from a low-balling gig, because once you become a bottom-feeder, it is very difficult to get out of that position.

To be fair, though, I think that most of the VO talent who are auditioning for such low-income jobs are rookies who want to get their foot in the door. Rookies who, for that matter, don't understand that what they're doing might be hurting the industry at large. That doesn't make it okay, of course. I'm merely saying that I don't think *experienced* VO talent, who are worth their salt, would audition for jobs like that.

If, however, we have super-experienced VO talent, with incredible acting abilities, a great home studio, top-notch equipment, and agent representation auditioning for these jobs...then yes, that's a problem.

As VO talent, I think we have a responsibility to stick to our rages. Not just for our own sakes, but for the sake of our colleagues as well.
Rick Lance
8/9/2011 at 11:25 AM
Thanks for posting, Dave!

These lowballing, naive, uninformed sometimes talentless idiots are not going away anytime soon!
We talent know they're out there. Clients know they're out there. They're playing a dangerous game. They won't be able to sustain a career doing $50.00 VOs. So there will be others right behind them doing the same thing.

All we career talents can do is build and maintain our client bases, keeping our services as professional as possible. In turn, keeping the value of our profession high.
Roy Wells
8/9/2011 at 9:28 AM
Good observations David. These same people that only pay $50 for a job also want a voice sounding like James Earl Jones but don't seem to care that they get Elmer Fudd instead, as long as it's the low bid. Really sad situation.
Amy Taylor
8/9/2011 at 9:10 AM
Nicely written, David. This past week I caught a glimpse of a lead that said, "URGENT RUSH Female voice needed. Willing to pay top dollar." I clicked and found his/her idea of top dollar was $150. And people had auditioned for it!! Unfortunately, this is what we're dealing with. Bottom feeders will always be there, but it is scary to see what the clients' perception of what "top dollar" is. It really does hurt us all. On the upside, I think the really good talent seekers will always pay for quality.
Karl von Loewe
8/9/2011 at 7:59 AM
The old saying is that if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys. However, there are some VO actors who low bid to get work to pay the mortgage and put food on the table. At a certain point one realizes that pride doesn't feed the bulldog.
BP Smyth, Narrator
8/9/2011 at 7:55 AM
A great reminder David, thanks for posting it. The current economic condition is fueling those who have a tendency to "bottom feed," both voice talent and prospective clients alike.

There is also an influx of new people into the business of VO, increasing lowballing and competition, thus exacerbating the situation. I trust that the majority of bottom feeder VO talent will disappear eventually and return to their regular day jobs full time. We just have to hang in there, keep our fees professional, and ride out this temporary storm.


David Radtke
8/8/2011 at 11:37 PM
A shout out of thanks goes to Paul Strikwerda, whose comments on the original blog post contributed greatly to this article. Thanks Paul!
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