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10 Ways To Apply Union Standards 
To Your Non-Union Voice Over Career
August 8, 2023

By Kate McClanaghan
Voice Actor & Coach
Copyright © 2023 by Kate McClanaghan.
All rights reserved.

At Actors' SOUND ADVICE, we strongly encourage all non-union voice talent to apply some basic union policies and standards to their voice over careers to achieve the best, most professional results in their careers.   

For one, we want to encourage you to aim to become a union (SAG-AFTRA) voice talent, because the pay and working conditions are a dramatic improvement over remaining non-union or simply remaining an online "gig worker." 

But if you are non-union, applying a few union policies to your voice over business will help you achieve greater control and advancement of your career. Doing so will improve your ability to deliver your best.   
Here are a few industry standards and policies to commit to, to improve your bottom line, elevate your brand, instill confidence, and expand your voice acting business.   


1. Even non-union rates are based on 'union scale.'

"Scale" is the term that refers to the lowest rate of pay the union maintains for each form of usage, and/or repurposing of your performance or likeness, on-camera or off. 

However your recorded voice over is intended to be used or the ultimate use of the final audio, whichever is greater, is what you are inevitably owed for the project you voiced. (More on that in a moment.) 

Scale is the lowest rate both non-union and union talent should expect to receive. It's the lowest possible going rate for the job, regardless of whether you're just starting out or not.

The primary difference between union and non-union rates is residuals. Union talent receive residual pay in addition to session fees for voicing commercials and various broadcast projects for television, theatrical, streaming and their continued "re-usage."

Agents for non-union projects typically require a rate to attempt to partially compensate the talent they represent for extended use of the production, in lieu of receiving residuals, aka "resids."  

2. Secure representation with qualified talent agents. 

Talent agents have access to work that individual voice talent don't have access to on their own. And agents afford you an average of 5 to 55 times greater income than voice talent are able to secure without the experience and an understanding of the industry that talent agents offer, regardless of whether the voice talent is union.   

Of course, agents specialize, just as talent do. 

To add to this, far too many talent assume agents should be expected to groom and develop their careers, when, in fact, agents require talent to arrive on their doorstep already well-trained, well-produced with professional demos, and fully prepared and available to work.   

However, relying on a single talent agency as your sole source for employment as a voice talent isn't a realistic approach if you hope to work with any regularity. (Learn more about how to secure representation with talent agents here.)   

3. Always require 24-hour cancellation notice.

Should a client bail at the last minute prior to a confirmed recording session, then the client is responsible for covering your session fees, which for non-union talent tends to average between $300 and $1,200 per project or more.   

Charging for last-minute cancellations is standard practice for most businesses, and voice over is no different. 

Otherwise, lost revenue for rearranging your schedule for the project, as well as your time and effort preparing to accommodate the project, is inevitable. 

This is standard practice for most businesses, though the average gig worker doesn't typically apply sensible business practices to themselves - at their own peril.  

 4. Stay in your lane: voicing the project.

You're being hired to voice the project, not produce, write, cast, edit and engineer the job.   

Don't assume that these skills should be expected of you as a non-union voice talent and, worst of all, included in your rate. Quite the contrary!  

Union talent are required to only voice the project, that's all. Doing so keeps you focused on delivering your best performance, rather than dispersing your creative attention, especially considering the client's branding is on the line here. That should be the primary goal.   

Granted, today all talent are required to offer clean, professional recordings and possibly a few, simple edits on your auditions as needed. 

However, if editing is not among your skills, don't assume these services are needed and wanted from you. Don't assume mixing and editing should be included in your already seriously low rate as a voice actor.   

One of the greatest missteps ALL small business owners share when they're first starting out is under-valuing, if not utterly de-valuing, what they're worth.   

The truth is, potential customers rarely purchase the cheapest option when shopping to hire or buy. Instead, potential clients consistently choose the second most expensive option. Ironically, most novice small business startups attempt to appear competitive by undercutting the lowest rate they can find. Yet this pricing only inevitably undermines your worth, and can seal your fate from ever making a proper income in this field.   

You'd be better served to concentrate your efforts primarily on voicing the job you've been hired to do, rather than include production elements that are beyond your skill set.   

4a. Under promise, over deliver.

Yet, probably the greatest small business misstep is to offer more than you're capable of delivering. The best rule of thumb is to under promise and over deliver.  

Your professional reputation and future booking potential with a respective producer will be undermined if you deliver poorly executed services. 

Besides, claiming to be a producer places you in direct competition with your primary target audience as a voice talent, namely PRODUCERS. Even if you happen to be a professional producer, you're probably not being paid to include all those additional services; you're only being paid as a voice talent. 

Unburden yourself and stay in your lane.   

5. Don't accept voice projects paid "in perpetuity."

Non-union voice talent typically receive a flat rate for their work. However, it's important to establish in advance how long the client may use your recorded performance for the pay. 

Determining the length of time the client is allowed to use the audio - whether it be used just once, for 6-8 weeks, a single 13-week cycle, for six months, a year or possibly two years - inevitably falls to you to understand. Hold the client to that usage, and make clear that if the agreed upon usage is exceeded, they will owe you an additional stipend; typically the same flat rate with a 10-25% increase with each renewal of use. 

Unless this is established in advance of the session, you may be leaving money on the table.   

You're always entitled to be compensated for the added use and reuse of the original recording, whether you're union or not. It's in your best interest to be paid for each repurposing of the recording, especially if your vocal branding becomes iconic, which can happen.

6. Don't assume your VO clients are more experienced than YOU about voicing the script.

You may not consider yourself to be all that experienced when it comes to recording and directing yourself as a voice actor. 

But don't assume that whoever hired you understands production or knows how to articulate what they need and want from you during a recording session. 

Clients may offer very little, if any insight, and generally rely on the voice talent to come through with creative options that bring what may otherwise be considered rather dull, wooden text.   

7. Telling yourself that you can always raise the rate "later" indicates that your rate is probably already undermining your worth. 

Union rates determine the lowest rate (scale) you're willing to accept as a professional voice over. 

So, if, as a non-union talent you're asked to offer a rate, be sure to determine your rate based on union scale, and then add no less than 25%. 

As a small business owner, you will always have overages you'll need to cover. (Your demos, training, promotion, and home studio require continued upkeep, don't forget.)   

Even if a potential client doesn't fully disclose their ultimate intentions for the use of the voice over you supply to their project(s), include a standard policy (in the form of a brief sentence in your service agreement or email), that if your voice over is repurposed in additional forms of usage - or if the audio isn't used on all the forms of reuse that was initially anticipated - you are to be paid whichever rate is greater. 

And even if the client decides to not use your recorded voice, well, you're still entitled to be paid for your time, skill, and likeness.   

8. YOU are the keeper of your conflicts. 

The term "conflicts" refers to projects you've been paid to voice that are currently airing or are in use that you're continuing to receive income from. 

Maintaining your conflicts is basically keeping track and avoiding any possible conflicts of interest that would have you essentially work for the competition.   

For example, if you've recently voiced a commercial for Dell computers, you'd have a conflict and aren't available to accept a commercial audition for Apple or HP (the competition), or anything dealing with computers other than Dell for as long as the project is airing. 

Once the term of usage has expired, you're released and free to audition and accept all manner of tech/computer projects from the (former) competition. 

(For what it's worth, there are no conflicts in radio.)   

The responsibility falls upon you to maintain those conflicts. This is standard practice whether you're union or not. You're NOT to even audition for the competition while these jobs are active.  

 9. Supply a simple, one-page, universal service agreement for yourself. 

If you feel you absolutely must pursue voice work on your own from some of the online sources, without the benefit of qualified talent agents, then we strongly suggest you create a basic service agreement for yourself. 

This way you'll ensure that you and those hiring you are on the same page as to determining: 
  • What you've been hired to deliver (including the formats the client requires)
  • What you expect to be paid, and how long the client can use your recorded likeness 
  • Who you can expect to receive final approvals from 
  • Who you'll be expected to deliver the final audio to, and
  • When the final product is required to be completed 
We strongly recommend that you avoid trying to do everything yourself, and instead, leave these details to your talent agents whenever possible. It's generally best to stay in your lane as a voice actor and concentrate on being the best voice over you can be.   

10. A good deal is only a good deal if it benefits for BOTH sides, not just one.

Far too many talent are quick to propitiate potential clients out of fear they may "lose the job" if they don't appease every random wish and whim. 

Often, this is even done prior to understanding or anticipating the real demands and degrees of difficulty associated with completing the production.
Kate McClanaghan is a seasoned casting director, producer, actress, writer,director, industry career consultant, acting coach and prolific demo producer. Kate founded both BIG HOUSE CASTING & AUDIO and Actors' SOUND ADVICE more than 30 years ago. She's written 10 books on acting, voice over, and navigating the industry, including The Sound Advice Encyclopedia of Voice-over & theBusiness of Being a Working Talent and How to Get a Talent Agent for Acting &VoiceOver.

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Comments (1)
Emily Lepore
8/18/2023 at 10:35 AM
This has some great advice. I've been doing voiceovers for over 20 years and there were some gems I'd never thought of. Thank You for writing and sharing this!
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